Driven by Fire - Chapter One
The only radio station I can tune into is doing this gimmicky thing called “Sing-Along Sunday.” As much as I want to mock it, it turns out I can sing along to most of the songs. It’s a mix of music I remember my parents playing when I was young all the way to the current Top 40. I sing at the top of my lungs, making up my own lyrics when I don’t know the real ones, dancing in my seat and drumming on the steering wheel as I cruise down the highway.
I hear my twin sister’s voice in my ear telling me my level of self-enjoyment has hit an all-new high, that clearly, I’ve been by myself for too long and it’s time to rejoin mainstream society. In my imaginary conversation with Bobby—which isn’t far from real conversations I’ve had with her—I remind her that I haven’t become a recluse, it’s just her I don’t see often. But that will be changing soon because, after a year away, I’ll soon be back in the same city as my family. Then, Bobby and I will have our facetious conversations face-to-face rather than in my head.
The sound of ringing interrupts my nostalgic moment. I look to where my phone is perched in its holder on my dashboard, eerily expecting it to be the devil herself. It isn’t Bobby, but the name I see does make me smile. I reach forward and swipe the green icon to take the call.
“Mr. Griffin, Brandon here. How are you?”
“Brandon, thanks for taking my call. The connection isn’t very clear. Are you still out of town?” I grimace. I’ve been waiting for this call all week and I hope I don’t lose him mid-conversation.
“I am, Mr. Griffin. I will be back next week. Is the line clear enough to talk?”
“Yes, yes, it is.” Every statement Mr. Griffin makes starts with a “yes, yes.” It’s like the man can’t say no to anyone. With any luck, it’s a good omen for me. “What time is it where you are? I hope I’m not calling too early. I tried to time this call with your morning coffee.”
It’s after midnight and he doesn’t know we’re in the same time zone. “It’s never too early or too late, especially if you’re calling with good news. Did your board make a decision on our cybersecurity offerings?”
“Yes, yes, we did, Brandon. The board and our lawyers looked everything over and we are pleased to sign on with Global SecurIT. We’re going to start conservatively with two years, then re-evaluate. But don’t worry about re-signing; I know how you operate from personal experience and I’m sure the company will be a lifelong client. The board prefers to limit new relationships to short-term contracts. I hope you understand.”
“I appreciate your personal referral to work with your company, Mr. Griffin, and have no doubt the board will be pleased. I have had a good working relationship with your family over the years and I am confident we will build that quickly with the board.”
“Yes, yes. The wife and I were very happy to work with you.” He clears his throat into the receiver and I know what’s coming next. There was no way I’d be able to avoid some mention of my ex-wife in this conversation.
“I was relieved to hear from you and to know that you’re starting up again. I know from many years of riding the economic waves, that starting over in the same industry can be challenging.” He’s been in oil and gas for half a century and has started and folded many companies along the way. Mr. Griffin is now the CEO of one of the largest and most successful land surveying companies in the country. “It’s not the name of the company that matters, though, it’s the people behind it. I was always happy with you and Carla, but her firm just doesn’t have the same feeling without you there.” I cringe at it being called her firm.
“Well, Mr. Griffin, I love my job and I think my passion comes through in my work. I plan on making Global SecurIT an even bigger success than what I created with Carla.”
“Yes, yes, Brandon.” I can hear him nodding through the phone. “When our contract with Carla expires in about six months, the Mrs. and I will be joining you. You can count on that.” I signed a non-compete clause in the buyout, meaning I can’t explicitly ask Mr. Griffin to sign with me, but if he suggests it first, he’s fair game.
“Thank you, sir. I am very pleased to hear that. I will have Anne call you to set up a meeting in a few months so we can discuss your current needs and any changes that have taken place in the past year. You can get me up to speed on everything so that the transition is seamless.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll have the wife schedule that meeting. I don’t get to control my time outside of office hours.” He chuckles and I smile. He’s a lion at work and a kitten at home.
“Will do. Thank you and goodbye, Mr. Griffin.”
I make sure the call is disconnected before I scream, “Yes!” as loudly as I can and pound furiously on the steering wheel. That is a big win for me. Mr. Griffin and his wife were one of the first big clients Carla and I landed. We worked for years to sign his company but could never get his board to agree. Now, with Carla running our old firm and me starting a new one, I declared war to win Mr. Griffin’s corporate business. We both knew that whoever got the corporate account would end up with the personal contract in the long run.
These last few months, I have been working two full-time jobs and I’m finally starting to see the payoff. Phone calls like the one I just had are becoming more frequent and the timing for me to get off the road and back to the office is perfect.
Another phase of my life is winding down. It’s something I’ve done a lot of lately.
People were shocked I let Carla buy me out of our cybersecurity company. Their short-sightedness failed to underscore the strategy behind it. I don’t want to run a company with a tainted name. Let her have it and the expectations that she won’t be able to meet without me at the helm with her. The buyout gave me options to create something new and fresh. Something that’s my own and doesn’t share a history with her.
