The Retrieval... Ch. 01

byloverofFUN©

It was blazing hot outside even this late in the afternoon which was typical for North Carolina this time of year. Inside the stuffy warehouse it was at least ten degrees hotter. She had shed the light-weight, long sleeved shirt she wore over her sleeveless t-shirt hours ago once the heat began to build and sweat had started to soak through it. Now at the end of the day after almost 9 hours in this oven she could literally have wrung a puddle of water out of her shirt and sports bra. Leah didn't mind it all that much. It was honest work, it gave her a chance to burn off some of her physical energy and everyone she worked with pretty much left her alone. The novelty of being the lone female warehouse worker had worn off months ago, so now she was just another employee. She liked the anonymity.

She finished off the second pallet of the order and then double-checked her work to make sure she hadn't missed any of the part numbers that this customer had ordered. As usual, her order was 100% correct. Yep, slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Leah used a pallet jack to pull it around to the staging area and dropped it with the first pallet of the order. She proceeded to wrap both skids in shrink-wrap and marked them with the customer's name and 1-of-2 and 2-of-2 accordingly for the driver.

She put her paperwork in the tray on the shipping desk and gave her supervisor a questioningly look. He nodded at her and gestured towards the time clock. Leah walked over and went through the process of punching out and then stepped inside to the front office area. She stood inside the door for a minute to soak in the almost artic chill of air conditioning. Just as she was about to head for the break room to grab her backpack and lunch box, she made note of one of the company's drivers who was standing too close to the desk of the last biller on duty this late in the day. All of the schedulers and billers worked staggered shifts to make sure they could cover all of their customers without incurring overtime. The driver seemed to be talking to her quietly as she concentrated on entering an order into the system so that it would generate a pick list.

Leah's instincts kicked in and the little hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She had no idea what the large, burly driver might be saying, but in just the few seconds she was able to observe the interaction she could tell by the woman's body language that the biller was uncomfortable. Her posture was hunched, tense. She was also slightly leaning away in her seat from where the driver was standing. Leah could also tell by the driver's furtive mannerisms that he more than likely wasn't discussing company business.

Leah tried to remind herself that it wasn't any of her business as she turned and went on through the swinging door to the break room. She grabbed her little cooler from the fridge and stuck it in her backpack. As she shrugged the pack onto her shoulders, she returned a few polite hellos with a nod from a couple of guys who worked on the second shift and then headed back out. She paused as she was about to turn right and go back out into the warehouse. The driver was now sitting on the corner of the biller's desk, crowding in on her personal space so that the woman actually had to lean to the side to try and type.

Leah just stood there, mentally going through the arguments. Low profile, remember? Don't get involved; don't draw attention to yourself...remember? You like it here, so don't blow it by getting involved. She heard the billing clerk politely ask the driver to please stop, she was trying to work. Leah sighed heavily. The one thing in this world that Leah hated with every fiber of her being was a bully...especially a bully that targeted a woman.

She turned left and walked slowly towards the biller's desk, trying to remember the woman's name. They had never been formally introduced, but she remembered coming in the front entrance on her first day on the job...and as she had passed by the biller's work station she remembered there was a name plate on the woman's desk. Cheryl? No, it was Sheri with one r and an "i".

"Excuse me, Sheri?" Leah's quiet voice interrupted the driver just as he was leaning over to try and whisper something in the woman's ear.

"Yes!" Sheri said a little too quickly as she stood up and turned around. She took a full step away from her desk to create some space between herself and the driver. The driver grunted and cast a glance over his shoulder to give Leah a dirty look.

"What can I help you with - it's Lisa, isn't it?"

"Leah," Leah corrected her and realized now why she had remembered the name plate. Sheri was a very attractive woman. "Uh, can you double check that last order I pulled for Parsons? I think there was a bad part number on it."

"Of course," Sheri smiled up at the quiet woman from the warehouse. She then looked at the driver sternly. "Excuse us, please."

