This week, Joe is reeling from the outcome of the merger but he emerges with a bit of hope.
I hope you’re enjoying reading this story as much as I’m enjoying writing it. It will be fleshed out and eventually become a book. I’m just not sure how much longer it will wind along the road before I find some kind of resolution.
If you want to catch up on the previous installments of this serial, you can click on these links:
The trip back to the hotel was surreal. Since the revelation that Johnny Provenza would be overseeing the business, he felt a tightness in his chest that wouldn’t go away. His brother Mike looked like he had been punched in the gut as well. Joe felt this present timeline closing in on him. All the positives, his better standard of living, his family’s fortunes and his parents still being alive, were like thin veneer covering on rotting wood underneath. Joe now knew that this timeline was a disaster. His successful business was going into the hands of his rival from the original timeline. His father, though still alive, was debilitated. This was taking a toll on his mother. Then there was Beth. She was happily in the arms of someone else. He had no chance of getting her back. In fact, his drive to make the business a success had ensured that they had never been married or even had a relationship.
These thoughts continually ran through his mind as he, Mike and Tim Clayborn went through checked in. They were staying at the Westin in Times Square. Even though the hyperactivity and noise of New York City was going on around him as he exited the town car and entered the hotel, Joe heard and saw none of it. He had a single thought, where was the stadium seat? Joe knew that this timeline was not the path he wanted his life to take. Provenza had been nothing but cordial at the meeting, but the spiders…those spiders Joe felt when they shook hands, that feeling told him all that he needed to know about the future.
“Joey, what’s our next step?”
Joe heard the question, but it was like someone shouting to him at the bottom of a well. He was so immersed in thought.
“Joey. Are you okay? What’s our next step? Joey.”
Joe snapped out of his trance when he realized his brother was speaking to him.
“Mike. I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
“That son of a bitch wants to get back at us. I know he thinks his father’s death was due to us decimating his business. He blames us for that, not their poor service. He should maybe consider that the vast quantities of scotch that his father drank might have been a contributing factor,” Mike said. He was angry and Joe understood why.
“Mike, I know they hold us responsible,” Joe guessed. “Tim, is there anything we can do to kill this merger,” he asked the attorney, already knowing the answer.
The attorney seemed to squirm just a bit.
“There was no right of refusal clause in the merger agreement regarding the managing partner. We just assumed it was going to be one of the principal partners. There was nothing stopping them from using someone else or bringing in a new player to manager your firm.”
“Why didn’t we include that? Weren’t you looking out for our interests or do you still have loyalty to the Provenzas?” Joe asked, his anger rising. “Did you know this was going to happen?”
Clayborn at first seemed to stagger from the question, but his lawyerly hubris took over and he took on a look of indignance.
“That’s ridiculous. How would I have known. Besides, what’s the big deal. Provenza knows his stuff. He might actually be good for your business.”
At that moment, Joe had the answer to his question. Clayborn had been in on it. Provenza had likely helped orchestrate this entire merger as a way of avenging his father. This revelation was just another nail in the coffin of this timeline.
As they stood in the lobby of the hotel, Joe knew what he had to do.
“Tim, as of this moment, you are no longer the attorney for McClean and Associates.”
An uncharacteristic smile rose on the attorney’s face.
“Well, Mr. McClean, that is one provision that was in the merger agreement. No principal of or significant provider to the firm can be terminated without the approval of the managing partner. Mr. Provenza needs to approve my termination. Shall I call him, or would you like to?”
Joe came as close to punching someone as he ever had in his life. His brother Mike sprung from the chair in the lobby and lunged toward Clayborn. Joe caught the movement out of his eye and intervened just before his brother connected.
“Mike, he’s not worth it. He’ll just sue you and make things worse.”
Mike considered Joe’s words and settled down.
“I think we can consider dinner as cancelled tonight. I don’t feel much like celebrating,” Joe said.
“That’s fine,” Clayborn said. “I can find something else to do. I’m actually staying in the city for a few more days.”
“So, you can plot with Provenza?” Mike asked.
Clayborn just smirked and walked away toward the bar. Joe and Mike headed for the elevator. F, O and M had put the brothers up in a two-bedroom suite on the top floor of the hotel. They rode the elevator to the 45th floor and walked in silence toward the room. The room had a brass plaque on the door that read “Empire Suite”. When Joe opened the door, a wide wall of windows overlooking the Manhattan skyline greeted him. It was beautiful, but he wasn’t in the mood to enjoy it. He put down his overnight bag and settled into the couch in the suite’s sitting room. Mike sat down opposite him in an extra-wide chair.
“How did this happen, Joey?” Mike asked.
“I didn’t see it coming. It’s my fault, Mike.”
“No, it’s not. Clayborn was supposed to represent us and our best interests.”
“Well, his ties to the Provenzas go way back. I should have known.”
