tagRomanceThe Possibilities

The Possibilities


When I was in high school there was a girl one year behind me named Elaine. Her dad was the high school principal; we were all terrified of him. She was the middle child with an older and younger brother.

Looking back, Elaine was cute. She was taller than average, probable five-seven or eight. With reddish brown naturally curly hair and big sea green eyes she clearly showed her Irish heritage on her fathers side. She had a nice body; she certainly filled out her cheer leading uniform well. With a smattering of faint freckles and that Midwestern, make-up free scrubbed complexion, topped off with a cute little turned up nose, one has to wonder why more guys didn't ask her out. Her mother, then in her very early forties was a very striking woman.

The fact that no one had the nerve to ask her out was the "fault" of her father's station in life and her protective brothers. None of us had the balls to knock on her parent's door on a Friday or Saturday night to be greeted by her father who at the time we believed was the toughest, meanest human being on the planet. A legitimate war hero and combat fighter ace he had a look that turned adolescent boys to jelly. A former college wrestler, he also looked like he could tear you limb from limb.

Her older brother was a senior with me and a good friend; her younger brother, a sophomore was also a friend. As boys hang out in the locker room , the cafeteria or wherever and talk about how far they got the previous Friday or Saturday night with so-and-so, one could envision a look from Elaine's brothers that said, "don't even think about it".

Elaine was also a bit of a late bloomer; I saw a picture of her in her forties and she was every bit the beauty her mother had been. The boy who did ask her out, and dated her exclusively through his senior year in high school and college---and married her----was a bit of a goof ball. We all liked him; he was a marginal student, a cut up and a decent wrestler. He was easily an inch or two shorter than Elaine but the family seemed to approve of him.

Russ never quite managed to graduate from college in the time it took Elaine to get a Masters. He had trouble acquiring and holding decent jobs or succeeding in business. I saw a picture of him a few years back and he was carrying well over two hundred pounds on a five foot six inch frame; he looked like a bowling ball with legs. He lost his hair by the time he hit forty. He's had health problems. They never had kids; rumor had it that he had the deficiency. They're still married; he's very much in love with her. They never left that isolated little burg; Elaine teaches school and writes and Russ slips from low paying job to low paying job or failed business to failed business...and everyone still loves the guy.

A couple of months before I graduated from high school, I saw Elaine sitting alone in the local teen hangout/diner and decided to join her. I'd always had a fascination with her; she intrigued me. She was sitting there alone because Russ was late to pick her up as usual. We talked for over an hour; we flirted. We connected at a level I don't really understand to this day. There was unquestionably mutual interest. It was more...it was electric...it bordered on pure unbridled passion. We weren't strangers; I'd known her since she had been in the seventh grade but never before had we connected one on one. She was, during that hour, sexier, more alluring and more exciting than I could ever remember her being----or anyone else for that matter---before or since.

I was going off to college in the fall and a summer job far away in a few weeks. Russ was my friend and Elaine was, "his girl". Still, I have no question that had I not been eighteen and stupid I could have taken her away from Russ in that hour. I will always wish I had told her the truth or at least said something creative.

"Elaine, your are the brightest, cutest most interesting girl---no, woman---I've ever met. You excite me at this instant like no one I've ever been with. If I were to predict, you and Russ will end up going to the closest regional state university, date through college and get married soon after. Then you'll move back here and live with your parents for a few years. For whatever reason---your dad, your brothers---Russ was the only boy who had the nerve to ask you out. He was the first and will doubtless be the last. He's a sweet guy but I think we both know he'll never amount to a hill of beans. You on the other hand could do great things---but you won't because you will die in this dead little town, after retiring from teaching high school, supporting your loser husband and burying your dreams. You're better than that but I'm also being selfish."

I can imagine the look of shock and consternation on her face after that little speech.

