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Calibrate



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David Manoa




Copyright 2018 David Manoa

Smashwords Edition

v. 1.7


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The author asserts the moral right to be identified as

the author of this work.



All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including photocopying, recording, information storage and retrieval systems, or otherwise, without prior permission in writing from the author, with the exception of a book reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.


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A man arrives to his penthouse apartment to find his door wide open. He enters in, places his keys on the smoked glass table. The lights are off and he reaches for the switch. He paused, the hardwood polished floor gleamed with light from the fireplace. On the walls shadows danced with orange and yellow light. He listens to the crackle and pop from the fireplace. The warmth coats his face for a moment before a cool breeze blows bringing with it the scent of her sweet perfume. It causes him to close his eyes and inhale deeply like some seductive drug, which conjures images of her.

He was so glad she came by to the office. He listened to her problems, consoled her, and made her feel special. She stared deep into his eyes, sensing the solitude they share. They kissed, then kissed again. Kissed more. He gave her his key to his apartment, the insatiable desire to fill the emptiness in their lonely hearts. An exchange of secrets for a night of sex. He turns, seeing her hold a glass of wine, sitting on his white leather sofa. She's gorgeous, seductive, and behind her, the moon lights up behind her giving her svelte figure a white aura. Like she was an angel. She is wearing a tight white dress. She crossed her right leg, her white heel almost falls off her toes. She spears back her hair, the length so long it reaches to the middle of her back. She licks her lips as the man undoes the knot of his black silk tie.

She kicks off her heels and stands walking towards him. The sparkling red nail polish on her toes glints with the moonlight. She presses against him pulling his tie. A kiss. The silk of his tie so soft, he smooths it on her collarbone. Her cheeks flushed rose. Her breasts swell. Her eyes dilate drawing him near. He glides his index finger over her back to the zip and pulls it down. The middle finger glides down the middle of her naked back.

His kisses start on her neck. It feels soft, the skin supple. She breathes in deep, she senses the anticipation, and she knows she's wet. Wanting to be filled. Dreaming to be dominated. He takes her in his arms. Lifts her up, pinning her to glass window. Deep tongue lashing kisses connect. He squeezes her rear leans back to view this beauty he will seduce tonight. The things you do... he thought. The things I do, I may regret...


***

Braith Deveraux


“If they find out, I'll lose everything, Claire.”

Claire folded her arms and bit her lip. Moments when everything weighs on your mind on how much you trust a person to play a part. Like a play. You learn your lines and never deviate.

“Louis hates your guts and he knows.”

I pressed my index finger into my right temple. “He thinks he knows.”

Claire shakes her head and heads to the window. I join her pressing my palms staring out from the 40th floor of the Caracas Ltd. The weather is overcast, just a small break in the clouds let a streak of light through. It hits my eyes, amongst the gloom. Like this light, I need this to work, even though my chances are slim to none.

I said, “Listen, I admitted to Louis that I took one of the clients out using my corporate card to a strip club.”

Claire's face drains of color she appears puzzled. “But that wasn't the reason?”

“Yes. But that won't get me fired.”

“All the sales account managers, run up crazy expenses. I've seen others that have been to those clubs and they are obvious as hell. A two a.m. transaction at some no one company is a dead giveaway.” Claire smiles, “Louis isn't a knight in shining armor either.”

“I know. But he wants to make me an example so he looks good in front of the sales cadets.”

“He is such a bully and he isn't even your boss!”

“Yes, but he will always have in for me since I am the big bosses right-hand man.”

“So you're confident when Louis dobs you in to Geoff, that he won't fire you?”

“Of course not. I am Caracas number one sales account manager. Geoff wouldn't dare.”

Who wouldn't dare?

A booming voice, his irritating tone, and English accent. Shit, Louis.

We turn and the pompous prick is behind us. Standing five foot five with his black comb-over covering his friar tuck baldness. Louis is a fat bastard who wears a tight suit you swear the buttons would pop off. He points at me.

“Braith I know you are talking about me, behind my back and if you think I won't tell Geoff, you got another thing coming. I'm on to you buster, I know there's more. I can smell a rat.” Louis raises his head and sniffs the air. “My dear God I smell a rat.”

I walk towards Louis, he straightens up and adjusts his purple tie. He raised his head high, I can see his bloody nose hairs. Jesus dude, trim that shit!

I said, “What do you want Louis? What can I do? You don't have to tell Geoff.”

His beady black eyes widen. “I don't. Although you can owe me with a favor.” He rubs his hands.

“Anything you want, I'll get it done.”

Louis licks his lips, “Oh I'm collecting now. With the number of times you keep screwing up, I may as well use my chit.”

“Chit? I'm no taxi.” I shake my head. “What do you want?”

He coughs and moves closer, “A date with my dear Claire.” He whispered.

“Done.” I hold out my hand and we shake. Done deal. Breathing room.

Claire pushed in between us, “Excuse me?”

Before Claire could say anything more, Louis walked out of the room. Claire hits me in the arm.

“What! It's just a date.” I said. The pain stung.

“I'm not a piece of meat.”

“Relax, if it gets Louis off the trail, we'll be fine. The more he snoops, the likely hood of him finding out what I really did.”

Claire folds her arms, “You mean you.”

“Don't be like that. If Geoff finds out the real reason. I'll be fired perhaps prison if they take it to that extreme. Which means Louis will take my job and he will be your boss.”

Claire sighs, “Louis is a slimy creep you know that.”

“No, he's quite the gentlemen. I think you would like the attention and royal pampering. It’s a chance to know better. Never know you might get attracted.”

Claire rolls her eyes, “Yeah if he looked like George Clooney. I would.”

I raise a brow, “Ew? You like old men he'd be the same age as your grandfather.”

“No silly, back when he was in his early 40s. When he was on that TV show ER. Ocean’s Eleven, such a hottie.”

“You could pretend...”

“Not with that voice of his. Gosh, imagine hearing it when....”

