I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, I’m away this week which means Taste of Mel will not be running. The good news is, Habiba Billal is stepping in with a guest post.
Earlier this year she gave us Gabby’s story – a woman struggling to come out from under the yoke of her lousy ex, Seth. She pulled a Mama Rachel style exit and run off with his cousin at their Uncle’s wake and you can find that story here. This is a prequel to that story. If you show her some love she’ll give us a sequel.
I leave you now with a little corporate action and the eye candy on today’s feature photo (sorry gents). Buckle up, it’s a long read.
The meeting had been going for nearly five hours. The board was seated in silence after a heated, but ultimately pointless debate. The Chief of Finance, Erik, was standing at the head of the table, fists placed on top, scowling at the men around him.
“We can’t let this happen, Erik,” Arthur, Head of Advertising, spoke through clenched teeth.
All around, the men were wearing various imitations of Erik’s scowl. They had been trying to find ways out of the financial rut McFarland International was in. The company had been riding a slow decline for the previous three years. They were all borrowed out. The banks wouldn’t listen to them anymore. They could hardly breathe for all the financial obligations they had. With its headquarters located in the heart of the Hebrides, off mainland Scotland, the McFarland Corporation was a worldwide operation with septs and divisions in all seven continents. One of the leading corporations in the construction industries, it was a giant in the game. They’d been operational from the bottom half of the twentieth century, survived the Great Depression and all other depressions since.
“We’re running out of time,” Erik said, looking down at them. “I don’t want to wait until it’s too late.”
“We haven’t looked at all the options,” said the old man sitting directly across from him.
“Then please, enlighten us.” Erik said, his tone acidic. “What else is left?”
“I’ll figure it out,” the old man replied.
“We don’t have that much time!”
“And I’m telling you we won’t do anything definite until I’m good and ready!”
Father and son stared at one another across the table.
“Fine,” Erik said, as he straightened and crossed his arms on his chest. “Two weeks. If you have nothing by then, we’re filing for bankruptcy. Do we have a deal, father?”
On the best of days, one of them did not speak the entire meeting. On the worst of them, furniture was broken. So it was a bit of a surprise when Patrick, face grim, mouth pressed into a hard line, nodded his head in approval. All heads turned to Erik as he reciprocated the gesture and closed the meeting.
Malorie McFarland was standing beside her husband that evening as he went through some documents from work. Leaning over his shoulder, she watched as he discarded bid after bid looking for the perfect bait. His nephew would only consent to negotiate for him if the figure was just right. Being a family business, there was no distinction between the two. She had lived with Patrick McFarland for all thirty seven years she’d been to married him, she knew her husband better than anyone. If there was a solution to the crisis the company was facing he’d find it.
“I just need the right bid,” Patrick said, lifting papers by the handful from the various stacks on his desk.
“You’ll find it honey, don’t fret,” Malorie said, moving to sit across from him. “You know, I can be useful if you let me.”
“You’re my secret weapon. I’ll only use you as an absolute last resort. Not before.” He said, inclining his head at her.
“Fine, I’ll play nice,” she sighed. “Must you always be so civil?” Malorie’s father had been a peer of the realm. The only daughter of the Late Duke of Claymore in England. Although it was all now merely ceremonial, she still held considerable influence.
“Yes” he said.
“I called Gareth like you asked. He should be here in a matter of minutes,” she told him. “He was in Rome for a paleontology conference.”
“He lectures those nowadays doesn’t he?” Patrick asked from beneath the mound of papers.
“Yes, he does. He won’t appreciate you trying to lob him back into the business again. He told you he doesn’t care for it, I recall.”
She looked at him as if he ought to know. Gareth had the adventurous inclinations of his ancestors. He was not easily tamed. As if their blood called to him in his sleep, he spent his days immersed in ancient history.
“I know that, and lower your damn eyebrows, I need his help convincing some people and he’s the best chance I have right now.”
“Whatever you say Patrick.”
Outside, Gareth turned his motorcycle around the dry fountain so it paralleled the house, turned off the ignition and got off. He jogged up the steps to the grand entrance. As he neared the door it was opened by a burly old man, with ash blond hair, a squint.
“Evenin’ master McFarland,” his rasped out accordingly.
“Wotcher Harry,” Gareth smiled down at him. “Hello the house!” He bellowed as he stepped inside.
“Oh Gareth you made it,” Malorie was just coming out of the study to his left. She came forward and raised her face for him to kiss her cheek.
“Hello Aunty,” he said as he complied. “Where’s Uncle?”
“Waiting for you. Through there.” She beckoned towards the study.
Gareth pushed the door open to his uncle’s muttering. His white head was just barely distinguishable from the stack of papers surrounding him.
“Uncle? Uncle Patrick?”
“What? Oh! Gareth! You’re here. Come in. Have a seat. Would you like a drink? No? Alright then. Listen I need your help. The company is in particularly dire straits. Now, I have a list of –”
“Stop right there. I know what you want me to do but let me tell you right now I don’t know if it’ll work Uncle. I don’t want you getting all worked up and then blaming me when this falls through.”