"Elaine, I don't plan to come back her to live. I'm going to a top university and plan to make something of myself. When I graduate, get a job and have a couple of years to get established, I'm going to come find you. Hopefully you'll still be available but sadly, I doubt it. If you are still single, then I will ask you to marry me, you'll say yes of course and you and I will live happily ever after---together. And I will love you and make love to you like no man on this earth could ever do---totally, absolutely and completely---you and no other but you until I die. Any questions?"

It didn't happen that way; Elaine and Russ got married when she got her undergraduate degree and the rest is, sadly, history. But what if? What if something different happened? What if that foolish eighteen year old boy got a second chance many years later? Of course Elaine and Russ got married, but something happened? His health problems resulted in his early demise? She wanted children---and more---and woke up one day and realized that she wanted more out of life than Russ could ever give her and divorced his sorry butt? Russ turned out to be gay? Maybe all three?

Let's give it a go, but it's going to take a few pages to get there. As often happens when a story idea comes to me "life gets in the way" so the reader is going to have to endure some corporate stuff as we take our protagonist to that fateful day when he is reunited with the girl with whom he was destined to spend the rest of his life.


"The best laid plans of mice and men," Bill thought to himself as he contemplated the beginning of his forty-first year on earth. Celebrating the night of his fortieth birthday alone, in a city he despised, doing a job he hated, in an urban condo that stifled him he smiled affectionately at the bottle of 1986 Camus Reserve Cabernet which he had diligently preserved for so many years in anticipation of this day. He had a yellow legal pad propped on his lap with a line drawn down the middle. He was assessing his assets and liabilities.

He had his health and was physically fit; he'd finally won the battle against nicotine with the exception of the occasional decent cigar. He'd never done drugs and his taste in alcoholic beverages was decidedly moderate. He didn't gamble. No wife, just an ex-wife. No kids to either love or hate him. No real close friend but no dire enemies. The rehabilitative alimony was over. He'd lost half his assets in the divorce five years earlier but had rebuilt his savings and the bitch hadn't been able to get to his 401k. He had a six figure job but never got into collecting "big boy toys" so he lived well below his means. His parents were dead and he had no siblings.

If he blew his brains out with the 1911 Colt beside his bed, no one would miss him for several days. He didn't know his neighbors nor really care to. His job entailed excessive travel and frequent relocations; as such he had no real ties to any community. He wasn't quite where he thought he'd be at forty. A lackluster Junior year in college coupled with the draft had delayed his ultimate graduation from college by over five years. When he had entered the civilian corporate world those who had not fought in the war or had to take a second run at college were several years ahead of him. His current boss was all of thirty-two.

He was highly respected for his skills and knowledge and the excellent job he did but he seriously doubted that he was on anyone's fast track. He didn't golf or schmooze. He didn't complain but nor did he politic. He accepted shitty assignments that others avoided and turned in stellar results. He was usually rewarded with money, a pat on the back and another crappy assignment. He was the classic corporate hatchet man. "Bill, Des Moines is a mess, go out there, get the lay of the land and clean house." Or, "Bill, this business unit is unprofitable; go out to San Diego, see if it can be fixed and if not, close it down and terminate the employees." Or worse, "Bill, everyone loves the guy out in Cleveland but he's not meeting his objectives; go fire him and take over in the interim."

He had a somewhat nebulous title: Vice President of Corporate Restructuring. His thirty-two year old boss was a Senior Vice President of Corporate Solutions. He was a nice kid, albeit completely spineless and utterly clueless. He in turn reported to the President who barely gave Bill a nod in the hallway. He was sure the CEO and founder knew his name but doubted that he could put it with his face.

At this point in his career Bill should be the head of a major business unit but the only business units he was ever put in charge of were failing ones and it was his task to end their misery.

There'd been a shakeup at the top; the CEO and founder shocked the corporate community by announcing his imminent retirement and the board was bringing in a new face from a major consumer products company who knew nothing about this business. All of the minions were scurrying around preparing to meet the new guy; Bill had not been invited to do so---hadn't even been included in one of the briefing sessions.

