Castle Roland

Forever 2 - Changes

by Jack Schaeffer

In Progress

Chapter 7

Published: 21 May 15

FOREVER 2 - Changes
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

From the previous chapter:

Nancy was at the door and motioned for Todd to come out in the hallway, I guess to discuss the lunch which was hopefully on its way up. I was very hungry. All four guys poured a coffee and found a seat at the table, not sure which one should go first. I suddenly realized they were as nervous to meet me as I was to meet them. After all, I was their boss in a way, and I could understand their apprehension.

"Hey, guys. It's just me. I'm just Jack, okay. Relax. Which one of you is Mason?" I asked, figuring I'd start with the one I had talked to on the phone.

Just as Mason raised his hand and was about to speak, Todd popped back into the room and slammed the door shut, making everyone jump. All heads turned to see a very red faced Todd glaring at us.

"Which one of you is the stupid, ignorant fool who told Arnold Turner we were meeting here today?"

For five seconds you could have heard a pin drop. Then pandemonium broke out.

"What the hell? What's going on, Todd?" demanded Mason.

"Yeah. What are you talking about?" yelled one of the others, someone I had yet to be introduced to. I kept silent. I think I was in shock. Todd was furious.

"I was just told Arnold Turner called the front desk downstairs a few minutes ago trying to confirm a meeting was happening over here. Thankfully the call was transferred to a friend of mine, and she covered for us. But that's beside the point. I'm giving you 30 seconds to tell me who told him about our meeting today?" Heads started turning, each man looking at the others, no one admitting anything. The only thing I knew for certain was it had not been me.

"Mason?" asked Todd, directing his gaze toward the tall, blond guy who had earlier raised his hand. Mason shook his head vigorously.

"No way, Todd. Not me. I can't stand the guy."

"Simon?" Todd was now looking at a guy with an average appearance, his dark hair prematurely graying slightly at the temples. Under better circumstances I would say he looked distinguished for someone probably barely 30 years old. Right now, he just looked pissed off, like everyone else at the table.

"No fucking way, Todd!" he answered angrily. "Are you sure it was one of us? Who would have had the chance? We were all working together when you sent the group text saying to meet here at noon," he said, very frustrated. But his mental wheels were turning, and I watched as realization hit his face. "Hey, wait a minute. Three of us rode over together. Petersen drove separately."

All heads swivelled to stare at Will Petersen, a smallish guy and clearly the youngest one at the table, who was now looking down at his lap and refusing to acknowledge Simon's comment, his face a mass of mixed emotions. He was sitting closest to me, and I could see his temples flaring in and out as he ground his teeth together.

Todd threw down the folder he was holding onto the table. "Will? Are you kidding me? What part of 'private meeting' don't you understand? What the fuck is going on?" yelled Todd, his anger overflowing. Will's hands started shaking and I suddenly felt protective of him, so I jumped in without thinking.

"Todd! Hold up a minute," I said loudly. That startled everyone. I guess they all forgot I was in the room. Todd looked up at me, about to tell me to butt out, but I shook my head silently, and he got the message to stand down. We obviously needed to get to the bottom of whatever it was Will had done, but I wasn't going to have someone on my team attacked - even if he had done something foolish.

"Everybody just take a breath. And Todd, sit down. You're making me nervous," I said. Todd was staring daggers at my interference, but he reluctantly did as I asked. I quietly sighed in relief. He had been standing at the opposite end of the conference table looking like he was going to pounce on Will, who was getting more upset by the minute. Any second now he was gonna run out of the room or burst into tears.

"Will," I said, as gently as I could. He looked up at me slowly for the first time, and I smiled at him. He was scared and embarrassed, that much was obvious. "I realize we haven't really been introduced, and I'm sorry it's happening like this. You don't know me, and I don't know you, but I want to tell you, no matter what is going on, I will listen to what you have to say. I just want you to tell me the truth, okay?"

He looked at me, clearly struggling with his thoughts and emotions. I could certainly understand how he was feeling. All eyes were on him, waiting. He swallowed hard, and kept his eyes on my face, not daring to look at anyone else in the room.

"Mr. Schaeffer...I...uh..."

"Just call me Jack. Okay, Will?" I said softly. He nodded.

"I don't know what to say...Jack." He was very close to tears now, totally defeated. Something was wrong here. This was not a guy who was against us. He looked lost and bewildered and scared. And then it dawned on me - Arnold Turner was leveraging him somehow, just like he had with Davis Munroe. And who knows how many others. Crap! I was beginning to hate the evil son of a bitch.

" Arnold Turner blackmailing you?" I asked. Simon, Mason and the remaining guy at the table, who I now knew was Daniel by process of elimination, all gasped, a shocked look replacing the anger on their faces.

"What the hell? Blackmail?" said Simon.

"Quiet, please," I said softly, looking at Simon. He nodded, then all eyes returned to Will, who was still looking only at me. He very slightly nodded his head, but it was enough. I blew out an exasperated sigh and nodded my own head toward him once. At least I knew what was going on.

"Guys, can I have a minute to talk with Will alone? And then I want you all back in here, okay, so don't go far." Todd looked like he was about to protest, but I shook my head, hoping he wouldn't interfere. Todd intimidated these guys, which in some cases could be useful I suppose. But I needed Will to trust me and confide in me, and it wasn't going to happen with four other guys wanting to tear into him.

With no small amount of grumbling they all got up and filed out of the room, Todd being the last one at the door. "I'll be right outside here in the hall, Jack," he said.

"Thanks, Todd. I'll come get you in a few minutes." He nodded, calmer at least, and then stepped out. I waited for the door to close fully, then got up and grabbed a can of Coke from the sideboard.

"You want anything, Will?" I asked, as I popped the top on my soda and took a slow swig. I noticed he had not touched his coffee. No one had. He just shook his head silently.

"Look...Will...I don't know what's going on, but I do know Arnold Turner is bad news. So if you've gotten yourself mixed up with him, I'd like to help you get out from under his control.'re gonna have to trust me, which I know is not gonna be easy to do, seein' as how you don't know me." He just looked at me, lost with where to start, I guess.

