7:22 a.m. Friday, October 9
Damon dreaded Sam knocking on his door every morning. Why he couldn’t just open the door and tell Damon to hurry downstairs for breakfast baffled him.
Damon asked his parents if Sam could bring up his meals, but they wanted the whole family to sit around a table just to say they ate together.
“Damon, sir,” Sam said after his first two knocks didn’t get a response.
“Sir, breakfast is almost ready. Your father, mother, and sister are already downstairs. Mr. Maker got in from Dublin last night and is dying to see you.”
Damon thought he had been in New York.
“I’ll be down there when I’m down there,” Damon said.
“Yes, sir. I’ll let Mr. Maker know you’re coming soon.”
That was Sam’s way of telling Damon to hurry the hell up before his father became more irritable, a frequent mood for him. Sam could have just told Damon to get his ass moving. Damon would have respected the bluntness, but Sam just wasn’t that kind of person.
He shouldn’t have been so bothered by it, but Damon hated how nonconfrontational Sam was. If he could stick up for himself a little bit, maybe he’d have moved on from working for the Maker family a long time ago.
Sam had been the Maker’s live-in butler for twenty-five years, almost as long as Damon had been alive. He was nearing seventy and didn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon. He lived in a twenty thousand square-foot mansion on a twenty-eight acre lot in Los Angeles, a city where multi-million dollar listings didn’t have an acre. Any other job Sam was qualified for wouldn’t provide him with a living arrangement of this caliber.
Even though the butler frustrated him, Damon liked Sam enough to do his best at not getting the butler in hot water with Mr. and Mrs. Maker, so, reluctantly, Damon readied himself for the day as fast as he could. Unlike the rest of his family, Damon had never been a morning person. This made being on time at half past seven an uphill battle. Luckily, it was casual Friday so getting dressed wouldn’t be such a chore. He put on a pair of navy blue Lululemon pants, a white Brunello Cucinelli button down, black Louboutin’s, and Tag Heuer watch. He kept his hair buzzed so he didn’t have to deal with it in the mornings.
Finally presentable, Damon headed to the kitchen for another miserable meal with his family. His bedroom was the most isolated out of the thirteen in the Maker’s mansion. He purposely sought out the seclusion because he knew his parents didn’t care enough to walk all that way to bug him.
Forgetting to spray cologne on, he made sure to stop by a bathroom on his way down to spray a Jo Malone unisex fragrance on his neck and wrists. The last thing he wanted to hear was his mother telling him how lower class he smelled.
The coffee’s aroma coming from the Maker’s kitchen made the morning more bearable. Marsha, the Maker’s personal chef, was flipping pancakes and omelettes while a team of maids Damon had never seen before cleaned up after her. His mother didn’t want a mess in her kitchen her husband paid people to cook in.
“Jerry, come on. We just sealed it. We aren’t going back and renegotiating with these guys, dammit! They can blow me for all I care. The deal’s done,” Mr. Maker said.
Mr. Maker, more commonly known as Harrison, was on the phone while Sam, who Harrison paid no mind to, cleaned up Damon’s father’s unfinished breakfast. Sam flashed Damon a little smile, his way of thanking him for joining the family for some early morning turmoil.
Melissa Maker, Damon’s mother, admired herself in a mirror her personal assistant Courtney was holding. She wasn’t applying any makeup. She was just turning her head from side to side. Playing with her hair. Staring into her own eyes.
“That’s definitely it, Melissa,” Courtney said.
“Right, I think so, too,” Melissa agreed.
Damon didn’t know what she had to get ready for. All Melissa did was drink red wine with her friends at nice restaurants, one of the country clubs the Makers belonged to, or at home if none of the other options appeased her. She was a mere twenty-five years older than Damon, and had never been very motherly. Keeping up with herself was too consuming.
