Chapter 9 – Robert’s Hoard of Money (Excerpt from Chicago Time)

My novel CHICAGO TIME will be available for purchase from Amazon.com and Smashwords on Monday April 2. Until then you can enjoy another excerpt: Chapter Nine. You can read more about the novel here. You can read previous chapters here: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, and Eight.

9 – Robert’s Hoard of Money

Robert would have to decide about his father’s birthday very soon and call his mother back and tell her. For now, the decision would have to wait. Curiosity about the strike or not. He set the phone back in its cradle and went over to his desk. There were two sets of monitors and keyboards on top of the desk, and four PC units underneath that were networked together. One, running Linux, he used as a server (it was also the unit he had built himself). The others ran Windows. The oldest one was filled with MP3’s, acquired both legally and through other means. One was the main computer he used for surfing the Internet and reading email. The last was his gaming computer. It was less than six months old and was the most powerful of his computers in terms of speed, memory, and graphics capabilities. He thought about checking his email and reading some Internet sites. The idea of having someone to bring along with him to his father’s birthday would not slip from his mind. As he waited for his main PC to boot up, he thought of the French-speaking woman and her plans to move to France. That took guts and gumption. Picking yourself up and moving to another country. It was adventurous. It was bold. It was something many people talked of doing but few did, no matter how appealing it sounded. Most people he knew, especially those with whom he had grown up, had never left the Chicago area. There were many obstacles: language, obligations, and fear. There was also the expense. You had to have a way to make money once you were overseas. Leaving the country was something Robert had thought often of doing. Not necessarily trying to be an expat, but traveling around the world. He even had the money to do it.

When Robert had broken off his engagement to Marcia, they sold their Wicker Park condo and split the proceeds. It was a condo they had bought with money made on their Mission District place in San Francisco. After deducting the banquet room costs (which thankfully weren’t outrageous since it was owned by one of Robert’s uncles), Robert was left with a sum that was slightly more than one year of his salary. He did not run out and buy another home. He was unsure whether he was going to stay in Chicago. With the dot-com boom having gone bust, good IT jobs like the one he landed at Fourth National Bank were hard to come by, so he ended up staying.

The hoard of money had been sitting in an account, growing as he added to it for the past two and a half years. Robert would check his bank statement, watching the interest accumulate slowly. Every time he looked at the amount, he felt that the money was waiting for him to do something with it. Traveling had been more appealing to him than getting tied down to a mortgage. He had taken one trip by himself: a hike up Machu Picchu in Peru. It had been exhausting to climb up the mountain. It had been worth it for the exhilaration of seeing all those ruins built at the top of the world. Now that he was a manager, it felt more unseemly to him to quit his job and travel around the world with a backpack. Something you did in his new position when you were having a mid-life crisis, and at 32 surely he was too young for that.

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Chapter 8 – The Clout Business (Excerpt from Chicago Time)

My novel CHICAGO TIME will be available for purchase from Amazon.com and Smashwords on Monday April 2. Until then you can enjoy another excerpt: Chapter Eight. You can read more about the novel here. You can read previous chapters here: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven.

8 – The Clout Business

Robert picked up the cordless phone sitting on the table next to the recliner. There was a message on his voicemail. He dialed in and listened. It was from his mother. She had called and left the message at 11:07 that morning. She could have called him on his cell phone. She could have even called him at work. But no. Robert knew she had purposefully called him when he was most likely to not be at home. She did this whenever she wanted to tell or ask Robert something difficult like, “your brother was just promoted again at the County Forest Preserve,” or “your niece is making her first communion and I know you don’t go to church anymore but…,” or “your father earned a lot of overtime during the last election, so he wants to…”. His mother’s most recent message was to remind Robert that his father’s 60th birthday party was next weekend, Sunday, and it would mean a lot to him and her if Robert would come. She was making the reservation at The Exchange and needed a final count to tell the restaurant.

