Better Than New
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2010 by Coaster2

Romantic Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Newly divorced, Val sees his luck and his life turn around in a most unexpected way.

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

Act 1

Wednesday, June 17th, 6:15pm

I dropped down into the booth with a sigh. The cushioned seat padding took the brunt of the impact. I nodded to Paul, with a miserable attempt at a smile, picked up the waiting beer and took a healthy gulp.

"So ... it's finally done?" he asked.

"Yep. All the t's crossed and the i's dotted. I'm officially a bachelor as of today," I said sullenly.

Paul was never one to talk a lot, but when he had something to say ... he said it.

"Good riddance to bad rubbish," holding his glass up and waiting for my acknowledgement.

"I suppose."

We were silent for a few moments, just staring at the beer glasses rather than each other.

"You know, for a woman that didn't think I'd amounted to much, her fuckin' bitch lawyer was prepared to strip me to the bone for every last dime. Thank God I had Manny on my side. He gives as good as he gets. At least I have the shirt on my back, a place to live, and still own most of my own business."

"Small mercies," my friend offered. Another silence until, "Want some good news?"


"I've finished your website and it's ready to go. Wanna look?"


He picked up a laptop from beside him and opened it. With a couple of keystrokes, the screen lit up and he turned it toward me. Better Than New was bannered across the top in multi-color script. Several collector automobiles formed a montage along the bottom. There was only one button to click: Enter.

As the next page opened, I looked at it carefully. "Nice work, Paul. You've got everything I asked for here. Thank you. What do I owe you?"

"Another beer will do it."

"Bullshit. You've put hours into this. Come on ... how much?"

"Look Val, you don't need any more bills. That lawyer of yours is going to keep you working for a while just to pay him off. I did this for a friend. You never know, I may need a fender pounded out some day when I'm a little short. Let's leave it at that, okay?"

I nodded reluctantly and raised my glass once more. "Here's to good friends."

We ordered a burger and another beer as we talked about anything but my divorce.

"So what are you doing to keep yourself entertained," I asked. "Still dating Yvonne?"

"Off and on. I don't think she's that interested in me, but ... she never turns down a date or a free meal. Kind of friends with benefits and no strings."

"Yeah ... I get that. Maybe that's what I should be lookin' for. No strings."

"Has its advantages."

"How's the job?"

"Good. Being a techno-nerd isn't as bad as you'd think. Lots of damsels in distress need rescuing each day. Since I don't have a pocket protector, horned-rim glasses, or a dorky wardrobe, I do all right," he grinned.

"Played any golf lately?"

"Yeah. Got in a round at Sunnydale last Saturday. Shot a decent 97. Not bad for me." Sunnydale was a local public course in San Rafael; wide, fairly flat, and kept in good condition despite fairly heavy play.

"Maybe I'll join you next weekend. I could use a couple of days off."

"Good idea. Why don't I get a tee time for Saturday morning ... around ten if I can? The weather should be good. After all, this is California."


Friday, June 19th, 7:00am

"Mornin', Boss."

"Mornin', Tommy. Got a minute?"

"Be right there," he chirped, setting down his tool box and following me into my office."

"Think you could do without me tomorrow morning?"

"Oh ... it'll be hard, but ... I guess we can struggle through," he grinned.

"Thanks. I need some R & R after the last few months. I've been hanging out around here too much."

"How many times have I told you that you were spendin' too much time in this place? It's a great place to work, Val, but you shouldn't be livin' here."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Anyway, have we got anything that's urgent?"

"Nothin' you don't know about. McAllister's BMW is going to the paint booth this morning. I made arrangements for him to pick it up tomorrow morning. The new fender for that '55 Chevy arrived last night. Doug will get it on his rounds. Other than that, we got a full shop and all hands on deck."

"Good. Thanks for looking after things for the last while. I know I haven't always been here ... physically or mentally."

"Look, Val, you went through a hell of a time. The only things I'm worried about are your health and how much of this business did your ex-wife get. Both of those things relate to my future, you know."

I laughed at Tommy. "Relax, she only got fifteen percent, and I'll be fine. Tomorrow is a golf day with my friend. Satisfied?"

"Yeah. That's a relief. The ownership thing, I mean. She'd sell this place in a heartbeat if she could."

"Ain't going to happen. In fact, one of these days, I'm going to buy her fifteen percent out."

"That's what I wanted to hear," he smiled.

"In the meantime, have a look at this," I said, turning to my desktop computer. I booted up the new website and turned the monitor toward him."

"Jeez, boss. That looks great. Real professional too."

"Yeah ... my friend, Paul, did it for me. I think it'll be good for us. Especially all the testimonials along-side the cars that are pictured. With any luck, a lot of our customers are going to want to have their cars featured, so we can keep adding to the site as we go."

"Man ... that's cool. We're in the big time now," he said, holding up his hand for a high-five.

"Yeah ... I guess we are," I agreed, smacking his hand.

