“Honest, timely, and completely thrilling.” Reese Witherspoon (Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine book pick)
“Part page-turning thriller, part smart examination of the #MeToo movement, part feminist rallying cry…Whisper Network is the satisfying “beach read” we’ve earned.”
The Daily Beast
Sloane, Ardie, Grace, and Rosalita have worked at Truviv, Inc. for years. The sudden death of Truviv’s CEO means their boss, Ames, will likely take over the entire company. Each of the women has a different relationship with Ames, who has always been surrounded by whispers about how he treats women. Those whispers have been ignored, swept under the rug, hidden away by those in charge.
But the world has changed, and the women are watching this promotion differently. This time, when they find out Ames is making an inappropriate move on a colleague, they aren’t willing to let it go. This time, they’ve decided enough is enough.
Sloane and her colleagues’ decision to take a stand sets in motion a catastrophic shift in the office. Lies will be uncovered. Secrets will be exposed. And not everyone will survive. All of their livesas women, colleagues, mothers, wives, friends, even adversarieswill change dramatically as a result.
"If only you had listened to us,” they tell us on page one of Chandler Baker's Whisper Network, “none of this would have happened."
“Exciting and sprinkled with razor-sharp insights about what it is to be a woman today, Whisper Network is a witty and timely story that will make you cheer for sisterhood.”Liv Constantine, USA Today bestselling author of The Last Mrs. Parrish
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Three Weeks Earlier: The Day It Began
Before that day, our lives raced along an invisible roller-coaster track, a cart fastened to the rails through engineering and forces we couldn't wholly grasp, despite our superabundance of academic degrees. We moved with a sense of controlled chaos.
We were connoisseurs of dry shampoo brands. It took us four days to watch a complete episode of The Bachelor on our DVRs. We fell asleep with the heat of laptops burning our thighs. We took two-hour breaks to read bedtime stories to toddlers and tried not to calculate the total number of hours spent working as mothers and employees, confused as to which came first. We were overqualified and underutilized, bossy and always right. We had firm handshakes and hefty credit card balances. We forgot our lunches on kitchen countertops.
Each day the same. Until it wasn't. The morning that our CEO died, we looked up suddenly to realize the roller coaster had a faulty wheel and we were about to be thrown off the rails.
Ardie Valdez — a patient, stoical person, with practical, well-made Italian shoes — was the first to have an inkling of the crash ahead. She heard the news and decided to take cover. "Grace?" She stood in the hallway — sterile, but with unaffordable art — and knocked on a plain closet door with a cow magnet stuck to its front. "It's me, Ardie. Can I come in?"
She waited, listening, until she heard a rustling behind the door. The legally mandated lock flipped out of place.
Ardie ducked into the small room and latched the door behind her. Grace was already settling back onto the leather sofa, her silk blouse hitched cockeyed over two plastic cones fastened to her breasts.
Ardie surveyed the room. A mini-fridge. The beat-up sofa on which Grace sat. A small television set playing Ellen. Outside, she could hear voices, quick steps, phones being answered and copies being made. She frowned, approvingly. "It's like your own little hideout in here."
Grace reached for the dial of the breast pump and it began its methodical, mechanic whir. "Or like my own little tomb," she said lightly.
Grace's dark sense of humor always managed to catch Ardie off guard. From the outside, Grace seemed so uncomplicated. She had teased, bleached blonde hair, was an active member of the TriDelta Alumni Club, and attended church at Preston Hollow Presbyterian with her tall, dark, and checkered shirt–wearing husband, Liam. They'd been on the personal invite list to the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and identified as "compassionate conservatives," which Ardie took to mean that they wanted gay people to get married, but preferred to pay as little in taxes as possible. Also, they owned at least one handgun in a lock safe that they kept on a garment shelf in Grace's walk-in closet, and the fact that Ardie liked Grace in spite of all that said something.
"How much should babies eat, anyway? I am always pumping. I mean, fuck, Ardie, look at me, I'm watching Ellen during the day."
Grace didn't usually say "fuck."
