This installment brings the total to 60,500 words.
--- Chapter 9 ---
Pat and Tom rose early the next morning so that they could go to mass before the broadcast of the Rose Parade began, a ritual to which Pat was as deeply devoted as watching the ball drop in Times Square the night before. Kristy had intended to sleep in, but having wakened briefly, she found herself unable to get back to sleep with Katie in bed next to her.
The main rooms were silent and orderly. Pat had evidently cleaned up from the party after the sisters had gone to their room the night before, or else had embarked on an early morning cleaning frenzy, as everything was spotless and in its place. Looking at the cabinet frames that now lined the walls of the kitchen, Kristy found herself thinking back over the past week and the familial glow which had filled the house: Tom and Paul working in the kitchen, had seemed, she now realized, not unlike father and son. Pat and Katie seemed to have found a new common ground in working in the kitchen together. Far from the disaster she had half feared in bringing four people into the small house over the holidays, the last week had been the most enjoyable family time she could recall. Tomorrow their parents would move out, into their new apartment, and she herself would fly off for three days of LeadFirst training. The kitchen would probably be done by the time she got back. And if Paul and Katie proved to be a lasting couple they would doubtless withdraw increasingly into their own world in the manner that couples invariably did. A sense of loss struck her, and with it the impractical desire that somehow the experience of the last few days could be continued indefinitely.
This last morning with the four of them together seemed to call for some celebratory gesture. Her eye fell on an open cardboard box sitting in a corner in which the cook books which Katie used most heavily were in semi-storage. She pulled out the copy of Joy of Cooking and started paging through. Waffles were her father’s realm, into which she dared not tread. Muffins? Pans were packed. What could go on the cookie sheet? She flipped pages until her eye fell on scones. “Bake 15-17 minutes.” With If she hurried they could be done just as her parents got home. Perhaps they would watch the Rose Parade together.
It was still fully dark when Kristy rose the next morning, getting ready as quietly as possible so as not to wake Katie. Her roller luggage was waiting for her by the front door. She had only to wrestle it down the icy walk and load it into the BMW’s trunk. Breakfast could come at the airport.
Doubtless you, like any other American with the slightest familiarity with the news, have heard of General Benjamin Palliser: famous for his leadership of the war in Afghanistan and far more so for his sudden ejection from that post after explaining all too candidly in a major interview his differences with the administration over the conduct of the war. Fitzgerald claimed that there are no second acts in American lives, but when he said this he was no doubt unaware of the creation of Palliser Associates: “Providing combat tested organizational awareness and leadership solutions to today’s ever-changing business environment.”
Rumor abounded at Schneider & Sons as to how exactly the company had become one of Palliser Associates first clients. Some claimed that Gus Schneider IV and General Palliser frequented the same glider club in the Colorado Rockies. Others maintained that the connection stemmed from the General’s always rumored, never yet realized, political ambitions. Whatever the origin, for three years now the three day LeadFirst Management Boot Camp seminars had been a staple of the Schneider experience, providing just the right combination of useful content, mockable buzzwords, and memorable “team building” physical activity (and the resulting colorful injuries) to be an endless source of anecdote and commonality among “all Schneider leaders of director level and above, as well as select manager level leaders in strategic lines of business.”
Kristy had experienced team building and leadership exercises ranging from cooking classes to rock climbing, from group mediation to personality analysis, but to her Silicon Valley-formed experience this blend of management consulting and military trappings was wholly novel. She found herself wondering if Palliser Associates drew any of its clients from the Coasts, or if this was a uniquely Middle-American business experience.
On arrival at Dulles, Kristy collected her baggage and found the middle-aged man who stood holding the LeadFirst sign— undefinably military looking in his crew cut, khakis and dark blue LeadFirst fleece. Several other seminar attendees already stood waiting, though no others from among the Schneider & Sons contingent attending this time were present.
A paunchy attendee in polo shirt and blazer sidled up to Kristy, wheeling his luggage behind him.
“Hi there. Joe Smith. Insure America,” he said, inspiring in Kristy curiosity as to whether he spoke exclusively in two word sentences.