Bill was like the mafia uncle that no ones wants to admit knowing until the family is threatened. There was something out of Rudyard Kipling about his existence. He had heard the nick names: the terminator, the hammer, Dr. Doom, the angel of death. Every company has them, kept on a shelf in a dark basement room until they're needed to do some dirty work. He laughed when he realized that his corporate life was really an extension of his military experience. No one he worked with knew what he had done in the Army; they wouldn't have been able to avoid the irony if they had known.

The bottle was empty and he was tired. There was an impressive list on the plus side of his personal ledger, certainly enough to keep him from putting a 230 grain hollow point, "flying ashtray" through his brain. On the negative side just a few words: No life, no love---no one. The damned travel and constant relocation even precluded a damn dog.

Love...had he ever been in love? Certainly not with his former wife; love had had nothing to do with that fucked up relationship. There had been a girl just before he graduated from high school; they'd never dated, danced together or kissed. They'd known each other for years in school, connected once for an hour and that was it. Certainly he was in love with his memory of her. He hadn't seen her or talked to her in twenty-two years. She was married to another man. She was probably overweight and burdened with several children by now.

The weekend passed as so many others had. He ran, he worked out, he read, he wrote---purely for the satisfaction it gave him---watched some football and slept. Monday morning he drove to the office he had occupied for the previous eight months. This job was almost over; the manufacturing facility was closed, the employees were virtually all terminated and the assets were being sold off. He'd move back to the corporate headquarters, sit on his ass for some period of time and then be sent off to burn down another failing business. He was done here; he probably hadn't been called back yet because the big boys were too busy polishing the apple and sucking up to the new CEO.

His clueless and spineless boss often called him just before seven on Monday morning knowing that Bill would be there. When he hadn't called by eight Bill just assumed he was busy primping for his audience with the new emperor. Just after nine, his secretary stuck her head in the door. Vallerie was a fifty-seven year old, somewhat austere, no nonsense woman. She had become his right hand over the years, relocated with him and was the closest person in the world to a good friend that Bill had.

"Bill, I've got one of those, secretary to secretary, 'please get Mr. Shilling on the line' calls from the new CEO's office."

"I've got it Val. Thanks!"

"Mr. Shilling? Hi, this is Rebecca Smythe, Mr. Kearing's administrative assistant, hold please for Mr. Kearing."

Bill's thirty-two year old boss did this and often kept him on hold for fifteen minutes or more. This was the CEO...hell it could be an hour. He left the phone on speaker; to his surprise the CEO came on the line in less than twenty seconds.

"Mr. Shilling? Mike Kearing...may I call you Bill?"

Bill grabbed the phone and punched it off speaker. "You can call me almost anything you want to sir!" Bill replied, almost regretting his attempt at humor but then that was his style. To his relief, Mike Kearing, the new CEO was laughing so hard he almost dropped the phone.

"That is refreshing! A man with a sense of humor early on a Monday morning. Please call me Mike. Let me get right down to it. I noticed that you are no where on my schedule of beauty appointments slash dog and pony shows---why is that?"

"I've just finished up this assignment, sir, ah, Mike. This business is done, dead, kaput. Employees are gone, assets are being carted off as we speak and the building is going to be torn down the first of next week. Since I don't run an ongoing business unit---I just shoot the ones with broken legs---I suppose no one thought I had anything to impress you with."

Mike Kearing chucked again. "So you're the resident undertaker, grave digger and bringer of bad tidings. I knew we had one somewhere. How long have you been in this line of work?"

"Fourteen years with the company...the normal progression for the first four---sales, marketing and operations--- then someone discovered my gift, so, ten years? The job does have growth potential...I seem to be killing bigger business units with every passing year."

"Do you enjoy it?"

"Hate it...absolute hate it."

"So did I."

"Pardon me?"

"I wasn't always a golden boy, Bill. I spent almost ten years as a grave digger. One day I got an assignment and I didn't think the unit should be killed. I fought for it, they gave me a completely unrealistic time frame to turn it around and a pretty free reign. I orchestrated a leveraged buyout and the rest is history. How soon can you get up here?"

"For a chat or permanently?"


