Home - Bookapy Book Preview

AWLL 2 - Book 8 - NIKA

Michael Loucks



For Stephie

Copyright © 2015-2020 Michael P. Loucks

First publication date: 2018-05-01

First revision publication date: 2020-03-07

You may contact the author at: author@michaelloucks.com



May 25, 2009, Charlotte, North Carolina

"First time at this track, right, Steve?" Jason asked.

"Yep. And the first race I've been to since we went to the inaugural race at Chicagoland back in 2001. My heart wasn't in it at that point, and really hasn't been since."

"That was a tough year all around. I remember Matthew visiting us to go to Rockingham the week after Dale's wreck. You were what, Matthew, fourteen?"

"Thirteen," he said. "My birthday is in the summer, if you remember. That visit just sucked. And not because of you, Jason."

"Oh, I know it," he said. "We all know why it sucked. Jesse took it pretty hard, too."

"We all did," I said. "I was surprised how upset I was despite loathing Earnhardt."

Jason smiled, "You always liked to repeat his comments about cheering or booing and about second place being the first loser."

I chuckled, "Yeah, well. I respected his racing ability, I just didn't like him!"

"Compared to Loy Allen?" Abbie laughed.

"Hey, we all agree there's a special place in hell for him and Hooter's."

"I'm glad you could get leave for this weekend, Matthew," Jason said.

"It was fairly easy to get because I'm in the squadron office for another four months," he said. "Then it's back out to sea. And fortunately I took five days, so the race being postponed from yesterday didn't make me miss it!"

"Are you enjoying serving on a submarine?"

"Except for being away from Chelsea and my son, yeah."

"Who's watching him?" Jason asked.

"The daughter of a Captain my dad is friends with. Did you ever meet Captain Aimee Shaughnessy?"

"She visited your dad when I was in Chicago," Jason said. "But that was a long time ago. I think you were six or seven."

"Mom?" Krissy called out, interrupting.

"Yes, Sweetie?" Abbie answered.

"Can I get a coke?"

"Sure. Someone should go with you and bring back cokes and food for everyone."

I smiled and shook my head because Abbie was using 'coke' in a generic way, and we'd come back with a variety of soft drinks.

"I'll do it," I said. "It's my treat. You guys got us the tickets and we're staying at your house! What does everyone want?"

Jason, Abbie, Matthew, Chelsea, and Billy told us what they wanted, then Krissy and I headed for the concession stand.

"You look more and more like your mom every day," I said to Krissy once we were away from the group.

"You met her when she was seventeen, right? So three years older than me?"

"That's right. Did she tell you the story?"

Krissy laughed, "She did, though I think she left out some crucial details!"

"That's probably a good thing," I chuckled.

"Nah, I know what happened because she said you saw her tattoo! Dad knows and he's cool about it. But I guess you dated his first wife before they married, too."

"I did. How much do you know about Stephie?" I asked.

"Mom and Dad have told me all about her. She seems so cool. I wish I could have met her."

"I don't think you'd be here if she were still alive!"

"True. Dad would never have married Mom if he still had Stephie. I've seen pictures of them. And you, too."

"They belonged together."

"You went to the wedding, right?"

"I did," I said as we got in line. "And to the funeral. I couldn't let down my Georgia Peach!"

"What do you think of Tar Heels?" she said coquettishly.

I looked at her and cocked an eye. "I think your mom and dad would shoot me, that's what I think! I saw your mom's new .357 Magnum at the house!"

"Mom can't say anything! She was with Aidan when she was fourteen! Dad was a stick in the mud until after High School! That's HIS problem!"

All these years later, and it seemed as if Abbie was STILL a troublemaker!

"Let's just get the drinks and snacks, young lady!"

"Coward!" she teased.

"You ask BOTH of your parents for permission, and if they say 'yes', THEN you can spend the night with me!" I chuckled.


I shook my head. How DID I get myself into these predicaments?

Chapter I - For Once, It's Not About Me!

September 4, 1994, Chicago, Illinois

"Please tell me your plan includes six cherries!" Elyse smirked.

"Would that take Littleton off the board? Or would it just enrage him and make him a sworn enemy?" I asked.

"He's ALREADY an enemy!"

"Is he? Or is he just a 'hired gun'?"

"A good question. What do you think Jamie is going to propose?"

"Well, you heard the first thing - no more hiring people with whom I've had an intimate relationship. Well, 'intimate' by society's standards, not my standards. And you and I have discussed the issue there."

"Jodie and Claire."

"Exactly. What's your take on that?"

"You heard what I said at the Board meeting. And what Beth and Joyce said. And you know what Charlie, Kimmy, Penny, and the rest of the girls would say."

"I do," I replied. "And you know what Jamie, Dave, Karl, and my dad will say. Something just dawned on me. We never knew who Kaitlin's lawyer was."

"You think it was Littleton?" she asked.

I shook my head, "I think Jamie would have told me if that were the case. In fact, I think he probably would have been obligated to do so."

"You don't think there's any relation between the two incidents, do you?"

"I don't see how. Kaitlin was gone before Mikela started at NIKA. I don't think there's any way Mikela would even know about that. Who would have mentioned it to her? And who knew the real reason she left?"

"Could anyone find out about it?"

"Sure. If Mikela were to sue us, or make a complaint to some government agency, they could ask for all the personnel records and talk to all past and current employees. And even though I don't think he's involved in this current situation, Littleton knows I had a relationship with Charlie. Anyone who investigates will uncover that information. I'm sure they'd find out about Penny as well. Your situation is a bit different, obviously. But once they knew about those other two, all it would take is one wrong word to bring the whole thing down."

"Who would ever betray you?"

"On purpose? None of the girls, that's for sure. Accidentally? It would be all too easy. And don't forget, Zeke had a really serious problem with the fact Tasha slept with me before she started dating him."

"I never understood that!" Elyse protested. "It's none of anyone's business who our past lovers are!"

"Be that as it may, Terry had to talk Zeke off the ledge. Who knows what was said by whom or to whom. Even if The Club closes ranks, that doesn't protect me."

"Shit!" Elyse sighed. "All because two little girls wanted you to fuck them! I just don't see how that's YOUR problem!"

"It's not. But society, and the government it elected, thinks it IS my problem. The basic theory is that men are predators and women are helpless."

Elyse shook her head, "You have ALWAYS been the prey! Always!"

"There is the issue with Becky and how I went after her..."

Elyse shook her head again, "That was all part of Jennifer's pursuit of you and her confusion about her sexuality. Not to mention the fact that Becky turned into one of the most serious predators of all."

"But you see, society says it's impossible for me to be the prey and therefore I'm a sexual harasser and abuser. It's like the situation with Penny. She knew exactly what she wanted and pursued it relentlessly until she got it. The law says I raped her and nothing she says can override that law."

"That's so fucking stupid I don't even know where to begin. But we are talking the same idiots who pass laws that make it illegal to breastfeed in public with an exposed breast!"

"Yes, we are, and until such time as we can overthrow the government or convince the majority that they are mistaken, we're stuck in this environment. You want something even dumber? Girls can have abortions, without their parents' consent, at younger ages than they're permitted to legally engage in sex! So much for 'bodily autonomy'."

"It sounds like you're resigned to not being able to hire Jodie and Claire."

"I have no clue what I'm going to do when the time comes. Fortunately, Jodie is only a Sophomore, so I have more time. And honestly, the only place I was ever with her was in Iron Mountain, at her parents' farm. She won't tell and as such, nobody could possibly know beyond you and my wives. Claire is a more serious concern because quite a few people know. But that's not my biggest concern."

"What is?"

"That Jamie is going to want to impose serious restrictions on what Karl calls 'fraternization'. I'm concerned the Board will back him up on it."

"They do realize that if they try to come between you and Penny, she'll kill them all, right? And I'm not being facetious."

"Karl is well aware," I grinned. "My concern is really that he's going to insist that NIKA staff not come to Guys' and Girls' Nights."

"That's total bullshit!"

"I know it and you know it. But Jamie's job is to protect the company. And he sees the personal relationships as a threat. And, as I think about it, there's an even worse possible scenario."

"What?" Elyse asked, apprehensively.

"That he convinces the Board to hire a full-time HR person who reports directly to the Board."

