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Belt

I feel that I have finally arrived at the right place with this chapter after ten very long months of discussion, reading, researching, and writing. This chapter begins with a minor character who I introduced at the very end of Chapter 03. I would like to thank my editor. In the last few months, she has been a great help in the editing process and a sounding board for new story ideas. Finally, thank you to my readers for reading this—the solid, very final chapter of The Wrong Thing to Do.

*

Manhattan’s Central Park buzzed with youthful activity as lucky New Yorkers, momentarily spared the duties of adulthood, took advantage of the freedom-filled summer day. The cool gentle breeze amplified the warmth of the clear baby blue sky as Scarlett Tanagers and Yellow Warblers chirped their singsong tunes to reflective souls below.

The allure of the bright mid-August afternoon had passed Catherine Porter by again. Her days slipped quickly by now and as usual this day was turning into another one with a duty-bound night. However, after tonight’s board meeting, she anticipated that the limitless alcohol and potential for carnal indulgence at the philanthropic gala of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the “Met,” would provide some relief from her hectic schedule.

Today Catherine’s morning was an average one for her as she awoke at dawn. With boundless energy and a cup of java in hand, she was escorted by bodyguards from her condo’s lobby to one of the awaiting corporate Escalades.

It had been well before sunrise as four conspicuous black Cadillacs zoomed purposely toward lively awakening Midtown. Like every other morning following her eleven PM day-enders, Catherine returned to work at five am with the four SUVs turning onto Sixth Avenue and rolling to a stop inside the executive garage of the towering behemoth known officially as Number Seven, Bryce Plaza.

The promotion had been sharp and sudden, like the heart attack that had cleared the path to her new position. Two months previously, Catherine had taken command of the Bryce Corporation as its new Chief Executive Officer and Chairwoman following John Bryce’s heart attack and subsequent comatose state.

Mark Bryce, the young billionaire who inherited the entire privately held Bryce Corporation on his twenty-second birthday, made Catherine’s appointment. Heart attack or not, the company and the Bryce family’s historic wealth would have been bestowed on Mark, who would have given his proxy to his father. Before she died, Mark’s mother had made sure that her family’s wealth would be left only to her son and not to her distrusted husband, John Bryce, who under pressure from her father, had adopted his wife’s family name and signed a ball-clamping prenuptial agreement.

Don’t be fooled. With a salary that had the potential for Catherine to amass great personal wealth and a powerful platform to effect deep global change, Catherine’s position is one many men would kill for.

In June Catherine had been in the right place at the right time. Through the decision of a twenty-two year old heir, she was rocketed to the sixty-ninth floor where she now occupied the captain’s chair.

In her first few days at the helm it appeared as if the Bryce Corporation ran Catherine instead of her running it. Within a week of her appointment, she quickly adjusted to her new role. Her style had proved to be gentler and more reasoned whereas John Bryce’s style had been unsympathetically blunt.

She was a long-term player who knew her opponents’ movements long before they did.

Catherine had studied industrial engineering, unlike her colleagues and the man she had replaced who possessed an MBA. She carried in her mind an intimate knowledge of all the corporation’s moving parts, which enabled her to fine-tune the whole. She looked at problem solving from every angle, knowing that one relatively minuscule decision could have a domino effect.

In the end Catherine’s affinity for detail and her analytical mind helped grow the Bryce Corporation’s financial standing during troubling economic times.

Spending all of her time in the head office was rare though. A great deal of Catherine’s time was spent travelling. But let’s not confuse this with anything fun, though, because every blinking second was still work dedicated.

In two months she had seen more of the world than a National Geographic photographer. To put the UN to shame, Catherine had effectively negotiated with more heads of governments than Kofi Annan.

From negotiations at London’s 10 Downing Street, Moscow’s Kremlin, and China’s Great Hall—to being the first CEO to take the podium at Davos where she made the keynote address—Catherine’s Euro-Asia swing was simply a scaled-down picture of the hectic schedule associated with her new title.

Compared to the hundreds of other CEO speeches at Davos, Catherine’s was the most anticipated. Pundits and reports the world over followed that commented on her youthfulness and beylikdüzü escort the possible fallout of her naivety and its ambitious vision.

