Need a new life?
God takes trade-ins.
--- Mrs. Miracle
Jake Finley waited impatiently to be ushered into his father's executive office --- the office that would one day be his. The thought of eventually stepping into J. R. Finley's shoes excited him. Even though he'd slowly been working his way through the ranks, he'd be the first to admit he still had a lot to learn. However, he was willing to do whatever it took to prove himself.
Finley's was the last of the family-owned department stores in New York City. His great-grandfather had begun the small mercantile on East 34th Street more than seventy years earlier. In the decades since, succeeding Finleys had opened branches in the other boroughs and then in nearby towns. Eventually the chain had spread up and down the East Coast.
"Your father will see you now," Mrs. Coffey said. Dora Coffey had served as J.R.'s executive assistant for at least twenty-five years and knew as much about the company as Jake did --- maybe more. He hoped that when the time came she'd stay on, although she had to be close to retirement age.
"Thank you." He walked into the large office with its panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline. He'd lived in the city all his life, but this view never failed to stir him, never failed to lift his heart. No place on earth was more enchanting than New York in December. He could see a light snow drifting down, and the city appeared even more magical through that delicate veil.
Jacob R. Finley however, wasn't looking at the view. His gaze remained focused on the computer screen. And his frown told Jake everything he needed to know.
He cleared his throat, intending to catch J.R.'s attention, although he suspected that his father was well aware of his presence. "You asked to see me?" he said. Now that he was here, he had a fairly good idea what had initiated this summons. Jake had hoped it wouldn't happen quite so soon, but he should've guessed Mike Scott would go running to his father at the first opportunity. Unfortunately, Jake hadn't had enough time to prove that he was right --- and Mike was wrong.
"How many of those SuperRobot toys did you order?" J.R. demanded, getting straight to the point. His father had never been one to lead gently into a subject. "Intellytron," he added scornfully.
"Also known as Telly," Jake said in a mild voice.
"Five hundred." As if J.R. didn't know.
Jake struggled not to flinch at his father's angry tone, which was something he rarely heard. They had a good relationship, but until now, Jake hadn't defied one of his father's experienced buyers.
"For how many stores?"
J.R.'s brow relaxed, but only slightly. "Do you realize those things retail for two hundred and fifty dollars apiece?"
J.R. knew the answer to that as well as Jake did. "Yes."
His father stood and walked over to the window, pacing back and forth with long, vigorous strides. Although in his early sixties, J.R. was in excellent shape. Tall and lean, like Jake himself, he had dark hair streaked with gray and his features were well-defined. No one could doubt that they were father and son. J.R. whirled around, hands linked behind him. "Did you clear the order with…anyone?" Jake was as straightforward as his father. "No." "Any particular reason you went over Scott's head?" Jake had a very good reason. "We discussed it. He didn't agree, but I felt this was the right thing to do." Mike Scott had wanted to bring a maximum of fifty robots into the Manhattan location. Jake had tried to persuade him, but Mike wasn't interested in listening to speculation or taking what he saw as a risk --- one that had the potential of leaving them with a huge overstock. He relied on cold, hard figures and years of purchasing experience. When their discussion was over, Mike still refused to go against what he considered his own better judgment. Jake continued to argue, presenting internet research and what his gut was telling him about this toy. When he'd finished, Mike Scott had countered with a list of reasons why fifty units per store would be adequate. More than adequate, in his opinion. While Jake couldn't disagree with the other man's logic, he had a strong hunch that the much larger order was worth the risk.
"You felt it was right?" his father repeated in a scathing voice. "Mike Scott told me we'd be fortunate to sell fifty in each store, yet you, with your vast experience of two months in the toy department, decided the Manhattan store needed ten times that number."
Jake didn't have anything to add.
"I don't suppose you happened to notice that there's been a downturn in the economy? Parents don't have two hundred and fifty bucks for a toy. Not when a lot of families are pinching pennies."
"You made me manager of the toy department." Jake wasn't stupid or reckless. "I'm convinced we'll sell those robots before Christmas." As manager, it was his responsibility --- and his right --- to order as he deemed fit. And if that meant overriding a buyer's decision --- well, he could live with that.
"You think you can sell all five hundred of those robots?" Skepticism weighted each word. "In two weeks?"
"Yes." Jake had to work hard to maintain his air of confidence. Still he held firm.
His father took a moment to consider Jake's answer, walking a full circle around his desk as he did. "As of this morning, how many units have you sold?"
That was an uncomfortable question and Jake glanced down at the floor. "Three."
"Three." J.R. shook his head and stalked to the far side of the room, then back again as if debating how to address the situation. "So what you're saying is that our storeroom has four hundred and ninety-seven expensive SuperRobots clogging it up?"
"They're going to sell, Dad."
"It hasn't happened yet, though, has it?"
"No, but I believe the robot's going to be the hottest toy of the season. I've done the research --- this is the toy kids are talking about."