Damon adored Brooklyn, his kid sister. She was in fifth grade and more interesting than most adults. She verbalized her desire to start an artificial intelligence company when she graduated college. Damon wasn’t sure she knew what that meant, but he knew his little sister would accomplish anything she wanted. Harrison yearned to homeschool Brooklyn because he believed her quality of education would be better than what she was receiving from the private school she attended. It cost Harrison seventy-five thousand dollars a year; ten thousand less than the private tutor he wanted to hire. As usual, Brooklyn got her way after issuing a compelling argument that she’d miss out on interacting with people on a daily basis. She argued developing those social skills would be something that could separate her from the pack and push her to succeed. Damon remembered witnessing that conversation unravel, marveling at Brooklyn’s advanced way of thinking, and her convincing delivery. He imagined he’d work for her one day. Hell, he wanted to work for her one day. It would be more pleasant than the Maker he currently slaved away for day in and day out.
What she didn’t articulate well was how she felt like their mother didn’t appreciate her. Then again, Damon didn’t think a fifth grader should be capable of articulating that disturbing thought well, or having the thought at all. Her older brother was the only person she revealed this to. Damon would hang out in her room a few nights a week to check in and remind her he loved her. He wanted her to know he would always be there for her.
At just ten years-old, his older sister passed away. Naturally, this hit him hard and motivated him to be there for Brooklyn as much as he could. She consistently assured him he was a great big brother. They told each other everything, and committed themselves to being a team, working towards staying sane with the burdens of their dysfunctional parents and privileged lives.
“Hi Brook,” Damon said, kissing the top of her head before sitting next to her.
She looked up from her tablet and smiled at him. She was watching their father’s news network.
“Morning Damon,” Melissa said, not looking away from the mirror. “You don’t look too grungy for a casual Friday. You even remembered to spray some cologne.”
“Good morning. Thank you, Sam.”
Sam put Damon’s bacon omelette, pancake, and black coffee in front of him as he sat down.
“Ah, good morning Damon. How are you today?”
“Good. How was the trip?”
“Oh, incredibly productive. We closed the deal and solidified another billion dollars over the first two quarters of next year.”
“Awesome,” Damon shrugged.
Harrison ran Maker Co., a corporation with several companies in news and entertainment. His baby was LTN, a news network that did around fifteen billion in revenue annually. Now, apparently around seventeen billion. Its influence was vast on various platforms. Advertising deals became more and more lucrative as time went on, which made the Maker family one of the wealthiest in the United States.
“Maybe now we can knock down the Hampton house and build a new one. Ugh, it’s just so outdated,” Melissa said with an annoying amount of emphasis on ‘so’.
Damon rolled his eyes.
Their house in the Hamptons was a ninety million dollar project that started in 2010 and finished a little over two years later.
“I’ll build you a new house if you promise to go there,” Harrison said.
In the eight years the house had been livable Melissa had been four times, Damon and Brooklyn twice, and Harrison once stopped by for a night on his way to Europe for a conference.
Damon worked as a top financial analyst at LTN. Nepotism earned him the job, but his expertise quickly contributed to the company’s profitability. His ability to interpret the company’s numbers and communicate his findings to his father and other executives proved to be invaluable. He knew which technologies were worth investing in. He identified whose salaries they could reduce so theirs could increase. He could confidently predict which ad deals were in their best interest based on the growth of the companies, and he analyzed how their financials stacked up against the competition. His forecasts were close to perfect.
Damon’s propensity for finding the most lucrative solutions went a long way. The corporation’s brass valued him. Harrison always planned for him to run Maker Co., and Damon proving he was capable of growing LTN made Harrison’s predetermined decision more valid. Not only was it good for Maker Co., but also for Harrison’s public image. Damon’s social skills were lacking, but pairing him up with a corporate puppet would fix that. Damon knew the numbers better than anyone and could make the corporation more money than his father ever could, something Harrison knew, but didn’t outwardly admit.
Harrison dismissed Melissa, “So Damon, if you could have a look at where this will put our projections for next year that’d be awesome. Kendyl will giv—”
“Can we discuss this at the office?” Damon interrupted.
Damon hated his father’s assistant. He’d been having an affair with Kendyl for as long as Damon had been at LTN, at least, but that wasn’t why he hated her. He hated her because she was dumb, gullible, and useless.
