Grum leaned back in his seat, his back groaning in protest, and frowned. His rough hands thumbed listlessly through the novel he was holding - some new zombie thriller he had bought on a whim some weeks ago - but his heart wasn't in it. The words kept swimming in front of him, boring, pointless. Even zombies weren't as scary as what lay ahead in the afternoon.
He squeezed his fingers against his aching eyeballs, and tossed the book into the passenger seat, not bothering to mark his place. Intermittent raindrops splattered heavily against the car window. Normally they soothed him on the way to work, but today, he felt like the weather was just reflecting his mood. Dark. Nervous. Sad.
Grum left himself wallow in self-pity for a time, adjusting his shirt and checking himself in the driver's side mirror. A neatly-trimmed beard and a worn-out face greeted this inspection. His reflection's weak smile didn't seem to help things. He snorted, and shook his head.
"Gotta do this sometime," he muttered to himself. Taking a moment to adjust his tie - dark yellow with black zigzagging stripes, his Thursday tie - Grum opened the door and stepped out into the parking lot.
Despite his mood and the dread of the day to come, he could never help smiling when he saw the building. Squat, brick, and two stories tall, it stood defiant against wind, rain, and the hideous strip mall across the street. The windows needed repair, it was true, and probably the heating system, and may the gods help them all if OSHA ever came around...but it was his, and in his eyes, it was magnificent.
Still smiling to himself, Grum grabbed his briefcase, locked the car, and headed towards the front doors.
The sign over the doorway read, "Grum's Company".
The World Cup was in full swing, which meant security was light at the front desk. Grum made it almost to the stairs when he finally spotted Klee. He frowned. Anyone could walk in here right now, he mused to himself. Inspectors, clients. Hobgoblins. Anyone.
"Klee!" he barked, doing his best to sound imposing. The red-haired girl poked her head up from behind the desk, her eyes bright with the thrill of the football game she was sneaking looks at. She grinned when she saw her boss. From behind the mask of green and yellow warpaint, it was a little unnerving.
"Morning Dad!" she said, eyes flashing. "Brazil's up two! It's gonna be a great half!"
Dad. That was something else he liked about this place - a lot of the people here called him that, or some derivative thereof. It made him feel good. Klee wasn't his daughter, but she damn well acted like she was. That was okay by him; he'd never had children, or a wife, but he'd always liked the thought of them. Grum was a dying breed of employer who believed that if you paid and treated your employees well, they'd do right by you. Most of the folk who worked for him seemed to think so, too. At least they seemed happy enough. Tech support for the problems of the surroundings lands had never paid too well, but under Grum and his crew, it paid enough.
"Morning Klee. Anything to report apart from your soccer game?"
She offered a mock-scowl. "It's football. And no. All quiet on the Western Front."
Grum nodded. "Good. Did you take care of the owlbears out front?"
Klee blinked. "Owlbears?"
A nod. "Did you notice the owlbears? They ran through the parking lot when I pulled up. Knocked over Ezrem's Vespa." He raised a bushy eyebrow.
Klee's face fell. "No, Grum. I didn't see them. Guess I was too caught up in the game."
Grum's frown lessened a bit. "Well, why not put the TV up on the counter, so you can watch the door and the parking lot. I'm sure you'll spot anything else that comes by." She grinned, and nodded, pulling the little black and white machine up onto the edge of the desk. A tinny voice screamed, "Goal!" and her eyes flickered back to the noise, then to her boss.
"Thanks Dad," she said, smiling. Adjusting her security hat, she leaned up against the desk and looked back to the game.
Grum made to walk on, but she grabbed his arm. Startled, he turned to face her. Eyes searching his, she frowned.
"Hey," she said, voice concerned. "You're not worried about today, are you?"
"Oh nah," he said, his voice turning gruff. "Not one bit. It'll be all right." Then, fibbing, he added, "I've got a plan."
