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Authors: Tracy Kelleher

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction

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BOOK: The Company You Keep
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“Well, until then, you could get Mom to pray for her. Light a candle, do the whole bit. You never know.”
“Mom has her ways of dealing with problems, and I’ve got mine. I keep my nose to the grindstone and just do my job. Whatever happens with Roxie, happens. In the meantime, I’ve got the family to think about—and the hundreds of employees who depend on this company running smoothly.”
“And don’t think we’re not all eternally grateful. It certainly saves me from having to be the responsible son.” Joe commandeered Vic’s desk chair and swiveled it around to face his brother. Then he crossed his legs, the tassels on his Gucci loafers jiggling as he lazily rocked his foot.
Vic gave Roxie a final pat and stood. The dog wearily thumped her tail on the ground. “Do you mind?” Vic indicated his chair.
“Be my guest.” Joe rose and crossed the gray carpeting to the small leather sofa opposite the desk. He plopped down at one end and rapped his knuckles on the wooden arm. “But tell me, oh, wise and great brother, if you’re so responsible, why haven’t you answered your phone for the past half hour?”
Vic settled into his desk chair, slipped off his shoes and let his feet rest atop the carpet. “In answer to your question, I was showing a couple a slab of Ubatuba for their kitchen countertops.”
“One slab? Of Ubatuba? What are they doing? Upgrading their galley kitchen in some track house in Levittown? Excuse me, but what are you—the CEO of the company—doing showing small-time customers their order?” Joe glanced dismissively around the office. “You know, I think it’s about time you upgraded your décor, starting with the carpeting. What is it? Indoor-outdoor from some box store?”
“I like the carpeting.” Indeed, Vic would never tell his family, but at times he really could do without padding around barefoot on cold marble floors. “And Roxie likes it, too.”
“That dog of yours sheds all over this stuff.”
Vic was unfazed. “If it bothers you so much, there’s a vacuum cleaner in the janitor’s closet.”
Joe held up his hands. “No, thanks. Besides, Pop banned me from manual labor around the place after that incident with the forklift.”
How could Vic forget? Forty thousand dollars worth of travertine down the drain. Joe wasn’t much better when it came to driving that ridiculous Porsche 911 of his. At least whenever he wrapped that around a pole it was his insurance, not the company’s.
Vic bit back a sigh. Why was he always the responsible sibling? True, as the oldest, he bore the burden of carrying on the family business and keeping his brother and sister out of harm’s way. But deep down, he was afraid that he was just born old.
He continued in his usual mature, patient fashion. “No one else appeared to be free, and I don’t like customers standing around waiting. As I’ve said before, a CEO wears many hats and pitches in wherever needed, even on the floor dealing with first-time customers. And two, more importantly for this company, that couple placed their order through Home Warehouse, whose contract with us—as you undoubtedly know since you’re senior vice president in charge of sales—is up for renegotiation in the spring.
And,
seeing as they’re the largest home improvement company in America, we need to continue to be their sole supplier of natural stone. So, if we satisfy their customers with top service, word will get back—trust me—and that will place us in a much better bargaining position.”
Joe rolled his eyes. “Thanks for the lecture, Mr. Miyagi, my personal
sensei.

