Category: Novels

A King’s Trust, Chapters 10,11,&12

A King’s Trust, Chapters 10,11,&12

Chapter 10

 

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.

 

“Where’s Maria?”

 

“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?”

 

“No.”

 

“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?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Check it.”

 

“Sir?”

 

“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.”

 

“Yes.  Well?”

 

“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.”

 

“We?”

 

“The paralegal and I.” She never called her by name.

 

“And?”

 

“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?”

 

“Nadine King.”

 

 

 

Chapter 11

 

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.

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

“Sit down.”

 

“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.

 

 

Chapters 7,8, & 9 of A King’s Trust

Chapters 7,8, & 9 of A King’s Trust

Chapter Seven

 

The other partner, Lenora Crabtree, was already at the meeting when Lenny walked into the conference room.  She was secretly pleased with the irritated look on his face when he saw his usual chair was occupied.

 

At meetings of his Executive Committee, Lenny always sat to the right side of the Chief Operating Officer, Willard Kent.  Kent, in turn, was expected to sit at the head of the long conference table. Kent usually chaired the meetings. It was set up that way. Since Lenny didn’t deign to attend every confab he left management of the meeting’s agenda to others.  But when he did show up, he always sat in a critical position to the right and next to the CAO, so he could make his announcements, propound his vision, and share his witticisms, which, Crabtree from overheard comments he alone appreciated.   Lenny’s chair was the furthest from the door and faced in that direction.  It insured no one could sneak in late without being seen.  The chair was also left unoccupied when he was not in attendance out of respect.  Respect for his power in the company not for the man, though Lenny would never think of it that way.

 

But today the chair was occupied.  That was part of the plan.  Lenora had arranged the breach in protocol at Nadine King’s suggestion. It was to be the first of a planned series of moves to bring the great Lenny King’s expectations down a few pegs.

 

The two had met three days earlier at a small out of the way eatery a few miles south of the city limits.

 

After she had found the place and been seated in a booth toward the back, Lenora in looking around the simple, cheap little diner, surmised Nadine had selected the place because there would little chance could their meeting would be noted by anyone of any significance.

 

When Nadine walked in she was accompanied by a big, rather rugged looking and handsome man in a very nice suit who was vaguely familiar.  After he was introduced she recognized him as the attorney who had bested Lenny’s legal team and won a huge settlement for the little slut who had wormed her way into Lenny’s bed and then made him pay dearly for each and every, favor the tired old satyr had enjoyed.

 

After seeing that they were all seated, the waiter came out from behind the cash register and took their order.  After he left, the conversation stayed general for a few minutes and then the Attorney asked Lenora how much she knew about the Trust that Nadine’s father had set up.

 

Lenora looked at Nadine. At a nod of Nadine’s head, Lenora went ahead and repeated what she had learned at the meeting.  The lawyer smiled indulgently then asked her if she would like to hear more.  She looked at Nadine again and Nadine said, “You need to hear this.”

 

“Well, first let’s talk effective date,” the lawyer said.  “I understand Mr. King had stated there was to be transition period, something like six months, during which he would transfer power to others, including you. Supposedly.”

 

She raised her chin slightly at the use of the qualification “supposedly”.  She didn’t like the lawyer’s tone.

 

“Yes,” she said.  “He will remain in charge, but the provisions are to be put in place to take care of all of us and he will work to make sure a sustainable management team was in place.”

 

“Well, that may be all well and good, but the Trust actually was effective the date it was signed.”

 

“How do you know this?”

 

The lawyer didn’t say anything in response.

 

Lenora continued, “He said he would share the actual provisions only after the six-month period had passed.  I don’t see how you would know any different.”

 

Nadine spoke up.

 

“Yeah, that’s what he said all right, but I managed to get a copy of the Trust documents and I know for a fact that he is going to test everyone and pull the whole thing back and revise it if he isn’t satisfied with how things are going.”

 

“Yes,” said the Lawyer. “Until it is filed with the Court and recorded in the county offices, the Trust can be pulled back and the effective date changed as many times as King wants.”

 

The lawyer paused for a moment before continuing.

 

“But once it’s filed, then the time limits start for making all the SEC filings, giving notice to shareholders, amending articles of incorporation with the Department of Corporations.  All that has to be done in a very short time frame.  Ninety days.  Once the Trust is filed, the time is running.  It’s like a big freight train that has left the station and built up a big head of steam.  It can’t be pulled back.”

 

Lenora sat silent. She looked at Nadine.  Nadine said, “I know what you’re thinking. We know my Father’s moods. There is no way of knowing what will set him off and, if nothing has been filed, he could throw the whole thing out and just remain in charge of the company or he could throw anyone of us out of the company and the Trust on a whim.  He’s done it before.”

 

Lenora raised her eyebrows. She agreed with what Lenora was saying, but she was too savvy to express herself out loud when she didn’t really understand the lay of the land, what was being proposed and could the person making the proposal deliver?

 

Nadine continued. “You know that’s true.  And you know that if he goes off halfcocked now how it affects you.  He might keep old Willets around as a fishing buddy, but you are nothing to him but a reliable V.P. of finance who he made a partner rather than pay you what you’re worth.”

 

Lenora’s reply was politic. “My compensation package is adequate. I selected an option from a menu I was offered.  My partnership shares are more, much more valuable, in the long run.”

 

The lawyer now intervened again.  “Well, that’s where you may be missing some understanding here.  See we,” and seeing Nadine’s expression he held up his hand to silence her and said, “just hold on.” He turned back to Lenora.  “I’ve studied the documents.  The company has corporate bylaws and the partnership agreements expressly incorporate those bylaws. Actually, pretty standard stuff. They are okay as far as they go, but you are relying on a lot of good faith here.   You need to understand that for all that, this is a closely held corporation, and, he, King, at least up until this Trust was executed controlled two thirds of the stock.  With that voting bloc, he can replace the board of directors at any time he wants.  And in your employment contract, like all the rest King uses for his upper level staff, well, someone, I imagine that Easley character, inserted a special provision in the bylaws that gives the board the option of canceling your contract for the good of the company. And at an entirely other place in the contract, in return for shares instead of compensation, you have actually waived any legal challenges to such a decision by the Board.  You get the shares; three months’ severance pay and that’s it.”

 

Lenora felt cold, a chill at how insecure she had suddenly felt.  She had read the contract over before she signed.  She had been careful.  But she had not thought it necessary to have it reviewed by independent counsel.  That had obviously been a mistake.  She had fought all her life, a lot of times against men of inferior ability, to get the security and authority she thought she deserved and until that moment thought she had achieved.  She thought she had made it.  She was rich. She was a partner.  She was in charge.  It was a shock to be told it was all ephemeral, especially if subject to one of Lenny’s moods which had lately become arrogant in the extreme.

 

And she also felt the awakening of something she had long suppressed.  The feeling was not exactly hatred of Lenny, but resentment at his always treating her as something less than a full partner, never giving her the respect and deference he appeared to give Willets, his stupid old fishing buddy.

 

She pushed her chair back from the table a little way, crossed her legs, adjusted her skirt and told the lawyer to tell her more.  As he began again she reached over picked up her glass and took a sip of the martini that Nadine had ordered for all of them.  The order was made without asking her or the lawyer what they wanted.  She never drank at lunch, but this martini was welcome, and it tasted good.

 

After that meeting, they all left the restaurant together and she had walked a short way down the sidewalk with the two. When they got to a Porsche parked on the street, the big man leaned over and buzzed Nadine on the cheek.  Lenora noticed how Nadine’s fingertips lingered on his chest when he did so.  And then the lawyer hopped in the Porsche and was gone.

 

Nadine turned to her and said, “Let me walk you to your car.”

 

When they got to her car, Nadine told her, “Lenora.  I know this is a lot to digest, but changes are coming and everyone’s putting off dealing with them.  Everyone believes they are at least six months away.  Well, the changes are here.  They are here and that can be to our advantage if we act.”

 

Lenora never responded. She just leaned against her sedan and listened.

 

Nadine said, “Here’s what my lawyer never told you, but which he immediately understood when he studied the paperwork.”

 

“How did you get all these documents?” Lenora asked.  “He keeps those instruments close to his vest.  I’m a partner and even I couldn’t access them.”

 

Nadine just smiled. “I have my ways.  But listen, this is the important part for you.  The Trust has many interesting little provisions that fat-ass Easley must have snuck in, but the big thing is the control of the shares. That’s where the power is.  First, when the Trust is filed, there is a big pay out to my Father stretched over a five-year period.  Don’t worry about that right now.  That can be whittled down later. But the shares, see, the controlling shares, I know you and a couple of others have some from their compensation packages, but the ones my father owns, are divided, thirty per cent to me, and thirty per cent to Willets.  And the remaining forty per cent are divided between my brothers, each getting twenty per cent.”

 

Lenora was quiet.  She felt hurt and discomforted knowing she had been cut out completely while the other partner; the one without any real management chops was given major powers of control.  She didn’t want to outwardly appear hurt.  A woman didn’t dare show emotion or weakness in a business setting. She also noticed Nadine was studying her to gage her reaction, probably looking for the signs of feminine distress. Well, there would be no tears at this latest betrayal by a man in her life.

 

“Look,” Nadine said, “I know that’s not right.  Things are not going to turn out the way he thought though. And that means you are going to have to make a decision.  I’m going to run this company.  Me. Just me before it’s over.  But I need a strong financial person.  You’re it.  But I mean it when I say I need a strong one; one who can fight and pick the right side to fight for.  The one who is going to win.”

 

“This is all very dangerous for me,” Lenora said. “I never realized just how dangerous the changes, the changes coming, were until today.”

 

“Well, that’s the thing. There is risk in everything, but if I promise you something, whatever I promise you, will be in writing, iron clad, guaranteed.  You can hire your own lawyer to look it over and I’ll pay for the lawyer.  Anyone you choose.  You join with me; you will have a real slice of the company profits, more compensation and benefits than you ever dreamed.  And some real authority.  Or, your other choice, you can choose to stand by the old man and get thrown out with the trash.  By me. When I take over, I’ll do it.  But at least I’m telling you what I would do. Or you can wait and get thrown out by him.  And not a word beforehand.  You heard what the lawyer said and you better than most know how foolish and volatile the old fool has become.”

 

“In writing?”

 

“In writing.  Guaranteed.”

 

“Give me twenty-four hours.”

 

“No more.”

 

Lenora had not gone to the office.  She called her secretary and told her to cancel her appointments because she had an important matter come up which she had to deal with.  Not a lie by any means.

 

She had gone home, changed out of her work clothes and spent the day by the pool at her condo.  She drank iced coffee and thought.  The lounges around the pool were empty.  It was the middle of a work-day and she could lie about in her bikini without the usual rude horny stares of men.

 

She thought through all the implications of the offer Nadine had made.  The decision was surprisingly easy to come to.  She picked up her cell phone and called Nadine.  In an hour she was dressed and in her car.  She met Nadine back at the same place, this time in the bar on the other side of the restaurant and this time it was Lenora who ordered the round of martinis.  That seemed to please Nadine very much.

 

“Okay”.  She said, “I’m in. Now what.”

 

“This is what.  We are going to put a plan to work.  Seesaw the old bastard.  He’s going to find himself taken down a peg at a time.  That big lawyer I introduced you too.  He filed a copy of the Trust yesterday.  There is a demand by me and one of my brothers to have an immediate shareholders meeting.  We can do that with our combined shares.  My guy will serve the legal papers on the old fool’s attorney tomorrow.  In the meantime, I want you to prepare the staff at the office to make a few changes to how things are done.  Get them ready for a transition.  Time to get his attention.”

 

Lenora had nodded her head, impressed by Nadine’s thought process.  “You are going to ease him out, aren’t you?” she said.  “Make him leave of his own accord.  To preserve the stock value.  You can’t just suddenly throw him out on the street.  Not yet.  We have to show stability in the transition.  For the Public.  Keep everyone’s confidence up.  But how are you going to handle the Board?  It will be the first place he runs.”

 

“Let him.  We will have control over the shares and, remember the bylaws, we can replace the board if we want.  But I’m counting on that not being necessary.  They get a handsome stipend for serving.  My father saw to that.  And they are all businessmen first.  They don’t want a public proxy fight that will drive down the value of the company and scare off our trading partners.  They’ll avoid that.  A couple of them are being approached by, shall we say, third parties right now. Those parties will make is clear that there are definite rewards in store for those who stick with us.”

 

Nadine had raised her glass then and they had clinked the edges and smiled at each other over the rims of their martini glasses.

 

That was three days ago, and Lenora was still feeling good about all this.

 

Lenora watched from the other end of the conference table as Lenny walked over behind Jones, the HR director, the one whom Lenora had specifically picked for this role.  He expected Jones to vacate the seat.  Jones ignored him.  Lenora noted how a red flush started at Lenny’s shirt collar and rose upward.  She also noted how Willets still stood at the door and stared, looking confused.

 

This was going to be fun.

 

Chapter 8

 

As Dylan emerged from the classroom he was accompanied by a few of his favored students. They were enthusiastically continuing their discussion of Wallace Stevens. That day’s lecture had been about the businessman (and the lawyer) who wrote poems. Maybe that’s why the poet was a particular favorite of Dylan’s.

 

This was the best part of his day.  All the other unpleasantness in his life inevitably receded before the smiles, inquisitiveness and energy of his young students. Academia was a completely other world from the one he shared with his father and siblings.

 

But not today.  Today, he was surprised to see his sister, Nadine, and his brother, Regan, seated on a bench in the Quad watching him. Neither had ever appeared on campus before.  His good humor was dampened by a feeling of undefined trepidation.

 

He excused himself from the group of students.  One, Marcy, lingered a moment longer than the others.  He caught her eye and slightly shook his head once.  It was, he hoped, imperceptible to the other students.  She picked up on his signal.  She knew it meant this wasn’t the right time to be alone together, even in the middle of a campus.  She left in the direction of her classmates.  Her look promised they would meet later in private.  Off campus.  Like before.

 

He watched them walk away, especially Marcy.  She may take a lot of feminism classes in her Women’s studies department, but it didn’t keep her from wearing the latest form fitting “yoga pants.”  They made it seem she was naked from the waist down. And the way she moved left little doubt she enjoyed the attention, even if surreptitious, of the men on campus, both students and faculty, and that included Dylan.

 

He turned and walked toward Nadine and Regan.  Nadine was staring after Marcy too.  Her radar had picked up on something between her brother and the girl with the pants. Nadine frowned.  She didn’t like what her instincts were telling her.

 

“Hi guys.  What are doing here?   What brings you to this institution of higher learning?  Auditing a class or two?”

 

They all laughed out loud at that.

