A pair of chocolate-brown eyes, brimming with love. A warm snout nudging your ribs. A fluffy coat, soft as spun-cotton to touch.
There’s no creature as noble, as accepting, nor as beautiful as a dog.
I should know.
Dogs are my life. Rescuing them, protecting them, finding them adoptive homes. We saved thousands of dogs in the U.S., with plans to rescue thousands more in Hispaniola, India, and Indonesia, expanding operations globally.
Me, I’m Kandace Kulp, CEO of the Kulp K-Nine Foundation. You might say dogs are in my DNA. I inherited the reins of the Foundation from my father nine years ago when he succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease.
I have one sister Karoline, two years younger. Prettier than me. Favoring our mother, she’s fair—blonde and silky, like an afghan. Like Dad, I’m a dull brunette. Strictly speaking, she’s smarter than me if you compare IQ’s, which Dad most likely did. But I was natured like my father, which pleased him more than Karoline’s superior looks and brain. Both Dad and I preferred dogs to humans.
I was the older sister. So, he installed me as CEO and made Karoline CFO since she had an MBA from the Wharton School.
That’s where she met Peter Singleton, the Foundation’s communications director. At least, he was…at one time. It’s a long story, but I have a little time, if you do.
There was never anyone for me but Karoline. A fine face like hers and finer form have always been my Achilles heel. On top of all that, she’s very smart. But I’ll confess, this Main Line lawyer with the Wharton pedigree desperately wanted to crash Karoline’s family business. Lest you think me wholly calculating and opportunistic, as a boy who was allowed one lowly goldfish growing up, my inner child (and my adult libido) seized an opportunity to marry into a no-holds-barred dog-loving family. Plus, the Foundation needed me—my skill set. And Karoline’s business acumen, too.
As for the Kulps, on more than one occasion, Kandace and her father had confounded me with their insularity, their self-absorption. If it wasn’t about dogs, it was always about them.
There were nine Kulp siblings who established the foundation in the 1980s. Hence, the K-Nine name. Admittedly clever. But naming his kids Kandace and Karoline with a “K”? Korny with a capital “K”.
For the most part, the Kulps are good people, devoted to their mission, hard-working. I’ll grant you, little of anything worthwhile is ever accomplished without rolling up one’s sleeves. However, when the rest of senior management are working dogs, some executives have to be show dogs. With fair and lovely Karoline on my arm, we were Best in Show for Kulp K-Nine, with ambitious plans to take the Foundation in directions her late father could never have imagined.
You’d think a foundation with the mission of canine rescue and adoption would never need to “spin” stories to suit their ambitions. You’d be wrong. When a major investor balked at extending our operations into India because countless dogs needed rescuing here in the States, I reached out to Kandace.
“I know how to spin this to get the buy-in we need from investors,” I’d said.
“For the record, Peter, the word spin is offensive to me,” Kandace said, from behind a glass-top desk, the same one her father had used. Nothing on it save a laptop, one framed photo of her rescues Reggie and Merrill, and an angled metal reading lamp. Frosty. Unflappable. Unrevelatory. Even the light streaming from the crook-necked lamp was cool white. “We’re doing wonderful things here. Changing lives. Why do we need to spin anything?”
“Let me help you,” I offered. “With a little coaching and some effective tools of persuasion, I’ll help you convince investors why global operations can sustain the Foundation into the next century.”
She snorted. “Now, you’re my spin instructor?” She waited for my reaction to her play on words.
“Punny.” I rolled my eyes. “Seriously, who doesn’t respond to a powerful story? Let’s spin a gut-wrenching tale about a street dog near death, abandoned by a family displaced by flooding in India.” I leaned over her desk. A faint reflection stared back at me. I looked arrestingly handsome—buttoned-down, polished. Sounded even better. “We’ll grab some video. Edit the hell out of it. Max out the drama. Then share the dog’s rescue and recovery on social media and at the next investors’ meeting. You’ll get them on your side.”
Kandace refused to meet my glance. “No.”
“No spinning, Peter,” she spat out. “It’s not what Dad would have done.”
“And your father wasn’t running a losing enterprise either.”
Her mouth dropped open. “We are not losing money.”
I needed to strip all malice out of my voice before delivering the coup de grâce, “You are driving this place into the ground, Kandace. Ask your sister.”
“I intend to.” She shuddered. “Now, shove off.”
