Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2007 by Coaster2

Romantic Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Jack Tompkins was shocked when his wife of thirty years threw him out of their home. It brought about big changes in his life; bigger than he ever imagined.

Caution: This Romantic Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Consensual   Romantic   Heterosexual   Oral Sex  

When Molly threw me out, I didn't know what hit me. Why the hell would she want to get rid of me? She said she was bored with me, and that I obviously didn't love her any more, if I ever did. Can you imagine a woman you'd been happily married to for over thirty years saying something like that?

We were sitting at the kitchen table one Saturday morning in early June, just like we did every morning. She was pretty quiet, and that wasn't so unusual, but she seemed to have something on her mind. Anyway, just as we finished eating, she got up and went to a drawer in the counter, opened it, and pulled out an envelope. She sat down and passed it to me.

"You better look at this," she said.

I looked down at the envelope and saw the neatly printed name and address of a well-known legal firm. A cold feeling came over me, and my guts tightened. I looked back up at Molly but she was stone-faced, giving away nothing. I picked up the unsealed envelope, and pulled out the contents. I unfolded the papers inside and stopped cold when I saw the title of the first page: PETITION FOR DIVORCE.

"What the hell is this?"

"What does it look like, Jack? I want a divorce and I want you to leave this house. It's as simple as that." She said it like it was a comment about the weather, or maybe the price of bread.

I was stunned. I couldn't think of anything to say that would sound intelligent. I just sat there speechless. I finally managed something.


"I don't love you, Jack. My life is a bore, and we don't talk to each other. I don't think you love me, either. We're just living together," she said, continuing her matter-of-fact tone.

"I don't plan to live the rest of my life with someone who doesn't love me, who doesn't have anything to contribute to my life. There's not enough time left for either of us."

"Jesus, Molly ... this is crazy. You can't just throw me out. I live here too. I'm the only person who earns any money. I have something to say about this," I began shouting.

"Don't get all bent out of shape, Jack. I don't want your money despite what my lawyer tells me. We'll split the savings and retirement stuff. I'll sell the house, and you'll get half of the net. I'm not trying to cheat you."

I sat there for a while, looking down at the still folded papers and then up at Molly.

"What are you going to live on, Molly? You know what I earn ... not enough to support two households." I was beginning to fight back.

"I have a job. I can look after myself. I don't need you or your money, Jack," she said in that flat tone again.

"When the hell did you get a job?"

"When I knew I was going to divorce you. I found something I can live on, and maybe salvage something of my life for the future."

"Salvage? Is that what you think you need to do?" I asked incredulously.

"When something is wrecked, that's all you can do, Jack. You salvage what you can, and you go on from there."

"What about the kids? Our folks? What am I going to tell them?"

"I've already told them. You can tell them whatever you want. I don't care. They already know the truth."

She spoke in an irritating monotone that was really starting to piss me off.

The conversation went back and forth for a while longer, with her telling me in so many words what a useless asshole I was, and me trying to figure out what I was going to do. She convinced me she wasn't going to change her mind.

After I while, I got up and went to the back closet where we kept the suitcases. I pulled out a couple, taking them to our bedroom. I packed my stuff as best I could manage, and hauled them out to the car. I threw them into the trunk and went back to the house.

I figured I should say something. I stood in the kitchen and looked at her for a moment. Her head was in her hands, and I couldn't be sure, but I thought she might be crying. I picked up the envelope and walked out the front door, closing it behind me. I never said a word.


Molly kept her part of the bargain. She set up her own accounts, and only withdrew half of what had been our joint accounts. I drove by the house a few days later and saw the realtor's for sale sign on the lawn.

I was living in a crummy motel on the edge of town, but two nights in that dump told me I needed to find a better place. I looked in the classifieds, found several listings for furnished apartments, and started my hunt. Two days later I found an affordable, not too disreputable apartment in a quiet part of town, and signed the lease. My first priority was to work toward getting the hell out of this jail cell as soon as humanly possible. There's only so much pacing you can do in a six hundred square foot box.

I planned to spend my nights watching television and little more. Cablevision gave me a choice of fifty channels, one or two of which actually had programs I wanted to see. I had no choice in my prior life. I watched what Molly wanted to watch, and that was that. Now, I could watch what I wanted, when I wanted. I could also drink beer and eat Cheetos whenever I felt like it. I didn't have to get permission -- or feel guilty. I was free, and for a few days it was a good feeling.

A couple of things changed fairly early in my new bachelorhood. First, I wasn't sleeping well. I was able to get to sleep, but I was waking at all hours of the night with my mind operating at full speed. I tried to find things to think about that would put me back to sleep, but I was mired in all kinds of weird thoughts that were tumbling around in my mind.

Another change happened one Sunday morning when I got out of the shower. I walked into the bedroom to find some clothes for the day. The back of the closet door had a full length mirror, and I stopped and looked at myself critically for the first time in quite awhile.