"Maybe, but let me remind you, kids aren't our customers. Their parents are. Which is why no one else in the industry shares your opinion."
"I know it's a risk, Dad, but it's a calculated one. Have faith."
His father snorted harshly at the word faith. "My faith died along with your mother and sister," he snapped.
Involuntarily Jake's eyes sought out the photograph of his mother and sister. Both had been killed in a freak car accident on Christmas Eve twenty-one years ago. Neither Jake nor his father had celebrated Christmas since that tragic night. Ironically, the holiday season was what kept Finley's in the black financially. Without the three-month Christmas shopping craze, the department-store chain would be out of business.
Because of the accident, Jake and his father ignored anything to do with Christmas in their personal lives. Every December twenty-fourth, soon after the store closed, the two of them got on a plane and flew to Saint John in the Virgin Islands. From the time Jake was twelve, there hadn't been a Christmas tree or presents or anything else that would remind him of the holiday. Except, of course, at the store….
"Trust me in this, Dad," Jake pleaded. "Telly the Super-Robot will be the biggest seller of the season, and pretty soon Finley's will be the only store in Manhattan where people can find them."
His father reached for a pen and rolled it between his fingers as he mulled over Jake's words. "I put you in charge of the toy department because I thought it would be a valuable experience for you. One day you'll sit in this chair. The fate of the company will rest in your hands."
His father wasn't telling him anything Jake didn't already know.
"If the toy department doesn't show a profit because you went over Mike Scott's head, then you'll have a lot to answer for." He locked eyes with Jake. "Do I make myself clear?"
Jake nodded. If the toy department reported a loss as a result of his judgment, his father would question Jake's readiness to take over the company.
"Got it," Jake assured his father.
"Good. I want a report on the sale of that robot every week until Christmas."
"You'll have it," Jake promised. He turned to leave.
"I hope you're right about this toy, son," J.R. said as Jake opened the office door. "You've taken a big risk. I hope it pays off."
He wasn't the only one. Still, Jake believed. He'd counted on having proof that the robots were selling by the time his father learned what he'd done. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which was generally the biggest shopping day of the year, had been a major disappointment. He'd fantasized watching the robots fly off the shelves.
It hadn't happened.
Although they'd been prominently displayed, just one of the expensive toys had sold. He supposed his father had a point; in a faltering economy, people were evaluating their Christmas budgets, so toys, especially expensive ones, had taken a hit. Children might want the robots but it was their parents who did the buying.
Jake's head throbbed as he made his way to the toy department. In his rush to get to the store that morning, he'd skipped his usual stop at a nearby Starbucks. He needed his caffeine fix.
"Welcome to Finley's. May I be of assistance?" an older woman asked him. The store badge pinned prominently on her neat gray cardigan told him her name was Mrs. Emily Miracle. Her smile was cheerful and engaging. She must be the new sales assistant Human Resources had been promising him --- but she simply wouldn't do. Good grief, what were they thinking up in HR? Sales in the toy department could be brisk, demanding hours of standing, not to mention dealing with cranky kids and short-tempered parents. He needed someone young. Energetic.
"What can I show you?" the woman asked.
Jake blinked, taken aback by her question. "I beg your pardon?"
"Are you shopping for one of your children?"
"Well, no. I --- "
She didn't allow him to finish and steered him toward the center aisle. "We have an excellent selection of toys for any age group. If you're looking for suggestions, I'd be more than happy to help."
She seemed completely oblivious to the fact that he was the department manager --- and therefore her boss. "Excuse me, Mrs…… He glanced at her name tag a second time.
"Actually, it's Merkle."
"The badge says Miracle."
"Right," she said, looking a bit chagrined. "HR made a mistake, but I don't mind. You can call me Mrs. Miracle."
Speaking of miracles… If ever Jake needed one, it was now. Those robots had to sell. His entire future with the company could depend on this toy.
"I'd be more than happy to assist you," Mrs. Miracle said again, breaking into his thoughts.
"I'm Jake Finley."
"Pleased to meet you. Do you have a son or a daughter?" she asked.
"This is Finley's Department Store," he said pointedly.
Apparently this new employee had yet to make the connection, which left Jake wondering exactly where HR found their seasonal help. There had to be someone more capable than this woman.
"Finley," Mrs. Miracle repeated slowly. "Jacob Robert is your father, then?"
"Yes," he said, frowning. Only family and close friends knew his father's middle name.
Her eyes brightened, and a smile slid into place. "Ahh," she said knowingly.
"You're acquainted with my father?" That could explain why she'd been hired. Maybe she had some connection to his family he knew nothing about.
"No, no, not directly, but I have heard a great deal about him."
So had half the population on the East Coast. "I'm the manager here in the toy department," he told her.
Excerpted from CALL ME MRS. MIRACLE © Copyright 2011 by Debbie Macomber. Reprinted with permission by Mira. All rights reserved.