“I understand. But listen, I’ve made a list of five major bids for which we’ve been shortlisted for negotiations, in Dublin, LA, two in Montreal for construction, and the other in Northern France. I know you have a lot of connections in three of those places. I need you to arrange a meeting and be the one to lead the negotiations.”
Gareth knew the members of the committee in charge of evaluation personally, and would be able to convince them of the company’s expertise.
“Why don’t you just ask the twins?” Gareth said. Ted and Tony were his cousins and managed the company’s US division. Tony had discovered the leverage Gareth had in negotiations when he was studying in California. Because he was not beholden to the company, clients and investors took it to mean he didn’t care about the family business and tended to rely on his advice.
“They’re in New York dealing with our investors,” Patrick said. “If I call on them it might raise alarm.”
“What does Erik have to say about this?” Gareth asked. Erik always went blind with rage when the twins called on him to close a bid.
“I haven’t told him what my plan is.”
“Are you planning to?”
“And why not?”
“I don’t need his permission you know,” Patrick said.
“Uncle, I’m just trying to make sure we’ve covered all the bases alright? You have a very bad reputation for fleeing the scene.” Gareth said, glowering at him. He could remember many a time when his Uncle had propositioned him only to turn tail when Erik, his son found him out.
“Look I promise you, I need this to work out. The company depends on it. I’m not going anywhere.”
Gareth merely continued to glower.
“For the love of God stop looking at me like that. I need you to lock down at least two of these bids if the company is going to stand a chance to recover. Erik gave me two weeks.” The lines on the old man’s face were a testimony to just how up the wall he was.
“Fine.” Gareth said. “I’ll work on all the bids then give you the feedback in three days. Give them here, let me see.”
Patrick handed him the various forms of tender. There was a few minutes of silence as Gareth narrowed his eyes at the figures.
“By the looks of it I’d say you’re nearer the mark in Montreal than in the other locations. Your competition in Dublin, LA and France are too close to the finish line. Why don’t I focus on Montreal?”
“You’re sure that’s a good idea? You know I don’t like not having a safety net,” his uncle warned.
“And you know I don’t like it when you question my methods whenever you ask me to do something for you.”
“Alright, damn it! Go to Montreal. And take your aunt with you. She could use the distraction.”
Gareth stood in front of the tender committee looking like wrath.
His considerable height and hard face intimidated the old mean-spirited businessmen who grumbled at having to bow to the young pup.
“Mr. McFarland we must insist on your uncle’s presence before any substantial action is taken. We cannot award the contract in any other event,” said the Head of procurement for Levesque Industries, the procuring entity for Construction in Montreal.
‘My uncle sent me, his nephew, to negotiate this contract on his behalf, Mr. Lapointe,” Gareth intoned.
“These contracts are well over eighty million dollars in materials alone, Mr. McFarland. Forgive me if I’m a bit cautious.”
“I understand your position, Lapointe, and rest assured my uncle will avail himself at the earliest convenience. But seeing as the negotiations could not be postponed today, he found it wise to send me in his stead. I’ll be happy to allay any fears you have.”
“I want to know if he plans to subcontract some of the works, and if so, to whom,” Lapointe’s assistant asked.
“Who’s his supplier for ventilation?”
“What about Fire alarms Systems?”
“I’d like to forward a recommendation for office outfitting.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Gareth cut through, “One at a time please.”
“Well Aunty, the old pirate was right. They caved.”
Gareth was leaning against the mantelpiece, staring into the fire, across the parlor from his aunt. The Montreal home got cold in the evenings. He had a glass of brandy in his left hand and the boot on his right foot propped up on the foot warmer.
“Give yourself some credit, Gareth. Maybe you’re just that scary.” Malorie said, wryly.
Malorie took in the six foot plus gallowglass frame, the shoulder length deep red hair and beard, the strong jaw, the hard angles of his face, fierce dark eyes, and had to purse her lips to keep from smiling.
“I can’t say how thankful I am for your help. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure you’d manage it. I thought we were done for,” Malorie said.
“I wasn’t sure I would either,” he said. Nervous as he’d been, he was able to convince the committee that McFarland was the more economic choice for the bid without letting on how deep in the hole the company was. “Uncle owes me.”
“I should think so. And he should be appropriately appreciative when he finds you closed that deal.”
They both laughed out loud.
Two days later, Erik was on a conference call with the Tokyo division when his Secretary’s head poked through the door. “Sir, your father’s on line one.”
Loosening his tie, he leaned over and pressed the answer button on his telephone. “Hello father.”
“Erik, how’s Dublin?”
“Fair weather. Where are you?”
“Funny you should ask. I’m in Montreal.”
“What’s in Montreal?”
“Really,” Erik said, as he leaned back in his chair and narrowed his eyes at the speaker phone. “What did you do?”
“I got us two contracts worth nearly forty million dollars in profit,” came the smug reply. “Told you I could do it.”
“How?” Erik said, sounding unconvinced.
When there was only silence from his son, Patrick relented. “Fine, I asked Gareth to use his influence. He represented me during the process.”
“What?” Erik’s tone turned to ice.
“I needed him,” his father said with a quiet in his voice. “He was the only one who could do it. I didn’t want to look desperate.”
