FOREVER 2 - Changes
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.
"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation." - Robert F. Kennedy, Senator and U.S. Attorney General
Billy dropped Sam and me off at the curb and pulled away wearing his killer smile with a promise to come get us when I called after our meeting. As we stood there on the sidewalk, I could feel fear trying to overtake me again. I tried to calm myself down by looking at the majestic mountains behind us reflected in the mirrored glass panels on either side of the revolving doors. Ordinarily such a scene would have brought me peace; now I suddenly felt paralyzed, unable to move forward.
"You okay?" asked Sam, sensing the tension in my demeanor.
"I…um…yeah, I guess so. I just…I don't want to go in, Sam." I sighed deeply in frustration with myself. I knew I needed to do this. Sam came alongside me, put his hand on the small of my back and whispered in my ear.
"You've got this, Jack, and I'm gonna be with you every step of the way. Come on, little man. Let's show ‘em what Team Schaeffer can do." He smiled at me tenderly, his love for me almost tangible.
"You mean Team Schaeffer/Wainwright, don't you? I can't do this without you, Sam. I don't want to do anything without you."
"You bet, Jack. But then we gotta find a different team name, cuz that one's too long to fit on our jerseys." He was grinning now, and my confidence increased slightly. I could do anything with Sam at my side. I grabbed his hand, squeezed it tightly, and then stepped forward into the banking abyss, head held high, my stomach churning.
The gargantuan atrium lobby was as I remembered it from my first and only visit to the bank. It looked like they had added more large glass sculptures of various colors. They were on tables, hanging on the walls, with some huge multi-colored creations hanging from wires filling the atmosphere within the atrium. We were both a bit in awe as we made our way to the bank of elevators on the opposite side of the lobby. The overall effect was breathtaking, and not at all what you would expect for decor in a conservative financial institution.
Sam held my hand in the elevator and gave me the softest kiss as we rode up to the 10th floor, just the two of us. I savored the moment, knowing the second the elevator doors opened my life would take on a totally new dimension. Thank God Sam was with me. It didn't hurt that he looked insanely hot in his tight khaki pants, either. I could feel my dick stir a little in my jeans.
The elevator doors opened, revealing the rich, polished wood-paneled lobby for the Private Trust Division offices. Entering the main doors, the receptionist, the same young woman who had greeted me on my last visit, quickly put aside her latest romance novel, introduced herself as Karen, and rose to escort us straight to Todd's office. She had apparently been told to expect us.
Leading us through the maze of whisper-quiet hallways, she eventually stopped at a closed office door. There was a brass name plate on the wall next to the door identifying this as Todd Martin's domain. She knocked softly and we heard a loud "Come in" from inside. She stepped aside, and as Sam and I entered, I noticed Karen eyeing Sam's ass with thinly veiled lust. She was probably suffering from a diet of too many romance novels, poor thing. Sure, he looked like one of the hunks they paint on the covers of those books, but I knew the only romance he wanted was with me. It made me smile, and I let it go. She was no threat - Sam never even noticed her.
Todd was on the phone - again - and we stood there waiting for him to finish. He thanked whoever he was talking to for the information they had just shared, and then hung up with a completely satisfied look on his face.
"Got him," he said.
"Got who, Todd?" I asked.
"Arnold Turner. Sam…you were so right. I've talked with three different employees at MileHigh Holdings, and they confirm the merger is most definitely not dead. Apparently Arnold has been keeping the lines of communication open and working the deal from both sides." I was so lost, and it must have shown on my face. Todd noticed my confusion.
"Hey, Boss, don't worry. I'll explain it all so you understand it perfectly before the meeting. Tell you what…Mr. Heywood dropped off your suits a few minutes ago. They're hanging up over there behind my door. Why don't I give you guys a few minutes to get dressed, and then we can move to the conference room and we can strategize. It's just down the hall to the left. Cool?"
Sam nodded. I said nothing. My anxiety level was rising, and Sam wisely stepped over to me and pulled me into a hug, silently communicating with Todd to give us a minute. I peripherally saw Todd nod and quietly shut the office door behind him. We were now alone.
Sam continued to hold me, my head resting on his chest, as my body eventually relaxed into him. I didn't realize how stressful this was going to be. I concentrated on trying to breathe evenly, in and out. Sam held on tightly until I gently pulled back and looked up at him.
"You see? You see why you needed to be here? This whole thing scares the crap out of me, Sam. Todd's worked so hard to find out what's going on and now he's depending on me to make it right. What am I gonna do?"
"You're gonna make the play, Jack. Come on, let's get dressed and go see Todd. We'll put a plan together and you'll do fine. Remember - you hold all the cards, Jack. You're a top client for this bank. You're not just some lost, terrified kid from Chicago, okay? You're Jack Schaeffer, multi-millionaire and executive team leader, and don't forget…you've got the sexiest lover of all waiting for you after the game." He smiled at me, and it was everything I could do to not cry. I so didn't deserve him, but I was glad he was mine.
We were already wearing our new shirts and socks; our shoes and ties were in the boxes we carried in with us. I slipped off my jeans while Sam removed his khakis, which left us standing there in our underwear. Sam looked down at my crotch with a mischievous look on his face. He suddenly dropped to his knees, ripped my underwear down to my ankles and swallowed my cock to the root in one fast move. I gasped and grabbed onto his head to keep from falling over backwards. He steadied me with his hands on my ass, pulling my hips into his face in a constant rhythm. Sam liked me to fuck his throat, and he had me on the edge in less than a minute. I started having difficulty keeping a steady movement in and out, so Sam knew I was close. As I reached the peak, he pulled me into his throat as deep as I could go and I tried desperately to not shout out obscenities as I came. As it was, anybody walking by just then would know there was more than high finance taking place in that office.
