Finding Tim

by Charlie

Episode 226 - Succession

Charlie is still your narrator as we follow the Gang through the next two years until the Sochi Olympics took us all to Russia. You have to start by thinking back to a conversation between Fred, Andy, and Marty. They were discussing who should succeed Andy as the majordomo of the company. Fred had suggested Perry; well it really wasn't a suggestion, it was more of a pronouncement. All three of the men knew full well that Fred had put in place arrangements so that Marty and Andy had full control. All three of the men also knew that this was a Fred decision.

Of course, Fred's death did change things somewhat. Andy was now in full charge of Fred's Sports, because Fred's will gave him twenty percent of the voting stock which, when added to the forty percent that had been given previously, gave him full control. The voting stock received very small dividends; it was only for the purpose of controlling the company. Most of the rest of the common stock, which received massive dividends, was held by the university and Gang endowments along with Marty, whom Fred had taken care of for the rest of his life. Even though Andy had full authority, he decided, with the enthusiastic support of Marty, Tim, and me, that Fred had picked a winner and that he, Andy, would talk to Perry about his future.

Andy thought about how to approach Perry. He didn't want Perry to just say, "Yes"; that was an almost inevitable reaction. He wanted Perry to fully understand the implication of Fred's choosing him to succeed in the management of Fred's Sports. The corporation was one of the most successful privately held corporations in the world, and if the pattern set with Andy was followed, Perry would eventually be in total control of the corporation, as Andy was now. It would have a major impact on his life, as well as the corporation. And on the Gang. And on the University of North Dakota. Andy didn't feel that a simple, "Perry, let's go to dinner tomorrow night," would cut it.

He remembered that Tim and I had had a very successful retreat someplace in Canada, and that Murray and Fyn, and others, had had a similar experience. A quick call to me informed him that the place was Crystal City, Manitoba, and that the bed and breakfast they wanted to stay at was called the Crystal House and was operated by a Mr. and Mrs. Fallworth.

Andy called the Fallworths and asked about a reservation, noting that he was a friend of Tim, Charlie, and others who had recommended the Crystal House. Gordon Fallworth responded as if a long-lost friend had just called him on the telephone. "Another of that grand group of folks from Grand Forks! How wonderful. You know, Liz and I are soon going to retire, and having a final visit from a couple of you folks would be just so wonderful. When will you be coming? I know exactly what room you want, and it will be ready!"

Andy was confident that Perry would find time to join him regardless of the date, so he made reservations for three days hence–for three nights. Then he thought again, and made it for four nights–he'd get Norman to join them for the last night. They would be there from Thursday until Monday.

As soon as he got off the phone he made two further phone calls–first to Perry to invite him for the trip and second to me to share the fact that the Fallworth's were soon to retire. That night I told Tim and we decided that we needed a farewell trip to Crystal Falls. It'd never be the same without the Fallworths and they deserved a wonderful goodbye.

We tried to recall who from the Gang had actually stayed at the Crystal House. We had, and Murray and Toppy. Who else? I called Murray to ask. He reminded me that he and Fyn had been there, as well was Mitch and Grant. Tim and I, as well as Murray and Toppy, had returned to Crystal City several times since our original retreats, and had consistent fond memories. We decided to organize a reunion for the group. I called the Fallworths and booked the entire B&B–four bedrooms, all with queen-size beds. Only the room on the back had its own bath, the other three shared two bathrooms which opened off the hall, one with a tub and the other with a lovely shower. We decided to include spouses; so Tim and I shared the back room; Murray and Toppy shared a room; as did Fyn, Arnie, and Marge; and Mitch, Roger, and Grant. I understand that the two shared bathrooms were scenes of delightful raunch.

The Fallworths were delighted to have us, noting that they had never been full for a week that late in the fall! "But, Charlie, we're so glad to have you here, regardless of the business aspect. We don't plan to give you a bill. We just are so delighted to see you again before we retire!"

"Just what are your retirement plans," Tim asked. "Are you going to continue to live in Crystal City? How about this house?"

