“Wow,that was the worst quarter ever,” Westin hisses as he tosses the quarterly report onto the conference table. “Thanks a lot, Nolan. I hope it was worth it.”
Nolan is grinning with his arms crossed at the other side of the table, his tie hanging loose around his thick neck. “Are you going to be mad if I tell you it was?”
“Your perverse fun might have been worth it for you and Arya, but this is going to hurt the company. We might have to let some staff go because of this.”
Us four Cline brothers go quiet around the conference table as that sinks in. In the five years since we inherited Cline Investments, Real Estate, & Holdings, or Cline Corp for short, we haven’t laid off one employee. Dad would be proud, until now. He always drilled it into us—‘these people trust you with their livelihoods and that of their families. You have to do whatever you can to honor that trust and take care of them.’
Apparently, Nolan wasn’t thinking of that at Mr. Brown’s charity gala two months ago. The lovebirds snuck into what they thought was a private room, but when the curtain came up, every one of Mr. Brown’s guests was treated to the view of Nolan nailing his new girlfriend on the red antique car that was up for auction.
Mr. Brown was not pleased. He’s a very conservative man and our largest nine-figure investor. At least he was until he fired us over that little incident.
“I know he was a big investor,” Luke says as he nervously taps his pen on the table, “but layoffs? Really?”
Westin sighs as he pulls the report back to him and looks at it. “I don’t see any other way. We just lost about a quarter of our revenue.”
“I’m sorry, guys,” Nolan says with his hands in his hair. “I didn’t think… I just couldn’t control myself around Arya. I don’t know what happened to me.”
“I’m still surprised the old man didn’t have a heart attack when he saw your bare ass up there,” I say with a laugh.
“You should have seen his face,” Nolan says as he tries to stifle his laughter. “He went as red as the car.”
“That’s hilarious,” Westin says with a roll of his eyes. “But what’s not funny is that we now have to layoff close to two hundred people because of that ridiculous stunt.”
“I say we get rid of Luke,” I suggest as I put my feet on the table. “He’s not very smart and his head kind of looks like a football.”
My older brother is sitting on my right, glaring at me. Luke is thirty and has always been the largest of us Cline boys. The four of us are all tall and muscular, but he’s the biggest. And the funnest to tease.
He slaps my feet off the table and lunges on me, wrapping his huge arm around my neck in a headlock. “You’ll never get rid of me, Eli,” he shouts as he yanks me around like we’re ten years old again and wrestling over the last Oreo. “I’m going to be at your funeral to give you a wedgie before you’re buried. How would you like that, asshole? To have your underwear up your ass for all eternity?”
“Get off me!” I shout as I put my hands on his rock hard stomach and unsuccessfully try to push him off. It’s like trying to move a statue.
“Guys!” Westin snaps as he slams his fist on the table. “This is important.”
Luke reluctantly lets me go and then fixes his tie as he slumps back into his chair.
“I was just about to get the upper hand,” I say, smoothing my hair out as I sit back down. “Another three seconds and I would have been out of that hold.”
“Another three seconds and you would have been unconscious,” Luke says with a snort. He looks at his phone and frowns. “Where is Brooke with the food? I’m starving.”
“Can we focus?” Westin snaps, looking like he’s about to blow the top of his head off. “Our balance sheet is missing nine fucking figures!”
“We’ll figure something out,” Nolan says as he gets up and walks to the window. We’re on the top floor of a Manhattan skyscraper and the late evening lights of New York in the summertime look spectacular from up here.
“What are you going to figure out?” Brooke asks as she arrives with three pizzas and a bottle of Mountain Dew.
We all say hi to our little sister and then dive into the pizza boxes, elbowing each other to get the biggest piece. Luke tosses his cold coffee into the plant and then fills his mug with the Mountain Dew. Fucking caveman…
“We lost Mr. Brown as an investor,” Westin says as he picks the olives off his pizza and tosses them on the box. “We have to figure out where to recoup his money.”
“Mr. Brown,” Brooke says as she sits at the head of the table, watching us. “Was that the guy from the charity gala?”
“Yes,” Westin says as he shoots Nolan a quick glare. “The one which your brother and your friend ruined.”
She’s trying not to laugh as she looks at Nolan. “At least I got one of my brothers a girl.”
“And it’s going to give your other brothers an ulcer,” Westin says, frowning at his pizza. “We have to figure out what we’re going to do.”
