The Lloyd Saga

13. Lloyd Meets Doug

Walt seemed to be in one of the best-possible moods, and his playful esprit quickly filled the room and crowded out all other sentiments. The men raised their heads and looked at one another and found that, yes, they were all still there. None of them had grown sharp incisors. None had sprouted horns or shaggy pelts. They were still themselves. Things would be all right.

The veal was served with tiny potatoes that were braised in a distant kitchen over very high heat. By the time the nuggets reached them, they were virtually impervious to the fork, and the men were forced to pick them up with their fingers and chew them with deliberation, if not zeal. The veal, however, was a different story. Soft and tender, redolent of lemon and dry vermouth, the medallions yielded to the fork as parchment to summer rain. They ate, and felt better.

Immediately after their entree, as if by common consent, they fell into an orgy of phoning. There were four phones in the suite, each of which was used, and most of them had cellular babies they could employ if they leaned very far out the window and extended their antennas, necks, and arms as far as they would go. The yattering was intense, and when it wound down, all were ready to leave the ugly events of the morning behind them and party hearty. Lloyd found himself imagining how it would feel to shoot Walt in the face with a full portion of red paint, and he smiled.

Business was like a trip to the moon, really. An adventure unlike any other, in beautiful and strange surroundings, absolutely impossible to describe to those who had not been there.

"Now," said Walt, as they settled down to coffee and butter cookies,. "I think we're where we want to be."

"Almost," said a poised voice in the corner.

It was the man in the dark blue suit whom Lloyd had seen in the executive lounge. Amazing I didn't notice him in here before, Lloyd thought to himself. He must have been in the room for quite a while, entering when they were taking their brief phone break.

"Doug," said Walt.

"Walt," said Doug.

Doug

"I suppose I should introduce you to Doug here," said Walt with maximum breeze, "who will be an integral part of our effort-in fact, he will in some way be, you know, leading it, in a sense, seeing that Chicago has placed such importance in our ongoing piece of the corporate pie. It's perceived, at any rate, that day-to-day strategic guidance must be there for us to draw on, and that's what Doug here is all about. Strategy, not execution. Right, Doug?"

"Right, Walt," said Doug. He had not moved, not one single molecule, but he did not look stiff.

"Doug is an enormous executive vice president for the home office in Chicago," Walt continued, as if he were introducing a valued guest contestant who had already won a considerable amount of money on the show. "His title is still being worked out, but the word chairman has been mentioned, and nothing would please us more. Say hi to Doug."

Still, Doug did not stand, and he made no move toward them. He was the only man in the room whose jacket was still comfortably draped around his upper body. His shirt collar was buttoned. The suit remained a marvel to Lloyd, who gazed at it rather than meet Doug's eye right at that moment. The suit was not a perfect blue, Lloyd noticed. There was a pinstripe hiding in there, the way three-dimensional constructs hid behind the surface in those Magic Eye books, visible only with the kind of practice that helped one alienate the movements of one eye from the other. Lloyd thought about the fact that he had nearly barfed in front of the new magister ludi.

"Thanks, Walt," said Doug. He had, as Lloyd had noticed, a very pleasant, even, contained, moderate baritone that evoked not only the impression of calm and intellect at work but also a slight twist of knowing, sardonic humor that seemed to speak of relative size of human problems in the vast scheme of the universe. Perspective, that was it. Doug carried it, gently, like his fabulous suit.

"I think Chicago would like to know how this division got to this point in time," he said. "There are massive strengths, yes. But the strategic issues, guys. We're looking at a future in which we're an intermediate-size force in a consolidated, global marketplace. In my view, that's a position that's got some serious challenges attached to it, especially with the international arena gravitating toward first-tier players pretty much all the way down the line. Has anybody but me noticed this here? Aside from the operating issues, I mean."

There was a silence as deep as one of those points in the galaxy that are accretions of mass impenetrable to light, matter, or energy. There seemed to be little inducement to breaking it up into its constituent parts.

"We were on a positive growth curve until the second quarter '98," Walt observed somewhat too nonchalantly, "and it wasn't until fourth quarter last year that we knew some alternative scenarios had to be investigated. When it was clear the strategic plan was inoperative, we moved. We are moving now."

"But I think we can all agree this was a management screwup that included all of us, since we're the stewards of this business," said Doug. "Get to the heart of it, Doug," said Walt. It was anger, Lloyd knew, not fear, that produced that tone.

"You've given yeoman service to the corporate family, Walt," said Doug, staring benignly at Walt. "But Chicago feels that a more substantial oversight and control function needs to be implemented. So one thing you told your excellent cohorts here is slightly off center. My title has been determined. I'm the chairman."