What looked back at me was a five-foot-nine-inch, overweight, white skinned, fifty-four year-old male with a beer gut, and more hair on his chest than he had on his head. In short, I looked like hell. I couldn't think of a single thing that would attract a woman, and I began to see what Molly had seen. She never said I was ugly, but she beat all around that bush. Now, I saw for myself that I needed to do something about my appearance and my health if I wanted more out of life than a heart attack and a lonely funeral.

What got me going was a TV commercial for a pharmaceutical with the tag line: "Consult your doctor if you plan to use..." My doctor was Vic Chapman, M.D. and G.P. He was a good guy, in his mid thirties, and pretty fit. I decided to get a checkup and some advice to lose weight.

Sometimes I do the right thing even when I don't realize it. Vic was a cool guy, and he laid it on the line pretty straight. First he gave me the usual physical and had me provide some blood and urine samples. His office called me a few days after the exam and set up another appointment for me.

"Well congratulations, Jack. You've finally made it into the club," he said sarcastically.

"You have managed to combine hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, with elevated cholesterol levels, and topped it all off with type 2 diabetes. That's quite a combination. It could also be a death sentence."

I was completely thrown by his blunt comment. "What the hell does that mean? Do I have to have an operation?"

"No ... no operation ... at least not yet. The club you've joined isn't exclusive. Over half the men past forty belong to it in one form or another. It comes from bad diet, no exercise, stress, and an assortment of other things including a genetic predisposition."

At least he said it in a more conciliatory voice.

"You asked me what it means. It means you're headed in a dangerous direction, and if you want to live a reasonably long life, you need to make some changes." Then he added emphatically, "And you need to make them now!"

"What kind of changes ... can't you just give me some pills?"

"Sure, I'm going to prescribe pills to manage your blood pressure and help with your cholesterol. For the time being, you can probably control your diabetes with diet. But none of it will be worth a damn if you keep going the way you've been going."

I looked at him and I could see that he was deadly serious.

"Jack, what made you come to see me? Have you not been feeling well?"

"No ... nothing like that. Molly kicked me out of the house, and I saw myself in the mirror the other day. I didn't like what I saw."

"Good ... sounds like you're motivated to fix that. I can give you some suggestions."

For exercise, he suggested walking, biking or swimming, but not running. At my age, it was too hard on the joints and too little benefit for the effort. For diet, he gave me a notice from the Diabetes Association, and suggested I go to one of their introductory clinics for some advice. He said they would tell me to lay off fats and salt, reduce carbohydrates, and balance my meals throughout the day.

I looked pretty forlorn when he finished with me. I was still upset with Molly and the pending divorce. It was going to be very difficult for me to make a lifestyle change like this and make it stick.

That's when Vic came up with a better plan.

"Jack, what you're going through with Molly ... that's one of the most stressful things anyone can face. Now you've got this health issue piled right on top of it. I'm going to make a suggestion to you, and I hope you take advantage of it. I'm willing to write a letter to your boss that you are suffering from a serious stress disorder, and that you are currently unfit for work. Your insurance would cover you for up to six months, but I will suggest they allow you three months.

"The insurance company probably won't protest since it's only your second claim, and the first one was for your broken arm ten years ago. That will give you three months to get your life in order without having to worry about your job, or how you were going to find the time to make all these changes. In three months, you can do a lot of good things for your health and your outlook."

I looked at him for a long moment. "You can do that?"

"Yes, and frankly I think it's very important for your health that I do."

"Old man Sandivale will flip. He'll can my ass the minute he hears about this."

"Nope ... he can't ... it's the law. And, even if he does, that gives you three months to find something better, or at least different. You aren't that old, Jack. You can survive this and come out better on the other side."

He was probably right. I hated my job and the asshole boss that made every day miserable. I had tolerated it because I still had two mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay, but all that was over now. I just had myself to look after, and I decided right then and there that I was never going back to SandStacker Stone again. The day my medical leave ended was my last day with them, no matter what.

As it turned out, it was an academic decision. As I expected, Sandivale flipped his lid when he found out I was off for three months, and fired me on the spot. I calmly advised him of the law, and suggested he talk to his lawyer brother-in-law and get his facts straight.

A day later I got a phone message from him that the day I came off Short Term Disability, I was fired and there would only be a month's salary as severance. If I wanted to fight it, I knew who my lawyer could talk to. Frankly, I had no interest in fighting it unless I couldn't find work by then. I would wait him out, but I was getting what I wanted from the miserable bastard anyway -- my freedom after twenty-seven years of continuous frustration.

I couldn't believe how much better I felt almost immediately. It was like a weight had been lifted off my back. I had an income, and I had the sense that my future was in my own hands for once. I began my exercise program by walking every morning and again after supper. I went to the community center and checked the schedule for public swimming, finding two useable times for mixed adult swimming: at three on Wednesday afternoons, and Sunday evening at seven.

I hadn't been swimming since I was in my twenties, and I was hoping I wouldn't drown the first time out. It was more difficult and more strenuous than I had remembered, but I was trying to move a lot more mass through the water than thirty odd years ago. I kept at it and it got a bit easier, but never truly easy. It also gave me a bit of social time, as several women were in the Wednesday class. I had someone to talk with, and compare my progress. They were all giving me encouragement to stick with the plan.

