~ Business Trip ~
by Lady J
Welcome to my first attempt at alternative fiction. The characters in this story are a product of a twisted life and a fevered mind. 2004/
Love and sex: Not yet but stay tuned.
Violence: None I'm a lover not a fighter.
Acknowledgements: To my betas for all the help in making me look literate. A special thanks to my wife for all the encouragement and support.
You can feed the bard at email@example.com
When it all started I had no idea anything had started at all.
Ok, so I'm dense. For me to catch a clue I would need a mitt the size of New Jersey. But, in my defense, I would have never believed this kind of thing would ever happen to a graying single mom from the Bible belt.
A Vice President becomes a friend to a lowly grunt--stop laughing--it could happen. After all I do have some redeeming qualities--but a lover? Come on, that type of thing only happens in those cheap novels that always seem to reside at the check out stands of the local grocery stores.
You look a little confused. Maybe I better start from the beginning.
I am a senior project manager for a top robotics manufacturing firm. There is no R2d2, or C3PO, and definitely no "Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!" Work with me here, okay?
How I came to have this high stress, moderately respected position was like every other highly intelligent, reasonably attractive woman does--NO!!! Not that way--get your minds out of the gutter. I did it by being 100 times better than my male counterparts and getting 10% of the credit, which still put me way ahead of the pack.
Unfortunately, being dependable and hard working can come back and bite you on the ass. For me it came in the form of a nickname. Of course not something mysterious or sensuous like Wonder Woman or even the Tiger Lady. No, can't go with something cool. No, I became known as the "Miracle Worker".
"Miracle Worker, you're kidding me right?" I groused.
Patty--the Tonto to my Lone Ranger--simply smiled and shrugged.
"Do we have Helen Keller hidden somewhere in the tool crib?" I continued with great annoyance. "Why would I be the recipient of such a dubious honor?"
My blonde assistant shrugged once more before speaking. "Apparently because of the Stillman project. You not only completed it before the deadline, but also brought the company a sizable bonus. Of course we won't see a penny of it."
I nodded in agreement.
Patty snickered as she sauntered from the open doorway of my office to the edge of my desk. Placing her hands on the large smooth surface she leaned in conspiratorially before continuing. "Not to mention the money you saved them by coming way under budget. I was just talking to Brigitte at Corporate; she said that all the VP's are buzzing about it. The board members are all walking around with big goofy grins on their faces and slapping each other on the back like they had something to do with it."
I couldn't help but smile at my most ardent supporter. I patted her well-manicured hand. "It's okay, Pat. You know I value my cloak of invisibility."
The blonde snorted. "Kara, you deserve better. If anything you at least deserve a raise."
I groaned and put my face in my upraised palms. I knew Patty and trying to stop her when she was on a tear was like trying to stop a run away train. She just didn't understand why I liked keeping a low profile. What did you say? What about the accolades, the kudos, the "that a girl", not to mention the money you ask? I have found that sword cuts two ways. I find that when the shit hits the fan it's much better if you're a smaller target instead of a large bull's eye. Now I was a large bull's eye, which could only mean one thing.
"Hey, Miracle Worker! How's our star doing today?"
"Hi, Russ." Looking up from my palms to a greasy, slick, 'you do the work I'll take the credit', parasite of a sales executive otherwise known as Russell Davies. He's what happens when one moves from the shadows of obscurity to the spotlight. "What can I do for you today?" I tried not to sound snarky, but was failing miserably.
Patty turned her back to me. Reflexively she leaned her thighs against my desk crossing her arms and effectively placing her body between the unwelcome guest and me.
Russell strolled right past her to stand directly in front of my desk totally ignoring the silent warning from Patty's body language. His beady eyes gleamed as he threw me a thick manila envelope. "Congratulations, you just earned the Jamestown project."
I immediately threw the envelope back to him like we were playing a game of hot potato. "Thanks, but no thanks. Besides wasn't Ian working this?"
The surprised look on his conceited face transformed into a sneer as he lobbed the envelope back at me. "Yeah he was, but you're the star now and I want you to handle it."
"Like I said before, Russ, thanks but no thanks. I have too many other projects I'm vested in right now. This project would take 24/7 just to finish under the wire. I just don't have that kind of time," I said before putting the hot potato back in motion.
Patty watched the envelope sail back and forth through the air like she was watching a tennis match at Wimbledon.
Red faced with anger, he snarled, "We'll see about that." He turned and stormed out of my office.
"Well, that was pleasant," Patty remarked as Russell punctuated his exit by slamming my door.
