I used to have these strange ideas about upper management, and in some cases, how they lived in offices up in the clouds.
The perks, I guess, of making it to the top, a combination, sometimes, of good luck and in others hard work.
Perhaps I make too much of it, but it is only an observation from someone who never quite made it to the top of the pile. Alas, I didn’t have that killer instinct, nor the desire to use others on my way to the top.
But, those notions stuck with me and had found their way into this story.
It also introduces a new character, one that has an idea he might be in trouble though not quite why.
I stopped for a moment to take in the vista It was like stepping into a different world. Everything was new, clean and fresh. Strategically placed flowers, carpets deep piled and clean, expensive landscape paintings adorned the walls, and the support staff tucked away on various nooks and crannies, usually smiling and happy. And why not? They were far, far away from the problematic day to day running of the company. Here the tea, coffee, and sugar didn’t come from tiny paper packets and taste like floor sweepings.
Merrilyn, Aitchison’s personal assistant, had the gift of being able to dress to suit the weather or mood. This particular day, the bright colors were in deference to the coming of spring. Added to this was her impeccable manner and attitude. It was hard to believe she was still in her early twenties.
She smiled as I turned the corner and headed towards Aitchison’s office, in a manner that infused all who came near her with equal joy and enthusiasm. It brightened my morning.
“How do you di it?” I asked. It was a standard question.
“Do what?” It was the standard reply.
“Manage to look so good on a Monday morning.”
“It’s called grooming, Bill. “What can we do for you?”
“Mr. Aitchison wishes to see me. Perhaps it will finally be a promotion to these lofty heights.”
“There’s a long queue before you.”
“Sad, but true.” I shrugged. “But you never know. I live in hope if only to be near you.”
She smiled again. “Perhaps one day.” Then, in an instant, she switched to somber, efficient, business mode, “Go on in. I’m sure he’s expecting you.”
I knocked on his door, waited for the muffled “Enter”, and went in.
Thick carpet, velvet wallpaper, mahogany furniture, the best examples of comfortable easy chairs arranged around a coffee table, the office was one of the perks of the job. There was a carefully hidden private bar somewhere in the room, and the subject of much lower floor speculation. Everyone who lived on the lower floors aspired to this level of luxury and recognition of personal achievement.
He pointed to the chair in front of his desk without looking up from the file he was reading. On his desk were two glasses and a bottle of Scotch. He leaned forward, took a sip out of one, and then returned his original position, leaning back as far as the large, leather-covered and padded seat would let him. He looked agitated, far from his usual self-assured and calm demeanor.
He was one of the very few in the executive who frequently came down to visit us, and always had an amicable manner, whether the news was good or bad. That amiable manner was missing this morning, replaced by something I’d not seen in him before.
Or in anyone else for a long, long time. Fear.
He looked up, took his reading glasses off and placed them carefully on the desk. “Did Benton tell you what happened?” His tone was constricted, tinged with worry. Yes. The eyes gave it away. I’d seen the look before, in a momentary flash, a detail in memory rising to the surface.
“Yes. Briefly. He said it was something to do with Richardson. Rather melodramatic to be suiciding in his office, or words to that effect.”
“Well, the police might be calling it a suicide, and that fool Benton would like it to be suicide, but in my opinion, it’s a case of murder.” He emptied the glass and poured another. The rim of the bottle rattled on the rim of the glass. He was shaking and trying to keep it under control. “He’s dead. Very dead.”
It took a few moments before I realized the importance of his statement. Dead was serious, very dead was very serious.
“How?” My voice moved up one octave. I wondered where this was heading. Why he was telling me?
“One shot to the head. He was supposedly holding the gun when they found him, making it look a perfectly normal suicide.”
I quickly reviewed the rest of what I knew about Richardson, albeit second hand.
His wife had walked out on him. He spent a few months trying to climb into the bottle, came out of it fairly well, and had recently struck up a friendship with one of the many middle-aged women who worked in the office. Speculation had it she was already married. It was not a course I would take in similar circumstances, but he was closer to a number of them than most. Suicide seemed a bit out of character.
Was Aitchison also was suggesting that might be the case?
Or did he know something about Richardson the rest of us didn’t?
“He didn’t seem the type,” I said, expecting a rebuke. I was not sure if Aitchison was asking for an opinion.
“No he was not, and I agree you. Everyone seems to have thrown caution to the wind, and want this case settled, and the police out of here. But, not at the expense of a good man’s name.”
“So, I take it you think otherwise?”
© Charles Heath 2015-2021