 

“No, Brother,” Nadine said, “We thought you might like to have a little lunch, you know, just the three of us.  We have a lot to talk about.”

 

And, thought Dylan, you don’t want father to know.  He had to admit, Nadine was being smart.   Meeting him here.  There was no way his Father would ever set foot on the campus.  He hated everything about the college.  And Dylan teaching there.

 

To test his thesis Dylan said, “Sure, that would be fun, but you wouldn’t prefer to go downtown to the club?”

 

“No, no,” Nadine smiled, cementing his assessment, “we thought we could catch a bite at the Student U. You can get us in there, can’t you? Would be fun to see all the youngsters around here, you know, at play in their natural habitat.”

 

“Yeah,” Regan said, with a vulgar little chuckle, “there’s some real animals here, by the looks of their hair and clothes, and some fillies with fine lines too.”  He said it with a smile in an obvious, if forced, attempt at good humor.  Since it was without his usual sneer, Dylan let it go, though he wondered if his joke included Marcy in referencing the other females on the Quad.

 

“Okay.  Pretty basic stuff at the Student Union.  Hamburgers about the best thing they offer.”  He looked at Nadine.  “No martinis, I’m afraid.”

 

“I will survive.” Nadine laughed.

 

She jauntily hooked her arm through his and started guiding him in the direction of the Student Union. He had no idea how she knew the way. Regan lolled behind them.  Dylan had no doubt he was continuing his examination of the passing coeds.  His brother best watch out and not be too obvious, thought Dylan, some of these young women would have no compunction about lashing into him if his stares are perceived as a disrespectful leer.

 

At the U, they got in line with a few students and a couple of professors.  Dylan introduced the other faculty members to his brother and sister.  Nadine and, even Regan, were friendly and graceful.  It wasn’t the way they usually acted around his friends.

 

The three of them ordered their burgers, walked over to the fountain and filled up their cups with soda. It was crowded, but they found a table in the corner.  There was a steady, happy din in the cafeteria, which ironically, created a sort of semi-privacy.

 

Both Nadine and Regan were peppering him with questions about the classes he was teaching, asking about the students and professors, subjects about which they had never, to his memory, indicated the slightest interest.

 

Dylan was happy.  He couldn’t remember the last time the three siblings had set down and talked about stuff he liked. There always seemed to be an undercurrent of rage or hurt or anger.  Some of that he knew was generated by their reaction to whatever their father’s latest project happened to be.  Nevertheless, Dylan wasn’t going to analyze this day to death.  He was just going to try to enjoy it for what it was. Though in the back of his mind, he just couldn’t suppress the thoughts that kept intruding, he knew it wasn’t as simple as it seemed.

 

Their burgers came. The coed delivering the plates to the table, actually smiled at Regan.  He was in a really good mood after that.  The three of them laughed and joked half way through the meal. Nadine, around a mouthful of French Fries, said, “Dylan, I don’t know why we haven’t done this more.  This is fun.”  She smeared a huge amount catsup on three more fries and crammed them in her mouth.  He laughed at her.

 

“Yes, it is.  I’ve missed you guys.  Everybody always seems so busy.”

 

Regan added, “Well, we need to change that.  Never too late to change.”

 

Nadine chimed in, “No, it’s not.  And we all know changes are coming.  With Father. And the company.  And you know, I think it will be good for all of us. Give us a chance to change too. We are family.  We need to be together more.  On lots of things.”

 

“I would like nothing better,” Dylan said.

 

‘Well, remember that,” Nadine said.  “No matter what you hear others say about us.  Just remember today.  Us together.  We are going to have a lot more of todays.  About us. We need to think about each other more and we will.”

 

He didn’t know what to say. He laughed again when Nadine reached over and swiped a handful of fries off his plate.  Then from the other direction Regan did the same thing and Dylan turned to laugh as his brother hurried to stuff a handful in his mouth. In all the merriment he missed Nadine’s intense stare at Marcy who had just entered the other door to the Student union and was waiting in line to place her order.

 

Chapter 9

 

Willets could tell Lenny was shook up as they left the conference room and made their way back to his office.  He hadn’t seen him like this for years, maybe decades.  This was a look from long ago, from before they had built their business empire and Lenny had worked himself into absolute control.  In the years since, he learned to exercise power and found he was good at it and he got even better as he gained confidence until at some point he left all self-doubt behind, and his confidence came to resemble arrogance.

 

It was obvious to Willets that Lenny was angry, but there was something else. Right now, in his look, in his posture, there was an absence of that old confidence.  It was like a mask had been pulled off.  It was like he had that feeling you sometimes get when you suddenly wonder if all you had been doing was just fooling everyone, and now you had been found out.

 

Willets watched as Lenny crossed the office and poured himself a drink. He didn’t just sip this one. He didn’t exactly throw it back, but he took a healthy quaff, set the glass down, stared at it, then lifted it to his lips again and finished it off.

 

Lenny tuned around and looked toward the office door like he expected someone to be there.  Willets realized he had the same expectation. Where was Denise?  She always appeared, iPad in hand, when Lenny returned to the office.  She wasn’t there now.

 

Lenny walked to the door. Willets heard him say, “Who are you?” Willets went to the doorway to see whom Lenny was talking to.  There was a diminutive and very young woman seated at Denise’s desk.  She replied to the Lenny’s question.

 

“I’m Kelly.

 

“Where the hell is Denise?”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. King. She was told to report to the clerical pool supervisor. I’m taking her place until someone else is assigned.”

 

Willets could tell Lenny wanted to explode at the little secretary.  He held back.  He must realize the futility of doing so.  Denise being ordered elsewhere was outrage, an insult like he had just undergone in the conference room.  But the insult originated with someone else and this little know nothing wouldn’t have the slightest idea what was behind it nor its significance.

 

Willets stepped over to the secretary’s desk while Lenny struggled to compose himself.

 

“Miss, uh, Kelly is it? Yes, Kelly.  Denise is Mr. King’s personal secretary.  Do you know who told her to leave her station and report to the pool supervisor?”

 

“Oh no.  I don’t know that Mr. Willets.  I was just told to report here to take her place.  I think someone called her.”

 

“Kelly, who exactly told you to report here?”

 

“My supervisor. He said it was on orders of one of the Partners.”

 

“And was she the one that called Denise?”

 

“I don’t know, Mr. Willets.  I think so.”

 

Willets decided not to waste any more time trying to figure out what led this ignorant young woman to her conclusions.  He heard Lenny pick up his phone.  He pushed one of the buttons at the bottom of the phone.

 

“Yes, that’s who I said. Crabtree. What do you mean, she’s unavailable? This is Lenny King, God Dammit!  You tell her to get her ass up her this minute! Do you hear me?  Or you are fired!  Do you understand?”  Lenny slammed the phone down before any response could be given.

 

They looked at each other and shook their heads in wonder.

 

Lenny said, “What was that all about in the conference room?  I want you to fire that bastard, Jones, he knows better than to sit in my chair for God’s sake. I practically had to throw him out of it.  I want him fired, you understand?”

 

“Sure, sure but, Lenny, something else is going on here.  This is too much.  It’s not just one rogue and rude HR guy.  There’s no coincidence here.  Let’s see what is going on first.”

 

As if on signal, the door opened. There had been no knock, no announcement.  In strolled Lenora Crabtree.  She smiled good-naturedly at Willets, crossed over to the bar, reached in the fridge under the ledge and brought herself out a diet coke.  She popped the top.  Listened to it fizz.  Took a loud sip and then walked over to the couch and took a seat.  She held the coke in one hand, her cell phone in the other and as she examined the face of the phone, she said, “What’s this all about Lenny?  You yelled at my secretary. That’s not good form.  We can get sued for that kind of behavior. You of all people should know all about that.”

 

Willets watched as Lenny started to speak but had to swallow angry words down a closed throat.

 

Willets walked over and sat down with Lenora.  He thought his best role would be to try to calm the waters.

 

“Lenora, what’s going on? Did you order Mr. King’s secretary to return to the secretarial pool?”

 

“Well, she was being wasted in her current post.  She is paid a very pretty salary and does little actual productive work so, yes, she was reassigned.”

 

“You reassigned my secretary?”  Lenny was angry.  Almost spitting out the words.

 

Willets tried to intervene once more.  “Lenora, you can’t do that.  You know that.  What could you have been thinking?  You don’t have authority over Mr. King’s personal staff.”

 

“Well, I actually do.”

 

Lenny lost what little patience he had.  “The hell you do!  I’m still the boss around here.”

 

“Well, actually not.”

 

Lenny lost his voice again. He was choking on his words.  Nothing was coming out.

 

Willets said, “Lenora, please tell me what is going on.  This doesn’t make any sense.”

 

“Maybe, I’m the not the one you should ask.  These are all direct orders by the new interim chief, Nadine King.”

 

Lenny asked incredulously, “Nadine? What? How?”

 

“You should know, Lenny.  You did it all with your fancy legal Trust.”

 

“The Trust? The Trust isn’t in effect yet.  I haven’t really decided when it will be and even then, Nadine isn’t given control of the company.”

 

‘Well, it seems your daughter has accelerated things a bit.  Her lawyers filed the Trust in court.  They say you signed it and it has an effective date that’s already passed so it’s in effect. Lenny, your daughter moves fast.  Like I’ve heard you did.  At least when you were young.  I never saw such fast moves.  She went out and lined up just enough share votes needed to get the board to appoint her interim head of the organization until things get re-organized. One thing you did do in that Trust is give up enough shares for ceding voting control. Maybe you didn’t want it to happen so soon, but, well, it’s in effect now.  So, see, you aren’t actually in charge anymore.”

 

“Well, you Bitch!”  This time it was Willets who had lost his temper.

 

Lenora raised up her hand. “Just wait a minute.  The Trust terms are his.”  And she pointed at Lenny.  “I’m just doing what the boss, the new boss, is saying to do.”

 

There was a pause. “That’s all.”

 

Then Lenora decided to apply the coup de grace.  “And by the way, this office is being, uh, well, it won’t be your office anymore after next week.  Nadine said to give you an office in case you wanted to visit the headquarters, from your retirement stuff whatever that is, but something this massive needs to be put to better business use.  Your new secretary, Kelly, will let you know where your office is to be.”

 

And with that she got up and power walked out of the room with her happy “business as usual” smile.

 

Lenny sat down heavily in his chair.  Willets grabbed the phone.  “Yes, uh, Kelly can you put a call into Mr. King’s daughter. No, I don’t have the extension. It must be on the computer there in front of you.  Yes, her name is Nadine.  King.  Her last name is King, for God’s sake!  No, I’m sorry, I didn’t’ mean to yell.  Yes, thank you, please buzz us when you get through to her.”

 

They remained silent for five full minutes.  Lenny’s breathing was audible.  Then the phone buzzed.  Lenny picked it up.  He said, “Yes, put her through.”  He pushed the button for the loudspeaker.  Nadine’s voice came on.

 

“Hi Dad.”  There was a slight giggle.  “What’s new with you, Pops?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A King’s Trust, Chapters 5&6

A King’s Trust, Chapters 5&6

Chapter Five

 

Nadine looked at her cell phone.  She saw it was her younger brother calling.  Good ole’ Dylan. Poor simple Dylan.

 

When they were kids, he would always be at her side.  He even tried to fight some bigger boys one time when he thought she needed defending. But she hadn’t needed defending. Far from it. In fact, just the opposite, but he didn’t know that, and he had tried to fight them, and she thought him a dear for trying. When he wasn’t looking, she had winked and smiled at the three boys, so they would know not to tell him what they had actually been doing. And she hugged and thanked Dylan for rescuing her.  She still thought him a sweet boy.

 

Nadine knew Dylan would never last in the business world.  But she had resolved that once she took over, she would take care of him. Make sure he had a place to stay after she figured out how to get rid of that monstrosity of a house where he and their father lived.  Where she and her brothers grew up.  She hated that house.  And the market was strong right now.  It would bring in a tidy sum.  She would provide Dylan an apartment at one of their city properties.  He could putter around with his college courses and, if he stayed out the way, she would insure provision would be made for his simple needs.  Well, as long as he didn’t bring home some little coed slut looking to wiggle her way into the family business.  And fortune. There would have to be a few rules concerning such matters for dear brother Dylan.

 

But right now, Nadine didn’t have the time or inclination to take his call.  He could wait.  Her destination was her new lawyer’s office.

 

She crossed the impressively ornate lobby and stopped at the receptionist desk.  Waiting for the honeyed lacquered blonde to get off the phone, she studied the directory of offices on the wall behind her.  Many of the names were accompanied with the legend “Attorney at Law.”  She realized that they must all share the costs of the building and common staff like this big-breasted slut with the Botox lips hanging up the phone.

 

“May I help you?”

 

“I am here to see Mr. Oswald in a . . .” and she looked on the board behind the blonde, “room 413.”

 

“And do you have an appointment?”

 

“I do. Please announce me.” And with that she turned her back and walked toward the elevators.  Nadine smiled knowing the blonde was staring daggers at her back. She heard the woman push a button though and speak softly into a receiver.  No doubt saying a real bitch was on her way up to the fourth floor. “That’s true enough,” thought Nadine.

 

When she got to Room 413, she walked into the suite of offices like she owned the place.  Yet another blonde was waiting.  Standing next to her desk.

 

“Ms. King, Mr. Oswald is waiting for you.  You may go right in. This way.”  And she pointed with her hand upturned toward an open doorway.

 

Nadine didn’t bother to acknowledge the second blonde and just walked right by her into the office and stopped before a massive oak desk.  Sitting behind it was a big armed lawyer in shirt sleeves and dark brown suspenders. She heard the door being softly closed behind her.  No doubt in a minute all the harpies in the building would know the new bitch had reached her destination, the inner sanctum.

 

She liked how the lawyer quickly examined her body, looked her up and down before he motioned for her to have a seat in one of the client chairs.   Unlike the heavy leather ones at her father’s lawyer’s office, these were more spartan, functional, not designed for a client to feel comfortable, wallowing around, spending an inordinate amount of unbillable time.

 

She sat and crossed her legs.  She noted he looked.  He smiled. She smiled. There was a pause. Neither said anything.

 

They were playing the game. Nadine knew all about such meetings. Ironically, she had learned their intricacies from her father.  Whoever spoke first would concede initial control.  The other person could sit back and decide on a strategy for responding depending on what was said and how it was said.  They both recognized that was how criminal enterprises, secret conspiracies, were joined though each would have called it something different.

 

Nadine felt she had the keys to the proverbial castle, the leverage, so she waited him out.

 

“How may I be of assistance, Ms. . .  ah, King,” he said, ruffling papers in front of him as if looking for her name.  This last was for effect.  He was obviously trying to retain some semblance of control.  Nadine was no novice.  She waited a few moments longer letting the question he had been forced to ask hang in the air without condescending to answer it until she was good and ready.

