III – SINKER
Calvina Coluche Lafleur took her enormous two-carat diamond earrings from the cleaning solution on the sink and slipped them onto her equally large, floppy ears. She was only wearing a massive sports bra and nothing else for the moment. She stood there for a moment gazing at her fleshy nakedness, magnified by the wall-to-wall mirrored bathroom that her lover had installed for his wife in his spare time.
Calvina was not a pretty sight. A short woman to begin with, her stomach was distended over two squat legs. Her hands were small and puffy, her feet were flat, and her thick neck sustained a narrow pin-like head with wispy hair on top. She had a jutting, pointed nose that occupied most of her face, especially since her mouth was a virtual non-existent slit and therefore posed no competition to it. Only her eyes were attractive; they were a dark blue color and could laser into a person that she wanted to give the third degree to, or could flit from side to side when she was withholding information, which was often.
– Would you like some tea before you go up, sexy?
Joe Murdoch’s cheery, English voice wafted in from the dining room where he had set up tea and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Joe and his French wife, Arlette Murdoch, had one adolescent son with whom Arlette had gone skiing. Joe had made a big deal about wanting to go skiing as well and ‘having a family outing’–he sincerely wanted them to be all together again, like the good old days–but since he had so much work to do, he couldn’t. As Arlette had been between jobs for about three and a half years, she really couldn’t complain if her husband had too much work since he was bringing in the bacon. But during the previous two hours, he had also been playing ‘hide the salami’ with Calvina, so what kind of work was that? Joe would have rationalized his behavior on the pleasure principle, and Calvina would have waxed lyrical about “the joys of no guilt”, even though she was one of the most guilt-ridden women around. In any event, everything was on the level since they had ostensibly met to go over a contract that Calvina needed for a very important client for her very important software business. As she put on her clothes, Calvina thought about how she had single-handedly started her own business in the early nineties and taken it to where it was now: she had a small, modern office in the fashionable sixteenth quarter of Paris and employed four full-time staff, including two exotic, male model/aspiring actor-type Swedish ‘boys’ in their mid-twenties. Calvina found them to be an asset and very pleasing to the eye. She allowed her underlings to call her “Calvina” and say “tu” to her but they always knew who was boss. She was not only their employer but also their creator, the puppeteer pulling their strings and controlling their livelihood, while they danced to her whims. It was of paramount importance for her to be in control and the master of others, not so much for the money–her company was basically trading dollars–but for her self-respect.
And respect for her lofty personage was what her husband, Sherwood Lafleur, lacked, even though she controlled his mind and finances and shared a violently passionate relationship with him. What she could not stand was being his all-knowing Muse, but his not admitting this incontrovertible fact. She would ridicule him, then make violent love to him as compensation, but she was still his ugly, overweight older woman whereas he was her dashingly charming Prince. This fact was also incontrovertible, no matter how many other stallions she hired.
As for Joe Murdoch, he was another control freak who, from time to time, would tire of pushing around his docile wife. He would then send her off so he could fight and fuck with better game. And after their bedroom activity, he could pretend to be a Rock of Gibraltar to Calvina’s anxious soul, and as she left the bathroom and took her place at his absent family’s dinner table, he could serve her “proper” tea and make a fuss of her. As the cliché went, he could feel like a Macho Man again, not just perched over his prey in bed, but also in the little ‘English’ things he used to do for his French wife when they were first courting, like having her appreciate his English custom of tea and clotted cream. And this arrangement suited Calvina, too, because she would only have to be ‘his wife’ for two hours while the rest of the time she could kid herself that she was just his employer or business colleague.
They had their tea and hurriedly kissed good-bye, and whispered “till next time”. Outside, Calvina walked to her car to drive up to a meeting in Paris with her husband and Terry Roberts, as well as Rod and Tina Lafleur, while inside, Joe scurried around the rooms making sure he hadn’t left any tangible evidence for the wife. As he changed the sheets and aired the bedroom, he found one of Calvina’s cheap ballpoint pens with her firm’s “CCC” logo on it as well as a piece of paper on which she had been explaining Terry’s proposal to him. He tore up the paper and threw the pieces in the fire, then sat back in an armchair, looked at the pen, sniffed it and smiled.
Sitting in a traffic jam near Paris, Calvina opened her attaché-case and picked out a similar pen from a box of “CCC” sample pens and hurriedly scribbled some notes on a “CCC” notepad. “CCC” stood for “Calvina’s Software, Calvina’s Computer Services, and Calvina’s Computer Games” but only Calvina knew this. The explanation she gave everyone was that “CCC” would be first in the “C” section in the yellow page directory format. Calvina had wanted to be first in the entire directory by being first in the “A” section, but there were already too many A’s and double A’s, even quadruple A’s. Ditto for “B’s”. When people asked her whether “C” had anything to do with “Calvina” or “Coluche”, she vigorously denied this in a long convoluted way, even pointing out how other people who came to this conclusion were extremely narcissistic and often put their names all over their own businesses, especially when they had started them themselves as she had done-she, a lowly woman–whereas she didn’t have that problem–she was not a vain person–and was just doing, in her humble little manner, what was best for business.
