This is an amateur, non-commercial story, which is not produced, approved of, or in any way sponsored by the holders of the trademarks/copyrights from which this work is derived, nor is it intended to infringe on the rights of these holders. And so it goes.
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Mrs. Eunice Johnson didn't even spare a glance toward the source of the approaching noise. The Banzai Institute was in the midst of one of their 'recruitment drives', and consequently her work area was buried beneath an avalanche of doctoral theses, audition tapes, and general "I wannabe" letters from millions of hopeful applicants. Someone had to separate the wheat from the chaff, and as always, the job fell to her--and any interns she could 'persuade' to assist her.
Besides, she'd checked the calendar. She knew who was coming, and why.
Annie O, the intrepid intern of six months, was not as prescient. She looked up and gasped in surprise. Little Red, the Queen of the Institute Infirmary, was standing in front of the desk, dressed in crisply pressed white uniform and white stockings. A brand-new nurse's cap crowned her neatly brushed red hair, and even her Reeboks looked brand new. She carried a professionally bound booklet in her arms; her eyes held a glimmer of expectation.
"Is he in?" Red said to Mrs. Johnson.
"Yup. He's waiting for you."
"Good." Red strode past the mess, heading straight for Rawhide's office. Annie watched her leave, then turned to her supervisor.
"What's going on?"
Mrs. Johnson smiled. "Oh, nothing much. Just the Infirmary's annual budget review."
* * * * *
"Hello, Red." Rawhide looked up from his notebook, which was a replica of the one she was carrying. He was dressed in his power blue business suit, complimented perfectly by a striped red tie. While his hair remained in its perpetually mussed state, from all appearances he'd even shaved for this meeting. "Have a seat," he continued, waving her toward the chairs that faced his desk. "Tea? Coffee?"
"No thank you," Red said primly, neatly descending upon the one seat that didn't have anything in it. She noted that it tilted forward slightly, just enough to be uncomfortable.
"Okay." Rawhide leaned back in his chair, smiling broadly. "Well, before we begin, I just wanted to tell you how impressed I was with this year's budget, Red. You really did an outstanding job."
"Why, thank you, Rawhide," she replied, her teeth gleaming.
"I'm serious. In fact," he continued, leaning forward across the desk, "I think it's got a good chance at winning a Hugo for Outstanding Science Fiction."
"Really." Red's smile had changed into a tight grimace.
"Are you challenging my figures?"
"Damn straight I am."
Red's eyes narrowed. "Okay, then. Let's begin."
* * * * *
"What's the big deal?" Annie O asked. "I mean, why was Red so dressed up? It's just going over a bunch of numbers, that's all."
"Normally, yes," Mrs. Johnson replied. "Rawhide has final authority over almost all of the Institute's department budgets. He can trim them at will--and he when he does, you can hear the howling from here to Hudson Bay. But the Infirmary budget is different."
Mrs. Johnson smiled. "When Red signed on here, it was with the stipulation that she was ran the Infirmary with no interference from Buckaroo or anyone else. When she submitted her first budget, Rawhide slashed it--literally, I might add, with Buckaroo's sword. The resulting catfight got so bad that Buckaroo had to intercede. He declared that Red could submit the budget, but if Rawhide had objections, they had to sit down and work them out. Everyone else pretty much has to accept their fate."
"Why does Red get special treatment?" Annie questioned.
"Because she's good, and Buckaroo thinks that she keeps Rawhide in line."
* * * * *
"Page two," Rawhide declared, flipping the book open with his thumb. Line five. Peppermint-flavored tongue depressors." He glanced up at his opponent. "Gimme a break."
"It makes things a bit easier for the patient," Red replied patiently. "You know what it's like, having to sit there while a doctor peers down your throat and all. And it makes the patient's breath a bit easier for the doctor to take."
"Red," the burly Cavalier growled.
"Okay, we'll strike that one for now."
"Good." Rawhide consulted his list, squinting at the small type. "Page five, line three. Weekly Godiva allocations for the nursing staff…"
"That," Red declared firmly, "is non-negotiable."
* * * * *
"It's getting loud in there," Annie commented, warily glancing back at the door to Rawhide's office.
"It usually does around page seven," Mrs. Johnson calmly said.
"Does she do that bad a job?"
"Bad?" A chuckle slipped out between the older woman's lips. "Hardly. When all is said and done, Red usually has the tightest budget at the Institute. She hasn't gone over her allotment once."
Mrs. Johnson sighed. "Red spends weeks preparing it. In addition to the serious stuff, she adds little joke items here and there. One year it was a supply of bubble-gum flavored condoms, another time it was strawberry-scented bubble bath for bathing patients. Once she turns it in, Rawhide pores over it for days, finding every one of those gags and excising them."
"That's ridiculous!" Annie said, shocked.
"It's a game," Mrs. Johnson corrected her. "They live for this meeting. They love battling it out. There are times I almost think it's the equivalent of sex between those two."
* * * * *
"We don't need a general practitioner," Rawhide growled.
"Yes, we do," Red answered fiercely.
"We've got two doctors here--Buck and Sid."
Red rolled her eyes. "They are neurologists, cowboy. Specialists. They go inside people's heads. They're never available--check the schedule I drew up for the past three months." She handed a spreadsheet to the Cavalier, who drew it up close to his face to examine. "We need someone who can handle the ordinary stuff--broken bones, checkups, concussions, burns--and free them up for the fancy problems."
