Fandom: The Rockford Files (specifically, The Queen of Peru episode)
Characters: Ginger Townsend, Lou Trevino; OCs
Prompt: Table 3, Prompt #26 - Selfish
Word Count: 4,327
Warnings/Spoilers: Workplace bullying.
Summary: Ginger encounters someone in their department that really has it in for him.
Ginger still followed his usual policy of not socializing with his coworkers unless necessary. He was a good, efficient worker, but one not fond of speaking to anyone in a casual sense if he did not know them well. He had thought the others in the graphics department had accepted that. He was dismayed and annoyed to learn otherwise.
“Why do you make it so hard to get to know you?” another designer asked one day. He was standing on the other side of Ginger’s cubicle, his arms crossed on the top of it.
“Why do you want to know?” Ginger retorted flatly. He continued writing down notes as he spoke, never looking up after one initial glance.
“Because I don’t like having someone with so many secrets in the department where I’m working,” was the reply. “Actually, you know what you are, Townsend?”
“What,” Ginger grunted, not particularly interested but knowing he was going to hear about it either way now.
“You’re selfish.” The other designer, whose name was Trey Mathers, pushed away from the cubicle and came to stand just to Ginger’s side.
“Just how do you figure that?” Ginger demanded. He certainly considered himself selfish, but considering how little this person knew him, it seemed quite an arrogant deduction on his part.
“Keeping to yourself so much and making everyone wonder what you’re about.” Trey placed the tips of his fingers on Ginger’s desk. “You don’t make friends with anyone here; you don’t even try. You don’t socialize unless it’s ultimately for your own benefit. You’re milking the company for everything you can get out of it.”
Ginger leaned back and looked up at him. “And what makes you so miraculously unselfish? Going about, deliberately forcing your presence on others, and ruthlessly gossiping about them around the water cooler? And don’t tell me you’re not interested in making this company work for you. You definitely turn on the charm around clients, just as I do. Yet while I am not actively seeking a promotion and only wish to keep working in my current capacity, you have told Lou several times that your only interest is in rising in the company ranks. No one is completely free of selfishness. You certainly are not.”
“You also lead on all the women in the company,” Trey said in disgust, seemingly ignoring Ginger’s words. “Of course you don’t actually say anything to them; you get them to flock all around you with the silent treatment. Leave some for somebody else, for crying out loud.”
“You may have them all if you want,” Ginger snapped. “I am not trying to get them to ‘flock all around me.’”
“No, but you like that they appreciate your good looks,” Trey retorted.
“A human reaction many men would share.” Ginger turned back to his notepad. “Are you going to say next that I can somehow control my physical appearance? That I should make myself unattractive so they might go to someone else?”
“I’ve wished for that sometimes,” Trey said. “All the trouble you and Trevino get into and you’re still immaculate and physically flawless!”
“You have a very low opinion of the women in this company.” Ginger slowly got up, thoroughly repulsed by this point. “If I were to be permanently scarred, anyone with a heart would be upset about it. And any woman who isn’t shallow would care about me regardless. And now I think I’ve endured your bloody opinions long enough. I will thank you to leave.” He stood, glowering, his eyes dark and cold and filled with warnings.
Trey’s lip curled. “I’ll leave,” he said. “I just hate the irony of all the girls falling for someone who’s not even interested in them. You use people, you use the company, and you’re just an all-around creepy guy. I don’t know what Trevino even sees in you.”
“I’d tell you, but it’d just go in one ear and out the other.”
Both Ginger and Trey started and turned to look as Lou appeared, having wound his way around the corridor behind them. His eyes flashed. He was angry. “I always knew you didn’t like Ginger when you talked about him at the water cooler, but I didn’t think you’d actually confront him like this! He’s never done anything to you! What the heck is your problem?”
Trey didn’t even waver. “A lot of the guys don’t like Townsend. He’s fake, he’s rude, and he’s selfish.”
“You’re one of the most selfish people I’ve met!” Lou shot back. “You’re just asking for a punch in the mouth.”
“He’s not worth it, Lou,” Ginger flatly interrupted. “You’d have to pay his hospital bill.”
“See what I mean?” said Trey.
Lou gritted his teeth. “I want you out of here, creep,” he snarled. “You’re not making any sense and your garbage isn’t welcome here or anywhere else we’re at.”
