Friday, March 7, 2014

Chapter Six: Morning Break

MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
 and the woman important to each 
 6

          Nine-fifteen meant morning break. Lola McIntyre pushed through the doors of the lunchroom to take her place at the table near the wall and watch everyone coming in. Wearing snug brown skirt and carmine red blouse, her sandy blonde hair was clipped short over yearning brown eyes. A charm bracelet jangled on her right wrist.
          Employed at Slade for ten years, the staff was the subject of her gossip, which ranged over absences and work habits, marriages and affairs, waistlines and diets, conflicts and complaints. New people added to her amusement but also contributed to anxiety.
           She was invested in routine. Her job as billing consultant engaged the mind just enough without hurting, and lent self-esteem when explaining ins-and-outs of premium billing to baffled clients. Difficult calls could be passed on to a supervisor, thereby sustaining her good spirits. But someone new might be her replacement, so she listened for the slightest sound of ground giving way; easy in the lunchroom’s bright lights where conversations bounced off the yellow walls of the L-shaped room with twenty tables and a bank of vending machines.
            Shy when by herself, she counted on a coalition of willing tablemates. Stockroom Bob arrived next. In his thirties with muscular arms covered in tight blond curls and hair cropped close to the ears, he wore cotton trousers, steel-toed shoes and red-and-blue checkered shirt. As he sat, he scraped a crumb from the table. “Morning, Lola.”
           Next came lanky Mailroom Joe, whose ubiquitous earphones were like life support. Wearing jeans, black t-shirt and backwards cap trapping stringy hair, he stepped just inside the swinging door, then stopped to gaze into his handheld. When the door tapped his bottom, he expressed surprise – then moved the rest of the way inside. He sat wordlessly, as if greetings were assumed. Lola by then was squirming like a schoolgirl in anticipation.
          Instead, Betsy Murray came in. The petite executive secretary, who was about Bob’s age, fed quarters that ka-plunked into the coffee machine’s empty register. Lola called, “Come sit,” and she was going over when Bill kicked through the door.  Tossing his cap on the table, he turned a chair backwards to sit then craned his shaved head, looking each of them in the eye. Betsy inched her chair away. Lola tried to calm herself.
          Before her was a measure of the company, top to bottom. Stockroom Bob, for one, had a part in uncovering the department supply cabinet overstocked with Wite-Out. Rank and file of nail-polish-sized bottles in colors of pink, blue, yellow and white were on hand despite the advent of the digital age. The Underwriting secretary, who derived comfort from placing orders, wouldn’t acknowledge their inutility. Bob brought it to management’s attention: the secretary departed not long afterward. And Mailroom Joe, who could match mail to people sending or receiving non-work-related items, provided material for endless speculation: credit card bills, scented purple envelopes with no return address and magazines in brown wrappers. Did the routing conceal something, and from whom? She had always to coax him for information, but thought the effort worthwhile. That morning she started with Betsy. “So what’s going on upstairs?”
          The secretary cupped hands around her coffee and cast eyes to the ceiling. “The execs are always coming and going. I see Stephen the least, in the mornings usually. Sometimes I don’t see him the rest of the day. The others think I’m busy with him and don’t ask. I feel useless.”
            “Trade you,” Lola quipped, eliciting laughter. She turned to the chauffeur. “Is he on his Blackberry when you’re driving him in?” He shrugged. “I keep my eyes on the road.”
           “What else, Betsy?”
           “We hired some mucky-muck consultants who are planning to upgrade our systems. ‘For the new century’, they say. Their presentation’s like geometry.”
           “Was Stephen there?”
           “Oh, yes. They make nice in front of Stephen, but think he’s hiding something. They’re afraid of being left out.” She stood. “My relief’s probably pulling out her hair.” She stepped away through the room now busy with people and conversation.
            A goofy grin spread across Bill’s face. “You’re all going to be replaced ---with robots. Nobody’s going to have a job. Then you can stay home and watch soap operas. The plans were in the back seat. Circles and lines and dollar signs. No people.”
           Lola gave him a sour look. “No drivers, either.”
           “Good! Then I can get out of this monkey suit.” He beamed like a precocious child, causing her to laugh, and blush. Though married with a teenage son in the suburbs, she nurtured a crush for the big man, who seemed like the spicy reward for long commutes. The thought of the flirtation upending her life was part of the thrill, with every gesture fraught with the question --How far will I go?
           They would meet in the limousine parked in the underground garage, which occupied an outlined spot near the elevator. Foot traffic was minimal after early arrivers filled the first level, but every car had to pass going to the lower ones. Roaring engines in the low-ceiled chamber made her skittish, as did the windows lowered a crack to let the heat escape, though tinted. In the semi-privacy, she explored a fantasy: gazing into his eyes, she saw reflections of the young offenders on the TV news, something wild though cleaned up and in uniform.
           The first time she felt like a teenager gone to a forbidden liaison, with the sound of echoing heels her trailing conscience. Seeing cigarette smoke escaping the window, she nearly turned back, but he flung open the door. Inside, her brassy persona vanished and she sat tongue-tied with knees pressed together.  He laughed, reaching a meaty paw to pull her over, and she turned to jelly. They pressed close, but a passing car made her pull away. “Too hot,” she said. “Somewhere else maybe; not here.” He grunted and lit another cigarette, as possibility hung in the air without anyplace to land. They continued to meet without advancing the relationship, but on learning about the condo, she grafted onto that. Now face-to-face in the lunchroom, she asked again, “When?” 
            “What?”
            “You know.”
            “Then you know the answer.”
            She squalled at his putting her off, while the others watched, thinking they knew what was at stake but not sure. “She’s there all the time, almost like she lives there. Sometimes when Mr. Slade goes up, he doesn’t ask me to wait.”
           “Well, I’ll tell you something for free. He’s not the only one she spends time with.”
            “Who?”
             “Take me and I’ll tell.”
             “Unless,” he slapped the table, “I figure it out myself.” Bob jumped up, saying he had to get back, and Joe slinked off behind him. The consultant and the chauffeur rose, her face angling toward his. But as her eyes closed, she became aware of a gathering stillness: the chatter had stopped. With eyes closed, no one could see, but that was fantasy. Instead, she patted his chest and made for the door, propelled by a press of eyeballs. Break time was over.

