Catbird Press - Floyd Kemske -- D3/C5

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Catbird Press -- Draft 3
Ongoing Fiction Editing Project -- Floyd Kemske


Third Draft - Chapter Five


Norman was awash in strange feelings. Seeing how sick Jacqueline looked called up his protective urge, but it faded rapidly into a feeling of impotence. How could he possibly protect her from illness? And hearing that she had a meeting scheduled with Pierce for later in the day, he felt more than ever that he was somehow being excluded from major changes in the company's Human Resources program.

He went to Jacqueline's office later in the afternoon and tapped on the door. There was no answer.

"Jacqueline?"

There was still no answer.

Norman opened the door. The office was darkened. All the shades were drawn and the lights were off. It wasn't as dark as Pierce's office had been, but it was darker than Norman would find comfortable to work in. Jacqueline was sitting at the desk, apparently daydreaming.

"Jacqueline?"

Norman's voice roused her from her reverie.

"Oh, Norman. Hi. What time is it?" Her soft, toneless voice came to him from the gloom.

"Three-fifteen."

"Norman, I've been meaning to ask you. Do you think I could move my office to the conference room?"

"Then where would we put the conference room?" said Norman.

"We could move it here," said Jacqueline. "The windows in this room would make a nice atmosphere for departmental meetings, don't you think? I find them a little distracting for getting any work done."

It wasn't like Jacqueline to want to give up an office with windows. Now Norman was quite concerned.

"Sure," he said. "Get Louise to line up some people to move your stuff and reroute the telephones."

"Thanks, Norman. What can I do for you?"

"What's your meeting with Pierce about?"

"He just wants to talk more about my new product idea."

"I think I should be there," said Norman.

He was somewhat surprised by her reply.

"I think so, too," she said, without enthusiasm.


***


When Norman called Gwen's office to make sure she would go home early, he wound up talking with her assistant, Carl.

"She's still at lunch," said Carl.

"It's past three," said Norman, trying not to sound accusing.

"It's at the Sky Room," said Carl.

"With Rod?" This complicated matters. Norman couldn't very well ask Gwen to go home early if she was having a vice presidential-type lunch with Rod. There would probably be a party afterward. He'd be lucky if she got home before midnight.

"I believe so, yes," said Carl. "With Rod."

Norman decided that meeting with Pierce this evening and heading off his exclusion from major changes at the company was more important than Gwen's party. "Can you give her a message for me, Carl?"

"Do you want to talk with her voice mail?"

"No," said Norman. Gwen was known to argue with her voice mail, and she often won. He felt he had a better chance persuading her by remote control, through Carl.

"Tell her I have an emergency here, and that I'll be late getting home. She'll have to go home to relieve the nanny."

"Em-er-gen-cy," said Carl, stretching out the syllables as if he were writing it as he spoke it. "Re-lieve nan-ny."

"Yes, that's it," said Norman.


***


When six o'clock came around, and Norman went to Jacqueline's office to get her for the meeting, she seemed a little less lethargic than she had earlier. She looked no better, but she seemed to move a little more purposefully. She picked up her leather portfolio, and the two of them walked to the elevator.

The elevator arrived, and they got in. They both reached for the fifth-floor button at the same time, and their hands brushed. Jacqueline's hand felt unexpectedly cold. Norman drew away, and Jacqueline looked at him seriously.

"You'll understand eventually," she said.

Norman had always been a little uncomfortable around Jacqueline, but this was different. The inadequacy that she usually made him feel was displaced by something Norman could only characterize as creepiness.

When they got to Pierce's office, Jacqueline opened the door, and there were no lights on at all.

"Pierce," she said into the darkness, "I brought Norman."

The halogen desk lamp flicked on to reveal Pierce seated behind the desk.

He did not seem particularly disturbed by Norman's crashing of his meeting.

"I'm glad you're here, Norman. I was going to have to brief you on this meeting anyway."

Norman and Jacqueline sat down.


"I've decided to set up a team to work on Jacqueline's product concept," said Pierce.

Norman looked over at Jacqueline to see how she was taking it. She smiled, but Norman thought it a cool smile, more like the complacency of someone who sees events fulfill a personal prediction than the gratification of somebody who has just changed the course of a multimillion-dollar company.

"I'll need you to process these reassignments." Pierce handed Norman a piece of paper with about two dozen names on it.

When Norman tilted the paper to catch some light from the desk lamp, he recognized some of the names. He might not understand everything Biomethods did, but he was the Manager of Human Resources, and he could recognize names. Several of the names on Pierce's list were those of project heads in the AIDS campaign.

"I think some of these people are pretty important to the work on the AIDS cure," he said.

"Not any more," said Pierce airily. "We're scrapping that program."

Norman probably would have been less surprised if Pierce had told him the company was quitting biotechnology to manufacture hot air balloons.

"That's the company's most important program." Norman tried not to sound as shocked as he felt.

"It's also symptomatic of this company's problems," said Pierce.

"I don't understand," said Norman.

"We are re-engineering," said Pierce. "I am going to make Biomethods a customer-focused company."

Norman did not speak, but waited for him to continue.

"If we're going to be customer-focused," said Pierce, "it behooves us to choose qualified customers to focus on, doesn't it?"

Norman nodded. He felt sorry about the AIDS project. It was one of the good things about working at Biomethods---the feeling that somehow, he was contributing to the eradication of humanity's worst natural scourge.

"I don't think it's practical to focus on AIDS patients," said Pierce. "They aren't the kind of customers we really want. They die. We put all our effort into building customer loyalty, and for what?"

"But if we make something that will cure them, they won't die," said Norman, "and people can be very loyal when you save their lives."

"That's not true, Norman," said Jacqueline.

Norman looked at her. The light from the desk lamp was glittering on her bright blue contact lenses, and she had a kind of demonic look.

"People hate you when you save their lives."

"She's right, Norman," said Pierce. "I've studied people a long time. She's right."

The three of them sat in silence for some moments. Norman didn't know what to say. What can you possibly tell people who think they understand human nature so thoroughly?

"I have also studied direct marketing a long time," said Pierce at last. "I can say with some confidence that it is probably the most powerful force in business. It's obvious we have a great deal more sales potential if we develop the genetic map of consumer buying behavior than if we produce a cure for AIDS. The map is something we can sell to direct marketing organizations. Not only would the demand be significantly greater than for any AIDS product we might produce, but it's inelastic, and the customers have inexhaustible resources. We couldn't ask for a better business opportunity than what we get by combining genetic research with direct marketing."

There was a preposterous sort of logic to it, and Norman wondered how he might be able to construct a similar argument on the other side. Of course that would take ideas, and he didn't really have any of those. He wasn't able to pursue it in any case, because Pierce followed up his lecturette with another remark.

"You can go, Norman," he said. "I have to work on this concept some more with Jacqueline."


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