Thanks to everyone who left fb, I caught most of it before it was wiped and it's always appreciated.
As always, thanks to my beta orangesky.
Michael was not having a good day.
His appointment at the doctors that morning had left him feeling angry. Afterwards he had gone to see how things were developing at the Wilson Road Project. While most of it was going well, there were a few problems. Nothing major and nothing that would normally have annoyed him so much. Really it was that center, sitting on the corner of the street, mocking him, that had bothered him the most. He had driven around afterwards, trying to calm down but he was pissed off and angry when he arrived back at Evans HQ. He just wanted one person to look at him cross-eyed and he knew that it would set him off.
So he really, really was not in the mood for the circus that had set up camp outside his office.
The area around Tess’s desk was swarmed with people. Marty Freeman and Tess were standing in the middle arguing with each other.
“What the hell is going on?” Michael asked in a tone a hell of a lot calmer than he felt.
Tess and Marty both whipped around to face him and spoke at the same time. “Where the hell have you been?”
Michael stared at them in shock. Nobody spoke to him that way.
Tess was immediately contrite and looked like she wanted the ground to swallow her up. Marty, one of the few people in the world who could get away with talking to him that way just waited for an answer.
“I was busy. What’s going on here?” Michael asked again.
“I told you about this weeks ago, I sent you a memo on Friday,” Marty replied, annoyed.
Michael shook his head; he had no idea what Marty was talking about. “What memo?”
“About the interview with Forbes.” Seeing that Michael still didn’t understand, Marty explained further. “Forbes wanted to interview you and your dad. I told you about it weeks ago.”
Oh, that. Michael groaned internally. He had thought that he would avoid that particular torture as his father was taking time off. “I presumed that was cancelled.”
“No, of course not. They’ll interview you alone.” Marty stepped closer and spoke in a low voice so the journalist wouldn’t hear. “It’s important that we get your name and face out there as the head of Evans Limited Michael. Please just do this.”
“Fine,” Michael agreed with a sigh of defeat. If it had been anybody else he would have told them to take a hike. He motioned to all the other people standing around and to their mountain of paraphernalia. “What’s with the rest of the stuff?”
“That’s the photographers and their teams and their equipment. They want to set up in your office, but this one,” he waved at Tess who was standing behind them waiting for Michael to fire her “wouldn’t allow us in.”
“I knew you wouldn’t want them in there,” Tess said meekly, unknowingly redeeming herself in Michael’s eyes.
“They need to take your picture Michael,” Marty told him in a voice that killed off any arguments before Michael could make them. Michael nodded and Marty signalled that they could go into his office to set up their equipment. He waved an attractive blonde woman forward. “This is Ms. Jennifer Howard; she’ll be conducting the interview.”
“It’s lovely to meet you Mr. Evans,” she said holding her hand out to him.
Michael shook her it. “You too Ms. Howard. I’m very sorry about the delay. I was away from my office on Friday so I missed the memo.”
“Oh that’s quiet alright. I know that you’re very busy at the moment. I apologise if this is inconvenient for you.”
It was of course - massively inconvenient. Michael had done practically no work on Friday, very little over the weekend and none at all so far today. He dreaded to think of the mountain that was awaiting him. “Not at all,” he assured her hoping it didn’t sound as fake to her as it did to him.
“We’ve set make-up and wardrobe up in the office over there, so if you’d like to go there first we can begin.”
Make-up and wardrobe. Things just got better and better.
Jennifer smiled at him and he tried to return but it probably came out as a grimace instead. Marty led him to the office, actually a small meeting room, where the make-up people were waiting. Tess followed after them.
Marty spoke in a low voice as they walked. “Thank you Michael. Try and not be so surly during the interview. And don’t be monosyllabic. Talk to the woman, answer her questions. Flirt a little. And just let them take your picture, please.”
“Give me some credit,” Michael snapped. “Tess?”
Tess appeared in front of him looking meek and scared. She could hardly speak. “I’m really sorry sir,” she began.
“Order me a steak sandwich and a Snapple, peach. Please?”
Tess blinked in surprise, unsure what had shocked her more – that he hadn’t fired her or that he had said please. “Yes sir. Anything else?” She waited nervously for the other boot to drop.
“No, that’s all for now.”
“Ok. Um…. Jesse Rameriez called for you; he says that he needs to talk to you right away.”