It also gave me options in my personal life. After the deal was done, I did what most people do who abruptly come into a lot of money—I played a rich bachelor. I bought a big house, I sent my parents on holidays, I offered to buy my sister a new car, but she refused to give up her jalopy full of memories. I travelled and partied and drank, probably a little too much. But that’s never been my style and I couldn’t grow accustomed to the perks—and downfalls—that came with overnight riches. When the lifestyle became mundane, I tried to lay low and plan what I was going to do with the rest of my life. As exciting as it sounds to retire at thirty, there are a lot of years left to have to fill up with activities.
It didn’t take long for me to decide my future lay in the same industry I had just left. It also didn’t take long to understand that rebuilding that part of my life would prove much easier than rebuilding my social life. No matter how hard I tried to move on from Carla, the sudden public interest in me made having regular relationships next to impossible. It wasn’t long before I hit my breaking point with the rumours and unwarranted popularity and disappeared from my own life. I swore off suits and the pressure of keeping up appearances, opting instead for jeans and the wide-open road as a long-haul truck driver. I needed some space to clear my head. I wanted to be able to go places where no one knew my story and no one cared enough to ask.
Having been out of the city for an extended period, I hope interest in my life has quieted down. I’m not a glory hound by any stretch. Sure, I like being recognised for the good work I do. Being in the news for writing new code to secure bank information from ransom scams is one thing; it’s quite different when my face is online because I dined at someone’s restaurant. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why people care so much about me anyway. I’m a computer geek who managed to turn his hobby into a business. Full stop.
The few people who really know me understand that leaving the city was just a temporary shift. An appreciation that was helped by a few white lies about where I am and what I’m doing. People think I’m holed up in some European chalet devising a new business plan that will shake up how big business views cybersecurity. While Northern Alberta is hardly the Alps, I’ve been rebranding and am ready to go back to the suit-and-tie life at my dream job.
This is my last trucking route before I take my seat at the head of my newly incorporated personal and corporate cybersecurity business: Global SecurIT. This time, though, I have no partners and no one to rip things out from under me. I am now, and forever will be, a lone wolf in both my personal and professional lives. Lessons learned.
I haven’t been this excited about anything in a very long time. It feels good to have my drive and passion back. I think it’s because I can see the end, or the beginning, depending on one’s perspective. For the past two weeks, I’ve finally been feeling like myself again. Like the Brandon who climbed the corporate ladder faster than anyone in his cohort and grossed over a million dollars in the first year of starting his company. I should be wearing a suit to drive this truck. I feel that fucking good.
I pound away on the steering wheel to the tunes blasting from the radio, bobbing my head and singing. I love driving at this late hour. There are fewer cars on the road and usually no animals to worry about. Even though I like quiet solitude, I’m looking forward to being back in a city permanently. I like the cultural life outside of the pubs and movie theatres; the landmarks that seem to be the big draws in small towns along my routes. I also like the privacy that comes from being one of many rather than one of few.
I made a bad name for myself among the women along my routes when I first hit the road, so I know firsthand how fast word travels in tight-knit communities. My anger toward Carla could be classified as a whole different kind of road rage. Not toward the women I was with—I’d never raise a hand to a woman. I always treat women with respect and dignity, and I damn well make sure their needs are taken care of before mine. I just wasn’t exactly a gentleman when it came to going beyond sex. No second nights and no texts the next time I was passing through. The problem is, when you drive the same routes, you get to know the locals and they get to know you. Casual hook-ups got harder and harder.
I started to recognise some of the guys at the truck stops and the stories that came along with them. It was like someone held a big mirror up to my face. Straight away, I became upfront with the girls. First names only and no pretence of a repeat performance. I learned to keep things light with the ladies and superficial with the other truckers. That way no one knew anything about me or expected anything from me.
But the empty sex soon got boring. Sad is more like it. The hollow encounters with physically attractive but mentally void women was a depressing prophecy of what life could easily become if I didn’t get a grip. If I hadn’t experienced it myself, I never would have believed that empty sex is worse than no sex. With only six months to go on the job, I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t hook up with any more women.
That’s not to say I’ve sworn off sex forever. Fuck no! I’m bursting to get between the sheets with a soft, warm, wet woman. Just the thought sends blood rushing straight south and gets my dick twitching. This year has taught me that I want more than sex; I want companionship. I’m tired of being alone. Of being lonely. I want someone in my life but I’m going to be picky about who she is because I can’t go through another break-up as I did with Carla. I want someone who falls between ball-buster and bimbo. Someone who understands me and gets that my business comes first. I want a woman of substance, a woman who can come to a black-tie event with me and carry on a conversation with the savviest and wealthiest businesspeople in the country, and who is just as okay if I want to go to the event by myself. I want a woman who’s fine seeing me only on weekends because her weeks are just as busy as mine. I want a woman who loves sex for how good it feels and not for the promises that should come along with it. I want a woman who gets that real pleasure comes with having no strings attached.
It’s a long list, but there’s a woman out there who has the same views I do. I’m just not likely to find her on one of these remote highways.