Chapter 1

    “Are you nervous, Marv?” asked Herbert, peering over the cubicle at Marvin.
    “Nah. It’s a done deal.” This statement was about fifty percent true. Everyone knew that Marvin would get a promotion
today, but that did not mean he was any less apprehensive about meeting with Van de Kamp. To have a tolerable exchange
with Victor Van de Kamp was rare, but the prospect of a promotion was so welcome that Marvin thought that he would not
mind Victor’s arrogance.  
    “I would be nervous,” said Herbert. By fits insightful and worrisome, Herbert Walter was an owlish man. His tuft of dark,
curly, thinning hair made a very serviceable crest, and his round, piercing eyes and hawkish nose had the effect of making
certain statements sound like questions, and vice versa. He was also quite oval both in body and in face, and, if possible, in
personality. In his thinking, he would often vacillate between thoughts and ideas, but never in such a way that he was
unsteady. Broad and rounded at the base but tapering toward the end described his complete person. He could almost never
be seen without his eyeglasses, which he was constantly pushing up his nose. Marvin considered Herbert to be brilliant, and
appreciated his friendship.
    “To tell you the truth, Herb, I thought this would come much sooner. I’ve been here for eighteen years this month, and I’d
be lying if I said I never thought about leaving in all that time. But where else would I go? This job is all I’ve ever known.”
Marvin sat with his hands clasped, staring intently at the floor, his entire career flashing before his eyes. “I guess patience
pays off, after all.”
    “Well,” Herbert started, rubbing the back of his head, “I was sure that you were as good as gone a few times. Honestly, I
don’t know why you stayed. But it’s all paid off now, my friend.”
Looking back, Marvin couldn’t understand why he’d stayed, either. There were other opportunities, but—What does it matter,
Marvin thought. I’m getting promoted today—that proves that I made the right decision, doesn’t it? The hum of productivity
rose to an electric buzz as people moved about in anticipation of the day’s news. Bobby the mail clerk made his rounds.
Marvin always thought Bobby was snotty, and the indifferent way he dropped an envelope over the cubicle desk wall did
nothing to change that opinion.
    “Thanks,” said Marvin dryly. Bobby said nothing. Marvin started to get indignant, but thought better. Why let Bobby get to
him? It was just a matter of minutes before he finally got that promotion he’d been wanting. What difference would a snotty
mailroom clerk make then?
    Marvin examined the envelope. The return address read “The Old Boys Club.” Marvin’s stomach tightened. He had
applied for membership months ago. Herbert instantly recognized the letterhead.
    “Oh, man,” Herbert said excitedly. “Do you know what this means?” It was a question that Herbert neither expected nor
needed an answer to. Everybody knew what membership in the Old Boys Club meant, even Bobby, who perked up a bit, now
unable to affect his usual air of arrogant indifference. Marvin’s stomach tightened as he slid his finger underneath the flap.
Could it be? Had he finally been accepted?
    The answer to that question would have to wait. The phone rang.  
    “Marvin Early,” he answered. A crackly voice spoke back at him.
    “Mr. Van de Kamp will see you now.”
    All the world was quiet for a moment. Marvin didn’t hear Herbert’s words of encouragement or Bobby’s derisive comment
about luck. He didn’t hear what Jill from Accounting or Doug from Finance said as they patted him on the back as he walked
down the hall and into the elevator. He was too focused on how his life was about to change. Sound came back to him slowly
as he stepped off the elevator on the top floor. First he became aware of his heartbeat, and then his footsteps, and finally his
own breathing. He straightened his tie and opened the heavy oak double doors in front of him, ready to walk into his future.
Marvin walked in only to be stopped by Victor Van de Kamp’s raised index finger. He was on the phone. Marvin turned his
back and pretended to be admiring Mr. Van de Kamp’s awards and office artifacts, but he could not help paying attention to
the phone call. Mr. Van De Kamp was middle management, but somehow he managed to get an office on the top floor.
Marvin wondered about that as he looked at a photograph of Victor and some beautiful woman.  
    “A 7:00 tee will be perfect. I’ll drive the new car so you can check it out,” Victor said, leaning back in his chair. He glanced
over at Marvin. He was sure he was listening. “Damn right it’s fast,” Victor said into the receiver. “And the ladies love it. I’ve
got some stories for you that you won’t believe. But hey, I’ve got somebody here. I’ll give you a call later, Dr. Winthrop.”   