I had begun to extend my walks after the third week, and I was feeling a lot more energetic in the mornings. The evening walks were a little less aggressive, more for end-of-the-day relaxation purposes. I got a little tired of my usual routes, and began to seek out alternatives to reduce the boredom.

One morning I was walking down the main drag and I passed an office that I hadn't noticed before: The Ohio State Office of Employment. I made a mental note of its hours, and later that day I walked back to the location, and went inside.

A very pretty young lady in her mid-twenties asked me what she could do for me, and I explained my employment situation, and what I had been told was my severance. She smiled and said something about being glad I had stopped in.

"Mr. Tompkins, I think I can help you. Under state law, anyone with more than fifteen years of continuous employment with a single employer is entitled to the maximum severance, provided you were not fired for cause. Thanks to your long service, you are entitled to ninety days with full benefits, plus any owed vacation.

"What I can do for you is write you a letter with a copy of this regulation. I suggest you send a copy of it to both your former employer and their lawyer; then wait to see what happens. If necessary, we can intervene if he fails to live up to his legal obligations. If he decides to fight his obligation, then we can take more decisive action based on a formal complaint from you. Will that help?"

"Boy, will it ever. I can't thank you enough. You just made my day ... hell, you just made my summer!"

I leaned over the counter and gave her a big, wet, smacking kiss on the cheek, and watched her blush a crimson red. I left the office floating on air. I now had six months of that bastard's money and plenty of time to find another job. I couldn't remember feeling this good, and I began to think my luck had changed.

When I stepped on the scales at the end of the month, I knew I had lost weight but I didn't know how much. Eleven pounds! From 207 down to 196 in just over four weeks. I couldn't believe it. More than I thought possible. I was on a high, and I was more committed than ever to my new lifestyle.

I began to push myself a little harder walking and swimming. I was going to be in the best shape of my life when this summer was over, and it was only going to get better from there.

At the end of the second month, I was disappointed because I had only lost another seven pounds. I talked to a couple of people at the pool that Sunday night, and they both said the same thing: the first pounds are the easiest, and every month after that it gets a little harder. They don't come off as quickly.

I checked what they told me at the library. It was certainly true, especially because I was not losing weight with a crash diet but rather with a lifestyle change. The bad news was I was losing weight slower. The good news was that it would probably stay off, provided I kept to the new lifestyle. Why shouldn't I? I felt better, I looked better, and Vic told me I'd live longer

Hey, it took me years to put on the gut I'd been packing around, and now it was going to take some time and effort to get rid of it. On top of what the scale told me, when I looked in the mirror on my closet door, I could see the difference. I kept putting off buying new clothes until fall. I could live with pants that were a bit baggy in the ass and shirts that were a bit loose. It was a badge of progress in a way.

At the end of the third month, a week after Labor Day, I had lost another six pounds and I now weighed 183. I definitely needed new clothes and, thanks to the generosity of SandStacker, I could afford it. I had sent the letter from the State Employment Office to Sandivale and a copy to his shyster brother-in-law, then bided my time.

It took them six weeks to get around to acknowledging my letter, and I had to laugh out loud when I read the double-talk bullshit those slimy bastards used to admit they couldn't get out of paying me the three month severance. Another banner day in the resurrection of Jack Tompkins!

When I walked out of the men's store in the local mall, I felt like a new man all over again. I had three pairs of khaki slacks, stain resistant and stretch fit. I had bought three oxford cotton button-down no-iron shirts in solid colors and three more pattern sport shirts in the same material.

I put the bags in the trunk of my car and returned to the mall and headed for the shoe store. I spent over a hundred dollars on a pair of Rockport dress shoes, and almost seventy-five on a pair of Bridgeport boat shoes that were too comfortable not to buy. I had already bought a pair of Columbia all-weather walking shoes when I started my exercise program, and I would never go back to ordinary shoes again.

I took my dress-black Bostonian's into the shoe repair, and had them re-soled and re-heeled to complete my shoe wardrobe. I had spent nearly three hundred dollars on footwear in the last few weeks, probably more than I had spent totally in my adult life. I didn't regret one dime of it.

My final trip that day was to the J.C. Penny store for new underwear, socks and some cotton polo shirts. I picked up a couple of simple cotton pullovers for cooler weather walking, and I was set for the Fall.

I looked in the mirror in my new ensemble, and smiled at what I saw. The newly improved Jack Tompkins was looking a lot better. I had cut my hair short, leaving nothing on the sides and back but a half inch. It seemed to make me look younger, especially since the beer gut was gone.

When I called Vic to make an appointment for my examination at the end of my three month stress leave, I was pretty sure he would be satisfied.

"Jack, you look terrific. I'm impressed! I'm also really happy for you. I've received your blood tests and you're controlling your diabetes. Your weight is almost down to 180, a huge improvement. Your blood pressure is normal and your cholesterol is better, but still a bit high in one area. We'll have to see if we can come up with a plan for that. Otherwise, you've worked wonders in the last three months. Congratulations!"

