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Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 17


I fly south for the weekend, working out at a local track and enjoying the ocean. Arnold teaches me more about Excel. I feel like I have a good deal of expertise by the time Monday rolls around. In fact, the minute I’m at my cubicle with some rare free time, I grab a personnel list and repurpose it to keep track of who in the office I’ve ruled out for being the butt-dialer. The women I’ve ruled out are coded red, those I’m iffy about are coded orange, and the ones who could be the butt-dialer are green.

Rockabilly Renata is an iffy orange; Lacey, the purple-haired project manager with health challenges, is green; fashionable Shondrella, industry expert and merchandiser, is green. Jada is ruby red, of course, being that she’s all about following the rules.

Naturally, just as I’m getting into it, Jada stops by looking fresh and perky with her pencil bun and pink cheeks and doll features that are perfectly symmetrical, because everything about Jada works in diligent harmony—even her face.

She’s wearing a maroon skirt with a matching maroon blazer and a white shirt underneath, and you can see just a hint of lace where her bra grazes the fabric. Of course she’d wear white underwear. So Jada.

“Earth to Jack. Did you hear me?” she says. “I’m going on an offsite errand and I’m gonna need some lifting and logistics support.”

“No, thanks,” I say.

“Your job duties are not optional.”

“What if I’m doing something for somebody else?”

“Are you?”

“Yup,” I say.

“For who?”


Her gaze turns indignant, and this feeling of intense satisfaction shoots through me. “Work projects take about a zillion times precedence over your personal projects!”

“Agree to disagree,” I say, barely concealing a smile.

“It’s not up for debate!”

“I’m debating it right now,” I tease. “So apparently it is up for debate.”

“Come on, Jack,” she says. “This’ll be fun.”

“I get it. You’re trying to get me alone.”

“Oh, yes, because lazy roustabouts in party-boy shirts are every girl’s dream.” She grabs her purse and returns to loom over me. “You’re coming. This is part of your duties.”

“You’ll need to sweeten the deal a lot more if you think this is headed…” I tip my head at the supply closet.

She glares at me.

A few minutes later, we’re walking down Thirty-Seventh Street.

“So this is a walking errand,” I observe.

“Cookie run. There’s a Cookie Madness up ahead,” she says, waving at a barber through the window of a barbershop.

“We’re getting cookies? This is your important errand?”


“So much for the pressing need for productivity,” I say. “Back at the ol’ sinking ship of an office.”

“Getting cookies is about productivity. Cookies make us happy, and that’s good for morale. It brightens up a Monday.”

“That sounds suspiciously like what somebody says when they want a cookie.”

“No, it’s true!” she protests, because apparently there’s nothing Workaholic Barbie hates more than the idea of doing something for pleasure. She gives a buck to an old woman sitting next to a shopping cart.

“Bless you, Jada!”

“Backatcha, Jory!”

I groan.

She continues on, unruffled. “A year ago when the place was good to work at, we’d have bagel Wednesdays, we’d have pizza parties when we hit goals, we’d have birthday celebrations. The new owners took away celebration funds in their quest to crush our spirits, but screw them, you know?”

I glance at her discreetly, surprised by this rebellious edge popping out because she’s usually so earnest and dedicated. I like it. I like how resourceful she is, too. Kind of an operator, in a way.

“Treats are totally about productivity and keeping the family together. They’re one and the same. Especially for the design and sales department, because we create and sell the products.”

She picks up a fallen sandwich board sign outside a BBQ place and sets it right. A big man in a BBQ-stained apron comes out wiping his hands. “One of these days I’ll get my nephew to fix that thing,” he says.

“Well, if you fixed it, what the heck would we talk about?” Jada jokes, and she and the man have a good laugh, because apparently that’s what passes for witty repartee here in the Garment District. She gives him a brilliant smile. The man smiles back, clearly enchanted with her.

“Otis, this is Jack, gopher and delivery assistant extraordinaire.”

Otis pumps my hand and assures me of how lucky I am to be part of Jada’s crew. Niceties are exchanged. We escape the clutches of Otis only to be accosted by a fruit seller who stops us and gives us each a Washington cherry and refuses to accept any other response than those being the best cherries in the world. When we comply, she’s delighted because, “Jada knows cherries.”

“Jesus Christ!” I say when we finally get rid of her. “What next? Are people going to break into song? Maybe the cast of Mary Poppins can rush into the street.”