Using the kindest, most encouraging voice I could muster, I said, "Why don't you tell me what he's got on you, and we'll go from there." He suddenly sucked in some air through clenched teeth, the idea of having to reveal his secret clearly a frightening prospect. But he didn't have much of a choice, either, which I guess he figured out as I sat there patiently waiting.

In a voice barely above a whisper, Will said, "He came to me a couple of months ago. I didn't even know he knew my name, let alone anything about me. I've only been at the bank for a little over a year. Larry recruited me from my former firm." His voice caught in his throat and he paused. I just nodded, encouraging him to continue. He swallowed and started again.

"He asked me to come into the conference room and he closed the door. He had a was my personnel folder, I think. Then he looked at me with the coldest eyes I've ever seen." Will actually shuddered as he was remembering Arnold's gaze at him across the table.

"He said, 'Mr. Petersen, I have here your employment application and it appears you may have misrepresented yourself. What do you have to say about that?'. I had no idea what he was talking about, and I said so. Then he said, 'You were asked on this form if you have ever been convicted of a felony. You answered no, but that's not true, is it?'. I knew of course what he was referring to, but I couldn't figure out how he could possibly know about what had happened. I was told all the charges had been dropped and my record was clean. But I said nothing. I was too scared. I love this job...I...I don't want to lose it," he said, his eyes pleading with mine.

"So what happened after he confronted you?" I asked.

"He just looked at me with a...I don't know how to describe it. Like he was pretending to be a concerned father, but it was obviously not real. He creeped me out, but at the same time, what was I supposed to do? He was accusing me of lying on my application, and the threat to expose me was right there. He said he was willing to overlook my...'indiscretion', he called it. But I had to agree to tell him about anything I overheard in my job he might be interested in. I didn't understand what he was asking - how would I know what he was interested in? He explained how he would tell me what he was looking for from time to time, and I was to keep my eyes and ears open and report to him using text messages to a cell phone. I didn't know what else to agreed." He hung his head, ashamed and totally defeated.

"And did he ever ask you for information?" I asked.

"Not until two days ago. I guess there was a board meeting or something and afterwards he was coming through our office, hell bent on talking with Larry. But...Larry was already on his way to the hospital with Todd. Everybody was upset and worried, not knowing what was happening. I saw him say something to a couple of the other guys, and then he came by my desk and told me to meet him in the conference room. I didn't want to, but I did, and that's when he told me to keep him informed of anything Todd was doing. I didn't know what he meant, and he got very frustrated and said just text him with whatever plans Todd was involved in. Anything related you, Jack."

I sat back and sighed. So Arnold Turner was likely aware I was the one who had messed up his plans during the board meeting on Monday. It made sense. I'm sure he had accomplices on the Board who told him what had happened. He clearly didn't know me by sight, however, because he completely ignored me sitting in Todd's office earlier. A small blessing, for the moment anyway.

", when Todd told you we were meeting off-site, you did what?"

"I'm so sorry, Jack. I hated doing it, you have to believe me. But I was scared. I...I told the guys I was going to drive myself over and then I texted the number Arnold gave me and just said 'meeting at Teatro at noon'. That's all I said." He stopped talking, again near tears. I was angry, but not at Will. He was trapped, just like Davis had been. I knew Will was a good kid in an unfortunate situation.

"Look...Will...I get why you did it. I do, and it pisses me off that Arnold has done this to you. But...if I'm going to help you, I need you to tell me about the felony charges that he's holding over your head. What's that all about?" I asked.

"Oh man," he said, as he sighed heavily, not wanting to talk about it, but knowing he had to. "Okay...God, I can't believe this is happening all over again," he said, looking up at the ceiling. He took a big breath, and continued.

"About four years ago, I'm sitting in my apartment and there's a knock on the door. Two police officers are standing there and they arrest me. I was in shock - I had no clue what was going on, and they refused to even tell me at first. I was questioned by several people for hours about a robbery and a court appearance and...I don't remember what all. Finally I was told I was being held for failure to appear at my sentencing hearing for possessing stolen property. I was totally in the dark, and started demanding to speak to a lawyer, which of course I didn't have. Anyway, to make a long story short, my asshole brother was apparently arrested sometime before all this with stolen goods in his car. He tells the officer that he's me."

"Wait...your brother told the police officer who stopped him that he was you? Didn't the guy check his ID?"

"You'd think so, right? But no, my brother says he doesn't have ID and claims to be me. Gives them my name, address, whatever. Then...he goes to court and pleads me...and they still don't check to see if he's for real. So I'm convicted of possessing stolen property and driving without a license. He's released, pending sentencing, since he...well, me...had no prior record. I guess they trusted he would actually show up. Which of course he didn't, the bastard. So a few months go by and they finally get around to arresting me."

"What happened? How did you get it all straightened out? Or did you?"

"Yeah...but it took a while, and I spent a weekend in jail while the lawyer they gave me ran around trying to convince everyone they had the wrong guy. I guess he found the main prosecutor in the case, who believed him once he showed the guy a picture of me. I don't look anything like my brother, and the prosecutor remembered the case, so he agreed to help get the charges against me reversed and actually came to the jail and apologized to me personally. It took another two months to get the conviction overturned."

"So in the end, you weren't actually guilty of committing a felony?"

"No. I've never even had a speeding ticket, Jack. I didn't do anything but go to school, and now I just work. That's it."

"But...why would Arnold Turner think you had been charged with a felony and try to use that to blackmail you? You didn't actually lie on your application."

"I don't know. I was told my record was clean. But maybe there's still some entry somewhere of the original charges. I just wish now I had stood up to him. I feel like a total asshole. I let everybody down, and now the guys will never trust me again." He slouched in his chair, totally defeated. I really felt for the guy. Arnold Turner was a truly despicable human being.

"Okay, Will. Let me talk with Todd. I'm just a client, he's your boss. But I understand what happened, and thank you for trusting me. If you tell me now you will never divulge anything we discuss to Arnold Turner...or anybody else for that matter...I'll vouch for you with the other guys." He smiled for the first time.

"You'll do that for me?" he asked, wide-eyed. "I mean...yes...I promise I'll never say another thing to anybody. Ever. don't even know me. Why would you...?"

