The last standing man in HQ, Mr. Yamada, was very enthusiastic about “improving” the overseas operations and considered me one of his disciples to execute his plans. He was young and intelligent, but his methods were often impractical. Once, Mr. Yamada suspected an illicit transaction in the European office. So he made me print out the screenshots of transactions from the accounting system and send them in a few cardboard boxes while the accountants looked at me with half pity and half sneer. Nothing wrongful was found, as everyone else predicted.
Mr. Yamada’s grand scheme now extended to “reviewing” the royalty rate paid from the subsidiaries to the HQ. Mr. Hirao and I worked hard to settle on the rates, so I was reluctant to change it, and I didn’t see the need, either. But Mr. Yamada was an important disciple now, and I also needed something to fill the days until I quit. So I asked the sales managers to fill in the selling prices again. They had different prices depending on countries and customers, so I had to rely on their judgment. They were rightly dubious when they replied and gave me the same numbers as before. As dubious as I was myself, I obliged Mr. Yamada’s request and started re-conjuring new, “more appropriate” ratios half-heartedly.
There were neither new royalty rates nor new rules when the sales conference started. Sales managers arrived and greeted Mr. N and the local staff in the morning. Klaus stopped by my desk to say hello. We had been acting as if we had never kissed all this time, and we’d remain so. His side hair was growing to accentuate the lack of hair in the rest of his head. At the conference room, he was showing the photos of his newborn daughter to other sales managers. “I am negotiating with my wife for the second child!” he beamed.
I had not expected to present anything, so I prepared none. But when all the sales managers finished giving presentations, Mr. N called my name and told me to show the new royalty. I told him they were not ready, but he said it didn’t matter. So I connected the laptop to the projector to show the incomplete royalty table. I did my best to convey the HQ’s intention and ensured no negative impact on our profitability. But the sales managers were puzzled. Why did we even have to change the rates? This was ridiculous. And it was Klaus who said the calculation didn’t seem right. With that, I snapped. “Then why don’t you give me the ‘correct’ prices so I get the calculation right?!” Klaus’ eyes were rounded like his bare forehead at my burst. Silence fell for a moment, but not for long. Lilla busted out laughing as no one had ever seen her laugh so hard and loud. Her head flipped back with her bouncy blond hair, exposing the voids through her nostrils and the red mouth. Then, her head was flung back like a resuscitated zombi and landed on her fleshy palms. She sandwiched her nose with her hands as if she was about to blow into them before sliding an index finger under her eye, scooping mascara goop from the corner and stretching under her nose in one motion. I couldn’t avert my eyes from its grotesqueness for a good long second until Mr. N gestured me to end the presentation.