"No fucking way! We are not taking one of those idiots into NIKA any more than we'd take most of the MBAs your sister worked with at Arthur Andersen! Talk about ruining the company!"

I nodded, "I agree. The whole 'bottom-line only' theory being pushed on MBAs during their education is destructive and has to stop or we're going to wreck our economy. And the institutionalized 'political correctness' being taught to HR professionals is going to destroy society. I hate to say it, but it's going to get worse."

"How do we fight that?"

I chuckled, "The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers!"

"I thought you said that was about setting up an absolute monarchy?"

"Oh, it is. Tsar Stephen I, at your service!"

Elyse laughed hard, "And your first decree is to actually implement droit du seigneur?"

"I prefer jus primae noctis, personally!"

"Right of the first night?"

"Yep!" I chuckled. "But in all seriousness, do we really want to give up our control to idiots like that?"

"Never! We fight them tooth and nail. We have to be very careful who we hire as well."

"I know. That's why I'm more than a little concerned about relenting on my veto under pressure from Dave. In hindsight, I set the wrong precedent."

"She's been fine so far, right?"

"Yes, but a couple of weeks isn't enough to judge. I think we need to figure out a way to screen candidates for their values."

"I'm not sure that's strictly legal."

"I'm not going to judge based on sex, race, religion, ethnicity, or any of the other criteria that the government forbids us from using. And by the way, I agree with the philosophy behind the law, just not the laws themselves. And don't even get me started on the implementation. What I will judge applicants by is things like that question I asked Maddie about participation awards, or what books they've read, or whether they've traveled outside the US, and so on."

"To draw a psychological profile," Elyse said, nodding. "Kind of like your statement about people having to 'fit in' to be hired."

"Yes. We've been a bit less stringent on that and I think we need to return to the old ways. The problem is, it will certainly conflict with Jamie's vision of how we should do things. He's already told us not to invite any new employees to the Rap Sessions. And I know he'd prefer I told Cèlia and Kajri to stay away, not to mention Terry and Penny."

"It sounds like you want to actually interview instead of just veto."

I shook my head, "Only for managers and above. Below that, I'll identify a pool of people who should do the 'fit' interviews and accept their advice. Michelle and Kimmy would be two of my first choices. Jamie, of course, will have a conniption fit about that."

Elyse smiled, but it was her 'evil' smile, "Let ME handle that. I'm in charge of HR. And I know what you want."

"I'm actually concerned Jamie will want me to take myself out of the hiring process."

"Fuck that noise!" Elyse spat. "You own 75% of the company."

"Yeah, and I've slept with a good chunk of the female staff. Jamie's job is to protect NIKA. In this case, from me, I guess."

"I think you should let Terry tell Penny about Mikela. That might solve the problem."

"And then Penny can share a cell with Lisa Glass? No thanks."

"So back to 'Little Tony' and Brandon Littleton...what?"

"The timing is a bit tricky. I don't want to move precipitously, but I also don't want to delay too long. I really can't do much until we know if Mikela is going to sign the release or not. We won't know that until Thursday morning at the earliest, or perhaps as late as Tuesday afternoon of next week. And remember, I leave for Europe on Saturday and I'll be gone for nearly three weeks doing the videoconferencing setup for SPSS and the legal software install for Moore, Martin & Walker."

"Do you think Jamie might tell you not to go?"

"Maybe, but this trip has been planned for months, and no matter what happens, nothing will need my physical presence here in the short term."

"So, what's your plan?"

"I don't know yet. I've been thinking about it for a good month, but Jamie had me convinced to basically let sleeping dogs lie with regard to Littleton, which is why I haven't done anything. It might be wise to let that go, at least for now. If Mikela signs, I can take my time dealing with Littleton."

"But not 'Little Tony'?"

"No. He needs to be dealt with, once and for all, and soon. But it has to be done in a way that keeps me out of jail and doesn't cause me problems with Joyce or her grandmother. I don't want to hurt Joyce, so simply allowing Anthony to find out about Connie and me probably isn't a good plan because I do think there's a good chance he'll kill her. Not to mention I will probably have to deal with this Scuderi dude who appears to be in the muscle side of the business. I also can't just rat him out to the Feds because they'll trace it all back to Joyce's grandfather, and that would put everything she has at risk, despite it all being legitimate.

"You've admitted more in those few sentences than you have in the last ten years!"

"I'm not saying anything you haven't already inferred, and you notice these are all Cincinnati guys. If they weren't, this would be a VERY different problem, if you get my drift."

"I do. Holy shit! If Connie's husband is caught by the Feds and they trace it back, NIKA could be at risk!"

"Possibly, though they'd have one hell of a time proving I knew where the money came from. At that point, I'd just have my dad buy out Joyce's shares and let the Feds go after that money. Joyce is squeaky clean, so once the dust settled, she might be a lot less wealthy, but she's not going to jail."

"I have to ask you something about the household finances."

"The annuity from Don Joseph?"

"Yes. Does that put you at risk?"

"Not really, it's from his estate, and at worst, they could seize the annuity, but I don't own it. It's owned by a trust. They'd have a heck of a time coming after any of my assets, though with this 'asset forfeiture' bullshit, you never know. Anyway, what I'm saying is that whatever solution I devise, it has to protect Joyce and NIKA, which means no running to the Feds.

"One option is to actually go after Littleton first, and one avenue of approach is to clue him in as to exactly who he's working for. Tying him to Scuderi COULD be a way to exert pressure on him to drop his association with Anthony. If it ever got out that Littleton was working with the Mob, he'd be in deep trouble. I suspect his partner Zimmer, and the lawyer who handled the paperwork for Carla, Levinson, wouldn't be thrilled by that information."


"Not at all. Information. Say certain dossiers show up at Littleton's office, though fleshed out further. And including information about the corporate espionage."

"What if Littleton ignores it?"

"I didn't say I'd send it ONLY to him. Zimmer would get copies. And Levinson. And the other attorney who works for them whose name escapes me at the moment."

"But this Scuderi guy is in the muscle side of the business."

I nodded, "Elyse, you're read-in so far at this point, it doesn't matter. You know I have my own Luca Brasi."

"That's awfully dangerous. And it could get you in serious legal trouble."

"Not really. Let's call him Luca for now. I turned him from Cincy to Chicago. The right word to the right people and things would be explained to Scuderi."

"Like they were to John Lentz?"

"That was Lisa Glass all the way," I said. "If there WERE Outfit ties, I don't know about them and neither do the cops."

"Come on, Mr. Adams, you're talking to your most intimate confidante, who reads your journals and manages your finances, both business and personal. Speaking of which, I laughed out loud at the entry in your journal from Japan on that topic."

"The one where I reported Sakurako saying her grandmother was really in charge?"

"Yes! And admitting it was true here, too! I wondered when you were going to figure that out!"

"Has there ever been any REAL doubt?"

"Not in MY mind," Elyse laughed. "But seriously, you know there were Outfit ties to John Lentz and the City of Chicago permitting guys who were busted."

"It's all in how you define 'know'. I know the Aldermen are all corrupt, but I don't have specific knowledge of the corruption in most cases."

"Most cases?" Elyse asked with an arched eyebrow.

"Don't ask, please. Some things I need to keep quiet."

"It has to be Larry Bloom. Jesus! Everyone thinks he's squeaky clean!"

"Which is a nice deal if you can swing it," I said. "But forget that. I think I'm going to have Katya Sergeyevna flesh out the dossiers on everyone at Brandon Littleton & Associates, as well as on Peter Scuderi and his ties with BLS, Carla, and anything else."

"Speaking of that, did you ever find out who was behind the request to buy the BLS software?"

I shook my head, "No. It was some law firm in Indiana which was representing an anonymous client."

"Maybe there's something there."

"You mean like Anthony or Littleton? That would be a real stretch."

"I have to ask you a very difficult question."

"Go on."

"What if it's related to the software piracy? What if that's why Volstead and Braun covered it all up?"

"You mean Braun's kid is somehow tied to Anthony?"

"Or Scuderi. Or Littleton."

"I suppose it's possible. What made you think of that?"

"I was just going over in my mind all the things that have happened since you and 'Little Tony' had your run-in."

