tagNovels and NovellasSouthbound Ch. 11-12

Southbound Ch. 11-12

bycoaster2©

Primary editing by ErikThread and DaveT with my thanks. My revisions and messing with it afterwards are all on me.

*****

Chapter 11 Up and Running

I watched as the first order to leave our plant was rolled onto a truck. The electric forklift silently moved the three pallets into the truck, then withdrew and returned to its shipping department stall. We had leased three electric units: a riding model for full pallets being lifted into our racking system, a stand up model for moving finished product from the shipping dock onto trucks, and a powered pallet mover to move work-in-progress and finished product around and off the plant floor. No noise, no marks on the new epoxy floor, and no fumes.

We took no chances and gave our first group of orders forty-eight hours to cure after lamination. After which, they would be slit to the correct width and prepped for shipment. All our tests confirmed we had excellent bonds. Our tests on some twenty-four hour cure times were showing good results as well. All the same, we decided to use the longer cure time as a guarantee of quality. We would only revert to the manufacturer's one day claim in an emergency. Even Fiona agreed with that.

I called Leo on Friday as promised, choosing two o'clock to give myself plenty of time to talk. Leo liked to communicate and no conversation with him was ever short.

"So how did your first week of production go?" he asked after we had finished with the preliminaries.

"Really good, Leo. We are up and running and producing good product. I'm waiting to hear from Fiona on our customers' reaction to it.

"That's a great feeling, isn't it?"

"You know it. I feel like I can start breathing again, as Bobby Lee would say."

"The reason I asked you to call was to discuss an opportunity with you."

"Fire away."

"You remember our conversation about lidding films, particularly for the new Keurig and Tassimo equipment?"

"Sure. It didn't fit. Web was too narrow for our slitters, we didn't have a good source of poly-coated foil, and not enough customers. Other than that, it was a great opportunity," I laughed.

"Yeah, that was then ... but this is now. I've have a line on a Mark Andy thirteen inch wide press, ten colour. A label printer in Winnipeg I know was talked into it by his sales manager. It was a mistake. He wants to sell it, but not in his market."

"I don't know much about Mark Andy presses, Leo, other than they're U.S. made and pretty much the standard of the paper and film label business. Are you thinking about the coffee lidding business again?"

"Yes. I'd like you and Mike to survey the market and see what the demand is. I'm thinking private label, of course. I'll leave it up to you to tell me if you think it's doable. Every time I see a store flyer or look around in one of the stores I see those machines for sale. The supermarkets are carrying the coffee for both systems. And more and more, I'm seeing smaller brand labels too. This might be an opportunity for you."

"Yeah, but what about the poly coated foil?"

"That's what got me thinking again. The European supplier of the stock is putting inventory into Toronto, including the mini filters. Apparently Tim Horton's is going Tassimo while Starbucks is going Keurig. The supplier will stock one or two sizes only and slit to order. That would solve a big part of our problem."

"Is Ralph on board with this?"

"Yes ... as far as the press goes, he's okay with the equipment. He's examined the specs and looked at both products and says the press will handle it."

"Okay, then, let me turn our best sales person loose on this. We'll get some information ASAP."

"Let me guess ... that would be Ms. Alexander."

"You got it in one. I'll do some work on it too. I know several of the roasters in the Bay area. They'll give me good information."

"Good. If it makes sense, I'll get Ralph to look at slitters and go see the press for himself. Let's not make any promises yet."

"I understand. Don't worry. After all, who talked you out of that Soloflex press five years ago?"

"Don't remind me," he laughed. "I'm still living that down."

"By the way, have you given any thought to a new slitter for here? The ones we inherited are not very fast. We'll run out of capacity if we keep going like we are. Fiona pulled in four new accounts this week."

"Let me talk to Dave and Ralph. It's not a huge expenditure, but I've got to watch our cash flow. Growth doesn't come cheap, but I don't want to choke you down. Are you going to two shifts soon?"

"How does next week sound," I bragged. "We have enough business coming from you and from our customer base to justify it."

"That's terrific, Andy. Just what I needed to hear. I'm really proud of what you're accomplishing."

"You and Ralph and Dave found me some good people. I just cut them loose and let them do their jobs."

