To start at the beginning, go back and read Chapter One.
There is a 6,345-square-foot home, with marble-tiled bathrooms, fully integrated home entertainment technology, and a professional-level gas grill, among many other amenities, that sits in a grove-like subdivision a comfortable 15-minute commute from the headquarters of Sterling Performance Limited. Tax registers and other official documents will show that this is the residence of Mr. Anthony J. Sun, the chief financial officer of Sterling.
One afternoon in a second-floor bedroom, Mr. Sun’s 11-year-old son, Frederick, was engaged in one of the noble pursuits by which youth are shaped into full men. He and three friends were testing their strength and skill by utilizing the multi-player feature on Frederick’s PlayStation 4 edition of Mortal Kombat X.
Frederick’s hands and fingers moved quickly and surely. He sat straight and stared at the screen. Anyone who saw him would say he looked like a young version of his father. Indeed, his eyes, which were lit and striated with reflections from the glowing screen, were the exact same green as his father’s. But the edged shard of grief in young Frederick’s heart was that, despite their resemblance, he could so seldom catch his father’s eye. Mr. Sun was at that moment in his office, as he was at most waking moments, staring at his spreadsheets, projections, lists of receivables, and reports on productivity.
Frederick grappled with young Sam, throwing tight punches and wild kicks. He called out a boast: “Did you know that my father handles all of the money for Sterling? Every last cent goes through his hands, he says.”
Given the convenient location of this Arcadia of a subdivision, it will not surprise you to know that several employees of Sterling lived there, and their sons were Frederick’s playmates.
“No way,” said Sam.
“No one could handle that much money,” said another of the young man’s companions.
They tussled and kicked on the 70-inch plasma screen, but though each showed determined skill, each also had the endurance and toughness to remain standing.
“It’s true!” Frederick cried. He was wounded by his friends’ doubt. Perhaps because he also doubted his father—not his father’s power but his father’s love.
“Yeah, right,” returned another.
“He’s the CFO, C. F. O. Don’t you know what that means?” Frederick maneuvered and kicked at one of his tormentors. This fight suddenly felt like a fight against the unacknowledged fear in his breast—the fear that his father didn’t truly care for him.
“You’re making it up.”
The other three joined together and pummeled Frederick until he lay prostrate on the ground. “We’ll believe it when we see it,” one said.
“I’ll show you, then!” Frederick panted back at them. His heart was grievously wounded. He loved his father. He admired his father. But he wasn’t sure he really knew his father. Now he feared all the other boys saw this weakness in him.
Mr. Sun had tremendous responsibilities, as you and I can well understand, and these kept him at the office through long hours and many weekends. Holidays, vacations, school activities, all were subordinated to his duty at Sterling. After all, some whispered that Mr. Sun was the very right hand of Mr. Jove, and on the short list of potential successors. But this eminence had a cost for the great man’s son who yearned for just a look of esteem and love.
Frederick tried to act like he didn’t care what the other boys said for the hour that remained until they had to leave for a Debate Club meeting, but as soon as they were gone he rushed to find his mother.
She was in her expansive and immaculate kitchen, where she was heating a small container of gourmet, vegan soup in the microwave. Frederick stopped before her, with hands clasped in front of his chest and eyes burning with eager need.
“Where’s Dad?” said the young Frederick. “I have to ask him something.”
“He’s at work,” said the helpmeet of Mr. Sun. She glanced from her distressed son to the declining digits on the LED display of the microwave. “Really, Freddy, what is this about?”
“I need to talk to Dad,” he said. “When will he be home?”
Mrs. Sun raised her hands and shook her head, indicating that the answer to such a question was beyond her power to descry.
“I’ll go see him,” Frederick said.
“You can’t do that!” Mrs. Sun was so shocked she dropped the spoon she’d been tapping against her lower lip in anticipation of her mulligatawny. “He’s busy, you know. The things he does every day—managing all that money, finding the funds to get the company through each day, keeping all the accounts in line—it takes a lot of concentration.”
“Mom, I think I’m going to die. The guys don’t think he’s the CFO. They laughed at me. I’m going to die if I can’t see him and get him to help me show them it’s true.”
“You’ve never asked to go there before,” gasped Mrs. Sun. She herself had never been to the actual headquarters of Sterling Performance Limited, though she’d been to every holiday party for the last decade, all held at the lovely Lawndale Golf & Country Club.