I sighed. "Because I do know you now. A little anyway. You obviously got scared and did what you thought you had to do. And I believe you won't do it again. Besides...I need my team, and you're a part of it." He smiled at me and thanked me.

I looked at him and thought about Davis Munroe and his son Andrew and wondered who else Arnold was leveraging for his own selfish gain. The more I thought about it, the madder I became. More to myself than Will, I blurted out, "You know what? Arnold fucking Turner is not gonna get away with his shit any more!" Will jumped in his chair. I was pissed, just not at Will.

I stormed over to the door, jerked it open, and saw the other guys all pacing in the hall. "Get in here!" I shouted. They filed in, staring hard at Will, who was at least looking back at them, not trying to hide anymore. Good for him.

"Everybody take a seat and don't speak," I said harshly, surprising them and myself with my tone. Get a grip, Jack. Stop freaking out. I deliberately slowed my breathing and waited for everyone to settle.

"Okay...I've talked with Will, and yes, he told Arnold we were meeting. Not what about, since none of you know...yet. I'm satisfied with his explanation and I'm confident it won't happen again. So Will stays, and we don't need to discuss it anymore," I said, looking directly at Todd. He looked like he was going to challenge me for a second, but after looking into my eyes for a moment, he simply nodded his head once and relaxed. Just like Sam would have done. Crap! I missed him. I needed him. I shook myself mentally and forged on.

"Before I go any further, I have one question, and you all need to tell me the truth. You get one shot at this, okay?" All heads nodded, no one speaking. "Have any of you, besides Will here, been approached by Arnold Turner with an implied threat or been asked unusual or uncomfortable questions by him?" Todd and I watched as each man thought it over, all but one shaking their heads. Daniel had a strange look on his face.

"Danny, what is it?" asked Todd, now stirring again.

"I don't...well, it couldn't be...oh fuck! Shit! Shit! Shit!" He was suddenly very agitated and upset.

"What, man? Tell us!" said Todd. I was up on the edge of my seat.

"Son of a bitch!" Danny exclaimed. Then he looked directly at me. "Jack...I'm sorry. I didn't know. Dammit! How could I be so stupid?"

"Danny, just...take a breath...and tell us what happened," I said, trying to stay calm while everyone else was getting more upset by the second. He looked at me again and nodded, sighing heavily.

"It was Monday, sometime after Todd left with Larry for the hospital. Arnold came barrelling through the office, red faced and being rude to everyone he ran into. He barged his way into Larry's office and when he didn't find him, he came over to me. I was on the phone, and he stood over me, with this...this...sneer...on his face. I got off my call and before I could even say hello, he's yelling, 'Where the fuck is Larry? What has he done?' I told him they'd just taken him away to the hospital and he starts ranting again. Didn't even ask how he was. Then he looks at me and asks me who's been in the office that morning. I said no one and he's like, 'Don't give me that crap! I know you've had a client in here today. Who was it?'. I didn't think it was a big deal, honest. I told him it was you, Jack," he said, crestfallen, like he somehow had failed me.

"'s okay. Don't worry about it. Anything else happen?" I asked. Now Simon was shaking his head, looking down at the table.

"Fuck! I knew it. I knew it! I knew I shouldn't have given him the list. It didn't feel right," said Simon.

"What list?" asked Todd.

"The listing of Jack's portfolio. I guess after Turner laid into Danny, he came over to me. He started demanding to see the portfolio for Jack Schaeffer. I don't even know how he knew the name, let alone why was he asking for the investments listing. But...he's a VP, right? So...I gave him the list." I could feel my bowels threaten to give way. Crap! Not only did Arnold know my name and what I had done to his plans, he now knew about my accounts and my investments. This was not good.

The fear must have shown on my face, because Todd immediately said, "Easy, Jack. It's not as bad as you're thinking. The guys just did what they were asked, and yeah, Arnold knows a little more than we'd like him to know. But it's gonna be okay, alright?" he said, trying to calm me down. What I really needed was Sam's arms around me, not more words. I was now wishing I had never left the house. I could have been at home playing with Sam, instead of witnessing my whole team fall apart.

"Todd? What can Arnold really do with the list?" asked Will, speaking for the first time. All the guys looked at him, what they were thinking I couldn't be sure, but at least they weren't resembling a lynch mob anymore. It was a great question. We all waited for Todd's answer.

"Not much, really. He has no access codes to the account - only Larry and I do, so he can't change anything. I don't think he can even get into the system much beyond confirming there is a trust and Jack's the trustee. So I think we're safe there."

"But...why is Arnold Turner gunning for Jack? And...I mean...what the hell is going on? Blackmailing Will? Terrorizing Danny? What the fuck is really going on, guys?" asked Mason, who had been silently observing everything thus far.

If we were going to get anywhere we needed to level with the whole team. I looked at Todd and he must have been thinking the same thing, because he just nodded and gave me the floor. All eyes turned toward me expectantly. I took a deep breath and began.

"Guys...I asked Todd to call this meeting away from the bank because some things have happened recently which affect my relationship with First Colorado, and therefore with all of you. You guys have been handling my affairs since I inherited the trust, and from what I can see, doing an excellent job. So...first of all, thank you." Heads nodded in acceptance of my gratitude. Now for the hard part.

"But things have changed. Arnold Turner is attempting to force a major change in the structure of the bank. And he's using whatever means he can, including blackmail and intimidation. Specifically, he wants to consolidate your department into his, effectively squeezing Larry out of his job and taking control of most everything else. And likely, though not for certain, your jobs would be on the line as well."

"Surely he can't get away with it, right?" asked Simon.

"Yeah," said Mason. "The Board won't go along with such a thing. It's...insane. All our biggest clients - the one's who generate the most revenue for the you, Jack. They'd never go for it."

"Which is why, at Larry's urging, I went before the Board on Monday and told them my concerns. And as we now know, Arnold got wind of my attempt to stop - or at least slow down - his plan, and now he's scrambling to find out what's going on. He's putting pressure on you guys in the process." I saw heads start to nod in understanding.

