Chapters 32, 33, & 34 of “A King’s Trust”, a novel I am publishing online
The King in a Foreign Land Considers his Return
“I went to San Diego with Marcy. You knew about that.” Dylan glanced up at Teresa. Lenny did too. Her expression never changed.
“Everything was alright for a few days. She had that wound to her side. She got it when they she tried to pull them off Willets. At least that’s what she said. I got knocked down. I couldn’t see what was happening. Anyway, everything was pretty calm. I didn’t try to call any of you. I guess I just didn’t want to deal with any of it. Then one afternoon when I got home to the apartment, her father was there. And someone else. Lenora Crabtree. From your office.”
Lenny was stunned. He certainly hadn’t expected to hear that Crabtree was keeping company with Marcy’s father. Something major had to have happened. Lenny’s mind turned over the possibilities. Automatically. Like the old days. Crabtree might have been sent to the meeting by Nadine. Possible. That would mean Marcy’s father and Nadine were now aligned. Possible. But there was another possibility. Maybe Nadine had been betrayed. Could Marcy’s father have given Crabtree enough motivation to turn on Nadine? Sure, he could. With Crabtree it had always been about the money. Lenny had always counted on that. Marcy’s father, if what everyone said was true, had few limits on providing that kind of motivation.
“What was she doing there?”
“I’m not sure. Dad, you know I didn’t want to be involved with all that. Especially right then. But yeah, even so, I was surprised to see her there. I couldn’t guess why she was there with Marcy’s father. All of them at our little apartment.”
“Well, her father told me we needed to talk. I told him, you know, like I always do, always say to everybody, to just not involve me. I want no enemies. Business isn’t my thing. That was for Marcy. I just want to teach, you know, have my friends, my family. And be left alone.”
“What did her father say to that?”
“I remembered he just stared at me. Didn’t smile, didn’t frown, didn’t say anything. That’s’ when Marcy said that wasn’t going to be possible anymore.”
He glanced back up at Teresa. Her expression never changed. He then looked back at Lenny and continued.
“She said I was going to have to make some choices. I couldn’t be a coward forever. She actually called me a coward.”
Dylan took a deep breath. Relating what happened was clearly painful for him. Teresa looked on. She shifted her weight and then leaned back against the doorframe. She moved again like she was uncomfortable.
“You know until then I thought she was okay with me staying out of things. Sure, I knew she wasn’t just a student; she was more than that. But I thought we, the two of us, had something different, at school and not at school, you know, off campus. I definitely realized she had interests in her father’s affairs, the business side, but she never really bothered me with that stuff. I figured because I had said so many times I just didn’t like it.”
For the first time Teresa spoke up.
“And now you see what it gets you, Nene. I hate that stuff too, but we have to keep our eyes open; we got to see. Your Marcy was right about that part.”
She walked over and sat down next to Dylan on the couch. Lenny wondered at the meaning of the name she called him. Whatever it was, it sounded like a term of endearment. Lenny found he was comfortable with her presence and taking part in the conversation. She had rescued him. When she didn’t have to. He felt intensely loyal to her, her whole family, feelings he usually didn’t have at all, much less someone he had known such a short time. But it felt natural. This all felt natural.
She still had the towel in her lap. She sat close to Dylan and angled her body toward him but without touching. He looked at her and then at Lenny and continued.
“I remember Marcy pulled a chair out from the kitchen table for me and I sat down. She remained standing. I was waiting but she didn’t sit down. Then her father and the Crabtree woman sat down at the table. He was across, and she was next to me.”
Lenny nodded. “And you felt surrounded.”
“Yes. And that Crabtree, she had some papers there. She put them in front of me. When I asked her what they were, Marcy’s father jumped in and said, that’s what we want to talk to you about.”
“Did you read them?”
“Not really, I asked, again, what they were.”
“What did they say?”
“They told me they were the ownership papers for my stock, all what they called my “assets and interests” in your business. The also used the term “waivers.” I kind of guessed at what that meant. They said I might need them on file if I ended up in what they named a Probate court should you, my father, unexpectedly pass away.”
That got Lenny’s attention.
Before he could say anything, Dylan pressed on, “I know, I know. I said, well, actually I got really upset and I may have yelled, what do you mean by that? And I stood up and started to leave.”
Dylan paused in what he was saying and looked down at the carpet. He sat there for a few moments shaking his head. His next attempt to speak got stuck in a kind of choke. Neither Lenny nor Teresa said anything.