Liz answered for both of them, "Honestly, we can't decide. We love this house, but it'd be awfully big for two. It wasn't built as a B&B, but it was built for a large family. And we aren't sure we want to retire this far north. We've considered closing the B&B in the winter and spending time in Florida and keeping the place open only late spring through early fall. But who knows how long we'll be able to keep it open at all. What do you think?"

Tim answered for us, "I think that we're going to be very sad to lose this B&B and its very gracious host and hostess. It'll never be the same with new owners, but I think you'd be wise to get out while you have your health. How are your finances; can you afford a good retirement?"

I couldn't believe that Tim asked that, but I was sure that he had an ulterior motive, and asking the question was important. The answer didn't surprise either one of us.

Gordon answered this time, "Only if we get a good price for this house. Property values in this area are way up since we bought the place, but a B&B can be very hard to sell. If we can't get a decent price for this house, retirement is going to be a little cramped."

I said, "Well, I certainly think that the place to start for you two is to put this house on the market and see what kind of price you can get. If you don't get a decent price, then maybe one of the other retirement options will have to be considered, like keeping it open only in the summer."

Liz said, "Well, we're going to be stewing on this for some time."

Murray came up and asked, "Is the Supper Club still open and as good as it always was?"

"It's still there. They have a new chef; Jim died about a year and a half ago, quite unexpectedly. A heart attack while he was at work in the kitchen. He lingered a day or so in the hospital, and we all got a chance to say our goodbyes, but he was out of it most of the time and I'm not sure that he was all that aware of us. It was good for us, though–to say goodbye. Everybody loved Jim–and his food. The new gal is good, but he's a tough act to follow."

"Who's the new woman?"

"Don't be afraid to call her gal. That's her word. Her name's SallyAnn, spelled funny–one word but with a capital A–the second A, before you ask!"

Tim said, "I'll be you've used that line before."

"Lots of times; I think it's a pretty good one."

"So do I."

"Thanks."

"I couldn't tell you her last name. But then you guys are used to people with no last names."

I put in, "No you have it wrong. We have last names, we just don't have first names."

"Now who's telling a joke for the umty-umph time?"

Tim said, "I like that word, umty-umph. Do you think it's in the dictionary?"

Gordon said, "I haven't the slightest idea and I really don't care. I like the word."

Tim continued, "OK then, how do you spell it?"

"Again, who cares. I would never write it. It's only used in conver-sation."

Tim didn't like to let things go. "Wait a minute. What if, a few years from now, Charlie's writing the stories of our lives, and he wants to include the story of this visit to Crystal City? Certainly this conversation, as strange as it is, would be part of the story." He turned to me, "Wouldn't it Charlie?"

I got right into the spirit of things and replied, "Of course it would, with the joking banter being tossed back and forth here, it would have to go in. It would be best if it were quoted directly. Here, I'll try to write it down." I asked for, and quickly got, a notepad and proceeded to do my best at writing down the conversation. In just a couple of minutes I looked up at Gordon and said, "I'm at, 'Now who's telling a joke for the....' I simply have to write that word. Now, how do you spell it?"

Gordon was a little nonplused at that, but he headed for his dictionary. He reported that the best it could do was umteen which had a close meaning, but didn't really help with the spelling, as it was the second part of the word that seemed to be the spelling issue.

I said, "So you're going with u-m-t-y? I think maybe there should be a

'p' in there."

Gordon proved to be a little bit of a linguist. "Well, when you put the two sounds of /m/ and /t/ together, you can't help but perceive a /p/ sound in there. And a word like empty spells it. But writing the 'p' doesn't change how you'd say the word, so I vote for economy and spell it with just four letters."

He went back to his dictionary, a Merriam-Webster Collegiate, and found the word oomph. But he said, "I don't think that's it. Oomph implies exertion, punch, whatever. But we're looking for something that addresses quantity. Although the dictionary says that the first sound in oomph is a /u/ sound, I think it's the vowel sound from few. The word I used is actually the vowel sound in the word 'bum.' However, I do like the p-h spelling for umph, rather than just a 'f.' So I'm going to tell you, since you asked, that the correct spelling for the word that I uttered is u-m-t-y (hyphen) u-m-p-h."

I couldn't resist. "Are you sure it's a hyphen, not two words, or all run on?"