Melissa knew about the affair but didn’t care. As long as she kept getting what she wanted, she’d let Harrison do whatever he pleased.
This sickened Damon.
Harrison threw his son a bothered look. “Well, can’t we talk about it now?” Harrison asked. He was doing his best to suppress his anger.
“We have the ability to, yes, but I’d like to talk about it at the office because right now I’m enjoying a family meal,” Damon said, shrugging at Harrison.
Damon always being so literal pissed Harrison off, but he tolerated it because Damon was becoming a valuable member of LTN.
“Fine. At the office,” Harrison compromised.
Damon quickly glanced at Brooklyn and observed she was doing her best to mask her smile. Her eyes were fixated on the tablet, but her attention was on her father and brother.
“Harrison, I’m seeing the Barkens tonight. I’d like to go to Nobu for dinner. I’ll have her call to rent out our room,” Melissa said.
She used pronouns when referring to Courtney.
Matt and Caroline Barken’s marriage was the most famous celebrity alliance in the world. Both under thirty-five, Matt had multiple Oscars and Caroline was the most listened to country singer in the world, according to Spotify.
According to Harrison, they were the world’s most annoying couple in the world and lacked substance.
“Okay. Maybe you just go. I’ll take Damon and Brooklyn out to dinner tonight. I have a lot to do at the office. Sam, call the car. Damon, come up when you get there,” Harrison said.
His father always had to say come up rather than come to my office. Harrison kissed Brooklyn on the top of her head, blew Melissa a kiss, and nodded at Damon before leaving.
“Brooklyn, do you want to go?” Damon asked when his father was out of earshot.
“No. I’m not going to. Sydney is having a big sleepover tonight, and I want to go there.”
“Mom, you want to have dinner with Dad and me?” Damon asked, already knowing what the answer would be.
“Did you listen to anything I said? I have plans,” she snapped.
At least he could say he tried.
8:36 a.m. Friday, October 9
On a good day, it took thirty-five minutes to get to the office. On a bad day, it could take over an hour. This was one of the bad days.
“Is there a way around this?” Damon asked from the back of an S-Class Mercedes-Benz.
“Unfortunately there isn’t, Mr. Maker,” Jacques, his driver, said.
How Damon thought having roots in extreme wealth would reward him with gridlocked streets magically opening up for him during rush hour perplexed Jacques. Damon asked every time they were in bumper-to-bumper traffic, a frequent occurrence in Los Angeles.
“So Jacques,” Damon said.
“What made you move to this country? And also, why the hell would you choose to work for us out of all people?”
Jacques had been driving for the Maker family for a couple years, but just started driving for Damon full-time within the year.
Jacques grew up poor in a devout Muslim family. His parents left Mali for Paris before he was born, where his dad drove taxis and mother nannied for wealthy families. He grew up an only child, which was uncommon in his neighborhood. Most of the neighboring flats housed copious amounts of people. It was common for a couple in their late twenties to have four kids and little to no income. The stress this induced created a toxic environment: domestic violence, drug use, shootings, robberies, and police brutality were just some of the things Jacques witnessed every day. He had well-intended parents, but they lacked the opportunity to improve their living situation. For that, Jacques loved and admired them, but he had to get out.
France to him was what Mali was to his parents. America to him was what France was to his parents.
“I don’t come from a good place, sir,” Jacques said, “I needed to get out and better myself, so what better place to do that than America?”
He flashed a toothy smile in the rearview mirror after he said the last part. Suddenly his French accent was more noticeable.
“What is your plan here, Jacques? What do you plan to do with your life?” Damon pressed.
“Well, sir, literature has always been a passion of mine. Writing stories based on the experiences of my life. It has always interested me. I want to make this dream come true.”
After a slight pause Jacques added, “Sir.”
Damon mulled this over and asked, “Okay. How does this job help your writing, Jacques?”
“I need the money, sir.”
“Life isn’t all about money,” Damon quickly added.
