Honest Broker

Jesse Salvo
Panjim Church in Goa

Our company’s founder who can be quite eccentric at times began almost a year ago now a system whereby once every fortnight she will step down as Chief Innovation Officer for a 24-hour period and be replaced by someone telecommuting-in from a developing nation. I do not know how she goes about finding worthy candidates but she must have a friend working in international aid or a service she subscribes to for our 24-hour CIOs have been to a person quite friendly and professional and not at all rude or culturally dissonant in that way that language barriers will sometimes make people seem less polite than they actually are.

When the system was first introduced I think we were all a bit hostile to it. After all it can be irritating to have to take orders from a 19-year boy old in Rabat or respond to emails in imperfectly translated Hausa, to execute (or pretend to execute) on some well-meaning but risible corporate strategy only to have it walked back in 24 hours’ time when the normal CIO regains control of the corporate reins. Not to mention the connectivity problems that our 24-hour CIOs will sometimes have depending on how deep in the countryside their village is and whether they are running their computer off a generator or what.

But Madison (our founder) was the sole owner and shareholder at the time and so not subject to anyone’s oversight or anything like that, and she believed earnestly that her system while at times vexing to us on the bottom was helping teach leadership and competency to people in these developing countries. It is only lately I believe that she has begun to question her decision/framework, since the company became embroiled in a legitimacy crisis and is now technically headquartered in Goa and certain employees at the new CIO’s behest have begun a coerced relocation to Goa in order to retain their roles and keep their pensions and benefits intact, which has led to a lot of tearful goodbyes and recriminations obviously here at the Duluth office.

The young woman who now owns our company is named Kashfiya and goes by Kash. She is a student at the National University at Goa. She has sparkling intelligent eyes which she hides behind very big thick frameless eyeglasses, giving her the appearance of a rather beautiful dark-haired owl. She has two younger siblings, for whom she is the sole caretaker. Kash is fluent in Urdu, Hindi, English (obviously) and Portuguese since Goa until the 1960s was a colonial holding of Portugal. I suppose I ought to confess to you now that secretly I am in love with her and that in my hidden heart I long for a day in the future when Kash sends me a formal Requisition to Relocate to Goa. But the sad truth I think is that I am too pathetically low down in the company hierarchy to merit such attention and so fear that the day will never come.

Madison of course is furious and very distressed and has written several intemperately worded communiqués to the Indian Consulate in Chicago demanding that they take control of the situation and figure out a way to reprimand or prosecute Kash or else get her formally expelled from the National University. Madison has frequently accused the Consular Apparatus of Greater India of being “flat-footed” or “feckless” in the Press as well as writing our congressional representative to describe Kash’s ruthless takeover of the company and refusal to deed back her (Madison’s) ownership stake. The congressional representative in question is up for reelection next year and has sniffed a primary opponent on his right flank and so last I checked had started advocating the wholesale annexation of Goa, which Madison says she does not support but cannot take back the press conference she did alongside him this Summer.

I do not want you to get the wrong impression of me. I am not one of those people who is quick to love, by nature. I have never been quick to much anything, to be honest. Teachers when I was growing up told my parents that I was developmentally vague and that my life’s potential would be capped by some low-hung ceiling inside myself. My mother when she received the news became tight-lipped and terribly mournful. Eventually it became evident that the prognostications had been off and I became after my own fashion an O.K. enough student. But my mother’s terrible mournfulness stayed-on, the perplexing funereal atmosphere in my house remained, and it so heckled her that she is now dead from a heart attack.

Perhaps because of that childhood I have always been a fairly phlegmatic person. I have never been very interested in romance or love because both seem to require people to muster a great deal of unnecessary courage, to step outside of themselves, to possess and be possessed etc.