"Well ... Great!" said Walt. He rose and took the three or four large steps required to cross to the foot of Doug's chair. "Looking forward to working with you," he said, and stuck out his hand.

Doug rose and took it. They shook hands. Everyone else rose.

"Gentlemen, sit," said Doug. They did. All but Walt, who walked with great, delicate dignity to the window and looked out at the street way down below.

"You understand now, men," said Doug, smoothing his perfect hair. "In some regards, you will not even know that I am here. You will continue to report to Walt, who has earned your loyalty, your trust. You and I will enjoy nothing more than a matrix relationship."

A matrix relationship? thought Lloyd. That sounded ... icky. "Come into my matrix," said the spider to the fly. Nonsense. Good guy, Doug. All of them, good guys. Or else ... then what?

"It's a little strange, I grant you," Doug was saying. "But this is a gesture that has to be made, both internally and externally. It speaks well for you that the correct steps have been taken this morning without my prompture, steps that I believe will be effective. We need your kind of management on tap if we're going to meet the challenge offered by the Japanese and German ingenuity that's giving us such a pain in the keister and will, we think, continue to do so in the near, intermediate, and outer term. That's why we're bringing you boys closer to dad here. It's a new arrangement, with greater oversight than you're used to. But I think it's going to work. Do you? Be honest."

Lloyd had never felt less desire to be honest in his life. His heart ached for Walt. He wanted to go to him and seize him by the shoulders. Embrace him like a Roman.

"Of course it will," said Walt. "And you, Walt. Are you prepared to lead, Walt? Under these altered cir-cumstances, are you prepared to exercise your genius for leadership?"

"Nice of you to put it that way, Doug," said Walt, and Lloyd could see he was moved in spite of himself. His face was a roasted maroon hue now, a mix of pleasure, shame, and regret. "Yes, I am" was all he could get out.

Doug, too, was displaying the first suspicion of human emotion. He was subtly glowing, his ears a splendid, almost Victorian purple hue. Lloyd found himself looking at Doug's teeth, which appeared to be extremely tiny and evenly spaced.

"Which one of you is Lloyd?" said Doug.

"Me!" said Lloyd, much too loudly. He stood, then sat.

"I hear you spin things, Lloyd," said Doug, regarding him with slightly sinister amusement. "What's our positioning on this entire reorg? How should we make this thing work for both an internal and external audience? It's a really tough plan. It won't be easy to establish the requisite positive message and avoid any impression of radical change and disharmony."

"It's been a long sixteen months. We've had to make some tough choices and we've made them. Twenty percent of our workforce will be reduced by this time next year. We'll try to do most of it by attrition and one of the best retirement packages in industry history. When we're done, we'll have come back lean, down to fighting weight, with new strategic direction and some new faces you just might come to like. One of those is you, Doug. We'll tell a little bit about you. We'll picture you, too, but always with Walt at your side. Shirtsleeves, I think. Poised over a blueprint or something. You're comfortable together. Two big assets instead of one."

"Sing it, Lloyd," said Fitz, and they all laughed. A good laugh. Strong. Manly.

"Get one thing straight, though. This is not turmoil. This is change. Change for strength, for direction. For the past is behind. The future lies ahead. We're proud to be back on the hunt for double-digit growth, and we're here to stay." Lloyd was really hot now. The spirit of the deep was upon him and he could feel it. "Not that the time for tough choices and decisions is past," he went on as the group regarded him with amazement, as if he were a creature from beneath some undiscovered sea, "because that time is never really past, nor should it be. Change is tough and the road to it is, too. But some things ... some things never change, have never changed, will never change, not in the one hundred-plus years we've been in business or the hundreds of years we have to go. This company is a family, and we don't give a 'damn about those who seek to destroy us. We will go on, and we will never, ever, give in. Beyond that? Watch our smoke."

"You can sell that crap?" said Doug, and now there was an ocean of laughter, laughter of relief, of joy. Doug said "crap"! He's an okay guy!

"Good, Lloyd," said Walt. "Let's run with it."

In less than two minutes, the entire group had vacated, gone to their rooms to prepare for the bogus paint battle that would take up their afternoon, before the next sumptuous meal.

All but Walt and Lloyd-Walt because it was his room, Lloyd because he wanted to talk to Walt. And Doug, who was scheduled to take the next plane back to Chicago. "We'll talk," he said quietly to Lloyd as he picked up his overnight bag from the corner. Walt was in the other room, on the phone to his wife.

We will? thought Lloyd to himself. About what? "Oh, about a lot of things. Mostly opportunities," said Doug, giving Lloyd a nasty start. If they had just acquired an ultrasenior officer who could read minds ... man, it was going to be a long and scary year. 

Next: February

Add Comment

RELATED THINGS