Robert did not want to go to his father’s birthday dinner. But since it was his father’s 60th, and he had missed the 58th and 59th gatherings, he thought he ought to go. One benefit to living in California all those years was not having to attend every single family-related event. But ever since he had returned to Chicago at the behest of his almost-wife Marcia Bartolozzi, this dilemma had been placed at a primary spot in his life. Getting out of family obligations had become a matter of following a set of rules he had created for himself. First, he had decided it was not good to penalize his nieces or nephews. So if the event was related to them, he attended. Second, if it was at his mother’s behest, then he attended more often than not because she often tried to mediate between Robert and his father and brothers. Third, if the event was related to his father or brothers, then it depended on how well he was getting along at that point in time with that particular family member. With his father, it was fairly easy, because he was almost never on good terms with him. So he often skipped father-related events.

Robert’s older brothers Michael and David had followed their father into what Robert liked to call the “Clout Business.” Robert had avoided it out of revulsion. He had seen from an early age how corruption seeped into every function of the city and county. How it was impossible to get a job in a city department without knowing someone who either already worked in the department or had clout with someone in that department. There was a comfort in it for those who had the connections; there was always someone to whom you could go to get what you needed or wanted. Having that vast network of people was a form of security. But it was not based necessarily on what most people thought of as “merit.” What the public thought of as “merit” was ignored. It was “merit” wrung through the loyalties and obedience demanded by clout and the skills necessary to wield clout. To his father, brothers, and their friends there was no such thing as corruption, because corruption didn’t exist. There was only clout. Those who had it used it. Those who didn’t were on their own.

It was after Robert’s sophomore year at U. of I. Champaign-Urbana when he decided he wanted nothing to do with that life. It started with his Computer Science degree. His father was baffled by it. Why not a business degree so he could get a good job for the city? Or why even bother with college altogether unless it was on to law school? Or what about an engineering degree of some sort? Something that makes something. As interesting as Robert found certain aspects of engineering and business principles, he did not find any enjoyment in solving differential equations or studying accounting principles or business law. Especially if he was going to be pressured to put it into the service of his father’s world. He came to view the life that his father and brothers supported and extolled as a drag on the city of Chicago, reducing city services to nothing more than a jobs program for the unqualified and undeserving. If bugs and errors corrupted software, breaking or hobbling it, then his father and brothers were not just bugs in the system, but portions of a large virus feeding off the city’s vitality, and slowly, ever so slowly, killing the city. Sure there were checks for those bugs. Reformers popped up from time to time who attempted to enact changes for the better that would act as an anti-virus. But clout acted as an anti-anti-virus; it was largely immune to anti-viral, anti-corruption measures.

Robert did not want to be a bug or a virus. Once he had loudly proclaimed his intentions, he had been alternately shunned and welcomed back by his family. His welcome lasted about as long as he kept his mouth shut. But with his father and brothers often bragging about their sweet jobs, their sweet deals, and on and on, Robert would end up saying something, even threatening to turn them in. To the Feds, of course. Not the city police, the county sheriff’s office, or the state police. No entity in the state was going to follow through and investigate any corruption in Chicago. It had to be the Feds. It was always the Feds. Someone from outside the Clout Business. But Robert had never followed through on his threats to turn them in. He had once tried to think through how he might actually go about doing it. He had never gotten farther than looking up the number for the Chicago office of the FBI. And if he called, what would he tell them? That he wanted to rat out his family?

Robert thought it might be easier to be at the dinner if he was dating someone who could, by her mere presence, provide a shield from the usual family discourse. Even his parents liked to make a good first impression. Since the broken engagement to his almost-wife Marcia, Robert hadn’t dated anyone for more than two months. There was Claire in Marketing, who was the most conventionally beautiful woman he had ever dated, with a smile that would make him feel warm all over. But when she talked it was all about work. Robert didn’t mind talking about work, but that was all they ever seemed to be able to talk about.

Then there was Nicole, a friend of Sherry’s and Derek’s, with whom they had set up Robert. It never went past the first double-date at Brasserie Jo. They had laughed together about some of the California health fads like colonics that Robert said he had never tried. But then she made a comment about “loser geeks with no lives who play online games.” Robert said he was one. He played the adventure game Ultima Online for awhile, but when he had started dating Marcia, he devoted less and less time to it. He hadn’t played any other online games since, knowing how obsessive he could be about games like that. She said, “oh,” and the conversation between them never progressed much beyond that.

