The walk was part of the day Jess had looked forward to all morning. A neighbor would watch the kids and she would do a check on the wellness of her longtime neighbor and friend Kelly. The walk had become a weekly ritual ever since Kelly’s husband had been let go from his factory job. Neighborhoods are not just homes next to each other; they are people who watch over each other’s interests. Jess believed no matter how much of a struggle her family faced, they were in a good place to help others. Kelly needed that help.
The chance to leave some of her distress on the pavement was always appealing to Kelly. Jess felt a bit of relief from it as well. She knew it was wrong, but sometimes listening to the troubles of Kelly, made her feel her issues were small. The neighbors had both been the extra strength each other needed for decades. They both viewed themselves as the queens of the neighborhood; one was just going through turmoil in her kingdom. The duo knew every bit about everyone who moved on or left their street. They felt the need to keep up with all the neighbors’ business. It was their way to keep a handle on protecting their children. Predators were everywhere Jess and Kelly knew the gossip wire was the first line of defense. They were better than a neighborhood watch.
Harold often teased Jess that she was better at getting information than any police agency. His wife dismissed the comment because she felt the information she gained and passed kept kids safe. It kept her kids safe. The more she knew about people and the changes in their environment, the safer they would all be.
Kelly and her husband’s nights out were becoming fewer and far between. Money put aside for the date nights would have to go to a necessity. She needed Jess’s ears to vent about his shortcomings in finding employment.
Kelly still had not made it out of the door. Jess had taken a considerable amount of time and patience awaiting her friend. She knew Kelly had not been in the best of spirits. Jess was starting to get worried as there was not a single noise inside. No clamoring to get the door. There was only true silence. Kelly had a habit of being a little liberal with punctuality; this was more past that stage approaching the unspoken.
Jess moved the worn but friendly welcome mat over a bit. A faded emergency key was hiding under its old material. Her freshly filed nails secured the key and moved toward the lock. Jess thought, this was the first time she had ever entered the home without Kelly leading the way. The door’s lock gave way easily almost inviting Jess in. The ease of the lock made her worry more, as the fiddling of the door knob should have at least startled someone and created noise.
Jess took a wary step into the door frame, instantly recognizing the familiar fitness shoes. Their teal markings and dust covered leather was always a welcome sight when they stepped out this very same door. The walk had always been a therapy session. Jess felt the session was needed for both of them, more today, than ever before.
“Hello Kelly? Anyone?” Worry and a raised voice mixed to project a beacon into the home. She needed a reply. She just wanted any reply. Mystery added to desperation as Jess investigated past the entrance and into the kitchen.
“Kelly?” She was louder now. Part of Jess wondered if she had missed being informed of an appointment that would take her walking mate out of the routine for the day.
The kitchen was no help in solving her mystery. There were not even plates scattered. Jess was impressed with how tidy it actually was. She could not remember a time when she had seen the place this clean. The kitchen normally showed the scars of the struggle. Today there was no carnage. What should be a moment of peace caused a fright to pass straight through Jess.
Jess was gaining a sense of dire consequence. She knew the days were getting more difficult for Kelly. Her friend had been arguing more with her husband. In his own failures, he took an extra moment to point out Kelly’s to subside his personal disappointment.
Surely, it was a coincidence, Jess hoped. Every negative thought ran through her mind. Suicide to kidnapping all had a place to creep up on her. The heart rate reserved for stress or a fast walk was threatening to knock her heart from her chest.
Satisfied the kitchen was not the place to find her friend. Jess scanned the back of the house to verify Kelly’s car was still there. The car had a spot that it called its own several years ago. No matter where it had ever travelled to, when it returned, it was to that claimed spot. A brief of relief hit Jess as the car was in the spot. The car’s presence only temporarily provided relief. The rush of worry pushed her thoughts toward the suicide. She whispered a prayer that it would not be the case. Her movements were more frantic. She desperately needed to find her friend.
Jess removed the chance to find Kelly on the first floor as she checked every inch. She doubted Kelly was invisible. It only made sense to check upstairs. The creaking of the steps filled the silence of the home with a noise other than the panicked breathing of the walking partner. Each step filled her mind with dread. She wondered if it was her way of being ready to witness a gruesome scene. Death was never as clean as it was on primetime television. She had an inclination to know it was bloody. Jess knew witnessing a loved one, in what she only believes was a horrifying suicide, would haunt her throughout her days.
