Seattle was famous for its waterways and the iconic Space Needle. People came here from all over the world, seeking the romance of the ferries and dinner seemingly at the top of the world.
Living here wasn’t quite as magical or romantic as tourists seemed to believe. At least, it wasn’t for me.
Considering that David had just sauntered into the office five and half minutes late, I suspected he bought into the more relaxed pace out-of-towners believed we kept. I cocked an eyebrow at him, folding my arms as I turned away from our reception desk to face my tardy employee.
“Welcome to work, David. I’m glad you decided to grace us with your presence.”
Everything and everyone around me ground to a halt, the entire open-concept workspace suddenly so quiet that I might’ve had a shot at hearing a pin drop. David paled, stammering as he tried to come up with a good excuse.
“I, uh, I…” he trailed off, clearly unable to come up with something I would deem good enough to excuse his decided lack of punctuality.
Some people believed cleanliness was next to godliness. I didn’t like dirt, but I absolutely despised people being late. To my mind, punctuality was next to godliness. Everyone around here knew it, too.
While calling him out in front of all of the others probably wouldn’t seem entirely professional to an outsider, it was a good opportunity for me to remind my employees what happened to those who didn’t take their work seriously enough to bother showing up on time.
“This is your last warning, David,” I said, rocking back on my heels as I looked him over.
Pale and frazzled. Definitely not in the right state to do what we did here. “Take the rest of the day off. I’ll take over your meetings.”
His eyes widened. “No. Please. I can do it. I’m sorry. Just let me work. Please.”
I sighed. The guy was too shocked and terrified to speak in full cohesive sentences. In this game, a person had to be one hundred percent with it, one hundred percent of the time. If they weren’t, they didn’t close deals. And if they didn’t close deals, they were of no use to me.
What we did here was high-paced and cutthroat. The business of buying and selling companies was no picnic. If an opportunity presented itself, we had to be there to take it before anyone else was—hence my intense hatred of tardiness.
When my employees didn’t get to where they needed to be on time, then someone else would come along and steal the deal from right under our asses. It cost me money, and I liked making money. I did not like losing it simply because an employee had proven to be incapable of reading his watch correctly.
“No,” I said firmly. “Go home, David. If you wanted to work, you should’ve been here to do it. You can try again tomorrow.”
He sputtered, his face turning bright red before he huffed out a breath, turned around, and shuffled back out of my building. To anyone who had been watching, I knew that would’ve seemed ruthless of me. It wasn’t like I got off on having to treat a fully grown man like an errant schoolchild, but I’d lost too many acquisitions to mistakes like the one he had just made.
Only five minutes late had cost me thousands, and I couldn’t let it slide. Not ever again. The companies we were looking to acquire or absorb and then either restructure or sell off part by part were mostly struggling.
The takeovers weren’t hostile exactly, but oftentimes, it required a certain finesse to get the owners to agree to sell. More often than not, making a bad first impression meant losing that owner’s interest in our services almost immediately.
Worse yet was when that allowed one of our many, many competitors to swoop in and buy the company at the last possible moment. And it happened a lot more than anyone would like to admit.
All of which meant that I had to do what I had to do to ensure the continued success of my own business before I ended up on the chopping block myself. It wasn’t personal. It was business, and if that made me a ruthless asshole, then I was okay with it.
Spinning around to face the reception desk again, I glanced at Caroline and snapped my fingers. “What did David have on the agenda for today?”
Our receptionist nearly knocked her computer over in her haste to get me an answer. Blinking rapidly, she pushed her glasses up to the bridge of her nose and quickly clicked into our shared calendar.
“He was going to pay a visit to Marvin Martin at Martin and Sons Hardware,” she said, thankfully proving to be as efficient as always regardless of how stressed out she seemed to be all of a sudden. “After that, he was headed over to the Anderson Clinic to follow up on a meeting he had last week.”
“Follow up?” I frowned. “The Andersons are sinking faster than the fucking Titanic and the whole damn city knows it. Any reason on there about why it’s taken him a week to follow up and why he didn’t close the deal in the first place?”
“Uh, the only note he entered on the system is that the owner wanted to confer with his wife and that he would get back to him.”
“Jesus,” I muttered. “What is this, cold calling? Send me the details and the address of both meetings. I’ll take them.”
Gary, my assistant, had been standing beside me for all this time, and he suddenly stepped forward. “I’m afraid that’s not possible, Mr. Sharp. You have—”
“Don’t tell me it’s not possible. If something doesn’t seem possible, you shuffle things around until it is possible.” I glanced back at Caroline and waved my phone at her. “Details, darling. Please and thank you. I’ll see you all later.”
When I turned around, I did up the button on my jacket in the same motion and then strode smoothly toward the door. Since I was heading out again, the jacket would be staying on after all and I refused to show up at a client’s half dressed.
Only heathens and non-believers walked around in public with their suit jackets unbuttoned or their ties loosened. Heathens, non-believers, and strippers—possibly. Although not even strippers were likely to walk around in public in a state of undress. They thought the same way I did. If you wanted the goods, you had to pay for it.
My phone buzzed with the details I’d asked for before I’d even made it to my car. I smiled. At least Caroline was consistent. She could be counted on to do her damn job and to do it well.
After sliding into my newly purchased, low-slung Maserati, I checked the time and address of David’s first meeting and cursed. As it was, I’d hardly have enough time to make it all the way out there without being late myself.