"I'm absolutely certain that it's a hyphenated word. I may have to refer to the dictionary for spelling now and then, buy my hyphenation is perfect. So when you write your little story you know exactly how to spell umty-umph. Don't get it wrong."

The only thing wrong about that riposte was his calling this a "little story." Little did he, or we, know.

But I digress. You can easily imagine the group activities for that weekend, but you'd be surprised at how little sex was involved. We emphasized good food and good conversation. Thanks to SallyAnn we had wonderful food, and thanks to both SallyAnn (who was a most interesting personality) and the Fallworths we had wonderful conversation. We were sad to leave, knowing that it'd be our last visit.

OK, I won't leave you in suspense–though with what you know about the characters in this story, I don't think you would've been in suspense. About three weeks after our departure from Crystal City two young men came through the area. They were winter sports enthusiasts and were looking for a way to make a living in the north country and have time to enjoy its benefits. They found a delightful B&B for sale in Crystal City, arranged a loan with a local bank, and bought the place outright for the Fallworth's asking price–which was enough to give Gordon and Liz a good retirement.

And how were these two young men, soon to be married, able to arrange a bank loan to buy a very lovely B&B. Well, the bank loan officer got a telephone call from a bank in Grand Forks–the bank that handled most of the business of Fred's Sports–indicating that Fred's Sports would guarantee the loan, and would provide adequate paperwork forthwith. It seems that the two men were recent graduates of the University of North Dakota, had worked for Fred's Sports during college, and were continuing to do so after graduation until something better came along. It was Andy who called them in and asked if they'd like to run a B&B in Canada–the loan guaranteed by Fred's Sports? Is the pope Catholic? (That's a favorite expression of mine, and it fits here, but I don't think it was uttered on this occasion. But I have no idea what actual words were spoken.)

Andy had, effortlessly, solved serious life problems for four people. Fred would've said that they weren't problems because they could be solved with money. Fred didn't live in the real world; he lived in the world of Fred, Tim, and the Gang!

But let's get back to Andy and Perry. Andy got Perry up to Crystal City well before the Gang arrived for their farewell to the Fallworths. Try as he might, Perry wasn't able to wring any information out of Andy about the purpose of the trip. And, while on many similar occasions members of the Gang could outguess each other, this time Perry really had no idea at all about Andy's reason for inviting him to Crystal City. However, in the Gang trust is the key and it never occurred to Perry to question Andy's intentions about the trip. If Andy said it was important, it was.

They arrived on a November afternoon with a light snow falling on top of an inch or two already on the ground. The view out their room window was lovely, and it promised a wonderful sunset. Andy suggested that they relax in the room in the afternoon, watch the sunset, and then go to dinner. I don't think it ever occurred to either of them that relaxing and watching the sunset didn't also imply more than just cuddling together. In fact, they found a mutual fascination with 69–the act not the number–and found it particularly fascinating in the glow of the sunset.

Andy planned for serious conversation to begin at dinner. However, they found the new chef, SallyAnn (second "A" capitalized), to be as fascinating as the afternoon activities. With the lovely weather, the lack of clientele in November, and SallyAnn's desire to learn all about Andy and the Gang he was part of–she had been advised of Andy's background by the Fallworths just as soon as they had gotten Andy's reservation–serious conversation had to wait until they were back at the B&B and had had a good night chat with the Fallworth's. At nine o'clock they made it to their room, stripped naked as all good Gang members did as they got ready for bed, and sat on the sofa. Andy said, "I guess you're wondering what this trip's all about?"

"I know you'll tell me in good time. Thus far it's been a great trip: a nice ride up here, great sex, a wonderful dinner, and certainly an interesting conversation with SallyAnn. What next?"

"I'm here to talk about the rest of your life."

"I knew that if I hung around the Gang long enough, somebody would tell me what to expect for the rest of my life. I don't think I expected that somebody to be you, Andy."

"I have been appointed by a committee of three."

"What three?"

"Fred, Marty, and me."

