Nick Easley, Attorney at Law, wiped his hands on his napkin. The napkin was well made, elegant, stiff, white. He placed it next to his plate. He reached in his coat pocket and pulled out his vibrating cell phone. Examining the face, he saw it was Lenny King calling. He looked with longing at his calamari. It needed to be consumed right now. It had just been brought to table. If he took the call, by the time he was off the phone, the calamari would be cold, rubbery, spoiled. He sighed.
“This is Easley. How are you, Lenny?”
“Nick, Nick did you know Nadine filed the trust papers? She’s got herself appointed interim President and is trying to take over the company. My company! What the hell is going on?”
The attorney was stunned. And he was skeptical. “What are you talking about? I haven’t filed anything. We aren’t going to file it in the Clerk’s office until you are ready. We can always change the effective date.”
Then it hit him. Was it a mistake to sign and date the document as a hedge in case anything happened to Lenny? Just as a precaution. Perfectly legal and prudent. Unless. Unless. As long as the trust papers were locked away in his office safe, but what if they did fall into the hands of someone else and were filed. They were legal then. The provisions would be operative. But no this couldn’t be. The paperwork was still in his office. In the safe. Wasn’t it?
“Look, Lenny, there has to be a mistake here. Let me check it out. You say it was filed in court. How do you know?”
“Crabtree. That traitor, Crabtree. Lenora Crabtree. She’s down here taking over. Moving me out, goddammit! She says it’s all been done. I’m out. I want this stopped right now, Nick. This is bullshit!”
“Okay. Okay. Let me find out. I’ll call you back.”
“I can’t just sit here. They are going to wheel me out on a hand truck pretty soon.”
Nick’s mind was racing. he could see problems developing even if he got the Trust set aside or a temporary injunction restraining its implementation. His client could turn out to be a real problem. Could hold him and his firm responsible. Could sue him for malpractice. He needed Lenny to slow down and get out of the line of fire, well actually away from the firing line.
“Listen, Lenny. I want you to get out of that building right now. You have two other children. They are part of the Trust. They have significant numbers of shares. You need to talk to them. Right now. Make sure they are with you. You might need them while we get this investigated. Until we can get it stopped. Sorted out. Call them. Go see them. But don’t, I repeat don’t start throwing stuff around down there. Throwing your weight around. Firing people and yelling and cussing at everybody. We are going to be in court and you don’t want to mess that up with some other lawsuits if we can avoid it.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll talk to my kids. At least then I will be doing something.”
“Right. There you go. Do it now. Where is Willets?”
“He’s here with me. He’s pissed too.”
“So, he’s with you? He’s still with you? I mean on your side?”
“Well, of course.”
Easley thought, thank God. With his shares, it would be all over if he didn’t back Lenny. He ended the call. He looked down forlornly at the ruined Calamari. And hit the speed dial for his office.
Marta answered. He was surprised. He had called on his direct line to his personal secretary. No one else was supposed to use it or be on the line. As he often explained, the private line was his life line. He wanted to be able to get through when he called the number.
“Uh. Mr. Easley. She came in right at eight. You were calendared for court this morning. We all know that. anyway, she gathered up her things from her office. A lot of it was already in boxes. We hadn’t noticed. They were in a closet. Anyway. She had a big man with her and they moved the boxes out. And she left a letter. An envelope anyway on your desk. It’s still there.”
“I see,” the lawyer said. In fact, he didn’t see at all. He was confused, but danger signals were sounding off in the back of his mind. His legal antenna had been up already, now it was positively pinging.
“Well, okay. I will be in the office in a few minutes.”
And then he thought of something.
“Uh, Marta. Can you see in my office from where you are at?”
“Well, put me on hold and go in there and put me on the speaker phone.”
“Okay. I’m in your office.” The voice had more echo coming through the speaker phone.
“You know where my safe is?”
“Check it. The door.”
He heard a click.
“Mr. Easley. I turned the handle. The safe was open. The door was open, not locked.”
“Are there things in it?’
“Yes. Some documents and things.” Nick now knew, however, some things, some very important things, were missing.
“Okay, just close it and spin the dial. That will lock it. I’m on my way.”
