Regan was waiting at the bar. Nadine would be arriving soon enough. She had said she would meet him there soon as she could get away.
The bartender had left a glass of whiskey in front of him and moved down to the other side of the waitress station. He was assiduously washing glasses and ignoring Regan. Earlier he had tried to engage in some good-natured banter about sports, then politics, then women, but Regan had uttered only monosyllabic replies. It was his usual means of indicating he had no interest in talking especially to someone like this bartender whom he considered a lower form of life and of no value to Regan whatsoever.
Regan had always preferred his solitude and after the departure of the bartender he had to admit an afternoon in a dark bar, mostly deserted, was a pleasant enough way to while away a few hours. He sipped his beer and considered the meeting at the lawyer’ office. Something had not been right about all the legal mumbo jumbo. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he felt there was a hole there, somewhere. It didn’t add up. Everything sounded right, but the logic behind the conclusions the others seemed to reach was flawed. Somehow it didn’t necessarily follow. There was nothing inevitable about the outcome the lawyer described though the people at the meeting assumed it was.
His sister would figure it out if anyone could. She was relentless. It was her special gift. At least as to matters related to money. As related to men, well, that was a whole other story. She didn’t do so well in that department.
Nadine, he knew, liked handsome men. Big muscles, big chests and small brains. Imprudently she was always in love with her latest find. Inevitably, she gave them too much of herself, got way too involved in their lives and turned possessive. And she had a bad habit of sharing too much of her wealth. Spent freely, impulsively conferred elaborate gifts on them. Fortunately, the terms of the allowances the old man set up and she relied on for funds limited her foolishness in this regard. And, good thing, the objects of her affections never reciprocated the intensity of her affectations in kind and she, in turn, inevitably grew frustrated and tired of them.
It usually cost her a few bucks to get them to go away. That was no great loss. Except for this last relationship. It had gotten very physical. Left her with a bruised cheek and chipped tooth. And that guy had been, by her account, her favorite of all time. Regan thought she must deep down like a bit of the rough trade. It was okay with him if she did. His own tastes in relationships weren’t exactly conventional.
There was a sudden flood of sounds from the street and just as quickly it stopped. He knew the door to the bar had opened and closed. Looking up in the mirror over the back of the bar, he watched as his sister walked toward him. He had to admit she was an attractive woman. Nice hair. Very black, lots of curl. She dressed well. A little slim and a might too severe, intense, around the mouth. But she knew how to carry herself and could turn the eyes of most men. As she approached him, she was scanning the interior of the bar. He suspected she was determining if any of the lonely patrons nursing their precious drink in an afternoon’s purloined time were acquainted with her.
She sat down on the bar stool next to him and spoke in a loud firm voice, “A vodka martini, Absolute, dry.” She hadn’t deigned to look at the bartender must less say “please.” The bartender heard her though and looked up from his task, directly at her for a minute nonplussed, then shrugged, turned to the shelves back of the bar and took down a bottle of Absolute and began his mixing.
“That was some bullshit today,” she said.
“What do you think about what he’s doing?”
“He’s a fool. And all that family love tripe is getting old. Old! Old like him and foolish. Foolish!”
“Sounds like we will do okay.”
Her response was sharp, and he was taken aback by its intensity.
“And okay is enough for you?”
‘Well, I didn’t say that, but what choice do we have?”
“There’s always choices. He’s making his choice and I’m betting it will give us choices too. The main thing is we have to stick together. You and me. Trust each other. We are Brother and Sister here. Otherwise those two business partners will move in. And I’m not letting that happen. Crabtree is a grasping bitch. I know what she wants. And the old phony Willits, he’s smart but not in these ways. And he hasn’t had a new idea in decades. He needs to be put out to pasture. I’m thinking it’s time for the company to go in a different direction.”
Regan heard the statement about trust and ignored it. Yes, he was her brother and that meant he knew all about Nadine. He wasn’t that much of a fool. He noticed she didn’t include the other brother, Dylan, in her fulminations about familial loyalty. But he didn’t mention it. No matter. His sister was smart; he would stick with her. Well, at least until she got it figured out and then he would get his part, his due. He would make sure of that. Sister or no sister.
