List of Characters
Yancy (Last name?)- Salesperson at St. Helen’s
Jim Aubrey – Marketing Director for St. Helen’s
Erv Weiss – Public Relations Director for St. Helen’s
Shirley Weiss – Erv’s mother
Phillip Weiss – Erv’s father, founder of Weisox
Uncle Morgan – Jim’s uncle
Robert St. Helen – CEO of St. Helen’s
Hope St. Helen – wife of Robert
Maggie St. Helen – daughter of Robert & Hope
Ally (Alison) Brown – latest clerical hire into St. Helen’s Secretary to Robert
Eileen – bitch assistant in office with the 3
Nancy – worker in Operations
Nicole Sarston – attractive worker at St. Helen’s, maybe model for the co.
Amir – terrorist and brother of Frederick
Frederick Klaus – terrorist/student intern at St. Helen’s, from a fashion college and Amir’s brother
Michelle LePard – fashion student with Frederick and girlfriend of Amir
The three of them proceeded to the dusty green midsize car located in the middle of thehuge asphalt pad as if they would have preferred a different car in which to be beginning their journey. But no one protested.
They crawled into the car as if this was a shuttle flight and they were the new shuttlers. In short, they made far too much of a production in passing on seat assignments and then getting firmly situated in their seats. Once fitted into their places, the lady started the car, slipped it into reverse and proceeded to back out. Before they could begin any reasonable conversation or organize themselves to prepare for conversation the radio took the floor and spewed out a noise that caused everyone to stop and take notice. They would later wish that they could have started a conversation, any conversation, before that radio obnoxiously began blaring out a quite discordant sound. The sound that tried to be music but failed miserably. The style of music emanating from the grillwork on the dash was inhuman and maybe even unsuitable for animals. It was affectionately referred to as “Rabbit Advantage” music.
But no one bothered to change the station. Or turn it off. It just kept playing, and playing. Ugh! Then the driver, the only female in the car, as if to make it better, turned and said one simple statement, “Sorry ‘bout the radio.” And thus began their journey…
Two men and a woman were beginning what was to be a simple trip to the local burrito joint for a lunch time break. They were like every other office lunchtime group. They felt as if they were friends but in fact they only know each other from the daily nine to five. Across the country, from New England to California, Miami to Seattle, this same scene was being replayed by other office families. Most of us have these second families, whom we go to lunch with, joke with, maybe share secrets about our other families, and even venture into dangerous liaisons, we call office relationships. Similar to our birth families, we interact with our office families not out of choice, but simply because that’s who we’ve been thrown in with at this particular job. We make the best of the situation, but really we have no control over the makeup of our office families. They simply come with the job. Unlike our birth families though our office clans stay with the job long after you might leave. So, what draws these families together is the job.
Yet here they are setting out on what just might resemble an Indiana Jones type adventure and will certainly get to know each other very well.
Yancy, who is a charming lady with a very quick smile has offered to drive. Jim sits shotgun and Erv is in the back. As they approach the exit gate from the parking lot, the window will not open so the front door must be opened to slip the cardkey into the opener. Finally they are on their way.
It was a simple beginning. Three burritos, three drinks and some friendly conversation. Jim is a friendly sort with a curious mind and wonders out loud why some people have trouble letting happiness into their life. Erv who was a psychology major in college is happy to offer his view of this and anything else that relates to people and their emotions. They all consume their meals de Mexico and talk about the world in general.
After lunch, they climb back into Yancy’s car and they are off. The music has now turned into a constant chatter that has Erv say at a point that he cannot listen to anymore. “Can you please turn down the radio, way, way down!”
Erv’s request for the radio volume to be lowered was significant. For he rarely asked for anything. He was far too compromising and way too flexible for the world in which he had been cast. While being a nice, agreeable, don’t-rock-the-boat kind of guy, Erv still knew that at times this philosophy simply didn’t work. All of us had our breaking points, all of us had our limits.
But assuming the posture of Mr. Nice Guy had served Erv well through the years. In fact all the occupants of this car were coincidentally similar in this approach to life. All three, Erv, Jim and Yancy, had found it easier to ease through life by being elastic and stretching with the circumstances. Why swim upstream all the time? Why tackle life instead of running with it? Yes, all three of these “nice guys” shared a fondness for not making waves and going with the flow. Cute approach, – that is, just as long as everyone else in the world doesn’t take the opposite approach and take advantage of you. As Jim’s Uncle Morgan had warned him many times when he was growing up, “nice guys don’t finish last, they never even get to play,” or “turn the other cheek? Hell no, you do that and you’ll get that one slapped too.”
So we know these three compatriots were similar in at least one aspect- their laid back approach to life. I’m sure they collaborate in other areas of their lives as well. Otherwise, they would have probably never joined up and gone to lunch together.
So let’s learn a bit more about these three before while telling their story. A story by the way which will alarm you, make you laugh, scare you and yet one which all of us will identify with. This is a timeless story told by three people just like you and me. This is your story too.
Chapter 3 – Erv
John F. Kennedy once said that you cannot know where you are going until you know where you have been. Jim, Yancy and Erv had all been many different places in their lives and only the gods could have predicted that these three very different individuals would be together on this very fateful day.
St. Helen’s was a multi-million dollar manufacturer of Men’s shirts and Women’s blouses. Their customer base was made up of the more upscale buyer who you would see in a quaint but posh Rodeo Drive boutique in Beverly Hills. Their customers could also be found in any of the more exclusive areas of fine resort areas throughout the world. A St. Helen’s Men’s shirt retailed in the two hundred dollar range and Women’s blouses easily sold for twice that amount. Certainly not for the faint of heart shopper. The corporate offices in Laguna Beach housed over two hundred employees including everyone from Ally Brown, a clerical who just recently began her first job out of high school all the way up to Robert St. Helen, the founder and chairman of the board. The company which had been in business for twenty-five years and was planning a huge silver anniversary celebration. This is where Erv entered the scene.
Erv Weiss came from the garment industry. His father was a small manufacturer of men’s hosiery and as a child, Erv used to help run errands for his father. As he got older, he learned the entire business from knitting to piece vat dyeing to various forms of fabrication. He loved to soak it all in, to see the process beginning with a single thread and ultimately evolve into a beautiful finished product. Erv can remember making a game of looking at men’s socks and guessing the style and fabric of each pair. He could even name the manufacturer of each pair and would swell with pride when he focused in on a pair of Weisox. Erv’s dad passed away years ago and the company had since closed, but to this day, he would only wear Weisox. After all, he had a lifetime supply.
Erv’s technical expertise in the garment industry, but probably more so his people skills, guaranteed him of a position with St. Helen’s for as long as he wanted it. If a meeting, a party, or in this case, a silver anniversary, needed to be staged, Erv was the only one well connected enough to be able to pull everyone together.
Although he had failed at unintentionally trying to break into the St. Helen’s family by once courting Robert and Hope St. Helen’s daughter Maggie, Robert believes that Erv’s value to the company had been established in other ways. In an industry rank with aggressive and downright rude players, people who seemed to lack even the basic social niceties necessary to coexist with their fellow men, a peacemaker was an asset. And that’s exactly what Erv represented for St. Helen’s. A light amidst the darkness was what Erv became when tempers turned the outlook bleak. When conditions became overcast due to a clash of titanic egos or arrogant upstarts vying for positions of power, Erv’s experience became an invaluable asset for the company. Every company, especially garment vendors, needed their liaison, their go-between-the-lines person who could slow things down and get everyone back on track. Erv had perfected the skill of patience, increased his stamina for listening and excelled in the art of getting corporate fighters to see the bigger picture. Seeing the bigger picture always put things back into proper perspective, which was basically to diminish the perturbing annoyance of small problems which never mattered in the long run anyway. Erv, in repeating almost verbatim what his father had told him many years ago, would often say to his colleagues ”Pick your battles wisely. Not all battles are worth the fight.” He hated that he was validating anything his father had told him, but Erv could admit that he had made mistakes, that he might have been wrong before, and that yes he was infallible. This characteristic separated Erv from almost all of his coworkers. No one at St. Helen’s liked to admit their shortcomings, no one.
Erv has been discussing the possibility of joining the St. Helen’s team for years. After all, his family and the St. Helen’s had known each other forever. Their houses were located on the same cul-de-sac in the small and posh surroundings of La Jolla. Robert and Erv’s dad became like brothers, sharing a mutual love of the garment industry and of life in general. They would go on fishing trips together and would occasionally include Maggie and Erv.
All of the major holidays were spent at one of their homes or the others and the combination of Shirley Weiss’s latkas and Hope St. Helen’s mince pies could not be beat.
Although these two families came from two very different cultural experiences, they could not have been closer. When Phillip Weiss died suddenly ten years ago, Robert stepped in as the Weiss family patriarch. Erv was in his forties when his father died, but was happy to have a strong father figure to turn to for those tough decisions that lay ahead. He thought about taking over Weisox, but after many soul searching conversations with Robert, he realized that he was not the businessman that Phillip Weiss was and he decided to sell the business, partly to ensure financial security for him mom. Erv stayed at Weisox until the sale was complete which took about five years. Now it was time move on.