 

“Well, I was told, . . .uh,” and she reached across and took one of his business cards from the deep red plastic card holder at the side table next to her chair.  Perusing it a minute she read his name out loud, looking at him as if trying to match the face with the name on the card, “uh, Mr. Oswald is it?  Mr. Edmund Oswald?  Well, I was told you were a “well to do” lawyer, although I must say, your surroundings certainly don’t communicate success.  These chairs are decidedly uncomfortable.”

 

With that she stood up and strolled over to the wall to inspect his certificates and diplomas.

 

If her dig got to him he didn’t show it. But now she was standing, and he was forced to look up at her from an inferior position.  He realized what she had done.

 

“Well, I do my best for my clients.  It’s their wealth, uh, their justice I seek to preserve.  I’m not that interested in outward shows of ostentation.  And if I may, please, Ms. King, how can I be of assistance?  I have many clients to see today.”

 

“Really?  I saw no one in your reception room. I must have just beaten the crowd getting here.  How fortunate.”

 

His mouth tightened.

 

She did think the bit about enriching the clients was pretty good.  This guy might work out.

 

“Please, Ms. King.  What can I do for you?”  He was worn down.  Time to get to it.

 

Okay, she thought, we both know who is the boss here.

 

“You familiar with an attorney by the name of, uh, Easley?”

 

He didn’t reply so she turned to look at him. He was staring at her and she could tell his mind was working. Getting involved in a case in which another lawyer was already involved made him cautious.

 

“I know ——Easley.”

 

“Do you think he’s a good lawyer?”

 

The hair on the back of Oswald’s neck prickled a little.  There were ethical rules to be careful with here.  He could be accused of interfering in an attorney-client relationship and that was something the State Bar didn’t take lightly.  Stealing clients (and their fees) from another lawyer got the attention of the ethics committee much more than overcharging, even bilking, one’s own clients.

 

“I’m sorry, I can’t comment on the competence of an attorney without some knowledge of the complaint.”

 

Nadine figured it was time to put him on the dime.

 

“Well, can you beat him?”

 

He didn’t answer.

 

“Because Mr. Oswald,” she continued, “I want you to beat him and beat him bad.  There is a lot of money involved and I want to see you handsomely paid for beating that old fool.”

 

Edmund Oswald smiled. Now this is the kind of client that makes the practice of law such fun.  And rewarding.

 

“Please sit down, Ms. King.  Let’s get to know each other better.  I’m sure I can be of assistance.”

 

Chapter Six

 

A week later, Lenny King woke up in “The Mood.”  His “take charge” mood.  His favorite mood to be in.  Didn’t happen every day like it used to, but this morning he felt the old drive.  He drove to his corporate headquarters.  It was a plush building, ornate, its style suggestive of the last century’s architecture though it was less than a decade old.  It occupied most of the block just north of the city square.  Prime real estate.  It perfectly matched what he considered his style.  Impressive at first sight.

 

He was justifiably proud of its edifice.  It was dominated by twin towers in the middle of the city.  The two towers were connected by a modern louvered structure. One entire side of the middle building was mirrored with windows that darkened automatically on especially bright days, but still preserved the magnificent view of the Sierra foothills for the denizens at work in the building, busily making Lenny so much money. His people.  His staff.  He was sure they were all assiduously working.  Improving the products that carried the corporate brand. Inventing new ones. Pushing the edge of innovation before the competition could catch up.  And constantly, continuously, working at cornering the market. Keeping his empire going.  His kingdom. They were his vassals.  Hell, he didn’t even know how many worked there anymore.

 

Like a King in his regal coach, he pulled into the underground parking garage and turned immediately left. Around a corner, he paused the car and hit a button on his dashboard.   It sent a signal to roll open a large steel reinforced door.  On the other side was his own private section of the garage. When the door pulled back, he eased his car through. He rolled to a stop and backed his car into a wide parking area directly across and facing three very expensive automobiles.   They were all vintage models he kept for a little variety.  And for show.

 

He sat and admired his Bentley, his Porsche and his favorite, the classic ‘56 Corvette convertible. The last had cost him more dearly than the other cars, but he had spent the money gladly.  It was worth it to have the rare gem which had been lovingly and meticulously restored.  An “off frame” restoration.  Every nut and bolt, every hose and piece of chrome removed, cleaned, replaced if necessary, and then carefully reassembled. The Corvette was much too valuable to drive on the street.  He did, however, take it to private meets and car shows from time to time and basked in the stares, the “oohs” and “ahs”. Lenny did enjoy the perks of being a king.

 

Lenny left the “Beemer” and as he walked by the Corvette he lightly touched the side just in front of the door handle for no other reason than the car was his possession.

 

As he approached an elevator door he heard a familiar click.  A camera with face recognition capability had sent a signal to the security computer that in turn sent another signal opening the door.  The elevator had only one button.  It took him directly to the top floor and opened.  He walked into a palatial apartment.  It had two bedrooms.  One for sleeping and one for recreation. This last he seldom used anymore.  Not after that last mess.   Attorney Easley had to work extra hard to get him out of that one.  Cost a lot of money to buy off that little bitch.  And almost as much to pay off her attorney. Well, his lawyer had warned him. And Lenny had, once again, ignored his advice.  Well, who wouldn’t?  Lenny smiled to himself.  She had been something.  Maybe not worth that much money, but dam near.

 

He walked over to the bar. A quick inventory confirmed it was fully stocked.  He thought for a moment and then poured himself a small dollop of his own brand of whiskey distilled specially for him in Scotland.  He held the drink up to admire its color in the expensive crystal tumbler.  One satisfying sip and he sat it down on the bar and left it.  That was enough.  He had never been much of a drinker.  The liquor, the crystal, the bar.   The trappings were what were important.   He liked his trappings.  The on-call butler would dispose of the abandoned cocktail later.  He crossed the apartment and hit a button and entered his business office from a door situated behind his gargantuan desk.

 

He took a moment to look around.  He noted with satisfaction that everything was shiny, clean and in place.   Even though he had not bothered to come to the office for two weeks.  The outer door opened and his secretary, a mousy and cockeyed middle-aged lady came through to offer her assistance and update him on any matter about which he might inquire.  She was very good at her job.  She was also very ugly, a quality that attorney Easley had insisted upon.  Being singularly unattractive was the point. After settling a significant amount of cash on his last “personal” secretary, well, no one would accuse him of messing with this one.

 

“Mr. King.  I have a few messages for you and can relay those if you choose.  They are on your daily calendar on the computer screen if you prefer to read them later.  There are two meetings of your Executive Council today, one in a half hour and the other at three this afternoon.  Should you choose to attend, the agendas are on your computer.”

 

She waited, with her fingers poised over her electronic notepad for any instructions or inquiries he cared to give or make.

 

“Thank you, Denise. I’m will be attending the first meeting. Tell them not to start until I’m there. That will be all.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Oh, and a cup of coffee, if you please.”

 

“Certainly.”

 

She crossed to the credenza where a fresh pot was brewed and placed in a carafe four times a day whether he was there or not.  She poured him a cup in a mug he preferred. It was emblazoned with the logo from the university where he served on the alumni board. She set it on his desk.  On a matching coaster.  He didn’t look up.  He just reached to where he knew it would be and opened his computer to read his messages and email.  She withdrew and closed the door quietly behind her.

 

He felt calmer now. He was in control again.  A slight, very slight, pang of guilt over his treatment of Dylan the day before was attempting to rise to the surface.  He didn’t exactly regret what he did.  He made it a policy never to apologize and certainly never to feel bad about what he said and did.  But he already had softened in his resolve to move the kid out.  He would deal with that later.  Dylan did love him.  And like his mother had before him, Dylan loved his father unconditionally.

 

Lenny knew that kind of love was what made it easy for him to abuse the kid.  Just as he had abused the mother.  Emotionally.   He had seldom resorted to physical violence.  Well, he did whip Dylan severely a few times, like he did Nadine and Regan, but only if they needed it.  No matter how much their mother had whined he knew it had been good for them. And, he had to admit, he had smacked Edna a couple of times, really just pushed, but only after he had a few drinks and her obsequiousness got under his skin. She had later agreed it was her fault entirely.

 

He decided he would go to the meeting of his Executives.  All the department heads would be there.  He would roust them a little.  Put the old fear in them about the bottom line.  Or maybe he would be gracious today and announce he was cutting back on his involvement, passing the baton to the next generation. He would be inspirational.

 

His intercom buzzed. The voice of Denise, his secretary, came on.  “Sir, Mr. Willets is here.  He asked to see you.”

 

Good old Willits. Well, he had a few minutes and the assholes who worked for him could wait.  He liked to keep them waiting sometimes anyway.  Other times he showed up to the meetings early to give them cold stares as they came through the door to the conference room. He would look at them like they were late.  He was going to miss all these little games he played on the staff.   It kept them sharp.  He was sure they would also miss his little tricks, what he called his leadership skills. He felt they appreciated his strength.  He was convinced they all loved him in their own way.

 

He figured without his strong leadership at the helm, the corporate ship would list about a bit before finding it’s bearings.  It would be good for all of them.

 

Willets sat down without being invited.  There was a comfortable familiarity between the two men born of their long history together.

 

In their younger days, when they were first getting started they had been equals.  No one considered them that anymore.  Willets had technical skills, he was good at making products work, good at taking ideas and making them into an actual physical object.  And the products worked, were reliable.  But King possessed the political skills and had taken operational control of the company long ago. The roles worked.  They had both profited handsomely from each other’s skill.  Because of their history together both men retained an outward patina of respect for the other and observed the protocols and deferrals of an equality between them though the equality was fictional.

 

The two men smiled at each other as they often did. It was a ritual recognition of their good fortune, the good fortune of being partners, a ritual they engaged in each time they met alone.  Before either could say anything, the intercom buzzed and his secretary announced that his son Dylan was calling.

 

Lenny was still feeling haughty, so he told her to tell him he was currently unavailable and to say it in those terms.  She replied, “Yes, sir” and buzzed off.

 

“Well, Willets, how long you going to stay with all this.  About time you cut back too, don’t you think?”

 

“Me?  Hell, Lenny, what would I do with my time? This is all I know.”

 

“Oh, you would figure it out soon enough, smart guy.”

 

“Yeah, Lenny, I’m smart. And I’m smart enough to tell my partner when he is royally screwing up.”

 

Lenny leaned back into the plush leather of his very expensive executive chair.  He didn’t like that last statement.  The directness of it shocked him a bit.  But he would be generous and patient with his old buddy. For a while at least.

 

“What’s got you all inflamed?  Who pissed you off, Partner?”

 

“This plan of yours.  It’s a cockamamie plan.  Foolish if you ask me.”

 

“What?”

 

“What?  Dividing up the company!  Talking about turning it over but keeping some control.  If there is one thing I have learned.  In business, at least the way you practice it, and the ways it’s set up around her, you can’t do that.  Either you are in charge or someone will take over for you and they will be in charge.”

 

There was an accusation hanging over this last statement.  Neither man wanted to get too far into it.  But the implication was that Willets had learned this lesson long ago.  Back when he had partial control of the company, he took the position that just partial control was all he wanted and would never want more than that.  It wasn’t long after that Lenny wrested complete control from him.

 

“Oh, come on Willets. These are my own kids.  My blood. And you and Crabtree are my partners, through thick and thin.  Years and decades.  Well not Crabtree.  But long enough.  How long has it been?  Hell, I don’t even know anymore.  What’s it matter anyway?  There is a love between all of us that nothing can put asunder.  I will put my trust in that.”

 

“No, you come on! Once you transfer authority you really think all that will matter.  This company is like you always liked to say it is, a kingdom and a very rich one at that. You yourself have preached against giving credence to any promise, to any future guarantees when money, real money was involved.  And you are going to split it all up?”

 

“Being a little dramatic aren’t we Willets?  What are you worrying about anyway, you are well taken care of. You will still retain your little fiefdom.”

 

Lenny could see the anger rising in Willets.  He was feeling anger himself.  Then Willets changed.  He looked down and shook his head.  When he looked back up, he looked sad not angry.

 

“Listen, Lenny, we pretend, but I’m not fooled.  You are the boss.  You have been the head guy most of our whole time together.  And it’s been good.  But with you gone, I won’t last five minutes with any of those lining up after you.  Not even with Crabtree.  I often wondered why you even kept me around. The same work I do could have been done by dozens of others.  At least after those first few years.”

 

“We’re partners!” Lenny said with a wide smile.  Trying to take the edge off the conversation.

 

“Not for a long time.  But that’s okay.  That’s okay.”

 

“Well, let me turn it around on you.  Why’d you stay?  You could have sold your shares, made a huge fortune and spent the rest of your days tinkering with your inventions.”

 

There was a pause as Willets looked at Lenny with a plaintiff quality in his eyes.

 

“Loyalty, Lenny.  I wanted to stay with you.  Look out for you.  Be a partner in adversity if something happens, you know, those times the company wasn’t buzzing.  Always wanted to be like that with you.  Still do, Lenny.”

 

The intercom buzzed, and Denise’s voice came on.  “Just a reminder, Mr. King.  The Exec Council assembled ten minutes ago. They know not to start without you.”

 

Lenny looked back at Willets.  “Listen, let’s talk about this some more.  I value your good counsel.  Always have. You know that.  But let’s get through this meeting today and we will set something up.”

 

Lenny emerged from behind his desk, walked by Willets, patted him lightly on the shoulder and went through the door.

 

Willets got up and followed him.

 

Lenny didn’t know it at the time, but his other partner had a surprise waiting.

 

 

 

 

A King’s Trust, Chapters 3 and 4

A King’s Trust, Chapters 3 and 4

Chapter 3

 

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.”

 

“Expensive?”

 

“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.”

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

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.

 

“Sit down.”

 

“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.

 

 

A King’s Trust, Chapter Two

A King’s Trust

 

Chapter 2

 

The crowd was gone. The lawyer still sat at his desk. Mr. King had got up from his chair after the others had left and wandered over to the window that looked out on the street and the passing traffic.  The paralegal still sat in her chair making notes.  She was thorough.  The lawyer knew she was jotting down everything from the meeting before moving, before leaving his office.  She was doing it now to insure none of it was forgotten or overlooked. It was an important exercise.  The lawyer gave her the time she needed.

 

As he watched Mr. King, he thought of the affection he felt for the old man.  Their long years had engendered a familiar loyalty. They had in a way started together.  The lawyer opened his practice around same time Mr. King had opened his first store. They had met at a Chamber of Commerce function, both were networking like all the books on starting a business advised.  The lawyer was surprised when the next week he got a call and Lenny King asked for a meeting to discuss incorporating his new business.

