Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 25

Randy Flamingo was the scum of the earth. Unfortunately, he was a fucking smart scum of the earth. At least as far as Luke was concerned.

Fucking Flamingo.

Luke walked into the office at what was at least a quarter before seven, yet here was Randy, buttering up Luke’s dad. He was probably telling him to bend over so he could kiss his ass, Luke thought, annoyed just at the sight of his smarmy coworker.

Luke heard Mave walk up behind him and stop to stand next to him. The two peered at Aaron Wallace’s office from where they stood alone. All other offices and the mass of cubicles behind them were empty at the early Monday morning hour.

Their heads peeked out over one of the cubicle walls closest to the massive corner office, looking like they were participating in a game of whack-a-mole. Sure, the spying was pathetic, but Luke needed time to build up his anger.

Luke’s dad was certainly not a dumb man. Aaron Wallace just had a particular and calculated way of doing things – not unlike Grace, he thought, letting his mind dally before snapping his attention back to the task at hand. Luke knew if his dad was listening to Randy blow rainbow hearts up his ass, there had to be a reason.

The two spies watched Randy and Wallace shake hands, right before his dad held his stomach in a belly laugh. The act made Luke grin, but only because watching his dad hold his slightly too big belly as he laughed too hard always made his dad seem like a real person again.

At work, he was “Mr.,” or “sir,” or “Aaron” to those who had been working at the company long enough, or who Aaron respected enough to request it from. Luke’s humor-filled eyes shifted to Randy, and all joy was lost. Disgust came over him. If his eyes could have rolled any farther, they would have been facing the cubes behind him.

“Fucking Flamingo,” Mave muttered.

“Fucking Flamingo,” Luke agreed, echoing his earlier thoughts and Mave’s agreeable words.

Both of the men came out from hiding and began walking down the aisle of cubes, straightening their jackets and suit pants on the way, smoothing any lingering wrinkles. Mave stopped to drop his things off in his office before they continued on.

When they got to the door, his dad told them to come in before Mave even had a chance to knock. The boys filed in and stood at attention, Luke giving Randy a glowering look that he tried to cover with a tight smile.

“How’s it going this morning, gentlemen? Let’s sit down.” Aaron gestured to the chairs that faced his broad Cherrywood desk as he took a seat in his high-backed leather office chair. He greeted his son and Mave nearly the same way every day. He said time and again that ‘gentleman’ was an essential term that allowed one man to greet another with courtesy and consideration.

“Not bad. You both look chummy this morning,” Luke said, gesturing from Randy to Wallace. “Good news?” He tried to mask the irritation in his voice.

Randy spoke before Aaron could muster a methodical thought, blurting, “We are so ready we could begin the Thomas and Jane takeover process tomorrow. There is no way we won’t profit immensely from this, long term. We need to stay the course and not ruffle any feathers. Stay the course.” Randy added for emphasis, each word stated as if it was its own sentence. His hand irritatingly punctuated his words like karate chops.

Randy was a short, round man, who at one point probably didn’t look bad. Somewhere along the line, he had let himself go, and time had not been kind. Time had actually slapped him in the face. A pathetic attempt at a comb-over tried to cover the glistening scalp on top of his head. He always missed shaving a patch of hair just below his nose which must have itched because at least ten times a minute Randy would fervently run his pointer finger back and forth beneath it, often resulting in a sneeze. Not just any sneeze either. An explosion. It usually caused new employees to look up, stunned, from their desks, wondering who was capable of that sound and questioning if they’d possibly get infected. And it left tenured employees just feeling bad for those who were within spitting distance.

Apparently, Randy had thought there was long enough pause. He repeated himself. “Stay the course. We’ve prepped the final numbers for the stock purchase, and we are ready to file the thirty-day acquisition.”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” This was Luke’s opening. “I know we typically don’t deviate from the plan, but Mave – Travis,” he corrected – it was damn hard having your best friend work beside you in business, “is working on forecast reports that currently show a huge benefit to a friendly acquisition, rather than a full wipeout. A wipeout takes time, people, and resources. As in huge dollars. We’ve seen those dollars.”

He had to emphasis the cost. If his dad was anything, he was a penny-pincher and wouldn’t allow for one morsel to go out that didn’t have to. Strategy. It was how his dad became successful. Only spend what you make, but spend big on the biggest returns.

“Let’s see what you’ve found, Travis,” Aaron said, looking Mave’s direction.

Mave sprang to action, “It’s not quite finished yet, but when it is, I think you’ll be impressed.” He was moving to a chalkboard.

A chalkboard. Luke appreciated nostalgia, but a chalkboard? He’d never get over it. Probably because it was sitting right next to an enormous touchscreen TV that was meant to be interactive, display state-of-the-art presentations, and take the world over one meeting at a time. Instead, it played CNN or occasionally The Price is Right. Aaron did have a fun side.

“It’s just not the same with old Bobby gone,” Aaron would say. He and Bob Barker were on a first-name basis. Half the employees were too young to even know Bob Barker was the long-time game-show host.

Mave made it as far as picking up a broken piece of chalk before he was halted by Aaron’s decisive, crisp tone.

“There isn’t a point in showing me something that isn’t complete. We have a well-oiled process that has worked time and again, and I promise you just showing me a concept won’t do. If you want me to take what you’re presenting seriously, finish it up, and have a more than impressive meeting with me when you’re ready. I don’t want to drag this out.”

Mave quietly set the chalk down, pretending he’d never picked it up in the first place. Luke watched as Mave backpedaled to the chair next to his own and lowered himself.

“Yes, sir.” They said in unison. It seemed all they could say.

It wasn’t wrong or right. It was true: Wallace had perfected the takeover process, and to introduce an entirely different plan at this stage in the game was rocking the boat. They needed to come up with a complete business plan to convince Aaron that the friendly acquisition would be much more efficient than a hostile takeover. More efficient, and if he was right, extremely profitable in the long run.

The idea, purchase Thomas and Jane LLC and let it operate independently with the existing leadership. The only change would be funding for rapid growth.

This was going to be a busy damn week, Luke thought, after mentally walking through everything they’d need to have prepared by the end of the it. Visions of dates with Grace, Thursday night football with the guys, and fourteen-hour days at the office were already wiping him out and it wasn’t even seven-thirty.

Hopefully, Grace got his message that he’d be a little late for dinner. What was better than pizza, beer, and the woman you loved? You loved.

Luke paused at the ease of his thought, wondering where it came from. He should probably keep that one to himself for a little while. Besides, if all things went according to plan – barring she didn’t think he was crazier than usual after he asked – they’d have a fantastic weekend together.

He walked out of the office with Mave. “Ready for this helluva week?”

“Late nights and takeout at the office, throw a little football on the TV.” Mave held out his fist toward Luke and added, “Except for pizza night, I know. You’re spoiled already.”

Luke pounded the fist with his own. “Don’t I know it.”

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