Beggars and Choosers
A few days had passed since Mattias went into his boss’ office to demand they get additional people. He had dwelled on it since. He worried and fretted and wasted his next few days thinking he had been outplayed or outsmarted, and that he had burned a bridge before he ever got the chance to really get his footing. Or, well, whatever mixed metaphor he would think up at the time. He wasn’t clear why it worried him so much. Worst case scenario, he got fired – but that would put his team in a worse position and he just couldn’t bring himself to do that to them.
That had always been in his nature, though. To worry. To dwell on every mistake he had ever made, no matter how little or large, no matter how impactful or neutral. It was his instinct. Worry. He had come by it honestly, from a long line of worriers, who felt that worry showed you cared – but that you couldn’t show anyone that you were worried, or you would be seen as someone who just wanted to have the appearance of caring. All of which was confusing, when he thought on it too long. It didn’t matter where it came from though, it was just there. Like his vampirism. It was part of him, and it might as well have always been. There was no changing it now.
And even if it did, how would he know how to handle himself?
So, there was a bit of normalcy to his worrying. That made it feel like home. Like laying on an uncomfortable couch in your own living room. It was your couch, and the place it was you felt comfortable. Even if you weren’t.
Maybe his brain was beginning to decay a bit.
He took a breath and leaned back in his chair. The waves of guests calling the past few days had been simple enough to handle. He had taken to the phones like you would a bicycle. That is to say that it was natural, and he only stumbled about as much as everyone else. That was the trick in this job, he had realized long ago.
Treat every guest as a microcosm. You can’t remember them all, so you might as well forget the experience at the end of the day. Then there was nothing to dwell on. The more guests, the easier it was to forget that one mistake made earlier in the day. Sure, they might remember it. But the chances of them remembering and speaking to you again were slim. Even all that would keep him up and worrying sometimes.
It was worse when it affected other people though. His eyes scanned across his team and he listened as they spoke to guests and one another. They were the reason he was worried. People too high saw them as numbers, and people down here couldn’t do much to help. Each had a life, with struggles of their own. They had their own struggles and stories, but like any good workplace, those seemed a bit more surmountable with friends and family around.
They had never clicked like those sitcom workplaces though. There was no friendship outside of the workplace. Once they were clocked out, their lives were completely separate. It was a bit enough city that they only saw each other rarely outside of work. So maybe it was odd that he considered them friends and worth protecting to the best of his ability. Maybe he shouldn’t have stuck his neck out for them. Managers usually didn’t.
He had always hated managers like that though.
Somewhere along the way, his thoughts had taken over and that long inner monologue was broken when he glanced up and noticed all three of his team looking at him. No. That wasn’t right. He sat up as he realized their eyes were past him. He spun his chair around to see Ed there, and he reached up to pull off his headset.
As his headset was pulled off, the sounds of the office came rushing back to him. Gone was the nice soft jazz music that kept him calm and contented during calls, and replaces was the low hum of office equipment, idle banter and the rain like clicking of hundreds of keyboards all being used at the same time. He took a second to realize what was happening, to get his bearings and clear his throat.
“Sorry, zoned out. How long have you been there?”
“About a minute.”
“Cool,” Mattias said softly, quietly, his head shaking with a soft thankfulness that he hadn’t been doing anything he shouldn’t have been doing at the time. Like checking his cell phone, or buying things online, or whatever it was that would set Ed off. “Can I help you?”
“Yes. I have two candidates. I need you and your team to group interview them, and then give me your choice of the two,”
“Wait. Candidates?” Mattias sat up quickly. “For the other two positions? We need two – that’s,”
“No. Corporate will only sign off on one.”
“What? We need two,” Mattias protested.
“We can’t possibly stick this out with just four of us,” Maddox piped in, warranting a quick glare from Ed. The woman’s eyes didn’t change or shift, there was no dark energy swirling forth from her, or the pressure of dark magics pressing around them now – but there might as well have been. The glare shut up Maddox instantly, and despite himself, he stammered out a short, “Sorry, Ms. Chambers,”
She turned back to Mattias. “I already interviewed them. I narrowed it down. See which one fits your team. And you pick them. Let me know.”