Panting, gasping, and trying to stay on my feet, I pulled back gently and Sam used his tongue to clean me up. I reached down and pulled him up to me in a deep kiss, tasting my cum on his tongue, my hand reaching out to massage his engorged dick, now leaking in his underwear. He immediately swerved his hips out of my reach.
"Un uh. Not right now. You don't get to play with that until after the game." He was smiling at me playfully.
"But…you did me…I wanna do you," I pouted.
"Later, little man. That was just so you could remember what to focus on when you start to feel like everything's going sideways. I'm here for you, Jack, and I'm always gonna be here, standing right by your side…forever." His sapphire blue eyes bored into my own, intent on making me believe his words. I did believe him.
The first tear fell. "Crap! I swore I wasn't going to cry today. Ugh!"
"It's okay. Here, let me," said Sam, as he gently wiped the tears from under my eyes with his big hands. "You've got this, Jack. Trust me. And when it's all over, we can have us some play time."
"Thank you, Sam, for…for everything." He nodded, then handed me my suit. My black boxer briefs were still at my ankles, so I pulled them up, adjusted myself into a comfortable position, and squeezed into the suit pants. Sam watched me closely while he put on his own.
"Damn, Jack. Anytime you want to get me going, just put those on. Fuck, you're hot. If any of those guys on the Board are gay, they'll be putty in your hands. But don't be gettin' any ideas about leavin' me for a rich sugar daddy. You're mine."
"Forever, Sam." I smiled at him, grateful for his friendship and his love. I pulled him into a gentle kiss, doing my best to say I love you without words. He sighed contentedly and hugged me one more time, then turned me around and opened the office door.
"Game time," he said.
Together we walked down the hall a short distance, carrying our suit coats over our shoulders, and I recognized the doorway to the conference room where I had first met Todd over a month ago to discuss my inheritance. My whole life had changed in the interim, and was about to change yet again. I willed myself to keep moving, reassured by Sam's hand floating near my back.
Entering the room, I was pleasantly surprised to see Larry Weiss standing there, coffee cup in hand, while he watched Todd on the phone. He looked…not well…like he had been sick or something. He definitely had a gaunt appearance - my grandmother would have said his color didn't look good. He saw me and immediately smiled, putting his cup down on the conference table.
His voice sounded a little weaker than I remembered too. "Jack. Good to see you again. And this must be Sam," he said, reaching out to shake Sam's hand. "Come on in guys, and have a seat. Todd's almost finished and we'll get started. Can I get you guys anything to eat or drink?"
"Coffee would be great," said Sam.
"Water for me, please," I replied.
Sam pulled a chair out for me and I sat, grateful to get off my shaking legs. I was determined to go through with whatever plan these guys came up with. I could only hope I wouldn't screw it up. Sam's confidence in me was the only thing anchoring me to the chair. Otherwise I'd be bolting out the door.
Todd hung up, nodded once to Larry in a silent confirmation of something, and sat down across from us. After serving us our drinks, Larry sat at the head of the table, his ever present giant binder sitting on the table in front of him. He folded his hands and rested them on top of it.
"First of all, guys, thank you for being willing to cut your vacation short to come and help us. I'm not a hundred percent sure this will work, but we have to try. Win or lose, it means a lot to me personally that you would do this. We really had no right to even ask, but I didn't know what else to do."
"Larry, it's fine. You…and Todd…and everybody else…you've all done so much for me already, it's the least I can do to try and help. But what exactly am I supposed to do?" I asked.
"Let's have Todd fill you in on what he's managed to find out, and then we can put our heads together and decide on the best course of action, okay?" Sam and I nodded, and the floor was Todd's.
"So…as I said earlier, Sam's idea about the pressure for the consolidation coming from a personal source was correct. Apparently Arnold Turner has been meeting secretly, or should I say not so secretly, with Franklin Talbot, CEO of MileHigh Holdings. They've been seen together several times over the last couple of months. I spoke with an assistant to the Vice President of Investments over there and we got to chatting and I casually mentioned Arnold's name. Without thinking she acknowledged she had met him, then tried to back pedal. I reassured her I meant no harm, I was just curious. She eventually told me he was over there to meet with Talbot and her boss. What they talked about, she had no idea."
"But you think it was to discuss the merger?" asked Sam.
"Yes. I pressed a little further to figure out when these meetings may have started, and my contact gave me a date which coincided with the time Arnold started pitching his crazy consolidation idea over here."
Larry jumped in. "We think the consolidation plan is intended to be a precursor to a new merger plan down the road. If Arnold succeeds in convincing the Board to go along with it, when the dust clears, he will be sitting on top of the entire investment side of the house, and will effectively control the majority of the bank's assets. I can only assume this is a change which MileHigh wants to happen before they submit a revised merger proposal."
"And let me guess…Arnold Turner would end up with a nice position after the merger as well," said Sam. I'm glad one of us was following all this.
Larry jumped up and started pacing. "Exactly. I'm sure he'll be nicely compensated. But honestly, I couldn't care less about his position or what happens to him. I do care about his plan to destroy this bank in the process!" Larry was now extremely agitated, and his face turned a dark shade of red.
"Larry!" shouted Todd. "Calm down! We'll figure it out, okay. Take it easy, man. You know what your doctor said. I knew you should have stayed away today," he said, shaking his head slowly.
"Wait. What's going on?" I asked. "Are you alright, Larry?" I was instantly concerned for the guy who had been kind to me in a very difficult time of my life. I didn't understand all the banking mumbo jumbo, but I could tell Larry was hurting.
"I'm fine, Jack. I…had a little trouble with my heart a couple of weeks ago. Doc says I have to take it easy for a while, not get upset. Don't worry about me - Todd watches my every move, makes sure I take my pills - he's like the wife I never wanted."