Her smile returned, full bore and bright. "Of course you do." She leaned up suddenly and kissed his cheek, leaving behind a smear of green and yellow lipstick. "You're our Dad. You always find a way."
"Yeah, yeah," Grum allowed, smiling to himself. Trying not to blush, he added, "And check the wards on the back when Roderick gets in to relieve you. Mavin said she saw hob tracks back there yesterday. Could just be kids, but you never know."
"Kay." Pep talk given, Klee's eyes were now entirely on the game. She tucked a strand of red hair behind her ear, and chewed her lip absently. Grum rolled his eyes, smiled, and headed to the stairs.
Sales was a madhouse, as usual. It seemed to get worse whenever Grum wandered through, so he did his best to stay out, when he could. But his office was on the far side, and needs must, as his mother was fond of saying; so he clutched his briefcase tighter in one hand, put his head down, and tried to make his way through without incident.
Voices rose and fell from behind cubicle walls, along with jarring telephones, Youtube videos, and the odd puff of cursesmoke. He glanced up as he went, peering inside the nearest box. Ragnar had his shoeless feet up on his desk, his dreadlocks dangling back behind his chair and his bare chest. The headset barely fit up against the skull he insisted on wearing as a hat. Grum blinked and listened as he walked past.
"...of course, ma'am, I understand...yes, this is the Shaman department...yes, I've been shamaning for over six years now, so when I tell you that you need to bury the bones of your pets and not make necklaces out of them, you can trust me...yes, that's probably why Fifi is trying to kill you..." Ragnar saw Grum and gave him a big thumbs up. Grum smiled back, and resolved to speak to Ragnar about the Company dress code, and that if they'd had one, he surely would be violating it.
Wandering on towards the distant door of his private office, Grum looked across the dozen or so cubicles where most of his workers made their living. He saw Ezrem extract herself from her desk, headset ajar on her ear, frown set firmly on her lips. She never looked happy, Grum mused to himself, but damned if she wasn't a good sales manager. Maybe that was part of the reason she did so well. Pausing in his walk, he watched as she descended into Mira's box, and lean down to speak to her. Wandering over, he caught just enough of the conversation to be concerned.
"...and then he told me I was stupid, and totally unqualified, and that he wanted to speak to my manager," Mira said, on the verge of tears. The new hire was doing well overall, according to Ezrem's reports anyway, but she had yet to develop the tower-shield thick hide one needed to survive in sales every day. Soon enough, Grum thought. A few more years and there'd be no idiot on the other line who would ever get to her. In the meantime, though, there was Ezrem.
"Patch him through to me," the vampiress growled, black business suit stretching as she stood up straight. Her dark eyes found those of her boss, and she nodded a hello before putting a finger up to her earpiece.
"This is Ezrem, sales manager for Mira," she said brightly, though her face did nothing to match her tone. She listened for a few seconds, and then frowned. Her voice deepened, and Grum found himself taking a step back despite himself. This part always unnerved him, but he was, as ever, powerless to resist watching her at work.
"Now you listen to me," the manager growled to the dumb schmuck on the other end of the line. "We here at Grum's Company employ only the best and brightest, Ms. Mira included. If you ever call here again, and tell anyone here what you just told me, I will personally hunt you down. The police will never find you, because you'll be in another country. In sixteen seperate boxes. Do I make myself clear?"
There was a slight pause on the other end of the phone, and then Grum could hear babbling. "Good," Ezrem said, voice returning to its bubbly, almost insane tone. "You have a nice day now, and call again if you need any more help!" She disconnected the call and put a hand on Mira's shoulder.
"I hate racists," Mira mumbled. Ezrem nodded. "Can't believe people still call up asking us to 'get rid of' a whole group of beings. Like that's even in our budget," the vampiress called to Grum. Grum tossed a salute. Ezrem started to head back to her seat, when she put a slender finger to her earpiece.
"Of course," she murmured. Then she turned and yelled to the far cubicle, "Galen! We need you on line six! Blood magic gone bad over in Worcester!"
