After a day of interviewing Kaye’s employees, detecting land mines everywhere, Hawke Storm should have called the General to tell him exactly where his commander could stick Hawke’s consultancy with E-Rase.
Even if he wouldn’t. Couldn’t.
He observed Kaye’s staff knocking down happy-hour beers and wine as if they’d been parched for a week. Thank God he’d bought chips and salsa to absorb the alcohol. Afterward he’d have to arrange for rides home. A look around the room tipped him off: Three non-drinkers out of eleven. Kaye was sipping on her wine. Call her the fourth designated driver.
As he kibitzed with Melinda, a bright twig of a woman who looked all of thirteen, he kept his eye on Kaye. She was the reason he would never complain to the General. When he’d walked into her office this morning, with a list of questions and observations, he took one look at her and lost his ability to speak. Her short blonde hair set off forest green eyes that focused on his as if measuring depth in fathoms. She stood rebar straight behind her desk, tall and lithe in her red form-fitting jacket, her breasts framed by the cut. Black pants, hugged tight all the way to ankle-high black leather boots. At her “Hello, I’m Kaye Rourke,” he almost stumbled in his forward movement to shake her hand, her voice reminding him of his favorite scotch, smoky, rich, and warm. Nascent energy vibrated from her so the light in the room seemed to pulse, but her handshake was firm and instead of disappearing inside his big paw, her long, strong fingers grasped his with purpose.
He may have held her hand a few seconds longer than he should have. Truth to be told, ten minutes after meeting Kaye, Hawke had her back. The speed of his connection with her rattled him a little; he’d bonded with some of his Seal buddies as quickly, but never with a civilian woman.
Loyalty. The first Seal question was: who, in her fledgling team, would augment a successful team, putting others in the group before themselves? Sorting the obsequious from the truly loyal had been his all-day task. Since tech types were not his norm, he faced his first challenge. These people were all-brain and would probably stereotype Hawke as half-brain and half-brawn. They didn’t need to know he’d taken computers apart and put them together when he was a teen and his Seal team called him ‘Techman.’ The General had done his research before he tapped Hawke to help Kaye, but he and the General decided their strategy was to keep Hawke’s skills a secret.
Some things are better kept under the vest.
“Melinda, mind if I have a moment with Hawke?” Kaye said, her hand on the woman’s shoulder.
When the woman went to join the happy-hour others, Hawke said, “Ready to talk about fallout?”
She frowned, then her expression cleared. “Oh, you mean about my long line of visitors today, reporting in after each one spoke with you.” A sip of wine, then, “I took notes. You did too. We’ll have a reckoning, and merge our observations, yes?”
With a nod he said, “Sorry to surprise you about the bonus.”
Eyebrow up, she gazed deeply in his eyes once again, unsettling him.
“A catalyst,” he said.
“A catalyst,” he said.
“To gauge loyalty.”
“As well as determine their sense of team.”
Kaye surveyed the room where twelve large cubicles mazed the middle of the gigantic space. “First thing, the walls come down.”
“It’s time. Your tasks are complex; they require fluid grouping and regrouping.”
“I see that.”
“Yes. Tell them your decision to let the cubicles go was yours from the start; you used me to help with the problem-solving format.”
“Thank you,” Kaye said. “Now, the bonus. You do know, don’t you, that we haven’t made a cent on our concept? Out of our capital we can pay salaries for one more year, tops. Contributors are excited about our product, but nervous about the complications.” She shook her head. “Bonuses may never come. ”
“Understood. What I said to each employee was: ‘I may suggest to your boss that she consider a bonus incentive package. Which employee deserves a bonus?’ ”
She tipped her glass in the direction of Joe, whose sour return-look made her smile. “Joe named himself.”
“Melinda, Frank, Suzanne and Bert named me; they came to my cubicle to tell me so.”
“Add Charlotte and Jill. They say you’re doing the heavy work; you deserve the money. They’re worried your car’s going to give up on you; said you need a new one.”
“So you’ve drawn a sociogram of who supports whom.”
“Or not. Frank’s a sycophant. He came to you pretending affinity. He wouldn’t look me in the eye; sweat beaded on his forehead; words too carefully chosen.”
“Damn. He has two kids.”
“Not all parents are good.”
Kaye said nothing.
“I’m driving Craig home. One beer to many.”
She stared at him.
He shrugged. “Interesting guy. Didn’t get enough time with him today.”
Kaye closed her eyes a moment, opened them and turned to observe her staff.
Hawke had to resist the urge to hug her, but his job was to steel her for what was coming: a cascade of bad news.
Part 3, the conclusion of my short suspense story, comes tomorrow. If this is a holiday weekend for you and your family, I hope you are savoring the moments. I'm tipping a cup of cheer your way!