The noon rush had long since quieted, yet a silent residue of previous tensions lingered. Tensions are curious creatures. No one can see them, but their presence is rarely missed. They have no physical mass, yet they can fill an entire room suffocating those inside. The excited-anxious sort, the fear-based breed, the angry-blaming kind, and many others stay long after the immediate crisis has passed.
The tensions at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital’s maternity ward on one Monday afternoon were no exception. From 12:05 pm to 2:03 pm, they had sixteen women on the brink of motherhood. The halls cluttered with doctors and nurses hustling to attend to each patient. The maternity waiting room filled with tense, anxious fathers, grandparents, aunts, and uncles-to-be. The pacers walked their respective courses across the marble floor. The talkers traded stories, discussing and sometimes debating the pros and cons of various baby names. The watchers, their focus on the door, stayed perched to jump up at its slightest movement, eager to hear sweet declarations such as “It’s a boy!”/“It’s a girl!” /“You’ve got twins!” With each swing of the door, the crowd grew thinner, the room quieter until only two people remained. Not the typical maternity ward waiters, they were two young men, ages eighteen and twenty-six. The elder stood six-foot-one with a medium build, his amber eyes dark with worry because the younger, slightly more chiseled and a half-inch shorter, tottered on the verge of a breakdown.
It had been over two hours since the other people had left, and still, there was no word from the doctors. Stephen "Steph" Campbell sat on the edge of his waiting room chair, leaning forward with his hands propping up his head. His eyes moved faithfully around the room as he watched his best friend, Center Perkins, traipse. They had not spoken ten sentences to each other since Stephen met Center in the lobby of the ER. Center's frustration mounted over the admittance forms, so his immediate need had been Stephen’s clear head. They completed the forms in time for the doctor's announcement that they were taking Nicole to the maternity operating room. In the waiting room, there were too many people around to discuss what happened, so both young men just waited. It was not until the room cleared that Center decided he had to move around and even longer before he spoke. “She’s got to be okay, Steph,” he mumbled. “I don’t know what I am going to…I should have seen her…Al of a sudden…” On he went, starting one thought before finishing the other until Stephen could take it no more. “Center, it was an accident. Replaying the scene won't help now. Please try and calm down,” he offered. Center stopped walking. He started to respond when the doctor came into the waiting room. Both men turned their questioning faces toward him. “How is she?” asked Center.
Dr. Sanders, the six-foot-two middle-aged physician, pursed his lips as if his news would be hard to report and even harder to hear. His next movement, slight and quick, did not escape Stephen. The man uttered something that resembled a prayer under his breath. “Well,” he began, "She’s stabilized; however, we were unable to save the child. I'm sorry." When the doctor finished his initial report, he waited for a response from Center before he continued.
Center stood still as reality registered. He opened and closed his mouth several times as if some word, phrase, or sentence needed to be released. Stephen could almost sense the guilt that wove its way around the young man’s heart. Not only had Center backed his SUV into his sister, but he had killed her child in the process. By the despair in Center’s eyes, Stephen could tell when it clicked. He spoke for him. “How soon can we see her?” he asked.
“As soon as she wakes up, Mr. Perkins may visit her.”
“How about her recovery? Will there be any long-term effects?” Thinking about the obvious emotional scars, he added, “Physically, I mean.”
A young doctor fresh from intern-land might have used terms that sailed over the heads of the young men, but Stephen was grateful that Dr. Sanders remained precise and to the point. “Mrs. Arrows’ main injuries were to her ribs and hip. She fractured two of her ribs and severely bruised her hip on the left side. Fortunately, these injuries will heal. She is, however, going to need weeks of rest followed by extensive physical therapy.” The entire time the doctor spoke, he glanced periodically in Center’s direction as if trying to discern his grasp beyond his shocked expression. “We had to remove the baby. Mrs. Arrows remained asleep throughout the entire process. I’ll have more information after she awakes." Neither Center nor Stephen responded. "Your sister’s fortunate,” the doctor said to Center. “She could have easily lost her life today. No, I just misspoke. Your sister’s blessed.”
Stephen nodded his thanks, ignored the platitude, and focused on his friend. Center Perkins never acknowledged the doctor’s exit. As if he heard nothing of the conversation between Stephen and the doctor, he stood blank-faced as tears began to fill his eyes. Stephen tried to coax him out of his trance. “Hey, Center, why don’t you sit down now, okay?” he said, standing up to help him. Center visibly quaked. Stephen stepped beside him and helped him to a chair. Upon sitting, Center lowered his head into his lap, covered it with shaking hands, and cried bitterly.
Stephen, uncomfortable and unsure of what was needed, placed his hand on Center’s back as a way of letting him know he was there. As he sat there, waiting for Center to resume control, his mind wandered. He thought of Ebony, his former fiancée. Stephen envied her at that moment as he wished he too knew how to pray. If there is a God, surely he knows how to fix this, he thought to himself. Center cried for a good twenty minutes. First violently, then softly, then soundlessly until he was dry. Still, Stephen said nothing. He wanted to let Center speak first.
