An Excerpt from 'As Fast As It Is Gone'
Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3
Chapter 2 - The Best Dressed Man in Portland
"Juuuuuuuu-li-ennnnnnne…," so sweetly called from beyond the portico of the yellow bathroom. "Why don't you just come back to bed?"
"Be quiet in there," Julien responded, trying to keep his voice light so as not to echo off the bathroom tile.
The first hours of the new millennium echoed the last hours of the previous. Julien Crenshaw stood naked in front of the yellow bathroom sink, popping pills laid out in front of him in piles on the yellow counter. Orange pills lay atop the black; good ones mingled with bad forming a rainbow over the Sunset Bed & Breakfast's monogrammed lavender hand towel on the canary yellow sink.
The worst of the evening was not over. He would be forced to undertake bedtime conversation with another Portland State University co-ed.
"What's it, Cary?" (Mumbled in case it wasn't right- "What's it, Carmnphy?").
"Come back on in here."
Julien splashed cold water on his face and inspected his shiny dome for small blemishes. He inspected the elegant lines of his jaw and his remarkably olive complexion for this time of year. The mirror returned the same man it had the previous century. His belly dangled from his chest. The erratic wave set by the load of pills snaked through his body, through his chest, and finally down his legs. To think they were once hockey legs. He had trouble balancing as he backed away from the counter. He pushed the skin around on his cheeks to stimulate his face, shook it off and turned his wide feet toward the door.
Julien braced against the bed, passing it up for the makeshift bar on the creaky antique bureau by the window. The new millennium dawn struggled beyond the dark curtains. In his stupor, Julien chortled as he poured a scotch and water. The inquisitive stranger on the queen-size bed sought the source of his reverie. Julien shot her a glance in the dark and told her about the story he was recalling, becoming the best-dressed man in Portland.
At the Commax Timber Concern annual holiday dinner last week, Julien sat at the forward-most table with the Charles Butler. After ten years with the company, Julien's managerial skill had finally been recognized as fit for the company of the CEO of Commax, Inc. himself, as evidenced by his table placement.
The Commax Timber Concern had a lot to celebrate. As was custom, a jovial atmosphere reigned in the company awards ceremony, fondly dubbed "The Timbers." Except this year they were being graced with the presence of Charles Butler, the mastermind who had built Commax, Inc. into the eleventh largest conglomerate in the country. Commax, Inc. stock had risen exponentially since 1995. The company had over 50 billion dollars in market capital thanks to Butler's merciless gorging of competing corporations. CTC was a far-flung subsidiary of Commax, Inc. The companies had actually been legally separated for several years. But Butler was in town for the Timbers.
Timber awards ranged from most improved performance to worst hidden hangover. Logger trophies were also awarded from the company picnic competitions, the largest tree felled, the worst place to be at the wrong time. Mr. Crenshaw, deputy financial officer at Commax Timber, received the dubious honor of 'best-dressed man in Portland', to the hearty cheers of executives looking for someone to humiliate to ease the holiday tension. The irony being that Portland, Oregon is a city with a mere five square blocks of suit-wearing contenders. And Goth was not factored to be a competing style.
Although it was not within tradition, Julien rushed to the stage and made a brief acceptance speech. Drunk but coordinated, he hopped up with a thud and shushed the crowd with his finger. He smiled glib at the legions of employees beneath him. His bald top refracted the cold hotel ballroom light. "I not only look good," he quipped as he grabbed the mic, "but I make all of you look good."
Julien racked the cat calls up to admiration. He knew he equaled cosmopolitan to these northwestern hillbillies. He could take on Seattle and San Francisco's best-dressed men any time.
"Let's go have another year of profit at Commax Timber!" he yelled, red-faced with exuberance. Self-conscious applause spread awkwardly through the audience.
Barely thirty-five years old, Julien cherished being executive material. His dad used to sit on their porch drinking beers on Sunday, turn to one of his buddies and say, "My boy's got more executive material than I got, I'll tell you that." Pops was right. Today Julien owned fourteen pairs of Italian shoes. He had a Land Rover. He had a PSU co-ed in bed. His office had a video-phone that he could use with only five other people in America and custom Mahogany furniture.
He wanted more.
"And let's give a hand to the man responsible for this company's success, Charles Butler. Let's hear it for CEO of Commax!" The acceptance speech was perfect. Succinct. Conciliatory. Play to the audience; set up those you need. Charles Butler even played along, standing up, waving, and mock-strangling Julien for the masses. What a performance. "What an advantage seized," he laughed to the young co-ed, who was trying to appear excited.