Dylan found his voice and began again. “When I tried to leave, Marcy stood in my way. Between me and the door. She said, and you know she said it real sarcastic, I never saw her do that before. She said, I remember her exact words, look, Dylan, Love. This is what you always wanted. You want out, well, here it is, a way out. Dad is going to cut a check for you for a cool million dollars and all you have to do is sign those fucking papers right there on the table.”
Lenny knew what came next and he couldn’t wait for Dylan to finish. He had to ask. “Well, did you? Did you sign?”
Dylan paused and looked at his father.
“I told them I didn’t know what you would say, what Nadine and you, would both say. They said you don’t matter anymore anyway and as to Nadine, they didn’t get specific, but said she might not like it, but she would have to be okay with it eventually, and that I shouldn’t worry. I could go back to teaching. And be out of all this and I wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore. Ever.”
Dylan paused again and gathered himself. “You know I thought going down there, well, Marcy and I would be together on everything, but when I looked at her she wasn’t with me, it was like she had never been with me. She was part of them, teamed with them. She seemed very ugly to me right then.”
Teresa reached over and patted Dylan’s hand then returned it to her lap. Lenny realized she had heard this before. Dylan had told her everything already.
Dylan, said, “when I told them I wanted to wait and talk it over with someone they said there was no time, and this was a one-shot deal. Sign it, they said. Loud. Marcy was really loud. I asked what happens if I don’t and they said, they said, you, Dad, might end up like Willets. And did I want that?”
It was quiet for a few moments.
“What did you do, Dylan?”
“I was afraid for you, Dad. At first, before they said that, I thought I should just sign and get out of it, and you would not be hurt that way. I guess I was weak. But right then I didn’t know if I could trust them. Marcy was different. Mrs. Crabtree, she was different. You know from what they were like before. And Marcy’s father. The way he was looking at me. It scared me. A lot. I just didn’t know that if I signed like they wanted, I didn’t know if I could believe them, believe they wouldn’t hurt you even if I did sign. Once I signed, what could I do if they did?”
Dylan paused for a moment and then added. “And I guess a part of me was afraid of what you would think of me if I did that to you, signed away my, our, interests in the corporation.”
Lenny smiled at that and waited.
“Well, I didn’t sign. I told them No. Then Marcy got mad. I never saw her like that before either. She called me a fool, tore up the check in front of my face and then she said, pushed, here is something else for you and she dropped a bus ticket on the floor. She told me I might as well have it. They were going to give it to me anyway if I didn’t sign. And she just walked out. Like that. All three left.”
“So, you came home?”
“Not at first. I guess I just moped around the apartment for a couple of days. A couple moving guys came for her things. I called to talk to you, ask what I should do, but no one could find you. I actually used the bus ticket and I came home. Then Teresa called me at the college. Said you were here.”
Lenny pushed the mower up the slanted driveway and through the open iron gates, across the patio that ran along the side of the mansion and to the edge of the lawn behind the house. He pushed the button on the side of the mower the way Florencio had shown him. The starter on the mower engaged and it sputtered to life. He released the lever at the handle and the self-propelled mower pulled him forward. The surprising power of the engine pulled him along almost at a trot. This certainly wasn’t pushing a mower. On the contrary, his main concern was being careful he didn’t lose control of the mower, overshoot the edge of the lawn, and muck up the flowerbeds.
Back and forth across the vast lawn he went, getting used to the level of acceleration depending on how much he released the lever. He fell into a nice brisk rhythm. After each turn he passed Florencio and his son in among the flowers, gardens, hedges and small ornamental trees, using power trimmers to prune and shape all along the side of the property. The hedge had to be fifteen feet tall. The owners must treasure their privacy. Well, hadn’t Lenny felt the same when he lived in a mansion no less elaborate than this one?
Lenny liked this part of the work. His mind was free to go where it wanted. He had forgotten that benefit of physical labor. It was a good time to think. Once you set about doing the task, got the tools working, it was then a simple job. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. It couldn’t be hurried and be done right, it couldn’t be shortened and be complete. It was a specific job to do and if you had the skills and tools, concentration on the task at hand didn’t have to be total. You could look forward in your life, keep your eye on the horizon, even check behind you and still do the job and do it well. It must have been a sense developed when humans had to till the crops or skin the latest kill, but still pay attention to the mountain ridge or the forest where threats might reside and be waiting to spring forward to destroy and kill any moment.
