Richard pressed the intercom button. “Nick, let me have all the resumes we have for that sales position.” His office manager poked his head through the door.
“I gave it to you, boss. On your desk… The folder…”
He glanced at the single sheet of paper it contained. “This? There’s only one.”
“Yeah. That’s it.”
Richard recognized the name at the top of the resume, Benjie Bantam. He couldn’t believe it.
“Re-run the ad.”
“We ran it three times and that’s all we got.”
“Hard to believe.”
“I know. It’s a good job for the right person. But the good news is, that guy looks perfect.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You didn’t look. Let me show you.”
“I don’t have to look. He’d probably be good. But for one thing.”
“I’ve known him since we were kids. He’s a putz. I can’t work with him.”
“Really, no. Find someone else. Anyone else.”
“You don’t want to talk to him...? We could…”
“I said no. Re-write the ad. We’re expanding. Get someone from another town. Another state…”
Driving home, Richard thought about his nemesis. There had to be another candidate.
“Benjie, how do I hate you? Let me count the ways. Maybe if Benjie weren’t such an arrogant prick. Granted, that quality might be valuable in sales…”
When choosing up teams in school, Richard always came last. He competed well enough. But sports were never his thing. Benjie was the star jock.
Being popular, Benjie won the Student Council presidency. That didn’t bother Richard much either. His winning made sense. Being a comically bad president spoke for itself.
It wasn’t even Benjie stealing Richard’s girlfriend, Penny, just before prom. Richard felt he actually owed him thanks for that. So she fell for a jock. ‘Nuff said. Better off. Without Penny, Richard met the love of his life, Claire.
Though they contributed, Richard put these annoyances under the heading of HSC (high school crap). However, Richard’s animosity toward Benjie remained present and personal as his scarred hands. He would always remember that day.
He parked his car, looked at his hands and shook his head. Why couldn’t this town provide him with a better candidate for his sales job? Why only Benjie?
He’d finally escaped that small-town society nonsense, where everyone’s nose is in your life. He’d started and built a successful, growing business, on his own. But to grow, he needed staff.
Richard entered and Claire sensed something wrong. He never could hide anything from her.
She took his coat and hugged him. She lingered in his embrace.
He asked, “Something wrong?”
“Nope. Dinner’s about ready. How ‘bout you?”
“The usual…” Her look told him she knew. He admired her ability to read him. “Let me clear my head.”
While he poured a drink, his son, Dan, came in. They sparred playfully. Richard let it distract from Claire’s question. She called them to dinner.
Claire watched him during the meal. They smiled at their cat and mouse game. He thought about how to frame his answer.
Dan entertained them with a story about getting chosen for the soccer team. The team captains argued over who got Dan. They wanted his penalty kicking skills.
“Billy said Tommy got me last game. But Tommy said he didn’t care. He won the toss so he gets to pick first. It was hilarious.” Richard enjoyed Dan’s success. He wished he had such stories to share.
“My team won, of course…”
After dessert, Dan helped clear the table and did the dishes before returning to his homework.
Claire leaned on the table and smiled. “Head clear yet?”
He leaned back. “Guess who applied for the sales job today.”
She had no idea. He raised his hands, palms out.
Claire shut her eyes. “No. You have to be kidding.”
“Richard… You can’t.” He nodded. “After what he did?”
“No one else applied.”
She came and embraced him, murmuring sympathetic tones.
“Think about it. He’d be working for me. I could finally make him pay. Give him…”
“It’s your company. It’s our security. He could sabotage you. Make you liable for… I don’t know… It could get ugly.”
“I can set up paper-work. Air tight and legal.” She shook her head. “We need someone, Claire. Without moving product, we’ll wither.”
“But you can’t use your company to get personal revenge. That’s wrong on so many levels.” He shrugged. “You need to hire someone to be productive. Don’t waste time on a vendetta.”
“I don’t know, Claire. Finding someone else would simplify it so much. You’re right about revenge. But I can’t see Benjie working out. How could we work together after this?” He held his hands up to her.
They embraced. “I’ll figure something out.”
The next morning, Richard ran numbers, trying to see his way through this impasse. The company wouldn’t thrive if they couldn’t up their game.
He looked at his scarred hands and thought about that day, twenty years ago. He’d started his first summer job as dishwasher at the local steakhouse. The work included making salads and wrangling baked potatoes in and out of the oven.
Benjie manned the grill.
To gain access to the oven, Richard squatted between the cooks. He pulled freshly baked potatoes into a pan. Always pranking, Benjie kneed Richard off balance into the oven. Richard caught himself on the hot rack. He screamed in pain. The cooks laughed at this ‘new guy’ hazing. Retaliating, Richard grabbed a two-pronged meat fork and jammed it into Benjie’s foot.
The commotion and violence got them both fired. Richard hadn’t spoken to Benjie since then.
Nick stuck his head in. “Have a moment?”
“I know what you told me, boss, but Mr. Bantam is out here. He wants to talk with you.”
Richard sighed and shook his head. “Nick, I told you…”
“I didn’t call him. He just came in.” Richard felt his blood pressure rising. Nick continued, “Don’t decide anything. Let him talk.”
“I don’t have time, Nick.”
“Hear him out, boss. We need him.”
“I need someone. Not him.”
“Sales are down and inventory is backed up… That contract fell through last month…”
Richard checked his watch. “Five minutes.”
Nick disappeared. Moments later, Benjie knocked. Richard waved him in.
“Thanks for seeing me, Richard. Especially without an appointment.”
“What do you want?”
“To be honest, I really need this job.” Richard didn’t respond. “I know I’m not your first choice. But if you hear me out…”
“I’m sorry for any pain I caused you, ever… ” Richard looked at his watch. Benjie paused. “Look, I handled this badly. It’s been decades and I never apologized. I was stupid. We could have been friends. It’s my fault we’re not.”
Richard watched a bird on the window sill.
Benjie continued, “We’ve each lived and learned since then. Ego has slid way down on my list of priorities. You’ve built a great business here. I want to help you take it to the next level. You need a salesman. I’m the best… If you give me this chance, I’ll earn your respect and make up for the pain I’ve caused… And help the company thrive.”
Richard leaned on his desk. “How do I know you won’t sabotage me? How can I trust you?”
Benjie looked relieved at any response. “’Cause by hurting you, I’d hurt myself. My success depends on yours. You want to expand. I can help.”
“You’re such an expert salesman. You selling now?”
“You know repeat business is key. Lying to get one sale is a dead end. We both have families. I don’t have time for stupidity anymore. I want to join your team.”
Richard let Benjie stew.
“Lots of stupidity back then.” Benjie nodded. “Remember the ER? Sitting in opposite corners?”
“Our mothers glaring at each other.”
“Your mother glared. My mother glowered.” Benjie chuckled. “I thought we were going to have to break up a fist fight.”
“Or make them take it outside.”
“Like mothers, like sons…” They both laughed. Richard copped an attitude. “My mom could take your mom.”
Laughing, Benjie countered, “Oh, yeah?”
“My mom’s eyebrow is still undefeated. Give me odds...”
“Twenty to one…”
Richard smiled. “Have to sell a lot to pay that bet. You’d better get cracking.”
Benjie paused. The implications of Richard’s statement, penetrated. He almost jumped.
Richard offered his hand to shake. “Have Nick give you the paperwork. When can you start?”
“Then, welcome aboard.”
Benjie stood. He couldn’t stop grinning. “Thanks, Richard. I won’t let you down.”
“I know you won’t. Wouldn’t dare. I’ll sic my mom on you.”
Smiling as Benjie exited, Richard sat. He shook his head while looking at his hands. “HSC…”