I nodded, "Good point. I'm going to call Katya Sergeyevna on Tuesday morning and have her dig a bit into that, too. I can't imagine Volstead and Braun are mafia attorneys, but you never know."

"And your friend Ben van Hoek?"

"God help him if they are. But we're just speculating wildly now. Hopefully, Mikela signs the release and gives me some breathing room to have Katya Sergeyevna do her investigation."

"And if not?"

"Then it gets WAY more complicated. We should go spend some time with our guests."

"Wait! Something just dawned on me. Does Jamie know about you and Jackie?"

"I never told him," I said. "I have no idea if Jackie told him, but I suspect not."

"That revelation might just send him over the edge. He was already pretty upset earlier."

"Oh, I know," I sighed. "Well, there's nothing to do about that right now. Let's go see our friends."

"Don't you have to be at the dojo this morning?"

I shook my head, "No. I'm taking Mitsuko and her little sister to dinner tonight. Miyu is competing in the tournament, and it's sort of become a tradition for me to take them to dinner."

We left my study and went to spend time with Jamie, Jackie, Eric, and Patricia. Jamie was a bit cool towards me, but I could tell he was also distracted, and I was sure he was running all sorts of scenarios through his legal mind to determine the best course of action. But I had my own ideas for that as well.

The Fergusons stayed for lunch, and when they left, Jesse, Matthew, Kara, and I went to the great room to watch the NASCAR race from Darlington. Jessica joined us, but she curled up with her medical journals. Elyse was in the backyard with Michelle and the rest of the kids.

"I hate to see that idiot Bodine on the pole, but on the plus side, that useless prick Loy Allen is starting 42nd," I said.

"Still carrying that grudge?" Kara smirked.

"Now and forever! I swear, I wish Payne Stewart had managed to buy Alan's team."

"Where is Earnhardt starting, Dad?" Jesse asked.

"27th!" I said with glee. "Bill starts 9th!"

"Ugh," Jesse groaned. "What happened?"

"I don't know," I said. "It's how fast they drive one lap in qualifying, and maybe they got the setup wrong. But they both run well at Darlington, so let's see what happens."

"You're OK with Earnhardt doing well?" Kara teased.

"So long as he's behind Bill, I'm cool with it!"

"Bill hasn't won in a long time!" Jesse proclaimed. "Earnhardt won at Talladega!"

"I know. Bill has had some second places this year!"

"First loser!" Jesse laughed.

"Look, Little Duck, I could send you to play with your sisters!"

"Bill is the best driver ever in the history of the world!" Jesse said soberly. "And Penguins rule!"

Everyone laughed.

"Not!" he added after a beat to even more laughter.

"One of these days..." I chuckled.

As it turned out, Bill did finish in front of Earnhardt, winning his first race in nearly two years. Earnhardt finished second about four seconds behind Bill, which allowed him to extend his lead over Rusty Wallace in the points standings. Bill had moved up to eighth overall, but he was nearly 700 points behind with only eight races to go. Even winning them all wasn't likely to give him a shot at the championship because he'd need to beat Earnhardt by an average of 90 points or so per race, and that simply wasn't going to happen.

"Who's the first loser today, Jesse?" I grinned.

"Earnhardt will be Champion! Again!"

"And how many Stanley Cups have the 'Quackers' won?"

"OK, children," Kara said in teasing reprimand.

"I need to get dressed to go out to dinner," I said.

With no objections, I went upstairs, took a quick shower, and put on 'business casual' clothes. After kissing everyone goodbye, I headed for DePaul, where I'd pick up Mitsuko and Miyu at the hotel. Mitsuko had a new roommate from Hawaii who didn't go home for the three-day weekend, necessitating the hotel stay. The girls were waiting by the entrance to the hotel and hopped into the car for the drive to TGI Fridays in Lombard.

"How is the competition going?" I asked.

Miyu answered from the back seat, "Good. I finished third for kata, and I've won all my sparring matches so far."

"Excellent!" I said. "How is school going? You're a Sophomore now?"


"So that makes you fifteen? And your birthday is in December?"

"Yes, on the first. I heard you went to Japan. Did you like it?"

"Very much," I said. "I learned a lot."

"Mitsu said you were promoted to 5th Dan. Is that true?"

"It is."

"So I must call you 'Master' now?" she said with a soft giggle.

"Miyu!" Mitsuko said sharply.

"I'm just teasing!" Miyu snapped back.

"Ladies," I said. "Let's not fight, please. Dinner will be much nicer if you don't."

"I have one mom; I don't need two!"

"I'm not taking sides, Miyu," I said. "I'm asking you both to be nice and allow the three of us to have a pleasant dinner."

I had thought the two of them got along really well, and I wondered if there had been some kind of incident that I wasn't aware of. They'd had heated words about me being married, but otherwise, they had seemed to like being with each other. Of course, it could just be Miyu being fifteen and chafing under ANY adult supervision. I certainly knew what that was like, and I also knew that her parents were conservative Japanese. Mitsuko had commented once about sneaking dates by going out with a group of kids, and I wondered if that's what was bothering her little sister. If so, then I totally sympathized. But I had to be careful not to take sides.

Nothing more was said by either of the girls until after we were seated at the restaurant and we had placed our orders. Mitsuko excused herself to use the restroom, leaving Miyu at the table with me.

"Why does she have to boss me around?" Miyu grumped.

"She's just watching out for you," I said. "I haven't seen her be mean."

"She's like my mom! They never let me do ANYTHING!"

I couldn't help but laugh, which caused Miyu to give me what I'd come to think of as the 'teenager death glare', though Jesse seemed to have perfected it at age eight.

"Right. Because you aren't competing in a tournament in Chicago, staying in a hotel, and going out to dinner with me. Sorry. I must be having some really vivid dreams!"

She glared even harder, something I wouldn't have thought was possible.

"That's not what I meant! I meant fun stuff!"

"Like competing in a karate tournament in Chicago and having dinner with me?"

"Adults!" she huffed.

"I'm sorry, I'm not seeing the issue," I said.

"I can't go on a date!"

"You aren't even sixteen yet," I said, and wondered if it was a SPECIFIC date. "May I ask, did something happen today?"

She frowned and nodded, "A boy from Wisconsin asked me to have dinner with him. Mitsuko said 'no' because she's mean!"

And we got right to the heart of the matter. The REAL problem was she liked this boy and her sister was preventing her from going out with him!

"Or because your parents trust her to follow their rules," I said gently.

"She should mind her own business!"

"She is," I said. "I'd bet anything you care to wager that she's following the rules your mom gave her for you. If she didn't, you wouldn't be here competing."

"I can't wait until I'm in college and can do whatever I want!" she groused.

I chuckled, "You're going to be VERY disappointed when you discover that adults just can't do whatever they want."

She crossed her arms and glared at me again. Minus the Japanese features, she reminded me very much of Melanie Spencer when she was sixteen. Melanie had the advantage of having 'unreconstructed hippies' for parents, which had helped. Miyu had conservative, somewhat traditional Japanese parents. There was a major conflict brewing and it wasn't going to be pretty.

"Miyu, may I ask you some questions?"

"I guess," she said, scowling.

"Do you speak any Japanese?"

"Why? Everyone here speaks English or Spanish. Or I guess Polish in Chicago. Nobody speaks Japanese except my parents and my sister."

"I was just curious. And do you like doing traditional Japanese things?"

She shook her head, "No! They're SO dumb and boring! Who wants to wear a stupid kimono? And spend two hours making a dumb cup of tea? Lame!"

The thought of putting her and Sakurako together crossed my mind, especially if I could send Miyu to Oguni! But I immediately realized she wouldn't last a day there, and the fallout could be very ugly.

"So what do you want to do?" I asked.

"Be like my friends! Wear shorts and t-shirts. Go to dances. Hang out at the mall. You know, be NORMAL!"

"Have you talked to your parents about this?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah, right, like THAT would work! All I'd hear was how good a daughter my sister is. How dutiful she is. How proper she is. How utterly perfect she is! Ugh! She sucks up to them!"

"Or has she found a way to be happy and not cause strife in the family?" I asked gently.

"By not DOING anything! I swear! She's probably never even KISSED a boy!"

That answered my question of whether or not Miyu knew about Mitsuko and me, and the answer was a resounding no. And that was a very good thing.

