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Happenstance

Joahkim and Joseph Johnson (no relation) worked in adjacent cubicles doing similar dull tasks for their employer, Empire Advertisings. Partly because of the similar surnames, but more because they were of the same age, had both graduated from 'elite schools', and were hired the same week, they became close. Over the past two years they had hung out together and even double-dated with different sisters several times.

Edgy? Perhaps! But the fellows had bonded macho a macho, and non-competitive.

Then this past May when an opportunity door opened to an Assistant Manager position, both buddies applied for the job and got interviews dated middle of June, three weeks away, one hour apart of the same day.

No surprise, this circumstance strained the friends' relationship to the extreme, and in the intervening period from appointment notice to the actual interview, the Johnston young men spent virtually none of their free time together.

Does not mean they weren't thinking of each other! Fact is, they could not stop.

Joahkim Johnston saw his chances as good trending to excellent. Compared to the competition, his bio showed a person who academically, athletically, and non-specifically, was a practiced winner ever humble about his talents. A give-back guy who graduated with honors stood up next to the other Johnston, he was taller, and a superior party-chatter (being blessed with good looks and a fine speaking voice).

All rival Joseph Johnston had going for him was that the boss, Mr. Robert Henry, was by marriage his Uncle Bob.

Come interview morning, Mr. Robert 'Bob' Henry dressed with the usual care, matching everything - from shiny smile to perfect tie, from shirt to shoes - with distinctive flair, presenting the world with a model of the successful, well-groomed executive. A fellow who, just short of being inappropriately dashing, was solid in the realm of the debonair.

Master-of-his-world Robert Henry left his home promptly at nine. Two minutes later his chauffeur, Jake Livingston, opened the rear passenger door of the long black Cadillac and greeted the usual, "Right on time, Boss." Then after making sure Mr. Robert Henry was good and comfy, squeezed it shut with barely a click. Jake then got behind the wheel and rode them off to his boss's special place; his haven in the morning where he got his coffee just as he wanted it.

And Uncle Mr. Robert Henry was a man who liked his java particular. Like exactly the way Mavis, the West Indian waitress in this bodega did it after he explained his particular process to her. Told her how to that first time and she got it right. Just one how-to lesson and since then she had righted his every workday morning! And for which he showed Mavis sincere appreciation by way of a twenty-dollar tip every visit. To one-percenter Robert Henry, a cheap price for perfection.

But on this particular morning, Mavis the paragon was absent!

In abject panic Bob Henry asked and learned that her child had fallen sick and she had taken him to the doctors. The info left Uncle Bob dazed and confused. No chance she'd be back in time! So what now? What to do? How does he get his necessary particular coffee?

Then the corporate man-of-action part of him took over. He beckoned over the substitute waiter - a polite young man who, contrary to his haircut, tattoos and clothes, spoke English like a foreigner. Mr. Robert Henry, the executive, spoke to him in simple words, instructing and advising even to the time it'd take, how to create his particular pot of coffee.

The young man listened close, took notes on a paper napkin. Jottings which, later in the kitchen, he showed to the cook and got a cheap snigger as he explained, "This fella crazy insist. Say I write down. So! Customer always right. No?"

Seven anxious minutes later, a hopeful but cautious Mr. Bob Henry slurped a hot mouthful of the brew the waiter brought him. And instantly disgusted, spat out the stuff all onto the table, and the napkin, which saved his pants but failed his fine silk tie - its patterned sky blue now smeared by dirty brown splotches.

Needless to note, Mr. Robert Henry did not leave a tip as he stormed out of the bodega cursing the Fates under his breath, knowing that his day was ruined and doomed. The natural consequence of no particular coffee! Not to mention crippling of his style, his perfect look, his personal pizzazz spoiled by a splattered tie.

Briefly, he thought of asking Jake to detour to a store where he could replace the neckwear, but a glance at his watch showed that it'd make him late for his ten o'clock - interviews for an Assistant Manager position, his wife's young brother Joseph being one of two candidates.

So resigned to the situation, Uncle Bob Henry fastened his jacket to the topmost button-hole and ignored a lurking notion that it made him look like a country bumpkin. He strode into the building maintaining this denial until the elevator opened and was empty. He pressed 'Express' to the executive floor, and thus assured of being alone, took off the damned dirty tie and shoved it into his briefcase. He then unbuttoned the finely striped light wool jacket all the way, undid the top two buttons of the midnight blue rayon shirt to expose an adequate 'V' of no-vest chest. Then channeling his persona as a rich and snazzy gangsta lord, he swaggered into his office at six minutes to ten.

Robert Henry sat in his big chair, rocked it back and forth as he massaged and muscled his mood to that suitable for a captain of industry. A man of decision. A power player who got the job done easy. But it wasn't happening. Thoughts kept recycling to his wife, Kirsten. Blaming her for the morning's coffee fiasco. In the fifteen years of their marriage he had shown her the right technique ten, fifteen thousand times. With never a positive result. Her product was always a mess. He had bust his balls trying to manage the day-to-day stress this gave him, and it took his therapist's best persuasions to stop a divorce: the alimony costs, the loss of a dependable Yes-Marm, his image with the board of directors. He was still in this bitter mood when there came a knock on his door to which he growled, "Come in!"

Joahkim Johnston entered the room closed the door, and one look at his boss instantly lost his sangfroid; the grim expression on Mr. Henry's face was unpromising. On top of that, the boss-man's focus seemed to be on Joahkim's mouth or chin, definitely not on his eyes. Which cued Joahkim to recall a sharp detective in some story explaining that that liars and perps focus on one's mouth rather than allow a peek into the 'windows of their malicious souls'. Heart in his guts, he said, "Good morning, sir."

Robert Henry did not respond. Just kept his bleak gaze lower than Joahkim's anxious eyes.

Joahkim said, "Sir, I'm here to interview for the . . ."

Robert Henry cut in gruffly, "I know why you're here," then reached over to the right side of his desk and clicked a device. A voice recorder turned off, Joahkim assumed.

Then fiercely meeting and holding Joahkim's stare, Mr. Robert Henry commanded quietly, "Look here, son. Gimme your tie!"

No hesitation, Joahkim said, "Sure, sir," took off his tie and passed it over.

"Okay," said Mr. Robert Henry as he grabbed the pale blue silk, "this stays here. Right?"

"Certainly, sir," agreed Joahkim Johnston.

Expert fingers swiftly working, Robert Henry fitted the tie under his shirt collar and knotted it to his satisfaction. Then he clicked the recorder back on and said, "Well, Johnston, I think you'll do fine as our new assistant manager. At this level we need quick thinkers who can act even faster. Welcome aboard, young man." He stuck his hand out.

Somewhat bewildered, Joahkim briefly shook the extended hand, said, "Thank you, sir. I won't disappoint."

"Won't let you," said Mr. Robert Henry, leaning back on his Captain-of-Industry chair and smiling a cheerful one at Joahkim Johnston.

As Joahkim opened the door to leave, Robert Henry said, "Hey, er, Johnston. Miss Payne in payroll, tell her to call me. And, er, Joahkim, take the rest of the day off. Go celebrate. And that's an order." He wagged his forefinger playfully.

"Sure, sir," said Joahkim Johnston, "and thank you again."

Uncle Bob Henry fingered the perfect Windsor knot at his neck and grinned. 'It's going to be a great day,' he mused as he rocked the big chair gently back and forth. 'I could have Maggie Payne get me a cup of street vendor's java. They could be pretty tolerable sometimes. Yeah! Think I'll do that.'

(c) Kelvin Christopher James