"Yeah ... sure," he said.

I sat back in my chair as I hung up. It was going better than I had hoped. I wondered when the first crisis would crop up. There always would be one to test us. It was part of the business.

I looked at my watch. It was just past three-thirty and I was running out of energy. The past three months had been full of tension and trial. Finding the right people, installing new equipment, training employees, finding new business, and making marketable product. Yeah, I was running out of energy.

I could hear Fiona's voice coming from the customer service area. It was mixed with laughter, so I didn't anticipate a problem. I pushed myself out of my big leather chair and headed for the source of the voices.

"It's good to hear laughter in this place," I said as I sauntered up to the ladies who looked after processing and scheduling orders.

"You expected crying?" Sandra teased. "We're back in business. Do you have any idea how good that feels?"

"Oh yeah, don't worry, I know exactly how good that feels," I assured them.

"I think Mr. Big Shot general manager should take us girls out for a drink to celebrate," Fiona said, poking my sleeve with her finger.

"Ooooh, the sales babe is getting personal with the boss," Myra Ramirez teased.

"Like that's a surprise," Donna added.

"He's all mine," Fiona announced, wrapping her arm in mine. "I found him first."

The produced some genuine laughter at my expense. I was sure I was red-faced.

"Okay," I surrendered. "One drink on the boss at Hernando's Hideaway."

"Would it be okay if we invited Bobby Lee and Wick?" Fiona asked.

"I don't see why not, since they are going to make us all famous," I smiled.

Sandra got on the phone and paged the two men. It took a few minutes before they answered.

I was sitting on the edge of Donna's desk chatting with the women and mentioning how pleased Leo was with our progress. That brought smiles from them, naturally. I didn't hear the conversations Sandra had when the phones rang, but she came over to our group smiling.

"They'll meet us there just after five. We can save them a couple of seats."

"Bobby Lee might need a couple of seats himself," Myra laughed. She was a diminutive middle-aged Hispanic woman, barely five foot tall, and in awe of Bobby Lee Turpin.

"I think Wick is more your size," Donna teased.

"True, but I can dream, can't I?"

That brought about general laughter. It was harmless fun. Myra was happily married to a successful local business owner and had four teenagers to feed. She made it plenty clear that she had all she ever wanted in her life.

"I have an assignment for you," I announced as Fiona and I were doing the supper dishes. Tina was nearby, putting the dishes away as I dried them.

"What's that?" Fiona asked.

"Do you know what a Keurig or a Tassimo machine is?"

"Of course. I almost bought one a while ago."

"I want to survey the coffee market to see if there's an opportunity for us to produce the lidding material. Our survey of the retail stores says it's a strong private label market. Lots of regional brands mixed in with the big boys."

"Okay, I can get on that next week. What do you want to know?"

I told her my thinking and I could almost hear the wheels churning as she listened. I suggested we divide up the accounts and approach them about what their interest in the market was.

"Great. Can we make the product?"

"No ... not yet. But Leo has an opportunity that would get us in position to take advantage of it if it was worthwhile."

I saw a big smile grow on Fiona's face and knew she would jump on this like she did with every new business possibility. All I ever had to do was hand her a match and she lit the fuse.

"I've got to finish up the laundry," she said. "Here, take your wine to the living room and relax. I'll be along." I got a nice smile and headed off to the sofa, my usual parking spot.

I put the wine on a coaster and put my head back for a moment. The next thing I knew, I felt a soft kiss and an arm wrapped lightly around my shoulders. I had fallen asleep.

"How long was I out," I asked, looking around for some clue.

"About an hour. You needed it, my darling man. You've been running on adrenalin for so long, it was bound to catch up to you."

I pulled her to me gently and kissed her. I had a feeling of complete satisfaction and comfort. Perhaps it was the short nap, or maybe just the way things at the plant had gone in the past two weeks. Then again, the most likely reason was Fiona.

"I love you," I whispered to her.

"I love you too," she whispered in reply.

"I'm going to marry you if you'll have me."

"I've heard that before," she smiled.

"I can prove it."

"Go ahead, prove it," she challenged, still in a whisper.

