At 7:30 a.m., Controller, Sarah Willis, stared at subsidiary financial reports on one of three monitors on her desk. She needed the opportunity to stretch, as well as a few moments away from the financial analysis she was preparing. After a protracted period of staring at her monitor, the numbers were beginning to run together, and turning to mush in her brain. Sarah’s blond hair and blue eyes framed a radiant smile. Though not Hollywood model gorgeous, Sarah was attractive and compelling. As she made her way down the hall to the communal coffeemaker, Sarah observed that the offices around her were slowly transitioning from ghostly quiet, to active, as early birds began to arrive. She poured a cup of coffee, and then walked back to her office. One of her two Assistant Controllers, Melissa Carter, was removing her coat and getting settled in the office next door to Sarah’s.
“Good morning, Melissa,” Sarah said, smiling. Sarah’s blue eyes sparkled with intelligence, and something else; self-confidence and enthusiasm. She wore her blonde hair at shoulder length, and was attractive, in an elegant way reminiscent of Kate Beckinsale.
“Morning boss,” Melissa replied. She looked at Sarah’s coffee cup. “How many so far?” Melissa asked.
“This is only number two, today,” Sarah said, lifting the cup.
After quick calculation, Melissa said, “So, you’ve been here since about 6:00 this morning?”
Sarah stopped at Melissa’s office door and shook her head. “It’s amazing how you do that. I must be pretty damned predictable.”
“Only where your coffee consumption is concerned,” Melissa said. “And you were here pretty late last night. I mean, I left at 8:00 o’clock, and you were showing no signs of slowing down.”
“Yeah, I got out of here about 10:30. Plenty of time to nap before being back here for a Tuesday morning.” She took a deep breath. “We’ve only got one week to get all the subsidiary reporting complete, so I’m feeling the stress. Especially with the foot-dragging I’m getting from a couple of them. How are you doing?”
“I should have Wilson Pharma prepped for you to review by tomorrow,” Melissa said. “Jansing Communications by Thursday.”
“Great work. Between us, we will make these financials make sense, and get it done on time.”
Coffee in hand, Sarah walked back into her office, where the singular picture of her and John on her desk caught her attention. It had been taken eight years ago, shortly after their honeymoon. The picture made her smile, as she reflected on how happy they had been in a world when spending time with each other was the priority. She had been promoted to Controller for Ellison Corporation three years ago, at about the same time his architectural practice began landing almost every contract they chased. Ever since, they both worked sixty hours a week, and saw each other on the run, or while working on emergencies at home. With the loss of time together they had lost some of the intimacy, as well. After eight years of marriage, she and John no longer talked about having kids. It’s not that either had decided against children, they just didn’t have the time or the lifestyle that would make it work. Hell, they barely had the time and energy for occasional sex. Over the last few years, the most intimate part of their lives had been slowly drifting away. They were both always tired, and it had become so easy not to talk about anything intimate or challenging. It was literally, a cost of doing business. At thirty-nine years old, Sarah had made it to the upper ranks of a corporate giant. An accounting degree, an MBA, and seven years of experience and she was still a young woman. She considered the irony; it took years to achieve a level of success that would assure that there was never time for a personal life.
Neither Sarah nor Melissa stopped for lunch. The day was a race characterized by salads at their desks and little time for extraneous thought, and barely time for bathroom breaks. Melissa appeared at Sarah’s door at 7:00 p.m. “Goodnight boss.”
Sarah looked up from her monitor and shook her head. “We didn’t even have an opportunity to cover the status of the subsidiary analysis. In the morning, okay?”
“I’ll be here,” Melissa said. “And judging by the looks of things, you may be here still.”
Sarah smiled. “I really am going home soon. I’m seeing double, and my head is so full of numbers that they may start leaking from my ears.” She paused and then added, “Thanks for your hard work, Melissa.”
Melissa smiled, and said, “Thanks, chief. Goodnight,” and then she disappeared from the doorway.
At 7:45 p.m. the world outside her office window the sun was long gone and only the city’s ambient light illuminated the streets. Sarah analyzed the data and projections of three subsidiaries on three separate monitors. She had to assure that each of the subsidiaries spoke the same analytical language, compared apples and apples and used generally accepted accounting procedures in their analyses. Her eyes were getting tired and she had intermittent thoughts about something that might pass as dinner.
James Nolan, Ellison Company’s CEO, stood at the door and gave a knock. “Mind if I interrupt?” he asked.
“Please, Jim, come in.”
He sat down and looked at her paper-covered desk and multiple monitors. “Impressive,” he said. “The way you’re getting all this together. I know some of the subsidiaries have to be coerced into getting things done.”
She nodded. “You could say that.”
Nolan was about fifty years old; an outgoing, handsome man, with black hair decorated with highlights of grey. He exuded confidence, and focused keenly on anyone he addressed. He laughed and said, “I know you’re busy, so I’ll cut to the chase. I am coming to the end of my first year here and the Board likes what the team is doing. You guys are making me look good.” He paused and said, “I like to reward those loyal to me and I’m thinking that you are right for the Senior Vice President of Finance position. You’ve got a great handle on operations, as well as the financial side, so in three or four months from now I’m going to suggest your name to the Board. I don’t think I’ll get much resistance.”
Sarah smiled. “That’s great news, Jim. Thank you. And thanks for the acknowledgment of my work.”