“One other thing, Mr. Easley. There is another letter. It came registered mail this morning.”
“Sir, see, with Maria leaving the way she did, and the letter being registered, we thought it important to, well, go ahead and open it. It might be something you needed to hear about.”
“The paralegal and I.” She never called her by name.
“It’s a notification, Mr. Easley. A formal notification. You have been relieved as General Counsel for King Corporation. There’s also a substitution of counsel form. A Mr. Oswald.”
“Who signed the sub form?”
When Lenny arrived home, he didn’t see any cars in the circular driveway. It was a momentary relief. Blessedly, the traffic had been light after he left his business headquarters. His thoughts were in turmoil and his emotions swinging wildly from being fighting mad to sadness at the prospect of fighting with his daughter over control of the company, his company.
As he got out of the car, he stood a moment and looked at the flowers along the driveway and the shrubbery leading up to the house. He felt tired. His energy level was low. He felt beat up. He almost never noticed how nice the landscaping was at his home, but right now all he wanted to do was stand there and admire the arrangement of the flowers, how the shrubs were trimmed, the strategic placement of the small juniper trees, how the Japanese maples were trimmed almost as if they were Bonsai. He idly wondered who exactly did all this work, who kept this looking so nice. He thought of how he had acknowledged guests who complimented him on the well-kept grounds, but he had never really bothered to closely inspect his surroundings and the gardens in the back of the house himself. No time. Not important.
Right that moment he longed for the leisure time he had planned to have in retirement and didn’t want to think about more important matters. But he needed to do so.
As if on cue, a small man with a large straw hat walked around the corner carrying a tray of flowers in small square individual cardboard containers. Lenny didn’t recall ever seeing the man. The man looked up and Lenny could see he was probably in his late fifties. He hadn’t shaved. He peered out from under the stained hat brim and saw Lenny. He stopped in his tracks as if he didn’t know what to do.
Lenny had vague memories of staff being around the house, inside and out, but he had largely ignored them as he had the furniture. He wondered if the man was startled because Lenny was actually looking at him, watching him, seeing him. The man broke the ice.
“Good morning, Mr. King.”
“Uh, Good morning.” Lenny was afraid to ask the man’s name. He had the feeling the man had worked for him a long time and it would be an insult not to know his name. Lenny had never really cared about the feelings of staff people before.
“Everything looks very nice. Lot of work to make it look this way, I’m sure.”
“Yes, Senor. Mrs. King. She liked this all to be beautiful.”
Lenny now remembered being slightly irritated when he would come home and catch Edna in her dirty work clothes out in the gardens digging and planting and Lord knows what else. He didn’t know why it irritated him, but it did.
“Yes, Edna liked her gardening.”
The man nodded and then left the sidewalk and made his way up the side of the hill among the shrubs and small trees stepping lightly through the thick groundcover. He looked back over his shoulder once at Lenny then bent down and got on his knees. He pulled out a trowel and began planting the small flowers in a bare area. As Lenny watched he put them in a triangular pattern, a water can was set near his knees and as he removed each flower plant from the little containers, he poured a small amount of water in the holes he had dug with the trowel. He then placed the flower in the ground and pushed the dirt up around the roots.
Lenny slowly walked up the staircase to the front door. Twice he stopped and checked on the progress of the gardener. At the door he paused. He called out to the Gardner. Impulsively, not really thinking about it. He repeated himself.
“Everything looks very nice. The flowers are nice.”
The man looked up. His eyes narrowed as if he was suspicious. But he gave a courteous reply.
“Yes. Thank you. It’s the right season. Good weather for planting these begonias. Mrs. King. She liked her begonias.”
“Those the pink ones?”
“Yes. She liked the pink. And the white too.”
“Well. Thank you. It looks nice.”
For some unfathomable reason Lenny was having trouble breaking off the conversation. He didn’t know how to end such a mundane encounter. He finally turned, opened the door, went inside the house and closed the door behind him.
