I read the agenda for the meeting and I realized that I was a sucker. I always knew that Max was a self-serving, back-stabbing jackal, so it was stupid of me to let him write up the agenda. We’re supposed to be co-leading this project, but all he has done is make excuses, show up late for meetings, and miss deadlines. I decided to give him one job and he uses this as an opportunity for naked self-promotion.
Maxwell Stier and team
“I hate to say I told ya’ so Billy, but I told you to always control your narrative. That’s office politics 101,” said Morty. He was the one that told me to check my email.
I’m the one that’s been meeting with the suppliers, the surveyors, the estimators, and the engineering team as well as coming up with multiple concepts. I’d estimate that I did 90% of the architectural work and now Max decides to write up the agenda as “Maxwell Stier and team”.
“At this point, you know how he is Billy,” said Morty. “You can’t keep walking into these traps like Elmer Fudd.”
Morty is right, how much more proof do I need? He’s stolen my ideas without giving me credit, he talks down to me in meetings, and he refuses to pass on key information, all so that he looks good. For the last few days, he decided to start stealing my lunch. What kind of person does that? He’s like every other bully I’ve had to deal with growing up.
But this is a $20 million dollar project; the kind of clients that people kill to work with. This is that springboard project that could launch my career. This building will be downtown for everyone to see, and he calls us “Maxwell Stier and team”. Impressing these clients means everything and Max is trying to block me.
“No point in crying over spilled milk,” Morty said. “you’re in the better position here. You know all the moving parts of this project, not him, that’s your strength Billy, use it.”
Max isn’t just a jerk to me, he treats everyone like dirt, but for some reason, I’ve been his focus for the last several months. But clients love him. He’s a frat-boy at the end of the day. He barely graduated from his architectural program, but he’s got the looks, the personality, the name, and the connections. Everybody has heard of Braxton Stier, the financier. Anyone that has gone to college in this city has had to walk past or study in the Stier library. Lucky people were born on third base but a select few, like Maxwell Stier, were born on home plate.
“Let this be a lesson to you,” said Morty, “protect yourself at all times. The question is, what are you going to do about it?”
“Don’t worry Morty,” I said. “Max is going to get his. Trust me.”
Morty frowned for a second, as if he wasn’t sure how to read me, then he laughed a knowing laugh as he reconciled the statement. In his 40 years in corporate life Morty has seen it all, that’s what makes him a great mentor, he’s been able to help me navigate this place.
“You’re a talented architect Billy. One of the best that I’ve seen, but you’re a little…too nice,” Morty said as he adjusted his chair. “The real world is different from a master’s program at some university. You need more than good grades and a good work ethic; you also have to be…ruthless. Sometimes you have to be able to put down your own dog.”
Put down my own dog? What a horrible expression. Reward a dog’s loyalty with a bullet to the head?
“Hey, I can be ruthless. I can be very ruthless,” I said as I broke the spell of my email. I wanted to tell Morty more of my plan, but I figured that the less he knew the better it would be for him, he’d have plausible deniability.
“Sure Billy, you’re a regular Michael Corleone.” Morty laughed some more, “I liked you from the first time I met you 2 years ago Billy. You’ve got talent, you’re smart, but you need to sharpen your teeth a bit. Most people see each other as a means to an end. Oh man, the stories I could tell you, you’ll never look at all those corporate ‘bonding retreats’ the same again.”
“When we do the presentation this afternoon, I’ll put a lot of emphasis on the things that I worked on, Max is in the dark on most of that. By the end, the clients will know who’s been carrying the load,” I said, mostly to assure Morty. The real plan was making Max a laughingstock.
“There you go, play up your strength. Make sure you discuss your research and their original goals,” said Morty as he stood up and stretched his tall wiry frame, “clients love hearing their ideas being repeated back to them. What time is that meeting again, 2:30?” Morty put his hand on his stomach as he checked his watch.
“No, 2 o’clock in the big conference room.”
“That leaves me about an hour. Man, I’m starving, I’m gonna grab a bite, but I’ll be back in time for the meeting. You want to come with?”
“No, I’m too nervous. I’m going to eat my energy bar and prep the conference room.” I tapped on the granola bar on my desk. “I’ll eat my bag lunch later.”
