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“It says right here that this is the way we are supposed to do it. Not the way you’re showing us. I need for you to back away from the equipment and let me do it my way. That’s what is going to work,” Elton grumbled. Mac wondered if he found Stormy and asked her to shoot this man, if she would do it. Of course she would, he thought. And would smile while doing it. “You can’t tell me that your way is better when I know better. You’re just trying to mess things up for me.” “Oh, but I can and I am. There is nothing saying that we can’t improve on the way this line is run. And this way, the way that you’ve been doing it up until now, is why this business is losing money. And losing money is the best way for them to close down and for you to be out of a job.” The man only huffed at him, pointing out yet again that the instructions said that his way was the most efficient way. “Yes, it might have been, fourteen years ago when you had this equipment put in. But short of putting in an entire new work line, you’re going to have to trust me on this. I know better.” “So you say, but I’m under the opinion that you don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know why you were hired in the first place. You know nothing about this production line, and as soon as I can convince my bosses—and I will—that you have this all screwed up, we’re going to go back to doing it the correct way anyway.” Mac stood up straighter and felt his cat run along his skin. “You can get huffy with me all you want, but I know what is best for this company. I’ve been working here since their father opened the doors, and I’ll be working here long after they’re bored with it and go about their business.” Mac said nothing, but moved away from the man as he pulled out his phone. He had to talk to someone who was reasonable, and dialed the first number on his phone. When Storm answered, he had to smile. From the sound of her voice, she wasn’t having any better of a time than he was. “Did you know that when you put a box on the line that there are all kinds of infrared lights that can read not only what’s in the box, but even where the fuck it’s supposed to be going? That the system is specifically made to do just that?” He told her he did, as a matter of fact. “Well, smart ass, did you know why it’s not working here at Ship It? The reason why we were called in to fix it?” “The machines aren’t calibrated? The lights are too bright around it to let it be read properly? There are any number of reasons for it not to work.” She snorted at him, something that he’d come to love about her. It conveyed so much, her snort. “Why is it not working at Ship It?” “They turned it off. I mean, like they just went to the line, tore out all the wiring, and then turned it off at the computer system when it kept telling them that it didn’t work. Not only that it wasn’t working, but also exactly where it wasn’t working. And now you have to ask me why they would turn off a multimillion dollar piece of very important equipment when they advertise that that’s what they use to get your packages to you on time?” He started to laugh, telling her he had no idea. “It didn’t
match their uniform shirts that they’re required to wear when they work. The red—and this is no fucking lie—the red clashed so badly with the orange shirts that the owner’s daughter complained. Because she picked the color and hated the way it looked when the boxes went by. How fucking stupid do you have to be? I’m not kidding you. It’s a good thing you made me leave my gun at my house when you sent me here. Otherwise, we’d be calling in the big time lawyers that I’d need for a lawsuit. Someone would have been dead about ten minutes ago. What’s up with you? Did you tell them what they have to do to improve their work situation?” “Pretty much the same thing you’re running into there. This guy in charge while the family is still learning the ropes said that his way is right because that’s the way they’ve been doing it for years. I’m pretty sure that this guy doesn’t even own a computer or a smart phone. It wasn’t the way he was raised or some shit.” Mac moved to his temporary office at the plant and began gathering his things. Time to meet up with the family soon, and he had to get back home anyway. “I’m going to take the next flight out after I get finished with the family. If they want us to come here again, it’s going to be when that guy is gone. Or they’re fucked.” “Good luck. And don’t forget about tomorrow. I have that meeting with my attorneys and you have to sign the paperwork on the building we’re buying there.” He nodded, then told her he’d be there. “Also, my friend is going to start working tomorrow, too, full-time. If you have a minute, go by the Home Cooking and see if she’s settling in all right for me. Riordan and I won’t be home until day after tomorrow, as we have to swing by the White House for a minute.” He thought of that. Swing by the White House like it was right on the way home from the grocery. Stormy would even be able to go on up to the family residence once she was there, and hell, more than likely she and Riordan would be having dinner there with the president, and maybe even a drink or two. “I’ll take care of it for you on this end. Where am I meeting the attorneys for the building? And I can’t tell you again how much I hate that you’ve done this. I could have just gotten a loan for it on my own. You didn’t have to buy it for the shop I have in mind.” She snorted again and he smiled. “I wonder if when you have children that’ll be their answer to everything you ask them, too.” “More than likely. But since your mom and dad are telling me now that they’re going to be baby-sitting every chance they get, I’m pretty sure that your mom will get them out of the habit. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to not tell them to do it around her as much as they can. You know, just for fun.” Mac didn’t doubt that for a single minute. Mac had to meet with the new owners of one of the oldest toy firms in the downtown area of Atlanta. They’d been shipping out retro toys for the last several decades, getting them cheaply and helping fill a lot of stores opening up with their new line. But they were behind in their shipment dates, so much so that they’d called him to see what was wrong with their line. It only took him ten minutes of working the line to know what the problem was. But Mac had worked for the two weeks he said he would. The bottle neck in the entire operations was due to one man.
