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Every morning since that ill-fated meeting between Duncan (she no longer thought of him as a younger Mister Kerr) and the investors, Geraldine attacked each day with a new sense of purpose:  make sure the Company does not fail.  She aimed to fulfill her new imperative the way she had finished all of her old tasks under the older Mister Kerr.  To that end, she used all of the clout she used to have as Mister Kerr’s highly paid professional assistant.  
She never was as popular as Mister Kerr, but over time she had completed solutions for all of the chief officers in the Company.  Although she hated the Chief Creative Officer and did not care for the Chief Diversity Officer, she called in favors with all of them, wining and dining all of these “old friends” at odd moments to make sure that they were still on point, that they were still dedicated to the mission of the Company as a whole.  Without Duncan knowing, the Chiefs were able to promote her into the position of Chief Operations Officer, retroactive to when Mister Kerr had left.
Ignoring the board of directors regarding Duncan seemed like the best thing to do, and pandering to the investors, ensuring that they were on board with the direction the company was headed in was also the best course of action.  To achieve this, she set up her own office as as an officer of chief operations with a hierarchy similar to the way the business had been.
His management skills were lacking and although he had good ideas, he knew little of the inner workings of the Company, which he was attempting to change every day, little knowing that all of his changes were easily reversible by the board of directors.  His administrative assistants, aware of the true policy regarding the CEO, mostly that he was a figurehead and not truly in charge, became uncomfortable with his entitlement.  Slowly, Duncan’s staff moved one by one up to her floor.
By distancing herself from Duncan, she believed that the board as a collective body would understand that she did not condone any of his actions.  She turned a blind eye and a deaf ear towards Duncan and his quests, and often would not return his emails or phone calls.  Her quiet disdain was quickly picked up by her new staff, and they paid him courtesy, but gave his requests little mind.  
It rankled her that he was still necessary, but at least he wasn’t president and CEO, or her premeditated stonewalling would not work the way she had intended.  If only he had been a predator who had intended to ruin the Company, then she could ignore the way it tugged at her heart.  Whenever she felt she was being too cruel to him, although he would never know it was intentional, she had to remind herself of the samples still in freezer storage which she in secret still refused to destroy.  
Sitting at her desk, she continued typing a memo which would be important the following day, when Duncan would no longer be CEO.  It listed all of the people who had the requisite experience, in her humble opinion, to take up the reins that Duncan would be leaving behind.  Although originally she had intended to try, she had deleted her own name from the list.  Such a thing could be seen as grasping, or perhaps pandering for unearned affection.  Certainly her own position would be tenuous at best:  had she known what an inexperienced dreamer Mister Kerr’s son was, she would have never allowed him to named CEO.  Perhaps if she had known, she would have insisted that Mister Kerr stay on for a while.  
Some of the blame for Duncan’s innocent misdoings and failings would fall on her no matter how she prepared or quibbled when confronted.  Honestly, she believed she had a fifty-fifty chance of being fired.  At least if Duncan left or resigned first, she would know it was all worth it to keep things running smoothly.  After all, she no longer had her youth, but her husband and kids loved her so that was something.  Her severance would be quite sizable and she could probably find similar work, although she could not depend on that with the economy being as depressed as it had been recently.  She would hate to leave her newly minted staff since they were still slightly dependent on her, and because she had picked them to support her in her new role (if she were not to be fired), which she envisioned to either be as an assistant to the CEO or the Chief Executive Officer herself.
Sending the memo off, she sat back in her chair.  Duncan would no doubt either be gone today or tomorrow, depending on how his meeting with the board went, which was, she noted as she looked at the clock, probably going on right at that second.  This meant that her meeting with the board would take place immediately after, one of the receptionist’s on that floor would let her know when Duncan had left the room.  She got out her most professional looking brief case and straightened her appearance:  it would not do to show up as shaken and unprepared as she felt inside.
The phone at her desk rang and she picked up before the first ring ended.  “Hello.”
“He’s left the room, he looks angry.”  A brief pause on the line with an audible sigh was heard.  “I think he’s coming up to your floor.”