Saturday, June 20th, 10:24am

"Was this your idea, pal?" I asked quietly.

"Nope. Pure luck," Paul grinned.

We had been paired with two women, somewhat younger than us, and reasonably attractive. From what I could see of their clothes and clubs, they weren't beginners. They had rented an electric cart, while Paul and I chose to carry and walk.

"Hi, I'm Paul Johnston and this is Val Keating."

"I'm Doreen," one said softly.

"And I'm Carolyn Findlay."

Doreen with no last name was a leggy brunette with a lovely figure and a nice face. Too bad she wasn't smiling. Carolyn was a short blonde with a round, almost chubby face, a full body, and a nice smile. I could see the drool forming at the corners of Paul's mouth as he looked over the blonde.

"You play here often?" I asked Doreen.

"No ... not really. If Carolyn hadn't asked me, I probably wouldn't be here today. My golf game is pretty erratic."

"Well, I guess that matches up with me, then. Paul is the one who convinced me to take a day off and play. I'm not likely to break a hundred."

She looked at me with what I took to be suspicion, but said nothing. She still hadn't smiled.

We were standing behind the first tee, waiting for our foursome to be announced. The group ahead had already teed off, and we walked to the tee as our group was called.

"Next on the first tee, Johnston and Findlay foursome."

"Ladies, Paul and I are playing the white tees. Should I assume you are playing the reds?"

"You should assume," Carolyn said with a grin. Doreen still hadn't cracked a smile.

Paul hit his drive, a fade down the right side into the rough. I concentrated on watching the club head hit the ball and was rewarded with a mediocre drive, but on the fairway to the right. We walked up to the red tees to watch the women.

Carolyn had a nice easy swing, and punched the ball out about 175 down the middle. Doreen wasn't as fortunate. She seemed to be uptight as she addressed the ball, probably thinking about too many different things, just as I used to do. Her quick swing produced a low "worm burner" about eighty or ninety yards off the tee.

"Shit!" she spat as she picked up her tee and stomped off to the cart, slamming her club into her bag.

Great, I thought. This was going to be a real fun game. I glanced over at Paul, but he was smiling as he watched Carolyn walk to the cart. I was always surprised at how seldom things like this bothered him.

Doreen's second shot was much better; a fairway metal down the middle.

"Nice shot. That will help a lot," I volunteered.

She turned to me and I saw, for the first time, the faintest hint of a smile.

"Thanks. I hate screwing up my first tee shot."

By the sixth hole, we were talking to each other. She wore no rings, so I guessed she was single, but that was just a guess. She might have taken them off to play. I found out she and Carolyn worked at the same company, Beeson's. It was once the biggest employer in the area. Doreen was the office manager and Carolyn was an accountant. I knew the Beeson name well. My ex-wife worked there.

"What do you do, Val?" Doreen finally asked me.

"I own a body shop. I repair and restore cars and trucks. Not very glamorous," I admitted.

"How many employees?"

"Ten, counting me. Six in body repair, three in restoration, and one in the paint booth."

She hit her next drive, and with a more relaxed attitude, she hit it well.

"Another nice one," I complimented.

This time I got a real smile, her first. "Thanks."

I had been watching Paul and Carolyn as we went along. They were getting along very well. I don't think either of them had their mind on golf, but they didn't seem to care. We could hear Carolyn's high-pitched laughter regularly as they talked.

"You noticed that too, huh," Doreen remarked with a grin.

"Hard to miss. Looks like they're getting along just fine without us."

"What does your friend do besides hustle the ladies?"

"Believe it or not, he's a nerd. He's the IT manager for AMR."

"Really! He sure doesn't look or act like any nerd I know."

"Nope. Just goes to show how stereotypes can be wrong."

"You two guys seem like the odd couple. I mean, a body shop guy and a techie."

"Whoa, now I'm offended," I said in mock disgust. "I have a complete education and a substantial vocabulary. I ain't no ordinary fender-pounder."

She shrank back for a moment at my comment before recognizing I was teasing her. I saw her exhale and show a rueful, apologetic smile.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to..."

"No need. We are an odd couple. We've been friends for years. We went to high school and college together, both of us on the swim team."

"So how did you end up in your business?"

"My father had a service station with a small repair shop attached. He did engine and mechanical work, which he loved, and farmed out the body work, which he hated. From the time I was fourteen, I worked my summer vacations for him. When the body shop was short of men, I would go over and help. Pretty soon, I was doing some of the work and learning from the pros."

I stopped, picked a six iron out of my bag and hit the shot to the left, over the green. I looked at Doreen and shrugged, dropping the club back into the bag. She walked a few paces ahead, hit a nice five iron to the front fringe and returned to the cart.

"That'll work. Easy putt from there," I encouraged.

I got another smile and a thank-you. We were doing much better at talking to each other now.

I knocked my chip ten feet past the pin and missed the putt coming back. Pretty much the story of my short game. I would struggle to break a hundred today. Doreen hit a nice putt just wide of the hole and had a gimme for a par, her first one of the day.