“I’m his son. Don’t deny me this,” said Frederick. “I have to be worth that much.”
The microwave dinged. Mrs. Sun picked up the spoon from the floor and wiped it on the hem of her dress. “Okay. After my soup,” she said.
A silver Mercedes S-Class sedan pulled into the turnaround in front of the world headquarters of Sterling Performance Limited. A door opened, allowing observers a glimpse of the rich comforts inside, and Frederick stepped out onto the sidewalk. He, naturally, first gawked up at the 13-story edifice. The sun reflected off of hundreds of panes of glass, making the whole building seem to be a source of light itself. He headed toward the front door, among a small crowd wearing suits and ties.
“I’ll pick you up after my shopping,” his mother called after him, but he may not have heard, his mind was so taken up with the wonders around him.
He passed through a revolving door into a three-story atrium, with a mural depicting some of the company’s many useful prodcuts on one side, and a security desk on the other. Two palm trees with their roots in pots stood on either side of a passageway leading to the elevator bank.
Frederick headed this way, knowing that his father’s office was on the topmost floor, at the apex of power and influence. He longed to see his father in this place, imagining him somehow brighter, as if garbed in prestige, as if he would find a different man in his place of power, one who would recognize and welcome Frederick.
But a strong hand on his shoulder stopped him. A security guard with the company’s logo on his badge asked, “Where are you going young man?”
“Thirteenth floor,” replied Frederick.
The guard kept his powerful hand on Frederick’s shoulder and was using it to first turn him and then sweep him back toward the entrance. Frederick wasn’t strong enough to resist.
“You need an ID in here,” said the guard whose mighty hand had defeated Frederick.
“I need to see Mr. Sun. It’s important!”
“You need an ID, or you need to be on the visitor list,” said the guard. They were almost back to the security desk. The palm trees and the elevator bank looked so far away to Frederick. “Are you on the list?”
“But he’s my father,” Frederick cried. “He’s expecting me!”
The security guard’s eyes widened at this. He pulled his hand back quickly. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry,” he said, his voice transformed as if he’d been given the throat of a young girl. “Please don’t say anything about this, okay? I’m just trying to do my job.”
Frederick was inundated with joy—less because of his unlikely victory over the titan of a guard than because he suddenly felt like he truly was his father’s son. His suspicion grew that here in this place he would find his real father and he would be taken up by that long-sought man. He ran to the elevator.
If the turnaround and the atrium were not wonder enough for a mortal’s heart, Frederick emerged from the elevator into the C-suite lobby. Couches and low tables positioned for the convenience of important and busy visitors. Works of art on the walls with unrecognizable subject matter but very recognizable signatures in their corners. Against a row of windows at the far end were the desks of eight administrative assistants. They moved in front of the light, slim, erect silhouettes, as vague and beautiful as the sylphs one glimpses between the trees in an Arcadian grove.
One of them came toward Frederick. She was holding a leather-bound notebook against her chest, and her nails were bright red. Her eyes were pure and bright, and she smiled at Frederick. He fell in love with her, as all visitors to Sterling’s C-suite were meant to fall in love.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“I’m here to see Mr. Sun. He’s my father.”
She leaned down a little to look at him more closely, and the young man felt her gaze like heat on his cheeks. “Oh, yes,” she said and smiled at him with her beautiful lips. “I’ve seen your picture. Come with me.”
Mr. Sun’s office had a wall of trophies from his many professional exploits around the globe. Picture after picture arrayed in a grid: Mr. Sun shaking the hand of Clement Ellis, the U.S. representative for the 11th district, Sterling’s home district; Mr. Sun at a podium, speaking to an audience at a factory; Mr. Sun in a row of dignitaries, fellow finance chiefs attending a conference; Mr. Sun standing stiffly beside the CEO and the governor of their state; and so on. Young Frederick saw this wall on first entering—so many images of the man he wanted to know—and still it didn’t prepare him for the sight of glory itself: Mr. Sun at his desk, three different computer terminals within reach, all the capital of the company reined and quivering at his command, like great steeds, strong enough to carry away and trample any man, but obedient to the masterly hand.
Mr. Sun looked at Frederick, giving no hint of emotion, not even surprise, until the sylph had left them alone. Then he said, “What are you doing here?”
The question was not mean, but it was cruel in its coldness.
Frederick realized he would have to battle for his patrimony.
“I wanted to see you, Dad.”
