I waved goodbye as José pulled away. He’d already promised to return in an hour. I stood on the sidewalk, inadequately dressed for the plummeting temperature. The clouds hung low over the peaks, and the snow had already spotted my hair like feathers, disappearing on contact.
A dually truck and gooseneck trailer barreled down the road toward the RV Park, all ten tires sloshing against the wet asphalt. I took a quick step back before a wave of water and ice soaked me from bun to boot heel. I walked toward the main building, passing the sign that read: MOUNTAINEAR MAGAZINE. My ankles wobbled with each step, feeling less confident and more ridiculous the closer I came to the front door. My hand hesitated to reach for the door handle, but I opened it, sighing in relief when the heat warmed my cheeks.
The door chimed when I walked through, the pristine industrial rug now wet from my boots. The walls were painted eggshell; the frames hanging in a line between windows contained magazine covers. Besides the front desk, six cushioned red chairs backed against the front wall, and a fake plant, the lobby was a whole lot of blank space.
At first, I could only see the top of the head of the girl manning the front desk. She stood up, acknowledging me with a nod. She looked barely out of high school, wearing braided blonde pig tails hanging from beneath a knit cap. Her name plate on the upper desk read JOJO.
She held a black phone receiver with hot-pink mittens, with far too much makeup on her young face. Although I was sure she only meant to hold up one finger, her entire mitten was erected, silently asking me with a wink and a smile to wait while she finished the call.
“No, Mike. Because Wick is busy, and so am I. He doesn’t want your pictures of the parade. Because they suck. I’ve got someone at the desk. I’m hanging up now. Yes, I am.”
She slammed down the phone and looked up at me with big eyes and fake lashes. Her orange skin had been baking in a tanning bed far before the ski season had started. She chomped on her gum and smiled at me with an inch of gloss slathered across her puffy lips.
“How can I help you?” Her tone changed as if she were a different person. She was no longer the cranky receptionist fielding questions for Wick. Jojo was pleasant, eyes bright, waiting to make me happy.
“I’m here for the nine AM interview. My name is Ellison Edson.”
She stood up, gesturing for me to follow her down the hall. “Trust me, no one else wants the job. You’re the first person who’s even applied. The ad’s been out for a year.”
We walked through an extra-wide doorway to an empty room with a desk and a seating area, and stopped in front of a lightly stained door with J.W. Chadwick branded into the wood.
“Is there a reason no one has applied?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, opening the door. “Because he’s a dick.”
Mr. Chadwick lowered the paper he was holding. “I heard that.”
“From everyone,” Jojo said, closing the door behind her. “Love you, Daddy.”
Mr. Chadwick sat up, interlacing his hands on his desk. “Love you, baby.” He looked to me. “When can you start?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Chadwick, I didn’t hear you correctly. When can I…?”
“Start. And it’s just Wick. Everyone calls me Wick but Jojo.”
“Maybe we should discuss what exactly being your assistant includes,” I said. “Hours, benefits, and pay.” I wasn’t sure how all of this worked, but I wasn’t stupid.
“Then what does it matter?” he asked, chewing on the toothpick in his mouth.
He sighed, leaning back in his worn chair. “Why?”
“Your Philip Edson’s daughter, ain’t ya? You’ve also been kicked out of my bar twice this year alone. Why do you need a job? I’m not in the business of hiring lazy people who don’t need a job.”
Wick glared at me, and then the corners of his mouth turned up. “I need you to file, keep my calendar, run errands, help Jojo on occasion, schedule ads, and vet any calls I receive. Jojo is tired of hearing from every journalist in the state and everyone who owns a camera thinking they’re a photographer. I need someone firm. I need someone organized. Is that you?”
“I can be firm when you need me to, but I can’t promise I’m organized.”
“Thirty-six hours a week, one week of vacation … unpaid, no benefits, this ain’t a charity.”
I shrugged. “I don’t need it anyway. My parents keep my insurance. Or, they did. I need to ask them about that.”
“You haven’t said why you’re here. Everyone knows your sister works for your dad. Why aren’t you? Has there been a family uprising, or are you some kind of spy from the paper?”
I couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “A spy? No. If you’ll notice,” I said, reaching over to point at the paper on his desk, “that’s not on my résumé. It’s also none of your business.”
Wick grinned, his crooked, yellowing teeth making me never want to pick up another cigarette again.
“Yes?” I said, sitting up and feeling a bit creeped out that he’d mentioned the very thing I was thinking about.
“You’re hired. Nine hundred a week. You’ll start tomorrow. Let’s go have a smoke in the back.”
I followed Wick out of his office, down a hallway lined with boxes, and then out a back door. My boots crunched in the snow, and I looked up, letting the flakes fall and melt on my face.
Wick pulled a cigarette from a soft pack in his shirt pocket and a lighter from the back pocket of his Wranglers and hunched over. He cupped his hand around the flame and puffed, then held out his lighter for me to do the same. I leaned in, took a drag, and then startled when two men came around the corner.
“Wick!” Tyler said, slowing mid-step the moment he recognized me.
“Tyler! Zeke! You’re late! Where the hell is the other one?”
“Colorado Springs. Again,” Zeke said. He pulled two cigarettes from his pack and handed one to Tyler. I recoiled. Menthols were disgusting. That must have been Zeke’s preference. Tyler smoked from a black pack.
“Yeah,” Zeke said with a smirk. “We met at a party.”
“She’s my new assistant,” Wick said.
“I’m not sure yet,” I said. “We’ll figure it out as we go, I guess.”
Wick nodded, seeming proud, and then a deep line formed between his brows. “Make sure you don’t get her into any trouble, Maddox.”
Tyler spoke with his cigarette between his lips, squinting his eyes from the smoke. “You’ve got it backward, Wick.”
Wick pointed at him. “If you get kicked out of my bar again, I’m not letting you back in this time. I mean it.”