Thursday, 11 December 2008

New Release! Within These Stone Walls by Desirée Lee

Nerves were wracked on all sides. The Board, the employees, the suppliers and, to some extent, the public (as they were the buyers) all waited anxiously for the word, any word. The word finally came down. It was not good.
Arthur Heuer was dying.
The battle his body was waging with illness had taken a heavy toll and the illness now had the favor. Though Arthur was receiving the highest quality of care from noted specialists, it was an undeniable fact that he was not long for this world.
The fate of Heuer Corporation balanced on a tenuous fulcrum. Arthur had been an industrious entrepreneur in his youth and had built up an international conglomerate of businesses. His net worth was in the multi-millions, perhaps nearing a billion dollars, considering all of his holdings. He had devoted his life to Heuer Corporation…and one other thing.
"Come on, Uncle Art, you're not going to let this kick you around," Danica maintained. She had been sitting stoically with her uncle when the doctor delivered the grim prognosis. She harbored no illusions about how ill her uncle really was but deep inside she held hope that he would still fight back from it. Her uncle had always been such a strong, vivacious man. It broke her heart to see him lying in a hospital bed, so frail and defeated. She put on her brave face for him. It would do him no good to see her moping. Despite what she felt, she would keep up her strong front, for his sake at least. Perhaps for her own, too.
Arthur looked over at his niece and gave a wan smile. Danica, sweet Danica had been his other driving force. Arthur had never married nor had any children of his own. Danica was the daughter of Arthur's younger sister, Gretchen. After Gretchen's sudden heart attack and unexpected passing when Danica was fifteen, Arthur became sole guardian of his niece. Losing Gretchen was a difficult blow for Arthur. The siblings had always been close. After her passing, he doted more heavily on Danica. She reminded him so much of his sister.
"Let me call that specialist in from Stockholm," Danica continued. "You know, the one we discussed last week, Dr. Ambjorn."
"No," Arthur placed his hand upon hers. He stared into her dark brown eyes, so full of passion. "I am tired of so many doctors, so many tests. What more is there for me in this life, Danica?"
"What are you talking about? There is plenty more. You have a gazillion people looking up to you, Uncle Art. The Board calls every day."
"They call because they want me to kick off so they can split up my holdings amongst themselves. You know how they are, vultures. The whole lot of them is nothing but a pack of vultures. I should have fired them long ago but despite it all, they do know how to make a lot of money for the corporation. What a damn shame."
Danica snickered. "Especially Jim Winston. That man could spy a penny on the ground from a mile away and run for it. I never met such a money-grubbing person in my life." Danica had never made her disdain for the Board's Vice-Chairman a secret. "There are other things, though. You're a great man, Uncle Art. You've done great things with your life. You came here to America with nothing but a hope, a dream and the dirt on the bottom of your shoes. Look at you now. You're one of the most influential CEOs in the world. I respect you above anybody else. I love you, Uncle Art. You've always been there for me. I could always count on you. Do you think I'm going to let my favorite person in the world give up so easily?"
"You do not make this easy for me, Danica. All I ever wanted for you was the best. I did not want for you to have to break your back every day like I did when I first moved here."
"You gave me the best of everything. I never wanted anything more. The only thing I want now is more time with you."
"No, Danica. That is not how it should be. You are young and beautiful, so beautiful. You are just like your mother. You need to forget about this tired old fart of an uncle and find yourself a handsome young husband who will love you and treat you like a princess."
"More likely will try to get me drunk, try to have his way with me and then try to weasel me into getting you to fund him somehow." Danica tried to bite back the bitterness that crept into her voice. While she'd had a few boyfriends in her life, she hadn't felt that any of them were akin to a modern Prince Charming, except one. She had met a very special someone a few years ago, Roger Mackie. When he found out that she was Arthur Heuer's niece, he turned on the charm even more. Danica had been crushed when she discovered Roger knew who she was all along. The relationship had been a ploy to try to get closer to her uncle. Roger never truly cared for her, only her family fortune. She vowed never again would she fall for a handsome face and flowery words. She felt doomed to be the old spinster instead of the princess.
"I have faith that it will happen for you someday, Danica."
"Our family doesn't seem to have much luck in the 'happily ever after' department." She gave a half-chuckle.
"Do not disregard the notion only because it did not happen for me or for your mother. Our parents and grandparents were all married until they died. Despite everything, they had love."
"Well, I hope that Prince Charming isn't in the corporate world. I'd hate to preface the wedding by having to add a non-competition clause to our pre-nup."