"Tomorrow the ring. It's going on your finger and you are going to show it to everyone ... Tina first, then your mother, then anyone and everyone."

"You mean it? Already ... I mean ... I don't have to wait until the end of the month?"

"Naw, that was just a stupid rule I made up to make sure I knew what I was doing."

"When did you know?" She had snuggled up to me, her head buried in my shoulder.

"The day I met you. But, when you kissed me awake just now, I knew I had to quit stalling and man up. I love you and I want to marry you. I know you love me too, so what are we waiting for?"

"I can't think of a single reason," she murmured into my neck before attacking my mouth with hers and letting me know she approved of my plan.

We lay together in bed a little later, holding each other's hand, turning to kiss and gaze at each other in the dim light of the shrouded lamp.

"Andy, I have a confession to make. I wanted you right from that first time we talked. I wanted you like no other man I have ever known. When you made that speech to the people, my panties were wet. I would have fucked you in front of them if you had asked. I had to have you. I wasn't going to be patient or cute or subtle or any of those nicey, nicey things little girls do. I set out to attract you to me and I set out to seduce you and when I did, well ... I was going to fuck you into submission. I was going to make you love me because it's what I wanted.

"I had to have you, Gordon Bruce Andrews. I had to. I'm sorry if that sounds selfish and calculating, but I had to have you. And when I won ... you ... the prize ... I wanted to jump and shout at the world ... I got him! I set out to get him and I got him! Just like a lioness after the antelope. I got him. I hope you don't hate me, but I had to tell you. I wanted you then and I want you now. I mate for life, Andy. I mate for life."

"Are you done?" I asked, stroking her face with my fingertips. "Is that it? Did you think I didn't figure that out? Okay, I didn't realize it right away. It took me a while to understand what I was feeling before I started to wonder about you. Then ... it started to become clear. I knew when you came onto me on that first date ... in your living room. I knew you wanted me. The only flaw in your plan was that I wanted you just as much. To hell with how long it had been since my divorce. To hell with how long we had known each other. If I was single and on the prowl, I'd have picked you out of a crowd in a bar and put on a full court press if that's what it would have taken to get you into bed.

"You are an incredibly beautiful woman and I had to have you. Now ... do I sound like the innocent, confused guy you thought you had on your hands? I may have been inexperienced, but I'm not a fool. I knew what you wanted and I wanted it too. So where does that leave us? Well ... it's like you said ... despite my past record ... I mate for life too, Fiona."

We tore at each other in a frantic, lust-driven joining that could not possibly have gone unheard by Tina. In the heat of the moment, neither of us cared and if she mentioned it we might have found a way to explain the reason to her so that she would understand. I had never felt more powerful and Fiona had never been more aggressive. When it came to a predictable quick end, we lay panting in each other's arms, completely sated and at the same time euphoric. It was settled. The future was to be Andy and Fiona. Fiona and Andy. And Tina.

"What are you thinking?" Fiona asked some time later.

"I was thinking just how prophetic my ex-wife's words to me were when she announced she was filing for divorce. She said something like "Andy, a year from now you may be thanking me." I didn't even have to wait a year. I read somewhere that a man or a woman can fall in love with someone in ten seconds. I never really believed that, but you seem to be an example that proves the theory. It took me a little longer, but not much."

"I think I should send her a thank-you note for sending you to me," Fiona said between kisses.

"No ... don't. We don't need to rub it in. She'll figure it out when she gets the news from Phil. I can just imagine what my two boys will say in describing you to her. God, wouldn't I love to be a fly on the wall when that happens."

"Am I going to meet them soon?"

"Absolutely. We need to plan a trip to Vancouver. I can introduce you to them. I hope they'll welcome you the way you should be welcomed. I know Bernice Cornell will want to meet you, as will the other wives."

"So, I'm marrying into royalty," she laughed softly.

"Well, you are going to be a senior manager's wife. That does give you special status in some circumstances."

"Only some circumstances?" she teased.

"I can't be seen to be showing favouritism at work, you know. Someone still has to be boss. It's one of those rules you'll just have to learn to live with."

"I'm not worried. Susan and I are like this," she said, holding up crossed fingers.

"Just remember," I cautioned, "in case of disputes, I get the final say."

