The Dead King by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff



“Hey, Jeni. Your big tits are lookin’ fine in that sweater. When you gonna let me touch ’em?” said Randall, in his usual inarticulate way, like he was hungover or possibly still drunk.

I stopped typing and looked up from my desk located in the mobile office of Ripley Construction. I’d only been working in this disaster zone less than a week, helping out with the crap ton of paperwork. Tampa had been hit hard by Hurricane Mia, which was bad for the locals but great for Mr. Ripley’s business. We were working under FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, repairing the shipping port so supplies could get in faster.

Mr. Ripley was an old friend of my dad’s, which was how I got a position at the home office in Tallahassee about six months ago. Apparently, history degrees were about as useful in this economy as playing the accordion, so finding a good-paying job after college hadn’t been easy.

Then my dad was in a car accident, fractured a hip, broke both legs, and lost his job driving trucks. He lost his health insurance, too, and there I was having to park my dreams of grad school in a dark corner until further notice. Physical therapy cost a lot. So did food, the mortgage, and the lawyer he had to hire to get the insurance company to pay. They never did.

Anyway, I wasn’t throwing in the towel on my dreams, but until my dad was back on his feet, it was up to me to pay the bills.

“Randall, you’re a fucking pig! Leave Jeni alone,” said the office manager, Rosie, from the coffee station near the door. She was a bottle redhead in her forties and liked her nails hot pink and long. They reminded me of fluorescent chopsticks, the way she used them to grab stuff.

She glared at Randall and his greasy blond hair. He had the smallest head ever to sit on a man’s shoulders. It reminded me of a Q-tip, except that Q-tips were sometimes useful.

Randall grinned, displaying Skoal-stained teeth and a large gap in the bottom row. “I don’t hear Dorothy saying nothin’.”

I didn’t say “nothin’” because there wasn’t anything to say. First off, my name was Jeni Arnold, not Dorothy. Randall only called me that because I liked to wear my long brown hair in two braids. It was practical and comfortable to keep it out of the way when I worked. Second, I didn’t say anything because I disliked confrontation. And speaking in general. And disgusting men who stare at my breasts.

I turned my attention back to my computer and continued typing.

“See.” Randall chuckled. “Dorothy ain’t mad.” He leaned down so only I could hear him and smell his rotten breath. “You like it when I talk about your tits. Don’t you, shy girl? But I know it’s the quiet ones who like getting fucked nice and dirty. Maybe a little cum on your face, huh?”

Red-hot anger percolated inside my chest. I wanted to slap him but was too afraid. Afraid of him doing something back. See, I wasn’t one of those badass girls you’d find in some female-empowerment movie, unless the kickass heroine had a sidekick who always ended up alone on a Friday night. I just didn’t feel comfortable around people.

People had killed my mother when I was little.

People had looked the other way when my father was so lost in his grief that he forgot to buy groceries for a month, and I was forced to live off the tuna my mother had bought for the cat.

People had come to take me away instead of helping him and keeping us together when he was all I had.

People had let the SOB who murdered my mom with his car go free because he was wealthy and powerful.

I. Hated. People.

But more than that, I feared them. I feared their attention. I feared their power over my life.

“Hey. I’m talkin’ to you,” Randall growled at me.

“Randall.” Rosie walked over and gave his shoulder a push. “Fuck off.”

“Just messing around.” He smiled again, a sinister gleam in his bloodshot brown eyes. “You got my number, Jeni.” He strutted out the door in his dirty jeans and bright orange vest.

“You really shouldn’t let him talk to you like that, honey,” said Rosie.

I ignored her and kept at my work. I had another twenty-eight forms to fill out before tonight’s deadline. That was the thing about being a government contractor; they had a form for everything—materials, payroll, overtime, insurance. They wanted everything tracked, inspected, approved, and reapproved. But I wasn’t complaining. This job was important to the community, and I was making twice the salary. I needed the money.

Realizing I wasn’t going to get into a discussion with her, Rosie went back to her desk, just behind mine, and started clicking away with her chopsticks on her keyboard. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack.

I knew she meant well, but it was humiliating enough having some asshole talk to me like that. I just wanted to pretend it never happened. Besides, if I said something to HR, Mr. Ripley would hear about it, and my dad would find out. He already felt like shit about me, his twenty-three-year-old daughter, supporting him. How much worse would he feel knowing I was getting harassed every day? With my petite frame and large breasts, I didn’t see it stopping anytime soon. Not with this crew. The guys Ripley hired tended to be macho cavemen, willing to work in conditions no one else would. For the right pay.

Also, I was pretty sure Randall was a psycho. God only knew what he would do if he got fired. He was not a nice man. And the world, at least for me, was already a not-so-nice place. It would break you if you gave it the chance.