“Anytime. My ‘Wax On, Wax Off’ lecture is scheduled for tomorrow.” Vic rested his elbows on his blotter. “Now, who’s so anxious to talk to me—” he shuffled through the pink paper slips “—that he keeps calling…what…three…no, four times?”
“The head honcho at Pilgrim Investors. I checked around, and they’ve got their own building on Park Avenue, besides offices in London, Tokyo and Shanghai. Rumor has it that they’re planning a new office in Australia—the economy’s booming there what with their large supply of raw materials going directly to China. They’re players, big time—trust
me.
” He shot back Vic’s own words.
Vic could do without players. But business was business. “So, if there’s a possibility of new construction, why didn’t they contact you?”
Joe shook his head. “I tried pointing that out to him over the phone, but got nowhere. He’s one of those blue-blood types who only talks to the top dog. If it gets down to the nitty-gritty, then his lackeys will step in and deal with me.”
Vic rubbed his bottom lip thoughtfully. “All right, let’s see what the big man has to say. Little does he know I was born in Trenton and grew up in a row house.”
“Ah, but you’re still the one with the Grantham degree,” Joe needled him.
“See, if only you had stuck with football,” Vic replied, and he could have said, “studied a bit harder,” but he didn’t. Why rub it in? Instead, Vic picked up one of the message slips and started to punch in the number.
Suddenly, Abby stuck her head in the open door. “Hey, boss, thought I’d let you know. That young couple you helped in the warehouse?” She worked the chewing gum in her mouth. Abby was a smoker, and since there was no smoking in the building, she was a constant gum chewer in between cigarette breaks in the parking lot. “Well, they ended up going with the Verde Typhoon granite from our Platinum Collection, and are now thinking about the Yellow Bamboo stone for the vanity top in the master bath. I told them no problem—we’d hold a slab, and they could just call in the dimensions. If we don’t hear back in a day or two, I’ll follow up.”
Pleased, Vic nodded. “Good work, Abby. We just quadrupled the price of the sale. You could teach my younger brother here a thing or two.”
Abby eyed Joe and laughed knowingly. “That’s not what I heard. Word is he’s the one who likes to play teacher.”
Joe tugged at a starched cuff of his white dress shirt. His onyx cufflink winked. “Hey, anytime you want to be a pupil I’d be delighted.”
Abby threw back her head and erupted in a gagging smoker’s cough. “Please, not only am I old enough to be your mother, I have three sons of my own. No one can spot bull faster than a mother of sons.” Long divorced, Abby had grown up in the same Polish neighborhood of Trenton as Vic’s parents, and it had been his father’s idea that she work for the company.
“You two can go at it all day if you want, but some of us have work to do.” Vic picked up his phone and started to dial again.
Abby saluted and scampered off.
For a fiftysomething mom she still looked pretty good in a tight black skirt, Vic thought. He leaned on his elbow and waited, listening to the phone connection.
“Mr. Lodge’s office,” a male voice answered at the other end.
Vic shifted the phone to the right hand so he could write with his left on a legal pad. “This is Vic Golinski from GSI, Golinski Stone International. I’m returning—” he looked at the slip again since names were not his strength “—Mr. Lodge’s calls.”
“If you’ll hold, I’ll see if Mr. Lodge is available.”
“No problem.” Vic began doodling a grid pattern on the legal pad. He covered the mouthpiece and spoke to Joe. “I’m on hold for the great man.”
Then he leaned back in his chair and winked at Roxie. She blinked, her thick white lashes fluttering, but her brow remained furrowed. Roxie was one of those dogs that seemed to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders. Just look at her cross-eyed and she was convinced she had cancer. Maybe this time she was right.
“Mr. Golinski.” A gravelly male voice drawled out Vic’s name. The aristocratic overbite extended the last syllable into almost two. “Conrad Lodge III here. You’re a hard man to track down, Mr. Golinski.”
“Vic, please, and I’m sorry for the delay. Things have been slightly hectic this morning, but now I’m all yours. What can I do for you, Mr. Lodge?”
No first-name familiarity was reciprocated, not that Vic had expected anything else. But then he had a thought.
Conrad Lodge?
“I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but your name is very familiar.”
“Perhaps because you’ve seen me mentioned in the
Wall Street Journal
or the
Financial Times.