Lenny’s mind went to the last four weeks he had stayed with Florencio. Once he started feeling well, he asked to join his crew as they ventured forward each morning to do lawns and grounds keeping for his new list of clients. Florencio raised an eyebrow when Lenny said he wanted to go with them but didn’t try to argue him out of it. Lenny speculated Florencio felt he wouldn’t last through the first day what with the heat and hard work. But Lenny had wanted to do something, anything rather than sit around the house thinking of what had happened and trying to figure out a solution to all the problems his foolishness had caused.
Teresa had followed Dylan back to the campus. Dylan had called and said he was already back in the classroom, taking the place of an adjunct professor who had fallen ill. Teresa was staying on at the college. She, much to his delight, had two degrees, one in Spanish and one is Spanish literature and had been granted an interim junior college teaching credential. She got hired on assisting a language professor in putting together class lectures. She had even substituted for him.
After they left, Lenny had found himself all alone during the day and wanted something to do. Once he got used to it, he found the work therapeutic.
Bone tired at the end of the day he slept well. Had a good appetite. And it was getting easier. He also found that the labor was not that strenuous. Not with the modern equipment Florencio had in his truck.
Florencio seemed to treasure every tool that made his labor easier. He treated the equipment lovingly and carefully. Cleaning the mowers, edgers, trimmers often, changing the oil and gas every day and sometimes between jobs before he carefully put each tool away in his truck and the enclosed trailer he pulled behind. Lenny liked the mowing. He didn’t believe he had the skills necessary to trim and prune without ruining the plant or tree he was working on, but the mowing he could do. And it freed his mind to consider his situation. And see it as a whole. Not just one piece, but all the moves by all the players that had gone before, what was going on right now and what he needed to do in the future.
Edgar was hard at work setting up a few of those moves. In secret. They had decided on a plan and he was laying the foundation. No one would be watching Edgar. But they might be watching Lenny. Even though Lenny would appear to have been completely neutralized, mowing lawns with his former gardener, they couldn’t be completely sure, and Lenny suspected he was being watched, checked on.
Edgar had agreed. And Edgar wasn’t having to do everything himself. Dylan with the assistance of the able Teresa was also at work. They didn’t think anyone on either side, neither Nadine nor Marcy would consider Dylan enough of a threat to monitor. His history of assiduously avoiding becoming involved in anything remotely having to do with the business maneuvers and power plays had them convinced he would stay on the sidelines. They were mistaken.
Lenny had received calls from all the players. First Regan. Then Marcy’s father. Next, Nadine and when he didn’t respond, the calls became more frequent. Every day the phone would ring a number of times. He looked at the caller ID and ignored them. And now even the lawyers including the predatory Edmund were calling and leaving messages. They all knew where he was and obviously what he was doing, but not why. And they seemed to be nonplussed when he steadfastly refused to speak to them and returned not a single call, even though some of the messages they left were implied and increasingly express threats of dire legal consequences.
Lenny walking behind his mower smiled at the thought. What could they do to him, they had not already done? They had done so much, taken so much from Lenny, the legal threats meant little to him. He knew he still had a sizable stake in the company and Dylan’s refusal to join his shares to theirs had left it intact for now. They had no means to penetrate to the core of what was left. Nick Easley had seen to that on their behalf.
Having grown increasingly angry at being forced to the sidelines of his profession, Easley was starting to make small moves of his own to regain his former footing among in the local legal community. He had met with Lenny and Dylan secretly, and explored different ways of protecting them and fighting a legal holding action to prevent Nadine’s group from gaining absolute control of King Enterprises. The strategy he offered was to create a living trust for Lenny and Dylan. It would require that they transfer title of the all their assets into the trust. And as Trustee Easley selected a longtime friend from his law school days, who was now a retired Federal Judge.
Not having control over a clear majority of shares, left Nadine and Regan having to constantly defend their legal position. They had to keep filing emergency affidavits to get the court orders they needed to operate the company. Fortunately, according to Easley, the court was issuing only temporary orders with specific time limits and they had to keep going back to court for more orders. The Judge with Lenny’s and Dylan’s shares being held back and with Willets tied up in probate, was powerless to issue the final orders for Nadine to permanently take control.
Lenny smiled at that. The Ice Queen was still a mystery to him. Just who’s side was she on anyway?
