Deborah Strickland has chosen a solitary existence. Her job as a shipping manager for Consolidated Freightways is her life. The work is high stress and fast paced for Deb and her five employees, especially now, during the Christmas season. Although she is a good and caring boss, when the day is done so is the camaraderie. Everything runs smoothly, until Deb hires a new employee to help get them through the holiday rush. Suddenly the entire crew finds themselves plagued with unexplained mishaps. As the supervisor, Deb is the one they turn to for help. Caught in a strange web of lies, she is no longer sure whom she can trust. Then one day she finds a truck driver lying in a pool of blood on the floor of her office. When the police arrive at the warehouse, the body and the evidence are gone. Now Deb must find the killer before someone else gets hurt. And she'd better do it quickly before she becomes the next victim.
Tina gives an overview of the book:
The day before our company Christmas party at Consolidated Freightways hadn’t started out well. Cindy, my receptionist, had called in sick. So had Gary, our forklift driver. That left me to load the trucks for the second time this week, in addition to my other duties as manager. I had just wasted twenty minutes freezing my ass off and arguing with Jim Maxwell, a driver from Washington, who insisted on getting loaded first.
“Everyone’s in a hurry, Max,” I told him. “There’s already a driver waiting in front of you. I’ll get it loaded as fast as I can.”
“That’s what happens when you put a woman in a man’s job.” He turned and headed back to his truck to get in line.
“Well welcome to the twenty-first century, asshole,” I said after him.
I bit my tongue to stop myself from saying anything more. If I let guys like him get to me, I wouldn’t have made it through my first day of work, let alone my first year. Now I was coming up on six years as shipping manager. And I could curse this guy under the table if I felt like it. In my defense, sometimes the only way to be heard in a shipping/receiving business is by using the same language as the troops. If I had become rough around the edges, it was because I had no choice.
The job was nonstop stressful. We had to call and schedule appointments to deliver freight for more than three hundred locations in our area. We would input the appointments into the computer and print the shipping manifest, then call the drivers in as the rigs were being loaded with freight.
I ignored Maxwell and headed over to Dave, who was next to be loaded. At last, a friendly face. Unlike most of the drivers, Dave was clean cut and soft spoken. Despite the pressures of the job, he’d never once raised his voice at me. Charm seemed to come easily to him—maybe a little too easily.
“So, Deb, when are you going to let me take you out to dinner?” He gave me a ladies’-man grin that deepened his dimples and lit his blue eyes.
“The answer’s the same as always.” I looked up from the clipboard that held his route map. “Never.”
“Come on, Deb.”
“No, you come on,” I said. “When that driver pulls his truck out, you need to get backed in, so we can get you loaded and out of here.”
“I love it when you tell me what to do.” He leaned against the crash post at the end of the dock.
“I mean it, Dave.”
“So what’s the problem? I’m just not your type?”
The guy was persistent, that was for sure. It’s as if he could sense that I was vulnerable and fresh from a breakup—time for the tough-girl act.
“I don’t have time for this today, okay? Max was just about ready to knock me on my ass. In fact, he threatened to last week. I need to get these trucks loaded.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll pull my rig in,” he said, “but it’s almost Christmas. Can’t you cut me some slack? Have a little holiday drink with me, maybe?”
I shook my head and glanced away from him. Watching from the bay door about five feet away, Desiree stood with her jet-black hair clipped back with a stocking cap over her head. She was so pale skinned she looked almost sickly. She waved and headed toward us.
“Excuse me for interrupting,” she said and grinned up at Dave. “I need to talk to Deb for a minute.” He smiled back at her and turned to walk away.
I was caught off guard by how much that little exchange of smiles bothered me, but it did. Damn, I can’t really be starting to have feelings for this guy can I? I don’t date truck drivers; that’s my rule. Dating him would turn into a big problem at work, and I don’t need anymore of those, now do I?
“What can I do for you, Desiree?” I was hoping the irritation of being interrupted hadn’t come through in my tone.
“I was wondering if I could talk to you about the Christmas party tomorrow night.”
“What? Now, are kidding me? Can’t you see the line of trucks I have to load?”
“Yeah, but you’re always busy. Besides I saw you visiting with Dave, so I thought if you had time for him, you’d have a little time for me.”
