Kara Pace and the Loathsome Dorian Bray

            Kara Pace thought she had heard all the jokes. After a time, she surrendered her frustration with the rest of the world if only to keep her sanity. Kara could tune out most wisecracks, but every so often, a new one would remind her how tenuous friendships could be. Calling her slow was one thing, but comparing a hurricane to her kind was one step too far.

            “If I hear them say that waiting for a hurricane is like being stalked by a turtle one more time, I might just snap!” Kara fumed as she frowned down at a fresh head of lettuce. She had learned from a young age to use her shell as a shield against threats, but nothing could block hurtful words.

            Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Dorian Bray standing beside the water cooler. Kara had always thought him a great ass, but his willingness to repeat these insults had begun to worsen her opinion. He probably didn’t even notice I was there to hear him. But that’s no excuse.

            Dorian had joined the company four months ago as a member of the sales team. Since then, he had managed to win every weekly competition despite his grating laugh. Somehow, his stubborn persistence charmed customers. Kara decided to listen in on one of those calls. She could never speed over to stand behind him, but she could tap into his phone line.

            “Hello?” Whoever had answered the phone sounded as though he had a piece of food in his mouth. The squishy sound of mastication reminded Kara of her own supper.

            “Hi, this is Dorian Bray. Whom do I have the pleasure of speaking to today?”

            There was a pause before the person at the other end replied. “I’m Brady Pus. What can I do for you?”

            “Hi, Brady. I hope I’m not calling at a bad time, but I was hoping you could answer a few quick questions that could save you hundreds.”

            Kara knew that opener from the company cold-call script. Whenever she had tried using it, there was a sixty-percent chance of a hang-up and a ten-percent chance of an unhealthy dose of profanity.

            “Hundreds, you say?” Kara could hear Brady chewing some more before continuing, his voice coming through the line in a lazy drawl. “Ask away, Mr. Bray.”

            “My goodness, I didn’t realize I was talking to a poet.” Dorian laughed that obnoxious bike horn laugh of his. To Kara’s astonishment, Brady joined in with a choked snicker of his own. She wanted to disconnect from the call, but her curiosity overrode her hatred for the noise. “Brady, how are you protecting yourself if a major storm were to blow down your home?”

            “Well—” Brady crunched down on another bite of something that sounded like leaves from an exotic salad. “I haven’t given much thought to that.”

            “Oh, dear. Brady, we’ll have to fix that.” Kara thought she could detect actual concern in Dorian’s voice. “Here at Canopy Insurance, we believe everyone should be fully covered. Could you tell me a little about your current home?”

            “It’s a treehouse in the Amazon.” Brady munched a bit. “There are several others on the market.” He waited a few painful seconds before completing the thought, “but deforestation is a constant worry.”

            “I understand.” Dorian replied. “We do have the option of adding in an ‘Act of Man’ clause. That would include any damage from wildfires and manmade machines falling from the sky.”

            He is really good at this. It’s like he assumed from the beginning Brady would buy from us.

            “I think I’ll need that. Do you offer assistance with moving?” Brady sounded captivated, his pitch rising with each word. “The nearest trees are several yards away.”

            “Sure thing. In cases of home destruction, we arrange monetary compensation that will help with replacing what you lost, and we provide discounts on temporary housing and moving services.” Dorian nickered. “It sounds like we’ve identified your needs here. I’ll be transferring your case to a colleague in a moment for underwriting purposes. I just wanted to go over everything we’ll be covering for you. Flood, acts of man, and storm damage.”

            “Do you really think I need that last part? This tree has been around for many years. Why should a storm destroy it now?”

            Kara could hear Dorian sigh into the phone. “Brady, do you know how dangerous storms can be? Why, a massive hurricane was all set to hit Florida last year. We tried to prepare everyone in the Everglades, but some occupants would not believe they were in any danger because their homes had survived worse before. Several chose to go uncovered and lost everything. You see, waiting for a hurricane is like being stalked by a turtle. It looks far away and unthreatening, but it sneaks up on you and bites you in the—”

            “Shut up!” Kara shrieked, unable to contain herself any further. Too late, she realized her line tap did not shield her outburst from the call. All around her, the coworkers dropped what they were doing and stared. Embarrassed, she disconnected her link to Dorian’s call and focused on slowing her breathing for a while. Slow was always better in her opinion.

            Half an hour later, a manager paged Kara to come into the HR office. Taking deliberate steps, Kara found Dorian Bray waiting with Malaya Tigris, their boss. Kara gulped as she watched her boss licking a striped paw.

            “It has come to my attention that you have been misusing company resources to spy on a coworker.” Malaya growled when Kara opened her mouth to argue. “Your efforts not only cross a line in our company’s ethics clause, but they also lost Canopy Insurance a potential client.”

            Kara’s neck shrank back as the instinct to flee into her shell overcame her. “I wasn’t spying.”

            “Oh?” Malaya clacked at a keyboard and turned a screen to show a report of Kara’s browser history. “Then I suppose your running a background check on Mr. Bray here doesn’t count. Or stalking each of his social media accounts. Or accessing his birth certificate. Tell me, if this isn’t internal espionage, what is it?”

            “It’s a violation!” Dorian declared.

            “It’s retaliation!” Kara snapped. “For all those times you compared me to a hurricane. How dare you?”

            Malaya snarled. She picked up a phone and shouted for security to come into her office. “I have an unruly former employee I need you to escort out of the building. And bring a scooter. If she tries walking out under her own power, she might not make it out until hurricane season’s over.”

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