Lysi Weston, leaves liberal San Francisco to present a sexual harassment seminar in Big Sky country. She isn’t surprised at resistance from Montana “Marlboro Men,” but the murder of her partner stuns her.
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Nancy Curteman Mystery Writer
In “Murder in a Teacup,” Corporate Trainer, Lysi Weston, leaves liberal San Francisco to present a sexual harassment seminar in Big Sky country. She isn’t surprised at resistance from Montana “Marlboro Men,” but the murder of her partner stuns her. Things get hotter than a Montana heat wave when Weston finds herself immersed in a hostile world that includes a lecherous redneck, a corporate Casanova, a sex-obsessed judo junkie, a terrified gay victim and a congenial killer who tries to pamper her to death with Oleander-laced tea. A Cheyenne detective with an appreciative eye for Lysi adds a bit of spice to the story.
An explosion of heat blasted Lysi in the face when she opened the door of the air-conditioned car, a rude reminder of August in Eastern Montana. I’ll never again whine about San Francisco fog. Sweat started to percolate through her skin.
Taking Cristin’s name in vain for badgering her into this assignment, Lysi grabbed her briefcase, took a deep breath, and headed for the Staff Only entrance. On the metal door a poster advertising her seminar dangled by one taped corner. The original poster had read:
Required Staff Training
Sexual Harassment Presentations With Expert Lysi Weston
In the Boardroom Thursday and Friday 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Some redneck genius, using all the brainpower he could muster, had taken a thick black felt pen to it:
Sexual Heaven Promised by Sexpert Lysi Weston
In the Bedroom Thursday and Friday 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.
A sardonic grin spread across Lysi’s lips. I guess this is a preview of the “challenge” the boss told me I’d love?
She ripped the seminar poster off the door and shoved it into her briefcase. She dragged in a tenacious breath capturing a pungent whiff of the nearby cow pasture that lay ripening in the sun. Holding her breath, she pushed open the glass door and escaped into the Nerium building.
On the way to the elevator, Lysi mentally revisited the original reason for taking this job—to help victims of sexism in the workplace. She still burned when she recalled the Larksdale School District Director, a chrome-domed lecher who imagined he had the droit du seigneur to grope her at will. A complaint to the Superintendent got her demoted to the classroom. Humiliated, she resigned and took a position with Stellar Corporate Development as a management-training seminar presenter. This was her job and she would see it through.
Lysi pressed the elevator button then took out a tissue and dabbed at her damp face. She peered into the mirrored elevator door and tried to smooth the frizz from her short unruly hair. Never mind the makeup that had already sweated into uneven blotches.
The elevator sailed upward to the soft strains of a string quartet until the doors opened on the fourth floor. Lysi’s brown eyes wandered over the rich woodwork shining in the glow of decorative lighting. A cobalt blue carpet runner led her past several oversized doors to the Staff Development office. Pretty elegant for a cow pasture.
She blinked at the sudden brightness of the office. The sun beaming through a glass-enclosed roof garden filled with large pots of pink and white dwarf oleanders created a welcome relief from the funereal feeling of the dim corridor.
A no-nonsense secretary squinted at Lysi through rimless spectacles—salt and pepper hair pulled back in a bun, sensible crepe-soled shoes, figure lost somewhere in a baggy, long-sleeved dress.
“This way, Ms. Weston. Ms. Norris has been waiting for you for sometime now.”
The secretary’s voice matched her chastising frown. Two deep grooves running from nose to chin told Lysi the frown was perennial. Her rimless spectacles measured Lysi, assessing her Bernardo sandals, white Tahari pantsuit and fuchsia blouse.
Lysi looked at the secretary. I guess you’d have no problem with sexual harassment. Instantly regretting her nasty thought, she forced a pleasant expression.
“Sorry I’m late. The drive from Billings took longer than expected.”
The secretary raised her eyebrows and executed a tight-lipped teacher stare that made Lysi feel she should go stand in a corner. Then she opened an inner office door that framed a pencil-thin brunette in her thirties who rose from an absurdly large leather chair and strode toward Lysi in high heels that added three inches to her petite stature.
The brunette extended her hand with a warm smile. “Hi. I’m Carolyn Norris, Director of Staff Development. Welcome to Nerium, Ms. Weston. I hope you had a pleasant flight from San Francisco.”
“Thank you,” Lysi said. “The flight from San Francisco was fine.” She didn’t add that the drive from the airport was tedious; that she got her fill of sagebrush, macadam and barbed wire fences; and that the graffittied poster in her briefcase confirmed her view that the seminar would probably be a colossal waste of time, money and effort.
Lysi glanced back at the roof garden. “That’s some garden.”
“Thanks. That was my incentive bonus to come here. I had no desire to work in this God-forsaken country. I’m a West Coast girl, too—L.A. So I brought a little piece of home with me.”
Carolyn motioned Lysi to a seat on an ivory brocade couch.
A woman who gets what she wants. Lysi noted the designer name embroidered on Carolyn’s turquoise silk shirt and the large diamond sparkling on her finger. She liked Carolyn’s elegant style and efficient manner. Maybe Ms. Norris was aware of the pervasive sexism at Nerium described in the seminar background report. Maybe she’d be a good support for change. Maybe there was hope after all.
