Read an Excerpt
Once upon a time there was a beautiful mapmaker. She made maps for kings and travelers and landowners. She loved her work because making maps made her dream of the world outside her shop. Many men courted her, but none won her hand, for they loved her for her beauty, not her maps.
—The Tale of the Beautiful Mapmaker
BRAND O’MALLEY MAP COMPANY BOARDROOM,
PITTSBURGH, PRESENT DAY
“What is it men see in maps?” Joss O’Malley asked fondly as she watched her friend’s four-year-old son, Peter, staring intently at a framed antique map from his not-quite-steady perch on the top of the credenza.
Diane Daltrey, the former chief financial officer of Brand O’Malley Map Company and Peter’s mom, lifted her eyes for a moment from the quarterly cash flow statement over which she was poring. “Key to the past?”
Joss thought of her own fascination. “Hints of the unknown?”
“Does this have a Skull Island?” Peter said enthusiastically, scanning the hand-colored paper. “I want to fight Hook to the death!” He growled and thrust his light saber in the direction of the conference table. Marty, the map tech, who had just unfolded himself from plugging in two laptop projectors, ducked to avoid being skewered.
“Or perhaps something slightly less poetic. Speaking of which”—Di let her fingers come to rest on the calculator—“things aren’t looking so good here.”
“I know we’re a little strapped for cash,” Joss said, biting a nail, “but that’s not so bad, right?”
“Right. How important is money?”
“I’m heading up to see Rogan. I need a number.”
“It’s not a loan exactly.”
“Honey,” Di said, “when a man’s already agreed to the price for the company and you’re going back to ask for more, that’s either a loan or insanity. Peter, please take the highlighter out of your mouth. Your little brother was playing with it.”
Peter, who had jumped off the credenza, sighed and, with a Day-Glo green pout, handed the marker to his toddler brother, coincidentally named Todd.
Joss frowned. “Should we—”
“Not poisonous,” Diane said without looking up. “Well, not too poisonous.”
Marty extracted the projector’s power cord from the grip of the third Daltrey brother, a baby in a portable car seat at Diane’s feet.
“Do you know if this next one’s a boy, too?” Joss gestured to the Epcot Center–sized ball under Diane’s sweater.
“I told my obstetrician I’d kill him if it was.”
“I wasn’t great at college biology, but I’m pretty sure he’s not the one who decides.”
Peter tugged Marty’s pant leg. “Did you know if you suck enough highlighter your pee turns green?”
Marty pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Actually, I didn’t know that.”
“It’s true. Green works best.”
Di flipped the page of the report and, without looking up from the paper, deftly dropped a Tory Burch–clad foot on the leash attached to the two-year-old’s ankle, bringing him to a dead halt just out of reach of the stapler on the table.
Joss, who had long ago decided running a barely surviving company was nothing compared to raising three boys under the age of five, said, “I really appreciate you coming in.”
“Oh, please. If I didn’t get out of the house sometimes, I’d go nuts.”
“I can see where trips like this would be pretty relaxing.”
“I’m almost ready,” Marty said to Joss.
“Go ahead. Di can work the numbers while I take a look.”
He flipped a switch and one of the projectors filled the far wall with a huge gray map of straight and curving streets, some blue, some yellow, some white, each with its own name printed in tiny Helvetica caps.
“Cool.” Peter let the saber fall to his side.
“City?” Joss asked Marty. If she’d had more time, she’d be able to figure it out on her own. One of the benefits of owning one of the world’s largest printed map companies was that every city felt like home.
“Ah. City of Brotherly Love.”
Marty grimaced. “Yeah, well, unless brotherly love includes free use of intellectual property, we got a problem. Here’s the map from our favorite competitor, Duncan Limited.”