"Thanks. I feel a lot better and strangely enough, I have a lot more confidence in myself. I've got another three months to look for a new job and I've got a couple of leads that I want to follow up, so there's hope for this old guy yet."

"How does Molly feel about all this change?"

"I haven't seen Molly since I left. I talked to her on the phone a couple of times, but nothing to do with my health or what I was doing. She knows I was off on stress leave, but that's about it."

"Oh ... sorry. I shouldn't have been so nosey," he apologized.

"No need. I've been thinking about seeing her to find out how she's doing, but now I'm not sure about that. Maybe I just want to rub her nose in it a bit when she sees what changes I've made."

"Well, she couldn't help but be impressed. I want to see you every three months for the next year, Jack. I want to make sure everything is stable. Here's a card for the clinic. Get them to take blood samples each time a few days before your appointment, OK?"

"Sure. Listen, Dr. Chapman ... Vic. I can't thank you enough for your help. You got me going in the right direction. I just wish I'd come to you a lot sooner."

"It's never too late, Jack. Good luck with your job hunt, and plan on seeing me at year end."

It was another high. I had put a stop to my deteriorating health. I wouldn't ever be perfect, and I would always need medication for my blood pressure and cholesterol, but I felt better and more optimistic about my future. Now I needed something to do to earn some money to make that future better.

I had answered an ad for a new position at a plastics manufacturer in Reardon, about twenty miles north of town. It was apparently a fast growing business, and needed some people to get their systems under control. I got a phone call in mid-September that they were ready to interview, and could I make myself available on Thursday, at 10:30 am.

I called back immediately and told them I would be there. A couple of weeks earlier, I had bought an old computer and dot-matrix printer in a garage sale with the idea that at least I could have a word processor and some basic functions available. When I booted it up after I got it home, I discovered it had an older version of Office, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and an early version of Access. I had everything I needed for a home office.

I initially resisted an Internet hookup, but recognized I would need an e-mail address sooner or later, and signed on with the phone company for a basic high-speed service. I typed up a resume and printed it out, looking it over carefully for errors. I had something to offer when it came to organizational skills, as well as being pretty handy with computer-based programs, particularly those that used a Windows platform.

I had no idea what to expect. The last job interview I'd been to was nearly thirty years earlier, and it consisted of showing my high school diploma and demonstrating I could keep records accurately. I worried I wasn't exactly prepared for the new business world. I decided my best option was to go with honesty, to tell them what I could do and what I couldn't.

I was fifteen minutes early getting to the new Interstate Plastics plant. Instead of sitting in the car, I decided to walk around the site and view the surroundings. It was new, so there wasn't much to judge about the neatness of the site. It had a rail siding with room for about five, maybe six cars. It had five truck bays, and a large turn-around area for the truckers. It had been well thought out. I was encouraged. About five minutes before my interview, I walked into the office on the main floor and asked to see Mr. Rothmann.

A smiling Aser Rothmann walked out from the corridor leading to the back offices. He was a thickly built man with powerful looking arms and a short neck. His hair was going gray, and I guessed his age to be mid-forties. I was wearing my one and only blue blazer, new for the occasion. I had a light blue oxford shirt and tan khaki pants with my new dress Rockports. For the first time since my daughter's wedding, I wore a tie.

Rothmann, on the other hand, wore a forest green polo shirt, tan khakis, and a pair of Top-siders. I needn't have worried about my dress for the interview. He introduced himself and asked me to follow him down the corridor to his office. It was large and simply decorated, very neat and tidy.

"Please sit down, Mr. Tompkins," he gestured to a comfortable chair in a semi-circle of chairs with a coffee table in the middle. "May I call you Jack?"

"Of course, sir." My quick reply betrayed my nervousness.

"Relax, Jack. You can call me Aser. We're pretty informal around here."

We chatted for a few minutes about what I had been doing at SandStacker, and what specific skills and experience I had on systems and logistics. He didn't take notes, but I got the sense he wasn't missing anything either. I felt the interview was going pretty well. He was asking the kind of questions that would bring him the answers he needed to know, not useless stuff. I wasn't ready for the one question he asked near the end of the interview.

"Jack, what would you say is the most important value when a company is buying its raw materials?"

I sat back and gave the question some thought before I answered.

"I think ... no ... I know ... that too often companies make buying decisions on price alone. I saw it all the time at SandStacker. The problem is that the money saved on the purchase price was usually thrown away on the shop floor when the product didn't perform. I don't pretend to know the resin business, sir, but I'm betting not all resins are created equal, and the trick is to get the balance that gives you the best cost out the back door as finished goods."

I sat back waiting for his response, hoping I hadn't stepped on some sensitive toes.

Aser smiled and nodded. "Couldn't have said it better myself. Jack, I'd like you to meet Keith Slocum. He's our Production Manager, an ex-Brit and very knowledgeable. I want him to get a feel for you as well. Do you mind?"

"No, of course not, sir," I said quickly.

