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Alan Sackett was a rising star in the business world for eight years and his future was secure if Lamberts did not fire him. He was a young man equipped with an acute business instinct and a portfolio of assets matched only by swelling personal debt. Brian was almost a full lap behind him as he crept up the fifty-ninth floor track overlooking the Los Angeles basin. " I tell you, Bri, I'm in line for the VP sales job. I'm the guy."
Brian kept pace. " A.B., the rumors are all around. I tell ya, it could be any of us or all of us that get axed."
Alan tilted back his head and laughed as he trotted along the view of Santa Monica around the beach rim to Malibu. " No way. You don't can somebody with a twenty percent sales gain, buddy."
" You're lucky Melinda has a secure position with that financial group."
Alan stopped, breathing quickly as his friend caught up. " Brian, you're starting to get under my skin. I'm being promoted and will have an office in Miami running all the East Coast divisions. Eight hundred and fifty Lamberts stores under my thumb." His cell phone, Velcroed to his upper arm, buzzed.
" Melinda. Where are you?"
Her voiced was always analytical. " Still in Denver. The city is having us run a full audit of the Wellfleet Fund. The mayor wants to avoid any pitfalls down the line. After all, we're talking about renovating an entire city block."
" So, I won't be arriving back in the city until Sunday afternoon. That cuts out the Palm Springs junket. Unless you want to head out there early, A.B."
" Take a puddle jumper over Sunday if you can't make it direct. Or limo from LAX."
" I'll leave you an e-mail as to my plans."
The brightening ocean hurt his eyes. " Will do. You can reach me on the third cell phone. Hey, I enjoyed the video conference last night."
" At least we had dinner together, even if it was electronically." Melinda paused as someone shouted in the background. " I'm wanted back in the conference room. Anything on the promotion?"
" Still waiting."
" You upload any announcement by Lamberts into my personal mail."
" You bet. Keep in touch."
" See ya, A.B."
Alan attached the phone into the Velcro slot on his arm and resumed jogging. Brian tightened his lips. " You didn't tell her, did you?"
" Tell her what?"
" A.B., this company has to cut. They've acquired three other major companies in the past two and a half years. There's too much fat."
Alan rolled his eyes and grinned. He rustled his friend's dark hair.
" Doubt is not a pleasant mental state but certainty is a ridiculous one ... Voltaire."
" There he goes with the quotes again."
" Don't worry, Bri, I'll take you with me to Miami." His phone buzzed again and he removed it as he kept jogging. " Let me guess, they canceled the audit?"
An older but clear voice came into his earpiece. " Excuse me?"
" Who the hell is this?" asked Alan, picking up his pace. He gazed across the gray smog layer tapering to the San Gabriel Mountains near San Bernardino.
" Am I speaking with Alan Sackett?"
" Am I on the air? What is this?"
His voice was far away. " Mr. Sackett, my name is Charley McGowen, I'm an attorney representing the estate your late aunt."
" I spent a summer in Barkley twenty-five years ago. Aunt Amanda ..."
" You sound out of breath, is this an inopportune time? "
" No, no ..."
McGowen chuckled and shuffled some papers. " I don't think you understand. This could take a little time to explain."
" Well, my workout ends after the next lap, Mr. McGowen, after which I shower, put together next week's projections for the senior vice president of my company. Then I get in my car and leave town."
" I can see I'll have to call you back."
" Sure. Talk to you later."
" Bye now."
He ended the call, stared at the phone and stopped running. Brian turned and finished the lap as Alan opened the stairwell door. He felt good as his body wound down. He stretched his muscles all the way to the elevator doors and then he pushed the button.
He had not thought about Barkley, Idaho for a long time. When the letter arrived last week, stating his great aunt had died of natural causes, his emotions stirred back to the one summer he spent in Barkley when he was ten years old. Aunt Amanda owned a little red general store with Uncle Ned. Alan smiled as he remembered opening the wood screen door. A metal plated advertisement for Moonbeam Bread crisscrossed the frame. Back then he walked down the dirt lane with Soonie. She had a great smile. He would buy baseball cards, three series ahead of everybody back home in Pasadena. His grin widened as he thought of Soonie's straight bangs and little rabbit teeth. He wondered what ever happened to his friend from that innocent summer.
" Hello! Hello, A.B." Brian swished his open hand in front of Alan's eyes. " Thinking about that blonde in marketing."
" No... Actually, I was a million miles away, Brian. I really was."
" Well, you'd better get your head back here for your presentation to Archer. Get you projections together." Brian's grinding his teeth annoyed Alan. " A.B., I just don't think you realize how precarious it is right now."
* * *
Alan slid the mouse across the pad. The red and blue graphics, broken down in pie wedges as well as bar graphs, appeared on the side monitor. Numbers did not lie. It had stacked up as another great week. Only two stores dipped, but the losses were insignificant. Archer would congratulate him once he read the report. Alan clicked on the printer and sat back in the smooth vinyl chair. He took his cell phone off the table and tapped into Melinda's voice mail.
" Hey ... Figures, last week. Fifty-seven percent. Market share: up half a percentage point for the year ... Total hours worked by yours truly: Eight-one. Hope I made your day."
The printer shook and the colorful charts nudged out the top. One of his secretaries rushed through the open glass door. " Mr. Sackett, there is a revision on the Sacramento south store."
Alan turned from the printer. " Up or down?"
She turned up her rose lips. " Up of course. Shall I include it in the presentation?"
" Loraine, don't sweat the small stuff."
" We may need it."
Alan stood and opened his mouth for a few seconds before he spoke.
