Lenny felt tired. Extremely tired. But it was the middle of the day. He didn’t take naps. He had never taken naps. He was too busy. He was too important. But today he felt like curling up somewhere quiet and dark. He needed to refresh, re-energize, recharge, get strong again. He needed to rest to do that, but, no, he refused to lie down and close his eyes. He wouldn’t. Wouldn’t though he sorely wanted to.
He spied the gardener outside his window, still spraying. The wet substance dripped from the leaves on the flower bushes. It was slick and shiny. Lenny walked over to the French Doors and opened them. He stepped through to the covered walkway. The man looked up and nodded. Lenny watched him move from plant to plant.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”
“It’s Florencio. My name is Florencio Estrada. Your children? Are they well? I hope nothing is wrong.”
“No. All is fine.”
“Well, it don’t look so fine, Senor. Them two last are angry. And the other one, that Dylan, he’s the good one, he was crying when he left.”
Shocked by the rude presumption of his Gardner after being stunned by the audacity of his children; Lenny was staggered. He felt his knees weaken. He wanted to let the fall take him. But he righted himself. He was too tired to fight anymore.
Lenny was nonplused that this gardener, someone he hadn’t even noticed before, much less know, would brazenly make such insensitive observations about his own children. But though he felt he should, Lenny couldn’t summon up the old righteous anger, the fight that was always just below the surface and which he had learned to direct so effectively in building his business empire. He was spent. All out. Couldn’t get it going. He felt vulnerable. He needed to talk. To someone. Maybe it was okay to talk to this Florencio. Who would know? Who would care? So what if he was direct, blunt. Maybe that was what he needed.
“A little trouble. That is all. Do you have children, Florencio? Estrada is it?”
“Yes. My name is Estrada. I do have children. But they are not here. They work. They are far away. In Mexico. They have careers there. They do very well.”
“Are they respectful? Do they honor you, Mr. Estrada?”
“Oh, I guess. In a way. In their way, but I am old now. I’m set in my ways. They want me to go back there. Mexico. To live off them. They say they will take care of me. But I don’t want that. Their mother though she went. She is there, now. She left me here. Said if I don’t want to go it was up to me, but she was going home. She wanted her friends, her family back. I said, “Well go then.” I have a job to do here. Wages. My own wages. I work hard, I get paid for taking care of this and more. Your place and others besides. I don’t want to be so old my children take care of me. I don’t want to count on them. I know what they are. I seen them growing up. In diapers and with other kids, and as teenagers, clutching around at each other. I don’t grow so old I will depend on such as them. When you do that, then they got you. You don’t get choices.”
“Mine say I earned it. They want to take over. They promise they will take care of me.”
“Yeah, well, Senor King. You maybe a big man, but you make same mistake as me.”
“What? By keeping working?”
“No. You got old.” Florencio chuckled and went on spraying the begonias.
Lenny was quiet for a moment. But he smiled. He like talking to this man.
“What do you mean?”
“You got old. You think you still useful? Well, maybe a little you are. Like me and these gardens. Mostly I can do it, but not it all. Not like I used to do. We got old, Mr. King. We got old before we got smart. It was a big sin. We got old before we were ready to give up.”
“I think you are a fool,” Lenny said to the old man. If they were going to be truthful, well it would be a two-way street. But Lenny smiled to take some of the sting away from the statement. Florencio smiled back. And nodded. They were both enjoying their talk.
Florencio had stopped his spraying. He moved over to examine some roses.
“Yes. No doubt. I am foolish in many ways. I should be with my wife in Mexico instead of trying to keep all this alive when it just dies, every day, dies away. Things you keep alive for a while are always dying. From the beginning they die a little every day. I planted much of this. I pruned it. Sprayed it for the little aphids. But it dies anyway. Like we are dying anyway. Like you are dying anyway, Mr. King. Like I’m dying anyway.”
“I guess there’s not much to be done then.”
“No, not much to be done. But I will tell you one thing about those kids. Si, Senor, I know they are your kids, perhaps none of my business, but I’m too old to not say it. That young one is a good person. You best remember that. I had a good one like that. My Teresa. I treated her just like the others. But, you know, I should have treated her better. It’s not true that you should treat your kids all the same. They aren’t the same. I should have treated her better than the others. I can’t now. She is gone from me, lives down the coast. I got mad at her and said some bad things and she got mad and went away and I don’t get to say now what I should have said.”
