The meeting was breaking up in Alvin's office and the mood turned jovial. It had been a good forecast review. All divisions were 'in-sync' so there was confidence among them. Although the meeting was held in the CEO's office, Frank chaired it. It was the first such meeting with him as the new CFO. Although Frank was new to the job, he was known to those around the table, having been recently promoted from his former position of Corporate Controller. To most of the brass it had been a welcome elevation. Frank had spent years at the company earning their respect.
The crowd of VP's started to shuffle from the office. From his chair behind the large walnut desk Alvin called out.
"Frank, would you stay behind a few minutes?"
Frank returned and took a chair in front of the desk. When they were alone Alvin rose, walked to the door and closed it. "Have one with me, Frank?"
"Al, I would like to, but it's a little early for me," Frank answered.
"I'd appreciate it if you would, anyway. I think I recall that you're a scotch man. It'll be bourbon for me."
The older man lifted the panel on a hidden wet-bar in an office alcove. In a minute he returned with two tumblers filled with three fingers each.
"Cheers!" Alvin broke the silence.
Frank lifted his glass and took a healthy sip. "That's good Scotch, Al."
Al sat behind his desk, head bowed, staring into the amber lubricant.
Frank spoke up. "I think the forecast is in good shape, Al. The 10-Q will be on Wall Street at month's end. The conference call with the investment bankers will go well."
Alvin raised his head to look at Frank. "That's not why I wanted to talk with you. I know all that will be fine."
Alvin took another sip of his drink and then continued.
"With your formal installation tonight as CFO, I want to clear the air. I was against your appointment, but the Board overrode me. It was nothing personal. I thought we needed a bigger name to help push through the big stock offering next month. You're here now, and we'll work together."
"I won't let you or the Board down; and the stock offering will go off as planned," Frank answered.
"I know that, Frank," Alvin answered. "You see, what I really want to say to you is that the Board was right and I was wrong. It's hard to admit it, but now I'm glad you were chosen. I've been watching you. You are right for the job."
The promotion had been a surprise to some. 'Controller-types' were not usually considered for the top finance job. It usually goes to a Wall Street guy from outside the company. The Board had taken a long time, but finally decided. At long last, Frank was in the corner office next to Alvin's. He took over the duties a few weeks beforehand. That night there would be the formal installation at a management dinner party at Alvin's estate. The Board members were already arriving at the airport.
Alvin's admission caused Frank to think about the older man sitting in the CEO's chair across the desk. In his view, it took a big person to do what the Chief Executive had just done. Frank arrived at Western Chemicals a dozen years ago at about the same time as Alvin. The older man arrived as President. Frank had been employed by the outside auditing firm that helped split the new company away from its parent.
He was thirty then. From deep in the bowels of the finance organization, Frank moved up the food chain to the position that he just won. Frank was short and stocky, five-eight if he let his hair grow. He looked like he was still playing fullback for his college football team. He could be a bulldog, when the situation called for it. The lunchroom wisdom said that when Frank 'had a tiger by the tail', it would be just a matter of time before a striped rug would appear in front of the fireplace in Frank's den.
He had never indulged in the office politics game, allowing his work speak for itself. By not playing the game he won it. He had made no enemies and thise around him seemed to follow his lead. When a tough assignment came up, Frank's name did, too.
Alvin changed the subject, "Well, are you and the little lady ready for the big gala at the house tonight?' His face now crinkled with impending mirth, "We'll have a band. I'll bet you'll want to dance a few slow ones with Trudy. That must always be ... interesting." Alvin laughed at his own joke.
Frank didn't speak out loud, but sighed to himself.
"That joke was only slightly funny the first two hundred times I heard it. I can't believe that I'm a senior officer in one of the largest corporations in the world and have to sit here and listen to lewd jokes about my wife."
