A Bargain with the Boss

By: Barbara Dunlop

One

 Saturday night ended early for Lawrence “Tuck” Tucker. His date had not gone well.

 Her name was Felicity. She had a bright smile, sunshine-blond hair, a body that could stop traffic and the IQ of a basset hound. But she also had a shrill, long-winded conversational style, and she was stridently against subsidized day care and team sports for children. Plus, she hated the Bulls. What self-respecting Chicagoan hated the Bulls? That was just disloyal.

 By the time they’d finished dessert, Tuck was tired of being lectured in high C. He decided life was too short, so he’d dropped her off at her apartment with a fleeting good-night kiss.

 Now he let himself into the expansive foyer of the Tucker family mansion, shifting his thoughts ahead to Sunday morning. He was meeting his friend Shane Colborn for, somewhat ironically, a pickup basketball game.

 “That’s just reckless.” The angry voice of his father, Jamison Tucker, rang clearly from the library.

 “I’m not saying it’ll be easy,” said Tuck’s older brother, Dixon, his own voice tight with frustration.

 Together the two men ran the family’s multinational conglomerate, Tucker Transportation, and it was highly unusual for them to argue.

 “Now, that’s an understatement,” said Jamison. “Who could possibly step in? I’m tied up. And we’re not sending some junior executive to Antwerp.”

 “The operations director is not a junior executive.”

 “We need a vice president to represent the company. We need you.”

 “Then, send Tuck.”

 “Tuck?” Jamison scoffed.

 The derision in his father’s voice shouldn’t have bothered Tuck. But it did. Even after all these years, he still felt the sting in his father’s lack of faith and respect.

 “He’s a vice president,” said Dixon.

 “In name only. And barely that.”

 “Dad—”

 “Don’t you Dad me. You know your brother’s shortcomings as well as I do. You want to take an extended vacation? Now?”

 “I didn’t choose the timing.”

 Jamison’s voice moderated. “She did you wrong, son. Everybody knows that.”

 “My wife of ten years betrayed every promise we ever made to each other. Do you have any idea how that feels?”

 Tuck’s sympathies went out to Dixon. It had been a terrible few months since Dixon had caught Kassandra in bed with another man. The final divorce papers had arrived earlier this week. Dixon hadn’t said much about them. In fact, he’d been unusually tight-lipped.

 “And you’re angry. And that’s fine. But you bested her in the divorce. We held up the prenup and she’s walking away with next to nothing.”

 All emotion left Dixon’s voice. “It’s all about the money to you, isn’t it?”

 “It was to her,” said Jamison.

 There was a break in the conversation, and Tuck realized they could easily emerge from the library and catch him eavesdropping. He took a silent step back toward the front door.

 “Tuck deserves a chance,” said Dixon.

 Tuck froze again to listen.

 “Tuck had a chance,” said Jamison, his words stinging once again.

 When? Tuck wanted to shout. When had he had a chance to do anything but sit in his executive floor office and feel like an unwanted guest?

 But as quickly as the emotion formed, he reminded himself that he didn’t care. His only defense against his father was not to care about respect or recognition or making any meaningful contribution to the family business. Most people would kill for Tuck’s lifestyle. He needed to shut up and enjoy it.

 “I knew this was a bad idea,” said Dixon.

 “It was a terrible idea,” said Jamison.

 Tuck reached behind himself and opened the front door. Then he shut it hard, making a show of tromping his feet over the hardwood floor.

 “Hello?” he called out as he walked toward the library, giving them ample time to pretend they’d been talking about something else.

 “Hi, Tuck.” His brother greeted him as he entered the dark-hued, masculine room.

 “I didn’t see your car out front,” Tuck told him.

 “I parked it in the garage.”

 “So you’re staying over?”

 Dixon had a penthouse downtown, where he’d lived with Kassandra, but he occasionally spent a day or two at the family home.

 “I’m staying over,” said Dixon. “I sold the penthouse today.”

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