Lenny watched Florencio closely. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t worked up. More like he was just resigned. He grew quiet, obviously thinking of his daughter, lost to him now. There wasn’t anything left to say.
“Well, I must go now,” Lenny said. “Take it easy, Florencio. The gardens do look very nice.”
Florencio nodded. He moved the corners of his mouth like he had more to say. Maybe he had been saving all this up, maybe for years. But he also knew he had stepped over a line, was actually way over the line and best he get back on his side of the divide that separated him from his employer. While it was still safe. He glanced at Lenny, nodded once, and moved away further into the garden.
Lenny thought to himself. Maybe I can hazard a short nap. Wouldn’t hurt. Might do me good and then I will figure all this out.
The phone beside the bed was ringing. It stopped for a few moments then started up again. Lenny heard it, but his mind was in a fog. He tried to ignore it, but the ringing was insistent. He eased his eyes open. It was dark. He must have slept for hours. He didn’t feel refreshed. He didn’t fell strong. He felt like rolling over and going back to sleep. He tried reaching for the phone. He hated the ringing. But his arms were pinned to his side. He had rolled up in the blankets somehow and he was sealed inside like a papoose. He had nightmares sometimes about not being able to use his arms. For a moment he wondered if this was all a nightmare. No. It wasn’t a nightmare. The damn phone kept ringing.
He finally got one arm out and grabbed at the receiver. He brought it to his ear.
“Lenny, you okay?” It was Easley. “I let the phone ring, must have been two dozen times. We need to meet. And I mean fast. They, Nadine, Crabtree too, they are way out front and if you want to fight this we are going to have to make some moves.”
Lenny’s mind was lethargic. He needed more sleep. He rolled to the side of the bed disentangling from the bedclothes. He swung his legs over the side and sat with his head down, his ear pinned to the receiver. He had not undressed before his nap. He still had the same clothes on from this morning. He felt wrinkled, rumpled, dirty.
“Okay. Okay, Nick. What is going on.? Did you find out anything?”
“Plenty. Listen, Lenny, you need to get down to your office. And stay there. Don’t let them move you out. It’s very important. I’m going to court in an hour for an emergency order, I want to get it served today, but I need you to be in your office, in charge at headquarters, so I can represent to the judge that you are the status quo and we need to maintain the status quo until we can have a full hearing in court.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t have to. I will explain it all later. Just get your ass down there.”
“But, wait, how did they? You know, get the Trust? That wasn’t supposed to be released.”
“Look, Lenny, just get to the office. I’ll explain it all later.”
Attorney Easley hung up the phone. He certainly didn’t want to try to explain that it was his own staff that had betrayed them all. That his own secretary had purloined the documents and given them over to Nadine. She had done it for money he was sure. She hadn’t got back at him. How long had she waited for just such a chance? The bitch belonged in jail. But that would involve the police. And that meant he would have to explain everything to them. And to Lenny. Nick didn’t want to have to explain anything at all. Not about the stolen trust papers. He knew he would have to at some point, but not right now. There were other things that might come out. The secretary knew all about his billing practices. And he worried about his own liability to Lenny and the corporation. That was the first thing that occurred to him. Naturally. He was a lawyer after all.
But if he could get to court and get this move to replace Lenny squashed and everything returned to the original position, the status quo, well, then maybe he could fight it off. He would be a winning position and his own staff’s transgressions would become a minor issue in the overall scheme of things. And likely forgiven.
Lenny dropped his cell phone on the bed and walked across the room and looked in the mirror over the dresser. He needed a shave. He needed to shower. He needed to change clothes. But Nick had said he needed to hurry. Lenny would have to settle for running a comb through his thin grey hair.
He went through the front door. He was vaguely aware that the door to the library was ajar and beyond it the French doors still stood open. No matter. He jumped in his Beamer and circled the driveway and headed downtown to his headquarters.