So if Robert was going to go to his father’s birthday dinner, he was going to have to face his family alone. He could call his mother and tell her, yes, he would be there Sunday, if only to find out what behind-the-scenes information his father had on the City Council strike. His father almost always knew something, or many things, that did not make it into the stories reported on TV or in the papers.

On the weekend fishing trip, Derek had asked Robert what his father knew. Derek had his own sources, but he always wanted to get as much information from as many people as possible. Robert didn’t know what his father knew because he hadn’t spoken to him in months, after their last argument which had erupted over his brothers using their clout to get promotions over more senior and more qualified people.

Derek complained that with the strike so many projects were on hold. All that talk by the aldermen about being on strike for the people was keeping some people from being able to go about their business the way they were accustomed to doing so.

Chapter 7 – Moisture Effacement (Excerpt from Chicago Time)

My novel CHICAGO TIME will be available for purchase from Amazon.com and Smashwords on Monday April 2. Until then you can enjoy this excerpt: Chapter Seven. You can read more about the novel here. You can read previous chapters can be read here: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six.

7 – Moisture Effacement

Robert put his Marshall Field’s bags on the table in the dining room of his apartment. He went to the kitchen, grabbed a handful of pretzels from a bag in a cabinet, and went back into the living room. Robert thought the day had been too strange. He could not have been promoted. It was all a big practical joke that would be revealed tomorrow morning when he went in to work. The meeting would not be about his promotion. It would be the revelation of a prank that had been played on him. Perry would be there with the rest of the department. And they would laugh at him in his only suit. He had managed to get the clerk at Field’s to have the alterations for his four new suits put on a rush. He would be able to pick up two of them Tuesday evening and the other two on Thursday evening.

Robert lived in a large one bedroom apartment. The dining room contained a table and four chairs, but the table was covered with unopened mail and books with pristine spines. His book and DVD collection were filled with some of the touchstones of computer geekdom (in addition to the usual reference books on QA testing, network administration, and programming in C++ and Java): Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Office Space, Monty Python, The Watchmen, Brave New World, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? He preferred Star Trek: the Next Generation to the original Star Trek.

Robert turned on his TV to a local station, WCHI, for the noon-time news. It was a little past the half-hour. Nathan Hunt, the legendary Chicago meteorologist and weatherman, had just finished his forecast when Robert tuned in. Hunt, a 59-year-old white man, had six minutes for weather reports. His competitors were lucky if they had three. Not only did he give the forecast for the weather in the city, but he explained in detail how the weather conditions across the country moved, shifted, and combined to influence the weather conditions in Chicago. Everything from gulf moisture to arctic air, to the changing current of the jet stream, to low and high pressure systems, cold fronts and warm fronts, the types of clouds in the sky, where moisture was picked up and dropped off, the shifting winds, and how much moisture accumulation to expect was explained in his forecasts. That day he had had little to do. The weather was warm and pleasant, and was (very unexpectedly) expected to continue to be warm and pleasant for the next few days. Consistent weather was the worst thing there could be for a TV meteorologist.

In fact, the winds had stopped blowing in the city by mid-afternoon the day after the City Council strike had begun. The air was still except for the big eddies caused by cars or trucks on the streets. When the wind disappeared that August it was as if the city had been released from a vise grip of heat which had held since the beginning of July. The sun’s rays did not burn hard, nor did the streets’ asphalt push up heat.

“Back to you Chris,” said Nathan.

“So what did happen to that big storm you predicted on Friday?” asked Anchorman Chris Giancarlo.

Robert remembered that before he had left on his fishing trip, every weather person on TV, including Nathan Hunt, had stated without equivocation that a powerful thunderstorm was heading toward Chicago. Without a doubt it was going to pass over the city and drop as much as four inches of rain in total. They had shown various satellite models of the storm’s projected path. Prepare for a wet Sunday and Monday morning. Possibly even a soggy Tuesday. The rain was inevitable. Expect travel delays. Flash floods. Remember your umbrella. The beautiful day irritated Robert a little more; how, no matter how important it was that you knew what the weather in Chicago was going to be, you couldn’t depend on it.

“It’s gone,” said Nathan.

“Gone?”

Nathan flattened his mouth and furrowed his brow. “Yes. It’s an extremely rare occurrence, but not out of the range of possibilities. It’s called a moisture effacement. It’s when the moisture from a storm front spontaneously dissipates without any precipitation.”