"Who dares disturb Galen the Dark? He wield the powers arcane even as we speak!" came a dreadful voice from the far corner.
"Your manager disturbs you! Finish your fucking MInesweeper game later and get on the gods-damned phone!"
"Keep up the good work ladies!" Offering a quick wave, Grum hustled on. Rounding the corner, his office door in sight, he smiled and slowed to a walk. Perhaps in his den, he could have some quiet, figure out a way to prevent disaster. All he needed was some time alone, to think, and -
Amos stood up, fists raised overhead. "Another one!" he crowed to the room at large. A chorus of boos and oaths spread from the cubicles nearby, but the young man paid no mind. Grabbing his coffee mug - Grum could see it read 'World's #1 Mom' on it - Amos crossed the room and checked off another box. That was his fourth sale today, and his sixtieth this week. The boy was a natural, that was for sure.
"Whatcha sell?" Grum asked, wandering up. The younger man tossed down the Sharpie and grinned.
"Four Demonomicons to a province out west somewhere," he replied. "Poor dumb bastards are desperate. I told them that our 'nomicons only summon helpful demons, not killy ones, but they didn't seem to care. I think some folk just like the name. So, hey, four books and priority shipping. Not a bad way to start it off!"
Grum smiled. "What's your secret, lad, anyway?"
Amos leaned in close. "It's my delightful brogue, Dad," he whispered, grinning hard. "I'm no better than anyone else here. But folk hear my voice, and they get all dumb in the head."
"Knew there was a reason I brought you on board." His boss patted him on the arm. "Keep at it, son."
Amos nodded, and started to head back to his box, before something seemed to occur to him. "You doin' ok?" he asked, face serious. "Not scared about this afternoon, are you?"
"Oh no, no," Grum said, waving his hand dismissively. "It'll be fine."
"Because I heard it was gonna be bad." Amos looked around, almost nervously. "Like, Christmas party bad."
"It'll be fine. And hey, now, the Christmas party wasn't all that bad."
Amos raised an eyebrow. "No? After the fires, and the screaming? The tarrasque in the ladie's room?" He paused, and added, "And where's Adeon? Where'd he disappear to?"
Grum looked askance. "He'll turn up, I'm sure," he remarked, not really believing it. "It's only July, anyhow." He mused on that for a moment, and then clapped Amos on the arm. "Anyways, it'll be fine. Back to work with you, now. I don't pay you to stand around and jaw."
"Yes you do," Amos said, smiling, and made his way back to his seat. Grum watched him go, and idly wondered if the boy would still have a job come this evening. He hoped so, but in his heart, he knew the lad would be standing in the Unemployment line with the rest of his mob.
Heart heavy, Grum made his way to his office, and opened the door.
Flopping down into his overstuffed chair, Grum sighed in relief. Finally, some time to think. His office was his sanctuary, his thinking chamber; good ideas were hatched here, were born here. His eyes drifted across the bookshelves, the fake palm tree, the flickering bulb on the ceiling, the little cactus on his desk. Good place, this.
Closing his eyes for a minute or so, Grum thought about the day to come. He'd need an iron-clad defense, and that meant knowing where everything in his castle was. The older man scowled. That meant using The Computer, and that meant Trouble. Pushing aside yesterday's lunch and his turnip-shaped stressball, he located the mouse. Good. That was Step One.
Grumbling, he clicked the mouse, casting the screen saver on his Macintosh back into the electronic nether from whence it came (Get Kraken!, the screensaver said, under the image of a giant squid ripping apart a bulldozer.) His desktop appeared, cluttered and disorganized, endless folders and half-done documents. He stuck his tongue out and eyeballed the bright blue field.
"Taxes, taxes," he muttered to himself. "Where the hell did I put the taxes..."
"I can help you Da!" came a bright voice from his left speaker. Grum startled as he usually did when his computer talked to him, before swearing and letting go of the mouse.
"Okay," he grumbled. "All yours, Lona."
