Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General – Chapter 3-4 (The Meeting/John John Glenworth)

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

Chapter 3

The Meeting

Ten minutes to nine. John John was never late for a meeting, not even a single minute. John grabbed his laptop and headed to the Boardroom. Usually he liked to talk to people before the start of each meeting, break the ice and get a feel for everybody else’s mood.

After the “good morning” and few greeting exchanges he set his laptop up and pulled on the screen again the file he just looked at when stepped into the Office. Nothing spectacular, nothing out of ordinary, yet his gut feeling was telling him that something was going on.

He screened the room again trying to read on people’s faces if his worries were shared by others. Not a sign! “Maybe I am overreacting…” and looked again at the financial statements in that particular file.

– Good morning everybody! And as usual, John John looked at the people in the room trying to see if anyone was missing. “Where is Rick, where is Tom?”

– They called in sick, came the answer right away from Scott. He was the Vice President, Glenworth’s right hand. John John was spending a significant amount of the day with him lately. Both Rick and Tom were reporting directly to Scott.

– Too many rounds last night, asked John John? Everybody else in the room burst in laughing, a laugh which sounded more like a kind of relief: “He is in a good mood!”

– OK. Let’s get going: the reason I called this meeting is that we do not have good news from our China Branch. He hooked up his laptop to the projector and pulled a file on the screen showing a Chart on Investment History for the last seven years. Surprising, for the first two years we are showing positive numbers and then we continuously dropped into the red zone. I cannot explain this trend. Usually, you are losing in the beginning and then you pick up the pace as you are getting more and more familiar with the respective market. I do understand the financial meltdown of the ‘08 and ’09 which did affect us too, but there is no reason whatsoever to keep losing money in the next three-four years. Now let me bring up the overview of the investments we made, per year and then sorted out per commodity only over a seven year period. The reason why I want to do this is for you to get a feel for the most resilient commodities during this seven year time span and eventually keep them in the back of your mind when you make an investment. You may say that investing in China is different than investing in North America or Europe or Australia. Agree. But there is no harm in taking a global look at a certain commodity before proposing an investment.

J.J. was slowly getting into his favorite part of doing a presentation: building up the momentum to the point when he was coming up with facts, hard numbers and details and always at the end with conclusions.

-Let’s get into details, ladies and gentlemen, and John was from that point onward only eyes and ears. The way J.J. was conducting a meeting was a piece of art. The tone of his voice was mostly deep and low pitched but was changing its tonality according to the importance of the paragraph, according to the message he wanted to send to the audience and most of all, according to what he wanted to achieve.

John studied him for years and he knew by heart what sort of gestures his boss was going to use with every inflection of the voice with every look he was taking at the people in the room.

As usual, at the end of the meeting the conclusions were presented based on hard numbers and of course, the invitation to comment and express own opinions on the presentation was a part of the Company culture which J.J. was anxiously waiting for. His blue eyes, of immaculate incandescent light were looking for any sign of feedback from the audience.

– I really don’t understand why investing in China is different than investing in Texas or Australia? Investing is investing. There are market rules and regulations in place, you do your homework according to company’s philosophy and place the investment, said John. He felt like somebody had to take the initiative and break down the wall of ice created at the end of J.J.’s presentation when nobody wanted to step up to the plate and ask questions. It seemed like nobody did any sort of preparation for this meeting and everybody had the mind occupied with the game only.

– What you are saying John, it is partially true. Yes, investing has its golden rules which are applicable to any sort of investment you make. But, an important part of the whole cycle of investing is: knowing the culture of the country you are placing your money into. It could eventually trigger market fluctuations on a specific commodity. For example: car insurance, or life insurance. Why would these two commodities take such deep dive when economy is doing well?

– Something is not right…it is not normal. That graph…goes against the trend. John stood up and walked to the pull down screen where J.J. still had a slide up. He pointed (with the pen he was holding) towards a specific segment of the graph where the slope was abruptly changing.

– That is exactly the area of the Investments myself and Scott have been looking at and scratching our heads for a long time, said J.J. with a large smile while the light that was coming out of his eyes was so intense that one would think he wanted to hypnotize the people around him. I believe we are done here and if nobody else has questions, we should adjourn. Thank you everybody for your time. We will have to probably meet again in three weeks.

John was ready to leave to room alongside everybody else, when J.J. put his big palm on his left shoulder and said:

– I need to speak to you, John. In my office, please.

– Yes Sir!

– Not now. In an hour, please.

– Yes Sir! I will be in your office in one hour.

– Thank you, son.

– You are welcome, Mr. Glenworth.

J.J. took a seat at the table and made a very discreet sign to Scott to do the same. When everybody else was out of the room, he pulled the presentation again, specifically at that particular slide that generated some interest during the meeting and started a conversation with his Foreign Investments Manager and Vice President.

John, was managing Mid-West and South-West US Investment Accounts and had seventeen Brokers reporting to him. He was reporting to J.J. directly same as all Managers in charge of the US Accounts. However, Scott was holding the Vice President title, so he was (unofficially, but accepted by everybody) above all other Managers by one step.

– J.J. wants to talk to you in his Office…Oooo! Are we looking here at a brand new big Manager? Are we looking at another Vice President? Vicky’s voice was more persuasive than ever and the smile on her face larger and sweeter than John’s ever seen.

– I am a Manager!

– Yes, but you never know what can come out of a private meeting with J.J. said Joan, a forty five year old Broker reporting to John as well as Vicky. Maybe he will make you the Manager over the whole US Accounts…

– Why not? He is smart, he knows what he is doing, he’s got the experience and he’s good looking said Vicky raising the stakes.

– Common’ guys, you are talking non sense. He is not going to make me any sort of more Manager than I already am, said John with the adequate quotation marks when saying the word “more”.

– Or maybe he will be the VP of the Company, said Jay Lee – a Broker from the Atlantic Group.

