...so as to not waste a perfectly good image, let's think outside the box and have BOX be the theme for april 8th! hope we don't make you feel boxed in with our request!
James Blanton adjusted his Brooks Brother's jacket. It impressed him that in spite of the humid St. Louis July afternoon, the lines of his suit were crisp and clean. He straightened his blue satin tie and ran his finger between his Adam's apple and collar. He popped a small Altoid's under his tongue and turned to face Ms. Wilma Whitman's secretary.
His shoes tread through the plush carpet while he walked to the man's desk. The older man was typing on his keyboard and looked at him in a sort of wide-eyed wonder.
"My name is James Blanton. I'm here to see Ms. Whitman. She is expecting me at 4:30."
The man swiveled his chair and faced him. His eyes looked sad and his lips moved, as if he were searching for the right words. "Yes, James, I know. I'll go in and tell her you're here."
"Is--has she said something to you?" James asked him.
"Oh, yes. Yes." The man's smile appeared sad and sympathetic. Ms. Whitman's secretary walked to the large double doors, opened them and disappeared behind them.
The carpet muted the sound of everything in the room. The tall doors climbed all the way to the cathedral ceiling. James sighed and walked to the windows. Like the doors they went to the ceiling and overlooked downtown St. Louis, but not the arch or river. That view belonged to the chosen; the well-do-to; the lucky of the world. The two black leather chairs and little glass table looked a like an after thought. James wondered in his mind if anyone had ever used them. He turned to the elevator. The walls were painted black as was the elevator; no numbers at the top. All floors were down from here and straight to the garage; he had to leave his desk and go to the garage in order to get to her office.
What is it like to be here? To hold the future of all these people in your hands? What is it like to have so much power? To make decisions that will have lasting effect in a global economy, if it is only toys.
Two narrow and tall glass windows flanked the other corner of the elevator wall, competing with dark, oak panels behind pictures of the former Chief Executive Officers starting from the first owner. There were only three pictures. Founder and owner Jack Hanlon 1880-1920, Jocelyn Umberge 1920-1960 and Ms. Whitman 1960-present. They all looked grim, which seemed ironic considering their product.
They made high end children's toys. Lately it had been a tough market, but the toys were easy to sell, once children played with them. They were old fashioned, well made, expensive and utterly irresistible. James owned several pieces from childhood and they still worked, so when he graduated, he couldn't believe his luck getting a job at Hanlon's.
"She will see you now, James."
James Blanton whirled around and saw the great doors opened and the male secretary standing on the threshold. He cleared his throat and walked inside the large room.
"Good night, Miss Whitman. Thank you. Good night, James." The man closed the door behind him and the sound echoed in the room.
"Come in, James. Please." Miss Whitman was seated about sixty feet from him but the acoustics were so perfect, that her voice was quiet. The room was stark, the walls wooden and dark brown and the floor was some type of black slate, as far as he could tell.
The sound of his shoes bounced off these walls and floors only to bounce back from the wall of windows behind Miss Whitman's desk. She seems small, dwarfed by the magnificent view of the sun setting on the arch and the river. His hands were sweating and he let them brush along the side of his jacket to wipe them off. A bead of perspiration ran down his temple but he dared not wipe it off.
"Please, James, sit." Miss Whitman looked older than he thought and gaunt, in spite of her weight. "James, do you know why you are here?"
"No, ma'am. I don't." James sat in very comfortable leather chair, but sat up rigid straight. She handed him a pink phone message sheet. He blanched.
"I see from the expression on your face that you remember this note. It was put in the suggestion box."
"Yes. Ma'am. I didn't think anyone looked in that suggestion box. I thought it would get thrown away. No one in my part of the office ever heard back from their suggestions so I thought it would get--it was a Friday night and it had been a long week."
"Read it out loud, James. Please." Miss Whitman seemed to be holding her breath.
"I suggest that I run this company because I don't think--please, Miss Whitman, accept my apology--"
"Just...read it aloud, James. Please." Miss Whitman leaned forward and something like fear was in her eyes.
"I, um, suggest that I run this company because I don't think, I know that I could do a better job." James crumpled it in his hands. Miss Whitman leaped from her seat and grabbed the piece of paper from him.
"No. You mustn't do that. No." Miss Whitman smoothed out the crumples, her breath shallow. "James, I've been waiting for this note for many years. And I am delighted that it comes now, while I still have time. Did you notice the pictures of the CEO's on the walls outside this office?"
"Yes, ma'm." James watched her continue to smooth the pink piece of paper.
"James, what did you notice?" Her brown fingers smoothed the edges with great care.
"I noticed that each officer served for forty years, ma'am."
"That's right. I have served for forty years and I believe that my time is done. Right now." Miss Whitman smiled in triumph and continued to look at the paper. James could not understand why she would not look him in the eye. "You see, James, forty years ago, I sent a paper in Hanson's suggestion box. Do you know what it said? I can show you."
She pulled away from her desk and opened a drawer. Her smile was a hungry, animal smile. James sat back and gripped the sides of his chair. She put out a small, white piece of paper, which had been crumpled but was flattened and yellowing on the edges.
"I wrote, ,'I can do a better job running this company and I know you think I can't, just because I'm a black woman.' There's another one, from 1920." She laid a small piece of paper, fragile and folded in half. "It says, 'You all think you're so smart but I know that I can run the company better than old Hanlon.' So you see, James, why I wanted to see you."
"Some say it was Mr. Umberge's fault. But it wasn't. It was Hanlon himself. So you see, James. It's you. You are my replacement. The board of directors knows all about Hanson's crazy stipulations." Tears filled her eyes. "My husband was diagnosed with cancer but it's in remission, thank God. I wanted to leave but I couldn't. I had to wait. All these long years, but now. Your suggestion. I will have a pension and my family...will be protected." Miss Whitman took her purse from her desk.
"Married? But your name--"
"You can't marry unless you consult the board. You can only have three children; if you want more, you must consult the board. It's all there, James; Mr. Hanlon saw to it. You can't retire any toys. ANY of them. You can't introduce new toys unless you retire a toy. You cannot go with market trends. You must design new toys and they must be hand made by the staff from our northern office. You cannot travel more than half an hour away from this office or... You will thank God on your hands and knees for the invention of jet plane. You can't--"
"I don't understand. Why so many stipulations?"
"The money is legally tied to them, James. You can do nothing without consulting them first and believe me, the board knows every dot and every i of that document."
"But how can the company grow and move on? How can I introduce new ideas?" James jumped to his feet. "What if I don't want to do it?"
"They know where you live, James. They are very powerful. Do not cross them. Ever." Tears spilled on her cheeks.
"Miss Whitman, is that a threat?" James leaned on the table and into her face. She did not back away.
"You cannot leave until you receive a note, just like the one you sent me. And you cannot tell anyone or they will take everything, James; they will find a way. I have warned you as much as I can."
James paced back and forth in front of the desk. "So I get the limosine, the driver, a secretary, all this?"
Miss Whitman stood up. "You are the new CEO, James. There will be a reception for you when you leave this room. Good bye, James. I know that it was an angry suggestion, but it is now my freedom." She walked away.
"No, Miss Whitman. Not before you take your place by my side." He held out his arm and stood ram-rod straight. The older woman wiped her face. She adjusted her suit coat and wiped her hands on her skirt.
"I will not stay long," she said and took his arm.
"Yes, ma'am." James Blanton walked down the endless floor with Miss Whitman at his side and fought to keep a smirk off his face.