John Frachetti stood in the hallway, contemplating a door. Not the one he'd just shrunk from opening, the formidable walnut-stained entrance to the executive conference room on the top floor of Fremont-Wayfarer's corporate headquarters, nor the figurative ingress of a chamber that might serve as his access to the world stage, but rather, a more private one, the door to the inner sanctum of his soul.
Happenstance had tangled the thin cry of his blogger's rant against the tallysheet bankers with the anti-corporate rage being husbanded in the prison-bedecked dining rooms of the company's restaurants. Persons unknown had murdered Edward Reese, its Chief Executive, and left him, a message still to be read, in the motel room where he'd turned down the chance to avert the trial that had ultimately imprisoned the corporation itself. And now, John had been summoned to speak before what remained of its Board, to defend the call to action which had so galvanized the chain's employees and patrons alike, and which had driven the talking heads to demand the shuttering of thousands of doors, and the diners behind them.
He closed his eyes and took a calming breath. The hot flame that warmed his soul and illuminated his world seemed to crackle, casting an otherworldly blue glow through the insubstantial aural cloak that surrounded his inner self, protecting him from the destructive impulses of those nearby. At peace with himself, he opened his eyes, reached out and opened the door.
"There he is," a grating voice boomed, "the sorry little cretin responsible for trashing this business."
John picked out the source, an overweight buffoon struggling upright behind the long table, and smiled. "I guess I found the right room, then."
"The right room for your funeral!" came the retort.
Claire Fuller, one of the two people here he recognized, slammed her palm against the table. "Hold your tongue, Mr. Bouvior," she said, rising to her feet. "Need I remind you that, as the prime enabler of the crime, you're here only to answer questions."
Frachetti smiled sardonically as the man settled back into his chair. He'd met Fuller, the parole officer overseeing Fremont-Wayfarer's three-year sentence, in one of the chain's restaurants, but he wasn't expecting to see her tonight. "What are you doing here?" he asked warily as he approached.
"At a Board meeting? I'm the Chair. Now, if you'll take the seat beside Mr. Klee, we can get started."
Alizondo Klee was the other person he recognized. Besides being the night manager at the FW Diner where he'd first encountered Claire Fuller, he was also the union's voice on the board. Prior to the trial, there hadn't even been a union. Judge Clary had made workforce unionization a condition of the sentence, and the new union wasted no time making a mockery of Reese's plan to humiliate the employees by forcing them to wear prison garb.
"I'm glad you could make it," Klee said as Frachetti slipped out of his jacket.
"Wouldn't miss this for the world, sir."
"All right then," Fuller said, returning to her seat. "Now that we're all here, I suggest we get down to business. Mr. Frachetti, the man who was so eager to see you is Nestor Bouvior. Before the court remade this board, he was its Chairman. That might explain his irritation. The gentleman across from you is Norman Wells, from the Securities and Exchange Commission. During the corporation's incarceration, he also represents any other agency with an interest in the operation of the business."
Wells nodded a silent greeting.
"Now that you know who everyone else is, it's time that we found out a bit more about you. We've been compelled to speak with you by the police and the FBI, both of which are quite concerned about the potential for disruption that you demonstrated simply by talking with the staff and customers when we had dinner in Mr. Klee's store the other night. The fact that the CEO was found dead shortly thereafter does give the authorities reason to be concerned about you."
Frachetti glanced around the table. He had expected to feel emasculated in the company of such people, but found that he wasn't. To the contrary, he felt empowered. Being asked, or rather, compelled to speak truth to power put him in a position he never dreamed he'd be in. And yet, here he was. "What is it you want to know?"