“How can she ever forgive me for this? Nicole and Robert were so excited about the baby. I actually hoped that…that I hit her softer than it seemed. You know maybe just knocked the wind out of her and that she could walk out of this hospital still carrying Robert’s baby. Rob, oh my goodness, Rob.”
“Oh man! You’ve gotta call him,” Stephen said.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what?”
“He’s in Paris. I don’t know if I should bother him.”
“Oh, dude! What am I saying? Man, I’d do anything to avoid calling Rob right now. But you’re right.”
Stephen could hear him wavering on the edge of anotherbreakdown. “If you aren’t up to making the call, I’ll do it for you,” he offered, his face the essence of compassion.
“I’ll do it. This is my mess, and I have to handle it myself. Thanks for being here.”
Stephen shrugged. “Where else would I be?”
Center let out a long sigh. No one was more important to his brother-in-law than his sister. To report that Nicole was hurt would be hard enough. To add that she lost the baby and he was to blame was almost more than Center could handle.
Robert Arrows was the senior international relations director of Prestige Modeling Inc., one of the most distinguished modeling agencies in the world. His job was to ensure all the foreign offices ran smoothly and congruently with the guidelines and policies of Prestige’s US headquarters.
The company, founded by Edward Kelly Simmons in 1958, had offices in Switzerland, England, Egypt, Hong Kong, and now, two in France. Simmons started out a young entrepreneur with a love for beautiful women. He launched the company with three models and a photographer.
From the start, Prestige provided personal photographers. Each model had one that traveled with her to photo shoots. Simmons reasoned that using Prestige photographers would cut down on his girls being violated. For this reason, in 1976, Simmons founded Prestige Photography College. The sister company turned out some of the best photographers in the world, including, as of the year 2012, five Pulitzer-prize winners. Prestige’s unique corporate structure and extravagant photographer policy made it a stand out in the model world. Some companies found the policy an annoyance, but most were unable to resist the coveted women and men of Prestige. They ranked among the best in the world. They guaranteed revenue, and revenue was all that really mattered.
Although Robert was ultimately responsible for Prestige’s international media image, because of the structure of the company, he rarely involved himself with the media. Each office had a senior relations executive and an assistant senior relations executive. These two headed the office’s public relations team. The team consisted of twenty to forty senior and junior public relation representatives, depending on the office and local market. The PR reps dealt directly with the press. Their direct subordinates were the agents and the scouts. The senior reps handled the agents, and the junior reps were responsible for the scouts.
Robert had been in Paris for six weeks and was scheduled to stay for another two. He was there to set up the company’s new French headquarters. His days consisted of alternating meetings, classes, and seminars that ranged from company policy to runway etiquette and covered all aspects of the modeling business.
The work was tiring, but Robert loved every minute of it. He gleaned great pleasure from taking greenhorns and showing them how things should be done. Another factor that eased the weight of his toil was the comfortable environment. All of the meetings, classes, and seminars took place in a pristine 1,375-square-foot conference room on the ninth floor of the new Prestige Tower, a forty-story building with a beautiful steel and black glass frame. The room boasted a sleek ebony conference table that seated up to forty-five people. The chairs were top quality black leather with built in massage mechanisms. Other amenities included a sixty-inch flat-screen, tablets at each seat, and remote-sensitive environmental controls for the lighting, heating, and cooling levels.
Robert’s main trainee was Trip Adderson, the newly appointed senior relations executive for Paris. Robert was impressed with the lightning-fast executive; so much, in fact, that he managed to ignore the man’s obvious, albeit kept in check, resentment. Adderson was twenty years Robert’s senior and had been with the company for twenty-six years longer. Robert understood the hostility. Through the right combination of who he knew and what he knew, he had skyrocketed to a position usually reserved for men much older than him.
Resented or not, Robert excelled at his job. He joined Prestige at the age of twenty-eight after five praiseworthy years as a PR executive for Key-Tel Communications. Wesley Simmons, Edward Simmons’s middle son, lured him with a twenty-thousand-dollar pay raise, a generous expense account, and a company car. Prestige’s offer was one of several due to a highly publicized PR nightmare that Arrows deflected and turned into cash.
At first, he ignored the offers. He had received a promotion and a ten-thousand-dollar bonus, and he liked his co-workers. Prestige, however, was a little hard to ignore. After two months of wooing, he took the job. Eight years later, he was in a top-level position, answering to no one except Wesley Simmons himself. Minutes before Center’s call, Robert was doing just that. He was in his office, having a video conference with his boss. “The training is going as planned, sir. Honestly, we’re about a week ahead of schedule.”
“I’m ever amazed, Arrows,” quipped Mr. Simmons. “Your impression of Adderson?”
“I think he can handle it.”
“You trying to wrap it up early?”
Was he ever? Robert’s mind drifted for a second. He saw Nicole standing at their kitchen sink, the light from the window giving her chestnut curls soft golden edges. The image, his last of her before leaving for Paris, often lingered. He remembered walking up behind her and placing his hands on her small waist. She had giggled ever so softly, turned into his arms, and kissed him invitingly. His wife was always supportive of his work, but she hated to see him leave.