He was shown to the office of Byron and Noreen Stokes as soon as he entered the building. “We were hoping to see you before you left. I understand that you’ve been working on getting our lines right. I hope it wasn’t too much trouble for you.” Byron smiled at him. “Elton Coltrane called a few minutes ago. He said that you’d left there in a huff and that he didn’t think you’d figured out anything. I’m pretty sure that you’d be a little more professional than just leaving when you couldn’t find what was wrong. I’m sure you tried.” “Is that what Elton told you? That I didn’t find anything wrong?” Bryon looked at his sister and then back at him, nodding. “I see. Well, I am a professional, as you said, but if you have some time, I’d like to go over my findings with you.” “Of course.” Mac was led to a large conference room with a table big enough for his family to have dinner at. Noreen was the younger of the two siblings, but Mac knew that she was the one with the business sense while her brother was the one with the big ideas. Which blended well with the two of them. She’d also been the one to talk to him all those weeks ago. He handed them both the printouts that he’d brought with him. “I want you to know that I’m impressed with your line of product and your pricing system. The receiving department is top-notch as well. The way you bring in the goods and catalog them means that anyone coming into this building can pull up a number for the product and go right to the warehouse to find where it is. You have a good team of inventory control as well.” Noreen said that her father had always been a stickler for keeping things organized. “It shows in your work here. The line is good. A little outdated, but will run you for a few more years before I would recommend that you replace it. I would suggest that you put in a labeling system that also runs your lines. That way when you have a box go to the store, you can be assured that that’s where it went.” “Why do I think that the ‘but’ you’re about to tell us is going to be costly?” Mac told him not at all. “The way that Elton talked, you were disappointed in the way things were going here and that he thought you were going to tell us it was a lost cause. He seemed to think that you were under the impression that we should just close up and be done with the entire thing. We can’t do that, if that’s what you’re going to say. Our father built this company on nothing but a handshake. If we can make it work, that’s what we’ll do.” “I see. You paid me to give you the truth. And I think, in detail, you were told that I’m a man that seldom beats around the bush about things. And if you can’t handle that, we won’t be able to work together, correct?” Again the two of them looked at each other before nodding. “All right then…you want this company to prosper and continue to be a viable company, then fire Elton. I mean, not tomorrow or next week, but today, this minute.” “Really? Elton? I mean, I know that he’s sort of set in his ways, but he’s been working with us since Dad died. Seriously, I don’t think we could have gotten this far without him. And I know that my dad thought a great deal of him. I mean, he did have
his issues with him, but he’s been working here for all of our lives.” Mac nodded. “I don’t even know if we can fire him. I mean, he and Dad were good friends, and he’s been at all our birthday parties since…. I’m sorry, Mr. Harrison, but I think you should reconsider that suggestion. He’s a good man and works very hard.” “Fine.” Mac stood up and gathered his things, including the paperwork that he’d given them. As he was putting everything back into his briefcase, he told them what he was going to do. “There won’t be any charge for me coming here other than expenses, and my secretary will see that you’re given a full accounting of—” “Wait. I mean…you’re just going to stop there? You’re not going to suggest anything else for us? You were there for two weeks. Surely you had to have found the real reason for our production lines to go so slowly.” Mac told them he had, it was Elton. “You mean to tell me that one man, a single man, is responsible for us losing sixty-four percent of our production time line?” “No.” Mac pulled on his jacket and picked up his things. He could tell that they were relieved, but it was going to be short lived as soon as he spoke again. He almost hated to tell them. “Elton is responsible for eighty-six percent of your slow down. And if he’s not taken off the line and forced into retirement, then you will lose more every day until you fail. And you will, at the rate you’re going.” Mac was nearly to the door outside when he heard someone call his name. It was Elton. Mac had had enough of the man for one day, so went out to get in the car and go home, but Elton followed him. And the man looked like he had received his Christmas bonus as well as a tax refund all in the last ten minutes. Elton walked up to him as he waited for his car and put out his hand to shake it. Mac just looked at it, then at the man he’d left hanging. “I could have told you that they’d not do anything about me. I’m sure that you told them that it was me that was hurting things. I’m their go-to man when they need answers. And they don’t know shit about what I do or what goes on down on the line, and that’s the way I want it. I’m not going to let them change a damned thing, just so you know. When they fail—and I’ve no doubt that it’ll be sooner rather than later—I will own a nice business.” Mac didn’t look at the couple that walked up behind Elton, nor did they speak. He did, however, ask Elton what he was talking about. “The will. I know for a fact that it states that once the business closes down that all the original members of the staff will be able to purchase the company for what the fair market value is. And when this is done, the fair market will be considerably less than what it is today, don’t you think?” “So you want this company to fail. After all the work that Mr. Stokes put into making this a valuable firm for his children, you’re going to let it fail so you can take it from them.” Elton smiled and nodded. “And what are you going to do with it once you own it? Call in some help and get it up and going again? That’s not very fair of you, now is it?” “Their daddy left them all the money. All of it. He didn’t even consider us people who did all the work for him.” Elton laughed as he continued. “There was a time I might have been willing to get things going in the right direction, but they called in
