“You know, you’re a lot younger than you sound in your little college newspaper articles.” The immense man lifted the espresso cup to his mouth, as ineffective camouflage of the assessment in his eyes as glitter pasties on a stripper.
“Dude, you’re a lot fatter than… well, than your voice messages. I’d of thought pinky rings were passé with guys with multiple vowels in their name. Even the old crime bosses, not exactly GQ followers wore rings with a single diamond, not, not whatever that thing is supposed to be.” Alex was surprised at his growing self-assuredness. His shoulders felt three feet across, like in high school when he walked down the corridor the Monday morning after Diane Arnold let him get to second base.
“In reverse order, my young protegé! Bloodstone. You should be much more knowledgeable in matters both criminal and fashionable. I’m actually slimmer than I’ve been in decades.” The slight up-turning at the corners of Phil Borastein’s mouth managed to convey the impression his very white teeth were forcing their way out from behind his thin lips.
Alex Dumas’ expression of rapt attention began to decay into a grimace as he stared at the pale man in the worn suit and expensive jewelry. Youth curtailed is ability to mask his fear. He was like the wilderness camper yelling at the intruding bear, any other defensive strategy would merely highlight his inferiority. Not such an uncommon response to stress. With a click inside the jukebox, Paul McCartney, immediately joined by John Lennon and George Harrison began to sing, “Paperback Writer…”
Recognizing the old Beatles song, Alex closed his eyes to better hear the lyrics. Without warning, as the last verse came around, the fat man opposite him in the booth began to sing. With uncanny pitch his voice was barely distinguishable from the record, except for the lyrics, “You know I really like it and I want the rights, It could make a million for you overnight.”
The former graduate journalism student was three-quarters of the way to upright when without warning, his left foot found the bass rhythm of the underlying the chorus. He gave in to the mood and began to sing. “I wanna be a paperback writer…” laughing the lyrics, Alex Dumas sat back down and looked into the hungry eyes of the obese man on the other side of the table.
The monthly management meetings were one Cyrus St. Loreto’s favorite things about owning the Bernabau Company. The first Monday of every month, the heads of the divisions would show up at board room, armed with laptops and the youthful ambition. The agenda was always the same, describing their success in adding to the value of the Company since the last meeting.
Cyrus’ gave the recruiters in HR two criteria for candidates: extreme competence in their field and a burning ambition to succeed.
‘I’d rather have some kid fresh out of grad school with too much ambition than an old pro who already made his bones and looking to get comfortable’, Cyrus would respond to the inevitable question from the occasional reporter noting the lack of grey hair or wrinkles among upper management. An equal opportunity recruiter, he asked only for complete loyalty and a willingness to do whatever it took to get the job done. From his headquarters in Miami, Cyrus charged his executives with one mission and one mission only: identify opportunity and add value to the Company. Cyrus kept his finger on the pulse of the company, he felt the rhythm of steady growth, technology made ‘hands-on’ a relative term. However, there was no substitution for the feeling of having the actual living and breathing people in his reach.
“What the fuck am I paying you people for? This?!” The CEO of the Bernabau Company grabbed the head of the M&A Division’s forearm, “This….wrist watch?!!”
Cyrus looked at his own watch, then at the younger mans’ and then back again, “Hey, that’s a nice watch.” Nick Smith smiled uncertainly up at the man towering over him as he sat at the conference table. Sneaking a look at the other members of upper management he found no help or support. With the exception of Lilani Gometchikov, sitting to his right, all other division heads were suddenly engrossed in something on their laptops.
“Give it to me.”
His arm still in the grasp of the owner of the company, Nick smiled and said, “Really? This watch? It’s an heirloom. It was my grandfathers.” Resentment edged each impersonal pronoun, his smile began to flatten and stretch as he fought the growing anger.
“What is it you want Mr. Smith. That watch or …a future with the company?” Cyrus’s voice had a tone of casual curiosity. Like a tourist in a curio shop holding up an item that was odd but frivolous. The top floor conference room was pin-drop quiet.
A laugh tried to escape the young man’s lips, slipped and fell to its death. No one in the room volunteered first aid or resuscitation.
“Quick, make your decision and make me happy with it.”
The young man pushed back from his place at the table, stood up, pulled at the lapels of his new Brooks Brothers suit. Unclasping his watch he held it in his open palm and said with enthusiasm. “Cyrus! How did I manage to miss your birthday?! Let me make it up to you. Please accept this as my gift to you.”
Without looking at anyone other than the man he just handed his most treasured possess to, Nick Smith sat down. Lilani’s eyes widen slightly as she heard him singing to himself, yet she could hear the words from an old song, “I’m-a make a deal with the bad wolf So the bad wolf don’t bite no more…” Her mouth, loosened by surprise, formed an ‘O’ but was deprived of breath and become a silent movie emoticon. On Nick’s opposite side, blocked by the CEO, his friend Sean Kristopek repressed a smirk.
Silence grew until it seemed the glass walls overlooking Miami’s financial district were taking on a slight but definite concave shape. Cyrus moved towards the head of the table, he ran his hand along the backs of the very, very expensive chairs and when he reach his own chair said, “Ladies and Gentleman, let me be the first to announce the latest promotion among the ranks of management of the Bernabau Company. Formally the head of our M&A Division, Mister Smith here is now in charge of a new division, Special Operations. Mister Smith? I am impressed and pleased.”
Turning and facing the interior wall of the room, somewhere far enough from the windows to be nothing more than shadows, Cyrus shouted, “Genevieve! How much are we paying Mr. Smith here?”
Her voice dropped from the speakers hidden throughout the conference room, “$150,000.00 per annum. Mr. St. Loreto.”
“Make that 200 and get him a new office and staff.”
Cyrus looked around the table, the stunned expressions ranged from disbelief to outright envy. “I know what I told all of you when you started here. The path to success starts almost anywhere. The thing is, you must have the presence of mind and the will to step up and start walking.”
“OK enough with the fun of owning a company. Who’s next with their monthly report?
Cyrus had plans for the young man he just promoted to the head of a Division that he had only just decided to create.
“I’m sorry Sister. Your brother passed away last night.” The young doctor, on the verge of tears, reached up and touched one end of the stethoscope draped around her neck. The glistening of her eyes faded as she remembered the price of learning to save lives, which all too often was to bring the news of a lost life to a friend or family member.
I stood still. I looked at the girl, really just a girl. My vision seemed to be over-focused yet not in a tunneling kind of way. I saw her face and not her nameplate or white doctors coat. She could have been someone from school or the convent. Her hair was pulled back and clipped too tightly, as if impatient with the demands of fashion. Her eyes were brown and had the extra shine of approaching tears.
I nodded, reached out and touched her arm, to comfort her. I saw her draw strength from the stethoscope, a symbol as much an instrument. My hand felt her arm start to recede. I held on more tightly. She looked surprised. I felt a flush rise from my body, embarrassed by my need for a physical touch, the nurturer in need. We stood together outside my brother’s hospital room. As long as this young woman needed my help I didn’t have to move. Or turn around. Or walk to the bed that held the brother that I used to have.