She was an unknown to the business community. Indirectly, her promotion had affected the world markets more than the politicking of any world leader in the weeks following her appointment.

On top of all this Catherine had cracked the heel of her favorite beige Valentino’s while dashing for a plane in Delhi. She’d momentarily forgotten that the jet was there for her, and seeing her entourage swarm to keep her balanced was a reminder of her new station.

During her term as junior Vice President of Operations, she had witnessed the large-framed John Bryce time after time bring down the full weight of his position from the very throne which she now occupied. Some of the largest companies in recent history had met their match in this very boardroom and just over a month ago Catherine herself had been the arbiter of such a hostile fate.

Lintex Computers Inc., once one of the world’s largest technology companies, had outsourced the manufacturing of its hardware to the Bryce Corporation until a defect occurred that created the need for the largest computer recall in history.

Lintex quickly entered bankruptcy protection where their executives promptly blamed Bryce. Bryce General Counsel, in its investigation ordered by Catherine, found the blame to be a flawed design of Lintex’s.

During her first week at the helm, Catherine turned a situation that could have seen the Bryce Corporation lose billions into a deal that saw Bryce acquiring a humbled technological force for what amounted to be pennies on the dollar. At present, Catherine sat in the regal Bryce boardroom with its aged splendor and chestnut walls. Sitting in the center of the endless table was a strategic position as she maneuvered around the delicate male egos that weighed against her.

Catherine sat upright, denying her spine the luxurious support of the decadent leather armchair. This was her ship to captain and protect from the terrors of the deep, cold, dark ocean. She couldn’t afford to be distracted by indulgences and was focused and on point as always, knowing that any sign of weakness would cause the old boys to pounce.

Her eyes never left George Hollis. Catherine knew if she wasn’t vigilant he could be the end of her. “Profits for this quarter are up sharply; however, the acquisition of Lintex Computers will drive up our overall operating expenses due to the initial capital infusion we’re using to overhaul Lintex. They have about one hundred and twenty thousand employees. I know I originally planned on only cutting thirty percent of their workforce, but it’ll need to be more.”

Catherine struck the mahogany table causing the room to fall silent. With her keen focus on the sharply dressed balding older man sitting directly opposite her, she asked, “Thirty percent, George? I thought we decided on ten. What is this?”

George Hollis relaxed his torso into his plush chair, his posture showcasing his lack of respect for the woman across from him. “You may think this company can’t go into the red. Yeah, we netted six billion this quarter, but…look, I’m the CFO and it’s my job to make sure the quarterly profits rise. I changed the numbers; so shoot me.”

“No, George. Your job is to assist me as I drive profits while balancing our commitment to the owner, our customers, our employees, and the communities we operate in! We bought Lintex out of bankruptcy for less than ninety-five percent of its average trading value; plus, you see the strong numbers it’s already projecting. What you need to do is watch your tone. We’ll discuss this privately after—”

Masked hatred and contempt began to appear on George’s face. “Your naivety continues to astound me. Purchasing Lintex was a bush-league move that continues to cost me precious capital.”

Catherine began speaking from the diaphragm, her voice firm as she gave him one last chance. “George, you need to step out,” she said, thrusting her frame in his direction.

Ignoring her, Hollis blazed onward. “We could have gotten it for far less and forced them to make concessions on pensions.” He paused, making a loud grinding sound with his teeth. “The President asks you to save the economy…and you bend over like a bitch in heat!”

Other than Catherine there were no other women in the boardroom. With disbelief in their eyes the male executives verbally rejected Hollis’s comments, the room exploding into chaos as some tried to be chivalrous in the face of pigheadedness.

The first person to respond was seated at the furthest end of the table. Square-jawed William Mitchel, a young junior Vice President who had twice been declared bachelor of the year by GQ, jumped to rebuff Hollis. At thirty-four, William was the only one at the table that even neared Catherine in age.

Prior to this incident, most at the table büyükçekmece escort had grown to genuinely like Catherine. The others that didn’t, having witnessed her economic and organizational acumen, had been forced to at least accept her—all except for Hollis who believed she was sitting in his chair.

She had proven herself a worthy manager. Love her or hate her everyone had grown to respect Catherine, except for George Hollis who believed the CEO position was rightfully his.