" What is this, rumor city here? Listen, we probably will downsize, but that's the way it is. Loraine, they're not going to take off the good tire."
" Sir?" she asked and set two steaming coffee cups on the table.
" We're all doing a good job here. Don't worry." He walked over and tapped her shoulder. " The company will shift some things around, but that's it. Like moving one set of your loans or credit card balances. It's all amounts to prudent paperwork."
Loraine turned down her mouth and looked half convinced.
" Maybe you're right, Mr. Sackett."
I know I'm right. I'll see you when I get done with Archer."
She nodded and scooted around the corner. Alan went back to the printer and collated the pages himself. It would be a short and simple representation just the way Nate Archer liked it. He looked at the graphs again and smiled. Archer might offer him the VP position on the spot.
Alan clamped the corners and slid the report down the long wood table. Then he walked to the window and half closed the blind slats. Archer did not like a bright room. For a moment, he debated if he should have printed the hard copy. A monitor display would impress Archer. He shook his head. All Archer wanted was numbers.
" A.B., I have two minutes." Archer, suit coat off, tightened his red suspenders and set his briefcase on the table. With his sleeves rolled up, his boss was in the middle of some other pressing project. He would look at the numbers, the projections and listen to the assessment; take it all in two minutes.
" Fifty-seven percent?" He raised his brows. " Fits into the overall game plan perfectly, A.B. Good job. Why are we up?"
" Bad weather. Too much rain. Last year everybody was outside having a good time. I have a breakdown on the disk."
Archer shook his bald head. He looked older since he let the sides go gray. " Not necessary. Market share up half a percentage point for the year. That I like and Wal Mart and K Mart won't like it. It has to come out of somebody's pocket and better when it's not mine."
" I second that philosophy." Alan knew even a year ago he would not have said anything after Archer made a statement. But now he had the track record and the confidence."
Archer tossed the report on the table and searched his briefcase.
" Excuse me one moment."
Alan nodded and slid the multi-line phone across the table as Archer headed back outside. He took a huge warm swig of coffee and punched in his codes. Sitting back in his chair with his eyes closed, he placed his fingers over the memorized buttons, and jettisoned the unimportant calls or transferred the messages into a file for future reference. The next message was received only a few minutes before.
" Mr. Sackett, this is Attorney Charles McGowen. I spoke with you on your cell phone."
Alan flipped open his eyes. " How'd he get my numbers?"
" I would at your convenience like to discuss disposition of your aunt's estate. I know you're an important person down there in L.A. and this estate is not what you would call lucrative. I just need to close it off my books. Give me a call."
Alan jotted down a home and office number up in Barkley, Idaho into his notebook. The office door opened and Archer carried a thin pierce of green paper.
Alan ended his voice mail session and closed his notebook. " No problem, Nate."
" Yes, Mr. Archer," she called, en route to his office
" No calls for the next seven minutes."
" Yes, sir."
Alan smiled. The skies above LAX buzzed with aircraft and knew he would be airborne within an hour and a half. He thought about attending a couple of night club shows in Palm Springs even though Melinda would not arrive until Sunday afternoon.
" I think we can easily bring a few of these guys up to snuff. The numbers look good, but I want to see things in the field. Then I can give you a better read."
Archer gripped the green paper and tightened his bulldog face.
" You won't be going out in the field, A.B."
" Okay. Change in plans?"
" Yes, there are changes I am forced by Mr. Lambert to implement."
Archer placed his hands on the table edge and squinted. " Alan, your position has been eliminated."
Alan formed a perplexed smile and assumed an identical stance as Archer at the far end of the long table. " So, are you sliding me up, down, around?"
" Well, it is a complicated situation. As you know, Lamberts has absorbed three major companies over the past five quarters. In a nutshell, we have grown too fast. In order to remain viable, we have to minimize our expenditures and extend our profits."
" We will take care of you, A.B."
Alan now understood he was being phased out of the company and not shuffled around within it. His stomach fluttered. " What do you mean?"
" The severance package is standard."
" What? I had a twenty percent increase."
Archer checked his watch and lifted his coffee cup to his lips.
" Yes, you've done a great job. It's just that as a company we need to be in another position. It has nothing to do with you."
" It has everything to do with me. You're firing me, Mr. Archer!"
" A.B., don't take it personally. It's just a downsizing move. You'll find something out there. I know you."
" Sure. " Alan stood upright, slowly closed and locked his brief-case. Archer was right. He would find something soon, but he remained confused why, if he had done such a good job, he was now fired.
" I'll clear things off the computer and voice mail." Archer stared with his lower teeth jutted out. " Should be completed in about half an hour, A.B. Listen, relax, take some downtime-." Archer released his grip on the table and marched over to Alan. " A reference letter will be prepared and I will of course accept any inquiries from potential employers."
" But why, Mr. Archer?"
" Mechanics of the corporate world, A.B." He raised his brows as he sighed. " Like anything else, you just roll with it."
Alan peered into his crusty blue eyes. " I don't want to roll with it. Has the world gone crazy? Things used to be simple. You did a good job you got promoted. Now you do a good job and you get fired?"
Archer nodded and shook his hand. He checked his watch again as Alan carried his briefcase from the office. Loraine looked up inconspicuously from her desk. She probably did not know he was let go. " What's the matter, A.B.?"
Alan clamped his jaw and continued through her office. He crossed the outer area, filled with young workaholics. At the elevator he smiled. Maybe being fired was not all that bad. He would get some downtime, slide into a new job, and collect the severance. The doors opened and he entered the stuffy car. Loraine stood in her office. Alan did not see Archer. Slowly, the doors closed, ending an eight-year segment of his life.
Copyright c 2000
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