A flash fiction piece in preparation for my novel tentatively titled Annie and the Second Anasazi, scheduled for publication in early 2013. Sign up for notification by email here.
Annie cleared out her father’s red oak desk, put everything in boxes, and wrote him a note that she placed on top:
I run the business now and you are a mostly retired consultant. Consultants get smaller desks.
She smiled. He would laugh at that. As a small child, she used to say to him, “Daddy, since the company is named for me, I should get your desk.” He would tug her into his lap and say, “It’ll be yours someday. Until then, you’re my consultant, and consultants get smaller desks.” He gave her a smaller office next to his, the very place she left his boxes.
Back in her father’s office—no, she reminded herself, her office—she felt nervous but ready. Nerves brought her in early. Five-thirty by the big analog clock on the far wall. She would leave that. As her father said, business runs on the clock. That gave her four-and-a-half hours until her first appointment as the new president of Annie’s Liquor Emporium.
At ten o’clock, she would meet with Reagan Newcastle, a former suitor of hers, now Chief Financial Officer of a charity to which her father donated fifty percent of before-tax profit. She wanted to know what the company got from that enormous investment. Her father said he couldn’t explain and that she’d have to figure it out for herself. She got the impression it shamed him somehow. Some kind of great secret. Out of confusion and respect for him, she never pushed it. But now she would.
Annie busied herself making the office her own. The tech guys had installed a computer immersion booth to her specifications. A much better one than she’d had before. She resisted the urge to climb in and lose herself for a few hours. Instead, she inspected the new art installed over the weekend and approved: Blown-up close-ups of things red, berries to blood, weather radar of storms to a random spatter of shades of red.
At ten o’clock sharp, Cheryl tapped on the door and announced Reagan Newcastle.
He walked in and stopped short, scanning the walls.
She smiled. Shocked him, she supposed, to see so much red. What did she ever see in him? Nothing. He merely lucked into being her first boyfriend.
“Has your father seen this?” Newcastle asked. He had become so serious and officious in his new position. She’d chosen a casual outfit, understatement with a hint of her feminine shape. She wouldn’t use those weapons unless she had to. She didn’t need such ammunition for Newcastle.
“He’s on vacation for a month.” She sat in her father’s old chair, a big leather monstrosity that made her feel like a judge or a child playing grownup.
“And I suppose you’re making your mark on the place. As if you hadn’t already.” He pressed his lips together, hands in front gripping the handle of a briefcase.
She knew through the grapevine that he didn’t approve of the ad campaign she convinced her father to start two years ago. Billboards and electronic display ads of Annie in red knee-high boots, white short-shorts, and a red vest open in the front, cavorting with giant bottles of liquor.
“Take a seat,” she said.
Across the wide desk, polished clean, nothing on it, not even a fingerprint, Newcastle sat, clutched his briefcase in his lap and gave her a puckered expression. “I suppose congratulations are in order,” he said.
“That’s so very gracious of you.”
“Am I your first appointment?”
“There were a few things I had to take care of first.”
His eyes wandered around the room. She imagined him trying to grasp the meaning of red in an earth-tone room. She loved the contrast, the punctuation. More than a man like Newcastle could understand or appreciate.
“Your father never explained our relationship, I take it,” he said.
Strange way to phrase it, she thought. “From the size of our investment with you, we should be getting a substantial return,” she said, trying, and succeeding in her opinion, to sound like an executive. “I don’t see it. Maybe you can enlighten me.”
She sensed he wanted to patronize her, insult her intelligence, and she even expected it. Instead he sighed and relaxed, settled into the chair.
“Surely you remember the Outage of ’37.”
She nodded. Who didn’t?
“You remember all your stores stayed open, had enough electricity for air conditioning. It made you rich.”
She knew the basics of that arrangement. Newcastle had brokered an under-the-table deal with the Department of Public Utilities. She didn’t know, didn’t want to know, the details. “We’ve more than paid you back for that.” She also knew ’37 was the year she and Newcastle met. She was fifteen. He waited until her eighteenth birthday to ask her out. She forced him to tour with her through bars and dancehalls and concerts and art galleries and even the slums that formed a wide ring around the city. She wanted to see everything. He just wanted to get his hands on her. She kept putting him off, and he wouldn’t give up. He begged her to have sex with him and when she finally relented, he couldn’t manage to deliver an erection. He sobbed while she held him. Then she rejected him outright, refused his calls, and he began to look more and more like a shriveled fruit.
Newcastle nodded. “Ah, I see. You no longer see the value in your investment.”
“That’s where this conversation started.”
He tapped his fingers on the briefcase like a lap desk. “Your parents didn’t raise you right,” he said.
She felt a flush of heat. What did this man know about how her parents raised her? Or what constituted doing it right? What did it even matter what he thought?
“God tends to get His way,” she said, using a stock phrase of Newcastle’s.
“I’m glad you agree, and that means fifty percent. You’ve brought in more each month since you started selling your body in public for profit. Some of the Twelve don’t like that so much. But Peter sees it my way. The sins of man are a fair source of income to do God’s work.”
She smiled her fake smile and marveled at the righteous arrogance of the shriveled man.
“Save it for the ignorant masses,” she said, again echoing the language of Newcastle and Peter, leader of the Twelve Living Disciples. “I’m cutting you to ten percent, to be evaluated annually. Non-negotiable. Take it or leave it. You’ll only do worse if you fight it.”
Annie’s father, to her knowledge, never delivered such an ultimatum. Her mother had tried, but her father overruled her. For Annie, it was her first serious mark as president of the company.
“That’s a big mistake,” said Newcastle.
“Why?” asked Annie. “Will God use your limp staff to strike me down?”
Newcastle stood, his face turning purple. He glared at her. “You will soon find out.” He walked out without looking back, slammed the great door behind him.
She smiled and chuckled at the same time she worried in what form his attempt at retribution would be. She would have to think and be prepared.
Annie and the Second Anasazi, set in 2054 A.D., is about a migration of intellectuals into the deserts of New Mexico where people live like the ancient ones because of changing climate coupled with an intolerable mix of politics and religion that rises in the cities of the American South. Annie is the daughter of Tucker and Lydia Roth of Girl on a Rock.