Story Title: Amends
Summary: Mitchum Huntzberger attempts to set right a path that went askew a few years back. One shot. Complete.
Some days are much longer than others. Time might be a constant—each minute identical in length as the one prior and the one ready to follow in its wake, but a compensation must be made to account for the fact that a minute spent in enjoyment blurred by noiselessly, whereas a minute doing something tedious or downright laborious was most often endured with the awareness of each painstaking ticking of its same sixty seconds.
It had been a day filled with moments of the latter variety, and the night, he feared, would prove no different. Up at four-thirty every morning out of habit and, at this point, age, that day had started with a bad cup of coffee, a difficult commute, several idiotic marketing executives that had to be taken down a few notches, a missed opportunity to have lunch with an old friend, notification that his travel plans for the next week had been botched, and a working dinner with a colleague he detested. It culminated as he begrudgingly handed off his black trench coat to an affected-looking teenager at a venue that he supposed was considered hip, but in all honesty it was enough to make him decide once and for all that his presence at this gathering wasn't wholly necessary. He'd put off the search for a protégé to replace him for quite some time—barring any unforeseen health issues he should be good for another twenty years at the helm of the family business, if he so desired. He was unwilling to openly admit to hoping that he wouldn't have to end up looking outside the family to find a suitable replacement. However, this was exactly the type of function that he was ready to start handing off to a trusted charge. His son would probably even have enjoyed the scene more that he would, even with his generally accepted disdain for anything his father had ever mandated.
Oh, how the mighty had fallen, he thought as he ordered his drink; the bar a necessary first stop at a party like this. He scanned the room as he waited for anyone that might fall into realm of capable of discussing anything remotely stimulating. The tide was changing, he'd noticed, as the people he'd dealt with for years had taken the opportunity to retire as hard circulation was waning; the dinosaurs that didn't feel the need to navigate new frontiers stepped aside with what was left of their fortunes and allowed for fresh blood to come in to sink or swim in the new economy. He'd never been one to step down from a challenge, and he knew one thing that none of these fresh faces would learn for another couple of decades; second chances are only deserved by those who learned from their past mistakes. Failure was only a detriment to those who were incapable of hard work—no one owes anything to anyone. These new urbanites think him archaic, but they'd learn. And in the meantime, most of them either idolized him or lived in mortal fear of him. Truth be told, he enjoyed both facets of his personality.
"This is a gin and tonic?" he asked with an air of distaste to the bartender, who nodded.
He took another sip and winced as he scanned the crowd. "I think I was misguided in my original order. Vodka on the rocks, if you would, my good man."
"Yes, sir," came the timely response he was used to hearing. When he was on par with the median age of this crowd, the business world called for things like pleasantries, dedication, respect, and dogged hard work. He was sure the room was strangled with Ivy League degrees and light on actual job experience. He raised his fresh glass to the bartender, willing to bet that the bartender was the hardest working person his eyes would land on tonight. He'd worked as a bartender for a stint in college, himself, during one of his father's threats to cut him off financially. He'd kept the job for a time to the mortification of the old man, to prove a point.
He liked to believe that's exactly what his own son was doing, though after a few years in California at the helm of a successful business—one that he himself had called upon on a few occasions—it was seeming less and less likely that he would ever envelop his son back into the family business fold. He'd learned never to say never; midlife crises and sudden shifts in the job market were real motivators. He was proud of his son, but that really only made him want the young man to reclaim his original place even more, if only to allow him a few nights' peace now and then.
The shift in his evening was unexpected, though it wasn't lost on him that it occurred while his thoughts were focused on his son. Working his way past a few small groups that either nodded or watched in awe as he passed, he finally skirted the middle of the crowd. Just off to his left, there stood a ravishing brunette; a frown creasing her otherwise smooth forehead, her right hand covering her watch on her left wrist, a sign she was dying to check to see just how long she'd been standing there listening to whatever inane drivel was pouring forth from her captor's mouth. Her dress was on the business end of the spectrum, indicating she hadn't had time to make it to Brooklyn or whatever further-out burg she inhabited between work and the function and had probably whiled away a peaceful hour at a coffee shop with a book, or, more likely, an e-reader as her generation was so keen on using. He was jealous—not of the e-reader, but of the unadulterated joy she was able to squeeze into sixty minutes, a few more or less, it didn't matter—just sipping good coffee and getting lost in a book, regardless of the format. He could still feel the burn of the hot coffee he'd sucked down too fast that morning, to obtain the caffeine without having to endure the taste.
It only took a few paces to reach her, stopping just closely enough to her to signify familiarity, with a practiced smile on his face as recognition forced the frown from her features. In its place was open shock—her lips parted without words, and her eyes widened, hoping that she was mistaken in her instant identification of him.
