Mr. Ashcroft Will See You Now
“Your newspaper, Mr. Ashcroft.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Bridges.”
The middle-aged, plump housekeeper nodded in acknowledgment and picked up the remnants of his breakfast from the dining table. “You’re on page six.”
“Is that right?” His hazel eyes lit up with amusement. “I wonder what they could possibly be writing about me now.”
“Seems to be documenting your summer vacation, sir.”
He opened the paper.
“𝐌𝐫. 𝐀𝐬𝐡𝐜𝐫𝐨𝐟𝐭 𝐖𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝐒𝐞𝐞 𝐘𝐨𝐮 𝐍𝐨𝐰” the headline read, accompanied by a photo of him wading in the surf wearing only his board shorts and a pair of sunglasses.
“𝙲𝚑𝚒𝚌𝚊𝚐𝚘-𝙱𝚊𝚜𝚎𝚍 𝙲𝙴𝙾 𝚘𝚏 𝙰𝚜𝚑𝚌𝚛𝚘𝚏𝚝 𝙸𝚗𝚍𝚞𝚜𝚝𝚛𝚒𝚎𝚜 𝚂𝚑𝚘𝚠𝚜 𝙾𝚏𝚏 𝙰𝚋𝚜 𝚊𝚗𝚍 𝙸𝚗𝚔 𝚆𝚑𝚒𝚕𝚎 𝚅𝚊𝚌𝚊𝚝𝚒𝚘𝚗𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚒𝚗 𝙱𝚊𝚛𝚋𝚊𝚍𝚘𝚜” read the caption.
“Who comes up with this nonsense?” he muttered, sipping his coffee and turning the page.
“Not a bad picture, though,” Mrs. Bridges said. “Nice to see you enjoying yourself.”
“Hm. Wish they’d feature the charity as much,” Mr. Ashcroft replied, flipping to the business section.
“I suspect they’re tired of covering your business deals,” Mrs. Bridges said, amusement in her voice as she took the dishes out of the room.
He snorted, skimming the headlines.
“𝐀𝐬𝐡𝐜𝐫𝐨𝐟𝐭 𝐈𝐧𝐝𝐮𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐚 𝐓𝐨𝐩 𝐒&𝐏 𝟓𝟎𝟎 𝐂𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐀𝐟𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐑𝐞𝐜𝐨𝐫𝐝-𝐁𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐑𝐞𝐚𝐥 𝐄𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐃𝐞𝐚𝐥”
“𝐒𝐚𝐲 ‘𝐇𝐞𝐲 𝐒𝐢𝐫𝐢’ 𝐭𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐂𝐨𝐦𝐩𝐚𝐧𝐲 𝐏𝐫𝐞𝐩𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐨 𝐔𝐩𝐞𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐀𝐈 𝐈𝐧𝐝𝐮𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐲”
“𝐂𝐚𝐫𝐭𝐞𝐫 & 𝐅𝐫𝐚𝐧𝐤𝐥𝐢𝐧 𝐄𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐳𝐳𝐥𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐒𝐜𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐚𝐥 𝐔𝐧𝐜𝐨𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐞𝐝 𝐀𝐟𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐒𝐞𝐧𝐢𝐨𝐫 𝐏𝐚𝐫𝐭𝐧𝐞𝐫 𝐃𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐇𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐭 𝐀𝐭𝐭𝐚𝐜𝐤”
“𝐌𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐠𝐚𝐠𝐞 𝐑𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐬 𝐋𝐨𝐨𝐤 𝐭𝐨 𝐑𝐢𝐬𝐞 𝐀𝐠𝐚𝐢𝐧 𝐀𝐬 𝐄𝐦𝐩𝐥𝐨𝐲𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐍𝐮𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐂𝐨𝐦𝐞 𝐁𝐚𝐜𝐤 𝐒𝐭𝐫𝐨𝐧𝐠”
Mr. Ashcroft downed the rest of his coffee. His cell phone rang beside him and he picked it up. “Ashcroft.”
“Hey, Ashcroft! Those stock numbers, am I right?”
“Hey, Don. Yeah, it was a good start,” Ashcroft replied, holding the phone with his shoulder as he fastened a Cartier watch around his wrist. “Here’s hoping it holds.”
“Well, everything’s volatile right now. Chances are we’ll drop before the end of the day. But I swear man, I have never known anybody who can turn a deal in his favor like you.”
Ashcroft snorted. “Tell that to Mr. Soboliev. He was pissed.”