 

All through those later discussions, the lawyer had been impressed with the ambition of his new client and his dreams of franchising what he considered to be a unique business. Alarms, smoke alarms at first, then the continuing expansion of product offerings, complete security systems. All that had happened and more and the lawyer had been there for the ride.

 

They had become close and trusted friends.  They didn’t exactly think alike but each of their families had deep roots in the same areas of the South, a large swath of territory spanning parts of Arkansas and the badlands of Oklahoma.   They shared similar views like most of that first generation born in California, but bred on the old culture, the truisms and traditions of the South.  Their interpretations of those views, especially as concerns matters of race and fortune, and especially the rich, were different, but not how the world was currently viewed.  So, they were close, as least as close as two men could be who had their own interests and divergent views, especially on topics that could generate a heated argument in an instant, in a flash.

 

The client, lean, healthy, usually dressed in conservative business suits tended toward the flamboyant and the risky in his business dealings.  The lawyer affecting a more flamboyant style of dress, restrained and presided over by his wife, and indulging his baser desires, possessing an unalloyed happiness with physical delights, passions for food, and in his younger days for slightly wayward women, tended toward the conservative in matters of business. They matched up, complimented each other nicely.

 

His advice to Mr. king over the years reflected his conservative tendencies.  Mr. King would listen, agree, and then foolishly ignore the advice and get into unnecessary legal scrapes and the lawyer would get him out of it.  Mostly, it fell to the lawyer to attach a bottom line price for buying his client out of trouble and then to carry out the details and execute a plan for extraction from the legal jungle and his latest morass.   Of late, the lawyer had arrived at the point in his career he could simply have his staff do it while he billed double, and it the trouble was especially bothersome sometimes, triple the usual rate.

 

The paralegal finished with her notes.  She got up and crossed in front of the lawyer and exited the office without saying anything or looking at anyone.  Taciturn she was, but good at her job. She earned the lawyer a lot of significant fees. And he was smart enough to pay her well. It kept her around.  It made her feel like a true professional. And with her, it didn’t take a lot of talking, neither praise or criticism, to get things done.  He especially liked that about her.

 

After she closed the door, Mr. King turned away from the view.

 

“You still think this is all wrong I know.”

 

“And, Lenny, I’m going to tell you again,” the lawyer said, “You do this and there is nothing that will prevent someone from taking advantage.  You could lose everything. Not now, not tomorrow, but sooner than you think if someone makes a move. There are some real vulnerabilities here for you.”

 

“I know. I know.  I’ve heard you.  I understand.  But these are my family, my friends.  Lord knows I must learn to trust them.  You can’t earn trust of those you love unless you love them and trust them in turn yourself, you know.”

 

“Yeah, I’ve heard ditch bank preachers say that my whole life.  But that doesn’t mean opening yourself up to risk. We’ve been down this road before.  You are creative sure. You have a, what, a keen sense of business for sure, but Lenny you’ve always wanted to give too much. You are too, weak sometimes, too full of the milk of human kindness and not cautious enough that the milk can sour, and you better make sure it doesn’t get a chance to go bad on you.  And we both know how that usually works out for you.”

 

The client didn’t respond. As usual, when reminded of his past peccadillos and their costs, he changed the subject.  “What did you think of Nadine’s attitude?” he asked.

 

The lawyer shook his head. King spoke for him.  “I know you are worried.  You worry too much about nothing.  The world is nothing.  All is nothing.  So, forget it, let’s go all in, huh?”

 

“I don’t know what the hell that means.  You asked. She’s not being completely forthcoming. She will try to move some of the others out.”

 

The father smiled.  “She will that.”

 

“You want that to happen?”

 

“Well, I’ve always thought she’s got the drive for sure.  I like that about her.  Maybe she should be in charge of the company someday.”

“You’re not worried about the other kids, about your partners?” the lawyer asked.

 

“Oh.  She will be okay with them.  You know, before she left here today, she kissed my cheek.  She said “I love you Pops no matter what. Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll take care of it.”  That’s the real her.  Nothing better than the love of kids for their Daddy.”

 

The lawyer thought maybe it was he who was being the fool here.  Maybe the client was right.  But no. That thought passed quickly.  He had experience with these things.  As a lawyer.  With what people said, what people promised and then what they actually did.  If he was honest, he didn’t think “trust” really existed.  You better not trust anyone on anything.  When you drilled down far enough into people’s love, loyalty, all that, there was nothing there.  Well, nothing you wanted to look at too long.

 

“What say we go fishing?” Lenny said.  The suggestion from his client came out of the blue. “You too should retire,” he continued, “We started together. It would be great.  I’m going to keep a small office, some staff.  You could too, same building even.  We can keep an eye on things.  Then have coffee, lunch.  Play a round of golf; get out the fishing gear when we feel like it.  Take some buddies, head up to Montana and hunt. Hell, it will be great.”

 

The lawyer thought about all that his friend was saying.  It was tempting for sure.  But he was not ready yet.  He had a few more things to put in place in his own life.  “Trust but verify” didn’t someone say?  Some President?  Security first.  Have the insurance paid up and current.  Then be generous.  Then go fishing.  Not before.

 

 

A King’s Trust, a novel by Phil Cline

A King’s Trust, a novel by Phil Cline

This novel will be published in serial form, a chapter or two per week.  any comments, criticisms etc. are welcome.  Enjoy

A King’s Trust

 

Trust—“A right of property, real or personal, held by one party for the benefit of the other.”

            Black’s Law Dictionary

 

Trust—“an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something, one in which confidence is placed.”

            Webster’s Dictionary

 

 

Chapter One

 

The lawyer sat behind the steering wheel of his bright yellow Cadillac inspecting his hands. He liked how his nails looked.   He felt more elegant after his manicure.

 

And the feeling was enhanced when he was dressed in a new suit, a nice shirt, with cufflinks of course, and a tie his wife selected each morning.  The selection was inevitably accompanied with her lecture on acceptable taste.  The ensemble of a lawyer’s apparel must be well thought out she told him. His raiment must ever be a subtle combination of style and color to match his, as she delicately put it, “burgeoning physicality.”  The one she picked for today she might say was subdued but distinctive in color and pattern.  Pink and paisley would not have been his first choice, but with the light grey suit, he had to admit, it worked.

 

He flexed his fingers and checked his cuticles once again.  It was time.

 

Swinging out of the car, he checked the handle to make sure it was locked and walked across the parking lot.  He entered through the back door of his single-story office building.  It had once been a house. Back when there was a lot less traffic on main street.

 

As he walked down the hallway, he carried himself with a bit of grace.  Despite the tiny tinny voice on his scale announcing each morning that his weight continued to advance toward the three fifty mark, he knew in his soul he was an athlete.  Hadn’t Babe Ruth been big like him?  Hadn’t Charles Barkley?  Hefty men can still perform on the athletic field.  Or basketball court.  Or in courts of law for that matter.  And he could do both.

 

On the rare occasion he was called upon to actually litigate a case, he moved easily around the courtroom. He was a good sport and took the frequent fat shaming from his legal colleagues with humor and managed to return a few good-natured digs of his own.  He knew he was popular with the denizens of the legal community at the courthouse and, when he showed up, he usually got what he wanted.

 

Most of his court appearances were at the downtown courthouse where they calendared the civil cases.  He avoided criminal law.  Trusts and wills were his specialty.   He knew from experience, it was always better to avoid court.  Time in court cost money.  The billings, double billings especially, were much simpler when there was no record of his actual physical location. Still, all in all, he enjoyed the few times he ventured downtown and made an actual appearance on behalf of a client.

 

What he wanted this morning was for it to be noon.  Come noon the people in his waiting room would be gone. The provisions of this particular will and trust would be set.  And he could turn the entire matter over to his paralegal to draft the actual legal documents.  He could bill his time right over the top of hers though by then he would have gone on to other matters. Other billings.  Or better yet be at lunch.

 

The important thing was to just keep the meter running.  Time was money.  His time was expensive and the meter on his time clock never quit ticking.  Plus, he would leave the administrative matters to his secretary who would bill for three times what he paid her on top of the time he billed for the paralegal.  And most importantly he could go to lunch and the clock would keep ticking and the billable hours would continue to accumulate.

 

But noon was still two hours away, the entire King family was in the lobby and it was time to get to work.  He sat down at his desk and punched the red button on his phone.  It lit up simultaneously at the receptionist station and his personal secretaries’ desk as well as in the library where his paralegal did most of her work. The receptionist would wait for the secretary to approach the door to the inner waiting area and then she would push the button releasing the security lock and announce to those gathered that “Mr. Easley will see you now.”

 

As the inner door opened the secretary would be standing there smiling and turn to lead them down the corridor with its framed pictures featuring the “Nick Easley,

Attorney at Law” posing with friends, family and a judge or two.  In their robes, of course. As the secretary strolled down the hallway, her hips would slightly sway.  She knew perfectly well the effect it would have on those following behind her. There was nothing slatternly about her walk, but it exhibited just enough confident eroticism to be interesting in an age when sex in the workplace was scandalous behavior from a previous era.

 

The paralegal meanwhile would be making her way to the lawyer’s office.  Her chair had been pre-positioned to the left side and slightly behind the lawyer’s expansive shined and completely clean desk.  She would take notes and figure out what needed to be done.  The lawyer would never put pen to legal pad.  To do so, he felt, was inelegant.  And it just might communicate a lack of intellectual control.

 

The lawyer rested his folded hands on his considerable stomach as his paralegal walked in front of his desk and went to stand by her chair. He watched her as she passed and smiled not about her looks or her body, (not much to notice there anyway) but in satisfaction about how efficiently his office ran and how his staff knew their roles and what to do without being told.

 

He heard the footsteps and the bustle of the group following his secretary to his office.  A middle age woman, his secretary was “old school.” She got and kept her job in the early years the old fashion way.  By spending quality time on the couch in his office with the door locked.  Now, after all this time, she knew more about some aspects of his business than he did.  And he didn’t bother her for favors anymore.  He didn’t dare.   One day she told him in no uncertain terms, she didn’t like it, had never liked it and let him know that if he ever brought it up again, she would use her knowledge of how he ran his business, including his billing practices, to ruin him.  But that aside, she said they could continue in business together and both would profit.  From that day forward, she became more a business associate than a secretary. And he paid her well.  She was, he came to realize, worth every penny.

 

She walked in and he registered the look in her eyes.  “Watch out”, the look said.  She then stood aside as each person in single file entered the office.  Once all seven were there and looking for a place to sit down, she left and closed the door behind her.  The lawyer made no effort to find chairs for everyone. He knew at least one, maybe two, would have to stand.  That was okay with him. It would speed the meeting.

 

His main client, Lenny King, was a business executive, an assertive man, and entitled man and he automatically took one of the two luxurious leather client chairs right in front of the attorney’s desk.  The lawyer watched with interest to see if one of the three children or perhaps one of the business partners would take the other chair.  There was a third client chair back along the wall. And, of course, there was the couch.

 

The couch could accommodate three people if they didn’t mind sinking into its super soft confines and having their knees touching. It was especially challenging for women in dresses. It was so low it elevated their knees above their stomachs.  It was a position in which the lawyer liked to place women.  Awkward and vulnerable, trying to keep their dress down, feeling trapped.  Though with the regrettable prevalence of pants suits nowadays some of the more interesting views he had been privy to in the past were now rare.  Neither of the two women was wearing a skirt.  A disappointment to the lawyer, which passed quickly. He hadn’t expected anything different.  This was business after all.

 

It was his client’s daughter, Nadine, who took the other chair in front of the lawyer. He was surprised. She pulled the heavy chair over even closer to his client.  He felt a momentary twinge of protectionism.  Lenny King was a good client, in fact had been his client for the last twenty-five years.  He knew the billings from just this one client had help pay for his two oldest children to attend the very expensive private colleges they had chosen.

 

That said, his client could be an ass.  He was frequently too demanding.  He could also be too enamored of his own judgment on all things, political, or otherwise.  He thought he knew best on many things that were beyond his field of expertise, even the law, but no matter.  It meant he was frequently in legal straits, needed the assistance of the lawyer and, best of all, he paid his bills religiously on time.  And the sums on the billings oftentimes were ridiculously high.

 

He was a good client even if didn’t always follow his lawyer’s good advice.  He was usually a good sport about it when the lawyer quietly mentioned that the latest legal difficulty could have been avoided had he listened to the lawyer’s counsel.  But no matter, here he was today to surrender his business concerns, move into retirement and enjoy the fruits of his labors. The lawyer had advised against this too, at least as to how he proposed to dispose of his responsibilities but was overruled by the client.  Not an unusual occurrence in their relationship.

 

The lawyer waited a moment for the group to settle into their places.  One was left standing. The youngest of King’s three children. Dylan.  He was the slow one.  There had been some mention of autism, but the lawyer admittedly knew little about the condition and couldn’t render an opinion one way or the other.  The boy was truly a nice kid.  Well, not kid.  He was twenty-eight now.  But he was still shy and awkward.  He always seemed to be studying his surroundings rather than the people with him or what they were saying.  And his answers to questions could be disarmingly honest. He could say something that from others would be considered an insult, but there never seemed to be any malice in what he said.  Consequently, his responses though frequently inappropriate were usually overlooked.

 

The two business partners, Crabtree and Willets, sat on the couch together, but at opposite ends. Crabtree was a female in her late fifties. She was sharply dressed.  Her hair was immaculately styled if too stiff. Every hair was in place.  It wasn’t natural.  Her partner’s appearance didn’t match her standards.  The contrast made Willets look sloppy.  The lawyer had known him for years too.  He was smart and loyal and now wealthy, but he would never change.  It didn’t matter how expensive or finely tailored his suits were they always looked like he had slept in them. His lap invariably had crumbs; his tie stains from his last meal.

 

The second son, Regan, sat in the chair along the wall.  He had a perpetual sneer on his face.  It had been there since he was five years old.  It perfectly reflected his personality.  He was bright for sure, but he had inherited the qualities from his father that could make him an ass without the good-natured self-abnegation that made the Father’s transgressions forgivable.  The son didn’t possess the grace to admit he could overdo it once in a while, that he did indeed make mistakes and those mistakes were sometimes real doozies.

 

The lawyer cleared his throat.

 

“Well, welcome, everyone. Mr. Lenny King, your family and partners.  Once again please accept my condolences on the loss of Mrs. King.  She was a truly great lady.”

 

Mr. King, his two sons and business partners nodded their heads in unison, but not the daughter, Nadine. She stared straight ahead at the lawyer, obviously waiting for him to get past the preliminaries.

