The Secret Satyrs
In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.—Khalil Gibran
Sure enough, first thing on Thursday morning, a staff-wide email was launched from Fred’s Numb4 email account announcing the commencement of festivities. Replete with his usual patois, many who read the missive were unable to determine whether it was intended as a joke or not. These same people had similar difficulty understanding Fred himself. Among others, Constantia had been copied; around 10:00 am she sent her congratulations.
The group went out to lunch that afternoon to plan.
“One thing,” said Fred, “is that there must be gambling. A road trip may or may not be feasible with your immanent deadlines, but I was thinking about group bets. Everyone agrees to bet against some specific thing we want to imposed on someone else for the length of the working day; if you can’t do it, you put $50 in. Winners divide the pot. “
Lewis was grinning. “You mean like—Ike can’t go a day without laughing.”
“Exactly!” Fred agreed.
Ike looked up from texting on his phone. “What’s wrong with laughing?”
“It’s just a bet,” Fred said.
“What it is, is a dare,” Lewis grinned at Ike.
“I’m going to the ATM now, while I’m ahead,” Ike said. “I want to enjoy the day.”
“You have to play, Ike. Set an example. ” Fred needed him on board.
“Oh, I’ve got the funniest email to send you, Duckie.”
“I won’t read it, Phil…” Ike said in a sing-song voice.
“Don’t kick the baby!”
“I think Fred should only be able say yes or no.”
“Or not speak at all!”
“Is that possible?” Phil retorted.
“No insults, Phil. That should be your bet.”
“Apples and bananas, Lewis,” Phil suggested in retaliation. “No cookies, candy, pop….”
“Wills has to be in on time!” Gordon volunteered.
Willie sputtered with good nature. “Then… you can’t smoke. Ha!”
Gordon shrugged. “Well, you guys will have to live with me like that. More power to ya.”
It was decided to do this tomorrow, which was Friday, and another email was drafted by Fred listing all the dares so that the whole office could police the participants. It turned out that others joined on Friday morning, with sub-bets and requirements. Looked like this was going to work out well indeed.
Wills was the first man down because, of course, he could not get in on time, though to his credit, was earlier by an hour than he usually was. He walked directly to Fred in the conference room and handed over his fifty dollars. Fred nodded gravely and placed it in an envelope.
Wills stopped in the cube Lewis shared with Megan.
“I’m out, man,” he announced. “I already paid Fred.”
“Did he say anything?”
“Nah, but I tried. I asked if we were going out to lunch, but he just shrugged.”
“Have a donut,” Megan offered, gesturing toward the enormous box on the corner of her desk. “Consider it a consolation prize.”
Lewis harrumphed and yanked a banana from the bunch at his elbow. Phil was waiting for him when Wills made it downstairs to his desk.
“Nice to see you,” Phil said. “Hey! I like the—“
Ike’s head popped over the cube wall. Glancing at the two of them, he guessed there was going to be a remark about the powdered sugar mustache Wills was sporting, but instead Phil dashed back toward his desk.
“Got some shop drawings to get out!” he exclaimed on departure.
Ike dropped into his chair fast, his hands wrapped around his mouth. Absolutely, no. No laughing, Duckworth. Well, he thought with a deep, steadying breath, Phil was a goner and Gordon would follow, seeing as how a cigarette was an absolute requirement these days after his morning meetings with Ray. Probably they’d be out by noon, maybe even ten o’clock if he was lucky. Of course, Wills’ red leather cowboy boots, orange piranha t-shirt and tartan vest weren’t helping matters.
He had few illusions on his own account. Phil, as promised, had flooded his email with jokes, and he read them, too, but found protection in the fact that Phil wasn’t nearly as amusing as he thought he was. Ike had replied with thanks for each of them. As he turned back to the Gym wall sections, he noticed new emails, this time from Lewis with subject lines like The Onion or Darwin Awards. He picked up the phone and hit Lewis’ extension.
“Hey, Lew? Any chance you want to bring me one of those cream-filled donuts? If there’s one with chocolate glazing, that would be the best.”
“Fuck you, Duckworth.”
“Yo, Saturnalia,” Ike said, as he returned the handset to its cradle. He smiled. Yep, only a smile. They were not going to break him that easily.
Fred, for his part, was keeping his vow of silence like a perfect monk. A monk, that is, in a red and yellow striped rugby shirt and bunny slippers. Damn him.