Lenny had been able to follow the legal maneuverings with daily updates from his lawyer. While Easley was keeping a low profile, purdently making himself a small target, he still had his contacts in the court clerk’s offices and with their help was able to access the court files electronically and analyze the motions and orders from afar and all without leaving a digital fingerprint. Plus, he had a few buddies in the legal profession who owed him a favor or two and who on a rotating basis stopped by the courtroom when there was hearing regarding the operation of King Enterprises. Ostensibly there on their own business they watched the proceedings and then reported back to the lawyer who then gave a daily briefing to Lenny.
The time was approaching when Lenny, Edgar and Dylan would need to make a few legal maneuvers themselves and then, no doubt, all hell would break loose. But in the meantime, Lenny followed the self-propelled mower back and forth across the lawns.
Feeling the mower get heavy and begin to lug a bit, he stopped and put the gear in neutral. He then moved to empty the grass clippings in a black plastic yard waste can he had left on the edge of the patio. As Lenny bent to re-attach the catcher to the back of the mower, he looked over and saw Florencio watching him, an enigmatic smile on his face. Florencio nodded at Lenny and then turned back to the small Japanese maple tree.
The pruning job on those trees, they had told Lenny, was delicate because if overdone the heat would burn the interior branches and damage the tree. Florencio often described the intricacies of special jobs as they sat at a burger place having lunch or leaned against the counter in his kitchen having a beer at the end of the day. Lenny had the feeling Florencio was not just talking about the shrubbery when he described how to do the work, how to prune and shape, without harming the living thing under the shears.
Back behind the mower, Lenny thought that Yes, this has to end soon, and I need to get back to where I was. I was a fool to act the way I did and give it all over in trust. Trust was a word he hadn’t known the real meaning of before his sojourn with Florencio’s family, but he knew it now and he suspected it would be the other side’s inability to trust each other that would lose them this battle.
That was all in the future, but soon enough. Still, Lenny felt he would actually miss this, the work, the actual physical labor. It wasn’t so bad, and he did sleep well.
Unlike Lenny King, Nadine was not sleeping well at all. She longed for the days when she could drink herself into a nice happy warm place with a handsome companion; the times she was free to engage in some sexual adventure with someone new, see them to the door and then drift off to sleep for hours with nothing to roust her until late in the afternoon, late enough for the hangover to have worn off.
But now she found she didn’t have the time, and worse, didn’t have the urge, to just walk off from her responsibilities, get drunk and get fucked.
She had worries. She had to worry that if she was away from the business, her brother would muck up something. Or that bitch Crabtree would maneuver around manipulating the staff and subtly working to undermine her authority.
And she worried Marcy’s father would finally make the big move Edmund had warned her they would make. How would she handle the defense of a full-scale hostile takeover of the company?
Two of the directors on the board had made Nadine aware that they had picked up on the fact a conglomerate had been buying up small chunks of King Company stock. He was moving slowly, being cautious, doing nothing to signal his intent to the broader investment community. He was following the usual strategy when there was an actual plan to gain control rather than just drive up the price of stock on the speculation a hostile takeover was looming. But Nadine knew the attack was coming. Edmund said it was. He had his contacts and they too were reporting on the positioning.
Another worry. Even her Edmund seemed a little too friendly, too accommodating to Marcy and her father. And that bitch Judge. When they appeared at a hearing last week and for the fourth time have her put off making a final decision eliminating Lenny and Dylan from any form of control in the company, it appeared Her Honor was also quite taken with the handsome Edmund, smiling and bantering back and forth, impressed with their own wit, while the rest of the courtroom waited.
And more worries. The Board of Directors, at first compliant and wanting to go along with virtually anything that wouldn’t negatively affect the stock price was becoming restive. The murder investigation going on for that old man Willets, had resulted in a team of detectives descending on the company headquarters and they were interviewing the management staff and asking questions.
And her Father. That was one she couldn’t figure out. She was getting weekly reports from the private investigation firm she had hired. She thought her Father must have lost the last of his mind. The former president of a company now mowing lawns for a living. Sure, she had boxed him in financially, but nothing that should lead to him work on a gardening crew! He could make a sizable chunk of change if he agreed to sell his stock to her. She had had Edmund send out feelers. Or, she also knew, he could sell to Marcy’s father who she also knew had sent out inquiries. She had even had the lawyers deliver threats to sue. But her Father hadn’t replied. No response at all. Nadine sometimes wished she had made the deal her father had proposed. Too late now. All that was passed. It happened before she had discovered the Crabtree woman was a traitor and Marcy’s father had started positioning his firm for a takeover of Nadine’s company. Yes, she had come to feel it was her company now. Not her Father’s.
