The other partner, Lenora Crabtree, was already at the meeting when Lenny walked into the conference room. She was secretly pleased with the irritated look on his face when he saw his usual chair was occupied.
At meetings of his Executive Committee, Lenny always sat to the right side of the Chief Operating Officer, Willard Kent. Kent, in turn, was expected to sit at the head of the long conference table. Kent usually chaired the meetings. It was set up that way. Since Lenny didn’t deign to attend every confab he left management of the meeting’s agenda to others. But when he did show up, he always sat in a critical position to the right and next to the CAO, so he could make his announcements, propound his vision, and share his witticisms, which, Crabtree from overheard comments he alone appreciated. Lenny’s chair was the furthest from the door and faced in that direction. It insured no one could sneak in late without being seen. The chair was also left unoccupied when he was not in attendance out of respect. Respect for his power in the company not for the man, though Lenny would never think of it that way.
But today the chair was occupied. That was part of the plan. Lenora had arranged the breach in protocol at Nadine King’s suggestion. It was to be the first of a planned series of moves to bring the great Lenny King’s expectations down a few pegs.
The two had met three days earlier at a small out of the way eatery a few miles south of the city limits.
After she had found the place and been seated in a booth toward the back, Lenora in looking around the simple, cheap little diner, surmised Nadine had selected the place because there would little chance could their meeting would be noted by anyone of any significance.
When Nadine walked in she was accompanied by a big, rather rugged looking and handsome man in a very nice suit who was vaguely familiar. After he was introduced she recognized him as the attorney who had bested Lenny’s legal team and won a huge settlement for the little slut who had wormed her way into Lenny’s bed and then made him pay dearly for each and every, favor the tired old satyr had enjoyed.
After seeing that they were all seated, the waiter came out from behind the cash register and took their order. After he left, the conversation stayed general for a few minutes and then the Attorney asked Lenora how much she knew about the Trust that Nadine’s father had set up.
Lenora looked at Nadine. At a nod of Nadine’s head, Lenora went ahead and repeated what she had learned at the meeting. The lawyer smiled indulgently then asked her if she would like to hear more. She looked at Nadine again and Nadine said, “You need to hear this.”
“Well, first let’s talk effective date,” the lawyer said. “I understand Mr. King had stated there was to be transition period, something like six months, during which he would transfer power to others, including you. Supposedly.”
She raised her chin slightly at the use of the qualification “supposedly”. She didn’t like the lawyer’s tone.
“Yes,” she said. “He will remain in charge, but the provisions are to be put in place to take care of all of us and he will work to make sure a sustainable management team was in place.”
“Well, that may be all well and good, but the Trust actually was effective the date it was signed.”
“How do you know this?”
The lawyer didn’t say anything in response.
Lenora continued, “He said he would share the actual provisions only after the six-month period had passed. I don’t see how you would know any different.”
Nadine spoke up.
“Yeah, that’s what he said all right, but I managed to get a copy of the Trust documents and I know for a fact that he is going to test everyone and pull the whole thing back and revise it if he isn’t satisfied with how things are going.”
“Yes,” said the Lawyer. “Until it is filed with the Court and recorded in the county offices, the Trust can be pulled back and the effective date changed as many times as King wants.”
The lawyer paused for a moment before continuing.
“But once it’s filed, then the time limits start for making all the SEC filings, giving notice to shareholders, amending articles of incorporation with the Department of Corporations. All that has to be done in a very short time frame. Ninety days. Once the Trust is filed, the time is running. It’s like a big freight train that has left the station and built up a big head of steam. It can’t be pulled back.”
Lenora sat silent. She looked at Nadine. Nadine said, “I know what you’re thinking. We know my Father’s moods. There is no way of knowing what will set him off and, if nothing has been filed, he could throw the whole thing out and just remain in charge of the company or he could throw anyone of us out of the company and the Trust on a whim. He’s done it before.”
Lenora raised her eyebrows. She agreed with what Lenora was saying, but she was too savvy to express herself out loud when she didn’t really understand the lay of the land, what was being proposed and could the person making the proposal deliver?
