A TV VP who jumped up the corporate ladder finds out that the HR head is on to him. 2,399 words. Part One. Story and illustration by Mark Fearing.
Pulling into the Conglom Worldwide Entertaindom garage the next morning, the newly self-promoted Vice President of Domestic Television Production, Original Programming and New Material noticed his freshly painted name on the wall. The first floor parking spot was carpeted on this level, which made it nicer than Bruce Walker’s living room.
He rode the elevator with Stacy, the head of HR on the fifth floor.
“Bruce, I see the parking spot was taken care of.”
“Yes, thanks so much for your help.”
“Well, that’s my job. To be there for the employees. It just amazes me that your promotion was issued so quickly,” Stacy pressed.
“I told you it went through a month ago. Took that long for it to get on the phone list.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Stacy disputed. “If it happened a month ago, I’d have received an Executive Assistant Jobs Posting, something that can only come from the Heaven floors. I have only one from last month and your assistant wasn’t on it.”
Bruce knew to never trust HR. They may say they are on your side, but they know who pays the bills for those holiday parties and open bars.
“Well, I’d already requested Brandon in my contract,” Bruce replied. “Jeez, if they’d posted my assistant’s job, I could ended up with some Harvard MBA go on and on about how beautiful Cambridge is in the fall.”
Stacy stared straight ahead. She wasn’t going for it. She was up to something. Bruce took another tack.
“Anyway, Brandon is such a great guy. You know who his uncle is, right?”
Stacy tightened her lips and narrowed her eyes. She looked like a large, angry fish contemplating the worm and hook dangling before her.
“Yes, of course I know who his uncle is,” she said.
Bruce smiled. Because everyone wants to pretend they know everything. Playing the uncle card was a good maneuver, even though Bruce knew that Brandon’s uncle was a Toyota dealer in Culver City. Stacy now was no doubt worried that Brandon’s uncle was Steven Spielberg.
The garage elevator spilled Stacy and Bruce into the lobby. They waved to Cathy and made for the inner office door. As Bruce headed for his new office, Stacy had one more trick up her sleeve for him.
“Have a good day, Bruce,” she chortled. “I’m sure it will be a tough one for you with your new boss Mr. Davis passing and all.”
Bruce stopped cold. Stacy continued, “Oh, you didn’t hear? HR was told first. It should be in the trades online now.”
Bruce felt like throwing up. When he’d given himself the promotion to VP a day ago, he’d picked Mr. Archibald Davis, the President and Chief Creative Development Executive for Comedy and Drama, as his direct superior because Archie was a hundred and something years old and never left his Beverly Hills estate to come into the office anymore. The idea that Mr. Davis would die had never occurred to Bruce until now.
Stacy continued; “I requested a copy of the updated personnel files from the Heaven floors. I should have them by mid-morning. You may have to stop by to sign the duplicate copies. But I still don’t have any paperwork confirming your new job title or your additional resource staffing or your company credit card. Every VP gets a Gold Card, as you already know.”
Bruce smiled. What choice did he have?
Brandon was dutifully seated in the assistant’s area outside Bruce’s new corner office. “There’s a latte on your desk, Mr. B. I’ve been taking calls all morning for you. Even your private line is going crazy.”
Bruce looked at his computer screen: “End Of The Arch” said one headline. “The Archie Davis Days Are Done,” read another.
Bruce noticed he had voicemails. Five were calls from other development people wishing him well. More were from people he didn’t know and which he deleted as fast as he could, often after only a few words.
Then An unfamiliar voice came on.
“Bruce Walker? Paul Liebowitz here. I reported directly to Mr. Davis. We are planning a floor-by-floor ceremony, I guess I’d call it, to offer up our respects to Archie. I’ve been told he selected you to work on his new multiplatform content initiative and I’d love you to say a few words about him and maybe lead us in more than just a few minutes of silence in his honor. Afterwards, I’d like you to meet with my EVP colleague Jim Moan and me to talk about the project. We’ll be there around 11:30.”