Rothmann picked up his phone, punched a single button and waited for a moment. "Keith, I have a candidate in my office. Can you spare some time for him now?" There was a brief pause. "Great! Pick him up in my office, and you can use the board room."

He put the phone down and turned back to me. "Keith will be here in a moment. Do you have any questions for me, Jack?"

"Uh yes ... the job description was pretty vague, and I wondered if you could tell me what your expectations are?"

"Good question. In fact, it will depend on the skills of the best candidate. We need someone with good organizational skills, able to communicate with various departments, some negotiating experience, and generally the type of person who would fit well into what I call the 'Interstate Culture.' That's a fancy way of saying that he gets along well with our kind of people."

"Well ... Aser, I feel pretty comfortable with everything except the negotiating part. I haven't done that before. The boss did all that. I don't think I'm the kind of person who would do well at beating down a supplier. I always tried to make them want to do well for us."

"Jack, I think you're going to do just fine. I don't beat down suppliers either. I just don't want them taking advantage of us. Some of them are among the world's largest corporations, and they get funny ideas in their head sometimes. The resin business is a loosely formed cartel of like-minded chemical companies. You don't negotiate with them as much as you seduce them."

I breathed a little easier except for that bit about my doing just fine. Did that mean I had the job? I hadn't even asked how much it paid. I had just about opened my mouth to ask when a slightly built, younger man walked into the office.

We made the obligatory introductions with a minute's small talk, and then Keith ushered me out toward a large, open, windowless room. There was a long table with at least a dozen chairs around it. The walls were decorated with pictures of products, and samples were displayed in glass cabinets along the end wall.

Like everything else in the place, it was new, and the fabric-covered chairs were very comfortable. Keith and I chatted about business philosophy for several minutes. I couldn't detect any points of disagreement, but maybe he was playing his cards close to the vest. I found him easy to talk to and we certainly agreed on the need for back and forth communications to stay on top of things.

He was anxious to see some systems implementation in the near future for both production planning and materials management. We chatted about what the key requirements were, and I already had an idea in the back of my mind what might fill the bill without breaking the bank.

We talked for about twenty minutes before he led me out to the production floor. It was amazingly clean and well organized. It was such a pleasant change from my previous environment.

Keith explained what each machine was doing and showed me the resin delivery system, as well as their shipping and finished goods area. We spent over a half hour on the floor before he looked at his watch and apologized, excusing himself for a shop supervisor's meeting. He escorted me back to Aser's office and I thanked him for his time. He smiled, nodding to Aser, and left the office for the shop floor.

"Well, congratulations, Jack, you must have made a favorable impression on Keith. He just gave me the 'thumbs up, ' English style."

"I like him," I said simply. "He's sharp and sensible. He was listening to ideas without any preconceptions."

Rothmann smiled and we sat down again. "I suppose you're wondering what this job pays."

I smiled. "The thought had crossed my mind."

"Well, the truth is, I don't know yet. The reason is, the more the candidate is able to do, the more he'll earn. I'd like you to meet with our sales manager, Chuck Freeman. I suggested he take you to lunch. He's another key part of this business, and you'll need to know what he's up to as well. Are you OK for time?"

"Yes ... I'm fine. Thanks for all this attention. But I do have one other question, if it's OK?"


"Will my age have any bearing on my chances here?"

"None. First of all, age discrimination is illegal, even though it's hard to prove. Secondly, I want the best person for the job, regardless. Out in the engineering department I have a man who's 72 years old. He specializes in die design and modification. He's a valuable employee, and we would be lost without him."

I guess I must have smiled at that. There was one more thing.

"Just so there's no misunderstanding, Aser, this is exactly the kind of company I want to work for. I'll just assume that the pay is in line with the work."

Aser Rothmann smiled and nodded. "Come along ... let's find Chuck." And with that we headed back to the lobby where the receptionist paged Mr. Freeman.

When he came into the lobby, I was surprised. He was a redheaded bowling ball. If he was five-and-a-half feet tall, he was five-and-a-half feet wide. His brush cut hair was bright red, and his age appeared to be late-thirties. I shook his fat little hand and we headed out the door to his SUV. We traveled for about ten minutes, pulling into a ranch-style restaurant just off the main highway. Chuck knew everyone in the place and everyone knew Chuck, including a number of the customers.

We settled into a booth and Chuck ordered a club soda and a Cobb salad. I had an iced tea and a spinach salad.

"You don't have to order a salad just 'cause I am," Chuck smiled. "I'm on my tenth or eleventh different diet, still trying to lose weight," he sighed. "It's a fuckin' waste of time. I'm goin' to get them doctors to carve it off me, just like the whalers did." Chuck started to laugh. "In the meantime, I'm pretendin' I'm a rabbit."

"I guess I can count myself lucky," I said.

"You lose a bunch of weight?" he asked, looking up with interest.

"Yeah ... from nearly 210 down to less than 180, and still working at it."

He replied wistfully, "Shit man ... I can only dream of 210."

We talked for a while about health and fitness, and it was obvious it was weighing on Chuck's mind. He knew he needed to do something about it, but he was frustrated with all the free advice and miracle cures being thrown at him. Finally, he asked me the question I expected.