“No, that’s not it.”
“Yes, I suppose for someone in your line of work—stone and all—that wouldn’t be your usual reading matter.”
Vic didn’t feel the need to convince him otherwise. What point was there in informing him that he had an MBA from Stanford and that GSI was now the leading distributor of natural stone in North America.
No, he wasn’t about to set the record straight because he knew all about people like Conrad Lodge III. They liked to look down at people in “the stone business”—good honest people like his father, who worked with their hands and believed that if you worked hard enough, anything was possible—especially for your children.
No, he wouldn’t give Conrad Lodge III the satisfaction of knowing he’d pissed him off. “I suppose you’re right. I don’t usually get beyond the sports pages—being an ex-jock and all,” Vic responded. He leaned back in his chair and rested his stocking feet on the lip of the trash can next to Roxie’s pillow.
The dog stirred and knocked the plastic cone around her head against the black container. Clearly, it annoyed her. If Vic knew that Roxie wouldn’t bother the bandaged ear, he’d take the thing off.
Conrad chortled as if he were actually sharing the joke. “Of course. Which is exactly why I called.”
“Not many people have any interest in my short-lived football career.” Vic wasn’t being modest, merely stating a fact. But he also knew that prospective customers, once they found out about his former sports career, liked to dish the dirt. Everyone was an expert or a fan, it seemed. Then after that ritual dance, they usually got down to business. “How can I help you?” He continued to draw on the pad, adding vertical lines to the grid pattern.
“You may recall that I’ve sent you several emails regarding Grantham University, in particular Reunions in June.”
Vic had a vague recollection of deleting some emails with a Grantham email address. He figured it was yet another solicitation for the alumni fund or the latest capital campaign. Not that he didn’t value his education and the opportunities it had opened up for him, but that didn’t mean he was about to fork over more than his two hundred dollars a year that he obligingly offered. Let the Conrad Lodge the Third’s of the world dip into their ample trust funds… . With a few quick jabs, he drew some arching lines, fanning outward.
Wait a minute… Conrad Lodge III?
Vic abruptly lifted his foot off the garbage can and planted both feet firmly on the floor. “Hold it. Now I remember why I know your name.” He lay the pen on the pad. “You wouldn’t happen to be Mimi Lodge’s father?”
“Why, yes, Mary Louise is my daughter.”
Vic looked down at his pad and frowned. He’d unconsciously drawn what looked unmistakably like the fountain in the courtyard of Allie Hammie. He ripped the paper from the pad and scrunched it up.
And that’s when he hung up—without another word.

CHAPTER THREE

 

“HEY!” JOE JUMPED to his feet. “What the hell just happened?”
Vic rubbed his forehead, then held up his hand. “Not to worry.” He hit redial.
Conrad picked up immediately.
“It seems we were cut off. My apologies.”
Conrad didn’t bother with any more preliminary chitchat. “You may know that my firm is considering opening another office in the Antipodes.”
Vic rolled his eyes at the pretentious language. “Yes, I believe my brother, Joe, to whom you talked briefly, mentioned something about it.” He nodded to Joe, who raised his chin.
“Yes, well…I know our design and construction team are in the process of sending out for bids.”
“That’s good to know. GSI has handled several projects in Australia and New Zealand, and we’ve had very positive reviews.”
“I’ll pass that information along. But that’s not entirely why I called.”
Why wasn’t Vic surprised? When did a CEO get involved with building projects besides signing off on the design and then cutting the ribbon at the end?
“As I explained in my emails, I’m on the organizing committee for Reunions coming up this June.”
“Congratulations, but I must confess I haven’t attended Reunions since my senior year when I served on a panel discussion,” Vic said. It was an experience he’d managed to put far, far away.
“Yes, that was a memorable occasion.”
“Your daughter, I believe, made it particularly memorable.” Vic tried to keep his tone even.
“Yes, Mimi is definitely opinionated, but I’ve never seen her so…shall we say…demonstrative?”
She may have been “demonstrative,” but somehow it had been Vic who had been hauled off to the police station. Mimi had merely waved goodbye wrapped in a towel provided by the cops. “I guess that’s what you could call it.” His tone wasn’t quite so even.
BOOK: The Company You Keep
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