Bouncing onto the screen came a 2-D image of his once-human IT department. Clad in a flowing blue dress, with butterflies and flowers in her electric hair, Lona crawled out of the Network icon and onto the desktop. She waved hello to her boss and smiled. Someday, Grum thought, they'd find a way to get her out of the servers. Lona said she didn't mind so much, but Grum minded. Of course, to do that, they'd have to figure out how she got into it in the first place, but still, he was hopeful.
"Taxes, Da?" she said again, glancing around. Lona kicked a nearby Word document into its proper folder. "This is a mess, Da. You should let me clean it."
"Nope," he replied. "I can handle the computer."
"You're terrible with computers, Da," the Shoathri replied, tail swishing as she dug through his folders. "And messy. You're messy too."
"Just...please find the taxes for me, Lona dear, and set them on the desktop. Oh, and last year's growth plans, too, if you would."
"Okay!" Lona started making a tidy pile of documents on the right-hand corner of the screen, summoning a pair of black spectacles onto her face. She frowned after a while, and looked up to her boss.
"This is about later today, isn't it?" she asked, tilting her head slightly.
"Yeah," Grum said, nodding. "Just want to make sure I have all my ducks in a row."
"Okay." Her tail swished back and forth. She was agitated, he could see. "I could go after their servers. Make them melt, if you wanted."
Grum's heart skipped a beat. "Uh, no, Lona, that's okay - "
"It'd be easy!" The Shoathri's face lit up. "They'd never see it coming. I could be there in a matter of seconds! And then fire, and explosions..."
Lunging for the mouse, Grum clicked on the folder marked, 'Cat Toys', and maximized it. Lona looked around, distracted for a moment, and Grum sent the mouse marker over next to her head.
"Lookit the mousey!" he cried, madly, and her face lit up. She dropped to all fours, and began chasing the cursor around and around in circles, flowers flying from her hair. Grum let her do this for a few seconds, and then minimized the folder. That would keep her for an hour or so. She'd pout, but what else could he do?
He leaned back in his chair and watched the bulb flicker for a while. His mind refused to shut up, to let him think. There was no real way out of this - there never was, with the government involved - but it helped him keep moving if he entertained the idea that his people might still have their jobs tomorrow.
Idly, his fingers drifted towards the bottom drawer, and the bottle of Magpie's Facepunch that lay within. Then he thought better of it. If he started, he might not stop.
A walk. That was what he needed. Ignoring the purring noises coming from his computer, Grum got up, and headed out into the hall.
Taking a quick left, Grum snuck past the buzzing Sales room and into the hallway proper. It was quieter here - it would have to be - and he found he could almost hear himself think. Then he neared Human Resources, and saw the door was open wide. Valentine was accepting visitors, and damned if she didn't have one.
Her clear, quiet voice drifted out into the hall: "...can't just threaten to kill people, Locke. Not even if they might deserve it."
Grum slapped a palm to his forehead, and slowed his pace. Third or fourth time this week?, he wondered.
"He was sneaking around out back." A pause. "I just scared him is all."
Valentine sighed just as Grum rounded the corner. Her tiny office was mostly full of a desk and a chair, which was mostly filled with Valentine and Locke. Locke was Grum's janitor - slash - engineer - slash - handyman, and normally stayed in the cellar, with the boiler and the Warhammer tables. But today, again, here he was. The thin man sat back in his chair, distractedly, brown suit hanging off his bones.
Valentine, for her part, looked stressed. A single strand of blonde hair hung down across her face; her bright eyes bored a hole into the man opposite her. Her hands were folded across her immaculate desk; she shifted in her blue dress suit, and frowned.
"He owns the tire shop across the street," she continued, one eye flicking to Grum before returning to her visitor. "By all accounts, he was chasing a stray tire across the road. It just happened to fall onto our property."
Locke sniffed. "Likely story."
Left eye twitching ever so slightly, the woman replied, "He owns the tire store in the strip mall, Locke. The tire store, remember? Lord of Tires? Been there for eight years?" She waited for a response, and then sighed, leaning back in her chair. Both turned to regard their boss.