           
The next chapter will be posted by June 1st April 13th.. 
The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Chapter Five: Snake

MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
 and the woman important to each 
5

 “Snake,” hissed Helen, pausing at the condo window to look westward to the proximate location of the apartment she shared until that very morning with her boyfriend.
They made the trip to Los Angeles on a vision Kelly had painted: “Your face could be famous, and I could broker some deals and make loads of money”. Though she would have been content in the Midwest, he was thinking on a larger canvas, with fame the tempting apple. She bit freely, and they set out; he to land a job at a bank, and she at Slade Insurance. While she settled into a routine, he wouldn’t, his entrepreneurial sense excited by lines of people leading, he was convinced, to pots of gold. He struck out to sample each one; their schedules drifted apart.
His manner and appearance changed from clean-cut business student to long-haired hipster contemptuous of her successes. He abetted her distrust of Stephen, but when she grew to admire him, the while broadcasting a litany of perks, he needled her. “You’ll pay in the end.” He persisted in cutting remarks until she had enough. She was stuffing her carry on when he walked in. “Laundry? Now? We’re going to brunch.”
“Do what you want. I’m leaving.”
He grabbed the handle and flung it crashing into the wall.  “We have a lease.” Without missing a beat, she retrieved the carry on and continued to pack. He pushed her clothes onto the floor. “Did you hear me?”
“Leave me alone!” she screamed, rocking him back on his heels. He stared sullenly until she finished then said, “So the bill’s come due.” She wheeled the bag through the door. “I’ll come for the rest later.”
She planned to stay at the condo. Stephen had never said one way or the other, but she felt she could burrow neatly within the condo’s clean lines without attracting attention. Moving from the window, she went into the bedroom to unpack and afterwards called the cleaning service to schedule three days instead of one.
Next morning, she heard the knob rattle and the sound of a fist slamming the front door. Serenely, she rose from the bedroom computer to disengage the bolt and find Bill the chauffeur.
He was a large man, over six feet, whose bulk was barely contained within the black outfit with flying Gothic shoulders and button-up tunic. A black cap was pushed back on his shaved head where bushy eyebrows sheltered lethal narrow set eyes. Frustration contorted his face.  “What are you doing here so early?”
“Computer work. Do you have something for me?” Reminded of the manila envelope he carried, he gave it up reluctantly. “I usually put it in the safe.” She deadpanned, “And I usually take it out.” 
Her humor seemed to take the edge off, though his eyes still flitted suspiciously at and beyond her. She pushed open the door. “Want to come in?”  He peered inside. “No. That’s alright.”
Back in the bedroom she knelt beside the floor safe, twirling the dial then swinging open its door. She extracted the passbook and the tally and then unfastened the clip on the envelope. Fanning five checks like a poker hand, she calculated their worth: short of a million. A shadow of disappointment crossed her brow, which vanished with a giggle. Once, they totaled over a million, and ever since she played the expectations game. It thrilled her to be so close to streaming capital –Stephen’s phrase. Surely, this was where she should be; every addition told her so, bringing his dream closer to realization. Her role was to aid his effort. Proof of success would tell in his attitude and the deposit slips she carried to the bank.

