Ian put down the phone. “That was strange.” He looked up at David Turner, sitting across from him in his office. “Forgive me, sir, but now I am really wondering about our accounting department.”
“Well, I called to ask about a new car.”
“It’s about time. I surprised that old thing you drive got you to California, let alone is still running.”
“Yeah, well…anyway, I just called because of the sudden increases in my monthly expenses to see how much I could afford to spend.”
“You make a good salary Young Justyn. There shouldn’t be a problem.”
“But the new house, suddenly a child who needs everything. I just don’t want to get caught up in over spending.” Ian explained.
“You’re maybe a little too prudent, but good for you.” Turner leaned forward. “Was there some sort of problem?”
“Well, no…” Ian looked at the phone. “He said buy two, they’re small and then laughed out loud.”
“That is rather odd. I won’t pry into your expenses, but I sign the checks. I know how much you make. You shouldn’t have any problem at all.”
“I just don’t find my accountant’s lack of concern over my expenses to be very comforting, especially when he seems to find it so amusing.”
“Maybe he’s just finds someone making a high end executive salary concerned about a small purchase refreshing.”
“I don’t think buying a car and raising a ten year old are small purchases.” Ian looked at his boss.
“Ian, most of the people in your position call accounting to see if they can afford the second summer home on Maui.”
“Oh.” Ian felt dumb, then looked back up at Turner. “How can they afford that?”
“They can’t, but do it anyway.”
“Maybe I should tell people my Aunt Hil’s old shack is a resort cabin on the Blue Ridge Parkway.”
Turner threw back his head and laughed. “I’ll pay you a million dollars to offer it to Simon Kent for the weekend, but only if you give me a head start so I can see the look on his face when his chauffeur pulls in the driveway.”
“Blue Ridge I could get away with, resort cabin it ain’t.” Ian smiled with the old man.
“Have you decided what you are going to do with it?”
Ian shook his head. “Not yet. It’s been emptied out and closed up. Reese flew down this weekend and is bringing back the contents in a couple of days. Once probate is finished, I’ll figure something out. We’re razing the farm, but I don’t know if I can do that to Aunt Hil’s place. It would also break my heart to think of it just rotting there on the side of the mountain.”
“Take your time. You never know. You may want to go back there sometime.”
“Not for a long while.” Ian said.
“How’s the boy doing?” Turner asked, genuine in his concern.
“Well, I think. We’re still adjusting, and I really hate the cat, but he’s such a smart kid. Tippy is amazed at how smart he is. I’m just amazed. We were concerned that he’d be behind when he started school here in the fall, but according to his test scores he’s way ahead of them.”
“We’re only concerned about his speech patterns. The last thing Ronnie needs is to have the kid’s bully him because he talks like a hillbilly, but he seems to be aware of that and is working really hard to improve.”
“Relax, Young Justyn. He’s like his father.”
Ian couldn’t help but smile. “My only concern is that we were both poor kids, suddenly with access to more money and superficial stuff than we ever dreamed of. I don’t want either of us taking that flow of the almighty dollar for granted. The flow could stop just as easily as it started.” Ian opened a file on his desk. “Anyway, back to the matters at hand. Have you read the file legal sent over?”
“Yes. I think our initial plan is the correct path, don’t you?”
“I agree. All we have to do is figure out the time lines.”
“If we pull the rug before the fall schedule announcement they could leak to the press in retaliation.” The old man mused.
“We’ve managed to keep all of this under wrap so far. Think we can do it another couple of weeks until the big press conference?”
“Maybe we should split the difference and do it after the final fall schedule meeting on Wednesday. Most of it is bound to leak after that anyway and the news wires have already picked up the fact that we stole Pearce Warner from CNN.”
Ian nodded his head. “But if we can wait until after the press conference, they may think they’ve gotten away with it and reveal more than we already know about.”
“Good point.” David tapped his cane on the floor. “Let’s go ahead and start contract negotiations though. Everybody knows Warner is coming aboard. Maybe the negotiations will help you decide what definite directions to take that in, and that really has nothing to do with the other.”