“Have him come up to me as soon as this crap is over,” Michael instructed.
The interview was as horrible as Michael expected but he behaved dutifully and answered all questions apart from the personal ones. He was friendly, charming, talkative and even flirted. A photographer snapped shots of him as he spoke and Michael successfully resisted the urge to swat him away like an annoying fly. Marty stood by the wall of the office listening in and he seemed to be please with how it went.
When they had finished talking, he was made change his shirt and pose for photographs - leaning against his desk, looking at a book by the book case and looking out at the city from the balcony off his office. Then he was given another shirt, his hair was styled differently and he was asked to do it all again. The photographer tried to get a picture of Michael looking relaxed and happy. In the end he settled for the serious and moody shot instead.
“Why couldn’t they have used the photos I did from the last shoot?” Michael asked Marty as he signed the release forms.
“Different magazine, different kind of photos needed,” Marty said casually before hurrying away to talk to one of the publicists.
Michael frowned but was distracted when Jennifer came up to him to say goodbye.
“Thank you Michael, the interview will be in next month’s copy.”
“You’re welcome and again, I’m sorry about the mix-up earlier.”
Jennifer smiled at him, “How about you make it up to me tonight over dinner? I’m not flying back to New York until tomorrow and it would be nice to have company tonight.”
“Sorry, I’m very busy tonight.”
She pouted sexily, unperturbed by his rejection. “That’s a shame. If your schedule clears up, I’m staying at the IMM. Room seven-eight-oh-one. I don’t mind if it’s late.”
It had started out having to apologise and practically beg Nancy for his job back. And that in itself was enough to classify the day as a ‘bad day.’ But having to then spend the rest of the day with her silently gloating as she kept an eagle eye on him was a thousand times worse.
She had scrutinised everything he did as if he was launching a rocket into space instead of counting pens. He had been so determined not to give her the satisfaction of having anything to complain about that he had spent the day giving one hundred percent of his focus to the job. And it was exhausting. His whole body hurt from the effort and the tendrils of a bad headache were snaking around his skull.
All he wanted to do was go home and sleep until his alarms went off in the morning. Alas, it wasn’t to be. He had to catch a bus – A bus! The ignominy of it – and cross town to get to his second job.
If asked what would be the worst thing that could happen at his new job, Max would have said being recognised and having his picture in the tabloids while he was on janitorial duty. Being a janitor was bad enough; he really didn’t want anybody to know about it. As far as he was concerned, that would be the nightmare scenario.
At least that was until he arrived at his new job and met his co-worker on the evening shift.
Ruben Jefferson was a male version of Nancy. Same height, same Napoleon complex, same resentment of the rich people he was forced to interact with daily at his job. If Ruben had been black like Nancy, Max would have been convinced that they were twins.
“God hates me,” Max muttered to himself.
“What was that?” Ruben asked, annoyed that Max didn’t appear to be paying attention as he explained how the buckets were to be stored by color and size.
“Good. I don’t like people who answer back and I won’t tolerate insubordination. Do as I tell you, keep your mouth shut and you’ll do fine. Don’t cross me. I can have your job like that.” Ruben snapped his fingers to show what he meant.
Max nodded, he had learned from working with Nancy that it was best to obey and keep quiet no matter how frustrating it was. “I understand. You won’t have any problems with me.”
That answer satisfied Ruben and they moved onto the next lesson – how to use a mop. Which turned out to a lot more beneficial than Max had anticipated. After all he had never used a mop in his life and although it’s a pretty easy piece of equipment to master, the demonstration proved useful for Max.
Finally, after listening to Ruben for over two hours, Max was given his own mop, bucket and ‘caution, wet surface sign’ and was told to get mopping.
To his dismay, the corridors he was asked to mop were public corridors leading from the bedrooms to the recreational areas on each floor. The only good thing was that he had been given a baseball cap as part of his uniform. By keeping his head down and the cap pulled low over his eyes Max was able to avoid eye contact and remain anonymous.
He made a point of reading the names on every room door and on his third or fourth corridor, he came across Claudia Parker’s room. He wasn’t sure if Claudia was the name of Liz’s grandmother’s but so far it was the only Parker he had seen.