My ears prick up, “When what?”

Clare shakes, “Ugh I don't want to think about. Gross. You owe me, now that I'm taking one for the team right? Besides how did you know Louis would ask for the date for his silence?”

“I’ve known Louis for years, and he is always asking about you. Gathering Intel to the point where he probably knows more about you than you do. You had me sweating bullets there when you tried to back out.”

Claire shrugs, “Gotta make it look authentic.”

“Yes, and I thank you so much. I'll talk to Geoff when your pay comes up for review.”

“I want a 15% pay rise and two weeks off holiday next week.”

I frown, “10% and one week holiday. Next month.”

“15% or else I tell Geoff.”

I fold my arms. “Tell Geoff then.”

Claire squeezes her eyes, “Ok 10% and two weeks starting from next month here's my holiday form. I don't want to work for Louis.”

I sit at my desk and sign off her holidays, I open up the draw and pull out tickets to a Rugby game. I flick them to her.

“Here corporate box tickets. The rugby teams are All Blacks vs France. You receive a three-course meal, the room to yourselves, I've taken many clients who enjoyed it. The experience will be very romantic.”

“Don't push it, buddy. Bad enough being in the same room as him.”

“The wine and beer fridge will be full. Maybe you can drink more and he might start looking better. If you get drunk maybe he will look George Clooney.”

“Trust me. I could empty the whole fridge and Louis would still look like a douche bag.”

I laughed then stood and to open my door. “Claire I appreciate this. I owe you.”

Claire walked out to return to her desk outside my office when Geoff walked in.

***

Claire Deville


I sat at my desk as Geoff stormed past me. He threw a folder on Braith's desk and he flicked through the pages. He started to shout but I couldn't make out the words. I turn my head to eavesdrop when Louis pops up at my desk.

“What do you want?”

Louis raised a brow, “Claire... did Braith give the tickets....”

I nod. Giving him the tickets. He snatches it as if they were winning lottery tickets.

“Yes!” He fist pumps, “Claire, oh my god. You are going to love this. Are you a Rugby fan?”

“Eighty minutes of watching men chase an oval-shaped ball is not my idea of fun. So no.”

“Well, the cuisine they serve is top notch which will more than compensate, not mention the wine. We are going to have an enjoyable time on our date.”

“I don't get you, Louis. What part of no, doesn't seem to embed in that thick skull of yours. I don't date employees. Period. I am only doing this because of Braith. Don't you think it is unprofessional to have relationships in the workplace?”

“Not at all my dear. My mother and father met at work and they lived happily ever after.”

“But they had you though.

Louis tilts his head and frowns, “Very funny.”

I sighed, “I might cancel…”

“Don’t! If Braith wasn't in your ear painting me out being a bad guy all the time, you would like me. Take a chance, leave all your biases aside. Know me before you blow me.”

I frowned, “Excuse me?”

Louis flinched, “Sorry I mean blow me off. As in not come to our date.”

“To be honest. I came to my own conclusion by myself without any assistance from Braith. I only have to look at the way you treat the sales cadets to get the notion, you are self-entitled Tyrant who gives a shit about no one but himself. I was so glad to be out of there before you arrived.”

Louis said nothing. Eyes narrowed, muscles in his jaw pulsed. Maybe what I said cut deep. He takes in a deep breath. Gosh here comes the lecture… “My dearest Claire. I make no apologies for the way I treat them. Your generation has life so easy with the latest technology you've become accustomed to. You've all become lazy. Just yesterday I walk past one of the cadets writing a novel in an email on negotiating a price. My god, it was pa-the-tic. This idiot spent an hour writing it. I picked up his phone and rang his client and closed the deal in less than three minutes. I teach old-school common sense principles. I have to be that way to the Sales Cadets because they wouldn't be the number one salesmen, if I didn't make it hard for them.”

“Hold on. Braith is number one salesman.”

“Excuse me? No way Braith couldn't sell sand to an Arab to save himself. Why do you think Geoff asked me? Louis Smith, the third to train the sales team. I'm the Ferrari and Braith is the Toyota.”

I raised a brow, “Louis the Third? And excuse me I drive Toyota!”

“Sorry no offense, it’s a shit car brand anyway but I'm just giving you an example. But your question before, Yes. I descend from a long line of royalty.”

I roll my eyes, “Royal assholes.”

Before Louis said anything, Geoff stormed out swearing. Braith looked so pissed, he pulled Louis by the collar into his office. Braith pointed his finger at me to take an early lunch break. Gosh, they are arguing big time.


I headed out to the café downstairs trying to think if Braith had been found out. The secret he kept. The Barista arrived with my coffee when I caught a glance of Lauren Sheldon. Braith's girlfriend. Blonde, blue eyes. Big boobs, five foot eight, heart-shaped face with a pig-like nose. The so-called blonde bombshell (Braith’s description not mine.) ordered her two coffees when I waved her over.

“You here again?”

“So? Is Braith in? I got his coffee.”

“I don't think it would be a good idea to visit Braith?”

“Why?”

“He and Louis are having a disagreement.”

“Again? I don't understand why those two are at each other throats all the time.”

I sigh, “Welcome to my world.”

Lauren takes a seat, she brushed her hair aside then takes out her phone to text Braith. I wondered why Braith dated her. What he sees in her. Oink. Oink.

“Sorry. Your right. Braith just replied said he's busy. Damn... I wanted him to start thinking about our wedding plans.”

Shocked. I looked at her ring finger. No engagement ring can be seen. Puzzled I flicked my eyes to her when I'm met with a grin.

“You're thinking where the ring is aren't you.” She smiles.

“No, I'm thinking when did he ever propose to you?”

“What are you talking about? He didn't tell you? I would have thought you would have known since you work with him.”

“We keep his personal affairs separate from work.”

“Ha, funny coming from someone who spends more time with him than his own girlfriend. Don't try and play dumb because you two are buddies.”

I paused, peed off at her comment. “Braith is passionate about his work.”