"I don't do it for you, Larry. You up and die and leave me in all this shit by myself, I'll dig you up and kick your ass for a week. Geez man, get a grip. None of this is worth risking your health over. Arnold Turner is not worth it."
I had never actually seen Todd and Larry together in the same room before. Clearly Todd cared deeply for Larry, and Larry was looking across the table at him with what I could only call real love, like a father looking with pride at his son. These two had a deep admiration and respect for one another, no doubt about it.
"He's right, Larry. It's only money. Who cares who manages it or does…whatever. I don't want you to die because of it," I said.
Larry sighed deeply, and the deep redness of his face faded quickly. He looked at all of us for a moment, and then calmly spoke. "You're both right, of course. Except in one thing…this isn't about money…or about who manages it, or how. This is about people - my people."
"What do you mean, Larry?" asked Sam. I noticed he sat up straighter in his chair. Something was piquing his interest now.
"I mean, Sam, that Arnold Turner and Franklin Talbot are not going to decimate First Colorado and send a hundred people out into the street just so they can make themselves look good and pretend they are better than they'll ever really be. I worked too hard over the last three decades, giving my life to this place, raising up gifted people who champion our clients and build the best possible relationships with them, to let some blowhard like Arnold Turner tear it all down, because frankly, he just doesn't give a shit about anybody but himself."
Sam reached over and grabbed my hand in full sight of Larry and Todd. It startled me, and I turned to look at him. He stared at me with his intense focus, like he was trying to convey some hidden message to me, and I swear I felt it. Like a deposit of renewed confidence and purpose. This is where I came in. This is where I was to make my play. I nodded to Sam, he nodded back, and I turned to face Larry and Todd again. It was time for me to get in the game.
"Guys…I may not know much about money, stocks, investments…none of it. But I do know this. You guys are my team, and if my team is in trouble and under attack, then we all pull together and find a way to beat this back. I'm in. All the way in. Sam and I will do whatever you need us to do. But no way is Arnold fucking Turner going to win. Now…how do we beat him?" Todd smiled hugely, and Larry nodded at me with renewed respect. We really were a team, and it felt like it now.
"Told you these guys were great," said Todd. Larry just smiled.
Sam stepped in. "Okay…we know where we stand, and our objective, which is stopping this consolidation vote and ultimately the merger with MileHigh. What is our plan of attack for today?"
"Well, the vote on the consolidation plan we think is scheduled for this morning. The Board will meet in less than an hour. They'll walk around and schmooze a little, eat some pastries, drink some coffee, and then the meeting will start. Davis Munroe will guide the agenda. My guess is, and it's only a guess, he'll bury the vote in the middle of new business somewhere and try to get them to rubber stamp it. He's presenting the plan as an approved Executive Team strategic initiative, so as long as no one asks any questions, he'll get it through. I just wish I understood why he changed his mind so suddenly and is now backing this insane scheme. It's not like him to do something so…foolish."
"Tell me about him, Larry," I said. If I was going to face him in the Board Room, I needed to understand whatever I could in an extremely short time.
"Davis Munroe is intelligent, respected, and a damned good leader. And I would call him my friend, most days. Ordinarily he keeps his eye on the ball and inspires everyone under him to do the same. Just what you want in a CEO. He stays out of our way - mine and the other VP's - and expects us to run our divisions to the same standards of excellence we always have. The only misstep I've seen him make in the last ten years we've worked together is his promoting Arnold Turner to the VP of Corporate Investing. It made no sense - he had a much better candidate waiting in the wings, and we lost a great man when Alan Cummings walked away. Instead, we get Turner. He makes his numbers, everything looks fine on the surface, but all you have to do is walk through the offices on his floor and you can feel it."
"Feel what, Larry?" I asked.
"I don't know what you would call it…indifference, maybe? Like everyone is glad they have a job, but they're secretly thinking maybe they shouldn't be. It's like they all know they would be much happier working somewhere else, but they don't know why. I do. It's because Arnold Turner does not inspire. He does nothing to urge his team to greatness. You can't be a successful leader if you aren't doing something every day to keep your team motivated to do better, achieve more, reach higher goals. In a way, I get the sense they are all just marking time, waiting for someone to care about them."
"Larry…you said you didn't understand why Davis would promote Arnold in the first place, right?" asked Sam. Larry nodded. "And now…Davis is suddenly backing a plan driven by Arnold, against what you believe is his better judgment."
"He's leveraged," said Sam. I turned to look at him. He was speaking Greek to me. Todd looked a little puzzled as well. Larry, on the other hand, was suddenly smiling.
"Sam…I think you're right. Damn it, I knew something was off - there was no rational reason for Davis to support this. Shit! What has that asshole got on him?" Larry's face was getting red again, and Todd was watching his boss closely, but he kept silent - barely.
"What do you mean by ‘leveraged', Sam?" I asked, still totally confused.
"Someone has gotten leverage over Davis Munroe. Most likely Arnold Turner. If you can't beat your opponent with superior skills or intelligence, you have to find some kind of leverage - a weakness to expose, any kind of an advantage. Davis's sudden change of heart and last minute support of the consolidation plan would indicate Arnold now has some kind of knowledge or information or…something…he can use to control Davis and force him to support Arnold's plans."
"It would have to be some serious leverage, a threat of some kind, or blackmail, to get Davis Munroe to support this plan. It's professional suicide from what Larry's been telling me. He'll be lucky to find another job in banking anywhere if he's linked to this decision," said Todd.
"Exactly," said Larry. "It all makes sense now. Davis was just as against this plan as the rest of us in the beginning. Arnold did some quiet lobbying and got two on his side. But when Davis suddenly announced his support, the others fell in line. I'm the only hold out at this point. Shit. Shit. Shit. Why didn't I see it and try to help him? Davis was acting so strangely. I even said as much to him after our last Executive Team meeting when it was clear Arnold had gotten his way. He just said I would never understand and he practically begged me to leave it alone."