"What got you goin' in the right direction?"

"My wife threw me out. She was tired of me. Said I bored the hell out of her."

Chuck laughed heartily, nearly choking on his salad. "Damn man ... maybe that's the solution. I'll just get the old trout to throw me out and I'll be OK."

We got down to brass tacks a couple of minutes later, and it didn't take long to figure out that underneath Chuck's rough exterior was a very sharp brain. He understood selling value, and not falling prey to the price point vultures. The more I talked to him, the more I could see why Aser Rothmann wanted this guy as his head of sales. He knew how to sell, and understood both the strategy of his products and the needs of his customers.

I was getting a strong feeling that I really wanted this job. All of a sudden, the salary wasn't that important.

Chuck dropped me off at the parking lot and I went inside to thank Aser for the thorough interview as well as the lunch. He was out, so I asked the receptionist to thank him for me. I could call him tomorrow she suggested. He would be in all morning. I thanked her, then headed out to my car and began the drive home.

Along the way I wondered about my chances to land this job. I wanted it very badly, more than I thought I would want any job. I was excited that I even had a chance, but I was afraid to get my hopes up. I would call Aser in the morning and thank him, hoping I would get a clue from him then about how well I did.

I walked into my apartment later that afternoon, and noticed the light flashing on my answering machine. I looked down, saw that there were two messages, and decided they could wait a few minutes. I wanted to change out of my dress clothes into something more comfortable. I pulled on a new pair of Wranglers and dark blue polo shirt, and headed for the kitchen. I took out my pitcher of unsweetened iced tea, poured a glass, and returned to the answering machine.

The first message caught me by surprise. It was Molly, and she wanted me to call her tonight after she got home from work. The number she left was the same number we had at the old house. I hadn't been by in several weeks, and I didn't know if she had sold the house or not. Maybe that's what the call was about. Or maybe it was about one of the kids. That wasn't likely. They knew my number. I talked to them a couple of times a month. I'd just have to wait and see what she wanted.

The second message was from Aser Rothmann, and I could feel my heart freeze in my chest when I heard his voice. The message was short and sweet, very sweet. He apologized for not being able to say goodbye today, but asked if I could come and meet with him tomorrow or the first day it was convenient. He had a job he wanted to offer me.

I thumped back down in the chair beside the phone and just stared off into space. How did this happen? What gods were riding on my shoulder all of a sudden? I'd gone from the asshole that Molly cast away to a guy with a brighter future. I had a new body, and new wardrobe, and now I had a new job at a place I really wanted to be. I called Interstate's office, and left a message for Aser that I would be there tomorrow morning at nine am, if that wasn't too early.

This called for a celebration. I walked to my kitchen pantry, pulled out a bottle of Cabernet I'd been saving for a special occasion. Over the next two and a half hours I drank the whole damn thing and enjoyed every last drop. It wasn't the smartest thing I could have done. I had conveniently forgotten that I needed to phone Molly after dinner and here was I without anything in my stomach except a bottle of Cabernet, and it was almost six o'clock. I made a pot of coffee and began to prepare my evening meal. Molly could wait until I was good and ready to phone her. It was about eight o'clock when the phone rang, and I put down the magazine I was reading and picked it up.

"Jack ... it's me, Molly," she said when I answered. "I left a message to call. Did you get it?"

"Yeah ... I got it. I was busy. I was going to call you shortly," I lied.

"Jack ... there's a couple of things I need to talk to you about. I don't want to do it on the phone. Can we get together somewhere?"

"Yeah ... I guess so. I have to go out tomorrow, but I'll be home after dinner. Where do you want to meet?" My voice was very non-committal, and I wasn't giving her any more information than necessary.

"Why don't we meet at Bruno's?" she suggested, naming a fairly quiet diner not far from our old house.

"OK ... what time?"


"OK ... see you at seven-thirty at Bruno's. Bye."

And with that I hung up. It was about as cold a conversation as I have ever produced. I was damned if I was going to sound anxious to see her. She was in for a big enough surprise when she saw me anyway.

I headed to Reardon just after eight the next morning. Once again, I was determined not to be late. I was almost vibrating I was so excited about this job. I just hoped it was something worthwhile, and that the salary would be enough to keep me happy.

I thought about my meeting with Molly that night, and I wanted something to really catch her off-guard. I would be wearing my new clothes, and I wondered what her reaction would be when she saw me. I knew I looked very different from the last time we had been together, and I suspected she was in for a shock. I also wondered just how much to tell her about my new life: my exercise, my health, my diet, and now my new job. I guess I'd just have to play those cards when the time came.

I was more than twenty minutes early the next morning, so I stopped at a little coffee shop and ordered a decaf latte to give me something to do while killing some time. It didn't help. I gulped the coffee and headed for the plant. You never know, there might have been a road block or something. I sat in the lot for about ten minutes before going inside. I was surprised to see Aser and another man sitting in the lobby, talking to each other. I smiled as they rose and Aser addressed me.

"Jack, good to see you again. Thank you for coming back so soon." He turned to the man beside him.