Ardie remembered how long the days felt when her son, Michael, had slept only a few hours at a time. Her entire body had felt heavy and dirty, as if she had a thin layer of grime over her whole body, like unbrushed teeth.
She rummaged through her tote bag and pulled out two sweaty cans of La Croix. She handed one to Grace and dropped down on the floor in front of the couch. Ardie could do things like sit on floors at work because — and she'd be the first one to admit this — she had opted out. Years ago, actually. She slept in instead of spending an extra hour in the morning on hair and makeup. She went shopping almost never. She didn't spend a minute of her precious time in Pilates. It was the most liberating thing she'd ever done.
She glanced down at her phone. Still nothing.
"So apparently," Ardie said, "Bankole died. At home this morning when he was getting ready for work." She delivered the news matter-of-factly. Ardie didn't know another way to deliver news. It was always, My mother has cancer or Tony and I are getting a divorce.
"What? How?" Grace dropped the tubes she'd been busy trying to reinsert into the funnel-like contraptions poking out of her nursing bra.
"He had a heart attack. His wife found him in the bathroom." Ardie propped her elbows on her knees, staring up at Grace. "I just found out."
Ardie had met the company's CEO, Desmond Bankole, only once, a handshake in the elevator because he'd made a point to meet every person who worked in his building, down to the cleaning staff, at least once. His teeth were very white. He was smaller than she thought he'd be, with birdlike wrists peeking out underneath his suit jacket.
"I'm hiding, by the way," Ardie said — and before Grace could ask — "from Ames. He keeps asking where Sloane is. I told him she was probably out for lunch. He said that he hadn't approved her leaving for lunch today. I said she's the Senior Vice President of North American Legal Affairs and she doesn't need his approval to go to lunch and —"
"You said that to him?" Grace sat up. Sloane was their friend, but also technically their boss, which made Ames their boss's boss.
"Of course, I didn't really say that to him. Are you crazy?"
"Oh," Grace said, blinking. She toyed with the small diamond cross dangling from her necklace. The electric whir of her pump counted off time between them.
"So I'm hiding in here like a coward," Ardie continued. "Waiting for Sloane to call me back." As a rule, men like Ames didn't care for Ardie. He hated having to listen to someone he didn't enjoy looking at. When he asked her where Sloane was, his eyes skirted over and around her and he moved on as soon as he could. She didn't mention this part to Grace.
Ardie cringed. Grace's breasts could not be ignored in this small room. "It just sucks them up so that they looked like torpedoes. Doesn't that hurt?" Ardie's son, Michael, was adopted almost four years ago, a happy end to years of infertility struggles. She'd never done any breastfeeding herself, but she'd always imagined serene suckling, coveted skin-to-skin contact, a loosely draped handwoven scarf to conceal those who were too modest. Not this violent yanking that she was now witnessing up close.
"Not as much as Emma Kate's mouth, to be honest." (Breastfeeding was supposed to be painless they told us. Breastfeeding was beautiful, they said. Well, we would like to drag their nipples over asphalt and see how painless and beautiful they thought it was.)
"God, we can invent smart toothbrushes," said Ardie. "My robotic vacuum can find its home and put itself to bed at the end of the night and we can't invent a thingamajig to suck out milk that works a little better than that?" The machine was sort of grotesquely mesmerizing.
"Men have teeth." Grace raised her eyebrows. "And floors."
Ardie took a long swig of grapefruit-flavored sparkling water as, on screen, Ellen DeGeneres welcomed a young man on stage. He looked like a teenager and Ardie didn't have the slightest clue who he was. She tapped her phone screen again: nothing new.
"I just had a scary thought," she said, after a beat. "Ames could be the next CEO."
"No. You think?"
"He looks like a CEO. He's tall. People like tall." Ardie clenched and unclenched her fist, stretching out the carpal tunnel that was a constant threat to her wrist. "I'm telling you," she said. "That son of a bitch could run this company and then where will we be?"