Nadine continued. “You know that’s true. And you know that if he goes off halfcocked now how it affects you. He might keep old Willets around as a fishing buddy, but you are nothing to him but a reliable V.P. of finance who he made a partner rather than pay you what you’re worth.”
Lenora’s reply was politic. “My compensation package is adequate. I selected an option from a menu I was offered. My partnership shares are more, much more valuable, in the long run.”
The lawyer now intervened again. “Well, that’s where you may be missing some understanding here. See we,” and seeing Nadine’s expression he held up his hand to silence her and said, “just hold on.” He turned back to Lenora. “I’ve studied the documents. The company has corporate bylaws and the partnership agreements expressly incorporate those bylaws. Actually, pretty standard stuff. They are okay as far as they go, but you are relying on a lot of good faith here. You need to understand that for all that, this is a closely held corporation, and, he, King, at least up until this Trust was executed controlled two thirds of the stock. With that voting bloc, he can replace the board of directors at any time he wants. And in your employment contract, like all the rest King uses for his upper level staff, well, someone, I imagine that Easley character, inserted a special provision in the bylaws that gives the board the option of canceling your contract for the good of the company. And at an entirely other place in the contract, in return for shares instead of compensation, you have actually waived any legal challenges to such a decision by the Board. You get the shares; three months’ severance pay and that’s it.”
Lenora felt cold, a chill at how insecure she had suddenly felt. She had read the contract over before she signed. She had been careful. But she had not thought it necessary to have it reviewed by independent counsel. That had obviously been a mistake. She had fought all her life, a lot of times against men of inferior ability, to get the security and authority she thought she deserved and until that moment thought she had achieved. She thought she had made it. She was rich. She was a partner. She was in charge. It was a shock to be told it was all ephemeral, especially if subject to one of Lenny’s moods which had lately become arrogant in the extreme.
And she also felt the awakening of something she had long suppressed. The feeling was not exactly hatred of Lenny, but resentment at his always treating her as something less than a full partner, never giving her the respect and deference he appeared to give Willets, his stupid old fishing buddy.
She pushed her chair back from the table a little way, crossed her legs, adjusted her skirt and told the lawyer to tell her more. As he began again she reached over picked up her glass and took a sip of the martini that Nadine had ordered for all of them. The order was made without asking her or the lawyer what they wanted. She never drank at lunch, but this martini was welcome, and it tasted good.
After that meeting, they all left the restaurant together and she had walked a short way down the sidewalk with the two. When they got to a Porsche parked on the street, the big man leaned over and buzzed Nadine on the cheek. Lenora noticed how Nadine’s fingertips lingered on his chest when he did so. And then the lawyer hopped in the Porsche and was gone.
Nadine turned to her and said, “Let me walk you to your car.”
When they got to her car, Nadine told her, “Lenora. I know this is a lot to digest, but changes are coming and everyone’s putting off dealing with them. Everyone believes they are at least six months away. Well, the changes are here. They are here and that can be to our advantage if we act.”
Lenora never responded. She just leaned against her sedan and listened.
Nadine said, “Here’s what my lawyer never told you, but which he immediately understood when he studied the paperwork.”
“How did you get all these documents?” Lenora asked. “He keeps those instruments close to his vest. I’m a partner and even I couldn’t access them.”
Nadine just smiled. “I have my ways. But listen, this is the important part for you. The Trust has many interesting little provisions that fat-ass Easley must have snuck in, but the big thing is the control of the shares. That’s where the power is. First, when the Trust is filed, there is a big pay out to my Father stretched over a five-year period. Don’t worry about that right now. That can be whittled down later. But the shares, see, the controlling shares, I know you and a couple of others have some from their compensation packages, but the ones my father owns, are divided, thirty per cent to me, and thirty per cent to Willets. And the remaining forty per cent are divided between my brothers, each getting twenty per cent.”