– Guys! Guys! Please! It is probably a discussion he wants to have on some of the latest investments we made in our newest market in Texas, nothing more.

– Oh yeah, newest market in Texas! He really needs to have a top secret meeting to discuss some Texas style of marketing – Eeeehaaaa – and Vicky graciously simulated a cowboy hat salute while partially sitting on John’s desk. Her short skirt was showing two beautifully shaped legs which attracted John’s attention at a point at which he didn’t know how to take his eyes off of them anymore. She was beautiful and she was pushing the envelope at a level any man could hardly resist anymore. The long blonde curly hair flowing down her shoulders, the narrow hips and the long wonderful legs would drive any man crazy. However, John was always finding her unattractive – for a reason he couldn’t explain. But Vicky was the ultimate predator. She felt the hesitation into John’s eyes. “It is time to go for the kill”. And her wonderful olive shaped eyes looked deep into John’s. John felt like his legs were trembling; his left hand was searching for his chair while his right hand was trying to keep Vicky away.

– Guys, you are making me uncomfortable already! It’s enough. Please, I need to do some preparation before the meeting, said John and with his left hand he showed people in his office the door.

– We understand, John. Please do tell us how the meeting went, said Vicky while slightly bending forward from the hips, enough to expose her largely shaped cleavage showing the two beautifully shaped breasts barely kept together by a pink bra making John almost swallow his Adam’s apple.

One by one, the people in his office evacuated the room and he found himself standing and looking at the door with an empty face, not knowing what to do next, not knowing what to expect next. Finally, John burst into a yell of frustration while setting his palms around his temples in an imaginary effort to get her off of his mind: “She is so pushy, I cannot stand her!”

He grabbed again the file he prepared for the meeting while pulling the chair and started digging again into numbers and data which “nobody seemed to have a grasp on” – this is what his mind was set to, before J.J. knocked at his door.

He didn’t hear the knock. He had his back turned to the entrance, completely focused on reading from the file with the face at the window.

J.J. was standing one foot inside of John’s Office waiting for John’s acceptance to be let in. However, John was so absorbed into his lecture, that J.J. realized he had to knock again into the door’s frame if he wanted to be heard. This is what he was about to do, when all of a sudden his eyes fell on some personal framed pictures John had on a piece of furniture in his office: kids graduating from High School, him getting married to Linda (with J.J. and John’s parents into the attendance) and a big black and white picture of John John and John’s father (Timothy) in Korea. Both of them in the Infantry uniforms, with the rifles pointing up while the expression carved on their teenager faces was showing a complete indifference to the fact that they could’ve  had not even made it to the next day. “The ignorance and the genuine bravery of the youth” sighed JJ without knowing that his sigh will be so loud that will make John turn around and jump from his chair:

– Mr. Glenworth! I am so sorry! I didn’t hear you…..please, come in!

– That’s quite alright John! I am sorry for disturbing. I was just trying…to see if you are ready for the meeting. And his sight fell again on the photo where he and Tim thought they could move the mountains only by looking at them. John followed his eye sight and understood right away JJ.’s emotional state of mind.

– Whenever you want me to come to your office, Mr. Glenworth…I am ready.

– Please start calling me by my first name, said J.J. while grabbing John’s left shoulder with his huge right palm and looking right into John’s eyes. Give me fifteen minutes, please; and J.J. disappeared as elusive as he did when walked into John’s office.

The fifteen minutes J.J. asked for, passed by quite fast. All this time, John couldn’t take his eyes off of the picture showing his dad and J.J. in those dirty Infantry uniforms, with their faces almost completely covered in mud. Their blue eyes were throwing bolts of fire trying to convince the photographer that the battle isn’t over. He looked at this photo hundreds of times before, but never was he as emotional over it as he was now. Probably the way J.J. was looking at the picture, the way J.J. was looking into his eyes when grabbed his shoulder, the way he slipped out of his office without making any noise, made John believe that this picture holds a magic power and needs to be beheld as it was sacred. He picked up the file he prepared earlier and headed for J.J.’s Office.

Chapter 4

John John Glenworth

J.J.’s Office was classy to say the least. From the entrance door made out of solid oak wood to the desk made out of hand carved mahogany and from the library (covering the whole wall on the left and made from oak wood as well) to the smaller meeting table and the coffee table, all beautifully assorted to the thick Persian carpet on the floor. The multitude of the light reds on the carpet so wonderfully distributed, made the furniture blend in gradually starting from the door and finishing with J.J.’s working desk.

Opposite the door, a big glass wall was showing the busy downtown and a view over the river always astonishing no matter which the season of the year was. This time of the year, the red color of the trees along the river were giving the sight a particular majestic appearance which was inviting people from the Office Buildings to take short walks during their lunch breaks. It was also a usual jogging route for the condo owners in Down Town area.

A large book stand with few shelves was placed behind his chair, to the right. It was the place where John John placed several framed personal photos, mostly family related. He and his wife Jen, he and his son George right before the accident, a photo of the whole family at John John Jr.’s College graduation and few more that couldn’t be clearly seen just by standing in front of his desk.

After the passing of his wife Jen, he had to go through yet another tragedy: the passing of his second oldest son – George – killed on a racing track. George loved racing cars and his dream was to make it all the way to the top and become a NASCAR driver. George’s death left enormous scars on J.J.’s behavior. He became quieter; he used to laugh so hard, his whole massive body was shaking up like a leaf in the wind. Now, he was just smiling quietly. His blue eyes were still as expressive and deep as ever, which in contrast with the thick white hair were always sending a message of self-confidence and were implying respect to and from the interlocutor.

Whoever didn’t know him, had the tendency to be frightened by his imposing stature or by the sharpness of his sight and the way he was looking straight into one’s eyes. But deep inside, he had the heart of a child. Alongside his career at Glenworth Financials he helped numerous young professionals become top advisers into a tough merciless market. Few of them even ended up owning their own companies. He was a master at molding young energetic rough unpolished gems (willing to learn) into diamonds of Financial Markets’ gurus.