It had taken Erv the full five years to adjust to the fact that his father was gone. He had been floundering, trying to find the right place for himself as he was closing in on 50. A series of inappropriate jobs and some extended periods of unemployment finally brought him to the point where he was truly ready to start living again.
It was eight-thirty on the night before Thanksgiving. The phone rang at the St. Helen home and Robert answers. “I’m ready to take you up on your offer,” Erv said… and although he couldn’t see him, Erv could feel Robert’s smile.
Chapter 5 – Yancy
Yancy, assuming a position quite different from Erv’s mixed feelings about his plight in life and his future with St. Helen’s, knew exactly what she wanted. Or at least that was the impression she was very good at presenting to the public and her coworkers. Yancy had been hurt in her past. She thus had constructed an elaborate wall to protect her from future pain. This caused her to come across as self-contained, secure, established, comfortable and focused. These traits came in handy in her position as salesperson with St. Helens, representing the lucrative West coast divisions of the company.
Salespersons had to be something or someone they were not in order to be successful. This was not a difficult undertaking for Yancy. Once hurt, she vowed to never let that level of pain come her way again, at least not without having an alternate plan in mind. Her ultimate defense was to be robotic in her dealings with people. This was a strategy that was fine for clients, but not so well received for those who came to know her. Old man St. Helen’s loved Yancy. After all she had made him quite wealthy. But her coworkers were many times quite jealous of Yancy but she seemed oblivious to this.
It was the fifth of January and it was a typical day in Paradise. The sun was shining, there was a slight breeze and there was a predicted high in the low seventies. Erv entered the very beautiful St. Helen’s towers and pushed the top button as he settled into the elevator. In most cases, a new employee would check in at the reception desk in the main lobby and then be escorted to the human resources department for the customary first day of work. Erv’s first day would be different. After all, he had friends in high places. As the elevator door opened, his heart began to flutter. The reality of a new job with new people and new things to learn had just hit home. Would he be up to it? Could he meet the challenges and succeed? Would he hit it off with all of his new co-workers? Panic began to set in but he stayed focused and walked forward towards a very pretty lady sitting at a very large desk in front of a huge copper door that clearly led to Robert’s office. “ Hi, my name is Erv Weiss and I am here to see Robert St Helen” he said with a voice of confidence, although he could feel his knees beginning to bounce off one another. “ Oh Hello” she said with a calming lilt. “ I’m Alison, please come right in, Mr. St Helen is expecting you.” The large copper door opened and so did another chapter in Erv’s life.
Erv tried to push the door open with confidence, but it must have come off as a feeble attempt, because as the heavy door moved open, Robert St. Helen’s bellowed out loud enough for Alison and everyone else within earshot to hear, “Don’t be shy boy, come on in!”
Upon entering the spacious room which had to measure nothing less than 1800 square feet, it took Erv a minute or two to spot Robert. Finally, in a far corner, near the expansive skyscraper view of the city, Erv located Robert St. Helen’s. Decked out in an expensive and immaculately tailored suit, Mr. St. Helen’s was slowly walking out a routine on a treadmill equipped with television, phones and a fan. He was in all of his suit, including the jacket, from which he rarely extricated himself. Robert still retained the chiseled features of an athlete of thirty, when in reality he was well into his sixties. He would not have been someone you thought needed nor had the time for exercise, but he remained physically active on a daily basis. He was in supreme condition and with his almost white mane of hair that resembled Phil Donahue’s and extended well below his shirt collar, he was much the striking figure. He had no problems turning the eyes of both young and older women. His crystal blue eyes that penetrated you long before he spoke to you, always put you off guard and somewhat scared you. You knew you were in the presence of a player when you were near this man. And yet, he liked everyone, he liked people as well as his dogs. Most people who had dogs usually preferred their pets to the people they were forced to interact with on a daily basis, but not Robert St. Helen. We was a tall man, reaching six feet five inches, thin and supple with sinewy muscles. He came across as confident, but never arrogant. He seemed to always have time for people. He had perfected the ability to listen in a manner that made the talker feel as if they were the only person on the face of the Earth. This trait had endeared him to almost everyone he had met. He was immediately a man you enjoyed having met and one you felt comfortable staying around.
Robert turned toward Erv and motioned him closer, still maintaining his slow pace on the treadmill. “Erv, you look aware of things, you look awake.” Robert always surprised you when he spoke. He chose his words carefully, but you would have never known it because unlike most people who chose their words with direction, he did not pause to pull out a word here and there, they just flowed from his lips as if they had been there all along, just waiting poised for this moment in which to be inserted. “I hope I look awake, it’s three in the afternoon” answered Erv.
Robert was not one to waste time. He threw a folder at Erv and asked him to look at it and see if his preliminary ideas for a silver anniversary were a good start. Erv picked up the folder off the floor and began flipping through the pages. He knew that Robert would only accept honest feedback and he was ready to dig in and give it. He smiled for a minute. It was good to be back in the saddle.
Robert reached down to a brass and oak console located on the corner of his desk and pushed the top button to summon Alison. “ May I help you Mr. St. Helen “ Alison asked with an eagerness in her voice. “ Please escort Erv to his office and see that he gets settled in” . Robert then turned to Erv with his hand extended and said that he was happy to have him aboard. Erv took the file that Robert had given to him, and turned towards that very large office door where Alison was waiting.
Alison and Erv strolled towards the elevator and chatted. “ I will take you down to your office and introduce you to a few key people to get you started. We will be having our weekly sales meeting tomorrow morning and you will have the opportunity there to meet the entire sales management staff then.” Erv and Alison entered the elevator and she pushed the number four. As the doors closed, they were both silent but Erv could swear that he could hear his heart beating. He was never great with change but he did have confidence in himself and always had the ability to fit in but Erv still had the “new guy” jitters. The number four lit up and the elevator door began to open. “ Right this way Erv” Alison said and he followed her as he approached his new home away from home.
Yancy was adjusting her pantyhose, certain that she had finally chosen a moment to perform this operation when no one was nearby, when who came lumbering by but Alison with Erv in tow. Alison grinned and hurried along so as to position Erv in front of Yancey’s door at just the most embarrassing moment in her whole pantyhose hiking up experience. She was successful. Erv had heard Yancy say hello to Alison and he was somewhat pleased that he would be within earshot of her in his new home. But as he turned to extend his greeting to Yancy what he saw was a woman tugging hard on her skirt and what was underneath to prevent everything from falling to her ankles. She blushed and then laughed in order to defer anymore embarrassment than she was already experiencing. Yancy, along with the rest of the female population, spent her day sneaking grooming efforts in order to maintain her picturesque look. The key was to never get caught and when you were caught to make it appear as if was no big deal. Yancy though hated being caught, being anal retentive and all. She sought perfection 24 hours a day and showing her humanness or her frailties, frailties that served to link her to the rest of us, she was a little disappointed.
While Erv was glad to learn she would be his new roommate, Yancy wanted to make sure that Erv did not get in her way. She was warm, congenial, sincerely fond of people, and yet when she was “on” and working, she was 110% business. Anyone who dared to present an obstacle to her achievements and her pursuits of excellence would surely be bowled over by her if they got in her way. Otherwise, you were safe with her and could happily coexist for a long time within her space.
Alison led Erv to a corner desk which positioned him next to a window. He glanced out to observe the view but was disappointed to see only the company parking lot located four floors below. He didn’t expect a private office, but after all Robert St. Helen was his second father. He felt deep down that he would be taken care of but he would never let on as to the depths of his disappointment. “Erv” Alison cooed, “you have met Yancy, this is Jim Aubrey and Eileen.” He thought that it was strange that she introduced Jim complete with his last name but conveniently omitted the women’s’ last names. Alison seemed to have a rather frosty attitude towards them but Erv was determined to form his own opinions.
Jim was quick to rise from his desk and extend his hand towards Erv. “Nice to meet you Erv, welcome to the team.” Eileen on the other hand remained fixed to her chair and her eyes remained focused downward. Erv waited for what seemed to be an eternity, but Eileen never spoke.
Yancy rushed to fill the empty void left by weird Eileen. Her cheerleader smile that she used so effectively in her successful selling efforts, started to take shape when she rose from her chair. And by the time her hand touched Erv she had managed to extend her smile beyond the facial limitations any of us could ever attain. Erv always marveled at those type of smiles, which only cheerleaders, models and the Kathy Lee Giffords of the world could pull off. How did they do it? Actually, he was envious. He wished he could light up a room with a mere silent smile, but guys were anatomically blocked in this area. Women, especially attractive and memorable women, clearly had an advantage here if they could accomplish the “winning smile.”