“That’s interesting. I’ve never heard of that.” Chris’ face looked dubious.

“It’s very interesting.”

Moisture effacement. That’s the second time in a week that you’ve said that. Is that a real term?”

“Of course it is,” said Nathan, straightening his back.

“Are you sure?”

“I’ve been studying meteorology my entire adult life, Chris. I wouldn’t just make up some new piece of terminology.”

“Learn something new every day.”

The corners of Nathan’s mouth drooped a little, looking as if he had felt a burst of heartburn.

“Indeed we do.”

“At any rate, this weather is wonderful.”

“Like I told our viewers,” said Nathan, “Enjoy this wonderful weather while it lasts. As you know, in Chicago, the weather can change very quickly.”

“No kidding,” said Robert before nibbling on a pretzel.

Chapter 6 – “Someone With Your Skills” (Excerpt from Chicago Time)

This is chapter six of my novel CHICAGO TIME. It will be available for purchase from Amazon.com and Smashwords on Monday April 2. You can read more about the novel here. Previous chapters can be read here: One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.

6 – “Someone With Your Skills”

Elise took a bite out of her slice of deep-dish pizza. It was filled with spinach and cheese. She admitted to herself that the pizza was very good and that she would miss it just a little bit, but not in the same passionately devoted way she had heard so many Chicagoans claim they would miss it. She was sitting at the conference table in between Paul Laurent, one of the French-speaking lawyers, and Julian. Everyone involved in the negotiations was taking a break for lunch, which had been ordered in from Giordano’s. People were standing, stretching, and chatting in small groups.

Interpreting for the other French-speakers had made Elise more anxious to get to Paris. Paul spoke English fluently with very little accent. But some of the French business people and the other two French attorneys spoke English with a bit of difficulty.

“Elise, thank you for jumping in on such short notice,” said Julian.

“You’re welcome,” she said.

“You did a wonderful job,” said Paul, and then he took a drink from his bottled water. He was thin, wearing gray wire-rimmed glasses. He was amazed that someone with Elise’s French skills was only a receptionist. There were better, more lucrative, jobs for people like her. Could she not find one? It was a shame to see someone like her not putting her skills to use. He knew a place in Chicago where Elise would do very well.

“It was fun,” said Elise with a smile full of satisfaction. Being able to deploy her French skills in such a demanding way made her feel useful.

“You are very lucky, Julian, to have someone like her on your staff.”

“Elise is leaving us in a few weeks,” said Julian.

Paul turned back to Elise. “Really? Where are you going?”

“To Paris.”

“What are you going to do there?”

“Well, that’s not completely sorted out just yet. But I have a number of leads.” Elise put another piece of pizza into her mouth.

“I wish you the best of luck then…It is unfortunate in a way, because I know a place right here that is looking to hire someone with your skills.”

Elise chewed and swallowed quickly. “What kind of job is that?”

“There is a French immersion school, a private school, that is looking for a teacher. For 4th grade, I believe. It is not enough to have a degree in French and a teaching certificate. The person must be totally fluent. Someone like yourself.”

“There’s a French school here? In Chicago?”

“Yes. Did you not know that?”

Elise shook her head no. In all the time she had been in Chicago, she hadn’t heard one thing about it. She set her white plastic fork and knife onto her paper plate.

“It is quite a good school,” said Paul. “Our son and daughter go there. They are seven and five. If you are at all interested, I could put you in contact with the school’s principal.”

“Where is it?”

“In the Uptown neighborhood.”

Uptown? thought Elise. A French Immersion school in Uptown? You’d think the Gold Coast or Lincoln Park would have something like that already. She could probably take the Montrose Avenue bus every day to work. 15 minutes, tops. But she did not expect the words that came out of her mouth next. “I’ll have to think about that.”

“I understand. You cannot just drop a big move like the one you are taking. Moving to another country is not a small task. I do understand.” He smiled and returned to eating his lunch.

Chapter 5 – How Robert Was Promoted (Excerpt from Chicago Time)

This is chapter five of my novel CHICAGO TIME. It will be available for purchase from Amazon.com and Smashwords on Monday April 2. You can read more about the novel here. Previous chapters can be read here: One, Two, Three, and Four.