“Honey,” he said, “these two months are going to fly. I will be back here before you miss me.”
“I miss you already,” she said, looking up into his eyes. Robert towered his wife by a foot.
“I love you, Nic.”
“I love you too. Now, will you leave already?” He could tell she was on the verge of tears, so he smiled, gave her one more little peck, and turned for the door. Business trips at the Arrowses’ home were not usually so dramatic, but that time was different. Two weeks before, they discovered Nicole was pregnant. The timing was as unfortunate as trip was unavoidable. Before walking out the door that day, he turned and saw that Nicole had resumed her chore. He let his eyes get their fill of her from her gold-edged curls to her tiny waist, from her curvy hips to her toned and shapely legs. It was the first image he thought of when he woke up in the morning and the last image he thought of when he went to bed at night.
Nicole was about three months along now. The tiny waist he remembered was probably beginning to swell. A smile formed on his lips as he contemplated the life growing inside of the woman he loved. “I hope so, sir. My wife is about to enter her second trimester, and I’m anxious to get home to her.” Robert cringed at the words flying out of his mouth before he could stop them. His statement was honest, but he was embarrassed because he had shared his personal feelings with his boss. Robert, normally the prince of prudence, attributed the misspeak to Nicole and their child occupying his thoughts that day more than most.
“As soon as you think Adderson can stand on his own, you leave it to him. You should be able to handle any troubleshooting from here,” Mr. Simmons replied.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Good-bye, Mr. Simmons.”
Robert was ecstatic. He was sure he could have Adderson trained by the weekend. He could not wait to tell his pretty, young wife the good news. His mind drifted to her again when he heard the tune of “Yankee Doodle.” It was his cell phone. Speak of my angel, he thought; then he noticed Center was calling. “Center? I wasn’t expecting to hear from you. An accident? Center, calm down and speak clearly. How did this happen? Well, how is she? And the baby? No, tell me now! Center, let me be the judge of what I need to know. I need to know if my baby is okay…Oh, I see. I’ll be there as soon as I can, probably tomorrow. If she wakes up before I get there, tell her I am on my way."
Robert closed his phone. It dropped from his shaking hand and onto his smooth mahogany desk with a soft thud.
He leaned back in his chair, then sat back up again. No time for contemplation, there were things to be done. He dialed the home office. “I need Mr. Simmons. This is an emergency,” he said. It took less than a minute to connect his call, but he was annoyed by the wait. At his boss’s hello, he abruptly stated his plans. “Sir, my wife has been in an accident. I’m going to put together a manual for Adderson, and then I am heading home. I’m confident he’ll be fine. Thank you, sir.” Then he called the airport and made arrangements.
Robert’s call interrupted a meeting between Wesley Simmons and his older brother Michael. Though there were two years between the siblings, many would argue that they could be twins. They both had the same sandy straight hair and piercing hazel eyes. While Wesley was on the phone, he observed Mike as he went around the five-hundred-square-foot office, making sure all the blinds were closed. After Mike finished his check, he made himself a drink then took a seat and noisily stirred his ice, letting Wesley know he did not appreciate the person on the other end of the line.
“I hope it turns out okay, Arrows. Good-bye,” Wesley said, hanging up the phone. “Mike, we’re on the thirty-second floor, for heaven’s sake.”
“The window washers will be working. No one can see what I am about to show you,” Mike said dryly.
“Did you see the e-mail we received today?”
“Yes. Have you told anyone about this? What about Madi?”
Wesley’s eyes narrowed. If he thought he could have gotten away with it, he would have slugged his older brother. To even suggest that he would sabotage his own creation by telling this wife its secrets was an insult beyond repentance.
“How dare you!” he said, rising from his chair. "I wil remind you that I am still the head of this project, brother!”
Mike remained seated, his head tilted toward his younger sibling, his face as calm as water on a windless day. Wesley’s naturally pale skin had turned bright red, the veins in his temples pulsating with rage. “Little bro, when Dad chose you over me as the new CEO of this company, I immediately congratulated you. Would you have done the same if he chose me?” Wesley stared at him hard. “Don’t answer that. We both know that you are a high-strung, hot-tempered jerk and would have responded accordingly.” Wesley’s felt his heart rate increase as his fist grew tighter. In the same annoying play-it-cool-boy voice, his older brother continued. “Sit down, Wesley,” he said. “I wasn’t accusing you of anything. I’ve been thinking back trying to remember if I misspoke as well. It is obvious that somebody has said something to the wrong person.”
Fair enough. “What do you have?”
“I brought the tapes from the December party.”
“We need to look at them carefully and see if anybody looks suspicious. I also brought the tapes from the last meeting.”
“You think this’ll help?”
“We need to have some kind of explanation when we tell Fertelli.”
“We don’t have to tell Fertelli, Mike. We can handle this.”
“Let’s go with that for now, but if this thing isn’t resolved within a month’s time, he has to know about it.”
“Agreed.” Wesley motioned for Mike to start the tape.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish