A King Maker – M. K. Kerrick

“The best kept secrets are the ones only you know exist, because trusting people can be a weakness.” – Emilia Several things about this morning are practically screeching that today is not going to be a good day. The most abundantly clear one is that it’s Monday. I loathe Monday’s. As in, if Monday was a person who could be lit on fire and burned at the stake, then Mondays would’ve died out in Salamlong ago. The beginning of the week in particular brings messiness into my life. I hate my job on Monday’s. As the residential assistant floater to the main department heads at Ward Enterprises, a multibillion-dollar firm that does everything from charity work to blackmailing state Senators, my job has range. Technically, the Human Resources title of my job is executive assistant. When I askedwho my boss was, apparently it’s everyone and their Aunt Helen. If someone is having a crisis inside Ward Enterprises, I am the fixer. Which is an outlandish difference to the words executive assistant that made me apply for the job in the first place. Most of the money makers for the company are indeed fixers. Like Olivia Pope inScandal, except these people don’t work for the President of the United States nor have affairs withhim. No, these people brush hands with anyone from the actual Pope to mobsters.

They live in the perpetual world of gray when it comes to the law. I guess it helps that most are lawyers or businessmen who eat lawyers for breakfast. That’s actually a running theory on the third floor where accounting is. It also happens to be where my office is at. A small cubicle on the outskirts of the accounting floor since I don’t actually do any accounting work, nor do I have a clue what they do with the numbers. After turning the corner, I sigh as my desk comes fully into view. From the elevators I saw colors exploding over every square inch of space my desk occupies, confirming there’s an explosion of items on my desk, but I was hoping it wouldn’t be this drastic. Colored sticky notes, binders, and scraps of legal paper litter every square inch of my too tiny work space. The computer is buried under a mound of paperwork. When I left on Friday, everything was immaculate, but now it’s in utter disarray. Slowly looking down to my wastebasket that sits empty at the edge of my desk, I debate hurling everything into it. See, I only work for some of the bosses here, not everyone. But a few people like to push their luck by tossing things my way that should never have left their floor. It’s aggravating to say the least. And it only makes my morning worse when I see there isn’t even a small, clear space for me to set my donut down without dropping cinnamon on several papers.

“Do you want me to call maintenance and make your desk disappear?” a voice from behind me asks. I turn to see my office best friend, Sally, leaning against a divider with a curl to her lips as she surveys my desk. “No one would ever notice if their demands went missing.” Quickly, she scoops up a piece of legal paper and reads aloud, “Chicken with roasted veggies from that place four blocks away, Marjorie will have a spinach salad, and Coleman will take his usual. It’s from Caroline.” Before I can say anything, Sally crumbles the note and tosses it into the wastebasket. “Thanks.” “You need to tell her to go choke on her Louboutin’s,” Sally advises. As tempting as that offer is, I ignore it. “I have a meeting with Andrew Huntington-Ward today.” Another reason I knew today would be bad. It was an email I got at five this morning with the wordURGENT in all caps and highlighted red. Sally’s brown eyes enlarge. “The big bossman?” Andrew Huntington-Ward is the founder and owner of Ward Enterprises. Word has it that his son, Coleman, also known as King, will be slowly taking on more duties of the CEO until Andrew retires.

No one is asking for my unsolicited opinion, but King Huntington-Ward is going to screw half the employees out of jobs. His temper is as loud as his yell when it comes to people barely pissing himoff or giving him bad news; he’s been known to fire half a section before by claiming they’re incompetent. This was before my time, so I have no idea if the rumor is true. I do know firsthand that King is ajackass from watching him interact with other people when I happen to be in the vicinity. “That’s the one,” I confirm as I shake the thought of King away. Looking at my best friend once more, I notice the glittery eyeshadow first. Then her dark pink lips and the fact her usually curly hair is sleek and she’s in a form fitting white dress that looks more cocktail than office attire. “What are you wearing?” Sally blinks her brown eyes at me innocently. “Clothes.” Using my donut, I point at her. “That’s a date outfit. But you’re in the office.” Tilting my head to the side I try to recall if she’s seeing anyone. Usually, I’m better at remembering her monthly fling’s name, but the mess is distracting me. “It’s Marco.

” I blink several times before it hits me who she’s referring to. “The mail guy?” She nods. “I ordered some office supplies that should arrive today. We’ve been chatting in the elevator for a while, so I decided it’s time I make my move.” She’s going to eat him alive. Poor, unassuming Marco. “May the odds be in your favor.” Sally nods her head at my donut. “You’re dropping sugar everywhere.” It’s cinnamon, but she’s not wrong. I cram a big bite into my mouth and chew. The usual deliciousness is gone, replaced with the stale taste of anxiety over my desk and foreboding meeting. “So, what’s the meeting with the big honcho about?” Sally asks. “I have no idea.” I take another bite.