5 – How Robert Was Promoted

Sitting in a chair just outside the office of Rosalinda (Rose) Santos, the Vice-President of Human Resources, Robert folded one leg over the other, left over right, then right over left. He was wondering what the phrase “At-Will Employment” meant. What was “will” and how much of it was okay? It wasn’t at a whim. This was a bank; there were procedures to be followed that had been agreed upon by the Adminisphere, after having reviewed the recommendations of a committee or task force that had been set up to study a particular area of concern. As far as Robert could tell, nothing at Fourth National happened At-Will. He was in for a reprimand at the least, maybe even a demotion or dismissal from his position. Which Robert thought would be just fine. He was tired of telling Perry all of his ideas for improvement, like buying software to automate the testing processes and instituting a flexible schedule for the department, and having those ideas rejected with Perry’s stock-phrase: “That doesn’t really fit with how we do things here.” Maybe he would need to take that job with Derek.

Robert had taken the day off on Friday to spend the weekend with his friends Derek Jaeger and Mike Farley fishing up in Door County, Wisconsin. Derek had once again told Robert that if he was looking for a career change, his offer still stood. It was tempting to Robert. Working in real estate development in the role Derek wanted for him would eventually push Robert into the gray (and maybe even black) area of ethics in which Robert’s father and two older brothers resided quite comfortably as loyal members of the Chicago Political Machine. Not to mention the pressure, roller coaster intensity, and long hours that Derek’s job entailed.

The door to Rose’s office opened and her head poked out. “Robert, we’re ready for you.”

Robert stood, took a deep breath, and walked towards the door. Rose pulled it open wider and as Robert entered, he saw Ted Allen the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) sitting in a chair to the right of Rose’s desk.

“Hello, Robert,” said Ted with a smile.

“Hello. Good morning,” said Robert. He had not expected to see Ted there. Ted was in his late fifties and black. Robert had had very few interactions with him. He only knew what Perry had told him; Ted had served in the Marines, went to college, then worked at IBM before working in the banking industry. All of that was true. Ted had risen to CTO four months after Perry had been hired. Ted still did not understand why his predecessor had hired Perry to run the QA Department in the first place. He was a nice enough guy, but he lacked knowledge of QA best practices and talked too much. Ted didn’t like people he thought talked a lot, which meant that Sales and Marketing people, along with TV talk show hosts, were among his least favorite kinds of people. He knew Sales and Marketing were necessary to the running of a successful company. He just preferred to limit his interactions with them. Straight shooters like Robert were the people he preferred to be around. Based on his reputation and his actions, Robert seemed like the right person for the job he needed done at that difficult moment in time. There were a lot of changes coming due to the merger. It would not be pretty.

“Go ahead. Sit down,” said Rose motioning Robert toward the empty chair to the left.

Robert sat. “I know I was out of line with Perry–”

“No need to explain,” said Ted.

“It’s all right, Robert. You’re not being disciplined,” said Rose.

Robert looked from Rose to Ted, then back to Rose. “What?”

Rose took her seat behind the desk. “You’ve been promoted to Manager of the QA Department.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, Robert. We don’t kid about things of this nature,” said Ted.

“You’re joking. No one who mouths off like I did this morning at the department meeting gets promoted.”

“People in other departments speak very highly of you.”

“I thought everyone thought I was the resident curmudgeon.”

Rose, in well over 20 years working in Human Resources, had seen plenty of examples of the wrong person being hired for a job. Perry had been one of them. Robert presented an interesting case to her. She had seen his type before; smart, talented, productive, and full of potential, but lacking diplomacy and tact, the type whose loyalties remained with his co-workers and the people who worked for him, and not the company. They had names for people like Robert: “maverick,” “loose-canon,” and even “black sheep.” Respected (and even loved) by some and hated by others. She understood why, after Perry, Ted wanted someone like Robert. Especially now with the merger, Ted did not have the luxury of time to do an outside search for a candidate for the position. He had to move quickly.

“I don’t know anything about that,” said Rose. “But they like and respect you, two things your predecessor didn’t have going for him. Throw in your long and varied experience, and you were the logical choice to replace him.”