“He is, sometimes he loves his job more than he does me.”

“He does. Maybe it's where your engagement ring is. Wrapped around Caracas Ltd.”

Lauren let out a laugh, “No, I made it clear to him that I wanted to choose the ring.”

“Ruins the surprise don't you think?”

“There was no surprise. Braith told me he wanted to marry me at the Christmas party last year.”

I rub my eyes, “Interesting... because I remember Braith being very drunk.”

“Well, when people are drunk they reveal their true feelings.”

“Or regrets.”

She stands. “Ugh, Anyway. I'm going to Braith. Trainers tip. Try and select skim milk with your coffee, then you won’t have to spend so much time at Cloud Fitness.”

“Maybe you should cook healthier dinners for Braith instead of fattening him up.”

“Trust me he will be doing all the cooking soon, because I have something very important to tell him.”

I didn’t ask because I think she was going to tell Braith that she is really a man. I look on in horror as Lauren waddled out in her skimpy blue boob-tube outfit looking like a hooker. Out of all the girlfriends Braith had, Lauren did my head in the most. Day one, she did my head in being all touchy-feely and kissy with her visits to the office. I took my phone out and text Braith that Lauren is on her way. I took another sip thinking what Lauren would do if she found out about the dodgy deal she did with Tricia.

Suddenly I saw Louis all red-faced come inside the cafe, hands on hips. Sucking in big ones. He spotted me and made a beeline for me. Louis is all clammy and twitchy. Like he did something wrong. Wait he has done something wrong. Something stupid, probably.

Louis holds his palms against his cheeks, “Oh my god. Oh my god. I'm so dead. Claire, you gotta come here. I have to tell you something!”

“What.”

Louis sits down breathing faster. He wipes the sweat off his forehead. He finally calms.

“Braith punched me.” he points to his eye. Wow, I didn't notice at first but ouch.

“Why? You told Geoff didn't you!”

“No way! Are you crazy! You'd think I want to jeopardize our date?”

“Then who?”

“Well, who knew apart from me and you?”

“Whoa stop right there if you think for a god damned second I would ever tell on Braith.”

“No. no. no. I'm not eluding to you. There must be someone else.” Louis pats the big shiner on his right eye. It's starting to swell. He looks more handsome for some reason.

“So what does that mean? Is Braith fired?”

“No. He is suspended without pay for a month.”

“What! I can't believe it.”

“And he blames me.”

“I'll catch up with him.” I grab my handbag.

“Please Claire, you have to tell him. I swear on the bible I never told Geoff.”


I stand to go when I observe Braith leaving with Lauren. She turns smirking at us. I fold my arms as Louis stands next to me. We look on as Lauren puts her arms around Braith giving him a kiss. God, I hate public displays of affection. Gross.

I nudge Louis who is staring intensely. I say “Can I ask if the one month was on the extreme end of punishment?”

“God no. It's standard for any employee who abuses their credit card.”

“Humm, Louis I think we have our rat right there.”

Louis flinches, “Yeah, yeah, you know what? It must be her... In fact, Geoff mentioned a woman who tipped him off. How could she have known?”

“She's a clever woman. Daughter of a slimy billionaire. Lauren is quite manipulative... She has a way of extorting information out in a covert manner.”

Louis shows his palms, “You have to tell Braith it wasn't me. We had a deal!”

“Saving yourself are we?”

“Do you see this face? This might end up a scar! I'm might need plastic surgery. I might have broken or fractured bones!”

I roll my eyes, “Nothings broken apart from your ego. Besides you look better now.”

“Do I?” Louis turns to check his reflection in the glass pane, gosh my positive comment gave him the wrong sense of encouragement. I watch as Braith and Lauren hop into his jeep and drive off. Lauren... you tricky, tricky girl.

“You know it could have been worse though,” Louis said.

“Why.”

“I almost pressed charges for assault. Braith could go to prison. But out of the kindness of my heart. I didn't. Don't you think there is merit in that?”

“Thank you, Louis.”

He shot back, “So we still have our date this weekend?”

I sighed. “Ok.” Gosh everyone has an agenda...

***

Braith Deveraux


Holding the steering wheel I noticed the skin on my knuckles were peeling and bleeding a bit from my hit on Louis. I regret hitting him but everything built up, I reacted. I took the highway and sat in afternoon traffic pissed off that Louis flipped on our deal. Every time I try and trust him he stabs me in the back. Ever since we were sales cadets, we were competitive. Now he just plays dirty. Years of broken trust built up on me. Yet when we started we were best friends. I wind my window down when I turn to Lauren who is doing her makeup.

“I can't believe you punched Louis. You shouldn't have done that!”

“Yeah, my action surprised me too. Knowing Louis and how he reacted in hysterics making a show of it in the security camera. I'm gonna get sued.”

Lauren puts her makeup away, “You should apologize straight away then, so he doesn't do that.”

“Stuff him. I'm not sorry for what I did. Besides, he would have called the cops by now and I'd be in a cell with my back against the wall fighting off Bubba. Which means he didn't, because he is desperate to have that date with Claire”

“Them two? Lauren raises a brow and laughs. “Louis is way out of Claire’s league. A seven of ten guy with a three out of ten girl.”

I raise a brow, “Are you serious you’re giving Louis a seven out of ten. Jesus, he’s an ugly motherfucker.”

Lauren smiles, “You being ten of course.”

I pulled in to my gym. Cloud Fitness. “Can you pick me after? I need to let off some steam.”

“Ok. I'll pick you up after?”

“No. I'll be fine, I'll catch a ride with Claire.”

“I don't know why she bothers, it's not like its making any difference to her figure.”

“Hey. That's not fair. Remember if it wasn't for her, you wouldn't be enjoying this chiseled body of mine.”

Lauren laughs, “True. I can't wait till you come home with muscles so pumped, with those striations showing. Sexy. It’s why I said you were ten out of ten. Can't wait to tell you the news too.”

“What news?”