John was one of those young talented guys turned by J.J. into a well-known leader at Glenworth Financials and well respected throughout the industry. His potential was immediately seen by John John: native intelligence, adaptability to new circumstances and ability to find a way out of the situations considered lost by others. After just few years at Glenworth, John was promoted into middle Management and had a team of three Brokers reporting to him. Now, after almost twenty years he became the Manager of the most important Accounts – asset wise – of the Company.

When John reached his boss’s office, he stopped at the door and tidied up again: straightened the tie and some invisible wrinkles on his coat and tried to guess by looking into a nearby window if his hair is still properly brushed.

The door was opened as usual. He softly knocked on the doors frame, as J.J. was facing the big glass wall – probably admiring the river side of the Downtown – and the amazing multitude of colors this early fall has brought over the city. From the door, John could only see the top of his head and the white thick white hair showing above his elegant executive leather chair. He knocked again, this time harder. Nothing. At this point he decided to do the trick which would probably never fail in any sort of situation similar to the one he was into: slightly coughed.

Immediately John John turned his chair around and a large smile flooded his face.

– Come in, come in, have a seat! J.J. showed John to the meeting table while shaking his hand. Do you want to have a seat on the couch? The coffee table was in front of a superb leather light colored couch, making this way the room “bigger” by neutralizing some of the sober yet elegant dark colors of the book stands, chairs and working table.

– It’s quite alright J.J. I am perfectly comfortable at this table. Thank you. And John pulled a chair waiting for J.J. to sit first.

– Let’s talk now, man to man said J.J. pulling the chair and inviting again his guest to sit.

I have known you for such a long time John; John John stopped for few seconds in an effort to remember the exact number of years he’s known John. How old are you now?

– I will be fifty one in March next year.

– It’s been fifty one years since I know you! It was like yesterday when I and Jen came over to your parents’ house to say hi to you! Fifty one years! As time goes by! In the mean time you grew into the man you are today and I only wish Tim was still with us to see what good job he has done. How is Judy?

– She’s alright. She does lots of volunteer work at the Church and whenever she has time left, she does the same at the Senior Center nearby. She tries to stay busy, which is good.

– I am glad to hear that. I haven’t seen her since…since the passing of your father. Please say hi to her for me.

– I will Mr. Glenworth; and I thank you for this in her name.

– How is Linda? How are the kids? I believe Stephen is in his last year at the College, if I am not mistaken? And Sophie has two or three more years to go, right?

– Linda is very busy with the school. She is the Principal now of the school – not sure if you knew.

– No! I didn’t know! I am so happy for her. Please congratulate her on my behalf. She is a very smart lady and so goal driven! I knew she would make it to the top in her career.

– I will say hi to her on your behalf and also tell her that you said “congrats”. Beside school, she is trying to keep her father’s legacy alive. She is investing lots of time at the Church after hours. I help her whenever I can.

– Oh, I remember now! Reverend Wilson was her father! What a man! I remember now! Please tell her to come over and see me. I am sure I can help her iron out some financial hurdles she is most likely facing.

– Thank you again J.J., but I am not sure she would take it. You know her. She is not just going to accept a generous check from you in order to spend it – even if it is for a noble cause.

– Nonsense! We’ll find a way to do this. I know lots of people in the financial business and we can put together a charity event. Just ask her to give me a call, please.

– Probably this way is going to work, said John. Actually this is the only way is going to work and a little discreet laughter came out of his throat.

John John smiled and asked again:

– You didn’t finish…how about the kids?

– Oh, Stephen is indeed into his last year…can’t wait to go to his graduation. And he is a quarterback too, said John and his chest was filled with so much pride that his eyes were already betraying him, in spite of the fact that he tried to stay as humble as possible in front of J.J.

– Fantastic! How about Sophie?

– She has two more years to go to the graduation. She is taking Political Studies hoping she could one day get into Politics.

-Aaa…Politics! Never liked it. But it is a necessary evil. You have a wonderful family John and I am so happy for you!

-Thank you Mr. Glenworth.

-John John is my name – especially when it’s just the two of us.

-Thank you J.J.

-Better. Now let’s get down to business.

Pushing a button on the remote control, a screen came out of a library opening. He connected then his laptop to the screen and pulled the presentation again on the screen.

– I looked at these slides a hundred times. Still can’t understand what’s going on, why are we losing money when we should be making it? This is why I called you here in my Office, John. I don’t expect you to find an answer just by looking at the numbers or digging into the files. Something else is going on, something I just can’t get my fingers around it…I am at the verge of giving up and this notion – you know very well – is not part of my vocabulary. Still…I just cannot understand what’s going on.

– Do you want me to start over, from scratch, from square one and dissect this thing into the smallest bits and pieces possible?

– No. I don’t want you to do that. It will be a loss of time. If I and Scott couldn’t come up with anything, neither you will. I want you to do something else…and J.J. took a long break. His eyes looked first somewhere at a specific point on the large window then he looked John straight into his eyes. John’s Adam’s apple started going up and down. A cold sweat was running down his spine when J.J. took his right hand between his two huge palms and said something he never expected:

– I want you to go to China and sort this matter out.

If somebody would’ve thrown a pin on the ground, the ding made by the fallen pin would’ve been heard all the way to the front desk. John’s face was petrified. He thought he did not hear right.

– You want… you want… you want me to go to China? This is what I am hearing?

-Yes. This is what I want, John. With all my heart, I have no choice…I don’t think there is anybody else in this Organization who can get to the bottom of this damn thing. You are smart, you are experienced, you have exceptional people skills abilities and you have something else, something nobody in this company has: a feel for traps. You are combining the training of an Office Executive with the nose for danger of a street guy you developed during those football years of yours. You are the perfect fit for this job. This is why I and Scott came up with this decision.