“Maybe one of his fixers is having trouble with us lowlybottom floor people and they need me to help.” It’s not unlikely. Anyone not on the top two floors of Ward Enterprises is vastly overlooked as if we’re all one big plebeian. “I don’t understand how you do this job.” She makes a key point to glare at my office desk. “This is unacceptable.” “To you.” It was my normal and why I dread the beginning of the week. “Help me go throughthese?” “You mean I get to read secret notes from my boss to you? Yes please.” She begins scooping up more notes. “Some of these are times to schedule meetings so I’m shuffling them together for you to put them on your calendar later. This one is from Marjorie changing her lunch order.” “Toss it.” I pop the last bite of my donut in my mouth and try to savor it. It’s almost springtime and I’m clutching the last of the fall and winter vibes through cinnamon donuts as best I can.

Yes, they’re not a seasonal treat, but still. They make me think of bundling up by a nice warm fireplace and watching something on television underneath a thick blanket. My personal idea of paradise. Grabbing a stack of papers, I don’t even bother going through them. Instead, I shuffle them into aneat and tidy pile before setting it next to the one Sally made for future appointments. “I have gossip.” My lips twitch as I begin to go through my stack quickly, looking for the telltale sign of an appointment and adding it to her stack while disregarding the rest. “It’s Monday.” I enunciate slowly, so she can hear my utter amusement and disbelief clearly. “You told me gossip on Friday. There can’t be anything that good going on that you’ve found out in the thirty minutes you’ve been here.” “I know King worked over the weekend.” Well, that’s boring news. I’m actually a little disappointed in her. “So?” “Aren’t you curious why? The man is never here on the weekends.

He’s always on TMZ withsome celebrity bombshell with boobs the size of Montana.” I snicker at the thought of some poor woman walking around with boobs that large. “Maybe he’s working a serious case?” “That I wouldn’t know. I’m not on his accounting team.” I roll my eyes at Sally. “This is by far the worst gossip you’ve ever shared.” She sticks her tongue out at me and delivers the goods. Finally. “I heard he’s looking for a girlfriend. A real girlfriend.” “With boobs the size of Montana?” I can’t stop myself from asking. The image is too abhorrent toeasily block out. “Unclear. I heard Caroline might be making a move on him. It’s what gave me courage to askMarco out for drinks.

” Ah. I dismiss her with a wave of my hand. “Everyone knows Caroline has a crush on King. It’sborderline stalking except she’s supposed to know his every movement as his secretary. Therefore, it’s the legal kind.” “But what if he has feelings for her and they get together in an office romance then have little office babies?” When I give her a look of pure horror, Sally huffs. “I’ve been in a Hallmark movie marathonsince Valentine’s Day wasn’t too long ago. I just need a love life. I’ll even settle for jealously watching theirs.” “He doesn’t like Caroline.” At least every time I’ve been up there and heard him yelling at her, it doesn’t seem like a strong possibility. Then again maybe he harbors his feelings deep, deep, deep down in the pit of his black soul. “That’s too bad. The man needs a good woman to pull that stick out of his ass.” I’m not sure a woman has the strength to remove that stick, but I digress.

“Anything else happenover the weekend besides your alarming knowledge of what our boss does in the off hours?” Sally tugs on a strand of my brown hair. “No, nothing that I know of. Maybe that’ll change bylunch. Do you think we can have a lunch date today? I can fill you in on the Marco situation.” “It depends how long my meeting is and if I’m able to finish my other duties on time.” “What’s it like being the residential gopher with a paycheck I’d kill for?” She’s not being rude when she asks. I work more hours than most of the employees on this floor so the pay evens out. “Like glory.” It’s a lie. I hate it most days, but she does have something right, even if it’s skewed. The paycheck is nice. And since I don’t actually use much of it and choose to donate a lot to charity, it comes in handy more often than not to do my due diligence by helping those who came from a similar situation as me. But Sally doesn’t know that story. No one here actually knows that story except one man. The one I’m supposed to be meeting here briefly.

I’ve worked here long enough to know I’m in his little black book he keeps in the lower left drawer of his desk. A client no one knows about, not even his pretentious son. And I’ve worked here for years so I know whatever this meeting is about, it’s not about that. At least I pray it’s not. Speaking of, I glance down at my Kate Spade watch with a sigh. It’s time to go. “I’ll text you if Ican meet for lunch.” Sally nods with a wide smile. “I expect all the details regarding the gods in the sky.” She points towards the ceiling for clarification. “Andrew Huntington-Ward is not a god,” I laugh as I grab my notebook and laptop from my deskfor the meeting. “Maybe not, but his son sure looks like one.” Sally flounces away before I can rebuttal. ThoughI’m not sure what to say to that. King is godlike.

