It was time for the annual meeting of the board of directors at Gargantua Enterprises and Alexis and I wanted to get there early for the pre-meeting elbow-rubbing that always preceded the actual board meeting. And by “we”, I mean “Alexis”. Alexis found schmoozing to be great sport and was a big fan of anything corporate. I, on the other hand, was just hoping there would be snacks and spirits and a motion to adjourn early.
Things were well underway as Alexis and I made our way into the board room. We walked through the large double doors which were no doubt made of some exotic species of wood from the Amazon rainforests. The executive board of Gargantua spared absolutely no expense in the lavishness of their board room or the compensation of their top executives. This was in evidence even more as my leather wingtip shoes sank into the plush emerald-green carpeting of the boardroom like cinder blocks in quicksand. I only hoped their budget for food was as lavish as their budget for boardroom accoutrements (or, as the French would call them, accoutrements).
“How do I look?” I asked Alexis, shooting my cuffs nervously.
“You look great,” she said, somewhat distractedly. I could tell she was looking keenly at everyone in the room and cross-referencing them against the leather-bound copy of Who’s Who Among Business Titans which she keeps on her nightstand and which she has committed to memory (along with the quarterly supplements).
“Is my tie straight?” I asked, straightening it just a bit. The haberdasher had assured me it was of the finest silk, produced by pampered mulberry silkworms in a quaint little Italian village overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. However, one can never be sure if that is enough in these situations.
“It’s as straight as an arrow,” she said, glancing at it for nearly half a second before resuming her field studies of our city’s industrial elite.
“Thank you, my little rose,” I said, beaming at her compliment. “And may I say you look absolutely ravishing!”
She glanced at me sharply and held up a dissuasive finger. “There will be no ravishing,” she said.
“It’s merely an expression, my beautiful little daisy.”
“Well, that’s what you said at the charity ball last month and as I recall, you got entirely too handsy.”
“It was a tango,” I said. “I hardly think I was taking any liberties.”
“Well, all the same, we need to stay focused tonight and not let ourselves get distracted.”
“Oh!” I said excitedly. “Hors d’oeuvres!”
My outburst was caused by a silver tray passing before my very eyes like a vision, being borne by a somber man in tails, striped pants, patent leather shoes, and a nametag that identified him as Ivan. Ivan looked as if he bore the weight of the world upon his shoulders in addition to the weight of the tray of nosh he held somewhat morosely.
“Hors d’oeuvres, sir?” he said in monotone, obviously unimpressed by his own wares.
“Oh, my, yes!” I said excitedly. It had been hours since my petite little dahlia and I had strapped on the ol’ feedbag.
However, Alexis slapped my hand lightly as I reached for an amuse-bouche which I suspected might contain wild salmon.
“We need to stay focused,” she said.
“I hardly think an amuse-bouche will make me distrait.”
“Oh?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. “Remember the deviled eggs at League luncheon last year? You became obsessed with them.”
“In my defense, it was the first time I’d ever had one.”
“Well, somehow your brief introduction of the League president to the assembly turned into an homage to deviled eggs.”
“Well,” I said, becoming a bit reminiscent, “They were quite amazing.” I looked at the hangdog countenance of our present Hors d’oeuvres hander-outer. “Do you have any deviled eggs, Ivan?”
“No, sir,” he said, sounding as if he were delivering a eulogy. “Just assorted bruschetta, canapés, caviar, charcuterie, spanakopita, and amuse-bouche.”
“That’s a pity,” I said. “I would give anything for a deviled egg, up to half my kingdom.”
I noticed Alexis had become distracted by someone across the room who looked important, so I quickly grabbed an amuse-bouche and popped it in my mouth. It was absolutely heavenly, though I had no time to savor it. I had to swallow quickly before Alexis turned her eagle-like gaze back on me.
“We should take our seats,” she said. “I think they are about to get started.”
I quickly swallowed the flaky perfection of the amuse-bouche and said somewhat dryly as I tried to avoid choking, “Lead on, McDuff!” I grabbed a frosty goblet of white wine off of another tray as it passed by me like manna from heaven to help me clear the ol’ throat.
We took our seats down in the lower-rent section of the mammoth boardroom table. Dear old Pops may have been a member of the board of Gargantua Enterprises, but not one of the more important ones. That was the sole reason he trusted me to be his proxy and to cast a vote in his stead. If it had been for one of the corporations of which he held a higher stake, he would not have let me within a hundred miles of the place. He had resigned himself years ago to the fact that I did not have a head for business.