"Everything...everything okay in here?" Grum asked hesitantly.
"Fine," Valentine said, a little too quickly.
"Fine," Locke said, a little too calmly.
"Good," Grum said, nodding. He clasped his hands, seemed about to say more, and then shook his head.
"Are you all right, Grum?" Valentine asked, forehead creasing slightly with worry.
"Not about this afternoon, is it?" Locke said, frowning. "We'll be fine, you know. We've been through worse." A pause, and the janitor added, "I could kill him, if you want."
"See?" Valentine held her hands up to the sky. "This is exactly what I'm talking about."
Grum smiled weakly. "Lunch in an hour!" he said, unhelpfully, and beat a hasty retreat down the hall.
Lunch. Maybe that was what he needed, a bit of food to calm his stomach. And he'd get to see Her, too. Nodding to himself, a spring in his step, he made his way down the stairs, and onto the first floor, towards the lunchroom.
The breakroom was empty of employees. The chairs were pulled in neatly, the vending machine fully stocked. Even the sink was clear of unspent curses and odd smells. Not yet lunchtime at Grum's Company, which meant he could get the good stuff first. Perks of being the boss, he thought to himself, and chuckled.
"Something funny, Mister Volsung?" The beautiful, warm voice drifted across the room and hit him like a chairleg to the face. He blinked, and saw her: the object of his secret affections, the most amazing woman he'd ever met. The lunchlady.
Lunchlady, of course, was a lousy name for what Sasha actually did. She was a cook, a baker, a healer of what ails ya and a singer of songs. Clad in a white apron and good jeans, she was far and away the most stunning person Grum Volsung had ever met. If only he could muster more than a dozen words when in her presence.
"Uh," he grunted, dumbly, before smiling at the nearest chair. "Not really, Sasha." Sidling over to the lunch counter, he eyed the various sandwiches and treats carefully. He only ever seemed to have room in his stomach for one sandwich, so choice was important.
"But you were laughing when you came in," the woman replied, making her way over behind the counter. She ducked down, and smiled at him over a tray of ham sandwiches. Grum immediately turned bright red and pretended to study the butter cookies.
"Just thinking it was lucky to be the boss," he said, eventually. "Get first pick of what you bake." A pause, and he added in almost a blurt, "We're lucky to have you here."
Her smile grew, just a bit. "Oh Grum," she said. "I'm lucky to be here. Solid job, good benefits, and my own kitchen. What more could I ask for?" Sasha rose, watching him deliberate. He tried not to watch her as she did; it brought far too much of her into view.
"Glad you think so," he mumbled, smiling. "One chocolate chip cookie for me, I guess. Bit of a nervous stomach today." Grum stood up straight, and let his eyes drift over her sweet face for a second before gazing intently at the cash register.
"Nervous stomach?" Sasha tutted as she reached in and selected the biggest cookie on the tray, before wrapping it up in a bit of paper. "Why's that, Mister Volsung? It's not about later on, is it?" A smile crossed her lips; he smiled back, trying not to have a heart attack. Gods, she was beautiful.
"I'll tell you a secret," she said, almost shyly. "Come close. I have to whisper it."
Grum's mind threaten to hemorrhage, but he did as she asked. She leaned on the counter, cookie in hand. Her lips practically tickled his ear.
"You're the best boss I've ever had. You fight hard for me, and for this Company. When he goes into your office later today, you kick his ass." Grum blinked, and she pulled away, face scrunched up into a smile. She handed him his cookie, and his numb hands closed around it without him realizing.
"Er, thanks Sasha," he mumbled, face reddening despite his most fervent efforts. "That's sweet of you to say."
"I'm a sweet lady!" she said, chuckling. "You have a good morning, Mister Volsung, and I'll see you at lunch!" Offering a little wave, Sasha turned and began to fuss over a distant table of baked goods. He watched her for a moment or two, and then trundled off.
