Last Chance for Love

By: Emma Shortt

Chapter One

The sight of the stapler ricocheting off the wall greeted Ripley as she opened the door to her office. “You’re angry with the stapler because?”

Her colleague and friend, Lucia, snarled. “These targets are bullshit. How many have you been asked to collect? Because I tell you now, there’s no way in hell I’m gonna be able to hit my quota.”

It didn’t take a genius to work out what Lucia was whining about, and Ripley sighed. “You got your numbers for Christmas?”

Lucia nodded and held up a crimson envelope decorated with several sprigs of holly. “Hot off the press, and did you see what they’ve decorated the God damn envelope with?” She stabbed a finger at the offending leaves. “I mean geez, the reindeers last year were bad enough, but this? It’s all over the actual list as well. Garlands of the shit.”

Another sigh joined the first, and Ripley ran a hand over her tired eyes. “They’re trying to get us in the holiday mood. It is the boss’s son’s birthday after all.”

Lucia snorted. “It’s one of his birthdays, not really even his real one.”

“Whatever, wait till they start sending those iced cookies round. I didn’t hear you moaning about them last year.”

Lucia shifted in her chair and eyed her friend. “What about you?” she asked, ignoring the cookie reference, because they both knew it was so true. “What the hell have they hit you with?”

Ripley cast an eye over her desk, searching for a splodge of crimson. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve had my targets yet, at least I haven’t seen the envelope.” One handed she lifted a pile of papers and moved her keyboard but saw nothing beyond the usual whites and grays. “Nada. And less of the hell references please, it’s a bit too close for comfort.”

Lucia scowled. “I bet they don’t get worked as hard as this down there. Honestly, Rip, I don’t know how they think we can keep up this sort of pace and stay sane.”

Ripley shrugged. Her friend was right, not that it made any difference, there was nothing they could do about it after all. Targets were targets, and they’d both be reamed out in their yearly appraisal if they didn’t hit the Christmas ones, not to mention the oh-so crippling guilt.

“Depends on your definition of insanity, Luce,” she said after a moment. “Trouble is they’ve no choice but to keep upping the quotas. Death rates are outrageous at the moment despite all the advances in health care, too many natural disasters. Plus our recruitment problem isn’t helping any.”

“Any wonder?” Lucia asked. “This is hardly the most glamorous job going is it?” She tapped a finger against her chin and leaned across the desk. “Let me think. Outrageous hours, awful pay, crappy uniform. Need I go on?”

Ripley’s gaze travelled down the black robe covering her entire body and nodded. “Yeah the uniform sucks no doubt about it.”

“And now with these Christmas targets.” Lucia’s scowl deepened. “It’s going to be a nightmare.”

“It was a nightmare last year,” Ripley reminded her. “When we had to collect seventy-five each. You remember that? We did it though didn’t we? The competitors got nothing.”

Lucia leaned back against her chair and crossed her arms, the movement accentuating her startling large breasts. Once again, Ripley wondered how Lucia’s assignments took her seriously when she could poke the eye out of dinosaur with her cleavage. Okay yes, she supposed they couldn’t actually see the boob action, but even underneath the somber black robes the outline was pretty obvious.

“Last year’s got nothing on this year,” Lucia insisted.

Ripley sighed. “Okay, fine, I’ll bite. What did you get?”

“One hundred.”

Ripley gaped at her friend, suddenly understanding what all the bitching was about. “In a day? You’re not serious?”

“Yeah, they’re pretty much turning it into a production line, aren’t they?” Lucia shook her head. “I worked it out earlier—borrowed your calculator by the way—one hundred in a day, not even including any breaks, means I’ll get about fifteen minutes with each person. Fifteen minutes!”

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