Friday, April 18, 2014

A Night at the Theater – Part Two

I consider sending my boss out to get help while I make my escape. Unfortunately, my disappearance would only fix a memory of me in his mind. I look at my partially ruined jacket, 100 percent virgin wool, still salvageable if I get it to my cleaner on time. I sigh and close my eyes as I place it on the floor and use it as a shield to shimmy my way back under the stall’s door, virgin no longer. My boss stares at the jacket as I walk past him.

“Aren’t you going to pick it up?” he asks.


“That jacket still has value, are you going to let that go to waste? I can give you the name of my dry cleaner.”

I can give you the name of my janitorial service, I want to say. I should be thankful he’s distracted, but I want to throttle him. When a board member’s shoes stick to his theatre’s bathroom floor, he should have better things to do than lecture someone on dry cleaning costs. He’s always missing the dollars floating above his head while scrambling for pennies on the floor.

“It was fifteen bucks on clearance,” I lie. “Don’t worry about it.”

In the lobby, Clarice asks after my health, and makes the appropriate sounds as I tell her I am fine. My boss laughs and makes a joke about my jacket being a casualty of the night, which Clarice and I smile at. I attempt to extract myself for the night, but Clarice insists that I stay.

“You promised the man martinis, Checkers, and I must say I’m in the mood for one too,” she says.


So here I am, in a bar, a glass of clear, noxious liquid before me. I hate martinis, but I take a sip anyway. My boss has taken us to Croons, which is one of the worst places for someone like myself to remain anonymous. I take a chair with my back to the room, hoping that no one will recognize me. I hear the laughter from the CEOs of at least four Wall Street brokerage firms sitting in a back room. They break down and critique Tiger's swing though there's not a scratch golfer among them. A NASDAQ board member holds hands with her husband in a secluded corner. I sent them an anniversary card last month, looks like they’ll stay together at least another year.

“How is it treating you?” my boss asks too loudly. He doesn’t even realize the people in this room can tell he’s new money; a tourist in their world, really.

“It's strong,” I say.

“It's an acquired taste,” says Clarice. “But soon, you'll appreciate it.”

I smile as best I can, and wonder if I can down the drink and walk out under my own power before I'm discovered. My stomach is NOT happy with me.

"So Checkers tells me you're in finance”, Clarice says.

The other John is in finance; I'm in accounting which is not the same thing. Do I lie to her?

Instead I say, “Checkers? That's an interesting name. At the office it's Mister Pierquot.”

“She's got the benefit of having paid for the marriage license,” my boss says.

She smiles at him over her glass. "May I tell him I dear?"

"Strictest confidence, okay, John?" He says with mock seriousness that still seems to hold a menacing undercurrent.

"I can keep a secret," I say.

Clarice waves a hand as if to fan any all her husband's machismo. "He's so gruff, but he's a big puppy," she says. "What you may not know is that your manager here was once one of the top-ranked chess players in the world."

"Junior national level," my boss says, "long before I could drive or chase debutants from the Cape.”

Clarice hides a smile as she takes a large gulp of martini. “He could have been a grandmaster, but one day he saw a movie about Bobby Fischer and Kasparov. His coach idolized their total devotion to the game."

My boss takes Clarice's hand and breaks in." And I told him that I'd be happier playing checkers than live like them. Quit the team right then and there," he says with a nod.

"And now you," Clarice says. "Tell us something about you."

I've prepared for this question, ready with a bland anecdote about fourth grade, Tommy Smith, and milk coming out my nose at lunch. A story everyone has in one form or another and therefore not that interesting. I tell myself to relax and begin when I feel a hand on my shoulder.

"Teddy? It is you! Jacklyn insisted you were someone else, but I'd know you anywhere." He grimaces as he sees my drink. "When did you become a martini man?"

If my boss and Clarice are surprised, they hide it well. I shake my head. "Just trying one out on the recommendation of my friends here, William," I say.

William shrugs, not bothering to acknowledge my boss or his wife. I hope they don’t take it personally, William’s just always been something of an ass. It's their shoes. Anyone can buy Chanel or Armani, but shoes will tell out every time.

William half-closes his eyes and puts on the smile he uses when he thinks he’s being clever. "I have the boat next week, and plan on taking a trip to the Caymans. Any chance you'd be game? I could use a mainsheet trimmer that knows the local water." Which was William's way of asking for a drinking buddy who could read the GPS on a yacht that could sail itself.

"Sorry, William," I say, "I've got some things to tie up around here for a few weeks, but maybe next time?"

"No problem, amigo," he says. "I know how you like to do your due diligence with your investing. Do you have any tips for me?"

Meaning the trip. "Gas is six bucks a gallon in the Caymans, and it's seven dollars for a jar of peanut butter."

"Is that a lot?" he says.

"Just bring a bit more cash along or plan on stopping at the bank a lot."

"Right. Thanks, Teddy."

Mister Pierquot and Clarice stare at me. I shrug apologetically.

"That was Robert Swenson's son, wasn't it?" Checkers asks.

"We went to prep school together." And roomed at Yale, but no need to rub that in his face.

"He called you Teddy."

"My real name. I have a confession, Mister Pierquot, and it's that I know how far the company is leveraged, and how much money it's hemorrhaging."

"That's not public knowledge," he says.

"No, but I was part of the foursome with your company’s president and the guy in charge of approving your business loans. No matter how many drinks your president bought back at the clubhouse, I could tell his company's credit line wouldn't be extended."

"So how did you end upon my finance team?"

"Accounting, actually. I knew it would only be a matter of time before the company would look for an investor or an outright buyer. There was an opening in accounting, so I applied. "

"And saw everything about the company from the inside," Clarice said.

I raised my glass in salute and sipped, wincing at the pine-tar aftertaste. “I know most of senior management, but I didn't know how well the company was put together, how the gears moved, so to speak."

"And?" Pierquot said.

"I'm not buying the company. Not because of anything you did, Mister Pierquot, but because I don't think there's hope."

Checkers' face flushed. "So what now, I'm going to lose my job? Nobody's shown interest in us, from what I heard."

"Someone might, and the company may limp along for a few more years, or change and become profitable, but I'd bet against it."

Clarice's lips were white, hovering at the rim of her glass.

"Look," I say, "You have good people under you, but the company isn’t using them effectively. I would bet the first round of layoffs hits the entire department. Put that grandmaster's brain to work and find them a landing spot. Except for Maloney. He's a total tool."

Checkers stares at me for a long minute, jaw clenching and relaxing. Then he nods, decision made.

"Does this mean you'll be skipping my team meeting tomorrow?"

"That's safe bet."

"Maloney is the VP's nephew, and huffed a lot of glue in high school. Got any leads on someone who's looking to absorb a team my size?"

It occurs to me that William has always fancied himself a venture capitalist. For all his failings, Checkers isn’t a bad manager. I wouldn’t put him in a corner office, but I’d trust him to keep his teams on task. If I can get William interested, then we’d just need to find someone with a worthwhile idea.

"I'll have some options for you by next week."

Looks like I'll be in the Caymans next week after all. But I’m bringing my own peanut butter.

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