Nina Marcotte could see the Chicago team through an exterior office window. She watched as they crossed the parking lot and entered OTO Retail Services’ lobby, then took turns shaking hands with the receptionist. The team of three stood at alert, faces configured into large smiles. They wore suits and shiny shoes.
Gerry Vella — an OTO account executive and Nina’s direct superior — burst through the frosted glass door at the end of the hallway. Quick intakes of air whistled up his nostrils. His curly, receding hairline and one-size-too-large Dockers boots projected the appearance of a retired circus clown. “You ready, Marcotte?”
“Let’s see what these lunks have for us, okay?”
Nina stood up from her desk. She followed Gerry’s erratic strides back through the frosted glass door and into the lobby. There, they were greeted by a middle-aged man and woman with well-coiffed hair and skin that glowed from heavy topical treatments, and a baby-faced man in his twenties wearing a tailored shirt from under which bulged the traps and pectorals of a sure Division I alumnus. The woman’s face beamed. “Gerry. Good to see you again.”
She extended a hand forward. Gerry accepted and let his wrist move limply. He turned to the senior man, who smiled widely, saying he hoped Gerry was well and that they really did need to see each other more frequently. They shook, then Gerry smirked at the younger man. “You’re working with these two, huh?”
“Yes, sir.” He puffed out his chest. His expression was eager and uncomplicated.
“Tell me how that goes, will you?”
“Yes, sir. I will.”
The senior man held a hand out to Nina and identified himself as James Nuttal, then produced a business card from inside his tweed jacket. Nina took the card without looking at it. The woman introduced herself as Laurie Carrivagio and offered a grip that was harder and more precise than James’s. She conjured a business card so quickly its origin was undetectable. Nina accepted, then nodded at the younger man, who said his name was Doug Stephenson, and he presented a card with a casual flick of two fingers.
Gerry clapped sharply. “Enough with the pleasantries. Let’s talk some business, folks!” He herded the group out of the lobby and into a white-walled meeting room.
Nina settled in at a large table across from the Chicago team. The air was moist and smelled of recently present bodies. She held the business cards between thumb and index finger, then let them drop onto the laminate table surface.
Laurie Carrivagio: vice-president of business development for Leshman Home & Entertainment. James Nuttal: director of marketing for Leshman Home & Entertainment. Doug Stephenson: account representative for Leshman Home & Entertainment. Nina looked up.
James Nuttal’s grin stretched the width of his face. “How’s business?”
Gerry exhaled. “We always find a way.” His gaze darted back and forth across the room. “And you?”
“Leshman has a lot going on — very exciting time for the company.” James alternated his stare from Gerry to Nina. “Business is booming domestically. We’ve started talking expansion into Canada and the UK.” He dipped his chin slightly. “That’s told in confidence, of course.”
“Sure, sure. In what segments are you seeing growth?”
“We’re thrilled about kitchenware — lots of new resources being directed there.”
“The folks in appliances had a banner year.”
Laurie slid a pair of thick booklets across the table. “We’re over the moon with our seasonal assortment and think this is the right opportunity to get back on track with OTO.”
Gerry pulled a booklet toward his chest and riffled through its pages.
“This is what I was telling you about on the phone.”
Gerry muttered indiscernibly.
“We’ve redesigned our seasonal offerings to make a big push into the marketplace.”
“You’ve got snow shovels for me, right?”
Laurie nodded. “We think snow shovels are a gold mine.”
“Do you have samples?”
“Our engineers are bringing product back from overseas next week.”
“But you’ve seen —”
“Pictures and specs. Our design team is promising the strongest seasonal offerings we’ve ever put forward. This is a game-changer in the snow-clearing industry.”
Gerry held the booklet up to his face and squinted. “What’s the retail on this?”
“Our assortment has a range of price points; we think you fit in at $20. That puts you right in line with the top private-label brands, but with quality we feel is superior.”
“The manufacturing is sound?”
“Because some of these overseas operations . . .”
“I assure you we’ve done our due diligence.”
“Because you said that last time.” Gerry turned to Nina. “Nasty quality control issues — the lawyers were called in.”
“We’re confident there won’t be issues moving forward.”