“Remember Billy, get in touch with your inner Brer’ Rabbit,” said Morty.
Brer’ Rabbit? Another Morty Glickman image that will stay in my head forever, a trickster rabbit putting down the family dog.
It was still 12:45, Max Stier was probably eating my lunch.
At 1:45pm I decided to start moving my sketches into the conference room, but first I made a quick trip into the break room. I needed to check the refrigerator for the special lunch that I packed. A bowl of chili, apple and a chicken salad sandwich. I needed to pack something that was easy and quick to eat, and more importantly, something with enough seasoning that would hide any suspicious taste. I checked my little cooler with the name ‘William Rutz’ written in black sharpie plain for everyone to see and like I hoped, the cooler was empty.
Max should be okay, he will survive a one-time dose, but he will feel the effects. It was just dumb luck that I still had most of the oxycodone left from getting my wisdom teeth pulled last year. Max will be fine, but he will get those wonderful side effects, sleepiness, itching, constipation and possibly nausea. And he is taking those pills with food, the chili and the sandwich will buffer his stomach some. Max is a big guy; I think that he was a wrestler back in college; 4 pills, at 10 mg each, won’t be too hard for him to metabolize. But it will be fun to watch with all the big investors. All those movers and shakers remembering Maxwell Stier swaying, yawning, scratching, and slurring his words during a big presentation and if I’m lucky, maybe he’ll puke. And he can thank is old friend “Billy-boy” for this one; I hate when he calls me that.
I made sure that there were several bottled waters, coffee, tea, and even pastries in the meeting. I needed this to be just right. I checked the monitor, reviewed the power points, and checked the model. Max’s goofiness is going to be the star of the show, not a poorly connected HDMI cable.
Right at 2 o’clock people started filing into the room, mostly our own employees. Other architects, some guys from accounting, and an intern.
“Are you nervous Billy? This is a huge deal for the company,” said Alex, he’s been in accounting for about 5 years and has been working with me on all the estimates.
“No, we’ve got this. Nothing to be worried about,” I reassured him.
“Is Morty going to be here?” asked Christine from engineering, “I know that he’s been excited about watching this presentation. He’s been talking about it for weeks.”
It was odd, I just realized that Morty wasn’t here. He may be in the lobby meeting with the investors. That might be a little odd, he doesn’t really hang out with the higher ups even though they all came up through the industry together.
“He’ll be here. There’s no way he will miss it.”
At 2:02 pm the VIPs started filing into the room, with Maxwell Stier tagging along. I can’t believe that he met in the lobby with the higher ups. Why didn’t I think of that? My biggest concern was that he looked as sober as a judge when he walked in. But it was only a matter of time, nobody can shake off 4 oxycodone.
In the meantime, let the good times roll.
As I walked back to my desk I had mixed feelings; the presentation was a success. I was great, I was sharp, my points were clear, the presentation was fabulous. Unfortunately, Max was even better, I expected him to be drooling and confused, instead he was funny and quick-witted. I was even laughing at some of his jokes. He was clearly not a man that was zonked out of his mind on narcotics. What the hell was he taking back in college to develop a tolerance for oxycodone? Is this guy part bull?
I could tell that all the investors were enthralled, fortunately most of the questions were technical in nature and Max couldn’t handle them so that gave me a chance to impress them as a subject expert. Christine covered all the HVAC issues, and any building material concerns. Alex had the numbers down to the penny, he accounted for everything from construction and permits to finishes. But the real winner was the concepts. When they saw my concept drawings and the 3-D rendering for what their project could look like, it was like watching someone see Disney Land for the first time. They were in awe. I guess I came out of this meeting looking pretty good after all, regardless of that memo. But what I really wanted to do was take Max down.
But Morty never showed up. Why would he miss this meeting?
The clients were so impressed they invited us out to dinner at some fancy steakhouse. I wanted to make sure that Morty made it to dinner, it would be a shame for him to not be able to meet with these clients.
On my way to his desk, I heard someone say, “Hey William? Have you heard about Morty? They had to rush him to the hospital.”
Hospital? Oh no, 1000 possibilities went through my head. Morty was like a father figure and probably the reason that I didn’t quit in the first 6 months.