Lauren winked her right eye, “When you come home my gym bunny. I have very exciting news.”

***


I spent about an hour doing weights before I warmed down with a walk on the treadmill. I watched as the receptionist started wiping down the machines, while one of the guys started perving. I flinched when I heard the beep of the treadmill beside me going. It was Claire.

“You're a bit late?” I say checking my watch.

“Well someone has to do your job. Though I had to give Louis your main account to care for as per Geoff's instruction.”

“Don't tell me he's got the Hunter International account.”

Claire nods.

I slammed the console. “That bastard! I knew it! He knew I would be suspended and he swooped in for the kill. I'm glad I punched him now.”

“No. I don't think it was him that told Geoff.”

“What are you talking about? Of course, it was him. He has everything to gain.”

Claire said nothing only to increase the incline on the treadmill.

“Claire...”

“I think it was Lauren who tipped Geoff off.”

“What!” I stopped. Not realizing the treadmill doesn't. I slipped and tumbled to the floor. Everybody started laughing. The owner Christian Cloud bolted over to check if I was ok. He helped me to my feet. There was this douchebag wearing a bandana who kept laughing. I wanted to smack him in the face.

“Can we go?” I said. Claire nods and we head out of the gym.


Squashed in the passenger seat of Claire’s Silver Toyota Prius. We cruised along the motorway. I asked her to take the long route home so I could discuss her allegation. I know Claire long enough to know she wouldn't bullshit me but she could be wrong. My brain wrestled with the idea, if Lauren could have done this. But I wasn't too sure. The night was cool so I wound my window down for fresh oxygen for my withered brain. Staring out at Rangitoto Island as we cruised Tamaki drive at night, it looked quite gloomy.

“I'm right,” Claire said breaking the silence.

“What's that?”

“You've been silent for half the drive. You know Lauren told Geoff.”

“I don't understand how she knew though. Why would she want to get me fired?”

“Maybe she knew you would get a slap on the wrist.”

“She wouldn't, she thought I would have got fired. Which would put us in the shit with the bills. Let alone our mortgage.”

Claire laughed. “I'm pretty sure Lauren's billionaire daddy, Nick Pontus would have picked up the tab. He probably paid for your house.”

“No way. I didn't accept a cent from him. Besides he works for the competitor and I would never work for him.”

“Ah, so the plot thickens. Maybe she did it, so you'd get fired and you would have no choice but to work for him.”

I said nothing. The woman has a point though.

“Silence is an admission of my correctness.”

“Put a sock in it will ya. I'm thinking.”

“Just entertain the idea and think out aloud while you're at it.”

“Lauren wouldn't stoop so low. She knows how much my job means to me.”


Claire eased off the gas and pulled into McDonald's on Quay St. She ordered two ice creams. Chocolate dipped with the waffle cone. We turned right passing the container wharf to Mission Bay and we sat on the steps looking out to the water. The weather was calm not a breeze of wind. The sodium filled street lights shines behind us blending orange light with the waves.

I said, “You know, this undoes all our running on the treadmill.”

Claire licks her ice-cream “It’s only a few calories.”

I shrug then eat my ice-cream while we notice a guy throw a stick for his Husky to fetch for him. He throws it again into the water when the dog hesitates.

“The dog doesn't like the water,” I said.

“Braith doesn't like the truth when it hits him dead smack in the face either.” She licked her ice-cream like a man fashioning clay into a pot.

“Ha. Ha. Did someone ever tell you lick your ice-cream in a really weird way?”

“Like I would a penis?”

I cracked up, “Ah, I mean its dripping on your hand. TMI (Too Much Information) Claire. TMI. Please back to my problems. Please.”

Claire grabs a serviette, “So if Lauren wanted you to be fired she would have known what you really did with the bribe to Tricia and told Geoff. Which she didn't, so I guess you didn't tell her about the deal.”

“No. I can't have her look at me with disappointment. I can't tell her. She might tell her dad then I will really be stuffed.”

“What makes you say that? You don’t trust her?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t want to be in a position to test that.”

“That's true.” She said. “I'm not going to judge you for what you did. But the truth has a way of coming out.”


I finished my ice-cream, then picked up a shell embedded in the sand. It was one half of a clam which I use to dredge for as a kid. A shame a beach like this devoid of them due to pollution.

“What are you doing?” Claire asked.

I examine it. The inside shell reflects with the color of a rainbow. “This brings back memories. I use to collect these and make clam chowder.”

Claire screwed up her face. “Ugh. I hate seafood.”

“Trust me the seafood chowder I make now, is a sure-fire aphrodisiac. I heat a pan and chuck them in adding a bit of water and ginger. I add the white wine, damn when it sizzles the flavors release, bliss!

I add bbq sauce and soy sauce. And let it sizzle more. Then finally I take the clams out and reduce the liquid and it intensifies the flavors. Damn when that sauce goes back on the clams. Woo!”

Claire smiles, “Remind me not to have seafood chowder at your place.”

“Cause you might seduce me?” I raise a brow, “Sounded inappropriate Claire... TMI.”

Claire laughed. “Maybe I do need a boyfriend...”

I raised a brow, “I did hook you up with Louis. You know, Lauren gave him a seven out of ten rating.”

“Really? Ew, Louis is a two of ten. What rating did she give you?”

“Ten.”

“You’re lying.”

“Nope.”

“Two ratings so close together, somebody is.”

“I’m not.”

“Regardless of rating. I wouldn't date him if he was the last man on earth. So now your fake secret is out, I guess the date is off the cards.”

“Not really, Louis might press charges.”

Claire bit her lip.

I said, “But from your reaction, he won't because he still wants to go on the date.”

Claire sighs, “I led myself into this didn't I?”

I adjust the cufflinks and smiled. “Thank you, Claire. I appreciate it.”


I stared at Claire for a while. Brown shoulder length hair, light blue eyes. Sometimes I wonder why I never ended up with her. We had moments... so close, we almost kissed once. But you can't go back when you cross that line as friends. Besides I made a promise to Lauren, I would marry her.

