Chapter 8: The Weakest Link
The train didn’t seem to be moving as quickly as it had the last time he’d ridden, mont hs ago. He was getting restless. The executives would be expecting him momentarily. He glanced at his watch for the millionth time. Time seemed to be slogging along at an incredibly slow rate.
The jagged cuts on his knuckles had stopped bleeding, and now pulsated a dull pain through his entire right hand. He’d inadvertently gotten blood on his fresh white shirt and dark tie; he probably wouldn’t have the time to clean himself up before the meeting – if he even made it.
Thee train creaked to a stop. Was this it? No, one more to go. He examined his appearance in the low-contrast reflection of the train window. Wow, he was a wreck; hair mussed up from the run, the gritty dull white powder of dried sweat on his forehead, blood on his shirt, collar and tie loose and wrinkled. He certainly didn’t look like a poster child for one of the most powerful advertising firms in the city.
A wave of anger passed over him, largely directed at Marie. After all, it was her fault that all of this was happening. If she’d made sure he was up this morning, he could have gotten on the road earlier. Granted, it was he that was out late last night, but that was her fault too. If she’d kept him satisfied, he wouldn’t have had the need to stay out late cheating on her to satisfy his sexual appetite. See, it was all her fault. He ought to leave her. Well, she’d be kissing the nice house in the Glade goodbye if he didn’t get his bonus. At least this affected her as much as it affected him – she wouldn’t get away scot-free.
After what seemed like an eternity, the train finally made it to State Avenue , and not a moment too soon. Mike grabbed his briefcase and hurried out the door, pushing past the mob of people and ignoring their shouted protests as he continued along.
The path along State Avenue to the tower was relatively clear; it was so late in the morning, a majority of people had already made it to their jobs. His previous physical activity had left his body reeling, and he was unable to move faster than a brisk walk towards the tower. He pushed his way through the revolving doors and ignored the pleasant greetings of the security guard as he headed straight to the elevator.
He pressed the up button urgently, somehow feeling that the faster he pressed it, the faster the elevator would descend. The pristine ding of the elevator’s arrival could not come soon enough, and he boarded the car anxiously. He was followed by two other nicely dressed individuals who ogled his appearance as they boarded. He forced himself to smile smoothly, despite his strong desire to rip their heads off. Who the hell did they think they were?
“34, please.” He murmured at the two other passengers as the doors slid to a close with a hiss. A brief downward force signaled their ascent, and Mike looked at his watch again. Shit, it was going to be close. The other passengers departed at the 18 th floor, taking their time, much to Mike’s chagrin. He pressed the door close button even more urgently than he had the elevator call, and leaned back against the far elevator wall with an anxious sigh. Fortunately for his sanity, it appeared no one else had any need to use the elevator at this late morning hour, and his trip to the 34 th floor continued uninterrupted.
The doors opened and Mike flew out frantically, briskly heading towards his office to grab the collection of charts and mock-ups for the new campaign.
“Oh, Mr. Turner, I’m so glad you’re here! They’re waiting for you in the conference room! Oh my, are you all right? Do you need…”
“No, Susan, just let them know I am on my way right now. I’ll be there in a minute.” He tightened his tie and buttoned the top button of his collar, then quickly glanced at himself in the glass reflection of his office window. Well, this was as good as it was going to get. He pulled the rolled posters from his desk and walked towards the conference room.
He pushed the door to the conference room open with his back, and turned to notice that a majority of the management staff was present. That was odd – he thought this was just between Bill, his direct supervisor, a few of the other executives, and himself. And what was Marlene doing here? She shouldn’t have anything do with this.
“Ah, Mike, glad you made it… Oh, are you all right? Do you need a few minutes?” Bill stood in greeting.
“No, no, I’m OK. I just cut my hand on my way over. No big deal.”
“Well, all right then. Go ahead and have a seat.” There was something strange in his demeanor. He was too professional, too friendly. He and Mike were barely on speaking terms – why the charade? And what were all these people doing here?
“Mike, as you know, we’re here to talk about the Richmond account…”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve got some mock-ups here for you to look at.” Mike interrupted in excitement. He was especially proud of his ideas for the new campaign. They were quite possibly his best, and equipped with the right team, he could really deliver the goods on this one.