– So, whose idea this was: yours or Scott’s?

– It doesn’t matter. The job must be done. And it will be done! We cannot afford pulling out of China! His voice went from a normal low pitch calm voice to an authoritarian voice, the voice of a CEO who wanted a job to be done regardless of the hurdles laid down in front of his path.

– How can I help? I have never been there. I don’t know the culture, I don’t know people’s mentality, I can’t speak the language, I don’t know how they do business. You said it during your presentation that it is important to understand how people think – when investing abroad – so we can be on the same page and eliminate the cultural aspects…

– These things you just mentioned are important indeed and I am glad at least one person listened to my presentation! Ha, ha, ha! A big laugh came out of his big chest and his eyes were already watering from laughing. After a short pause, he took his hanky out of his suit pocket and wiped out his eyes.

– In the beginning you should focus on reading people, trying to see what sort of relationships have developed between them in the Office, who is running the show. Tony Gang is the China Branch Manager. He will be your contact person there at the highest level. Also, Vic (you remember Vic from Atlantic Division) will help you out with getting around there and translating. He’s been there for few years now and I hear that he is fluent in Mandarin, if you know what I mean…and J.J. made a giggling sound which made John scratch his head. He also knows lots of politics in that Office and you should heavily rely on him.

-I need some time to think about, Sir.

-Yes, for sure. I hope by Monday you have agreed.

-Today is Friday!

-You have the weekend to make up your mind. I am asking this as a favor from you, a favor with respect to all these years we’ve been together in this business! I have no one to send there, John! Please, help me out! And his eyes were slowly mellowing down from a thunder bolt throwing machine like, to a more like desperate type of a look, a look he has never seen on J.J.’s face before. He felt his shirt soaked wet into a cold sweat down his spine and started trembling while his right leg was nervously shaking up and down.

-I didn’t think it was that desperate, Sir. I didn’t think…

-Yes, it is. I didn’t want to show the real numbers in that meeting. We lost 70 million in the last five years. I buried the numbers so people wouldn’t see them. That graph was a bogus graph. This is the real one: and J.J. pulled another slide, John hasn’t seen during the meeting. The deep was severely more abrupt and John’s eyes almost popped out of the sockets.

-God! This is bad!

-Yes, it is. We are left with two alternatives: we either shut down that Operation or we fix it. And this is where I want you John, to step in and help.

-But I have no experience in overseas investments, I don’t know the culture (as you said), I don’t know the people, I can’t even understand what they are saying…how am I supposed to fix this mess?

-I don’t expect you to fix the mess, John. I want you to lead me to the right track! That’s all I need. I need you to lead me to the right track! I will take care of business from there on. I spent endless nights thinking what to do, thinking if I have to pull the plug or not. I do believe that we should be there, but something is not right! I cannot keep sinking company’s money into a bottomless pit. This is why I need you to go there and try to figure out what the hell is happening with that Organization.

-Let me talk to my wife, J.J. I’m sure she would understand. She loves you. You are a mentor to both of us. You have my answer, I hope you understand.

-Thank you John. Please send my respects to Linda. I can’t wait to see her again.

J.J.’s eyes were watering again and in order for John not to see this, he stood and went to his desk facing the window. He was the kind of man never let his emotions come out in front of his employees and even John was so closed to him, he did not want to see him getting weak – or this is what J.J. considered that state of emotion to be.

He kept looking through the window while he had his hands joined at the back giving a clear sign that the meeting was over.

John figured out that it was time for him to leave and quietly slipped out of the Office. He walked to his Office and sat on his chair facing the same side of the building as J.J.: the river side view of the Downtown. It was absolutely spectacular at this time of the day and his head was spinning already…”What am I going to do in China? How can I help? I know absolutely nothing about doing business there, I know nobody. How am I supposed to come up with a solution?” All these questions started haunting him and a strange feel of uncertainty wrapped him in spite of the fact that he was trying to stay calm and not panic. For the first time in his life he was panicking. He grew up being taught by his father Tim to keep a cool head regardless of the situation. He had his endless football training sessions where he learnt to stay cool into the pocket and not panic, to rely on his big offensive linesmen to protect him from the hits, to rely on his teammates to give him those two seconds he needed to make the throw. In the Office he had a team of professionals who knew how to make a trade, who knew how to make a call when it was about a good investment opportunity who knew how to alert him when things went south.

This time, he figured out he would be all alone in uncharted waters, in a world where the rules are different, in a world where he could not even speak the language, in a world where he could not rely on anybody but himself. He panicked! “I have no pocket! How am I supposed to win a game like this?”

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General – Chapter 1-2 (John/Linda)

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

Chapter 1

John

Since kids have left for College, they developed a habit of sleeping with the door of the Master Bedroom open. It was just another way of keeping in touch with the “world down stairs”.

The smell of the freshly brewed coffee made him crack a smile in spite of the fact that he was still half asleep. The alarm clock was set to go off fifteen minutes prior to the coffee maker starting brewing and the pleasure of laying in the bed and stealing another quarter of an hour from yet another hectic day to come, was bringing him an immense pleasure.

Finally, he decided to get out of the bed; turned and rolled over, closer to Linda. John lifted his head, looked at her for few seconds and then hugged and kissed her on the side of her neck. In spite of the fact that she was still sleeping, he could see that his kiss brought an immense pleasure on her beautiful face and a purring like sound made him think at naughty things. He bit his bottom lip and slowly rolled out of the bed trying not to wake her up.

Started walking with his eyes half closed towards the bathroom. Turning the light on in the bathroom made him close his eyes for a moment. Took his T-shirt off and looked into the mirror. “Still got it, still got it buddy!” came instantly out of his mouth and his face was flooded with an expression of satisfaction.