“What happened? Did he get hurt? A heart attack?” My father died of a heart attack when I was 14, now every time someone goes to the hospital that’s my first thought, and Morty is getting up there in age. He’s been my only real ally at this company.
“We don’t know. He was slurring his words, groggy, and confused. Once he threw up we called an ambulance. I hope that it’s not a stroke.”
Slurring…groggy…confused. Then the penny dropped, the reason that Max was fine was because he didn’t eat my lunch, Morty did. He must have grabbed my lunch and ate it in his office so that he would be back in time to make the meeting, after all, I said that I wasn’t eating it. How stupid could I be? Morty is lean, he’s got to be 30 or 40 pounds lighter than Max, plus he’s old, 40 mg oxycodone would probably put him on his ass.
Why did he have to eat the whole lunch?
I asked the receptionist if she knew what hospital he was staying at and then asked her to inform Mr. Holtz, the owner of the company, that I would miss dinner due to an emergency.
When I got to the hospital, they wouldn’t let me in at first, the nurse said that only immediate family was allowed for now, so I lied and told them that I was Morty’s son, Billy Glickman.
“Your dad is going to be fine, but we’re going to keep him over night for observations.”
When I went into his room Morty was lying in his bed looking tired and dejected.
“Well, if it isn’t my ‘son’ Billy!” Morty chuckled, “Good to see you tapping into your Brer’ Rabbit. Sorry that I missed the presentation, I had some other plans.”
“I was terrified, somebody at the office thought that you had a stroke. They said that you were confused and slurring your—”
“Stroke my ass!” Morty roared, “I got doped is what happened. The doctors said that I had opioids in my system, and I think that I know why Billy.”
My heart raced.
“It was Maxwell Stier. That spoiled, silver-spoon, frat-house reject, Maxwell Stier and I can tell you exactly how he did it,” Morty said as he sat up, “he was trying to get you, he was trying to sabotage your presentation. He tried to drug your lunch, Billy. What kind of a son of bitch does that?”
I just stood there like an idiot. All that I could say was, “Drug my lunch? Wow, that’s crazy.”
“Not crazy at all, I haven’t had anything since breakfast, absolutely nothing,” Morty said glaring at me, “but when you said that you weren’t going to eat your lunch, I decided that it shouldn’t go to waste and ate it, save myself a trip. I figured that I would pay you back later.”
I was speechless, all that I could do was sit there staring at Morty with my mouth open.
“This is what you’re dealing with Billy, you have to be ruthless because they’ll come at you any way that they can. You could be in this bed getting observed right now if you’d eaten that lunch.”
I finally found a way to say something, “But you’re going to be fine, right? No permanent damage, right?”
“I’m going to be fine, physically. But everything else is going to go haywire. My wife, Anna, was here and she was pissed,” Morty’s eyes started to water, “Billy, I had a drinking problem a while back, I’ve been sober for 15 years, now she thinks that I fell off the wagon.”
My breath caught in my throat.
“She wants me to start taking routine drug tests and Bernie er, Mr. Holtz, is probably going to want some proof that I’m keeping clean too. As far as everyone is concerned, old Morty just went back to his old ways. I’m too old to be digging out of this hole Billy. Max Stier is going to have to pay.”
That night when I went home, I was sick with guilt. Morty’s life is going to be in chaos for a while and it’s all because of me trying to “sharpen my teeth” to fight back against Max Stier. The irony is, the presentation went fine, all I did was take down an innocent person, my mentor at that.
My little stunt had all downside and no upside. In spite of all of Max’s stunts and posturing, my hard work actually came through and allowed me to shine in front of all of the people that mattered. My career would have been fine. What was worse, I chickened out when I had a chance to come clean with Morty.
Something else was nagging at me, to be fair it had been bothering me for some time, how illegal is it to give another person oxycodone? So I went to my friend, Mr. Google, and typed, “Is it legal to share prescription drugs?”
It turns out that it is ‘strictly forbidden by law’ to share a controlled substance. Now, the argument could be made that I didn’t “share” the drugs, technically, my lunch was stolen. But let’s be real, why would I spike my own lunch?
Being “ruthless” has led me to commit a felony and ruin a man’s life. The project didn’t benefit, my career didn’t benefit, and certainly the people around me didn’t benefit. Why didn’t I just use laxatives like a normal person would?
