Authors: Hal Ross
THE DOLL BROKERS
Copyright Â© 2014 by Hal Ross
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ross, Hal, 1941-
The doll brokers : a novel / by Hal Ross. -- First edition.
pages ; cm
ISBN 978-0-9911938-4-4 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Toy industry--Fiction. 2. Women executives--Fiction. I. Title.
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P.O. Box 12093, Green Bay, WI 54307-12093
Distributed by Midpoint Trade Books
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Cover by Michael Short
Interior Design by Pre-Press Solutions
Special thanks to Beverly Bird, May Wuthrich and Liz Trupin-Pulli, without whom this book would not have been possible.
First readers Carol Diggs, Linda Fox and Kathy Lyons.
In memory of Mac Irwin.
And praise for those few men and women whoâdespite all oddsâhelp make the toy industry a unique environment in which to work.
hen the diagnosis was first pronounced, she'd taken the news stoically, with a sense of dÃ©jÃ vu. However, battling breast cancer for the third time was not the way she had envisioned spending her declining years. Wasn't seventy supposed to be the new sixty?
Just home from the hospital after yet another round of chemotherapy, she rested quietly on the deep velvet chaise in her luxurious living room. Seeking diversion from the nausea that washed over her, she forced her mind to focus. Here, in the beautiful Central Park West apartment she had proudly acquired through perseverance and hard work, she contemplated the successful business she had created in one of the fiercest competitive arenasâthe toy industry.
When her husband died of heart disease, she had become a widow at the age of fifty. As a woman alone, the odds were stacked against her. But in a business where trends changed with the wind, and risk often overshadowed reward, she had allowed her good instincts to guide her. Valuable alliances were formed by knowing whom to trust. Her company's volume grew, as did its profit.
Until the accident she was riding a high that she didn't think would end. So the news almost derailed her. Having a son killed in such a tragic fashion would most likely have brought anyone of
lesser will to her knees. If the truth were known, it very nearly did her in.
Her poor, sweet boy. Gone now for almost fifteen years.
She was still haunted by questions about the accident, questions she was determined to have answered before she went to her grave. It would require some cunning but she would get to the truth, no matter how painful it might prove to be.
The woman's eyes had been closed; she opened them now.
Today, this very afternoon, her company was embarking on something new. God willing, the deal would be signed before she went to bed.
And what a deal it was.
The highest risk of her long career. An investment of millions. All for the sake of one particular product.
She knew that much of her success was a result of her ability to discern between the winners and the losers, and her willingness to gamble. Here was a product that would either secure the company's future or bring it down.
Shivering a little, the woman shut her eyes again.
Her thoughts turned to her remaining sons. She was unashamed to admit that the youngest was her favorite, and that she had always hoped he would succeed her in the business. But he had been insistent on pursuing the life of an artist. And she had encouraged him, not once anticipating that she would later come to regret it.
Her attempts to mentor his older brother had been a mistake from the beginning. The man's talentâif he possessed anyâlay elsewhere. He wasn't incompetent as much as lazy. His drinking and philandering had become much more than an embarrassment; they'd become liabilities.
Luckily, she had found a protÃ©gÃ©. A stroke of fate had brought her and the girl together. She had taken her under her wing when she was still in her mid-teens. A temporary living arrangement
became a permanent one, and she soon became a member of the family. It had paid offâthrough nurturing and formal schooling, the girl had blossomed. But her eldest son's petty jealousy had become another terrible hindrance. She could not allow it to continue. One way or another, their differences would have to be resolved.
Obviously, she had much to do in the weeks and months ahead. Her strength would be put to the test like never before. Only time would reveal the outcome of her efforts â¦ although this was a commodity that was clearly running out.
t was a sweltering August day in New York City, the kind of day where you could see the heat shimmering off the sidewalk. At the corner of 45
and Broadway, Ann Lesage crossed the street with the light, then glanced quickly over her shoulder and scanned the crowd.
Nothing untoward caught her eye. Unable to shake the unsettling feeling that she was being followed, she deliberately turned her thoughts to the Marriott Marquis Hotel, imagining herself walking through its doors and feeling the cool air on her skin.
Arriving at the hotel, she took the elevator to the eighth floor and strode through the open-ended bar of the lobby. This was Ann's bar of choice, where numerous business deals had been consummated. Chosen not for comfort but its layout and bright lights, it was the kind of place that helped keep everyone on point, which was exactly how she liked it.
Making her way through the room, past tables filled predominately with men, Ann felt hungry eyes follow her. It was her all-American looks that attracted attention. The blonde hair, the long legs, and of course the breastsânothing about her was particularly petite. But even after so many years, this awareness of the stir she created bothered her. To compensate, she made a
habit of keeping herself as hidden as possible. The sleek off-white Ann Klein pants-suit she wore, with its tailored jacket that zipped to the neck, did the trick nicely.
The men who awaited her couldn't entirely disguise their anxiety. The moment they caught sight of her, something small and electric seemed to prod their spines. They snapped to attention and sprang to their feet.
