The Reluctant Sultan
Chapter 1: Off to Washington
Caution: This Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Consensual, Group Sex, Interracial,
Desc: Sex Story: Chapter 1: Off to Washington - Gabe Hancock was sent to Seattle by his brother to get the operation back to profitability or close it. He wasn't of a mind to give up, especially when four dynamic women gave him every reason to succeed.
"Remind me, where the hell is Lynnwood?" I asked my brother. We were sitting in his office in San Francisco, the headquarters of our family business.
"Just north of Seattle. Nice little community, far enough from the big city and yet close enough to do business," he answered.
"And I'm going there because?"
"Fix it or forget it, Gabe" he said abruptly. "It's underperforming and while it's still making a small profit, it won't stay that way for long. Lots of competition in the area. Starbucks, Tully's, Seattle's Best, Cascade ... you know the rest."
"Okay, tell me what I need to know."
"You know Don Nichol is an old friend of Dad. He's due to retire and there is no one suitable to replace him. We need to decide what to do about that."
"Look, Dave, I'm nearly fifty years old. I've been on the road one way or another for this company over the past twenty-five years. Somewhere along the way I need a permanent location. It isn't right to be my age at not have a permanent residence. I'm a fucking gypsy, for Christ's sake."
"Whose problem is that? You used to be married with a home. It was your choice to be the troubleshooter for the operations. Marion left you because you were never home, now you're complaining about choices you made."
It was obvious my brother Dave wasn't overcome with sympathy for my situation.
"Okay, okay, I get the point. But I am ready for something more permanent," I sighed.
"Fix Lynnwood and it's yours," he said glibly.
"You mean it?" I asked.
"Why not? You know what it takes to run a good operation. You know the business better than anyone else, including me. It's big enough with enough potential to be one of our largest and most successful branches if it's done right. You just need to surround yourself with good people who'll do the work for you," he grinned.
"Yeah ... well ... it doesn't sound like the place is overrun with that commodity," I said sullenly.
"Fix it. Hire good people. Steal them from our competitors. Do what you have to do, or tell me we should forget it because it can't be saved."
I nodded. I'd done one of these before in our San Antonio operation. It took most of a year, but now it was one of our best performing units. The hardest part was finding the "good people."
"Who's going to replace me? Stu Cairns?" I asked.
"Yeah ... he's almost as good as you, and he's a lot younger," my brother laughed.
"Okay. Is Don expecting me?"
"Yeah, he specifically requested you. I told him you'd be there sometime this month."
I sighed once more. "No time like the present, I suppose. I'll call him and see if I can be there next Monday."
My brother smiled. He'd gotten what he wanted. The rest was on my back.
"Hello, Don. Nice to meet you at last," I said, my hand extended in greeting.
"Nice to meet you too, Gabriel. I've heard a lot of good things about you from David and your dad."
"Well, they have to, don't they? We're all family," I chuckled.
"Oh, I think I know them well enough to know they aren't just blowing smoke up my ass."
Don Nichol was now sixty-five and showing some of the wear and tear of the job on his face. He'd been one of the original managers when Black Gold had expanded from its San Francisco base to the Seattle area. Almost thirty years on the job and most of them pretty successful too.
"So, what are you going to do when you retire?" I asked.
"We've bought a motor home and Muriel and I will head south during the winter. We still love it here in the Northwest, but I much prefer sun to rain, so we're better off in Arizona when the weather turns."
"You've got a daughter in Scottsdale, don't you?"
"That's right. She's a music teacher. Gave us three grandchildren. They'll get lots of attention from us," he smiled fondly.
"Make sure you stop in and see Mom and Dad on your way. They'd be pretty hurt if you didn't," I warned gently.
"No problem. Muriel's already talked to your dad and let him know what we plan. We'll probably spend a week or so together before we move on."
"Good for you," I nodded. "How about a plant tour and I can get started learning the ropes here?"
"Sure. We'll be doing some cupping at about eleven this morning, so you can join us. It's always good to have another opinion."
"Later this afternoon, I'd like to go over the staff with you. Get an idea from you where the strengths and weaknesses are. Just between you and me, I may be taking over this operation if we can give it a boost."
