Hi All –
I heard back from another agent this week who read the synopsis for Night Walker and asked to see some of the chapters, so that’s another good step and I’m tenuously holding out hope! (It’s so hard to let my hopes get up only to get another rejection. Ugh!)
In the meantime, I got another 2,000 words written on Moonlight and finished up a new story to share with you too. Shew! 🙂
This week’s topic involved the Peter Principal, that workers are often promoted into jobs that they’re not qualified for and they’re not good at doing. This made me think of sales managers instantly. I’m in sales, and it’s a common problem that the best sales people get snapped up to be sales managers when that’s not what they’re trained for. It’s just expected that they’ll excel…
So anyway, I started writing about inept sales managers and started asking "What ifs" to myself…
I hope you enjoy the story! I’d love to hear from you…
The Closer – By Lisa Kessler
"You call this half?" he bellowed.
"Well, in the psychopathic demographic, it’s nearly half, sir," Jerry said, keeping his eyes lowered. Eye contact would only make it worse.
"Nearly? Is it your job to estimate?"
"What exactly is your job, Mr. Seals?"
"And how many sales people do you have working for you now?"
"Fifteen! So getting only 300 signed contracts last month is unacceptable. Do you understand?"
"So make your people do their jobs, or you’ll be the one suffering! Got it?"
In a cloud of smoke, and whiff of sulphur, his demon area VP was gone. Jerry coughed, waving his hand to dissipate the noxious odor of rotten eggs.
"I hate this job!" With a sweep of his arm, all of his desktop stacking files, pens and a stapler went flying across the office.
Jerry sank into his leather high-backed chair, steepling his fingers as he tapped his chin. This sucked. He was a salesman, a closer no less, not a manager. He missed the excitement. He never asked for this promotion, yet here he was getting chewed out for his team’s performance. He relished the rush of sealing a deal, not holding up some charts during a sales meeting and passing out leads for some other schmuck to follow-up on.
Maybe that’s what he needed.
He needed to close another deal. Since Mister M had promoted him to middle management, Jerry hadn’t tasted the thrill of overcoming objections, and snagging referrals. He was salivating just thinking about it.
But he wasn’t allowed to walk the streets of Los Angeles anymore. He’d lost his earthly privileges when they put his name on the office door. He was a sales manager now.
Drumming his fingers on the desk, he stared out at the maze of cubicles while a plan formed in his head. What if he closed a few deals anonymously? He could give his team the credit. No one had to know it was really him…
It could work.
After running his fingers back through his disheveled hair, he straightened his tie and stepped out of his office. The eyes of his sales team fell upon him. They’d no doubt seen the demon harassing him in his office. They knew their numbers were down. Without Jerry closing deals anymore, his sales team’s performance was lack luster at best.
He met each pair of questioning eyes, connecting with them like he actually cared. It was another sales pitch. He’d almost forgotten how good he was at this.
"Okay, I know you’re all working hard, but we need to make things happen. Remember, we can’t keep doing the same thing and expect to get different results." God that was a tired sales motivational phrase, but they expected it. Why not deliver, right? "So in an effort to shake things up a bit, I’m going back out in the field."
A collective gasp. Jerry raised a brow. While he knew he was breaking protocol by calling on customers directly, he assumed the sales team would appreciate his efforts. Ungrateful bastards. He’d been salesman of the year twice. He could close five deals in the time it took them to close one.
Maybe they forgot. He’d remind them. Jerry pointed up to the wall of records. The wall that bore his name. Many times.
"I’m the top salesman, right there on that wall, and I’m going back out in the field to save your asses. I think a thank you might be in order, don’t you?"
Instead, Hank raised his hand.
Jerry rolled his eyes. "You don’t need to raise your hand, Hank. This isn’t elementary school."
God, why had Mister M hired this loser?
Hank stammered, "It’s against policy for management to go back out into the field."
He was right. There was some asinine rule that once you were promoted you couldn’t return to direct sales. Some sort of threat that you might be recognized by the unsuspecting public.
This was Los Angeles. Who was going to recognize him?
"You’re right, Hank. But it’s only against policy if anyone finds out about it. I plan on giving all of you losers the credit."
A few of his peons flinched at his insult. Jerry sighed. Better make nice. He couldn’t have his team reporting him to the VP.
"Sorry, guys. I’m just a little stressed out about our sales figures. Let me do this and we’ll be back on track in no time, ok?"
Now he stopped speaking. It was one of the least mastered sales closing tactics. Too often salespeople got uncomfortable in the silence and ended up talking themselves out of a sale. The trick was to be patient, because the client doesn’t like the silence anymore than you do. When they jump in to fill the silence it’s often with a decision. Hopefully in your favor.
They squirmed in their cheap-ass office chairs, looking at one another, hoping someone would break the heavy silence. Jerry took the opportunity to grab his sports coat from the hook on his door and slid his arms inside while he waited.
Sheila finally cracked. "What if management comes looking for you?"
The last objection. He could taste the deal closing.
"Tell them I was just here and I must’ve stepped out to get something to eat."
Another collective gaze. Another pregnant pause. Jerry’s heart pounded with adrenaline. This was the moment the deal would be sealed or broken.
Hank gave Sheila an almost imperceptible nod, and that was all it took. The rest of the team fell into line and agreed to cover for him.
"I’ll be back with more signed contracts. Cover for me."
He squinted and pulled his Ray-Bans out of his coat pocket. The afternoon smog was thick, and the rumble of the stop-and-go freeway deadened all other noise. Ah, the wasteland of Los Angeles. He didn’t realize he’d missed it so much.
