A successful salesman struggles with his opposing loyalties to the company and community.
|“Do you think they’ll support us? They aren't known for their love of the natural gas industry. They think we're poisoning their water supply and making their children freaking retarded.”
“I’m sure of it, boss,” said Gil Croner, vice president of market orchestration and expansion at the Altrua Gas Company, speaking into his cell phone. He was talking to Paul Eel, the CEO, about the impending visit with the people of Jefferson Hole Township, Pennsylvania.
Gil and Freddie Tartelli, Gil’s recent hire from the Jefferson Hole area and the son of the chairman of the board of supervisors, sat in their rental car in front of the municipal building. As undaunted representatives for the company they planned to persuade the board of supervisors to authorize the building of a new distribution center.
Fred felt good about his short career. There only one year he was already promoted to assistant regional director of gas sales development. Curiously, there was no director for him to assist however the salary was nice, especially for an area where ten dollars an hour is touted as a good paying job.
A new father of twins and a recent first time home-buyer, Fred with his wife Ginny lived on the fast track going to all of the best restaurants, driving new SUV’s, and getting invites to all the best parties; all this was done with confidence in their ability to pay their newly acquired debt because of Fred‘s good job.
“I have Fred Tartelli here. He knows them real well and has been on the case over the last few months,” Gil said looking over his shoulder at Fred. “You think we have a chance, Fred? Paul wants to know.”
“I’m confident,” Fred said.
“You should get an army of guys like Fred,” Gil joked sipping his coffee and speaking into his phone. “I should take pictures of this group, Paul. It's three fat Italians, a wild-eyed Welshman whose eyes literally look like they are going to shoot out of his head, a Pollock who says very little but always votes with the majority, a Jew solicitor who drives three hours from Philadelphia to get here in his Jaguar and a middle aged secretary with an ass as big as Texas. It’s like Mayberry from hell.”
Fred looks at Gil with a very curious glance. “Hey, my father is one of those people you’re talking about and I’ve known the others my whole life. What the hell?” Fred asked smiling yet cautiously serious.
“I know….muh-ha-ha-ha!!” Gil laughed loudly gritting his large teeth. It sounded like an evil laugh to Fred.
“They honest?” Paul asked as a little voice on the phone.
“Yeah, right! Read the local papers. The fat Italians have all been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Not so sure about the others but they don’t pass a smell test. It seems to be a way of life here in this part of Pennsylvania. They indicted like fifty local politicians from school districts, boroughs, townships, etc. and forty-eight of them were Italians, including these three goombas. Overall though, they’re looking at getting a nice little monthly check and other amenities for leasing some worthless farmland to us for our pipelines. They‘ll vote for us. ”
“Good work. Let me know,” Paul says as they both hang up.
Gil scans the horizon with an expression of disgust…as if he smelled something bad. “Look at these homes around here. These people aren‘t what you would call on the cutting edge. They vote for their friends, the one who gets them a job or gets their kid out of trouble with the cops, right?”
Fred had some feelings for the people on the streets of Jefferson Hole and took Gil’s arrogance as a personal affront. He became inwardly angry maintaining a stoic face to protect his job. “Notice how almost every one of those homes is displaying the American flag even in the dead of winter?”
“Yeah. Uh huh.”
After primping their hair and straightening their ties they to entered the municipal building with its lime green carpeting and decades old wall paneling adornments.
The public meeting chamber was crowded with 200 vocal citizens who were well prepared to express their concerns about this new operation proposed for their back yards.
Secretary Janelle Coombs greeted them with a soft handshake.
“Hello…follow me,” she said.
‘Looks like the whole town showed up and brought their relatives,” Gil joked over his shoulder as they made their way to their seats near the supervisors tables led by secretary Coombs. Fred did his best to avoid laughing as he walked behind her and her notoriously large rear end. She pointed to their seats and walked away rather poised.
Well over six feet tall, slender and sporting expensive suits and shoes, both men were noticeably out of place. On this snowy winter night the audience members greeting them looked like they all just got finished shoveling four tons of snow and ran over to the meeting without taking time to clean up.
Gil and Fred sat staring down at their smart phones, Fred checking messages, Gil looking at naked photos of Cynthia Myers. Both cognizant of the glares and whispered comments being made by the audience who were obviously adversarial.
“Here they come,” said one audience member and heads turned throughout the room to watch the supervisors make their way to their seats at the chamber table.