"Finally going to settle down, huh?" Don smiled. "Your dad was wondering when that would happen. Your brother has a nice, cushy job at home base, so no reason you should be running all over the country fixing things and putting out fires."
"I don't know if David would agree that he's got a cushy job, but it's certainly more conducive to a stable home life," I said regretfully.
Don nodded agreement but said nothing.
"Why don't we take that tour?" Don said after a silence. "I've got a list of the people and their job descriptions ready for you, so you won't have to remember all the names right away."
"Good. Let's go."
We left his modest office and walked into a larger, open area that featured a few cubicles and two offices. Don led me to the first office.
"Gabriel Hancock, I'd like you to meet Susan Barnes, our controller. She keeps us non-financial types on the straight and narrow. Susan, Mr. Hancock will be taking over for me, at least for the near term."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Hancock," the woman said, rising and walking around her desk. "I'm Sue to everyone here."
She had a brilliant smile and a voluptuous body. But what struck me first was her color. She was the most beautiful caramel color I had ever seen on any woman. It looked as if it would shine in the sunlight. Her eyes too. They were large and expressive, a deep dark brown, almost black. Her voice was deep and silky-smooth. I guessed her age to be early forties. I must have been staring before I regained my wits.
"Hello, Sue. And I'm Gabe to everyone. Very nice to meet you."
"Thank you," she smiled again. It was a genuine and welcoming smile.
We chit-chatted for a couple of minutes and my first impression of my "financial right-hand" was good. She was incredibly attractive as well, but I could see she was all business when the conversation ended.
Our next stop was the second office in what I assumed was the accounting area.
Don knocked lightly on the door frame to announce our presence.
"Loretta Di Napoli, I'd like to introduce Gabe Hancock. He'll be my replacement for the foreseeable future."
Again, the woman rose and came around her desk to greet me. I liked the attitude of the first two people I'd met. It gave me a good feeling to start with.
"Hello, Mr. Hancock. We've been expecting you. Welcome to Lynnwood Black Gold," she smiled warmly.
"Thank you, Loretta. I hope you don't mind my being familiar, but I go by Gabe to almost everyone except our bankers," I grinned.
"Gabe it is then. And I'm Lori to everyone around here." Again, that nice, unforced smile.
"Lori is chief estimator and works closely with me and Susan to keep us profitable."
"Very important," I nodded, "and I'm pleased that you three work together. I'll be the first to admit I'm relying on you and Susan to keep me from making any serious mistakes."
Loretta was slimmer and shorter than Sue, but nonetheless, very attractive in a businesslike way. She was a brunette with a light reddish tint to her medium length hair, blue eyes, and a pale complexion. By observation, she was similar in age to Sue.
Again, after some casual conversation, we took our leave as Don led the way into another open area. Again, two small offices and several cubicles were distributed around the room. I followed Don to the office.
"Good morning, Lexi," Don said as we entered. "I'd like you to meet Gabe Hancock. He'll be taking over for me shortly. Gabe, this is Alexa Martin, our scheduler."
"Hi, Alexa," I said with a smile.
"Hi, Gabe. Call me Lexi. Everyone does." Like the other two women, she rose and came around her desk to greet me with a firm handshake. She was taller than Lori, about the same height as Sue, and her build was similar as well. Very attractive in her own right.
"Lexi it is, then," I agreed.
Once more, we chatted about the job and how many people she had to supervise. I also discovered she was responsible for scheduling the delivery trucks. There were six of them for the sales area, which sounded like more than enough.
Our next stop was the second office, where I was introduced to Janet Lapierre. Once more, I was greeted warmly and welcomed to Lynnwood Black Gold.
"Jan is really our most important sales asset," Don said, causing the woman to blush slightly. "She handles complaints, schedules deliveries, works with Lexi in scheduling and generally runs the sales department."
"Wow. That's a lot of responsibility," I said, holding back on the questions of what the sales manager did.
I liked the look of Jan. She was medium height, brunette hair cut short, blue eyes and a slim but attractive build. All four women were attractive and all were in the same age group by my guess.