He had actually gone crying to Mark Bryce about it multiple times, getting the same response from Mark after every intrusion. “I know you were good friends with my dad, but Catherine remains in charge. She’s proven herself.”

As chaos ensued Catherine rose to her feet, walking over to a side table and pouring herself a tall glass of water. She smelled the roses that lined the table, smiling inwardly. She had finally found a way to fire Hollis. Even though Mark gave her full autonomy, until now she had reasoned that firing his comatose father’s good friend would not go over well.

George Hollis had given her what she needed: just cause and sympathy from her executive board. In a discreet move she picked up the phone, made a call, and then calmly walked back to the table.

She said nothing and the room fell silent until George Hollis broke it. “Everybody clear the room for Catherine and me.”

The executives began to rise until Catherine chimed in. “This executive meeting is not over. Anyone who is not in their seats in two seconds can surrender their access cards to the front desk on their way out!” The mood quickly tensed as Catherine continued with the meeting, ignoring George Hollis. Those at the table were confused as they listened to their chief.

“Look, we need to restructure our different divisions—creating uniformed synergy—to shield us from an unpredictable economy. If a division operating in an industry is not dominant, and its track record and reason dictates it won’t be, we will move out of that industry completely.” The room grew deeper into eerie silence as the game-changing announcement was made. “We need to consolidate under the umbrella of our strengths and that is our core divisions of Defense, Natural Resources, Pharmaceuticals, Technology, and Infrastructure. That’s the big picture. We cleave off all the left-over fat.”

George Hollis held his tongue for the moment. Even if he had intended to do something, he wouldn’t have a chance. Eight uniformed Bryce building security officers marched into the boardroom.

As the security officers walked in, Catherine kept speaking as though nothing unusual was happening. Security positioned themselves behind George Hollis, whispering a command to him at which point the large balding man exploded into incoherent rage.

“You bitch. You’re firing me? Do you know who I am? I’m gonna slit your fucking throat!” he yelled, spraying spit with his fuming words. Security restrained him as he prepared to lunge for Catherine. “You’re dead…fucking dead…you hear me, cunt?” George’s hands began flailing about and his eyes went wildly wide. Security quickly restrained the struggling elderly executive and dragged him out kicking and threatening.

With George now removed, Catherine stood the course unfazed and determined to use her newfound capital. “Our objective should be to invest heavily in our expertise to become number one in those sectors. Owning a fourth-rate television network, studio, and a chain of accident-prone amusement parks does not make for common-sense strategy. We can do the profitable thing while creating sustainable American jobs and in turn reignite economies the world over.”

The room stood silent until William Mitchel raised his hand like a kindergartener. Catherine glanced at him. “I second the motion. I only watch NBC during the Olympics anyway and they still screw that up. It’s a shithole money pit. Let’s dump it.” The room chuckled at Mitchel’s ice-breaking remark. They were now solidly behind Catherine who had been waiting to make that play at George Hollis for a while. When the meeting ended, she went around the room accepting shocked apologies as the old man’s club voiced their approval of the unanimous removal of their colleague.

Catherine gave William special thanks and a visual once-over before she left the boardroom feeling invigorated. Clair Smith, her Chief of Staff, shot toward her. “What happened with security?”

“George Hollis is no longer our Chief Financial Officer.”

“Ma’am…I mean Ms. Porter…I don’t understand—” Just this week Catherine had won a personal battle with Clair. At thirty-five, Catherine didn’t feel ‘ma’am’ to be suitable.

“It’s the darndest thing. He just up and quit.” Catherine walked toward the confines of her office but avoided actually entering it, afraid she would never leave tonight if she did.

As she approached the reserved special elevator near her office, her cevizli escort second shadow appeared. The tall man in a suit followed behind her staying the agreed ten-foot distance. Since becoming CEO Catherine was guarded twenty-four-seven. Allen gave her the wide berth she requested, making sure all his men did the same.

Allen along with Clair followed Catherine into the elevator. Challenging the parameters of their arrangement, Catherine asked, “Do you really need to be in the elevator with me? Other than the washroom it’s the only time I feel I’m truly alone. You too, Clair. What am I saying? For all I know you guys probably have tiny cameras in my pillows.”