"Hey ... that's a par. Nice going," I called.

"Yippee!" she shouted, just now realizing it was a par. "I haven't had one of those in ages."

Carolyn chimed with her congratulations along with Paul. I seriously doubt if they knew which shot they were hitting, much less what hole they were on. They appeared to be too busy getting to know each other. I suspected Paul of playing his shots near where Carolyn's were, just to stay close. Carolyn was driving the cart, and Paul was now hitching a ride between shots as Doreen preferred to walk with me, despite the extra effort of walking to the cart for her clubs.

"They're having a good time," Doreen said as she watched them.

"How about you? Better than when we started, maybe?"

She turned and smiled at me. "Yeah. Better."

"You were telling me about how you got into the business," Doreen said as we stood on the next tee box.

"Well, I found I liked the body shop and after a while, I got good at it. I guess I had a knack for it. Dad and I talked about a partnership. He would be the mechanic ... the engine man, and I would be the body man. I thought about it for a while, then we sat down and worked it out. We had to keep them separate. We were quite different in our approaches. I like clean and tidy, he didn't care about cosmetics. I wanted to expand the business into restorations, he was satisfied with what he had. In the end, I set up my business separately from his, and it's been that way ever since."

"Do you and your dad get along?"

"Yup. We're doing fine. He has his place and I have mine. If I have a restoration that needs engine or mechanical work, I farm it out to him. I know I'm going to get a good job from him. On the other hand, if he has body work, he sends the customer to me. It works pretty well, all things considered."

"Nice. What do you call your business?"

"Better Than New. Dad always had the slogan 'Good as New' at the garage, but when I started the business, I wanted people to feel they were getting more than their money's worth. I had finished the restoration of a pre-war International truck and was showing it a one of the local malls as a business display. There was an older gentleman there looking at my work very carefully. I found out he used to own one of the same models and he was very impressed with my effort. He told me I should go into the restoration business seriously. He said my product was better than new. That's how the name came about."

I wonder if Doreen knew how nice her smile was and much it improved her appearance. She seemed so serious much of the time.

We made a quick stop at the tenth hole shack for a soft drink and a sandwich, then carried on.

"So ... tell me about your job. You're an office manager. That's a fairly important role in most businesses."

"Nice title, mediocre pay, plenty of hassles. I think I got the job because they figured I had the thickest hide."

"Oh." I wasn't about to invade the topic any further without her volunteering. Fortunately, she did.

"I'll tell you a secret, Val, but if you tell anyone what I said, I'll have to have you killed."

I jumped back in mock fear. "Maybe I shouldn't hear this," I said.

She laughed. "I have the same number of people to supervise as you do. One difference though; mine are all women. There is nothing worse than supervising an all-female staff in my opinion. Between PMS and the catty infighting, it drives me crazy trying to get them to work together in harmony. If they aren't complaining about their hours or salary, they're bitching about their husbands or boyfriends."

I attempted to suppress a laugh. "Sorry, I know it isn't funny. I was never sure whether the 'P' in PMS stood for pre or post."

"I think it ought to stand for perpetual," she snorted.

I laughed again. It was good to see her show a sense of humor.

We got backed up on a couple of par 3 holes, and had a chance to talk about a number of things related to our businesses. We both avoided any personal probing. I learned she was very bright, college educated, with a good business understanding and a solid background in business computer software. I wondered if her talents weren't wasted on her present employer, especially the way she felt about her staff.

"You don't sound terribly satisfied with your current job. Do you have some résumés out?"

"Yeah. A couple. I'd like to find something that would let me use my brain and my education. Right now I feel like I'm herding cats."

I burst out laughing once more, and this time she joined me. As she opened up, I was beginning to see a much more attractive woman, and certainly a more interesting one.

The game ended with my shooting a sizzling 103, Doreen a 98, Paul a 101, and Carolyn a 110. Not exactly ripping up the course, but we did have fun with our new acquaintances. Ten minutes later we were sitting outside at the restaurant.

"Congratulations, Doreen. Can we humble runners-up buy you ladies a refreshment?" Paul asked.

The two women looked at each other. Carolyn was the first to respond. "Sure."

We found a table and Paul and I went to the bar to fill the orders.

"Here you go, girls. Wine coolers for you and the traditional beer for us," Paul grinned.

"Thanks, guys. That was a lot of fun. I'm glad we met up with you this morning. Looks like we all play the same kind of golf," Carolyn said.

"All except Doreen. She beat us all soundly," I joked.

"See ... women can play this game," Carolyn laughed.

"Just a bit of good luck. Hey, I had two pars today. That's a new record for me," Doreen enthused.

"Good for you. You played very well after you loosened up," I said, almost instantly regretting how it might have sounded.

Doreen looked at me for a moment and then nodded. "Yeah. It did take me a few holes to feel comfortable."

"Is that because of us?" I asked, trying not to be confrontational.

Again, she gave me the 'look, ' "Maybe. I thought you two might be a couple of hot shots that would make us look bad."