"I think that's between Mitsuko and whatever boy she likes," I said. "But you might want to talk to her about it."

"Why? She'll just tell me to do what my mom says!"

"Maybe; but I think you might be pleasantly surprised. Here she comes."

Mitsuko sat back down at the table just as our salads arrived. I decided if I had a chance, I'd say something to Mitsuko privately. I also needed to remind her I was going to be in Europe.

"Mitsuko, I know you plan to come to the dojo, but I wanted to remind you I'll be in Europe for almost three weeks starting on Saturday afternoon. I'll be at the dojo on Saturday morning, but then probably not again until the 1st of October."

"That long?"

"A week in London, a week in the Netherlands, and a week in Munich. I have a lot of work to do."

"Oh. Could we have lunch before you leave?"

"You're seeing him?" Miyu gasped. "He's married!"

"We're having lunch," Mitsuko said evenly. "Just like we're having dinner now. You know I go to the dojo and practice with him, too."

"Do you call him 'Master'?" Miyu said nastily.

"Enough," I said. "Miyu, please behave. You're not acting like a fifteen-year-old. You're acting like a toddler."

"I knew you weren't REALLY nice."

"Miyu!" Mitsuko snapped. "Enough, or I'll tell our parents you misbehaved!"

"I'll tell them YOU are 'misbehaving' with a married man!" Miyu countered.

I felt I needed to intervene. Again.

"She's angry because you wouldn't let her go to dinner with the boy from Wisconsin," I said to Mitsuko.

Mitsuko sighed, "Did she tell you anything about this boy?"

"No. I assumed he was her age."

Mitsuko shook her head, "No, he's not. He's nineteen and attends UW Milwaukee. Miyu is only fifteen."

"So?" Miyu growled. "I like him!"

All I could do at this point was keep my mouth shut. I didn't feel the age gap was too large, but society certainly did, at least at their ages. In three years nobody would worry about a four-year age gap, but with Miyu only being fifteen, the world could come down on this young man like a ton of bricks, at least in Illinois.

"He's too old for you," Mitsuko said. "And he could get in trouble with the law."

"For taking me to dinner? I'm SOOO sure!"

"Can we drop this argument, please?" I asked. "Let's eat our salads and our dinner, and you two can debate this when you get back to the hotel."

Miyu glared at me but began eating. I did feel bad for her, as she was struggling mightily with the restrictions imposed by conservative parents, but I also knew the freedom she did have depended on Mitsuko giving a good report. The thing was, I knew from Mitsuko that she'd skirted the rules her parents had created, just as Ailea had.

I, on the other hand, had been outright defiant of the rules my mom tried to impose. I wouldn't recommend the confrontational approach to most people. Mitsuko's and Ailea's strategies were much better. And, truth be told, Miyu wasn't nearly as bad off as Lena, though if her parents thought she was out of control, they might impose that level of control.

Our main courses arrived and we continue eating, mostly in silence. The food was good, but the tension around the table was so high that I wasn't really enjoying my meal. I tried to think of an easy way to defuse the situation, but I couldn't think of one. At best, I thought, I could talk to Mitsuko on Tuesday at lunch and encourage her to talk to her little sister about how to skirt the rules.

We finished our meal and ordered dessert, but again, it was mostly quiet. I did ask Miyu about her sparring competitions and how she felt she'd do on the final day of the tournament, but otherwise, there wasn't any conversation. We finished our dessert, I paid for the meal, left the tip on the table as was my usual practice, and we headed back into the city. When we reached the hotel, Miyu hopped out of the car, but Mitsuko stayed seated.

"I'm sorry," she said. "Miyu is struggling with my parents' rules."

"I know. We can talk about it Tuesday if you want, but the longer you stay now, the more suspicious she's going to get."

Mitsuko nodded and smiled, "See you Tuesday at the loft?"

"If that's what you want, yes. I'll order lunch."

She got out of the car, shut the door, and waved as I drove off. I headed home, and after parking the car in the driveway, walked into the house.

"How was dinner, Tiger?" Jessica asked.

"The food was fine, but Mitsuko and her sister are having a major conflict. I did my best to stay out of it, and play referee, but I wasn't very effective."

"A conflict? Over you?"

I laughed hard, "No! Believe it or not, for once, it's NOT about me!"

Chapter II - Parallels

September 5, 1994, Chicago, Illinois

"Interesting," I said aloud as I was reading the Chicago Tribune while cuddling Birgit.

"What, Daddy?"

"My friend Bill Elliott is going to start his own racing team with McDonald's as the sponsor."


"They pay money to paint the car red and yellow, and have the McDonalds sign on the hood."

"I like pink cars!"

I chuckled, "I know you do, Pumpkin. Are your school friends coming today?"

"Yes. Tiffany, Rachel, and Joey."

"Good. Shall we make breakfast for your mommies and Aunt Elyse?"

"And my brothers and sisters!"

"Yes, of course!"

I put down the paper and Birgit and I went to the kitchen to make breakfast. We had just finished when my wives came in with the other kids and everyone sat down at the table or on stools by the island. Michelle didn't eat because she planned to receive Eucharist at church, so she stopped in for a kiss before she went to get Jesse to take him to the Divine Liturgy. The rest of us ate, and after showers, started preparing for the Labor Day party.

"Are any of the moms staying?" I asked Kara as we formed hamburger patties while Jessica and Elyse sliced tomatoes and onions.

"I'm pretty sure Julie, Tiff's mom is staying, but I don't know if Joey's parents are. And Carla just isn't comfortable being here. I don't know about Jesse's friends."

"Matthew and Michael have a friend from school coming, but no parents," Elyse said. "And I did hear from everyone who we invited. There were a couple of declines because people were going to be out of town - Sofia and her family, Melanie and her family; and Karl and his family because there's something going on at the base."

"No Pete and no Karl?" I complained. "There go the grill masters!"

"Tom volunteered to help," Elyse replied. "And Kurt will be here."

"That's better."

"You didn't disinvite anyone after what happened this week, did you?" Kara asked.

"Hell no," I said. "Jamie has his opinion. I have mine. I'm not going to wreck any friendships because some little girl got her panties in a twist because I wouldn't screw her."

"What about the Rap Sessions?" Jessica asked.

"I'm not making any changes at the moment. I won't invite anyone new, at least for now, but I'm not kicking anyone out. Once again, Jamie has an opinion and I disagree."

"Just be smart, Tiger."

"I will. I'm not taking any precipitous action. In fact, I think that's going to annoy the hell out of Jamie. Any changes are going to be thoroughly considered."

"Is there anything special we need to do before Saturday afternoon?"

"Besides spend time together? Not that I can think of. I'm hoping we can find a way to videoconference from one of the sites, but I'm not sure on the timing."

"The kids will love it!" Kara said.

"It would have to be early in the morning, I think, given the time difference, plus school and work for you guys. And obviously, you would have to be in Sam's office where she has the test gear setup."

"We'll figure it out, Snuggle Bear. But I won't say anything to the kids until we know for sure."


Our guests began arriving around 1:00pm and I fired up the grill right away. When Jamie arrived he asked to speak to me, so we went to my study, taking Elyse with us.

"Now that I've had a chance to sleep on this, I think we wait and see what Mikela does before we take any action. What we do will depend on what she decides. At a minimum, we need to expand the policy about relationships to include anyone with supervisory authority. And, honestly, we have to remove the possibility of the board granting exemptions."

"Jamie, think about what you're saying," I said. "Dave and Julia."

"I know. Even if we grandfathered their relationship because of marriage, they can't be in the same reporting structure without creating all kinds of potential issues."

"Jamie," Elyse said firmly. "There are NO problems there. None! And we can't disrupt NIKA in that way! This isn't about Steve now; this is about two people who have been doing their jobs for over nine years without a single problem!"

"The problem arises when someone else wants to have a similar relationship and you deny it."

"So continue with the current rule requiring Board approval for any relationships that occur in a reporting structure."

"I'm concerned that if they were to deny their consent someone would point to your relationship with Michelle and cause all kinds of trouble."

"What are you saying, Jamie?" Elyse asked. "That Steve has to either break up with Michelle or fire her?"

"Those are pretty much the two options, though I would suggest she resign."

Because Elyse was running with this, I let her continue.