"I don't know…" There was a faint whisper of uncertainty creeping into Rawhide's voice.
"Look," Red said. "What happens when someone gets hurt today and neither Buckaroo nor Sid is around? We have to ship them to the New Brunswick E.R. Right there you've racked up an ambulance ride, an emergency room visit, possible overnight stay--but if we had a doctor or two here, on call, we're spared all that."
Rawhide frowned, rubbed his chin. "Let me talk to Buck about it," he finally said.
"Page eight, line fifteen. Lambskin covers for cart handles…"
* * * * *
"I don't think you were here when we had the Eighth Dimension thing," Mrs. Johnson said as she moved a pile of possible applicant papers over to her desk. "Rawhide died during that episode, or so we thought at the time. Red had turned her budget in a week before, like everyone else, and Buckaroo decided to handle the reviews himself. He got to the Infirmary's, and figured that Red knew best about what was needed--plus the figures looked good on the surface--so he approved the thing without any changes."
"What happened?" Annie asked.
Mrs. Johnson smiled. "Buck called her in and told her it was fine as is. She thanked him, went back to her office and cried for two hours."
* * * * *
"No damn way."
"Rawhide…" Red half-yelled, half-pleaded.
"Look, I've been reasonable. I got you a full-time OB-GYN last year. I said I’d look into a GP this year. But there ain't no damned way I'm going to agree to a pediatrician."
"Red, for cryin' out loud, we don't have any kids here!"
"Yet," Red said pointedly.
"Ever!" Rawhide replied hotly.
"Are you sure, cowboy?"
"This is an institute, not a god-damned day care center!"
"Ah, so you did read page thirteen," the petite nurse said. She took a deep breath. "Rawhide, look. This is a place where the brightest, most creative people in the world come to work…and play. You get a big bunch of creative men and women together, and what do you get?"
"Work, occasionally," the Cavalier grumbled under his breath.
"Sex," Red corrected him. "And sooner or later, babies will follow. I love my work here, but I want to have a family someday. A lot of women here do. It makes sense to have a doctor here who will be able to tend to the special needs of children."
"Red, there ain't gonna be any kids here in the next twelve months!"
She smiled knowingly and leaned forward. "Talked to Norse today, cowboy?"
He blanched and eyed her warily. "No…"
"Okay." She shrugged nonchalantly. "I'll give on the pediatrician and the day care center…for this year, anyway."
"Okay," he said after a long pause, still staring at her. "Let's…continue."
* * * * *
Mrs. Johnson frowned. "Hmm. No table banging. It must be a fairly good one this year."
* * * * *
"Our eye care program is fine as is," Rawhide informed Red.
"It was fine five years ago," she replied. "It needs revisions. As people get older, their needs change. Bifocals, cataracts, that sort of thing. We need to bring it into line with those requirements, and that means increasing the budget for optometry."
"We don't need that much," Rawhide grumbled. "And while we're talking about it, you didn't have to use such a small font to make me think my eyes are goin' bad, Red."
"It's the same font we use every year, cowboy."
Red smiled sweetly and lifted one hand into the air, then extended one particular digit. "Rawhide? How many fingers am I holding up?"
* * * * *
"Ah." Mrs. Johnson nodded as a vigorous thumping came from the office. "There we go."
* * * * *
"Red, it's got to be cut!" Rawhide's fist slammed down against the oak desk.
"Rawhide, no it doesn't!" Red slapped the desk hard with her palm.
"I've had to cut every department's budget by six percent, whether I wanted to or not! I can't let the Infirmary get off scott free!"
"The hell you can't!" Red yelled. "Buckaroo gave me complete autonomy…!"
"Red," Rawhide said warningly, "who signs your paycheck?"
"Buckaroo," she promptly replied.
Rawhide paused. "Okay," he finally said. "Who arranges for him to sign it?"
He stared at the petite dynamo in front of him for a long time, then smiled slightly and sat back down.
"Red," he said, more quietly this time. "Things are tight." He took a deep breath. "Please."
She tilted her head and regarded him, then sat back down. "There. Did it kill you to use the magic word?"
He snorted softly. "Five percent."
"Red, work with me."
"Two, and that's my final offer."
"One, and that's my final offer."
He shook his head, smiling. "One."
* * * * *
At long last the door to Rawhide's office flew open, and out stepped Red. "Satisfied?" Mrs. Johnson asked with a grin.
"I got what I wanted," Red replied, a smug smile on her lips. A moment or two later Rawhide emerged from his den. "Mrs. Johnson, you got any…" Two aspirin dropped into his outstretched hand. "Uhh, thanks," he said. "Here's the Infirmary budget, revisions in blue ink like always. Make sure Buck sees it."
"Will do," Mrs. Johnson said breezily.
"I'm goin' to take a little nap on my sofa, so I don't want to be disturbed." A disturbing thought occurred to him. "Unless it's Norse," he added quickly. "If it's Norse, you send her right in, okay?"
Rawhide looked at Red. "Okay, then?"
She nodded. "Okay."
"Same time next year?"
"You bet, cowboy."
"Okay." They shook hands then, went their separate ways, Rawhide to his office and Red to her Infirmary. Mrs. Johnson watched them with a mirthful smile, then shook her head and returned to her current pile of correspondence.