“My name’s Kristy Nilsson. I’m from Schneider & Sons.”
“You gonna run? With the SEALS?” he asked.
“I hadn’t decided. It sounds like fun, but I’ve heard the history jog with the General is very good as well.”
“I heard that too.” He sucked in his gut slightly each time he was about to speak, perhaps out of some self consciousness, but resulting in the impression he was slightly out of breath. “I want to try. But heard it’s tough. Running with SEALS though. Can you beat that?”
Kristy allowed as how this would be difficult to beat and looked around for someone else to talk to.
“My company sends everyone here,” he continued. “Hear it’s a great experience.”
At that moment, Kristy saw another woman approaching the group and hastened to introduce herself to her.
When the half dozen people on the driver’s list were all assembled, they all piled into a shuttle bus and drove off. The seminar was evidently to be a study in contrasts. Each attendee was handed a “briefing paper” assigning him or her to a “squad” and listing activities for the next two days. As they were driven to LeadFirst headquarters in Arlington, VA, video screens in the shuttle bus played a talk delivered by General Pallisar propounding “strategic awareness” and emphasizing that “in our global economy, as on the modern battlefield, information is the most powerful weapon.” After the General’s talk, they saw another video in which instructors in athletic garb with whistles around their whistles around their necks propounded the importance of “working hard, playing hard” and team building.
With all this build-up, Kristy had almost begun to expect the shuttle bus to stop in front of corrugated metal barracks and to spend her night in a bunk bed. Instead it pulled up in front of a picturesque Homewood Suites whose gracious lobby featured a “Welcome LeadFirst!” sign. She took her bag up to her room and consulting her briefing paper saw that she had free time until the “Welcome Dinner with General Pallisar and LeadFirst Team” in a couple of hours.
Skimming over the rest of the schedule for the rest of the seminar, she saw that in addition to the near legendary “06:00 Physical Training: Participants to choose between 3 mile run with the SEALS or historical sight seeing jog with General Pallisar,” there were a mix of physical activities and seminar topics ranging from the banal to the arcane.
“Strategic Awareness and the Power of Information”
“Leadership and Knowledge Networks”
“Building an Understanding of Routine: Lessons From de Vigney:
“Conquering the Infoscape”
“Team Building: Relay Race by Squads”
A note at the bottom of the briefing paper advised her, “LeadFirst emphasizes a holistic approach to leadership building incorporating knowledge building and physical activity. We strongly encourage all participants to take part in physical training and contests. However, participants are encouraged to know their physical limits and avoid unaccustomed exertion which may lead to injury. The attached waiver must be signed before participation in any physical activities.”
Although LeadFirst had concluded after lunch on Friday, and the time change was with her as she returned home, it was nearly eight o’clock by the time Kristy arrived at the house on Friday evening. She had texted Katie from the airport. No response had been forthcoming, but she had, nonetheless, allowed herself to hope that she would see the windows glowing with light as she pulled up to the bungalow and that the smell of Katie’s cooking would waft out to meet her as she opened the door. The house, however, was dark.
She turned on the light, dragged her luggage over the threshold, and shut the door against the cold, then took a long moment to look around the kitchen. The newly finished cabinets gleamed and the smells of wood and varnish was heavy in the air. The kitchen had that showroom quality which a room has so briefly after it has been finished, and loses quickly upon use. She opened cupboards and drawers. Most of them were still empty. Work had evidently finished that day and Katie had not yet begun unpacking the kitchen wares.
After wandering admiringly around the kitchen for some minutes, she took up her bag once again and rolled it back to her room where the began to unpack. As she was finishing she heard the door open and close and, returning to the kitchen, found Katie taking off her coat.
“Sorry, I just got back,” Katie said. “I haven’t thought at all about dinner. Doesn’t the kitchen look great, though? Paul just put the hardware on the cabinets this afternoon.”
Kristy nodded. “Have you eaten?”
“Not really. I had a late lunch with Paul and then we were out at his farm. Sorry I didn’t respond to your text.”
“Well I’m starving,” Kristy said, starting to pull her own coat back on. “Let’s go out to dinner. And you can tell me about what’s been going on while I was gone.”