"Well, it's certainly a big topic. Do you know more than I do? Honestly, I've been so busy with Norman, sailboats, and a ship chandlery co-op, that I haven't thought much about the rest of my life. One nice thing about the Gang: things just seem to fall in place at the right time. Are you about to tell me what's falling in place for me?"

"It's not quite that simple. Let's start with Fred. A while ago you made a pitch to him about heading up a sailing support team. You were fifteen at the time, so it was a pretty brash proposal. But Fred bought it. Do you have any idea why?"

"I'm not sure that I do. After all, I had lived in Iron Mountain all my life, and hadn't been central to the Gang. I didn't know Fred all that well. But I had certainly heard a lot about him, especially from Auggie. So why did he buy it?"

"There were three elements to his decision. The first you know: He trusted Auggie to be honest about whether he thought you could do the job, and do it right. The second was simple: you were a COG, which meant that you had fantastic parents and a good upbringing. COGs are special, and Fred knew it."

"And the third?"

"Very simple. You were confident and brash enough to ask for the job. Exactly the qualities that Fred thinks, well, thought, were important for leadership."

"Where is this conversation heading? Are you about to offer me some kind of job. Or am I supposed to dream up a new job idea and brashly present it to you?"

"Perry, you already did that, and I'm not talking about the sailing support team. I know perfectly well that the chandlery co-op was your idea. And you supported Norman, and continue to support Norman, as he got it off the ground. It has, by the way, been a spectacular success."

"Norman has, with the help of his father, really sold that idea, and it's been both profitable for Fred's Sports and has kept a lot of small chandleries in business, including his father's. I know that it hasn't made as much money as we might have if we had simply opened Fred's Sports Chandleries and put a lot of little guys out of business. I think you and Fred were well aware of that when we got into the co-op, and I love you for it."

"Perry, you need to understand. Fred loved you for it. The hardest thing that Fred had to face in his life was the fact that the growth of large chain stores, like Fred's Sports, but also WalMart, Target, Home Depot, and others has meant the end of a lot of small businesses. However, Fred also was aware that good sporting goods can be purchased by ordinary consumers at a much lower cost because of the savings made possible by the size of the chains. Fred was also very pleased to note that a lot of the stores that Fred's Sports has put out of business were simply poorly managed chains of small businesses."

"So where are we going with all this," Perry asked.

"Several years ago Fred, Marty, and I had a very important conversation about who should succeed me in managing Fred's Sports."

"Oh, no. Is this going where I think it's going?"

"Just listen, Perry. We talked about a number of people, but Fred had one particular person in mind. You. He'd been watching you in the sailing business and in the chandlery business and liked what he saw. And what he saw was the young man whom he wanted to take over his business."

"When was this?"

"It was two Olympiads ago. Just as Fred was enlightening us about the future leadership of Fred's Sports Auggie was looking to you to run the support team for three Olympic sailing pairs–all of which got medals I'll note. Then an Olympiad later you and Norman were Hell-bent on your own Olympic medal, and Fred, Marty, and I were convinced that it would be unfair to you to dangle a job–well, a lot more than just a job–in front of your sailboat, as it were. Now, you've taken yourself out of the sailing business, it's time to dangle."

"So, dangle. Just what're we talking about?"

"First, you need to know that I'm the majority stockholder of the voting stock in Fred's Sports. All decisions are mine, and mine alone. Until Fred's death, Marty had the power to overrule me, but as of Fred's death all power is in my hands. However, I'm speaking today with the full support of Marty, and knowing that it is exactly what Fred wanted. I, we, want you to come aboard the top management team at Fred's Sports, first as vice-president for operations, then as executive vice-president, and then as president. You'll become president when I retire and move to chairman of the board.

"As Fred first envisioned this, it would've started eight years ago, when I was fifty-seven years old. A five to ten year transition was envisioned. Eight of those ten years have sailed by."

"I'll pardon that pun."

"I'm not sure it was a pun."

"Hey, while I was doing all that sailing, I had no idea of what you people had in mind. And, by the way, thank you. It would've been a very difficult decision if I had had to choose between sailing–particularly supporting Auggie– and, whatever you're going to call this opportunity."

"In any case, I'm now sixty-five years old. It's time to retire from active management of Fred's Sports. I'm now thinking in terms of a two-year transition."