"Well, I guess you saw that wasn't the case pretty quickly," Paul laughed.

"Yeah. Well ... anyway ... I had a good time, and you guys were good to play with," Doreen said, facing me.

"Thanks. Maybe we can do it again sometime," Paul ventured.

"Maybe," Carolyn grinned.

I reached for my wallet and pulled out one of my business cards, pushing it across the table to Doreen.

"That's my card. If you'd like to e-mail your résumé, my web address is on there. Otherwise, drop it by the shop and I'll show you around if you're interested."

"Are you looking for an office manager?" she asked.

"No. Not an office manager. But you never know. I may know of an opening that might suit you ... if you were interested."

Again, that semi-stare of hers, like she was trying to measure me ... or figure out what I was up to. At that moment, I was doing the same thing with myself. What was I up to?

"Okay. Thanks," she said, putting the card in her pocket.

Again, we thanked them for their companionship, and said goodbye.

"You get Doreen's phone number?" Paul asked as we got in the car.

"No. Didn't think of it."

"That's because you aren't thinking like a single guy yet."

"Could be. It looked like you got Carolyn's number, though."

"Oh yeah, I got that early. We're having dinner tonight, and then ... well ... who knows," he grinned.

"You don't waste any time, do you?"

"I knew within fifteen minutes that she was hot to trot. She packs a few extra pounds on her, but most of them are in very interesting places."

I shook my head. "You're right. I'm not thinking like a single guy. I think I've forgotten more than I remember about dating."

"This isn't dating, man ... this is hooking up," he smirked. "Dating comes when I decide if I want to get to know her even better."

"I think you and I have very different approaches."

"So, what did you think of Doreen? She seemed pretty uptight to me. Like you said, it took a while for her to lighten up."

"I thought we were in for a long afternoon when we first met, but after a while, she kind of relaxed and started to be herself. She seemed very suspicious of us ... me anyway. She might have some guy issues from a previous encounter."

"Yeah. That's possible. What was the business card thing all about?"

"Well, it was one way for her to get a hold of me if she wanted to. Also, she mentioned she wasn't very happy in her current job. I got the impression she could do a lot more than just run an office full of women. It got me thinking about what I needed to expand the business again. I was thinking more of an administrative manager than an office manager."

"She doesn't know squat about autobody I'll bet."

"No ... but that's not necessarily a deal breaker. I need some organizational skills just as much as shop talent. I'm doing everything myself, as you already know. She might be the right combination, plus strong enough to work in an all-male environment. Just thinkin' right now."

Thursday, June 25th, 11:45am

"Better Than New, Val speaking."

"Oh ... uhhm ... Hi Val, it's Doreen Gordon. We met at the golf course last Saturday."

"Yes, of course. How are you, Doreen?"

"Fine. I mean, okay, but to be honest, I'm about at my wit's end with this job. You said you might know about something that would suit me better. I wonder if we could meet and talk about it."

"Absolutely. What's convenient for you?"

"Well, I'd really rather not make it obvious around here that I'm looking. Can we meet after hours?"

"Sure, I understand. Look, why don't you come to the shop on Saturday morning, about ten o'clock. I can show you around and we can talk. Will that work for you?"

"Yes. That will be fine. Do I understand that this job would be at your company?"

"Yes. I'll tell you what I'm thinking when we meet. I think you've got the right credentials to handle what I'm looking for. It's just a matter of whether we both think it's a good fit."

"All right. I'll see you on Saturday morning at ten."

"I'll be here. Thanks for calling."

I sat back in my chair and allowed myself a small smile. She had called me on my invitation, and now it was up to me to spit out what I was thinking. I had better get my act together before she showed up.

Saturday, June 27th, 9:50am

"Good morning," I said with a big smile as Doreen stepped into the office.

"Hi. I'm a bit early. I can wait if you're busy," she hastened, her face revealing a nervous look.

"No ... no, you're fine. Come in and have a seat," I said, gesturing toward a comfortable chair across the desk from me.

She sat and pushed what appeared to be a résumé across the desk to me, and I picked it up.

"Sounds like you've had a tough week when you called."

"Yes, although I suppose once I thought about quitting and changing jobs, my tolerance threshold dropped. I'm pretty certain I won't be there by the end of this year."

"How long have you worked for them?"

"Nearly ten years. I've been the office manager for just about three years."

"Has it always been like the way it is now?"

"My promotion brought it to a head. When I first started, I thought I could change it. Make it better. But ... I guess that isn't something I'm good at. I've tried every approach I can think of, but nothing seems to change. I think part of the problem is that Beeson isn't doing very well in this economy, and that puts pressure on everyone from the top down."

"Yeah, I know the company. Warren Beeson II owns it, but lets his son Warren III run it."

"Exactly. He's no genius. Wanders around like he's king of the hill most of the time. His father ought to kick his butt out and run it himself again."

I laughed. "Sounds like you have the same opinion of 'Trip' that I do."