They had secured a corner table, one far enough away to give them some semblance of privacy. Each was nursing a glass of water. They had probably been there since before five o'clock, Ann thought, going over final calculations, solidifying their strategy to get her signature on the dotted line. She took a deep breath and paused.
Her nerves were raw but she wouldn't let it show. Much was riding on this meeting. She needed no reminder of the huge risk her company, Hart Toy, was undertaking.
“Gentlemen,” she said more easily than she felt.
The shorter manâJapanese and diminutive, well into his sixties by nowâclasped her outstretched hand. Koji Sashika, the man who had been their business partner in Eastern Asia for twenty-some-odd years, had eyes that Ann had always liked. “Ann. Good to see you,” he said.
“You, too.” She extricated her hand gently when he seemed disinclined to release it. She turned to the other man. “And Edmund. It's been a while.”
“Too long,” Edmund Chow agreed. “And you grow more beautiful with every moment I stay away.”
“You flatter me, or perhaps it's just your eyesight,” she said, with a twinkle. He laughedâa startled squawkâand frowned. He had never known quite how to read her, Ann thought.
Chow was an independent contractor based in Hong Kong who, among other things, had spent the past ten years managing Hart Toy's manufacturing and product development.
There was no time left for pleasantries. Ann knew exactly how she wanted this meeting to proceed. She either accomplished what she had come here to do, or Edmund Chow would go elsewhere. And neither she nor Koji Sashika would be able to stop him.
Before taking her seat, she once again felt eyes boring into the small of her back. The last thing she needed was to appear paranoid, but she took a quick look around anyway, then sat, crossing her legs neatly and placed her laptop on the table in front of her. Koji and Chow followed her cue and took back their seats.
“You saw her?” Chow asked. “The doll?”
“Last week, as a matter of fact. Felicia showed me the sample you sent.”
It was one of the most extraordinary new inventions Ann had seen, but she wasn't about to admit it. “Felicia likes her,” she said casually.
Koji threw back his head and laughed. His gaze went in Chow's direction. “You'll get no more from her, my friend. Not until this deal is nailed down.”
Ann patted Chow's hand. “Don't worry. I'm just a tough sell.”
She reached to the floor for the briefcase she had placed beside her chair. When a waitress appeared, she ordered a Perrier without glancing up. She smoothed the contract Edmund had sent her on the table beside her laptop, then regarded both men.
“You know, Felicia thinks this doll has some potential but, personally, I think she could bankrupt us.” Ann paused and looked at them. “Since the buck stops with me, I need to be convinced.”
Edmund cleared his throat. “These terms are absolutely in line with what is common in the industry. How would it bankrupt you?”
The waitress brought her drink. Ann squeezed the lemon into it. “I've got concerns. You're acting on our behalf as well as the other party's, this â¦ this â¦ what's his name?” She broke off
and flipped through pages, looking for the designer's name. She already knew he was couched as an entity, a limited partnership.
“He's a friend of mine,” Chow said. “A local Chinese designer. He was gong to go to Mattel but I stepped in.”
” Chow looked stymied.
“If you're his friend, why would you do that?” Ann knew of the convoluted approach to business in China, how honor was often confused with dollars and cents, causing it to be interpreted in many different ways. “Mattel would be a sure, solid bet. They might even pay these extravagant terms you're asking me for.”
“But my loyalty is obviously with you.”
She still didn't quite trust what he was saying, but she went past it. Ann began scrolling through screens on her laptop. Her raw cost to manufacture the doll was eight dollars and fifty cents. Once she factored in freight, overhead, royalty and advertising, she was left with a total price of over twenty dollars.
Ann turned her computer screen to show Edmund. “See what this amount says?” she asked.
He shrugged. “This doll can handle it. She converses. Her heart beats. She reacts to stimuli.”
“She does all that,” Ann agreed. “But what happens if we only sell half a million dolls instead of a millionâwhich would, in effect, double our advertising costs?”
“Then you would cut back on the advertising,” Edmund suggested.
Ann drank her Perrier, met his eyes. “We're being asked to commit earlier and earlier every year. Come January, our plans must be in place for Christmas. Otherwise, the big boys will grab the best TV times and we'll be shut out.” She paused, then turned her attention to the other man, as if seeking him out as an ally. “Koji, you know this. We're David. They're Goliath.” Ann turned back to Edmund. “I won't let Felicia become the stone in the slingshot.”
Chow looked boggled. “You want me to go to Mattel?”
God save me
, Ann thought. “No. I want you to work with me here. Felicia wants this doll. But we're small. I want you to remember that.” Ann knew where she stood. She was protecting a legacy.
Felicia had been dirt poor in the Canadian province of Ontario when she'd started her small toy business. Her own rags-to-riches story was part of the reason she had extended a hand to Ann, had given a hungry, runaway teenager a chance she could have never dreamed of. Ann would not let the woman's trust be misplaced.
“It all boils down to this,” she said. And she explained how her published selling price of twenty-six seventy-five would be reduced to twenty-four dollars and eight cents, once the discounts that the major retailers expected for advertising, freight and warehouse allowances were deducted. “Do you see my problem here?” she asked.