A tall man with an imposing girth that suited him, he wore only the best, smoked only the best and employed only the best. Those employees dreaded his icy gaze and the lines that formed by his mouth when he was angered. He was hated, revered, respected and feared wherever he went. Until now.
Now he lay in a dark room with only the sound of his fading heart for company. He was losing an argument with consciousness; his mind wrapped around the irony of what was happening. It made him chuckle. That cost him precious breath. But he couldn’t seem to stop himself. He thought, “I did this to myself. No one could have talked me out of it. Not the accountants, not the lawyers or the members of the board. Not even that weird Jamaican fortuneteller on TV.”
His latest acquisition had begun like all the others.
Patriot Industries manufactured cranes, forklifts and excavators. Their sales had taken a dump since September 11th and their parent company, Kawashima, was eager to move on from what they’d mistakenly hoped would be a moneymaker. Patriot had turned out to be a financial albatross.
Moore figured he knew better.
His accounting team figured he was nuts.
He addressed their concerns head on. “Hidden in all that fiscal doom and gloom are government contracts and customers Global doesn’t have. They’re like ripe fruit on a dying tree. I intend to pluck the fruit and chop down the tree.”
“Won’t that make us a monopoly?” asked a junior executive.
“Not if the government thinks our product line is different enough from theirs. And that’s the only thing that really stands in our way... the governments’ approval of the sale. Well, that and the Unions inevitable request for severance packages and compensation. But, they’re like annoying gnats at a family picnic. They can be dealt with.”
Moore got his way.
When the Department of Justice approved the sale faster than it takes a greased watermelon to fall from a toddler’s hands, the workers at Patriot were surprised but wasn’t. He spoke to his management team before they left for Patriot to tell them what he expected from them in the coming weeks.
“I want you people to swoop down on that company like crows on still moving roadkill. Pick it apart from the inside out, swallow what’s good and leave the bad to rot.”
Workers at Patriot huddled in closed meetings. The normal workday joking gone, replaced with tense silence. They hoped against hope this would be like Kawashima’s takeover. Managers and directors tried to keep takeover virgins calm.
“Brace yourselves for a rough couple of months. Expect layoffs, temporary halts in production, cross-country moves. We’ve been through this before. And we’ve survived.”
The whole town of Medford’s economy revolved around the three sprawling plants. There was a collectively held breath as an employee meeting was called for 1:30 p.m. on a Monday afternoon in May. A teleconference from Global would be broadcast.
Patriot personnel filed into the Sunshine Hall of the local hotel, waiting to hear the verdict. They were made up of engineers, production line workers, accountants, salesmen and managers all the way up to presidents and vice presidents. None of them knew what would happen.
Across the country, Moore made his way from a side door up to a well light podium in the Global Auditorium. He raised his hand for silence after the protracted applause from his employees. He made sure the news cameras were rolling and he began his speech.
“Ladies and gentleman, we’re going to forgo the usual bad jokes and mutual admiration to get right to the point. You people in Medford want to know what’s going to happen to you and your company.”
Sunshine Hall was tense with anticipation.
“We’ve gone over the books a number of times, looking for a solution to the problems that come with the purchase of Patriot. We’ve come to a conclusion.”
Moore looked up from his notes and spoke to the camera.
“The only way to make the Patriot Corporation profitable is to cut capacity and then shut it down. We will then merge the product lines into Global completely. This will be done as soon as possible.”
The employees in the Global Auditorium nodded and clapped.
“Nobody can say we’re indecisive,” Moore smiled to the cameras.
The audience in Medford stood still after a communal gasp. In a matter of seconds, all of their lives had changed. Reporters entered the audience, asking what the stunned worker’s thought.
“This is a shock,” said a man a year away from retirement. “I can’t believe it.”
“I never thought something like this would happen.” A middle-aged woman said. “My husband’s been out of work for almost a year. My job is all that’s kept us going.”
She walked away muttering, “I don’t know what were going to do.”
On the television screens, Moore continued smiling for the cameras as he unveiled his plan for Patriot.
“We’ll close the plant as soon as we can, and we’ll do it under budget. The buildings will be shuttered up and sold.”