"Two years! You expect me to be ready to take charge of one of the largest retail corporations in the world with two years experience?"

"You took charge of a sailing team with no experience. You conceived of, and ran the co-op with no experience. I'm offering you a two year warm-up, that sounds pretty good to me."

"Andy, I happen to know that when Fred hired you he had no idea that you'd succeed him one day. You slowly developed into the manager that you became and whom Fred was willing to entrust his baby to. You're hiring me with no such progression in mind. What if I screw up?"

"That isn't the Perry I'm used to."

"Look, if I had screwed up the sailing team, Tim and Charlie would've missed a gold medal. Maybe a bid deal for them, at least for Tim, but it would've been nothing compared to screwing up Fred's Sports. Thousands of lives depend on an income from Fred's Sports, not to mention the endowments of the Gang and the University of North Dakota. I'm realistic enough to know that nobody's perfect, including me, and that screwing up is always a possibility. You're taking a huge chance."

"No, Perry, I'm not. We're not, the we being Marty and the ghost of Fred. We know you, we're confident of you, and I believe that, despite your previous speech, you don't believe that you're going to screw up. But there's another reason I'm not worried. Fred retained majority ownership of the voting stock until his death. Granted, a few years before his death he transferred the power of that ownership to Marty and me, but only as he reached his late eighties. He never interfered as I ran the company, and all advice was given in such a way that I felt that I had the final decision. He never once suggested that he might use his majority interest to direct me. On the other hand, Fred built this company, and his advice was nearly always good advice. And sometimes I followed it against my better judgement, simply because Fred was Fred."

"And how did that turn out?"

"A mixed bag. Sometimes he was right, and sometimes I was. But the issue was never make or break for the company. The fact is, I now have, and will retain majority control of the voting stock as long as I have all my faculties. Appropriate paperwork will be put in place to protect you, and all others with financial interests in the company, from the possibility that I'll lose my mental faculties before I've turned complete control over to you and perhaps another (Fred had Marty, but Jim, Kara, and Amy are my age and can't fulfill Marty's role). Don't worry, the legal transition will be worked as well for you as it was for me; that's the way Marty and I will honor Fred's enormous gift to us."

"The control of this vast company lies in a single person? Isn't there a board of directors or some such that collectively can assert their judgement when the major honcho starts down the wrong track."

"When a single person owns a majority of voting stock of a corporation he, or she, appoints the board and can replace them simply by demanding a special meeting of stockholders. I run the place; nobody can overrule me; and nobody tries. On the other hand, I have a wonderful management team whose opinions I listen to, and I also talk to and listen to the members of the Gang. Fred and Marty, and now just Marty, have a special bully pulpit from which to preach to me, and I hear them. If I, and Fred and Marty, didn't think that you would function the same way, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"What makes you so sure that I'd function the same way?"

"We watched your relationship to Auggie, Tim, Charlie, and the rest of your sailing team. We watched you and Norman function in the co-op. Perry, we aren't taking a pig in a poke with you, were betting on as close to a sure thing as we can get."

"This is a vast, complex operation. How am I going to be able to manage it in two years? And it's very clear from this conversation that you're going to give me a lot of responsibility from day one."

Andy replied, "This is a well managed company, from the top down. Fred, then Fred and I, now just me, put in place a really outstanding management team. They function well–like a well-oiled machine. They don't need me messing around in day to day operations. Why do you think you were able to walk into Fred's office just about any time you wanted to, and have him give you all the time you needed? Because he wasn't trying to run day to day operations. He had time, and he took time, to sit and think, to plan, to dream of the future, to try to see the little things that were going to creep up on him, and his company, and bite him in the ass. That's the job you're going to inherit. That, and watching that well-oiled management team function, tweaking it when needed; sometimes with a quiet conversation, sometimes with a personnel change. And you've got to constantly be on the lookout for new members of that team. So, you manage the team, do strategic planning, and look out for bumps in the road. Now, let me give you a test. You've been involved one way or another with Fred's Sports for some time. What do you see as the next bump in the road, or perhaps I should call it a strategic opportunity?"