The last room down the hall was the master bedroom. It was the last possible hiding spot. Jess walked into the room and immediately knew she had found her. The breathing was a woman trying to keep quiet in a struggle to hold back tears. Jess walked around the floral pattern comforter. It was tossed on the floor causing an obstacle. Jess wondered if it was on purpose or the casualty of something else.
“He is gone.” A weak voice came out of Kelly’s mouth. “I told him he was not a good man. I told him he was a loser and he left.” Curled up on what Jess assumed was his side of the room, Kelly sat on the floor her legs tucked close to her body. She did not look up. She knew exactly who Jess was. She heard the voice as she entered.
“He will be back.” Jess knew reassurance was needed over exercise at the moment.
“My life is over Jess.” It should have been more apparent to her friend that depression mixed with money problems, was getting too hard. “My loser of a husband will never find work. I owe more money than I ever imagined having. I chased away the one partner I had. I am done.” The words had no hope.
“What do you mean you are done?” Jess wanted to feign ignorance, in hopes, her friend was not leading down the path Jess had assumed she meant.
“I don’t want to play anymore. The game is too hard.” The loss of emotion was too much for Jess.
“I refuse to let you quit. We are teammates.” Jess was adamant. She knew the stakes were too big to go along with her closest friend.
“Easy for you to say, your husband is still coming home after his work.” A hint of disdain slipped in. Kelly meant no harm. She felt life had piled on.
“Your husband will be home.” Comfort trumped a logical argument, that maybe she went too far in their arguments.
The tears flowed from Kelly after being held back all night. “We had a good life. One lost job sent everything off the rails. I pray it doesn’t happen to you. This is too much to handle.”
Blanket comforting statements had carried only so much weight. Jess knew what her friend truly needed was a hug. A hug that told her that life would get better. She prayed her embrace would be tight enough to take away some pain. “We will get you back on track. You would do the same for me if the roles were reversed.”
“I hope they will never. Harold is a good worker; he will always have a job.” Kelly was reassuring her friend, at the same time, reaffirming her ‘loser’ statement to her husband. “You two are too good for such a fate.”
Talks between Gordon and Mr. Stanley had always been awkward. The times that coincidence had their paths cross, increased the awkwardness. Gordon had rehearsed statements for planned meetings. He felt confidence was important when representing so many working people. Courage was gained with the practice.
Mr. Stanley always admired the man on the other side of the table, no matter how infuriating he was. Gordon always delivered on his promises. Mr. Stanley respected when an agreement could be made where both sides benefitted. The old man appreciated when both sides worked toward their portion. Integrity of his employees was one big reason why it would be hard to abandon them while chasing a bottom line. Something other than the old way of doing business told him a race to the bottom for labor costs would end poorly. He believed firmly men of integrity should be paid with the same integrity from their employer. It was these impromptu conversations that the old patriarch of the company knew could lead to more problems when it came to later negotiations.
“Good day sir,” Gordon entered the first word. The tension between the two since the last bargaining meeting had grown in their professional lives. The mutual respect was still a strong emotion even with them being enemies by nature. One was the defender of the laborer’s the other the defender of the company name and its survival. Gordon felt he had an opportunity in these encounters to plant some thoughts in Mr. Stanley’s head.
Mr. Stanley feared the possible ambush. He knew whatever came of the encounter if he made a promise or a statement the company would be obligated to it. Being the man at the top of the organizational pyramid meant he was the last word for his company. Even with the board to report to, Mr. Stanley still held the sway. He wanted that sway to keep the jobs here. The reports put the company’s survival at risk with that tactic. He was still weighing the report from Nathanial with what he felt was doing right by the workers. He understood that Stanley Tire wasn’t the product of his work as much as it was the people on the shop floor. He was responsible for keeping the company afloat but knew his place. “It is a good day.”
Gordon needed to hear the words that Mr. Stanley was dedicated to his employees. He knew Nathanial was all about profits. The bottom line weighed more than personnel or even quality. Mr. Stanley’s second in command had been pushing the researchers to find cheaper ways to produce the tires. The salaried employees were not in Gordon’s area of concern, he just knew the stories. Very few escaped the pressure applied by Nathanial. It seemed the ones that did were loyal lackeys. “Mr. Stanley, can I show you something?”