                                                                          -ii-

            He couldn’t have known, though he acted as if he did. After the party, instead of going with the investors to the club, Stephen had Bill ferry them away, leaving them alone. Rustling in stiff silk and bare shoulders, Helen peered out the window at the twinkling lights. If he meant to stay, she had no choice but to nestle in the warmth of the successful night and out-wait him.
            “I’m calling for something to eat,” he said. “What do you want?”
            Awaiting the order, they sat on a banquette with the lights low and cool Brazilian playing on the sound system. Still corporate in suit jacket, he obsessed over plans. “At Forester’s wedding, I’ll hold the greatest-of-the-great investor parties, with the Palisades mansion as loan and leverage, in rooms away from the ceremonies where they won’t interfere. I’ll show the old man. I treat my people well, though he complains about his favorites. He can’t see reality: the capital flowing in to flush him out. He has no idea.”
            “Can you keep him from knowing?”
            “When it happens he’ll know.”
            “At the wedding, I mean.”
            ‘The fool’s so intent on harmony; he’ll lap it up. The mansion has two wings and a central area. The investors will be in the east wing. I’ll say a few words to get things started then come back. Funny really. He takes pride in overseeing things, but doesn’t see it’s passed him by.”
She leaned into him to puff a hot breath. “Will I meet Delfina?” He blinked and was about to answer when the doorbell rang.
Room service was a white-coated waiter, whom Helen directed in unloading a cart bearing plates beneath silver domes. When with servile bows the waiter retreated, Stephen took his place at the table while she went to freshen up. When she returned her auburn hair was fluffed and her eyes glistened. Strategic applications of perfume competed with aromas rising from the plates. They chewed with mouths but devoured with their eyes, until he breached the silence.
“I depend on your loyalty. Every man tries to corner and win you over. I see them talking, some of it I hear and the rest I can imagine. Don’t believe them. They want someone inside feeding them information. Don’t let them steer you wrong.”
Her words were lighter than air. “Rely on me ---for everything.” He tossed down his napkin and extended his hand. She rose to be led to where they became a tangle of arms and legs. Later, she begged modesty allow her leave last, and so he left her in place.


  The next chapter will be posted by March 9th.. 
The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Chapter Four: Pull the Cord

MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
 and the woman important to each 
4
 
Her heart in mouth, Rhea Slade tried spotting the plane at 10,000 feet. Grandsons, Malcolm and Gerald, shared the watch and directed barbs at their mother, Delfina, who was content watching only them.
The sky in high desert was windless and clear, and bright sun glinted off windows, mirrors and the outsized sunglasses dominating her face. On hearing the intermittent buzz of a single engine craft, she pointed to the pinprick holding her life and husband, Graham. “There they are.”
The sighting prompted another round of sulk. “Aw, I wanted to go,” moaned Malcolm. “Me, too,” said Gerald who, at thirteen, was two years the younger. His mother tugged at the collar of his jacket without fueling the moot argument. “Put on your jacket, Malcolm.”
“Aw, mom. It’s warm!”  They were an obvious family, wearing dark blue jeans and red jackets; Malcolm’s swaddled around his waist. The sons had already sprouted taller than their mother. The elder was dark and serious, the younger, blond and carefree.  A wave of hair crested each brow, which demanded regular flicks of the head to clear the eyes.
The family matriarch appeared elfish old beside them: petite with helmet of pewter-colored hair and dressed in stylish woolen slacks and puffy blue jacket.  Glancing at them, she bemoaned Stephen’s absence. Despite her pleas, her son wouldn’t budge. “I’ve got a company to run,” he told her. The attitude displeased her, diminished the family and supported Graham’s belief he was running things into the ground. Her impulse was to unite. “Have you decided what to wear to the wedding?”
The question surprised Delfina out of her thoughts. “Wedding? Oh, Dave Forester’s.” Then her mouth fell open in advance of a hesitant trickle of words.  “I’m not going. It’s just business; company people, investors, family.”
 “You are family! We’re going, and I’d like to see you there too. Tell him.” Her answer was an infuriating silence. When Graham was CEO, she’d stood beside him at routine and not so routine occasions at the company: birthdays, anniversaries, commemorations, promotions and deaths, which were milestones in her love and devotion. She feared for Stephen and Delfina. Sources had informed on his time spent at the condo, the parties and the young woman too. She had hoped her daughter-in-law would assert herself; instead she established a defensive barrier around her sons. She would have to intervene. “I’ll talk to him.”
Gerald screamed, “They’re falling!” She nearly fainted, but on observing an orderly extraction, corrected him. “Jumping, Gerald. They’re jumping.”
Mere dots to the eye but to imagination daredevils spilling from the platform plane, free fall was the most disturbing time. At that distance, she’d no way of knowing which was her husband; presumably, the first. He had always been first.
They’d met in New York City after the Second War. He went to Yale and she was working retail. The match was improbable but provident, and after getting past being “the poor girl from Kansas” she married into a family that had sired a line of corporate CEOs, who started in manufacturing then progressed into finance, changing as the country changed. Graham trained in family businesses before starting Slade Insurance in the 60's. Meanwhile, they had Stephen, Diana and Gerald, and lived a happy, prosperous life. In the past year, he retained the role of chairman of the board, while Stephen became the CEO. 
Today, she was angry-proud at his throwing seventy-year old bones from a plane on his birthday. Stuff happens, but daring it to was pure Graham. She clutched Malcolm and squeezed, expressing her fears till one…two…three…then four white parachutes blossomed in the sky.
“Hurray!” They shouted as they watched their languid descent, ending in landfall about a mile away. A pickup went to gather them for the reunion, sending up a dust trail. When it returned, Graham wheeled his legs over the truck bed and jumped out to stride toward them in green jump suit and boots. Lean and leathery, he had a gray crew cut over electric blue eyes. The boys surrounded and praised him as he continued his progress to Rhea who stood like an attractive magnet.
On contact they locked into an embrace. Then she hit him with the heel of her palm on his chest, on his hip and on his thigh, testing for fatigue and releasing her anxiety. Then she held him tightly.
"I had an insight," he said. "Up there so high, beyond the mountains are blue horizons, and farms are crazy geometric patterns, and the desert a moonscape of peaks and depressions. Spinning like a seed and carried by the wind, gravity pulls you down. Between life and being splat on the desert floor are the pull cord and the parachute. Fail to execute and you’re a goner. I can pull the company out of its free fall. I’m the parachute, the chairman of the board.”
The unexpected burble of words delivered from on high gave them pause, trying to comprehend. Rhea pulled him away. “He doesn’t see that private elevators, chauffeurs and parties are distractions. He’s forgetting about the cord. I’ve got to save him.”
She led him to their car for the drive to a restaurant for a celebratory meal. His words had impact. Though bothered by the extravagance, she understood that a new CEO had to create things anew and develop loyalty within subordinates. But clear-cutting old-line managers wasn’t going down well, and his apparent goal of disassociating Graham from the company was an affront to him, to her and to the family. Graham was right: someone had to pull the cord.