“So, what now?”
“There’s somebody I want to us to see. I heard about him when the old man got in legal trouble with that tramp the last time. He was on the other side. This guy is real aggressive. Strong. Good lawyer. Wrung every last dime he could out of the old man. No mercy at all. I want him representing our interests.”
“Don’t be an idiot. Of course, he’s expensive. But there’s a lot involved here. “The Kingdom,” the old man likes to call it. It’s up for grabs. So, yeah, he’s expensive but it will be worth it.” She paused, “Handsome looker too.”
“Yeah, well, if he’s going to be our lawyer, keep your bloomers on for once.”
She frowned at him but didn’t contradict his admonition. He continued, “So how we going to pay him without the others, especially Father finding out about it? All our money is restricted by the terms of our allowances. The accountants know what we spend and mostly what we spend it on. If it’s that much they will start asking questions.”
“We’ll figure it out. Right now, my priority is to get a copy of those Trust papers, so he can start working on it.”
“How are you going to do that? Pops and that fat lawyer Easley won’t let us know until he actually pulls the plug and he’s taking about hanging around for months, maybe longer.”
“Don’t worry about it. I have my ways.”
The bartender set her martini in front of her. She ignored him. He moved back to his place at the other end of the bar. She stared at the drink for a few moments without touching it. Regan wondered what she was thinking about at that precise moment. About the Trust provisions, what the old man had said at the meeting or about the handsome lawyer? He wondered if the attorney had big arms and shoulders like she preferred. Probably. And he bet he lifted weights at a fitness center each morning before donning his tailored suits and strutting off to court. He would be her type.
Nadine picked up the martini. She held it delicately in one hand and with her other hand plucked out the plastic toothpick and sucked an olive off the stem. She then sipped. She smiled satisfied. She glanced at the barkeep. He was watching her. He had seen her smile. He nodded his head and returned to washing glasses in the sink.
“Now, listen.” She was refocusing. “We need some discipline here. No one can know but us.”
“I thought Pops was keeping control anyway. Partial he said, but you know he wants to be around. “The Kingdom” he calls it for sure, but he also, most times, calls it, “His Kingdom.” He gets a big kick out of that. I don’t ever see him giving that up.”
“Yeah, well,” she said as she took another sip. “What he wants to be and where he’s going to be and what we want and where we want him to be might differ a little.” She licked her lips. “Dam, this is a good martini.” She spun around and looked at each of the patrons table by table. Edmund thought she was scouting. After she completed her survey, her mouth turned down in disappointment not seeing any likely conquests among the alcoholics and other denizens of an afternoon bar, scattered randomly among the tables and booths.
“Tell you what, it’s almost Five. Let’s have another drink, or two, and see if this place gets any livelier. What say you, Brother Dear?”
Regan looked at the clock behind the bar. It was only 4 o’clock. He said, “You know me, I’m always game.”
“Yes,” she said with an ironic smile, “I know you like your games alright.”
Lenny King drove his BMW all the way around the circle drive past the front of the family mansion. He stopped the car and just looked. Like he did every day, he was once again enjoying the view of the lake in the distance, just at the edge of his property. He liked listening to the car’s finely tuned engine idle. He put it in reverse and backed it up to the sidewalk beneath the stairway that lead to the very tall, very expensive, very ornate French doors. Parking his car in “getaway mode”, as he called it, was an affectation of his teenage years.
He always thought it reflected his wealth and privilege to have his car backed up to the front rather than having to back out of the driveway later, which was decidedly “unprivileged.” The color of the car was special too. The sun brought out all the deep stains of purplish blue buried in the expensive paint job he had special ordered from Italy.
Walking into his front foyer, he thought again of how much he missed wife Edna. She was always there to greet him with a smile and a hug even though his conduct sometimes, while he was away from home, made him less than deserving. No matter now. Her affection, it turned out, was all for nothing. She was gone, and he was here, and he could do as he please and not feel guilty about it. Not in the least. But he did miss her stepping out into the hallway or coming down the wide stairs to meet him with arms outstretched and, if he was in the mood to permit it, a kiss on the cheek and the smile. He had liked her smile.
