Author. blogger’s note: This is Chapter 26 of my unpublished (so far) comic crime caper “Grabmore.” In this chapter, Troxie, our pinot-grigio loving shuffleboard fanatic, comes close to solving a dilemma. And we first hear about Carlotta Gutman and Milo Heller.
Troxie took off her Rays’ cap, placed it atop the purse that held the .38 and leaned forward.
“OK, why not make a deal with CEO Boy?” she said, eyeing each of us in turn.
She then took a sip of pinot grigio, grabbed some of that cheap Publix cheddar cheese and a Ritz cracker off the platter and leaned back in the wicker chair.
“What kind of deal?” I asked.
“A deal,” she explained, “that works for you guys and for him. You don’t go to jail and he gets out of here.”
“So, he just goes back to his yacht and then to his office in Buffalo and to all those Miss Iceland pageants and nothing changes?” Monique asked.
“Oh, no, big changes,” Troxie said with a sly smile.
And quickly asked, “Yacht?”
Monique explained it’s 99-feet long, called the Never Enough and is staffed by 18 and 19-year-old girls from overseas, from places such as Ireland and Iceland and Lapland, wherever the hell that is.
“I see,” Troxie said.
Meanwhile, I was intrigued by what Troxie said before she asked about the Never Enough, about a way out of this.
“What sort of changes?” I asked. “And why would he change anything?”
“Because of you guys,” she said, pointing her wine glass at each of us.
She paused a moment.
“He knows what tough characters you all are,” Troxie said. “Except, of course, you Scott. No offense.”
I didn’t understand where she was going with this scheme, whatever it was she was dreaming up in what appeared to be a pinot-grigio-fueled delusion or cheddar cheese haze.
“Here’s how it will work,” Troxie said, smiling again. “You tell him he’s got two choices. The first choice is he stays in that hurricane shelter until he dies. Which after a couple more weeks cooped up in there watching the Kardashians could be soon.
“I don’t care how nice those Bed, Bath & Beyond towels are and how many cases of Starbucks Frappucinos you got stocked up, he’ll go batty and become suicidal. “
“That part we understand,” Monique said. “What’s the other part?”
“You tell him he can walk out, can get some fresh air and sunshine and freedom if he agrees to a few conditions,” Troxie said. “It will require some lying but he’s a CEO so lying is one of the few skills he has.”
Now it was my turn.
“OK, so he lies,” I said. “Lie about what and to what end.”
“He’ll lie about where he’s been, for starters,” Troxie said. “No kidnapping. Never happened. No disgruntled employees snatched him off a street corner near that yacht, the Neverland Express.”
“Ah, Never Enough,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, right. Anyhow, he can say he’s been hiking the Appalachian Trail. Or that he had a spiritual insight and realized that he didn’t want to be remembered as a greedy sleaze. He could say he’s had trouble sleeping because of all this.
“Now, I did say he would have to lie and those would all be lies if what you guys say about him is right.”
We all nodded. O’Riley, I’m convinced, is a case of what you see is what you get. There was no substance behind that façade of avarice and selfishness. He didn’t care about anybody else. All he wanted was more. More money. More girls. A bigger yacht, one even larger than the Never Enough, which is more boat than anybody this side of Donald Trump may own.
But I still didn’t understand why he would agree to this.
“You guys have to make it clear to him,” Troxie said. “Either he agrees to this or there’s another option if you let him go and he weasels out of the deal. There’s something about each of you that I can’t quite pinpoint. What about you, big fella?”
She pointed her glass at Sal. It was time for everybody to reveal something about their past to Troxie.
“I was nearly a made man in the north Jersey mob,” Sal said. “Got out just before that when the Feds closed in. The Feds offered a deal. Sing like Tweety Bird or it’s prison. I sang like Tony Bennett. Sang a lot better than Tweety Bird.
“I’m in witness protection and some of my old friends – Snubnose Fazio, Fatso Laguardia and Shinbone Rizzuto – well, they’re in prison. And they ain’t leaving. And it’s because of what I told the Feds. They’d love to see me again, let me tell you.”