After the story, Julien cracked his neck to both sides. He gave Cary (it was Cary, right?) an Aristotelian smile and slinked under the covers. He tickled the junior a bit to break the ice. She was more than willing with some not so subtle petting around her wet center. Despite the heady amount of depressants in his system, Julien was able to rise to the challenge. He gave the junior what she must have really enjoyed, because she held onto him after the rather short encounter like a kangaroo pup to the pouch of her big-footed mother. He came too quickly for his own liking, though, and chalked his performance up to mediocre before turning to snore into the starched linens with his mind swirling and his stomach tumbling.
As so many Commax executives consider after sex, Julien began thinking about Charles Butler. Republican magnate, CEO of a multi-national military/industrial conglomerate whose businesses included energy extraction and distribution, natural resource mining and a host of smaller tech and transport industry based subsidiaries. Butler's Forbes centerfolds were the porno of business school students. Commax, Inc. ventures spanned the globe. Their corporate headquarters were in Atlanta, with major offices in London and New York and major subsidiaries in Mexico City, Vancouver, Sydney and Tokyo. Commax, Inc. offered red-hot fuel for Julien's climb from podunk Portland to New York City. But it'd better be soon, for the world was catching up with Julien Crenshaw.
At the banquet's end, Charles Butler grabbed Julien's elbow and pulled him closer. Butler's cologne was strong. His red-striped silk tie looked incredibly thick and expensive. He surveyed Julien for a good five seconds with distant slit eyes. He noted that he'd "heard good things" about him, AND that Julien might be perfect to assist Butler's latest project. It could lead to some "big changes at CTC," Butler said nonchalantly. Butler leaned away to survey Julien's wide-eyed reaction. When he felt Julien frothing at the mouth, he let out a thin-lipped grin and informed Julien to call him first thing after the New Year if he was "ready to prove his worth." Butler reached out his hand and widened his grin to a smile. They shook hands, and then Charles turned his attention to the visitors at the surrounding tables, slapping backs and pressing palms. Julien felt like he'd been pat on the balls by a supermodel.
"Julien, are you asleep?" his conquest muttered while she caressed his slight beer belly.
She rubbed her finger on his side. "What are you thinking about?"
"Come on, be serious."
Julien opened his eyes and turned onto his back. "Cary will you shut up please and let me get some fucking sleep?"
Persistent, she ruffled his blanket. "I was just lying here thinking, you know, about life."
"Life," he let the word sigh out as he rolled onto his back, "What'd you come up with?"
"I don't know," she laughed nervously. "I guess I was thinking about New Years. I mean, here we are, and I'm almost a senior in college. It's time to be a grown up, you know? And I just don't know what I want to do at all. I like business, I guess, but it's not like I'm real interested, and I'm not that good…"
"You can say that one more time."
"Hey, I'm being serious!"
She curved her head back to look him in the eye. Her young voice quivered. "You ever feel like you have no control over the future? I feel like that right now. There's just nothing that even interests me. I graduate next year, and I've got to do something, right?"
"Unless you find some guy you can shack up with."
"You play sports?"
"Yes," she smiled.
"Well, keep doing what'd is you're doing," he quipped. Julien always spoke fast. His speech cadence was like a race to the end of each sentence.
"What do you mean? Go professional?"
"No. I mean stay in shape. A woman's got to stay in shape and look good if some guy's gonna throw money at her."
"Is that what's gonna make her happy?"
"Whatever works," he muttered.
"Whatever works," she repeated and lay back against the mattress to stare alongside him at the dark window.
Julien considered her point. What did happiness have to do with controlling your destiny? His logic intended the message to mean stay in shape long enough for some guy to give you his money. But there was a compliant modicum of his conquest's voice that compelled him to administer fatherly words. Then again, I ain't her father, he thought. My dad would've just whupped my ass. To go into a tirade about responsibility was not appropriate either in his wasted condition. He hadn't followed that advice for a day anyway.
"Don't worry about that shit, alright," he finally suggested. "You're in college. Go get drunk and get laid because next year, and from then on, you gotta get up and get to work, and no one gives a shit if you're happy. Don't let any fucker tell you you can't have what you want; especially this one."
Better not to squash the budding spirit and independence of a girl barely legal to consume alcohol. But she hadn't turned away. She was actually listening. Julien enjoyed the audience so much that he continued his rare philosophical outburst. "You see Cary, that's all life is. You work to get what you want. Then you die."
He closed his eyes, but the girl was undeterred. She slid in closer and touched his dome. "What happens when you die, do you think?" she snuggled against Julien's compressed girth.
"You die. They take you. They bury you, and then…it's straight to hell with ya." He laughed.
"That's not very nice."