How he’d thought he was going to make it there after getting to the office late in the first place, I didn’t know. All I knew was that I was going to have to put even this powerful machine to work in order to avoid making the same mistake.
Martin and Sons Hardware was out in the suburbs, the crown jewel of a franchise which had done well for the family. As I stopped outside the weathered building, I realized it’d been allowed to fall into disrepair since the last time I’d been here.
On the other hand, that had been many moons ago. It went to show how long this place had been around, though. It was a pity it was looking so shabby when it used to be glamorous in every way that counted to men—maintained with good quality products and knowledgeable staff.
An elderly man walked to the door, leaning against the frame as his gaze swept across my car. The faded green shirt he wore allowed me to identify him as an employee, since it was their uniform, but it was the look in his eyes when he glanced at me that told me this was Marvin Martin.
The man had become a legend in his own right—to the guys around these parts anyway. Wishing that I knew what David had told him prior to this meeting, I huffed out a frustrated breath before pasting a grin on my face and climbing out of the car.
The older man watched me warily, the deep wrinkling lining his face scrunching up in his distaste. I knew what he was thinking. I was just another slick city boy who didn’t know a screwdriver from a wrench. That there was no way he was selling his business to a guy like me. One who wore tailored suits and drove a car that likely couldn’t even take a proper-sized toolbox.
“David?” He murmured the name as I strode toward him, and I shook my head.
He had me pegged all wrong, but we’d get there. “No, sir. The name’s Danny Sharp. I’m the CEO of Sharp Acquisitions.”
“I had a meeting with someone called David. Where is he?”
“I’m afraid he had to take the day off.” I extended my hand toward the older man. “It’s a real honor to meet you, Mr. Martin. This place you have here was an institution to me growing up.”
His pale blue eyes widened in surprise, but I saw the flash of approval in them. “Well, I’m sure you’ll appreciate how much I value it, then. Come on in, son.”
Got ya. I couldn’t quite believe it’d been that easy to win him over, but on the other hand, I wasn’t just trying to be nice. It helped to grease the wheels with a little charm at the outset of any meeting, but it’d been true that I used to be in awe of this store. I’d loved it once upon time.
“So, Danny,” he said as he waved me into a seat in his stuffy, cramped office. “How did it happen that the CEO of an outfit like yours ended up having to take a meeting with a guy like me?”
“You can call me Sharp. Everybody does, and I wanted to take this meeting.” I smoothed out my tie as I leaned back in the threadbare chair I’d just sat down on. “If you don’t mind me asking, what happened here, Mr. Martin?”
“Marvin, please,” he said, then blew out a heavy breath. “I don’t want to sell this place, Sharp. Your boy contacted me to set up this meeting, but I believe I can still turn things around.”
We’re cutting straight to the chase then. Good. I like that. “Let’s be honest with each other, Marvin. You’re going under, and I’m going to make you an offer. It’s going to be a good one. You’ll be able to retire comfortably with the additional benefit of knowing that you’ve sold to someone who has no interest in discontinuing your legacy.”
A hard glint appeared in his eyes. “You misunderstood me. I’m not interested in selling. Times are tough everywhere for everyone. I’m not ready to give up.”
Sigh. I didn’t want to use intimidation or scare tactics on the man, but what I was about to say was as true as what I’d said before. “You’re right. Times are tough, but most people don’t get handed a deal like this to bail them out. If you turn me down, maybe you’ll be able to stay afloat for another month or two, but after that, you’re going to have to file for bankruptcy. When that happens, it won’t only be your business that’ll be going. You’re mortgaged to the hilt. You could lose your house, your pension, and even that nice old fishing boat you bought at such a bargain price a decade ago.”
He scowled at me. “How do you know all that?”
“My people do their research. Before I came here, my assistant sent me all the details I needed to know.” Also true.
Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my trusty notepad and pen. After writing out the number I was willing to pay him for his dump, I tore the page out of my notebook and folded it in half, then pushed it across the table. “That’s my offer. It’s a hell of a lot more than you’ll get for it anywhere else, and that’s because, like you said, I know how valuable it is to you.”
Narrowing his eyes at the paper like it was about to bite him, he hesitated before finally, reluctantly raising his hand and reaching for it. As soon as he saw what I’d written, his breath left him in an audible rush I was sure he regretted letting me hear, and then he shook his head.
“I don’t know about this, Sharp. Let me think about it and get back to you.”
I placed my elbows on my knees and leaned forward, looking intently into his eyes. “You’re going to need to make a decision now. That offer expires as soon as I walk out the door.”
Shock registered on his features, his nostrils flaring as he fought the instinctive urge to tell me to fuck off. In the end, though, after a few long quiet minutes of contemplation, he sighed and rubbed the back of his head before he hung it.
“Yeah. Okay. I’ll take your deal.”
I grinned, getting up and extending my hand again. “Good man. You made the right decision. I’ll have my people send over the paperwork by the end of the day.”
After we shook on it and I headed out, I wasn’t oblivious to the tears in his eyes, but I also didn’t feel bad about putting him on the spot. First, because I had to be cunning and cutthroat to be good at my job, but more importantly, because Marvin Martin and his company had needed this.
My job was to help people get out of bad businesses. To unglue them from the sinking ships. Contrary to how he felt right now, I had helped him and I knew it. All that remained now was for him to start seeing it that way. And he would. Once the tedious, obligatory mourning period was over.