11:10 AM, November 23rd
Nate slumped in his chair as his employees left the break room. What did those jerks know, he could have a girlfriend. Becca could be real. He had a good job, good money. He only wished he had someone to take to Mary’s wine and cheese mixer tonight. Maybe he could spend his Christmas bonus on doing what he did for senior prom. Granted, that was a low point for him. Nobody really wanted to introduce their English teacher to a prostitute named Ginger…
His phone dinged in his pocket. Bennie wanted him to call. Stupid Bennie, living it up in New York with his hot girlfriend Abby. He groaned, moving to get up and go take the call in his office, but hesitated when he saw Joel shaking the break room vending machine violently.
“Um, you okay there buddy?” Nate offered timidly, pushing his glasses a little further back onto his face.
“Can you believe they raised the price of the vending machines again?” Joel looked uncharacteristically angry for a man who spent his weekends DJ-ing senior bingo nights at the YMCA. “Two dollars for ginger ale? They’re trying to crush us,” he gave the machine another violent shake. “Like ants!”
Nate stared through the window at all his coworkers, hurrying about, trying to meet their deadlines. While the holidays were certainly stressful for everyone, it seemed to be different this year, somehow. Like, everybody was on edge, ready to snap at the first person who tested them. Something was off, he could tell.
“There’s a lot of negative energy in this office,” Nate murmured.
Meanwhile, Nate had missed the slightly glassy look in Joel’s eyes, as he shook his head, a bit confused as to why he had just been shaking the vending machine. A faint green vapor slithered its way down Joel’s neck and back into his pocket, where it vanished, unseen.
Before Nate could add anything else about the lack of christmas spirit, Alison burst into the break room, panting heavily.
“Nate, all department heads to the conference room now. It’s Carol.”
Nate went pale. Bennie would have to wait.
11:15 AM, November 23rd
Holtz had been over by the HR coffee machine arranging a cheese platter when Alison gave her the notice about Carol. She had suspected that the snow machine wouldn’t cover every square inch of the party, so she thought she could improve her chances by lacing the party snacks with deionization powder. It would’ve only taken her a minute if she hadn’t kept stopping to eat some of the cheese. She imagined Erin would scold her for eating so much cheese when she was lactose intolerant. But she couldn’t help stress eating a little bit, there was a ghost gone awol and Bennie still hadn’t gotten through to Nate to secure his help for them.
She had almost finished when Alison grabbed her by the arm, dragging her out of her office with cheese platter in tow.
“Alison what have I told you about inappropriate touching at work?” She spluttered.
“I’m sorry Mary, but trust me, you don’t want to be late for this.” Alison practically threw her through the conference room door, running off to gather more department heads.
Holtz took the opportunity to assess her surroundings. Everyone was here except for Josh and Clay. At the head of the table was a very attractive, very angry looking woman. Holtzmann couldn’t tell if she was 30 or 50, but from the way she glared at all the department heads who were staring at their shoes intensely, it would not do well to ask her. Mary reached out a polite hand.
“Carol, I presume.”
Carol didn’t even look up from her reports. “Yes, and you are?”
“Mary Winetoss, the new head of HR.”
Carol glanced up coldly. “New, hm? I’ll keep that in mind.” She returning to boring her eyes into the papers.
Mary skittered backwards into her seat with a nervous laugh. It’s your ass I’m saving here, lady, Holtzmann grumbled to herself. But hey, no good deed goes unpunished, amirite?
2 minutes later, Josh and Clay burst through the door, with 12 shopping bags and Alison in tow. Not the best timing, Joey and Chandler, Holtzmann thought. Rachel Green over here looks like she’s already had her tampon tugged today.
Holtz watched the brother/sister rivalry unfold before her eyes, with no small amount of amusement. The tense greetings, the name calling. It was like foster home thanksgiving all over again.
“Clay, take a seat.” Oooh, that’s a power move, Holtz said to herself.
“Um, actually, I prefer to stand, because this is… my branch.” Good recovery my dude, good recovery.
“Very well. Alison, please remove Clay’s chair from the table.” Holtz had to stifle a snicker.
Carol began viciously berating Clay about their fourth quarter earnings, but Holtz soon found herself distracted by some very loud static in her earpiece. She frowned. The piece was wireless, there shouldn’t be any interruptions, unless… she glanced over to Clay’s shopping bags, noticing the name “Brookstone.” Shit. If he had gotten walkie talkies or any cool shit like that, and had turned them on to play with them like any sensible man, then they were going to cause interference.
