“Mr. Grant, glad you could join us,” several employees offered the CEO a toast. He played the part of charismatic corporate titan, but the jolly merrymaking made him physically sick. Not to mention he couldn’t get Marissa Bright out of his head.
As much as he loathed her audacity, he couldn’t help admiring her tenacity. He kept thinking about the way her lips twisted up when she was angry, that fiery stare of undaunted determination. It is a shame she couldn’t have put her savvy to better use than confronting him.
“She’d make an excellent corporate raider if she didn’t have a heart,” Grant managed a laugh as he downed another shot of whiskey.
For forty intolerable minutes, Grant feigned mingling as he coaxed board members to buy into his FLEX deal. In the background employees and their families were able to visit ‘Saint Nicholas’ in a makeshift Santa’s Village.
“Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,” Teresa rang Christmas bells loudly. “Thanks for all your help in supporting the toy drive. We had hundreds of donations. We have a special visitor…St. Nicholas is here to pick up all the toys to deliver them to kids throughout the city.”
“Ho-Ho-Ho,” the deep rich laugh of St. Nicholas full of joy, as each believer in the magic of Christmas made their wish. “Merry Christmas!”
Teresa had hoped Grant would be on hand for the toy distribution, but the CEO was holed up in a corner schmoozing with a board member. Volunteer ‘elves’ helped load Santa’s sleigh (in this case a U-Haul), to prep for gift distribution.
Teresa and the other volunteers held their breath -recognizing Grant would most likely cancel the toy drive next year. Teresa knew it was foolish but sparked by the magic of Christmas she pulled ‘St. Nick’ aside.
“St. Nicholas, I know you are a busy man at Christmas, but we could use a big miracle,” Teresa explained. “Grant Spaulding is a lost soul, in need of love and light. Can you spark the spirit of Christmas in his soul?”
“I promise I’ll do my best to fill him with Christmas cheer, but I am afraid he is lost, an unbeliever who will wind up with a stocking of coal,” Santa, played by none other than Horace Shelton, began to weep. “I’ll pray to the man upstairs; North Pole magic only goes so far.”
Grant closed the evening out with a trite toast, thanking his employees with an insincere smile, hammering the year end theme: “Out with the old, in with the new.”
Tired of the ho-ho-hos and jolly merrymaking, Grant exited the party at nine-thirty. No one noticed he was gone, and Grant was grateful to be alone. He needed time to think.
“I’ll walk home,” he motioned his driver. “I need some fresh air.”
Grant thinks best when he is walking alone, underneath the ambient glow of foggy streetlamps, the ambient noise of the city and odd sounds of silence you encounter on side streets.
The CEO wandered restlessly; his heart heavy as an inexplicable loneliness came over him. The emotion angered his rational mind. He couldn’t give into his feelings. It made him weak and vulnerable.
“Loneliness is just an illusion,” Grant rationalized. His mind pondered his feelings, realizing despite all the money in the world he had no real friends. No one who cared about him – except maybe his family and he had written them off. “I prefer the desolation. The world is not a joyful place. At least I am a realist.”
Grant’s stomach started grumbling. He hadn’t eaten at the party – too many employees were jamming the buffet line and the holiday music made him ill.
“If I hurry, I can stop by the Pike Place location before they close at ten to grab some take out,” Grant checked his watch as he approached Northwest Trading’s flagship store.
Pike’s Place Market used to be a place of peace for Grant, where he could escape into a world of artisan vendors and eclectic crafts, homegrown Washington goodness and the entertainment of the fish throwers. Pike Place originally inspired him to focus on a local market feel for Northwest Trading -well at least when he first bought the company. Things change.
Now Pike’s Place is a sore spot for Grant that is overrun with tourists and the unruly masses – from homeless buskers playing out of tune harmonicas to the dirty clobbered hands of small-scale farmers who toiled for very little profit. They lived such pointless lives. Some would say Grant had turned bitter, he saw bitterness as an awakening of progress.
“Bitterness just ensures you don’t lose sight of your goals.” Grant mused. “You are a realist and realism drives the world forward.”
Still as he stepped into the flagship store, Grant’s mind hearkened back to his early days as CEO. Back then, Grant hated the title CEO -he wanted to be in the field -working registers and improving processes with his employees.
He led training monthly training sessions at the flagship store. He was the employee’s CEO then. For a second, Grant almost missed those days, the hope and excitement of entrepreneurship and making a difference…almost.