“Can’t we just hang out and not talk about work, or money?” Brooke says as she plays with her black hair. “You guys are always working! Don’t you think it’s weird that we have to have our family get-togethers in a conference room? I don’t want to have to dress business casual just to see my family.”
“That’s business casual?” I ask, pointing at the cleavage popping out of her shirt.
“It is,” she says with a grin. “You should see what I wear with my friends.”
Westin shakes his head. “Please don’t make us lose our appetite, Brooke.”
“Still,” she says as she crosses her arms. “The only time I can see my family is when they’re doing overtime. That’s messed up.”
Westin rifles through a file and pulls out a check. “This is why we’re still here,” he says as he hands it to her. “Your quarterly dividend check.”
Brooke is all excited until she sees it. “I think the printer forgot to put a zero on here.”
Our father left us the investment firm when he passed away five years ago and we’re all equal owners. The four boys work full time at it, but Brooke is more of an artsy type who wants to be an actress. She just brings us food once in a while and collects the checks.
“That’s from Nolan and Arya’s impromptu show,” Westin says, still shaking his head.
“At least we got a new sister-in-law out of it,” she says, smiling at Nolan. “And Nolan got a wife. That’s worth it, isn’t it? Getting a new family member. That’s priceless!”
“Actually, the price was fifteen million each,” I mutter. Nolan and Brooke frown at me as Westin and Luke nod their heads in agreement.
“Well, I’d gladly pay fifteen million dollars for each one of you if it meant finding the girl of your dreams.”
“Thanks,” I say to her with a laugh. “For spending your imaginary money on these imaginary girls.”
“There’s someone out there for each of you,” Brooke says, looking indignant. “Just because you insist on being locked up here and refuse to try and find her, doesn’t mean she’s not out there.”
“Yes, somewhere out there,” I say with a grin, “is the world’s most anal girl for Westin, and working in some medieval pub is a woman for Luke.”
“And what?” Luke asks with a sneer. “The most annoying girl in the world is out there for you?”
“Do you have any more friends to set these guys up with?” Nolan asks. “They don’t know what they’re missing.”
“What we’re missing,” Westin says, “is one hundred and seventeen million dollars on our quarterly spreadsheet.”
“No,” Brooke answers. “What you’re missing is love.”
“What Luke is missing is a brain.” Luke throws down his pizza and lunges on me. “Shit!” I laugh as I jump up and jerk the chair between us.
“A chair is not going to stop me from kicking your ass,” he says with a grin. Nolan, Westin, and Brooke are casually eating their pizza slices as they watch. They’ve seen me and Luke fight enough times over the years that it’s become normal.
He’s bigger than me and usually always wins, but I can’t seem to stop myself from antagonizing the caveman. It’s just too easy and so much fun.
With a grunt, he kicks the chair and tackles me onto the table as the chair spins away.
“Watch it!” I grunt through his greasy palm on my mouth. “This is a three thousand dollar suit!”
He rolls me over the open pizza box as he shoves his forearm into my temple. “Mine is worth four thousand you cheap bastard.”
“Not anymore,” I say with a laugh as I roll him onto his cup of Mountain Dew.
“Fuck!” he hollers as it soaks through his coat.
We’re wrestling and punching each other hard enough to hurt, but soft enough to know that we’re just playing.
“Mr. Brown!” Westin says in surprise.
Luke and I immediately stop and look at the door. Mr. Brown is standing there watching the scene with a horrified look on his face.
“This was a mistake,” he says before disappearing as quickly as he appeared.
“Wait!” Westin shouts as he runs after him.
“Get off of me!” I whisper-shout at Luke as I try to push his huge body off my chest. He jumps off of me as Nolan and Brooke disappear into the hallway.
The five of us catch up to Mr. Brown as he impatiently waits for the elevator to arrive. Westin is pleading with him to stay.
“I shouldn’t have come here,” he’s saying as he looks up at the rising numbers on top of the elevator doors.
“We’re so happy to see you, Mr. Brown,” Westin says with an edge of panic to his voice. “Once again, I’d like to extend how terribly sorry I am that your banquet got ruined by regrettable factors.”
“Regrettable factors?” Mr. Brown snaps as he spins around and points at Nolan. “It was him! He had… intercourse on my car!”
Nolan starts rubbing his chin nervously. “Can I point out that the silent auction was already finished at that point so technically it wasn’t your car when I had sex on it.”