"Can we stop him? I mean...what happened at the Board Meeting, Jack? Can you tell us?" asked Mason.

"I don't know for sure, Mason. I left before any decisions were made, but I was told, for now, the consolidation plan is on hold. But it's not dead, and Arnold has supporters on his side. I'm not sure we can stop it all together in the end."

"What will you do, Jack, if it happens?" asked Simon, clearly thinking a few steps ahead of where we were. Todd was right, these were some very smart guys.

"I will have no choice but to leave the bank and take my business elsewhere." Danny sighed and sat back in his chair. Mason nodded and chewed on his bottom lip. Will looked crestfallen again, and Simon was still thinking.

"Todd...if Jack leaves...what happens to us? We only work on his account now." Simon's question had everyone's rapt attention, as they waited for Todd's response.

"Well...ideally, you'd each be assigned to another account. But...we have fewer accounts these days, I'm not gonna lie to you. And if Turner succeeds in his plan, we'll have a lot fewer, I would think. Jack's not the only one who's gonna leave."

"So we're screwed, is what you're sayin'," said Danny with disgust.

"Not necessarily," I said.

"Whadda ya mean, Jack?" asked Mason, sitting up and leaning forward in his seat. The other guys did the same.

"What I mean is...there's another option. It's Larry's idea, but I think it's a good one. He suggested I pull my trust from the bank and set up a new company to manage it. And...take all my team at the bank with me."

Four voices all started speaking at once, so I put my hands up asking for one at a time. When they had settled down I nodded to Mason. He looked around the table at the rest of the team, then at Todd.

"You know about this?" he asked. Todd just nodded. "You in agreement with Larry?" Todd nodded again. Mason nodded and sat back, now silent.

"Let me get this straight. You're sayin' we quit our jobs and come work for you," said Simon, looking back at me.

"Yes. You would do the same work for me as you have been, just doing it directly for my company, not for the bank."

"What about benefits and salaries and all the rest. How does that work?" asked Simon. He was clearly a practical, level-headed guy.

"Todd and I have to work out the details, but it's my intention to provide you with at least as good a package as you had at the bank, if you choose to join us in the new venture."

"When would all this take place?" asked Danny. Todd spoke up quickly.

"In light of what we now know about Arnold's snooping around and stickin' his nose in where it doesn't belong, I'd say as soon as possible. guys need to decide quickly if you're in or out. And I hope I don't need to say it...but you need to keep this among the six of us in this room. No one else. And don't talk about anything - I mean anything - that we've told you, especially about Arnold. We don't know who all he has workin' for him."

"This company...the new one you're gonna set up...what will it do?" asked Danny.

"Great question," I said. "When I inherited the Franklin Trust, I had no idea about what to do with it or why it was ever given to me in the first place. But in the process, I realized I wanted to make people's lives better. The money in the trust is a tool we can use to impact situations and provide assistance and help for those in need. It'll be up to us, and whoever else joins us, to find those opportunities and make it happen. You will still be expected to make money, guys. But at the same time, hopefully together we'll be making a difference."

Mason was smiling as I finished my little speech. He looked at Todd with a strange expression. "Damn, you were right, Todd." Todd just nodded. Then Mason looked directly at me. "If Larry and Todd are in agreement, and you're serious about making a difference, then count me in."

"Me, too," said Will with no hesitation, smiling at me. The other two weren't so sure yet.

"Um...can I have a day or two to think about it?" asked Danny. "I sounds great, and's huge you would want us with you. But it's a big step, ya know?" I nodded to him.

"Sure, Danny. Think about it and make your decision. But...if you decide to not join us, please don't speak about the plan to anyone. Anyone! If Arnold Turner finds out what I'm planning, he could be a real problem for us, okay?"

"Of course, Jack. I won't do anything to help the prick, I promise."

"What about you, Simon?" asked Todd. "I can see your wheels turning." Simon smiled at him.

"Well...I'm thinking it's easy to decide to just up and leave the bank. But we're gonna need a lot of help, Todd. Sure, we do all the planning and analysis and make the decisions, but we have whole teams of people in the bank to help execute the plans and put together the data. And shit, what about the systems and networks and research tools and..."

"Whoa...slow down. I hear you," said Todd. "And you're right, we have a lot to do to make this work. But we can do it."

"What we have to do, most of all, is work together as a team," I interjected. "You guys each have your main focus of work, and I don't want it to be any different going forward, unless of course you want to do more," I said, smiling at them and getting a few grins in return. "I've given Todd free rein to hire all the support staff and systems and whatever else is needed to make our company work."

"Our company, Jack?" asked Danny, looking at me strangely.

"Yes...our company, Danny. What we build together - this team - it's our success or our failure. If we are going to accomplish anything worthwhile, it will have to be as a team. Each one of you brings a skill set and abilities to the table that the others don't have. We need all of us on board, pulling together, to make it work. So yes, we will build OUR company."

Danny nodded and was silent, thinking about what I'd just said. Simon was still thinking, too. He looked at Todd again. "Okay. Say we can get the systems and staff to run this thing, where do we put it? We need a space big enough for everything and I'm assuming you expect it to grow over time, right?"

Todd answered. "Yes, we want the company to grow. And as far as where we set up shop, that's all on you. You're the expert in real estate, Simon. Jack has the idea we buy an office building in the area, hopefully one with enough existing tenants to pay the mortgage, and we operate rent free." Simon turned to look at me, and I couldn't be sure, but it felt a little like respect coming my way. It felt good.

Danny, who had stood up to refill his coffee cup, turned back around and faced me. "Jack...I've made up my mind. I don't need a few days. I'm in." I nodded to him, a little surprised at his abrupt change of heart, but I'd take it. The only holdout now was Simon.

I didn't want Simon to be pressured by the other guys. He needed to be comfortable with his decision, and he was clearly a guy who took the time to carefully think through things. "Simon, take all the time you need. No one's going to pressure you," I said, looking pointedly at the other guys around the table. "All of you...ask questions, give us your ideas, tell us your concerns. We can't do this without total agreement among us. No idea is off limits."