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“All these little interactions.” Does she actually encourage this kind of thing? If there has been one thing I’ve enjoyed about being in disguise here in America, it’s been my utter anonymity. Nobody pointing, nobody in my face trying to provoke me, nobody getting on me about the Gundrun brawl, no paparazzi.

“I’ve worked in this neighborhood for, like, eight years. You get to know people,” she says, as if anybody who works in a neighborhood for eight years would be on a first-name basis with everybody and universally adored. Does she understand she can choose to ignore people? But she’d never do that. She actually likes people. Genuinely likes them.

“Wait.” She crouches by one of those grates that trees grow out of, and then stands triumphant, waving something in her hand. As she nears, I see it’s a fifty-dollar bill. “Look what I found!”

“Wow,” I say.

She flattens it between two fingers as we walk, gazing at it like it’s the portal to paradise. She did say her new apartment is beyond her budget. Will this make a dent in her living expenses?

I tamp down the strange ripple in my chest. “You’re very excited,” I observe.

“I just found fifty bucks! Found money is special. It’s…a boon. Found money—well, you of all people should understand that.”

Me of all people? What does that mean?”

“Nothing,” she says quickly.

“So does this go for any found money? Even a dime?”

“Even a dime,” she says.

“That’s a little pathetic.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she says. “Is my happiness bar set too low?”

“The highlight of your day was brushing some dirt off a dead cactus.”

“It takes big things to make Mr. Jack Smith happy. Big, important things. World peace. Perfect harmony.”

“Harmony,” I groan.

“Oh, what? You hate harmony?”

“Yes, I hate harmony. I really do.”

She snorts. “Isn’t this getting old? A bit predictable? I get it. You’re a growly loner. Alright already.”

“Don’t forget roustabout,” I say, concentrating on the sidewalk, trying not to stare at her too much, but the chilly walk has put apples on her cheeks. She’s wearing the style of knit winter hat that Dave and the others wear, with a crude insignia and a giant pom pom, and bits of blonde hair have escaped from the sides, framing her face, which is positively radiant with glee and goodwill.

“So what does it take? To make your day?” she asks.

I shrug, unsure how to answer that. “Winning, I suppose. Vindication. Crushing my enemies.”

“Vindication? Crushing enemies? What are you, a Bond villain?”

“It also makes my day when people refrain from asking me to do errands they clearly don’t need me on.”

She snorts. “This found money means we have to buy something for ourselves that we wouldn’t normally buy, and you’re gonna help me do that.”

“What about your rent?” I ask, not that I care, but she was just complaining about it, and even I know this is an expensive city for regular people.

“Are you kidding? This is a found windfall. It’s energy. You have to spread it around and enjoy it. We have to treat ourselves to something splurgy that we wouldn’t normally treat ourselves to.”

“Mm-hmm,” I say. The subset of splurgy things I’d like that I wouldn’t normally treat myself to contains exactly zero items.

“I got it!” She turns around, walking backwards. Her eyes are a dazzling shade of green in the sun. “Have you ever had a Holey Icewich?”

“Is this something we should head back to the supply closet for?”

“No, it’s build-your-own donut ice cream sandwiches.”

I frown. “So it’s a task and a disgusting-sounding snack?”

“That settles it, we’re getting some. I’m buying us each an ice cream donut sandwich with this money, and then with the rest I’m gonna double our cookie order.”

“You just found fifty bucks. If you need it, you should keep it,” I say, feeling unaccountably annoyed. My fake Good Samaritan parents were buying yachts off the backs of these people, and here she is buying treats. No doubt she’s being underpaid. I should look into the pay.

“You pass it on. What’s the problem?”

“Any more of this sweetness and rainbows and my teeth are going to fall out, that’s the problem.”

“Human connection is as valuable as money, if not more so. I can’t believe that would be a surprise to you of all people.”

“Me of all people? Why do you keep saying that? What about me says I believe in bullshit?”

“Just forget it.” We get in a line of people that stretches out of a hole-in-the-wall place with a red awning with rainbows and pink witches.

“Me of all people?” I ask.

“It’s none of my business. And we have decisions to make. Look.” She points at a chalkboard menu. “Choose, or I’ll choose for you.”

“If you think this is going to stop me from my butt-dialer quest, think again.”