What she always neglected to say was that what was best for business was making sure Calvina was in the limelight as a rags-to-riches entrepreneur, someone in the mold of Sherwood’s grandfather, A.C., a man who really did start with nothing. In Calvina’s case, nothing could have been further from the truth. Calvina had been sent to Harvard for four years on a full scholarship, had started with a high salary in an international computer firm, and had been let go prematurely with a large severance package. The official explanation was that she lacked ‘interpersonal skills’. Calvina’s explanation was that she wanted to break out on her own.
To improve her interpersonal skills, she then started a computer business in a neighboring suburb. She tapped her friends and family for start-up money, completely spent her severance package, and ended up trading dollars in 1997. In all fairness, she did work hard, but often her work was sloppy and badly organized so she would have to redo it. She made her father, mother and siblings shareholders, requested her in-laws for start-up money and labor, but awarded them no shares for their considerable help. No, Calvina was a self-made woman, and this was the myth that her puppet husband had propagated to all who would listen.
Calvina would be late for the meeting; consequently, she would be severely criticized by the others, especially by Rod who, Calvina felt, didn’t have much to do and therefore could worry about trivial little things such as punctuality. Calvina was a self-styled great sage, unlike her husband and in-laws, and couldn’t fritter away time talking with time-wasters and lower-order thinkers while they waited for anybody, let alone Terry. Better they all wait for her, for she was Calvina and she was important. Calvina was the power business woman of the extended family, the ballsy French Fräulein who knew all about mergers, company valuations, stocks and bonds.
Calvina flew into the noisy Italian restaurant where they all were seated uncomfortably next to a busy kitchen. In terms of stress and agitation levels, she resembled one of the waiters except her clothes were disheveled and her hair was standing straight up, like that of somebody out of a comic strip. To make matters worse, and because she was always so eager to please, she was tearing off her coat, pulling at her fortress-like bra and trying to flatten out her disheveled hair so she wouldn’t appear, at least, later than she already was. As she made a bee-line for the one free chair, she clumsily bumped the table and made Terry Roberts’ wine spill onto the starched white table cloth. A waiter was there in no time with wet rag in hand while Sherwood continued to smile his patented Cheshire cat grin and cluck-cluck about his wife’s continual tardiness. Rod did not look amused, but Tina had a big smile on her face: she had seen this all before and would see it again.
Calvina was forty-five minutes late and, had this not been more of a business meeting than a dinner date, Rod wouldn’t have been so irritated. As for Terry–who was casually clad in a New England style blue jacket, starched blue blouse and white skirt with matching belt and foulard–her half-smile bore derision, at least this was what Rod thought. Terry straightened up and leaned her five-foot-eleven frame over the harried Calvina to make her appear small. As everyone settled back in their seats, Calvina picked up the menu, pulled at her foulard to clear her throat, then looked around while she tried to get a waiter’s attention. She happily noted she was the only French person there, and she might be needed to translate the menu or interpret for a hapless Terry who might need her services. Like a mother hen with its head jerking about in all directions, Calvina remained important and everyone should realize this.
Calvina immediately began clicking her fingers, making jokes, asking Terry how long she had been in Paris, then calling over waiters and sending them away again. She spoke in French, she spoke in English, she even spoke in Greek to Tina to show off, she scolded Rod for his choice of restaurant by talking at Sherwood, she scolded the waiters, but Calvina held the floor. Terry looked amused as Calvina’s small talk eventually died down. Finally the second course arrived, and Calvina, leaning low over her plate, peered up at Terry,
– So, I hear you’ve come from the Allens?
– Oh yeah? Who told you that?
– You had lunch with Rod and Tina the other day, didn’t you?
– Well, so you did. I mean, you had lunch, that’s what they told me, and well, I was wondering whether…
Calvina was wondering why Terry hadn’t called her and her husband first before dealing with Rod and Tina, but she couldn’t say this out loud. Over the previous seven years, Terry had always contacted Calvina first about anything concerning the Allens. Calvina’s big blue eyes, quickly contracting then dilating again, were boring into Terry and her hurt feelings were raw under the surface. Terry quickly assessed the situation, then leaned forward and took charge:
– What we have here is a delicate situation involving the Company. You all remember when they sent us that insulting offer a few years back, don’t you?…
– That’s because the third generation wanted our shares for their kids, and…
Calvina blurted out while the others began to nod in agreement. Terry put her hand up, stared at Calvina for a long moment, then continued,
– The third generation kids in Cincinnati and Detroit really don’t like each other–they’re at each other’s throats, if you get my meaning–and there’s an imbalance that can be exploited.
The second generation of Amos, George and Cheryl that run the Company, they have all the power right now, these people, let’s face it, they don’t want to change. They’re inventors, and they’re very happy just being inventors, going to this toy show or that show, showing off their designs, getting patents and winning awards. They’re very close, and they want to keep everything status quo–they like having a nice, private company because this way, they don’t have to answer questions from shareholders about why this Company isn’t making more money if it’s doing so well. Our Company is supporting their inventing habit and not the reverse: all the inventing awards they win should lead to increased sales, which they do, but to take it one step further, if you get my meaning, the Company is making a lot of money, but how is that affecting us? We should all be doing a helluva lot better because of that: In the dividends we receive, in the value of our shares…Hell, what is the maximum we’ve ever received in one year? Twelve dollars per share? Can you believe that, twelve lousy dollars per share! We should be getting a helluva lot more than that, if you get my meaning…
– I would double that figure you just gave but we’d have to look at the Company cash flow, and discount for certain variables. Have you looked at their insurance programs?
