Thoroughbreds and Trailer Trash

By: Bev Pettersen

“What do you want with Jenna?” Wally asked, his voice taut with an emotion Derek couldn’t define.

“Pardon?” He scowled to show his displeasure and Wally dipped his head, nervously shuffling papers. Lazy and a coward as well, Derek decided, notching another tick in Wally’s debit column.

Employees stepped aside as he strode toward his new office but he didn’t look sideways. He was rather impatient to interview Ms. Murphy and actually surprised he hadn’t spotted her regal head in the crowd. Perhaps she was shorter than he’d initially thought.

He left the door open, gratified to see the office was much cleaner than yesterday. Wally had been slow to vacate despite the Burke directive he was coming, and obviously the man had hoped the sale would flounder.

He yanked open the filing cabinet and flipped through the employee files. Jenna Murphy. The file was thin. Not even a resume. A copy of an insurance application, barely legible: Jenna Lynn Murphy, twenty-six, local address, one sister, parents deceased, unremarkable health, five-foot-nine inches, one hundred and twenty-two pounds, blond hair, blue eyes. Single.

Ah, so she was single.

He pushed the drawer shut, glanced impatiently at his watch, then crossed the room and checked the aisle. That too was much cleaner than yesterday, with stable hands knocking down cobwebs and sweeping furiously.

The outer door slammed and Jenna sauntered in, walking with a graceful sway of her hips, the proud tilt of her head unmistakable. She stopped to greet a groom pushing a wheelbarrow then continued down the aisle. Paused when she spotted him, and a delighted smile lit her face. God, it had been a long time since anyone smiled at him like that.

“Good morning,” she called. “I’m glad you got the job!”

He scowled but she didn’t stop smiling and actually seemed genuinely happy to see him. An unusual reaction and his impatience seeped away. “Are you always this late?” he asked mildly.

“Not always, but a lot. Depends on my massage schedule.” She gave an unrepentant smile. Stuck her head past him and checked the office. When she saw it was empty, she immediately backed away. “Better get out of there,” she said, tugging at his arm. “Wally doesn’t like people in his office. It wouldn’t be smart to piss him off, not on your first day.”

“So,” she added, once she’d herded him to the middle of the aisle, “will you be working with the inventory or the cleanup? I can give you a quick tour if you want. Introduce you to everyone.”

He paused, not usually at a loss for words, but her openness was refreshing. As the heavy for the Burke operations, employees either feared or disliked him. Not a problem, just the way it was. Still, this couldn’t go on.

“I had a tour last month, Jenna.” He crossed his arms. “My name’s Derek Burke.”

A flash of dismay then her expression shuttered, and she stepped back. “A pity. I liked you better with the hard hat.”

“Come in. Shut the door.” He pivoted and walked back into his office.

She followed but neglected to close the door. “What have you done with Wally?” she asked.

“He’s moved into the receiving office at the other end of the barn.”

Her shoulders relaxed as though that was the extent of her worries, and he frowned at the door, irritated she hadn’t followed his simple order. “Maybe you should be worrying about your own job,” he added.

“Maybe, but not yet.” She tilted her head, eyeing him with sharp intelligence. “If Wally’s still here the rest of us are probably safe, at least for a while.”

She was absolutely correct but in spite of his desire to keep staff intact, theft was cause for dismissal. He leaned back in his chair, studying her over steepled fingers, waiting for a fidget. It didn’t take long, fifteen seconds.

She crossed the room and picked up one of his framed degrees. “Wow, you’re a smart guy.”

“Put that down.”

“Why do you have it here then?” she asked.

“Certainly not for employees to handle.” He tilted his head and waited, realizing she wasn’t going to confess or beg. Obviously the job didn’t matter. Rather a pity. She’d shown him a simple kindness yesterday, and he’d already decided to let her stay.

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