“Joey, this isn’t you fault. Even though his ties go way back, he is bound by a code of ethics. He broke them. We need to sue him for malpractice.”
“I doubt it would stick, Mike. This has been in the works for a while. I’m sure he covered his tracks well. He knows the rules intimately which means he also knows how to break them without being detected.”
With this revelation, the brothers sat in silence. Mike then got up to explore the room. After using one of the two master bathrooms, he came back and began poking around the ‘celebration’ gifts that had been provided.
The room’s dining table had a basket that contained assorted crackers, cheese and a bottle of wine. A large cold cut tray and assorted breads and condiments had been provided as well. The room’s refrigerator was well-stocked. He poked around, grabbed a slice of cheese and then put it back.
“I’m just not hungry, especially for this stuff,” he said to Joe.
Joe stood up and looked at Mike.
“You know what sounds good to me?” Joe asked.
“A good old-fashioned piece of New York pizza. Are you in?”
“Pizza? Mr. healthy diet wants Pizza? I’m definitely in just to watch you put something unhealthy in your mouth.”
“Hey, something bad for you is good once in a while. Let’s call it comfort food.”
“I know just the place. It’s not too far. We can walk and burn up some of the calories.”
They took the elevator to the lobby and Mike led the way for the short walk toward the Theater District and Hell’s Kitchen. The place was a hole in the wall on the 300 block of 51st Street, less than a half mile from the hotel. The walk felt good to Joe in the crisp, sunny New York air. He liked the anonymity of walking through the sea of pedestrians.
“Here it is,” Mike said.
Joe looked at the restaurant that was busy with the lunch rush. It was in an old brick store front with a sign that consisted of a large black letter ‘B’ over the door. It was called B-Side Pizza and, like many other eateries in Manhattan, it blended the traditional with the trendy.
Mike found a high-top table with two stools. Soon after they sat down, a waitress approached. She had enough piercings in her face that she looked like she had been in an unfortunate accident at Home Depot. She handed them menus with her black nail-polished fingers and asked what they wanted to drink.
Joe was glancing at the wine list (the trendy) and glanced up at the waitress.
“What kind of wine would you recommend with pepperoni pizza?”
She rolled her eyes just enough to send the message that she didn’t find the question funny and pointed to one of the more expensive wines on the list.
“We’ll have a bottle of that,” Joe said.
The waitress nodded imperceptibly and walked off to start their order moving.
“Wow. Wine and pizza. Are you diving off the wagon?”
“Hey, we’re supposed to be celebrating. Let’s at least get some good food while we’re here,” Joe said without really meaning the words.
“Celebrating. We did make a pile of money even if Provenza is going to run the business into the toilet. That’s what worries me Joe. We worked hard to build up this business and the money that we’re getting is fine. It’s the people, our customers and our employees. I’m afraid of how they’re going to make out in this.”
Joe had the same feeling and that was one of the contributing factors in convincing him this timeline was not the right one.
“I know, Mike. I need to think about this. Maybe there’s a way. For now, let’s just enjoy lunch and then we’ll talk about it.”
Joe and Mike sipped the red wine that the waitress suggested. It was a dry, sweet wine and, when the pepperoni pizza arrived, Joe determined that it was an excellent complement to the greasy, cheesy slice of heaven.
“This pizza is good,” Mike said after a few healthy bites. “Do you the slices we used to get at Maxwell Stadium? They were those big slices you could fold in half, but you had to be careful of the grease dripping down your arm. There was nothing like a couple of those with some cold beer back in the day.”
Upon hearing the name, Joe’s thoughts immediately went to the stadium seat.
“I remember it, Joe said. “It’s a shame they tore that place down.”
“It is, but with all of the crap you bought, you could probably reconstruct it in your back yard.”
Joe’s heart leapt in his chest at what Mike said. Could the seat be included among the things he bought? Where was it stored? He needed to find out but he needed to tread carefully.
“Yeah, I don’t even remember what I bought,” Joe said.
“Well, the signs and lockers that you bought were ancient. Even the stadium seats you bought dated back to the 1930s. It’s a good thing you rented climate controlled storage for those things or you might find a pile of metal and wood dust when you open the door. Maybe now that you have some time you can get back to building that man cave in your basement.”
Storage. They were in storage. Joe suddenly felt a sense of purpose. He needed to find the seats and fix things. He also, however, had to maintain a bit of control until he could get back. Then an idea hit him.
“How excited are you about spending a night in New York?”
“Why do you ask?” Mike said.
“Well, I’m anxious to find a way to fix things. We can catch a commuter flight home tonight and we can get to it.”
“That’s fine. I’m not too excited to stay. I just want to get something for the kids and we can head back whenever we can get on a flight.”
Joe felt slightly better. Some hope had reappeared. If he could go back and fix this timeline somehow, he just might make things get back on course.