"Come on, Jamie. Even I know the legal hot water we'd be in if it ever came out that she was forced to quit because of her relationship with Steve! It wouldn't even have to be her that brought the action! As Ray said, it's a crap sandwich, but once Steve decided to hire her, that left us with no real options."

"I will remind you both that Kimmy decided to hire her," I said. "I signed off on hiring her in the same exact way I do for every other employee."

"I'm sure you did, and I believe you," Jamie said. "But that's not how it's going to look to anyone else."

"Fine. I'll agree to putting in place new policies about supervisory employees, but I'm not firing Michelle, she's not resigning, and I'm not breaking up with her. What else?"

Jamie sighed, "Well, if Mikela signs the release, not much. If she doesn't, then it depends on what course of action she follows. The tricky part is if we begin an investigation, it makes us look guilty. If we don't begin an investigation, that makes it look like we tolerate the behavior."

"A nice trap," I said. "Damned if you do and damned if you don't. Let me guess, if the internal investigation turns up nothing then it's a cover-up."

"That is the argument that would be made. Look, Steve, as your friend AND lawyer I'm telling you it's impossible to come out of this in good shape. The only way to have ANY chance is to never get into a situation like it in the first place."

"But how do we prevent it?" I said. "Nobody in management knew about the affairs Terry and Mikela were having. And nobody officially knew about the 'Gang of Four'. I purposefully didn't talk with Penny about it."

"Please don't take this the wrong way, but as close as the two of you are, nobody will believe that. And you did have your own suspicions. Didn't YOU give them that nickname?"

I nodded, "Yes. But even I know enough about the law to understand that we can't prohibit people from dating or whatever, if there isn't a supervisory relationship. The REAL trouble here isn't Tasha, Terry, and Penny, but Terry and Mikela and Mikela and Cassie."

"Actually, the law is unsettled, and varies from state to state. Federal law is equally muddled on what you are able to do. I actually expected the pushback I'm getting from the two of you, so I did some research this morning before coming here. I need to clear this with Thad Baker tomorrow, but I think our recommendation will be to enhance the policy to require disclosure of all romantic relationships between staff, in addition to revising the current policies about supervisors, management, and staff."

"I think I can live with that," I said. "But what kind of penalties do you put in place for violating that policy?"

"It has to be zero tolerance, or you'll have people trying to skirt the rules."

I sighed, "Harsh."

"It's the environment we find ourselves in, especially with what's happened with you and about a dozen of your current or former female employees. When the policy is implemented, everyone will have to sign, acknowledging the penalties. We'll have to give some kind of grace period to allow people to either report their relationships or break them off, but as I said, I need to talk to Thad Baker about this before I give you a formal opinion."

"Jamie," Elyse said. "Could we stop short of termination for the first offense? Maybe a suspension?"

He shook his head, "No. We'll give some kind of grace period to report it, like two weeks, so a single date that goes no place doesn't have to be reported, but if there is ANY sexual involvement, it would have to be reported immediately, as in the next business day."

"But only to me?" Elyse said. "Supervisors don't know?"

"That would be up to your discretion, with advice from me and your HR consultant. If it were someone on Cindi's team dating someone on Dave's team, there probably wouldn't be a reason to tell Dave and Cindi. On the other hand, if it were two programmers, then Dave probably would need to know. An entry would need to be made in the confidential part of each employee's file."

"What do you think, Steve?"

"I'm going to have to think about it. I THINK that I think I can live with that. Jamie, what about the situation with Terry and Keri? Is there any risk there?"

Jamie chuckled softly, "You should know by now there's ALWAYS a risk. But I don't get the feeling from Terry that she's likely to file harassment charges, and neither of them has supervisory authority. Technically, he's the one who would have a complaint because she has access to his personnel records. He could also have a complaint against Tasha because she was his supervisor. With Mikela, she could file a harassment complaint against him. The claim against NIKA would be supporting a hostile work environment with the primary evidence being your twelve lovers."

"Beautiful," I sighed.

"You created the situation when you hired women you've slept with, Steve."

"Day one, Jamie. Julia and Elyse."

He nodded, "That is where it started. Kaitlin was your warning, and unless I've totally misunderstood the timing, you engaged in sex with both employees and prospective employees after that. As I said, my friend, you are a damned fool."

"Which I've acknowledged. Talk to Thad Baker and let me know what he says. I'll support the policy changes."

"I will. Maybe now I can enjoy the party!"

"I sure hope so!" I said.

We left my study and went outside to mingle with the guests. I got a burger from Tom and went to sit with my wives who were sitting with Tiffany's mom, Julie, and Carol. I hadn't spoken much with Julie, but I knew she was married to an accountant named Jim, whom I had never seen.

"No husband?" I asked

"He's golfing with his buddies," Julie said. "Every Saturday and any day off. I'm used to being a 'golf widow'!"

"Where's Stan?" I asked Carol.

"Same place he always is when he's here - playing pool! He was bummed that Pete's not here."

I nodded, "I bet. Those two could beat anybody except me and Jorge, and they beat us sometimes!"

"Who's your partner now?"

"Usually Karl, but he's up at Great Lakes today."

"I see some new babies since the last time I was here," Julie said.

"Bethany and Tom and Kathy and Kurt," Kara said.

"And any day now, my sister which is why she and Ed aren't here today," I added. "And by the end of the year our former nanny, Abbie."

"Remind me not to drink the water!" Julie laughed. "Tiffany and her older brother are MORE than enough."

"Where's Brady today?" Jessica asked.

"Hanging out with his best friend. Birgit invited him but he said he didn't want to come."

"Brady is twelve right?" I asked.


"I'm not surprised he doesn't want to hang out here," I said. "Rachel and Frankie are the oldest kids here at nine."

"Daddy?" Birgit said coming up to me.

"Yes, Pumpkin?"

"We want to listen to music!"

"Go ask Amanda to take you guys up to the attic. You can play your music there and dance if you want."

"Thank you, Daddy!" she giggled, holding her face up for a kiss.

I kissed her forehead, "Make sure you invite all the kids, please."

"Yes, Daddy!" she said and scampered away.

She went over to her brothers and Nicholas, and very quickly a throng of kids was heading into the house with Amanda.

"I think somebody should go with Amanda," Jennifer laughed as she came up behind me.

"So go!" I chuckled.

She swatted my shoulder and then she and Josie headed into the house with the kids.

September 6, 1994, Chicago, Illinois

"That's all I have," I said.

"Nothing about Mikela?" Julia asked.

I shook my head, "Remember, she can't sign the release before 5:00pm tomorrow. Anything else?"

"Don't forget Charlie and Rob are flying to Pittsburgh on Thursday evening."

"Is he going to move to Pittsburgh if we get this contract?" I asked.

"It's eighteen months, so I don't see how that can be avoided."

"Are we going to backfill the position here?" I asked.

"We are. Charlie doesn't want to put a new hire on something this important."

"I wasn't objecting; I was just curious. When will we know if we're getting the deal?"

"Supposedly they'll sign while Charlie is there," Julia said. "And the start date would be October 3rd. Mario is already scouting for an apartment for Rob."

"OK. Keep me posted. Remember, I'll be in Europe as of Sunday morning. Kimmy will take care of most things, and contact me as necessary. Please go through her as I'll be working full days every day to get everything done. I think we can all get to work now!"

The meeting ended and on my way back to my office, I detoured to the 'Orr' room and called and arranged for lunch to be delivered at 11:50am at the loft apartment. I made sure they knew I wouldn't be there before 11:45am and that they had my cell phone number. Once everything was arranged, I dialed the number for Global Security and asked for Katya. She was out, so I left a message and went to my office to do some programming. Just after 11:00am, Jamie called and I asked Lucas to send the call to Elyse's office.

"I spoke to Thad Baker," he said after I put the call on speaker and greeted him. "He agrees that the policy change to require disclosure is the best approach."

"Do both people have to disclose, or just one?" Elyse said.


"What happens in the case where only one person comes forward?" I asked.

"You don't really have a choice except to prohibit the relationship unless both people disclose it."

Overnight, I'd had some serious misgivings, and had discussed them with Elyse.

