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Rated: GC · Chapter · Thriller/Suspense · #1659280
This is the first chapter of my novel about a health insurance executive and greed.
Chapter 1

Laura Johnson strode down the hall to her office, her heels creating an angry click, click, click on the marble floor. Emily knew she was steaming mad by the way she flung open the glass door into the reception area. "In here now," she snapped as she stormed into her personal office. Emily grabbed a steno pad, but she knew what this was about and it would not require any notes.

"Why Marguerite Lopez still in this building?" Laura demanded. "I told you I wanted her gone by last Friday. She misses more work than the rest of my department combined. Tell me why she is still here."

Emily drew a deep breath. She was 52 and needed her job, but she really wanted to tell Laura she was bitch. She spoke softly, "I discussed this matter with Human Resources. Marguerite Lopez misses work to care for her husband who was badly burned in Iraq. He's already had three surgeries and will require several more. Even though her FMLA benefits are exhausted, HR believes it would open the door to a lawsuit, especially since she is a minority female. Plus it could be a public relations nightmare. They are hesitant to move on it."

"HR and ball-less Bill Thornton," Laura snorted. "He couldn't find his testicles with a magnifying glass and tweezers. That's why he's not being considered for the Executive VP position. He probably wears a bra and panties under his suit."

Emily felt total and utter disgust. Laura's sanctimony about her Christianity was legendary around Covenant, and she had even organized Bible studies in the cafeteria. However she judged people harshly, and sometimes she spoke like a drunken sailor. She knew that Bill's wife had cancer and was running up hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.  He desperately needed his job and benefits. Emily believed that when Laura got the was promoted her first act would be to fire Bill and his huge medical liability, and justify in the name of profits for Covenant Health Insurance. As if Laura was reading Emily's mind she went on.

"I am valued by this company  because I account for every penny. I run a tight ship, and do not tolerate malingerers. That's why Marguerite Lopez must go, and it's why I'll get that promotion. Unlike the rest of you, I understand that we are a for-profit enterprise."

Emily struggled to keep her tone non-confrontational. "I know you want your numbers to be the best in the company, so Bill and I discussed moving Marguerite to another department. That way you will not have to take the hit for it and we can get someone in here full time to handle her duties.  No more paying temps. It sounds like a good solution ."

Laura looked disgusted, but after a few moments she relented. "Frankly, I don't have time for this. Tell Bill Thornton to make it at the same or lower pay grade, or he will answer to me. And make no mistake, very soon he will be answering to me. That job is mine."

Emily stood and asked quietly, "I'll do that. Is there anything else?" She was working to not sound sarcastic.

"No, that will be all," Laura replied. "Hold my calls for the rest of the morning. I have that presentation on 'The Colonies' at one , and I need to prepare for it. It had best be a disaster of biblical proportions if I'm interrupted."

Emily couldn't help recalling past conversations she'd had with Bill Thornton. They had both worked for Covenant for 27 years and spoke often about the changes during that time. At 41, Laura was not alone in her brutal, retaliatory management style. The generation of managers coming behind Laura could charitably be called mercenaries, they were so aggressive.

They would joke with the older VPs about the Lord of the Flies attitudes of the young managers, and that they must be graduates of the Khmer Rouge University. It was too bad that those older VP's were not around.  It was a much better place to work back then. Unfortunately they were stricken by the terrorist biological attack in 2012, and they now lived in The Colonies, too . At least there was some value in Laura's work, keeping so many people alive, but it did not justify her meanness. Anyhow, Emily was just hoping to keep her job and collect the company pension she'd been promised, so she wouldn't be making waves.

Laura had spent months preparing this presentation for the Board of Directors and about 100 major investors.  She wouldn't let this Marguerite Lopez nonsense affect her performance. A stellar showing and the Executive VP job was hers, and nothing would get in her way. However, she allowed herself a moment of superiority before dismissing the thoughts. All this whining about poor Marguerite Lopez and her circumstance, yet Laura had been brutally raped her freshman year at college. By the power of God Almighty she had returned to class and excelled. She graduated with her Bachelor's degree in three years, sporting a 4.0 GPA, and finished a two-year Master's program in 15 months, also with a 4.0 GPA. People should just quit whining and pull up their bootstraps.

