Jack Mason was staring intently at his computer screen, lost deep in thought as he surveyed the design of a new bakery line. He had come up with the idea of the improved line himself and sketched it out for one of his engineers, Les Carrier, so that Les could work out the engineering details. Given the length of the line, including the up-front mixer/kneader, a roller-coaster effect rise line, the subsequently long baking oven through which the bread would never stop moving, the cool-down/turn out/slicer/bagger areas, it was a very complex machine. If he miscalculated just a minute amount at the wrong spot, his employer would be spending millions of dollars on a machine that could never be recouped.
Jack was deep into the calculations of how long the rise line would take when he heard a knock on his office door. His voice showed his irritation when he yelled, "Come!"
"Hi, boss." It was the voice of his secretary, Janice Winsome.
"Be with you in a minute," Jack responded.
Actually it was almost seven minutes before he shoved his calculator aside, convinced that Les had the numbers right on the money. Turning to Janice, he noticed that she had plopped herself into the chair at the end of his desk, the same place she always sat as they were talking through her assignments for the day. That nearness made it even harder for Jack to keep his eyes and mind off of her shapely bare legs and the small feet that she always displayed in strappy high heel shoes. The fact that her just-above-the-knee skirt rode up to mid-thigh when she sat didn't make the situation any easier for him to conceal.
When he tore his eyes away from her legs and looked up, he noticed that she was just barely holding back tears. A thousand quick thoughts and questions ran through his mind. Was she in pain? Was she in trouble? Had someone been hurt? Worse yet, had someone died? This was the part of managing people that Jack hated — dealing with things that caused "his" people problems.
"What's the matter, Janice?" he asked.
"I... uh, well, I don't like to talk about it."
"If you don't tell me about it, how can I help you?"
"I don't know if you can help me."
"Why don't you let me decide about that?"
"Well... I'm in trouble."
"I kind of figured that. What kind of trouble?"
"Can you tell me about it?"
"You remember me telling you about... about Janie being sick back in March?"
Janie was her four-year-old daughter, born out of wedlock when Janice's boyfriend packed up and disappeared after making her pregnant. Several times since then, I had helped Janice out financially when she was in a bind. I remembered her telling me about Janie having to be hospitalized but she didn't tell me much and after a few days, she told me that Janie was healthy again.
"Yes, I remember."
"Well, the hospital stay and the doctors' bills came to over $12,000. I didn't have that kind of money so I borrowed it."
"Oh, Janice! Why didn't you tell me? We could have worked out something."
She ducked her head and the tears had begun to flow.
"No! No, I just couldn't do that. You've been too nice to me over the years. I couldn't ask you to bail me out again."
I picked up her white-knuckled hand from my desk, holding it between both of my hands. I whispered my response.
"Janice, I thought you would know that I would do everything I can to help you."
She sniffled. "Yes, I know. That's why I couldn't say anything."
"So... you can't make the payments?"
"No. And they are threatening to hurt my baby if I don't pay them back."
"Who did you borrow the money from, Janice?"
"It's a place over on Thurston Street called Joe Spadori's Loans."
"Ohmigosh! You didn't! He's a loanshark. No, it's okay. We'll find a way. What do they want?"
"They are demanding payment in full within one week. With interest, the total is... $15,250."
"Ohmigosh! That is outrageous! Okay, let's get him out of your pocket."
Jack turned and reached for his suit jacket on the coat tree standing behind the computer monitor. Extracting his personal checkbook, he turned back to his desk and wrote out a check for the full amount. Tearing it out of the book, he turned back to the computer. With a few keystrokes, he had opened an Internet window, accessed his bank and transferred enough money to his checking account to cover the check.
Turning to Janice, he pressed the check into her hands.
"Take this, right now, and go pay off your debt. Make sure they give you the original of any papers you signed. You can pay me whatever you can, just don't put yourself in a bind again. Okay?"
Janice wiped the tears from her eyes. Standing, she moved closer to him.
"No, Jack. That is not okay. You know that it will take me forever to pay this back. I can't take it... well, at least not without some other consideration."
.... There is more of this story ...