“I’m a little nervous about that. I don’t mind being underhanded with people who deserve it, but I feel bad that most of the morning news show team has been completely left out of the loop.”
“Young Justyn, some are going to like it and some are not. You do your job well, amazingly well for a rookie. I dare say many have been anxiously waiting to see what kind of magic you shower down on them. Just do it and don’t worry about hurting people’s feelings. You aren’t deliberately crushing them, or ruining anyone’s career.”
“Some people will get upset and leave.”
“Tell ‘em not to let the door smack ‘em on the ass on the way out.”
Ian nodded. “Anything else, sir?”
“Just a couple of little things.” Turner leaned back in his chair.
“Have you seen the fall promo campaign Crockett’s people put together?”
That was a question Ian had hoped wouldn’t come up. “Yes.”
“I heart HRT.” Turner scrunched up his already wrinkled face in disgust. “What do you think?”
Ian sighed. “Actually sir, I think it’s awful. I understand what he’s going for, which is exactly what we asked for, something that will catch the eye of a younger market but not insult the older.”
“And I think it reflects most of what comes out of Lance Crockett’s office, exactly what is required, nothing more nothing less. It will deliver exactly what it has before. The older demographic will think it’s non-offensive and mildly amusing. The younger demographic will find it laughably outdated and ignore us, as always, in droves.”
Turner nodded his head. “If I didn’t own the place, and saw that campaign I’d certainly head over to Fox or CBS. Hell, I’d turn off the TV completely and read a book.”
“Well, we don’t have to accept it.”
“True, but can Crockett’s people come up with something else in so short a time that won’t be even worse, or at most the same thing in a different color?”
“Mr. Turner, do we always have to go exclusively with something designed from in house? Perhaps we could energize that department by letting them know they have competition.”
“That’s what I was thinking. My plan is to let him do his little presentation and then coax the rest of the board to open up the campaign to some outside sources. If they don’t see things my way, I’ll pull rank and do it anyway.”
“You da boss.”
“What about you?”
“You can not tell me that someone on your team hasn’t come up with some idea for a fall campaign.” Turner grinned.
“Actually, we have, but we opted not to go beyond putting a mock trailer together. We were afraid that a few of the more seasoned might perceive it as showboating and get the programs we’ve worked so hard on to be overlooked intentionally.”
“May I see what you came up with?”
“Sure. I’ll have Sean send a dupe up to your office. It’s just a few things we did on a simple Flash program. We were thinking…never mind. It kind of speaks for itself.”
“Would expect no less.”
“The Torkelson Show.” David Turner spit out. “It sucks.”
Ian blinked. “And?”
“I know it. Torkelson knows it and you knew it all along.”
“I don’t do I told you so.”
“Think your team can fix it?”
“I doubt it. The first script is brilliant. The second is cute. By the first commercial break the third becomes Pink Lady and Jeff Meets Supertrain. Then it really gets bad.”
“Don’t put it on the fall schedule. Give his people time to regroup, maybe a different direction or an entirely new concept.”
“Kent’s already run trades. We’ll look like fools.”
“And we won’t airing the most expensive bowel movement in history?”
“Good point, but…”
“Then do this.” Ian’s mind was racing. “Just formally announce a half hour starring Jeff Torkelson. That’s really all that’s in verifiable print. That gives him enough time to completely change the premise and/or title, frees them up creatively and yet adheres to the contract on both ends.”
“Will you meet with Torkelson?”
“Is that a question or an order?”
“Let’s call it the big boss suggesting strongly.”
“Not a problem then.” Ian took a deep breath.
“Simon Kent. I don’t want to sneak around behind his back, and quite frankly I have little desire to stir Tallulah Belle’s bees up.”
“Kent suggested it.”
“Kent and Torkelson hate each other with a passion. Torkelson doesn’t trust Kent and quite frankly I think Kent wants the show to be a big disaster.”