“What about production?” asked a reporter from the local Medford paper.
“The machines will now be manufactured in Mexico.”
“What about the Unions?” shouted a male voice from the Patriot audience.
“How many people there Union?” Moore asked his assistant. The assistant had the question asked at the Medford site.
About a third of the hands in the audience went up.
“About a hundred.” Said a Global lawyer into the microphone.
Moore nodded. No problem.
“Our lawyers will be negotiating with the local unions and we will have job counselors available for everyone.”
As an angry murmur swept through the audience, Moore turned back to the camera.
“This is not a pleasant decision. But, we have a decisive plan that is going to take place.”
As he left the auditorium, one of Moore’s new Sr. Vice President of Sales and Market Development walked swiftly after the CEO to ask a question.
“How does this whole process really work? What about severance packages and health plans? How can we get out of this clean?”
“If this went anything like our last takeover, the unions will take what they can get and so will the workers. The economy scares the hell out of people and a drawn-out clean up is rarely necessary.” Moore reached the parking lot and signaled for his car to be brought around. Then he looked back at the young VP and smiled. “I’ve had six figure corporate heads reduced to jobs taking tickets in movie theaters. Career engineers find they’re suddenly early retirees surviving on handouts from Social Security. A three hundred and fifty people strong company like this one is a tin shack in a hurricane.”
Moore smiled at the VP and shook his hand, feeling he’d done his good deed for the day by passing on his wisdom. Then he got in the car, lit a cigarette and leaned back.
“Back to the office, sir?” asked his assistant.
“Damn right! Hey, take East 5th, will ya? It’s faster than Claremont in afternoon traffic.”
Moore had his cellphone to his ear and was in the midst of a deal before the car rounded the first block. Patriot was done.
Half way across the country, the Patriot people went back to work. Doors slammed as space for private reactions was sought. Almost every person had someone to call to share the news with. Some had understanding ears at the other end of the line. Some didn’t. A few people walked around in a daze. Not having a job was a concept they couldn’t come to terms with.
“I just want to go home,” said one young man.
“Go ahead,” said a man twenty years his senior. “What are they gonna do? Fire you?”
Some people laughed but one woman looked at him and knew he wasn’t kidding.
“You’ve been through this before?”
“This will be my fourth time.”
“This is my second.”
“The idea of job security died with my father in ’78.” He shook his head, went into his office and began searching jobsites on the internet. He’d scored himself an interview by that afternoon.
The next day people showed up with resume programs and hangovers. By then, Moore had estimated that the plant would be empty in two months. He had people shredding documents by mid-morning and had scheduled the first round of firings to begin at the end of the week. No one from Patriot would be offered work in Mexico.
Moore was quite pleased with a report his assistant brought him at the end of the next week.
“Looks like a lot of Patriot rats have jumped ship. All the better for Global.” He smiled and leaned back in his chair, putting his hands behind his head. “All that’s left are people with job skills built entirely around a dying industry in a dying town. Or worse yet, a sense of loyalty that doesn’t get any one anywhere in business. They’ll go down with the ship.”
He looked back to see his assistant standing by the window that looked over Philadelphia.
“Great view, sir.”
“Only the best.”
“Of course, sir,” the assistant said, turning back.
“How’s the closing of Patriot going?”
“It’s speeding along.”
“Schedule me to be there the day the plant is truly closed. I’m keen to watch the doors close and the lock turn. The last of the stragglers will look on from the parking lot, helpless.” He smiled. This is what made his power feel the most real to him.
“I can arrange to have you put the lock and chain on the doors, if you'd like.”
“No, no. I’d rather watch from the sidelines. As inconspicuous as possible. You never know if some of these people might end up a little loco.”
“I’ll take care of it, sir.”
The day of the Patriot closing, Moore stood under an umbrella as a stiff cold rain blew down. He watched with satisfaction as the last boxes were being hauled out of the building. The weather ended up affording him the anonymity that he enjoyed.
Drinking the last of the coffee in his travel mug, he decided to slip into the building to take a last look around as the business breathed its last. He handed the mug and his umbrella to his assistant.
“I’m going in,” Moore said with the bravado of a kid-playing soldier. A grin split his face and his eyes were alightwith mischief.
