TEN DAYS STRAIGHT

 

 

Day One - Monday

Alex had exactly three phone numbers where clients could call her. Her office number, her cell phone, and the main line into her newly minted office. In her junior entrepreneur years, she had also mistakenly used her home phone number on business cards rather than pay the expense of a whole new phone line - and her older clients managed to call here there in the wee hours as well.

All three lines were ringing as she juggled her purse, briefcase, coffee and bagel, trying not to spill anything on her newly dry-cleaned suit. It had been years since she wore the suit and she was already reconsidering the dress code for her office. A few drops of coffee landed on her lapel as she yanked open the door.

"Damn it," she said, dropping the purse and briefcase at the reception counter, set her breakfast down a little more gently and used one of the café napkins to dab as the stain.

Alison, her assistant, looked up and eyed the stain critically. She was still deep in protest over the new dress code, having traded her usual slacks and blouse for mini skirts and Cleopatra styled make-up. Alex did a double take at the new piercing and wondered if they made clip-on jewelry for one's nose. Alison lifted a belligerent brow in question as Alex contained a smirk.

"That's taking the protest a little bit far, don't you think," Alex commented mildly.

"It comes off the day you realize that 90 percent of the time it's just you and I in this tiny office. I can put on the monkey suit when clients come over."

"Like today, you mean?" Alex said, pointing a finger at the schedule. She didn't miss Alison's small cringe. "Call me when the kickboxers come in."

Alex's private office was as cramped as the rest of the suite. The move to a suite in a business building was an expense she hadn't counted on and it was going to be a tough year financially, but she never failed to get that tingle of satisfaction in seeing her name and logo etched on the glass of her front door. It was three years since she walked away from a profitable career in event planning and marketing and started her own consulting practice. Three years since she had chosen working long hours for little pay, forgone dating, and put up with irritating clients and the constant worry about the bottom line.

It was the best three years of her life.

Alison was transferring a phone call before Alex had gotten settled. Putting on the headset, Alex picked up the line.

"Hey, Alex, Dan here."

Alex smiled. Dan had been her last boss and such an incredible boor that she felt forced to quit a perfectly good job after only two years. He had also become her first client after a few months of tense, bitter silence, not because they missed each other, but because he couldn't get any of her supposed replacements to stay in the job.

"My latest marketing manager quit today," Dan said morosely. "I am starting to think all marketing people are flaky."

Who do you think you are talking to, you boob? Alex thought but managed to swallow the comment before it escaped. "It's a big job for just one person, Dan. I've always told you that."

"You managed it quite well for years," Dan replied.

With you constantly telling me how awful I was at my job and too afraid to ask for the help I needed. Alex again swallowed hard. "I did my best, but it really is a bigger job that any one person should handle alone."

"Well, we are a week away from our largest conference and I don't have a marketing manager. We have meetings and press and exhibitors to take care of."

Alex let the silence hang on the air for a little longer, knowing Dan would panic and quote a figure for her services. She didn't have to wait long but was still startled at the sum he named. Her mental calculator returned a healthier bottom line if she took the job. Good lord, they might actually turn a modest profit this year.

Verbally, she hedged. "Dan, that's very generous. But this is truly very short notice. And if I recall, your last manager was not very pleasant when she released me from my contract with you."

"She was an idiot," Dan replied, as if he hadn't given his approval to the contract termination.

Takes one to know one, Alex thought and smiled to herself.

"I'll add another five percent to that and throw in travel expenses."

"For myself and my assistant," Alex said. She heard his indrawn breath. "Our timeline doesn't leave me with much room. You pay both our ways, plus the extra five percent on the quote and your problem will be solved."

"That's steep."

Alex shrugged even though she knew it was a movement invisible to him. "We have a lot of ground to cover in a very short amount of time. Besides, who else can you hire at short notice who needs absolutely no training whatsoever?"

"You're hanging me out to dry."

"I'm negotiating a contract for a last minute, unplanned project."

"And damned good at it," was Dan's grudging reply. She could hear the reluctant respect in his voice. It was amazing how much more she liked him as a client than as a boss.

"All right, you capitalist," Dan finally said. "I'm being held hostage and this is under severe protest, but you got a deal."

"Good," Alex said. "My assistant will be by your office this afternoon with a contract. Give us every file on this conference you can find and I can have a plan to you by tomorrow." She heard him sigh dramatically. "Nice doing business with you again, Dan."

"Capitalist."

"I love you too." Alex hung up with a sense of satisfaction.

She and Alison would be putting in a horrendous number of hours. But they would end the year in the black. She pulled up her standard contract file and made a number of changes, saved it under the client folder and printed two copies. Then she went out to break the news to Alison.

"Tell me you didn't," Alison begged. "You swore after the last time that you wouldn't take another contract with those idiots."

Alex shrugged. "The price was right. Besides, he's desperate. He's out yet another marketing manager."

Alison whistled. "What's that? Five in three years? Still," she continued, "how much do we need this contract?"

"Depends on how much you want a Christmas bonus." Alex smiled. "So I need you to get his signature on these and pick up all the files this afternoon. We've got a lot of work to do. Oh and make us some hotel and airline reservations."

"San Diego here we come," Alison reached for the contracts and whistled again at the amount. "You had a lot of fun with this call, didn't you?"

"Not really. It was sort of like kicking a puppy," Alex turned back toward her office. Halfway there she glanced over her shoulder at Alison. "Is it very bad to feel a tingle that he lost yet another manager after me?"

"Heck no," said Alison. "It's part of the bad girl's rule book that you do."

 

 

Day One - Part Two

 

The kickboxers were interesting clients. Alex had never worked anywhere but in high tech and managing a bunch with little business acumen, high expectations, and boundless amounts of testosterone was a real challenge. It was also a lot of fun.

