At shortly after eight o'clock Duff-Bloom saw her human resources conferees to the anteroom door of her conference room, then crossed to give Cathy some be-on-alert-in-my-absence verbal notes before returning to her office. She picked up her attach case and turned back for the door when her phone rang. She answered the phone on her guest table, which was closest . It could only be one person. Cathy was supposed to be holding calls.
"I'm headed down for breakfast with Charlie Mechem. Came here direct from Chicago last night and have to go right back after the speech. And I'd been hoping to play a few holes, remember?" He had made it sound like her fault.
"Sorry. But are you nervous?" she teased.
"Yes," he said with a chuckle. "That's why I called."
"Since this trip turns out to be all business, if I get shouted down on this thing, you get fired ." He chuckled again and added, "Just wanted you to know. Gotta go now." And he hung up.
Aha, she thought to herself. It was a Howell trick, but didn't he actually sound a touch nervous? Pretty funny , if so. Maybe he actually gets it now, she gleefully surmised.
Sure, sure, the whole thing could blow up in their faces. She knew it long before anyone else. The speech could bring down the wrath of the entire women's movement upon traditional J. C. Penney. Rather than position Penney as heroes, what Howell was about to make public could portray the company as the worst of good old boy pigsties. But you had to take risks. You had to take the chance that the audience and especially the media would get it. That the company would be seen as gutsy and courageous and visionary . That Penney, of all companies, had thrown off the chains of the past andgood grief ! She had been so much into the event lately that she'd even begun to think like a speechwriter!
Now the executive vice president looked out and down at the fountain's multiple plumes. That was her, wasn't it? Her spirit? Energy in constant play, a presence and personality to be reckoned with? A success! She shivered happily, giving in to a few rare blinks of self- indulgence . How far she had come!
On her way across the grade-level walkway to the garage, Duff-Bloom again looked at the fountain, her spirits soaring as if cued by the dancing , foamy water. Then, backing up her Jaguar, she once more caught sight of the fountain before wheeling away into the biggest day of her career. She felt doubly good because what she was doing was right out of the J. C. Penney tradition of altruism (increasingly unusual at the company, she worried). Today, literally from coast to coast , by her own efforts as well as partially by her very own voice, the cause of women and minorities in corporate America could be significantly advanced. Might the day eventually even be marked as a milestone? No, she admonished herself, that was getting a little carried away. What she had once heard phrased as the vagaries and vicissitudes of corporate life (she'd quickly looked up the words) meant that everything she'd been so energetic and clever about might amount to nothing.
But, she reassured herself, there were things she could count on. W. R. could lay a huge egg out in California, but his speech was a killer. And with his brains and self-confidence , could he really screw it up? She didn't think so, not at all.
And she had no doubt about herself. It might be her first "national" presentation, but she was ready. And, while her speech had to be less incendiary than W. R.'s, it was quite as timely and personable. It was also, she knew, tested and true and fail-safe and ready to go. Almost as important, she knew that she Gale Duff-Bloomwas equally tested and true and fail-safe and ready to go.
Now, as she turned toward the airport and her Florida flight to a national business audience, she once again considered her roots. Wouldn't certain people be astonished, she thought, to know what had happened to the cute little cheerleader who dodged college for blue- collar oblivion?