“There’s a door on the north side, past an old elm. No one will notice you go in that way.”
He turned the collar up on his coat and sauntered up to the building. The vicious weather suited his mood.
Inside, the halls were empty and the building eerily quiet. The echo of his heels was the only sound he could hear besides his soon labored breathing. He made his way up some back stairs to the third floor. Walking up to a window, he saw a small group of women hugging and men stoically shaking hands. They headed quickly to their cars after braving the heavy rain. He shook his head in amusement.
“I just can’t understand that kind of sentimentality. It gets in the way of business. It gets in the way of achievement.”
Moore walked back into the hallway. He reached up and wiped at his brow and upper lips, which were covered with a thin layer of sweat.
“I’m outta shape,” he muttered, grabbing for a cigarette. Growing bored with a business that was now in the past tense, Moore exhaled his goodbye in tar-laden smoke.As he headed for the stairway, he heard a slight metallic sound. There was faint movement out of the corner of his eye, down a hallway to his left. He followed. The noise got louder.
“Who’s there?” he barked.
The only sound that met his ears was the continued metallic clacking.
Opening the door to a center office, he looked in through the gloom. On a desk he saw one of those swinging ball bearing executive toys from the Seventies.Someone had started the cycle of one ball hitting the other four with the last ball swinging back and repeating the cycle.
“What the hell?”
He reached out and stopped its perpetual motion with one hand and turned to look at the room.
He laughed disparagingly at his surroundings.
“Damn! The poor slob that had this office had to be pretty far down the totem pole!”
There were no windows and all the furniture was well-worn pressboard with faux wood grain finish. Moore could see white rectangles on the tan wall revealing how long it had been since it had been painted.
He had never occupied an office like this. He shot straight to a corner view and teak after college. With his credentials and his father’s backing, he’d started near the top of the pile. He stepped below only to find a foothold to help him climb higher. Shaking his head, he headed for the door.
He’d taken only two steps when he felt an odd pressure in his chest. It took his breath away. He stumbled back to the desk and leaned on it as his vision blackened. Standing slightly slumped, he waited to catch his breath. After a half minute, the pain eased a little and he grabbed for his mobile.
It wasn’t there.
He looked through his pockets, emptying them of cigarettes, a handkerchief, matches, gum wrappers and aspirin. No phone.
“Damn!” he yelled and another squeezing fist hit his chest and stole his breath away. Backing to the wall, he slid down as his left leg buckled beneath him. The pain crawled up into his shoulder and jaw. His breathing became more ragged.An icy cloud enveloped him as energy drained from his body.
“Ha… hmmmm…,” he started laughing as the pain squeezed deeper. “Oh, God…” He was going to die here in this pit because he wanted to savor another victory. And a small victory at that. Patriot was one of the smallest companies he’d ever taken.
“Jus… just a shit company. Ah… ummm….” The squeezing in his chest intensified.
On the verge of blacking out, Moore looked over to see a shadowed figure leaning on the desk. Once again he heard the rhythmic metal noise. The ball bearing toy had been set in motion. His heart did a frantic flip and blood rushed faster.
“Who… who are you? Help…”
As his eyes closed, he watched as the figure strode over to him. A pair of hands reached for him and a voice started to speak in the dark. A horrible voice.
He awoke some time later in soft light, a faint blipping noise in the background. He couldn’t open his eyes all the way and all they conveyed to him was muted light with a dark figure in the middle. He felt a hand reach out for his.
“You were almost a wash, dear.”
“June,” Moore whispered,little more than an exhalation.
“Shhh… Richard. You’ve got save your strength.” She patted his hand and turned to speak to the nurse that had just entered the room. He was going to be ok. He smiled as his eyes closed and darkness returned.
As he healed, he went full on against the doctor’s wishes and had phone lines installed in his room. His first order of business was to hire the security guard that had found him and administered CPR. That man deserved a decent job. Then it was onto the stress filled deals that were his lifeblood.
The medical staff shook their heads in disgust and disbelief as he spent hours making deals and yelling orders. They had to move his room, fax machines, laptops and all, down the hall to a room away from other patients. His twenty-four hour business tirades kept them up. He couldn’t have cared less. He rarely slept anyway and when he did, he woke up screaming.