Calvina needed to show off her business knowledge because she had been distracted by the twelve dollar per share figure. Rod and the others kept quiet because they, unlike Calvina, noticed that Terry was building to another point. Terry again glared at Calvina, then continued,
– …Anyway, I like the second generation, I’m one of them, if you get my meaning. I may not be running this Company, but I could do a helluva lot better in running it from a business perspective.
Now, let’s look at the third generation. They didn’t build this Company, they don’t have the work ethic that the older guys do, but maybe they’re doing something about increasing our return, our dividends? But are they?…
Terry paused dramatically.
– …No. They’re fighting amongst themselves, that’s what they’re doing. So what we have here is a doubly delicate situation: there’s a big split between the Detroit group and the Cincinnati group, and there’s a difference in thinking between the second and third generation.
– Terry? If I may?…
Rod couldn’t believe it. Calvina had actually raised her index finger, like children are taught to do in France, to request permission to speak, and, in the ensuing silence, blabbered:
– If you look at their insurance programs, they’re over-insured, we shareholders are over-insured, and it’s money that we could put in our pockets. This Company is not being run like a tight ship, what you say, it leaks?
Again, Terry looked contemptuously at Calvina, then continued:
– So we have this badly-run operation that’s making money hand over fist, and there’s where I come in. I may be called Roberts, but, to be frank here, I have Allen genes, my mother, Veronica Allen Roberts was A.C.’s ballsy sister, A.C. had a lot of confidence in me, in my ability to make money…
– That’s right, he did…
Now it was Rod’s turn to interrupt, but Terry just smiled at him and murmured a ‘thank you for saying that’. Calvina, however, stared at Rod but looked away when Rod looked back at her, and Terry continued speaking,
– I think it’s time for me to go to them and shake things up. To ask them about their real estate holdings, their insurance programs, why this isn’t working, why they’re supposedly losing so much money, but still making a hell of a lot. I think I can do it, and get you guys the liquidity you all deserve, the liquidity we all deserve.
– What do you think the shares are worth?
It was Calvina again, Calvina bending low over her plate and biting her nails.
– I don’t know, what do you think?,
Terry shot back. Calvina rose to the occasion.
– It depends how you look at it. If you look at earnings per share, and discount for lack of liquidity, plus you tighten up all the nuts and bolts and missing parts and run a tight ship, well then I would say the shares are worth at least three thousand, maybe four.
– You’d be lucky to clear one thousand… -,
Terry cut in.
– …These people aren’t going to do anything like you suggested. They’re going to go on status quo for years. They’re running this thing solely for their own comfort and profit. They aren’t thinking of the shareholders. But I’m thinking of us. And if you let me represent you, if you let me do the heavy lifting, then I’ll go out for you and make something WORK out.
There was that phrase again, “make something WORK out”. Terry and smile seemed larger than life. Even her eyes were dancing as her sensual lips parted and her tongue flicked across her pearly white teeth.
Calvina’s pupils narrowed to little points as she asked,
– Why don’t we just call Amos and ask him how the Company is doing, and if they have any plans to sell?
Terry’s eyes suddenly flashed fire and her whole face clouded over. Her neck flushed a bright red and drops of perspiration appeared on her forehead.
– No way! If you do that, the deal’s off, absolutely, no questions asked! The whole point here, Calvina–Jesus, Rod, you got a dangerous sister-in-law here–…
Realizing she had overreacted, Terry immediately calmed down; she was desperately trying to play it cool.
– …the whole point is surprise, that’s why I’m here to talk to you. If you guys go and talk to the Allens yourselves, what are they going to think? They’re going to say you need money and then they’re going to try and buy you off cheap, like they tried to do a few years back. You let a gal like me go and talk for you, I’m a new-age woman–a business woman–I know what I’m doing and I’m one of them, let’s not forget that.
– And I’m a business woman, too, and I say we give them a call, find out how things are going.
Calvina was glaring at Terry.
– For Heavens sake, Calvina! What are you going to do? Call Amos and ask him how things are going? What do you think he’s going to say to you?
Rod was moved by the animation in Terry’s face, her flared nostrils puffing out air in synchrony with her heaving bosom.
Suddenly Sherwood intervened. He had a wide Cheshire cat grin all over his face.
– Why don’t you want us to talk to them, Terry?
Terry had suddenly gone very serious. She studied each face around the table then said,
– Look, I’m here on vacation. I work very hard all year and came to spend it with my daughter who’s in the Italian Alps skiing with her husband and child…
– Italian Alps? Didn’t you tell me you were going to the French Alps? Chamonix, right?
Rod had entered the fray. Terry stopped for a fraction of a second to take in the others, then sat back down as she decided to go for broke.
– …Uh, yeah, Chamonix, whatever. As I was saying, I really don’t need to be here, okay?, but I thought I’d stop by Paris and see if I could talk to you people. You can do what you want, but I warn you that you’ll never get anywhere with these people. I know them. They’re my flesh and blood, and they don’t give a damn about you. They don’t care about me either, frankly, but when I hit them, they’ll know it. If you guys talk to them about anything, you’ll be obliged to talk about me, they’ll get this information out of you, and if that happens, then the whole element of surprise is gone. If you get my meaning, they already know that none of us are happy with the lack of liquidity we face with these worthless shares. But what are they going to do about it? Nothing. Do you think, Calvina and Sherwood, that a couple of phone calls from you two is going to do diddly squat, if you get my meaning?
