Thursday, November 17, 2016
Ralph stopped so abruptly he nearly dropped his coffee. Not his jelly donut, however. A moment of stunned silence was followed by the expected explosion. “What the flaming fuck?”
Messy as a bear’s den at the best of times, Ralph’s desk had been transformed into a garish shrine adorned with balloons, crepe paper, and wrestling memorabilia. There was even a replica of a WWE championship belt draped over a metal folding chair. In lieu of rose petals, the desktop had been strewn with printout photos of the same man’s face—bearded, clean-shaven, smiling, scowling, all with one eyebrow raised. In the very center stood a framed cover from the latest People magazine, proclaiming Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as “The Sexiest Man Alive.”
And right next to his desk, holding a big red heart-shaped balloon, stood that junkless snake Lamar with a huge shit-eating grin on his face. Maybe snakes did eat shit. Ralph wouldn’t put anything past a snake.
“It’s official,” Lamar cooed. “Your dream date is now the sexiest man on the planet. People says so. How could they be wrong?”
“Say cheese,” added staff photographer Jamie, and snapped a picture of Ralph’s face, which was rapidly going beat-red. Because of course the whole damned newsroom had turned around to watch. They lived for shit like this. Didn’t anybody come to work just to work any more?
Ralph stomped up to Lamar and jabbed a blunt finger at his grinning face. “Get this through your scaly head. I am not queer for the Rock! It just so happens he’s the greatest wrestler who ever lived. And a better actor than people wanna give him credit for. A real man can admire another real man for that without wanting to, uh … ” Here Ralph ran out of steam. “You know. Without wanting to do other stuff,” he finished triumphantly.
Lamar, who didn’t appear to have a fearful, or sensible, bone in his sinewy body—or bones of any sort, for that matter—slithered closer. “What kind of other stuff?” he whispered eagerly.
Ralph’s grizzly blood rose to the fore. “Listen, Mr. Mind in the Gutter, I ought'a string you up and tie you in a knot—”
“Oooo! Sounds like a fun evening. Come to the club with us? We’ll bring the pics of Dwayne along. For inspiration.”
“I'm gonna kick you in the—oh wait, you don’t have any.”
“Yeah he does.” Jamie grinned. “Probably more than Dwayne.”
Ralph rounded on Jamie. He was an easier target. “Is that what you think?” he said with deceptive mildness.
“IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU THINK!”
The bullpen went dead silent. Ralph had gotten his black bear dad’s diminutive size, but his grizzly mom’s full-on roaring genes. Even Lamar swayed backward, out of striking range.
“Listen up, you jabronies,” Ralph barked. “That goes for alla you. It’s okay to like another guy without, y’know, liking the other guy. I mean not like the snake here. The Rock is the greatest wrestler ever. He comes down to the ring, the whole arena gets electrified. Can any of you do that? Of course not. The man’s a frikkin’ genius. If Pimple wants to put him on their cover, it’s because they’re trying to class up their rag. He should be on the cover of Sports Illustrated anyway—”
“In a swimsuit?” Lamar asked.
“That’s it, scale boy. You’re goin’ down.”
“Too late. Did that this morning.”
“What the hell is going on in here?”
Scat. All the roars had brought editor Nick out of his office. If anybody could out-bellow a grizzly, it was an alpha wolf. “Now look whatcha done,” Ralph complained.
Nick growled low in his throat while he took it all in—the photos, the balloons, Lamar. He picked the snake to vent at. “What did I tell you about unauthorized parties during working hours?”
“Uh … not to have any?”
“Damn right. You’re not even on staff any more. You’re freelance. Clean up this shit and get the hell out of my bullpen so we can get back to work. And you—” He whirled on Jamie. “Delete all photos. No exceptions.”
“He didn’t even bring any cake,” somebody grumbled. Nick swept the room with an ugly glare, but the grumbler had successfully ducked behind a desk.
“And for the record,” Nick finished, “Andre the Giant is the greatest wrestler who ever lived, so I don’t want to hear any more of this ‘Rock’ crap.” He reached for the framed magazine cover.
Ralph snatched it away just in time. “This stays,” he said. And even Nick knew better than to argue.