"He's such an ass," I groused. I began counting down the seconds.
"What are you doing?" my assistant asked.
"Wait for it. Three, Two, One?" My phone rang and Patty jumped.
"Yes, Mr. Kimbrough. How did I know it would be you? I'm psychic." I giggled nervously. "Sure I'll be right over."
"Yep. He went crying to Mr. Kimbrough. That little turd." Sigh. "Guess I better go face the music."
My young blonde assistant patted me on the shoulder as I exited the office. "Is there anything you want me to do while you're gone?"
"Yeah, get a box to put my things in."
Patty looked at me confused.
"Look, I refuse to work with that snake Russ. So there are only two scenarios that will fit this situation. Either they try to force me to work with him and I quit, or because I refuse to work with him they fire me. Either way I think I'll need a box."
I walked down the newly carpeted hallway to Mr. Kimbrough's office. My heart was pounding in my ears as the scent of newly painted walls assaulted my nasal passages. Our company's offices and manufacturing floor were located in a turn of the century factory that always seemed to be in the midst of renovations. It was not unusual to be detoured away from familiar corridors by signs that said, 'Excuse our dust' with directions as to how to get from the point of 'You are here' to the point of 'This is where you want to be'. As I continued down the executive wing, I was impressed by the understated opulence.
A wave of nausea hit me as I reached Mr. Kimbrough's outer office door. I wasn't sure if it was the scent of paint, new carpeting, turpentine, and assorted cleaners or the fact that I just hated any type of confrontation. I had never been a confrontational person. I would always cave in like a house made of tissue paper just to avoid any type of unpleasantness. But there was no way on God's green earth I was going to work with that slime bag.
"Go right in, Kara. They're waiting for you," Janice, Mr. Kimbrough's secretary, called as I stepped into his plush anteroom.
I nodded slightly at her and headed to the heavy, though intricately carved, mahogany door. A brass plaque with the name 'J. Kimbrough' neatly etched into the shiny metal surface was affixed at eye level on the dark door. Covering my mouth with my hand I belched softly praying that my lunch wouldn't come up with the quiet exhaling of stomach gas.
"Kara, come in. Have a seat." The slim distinguished, though slightly graying, man stood as I entered and pointed me to the unoccupied chair in front of his desk. Of course the 'cry baby' occupied the other chair.
"Thank you." I smiled at what I always thought was a Sean Connery look alike.
Jason Kimbrough was an attractive widower, who was the backbone of our manufacturing firm. I had always admired Jason. He was brilliant in an unobtrusive kind of way, never made anyone feel small or insignificant, and was always willing to show someone the ropes if it was necessary. He had his finger on the pulse of every project that the company was involved in, yet did not micromanage. He let us do our work and gave kudos for a job well done. I think the thing that impressed me the most about Jason was the fact that he was a fair man. No office politics was tolerated. With him, what you saw is what you got, and he expected that of everyone that worked for him. A person like him is hard to find period, but occupying corporate suites? Now that was very rare indeed.
Ok, so maybe I had a little crush on him, but who wouldn't? He was talented, charming, handsome and SINGLE. And yes, I was on the prowl. It had been over 5 years since I?well, you know. But let's face it, who was I trying to kid? This kind of guy always had drinks at 'the club' with some slinky dishwater blonde, not a slightly chunky mother of three, but I digress.
Jason took his chair and leaned his elbows on his large oak desk before him. Then he slowly tangled his fingers together before he began. "Kara, first of all, outstanding work on the Stillman project."
"Thank you, sir."
"Jason." He smiled brightly. "When you call me sir I look around for my dad."
"Yes si-, Jason," I stuttered. I just couldn't get used to calling the President of our little company by his first name.
"Better. Now I hear there's some disagreement between you and Russ on the Jamestown project," he continued.
"Yes, s- Jason. As I told Mr. Davies, my plate is full and I just don't have the time or the resources to devote to a project of this magnitude." I lied, well only partly, I was very busy.
"What if we cleared that plate for you? Would you have any objections to working solely on this project?" Jason asked gravely, though there was an out of place twinkle in those pale eyes.
What should I do? What should I say? That I am too vested in these projects to just turn them over to someone else now? Or should I risk it all and go with double jeopardy and tell the truth? The truth being that Russ is an idiot and I wouldn't touch this project with a ten-foot pole because of it. This project was a career breaker-- pure and simple--and I wanted no part of it.
With my peripheral vision I could see a shit eating grin form on Russ's slimy face. At once the decision was made.