“Good to have you on board,” beamed Yancy. Even though Erv distrusted salespeople, as most people rightly did, he knew that Yancy was sincere. At least sincere enough to take up the void left by Eileen.
The phone rang and it was for Yancy. Introductions aside, Yancy dived for her good friend, the phone. It might be a sale or information moving her closer to a sale. Selling was the most important thing in her life. She had to answer it.
“Yeh, yeh, I know, I know, I understand, but what can you do?” Yancy seemed to be consoling the person on the other end of the line. “You can’t change people, you’ll only make yourself miserable trying,” she offered as solace to her phone friend. “Okay, I will, I know, of course, okay, good-bye,” and just as quickly as she had fielded the call, it was gone.
“Erv, want a cup of coffee?” Yancy inquired. “Sure,” Erv answered. Yancy left the room, without asking Eileen if she also wanted anything. This impoliteness bothered Erv, despite the fact that Eileen’s rudeness to him was so easy for her to allow to happen. As they walked down the hall toward the lunchroom, Yancy turned to Erv and told him about the call she had just received. “That was Nancy over in Operations on the phone. She is a real sweety and as nice as they come. A real classy person. She has this thing though about people forgetting to thank others for favors, gifts, remembrances, etc. And our lovely roommate, Eileen, never thanks anyone for anything. She’s a real princess and instead of thanking anyone, expects favors. This repeatedly sends Nancy through the ceiling, but Eileen will never change. She’s too old.” “How old is she?” inquired Erv, momentarily forgetting the cardinal rule to never ask a woman her age. “She’s only 36 but you know 35 is the cutoff whereby it becomes impossible to change anything about your personality no matter how hard you try.” Erv could tell that Yancy firmly believed this adage. “Well how do you deal with Eileen?” pleadingly asked Erv. “We get along fine. I know exactly how to handle her. Can’t tell you what I do differently. You’ll have to just observe and see how well we get along. After all, I get paid to get along with everyone, and I mean everyone. There’s nothing I would not do to keep my customer. Nothing.” Being a guy, Erv immediately drifted off course from their original conversation about Nancy and Eileen, and wondered what sex would be like with Yancy. After all she had just said that she would do “anything” for a sale. And being a guy, he knew what that meant. They moved down the hall closer to their goal, the coffee, and Erv knew he would like Yancy just fine, Jim seemed a nice enough guy, and he would eventually learn how to deal with Eileen. He knew he would fit in here.
Erv and Yancy walked through a door marked Employee Lounge. Erv was surprised to see how nice everything was, the row of flavored coffees lined up on the counters and a plate of cookies to enjoy. “Is it like this everyday” Erv wondered. “ Usually there are lots of treats around, people bake and bring stuff in” Yancy said. Erv began to relax and realized that this is the kind of place he will enjoy coming to everyday. Well, almost everyday.
There were a few tables and chairs and also the most comfortable looking sofa. Erv sat down and Yancy sat down next to him. In a flash, he was again thinking of the same love making scenario again. Just as his personal little fantasy was just about to get really good, the door swung open and thoughts of reality came rushing in. “Is there any fresh coffee?” Eileen said as she walked in. Yancy and Erv just looked at her and wondered if she really wanted an answer. Eileen then turned to the two of them on the couch and said rather abruptly,” what are you talking about?” Yancy continued to stare but she did not respond to Eileen’s question. Erv could not stand the silence and finally said “ we are just getting acquainted” . At this point, Eileen grabbed her coffee along with one of the cookies from the tray, turned and left the room. Erv looked at Yancy with a puzzled look on his face and Yancy responded with a shrug of her shoulders and a smile.
When Erv was leaving for the day he ran into Jim. They walked out to the parking lot together and Jim of course inquired as to how Erv’s first day went. Jim had a way of sizing up people and making assumptions about them early on. In his head he would be brutally honest. His initial evaluation of Erv was that he would have a problem dealing with the sons of bitches in this industry. However he also knew that ultimately Erv would be able to handle himself quite well.
Jim explained his role with the company to Erv again. He wanted to make sure he got it. Jim was the marketing brains for St. Helen’s. He created. He sold his creations to upper management. He defended his ideas to lower management. He loved to generate new interpretations and package them in attractive presentations. But Jim hated it when he was misunderstood, and because he was often thinking of several things simultaneously, he often lost focus on each project. But he knew where he was going with his ideas and he thought that was enough. Jim was a poor teacher and he had a difficult time explaining and sharing his thoughts with his colleagues. Thus he wanted to train Erv early on by retelling him again just how important he, the creative genius, was to the company, lest he forget what Jim had already told him once today.
As Erv got into his car, his conversation with Jim, or perhaps it should be said it was Jim’s monologue, still was in a rerun in his head. He thought that Jim was was a very likable guy. He was a good judge of character and he believed that Jim was the kind of person that he would like to hang out with and be friends. Erv sensed that Jim was a sensitive soul and would be open to talking about feelings as well as sports, movies and the same old topics that people who prefer to keep their relationships on the surface would be willing to discuss. Erv also felt that he might find it difficult to have a relationship with Jim since Jim clearly feels that he is the master of his own domain and would not be very receptive to having input into his marketing plans. A cold chill entered his body as he thought about the fact that the main purpose to he was brought in by Robert was to use his background knowledge to promote the company’s 25th anniversay and help it’s sagging public image. This would directly enter Jim’s comfort zone and Erv began to panic at the thought of this conflict. Suddenly, a Beatle song came on the radio. Erv sang “ It’s been a hard days night, and I’ve been working like a dog” and for the moment forgot what just a moment ago had filled his head.
As Erv pulled out of the parking lot, Jim tried to slow his pace across the asphalt to his car, since he had just spied Nicole Sarston exiting the building. He knew that she usually parked near him and if he could slow down, he might accidentally/on purpose run into her. She never saw him coming, as Nicole was constantly in a state of grooming. She knew she was good looking, she knew that eyes turned when she walked by, and in order to appear aloof and unconcerned with this attention, she spent most of her public time fine tuning her appearance. The question could always be asked of these types though “who were they grooming themselves for if they did not care for the attention?” Regardless of what she was doing, Jim had timed his interaction with her perfectly. As she looked up to move through the rows of cars, Jim intercepted her from her left side. “You look like you just got here. How do you stay so fresh all day long?,” beamed Jim, knowing that any appeal to her good looks would turn Nicole’s head. He made a direct hit. “Why Jim, you always say the nicest things. Where are you when I need you?” Nicole retorted. “When do you need me?,” he sheepishly asked, as if Nicole ever would really need Jim. He held out hope though. “When I’m feeling lousy, when my hair’s out of place, when my boss is on me and most of all when my fucking boyfriend treats me like shit.” Trying to quickly respond, Nicole beat him to the punch and apologized, “Sorry Jim, I just really like it when you say nice things to me, especially when I know that I’m about to go enter a world where someone will treat me like trash, and like an idiot I will keep on returning to them. But I don’t want to bring you down. Thanks for the compliment though.” “Think nothing of it Nicole, I mean what I say. You always look great and you can easily hide any problems you’re having. Anything I can help with?”
Jim always tried too hard to get recognized. He was starving for an attractive girl to not be able to live without him. He thrived on that sort of attention. He had always married very attractive women, with vivacious personalities, but he always liked the chase. After all he was an Aries,and as Jim would often say, Aries cannot help themselves, they’re narcissistic, they love attention. But as usual, Jim was busy offering help where help was not needed or at least would not be appreciated. There was no need for Jim’s sycophantic behavior. He had his admirers, he just always gravitated toward all the wrong people, who never could appreciate him. “No, thanks anyway though, see you tomorrow,” and just as soon as he had entered Nicole’s exiting ritual, she was gone. Gone to her world of uneasiness and releasing Jim to go to his world of contentment.
The conference room on the sixth floor was used moslty for sales and marketing meetings. This is where the great ideas were born, sales successes were shared and goals were set for the future. There were large windows that this morning were covered with the raindrops that had been falling all night. The centerpiece of the room is a long bleached mahogony conference table with a dozen very comfortable chairs.
As the top tier of the sales and marketing team began to enter the room, one thing was clear. No one was to sit in the chair located at the top of the table approximately fifteen feet from where it begins. This chair is clearly reserved for Robert St.Helen although nothing is said, it is just understood. Nicole walked in, then Eileen and Alison who had a note pad and sat down next to the seat that would be occupied by the chairman of the board. Jim entered and looked for Nicole, and quickly sat next to her. Nicole appeared to be a bit upset that Jim was so obvious but she just pulled out a mirror from her purse and checked her makeup and hair. Erv then entered the room, and it was clear he was a bit intimidated. “Over here” yelled Jim and motioned for Erv to join him, which he did. Yancy then entered and had a bag of cookies under her arm. She was always the one to make sure that there were refreshments at this weekly get together.