The next chapter will be posted by February 16. 
The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Chapter Three: Lady of the House


MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
 and the woman important to each 

3

             Helen’s clogs rapped bare wood and echoed in the denuded condo as she moved out of the way of two men in knee pads carrying old carpet. “New carpet after lunch,” one hollered.  She waved and closed the door behind them. Going to the window, she looked over the panoramic view of Los Angeles. There was nothing to eat and no place to sit, but she was earning three times the money; Lola had been right about that. All her fears about Stephen Slade’s manipulation had come to nothing.
At the interview, phrases rang out: remodel the condo -- entertain investors -- maintain the bank account. And then after the remodel, her time freed up. Once-a-week investor parties were the only time commitment other than ensuring the condo was stocked and money deposited. She pinched herself; the arrangement was so good. Opportunity was the reason for moving to California, but this was unreal. Her boyfriend Kelly chafed working at a bank and admired her prospect of freedom, which she promised to make good use of to chase auditions.
            In college, she acted and studied theatre, which gave her the confidence for the remodel. Everything on stage had purpose and created atmosphere. She drew up plans, made purchases and removed everything old in advance of delivery. The off-white carpet was the last to go and the succeeding stormy gray the first piece in the new setting.
            While the men worked, she caught them regarding her with amazement, as if asking how one so young could own a luxury condo. She encouraged them to suspend their disbelief, stepping into the role of lady of the house.
            In two months thought mingled with deed, and concrete matched concept. Stephen had said capital flowed like a river and swirled like a whirlpool, overwhelming obstacles, always starting fresh; therefore everything had to go.
            The new white-and-black color scheme reflected the investor decision: Yes or No. Two plush leather armchairs in contrary colors sat in opposition. Beside each was a banquette for ladies to perch and barstools so hangers-on could overhear principals talk. On the wall, a seascape depicted a gathering wave over a peaceful beach, and against another stood an aquarium in which delicate angelfish swam.
            Throughout she was exacting to her vision, while Stephen was generous and kept his distance. The separation encouraged and confounded her: though free to use her judgment, that same freedom sowed anxiety for his approval. When everything was ready, she was still fussing over minute details: the edges of the zebra stripe bedspread had to hang equidistant from the floor. In the same room, a slender split of table served as desk where flat screen monitor and wireless keyboard sat. She aligned them again, though why anything in the bedroom mattered, she didn’t know. Realizing she was pursuing useless alteration, she called him to inspect. 
            Helen balanced on high heels in a figure-hugging dress to watch Stephen sweep in as he always did, with thoughts seeming elsewhere, but then he staggered, backed into the window and glanced outside. Then he took a seat in the black armchair. She followed his eyes tracing the track-lighting overhead then falling onto the bar. His lips curled at the seascape and then smirked at the angelfish whose tendril fins waved in the water.  When his attention finally settled on her, she moved aside to reveal the white armchair. His eyes narrowed and a grin etched itself on his face.
He rose to take her hand. “Yes!”  he said, then began twirling her as her feet shifted to complement the gesture. The room swirled like a chocolate-and-vanilla sundae, and he transformed too: his parted lips revealing shiny buckteeth and a levity she hadn’t seen. His eyes, though, maintained their intensity.  She laughed, dizzy with delight. “Thursday night,” he said, “I’m bringing an investor by.”
            Then he took her by the shoulders. “You look good too. The investors will be men, mid-forties and older, with failing bodies but muscular balance sheets. Don’t intimidate them by looking too chic, or challenge their manhood by being too seductive. Dress like a girl on her first night out. Hit their weak spot. Remind them of their granddaughters.”
            She tingled and felt a surge of power: if she could alter the condo and the CEO, what else could she do? 