"No problem, Cherry," the driver laughed at his own joke and stood up. He smiled at the billing clerk and then gave Leah another scowl before telling no one in particular, "I'm off to Asheville. Catch y'all tomorrow."

The two women stood by the short filing cabinets next to Sheri's desk and watched the driver leave through the warehouse exit. Leah folded her muscular arms across her chest and stared at the door while Sheri rifled through copies of the day's orders. She finally pulled the office copy of the pick list from all of the other papers and turned to Leah. "Is this the order?"

Leah glanced at it and nodded her head. She turned her gaze from the warehouse door and looked down at Sheri's expectant face, making an effort not to let her eyes move further down to the woman's fitted top that accentuated a pair of very nice breasts. Sheri just stared up into Leah's eyes and then smiled. Leah knew that most people thought her blue eyes were rather striking.

"Um," Leah nervously cleared her throat. "I, uh, I think I was mistaken, so...never mind, sorry for bothering you."

Leah was half way to the warehouse door before Sheri spoke up. "Thank you. Leah."

Leah stopped with her hand on the warehouse door. She didn't turn around. She simply nodded once in an unspoken acknowledgement and then pushed on the door and disappeared into the hot, noisy environment of the warehouse.

****

Jules stopped by her new supervisor's office to formally introduce herself. The Retrieval Team fell under the umbrella of Homeland Security's Logistics Branch, so at least she wouldn't have to move or find new housing since the office was located right here in DC. After wandering around the building for twenty minutes, she finally managed to find the suite of offices her new department operated out of.

She was actually kind of relieved that her new boss wasn't in, but his administrative assistant had been expecting her. The older woman gave Jules a package containing all kinds of forms that needed to be filled out. After explaining what each form was for and how to complete it, she went on to present Jules with the official file for her first assignment. Of course Hank had already given her a copy of the file, so there was nothing in the original that she hadn't seen before with the exception being a voucher for the use of a government issued vehicle.

Jules asked the assistant about it and was dutifully informed that the logistics for any assignment that fell within 400 travel miles was taken care of by automobile rather than airline. The assistant proceeded to point out that the distance from DC to Charlotte, NC was 396 miles. The older woman instructed her that she could pick up her assigned vehicle from the Logistics Car Pool and if Jules was going to keep to the assignment's schedule, she would need to get on the road within the next two hours.

Jules tried to keep reminding herself that she was being "punished", so she wasn't too surprised when they gave her a set of keys to an older model Crown Victoria. Seriously? She thought they quit making these a couple of years ago. With a shrug, Jules went about adjusting the seat and mirrors and then tried the radio, but it didn't work. Awesome, just what a girl needed for an eight hour road trip. Then as she pulled out of the lot she also found out the air conditioning didn't really work other than blowing warm air in her face. She shrugged and rolled all of the windows down.

She smiled to herself as she slipped on her sunglasses and the wind began to blow her auburn locks everywhere. Jules paused a moment to consider how in the hell she had even ended up in this situation and instead, ended up savoring the memory of lying on that bar with the crowd cheering as that bride-to-be lowered that gorgeous shaved pussy down onto her waiting mouth. Jules could almost still feel how strongly those former cheerleader thighs had gripped the sides of her head as the girl sat on her face and took the ride of her young life. Had it been worth it? At the time, you bet your ass it had been worth it. Now? Well, Jules would just have to play this one out and see.

Either way, these vindictive bastards were going to have to do a lot better than sticking her with a crappy car to get Jules Bradford to quit.

****

Leah slowed down to a jog as she came to the last little stretch of road that in a quarter of a mile led to the employees' parking lot. She continued to slow down until she was half a block away and began walking as part of her cool down. When the weather warmed up she liked to run the almost five miles to work and then she would either run home or take the bus if she was too tired after her shift. When she reached the actual drive of the parking lot, she shrugged off her backpack and bent over with her hands on her knees to get control of her breathing. She had really pushed herself this morning running 4.9 miles in just over 30 minutes. She stood back up and pulled a refillable water bottle out of her bag and drank half of it down in one long drink.