“So in other news... I heard you were engaged?”

I shook, shunted back into reality. I hate it how Claire can pick up on things like she is reading my god damned mind. I coughed. “Yeah.”

“So why didn't you tell me? The Christmas party was six months ago.”

I shrugged, “I didn't think it mattered.”

“Excuse me? Of course, it matters I am your friend Braith. How could you keep this from me for so long?”

“Jealous much?”

Claire put down her ice-cream. “This has nothing to do with jealousy it's about trust and the relationship we have. The unique relationship we have! And don't you dare say it's personal because it's something you do share...”

“Okay! Relax woman. I'm sorry I didn't tell you. So are you going to wish me congratulations?”

Claire shrugs then shakes her head. “I'm not going to sugar coat it. As much as I'm happy for you, I do wish, it wasn't her.”

“Jealous much?”

Claire punches me in the arm. “You're such a dick.” She punches again hard.

“Ow! Sorry, I'm joking!” I said. “Look, if I had to be honest, it was a spur of the moment thing that Lauren held me to.”

“Lauren told me you proposed at the Christmas party and from what I remember you were hugging and kissing everyone telling you love them. Sheesh, what was in the beer you were drinking? Viagra?”

“I barely remember saying to Lauren...”

“Well apparently Lauren is picking out an engagement ring. You have to seriously reconsider this if you are not all in.”

“I am all in. Balls deep.”

Claire paused and stared me in the eye. Siphoning out the lie I just told.

I exhale, “Maybe just the tip.”

We both laugh when I bury myself in my palms with me laughing more at how my situation is becoming a joke. “I don't know what to do Claire.”

“Well, you do have a month to sort it out with Lauren. So take the time to grow some balls and tell her the truth or take the time to work out what you really want.”

“Hell no. I can't let Louis manage the Hunter International Account he will mess it up.”

“Geoff won't reverse his decision.”

“Don't worry about him, I have a plan. C'mon lets go, you need lots of precious beauty sleep for your date with Louis tomorrow. I'll be back in the office on Monday. Bring your popcorn.”

“Or a coffin.” Claire said.

***

Claire Deville


Saturday

Eden Park

Auckland

7:30 pm


I arrived outside the corporate box to Louis standing by the door. He's dressed in a white tuxedo. His hair is combed slick back slight to the side to cover a bald patch. He does appear slightly better until he opens his mouth.

“Claire you look delicious.” He said looking me up and down multiple times.

I raise a brow, the way he said the last word sounded like a snake. “I didn't know I was on the menu.”

Louis chuckles and when I mean chuckle it has a snort that makes you think he is a part pig. He threads his arm through mine and we walk into the corporate box.

It's a room six meters wide ten meters long. The floor is grey plush carpet so soft it feels like a sponge. There is a glass sliding door that is open and you can see the field with the rugby players warming up. There is a table in the middle with candles lit. There is a bar to our left and large screen TV playing live footage of the players passing the ball around.

Louis takes me to the table and pulls out the seat. There is a bottle of champagne in dry ice. He takes it out and starts removing the foil.

“My darling Claire. I was so relieved when I saw you. I almost thought you weren't going to turn up. But I had hope in my lonely heart you would and you did. Thank you for choosing to spend time with me.”

“Well, the thought did cross my mind.”

Louis chuckles pointing the bottle outside. He shakes the bottle that the cork pops spraying wasted wine down below. Louis smiles until a voice bellows from below. He looks down to notice he soaked a few people. He comes back in quick as a flash in a pan and closes the sliding door.

“A bit chilly, isn't it? Brr.” He says, rubbing his arms.

I laughed, holding my flute for him to fill.

We locked eyes and clinked our glasses. Before taking a swig.

I said, “I caught up with Braith. He said he's back to work on Monday.”

Louis coughed, the wine going down the wrong hole. “What? I called Hunter International, to tell them I'm their account manager.”

My eyes widen, “Well it should be interesting on Monday won't it?”

Louis gritted his jaw. “That's not fair! I met with them today.”

“What? So after Geoff told you. You went straight over hours after. God damn, you really are so desperate to take Braith’s job.”

“Give me a break Claire. I was only doing what I was told.”

“Yet you forgot to tell Hunter International, you were only there for the interim right?”

Louis flushed red. “No. I was hoping they would notice me as a better operator.”

“What were you thinking Louis? Did you think you can improve on what Braith has done?”

“I can and I will. I have a proven record. My billings are greater than Braith's.”

“I agree, but the Hunter International account alone, does twice the turnover than all your accounts combined.”

Louis sulked like a little kid. His lips twitching and trembling. He says nothing.

“Look I'll be honest. I think you would do well if you had an account like Hunter International but Braith has the relationship with Tricia Stanton. Let me guess, you tried to impose yourself on her right?”

Louis said nothing. He swiped away the fog approaching him from the dry ice.

I sit up, “Louis what did you do?”

“Nothing. Tricia told me to leave when I tried to obtain her signature to secure their business for four years.”

I fist hits the table, jiggling the cutlery. “God damn Louis. You are gonna mess his account up. You know how sensitive it is there with their restructuring. They are cutting costs left right and center and you're putting us on the chopping block.”

“Won't happen. My offer is solid.”

“You sure because if Braith finds out you made a play he's going give you a left black eye to match the right.”

Gosh, Louis pisses me off. The door opens and Braith and Lauren come in. Louis leapt like frightened cat. Braith arms folded, shakes his head.

“Braith what are you doing here?” Louis asked,

Braith flashes two tickets and the staff brings in two chairs. “Oh, you didn't think, you had the whole box to yourself?”

We all sit at the table and Louis is jittery as hell. Lauren excuses herself to use the bathroom and Braith makes eye contact with me for me to go. He knows what Louis did. I head out to join Lauren.