Something I said made Simon's facial expression morph into a smile. He looked from Todd to me and back to Todd. " more restrictions, Todd? No more 'we can't do that, it's too risky'?" Todd grinned big.

"He said no 'idea' was off limits, dude. We still won't do something totally stupid. But yeah, I think it's safe to say you'll all have a little more freedom to explore alternative possibilities."

Mason jumped in. "So if - just thinking hypothetically now - I came across a business ripe for takeover, we would at least talk about the possibility of acquiring it?"

Todd was nearly laughing as all the guys now were grinning from ear to ear. "Okay...I see where this is going. Look guys, I know the banking regs make it tough sometimes to do all the things you want to do, and it cramps your style. I get it. You guys are smart and think outside the box, which is why I want you all on the Schaeffer team. We'll be much more open to things the bank wouldn't allow, provided of course they meet the usual criteria."

Danny laughed. "Yeah...make a shit load of money by Friday, Thursday would be better!" Everyone at the table laughed.

Simon stood up and walked over to me. I stood up to meet him, not sure why, but it felt like I should. He looked me straight in the eye and asked, "Are you in agreement with what Todd just said. We'll at least discuss options and opportunities and explore ideas we couldn't pursue at the bank?" I nodded, fully in agreement with the concept. How we would ever evaluate and decide whether or not to pursue such ideas was beyond me. Simon stuck out his hand, and I shook it. It was a serious handshake, and it meant something to Simon. To me, too.

"Okay...I'm in. On one condition," said Simon.

"What is it?" asked Todd, smiling.

"Somebody feed me somethin'. I'm hungry as hell." Everyone laughed and all the previous tension faded away. Todd was reaching for his phone to inquire about lunch when a knock on the door announced its arrival. Perfect timing.

For the next couple of hours, we all enjoyed delicious roast beef sandwiches, potato chips, and the best deli pickles I'd had in a long while. I'm crazy for those things. As we ate, I had a chance to interact with the guys in a more relaxed fashion, and having survived the initial turmoil, it felt like my team was coming together.

Simon Lawson was a Donald Trump in the making, full of ideas on how real estate could make us an even bigger fortune. Mason Wheeler was eager to talk about two or three companies he wanted to buy immediately. I got the real sense these guys had felt shackled working at the bank, and they were now excited to throw off those shackles and get to work with Schaeffer Associates.

I learned Danny Masters' specialties were accounting, taxes, and the ladies. The oldest of the group at 32, he was not bashful about sharing his sexual escapades, much to the groans of the others. Danny was movie-star handsome, with the whitest teeth I've ever seen on a guy. But, as beautiful a man as he was, I wasn't even tempted to drool. My Sam had a ruggedness and strength of character which turned me on, and his love for me would satisfy any desire. Besides, Danny was as straight as they come. I was a little uncertain about how he was going to handle the fact I was gay. I did wonder why at his age he hadn't found a life partner yet. I guess some guys just never settle down.

Will Petersen was the youngest at 27, and small for a guy. Standing maybe 5' 6", he had a slight build and the cutest freckles around his nose. He was adorable, and was probably told that much more than he cared for. He may have been small, but he made up for it in brains. He graduated from the Wharton School of Business, which was not bad for a corn-fed Husker from just outside Omaha. Todd whispered to me at one point he might actually be the smartest guy in the room, but he lacked confidence which would come in time.

Along with Todd, these guys were going to help me start the next phase of my journey. The journey Amanda had unknowingly charted for me when she decided to interject herself into my life in her final hours. I wasn't upset about it anymore - but it sure changed things for me. Mostly it was all positive, the best part being Sam coming into my life. I missed him badly, and we'd only been apart for a few hours. I walked over to the windows by myself while the other guys kept talking and looked out at the distant mountains. I wondered if Sam was having fun exploring Phillip's Mountain - without me.

Todd came up and stood beside me. "You did good today, Jack. Real good. You handled everything thrown at you and then some. Thanks for jumpin' in on the blackmail thing with Will. I would have screwed it up. I was so pissed I wasn't seein' straight."

"Thanks, Todd. I'd thought you'd be mad at me for steppin' on your turf."

"No way, Jack. I'm not like that. I'm just the grunt who works his ass off for no pay and no glory while the boss cashes the fat checks and lives high on the hog off the sweat of my brow. Oh're the boss. Shit! I forgot," he said, with a huge smile. I chuckled. What a goofball.

"But you know they all still look to you as their leader, Todd."

"Only cuz they don't really know you yet, Jack. Once they do, they'll know who the real leader is. You got Simon Lawson to shake your hand, dude. That was huge, don't you doubt it. He was the one I thought might hold out, or not come along at all. But you convinced him to take the chance. Mason was on board from the start. He wants out of banking so badly. Danny's...well...Danny. He's smart, knows a shitload about taxes so he'll save us a ton of money, but he's also all about Danny. We'll have to keep an eye on him. And Will...Will thinks you hung the sun, moon and stars after you stuck up for him today. You won't be able to run him off with a stick." We both chuckled.

"We're gonna have to do something about Arnold Turner soon, Jack."

"Ugh! Don't get me started on Arnold fucking Turner. The bastard is going to get everything he's got comin' to him. Where are we at with getting Sam and me a dinner with Sully?"

"I called his cell and left a message. I'll check my messages in a few. I'm trying for tomorrow night or Friday. Will that work for you guys?"

"I think so. I'll check with Sam tonight." I sighed at the mention of Sam's name.

"You miss him, don't you," said Todd softly. I just nodded, sighing heavily. God, I loved him so much. And I was needing his arms around me very badly.

"Why don't you go home. You've done enough for one day. I'll stay here and me and the guys will kick it around some more. I wanna get them comin' up with ideas for the transition. We need to expedite the move if we can. Turner can't do much, but I'd feel a lot better getting out from under him and his watchers."

"Yeah, okay. I'll see you tomorrow?" He nodded and we turned back toward the guys, where I said my goodbyes and promised to meet with them again soon. We all shook hands, slapped backs, and I slipped out. I realized I didn't have a car and turned back when Todd popped his head out of the Chancellor's Room.

"Hey, Jack. I just remembered I drove. How will you get back?"

"How far is the bank from here?"