She walked around for a few minutes with her hands on her hips, stopping to take a sip of water every few minutes until her heart rate was back to normal and she had cooled down enough to head towards the warehouse entrance. As per her normal routine, she would grab a quick shower in the employee locker room before her shift started and then relax for a few minutes with a cup coffee. She had just rounded the corner at the far edge of the parking lot when she saw the same driver from yesterday.

Leah apparently spotted him well before he intended for her to see him. He actually looked pretty ridiculous as he tried to maintain his somewhat hidden position by the trash compactor. With his chain-wallet and key chain combo jangling from his nervous movements and the way his cowboy boots scraped against the pavement as he shifted from foot to foot, a toddler would have noticed him from thirty yards out. Leah shook her head. This jackass didn't have the first clue about being still and fading into his environment.

Leah stopped ten feet short of where she thought the driver figured was going to be his element of surprise opportunity. She set her backpack down at her feet and bent over to begin stretching her legs as she patiently waited, taking the occasional sip of her water bottle. It took the driver another sixty seconds before he leaned out to check on her progress and was startled to see her there stretching her hamstrings.

He scowled to himself as he stepped out into the open, but then a grin broke out on his face that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Well, ain't you about as quiet as a mouse."

Leah said nothing as she stretched.

"C'mon now, don't be rude," the driver warned her in a friendly - not so friendly way. "It ain't polite not to return a good morning."

"You didn't say good morning," Leah quietly corrected him and took another drink of water.

"Pardon?"

She let out an almost imperceptible sigh before continuing in a clear voice. "You didn't say good morning. You said 'well, ain't you about as quiet as a mouse' to which I chose not to respond. You're attempting to goad me into some half-assed apology for an imagined slight. I'm really not in the mood for whatever little psychological game you're trying to play."

"Look at you then, catching all that like you did," the driver stepped out into the middle of the walkway effectively blocking her way as he gave a low whistle. "I am impressed."

"I literally don't care whether or not you might be impressed," Leah replied evenly. She picked up her backpack and closed the distance between them until she was standing right in front him. The man was only an inch or two taller, but easily outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds. "Now please excuse me."

"I believe you and I need to come to an understanding," the driver smiled as he eased forward and rested his beefy hand on top of Leah's shoulder and took a half-step into her personal space.

Leah looked at the hand on her shoulder and fought to keep control of her breathing. "Why are you touching me?"

"Oh, c'mon now darlin', I'm just being --" the larger man began to explain as he took another step closer and started to slip his arm around Leah's shoulders. He suddenly found himself being propelled face first into the side of the trash compactor with his arm pushed painfully up behind his back. He was stunned into silence and his lips were wet with blood from the impact.

"What the hell!" the driver finally managed to roar as he fought to regain his balance and push off of the dumpster. For some reason he couldn't get control of his balance or the arm behind his back.

"Don't ever put your hands on me again," Leah said quietly into his ear before letting go of his arm and taking a few steps back.

"You crazy bitch!" he wheeled around on her and shook his arm out a few times to try and get his shoulder to stop hurting. "You have no fuckin' idea what you just started."

Leah didn't respond as she just stood there silently looking at him.

He was breathing hard and his face was mottled red. Leah recognized the first physical signs of the adrenaline dumping into his system. The driver clenched and unclenched his fists at his sides. "I tried to be reasonable, but --"

"You sure about this?" Leah asked in a calm voice. She didn't give any ground as the driver took another step towards her.

"Oh, I'm damn sure," the driver nodded and spit a stream of blood and spittle at his feet. The man's voice was loud and his hands were shaking. "You wanna act like a man, you're gonna get treated like a damn man!"

"You realize there's no going back, right?" Leah asked him in a steady voice.

"Huh?" the big man pulled up short unsure of what he was hearing. "What's that?"

"Think about it," Leah explained. "You're overly hyped up right now from the adrenaline which is normal. The only thing hurt so far is your pride. No one was here to see this...no one has to know about it. I'm not going to mention it. Are you?"

"Nah, too late for that," he growled and took another step towards her. "You fuckin' cunt,"

"Whatever," Leah shrugged. "Can't say I didn't warn you."