“You’re still on that?” she asks wearily.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Rhymes with tossed haws,” she says.

After a ridiculous wait in line and an endless deliberation at the counter, we emerge with our concoctions. She has a cookie crumble donut with chocolate-covered pretzel ice cream and Oreo ice cream inside, with chocolate icing topped with M&Ms. She insisted I get the same thing, but with Fruit Loops on the top—“for the crunch factor.” It’s so her, all the sweetness and brightness and a little bit of the devil.

“What person in their right mind would eat this?”

“Us!” She leads me to a stoop—there’s no walking and eating this kind of thing. We have a perfect view of orange-striped construction barricades guarding an expanse of rubble, creating a bottleneck and a congested street.

“I suppose this is about productivity, too.”

“I’ll do a working lunch and” —she gestures at me— “not a lot of lost productivity on your end.”

“What? Ouch!” I protest.

She takes a bite then pauses, closing her eyes, fully given over to the experience. Her fine features are suffused with softness, and a sheen of sugary ice cream lights her plump lips. She looks perfectly serene. It’s…arresting.

She takes another bite and groans. A new part of her plump lips is shiny now. “Mmmm,” she says, just sitting there maddeningly, not eating any more, not doing anything. Just luxuriating.

It’s here that it hits me: this is her pleasure face.

I can’t look away, because I’m seized with this certainty that it’s her orgasm face, too, and my mind crowds with annoying images of some faceless manbun dude fucking her. I try to erase the manbun dude, but I can’t. They’d lie in bed together afterwards and talk about office productivity. Or how many pencils to fit in a bun. Other things to store in a bun. Chopsticks. Thumb drives. Found money. Ice cream sandwiches.

She opens her eyes and I force my attention down to the continent’s most dubious confection. “I actually have to eat this?”

She gives me a stern look. “Yes!”

My mind is still churning on the very unappetizing Jada-fucking-a-manbun image. Not that I care. Jada can fuck whatever manbun she wants to, assuming she can spare the time from her precious SportyGoCo activities.

I look over and notice that there’s a dab of chocolate just above her lip. The urge to swipe it is driving me mad. It’s all I want to do.

“You have something…” I point at my lip.

Her pink tongue slides seductively over the spot. It does nothing to remove the chocolate, but it does everything to wind me up all the harder. Is everything she does maddening? Withholding information from me just for the hell of it. Forcing me on this errand. Being all taunting sweetness and light with a chocolate dab on her lip, perfectly positioned for maximum distraction.

“What?” she says.

“There’s still chocolate.”

She tongues it once again; once again, she fails to get it.

Before I can stop myself, I’m pressing my thumb to the upper edge of her perfect doll lip. It’s soft and warm, and the electric sensation of our skin-to-skin contact skitters over my hand.

I bring my thumb to my lips and suck off the chocolate.

Her lips form into a scolding smile. “Well, that wasn’t inappropriate,” she says.

“Were you hoping for wildly inappropriate?” I ask, mouth dry.

“Yeah, you wish.”

The noises of the city seem to recede into the distance.

I press my spoon into a corner of the confection in my lap, isolating a bite that’s equal parts of everything. I give it a taste.

She’s grinning like the Cheshire cat. “You like?”

I’ve had thousand-dollar entrees served in exquisite Mediterranean settings. I’ve had Michelin-starred meals and feast aboard super yachts. I’ve had opinions about them all.

But this. This is a messed-up thing I don’t have a category for. I don’t know if it’s the fresh-baked warmth of the donut or the iciness of the ice cream or the easy crunch of the colorful cereal bits or the cacophony of the city or still the chocolate from her lip.

“I suppose it has wrongness that I like,” I say.

“Treats taste best when found money bought them,” she declares.

Not it, I think, staring down at the ridiculous concoction.

Our next stop is Cookie Madness. Her friend owns the string of stores, she tells me, and has swung her a running discount on day-old frosted cookies. “But today we’re getting fresh, handpicked ones.”

“How wonderful,” I whisper.

She puts a lot of thought into picking them out, consulting me here and there, like which shoe cookie looks yummiest, or which is the biggest rainbow cookie.

She’s eking every last drop out of finding the money. It’s beyond tedious. At one point she turns to me and asks if I have any hobbies.

“Driving,” I say.

“No, come on. That’s your job. I mean your hobby. Your passion.”

