She did him good

A security gate stood at the entrance to the site, which comprised a rusty lever arm that had seen better days. From memory, she was quick to punch in the code into the antique digital keypad, but despite her rapid response, the archaic mechanism was slow to grind into action to raise the barrier. That meant she had to endure a tedious wait. Once she escaped the obstruction, she began by rocketing down the long dusty driveway, ignoring the speed limit signs. Soon afterwards she slowed, for she had been transformed into a green-eyed monster. The virgin land surrounding this isolated bottling plant created a magnetic draw upon those envious eyes. The facility and estate belonged to a company owned by the guy she intended to meet, John White. During her first visit to his business, she spoke with John about the unused plot. That was six months earlier. Then, she and her engineer were there to quote for revised instrumentation. When the estimator made pre-sales visits to customers, she often tagged along as there was always the chance her feminine charms might improve the price. In his case, she judged John to be a wimp and unlikely to rise to her siren’s song. So, instead of her chat-up lines, they discussed uncooperative planners. On every occasion she saw this former farm since their conversation, her mind wandered. With permission for new build, the property could be worth a stash of cash. She felt sure light industrial was appropriate. Not least because John’s activity used part of the site for that purpose. But no, John said he had enquired. Grandfather rights alone sanctioned non-agricultural structures. Hence, he was laughed out of court. The White family began their enterprise before zoning applied in Fairfield, and without a break, they continued as the proprietors from those early days. After the Williamsport City Hall took over, just winning approval to upgrade collapsing buildings became a battle.

John faced a different struggle today. His diversion from the problematic issue was supervising the control room with which he needed to re-familiarize himself. Following years of focusing on administration, he was overseeing his shop floor in person again. All because new instrumentation had led to him to cutting the payroll by dismissing two expensive members of staff and four operatives. Before taking this action, margins had reduced such that he incurred intolerable losses. Then he strived to cut costs. Even so, his bottom line remained unprofitable. Hence the automation. The early invoices for this investment he paid for from existing bank balances. He built those during better trading conditions. But the final payments depended on receipts from debtors. Now that strategy lay in tatters. The equipment supplier wasn’t the only overdue creditor, and he had nowhere to turn. The source of the problem was Langdon Industrial Chemical Supplies. They had been his largest customer. He didn’t receive their remittance three months ago, but they assured him the delay was because sales were busy, and they promised to catch up. Meanwhile, they wanted him to supply more goods as another bottler had production problems. During the next month, they cleared some of the backlog. But they missed the larger current account. Still their orders flowed. Albeit madness, he shipped further product to their warehouse. There should have no surprise when he heard they had gone bust. Instead, the news dumbfounded him.

When she reached the ancient sprawl of buildings, she drove past the remote parking lot and on to the few accessible spaces near the main entrance. Despite having no disability placard, she considered her big SUV called for the wider area. When stepping from her car, she glanced across the sprawling estate. Then her monster resurfaced. If she controlled the property, she wouldn’t accept no for an answer. To achieve re-zoning, she would be willing to dispense a few envelopes stuffed with banknotes. Before long, she realized the danger of becoming distracted from the purpose of her visit. The firm she owned, Command Line Technologies Inc., was due another payment from White & Co (Bottlers) Inc. last Friday, so she traveled here from Pittsburgh to collect. Whilst running an instrumentation company wasn’t her schooldays ambition, gathering debts became one amusing aspect she took on. After joining CLT as a secretary, she looked for and found many fun tasks. By carefully showcasing herself, they soon included after hours pleasures. Later, but only shortly after that, she won the right to acquire CLT from her former boss. He was a sweetie and ended up almost giving the business to her. His retirement came a little earlier than he expected. But it allowed him to increase his role as a church elder. An activity encouraged by his wife of forty-five years, and so the potential of sale proceeds from a third-party didn’t justify disturbing the late life idyl they had planned.

On reaching the admin building, she remembered she hadn’t locked her car again, but then it was unnecessary in this wilder part of Lycoming County. She paused at the visitors’ entrance. But she decided to ignore the reception. That would avoid announcing her presence. So, she slipped through a side door. John White’s office was empty. Next, she followed her best guess and headed for the control room, and after ascending a flight of stairs, she found him staring through a window over his production area.

“John, nice to see you. I hope, the plant display graphics are working well?”

John paled as he realized who was speaking to him. “Oh, I’m sorry, I meant to ring you.”

“Yes, I appreciate having calls returned. Do you prefer talking here with everyone listening, or shall we find somewhere private?”

