For too many years, Meredith Fitler Bradford had forgotten she was the daughter of a man who had once been a master of the universe.
Pretentious and full of chutzpah, Wallace Fitler had made his money through keen observation and manipulation of the stock market. “Gentleman Wally” was the sobriquet given him by FORBES, and it fit. A patina of sophistication belied the killer instincts that had made Fitler one of the country’s most feared financiers. TIME Magazine once derided him as the Wall Street maven most likely to mow down his own grandmother before the taking of a toast and tea. There are men who would have shirked at such negative publicity. Gentleman Wally was not one of them. Delighted by the article, he had it framed and gave it prominent display in one of the many rooms in the Fitler mansion.
Of his three children, the old man had considered Meredith the one most like him. He tried to teach all of his children the art of the deal. Everyone has their price, he used to say, you just have to be canny enough to recognize it.
Once you saw your opportunity, that’s when you made an offer. When the deal was complete, you moved on. You got out. You didn’t hang around, you didn’t elaborate, you didn’t worry about the niceties of the arrangement. You did what you had to do.
And then you got out
Savvy Meredith recognized the wisdom of this philosophy at an early age. Her father’s daughter, she was no shrinking violet. Projecting a cool elegance that hid a calculating brain, her ice blue eyes quickly sized people up, intuiting their strengths and weaknesses.
Then she met Edward, and for a time affection blinded her. So did her own pretensions.
Scion of an old New York family that had lost much of its money in the Great Depression, Edward was handsome and ambitious. He was hungry to travel again in the circles his family had once enjoyed. He was tired of trading on a name bankrupt of everything but pedigree. When he met Meredith at a sailing party one summer, she could see that he was smitten with her. And why not? She was young, beautiful – and rich. Nouveau riche, to be precise.
But that’s where the art of the deal came in.
Edward had the family connections that Meredith lacked, and Meredith had the financial means that would pay for Edward’s return to a wealthy lifestyle. It was an excellent arrangement – a merger providing the perfect blend of give and take.
And so the daughter of a master of the universe made Edward Pennington Bradford IV an irresistible offer, one he quickly accepted. She failed to take the necessary financial safeguards, however, never realizing the day would come when she’d want out.
Affection can blind a woman, even one as clever as Meredith.
Two decades into the marriage, she understood she’d made a serious miscalculation. Edward was not living up to his part of the arrangement. He began to come home late from his prestigious job on Wall Street, the scent of brandy – and perfume – clinging to him. There were some nights that he didn’t come home at all. Not that Meredith minded the empty bed in the next room. The affection had dimmed; she didn’t miss him.
What she missed was the propriety, the outer form of a good marriage. The unfaithfulness was distasteful, but it was the lack of discretion that wounded her. She was stung by the pitying glances that drifted her way when she lunched at the Club. The rumors of Edward’s peccadillos traveled like wildfire amongst their set, and Meredith felt an angry humiliation when she entered a room and conversations abruptly ceased.
It became untenable. Confused, depressed, she temporarily lost herself in a fog of martinis. Looking into one of the many mirrors on the walls of their handsome estate, she wondered who that sad woman was who stared back at her. Not the daughter of a master of the universe! Disgusted, she sat down the martini glass.
It was time to get out.
Meredith’s father had schooled all his children in practicing patience, saying that it was the key to any successful acquisition or merger. One waited patiently, searching for just the right opportunity. When that opportunity finally presented itself, only then could just the right offer be made.
After all, everyone had a price – and opportunities always presented themselves, if you were patient.
One snowy day in March, Meredith appeared in Edward’s office to sign some papers. It was there that she met Joanna Woollery and learned the truth of her father’s words.
It wasn’t hard to read Edward’s body language. Meredith could tell he was sexually intrigued by the beautiful young secretary. When he took the papers from her, his hands lingered on hers for a moment or two longer than necessary. His eyes, hungry and alive, watched every movement she made. It disgusted Meredith’s cool sensibilities, and she quickly finished executing the papers. Rising from her chair, she happened to glance over at the secretary and experienced a frisson of surprise.
It was then that she knew her patience was about to pay off.
Meredith almost missed the fleeting expression as it crossed the girl’s face. It was an odd look, a mix of disgust and feral wariness, and it was directed at Edward. The look – and the moment – was revealing. Meredith suddenly realized an opportunity had presented itself.
It was plain to see that Joanna Woollery did not like her boss. That she feared him was also apparent. Fear made Joanna interesting to Meredith. It meant she had a weakness – and weaknesses were made to be exploited.
Meredith left the office and, later, made a few calls to a man that no polite woman would profess to have contact with; it paid off.
She discovered some interesting information about Miss Woollery. Now that she had that information, she could make Joanna an offer. An irresistible offer.
And, finally, Meredith would be able to get out of a very bad deal.
Word count: 1,000
Author’s Note: This story is written in response to the ‘Two Shoes Tuesday’ challenge (found here) to write a story based on one or each of the word prompts of OFFER and OUT.
Also, please note this is the third story in a flash fiction series. The first is ‘Not a Vindictive Man’ (found here); the second is ‘Long Live the Queen’ (found here).