This Is Us- Chapter 18
Operation Lard Head
Catch up on earlier chapters here Chapter 17, Chapter 16, All The Rest
There were moments when Jamie had to literally bite the inside of his cheek to stop the words I love you from slipping off his unguarded tongue.
If it were up to him, he’d have married her the first morning he woke in her bed. Instinct warned him to go canny. Claire never discussed her marriage or break up with Frank except in the broadest of terms and that worried him. Jamie sensed the struggle inside of her. He just didn’t know if she was wrestling with a broken heart or her own demons.
They had a couple months to plan, to dream, to just be. He wanted every single day of that time for them, to have her to himself, to become hers.
In the fall, Faith would be transitioning to preschool. Jamie knew that before they picked one that she’d be happy in, they would need have a plan to handle the public aspects of what was going to happen.
There was no question in his mind about amending the birth certificate and he didn’t think in Claire’s either. If anything their relationship solidified their unity of thought. The key point of decision lay in the timing. He delayed the discussion wanting them on solid ground as a couple first.
Claire thought she’d understood what being in the whirlwind of the press once more would be like. Jamie knew different. It was going to be like living in a fishbowl and, with no false modesty, he understood he was a big fish in a small Scottish pond.
For all its salacious aspects, the press coverage on her was relatively tame. She had been the flavor of the week with the press striking then moving on quickly. They might have come back around a few times smelling fresh meat but again, it was hit and run. Jamie garnered a certain amount of coverage all year round and there was no way to escape that fact.
Complicating matters, Slainte was picking up market share faster than projected. Jamie was facing considerable pressure to expand operations to meet demand.
A rival company, originating in France with a product name of Babbelas was attempting a run at Slainte. Jamie had Geneva and Geillis researching both its ingredients and following the money behind it’s development.
On top of that they were having some trouble ensuring consistency of vendor deliveries to keep production schedules as planned. The pressure cooker was about to heat up. He could feel it coming.
Jamie dragged his mind back to the conference room table where he was meeting with Murtagh, Fergus and the rest of creative.
“The concept tested well across nations in the focus groups.” Murtagh told him.
“I’m not surprised, ye did a good job, rehearsals tomorrow?” Jamie verified.
“Aye, we’ve plenty of space in the lunch area and it’s not too complicated. I’ll hold our wee camera, it’s not exactly commercial quality but good enough and we have a bit of editing software for a rough cut. I’ll be able to show you those by the end of the week in case we need to do any fine tuning. We booked the studio with their in-house crew directing and doing the sound for the top of next week. We’ve time enough to get it right before the pros take over.”
“Operation Lard Head?”
“I canna help it, the name just stuck.” Murtagh smiled.
By mid-morning on the following day Jamie had already put out two fires, metaphorically speaking. Mrs. Fitz had been just as frantic as he and was giving him the old rolled eye from the inner window that let him look out onto the rest of the floor.
Now they were having a problem with their Osha supplier. It was one of the special herbal ingredients that made the product work so well.
But it was hard to grow in controlled settings and could only be cultivated in the wild in certain parts of Canada and the United States. Their last delivery was low, even factoring the seasonal ebb they’d been warned about this month. If their next delivery produced similarly low numbers, they would end up short during this critical production period.
Jamie’d spent the last twenty minutes trying to chase down the head of the supply company that was giving him the runaround. He left messages three places offering to meet in person.
Half the team was working on tracking down an alternative Osha supply but right at the moment, this man was his only source of supply. The rehearsals were scheduled to begin in a half an hour and that had been occupying the rest of the team.
Jamie’s skin prickled just then and he looked up completely astonished to see Claire, coat half on, cheeks red with exertion, Faith in tow, striding around the corner with Faith’s purple backpack in hand. Mrs. Fitz was just about to launch into gatekeeper mode when he leaned his head out of the doorway.