They both went downstairs where John explained his dilemma. Up to now, the fix he sought eluded him. After pleading with his bank, they offered no assistance. The last two years’ accounts showed losses, and the cost cutting following improved automation hadn’t yet provided relief. An enormous hole required filling. She’d listened to whiners before producing excuses after failing to settle overdue bills. Often the solution relied on sending heavy guys in to snatch enough of her kit to cover the outstanding account. Otherwise, she tried to be first in court and ahead of others to scavenge the carcass. But in this case, that land occupied her mind. She didn’t want to miss any chances.

“Look, John. I’m not abandoning you. I don’t know how, but together we’ll salvage your firm. That will include a personal lifeline for you.”

Those words bewildered John. He said, “But you must realize that I’ve messed up.” Then, after a pause, he asked, “Why are you prepared to help me?”

“Because I like you, John. Besides, I always wanted to invest in one of my good customers. This situation presents me with an opportunity. Today we’ve enough time for you to show me around everything you have. When I was here before, I only saw where you required instrumentation. Now we should review your entire operation. In particular, the warehouse the planners allowed you to construct. Tomorrow I plan to return accompanied by my accountant and between us we can calculate the sum I must stump up to rescue you.” There’s the rub, she thought. If this poor sod is correct over his business’s cash shortage, I need to change my thinking. Regardless, her scheme provided access to view anything valuable and available to grab. Who knows, other tasty morsels beyond the gear CLT supplied might emerge. If she sent in the strong-armed men with trucks, they had capacity to carry extra.

Their trek started outside the admin building. John said, “These are our artesian wells, something else no longer permitted. I inherited more grandfather rights. After they have pumped out crude water, sand filters clean it to generate a purer dilutant for storage in these large metal tanks.”

She asked, “What pumping system do you use?”

“Oh, they’re monster submersibles. We bought ours pre-owned. But they still cost thousands.”

“That means they sit at the bottom of the well, doesn’t it? How do you maintain them?”

“Not a problem. I retrieve them using the chains that suspend them. Any vehicle with a tow hook can do the job.”

“Noted” she thought.

Next, they walked through the mixing room. She decided an automated weighing system her guys had linked control gear to might retain some value. Everything else was likely to cost more to remove than worth in a second-hand state. So having discounted kit within the mix process, she saw that pumps then transferred products to four bottling lines. One bottle filler unit was just a few years old. A chunky bit of industry standard equipment she could sell for several times the sum owing to CLT. She considered chancing her arm by having it removed lock, stock and barrel and forgetting about the land. With those thoughts remaining, they pushed on. A shrink-wrapper packed the filled containers in half or dozen packs prior to being palletized. After this, pallets themselves underwent shrink-wrapping and were moved to storage ready for shipment. The fixed handling equipment she regarded to be of no interest. Then again, she took an optimistic view of forklift trucks working at either end of the line. They appeared in excellent condition, and she could find buyers for them with ease. Therefore, as they crossed to the warehouse, she asked, “Er John, are these busy pallet lifters yours?”

“No, I lease them. The supplier swaps them after so many hours of service. Whereas we used to be dogged with breakdowns, we are no longer. The budget hasn’t changed.”

She had tried disposing of items before that were subject to finance and finished up having her fingers burned. These guys were cute at tracking their assets. No mileage here.

They arrived at the three-year-old warehouse. For her, the principal reason for the tour. John fought for years before the authorities gave in and granted permission to build. John spoke about the tumble-down barn serving as a store beforehand. It was leaking, infested with rats, and needing constant repair to remain standing. Grandfather rights entitled John to rebuild. However, the planning department resisted any change to the design. They thought the farm building was in keeping. Only a replica was acceptable to them. John pointed out mock wooden arches at each of the flank ends of the steel-framed structure. John said, “It was those that won their approval”. She felt like laughing out loud. If persuading the planners only took that, she had discovered the golden goose. The depository contained a clean and modern space, and the specialist cherry pickers served the new racking. She guessed John had financed these items, so didn’t bother asking. Instead, the level of stock distracted her. Just-in-time buying played no part in managing John’s insane treasure trove. By liquidating some of the inventory, she could fund a rescue.

Three days later, with help from her accountant, she had reviewed the records of White & Co. Meanwhile, she relieved John of having to talk to creditors. Not having to worry over those whom he owed money was an immense comfort to him. The task wasn’t difficult for her. Supplier’s concern arose only because Whites had always settled their bills on time, or indeed early. Even though losing Langdon’s custom reduced the workload, John occupied himself with production issues. But when the review was complete, she interrupted him for the discussion the forlorn bankrupt had been dreading.