Bruce listened to the message again and again and one more time to stop his head from pounding. Were they on to him? Had Stacy leaked her suspicions? Was Bruce about to be force-fed a huge helping of dork pie?
Bruce called Brandon asking him to close the door.
“Look, Brandon. I have to tell you something.”
“Do you need help with the 11:30 thing?”
Bruce winced. “How do you know about that?”
“Email just hit, saying that at 11:30 the EVPs will be coming down from Heaven and you’re going to say a few inspirational words about Mr. Davis. It’s cool that they’re relying on you to hit this out of the park.”
Bruce couldn’t move his arms or legs. He rocked forward a bit trying to look normal. An unintentional, barely perceptible, emitted from his mouth. He had an hour to prepare his speech. Bruce realized he needed to work hard to pull this off. He didn’t bother reading any email. He started looking up everything about Archie Davis on the Internet.
Born into generations of Massachusetts lobstermen, his father’s family were the first to ship lobster across the country in the early part of the twentieth century. In order to do this, they built their own railroads and later sold them to Henry Huntington and then joined him in moving west. “Little Archie” as he was called in the 1920s took to using his mother’s maiden name after making investments in unsavory entertainment where he’d jumped into TV and saw its potential before anyone else. He made the tubes, created the cabinets, financed the programming and conquered vertical integration. After that, all he focused on was adding to his wealth with investments in oil, arms and insurance. He was on the board of thirty corporations, many in the Fortune 100, when he died.
Bruce looked at his notes. They read like a fifth grader’s report on some dead guy. Archie’s ridiculously arrogant quotes befitting the one-percenter he was from his first breath to his last didn’t help: “I believe that the lower classes offer ample opportunity for commercial exploitation. Once this capital is moved into the hands of those of a more refined taste, the dollars take on added significance and weight in creating a better standard of expectation for the ruling class.”
Everything else revolved around disclosures of earnings, values of assets and acquisition targets that could be easily dismantled. Archie did have a fondness for the show Magnum P.I. filmed on his estate in Hawaii.
Bruce’s door burst open as Stacy galloped in with Brandon in hot pursuit. Bruce had only seen Stacy this amped up once before. When someone had stolen the Justin Bieber standee from the main lobby.
“Look, Mr. New Vice President, I know what you are up to. I don’t know who is helping you but all your personnel paperwork is missing. I don’t have any of it. But I did get this email from Heaven’s Promotion, Retention, Absorption Department…”
Stacy read aloud. “We have no record of a promotion being issued for a Bruce Walker, but it may have come from New York…”
Brandon interrupted them. “Cathy called. They’re here!”
Two broad shouldered men stepped into the office. Stacy froze. Bruce stood up. “Bruce, nice to meet you. I’m Paul Liebowitz and this is Jim Moan. We’ve heard good things about you.”
Bruce walked out from behind his desk. He expected a five-dollar tip when he put out his hand, just like during his valet days at Trader Vic’s.
“Nice to meet you Mr. Liebowitz and Mr. Moan. I’m sorry it has to be under such sad circumstances,” said Bruce looking sufficiently sad.
Paul took the lead. “Bruce, let’s get this underway. I think the staff is ready. You talk first, then we’ll talk and then we’re off to LAX.”
Bruce’s throat was dry, his tongue thick. As he cleared his throat, Stacy cut in front and whispered, “I’ll be talking with you when this is over.”
All 130 employees of the fifth floor were gathered in the atrium. Everyone straightened up when they saw Mr. Liebowitz and Mr. Moan walk to the front with Bruce close behind. Stacy stood just off to the side.
Paul thanked them for gathering to honor “Uncle Archie, as I knew him” while everyone wagged their heads knowingly. Bruce was almost collapsing as he was about to deliver the eulogy for a man he’d never met and with that man’s nephew standing right beside him.
Mr. Moan teared-up on cue. “That’s enough from us. You don’t want to hear from the talking heads on the top floors. I’d like to turn this over to Bruce, recently been promoted by Archie who was looking for fresh talents and new directions, so many we couldn’t keep up with them.”