As we walked into the back of the upper floor office, I saw a single office that was considerably more spacious than the others I had visited, including Don's.
"Our sales manager is out at present," Don said, trying to disguise his dissatisfaction with the situation. "I had requested that all of the key people be here for your arrival, but apparently, Walter didn't get the message."
"You don't sound very happy about that," I offered.
"I'm not. It's no more than a common courtesy and he had plenty of time to arrange his schedule. To be perfectly honest, Gabe, he's a weak link in this organization. I think Jan is doing half his job plus her own. I don't have the time or the energy to chase around wondering if he's working, but maybe you'll want to concentrate your energies there. We can do better, and I hope you can prove me right."
"Your sales are pretty flat, Don. I don't see any gains, but no losses either."
"That's just it. He's running a maintenance system. Keep what we've got, look after all his favorite customers, and don't take any risks. As the ladies will tell you, that's why we've been just plodding along in the past few years."
"Why not replace him?"
"I was about to when Dave phoned me to tell me you were coming. Not that I wanted to stick you with my dirty dishes, but I thought you would probably want to make your own assessment of the staff. Besides, he isn't the only problem employee. Our production manager, Caleb Randall, is off on extended sick leave. He's being treated for acute rheumatoid arthritis. He can barely get around anymore. The outlook isn't good," he said sadly.
"I'm sorry to hear that. I take it you don't expect him back?"
He shook his head and wore a very sad expression.
"What are you doing in the meantime?"
"Well, it's kind of a group project. Lexi and Jan are working together to keep things going. They are directing the foremen on the roasting and packaging crews. So far, we're holding things together."
"You've got quite a matriarchy here, Don," I grinned. "Those four women seem to be quite confident in their jobs. My first impression is very good. Plus, at least two of them are holding down more than one job. That's impressive."
He was nodding and smiling as I talked.
"You're right. Those four are the heart and soul of Lynnwood. Better yet, they are all good friends. If I'm looking for answers, that's where I start. They are mature, upbeat women ... all about the same age. The only mystery about them is that they are all single."
"Well, let's do a tour of the production area, then go back to your office and we can talk about what you see might be done to improve the chances for growth. We can't let the business stagnate. It won't survive. This is coffee country, so there must be opportunities. Let's talk."
After we returned from a brief look at the plant, we returned to his office with for a talk with the door closed. Although there were translucent glass panels beside the door so that anyone could see if the office was in use, Don said the closed door meant knock first and only if it was important. It was the same policy for all the other separate offices.
An hour later, we moved downstairs for cupping in the Q.A. room. A new batch of Kenyan beans had arrived and, with the inconsistent quality we had been seeing lately, we wanted to make sure the product was up to our standards. Cupping is like wine tasting. Small batches of beans were roasted, ground and brewed. Several qualified tasters would test the brews, sipping but not swallowing, and write their comments on what they found.
Later, they would compare notes to judge the quality of the product. I had participated in many such cupping exercises both for coffee and tea. Tea was a small part of our business, but we were just as concerned about quality there as with our coffees.
At one time, all cupping was done in San Francisco. But the growth of Black Gold made that impractical, and a training program was put in place to teach each branch. Anyone in the operation could form a team of three or four people to cup. In Lynnwood's case, it was Sue and Lori along with Don whom I joined that morning. The more I saw of Don's ladies, the more impressed I was. I was getting a good feeling about the potential. The problem areas appeared to be sales and production leadership.
Don and I had lunch at a small café just a few blocks from the plant. It gave me a chance to get to know him a little better. He was "old school," but that wasn't necessarily bad. He had good quality standards and ran the branch as well as he could. His problem was that he was an operations guy and I had a feeling he was being led astray by his sales manager. There was always a reason they had to meet some low price at a key account. I'd seen all this before and I knew that I was going to have to spend some time with the sales manager. I had a good background in sales and I wasn't going to be fooled.
The missing man finally made an appearance just before four that afternoon. Don went down to his office and closed the door behind him. He had a few words with Mr. Walter Trimble and the look on his face when he left gave me the impression he had given his sales manager a verbal dressing down. We met back in his office and Don explained.