The joke was about the obvious disparity in height between Frank and his wife, Trudy. While Frank scraped five-eight, Trudy towered at six-two. The slow-dance image was of Frank's face buried in Trudy's cleavage as they paced around the dance floor. It was a fallacy. With a difference of six inches, Frank's eyes were at Trudy's chin or a little lower if she wore heels. At any rate, Trudy and Frank managed fine, and slow-danced whenever they had a chance.
Alvin must have noticed Frank's distant look. "You probably hear that one all the time. I'm sorry. Actually, I like Trudy. She and Gloria should get together more. They'd probably hit it off!" Al glanced back to the picture framed behind him on his credenza to emphasize the reference.
"Not really!" Frank thought, but continued his silence.
Gloria had that trophy wife look. It was her job to look good all the times. She had a standing weekly appointment at an exclusive salon. No one knew her actual hair color or her age—even Gloria may have forgotten them. She had a personal trainer that would visit her in the mini-gym at the estate and help her work on her tummy and derriere; afterward they would crush cellulite away from her thighs with a rolling pin. She luncheoned at the club, then attended a Board meeting at her 'charity du jour'. After such a hard day she would relax on the veranda by sipping iced tea and vodka as she watched the muscular gardeners tend to the grounds. She served as 'fashion coordinator for all formal social gatherings. Gloria had an entourage of executive wives. They all had the same routine, but Gloria did it best and the others hoped to learn from the Grand Mistress.
Frank downed the rest of his drink. "Al, I have to clear a few things off my desk before I go home. Thanks for the drink. Thanks for your confidence, you won't be sorry. See you tonight."
The two shook hands and Frank set his glass down and left Alvin's office.
Frank was walking to his car in the company lot a while later. He saw Alvin waiting for his driver. Frank could have had a driver, too, but hated the pretension of it.
The corporate office was near the center of the city. Frank lived in a suburb some miles out of town. Traffic was heavy. During the drive home he had a chance to think about his conversation with Al earlier that afternoon. He was happy that it had taken place. He hadn't known of Al's opposition, but it didn't bother him with the air was cleared. He wondered why the Board had taken so long to select a new CFO. It had been difficult to be a candidate and function as Controller at the same time. The delay had given the obvious signal that there was serious opposition. He once considered withdrawing, but quitting and Frank didn't go together very well.
Frank and Trudy lived in a suburb that was not far from the one where most of the corporate executives had there homes. They chose the location because the public schools were the best in the County. To most executives that factor didn't matter because they sent their children to private schools, or their children were grown. Frank and Trudy considered the Public School experience an important part of the girls' educations. There were times when they enjoyed the small, but meaningful, separation from the corporate world. Frank and Trudy considered their home to be what suited them. They could have traded up, but never saw the sense of it. They had a large lot and a tree-lined back yard that gave them privacy where they enjoyed their swimming pool. When the nest was empty they would think about it again.
They had two children, both girls, who were eighteen and fifteen. They weren't perfect, but it is hard to find a perfect person. The elder, Patricia, was tall, like her mother. Margaret was short like Frank.
As Frank drove it occurred to him that he and Trudy were an unlikely couple, but their marriage seemed to work well. Frank sought sanity in a world that was sometimes crazy. Trudy was grounded. She made their home a peaceful haven. Trudy needed protection from the sting of sharpened serpents' teeth that poured venom into her vulnerabilities. Frank was up to the task When he was unable to bite off the snake's head before it struck, he would neutralize the poison before any real damage could set into the wound.
Trudy was like Frank in her disdain for social climbing. She chose not to join Gloria's corps of Ladies in Waiting. She suffered and prospered from her decision. She never regretted her choice. Her home and family kept her busy enough. She could afford a live-in housekeeper like the other executive wives, but turned it down.
"She preferred to raise her own kids," she once explained.
Frank arrived home and walked upstairs to the bedroom. He called out to Trudy, and she answered from the master bathroom. Her gown was hanging on the closet door. He saw that Trudy had his tux laid out for him, so he started undressing for his shower.
Trudy emerged from the bathroom in her robe. "Frank, I can't do anything with my hair!"
.... There is more of this story ...