He heard voices from the library just off the main foyer. He walked in that direction. When he entered, Regan and Dylan were seated, one on the couch and one in an easy chair. They were talking animatedly. He didn’t remember seeing them do that before. Not since they were kids anyway. They were smiling. The usual sneer on his eldest son’s face was gone. He looked rather pleasant. That was a change.
Lenny did what he usually did. He never greeted either boy. He walked across the room and behind his desk and sat down. The boys had quieted when he entered. They looked at him. Dylan was still smiling. Regan was not.
“Are you aware that your sister has lost her mind?”
The smile left Dylan’s face to be replaced by a frown of concentration.
Regan just stared. The sneer was back.
“You don’t know?”
Dylan shook his head. Regan didn’t reply at all. Lenny looked out the French doors to the garden where the little Mexican man had moved away from his fresh plantings and was now watering with a hose. He was directing a gentle spray around the roots of a small ornamental tree.
Dylan said, “Nadine? I just talked to her. She’s fine.”
“The hell she is. She’s trying to steal my business. After all I’ve done for you three, she’s stealing it. Did you know it? Are you two in on this?”
Dylan shook his head. Lenny thought he looked clueless as usual. Regan stared out the window. The gardener was still there. When Lenny had raised his voice, the gardener had looked in their direction. Lenny wondered if he could hear the conversation. Lenny looked at Regan. He could tell Regan was very aware of what had been going on with the business. It sent a chill down his spine.
“Well?” Lenny was looking directly at Regan.
“She’s only doing what you said to do. Didn’t you write the Trust? Or that lawyer of yours?”
“I don’t understand,” said Dylan.
“Oh, you will.”
They all turned their heads. It was Nadine standing in the doorway to the library.
As Lenny was rising from his chair and he was preparing to yell at Nadine, he saw behind her through the floor to ceiling windows the little Mexican man. Was he Mexican? Lenny realized he didn’t really know. He called him Senor. He just assumed. The man was kneeling down in the garden, working now on a broken irrigation pipe. He had paused and was watching the scene in the library. The water from the broken pipe was running in a rivulet down the hill.
“I will stand, thank you.”
Had he lost all authority over everything? Lenny wondered. He couldn’t even order his own daughter to sit down. She was being defiant. This conversation was not going to be pleasant.
Regan was still staring out the window. The little man had his head down and was working on the pipe connection.
Dylan was looking from Nadine to his father and back again. He appeared confused.
Lenny raised his voice, “Nadine, sit down in that chair right there!”
“I will not!”
Her reply was just as loud. The little man kept his head down and continued working. Dylan, however, rose out of his chair. He moved first right then left as if he wanted to physically do something, appeal to his sister or his father not to speak to each other that way, but didn’t know what to do exactly and, even if he thought he knew, he was too afraid to try. The risk of interfering was too great.
“Why are you doing this?” Lenny asked. His voice was firm. Uncompromising.
Dylan spoke, “Doing what?”
“Doing what? Throwing your Father out on the street. God save a man from ungrateful children! What makes you think you can get away with this?”
Before she could answer, he turned his ire on his other children.
“And you two,” his gaze shifted from Regan to Dylan and back again. You are with her on this, aren’t you? You are all conspiring against me. Admit it!”
Dylan sputtered he didn’t know what his father was talking about. Regan just continued looking out the French doors. Lenny noticed the little man had picked up his tools and was making his way out of the garden, down the side of the hill and away from the window.
“Well, whatever, it is, it’s not going to happen. And you know what, none of you, none of you are going to get a red cent. I’m giving it all away. To charity or something, one of those causes your mother was always running on about. I’ll give it all away before I see you any of you get a dime.”
Lenny was worked up now. He recognized he was in one of those red blind rages he got when he lost his temper. He had smacked Edna a couple of times when he felt like this and the kids got hit too, though he always referred to them as spankings or swats the hits were hard, too hard. But they had needed it by God.
Dylan again, “Dad. What are you saying? What have we done? I haven’t done anything to you. I love you, Dad. We all do.”
There was no confirmation from the other two siblings.
“Like a den of vipers, you love me. Well, by God, you’ll learn, by God.” Lenny was sputtering.
“Calm down, Father,” Nadine said. “You’ll have a heart attack. And then we will have to deal with an even bigger mess.”