"Jack this is Phil Tupper, our Controller. He's the financial brains of Interstate, and my right hand man. I wanted him to meet with us when we talked. Shall we go in?" I shook Phil's hand, and followed them into Aser's office. Aser closed the door behind us and we sat in the now familiar comfortable chairs around the coffee table.

"Jennifer will bring some coffee and cookies in shortly. Well Jack, I'm sure you're wondering what we have in mind for you, and I think we owe you an explanation for the unusual way we hire people," Aser began.

"This is still a small business, but it's growing very rapidly. We need to get a grip on it quickly before we get ourselves into trouble. Phil will be the first to tell you that we are stretched too thin in administrative staff, and that we don't have the systems or resources yet to haul ourselves out of that trap.

"When we interviewed you, we were looking for someone to look after basic purchasing, and maybe some shipping logistics. When Keith and I talked, we realized you were capable of more than that. In addition, you had some ideas about store-bought systems that we could implement to get us up and running in a hurry. We need a lot of help, and we think you can get us going in the right direction."

Aser stopped and paused for a moment. He was about to begin again when there was a knock at the door, and a young lady entered with a tray of mugs and a plate of cookies. She set the tray down on the coffee table and stood as Aser introduced her.

"Jack, this is Jennifer Sullivan. She heads up our customer service department. Jennifer has been with us since the origin of the company and is very good at her job. Jennifer, this is Jack Tompkins, who, if we're lucky, will be joining us here."

At this stage, my head was spinning and I was in danger of blurting out some crazy question about what job?

Jennifer shook my hand with a firm grip and smiled. "I hope you'll be happy here, Jack. It's a great company." With that, she turned and left the room, closing the door behind her.

"Jennifer wasn't hired to serve coffee. We have a rule that everyone gets to act as host or hostess to guests, and it was her turn today. It could be me tomorrow," Aser said with a shrug.

"Jack, I don't want to leave you dangling here forever. Here's what we've got in mind. You would become our Logistics Manager. To start with, you would need to assess and develop operations systems for production planning, inventory management, sales forecasting, and purchasing.

"Keith said you had some ideas about how that could be done with a minimum of fuss. You'll need to organize the training of the staff, and you'll need to work with Phil to develop the budget. We have a financial accounting system, and we're hoping that we can integrate your systems into it, if possible. Otherwise, we'll have to decide how to proceed. Does any of this sound like too much or not within your scope of experience?"

"Uh ... well, I won't pretend I've done all those things, but I spent too much of my time at the old place trying to make a bunch of spit and baling wire systems work. I learned a lot of tricks, and I think I know where most of the land mines are buried. I won't go on record to guarantee an easy development, because I don't know your business. But I think we should be able to do all those things, and maybe even more if the gods are with us."

I hoped I sounded optimistic because that's the way I felt.

"I'd like to include customer service and order entry into the equation because it will be necessary at some point, and sooner is always cheaper than later." I looked at the two men for their reaction and the first thing I saw was a great big smile on Aser's face, and a look of relief on Phil Tupper's.

Aser continued, "Then what's important now is to discuss your terms of employment. We expect you to succeed, but like everyone, top to bottom, we all go through an evaluation period. We will have a meeting with you after three months, six months, and a year. If everything goes the way I expect it to, you will have annual reviews conducted by myself with input from the other management staff. Understood?"

"Yes. It'll be quite a change. I've never had a review. I'd just got yelled at now and then," I laughed.

"Well, I don't know how anyone can work without knowing how they are doing. Anyway, I asked Phil to prepare a compensation package that reflects the work load, job category, and industry standards. He's had it typed up, and I don't want you to rush through it. I'd like you to use the open office at the end of the hall, and look it over carefully. If you have any questions, Phil's office is right next door, and I'll be here as well. When you're ready to talk about it, come and see us. OK?"

"Yes ... of course," I stammered. I looked around the room for a moment and then, just before walking out, I turned back to them.

"I've never had a job interview before ... at least not a formal one. I can't imagine they are all like this. However you have made this decision, I'm delighted I get the chance to join Interstate. I knew I wanted to work here when I left yesterday afternoon, and the only difference today is that I'm even more sure. Thank you very much. I feel very good about this." I turned and walked down the hall to the empty office.

I sat down with my head swimming. I tried to look at the employment offer, but I couldn't focus. I needed to calm down. I walked out to the lobby, and asked for a glass of water. The receptionist pointed to an alcove off the hallway as she was talking on the phone, and I waved my thank you.

As I filled the glass, another thought came to my mind. Once I've got all these systems in place, what's my job? Purchasing Agent? It was a question that needed to be answered. As I walked down the hall I noticed Aser's door was closed but Phil's was open, and he was reading something on his computer screen. I knocked softly.

"Phil, something I guess I should have asked earlier. When all these systems are in place, what becomes of my job?"