"How do you know him?"

"Oh, it's a long story. I'll tell you about it some time. Anyway, we were going to talk about an opportunity for you, not your boss," I grinned.

"Yes. Let's ... please." Damn, that woman lit up when she smiled.

"First, I want to take you on a tour of the operation. When we're done, I'll tell you what I'm thinking and you can tell me what you think. That okay?"

She stood. "Let's go."

Doreen was relaxed and inquisitive as I led her through the three shops. We had six cars in the autobody area, all in various states of repair.

"Val ... this isn't anything like what I thought an autobody shop would be like. It's so clean ... and the floor."

"Yes ... well ... that's all part of the strategy. When the customer sees the shop, it's the first impression he or she gets. I want them to think that they're going to get special care, even if it's only pounding out a few dents. The last thing we do every day is clean up and put all the tools away."

"Well, it works. These floors are immaculate, and the workbenches too. It's not what I expected."

"Good. Glad to hear it," I said, watching her carefully. "The restoration room is over here," I said, sliding the big door open far enough for us to walk through.

Doreen stopped and looked around. There were four cars in the restoration shop. A 1955 Chev Bel Aire, a 1964 Pontiac GTO, a 1954 MG TF, and a 1935 DeSoto Airflow. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the Airflow.

"What is that?" she asked, her eyes wide with wonder.

"It's a fairly rare DeSoto Airflow. Very few of them still around. They were only made for a couple of years. Too modern for the times, they said. It's just about finished and ready for our customer. It isn't pretty by today's standards, but the owner likes it, so that's what counts."

"It's incredible. The silver paint, and all the chrome. It looks like it's never been driven."

"Oh, it's been driven all right. If I remember rightly, it had over 200,000 miles on it when we got it. Pretty much had to build it up from scratch after we got all the rust out of it. But, the owner insisted and was willing to pay the cost, so six months later, here it is."

"It's beautiful in a strange kind of way. It looks so perfect. What did it cost to restore?"

"Well, that's confidential, but let's just say well into six figures."

"Oh my. I guess if you have to put that much work into it, you have to charge those kinds of prices."

"Pretty much. Not all of them are as big a project. The GTO and the Chev are fairly simple 'resto's'. The MG is going to be trickier. They weren't very well made and are very fussy to work on. But, the owner is in love with it, so here it is, ready for a major face lift."

"Is this business profitable?"

"Yes. Very much so. It has to be. Too many man hours invested for it not to be. I've learned the hard way how much to charge and how to estimate properly. No substitute for experience."

"It's so much more fascinating than just repairing damaged cars. These cars are all special, aren't they?"

"Yes ... certainly to their owners."

"What do you drive?" she asked suddenly, turning to me.

"I have a customized 1947 Chevy Panel Van that my father and I built. I use it for business and a bit of advertising. I also have an E type Jaguar Coupe that I keep at home for myself. I bought it off a guy who got fed up with all the maintenance problems, so I got it at a bargain price."

"So now you have all the maintenance and problems," she taunted.

"No ... well ... I modernized it. From the outside, you can't tell it from the stock production E type. But it has better brakes, electrics, engine, transmission, and a few other things. Now it's a nice ride without the problems."

She continued to wander through the restoration-shop, clearly very interested. I could see the light in her eyes and knew she was fascinated with this part of the business.

"I can't get over how clean everything is. You'd think there'd be dust and dirt with all the work that has to be done, but there's very little even while the guys are working."

"It would be like that if we didn't get after it all day, every day. It took a while for the guys to buy into keeping the shop super-clean, but after a while they realized it was a better place to work because of it, and the customers were impressed as well. It gave them a sense that they were an elite work force. That's what I really wanted to have happen, and luckily for me, it has."

"I don't think luck had much to do with it, Val," Doreen said. "I think you knew what you wanted and just kept with it until you got it."

I shrugged, "Maybe so."

We made a quick stop at the paint booth and watched our man masking off a repaired quarter-panel.

"We have computer color matching equipment," I explained. "You want to frustrate a customer, all you have to do is fix the bodywork and then not have the paint come out as an exact match. It stands out like a sore thumb and no amount of explaining ever makes it right. These days there's no excuse for it, so we make sure it's right before we turn it over to the customer."

She smiled as she listened. I was hitting all the right notes I gathered.

"Let's go to the office and talk," I said, leading the way.

Doreen seated herself and I took my place behind the desk.

"Well, what do you think of our operation?"

"It's not what I expected. Completely different and very clean. It looks like a good place to work ... for the men."

"That's the idea. I expect and demand high standards, so I have to support that any way I can."

"What exactly are you looking for ... I mean ... I guess I'm asking ... why am I here?"

"First of all, you're here because I think you have skills that haven't been used in your present job. I think you're capable of more than just 'herding cats, '" I grinned.

"Second, I need an administrative manager. Someone who will be my right hand and in charge when I'm not around. I intend to expand the business, and right now I'm trying to do too many things myself.