“Hey Dad.” It was Dylan, his youngest coming out of the library situated just off the grand hallway.
Dylan was a good kid. A lot of Edna was in the boy. More her than Lenny for sure. There was no ruthlessness in Dylan. Not like Nadine or Regan. His youngest was always happy and satisfied. He was consistently upbeat, optimistic, and friendly with everyone. In every way, since he was a kid, he had shown he genuinely loved his family.
The loss of Edna, his mother, had hit him harder than the rest. They had been the true soul mates in Lenny’s castle. For some weeks, he had moped, taking long walks around the compound, not eating with his usual robust enthusiasm. But in his usual “Dylan” fashion he rallied, he got over it, like he usually did with all misfortune. He had put himself back together and now it was the warm greeting of his son Lenny King came home to everyday. It didn’t make him happy. Not like it had with Edna.
“Dylan, I thought you had school today.”
Dylan shrugged in reply. As far as his Father could tell Dylan had no identifiable ambitions. He was content. Where ever he was and whomever he was with, like his mother had been, he was content.
Lenny for years thought the youngster was either autistic or very slow. Whatever it was, he wasn’t normal. And it wasn’t like he was lazy. He would work very hard when the circumstances warranted it, or the project interested him, but he had no ambition to turn that hard work into personal or corporate profit.
When he was small, Lenny had, over Edna’s strident objections, had him tested. Three times Lenny had insisted he be taken to different specialists and tested for autism or some other condition. On each occasion, the doctors and the psychiatrists reported the same conclusions. Bottom line, they said, he was of average intelligence and the rest was just his nature.
Siring a child with no ambition. You couldn’t have convinced Lenny in a million years that was possible. Lenny had always been driven. To get ahead. To make a buck. Then to make the next buck. And another. And if some of his schemes failed and failed miserably, and others, when his ambitions overrode his good sense, got him into trouble, well, that’s what lawyers were for.
He paid his lawyers handsomely to extricate him from the whatever the latest legal morass he got himself into and he was on to the next plan. It never mattered to Lenny that he occasionally encountered failures. Lenny had always thought that he just had to have a couple of hits, a scheme or two to work, and the wealth he needed, the power he craved would be his. And he was right.
He figured his other two children understood business. The middle one, Regan, the snooty one, especially enjoyed his father’s stories of maneuvering some hapless fool out of his property or money. And Nadine, his oldest, well, she was the smartest and probably the most like him. He couldn’t always tell what she was thinking like he could with his other offspring, but in her actions, he often saw himself.
But Dylan? Well, he didn’t just not understand, or maybe he did and just didn’t care all that much. So, he went to school.
He progressed steadily in his college courses, never exactly shining academically, but not failing either. The studies he pursued, literature, history, were useless in the real world, but Lenny had a not too secret ambition to funnel him into law. He had paid out enough lawyers’ fees over the years to conclude the law could provide a good living. The boy could have a nice life even without the burning, driven, closed fist ambition it took to get ahead and stay ahead in the business world. But it never happened. Dylan became a professor instead. A teacher for crying out loud.
“No. I didn’t go to class today because we had the meeting at Mr. Easley’s office.”
Lenny nodded. He should know that. He thought he must be tired not to realize the connection.
“Dylan, what did you think about the meeting today?”
Before he could answer, Lenny stopped him. He had heard a sound in the pantry and it reminded him his new live-in cook, as well as the maid, was present in the house. He pointed at the library and walked through the door and stepped to the side. Dylan followed him, and Lenny closed the door behind him.
“Sure, Dad. I guess I didn’t really understand a lot of it.”
Lenny felt a momentary confusion before he remembered he had just asked a question that Dylan was answering. That had happened a few times lately.
“Well, it’s about taking care of you kids. You know your share of the company is going to set you up for life. I want to suggest again that you shall we say, revise your studies. Forget this teaching thing. Master something that will help you protect your wealth. Let’s get you into something like say the Law. I can make some calls.”
Dylan didn’t reply at first. He appeared to be thinking. It was as if Dylan had retreated to that dream like state that irritated Lenny when it occurred. Just happily floating along. Edna used to do the same dam thing.