– I’ve sent a lot of letters to Elsie Allen over the years,
Calvina declared proudly. Elsie Allen was a thirty-nine-year-old Company accountant and was based in Detroit. She was the daughter of George Allen.
– And has she ever answered them?,…
Terry shot back. Calvina just stared at her.
– …Has she ever answered any of your letters?
There was a long silence that Terry didn’t even attempt to fill. Only the clattering of silverware and plates could be heard over the Italian voices in the kitchen.
Calvina tried to hold her stare, but imperceptibly her crestfallen face disappeared into her plate while Sherwood tried to release his neck from some stiffness he had suddenly developed. Rod was looking at Tina who was in turn staring at Calvina and Sherwood. As if on cue, Terry smiled sweetly and purred in a very matter-of-fact voice:
– I’ll tell you what. You promise me not to speak or say anything to the Allens, and I’ll put together a great plan for all of us that can benefit you and me. But remember, I’m not a charity organization, let me make that clear right from the get-go and I’m not cheap, but if you let me represent you, and you put your shares in trust with me and I back them with my cash, then I think we’ll be able to have a dynamite relationship that we can bring to an all win conclusion. What do you say?
Two days later, Calvina exited the sumptuous, doorman-operated elevator on the fifth floor of the George Vth, and made her way along the plush red carpet to Room Number 503 where Terry and sweetheart had already been holed up for ten days.
“Some vacation”, Calvina thought as she remembered what Terry had said about going to the French, or was it the Italian, Alps?…
…Calvina thought back to when she had visited Terry Roberts outside White Plains in the early nineties. “Saul”, that was his name, “Saul Partridge”, and he was one of two husbands Terry had gone through during a five-year period. Saul was a stud from what Calvina could remember. It was summer time as she made her way up the garden path leading to Saul’s gaudy mansion, and Saul himself had had his back to her. He was very tall and was probably talking to someone. Because she was excited by him, she moved closer and noticed that her head only came up to his chest. He was wearing loose shorts and a tight green tank top, and she had caught a whiff of his aftershave as she checked out the contours of his wide back and long legs. When he turned round to greet her, she was transfixed by his massive chest and rippling abdominals. She had slowly brought her eyes up from his stomach and was staring into his deep green eyes surrounded by a thick crop of dark brown hair, when she noted, to her dismay, that one side of his mouth drooped. Unfortunately, that was the only blight on a perfectly handsome face….
…Calvina shook her head to bring herself back to the present and knocked three times. She found herself staring into another face-a soft, pudgy face with weak features, gold chains, and no chin, like that of a pasha in an over-the-top dressing gown–who ushered her in with a “You must be Calvina. Terry’s waiting for you, and if she doesn’t hurry up, I’ll be waiting for her too, somewhere else…Ter-ry?” And, leaving Calvina alone, he vanished into their small bathroom. The Penthouse that Calvina was expecting was just a drab room–probably the cheapest in the Georges V–but Terry herself looked like she had just come out of William Randolph Hearst’s swimming pool, with her wet hair in a towel, white silk dressing gown, and blue cashmere slippers.
– Calvina! What a nice surprise!
Calvina interrupted, as she fiddled in her briefcase and fished out some promotional pens and a bright yellow « CCC » visor cap.
– These are for you.
– For me?!,
chuckled Terry, as she adjusted the hat on backwards over her turban:
– …Gee, Calvina, if you’d have just come out of the bath, you would look like a hundred bucks too, you know? Come right in, and put your feet up.
To Terry’s dismay, Calvina did just that, but went even further by throwing off her penny loafers and placing her feet in their day-old stockings on the glass coffee table, so anxious was Calvina to appear casual and with it. Terry glanced at her feet, took off the visor cap, then went straight to the matter at hand.
– Look Calvina, I don’t want to waste too much of your time. I know you’re a busy girl, but since you’re the business person of the family, I want to make sure you understand what is going on. I’m not sure where your brother-in-law stands in all this, and as for the others, well, let’s just talk on the level, okay?
– I’m all your ears.
– You’re all ears? Okay, fine. What I want is an option on all of your shares so I’ll lend $1600 per share to a trust formed by you people and me, which is a $900 option and $700 loan back, I get the right to strike at $900, even though the shares are still in your name and you have the right to do what you want with them. You keep any dividends you receive up to $15 per share per year.
– What’s your fee?
– Fee? No fee, that’s the beauty of this thing, I take all the downside risk, and I exercise my price if, and only if, I get the Company to sell to an outside buyer. That’s why you need me to take it to them, make it WORK out. My only fear is that they don’t sell the Company but just a division; that’s why I mentioned capping the dividends at fifteen, because Management would only increase the divs beyond twelve if they could sell off a division, and that’s a risk for me, if you get my meaning.
– But you would want a piece of the upside, assuming the stock value goes up?
– Oh, absolutely. And we could structure something like that, I’m thinking 50-50 per share, maybe 80-20 with Ivy because she needs to reduce her estate so she doesn’t pay too much tax–I’m just trying to do the right thing here.