"Ten blocks or so. Not too far."

"I'll just walk then. I could use the fresh air and sunshine. Later." He nodded and I turned and made my way out of the Hotel Teatro and onto the busy street out front. I got my phone out, looked up a map of downtown Denver and figured out where I needed to go. As I started walking down 14th Street, I didn't hear the car engine start up a half a block behind me.

There was very little foot traffic as I crossed at the light at Arapahoe. I saw a black Cadillac CTS with dark tinted windows pull to the curb about 20 feet in front of me. I kept walking. As I came abreast of the car, the passenger window rolled down and a voice called out to me.

"Get in, Mr. Schaeffer. I'll give you a lift." The voice was friendly enough, but a stranger's nonetheless. I stopped walking and bent down to look in the car. Arnold Turner was sitting there, like a spider luring an unsuspecting fly into his web. Holy crap!

"I'm sorry. Do I know you?" I replied, none too friendly. I certainly wasn't feeling it.

"Come, come Mr. Schaeffer. I know you know who I am. And now I know who you are. I assume you are headed back to the bank, as am I. I'll drive you. Get in." This time the voice tone was a little more insistent. I could totally understand why Davis and Will and who knows how many others would acquiesce to this man's demands. But I knew the dangers of who I was dealing with, and there was no way I was getting in his car.

"No thank you...Mr. Turner. I prefer to walk. It's a nice day." I turned and kept walking. He slowly pulled ahead to stay parallel with me, shouting out of his car to speak to my profile. I wasn't going to look at him again.

"You know, Mr. Schaeffer, you're being rather silly. You're a client of my bank. Let me help you. We can chat and get to know one another." Now my skin began to crawl and I started looking for places I could duck into to escape him, all the while refusing to acknowledge him again. Maybe if I ignored him he'd just go away.

Near the end of the block a car was idling at the curb and Arnold couldn't continue alongside me. Right before he pulled away from the curb, I heard him shout at me, "This isn't over, Schaeffer. You'll see." He took off and ran the red light at the next intersection, narrowly avoiding hitting a pedestrian. I guess he showed me. I was thinking I may have to stop at the Starbucks across the street and check my underwear. My legs felt shaky and I think I had forgotten to breathe for a minute.

I leaned up against a light pole for a few seconds until I had my legs under me again. The warm sun helped, and I tried to push thoughts of Arnold Turner away as much as I could. I started moving again, trying to relax and enjoy the walk. The meeting with my team had gone better than I expected. I was confident Todd would know how to pull them together and get my new company launched quickly. After my little street-side interaction with Arnold Turner, I couldn't get out of the bank fast enough. There was no way I was setting foot in the place again without Sam and Todd and maybe a platoon of marines, just in case. Arnold Turner gave me a bad case of the heebee jeebees.

I turned down Tremont Place and walked past a Maggiano's restaurant, the smell of garlic and tomato sauce making my mouth water. I had always enjoyed Maggiano's in Chicago whenever Marcus Thompson would take our office there for a Christmas luncheon. I never went by myself - it was too expensive, and they gave you huge portions of food. I thought maybe Sam might like to join me, though. He liked to eat.

Thinking of Sam again made we want to get home and into his arms. I quickened my pace, keeping an eye out for black Cadillacs, and I was soon unlocking my car and locking it up again as I sat inside. I'll admit I was feeling more than a little jittery. Arnold Turner scared me. I tried calling Sam on his cell, but it went straight to voicemail. Probably no signal up on the mountain. Oh well, at least one of us was having fun today.

I followed the GPS directions back home, thinking the whole way about the meeting and evaluating my efforts. All in all I thought it went okay. I was glad all the guys had committed to moving forward with us. I liked them. Todd had said I did good, which was something. It was early days, but maybe I could actually lead this team, like Sam said. If he helps me, maybe. Then I got to thinking about other things Sam could help me with - like the hard dick rising in my pants - and I missed a turn and had to wait for the GPS to recalculate.

I pulled through the gate at the bottom of the hill and thankfully didn't throw up this time. It's the little things. I carefully maneuvered the car up the hillside and pulled into the garage. Something smelled wonderful as I stepped into the mudroom and hung up the keys on their appropriate hook. Under my breath I whispered, "Hey honey, I'm home." Of course, nobody heard me, but I smiled to myself. There really is no place like home.

Maggie was baking bread. A lot of bread. I counted at least twenty loaves on the island, with more in the ovens. She looked up from her work, her face partially sprinkled with flour, a big smile taking up the rest.

"Welcome back, Jack. How was your first day?" she asked brightly.

"Fine. Tiring. Whatcha doin'? Smells heavenly in here."

"Bread for the ladies group at my church. We're having a bake sale to support some missionaries. I have plenty, so I'll leave a loaf or two for you and Sam. Does he like bread?"

"Sam likes everything I think. Except vegetables. Not too keen on those. Me either." She laughed. "Speaking of Sam, have you seen him?"

"He got back a few minutes ago. I think he headed in to wash up. He was talkin' a mile a minute about the lake and a bear and something else he saw up there, but I was elbow deep in dough so I'm not sure."

"I'll go look for him," I said, feeling my cock stir a little. I was excited to see him again.

"I'll have your dinner in the warming oven in an hour. In case...well, anyway." She turned to retrieve another loaf of bread from the top oven, saving us both more embarrassment. I took my blushing self down the hall, pulling out my shirt tails and unfastening the wrist buttons. I had it off by the time I hit the bathroom door. Less than 20 seconds later I was naked, hard, and in search of the man hidden in the shower steam.

"Jack!" he shouted, as he opened up his arms and I slid right into the place I had been searching for all afternoon. He held me and I just clung to him, shaking slightly. I had been holding it together pretty well, but Arnold Turner had frightened me more than I realized, and in the safety of Sam's arms, my own defenses relaxed. Sam said nothing and just held on to me until I stopped shaking. I looked up at his beautiful eyes and he kissed me gently.

"You okay, little man?" he whispered through the spraying water all around us. I nodded.

"I am now, Sam."