“Driving is my hobby and my passion.”

“Just driving around.”

“Around and around,” I say. “Nice and fast.”

“You have no other passions? No other hopes for the future?”

I stifle a grin. Of course this would irritate Workaholic Barbie. “I hope in the future my time is spent driving.”

“I guess that’s…well, zen at least. Though I really think you could do more.” She picks out a car cookie. “The red frosting one,” she tells the person behind the counter. “That’s the nicest.”

She turns around and presents it to me in a little wax bag. “For you.”

I take it. “And this is the errand you so desperately needed me for. This.”

She grins, like that’s so entertaining of me to say.

“People are gonna be excited that they’re not getting random ones,” she says on the way back. “People are gonna be grateful that you helped pick out the cookies.”

“I barely helped. Who is the snake cookie for?” I ask on the way back, because she seems to have a person in mind for each cookie.

“The snake is for Marv, the security guard. He has a pet boa constrictor at his house. He brought it in one time. He’s not technically part of the group, but Bert has really harassed him, and it would be terrible if he quit.”

“Dare I ask who’s getting the bomb?”

“Lacey. Because she likes to yarn bomb. It’s like knit graffiti where you cover public surfaces with knit stuff. Though she hasn’t been doing it much lately. It’s all she can do to stay awake. You know not to go into Meeting Room A when the cloth shopping bag is hanging on the doorknob, right?” she asks. “It means she’s napping.”

“And you call me unproductive.”

“For you, it’s a choice; with Lacey, it’s not. She has this horrible fatigue that no doctor can diagnose. She’s one infraction away from being fired, which means she wouldn’t get unemployment—she’d be destitute with no health care or safety net. I don’t even know how she’d live. She’s all alone in the world except for us.”

“So she’s been sleeping in there while you cover for her?” I ask incredulous.

“We can’t let her get fired. She’s begged for part-time hours while she deals with this, but Bert won’t give her that. He’d prefer to fire her.”

“So you cover for her. While she’s napping.”

“When she has a bad week, we split up her tasks among us.”

“I didn’t realize Lacey was such an operator,” I tease.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jada demands.

“You’re doing her job and guarding her when she sleeps?”

“Oh my god. Are you serious? You think she’s playing us?”

“You’re doing her job while she sleeps,” I say. “All signs point to—”

“Seriously, screw off with that!” Jada says, angry now—actually angry. Her sudden intensity surprises me.

“Okay,” I say. “It’s just, you know, napping at work while others do your job—”

“That is really rich coming from you, Mister Executive Summary!”

I hold up my hand in surrender.

“No, no, I’m sorry. It’s just that she was such a dynamo before. This was a fun place to work with exciting things happening, and she and the former owners were this project management and brainstorming dream team. You have no idea how devastating this fatigue problem is for her. Especially when people question it, because the last thing she wants is to have to sit on her ass. She was a real ally to me, too.”

I nod. I’m sure it was a blow—I’ve never seen somebody more into teamwork.

“Also, I have some expertise in the area of jerks taking advantage,” she continues, “and that is not what’s happening here.”

I narrow my eyes, not liking this. Who would take advantage of Jada? “Expertise?” I repeat, wanting more. Maybe even names.

“In my past. It’s no big. In fact, I’m glad for it. For the learning experience.” She brightens up. “Do you have brothers or sisters?”

“No. Nor parents.”

She turns to me with a pitying look. “You’re…an orphan?”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” I say.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” I say, yearning to get off this subject.

“What about…other relatives?”

“There’s a cousin who may or may not be talking to me at this point. Hopefully the latter.”

“But I’m sure that you have people. A found family.”


“So wait—” She looks over at me so sadly, so balefully. “Just…nobody. You’re alone in the world?”

“I like to think of it as unencumbered.”

“What do you do on holidays?”

“Give thanks that I don’t have to make a forced trip somewhere annoying and have people mad at me for not acting like I’m having fun.”

She stares at me in disbelief. She probably loves holidays. She probably has a hot Santa’s helper outfit. “And you’re happy about that?”

“Ecstatic,” I say.

“But what about people who love you and who you love? Maybe you don’t have a birth family that you love, but we all need people.”

“No, no, no, and no, thanks,” I say. “I promise, I live a life that most people would envy.”

“Driving and being alone.”

I tap the tip of my nose.