– And how long would it take you to do this?
– I figure you’d have to give me some time–they’ve been private ever since the beginning and they’re not about to change, believe me–but I figure I could make it happen in less than seven years.
– Seven years!
– What? Too long or too short, just tell me, I’m a dealmaker, I know we can make a deal here.
– It seems like a long time.
– Like I said, Calvina, these guys are a very tight-knit family, the second generation running the joint’s just two simple brothers and one sister who lead uncomplicated lives. They’re inventors, for Chrissake!, they don’t know anything about making money!
– And what about me, what do I get out of it?
– You? You and Sherwood are an item, aren’t you? Together with your kids, obviously. All of you will benefit handsomely.
– Now let me be frank with you. I’ve got – in my name only – just sixty shares. But Sherwood’s got over three thousand. And Sherwood and I – let’s just say we don’t always see eye to eye. And besides, this is his money, not mine, and the kids, we don’t want to steal from our kids, do we? But suppose Sherwood and I don’t stay together, you never know what the future will bring, right? You understand where I’m going here? And I understand all this, all the business aspects, the figures and all, I’m the one who has to explain it to the others, none of them has any business knowledge…
– Even Rod? It’s hard to believe…
– Rod knows nothing. He’s got the least knowledge of any of them, but he’s an excellent drama teacher, though. And he’s honest, very brave…
– No, sorry. “Brave” is a mistake from French. I mean Rod’s a good sort of fellow, a nice guy. Simple, I suppose, very simple.
– So you’re saying you’d like to do a separate deal?
– Well, we could talk about that later. Let’s outline a plan first.
– Now you know, Calvina, that Rod and I are going up to London to see Delilah and Ivy?
– He mentioned something about that.
– We’re going tomorrow morning, if you get my meaning, so let me know, make sure we’re okay on the terms I spelled out just now, alright?
– Of course, anything else?,
– Just one thing. Obviously, any deal between you and me remains between us, but, and I want you to understand my meaning here, if anything is even breathed to the Allens about my being here talking to you or the Lafleurs, or that Terry is out there poking around, the deal is off, do you understand me?
– Why would I want to talk to the Allens about you? I want to talk to them about their ridiculous management of our Company.
– Alright, Calvina. Just remember, nothing about me. As long as we understand each other…
Terry splashed cold water over her face and rubbed her eyes in the early morning light. She looked up at the hazy reflection of herself in the bathroom mirror, but as she hadn’t turned the light on, she couldn’t focus on any details. She had gotten up a half hour early to work on her image, massage her face with oil, kneed her temples and apply a fresh coat of brown rinse to her graying hair and eyebrows. And she wanted to do this foundation work in the dark, so that she could feel good about herself when she finally turned the light on.
Today was a very important day. She knew that the Lafleurs were extremely image conscious and would be studying her every move and she needed to feel totally secure. She might even need them to help neutralize Calvina and her obedient husband. Get them all to jump on board, no questions asked.
She flicked on the switch and let her eyes become accustomed to the light. Not bad! Not one grey hair to be seen and her face had that streamlined, middle-aged Vanity Fair look. Wasn’t the other sister, Delilah Lafleur, an actress? And she was younger, too. They would definitely be in competition.
As for Calvina, here was a gal who only had sixty shares but acted like Rod could have been acting (if he had wanted to throw his weight around), whereas Rod was one of the mildest, most polite people she would ever meet. If she couldn’t roll Rod around her little finger she was no longer Teresa Ava Roberts. Ditto for Delilah and the mother. And from her brief telephone conversations in the past with Delilah, she didn’t appear too savvy about finance. The one she would have to look out for was Ivy, who was probably a tough old bird, one from the old school. Hell, maybe she could accuse her of anti-Semitism if push came to shove; why not? Her own mother had already labeled Ivy’s mother, May Swanson, an anti-Semite back in the thirties. Forget about truth, all one needed was the accusation, and the courts today might award you all sorts of money. Why not even accuse the whole Lafleur connection of anti-Semitism if it served her purposes?; but then, she wouldn’t play that card unless she needed to…
Terry was interrupted in her thoughts by a loud knock on the door. It was room service. A waiter had brought her a copious diet breakfast which she proceeded to share with her still hung-over boyfriend. He eventually went back to sleep and Terry resumed dressing.
A half hour went by and when the phone rang again, Rod was waiting downstairs in the Lobby.
Terry slipped some large banknotes into her boyfriend’s wallet and told him, “Have a good time today. I’m off to London. I’ll see you around midnight”. He grinned sleepily and turned over, then began to snore lightly.
She then smiled at her pale green Versace business suit reflected in the mirror, and after adjusting her pink and blue-striped foulard, gave herself a little wink and went out.
Ivy and Delilah Lafleur looked wonderful. Ivy was wearing a green chiffon dress with matching earrings and foulard by Hermès and her now white hair had just been done that morning. Despite her eighty-seven years, she looked seventy at most, and with a straight back, a spring in her step and a smile on her face, one would not recognize the depressed, hunched-over, hair-all-over -face complainer that normally shuffled around the house in dirty jeans, a stained T-shirt and old slippers.