"And third, you've made it plain that you're not happy at Beeson, so you're available. That only leaves one question. Are you interested?"

"Yes ... I am interested ... but ... I don't know anything about this business. It's fascinating, I admit, but ... I'd be starting from square one. I don't know how much use I'd be for a while."

"I know all that, but keep in mind that most businesses are run the same way. They require organization and leadership. Too much of my time is spent on organization, so that's where you'd come in. Scheduling work, ordering parts, making sure the paperwork gets done. You don't have to worry about estimating or hiring and firing.

"I will want you to learn the business as you go. At some point, I want you to have all the know-how that I do. Maybe not the experience, but at least the basic knowledge of how the work is done."

"All right, I can understand that. We haven't discussed salary."

"You would start at $40,000 per year. There would be a full benefits package plus profit sharing at year end. If you started at the beginning of July, you would be entitled to a half share. There would be a review at three months with a small raise, and another at six months, again with a raise. After that, the review would be annual on your hiring anniversary. I think everyone should know how they are doing on a regular basis."

"That's very generous. It's certainly better than I'm doing now, and the job looks like it will challenge me. Can I have a day or two to think it over?"

"Of course. Talk to me next week. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to call me. Don't leave anything to chance. If you're uncertain, ask."

"Thank you. I'll call you early next week."

"I'll look forward to it. I hope you decide to join us. I think you'll make a great addition."

I watched as she left and went to her car. She drove an older model Camry. It looked like it could use some time in our shop, I thought. As I picked up her résumé I wondered to myself what made me so impulsive as to offer her this job. A job that didn't exist until this morning. She had the qualifications. I could see that on her résumé. I was semi-confident of her toughness. It would remain to be seen if she could learn the business. In the back of my mind, I was fairly sure she would accept the job. The look in her eyes as I took her around the shop floor spoke volumes.

Monday, June 29th, 7:55am

"Good morning, Better Than New, Val speaking."

"Hi, Val. It's Doreen."

"Hi. How was your weekend?"

"Fine. I spent a lot of it wondering if I was up to the job you offered. It's going to be a big challenge, but if you're still willing, I'd like to try."

"Good. I'm glad you decided in our favor. How much notice do you have to give Beeson?"

"Two weeks. I'll be handing it in this morning. I can start on the 13th, if that's okay."

"That will be fine. Did you have any questions?"

"Yes. I wondered if it would be all right if I came in on Saturday morning, the 11th, to get acclimatized and meet some of your people."

"That's a hell of a good idea. We're closed for the holiday next weekend or we could do it then. I'll introduce you to our guys, and we can go over some of the basics before you get dropped in the dunk tank," I laughed.

"Oh, good. I'm really going to be feeling my way at first, so any help you or the men can give me will be appreciated."

"All right. I'm really pleased you're joining us. I have a feeling you'll do very well here. I'll see you Saturday morning the 11th then."

I hung up and leaned back in my chair. I had no reason to feel as confident as I did, but there it was. I wanted her in the business and I got her.

Friday, July 4th, 12:00pm

"So you hired her then?" Paul said, sipping his beer. We had just finished an early round of golf.

"Yup. I admit, it's all on instinct, but I have a hunch I've made a good decision. I've needed someone to back me up, and time will tell if she can handle it."

"No doubt about that. Ever since Monica left, you've done nothing but work. Maybe now you can get yourself a social life."

"No rush for that. The last one didn't work out so well."

"Val ... you've got to get past that. She shit on you from dizzy heights, but she's gone and you're a free man. When was the last time you got laid?"

"Christ ... I don't know. November last year, thereabouts."

"Man, my cock would die and fall off if I went that long."

"How are you doing these days? Still hanging out with Yvonne?"

"No ... I haven't seen her in a month. I've been seeing Carolyn."

"Carolyn! You mean Doreen's friend Carolyn?"

"Yeah. We seem to get on great, so I've been dating her. In fact, I've got to get going. I'm meeting her at the fairgrounds at one o'clock."

"Well, well, well. So it wasn't just a simple hook-up then?"

He shrugged, showed me a wrinkled smile and rose from his chair. "Good luck with Doreen. I hope she's what you're looking for."

"Thanks. Good luck with Carolyn. Maybe she's what you're looking for."

"You never know," he grinned.

I leaned back and sipped my beer, idly watching the golfers on the first and tenth tees. I jumped in surprise when I heard the scrape of metal on the concrete as someone pulled out a chair from beside me. I looked up and saw Doreen.

"Hi. Mind if I join you?" she asked.

"No, of course not," I said, standing. "Are you here alone?"

"Yeah. Carolyn's gone off with your friend Paul somewhere this afternoon. I was driving by and thought I'd stop in for a sandwich."

"Great. Paul's just left. Said he was meeting Carolyn at the fairgrounds. We just finished a round, so I was going to get something to eat too. Let's go," I said, leading her to the restaurant.

