Monday, March 29, 2010

Snowed In

I'd started working as an ambassador to the wealthy moving into the city of New Saga. My primary responsibility was to make sure my client's stay or settlement went smoothly. In other words, I was a short term Executive Assistant. I made reservations at the best restaurants, knew which band was playing at which club, ensured transportation was always readily available, and whatever other interest or whim the person I was to cater to was met. In cases where the client was moving into town, I also advised on buying homes in the best neighborhoods with the best schools and other pieces that would need to be integrated into daily life. The last three weeks, I had been working with Mr. Henry.

Mr. Henry was a very popular man. He had more money than anyone I had represented before. He was finicky, demanding, and completely unaware of what most people's lives were like. He merely had to lift a finger and someone was there to take care of "the thing" needing to be addressed. He was also a genius in his field. By 18 years old, he had already made a quarter of a million dollars. By the time he turned 21, he was a multi-millionaire. His estate is valued in the billions now that he is in his late thirties. His attitude and his wealth intimidated most people, but it didn't stop them from wanting him involved in their projects or from inviting him to their social events in hope of a contribution.

Mr. Henry was generous with his money. He had a strong belief that everyone deserved a basic level of living through decent wages, the availability of effective and efficient social service programs, access to health care, and education. Based on his agenda, I think that is why he was in town. He spent time at the universities, with government officials, a number social workers from various state departments, and some grass root efforts. He lunched with big business and small business owners alike. He talked with the homeless in the parks and on the streets and then proceeded directly to a hospital or clinic to meet with the directors. It was almost as if he was running for president, except he made promises and immediately acted upon them and he never traded his views for a better offer to support something that he didn't feel strongly about.

In truth, I was fascinated with his work ethic and drive. It was the social events in the evening that I loathed. For most of my client's, my day ended after I had walked them to the waiting limo and given detailed instructions to the driver for the evenings itinerary. Mr. Henry insisted I attend all of his events. "He trusts you to be able to get him out of places he doesn't want to be and to handle any issue that comes up on the spot," Franklin Lee, my boss, had told me on the third day of my assignment. "You'll be generously compensated and I'll not assign you to another client for an extra week." He closed the conversation.

The extra money would be helpful and the week off sounded nice, but it didn't make up for the disappointment I heard in my children's voices every time I called and told Alice I would be home late and to put the children to bed. Sometimes it felt like I was always putting them on the back burner. At those moments, I would confide in my closest friend Johanna. "You are the best parent I know. Your children always come first to the point that you suffocate yourself. It would do you some good to take some time for you and to give them a little space," she would say. I knew she was right, but it didn't stop that little nagging voice from telling me my kids needed me and that I was damaging our relationship.

It was my last day working with Mr. Henry. The last minute details had been addressed. In forty-five minutes, his driver would be dropping him off at the airport and thirty minutes later, he would be taking off. I missed my kids very much, having seen them very little over the last few weeks. The minutes seemed to be ticking by slowly, mocking my desire to be home and pushing my professionalism to a breaking point. I stood in front of the floor to ceiling window watching the snow come down and swirl into the street below, slowing traffic to a crawl. The airport was only twenty minutes away, but it could easily take an hour in this weather. Mr. Henry's plane would probably be delayed for a short time.

I picked up my cell phone and called the car company. "Yes. This is Sylvia. I am calling on behalf of Mr. Henry. He would like to know if his driver will be here soon considering the weather conditions. He still expects to be to the airport on time."

"One moment please Sylvia. I am going to contact the driver and see how long before he arrives. Mr. Henry is staying at..... The Park Place, correct?"

"Yes. That is correct." there was silence as the operator switched to the other line to contact the driver. I continued to watch the snow swirl and the cars inch slowly up the street. i glanced at the time. 4:53pm. I probably wouldn't make it home until 6:45pm. At least I would have time to play a few games with the kids before reading hem to sleep.