But more like a Viking who slays kingdoms and murders babies than a god of regal and substance. Strolling back to the elevators, I press for the top floor and wait quietly. Hardly anyone comes and goes from up there. It’s almost magical in the sense that this is where the real action happens versus downstairs. Floors one through eight are for the trench workers. Everything else is for the castle. As the doors slide open, I step into an alternate world. Voices murmur ahead, but no one raises their volume. This is the land where marble and glass with gold fixtures resonate. Modern, albeit uncomfortable, furniture dots the large office space. There’s a trolley with tea and pastries just before a stainless kitchen. Then the imposing offices begin to appear just beyond the glass walkway. Its grandeur is unmistakable for what it truly is: a gateway to the gods. Quickly I make my way beyond several desks littering outside interior offices of the infamous fixers. A few people look up as I pass, but no one says a word to me.

Most know who I am, but I’mnot on their schedule and they aren’t on mine. Andrew has his office door propped open. His assistant doesn’t even bother to look up from her computer before she gestures toward the office with a quick flick of her wrist. Stepping inside, it’s in stark contrast with everything else on this floor. Gone are the marble and shiny surfaces. In here chrome, dark wood, and concrete complete every square inch of space. A manly office if I do say so. “Good morning.” I smile at him while closing the door behind me. Andrew looks up from a pile of paperwork with a grin. He’s old, a few years past my parents with gray and black hair. His wire rim glasses sit on the edge of his nose and though he’s older, he looks in good health. His suit still fits like a second skin and no doubt as expensive as the silver Rolex on his wrist. “You have an urgent matter to discuss?” I prompt when he doesn’t say anything. “Have a seat, Emilia.

” Uh oh. Andrew has always referred to me as Miss Graham. While he insists on being calledAndrew, he’s always very formal in addressing others unless he’s delivering bad news or singing happy birthday to someone. “First, I need you to sign this before we can begin.” He picks up a sheet of papers and slides it across his desk towards me. Slowly I approach, sinking down in the chair opposite him and leaning forward. My heart begins pounding and sweat slicks my hands. Am I being fired? Moved to a new department? The title of the standard nondisclosure agreement has my anxiety going on pause. I signed an NDA when I began working here. It’s always updated if new things arise I may beprivy of overhearing. Perhaps I’m here because a fixer does need help and I just won’t be able to gossip with Sally about it. All my worries deflate as I quickly scan over the document and scribble my name below on the solid black line. Pushing it back towards him, I wait silently as he tucks the paper into a folder and snaps it closed. “Alright. What I’m about to tell you stays between you, me, and my son, is that clear?” “Yes.

” Although I can’t imagine why King Huntington-Ward needs anyone’s help. “You’re in a unique position within our company to do things King and I cannot. You interact with several variables that may come to our aid. Such as the bosses on different floors and their staff.” As a floating assistant to all department heads, I have greater access than just the cafeteria gossip mill. “You want me to work with the people you’re not at liberty to see frequently?” “Yes and no.” This is beginning to make the ominous feeling from this morning rear its ugly head. “Don’t your assistants usually act as your go-between?” Usually I’m putting out the small fires that department heads don’t have the time to deal with instead of acting as a physical email system. “Typically, in a normal case, yes they would. However, this is not something that anyone else will be working on.” Andrew takes off his glasses and pinches the bridge of his wrinkly nose. “I trust your ability to be discreet, Emilia. Normally this would be a situation that would be worked without you, but I know you.” Fuck. The ominous feeling starts to ring the bells of doom.

“Okay?” My voice comes out unsureand wobbly. “You keep secrets well. That’s why I’ve asked you here.” “I’m not following.” Nervously, I press my fingers into smoothing out the pleats in my pink skirt. “I mean, I understand about the secrets since you’re keeping mine, but I don’t understand what that has to do with me right now.” The secret Andrew is keeping is detrimental to the way I live my life now, versus how my life would implode if it got out. Andrew leans back in his seat, blue eyes like the Caribbean Sea narrowing as he rakes his gaze over me. Looking for my scruples maybe? He’ll be lucky to find any. This seems personal with the way he’s addressing everything. Hopefully it’s not my past that comes to light because I will hightail it to another country if it comes down to it. Almost three thousand miles away from my past and I’m willing to run again just for the chance of breathing air that won’t constrict my lungs. “It isn’t about your past, dear.” Andrew heaves a deep breath as if he can read my mind. Or perhaps the panic on my face was enough to give him a hint.

