Monday, September 20, 2021

Dragons - Chapter 71 (DRAFT)

In order to meet with Gerald, I had to cancel my lunch date with Bethany.

“Hey,” I said into the phone after calling her extension. “Can we take a raincheck on lunch today?”

“Sure, I guess,” she said. “Is something up?”

“Not sure, yet.”

Gerald and I didn’t go to the basement. There was a little bistro down the street that Gerald thought would be much more appropriate to our needs. It was part of a strange urban bed and breakfast and had only six or seven tables, none of them large enough for even the two people that were expected to sit at each. It had a French theme and was completely overgrown with houseplants, any one of which clearly received more water than any of the paying guests.

Getting settled, reviewing the menu, hearing the specials, placing our orders, waiting for the food to arrive -- through it all Gerald kept the conversation light and friendly. Had Jenny and I ever spent a night at this bed and breakfast? He had once, with his wife, before his divorce, and it was nice, a kind of get away. They felt like tourists in their home city, going to the art museum, having dinner at one of those ritzy places overlooking the lake, taking breakfast in bed the following morning. It was almost like a second honeymoon, but God knows it wasn’t enough to save the marriage. He and Kate probably shouldn’t have tied the knot in the first place, but at least there were no children to worry about. They still saw each other from time to time, that was the funny part, usually for a play or a concert or something they could both agree on. But never a movie. God no, he and Kate had completely opposite tastes when it came to movies.

It was more information than I wanted to know, but I smiled and nodded politely, wondering only when he was going to shift to what we had come here to discuss. Eventually, the waitress returned with two oversized plates, one in each hand, and placed them down in front of each of us -- mine a few pillowy ravioli looking abandoned in their cream sauce; Gerald’s a towering pile of salad with more Bibb lettuce than anything else. 

“Can I get you gentlemen anything else?” the waitress asked us. She was older than my mother, with her hair dyed blue and enormous discs in her earlobes.

“No, thank you,” Gerald said for both of us.

She disappeared and Gerald and I sat staring at each other.

“Dig in,” Gerald told me, picking up his fork and knife and beginning to shred his lettuce into a thousand smaller pieces.

I had the first ravioli in my mouth, cradling it on my tongue, while sucking in some air in an attempt to cool it down, when Gerald shifted gears.

“I have a message for you.”

I grabbed my water and poured some into my mouth. “You do?” I said, when enough had been cleared to allow me to speak.

“Yes. From Paul Webster. I called him this morning, and told him we were having lunch today.”

Having lunch today. Three innocent words. People had lunch all the time, didn’t they? Every day, as a matter of fact.

“And?” I said around an ice cube.

“He wants you to give him a call this afternoon.”

“He does?”

“He does. I’m going to give you all the particulars, and hopefully that'll be enough for you, but he wants to encourage you directly. Wants you to know that he is fully on board with this, and that he’ll make sure you’re taken care of.”

“Taken care of?” I asked, suspiciously. “What does that mean?”

So Gerald began to tell me. He told me we would each resign in the coming weeks, him first, and then me a few weeks later. Not so close together that it would raise any suspicion. He had already filed the incorporation papers and he already had his business ID, so for all legal intents and purposes, his new firm, Kreiger and Associates, was already alive and kicking, albeit it wouldn’t have any clients or cash flow until Paul severed Mary’s contract and pivoted to us. It might take a month or two before either one of us would start getting paid, but when it started, Gerald had already negotiated a package that represented a big bump for the both of us. Mine would be thirty percent more than I was currently making. What did I think of that?

What did I think of that? I wanted to know how he knew what I was currently making, that’s what I thought of that.

“Paul told me,” Gerald said simply, as if the subject of my salary was a common topic of discussion between the two of them.

That rubbed me the wrong way. Paul was a Board member, so he had access to the organization’s finances, but he wasn’t supposed to know what individual staff people were being paid. From the client’s point of view, they paid a flat fee to Mary’s company for all the services we provided, and how Mary decided to carve that up among the rest of us was her business. But Board members were notoriously nosy about those kinds of things, especially with what they often erroneously thought to be highly compensated staff, and it wasn’t unusual for such numbers to get passed around on the backs of envelopes.

“What’s your bump going to be?” I asked.

Gerald smiled. “Bigger than yours,” he said unapologetically. “But it’s my company. You’ll be working for me.”

He said those words like they were the most attractive part of the offer he was making, but that’s not how I heard them. In fact, the thought of reporting to Gerald Kreiger almost made me choke on my pasta. I tried to hide my reaction by coughing into my fist.

Gerald went on. He talked about how the company would be structured, and who we would lure out of Mary’s company in order to fill many of the positions. He talked about how he would be the lead on the client and how I would serve as his deputy, but how different that would be compared to the box Mary had painted me in. He would initially focus on the transition and the turnaround -- he was good at that kind of thing -- but once the client organization was up and running on all cylinders, he would turn its operation over to me so that he could focus on new client acquisition. That’s the only way to grow in this business, he assured me, gobbling up as many clients as you can and staffing them as thinly as possible. Once he pivoted in that direction, the day-to-day would be all mine, and I could start doing all the things Mary would never let me do now.

I’ll be honest. The more he talked the less appealing the offer became to me. I’ve told you about Gerald. He was a pompous ass, and that side of him was on full display as he laid out all of his half-baked plans. There were a thousand holes in what he was planning, some of them big enough to drive a monster truck through, and every time I pointed one of them out to him he dismissed it with a wave of class-ringed hand. 

“Oh, we’ll figure that out,” he would say, his confidence in his use of the word “we” indicative of his delusion that he was effectively selling me. “We can’t write everything in advance. But we’ll tackle that, better than Mary would ever dream of.”

His animosity against Mary was also on full display. He hated her -- even more than I did, it seemed. She was small-minded and in-over-her-head and an idiot. Sure, I could go along with those ideas, but with Gerald the anger seemed to go deeper than that. It wasn’t just that she was a clown, somehow she was a clown that was making her audience laugh at Gerald’s expense. As if her incompetence was somehow a direct threat to Gerald’s competence, that by working under her he was admitting that he was as much of a fraud as she was.

“She won’t know what hit her,” he said more than once during that lunch conversation, a devilish twinkle always coming into his eye. “When I take her client away from her, she just won’t know what hit her.”

And that seemed to be the only thing Gerald was really clear about. Everything else was fuzzy, something to be worked out later, after we had both quit our jobs and sat waiting for Paul Webster to make his move. By the time we were done with our meals I had more or less decided that I wasn’t going to follow Gerald on his mad quest, even regardless of what Paul Webster had to say, should I ever even call him. Calling him, I knew, would make me complicit in this conspiracy, and that wasn’t something I was willing to do. If I was going to turn State’s witness on Gerald, I would need to keep my nose clean.

“So, what do you think?” Gerald asked me near the end, most of the tiny bits of lettuce cleaned off his plate and only one stuck in his teeth. 

“I’ll need to think about it,” I said casually. “Talk to my wife.”

“Of course,” Gerald said easily. “Take a day. Or even two. And give Paul Webster a call. If you’ve got any doubts, he’ll remove them. The future is going to be so much brighter. For both of us.”

“You gentleman need anything else?” It was our blue-haired waitress.

“We’re good,” Gerald said confidently. “Just the check, please.”

+ + +

“Dragons” is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. For more information, go here.

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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