“First off, I wasn’t visiting with Dave. I was telling him to back his truck in so I can get it loaded. And second, you are supposed to be in there getting pallets ready for me to load, not standing around watching me.”
“I just wanted to ask you something about the party. You don’t have to rip my head off.”
“We can talk later. I’m sorry if it seems like I ripped your head off, but I am under a lot of pressure right now.” I pointed to the trucks lining up along the shipping terminal. “As you can see for yourself.”
“Okay, sure.” She huffed and turned and walked back into the shipping area.
I could understand why she was excited about the Company party. The whole crew was, which only made them even more distracted this Friday. It was almost impossible to keep them focused. I, on the other hand, was not all that thrilled about the party—or the holiday, for that matter. However, this wasn’t about me. It was about my crew. Like it or not, Desiree was part of that crew now.
As much as I hated brown nosing, that manager title I carried made some employees, Desiree included, believe that kissing my ass was a way to get on my good side. She was always in my way, tripping over herself to make sure to wish me a good morning, to ask me how my weekend was, or to ask me some lame question she could have figured out for herself.
When I finished loading the last truck for the day, I walked inside the receiving bay to get a bottle of water. Another long day and no one was waiting at home for me tonight. After two months, it was clear that Brad wasn’t going to change his mind, decide that I was the love of his life, and dump the girl he’d dumped me for.
I leaned over the ice chest outside the office and heard someone behind me.
“Deb?” I turned around to face Desiree and her expectant expression. “Do you have time now?” she asked.
I didn’t, but I said, “Sure. What do you need to know about the party?”
“Well, I was wondering if I could ride with you tomorrow night.”
That got my full attention. I didn’t want to be mean, but I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone else either. I started to say no when Desiree gave me this puppy-dog look that made me hesitate to speak.
“You can’t find anyone else? Maybe Marcy can give you a ride. She lives closer to you.” I know that was mean, but I really didn’t want to have to do it, so yeah, I threw my assistant and best friend under the bus, so to speak.
She looked as if I had just swatted her with a newspaper. I felt like a heel, but I had a hard enough time socializing at work. Unlike the rest of them, I wasn’t that excited about this party.
“I don’t really know Marcy that well. I’ll need to find another way.”
“Why can’t you just take your own car?”
She gave me an embarrassed smile. “I don’t want to drink and drive.”
“Why would you drive?” I asked. “Aren’t you staying at the hotel like the rest of us?”
She stared down at the floor. “I can’t afford to.” Then she looked up, hopeful. “I really want to though, but it’s a lot of money. Can you really afford that much for a room? Maybe we could . . . .”
“Maybe share a room?” I blurted. Had I really just said that?
“What a great idea! Could we?”
“Maybe. I guess I could change my room to a double, and you could share the cost with me. You’re right. I can’t really afford it either, and that way you can drive yourself and not have to worry about getting home.”
She gave a little scream of joy and jumped over and hugged me. I hated hugs more than I hated holidays. But what else could I do? She was my employee, and I took care of my people.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
“Okay, Desiree, calm yourself. I just want all my people to enjoy themselves tomorrow night, that’s all.”
“I get it,” she said. “See you tomorrow. And thanks again.”
Then she turned and walked away, and I stood there asking myself what the hell I had just done.
I went into my office, sat down with my water, and stared into that empty place I was getting all too familiar with.
“Earth to Deb, come in Deb.”
It was Marcy Daniels, my assistant. She was slightly taller than me, but then again most people were me being only 5’2. She had a booming voice and an attitude to match. Maybe because we had worked together for so long, she followed in my footsteps and took shit from no one, well except me, and even that was rare.
“Ha, ha,” I told her. “You’re so hilarious.”
“For some, it doesn’t take all that much.” She pushed her gold-blond hair off her forehead. “Why do you look so serious? Who pissed in your Wheaties this time?”
She looked at me, puzzled. “Huh?”
“Me. I just pissed in my own Wheaties. I can’t believe it, but I did. Desiree begged to ride with me tomorrow night to the party.”
“You’re kidding,” she said with a smirk on her face.
“Anyhow, I told her no.”