"What's nice got to do with it?" He turned his attention toward the window and noticed the sun trying to sneak under the curtains. "Listen, shut up Cary. Now we've got to get out of here." He looked at the clock. "Jesus fuck, it's almost seven thirty! Get up. Get up!"
Julien dressed quickly and turned on his cell phone. No coverage. Cursing, he walked in circles around the room trying to cajole the device into communicating. It was January. He needed to call Butler! He surprised himself when, in the middle of all this mental organizing, he thought of a compliment for his worried young conquest. "Cary," he grinned as he walked to the bathroom to check under the sink for fallen pills, "you were a great fuck. I honestly mean that. If you want me to take you to dinner, or go buy some nice clothes, fine. Let's do this again is what I'm saying, but let's get the hell out of here now alright?"
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, wrangling into her jeans. She couldn't make out all the words, he spoke them so fast, but she got the gist of it.
"I'm just being honest. That's what you gotta know. If you're honest in this world, you get what you want. That's what my dad taught me when I was a kid. And now I'm telling you." She didn't respond.
Julien opened the room door. "Are you ready to get out of here by now? Jesus you're really a woman. Let's go." They left the Sunset Bed and Breakfast without breakfast. Julien told the owner that if the eggs were anything like the room he'd rather eat at fucking McDonalds.
Julien and Cary didn't talk as he negotiated the swaying hull of his baby blue Land Rover along Route 101, past the gorgeous statues of water erosion off the Oregon coastline. White swells sailed below the incoming fog. The vehicle's heater blared a dull roar; the radio was dialed to morning conservative talk about immigration as the SUV successfully protected its occupants from interfacing with nature. Julien's phone sat in his lap. He repeatedly checked it for service and commented each time, with cheers like "come on" or "let's fucking go people!" He cut off drivers and spent unhealthy amounts of time facing oncoming traffic to pass other vehicles.
The drive from the coast to Portland was rolling like the familiar hills of the Alleghenies that bore the Crenshaw family. From under the thick cloud of baby-booming greater Pittsburgh, Julien was raised as his father moved up the ranks of USX steel. His dad 'monitored' the floor of a factory that produced I-beams back when America had its own industry. Now Julien helped trees fall on the West Coast. A happy continuum of resource extraction, except that Julien didn't get his hands dirty or get sick from any freezing factory floor. Thick Douglas fir poking heaven herself on the belly to either side of the highway registered as marketable product. To the right and left, large swaths of missing trees signaled the hard work of the timber giants. CTC was in the business of cutting that wood and shipping it overseas. Oregon green seeping to the very core of Julien's senses seemed unoriginal. Pittsburgh had the green oaks of the three rivers. Green is green, and green is everywhere, Julien thought.
Julien got reception after they crested the Coast Range. At eight-thirty, he got through to Charles Butler's secretary. He slammed on the brakes and pulled off highway 26 into an espresso stand. They were stopped in Beaverton, the cancerous suburb west of the Forest Park tunnel. Julien shut off the car, opened the door, got out, slammed the door behind him and started talking in one swift blur.
The Beaverton exit was the first on the way home with drive-thru coffee anyway. Good coffee being the providence of the Northwest. Julien paced into the heart of the muted gray parking lot waiting for Butler to get on the line. The freezing January fog allowed him some privacy. He cleared his throat.
Inside the Land Rover, the whole world was gray to the view of the young co-ed. She heard Julien scream as he got out of the car. The gray concrete lot looked tired and beaten; Julien's trench coat billowed with his excited hand gestures, holding the black cell phone to his skull against the pale sky.
Julien returned to the vehicle with a coffee only for him, opened the door, started the car and pulled onto the road in one blur. He resumed his straight-faced glare, his high cheekbones dripping with morning mist. They merged back onto Route 26 for the trip under Forest Park to the square rooftops of mighty Portland, the asphalt stretching toward the peaks that surround it.
Julien's voice mail was from David Riggs. Apparently out of the hospital, David had called to thank him for his get well present. Julien did not recall any such gift. Must've been his secretary, Sonya. A call to Riggs did not require the same secrecy as one to Charles Butler. Julien dialed and set up his headset, which he hated because it caused his dome to sweat. Holding the steering wheel, his coffee, and darting through traffic, he left a message in two-point-two seconds. It was still early.
"Riggs, you asshole, how are ya buddy? When are you gonna get off your feet and get your ass back to work so we can grab some drinks? I'm headed back into town right now and I'll be at my office by ten to talk with Charles Butler. That's fucking right boy. Give me a call when you roll your fat ass out of bed and tell Sara not to give you any tofu now that you're out of the hospital so you don't go right back in. Adios." Julien belched a laugh at his own joke. He resumed his silence. His eyes looked upon the road but his thoughts focused on the hospital where David had spent the last two months. Julien knew that his friend had been in there the same time he was, but he couldn't bear to go see David while he was all screwed up.