She looks unconvinced. “Driving. That’s the place where you feel the most happiness.”

“That and the times in my life when I’ve punched men who richly deserved it. That gave me a great deal of happiness. Taking a smug smile off a man’s face. Highly recommended.”

“That’s terrible!”

“It can be extremely pleasurable.”

“Violence is never warranted,” she says.

“Not even against Bert?” I ask. “Coming in here, ruining your hard work, hurting the people you love, terrorizing the office. Are you telling me you wouldn’t enjoy seeing him get it right in the kisser? A nice big knuckle sandwich?”

“What is this, the 1920s?” she jokes.

“I’m not hearing a no. You wouldn’t like to see somebody wipe that smile right off of his smug face?”

“It’s wrong,” she says.

“Oh, of course it’s wrong. That’s not the question. The question is, would you enjoy seeing it?”

“It doesn’t matter if I’d enjoy seeing it. Violence never solves anything. We’ll defeat Bert, and it’ll be through the hard work of our family pulling together. And it’s your family, too. You don’t have to rely on your fists; you’ve got a family behind you now.”

“No, thanks,” I say.

“Too bad,” she says. “We’re your found family.”

“Consider yourself unfound,” I say.

“You are so funny.” Her smile fills my chest with a lightness that’s a little too close to cotton candy. “Sometimes I feel paranoid that Bert senses how we feel about Lacey, like he knows how vulnerable she is. I’m bracing for him to go after her.”

Bert is a type of man I know well—cruel, petty, and power mad. I grew up under the thumb of exactly such a man. “You can’t let a man like that sense vulnerability.”

“You won’t tell him about Lacey, right?”

“Hell no.”

“Thank you,” she says, beaming at me with this open-hearted gratitude that is just disturbing.

“Who am I to ruin a brilliant scam like what Lacey has going?” I add.

She snorts. “Shut it.”

We continue walking, past an exercise place full of sweaty people on treadmills.

“Does Bert have any actual skills for his position? Is there anything he does well?”

“No. And if he was only shitty at his job, that would be fine, but he seems to go out of his way to ruin what we’re doing, and we’re not the only department he meddles in.”

None of this adds up. Why would Wycliff hire somebody so awful? “Have you lodged a complaint?”

“Of course. They put this management company in charge when they bought us, and that’s who hired Bert. We’ve provided examples, documentation. We complained when he first fired our top designers. These were people who were aggressively recruited by our old owners—people so sought after by our competitors, and Bert let them go for things like dress code stuff. The man works overtime to destroy the company.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” I say.

“Just because it doesn’t make sense, doesn’t mean it isn’t so.”

“Usually it does mean that.”

“Yeah, well, it’s almost like you work overtime to make yourself disagreeable,” she says.

“I don’t have to work overtime to do that,” I say.

“Har, har, har. True enough,” she says.

Shondrella gets a shoe cookie. Dave gets a sunglasses cookie. Lacey nearly cries when she gets her bomb cookie. Dave is there, joking about the bomb cookie, trying to cheer her up. She says she’s going to do the knit bombing again soon, talking with this look of grim determination I’ve seen on her face before—I’d imagined it to be simple humorlessness.

Is there no way for her to be moved to part time? And is it true that Bert is making things worse? Bert’s a shitty person, no question, but is he that unfit as a leader? Or would this group hate anybody who wasn’t their beloved former owners? The way they talk about the old owners, nobody would fill their shoes.

Right then, some fabric delivery comes. Dave takes over the cookie delivery while Jada, Renata, and Shondrella slam into garment production mode.

Over the following days, I notice that that’s how this office seems to operate; hurry up and wait followed by a frenzied period of work. I’ve noticed also that a lot of the hurry up and wait happens because Bert inserted himself into things, delaying or misplacing shipments, changing rules and specs. One time he even took a delivery up into his office, supposedly by mistake, but it seemed like an awfully strange mistake, and it sent the whole department into panic mode.

Bert needs to shape up. With a few tweaks, this place could be run better. Not that I care. I don’t know shit about business, and the last thing I want to do is follow in my father’s footsteps. But I do hate to see a group of hapless people tormented if I can at all avoid it.

Anyway, I came here to find the butt-dialer. Eyes on the prize.

And then I’ll sell Wycliff to somebody who’s actually good at business, and that’ll be best for everybody.


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