The next day, Karoline draped herself across from my desk in the black leather club chair, laptop under arm. She did regular spin workouts, her well-toned legs the testament to her discipline.
I swallowed. “Is it true? Are we losing money?”
Karoline nodded. “Revenue was down the last three quarters, each more sharply than the previous one.”
“How much have we lost?”
“Around twelve million.”
“Twelve mil—geez, Karo!” My head spun. I’d spent my life raising that capital. “Why didn’t you say something earlier, like when we were down a measly two million?”
Karo didn’t flinch. “I sent you a report. Don’t you read my reports?”
I met her steely resolve with earnestness, priding myself on my composure. “I have so many things to keep track of. I depend on you to manage the finances.”
“I do my job,” she protested. “Don’t you?”
That’s what I get for extending some grace. If only those million-dollar gams were within striking distance of my patent leather pumps. “What’s going to happen when the investors find out?”
“They won’t. It’s hidden in the report.”
That’s why I hadn’t seen the discrepancy between projected and actual revenue either. “Since when does a Wharton-educated CFO merely bury things in financial reports and not recommend strategic fixes?”
“Since Big Sister likes to call every shot,” she snapped back, “and make every decision. You’ve refused to respect our counsel. You’ve reduced Peter and me to Ivy-League…lackeys. We love this company, too, you know.”
I had no patience for this passive-aggressive pity party. “For your information, you two are the most generously compensated lackeys in the history of mankind. Look, I have a 2020 organizational outlook to deliver to investors in two weeks. Fourteen days.”
“You have an organizational outlook to deliver?” Karoline stammered. “Here I thought we were a team. Alpha bitch!”
We both fell silent. There was some truth to her claim that I ran the Foundation like the alpha dog of the pack. But I was the oldest. The leadership reins were mine for a reason.
“I’m sorry,” Karoline said, her tone softening. “Peter and I can help, if you let us.”
I queued up the Prezi in the conference room, Kandace and Karoline both seated on my left. Yin and yang. Light and dark. Good and evil?
I would take the lead during Kandace’s coaching session, but Karo’d provide an assist if needed. She did admonish me to use the word “shape” rather than “spin” throughout. Those Kulp sisters. Hell on admonishments.
I zoomed in on my first point: MESSAGING
“We need to shape the investors’ perspective of globalism by keying on messages like…”
I clicked the adjacent bubble: SUFFERING IS UNIVERSAL
“Kandace.” I met her gaze. “Your opening point should be, ‘If suffering is universal, then compassion is likewise universal.’”
“Duh,” Kandace intoned.
“Give him a chance,” Karoline said.
I moved to the next sphere and clicked on it: UNTAPPED POTENTIAL
“At this point, many developing nations don’t care about animals like we do. They can’t afford to. It’s a matter of economic priorities. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”
I clicked open the next sphere to reveal the message: HELP AND HARNESS
“Those with means are also ripe for a solid and lasting conversion to our animal rights worldview, one as powerful as Saul’s on the road to Damascus. We all know fortunes follow heartstrings. But we can’t possibly capture foreign investment dollars if we don’t serve a need in their home countries.”
I popped all the remaining bubbles to show images of sorely neglected dogs from other parts of the world.
“And that is how you shape your first pitch to your investors to launch global operations,” I concluded.
“All right, Peter,” Kandace said. “I’m spun. I’m shaped. I’m cotton candy on a stick.”
Everyone laughed. It would be our last happy moment together.
Following my presentation to the investors, I felt flush with the promise of Kulp K-Nine going worldwide. Janine, the accounting clerk, stopped me as I exited the conference room. She was a sheerly lovely twenty-something. Smart, too. Why she was still single was anyone’s guess.
“Hello, Ms. Kulp. This is Kathy, one of the auditors,” Janine explained. “She’s asked me to pull some files for her. I can’t find them.”
“Kathy with a K?” I asked the auditor.
I swept the women into my office suite, locking the door behind them.
“What files do you need?” I motioned for them to sit, easing into my desk chair, slipping off my heels. My presentation killed and so did my feet.
“I always review new vendors, ma’am,” Kathy said. “That’s routine in an audit. I put payments together with invoices. I’m sure you know how it works.”
I only knew some of how it worked. “These files up and disappeared?”
“I know where they are,” Janine offered. “Your sister likes to keep the new vendor files in her office. In case we have issues with them. That way she can access them quickly.”
“Why don’t you give me your list, Kathy?” I extended my hand, smiling. “I’ll get you your files.”