Bruce noticed the room was spinning. He looked out at the expectant faces and took a short forced breath and started.
"I didn’t know Mr. Davis." A murmur chased around the room. "What I mean is, who can really say they knew Mr. Archie Davis? There was so much to know." Heads wagged in agreement. “Every day was a surprise to me. “I mean, Mr. Davis was so important to me it’s hard to get distance. A man who could, on the one hand, create a popular game show and on the other reduce his overhead by mov all post-production to the tiny republic of Togo.” Everyone looked a bit confused.
"But he always had an interest in new entertainment properties and thus making more money.” Knowing smiles and pleasant laughs filled the room. "This powerful man lived his last few precious years in Beverly Hills in a kind of self-imposed seclusion. But, maybe, Archie wasn’t hiding from us." Bruce had to wrap this up. "Maybe we’d been hiding from Archie. He was a very rich man who really loved money. And, by loving money, what he was really doing was loving us."
The room was silent. Mr. Liebowitz and Mr. Moan smiled at Bruce.
“And let’s not forget how much he loved Hawaii and his most favorite show, Magnum P.I.” Bruce wiped sweat from his eyes and had a final inspiration. “So let’s have a few minutes of silence to remember Archie Davis, the mogul who put the gross in gross operating-profit.”
When it was over, everyone stopped by to shake Bruce’s hand and exchange solemn congratulations. Mr. Liebowitz and Mr. Moan waited until the atrium emptied as Stacy pushed her way inbetween the three men. Bruce wasn’t sure what he should do next. He decided to be polite.
“Jim and Paul, this is Stacy. She’s head of HR here on the fifth floor.”
This caught Stacy off guard. She smiled and shifted side to side with the incriminating email under her arm. They all greeted one another.
“Good thing you are here, Stacy. You need to hear this discussion. But let’s walk and chat,” said Paul. "It’s good to know that Archie was still finding sharp young men like you, Bruce, to make things happen."
Stacy tried to interrupt, but Paul cut her off.
"Yes, Bruce, it’s good to have you here and I promise, you can expect more than just a two-year commitment from us. I heard about the paperwork getting misplaced and I apologize. To make up for it, we’d like to give you on a five-year contract, Mr. Executive Vice President."
Stacy stammered. But before she could say anything, Paul looked at her and said, “This time you heard about Bruce’s newest promotion directly from us, so the HR issues will be taken care of. Right, Stacy?”
Stacy thought about protesting. But instead she meekly said, “Yes.”
Bruce thanked them. They promised that this promotion would be announced shortly and the contracts settled quickly calling for the entire new media initiative to start reporting to him. With that, the EVPs headed back to Heaven. Stacy took the email out from under her arm, crumpled it and tossed it into a nearby wastebasket.
“Congratulations, Bruce. Just let me know if I can help you with anything,” she murmured. And, with that, she headed back to her office.
Cathy was sitting at the reception desk and put the phone console on auto. "Bruce, that was really nice what you said about Mr. Davis. And, congrats on two promotions in one week."
"Thanks, Cathy. Things seem to be moving fast."
“I think I’ll wait to send out that announcement this time." Cathy looked at Bruce, her eyes were focused and alert. "You know, I sent your last promotion too quickly to the trades. I’d never done that before.”
Bruce glanced around the lobby to make sure they were alone.
"You were the one who sent my promotion to the trades?"
"Oh, don’t tell me that upset you? I had a feeling all you needed was an opportunity. I’m sure it was better I sent it than wait for a note from HR that probably would never have come."
Cathy’s smile filled the room.
"No problem, Bruce. You were always so nice to me, so willing to stop and talk. And now it’s great to see a nice guy like you succeed. I always try and help the nice ones. Hey, I have a few scripts you should check out. I do a lot more than just sit here and transfer phone calls."
“Bring them in and I will read them. Personally.”
“Great,” said Cathy. “And keep your eye on Stacy. A few inner-office envelopes that she sent and were addressed to her have gone missing. I swear I had them here this morning… But who knows where they ended up.”
Bruce laughed. “Hard to know where anything or anyone ends up.”