When he pulled in the parking lot, he tuned left up the ramp and noted the turnstile was up. When he got to the top of the ramp, the electronic gate was sitting open. He eased the Beamer through and saw his vintage cars were gone. His three precious and priceless cars. Gone. Where? He was stunned. And angry and sad. He wheeled his Beamer in crosswise to the parking stalls and got out. He went to the door. There was no automatic click. He looked up at the camera. There was no telltale red light. Someone had turned the camera off.
He fished in his pockets for his keys. He studied the ring and picked the key he seemed to remember was the right one. He inserted it and turned the handle. It worked. At least they hadn’t changed the locks yet. The elevator rose to the top floor and the doors opened.
Lenny moved through the inner sanctum. The bed was still there, but it had been stripped bare. None his pictures were on the dressers. No prints on the wall. He had especially liked the erotic ones, but not there were only bare spots and holes in the stucco. They hadn’t even bothered to repair the holes. He opened a drawer. Empty. He moved into the seating room. Looking over at his bar, he noted all the liquor and all the crystal decanters, the crystal tumblers, all gone. He then went to the office door and tuned the handle. He stepped into an empty space. No desk, no furniture. A phone was sitting on the floor. Two lights were blinking. Someone was talking on his private line and messages had been left but no one had evidently attempted to retrieve them.
He went to the door leading to his Secretary’s desk and opened it. No secretary. No secretary’s desk. He walked over and bent down to pick up the phone. It buzzed. The line wasn’t dead. He dialed in his attorney’s cell phone number. No one picked it up. He assumed Easley was in some judge’s chambers right now trying to get this all reversed. He wondered where his cars where.
Just then the outer door opened and there was the empty-headed Kelley and two very large security guards. Lenny didn’t recognize them, but then he seldom paid any attention to the guards, cooks, janitors and others who performed the supporting roles around the building.
“Mr. King,” Kelly said, “I’m sorry, but you are not supposed to be here.”
“What do you mean? Where is my furniture. And where are my damn cars!”
“I’m sorry, Mr. King, but you will have to leave. These gentlemen . . . “
“Who the hell you think you are talking to?”
“She’s talking to the former head of the company.” It was Regan. He had stepped into the room behind Kelley and the guards. This was a first. Lenny never remembered seeing Regan at the office headquarters before.
“Regan. I’m glad you’re here. Listen, we need to talk. Your sister is making a mistake.”
“I don’t think so. Right now, Father, you need to leave. Nadine is arranging a meeting for us all to sit down, you too, and get this straightened out, but right now we need to make sure everything stays stable, on an even keel. Your presence here is not a good thing right now. You have to go. These men will escort you out to your car. By the way, don’t come that away again, the parking area is being changed as are the locks.”
“You can’t do that.”
“It’s already been done.”
Regan was wearing his trademark sneer. He said, “Sorry, Dad” and walked out the door. The two guards approached Lenny.
“Mr. King. Sir, we need you to come with us. We will escort you to your car.”
‘I will not!”
“Sir, you will. Please don’t make this difficult. Someone could get hurt.”
Lenny saw they were serious. He felt tired again. Weak. In more ways than one. He couldn’t win this. Best to retreat and wait for the order that Easley was seeking from the court, and then he would take care of these ingrates. Every last one of them.
“It won’t be necessary, I’m going. But I’m going to remember this and I’m going to remember you.” He made a point of looking at their nametags.
Lenny spun and walked back through his former office, the formerly well-appointed penthouse apartment, to the elevator and down to his car. Incongruently he thought about how the Beamer was last year’s model. He would need to buy a new one. Must keep up appearances. But he knew he would never be able to replace his missing beauties. The Corvette, especially. He needed to find what they did with them. “I’ll get Easley and we’ll sue the bastards,” he muttered to himself.
He started the Beamer and sat for a moment appreciating the feel and sound of the well-tuned engine. He hit a button on his car phone. On the first ring, Easley picked up.
“Where are you?” Easley asked.
“I’m just leaving the office. They threw me out. My own son! Regan, had me, ME! for God’s sake, removed.”
“Well, no matter.”
“No matter? What do you mean, no matter? Did you get the order?”
“No order, but right now that doesn’t matter either.”
“Doesn’t matter? The hell it doesn’t matter!”
“Look, Lenny. Some things have happened. First, Dylan. Your son. He’s left.”
“Gone? Oh, he will be back.”