Publicly the Consular Apparatus of Greater India refuses to respond to our (former) CIO’s heated rhetoric but on conference calls when Madison begins to rage the nonplussed bureaucrats do not fail to point out that Madison did not have to legally sign-over full ownership of company, shares, patents, and trademarks all to some unknown girl, just for a 24-hour philanthropic stunt. Madison, in response, says that she considers this to be vital to the whole philanthropic act, since without it, handing over the corporate reins to this person would feel an empty or symbolic gesture, rather than a lived reality.

“Well, it seems you are living the reality,” the man from the Indian Consulate remarked rather dryly, which sent Madison into throes of apoplexy forceful enough that several of us were forced to duck beneath our desks or behind potted plants to remain safe (she later apologized and bought us all lahmacun from Taste of Gallipoli as a repentance gesture suggested by our office’s conflict mediator) so it seemed on the ownership front she was at least temporarily without recourse.

Kash is trying to get to know all the staff gradually, to get a handle on the culture of the company while simultaneously getting people settled in the Goa office which is obviously a lot to have on one’s plate especially being that she is just 24 years old and still must juggle a full course load at her university and conduct independent research for her thesis. Madison will rarely speak directly with Kash because of the bad blood between them but still sits in fuming silently on Roundups and Budgets and will stare daggers if she sees some former member of the Duluth office appear on screen next to Kash looking tanned and well-adjusted to their new life in Goa. Madison is being retained on payroll in a consulting capacity by Kash who seems unconcerned about any sort of counter-insurrection.

“I think what Anna said is quite profound.” Kash is intoning. Next to her on the video call is our Head of Human Resources (Anna) who since relocating to Goa has left her husband and cut her hair very short and now only seems to wear linen.

I give a start.

“I’m sorry.” I chime in. “I missed that Anna. Bad connection.”

Kash who is staring out through a screen and so seems as if she could be staring at any one of us or no one at all coughs and then says

“Who is speaking right now.”

I flush.

“Sorry David sorry.”

“Sorry David sorry.” She says. “What precisely is your role on this call?”

“Just David. Minutes. I’m taking.”


“Descriptions of things said at the meeting, basically.”

Kash flicks one earring back and forth with her index finger, raises her eyebrows very high.

She says: “I do not need minutes of meetings at which I am bodily present. If my brain is a faulty recorder, there is no sense in having its amnesias perverted through a second, faulty recorder.”

It seems through the low pixelated fuzz of her camera that she is smiling, if not at me, then at her joke of me. “What do you think, David? How does that strike you?”

“I suppose that is true.”

“O.K. then.”

A couple of people on the call laugh.

Blood and shame crown my head shouting down all thought. How does it always feel like I am being run circles around when I am just trying to do correct things and be safe? How could I ever be worthy of the love of this person, who is so brilliant and quick where I am so slow?

“Let’s see your face, David.”

My mouth is very dry. I am sure it must sound unpleasant, compressed via the tinny microphone of my office laptop, funneled at high volume into the ears of my coworkers. The dull, arid smacking of cheek against tongue.

“Sorry?” I say.

“Sorry, sorry.” She repeats softly. “Your face, I said. I got mine from my mother. Eyes in my head to look. Ears in my head to listen. But I look for you on my screen and where there would be eyes that look is just a name, David, and a void, and where there would be ears that hear there is a faulty connection, apparently. Let’s see your face, I said.”

The call is quiet except for someone’s phone buzzing in the background. My camera is off. I reach over and turn the image on and appear.

“Oh dear.” Kash says, her eyes sparkling. I say nothing, shift in my chair. “Poor thing.”  She is a square on a screen full of squares. She could be staring at anyone or no one or herself but I know that she is staring at me.

“Alright. We’ll have a meeting soon to ascertain how your role can be modified to best suit company operations. Until then.”

She turns to some perfunctory matters, brings the meeting to a close. My face is still red. Anna of H.R. is stretching her spine on an ergonomic ball in the background, her fingers wiggling, extended to brush blue carpet.

“Bye.” says our new CIO.

I privately dread the summons I will receive later in the week. I walk around the office breathing slowly, barely agitating the air particles around me.