There was this buzz that filtered throughout, but Erv sat there rather stunned and could not really hear what was being said even though he was only a few feet away from the conversation. Suddenly there was a hush and Robert entered the room. His presence commanded this type of respect and although he was a very kind and gentle man, there was never any question that he was in charge.
Robert smiled and greeted everyone with a nod of the head. His broadest look of recognition was saved for Erv who just smiled in return. Mr. St.Helen moved to the head of the conference table and sat down. Alison readied her pen and legal pad for what was to come. Erv visualized a track meet with all of the runners lined up for the big race and the starter raising his pistol and firing one shot. Let the games begin.
The patriarch looking Robert St. Helens quickly and yet smoothly launched into the meeting. “So Erv, finding everything okay? Are they treating you right so far? Have you sized us up, do you know who to stay away from, who to stay close to?” Robert was firing off these questions so fast that Erv was certain he was not really asking for an answer. There was only a couple of seconds of pause before Mr. St. Helen’s started again, but this time he only had one question, “You’ve identified Eileen as our resident bitch I’m sure.” The table turned and silence hit the room like a depressurized airplane cabin. Erv was positive now that Robert did not want an answer. “Eileen you know I love you like a daughter,” Mr. St. Helen stated as he stole a look at Eileen. Eileen could do nothing but smile and pretend to play along with the comment. After all Mr. St. Helen was the boss. But she was still wounded. Even bitches could be hurt occasionally.
The weekly meetings appreared to come in rapid succession. Before he knew it, Erv was more and more involved in the office and looking for ways to make his own personal imprint. Jim, Yancy and Erv seemed to gravitate towards each other and would go out to lunch often. They were on the way back from one of these gatherings at the local burrito stand. The music that Yancy enjoyed became a standing bit of the teasing that went back and forth between the three co-workers and friends. Once again, Erv found himself using his favorite line as they entered the corporate parking lot. “ Can you turn the music down, way down. I can still hear it!” Jim let out a laugh and Yancy pouted but they knew that it was all in fun.
The three amigos entered the building and headed up to the sixth floor for the weekly sales and marketing meeting. Eileen was there looking rather perturbed as always and the rest of the room was empty. Jim, Erv and Yancy entered and sat in their regular seats and Robert followed and began speaking as he approached his seat. “We are the entire group for today” Robert said. “The flu bug has Nicole, Alison and the rest of the group down so we will take our own notes today, OK?”
Suddenly, there was a comotion outside the conference room. This was the only room that was used on the sixth floor, and Robert seemed alarmed which in itself concerned the others. The door slowly opened and there stood one, then two , then three men. Two of the three appeared to be close to six foot two and all of them had hoods over their heads. They held automatic style rifles and were silent as they entered the room. They closed the door and the one who appeared to be the leader spoke in a very heavy accent. “Keep your mouths shut, and nobody will get hurt!”
Just as quickly as the three marauders had entered the room, Jim noticed that Robert St. Helen had put the wheels in motion for a countermove. He seemed possessed with figuring out a way to diffuse this situation. Everyone else in the room was frightened beyond any experience they had known. No one, except maybe Jim and Robert St. Helen, had ever even had a weapon pointed at them. Jim knew this for a fact. Just last week Yancy and Erv had shared life threatening experiences with Jim and neither of them involved actual weaponry. But this was real, and happening all in slow motion. Jim wondered why in the hell, every time we experienced accidents, threats or danger, our bodies shifted us down into a lower gear. Wouldn’t you think that our body and our head, hopefully acting in concert, would do just the opposite, and put us in hyper motion, so we could more aptly defend ourselves? How could the developing hero in the body of Robert St. Helen’s for instance, ever overcome these three intruders if he was also experiencing this all in slow motion? Maybe the hero in the crowd, acted at a faster pace than the rest of us.
Jim must have smirked to himself at the absurdity of how we reacted to danger, for the next thing he knew he was the center of attention. Unfortunately it was not to be the kind of attention one would want in a situation like this. One of the invaders noticed the smirk. “You think this is funny puppy boy?” screamed the fat one. Puppy boy? Why the hell did he refer to Jim as Puppy boy? Damn, Jim thought, I feel compelled to laugh again, and that will certainly get me hit, but “puppy boy?” As the corners of Jim’s mouth creased in preparation for an unbelievable second smirk, the fat soldier lost it. He quickly moved closer to Jim and with the flick of his wrist, placed the barrel of his rifle in Jim’s thigh and fired! As Jim let out a blood curdling scream, grabbed his leg and fell to the floor, Robert saw a chance to make his move. Robert on the other side of the room, quickly reached into his top drawer, retrieved a rather large pistol and put one bullet directly through the skull of the overweight assailant. But as he aimed at the other two, the tallest terrorist grabbed Yancy and put a pistol to her head. In very slow motion, he stared Robert down and dared him to proceed. Robert was not to be Indiana Jones today. He calmly placed his gun on the desk and backed away from it.
Shock filled the room and time stood still. Eileen was covered with the blood of the soldier whom Robert had terminated. Robert’s gun must have been a magnum of some sort, since the force of its bullet left blood everywhere, walls, floor, ceiling and bespottedly all over Eileen. Yancy, in the grasp one of the surviving terrorists seemed to be paralyzed. And Jim was in a great deal of pain with his wounds, both mentally and physically. As he laid there bleeding, he could not stop thinking about the now deceased fat guy calling him puppy boy. Erv and Robert just stood there but did not speak. The moment was frozen. Finally the terrorist spoke. “I am Amir and you have just made a very grave mistake. You have chosen to fight and so now you will all have to die.” The adrenaline in Eileen’s body began to subside and she began to cry. Yancy ,still in Amir’s grasp also began to sob. Erv, seeing the amount of blood coming from Jim’s leg, spoke up. “ Can I help him” nodding towards Jim. “ He is bleeding a lot.” “Shut Up!” Amir said as he was clearly trying to get his thoughts together. “Give me the gun” he spoke in Robert’s direction. Robert begrudgingly obliged in the interest of Yancy’s safety, but he was concerned about whether or not he would get another chance to initiate their escape.
Amir let Yancy go back to her fellow workers and he sat at the head of the conference table with the pistol and another automatic rifle in his grasp. “Everyone, please be seated” Amir said and the group slowly sat down at the opposite end of the table. “ What about him” Erv said again looking in Jim’s direction. “ “Go ahead and help the puppy boy” Amir said and Erv moved towards him as he removed his belt that would become a tourniquet. Jim looked up to Erv with appreciation and then whispered “ why do they keep calling me puppy boy?” Erv shrugged and Jim lost consciousness
A temporary calm filled the room.
What was going through everyone’s head as this scenario began to settle? After all, it had all happened so quickly. And then Robert had an unexpected early opportunity to take the upper hand, but he had failed. Now each side had casualties. And our office family did not hold the guns.
So the atmosphere in the room began to settle. All the participants started to accept that they were going to have to act out this play, even though they did not want to. Similar to a death in your family, once you realized what was going on, if the death was a surprise and caught you off guard, as all deaths usually do, you eventually began to settle into appropriate behavior and begin acting out a role in a play you did not want to be in.
Jim’s eyes opened slowly and his first thought was that he had just had a terrible nightmare. His eyes could not focus on his surroundings but he could sense that there were people around him and he could hear familiar voices in the distance. Jim was not one to subscribe to a lot of spiritual thoughts but he had heard many times that before a person dies, their life will pass before their eyes and they will be able to review exactly where they have been. Jim began to fade in and out but his thoughts were focused on his childhood which he perceived as a happy one shared with his parents and two sisters. Jim’s father was a plumber and worked long and hard hours to support his family while Margaritte Aubrey, Jim’s Mom, was the typical at home caretaker who handled all of her responsibilities with grace and style. Jim is the oldest of the three Aubrey children and he would often enjoy the big brother status that came with his birth position. Sandra and Beth Aubrey would look up to Jim while they would still pick on him as all siblings do from time to time. Jim’s thoughts took him to the family dinner table where Cliff, his dad would sit at the head of the table and preside over dinner, just as Robert St.Helen sits at the top of the conference table and runs the weekly meetings.
Jim’s was overcome with a feeling of serenity when he was suddenly shocked into reality by a pain in his leg. He focused on Erv poised above him and could see that Erv was holding the end of a belt that was wrapped around his leg. Erv pulled the strap tightly and Jim’s eye’s slowly closed. For the moment, he could feel nothing at all.