Turning to her presentation she reviewed her outline, and verified her PowerPoint presentations were on the network. She went through each slide. With this promotion at stake nothing could be left to chance.  She verified every statistic until she knew it was perfect. She locked her computer and left the office, saying nothing to Emily as she passed her, and headed to the corporate auditorium.

"Hank, if this doesn't run perfectly heads will roll, and yours will be first. You got that?" Laura barked at the IT manager as she walked into the auditorium.

Hank rolled his eyes, but was all smiles as he turned around to greet her. "Laura, you know I do only my best work for you. Everything will run like a charm." His position was safe because he had planted some incriminating e-mails in Cindy Peterson's sent box two years previously. She accused Laura's boyfriend, Elwin Cook, sexually harassing a woman nearing retirement. The e-mails included nude photos of Cindy that Laura had provided, and did not want to know how she got them.  He also posted the photos on the Internet, which cost Cindy her marriage. So while Hank held some trash on Laura, it was with him as a co-conspirator. It could only be used in a scorched earth strategy, he would torch himself, too. Regardless, he knew it was a bad idea to alienate someone like Laura.

"Laura, everything is the same, no changes, and it's all ready to go. Do you need anything else?" he asked.

"Just get your people out of here so I can have a few moments of quiet. And if anything goes wrong, so help me, I'll skin you alive!"

Hank knew her threats were not idle, and he excused himself.

She stood at the podium with her eyes shut, visualizing the moment of her greatest triumph. She envisioned a flawless performance, swaying the opinions of the wealthiest men and women in the country. She saw herself taking her rightful place among the elite assembling there today, just as Pastor Ransom told them every Sunday in church. He preached that Jesus intended great things for them, and that included wealth and influence, and she stood prepared for the gods riches to be showered upon her. At 41 she would be the youngest Executive VP in Covenant history. It was her destiny.

She checked her watch. The day's attendees were arriving and there was just enough time to go to the ladies room and preen. She walked briskly down the hall, filled with anticipation, and opened the restroom door. Three women standing inside chatting scattered like cockroaches when they saw who had entered. 'Only a few more weeks,' Laura thought, 'and I'll be on the 35th floor with the rest of the executives, never to rub elbows with the unwashed masses again.' Having the restroom all to herself she walked over to the mirrors and couldn't help but admire what she saw.

At 5'7", an athletic 125 pounds and a full C-cup she was favorably compared with Angelina Jolie, although she believed she was much prettier. Her perfectly styled shoulder-length auburn hair offset her sparkling hazel eyes. Her makeup was flawless, and her wardrobe was chic. A beige silk blouse under a navy blue blazer and a gray A-line skirt, all that accented her form,  custom tailored by Rosalind's of New York.  It was highlighted by a pair of black, patent leather Prada pumps and a Gucci bag; a perfect ensemble for this crowd. Accented with a diamond crucifix necklace and a couple of dainty gold chain bracelets, she wondered if she was just too good to be true. 'Undoubtedly many of the men in attendance will be picturing me while they make love to their wives tonight,' she thought, smiling to herself. The outfit set her back $3,500, but if you wish to become one of the elites you have to look the part, she rationalized. Whether they were ready for her or not, she was going to make herself a permanent part of their existences.

She returned to the auditorium and took her seat in the front row, waiting to be introduced. Paul Fassett, President, CEO and son of Covenant Health Insurance founder Simon Fassett, strode confidently to the podium to make the opening remarks.

"After the biological terrorist attack of December 21, 2012, Covenant Health sought and obtained a leadership role preserving and rebuilding this great nation. We funded medical research to find a cure for the plague caused by the deadly bacteria.  When that remedy disastrously compromised the immune systems of millions of Americans, Covenant again responded. We conceptualized and secured the private funding for our prototype in the Desert Southwest. We simultaneously cared for her loved ones and build a profitable business model. Today we are ready to advance to Phase II.

"Ten million Americans died, but we found a cure; unfortunately there was insufficient time to test the cure, and it compromised the immune systems of at least 50 million more. The pharmaceutical companies have developed several immune boosting drugs that allow people to live relatively normal lives. We've found that after extended use of months or years they can quit working. This leaves people with marginally functioning immune systems making them susceptible to simple, opportunistic infections, their bodies unable to fight illness. For those people must do even more. Using all our resources and vision we have what we believe to be the solution; The Colonies.