“You’ll be given a significant salary increase, an extra week of vacation, and you’ll be enrolled in the MTP, the Management Training Program,” said Ted.

“I thought I was going to be fired.”

Ted stood and extended a hand toward him. “No. And let me be the first to congratulate you on your promotion.”

Robert looked at Ted’s hand. He was about to shake hands with his new boss, the man who was making him the boss of his department. Robert couldn’t be the boss. No. Not him. This wasn’t possible. He didn’t know how to be a boss. No one had placed him in charge of anything bigger than putting together a software build…Wait!…This was his opportunity to do things his way, the right way. He could apply all the things he had learned through his decade working in QA Departments big and small. He could definitely do this. Now was his chance to run a QA Department better than the many QA Departments in which he had worked. No longer would he be saying to himself, “If I was in charge…” He was now in charge.

“Thank you,” said Robert. He stood and shook hands with Ted.

Then he shook Rose’s hand.

“Congratulations,” she said.

“Thank you. Thank you both very much,” said Robert. “Sorry, but this is a bit overwhelming and shocking.”

“You’re welcome,” said Ted. “This is a big chance for you. I’m especially intrigued by your idea for automating some of the testing processes. I’d like to set up a meeting with you to discuss it.”

“Okay.”

“Meanwhile,” said Rose, “why don’t you take the rest of the day off. And tomorrow morning, when you come in, we’ll introduce you as the new Manager of the QA Department.”

Chapter 4 – Dirty Bitter Coffee (Excerpt from Chicago Time)

This is chapter four of my novel CHICAGO TIME. It will be available for purchase from Amazon.com and Smashwords on Monday April 2. You can read more about the novel here. Previous chapters are can read here: One, Two, and Three.

4 – Dirty Bitter Coffee

Inside the law offices of Tinker, Evers, and Chance, Elise was sitting behind the long, wide mahogany-brown reception desk next to Carol Wolker, who was the other receptionist. With long, straight, light brown hair, gleaming blue eyes, a warm smile, and a calm clear voice, she made an excellent face for the firm. Carol was on the phone with a woman who wanted to sue the Mayor of Chicago for planting a tree on the street median in front of her house, thus blocking her view of the park across the street. Carol was calmly explaining that Tinker, Evers, and Chance didn’t handle those kinds of cases. When Carol had first begun working at the firm seven years ago she had been annoyed by those kinds of calls (people who wanted to sue the President or the U.S. Government for such heinous crimes as manipulating the weather to flood their basement or having men in black cars follow them around). Now, she found them entertaining.

Elise’s French skills were one of those things about her co-worker that Carol had found interesting. Though, as Elise’s final day got closer, Carol thought Elise’s fixation on France was unhealthy and that Elise would be better off staying in the U.S. and finding someone (man or woman) with whom to settle down. It was one thing to be fluent in a language. It was another thing to be obsessed with an entire country. She hoped her son and daughter, ages 12 and 10, would do exciting things like travel to Europe, but she did not want them getting hung up on moving to some foreign country, especially at an age when they ought to be thinking of settling down and furthering their career.

As Carol was politely extricating herself from the phone conversation with the Woman with the Obstructed View, Elise was reading a story in the French newspaper Le Figaro on her PC. It was about the French actor Vincent Cassel, but she couldn’t get past the first paragraph telling about him posing in a studio for promotional photos. She was still annoyed that the guy she had met in front of La Ville Venteuse didn’t think moving to Paris was original.

In between answering phone calls, guiding clients to the right office, and avoiding questions from Carol about her personal life, on a typical day Elise read French web sites on her computer. She also cursed herself for having chosen to learn French as opposed to Spanish (a more employable language skill in Chicago) and cursed the French for not having immigrated in significant numbers anywhere besides Quebec, an extremely cold place; a place that referred to itself not as a country or state but as a form of winter. After having lived in France, she had to admit that the French compulsion to stay in France was probably a good one what with the varieties of wine and cheese, art, culture, the beaches on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, and free health care. A compulsion that mirrored the average U.S. citizen who also felt no desire to leave the U.S., what with 24-hour restaurants, big houses, numerous beaches, and great customer service compared to the rest of the world.