"But what could it be?" I asked. "Todd, with all your connections, did anybody seem to indicate Arnold was blackmailing Davis somehow?"
"No…but…no one who works with Arnold seems to like him very much. Perhaps they picked up on something in his character. Or worse, maybe he finds things on them too, to leverage for his own advantage. It would certainly go a long way to explaining how he rose so rapidly to the top, and why no one dares say anything bad about him now."
"You know what, guys? It doesn't matter for today. One fight at a time. We don't have to win the war in one day," said Sam, calmly. "Since we think we know why Arnold is pushing his plan, and probably why he's been able to manipulate Davis to do his bidding, we have to figure out how to stop this vote today. Hopefully it will buy us the time we need to figure out what leverage Arnold has over Davis and shut him down for good. My only concern right now is Jack. I mean, we're talking blackmail, palace intrigue…serious shit. I don't want Jack involved if he could be in danger." He grabbed my hand again, and I smiled at him. My protector was on high alert.
"I don't think it will come to that, Sam. Nobody but Larry and I have any idea who Jack is, so it's highly unlikely Arnold Turner will see him coming. Plus, the only person from the Executive Management Team allowed to be in the Board Meeting is Davis Munroe. So Arnold won't even know about it until after the fact."
"So exactly what does Jack say and why will they allow him to speak in the first place? Aren't board meetings private affairs?" asked Sam.
"Yes, the business part of the meeting is. But any Board Member is allowed to invite a guest from time to time to address the Board on any topic of interest he or she feels will benefit the other Board Members. It's unofficial, but can be highly influential. Larry and I feel if Jack, as a significant investor with this bank and one of our biggest clients, can find a way to express his point of view about the consolidation plan, it might be enough to at least postpone the vote today."
"It might work. But how does Jack manage to get himself invited to speak on such short notice when no one knows he exists?"
"That part's easy, Sam…Sully," said Larry.
"Who's that?" I asked. Larry smiled at me and continued.
"Andrew Sullivan, affectionately called Sully, and the only grandson of William Sullivan, founder of the bank. He's the CEO Emeritus if you will, retired from operations but still passionately protective of First Colorado's reputation. He's the last in the Sullivan line and he's a feisty old guy. He's been known to go toe-to-toe with other Board Members on decisions in the past, and I'm pretty sure he can still sway a majority of the Board towards his opinion on most things. He's actually the one who handpicked Davis Munroe to take over after he retired. If Jack can convince Sully this consolidation plan is a bad idea, or at the very least raise questions, Sully may request a delay in voting on the plan. It would give us time to figure out the rest."
"So how and when do I meet Mr. Sullivan, and what do I say?" I asked.
Todd took the ball. "I've already set it up. I spoke with Sully earlier by phone and let him know we had a top client in house this morning, and I thought he might like to meet you. He's known for wanting to maintain relationships with clients. He's old school to the core. Used to have pictures of every client on the wall in the main board room to remind everyone who they worked for. I'll walk you both around, and we will casually run into him right before the meeting. When I introduce you, I'll plant the seed about Sully inviting you in to address the board. I think it will work."
"All you need to do is raise some questions about the consolidation plan. Let them know as a client you would not be happy with such a change in the way we do business. Especially in the loss of your team," suggested Larry.
I looked at Sam for his input, but he just kept looking at me silently, his eyes intense and focused. I let him stare into my soul, feeling a peace come over me. After a few moments, he started smiling, then nodded once to himself.
"Jack…all you have to do is stay focused on the people. Your team. All you care about is your team. That's who you are fighting for. Not the bank, not Arnold, not Davis, not investments or dividends or returns. Just…your team. We need this team, Jack, to do everything we've talked about doing. We can't use this…tool…without them. Fight for them, Jack. Fight for us, and you're guaranteed a victory today." It was all I could do to not start crying again. How he understood me to the core of who I am, I'll never know. He was so right. All I cared about was my team. The people. Us. The money was secondary.
I took a deep breath. I could do this. Stay focused on my team, and bring home a win. "Okay…let's do it. Todd, I guess it's time to meet Andrew Sullivan. Here's hoping he likes me."
We all stood up and waited for Todd to gather all of his papers and folders spread out on the conference table. Larry came over to Sam and me and reached out to shake our hands again.
"Sam. Jack. Todd was right. You guys are great. I'm glad we're on the same team. And I'm hopeful we are going to be able to keep the team intact after the meeting today. You guys are a formidable duo, for sure. I'll be around later and we can talk some more. Go get ‘em, Jack." I smiled, trying to convey more confidence than I actually felt.
We stopped by Todd's office so he could dump his files, then we continued to the elevators. Riding up four floors to the Executive Office Suite, I clung to Sam's hand, hoping to suck whatever confidence he had in me over into my own soul. Time to do it afraid.
It took less than a minute to casually "run into" Andrew Sullivan. He was an extremely well-dressed, trim and dapper man, looking to be in his early seventies. But there was no mistaking the fire in his eyes. They reminded me of Sam's - there was a light in them which drew me in immediately. He gave us a warm smile, and I saw in his eyes the exact moment when it registered Sam and I were sexual partners, not business partners. He had the good grace to say nothing, even though being from the old school, he might have had an issue with us as a couple. I hoped it wouldn't scuttle Todd's well laid plan for getting me into the Board Room.
"Mr. Schaeffer, welcome to First Colorado. I hope Todd and Larry have been treating you well."
"Very much so, sir." I decided to keep my comments brief, letting him take the lead. Sam said nothing standing next to me, looking almost amused. I think he was excited to see how this all played out. I just wanted to throw up.
"Todd tells me you are a new client for us. How did you come to choose our humble little bank for your needs?"