"Rory, there you are. I thought I'd never make it here. Hello, Mitchum Huntzberger. Sorry to interrupt, you don't mind me stealing Miss Gilmore away, do you?" he said quickly, and with more authority than anyone else in the zip code could muster, to the man who'd been talking at her for God knows how long. He gave her a once over as he steered the beautiful brunette, who was still struggling to regain her composure as they were left alone.
"Rule number one. Always get a drink first. It makes those kinds of conversations much more bearable," he instructed.
She crossed her arms over her chest as she turned to face him. Her jacket favored her, but it was clearly bought off the rack. He had an eye for custom pieces, as it was all he owned. Her figure allowed her to wear most fashions, he imagined, without having to bow to hefty price tags. She was still considered the bottom of the food chain as far as reporters were concerned, still earning her stripes and therefore her salary was probably just more advantageous than the bartender's—not counting his tips, that is.
"I was having a conversation. You said it yourself. What makes you think that I needed a drink or for you to so abruptly pull me away from it?" she asked, her tone clearly annoyed. No one else in the room would dare talk to him like that, unless one of his children or his wife dropped in. Had things gone differently—well, he was sure that even she had done more than enough postulating on that topic to last a lifetime. Had she never met his son, she would probably be one of the folks in the room watching him in awe, hoping to get a chance to meet him, to be inspired further by him. But their past was what it was, and therefore she was more likely to throw any drink he procured for her in his face and stomp away. He couldn't blame her, really.
"My dear, if boredom were terminal, you would have been a goner. I could tell from across the room that you were about to expire, if not for sheer force of will. I don't expect you to thank me, but at least spare me the charade of pretending that I did anything less than come to your assistance."
Her posture relaxed—just ever so slightly—as she shifted her weight to the other side and dropped one arm. "I didn't realize you'd be here."
He gave another look around the room and gave a snort of derision. "Yes, well, apparently if I need new talent, I've got little choice but to lower myself to the occasional soiree of this sort."
"Surely you have minions to send in your place while you, what? Play golf? Sit in a lair stroking a cat and drinking scotch? What do you do in your spare time?"
He smiled at her depictions. "You aren't going to market a Halloween mask of my face, are you?"
The thought amused her; he watched as his words took form in her mind's eye and a smile played on her lips. It gave him pleasure to see her smile—she was a fundamentally attractive woman, though even he couldn't think of her in a sexual way. Not that he hadn't had his share of attractive, young women, of varying degrees of intellect, cross his path and hold his fancy. His interest in her had never been romantic; though there was never a question in his mind of what his son had seen in her. She was smart, but it was more than that—she held an allure that called out to his son; she was a rule follower with just enough of a wild streak to keep a man guessing. Mitchum was certain she thought she had him all figured out; no doubt with a little persuasion and background from his son. He wondered just how strongly she held onto Logan's disillusions now that they'd parted ways.
"Well, don't let me keep you from your business. I'll just get myself a drink and stick to avoiding the yuppies posing as hipsters," she gave him a tight smile.
"Allow me. What's your poison?" he asked, holding up his own drink.
"Oh. Uh, martini, with a twist. You don't need to," she said quickly, realizing she'd given consent by sharing her drink preference. He was far older and shrewder, knowing how to ease people into conversations they didn't even want to have without their being any the wiser. She was on to him, but she wasn't immune to him. He smiled, satisfied.
"I'll be right back. And from what I can see, eighty percent of this room matches your persona non grata description. If you're nice, I'll teach you an evasion technique I learned in the army when I return."
She didn't want to smile at him, but she begrudgingly gave in. "Can't wait," she said, her tone laced with sarcasm, but that rolled off his back after years of his son responding to him in kind.
He tapped with gusto on the bar, giving a genuine smile and a generous tip to the bartender, placing her order. He took a toothpick out of the holder, an array of colors splayed up at him for the choosing. He bit down idly on a green stick, wondering just how long she'd stick around, granting him a reprieve from the general disdain she reserved for him. It was a shame to have such a talented young woman such as Rory Gilmore permanently opposed to the idea of working above her current station solely because he wished to aid her in getting there, though a helping hand from him would most definitely be a tough sell. It wouldn't be easy, given the set of circumstances they now found themselves, to warm her to the idea. Money alone wouldn't sway her, even if it did give her pause. She had ethics, morals—things that truthfully he didn't always have to bother with. He had to step up his game with her, and therein lay the fun. No, it wasn't difficult to see that's what his son had seen in her at all, and he owed it to his son and the woman of talent across the room to seize this opportunity to grease these particular wheels. Spontaneity was key; she would smell a planned attack a mile away. He was up for the challenge, however, with full knowledge that it well might be his only real opportunity to plant this type of seed.
"Your drink, Miss," he held it out to her not a minute after the bartender had mixed it. A quick minute, he noticed, for him. He wondered just how loud the sounds of the second hand on her watch were reverberating in her ears.