“What’s wrong?” He called out as he reached out to hoist Faith up and ushered Claire through his door, closing it firmly on Mrs. Fitz’s openly curious stare.
Faith gave him a loud smack on the lips in greeting and he smiled even as he checked her out. She seemed fine to him.
“Jamie, I’m so sorry. I know, I wasn’t scheduled to go in today and the daycare is closed for a professional development day. But a man I operated on two days ago needs to go back under It’s a tricky procedure. I really have to be there. The Crookes just left to go visit their daughter. I misplaced my phone and couldn’t call you in advance—-”
He put Faith down on the floor and his arms around her. “Shhh,” he whispered as he kissed her forehead and hugged her briefly.
“It’s fine, Sassenach.” Jamie wasn’t sure how he would reorganize his day, but there was nothing else to be done.
“I know it’s dreadful timing. I feel awful about just dropping in like this. I packed a few toys, her iPad and a lunch.” Claire apologized again.
“Go, we’ll make do. Tend to yer duties.” He reassured her, smiling down at Faith, “the lassie and I will be fine won’t we mo nighean?” Faith nodded up at her Da with an answering smile of her own.
The last thing Claire needed was to expend precious time and energy worrying about him or Faith. She needed to focus on her surgery, especially if it was delicate enough they’d called her in on her day off.
Claire reminded Faith to be a good girl as Jamie opened the door to let her go. She kissed his cheek with another word of thanks and started down the hall. She brushed by Geneva on her way called out rushed hellos and disappeared around the corner.
Mrs Fitz was just about to launch into the third degree when Geneva cut her off, striding into Jamie’s office.
“Is Claire ok?” She asked puzzled at seeing Dr. Beauchamp at Slainte.
She’d thought Jamie was dating her but he’d never said as much and she hadn’t seen Claire since Quarter Day.
Her eyes spotted Faith standing a little behind Jamie.
“Oh, goodness, what a pretty girl. Is she Claire’s?”
“Aye.” Jamie said, it wasn’t a lie, just not the whole truth.
“She is really quite impressive, isn’t she? It’s a bit intimidating knowing there are women like Claire in the world. I can barely get out of my own way most days and she is a doctor and a mother? Well, she at least gives me hope that it can be done!” Geneva smiled as did Jamie. Geneva was crazy for children, always had been.
Geneva knelt down on the carpet in front of her.
“I’m Geneva, what’s your name?”
“That’s a lovely name. How—–”
Jamie wanted to cut off the cross examination from his legal eagle and interrupted the conversational flow.
“Did ye need something Eva?” Geneva was momentarily distracted but did look up, suddenly remembering that she had come in on a mission. She reluctantly rose to her feet.
“Yes, actually, the Osha supplier says he’ll meet with you but he’s got a plane to catch later today and he’ll be out of Scotland for the next month. You’ll need to leave in fifteen or twenty minutes to get to him on time.”
“Iffrin!” Jamie exclaimed.
“I know but at least I convinced him to meet with you before he left. We still don’t have Geillis’s analysis of the Babbelas product. The interruptions in deliveries might be unrelated, but if they are squeezing the market, we have to be prepared. You already know how difficult it is to find reliable sources for it. We have to keep our current supplier happy.” Geneva smiled with some sympathy as Jamie ran his hand roughly through his hair.
“Aye, Eva, I thank ye for setting it up. I’ll let you get back to your day.”
This was a very pointed dismissal and Geneva could not ignore the command. She gave one last lingering look at Faith and went back to her own office.
Well, no help for it, ten minutes later, Jamie dropped Faith off with Ian.
“Uncan!” Faith exclaimed, wide grin of greeting.
“Neath!” He gathered her in a huge hug.
Murtagh was passing by as Faith started chanting Da, Da, Da. He quickly looked over his shoulder as Angus and Rupert rounded the corner and scooped Faith up to distract her while Jamie extracted himself and made ready to leave.