"I'm sorry, Jason, I would have an objection to dropping my other clients to do this one job." Trying mightily not to flinch, I looked directly into Jason's pale blue eyes.
"And what would that objection be?" he asked, leaning slightly towards me.
My resolve was even more solidly set when I turned to see the 'shit-eating grin' that had previously covered Russ's face transform into a very smug self satisfied expression.
You are not going to get your way this time, you big baby, I thought to myself. I looked down for a moment to screw up some more courage before continuing, "I will not work with Russ. Jason, it's as simple as that." My heart was beating out of my chest. My stomach was rebelling as images of soup kitchens and living under bridges with my kids clouded my mind.
"Kara, why do you feel you can't work with Russ and give it the same 110% you always have?" The twinkling in those eyes was becoming more pronounced as a slight smirk appeared on Jason's handsome face.
Jason's demeanor confused me, but I hurried on to what I thought would be my demise. "With all due respect, sir, Mr. Davies is an egotistical ass who does not work and play well with others." I closed my eyes bracing myself for the verbal assault that would surely follow.
Imagine my shock when the executive leaned back in his chair and roared with laughter. I opened my eyes and looked over at Russ who was so angry that his whole body was shaking. His dark eyes were bugging out of a beet red face. He looked like a bullfrog with a thyroid problem.
Russ's eyes snapped up to meet mine with a hate so profound that it was palpable. He was so incensed that any coherent thoughts fled his angered mind leaving him to stammer and sputter totally unintelligible sounds.
"Russ, you do realize that you are making her point," Jason remarked wiping tears of mirth from his face.
Finally finding his tongue, volcano Davies blew. "Jason, I'm totally insulted. Aren't you going to do something?"
Leaning back in his chair he looked from me to Russ and back again. A thoughtful look now replaced his previously jovial expression. "Yes, yes I am going to do something. I'm going to-"
HERE IT COMES HERE IT COMES?Welfare office I am on the way?
"-promote her." The executive's smile brightly lit the room.
"WHAT? JASON, ARE YOU INSANE!?" Russ cried.
At this outburst Jason took a decidedly agitated posture, once again leaning over his desk, a scowl intruding on his normally placid features.
"Have a care, Russell. I'm personally not in the habit of punishing people for telling the truth." Jason's vocal tone became menacing. "You came in here whining to me that Kara wouldn't take on this job. You made it very clear that she and only she could put this project back on track. According to you, correct me if I'm misquoting you, 'she is the best'." Russ met Jason's gaze with arrogant contempt as Jason continued. "Obviously she is smart enough to know that you want her to bail your ass out of a situation that you yourself created by your own stupidity."
Ohhh, Big Guy, you are giving me way too much credit here. I am not this smart. I squirmed slightly in my seat, hating every minute of this.
"What are you saying, Jason?" Russ growled.
"What I'm saying is that if Kara can make this happen, I have no doubt that you will once again take all the credit. And if she can't make it happen, no matter, you would still come out smelling like a rose. Have I missed anything?"
Russ stood silently, his jaw clenching and unclenching.
Jason paused for a moment reading Russ's reaction before continuing. "Russ, this project is a clusterfuck and I think the best thing to do is to remove you from it altogether."
"Jason, you can't do this. This is my baby!" Russ shouted thinking of the attractive commission he would stand to lose if the project was a success.
Jason stood, his patience at the breaking point. "I want you to leave this office, gather all your information on Jamestown, and give it to Kara. Also have engineering, R&D, and procurement get in touch with her immediately to bring her up to speed. Do you understand, Russell?" he hissed.
Russ nodded silently and turned to leave the office, but not before mouthing, "bitch" to me.
As I have said before, I have never been real quick on the uptake so it took me awhile to take in all the nuances of the drama that had just unfolded before my eyes. I'm positive I looked like a carp out of water. You know, my mouth opening and closing with nothing coming out of it? I didn't have my mitt on, so I didn't catch a clue about all the underhanded plotting that Russ had done. All I knew was that I didn't like the guy and didn't want to work with him. I had no idea I was being involved in some kind of dastardly intrigue. This whole thing played out like a bad plot on Dynasty.
"Putz," Jason muttered as he watched Russ exit his plush office. He let out a heavy sigh as he retook his seat. "Kara, are you okay?"
I nodded mutely, that carp out of water thing still going on.
"I'm sorry you had to witness that display, but I am glad you were honest," Jason commented, a sincere smile relaxing his tension-creased features. "Believe me, I know I haven't done you any favors here, but we really need you on this one."