                                                                           -ii-       

Three loud raps brought her to the door, where beside Stephen stood an older man with hair silvered at the temples and balding on top. His tired eyes blinked wide and he clutched at his tie to tighten the knot. After smoothing his suit, he beamed a practiced smile. “Helen, this is Pietro Mancusi.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Mancusi. Come in.”
“Call me Pietro, please Miss Helen.”
They played at who-goes-first before she ceded to his wishes to lead them inside, followed by Stephen and two young men. With pink chiffon rustling and ankles buckling in high heels, she steered the investor to an armchair, his hand pushing her elbow. When he sat he pulled her down too.
His face dominating her vision forced her focus on him; looking past would have been impolite. Ice tinkled as Stephen got the drinks, and he soon appeared with vodka rocks for Mancusi and white wine for her. The others poured their own whiskey and cast sullen looks their way. Crowded knee-to-knee, the investor was clearly pleased. “Do you stay here?”
“At times.”
“A beautiful place for a beautiful woman. Stephen said we’re stopping for drinks. He didn’t say anything about you. How could that be?”
“Ask him.” Helen nodded toward the hovering CEO and enjoyed the absurdity of talking about somebody listening in.
“He’s too much about business, I think.”
“Not you?”
“When there’s beauty---”
“Doubling your money is beauty,” Stephen interjected, as she went to the bar under pretense of replenishing their drinks. He sat on the banquette, leaning toward the other man. “Invest now and when we go public you’ll double the investment.”
Behind the bar, Helen scooped ice into fresh glasses under the silent watch of the young men. The tall, thin one had red hair gelled to look windswept; the stout one had black hair. Mancusi craned his neck looking for her, while Stephen repeated key words like a mantra: investment blocks – going public – doubling your money. “Yes, yes. I will invest. We’ll talk later.”
Stephen slapped his cell phone to his ear, as Helen resumed her place in the armchair. Mancusi’s eyes twinkled. “Money can’t buy everything, no?” She smiled then sipped her drink when there was a knock at the door. Seeing Bill the chauffeur, he asked, “You’re coming to the club, too?”
"She stays here.”
He looked to Stephen, at Helen and then back to him, as if to understand their relationship. “You want to come, no?” She shook her head silently and he took up her hand. “Maybe, we’ll see each other again.”
They left in reverse order: the two men, Stephen and then Mancusi, who seemed the most reluctant. Then she collected glasses to put in the dishwasher, wiped surfaces, and set the cloth in the hamper. Even though the cleaner was coming the next day, she couldn’t stand disorder in her masterpiece. Her car was sitting in the garage ready for the drive to her boyfriend and their apartment, but she found herself unwilling to leave the scene of her triumph. Stephen must have been pleased with the impression she made on the investor whose sadness showed, knowing that where he was going there’d be no Helen. 


The next chapter will be posted by February 2. 
The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Chapter Two: Too Intense a Focus



MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
 and the woman important to each 
  