I’ve got to fix this, tomorrow I’m going to tell Mr. Holtz the truth, that I was the one that put narcotics in my lunch.
The next day at the office all that I could think about was how I was going to tell Mr. Holtz what I did, how me spiking my lunch is the reason that Morty got sick, not him relapsing.
I sat at my desk playing through all the scenarios, half of them ending with me walking out of the office carrying all of my things in a cardboard box, the other half ended with me being escorted out to the police station being charged as a drug dealer. If only I had more faith that my talent and hard work would get me ahead and I didn’t give in to the idea that I had to fight dirty.
“Missed you at dinner last night buddy.”
I almost jumped out of my skin at the sound of Alex’s voice; I was so caught up in my own thoughts that I didn’t hear him come up to my desk.
“Whoa!” Alex laughed, “maybe you should tone down the caffeine.”
I snickered to hide my nervousness, “Yeah, I’m a little wired up.”
“The investors talked about your part of the presentation all night,” said Alex. “I guess that accounting isn’t as sexy. But that’s fine with me, we’re going to be eating off this project for a few years and it’s going to be huge feather in your cap.”
“Yeah, lucky me,” I said, my voice was a little flatter than I had intended.
“You’re worried about Morty,” Alex said shuffling some papers that he was carrying. He lowered his voice, “Rumor has it that it wasn’t a stroke, someone said that he was high as a kite.”
So now Morty has had a 40-year career reduced to office gossip.
Alex looked around, “I heard he had a bad drinking problem a few years back. Things aren’t looking good for him, the higher ups are coming down hard on that kind of thing now, especially during company time.”
“They’re talking about firing him?” I asked, not really surprised, but hearing it outside of my own head gave the idea weight.
Alex raised his eyebrows, “I mean, an aging addict? We’re about to be high profile, and I don’t think there’s any love lost between Morty and Mr. Holtz anyway.”
This confirmed it, I’ve got to go talk to Mr. Holtz right away. I can’t let Morty take the fall on this one.
Just then, my desk phone rang, “Hi William, this is Martha. Mr. Holtz would like to see you in his office right away.”
Yep, my whole life was about to crash and burn.
It looked like this was it, I was summoned to Mr. Holtz’s office. They know something and they want to see me about it. Martha, his personal secretary who’s been here as long as Morty and Mr. Holtz, was sorting some documents when I walked in.
“Hi William,” she said. Martha could play professional level poker the way her facial expression never conveys emotion. “Please have a seat, Mr. Holtz will see you in a minute.”
“You wouldn’t happen to know what this is about, would you?” my voice cracked.
“I’m not at liberty to say William. Mr. Holtz simply said that it was important for him to speak to you.” Martha grabbed an armload of old rolled up architectural drawings, “Just have a seat, I’m going to take these drawings to archives. Mr. Holtz will be with you in a moment.”
I sat down as I was ordered. Martha’s cryptic message only added to my anxiety. Alex made it sound like everything went great at dinner, but I don’t know what has developed with Morty. Did more information come out tying Morty’s condition back to me? I mean, he literally ate the evidence, how am I implicated?
All I could do was sit in an overly comfortable chair imagining worse case scenarios. Am I going to be escorted out by the police or is he just going to hand me a pink slip? Maybe I’ll get escorted out by security to collect my things. Maybe security will pass me off to the police. Do they actually fire people with a pink slip?
As my imagination continue to spin out of control Mr. Holtz door opened.
“William? Come in.” Mr. Holtz was in his 60s and appeared to be a fitness buff, he had silver hair and always wore expensive suits. He looked like someone that would play an executive in the TV show Mad Men only with a more updated suit. This was my first time in Mr. Holtz’s office since my first interview 2 years ago, there were the usual family photos and the walls were covered in degrees and architectural awards.
But there were several pictures that stood out this time: a picture of Mr. Holtz and Morty sitting at an old drawing board together, smiling at the camera, a picture of them wearing hard hats looking over some drawings in front of a half-built cathedral, another picture of them standing in front of a strip mall while some man cuts a ribbon with obnoxiously huge scissors, and last, a picture of a mid-30s Morty accepting some kind of award with Mr. Holtz standing next to him smiling. The rest were pictures of Morty and other C-level executives either accepting awards or at ribbon cuttings, Mr. Holtz was missing from those pictures.