Like her mother, Delilah Lafleur was an eccentric, who, despite owning hundreds of beautiful clothes, often dressed like she had just come out of a muddy garden. A former model who was fortunate to always look at least fifteen years younger than her age, she wore old jeans that wouldn’t zip up and stained, torn T-shirts. As was the style in the late sixties, her hair was always parted down the middle, and was badly bleached because dark roots could be seen on the crown. Today, however, her hair (including the roots) was a natural light blond color and was parted on the side. Since she was tall, her extra weight was camouflaged behind a below-the-knee length blue silk dress complete with matching foulard and accessories. She easily looked the twenty-five-year-old model she used to be.
Ever since Rod had told them that he and Terry Roberts were coming to London for the day to take them out to lunch at an old Mayfair hotel, mother and daughter had been fixing themselves up to look their best for the one p.m. luncheon date. Delilah had even managed to not be dirtied by her beautiful but vicious attack dog whom she cooed to in a falsetto childlike voice because it was holed up in the garden behind a high fence where it couldn’t maul anyone. As for Ivy, she had just put aside her boxes of files and dirty dishes for the day and had her hair, nails and feet done.
It wasn’t so much that Rod was coming to town that they had gone to all this trouble. He was family and had seen them dressed in all manner of ways. No, he had told them Terry Roberts was bearing ‘important tidings’ from the Allen Company and wanted to share it with them. Ivy had always told her children to ‘let the Allens come to you’ and ‘always look good, because, like most people, the Allens really judge people on their looks’. She would go on to say that since the Allens looked so awful anyway, it was easy to look good when one was a Lafleur, but one should never be caught napping.
Despite the fact that they often took the local train to London, they decided to call a taxi for that morning, and since Ivy always liked to be punctual, they left their little house at eleven to not be late for their one o’clock luncheon date. As it turned out, in spite of the traffic and added expense of the taxi, they arrived one hour early, a fact that really bothered Delilah since “dead time”, so to speak, was one of her greatest fears. As it was, however, she used the time well, endlessly staring at her perfect face in the mirror, applying and taking off make-up, pouting at herself as she tried to make her full lips fuller while she brushed and re-brushed her hair. Ivy settled herself into a comfortable armchair in the luxurious hotel and, as she dreamed of days gone by, flipped through a “Country Life” magazine. The hour went by very quickly, indeed.
That same morning, Terry and Rod had only just arrived at the train station in Paris when Terry asked him what kind of seat Rod had reserved for himself, specifically whether it was second or first-class. Rod remarked that he had never traveled first class in his life, which was true, whereupon Terry whipped out her American Express Gold card and proclaimed grandly,
– I just knew you would choose second so that’s why I’m buying you an upgrade.
– That’s very nice of you, Terry, if you want to go first. But I’m perfectly happy to travel second-class.
Terry smiled sweetly, then went into a big Mae West vamp,
– My Mom used to say in her accent, « If ya caaan’t traaavel foist claaaass, ya shouldn’t traaavel at all. »
Rod looked uncertainly at the first-class ticket and grinned,
– Now, how did you know I would settle for second?,
whereupon Terry extolled upon how it was paramount that important people be comfortable when they traveled, and how train service was good in Europe, especially for business people.
Terry and Rod were able to have one first-class car all to themselves because Terry, noticing that there was only one other person in the car with them, waved discreetly to a nearby waiter/attendant,
she managed, in her softest voice.
The attendant approached but Terry beckoned him closer. She grabbed his hand and pushed some money into his open palm. Then, she pursed her lips together as if she were a fashion model, and whispered in the man’s ear,
– Listen, we’re having a private talk over here. I hope you understand? Would you mind asking that nice gentleman over there to leave–put him somewhere else in first class, maybe put him in another car–and bring my companion and me some Perrier and lemon, heavy on the ice?
– Merci, Madame. If you will, you can foll-ow me–leave zee man here–and we go into an-o-zer car, eez ok? Zen, I bring you zee ice wa-ter.
– I’m sorry. I have not made myself understood. It is really not possible for us to go anywhere. We’re having a private talk here. What I’d like, if you don’t mind, Waiter, is for you to make that guy go away, nicely. How ‘bout telling him it’s reserved for a whole party of fifty? Would you do that for me, please?
Her voice had dropped to a husky whisper as the waiter was forced to bend low over her massive cleavage in order not to miss a word. Pleased with the effect she’d made on him, she then winked conspiratorially at Rod as if the two of them were great VIPs humoring some low-level Frog waiter.
Terry was now fanning herself vigorously with the à la carte menu. She had flushed red and beads of sweat had collected along her brow. Rod, remembering the hotel restaurant incident, was afraid she was going to pass out, so he steadied her as he adjusted her seat and opened the overhead window.
Meanwhile, the waiter had shot out to do his duty.
After Terry was comfortably seated, she looked up gratefully at Rod and purred,
– Well, thank you, “Companion”,…
She then winked at him as the waiter came sprinting back with the Perrier and lemon. Then, noticing the “intruder” had also left, she dismissed the attendant,
– …and thank you, Monsieur, for being so attentive.
They were alone, finally, with their individual bottles of Perrier. Terry smiled sweetly at Rod, crossed her legs and asked,
– So how do you and your sister-in-law get along?
– Great. She’s a pretty smart girl.
– Almost too smart.