“Good, we’ll pick,”
“No,” She spoke coldly, “Are you even listening today, Mr. Holland? Get your head back here. You,” She pointed one long, thin finger to the center of his chest, “You will make the choice. Your team can advise. I want to make sure we do this correctly. The first time.” She widened her eyes, “There won’t be a second.” She clarified.
“Right. I will pick.”
“Have the decision in writing on my desk before you leave today.” She spoke and started to turn around.
“Wait, today?” Mattias spoke up and sat up swiftly. He was going to stand, and even started pushing himself up. A second of those glares cut him off though. He swallowed and felt her gaze fall on him. He had faced a few non-humans before, even one Medusa, but his desire to look away from her here was stronger than even that had been.
“Mr. Holland,” Her voice was quieter, a hint of a hiss or a growl under the words. “I am sticking my neck out for you and your team. The interviews are tonight. You have thirty minutes after shift’s end to prepare, and two thirty-minute interviews after that. Then, you will have that decision for me.” She spoke quickly. “My meeting with corporate is at eight in the morning, their time, so I need it on my desk. Understood,”
“Good. I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow. Check your email.”
She walked away after those words, never looking back. A small zone seemed free around her, free of noise and other employees – only the click of her heels as she moved on back towards her office.
“Did she seem more upset than usual?” Lindsay pointed out the obvious.
“Always seemed like that to me,” Maddox responded with an exaggerated shiver.
“Yeah, but you’re an ass,” Ashley had already pulled her cellphone back out by that point and twisted back to her computer to return to work.
“Wait, do we have to stay late for group interviews?” Maddox asked after a second, though it was rhetorical. “Damn it, that’s a stupid way to start off the weekend.”
“What were you going to do instead? Go home and lay around,”
“I’ll have you know, I had a big date planned,” He shook his head. “Have, a big date planned. I just have to go in work clothes now. But, at least I look pretty good in them.”
“Keep telling yourself that,”
“At least I have a date – what are you doing this weekend, hm?”
“Same thing I always do. Stay at home with my boyfriend. Maybe go out if something strikes our fancy,”
“Uhuh. Boyfriend,” Maddox with a tone that could only be described as audible air quotes. “How come we’ve never seen him?”
“Because he doesn’t like the idea of coming here, jackass.”
Mattias let them talk as he pulled up his email. He had to refresh a few times. But it finally popped up and he tuned out the others for another few minutes. It was a quick read. Ed had sent over her notes from her interviews with them. They were short, brutal, and effective. Frankly, he was glad he had a chance to read through them. It looked like there were two good candidates. One internal, one external. Both qualified. Both with decent interviews. Both ready to start right away. Benjamin Van Der Veen and Helena Piper. Benjamin seemed to win out in the notes, though. He was marked as well-tempered, his qualifications had a slight edge, and he was an outside hire – which the company liked for veteran teams. It almost felt as if Helena was just on the list due to her role as an internal candidate. Her department wasn’t even guest-facing. She had been working in an assistant role to someone in HR.
The shift went quickly and had been near its end when this was dropped on them. So, before long they had gathered together and come up with a game plan. Basically, the three would watch Mattias interview the candidates, and give their thoughts after the fact. It was not what he had wanted. His pitch was everyone asked some questions, but somehow they shot that down without a fight. So, they prepared and waited. First up was,
“Benjamin Van Der Veen,” The candidate introduced himself. He was only somewhat properly dressed. He had an old, but crisp, pair of jeans and a button-up shirt. He wore a hat, and a dark belt with a larger than average buckle – and of course, boots. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance.” He had a distinct drawl, spoken through a beaming smile that was much wider than it should have been. He wasn’t a large person, nor did he stand out in any way, but rather looked average. Almost disarmingly so.
“Mattias Holland,” Mattias stood from his seat and offered over a hand. The candidate gripped it and gave a firm handshake – but one that was cool and somewhat refreshing in a way. It was curious, really.