“He’s after the VP spot. Why would he want his own idea to be such a disaster?”
“Think about it. The show is suppose to bring in the young demographic, a demographic he doesn’t think we really need. If it bombs, especially if it’s a big bomb, the board will think twice about going that far beyond our base audience again.”
Ian nibbled on a pencil. “Makes sense, and if he washes his hands of it and turns it over to me he gets two proverbial birds with one stone.”
“It’s sink or swim time, Ian.”
“Okay, I choose swim.”
“Good man, Torkelson’s waiting for your call. Do it today.”
“You got it. Something informal; I’m taking Ronnie to get hamburgers tonight.”
“I’m sure your son can burp a better idea than Kent.”
“I guess we’ll see. Give me a sec.” Ian pressed a button on the intercom. “Blake, get Jeff Torkelson on the phone for me.”
“You got it Boss Man.”
“Not really.” Turner raised an eye. “You trying to get rid of me?”
“Nope. Just wondering when it’s time to end business and call a couple of hookers for us.”
Turner laughed. “Okay, but I get the red head this time.” Turner leaned in. “One more little thing, strictly off the record.”
“Kent’s contract is up in August. He’s deliberately put off contract negotiations, probably thinking if he can wait until after the Fall Season reveal he’ll be negotiating for Tolan’s job.”
“It makes sense.” Ian said. “He’s been here longer than anyone. It would be the natural progression. I think every one pretty much assumes that’s what will happen.”
“The board has already determined, surprisingly without my swinging my weight around. They aren’t going to negotiate. When his people try and set up a meeting, they are going to thank him politely for his years of service and hang up.”
“Oooh.” Ian frowned. “Can I take that month off?”
Ian thought a moment. “Do they know about…?” He asked Turner.
He shook his head. “Not a clue. His track record is just abysmal. The last ten years he’s produced expensive failure after failure, always blaming it on some factor out of his control. The board has just gotten wise. Crockett will probably be out the door as soon as his contract is up as well.”
“Will any of us have a job?” Ian asked.
“All of this is between you and I, but there is going to be a complete restructuring.”
“I won’t even tell the cat.”
Turner smiled. “How’s that working out?”
Ian took a deep breath. “Well, for starters, the vet informed us it’s not a he, but a she. Ronnie’s named her Rodie.”
“Short for ‘The Rodent’. It still follows me around everywhere, and for some reason I can’t get the neighbor’s dog to eat it. It has stopped being on my face staring at me when I wake up in the morning. I think screaming and throwing it against the wall four days in a row finally rang its little Pavlovian bell.”
“Unfortunately, Billy and Sparky…”
“Billy and Sparky?”
“My best friend and his sister, they’ve been closing up Aunt Hil’s house for me. They found the Mama cat and the rest of the litter. The furry demon phoenixes somehow rose from the ashes and survived. For a moment I thought Ronnie would insist we go get them and bring them all home.”
“You changed his mind?”
“Actually, Billy’s daughter is getting one of the kittens. Sparky has taken in the mother, and one of their brother’s is taking one. If we can find a home for one more, Ronnie won’t resort to blackmail.” Ian crossed his fingers and held them up. “Pray for me.”
Turner shook his head. “Young Justyn, fatherhood suits you so. You want to be a hero?”
“Only if I don’t have to wear blue tights, at least not until I tone up my thighs a little more.”
“I’ll take it.”
“You?” Ian was surprised. “You like cats?”
“Don’t know, never had one, but I’ve been thinking about it. They’re pretty independent and I thought it might be the perfect pet for an old man.” David Turner used his cane to stand. “Be nice to have something besides a hot water bottle to come home to. Haven’t had that since way before you were born.”
“If you’re sure.”
“Make it happen.” Turner tapped his cane on the floor.
“Okay, but if you change your mind. I don’t want it back, and however you dispose of it will just be between us.”
“I’ll make sure it’s something satisfyingly grisly.”
“God bless you.”
“Well, I will get out of your hair.”