They turned their backs to the audience facing the American Flag. Chairman Leo Tartelli, dressed in a sweat suit which allowed comfort when he sat and expanded, lead the pledge of allegiance. The crowd stood with their hands on their hearts. Fred stood up and nudged Gil to do the same.
Everyone sat down and Tartelli quickly announced the reason for the public meeting. He knew the other supervisors as well as he, had their minds made up about allowing the project. He did not want to take too much time at this meeting.
“We are here tonight to discuss the new Altrua distribution center which is planned for the Center Industrial Park.”
“Excuse me chairman, I don’t think we want to use the work planned. It implies it is a done deal. It would be better to say ‘in consideration,‘” said Herb Finkelstein, township solicitor who quickly corrected Tartelli.
“I apologize…is in consideration for the Center Industrial Park. Before we go to a vote, the board will address citizen comments. We have two representatives from the company here that can also address questions. One is my son Fred.“ He winked and paused for few seconds. “If no one has any comments, we will go right to the vote.”
“I have a comment!” said Joe Sperranca, who stood up prepared to make his case. Festooned in an un-tucked flannel shirt, white painters pants and work boots, he was noticeably there from a day at the job site.
“I bet you do, Joe,” said supervisor Guido Mercino whose face became beat red as his neck wobbled and fluttered. He was visibly angry making it apparent to Gil and Fred that he and Sperranca sparred over this topic before.
“That’s right, Mercino. I have a lot of them.”
The audience became alive with murmurs and some audible expressions of “you tell them,” and “don’t trust them.”
“Okay. Well let me start by saying everyone on this board has a financial interest in this project going through. You,” he said pointing at Mercino, “own some of the property they want to build on and you also have rights to land where they will be running their gas lines. Right?”
“We don’t think you can represent the people.”
“Look, I said many times, this center is an economic boom for the whole community. It will bring jobs, pay township taxes….there’s a whole list.”
The crowd grumbled audibly. “Yeah, benefits you and your buddies up there,” said one woman aloud.
“Pay taxes? Didn’t you give them an economic development tax break?” Speranca said.
“Yes,” Tartelli interrupted. “That’s only temporary. When that’s over in five years they will be paying taxes. Plus the income from the people working their will hit township coffers.”
“Fine, but what about the risks? I have four daughters at home and I read these articles here about the dangers of the chemicals they will be storing up there. One study done by Duchess University in South Carolina said the ground water in a bunch of towns across the country where they have these operations was polluted with methane and heavy metals!” He shook copies of the studies he held in his right hand in the direction of Gil and Fred as he spoke.
“There’s no risk! Those studies were faulty,” offered supervisor Mike Williams from the board’s public works division.
“Yeah, right Williams. The local paper said you got some of the tanker runs for your trucks. You deny that?”
“Chairman, may I?” said Gil who stood up causing all of the seated audience to look up at him as he spoke. Being tall offered Gil a lot of advantages and he knew how to use them.
Tartelli looked at Finkelstein who nodded.
“Altrua Gas Company’s philosophy is to always do the most good for all of our stakeholders through strong corporate citizenship, an awareness of challenges and ways to turn them into opportunities and an overall respect for all environmental aspects involved in a good quality of life.” He paused knowing from experience that little speech usually diffuses the most ardent arguers. Most of them stop because they don’t want to look stupid by asking what such lofty platitudes mean.
“Okay. What are the chemicals you will be storing up there?” Speranca asked.
“We are not at liberty to say but can tell you they are proven by the industry to be safe when used properly in hydraulic fracturing.”
“You mean fracking! Don’t you pump those chemicals into the ground? Where do they go? In the water, maybe?”
Gil smiles when confronted, a tactic Fred knows slays opponents, especially when they are mad.
“In fact, I have a copy of a study done by your neighboring respected institution, Sandusky State University, that concludes the water pollution issues noted in these previous studies actually existed before the operations started,” Gil said.
“Oh c’mon,” said Bernadette Greenline. “You guys won’t tell us what they are because they are obviously dangerous. C’mon. You’re lying. If it was yogurt you were using in your stupid fracking, you would be bragging about that every chance you got!”
The audience became more agitated and vocal. Tartelli gaveled the table demanding order.
“You can trust us,” Gil said smiling with his palms up.
“What kind of jobs are we gonna get,” Sperranca said.
Gil motioned to Fred. “Fred is our corporate local gas resources expert, he’ll tell you. Fred?”
Fred stood up prepared to say everything he learned from the company projections he was forwarded by the head office.