He reached down for one of the rolled-up posters and began to unfold it. “As you can see, I’ve totally rethought the logo and how it integrates with the rest of the campaign, and I’ve got some new…”
“Well, Mike, let’s just wait on that. You see, we’ve had a lot of discussion about the Richmond account, and as you know, they haven’t been pleased with the latest campaign. We rely on their business, and we really need to pick up the pace f we want to get them to sign a new con…”
Mike was annoyed. He already knew all of this. He knew how important the account was, both to the company and his own career. Why did Bill have to rehash all this stuff here?
“Yeah, I know, Bill, which is why I’ve totally rethought our approach, and if you’d just give me a second to exp…”
“Please Mike,” Bill said, holding up his hand and shaking his head. “Please let me finish. We… all of us…” He motioned to the rest of those in the room. “We’ve decided that we need some new leadership on the Richmond account. Marlene, as you know, has a working relationship with some of the Richmond guys from her days at Alliance , and we think that she might be able to leverage that relationship to produce some good results.”
Well, that explained Marlene’s presence. “What the hell is going on, Bill? Are you letting me go?” Mike could feel himself getting hot.
“In a word Mike… yes.” That son of a bitch. He looked around the room at the rest of the observers. They all averted their gazes, looking at the floor or out the window. Was this really happening?
He stood up suddenly, causing a gasp to ripple through the rest of those present. Marlene pushed away from the table quickly. Bill stood up to meet him, a nervous look on his face. He moved his hands slowly, obviously trying to calm the situation.
“Now Mike, settle down…”
Mike didn’t want to settle down. He didn’t want to calm the situation. He wanted to rip into someone.
“This is why you called me down here, Bill? This is the meeting you told me about two weeks ago? This is what I’ve been preparing for, spending late nights in this fucking office, cultivating and developing what is quite possibly the most brilliant idea this firm has ever had? You son of a bitch!”
Mike advanced towards Bill. There was too much going through his head. He couldn’t think everything through. His blood was boiling! Did they honestly think that Marlene, that bitch, was going to be able to take over for him? He was the heart of this company – Richmond was his account! What the hell were they doing?
Bill backed away slowly, still moving his arms in a vain attempt to calm Mike down.
“Come on Mike, you have to understand…”
“What?” Mike shouted. He was pissed now. “What do I have to understand, Bill? Do you really think this little cunt can take the Richmond account?” There was no answer. “Fine. Let her try!” With a roar, Mike turned and slammed his right fist into the wall. Pain shot like hot needles through his arm, but he didn’t care.
He turned back to where his briefcase and posters sat, leaving a streak of maroon conspicuously on the cream conference room wall. Someone must have called the tower security; two hefty-looking gentlemen stood in the doorway stolidly.
“Mike,” started Bill again, as Mike began to pick up his briefcase and mock- ups. With mock-ups like these, he’d at least be able to get another job.
“Leave the stuff here. You know you can’t take it with you.”
Shit, he was right. Nothing Mike had done while working at the company was his – it all belonged to Copeland. Those sons of bitches. He now understood why they’d waited to tell him they’d decided to fire him; they knew he’d put all of his energy into revamping the campaign if he thought he had an opportunity to really change it. Now they could take his work, give it to Marlene, and turn it into a money-making campaign. And all it cost them was his severance pay.
“You’re all sons of bitches, you know that?” He dropped the posters and briefcase as the two stolid gentlemen grabbed his arms and led him towards the elevators. His rage continued to mount as the elevator descended. He considered his options. He could try to take out the two security men and go on a rampage through the office, but sadly, he had no weapons. The men looked pretty solid, anyway; he wouldn’t be able to take both of them out.
This sucked. No amount of profanity murmured under his breath could fully express the sense of betrayal he felt. As the security men dragged him out of the elevator on the ground floor, a sudden weight fell down on him. The adrenaline that his anger had brought forth unexpectedly dissipated, and he felt light-headed. The last thing he saw before passing out was two delivery men wheeling a large cake through the tower lobby. The icing read, “Congratulations Marlene!”