“Never a problem, Mr. Turner.”
They both stood. Turner moved toward the office door.
“Oh, Mr. Turner. One more thing.”
“Saturday, I’m throwing a very casual party at my house for the team. They don’t know it yet. It’s my surprise for them, a thanks for all the hard work sort of thing.”
“That’s sounds like a great idea. You need HRT to fund it?”
“No.” Ian smiled. “Nothing like that. I realize that my home…well you know where I live.”
Turner nodded his head and looked at the floor.
“If you would, Ronnie and I would both like you to come.”
The old man smiled. “I appreciate that, Young Justyn. I have to admit…let me think about it.”
Ian’s intercom buzzed. Blake’s voice rang out. “Jeff Torkelson on line three, Boss Man.”
Ian pressed what he hoped was the right button. “Thank you.”
Turner smiled. “I’ll let you get back to real work. Let me know when the hookers arrive.”
“What?” Blake’s voice said.
“Uhm…I said thank you.”
“No. You put me on speaker phone.” Blake giggled. “The button beside it and pick up the phone before you hit line three or you’ll cut him off.”
“Can we just get some cans and string?”
“Face it, Boss Man, you’re a whiz at everything, except anything electronic. You’re kind of a moron in that department.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Any time.” Blake said. “And some one waiting to see you when you get off the phone.”
“’Kay.” Ian picked up the phone at hit the right button. “Jeff?”
“Ian.” Torkelson’s voice seemed almost relieved.
“I’m still on speaker phone.” Blake said.
“Hold on Jeff.” Ian started to push buttons. “If I cut you off, call back.” He pushed some more buttons.
“Still here.” Blake said.
“Crap.” Ian hissed. “I think I broke it.”
“What else is new?” Blake sighed. “I’ll be right in.”
“Jeff? Are you still there at least?”
“Yeah, having a great time actually.” Ian could swear he was laughing. “Can you tie your own shoes?”
“I don’t know. Mommy buys me velcro tabs.” Ian looked up as Blake came in and went straight for the phone system on Ian’s desk. “So what’s up?”
“Save me.” Jeff said.
“Say three hail Marys and give to the poor.” Blake shoved Ian out of his chair. “Or we could just take a meeting.”
“Can we do the meeting? I’m Jewish.”
“I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to part the Red Sea.”
“But didn’t you do it once before?”
“Just a rumor.” Ian tried to keep out of Blake’s way. “I’m taking my son to that new family hamburger joint tonight for dinner.”
“You got a kid?”
“How’d you get a kid?”
“Uhm…the normal way?”
“He’s got a cat, too!” Blake said. Ian gave him a dirty look and hit a button on the phone just to get even.
“I didn’t know.”
“Long story…anyway, I thought you might join us. Just have a guy night and see what we can figure out.”
“Trying to impress the kid by introducing me, huh?”
“No offense, but he probably has no idea who you are.”
“You just take him out of the box or something?”
“Sort of.” Ian said as Blake snickered. “Long story. I thought tonight we could get together and chat informally before we start being seen in the office and starting rumors. Bring the wife, we’ll make it a family affair.”
“The wife doesn’t do red meat.”
“I’m thinking divorce.”
“Long story.” Jeff said.
“Touche,” Ian vollied back. “Meet us tonight around 7?”
“You got it. You buy the burgers, I’ll buy the beer.”
“I’ll buy the burgers, no beer for my son or me.”
“Afraid you’ll rip off your shirt and start to dance?”
“Afraid I’ll turn blue and end up in the hospital. I’m allergic to hops.”
“Doesn’t bother me. If I want something cold that tastes like that I’ll urinate in a cup and refrigerate it.”
“Can I have beer?”
“Sure, as long as you don’t rip off your shirt and start to dance.”
“My abs are pretty hot.”
“Unless I can scrub my socks on them, I don’t really care.”
“Just put down the phone and step away.” Blake said frustrated. “Don’t touch anything.”
Ian gently put the phone in the cradle, held up both hands and took two steps backward. “I’m sorry.”
