It was so difficult to get the words out at first. Allan had to lose himself to the script to keep from hyperventilating. But he’d made his way through the opening pitch by breathing deeply, never needing to sip his water, and pressed forward until time slowed down. The room shrank.
As his senses were heightened, sounds popped. Horace swallowing thick gulps of water. The scratching sound of Johnny Quo digging into his suit pants. The ticking sound on the second hand of his watch. Everything came through with complete fidelity.
All of this happened as the practiced words dripped off his tongue without making a ripple. Pearl/Stone Inc would redouble their efforts on vendor outreach. The would pivot away from geographical territories and incorporate the neural network to focus on what he was calling clustered markets.
“We won’t grow into Asia or South America. We grow into infrastructure, bio-engineering, resource retention.”
He could have looked for a way to wrap the presentation up, but felt the rolling wave of momentum. Allan didn’t want to convince the older faces in the boardroom. He wanted to convert them. He would feel for that energy in the air. Dare himself to go too far. Just one more statistic. One more anecdote. One more joke. He remembered every time he had ruined a painting at summer camp by trying one too many colors. Every time he got greedy on the court with a running three. Every time he went all in with a pair of jacks, just to learn he’d gotten under some whale’s skin. Even if he’d crashed nearly every time, he needed to push it as close as he could, never quite knowing if he was about to get mauled by a force of nature.
“Gentlemen, let’s usher in the second era of Pearl/Stone. Thank you.”
Applause. He’d pulled it off. Horace winked and rapped the black lacquered table.
“Nice work, kid.”
The compliments flowed downward from Horace’s perch by the less senior board members.
Horace wanted to know, “Can we do it?”
Vincent opened his mouth. I could see heads and tails flipping in his eyes.
“It’s ambitious. Crazy, really. And I would want to check last years sales, but…yes. It is theoretically possible.”
Perfect answer. Allan could feel the blood pumping through his veins.
“Johnny Quo, what do you think?”
“Ahh.” He was laughing, but everybody in the room knew the guy was a yes-man lackey. “You’re really putting me on the spot here.”
“Yes or no, Johnny Quo.”
He kept smiling through his hyper-bright white smile. “I’d want to say-”
“Yes. Or. No. Johnny Quo.”
“Well then I’ve got to say yes. A hundred percent.”
Allan was in. Everything had told him to stop, and he simply hadn’t listened. In a moment he knew the history of his life was either a lie or a test, and that the secret to life lie in the mad rush toward the conflict that everybody instinctively dodged.
Piedmont leaned forward. “I’m sorry. I hate to be the one to end the fantasy, but there is absolutely no way that we can implement any of this. Not while we’re completely over exposed. We’re balls deep into negotiations with India. And now we’re all supposed to just change our philosophy because little Allan said so.”
Balls deep, my ass. They had been making friendly calls for over four years and hadn’t gotten shit.
“I mean, no offense Allan, but you’re in over your depth. Don’t get me wrong, I love the passion. The speech was absolutely rich in rhetoric. It just left a few things out. Things like an actual blueprint. Cross company comparisons. Risk avoidance. You know. That kind of thing. But hey… hell of a speech. Have you ever considered the ministry? I really think you’d put on a cracker jack show in the Southern Baptist circuit.”
Allan didn’t feel the chair wheel out from behind his desk, and he didn’t feel himself standing upright. He only saw his view shift above the row of heads. As if he was a passenger in his own body. He saw the look on Piedmont’s face as he stepped closer. The face actually got more smug.
“Now what is this?”
Piedmont looked down and noticed the balled fist before Allan had felt his own hand gripping tighter and tighter. He was laughing.
“I’m sorry are you going to hit-”
Allan felt the front two knuckles on his right fist connect into and separate the cartilage in Piedmont’s nose. There was a ringing in his ears and blood on his fist. Before he could process what was happening, he saw his left hand gripping Piedmont’s white starched collar, as his right fist continued feeding punches into his cheek and mouth. Blood shot out of Piedmont’s bottom lip.
Allan recalled being hit by a car when he was 14. At the time all he thought was that there should have been some dramatic score playing in the background. He never saw the car, but was tossed from his bike, bouncing violently in the air, and while his life hadn’t flashed before his eyes as they say happens, he remembered the way time had frozen. All because he had always been conditioned to expect music when the stakes are raised. Not the naked ambient sounds of a small town on a mid summer afternoon.
Now all he thought was ‘Why isn’t anybody stopping this?’ as he grabbed piedmont by his greasy blonde hair and threw his head down onto the conference table.
He couldn’t recognize the expression on his face as he saw his reflection in the tabletop.
They had excellent medical coverage, of course. Reconstructive surgery, lasik, rhinoplasty, therapy. It would all be covered on the company dime.
Every blow sapped the rage out of his arms. Piedmont hadn’t bothered to fight back against his butchering. Out of breath, Allan let go, and measured his heart rate. He wiped the blood and sweat off his face and drank from Piedmont’s glass. As he chugged the water, he could feel his hand swelling into a fat piece of pink meat.
Eyes open. Everybody had been staring at him, including Horace with the butt of his pen in his mouth.
“There is a model in place for everything that I have laid out. We can manage our portfolio and become nimbler as the market fluctuates. If we leave smaller footprints, I can foresee a conservative annual growth of seven percent.”
Horace smiled. “I like it.”
More validation from the board members.
“Allan, you’ve got the green light.”
Allan looked around at the clapping men in business suits.
Horace pointed across the desk. “Johnny Quo, you keep your eye on this one.”
“Oh I will,” said Johnny Quo, with the practiced smile never leaving his face.
Allan smiled, and could have jumped out of the window a happy man.