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The Ross Review boasted offices out of Miami, New York and London. The publication was headquartered in Houston, Texas, and was the brainchild of Louisiana native Basil Ross. The man had become a household name among a host of literary circles.
At eighteen, Basilalong with his childhood friend Wade Corneliusstarted the weekly publication from the laundry room next to his mother's in-home hair salon. Back then, the magazine was geared toward Basil's peers. Topics covered the various challenges facing the black population in '60s-era Louisiana.
Reporting from a purely militant viewpoint, the Review was of course underground in nature. Basil realized the dangers in reporting on civil inequality and racial attacks on the national, state and local levels. Still, he thrived in the knowledge of that very thing.
The young publisher had made a name for himself long before he ever decided to put down stakes in Texas.
Upon visiting the Review, one would take the news floor as anything but. There was however a cool efficiency about the place. Reporters and staff toiled away at neat, highend polished oak desks and were surrounded by glass walls in addition to windows.
Big-screen plasma TVs hung from various points in the ceiling on most every floor and broadcasted news from twenty-four-hour stations. The stations were also part of the Ross Review umbrella which, in the mid-nineties, had been added to Basil Ross's list of accomplishments.
While Ross Review employees were privy to an enviable view of downtown Houston, those on the other side of the glass had no clue about the goings-on of the organization inside. The underlying reason for the oneway windows was clear and spoke to the publication's motto. Ross would reveal no "crime" before its time.
The overall effect of the eighteen-story building may have come across as cold, stark and uninviting but Basil Ross treated his employees very well. Editorial and custodial staff alike was given the utmost respect. Proof was evident in their working conditions and compensation. Basil Ross and Wade Cornelius each subscribed to the notion that a well-treated worker was an effective worker.
Aside from the drone of voices rising from the TVs, there was minimal personal chatter. Everyone was about his or her business and proud to be. Anyone privileged enough to walk through the doors of the Ross Review understood that they were walking into the environment of respect and admiration the publication waved like a banner.
* * *
Inside one of the glassencased conference rooms, the dull rumble of laughter could be heard as the daily budget meeting began to wind down. Basil made a point of ending every meeting on a cordial note. The issues reported on by the magazine and stations were often so melancholy, smiles were hard to come by unless a story brought a criminal to justice.
Such was the case that morning. A dual effort between the crime and financial beats had yet to fully uncover the true motive behind a series of murders targeting new Machine Melendez employees.
"Follow the money, boys," Basil was saying to his chief reporters for each beat. "You've already uncovered that the murders were professionally done. That costs money." He watched David Crus and Noah Eames nod solemnly as he smiled.
"Show me you're worth what I'm paying you," Basil added, drawing a round of laughter in the process.
"Speaking of money," Basil started once the chuckles began to silence. He reached for the last folder to his left and grimaced upon opening it. "I regret to announce that change will need to be made with regards to the Machine Melendez account." Pulling the silver-rimmed spectacles from his nose, Basil focused on wiping the already spotless lenses. "Apologies for bringing noneditorial business into our budget meeting but since our two VPs are right here "
Basil replaced the square-framed glasses and looked toward his son and daughter at the end of the table. "It's best to get this out of the way now. I don't want this mess fouling up the rest of my day."
Avra Ross lowered her brown gaze while scooting down a bit in her chair. Squeezing the cup in hand, she focused on blowing across the surface of her coffee in order to cool it. She looked up when her father loudly cleared his throat.
"You're gonna owe your brother big for this one, miss," he said.
Blinking, Avra cast a quick look toward Khouri. She looked away just as quickly when he sent her a smug grin.
"You may not be so pleased when you find out what she's gonna owe you for, sir."
Khouri's grin showed signs of dimming just a tad. Reclining in his chair, he stroked the light beard shadowing his face and waited.
"Too many negatives appear to be plaguing this account." Basil perched his slender frame to the edge of the table. "Foremost is the fact that the lead execs can't pass a civil word between the two of them."
"The man's a pig," Avra grumbled, once more staring into her coffee.
Basil leaned toward his eldest child. "And you're saying that you've never played nice with pigs before?"
"Not with pigs that big." Avra smiled when laughter rumbled around the table. She cleared her throat upon noticing Basil's dry expression.
"With that in mind, it's time for cooler heads to prevail." He looked from Avra who was easing down deeper into her chair. "Khouri, the job is yours."
Khouri's enviable, laid-back demeanor showed the slightest signs of unrest. "Dad, um." He slanted a look toward his sister. "I don't have a clue about what Av and her crew do over there in advertising. I'm not ashamed to say I don't know about negotiating ad rates, either."