Marty clicked the On button on the adjoining projector. A second map, light blue instead of gray, and with a Garamond typeface, was projected directly over the first. It, too, was a map of Philly, and when he adjusted the width, height and area of the display, the streets lined up exactly with the first. Not a problem in itself, Joss thought. Street maps, after all, were supposed to give you a nearly accurate representation of the area in question, and even a competitor like Duncan Limited could be counted on to represent the area correctly. The problem occurred when a competitor didn’t bother to do the survey work to identify the streets themselves, and there was one sure way to find that out.
Joss typed a few commands into her laptop. “I just checked our database. We have three trap streets in Philly.”
“Yep,” Monty said. “Cranberry Lane, Hastings Drive and Compass Rose Alley.”
Compass Rose Alley. Joss smiled. That was so her mother. “And?”
“And”—he walked to the wall and touched different places on the Duncan Limited map—“we have Cranberry Lane, Hastings Drive and Compass Rose Alley.”
They were called trap streets for a reason, Joss thought. You couldn’t find them anywhere in Philly—not the real Philly, at least. They existed only on maps produced by Brand O’Malley, and they were put there to catch the plagiarist mapmakers of the world, who found it easier to copy someone else’s maps than survey their own.
“Call our attorneys,” Joss said.
Di held up a hand. “You can’t afford an attorney—unless it’s a pro bono one.”
Joss sucked her lip and gave her friend a beseeching look.
Di rolled her eyes. “I’ll talk to David.” David, her husband, was a lawyer.
Rogan’s admin stuck her head in the door. “Mr. Reynolds will be ready for you exactly at five.”
If only I’m ready for him, Joss thought. She gave Di a look.
“I’m close. I’ll have it by the time we’re up there.”
Joss grabbed Luke, the baby, and Todd-ler. Di tucked the report under her arm and kept her fingers running furiously over the calculator. Peter trailed behind, protecting the rear from pirates and Sith lords. If Joss couldn’t make payroll, she’d have to lay people off. Di had been the first to go six months earlier, raising her hand to save the jobs of others. Now Joss paid for Di’s time by the hour and used her only when she could afford to. Joss remembered a time when the world had seemed effortless to her. She’d lift a finger and a maid or driver or chef would rush to do her bidding. Now she worked ten-hour days, six-day weeks, to keep the company afloat. Had the world really been that easy, or was that just the sentimental nostalgia that all people had about their childhoods?
They reached the elevator, and Joss put down the car seat so she could lift Peter high enough to press the Up button.
She prayed Rogan would be amenable. He’d been looking only to buy her father’s company, Brand Industries, and the name of her mother’s—Brand O’Malley, the most famous name in maps—for use on his GPS devices, but he was a great guy and he’d understood Joss’s desire to keep her twenty-three-person business, her only inheritance from her mother, running and under her control.
What Rogan paid for Brand Industries, though more than he should have, would still barely cover the debt her father had run up before his death three months earlier, so Joss would see no money from that, nor from his personal fortune, which he had thrown into his failing company’s coffers in an attempt to save face among his peers in the business world. And her mother’s much smaller company, which had been more practically run while her mother was alive but neglected under her father’s subsequent guardianship, had spent the last few years teetering on the edge of insolvency.
Joss felt like her life since her mother’s death, not long after Joss’s eighth birthday, had been laid out strictly to ensure she’d be able to assume control of the mapmaking company when she was old enough. Despite being a lover of literature, she’d applied to and gotten into a math and science high school so she could study geography. In college, she’d pursued a dual major of business and geography while she worked full-time at Brand O’Malley, learning the ropes from the very able managers there. At twenty, even before she’d graduated, she’d accepted in practice what she’d already had in theory—the top executive role—and for the past three years, as the sales of paper maps dropped like a lead printing press, she’d been doing everything she could to keep these fine, hardworking people—and herself—employed.
The memories of yachts, stretch limos and happy times over salmon en croûte at midnight were long gone, having followed her mother, the family money and, finally, her father out of her life. And while losing the wealth had taught the very important lesson that she didn’t need money to be happy, she wouldn’t have minded, just once, being able to make payroll without getting on her hands and knees and praying to the lords of cash flow that the money would arrive.