2
 
            Stephen Slade descended on the Billing Department and scanned the room for Helen’s workstation. After the budget meeting and intractable cost figures in black and red, what lay before seemed manageable. He wandered down an aisle of cubicles with the four-foot walls, which partially hid occupants and imperfectly contained their conversation, and no one liked.
            As he continued down the aisle, the staff became aware of his presence and created a calm before and after his progress. Conversations were muffled and aisles cleared. Dark-haired Mimosa Liang popped her head up, saw the CEO and dropped back down. Lola McIntyre, on her way to the break room, rushed to her desk and affected a preternatural stillness so as to hear every word. Coming to the end of the aisle, he started up the next then found her.
            Head tilted reading, her auburn hair parted to reveal the pale nape of her neck. She wore a lavender dress with yellow-flower patterns and black flats. He stood silently a moment, and then another before coughing for attention. On lifting her head, her eyes widened with surprise.
            “Let’s go for coffee,” he said, looking down on her and trying to match her to his recollection of their earlier meeting. “I want to talk to you.” Obediently she stood to follow him out. With relief, the staff surfaced to watch them go, none more excited than Lola who punched Mimosa. “Do you see?” Her shoulder throbbing, she answered, “Ow!”
They took the elevator to the skyway and walked across to the Wayfare Hotel. His stride was long and purposeful and he was annoyed when he noticed her skipping beside. Then seated at the restaurant, he realized how young she looked: bright, unassuming eyes, hair sweeping across her brow and down the shoulders to rub away sharp angles. Soft and vulnerable, she had to be half his age and not many years older than his teenage boys.
“Do you take every new employee to coffee? I mean I’m flattered. It’s just that I don’t want the others to think---“
“Do you take it black?”
“I like green tea.”
“In the course of running the company sometimes tasks present themselves that don’t fit any job description. Things just need doing. As CEO I have to find the right people and fit them to the task. That’s why I asked you here.”
The waitress delivered their drinks. Slade ignored the cup before him while Helen breathed in the aroma of her tea. His rising voice recaptured her attention.
“Would you say you’re persuasive?”
“Getting people to do what they don’t want; like that?”
“Everybody wants to make money and, explained in the right way, they’ll understand. Can you help people gain clarity and understanding?”
“I don’t get it. If you’re talking about insurance, I’m just learning.”
“Think bigger, about wealth and infinite possibilities. Don’t you want that?”
Helen sipped at her tea, then set down the cup. He sensed her mood had shifted: her eyes were hooded and downcast. He was being too abstract, not getting his point across. “I have a condo here---“
“Don’t you have a house and family?”
“I’m not talking about that.”
“Maybe you should be.” She slid out of her seat and left him looking at the wall. He clubbed the table with his fist. “The CEO doesn’t beg.” When he returned to the office he drafted a memo to Human Resources.

                                                      - ii -

Weepy and with runny nose, Helen tried to stifle her fears, but every look at the yellow memorandum brought a flood of tears. It ordered her to report for the position of Assistant to the Executive for Special Projects. Without an option to decline or consideration that she hadn’t made the request, she felt helpless and renewed her tears.
             Rounding the corner and entering the cubicle, Lola pushed a square box into Helen’s hands. The tissue peeking out the top looked like a white flame, which she pulled to daub her eyes.  Grateful to her co-worker yet wary of the gossip who hunted the latest news, she pointed to the memo. Lola took it up.
‘It’s got to mean more money.”
 “For what?”
“You’ll find out.”
Helen gazed at the older woman who had taken the corner chair and played with the memo like a toy, of interest today and forgotten tomorrow. Was she so used to orders that this didn’t seem unusual, or had she so much faith in the CEO that she'd respond without question?  Herself, she worried about what Stephen Slade had in mind, but understood it was that job or no job.
Next day she reported to executive reception wearing a too-large gray suit that hid her curves and covered her knees. With hair pulled back severely and knotted at the neck, her only makeup was a subtle rose gloss to the lips. The receptionist buzzed the intercom to announce her arrival then pushed the button opening the elevator. On the way up the slow and steady hum pronounced its labor, as if digesting her. When the compartment settled and the doors opened Slade stood behind his desk, his eyes upon her with too intense a focus. Her face went numb. She walked toward him.
        




 The next chapter will be posted by November 17 December 15. 
The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Chapter One: Making the Rounds


MORE OF SOMETHING MORE,
a story about a salesman trying to establish himself,
 a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence
 and the woman important to each 