Lysi pulled a blue binder from her briefcase. “In reading the Nerium Montana Background Re—”
“Just one second.” Carolyn leaned across her desk and pressed the intercom button. “Ms. Weston’s here.”
A baritone voice resonated through the intercom. “Great, be right over.”
When the door opened a few seconds later, the same voice said, “Miss Weston. What a pleasure to meet you. Hank Jones. Human Resources.”
“Soon to be Nerium Montana Corporate Manager.” Carolyn flipped her straight, shoulder-length hair back with a toss of her head. “No one deserves it more than Hank.”
“Congratulations,” Lysi said. Hank’s smile radiated artificial charm.
With a sideways glance followed by a wink, Hank said, “You sure don’t look like I’d expect a little lady to look who’d spent two years studying sex in some dingy old library.”
Lysi bristled. She knew what he meant. All he could see was a tall, fair-skinned blonde with enough curves to merit a second glance. He knew nothing of the years of study for her PhD. She could just imagine what he’d think of her thesis topic, of all her research.
“The title of the project is ‘How Sexual Harassment in the Work Place Bankrupts Corporations and Obliterates Careers,’” she said, and glanced at Carolyn. How about a little sisterhood here?
Instead, Carolyn lowered her lashes and emitted a soft purr. Her cheeks warmed to the same delicate pink as the rose quartz pin she wore on her lapel.
Turning back to Hank, Lysi could see what had transformed Carolyn from a levelheaded professional to a twitter-brained teenager. Hank Jones looked like a lean, lanky cowboy in his forties. His clean-shaven face revealed a sharp, slightly jutting jaw softened by a deep dimple in each cheek. He had a smile that would melt an iceberg, and deep umber eyes that could ignite any woman’s passion.
“Whoa!” Hank smacked his forehead with his palm. “Now you’re breaking out the big words. Give me a minute to chaw on that hunk of title. Sounds awful scary to me.”
Lysi didn’t bite the bait. Instead, she held up the Nerium Montana binder and watched Hank’s smirk disappear.
“Mr. Jones, I think you made a wise decision to address the issue of sexual harassment at Nerium. I certainly believe–”
“Lisa, honey—you don’t mind if I call you Lisa do you?”
“I don’t mind, but my parents would. Both classical lit professors, they named me after Lysistrada, the heroine of a Greek play by Aristophanes. Both the y and the i sound like i in the word it.”
Hank didn’t try to conceal his disdain. “Well, Lysistrada honey, I want to be real up front with you.” He sidled next to her and draped a big arm over her shoulders, enveloping her in the scent of his expensive aftershave cologne.
“I did not put in a request for your seminar. It came from corporate headquarters in California. Someone out there in Hippie Ville seems to think Montana Nerium middle management people need training on how to treat our women. Sexual Harassment. Hah! As we used to say out on the ranch, there just ain’t no such critter in these parts.”
Lysi raised her eyebrows in question and removed his arm. “So you’ve seen no evidence of sexual harassment in this plant?”
Hank nodded his head at least three times.
“Interesting.” She didn’t add: Since the background document on the need for training of Nerium Montana management personnel stated that sexual harassment was pervasive in the Montana branch and named you and one Bill Pitt as transgressors—suggestive comments, lewd pictures, invasive touching.
I’m here, Lysi shouted in her mind, because Nerium Corporate California wants to avoid an expensive lawsuit that would probably name you and Pitt. Of course, you would never consider your behavior offensive, just friendly.
As Lysi opened her mouth to rebut Hank’s denial of sexual harassment at Nerium, Carolyn recovered her equilibrium.
“Cristin Holden left a message for you, Ms. Weston.”
She handed Lysi a white envelope with Big Sky Motel printed in the return address space.
“Ms Holden made quite an impression with her motivational seminar yesterday afternoon—and at the reception later.”
Lysi laughed inwardly, I’ll just bet she did—with every male in the place. I wonder how many ‘streetcars’ she collected?
Lysi tucked the envelope from her co-presenter into her purse and moved towards the door. She nodded at Carolyn.
Before leaving, she couldn’t resist sticking one last burr under Hank’s already sore saddle.
“Mr. Jones, since management of sexual harassment cases is part of the purview of the human resources department, it’ll be your responsibility to insure that a workable prevention plan is developed.” Her nicest smile accompanied the burr. “See you at the seminar tomorrow.”
Lysi hadn’t quite clicked the door shut when she caught snatches of a sharp exchange.
“…don’t trust Weston…doesn’t act like a woman.”
“You mean she doesn’t respond to you like most...”
“…cold, business like, arrogant about her expertise.”
“You’re just used to women falling all over...”
Lysi’s anger rocketed from a simmer to a boil. She yanked the handle and closed the door with a loud click. She would let him stew about how much she might’ve heard and what she planned to do about it.
The no-nonsense secretary stopped typing, pursed her lips and cast a disapproving eye when Lysi speed walked past her desk on the way out of the office.