"I've told him that his behavior is unacceptable, considering he would be reporting to you in the near future. I'll forgo the introduction until I'm in a better frame of mind, if that's all right with you."
"That sounds like a good idea," I said. "I can wait. Besides, I need to find a place to live. I might as well get started."
"Where are you staying now?"
"The Evergreen Suites. It'll do until I find a place."
"Why don't you follow me home tonight and let Muriel serve you a home cooked meal?"
"Thank you. I'd like that if it isn't too much trouble for Muriel."
"No, I guessed I could talk you into it, so I gave her a heads up."
I spent a pleasant early evening and shared a very nice meal with Don and Muriel Nichol. Muriel made no secret that she was counting the days before they could pack the motorhome and head for Monterey and Scottsdale. They looked like a very compatible couple, but that wasn't a surprise. They had been married thirty-nine years.
As usual, I was up early the next morning. I spent forty minutes in the hotel exercise room and then showered and dressed for the day. Black Gold wasn't a formal work environment, so a collared shirt, khakis and loafers were acceptable office wear. I declined a coffee at the hotel, guessing it wouldn't be ours. I could wait until I got to the office for something better.
Walter Trimble was at the top of my list, but he didn't put in an appearance until past eight-thirty. I was not impressed. On top of that, I got the distinct impression he was trying me on for size, even though we hadn't yet met.
"Walter, I'm Gabe Hancock. I'll be taking over for Don when he retires."
I made my entrance into his office without knocking on the open door. I stuck out my hand in a friendly gesture, but Walter looked at it, then at me before he pushed himself halfway out of his chair and took my hand limply.
"I suppose you're here to make changes," he said in a dour voice.
"Well, something needs to be done to get this branch back on track. Right now it's just sitting, going nowhere."
That must have hit a nerve, because I could see him flush with what I thought was anger.
"Maybe if production got their costs in line, we'd be better able to compete." It was a surly response.
"Possibly, but just who are we competing against? Who are our major competitors and who is the strongest?" I might as well get to the nitty gritty.
"We're just a little outfit up against the big guys. SBC and Tully's have the major share of the portion pack market. There must be twenty other little players like us trying to get a bite of that. The Hotel-Restaurant-Institutional market is saturated too. We're lucky I can get what I get. On top of that, we can't supply the new pods that are all the rage in the single cup market. If it wasn't for sales, Black Gold would just disappear."
"Really? We go up against most of those players in Portland and San Francisco and do very well. What's different here?"
That seemed to stump him momentarily. "I don't know," he said at length. "I guess they want this market more."
"So, the only issue in your mind is price, then?" I asked.
"It's the only thing that matters as far as I can tell. We need to be more aggressive if we want more business. We need to get our costs down."
"Well, that's one of the reasons I'm here. I've had some experience in getting operations up to where they can compete. It usually involves all the departments working as a team."
"Well, good luck with that," he snapped. "All I ever hear is 'we need more sales' from the others."
"I have a feeling that luck won't be the solution," I said, turning to leave.
I walked back to the accounting area and found an empty cubicle. There was no point in arguing with Walter Trimble. I'd seen his kind before. He had his mind fixed on price and couldn't ... or wouldn't ... see anything else. I needed to know what we had for sales people. My most likely reliable source was Jan.
A quick look at my watch told me that it was nearing nine o'clock and I suspected Jan was presently very busy, so I decided to set an appointment to talk to her. As I looked around, I noticed both Jan and Lexi's offices were empty. I took a guess they would be out on the floor organizing production and shipping. I found a box of disposable hair nets, put one on, and headed out to the plant floor.
My first impression was reasonably positive. The place looked fairly neat and organized. Bulk bean was in one enclosed and temperature controlled area, roasting in another, packaging in a clean area and shipping and finished goods out near the loading dock. All in all, it looked the way it should.
I got a few curious looks as I searched for the two women and found them huddled with three men in what I assumed was the shipping office. I knocked politely and entered.
"Good morning, ladies. Good morning, gentlemen," I smiled.
"Oh, Gabe," Jan said looking up. "I'm sorry, I'd forgotten about you. We're just having our morning meeting on the day's priorities."