“I’ve bottomed the scale of your problem.” She smiled as she spoke, “A hundred thousand dollars rescues the sinking ship.”

John winced, although this number came as no surprise. He had mentioned to her earlier that this was his guesstimate of the requirement, and her detailed study confirmed his gut feeling. When replying, his voice became a half-whisper. “That is a lot to find after losing a quarter of our recent turnover. We struggled with profits before that.”

“The sales downturn doesn’t worry me because it’s temporary. There’s an enquiry from a start-up venture, Langdon’s Chemicals. Mr. Langdon has picked up where he left off. He wants a batch of degreasing agent.”

“The cheek, I can’t trade with him again.”

“Hold your fire, you needn’t play a part in it. If you agree with my plans, I shall meet him alone next week. Because listen John, I plan on becoming your partner. Also, I intend to supply all your funding shortfall. We’ll make this happen. What do you say?”

John’s reply came after no hesitation. “You know you are my only hope. I’m happy to go along with whatever you propose to save the White family enterprise. How do we arrange this partnership you mentioned?”

“Each of us should put up five thousand dollars of new capital. That makes ten big ones to show everyone we have faith in our future. As soon as they’re on board, you can stay in charge of the shop floor, but I will take over running the front office. To fit that in with managing CLT won’t present an issue, although I may need to get admin to book a local motel room once or twice a week.”

“Sounds good,” said John with a faint smile. “The trouble is, I don’t possess five thousand dollars. As the company hasn’t paid me for two years, my personal finances ran out.”

She congratulated herself on her assessment of his plight. “There’s no need to upset yourself John, I’ll fund the whole subscription and construct a deal in writing, so that fifty percent of the shares are yours to buy anytime you choose. As for your income, I saw you stopped drawing a salary. That’s bad, and the documents for our arrangement must include a proper employment contract. Yours will be like your own senior guys enjoy. Then not taking pay for you ends, period.”

She proved true to her word and prepared the “partnership” protocol that gave her the right to manage the finances, which they executed. John’s service agreement included an option to buy shares, which she signed. She even insisted on John having three months’ back salary. He accepted her proposal that the payment canceled out his 2 years of arrears. Next, she established a credit account for White & Co and provided the senior staff, including John, with charge cards. A memo to the recipients directed that the facility was only to meet bona fide work expenses, and they all initialed a copy to acknowledge receipt. But when she handed over John’s plastic, she suggested he should use it for him and Mrs. White to have a celebratory dinner. As she spoke, she winked at John, a full in the face smiling wink.

Having done these things, she hadn’t touched the ten thousand dollars, in part because of successful negotiations with creditors. By adopting a charming manner, she assured them she would settle their current accounts over the following six months. In future she needed two months’ payment period instead of one. Also, she contacted customers and issued a stark warning. They had four weeks to the day from invoice, but if they didn’t pay, they’d be on stop, and sending in “specialists” to recover goods supplied was the next step. Afterwards, they settled on time. That was as opposed to the sixty days or more taken beforehand. So, she realized John gave in to everyone without a fight. Improving cash flow had been a doddle. But his ineptitude was useful knowledge, as it meant they did not require debates before she introduced changes. She threw out his archaic accounting system together with the pair of ageing clerks who ran it. Her actions left John mortified. Then came the stock. John expressed concern that she was reluctant to place orders to maintain supplies available from the warehouse. However, decreasing inventory levels was her intention. When unheeded, his complaints evaporated. Meanwhile, she tackled the final key action, recovering lost turnover.

Even before she met Jamie Langdon, she had assessed him to be a kindred spirit. A potential future collaborator. First, she began by asking how his start-up was going.

“Ah, you’ll understand life’s tough starting over from scratch. My old operation was smooth. Later on, some customers went bust, and the problems cascaded down. A regret I have was involving John, He’s a nice man.”

“Still resurrecting your trading activity becomes easier when you’ve practiced a few times.”

Jamie half-choked on his coffee. “And by that you mean?”

She stared into Jamie’s eyes and with her own twinkling, she said, “The new venture is your sixth version of Langdon’s Chemicals. Like the rest, Langdon Industrial Chemical Supplies suffered no customer failures. After you created a fresh corporation, you made the existing business collapse on purpose. First, you stripped the stock. You even stole the cash before doing a wrap. Once those thefts add more to the coffers, your gains will top two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”

Jamie recovered his composure, and he smirked saying, “Yeh, is that so, anyone who wants to prove that would need to inspect my files. Guess what, the computer I relied on for records crashed. What’s more, I had already shredded the documents.”