“Have a seat.” Mr. Holtz motioned his hand to a chair at his desk.
“Thanks for seeing me Mr. Holtz, I have something that I’d like to talk to you about—”
“Before you get going, there is something that I need to talk to you about,” Mr. Holtz said as he leaned forward holding up his hand. “First the proverbial ‘good news’, you and Max’s presentation was phenomenal, you made a great team. The clients loved it. This is a $20 million project, and it will be downtown in some prime real estate, so that means a lot of eyes will be watching it. Including the mayor, city planners, and a ton of investors.”
“Wow is an understatement. Son, this is sports arena level change to the city. So, there will be some press conferences coming up and some important meetings. We’ve been watching you for the last year and I would like you to lead a team that works primarily with these clients on future projects, and they’re planning a lot, some of it will be international.
They liked your academic approach to research and your innovative concepts. The position will mean a lot more responsibility and a lot of travel, and you will be handsomely compensated.”
Mr. Holtz slid a form across his desk to me. I looked at it and saw my name with a new title ‘New Development Manager’ and kept reading, when I saw the new salary my eyes bulged, apparently that position makes as much as a doctor.
“You will have your own team, it will include Alex Ryan, Christine Merkle, and two more architects that you will select later. You guys had great synergy and I’d like to continue to roll with that.”
This was great news, but I noticed something as obvious as a glaring neon sign, he didn’t say Max Stier.
Mr. Holtz continued, “The pay will be good, but expect long hours and a lot more meetings.”
“I don’t know what to say Mr. Holtz.”
“Don’t say anything yet son, take until Monday to decide.”
Mr. Holtz rubbed his hands together and took another sip of water.
“Well, now the bad news,” Mr. Holtz took in a breath, “My original plan was to give that position to Morty, sort of a jump-start at this stage of his career. The way that he was working with you guys, and offering mentorship, I was impressed. Full transparency…he and I had some history, and he had a few problems that I won’t disclose, but it looked like he turned the corner. But some recent developments showed me that he’s still dealing with the same demons.”
I felt my stomach knot, Morty is not being offered this position because he was high at work. This was supposed to be Morty’s opportunity, his redemption, now it’s mine. However, at least there are no police involved.
“But don’t worry about Morty, we plan to offer him a very handsome buy-out,” Mr. Holtz continued. “Along with his 401k and full medical we’ll give him a severance of 7 times his gross pay. Hopefully he’ll get the help that he needs.”
My face must have dropped.
“Look, I know that you and Morty were close, maybe we can hire him as a consultant down the road, but for now, he needs to get his act together.”
I had to ask, “What about Max Stier? Will he not be on this team?”
Mr. Holtz raised his eyebrows almost like someone surprised him by asking an embarrassing question, “Yeah, about Mr. Stier. I’m surprised you didn’t hear about this,” Mr. Holtz cleared his throat and took a sip of water, “he won’t be with the company anymore. There’s been some complaints about him from other employees about inappropriate comments and other behavior that we just can’t tolerate.”
This was actually a case of good news, bad news, and cartwheel and backflip news.
“Now, is there something that you wanted to say before I cut you off?” asked Mr. Holtz.
“Oh, yeah, the reason that I missed the dinner last night,” I felt myself swallow hard wishing that I had some water, “Yesterday, I heard about Morty going into the hospital and I went to see him,”
Mr. Holtz started to frown as he stared me directly in the eye.
“Someone said that Morty… that Morty had a stroke. I completely freaked out, you see, that’s how my dad died. I was so wound up that I lied and told the charge nurse that I was Morty’s son. I told them that I was Billy Glickman, so that they would let me see him,” I broke eye contact with Mr. Holtz.
I was suddenly struck with a Looney Tune image of Brer’ rabbit dropping an ACME anvil on top of the family dog.
“It’s a shame that he fell off the wagon. I hope that he gets better, I know that addiction can be tough and it’s all so sad what he’s going through. My thoughts and prayers to him and his family.”
Morty always said to control my narrative, and nobody told him to eat my lunch, he could have at least asked.