"Our prototype in the Arizona desert has proved wildly successful, both economically and from a human perspective. Five thousand immune deficient people currently live there. Our discussions with the federal government, both Social Security and Medicare, confirm they are open to our solution. However we will need capital, and that's where you come in. You have a ground floor opportunity. Without further ado allow me to introduce today's presenter rising star here at Covenant, Laura Johnson."

Fassett motioned and Laura stood up to polite applause which became much more enthusiastic once the audience got a good look at her. 'Fassett you sly bastard", he thought, 'if there's one thing certain about you it's that you know your audience. Put a gorgeous redhead with long legs and great tits in front of these horny sons of bitches and you just increased your take by over 50%'. He smiled as he took Laura's hand to help her up the steps, then returned to his seat. Laura smiled thinking she was finally getting what she deserved.

Surveying the crowd she saw some of the wealthiest and most recognizable faces in America, all dressed in $5000 suits. She was finally going to get a chance to demonstrate that these were her people.. She pulled the remote out of her pocket to run the PowerPoint presentation and queued Hank to down the house lights. The spotlight was on her; the moment had finally arrived. She would seize the day.

She brought up the first slide. "As you know America's privatized healthcare system responded heroically after the events of 12-21-12. Although 10 million people died, mostly those with serious immunodeficiency and chronic diseases, millions more were saved through the efforts of America's healthcare industry. Pharmaceutical researchers found a cure for the plague with funding provided by private health insurance companies.  Unfortunately there was insufficient time to test it, and there were unforeseen side effects. More than 50 million people had their immune systems reduced to only 10 to 20% of normal functioning capacity, leaving them susceptible to opportunistic infections..  Drugs that artificially stimulate the immune system have shown promise, but a real solution is decades away.  The only answer is to isolate these people away from exposure to communicable diseases; a Herculean task in today's healthcare environment. We here at Covenant Health Insurance have found a solution, and we call it The Colonies.

"Currently there are 5000 people, including my mother and many former executives of this company, living in a prototype in the western Arizona Badlands. Far from civilization's epidemics they are living happy and healthy lives. We challenged ourselves to economically create this living circumstance for every American that was affected. I was tasked with leading a contingent to make this endeavor feasible. I'm here to report we were wildly successful, and here are my results.

"The Desert Southwest offers a natural absence of allergens and germs. The warm climate is beneficial to the elderly, and there is proximity to millions of cheap Mexican workers. It will be energy self-sufficient, with over 340 days of sunshine to provide ample solar power. Pipelines from the mountains down to The Colonies will transport melting snow as a water supply. Finally, the area is secluded enough that accidental epidemics are highly unlikely. The last critical issue to be addressed was building materials. We required an economical bacteriostatic product, and we found our answer in an unlikely plant; hemp.

"Hemp has natural anti-microbial properties, and its durability is legendary. When mashed, treated with colloidal silver and formed into studs, beams and panels it is virtually indestructible and anti-septic. World renowned infectious disease specialists attempted and were unable to culture any microbes in it. It's antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal, and it's virtually indestructible. All this and it can be manufactured for a fraction of what traditional building materials would cost.

"Healthcare in The Colonies will be provided by primary care providers that were affected by the plague. Doctors, nurses and technicians will be moved to The Colonies to provide front line medical services. Consultation with specialists will be conducted via videoconferencing, and sterile emergency and surgical facilities will be constructed 50 miles away, staffed by some of the finest specialists. They will perform any medical procedures that cannot be done at The Colonies. These providers providers affected by the plague are eager to resume their life's work, and The Colonies will provide that opportunity.

Laura felt the energy in the room as she reached the dénouement of her presentation. "The most exciting part of this is that, pursuing a humanitarian ends, Covenant has created an extremely lucrative investment opportunity. We've negotiated a contract with the government to create a series of Colonies for the millions of Americans in whom the immune boosting drugs will stop working. It will be signed within 30 days, and lest there be concern, expect no last-minute glitches in these negotiations. Bureaucrats are at a total loss for any conceivable solution. Really though, does it surprise anyone that the people who would come up with death panels would be unable to solve this problem?" The room erupted in laughter at this remark and Laura moved in for the kill.

"We have invited you here to unveil an investment opportunity unparalleled in American finance. We enjoy the support of the chairmen of several Senatorial Committees. For each person in The Colonies they will turn over all monthly Social Security benefits and Medicare reimbursements, transferring hundreds of billions of dollars a year to the control of Covenant. Detailed cost projections are in the prospectus, however here is an overview of the expected return.

