Lynette Sommer stood before a sea of familiar faces. Male faces. Each one had turned his attention directly toward her. She clicked through the PowerPoint slides, each one culminating, building on the one before it. Most of the eyes were glazed over, or at least turned in the opposite direction. Hunched over bodies covered leather seats. A few yawns filled the crowd. No hands shot up to stop her, but not a soul seemed intrigued by what she had to say. Even her boss, sitting at the head of the table who had seemed to support her and told her she was a star pupil within the firm, seemed to have backed off. Of course, he hadn’t seen her presentation ahead of time. No pre-brief. She had given him some of the finer points and run a few ideas by him before she delved in and sprinted toward the finish.
She still had a dozen slides to go, and more than twenty minutes left in her presentation. The seconds ticked by on a clock at the opposite end of the room.
Cold air pumped through the floor, and she shivered. Lynette gripped the remote in her hand tighter, emphasized a few pertinent points, and then walked to the other side of the screen, careful to avoid the projector light. Her wool skirt rubbed her thighs as she walked. The conference table was long and black, nearly the full size of the room, and the leather chairs swiveled. The men’s eyes focused on empty notepads, or on the reception area behind the glass wall. The glass reflected multiple smartphones.
She didn’t like losing.
She’d lost before: softball games and soccer matches. Lynette left it all on the field, sprinting toward the net or around the bases, her arms like pistons at her sides. She’d always been quick, a natural runner. The track coach had tried to recruit her, after watching her sprint around the soccer field like a tornado searching for land. But her heart lived in fields of green and seas of dirt, square white bags and wide nets, in polyester shorts and shirts.
The faces in front of her now, though, felt dirty, used up. The men cold and dead, lines and creases fully formed on their faces with mouths closed in silent trepidation. The one at the head of the table scrolled through his phone with the flick of his index finger.
She’d practiced the presentation over and over, used a mirror, and whatever else she could think of, as she hit the high points and skirted past the low ones. She’d gone over the finer details of the slides, point by point, with her head held high and her mouth opened wide. Yet, she didn’t feel at ease. Instead, Lynette felt tightly wound, on edge, the carpet nearly catching a heel, her lips nearly numb, and her face almost there as well. The air shot up through the vents and smacked her face with each turn of her heel. She’d given presentations in this conference room for literally four years, and each had gone better than this calamity. She’d seen faces turned up toward her, eager faces, happy, with a smile of encouragement here, or a polite nod there. But not now. Now she felt as though there were seventeen guns pointed in her direction, and all she needed was one itchy trigger finger.
Sweat cascaded down her fingers and smacked the blue carpet. Lynette clicked to the next slide.
“This company is hiding money, plain and simple, gentlemen. It’s cooking the books to deliver consistently successful quarters. Each quarter one to three cents ahead of projections. And it’s fraud. Hidden beneath these numbers is another Enron or Worldcom. A disaster awaiting the right financial auditor. When this one tanks, you don’t want to be floundering for one of the life rafts.”
She’d shown them charts, numbers, and graphs to back up her data. A specific line on Xanthic’s balance sheet and income statement—the same line, in fact—was off each time. She wasn’t sure how anyone could have missed it. It had taken her less than a day to discover the error of Xanthic’s ways. The executives were slick and polished and aided by slippery politicians with fat bank accounts and college mistresses, salesmen who talked one game and delivered another. Instead of running a company, they should have been running for office. Congress. A place where golden parachutes were passed around like umbrellas before a spring rain.
Not being able to account for every dollar bothered her. Having the trail of gold shoved right under her nose made her fists clench and her heart race.
“Thank you, Lynette.”
“But I’m not finished. I have—”
Her boss bowed his head. “You most certainly are.”
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