– Why do you say that, Terry? Maybe you mean she’s got a lot of chutzpah?
Terry pulled out one of Calvina’s pens with the “CCC” logo on it.
– Something like that. How’s her company doing?
– Pretty good. And she started it all herself, too.
– So you guys get along pretty well, huh? I understand she’s a hard worker,
said Terry agreeably.
- – Works her ass off. Sherwood’s crazy about her.
- – Good family Mom also, right?
- – Calvina’s obsessed with her kids,
- – But she’s a bit demanding, wouldn’t you say, Rod?
- – How do you mean?
- – Well, you’re doing a deal with her, right?, and you give her one thing. Well, she wants that and something else. You give her that, something else and soon she wants another something. Whatever you give her, she’s never happy, you follow?
- – I call that negotiation, Terry.
- – That’s for sure. She’s an excellent negotiator. And she’s got your interest at heart, believe me, Rod. The “Lafleur” interest. She loves your family. Almost more than her own, from what I understand.
The waiter now entered with champagne, poured two glasses for Terry and Rod, then left. The two toasted while Terry exclaimed,
– What is she, Catholic?
– Yeah, very much so.
– Oy veh!
– You know, Terry, I’ve been thinking. How are you going to do all you say you will? How are you going to make the Company do anything at all? I hope you don’t mind my asking, but I need to know these things.
– What’s the matter, you trust me, don’t you?
– I’m not saying that, it’s just, I’m not sure, I don’t quite see how you’re going to do it exactly. I mean, what are the steps you’re going to take?
– I can’t go into all that, if you get my meaning, except to say that there are ways to make Management more responsive to shareholders’ wishes. You and I and many other people are shareholders first and foremost, and Management has to understand that. They can’t go on day after day doing whatever they please — and I’m talking from a business point of view, here — spending our money, and not being held accountable. Rod, you know what a “put” is?
– A “put”? Not exactly. It’s some price you put down for a stock, isn’t it?
– Something like that.
– Like a ‘down payment’ on something?
– Look, Rod, say I want to buy some stock but the price is too high so I ‘put’ the price I can pay for it at say, X amount, then I have a ‘put’ on that stock at X and I can buy it at X price.
– Yeah, so?
– So? So a “put” is like an option – You option shares, see what I’m saying?
– So you’re asking me how much I’d put down?
– No, I’m telling you how much I‘d put down. And if we can get the Allens to give us a lot more liquidity than the dividends they’ve been paying, well, that would be a good deal, right?
– Depends what they’re worth.
– We all know they’re worth eight to nine hundred a share in an open market, but that doesn’t mean diddly squat if the shares are tied up and can’t be sold. Have you ever tried to buy anything with them?
– I’ll answer that but first, how do you do that? Are you going to just demand they do what you say, or are you going to sue them, and on what grounds?
– You know, let’s just say that today, with the courts being what they are…Did I ever tell you my son plays football?
– A couple of times, yes.
– He’s a great kid, I’m telling you, I go to see all his games, and I know what football does to a crowd, it just knocks ’em out. In fact, I was thinking about O.J. Simpson…You follow that story over here?
– Saw every day’s re-cap at 9:30 pm on CNN.
– Good. So you know what went on in there, what those lawyers were able to do? You can really get a lot from the courts today, if you know how to play the system, and let’s face it, when Johnny Cochran was talking about O.J.’s glove and he said, “If it doesn’t fit, acquit!” Wasn’t that something?!
– Yeah, it was a lot of shit!?
– Maybe, but you see what the power of the courts can do?…Isn’t this fabulous, we’ve crossed the English Channel!
Indeed, the Eurostar train was slowly moving through the English countryside. Even though the French and British had combined to bore through the Channel, the French had much better tracks and when their trains sped through at high speeds over to British soil, they had to crawl the rest of the way up to London because the English tracks were so ill-equipped.
The Eurostar finally pulled into Waterloo station and Terry and Rod went through customs and made their way over to the taxi stand. After a short ride, they stepped out in front of an old world hotel in central Mayfair.
They met Ivy and Delilah inside where Ivy had been thumbing through “Country Life” for the previous hour and Delilah had been staring at her face and brushing her hair in the nearby restroom. Rod had never seen either of them look so good, but didn’t need to tell them so as Terry was showering them with all the compliments she could muster.
As Terry was proclaiming that she and Rod had suddenly become ‘best friends’, they were ushered into the dining area which was full of heavy cutlery, thick tablecloths, napkins, scalding hot plates, dark wood and plush chairs. Ivy was ecstatic since every effort was made by the staff to ensure perfectly comfortable service. Her fantasies worked overtime as she thought back to how it used to be when she was a young woman. After all, she had been born and raised in an upper class home in Cornwall, but after her parents separated, she had been taken along by her mother to the United States, the Promised Land. A few years later, May Swanson, her mother, met A.C. Allen and became Mrs. Allen. Once in the States, Ivy never went to school again and her « to-the-manor-born-fantasies » nurtured in England took a back seat to the twelve-hour days she put in as a manicurist to make ends meet.