“No,” Allen abruptly replied.

“No, what? I need more than one word.”

“No, we don’t have cameras in your pillows…not anymore.”

Catherine couldn’t tell if Allen was joking or not. In two months she had never heard him make a joke nor even seen him smile. Even with his burst of dry humor, he failed to smile even now. She squinted her eyes as Clair, laughing, said what she’d entered the elevator to say. “Catherine, tomorrow morning you’re flying to Santa Clara, California, to meet with the new executive team at Lintex.”

“I haven’t forgotten.”

“I’ve reserved the Boeing 787 from the BFO,” Clair said, speaking of the Bryce flight office, “because the next day you’re in—”

“Melbourne, I remember that, too, Clair.”

“If you keep doing this I won’t have a job…just hush and listen.” Catherine smiled at Clair’s first attempt at firmness.

“You’re meeting with the head of our Australian mining division and then touring a new mining facility—”

“Add William Mitchel to my executive traveling team.”

“Isn’t he a bit junior?”

“Yes,” Catherine said with a telling smile.

“Hmm, GQ’s never going to know this to share it so I’ll give you the inside scoop.” Clair whispered to Catherine with the hiss of intrigue.

“What? Is he gay or something?” Catherine asked jokingly.

Clair gave her a look.

“No!” Catherine said with a disappointed, shocked face while Allen’s remained steely.

“I took a look at his Section Nine file that documents the multiple times he’s traveled to our Bangkok office,” Clair said with emphasis.

“Well, he could be bisexual—”

“He likes to get dicked hard by chicks with dicks; you can look at the pictures and judge for yourself. To me, it seems that he likes them huge,” Clair said, making hand shapes the size of a coke can, her fingers detailing the length of a foot.

“Christ, Clair, does Bryce Security spy on all our executives?” Allen’s face still remained unmoved.

“It’s not Bryce Security; it’s not really even Bryce Corporate Intelligence. Like I said, Section Nine provides dossiers on select executives.”

“I’ve never supported continuing Section Nine. The only executive file I’ve ever wanted is George Hollis’s and they tell me it doesn’t exist.” Catherine told herself that by the end of the month Section Nine would be history. “So, William Mitchell, huh?”

“Yup,” declared Clair.

Catherine looked into the reflective mirrored wall of the elevator and let her shoulder-length brown hair free; looking to her left in the mirror she could see Allen. He was rather handsome she thought. At six-foot-five he was almost a foot taller than her. As she thought this she caught Allen’s eyes returning her glances, but she knew he hadn’t seen hers. The interplay had been lost on Clair who stood next to her Chief.

One thing Catherine knew for sure was that she intended to enjoy herself at the Met gala tonight.

Having crossed all her t’s, Clair exited the elevator alone into the stadium-sized limestone lobby, Walter Bryce’s iconic eighteenth century locomotive displayed at its center. An iron statue of the Anglo-Saxon man, clad in his three-piece scrubs, stood next to the steam engine that once allowed a small railway to grow from the transporter of oil to the owner of it. From railways to oil, the iconic steam locomotive stood as the past catalyst and current symbol for the ever-evolving Bryce behemoth.

Seconds after Clair, Catherine exited the elevator into the executive parking garage, stepping from the elevator right into the cabin of a conspicuous black Escalade. Having made the journey to her condo and then back out again nearly an hour later, four Escalades slowed, stopping in front of the red carpet that streamed down the mile-long steps of the mighty white pillared Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Catherine’s passenger door swung open at the hand of Allen. He guided Catherine with care as her three-inch silver Manolos touched the crimson path, his mind thinking what his lips dare not utter. Soon he melted into the invisible line that was her security detail.

Flashing cameras flickered like manic eyelids capturing Catherine’s frame-hugging, custom-made scarlet Nicole Miller gown.

As reporters swarmed around her, eight tuxedoed shadows repelled the incursion and ushered Catherine out of the public eye.

Within seconds of entering the main gallery Clair took to Catherine’s side, whispering the names of the powerful attendees into her ear. Violinists harped away with soothing tunes that coalesced with the champagne and lowered the inhibitions of the room’s heavy wallets.

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