Lunch was a strange affair. Ike, already wearing his sunglasses, entered the lobby with Wills and Lewis, soon joined by Fred, donning his red plaid coat. Lewis jabbed Ike in the ribs when he saw his face working against a smile.
“Nice footwear,” Wills said to Fred, who gave him a thumbs up.
“I think we’re waiting for Gordon,” Ike said, looking Fred resolutely in the eyes. Fred gestured behind them.
Phil was zipping a yellow ski jacket over his pink golf shirt as he approached. “Where’s Gordon?”
“That’s the operative question,” Lewis admitted. “Probably still on that call with Ray.”
Ike shook his head at Phil. “Motley means, colorful, right, Fred? It doesn’t mean ugly.”
“And what’s that get-up supposed to represent?”
Ike looked down at his jeans, navy canvas loafers, and black pullover, beneath which he had layered a red polo shirt and a pale blue t-shirt. “What’s wrong with this? It’s colorful…”
“You wear it all the time, Duckworth. We’re supposed to be original.”
Fred had walked away to call an elevator.
“He’s right,” Lewis said. “That’s not nearly hideous enough.”
“I expect he’s too vain for that,” said Gordon, joining them at last.
“There’s always his face—“ Phil added.
There was a moment of silence.
“Pay the man!” Lewis exploded, pounding Phil on the back.
“Damn you,” he muttered, reaching for his wallet. Fred stood sentinel, holding the elevator open, as they all crowded inside. He accepted the proffered bills from Phil.
“I think it’s high time we end Duckworth’s misery,” Gordon said, glancing at the dark aviator glasses that shaded Ike’s face.
“I’m perfectly happy,” Ike replied, extracting a single cigarette from an interior pocket and holding it under Gordon’s nose.
Gordon growled in frustration, grabbing at the cigarette Ike was now holding out of reach.
Wills yanked Ike’s glasses off his face. “Look at us, man. Look at us and weep.”
Ike’s eyes were now firmly shut. “I don’t have to look at you! Anyway, ugly is not funny.”
The elevator stopped, and everyone edged around Ike into the lobby. Knowing he was directly opposite the elevator door, he walked forward and right into the swiftly closing door. This produced gales of laughter.
Ike inserted his hand and pushed the door back. Dropping his head, and looking through his lashes, he moved forward again. He was not going to laugh.
He ran right into the wall that was Lewis.
“Not funny, Lewis.”
“Are you sure?” Lewis grinned. Ike edged to his left and Lewis blocked him. “I’m feeling a very funny vibe.”
“Get out of my way.” He chanced a glance up at Lewis. “Wouldn’t you rather make Fred talk?”
“Nah, that’ll be too easy.”
“Really?” Ike peered around at Fred.
“Oh, yeah. Real easy, right, Fuchs? He’s such a little slut—playing coy with us when we’re all dying to hear how Amanda is in the sack.”
“But I didn’t!” Panic swiftly changed to spluttering irritation, and they all laughed at his expense. Yes, all of them… Fred rounded in accusation.
Ike raised his hands in surrender as he handed over his fifty. “That was so worth it.”
Gordon eyed up Lewis, as he squared his shoulders and straightened an atrocious striped sweater vest he must have found at Goodwill. “It’s just us then.”
“Yeah, it is,” Lewis said, as they made it to the sidewalk, heading toward Market Square. The line spread out as they wove among the pedestrians headed the other way on Fourth.
“Mmmm,” Lewis muttered blowing smoke from Duckworth’s cigarette past Gordon’s nose.
“Thanks a whole lot, Duckworth.”
“My pleasure, Gordo.”
Gordon caved before they’d even crossed the square, complaining around the now intimately cradled cigarette about the weekend plans he was going to be forfeiting to make the Monday deadline on the Gym project. The weekend they’d all be forfeiting. Lewis was the champion, and he celebrated his win by buying everyone a beer at lunch.
“F’em for screwing up our Saturnalia,” Lewis said when the pitchers arrived. “If we’ve got to give up nights and weekends right before Christmas, we may as well do it our way. What are they going to do—fire all of us?”
“Yo, Saturnalia!” Fred enjoined his compatriots, lifting his glass.
His credo was echoed and they all drank and ate and got back to their desks two hours later, much, much happier than they had any right to be.
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