“This has got to stop, Mr.Moore!” said the head nurse after calming him from another night terror. “What are you dreaming about that’s so bad?”
He waved her and her sedative away. He had to avoid sleep.
“Why not make my Tokyo phone calls?”
He picked up the phone and began to dial, finally nodding off after finalizing a sale in Borneo.A substantial check to the hospital ensured their tolerance of his behavior.
One morning he woke up bathed in sweat with the I.V. nearly pulled out of his arm. He knew he couldn’t take much more without going nuts.
He had his assistant check the local codes involved for demolishing property in the town of Medford. He wanted the still empty Patriot building torn down.That afternoon, he drifted into this first restful sleep since entering the hospital.
When he awoke in the early evening he was alone in the room. There was still a soft blipping of a machine next to him, but another noise had joined it. A soft metal clacking. Moore turned his head quickly to his right and saw the kinetic ball bearing toy on his nightstand. It was moving. There was no one in the room.
Moore fumbled madly for the call button. Once in his hand, he hit it ceaselessly until he heard running footsteps coming down the hall and into his room.
“Mr. Moore, what’s wrong?” the nurse checked the heart monitor and saw his rapid heart rate. He tried to say something, to tell them to remove that awful toy. He couldn’t speak. He felt his chest tighten and his breathing became thready. He looked at the nurse in desperation.
“Oh, shit.” She said and pushed a button on the wall.
The room was soon filled with cardiac care workers. They pumped him full of adrenaline and shocked his heart. Once again, Richard Moore defied death.
He was put in an isolated ward and the company installed a guard at his door. Only his family, doctor’s, select nurses and top members of his staff were allowed in.
Yet, Moore was constantly on edge, starting every time the door to his room opened. He was sedated at night to ensure that he slept; yet he still awoke bleary-eyed and exhausted.
At the behest of his doctor’s, June broke one of the rules of their marriage. She asked after his state of mind.
“Richard, what’s wrong? I’ve never seen you act this way before.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Back off, June! And tell the doctor’s to back off, too.”
June stiffened, then got up and left the room.
That afternoon, Moore called his assistant to his room.
“I want you to handle things for a while. Everyone knows their jobs; they’re just used to me doing everything for them. That ends now. Just keep an eye on things.”
His assistant nodded and turned to leave the room.
“Hold on a second. Tell someone to come and pick all of this crap up. All of the equipment, all of the phones. I want to be left alone.”
His assistant nodded again and went to do Moore’s bidding. Within a few days, the company was set up to work without Moore.
Walking out of the hospital two weeks later, Moore was thinner, morosely quiet and easily irritated. When junior members of the board approached him about coming back to work, he kicked them out of his house.
June entered the den he cooped himself up in only to slide the occasional meal onto his desk. She’d give him his way for now, but he’d have to talk sooner or later.
When he began stalking the house and barking at the children, June put a stop to it.
“You sit down right now and tell me what the hell is going on!”
“Well?” June stood before him, hands on hips, in no mood to negotiate.
Moore sat for a minute, looking at his glowering wife. Then he burst into tears.
June rushed forward and held him as he wept. He told her everything.
She did not convey an ounce of disbelief. She nodded and soothed him as he told her about the shadow figure and the mysterious toy.
Moore headed for a shower and a much-needed nap.
June would take care of things. She loved him. Respected him.
By the time he was toweling off, she was on the phone making reservations. She had a solution for his fear that had been passed down to hre from her father. When she had expressed a fear of water during a swimming class at the age of five, her father picked her up and threw her in. Sink or swim. She would do the same with Moore.
His aversion to getting on the plane was so strong; she had to threaten him with divorce. The idea of losing even a penny of his vast holdings to something as frivolous and mundane as divorce got him halfway to Medford before he started to lose the anger that had kept him going.
As his assistant drove them up to the empty building, Moore’s face paled. June was out the door and half way to the front door before she looked back to see him hovering on the edge of the front seat. She hid her frustration with a smile and calmly walked back to the car.
“You have to face this, Richard.”
His eyes were fixed on the building.