Shipping, he thought to himself, heart hammering in his ears. I should go check on shipping. He bit into the cookie - delicious, as always - and headed for the other side of the building. Some day I'll ask her out on a date, he decided for the tenth time that morning. Maybe if I survive the coming afternoon. Chuckling, he ducked out of the lunchroom, and into the hall. Shipping was usually well-behaved, too. Be good for his mind, a bit of order. Munching, he did his best to think of the beautiful woman he'd just spoken to, and her words of encouragement.
Zephyr set the phone down carefully, before swiveling back to his computer screen. A few clicks, and he nodded to himself. "Four Demonomicons, one ferret, and twelve vorpal blades for Kentucky!" he called to the room. The shippers burst into action, smartphones and daggers abandoned for the work they'd been waiting for. Grum walked up just as the tapeguns started firing.
"Heya Grum!" The Irvane got up and shook his boss's hand, smiling his bright smile. Nothing ever got the shipping manager down, it seemed. Not shortages, not employee sickness, not even the Department of Transportation. Grum smiled back, and squeezed his hand warmly.
"Heya Zeph. How goes it?" Grum looked around at Lady Mavin and Grayves, one boxing up the items for shipment, the other taping the boxes shut. Both laughed and joked as they worked. For once, things seemed to be busy.
"Not bad, not bad. Selling a lot this morning. We'll be on track by noon at this rate, easy." Zephyr glanced over at Mavin's eight by eight, and said, "Don't forget the HazMat stickers; DoT'll chew us out if we don't get those on. And they get a free mug, too, since they've ordered six times this month."
Mavin snapped her fingers, cursed, and nodded. "Whoops." A red and white label was hurriedly slapped on the box. Zephyr nodded. "Does anyone know if we have any more mugs?" Mavin called to the folks in back. A chorus of negatives rang out, and the tall blonde sighed before striding off for the stairwell.
"Good to see stuff moving out." Grum finished the last of his cookie and nodded. "You lot do good work."
"We try to. Not easy, all these new HazArc regulations." Arcane materials had recently been classified as Always Fucking Hazardous ever since the Ohio Incident. People were still finding orichalcum in their cereal. Since then, the government had come down hard on companies like Grum's. But with Zephyr in the lead to cut through any red tape, they were managing.
"Nah, you've got it." Grum frowned, mind buzzing. Maybe the shippers would be able to take their skills elsewhere, when it came time to. His brow creased a bit, and he adjusted his tie absently.
Zephyr frowned too at his boss's expression, and opened his mouth to speak, when Klee's voice came over the intercom. Everyone stopped what they were doing. Somewhere, Grum was sure, Mira was facing the wall on her hands and knees, wailing, "The box speaks!"
"Mister Volsung, your afternoon visitor is here."
Grum nodded to himself. "Gods help us," he muttered.
"They will, I think," Zephyr replied, but even he didn't sound so sure.
Grum made his way back upstairs, past the football game, past the wondering look of Sasha. He went up the stairs one at a time, carefully, avoiding a stray ferret and Mavin, who carried a white mug that read, 'Worlds #1 Mom' on the front. He gave the Sales department a final, sorrowful look, and headed into the office.
The door shut with a slam like the lid of a concrete coffin.
"Mister Volsung." The catcus on the desk burst into flame, went out, and fell over.
Grum looked over his desk at his visitor, and tried not to throw up all over the computer. He'd met with more than a few nasty people in his time - slapped the hell out of a few, too - but this man was the scariest, by far. And he had no idea how to deal with him.
"Kath." Grum almost spat the word. "We won't sell, you know."
The dark-suited man chuckled mirthfully, leaning back in his chair. The diamond cane at his side sparkled in the flickering light. Yellow hands crossed gently over his stomach, the businessman eyed Grum with interest, the way a child might study a grasshopper about to be carried off by ants.
"Of course you won't. You think you won't. But the fact is, we can buy you even if you don't want to sell." He unfolded his hands and leaned closer. His breath was foul, and Grum wanted to slap him in the teeth, then gag.