 

“Mr. King, as I’m sure you have been informed, has decided to retire.  He and I have discussed the matter extensively and he has made his wishes known to me.  I have drawn up some preliminary paperwork to insure the legalities are addressed and this meeting today is to discuss those matters.  It is Mr. King’s desire to be transparent and address your questions and concerns at this time. You are the interested parties and have the most to be concerned about. Once this meeting has concluded and it is clear what Mr. King’s desires are in these matters, then a final set of documents will be drawn up for his signature.  And his intent will be memorialized.”

 

Mr. King spoke up for the first time.  “Yes.” He turned slightly so all those behind him would feel they were part of the conversation.  Interestingly to the lawyer, this meant his back was half turned to the daughter.

 

“You are my family, my partners, and my best friends.  I know each of you have concerns, but I want you to know how all this is slated to happen. And I want you to know it all right here and right now.  You are my loved ones and my dear friends and my business partners.  Yes, especially my partners.  We have built a very successful business together, hell, an empire really, and while I will be gradually withdrawing from further worries and stress, I wanted to insure everyone, including you, are well taken care of.  You are all family or like family to me anyway.”

 

There was a silent moment. The lawyer felt all of this was coming across as being contrived.  It made the silence awkward.

 

“Would you like me to explain the provisions of the Trust and Will now?”  He directed his question at Mr. King.

 

Without turning back to face the lawyer, the client replied, “Well, yes, that would be fine, but let me say this.  I know it’s not something I often say.  I think you know its not easy for me to say.  But, well, here it is: I love you all.  And if I could I would continue as President of the company and, well, all of us, in our present roles, forever, but with the loss of my Edna, I have lost that old drive and want to rest a bit, enjoy the days left which God allows me to have.  Each of you will be taken care of for sure.  I will reserve some small share of control over my wealth and business interests for security sake.  This lawyer here, the good Mr. Easley, by the way, insisted upon these provisions, but they are nothing really.   My trust in each of you is absolute.  You will all equally share in the wealth and power of my former position.  Powers of attorney over various aspects of my business as well as my wealth, will be delivered concurrently with the implementation and execution of these documents, uh, plans and I think you will see reflected my generosity of spirit and how much I hold you all in such high regard.”

 

The lawyer unfolded his hands and rolled his chair forward to begin his dissertation when the daughter spoke up.

 

“That’s all well and good, Father, but how do we know these documents drafted by this lawyer will protect all you have built.  Or us. We need significant authority here if we are to be effective in keeping the business going and I know how you value effectiveness.  Lord knows we’ve heard enough lectures about it,” she added with a sardonic smile.

 

She looked back at the two partners as if for support. They were obviously surprised by her assertions and her aggressiveness.

 

She continued, “I recommend we have an independent law firm look over these documents.  And accountants too, preferably C.P.A.s.  No offense to Mr. Easley, but, you know, like you would say, just for security sake.”

 

The lawyer was starting to feel like the noon hour was getting farther away and would not be bringing him the usual welcome relief of a sumptuous mid-day meal after all.

 

The father had turned toward his daughter as she spoke.  The lawyer was the only one who could see how he smiled indulgently as the lawyer was sure he had been smiling at his children his entire life.  But, the lawyer thought, his children are no longer babes in the woods, especially this one.

 

The Father said, “That is why we are having this meeting.    No.  We won’t be having any other lawyers at the table.  And no C.P.A.s either.  I don’t have to do any of this, you know.  As Mr. Easley, I’m sure, will tell you.  It is in the spirit of my love for you and, frankly, my generosity that you are here at all.”

 

The daughter’s posture closed up.  She crossed her legs away from her father.  She set her mouth.  She wasn’t satisfied.  But she recognized she was powerless to change her father’s course. And it would be imprudent to push the matter.  The father reached over and put his hand on her arm.

 

“Nadine, you know I have always favored you.  Why would you think this,” and his arms gestured wide around the law office, “would be any different?”

 

The lawyer watched the other two kids as Mr. King counseled with his daughter.

 

The one boy, Dylan, the innocent one, smiled.  But, of course, he was always smiling.  The other boy, Regan, sneered, but that was also no change.

 

The lawyer looked at the partners. The man was nodding his head.  Willits.  He had been a childhood friend of Mr. King.  He had been with him since the beginning.  Made a lot of money.  But the relationships, the business, was more than that to him.  He often joined the lawyer and Mr. King on the hunting and fishing trips they shared.  The woman, Crabtee, was staring straight ahead. She had been with the business for a little over two decades.  A relatively short time in the life of King’s business empire.  She wasn’t happy.  She was a disciplined one, however, and was keeping quiet.  For now.

 

“So, shall we begin?” the lawyer asked.  There was no answer.

 

He continued on anyway.  “Ms. Bright here, my paralegal, will now go over the provisions I have drafted.”

 

He hadn’t drafted a word. In fact, as of that moment, he didn’t really know what the provisions actually said.  He had simply passed on to his paralegal the general instructions he had gleaned from his discussions with Mr. King.

 

He smiled in satisfaction again. He was confident in his operation and in his staff.  The billing on this was going to be extra good.  His secretary would make sure it was.  She knew this might be one of his last unaudited billing related to this family and this business.  Thinking of that gave the lawyer an idea about a rider he would discuss with his paralegal.  She would write it and he would show her where to place it for the minimum exposure and maximum effect.  With a little luck it would never even be noticed unless he needed to invoke it someday. He worried the daughter might spot it and ask its meaning or, worse, have another lawyer secretly answer her questions.  He would need to be extra cautious with this Nadine.

 

His mind drifted to lunch. Something at the Prestige would be good, the best restaurant in town.  Something rich and tasty.  Something expensive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpt from the Novel 3Rivers by Phil Cline

Excerpt from the Novel 3Rivers by Phil Cline

The novel 3Rivers is set near Slick Rock on the Kaweah River in Central California.  It has three parts.  The first and second parts are set in 1864 and 1964 respectively.  This is the third part set in 2064.  Enjoy.

-Phil Cline

East Fork

 

Flag Day 2064

 

Chapter One

 

My granddaughter and I were sitting off a little way from the others, leaning back against a rock, savoring our dog sandwiches. Mine was sweet and succulent. Someone once told me that hundreds of years ago, the Indians who lived in this forest grew dogs for food too, much as we do now. It was nice where I was I was reclining. I turned my face to the sun listening to the water. The river was running strong. The sound was pleasurable.

 

I was sitting in the shadows between two huge rocks jutting out of the side of the mountain. No one not equipped with the right BiNOCs would be able to see me. My position was a good vantage point from which I could enjoy my lunch while watching the activity below me, watch our enemies prepare their invasion.   Simultaneously, I could hear the conversation of the other members of our merry band of anarchists.

 

I looked over at my twenty-eight year old granddaughter. Although her eyes were still on the river, she had a look of disgust on her face. Her little troop was arguing again. And they were the same old arguments.

 

Millie: “We won’t only destroy the year’s clone crop, we kill a lot of the Farm Factorettes. What did they ever do to anybody? Why would we want them dead?”

 

Bobbie: “They may as well be dead. Girls like that are only bred for that kind of work. Not good for anything else. “Happy dexterity” my ass! That’s the same old corporate bullshit. We would be doing them a favor as far as I’m concerned. The Corp nurseries produce too many girls anyway. We all know that. Eight out of every ten pods is a girl. Pretty soon they won’t allow any boy chromes at all.”

 

Millie: “We don’t need men anyway. That’s been proven. Half of them request gender reassignment before their Common Age, anyway. They need a job. They need food. Men restricted Corporations are everywhere. Work pits, in most regions, best they can hope for. It’s simpler, shit it’s just easier to trans over to hybrid. No discrimination then.”

 

Sammy: “Yeah, well they’re wrong. The days are coming when all of you will appreciate a good old fashion man. Not a freaky hybrid man, but one with all his chromes intact. A real untransed. His natural chromes just firing away. It’ll get all over you, Millie.”

 

Sammy and some of the others laughed out loud at the image.

Lonnie: “Well, all of you get off that. Are we going to blow the Dam or not? You know our assignment. Our orders.”

 

Lonnie was the action teamer, my granddaughter’s best soldier. She abhorred all the talk and the interminable arguments. She craved havoc.

 

Until this point all the voices I had been listening to were feminine.

 

My granddaughter’s Queda had two hybrids and half a dozen changelings. You couldn’t tell their voice from the original girls. They had once been boys. But never became men. All had requested sex reassignment when they turned twelve as was usually done at Common Age.

 

In our unit, besides mine, there could only be one male voice. Should he choose to speak. I along with the others always drew quiet when he spoke. I enjoyed hearing another male voice. And I had eavesdropped on the others and heard them talk about how the low guttural growl to his voice was strangely, to them, compelling. It contained a calm resonance like a bass echo from deep in his chest. None of them wanted to admit it, but it stirred them in unusual ways. Probably because male voices were heard so seldom.

 

The whole group grew silent at the mention of orders. Though they couldn’t see us, I knew they were glancing in our direction. My granddaughter was the elected Captain. The orders were passed down through her.   It was her responsibility to make sure they were carried out. One thing for sure, her Queda would argue over them anyway.

 

Orders were orders, but it didn’t mean free minds wouldn’t argue. It was one of the things so recognizable about the group. They had thrown off the political speak indoctrinations, from the Edindoc schools and argued about every thing. They even used the suppressed arguments. They found it exhilarating to have the freedom to say mean, hateful, even racist or sexist things to each other. Even sometimes calling each other vulgar, insulting names: Kike, negro, Mex, honky boy, Rag head, bonsai.

 

Racial differences were chromed out of most of population by the genome engineers three decades ago, right after the Great Merger. But it didn’t diminish the absolute satisfaction of hurling a racial epithet at an opponent when they were losing an argument. Their generation all looked alike now, but that didn’t keep us from closely inspecting each other for little imperfections we could attribute to a long extinct racial heritage.

 

I turned my attention back to the armament being arrayed below us. My granddaughter got up and left without saying anything.

 

The Tree Eaters were sitting all in a row like giant rodents about to advance up the mountain. Their diesel engines idled loudly, belching up irregular puffs of black smoke into the brackish cloud hovering over the river. Higher up in the mountains, passed the dam, the cloud was not so bad, but down here it was almost as choking as the valley floor. I saw that each one had two flags flying atop the control cabin. The flags were red, enhanced by yellow star and crescent. Chinese. Made in China. Well, Made in L.A. So call it “Made in China.” Their Corp was in charge of that region now.

 

It had taken two days for the huge machines to be brought over the river to begin their march up the mountain. When they started, their path would be direct. Any tree they encountered as they marched up the mountain would be downed and ground through as if it didn’t exist. Small piles of sawdust would be all that remained of the Tall pines, even the New Growth Giant Red Woods.

 

A group of geneticists at the old University had been able to clone one of the last remaining Redwoods before they became extinct and, by implanting an engineered gene, flash grow Redwood forests all up the side of the mountain where they had once existed. Of course the trees were grown not for their beauty, but as Harvest Parks. Still, we could use them to hide and plan our attacks on the corporate farms down in the valley

 

The Corps were fed up with us and they meant to deprive us of our hiding places. The laser saws on the Tree Eaters were efficient and irresistible. The deforestation left in their wake, would leave nowhere for us to hide from the Sun Drones. We would be located, our sniff profile recorded, cross-referenced in the data banks, and matched.   The code would then be imprinted on the Moth Flybys. As many as twenty with the same locator codes would be released from the Home Sun Drones to hunt us down and inject us with the poison. Drones the size of insects. That bit like insects. But their bites were lethal. Their energy cells lasted up to thirty days. Plenty of time to sniff us out and kill us.

 

We had taken out three of the Tree Eaters with IEDs on the other side of the river. We could thank Terrell for that. The leaders had assigned him to our Queda. Many of the others weren’t happy about that decision. At first. But he was our explosives expert. And he was our only other original male. And he was young. And now he was popular with all the Queda.

 

I didn’t hate the Farm Guild like he did. Of course my parents and siblings hadn’t been slave workers in the food processors either. His parents had been Imported labor. Like all the others they had been swept up from the teeming and starving populations around the globe. Herded here by the Food Corp Co-Ops. They had been promised good meals, only to be chained to food sorters for twelve hours shifts, losing fingers, arms, being hacked up until they could no longer serve. And then be left to starve in the ditch fills with other cast offs.

 

Terrel talked sometimes of the cold misery his parents must have felt watching truck after truck of fresh produce rumble by, hoping for a peach or a tomato to fall off, just enough to sustain life for a little while longer. Hungry, so hungry, haunted by the knowledge that most of the food produced on the land factories was destined for the Data Corps around the globe, FACEBOOK lands or even the Disney Continent in the southern hemisphere.

 

I finished my sandwich, stood up and squeezed between the rocks and walked over to where the others were looking at Terrell. I looked too. I had to admit, he was a beauty.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Terrell was sitting regally on a tree stump yards away from they were gathered. The group stared across at him. He didn’t mind. It wasn’t rude. He was truly handsome. In the old way. He was a born man; a real original born man. There weren’t that many left. They were especially rare around these parts.   You might find a ReverseTrans every so often. Those had transitioned and then decided to be male again. The gender engineers couldn’t ever quite the reverse process to work. The Chroms had been messed with too much many said. The ReverseTrans dressed and acted like Original men, even faking the deep voice. And some were very good at the imitations. They had their pretense down pat. At least you thought they were good imitations until you encountered an original. Then the inadequacy, the freakishness, of the ReverseTrans became apparent.

 

Terrell never joined in any arguments. He was never offended by anything anyone said. He just kept his own counsel. He shared his thoughts and emotions with me from time to time, but no one else. At least that’s what he said. He was the only original man not just in our Queda, but also among our whole Caliphate.

 

He was beautiful that was for sure. But the stories about original men persisted. The LeadFems never tired of reminding us all about the character of original men. They lied all the time. Especially in bed.   Especially to subjugate you in bed. Our EdDoctrinations at the sixth level in school had a special chapter section devoted to little else.

 

Terrell was listening to their arguments and stories. And I knew he would later laugh about them. He obviously enjoyed the attention of the females. Their eyes were constantly returning to him. The young girls especially. And well they should.

 

He was a legend. He had brought down other giant dams with his explosives. He had wrought wonderful havoc on the Sacramento River and sent a giant, killing body of water to destroy the FranCisco DigitalCorp. It had been one of his spectacular bombings. And it was his work that gave the mighty Shasta River its vengeance and returned its path to its origins. Most of the factoretts in that processor area had died though.

 

Especially horrifying was how so many of those living in the slot shelters had drowned. It was a bad way to go. Being locked in a drawer as the water seeped in and the air ducts stopped pumping. But that was where factorettes had to sleep if they were to work in the cities. Space was too valuable to waste on living quarters for the workers.