“No, you don’t understand, Lenny. He called. He and one of his students, she’s an heir to some fortune or another; her father’s a big tycoon in digital security. Back east. Dylan gave up his professorship at the University. They left for Southern California this morning.”
“Well, that does it for him. Lenny, I want you to cut him completely out, the ungrateful little shit.”
“Well, that’s one reason he called, he said. He doesn’t want the money. He said all he ever wanted was to be close to you, to help you, like his mom used to do and that’s how she wanted it. She wanted him to be there for you like she was. He says, he can’t do that now. You finally made it clear that you never loved him as a son. So, he’s leaving. He has someone to love now, he says, and her family think a lot of him and want him to go ahead and teach if that’s what he wants.”
Lenny felt like he had a huge hole in his chest. He always knew he was too harsh on his youngest. He just couldn’t ever seem to stop himself. He guessed the boy did love him. Like Edna did. He wished he had treated her better too. She was always so good to him. No way would she have stayed had she not loved him. She could have ripped him off. She could have left and taken half, hell, more than half of the business. But she didn’t. Well, she was gone now. And Dylan, he guessed was gone too. So be it. Time to move on and get his kingdom back.
“Okay. Well, never mind then. Just tell me what’s with the order. I’m getting my business back, aren’t I? How soon can I get back in?”
“There’s a bigger problem than that right now. I gotta’ tell you, Lenny, I’ve been around. And there’s some serious stuff going on down at that courthouse. Some people have been gotten to. Has to be. I couldn’t even get into to see the Judge. Never happened before.”
“What else? It sounds like there’s something else.”
“Yeah, well, it’s Willets.”
“What about Willets?”
“He’s under arrest.”
“Arrest? Willets? What the hell for?”
Willets looked bad. Unshaven, a fine sheen of dried sweat coated his face, his arms, his hands. His right hand kept going to a red scabbed sore was on his neck pushing at it from the sides, pressing at it from the top, like it could be moved to a different place on his neck or pushed back into his body.
Lenny had never been inside a county jail before. The stink, the noise, the shadows and bad lighting was overwhelming. The guards were short tempered and uncompromising. They knew Willets as only one of the hundreds of other prisoners in their charge. And they certainly knew nothing of his partner, Lenny King, President of King Enterprises. Nor, it appeared, did they much care who he was. They were busy with controlling and shifting inmates from place to place and dealing with dozens of other visitors, all of whom they obviously resented.
When Lenny arrived at the jail to see Willets, he had stood in line and watched the process. It soon became apparent to even the most intellectually dense of the visitors that you had one chance to comply with the guard’s instructions. If you didn’t do what they said, immediately, or you questioned the rules, you went to the back of the room to line up and wait the interminable forward shuffle all over again. If you messed up a second time, the implied threat was that you would get thrown off the premises.
Lenny had made the mistake of complaining about not being told how to fill out a form and immediately found himself at the back of the line queued up right behind a black woman with purple hair and a derriere the size and shape of the Goodyear blimp.
She was loud, rude, profane and obnoxious, but Lenny surmised she knew the ropes since the closer to the front of the line she moved the quieter, the more polite she became. She was downright obsequious by the time she got to the front and addressed the Sergeant in charge. All of sudden, her defiance, her complaining was gone and she was saying “Yessir” this and “Nosir” that. “Yessir, ‘eye’s here to see Lamont Jones.“ and “Nosir, I got no drugs or contraybands in me’s Possessions.”
She even got a smile and a modicum of return courtesy the way authorities in the justice system do when they are being conned by black people and know they are being conned by black people. The smile was an acknowledgement and appreciation for the art of pretended obedience. They both knew it was a ruse, but a clever ruse and one that artfully and reliably disarmed what could be a tense racial confrontation. The black woman’s scraping and shuffling, dancing really, before the raised dais of power removed all fear from the situation. On both sides.
Her little stage play gained her immediate access to the visitor’s lounge.
“Go right through that door on your right, Mrs. Jones,” the Sergeant said, smiling at the black woman’s compliance with what they both knew were the rules. She got passed through easy as could be by a Sergeant who usually never smiled, and whose eyes never stopped scanning the line of visitors and whose eyes noticed everything, missed nothing.
