Friday, quitting time and an impromptu office happy hour. She’d agreed to let her new hire give her a peck on her cheek under the offending sprig, startled when he grabbed her, dipped her to his left, smooched her on the lips, and let her up quickly, releasing her so fast, she had to grab onto the doorjamb for balance. Amid the whistles and clapping of her ten employees, she slowly closed her mouth, straightened her fitted jacket, and glared at her kisser: Hawke Storm, former Navy Seal.
Hawke’s goofy grin and deep bow in front of Kaye’s raucous crew sent heat crawling up her neck. She raised an eyebrow at her employees, her usual get-serious signal, but she couldn’t hold the pose. Instead, she laughed, a sound foreign to her after months of stress. Nothing seemed funny about being boss of the number one start-up in America, a business teetering toward failure. Married to her job; social life-nil.
She took a deep breath and focused on the flurry of events since she’d met Hawke early that morning.
“Show me E-Rase’s vision and long-range goals. Please.” He’d demanded the information so abruptly after he’d introduced himself, Kaye’s heart started pounding. She wanted help in the worst way, but his intensity unnerved her. Though she got busy at her desk while he read through her business plan, she found herself focusing on at the top of his head instead of her schedule for the day. The brown whorl in his hair brought out boy instead of critic. A touchstone.
An hour later, he looked up from the notebook, his brown eyes boring into hers. He had a more-than-Roman nose, slightly misshapen from a break or two, a small scar on his chin, and a hint of a tattoo showing through the open ‘v’ of his shirt. Damn, he looked more like a bouncer at a high-end nightclub, than a hired consultant.
He said, “This helps. I studied your website over the weekend; googled and facebooked all your employees. Two of them, Brandon and Marsha, need to keep details about the company off the internet. Take a look; you’ll see what I mean. Don’t know if it matters, but I think they are lovers, or at least, they’re moving that direction.”
Kaye nodded, numbly. She’d missed the signs.
“I think I understand your concept.” He paused. “A basketball team owner already has the rights to an app that disappears text messages. I checked their website. What makes you think you can erase e-mail?”
She'd gestured at the men and women working in their cubicles. “I hired the best staff in the world. They’re primed to make e-mail messages self-destruct in twenty-four hours,” she said, pride deepening her voice.
“But the government questions your project’s legality; foreign leaders would kill for the technology. Wiki-leakers would just as soon you failed; as would all the fat-cat private servers you and I pay to shuttle our e-mail back and forth. You’d take down a big portion of Yahoo, Gmail, and Earthlink’s income.”
Kaye pushed back from her desk and crossed her legs. “No need to sugarcoat.” She gave a wry smile. “The snafus made by Clinton, Powell, Podesta, and the rest, regarding sensitive e-mail, are compelling enough to come up with a way to delete messages forever. The government has found expensive ways to privatize and collect classified information, but for the most part, Americans don’t want their e-mails ‘kept.’ In fact, most citizens remain naïve about how public their e-mail messages are, and how embarrassingly permanent they can be. Our app provides privacy for Americans, upholding their constitutional rights.”
“And hides the crooked tactics of criminals and terrorists.”
Kaye blinked at his quick grasp of her problems. Now, if he could only help her solve them.
He’d risen from his chair and set the notebook on her desk. “I’ve got enough for now. Off I go to meet your staff.” Tossing two words over his shoulder, “Loyalty check,” he’d trooped off for the next eight hours to huddle with her employees.
“Trust me,” he’d said, as he arranged plastic glasses next to the booze for the impromptu happy hour at the end of the workday. “Trust me,” he whispered before he kissed her under the mistletoe. Was plucking the guy out of General Emerald’s Group too impulsive a move on her part?
A glass of wine appeared in her hand, offered by Hawke. Before she could thank him, he walked away to talk to Craig, her operations manager. Kaye met the narrowed eyes of her VP, Joe Miller.
“What the hell, Kaye? We don’t have time for this nonsense. You told me the guy was supposed to bring structure to our chaos, not cause more.”
“We’re in deep, Joe. You and I might be business majors, but our issues are beyond what we learned in school.” She hitched a shoulder and took a sip of wine. “I’ll take the hit for the hire; Hawke asked me to trust him, so I will.”
Another snort from Joe. “Hawke? Storm? That’s got to be a made-up name. He’s all of what? Thirty-five? Discharged, maybe? Did you check his service record: probably riddled with trauma, now with a superman complex. A grunt bailing out a tech start-up? Ridiculous.”
“The General said he’d matched a guy with my needs. Hawke quit the Navy because of a leg injury; his brain and Seal skills are intact.”
Joe tipped a water bottle to his lips and drank half of it. With an irritated look, he said, “Juvenile tactics, Kaye. Geesus, kiss the boss to lighten the mood? Look at him chit-chatting with our people, a party-boy on steroids. An un-credible hulk.”
For a moment, Kaye viewed Hawke through Joe’s eyes. The man was huge, at least six foot three. She’d never seen, in person, someone with such wide shoulders and thick biceps, his blue dress shirt tight on his arms and closefitting on his torso. He wore navy pants and loafers without socks, dressing on a level better than her jeans-clad employees. His brown hair was about an inch longer than a soldier might wear. Brown eyes. Memorable lips.
She cleared her throat. “Joe, I’m going to mingle. Clearly that’s what Hawke is modeling; let’s go with the program.”
“Shit,” Joe said under his breath, even as he moved with her toward the group. Quietly, he said to Kaye so only she could hear. “We’ve found evidence of sabotage, Kaye. People are trying to steal our ideas and destroy our company. This is no time to party.”
At the same time Joe stalked away, Hawke turned his face to her and winked. Warmth crept up her neck again, but the feeling was far from comforting. Joe’s criticism filled her brain. She’d hired Hawke to save her company; maybe his strategy would bring its ruination.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of 'The Christmas Seal' tomorrow. We fiction writers pluck ideas right out of the newspapers, and you guessed it, some of our soldiers, the best of the best, Navy Seals and Army Rangers, are taking Silicon Valley by storm. I'll tell you more about this clever strategy after Part 3. Check out my books at http://www.rolynnanderson.com