“I don’t really want any of it, Dad.”
Lenny looked at him hard.
“What do you mean? Don’t want what?”
“The money. The business. I don’t need it.”
What do you mean? It’s there for you. For all of you. It’s what I’ve been working for all these years.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth, but Lenny liked the sound of that.
“Dad, I love you. You know that. I want to do what makes you happy, but I don’t need it. It should go to someone who needs it, who wants that kind of life. You can give it all to Nadine and Regan if you want. It’s just not for me. I wouldn’t know what to do with all that money. And the business part? It would be more than I can handle.”
Despite himself, Lenny felt the old anger rising. What an ungrateful little whelp! Lenny ought to just leave him high and dry. That would show the dummy. But then Lenny thought of Edna and how she doted on the boy. He owed it to her, he supposed, not to mistreat Dylan too much, like Lenny had mistreated Edna. He attempted to quite his tone.
“Look, Son, I’m splitting my business kingdom into three parts. Each of you will have authority to run your portion as you see fit and make it even bigger and better. I tell you, go out and learn the law. You would fit right in. You’re good with words. You know what else? It would make you the best qualified and, you know, I bet you could get the whole business under your own control, just you, one day. Like after I’m gone.”
Lenny knew he was coming across too intense. He was confusing his own ambition with what he thought other people wanted. He had done it again. He sought to inject a little humor to relieve the tension.
“Going to keep my hand in until then of course. It’s still my baby, after all.” He smiled at his youngest. Who smiled back, but then he was always smiling. He smiled too much in Lenny’s opinion.
“I don’t want it Dad. Truly. I wouldn’t be any good at it. I would just like to stick around here. Teach my courses at the college. I’m up for tenure, you know. Take care of you. Like Mom would want me too. Watch after things here. I can take a few classes on the side. I might even take a law class or two if that will make you happy. But I don’t want the rest of it. I really don’t.”
The anger was back. Maybe a threat, some reality, would wake this little shit up. He had coddled the boy for Edna’s sake too long.
“Well, this is what I want and if you are my son and love me then you will do what I say and drop this crap at the college and get to law school, that way you can have some idea of how to manage what I’m giving you. You don’t do this maybe you aren’t my son after all. And don’t deserve anything.”
That hurt Dylan. He looked down at the floor. The young man was nervous. He looked up once at Lenny and then down, studying the back of his hands. After a few moments he shook his head side to side.
“No Dad. That’s not the kind of love I want from you. I loved you before and I love you now but the level of love I have doesn’t change with money or position. It just is, you know.”
“No. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just let you be and not give you a dam thing. How’d that be? How’d you like that? You can teach night courses or hustle tables at the lunch counter to pay your god dam way.”
Lenny was working himself into a lather. He recognized the symptoms of being out of control. Of his temper getting the best of him. It had happened more of late. And surprisingly in matters that had nothing to do with business. In the past it happened only in a business setting and was sometimes why he got into legal trouble and had to call his lawyer to get him out of the quicksand. Always. Always costs a lot of money. Didn’t stop him then though and, by God, it wasn’t going to stop him now.
“There’s your choices,” Lenny said. His voice was firm. “Do this the way I told you or get out.”
Dylan looked at him bewildered. “Get out?”
“Yeah. Get the hell out, you ungrateful shit. Go rent a room in town. I will pay the first two months. I will have you stuff shipped over to you, but I want you out of my house right now.”
And Lenny was up and strolling to his car. He didn’t even remember storming out of the library, where his son sat stunned and forlorn. Lenny wouldn’t let himself think about the hurt on his son’s face.
He was glad the big powerful car was backed in. He started it and hit the gas and with spinning tires he was around the fountain and down the driveway and out on the tree lined road in seconds.
His youngest son, who had just been disinherited and ordered out of the house where he grew up, sat in the library looking at his father’s now empty chair.
Would his Father relent? Probably. But it would take Dylan submitting to his demands. He didn’t want to do that. He didn’t think he could, but maybe he would try.
He thought of his brother and sister and hoped this hadn’t happened to them. He was concerned so he reached for the phone. He would call Nadine. She would know what to do. She could be trusted.