"You know, Andy, when you said 'test' I thought you were going to hit me with a real zinger. But that's a softball straight over the plate, waist high."

"So hit it out of the park."

"Two words, Internet sales. Today it's a no-brainer. Ten years ago the really smart guys were placing their bets. And I happen to know that Fred's Sports was right there. Just what percentage of your business is on fredssports.com?"

"Only eight percent. But we think the webpage (by the way, you can spell it with one 's' or two, both take you to the same page) drives a lot of the in-store sales. People like to look at, touch, and play with sporting goods before they buy them. Since our store prices are the same as the web, there's no advantage of looking in the store and then buying online; we give them the same price and free shipping. That sounds like a bargain, but it's cheaper to ship it directly out of a central warehouse, or maybe have it drop shipped from a manufacturer, than to ship it to a store, hold it in the store until sold, and pay the staff of the store to protect it, sell it, ring up the sale, clean the floor where it sat, keep the place warm or cool for the customers, etc. We love internet sales. There's tremendous growth potential there, and that's going to be a major issue for you in the next few years."

Perry replied, "Can I add to that? As we move to more internet sales store closings will be inevitable, with all the pain and suffering that entails. And the web competition doesn't have a good reputation for good worker relations in their warehouses. I know that neither you, nor Fred, nor any of the Gang that are the beneficiaries of Fred's Sport would want to profit on the backs of poorly treated workers."

"Perry, I love you. Nothing you've said, or could say, would go farther to convince me that Fred was right in fingering you as the right man for this job. That's exactly the way Fred thought; it's why we were unionized from the beginning, and, I might add, our profit margins are some of the lowest in retail. But Fred didn't really give a damn about profit margins. He liked having a big company; he was proud of that. But he was even prouder of the way he ran the company. Carry on."

What you have just read is a carefully edited and reconstructed digest of a conversation that lasted one evening and all of the next day. "Carry on", was followed by a walk over to dinner, and a conscious decision by both of them that the dinner conversation wouldn't be about Fred's Sports. It was, in fact, about the Gang.

Andy was interested in Perry's perception of the Gang, realizing that he was of the COG generation and, having grown up in Michigan, in some ways a little bit of a newcomer. Both of these viewpoints might give different insights into the Gang.

Perry mused, "I think that the most important thing to say about the Gang is that it works. While I'm sure that there are a few exceptions–though none that I could identify or name–I think that the members of the Gang would pass both of the classic tests: They'd dive in front of a moving train to push another Gang member out of the way, and they'd fly to Timbuktu if another Gang member asked them to and said it was important. And they might ask, 'Why?' but would go anyway if told the question couldn't be answered until they got there. Thank goodness we've never had to test the first, and I don't think I've heard of a test of the second, unless the trip was simply across town, not across the country or the ocean."

Andy said, "I might point out that you came here with me without having any idea of the reason."

"Good point. And if you had been in New York, I'd have been on the next plane. But there's a lot more. I think the Gang's the main social circle for its members. Obviously, as we've grown to about a hundred and fifty...."

"Actually just under a hundred and forty living Gang members."

"That's too big a social circle for most people. Most of us relate closely to just a subset of the Gang. But we know the whole Gang, and are enthusiastic about our responsibilities to each and every member."

"I think the key word you said was 'enthusiastic'."

Perry continued, "And I think it's the right word. Nothing could've pleased me more than having Auggie ask me to sail with him. Sure, the sailing was fun, but the really neat part of the job was supporting Auggie. I'd love to do that for each and every member of the Gang. I can't think of anyone that I wouldn't be enthusiastic about, even though they weren't in my close social circle."

"Well, Perry, the job you're about to undertake is a support job for every member of the Gang. Fred's Sports' profits, and there are a lot of them even with a low profit margin, insure a good future for all of the Gang, as well as support for their individual dreams."

"Like Auggie's, and Norman's, and Marty's, and Nels', and I could go on and on. By the way, did I ever really say, 'Yes," to your job offer."

"Perry, you never really had a choice. Nobody turns down Fred, and you know it. But you've convinced me that you're the right person for the job, and that you'll love doing it. You and Fred's Sports, and the Gang, are a perfect fit."