“I figured it was something like that,” Troxie said. “What about you, Nigel? You wear that Frenchy beret but you got an Irish accent. What’s up with you?”
“Well,” he said, “that accent has a touch of Belfast, where my uncles trained me as a boy to become an IRA operative. That’s all I’ll say about that. But I was a good welterweight fighter, good enough to fight a few pro bouts. Won a couple. Lost a couple. Figured out pretty quick I didn’t have what it took to be anything approaching a title contender. Especially when people started calling me Canvasback Claymore. Claymore is my last name. So I got out of boxing and the IRA and left Northern Ireland.”
We all nodded, respecting Nigel’s silence about some of his past. Then it was Ahmad’s turn.
“I don’t want to talk about my days with Al Qeada of Yemen,” Ahmad said, sipping his tea. “They taught me a lot. A lot of skills that most employers don’t need. Most companies don’t need suicide bombers and IED makers. I’m sure you get the picture. Do Google or Apple need workers proficient with an AK-47? I don’t think so. But I also learned the printing trade. And ended up working for Yemeni security services as a sort of double agent.
“They’re the ones who got me out of the country because there was a price on my head for helping capture and kill some of my former friends. The Yemeni security folks and their American counterparts got me out and got me a job in New Jersey, and a new name. The one I use now.”
“And you, Monique?” Troxie asked.
“I grew up in the woods of Canada, hunting and fishing,” Monique said. “My dad and uncles were lumberjacks and worked in lumber mills. I just followed them into the work and competitive weightlifting. Nearly made the Canadian Olympic weightlifting team.
“Still enjoy the training. I’m thinking about teaching O’Riley some basics so he can get in decent shape.”
“Well, Scott,” Troxie said, “That leaves you.”
“I majored in American lit and tried out for my college baseball team but got cut on the first round of cuts,” I said. “My parents were high school English teachers. I’m something of a baseball trivia expert and have tried out for ‘Jeopardy!’ a couple of times. Didn’t make it. But I’m really good watching ‘Jeopardy!’ on TV.”
Troxie chortled and couldn’t help spitting out some of that $20 a bottle Kendall Jackson pinot grigio on her lap as she guffawed.
Then, after cleaning up the spat-out wine with the napkin that had seen previous duty hiding the .38, she looked serious and was about to say something when Sal spoke.
“What about you, Troxie?” Sal asked. “Don’t you have a job or family to go back to in St. Pete? How come you’re just wandering around down here in Everglades City and Chokoloskee?”
“I did have a job,” she said. “I was managing a surf shop on Treasure Island. Liked the job and the people. Been there for years. Lived nearby so I had time for shuffleboard and runs on the beach and played in a co-ed softball league in St. Pete.
“My husband, Ralph, left me for a younger woman. I’m sure you’ve heard that story before. My last name when I was married was Kluszewski. But when Ralph left me for Charlene, a waitress from the Thunderbird Lounge, I went back to my maiden name.”
I interrupted with a stupid comment.
“Ralph left you for a temptress waitress?” I said. “Some beer-peddling comely wench from the Thunderbird?”
“Scott, what the hell is a temptress?” Troxie asked.
“A woman who entices or tempts, I guess,” I meekly said.
“Who talks like that?” Troxie asked. “Who uses words like temptress and comely in conversation? And wench? When was the last time you had a date?”
I said it had been a few years.
“Well, stop using words like temptress and wench and comely and your chances might improve,” she said.
I nodded and kept my mouth shut.
“Now where was I?’ Troxie asked.
“The Thunderbird Lounge,” Monique said.
“Oh, yeah, so anyway, when the economy went south the surf shop owner was very sorry but said he had to let me go. Just as a temporary thing, he said. He said once things turned around he’d take me back. I believe him. I know he will.
“Last I heard, things are picking up on the beach and he may hire me back in the spring. So for now, I’m just sort of focusing on shuffleboard and getting to know Florida. That’s how I ended up down here.”