He paused a moment and then said, “I want you to go to Seattle to attend the Urban Attache acquisition meeting tomorrow night.” She was puzzled. That meeting was not her typical turf. Worse, she had so much to accomplish with all of the corporate financial reports that she had no time for someone else’s side show. Nolan added, “You’re going for the Thursday presentation anyway, right? I understand that you are making a presentation Thursday morning, and I can use your help Wednesday night.”
“Okay,” Sarah said. “If you need me at the meeting tomorrow night, I’ll be there.”
“Thanks, Sarah. I knew I could count on you,” Nolan said. He was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “You know, Sarah, you are an attractive woman and I’d like to know you better.” He grinned widely and added, “We could be really good together.”
She furrowed her brow. Groping for words, she said, “We are both married to someone else.”
He smiled and said, “Sure, but we could really spice things up.” She said nothing. “Let me be straight with you. I want to make love to you.” He was still grinning as he added, “And I know that you would love it, too.”
“I am not okay with that, Jim,” she said as sternly as she could. “I’m not in the market for a relationship, and I don’t want to be hit on.”
“Okay,” Nolan said, “we’ll leave it for now, but I’m not giving up. I want you in my bed.” He grinned widely and then walked from her office. This was not the first time he flirted with her, but it was the first time that he was so direct in asking for sex. Nolan had made periodic comments about how “good” or how “hot” she looked, and tended to let his eyes fall to her chest, but had never gone further until today. This was something else and it made her feel dirty; like she needed a shower. She stared at her computer for a time, but couldn’t get what had just happened out of her mind. It crossed her mind that she should report these comments to Human Resources, but if she did, she might be killing her promised advancement. Maybe, she could just keep Nolan at a distance by letting him know she didn’t want to hear it. Maybe then, he would leave her alone. She felt sick to her stomach as she picked up her coat and walked out of the office.
As Sarah drove home, she contemplated telling John about Nolan’s comments, but decided that it would needlessly make him angry. She thought again about going to Human Resources, but the very thought of going through a process with the CEO was nauseating. Besides, so many women had tolerated so much more. She told herself that if this was as bad as it got, she could handle it. She would let it go for now.
* * *
Wednesday was as crazy as expected. Sarah was avalanched by about forty phone calls, a hundred emails, and two meetings that went on far too long. After running between crises all day long, Sarah raced to the airport and boarded the late afternoon plane to Seattle with only seconds to spare. She sat down on the plane, pulled her laptop and began to review financial reports. Time was ticking faster than ever.
When Sarah left Los Angeles, it was a typical March day. It was cool, a little overcast, with the sun periodically trying to break through and in the low sixties. When she arrived in Seattle, it was raining and, as always, amazingly green. She hired a Lyft car to drive her to the Puget Sound Hotel. She checked into her room on the twelfth floor and made her way to the elevator. When it stopped, she walked the well-lit corridor to room 1221. She waved the electronic key at the door handle and a light turned green to acknowledge her right of access. She dropped her suitcase on the bed and looked over at the blinking light on the phone. She picked it up and retrieved a voicemail from Jim Nolan. “Hey, Sarah, this is Jim. Something has come up and I have to attend another meeting tonight. You’re going to have to handle Urban Attache alone, but we can catch up tonight. I should be able to meet you in the hotel lounge about 10:00. Thanks, Sarah. See you later tonight.”
She shook her head. Things had just gotten a whole lot weirder. She was now flying solo in a meeting that needed someone else’s authority and expertise, with no real preparation and only general knowledge of the intended agenda. Sarah prided herself on being prepared for every meeting, so this did not feel good at all. She wondered why Nolan was suddenly unavailable to attend a meeting that was set up for his schedule. She mindlessly put a few things in drawers, and then checked her appearance. She decided that she made a satisfactory appearance for someone operating on reserve energy. Sarah dialed home and got no answer, so she tried John’s cell. It went to voicemail. “Hi John. Just calling to let you know that I’m thinking about you. I’m off to the meeting I told you about in Seattle. I hope you are having a good day.” She ended the call, and then picked up her briefcase and made her way downstairs. She summoned another Lyft car as she walked. It would be there in four minutes; a green Nissan. There was no time for dinner.
* * *
It was 7:30 p.m. when Sarah walked into the conference room on the twenty-fourth floor of the Winston Building downtown. She was introduced to Urban Attache’s CEO, CFO and in-house attorney. They grabbed coffee from a credenza spanning the width of the room, and seated themselves around the conference table in a manner avoiding the appearance of adversarial sides.
“I am here on behalf of Jim Nolan, who wants us to proceed with this acquisition as quickly as we can get everything completed,” Sarah said.
She was met with silence, and some disapproving looks. “I understood that Mr. Nolan was going to be here to finalize everything tonight,” the CEO, Preston Langley, said with concern.
“He was going to be,” Sarah said, “but an emergency came up and he couldn’t make it. I can go through the checklist to make sure that everything is in order, with the exception of two issues.”
Langley did not look happy. He said, “We agreed to close this deal and that this meeting was to handle those two issues. Now, we’re not going to get it done?”
“Let me address those two issues,” she said. “We have the revisions to the financials under discussion, and everything looks good, but we need them audited before we can close.”
“We’ll have the audited version by Monday,” Langley said, unhappily.
“The other item was the pending dispute with Caspian Products, over the patent. Can I get a look at the final due diligence documents we requested?”
The attorney, Gabriel Johns, handed her a file containing about a dozen multi-page documents, some of them a page or two, others twenty pages in length. She looked through the documents, five minutes growing to ten, while they all waited silently.