Trey stocked past him, his eyes filled with danger. “I know sometime back you guys got stalked by some nut who blamed Townsend for the girl he loved not being interested in him. He sent you sick stuff in the mail and tried to kill you both. I’d never do something like that, but I don’t like Townsend any better than that guy did.”
“A lot of people don’t like him,” said Lou. “They’re missing out.”
“How do you even get to know someone like that?” Trey frowned.
“By being kind and caring and wanting to know him for the right reasons,” Lou retorted.
“And I can assure you, I will never want you to get to know me,” Ginger said to Trey.
“Or anyone else?” Trey supplied. “There’s a lot of people nicer than me that never seem to get anywhere with you either.”
“I do not care for gossip sessions around the water cooler,” Ginger insisted. “I am not interested in anyone else’s dirty laundry and do not wish to air mine, no matter how seemingly friendly the other parties are. It isn’t their business. And if everyone feels that I am not a team player because of that, that is their problem, not mine. I always pull my weight where actual work is involved.”
Trey just glared. “Some of us feel that maintaining a good social presence with coworkers is part of being a team player and pulling your weight.”
“Then you believe in garbage,” Lou shot back. “There’s nothing that says either of us have to do anything we’re not comfortable doing when it doesn’t directly involve our work. Sure, being on good terms with our coworkers is important. But since when is gossiping and acting stupid the only way to do it?”
Ginger started and looked to Lou in concern. When Lou lost his temper, he could be just as rude or even moreso than Ginger himself. And Ginger didn’t want Lou to be ostracized the way Ginger was.
Trey also looked slightly taken aback. But his expression quickly changed to knowing disgust. “So you do feel the same as Townsend,” he declared. “Most of us thought so. You were just too polite to actually say so.”
“So was Ginger, until you pushed too many of his buttons,” Lou retorted. “He always bowed out with class.”
By this point, almost the entire department had returned from lunch, errands, or wherever else they had gone. And even though they tried to quietly go to their cubicles and work, it was almost impossible to concentrate with such a heated situation taking place several feet away. When Ginger looked, many pairs of eyes ducked below the cubicle walls.
“Congratulations,” he said matter-of-factly to Trey. “We will very likely be called into Mr. Stanley’s office today. And when I say we, I mean you as well.”
Trey stiffened. “He’ll be on my side,” he said at last.
“You don’t sound sure,” said Ginger. “I doubt you are. More than likely, he will be unhappy with the lot of us.” With that he turned and sat back down at his desk.
Lou gave Trey one last glower, a silent warning to get out of Ginger’s cubicle. And at last, Trey complied.
“What a bloody lot of rot,” Ginger grumbled.
Lou’s shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry, Ginger,” he said regretfully. “If Mr. Stanley’s mad, it’ll probably be because of me.”
Ginger paused and listened to the sounds of everyone else quietly going back to their typing. “I doubt he will feel very good towards that twit for starting it,” he said.
“Yeah, but he’d expect us to handle it with dignity and patience and class, and I sure didn’t.” Lou turned to trudge over to his cubicle next-door. “He was just acting like such a scutch and I couldn’t take it. It’s bad enough that you think you’re so awful without having to hear junk like that from other people too! He had no right to treat you like that!” He gripped the edge of the wall. “That’s what I’ll tell Mr. Stanley if we get called in.”
A faint smile played on Ginger’s lips, although he didn’t turn and let it be seen. “Naturally you will. And I highly doubt that anything ill will come of this, at least not from an administrative angle. We may be further ostracized because of it.”
“Oh. . . .” Lou slumped against the wall and rested his forehead on it.
“It may depend at least partially on whether or not he was in this alone,” Ginger said.
Lou started. “You mean, whether or not somebody else put him up to it?”
“It could have been a group conspiracy.” Ginger frowned. There was no one he even trusted enough to ask, aside from a couple of people who would have likely been excluded from such a group in the first place. And had they known, they would have tried to warn Ginger and Lou ahead of time.
Lou pushed away from the wall, feeling sick. “We won’t even know who to trust!”
“Aside from Stefanie and Harry Jonson, did we trust any of them anyway?” Ginger retorted. “Particularly after many of them revealed their true colors when I was accused of beating Michael?”
“I guess not,” Lou conceded.