"Clarence says he is on his way. He is about a mile away, but with the weather and the traffic, it will take him another fifteen minutes at least." Silently I worked through the logistics. Mr. Henry would arrive at the airport about 10 minutes late. It would still work. I would need to inform him of the delay though. He would want to know.

"Thank you. Be sure to have Clarence park in the sheltered garage and to call upstairs as soon as he arrives." I hung up the phone and walked through the hotels five room suite in search of Mr. Henry. The surroundings were luxurious. No expense was spared. The water glasses were rimmed in gold. Every vase had intricately cut designs in its heavy crystal walls. The drapes were heavy velvet. The furniture was pristine. The curved wood was polished frequently. Although it was a welcome change at first,now it made me miss home even more. I preferred the mess of my aging and well lived in home to this museum of fashion.

I found Mr. Henry in the small sitting room outside of his sleeping quarters. He was sitting on the long red chaise, his shoes on the floor and his feet propped up on the seat while he poured over a thick folder of papers. "Excuse me Mr. Henry, if I may interrupt?"

"Yes Sylvia. What is it?" he said without ever glancing up. The window was open and I could see the snow glisten as it passed through the soft lights from the building next door. It seemed to cast a holy light around Mr. Henry. I had been so impressed with his abilities that it seemed a fitting picture.

"I've spoken with your driver. He is about a mile away and should be here in fifteen minutes. However, with the weather conditions, it will put you about ten minutes late arriving to the airport. I thought I would let you know and see if you wanted me to communicate anything to the pilot."

He glanced over my shoulder at the clock. "No Sylvia. Alan knows to handle everything without a call. Thank you though." He was reading through his reports before finishing his sentence. My phone vibrated against my hip. I stepped out of the room and into the living room before answering it.

"This is Sylvia, ambassador for Mr. Henry. How may I help you?" It was how I always answered the phone, substituting the correct client's name as the weeks passed.

"Hi Sylvia. I'm calling on behalf of Clarence, Mr. Henry's driver. There has been an accident and Mr. Clarence is unable to pick him up. I understand that your time frame is very tight and between that and the worsening weather, we will be unable to get another driver to you. I know this will cause you and Mr. Henry some difficulties." I tried to interrupt. Mr. henry had to have a driver. This was not a trifling thing now was it something I couldn't rearrange on such short notice. My argument went unheard or worse, ignored. She continued on, anxious to get off the phone. "To help compensate you for the difficulties, our services for this past week will be free of charge. We do hope you and Mr. Henry will still use our services in the future."

I hung up without a response. For the first time, I was out of ideas as to what I could do. She was right. This would cause a great deal of difficulty. There wasn't a reputable company close enough to be able to get Mr. Henry to the airport on time. The weather pretty much guaranteed it. I took a deep breath and turned around to inform Mr. Henry of the predicament. I was surprised to see him standing in the doorway. His coat was on and his briefcase was in hand. "I see the driver will not be coming."

"Yes sir. That is correct," I said. "I can begin calling around for another car, but I doubt anyone will pick up the job."

Mr. Henry smiled at me. "It's okay Sylvia. How many times have I said I can trust you with anything? I'll just have you drive me to the airport before going home. My things are already downstairs. I'm sure a bellboy will load them into the car for you." The ounce of relief I had felt at his smile now felt like several pounds of pressure pushing down on my shoulders.

Me? Drive him to the airport? it was an outlandish assumption! I mean, I did live relatively near the airport and it would only be an extra half an hour at most, but that was most certainly not in my job description. I was angry at the mere suggestion that I should act as his personal driver. I was silent for too long. "I wouldn't ask if it wasn't vitally important that I be in California tomorrow. I understand how inappropriate it must seem to you."

He really wasn't really asking that much of me. Then again, he wasn't really asking me. It was an expectation. I turned my back to him, letting my professionalism crack just a little. Picking up my coat I said somewhat coolly, "Then we should be headed out. You'll be nearly twenty minutes late getting to the airport now." He walked passed me in his King of the World manner. As I closed the door, the lights went off from the hotel across the street and the snow looked heavier in it's absence.

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