“And you would be?” Benjamin asked before breaking the handshake and moving back to the others.
“Maddox,” Maddox’s voice was a bit more polite than usual, and the two shook hands.
“Ashley,” She chimed in, with a quick brush of her hair back behind her ear during her turn to shake his hands. Of course, the flush of her cheeks was what gave it away.
“Okay, I think we’ve seen enough. Thanks for coming, don’t call us, we’ll call you,” Mattias said tossing the folder down with a sigh.
“What?” Benjamin turned around quickly. “I didn’t even get the chance to introduce myself to all of you,”
“Because you used charms on the humans,” Lindsay said softly with a little shake of her head.
“We can’t have a team member that is willing to use charms on other team members. One guest gets wind of that and they’ll assume the entire department is doing that.” Mattias spoke quickly. “Sorry.”
“Give me another chance? It was instinct man, and…” Benjamin suddenly stopped, “And it didn’t work on you at all…”
“One, my ex-wife is a witch, so… basic charm magic is kind of like,” Mattias pointed at the animated lunchbox scurrying about under his desk, seemingly excited that there was a new person in the area. “Second nature, at this point.” He held up a hand, “Two, I died thirty years ago, so an incubus isn’t going to do shit for me. Sorry.”
Benjamin tossed his head down a bit and sighed. “Man, fuck it. I didn’t want a damn CSR job anyway,” Even his accent had disappeared as he stormed off. His charade broken, there was no reason to waste his time there any longer. So, he didn’t.
“Yeah, thanks for coming. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” Mattias sighed.
It warranted a raised middle finger from the other man as he walked off.
“My vote is still for him,” Ashley said quietly.
“You don’t get a vote,” Mattias spoke, standing up. “Come on, we’ll get some coffee in you two and snap you out of it.”
Lindsay had also stood and put an arm around Ashley to guide her as Maddox was helped up by Mattias. They headed to the break room and started some coffee. It was a placebo trick, but one that was so familiar as a cure by most people that they just assumed it would work. He shook his head softly. They didn’t talk, though.
Maddox and Ashley talked, though. They talked a lot. They talked about the good qualities of the last candidate and how he was going to make a great addition to the team. They talked about it for half an hour, through the cups of coffee and various requests for them to stop or shut up from Lindsay and Mattias. Incubi messed up one’s perception, though, so it was unlikely they were hearing anything past whatever his original plan for the meeting had been. That worry was back, though. That worry that this next candidate would be bad, and they would be stuck with either a fourth person pulling them down or just no one.
“I’m sorry, is… is this where the interview is being held?” A somewhat nervous voice came from the entrance to the break room. “I’m… a bit early, but I work downstairs… so I just… stayed late. I hope that’s okay.”
“No, no interviews here. We already found the best…” Ashley beamed, standing up with her coffee and a wide smile.
“Oh.” The girl looked dejected, her eyes sinking to the floor and a soft nod all she responded with.
“Ignore her,” Mattias said standing up. “There was an incubus and they’re…”
“Horny.” Lindsay finished his thought.
“You must be Helena. I’m Mattias, this is Lindsay, and the two dopes are Maddox and Ashley,”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Helena.” She said, realizing that wasn’t the best response, and shaking her head. Her hands fiddled in her pockets, nerves building upon her. She was a heavy-set girl, but she already worked here, so she knew a lot.
“Have a seat. We’ll make this informal.”
She took a breath and nodded, finding herself a seat in front of Mattias and Lindsay, despite protests from the other two. She sat there, and while nervous, she answered the questions and talked to the two for the interview. There was nothing special about her. She was a college dropout, but someone who had worked with the company for a couple of years. She didn’t have much in the way of dreams or ambitions, but she was curious about people and wanted to try a more guest-centric position. But the thing that sold Mattias was that she was nervous. She was out of her element – and she had two people antagonizing her if only a little bit – but she sat down anyway. And did her best.
He could work with that.