I ordered another beer, Doreen order an orange cooler, and we both chose a ham and cheese sandwich and a bag of chips. I paid for it with some protest from Doreen.

"So how did the announcement that you were leaving go down?"

"Not bad except for Warren. What a jerk. He was telling me I'd be crawling back begging for my old job in less than a month. Fat chance."

I chuckled, "I was kind of hoping he'd waive the two week notice and you could start right away."

"You laugh, but he almost did. Then he remembered he didn't have anyone to replace me. He damn near choked at that. I wish he had. Man ... he's nothing like his father. The old man was class all the way. How the hell could he raise a son like that?"

I shook my head. "I've known Trip since he was in grade eight. He's always been that way. His father was an important employer and a big deal at the Chamber of Commerce, and that little shit never let us forget it. I think the best thing about graduating from high school was losing him. We went to different colleges."

"So that's where your attitude comes from," she laughed.

"Oh ... that's not the only place. I only got rid of him for four years. When I came back here, he did too. Daddy was going to make him president. He'd get his picture in the local paper and attend the Chamber meetings. He was a real big deal in his mind."

Doreen was watching me carefully. "Why do I get the feeling there's more to it than that."

I didn't look at her and I didn't answer her.

"How about we change the topic? This is too nice a day and you're good company."

"I was going to tell you that when I resigned, Carolyn made it known that she might be next. She's no happier there than I am. She says Warren's bad-mouthing about the business and how lousy things are is bullshit. He's just trying to keep the slaves in line."

"I believe that. It's just like him. I can only assume his father doesn't know what he says and does from day to day. I don't think he'd appreciate Trip telling everyone the business is in trouble. His banker hears about that and it could mean problems for him. He probably relies on a solid line of credit to keep both the manufacturing and the retail ends operating. Shows you what a shallow thinker Trip is."

"You really don't have much use for him, do you?" she chortled.

"Nope. None. I thought we were going to change the topic?" I said in mock exasperation.

"It's more fun watching you vent."

"Glad I could provide some entertainment." It was hard to fake being grumpy. Doreen was the opposite of the first time we met. She was playful, and smiling a whole lot.

"Speaking of Carolyn, Paul says he's been dating her lately."

"Yes. I hope he doesn't hurt her. She's been waiting for 'Mr. Right' for a long time. I'm not sure Paul's the guy, but she's telling me how much fun they have together."

"Paul's never been married. He's a long-time friend. I've known him since grade nine and we've been best buddies since. He won't deliberately hurt Carolyn. He's pretty honest about his relationships. He doesn't promise anything and doesn't lead the girls on. I don't ever recall him ending one with any bitterness or anger on either part. He just has that knack, I guess. I keep hoping he's going to meet the right woman and settle down. He's a super-bright guy and a good friend. Amazing, since we are such different people."

Doreen nodded, absorbing what I had just said.

"Has Carolyn said anything to you?" I asked.

"Not really. I just get the feeling that she's taking him seriously. I guess we'll know soon enough."

"I guess."

"I'm excited about the new job, Val," she said at length.

"Good. I want you to be. Hell, I invented that job just for you."

"You what?"

"Well, maybe not exactly for you, but when you told me about yourself and your qualifications, I started to think about what I needed at the shop. You were a perfect fit."

"You mean you weren't out looking for someone when you talked to me?"

"Not really. I didn't know what I wanted ... or needed. I hadn't really pinned it down. You helped me do that ... even though you didn't know it at the time."

"You're making me nervous, Val. Are you always this impulsive?"

"No ... as a matter of fact, I'm a lot more deliberate when it comes to the business. I'm not sure what pushed me into making this decision so quickly, but ... looking back on it ... in sober reflection," I grinned, "I'm glad I did."

"I hope it hasn't anything to do with trying to get close to me. I don't believe in workplace romances. You might as well know that upfront."

"I don't either. And that's not what this is all about. It's strictly business and our relationship will be strictly business."

She sighed and relaxed again, appearing to accept my assurances.

Tuesday, July 7th, 9:15am

"Better Than New, Val speaking."

"Hi Val, it's Norm Fielding."

"Hi, Norm. How are you? Did you have a good holiday?"

"Just fine, thanks. All the kids and grandkids were here and I just shipped off the last of them this morning. I think I'm gettin' too old for a houseful any more. When Sarah was around, it was easier."

"Yeah ... I'm sure it was. What can I do for you?"

"I've decided to fully retire at the end of the year, Val. I'm going to travel for a while. Sittin' around the house isn't doing me any good. I need to get out and spend some of that money I worked so hard to get. I haven't got all that many years left."

"Yeah ... I've been trying to tell Mom and Dad that too. Anyway, if you're going to retire, I'm going to have to find myself a new accountant. Any suggestions?"

"Not really. You want someone that's certified and experienced in the business world. You run what's classified as a small business, so you don't need some superstar. Hell, you put up with me for ten years. That ought to tell you something," he laughed.