"Well…to be honest, sir, I recently became the trustee for the Franklin Family Trust, and since Phillip and Amanda Franklin had enormous trust in this bank and the team of people taking care of them, I decided the wisest course of action was to follow their lead. I have to say I've been pleased with how Larry and Todd and the rest of my team here have handled things on my behalf. It's been a big change for me, but they've made it easier to manage."
"Young man, it makes me so happy to hear such compliments. Taking care of our clients is what this bank has been about since my grandfather started out…well, let's just say a long time ago." His eyes twinkled in remembrance of his family. "I'm glad we have conducted ourselves in a manner worthy of your trust. I'm confident we will continue our excellent level of service, won't we Todd?"
"Yes, sir. Certainly. And sir, if I may, perhaps you might like to introduce Jack to some of the other Board Members since you are all here today. I'm sure he would appreciate meeting them, and the other members might like hearing a few words from one of our most important clients."
"Excellent idea, Todd." He looked over at Sam, and then at me again. "What do you say, gentlemen? Care to meet a bunch of old guys who hopefully remembered to put their teeth in this morning?" He smiled, and I chuckled at his joke. I liked him. He put me at ease, which was an amazing feat considering the inner turmoil I was suffering. Sam was keeping a constant vigil on me, watching for any sign of impending collapse. Now that the ice was broken with Mr. Sullivan, he could see I was doing better, and he noticeably relaxed a little as well.
"Come this way and I'll introduce you both to the folks who pretend to run this show. Just between you and me, I think most of them just come for the free coffee and danish and a chance to get out of the house and feel useful for a few days here and there. Retirement is not for the faint of heart. Remember that, boys. Be useful every day of your life, for as long as you can."
We nodded and followed him across a small lobby and into a large, opulent conference room with a gigantic table big enough to seat 20 or more people. Mr. Sullivan proceeded to introduce us to everyone in attendance, letting them know in a graceful manner I was one of their largest account trustees and Sam was my partner. Whether a few of them understood what it meant or not, I couldn't be sure. Change is hard for some - it was brutal on me. Thankfully no one seemed to take issue. I for one was thrilled Mr. Sullivan had included Sam. Having him there was an unexpected confidence booster.
At some point in the process of meeting everyone, and frequent offers of pastries and coffee, Mr. Sullivan put a gentle hand on my elbow and graciously steered me towards a tall, distinguished man who had just entered the room.
"Davis, a moment if you will."
"Of course, Sully. Anything for you. Who is this?" he asked, looking at me for the first time.
"Allow me to introduce you to Jack Schaeffer, one of your biggest clients, and his partner, Sam Wainwright. I thought it was high time you two met." For his part, Davis handled the slight barb with skill and deference to his former mentor. A strange look passed across his eyes when he shook hands with Sam and me. I couldn't be sure, but it almost looked like a wave of fear to me. Whatever it was, he quickly recovered.
"My apologies, Mr. Schaeffer, for not having gotten in touch sooner. If my memory is working this morning, you are the gentleman who has taken over the former Franklin Trust, correct?" Score a point for you, Davis. Well played.
"Yes, sir. And don't worry about not having met me yet. The transition occurred only a month ago, and today is the first day I've been back in Denver. I came by to meet my team, and Larry Weiss suggested I look around the place. Todd Martin was kind enough to introduce me to Mr. Sullivan here."
"You can call me Sully, dear boy. Everyone does. And don't worry - Davis here knows I mean no offense. It just amazes me we can be so busy doing our jobs, we lose sight of who we are doing them for."
Davis nodded, diplomatically saying nothing. "If you gentlemen will excuse me, I have someone I need to speak to quickly before our meeting. Sully, we'll be ready to start in just a moment. Mr. Schaeffer, Mr. Wainright, pleased to meet you both." He smiled and departed towards the pastry and coffee table. Sully watched his back and slowly shook his head. He looked disappointed in his protégé for some reason.
Deep in thought, Sully politely excused himself for a moment, so Sam and I walked over to the row of floor-to-ceiling windows which made up one whole wall of the room and looked out at the snow-capped mountains. Standing close to me, his hand predictably floating near my back, he whispered. "You're doing great, Jack. So far so good. Sully likes you. I think you can pull this off. Remember, stay focused on your team, no matter what anybody else tries to say." I nodded, grateful he was with me. I so wanted to reach out and hold his hand, or better yet, have him hold me in his arms.
"Gentlemen, if you'd like to find a seat at the table, we can get started this morning," said Davis, loud enough to overcome the din of multiple conversations buzzing around the room. One by one, the Board Members started to find seats. I looked for Sully and he motioned for Sam and me to sit on a black leather couch near the refreshment bar. Once everyone was seated and the conversations began to die down, Davis made a move to open the meeting officially.
After putting on a pair of reading glasses and opening a folder in front of him, he said, "Good morning, gentlemen. We have a full agenda today, so we should probably get started with reviewing old business. If you'll open up the folders in front of you…"
"Excuse me, Davis, I apologize for interrupting, but my guests are still here. I wonder if you all would be willing to indulge an old man in inviting one of them to address this esteemed gathering for just a few moments before we begin our official meeting?" There was a moment of rapid glances from one to another amongst the Board Members. Sully's eyes never moved off of Davis, and Davis was looking at him down the table. He wisely decided to yield the floor.
"Very well, Sully. We can certainly spare a few moments for your guest to share his thoughts with us."
"Thank you, Davis. I appreciate it. Gentlemen, I believe I have introduced you all to Jack Schaeffer this morning." Heads started to nod. I had indeed been introduced to every one of them, though heck if I could remember most of their names. "Mr. Schaeffer is a relatively new client to our fine institution and he was sharing with me some of his initial thoughts and appreciations for our service to him, and I thought it might be nice to hear firsthand from a satisfied client. Mr. Schaeffer, the floor is yours." Sam squeezed my hand as I stood up and walked up closer to the table.