"For five years this will be a closed corporation and accept the participation of major individual investors of $100 million or more. We expect an annualized return of 15-17% for each of the first five years. Them the sixth year we will have an initial public offering to allow fund and small individual investors to buy in. The first year we will house over 1 million people, a number that will grow by 20-30% annually. This fact will not be lost on Wall Street, and The Colonies will become one of the most attractive investment vehicles ever to hit the market. We expect your initial investment will have increased a minimum of tenfold its original value by year six. There will never be another venture with the guaranteed growth factor like this in any of our lifetimes. As shrewd business people you can clearly see that this captive market creates a virtually guaranteed return.

"It is a momentous opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of the American capitalistic system to the rest of the world, and show how improving the lot of the less fortunate is not at odds with making profits. So please," she said with a seductive laugh, "take out your checkbooks and mark down a one with lots of zeros after it."

The room roared with laughter and then erupted in thunderous applause as Laura left the lectern. Paul Fassett escorted her down the steps, gave her a polite, corporate hug and whispered, "You'll be living in the executive offices very soon."

'Yes! Laura thought, yes! I did it! I nailed it! I always knew I belonged here and I was right.' She kept her game face on, trying to appear as aristocratic as possible, but she was reveling in this, her greatest triumph.

Paul Fassett reached the podium as the applause died down. "Ladies and gentlemen, I think you understand what I was saying about Laura. Eighteen months ago no one wanted to be within 100 miles of this issue. Laura embraced this challenge and has turned it into an opportunity for hard-working Americans to both care for their loved ones and earn a fair return on their investments. The American spirit lives in Laura Johnson!"

The room erupted in applause again and Laura smiled as she thought about the new house, car, wardrobe and just about anything else she could imagine to buy. When the ovation died down Fassett continued, "I know you want to meet and speak with our wonder girl in person, so we've arranged for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres in the corporate lounge on the 36th floor. Please join us there. The ushers will direct you to the appropriate elevators."

Paul whisked Laura off the stage to his private elevator. As they ascended to the 36th floor, Paul spoke, "We are 95% of the way there Laura. All that is left is to get these people to write very, very big checks. Two more hours of what you just did and over $10 billion will change hands today. What that means to you is $50 million! Additionally, Covenant will match the amount of stock purchased by our smallest investor tonight, minimum of $100 million, to be put in trust for you. You will be free to sell it after the initial five-year period. You produced for us and we willing to demonstrate to you how grateful we are."

Her head was spinning, thinking about those big numbers, and she decided to go take another Tranquilex to steady her nerves. She went to the ladies room and took a pill, and she looked at herself in the mirror. She had to admit she was as beautiful as she was before the presentation, but now she was rich, too. Damn, she loved this country, and she couldn't wait to tell her mother all about it.. She knew that she did not belong on the lower 34 floors with the peons, and today she proved it. She was one of the elite.

Paul's assessment was correct. When Laura finished working the crowd she had received business cards from everyone in attendance, with commitments totaling over $15 billion. She wondered how many of them were more interested in getting into her silk panties rather than the investment, but in the end, did it really matter? 'We're all prostitutes,' she thought, 'it's just that some of us know what we are worth while most of us do not. And most of us don't even know what it is we are selling, either.'

Leaving the office, Laura slipped behind the wheel of her new BMW Z4 sDrive 35I. 'What a piece of junk,' she thought as she exited parking garage. 'Now I can get a real car, a Bentley or a Rolls, and not have to drive a piece of mass-produced refuse.'

There was a text message on her cell phone from Elwin, congratulating her on her success. His most redeeming quality was that he almost never wanted sex, so Laura did not expect any pressure there. Anyhow they both knew their relationship was a matter of convenience, and once she got promoted it was over. But Laura did want sex tonight, just not with him.  No, Laura was looking for that earthmoving, life-changing orgasm that Elwin could never give her. In fact there was only one place in town that could provide her with what she needed, and her car knew the way.

Paradise Lost was where discrete professionals went to hook up. Laura took an Invigoril in her car. They elevated her mood, and an enjoyable side effect was mild to moderate euphoria which enhanced her sexual experience. It would take 15 or 20 minutes to work, so she would order a drink and sit quietly in a dark corner by herself until it did. But first she would have to find Anthony.

