Scootie drummed the eraser-tip of his pencil over the top of his computer, eyeing his office clock, thinking about his boss. Garth pretty much let his workers run the place. This could well be a formula for disaster, except that Garth had a nose for solid, self-motivating employees. He rewarded himself by spending long hours behind his office doors, doing God-knows-what.
Sadly, this air of non-existence also came into play when one of his employees was backed to the wall by a monied trustee. The man had no fight in him whatsoever, so you were generally left to slay the dragons yourself.
Scootie looked up to find his last five minutes gone, then strung a few mental hand grenades across his chest and headed out. He entered the hallway to find himself elbow-to-elbow with the fantasy figure herself.
“What ho, Juliana.”
“Ay begorrah, Scootie.” Juliana smiled and adjusted the shoulder pad of her jacket, two inches short of a zoot suit. “How goes it?”
“The biggest hell week in Fetzle history,” he said. Scootie tapped on Garth’s door, waited for his mumbled “Come in,” then held the door for his chairlady. Juliana made her greetings with Garth as Scootie laid back at the entrance. He was quickly joined by Jackie Simmer.
“Checking out those gams?” she whispered.
“Black stockings drive me nuts,” he whispered back. He lifted two folding chairs from the back wall and set them before Garth’s desk.
“Good morning, Garth.”
“Good morning, Scootie. Good morning, Jackie.”
“Mornin’, boss man.”
Garth gave Juliana a meek smile. “She likes to call me that.”
“Got a reputation to uphold,” said Jackie, pulling a pen from her embroidered gambler’s vest. “I’m the closest thing we got to a ethnic employee.”
“We do need to get some minority staff members,” said Garth.
“Make it easier to get grants,” said Jackie. She slapped her knees with both hands. “H-well. Whatta we got this mornin’, boss lady?”
“Ticket sales,” said Juliana. “Virginia and I are getting concerned.”
“Hmm, yes,” said Garth, hastening to agree. “That is a concern.”
“Seems to me Scootie kinda predicted this,” said Jackie. “Ain’t that so, S.J.?”
“I did anticipate it. That doesn’t mean I’m happy with it. There are a few things we need to do to get out the vote, so to speak.”
“Such as?” said Juliana.
“I’m trying to get a news crew to the airport for Stephen’s arrival, but of course television’s always a gamble. One good toxic spill and we’re out of luck. We’re due for a cover story in the Sentinel Friday. We can throw in a few more radio plugs. I can even get a rush discount on that – they like to fill up the holes the day before broadcast.”
“Well, Virginia couldn’t be here,” said Juliana. “But I did promise to bring up ticket giveaways again. She really does think it could create some last-minute excitement, and I’m beginning to agree with her.”
“Is there any reason we couldn’t do that, Scootie?” Good ol’ Garth, lips to the rear. “I would think our radio friends would be happy to help us.”
Scootie paused for a moment, pretending to give the idea full consideration.
“As I mentioned before, I have nothing against giveaways per se. In fact, I use them all the time. The problem is more of a long-term one. If we decide – as I have heard – to make the gala an annual event, we don’t want to give any indication that this first one is giving us trouble. Raising an audience for a first-time event – even one with Stephen Swan – is problematic. People haven’t been there before, they’re unfamiliar with the process – they don’t know exactly what they‘re being offered. I’d prefer to see us show a little patience with this. We’ve planted a lot of seeds out there; let’s give them a chance to sprout.”
Juliana smiled knowingly, the look of someone who is impressed but not convinced. “I retract the idea. For now. But I reserve the right to bring it up later – and I’m warning you, Virginia is very fond of this notion, and may necessitate a lengthier persuasion.”
“As long as I don’t have to kiss her,” said Scootie, and winked.
Juliana laughed. Jackie yawned. And Garth, as usual, had no idea what they were talking about.
Even after lunch with Laura Benedetti, a workshop with the decorations committee and a visit to Jackie and the sound techs, Juliana was questioning her judgement. That Scootie is so smart and handsome, she thought. I wonder if I’m too easy on him.