I swallowed the lump in my throat and began.
"Gentlemen, first let me say I appreciate you allowing me a few moments to speak with you this morning. I know you are very busy and have much other business to discuss, so I won't keep you. As a few of you may be aware, I recently became the new trustee for the Franklin Family Trust, which has been managed by First Colorado for a number of years. I met Larry Weiss and his team in the Private Trust Division a little over a month ago, and Larry greatly assisted me as I transitioned to my new responsibilities over the trust. Later, I met Todd Martin, and he has been like a right-hand man for me over the past several weeks.
"In the beginning I was more than a little overwhelmed by the great responsibility which had fallen upon me. I had a decision to make. Who do I trust? It was clear the Franklins trusted their team here at the bank, and I decided I would too. That decision has been a wise one, I believe. I've come to think of these men, Larry and Todd and the others, as my team. And more than my financial team. They have fast become my friends, my colleagues if you will. We have transitioned into what is now called the Schaeffer & Associates Executive Trust. I have been given a mandate to manage this trust for an important purpose, and I hope I can count on Larry and Todd - my team here at First Colorado - to continue to assist me in accomplishing those goals."
Sully interjected. "Mr. Schaeffer, I can assure you we value the continued trust you have placed in First Colorado more than anything else, and I personally promise you we will do our best to keep your trust." He was very proud of his bank, as well he should be.
"I appreciate what you are saying…Sully…but I do have some concerns." He had started to smile when I used his familiar moniker, but then frowned when he realized what I said. Other heads started swiveling, one member looking to the next. I thought I heard one man gasp quickly, but he might have just fallen asleep and was startled awake by all the commotion. Davis Munroe, who had been studying his agenda closely, most likely just waiting for this love fest to end so he could get on to more important matters, looked up to see why all conversation had stopped.
Sully was looking at me, somewhat puzzled. "Mr. Schaeffer…what concerns are those?" he asked.
"Well, Sully, in talking with my team this morning, it came to light there are some changes planned for how accounts like mine are going to be managed in the near future. I have some grave concerns about those proposed changes." Open murmuring broke out around the table. Davis looked slightly panic stricken. His carefully planned agenda was getting away from him quickly.
He spoke up. "Mr. Schaeffer, I'm confident we can address all of your private concerns in a satisfactory manner - perhaps at a more appropriate time and place?" He seemed genuine enough, but I already knew what was on the agenda in his fingers.
"Mr. Munroe, I'm sure you will try, but I must say I do not share your confidence. If what I was told this morning is true, and you plan to consolidate all investments into a…what is it called…an institutional investment model…then I cannot imagine you or anyone else here will be able to satisfy my concerns."
There it was. The cat was out of the bag. Sully was looking at me intensely. I couldn't decide if it was contempt or respect. He knew he had been used for a purpose he did not yet understand, but I think a part of him was intrigued to see how this unexpected scenario played out. All around him his fellow Board Members began openly murmuring, wondering what concerns I could possibly have. Sensing he had already lost control, Davis looked down the table at Sully as if to say, "You invited him, you fix it."
Sully continued to look at me, then I saw his gaze shift to Sam, who was still sitting quietly on the couch nearby. I watched as Sam and Sully mentally connected, both of them focusing their eyes on one another, silently communicating in a way I did not understand. I observed first one then the other nod their heads, and then Sully brought his eyes back to mine. He now looked at me with a tenderness I did not expect. After a few seconds, he smiled at me, and if I read his lips right, he mouthed, "Trust me." I nodded to him silently and waited, while the conversations continued around me.
Sully suddenly stood up, and I swear he had significantly increased in stature from before. This was a man used to commanding a room, and he was about to do it again. He spoke not a word, just stood there in silence, almost willing the room to go quiet, which it did quickly. When he had everyone's attention, he spoke with a firmness which belied his years.
"Davis, we seem to be somewhat in the dark as to Mr. Schaeffer's concerns. Could you perhaps shed some light on what he is referring to - this…change…in investment methods?"
Davis looked like he had swallowed his tongue. He put his printed agenda down, and looked sideways out the window for a moment. The rest of the table waited in silence. I watched as Davis struggled for control of his thoughts. Finally he turned back to look at Sully.
"Sully, times are changing. We as a bank have to change with them. The days of dedicated teams of investment advisors focused on a single account are long gone at most firms. Moving to an institutional investment model allows us to serve more clients, not just the uber-wealthy, and gives us a platform to grow on. We can do a better job of guaranteeing rates of return, and our costs will be significantly reduced. It's the right way to go, and the Executive Team agrees."
"I agree, too," said another Board Member. "Davis is right, we have to move on." He shifted his gaze to me. "Mr. Schaeffer, I can understand you may have some concerns, but perhaps it's because you don't really understand how investing works. These changes will benefit you in the long run. We can get you a higher rate of return on your money with less fuss and less required involvement from you. In the end I'm confident you will prefer this method of managing your affairs."
"You are correct about one thing, sir. I do not know a great deal about investing or returns. But I do know I need my team here at First Colorado to accomplish my goals. What happens to them when this change is implemented?" I spoke as respectfully as I could.
"Why…you'll have a new team. A bigger team, watching out for all of your investments along with everyone else's to ensure the highest rate of return possible."
"You're missing my point. I don't need a bigger team, and I am not concerned at the moment with the highest rate of return. I want to know what happens to Larry, Todd and the rest of my current team?" My question silenced him, and he looked over towards Davis, unable to help any further. I waited for an answer. Davis, of course, knew the answer to the question, as I'm sure so did others at the table, but no one seemed willing to speak up. Finally Sully did.
"I believe Jack has asked a reasonable question, and it deserves an answer, Davis. According to your plan, what happens to the team he has come to rely upon?" Using my first name seemed to indicate the gloves had come off. It was getting uncomfortably tense in the room now.