Lenora was quiet. She felt hurt and discomforted knowing she had been cut out completely while the other partner; the one without any real management chops was given major powers of control. She didn’t want to outwardly appear hurt. A woman didn’t dare show emotion or weakness in a business setting. She also noticed Nadine was studying her to gage her reaction, probably looking for the signs of feminine distress. Well, there would be no tears at this latest betrayal by a man in her life.
“Look,” Nadine said, “I know that’s not right. Things are not going to turn out the way he thought though. And that means you are going to have to make a decision. I’m going to run this company. Me. Just me before it’s over. But I need a strong financial person. You’re it. But I mean it when I say I need a strong one; one who can fight and pick the right side to fight for. The one who is going to win.”
“This is all very dangerous for me,” Lenora said. “I never realized just how dangerous the changes, the changes coming, were until today.”
“Well, that’s the thing. There is risk in everything, but if I promise you something, whatever I promise you, will be in writing, iron clad, guaranteed. You can hire your own lawyer to look it over and I’ll pay for the lawyer. Anyone you choose. You join with me; you will have a real slice of the company profits, more compensation and benefits than you ever dreamed. And some real authority. Or, your other choice, you can choose to stand by the old man and get thrown out with the trash. By me. When I take over, I’ll do it. But at least I’m telling you what I would do. Or you can wait and get thrown out by him. And not a word beforehand. You heard what the lawyer said and you better than most know how foolish and volatile the old fool has become.”
“In writing. Guaranteed.”
“Give me twenty-four hours.”
Lenora had not gone to the office. She called her secretary and told her to cancel her appointments because she had an important matter come up which she had to deal with. Not a lie by any means.
She had gone home, changed out of her work clothes and spent the day by the pool at her condo. She drank iced coffee and thought. The lounges around the pool were empty. It was the middle of a work-day and she could lie about in her bikini without the usual rude horny stares of men.
She thought through all the implications of the offer Nadine had made. The decision was surprisingly easy to come to. She picked up her cell phone and called Nadine. In an hour she was dressed and in her car. She met Nadine back at the same place, this time in the bar on the other side of the restaurant and this time it was Lenora who ordered the round of martinis. That seemed to please Nadine very much.
“Okay”. She said, “I’m in. Now what.”
“This is what. We are going to put a plan to work. Seesaw the old bastard. He’s going to find himself taken down a peg at a time. That big lawyer I introduced you too. He filed a copy of the Trust yesterday. There is a demand by me and one of my brothers to have an immediate shareholders meeting. We can do that with our combined shares. My guy will serve the legal papers on the old fool’s attorney tomorrow. In the meantime, I want you to prepare the staff at the office to make a few changes to how things are done. Get them ready for a transition. Time to get his attention.”
Lenora had nodded her head, impressed by Nadine’s thought process. “You are going to ease him out, aren’t you?” she said. “Make him leave of his own accord. To preserve the stock value. You can’t just suddenly throw him out on the street. Not yet. We have to show stability in the transition. For the Public. Keep everyone’s confidence up. But how are you going to handle the Board? It will be the first place he runs.”
“Let him. We will have control over the shares and, remember the bylaws, we can replace the board if we want. But I’m counting on that not being necessary. They get a handsome stipend for serving. My father saw to that. And they are all businessmen first. They don’t want a public proxy fight that will drive down the value of the company and scare off our trading partners. They’ll avoid that. A couple of them are being approached by, shall we say, third parties right now. Those parties will make is clear that there are definite rewards in store for those who stick with us.”
Nadine had raised her glass then and they had clinked the edges and smiled at each other over the rims of their martini glasses.
That was three days ago, and Lenora was still feeling good about all this.
Lenora watched from the other end of the conference table as Lenny walked over behind Jones, the HR director, the one whom Lenora had specifically picked for this role. He expected Jones to vacate the seat. Jones ignored him. Lenora noted how a red flush started at Lenny’s shirt collar and rose upward. She also noted how Willets still stood at the door and stared, looking confused.
This was going to be fun.