Elise had been plotting her return to France, despite her ex-boyfriend’s presence in the country. She had claimed to be the first of the two who had wanted to live in France, despite the fact it had been Patrick’s fellowship to study at the Sorbonne that had brought them to Paris. If she was going to be stuck the rest of her life answering a phone for lawyers, she wanted to do it in a Parisian law firm. Even Lyon would be better than Chicago, a city that prided itself on “working” and its grittiness. There was nothing elegant about Chicago, including that guy who started that argument with her on the L and his un-asked for opinions. Meanwhile, Patrick was living in Paris at that very moment in his Parisian apartment with his Parisian wife with their Parisian poodle and their Parisian infant in a Parisian stroller, with their Parisian jobs and their whole damn Parisian life, while she suffered a headache and answered phones and directed traffic for a bunch of attorneys.

Elise took a long sip of coffee, the dirty bitter coffee she had gotten in the break room and had filled with cream and sugar, wishing she had either gone to the Starbucks on the first floor or had made coffee in her french press back at her apartment. She set her mug next to her mouse and then saw Julian Foster walking very quickly toward the reception desk. He was tall, black, and lean-muscled, an admitted gym rat. He had a law degree from the University of Chicago and had just made junior partner.

“Elise, you speak French, right?” he said.

“Yes.”

“How well do you speak? You’re fluent, right?”

“I am. I have a Masters in French.”

“Do you think you could help us out a bit? We have some people from France involved in some of the merger talks between RGB Bank and ALOI. The translator we hired canceled on us this morning. He says he’s sick. I know it’s last minute. We were hoping you could help out.”

“I can do it,” she said.

He smiled. “Wonderful. Thank you.”

Chapter 3 – If He Was In Charge… (Excerpt from Chicago Time)

This is chapter three of my novel CHICAGO TIME. It will be available for purchase from Amazon.com and Smashwords on Monday April 2. You can read more about the novel here. You can read chapter one here, and chapter two here.

3 – If He Was In Charge…

Robert exited the train at the next stop, Quincy. He hurried down the steps, taking two at a time, to the sidewalk. He walked East, around the Fourth National Bank Tower to Lasalle Street, where he jaywalked across and headed into the Gloria Jeans Coffee in the first floor of the Lasalle Bank building. The fact the line was long only added to his agitation. He took his spot at the very end and was pleasantly surprised to find that the line moved at a good pace. When it was his turn at the register, he ordered a double cappuccino with a double-shot of espresso. “Quad in a double!” shouted the young clerk.

While Robert waited he thought that he wouldn’t have to be in such a hurry if someone else was running the department instead of Perry. Like Robert. If he was running the department it would be run much more efficiently, openly, and happily. All of the petty, annoying, unproductive things, like writing up testing summaries in addition to the bug reports, would never be part of any Quality Assurance Department he would run. In fact, if he was in charge, the department would be a much better department and there would be less rancor with the programmers in the Software Development Department. Of course, that would never happen because the bank would never let a big mouth like him be given important responsibilities. But just what had upper management been thinking when they had put Perry in charge of the QA Department? The man had previously been a consultant with Arthur Andersen in some vague capacity as an Efficiency Engineer but had never written a single test case in his life.

Robert took his cappuccino, added some RAW sugar, stirred it in quickly, and tasted it. He liked it almost as much as the cappuccinos from La Ville Venteuse. He took another sip then pushed open the glass door to the sidewalk. He jaywalked back across Lasalle and through the revolving doors of the Fourth National Bank Tower.

Robert’s gray cubicle was located on a center aisle on the eighth floor. He set his bag on the floor next to his chair, and peeled off the white plastic cover to the cup. He was about to take a tentative drink when Karen Washington, who occupied the cubicle next to him said, “Robert! You’re here! We’ve got a department meeting starting right now.”

Karen was the other Lead QA Engineer in the department. Two years older than Robert, her cubicle was devoid of pictures. She was black and a lesbian who was out only to Robert and a handful of other people within and outside their department. Robert’s cubicle was also devoid of personal photos. There was a black sign that read, in white letters, “White Sox Fan Parking Only” hanging on one wall. On another was a calendar of Lake Michigan light houses his parents had given him as a Christmas gift. Robert was not enamored with lighthouses. He merely thought it was useful to have a calendar in his cubicle.