Max lingered longer on that corridor hoping that Liz might show up but after twenty minutes he couldn’t hang around any longer and had to move on. When he finished mopping he was given the job of going around the corridors and polishing the pictures hanging on the walls. He couldn’t help but wonder why he hadn’t been asked to do that at the same time as he mopped the floors but he stuck to his policy of keeping his mouth shut and doing as he was told. He lingered along the same corridor again until the painting shone like polished diamonds and still no sign of Liz.
It was on his third trip down the corridor – as he took the long way back to base that he bumped into Liz.
She didn’t recognise him as she passed until he called out. “Good evening Ms. Parker.”
Liz stopped and turned. Her eyes raked over his uniform clad body. “Max?” She asked in complete shock.
“Hi Liz,” Max couldn’t help grin.
“Oh my God. Do you work here?”
“Today’s my first day.”
“What about your job working for your brother?”
Max resisted the urge to point out he was working with his brother at their family company and not for him. “I work there too, this is my second job.”
Liz’s mouth flapped open but she couldn’t formulate a sentence. Max quiet enjoyed her shock. He didn’t think he had the ability to surprise her.
“Wow,” Liz said at last. “You’re a janitor.”
“I wish,” Max laughed in self deprecation. “I’m lower than that; I’m the assistant to the janitor. Trainee assistant actually.”
Liz shook her head in disbelief. “Oh my God.”
“You said that already.” Max checked his watch, it was getting late and he knew that Ruben would come looking for him soon. “I have to get going and you should go see your Grandmother.”
“Yeah. Do you get a break later?” Liz asked, shaking herself out of her stupor.
“In about an hour.”
“Do you want to meet up for coffee in the canteen then?”
“I’d love to but aren’t you in a hurry to get to the club?”
She shook her head. “I have the night off. I’ll see you in an hour.”
Max watched her go into Claudia Parker’s room before he hurried to find Ruben. He couldn’t help smiling as he made his way. Strange how the prospect of having a cup of coffee with Liz turned his whole day around.
“Can I get you a drink?” He asked.
“Allow me,” Jennifer insisted. She turned to the bar tender, “A dirty martini, three olives for me and a bourbon for my friend - neat.” She smiled at Michael. “I did my research.”
“Clearly,” Michael responded. He nodded at the bar tender to indicate that the drinks were to be put on his tab then gestured to a small table in a secluded corner.
“This is a really nice place,” Jennifer commented after the drinks have been delivered to their table.
“Thank you. I didn’t think the Forbes expense account covered rooms here.”
Jennifer shrugged. “They don’t but I decided that I’d treat myself while I was here. Besides, I wanted to get inside your head and I thought that staying here might give me some insight. I know this place was your baby.”
“And what kind of insight did you gain from the hotel?”
“You like the best things in life, you have high standards and judging by the price of the cashew nuts in the mini bar – you have a lot of money.”
Michael smirked. “That’s some great insight that you got there.”
She accepted that with a shrug. “I grilled you over an hour today and I didn’t learn anything about you. We spoke about a wide range of things – your family, your company, your charity foundation and not once did I see so much as a chink in your armour. I’ve interviewed a lot of hard nosed business men in the past few years and not one of them was as quick or adamant to shut me down when I ventured into personal areas. You’re a very hard man to get to know Michael.”
“I answered any questions you had about the company and our plans. What more do you need to know?”
“You’re the CEO of one of the most profitable companies in the country. You’re certainly the only possible replacement for your father when he retires. Rumor has it that your sibling’s behaviour has annoyed your parents so much that you’ll be given a controlling stake in the company rather than an even three way split. Your company yields a lot of power here in LA and you’re spreading your wings. In short, you’re already rich and powerful but that’s only a drop in the bucket to what you’ll be in ten years time.” Jennifer paused to let her words sink in. “I believe that we have a right, and a duty, to know about the people who have that kind of power and influence. We need to know how they think and what motivates them.”
Michael had to admit to himself that she was smarter than he had previously given her credit for. “Did you figure out how I think and what motivates me?”
Jennifer smiled. “No. You are highly motivated but I cannot figure out what it is that drives you. Care to fill me in?”
She laughed and raised her glass to him. “Well I love a challenge.”
“To challenges,” Michael said. They clinked their glasses before drinking them down.
Michael signalled to the bartender for another round. Jennifer put her hand on his thigh. “Why don’t we take these up in my room?”
“Great idea,” Michael agreed. It was what he had come here for after all.