When in Rio

By: Delphine Dryden

Chapter One

Call me crazy, but I had never wanted to visit Rio de Janeiro.

Not that I have anything against the place. It’s beautiful by anybody’s standards. But I’m not big on beaches, I don’t like crowds, I can’t dance the samba and, while I do recall a smattering of my high school Spanish, I don’t know a word of Portuguese.

Why couldn’t it have been a business trip to Megève, Switzerland? Lake Louise, Canada? Even just a quick hop to Seattle, where I could drink Starbucks in the home of Starbucks, and my pasty-pale skin wouldn’t be at risk of sunburn, and my light-shunning eyes wouldn’t have to squint and don sunglasses against the glare. But no. None of those trips were on offer.

Instead, my boss was calmly explaining what my functions would be when I accompanied him to a weeklong global climate change conference to be held in beautiful, sunny Rio. Starting ten days from that very day.

If I’d known this was the price I’d pay for my recent unsought promotion, I would have taken more care to seem mediocre at my job.

But let me back up just a little, provide a little more context. My name is Katie Snow—Katherine, really, and please don’t call me Kathy—and I’m an ecologist with Globe Oil. Until recently, this meant I went to a lot of places where my company did business, gathering data and writing reports for the EPA on how well the company was complying with various environmental regulations. Clean air and water, impact statements, proposed countermeasures…exciting stuff like that. My mistake, I realized too late, was that people found out I could write. And organize.

And that meant that pretty soon, I caught the attention of the Senior Vice President and Global Director of Environmental Studies, John Benedict. The Big Boss.

Jack, to his closer colleagues. And presumably to his friends. None of us actually knew if he had any though. Jack was mainly just something the yes-men throughout the company called him when he wasn’t around, as in, “Jack is behind this project one hundred percent”, or “We’d need Jack’s approval before even considering that”. Or even, occasionally, “Jackass”. But almost all the top company brass came in for that sort of name calling occasionally. My friend Callie was more inclined to say “Jack…off” because she thought he was smoking hot.

“He’s the senior vice president in charge of what’s in my pants,” she would whisper to me with a goofy grin, whenever she was with me and we had occasion to see him at a meeting or in the company cafeteria. But then, Callie was a geologist and they could be an odd bunch at times.

I tried very hard to take a more cautious view myself because, after all, I worked for the man. So sure, I thought he was good looking enough in a clean-cut, boy-next-door-all-grown-up sort of way. Early forties, in very good shape from what I could see. Crisp haircut, with just a smidgen of premature gray peppered through the dark brown at the temples, giving him a hint of distinction. Conservative clothes, nothing flashy, but they looked expensive and fit him too well for it to be accidental. And even on casual Fridays he had starch in the pleats of his khakis, and his polo shirts looked professionally laundered and pressed.

He was well groomed, not like a metrosexual but like someone with good, steady habits. He looked extremely relaxed and self-contained, always, and maybe just a little bit smug. Like nothing any of us corporate nerds could ever do would be a big enough deal to ruffle his feathers. Which made sense. For him to be as high up in management as he was at his age, he would have to have the ability to at least give the impression he could take anything in stride, handle it and move on. The gray hairs, maybe, were proof that it wasn’t all as easy as he made it look. Or maybe they were just genetic.

Not that I had spent a lot of time staring at, thinking about or analyzing every detail of my boss’s physique and personality, of course. Not that I had spent two years gulping and stammering every time he so much as spoke to me, because he raised my heartbeat so much it was hard to breathe around him. Not that I had pretty much stopped dating because nobody I met seemed to compare even remotely to Jack. Nothing like that.

I just always admire people who have that ability to seem like they know what they’re doing at all times. I’m aware it’s all about attitude—it’s just not an attitude I’ve ever been able to pull off.

Me? I’m usually a mess, for one thing. I throw on whatever’s clean and just head out the door—and it shows. My mother despairs. On one recent casual Friday I didn’t even realize until two in the afternoon that my favorite jeans were starting to sport a hole in the butt. Which, of course, my shirt didn’t come down quite far enough to cover. The hole grew larger as the hours passed, as such holes have a way of doing. Still, I don’t think anybody noticed, except for Callie who’s obsessed with clothes. And that guy from the mailroom, but he really had no business looking at my butt anyway.

But back to “Jack” Benedict, who had been the Big Boss for over two years, but to whom I had only started reporting directly about a month before the trip to Rio was proposed. He had been hinting for months about restructuring, about working to “determine the unique strengths and weaknesses” of those in the department and then “building a team around people’s abilities, not their job titles”.