His flat stomach was still showing the six pack which during his football years brought him the famous nickname everybody in the team was envying: “the Spartan”. It was the nickname in the locker room given each year by the team mates to the player with the best sculptured abs. A great sense of pride brightened his face and the memories poured in: the great game for the Championship won in the last seven seconds by his throw, the party after the game and inevitably, the injury which ended a very promising career. Dropped his head for two seconds, then looked again in the mirror and chuckled: “You would’ve made it to the NFL! You sure would’ve made it!”

The morning routine settled in very quickly: teeth brushing, showering and shaving, everything done with very precise motions and in a set time frame; three minutes for teeth brushing, five minutes for the shower, four for shaving. Hair combing came after and was still taking some time in spite of the fact that he lost some hair around his temples. Actually, the grey shades in his hair gave him a mature look, the look of a man who is in control, a man who is an established professional capable of providing a comfortable living for his family.

“Coffee time! It is now coffee time” and took the stairs down to the kitchen while putting on a nice silk robe around him and rubbing his hands against each other in a sense of great expectations – like a kid in a candy store. The smell of the fine coffee he just poured into his cup, made him close his eyes and take a deep breath – like he wanted to make sure he absorbed all that wonderful essence of the Caribbean blend he was buying from the gourmet coffee shop across his Downtown Office. First sip was short, with his eyes closed, trying not to lose anything of the great bold and robust aroma of the liquid in his cup. “So good, so good”, exclaimed John in such an enthusiastic way that made one truly understand John was indeed a specialist in gourmet coffees!  He put the cup on the kitchen table and headed towards the entrance. Opened up the door, wrapped the robe around his waist and picked up the Newspaper. Looked at the sky and mumbled: “it will be a cold winter; hopefully we won’t have too much snow”. On his way back, took a quick look at the Sports Section: “They lost!” A glimpse of sadness – like a lonely cloud on a clear winter morning sky – settled on his bottom lip. “Why did I miss the game? How come I got so out of touch with the Sport I love so much that I completely forgot about the game? Aha…the Meeting!”

After the unexpected call for a large scale Meeting (which directly came from John John yesterday afternoon), he started digging into his files. Due to the fact that Scott did not provide any Meeting Agenda, he was nervous. This never happened before. “What if I have to present something? No. He didn’t provide any discussion topics. What if…?” That “if” started torturing him and completely forgot that he was supposed to be with everybody else from the Office at the usual Sports Bar to watch the game together. Even forgot that while the guys were leaving, he asked Vicky to order wings for him when she asked him if he was coming? “Of course I do! Today is the big game! I wouldn’t miss it for the world. What sort of question is this?”

“Just asking, John. Just asking” said Vicky and left while looking over the shoulder smiling persuasively. He smiled back, opened a large binder containing notes he took from the past two years’ meetings and started reading. Didn’t even realize when it got dark outside. He raised his head only when John John softly knocked on the frame of his opened Office door and asked: “You didn’t go with the guys to watch the game?”

Pulled a chair and had another sip while turning the TV on.

“Temperatures are in the low forties and we expect them to stay like this for the whole week…it will be a cold winter, folks”. “Yeah, thanks for the late breaking news!” and switched the channel.

“Financial markets took a dive today folks, at the news that Chinese economy will only grow at a rate of 5.7%, much lower than most of the Analysts predicted. On the other hand, the Bank of China announced unprecedented reforms to the lending policies trying this way to stimulate an economy which everybody in the world fears will start sputtering and come to a stall after years of robust growth”.

He became eyes and ears at the news and immediately opened the Financial Section of the Newspaper on the table. “Glenworth Financials” lost three dollars and forty three cents per share between three and four o’clock yesterday. This was totally unexpected especially after the steady growth recorded over the past five years, growth mainly due to the opening of the Shanghai Office and exposure to the immense Chinese market.

“This doesn’t make sense. It is an emotional sell. People are selling based on the news…Hmm, maybe it’s time to buy few shares” and a large conspiring smile showed up on the left corner of his mouth. “Maybe it’s time to buy” and John took another sip out of the cup.

He finished then the coffee with short and calculated sips while devouring the Financial Section in front of him. It didn’t take too long before he got a clear picture of what the Markets will do in the next weeks. Then he stood up and headed towards the Living room when all of a sudden everything became clear to him: “This is why John John is calling the Meeting! Of course this is the reason!” came out with a sigh of relief. “It has to be!” John John knew about the announcement and wasted no time in calling this emergency meeting. He has been working close to J.J. since he joined “Glenworth Financials” and his reaction felt simply normal. He got to know John John very well and not being ahead of the game was something he hated the most. “I’m sure that he already has a plan sketched up”.

Moments later he was upstairs, opened up the closet and took a quick look at the large wardrobe at his disposal. The shirts were all aligned by color. He picked a light silk cappuccino one which beautifully matched the beige suit with thin, vertical, light gray stripes he set his eyes on. The leather light brown shoes and a tie which wonderfully matched the shirt and the suite completed his choice for the day. Took all of them into the bedroom, making sure he didn’t make too much noise. Linda was still sleeping and judging by the look on her face, he figured out that she was having pleasant dreams. He started dressing and this morning less than ever, he spent very little time looking at the details like: “perfect knot” or “perfect pants crease”. He was dressing with feverish and precipitated moves as opposing calm and calculated ones as usual. He was eager to get to the Office as soon as possible so he could get access to the Network and dissect the financial statements Glenworth publicized two days ago. “Done! Let’s go!”

– Morning handsome, came from her direction. Quickly turned around and looked at her. Bent a knee then hugged and kissed her.

−Morning beautiful, he whispered into her ear. This made her wrap her arms around his neck and smile again.

−I have to go. Please let go. Her arms were strongly holding him close to her chest. “I really have to go, now. Common, be a good girl and let me leave” said John again with a soft and calm voice trying to break loose from the hug.

−I see you tonight at the Theater?

−Of course you’ll see me. Have a good day now. I’ll call you after lunch.

