The air-conditioner cranked loudly, blowing warm and cold air in cycles. This office smelt musty, like rotting carpet. On one side of the wall was an imposing oil painting of E.H, the company’s founder. Three work cubicles crammed into the office space flanked by two large glass cabinets full of golf trophies.
On the production floor below, metal cutters screeched, grinders rasped and compressors hissed.
Someone was walking up the perforated metal stairs; the sharp clacking sounds from the metal tips typical of expensive shoes echoed up to the top floor.
My coworker, Qian, cleared his throat. I checked my watch. 11.45AM.
The door opened and the Accountant strolled in with a cup of coffee. She looked up, startled.
She made a sharp turn and walked out again, hollering at someone to hurry up before re-entering.
“Hi. I didn’t know you were coming. Traffic jam,” she fretted. I shrugged.
Excuses. It would be a cold day in Hell before the city roads were free of roadworks and traffic jams.
“Is E.H working today? It is 11.47AM,” I asked icily, looking pointedly at my watch and making sure that I stated the time loud and clear.
She stared meekly at the direction of the door.
E.H entered the meeting room with an exaggerated swagger.
“Hello sweetie,” he said with a wink. I flinched as he tickled my palm with his index finger. Then, he gave me a knowing smile as though we were sharing a private joke. I pretended not to notice.
“Good to see you, buddy,” he bellowed, slapping Qian on the back.
“Thanks for the stock tip the other day. Made shitloads,” he continued.
I spied Qian mouthed something frantically.
“The big boss has asked me to introduce you to Lilly Tan. She is his new Fixer for our investee companies, although I don’t see the point because she is managing his small personal stuff,” Qian said pompously, vigorously rubbing the arms of the sofa with his hands.
E.H wagged his finger at me, “Sweetie, you should meet my wife. She is driving me crazy with her endless renov–, “
“Thank you, I am sure I will meet your wife sometime soon. For your information, I am not the Fixer. I am the new Managing Partner of the Fund,” I cut in.
“She’s your new Boss, eh? A lady boss! She’s gonna put you under her thumb.” E.H laughed at Qian and made a show of pressing his thumb on the table.
“We are going to reorganize all the real estate assets in our portfolio companies. All the factories, the offices and warehousing facilities. Some of these will be put into a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) for public listing. I am sending an Associate here soon to compile a list of all landed assets in this company.” I announced firmly, noting the sneer on Qian’s face.
“Hey, Qian. Maybe we can get rid of those retail lots we bought by injecting into this Trust, eh?” E.H growled.
I glanced at Qian. He looked away.
“Hmm.. retail spaces. You mean, the ones you bought with Qian?” I fished, feigning surprise. So the rumours around the office water cooler were true after all. That there were conflicts of interest between Qian and this portfolio company.
“Qian told you about it?” E.H looked at me in disbelief and then, at Qian.
“My friend, REITs are con-jobs…only the managers make money. I won’t be too happy if I were you. Mark my words, your shareholding in this company will be majorly diluted.” Qian laughed nervously, his unsmiling eyes glinted dangerously at me.
I drummed my fingers on the table impatiently and stood up to leave.
“Well, we won’t know for sure if there will be a dilution as yet.” I said casually.
Qian jumped and pointed at me accusingly, “What do you mean by no dilution? This…this factory and this land are the most valuable assets in this company.”
He waved his arms wildly and glared at me darkly, “Unless..Oh don’t tell me.. you are planning to relocate this factory to some remote area and sell this prime land.”
E.H glowered at me. He arched his back and puffed his chest out.
“Nobody is going to touch any of my company’s assets. This factory and all the land around here was bought by my grandfather with his hard-earned money,” he snarled, pushing his face mere inches away from mine and jabbing me at my breast.
I swung my arm at him. He grabbed my shoulders and frog-marched me out of the office. I screamed as loud as I could and turned to elbow and knee him at the balls, but he was too strong for me. He lifted me up and dropped me on the doormat outside. The metal stairs shuddered as the office door slammed.
I picked myself up and tucked my blouse back into my tailored pants. Once in my car, I dug my hand into my pocket and gingerly switched off the recording device. I closed my eyes tightly as I half-slammed the car door against my calf. That would do. A big ugly bruise here and another there. Sufficient evidence to threaten E.H for physical violence and keep Qian on a leash.
I looked around at the land surrounding the factory and smiled. Qian was right. This land is the most valuable asset in this company. Five acres of land right in the middle of the City. Relocate the business. Sell the land. I pumped my fist. It is always important to close the first deal in any new job, fast.