“Well, we expect at least 400 new jobs for this community, averaging $50 to $60 dollars an hour. There will be management and hourly jobs, full benefits, driving jobs, technical opportunities and more.”
“I have an article from a newspaper in Michigan where you launched one of your operations. It said your company hired the majority of its people from out-of-state, including relocating immigrants to fill your jobs. What’s up with that?”
Fred read about the case in Michigan. “In those situations, we were not able to find enough candidates to fill open positions,” he said.
“Yeah, and you pulled out right after your tax exempt status was lifted, right?”
“I’m a resident in this area and I’m just like you. I think Gil is right…you can trust us. I wouldn’t be here otherwise,” Fred said with a believable passion.
“Look. We’ve gone over this for months, I say we vote,” said Tartelli.
Gil shrugged holding up his hands in a technique that made it look like it was the people’s decision.
Gil and Fred sat over breakfast the next morning at the airport before Gil went back to the head office in Miami. They were dressed casually and discussing the unanimous vote in their favor at Jefferson Hole the night before.
After enlightening the head office, Gil closed his computer and looked over at Fred raising his eyebrows up and down very quickly.
“He’s happy. Good cover on that jobs thing in Michigan. You handled that well. ”
“Thanks man. So who’s happy, Paul?” Gil nodded. “Well, it’s good the CEO is happy, right?”
“Where is he now?” Fred asked chewing on his bagel. He already knew and was slightly sarcastic.
“At the country club. He’s already had a few cocktails.”
Fred got livid thinking about this CEO whom everyone feared and worshipped. He saw a guy who took down huge amounts of money, spent five days a week at the country club golfing and drinking, and took his secretary on trips that nobody really knew what for. These benefits he scraped from a company that was just five years ago ready to close because of his stupid decision making. Now, thanks to new drilling opportunities, the company was making money despite his incompetence.
Gil knew Fred didn’t like Paul. Paul wanted people around him that will kiss his rear-end, not criticize his actions. Gil did his share of kissing.
After breakfast was finished, Gil handed Fred an envelope without saying anything. Fred opened the letter reading it with stupified interest.
“For what!?” he exclaimed as he jumped from his chair and stormed over Gil who quickly stood up in a defensive posture.
“What the hell is this?” he asked tersely shaking it in Gil’s face.
“What does it look like? ’Gil responded unmoved by Fred’s advance.
“You knew this was coming? Yet, you sit there and eat meals with me and talk to me as if nothing was going on all week?”
Gil shrugged. “Yeah, so?”
“Don’t I get some kind of explanation?”
“You’re not a team player and your numbers aren’t good. Your territory is down 12 percent and that’s not acceptable.”
“The company is down twenty-two percent, Gil! That big fat scum sucking thief Eel is the one should get canned! He’s make forty thousand a day to run a company that is twenty-five percent higher priced than the freakin’ competition…all so he can give himself and his buddies a raise! You know that’s true!”
He stared at Gil who without flinching left cash on the table to cover the check picked up his briefcase and started walking toward the gate. “It’s the American way,” he said.
“You know what you are! You’re a whore! You fired me because you’re done with me! You and Eel got what you wanted, so I can be discarded! You’re nothing but a whore for the corporation!”
“What’s your point?” he said walking away.
“Maybe I’ll go back to Jefferson Hole and tell my old man to cancel your plans,” he shouted at the back of Gil’s head.
“Not a good idea. The ink is dry and the shovels are probably already digging. It would take an act of God and Congress to stop it now. Plus, I could tell everyone about the little stipend your old man got for his vote. See ya’, wouldn’t wanna be ya’.”
Fred stood there pondering ways to beat the snot out of Gil but did not move. Seriously, he thought, what is the point? He knew all along the complaints made by the people at that meeting were correct. The company did not provide jobs or really benefit all but a few of the population in the areas it invaded. It frequently pulled out of tax free zones just before the tax breaks expired. Meanwhile guys like Eel and Gil take down huge salaries.
He also knew that he worked to convince the people of the company’s position just so they could get the project authorized and earn himself a nice little salary.
“I’m just a whore too…a user who got used.”
He did not know that a few hours later in Miami Florida, his nemesis Gil stared at a similar looking letter. He opened it to find a check for fifty thousand dollars with a hand written note attached to it from the desk of Paul Eel.
“Way to go in Jefferson Hole,” it said in Eel‘s writing.
“Just working my magic,” Gil said quietly to himself.