There were three exceptions to the above description. Miguel was the group's business manager and a shark if she ever met one. He was impressive to watch as he closed sponsorship deals and floated between financial transactions and managing the myriad problems of branding a new sport. Despite her occasional discomfort with his tactics, Alex quite liked the man, and liked that she could be frank with her opinions. Miguel also had a son on the fight card, a teenager who managed to retain good grades and still be a national champion in the sport. Together, they were an impressive pair.

David, on the other hand, was quite a different kettle of fish. He was the genius behind the staging and production, putting together an impressive show with pyrotechnics, lasers, lights and music. The show plan that had taken shape over the last six months was impressive and Alex couldn't wait to see it happen.

The group filed into her small conference room very politely, the volunteers choosing to stand or sit against the wall as they ran out of chairs. David took a chair across Alex, quite deliberately she was sure. It was easier to make eye contact from that position and Alex was well aware that this was part of the game they played.

There had been a definite spark between them from the beginning, although he was nowhere near what she would classify as her type. It was plain that he was quite fit, for he worked out with the athletes, but he hid it under loose shirts and khaki's. He had a movie star's smile and used it to his advantage. But the real attraction was that he was brilliant - and nothing turned her on more than a smart man.

Unfortunately, he was brilliant the way precocious children were brilliant and keeping him focused was a challenge. Plus he had rather a seedy dating history, if Miguel was to be believed. Still, it made for an interesting distraction from work.

True to form, David sent her a wink as Miguel cleared his throat to start the meeting. Alex shot a glance at Alison who was playing with her nose ring absentmindedly and fending off the rather awkward, amorous nudges Miguel Junior's elbow. The meeting ran predictably, Alex tuned most of it out as Miguel went through what the volunteers should expect and what was expected of them. Todd ran through the staging and production, scheduling out tomorrow's rehearsal hours for each of the fighters. Some of them groused about having to rehearse at all, preferring to laze about till they had to weigh in that night.

"We've got pyrotechnics in this show," Alex reminded them. "First of all, you want to make sure you aren't burned to a crisp by stepping in the wrong spot. Second, there ain't nothing sexy about a fighter who looks scared by a few fake pops on stage."

Miguel grinned at her; pleased she used her status as one of the only women in the room to remind the guys that in sports entertainment, sex and being sexy really did sell. Alex hid her own grin as several of the athletes acquiesced. Since she had their attention, Alex continued the meeting, telling that their weigh-in was to be combined with a press conference, what to expect from the media that would be attending, and giving them tips on how to answer uncomfortable questions.

There was another 45 minutes of impossible to accomplish last minute suggestions, all of which Miguel was pleased to shoot down before it gained mob support, several of the volunteers complained they were hungry and munched on the power bars the athletes produced, and Alex thought wistfully of the cheese Danish languishing in her office. It was another half hour before she and Alison waved the last of the lurkers out of the office.

"Not a brain among them," Alison said. "But dang are they built. Especially Junior."

"He's in high school, Alison."

"I'm only looking!"

"Good," Alex replied, "Because bail isn't included in this year's budget."

"I need some lunch," Alison said. "It's past two in the afternoon. How about I grab a bite on my way to Dan's office? Want me to get you something?"

Alex shook her head. "I'll grab something later."

The files that Alison brought back were frighteningly paltry. It didn't take long for Alex to get a grim picture of the work that hadn't gotten done and what was going to be necessary to pull off a miracle. Dan had gotten the last laugh after all.

It was close to midnight by the time she emailed a rough plan to Dan and finished off a series of emails to contacts in the industry. She had one week to pull off a PR blitz for a conference she had no idea who would be attending. The office was dark, Alison having left hours ago, and a cold bagel and Danish lay congealing in her wastebasket. She closed up for the night and sat in her car for a few minutes, wondering what kind of mess she had gotten herself into.

The ring of her cell phone jolted her out of her reverie. She frowned down at the faceplate and debated picking it up. On impulse, and because she was something of a masochist, she picked up the phone.

"I knew you'd still be up," Bleu said. Alex grinned. Bleu had given Dan her notice within minutes of Alex's resignation and just as promptly accepted a contract to manage the conference's vendor exhibition at twice her original salary.

"Where else would I be?"

"I keep hoping to catch you home, in bed with some hot young thing." Bleu said, "Wait...that's what I wish would happen to me."

Alex laughed softly. "To what do I owe this call?"

"Rumor has it you are heading to the fiasco in San Diego next week."

"The grapevine works fast."

"As always."

"So give me the poop, what is going on with this conference?" Alex said. "I've been looking through the files Dan sent and to call them pathetic is being kind. As far as I can tell, his last marketing manager didn't do a thing to promote this event."

"That would be an understatement. Alex, we have no idea what the attendance numbers are going to be like. Dan's been hedging on sending out registration reports for weeks. Everyone has been complaining and even the Board of Directors is getting alarmed." Bleu replied.

"How did it get this far?"

"Who knows? Dan keeps saying that the numbers are decent considering the state of the economy but no one can say for sure." Bleu sighed. "I've got a hundred and fifty exhibitors setting up in a week. We've promised them 2500 attendees. I'm on the firing line if we can't deliver."

"Imagine what the media will say. I've already sent out a press release and about 500 personal invitations. It's late notice but the old standby's will be there."

"As much as I wish you far away from this mess, I was so relieved to hear you were coming on board."

"Don't be," Alex warned. "I have no idea what's possible to do in a week."

"Heck, I'm just looking forward to having a drinking buddy in San Diego."

"If things are as bad as they look," Alex said. "I'll buy the first bottle."

Zip ah de doo dah, Alex thought as she started her car and headed home. Here goes the merry-go round.

 

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