“You could have called me,” he protested even though he knew he couldn’t have left his post. The fires were too many.
“We both know I couldn’t…”
Erik had been feeling helpless and painfully restless ever since the meeting with his farther. The thought of foreclosing the company so weighed on him he was choking. Though he would never admit it, this was just the kind of action he’d been hoping for.
“When’s the signing?” he asked.
“First thing tomorrow. That’s why I’m here. Do you think you can make it?” his father asked.
“No, not yet. I’ll come on Monday so we can discuss logistics.”
“If you say so.”
“Give my love to mother. I’ll see you then.”
After he hang up, Erik sat there with a faint smile. He hadn’t doubted him, not really. In fact he’d expected a much less diplomatic move from him that included the use of his mother’s ducal title to bully his way back to financial stability.
As the elevator took Patrick up to the twenty sixth floor of Levesque Industries, he couldn’t help but wonder at the blessing that was his nephew. He hadn’t dared hope Gareth would lock it down so quickly. But here they were, about to a sign a contract worth more money than some countries’ GDP. The company was virtually saved. Now if his left arm would just stop alternating between going numb and hurting, he’d be having a time of it.
He stepped out of the elevator in a deep blue pinstripe suit and a black walking stick. His white hair and was combed back from his face and his grey eyes missed nothing. His bushy eyebrows shadowing his cheeks. He was well past six feet and his gait was strong and masculine. As he came to the front desk, the secretary stood up to get the door but was immediately stopped. Patrick opened his own doors.
“Ah, Uncle you made it. The room was starting to get nervous,” Gareth said, straightening from the table.
He was a little over half an hour late. As he looked at the old geezers, it occurred to him what a motely lot they all were. Chaining themselves to their work well past the age where any self-respecting human being should be caught dead in an office setting.
“Alright, let’s get this over with. Unlike many of you I have a life –“
“Like you’re any different, McFarland?”
“It’s true, uncle you aren’t.”
“Just give me the papers,” he grumbled. “Is everything to your satisfaction, gentlemen?”
“As much as it can be,” replied Lapointe.
Patrick bent down to the papers in front of him. The places to be signed were marked with sticky notes that had Xs drawn on them. He took the pen his nephew extended to him and sat down to sign the tightly bound bid.
There were quiet murmurings as he found a rhythm. He’d finally found a way to save the company. By the end of the two projects, the company would get some relief. Thanks to Gareth’s unintended persuasiveness. He finished on the last page and stood up to shake hands with his new clients.
“I have to say, Lapointe, I’m not sure I’m looking forward to doing business with you. You’re a stick in the mud if I’ve ever seen one.” He said, his voice dry.
“I feel much the same way McFarland,” came the reedy reply.
“Then you two should get along famously,” Gareth said with a smile.
Abruptly, pain unlike any Patrick ever known shot up from his chest and vibrated through his whole body until it was all he knew. He felt his legs give way beneath him. His entire left side felt like it had sledgehammers being taken to it. The last thing he heard before his lights went out was the ring from the elevator. Gareth rushed arms closed around his uncle just as his knees buckled. The room erupted in a shout as Patrick fell against him, gripping his left arm.
“Uncle, what’s wrong?” he asked. It was apparent from his labored breath, pale colour and the hold on his left arm that Patrick was having a heart attack. Gareth’s own heart was working overtime and he felt the sweat beading on his temples. He laid him down on the carpet and yelled for someone to call the ambulance even as his shaking hands reached in his pilot jacket for his own phone.
One hour later, Patrick McFarland died on his way to the hospital. His wife reached the hospital the same time his body did.
Gareth stood beside her as the doctor droned on about the funeral arrangements and something about insurance. He heard her silent sniffles through the handkerchief on her face He was the only thing holding her rigid body up.
Two days later, as he stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, not really seeing anything. His face was pale, grim, and his hands were folded into tight fists. There were dark circles around his pitch black eyes and his hair was ragged. He leaned forward toward the mirror, his breathe fogging up the glass. Twenty minutes later, feeling less explosive, he left the room and went to the public dinner downstairs. In the bathroom behind him, glass covered with blood glittered on the floor.
He took the stairs two at a time. At the bottom, Erik was standing with his back to the main door. He had flown straight from Dublin after he’d called, and helped Gareth with all the necessary arrangements. As he walked among the guests, he felt listless. After his fifth glass of champagne, he headed for the exit for some air.
At the front door, stood his cousin Seth, at whose arm was the most exquisite thing he’d ever clapped eyes on. Clothed in a dark blue, mid-thigh dress that accentuated the golden tan of her skin, her face was turned away. Her left arm was looped through Seth’s right one, but he paid her no attention. As she turned in his direction, Gareth saw her smile. A smile that made the corners of his own mouth pull.
She looked around the house, her face lit with innocent excitement. He could see the darkness of her eyes from right across the hall. Her hair was up in a huge bun, strands teasing the temples. Her right leg cocked forward, clad in black high heels that flattered the upward direction of her curves. She practically glowed. She looked delectable.
A little sunshine at last, he thought as he stepped forward to help the lady with her coat.
By Habiba Billal16