“You’re telling me. I thought he had us on that last phone call.”
“I did, too.”
“Yeah. Well, congrats. Your empire just got a bit bigger.”
“I gotta go. I’m meeting up with the city planner on that new industrial complex.”
“It’s what I pay you for,” he said wryly.
“Yeah, so tell HR I need a raise,” the other man said, laughing.
Mr. Ashcroft hung up the call and shrugged into his suit jacket. By all accounts, it was going to be an interesting day at the office. As he left his penthouse apartment, a dark figure fell in behind him as he waited at the elevator.
“Morning, Hughes,” he said without turning.
“Mr. Ashcroft,” his head of security replied. “Which car would you like to take, sir?”
“The Hypersport, I think. Good day for it.”
“Sir, if I may, I don’t know that there’s ever a good day for driving in Chicago,” Hughes said, sending off a text.
The young CEO snorted as the elevator dinged and the doors opened. The tall, dark-eyed man followed him inside. “Maybe you’re right. But I don’t know, Hughes. Something about today. It’s a good day.” He hit the garage floor button and adjusted his tie.
“I heard about the stock, congrats.”
“I assume you did well?”
“Yes, Mr. Ashcroft, thank you.”
“Seems like the press caught wind of my Barbados trip,” Mr. Ashcroft added.
“Yes sir, Mrs. Bridges informed me this morning.”
“Parasites,” he muttered. “That picture will be all over the internet today.”
“It will die off in a few days.”
“Were you able to put together that dossier I asked for?” Ashcroft asked him as the elevator doors opened to the garage. Hughes had already sent for the car to be brought around.
“Should be on your desk when you get in.”
“Wonderful. Thank you.”
The valet drove up in the Hypersport. Hughes held the door open for him and he slid into the driver’s seat.
“Have a pleasant day, sir.”
“Thank you, Hughes.”
The engine purred under his hands and he pulled out of the underground garage and into traffic. Hughes was right, of course. No such thing as a pleasant drive in Chicago.
The Ashcroft Industries building was impressive, even for the Chicago skyline. The morning sun shone brightly against the tempered glass of the modern building, scattering the rays and drawing attention to its fifty-two-story size. Not nearly the tallest building, but definitely the most striking. An architect’s wet dream, someone told him once.
“Good morning, Mr. Ashcroft,” the front desk assistant chirped at him as he headed for the elevator.
“Morning,” he replied absentmindedly, responding to an email on his phone.
“Mr. Ashcroft,” a businessman greeted him in passing as he walked by.
“Mr. Dawson,” he responded, still typing.
The doors opened on cue and Ashcroft stepped inside, hitting the button for the top floor.
Email finished, he checked his calendar on the way up. Nothing on his afternoon. Good. The last two weeks of back-to-back meetings, some going late into the evening, had worn his patience thin.
“Good morning, Mr. Ashcroft,” his chipper assistant greeted him as the elevator doors opened.
“Miss Lane,” he acknowledged her, motioning for her to follow him as he walked through the office. “Messages?”
“I forwarded them all to you, but mostly it’s just people calling about the stock prices.”
“Mostly?” he turned to face her.
“Well, there’s always press, you know.”
He did know. He settled into his wingback office chair.
“Would you like coffee?” she asked him.
“I had some already, thank you,” he replied. “But if you want to send a runner down to Starbucks, I’ll pay for drinks for the office.”
Her face lit up. “Oh, that’s so nice, thank you!”
“When I win, we all win,” he replied. “Might as well celebrate. I’ll ping accounting and let them know you’ll need the corporate card.”
Miss Lane bobbed once. “Great. Anything else you need?”
Mr. Ashcroft shook his head. “No, I’ll buzz you if there’s anything else. Thank you, Miss Lane.”
Miss Lane, easily still in her early twenties, bobbed again and shut the door behind her.
A morning of people chattering at him wore the CEO down. And he was antsier than usual. He absentmindedly massaged the area over his heart and leaned his head back against his chair, closing his eyes. Keeping a cool demeanor, especially for pointless phone calls like Don’s, was getting harder. He needed to find some time to unwind.
Ashcroft opened his eyes again, searching for the folder Hughes had told him would be there. Sure enough, the seemingly innocuous manilla folder was stacked on top of his regular paperwork and contracts to review. Ignoring those, he crossed one leg over the other and fished the manilla folder off the desk. After sending off a quick message to accounting as promised, he flipped open the folder in his lap and began to read over the summary.