Mr. Regal was a good boss. He owned a small sign painting business and treated his employees with respect; he took care, listened to their grievances and appreciated their work. His employees were happy, spoke well of him and did their jobs with gusto and pride.
Mr. Regal’s son, James, would often accompany him to the workplace and, Mr. Regal would walk around, managing and commenting on the different projects, with James in tow. Mr. Regal had built the business from the ground up and hoped that one day James would carry on his legacy. He’d started the business by hiring high school and college students; painting signs wasn’t rocket science, but he’d let their creativity flow. He taught his young employees about honesty, responsibility and doing the job right the first time. His employees kept up these practices long after they’d left Regal Sign Painting for bigger and better opportunities.
“See James, this can be your legacy,” Mr. Regal said one day, “fathers build many businesses that sons destroy. If you choose this, don’t be that son.”
One day, young James, playing with a paper airplane, walked over the “Welcome” sign David, the graphic designer was painting. David sighed and said nothing—he’d been there since the business first opened its doors—and fixed the paint James’s sneakers had smudged. James did not apologize and appeared not to care.
Mr. Regal walked up to James and said,
“What is the basis of everything?”
James looked up at his father, gauging Dad’s mood.
“Respect,” he bleated in his most apologetic look.
“That’s right,” Mr. Regal nodded, “do you think you treated David with respect?”
“David deserves respect and an apology.”
James turned to David and mumbled an apology. David nodded, and it satisfied Mr. Regal. As Mr. Regal walked away, David saw an expression on James that showed he wasn’t sorry. David sighed and hoped James would be a good man.
Years passed and the company, though still hand-painting signs, expanded their services to web and logo design, and were top in the state, renown for quality and efficiency.
Employees joined and left, except for three people: David, whose creativity and skill in graphic design made Regal Sign Painting the best at custom signage for years, Sarah, the administrative assistant who’d married, divorced and widowed in the years since she’d joined as a secretary (the term they used way back when), and Carol, the accountant, unmarried and bookish.
They had watched James grow up, and unbeknownst to one another, they’d all had a similar experience with James. They all hoped James would mature and change.
“We’ve had good years here,” Sarah said to David and Carol in the break room one day, “let’s hope when James takes over the bonanza will continue.”
“I’m sure it will, he’s a chip of the old block,” Carol sipped her tea, “I think the business will be all right.”
Carol swallowed her words when that day came sooner than expected. One day, when James was in his senior year of college, Mr. Regal went to bed and never woke up.
James took over right after the funeral. He strode in on his first day and packed up all his father’s belongings still in the office. Sarah was aghast when James shoved a box into her arms and ordered her to throw it all away.
“Ominous,” Sarah mumbled, shaking her head. She peeked in the box and took it out to her car. There were photographs, diplomas, awards, and even a clean shirt and tie, all belonging the late and beloved Mr. Regal. Sarah refused to trash it, instead she asked Carol and David to meet her at her car. The three of them split the things between them and kept them as mementos of good days.
It didn’t take long for James to tank the business, most of the staff left soon, unwilling to work under James’s tyranny, derision and blatant lack of respect. He worked his employees to the bone, destroyed the projects he didn’t like, he stressed quantity over quality and lost all the profits at the racetrack. The boy Sarah, Carol and David knew had disappeared, and a dictator had replaced him.
Carol was the first to leave of the veteran three, she’d saved enough money to open her own accounting office. Sarah followed as her administrative assistant. Only David was in a bind. He’d worked at Regal Sign Painting for thirty-five years and knew his industry favored youth, though he’d kept abreast of new technologies and trends.
“What the fuck is this?” James yelled at David when he showed him a finished project, “You damn geezer, is this the best you can do? This is crap!” James destroyed it.
David looked at the tattered remains of the project and anger bubbled up; James had destroyed his patience.
“This is the last straw, I quit!” David yelled and stormed out. He walked out of a job he’d given his life to with only a pittance for severance. He called on Carol, who had done his tax returns for years and asked her for a job.
“I’ve got something better for you,” she sat across from David, “you remember those investments you bought into years ago? They’ve done well, and, if we set a reasonable budget, I think there’s enough for you to set up your own business.”
“I don’t know, Carol, not sure I have the energy, what business would it be?”
“Signage,” Carol smiled.
James soon closed Regal Sign Painting, the company his father had built from scratch, unable to keep up with Royal Signage, the competition.
Soon afterwards, David looked James in the eye,
“Respect is the basis of everything, and because I respect your father, I’m giving you this one chance at Royal Signage, but this time, you start at the bottom.”
He handed James the mop and bucket. James scowled and gritted his teeth as he mopped the floors for his erstwhile employee.