−OK. You may go now, she said closing her eyes while hugging the big pillow she was sleeping on.

He rushed downstairs with the shoes in his hands. The rule was simple and clear: “no shoes inside of the house”. He put them on in the hallway and was ready to storm out of the house when he realized he left the TV on. “That’s OK” was his first instinct as he knew Linda would watch the news as well while having her tea. But the discipline cultivated during his College Football career and during the years at Glenworth made him take his shoes off and head for the kitchen. “No electric device should be kept on while being away from the house”.

Grabbed the remote control and the moment he was ready to push power button, Sports news came up: “And now let’s watch some highlights from last night game and especially the last seconds’ drama when our boys came so close of winning”. Memories popped up into his head as he was watching the last throw of the Quarterback to the Receiver and the close miss. “It was less than an inch, less than an inch. This is really bad luck, bad luck folks!” A sigh of disappointment came out of his chest and turned the TV off. On his way back to the entrance, he stopped by the door of the room he was using as his home office. Flipped the switch and took a long look at the big poster showing him making the throw with seven seconds left for the championship. It was him, on that torrential rain, completely covered by mud, making that last throw while being tackled by two Defensive Linemen. And it was the same play which ended his career. He never fully recovered from that torn ACL and even if the broken ribs healed well, once in a while he was feeling some pain in the area, especially during intense physical effort. “I guess I was lucky, I made the throw. I did make that throw!” came out of his chest while chuckling and flipping the switch back off.

He put the shoes on, grabbed the over coat from the coat hanger, the suite case and then headed straight for the garage. Opened the door of his red muscle car, threw the suitcase and the coat on the front seat and stormed out of the drive way without waiting for the car to warm up. Usually he wouldn’t do it, but now there was a totally different ball game on the line. He had to get into the Office as soon as possible. The Meeting was called for 9.00 am. “Hopefully the traffic is not too bad”. Once he got on the freeway, stepped on the gas pedal shifting into the highest gear. The 500 HP engine neighed like a pure blood Arabian horse taken out of the stable for the morning run and the tires squalled on the fresh asphalt trying to keep up with all the mightiness of the eight cylinder engine. “Hopefully there are no cops around” and moved into the most left lane. He was closing in to reach Downtown when all of a sudden he started seeing red brake lights from the cars ahead of him. “Damn it! It must be an accident ahead”. He swiftly moved towards the most right lane to be positioned for an exit on one of the City Streets towards Downtown. Within next half a mile he got a clear picture of what was going on ahead of him: one lane opened only – accident. Luckily he was close to the next exit and without any hesitation took a side street towards Downtown. “Not too bad, not too bad! At least I am moving.” Took him another eighteen minutes to reach the street his Office Building was on and truly started believing in Murphy’s laws: he caught every single red light possible. After making the right turn on the street where his Office Building was on, the traffic came onto a complete halt. “You gotta’ be kiddin’ me!” He opened up the door (as nothing was moving) to see what was going on. He had less than a hundred and fifty yards to the front of the building. “Are you kidding me? These jack asses are towing a car now, during the rush hour so the traffic can get from bad to the worst possible!” His carotids were pulsing from anger. “Think John, think!” came out of his mouth looking around and holding his point fingers at the temples. Suddenly he saw Leo on the other side of the road, walking up and down on the side walk in front of the Hotel rubbing his hands against each other in an attempt to stay warm. Leo was one of the Valets who were parking cars at the Hotel across the street. He met him few years ago when car pooled with Vic while his car got fixed. It was exactly the same situation but at that time Vic had the answer: got Leo to park the car while both of them walked to the Office. Obviously Vic did it before, otherwise how would’ve he known Leo?

– Leo! Leo! Leooooo, yelled John as hard as he could. However, the people were honking the horns trying to achieve something impossible: moving. Leo couldn’t hear him. He started waving at him while still yelling: “Leo! Leo!” Finally, Leo saw him and before heading towards his direction had a short hesitation. He didn’t recognize John. However, Leo was one of those street smarts who have their noses trained in smelling a nice tip. Just by looking at John’s nice red muscle car, he intuitively knew his day was about to start on a high note. He was a city guy and it was a giving knowing how to complement your regular income with cash coming from wherever else.

– Leo, I’m John – we met a while ago. I’m Vic’s friend. Remember me?

– Heeey, of course I remember you! How are you Mr. Parker? How is Vic? I haven’t seen him in years!

– He is in China. Long story…

– Ahaaaa. He is in China. Lucky guy! He probably got himself a nice Chinese chick, boom, boom, boom…

– He is there for a work assignment.

– Oooh….I understand. Work assignment, said Leo while winking and a large smile exposed his impeccable white teeth which in contrast with his dark skin were shining like diamonds in the rough.

– Listen, Leo. I need your help. I have a Meeting in exactly thirty eight minutes and I still have preparations to make. I need…

– Of course I can park the car for you, Mr. Parker!

– Thank you so much, Leo! You have no idea how much you are helping me!

– Don’t worry Mr. Parker. I will leave the car keys with the guys downstairs at the Information Center and a note with the parking spot number.

– Leo, you are a treasure! John pulled the wallet out of his pocket and took all the cash out of it and gave it to Leo.

– No, Mr. Parker! You don’t have to do this! But Leo’s fingers were already counting the fresh bills in his hand.

-I insist, Leo. I still owe you. You are helping me big time, said John while running towards the Building.

Leo jumped into the car, took his Valet coat off and set the radio to his favorite Rap Station at a volume any another person would’ve instantly gone deaf. “Yeah baby, yeah baby, yeah baby! Hundred twenty dollars! It’s gonna’ be a good day, good day, good day! Yeah baby… yeah baby… yeah baby”.  He opened up the roof (in spite of the crisp fall morning) continuing to rap hoping that the traffic will still be jammed for a while.

