Garnet hated company picnics. If he could have thought of any excuse not to attend, he’d have jumped on it. His own fault. He knew he was a prick at work. He loved pointing out his fellow workers’ mistakes. Even better, pointing them out to a supervisor.
No one liked him. Not that he cared. At work, they had to be professional, civil. Not so much during leisure time. He expected to get snubbed by everyone there. But if he didn’t show, he’d look bad. And there was free food. Catered even. The company wouldn’t spring for gourmet, but they’d ordered chicken wings, flatbread pizzas with different toppings, mini-tacos, and cupcakes for dessert instead of the usual cold meat sandwiches.
He parked his Mercedes under the high branches of an ancient oak. It would get shade that way. His steering wheel would only be eighty degrees at the end of the afternoon, still too hot to handle, but not as hot as it would be if he had to park by the tennis courts. Couldn’t companies throw indoor picnics? Rent a hall instead of a pavilion? But that would eliminate volleyball and frisbee tosses. Another plus.
Foster Park was one of those grand, old parks with huge flower displays, playgrounds, and trails circling a golf course at its center. A river flowed on its south edge and ancient trees towered along it. It was a short distance to the pavilion where name tags were spread out on a wooden table and the food was set up. Most of the platters were only half full. The hordes had already descended on them. That’s what happened when you came a bit late. But the caterer came to check on them and there was still plenty to choose from. She was cute with a heart-shaped face and brown curls. He’d love to have her for dessert, but a ring circled her finger. No alcohol was allowed on the premises, so there were troughs filled with ice to chill water bottles, iced teas, and juices instead.
Katy Metterick was sitting at the welcome table next to Ken Westerley, one of the company’s partners. She put on a tortured smile when she saw him, bright and fake. She worked in his office and hated his guts. “Glad you could make it!” She motioned toward the name tags. “They’re in alphabetical order. If you’re hungry, help yourself to some food. Volleyball and basketball games have already started.”
Garnet smiled sardonically. It had to cost her to be so friendly to him. She was moderately attractive, but he’d been slumming once and invited her out. He paid for her meal, then automatically took her back to his place. She didn’t find that acceptable. “Just because you paid for my food doesn’t mean you paid for anything else.”
It was the last time he invited her anywhere. What was the point of opening your wallet if it didn’t score you benefits? He motioned toward the goodies on the table. “Have you eaten yet? Care to join me?”
Ken turned to her. “Go. The food’s wonderful. Take a break and enjoy yourself.”
Her expression said she’d rather chew nails. She scowled at Garnet but glanced hungrily at the buffet. “I won’t be long,” she told Ken. And she walked to the table with him.
They loaded their plates and sat at one of the empty picnic tables. He bit into a prosciutto-new potato pizza and groaned. Then he reached for another one.
Katy finished her mini-taco and asked, “What made you late today? You’re only going to get to enjoy half of the picnic.”
He couldn’t tell her that he didn’t want to spend an entire afternoon with his co-workers, so lied instead. “I had some business to attend to that couldn’t wait. I’m just glad I got to come at all.”
She raised an eyebrow. He must have spread it on a little too thick. She wasn’t buying it.
A small breeze riffled the stack of napkins, so Katy put a salt shaker on them to hold them down. It died away as fast as it came, and Garnet pulled on the bottom of his Polo shirt to peel it off his damp back. Even his golf shorts stuck to his skin.
“How did you get stuck at the welcome table? That means you miss most of the games.” He thought she’d want to be part of everything. She was that kind of company worker—a real cheerleader type.
“Jane Bradley came late like you. I volunteered to man the table in her place. She’s going to fill in about fifteen minutes from now.”
He reached for a teriyaki chicken wing. “Good, you’ll get to have fun. You can go follow Will Bailey around and hope that he notices you.”
Her blush soared from her neckline to the roots of her drab hair. “We’re friends, that’s all.”
“If you put out, maybe you’d be more.”
Her blue eyes flashed. Her eyes were her best feature. Sky-blue with long, full lashes. “That’s not a prerequisite for every man.”
“It isn’t? I don’t believe that for a minute.”
They sat in uncomfortable silence while they finished their food, then she went to the drinking fountain to rinse her fingers. He followed her example, then decided to stroll on the path along the river. He’d pass all of the games that way and could wave to make sure people knew he’d made an appearance.
An hour later, sweat soaked his shirt collar. He wiped perspiration off his forehead and top lip. He’d stayed at the volleyball court, cheering for his office team, for half an hour. Long enough. He’d watched the accountants face off against the secretaries on the basketball court for another twenty minutes. That had been pretty entertaining. Every time Sasha Ayres dribbled, her boobs bounced more than the ball. But enough was enough. Time to find his car.
His footsteps slowed as he walked under the tall trees to the parking lot. On the far side of them, he saw Katy strolling hand in hand with Will Bailey on the asphalt path that circled the golf course. The thick trunks hid him from sight, so he stopped walking to avoid them. A fallen log near a sycamore looked inviting. He sat for a minute, watching the river water swirl past him. Voices and laughter drifted to him, but this little patch of trail lay silent and serene. A squirrel, maybe something larger, skittered on an overhead branch, but he didn’t look up. Birds and beasts were overrated.
Once he decided Katy and Will would be long gone, he started to stand. That’s when a lasso dropped down, landing on his shoulders. What the heck? He reached for it, but someone yanked on the rope and it tightened around his neck. A car engine purred to life. Tires crunched. He gripped the rope, but suddenly his feet shot off the ground. The rope cut into his skin and he kicked helplessly. He reached his arms over his head but couldn’t pull himself up enough to ease the tension. Could he swing his body toward the side of the tree and use his feet somehow? He was just gathering momentum when spots swam before his eyes. His lungs hurt. Tires crunched again, and something snapped. His neck.
This is as far as I've gotten in this story. Now I have to write as I go, so I'll probably only post a new chapter once a week. I enjoy comments, if you'd care to laave any.