"Understood, sir." Basil smiled approvingly when his only son smirked over his use of the pet name. His expression tightened once more when he again looked toward his daughter. "But this isn't about ad rates, is it, miss?"
Indignant, Avra set down her extra-tall coffee cup and folded her hands atop the table. "We don't think Melendez's proposed spots are right for the magazine," she told her brother.
Khouri pressed a hand to the front of the gray shirt he wore. "And you think I'd know which are right?"
"We're hoping your input might help us reach a decision for everyone to be happy," Basil said, looking through the papers inside the folder he referred to. "We want to remove this from the ad department completely. Basically, we don't want any of Avra's staff feeling pressured into doing her bidding instead of sharing their true opinions."
Avra bristled. "Dad"
"Is Melendez all right with this?" Khouri smoothly interjected.
"They are sending their own cooler head to assist."
Khouri realized the futility in asking more questions. The job, as his father said, was all his. The look he sent Avra then should have left no doubts that he was pissed and that she definitely owed him big time.
Basil slid the folder down the long table. "Someone from Melendez will call to set up a meeting."
A knock fell upon the conference room door just as discussion resumed among the group. Basil's assistant, Doris Shipman, hurried in. She whispered briefly near her boss's ear, pressed a slip of paper into his hand and left the room.
Opening the note, Basil scanned the writing. His expression changed as he leaned forward and drew the strip of paper closer.
"Everything okay, Dad?" Avra shared a concerned look with Khouri when their father simply raised a hand and rushed from the room.
Samson Melendez smoothed the back of one hand along his square jaw and studied the young woman seated on the other side of his desk. Through a narrowed, dark gaze he focused intently on her face looking for anything to disprove what she was telling him.
"Convinced?" Setha Melendez asked her brother after he'd silently watched her for the better part of two minutes.
"Not really." Sam's canyon-deep voice had the tendency to fill a room especially when his words carried the added air of suspicion. "I can't understand anyonewho's in their right mindvolunteering to spend hours negotiating with the likes of Avra Ross."
Setha recrossed her long legs. "No one except you, right?" she drawled, smiling brightly when her brother's probing-pitch stare wavered. She elected not to call him on it. "Anyway, I won't be dealing with Avra but with her brother."
"Khouri?" Samson pushed out of the hulking desk chair that was set behind an equally massive desk. "He's no adman. He's his dad's right-hand guy. This is a little below his pay grade."
"Well, apparently he doesn't think so." Setha bit down on her bottom lip in an attempt to douse her smile. The times were few and far between when anyone managed to surprise Samson Melendez. She swung her foot a bit more merrily. The moment was definitely one to be savored.
Samson took a seat on the corner of his desk and fixed his little sister with another probing glare. "Why wasn't I told about this, Set?"
Still savoring the moment, Setha shrugged and studied the fringe hemline of the tan wrap dress she wore. "If I had to guess, it'd probably be because the decision had already come down from the top."
Sam leaned forward a bit. "Dad?"
"Mmm and Basil Ross."
Sam winced then. "Old fools," he muttered, running a hand across his dark, straight hair. "They haven't got a clue about advertising."
"But they do have a clue about getting things done." Setha leaned forward then to pin her brother with a teasing leer. "I guess they figure since you and Avra Ross have issues."
"Bullshit." Sam began to massage his forehead. "I got no issues with that woman aside from bein' aggravated out of my mind every time I see her."
"Mmm " Setha propped fist to chin and wondered if Sam had any idea of how soft his voice had become.
Obviously he did for his gaze narrowed in renewed suspicion. "You asked for this, didn't you?" He coolly shifted the subject.
The smug expression on Setha's licorice-dark face showed the slightest traces of unease then. Aside from being hard to surprise, her brother had a scary talent for reading people. "Dad asked me to step in," she blurted and stood from her chair. "He thought I'd like a change of pace since we're a bit slow just now," she added, referring to her job managing Melendez Corporate Charities.
"Bullshit again," Sam said while folding his arms over his chest. "Why the hell would you want to be involved in this?"
"I wanted to help."
"Double bullshit." Sam gave her the benefit of a hard stare for only a few seconds longer and then shrugged. "But I won't argue."
"I promise I'm not after your job, Sam." Setha clutched her hands to the center of her chest. "Besides, I don't know a thing about negotiating ad rates."
"Then you're in luck since rates aren't what we can't agree on." He leaned across the massive desk and grabbed a hefty file there. He passed it to Setha and waved a hand to urge her to view its contents.
Obliging, Setha peered into the worn folder and scanned the first 8/4x11 glossy she picked up. Her mouth fell open. "You're not serious?"