As Dylan emerged from the classroom he was accompanied by a few of his favored students. They were enthusiastically continuing their discussion of Wallace Stevens. That day’s lecture had been about the businessman (and the lawyer) who wrote poems. Maybe that’s why the poet was a particular favorite of Dylan’s.
This was the best part of his day. All the other unpleasantness in his life inevitably receded before the smiles, inquisitiveness and energy of his young students. Academia was a completely other world from the one he shared with his father and siblings.
But not today. Today, he was surprised to see his sister, Nadine, and his brother, Regan, seated on a bench in the Quad watching him. Neither had ever appeared on campus before. His good humor was dampened by a feeling of undefined trepidation.
He excused himself from the group of students. One, Marcy, lingered a moment longer than the others. He caught her eye and slightly shook his head once. It was, he hoped, imperceptible to the other students. She picked up on his signal. She knew it meant this wasn’t the right time to be alone together, even in the middle of a campus. She left in the direction of her classmates. Her look promised they would meet later in private. Off campus. Like before.
He watched them walk away, especially Marcy. She may take a lot of feminism classes in her Women’s studies department, but it didn’t keep her from wearing the latest form fitting “yoga pants.” They made it seem she was naked from the waist down. And the way she moved left little doubt she enjoyed the attention, even if surreptitious, of the men on campus, both students and faculty, and that included Dylan.
He turned and walked toward Nadine and Regan. Nadine was staring after Marcy too. Her radar had picked up on something between her brother and the girl with the pants. Nadine frowned. She didn’t like what her instincts were telling her.
“Hi guys. What are doing here? What brings you to this institution of higher learning? Auditing a class or two?”
They all laughed out loud at that.
“No, Brother,” Nadine said, “We thought you might like to have a little lunch, you know, just the three of us. We have a lot to talk about.”
And, thought Dylan, you don’t want father to know. He had to admit, Nadine was being smart. Meeting him here. There was no way his Father would ever set foot on the campus. He hated everything about the college. And Dylan teaching there.
To test his thesis Dylan said, “Sure, that would be fun, but you wouldn’t prefer to go downtown to the club?”
“No, no,” Nadine smiled, cementing his assessment, “we thought we could catch a bite at the Student U. You can get us in there, can’t you? Would be fun to see all the youngsters around here, you know, at play in their natural habitat.”
“Yeah,” Regan said, with a vulgar little chuckle, “there’s some real animals here, by the looks of their hair and clothes, and some fillies with fine lines too.” He said it with a smile in an obvious, if forced, attempt at good humor. Since it was without his usual sneer, Dylan let it go, though he wondered if his joke included Marcy in referencing the other females on the Quad.
“Okay. Pretty basic stuff at the Student Union. Hamburgers about the best thing they offer.” He looked at Nadine. “No martinis, I’m afraid.”
“I will survive.” Nadine laughed.
She jauntily hooked her arm through his and started guiding him in the direction of the Student Union. He had no idea how she knew the way. Regan lolled behind them. Dylan had no doubt he was continuing his examination of the passing coeds. His brother best watch out and not be too obvious, thought Dylan, some of these young women would have no compunction about lashing into him if his stares are perceived as a disrespectful leer.
At the U, they got in line with a few students and a couple of professors. Dylan introduced the other faculty members to his brother and sister. Nadine and, even Regan, were friendly and graceful. It wasn’t the way they usually acted around his friends.
The three of them ordered their burgers, walked over to the fountain and filled up their cups with soda. It was crowded, but they found a table in the corner. There was a steady, happy din in the cafeteria, which ironically, created a sort of semi-privacy.
Both Nadine and Regan were peppering him with questions about the classes he was teaching, asking about the students and professors, subjects about which they had never, to his memory, indicated the slightest interest.
Dylan was happy. He couldn’t remember the last time the three siblings had set down and talked about stuff he liked. There always seemed to be an undercurrent of rage or hurt or anger. Some of that he knew was generated by their reaction to whatever their father’s latest project happened to be. Nevertheless, Dylan wasn’t going to analyze this day to death. He was just going to try to enjoy it for what it was. Though in the back of his mind, he just couldn’t suppress the thoughts that kept intruding, he knew it wasn’t as simple as it seemed.