“Honestly Ian, you are like that wizard in the ‘Dresden Files’. You come within five feet of anything electronic and it implodes.”
“If it’s any comfort, I’m not real good at Yahtzee either.”
“Go away before I kill you.” Blake pointed toward the door.
“Are you throwing me out of my office?”
“You choose. The door or the balcony.” Blake picked up the whole phone box and started unplugging cords. “Lance Crockett is waiting for you by my desk.”
Ian rolled his eyes. “The balcony, I choose the balcony.”
“Go!” Blake pointed toward the door. “And play nice. I just had the carpet cleaned.”
“You’re no fun at all.” Blake pointed again at the door. “Okay…okay.”
Sure enough, Lance Crockett was tapping his foot, waiting impatiently in the chair beside Blake’s desk. Ian plastered on a smile.
“Lance, what may I do for you? I didn’t think there was another press conference scheduled until next week.”
He stood. “We have more important matters to discuss. Your office. Now.”
“Not unless you want to die a horrible agonizing death. I messed up my phone again, and Blake will kill me with his death ray eyes. I’m positive all innocent bystanders within five feet would get vaporized, too.”
“I’m sure you don’t want to do this so…” Lance looked around at the staff, “…publicly.”
“Unless you want to borrow money, I have no problem discussing anything in front of the team.”
“Fine.” Lance crossed his arms and took a hard stance. “I’m getting tired of having to clean up the messes you are constantly making of the HRT image some of us try very hard to preserve.”
Ian didn’t bother. “What have I done now, Lance? Did I take up more than my share of air in the elevator again?”
“Don’t make light of this. First you run off to bumfuck…”
“Watch your mouth, Crockett.”
“…without telling anyone, managed to create an ecological disaster while you’re there and then I discover you’ve with held important personal information. Now, I’m stuck with how to spin this mess and I don’t appreciate it. This has to stop.”
“You are absolutely right.” Ian crossed his arms and glared. “This has to stop. First and foremost, personal information is personal and none of your business. Secondly I went home for a death in the family, intending to only miss one day of work, and once again none of your business.”
“It is my job to…”
“Lance, your job is to promote HRT, not tragedies that happen in my life, or anything to do with my life period.”
“You seem to forget, that anything personal that becomes public becomes my job. I now have to find a way to counter act the negative publicity your naïve ignorance has pulled this network into.”
“Negative? No one but my staff even knew I had gone to Lost Mountain, and they wouldn’t have known if the neighbor’s gas tank or whatever hadn’t exploded.” It was only a small white lie, but the press didn’t know the whole truth about that incident and Lance Crockett sure as hell didn’t need to know.
“Exactly! And there you were right in the middle of it.”
“Lance, I pulled two people out of a fire! How the hell is that negative publicity?”
“That’s what I’d like to know.” Crockett and Ian turned to see David Turner, red faced and angry.
“Mr. Turner.” Lance smiled sweetly, “Just calm down, sir. I’m taking care of this.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down!” The old man took a step toward Crockett. “This young man saved two people’s lives, moments after burying the woman who practically raised him. And you’re telling him his actions reflect badly on HRT? What kind of idiot are you?”
“Mr. Turner!” Lance was shocked and obviously incensed at the epithet. “I can not tolerate name calling.”
“And I will not tolerate you any longer. You’re fired!”
“Mr. Turner.” Ian said. “I don’t think that is necessary. Obviously there is more behind this than Lance was allowed to finish. Am I not correct?”
Ian looked at Lance. He could see the wheels spinning and the man carefully choosing his words. “Actually, the problem is not the facts you’ve pointed out Mr. Turner, but the fact that Ian did not inform us of the outcome.”
Ian looked at Turner, knowing that the confused look on the man’s face had to be the same one on his. “Okay, Lance. I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“The press has been very kind to you about this matter, Ian.” Lance said. “But what happens when they find out that you haven’t told the whole truth?”
“Still confused Lance.”
