Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book Excerpt: Hard Hats and Doormats by Laura Chapman

Chapter One

Alexis Burke @theLexiBurke

Can a person refer to employees as Jackass 1 & 2 in an official report? Asking for a friend. #HRProblems #ThisIsMyLife

The universe keeps telling jokes and I’m the punch line. #IHaveProof

Okay, seriously. When did this become my life? Can I get a mulligan? #ObscureGolfAnalogyForLife

In kindergarten Sunday school, Lexi Burke imagined Hell as a fire-ridden, hate-filled pit below Earth’s surface. On a mighty throne of blackened steel and skulls, Satan preyed on the souls of the damned for eternity.

Twenty years later, she discovered a new version of Hell. It was a windowless conference room on an oil platform off the coast of God-only-knew-where Texas in the middle of May. The devil took form in two men, both middle-aged and madder than a hornets nest. Despite the sweat building on her neck, she shivered.

When did babysitting old guys become my job?

How mad do hornets get, and what does their nest have to do with it?

Where did I come up with that analogy?

Solving those mysteries had to wait. Casting a glance at the figures gathered around the badly chipped table, she considered the situation at hand. The two men, their union reps, and a team of local managers were going yet another round in their verbal sparring without a semblance of resolution. The representatives wanted the men to go back to work. The managers wanted to give them pink slips.

As the HR manager assigned – albeit at last-minute – to the investigation, she wanted to keep everyone from killing each other. Not an easy task, considering the two men under investigation already gave murder their best shot.

According to the initial report, the incident happened over the weekend. The men engaged in a particularly heated discussion about college football. The man to her right apparently took offense to the one on her left using derogatory names to describe his beloved team.

She grimaced at the list of profanities. Three or four of them merited HR intervention on their own. Then again, others struck her as downright creative. Note to self: Use “dag nab ass backwards pile of swamp waste” in a sentence later today.

The fight escalated when Mr. Right expressed his displeasure by raking his broken glass across Lefty’s face. A few days later, the wounds swelled red and blotchy. Her stomach churned when she examined their faces closely.

His opponent fared no better. Lefty managed a couple of solid jabs with a shard from a shattered plate. His cheek and eyebrow were held together with the help of twenty-two stitches.

How did these men still have jobs? Surely trying to kill your co-worker violated the Employee Code of Conduct. But because they had no previous violence on their records, the company’s agreement with the union guaranteed them the right to an investigation – this investigation.

“I told ‘em to back off and leave my Tigers alone,” Idiot Number One shouted. “But he started waving around his God-damned glass. I had to grab hold of something to protect myself. A man’s got a right to defend himself and his pride.”

“What the hell are you talking about, son?” Moron Number Two chimed in. “You were the one bent outta shape in the first place. He’s pissed because my Hogs’ll beat the hell out of this pussy lover’s team next year.”

Hogs? Tigers? Did these men seriously put their jobs and lives on the line over the Arkansas and LSU football teams? Did Lexi have to take team allegiances into consideration when she hired new employees to avoid catastrophe? Were SEC fans this torn up about football year-round?

Will we have full-on riots come September?

She struggled to recall the last two football seasons, but nothing came to mind. In her early days at Gulf America, she’d spent most of her life adjusting to the heavy travel schedule of a field HR representative. Current events, sports, and anything unrelated to HR dealings never entered her mind. She instead concentrated on getting through each day, never mind remembering what happened in the rest of the world.

What kind of fights should she expect when the Big 12 schools in Texas started beating up on each other in the fall?

God help us all.

Pulling her shoulder-length brown hair off her neck, she longed for a breeze. Not the kind from men yelling at each other, but a real, honest-to-God breeze.

She sighed and stared back at her notes. Even if the investigation proved the men deserved firing, she wouldn’t make the decision. Her worthless boss would be using whatever recommendations she gave him.

Dale seldom left his office during the work day. Unless he heard an ice cream truck. Then he raced out the door with a dollar in hand. Why bother leaving for something important–– like his job–– when he had minions like her to do his dirty work in the field? He reserved his energy to sweep in at the end when he took credit and – by all appearances – saved the day.

This time, he didn’t even have the courtesy to make his decision before dawn. In her eagerness to please – the department had a promotion up for grabs – she overlooked the faux pas that sent her straight to hell. Sure the Assistant Regional Director job would be more work, but it came with a healthy salary increase and less travel. And at twenty-four, she’d be the youngest director at headquarters.

The shouts escalated.

Is a promotion worth this?

Another realization hit Lexi like a ton of bricks. Damn, another random metaphor. This dispute would have long-term implications impacting more than her chances of promoting within the company. The safety department would surely ban glass cups and plates from company premises before the end of the week. The idiots had proven breakables were a liability Gulf America would no longer risk.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of one man knocking his coffee mug to the floor. Damn. Another dish casualty. The shattered mug brought Lexi’s attention back to the present. One of the local managers sent her a silent plea. Clearing her throat, she filled her lungs with the heavy air weighing on her chest.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” she began, in her sweetest drawl. A Midwesterner by nature and nurture, she spent the past two years cultivating her fake accent. It was useful in tense situations like this one. “I appreciate you sharing your perspectives. I’m sure both of your teams value loyal fans like you. But I need you both to take a few deep breaths and listen to what I say.”

She politely glared at the men. Their chests rose up and down in suppressed fury, but their mouths stayed shut.

“Violence is never the answer. It has no place in the sports arena or at work. Remember, you come from the same conference. Y’all should treat each other with the mutual respect your fine teams deserve.”

She paused for dramatic effect. She used a variation of the speech at least a dozen times in the past month alone. In her experience, a few well-timed beats of silence struck fear into the hearts of men better than a million words.

After giving her words room to settle uncomfortably, she continued. “Y’all need to treat each other respectfully. Not only because you’re co-workers and conference mates, but because you’re both good men with families who depend on you. Consider how you’d want someone to treat the people you love most. That’s how y’all should treat each other.”

The men had the good grace to bow their heads in shame. She mentally patted herself on the back for not flinching when she said “y’all.” Three times. When she moved to Texas after college, she swore she would never pick up the strange jargon.

It only took a month for the Southern slang to find its way into her vocabulary.

Sensing the men had finished their moaning, Lexi nodded at one of the managers to begin his end of the investigation. Leaning back in her chair, she scribbled on a copy of the report. She bored easily when her mind wasn’t constantly engaged. Doodling helped her maintain some focus on a situation without actively paying attention. As an added bonus, writing on paper gave everyone else the illusion she was busy.

On this day, she found paying attention to the investigation exceptionally difficult. Her afternoon meeting back at Corporate Headquarters would determine her future with Gulf America.

She made a note to dust off the training video about respectful language. More than likely, the oil rig’s crew would moan about having to sit through thirty minutes of bad acting. They’d also likely ignore the message, but she had to try.

For the men, she added a few suggestions for her boss to consider. They at least needed anger management counseling. Offering them a buyout in exchange for early retirement would satisfy the union and the company.

With her work done, she turned over her notes to doodle a picture. She drew two donkeys. One held a glass, the other a plate. Leaning back in her chair she admired her work, both the drawing, and the much more relaxed atmosphere in the conference room.

Damn she was good.

Watch the trailer here.

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1 comment:

Samantha March said...

Thanks for featuring the book!