Victor hung up the receiver. “Marvin. Hey. Have a seat. I was just finishing some important business.”
    “Thanks, Mr. Van de Kamp.”
    “Call me Victor.”
    “Sure Mr. Van de—er, Victor.” In truth, Marvin never cared much for Victor Van de Kamp. He was undoubtedly pompous
and materialistic. He couldn’t help feeling that he didn’t deserve his position. But what bothered Marvin the most was the quiet
admission in his heart that part of him wanted what Victor already had.   
    Victor folded his hands behind his head and leaned even further back in his chair, revealing a shiny watch.   
    “A Rolex is the true mark of a real man,” Victor said matter-of-factly. “I’m sure you’ll be able to get one of these someday.”
The statement was just ambiguous enough that Marvin couldn’t tell whether it was a compliment or an insult. He was inclined
to view it as the latter. “You have to reward yourself when you’re the best,” he said, still looking at his watch. Marvin
unconsciously rubbed his bare left wrist.
    “Well, I’m boring you with all this, I’m sure,” Victor said. “You’re here to discuss business, right?”
    “Yes, sir,” Marvin replied, trying not to let the eagerness show in his voice.
    “You’ve been with The Company for a long time,” Victor started. “The file on you says seventeen years.”
    “Eighteen this month, sir.”
    “Well, congratulations on that, Early. Heck, I can’t imagine being anywhere that long.” Victor spoke the last sentence to
himself, disregarding his present company for a moment. “I guess that’s why I couldn’t stay married,” Victor laughed. But he
quickly shifted to a conspiratorial tone, leaning forward onto his expansive cherry wood desk.
    “As you know, top management has outlined some new strategic objectives for The Company. It’s a brave new world out
there, and we’re moving in a bold new direction to accommodate it.” Victor was getting worked up now, enjoying the way the
visionary words sounded in his voice. “We’re talking about synergistic adaptiveness to diverse business scenarios here.”
Marvin didn’t know what that meant. The Company built and sold widgets. In eighteen years, Marvin never once thought
about synergistic anything. He nodded his head enthusiastically anyway. He was about to be a big part of the team, and he
didn’t want to give any indication that he wasn’t fully on board.  
    Victor continued, “To meet these intense demands, we’re making some personnel changes. I’m sure you’ve heard the
    “I try not to pay too much attention to them,” Marvin said unconvincingly.
“Well,” Victor continued, “the fact is there have already been some shifts. The Company values your years of experience and
commitment, and we think it’s best to put you in position where that experience can be put to use.”
    “I’m honored,” Marvin said. “I won’t let you down.”
    “Good. That’s exactly what I wanted to hear,” Victor replied. “We both know how difficult it can be to come into a new
position, especially when you’re relatively young.”
    “Absolutely.” Marvin could have sworn that he and Victor were about the same age—in fact he was sure of it. Still, it was
good to know that Victor still viewed him as being in his prime.
    “And that’s why I want you to be the one to show the new division director the ropes.”
    “Show the new division director the ropes, sir?” Marvin couldn’t hide his bewilderment. Wasn’t he supposed to be the new
division director? Isn’t that what this meeting was about?
    “Hey, don’t worry,” said Victor, misreading Marvin’s expression. “It’s nothing too tough, nothing formal. You’ll still have all
your current duties. I just want you to show Bobby the ropes—help him ease into the position, answer any questions he might
have. Heading up a division, I don’t think Bobby will have time to think about all the little details.”
    The words collided with Marvin’s chest. “I—” Marvin searched for words, answers, reason even, but the endeavor was
fruitless. “Bobby? Winthrop?” Marvin sat in disbelief and looked at his hands, as though they had failed him. He envisioned
the overly manicured, shifty-eyed Bobby throwing assignments on his desk the same way he threw the mail. “This is
unbelievable,” said Marvin aloud. “He’s been here less than a year!”
“I know,” said Victor, his eyes wide. “Amazing, isn’t it? He’s working in the mailroom one day and running a division the next. It
just goes to show that hard work and dedication pay off.”  
    Disbelief gave way to anger and anger was just about to give way to rage. Marvin was about to forget himself when Victor,
unaware of Marvin’s imminent outburst, asked a question that was really a statement: “So we can count on you, right?”

Copyright 2007 Randall Croom