“Don’t play innocent, Justyn. You’re the one who refused to do this in private.”
“Other than proving beyond a shadow of a doubt you are pretty much what Mr. Turner said you were, I’m still totally confused.”
“You really want me to spell it out?” Lance smiled wryly.
“Get to the point, Crockett. I for one still haven’t retracted your termination so make it good. Make it damned good.”
“Fine. You’ve used that as an opportunity to bring home a bastard child and pass it off as taking in a poor waif orphaned by the tragedy.”
“You son of a bitch!” Ian exploded.
It seemed everyone in the world stood up and held their breath. Ian balled up his fists, took a deep breath and counted to ten. “If you ever use that word regarding my son again. If you even think it. I’ll kill you.”
“Ian…” David Turner started.
Ian held up his hand. “Crockett wants the truth. Crockett gets the truth.”
He took a step toward Crockett and bored holes with his eyes. “My son’s mother and I were married on her eighteenth birthday. I was working three minimum wage part time jobs. Out of the blue, I got a scholarship to college. We decided she should live with her father so I could get a degree and hopefully give us a decent chance at a future. I enrolled in school for the fall.”
“This is no longer necessary.” Lance said quietly.
“Shut up. I’m talking now.” Ian hissed. “Taylor discovered she was pregnant. She hid it from me until there was no way I could not know. I decided not to go to college and be with the family that I loved and wanted dearly, determined that no matter what, my wife and child would not live the life that I had been raised in. I didn’t know how, but I would make it happen, but she insisted that I go. So off I went, coming to her every weekend I wasn’t working.”
Ian took a breath, eyes still locked with Crockett’s. “Ronnie was born in September, after three days, three days, of labor. Obviously there were complications. We were poor and didn’t have any insurance. The doctor put that baby boy in my arms and told me that unless I had the money to move Taylor immediately to a better hospital the best he could do was try and stop the bleeding.”
“Oh God.” Wella said quietly from the middle of the room.
“I put my baby boy in my wife’s arms and held them both. I held her while she bled to death, because I was too fucking poor to get her better help. I sat there and watched the mother of my newborn child, the woman I loved more than my own life, die because I didn’t have a choice. I suddenly found myself alone, devastated and a teenage single father with no future.”
Ian cocked his head and asked. “What was I supposed to do, Lance? Allow the product of the one thing I truly loved in this world to suffer the same fate I had? I refused to allow my child to grow up the poor poor kid that I was.”
“You gave him away.” Lance broke eye contact and looked at the floor.
“I found I had a choice and made the best one I could for my son. My wife’s sister and her husband and tried for years to have a child and couldn’t. After four miscarriages they told Janie never to try it again. I kissed my wife’s body, and took my new born son and put him in her sister’s arms.”
“Of course.” Lance slipped his hands in his pockets.
“I tried to never look back. I tried. I knew it was the best thing for him, for them, but every step I took my heart tore open. I thought it would get better in time. I only got better at hiding it. That ache never dulls.”
“It was a good decision honey.” Wella came to him and touched his arm. “It worked out for both of you. He had a loving family and you became a success.”
“Don’t you understand?” Ian looked at her. “The more successful I became, the more it hurt. I could have done it. I could have kept my baby. The guilt, the shame…I cut myself off from everybody…everybody else who had ever been a part of my life, because it reminded me of the pain. Even that started to hurt more than I could bear. Do you know how many times I was smiling on the outside while my own heart was cutting itself to shreds on the inside?”
“I’m sorry.” Lance said faintly.
“I went to my Aunt Hilary’s to bury her, knowing full well I’d have to smile and lie with every breath while my own son treated me like a stranger, a son I hadn’t laid eyes on since he was a few minutes old. I had to stand there and act like he didn’t look so much like the woman I held in my arms until she took her last breath while he looked back at me with her eyes and called me mister.”