“You’re right, sir, but if I don’t have it, I’ll be like that guy over there,” Jacques said, pointing to a homeless man with a white and grey beard, Vietnam veteran hat, and shopping cart full of randomized items, like a Swifter and oven sheet pan.
“Or that guy,” Damon said, pointing to a Black homeless man sleeping on the other side of the street.
Jacques laughed because he genuinely thought it was funny. Damon looked at him confused.
“How much do you get paid?” Damon asked.
“Excuse me, sir?” Jacques said.
The Frenchman fidgeted in his seat, noticeably uncomfortable to anyone with the slightest bit of social awareness. Too bad Damon didn’t have any.
“How much money do you make a year driving for me and my family?”
“Uh, uh, forty-five thousand a year, sir.”
Jacques muttered this. The topic of conversation made him uneasy.
Damon’s first thought was how his mother could spend that much money before noon on any given day without lifting a finger. How someone could live on that salary was incomprehensible.
“That’s not a lot, Jacques. You need more,” Damon said.
“That’s what I’m working on, sir,” Jacques said.
Hiding his annoyance became more difficult than usual.
“Maybe I can help you,” Damon suggested.
“How so, sir?”
“I’ll give you half a million dollars if you help me with something.”
Jacques’ ears perked up.
9:04 a.m. Friday, October 9
Damon felt overwhelmed upon sitting at his desk. Folders with LTN’s updated financial documents for the following year were neatly piled on his desk with a note labeling each one:
“Projected Advertising Revenue Q1-Q2”
“Projected Advertising Revenue Q3-Q4”
“Fiscal Year Projections w/out COBRA Deal”
“Fiscal Year Projections w/ COBRA Deal”
“COBRA Deal Value Per Viewer Q1-Q4”
Damon gathered COBRA was the codename his father gave the new advertising deal. In case things went south, LTN gave deals codenames before they were official so employees couldn’t use any of the documents or information outside of the office. The media conglomerate learned this was necessary the hard way.
All of these dense folders on his desk pissed Damon off for multiple reasons. One, he had an abundant amount of other projects to complete before he could take on another. His father and his team didn’t understand Damon was valuable because he was meticulous. Second, someone was in his office without him being in his office. He made it clear no one was to beat him to his own office. Third, it was probably Kendyl who put the folders on his desk. The thought of her in his space made him sick to his stomach. Fourth, “Projected Advertising Revenue Q1-Q2” and “Projected Advertising Revenue Q3-Q4” could’ve been in one folder called “Projected Advertising Revenue Q1-Q4” with the differences between the first and last two quarters explained by the documents.
“Danielle!” Damon yelled to his assistant.
He heard her running towards his office.
“Yes, sir. Good morning, sir. How are you today?” she asked.
Danielle had been Damon’s assistant for a little over eight months. She was a stubborn five foot three with naturally curly and burnt orange hair. Danielle was so pale she looked like the slightest bit of sun exposure would cause a third-degree burn, and just by looking at her, it was obvious she had low bone density.
Damon thought he was in love with her but wasn’t sure because he didn’t really know what being in love entailed, but the unfamiliar feeling he felt towards her caused him to think he was.
Oddly enough, Danielle had actually developed a little crush on Damon.
“Horrible now. What is all this shit?” he asked.
“Sorry—sorry, sir,” Danielle said, becoming frantic. “You-know-who came in to drop them off. Right when she got off the elevator I went over to her and politely asked her to hand me the folders. But she said she had strict orders to put them on your desk herself.”
Damon hated Kendyl so much he didn’t even want to hear her name. Using pronouns and “you-know-who” was all he could bear. He slammed his fist down on his desk, causing “COBRA Deal Value Per Viewer Q1-Q4” to slide off the pile of documents. Danielle ran over to collect its contents and organize them back in the folder.
“Why do they think they can disregard us?” Damon asked.
Damon referring to Danielle and him as a team caused her to pause.
“I know, sir. It’s bullshit. You don’t ask for much, and they can’t even respect that,” she said.
Damon verbalizing he thought of them as a team validated the job she was doing.