"Thank you. So, you're looking for people here?" she said, scanning the crowd herself with careful scrutiny, most likely looking for an opportunity to shift his attention elsewhere—anywhere but her.
"I was briefed on it after a meeting with sponsors this afternoon, and it was suggested that it would be worth my while. So far, I'm not firing anyone for the suggestion."
She raised an eyebrow. "You said to me once that you don't pull punches."
"And I don't. I am a man of my word," he nodded before taking a sip of his drink.
"You already said most of the room looked like poseurs. Why are you still here and not enjoying your evening somewhere else?"
"As it turns out, I am enjoying my evening. I've found someone worth making the trip to this desolate wasteland of pseudo-intellectuals worthwhile."
She gave a heavy sigh. "Please don't."
He frowned at her incapacity for believing his words. "Don't what?"
"I don't know what you think you can accomplish with me, Mitchum. I understand why you were nice to me in the past—you had a certain agenda, and you thought you could sway me to your side on certain… issues. You've certainly never lacked in ability to use charm and complimentary speak to lure people into your way of thinking. But I'm just a desk reporter, writing whatever they throw at me, and I haven't had any pull with your son for years now, so I don't understand why you're bothering with me."
She'd made a leap that he expected, but wasn't about to address. "You're best at investigative pieces. Your editor, who is it? Thompson, right? He's not utilizing you; he's too busy trying to keep you hungry. It's how he was trained, by a guy named Sidney Marshall, a man who stepped down after a nasty paternity scandal and died with a string of ex-wives and alimony payments that rivaled our national debt at that time. You need to start thinking about what feels right to you, and start sniffing around. How are your contacts? Are you sure about print, or would you rather take a crack at TV?"
She blinked, clearly not prepared for the conversation they were having, her body stiffening slightly like someone who had failed to prepare for a big interview. "I don't even know how to begin to respond to all that."
He shrugged. "Wherever you like. I'm not anxious to talk to any of your peers, unless," he stood a little straighter and looked around. "I'm sorry, I should have asked. Are you here alone?"
She took a deep breath, showing the signs of how taxing it could be to talk to him. It made him smile—he fancied himself someone that people had to keep up with, if they could catch up to him at all. He didn't slow down for anyone, and he knew she was capable of keeping up. The fact that she probably didn't want to was a whole other matter.
"Listen, should we just get the white elephant out of the way?" he began again.
Worry now creased her brow, and she frowned as her eyes searched the depths of her clear drink. "No, I mean, that doesn't factor into my life. That was years ago. I don't know if he told you what happened, but," she began, her inability to use words effectively to convey her thoughts a glaring warning that he should proceed with caution if he cared about distressing her. It was, as he assumed, a difficult subject for her to broach.
"He told me that he proposed and you declined. It's not a topic he was very expansive about," he swirled his glass and took a drink, giving a moment of silence for the outcome of relationship.
"That pretty much covers it, I guess," she said tightly, taking her own drink.
"Listen, Rory. I like you. I know you don't like me, but I think that you understand one important thing about me. Everything I do, I do for my family. That has been a point of contention between my son and I, for many years. Now that we've parted ways, professionally, for the most part, I think he can see that. He won't fully understand it until he has a family of his own; I didn't. I'm a great businessman. It's what I do. I learned, I worked hard, and it's how I provide for my family. I've done my best, I've failed at times, but I always, always learn something from my mistakes."
She opened her mouth, but failed to speak. She finally nodded, signaling for him to continue. "You used to feel a certain allegiance to my son—I saw you support him time and again, even when you knew he was errant; you loved him. There was no sin in that."
She pulled her lower lip into her mouth quickly, releasing it before speaking. "I'm not sure what this has to do with my career, or your interest in it."
He gave her a wan smile. "You've surely had time, since parting ways with Logan, to consider what makes you feel," he paused to search for the right word, to make her not just understand but grasp his meaning, "not just satisfied, but alive. Your work won't provide you any comfort at certain points of your life, no matter how outstanding it is, how accomplished you become. You may not think much of me personally—it's no secret that I've given my family plenty of reasons to fault me, but in the end, they're all I have. They were my motivating factors; they were there for me in all the down times, and are whom I go home to, in my precious spare time."
She squared her shoulders. "I appreciate what you're saying," she began, but he held up a hand. He didn't mean to steamroll her, but it was a tactic that worked for him, especially if his other choice was to lose his audience's attention.
"No one ever stood up for me like you have done for him in the past," he said with all honesty, his words more than effective in silencing her.
She looked away, just for a moment before locking eyes with the man that she would have happily avoided for the rest of her days. "Is he in some kind of trouble?"