"The more I think about it," I said carefully, "the more convinced I am this is wrong. This would force gay or lesbian employees to out themselves to management with no way to guarantee their privacy. We already had one involuntary outing in this fiasco. You know how close I am to Jen and Josie, and I have other gay and lesbian friends. And if you think about it, how do you tell the difference between, say, Oksana and Gail who are close friends and share an apartment, and a lesbian couple? Do you want to ask THAT question, Jamie?"

"No. And the law in THAT area is even more unsettled, as you know. Some states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books. Heck, some states ban sodomy between heterosexual couples."

"And people wonder why I'm a libertarian and promote limited government. But it's not just the issue of intruding in a friendship by asking if there is romance involved. There are other situations where a person might not want to disclose a relationship and risk having it made public."

"You mean affairs?"

"Or any of a host of other things. Someone might have a situation similar to mine and want to keep it completely private. Who are we to tell them they have to disclose that? In the end, none of it is any of my business, and it shouldn't be NIKA's business, either. I'm going to change what I'm willing to accept. I'll agree to clarify the policy to prohibit relationships between anyone who has supervisory authority over another person in the relationship, but no more than that."

"You still have the problem of you and Michelle."

"Drop it, Jamie," I said firmly. "I've heard enough from you about that. The board approved an exception."

"Have you thought about how this looks to the rest of the team? That they might think Michelle only got the job because she's sleeping with you?"

"Did they think that about Elyse? Or Penny? Or Charlie? If so, nobody has said a thing about it."

"This WILL come back to bite you."

"Then find me a solution that doesn't violate anyone's privacy and doesn't create bizarre problems or contradictions."

There was silence on the other end of the line for what seemed like minutes, but was probably closer to fifteen seconds.

"Let me see what we can figure out. I may need a few days."

"Take your time, Jamie. And, thanks. I know you're doing your job and I appreciate it, even when we disagree."

"Thanks. And you're welcome."

We said 'goodbye' and I punched the button on the speakerphone to disconnect the call.

"As I said in the car, I agree with you on the privacy issue," Elyse said. "It just felt kind of, creepy, I guess. Like the KGB or Gestapo spying on our personal lives."

"DCFS,"I said.

"Ugh; don't remind me."

"Also, I didn't say it to Jamie, but it's something we'd have to disclose when we're recruiting, and that might turn off good prospects, especially given we tend to hire new grads for many positions. Think about how a policy like that sounds!"

Elyse nodded, "Welcome to NIKA, we'd like you to join us so we can intrude on your private life, even if it doesn't affect your work."

"Exactly! We KNOW members of the team who have relationship struggles, medical struggles, and financial struggles. And so long as it doesn't affect their work, it's none of our business. We offer a life coach and an Employee Assistance Program, both of which are voluntary and private. If we start intruding into people's private lives, where does it end? And you know how I feel on the topic of privacy and letting everyone do their own thing."

"Obviously. I'm pretty sure I know the answer to this, but do you plan to say anything to Cassie?"

I shook my head, "No. What would I say? She's had very good performance reviews and nobody has ever complained about her work or her attitude."

"Does she know you know she's a lesbian?"

"She never told me; but I deduced it from all the signs. I spent enough time around Jennifer growing up and Katy as an adult that I had clues. If you remember, she brought a guy to some of the early parties, but I got the vibe they were just good friends. It reminded me of how Larry and Birgit were back in Junior High. I also saw a few other subtle hints. I suspect one or two people besides Mikela might have figured it out as well. But can you imagine anyone we've hired giving a damn about that?"

"No. Which is why you're so careful about 'fit' and personality."

"And why we're going to do even more to determine an informal profile of new hires."

"On that topic, our HR consultant has talked to me several times about doing background checks on new employees."

"For criminal records?"

"And credit reports."

"And then what? Start running a credit report on every employee every year and fire people who have a Fair-Isaac score that's too low or have a history of not paying their credit card balances in full? Talk about intrusive! What's the logic there?"

"That not being financially responsible is an indicator of risk."

"Forget that. It's not happening. I'm not opening THAT can of worms. Not now; not ever!"

"The criminal background check is about potential legal liability."

I sighed, "I can see that. So the end result is we're co-opted into perpetrating the completely dysfunctional system whereby the government is making everything imaginable a crime, and worse, making many of them felonies. Then, to make matters worse, we have to deny jobs to anyone convicted of some minor offense created so that some prosecutor or politician could advance their career. And if we don't comply with their lunacy, we can be sued. Fucking lovely."

"I told him you would respond the way you have on both issues. On the criminal background check, would you be OK with only taking into account violent felonies? That's his recommended minimum. And I don't see how we can, from a legal and liability standpoint, avoid it without taking undue risk."

"That's true, and I totally understand the employee safety angle. Find out from the HR Consultant what is the absolute minimum we need to do, and we'll run it by Jamie. This is going to be one of those pragmatism versus ideology questions where I come down on the pragmatic side. What we really need is complete legal reform and complete sentencing reform. AND a change in how we handle time in a PENITENTIARY, not a prison."

"Does this have a rant number?" Elyse asked with a smile.

"I don't think so. There are some that kind of touch on it. I suppose you should mention it to Pete!"

"I'll call the HR Consultant this afternoon."

"OK. I'm heading out for lunch with Mitsuko."

"Have fun!"

I left Elyse's office and walked downstairs. I let Lucas know I'd be out, then walked west toward the apartment. I was annoyed by the ever-increasing outside intrusion into my business, but I had no idea what I could do to stop it. I was fighting what appeared to be a losing, rear-guard action, and the only possible solution that came to mind was a revolution. I'd prefer one of thought, but I was afraid that wouldn't work. I didn't recall who said it, but our liberty was defended by four boxes: soap, ballot, jury, and cartridge. And they should be used in that order.

The problem was, we were quickly losing access to all of them. Juries had been turned into tools of prosecutors, and with peremptory challenges, a prosecutor could easily stack a jury to ensure conviction. Chicago already had a blanket ban on handguns and made it nearly impossible to own any kind of gun or buy any ammunition within the city limits. The ballot box was being overridden by unelected judges, both in taking away the rights of the voters, and in taking away protections from the vote of simple majorities, on what appeared to be judicial whim. Political correctness was an attempt to silence the soap box.

In the end, the problem came down to the very thing Ben Franklin had said when asked what kind of government they had come up with - 'A Republic, Madam, if you can keep it.' We'd failed miserably at that. We'd also failed to heed his warning - 'Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.' And while Jefferson's quote was about religion, it applied to just about any topic imaginable - 'But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.'

Conveying this was, at least partly, the point of the Rap Sessions - to do my best to reverse the trend. Unfortunately, the students who most needed to hear what I had to say were the least likely to want to hear it! They'd failed to understand, putting it in programming terms, that being upset or being offended were features of 'Free Speech', not bugs. And convincing them otherwise seemed to be an impossible task, as the moment they heard something they didn't like, they ended the conversation.

I pushed all of that out of my mind when I arrived at the loft. I double-checked that everything was clean and in order, and about two minutes later, the buzzer rang, indicating our lunch had arrived. I pressed the button to release the latch on the door, and about thirty seconds later, the delivery guy handed me a bag containing lunch. I paid and tipped him, then went back upstairs to wait for Mitsuko, who arrived about ten minutes later.

"Shall we eat?" I asked after a quick hug.

"We are supposed to have lunch!" she said with a smile. "And this is a very private place where we can speak openly."

We sat down at the table and I immediately reproved myself for assuming coming here was about sex, and not about private conversation. She'd elected to go to the dojo the previous Sunday, and now I wondered if there wasn't something I'd learned from Sakurako that I could apply. I suppressed a smile because it hit me - Sakurako had been exceedingly careful not to allow sex to define the relationship. She had gently, but firmly, limited all of our intimate contact to the futon, minus the one deep kiss we'd shared over her mild protest.

"«Itadakimasu»", I said, and we began eating.

The more I thought about it, the more parallels I saw between Mitsuko and Sakurako. They weren't exact, in that Mitsuko had made more concessions to modern, Western ideas, but her behavior otherwise was very similar to Sakurako's. Miyu, on the other hand was more like Ailea, only more strident about it, having decided to fight tooth-and-nail against something she rejected, much as I had.

"My sister is quite angry with you," Mitsuko said a few minutes after we started eating.

"Because she expected me to take her side?"