“How’s Puppy Boy?,” Amir asked Erv with a smile. Erv not know to exhibit anger easily, and actually rather proud of his calmness under stressful situations, temporarily became someone he clearly wasn’t. “How the fuck do you think he is, with your fucking bullet lodged in his leg, you damn coward?” Then Erv made the mistake of actually approaching Amir as if to engage him in battle. What was Erv thinking thought everyone in the room? Surprisingly, Amir had not expected such a response from Erv, and had relaxed his gun position. He was clearly caught off guard and in scrambling for his weapon he discharged it and send a lone bullet careening off the door handle and out the window. “You, you, damn smartass, sit, sit down,” stammered Amir rather sheepishly. Robert chimed in. “Erv, this is no time to be a hero. Sit down!” “Yes, listen to your boss little man, sit down. I don’t want to have to shoot you, but I will if I have to.” Just as the events in this encapsulated room had slowed down the lives of all the participants, the mannerisms and behaviors of all those involved were uncovering and laying bare details about lives previously unknown. Robert knew that Erv was mad. Robert knew that he was still the one expected to come up with a plan to remedy the events in this room. But more importantly, everyone in the room, including Amir had just learned, by the way Amir responded to Erv’s frustration, that Amir would not shoot anyone else, that he was just as scared as everyone else in the room.
Amir looked towards the shattered window where his surviving partner in terror stood looking out. “ Fredrick, what can you see? ” Amir said without thinking. “ I told you not to use my name and he moved towards Amir in anger. “Fredrick ? “ Robert said almost as a reflex reaction but feeling that this stranger’s voice sounded familiar. “ Shut up “ Fredrick said and he pulled Amir into the corner of the conference room for their own private meeting. Suddenly the sound of sirens filled the almost eerie sound of silence. The stray bullet breaking the window on the sixth floor had alerted some employees having a cigarette and they promptly called 911. “You fool ! “ Fredrick yelled at Amir as he spun to approach the window to get a better look. What appeared to be an army of patrol cars began to gather and there were police officers everywhere. The building began to evacuate and in fifteen minutes the entire St. Helen staff was out on the large grass area in front of the building.
Suddenly the light went on for Robert. The familiar voice belonged to Fredrick Klaus, an intern from a fashion college who served in St. Helens International division a few ago.
“Fredrick, it is you , isn’t it ? “ Robert said with disgust. Fredrick, with his hood still in place, grabbed the gun from Amir and rushed towards Robert. “ Sit down and shut the fuck up! “ Fredrick yelled! “You have said enough ! “
Wisely Frederick moved away from the window before the police units could position their sharpshooters. Amir knew that soon the building would be surrounded and they would certainly have to relinquish their lives to get out of this growing predicament with any degree of honor. And honor was important. But honor was just as important for Robert St. Helen’s too. He still had to be the hero. He was expected to save the day. Amir sensed this and was determined to block Robert from gaining the upper hand. “Everyone Up, we’re moving,” shouted Amir. “What?” a perplexed Robert asked, in hopes of slowing Amir down and giving the police time to get setup. But Amir did not buy it. He quickly opened the door and to everyone’s surprise there was no one, no cops, no staff members, no one on the other side. But what about this one, Frederick inquired, pointing his rifle at Jim. Amir turned quickly and made his decision just as quickly as the question had been asked.
Amir reached for a pistol that was hanging at his side and aimed it at Jim’s head. “ He has to go” said Amir and began to cock the trigger when suddenly Fredrick grabbed his arm. “No” he said, “he is not why we are here” and upon these words, Amir lowered his gun. Everyone in the room, especially Jim let out a collective sigh. “ Everyone go this way” bellowed Fredrick as he headed out the door and down the hall. One by one, Eileen, Yancy and Jim with Erv and Robert’s help made their way down the hall to the executive kitchen and dining room. Fredrick knew the building well and was aware that not only would there be food there, but there was also the executive bathroom and most importantly, there were no windows and only one door in and out. This would create some security for the time being while he could figure a way out of this mess. As they all entered the dining room, they could hear the voices coming from the street below. “ Come on out and no one will be hurt” the voice came over the bullhorn. But an easy solution was not at hand. Fredrick and Amir had what they felt was a good reason to be there and they were not about to give up now.
So why were they there? Why had this difficult path leading certainly to a bloody ending been initiated? Who were these wayfarers striking out against, or back at, in a revengeful response to a wrong done to them previously. Amir and Frederick were brothers, but the fight was more Frederick’s than Amir’s, even though Amir was more militantly anti-American than Frederick. Each of the two acted as volatile catalysts to keeping them both very angry.
Frederick Klaus had met Robert St. Helen’s four years back when Frederick joined the St. Helen’s staff as a student intern from L’Ecole de Styliste in Nice, France. Frederick had come to the States after winning a fashion contest at his school sponsored by St. Helen’s. The two top designers won a summer stay in the States serving as fashion design interns at St. Helen’s. The other winner was Michelle LePard, a promising design talent and the girlfriend of Amir, Frederick’s brother. In fact, Frederick was just as close to Michelle as his brother was, for it was her persistent support that prompted Frederick to ever consider entering the two-year program at L’Ecole de Styliste. If it had not been for her, Frederick would have continued to pursue a meaningless career in the military. But Frederick did not take up arms like his father had wanted him to. Instead he quickly became the top designer at his school and even drew notice from several design houses in the U.S. Robert St. Helen learned of Frederick before he even entered the competition, but he was thrilled when Frederick won it. He eagerly anticipated Frederick joining his design staff for a summer and had thoughts of him staying on longer. But something changed that…and that’s why Frederick was here today.
Shortly after Frederick Klaus joined the staff at St. Helen’s it became apparent that he was not only talented, but he was a natural. Robert even thought that he surpassed his senior designers who had many years experience over upstart Frederick. So Robert, the businessman, milked Frederick for all he was worth, pouring all of his productions into the St. Helen’s archives. And that’s where the problem ensued. Robert would eventually falsely assume credit for Frederick’s designs. He would dismiss Frederick in a stormy fight sending him back to Europe a bruised and hardened shell. And he would send him back without Michelle.
As the tension began to build on the outside of the building, time seemed to stand still for the seven individuals who shared the executive dining room. Robert sat quietly but thought about all that had taken place in the past with Fredrick which brought them all to this time and place. The silence was shattered by the voices coming from down below. “ Come out now or we are coming in” the bullhorn sounded. Fredrick and Amir did not stir and they almost seemed resigned to the fact that this was not going to end peacefully. Fredrick raised his hood and stared at Robert. “ You knew that it was me? , didn’t you” he said. “ You are such a fucking prick Robert ! You took what was mine and you killed it, so now I am going to kill you.” “Hey” Erv yelled as almost a reflex reaction to what he had heard. “ Jim needs some medical attention or he is going to bleed to death” Erv said. “What the fuck do I care about him? “ Fredrick bellowed. “What’s one more body for the morgue? So shut up !”
“ Let’s all just try to stay calm” Yancy said trying to quiet the situation. Fredrick raised his rifle and approached Robert who had been instructed to sit on the floor. As he moved closer, the room became totally without a sound. “ Say good bye to your world “ he said as he poised the rifle for what was to be his final revenge. Robert did not move or react in any visible way but the entire dining room seemed to be trembling. As the barrel of the automatic weapon began to press against the side of Robert’s head, the founder and leader of St . Helen’s slowly closed his eyes.
Yancy could stand this no longer. She had been a good hostage, staying quiet and melting into the background. But her conscience simply would not let her stand still and remain silent in the face of someone’s impending death. She was a shark in sales, and definitely had no qualms about going for the blood in the water. But in her personal life she was compassionate and caring for her fellow man. She knew that her wish that man was basically good was a naive position to take. But that never had stopped her. “Fredrick,” Yancy called. The man who was just about to squeeze the trigger that would ignite the bullet that would within seconds crush the life out of Robert St. Helen’s in a messy explosion, turned to answer Yancy. “What lady?,” responded Fredrick, almost sounding apologetic, since he knew he was about to take another man’s life. “Fredrick, there is a way out of all this, but killing him is not that way. You must take us with you and use us as bargaining chips. Otherwise you will most certainly die yourself.”
Even though he knew it was not her intention and that she was sincere, when Yancy distracted Fredrick for just a few seconds, Robert St. Helen’s bolted into preparation for action. As soon as Fredrick answered Yancy and thereby committed a part of his concentration elsewhere, Robert jumped him.
Fredrick’s feet were kicked out from under him and he fell towards Robert who in almost one motion grabbed the pistol from Fredrick’s belt and kicked the rifle away. Robert’s arm was suddenly around Fredrick’s neck and the pistol’s barrel was now pointed at Fredrick’s left temple. Amir standing across the room seemed almost stunned but he did raise his rifle and point it directly at Erv who was crouched down next to Jim. “ Let him go or I will begin killing them, one at a time” Amir screamed. “Don’t let go Robert” Erv responded. “He won’t let Fredrick die at you hand “ Suddenly Amir fired a shot over Erv’s head. “Now just shut the fuck up” Amir said. The room again stood still when the most unlikely thing happened. “ Enough!” Fredrick said “Enough killing, enough hate, enough!” Amir said “no Fredrick, we have come too far” but it was clear that it was over. Fredrick looked at Amir and the message was clear. Amir slowly removed his hood and lowered his rifle. “ Eileen, Yancy, go and let the police know that it is ok to come up here,” Erv said as he grabbed Amir’s rifle and held it at the ready position but not pointed at him. Yancy and Eileen left and there was a feeling of sadness. Erv noticed that there was a tear streaming down Fredrick’s cheek as Robert released his hold and lowered his pistol. It was suddenly over.
And just as tautly as this terroristic encroachment had wound the office at St. Helen’s, now the tension was released. Now the endless versions of what took place inside that conference room would be told and retold by the unwilling participants. Through no apparent effort on their parts, Robert and his staff had escaped this tragedy with minimal harm incurred.
They were just very lucky that their saving grace came from one of the poachers who had placed them in harm’s way. Having a conscience, and listening to it, had become a rare occurrence in the waning years of the 20th century. Civilization had taken a disturbing turn toward irresponsibility, where no one seemed to be answerable for anything on their own, -anything bad that is. (Ironically, the same individuals who were quick to shirk responsibility when they found themselves in a dissenting, and sometimes criminal, position, were usually the first to claim responsibility for the good they achieved in their lives.) Frederick and then Amir took responsibility for their actions. The result was something good. The crisis was over.
Robert, who rarely was at a loss for words, turned to the survivors still in the room and jokingly whispered, “This is the first time I wished I had called in sick, like Nicole and Alison did. The flu would have been a much easier adversary than this.” With that he turned toward his office and strode down the hall with the same commanding presence he used when going anyplace.
It was the first day of Spring and the warmth of the sun was beginning to break through for the first time since before the holidays. St Helens had been closed for the past week to allow everyone and everything to settle down a bit. Erv had called Robert as well as Yancy and Eileen to join him in visiting Jim at Central Downs hospital. Robert was not available so Erv stopped by and picked up his two co-workers. The three of them entered through the double doors and took the elevator to the eighth floor. As they entered his room, they could see Jim sitting with his back to them looking out the window. ” How are you puppy boy ! ” Eileen said with a rather expected lack of tact. No one acknowledged her comment but it was clear that it brought back the horror of the past week to the surface of their awareness. Jim turned and slowly smiled. ” Hi guys ” he said, “thanks for coming. It has been a bit quiet here and one can only watch so many Oprahs and Jerry Springer shows. ” “How is the leg ” Erv asked. ” Pretty good Doctor . Thanks to your belt, I guess I get to keep walking on two feet. I owe you a lot” Erv seemed a bit embarrassed and lowered his eyes. ” You can buy me lunch ” Erv said as he sat on the edge of the bed. ” So when are you getting out of here” asked Yancy. Jim smiled and said “In a few days and I will be back to work in a couple of weeks. Everything had the sense of being back to normal and on that note the four amigos smiled at each other and they all realized one thing at the same time. This was their first chance to smile in over a week.
Looking back at the incident that had shocked him back into the past, a past he tried to keep under wraps at all costs, Robert St. Helen’s wondered what the others thought or pontificated went on between him and the hostages. Robert hated loose ends and he could see there were some to tie down. He liked to run a smooth sailing ship, keeping everyone happy, especially the key people crucial to his organization. If some of his actions left the staff perplexed and scratching their heads as to his motives, he really could not pause to care. He knew that to clean up this incident and place it back under the rug from whence it came, he would have to chat with each person involved- and he knew that one person would have to be fired. The heat would be incredible for that move, but nonetheless, he could do it, and he would. Robert loved his company and anything that eventually threatened it, threatened him. If the others suspected something disturbing about Robert’s role in this incident, then they would just have to have those thoughts erased. Soon, he would start scheduling meetings, but first things first. He had to make sure that neither Amir nor Frederick never ever got out of jail. This would be easy.
An unexpected Spring rainstorm had greeted the first day back for everyone at St Helens. As Erv entered the lobby area with umbrella in hand, he thought of what had taken place and how fate can present the most critical situations at just any moment. ” Hi Erv ” he heard Yancy say while waiting for the elevator. ” Have you spoken to Jim? ” she asked. Erv smiled ” Yes I spoke with him yesterday. He is home and is doing great. He will be back in the office in a few days” As the elevator door closed, Yancy and Erv looked at each other and they clearly both shared the fear of returning to the scene of the crime. Neither one said anything, but the feeling was clear.
Erv settled into his office and turned on his computer. Then he logged into his e-mail system. One message appeared and it was from Robert. ” We will have a staff meeting on Monday, March 25th at 10 a.m. in the executive conference room on the sixth floor.” Erv read out loud in almost a hypnotic state. ” Is he crazy” he said out loud. ” He wants us back in “that” room. This soon ! ” Erv slumped down deep into his chair and groaned. Robert has certainly lost it, Erv thought to himself. Oh well, ” ten o’clock it is ; in the conference room.
“Good morning Robert,” Erv said to Robert. But there was no response forthcoming from Robert. Erv, a person who was always aware of his surroundings, wondered why Robert could not at least extend a simple morning greeting. Stuff like that always bothered him. He was a very giving man but when he gave and it was not acknowledged or he was never thanked, it bothered him. Robert’s cold response, especially this morning, aggravated Erv. After all it had only been last week when the horror of a life or death scene had violently been played out in this very room. How could Robert carry on so easily?
As Yancy filed through the door right behind Erv, Robert pointed to a chair as if to hurry her along in getting seated. She did a double take. Just like Erv, Yancy was amazed at the way Robert was acting. Something was up.
“Please everyone sit down, I have an 11:00 meeting that I can’t be late for.” Everyone was present with the exception of course of Jim who was still recovering in his hospital bed.
“I know a lot of you have questions about what transpired in this very room last week and my connections to the two men who terrorized this company. What happened last week was very unfortunate. But bottom-line that’s all any of you need to know, that’s all any of you will know. I don’t mean to be hard on you, especially just after what happened, but in lieu of fueling unnecessary gossip, I do not think that I need to explain myself. Do I have a connection with those men? Yes, I did many years ago. I thought it was resolved. It was not, but it is now. You must trust me on this. That’s all I can say.
I will not entertain any questions related to this matter after this meeting. So please, don’t any of you try to corner me and pin me down for anything more than I’m telling you here, right now.
That’s all I have for now. Oh yes, I almost forgot “Allison, my new secretary has been dismissed. She was dismissed due directly to how she responded to last week’s incident. Now that’s all I really have for now. I hope you can trust me during what continues to be a difficult time for me, a difficult time for all us.”
So the old man showed a remnant of having a heart. But it was only a tidbit and not enough to make those in the room feel like they could trust him.
Recovering was never a forte of Jim’s- recovering from anything. He was an A+ personality and constantly pushed himself to keep his calendar more full than he could ever manage. He liked to come to work early and leave late, he busied himself at home on the weekends with more chores than three healthy people could ever finish. But if he wasn’t busy, he was miserable. Although it would have bothered him to realize this, Jim would die with plenty of unfinished business. He detested lazy people and thus kept himself very busy.
So recovering from illness, an accident or emotional distress, anything that took time away his frenetic schedule, really bothered Jim. Laying up in a hospital bed, having nurses wait on them hand and foot, without a care in the world, would have been anyone’s dream. It was Jim’s nightmare! With only one day left in the hospital, which he saw as a sentence in stead of a luxury, Jim was very anxious to get back to work, back home too, but back to work especially. He felt out of the loop and even though he would have never admitted it, he loved to stay up on the office talk, office chatter, okay, office gossip. He looked forward to work.
One week had past and very little was said about the incident, or the very strange meeting that they had a week earlier. Erv and Yancy stood around the coffee machine making small talk when suddenly they heard a familiar voice. “Hey you two” said Jim as he walked into the lunch room. “ Do you have a cup of coffee for your wounded amigo?” “ It is great to see you “ said Erv. “ How are you feeling?” asked Yancy. “Pretty good, but I am a bit wobbly and every ten minutes or so, I like to take a nap” Jim said as he smiled. “ So what went on here” Jim continued. “ What was that all about?” Erv told Jim about the meeting of a week ealier and Jim was stunned. “ I did get a call from Robert to see how I was doing but he never mentioned the terrorists or the whole messy event” Said Jim. “Perhaps he will be ready to open up at today’s meeting” The three of them grabbed a cup of coffee and went on their way.
It was now one o’clock and Erv was anxiously awaiting the two o’clock meeting that he hoped would begin to answer some questions. Suddenly, his phone rang. It was Robert. “Erv, can you please come to my office right away. We need to talk” said Robert. “ He then hung up without another word being spoken. Erv gathered his notepad and entered the executive elevator up to the penthouse. The door opened and Erv made his way towards Robert office. “Come in” Robert said and Erv entered and sat down. “ Erv, I need to talk to someone and I want it to be you” Robert confided. “Thanks Robert” Erv said. “ What is going on and why all of the mystery?” Robert began to speak.
For the first time in his long relationship with Robert, Erv caught a glimpse of vulnerability in the man who always in the past has stood like the Rock of Gibraltar. Erv liked being around confident men, he gained strength them. And Robert was his premier role model. But right now, much like a child when they see their parents cry for the first time, he realized that Robert, the Viking, was human as well. A child who depends upon an adult all their life to save them from the bad times, chase the monsters away and be there for them no matter what the circumstances, is shocked when they see fear, anxiety and sadness in their guardian. After all, parents are supposed to be all-knowing and almost invincible. So when Robert showed a weaker, unsure side of himself to Erv, Erv initially did not like it. He quickly though changed his dislike to support. He would finally be able to give something back to Robert that money could not buy- a friendly shoulder to cry upon.
“Erv, those terrorists could have been any number of people I’ve screwed in the past in scratching my way to the top,” admitted Robert. “Until halfway through the incident I actually thought that they were other enemies of mine from many years ago. If I learned one hard lesson in life it was that when competing with formidable business foes, the only way to make sure they didn’t ever come back to haunt you was to annihilate them when you had them between the crosshairs. Take no prisoners- prisoners can get away, and when they do, they will come back just to annihilate you,” preached Robert. “I’m getting too old to be constantly looking over my shoulder,” a rather tired Robert admitted. “I have an idea I wanted to run by you for how to make sure something like what happened with those terrorists never happens again. I must ask for your total confidence in this matter. Do I have that?” Erv was now very curious as to what exactly Robert was proposing. “You never have to ask that question of me Robert, you know that you can trust me implicitly,” Erv stated. “Then let me tell you what I intend to do,” a confident Robert proposed.
Robert sat back in his chair and took a deep breath. “Erv” he said, “I want you to take over St. Helens. You will be in this chair running the day to day operations and all decisions will be made with your approval” Erv was stunned to say the least and leaned forward as Robert continued. “ I have made a lot of mistakes in the past and many of these mistakes have begun to come back to have a negative impact on this company. I love this business and do not want to see it destroyed. If you were to take over, the company leadership would be given a fresh approach. Erv, you are well liked and trusted. It is the right thing for St. Helens and it is the right decision for me” Erv sat back and thought for a moment before he spoke. “ Robert, I have only been here for a matter of months. How will this be perceived? What will Jim, and Yancy and oh yea Eileen think? “ Robert sat up and said “ who gives a crap what they think” “And after all, you ran Weisox for years when your dad become ill. Who is better qualified? “ “But this is your company” Erv said. “ And it will remain my company but I will be involved but only from a distance.” “I don’t know Robert. Let me think it over for a while” “Sure” Robert said. “Take all of the time that you need. Let’s get together tomorrow morning to discuss the transfer of power” Robert said as if the decision had already been made. Erv looked ill, forced a smile and left Robert’s office.
“Hey Jim, you got a minute?” a puzzled Erv asked of Jim. “Sure, I was just on my way to go to lunch with Yancy,” replied a concerned Jim. “Is this something we can include her in on?” asked Jim. He hesitated and then knowing that he trusted them both equally and respected their opinions, Erv nodded his approval.
Jim was unsure what Erv had up his sleeve, but he sure was acting as if he did indeed have something deceptive and furtive that he had been hiding and now, because his overriding conscience had gotten the best of him, he was ready to confess. They spotted Yancy coming around the corner and her smile indicated that she was glad the three of them were going to lunch together. She liked Erv and Jim and always found the conversation stimulating and very honest whenever the three of them got together. When they confirmed that they were indeed proposing a jont luncheon, she was very excited. “Erv has something he wants to confess to us, Yance” squealed Jim. “That’s great, I’m always up for a taco and a confession. My car or yours, “she asked of Jim. Even though he remembered the problem with her radio, Jim said her car would be just fine. They all crammed into her small car and headed off for their favorite taco stand. It was to become a memorable lunch to say the least.
As they stood in line waiting to order their Mexican delights, there was a nervous energy between the three friends that had always felt very relaxed in each other’s company.” So what is this big secret you have Erv “ Yancy asked knowing that he was not about to speak of it while standing in line waiting for a burrito. “Be patient” Erv said and just smiled. Jim walked by and said that he was going to save a table. Yancy and Erv gathered up their food and went outside to the seating area to meet up with Jim. “ So how is the leg Jim” Erv asked “ Yea yea it’s fine” Jim answered back with very little patience. “ Never mind my leg, what do you have on your mind, Erv ? “ he asked. “What is the big secret?” Erv sat for a moment and let off a hugh sigh
as he sat back in his chair and ignored his chicken burrito. “Things have been very strange and they just got stranger” Erv began. “I was called into Robert’s office this morning and he really dropped a big one on me” Erv again paused and did not speak until Yancy finally broke the silence. “ Well, what is it ?” she said. Erv again paused and then finally spoke. “ Robert wants to step down and he wants me to take over the company. And he wants my decision by tomorrow. So what do you think?” Now it was Yancy and Jim’s turn to ignore their food. They both sat back in disbelief. After what seemed like an eternity, Jim finally spoke.
“You have no choice big guy,” exclaimed Jim despairingly. “You really have no choice. You’ve been asked to step into the promotion of your life. To say no, would be to say you were unsure you could do the job. That’s a goddamn tough position to put someone in.” Jim was doing a good job of hiding his envy. Although he firmly believed what he was espousing, that Erv had no choice, he was also a little jealous of the unique position Erv found himself in. What a break he thought. But it was not really a break. Instead if anyone had earned Robert’s respect enough to be honored with this position, it was Erv. That’s what Yancy added to the equation.
“My gosh, what a compliment! You must feel wonderful. That is really a honor to have Robert choose you.” But Yancy was concerned about Erv’s complacency. “Are you happy about this? You seemed kind of reserved,” queried Yancy. “Of course I am flattered, but there’s something weird about it, too.” Erv knew that such a magnanimous gift did not come without fine print. He just did not know what the fine print read. “If it makes you feel any better, I feel there’s something missing about this too,” admitted Yancy.
Yancy, in one small statement had released a hugh amount of pressure for Erv. There had to be more that was on the surface and her validation of his thoughts made him suddenly more relaxed. “ I know that this is a great opportunity, but it is also a lot of responsibility” Erv confided “ and I only hope that I am up to it” “ So does that mean that you are going to accept it “ Jim asked, almost hoping that Erv would pass on it and that he would have an opportunity to move into the penthouse office. “ I just don’t know” Erv sighed “ but I will definitely give it some thought. “ Anyone seen any good movies “ Erv said as he quickly changed gears. Jim and Yancy both sat back in their chairs and smiled.
Erv did not sleep very well that night. He was tossing and turning and could not get the thoughts of his father’s voice out of his head. He carried on a conversation with him for hours and knew that his father would want him to go for it, to take on the challenge. But his father would also want him to be happy and would say to Erv on a regular basis, “if it feels right, it probably is right.” But was taking over from Robert the right thing to do?
Morning came quickly and Erv arrived at his office around 6 a.m. An e-mail from Robert scheduled their meeting for 9 a.m. As Erv relaxed, sort of, with a cup of coffee and a bagel, he thought about the terrifying experience in the executive conference room. Jim had been shot and Robert had put his life on the line. All very chilling, yet it also seemed like a long time ago although it had only been a few weeks. As other people arrived at their desks around 8 am, Erv just sat, deep in thought.
It was five minutes to nine and Erv boarded the elevator to the top floor and to Robert’s office. As he approached the oversized doors, he took a deep breath and walked right in without knocking. This act alone, indicated that he had made his decision.
When Jim arrived early Thursday morning he did not expect to see anyone else in the building. After all, there were no other cars in the parking structure. So he was a bit concerned when he saw lights on in the Employee Lounge. Jim was the type of person who always expected the unexpected. He was proud to boast that he would never fall prey to a mugger because he assumed everyone was a mugger, and therefore he was suspicious of everyone. So, as Jim’s legs propelled him towards the door he thought for a moment that he should not be so enthusiastic about opening the door, not knowing who was behind it. But the other part of Jim’s mystique was to appear in control at all times, and to never lose his cool. Admitting to himself that maybe he should be a little careful about bursting in on an unwanted visitor did not register with Jim as something he should be considering. With the same type of confidence that he displayed whenever he was in the public’s eye, Jim reached for the door, at precisely the spot on the door he reached for every morning of the week, and gave it a push.
Any trepidation he might have had about surprising an intruder disappeared in haste, when Jim’s dreams came true in the form of Nicole Sarston.
She was a splendid sight for early morning eyes. This would be the best morning Jim had ever experienced at St. Helen’s. He often dreamed of this scenario. Many people in offices across the country had imagined a similar dream. They fantasized of actually waking up next to their “dream office mate” on a Saturday or Sunday morning, those precious weekend days when your real self emerged. That was the only way their “office fantasy” would ever crossover that line between dream and reality- to become a part of a person’s weekend life. For the weekends were when the real people who fake their roles during the week came to the surface. Many savored moments had been enjoyed by office personnel hallucinating about what their “weekend existences” would be like if only they were with that special person from the office. And here was Jim being presented with just such a scenario, even if it was on a Thursday.
Jim felt the need to not act surprised and immediately go into his caregiver mode. This worked for every situation hands down. Or at least it bought him the time to size up the real circumstances. Initially though, as usual Nicole hardly looked as if she needed help. She was dressed rather shabby, but for her, the supermodel, even “shabby” looked better than anything he had seen in years. She was poured into her tight jeans so firmly that Jim could pick out the definition in her butt, her strong thighs and her kneecaps. They were a faded blue, worn color, with the obligatory splits at the knees. Topsiders provided the covering for her dainty feet, and they even looked a bit worn. Her baseball t-shirt was a deep navy black, with off-white midlength sleeves, just like baseball players wore. Her blonde lightly streaked hair was pulled back in a French braid and she kept the whole picture together with a Yankees baseball cap. She was though hiding something, because here she was at six a.m. wearing dark sunglasses.
That prompted Jim to go into his caregiver mode and ask her if she was okay. After all, why was she here so early? Why was she not dressed for work? If she only had a problem then that would provide Jim with the opening he needed. Then he could help. No one turned down help.
“Good Morning” Jim said in a very casual manner as if he wasn’t even surprised to see Nicole. “Oh Jim” Nicole whispered, “I really did not expect to see anyone this early. I must look terrible” “No you look fine” Jim said in a rather casual manner all the while biting his lip and keeping his real thoughts to himself. “Is everything ok Nicole? You look a bit sad” Nicole did not say a word but slowly turned her head towards Jim as if she was about to confess to something without speaking a word. She slowly lifted the bill of her baseball cap to reveal some rather serious bruises around her mouth and eyes. A tear began to fall down her swollen face and she was suddenly not a beautiful woman to Jim but someone in need. “What happened to you?” he asked as he moved to sit next to his dream girl. Jim’s thoughts were no longer based on his sexual needs but now focused on Nicole’s needs instead. Jim was a caring human being after all and the fact that she needed him gave him pleasure. “ Jim, I am fine” she said without an ounce of conviction. “Could you please hold me for just a moment?” and Jim moved closer to her and put his arm around her and pulled her close. Nicole began to sob and they sat there for what seemed like an eternity without another word being spoken.
After what seemed like an eternity of much needed embracing, Nicole indicated that she wanted to pull back from Jim. “Thanks” she said “you have no idea how much I needed that.” Nicole composed herself and sat down. Jim followed her lead, and reminded himself to keep quiet. Jim had only in the last few years overcome a bad habit of his of using someone’s problems as a launch pad for him airing his own problems and switching the emphasis from the one who came to him in need to them helping him solve his problems. A bad habit and Jim knew it. So while Nicole got ready to tell Jim all about her problems and how it had come to this, to blows that is, he told himself to keep silent and give her as much time as she needed. While he was keeping it quiet on the outside the little guy in Jim’s head was screaming. He was telling Jim what a son of a bitch Nicole’s boyfriend must be, how he probably looked like a gang member thug, all fat, with a Three Stooges haircut and the manner to go with that look, and how he would like to beat the hell out of him. The little guy was getting Jim all riled up and ready to fight the world when Nicole finally, in her stammering voice, started to share her story. “Jim, I’m one of those girls you guys must chat about at ballgames, over a cup of coffee or in a bar, after a few beers. I imagine the line goes something like this, ‘She’s such a beautiful girl and could have her pick of any guy she wanted, why did she pick that loser and why is she so insecure to let go of him? Doesn’t she know he’s bad news? What is it with women getting hooked into pond scum like him, when there are so many guys like us who would treat someone like Nicole like an angel?’ And Jim you guys are right. 100%. We get so caught in one guy and can’t let go of him that we’ll even take an occasional beating from him, just as long as he’ll keep us. We look to men for security.”
Jim was really getting mad and excited now, but he still was remaining silent, because he knew that that was the only way to keep her talking. And he wanted to keep her talking. That ultimately meant that she needed him and that she would get hooked into him as well because after all he was a man and he was giving her security. But he would be different. He would treat her like an angel, like a beautiful woman like her should be treated. He could never fathom laying a hand to her, no matter what happened.
But he was still angry. Nicole was not just another dumb blonde. She knew that guys talked about women like her. She knew that women who had this level of codependence on abusive men were a mystery to the good men out there. She was no dummy. And yet she still had bruises. The little guy in Jim’s head wanted Jim to pummel someone, anyone, first before trying to figure out Nicole’s problem. That’s the way guy think. Hit first then work out the problem later. Nicole began to sob and Jim reached out to touch her and offer a place for her to retreat to. He battled his selfish thoughts that urged him to take advantage of her at this, her moment of weakness. Instead he tried to listen, really listen.
“Jim, I cannot talk about this now but I really could use a friend to talk to and well, uh, could we get together later on, perhaps at my place.?” Jim’s heart was suddenly in his throat, but he did not react. “ Sure” he said, “if it will help, I will be glad to come over” Suddenly his thoughts turned to what he would wear, perhaps he would get a haircut, whatever it took to make himself irresistible. Nicole began to scribble a note on a pad and tore off the page and put it into Jim’s hand. “ Here is my address and phone number. How about 7:30 ? “ she cooed. “ Sure” Jim said. “ Can I bring anything?” “Just yourself” said Nicole and with that got up and walked out of the room. Jim was in shock. Why had she asked him to come over? How could he ever control himself? But he was also very happy to have this opportunity to be a part of his dream girl’s life.
Erv entered the office of Robert St. Helen and sat down. Robert was writing with his head down and did not even acknowledge that Erv was sitting a few feet from him. “ Good Morning Robert” , Erv said. “ I am here and have made my decision. How would you like to proceed?” Erv asked. Robert just paused and put down his pen. He sat back in his chair and just smiled. “How’s your Mom feeling Erv ?” Robert asked. Erv relaxed and enjoyed this moment of two friends chatting, like a father and son, and it made him smile.
“I know what your decision is. I know you can’t resist an offer as good as the one I’ve given you. Who could? I’ve given you the opportunity to takeover one of the most prominent positions in not just this company, but in the entire fashion industry. It’s a known fact that St. Helen’s is one of the top three fashion design houses in the world. Our only competition is that mega complex in Paris, Le Blanche and that incredibly creative house in Milan, La Traccadorio. Other than that we have no competition. And so I knew what your decision had to be. It’s good to have you move up in status. I think you will be able to operate quite effectively in the upper echelon of the corporate world.”
Robert arrogantly leaned back and looked at Erv and for a minute Erv felt like Robert was looking at him condescendingly and was actually looking down at Erv. And then taking this position would be giving Robert the option to mold and change Erv into a new person, maybe a person Erv did not want to be. Robert leaned closer to the desk and fumbled for the pen he had just had in order to arm Erv with an instrument that would help him sign his fate away. And then Erv noticed something that made him stop!
As Robert searched around his desktop for the pen that he had closed so many deals with, a pen he had used so many times in the past to finalize business, a pen he had freely handed over to competitors and clients almost as if it were a magic wand. A magic wand that had been friendly to Robert and helped him climb the ladder of success in the fashion industry. As Robert finally located his pen Erv noticed that two of Robert’s knuckles, the forefinger and index finger, were badly bruised and one of them was badly cut. Without losing his concentration Erv took the magic wand from Robert and methodically without thought began to sign his name to the agreement. But out of the corner of his eye he was able to look more closely at Robert’s scarred knuckles. How had that happened? He hadn’t noticed that the day before, so it must have happened recently. The thought then left his mind as he had much to think about.
Erv and Robert agreed on a one week period before any formal announcement. This was to allow for a further cooling off period and to ensure a smooth transition. What was strange to Erv was that Robert decided to take a week off to “just relax” and headed off to the Caribbean to some unnamed island. Erv thought that the timing was strange but it was not his business, and he always tried to mind his own business when it came to the people he worked with as well as his friends and family. In a week, he and Robert would make a joint announcement and set the wheels in motion. In the meantime, it was to be business as usual.
Erv worked his way down to the lounge for a much needed cup of coffee. There alone sat Jim, rather deep in thought. “Hi bud” Erv said but Jim did not respond. “Earth to Jim, Earth to Jim” Erv kidded, and Jim looked up and smiled. “ Sorry, I was just thinking about something. How’s everything with you ? Are you the main man now ? Erv promised that he would say nothing now, so he looked at Jim and just shrugged his shoulders. “ We’ll see” in the meantime, how about lunch today. I have been wanting to try that new Japanese restaurant down the block “ “ You are on “ said Jim thinking that he would like to share Nicole’s dilemma without betraying her confidence. He knew that Erv was a good listener and felt that he could at least relieve some of the pressure that he was feeling with this unsettling knowledge. “ See you at noon” Jim said, “ I’ll meet you downstairs.