She noticed Clay move to go retrieve his chair, and realized he was going to toss the Brookstone bag off his chair closer to Mary, which would make a very loud burst of interference that would be audible to the others in the room. Shit, she couldn’t get found out now, she thought. Carol was right here, this could blow the whole thing.
Feeling all of the cheese grumbling in her stomach, she quickly concentrated, hoping her old college party trick could help her out just as Clay tossed his bags on the ground, just as Carol said the branch was failing…
“I’m so sorry…” Mary winced as the loud burst of static in her ear was covered up by a rather loud and incredibly well-timed fart. “I hate tension, and I farted.” Mary put her hand to her head in embarrassment.
After a prolonged, disbelieving look from Carol, she returned to the discussion of creating new revenue, or else this branch would be closed just like Orlando was this morning, and Philadelphia was several months ago.
Holtz sighed in relief, only to tense back up again when she heard a buzzing noise in both her ears. That wasn’t the earpiece, that was her PKE detectors. The ghost was in this room.
She tapped her foot nervously while Tracy discussed her Anywair invention, something that could give you seamless wifi from any electrical device. The buzzing was getting louder, but she couldn’t tell which direction the ghost was in. Judging from the signal, it was coming at her from all directions, but she couldn’t see any vapor. Where was it? She groaned quietly in frustration at the elusive spirit.
She thought back to the IT room. It had to be possessing somebody, that was the only logical explanation. Good thing she had brought the ghost-repelling cheese platter with her into the conference room. She tuned back into the conversation just in time to hear Carol saying “…is there anything else, anyone wants to talk about?” Probably said sarcastically, but Mary took the opportunity anyway.
“Actually yes,” the dumpy woman chimed in, whipping out her cheese platter from seemingly nowhere. Holtz heard the buzzing in her ears pick up, and she started babbling absentmindedly as she tried to determine where it was coming from. “I have a small cheese platter sampling for the wine and cheese mixer tonight, sorry there’s so much Gouda, it was the MVP last year… but we also do have a feisty cheddar on the bench-“
“Wait a minute,” Carol interrupted. “You all are having a Christmas Party tonight?”
Mary, ever the HR rep, corrected her: “Ah, its not a Christmas Party, its a non-denominational Holiday Mixer.” She leaned over to whisper dramatically to Nate: “More inclusive.” Nate stared back at her with eyes that said “Why are you like this.”
Carol’s eyes grew steelier. “Oh no, that is not happening.”
Everyone turned to Clay as he fumbled for his words: “Well I wouldn’t say its happening, I mean, its just going to be like a casual little thing, you know-“
“Just a small thing that’s really important to everyone,” Josh chimed in. He knew how integral the party was to Holtz’s plan, and tried his best to vouch for it.
However, Carol was not so easily swayed. “No, okay, the party is cancelled. You got that? Cancelled.”
Holtz began to panic. The PKE meter earrings weren’t leading her to any individual in the room, and the deionization powder had been a crap shoot to begin with. The party was her best bet to pounce on the ghost when it tried to make its move. She looked over to Clay desperately, willing the man to fight his sister on this.
Clay gave a resigned sigh, and said “Okay, okay, no party.” After which he immediately made eye contact with Holtz and mouthed something that looked like “The trumpet is blown.”
“What?” Holtz mouthed back at him.
Clay mouthed more clearly: “The party is on, we’ll still have the party,” and made the drinking symbol with his hand.
“Hey idiots!” Carol yelled, as Holtz gave an knowing smile and wink back at Clay. “I can see you, I’m right here.”
“What? No, the party is cancelled,” Clay insisted, before turning again to mouth reassurances back at Holtz, who mouthed “I gotcha,” and gave him a thumbs up.
“Hey! Josh, you can- I can clearly see him, he’s talking to the farty cheese lady!” Carol grew more frustrated, as Holtz nodded appreciatively at the new nickname. Hey, anything beat Ghost Tits.
Unfortunately for Clay and Holtz, Carol put her foot down, practically hissing “The party is cancelled,” before storming off to Clay’s office with the sheepish man in tow.
Mary slumped in her chair, as the other heads left the conference room dejectedly. Nate rushed off to call his brother back. Alison went to spy on Clay and Carol’s conversation. She also noticed Joel munching on a piece of cheese as he left, traipsing off to work on his resume for what he assumed would be his next series of job interviews.
Well, Holtz thought glumly. Thats two suspects down, 198 to go.