professional help instead of asking me what the fuck was wrong with things. I could have told them that, don’t you think?” “You mean that you shut down the lines four times a day when you want to take a nap? That you have been known to sabotage the boxes before they were loaded on the truck so that the customers would be pissed enough to cancel orders?” Elton nodded. “I guess you have a hard heart there, Elton. Whatever will you do now?” “Do? I won’t have to do anything. They kicked your ass out, didn’t they?” Mac said nothing, but he knew that Noreen was pissed off. Byron moved back, heading to the building. “What are you going to do, Mr. Harrison? I’m sure that this is a blow to your little company too, isn’t it? Not being able to make this work for them. But I’m glad to see you leaving with your tail between your legs. It does my heart good to see another firm fail. It’s what I live for.” “I think I did all right here, if you want to know the truth, Elton. Just fine indeed.” His limo pulled up just as security was coming out of the building. “You, however…I don’t think you’re going to be cashing in on anything. You have a good day, Elton. I’m sure that things are about to look…well, differently for you.” Security was talking to Elton as his car pulled away. Mac could have gone back in, he supposed, talked to the Stokes about the rest of his findings, small things that he was sure that they would find once Elton was gone. But he wanted to go home. Now. He had a new home he was having fun in, a new sister in Riordan’s wife that was working with him, and he wanted to go and see his mom and dad. ~~~ “You find her yet?” George Collins looked up at his son, Jim, and felt a twist that touched his heart. How a man could have such an idiot for a kid, he thought. A moron that didn’t know shit from anything. He wished now after all these years that he’d taken his sister Hester’s advice and just left him somewhere. Now he was too old for that shit and he was stuck with him. “That bitch that called the law on me, thinking that I had no rights to my own daughter, will be next. I don’t cotton to being treated that way by nobody. You hear me?” “Yes, sir, I’ve been looking. If they stowed her away, they sure ain’t saying much. Aunt Hester, she’s about to have ten kinds of fits over this. She said you should have taken better care not to get caught.” George nodded. He sure should have. “When she comes down here, I’m telling you right now heads are going to be split if she don’t get her way. She said for you to get home.” His sister, Hester Casey, was a force, she was. He loved her to the end of time, but she was a mite on the scary side when she was upset. Even when she was in a fairly good mood, he tried his best to keep away from her. George was afraid of her, plain and simple. Not just a little either; she’d beaten him so badly he almost couldn’t lift up his beer when the mood struck her. “You tell her that you got this. Tell her that I’m okay and that once we get Andi back home, we’re gonna chain her to the floor like she done told us we should have months ago. She might not have any money coming in, but we’ll have food cooked for
us.” Jim asked him how they was gonna have food if Andi didn’t work. “You just let me worry on that, fool. I don’t rightly know just yet, but I’ll get it figured out.” Six months ago they’d had their welfare cut. Not just him, but Hester and Jim too. The government got it in their head that they had to work some for the money. Hell, if he wanted to work, he’d find him a job. But so far as he was concerned, when you start paying somebody for not working, you can’t just up and take that from them. It just wasn’t the way that things were done in his family. None of them had found gainful employment yet, whatever the fuck that was, and he wasn’t about to go look for it either. Not that Jim could. He was as stupid as they came. But George’s family was on a protest. They weren’t gonna find them a job until the government got their shit together and put things back the way they were. George had been stuck in jail for three days now. He was getting food regular like. Not nearly as much as he wanted, but he was getting it. No beers either. They had some fool rule about that. Why a man couldn’t be enjoying his leisure was beyond him. He looked up at his son and wondered if it was too late to do something about getting rid of him. Probably. “Dad, they said you might be going back to jail, the one real far away. That having that gun was against the rules. I thought you said to me that rules don’t work on us. That we was special or something.” He told Jim he wasn’t gonna go nowheres so long as he was breathing. “But if you do, what’s gonna happen to me? I can’t be living with Aunt Hester. She don’t like me none. I was thinking when we find Andi I might go see if she’ll let me stay with her. She’s gotta be nicer to me than Aunt Hester is, don’t you think?” “Nobody likes you, son. You’re stupid and you ain’t worth the sex that we had to make your ass. Your momma, God rest her lazy-assed soul, she done should have known