"No problem. I've got you on my side too. You'd never want to hurt my feelings, would you?"

I was hoping she was teasing, but time would tell. I had no doubt when Fiona wanted something badly, she would pull out all the stops to get it.

"Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm a fair man. I treat each situation with calm, reasoned logic."

"That's not an answer. Do I get your undying love and devotion at the office too?"

"Well, a situation hasn't arisen yet, so you'll have to wait and see. You can judge for yourself then."

There wasn't a sense of this being a very serious discussion, but I was thinking that there was nothing yet to test the water. It would be interesting to see what happened when we did encounter one of those situations, the first time I had to say no.

Chapter 12 The Ring, The Survey & Overload

I don't know whose idea it was, but Tina accompanied us to look for a ring. I didn't object, but I wondered if this was appropriate. I looked on it as a very personal matter. Although Tina was involved in the family, this marriage was exclusively between Fiona and me, with Tina as accompaniment.

Some decisions are easy to make and some are hard. Between Fiona and Tina, they turned the ring selection into a route march to the point where we visited the same jewellery stores twice, comparing opinions I had no intention of contributing to. Man was never made to go shopping with a woman and this was no exception. After a while, I felt compelled to say something.

"Ladies, is there any possibility that you will be able to choose in this decade?"

"This is an important decision, Andy," Fiona said with a look of consternation. "I want something that will last me a lifetime and still make me feel no other ring would do."

"Are you even close to making a decision?" I asked, probably showing my frustration now.

"Yes, Andy. I'm almost sure. It's down to a choice between two. I like this one," she said pointing to a very nice rectangular shaped stone in a simple setting. "Tina likes the oval shaped stone in that ring," she said pointing to another ring which was equally elegant.

"Do I get a say?" I asked, now definitely showing that I was tired of being excluded.

Fiona looked at me in surprise. I don't think she realized until that moment that she had ceased to ask my opinion somewhere along the line.

"Oh ... of course," she stumbled. "Which one do you like?"

"With your permission, I would choose the rectangular stone. It suits your personality. It's bold and large enough not to get lost on you."

I saw the confused look on Tina's face before her mother gathered her wits.

"Bold? Do you think I'm bold?"

"Yes, I do. You are bold and beautiful and successful. The ring you wear should make that statement. I believe the rectangular one does just that."

"Oh ... it does?"

"Yes, Fiona, it does."

"Oh ... okay then. That's the one I want."

If I'd known I could put a stop to the endless dithering, I would have said something sooner. I did not ask Tina's opinion because Tina would not be wearing this ring. Fiona would.

The ring was a little loose and had to be resized. It would be ready early the following week. Her intention to dramatically display it at the office would have to wait a couple of days, and that frustrated her more than anything. I had to remind myself that this was a first for her. She had never been married and had never been given a ring of any kind. It should have tempered my frustration at the selection process, but I forgot the impact this would have on her.

"I'm sorry if I got a little upset this afternoon," I told her as we sat on the sofa before dinner. "I could just as easily have picked out a ring myself and hoped for the best, but I wanted you to agree. I didn't count on Tina having a say."

"That wasn't my best idea, I admit, Andy. She's so supportive of us being together and she's convinced she got us together. I haven't got the heart to tell her that I was way ahead of her."

"Don't apologize, love. I love Tina as a daughter I never would have had any other way. She's a lovely, bright young lady who you should be immensely proud of. I want her to be involved in our new family to be. It's just that the ring was something very personal. It will bond you and me. It doesn't exclude Tina, it just doesn't include her in a very private, special way."

"Thank you, Andy. I love the ring and I love you."

I got a passionate, long kiss to confirm her happiness.

"Does Tina have a boyfriend?" I asked.

"I don't think so. Not right now."

"I just wondered. She's a really attractive girl and I thought the boys would be pounding on your door after her."

"Oh, that's not a problem," she said brightly. "She has plenty of young guys panting after her, but she's pretty fussy about who she goes out with and isn't into long-term relationships."

"Well, she comes by that naturally," I snickered. "Sounds just like her mother."

"Past tense, Mister. I waited my turn and got my reward."

"I'm glad you feel that way, because I feel almost the same."

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