Some of my coworkers try and commiserate over my embarrassment. One of them, Ludlow, who is a very funny triathlete comes over.

“I would shudder to perform so poorly on a work call.” he says.

“Was I very bad.” I ask.

“Worse still.” He says kindly. “We were embarrassed for you. Hanz of legal was saying do you know what schadenfreude is.”

“Sure.” I say.

“Hanz would you mind coming over and explaining the thing you were saying about schadenfreude.”

“Yah.” Hanz crosses the room. “Schadenfreude is a word we have for a dread you feel for another outside yourself, so profound that it can make you physically ill.”

“Right.” I say.

“So that you feel a kind of joy, almost. For the terrible humiliation the other person is provoking inside of you.”

“Sure.” I say.

“Anyway.” says Ludlow. “That is what myself and Hanz were feeling basically, on the call.”

“I’m sorry.” I say.

“No it’s O.K.” Hanz waves a hand looking mournful “It can be enlivening, the feeling.”

“I was enlivened.” Volunteers Ludlow.

Madison is the only person who was present who seems happy with my performance.

“Don’t let yourself or your role be degraded, David.” She says.


“You are exactly where you belong, right here.” She gives me a strange sideways hug.

I begin taking Urdu and Portuguese in a language school at night despite my feelings of abjection. I buy copies of the Lusiades and The Book of Disquiet. Stare at the words willing them to yield something. Comb them over with my eyes that see. The sentences do not yield. They lay flat and dead on the page.

I anticipate my one-on-one meeting with the new CIO, my only love, with displaced dread. If she has no need of faulty recorders I cannot ascertain what use I can be to her. The same must be occurring to Kash. Still, I toil at my night classes. I arrange my desk in an orderly way in anticipation of some great project. The day comes and I am summoned to attend a video call.


“As-salamu alaykum.” I say full of false brio.

“Um.” Says Kash, positioned in front of a white background with our new company logo.

“I have been taking Urdu.” I explain.

“Have you?” She looks surprised. “I think you will like Urdu.”

“Why is that.” I ask.

“It is practically impossible to abuse someone in Urdu. We almost don’t have the words for it.”

She is wearing a sweater that matches the logo of the company. Her hair is held back in a ponytail.

“Anyway, I have been thinking.” She begins, flattening her affect, scratching a cheek “Are you being used, David?”

She must see on my face that I don’t understand the question because she presses on.

“Do you feel that in your current capacity you are made useful?”

I say nothing.

“Or, I’ll put it like this: do you crave to be of use? Does it occupy you?” she purses her lips 
“The place I’m from has known brutal occupations. The British, the Portuguese, both gone now. It is by definition a state of violence. So, is your heart occupied David? Are you occupied?”

“Well.” I say.

“It seems to me you are a pain that rages without hurting.” She says. “That you cannot hardly decide for yourself whether it would be superior to quit yourself of the pain or avail yourself of the hurt. That that’s a rather pathetic way to have to go about living.”

“Yikes.” I say.

She sits, inclined slightly backward, peering at me. I tap my larynx with an index finger, watch a fat black fly zip across the open floor plan and adhere his little pulvilli to the side of a particle board wall mounted on Allen screws fused to the brackets by rust.

“Yes.” I say finally.

“Yes what.”

“Yes, I want to be of use. Above all else, it is what I want, have wanted, yes.”

“O.K.” she says slowly, “Then, I have a job for you.”

I straighten.

“A job.”

“A new job. I need, how do you say it, an honest broker.”

“A…sorry, what.”

Kash nods as if this accords with some previous impression she’d had of me.

“I am restructuring. I’m going to create a board and issue shares to the employees. And each share I issue will come with a vote, and all the votes totaled up will be equal to my vote, to the accumulation of my shares. And then.” She purses her lips. “There will be you.”

“You want to promote me from an entry level position to chairman of the board.”

She plows ahead as if she has not heard my question.