"Jason, I just don't know about this," I stammered. "The last I heard the designs for the ejectors hadn't even been tested."
"You're right. The prototype hasn't even come out of R&D yet." Jason once again leaned on his desk and knit his fingers together.
"When is the deadline for this project?"
"For how many?" I asked beginning to see the gravity of this situation.
"Seventy-five ejectors to be installed on their existing equipment." Jason's pale eyes penetrated my own dark ones.
"Impossible." I never released his gaze. I may not have been up on the latest in backstabbing techniques, but I knew my job and a project of this magnitude could not be done in less than fourteen weeks. We didn't even have half that time, and I wasn't going to be the fall guy for anyone--not even for Jason.
"Kara, we really need you on this one," Jason reiterated. "I meant what I said about promoting you. I'll also see that you get the commission for this project as well as the credit if you can make this happen, Miracle Worker." Jason smiled confidently.
"Jason, you don't need a Miracle Worker, you need a miracle," I groused. "With my current schedule I have no time for my kids as it is. This project, even by itself, is going to take every waking moment I have just to complete. Not even mentioning the idea of having it finished by the deadline-"
Jason interrupted, "I know this will put a strain on your home life and I will try my best to compensate you for that. But you know how things work around here. You've been here long enough."
Same shit, different day.
Jason was right. I had been in this business long enough to know how this game was played. After all, if it wasn't overzealous sales people selling units that hadn't even been designed--much less tested--it was engineering designing machines using parts that were on high allocation or on the edge of obsolescence and then not understanding why we couldn't meet quotas or deadlines. I knew this Jamestown project was a product of both these worse case scenarios.
"Volentario or victome?" I sighed knowing my fate was sealed.
"Kara, there will be no repercussions if you turn down this project. I would completely understand if you did. I'm asking you to take it as a personal favor to me. You know Russ isn't right about many things, but what he did get right is that you are the best."
Oh, that was a low blow, Big Guy. Guilt works every time. Though I must say the flattery was a nice touch.
I guess Jason could see me struggling with the decision. "Before you make your decision there is one more wrinkle you should know about."
"You mean it gets worse?"
Jason smirked. "Because this has been bungled from the get go, the Board has decided that this one will be handled by someone from the top echelon." He paused and I stopped breathing. "You'll be working with the head of corporate operations, Jacqueline Drakkon."
I know I had that carp thing happening again. "Isn't she the Dr- C. O. O.?" I stuttered.
Nice save, stupid. Asking Jason if she's the Dragon Lady would've been really smooth.
A smirk curled on the edges of the executive's lips. Apparently he knew what I was thinking. Jacqueline Drakkon was legendary for being the Dragon Lady of CORPORATE. I had also heard her called Lady Dracula because she could suck the life out of her employees from a hundred yards away. All slurs aside, she was amazing woman. Jacqueline Drakkon was highly educated, highly motivated, and very highly placed in the company.
"Yes, she's the Dragon Lady." He smirked. "Well, Kara, now you know everything about this project. What's your decision?"
My decision. Damn hadn't it already been made for me? I just hated a 'lose-lose' situation and this was one of them. I was being fired by proxy--the Dragon Lady was bound to find some reason to can my ass.
I sighed and shrugged before answering. "Okay, Jason, I'll take it on."
"But first," I interrupted his enthusiasm. "I want everything that was said in here in writing."
Jason's smile didn't leave his features. "Done. The appropriate paper work will be in HR by this afternoon. I'll make sure Betty gets in touch with you when it's ready for your signature. Anything else?"
"Yes, I want to be the one to delegate the projects that I've been working on to the others. I know where they all are and who can best handle them."
"Anything you want," he replied an easy smile still lighting his face.
"Okay, then we have a deal. Remember I can't work miracles, but I'll do the best I can," I said with a tremble in my voice.
I have so fucked myself.
"That is all we can ask." He stood and extending his hand. "I know you'll do a fabulous job. By the way, Kara?" I looked up meeting his honest sympathetic eyes. "Thanks."
I smiled wanly before leaving the office.
I didn't remember walking back to my office. I think I was in shock. I walked passed Patty's desk without a word. I walked into my office, and flopped unceremoniously into my chair.
Patty rose slowly from her chair and cautiously followed me into the office. I sat behind my desk, my head back and my eyes closed.
Patty cleared her throat. "How did it go?"
Without changing my position I answered, "I got screwed and didn't even get kissed."
"Does that mean you don't need the box then?" Patty commented with an impish grin on her face.
I looked at her and just scowled.
Continued in Part 2
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