Anthony was not really a bouncer, because this place rarely had any trouble, only an occasional jealous spouse or significant other who suspected their mate was on the prowl. Anthony was there a deterrent for that, but most of the people came simply to find someone to help them explore their sexuality. He was the perfect person for the job, not a bouncer but more like a protector of the peace.

He was a large man; 6'6" and 300 pounds of solid muscle, but not a roided out freak. Anthony was athletic like a cat. He was 30 years old with a boyish grin and a head full of thick, golden-brown hair, with piercing blue eyes. Laura met him at a martial arts class and accepted his invitation to the club, making it clear it was not a date. Once there she realized she'd needn't have worried, for every woman in the place was taking her best shot at him. While she was there, though, something happened that changed her life.

They were chatting when an obviously drunk man came in looking for his girlfriend, and he found her with another man, who quickly exited. An argument ensued that escalated rapidly. Laura's focus was on the argument so she didn't notice Anthony and his cat like reflexes leap into action. As the man pulled back his hand to hit the woman Anthony grabbed the man's hand, spun him around and head butted him on the bridge of the nose. Then Anthony put him into an arm bar chokehold, and within moments the man was unconscious. Laura felt a rush of sexual arousal like nothing she had ever experienced, which she confided in Anthony, and thus began the game she was going to play tonight.

She found him and said hello, then she slipped two $100 bills into his jeans pocket, taking a moment to slide her hand over his crotch. It was as big as the rest of him! She whispered, "Your signal is when I move to the bar, and don't forget me."

He smiled.  "Have I ever?" Laura knew she was in good hands.

Feeling the pill working, she stood up, slipped off her blazer and unbuttoned her silk blouse well past where modesty dictated. Moving to the bar, she caught Anthony's eye. She had scoped out her prey and all she had to do was get his attention, which would be the easy part. Passing close by, she gave him a smile. She ordered a drink and turned towards him, strategically crossing and uncrossing her legs as provocatively as she could. He took the bait.

He walked over to her and said, "Hi, I'm Tom, and I would like to get to know you. Would you care for another drink?"

Laura replied, "Tom," as she slowly began fellating a piece of fruit from her drink, "another drink is not what I need or want right now." She uncrossed and crossed her legs again, her knee lightly brushing against his crotch, then leaned forward ever so slightly to give him a long look at her breasts. She moved on the stool causing her skirt to ride up and expose the tops of her stockings , and cooed in her sexiest voice, "What I need Tom is a man." She slid off the stool and stood so close that her breasts pressed gently against him, her nipples hard and erect, and her mouth only inches from his.

They stood motionless for what seemed like an eternity until finally he said, "If it's a man you want, then here I am. Let's get out of this place."

Laura had a knack for picking men that were not well endowed, and the brush of her knee against his crotch had confirmed it. She moved her hand up and grabbed his equipment and laughed, and said just loud enough for him to hear, "Jesus Christ Tom, I said I needed a man not a boy. No wonder your wife is fucking her tennis instructor, the gardener and anyone else whose pants she can get off." She stayed just long enough to see torment and rage in Tom's face, then she wheeled around, grabbed her purse and blazer and walked quickly towards the door. Tom's wits returned and he took after her, catching her just before she got there.

He spun her around, his right hand cocked to hit her, when a giant mitt appeared from nowhere and grabbed his arm. It was Anthony! He head butted Tom, then put him into that arm bar chokehold Laura had seen him do her first night there. She watched as Tom lost consciousness, then she smiled and said, "Thank you very much for saving me."

Anthony smiled back and said, "You're safe now ma'am.  You have a good night."

Outside the bar Laura walked halfway down the sidewalk and stopped. She thought about and how she lured Tom to her, and gotten his expectations so high before she utterly and totally humiliated him. She could see the tortured look on his face. Then the exhilaration of dashing across the floor, knowing that he was right behind her, and the sheer panic of being spun around and his hand raise over her head to strike her. Visualizing the split second where Anthony arrived and rescued her she closed her eyes, shuddered and had a thunderous, uncontrollable orgasm. Several moments passed, and when she opened her eyes people staring at her. One asked if she was okay.  She got to her car and went home.

She crawled into bed with her vibrator and replayed the scene at Paradise Lost. The movie of Tom and his humiliation ran over and over in her head, and she had two more seismic orgasms and several smaller ones before she fell asleep. Her last thought as she drifted off was Executive VP and sex all on the same day. It doesn't get any better than this.
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