“Bloody ingrates,” Ginger muttered as he resumed working on his notes. “Many of them might not even have jobs if we hadn’t built up this company branch as much as we have.” Sensing that Lou was still there, he added, “It doesn’t matter, though. They aren’t worth getting angry about, not when we aren’t even close to them. And if there was a conspiracy, I’m sure Mr. Stanley will be highly interested in the news that so many of his employees have been engaging in forms of workplace bullying.”
Lou turned to look back at Ginger in alarm. “They’ll deny it.”
“And perhaps they were not involved and Mathers was in it by himself.” Ginger looked to Lou from his chair. “Either way, we will not be held accountable for it.”
“Maybe not, but . . .” Lou shook his head. “You know, I honestly never thought we’d be victims of actual workplace bullying.”
“Even though women are more likely to experience it than men, there are plenty of men what have to deal with it,” Ginger said. “You and I, with our backgrounds and our company successes, not to mention my reclusive behavior, make us natural candidates for it. Those what perpetrate workplace bullying are juvenile, petty, jealous people. I would say that all of those terms fit Mathers.”
“Too well,” Lou groaned. “But Ginger, everyone’s gonna hear you saying this stuff.”
“Let them,” Ginger shot back. “They should hear. They might not want to believe it about themselves, but if any of them are involved, I want them to know exactly what I think of them.”
Lou had to smile a bit. “I do too,” he said. “I just don’t want you to get in worse trouble with them because of it.”
“They know what happens when I am pushed to my limit,” Ginger said. “If any of them wish to continue provoking me, it just proves all the more that they are all idiots.”
Lou hated to think what could make Ginger completely lose patience in a situation like this. He would tolerate verbal abuse to himself far longer than he would endure any torment towards Lou. Of course, that was how Lou felt about Ginger.
“Anyway,” Ginger spoke again now, “we have an advantage over most victims of workplace bullying. Usually the victims are completely isolated, without a friend among the entire staff. We will never have that problem.”
That finally brought a smile. “Yeah.” Ginger and Lou would always have each other. And they also had at least a couple of loyal friends among their coworkers.
“So don’t worry about it,” Ginger said.
“I’ll try not to,” Lou said. This time he went to his cubicle for real.
Mr. Stanley didn’t call them into his office until it was nearing the end of the workday. And when he did, it was because Trey Mathers had deliberately gone to see him without even being sent for.
“What happened after lunch today?” he asked mildly after they had exchanged greetings.
Ginger looked at him without flinching. “Trey Mathers came to me to tell me he bloody well hates me,” he replied matter-of-factly. “He claims most of the rest of the department does as well.”
“His story is that he went to you with some suggestions on how to improve yourself and you were hostile towards him,” Mr. Stanley said.
“What?!” Lou stepped forward. “That’s bogus! He was just being a scutch. What Ginger says is closer to the truth. If Mathers wanted Ginger to improve himself, he would’ve come to him and acted calm and mature. And even then, it probably wouldn’t have been his business. Ginger’s never lost it around him! He’s got no reason to think Ginger needs to change anything. He’s just ticked off because the girls think Ginger is pretty hot stuff.”
“That, and because I won’t join everyone in gossip sessions,” Ginger grunted.
Mr. Stanley nodded. “I thought it was strange when he came to me. I’m more inclined to believe the two of you, but I had to ask. I hope you realize that.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure. For your report or something.” Lou clenched a fist. “We wondered if maybe several of the guys in the department wanted to make life miserable for us and he volunteered to be the spokesman.”
“I’m sure they’d try to be careful and not let me know about a conspiracy like that,” Mr. Stanley said. “But I’ll stay alert, just in case.”
Ginger nodded. “Thank you. You will let us know what happens, won’t you?”
“If I find anything out.” Mr. Stanley looked from him to Lou. “And I hope you’ll let me know if you’re the ones to learn about it.”
“We will,” Ginger promised.
Lou seemed in much better spirits as they left Mr. Stanley’s office. “That was a relief!” he exclaimed.
“Did you honestly think Mr. Stanley would side with Mathers?” Ginger asked, giving him a sideways look.
“I guess not,” Lou replied. “But it felt good to have it confirmed anyway.”
“I can’t deny that,” Ginger said. “We have very few allies. That makes any we do have all the more meaningful.”
“Yeah,” Lou agreed. “And I’m sure glad that our boss is one of them.”