All these worries made her tired. She sat on the side of her bed, attempting to marshal the energy it would take to get up and to walk in for her morning shower. Her thoughts were interrupted by the ringing phone.
She picked it up. It was Edmund.
“I have some more information on what your Father is up to. We need to talk. I want to move this all back to court. We need to get this resolved. Everything is at a standstill and we need to blast it loose.”
“I thought we tried that and that little blonde bitch of a judge you are so cozy with just keeps giving us temporary orders and telling us to come back. Can’t we get rid of her first?”
“She has the case by special assignment from the presiding judge. We have no grounds for having the case removed from her court. And trying to do it without a clear victory strategy is very risky. I don’t want to anger her right now. She might take it as an insult. Besides she will do right by us in the end. I’m sure of it. In fact, I guarantee it. Trust me on this.”
I don’t trust you, thought Nadine. I don’t trust anyone. Not ever. Never did and not going to start now especially some shyster who’s in it for the money, the fees, even if you do have big arms and big chest and pretty good size in other departments. No reason to trust anyone. Not one reason to expect any person to look out for her, to help her out of a jam. The only thing to really trust is that everyone will act in their own self-interest. Do what is best for them. That’s how you control them. Know what they want, what they need and work all your assumptions off that one truth.
No wonder I can’t sleep, she thought. I don’t have tight enough reins on all this to make sure I can trust people to do what I want them to do, because I have no control over what they are going to get out of it. Not with these damn court proceedings dragging on.
“Okay, then,” she said, “What happens now?”
“Lets’ meet, I can explain it then.”
“At the office, in two hours.”
Nadine put the phone down and thought about going back to sleep. Just lie back on the pillow and maybe get twenty minutes. It would be so welcome right now.
But she knew it wouldn’t work. She was already wondering what Edmund was wanting to talk about. What was he up to? And she wanted to get to the office and see if Regan had screwed up something or Crabtree had co-opted another department head. That woman needed to go. Nadine toyed with idea of walking in the door and firing her today, but she knew to offend her, make her an enemy could backfire. It would virtually guarantee that she would end up on the witness stand testifying to all she knew about Nadine’s moves to take over the company and raid her father’s assets. Something Nadine certainly didn’t want. No, she would have to wait, she would need patience in dealing with the Crabtree woman.
She knew from Edmund’s contacts Crabtree was talking to Marcy’s father. Had even joined him in trying to force Dylan’s hand and pay him off for signing over his shares to Marcy and her Father. As Edmund had explained, the woman’s double dealing, double agent stuff was understandable, but ultimately usable against her. They had time. She was positioning herself to go either way depending on which way the chips fell. If Nadine won, she had her position with the company and her new contract. If Marcy won, she had a good chance to become president of King Enterprises, a new subsidiary to Marcy’s father’s Corporation. But it was too early for her to pick either way. Still too many variables. Crabtree was a smart lady, but Nadine wasn’t through with her yet. There was time and there were ways to deal with women like her. Hadn’t they dealt with that fool Willets? Maybe some of that kind of direct action would be good for the arrogant Ms. Crabtree.
Going back to court, infused Nadine with a sense of dread. She had to rely on Edmund being right about the necessity of doing so, but she hated the lawyer stuff. She had at first thought she would be able to control the court proceedings like she had maintained control of every aspect of the removal of her Father from the company. But the Ice Queen, that’s what Edmund said everyone called this judge, kept throwing monkey wrenches into the mix. Edmund had said she was in the bag. Well, she obviously wasn’t. And what did that mean about him? How reliable was his judgement? He was paid for being right. And he hadn’t been right about her. So far.
He wasn’t to be trusted. She knew that, but what was he up to? She thought the money she had paid him, the sexual favors she had willingly given him would be enough. She had been wrong about that too. She had to admit she had lost control there too.
She couldn’t trust any of them. She felt like she would like to take them all and have them ground up beneath one of those mowers the investigator had reported her Father was showing such alacrity in operating.
She stood up. She dropped her robe and headed for the shower. Being the Queen of the kingdom hadn’t turned out to be that much fun after all. Not after the crown was won. Now she had to defend it. Harder than she thought. She wondered if the war to maintain power is ever won. Or is it never ending?
For more writings by Phil Cline or to read earlier chapters, visit philcline.com