***

Braith Deveraux


The girls left and Louis and I sat at the table. Amano to amano. Man vs Idiot. The candles flickered, the fog from the dry ice the cause. The candle got smothered and soon went out then I stared straight at the moron. Louis opens the sliding door. The crowd in the stadium does a Mexican wave, throwing plastic cups in the air.

“Phew, hot in here.” Louis adjusts his bow tie then tugged on his collar.

I clench the edge of the table, “So I got a phone call today...”

Louis wipes a bead of sweat from his brow then he holds his hands up. “I can explain.”

“Louis! Tricia called me today and thanked us for what you did. What the hell were you thinking lowering our price?”

“Please don't hit me Braith! Please, I beg you don't hit me.”

I stand to pace the length of the room. I hear the roar of the crowd from a rugby player scoring a try. It was like I was a roman gladiator ready to slay the head off this idiot. I rub my eyes. “Louis, now we have set a precedent with them. We can never be profitable with Hunter International.”

“Hold on. She was looking elsewhere. That was her words. But we have retained their business thanks to me.”

“We were never in that position in the first place! She was bluffing you, and you fell for it. How do you think I know? Cause she did it to me when I pitched for the account, you fool. Now Tricia thinks she can screw us down on the price even more.”

“What makes you so sure?” Louis beats his chest with his right fist, “I saved us.”

“Well, I'm the one who had the account from the start. How is this gonna go down with Geoff when you tell him you lost us over a million dollars of business this financial year?”

“It was either that or nothing for the years to come. I was thinking long-term in the interests of the company.”

“Bullshit you tried to get Tricia to sign a four-year contract and it blew up in your face. Because now she is shopping that quoted price in the contract to other suppliers then will come back to you with her counteroffer. I know it. Now she has the ball.”

Louis said nothing when he facepalmed, “No! Oh my god no. That's why she asked me for ten days to think...” he takes a swig from glass, draining it. “I'm sorry Braith. How can I fix it?”

“By staying the hell out of my way.”

***


After the rugby game. The drive back to Laurens house was riddled with conversations about what she did with her day. That odd feeling you get when someone is overly chatty and friendly, you know they are guilty. I pulled up to her driveway and she got out. She stopped when she realized I wasn't coming inside.

“What' wrong Braith?”

“I know you told Geoff.”

Deer in the headlights. Wow. She had nothing to say. She squirmed before she asked me to go inside. To talk... I stood in the lounge while Lauren closed the curtains to muffle out the impending sound our upcoming argument. I folded my arms, my jaw clenched. This should be interesting.

Yes, so I rang up Geoff posing as the company owed money on your credit card.”

“Jesus Lauren, you got me suspended. And if everyone else wasn't doing it you could have got me fired. What the hell were you thinking?”

“I wanted you to spend time with me Braith. Your fiancé! You soon to be wife! Ever since I met you you've been busy with that bloody job. When were you going to look after me for once? I didn't ask for this!”

“Okay, I'm sorry. But that makes no excuse to do what you did. I'm not going to find a job anywhere else with this kind of pay!”

“My dad will hire you. You know that.”

“No, no, no. Oh my god. Don't tell me he put you up this?”

“No, it was all me. I... I was sick of you ignoring me so I had to do something to get your attention.”

I rub my eyes and massage the back of my neck. “Yeah, you sure did. Now everyone thinks I'm a creep who takes out clients to strip clubs to keep their business. How does that make me look to the whole company? My reputation?”

“I'm so sorry.” Lauren shook her head. “I feel like I'm the only one making an effort in this relationship.”

Tears streamed down Lauren's' cheeks. She sobbed. Now I feel even worse. I held her.

“I'm sorry you feel that way and not to use work as an excuse. I've been under a lot of pressure.”

“Then why don't you leave! You don't owe Caracas anything! You made that company what it is today.”

“No, I didn't. I owe my success to the team I work with. Claire, Louis, Geoff. Everyone who works there.”

Lauren's jaw clenched, “You said her name again.”

“Claire?” I said. “What are you on about?”

“Nothing. I'm sick of her name popping up like a third wheel. This whole situation sucks.”

I kissed her forehead. “I promise things will be different once the Hunter International Account is back where it should be. My whole workload will be easier to manage. We can start organizing the things you want for the wedding.”

Lauren's face lit up as if you gave a kid a cone of cotton candy. She rushed to the cupboard and pulled out a bag.

“Speaking of weddings...”

I cringed, “Oh, Lauren not now!”

“Please! I want your opinion on the venues, dresses, tablecloths. Check out these photos.”

I sat on the sofa and numbed myself out. Going through the stack of magazines when it occurred to me, what is Geoff going to say when I rock up to the office like the defiant bastard I am on Monday.

***


Monday

8 am

Caracas offices


I walked into my office when Claire greets me with my Moccachino. The first sip. Perfection. The way I like it. Extra shot making, three in total. Hazelnut shot. No sugar. Great way to start the day or to start a heart attack.

“I was thinking if you needed a bulletproof vest to go with your coffee for Geoff,” Claire said.

“Very funny. How was the date? After we left I’m sure he was pretty shell-shocked.”

Claire smiled, “Dude ran straight for the fridge. Let's just say there is another side to Louis when he gets very drunk.”

“Oh no, don't tell me that creep made a move on you.”

Claire chuckles, “No way. I would kick his pudgy ass if he did. Gosh, he started balling his eyes out telling me his life story.”

“That repetitive sad tale about his upbringing, that made him into the snake he is today.”

Claire said nothing.

“Oh... that bad huh. Was about an orphan in a foreign country who stayed with a number of families?”

Claire said nothing only to fold her arms. Louis is still using that story after all these years.

“Shit I'm right. I should do a lottery ticket.”

“Gosh, you are insensitive sometimes.”

Braith the fuck are you doing here!

I shit my pants! The booming baritone voice alerts me when I turn when to be confronted by Geoff standing there hands on hips. Donning his back suit with a red tie from a distance. The fat bastard could be mistaken for a black widow spider only with grey hair and a beard. He got in my face.