“So, how are you going to effect this miraculous largesse?” Di asked.
“The loan, you mean?”
“Rogan owes me a favor.”
“A fifty-thousand-dollar favor?”
“The number’s fifty thousand?” Joss said, distressed.
“The number’s at least fifty thousand. I’m still checking.”
“Crap,” Todd-ler repeated happily.
“Oops.” Joss shot Di an apologetic look.
Di wiped something that looked like chocolate pudding off her arm. “Least of my worries.”
The elevator arrived. Joss swung the car seat inside, leaned down again to grab Peter and said hello to one of the Brand Industries salesmen who was inside.
“Forty-eight,” she said, and pointed out the correct button. Peter poked it and leapt to the floor, pointing the saber with a sneer at his image in the elevator’s mirrored walls. His mother, lost in her calculations, pressed a sheet of paper against the wall and made a notation. Todd-ler started to chew a piece of Joss’s hair.
“Say,” the salesman said to Joss, “I understand congratulations are in order. Next week, is it?”
Joss gazed down at the diamond sparking languidly on her finger, so large as to almost be worthy of a pirate’s treasure chest. “Yep. No point in waiting. When it’s right, it’s right.”
“Yes, and you’ll need to hurry with your office,” Di said to the man. “The caterer needs the space to set up the tables.”
The salesman’s brows shot up, and Joss waved away his worry. “I’m not having my reception in your office. Diane thinks that just because I’m getting married in the Founders Room upstairs, it’s an all-business wedding.”
“It’s the conference room for the Sales Department,” Di said curtly.
“It’s a gorgeous space.”
“Now, should we all wear business suits,” Di asked, “or is that just you?”
Joss sighed. “It’s not a business suit. It’s a skirt.”
Di gave her a look.
“Okay, a business skirt—but it’s Chanel!”
Joss knew Di didn’t understand why she was, as Di liked to say, running her wedding “like the fourth-quarter employee recognition event.” Joss couldn’t explain. Everything in her life since she could remember had been done for expediency. It just didn’t feel right to have anything except a small ceremony, in her favorite space at her dad’s company—well, her dad’s former company—followed by a quiet dinner in the dining room of the William Penn Hotel, where her mother had taken her for tea each Christmas when she was a little girl.
Di rolled her eyes. “I’m certain Coco didn’t have it in mind for a bride.”
Joss exhaled. It was going to be a long week. Tomorrow was her bachelorette party. Thursday was the party her soon-to-be mother-in-law was throwing for the large number of friends and relatives who couldn’t be accommodated at the ceremony. Friday Joss left for the Academic Supply Show in Las Vegas. She’d fly back on Monday, just in time for Tuesday’s wedding. Other than the ceremony itself, her mother-in-law was taking care of everything, which suited Joss perfectly. All the better for Joss to focus on the far more concerning issue of making payroll.
The elevator stopped at 36 and the salesman got off. Peter punctuated the exit with a saber flourish. “Will I get to see your wedding?” he asked. “Mommy says I can only come if I dress like the mail delivery guy.”
“Your mommy’s hilarious. And yes, you know I couldn’t get married without you, pal. I’m counting on you to give me away.”
She returned her thoughts to the problem at hand. Fifty big ones. At least fifty big ones.
“I think I’m going to have to resort to something more than a favor for fifty thousand.” Joss gazed at herself in the mirror and unbuttoned the top button of her blouse. “I’m going to have to try a little more—”
She found herself gazing into Peter’s curious eyes.
“A little more what, Aunt Joss?”
Di gave her an interested sidelong glance; Todd-ler thrust his fingers into her bra.
“A little more hard work, Peter. That’s what being a grown-up is all about.” She rewarded Di with a tiny tongue stick-out and loosened Todd-ler’s grip on the tender flesh.
“Exactly how hard is this work going to be?” Di asked.
“Jeez Louise, I’m hardly going to—” Peter’s gaze shot right to Joss’s face. What is it with kids these days? “I’m not going to work so hard I’ll regret it.”