“I have already sat down with a lawyer to draw up the arrangement. It is quite simple. One hundred and forty-one shares issued. Seventy distributed.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand why.” I say.

“You don’t have to understand. But you do need to be of use, David. You need to for once avail yourself of a useful agony. Do you think you can do that for me?”

“For you?”

She appears to be only half-paying attention, her eyes wandering around the unseen reaches of the Goa office.

Finally, because it seems I am expected to speak, I say: “Why me?”

“Candidly?” she says looking back at the screen. “You seem hardly to exist. I have a feeling if you were murdered, you would feel some modicum of loyalty to your murderer. You are a nonperson David. Honest broker, the term could have been created with you in mind.”

“Ah.” I say. “O.K. Well, give me some time to think about it.”

“Imagine,” her eyes widen, “you were to find a person drowning. That you threw them a life raft and that the drowning man looking at the raft says to you ‘give me some time to think about it.’”

“Would I have to relocate.” I say.

“No.” She shakes her head. “You would be my extension. My remotest sensibility. My ghost in America. How does that sound?” Her eyes bore into me. “I need your answer. You cannot sleepwalk into this next part. I need you to open your mouth and tell me.”

I open my mouth and tell her.

Word gets around rather quickly and I am waylaid en route to my new office by Hanz and Ludlow.

“Hark.” Says Ludlow

“If it is not Le Grand Poobah.” Hanz says.

“The Large Camembert.” Ludlow says.

“In Spanish they say El que corta el bacalao, or he that cuts the codfish.” Hanz says.

“On his way to the C-Suite, I expect.”

“Hello.” I say.

“I hope you know this doesn’t change the way we view you.” Ludlow says.

“Of course.” I say.

“The way Ludlow and I are viewing you is basically like: we are all equals here, none better than the rest.” Hanz explains.

“Right.” I say.

“Still what a thrill.” Ludlow says. “And really unexpected.”

“An unexpected and improbable thrill.” Hanz concurs. “And we are right behind you the whole way, obviously.”

“Putting shoulder to the wheel for you, boss.” Ludlow says giving a crisp salute.

“Thanks to you both.” I say nervously.

“Oh do not hardly mention it.” Ludlow says smiling.

I have more and more meetings with Kash to prepare for the final announcement. She looks very tired all the time.

“Restructuring has been a bear.” She confesses. “And the thesis committee says my topic is derivative.”

“You should cut yourself some slack.” I say.

“I don’t have time for slack.” She remarks. Then smiles unexpectedly.

“But I’ve liked meeting with you.” She squints past her lenses at me on the screen. “Spending time with you feels like cutting myself slack.”

“Oh.” I say.

Kash laughs.


The general mood around the office following this week’s announcement is one of elation and boundless potential. Having a 49% say in how the company is run, a sense that as the fortunes of the company rise so do the fortunes of the individual employees, has generated an enormous quantity of good will, both towards Kash as CIO and her decision to appoint me, as board chairman. Even Madison was issued one share, one vote (though it provoked in her rather the opposite reaction) just as everyone else.

“I just would like to say there are absolutely zero hard feelings around here.” One coworker tells me in the elevator. “I could not be happier that you have found your niche, finally.”

I thank her and in my nervous state neglect to get out on the correct floor.

“How are things around the office.” Kash asks during our next check-in.

I tell her that the mood is unusually chipper. “Good, I’m glad.” She says.

“What is next.” I say.

She begins to tell me but her connection goes out. I receive a text that there’s been a brown-out in Goa covering half the metropolitan area, and that they should be back online in a few hours.

I receive a knock on the door and our old founder enters without waiting.

“David we must talk.” Madison says smiling.


“What an extraordinary gift you’ve been given.”

“Thanks.” I say.

“No one is more deserving than you.” She says.

“Wow.” I say.

“Here is the thing.” she says.

“Yeah.” I say.

“We have, in this office, some fifty odd shareholders, including myself, with another twenty over there in Goa.”

“Correct.” I nod.