better than to birth you and that ignorant daughter. Now look at me, stuck here and nobody to help me out.” George stood up and glared at his son, who backed away. “You find Andi, tell her to get her ass down here and tell them folks that she fell again. And that the gun was hers. I ain’t going back to jail. I ain’t, you hear me?” After Jim left him to have another look for his sister, George thought of his lot in life. He wasn’t stupid, but he was lazy. He’d admit that to anyone who asked him. And he didn’t care much for his daughter or his son, but he’d been given them and he had to suffer with having them. His wife, he’d tolerated her some, but she’d given him Jim and then a useless daughter, then up and left him with them like he wanted to be taking care of them for the rest of his life. Hester…well, Hester was his big sister, and he knew better than to mess with her. “Mr. Collins?” He nearly missed hearing his name and stood up in his cell to see who might be thinking he was a mister anything. “Are you Mr. Collins? George Collins?” “I am. What you want? In case you missed it, if you’re selling something, I ain’t got me no money. If you’re lawyering up for somebody, can’t help you there. I don’t rat out my buddies.” The man said nothing. There was something about him that just told you
that he was untouchable, and that had George moving back when the man walked up to the bars. “What is it you want of me?” “I’m here to tell you that Andi Collins is off-limits to you and your family. She’s in a good place, and you’re to stop harassing her from now on.” George just stared at the man. “And if you’re caught within one foot of her, I’m going to bring a hell down on you so hard you won’t be able to lift a hand to bring whatever shit food you eat to your mouth.” “You can’t tell me what to do with my own kid. I know my rights. I brought her into this fucking world, and she’ll do as she’s told.” The man said nothing. “Who the fuck do you think you are, anyways? I know she ain’t bringing the law down on me. ‘Cause if she can afford you, in your expensive suit, then she’d better be getting her ass down here and bailing me out. I’m her daddy, damn it.” The man only stared at him. George wanted to flip him off, his favorite pastime when things didn’t go his way, but he had a feeling that if he even lifted his hand to do so, then he’d be hurting bad. Worster than he was right now. “Stay away from her or pay the price.” As the man walked away, George could feel his bravery coming back to him. But before he could open his mouth to curse at the man, he was standing in front of George with his hand around his throat, lifting him up off the floor. The man changed. Not just his body but his face, and even his fingernails at his throat seemed to bite deep into his neck. George looked into his eyes then; they sort of captured him. The man’s eyes had darkened to an almost black, and George felt his bladder just let go when he saw the fangs there on his lip. “Stormy said that if I wanted, I could play. I might just yet anyway. Would you like that?” George shook his head. “Too bad. Go near Andi again and I will kill you. Not a threat, you dumb fucking idiot, but a promise. You know that I’m telling you the truth too, don’t you, moron?” “Yes.” George wanted to cry. He knew something, a feeling of fear like he’d never felt before. “I won’t bother her no more.” “Good. See that you don’t.” As he was dropped to the floor, the man straightened his suit sleeves and then his tie. “You might want to tell your son and that sister of yours to behave too. I’m not in the mood to have to come back out in the sunlight to wipe this family out of their miserable existence. And you’d do well to remember that if I have to come back, you will be dead. Understand me?” George nodded. Long after the man had left him, George stayed on the floor. Lots of things were going through his mind as he lay there. The man had had fangs. He wanted to think that was just a figment of his addled head, but he had a feeling that they were as real as rain. And the man had lifted him up like he was nothing more than a bothersome flea. George knew that he was big. Not muscled—those had never been a part of his body in any way—but just plain fat. When he was younger, he’d been heavy. As he grew, so did not only his waistline but his entire body. George figured he weighed a good four hundred pounds. And the man had lifted him up with a single hand. But the
longer he lay here, just thinking and letting his mind wander, the less and less of the man he could remember. “I gotta stay away from my daughter. I don’t know why, but I gotta.” Nodding to himself, he stood up. He’d pissed himself…not the first time. But this time he could almost smell the fear in his urine. “Couldn’t get off the floor, that’s all. Happened before, when that chair of mine wouldn’t lift me right. Can’t be nothing more than that.” He knew that there was something there that he had to remember besides not bothering Andi again. Fangs? Nobody had fangs except them people faking it, like he’d seen on television. He also had a feeling that he’d been flying too. But that wasn’t right either, was it? Sitting on the bed, unmindful of his wet pants, he frowned. When he thought of Andi again, he felt a little pain in his head when he thought of making her ass pay, but it went away after a minute or two. “She’s gonna pay. That she is.” Nodding, stretched out on the bed, he felt sticky. And when he moved around, the bed groaned. It was scary there for a minute. The bed he was using creaked a bit more than he liked. Sitting on the side of the bed, he pulled off his pants and underwear and took them to the sink. He’d get more later, but these were just stinky. Laying them on the sink, he went back to his bed. He had some thinking to do.