Cary lived close to downtown, south of Portland State University campus. Julien would never see her again, except maybe when he frequented the college hangouts after happy hour. This was Portland; there wasn't much else for a guy to do besides try to get laid.
As she turned to wave goodbye, she saw only the back of Julien's Land Rover, swerving as he corrected the wheel after stepping on the gas.
Julien awoke the next day feeling hyper. He decided to skip his cardiologist appointment. He decided to get to work early. This was indeed a grand new millennium. He pulled into the parking lot of the Commax Timber Concern office building at 5 am, parked in his spot and strolled into the building. His trench coat floated behind his frantic pace through the entrance to CTC's Offices on 10th Street. He smiled at the empty elevator. Julien never said hello in the morning, which is not to say he didn't have the personality required for his job. He could disarm with his big smile and a well-timed pat on the back, when he chose to. It was easy when he could decipher whether each person he met was a small distraction to be dealt with or a help on his way to the top. He admired the way Charles Butler could have so many friends without owing anybody a thing.
Sonya's fax machine held the contents of Butler's referenced documents. Prospective financial information laid out in several documents marked 'for eyes only.' Julien did not know the details of the project. But he could see that investment capital was required in earnest. Julien could envision the cover of Fortune, his arm draped around Butler's shoulder, both wearing a pair of shit-eating grins. He checked the clock. Thirty minutes. The phone was not ringing. Julien removed his jacket and paced around his small office. He stood next to the wall opposite his bank of windows. Charles Butler was due to call him at seven-thirty to discuss…something, perhaps regarding Commax Timber's large losses for the past three quarters. Eight-o-two. Office drones' voices started to rise in the back ground. Julien grew more anxious. Forty-one minutes elapsed past Charles' appointment. Forty-three… Julien wrenched his hands and steamed through his head. Butler called at eight fifteen.
"Julien Crenshaw?" a female voice asked.
"That's right."
"Please hold for Charles Butler."
"Crenshaw," Butler snapped as he put the phone to his mouth. "How was your New Year?"
"Oh. New Years was a real blast, Charles. Spent it at the ocean. How was yours?"
"It was a nice time. My wife and I went to Grand Cayman with our children and got back in town yesterday for a fundraiser."
"A fundraiser?" Julien tried to sound incredibly interested.
"Yeah, it's one of the museums she sits on the board. She's into Renaissance art."
"That's great."
"OK, Julien. How soon can you fly to Atlanta?"
"Today, Charles. I can be on a plane in two hours."
"You remember our discussion at the holiday party in Portland? We need to make some big moves over there and if you're willing to play ball, we can talk about an immediate promotion and your future at the Timber Concern and beyond."
"Sir, you are talking to the right guy."
"Crenshaw, if I put you in charge over there, you have got to take the steps necessary to avoid losses like CTC reported last quarter and move this management back in line."
"I know what to do, Charles."
"OK. Come to Atlanta and you'll meet our COO and we'll talk. You'll meet with the CTC officers after that."
"Thank you, Charles. Thank you, sir. You won't regret it."
"Call my assistant, Bill Miboe. Tell him which flight you'll be on. You'll stay the night here and fly back to Portland tomorrow. All right Crenshaw? I'll see you in Atlanta when you get here. Next month we'll go to Washington. Don't breathe a single word of this to anyone until I tell you different."
"OK, sir."
"Are you ready to be loyal and take your shot at the big time?"
"Without a doubt."
They hung up. Julien sat in silence at his desk. If he listened closely, he could hear Commax Timber CEO Ron Schwarzthienn packing his bags. Good riddance. He spread his legs and hung his head to stop himself from passing out with euphoria.
The top of this corporation, the Commax Timber Concern. "Fuck YES!" He punched the air as he stood up. He picked up the phone. "Sonya, get me on an afternoon flight to Atlanta today please." Sonya said OK without asking twice. She was known around the office as the only one who could decipher Julien's quick tongue.
Putting his arms straight against his office wall, Julien reared his head back. He swung his face forward and beat his forehead against the wall. He stayed there for a moment, inhaling deeply and forcefully exhaling wet breath on the wall. Then he repeated the motion. He reared back, focused and nailed the wall between and just above his eyes. He stopped when he felt a cut ooze above his right eye.
It hurt, but at least he felt something, at least it got the old juices flowing. His body was damaged goods anyway. Julien poured himself a glass of Scotch and water and placed it over the swollen cut to ease the throbbing. This was the big time. And so celebrated were the morose dreams of money and powerful sexual urges in the hardwood chambers of the tiny office towers on the Northwest Coast.

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