1

      Stephen Slade, chief executive of Slade Insurance, sat opposite Mark Pointer, drumming his fingers on the desk. A fire that morning devastated a warehouse, and an estimate of the loss appeared with virtual speed in the company database. He witnessed the up-tick in real-time, and its impact on profit and loss, then raced down to confront the claims manager. “I want that estimate revised ASAP!”
 “We got 30 days, and need the fire report,” replied the wrinkled manager with henna-on-gray hair. The CEO glared. Enamored of profits and revenue streams, he barely tolerated claims, the evil twin of insurance. Ever since taking over nearly a year before, he’d made known his intent to remake the company. The staid, complacent or just long-lived were to be replaced by the lean, the quick and more efficient. The claims manager was a prime target. 
 Slade though was involved in his own struggle, against his father’s reputation. Graham Slade founded the company and remained the chairman of the board. He had roamed the company in rolled up shirtsleeves, looking like someone who wrenched marble from mountains to shape. The younger Slade had black hair and dark narrow-set eyes in a keyhole shaped head. Inches shorter and thinner, as if having emerged from the father mold overheated and shrunk, he fit neatly within his expensive suits, but looked like the one who did the polishing.
            Pointer had a long career behind him. Apparently unfazed, he recited rules and regulations of claims reporting in California. The longer he talked, the redder the CEO grew until he exploded. “Do it sooner!”
            Slade left and made his way through the hallway to the elevator and then up to the Sales Department. Passing staff smiled deferentially, though he hardly acknowledged them. His manner of living inside his thoughts created anxiety in those whose livelihood depended on him, another difference from his gregarious father who shared success, shouldered blame and made everyone feel they were in it together.
            But if he disquieted the company, he also represented a greater reward through his stated goal of taking it public. Investments could increase by multiples of three or four at the initial public offering. The chairman held the largest stake followed by the CEO and unnamed others. Suspicions grew that only a select few would profit directly from a financial bonanza.
             Slade stepped into the Sales department, a spacious room of wide aisles and desks. On the wall the Quarterly Tally board listed the top ten producers; he noted that Atom Green had edged ahead of Dave Forester at the top.
            Jeremy Port was gazing at the computer screen when the CEO passed through the doorframe. Looking up, a cloud of consternation crossed the sales manager’s face before his sunny smile broke through. He waved him to a seat. A large man, white-haired and with a sun-worn face, he wore white shirtsleeves, Stars and Stripes suspenders and blue slacks. The shelves of his office held model airplanes, and a photo of his Cessna was on the desk. On the coat rack, a leather bomber jacket and a blue Brooks Brothers blazer hung, ready for sales calls, trips to the Long Beach Flying Club or drinks with the crew.
            Not just another old-timer threatened with extinction, Port had been Slade’s mentor when he first joined the company. Despite that, he understood if the numbers turned things could be different.
            Slade took the chair and relaxed his grimace. “Big fire at Seller’s warehouse. The numbers are going to take a hit.” Port pulled up the account on the computer. “Premium was adjusted last year, and will go up again --if we keep them.”
            Loud voices drew near until Atom Green and Dave Forester stood at the door. Port rose. “My eagles. Come in!” The men stepped inside and he stood between them, grasping them at the shoulders within a sheltering wingspan. They laughed at being manhandled. Slade knew Forester, the son of his father’s friend. Green was the man with the funny name.
            Tall and slim with sandy brown hair, Forester’s father was a banker doing business with the company. Enquiries had been made on his behalf and the company hired him. Green, a quarter inch shorter and wider at the shoulders, had swarthy skin the color of cream coffee. He had black eyes and dark hair parted in the middle, which quivered at every motion.
             Slade sat watching, as if their play-acting was for his benefit. They paused and he nodded to Forester. “I’m waiting to see you back on top. I’m not hosting a wedding for a second rater.”
“It won’t be long,” Forester laughed.
“Don’t be so sure,” Green quipped.
  Starting back to his office, Slade noticed a commotion on the far side of the department. A line of salesmen had formed but vanished on his approach, leaving the two women at the head.  Lola McIntyre from Billing, a woman in her late thirties trying to hold on to youth, had big blonde hair, mature body and a bracelet of jangling gold charms. She liked calling attention to herself at office parties. The other was young, angular, with blue eyes set in a delicate face and shoulder length auburn hair pinned behind flushed ears. 
            “Mr. Slade, this is Helen Roy, a new consultant in Billing.” He took her hand, which felt neat and cool in his.
“Where are you from?”
“Wisconsin.”
“The land of dairy farmers.”
“My father’s a dentist.” They shared a laugh, during which a tug and her look made him realize he still held her hand. A faint blush colored her cheeks.
“Welcome to the company.” He said, releasing her and continuing on his way.
  
 - ii -

Lola decided she needed a cigarette. Though Helen didn’t, she followed her onto a small balcony. Pressurized air sucked the door closed behind and raw sounds accosted them: car horns honking, thuds and crashes from loading docks, and the rush of freeway traffic. 
Helen craned her neck to see the top of the thirty-story building. Across the street was another of equal height, and a third, though much taller, stood at right angles to the shorter ones. Skyways on the 11th floor connected the three, and she could see figures traversing the transparent tubes. The bulk of steel and glass made her feel insignificant and likely to be crushed at any moment. She shouldn’t be there. Madison had big buildings, but nothing that reached for the heavens. Anything anyone imagined was possible, she thought.
Wanting to go back in, she returned her focus to the balcony and saw she was being appraised. Lola exhaled a puff of smoke. “Mr. Slade likes you, you know. Really likes you.” Helen thought she heard a tease in her voice. “So, what brings you to LA?”
            “Graduation and a boyfriend. We didn’t want to live midway anymore. Whether left or right coast, we were going all the way. Since I acted in college, and there are opportunities here, we chose LA. My boyfriend works at a bank. Do you like the CEO?”
            “It’s different since he took over. Take my friend Bill. One day he’s in the warehouse, and the next he’s the chauffeur in uniform and cap. Then Mr. Slade took an office on the 11th floor, away from the other officers. He had a private elevator built. Before, anyone could go into the CEOs office to complain. Now, Slade’s the one dropping into manager offices to get into their face.”
            “Unhappy managers,” said Helen. “Is it all for show, or is there something behind it?”
            “See that building?” Lola pointed to the tallest of the three. “That’s the Wayfare Hotel. The upper floors are condos, and he bought one.” Lola smothered her cigarette. “I thought you should know there’s a place nearby.” A mischievous grin creased her face, though her eyes remained focused on the newbie. Helen, deciding the tour was over, pulled open the door and led the way back to their department as the shorter woman struggled to keep up.