The father gave no response.
“Mom said I could come. I want to know you. I want to see what you do. Some of the guys have been making fun of me, and they say you’re not really the CFO. I want to see what you do. I want to show them you are my real father.”
At this plaint, the father’s reserve broke. He was used to dealing in the world of business, not the world of family, so it was hard for him to acknowledge another’s feelings. But he loved his son. If nothing else, his son was a proper emanation of his own position in the world, and he wanted the boy to feel that. He wanted to do something for the boy.
Mr. Sun pushed back in his chair and held out a hand. “Come around here, Freddy,” he said. The boy did, and Mr. Sun wrapped his arm around his son’s waist and squeezed. “You’re my boy,” he said. Mr. Sun didn’t remember it, but this was exactly what he’d said to his son when the boy was too little understand language, before he and Mary had been able to afford help, when he sometimes had to watch Freddy while she had an appointment or something like that. And though neither Frederick nor Mr. Sun knew why, this concordance awakened powerful love and attachment in both of them.
“Thanks, Dad,” Frederick said. The words felt so small next to the relief and excitement he felt.
“Let me do something for you,” Mr. Sun said. “Name something you want and I’ll give it to you.” He expected the boy to claim a new computer or a promise of a car in a few years—boons Mr. Sun could easily grant.
Frederick only wanted to know his father better. “Let me sit in your chair,” he said.
“Oh,” Mr. Sun voiced without thinking. “Are you sure? Wouldn’t you rather have some new games or something?”
“I have them all. I want to be like you. I want to tell the guys that I sat here. You take a picture with my phone, and I can prove it to them.”
“I could get you an iPad or a new lacrosse stick,” said Mr. Sun. He could sense peril in the boy’s request. But to refuse him now would leave them both hurt and feeling more distant than when the boy first walked in.
“No. That’s all I want. It’s simple enough, isn’t it?”
“Okay.” Mr. Sun stood up. The resemblance between him and his son was especially strong as they stood beside each other for a moment. Then he moved away from his chair and made room for Frederick to sit down.
The seat was still warm with his father’s presence. Frederick pulled himself up to the edge of the desk, as if working, and wiggled to make himself comfortable. He smiled and said, “How do I look?”
“Like a real professional,” said Mr. Sun.
“Hey, do you know what a discounted cash flow is?” grilled Mr. Sun in a faux-drill sergeant voice.
They both laughed.
“What are the tax advantages to setting up a shell company to lease your factory equipment?”
“Dad,” Frederick said the word with a laugh in his voice. “Hey get the picture.” He handed his father the phone, and Mr. Sun backed across the office to get the right angle. Frederick smiled and pretended to put his hands on the keyboard.
Just then, Mr. Sun’s own phone buzzed with a new message—a bolt from Mr. Jove, in fact. Mr. Sun was startled enough to drop his son’s phone onto the carpet. He took out his own and read this message from his superior:
WHER R U?? BEEN EMAILING FIVE MINUTES. I NEED SOMETHING.
“Shit!” yelled Mr. Sun. He ran to the back of his desk and pulled the chair away. “Get out! Get out!” he yelled while pushing Frederick away.
Mr. Sun got into place at his workstation, hands again on the reins, and sure enough, there were eight messages from Mr. Jove in his Outlook inbox, each with a red exclamation mark of importance next to it.
Frederick crumpled at the side of Mr. Sun’s desk. He could have stood, but the fall from the chair, and more importantly from his father’s grace, had felt as if he’d been hurled down from the sky. He now felt broken on the ground. He sobbed, but his father didn’t hear. He rolled onto his side and curled into a ball, wanting to disappear now that he again meant nothing to his father.
There is a power of mercy in the world, and it spotted this noble young man. He shrank until his sides, his top, and his bottom were rectilinear. He grew on his abdomen rubberized buttons with numbers and mathematical symbols printed on them. And while Mr. Sun did not see this happen, later that night a janitor carefully cleaning the office would find the calculator on the floor and put it up on the great man’s desk. The next morning Mr. Sun would find it there and frequently use it for little calculations, especially when daydreaming about new product lines or ways of accounting for long-term pension obligations. He would always have unusual affection for that little instrument.
But now we turn our attention to the janitor working his way diligently through the C-suite, for he is the subject of our next story of a remarkable transformation.
END OF CHAPTER TWO
Future installments will be published soon.