Nina looked to Laurie. “And, uh, we’re getting the same cost as your other customers? We need to be competitive or —”
“We don’t want to hear that!” Gerry stuck his fingers in his ears. “That’s their business and not ours.”
“No talk about competitor pricing. The FTC will have our asses — that’s not an option.”
Laurie smirked and made a mouth-zipped-shut motion with her hand.
Gerry resettled. His chair made a low, groaning noise. “How much are we buying these for?”
“Your cost is $8.45,” said James. “That means 35 per cent margin for you and the retailer, with lots of opportunity for promotions and end-of-season markdowns.”
“You’re supporting markdowns the retailers put through?”
“As partners, we’re prepared to help out.”
“We can’t commit to anything, of course,” said Laurie.
A smile teased at the ends of her lips. “We expect the number to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 50 per cent.”
“Contingent on volume purchases, yes.” Laurie pointed to the booklet in Gerry’s hand. “That’s all laid out in there.”
Gerry turned to Nina. “What do you think?”
“Well, if we’re in line with the market, stores execute, and the weather co-operates —”
“Holy hell — I almost forgot. Have you checked the Farmers’ Almanac?”
Nina shook her head.
“Does anyone know what kind of winter we’re due for?”
James snorted. “Hoping for lots of snow and ice. We get a good ribbing for it back at the office, but a buck’s a buck.”
“What are meteorologists saying? We need an exit plan if the product doesn’t move.”
“You know we’re with you 100 per cent, Gerry.” Laurie leaned back in her chair. “You don’t have to worry.”
Gerry slid a pencil out from behind his ear and began tapping on the table. “We’ve had a string of mild winters — global warming could freeze the business right out.” He leaned toward Nina and snickered. “Get it?”
Laurie straightened her posture. She spoke with pointed deliberateness. “There are reports that climate change could actually increase annual snowfall, depending on geographic location.”
“And what’s the under-35 demo doing? Do people still shovel snow?” He pointed at Doug. “I’m looking at you, Doogie Howser.”
Laurie held out a hand and spoke in a low voice. “Leshman recently hired a policy consultant to help navigate government regulations within our industry.” She dropped her voice further. “We have it on good authority the state will be cracking down on homeowners neglecting to clear their sidewalks.” She smirked. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
“Is that true?”
“From what we understand, bylaw officers will be strictly enforcing snow-clearing regulations. Starting this winter, if you don’t clear your sidewalk, you’ll receive a ticket more than double the retail price of one of our snow shovels.”
“You’re telling me this is statewide?”
“That’s what we’re hearing.”
Gerry wiped a dribble of sweat from his left temple. “What do you think, Marcotte?”
“I thought snow clearance was a county responsibility.”
“There’s a push right from the top on this one,” said Laurie.
Gerry tapped his pencil on the desk again. “Does anyone know what percentage of our end customers have sidewalks?” He looked to Nina, who shook her head. Gerry turned to Laurie. “Anyone?”
“We can get some market research for you.” Laurie folded her hands. “Everything we’re hearing makes us confident this is going to be a home run.”
“Failure is not an option,” said Gerry. “Both sides need to step up.”
“We completely understand,” said Laurie.
The room went silent for a beat. Laurie turned to James and tilted her head. Doug eagerly rolled up his sleeves. James held out a hand and cleared his throat. “Gerry, we absolutely empathize with your position. Know that we’re just as committed to the deal as you are.” He put his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “Would you like your balls played with first, or should I get right to the cock?”
Nina’s jaw dropped. Gerry scratched the top of his scalp, sending bits of dandruff cascading onto his shoulders. “There’s been a lot of internal discussion about this.”
“Our lawyers say it comes down to numbers,” said James. “As long as there’s more than two people present, any sexual act is defined as an orgy, meaning we’re safe from antitrust action. It’s the one-on-one shit you have to watch out for.”
Gerry nodded slowly. He put his phone to his ear and held up a finger. “Hello? Gerry here. Can you come to room 4 for a moment? Thanks. . . . Got it. Okay, bye.” He shrugged. “Might as well check with legal.”
“We’re behind you, Gerry,” said Laurie “Whatever you think is best.”
Gerry nodded. The room went silent again. Nina became acutely aware of the office HVAC’s low-end hum. Soon she heard footsteps, and a tall bespectacled woman appeared in the door frame. “What can I help you with, Gerry?”