“MurTagh, Tagh, Tagh, lass.” he said emphatically, hoping to disguise her vocalizations as Jamie walked out of the office. He needn’t have bothered as Angus and Rupert were wrapped up in an argument over who was going to say which lines.
The group had made good progress running through the various ads targeting the expansion into European markets through the United LQ deal inked earlier in the year. Murtagh was reluctant to continue going over lines.
Angus was a natural, not giving a care to the presence of the camera but Rupert was clearly not comfortable in front of a lens. He would look at the camera in such a way that made the viewer acutely aware that he was ACTING! That wouldn’t do at all.
In order to break Rupert of his self-consciousness, Murtagh decided to project the feed onto two monitors mounted in the lunch area so they could see themselves and just let them talk as they normally would, no thought to the camera. He hoped it would desensitize the experience for Rupert.
Rupert had dressed in jeans and a dark green Slainte t-shirt.
Angus, on the other hand, collected off beat t-shirts and today’s choice was a brown tee that read:
All Mushrooms Are Edible…Once.
This one courtesy of MoTown Mushrooms, a small specialty farm in Vermont.
The two of them were arguing the finer points of why Spongebob looked like a kitchen sponge even though his parents had been free form sea sponges resembling loofahs.
“I’m just saying it’s a recessive gene, that’s all, like a bairn having blue eyes even when the parents dinna have them.” Rupert was explaining.
Behind him, Murtagh heard a sharp cry of alarm and then Ian’s unmistakable gait as he hurried along the wood floor toward Jamie’s office.
Remembering that Faith was their unexpected guest for the afternoon, Murtagh left the camera rolling on it’s tripod and pivoted to lend a hand.
“Here, Mrs. Fitz, let me just wrap the towel and hold tight, wee bit of pressure.” Ian was saying as he wrapped the hand in a kitchen towel and held it up and over her head for her.
Murtagh saw Mrs. Fitz sitting in her office chair with long faint streaks of blood running from hand to wrist.
“What’s amiss?” he asked.
“The letter opener, the one shaped like a dirk?” Glenna was saying, her eyes still wide and pain-filled. “It’s as sharp as a wee stabbie, slipped and cut my palm.”
Several minutes passed and still they couldn’t stem the bleeding. By this point Faith had come out of Ian’s office to see what was happening.
“I think we need to take her to the clinic, she’ll need stitches.” Ian confirmed as he lowered the dish towel the third time to verify that the bleeding wan’t stopping.
“My auto is a stick shift. I don’t think I can manage to—”
“No, dinna fash, Glenna, Ian will drive ye there and then take ye home in his car, we’ll get yours to you later tonight when we check on ye at home.” Murtagh kissed her cheek lightly. “I’ll tell Himself what happened. Ian I’ve got Faith, ‘tween Fergus and me she’ll be fine. Just make sure Glenna is seen to, aye?”
And with that, they managed to gather Glenna’s belongings up and get her down to the parking area and off to the clinic.
When Murtagh returned Egg Head and Lard Bucket had moved on to discuss the relative merits of Scottish industry in the world.
Fergus, pragmatic to the core, decided he couldn’t be two places at once. He needed to be in the lunch area observing the dynamic duo, taking notes, catching anything they said that might be used in later ads and needing to tend to the lass.
Well, so. The lass was hungry, she had a lunch box, they had a lunch area, he needed to be in the lunch area ergo….He and Faith sat a bit to the side at a small table slightly off-camera. Geneva had just placed her lunch on the same table and was moving the chair out to sit down to join them. Faith was sitting on a few large directories, a makeshift booster seat but just as captivated by the entertainment in front of her as everyone else.
In fact, now that he’d taken the time to notice, Murtagh could see several other people from the company engaged in similar activities of eating and smiling along with Angus and Rupert as they bantered with one another.