“In my office now!”

I made my way when I locked eyes with Louis who is hiding behind his desk in his office. Weasel.

***


Geoff slams the door behind him and sits on his desk. He points to the black leather chair in front of him. With the way it was weathered, cracks and patches of leather missing. You could have sworn, it was the electric chair.

He points his finger in my face, “Listen, cocksucker. I don't care who you are. When I say you're suspended, I mean it.”

“Geoff it was all a mistake. My girlfriend was trying to get me fired.”

Geoff froze for a second then tore his hair out.

“God damn it, Nick, that bloody bald headed cocksucker! He put her up to this!” Geoff points at me “You know my standing on her. I still think she hit on you all those years back because she's Nick Pontus, daughter. You know he orchestrated that shit so he can ask you to work for him.”

“He did nothing like that. I've been with Lauren for two years now. That won't happen. I'm loyal to you.”

Geoff gives me a smile like I'm his property. “I would like to think so. Don't be bedazzled by his promises and bonuses. He wants the Hunter International account badly and he will say whatever to get it.”

“That's not going to happen. I'm invested in Caracas just as much as you are. You gave me that chance to prove myself.”

“And you have and then some.” Geoff leans back and takes a frame off his desk. It's a photo of him holding a shotgun sitting on a dead zebra. “I remember a man dressed in overalls and an orange Hi-Vis vest who worked in the warehouse. Every morning I drove past as you unloaded the forty-foot containers. Stacking the boxes of our plastic bottles on pallets. I saw your potential back then.”

“By stacking boxes? How?”

“By hard, you worked unsupervised. Every year I interview ten graduates that come into the sales cadetship. I glaze over their CV's with disdain when what I listen to the way they carry themselves. They think a piece of paper guarantees them a job with this firm. To me, it gets them the fucking interview.”

“So why did you hire me? I had no degree. No formal education.”

“Because I wanted to take a chance. You are unique from the graduates because you are teachable and the desire and hunger to succeed.” He shows me the photo, “You also have the killer instinct and street smarts.”

Geoff stands up and flicks the blinds down. We peer into the sales office where we watch the sales cadet’s crowd around a computer, their eyes wide, serious looks, licking of lips, looking at porn probably.

“Take a look at those lazy fucks. That is why I got Louis to train them. Because I want the cream to rise to the top. Ever since Louis had control of the cadets we have had 85% attrition. With others taking jobs elsewhere in the company and about 5% making an actual sales role.”

“Reminds me of Top Gun but I don't know if that's a good thing?” Burning through people for the sake of it.”

“It's subjective. But it works. You either have it or you don't.” he turns to me, “I knew you had it. The 1%.”

I watched as the cadets scrambled like cockroaches when Louis walks in there. Like he was a general or something. The expression of fear on all their faces, what a crap environment to work in.

“I don't think I would have made it as a sales account manager, if I was under Louis tutelage.”

Geoff smiles, “I know.”

Louis goes around to each sales cadet checking their call sheets, which has all the customers they are supposed to ring. He shakes his head at one victim before screwing up his paper then telling him to go home.

“You know what Louis did to my account right?” I said.

He sighs, “Yes. His new price he proposed reduced our margin by 10% equating to 1.2 million. Money we can't forecast for the rest of the financial year which will make me look like a fool at the next board meeting. Can you undo what Louis has done?”

I shrug, “Maybe.”

“Maybe doesn't cut it with me. I want absolutes.”

“Yes. If there is no interference.” I said. “Or surprises.”

“Done.” He adjusts his red tie and scratches the side of his temple. “Oh, and can you grab Louis for me because I'm going fire the shit out of him!”

I flinched. Pausing. I nodded. Damn...

***


I left Geoff's office and headed out to where all the cadets are. I am greeted one by one with smiles and high fives from everyone. Like I'm a Hollywood celebrity. Puzzled by the random congratulations. Louis gets annoyed and shouts out for them to get back to work. He tilts his head down. Looking at me with suspicion.

“Braith, what are you doing here?” he said in an authoritative tone. “You are distracting my sales cadets.”

“They were distracted before you came and still are.”

Louis put his hands on his hips standing like he's Superman. “No way. Not on my watch.”

“They were all crowded around Rodgers computer. Remember those pictures that used to get sent around the office when we did our time in here?”

“Yes. Some of them I kept but I know how those distractions become detrimental. Especially to these incessant masturbators.” Louis narrowed his eyes at Rodger who propped his head up. Rodger reminded me of an adult harry potter.

Louis points, “Roger! What the hell were you all looking at?”

Rodger’s glasses fall off his nose from the fright. All the other sales cadets are snickering.

“Uh. Uh, Nothing.” He stammered.

“Hands up. Now! Away from the keyboard you wanker.” Louis switches on his screen, “Show me what you're looking at now or else you're fired.”

All the sales cadets' crowd. Rodger shakes his head and opens up the file. It's a video of the fight we had with sound effects put in. Ones from that game Streetfighter. Everyone cracks up laughing, when it shows my king hit I did on his right eye, that made Louis fly across the room like a ragdoll. Louis switches off the computer and asks Rodger to delete all the copies.

“You all thinks that’s funny huh?” Louis swipes the belongings off his desk, scattering on the floor. “Collect your things, after you delete the copies Rodger. You're fired!”

Rodger takes off glasses, his eyes so teary. “What? But...”

Louis points to the door. “But. But, what! Get outta here! You're fired!”

Louis in his Donald Trump moment turns to everyone and calls them out to say if anyone has a copy of video they too will be fired. Louis asks me to meet him outside the sales office.

Louis sighs, “See what you did? You fricking humiliated me out there.”

“C'mon Louis. Move past it. It's a joke.”

“Joke? Now the sales cadets think, I can be made fun of. Then comes the disrespect. Then comes the disorder like Lord of the Flies.

“C'mon Louis you're exaggerating. Let it go.”