Ginger nodded in complete agreement.
“Mr. Townsend? Mr. Trevino?”
They started and looked up at the familiar voice. Stefanie was coming over to them, her arms filled with folders.
“Hey,” Lou smiled at her.
Stefanie’s eyes flashed. “I wanted to apologize for what happened today. Mr. Mathers had no right to act like he did with the both of you!”
“Well, thanks,” Lou said. “It means a lot.”
“You don’t have to apologize, though,” Ginger spoke. “You certainly couldn’t control him.”
Stefanie sighed. “I know, but I feel horrible I couldn’t do something.” She gave them a pleading look. “And it really isn’t the entire department that’s against you. Please believe that. I’m not your only ally.”
“We would like to believe that, but it’s difficult when no one even spoke up in our behalf,” Ginger said flatly. “It’s one thing to say they’re on our side, but when their actions don’t live up to their words, it would seem to tell a different story. They may be sympathetic towards us, yet they still don’t want to be involved in a conflict. That’s little better than fair-weather friends.”
“I think they feel it wouldn’t serve any purpose except to make Mr. Mathers even angrier,” Stefanie said. “Of course I don’t believe that; I bawled him out as soon as I heard what had happened.”
“Naturally you would,” Ginger said. He and Lou had both witnessed her spirited defenses of them in the past.
“It didn’t mean anything to him, though,” Stefanie said. “He just said he knew I’d be upset.”
“Thanks again anyway,” Lou said with a genuine smile. “We wouldn’t figure anything would get through to a creep like that. But it means a lot that someone would care about us enough to try.”
Ginger nodded. “You have always been one of the few actual friends we’ve had here,” he acknowledged. “We will always remember that.”
Stefanie smiled. “You’re two of the nicest people this company has. Mr. Mathers knows that. I think he’s just jealous because others know it too.” She started to walk past them. “I need to get these files down to Records, but I just wanted to let you know you’re still appreciated.”
“That was what we could really use today,” Lou said.
They both watched her head past them into the elevator. “She’s sure a nice girl,” Lou commented.
“She is,” Ginger agreed. “I don’t know what attracted her to me, but it makes sense she would appreciate you. In any case, it’s gratifying to know that there will always be at least one person in our corner.”
“Yeah.” Lou laid a hand on Ginger’s shoulder. “There’s probably always gonna be some crummy problems like what happened today, but there’s nice things too.”
“And we will cope with the nonsense since there are good things. And since it’s still the best company we could work for.”
“True,” Lou agreed. “I don’t know what we would’ve done if they hadn’t wanted us back.”
“We might still be doing porridge even now,” Ginger said. “I might be, anyway.”
Lou shivered at the thought. “Well, I’m ready to get out of here. How about we call Mike and have a nice dinner get-together tonight?”
Ginger nodded. “Alright. Let’s do that.”
Lou smiled as they headed for the elevators now. It had not been a good day for the most part, but hopefully things would change. Mr. Stanley and Stefanie had both been fair, and spending a quiet evening with Mike sounded great. Maybe a few hours of peace would recharge them for tomorrow.
Trey Mathers was just arriving at work the next day when Ginger and Lou got off the elevator on their floor. Hearing the doors open, Trey turned and looked to them. Saying nothing, he simply glowered at them and stalked off to his cubicle.
“I don’t know whether to say that’s good or bad,” Lou said with a frown.
“I’m going to say that it’s good,” Ginger grunted. “If he ignores us, we should be just fine.” He sat down at his cubicle and set the laptop on his desk.
Still not sure what to think, Lou went next-door and slowly sat down, taking out his laptop as well. He lifted the lid, scowling to himself. Ginger was surely right; he was being ridiculous to worry so much. What did he think would happen? A bomb in his desk? An unfunny gag exploding in his face? Or more likely, a poison pen letter? When nothing at all happened, he tried to settle down and just start working.
He was surprised moments later when one of the designers came in and paused by his cubicle. “I’m sorry about what happened yesterday,” he said. “I had no idea Trey was going to do something like that.”
Lou looked up in amazement. “We were sure shocked,” he said. “I mean, we’ve never done anything to him. He acted like that was as much of an offense as if we had.”