It wasn't just the rumors involving an intern. Or what had happened with his executive assistant two years earlier at the Byron Nelson golf tournament, after which guess who had been fired? Spoiler alert: not Ames. It wasn't even the idea that corporate culture started at the top and a Truviv with Ames at its helm would be like announcing open season.
It was that Ames Garrett hated Ardie.
"I don't know," said Grace. "He's always been nice to me."
Ardie let the issue sit. Grace was a few years younger than Ardie and Sloane and still clung to the notion that someone could be a "good person" despite their actions, as though actions weren't the very indicator of one's person. And Ardie had seen Ames Garrett in action.
Still, there were issues one didn't discuss, even among friends — religion, money, and, perhaps, Ames.
Grace turned the dial on her pump to increase the intensity. One of the tubes popped out of place and quivered along the floor. A white drop spilled onto Grace's skirt. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, her nostrils caving. When she opened them, her eyes shone. She rubbed her wrist into her nose and picked up the errant tube with purposeful calm. She missed the hole twice when she attempted to reconnect the attachments. The third try was a success. She gingerly sat back into the couch. "That really is depressing about Bankole, though." She trained her glassy gaze on the TV screen. "Is it wrong that we're not more sad?"
Ardie didn't reply because Grace actually did seem very sad.
Ardie checked her phone again. A single bar of service.
Where the hell was Sloane?CHAPTER 2
Sloane stared at the ceiling of an elevator, willing it to move faster until the very second the doors split apart on floor fifteen, at which point she dashed through them like a racehorse.
"They're all in the conference room —" Her secretary, Beatrice, leaned over her vestibule, her coiled phone cord stretched from where she had the handset pressed to her ear.
"I know, Beatrice. I know." Sloane tore past her through the hallway. "And I am already royally screwed."
For the record, all had been fine a couple of hours ago when she'd sat down with her husband and her ten-year-old daughter, Abigail's, school principal. She had responsibly tucked her phone inside her landfill of a purse because she was a good mother, which in that place meant an undistracted mother. Or that was the part she'd been intent on playing in front of Principal Clark, anyway.
And now look!
She'd fished out her cell post-meeting to find the text messages from Ardie:
Desmond dropped dead this morning.
Ames is looking for you.
Ok, seriously, where are you??
She hadn't even had time to say goodbye to her husband.
At last, she stood outside the North conference room, heart pounding so hard she worried that she, too, might have a heart attack. Number one killer of women over forty! She'd heard that somewhere. Maybe on The View. She pulled the handle to let herself inside.
Seven lawyers at the director level or higher sat around the table. Ames — General Counsel. Kunal from Communications, Mark for Employment, Ardie from Tax, Philip covered Risk, Joe, Litigation, and Grace was Director of Compliance. Plus another younger woman with a chestnut-colored pixie cut and Snow White cheeks whom Sloane had never met before. Every face in the room turned to watch Sloane enter.
"Sorry I'm late." She slid into the empty seat beside Ames. The woman with the pixie cut smiled politely at her.
Ames glanced up from a stack of papers. A stripe of white ran a wavering line through his thick hair, otherwise the color of black coffee, save for the silvering that had begun to take root above his ears. "Where have you been?"
"I was —" Sloane paused for a fraction of a second, weighing how to finish the sentence. (We all did this. Whether in dating or at the office, we realized the power of pretending our children didn't exist. A man could say he was taking the day to go fishing with his son, while a mother was usually better off hiding the fact that she took a long lunch to run her child to the doctor's office. Children turned men into heroes and mothers into lesser employees, if we didn't play our cards right.) "I stepped out briefly." She cleared her throat.
"Without your cell phone?" Ames licked his fingertip to help him flip through the pages. Bodies shifted uncomfortably around the table.
"I was momentarily out of pocket, yes," she said. "Poor reception." Not a great excuse, in her world.
Ames made a nondescript noise and shifted the wad of Hot Tamales in his mouth.
She stared at him, resisting the urge to meet the seven pairs of eyes trained on her around the room.