Angus was moving his hands about as he interjected, “and I’m saying thanks to Scotland, the world has whisky, penicillin and insulin, telephones and faxes, golf and bicycles, postage stamps, television, the steam engine and—–” his voice rose up in dramatic tones, “the cure for the common hangover!”
“Weel, so we do but that’s mostly self defense. Did you know we hold the record for the longest running hangover in the world?” Rupert informed him.
“Go on wi’ ye?” Angus wasn’t actually surprised by this fact.
“Lasted four weeks.” Rupert confirmed. “Ken, it seems as if we do have a lot of words for drunk in Scotland.”
“Ye think ye have good recall of them?” Angus had a familiar, speculative gleam in his eye.
“Better than you!” Rupert confirmed, just warming up. Doing this sober would make for a change.
“Oh? Let’s hear it then, I’ll give ye a fiver if ye can break my record of 30.” Angus bet but then added, “Pub conditions, aye? Thirty seconds, no repeats and in alphabetical order.”
Rupert grunted. He moved his head from side to side, cracking his neck. The lunchroom was crowded with colleagues drawn by the internal feed from the monitors and money was starting to change hands along the sidelines.
Angus looked at him, “Ready?” Rupert nodded. “Ok, 3, 2, 1 go!”
“Badgered, banjaxed, bladdered, bleezin’, blootered, buckled, cabbaged, goosed, guttered, hawf-cut, hammered, lashed, leathered, mangled, minced, mingin’, oot yer tree, pished as a fart, rat arsed, reekin’, rubbered, sloshed, steaming, stocious, tanked up, warped, wasted, wellied.”
The crowd broke into cheers and applause.
“Oh, 28– too bad ye just missed it.” Angus announced.
A smattering of nos! And money changing hands once again, a reckoning for the winners and losers in the crowd.
Rupert had worked up a sweat but his competitive spirit was awakened.
“Two for one ye cannot do better.” Rupert challenged.
“Yer on. Prepare to weep, my lad. Ready?” Angus widened his stance, danced a little like a boxer entering the ring.
“Without repeating any of mine.” Rupert reminded him.
“Like I need to use yours? Ok and….Go: awa wi it, Bernard Langered, disguised, etched, fecked, foo, footered, howlin’, legless, jaiked up, mad wae it, mashed, minkit, monkey full, mortal, nicely irrigated, oot the game, pie-eyed, paralytic, pickled, plastered, rendered, ruined, stewed, stottin, steamboats, tooteroo, torry-ed, tramlined, troubled, zombied!” A huge cheer broke out. Angus had defended his crown matching his record!
Rupert laughed and congratulated him. They pulled up two chairs, still on camera and sat down.
It was clear Rupert had long since forgotten about the lens and was perfectly at home now. He pulled out a ten, handing it and a cold can of Slainte to Angus.
At this Rupert tapped his can of Slainte against Angus’s and said, “Slanj!”
Angus pulled his can back last minute.
“Oi! Whatcha doing? Ye don’t say slanj that’s what a bawheeded twonk or an Englishman on holiday says!” He looked truly put out.
“Stop being a tosser!” Rupert retorted.
“I mean it. If yer no’ going to say it right I’m no going to stand wi’ ye on the telly.” Angus declared.
“Christ man, the wheels turnin’ but the hamster’s long deid.” Rupert shook his head.
“It’s slahn-ja-va, no’ slanj. And ye put the accent on the wrong end!” Angus insisted.
“Ye witless bawbag, that’s what I said, slanj.” Rupert went again to clink the soda cans.
“Have ye no pride, man? That’s no’ a proper toast, and ye dinna ken how to clink the can proper either.” Angus was disgusted.
“Yer being a twatwaffle.” Rupert told him.
“Ye clink the top of the can and the bottom of the can for a proper toast.” Angus informed him.
“Says who?” Rupert was genuinely curious.