“Oh, thank you, but you don’t have to do that, sir,” Danielle said after Damon bent down to help her.
Damon looked out of place taking on a task requiring a little physical labor.
“Really, it’s fine. I’m the one who made the mess,” he said.
The two of them worked together to organize the paperwork. There were a few awkward moments, like their hands touching when they picked up the same piece of paper and their heads bumping into each other while they were both on all fours. To their surprise, Damon was able to inject some comic relief when he made a joke about how LTN wasn’t with the times by continuing to use paper. When Danielle genuinely laughed Damon smiled and did his best to keep the momentum going with a few more less-than-mediocre jokes. None were funny, but Danielle’s laugh was genuine. She found his willingness to make fun of himself cute. Danielle was more familiar with his fits when tasks failed to meet his expectations. Or his confusion when his routine was interrupted, like when his lunch was late because an accident held up the person delivering it.
“Can’t he just get around the traffic already?” Danielle remembered him asking after she broke the news his meal was running behind schedule.
When all the papers were off his office floor, Damon let Danielle stow them neatly away in the folder.
“Here you are, sir,” she said.
Danielle tapped the bottom of the folder to his desk to ensure the papers lined up on the bottom and did the same to the folder’s spine to lean the papers against it inside.
“Thanks,” Damon said without looking up.
Danielle gathered this incident in which they both expressed animosity to the folders, and to Kendyl, strengthened their professional bond, but his mannerisms remained awkward. She mouthed “okay” and shrugged before exiting his office to go back to her overcrowded desk. Damon surprised her before she could make it out the door.
“Do you want to go out with me tonight?” Damon asked.
Danielle’s eyes widened and body stiffened. Her hands were in her pockets and a smirk spread across her face as she turned around to face Damon.
“What? What does that mean?” he asked, worried her look meant she was making fun of him on the inside.
“What? No—nothing,” she said.
Danielle knew Damon was prone to jumping to conclusions, causing her to feel stupid for immediately responding in the manner she did.
“It’s just, well, I didn’t expect you to ask me out, but yeah—I’d love to go out with you tonight.”
Having the balls to ask her out shocked Damon, but her saying yes really threw him for one. He remained expressionless when he said, “Great, I’ll have someone pick you up.”
“Okay, great. Uh, yeah, sounds good. Will you be there?” Danielle asked.
“I don’t drive.”
Dating wasn’t Damon’s expertise, but even so, Danielle expected him to know it was customary to pick up a date.
“I know that. Will you be in the car? You know, so we ride over to our date together.”
“Oh right,” he said, awkwardly shifting in his chair, “Uh, yeah. Of course.”
This didn’t convince Danielle he originally planned to be there, “Okay. I’m looking forward to it.”
Danielle twirled on her heels and walked out blushing.
9:56 a.m. Friday, October 9
“Harrison Maker’s office. This is Kendyl speaking. May I ask who’s calling?”
“I love it when my favorite sister picks up the phone at my husband’s office,” said the voice on the other end.
Kendyl rolled her eyes and dropped her stereotypical assistant voice, one her sister loathed.
“And what can I do for you today Melissa?” Kendyl asked.
“Well, I’m calling to talk to my husband. Can you put me through?”
“He isn’t here at the moment, but I can take a message.”
This was code between the sisters. “Can you put me through?” translated to a serious topic that called for a discussion and “I can take a message” meant the coast was clear.
“Thank God. Where is he?” Melissa asked.
“The course. All of his work was done in Ireland. He hasn’t been to the office. I don’t expect to see him.”
“That leaves your schedule wide open, yes?”
“Not really, but since my time’s ending here I don’t care. Plus, I fuck him so he gets less mad at me for not working hard.”
Melissa made a gagging sound and joked she didn’t want to hear about her sister sleeping with her husband. Kendyl laughed and told her she’d leave in fifteen minutes to meet Melissa for coffee. There they could confirm their plan to extract Harrison Maker’s fortune.
10:17 a.m. Friday, October 9
Damon heard what was coming before he saw it.
“Excuse me Kendyl, Mr. Maker does not want to be bothered right now,” Danielle said, shuffling after her.