Mr. Brown looks horrified.
Westin shoots Nolan a look.
“It was most unfortunate, is what Nolan was trying to say,” Westin continues diplomatically. “He fell head over heels in love the night of your gorgeous gala and he couldn’t control himself. You remember how it was when you and Mrs. Brown were younger, don’t you?”
“I do,” he says as a blush comes to his wrinkled cheeks. “I guess we all have our dirty secrets. Mrs. Brown and myself held hands before exchanging our wedding vows. It was most erotic.”
“See?” Westin says as I try not to laugh. “That’s what I mean.”
The elevator arrives and the doors open with a ding.
Westin jumps in front of it, blocking Mr. Brown’s exit. “You came to us tonight for a reason, what was it?”
He sighs as he looks at the floor. “I thought if I came up here and you gentleman were still at work, I would reconsider.”
“Reconsider entrusting your investments with us?”
He’s all tense and looking conflicted. “The returns from my new investment managers have been underwhelming, to say the least. The fact of the matter is, you four are the best in the business.”
Westin has that look in his eye. The fierce look he always has when he’s about to close a huge sale. “What can we do to make it up to you, Mr. Brown? How can we get another chance?”
His body is all rigid as he thinks about it.
“Well,” he says as he plays with the bottom of his coat. “As long as I know that your firm is committed to professionalism.”
“We are,” Westin says, nodding as Mr. Brown starts walking back to the conference room. We all follow him. “We would like to extend a guarantee that nothing like that incident will ever happen again. We are definitely committed to professionalism.”
Mr. Brown freezes at the entrance to the conference room. I gulp as I look in. It’s an absolute mess with pizza on the table, a chair flipped over, papers scattered everywhere, and Luke’s Mountain Dew dripping off the table and onto the floor.
“We were about to clean that up,” Nolan says with a gulp.
Mr. Brown looks like he’s decided not to give us that second chance after all when Brooke steps in. “My brothers work very hard and they work well together, but they’re still brothers. This is what happens in the executive offices when there’s a disagreement at Cline Corp. Boys will be boys, right?”
He sighs as he looks at each of us with a frown.
“I’m throwing a golf tournament, cocktail party, and dinner at the club this weekend,” he finally says.
“I’d love to go!” Westin says with a huge smile on his face.
“I have two spots available in my foursome. It’s my son, myself, and I was hoping, two of you.”
Oh, thank God there are no dates for this one.
“I love golf!” Westin lies. He’s never played the sport before, but knowing how dedicated he is at this job, he’ll be practicing twenty hours a day until Saturday.
“No,” Mr. Brown snaps. “I want him.”
Nolan gulps as he gets pointed at.
Now it’s my turn to gulp. The old man is pointing right at me.
“Why them?” Westin asks with a worried look on his face.
“Because they are the two most unprofessional out of the four of you,” he says.
Luke snorts out a laugh.
Even Nolan can’t argue with that, but me? What the hell did I do?
“Really, sir?” I ask, feeling a little outraged. “Have you seen Luke’s head? Doesn’t it look like a football from this angle? Luke turn around.”
Luke just glares at me. I think I’m going to pay for that one later.
“I see what you mean,” Mr. Brown says as he looks at Luke’s misshapen head, “but at least he doesn’t have a slice of pepperoni on his shirt.”
“Damn it,” I whisper when I look down and see a pepperoni slice stuck to my left pec.
“If you two deplorables can convince me of your professionalism on Saturday, then I’ll return my business to Cline Corp.”
Westin and I meet eyes as Mr. Brown heads back to the elevators. We have a chance. All we have to do is keep cool, hit some golf balls, tell some witty stories, and that nine-figures is ours once again. And most importantly, we won’t have to layoff any of our staff.
“Gentleman,” Mr. Brown says when he pushes the button and the doors open immediately. “I’ll see the two of you at the club on Saturday. 8:30 AM sharp. Don’t be late.”
He walks into the elevator and gives us a stern look as the doors close.
“You guys can’t fuck this up!” Westin spits out as the elevator takes Mr. Brown away.
“Do you really think we’re going to fuck this up?” I ask as I peel the slice of pepperoni off my shirt and toss it into my mouth.
Westin looks like he’s about to have a stroke.
“Cocktail party, huh?” Brooke says, looking excited. “You must need a date for that. I have a girl from my—”
“No!” all four of us scream at the same time.