“Now David.” Madison traces her hand along the front of the desk. “That means if we, the new shareholders can band together, and call a vote of No Confidence regarding the current CIO, that she could be replaced effective immediately depending on which side you, the chairman, came down on.”

“Oh.” I say.

“David, if we can get those twenty-some people in the Goa office on board, I feel very confident we could persuade everyone here in Duluth, and finally claw our company back.”

I rearrange my hands in my lap.

“Do you think so.” I ask, making my voice perfectly even.

Madison punches me playfully on the arm.

“This is a matter of people acting in rational self-interest. I guarantee you the two of us can concoct an agreement that would be acceptable to every last rational, self-interested employee here at the company. If you make an announcement, people will trust you. They will follow your leadership.”

She smiles. I do not say anything right away.

“David.” she says, “I am not exactly getting the collaborative, yes-and energy that I desire from you, right this second.”

“Do we not maybe think we as shareholders should let Kashfiya continue to try her hand at corporate stewardship.”

Madison’s face becomes very still and pale.

“What.” she says.

“Just.” I say, trying surreptitiously to toe my rolling chair away from her low-hung face. “Ought we not perhaps extend Kash the same generosity that she herself displayed here, in making us shareholders.”

“It is not often that total unfuckability is paired with this caliber of dim-wittedness.” Madison says.

“Well.” I say taken aback.

“Do you have no idea why you’ve been promoted.”

“I am an honest broker.” I say.

“You are a U.S. citizen.” She says. “You are a walking liability shield. When she wants to extract some regulatory benefit, you have standing here in America. The moment someone sues, it is your name atop the marquee, in big, bold letters.”

“Is that true.” I ask slowly.

“For me, I made mistakes. I built everything myself, depended wholly on myself. Mine was the vision, mine was the gumption, and perhaps as a result you all got the sense that I saw you as vassals or something. That was a mistake.” She says.

“I don’t think she would have promoted me if she did not believe in me, in my judgment.” I say.

“Oh dear. Oh” Madison says her eyes alighting softly on something. “You love her.”

“I would not say that exactly.” I object, my face reddening.

“That is it. You are in love with her.”


“David, do you realize how strange it is that the Chairman of the Board should be appointed by the CIO, as opposed to voted-on by the shareholders.”

“Well.” I say again.

“Do you even know what your duties are, to the shareholders, the company, regulatory bodies. Do you understand basic roles and responsibilities?”

“Um.” I say. “I am reading up on a lot. I have put my language classes on hold, to more fully focus.”

She purses her lips, says sympathetically: “You are a cowish fuck-up David. Now you have failed stratospherically upward to become king of all the cowish fuckups. And it could be,” she nods “extraordinarily, that this girl saw some beautiful, buried thing in you, that no one else can see. That could be. Or it could be that this person, who has never met you, invited you to dinner and now is asking you to sit on a bed of lettuce.”

Madison smiles and it is like her old smile from when she was our boss, our old CIO, and would beneficently purchase lahmacun for us all following some conflict mediation. Her eyes are fixed on mine.

“Which, do you imagine, is more likely David?”

My computer begins making a noise. The power has come back on in Goa, apparently.

“I choose love.” I say, but the words sound hollowed out and lame.

Madison laughs meanly, then excuses herself with a fake curtsy.

“Sorry.” Kash says into a microphone as she reappears.

“I was thinking.” I say. “What if I relocate to Goa.”

“This is, as we’ve already covered, a nonstarter.”

“O.K.” I say.

“Are you alright.” She says. “You sound strange. Turn on your camera.”

I reach forward and touch the camera and so doing appear.

“Here you are.”

“Here I am.”

From the Goa office our Chief Innovation Officer smiles and she is looking at me I know for there is no one else on the screen.


Jesse Salvo

Jesse Salvo is a writer and editor living in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. He is the senior fiction editor for BULL Magazine and his first novel, Blue Rhinoceros, was published in 2022.

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Jesse Salvo