There were opening statements by various bald-headed, portly men who looked like they might clutch at their hearts at any moment and make gurgling noises. At appropriate junctures in these blatherings, their fellow board members harrumphed and said “hear hear” periodically. I suddenly realized my wine glass, though still frosty, was empty. I made eye contact with Ivan and raised my glass slightly. He morosely walked over and filled my glass with a fine Port wine and then resumed his post against the wall. He looked like a man who had spent a good deal of his life standing against walls before managing to defect from his home country and make it here to America.
Alexis leaned over to me and whispered, “Lay off the sauce. It’s almost time for the vote.”
“What vote?” I asked, also whispering, for apparently that’s what we were doing. I sat my empty glass on the boardroom table. There was no coaster, so I just set it on the copy of the Annual Report that was sitting in front of me.
“They’re voting on whether or not to merge with Leviathan Industries.”
“Well that certainly sounds ominous,” I said. “Gargantua and Leviathan teaming up? Didn’t Hobbes warn us about that sort of thing?”
“What are you babbling about?” she whispered, trying not to attract the attention of the Chairman.
I whispered back, ” … a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire for Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death.”
“Are you soused?” she asked in a whisper.
“After two glasses of sub-standard port?” I whispered sniffily. “I hardly think so. Oh, thank you, Ivan!” My somber sommelier had refilled my glass and shimmered noiselessly back to his position against the wall. I lifted my glass in a wordless toast to this Gunga Din. He may be dour, but he knows a man in need when he sees one.
“It’s time for the vote,” she whispered, her voice becoming higher pitched and fraught with anxiety. “It’s a voice vote and it’s almost around to you. Are you ready?”
“Vote?” I asked again. “What are we voting for?”
“I’m not voting,” she said quietly. “You are.”
“That hardly seems fair,” I said, incensed. “Our forefathers fought valiantly for universal suffrage.” And then added, in the interest of fairness, “And our foremothers.”
“No,” she whispered, seeming most distraught. “You are voting proxy for your father. About the merger.”
“Ah, yes,” I said, suddenly remembering. “Father was telling me something. About something. Or other.”
“Ah, yes,” I said. “Leviathan.”
“Mr. Callington,” came a booming voice from the head of the high-rent district of the boardroom table, which seemed to be in a different zip code from the part I sat at.
“Present!” I said, standing, forgetting for the moment that I was no longer in Sister Theresa’s Latin class. Her stentorian voice always had an effect on me not unlike a gunshot near a skittish horse.
“How do you vote, sir?”
I gazed around the august assemblage (though it was only April).
“Let me start by saying,” I said, setting my empty glass on the annual report. “That Hobbes was an ass.”
I felt my dainty Alexis tug at my sleeve, but I patted her fondly on the shoulder to assure her that I had the matter firmly in hand.
“To whom are you referring, Sir?” asked the Chairman of the Board. He was an intimidating chap who stood about six foot seven, had a burr haircut like he had just returned from several months at Parris Island where he tested the mettle of Marine recruits.
“I refer, sir, to Hobbes,” I said. “He was a most colossal ass. Are we living in a Kingdom of Darkness? Are we Leviathan?”
There was murmuring among the board along with more tugging at my sleeve, but I extracted my arm with some difficulty.
“Sir,” said the imposing and impatient chairman, “We are Gargantua. Are you for or against the merger with Leviathan?”
I drew myself up. I may have pounded the table, but the presence of the Annual Report, now somewhat soggy from the perspiration from my wine glasses, dampened the results and robbed them of their effectiveness.
“Never!” I said, feeling quite strongly about it. “We are not Leviathan! Look at Ivan here,” I waved my hand at my old friend, who now suddenly looked less morose and more surprised. “Does he benefit from Leviathan? I think not.”
“Yea, or nay, Sir!” said the beet red Chairman.
“Nay! Always nay! We must never become Leviathan!”
The back of the limousine was very quiet on the ride home. Alexis looked at me periodically, but mostly looked out the window at the passing scenery. But finally, she spoke.
“Your father wanted you to vote yes on the merger with Leviathan,” she said quietly.
“Did he?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “He was quite explicit about it.”
“He is always quite explicit about everything,” I replied. “The man doesn’t have an ambiguous bone in his body.”
“Do you think he will be upset at your vote?”
“Oh, most assuredly he will be.”
“Will he cut you off?”
“Perhaps for a bit,” I said. “But he will eventually come around. He will say I take after my mother’s side of the family. Apparently he has a soft spot for my mother. And anyway, this is really his fault.”
“His fault? How?”
“He was the one who insisted on giving me an Ivy League education. That’s where I learned what an ass Hobbes was.”