by R. A. Bolden
Like a squall on the horizon, my clash with Harry was brewing. I'd have to be careful. He possessed a certain low cunning, like a fox. When the trap door shut it must be total capitulation.
'What about the coffee accounts?' I asked, trying to decide how to manage Harry.
'They've agreed to extend our line of credit with twelve percent down, but they weren't happy about that container two weeks ago,' my assistant reported.
'I'll call this afternoon. We've got to keep them sweet,' I said. 'As always our biggest problem is distribution.'
'My lads haven't had any problems with the shipping agents in three years and we handle all of our own distribution,' volunteered Harry, rocking back on the legs of his chair. A heavy gold chain hung ostentatiously from his neck.
'Not so fast,' I said. 'You've always handled the European flower business, and now you want to expand into South America coffee. I don't get it.'
'I can handle both,' he said, scratching the designer stubble that decorated his chin. I knew it was his way of goading me. I wanted the board members clean-shaven. It helped the cartel's image if you looked like a gentleman instead of a tramp.
'This is something we'll have to think about,' I said. I needed to buy some time. 'My gut feeling is we shouldn't mix our drinks, but that doesn't mean it can't be done.'
'You don't think I can handle it do you?' Harry asked in a booming voice.
'That's not it.'
He interrupted me. 'No one knows what you're really like but me.'
'Calm down Harry,' I said.
'To them,' he said, pointing at the board members. 'You're Katrina von Friesland, socialite and chairman of the board, the first female director of the cartel. But to me you'll always be Jake.'
He knew that infuriated me. Jake was the name of a textile trader who made a fortune with children manufacturing athletic shoes. Harry used it as a metaphor to say that I was just as ruthless in business.
He got up to leave. The pungent smell of alcohol and mints followed him. His curly-blonde hair bobbed on the collar of his white-linen jacket.
'Harry wait,' I shouted.
He turned and looked at me. His sad eyes were piercing. 'Please excuse us,' he said, towards the others in the room. They left hurriedly shuffling papers as they walked. The oak door closed. We were alone.
Deep down I loved my brother, even though he called me Jake. I didn't want to lose him. He was the only family I had; but he was a man and men felt threatened when a woman showed cleverness and guile superior to their own.
I looked at the scar that ran down Harry's cheek. It made a perpendicular line from the outer edge of his bushy eyebrows to where it bisected his square jaw.
The wound was a souvenir from his youth. A time when he'd been arrested in East Africa and put in jail for not bribing the airport official who found marijuana in his suitcase. Someone inside cut him with two razor blades imbedded in a toothbrush. The slices were too close together to stitch hence the exaggerated scarring.
The family wanted to have a plastic surgeon fix it, but Harry refused. He thought it made his chiseled features appear more rugged, making him stand out in a crowd.
'You know what your problem is?' he asked, taking out a cigarette and tapping it on the cover of his gold cigarette case.
I stroked the smooth-satin finish of the varnished mahogany table. It felt like familiar ground. 'No, what's that?' I asked.
'You don't understand that there's a morality in what we do. It's the taste of our actions that concerns me.'
'If I listened to you,' I said. 'I'd be in danger of becoming a martyr.'
He puffed silently on his cigarette, crushing its half-smoked butt in the ashtray with his thumbnail until the filter split open, its white filaments lying feathered on the bottom.
'It's not about that,' he said. 'It's about knowing the products we sell are fairly purchased.'
'Hey Mr. Ethical, you want another double mocha?' I asked, sarcastically. 'We buy it at one dollar a pound and sell it for fifteen dollars a pound. Now what's wrong with that?'
'You're not listening to reason,' he said. 'We are robbing our coffee suppliers. They're starving on the prices we pay.'
'Where do you get all this nonsense?' I asked. 'Have you been taking some kind of medication?'
With its distinctive sound, boardroom door opened. 'Miss von Friesland,' my assistant said. 'You have a meeting in ten minutes.'
'No interruptions,' I shouted.
'Yes, Miss von Friesland.'
'You're all worked up, because you're feeling guilty.'
'I've always protected you,' I said. 'Yet you come up with these lame arguments about being the right thing to do and so on but in fact you're bitter because father handed the reins to me.'
'You were his favorite,' he said.
'He chose me because I'm smarter than you. Now get real or get out.'
'Or what?' he asked. 'I own thirty percent of this cartel too.'
I wondered why father made us equals. It was almost gallows humor, as if he wanted to see who would win from the grave.
Again the door opened.
'I told you no interruptions.'
'Yes, Miss von Friesland, but it's your manicurist.'
That was my signal.
Outside she handed me a file. 'These are the auditor's reports you asked for.'
'Very good,' I said. 'You know what to do.'
Harry was standing by the window when I entered. 'Have you thought about what I said?' he asked.
'You may be right after all. I could step down and give you a chance at the helm. You own thirty percent. It's only fair.'
His intoxicated eyes warmed slightly. He started swaying like a serpent listening to the sound of the flute.
'What exactly did you have in mind?' I asked.
'Of course, you'll get a generous package with perks and an honorary seat on the board, but no voting rights. I'll take care of that.'
'Will I get to keep my office?'
'We'll sort that out later.'
There was a knock and two uniformed officers entered.
I pointed with the file. 'There's the man.'
Harry went white. 'What's going on?'
I put my arm around him and escorted him to the far end of the room, out of hearing range. I whispered, 'Over the last three years, one container every six weeks has gone missing. The insurance paid for it, but it didn't really fall off at sea. That's fraud.' I held up the file. 'You gave the money to the growers didn't you?'
His bottom lip stuck out like a little boy with his hand in the jar. 'They wanted to build a hospital.' He looked confused.
'You wanted the South American accounts so you could bust up our little price-fixing scheme.'
'It's wrong,' he said.
'It's not illegal in their jurisdiction.'
'It's still immoral, gouging the suppliers.'
'What am I going to do with you?' I asked.
He stood motionless staring at the floor.
'I'm willing not to press charges if we can come to a little arrangement. You stop objecting and get on side or you can go to jail. What they'll do to you in there will probably bring a tear to your eye.'
His shoulders sank. He was finished.
'There's one more thing,' I said. 'Sign this; it gives me control of your voting rights. To save face, you'll vote as I do on every issue or I'll make it known that I own you.'
'Look,' I said, softening. 'There's no need for us to have ideological differences.'
'What do you mean?'
'From now on, we'll kick back a small, and I repeat the operative phrase here is small percentage to the producers. Is it a deal?'
'It's a deal,' he said, smiling.
It felt good to see him squirm. Now I controlled sixty percent of the firm.
He leaned close. The alcohol and mints sang on his breath. Our eyes met. 'You don't have any intention of abdicating do you?'
'No Harry, I don't.'
RAUF BOLDEN is an American born in Colorado. He studied languages at University where he became a polyglot speaking German, French and Dutch. As a yacht master, he spent twenty years sailing more than 100,000 nautical miles while circumnavigating the planet with his wife Jeannette Dean, an internationally known sailor and writer. They plan to sail around the world again being very much in love while continuing to write fiction and feature articles. Their motto for life is, "Never Ever Give Up.”