“Good to hear,” Di said. “Girls who work that hard can get a reputation.”
Peter’s gaze narrowed and slid between his mother and Joss.
“But let’s face it,” Joss said, “I’ll do whatever it takes.” She thought of Marty and his diabetes and the security guard with her kid on dialysis.
The jesting smile left Di’s face, replaced with a brow raise. “Really?”
“Really. It’s not like I haven’t gotten hints he’d be amenable.”
“I know, but . . . really?”
“It seems a small price, if you know what I mean.”
“You’re not going to . . .” Di gave her a look to fill in the missing word.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, no. I’m going to need far less artillery than that.”
The door opened on 48, and they trooped out. Part of the deal for the Brand O’Malley name was these offices would go to Rogan’s company when the papers were signed next month. He’d already taken over the chairman’s office. Some of the people there, though, still worked for her.
“Afternoon,” she said to LaWren, the security guard. “How’s Darryl?”
“Doin’ good,” she said. “We’ve got him on home dialysis now.”
“Oh, that’s great. Did he like the DVD I sent?”
“Prisoner of Azkaban? Oh yeah.”
“Loved the Marauder’s Map. We got to get ourselves into that business, eh?”
Rogan’s admin, Pat, a prim, thin-lipped woman who had been with Brand Industries since the dawn of time, had always reminded Joss of Miss Gulch, the mean neighbor who took Toto from Dorothy. Pat, however, scared Joss even more than her cinematic counterpart.
Pat frowned at the bedraggled group and saved a particularly sharp look for Joss. “It’s after five.”
“I can’t help but notice Rogan is not actually in his office, so I’m thinking my lateness isn’t going to be a problem.”
“He’ll be here soon. The video conference with the Sydney office went long. But it’s better if you’re here when he arrives.”
Of course it is.
Joss gestured the group inside.
“Will the children—”
“Yes. Part of the analytics team.”
Di sunk into the long couch, still working on the numbers, and Joss gazed out at the gorgeous view that used to be hers, especially the regally old-fashioned Gulf Tower with its brightly lit stepped crown modeled on the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Even more kitschy was the quaint weather beacon on top, which glowed red for clear weather and blue for precipitation, and blinked to signal a coming change. Winter in Pittsburgh was not always fun, but when one could view it against a twilight sky with the Gulf Tower beacon shining red, it all seemed worthwhile.
Peter jumped immediately into Rogan’s chair and began to play with the phone.
“Er, maybe not, pal.” Joss put Todd and the baby onto the thick Aubusson rug and straightened.
Peter collapsed with a disheartened sigh into the cushioned leather.
“Say, what’s up with the Band-Aid?” Joss asked, trying to cheer him. She’d just noticed the Spider-Man bandage wrapped around his finger.
“Confection, Mom says.”
Joss looked at Di.
“Infection,” Di corrected. “You’re wearing a Band-Aid because you cut your finger playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the koi pond, and it swelled up big and red. Remember?”
“Oh yeah.” He smiled a dreamy, dimpled smile. “Really cool pus.”
Joss heard Rogan’s voice in the corridor. “Oops.”
Di nodded. “I’ve got it. One more second.”
Rogan strode in, an impossibly handsome man with soft blond waves and piercing blue eyes that cut to the bones of any business deal. He grinned when he saw the extent of his welcoming party.
“Hey,” he said to Peter, and nodded at Di. “Good to see you. Are we—”
“Nope.” Di struggled to her feet. “We’re on our way out.” She handed the cash flow statement to Joss, swept Todd and the car seat into her arms and signaled to Peter to follow. Then she gave Joss a quick peck. “I’ll see you tomorrow, eh?”
“But, the number . . .”
Di gazed pointedly at the report in Joss’s hand, where Joss spotted a hastily scribbled note.
“C’mon, troops,” Di said. “Let’s pull out.” She made a rallying motion with her hand and gave Joss a small wave. “Don’t work too hard.”
© 2010 Gwyn Cready