Their burgers came. The coed delivering the plates to the table, actually smiled at Regan. He was in a really good mood after that. The three of them laughed and joked half way through the meal. Nadine, around a mouthful of French Fries, said, “Dylan, I don’t know why we haven’t done this more. This is fun.” She smeared a huge amount catsup on three more fries and crammed them in her mouth. He laughed at her.
“Yes, it is. I’ve missed you guys. Everybody always seems so busy.”
Regan added, “Well, we need to change that. Never too late to change.”
Nadine chimed in, “No, it’s not. And we all know changes are coming. With Father. And the company. And you know, I think it will be good for all of us. Give us a chance to change too. We are family. We need to be together more. On lots of things.”
“I would like nothing better,” Dylan said.
‘Well, remember that,” Nadine said. “No matter what you hear others say about us. Just remember today. Us together. We are going to have a lot more of todays. About us. We need to think about each other more and we will.”
He didn’t know what to say. He laughed again when Nadine reached over and swiped a handful of fries off his plate. Then from the other direction Regan did the same thing and Dylan turned to laugh as his brother hurried to stuff a handful in his mouth. In all the merriment he missed Nadine’s intense stare at Marcy who had just entered the other door to the Student union and was waiting in line to place her order.
Willets could tell Lenny was shook up as they left the conference room and made their way back to his office. He hadn’t seen him like this for years, maybe decades. This was a look from long ago, from before they had built their business empire and Lenny had worked himself into absolute control. In the years since, he learned to exercise power and found he was good at it and he got even better as he gained confidence until at some point he left all self-doubt behind, and his confidence came to resemble arrogance.
It was obvious to Willets that Lenny was angry, but there was something else. Right now, in his look, in his posture, there was an absence of that old confidence. It was like a mask had been pulled off. It was like he had that feeling you sometimes get when you suddenly wonder if all you had been doing was just fooling everyone, and now you had been found out.
Willets watched as Lenny crossed the office and poured himself a drink. He didn’t just sip this one. He didn’t exactly throw it back, but he took a healthy quaff, set the glass down, stared at it, then lifted it to his lips again and finished it off.
Lenny tuned around and looked toward the office door like he expected someone to be there. Willets realized he had the same expectation. Where was Denise? She always appeared, iPad in hand, when Lenny returned to the office. She wasn’t there now.
Lenny walked to the door. Willets heard him say, “Who are you?” Willets went to the doorway to see whom Lenny was talking to. There was a diminutive and very young woman seated at Denise’s desk. She replied to the Lenny’s question.
“Where the hell is Denise?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. King. She was told to report to the clerical pool supervisor. I’m taking her place until someone else is assigned.”
Willets could tell Lenny wanted to explode at the little secretary. He held back. He must realize the futility of doing so. Denise being ordered elsewhere was outrage, an insult like he had just undergone in the conference room. But the insult originated with someone else and this little know nothing wouldn’t have the slightest idea what was behind it nor its significance.
Willets stepped over to the secretary’s desk while Lenny struggled to compose himself.
“Miss, uh, Kelly is it? Yes, Kelly. Denise is Mr. King’s personal secretary. Do you know who told her to leave her station and report to the pool supervisor?”
“Oh no. I don’t know that Mr. Willets. I was just told to report here to take her place. I think someone called her.”
“Kelly, who exactly told you to report here?”
“My supervisor. He said it was on orders of one of the Partners.”
“And was she the one that called Denise?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Willets. I think so.”
Willets decided not to waste any more time trying to figure out what led this ignorant young woman to her conclusions. He heard Lenny pick up his phone. He pushed one of the buttons at the bottom of the phone.
“Yes, that’s who I said. Crabtree. What do you mean, she’s unavailable? This is Lenny King, God Dammit! You tell her to get her ass up her this minute! Do you hear me? Or you are fired! Do you understand?” Lenny slammed the phone down before any response could be given.
They looked at each other and shook their heads in wonder.