John stormed into the Building. The elevator was not coming quick enough! He checked his wristwatch: “come on, come on!” and started pushing button 27 numerous times. Glenworth Financials was renting the whole 27th Level of the Building. His Office was short distance, down the hall from J.J.’s office. Mr. Glenworth was already in. All the lights in his office were turned on, which made John understand that his boss showed up for work very early in the morning.

“He is reviewing his presentation. He did not provide any sort of Agenda!  I hope this meeting is his show only.”

He passed J.J.’s Office and took a look inside while passing by. He had his laptop set on the table behind his working desk and was typing.

John wanted to stop and say good morning, but realized his boss was too absorbed by his work and a disruption wouldn’t have made him a very happy person. So, he just headed for his office trying not to make any sort of noise that would’ve disturbed his boss from his work. Turned on his laptop and logged into network. He was particularly interested into the Financial Statements related to Glenworth’s investments in China. “Bingo!” said John with a great relief of satisfaction on his face while looking at his watch: “I still have twenty five minutes on my hand”. He started digging in.

Chapter 2

Linda

The alarm clock went off ten minutes before 8.00 am. Linda reached for the snooze button and turned on the other side trying to steal another ten minutes of the morning sleep.

Her first class for the day was scheduled for 10.00 am, so she didn’t feel any pressure to hurry in waking up. Shortly after the second alarm sound, she got up and headed towards the bathroom. She was always brushing the teeth before taking the shower which she did as a morning routine once again. Then dropped her pajama and got into the shower. In spite of giving birth to two children and closing in to be forty nine, her body was still showing forms which a twenty year old girl would’ve been jealous on. All those years spent as a cheer leader, all the gymnastics hours taken during her youth are paying now off. This is actually how she met John. During the Big Game, he got out of the pocket and made a run for the first down. Got pushed out of bounce and couldn’t stop running into her. Luckily he got the presence of mind of dropping the ball and taking her into his arms. She remembered being carried for few yards without touching the turf. When their little tango came at a halt, she finally felt the ground under her feet and it was only that time when she had the power to look him up into the eyes: he was John Parker! Every girl in the school had his name in the daily vocabulary or at least a poster with him on the dorm’s wall.

From that moment on, everything was a fairy-tale story: the “I am sorry” which came out of his lips while looking her straight into the eyes, the party after the game when she was desperately looking for him, the unexpected phone call which came the second day, the visit at the Hospital where she saw him in a cast from the waist up to the arm pits, the start of their relationship, the wedding, kids, kids going to College…

All these memories were popping up while looking into the mirror when carefully drying her long, beautiful hair and a big smile was flooding her face.

She grabbed a robe, and headed for the kitchen. Turned the TV on and started making her morning tea. Weather Channel, Financial Markets, Sports…nothing interested.

Poured the tea into a cup and started browsing through the newspaper John brought in. It was still opened at the Financial Section. She saw the mark made by John with a black marker: it was the quotation on the Market of Glenworth Investments. “The news is not too good, I guess” said to herself seeing the negative sign in front of the dollar figure. Then she moved to “Arts & Life”. This was her piece of cake: new art at the Galleries, movies, new plays at the Opera House.

“The shooting which took place last night in front of the Lagoon Paradise, left two young men: sixteen and eighteen years old dead and three others in their twenties seriously wounded. The area is sealed up by the Police and the investigation behind the shooting has begun. It is strongly believed though, that it was gang related” came up and all of a sudden her all attention was captured by the TV.

“This is just great! Yet another shooting! Somebody has got to do something about this otherwise the whole city will turn into a war zone”.

As a teacher and as the Principal of a reputable High School in town, she was regularly participating at the City School Board meetings and was very familiar with the gang related issues in the schools. She was spending a great deal out of her free time in working with children coming from underprivileged families helping them catching up with the learning but mostly offering guidance on day to day life. She was doing it with great pleasure as she grew up with the mindset that you always have to give something back to the society and help people less fortunate than you.

Her father was a minister of the church in the little town she grew up and he spent his whole life spreading the word of Gospel, comforting and helping people in need, and most of all: going into the poor communities and talking to parents, teenagers and even to the kids. Reverend Wilson was a true missionary dedicating a good part of his life to the welfare of the kids coming from broken up families, homeless, or teens joining gangs. He was particularly working with kids dragged into the gangs. It was his believe that they are just missing the guidance and the warmth environment of a stable family, of an environment where they can feel they have a future, an environment where they feel “important”.

He almost lost his life when he got caught into a cross fire shooting between two gangs. He was having one of his regular discussions about God and life of Jesus with few kids close to a community Basketball court. A bullet hit him in the neck and he was very lucky that no major artery was touched. From that moment on, he truly believed that God chose him to take his will to the poor and unfortunate. He spent the rest of his life trying to build a Parish into that community, a community riddled by violence, unemployment, broken up families and gang fighting. He did not live to see the Church opening up. He lost a battle only good Lord could’ve won it. Until the last moments he thanked God for the life and the family he had, for the chance to be His humble servant on Earth and the good deeds he did serving Him.

For the last two weeks of his life, Linda was with him, all the way to the end and she still remembers him whispering while looking up at the ceiling: “Lord, thank you for not taking my minds away from me”. Then his beautiful blue eyes froze and Reverend Wilson went to meet Him.

This last phrase followed her for long time after his passing.

He was her life model and in spite of the fact that she was not going to the church as often as she used to, her dad’s teachings survived into her sub consciousness and his legacy turned into a mission.

The great Easter Sunday morning when the Parish was opened and people flocked in, made her feel such a great sense of pride especially that in spite of all adversities and lack of financial support, she managed to take her father’s project to the end! And only the fact that her father was not there to see his dream come true stopped her from fully enjoying the ceremony.

Reverend Jackson officiated the Mass. He was one of the teenagers her father saved from the gang environment. He followed the path of faith laid in front of him by Reverend Wilson and eventually became the Pastor of the Parish. He relentlessly continued the work of Linda’s father, trying to keep his legacy alive.