I hated that she knew me so well.
“But, damn it, she got all teary-eyed about not being able to afford her own room.”
“Oh my god. You didn’t.”
“I did, Marcy.”
“You never learn, do you?” she said. “Little Miss Ass Kisser is going to drive you crazy, you know that, right?”
“Well, what was I supposed to do?”
“You were supposed to say no. That’s all you needed to do. You always screw yourself with kindness, Deb. You pretend to be so tough, but you—”
“Please,” I said. “We’ve had this conversation before. I am tough when I need to be, but Desiree needs a place to stay, and I did what I had to because—”
“Because you take care of your people.” She shook her head and walked out the door.
Good. I didn’t need to be lectured anymore. I was already kicking my own ass for it.
That night I stopped at El Indio, my favorite Mexican restaurant, and ordered myself shredded-beef enchiladas to go. While I waited, I went into the lounge and visited with Katherine, the bartender.
There she stood in her very colorful uniform, with the biggest earrings I had ever seen dangling from her ears. She loves the dress up part of her job and looked great in her waitress attire with her dark-brown hair and brown eyes. She had to be one of the sweetest people I had ever met. She saw me sit in my usual spot at the bar, gave me a quick smile, and went back to serving drinks to the customers she was helping.
When she was done she brought me a Long Island Iced Tea—my usual. “So what’s new?” she asked me.
“Too much work, not enough sleep, and absolutely no social life. Oh wait, that’s not new, is it?” She laughed and shook her head. “I won’t say you have a bad attitude, but I will say maybe you should start dating again—I think a little sex might do you good.”
I choked on my drink and said, “Excuse me? What makes you think I lack in that department?”
She laughed again, “God, where should I start?”
I had to smile at that.
“Yeah I know. I come in here five nights a week, so it’s pretty apparent that I have no social life or sex life either. Who knows, maybe you’re right.”
Just then Manny popped his head around the corner.
“Hey, beautiful, your food is ready.” That set us into a fit of laughter. He looked puzzled. “What’s so funny?”
I shook my head and told him, “You don’t want to know.”
“Yeah, Manny,” Katherine said. “Run for your life. You’re not safe around here right now.”
“Kath, you better not be drinking on the job.” He gave her an accusing look and then turned and walked out.
I got my food and came home to my dark and empty house. As I stood outside looking at it, the loneliness hit me in the chest. I really needed to get myself a dog or something. I went in, turned on some lights, poured myself a glass of wine, and sat down to eat alone—again.
Although the food was great, I didn’t really have an appetite. I was feeling tired and lonely, and it made for a lack of enthusiasm toward eating. I got up to put my food on the counter and thought maybe I should just drink my dinner tonight. I didn’t have to work tomorrow, and maybe going to bed drunk would help me sleep.
I set my food down just as the phone rang. It startled me. I know, hard to believe with me being such a wonderful person and all, but it’s true. I didn’t socialize very well, and the phone rarely rang. I picked it up expecting Marcy’s voice.
“Hi, Deb it’s me, Desiree.”
I was shocked because I never gave my number out, and I was pissed that someone had given it to her. I didn’t like my employees invading my personal life.
“Good evening, Desiree. What can I do for you?” I hoped she’d hear in my voice that I wasn’t pleased with the call.
“Well I wanted to thank you again for letting me share a room with you tomorrow. I can’t tell you what it means to me. I don’t have very many friends, and I am just so happy to have found one in you.”
Here we go. I knew this would happen.
“I hope you don’t take it personally, but I don’t make friends with my employees,” I said. “I have a very strict rule about it. No offense, but it would be irresponsible of me to allow that to happen.”
“You don’t have to worry about it. Your secrets are my secrets.”
I was dumbfounded. “Listen, Desiree . . . .”
“See you tomorrow night, friend.” Then she hung up.
Shit. I was in it deep. Again, I asked myself what I had done.
I poured another glass of wine. If I couldn’t sleep tonight, maybe I could at least pass out.
I grew up in Portland Oregon, and now live in a small town in Northern California with my husband, Alan, and our Great Dane, Baxter. I am currently an AVP/Branch Manager for a local community bank, as well as a novelist and bass player for The Genuine Draft Band.