The wind was picking up, the leaves in the high branches of the trees bobbing and weaving in all directions. George frowned at the sky. A storm must be coming in. She hadn’t checked the weather report, but she gave her watch an uneasy glance. Could she make it home before it hit?
The call came from behind her. She took a deep breath and turned, pasting a smile on her face. “Yes, Mr. Givens?”
She hated his nickname for her with a passion. Anyone else, she’d correct. Again and again and again, however many times and however firmly it required. But Givens held her job in his hands and she needed her job. Hell, he could call her Georgie-Porgie for all she cared. Pudding and pie. Whatever. As long as he kept that paycheck coming, she wouldn’t complain.
“Caroline just called in sick for tomorrow, so I’ll need you to come in early. Can you get here by 6?”
“I don’t work tomorrow,” she reminded him, her hand tightening on the handle of her car door.
“I need you here.” His smile didn’t reach his cold blue eyes. “You’ll have to change your plans.”
She pushed her own fake smile up a notch. “I’d be happy to. It’ll put me into overtime for the week. Time and a half, right? I could use the money.”
“That won’t do,” he said immediately. “Just don’t clock in when you get here.”
“Excuse me?” George arched an eyebrow, trying to make her expression neutral instead of horrified. But her mind was racing. He wasn’t seriously suggesting she work off the clock, was he? Was he crazy?
He waved his hand irritably. “You can make up the time off next week. Or later. You’ll be compensated.”
She let her hand drop and took a step toward him, back toward the door from which she’d so gratefully emerged only minutes earlier. Overhead, a low rumble of thunder rolled through the gathering crowds.
“Compensated how?” she asked him.
“You’ll get your time off,” he replied. “Just not tomorrow.”
“How does that work exactly?” George gave the sky another uneasy look. Those clouds weren’t just drifting in, they were pouring in, as if the sky were being flooded with darkness.
“Comp time, of course.” He seemed to be standing straighter, drawing in his stomach, puffing out his scrawny chest as if he could intimidate her through his size. “Paid time off at some later date. It’s not unusual.”
She put an innocent note in her voice as she took another step closer to him. “But if I don’t clock in, there’s no record of me working.”
His expression was turning ugly, his narrow lips pulling down at the corners. “I’ll know, you’ll know, it’ll be fine. I need you here at 6 tomorrow. Are you going to make it or not?”
“I can be here,” George said cautiously. “But I’d prefer to clock in as usual.” She was keeping her voice even with an effort.
“This is a good job, Georgie,” Givens said, the threat implicit. “A few hours of unpaid overtime won’t kill you.”
She pressed her lips together. No, it definitely wouldn’t. But that didn’t mean she was going to put up with it. She spread her hands wide and tried to put a soothing tone in her voice. “Mr. Givens, I don’t want to be unreasonable, sir.” How thick could she spread her docility and still be believed? “I appreciate my job and I like it here.”
She did like it here. She worked hard, but the job wasn’t terrible, and it paid well enough that she could rent a tiny private cabin in the woods and still buy groceries. She’d even been thinking about getting a cat. Life could be worse.
“Good.” He gave a thin-lipped smile of triumph. “Then I’ll expect you at 6 tomorrow. Off the clock.”
“Sir…” she started, but it was too late.
The boom from the sky held a voice, the words thunderous. “No one talks to my daughter that way!”
George squeezed her eyes shut and clapped her hands over her ears as the bolt of lightning sizzled down out of the sky, crackling and roaring with the energy of a freight train, the crash of thunder accompanying it deafeningly loud. Despite her closed lids the after-image felt burned on her retinas, as the smell of scorched hair and burning flesh rose to fill her nostrils.
Givens hadn’t even had time to scream.
“Damn it, Dad!” George raised her face to the sky and complained. “You promised!”
The dark clouds were already dissipating, the sky lightening as if that single bolt of lightning comprised the entirety of the storm. As it probably had.
“No one talks to my daughter that way.” The words were softer, a whisper on the breeze meant only for her ears.
Reluctantly, George walked over to the steps where Givens’ body lay. He’d fallen backwards, face-up. The lightning had frozen a rictus of malice on his face, and as it burned through his bloodstream, it had turned his veins into a map of delicate of red lace over his skin. But he was very definitely dead.
“You can’t just kill people who irritate me.”
The whisper in response sounded surprised. “Yes, I can.”
“You shouldn’t, then,” she snapped.
“I should have killed him when he called you Georgie.” The voice sounded sulky. “That’s not your name.”
George folded her arms across her chest. Did she really want to get into another argument with her father about something stupid? Probably not. But what did human beings do in these circumstances? She should probably call someone. “What happens next?” she asked her father.
“What do you mean?” he asked her.
She gestured toward the trees. The wind was dying down, stilling, the leaves gentling. “You were on your way because you knew he was going to annoy me, weren’t you?”
“I thought so, oh, omnipotent one.” It was her turn to sound sulky.