Jerry walked along Wilshire Boulevard with his hands in his pockets, looking outwardly like any other businessman walking to a lunch meeting. But behind his mirrored sunglasses he was measuring up each person who walked past him. Part of the secret to closing a sale quickly was finding a lead who needed your product right now. It was much easier to sell something if the end-user was desperate for a solution.
That was how Mister M found Jerry fifty years ago.
It was on this very street.
Jerry looked across the street at the Fatburger and smiled. His future client was probably in there eating a bacon-cheeseburger right now. He crossed the busy street without the benefit of a crosswalk. He doubted one of LA’s finest would stop to give him a ticket for jaywalking. They were too busy stopping robberies and assisting with car accidents.
Jerry pulled open the door and was quickly seated at a table for two. The surest way to relate with someone was through shared experiences. He was hoping to attract someone who knew the sting of being stood up for a meal.
After two glasses of iced tea, and about four different visits to see if he was ready to order, the waitress finally leaned against the empty bench on the other side of the booth.
"Maybe she got the time wrong."
Jerry gave her a nice sigh, not too dramatic, but effective enough for her to hear it. "I sent her a text this morning. She knew."
Her expression softened. "Oh I’m sorry. I hate when people are so insensitive."
"So I’m not the only person this has ever happened to?" Jerry felt adrenaline teasing his bloodstream as he drew her in.
"No, not at all." She slid into the booth seat. "I get off in about fifteen minutes. If you don’t mind waiting, I’d eat some lunch with you."
Cha-ching! She was as good as his. But it was too soon to pull out his fancy pen and have her sign the dotted line. Instead he glanced at her name tag and smiled. "I’d like that, Lucy. Thank you."
She shot him an eager smile and hurried off to finish her shift. Jerry watched her go, and slid a folded contract out of the inside pocket of his sports coat. He wanted to be prepared if the situation presented itself.
Lucy returned to the table with her purse and a sweater pulled on over her uniform. Sliding into the booth across from him, she grinned. "Sorry it took so long."
"No worries. I was just looking over some contracts for work."
"What type of work do you do?"
He smiled, but was careful to keep it from looking wolfish. A little smile went a long way. "I’m in contract sales. I help people get everything they wish for."
Her eyes lit up. "Like an agent? Are you a talent scout for the movies?"
This was going to be too easy.
"Sort of. Do you want to be an actress?"
"Oh yes." She nodded. "I moved out here from Colorado last year, but I haven’t found an agent yet."
"I could get you in touch with some."
"Really? Oh my God that would be great."
God had nothing to do with it, but he didn’t correct her. Jerry was itching to close the deal which usually meant he needed to slow down.
"Well let’s have some lunch and we can talk. I’d be happy to answer all your questions."
After they’d finished burgers and fries, milkshakes with whipped cream and cherries on top, small talk, and a few laughs, Jerry decided it was time to reel her back in. "So how badly do you want to be in the movie business?"
"Oh I’d give anything to be in a movie with Brad Pitt, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman, all the big stars."
"That’s a big dream," he countered. "Easy to dream about it, but making the sacrifices to see it come true is more difficult."
"I’m willing to work, Jerry."
He nodded and unfolded the contract. "My employer is prepared to make all your dreams come true, but it isn’t free."
She sighed and shook her head. "I just emptied my savings on new head shots."
"My employer isn’t interested in money, Lucy."
Her brow furrowed. "I won’t sleep my way to the top."
Jerry’s eyes widened and he laughed. "That wasn’t what I meant." He lowered his voice and leaned in closer to her. "I mean, he requires a signed contract that you will owe him your allegiance. Basically you’re signing that if he ever needs to call in a favor, you’ll answer and do it, no questions asked."
He sat back and sipped his water, waiting out the long silence. Finally Lucy leaned forward and whispered, "Is it drugs?"
He shrugged, "I have no idea. When he called me, it wasn’t to do anything illegal."
"So you signed this contract?"
Jerry smiled, she was almost his. "Yes I did."
"What did you get? I mean did you want to be in movies too?"
"Nah, I didn’t want to be famous. I wanted to break my company’s sales record for the year and win the trip to Cancun. I wanted it so badly I couldn’t think about anything else." He left out what it cost him. Best to save the fine print for after she signed.
"And did it work? Did he get it for you?"
"Yes," Jerry nodded. "I won the trip and made enough money to buy a bachelor pad in Beverly Hills."
"And now you sell for him?"
He raised a brow. "Smart girl. Yes, he asked me to come work on contract negotiations for him. I owed him a favor, so here I am?"
He slid the pen out of his pocket. This was the perfect moment.
"Are you ready to see all your dreams come true?"
She nearly ripped the pen out of his hand and quickly scribbled her name on the dotted line. Jerry folded the document and put it away before she could reconsider. He offered her a well-practiced smile and a handshake.
"I’m happy for you Lucy. From now on, all of your dreams are coming true."
She practically floated out of the FatBurger and Jerry chuckled. He dropped a few bucks on the table and left. He could probably close a couple more deals and get back before anyone ever knew he was gone. He’d done it. He’d outsmarted the Devil’s corporate sales center. He whistled as he walked, proud that he still had the knack. He could sell anything. A waitress just signed a contract that once her dreams are realized Mephistopheles, Mister M to his employees, would own her soul. And she’d signed it with a smile. Eager. That’s how good he was.
He’d missed this rush.
As he walked further down the block, Jerry opened the contract again to be sure everything was in order. When he saw her signature, he stopped. In fact, everything stopped. The cars were suspended, frozen in time. The rumble of the 405 freeway was silenced. And the hair on Jerry’s arms rose.
Hot breath burned the back of his neck and the stench of sulphur stung his nostrils. He didn’t want to turn around. He knew who was behind him. But how could he have found out? His eyes slid down the page and his heart sank.
Her signature read, "Lucy Fer."