His coworker shifted in embarrassment. “We’ve talked about the two of you sometimes, when neither of you are around. Some of us wonder why Ginger doesn’t join in our informal gatherings, but it’s not a big deal for most of us. It’s just Trey and a few bad apples like that who really hate him and how he conducts himself.”
“Well, thanks for telling me,” Lou said cautiously. “But Ginger was really the one wronged, Frank. It seems like you should be telling all this to him.”
Frank flushed. “Since Ginger doesn’t ever come around, I guess I felt more comfortable telling you, Lou.”
That brought a sigh. “Okay, okay. Of course, he can probably hear you anyway.”
“Naturally.” Ginger walked around the partition into Lou’s cubicle. “Tell us this. Was Mathers the only one what wanted to actually make trouble, or was that something desired by all of the ‘bad apples’?”
Frank looked more embarrassed and awkward than ever. “I really think he was acting on his own,” he said. “The others . . . well, they don’t like you, but they’ve never acted like they’d do anything about it other than keeping away from you or giving you the cold shoulder.”
“I see,” Ginger nodded. “And what, exactly, is their grievance with me? I have done nothing to any of them.”
Now Frank looked caught like a deer in the headlights. “Some of them are just jealous of your success, I think. They can’t understand why you and Lou were liked so much that you were both hired back despite being convicted of felonies.”
“But if that was all it is, they’d hate me the same as they do Ginger,” Lou frowned. “They don’t.”
Frank’s shoulders slumped. “Ginger’s the most unpredictable of the two of you,” he said slowly. “Some of them are probably more leery or afraid than hateful. They don’t want to risk getting on his bad side. And then Trey and a couple of others are just mad that Ginger is consistently at the top of the list when the women in the department vote on the most attractive guys. They don’t think he deserves that honor when he’s . . . well . . . not interested.”
Ginger just looked bored. “I can hardly help how I look. Nor can I help that the women seem partial to me. All I can do is to not give them any encouragement, since I am not, as you say, interested.”
“I’m just passing along the news,” Frank said quickly. “I don’t have any problems with either of you.”
“Are you gonna be in trouble for talking to us?” Lou wondered.
“I don’t think so,” Frank said. “They don’t care if you know how they feel.”
“No, I wouldn’t think they would,” said Ginger.
Frank escaped to his cubicle moments later. Sighing, Lou slumped back in his chair and looked over at Ginger. “Well, that was weird,” he mumbled.
“But not really surprising,” Ginger said. “I suppose we have to be grateful that Mathers was likely the only one what would be so actively hostile towards us.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Lou frowned. “I hope that’s true.”
“If it’s not, we will probably find out before long.” Ginger turned to go back to his cubicle.
“I wish none of this was the case,” Lou said. “We didn’t have a lot of trouble like this anywhere else. I think the worst was when they were acting like I was a poor sport because I didn’t wanna dance at some social get-together.”
“What’s happening now is partially our own fault for being ex-convicts,” Ginger said. “The rest is because my personality is not appreciated by most people, and that’s nothing new. I suppose it was easier to fit in at the London office.”
“The New York office wasn’t like this either, though,” Lou said.
“New Yorkers, like Londoners, mind their own business,” Ginger said. “But even in those cities, there are problems like this sometimes. We just didn’t tend to run into them before.”
“I wish we didn’t now.” Lou sounded bitter.
“Perhaps we won’t in the future,” Ginger said. “But it doesn’t matter. I will never be popular. I have no desire to be popular. I accepted as a child that most people will never like me. As long as you do, that is the only important thing to me.” At the wall, he turned back to look at Lou.
Lou tried to smile. “Yeah, I know. I don’t think it’s fair, but I know that’s how you feel. I’ll never stop wishing that other people could see you as I see you, though.”
“And I appreciate that you want that. Just don’t drive yourself mad over it.” With that, Ginger disappeared around the wall. After a moment, the sound of typing resumed.
Lou looked back to his laptop. Ginger was right; people’s opinions and attitudes were not likely to change any time soon. They would just have to deal with it. Ginger had adapted long ago, while Lou did not find it anywhere as easy to do. For now, however, he would just try to focus on the good and not the bad.
He smiled a bit more. With their friendship, there was a lot of good. And as Ginger said, that was the most important thing. As long as they had that—and they always would—then sure, they could deal with all the rest.
Soon, his typing joined Ginger’s. And in the next cubicle, Ginger smiled.