"You know, it wouldn't interest me at all if it were just a big corporation, even if I were given total control. It's the unique relationship of Fred's Sports to the Gang that makes this the perfect job. I'm really looking forward to it. When do you expect me to start?"

"Monday morning."

"We'll just get back to Grand Forks on Sunday."

"Get a good night's sleep Sunday night. But remember, you're the boss, you can take a day off whenever you want or need to."

"I'm not sure that arriving on Monday and announcing that I was taking Tuesday off would be all that good an idea."

"It sounded like a pretty good idea to me; that's why I suggested it. You know, this is really going to shake up the lives of both you and Norman. He'll be here for lunch tomorrow...."

"Norman is coming here?"

"A little company plane will bring him up, and he'll go back with us Sunday afternoon. I thought that Norman should be a part of this conversation. I had to start with just you, but Norman has a right to be part of the decision. After all, it means that you're going to become his boss."

"Not for the first time. He was a member of my support team."

"I know, and it worked perfectly. I'm sure that will continue."

"You really are completely positive about this whole thing. Have you no doubts at all?"

"None. Perry, you're just the man we want. But I need to point out one very important thing. You're going to have one particular decision to make in about twenty years or so. That will be the most important decision you'll every have to make regarding Fred's Sports."

"You mean picking my successor."

"Exactly. My guess he or she will be a grandCOG or maybe a great grandCOG, but who knows? Maybe I'll be around to help you. Maybe Norman will be able to help you. But that decision will be yours. Screw up anything else, but, God, Perry don't screw that up. And I hope that you'll be able to be as confident of your choice as I am of mine."

"What's on the agenda for tonight?"

"I want to be thoroughly, completely, dramatically, forcefully, uninhibitedly fucked. And I expect, one way or the other, for the fuckee to have a virtually simultaneous orgasm with the fucker."

"Well, the dinner's been delicious, the conversation delightful, and I think the walk back to the B&B will be bracing in the snow. The next event sounds even better."

They thanked the Fallworths for their invitation for after dinner conversation and drinks, but declined and headed up to their room. As soon as they were through the door Perry took charge. He gently pulled Andy toward him and kissed him while he worked off his coat, shirt, and undershirt. He then stripped to the waist before moving behind Andy and reaching around and massaging his nipples, working down to his belt, pants button, and zipper, none of which impeded his progress. His own pants dropped to the floor as did Andy's. He took off his shoes and socks and motioned for Andy to do the same. They both had on Fruit of the Loom® briefs, and as they realized that fact they both laughed. Perry moved behind Andy and reached his hand inside Andy's briefs, gently cupping his balls. They stood there a long while, while Perry slowly manipulated the balls in his hand, and they both stared out the window as the last light fell upon the snow.

Perry thought about the present situation. Here they were, very definitely employer and employee as well as fellow Gang members and just plain horny men. Perry realized that in just about any other group, this situation was fraught with danger. But not within the Gang. He really understood just how unique the Gang was. He also remembered Andy's use of the word "forcefully." So he pulled down his briefs with one hand as he jerked down Andy's with the other. Signaling Andy, they pulled the bed covers down so that the sheet was exposed. He didn't ask Andy how he wanted it, he simply pushed him on this back and started warming him up with his mouth, tongue, and a few gentle bites. He was himself already hard as a rock thinking about Andy's request, and soon he was lubing Andy's ass and his dick with KY. Then, in he plunged. He moved carefully through Andy's sphincter and then dove deep, moving in and out forcefully and rapidly. Andy's moans were correctly interpreted as pleasure and Perry kept up the pace. As he began to sense his climax coming his left hand moved around Andy, found his dick and squeezed. They climaxed virtually together. Andy immediately rolled over and kissed Perry followed by a very heart-felt thank you.

As the lay there Perry asked, "Is this really appropriate for us, considering our positions?"

"Your position was exactly right, kiddo."

"That's not exactly what I meant."