“Thank you.”  She lay the phone back on its cradle.
Fiddling with papers and taking deep breaths, she prepared herself for a bit of unpleasantness.  Soon enough, she could hear quick footsteps heading towards her office.  Unfortunately, she had left her door open and Duncan rushed in, his usually neatly coiffed hair was mussed.  As was his wont, he wandered around without a brief case, folder or laptop.  He slammed both of his hands down on her desk.
Geraldine jumped.  “Hello Duncan.”  
Glaring at her, he spoke.  “Did you know that I had a meeting this morning with the board of directors?”
“That sounds exciting.  No, I’m sorry, no, I hadn’t heard about that.  I’ve been very busy being Chief Operations Officer since your father left.”  Flustered but determined not to show it, Geraldine made a big show of organizing papers and putting them into a briefcase.  “You’ll have to excuse me, I have a meeting to go to.  You know those elevators.”  She fastened a vacuous smile on her face.  “I don’t want to be late.”
“I’m sure you don’t,”  He sneered.  “Are you meeting with the board?”
“Yes.  You’ll be there, too.  I imagine.”  Fastening her brief case closed, she pulled the strap over her shoulder.
“You imagine wrong.”  He clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth.  “I’m sure you can guess what they wanted to see me for.”
“I imagine it was something confidential that they didn’t want you to tell anyone.”  Geraldine shrugged.  “They’re often secretive in that way.  Must be that time of year.  Please tell me you left them in a good mood.”  Straightening her hair, she deadpanned.
“No, I, well, maybe.”  He rubbed his forehead with his right hand.
“Maybe.”  She echoed.  “That’s promising.”
“They think that I’m not CEO material, whatever that means.”  He sighed.  “So you really didn’t know?”
“Know what?”  Geraldine gave him a confused look.  “I guess we should head to that meeting, right?”
He chuckled morosely.  “You can.  They want me to step down.”
Attempting to look shocked, she put her hand on her heart, widened her eyes and opened her mouth in an O.  
“I know that my new ideas aren’t testing well.  I graduated from business school at the top of my class!  I don’t know why they’re not working.  I wish they would give me more time.”
“Duncan, you’ve only been CEO for a few months.”  She didn’t have to fake her amazement.  “Instead of changing the way things are run, you didn’t think to learn more about the Company?”
“I know practically everything there is to know.  I grew up here.”  Duncan pleaded, “I can see now that I’ve made mistakes.  Didn’t my father make mistakes, too?”
“We’re a corporation, Duncan.”  Wryly, she remarked.  “Officially, he never did.”
Duncan sat on her desk and covered his face with a hand.  He mumbled words under his breath.
Fearful that she would not be able to get him outside of his office, Geraldine sidled cautiously towards him.  “Is everything alright?”
“I feel like I don’t belong here.”  His eyes appeared to be moist.
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”  She gripped his shoulder in a comforting manner.  “You know, I felt that way before I came here and started working here.  Ever since I started here, I knew that I, I belonged here.  I think it must be a horrible feeling to feel like an outsider.”
The light in her office was very harsh and yellow, she had never noticed until she glanced at his face.  He was so pale  (from stress?)  that the fluorescent lights brought out all of the yellow tint to his skin.  Up close, she could smell his sweat, whether from his natural odor or his current emotional state she couldn’t tell.  Calmly pulling back her hand, she awaited his reply.  He kept his body language closed, turned inward on himself.
“Every decision I make is scrutinized.”  He gestured emphatically.  “I can’t do anything without their say-so, not even do my job.”
“I think, since you’re CEO, that’s just how it is.”  Geraldine glanced at her watch.  “Let’s go meet with the board.”
“No, I don’t think so.  I think I’m leaving.  No, I’m gone.”  Duncan saluted her.  “Goodbye Geraldine.”  He stalked off.
Deflating quickly, Geraldine allowed herself to smile. The weeks of plotting had been worth it.  She was now free, either way, regardless of how the meeting went.  If she were to become CEO and president, as she would insist, there were a few loose ends she would be free to take care of, starting with Doctor Harold Smith.


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November 2010

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