“Mr. Spaulding. Merry Christmas,” Lucy veiled her dread behind a friendly smile. She wondered if Marissa’s scheme had worked. What other reason would Grant Spaulding be visiting the flagship store right before closing.
“I’d prefer that you not throw ‘Merry Christmas’ about.”
“I apologize,” Lucy gritted her teeth. It sounded like venom ran through his veins. “How may I help you?”
“I don’t need your help. I’m the boss here and would rather you not gawk at me,” Grant barked, grabbing a premade chicken salad, bakery loaf, a bag of high-processed junk food to whet his whistle.
“Good evening Mr. Spaulding,” Mary Jo pleasantly greeted the CEO as she rang up his order. Grant noticed her wheelchair.
“You can charge everything to my company account.” Grant handed her his card. It fell on the floor and Lucy helped Mary Jo pick it up.
“Can I interest you in a beautiful handmade ornament? The proceeds go to St. Joseph’s Group Home.”
“This is unacceptable,” Grant frustrated by the ornaments. “We have a strict policy of not upselling products in which we make zero profit. What sort of shoot is this hell hole?”
“Sir, it is the season of good tidings to all, love, peace and compassion. The customers love the ornaments and have driven our sales this month. The ornaments help a good cause, and we get an economic benefit as well.” Mary Jo remained calm and helpful in the face of the ‘Death Eater of Seattle.’
“Everything okay, Mr. Spaulding,” Lucy also working to diffuse the situation.
“Is this ‘charity’ your idea?” Grant railed. “Because every request of this nature goes through corporate. We have a strict policy…”
“Corporate approved it. Michael Horton gave the okay.” Lucy pressed her lips together.
“Of course, he did,” Grant spit out the words. “Enjoy your jobs while you can. I doubt any of you will be working for NWTC come January.”
Grant cut his feet into the pavement, splintering across alleyways, up 1st Street for half a mile, going two blocks east towards The Bell Tower, high rise luxury condos, housed in a historic brick and mortar building.
“Evening Mr. Spaulding,” The doorman Brennan, acknowledged the executive as he passed through security. Grant grunted a reply, as she headed to the mail room.
“Merry Christmas neighbor,” the affable Bruce Tompkins bumping into Grant in the hallway. Bruce is a multi-millionaire bachelor who runs a tech start-up. He gives half of his money to the poor, oppressed, downtrodden in the name of God’s will. Grant never liked Bruce’s incorrigible kindness. “Any holiday plans?”
“I read the report on your FLEX plan,” Bruce’s brow furrowed. “I’m not one to step on toes, but as a fellow CEO with years of experience in this sort of thing, I think you are making a serious error in firing sixty percent of your workforce.”
“Laying off – not firing. Severance will be paid.” Grant was tired of lectures. “You of all people should understand the value of technology in business. It’s how you made your fortune.”
Grant did not wait to hear Bruce’s rebuttal reply. He grabbed his mail and rushed to his penthouse. Stepping inside, he was greeted by stunning views of the Puget Sound. He stared out into the darkness, noticing the harbor lights dancing like ghosts in the night.
Sifting through the mail, he opened the Spaulding family Christmas card. It included usual ‘Family Photo,’ his brother George and his wife and kids, Elsie, Mom and Dad were standing in front of the ranch, inconsolably happy. With a hard sigh he threw the card away.
Also in the stack, was a Christmas letter from Carly Newman, nee Ryan.
“The one that got away,” Grant had to admit, it stings to think about his lost love. Carly had been his high school sweetheart. They’d dated ten years, but Grant couldn’t commit. He kept finding excuses to put off their marriage: ‘money,’ ‘work,’ ‘marriage is a draconian institution.’ It ended badly. He cheated on her without so much as an apology.
Carly had moved on with Mike Newman, a farmer from Shuksan. Their Christmas letter informed Grant, that Carly and Mike were expecting their first child. He tore up the letter, burning it to ashes. What did he care about Carly?
Checking his voicemail, Grant deleting the ten or so voicemails from his mother and sister, begging him to come home for Christmas. The other two voicemails were from KSEA and Danny Boyne respectively.
“Mr. Spaulding we would like a comment about your decision to fire thousands of workers at Christmas?” KSEA investigative reporter Browder Anderson in his typical foreboding breaking news voice.
He deleted the messages, unconcerned about a negative PR spin from KSEA or flimsy lawsuit from the union. He fell into a sullen sleep. In the distance the sound of church bells ringing – midnight.
please excuse typos
copyright 2021 (Adele Lassiter)
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