"Wanna talk about it?" he asked. I shook my head. Instead I reached for the shampoo, not knowing how far he'd gotten in his clean up, and started doing his hair. I then soaped him up all over, my hands taking their time memorizing his bodily terrain, and kissed him while he rinsed off. He was the perfect distraction. And so sexy.

After we dried each other off with velvety soft towels, Sam took my hand and led me to our bed, where we lay together, just kissing and looking into each other's eyes. This was different. Our hands were touching, but not with the intention of stirring up raw passion. It was more of a need to reconnect at a soul level. Deep. And wonderful.

"I missed you, Sam."

"I missed you, too, Jack. You have a good day?"

"Yeah, mostly. How about you? Maggie said you went up to the lake."

"Oh wow, Jack. It was amazing! I hiked all the way around it. And I saw a black bear looking for berries and bugs. I crouched down behind a log and just watched it hunt and eat for an hour. It was so cool! And a mountain goat came out to drink in the lake at one point. You have to come up with me sometime. You'll love it."

I smiled at him. He obviously was thrilled with living on a mountain. I was...less so. But if it made him happy, I'd go, just to see the joy on his face again. "I'll go with you, if you promise to protect me. And you have to agree to let me run faster than you if a bear starts chasing us." He laughed and pulled me into a hug on top of him. I sighed and laid my head on his chest, his hairy pecs tickling my ear a little. I giggled.

"What's so funny?" asked Sam.

"Nothin'. Your chest hair tickles."

"I thought you liked my hairy chest."

"Oh, I do. And these, too," I said, sliding my tongue over his left nipple, which caused him to gasp. I kept it up until he couldn't stand it anymore and grabbed my head with both hands and pulled me into a fierce kiss, which only lit a fire it took us an hour to put out.

I was laying on my side, totally relaxed, my right leg across Sam's, my fingers absentmindedly playing with his chest hair. I really did like it. I was deciding whether or not I was ready to tell Sam the details about my day. I wasn't sure how he was going to react to Arnold Turner's awareness of who I was. I didn't want to mess up the peaceful moment we were having, but I also promised him no secrets. He must have been able to read my mind.

"Wanna tell me what happened today, Jack?"

I sighed. "Not really. It was not fun."

"What happened?" he said more seriously, now rising up to look at me. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, Sam. I promise. It was just...a bunch of things happened with the team. And Arnold Turner is a bigger problem now than we thought." That was the wrong thing to say. Now the protective tiger was unleashed.

"What the hell did he do? Did he threaten you? Did he hurt you? What? Tell me, Jack, right now!"

"Sam, I'm okay! Please...relax. I'll tell you everything." I sighed, and proceeded to tell him about moving the meeting to the hotel, meeting the guys, and Arnold Turner's blackmail of Will.

"That son of a bitch. He's got to be stopped! When are we meeting with Sully?" asked Sam.

"Todd is trying for a dinner meeting tomorrow or Friday. I told him I'd ask you which was better."

"Tomorrow. The sooner the better. We need to make him gone, Jack." I looked away from him for just a second, but he must have seen something in my expression which bothered him.

"What aren't you telling me, Jack?" he demanded.

"You promise you won't get mad?" I said.

"No. I promise I'll try not to, though," he replied, grinning a little. He was still very worried about me, however, just under the surface.

I took a deep breath and said, "I left the meeting early this afternoon because I was missing you, Sam." He just nodded, waiting for me to continue. "Todd had driven us over to the hotel, so I decided to walk back to my car. Arnold Turner was waiting for me on the street in his car. He tried to give me a ride back to the bank, but I refused. He finally drove off, but his parting words were, 'it's not over, Schaeffer' or something like that."

To his credit, Sam didn't get angry. He went silent, rolled onto his back, and stared up at the ceiling. I couldn't tell what he was thinking. Was he mad at me? Mad at Arnold? Mad at someone else? After nearly two minutes he rolled off the bed and started pacing next to it, oblivious to the fact he was naked, his mind working the problem. He suddenly stopped and turned to me.

"Okay, here's how we're gonna handle this. You...are not going anywhere near the bank until he's gone. I don't want him knowing where you are or what you're doing." I didn't disagree with him - I had no desire to run into Arnold Turner ever again. But there was something in Sam's tone that caused me to bristle.

"Sam, I have a business to run. A team to manage. I can't not meet with them."

"There's no way I'm letting you out of my sight, Jack, until I know it's safe."

"You can't lock me in the house, Sam!"

"I can do whatever it takes to keep you safe!" His eyes were flashing, his nostrils flaring. I could tell there was no way he was going to back down. Now what?

"Look...Sam. I appreciate you wanting to protect me, but I can't hide. You wouldn't hide, would you?"

He was mad. "You told me you needed me, Jack. You said you wanted me in your life to keep you safe. You have to let me do that, Jack. You have to! I can't...I can't...I can't lose you, Jack." And he broke. The tears came fast and furious, stunning us both. And of course my own started immediately because...well, they just do that.

I crossed the room and grabbed him, and he held onto me tighter than ever. He was trembling. I realized he was actually scared - not of Arnold Turner - but of losing me. How could I be so insensitive? This man loved me, and all he wanted to do was protect me and make sure nothing bad happened. I should be grateful, not offended.

"I'm so sorry, Sam. Please forgive me," I said, looking up at him. "I know you want to keep me safe, and you're right, I do need you, Sam. I'll do whatever you say. I trust you."

After a few seconds he found his voice again. "He's trouble, Jack. I've got a really bad feeling about him. He's not going to stop until he gets what he wants or someone stops him. I know you need to work, but please...don't fight me on this. We'll figure something out with Todd so you can keep meeting with your team. It needs to be somewhere safe, though. Maybe here?"

I thought about it for a minute. We didn't have anything in the way of computers or high speed internet or whatever else they might need, but we did have plenty of space to meet and surely Maggie could work some kitchen magic and keep us fed. "Sounds good, Sam. I like it. I'll call Todd and see if he can swing it to get the guys out of the office again tomorrow. Plus...I don't like the idea of any of them being near Arnold either. He's already been pushing them around, and nosing into my business. We need to meet with Sully, and I should call Davis again and see what he knows."