“Yes indeed. I am aware of the attempts to bury your past, and I have no doubts experience has made you thorough. Your problem is that a week ago covering your tracks was incomplete. You became preoccupied with setting up your current premises. That’s when, I called at your old depot. During my first visit, I enjoyed meeting with the young lady who was there. Do you remember her, the pretty little thing you told was losing her job? A few hundred dollars and a friendly cuddle cushioned her difficult position. With her help, I examined and copied many interesting items. Then your assistant invited me back, and I returned to photograph you carrying away bags of shredded paper.” She placed a weighty folder on the desk between them. “In there, I have proof of your criminality. Enough to expect you to serve a long stretch behind bars.” When he was thinking this through, she continued to hold Jamie’s stare with her eyes dancing and full of fire.

“That’s blackmail. If I end up in jail, so shall you”. But Jamie spoke with more bravado than he was feeling.

“Oh dear, you haven’t appreciated the measure of me, have you? You’ve yet to realize I am gifted at this”. While speaking, her eyes lost every hint of geniality. The radiated malice caused Jamie to sense an aura of pure evil. Then he concluded there was no choice. Failure to obey would lead to his destruction with this carnivorous reptile relishing tasting his blood. Despite trying not to sound cowed, he agreed to listen to her demands.

“You owe White & Co seventy thousand dollars. Therefore, I require twelve checks for seven thousand dollars, one dated today and another for each month over the coming year.”

“How come twelve?”

“My tasks preparing reports are expensive.”

“Does that mean you’re implying the enquiries about me required fourteen thousand dollars’ worth of work?”

“When I referred to my efforts being pricey, I meant they will cost you dearly.”

Once again Jamie paused for thought whilst being penetrated by her unrelenting gaze. Then he said, “If I pay you, is that everything?”

“No, you must buy at least an equal value of purchases from White & Co this year as last. The difference is you will settle my invoices as you place the orders.”

“What happens after the year’s over?”

She smiled her sweetest smile before she said, “Then, I’ll tear up the damning document.”

“And if you don’t? No, there’s no need to answer. I guess you’ll screw me for something else.”

With a wicked grin, she winked. “Would I?”

The thought of screwing this attractive man already crossed her mind. Should she choose to, he wouldn’t be able to refuse.

After returning to her factory unit in Lawrenceville, the base for Command Line Technologies, she invoiced White & Co ten thousand dollars for the services of herself and CLT’s accountant. Bills submitted by other creditors could still wait. However, she would arrange prompt payment of both this account and the old invoices for their automation upgrade. Since her arrival, the bank accounts had recovered. Her actions avoided having to provide funding beyond the share subscription, and this further invoice would recover that untouched. Given a different result, she planned to walk. Now funds were available. So, she told John to take his wife for a long weekend in Florida. “You need the rest, and it is essential I re-energize you. You are so important to me. The credit card I gave you will come in handy to book the trip and ensure you both enjoy a comfortable break”.

John’s vacation coincided with the start of her studies into planning law. She was a quick learner. Despite that, after an initial presentation at City Hall, she was unhappy. In order to add to her efforts, White & Co paid out significant fees. These resulted in a consultant’s report, which backed her application for the “Farmyard Light Industrial Estate”. For the pro-forma outline designs, she included the mock wooden arches. The arguments were perfect. When complete, she became sure her scheme would win approval, but it didn’t. After the meeting, she sat in the local Starbucks having a coffee with the consultant. During their discussion, her mood changed for, as was often the case, a lucky strike came her way. The advisor pointed across the parking lot. “That fellow over there outside Petro’s Jewelers is the Chief Zoning Officer. He will have been behind the decision we faced today.”

“Really? That may prove to be of interest.”

She was correct, for a woman approached the County Planner. He then glanced over his shoulder and it seemed obvious he was checking the coast was clear and, once he was satisfied, he kissed her. Their kiss appeared far from platonic, and alongside that he caressed her buttock. She said, “Well I never, he looks a lively chap.”

Following on, the couple entered the coffee shop. Although intuition told her the guy’s greeting wasn’t fitting for a wife, even from the far side of the room, her keen eyes observed his wedding ring. Then again, spotting clues was unnecessary. She possessed an innate ability to recognize a philanderer. Soon she would catch him in her honey trap.