Ian wiped the tears from his cheeks with both hands. “Then the world really exploded. Suddenly, I have my little boy back. I can hold him in my arms and tell him how much I hate his cat. Turns out, he knew. He knew all along and he calls me ‘Papa’. He calls me ‘Papa’.”
Wella put her head on Ian’s shoulder and pulled him close. “And there’s always a but. The but this time was that two people had to die to reunite my son and I. The two people who raised him, clothed him and loved him when I didn’t think I could. I got my son and he got his natural father, but in order for that to happen his entire world had to go up in flames.”
Ian took a deep breath. “Congratulations, Lance. You got the truth. Hopefully if the subject comes up you now have the facts to deal with it properly and put a positive spin on it. When you figure out how to do that, let me know. I don’t think I ever can.”
He stepped to David Turner, trembling on his cane. “Mr. Turner, obviously there was a misunderstanding. Lance keeps his job.”
The old man nodded as Ian turned to his staff. “I apologize. I hope you all will understand that I am done for the day. I will see you bright and early tomorrow morning.”
“Of course.” They all murmured.
Finally, Ian turned to Crockett. “I hope you got want you needed Lance. Please do us both a favor and stay out of my way and out of my sight for as long as possible. I’m going home to pet my son’s cat now. I like that evil fuzz ball a whole lot better than you.”
Blake put Ian’s backpack on his shoulder and gave him a quick hug. Wella grabbed him and kissed him. Ian kissed her back then headed for the elevator that someone already had waiting for him.
He rode the car in silence to the lobby. Ian walked over to the front desk and signed out without a word. As he headed for the door Simon Kent walked in and smiled.
“Justyn.” He cooed. “Having a bad day, are we?”
Ian stopped. “Kent, if you even as much as take another breath while I’m in this building I will rip your arms off and use your face as a drum set.”
He walked to his car, put the key in the ignition and sobbed uncontrollably. As quickly as the crying started, it stopped. Ian wiped his face, clicked into ‘Papa’ mode and drove home.
“The kid is his.” He said into the phone.
“It’s a lie, has to be.”
“It’s really his kid with a back up story that makes shooting Bambi’s mother look like a Mel Brooks farce. Took me two seconds to verify it.”
“Teflon. The man is made of Teflon.”
“Thankfully our take hadn’t leaked to the press yet.”
“That last thing we need is something else to make Justyn look like a martyr.” He heard the other party stirring on his end. “I’m beginning to think this guy is real.”
“No way and who cares. He’s either smart enough or stupid enough to keep ruining our plans.”
“I still vote for stupid.”
“Fortunately, we’re not the only one’s who want him gone.”
“The fat moron still gunning for him?”
“Subtly, but with a passion. Talk about stupid, his version of subtle is sequins without fur.”
“But he’s playing into our hands.”
“So we just continue the same track?”
He thought a moment. “I get the feeling if we push in the right direction Justyn will crack himself. The kid is definitely his Achilles heel. As long as he doesn’t find the other body, I think we’re clear.”
“Which reminds me, putting the garbage bag over the man’s head was a stroke of genius.”
“You sure no one will make the connection to the porno queen?”
“Won’t even make the papers. Looked like the guy was into some really kinky sex stuff that went wrong.”
“Be careful, with the boy now, there’s a bigger chance someone will catch you keeping tabs on every move.”
“No sweat. I’m a pro.”
“Still nothing we can use?”
“Unless you can figure out a way to make playing guitar in your underwear make the headlines of ‘Midnight Globe’, no. I tell ya, I got a feeling this guy really is squeaky clean.”
“The timing is all wrong, for us anyway. One way or another Ian Justyn is toast.”
“It needs to be soon. He’s getting too close, whether he knows it or not.”
“Just keep watching. We’ll get this done and then make our move before the dust settles. Hell, Justyn may even end up being the key that makes this whole thing work.”
“I still think we need someone in Justyn’s inner circle.”
“We tried that and you blew it.”
“Not my fault he’s straight.”
The wheels turned a moment. “Rare in this town, but may just work in our favor.”