“I’m not explaining this well, I understand that. It’s just a lot of information we’ll need to go over and a lot of questions that have no answers. Someone on King’s personal team is taking his client list and giving it or selling it to Rothschild Holdings.” My mouth threatens to drop in utter shock, but I manage to keep it shut. Licking my dry lips, I say, “Someone is trying to steal clients?” “Have stolen, unfortunately. They’re underbidding us by proclaiming to be able to solve problems at lower costs. However their contracts, from my understanding, have the clients paying hush money as well to get rid of their problem, so they’re paying larger amounts in actuality, stuck in a contract with Rothschild that they can’t get out of after finagling out of ours.” “That’s illegal.” All of it. They’re paying to do what our fixers do at a lower premium before turning around and blackmailing the clients. “How are they not being sued?” “From my understanding they have a few judges that were originally our clients in their pocket. Whatever it is Rothschild is cleaning up for them is big enough that they’re willing to pay fees to make it go away. An endless cycle. But from those who have brought it to my attention, clients we have now are suddenly breaking their contracts and NDA’s because they believe Rothschild is giving a better deal, unknowingly walking into a trap.” “How are they getting current clients?” Andrew drags his hand through his hair.

“That’s where you come into play, Emilia. Someone is using King’s personal client list. These are accounts he currently is operating and Rothschild is approaching these clients with lower bid offers. Thankfully King has a wonderful reputation and most of his clients aren’t budging after a few whispers about Rothschild’s dirty work getting out. However, the fact someone was able to procure this list is troubling.” I’ll say. Whoever got their hands on it is giving the names to Ward Enterprise’s competitor. Rothschild Holdings hasn’t been around except the past few years. Too new for people to know the dangers of doing business with them. Although it’s downright asinine to think one could poach King’s clientele list. Those bidders are willing to pay the extra price because they know how King delves into the gray areas of the law. He’s never broken anything, as far as I know, or at least never been caught. “Rothschild approached his clients and they told King?” I ask to clarify even though that’s exactlywhat he said. The whole thing just reeks of desperation. “Yes.

These are loyal clients. The problem is that we have no way of knowing who has been leaking the information from King’s team. There’s too many people in King’s personnel to narrow down who specifically is trying to outbid him.” “But I’m not on King’s team.” And I don’t particularly want to be with the callous reputation he has for treating employees. “You are now.” My exhale is sharp. “I’ve got several other things to do for department heads. The most I see ofKing’s team are his assistants demanding I get them lunch. Otherwise I actually help people in the building.” That doesn’t mean I want to be on his team. “You’re close with people, though. You know some of them and get along with them or you know people who are friends with his personnel. I’m not expecting someone to outright tell you that they’re conspiring against the company. But people talk.

The rumor mill is constantly fluxing in the lower floors about who we’re publicly working with. I want you to join King as a potential fixer he’ll be watching and simply listen to the gossip as you’re shown the ropes, see if anyone is unhappy here who might be on King’s list of suspects. If anyone is suspicious then bring it to our attention so that we may handle it discreetly.” Basically, listen to the rumor mill and the way coworkers talk that doesn’t always become big gossip in the company. Sally could easily become my main focus for the well-known gossip floating around the building while I search for the undertones of gossip within specific departments about people. Andrew isn’t asking for anything irrational or illegal. He’s merely building upon what I already do. Observe people. Make things happen. Except he wants me to work with his son. “I don’t understand why King is involved. Yes, it’s his clients and his personnel list, but I don’t have a relationship with him. I occasionally get pulled into meetings with you so it’s not like I need to report to him or anything.” Andrew leans back in his seat, the hard glint in his eyes and firm set of his jaw telling me I won’t like what he has to say next. “King doesn’t want anything to look different inside the building.

If yousee something and need an immediate response from me, I could be unavailable. His alternative to disrupting the majority of our firm is to have you meet him with updates regularly throughout the week. Strategize with him over who seems inconsequential and who you have a nagging feeling over. I’m too busy to overlook this entire ordeal so I’ve relinquished the duties to King. It’s one of his many tasks he’ll be doing when he takes over as CEO in the future.” Now isn’t the right time to tell Andrew that his son probably won’t have anyone conspiring corporate espionage against him. They’ll simply quit and flee the area. “Is this something you can handle, Emilia? I only want you listening and watching the people whomay be trying to bring this firm to its knees. If anyone is to question workers it’ll be me or King, is that understood?” “Yes.” Andrew leans forward to dig about in the stacks of papers on his desk. A blue folder, starkly different to the arrangement of black folders with company logos stamped on the front. “King left this with me. It’s a meeting with him over lunch in two hours. The attire will be casual wear.” Andrew rolls his eyes.