"Yes. She felt you treated her as an adult and you would see her side."

"I DO see her side, but it's not my place to interfere with your family in that way."

"You don't think he is too old for her?"

"I don't know the boy, and I don't know your sister well enough to say. Some girls at fifteen are mature enough to date a guy four years older, some aren't. But that's not really my business. I wonder, though, have you talked to her about how you skirted your parents' rules?"

"Yes, of course, but she doesn't like that solution. She believes she's old enough to do what she wants."

A sentiment with which I would generally agree, IF she was mature enough. The problem was, her rebellious nature would potentially lead to risky behavior - the very thing from which her parents were trying to protect her. I knew, eventually, I'd have a similar conflict with one of my kids, and wondered how I'd respond.

"And your parents feel she has no respect for them, or for your traditions."

Mitsuko nodded, "Yes. You know I am not completely traditional, but I honor my parents by following some of the traditions at home, and participating in Japanese ceremonies, even if it's not what I want to do when I have my own family."

"So you don't plan to marry a Japanese man?"

She laughed softly, "I haven't met the man I wish to marry, so I don't have any plans!"

"Cute," I laughed. "But I meant you aren't limiting yourself to Japanese men?"

"Are YOU a Japanese man?" she asked, tilting her head and smiling.

"No, I'm not. But you don't want to marry me."

"You aren't available, so it's not even a consideration. But I suppose a man like you would be perfect. Someone who practices martial arts, and is also intelligent, successful, and well-mannered."

"Someone of whom your parents would approve?"

"I think if the man has those qualities, my parents would approve, whether he was Japanese or not."

"Do you plan a Shinto wedding?"

"I think that depends on my future husband. My parents would prefer I have one, but they wouldn't object to a civil ceremony. A Christian ceremony would depend on which one it was. There are some things with which I cannot agree."

"You and me both!"

We finished our lunch and I offered tea, which Mitsuko accepted. Once it was brewed, we went to sit on the couch.

"You'll be gone for the rest of the month?"

"Yes. I'll be home on the 30th."

"So we can meet at the dojo on the following Sunday?"

"Yes, absolutely."

"You'll miss three weeks of karate?"

"Unfortunately, yes. I'll run in the mornings and practice my kata to make sure I get enough exercise. You know, I forgot to ask, how did your sister do?"

"She lost her first match on Monday morning. I think it's because she was so upset with you and me."

"She's going to need to get control of her emotions or she's going to have real trouble advancing. But I guess from what you told me, her Sensei isn't going to help in that regard, is he?"

"No, I don't think so. She needs a Sensei like yours, or maybe even you, perhaps."

"It's still three years before she graduates High School, so you would have to find another dojo in Springfield. But I also suspect if you or your parents were to suggest it, she'll refuse out of hand. And now that she's upset with me, I doubt she'd listen to me, either."

"She used to be so sweet," Mitsuko sighed. "Then she turned fifteen and suddenly she became almost impossible to live with. My parents are very unhappy with her."

I nodded, "Teenagers often rebel, though they do it in many different ways. I certainly did, and so did many of my friends."

"You?" Mitsuko gasped. "But you are so calm and thoughtful. And you are polite and respectful."

"I wasn't very polite or respectful to my parents, and I was anything but calm or thoughtful up until about three years ago."

"I find that hard to believe!"

"It's true. Fortunately, I had friends who cared enough to help set me straight."

"I don't think any of Miyu's friends are going to be able to do that for her."

"You might suggest to an adult she likes - a teacher, a family friend - that they talk with her. Not to give her a lecture, but to help her work through her issues."

"I suppose I could try that. There's an English teacher I really liked who Miyu likes as well."

"It's worth a try. I forgot to ask, how is your new roommate?"

"She's a Freshman economics major. She's nice enough, and most importantly, she's quiet."

"Japanese-American, native Hawaiian, or Anglo?"

"She's native Hawaiian. What time do you need to be back to your office?"

"I have a fairly flexible schedule? Why?"

"I'm enjoying this time with you."

"And I'm enjoying it as well. How about 1:30pm?"

"Thanks!" she said with a smile.

We spent the next forty minutes talking and drinking tea, and then I walked her to the L for her trip back to Hyde Park. Once she was safely on the platform, I headed back to the office. I spent the afternoon on 'CEO' tasks, and just before 5:00pm, Lucas put a call through to my phone.

"Your sister is in labor," Amanda said. "Ed called and asked me to let you know."

That evening, I turned on Monday Night Football because Napoleon McCallum was playing for the Raiders. He'd scored five touchdowns in the playoffs at the end of the previous season, and I wanted to see him play. I should never have turned on the game.

"He needs a trauma doctor RIGHT NOW!" Jessica nearly screamed at the TV as the replay was shown.

I nearly threw up from the fact that his knee seemed to bend nearly 90 degrees the wrong way. I steeled myself.

"Why?" I asked.

"He could easily have torn an artery or vein and could bleed out. Look, someone's putting a tourniquet on him."

"That's likely the team doctor," I said.

"He needs to be airlifted to the hospital if it isn't basically next door."

"They're at Candlestick Point which is outside the city. I have no idea how far it is."

"If it's too far, and I'm right, he'll lose that leg."

"Damn," I said.

"It's not just NASCAR, Tiger."

No, it wasn't, I thought, as I watched in horror as they showed the replay again, then showed my old friend being carried off the field on a stretcher.

Chapter III - Making Plans

September 7, 1994, Chicago, Illinois

"I didn't think you wanted me to wake you at 2:12am," Ed laughed.

"I wouldn't have complained, but it wouldn't have made much difference. How is she?"

"She's doing fine. You have a nephew, David James Krajick. He's 7 pounds, 14 ounces."

"Thanks for letting me know. I'll tell everyone here. Need me to make any other calls?"

"No. I called my parents and your dad already. He and your mom will probably come up in a month or so."

"Remember, I'm leaving for London on Saturday evening."

"Do you want to see your nephew before you go?"

"I'll leave that up to Stephanie," I said. "I can stop by on Saturday after karate if it's OK with her. If not, I'll see David when I get back."

"One sec," he said.

I heard a muffled conversation and he came back on the line.

"Come by Saturday before you leave for London."

"I'll see you guys then. Tell my sister I love her."

"Will do."

We hung up and I went back to the sunroom to tell Birgit that she had a new cousin. I'd barely sat down when I heard the phone in my study ring again. I disentangled myself from an annoyed daughter and went back to my study.

"Hello there, is that Steve Adams?" I heard in a distinctive English accent.

I chuckled, "From the accent I guess you're Sweeney Todd."

Jon laughed, "Well I'd prefer Jon, but yes, this is he."

"I'm glad you rang," I said.

"I see you're up on proper use of English! You Yanks would say 'called', wouldn't you?"

"Normally, but I can manage to make myself understood in the Queen's if needs be!"

"Right! I just wanted to ring and make an initial contact, and thank you for agreeing to put me up for a while when I come over. I don't want to be an imposition."

"It's no imposition at all; it will be our pleasure. Al speaks very highly of you."

"Yes, well, Al Barton seems to think that something he calls the Cirque du Steve may well be a little overwhelming for a poor country boy from Northern England."

"There have been one or two people who've felt that way, but if what I understand from Al about your own situation, it's not all that different. Well, I'm making some assumptions; he didn't give me too many details."

"How about we compare notes when we meet? Talking of which I understand you'll be in London next week."

"Yes, I'm hopping across the pond for business - London, Amsterdam, and Munich."

"Might you have an evening to spare?"

"Absolutely! I have any evening from Sunday through Thursday. What did you have in mind?"

"I thought we could maybe get together, grab a bite to eat, maybe a couple of drinks and you could fill me in on life in the USofA. How about Tuesday evening at 6:00pm?"

"I'd say that sounds like a nice way to spend a Tuesday evening in London without getting into too much trouble. I'll be staying at the InterContinental Hotel on Stratton Street in Mayfair, do you know of a good place not too far?"

"I think I can suggest the ideal place, the Old Bank of England Pub on Fleet Street."

"Sounds interesting; what makes it 'ideal'?"

"I'd have to keep you in suspense about that, but I think you'll like it."

"If I recall my English geography, you live pretty far from London."