“Did Perry email us the agenda?” Robert asked

“No.”

“We don’t know what it’s about?”

“No.”

“Crap.” Robert thought the reorganization, rumored about since the merger between BMC and Fourth National Bank had been finalized less than two months before, was finally taking place. The rumors had been constant about which departments were going to be consolidated, which branches would be closed, and how many people were going to be laid off. The rumors had stopped nearly two weeks before, making some people feel relieved and others more paranoid. Robert had been through this sort of thing before. The rumors often reached their highest and most absurd the day before the reorganization. But it was Monday, and reorgs never happened on Mondays. They were always on Fridays. So whatever Perry wanted, odds were it wasn’t related to any reorg. Which was good in a way but annoying in another. Robert had never had a clear idea of what it was Perry spent his time doing. Perry would mention all kinds of projects with acronyms like PALS, COMS, and WAL, that were always “about to be ready” but never implemented in the department.

“Come on!” Karen nearly shouted.

Robert, with a yellow legal pad and blue pen in one hand and the cappuccino in the other, followed Karen up the elevator to the 10th floor, out the door to the right, passing a few rows of light gray cubicles and the sounds of typing, copying, and faxing, to the Wright Conference Room. Inside the large conference room, everyone else from the department was already seated: Nikolai, Anna, Katrina, Timur, Rakesh, Dipti, Sanjay, Wen, Gary, Jeff, and Bob. Seated at one end of the long table was Perry Billows, the QA Department Manager.

Perry always told himself that attitude was something you decided to have. He was middle-aged with the gray starting to overtake the light brown in his hair. He was still married to wife number two after nine years and was quite content to being the step-dad to his wife’s two sons, but still smarting after all those years for not getting joint custody of his daughter Michelle from his first marriage.

Perry had been in a foul mood all weekend. His daughter had gotten engaged three months ago to a stockbroker she had been dating for a year. Perry had been overjoyed at the news. Then Friday evening she had informed him that her step-father was going to give her away at the ceremony.

“It’s not like you were ever really there for me,” she had said.

“I couldn’t be! I was too busy working in order to pay alimony to your mother, child support for you, and then support Mary, the boys, and myself. I’m still paying for your college loans!”

Perry decided he was most certainly not going to spend his Monday morning thinking about his ungrateful daughter. He had a meeting to run, decisions to make, emails to answer, and more meetings to attend. If he was going to ensure that he had a job after the reorganization resulting from Fourth National’s merger with BMC, he had to be on his toes, keep his eyes and ears open, play his cards right, and go with the flow.

“We were waiting for you, Robert,” said Perry as the door shut behind Robert.

Karen took the open seat near the middle of the table on the door side of the room. The only available seat remaining was the one to Perry’s right.

Robert sat in the chair next to Perry. “Sorry. I needed to get a cappuccino.”

“We do provide free coffee in the kitchen.”

“That stuff will give you dysentery.”

“No need to be crude, Robert.”

“Sorry.”

“Speaking of complaints, that’s why I called this meeting. As many of you know, there have been a lot of complaints about our performance as a department. With the merger, there is talk about downsizing and/or outsourcing some of the services our department provides to make room for BMC’s QA Department. Now, you all know that I would love to keep each and every one of you. But I can’t guarantee that, unfortunately. We have to take a long hard look at ourselves, evaluate our performance, and see where we can make improvements. For example, let’s take Robert, here.” Robert raised his eyebrows. “He was late, and as a result he made us start this meeting late. Do you have something to say to your co-workers, Robert?”

Despite a few drinks of his cappuccino, Robert’s caffeine headache remained strong. He knew he was one of the best workers in the department. The previous Department Manager, Lisa Timoshenko, had hired him. A year later she left to become a consultant. Perry was hired shortly after that. Robert thought it was Perry who antagonized the software developers by withholding QA resources for petty reasons, which had in-turn caused the very real possibility of the department being cut and most of its services outsourced to a consulting company. So Robert was damned if he was going to be used as a scapegoat. He took a sip of his cappuccino, licked the foam off the top of his lip and said, “I sure do, Perry.” He turned, looked around at his co-workers, and said, “Aren’t you all tired of working for this jackass?”