Phil laughed, and leaned back in his chair. "If you get all this stuff up and running, you can probably name your job. However, I think Aser is looking for a Chief Organizer. Off the record, we don't intend to just sit with this one operation. Our product is light, and therefore shipping costs are an issue. We think we may have to develop two or even three more locations to properly service our national clients. I don't think you have to worry about working yourself out of a job, Jack. By then, you'll be ready to retire."

I could hear my breath as I let the air out of my lungs. I had been unbelievably tense over the past couple of hours, from the drive out here to the meeting in Aser's office. I still didn't know what the offer was. I needed to sit down and concentrate ... now! I nodded my thanks to Phil, walked next door to the empty office, closed the door, sat down, and pulled the papers before me.

I began to deliberately read each line of each paragraph. Luckily, it wasn't the usual legalese. It was written in plain English, and when I got to the salary figure, I froze. They were offering me over fifty percent more than SandStacker had paid me. But that wasn't all. It was the starting salary, and I would have a salary review after three, six, and twelve months. If I passed those reviews, I would receive increases; a modest 5% at the first two reviews, but rising to 10% at the year end review. I would have a fully paid health plan, as well as a profit sharing plan which was company wide, and a special executive bonus plan that was based on outstanding performance.

I didn't need to read any further. I put the paper down, leaned back in the chair and closed my eyes. Something had happened to me that I didn't or couldn't understand. I was still just Jack Tompkins, but now it was the new, improved Jack Tompkins. I was luckier than I had any right to expect.

I couldn't figure out why, but I was almost ready to thank Molly tonight for throwing me out. Everything seemed to stem from that day. Was I living in a dream world? Was this some kind of sick, cosmic joke being played on poor old Jack? 'Well, ' I thought, 'if it is, I plan to enjoy every single moment of it.' I picked up the papers, walked next door to Phil's office, and knocked.

He looked up and smiled and asked, "Well, what do you think?"

"It's very generous. I'd be a fool not to accept. Where do I sign?"

"No signature necessary, Jack. Why don't we go tell Aser, and we can get started on your new career."

We walked down the hall, and after a brief tap on Aser's door, Phil opened it and we stepped in. For the next few minutes we talked about starting date, first priorities, introductions to employees and suppliers, as well as the location of my new office ... interestingly, the one I had just been using.

"When do you want to go down to the dealer to select your car?" Phil asked.

"Huh?" was my clever response.

"Your company car ... Oh! Let me guess. You didn't get to the second page ... right."

"I guess I didn't ... I couldn't imagine there would be any more ... I guess I was wrong." I was feeling very small.

"Well, no harm done. You get a company car, a Toyota Camry. Aser wants us to project an image of quality, and still be American. The Camry is built not far from here in Kentucky. You can select a color you like at the dealer. I can go with you, and let you know what your options are."

"Uh ... thanks. That would be great. Can we do that next week? I'm just still trying to absorb the idea of the new job."

"I understand. I suppose you didn't notice the part about the personal computer. You'll be getting a Toshiba Satellite Laptop for your office, and when you travel."


"Yes," Aser interrupted. "I want you to get to know our suppliers and their operations. In the beginning, this systems project is going to require you to visit operations that already use the contracting supplier's equipment and programs. There's only so much you can do in this office. You need to be out and learning our business, our suppliers, and our industry. It's going to be a very busy time for you."

I nodded. I was having difficulty absorbing this enormous change. I picked up the employment contract, and folded it into the inside pocket of my blazer. I would read all the gory details at home this weekend. I was too unsettled to manage it now. I needed to calm down, and try and put this amazing two days into perspective ... if I could.

"Are there any other surprises?" I asked with a smile.

"No, I don't think so. Welcome aboard," Aser beamed as he held out his hand. I shook it gratefully, and then Phil's.

I was still convinced this was some kind of hallucinatory dream. It couldn't be true. It was too good to be true. I walked out in a trance, said good afternoon to the receptionist, and headed for my car. I sat in the car for some time before I put the key in, and pulled out of the lot, heading for home. There were going to be some very big changes in my life, and they were going to happen almost right away. I needed to calm down, and get a grip. They were going to pay me a lot of money to do a lot of work. I had better be ready.

On my way back to my apartment, I thought about the things I might want to change about my life. Obviously, I could afford a better place to live, but where? Should I move to Reardon? If I were going to be traveling, I would need a proper wardrobe for business. I might need a passport; I'd better apply soon. I couldn't afford to let Aser and Phil know that I had never really been anywhere before. I had to learn as I went. Expense account? I saw something about that in the agreement. I better read that carefully. Shit, so much to learn so fast. I hoped I was up to it.

When I got home, my message light was flashing again and I pushed the button as I walked by toward the kitchen. It was Molly, reminding me of our 'date' at seven thirty at Bruno's. Jesus, it wasn't even noon, and she was thinking I might not remember.

I thought about it for a minute. Perhaps she's anxious. Maybe she's heard about my new job and wants in on the action. No, couldn't be. I haven't told anyone. What's on her mind, I wondered. Well, whatever it is, for a change I have the upper hand. She doesn't know anything about my new life. My appearance is going to be a big enough surprise for her. I had already decided I was going to keep my new life to myself. Let her wonder.

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