The venerable company head knew he would be walking into an ambush. Gordon’s intentions have been clear since the company began looking into relocating. He did not blame Gordon for it. He actually admired the dedication the union head placed in his duties. “Where are we going?” Mr. Stanley was curious what Gordon was going to show him. “You know I am a busy man? I appreciate a tour of my facility but what are you going to show me that I have not shown myself?”
“I was going to play on your conscious.” Gordon smiled a bit leaving the statement as either a joke or a warning. Mr. Stanley was a good man. Gordon felt he needed to remind his boss what was at stake.
Mr. Stanley’s smile and amused nature slipped. “If you do not think I know what is at stake you have not been paying attention all these years.” The older gentleman sounded a bit insulted.
“It is not that. The workers need to see you. They need to know that their voice is present and not just being ignored.” Gordon rubbed his temple. He had approached the subject initially wrong. “No one wants to feel like a number. Especially, when it is easy to look at cars on the street and see how well the company is truly doing.”
“I can understand that, being part of the company sometimes may seem like just trudging through the plant as a faceless worker.” The owner was growing irritated. “Do not think for one second I have not lost a moment’s rest wrestling with this decision.”
“So you have made a decision?” Gordon did not want to hear negative results. He felt there had been too much riding on their future. He felt that one sentence would destroy every gain he had earned at the negotiating table.
“We will announce to everyone tomorrow.” Mr. Stanley was upset at the obvious ploy to tug at his emotions. He was not going to allow the union representative to manipulate him and be rewarded.
“Can you give me any indication if we will be happy or sad?” Gordon hoped the old relationship the two had developed would allow him a chance to prepare.
“I can tell you we will do what is best for Stanley Tire and Rubber.”
“What you are planning, will cause all of us more pain than what you will gain.” The shadows receded away from the new hire as he stepped toward the top executive.
Nathanial did not get to his car fast enough. He had wanted to clear out of the office as soon as his work was done to avoid answering any questions. The decision had been made behind closed doors. To ensure the rumors were all dispelled at once, the decision would remain in hiding. “We will all gain something. I can assure you that. There will be so many more who will need your services. Desperation opens ears.”
“I hope you are concerned with the bigger picture than anything a short term gain will accomplish.”
“Trust me; I know what to look for when it comes to weighing the options in front of me.” Nathanial was growing tired of the conversation quickly with someone who was unaware of his station in life. “I know you are not a mere pawn. No one truly is. You will have to trust those of us playing the game to make the right moves.”
“I fear though, if you are arrogant, it will lose the match.” Antonio wanted to show his superior that he was not a simple employee. “There is still so much we can do here.”
“Like I said, decisions have been made. It will all become clear in due time.” Nathanial reached down to open his door. A sudden shock hit his system as he was thrust against the metal of the door. He grunted as a bit of air was knocked out of his lung.
“You cannot be so selfish that you would put yourself above the rest of us.” Antonio had Nathanial pinned against his car. He wanted to make sure the older man knew exactly how strong he was even in his youth. Antonio moved his forearm to push back the head of his boss. “Do you not know what it takes for us to be successful here? Do you not know what we all have at stake?” The young man was stronger than he appeared. He pushed off away from Nathanial. “Consider this a warning.”
Nathanial rolled his neck to regain the feeling in it. He stood upright and looked the young man in his eyes. Both the individuals seemed to be measuring each. “You know I could have you removed for an act like that?” Nathanial knew he was holding the cards and the power.
“I think there will be no witness to the events of tonight so it will be just your word versus mine.” Antonio was brave in the moment. He was not going to sacrifice his recently found purpose for another’s greed. “If you announce your plans, I am sure you will have very little people who will vouch for you.”
“My word will still carry weight.” Nathanial retorted as he fixed his suit. He straightened his tie last. Giving any indication that he was startled, would be what fed his attacker.
“You are still bound by the law.” The young man smirked as he turned to walk away. “I am telling you this. If you do what it is rumored to take place, there will be repercussions.”
Antonio walked back into the comfort of the shadow. Nathanial did not look away until he knew the presence was gone. The board would soon join him in his plans. The fight had been behind closed doors with Mr. Stanley and it was about to come to an end. He had made the moves. Now, he just had to sit back and savor the suffering.
I am posting an entire chapter, to entice some feedback. If this is preferred I will shift to this instead of posting a portion once a week. I will post Chapters weekly or go back to sub chapters weekly. Let me know what you prefer, please. Posting a day early to have a little over a week to get input.