Arthur started laughing heartily until the laughter threw him into a raspy coughing fit. Danica quickly poured him a glass of water to clear his throat and put the head of the hospital bed up higher so he could breathe more easily. Once the episode had passed, she sat back down in the chair next to the bed. Her worried expression remained.
"I have spoken to the legal team and finalized my Will. Adrian will read it formally since he has been designated the executor. I will tell you now, though, what I have said. I am leaving everything to you, Danica. You will take my place."
"Uncle Art, I thought we discussed this. I'm not cut out to be a CEO."
"Yes, you are. You are brighter than you give yourself credit for. Everything of mine will be yours. The Board will report to you."
"If you want to leave me something in your Will, can we make it something easy like a pony?"
Arthur laughed again until the spasms wracked his chest. Danica offered him tissues to cough up the mucous from his lungs into. "Danica, you are going to make me laugh myself to death." He paused only a brief moment. "However, I cannot think of a better way to die."
"Well, keep thinking, Uncle Art." She adjusted the oxygen cannula on his nose. "If you want something funny, you should get better, walk in to the next Board meeting, stand on the table and moon the entire room."
He held back the laugh this time, though his eyes twinkled with mirth. "Take some time away. Leave the corporation in their hands. You will be in control, but it does not mean you have to personally make every decision, Danica. That is why I hired those clowns in the first place. You will have a lot of money to do whatever you want with it. Take a long trip somewhere. Buy a new house."
"Vacation sounds nice," she nodded. "Where to, though? You and I have trekked almost everywhere in the Free World. Hell, you even took me to Antarctica. How many people can say they've gone joyriding amongst penguins in their natural habitat? Not many."
"You love Europe."
"You've got me there. I never need an excuse to go back to Europe," Danica admitted. "I'll tell you what, Uncle Art. In the future, when this Will of yours finally does need to go in to effect, I'll buy myself a castle. I'll be the princess you always say I am." The idea had popped into her head so quickly that her mouth reacted before her brain could hold the words back.
"I want you to keep your word to me on that, Danica. I will trust that you will do this without drawing up paperwork to enforce it."
"No contract? Why, Uncle Art, I'm positively shocked that you'd suggest making a bargain with no contract! You must be more ill than I thought!" Danica feigned surprise.
"Sometimes you have to trust your instinct, Danica. Things are not always as they seem. There are good people left in the world. Sometimes you just have to dig much deeper to find them." He reached over and placed his hand upon hers, squeezing gently.
"I suppose you're right. There is that one guy from the mail room, Thomas. He's always pleasant when he's bringing up the daily mail to the offices." Plus he has a nice ass, she thought to herself. "He feeds my chocolate habit."
"You see? Even in our fast-paced world, somebody takes the time to go out of their way for you."
"He could be ass-kissing too."
"It is possible, but wouldn't you prefer to think that he is just a nice person?"
"True enough. It's all moot anyway because you're getting better and coming back to work soon." Danica nodded defiantly.
"Not this time, Princess. You were right when you spoke of my accomplishments earlier. I am proud of the life I led. I built something from nothing and I gave much back to my peers and my community. I like to think that I did my part to better this world and now I can leave it content that my actions will speak for me long after I am gone."
"Uncle Art, that's a pigeon on the windowsill, not a buzzard. You're not dying yet."
Arthur laughed once more. As his body jolted from the force of the laugh, he gasped for breath. His eyes met Danica's in a dead-set look. "I…love…you. Don't…forget…your… word." He gasped again, then let it out with a rattling wheeze. His body slumped back against the pillow and the monitors hooked up to him blared a loud alert.
The color drained from Danica's face as she saw the spark of life extinguish from her uncle's eyes. A nurse and a doctor came running in and assessed the man.
"Can't you do something?" Danica shouted as she backed away from the bed, giving them room to work. "Get the paddles, maybe?"
"These were his wishes, stated in his advance directives," the doctor explained quietly. "He asked not to be resuscitated."
Danica knew that. She gazed back at the shell of a man who had once been her pillar of strength. "O.K.," she whispered shakily. Tears filled her eyes and she placed a hand against the wall to steady herself. She turned her head sharply as the sound of the monitor ceased and realized that the doctor had turned it off. The nurse helped her gently into the chair so she would not fall.
"I'm sorry for your loss," the doctor offered. "Take what time you need."
Danica just gave an absent nod and sat there blankly while the nurse and doctor left her alone to say goodbye. She mustered strength for her legs to support her and walked over to stand next to the bed. Smoothing his white hair, she bit her lip to keep from crying harder. "You laughed yourself to death. It was the perfect way to die." She leaned over and placed a kiss on his head, then exited.

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