"Yes, but I'll be in London next week too, the International Symposium on Casualty Management."

"I'm taking it that's trauma, and it actually sounds interesting."

"Indeed. And if you find it interesting, perhaps I can persuade you to go in my place. Believe me if I wasn't presenting a paper, I wouldn't be there."

"Hmm, that's why I try to avoid things like that! Jessica and Kara love giving presentations. I prefer smaller groups and one-on-one."

"Listen Steve, let me give you my mobile number; give me a call if anything changes or you're delayed."

"OK, go ahead."

He gave me his number and I repeated it back to him.

"Righto," he said to confirm I had it right.

"I'm looking forward to seeing you."

"Just one other thing, before I go, I was wondering whether your offer could extend to my bringing the family over with me for the first week. None of them have ever been to the States, and I think the children in particular would enjoy meeting yours. Seven of them isn't it?"

"Lucky seven it is!" I chuckled. "You have two, if I recall correctly."

"Yes; one of each."

"We'd love to have your family here with us. There won't be a problem; the room you'll be using has a full-sized bed and its own bath, though you have to go into the hall to get to it. The kids can either sleep in the rooms with our kids, who are separated by boys and girls, or, if they prefer, in our guest rooms. We put people up all the time."

"OK Steve, have to run, I look forward to speaking to you when you arrive and to seeing you next week. Bye."

"Bye Jon. See you next Tuesday at 6:00pm at The Old Bank of England Pub on Fleet Street."

We hung up and I went back to the sunroom to find Birgit talking with Kara. I let Kara know I'd spoken to Ed, and that we had a new nephew. The three of us went to the kitchen to make breakfast. When the others got up, I let them know about David James Krajick, and also filled my wives in on my dinner plans with Jonathan Todd, and his request to allow his family to join him for a time, to which they had no objections.

Once breakfast was finished, Jessica, Elyse, Michelle, and I went out to the car for the drive to work. We were driving north on Halsted Street towards Cook County Hospital when my mobile phone rang. I asked Elyse to answer it.

"It's Katya Anisimova," she said.

"Tell her I'm forbidden from talking on the cell while I'm driving and that I'll call her back from the office. Get a number if she's not in her office."

Elyse verified that Katya was in their offices in Cincinnati, and hung up.

"What's going on, Tiger?" Jessica asked from the back seat.

"I'm having her do some research for me relating to the case with Mikela, in case Mikela doesn't sign the agreement. As I told you and Kara the other night, I can't really share private details, but it's way more complicated than it might appear."

"Because of Kaitlin?"

"Partly, yes, but please don't push. I really can't reveal any confidences; I'm sorry."

"Just how bad is this?" she asked.

"Potentially very. All we can do right now is wait to see what Mikela does, and ensure we have everything in place to respond."

"Could this ruin the company?"

"It could, but remember, we carry all kinds of liability insurance, both corporate and personal. In my mind, the worst-case scenario is we have to settle with Mikela with a big payout."

"But she's the one who harassed YOU!" Jessica protested.

"Well, of course. But how do you think it'll look to a jury picked by Brandon Littleton when he reveals all the girls who work for me who I've been with? It won't matter that Mikela came on to me - that'll be my word against hers, with the damning evidence of my previous relationships. And think about the trouble THAT will cause!"

I saw Michelle cringe slightly at my reference to 'all the girls' and knew I'd have to talk to her about it, and probably before my trip. And Jessica, unfortunately, reacted, apparently forgetting Michelle was in the back seat.

"Jeri and Howard!" Jessica gasped. "He doesn't know, does he?"

I really had to continue the conversation, and I could see serious concern in Michelle's face.

"No, he doesn't. And neither does Gary. Or, I'm sure, Chris Gibson's husband, Blake. Fortunately, all of the girls have been at NIKA long enough to demonstrate they have the necessary skills to do their jobs. The big concern is morale when all of this comes out, and it's going to be tough to prevent that."


"Because if Mikela decides to sue, it's huge leverage for her to use against us, and keeping it from leaking might be impossible. If someone like Littleton takes the case, they won't settle before trying to depose everyone and it's going to be tough to hide that, even if the girls close ranks as they've promised. I can't allow them to lie, because that would make the problem far worse."

"Jamie didn't know all of this?"

"No, but the mess wasn't really caused by that; well, I suppose it depends on how you look at it. The real mess is not stuff I did. It's just my relationship with the girls at work means someone like Mikela can use it as leverage to extract a huge settlement."

"Could Kaitlin come back and sue you?"

"As Jamie likes to say, anything is possible, but she signed a complete release and waiver, so she wouldn't get very far. On the other hand, if Mikela were to find out about Kaitlin, they could call her as a witness and a judge is likely to free her from the contractual obligations when she's testifying under oath."

"But she did the same thing as Mikela!" Jessica protested.

"Yeah, and they'll both say that we forced them out because they wouldn't sleep with me. And there is nothing I can do to prove otherwise, and all the other relationships work against me, no matter what the girls say. Their lawyer will argue they are afraid of losing their jobs. That's why our liability insurance policies will try to pay her off, and it could easily be mid-six-figures, or higher."

"Could you be forced out?"

"How? I control 75% of the shares. They won't get a settlement big enough to cross the liability policy limits, either for the corporate policy or our personal one. That's why we took out those policies in the first place. Our personal policy is for $5,000,000. The corporate one is larger, though there's a $100,000 deductible, unlike our personal policy which has no deductible."

We pulled up to the sidewalk that led to the doors to the ER, and I got out of the car to walk Jessica inside.

"I'm sorry you're having all these problems, Tiger," Jessica said at the doors.

"It's OK, Babe. I'm fine. It's annoying, but I'm not losing control. We'll get through this."

We kissed, she went inside, and I headed back to the car for the short drive to the NIKA offices.

"She seems worried," Elyse said.

"She should be. I am. You are. Jamie certainly is."

"You're very calm."

"Get used to it," I chuckled. "Remember when you said you were concerned about how I could be a ruthless, cold-hearted bastard?"

"I do."

"Well, take that, minus the emotion at the time."

"Jesus," Elyse breathed.

"I'm telling you, and I'll tell Kimmy, if a lawsuit is filed while I'm in Europe, call the insurance company and have them settle. Whatever it takes."

"If she hires Littleton, he's not going to settle."

"I know," I said. "And, I'm sorry Michelle, we have to have the rest of this conversation in private."

"I think we need to talk," she said quietly.

"Oh, I know it," I said. "We will. Let me work things out with Elyse first, please."

She nodded and all three of us were silent for the remaining five minutes of our drive to the office. Elyse and I went right to her office to continue the conversation.

"Anyway," I said, once the door was closed, "settling isn't up to Littleton. Ethically, he has to present the offer to Mikela. Do you really think she's going to refuse a six-figure settlement now in hopes of a big payday two or three years down the road? Especially when our insurance company will foot the bill for the suit AND all but $100,000 of the total settlement figure? And when it comes to light that Littleton is an Outfit lawyer, how do you think THAT will play out?"

"That's your ace in the hole."

"Exactly. And the cool part is, Zimmer, Levinson, and the third lawyer, Merkle, will do all the work for me."

"And his daughters?"

"Off limits. They have to be. All joking aside, remember how I reacted when Margaret Lundgren came after our kids?"

"I suppose that makes sense, despite the sweet feeling of revenge."

I shook my head, "No. No revenge. I'm simply going to put an end to everything. And that includes with 'Little Tony' as well."

"How do you plan to handle that?"

"I don't know just yet. After thinking about it for the past few days, I'm convinced taking Littleton off the board is more important in the short term. I need to call Katya."

I dialed the number for Global Security and was put right through. I explained to her what I wanted, ignoring Elyse's look of surprise. Katya promised to send anything she uncovered as soon as possible, and I asked her to please use Elyse's private fax. I let her know I'd be in Europe for the next three weeks and she could reach me via Elyse or Kimmy.

"I need you to copy and FedEx all of those personnel files to Katya," I said. "The complete ones, including the private material. And everything in the Volstead and Braun file, plus everything in the BLS file. You do it yourself; I don't want anyone else involved."

That was a preview of AWLL 2 - Book 8 - NIKA. To read the rest purchase the book.

Add «AWLL 2 - Book 8 - NIKA» to Cart