"What?" He pulled up short again almost stumbling from his momentum. "You? You are warning me?"

"I'm giving you a chance here," Leah eased her feet a little wider apart and let her arms hang down loosely in front of her body. "This isn't some beef at your local bar or some truck stop bullshit. I can guarantee this isn't going to go like you planned."

"Are you listening to yourself?" he demanded, trying to make it sound as ridiculous to her as it did to him. "What are you gonna do? Huh? You gonna whup my ass?"

"No, I'm not gonna whup your ass," Leah shook her head and kept her voice calm and steady. "I'm going to put you in the fucking hospital."

"The hospital?"

Leah shrugged one shoulder and gave a single nod of her head.

"You really think so, do you?"

"Nope," Leah shook her head. "I know it for a fact."

"Bull-fucking-shit," the scowl on the driver's face grew even deeper and his nostrils flared. "Bitch, I'll put my fuckin' hands on you like you ain't--"

"Do you honestly think I haven't dealt with guys like you before?" Leah raised her voice to interrupt him with just the hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth. "Do you really think this is a first for me? I'm trying to be nice here because you think you know what road you're about to go down. Trust me - you don't."

"Is that right?"

"Yeah, that's right," Leah nodded. "But I really don't want this. That's why I'm asking you to just walk away."

The heavyset driver grinned at her like she was making a joke, but then his grin faded and his expression slowly morphed into one of suspicion. He looked around as he rubbed his jaw and considered what this gash was saying. She has to be trying to run some kind of game. Yeah, she's just bluffing, stalling for time. Isn't she? Fuck it, what's the worst that could happen? It's her word against his. She's just some dock chick for crying out loud. He's worked for this company for fourteen years.

"Just let it go," Leah looked hard into his eyes, "and walk away."

"Shit," he suddenly smiled, becoming the all-too-friendly good ol' boy. "I was just foolin' around anyways. You know, just givin' you a hard time."

Leah didn't move or say anything.

"C'mon now," the man smiled and extended his arm towards her. "No hard feelings?"

Leah looked at the offered hand. She looked back up into the man's eyes and then slowly brought her hand up as if to shake even though she knew what would happen next.

The driver telegraphed his sucker punch from what felt like a mile away.

****

Leah had just finished pulling the last part number and was stacking the box neatly on the pallet to complete her first order of the day when she caught movement over by the first dock door, the one with the walk-up ramp. It was used for customers who came to the warehouse to pick up their orders rather than have them delivered. Leah took a deep breath and let it out slowly as she watched from the corner of her eye as two police officers paused at the top of the ramp and then walked over and began talking to the warehouse manager. Her supervisor went from inquisitively friendly to frowning and crossing his arms and then he became animated and began shaking his head and gesturing in Leah's direction.

Leah sighed again. She knew that a couple of the driver's buddies had found him unconscious and bleeding. They thought he had either fallen off the dock or been run over. She had sipped on her coffee and watched everyone run around in a panic until the dispatcher had finally ended up taking the injured man to the hospital. Leah knew it was only a matter of time before the driver eventually regained consciousness and started running his mouth.

Leah laid her paperwork with all of the part numbers neatly checked off on top of the skid so that whoever the warehouse manager chose to take over her assignment would know the order was complete. She picked up her long sleeved t-shirt and slipped it on and then grabbed her backpack which she had kept with her rather than putting it in her locker since she already knew this was going to happen at some point this morning. She paused to take a final look around the warehouse. This wasn't her first job nor would it be her last, but she had actually liked it here.

The other workers had started to come out from the aisles and shelves of inventory to gawk and whisper among themselves. What a day, first the unconscious driver and now this? Having the cops show up was not an everyday occurrence. Their whispers grew quieter as they watched Leah gather up her things and walk slowly over to the where the warehouse manager and the police officers were still talking. They all wondered what the heck was going on and by this time word had spread to the front office so now the billing clerks and schedulers had started gathering outside of the door to the office watching and whispering as well.

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