"Don't apologize, that's far more important. I would like to sit in and listen, if that won't bother you."
"Of course. Let me introduce you," Jan said.
I was introduced to the shipper, lead foreman on packaging and lead foreman on roasting and grinding. I shook their hands and found a chair out of the way and let them get on with it. Within a few minutes I knew I was watching a very professional crew handle the day-to-day operation. I liked what I saw. Jan was the leader, with Lexi supporting her with scheduling that dovetailed with machine capability, efficiency and customer priorities. The foremen discussed issues with equipment and supplies, but in each case they had a handle on what was necessary and when it was needed.
There was a brief discussion on upcoming orders and about what materials or product would be required. I watched the foremen take notes on a pair of diaries and, once again, I liked what I saw. I noticed the shipper had responsibilities for ordering packaging materials and keeping the inventory. San Francisco ordered the supply of raw coffee bean, but that had to be managed by the local branch as well, I assumed by Lexi, but I would confirm that when I got a chance.
"I'm impressed," I said to Jan and Lexi as we walked back toward the offices. "You're very well organized and I like the cooperation I saw. Is that pretty much the normal daily meeting?"
Lexi nodded. "Yes. We all have our moments, of course. There are always going to be competing forces between efficiency and meeting customer commitments, but we all get along and work out what's best ... usually for the customer," she grinned.
I smiled and agreed. "Good. That's exactly what I want to have happen. My father has told me many times that the only reason for opening the doors in the morning is to satisfy customers. That's always the paramount goal. We still need to run efficiently too, and the two don't always mesh. How we compromise is what's important."
"Honor thy father," Jan said seriously.
"Ladies, I'd like to get together with you to discuss the operation. I need your input to gauge just what needs doing to get it going in the right direction once more. I have a couple of suspicions, but I don't want to make a wrong assumption. How could we find the time to meet?"
Lexi and Jan looked at each other, then Jan spoke.
"Our day is pretty full, Gabe. If we're going to do this properly, we don't want to be interrupted. I'd suggest either a dinner and evening meeting, or a weekend meeting."
"If you're willing to do an evening meeting with a dinner, I'm all for it," I said.
"Just one thing, though," Lexi added. "I think Sue and Lori should be included. Each of us has a different set of priorities and you need to know how they are interrelated."
"Agreed," I said immediately. "Dinner is on me and I'll make sure you get paid overtime as well."
"No need," Jan said. "We're staff and we don't get overtime. Besides, this is more important than that."
I couldn't help but smile. My original thoughts on these women were accurate. Don was right. They were the heart and soul of the operation.
"Will Sue and Lori be okay with that?" I asked.
"They'd be upset if they weren't included," Jan said. "To tell the truth, we were going to ask you for a private meeting anyway. We've been talking about what should happen when Don retires. Lynnwood needs a kick in the ass ... pardon my language. I'm hoping you can support what we think needs doing."
"Well, you've got my undivided attention so far," I acknowledged. "I'll let you decide when it's convenient to meet, as long as it's not too far in the future."
"How about tonight?" Jan said with sly smile.
I shrugged. "If it's not inconvenient for you and we can find a private room, I'm good with that."
"Sooner is better, Gabe," said Lexi. "If there's only the five of us and you are staying at the Evergreen Suites, we could use your hotel for the dinner. They have a couple of small conference rooms. I'll bet we could get one of those on short notice."
"Okay, Lexi. I'll call the hotel and arrange the room and make a dinner reservation. What time would work for you ladies?"
"Six o'clock, no later," Jan said. "It could take us a while."
"Six o'clock it is," I agreed.
We split up and I headed for Don's office to let him know what was happening.
"Didn't take you long to get in the saddle," Don grinned. "Good for you, Gabe. That group will give you the lowdown on what's what. I won't try and tell you my views until after you've talked to them. Then, you and I should sit down and compare notes. I have a pretty good idea of what they think, so I doubt I'll get many surprises."
"I'm pleased they're anxious to get going. They were planning to talk to me about their thoughts anyway. You and I'll get together tomorrow and I'll fill you in."