 

I felt a kinship with Terrell. I would never dare say it out loud, but we used to call it brotherhood. Back then. Back when I was a young soldier like Terrell.

 

Chapter 3

 

I was a young then and on the move. I wanted to be a top exec. But the prospects for advancement in any organization were not many. Even then, it was not good to be a man.

 

In fact, many boys were already opting for support roles or even transitioning. It was a frightening procedure to contemplate. The surgeries were not exactly perfected yet. There were a lot of kooks were out there chopping dicks and balls off on the installment plan. Lots of young men died on operating tables or soon thereafter. The Ed-curriculums had not yet incorporated the new children’s “Wonder of Butterflies” books to allay the fears of young boys and encourage the changes. No one was actively advocating transition then. That came later when the Corps concluded a less male population would be a more compliant population. That turned out not to be true. Too bad for all those little boys. The culture monitors were too invested in their new Butterfly series to reverse course.

 

The books taught kids from their earliest readings in school that gender change is like an ugly worm being sewed up in a cocoon to emerge later as a beautiful butterfly full of color. The children came out of school wanting to transition.   But that was later. We didn’t have those beliefs yet. And the horror stories of botched surgeries scared us.

 

I was working as a military apprentice. Soldiering was a still mostly a male profession, one of the last ones where men could prosper, have a real career. I found it all fascinating. We had new weapons systems coming on line all the time. They were being introduced almost every other month by private corporations under outsource contracts from the governments. The Weapon Corps paid well and the systems they were producing were superb.

 

There hadn’t been a war for sometime, not a real war, anyway.

 

Oh, we still had brushfires around the globe. We stationed troops from the China mainland in Australia to put down the last of their revolution and some of our good old American boys were in Brazil fighting the few remaining indigenous tribes. The Indians, after their blitzkrieg conquest of Pakistan kept moving right through all the other “stans”, Afghanistan, Kerikistatn, all those, on over the Iranians and were threatening to Nuke the Israelites/Arab coalitions unless they agreed to open of the ports of the Mediterranean. We all hoped they would go ahead and make that whole area radioactive glass. They were such a disgustingly obstreperous people. I’m glad they’re gone now.

 

Still, back then these were relatively little battlefronts and our Big Three militaries coordinated the fighting efforts and even had an exchange program for the sailors, soldiers and airmen. They were very popular. Kept our experience levels keen.

 

I remember I wanted to join the Chinese in the Australian outback and get some real wilderness training. There were other advantages too. Only a conquering soldier can truly appreciate the personal opportunity in an occupation. War zones had few laws, few rules of conduct. Real Freedom. Women were still frightened of men in those situations, I tell you. With reason to be, too. All these youngsters now wouldn’t know, probably will never know, the fun it was being a man with power, gun power, around some scared snuffling population of primitives. Saying something like that now, back in civilization could get you killed.

 

No one said it then, but we all new, the big Data Corps were keeping us from engaging in real conflict. The three main armies, American, Chinese, Indian, received their weaponry as well as the technical and digital networks and equipment that made them work from the same handful of companies.

 

While the Corps liked selling the weapons, the profits from replacing the weapons lost in a war were immense; the impact of an actual war on the international financial system was becoming unacceptable. Everything was interconnected and war, real war, ate up the profits in unexpected ways. And you could never tell when some army would strike at one of the Data Corps, in order to deny an adversary a weapon system. That was one of the big mistakes we, in the military, kept making.

 

It all came to a head, it all changed the day me and Roberto had our last beer together at the NCO club. That was the day the Mergers really started. We were talking about the Outback, when a flash alert came from the Chief Sergeant. Both our watches started buzzing at the same time. We looked down at the face.

 

“Report to Post immediately. Urgency Level One. This is NOT a Drill.”

 

“Now what the hell is this?” Roberto was already standing and picking up his change from the bar.

 

“I’ve never been involved in a Level One”, I said quietly.

 

I gulped the last of my beer, put the glass down, stood up and was right behind Roberto as he headed for the door. I noticed there was already a jam up in the front of the club as other soldiers were trying to get out of the door in front of us. I could see the day light through the open door and rows of bright lights inside were coming on as well. Sirens were echoing in the distance.

 

As I looked back, the lights inside of the bar had changed the interior from a warm intimate feel to a sterile lonely place.   The Comfort Trans, all those that had been falsely promised jobs if they transitioned, had not moved. Those poor boys had believed the lies and then ended up whoring in NCO clubs. After the soldiers headed for the door, the pitiful creatures still sat at the tables, pulling at their short skirts and patting the back of their wigs. They were now alone, looking uncomfortable and not all that pretty as the windows were opened and the lights came up.

 

Roberto was already behind the wheel of our staff car and starting it up when I finally got through the door. I sprinted over and jumped in the passenger side. He managed to get the car on the street before the others got jammed up trying to get out of the parking lot.

 

“What IS this?” I said.

 

“I’ve heard scuttle butt and seen some chatter,” Roberto replied. “But I never thought that much of it. I still don’t believe it. It’s probably something completely different.”

 

“Come on, Asshole. What the Fuck?”

 

“All right, but you’re going to give me shit when it turns out to be just a god dam drill or something,” he said.

 

He turned a corner, hit the gas again and we sped up before we hit a speed bump ordered there by the Base safety committee to slow young soldiers like us down. Both our heads hit the roof of the car, but Roberto kept giving it the gas.

 

Roberto said, “The Browser Corps have been locking down info from the war zones. Funneling it to the secondary lines. They bitch there’s no revenue. Keep pressing the Congresses and the Politburo to authorize revenue charges for military news like everything else. The Presidents and Premier even got involved. They were voting on a bill today to take one of the Browser Corp public.   For unlimited use in what they are calling the Public Service.”

 

“Yeah, so?” I had heard something about what he was talking about, but no one took it that seriously. The government always compromised when it came to the Data Corps. They issued idle threats but always moved on to something else by the time the afternoon cycle of Opine Posts began.

 

“Well, here’s the thing. There was some chatter. On the back lines. Heavily encrypted. Secure Zone stuff.”

 

I looked at Roberto quickly. He was nodding his head up and down like he knew what I was thinking. No one at our rank had ever been allowed access to Secure Zone communications. After the leak scandals, the entire intelligence community, the military, the police forces, government agencies, including the Executive departments, all were prohibited from monitoring Secure Zone materials.

 

“Yeah, I know,” he said, “but just listen. We got orders to do some discreet listening early last year. You know? So we do. And we found some threads. Data Corps talking what I thought was nonsense.”

 

“Like what?” I asked. Roberto, turned left fast and we hit the curb to the parking lot. Our heads hit the roof of the car again. He hit the brakes and we came to a stop just outside Headquarters. He paused for the first time since the urgent message came over our watches. He just stared for a few seconds out over the hood of the car. He then reached over to the door handle. He engaged it and looked at me.

 

“They are going to shut them down.”

 

“What?”

 

He was already out of the car, but I heard the words before he shut the door.

 

“The Governments.”

 

 

North Fork

 

Chapter 4

 

“Sergeant Easley, report to CommOp, immediately. Sergeant Easley, to Comm Op.”

 

I was surprised to hear my name over the intercom when I first entered the building. Then the same voice started calling out other names urging soldiers I knew to their posts. I picked up my pace to a half run as I crossed the computer banks in the middle of the headquarters floor toward CommOp, my current assignment. Roberto had disappeared. I was sure he was on his way to his duty station. Anyway, that was the last time I saw him.

 

My specialty was field communications, but I had been TRO’d (Temporarily Assigned) to Headquarters while my new orders were being processed. I hoped they would be for the Outback. I didn’t like the relatively tame environment at Headquarters and had hoped to ship out by the end of the month.

 

“Easley, you’re on Station Five. Station five, acknowledge Soldier.” It was Top Sergeant McGill. Back then she was a tall severe looking woman with the sharp cheekbones of a Saudi and the eyes of a Japper. Parents couldn’t pre-select the eye shape then. Her features were true genetic. She stood in the doorway of her office up on the second floor down at me crossing the main floor. Though no one knew it, we were already a couple.

 

She didn’t seem, at the time, to be under any stress. In fact, she was leaning against the doorframe. She was affecting a bored look, wearing her perpetual frown, as she directed me as well as her other charges to the assigned tasks.

 

“Aye, Sir, Top, I’m to Station five. I yelled.”

 

I saw her speak into the microphone attached to her collar. It came out over the loudspeaker. “Very Well.”

 

I slid into the pilot seat before my console and stared at the screen. It was lit up with numbers and letters streaming across it, marching onto the screen from the top left and proceeding to the right and down row after row before exiting the screen at the bottom right. I had never seen such an array. I hit the clear button, but it didn’t respond. The board was locked up.

 

I heard the guys to the right and left of me pounding at their keyboards as if more force might loosen the lock down. I didn’t try. I spun around and looked at Top McGill. Her eyes were still on me. She gave me an almost imperceptible nod, her chin just barely rising, to come to her and turned and walked back into her office. I got up and went up the stairs to her doorway. She was sitting down now behind her desk. She waved me over. I walked behind her. I put my hand low on her back where no one could see and looked at the screen in front of her. It had a bright red banner across the top flashing.

 

SECURE ZONE. AUTHORIZED EYES ONLY.

 

I felt her push herself against my hand and actually leaned her head back into my chest. I could smell her hair. She hadn’t washed it in a while.

 

Below the banner on her screen was a checklist. The font was Old English script. There were little boxes to the left side of the numbered items on the list.

 

“Top, what is this? The script is hard to read.”

 

“Here, sit down.” She got up. Her hand went to my chest. She didn’t seem to care if someone saw her gesture. She was usually very cautious about giving any indication we were affectionate, much less screwing like we were whenever the opportunity presented itself.

 

I sat in her chair and pulled it up close to the screen so I could study the writing. She walked to the door of her office and leaned once again against the doorframe looking out at the rows of soldiers attempting to unlock their computer screens.

 

I peered in close to the screen. Item number one said “Presidencies”. There was a checkmark in the box next to it. Item number two said “Congresses/Politburos”. There was also a checkmark next to it. The third item said simply, “Courts” and it was similarly checked off. The next item said “Military.”

 

The checkmark next to the word “Military” was flashing different colors. Blue, orange, red, green, pink. It hadn’t been checked, but I interpreted the flashing to mean it too would soon have a check mark.

 

 

Chapter 5

 

A couple of officers walked into the Top’s office. I discreetly said “Yes Sir. I will get right on it,” pretending to be following some non-existent orders. I left the Top Sergeant’s office and went back down the stairs to my machine.

 

After about an hour, we had all given up and were just sitting at our machines staring at the screens. A few had stood up and were wandering around or talking in little groups. I found it strange that we had had no communications from the command structure. I fooled with my machine some, but eventually wondered back up the stairs and into McGill’s office. By then the officers had left and three or four other sergeants had joined her and had their feet up on the side of her desk and were just passing the day waiting for something to happen. I found a seat on the corner of the couch and sat there sipping my coffee. She got up from her desk and walked casually over and sat down on the couch right next to me. Our shoulders were touching. It was comforting. I had the feeling that’s what she wanted. No one seemed to think it was a big deal.

 

Then the screens all went dark. Every computer, even the one in the Top’s office just turned off. It was suddenly very quiet. No one said a word. We had power. The lights were still on. The little light on the coffee pot still burned red. But the computers had turned off.

 

Then we heard it. They started all at once. The quiet hum of tiny fans deep in the consoles. And one computer screen over by the wall came on and then another and then a half dozen others. They had been all rebooted and were now coming back online.

 

The Top and I both got up and walked over to her computer. There was the buzz, then a flash and the screen lit up. Nothing was on it, but it was on. Then a banner started on the right and proceeded in reverse fashion across to the left. You had to wait until it was all on the screen before you could read it.

 

ADVISORY: PLEASE STAND BY.

 

We looked at each other. But no one asked any questions. This was all new. None of us had the slightest idea what this all meant. McGill put her hand in mine. I disengaged our hands and put my arm around her. I was scared. No one was threatening us with violence, but I felt scared. Down in the pit of my stomach was a dread. I felt sick.

 

Another banner started across the screen. Once it was in place, it read:

 

GENERAL ORDERS ARE MANDATORY.

 

As soon as we had a chance to read that, another banner started from the right side. We were getting better at reading them in reverse order.

 

GENERAL ORDER ONE:

 

ALL GENERAL OFFICERS ARE DISMISSED.

 

ALL FLAG RANK OFFICERS LISTED IN SCHEDULE A ARE DISMISSED.

ALL FLAG RANK OFFICERS LISTED IN SCHEDULE B ARE PRIVATIZED.

 

ALL JUNIOR OFFICERS LISTED IN SCHEDULE C ARE DISMISSED.

ALL JUNIOR OFFICERS LISTED IN SCHEDULE D ARE PRIVATIZED.

 

ALL ENLISTED RANK MEMBERS LISTED IN SCHEDULE E ARE DISMISSED.

ALL ENLISTED RANK MEMBERS LISTED IN SCHEDULE F ARE REASSIGNED

AS SPECIFIED IN SCHEDULE G.

 

ADVISORY: GENERAL ORDERS ARE MANDATORY.

 

At the bottom of the screen were file folders labeled with the appropriate schedule letter. I clicked on the first. A drop down menu appeared with links to the three armies. I clicked on the one marked American Armed Forces. A list of names appeared. I scrolled down to see if the name of our unit commander was on there. It was. I looked up to the third story window. I wondered if he was looking at the same list.

 

“This is bullshit. Who do these bozos think they are? They can’t do this.” It was Sergeant Smythe, standing behind one of the soldiers reading his console.

 

I had the same thought. I couldn’t understand how this could be done much less who was doing it. But there was also that sick feeling persisting in the pit of my stomach that I guess was telling me they could do it.

 

Turns out they could.

 

 

Chapter 6

 

“Hey, who the fuck locked the doors?”

 

One of the soldiers was standing in front of a door ineffectively pushing on the door bar. A lieutenant who was watching from an office door across the bay, walked to a nearby door and pushed. It didn’t budge. A dozen others suddenly got up and started moving toward the two doors and one other centrally located between them. One after the other then in twos and threes they started pushing against the doors. They wouldn’t open.

 

One of the guys in the office where we were standing said, “The central security protocol has been initiated.” McGill walked to her console and started attempting to enter codes. They were secure codes I knew she possessed due to her rank. The computer didn’t respond to her typed commands.

 

She sat looking at the computer screen.

 

“Something is coming across.”

 

There was crash outside the office. Evidently someone had decided to throw a chair against one of the doors.   I walked over to the door. The lieutenant I had seen try the door across the bay was now walking toward it with an ax. Another lieutenant was right behind him. He had drawn his sidearm and was holding it down by his waist.