"The thing about being a father, even one that works too much and misses out on a lot," he gave a heavy sigh, "is that you never stop worrying about your children. Logan has caused me a lot of worry, so much so that for a while I figured I'd lose all my hair or develop some sort of heart condition before now. It doesn't matter what peril they're in, it all feels the same—you want to protect them, you want to give whatever aid you think you can provide. He's never wanted my assistance, and he's been assuring me that he's just fine. He's physically doing well, his company is successful—and he is largely the reason for its success. However, since he's moved to California," he shook his head. "He's different."
He had her attention—her own desire to care for his son was stronger, perhaps than even his own. Pain radiated off her in waves, and he knew that while neither of them would ever in a million years turn to him for aid, it was the right thing to do; to at least give her the choice.
"Different?" she asked, the word ripped from her throat. He was sure a million different incantations of his son's personality were flashing through her cerebral cortex, wondering in what way his move to the west coast had affected him. He wondered exactly how many memories of the best of his son were interspersed, the version of Logan that she preferred to remember. There were so many sides to every person—so few people allowed even one other to witness all the wonder and pain they had to offer. She was the only one that his son had ever allowed to see him at his most vulnerable, he knew that for certain. It wasn't something even he himself was privy to.
"I'm a selfish man," he announced, throwing her tailspin into a faster revolution. "I've always had a skill for talking people into succumbing to my personal way of thinking—to justify my ideal end result. Rarely do I not get what I want. And, I will admit, that what I've wanted for a while now was for my son to wrap up his California adventure, sell off his interests, and return to New York to succeed me."
Instantly he was awash in contempt and confusion drowned in blue as she glared at him. "I hold no weight over Logan's decisions any longer. Even if I wanted to," she shook her head bitterly.
"Let me finish," he requested in a hasty tone. "That is simply my desire. The two people best able to not only disregard my wishes but to prove me wrong in the process are you and my son. I realize that given our history, I have no leeway to ask for favors from either of you. He knows how I feel about the business end of things, and at this point it would be absurd to believe you could just call him up and bend him to my will."
"Then I don't understand," she said at last, her body language still showing an attempt to keep a cautious distance between him, but her voice signaling she wanted to hear out the logic behind his rehashing of their shared melancholy. They'd both lost Logan, to one end or another. His idealism had left them behind, and he for one knew that only one person had a chance of providing his son with what was missing from his life.
"He misses you. He loves you. And I know that you probably had valid reasons for turning down his proposal. Hell, you were too young, to begin with," he began, but halted as he realized that his age really did shine through when discussing things with the youngest of the professional world. "I like you. I've done things in my life I'm not wholly proud of; the way my family and I treated you in the past among them. You've never wanted anything from me, but surely you've done things for your own family that defied logic or reasoning. My son loves you. I believe, based on my limited knowledge of the situation, that there's a chance that you still love him. You're a reporter I believe in, and I feel you're being under-utilized, and I have contacts all over this country, California included, in print and television, all of whom would be damn lucky to have you on staff, and if that can resolve any issue that might be keeping you two apart, then, all the better."
Now she just appeared stunned. "Now I really don't know what to say."
He shrugged. "Who's your favorite journalist? Don't feel pressure to say me," he joked.
"Christiane Amanpour," she said without missing a beat or caring about wounding his pride.
He nodded. "She's a classy dame."
Rory frowned. "Do you always talk like you're in a 1930s gangster film?"
He laughed. "I do like you a lot. Here," he pulled out his wallet, selected a business card, and wrote something on the back. "Call this guy. Send him your CV. He'll know what to do for you."
She took it between two fingers, gently, though it were capable of self-destructing at any moment. Perhaps she really did fancy him an evil genius. He took it as a compliment, if not an earned achievement. There were only so many ways to help people that were resistant after being wronged. "What's this?" she asked, turning it over to see what he'd written on the back.
"It's a place to get a great cup of coffee in Palo Alto, while you're out interviewing. I was out there a few weeks ago, and Logan took me there. He works near there, goes there every day."
She swallowed, ingesting all the information he'd thrown at her; still grasping at the card in her hand—a link to a life that she'd been denying. "He doesn't know you're doing any of this, does he?" she blinked up at him.
He shook his head. "I can't change the past. But it seems a shame for things that happened back then to keep the future from being anything less than it could be," he said sternly, probably too much of a fatherly gesture for her liking, but he had trouble not shooting from the belt. "I should probably go. You're the only person here I'd want to recruit, and you learn from your mistakes," he complimented her.
"Wait," she said hurriedly, still holding onto the business card he'd gifted her. "What was the evasion technique?"
He smiled. "Ah. Always hide in plain sight. Good night, Rory."
He left her there, with a golden ticket that most other people in the room would die for. He wasn't sure if she'd use it; though his gut told him that even if it took her a few days, she'd at least make a call just out of curiosity. He reclaimed his coat, stepped onto the curb, and climbed into a black car once the driver opened the door for him. He was finally headed home for the night.