Davis was staring daggers down the table at Sully, and the animosity was palpable. Some of the Board Members looked uncomfortable, others looked excited. This was probably more fun for some of them than they had had in a long while.
Seeing he had no out, Davis finally pulled his shoulders back and responded, more to Sully than to me. "The entire Private Trust Division will be merged into the Corporate Investment Division. All investments for all accounts will ultimately be converted into a choice of bank managed funds, run by fund managers who will be responsible for the results of said funds. All of our clients, including Mr. Schaeffer, will be able to choose which funds they would like to invest in. We can continue to make those selections on his behalf based on his risk preferences, just as we do now."
"And what happens to Larry Weiss? Todd Martin?" I grabbed my phone out of my pocket and quickly looked up my contacts. "What about Mason Wheeler, William Petersen, Daniel Masters or Simon Lawson? What happens to them?"
"If their skills match what we need, then we will do our best to transition them into the Corporate Investment division."
"Otherwise, they are out of a job." I was fighting hard not to get upset. I hadn't even met four of these guys, but still they were my team, and they deserved my best. I couldn't see Sam behind me, but I could feel him, willing me to victory.
"Mr. Schaeffer, I can understand how you feel about someone potentially losing their job. You're young, and I mean no disrespect, but perhaps a little naive about how business works. Sometimes changes have to be made in how a business functions in order for it to survive, and people sometimes lose their jobs in the process. It's a necessary evil at times in running a company."
"Tell me, Mr. Munroe, since I am so naive and don't understand how these changes will benefit me in the long run, who do I call at 10 pm on a Saturday night when I need to help a friend who's had an accident and needs emergency medical care or reliable legal representation? Which fund manager do I call to help me find last minute transportation for three people leaving Hawaii within the next few hours? Who do I call when I need to purchase two vehicles on a Sunday afternoon and every dealership in the city is closed and it can't wait until Monday? Who do I call then?"
"Well…you wouldn't. We are an investment firm. We don't provide those kinds of services to our clients."
"And yet, that's exactly what my team here at First Colorado did for me - in the past two days! And I haven't even mentioned the private jet or the houses or the staff who takes care of those things for me, all managed by my team - here…in this bank…right downstairs!" I tried to keep the rising contempt out of my voice, but this guy had no idea what my team did, and didn't seem to care. Nor did apparently most of the Board Members, judging by their shocked faces. Sully was smiling wide at me, his eyes beaming.
As the murmuring died down, Davis having wisely not responded to me at all, Sully held his hands up to quiet the room. "Thank you, Mr. Schaeffer, for helping us understand exactly what your concerns are, and for clarifying my own. Gentlemen, for some time now I have been quietly worried we as a company have been losing our focus, striving for higher and higher profits at the expense of caring for our clients. Mr. Schaeffer serves as a stark reminder of how foolish we look when we forget it's our clients - people like him - who are the reason for our success, not how smart we are at picking the best stocks or bonds.
"My God, when did we lose sight of what's important? It's people…flesh and blood people. Davis, you wanted this board to rubber stamp a proposal to wipe out nearly half of the real assets this bank has - our employees. People we have invested in, groomed, managed, and hopefully inspired to be worthy of the trust our clients have traditionally given to us. And for what? More money? To look like every other institution out there? No sir, not on my watch. Not while I have breath in this old body." He looked down the table at Davis, and his face softened, remembering something in his former protégé.
"I don't understand it, Davis. You never would have proposed a change like this in the past. And to do it in such an…underhanded way. This is not like you, and I hope this is a momentary lapse of judgment on your part. And if someone else put you up to this, I would advise you to think twice about listening to what they have to say. Thankfully this came to light before we lost a valuable client like Mr. Schaeffer, or a dozen others." Davis looked like a broken man, and knowing he had made this ill-advised maneuver most likely under extreme pressure from Arnold Turner, I suddenly felt sorry for him. Sully was clearly disappointed in him, and I could see how his disappointment and his loss of respect was crippling to Davis.
Taking a deep breath, Sully continued. "Gentleman, I apologize if my emotions and care for this great institution sometimes get the better of me. This bank has been my whole life, which maybe is not a good thing. But it is my hope the majority of you agree we must get back to making clients our focus, and every decision this Board makes should reflect that and nothing else." The majority of heads around the table were definitely nodding, including the gentleman who had tried unsuccessfully to address my concerns. Even Davis looked like he was slowly nodding in agreement. Good for him.
Sully looked over to me, and I took that as my cue. "Gentlemen, thank you for taking the time to allow me to air my concerns. I want to stress I truly have appreciated all my First Colorado team has done for me in the past, and I can only hope the excellent service I have received can continue."
I paused, slowly looking around the room, making eye contact with each man I could see. I took a deep breath and made my final statement. "Just to be clear, so there is no misunderstanding, I am asking you to not alter or interfere with my team and what they do for me. Please know this - if you take my team away from me in any way, I will have no choice but to take myself away from you. Good day, gentlemen." I nodded to Sully and turned and headed for the exit, walking as calmly and confidently as I could muster from the silent room, Sam hot on my heels.
I made it out into the hallway and nearly collapsed with my back up against a wall in the hallway, my breathing not quite right. "Not here, Jack," whispered Sam. "Follow me." He grabbed my hand and propelled me quickly down the hall and into a nearby bathroom. He checked to see we were alone, and then grabbed me, pulling me into him, and held on tight while I concentrated on breathing normally. Thankfully being in Sam's big strong arms had its usual effect on me, and in just a few moments I relaxed and felt much better. I looked up at his beautiful face, and he leaned down a little and kissed me gently.
"That…was intense," said Sam. "Wow, Jack. You were fucking awesome, man! I can't imagine anybody in that room, including Davis himself, voting for the proposal now. I'm glad I'm on your side."
