Behind the chairman's huge, antique mahogany desk, the huge wheel of the clipper ship Pacific Princess and her quarterdeck compass stood guarding an eight-by-twelve foot map of the world
Every morning, at six A.M., just before the night operations manager went off duty, he came up from the third floor, laid a copy of the more important overnight communications-"the overnights"-on the chairman's desk, and then went to the map and moved ninety-one small ship models, on magnetic mounts, from one position to another on the map to correspond with their last reported position.
The previous Wednesday morning, at 9:01 A.M., Chairman of the Board Pickering had taken a look at the map, read the overnights, poured himself a cup of coffee, and with that out of the way was, at 9:09 A.M., where he had been the day before at 9:09 A.M., and would almost certainly be tomorrow, at 9:09 A.M.
That is to say, bored stiff and without a goddamned thing to do for the rest of the day.
Unless one counted the Second Wednesday Luncheon of the Quarterback Club of the Greater San Francisco United Charities, Inc., and he hadn't even wanted to think about that.
Captain Richard Pickering had been right on the money about that sort of thing, too. "Flem," his father had counseled, "the trouble with giving people something is that, since they get it for nothing, they tend to consider it worthless."
Fleming Pickering had long ago painfully come to conclude that what Greater San Francisco United Charities - and at least six other do-gooding or social organizations - wanted of him was his name on the letterhead and his signature on substantial checks, and in exchange they were willing to listen politely to his suggestions at meetings, while reserving and invariably exercising their option to ignore them.
At 9:11 A.M., Mrs. Helen Florian, his secretary for more than two decades, had announced over the intercom, "Boss, Pick's on line three."
Pickering, who had been sitting with his feet on the windowsill, watching the activity - there hadn't been much - in San Francisco Bay, spun around, and grabbed the telephone.
I am, he had realized, in one of my "Boy, do I feel sorry for Poor Ol' Flem Pickering" moods, and I don't want Pick picking up on that.
"Good morning," he said cheerfully. "What's up?"
"Mom still in New York?" Pick asked.
"I think today's Saint Louis," Pickering replied. "You know your mother."
A picture of his wife of thirty years - a tall, shapely, silver-haired woman with startlingly blue eyes - flashed through his mind. He missed her terribly, and not only because she made him feel as if he were still twenty-one.
When Fleming Pickering had heard the sound of trumpets and rushed off to the sound of musketry in World War II, Mrs. Patricia Foster Pickering had "temporarily" taken over for her husband as chairman of the P&FE board. Surprising everybody but her husband, she had not only immediately gathered the reins of authority in her delicate fingers, but pulled on them with consummate skill and artistry.
When he'd come home, there had been some talk of the both of them working at P&FE, but Patricia had known from the start that, if their marriage was to endure, she would have to find something to do other than share the control of P&FE with her husband.
The temporary chairman of the board of P&FE had become the chairman of the board of Foster Hotels, Inc., in part because she was the only daughter of Andrew Foster, majority stockholder of the forty-two-hotel chain, and partly because her father - who had wanted to retire - had made the cold business decision that she was the best-qualified person he could find to run the company.
While Patricia Foster Pickering shared her husband's - and her father's - belief that the best way to run an organization was to select the best possible subordinates and then get out of their way, she also shared her father's belief that the best way to make sure your subordinates were doing what you wanted them to do was to "drop in unannounced and make sure there are no dust balls under the beds and that the liquid in the liquor bottles isn't colored water."
Reprinted from Under Fire by W.E.B. Griffin by permission of G. P. Putnams Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © January 2002, W.E.B. Griffin. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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