“Say, did we ever reach a consensus on suppliers providing sexual acts in the workplace?”
“Is business being discussed?”
Gerry chuckled. “Naturally.”
The woman exhaled and clicked her tongue. “In our opinion, it comes down to transparency. We want to protect ourselves against risk: unscrupulous claims, differing interpretations of events, accusations of obstructing competition, and so on. Therefore, any activity with the potential for ambiguous interpretation should be performed with an open door and project a welcoming environment to all OTO staff.” She adjusted her glasses. “Is that clear?”
“You have no problem with sexual activity in this room, provided it’s inclusive, done with an open door, and business is being discussed?”
“Do you care to join in?”
The woman scrunched up her nose. “Never again.” She spun on her heel and vanished around the corner.
James clapped his heads. “Let’s get to it, then.” He stepped around the table and faced Gerry. “Should we go right for the shaft?”
“Don’t see why not.” Gerry put his hands behind his head.
Laurie typed rapidly into her phone. “Gerry, I’ve just sent along an email that lays out the forecast we believe you need for a successful winter season. We’ll get the ball rolling if you can just go ahead and reply back with approval for your team to cut a purchase order.”
James tugged at Gerry’s belt. He grunted. James pulled down Gerry’s trousers and underwear, then began to fellate him. The smell of sweaty flesh was immediate. Gerry leaned toward his phone. “You said you sent an email through?”
“I’m not seeing it.”
“My outbox is clear.”
Gerry tapped his phone’s screen. “Right. Got it. We can close the deal — sending my approval now.” He looked up and pointed to James’s head. “This guy’s been practising. Hard work pays off!”
“At Leshman we take customer feedback extremely seriously.”
“I bet you do,” said Gerry. “Could someone put a finger in my butt, please? I like that sometimes.”
Doug jumped from his chair and vaulted over the desk. Gerry rose to a crouching position and stuck out his buttocks; Doug rammed a finger up his asshole.
“Fuck! Go easy, would you?”
“Sorry. Is this better?”
“You young guys are so eager. Slow it down a bit more, okay?”
“Carol!” Gerry pointed to OTO’s marketing manager as she passed by the doorway. “Come on in. The more the merrier!”
Carol leaned into the room. Her expression was quizzical. “What’s going on?”
“Vendor negotiation,” said Gerry. “Plenty of room for everyone.”
Carol shrugged. “I’m late for a meeting. Maybe next time.”
“Whatever you like!” Gerry’s intake of breath quickened. He looked over to Laurie. “You see the email?”
“I have it here.”
“That’ll be everything required to commit manufacturing resources.”
Gerry slammed the table. “I’m real close!”
James squeaked and sped up the rhythmic thrusts of his neck and head.
“Marcotte, you good?”
Nina nodded wordlessly.
“Keep working the butt, would you? Real close. Real close.” Gerry exhaled loudly and groaned. “That’s it.” He closed his eyes, then leaned forward and whistled. “Wow! You folks still have it.”
James popped up from the floor, rubbing his jaw.
Doug looked around wide-eyed. “Should I keep going? I can keep going if you want.”
“Take it easy. You did good.”
“Are you sure?”
“Save it for the next seasonal buy.” Gerry zipped his pants and cleared his throat. “Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?”
Laurie stood and held out a hand. “I think that’s everything for now. We’re very much looking forward to doing business again.” She chuckled. “Here’s hoping for a miserable winter.”
Handshakes were exchanged all around. The group moved into the hallway, and James patted Gerry on the back. “Could I get a glass of water real quick?”
“Of course, of course.” Gerry held out his arm toward the lobby. “The receptionist will help you with that.” He waved cheerfully. “Have an excellent rest of the day, folks. We’ll be in touch.”
Nina watched the Chicago team disappear into the lobby. Gerry returned to the meeting room and slumped down into a chair. “How do you think that went, Marcotte?”
“Well, we’ll be in good shape if we can move the units.” She paused. “Does that sort of thing happen often? You know, sex with a supplier?”
Gerry leaned back in his chair. “These deals are so regulated now. You should have seen the shit that went on back when I started.” He squinted down at his phone and shook his head. “Those were the days.”