"If we won't sell, you can't take us," Grum blustered, and Kath laughed.
"But we can buy the land, Mister Volsung! All of it! The strip mall, the Lord of Tires, and your dumpy little tech-company's land too. We can go around you, under you...and my Mal-mart will sit on the bones of your dumpy little building in a matter of weeks! You, for all intents and purposes, do not exist!" Kath grinned a crescent grin. "Of course, you could sell for a tidy sum, and make this easier on yourself. Walk away a rich man."
"But my employees - " Grum stammered.
"Please. You can get new workers! Ones that cost less to maintain. Hire some zombies, for the gods' sakes! They cost practically nothing at all and they'd do the work of the crack team you've got here, for sure."
"Don't talk about them that way." Grum's eyes narrowed, and he leaned across the desk. "They're good people. Hard workers. You government types think you can just walk in and change things...and...well...you can't!"
Kath's look of amusement fell way to a puzzled expression. "Government? We're not government. We're corproate."
Grum's eyes widened. He snorted, and then, slowly, started to laugh.
"What's so funny?" Kath snapped, expression turning sour. "Volsung! What's so funny?"
"Corporate," Grum snorted, slapping the monitor in glee. "Corporate. Oh, me...I thought you were government." He stood up, suddenly, and gestured to the door. "Come with me, Mister Kath. Let me show you something."
Kath stood, eyes narrowing in suspicion, but did as he was told. Together, the two men walked down the hall, past the silent, watching Sales department, and into the far end of the top floor. The hallways grew dimmer here, quieter, until even the distant rumble of the boiler in the cellar did not reach their ears. Kath huffed, leaning on his cane, trying to keep up with the suddenly cheerful Grum.
Finally, after what seemed a very long walk indeed, they arrived at a tall wooden door. It was outlined with a black oaken frame, and held a dusty golden doorknob in its front. Grum smiled.
"What is this?" Kath rumbled, eying the piece carefully. "I am not a man to be moved by age, Mister Volsung. An antique piece of wood will not keep me from having what I want."
"Of course," Grum murmured, and opened the door.
Sunlight and greenery spilled forth into the room beyond. The sound of crickets and other insects washed over them, accompanied by the sound of a tree, rustling in the wind. A massive oak, bigger than the building might normally allow, stood watch over the clearing, which terminated twenty feet in every direction. Blinking back the bright light, Kath peered around.
"What is this?" he hissed, as Grum shouldered his way past.
"This," Grum replied, stretching his arms out into the sun, "is a National Forest. Massachusetts' one and only Shadow Grove, home of this big guy right here." He patted the giant oak tree fondly. "We call him Jingles."
"What...this is impossible!" Kath said, still blinking.
"Nope," said the older man gleefully. "We're a national treasure. Protected. Dimensional spacing or something like that. We found it when we bought the place, cleaning out closets." He grinned nastily. "Gives us all kinds of tax breaks, having a national park in your office."
"This is insane! I...I'll..." But Kath had no answer for this magic, and both of them knew it.
"You'll do zippo." Grum leaned in close, and patted the other man's cheek. "We're a government site. Immune to your bullshit. So take your cane and your ugly suit, and beat it, before I send Roderick up here to make you leave."
Kath fixed the other man with a glare that promised revenge, before stomping off to find his way out. Grum sighed out a huge breath of relief, and looked up at the tree.
"Thanks big guy," he muttered. "I'll send the druids 'round to check up on you real soon."
The tree said nothing, merely rustled as Grum headed back into the hallway. He closed the door, and when he was sure no one was looking, kicked his heels together. Then he smoothed his tie, and walked down the hall.
"I wonder," he said to himself, heading out to the cheering Sales department. The door to the server room blew off its hinges in a blast of smoke and fire, which set the sprinklers off, but he hardly noticed. "Would Sasha prefer homemade shrimp scampi, or would she like to go to a movie instead?"