Saturday, 23 May 2015
Chapter five (segment seven), twenty four years earlier, June, Christina
They rode their bikes. Together for the first time. Not too far from the school but far enough for this to feel like an unplanned date. For once Ulf had taken his bike all the way to school. A ten minutes ride had brought them to a river of sorts with the concrete embankments she had come to associate with Japan.
She had just finished telling him about her encounter earlier when he pulled the brakes and jumped off his bike while it skidded along the tarmac.
You just had to play the teenager like that. But it's kind of sexy. And we're not going there. Flustered she decided to end her monologue and got off her bike herself. “And that's it. She's not a day under twenty.
“How can you be so certain?” Ulf pulled his bike to the side of the narrow road.
Christina rolled her eyes. “Look Ulf, I made a career after I quit modelling. I know what a woman looks like. Just trust me on this!”
Ulf nodded. His face had darkened considerably while she explained what had happened. “I'll use it to put some pressure on Nakagawa then. He knows about us. I guess you also want to know about them.”
Us. He means us two, but he doesn't mean us two. “I wonder if we've ever met, I mean in our previous life.” She suddenly wanted to change the subject.
They looked at other cyclists and the occasional pair walking the road. It was a simple enough question, but Ulf looked like he wanted some time to think it over. He always seemed to want to think things over.
“Really doesn't matter now,” Ulf answered. “I don't think so. We moved in different worlds. Walk down there?”
Christina looked where he pointed and followed him down some stairs that led to the water. He was right. She was happy here and now but she was also more than a little irritated. She had wanted his arrogance but that didn't mean she liked it. “Your world?” she asked. She was still curious about the man behind the boy.
“CEO. Mid-sized IT consulting and education company.”
“Hmm, yeah different world. What was it called?” It just had to be something that dull.
Ulf shot her a sullen look. “Is still called. I'm just absent these days.”
There was that of course. In the other world Ulf's company still existed. “So what is it called?”
“Twin Arc Production, or TAP.”
Christina froze. “TAP?”
“What about it. You heard of us?”
She started giggling. “Yes you could say that. Second time made up for the first though.” All thoughts about an inconsiderate Ulf vanished in an instant. Then she laughed until it hurt.
It was a while later that Ulf demanded an explanation. He deserved it she guessed.
“Christina Agerman,” she said. “Doesn't ring a bell?”
“Of course! Well, nothing that has anything to do with my company.”
“You know you're not the only one to use an abbreviation. I'll give you a hint. Christina Agerman.” She studied his face while he frantically tried to make the connection.
“Sorry, nothing comes to mind.”
Maybe it was too obvious for him to see. “Chag,” she said when she had decided that he wouldn't make the guess.
“Oh shit indeed.” And she laughed again. “Aptly named I'm afraid. Our last line was, well less than top quality. I'm still a bit ashamed of it.”
“You were one of our most important customers back in the days. But we didn't usually do full scale B2C solutions. And, oh, oh shit! Yeah, second time was better. I get that now.”
They sat down and looked across the water. It was better like this, to get away from the school even only for a while. Well, he was waiting for an answer.
“Hmm, you paid back a lot of money for that disaster. Only reason you got that second contract.” She shook some hair from her face and looked at him.
“We sent Niklas the second time as well. He cost me so much money the first time I couldn't afford using anyone else when we got the second contract.” Ulf was still staring at the river. She wanted to run her fingers through all that thick hair of his.
“There was not a sliver of a chance that he'd screw up the second job. It was personal for him.”
Christina thought of it for a while. “Nice,” she said. “Promoting failure as on the job training. I like the concept provided people learn from their errors.” She stretched in the wind and waited for Ulf to continue. For a moment she had become her old self. The fashion empress, the queen in the shadows. That was history. Right now, together with Ulf, she very much wanted to be the young girl she looked like.
“Yeah you have to make sure about that. But as soon as you make people afraid of failing they stop progressing. That's just bad management. Just make sure to fail as fast as humanly possible.”
“Eh?” If I sound like I don't understand I get to hear more of his voice.
“Costs less. By promoting fast fails you identify dead ends in a minimum of time and for a minimal cost. Well I'm boring you.”
You condescending little brat! “You're boring me? You ran a company we could have bought for what we spent in the bar during a promotion event, and you're boring me?” Sometimes Ulf just grew too big a head and he really didn't make it easier for her to stay out of the role as her former self.
“Sorry I apologise.” Ulf scratched his head. “You know that's a difference. TAP doesn't matter all that much, but isn't Chag a major player in fashion and cosmetics?”
At least he knows when he screws up. Christina nodded. “My personal share was one percent and I was good for well over a billion dollars. And that company doesn't even exist in this world. You know two years ago I visited a big opening event here in Tokyo, incognito. It scares me that it never happened in this world.”
“How do you mean scares you?”
“I've been to the place where our first Tokyo store opened. It's an H&M store there now. They're a fairly respectable chain back home but here they're some kind of global dragon in fashion.”
“I didn't know they operated outside Sweden.”
“Northern Europe only back home. This really is another world. I never built my fashion empire here, so someone else did.”
“Talking about fashion empire, thanks for helping me with my outfit the other day. I'm in your debt.”
That had been an act of mercy. He still had way too much of his scary gear. Scary gear of fantastic quality, she admitted to herself, but it still looked like crap. The topic had meandered again. Christina didn't care. She had him for herself. “You sure are. For a moment there I thought you knew your wardrobe.” I can sit here and talk about nothing with you forever.
“I had help,” Ulf murmured.
“I had help, some years ago.”
“You could have used some more.” Christina followed a twig as it slowly floated down the river. “Reminds me that when you delivered that second site we were so satisfied that I had an impromptu reward made for your company. Well, I didn't know it was yours. Anyway, I do remember that second delivery you know.”
Ulf murmured some more. His face was strangely red. He ripped up a straw of grass and fidgeted with it.
“It was one of our best fashion coaches. I'm certain whomever he trained would end up looking the very best.”
“I wonder… Ulf, you're silent.”
And he murmured some more.
That blush could be seen right through all his tan.