“Your sister’s not in,” Janine said, almost purring. “Peter whisked her out of town for a couple days.”
Interesting, that she knew that. “I can let myself in.”
When Karoline returned to her office two days later, I lay in wait, which had the desired effect.
She jumped out of her heels. “Jesus, Kandace!” She stared at me, incredulous. “Give me ten minutes to get settled in for the day. I’ve just returned.”
I threw an armload of manila files on her desk. “Guess what I found?”
She ruffled her hands through her hair. “A guessing game? At nine in the morning?”
“Guess,” I commanded.
She indicated her desk top, littered with files. “What’s this crap?”
“You know damn well what it is.”
“I’m calling Peter.” She lifted the receiver out of the console.
I wrenched it out of her hand and replaced it. “You’re not calling anybody. We’re going to chat. Sit.”
“What am I? One of your rescue dogs?” She eased herself into her chair. “You have ten minutes. I have work to do.” Under the desk, she reached into her coat and pocket-dialed Peter before I could intercede. “Come to my office. Now,” she barked.
“You’ve been stealing from me.”
Karoline scoffed. “The longer you’re in charge of this company, the more paranoid you’ve become.”
“You, Wharton Genius, told me we were losing money. Here, you created more than 300…what did the auditor call them? Shell companies. You’ve been paying Foundation money to companies you created without operations, products, or places of business that are coincidentally all owned by you. This global expansion was nothing more than a scheme to pad your offshore accounts. I don’t know yet whether Peter is in on this. Let’s assume so.”
“You’re crazy,” Karoline fumed. “Crazy and paranoid.”
“You stole from me,” I shouted over her claims of paranoia. “You defrauded our family. Our investors. You robbed hundreds of animal shelters. You stole food and shelter and health care and the chance for loving homes from hundreds, no, thousands of needy dogs. You took the lives of innocent animals, you selfish, degenerate pig. For what? For what?”
Karoline rose from her seat. “I’m a selfish pig? Hypocrite!”
“You said you loved this company, you filthy little liar!”
“Now I’m a liar and a pig? The whole fifth floor can hear you, Kandace. Peter will sue your ass for defamation of character.”
Tears cascaded down my face at her betrayal. My hands shook with rage. “Did you ever care about dogs? The mission of this company? Did you ever feel one bit of gratitude for your circumstances here? The posh corner office handed to you? Your husband’s cushy job?”
“Let’s think about that,” Karoline said smugly. “Yes. No. Yes. No. And no.”
I collapsed in the club chair, my chest wracked with sobs. “Why?”
She cracked a steely smile. “Because I wanted to prove I was smarter than you. Always have been. I deserved the top job. Not you. But dear old Daddy never gave me the same chances he gave you. So, I made my own chances. My own fortune.”
I could scarcely draw breath. “How much?”
“You had the files and the auditor’s notes for two days, and you don’t know? You’re a functional idiot. I helped myself to about $17 million. You’ll never find it.”
“Well, you’re never going to spend it.” I slipped a handgun out of my pocket, aimed at her heart, and pulled the trigger. Peter burst into the room just as Karoline slumped over her desk, bathed in blood.
“Kandace!” he cried. “What have you done?”
“What do you think?” I asked. “Should I send this one?”
Janine was distracted, a Mai Tai in one hand, caressing a teacup poodle with the other. “Where’s it from?”
“That al fresco café nestled in the Indian Ocean, where the waves lapped our feet as we dined. She’d like that.”
“That would definitely lift her spirits.”
In the office, Janine and I’d had to be so careful. Not anymore. I nuzzled her neck. “You lift my spirits, you sweet, young thang.”
“You’re naughty, Peter.” Janine giggled. “And brilliant. Walking into Karoline’s office at the precise moment Kandace pulled the trigger. I wonder how you knew.”
I smiled. “I wonder.”
“That was some story, Ms. Kandace. Good but sad. Hung on every word,” the guard said. “Oh, and here’s your mail.”
I took the latest postcard from her and glanced at it on the edge of my bunk.
“Glad you’re not here.” Peter had written. “No spin!”
The Maldives. I’m sure he was long gone by now. I slipped it under the mattress with the others, brushed my teeth with my finger, and washed up quickly.
“Field trip time.” The cell door swung open. “Let’s go.”
“Where we headed?”
“Service day. Animal Rescue League. Ready to muck out crates?”
# # #