 

“Look at this Easley.”

 

I walked over to look at the computer screen. I could hear the thump-thump of the ax behind me. Those doors were reinforced steel. No ax was going to open them. I only hoped the other shave tail didn’t try his gun. New Lieutenants could be incredibly stupid and I didn’t want us all dodging ricochets.

 

I looked at the screen.

 

SECURITY LOCKDOWN HAS BEEN INITATED. YOU WILL RECEIVE FUTHER INSTRUCTIONS AT THE APPROPRIATE TIME. ALL PERSONNEL ARE TO STAND DOWN.

 

The message moved across the screen to be replaced by another stating the same thing. The same messages soon became a banner crossing the screen.

 

It had gotten quiet out in the bay. I figured others had received and spread the news about the latest message.

 

McGill walked over to look out on the bay. Her back was to us. I heard her say “Could this truly been happening everywhere or is it just localized. Are the networks being taken down on one base after another? I wonder.” She was talking to herself.

 

One of the other sergeants walked over the T.V. along one wall of her office. Looking back, I really don’t remember why we hadn’t tried it before. Or maybe we had. Anyway, he picked up the remote for the television and pushed a button. The screen lit up white and then the white slowly withdrew into itself down to a tiny pin of light. It blinked for a few moments then evaporated. It was gone. He pushed some other buttons but got no response.

 

I reached for the phone and picked it up. There was an initial dial tone, but before I could start entering a number, there was a buzz and then the phone went silent. I pushed some other buttons. There was no sound on any of them until I hit the button labeled intercom.   It came alive and stayed alive.

 

McGill who had been watching me walked over and took the phone out of my hand.

 

“This is a test.”

 

I heard it come over the intercom. I looked out and saw a number of soldiers on the bay were looking up at the speakers.

 

McGill hit a button labeled number one. I listened in to her side of the conversation. “Cox? Yeah the intercom works. At least we have that kind of communication. No. I don’t know if anyone can get to the armory. Try to raise Commander Blythe on the intercom. Yeah, let me know. We will go now.”

 

She looked at me then the others in the room. “We are going to down to the basement. It shares a wall with the armory. We may be able to break through.”

 

“These walls? I don’t think so, Lieutenant.” It was Sergeant Sterling. “And with what?” he continued. “You got some grenades we don’t know about, Sir?”

 

“Move your ass Sterling. We aren’t going to sit her and see what comes through those doors without trying to regain control of our own goddam headquarters. Move or I’ll find a grenade and put it where the sun don’t shine.”

 

He laughed out loud. But he got up and started moving toward the elevators. He often said she was his favorite Top because she didn’t mess around when it came to giving orders.

 

Before he got to the elevator, her hand went up to stop him.

 

“No’ she said. “We don’t know if those are booby trapped somehow. Take the stairs.”

 

“Roger that.” And he and three others headed for the stairs. Three or four others joined them when they reached the first floor.

 

“Easley. You’re with me.”

 

I followed her over to the elevators. She pressed a button and the doors opened.

 

“There. The chair.” She said, pointing.

 

I grabbed a chair. It had wheels. I pushed it on the elevator.

 

“Wait a sec.” I held the button keeping the doors open. She pulled some cords out of the back of a console on a desk nearby, picked the console up and waddled with the heavy unit over to dump it in the chair. She took me by the hand and pulled me off the elevator. She hit the down button.

 

Just as the elevator door closed I heard the gunfire. It was coming from the basement. And then there was an explosion, we both jerked back and looked at the closed elevator doors. A faint cloud of acrid smoke began seeping out from the bottom of the doors.

 

She moved before I got my bearings. She opened the door to the stairs and was starting down when I grabbed her shirt by the back of the neck and jerked her back.

 

“It’s a trap. Stay put.”

 

“But those men! “

 

“Those men you can’t help right now. Get your bearing first. What’s your fucking plan? Top Sergeants always have a plan.”

 

She was staring at me intensely. In my peripheral vision I could tell her fist was clenched. There was no doubt she was thinking about decking me. I dreaded the moment. She was big woman. I knew how hard she could hit. We had wrestled around a few times, once even had a knock down drag out. Anyway, I knew enough about her in a scrap to know I didn’t want to fight. I certainly didn’t relish the idea of trading blows with her.

 

“What’s yours?”

 

“What’s my what?” She was gritting her teeth.

 

“Plan! Denise! Denise! What’s your plan?”

 

She blinked a couple of times, shook her head, and then I saw her intellect re-engage.

 

“Okay, okay. But I need recognizance.” She was looking around. I figured she would find some poor bastard and send him down that stairway to draw fire.   Or maybe since she was pissed at me, she would select me as the bait. Her having a plan wasn’t looking good for me right then.

 

“Here. Come over here.”

 

She took one of the loose hook ups she had yanked out of the back of the console and spun the console next to it around. She reached back there and pulled some plugs out. She then plugged the one in her hand into the back. As I watched, a white screen appeared and then changed to an image of a TV camera. At the bottom it said, “Zicon video”. She hit the keyboard and things started happening. I realized she had disconnected from the outside feeds. She had turned the Internet into an old time intranet. And one with video surveillance capability.

 

A picture popped up. She had taken over the inside cameras at Headquarters. I looked up at the cameras situated high on the walls all around the interior of the room. I looked back at the monitor. She had brought up a view of the floor of the basement.

 

Soldiers were lying haphazardly around the floor. I saw Sterling. His eyes were frozen open. There was a big hole in his chest. Looked like he had been hit with a shotgun. McGill’s intranet had gotten us pictures. They weren’t pretty.”

 

 

South Fork

 

Chapter 7

 

“Scan the cameras along the walls. This was an ambush. An ambush inside Headquarters! Who’s down there?”

 

“She typed in the keyboard and then moved her finger over the track pad. We didn’t see anything at first. She scanned the entire room and then started again slower.”

 

“There. The Lesar units. See? Behind the desk?”

 

She began tapping a button on the top of the keyboard. The picture magnified. The Lesar units were no more than three feet high. They were constructed to have a functional square body with a head that turned like a turnstile. They moved on wheels around headquarters adjusting the digital feeds in all the computers and scroll pads. Their ports were open. The muzzles of two guns were poking out of the ports. As we watched the head of one unit moved almost imperceptibly. Then the others. It was slow, but there was no doubt they were swiveling and they held the side of the room where the stairs and elevator emptied in a field of crossfire.

 

“Sergeant McGill. Please stand down.”

 

It was the voice of Commander Blythe over the intercom. It wasn’t in his usual abrupt tone. His voice sounded shaky. McGill was staring at the screen on the monitor. She had returned the view to where Sterling and the other soldiers lay. They had gone down right into the crossfire field of fire of the Lesars. She stared once again at the video of the dead soldiers.

 

I had learned over the years being a non-commissioned officer is just play acting until the day your orders send somebody to their death. McGill, bless her heart, was a dam fine NCO. Tough as they came. Hell, I loved her. But before that day she had never been in real combat.

 

“Lieutenant McGill. Report in ASAP.” It was Blythe again. I looked up. He was on the ledge at the top of the stairs looking down. I knew then that the video feed could be seen on monitors around the bay and in at least some of the offices.   I walked over and pulled the plug I had seen McGill put in the back. The screens all went dark again.

 

“Denise”, I said. She was still staring at the screen. I’ve no doubt she could still see the soldiers even though the screen was now blank. “Come on Denise. I’ll walk you up there. Let’s go.”

 

She turned toward me. There were no tears. She wasn’t the crying type. But there was a hurt in her eyes. She straightened her shoulders and turned back to face the bay. she kept her head straight ahead and started walking. It was a long walk, the other officers and soldiers all looking at her. All knowing her orders had ultimately led to the deaths of the men in the basement. Not blaming her for giving the orders, but knowing she was carrying a huge weight now, a burden that could never be laid down, as she crossed the bay and started up the stairs to the commander waiting on the ledge”

 

It’s not fun to watch something like that, but you always wonder if someone who started on such a journey will make it to the end. She did.

 

Blythe was waiting for us on the landing at the top of the stairs. He turned and led us into his office. A captain and a lieutenant were sitting looking at the monitor as if it still held a picture. A second lieutenant was also in the room though he wasn’t sitting with the others. He stood to one side watching McGill and I enter the room. Something about him stuck with me. I remember how his feet were spread evenly apart. Balanced.

 

“Sergeant,“ the Captain said to McGill, “get the picture back. We need to keep an eye on things and figure out what kind of surveillance we need on the other floors of the building.”

 

“Of course. I’m sorry.” She walked over to the console on the commander’s desk. She didn’t tell them it was me who had prematurely shut down the picture.

 

She spent a couple of minutes rearranging the wires and plug-ins. She punched a key and the monitor went white again, through the program start up card, and then it showed a view of the basement again. The cameras were still trained where she had last directed them.

 

“Can you control access to what the cameras are showing? Restrict it to the consoles we designate?”   It was an obvious question. We all knew that could be done. We just didn’t know for sure if her expertise extended that far.

 

“I believe so.” She began typing commands on the keyboard. I walked out on the landing and, with nothing else to do, watched to see if the cameras on the walls moved in response to her typing. I heard the Captain add a question.

 

“And can we be sure no one outside the building can see the feed, you know, the picture we’re seeing?”

 

McGill answered him as she continued typing in commands.

 

“We have control over the cameras, where they are pointing and the routing of the images, but, Commander, you know each of these monitors have cameras too, right? And we all have them on our scroll pads. I just got control of the cameras on the walls. But the monitors on the floors? We would have to make sure all the computers and pads were taken offline, off any outside feed or connection, wireless or not. We would essentially have to unplug them all. And shut down the repeaters.”

 

I walked back in to listen to the conversation.

 

The lieutenant standing to the side had been silent to that point. He said, “We can’t cut off from the outside. We need to know what it is going on. There may be more instructions or orders from Central Command.” He was a fat, soft looking officer. I remember thinking he had probably spent his entire career in Support Services. I wondered who he was. McGill’s look surprised me. It was contemptuous.

 

Commander Blythe studied the chubby lieutenant as if he was giving serious thought to what he was saying. But his response showed he didn’t consider it much of a worthy concern.

 

“Whoever is doing this has control of all communications anyway, so outside connections are useless until we can figure out how to establish our own lines of communication. Cut ‘em.” He ordered. “Unplug all the fucking computers.”

 

The Captain stood and walked over and picked up the handset off the phone cradle on a corner of the Commander’s desk. He hit a button I figured was the intercom button. He opened his mouth and was about to give the order, when his head exploded. The sound of the gunshot in the confined room left my ears ringing. McGill’s fingers had stopped moving and her hands hovered, frozen over the keyboard. There was brain matter all over the side of her uniform. Some of the blood and chunks of brain and blood was also on her face. I shook my head to clear the sound, all the while staring at the crumpled body of the Captain on the floor. We all turned our heads. The Lieutenant was holding a gun.

 

“No. We won’t be unplugging from the network. Commander Blythe you are relieved of command. Remove your sidearm and place it on the floor. Slowly, Commander. I regret any loss of life, but I will enforce orders. And I will do so immediately and without hesitation. I do hope that is clear to everyone.”

 

As Commander Blythe removed his gun and bent over to place it on the floor, McGill swung around in her chair to face the lieutenant.

 

“Well, I guess we now know why you were on the approved officer’s list.”

 

The lieutenant just looked at her. He made no reply. He just held the gun steady pointed directly at us.

 

“But, I’m also curious, you know, about your orders. Whose orders are they?”

 

I heard the echoes of three more shots in quick succession. Coming from other offices on the floor.

 

The lieutenant didn’t answer her. He just smiled.

 

 

Chapter 8

 

We descended the stairs with the others. We were all being herded out of the offices and down the stairs onto the central floor. On the floor I saw some other junior officers holding guns and a circle of Lesars placed strategically around the bay. Guns stuck out of their ports. We were under guard.

 

I heard some noise and looked over to see one of the three big bay doors being pulled open. A group of soldiers, at least twenty, all armed with rifles slung at the ready, marched through the central door. Two men and one woman in the causal business attire of the Data Managers we occasionally encountered followed them into the bay.

 

The Data Corps performed, on an outsourced basis, all administrative tasks for the military.   From time to time we needed to visit their facilities either for training or to discuss system needs.   They always showed eagerness whenever we requested improvements. I suppose it enhanced their contract price.

 

Whenever we had business at one of the Data Corps we visited, young men and women who looked very similar to these three usually met us. Dungarees pull over shirts or sweater, sweatshirts if the weather was inclement.

 

The three went immediately to a set of computers situated along the wall. These were the oldest computers and were kept to perform general tasks. They pulled up chairs and began typing on the keyboards.

 

“YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE.”

 

I looked up to one of the ledges and a Full Colonel was standing there. He was speaking into a microphone.

 

I strained to hear him. It was anything but quiet on the Bay floor. There was still a lot of commotion. I had lost contact with McGill and the Commander. I looked around for them. By one of the windows there seemed to be a stuggle occurring. I moved in that direction and after I maneuvered myself around some of the other soldiers, I saw McGill and the commander.

 

The Commander’s head was down, his eyes on the ground. One of the soldiers was holding it there, making sure he remained in a subservient position. Commander Blythe’s hands were secured behind his back. Next to him, McGill was also being restrained. Her arms had been pulled behind her and were being held there by one soldier while another was attaching cuffs to her wrists. A round plastic, tubular looking necklace had been placed around her neck. I looked back at the Commander and he also had one of the objects around his neck. To this day I don’t know what those were. I’ve assumed all these years they had explosives in them. One of my friends from the old days told me the neck things were electronic. Anyway, three other senior officers were similarly being restrained. All with the tubes. Who knows what they were?

 

“YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE.”

 

The colonel was still calling for quiet, but the commotion continued. I moved toward McGill. She looked up and saw me. She shook her head emphatically side to side and mouthed “No.” She could tell I was about to intervene and she was warning me off. One of the soldiers restraining her slapped her hard across the face. She stared at him gritting her teeth. Then there was suddenly a loud retort. One of the three other officers I told you about crumbled to the floor.

 

“YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE. ANY FAILURE TO FOLLOW ORDERS UNQUESTIONED AND WITHOUT RESISTANCE WILL BE MET WITH HARSH MEASURES. PLEASE PAY ATTENTIION TO THE THOSE WE HAVE PUT IN CHARGE.”

 

One of the side doors suddenly was pushed open and, as I watched, the

Commander, McGill, and the others in cuffs were pushed through the door. It closed with a slam. That was the last time I ever saw McGill.

 

“Hell, if things had been different she could have been your grandma,” I told my granddaughter once.

 

“What happened to her?” She asked.