Today she revisited City Hall for them to rubber stamp her second application. Matters improved after her brief and pleasant affair. That led to the current situation, which delighted her as she could provide special benefits to a devoted couple. Because of his cooperation, the fortunate planner would soon take a paid-for vacation in Hawaii. Then he could fall in love with his bride again. That should prove to be at least one step up above misbehaving in a rigged motel suite with his energetic lover. Several steps higher than watching videos of himself being pleasured there. Many giant steps superior to his spouse seeing him bowing to carnal temptations in full view of a camera. So yes, it gratified her to spread the world with joy. But what proved most pleasing was winning her planning appeal. At a stroke of an official pen, her life was perfect.

Had she got news for John! The re-zoning would bring a colossal difference to their lives and relationship. She couldn’t wait to speak to him. When John entered his own office, he found her sat in his chair, and someone else had taken the only other seat, forcing John to stand. As she pointed towards her visitor she said, “This is my lawyer.”

She spoke again, leaving no pause for niceties. “John, I’m horrified to learn from the CLT accountant you misused the company credit card. He found you made personal purchases. That was despite you having signed for my memorandum stating that you should only make use of it for expenses. You bought meals and even vacations. There was both travel and accommodation.”

“But you knew about that. In fact, you told me to charge those items.”

She said, “Claims for private expenditure are illegal.” Then she paused and looked towards the lawyer. He nodded in agreement before she continued. “I never sanction undeclared benefits which defraud the IRS. Moreover, I wouldn’t allow anyone to steal from my business.”

“Shouldn’t you be referring to our business?”

“No, Whites is my company, I own all the shares.”

“But I’m entitled to purchase half.”

“The option forms part of your employment contract. In view of the thefts you engineered, I’ve no choice but to end that agreement forthwith. John, you are fired. Therefore, that cancels the license to buy.”

She knew he would take the situation badly, but she expected him to empty his desk and leave before he started blubbering. Instead, his pathetic display proved so unseemly. Besides that, his whimpering slowed his progress. Then the delay became aggravated through his panic, caused by a missing key for a locked drawer. Also, after finding it in his pocket, he insisted on being alone when he emptied that precious personal repository. John’s histrionics threatened to clog up the room. She needed it to meet with a developer and his lawyer. An appointment to agree on the basis to obtain the entire site for six million dollars.

“Why everything?” her attorney asked. “What about the bottling plant?”

“Oh, that’s just a pile of crap taking excessive efforts for miserable returns. Without any planning issues to resolve, it has no value. My only reason for continuing to trade was the precedent of light industry strengthened my case for re-zoning. But now I prefer to dump the pain of managing a low-grade workforce.” Despite liking her legal eagle, professionals are stuffy. So, she didn’t intend telling him the plans spinning around in her brain. She could get more from the bottlers alone than selling the business. She could dispose of them for cash, hassle-free and tax-free. Beyond that, she expected to increase the financial cushion created when she cajoled creditors into extending their terms. By reneging on those promised payment periods, she would raise extra ready money. She then aimed to squirrel out bank balances before winding up the entire activity. Another input would be Jamie’s last check. After that, his destiny was to serve as VP of Whites during its death throes. She had an obvious preference to avoid being listed as an officer of the company when it crashed into insolvency, but that formed a drawback that Jamie was used to. Jamie, like other men she met and trapped, claimed to have a “happily” married status. So, any reluctance he had she would overcome by using further rigged motel room’s video output. However, blackmail may be unnecessary after she next screwed him. Then, as ever, he would become putty in her hands. She would ensure he realized he had a role that was restricted to signing papers to her orders. Jamie would comply with her wishes regardless of more recent incentives. After all, there remained other incriminatory evidence. Jamie still wished to see that shredded. At present, a special filing cabinet held all such material she had gathered over the years. She kept that locked and had no intention of disposing of the contents.

That afternoon, cruising along the driveway was a joy. The sun shone on her land that in short order would produce a life-changing capital gain. Perhaps she should hang up her seductive lingerie and enjoy some me time. Although maybe not, she’d got a date with a wealthy widower later that evening. After dinner he would visit her specially equipped apartment in the Strip District. How she would use the automated photo shoot when there was no wife in the background she hadn’t sorted. Still, if nothing emerged, he appeared fit enough to entertain her. Feeling carefree, she arrived at the security gate. As she punched in the exit code, there was a rustle from the trunk area of her SUV. In her rear-view mirror, she could see John holding a revolver he’d secreted in his locked drawer. During the next few micro-seconds, it flashed through her mind that the green-eyed monster might soon be vanquished. She didn’t hear the second gunshot that ended the White family lineage.

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