“I don’t understand the need to be incognito, but my son is calling the shots.” His son is an asshole but I refrain from stating that. Casual wear? I’m supposed to change out ofmy office attire for the hour I take lunch then change back just to appease him? It’s ridiculous. Except I’m adding this to the growing list of things I can’t tell Andrew Huntington-Ward about his son. “Noproblem.” “I appreciate your help on this, Emilia.” Andrew gives me a softer smile. “You have the opportunity to be bold while on this assignment, to live your life instead of being a ghost. Make the most of it.” My head bobs while I clench my back teeth together. It isn’t Andrew’s fault someone is hijacking their clients. Someone here is playing for the competitor and they need help in discovering who. He isn’t wrong to ask me here considering my floating from one department to another won’t raise suspicions or have people growing cautious. It’ll be business as usual. With the added benefit of having to intersect King’s life, something I’ve gone out of my way to avoid since becoming an employee here.

“Have a wonderful rest of your day. Please close the door as you leave.” Andrew waves his hand towards his office door with a tired smile on his face. Carefully I get up and exit, feeling like myheart is going to beat out of my chest. We all have secrets we keep locked away. Andrew is part of mine. His son, five years my senior, has no idea about me or the history that ties Andrew and I together. King doesn’t know how much his father means to me for what he’s done to protect me in the seven years Emilia Graham emerged out of nowhere in one of the densest cities in the world. Andrew made me a ghost to my former life, lost in one of the busiest cities in the country. I can still recall the way he held his arms out, showing me the Empire State building as he said, “Welcome to New York.” 2 “This metropolis isn’t easy to hide from a man who makes his living digging graves.” – Emilia There’s something about the feeling of jean jeggings that makes me feel relaxed yet stylish. If I could get away with being in plain leggings I would have, but I didn’t want to push my luck with this lunch strategy meeting. To be honest this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done. Changed clothes in the lobby bathroom of our building, walked several blocks to an upscale dive bar for lunch, just to meet with the demonic heir of New York’s elite.

Also yes, upscale dive bars exist. They’re perfect for Instagramming your meals while carbloading and getting beer after ten in the morning if you so wish. I don’t, but I only marginally judge those who do. My dad would say it’s no different than my mother having a mimosa but she would be appalled at the comparison. I am a little too. Mimosas are heavenly. Beer is trash. Unless we’re drinking it while rooting for the Giants on Sunday pretending Eli Manning is going to somehow become his older brother in terms of touchdowns. I can still see that one Butterfinger commercial playing discreetly after he fumbled. We all took major offense to it. And it was literally so long ago I doubt Eli even remembers. Still, he’s a god inour house and therefore is worshiped accordingly. Which reminds me that my dad is going to be switching from his focus from football to baseball with the weather warming up. And I need to call him and tell him that I planned on getting Yankees box seats again for us. Is it wrong that my parents are my best friends? After the move from California, I had a hard time trusting people.

I holed up in my room studying at university and shut the world out. Somehowapplying for Ward Enterprises felt like coming full circle after utilizing their services. It was time to step back out into the public. Except now that dream of once again engaging with society and not being a hermit any longer has led me to this destructive path I’ve taken leading directly to King Huntington-Ward. Be bold, Andrew had said, as if dealing with his spawn is going to make this meeting bearable. Stepping through the wooden doors, I glance around the metal tables full of people. It’s an odd mixture of people in suits and sweatpants. CEO’s and hipsters in one place. It’s amazing what you can find to bring people together in New York. Glancing around, I have to scan the room twice before a hand raises in the air capturing my attention. I start forward just to abruptly stop. This is not King. Absolutely not. I refuse to believe what my eyes and brain are telling me is the truth. This man, clad in blue gym shorts, a tight fitting gray long sleeve, and a black ball cap looks like a former football player.

His tan is permanently gracing his golden skin, inky hair hidden beyond the brim of his cap. There’s even stubble shadowing his jawline and cheeks. But the bright, almost neonlike blue eyes are what seals the deal. There’s only one family in the entire upper northeastern part of the country with eyes as electric as these. The Huntington-Ward’s. After the shock wears off, I cautiously slip into the seat across from him at the small table tucked towards the back of the room. He’s so big, even when sitting down he seems larger than life. The metal chair beneath him looks so tiny compared to the rest of us mere mortals gracing his presence. Make no mistake about it, we may be in a public place, but King owns every viable inch of space he can find.


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