Then Ames winked. Always his left eye. The delicate crow's-feet branching quickly out to his temples. He was one of the only men she knew who still reached for the wink. He could pull it off, actually. It said at once: We're fine here, but also: I'm the one in charge.
He opened his palms to the rest of the room. "Sloane Glover, everybody." As if he were introducing a comedian to the stage. Sloane bristled, though her face remained placid. Working with Ames was like sitting next to someone who was constantly kicking your shin under the table. "So nice that we can finally begin. Shall we?"
Awkward nods of acknowledgment followed. Beside her, Philip quietly pushed his legal pad and pen in front of Sloane's place. She pressed her hand to the spot between her ribs and blew out a breath. Thank you, she mouthed and Philip, whose tie was always crooked, simply shrugged. If only all men at the office could be more like Philip.
"I assume by now everyone has heard about the unfortunate passing of our Chief Executive Officer, Desmond Bankole," Ames began. "Memorial services will be announced in the coming days. I'm sure I'm not off base in expecting to see many of you at the funeral."
As Ames talked about Bankole's accomplishments, Sloane furiously downloaded from pen to paper the action items she'd been formulating as she drove back to the office.
Ames cut a look to her.
She set down her pen.
"Let's try to stay on the same page here." He folded his hands on the table. "I asked Grace to start us off by discussing any legal obligations Truviv has as a public company. Grace?"
Grace straightened. Sloane often wondered if her face underwent the same transformative process when she had to put on an air of authority about a subject at work. In her twenties, she knew, it had. Then, she could feel herself pulling on the mask of confidence, lowering her voice, removing the "likes" from her speech, stilling her knee, reminding herself that, yes, she was qualified. Grace's tells were subtler. In Grace she saw a lift of the chin. A squaring of shoulders. Sloane — like most of us — rarely spotted these tiny betrayals of self-assurance in male colleagues. Was it because they weren't there? Or were we not in tune enough to see them?
"Sure," Grace said and launched into a discussion of the SEC, about 8-K filings, and updating the company's website. In a CEO's unexpected absence, transparency, Grace explained, was key. "I'll circulate a memo that will be easier to digest," she finished.
"And we're working on a statement." Kunal pointed his finger, touching it to the table for emphasis. "Until that's available, please answer any press calls by saying that we are very saddened by Desmond's loss both personally and professionally." His wide brown eyes took notice of each face in the room. "Do not respond with the words 'No comment,' whatever you do. Shareholders hate 'no comment.' Understood? We'll shoot for having the statement tomorrow morning. Does that sound good to you, Sloane?"
Sloane sat back in her chair. "Sounds doable," she said decisively. Men could get away with hedging. It came across as thoughtful. If Sloane waffled it would sound like she didn't know what the hell she was doing. "We need to emphasize the firm's succession plan and look at recent examples of companies that handled a CEO's death or illness particularly well. A couple spring to mind, like Mc —"
"Actually," Ames interrupted. Sloane's toes contracted reflexively. "I think we should be looking at McDonald's. They had a similar situation. Two CEOs dying in two years. The first one was sudden. And Imation. Those are the two examples I'd go with, Kunal."
Sloane absorbed a spike of frustration. She'd used all the potential reactions by this point in her career. Her favorite was a polite: "Interesting, that sounds a lot like what I just said" in her best Southern accent. But to this she said simply, "Great idea, Ames."
Ames rubbed his palms together, satisfied. "All right, we all have our marching orders. My office door is always open if you need me."
They stood to go. Sloane clicked the pen closed. Ink stains peppered the inside of her right middle finger. Ardie and Grace, who had been seated side-by-side across from her, skirted the room to pass by on their way out. "Sorry," Ardie leaned in and whispered while shaking her head slowly.
Grace pressed her lips together and caught Sloane's hand for a quick squeeze. Sloane noticed a damp stain on the front of Grace's silk blouse that she knew, without thinking, wouldn't come out. It was useless to wear any kind of silk while breastfeeding. She'd have to tell Grace.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Whisper Network"
Copyright © 2019 Chandler Baker.
Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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