"Me too, Sam. I could never have done it without you in there with me. I could feel you behind me, giving me strength. And Sully, too. What happened when he looked at you? It was so strange."
"I don't know, but I saw it too. He was looking at me and I could see something click in him. And then he went on the warpath. I mean, I never expected him to tear into Davis like that. I felt sorry for the guy."
"Me too. We need to figure out what Arnold's got on him and get him out from under. He's not a bad guy, is he?"
"No, I don't think so. You could tell he played a hand he didn't really want to play. He can tell Arnold he really tried, but I think in the end he was glad it went the way it did." I nodded in agreement, just thrilled it was all over.
"You okay, little man?" Sam asked, holding my chin gently in his hand. I nodded and smiled at him. "Good. Let's get out of here and find Todd and Larry." He led us out into the hallway and back to the elevator lobby. Thankfully no one intercepted us.
As the elevator doors closed, Sam grabbed my hand again and smiled at me. "I'm so proud of you, Jack. You really were amazing in there today. You stayed perfectly focused, and it paid off. I love how you shut the one guy down by just asking the same question over and over - what about my team, what about my team? You made the perfect play."
"Thanks, Sam. I just tried to do what you told me to. Keep my eye on my team. You're right, you know. It's all I really care about…you and my team. You're my family now." As I said it out loud, the reality of the words struck something deep in my soul, and I was instantly on the verge of tears, overwhelmed by how good it felt to call these people my family. And in my mind, my new "family" also included Billy, Sharon, and Clyde, along with four other guys I had yet to meet.
Sam had a stunned look of wonder on his face. His eyes were flaring in the corners, like he was suddenly struggling not to cry. His voice cracked as he softly whispered, "Jack…is that true? Do you really…am I really…I mean, you really consider me to be your family now?" A single tear fell from his right eye. Then another. What did I say to upset him?
"Sam…of course you're my family. How could you not be? You're my best friend, my lover, my partner…my everything. I love you so much, Sam. I am nothing without you. You are most definitely my family now." He looked deeply into my eyes as he often did, but this time he seemed to be trying to accept the truth of what I had just told him, and he was seriously struggling to believe me.
We arrived back at the 10th floor and when the elevator doors opened, we were both staring intensely at each other, Sam's deep blue eyes glistening with tears and something else I couldn't identify. The doors started to close on us and I reflexively stuck my hand out to stop them, then gently pulled Sam into the quiet lobby, where thankfully we were alone.
"Sam…" I started, seeking to reassure him, but he put a finger up to my lips and kept staring into my eyes. It was amazing to watch him process whatever he was going through from that intimate vantage point. I saw his thoughts play out behind his eyes, unclear as to what he was struggling to work out in his mind. Finally, after a couple of agonizing minutes, he nodded and smiled very faintly.
"You do mean it, don't you." He said it more as a statement than a question.
"Yes, I do, Sam. Please believe me. I love you, big guy."
"I do believe you, Jack. I'm…overwhelmed…but I believe you. It's just…I never…ugh! I hate this." It was clear he was upset about something, but I didn't think it was me or my declaration. I waited in silence, patiently giving him the space to tell me in his own way. He finally sighed deeply and sat down on a chair up against the wooden wall. I sat in the chair next to him, never letting go of his hand.
He swallowed, took a deep breath, and turned to look at me, fairly composed now. "The thing is, Jack, when I was with Jeremy…I wanted so desperately for him to be a part of my family. But I couldn't even get him to meet my parents, let alone ever talk about our future together as a couple beyond the moment. Even when we talked about law school, it was just the next step in our education, not about building a life together. After…after it all fell apart…I never thought it would happen for me…that I'd ever meet someone who would want me to be a part of his family and he would want to be part of mine." Sam grabbed my hand with both of his, and looked deep into my soul. "Jack, you say I'm your family now. Will you please be mine?"
"Yes…yes I will." I leaned across the arms of the chairs between us and kissed him softly. "I would be honored if you would consider me to be your family, Sam. Nothing would make me happier. Being with you…I've finally found my place in this world, a place where I can be me without fear, and I can be with the man who loves me and who I love more than my next breath. I very much want to be your family. Forever."
He smiled, then leaned over and kissed me again. I could feel the love and gratitude in his kiss, along with a real sense I had just given him something which money certainly could never buy…something priceless to him. Clearly family meant a great deal to Sam Wainwright. And he wanted me to be a part of his.
Sam had taken a huge leap of faith getting on the plane with me and coming to Denver. He had carefully determined what he wanted in his life, and what he wanted was me. Sitting there in the elevator lobby, looking into his eyes, I started to realize what this all meant. Sam and I were beginning a family together. We had pledged our love to each other a number of times, but loving someone is not always the same thing as building a family together.
And I also knew we were talking about more than sharing a house together, which we still had yet to see. No, this was more than where we would live or what we would eat for dinner, or what careers we would have. This was about two people choosing to make every decision going forward in consideration of the family - of each other. I was no longer my own man. I belonged to Sam, and he belonged to me. And it felt so good.
Just then the Private Trust Division doors opened, and a flustered Todd Martin came flying out. He took one look at us, and I could tell something bad had happened.
"Don't just sit there. Come on. We have to go." He was stabbing at the elevator buttons, as if it would make one appear faster.
"Go where, Todd?" asked Sam. Todd was suddenly near tears.
"To the hospital, damn it. It's Larry. He's had another heart attack."
To be continued…
Author's Note: Jack wins the boardroom battle, but the war is not over. He and Sam begin to build a family together, and that will not be without its challenges. And what will happen to Larry? What secret does Arnold hold over Davis? Stay tuned.
As always, I love hearing from readers. If you are enjoying Forever, or have a suggestion on how to make it better, please let me know. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org