In all the charitable projects she had in the community, Linda worked very close with him. The fact that he grew up there and people knew him was of a tremendous help to her. The seeds planted by her dad are now producing crops.

“And with the help of good Lord, hopefully we will get to harvest the crops, Amen!” said Linda and took the stairs up to the first floor. “It’s time to get ready! It is another day”.    She began dressing and for a reason she couldn’t explain, memories of her first teaching class (at the High School she was still teaching), settled in. The nervousness, the anxiety, the sense of pride, the fear of failure, all came up and in spite that all of these feelings were pure history she felt a knot in her throat. She looked into the mirror and realized that small drops of sweat were coming down on her face. “What’s going on? Why is this happening?” Wiped the sweat with the sleeve of the robe and sat on the edge of the bed to gather her thoughts while still looking into the mirror. She had a worry looking face. “Why is this happening? Why?” Memories of her father losing the battle with that cruel illness came to her mind again. She covered her face and held the head into her palms for a second. “It has to be just an anxiety attack! It will go by soon and everything will be just fine” said again to herself and tried to get all these negative thoughts out of her mind by deeply breathing while gently massaging her lower abdomen.

“It’s gone! See? It was just a short anxiety attack! I knew it!”

Immediately jumped on her feet and feverishly started looking for the suit she wore during her first teaching class at the High School she was still teaching. It was buried among other suits she was not wearing anymore at the end of the walk in closet.

She took it to the bedroom, while the suit was still on the hanger and held it in front of her while looking into the mirror again. Then she did a little pirouette, turned around and looked from the profile. She really liked what she saw and a smile blossomed on her face. Her abdomen was still flat, the skin smooth like velvet and the few little wrinkles around her eyes were only adding charm to the whole bouquet of femininity she was radiating in that moment. She softly bit her lower lip, the same way she did when John grabbed her from the side line and made her float for few seconds during the Championship game. He made a run for the first down and couldn’t stop in time, so he involuntary ran into the cheer leaders group where he grabbed Linda. He realized that a collision wouldn’t have ended up too well for her, so he picked her up and made few more steps carrying his future wife into his arms. That little lip biting in tandem with her angelic smile made John forget that he had to get back on the field. He was brought to reality by “Big K.J.” who yelled at him while grabbing both his shoulders with his huge palms: “Common, man! We are losing! What the Hell is wrong with you?”

She burst into a big healthy laugh, a laugh which came at a moment she needed it the most. It was like a vane releasing the steam out of a boiling vessel.

Two years later, K.J. was one of John’s “Best men”. Eventually he became a successful businessman who tremendously helped her during the struggling years she went through trying to make her father’s dream come true.

Immediately decided to try the suit out: “Still fits!” yelled with such a pleasure that her whole face was flooded by a large smile which eventually turned into a discreet laugh of satisfaction. “Still fits!”

The decision to wear the suit came without any sort of hesitation, in spite of the fact that was out of fashion. Probably all those memories which made her go through an emotional roller coaster few minutes ago made her immune to any thoughts related to what could people say. And the fact that in the evening she will have a nice movie watching night out with John, pushed her even more towards getting dressed into that particular attire. Maybe her sub consciousness just wanted to trigger memories from the times of her first date with John, from the times when they were just grabbing a bucket of popcorn and walked into a Theater to watch a movie, from the times when there were not too many responsibilities on their shoulders…times she knew will never come back.

A short sigh came out of her chest and started dressing. It did not take very long. Took the stairs down to the kitchen and had a last look at the News Channel: “….it is going to be a cold week, folks! Dress accordingly” the advice came from the Weather man.

“Great! It is exactly what we want, a cold October. Probably at Thanks Giving we’ll have two feet of snow!” and turned the TV off.

While walking towards the hallway, she wanted to shut John’s Office door close. For whatever reason she flipped the switch up and the big poster showing John making the last seconds throw for the Championship win appeared in front of her. For a second she was stunned, looking completely lost at the poster. Same knot came back into her throat and felt like choking. She looked at that poster hundreds of times before. This time was something special about it, something she could not explain. Finally, a great sense of pride settled in and again, that little smile and lip biting made her chuckle and turn the light off while closing the door.

Grabbed her overcoat from the hanger and the suitcase; set the alarm on and headed for the garage while in her mind already made a decision to take the SUV and leave home the small convertible she was also driving during summer time. Probably the weather forecast she listened at for few seconds, made her set into a self-protection mode when decided to take the big car to work. Tuned the radio to her favorite station and stepped on the gas pedal. “It is a new day! Good Lord, please watch over us!”

She picked the usually route: a street which eventually was turning into one of those little two lane roads through the country side.

This time of the year, the scenery was absolutely fabulous. The color of the leaves was astonishing: hundreds of different shades of red, yellow and orange combined into a unique pallet of nuances was offering a tremendously restful view. The spectacle of colors surrounding the car from all over the places made her adjust the volume knob to minimum. She just felt like wanting to absorb every single detail of the view, every single quiver of those heavenly colored leafs.

All of a sudden something caught her eye: on one side of the road deep into the farm land, on a little hill, a deer herd was quietly and carefully resting and ruminating on a recent meal.

Linda pulled over, took a little binocular out of the glove compartment and zoomed into their direction. Their ears were pointing up and rotating trying to catch every noise that would have signaled danger. It was like a hypnoses session: everything around her became surreal, mystic and untouchable and yet so close to her senses. The binocular brought the animals she was admiring so close, that she felt like stretching her hand and fondle them.

She watched them for few minutes, completely lost, forgetting that she had a class in less than forty minutes.

Finally, reality settled in and Linda hit the road again with a sigh of sorrow that she was leaving her “friends” behind. “Maybe tomorrow they will be back and I would be able to see them again”.