Everybody nodded again and we all felt like we knew each other a bit better. Then Troxie got to the task at hand, our CEO quagmire.
“You got to make it clear to CEO Boy this deal is some sort of sacred pact,” Troxie said. “Make him understand that if he backs out and says he was kidnapped that somebody will come for him. That he can run but he can’t hide. That if you guys go to jail somebody else will come for him.”
“Sort of like what Joe Louis said, right?” I said.
“Huh?” Troxie said.
“He can run but he can’t hide. That’s what Joe Louis, he was heavyweight champ at the time, said about a challenger, Billy Conn. It was 1941, I think.”
My boxing trivia didn’t seem to impress anybody or make anything clearer. Troxie didn’t respond, just ignored my Joe Louis reference and seemed to be thinking I’d never get another date.
Nigel didn’t even say anything about the boxing reference.
“Anyhow, what we got to do is make sure that somehow O’Riley understands what we mean,” Nigel said. “But what about the future of Grabmore?”
Nigel had a point. If O’Riley is gone – either dead or retired – won’t the board appoint some jargon-spouting, bean-counting MBA to take his place? Somebody who doesn’t care about anything other than the next quarterly statement and the next bonus for coming up with brilliant, insightful managerial moves such as layoffs and furloughs?
If O’Riley agrees to step down what will become of Grabmore? Top management will just follow his managerial style. Nothing will really change.
The soulless corporate system is in place. The levels of bureaucracy are entrenched. Hand grenades would be needed to dislodge some of the bureaucrats from their fortified corner offices in Buffalo and throughout the Grabmore empire.
The people who schemed and connived to reach power have the power and won’t give it up. Why would they? Why change a corporate culture that rewarded their wretched behavior? It’s that very same culture that will keep them sending out self-serving statements and flatulent platitudes cut and pasted from an introduction to Business 101 survey course.
“I still don’t get it,” I admitted. “How does getting rid of O’Riley change things for the better? The company president, Carlotta Gutman, is as vile as O’Riley but she’s smarter and a lot more devious and ruthless.
“The same goes for the CFO, Milo Heller. Heck, you don’t reach the top levels of Grabmore by playing nice. All the top brass are smart folks. The only way O’Riley was able to become CEO was to inherit the title and own the 54 point-whatever percent of Grabmore stock his dad left him. He chose his parents wisely.”
Troxie looked stumped. We all did. Was this kidnapping fiasco for naught?
All we could do was continue attacking the platter of cheese and crackers and fruit and sit in silence.
After a minute or so, Nigel spoke.
“So O’Riley owns something like 54 percent of Grabmore, right?” he asked.
“So if he leaves he can do anything he wants with it, right?” Nigel asked.
We nodded again.
“What if he sold it to somebody or just gave it away?” Nigel asked.
This was interesting.
“He has more money than everybody in Everglades City and Chokoloskee combined,” I said. “He’s not giving anything away. Unless it was at gunpoint. I believe we have a gun right here on this porch.”
“But if he gives away controlling interest,” Monique asked, “who gets it?”
“It can’t be any of us,” Sal said.
More silence followed.
We found a way to get rid of O’Riley and in theory a way to get him out of the hurricane shelter without murdering the money-grubbing bastard.
As part of our plan, O’Riley would give up that 54-point-whatever percent.
It couldn’t be parceled among Grabmore’s grasping corporate officers. Things would only get worse if they got it. If getting worse is even possible.
“What if he gives the 54-percent whatever percent to some college or university journalism program?” Nigel said. “The professors could run it the way they think newspapers and TV news program and online news websites should be run.”
We liked the idea. I knew a couple of journalism professors and could ask them hypothetical questions about this scenario. If O’Riley left their schools controlling shares of Grabmore, what would they do with it?
First, before that, we needed to talk with our captive in the hurricane shelter.
“Put down your pinot grigio,” I told Troxie. “It’s time to meet CEO Boy.”