"Okay. I have an idea about someone if they are qualified and interested. Otherwise, I've got a few months to find someone. Thanks for the heads-up, Norm. I'm envious about you taking off to all corners of the world. How do your kids feel about that?"

"They're all for it. I think they're sick of seeing me mope around and doing nothing. It'll be a break for them not to have to worry about me."

"I guess. Well, we'll be talking off and on before you go, so I'll get going on finding someone and let you know. I may want you to interview them, if you wouldn't mind."

"Not at all. After all, I've got a stake in seeing that BTN succeeds."

"Yeah, that you have. I'll talk to you soon."

Strange, my business life seems to be full of coincidences right now, I thought. First Doreen, now maybe Carolyn."

I picked up the phone and punched in the familiar numbers. "Hey, Paul, it's me. Got a minute?"

"Sure. What's up?"

"Norm called and let me know he's going to retire at the end of the year. That means I need a new accountant. I heard from Doreen that Carolyn wasn't all that happy at Beeson, so I thought I might talk to her."

"Great! You're right, she's not happy. Ever since Doreen announced she was leaving, she's been combing through the paper looking for opportunities. I'm not sure what she earns, but I know it isn't as much as a controller or head accountant would. I'm not sure what her qualifications are, either."

"Yeah, well, first things first. I'll call her and ask her if she's interested. We can go from there after that. Have you got her home number?"

"Sure." He rattled it off and I had to get him to repeat it so I could write it down.

"Got it down pat, huh," I teased.

"Yeah. I've been using it often enough I ought to remember it."

"You're heading for a new record for consecutive appearances with the same woman," I laughed.

"Maybe. Could happen." He sounded happy and cheerful, not unusual for him. That was his nature.

"Good luck," I signed off.

Tuesday, July 7th, 7:10pm

"Hi, Carolyn, it's Val Keating calling. I'm a friend of Paul's. We played golf together a few Saturdays ago."

"Sure, I remember. Paul talks about you often. What can I do for you?"

"A little bird told me that you aren't all that happy at Beeson, and that you might be looking around for an opportunity. Is that true?"

"Yes, it is. Just which little bird told you, male or female?"

"Both, actually. My accountant, Norm Fielding, is retiring at the end of the year and would like to close down his practice. I need someone to look after my financial affairs at BTN. I wasn't sure if that fit what you are capable of, so I thought I'd ask."

"Yes ... I have a certificate and experience in business financial and tax accounting. For a business your size, I'd probably be what you're looking for, and based on what Doreen told me, you might be exactly what I'm looking for."

"Great. I'd like you and Norm to get together to make sure he's satisfied that you can handle my affairs, then I'd want to meet with you to show you the business and discuss my plans for expansion. That's going to take some careful money management, as you can imagine."

"That sounds fine. When would you like me to meet with Mr. Fielding?"

"Any time it's convenient for you. I'll give you his home phone number and you can call him and set up an appointment." I waited for her to get a pen, then gave her Norm's number.

"Thanks for thinking of me, Val. I appreciate it. I've been jealous of Doreen ever since she told me about her new job."

"Well, with any luck, you two might be reunited at my place. I'll wait to hear from Norm, then I'll call you."

"Thanks again, Val. I'll keep my fingers crossed that it works out in our favour."

Thursday, July 9th, 9:05am

"Hi Val, it's Norm. Got a minute?"

"Sure. For you, anytime."

"I talked to that young woman, Carolyn Findlay, last night. She came over to the house and gave me her C.V. She's got the necessary qualifications, Val. I liked her. Got lots of spirit and she knows her stuff. Doesn't have delusions of being a CFO in the near future."

"That's good news, Norm. Any negatives?"

"Naw, just the usual ones about hiring women. You know, they get pregnant and you have to replace them. But that's just me being old-fashioned," he laughed.

"Yeah ... it's real enough, but if she can do the job, I won't worry about that right now."

"Well, I'm satisfied that she can, but it's your business. You talk to her and satisfy yourself that she'll fit in. Good luck."

"Thanks again, Norm. I appreciate it."

I looked up Carolyn's number and dialed it.

"Hi, Carolyn, it's Val Keating."

"Oh, Hi Val."

"Can you and I get together at my office some time soon? I'd like to show you around and then we can discuss the job I have to offer."

"You mean you're offering me the job?" She sounded taken aback.

"Yes, does that surprise you?"

"Yeah ... well ... everything's happened so fast. I wasn't expecting to hear from you so soon. We haven't even discussed salary or other things."

"You're quite correct, we haven't. That's why I want to get together with you. When do you think it would be convenient?"

"I guess Saturday morning would be the soonest. I've got a lot on my plate at Beeson right now. I'd rather they didn't know I was looking around too."

"I understand perfectly. I've got Doreen coming in on Saturday for her orientation, but I'll have one of my guys handle some of that while you and I talk. Why don't we say about ... oh ... nine o'clock?"

"That's fine. I'll see you at nine."

Bingo! Two opportunities and two bullseyes. I'm on a roll.

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