“What I want to know is who cooked this up? How long you been planning to stab your Father in the back?”
“Don’t’ be so dramatic. This is for the best. Everyone thinks so. Especially the Board.”
That set Lenny back a little. He hadn’t see that coming. The Board of Directors? Nadine had got to the Board?
He was silent. His mind was racing. The implications were hitting him fast and furious and solutions, he needed solutions and answers, were not coming, not coming at all. Nadine knew from his stunned silence she had the upper hand. Regan even turned his attention to their father when the silence grew. He looked curious. For once his Father didn’t seem to be in control of the situation.
“Yes.” Nadine continued, “The Board is fully supportive of new management especially since you surrendered day to day operational control.”
Lenny started to interrupt. “I did no such thing,” he said. But when Nadine raised her hand. He obediently stopped talking. Regan smiled. It was clear now who was in control of this “meeting”.
“Yes. They certainly don’t want some big conflict. That would be bad for the share price point. You did this anyway, Poppa dear. It’s just happening a little earlier than you imagined. Besides those plans you talked about were just imaginary. You would never have given up control. You just wanted everybody else to do the work, and you get to keep taking the credit for what others do. And then they could also take the blame if everything wasn’t as good as the past. But you never wanted to give up control did you, just the responsibility? The Board knows that now. After they saw the provisions of the Trust. You should have consulted them. They didn’t like finding out the way they did.”
“I was going to inform them. Formally and officially. The way it supposed to done. When the time was right. When I ordered it when I decided it would go into effect.”
Lenny was getting more and more defensive. “How the hell did this get out there? How’d you get the documents? What did you do?”
“Well. The Board knows it all now anyway. And they’ve taken action.”
Lenny suddenly got mad again. He needed to assert control again.
“The hell they will. Once I talk to them. They owe me. They all owe me. I picked every dam one of them. And I’ll sue if I have too. But I won’t have to. Easley will straighten this out. My lawyer will put this to short work. He’ll tell the Board they can’t do this.”
“Well, that’s been addressed already. We now have new corporate counsel and his firm is fully behind this move. It is all legal and on the up and up.”
Lenny was stunned for the second time in ten minutes. His man, Easley, no longer the legal man in charge? This was bad. How had they done that? And all so fast. And he hadn’t seen it coming. That was worrisome. How could he have missed this? All of it?
Dylan was watching. He was still standing between them. He looked over at Regan who shrugged his shoulders.
In the vacuum, Dylan’s words seemed nonsensical. “I don’t understand.”
“Oh, there’s not much to understand really,” Nadine said. “Your Pop is simply going to retire like he said at the meeting at the Lawyer’s office. Only a little earlier than he thought.”
Dylan smiled. He took what she said at face value.
“Well, Dad. This can be great. You know. You love fishing, your trips. Now you get to do all that. Let us take care of you a while. Let me help with that. We’ll take care of you like you cared for all of us. This will be great!”
Lenny felt cold. He couldn’t strike at Nadine. She had proven too tough. Regan’s attitude inoculated him from being hurt. But he could hit at Dylan. The way he mentally and emotionally beat up on Edna all those times because she was near, she was the target he could hit.
“You have always been the dumbest ass kid, I’ve ever known. You couldn’t be mine. Your Mother must have hooked up with some idiot I don’t know about. You are soft and slow and touched in the head.”
Dylan took a step back as if he had been struck. He actually staggered. He looked at Lenny then at the others. He then turned and walked out the door. Lenny felt regret immediately. He had seen the tears start filming in Dylan’s eyes. He wanted to call out he was sorry, but Lenny felt vulnerable too and didn’t want to, couldn’t show weakness to these two. He would have to talk to Dylan later.
He turned to his other two children. But there really wasn’t much left to say. Regan had stood up and was waiting. Nadine, still standing exactly where she was, smiled, turned and walked out. Regan didn’t look at him. He just turned his back to Lenny and followed her out the door. Lenny was left alone. He heard a noise and looked out to the garden. The little man was back and spraying something from a spray bottle on the petals of some of the begonias. Maybe an insecticide, thought Lenny.