“Me granny, that’s who. Always, tops and bottoms. Even with the wine glasses. Like so–” at this Angus demonstrated, clinking first the top rim and then the bottom of the can and repeating, “Tops and bottoms! Now, you give ‘er a go.” He encouraged.
Rupert looked askance at him. Angus nodded and Rupert drew in a breath.
“Aye, weel, as Homer Simpson says,
‘To alcohol! The cause of – and solution to – all of life’s problems.’”
Then Rupert tentatively reached his can over to Angus and clinked, “Tops and bottoms!”
“Hey– that’s no’ good. Ye need a better toast than that!” Angus admonished.
“Why?” Rupert asked to Angus’s deep sigh.
Angus shook his head so the back of his hair swung free of its thong. He cleared his throat and held up his can, seeing others gathered at the tables raise their drinks to join in the toast.
“He is not drunk, who from the floor,
Can rise again and drink some more;
But he is drunk who prostrate lies,
And cannot drink, and cannot rise!
Tops and bottoms!”
At that he got many around the room clinking tops and bottoms of their improvised drinks be they in glasses and cans and bottles. Rupert was grinning, enjoying the opportunity to watch Angus in his element, and stone cold sober at that.
Out of the corner of his eye, Rupert saw Faith tentatively approach with her juice box in hand. He smiled at her.
Murtagh was about to run forward and pull her back, though what he would do with her he didn’t know, everyone else was gathered in the lunchroom and, no fool Faith, she wanted to be near the action.
He let out a small cry of alarm when Geillis reached her hand out to him from behind. He hadn’t even heard her approach. She was carrying a thick folder, no doubt some kind of analytic report for Jamie.
“Whose child is that?” She asked staring. “I swear I have seen that hair before.” This said in a speculative tone.
“Ah, that is Faith, she’s Claire’s daughter. Claire had an emergency and Jamie offered to cover but he’s meeting with the Osha supplier.” Fergus supplied from behind them.
They all stood round the camera watching the monitors. Some people are naturally more photogenic through a lens, Murtagh thought, and Faith was luminous.
Her pink cheeks and bright green jumper set her skin and hair off beautifully. Every eye was on her and the conversational hum of the room seemed to quiet.
“Oh, apple?” Rupert was asking Faith as she held up the box for his inspection.
Rupert gently touched his can to her juice box, “Cheers!”
He made to clink tops and bottoms with her, Faith complied but had an odd look on her face.
“That’s no’ what my Da says.” Faith informed him.
Murtagh felt his heart literally stop in his chest. Praying that Rupert would be his usual un-curious self he chanted please dinna ask in his head over and over.
It was now completely silent in the room.
“Oh?” Rupert’s only response.
“He says lang time deid.” Faith announced.
“Aye, lass that’s an old one, right enough.” Angus put in just as Faith reached her juice out to tap Rupert’s can once more.
Just then Angus let out an enormous burp, surprising Rupert into releasing the loudest fart Murtagh had ever heard. Both sounds amplified by the microphones they were still wearing.
Not missing a beat a tiny, delighted voice squeaked out into the silence.
“Tops and bottoms!”
To the raucous delight of the crowd who all toasted that one.
“What the hell are ye doing!” Jamie hissed from right behind Murtagh causing the man to jump ten feet off the ground in fright.
Were his compatriots at Slainte trying to give him a heart attack?
Murtagh noticed that Jamie hadn’t yet registered Geillis’s presence, and he wasn’t sure whether Jamie had noticed how packed the lunch area was.
Murtagh quickly grabbed his arm, nodding in an exaggerated way at Fergus indicating he needed to corral Faith as quickly as possible, as he shoved Jamie out of the doorway and back toward his office.
Jamie backed down as soon as he saw Fergus moving toward Faith and allowed himself to be borne back. When they were safely in his office, with Faith and the door closed, Murtagh filled him in on what had happened with Mrs. Fitz and Ian.
“The truth is I wasna focused on the wee lassie, Angus and Rupert had gotten going and it was like the floor show at a Vegas casino. Everyone was caught up in it.”