Lenny said, “What was that all about in the conference room? I want you to fire that bastard, Jones, he knows better than to sit in my chair for God’s sake. I practically had to throw him out of it. I want him fired, you understand?”
“Sure, sure but, Lenny, something else is going on here. This is too much. It’s not just one rogue and rude HR guy. There’s no coincidence here. Let’s see what is going on first.”
As if on signal, the door opened. There had been no knock, no announcement. In strolled Lenora Crabtree. She smiled good-naturedly at Willets, crossed over to the bar, reached in the fridge under the ledge and brought herself out a diet coke. She popped the top. Listened to it fizz. Took a loud sip and then walked over to the couch and took a seat. She held the coke in one hand, her cell phone in the other and as she examined the face of the phone, she said, “What’s this all about Lenny? You yelled at my secretary. That’s not good form. We can get sued for that kind of behavior. You of all people should know all about that.”
Willets watched as Lenny started to speak but had to swallow angry words down a closed throat.
Willets walked over and sat down with Lenora. He thought his best role would be to try to calm the waters.
“Lenora, what’s going on? Did you order Mr. King’s secretary to return to the secretarial pool?”
“Well, she was being wasted in her current post. She is paid a very pretty salary and does little actual productive work so, yes, she was reassigned.”
“You reassigned my secretary?” Lenny was angry. Almost spitting out the words.
Willets tried to intervene once more. “Lenora, you can’t do that. You know that. What could you have been thinking? You don’t have authority over Mr. King’s personal staff.”
“Well, I actually do.”
Lenny lost what little patience he had. “The hell you do! I’m still the boss around here.”
“Well, actually not.”
Lenny lost his voice again. He was choking on his words. Nothing was coming out.
Willets said, “Lenora, please tell me what is going on. This doesn’t make any sense.”
“Maybe, I’m the not the one you should ask. These are all direct orders by the new interim chief, Nadine King.”
Lenny asked incredulously, “Nadine? What? How?”
“You should know, Lenny. You did it all with your fancy legal Trust.”
“The Trust? The Trust isn’t in effect yet. I haven’t really decided when it will be and even then, Nadine isn’t given control of the company.”
‘Well, it seems your daughter has accelerated things a bit. Her lawyers filed the Trust in court. They say you signed it and it has an effective date that’s already passed so it’s in effect. Lenny, your daughter moves fast. Like I’ve heard you did. At least when you were young. I never saw such fast moves. She went out and lined up just enough share votes needed to get the board to appoint her interim head of the organization until things get re-organized. One thing you did do in that Trust is give up enough shares for ceding voting control. Maybe you didn’t want it to happen so soon, but, well, it’s in effect now. So, see, you aren’t actually in charge anymore.”
“Well, you Bitch!” This time it was Willets who had lost his temper.
Lenora raised up her hand. “Just wait a minute. The Trust terms are his.” And she pointed at Lenny. “I’m just doing what the boss, the new boss, is saying to do.”
There was a pause. “That’s all.”
Then Lenora decided to apply the coup de grace. “And by the way, this office is being, uh, well, it won’t be your office anymore after next week. Nadine said to give you an office in case you wanted to visit the headquarters, from your retirement stuff whatever that is, but something this massive needs to be put to better business use. Your new secretary, Kelly, will let you know where your office is to be.”
And with that she got up and power walked out of the room with her happy “business as usual” smile.
Lenny sat down heavily in his chair. Willets grabbed the phone. “Yes, uh, Kelly can you put a call into Mr. King’s daughter. No, I don’t have the extension. It must be on the computer there in front of you. Yes, her name is Nadine. King. Her last name is King, for God’s sake! No, I’m sorry, I didn’t’ mean to yell. Yes, thank you, please buzz us when you get through to her.”
They remained silent for five full minutes. Lenny’s breathing was audible. Then the phone buzzed. Lenny picked it up. He said, “Yes, put her through.” He pushed the button for the loudspeaker. Nadine’s voice came on.
“Hi Dad.” There was a slight giggle. “What’s new with you, Pops?”