“Oh please, Danielle. ‘Mr. Maker,’” Kendyl mocked, “can afford to spare two minutes. Especially for his favorite aunt.”
Damon sighed and cursed under his breath. Danielle put up a valiant effort to prevent Kendyl from barging into Damon’s office, but his father’s assistant was someone who knew how to get her way.
Kendyl paced into his office like she owned it. The way her right hand held her purse’s strap above her shoulder with a close-mouthed smile showed her for the bitch she was.
“Sir, I’m so sorry. She just forced her way in. I tried to stop her but she didn’t lis—”
“Danielle, it’s okay,” Damon interrupted, “I know how she is.”
“Okay, sorry sir,” Danielle said and sauntered out of his office.
Kendyl made herself comfortable in the seat across from Damon.
“What do you plan to annoy me about? You’ve already disrespected Danielle twice today and pissed me off with all these files. I’m not touching them until I’m done with my other tasks. What, does my dad want me to come up? I have other things to do. I can’t just drop what I’m doing to appease him,” Damon said.
“Damon, just shut the hell up. You’re not that important, alright? For fuck’s sake,” Kendyl scoffed.
“You’re disgusting,” Damon said.
“Thanks nephew. I’m about to go meet up with your mother for a coffee, I’m sure she’d love to hear that.”
Damon looked at his watch.
“I thought that the wine bar down the street doesn’t open until eleven,” he said.
“Ha, ha, ha. You know, if you weren’t so rude maybe you’d get a girl.”
“Like you know how to have a relationship. I mean, Jesus Christ, what do you and my mom talk about? Who fucks my dad better? Yeah, your matchmaking skills are really credible, Kendyl.”
Kendyl, someone not easily bothered, threw her hair back over her shoulder and inhaled deeply. Damon knew that one got under her skin.
“You know what, you need to watch your fuckin’ mouth and attitude. You should hear what your dad says about you when you’re not around. Don’t think you’ll get far because you can make numbers look a certain way and your last name is what it is. Shape the fuck up and talk to me with respect. Believe me when I say I know your dad way better than you do, Damon.”
The whole time Kendyl had been in his office Damon had been pretending to read a report he was holding. His right index finger pressed along the side of his face to make it look like he was concentrating, but really, he just wanted to appear disinterested in what his aunt had to say. In actuality, everything coming out of her mouth made him seethe. Sometimes he thought about being the bigger person when she came in talking like this, but after her last comment, he couldn’t hold his tongue.
“You know what, Kendyl, you’re right. I have some deficiencies when it comes to the way I handle people, and I can actually afford to learn from someone like you.”
She crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. She couldn’t decide if he was coming around or mocking her.
Damon laid his forearms on his desk and leaned in closer to her.
“In my world and among my people, someone like you is similar to something we have to pay very close attention to because it impacts our business in a huge way. Knowing this information is actually invaluable and enables us to continue to be profitable.”
Kendyl’s facial expression told Damon he had her.
He continued, “You are what we consider, a depreciating asset. You come in with a pretty face, round tits, and a fat ass. All available to surgically improve, too. This makes your ceiling pretty high. But then you begin to get a little loose. Then the surgeries start to make you look scarier rather than better. Then your personality comes out, and the attraction from men starts to dwindle because the bad starts outweighing the good. But then, good news for us.
“Someone who looks like what you did three to five years ago walks in and can be a main contributor. That means you, the depreciating asset, can be let go. You did your job while you were here, but now, you’re just too dried up to add anymore value. So we dump you, and pick up the tight, untouched recent graduate that actually knows what she’s doing.”
Damon shrugged his shoulders and resumed his charade of reading reports. Kendyl, usually harder to out-bitch, sat there speechless. Damon pretended she wasn’t there.
After she took time to regain her composure she stood up and said, “You know, I realize we don’t always get along, but we’re family. And family should never talk to each other that way.”
Kendyl pushed her chair back and stormed out of his office.
Damon laughed and said to himself, “Wait until you see how I really treat family.”