“I ken, it’s fine, Murtagh.” There was no point in getting upset. Jamie sat Faith on his lap and pulled out some sticky notes and colored pencils for her to play with while she sat with him at his desk.
“Even if some suspect, and I don’t why anyone would, no one here would breathe a word. They are loyal, we are a family.” Fergus reminded them.
Jamie looked one to the other.
“It will come out anyway, at some point. My only concern is that Claire feel herself ready for it, that it no’ come as a surprise. She had some bad experiences before with press.” Jamie explained.
“She is right to be concerned.” Fergus agreed. “It could make things hard for Faith in school or with friends.” Seeing Jamie’s stricken face he quickly added, “But she’ll adjust with time and be fine.”
Just then Geillis knocked on the door, Jamie beckoned her in with a wave of his hand as he nodded for Murtagh and Fergus to go, thanking them for watching her.
Geillis rarely sat for meetings and this one was no exception. She dropped the folder on his desk and began pacing but her sharp eyes watched as he took in the contents of her report.
“Not a duplicate of our formula.” He observed.
“True, I think the combination of herbs is quite standard but there is an ingredient that I can’t unmask. The analysis isn’t exact, it breaks things down but doesn’t necessarily tell me each combination that made up the formula they are using.”
“Our Osha supplier swears he isna selling to them, do ye believe him?” Jamie asked.
Geillis laughed, “I wasn’t there, you were, you tell me?”
Jamie gestured to the report, “According to this, the answer is no.”
“Not for that specific product. But you can buy an ingredient and compound the raw material with another and create something that masks itself in the testing.”
She looked thoughtfully at him. “But you know, if you wanted to, you could interfere with the supply chain of a competitor just for the hell of it. What would stop someone from buying it up to choke off availability and just holding it for a time, disrupting the production of a competitor even if they themselves don’t need the ingredient? They can create chaos and later on can resell the product if they don’t need it to recoup the money they spent, meanwhile their competition is weakened.”
“Christ, ye are a devious wee thing!” Jamie said, not without admiration. “And if ye wanted to pay them back in kind, what would ye do?”
“I would hit them sideways, but not in the way you are thinking.” She said.
He raised his brows.
“They will expect it, you see. And to be honest, based on my testing there is nothing unique or even proprietary about their formula. It would be a waste of time and money to try and create a similar problem for them. You need to find a different pressure point.” She mused. “What has Geneva dug up on them?”
“Nothing yet, she’s still chasing the subcorps down through Nevis and the Caymans. There are several layers of subsidiaries to peel away.” Jamie was frustrated.
“No one is that good at hiding, something will turn up. In the meantime, we need to focus on ensuring our suppliers are delivering on time and in the amounts we need. I can reformulate a little bit using what we have on hand without impacting effectiveness, the taste might be a little different but not enough that a normal consumer would notice.” She offered.
“Do what ye can.” Jamie decided, taking another look through the report. Geillis’s back was to him, looking over the floor.
Just then Faith piped up, “Park?” Jamie half heard her. “Pease?”
“Hmm? Aye, mo nighean. Let me just finish up.” He said distractedly.
Geillis half turned to him, “Shall I leave you to it?”
“Aye, thank ye, Geillie, I’ll catch up wi’ ye tomorrow.” Jamie said as he maneuvered around Faith to return the folder to Geillis as she was exiting the door.
Jamie had to fire off a few emails, update Geneva on his conversations with the vendor and return a half dozen calls, one of which was to Ian. He had just dropped Glenna off at home, four stitches and some pain meds but she was feeling fine. Geneva and Fergus offered to take care of Glenna’s car. Everything else he needed to tend to could wait until tomorrow.
“Ready, lass?” He asked as soon as Faith had finished packing everything back in her bag.
“Yes, Da! Park and ducks!” She urged, pulling him along by his hand.