"I can probably be there for a chat by the end of the day; I have a couple of things to sign off on with the city and the demo people but I can get out on a flight by mid afternoon. Permanently? Pretty much the same time frame."

Mike laughed again. "I like you already, Bill. A dark sense of humor is about the only thing that kept me sane when I was doing it. Are you an early riser?"

"Thanks to growing up on a dairy farm and four years in the Army it's a hard habit to break."

"Do you have a home up here?"

"No, I used to. Should I buy one?"

"Probably. Regardless, you need to tie up your personal affairs there---immediately. I haven't moved yet; I'm still camped out at the Hyatt. I'll have my admin make a reservation for you. Let's plan on breakfast at six; there's a breakfast nook on the floor we'll be on."

"That'll work."

"Great! Kearing out."

Out? Has to be former military...need to check out his official bio...need to pack...sell the damn condo.

Thanks to weather, maintenance issues and slow city officials, Bill did not arrive at the Hyatt five miles from his corporate headquarters until a little after seven. His room was on a special floor that required a special key and a special elevator. It was more a suite than a room.

He hung up his clothes and took a quick shower, donning jeans and a sweater. He ordered a burger and a decent bottle of wine. He chuckled to himself when it came with two pieces of decent crystal stem ware. This was not the Red Roof Inn. He opened his lap top, answered some email messages and Googled the new CEO.

Army, infantry, combat, decorated, officer. Bill had many of those under his name somewhere, although he had been a Warrant in Military Intelligence not a commissioned officer in the infantry. They had fought in the same long war just at opposite ends of it. Something in common, that was certain. A state university education, not Ivy. That was a surprise. Just before 8:30 there was a knock at the door. He opened it to see a man he deemed to be a decade older and dressed much as he was.

"Bill Shilling? Mike Kearing." The CEO said, extending his hand. "Am I interrupting anything?"

"Not at all! Welcome to my not so humble abode. Come on in. I was just about to tackle this bottle of wine...care to join me?"

"Without question...you've got good taste."

"Sadly, a decent bottle of wine is my only vice. I just finished checking my email and Googling my anticipated breakfast companion."

"Let's order another one, one will not be enough for the two of us."

"A man after my own heart."

"What did you do in the Army, Bill?"

"MI, running agents...resolving... issues."

"Nasty stuff. Started as a Ranger, ended up with the LRPS."

"Even nastier stuff."

"Any regrets?"

"Not really. It wasn't what I planned but I wouldn't change anything."

"Me neither. There aren't many people in this company who served; most are too young to have combat exposure anyway. Hell, you just got in on the tail end of that cluster fuck."

"If I'd kept my nose to the grind stone in college I'd probably have missed it entirely. That and having to go back and finish my last year of college set me back a little with regards to my contemporaries but I'm proud to have served in what was a completely fucked up endeavor."

"Water over the dam; I'm a better man for it and no regrets either. So, Bill, who'd you piss off to become the resident undertaker?"

"No one that I know of. I sort of volunteered the first time and unfortunately I got good at it and no one else wanted the job. Hell, I didn't want the job! One thing led to another and the die was cast."





"That's fortunate, I don't mean that it's fortunate that you don't have kids but fortunate that since you are divorced you don't have kids."

"I couldn't agree more...want kids, someday...sooner rather than later."

"How fucked up is this company?"

"Only marginally. A little top heavy---staff is way off the reservation and running amuck. A lack of standardization between business units---sales process and IT. A few fiefdoms out in the field that need to be taken down. Too much emphasis on sales not enough on profitability. Too many head shed types who don't have a clue what is going on and have never met a customer. We're slow to react to regulatory issues and political meddling in our industry but all in all, good employees who just need clear direction and ethical leadership.

"We have excellent manufacturing and solid vendor relationships, good products and stellar distribution. We've over out-sourced and over consolidated customer facing functions. Failed to lead from the top strategically while micro managing the day to day tactical shit. No one's in charge and everyone's in charge. A lot of really good people still seem to get the job done in spite of the problems."

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