Terry was perfectly charming, as Rod knew she would be, and while Delilah coyly smiled at her to attract her attention, as if to say “look at me, I’m beautiful and powerful, too”, Terry reminisced with Ivy about her mother, Veronica Allen Roberts, and her former husband who had known Ivy well. Veronica Allen had only died six months earlier in San Francisco and Terry, just like a little puppy trying to please its surrogate mother, transferred all her girlish affection to Ivy. As Terry held Ivy’s hand, she related how she had naturally gone to stay with Veronica Allen during her final days. Rod observed that they both had tears in their eyes as Terry related how her mother had had to have her hand amputated because of an infection and how her worsening emphysema and cancer had finally taken her life. As for Delilah, she continued to maintain her ‘radiant’ expression as she changed from coy-beautiful to coy-sad depending on the general tone of the conversation.
Suddenly her expression became focused as Terry used the expression, “possible agreement between the parties,” and the lost little girl gave way to a centered intelligent adult who had once worked as a legal secretary. Rod had purposely said nothing during the reminiscence to see when Terry would get to the point. Over the previous half hour, Terry had already been preparing the terrain by going off against the Allens and how they weren’t interested in anyone but themselves, and that the minority shareholders like the Lafleurs and Terry and even poor Tara Shapiro-Parker and her mother Janet were just obstacles that were to be bought off as cheaply as possible.
– Do you think they care about you…about any of us for that matter?…
Terry had corrected herself, and Rod noticed that her voice had gone up in pitch.
– …Poor Tara was just a college student who needed money to live on so she fell for that big hoax and surrendered all her shares for a hundred dollars.
– Who advised her to do that?,
Rod suddenly blurted out, and Terry, who was about to taste a bit of apple crumble, paused for a moment, then put her fork down.
– That’s an excellent question, Rod. She came to me and told me what she was going to do and I urged her not to do it, and she said she had no choice, she had to have money to eat. So I said, “Well, it breaks my heart, but you gotta do what you gotta do”. And I promised her I’d help her get her money back.
Terry lowered her pretty green eyes at Rod and stared at him, but Rod didn’t notice, so taken was he by the fact that poor Tara Shapiro-Parker had had to sell most of her shares at that terrible price.
– Janet couldn’t have helped her?
– Ah, Janet, she was living with this lowlife, and they never seemed to be very alert when I saw them so I thought that both of them might be on drugs.
Vexed at having been ignored, Delilah piped up again,
– What about this “agreement between the parties”?
Rod noticed that Delilah had repeated the legal expression word-for-word from Terry. She was looking intently at Terry but when she felt everyone’s attention on her, she snapped back to her ethereal coy state.
– I’ve explained most of the business terms to Calvina and Rod here, but it would involve your supporting me going to the Company and basically saying, « When are you going to sell this place so we minority shareholders can basically get some liquidity and value for our stock, if you get my meaning. If I can represent just twenty percent of the minority shareholders… » and Terry gave her spiel. Once again, the terms she outlined were very general, and when anyone tried to pin her down about numbers or specifics, she flooded the air with word noise and generalities. There were only two instances when Terry came close to being specific: the first was when she told them all she wasn’t a charity organization and didn’t expect to work for nothing. The second was when Delilah flapped her big, round eyes at her and asked her how much liquidity she had in mind.
– Are you ready for the big money?,
Terry purred. Delilah again smiled coyly but held her gaze.
– How would you like to take forty grand and blow it on yourself, any way you want? Huh?!
Now Delilah giggled.
– You want liquidity? Now that’s liquidity!
Even Ivy, who would not normally have been impressed by such a remark, had to smile at how easily Terry had gotten to Delilah’s childlike heart.
And Terry smiled back because she had succeeded in what she had set out to do. She had run down the Allens, tendered a general business plan to the Lafleurs and shown Ivy Lafleur–the second biggest shareholder in the Lafleurs after Rod–a good time.
Therefore, when Ivy mentioned that the plan ‘sounded good’, she was just trying to be encouraging to Terry and thank her in a way for having made her day so pleasant. Terry swelled up with pride for having gotten to Ivy so quickly, and when Ivy casually dropped that perhaps Calvina might study the proposal a bit more carefully, Terry cautioned,
– No problem. Talk it over with Calvina, your family lawyer and yourselves. But don’t mention it to the Allens or anyone else outside your family because then, the element of surprise is gone.
Soon after, Terry and Rod took the train back to Paris, and since the day’s business had pretty much been concluded, not much was said on the way home. Terry had drunk a bit too much champagne and wine and had fallen asleep. Rod observed her wide open features, slender neck and voluptuous body and wondered how even the most energetic and dynamic of people appear frail and defenseless when asleep. When they finally arrived in Paris and took the cab to Terry’s hotel, Terry and Rod stood outside the George Vth, kissed each other on the cheek, then shook hands.
– I hope we can do this deal together because I really need you guys. And I think you need me. If you get my meaning..
– It was a nice day, Terry. And I know my Mom enjoyed it.
– So did I, Rod. And just remember, when you try and accomplish things in business, you have to stick together, we all have to stick together because sometimes things get tough, people get hurt, you know what I’m saying? I want us to be honest here. Now, I’m back to the States tomorrow, so you let me know when you want to go ahead with this, and I’ll send a business plan over to your lawyer. What’s his name again, ‘Holmes’?
– Everett Holmes. He likes to be known as “Ev”. And I’ll speak to my Mum and the others, and I’ll call you tomorrow.