When Lenny got to the front of the line, the Sergeant looked ready to push a buzzer to summon two of the giant jailers drinking coffee behind him and who appeared eager to escort him or anyone the Sergeant pointed to off the premises. He saw that happen too, twice to visitors who didn’t modify their behavior before they got to the front of the line.
Lenny handed the Sergeant the form he had complained about earlier, all filled out and complete and signed like it was supposed to be when he had foolishly questioned its necessity the first time he went through the line. The Sergeant took his time reading every word as if looking for a reason to reject Lenny’s request to see Willets. He finally pushed a button, silently and sullenly nodded his head to the right and the door to visitor’s lounge clicked open.
It was crowded and hot in the room. A guard directed Lenny to an open place in the middle of a row of chairs before a Plexiglass barrier. The other chairs were occupied with visitors speaking into headsets. After sitting behind the Plexiglas window for ten minutes a guard appeared on the other side escorting Willets. His friend had a chain around his waist to which a pair of handcuffs was attached by a second short chain. Without bothering to unlock the handcuffs, the guard put his big meaty hand on Willet’s shoulder and pushed down, seating Willets in the chair across from Lenny.
Lenny took the phone off the hook. Willets, struggled to get both hands across the front of his body far enough to get his own phone. There was just enough slack to get it. No more.
“What the Hell, Willets?”
“Lenny, you got to get me out of here. I don’t know what’s going on? Why’d they arrest me, for God’s sake? I’ve done nothing. Nobody will tell me anything.”
“It’s Nadine. She hired some people to come in and go over the books. Some auditing firm. She is using their report to accuse you of signing some fraudulent contracts, embezzling the money. And then she relied on that to get a Judge to sign an order putting her in charge of the whole company until this is all resolved. I don’t know if she thought of this on her own or if she had help. Anyway, she’s got me out of my offices. An injunction. And she’s got you in here. And she’s got the bitch Crabtree inside the business, my business, your business, bringing the staff, our staff, in line! I’ve gotten calls. If they don’t do just what she says, when she says it, they are fired and escorted out the door.”
“Good God. I’ve never done anything like that, Lenny. I just did whatever you wanted me to. You know that.”
“Sure. I know that. And you can bet she does too. But Easley thinks she has spread some money around down at the courthouse. Some cash slipped to the right clerks who take a cut and pass the rest up to the ones that matter. The judges must be with her. They’ve always got their palms out. I told you that. And the D.A., he’s always trolling for campaign funds and he and Nadine’s new lawyer are good buddies and Easley thinks that’s how the charges got filed against you without even a cursory investigation.”
Lenny thought Willets was going to cry. He had to admit he felt like he might weep right along with him. He could see Willets was beginning to panic over the fear he might not be getting out of custody anytime soon. He could see his fingernails digging into the back of his hands. And then he was back pushing at the sore on his neck. His anxiety had to be off the scale and he was scared and humiliated.
“Lenny, please . . . “
“I know. I know. I’m working on it. Easley is too. He thinks we can get bond. It’s going to be expensive, and Nadine has frozen most of the business accounts, but I have a guy working on posting a bond. I’m putting the house up for security.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you. But your house, Lenny?”
“No problem. We will get this taken care of and the house will be fine. I’m still living there and when we will get the accounts released we can use those funds. You just have to lay low in here and wait a little while. It will work out.”
“Should be by the end of the week.”
The look of panic was back.
“Lenny, I’m scared. There is someone in here. He keeps staring at me. He looks dangerous. I’ve never said anything to him. I don’t talk to anyone. I’m too scared. I don’t know why he keeps staring at me. I think he wants to hurt me. Lenny, can you talk to someone? I think I need to be kept away from him until I can get out.”
“Sure. I’ll talk to someone. Just hang in there. Friday. Saturday at the latest, we will get you out. In the meantime, take care of yourself. Wanted you to know, you still got friends. We’re still partners. Understand? Partners.”
Lenny hung up the phone, gave Willets half a smile and left. At the door, Lenny turned to wave goodbye. Willets was still sitting in front of the Plexiglas. He clearly didn’t want to leave, didn’t want to return to the main part of the jail. Probably had not buzzed the guard. He really must be scared.
It turned out he was right to be.