Climbing the path up Blaze Hill, Juliana found a wall of fog retreating from the coastline, opening a banner of blue behind her house. She also found Scott’s Porsche. Well, what the hell...
She was waved inside by the tang of garlic, which could only mean one thing. She snuck to the kitchen and found Scott at the stove, jabbing at a skilletful of his trademark garlic-friend chicken. She padded behind him and slipped a hand along the back of his neck.
“What’s cookin’, sexy man?”
“Some people would say you shouldn’t sneak up on a person holding a pan of hot grease.”
“So whatcha doin’ home so early?”
“I was finished with everything I had to do, so I thought I’d do something I wanted to do – make dinner for my wife.”
“What can I do to encourage this behavior.”
Scott turned and gave her a kiss. “Go get some Chardonnay.”
“Honey, you should forget this banking crap and open a chicken stand.” Juliana took her last bite and washed it down with her wine, relishing the charred sweetness.
“Rumor has it, it’s the real reason you married me.”
“Good a reason as any. Want some coffee?”
“Sure,” said Scott, still operating on a breast. “I put a batch on the timer. Should be done.”
Juliana walked to the kitchen, humming a tune from her high school musical. She returned with a question.
“Scott, I don’t mean to sound like a suspicious housewife, but why are you being so good to me? I already agreed to marry you.”
Scott smiled and rubbed a hand over his six-o’clock shadow. “The church! The photographer, the tuxedos! Is that what that was about?”
“Yep, that was it,” she said. “So why the big show.”
“Because I love you,” said Scott. “And... I want to be good to you when I’m around, because there will be times, later on, when I might have to be... away.”
Juliana heard the sentence in reverse, beginning with the word “away.” She repeated it for good measure.
“Yes. Away,” said Scott. He was sitting perfectly still, like a man bracing himself for a tsunami.
“When are you going... away?” she asked.
Scott lifted his eyes and tried to let out all the blue, anything to distract her from the next word. “Tomorrow.”
Juliana’s face began to flush. With great effort, she held down her voice.
“Tomorrow? You’re going away, tomorrow?”
Scott unhinged his spine and spilled forth. “It’s the Quebec contract, honey. With the change of government, it’s falling apart, and unless I get up there and put a tack in it, it’s going to go straight down the tubes.”
Juliana turned her back to him and caught the battlements of Fetzle out the front window. There was one more thing she needed to know.
“How long have you known about this?”
“A couple of weeks, honey, but...”
That was it. She spun back around. “A couple of weeks? A couple of weeks?!” She placed her hands on the table for balance. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“I was waiting for the right time. I didn’t want to upset you.”
Juliana waited a moment and it all came clear. “You were buttering me up,” she said. “You were going to skip out on the single most important thing I have ever done, and every sweet thing you’ve done for the last two weeks has been a... a strategy. A public relations campaign.”
“I wish I could get out of it, but it’s a desp...”
“If it was so goddamn desperate, why did you know about it two weeks ago? You son of a bitch! I put my heart and soul into this thing and all you care about is how to break it to me like I’m some kind of... wifey! Down there in that mansion, I’m important, damn you. Down there, I call the shots, I’m the one who’s admired, and respected, and I thought you were man enough to just for once let me be the most important person in this house! I...”
Juliana felt suddenly, desperately alone. She wiped at her tears and spun toward the living room, looking for her purse. Scott ran after her and tried to take her by the shoulders. She pushed him away with a stare.
“I thought you knew me better. I thought we were partners.”
“What are you doing?” he asked. “Where are you going?”
“Away,” she said. “I’m going away.”
Juliana ran to her car, got in and sped off down the face of Blaze Hill. Scott could do nothing but watch, because he knew, no matter how much he loved his wife, he had to go to Canada.
Geoffrey Urban returned to his apartment with a puzzled expression, wiping his forehead with a Brazilian bandana. Scootie let out a trail of smoke and gave him a puzzled look right back.
“Strange,” said Geoffrey. “Very strange.”
Geoffrey folded the bandana and stuck it in his pocket. “Juliana Kross just checked in.”
Photo by MJV