Sam was looking intensely at me again, his blue eyes serious. "Jack. I love you. You're the most important thing to me. Nothing else matters. I will always respect you, but if it comes down to it, I'll do whatever I have to do to protect you. I need you to understand that, okay?" I nodded, totally in agreement now.

"Yes. I may not like it, but I'll try not to fight you, Sam. Besides...I just want to be in your arms. I don't really care about anything else." I sighed and leaned into his chest. He held me until we both were calmer, our breathing more relaxed.

I looked up at him. "Whadda we do now, Sam?" I asked.

"Let's eat. I'm hungry. Then you can call Todd and I wanna talk to Charles about something." Leave it to Sam to resort to food. But I was hungry, too. I wondered what Maggie had left in the kitchen for us. And what did Sam need with Charles?

We put on shorts and t-shirts and walked barefoot hand in hand to the kitchen where Sam grabbed some water bottles from the fridge while I pulled out two plates from the warming oven, nearly burning my hands. Each one had sliced turkey breast, herbed stuffing with gravy, and green beans. Sam looked at the plates with a big grin.

"What are you gonna eat, Jack?" he said with a big smile. Clearly he had designs on my dinner, too. Not gonna happen. I grabbed mine, smiled at him, and headed for the table, where he joined me. We ate in a comfortable silence, and I was thankful we were okay again.

To be honest, for a second there, I was more scared of Sam being upset with me than of Arnold Turner trying to pick me up on the street. At one point he reached for my hand and squeezed it, just looking at me with a deep love in his eyes. He needed me as much as I needed him.

When my plate was empty, I stood up to call Todd while Sam went in search of a second helping. I heard him say, "Eureka," his head inside the refrigerator, just as Todd picked up.

"Hey, Todd. Sorry to disturb you at home, but do you have a minute to talk?"

"Sure, but I'm still at the office. We had a little excitement around here this afternoon."

"What happened?" I was instantly on edge, something Sam sensed from across the kitchen island. He was watching me, pausing mid-bite.

"Turner, that's what. As soon as we came back, he showed up, ranting and raving, saying who did I think I was, holding an off-site meeting with the team without his approval. I told him I had Larry's approval, and then he says until Larry is back to work, he was in charge of our division and I had better run all decisions through him from now on or else." I could hear the amusement in Todd's voice.

"What did you do?" I asked.

"I picked up the phone and dialed Davis. He's the only one who could give that authority to Arnold. When he answered, I said, 'Davis, Arnold Turner is down here saying he's in charge of our division until Larry gets back. Is this correct?'. Of course, he said no. And...he yells, probably so Turner could hear him, 'Tell Turner to get his ass up here right now!'. Arnold turned all kinds of red and glared at me, then stormed out. I don't know if he went to see Davis or not, but at least the asshole didn't mess with us anymore."

I smiled, and Sam visibly relaxed. "Why are you still at the office? It's nearly 7?" I asked.

"I want to lock things down a bit around here. Sally Jensen, an admin assistant, said Arnold was rooting around in some file cabinets earlier while we were out. She wasn't sure, but they might have been where we keep some of the stuff for your trust. So I'm moving everything to more secure, locked cabinets. The only people who will have keys are Mason and me."

"Thanks, Todd. I appreciate it."

"So why'd you call, Jack?" he asked.

"Well...I had my own run in with Arnold this afternoon." I told him about my encounter on the street.

"Geez...this guy's coming undone. I don't like the sound of that. Maybe you better not come to the bank anymore.""Sam's way ahead of you on that score, Todd," I said, smiling at Sam who had once again perked up from his cold stuffing upon hearing his name. He smiled back at me.

"Yeah, I'll bet he is. So you told him what happened?"

"Yep. I'm on lockdown, which frankly, after what you just told me, I'm cool with. So...whadda ya think about having the team meet out here at the house? Could we make it work? I know it's kinda far from the office, and we don't have all the tools they're used to, but it might be safer for everyone."

"Hmmmm. I like it. I've been racking my brain trying to think where we can work where Arnold can't interfere. The hotel's out for now, since he showed up there. I doubt the hotel staff could keep him away again. Tell you what...I'll call the guys and sound them out, and if it works, I'll text you a time when we'll be out there tomorrow. Cool?"

"Yeah. And hey, any word from Sully on when Sam and I can meet with him?"

"Oh yeah, I almost forgot. He called a little while ago. He actually asked if you could meet for lunch instead of dinner tomorrow. Which after today, the sooner the better, right?"

"You said it. Cool. Tell him Sam and I will meet wherever and whenever he wants. Thanks, Todd. safe, okay?"

"No worries, Jack. We'll get the son of a bitch, I promise. He's already violated I don't know how many rules about conduct around here. Those alone should get him shut down, if not fired. And with the blackmail of at least two bank employees, I don't think Sully will hesitate to can his ass."

"Let's hope. Go home, and say hi to Margie for me."

"Later, Boss," he said, disconnecting.

I filled Sam in on the plans for the next day. He was pleased with the expedited meeting with Sully, but now more concerned than ever about Arnold after his threats to Todd.

"It sure sounds like this guy's got a screw coming loose, Jack. Nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal, and he has all the makings of one."

I just looked at him across the island, filled with respect for him. He seemed so calm now, and I was teetering again on the inside. I couldn't help but think Sam had gotten so much more than he'd bargained for, and not in a good way.

"I'm sorry, Sam," I said.

"For what?"

"For all of this. The chaos, the trouble. All of it."

He came around the island and wrapped his arms around me. "'s not your fault. You're just tryin' to do your work and protect your team. And my job is to protect you. As soon as Arnold is gone, everything will settle down. You'll see."

"I hope you're right."

"Trust me. I'm not gonna let anything bad happen to you, I promise."

I so hoped he was right.

To be continued...

Author's Note: Jack and Sam have their first disagreement. It all worked out - this time. Things with Arnold Turner are coming to a head. Can he be stopped before someone gets hurt? Stay tuned...

Much deserved thanks goes to the editors once again. I can't do this without them. Thanks, guys.

And thank you, faithful readers. I appreciate the many emails sharing your thoughts on the story. Keep 'em comin'!

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