"I know. Let me tell you a story. Fred hired me when I first got to Grand Forks partly as a favor to Tim and partly because Tim assured him that I'd be a great employee. I guess I was, and was soon an assistant store manager, and my rise in the business is fairly well known. At the time I was hired, any sexual relationship between Fred and me was completely out of the question: First, I was a very junior employee, second Fred was (or so he thought) completely heterosexual, and third Fred hadn't yet been exposed the ways of the Gang nor become a member. All of those things changed over time. But the critical change was my rise in the business. Fred told me later that he felt that it was important that our equality in the business be clearly understood by both parties. By that time Fred was a committed member of the Gang, partnered with Marty, and familiar with the ways of the Gang. As he said, 'Andy, sex with you was the logical conclusion of our relationship.'

"So, one day he walked into my office, sat down, and invited me to join him and Marty for dinner. After dinner Marty had other engagements. Fred wanted to be fucked. By me. That night. I was a little shocked, but it was clear that he was serious. Believe me, he was very serious. Dinner was delicious, Marty departed on schedule, and Fred led me up to his bedroom, where the bed was all ready with the covers back and the sheets exposed. I pretty much did to Fred what you just did to me. It felt good. But much more important, it laid the foundation of a working relationship that lasted until Fred died. I can only hope that the events of this evening can do this same for us. I figured that if it worked for Fred, it ought to work for me."

Perry was silent for a while and then said, simply, "I'm sure it will."

There really wasn't much for them to do or talk about on Saturday. They had a leisurely breakfast with the Fallworths and then took a long walk around Crystal City in the new-fallen snow. Eventually they stopped in a little secluded glen and Perry said, "You know, Andy, Tim used to talk about rolling naked in the snow."

"Yeah, but as a prelude to climbing into a sleeping bag with Charlie and hugging him tight to get warm. I don't see any sleeping bags nearby."

"We've come in a circle. We aren't far from the B&B. Let's take a tumble in the snow, dress as fast as we can, race to the B&B, climb into bed and warm each other up."

"You're both serious and crazy."

"No more serious or crazy that you were in offering me the job you just offered me. Come on, this'll be fun."

Perry didn't wait for Andy. He stripped rapidly and hurled himself into a windswept pile of snow. Andy moved slower, but soon joined Perry in the snow. They roughhoused for a while and then Andy said, "Let's go home."

They grabbed their clothes, put on a much as they needed to to be decent, and headed for the B&B; up the stairs, into the bed, hug tight, and slowly get both warm and aroused. This time Andy fucked Perry, and they quietly napped until dinner.

Sunday morning Norman had no idea why he was being flown to Crystal City, though he did know that Perry and Fred had been there since Thursday. They drove to the airport and met Norman and brought him back to the B&B. They refused to answer any of his questions until lunch, which they walked to as soon as he had gotten his few things settled in the room, which now the three of them would share.

Andy had agreed that Perry should do the story-telling, and it took all of lunch. They adjourned back to their room, got naked at Perry's insistence, and continued their conversation. Norman was full of the obvious questions, and they answered all of them. Andy and Perry thought that Norman had really figured things out when he commented, "I suppose the fact that this gathering, essentially a business meeting, is conducted in the nude really explains the changed relationship between you two, and it seems now to include me."

Andy said, "Exactly."

Perry asked, "Norman, are you comfortable with all of this?"

"It's going to be a big change in our lives. However, my life has been full of big changes ever since you walked into the chandlery asking about maps. This sounds exciting. I have just one caveat."

"What's that?"

"Don't mess with my co-op."

"Deal."

Andy said, "I want to see one of you fuck the other, and then that guy fuck me."

Perry quickly fucked Norman; Norman fucked Andy, but didn't give him an orgasm; and then the two of them took turns sucking Andy until he exploded into Norman's mouth. All the rest of the trip was the kind of conversation that Carl would've insisted upon skipping. They were pretty silent on the way home Monday morning.

Monday afternoon Andy took Perry into the Fred's Sports management office and settled him into his old office (he had moved into Fred's old office). He then gathered his management team around and introduced his new Vice-President for Operations. He went on, "Just to be clear, this is the new Andy. I'll be retiring in two years and Perry will become President of Fred's Sports. I trust that my really fantastic management team will relate as well to the new Andy as the old, but he prefers to be called Perry."

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