I was finally getting back to work when I felt a hand clap my shoulder. My first thought was Donnie. (He had still not returned from whatever excursion he had gone on after our sort-of confrontation in the men’s room.)
I turned around, looked up, and saw Sid Harper instead.
As I’ve said, Sid was the manager over our group. (Sid, in fact, was one of the senior managers in the entire purchasing department.)
Somewhere back in the last century, there developed a stereotype of what the corporate senior manager should be. I can say without exaggerating too much that Sid Harper fit this description.
In his late forties or early fifties, Sid Harper was tall and broad shouldered, with the trim build of an ex-athlete. Most women, including women decades younger than him, would have described him as handsome. He had that perfect square chin of the classical heroic figure. There were small traces of gray around the sideburns of his black hair, which had not yet begun to thin.
Now, if you think that I was jealous of Sid Harper, you’d be wrong. Yes, I was indeed in awe of him, to a certain degree. But more than that, I was immensely grateful for what he had done for me. Sid had taken an interest in me early on, perhaps recognizing that I was determined to make the most of my job at Thomas-Smithfield. He had encouraged me and helped me along where he could.
And, of course, Sid had been responsible for my recent grade promotion—the promotion that had driven Donnie and Bethany so batty with jealousy.
“Got a few minutes to talk?” he asked me. “I’d like to go over the McDonnell bid. If you can spare the time, that is.”
If I could spare the time. Sid wasn’t being disingenuous in his solicitousness. He really was the sort of manager who liked to show due respect toward his subordinates, within reason. There was no question about who was boss; but Sid wasn’t the kind of manager who threw his weight around gratuitously. Or so I thought at the time.
“Sure thing,” I said. I had already begun to gather the materials related to the McDonnell bid from the surface of my desk.
I should probably take a moment now to tell you a bit more about Thomas-Smithfield Electronics. The company made electronic subassemblies for the automotive, factory automation, aviation, and consumer electronics sectors. Our customers and suppliers were located all over the world, and big money was involved in practically everything the company did. I regularly issued purchase orders for hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars.
“Tell you what,” Sid said as I was standing, “Let’s go over to the tables. This might take a few minutes.”
“The tables” were a set of small, round tables in a common meeting area in the middle of the third floor. If you said “the tables” everyone knew what you meant.
There were lots of meetings at Thomas-Smithfield, as I suppose there are at every large company. For confidential matters, there were meeting rooms. But this was a relatively bread-and-butter conversation about a supplier quote. We could talk in the open area.
I walked away with Sid, Bethany’s eyes boring into my back, no doubt. Donnie had still not returned.
It was something of a big deal to be seen walking with Sid Harper. As we proceeded toward the tables, I noticed more than one purchasing agent look up from his or her desk, do a double take, and look down again.
To begin with, Sid attracted a lot of attention. Everyone wanted to be his protege, or to be noticed by him. I suppose some of the managers were envious of Sid. I knew that there were managerial factions throughout the company; and I figured that Sid would have had rivals and enemies, no different from the rest of them. But those conflicts were above my concern and beyond my pay grade. The peons all competed for his attention.
And he had taken a special interest in me—in my career at Thomas-Smithfield. Or at least it seemed that way.
When we arrived at the tables, we sat down at one of them and went to work. Sid was a busy man, and so I took pains—as I always did—to be thorough yet concise in my explanation. I recapped the basics of the McDonnell bid for him, and answered the two or three questions that he had.
“Good work here,” Sid said when we were done. I resisted the urge to smile. But I had done a good job, and I was grateful that once again, Sid was taking notice.
It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that I regarded Sid Harper as something of a surrogate father, though I was too hard-boiled to admit that to anyone, perhaps even to myself. My parents had divorced when I was very young. It was all quite civilized, and I didn’t have a traumatic childhood; but I was constantly shuffled about as my parents remarried and created new, blended families. I had half-siblings from both of them. I still saw either Mom or Dad most Christmases and Thanksgivings, but we weren’t close.
“All right,” Sid said. He reached toward his pocket, where I could hear his cell phone chiming. “I think we’re done. Thank you.”
I was walking back to my desk when I felt my own cell phone vibrating in my pocket. It was the distinctive vibration pattern that I had set for the number of my ex-wife, Claire.