If they weren’t on the phone he could have seen the grin stretch across his face. “Oh yeah. I’ll get back to you.”
He hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair. It squeaked as he put his hands behind his head. “Thank God for idiots.”
All he had to do was put all the characters in one room and let them kill each other. It would be risky, but it would work. While the battle raged he could move in and clean ‘em out while cleaning up the mess, then move out.
He laughed out loud. “I’ll bait and switch the biggest con in history.”
Of course, he had a back up plan, one his partner didn’t know about, and wouldn’t find out about until after he’d dumped his partner’s body. He’d never left a loose end before. He wasn’t about to now.
“By the way, buddy.” He said reaching for and dialing the phone. “I’m about to have someone in that inner circle even dumber than Justyn himself.”
Two short rings and it connected.
“Clare, dear. It’s Bruno.” He said in his voice of insincere concern. “How are you feeling?”
“It’s perfect, brilliant!” The woman on the phone gushed. “Personally, I can’t believe any one from Crockett’s department came up with it.”
“They didn’t.” David Turner told her.
“Ian Justyn?” She asked.
“Ian Justyn.” He confirmed.
“Well, that settles everything in my mind.” She said almost to herself. “I take it you messengered this to everyone?”
“Just the board members. The execs have only seen the Crockett design.”
“I heart HRT.” She said no bothering to hide her disdain. “Ridiculous. My guess is this will be a quick vote at the meeting in the morning.”
“I doubt the whole thing will take more than an hour.”
“Did Tolan balk?”
“No. Once he saw what Young Justyn uncovered, he knew it was inevitable.”
“Justyn’s right, keep it under wraps for a while and see if anyone comes forward to wonder where their paychecks are. Where did that kid come from anyway?”
“God.” Turner confirmed.
“I’m going to have to go to church more often.” She said. “Well, David, I just wanted you to know what I thought a head of time, not that any one with half a brain in their head could think anything else.”
“You’re the last to call and confirm.”
“You were the most negative.” He told her.
“Somehow not surprised. Now if we can just put the schedule together that backs up the campaign.”
“Oh, Jessica…” Turner was confident. “There are some more surprises to come on Wednesday.”
“Good ones for a change?”
“I have to David.” She said this time without disdain. “You’d out vote me anyway, but I am totally on board this time. Things are definitely looking up for the fall.”
“We always say that and end up disappointed.” He reminded her. “Somehow this time, I think we won’t be.”
“Midas has returned in the form of a young naïve country boy.”
“Either that or Justyn has just reminded us all what we’ve been able to do all along.”
“Who cares? Things are back on track. Stand behind the rest of us, David, and let us clean house the way we’ve wanted to for years and things will be just like yesterday.”
“I’m finally with you on this, Jess.”
“Prove it in the morning, David. See you then.”
The line clicked. David put his own phone in the cradle. Turner had his own decisions to make before the board meeting.
He couldn’t get the scene in Justyn’s office out of his mind. It haunted him. It had made him cry. He hadn’t done that in years.
Perhaps it was just time to call an end to it all. He couldn’t take it any more. “Young Justyn needs the truth.” He said quietly.
He needed the truth. It could possibly bring an end to everything, everything they had worked so hard to find. The one thing he had learned after all these years is that the end to the story was never exactly what they had planned on. He wasn’t sure he cared any more.
The old man stood and made his way to the door. He slipped his fedora on, and made his way to the penthouse foyer. Tipping his hat, he told his secretary good night, and rode the elevator to the lobby.
When the elevator doors opened, there they were. Those same three faces, still looking young and still seemingly innocent. Little did the world know how guilty they all were.
He stepped forward and looked at them closely, the image of Ian Justyn and his little boy searing in his mind. He reached out and touched the portrait of her.
“What have we done?” He finally managed to say out loud.
He signed out and waited for the car to pull up front. He allowed himself to be treated like the matriarch he was. The one title he’d actually earned.
The old man sat alone in the back seat of his limo. For the second time in too long a time he cried, silently, all the way home.