“No way. Not now. This is the last straw. I'm not letting you take Hunter International back now. After this act of humiliation. In fact, now that I have video evidence, I'm going to hand the video evidence to Geoff. Then you will definitely be off the account.”

I facepalmed. “Louis...”

“Just be glad I didn't hand it police Braith!” Louis took out his keys and unhooked the USB stick he had attached to it. He turned and went to Rodger asking him to copy the video to the USB stick. I called out to him to stop when he opened the door and went into Geoff's office. I squeezed my eyes wondering how it is going to play out then returned to my office when Claire sneaks in. I check the clock and it is 4 pm. Hometime.

“What?” I asked.

“Tricia Stanton called, she wants to meet you.”

“Can you book an appointment?”

“Already done.10 am. Tomorrow at Hunter International.”

“Thanks.”


I stood to take a bottle a scotch, to fill a glass. I watched as afternoon sun squeezed between the skyscrapers. Streaks of light, hit my eyes making me squint. The warmth from the sun, little comfort to how I'm going to pull one of my ass, to undo what Louis has done. Claire sits in my chair and I hand her a glass of scotch.

“How was your day Claire?”

“What you meant to say is, how are you going to fix what Louis has done? Because it might make your real secret become even worse.”

I take a swig. “I know what Tricia is going to ask, to make things right.”

Claire's eyes widen, “No way, she wouldn't dare... another bribe?”

“I'll give her the benefit of the doubt, but we will find out tomorrow. So how was the rest of your date with Louis? What did you do after?”

Claire sighs, “I think I gave him the wrong impression.”

I raise a brow. “So he told you his story about being an orphan when he balled his eyes out. You cuddled him. Comforted him and you stared into each other's and you both kissed like the movies.”

Claire winced then took a swig. “God No. Nothing you just described happened. Ever!”

“Oh... and knowing Louis he asked you out again, didn't he?”

“He wants me to go to a Justin Bieber concert.”

“Jesus. He's making a move. Concert tickets are in his interpretation the 'I'm in love with you' material. The last girl went to The Backstreet Boys.”

Claire chuckled. “Maybe I should give it a go?”

I put my glass down. “No way. Not him.”

“Why? Jealous?”

“His story about him being an orphan is all shit. I went to high school with Louis, his father was the coach of my rugby team. He grew up living a normal life as an only child.”

“What!” she said. “But he had tears and all.”

“He was also our number one actor in drama class in high school. He tried to pursue a career in Hollywood but The Hobbit had already been made. He's been using that routine for years, to get girls into bed with him. It's quite pathetic. In fact, I could count on fingers and toes how many times he's tried his move on colleagues and clients. The guy has no game when it comes to dating. Though I'd have to say over the years of practice he's perfected it quite nicely. Some of the girls who fell for it were ten out of ten.”

“I can't wait to confront him.”

“Leave him be Claire. He's got what's coming to him. I guaran-dam-tee that.”


I point outside my office when I spot Louis carrying a box of his things. He comes in, his eyes are red and puffy.

Louis sniffles, “Braith, Geoff just fired me. You have to talk to him! Please!”

I stood there, wanting to laugh in his face for the shady stuff he did when he broke down in tears. Sobbing. Jesus man get a grip!

He cried out. “Braith this is all I have! Ten years! My whole life revolves around this place.”

“Relax Louis, you will find another job. You are an exceptional salesman.”

“I don't have no place to go!” He wipes his eyes.

“Louis so what happened in there?” Claire asked.

“I went in and told Geoff to give me the Hunter international account when he said no. I said I would go to the police and the media over our altercation. Geoff thought I was lying when I played the video of the fight.”

Louis squeezed his eyes, and shook his head. He exhales. I turn to Claire then back to Louis.

I said, “What happened?”

Louis said. “The video was a porno!”

Claire and I cracked up laughing. I laughed so hard that my stomach ached. I just imagined the look on Geoff’s face!

Louis said. “Very funny guys. Geoff didn't find it funny when I played it in front of him.”

“Sorry, Louis.” I had tears in eyes, I cracked up again.

Louis picked up his box. “That's it I'm going. I don't need to be treated like this! Stuff you guys.”

“Stop Louis.” I cleared my throat. Wiping my eyes.

“This is not funny Braith. How am I going to pay my rent for my apartment!”

“I'll talk with Geoff not to fire you. But that all depends on how my meeting goes with Tricia tomorrow.”

Louis hugs me. Then kisses me on each cheek. “Thank you Braith! Thank you. I'm sorry I overstepped your account. I promise from now on I will mind my own business.”

“Whoa, hang on. I'm not promising you anything. Geoff doesn't like to be strong-armed and very rarely does he backtrack on his decisions.”

“I know but if it's you that asks. The Golden Child... he will.”

“Maybe. Just don't get your hopes up, Louis.” I say, “And again don't do you dare do anything stupid till I get back.”

“Okay.” Louis sniffled then turned to Claire. “Sorry, Claire. Sorry, you had to see me in my moment of weakness this is twice now.” He sighs, “But I'm only human.”

Claire bit her lip. Not saying anything.

“I got the Bieber tickets today. Are we all good?”

Claire flicked her eyes to me then smiled.

She said, “Braith is a massive Justin Bieber fan maybe you two can go to celebrate when Braith gets your job back.”

Louis' eyes lit up. “Oh my god! What a great Idea!” He hugged me again and thanked me. “Team bonding.” I folded my arms and stared at Claire who is smirking.

I said, “Oh you think this funny? Cancel my meeting with Tricia.”

***

Hunter International

10 am


I entered the open office of Hunter international to be escorted by the receptionist to Tricia's Office. I sat on her white leather corner sofa to wait, as she was tied up with a meeting with the marketing team. I looked at the pictures of her two daughters. Pinned to the wall next to her computer. It brought back memories after we had sex, how she was going through a stressful divorce. I can't help reflect on her decision to take the money when a lot is at stake. The door opens. She's attractive as ever.


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