- iii -

Slade stood in the compartment of the small elevator listening to the hum “working only for me”. With that happy thought, he entered his office when the doors opened, reached beneath his desk to push the locking button, then sat down to wait.
            The office had an eagle’s view of the city, a desk of dark oak and a plush leather high-backed chair. A photo of wife and kids sat on the bureau opposite; others of him with prominent people hung on the walls.
            One photo was of the nation’s latest Republican president: grandson to a senator, son to a president and brother to a governor. Predecessors had blazed the path. George W. Bush had tried business, but was hit and miss before becoming a governor. Slade was never convinced about the politician with quizzical eyebrows and a tentative smile. When delivering bad news, he always seemed to hide hooded thoughts and struggled to maintain eye contact.
            The buzzer sounded and the light flashed on the intercom. “Mr. Slade, do you need anything?” He told the receptionist no, hung up and went to the far wall where he engaged the catch opening the door hidden in the woodwork. Passing through, he entered the 11th floor corridor. “Poor Betsy.” He thought of her confused look whenever he resurfaced, hours later. She didn’t know he used the door to take public elevators down to attend meetings. Though his key could unlock the private elevator from behind her desk, he always went back through the secret door.
With nothing scheduled he headed to his condo. The corridors were empty and he passed a man in the skyway and miniature pedestrians below. At the hotel elevator, he punched in the pass code for upper floors then, after traversing the long hallway, was inside.
A recent acquisition, the realtor had been tasked with the furnishing, but it had the feel of a department store showroom. After inspecting the bedrooms, he returned to the front and flipped a switch, opening the drapes to the panoramic window. Clear days offered views all the way to the Pacific. Below, cars inched along narrow paths; above jets pursued invisible routes in the sky.
             His mind wandered back to George W. After becoming the most powerful man in the world, he still followed a path charted by his father, even attacking the same dictator, but on winning re-election, he broke new ground. How did it feel, succeeding where his father had failed? 
            His entire life was being his father’s son. From private academies, country and yacht clubs to elite social circles, doors opened to admit “Graham’s son”.  A golden aura enveloped him, of which he wasn’t aware until a minor incident took place.
At the start of the semester at the University of Southern California, Slade had gone to the Admin building to settle some small issue. After standing in line, he stepped to the counter, stated his business and waited for satisfaction. The moonfaced clerk with round glasses shuffled paper as if he hadn’t heard him. He repeated his demand, louder, but the moon face stared blankly. Then he uttered words he’d always remember: “Don’t you know who my father is?”
The clerk operated at his slow pace until miraculously coughing up the needed document. Slade grabbed it and stormed away, angry at his own reaction. Smart and self-confident, he took pride in thinking he could handle any problem, but his words betrayed him. Thinking it through, he recognized his father’s support of him and his lifestyle; the thought grated. Over the years, he interpreted the incident, perversely, as the time he realized his father wasn’t so great.  
            Graham Slade’s failing as CEO was his complacent satisfaction with steady and unspectacular earnings. Content to provide a workman’s product so commerce could mitigate financial risk, he was wary of Wall Street interference. Stephen’s eyes shone at the prospect of an IPO. Overnight, his wealth could triple, even quadruple. He hid his excitement, though: if his grew, his father’s would grow the more, having the majority stake. He needed to rectify that before the IPO.
          Gazing out the window, the pieces fell in place. He needed to raise capital; investors were always looking for a deal; and he could promise great returns. "Entertain and pitch them at the condo", he thought, but it seemed a poor place to transact golden shares. It had to shine as brightly as dreams of wealth and power. He thought about the young woman he met earlier. He needed a hostess. She was too young perhaps, but pretty on the edge of beauty and with an appealing blank slate quality. He needed to know more...
      


The next chapter will be posted by November 2. 

The characters and events in this story are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

More of Something More, a story to come

Starting October 20, I will post the rewrite of my story. I'm calling it "More of Something More". It's about a salesman trying to establish himself; a CEO scheming to buy out his father's influence and the woman important to each.  Check in that day and every other Sunday for subsequent chapters.

Also, I invite everyone to "like" my Facebook author page. Thanks in advance.