“Maybe it’s haunted.”
“Richard. You know you don’t believe in ghosts.” June chided.
“I do now,” he thought. He looked up at June. He knew she was right. He had to face this. He got out of the car. “You’re coming with me?”
“As far as the lobby.” She thought he looked like a little boy being led to school for the first time. She hated his weakness. She wasn’t terribly fond of his strengths. But she loved his money.
Moore got out of the car and walked slowly to the locked double doors at the front. June produced keys from her purse and they walked into the former Patriot Industries.
“Where did it happen?” June asked.
June pointed to the stairs and said, “Go.”
Moore stood still.
“Richard,” June’s voice was a low growl.
“Do you have my flask?”
She nodded and rummaged through the pockets of her coat until the flask was produced. The liquid heat sliding down his throat gave him the courage he needed to face his wife and the shadow on the third floor. He handed back the flask and she pointed, once again, to the stairs.
Moore sighed and went. He looked back at her from the third step.
“There is no such thing as ghosts, Richard.” Her arms were crossed in front of her chest and a brow was raised.
Moore wondered when she had turned into his mother. He frowned as he headed up the stairs.
Roundin the stair on the third floor, fear began pumping its chemicals through Moore’s fight or flight chemical through his system. The silence on the third floor was overwhelming. Even knowing June was just a hop, skip and 30 jumps away, Moore was scared out of his wits. He stood in the hall and stared at the office. In no time, sweat beaded his brow and his shirt stuck to the small of his back. His breath came in gulps.
“Now or never,”Moore said and made his way slowly down the hall. Opening the door, his eyes zoomed to the desk. No toy.
Moore breathed out a heavy sigh of relief.
Then he felt the pressure in his chest.
“Oh, shit,” he said and reached for the nitro tablets in his coat pocket. There weren’t there. He checked his other pockets, took off his coat and threw it to the floor and checked his pants pockets. No tablets.
“June,” he said raggedly and headed for the door. As he turned his sight narrowed and his vision blackened. He fell to his knees.
“Oh… oh, God, not again.”
Moore was slowly gasping for air as the pain crept through his body. He lifted his head and started crawling towards the door.
A shadowy figure filled the frame.
“No,” Moore voice was little more than a whisper. “No, not you.”
The sound of metal clacking filled his ears as the darkness took him.
Downstairs, June headed for the car. Not long after, Moore’s assistant came out of the double doors, locking them behind himself. He joined her at the driver’s side. He sucked in the last drag on his cigarette and flicked it away.
The assistant nodded.
“Well on his way.”
June nodded and fetched a cigarette of her from her purse. She lit it and checked the time one her watch. Her hands shook.
“Shit, I forgot my watch. What time is it?”
“Half past seven.”
The assistant reached into his pocket and handed her the executive toy.
“A keepsake for you.”
“To think an impulse buy at a Police Auction would lead to this day.”
She threw the toy into the car. Then she turned, winked at the assistant, got into the car and drove off.
Moore’s assistant paced restlessly in front of the building, checking his watch every five minutes. At eight, a few cars and a truck loaded with heavy machinery drove up. A large man got out of a pick-up and walked up to the front doors. He grabbed the lock and checked to see if the doors were still locked. His men were putting up signs and putting on protective gear. He turned to the assistant.
“Anybody in there?”
The assistant shook his head.
“You sure? I can have someone run through and do a check.”
“I’ve been here all night. No one went into the building.”
“OK. You gonna stay and watch?”
The assistant nodded.
“You better put on a hard hat. And stand behind the barricade over there.” The contractor pointed to an area a good twenty-five feet from the building.
The assistant nodded again and grabbed a hard hat on his way to the barricade.
The man waved his arm and two machines drove forward. They were Patriot machines. The baller started first, smashing into the concrete block and steel frame walls. Glass smashed and debris fell.
The contractor had planned the destruction around the blue prints of the building. He didn’t think it would take very long for this deconstruction to take place. The tedious part would be hauling all of the crap away when the job was done. He looked down at his watch as walls and part of the roof started to come down.
Half past eight.
He smiled. The job was going according to Moore’s schedule. The last thing he wanted to do was piss that asshole off.