 

“Oh, nothing real bad” I told her. “I heard she made it through. She wasn’t executed like so many of the others. In fact, I believe she got married, had a couple of little ones. They just changed who she was. Who she had been. They did that to a lot of people. She went along with it I guess. Most did.”

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

She now knew what I meant. She didn’t then. It was common enough knowledge; it just didn’t quite make sense to her when I first told her. Back then she was only fourteen years old.

 

“Changed who she was?”

 

I stood and walked to the end of the porch. We were at the old homestead. We were across the road from the melon fields. The Cullers were about done.

 

It was culling time and the Cullers, all of them kids and old people, were wandering down the rows, culling the melons.

 

The harvesters had come and gone in the night, and before the accelerated second bloom, the Farm Corps always allowed the fields to be picked cleaned before re-activating the electric fences. They didn’t so much do it to feed the Cullers. The Cullers in actuality sold the produce at illegal black markets anyway. They did it to clean the plants clear so the blossoms could more fully develop for the secondary harvest. Thanks to the geneticists, that would be within thirty days.

 

Most of the carts were gone. The last of the Cullers emerge from the fields dragging their burlap sacks of melons. Some of the old men were having trouble lifting the sacks up into the carts hooked to peddle cars. The kids tried helping them, but none of them were very strong. They weren’t of much use.

 

One cart, pulled by a rather spry old woman who was shouting orders at three kids pushing the back of the cart were making there way up onto the pavement and moving away towards town and the market there.

 

To my granddaughter I said, “Let me explain. A lot happen after that. And it happened fast.”

 

I paused. I can remember staring out on the field searching for a place to start.

 

“Well, that’s the day we learned the mergers were taking place. Had actually already started. The Corps knew the Governments would never allow the mergers. Not on that scale. So the Governments had to be changed, all the old forms of governance essentially ended. And to do that the military had to be neutralized or at least given a new command structure.”

 

“Well, at any other time in history up until that moment, there would have a lot of blood spilled. Certainly, a lot more blood would have been spread around than was left on the floor of the headquarters that day. But not this time.”

 

“World wide, in all the major nations, at least the one’s that really mattered, you know, Russia, China, India, the U.S.   In each of them, a bloodless coup had happened. It was all done on a corporate level. And because the Corps had control of all data they had the ability to change everything with a keyboard. Everything could be started, stopped, redefined, remodeled, refined through the strokes on a keyboard. I think it was the Corp’s realization that they had such a power that led them to dare to remove the governments and assume control of the military.”

 

“The weapons were easy enough. A few changes to the central controls, infecting a few systems with a special bug, a computer virus, and with the click of a mouse at the exactly the right time the control of the weapon systems were removed from the senior officers who had until that moment been assigned the responsibility for operating them.”

 

“Then it was just a process of using the personal data fields to identify a cadre of young officers strong enough to remove the senior officers and take physical charge of the facilities.   The Corps had enough critical info on everybody to pick out a few of the senior officers who had some personal vulnerability, and those they put in charge. At least until the coup was complete. Then they were disposed of.”

 

“How?” she had asked. I regretted she wanted to know, but I was determined to tell her the whole truth.

 

“The were killed, some of them. Or they acquiesced.”

 

She still looked confused so I continued.

 

“Like Commander Blythe. Remember him? Well, I did see him again. In fact, he’s the one told me how things turned out for McGill. Dam, you know, I think about her a lot these days.”

 

She looked at me in a curious way. I knew she wanted me to talk more about McGill. I wasn’t going to do that. Those thoughts might lead to regrets. I didn’t want to go there.

 

“Anyway. When I saw him, he was working as a beam scrubber. The Corps decided they were going to melt down all the abandoned steel in the old, the ancient production factories, not sure why, for ships I think, but they needed cutters and scrubbers to get at the rust. By then the human labor was cheaper than the robots to deploy for the nastier tasks. Using humans prolonged the productive life of the robots. It was better for the robots, if you kept them out of the nastier environments. Gummed them up. Humans? Well, there were always more humans.”

 

“I knew it was the Commander. He was sweating heavily, the sander in his hand making an irritating keening noise as he ran it along the steel support. He was a little old for the work. But you had to take what you get; be glad for what they would let you have.”

 

“We had, by then, learned not to call out to acquaintances from the past. It could get you or them imprisoned or worse. As I walked past he glanced up. I could tell he knew who I was. He said nothing, but merely bent back over his work. I walked over by the portable kitchen, got a coffee tube off the rack and sat down on one of the plastic chairs. I waited for a few minutes and then saw him walking toward me. He went by me, got his coffee tube, plus a muffin patty. He sat down a couple of chairs over and started unwrapping his patty. He never once looked in my direction. But he did speak.”

 

Around a mouth full of patty, he asked, “Where’d you come from? What are you doing in these parts?”

 

Following his lead, I didn’t look directly at him.

 

“I’m on my way to Fresno. I’m to help out at a co-op there. Grow food, you know? Get it ready for shipping out.”

 

He was quiet. Chewing some patty and then taking a suck from his coffee tube.

 

“How about you?” I asked. “Got some tough work there. You going to stick with it?”

 

“No choice. It’s who I am now. Well, according to them, I’ve always done stuff like this.”

 

“You ever think about saying No?”

 

He was silent for a long couple of minutes.

 

“Not really. They had my records right there. And they had the records of my wife and kids. I remember how they said it. That they were busy and was only going to explain it one time so I had better listen.”

 

“They brought our records up on a screen in front of me. All aligned side by side.”

 

They said.   “This is who you are from now on. When we hit the “confirm” button, this will be who you all are and who you have been. You will never again mention you came from the military. Your records there don’t exist anymore. We deleted them. But you have a choice. This is also who we can make you.”

 

“And the screen changed and there were records of me being in prison for 20 years and that I had escaped and was being returned to serve out my sentence. And of course the wife was listed as a waitress and my kids, well, they had no schools, no diplomas, were fostered out in a city in the mid-west. They had different parents according to those records and those parents were dead.”

 

He paused for a moment. Took in a deep breath. “So, yeah I guess I could of said No. But then what? It was just better this way. There was no way to fight them. I guess I just gave up that day.”

 

Still without looking at me, he put his expended tube and the wrapper from his patty in the receptacle and walked back toward his work site. I remember how slumped his shoulders were. His head was down. It brought back the image of his head being held down by the junior officer.

 

“You mean they just changed his records and it changed who he was?”

 

At fourteen she was still mighty incredulous. I nodded. She needed to know the rest. She needed to know what happened to her parents. And I was determined to make her understand.

 

 

Dry Creek

 

 

Chapter 10

 

Yep. I told her it was all so easy. That’s the first thing they did was change who we were. Simple really.

 

After the mergers, they controlled the data. All the data on everyone and everything. The Corporates took the last few steps. It was all in place. They had been doing something similar for a couple of decades.   Changing profiles and creating new ones for special people. Politicians and leaders mostly. Some entertainment figures. Most with their permission, but not all.

 

It didn’t take the Corps long to realize that the more they controlled the data about a person, the more they controlled that person. If they didn’t like who you are or don’t want to confer on you the status you might mistakenly, in their view, believe you have earned, they had the power with just a few keystrokes and some syncing between systems to just change who you were.

 

I remember my granddaughter still questioned whether the Corps could just change who you were. I remember being angry. I shouldn’t have been. But I always got angry when I thought about it. I knew my voice took on angry tones and their was a bitterness to my words I wished I could mitigate.

 

“As far as who you were, your identity, the data banks contained your lifeblood. Just think about it. Your education records, your driving habits, your social network, friends and unfriends, your medical history and the history of your relatives, the music you purchased, the books you purchased, your work history, complaints, resolved and unresolved others had made about you, your financial records and history, your sexual preferences, the news stories you read, the views you seemed to prefer, the memos you have written, the letters you wrote, the pictures you have taken or others have taken of you and all your relative and friend’s pictures of themselves and you and them and you together, the art you have created, the poems you wrote, how many times you read and re-read your favorite stories, how many times you watched and re-watched the movies you liked, how fast you drove a car when we were allowed to have cars, who your voted for when we were allowed to vote, videos of our interactions with police officers, with senior officers in the military when we were allowed to serve in the military, everywhere we have lived, how much we paid, the debts we had, the bills we paid and didn’t pay, every keystroke we ever made on every computer we had ever sat at, every page we had printed out on a printer connected wirelessly to a computer, the number of steps we had taken when we went for a walk, the number of calories we consumed every day, how many we burned that day and the next and the one before, the things we bought, all the things we bought, underwear, suits, shorts, the trips we took, the vacations and the ice cream we bought at the end of a hot day on the rides at Disney Park, the rides we queued up and thrilled to, our sex and who we were before the inevitable gender reassignment, our IQ, whether we are left brain or right brain dominant, our test scores on standardized scores given to everyone and test scores given only to you and how those scores compared to everyone else and the other members of your family, the genetic markers in our blood and the likelihood of our dying of cancer, or becoming obese or impotent or senile. They had it all. And they could change it!”

 

“Sure there were backups but nothing on paper. No “hard copy”, that’s what we used to call paper records. Hard copies of records no longer existed.”

 

“See all of that, everything about us, was on paper nowhere. It didn’t even exist on an actual computer. Oh, some of the more mundane data remained on local computers but copies of real data, the important stuff, the rest of it, was out there, in “the cloud” they called it, part of a giant shared and shareable database.”

 

“And once those databases could cross-reference, and be synced; once they could marry records from all the places that had records and all without an individual’s or even a government’s permission or knowledge, it became possible for whoever gained control of the databases to change who you were. With a few keystrokes you could become an ex-felon or one who was serving a prison term and had warrants out to arrest you and to return you to custody. Even though you might be one of the last few remaining worshipers at churches and would never consider doing so, those controlling the data bases could establish records that you were one who had watched things one shouldn’t watch on the Stream Vision and had diaries of unspeakable acts. They could make you a pervert if they chose. Or they could make you one who had no education or one who had the most education; one who was once a licensed attorney could now be recorded as having flunked the bar exam: one who had never applied a band aide was now a world famous surgeon.”

 

“So those who controlled the data banks decided who was who and what they did, what their histories were, what they were qualified to do. Like Commander Blythe said, there was no fighting them. At least they thought there wasn’t.”

 

 

Chapter 11

 

And that’s’ how our little bands of anarchists came about”, I thought to myself.

 

Each of us had at one time or another got out of the data banks. Many of our number no longer existed as who we had been to the rest of the world. We stayed off the cloud to avoid detection. It also allowed the younger of us to be what we chose to be for a while. No more gender re-assignments, no more balancing the demographical statistical. And we had to rely on the old human skills of determining, well guessing, whom our companion really was and if we liked him/her/it or not. Our abilities to do so were improving. The longer we were on our own, the easier it was becoming.

 

The Data Corps had with a few keystrokes, made the governments adjunct departments in the corporate entities that ruled the lead countries. And now they were merging the countries themselves. They had all signed the latest labor sharing agreements. And whole families, even the populations of some small cities were being re-assigned, re-located, exchanged was what they called it, to foreign lands.

 

The exploitation of natural and human resources could now occur without constraint. And it did. Nothing restrained the cultivation of the planet.   In a mere thirty years it hade all been put in production. The Rain Forests in Brazil were logged. Virtually the entire continent of Africa was put to plow and harvested.

 

And seventy five per cent of the population of the planet was put to labor. They lived hard, grueling lives. Human workers were cheaper and more expendable than the complex artificial intelligence units in the automated factories.

 

The other twenty five percent of the world’s human population were the middle managers, lawyers, doctors, and accountants still necessary for a civil society to function.   And they lived decent enough lives. They could even afford to vacation at the Disney Continent once a year.

 

But we were the one per centers. We were the ones who had gotten away. In fact we weren’t even counted on the scale at all. We were free thinkers who had broken and run. Many of those who escaped like us were in hiding. But not us. They called us the enviro-terrorists, the anarchists. And they were right. We wanted to fight. We wanted to hurt someone.

 

And I had trained my granddaughter to be a leader of the movement. I was sorry for that. But her life had been stolen from her right after she was born anyway.

 

I had begun her training by giving her a book. Books were precious to the end. I gave it to her the day we had sat on my porch watching the cullers. I gave it to her with the strictest instructions that she was to keep it secreted away and not speak of it to anyone.

“There is an inscription inside the cover,” I told her.

 

She opened the book. The way she held the book in her lap and put her fingers on the top of the cover to flip it over was awkward. She had not opened many books. There were few reasons for children to open actual physical books anymore.

 

I watched her read the inscription. When she had, she looked up at me.

 

“This is from my Mother?”

 

“Isn’t that what it says?”

 

“But really?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I don’t know much about her.”

 

“It was better not to talk about her. At least until now.”

 

“Why?”

 

“What’s the inscription say? Read it to me.”

 

She bent her head low over the book, which still rested in her lap. She paused and swallowed. Waited for her voice to come. That was good. This was having an impact. It was getting through.

 

After a few moments, she read: “To my Daughter; I am sorry I don’t have anything else left to pass on to you, but this book was precious to me. And it was to your Father too. It’s all that remains of him now.   I fear I too will soon be gone. Take pleasure in reading it. Not because it’s great or profound. It is not. But it is real. It is by a real person. They didn’t get to change it. I guess that is why we think it precious. Your Father loved you. And I love you. Always, Mom.”

 

I noticed her voice didn’t quiver. She took a deep breath afterwards. She was moved, but kept her strength. That was good too.

 

“There is also a letter that goes with the book. It’s in the back.”

 

She closed the front cover and turned the book over, carefully like it was thing of value. She opened the back cover. The envelope was in a little pocket that had stitched to the last page. I watched as she carefully removed the delicate pages from the envelope and unfolded them. I had read the letter myself. One time long ago. I remembered it said a lot.

 

I waited while she read the letter to herself. I looked out over the culled fields and thought of my daughter and the man she took as her husband. The feeling of loss was still keen. My anger at how they were taken still caused me to seethe inside, but I didn’t want that to infect my granddaughter’s exposure to her mother’s words. When she was done, she sat back and looked at me. I could tell there were questions she wanted to ask. But this time she was genuinely choked up. I didn’t want to embarrass her so I reached over and gently removed the letter from her hands.

 

My daughter’s words were better than any I could say in some awkward attempt at consoling my granddaughter. I chose to read her letter out loud. My granddaughter looked off in the distance in the same direction I had been staring while she read. I wondered if she was living the experience of the mother she had never had the chance to get to know.

 

“Sweetheart;

 

“Dad will tell you many things of this world, but there are some things I want you to know about your father and me. And what happened to us. It is important that you know why we were not there with you. And I want you to know this when you are ready, from my own hands, not off some computer screen. Those words you can never be sure who wrote.”

 

“First, we love you very much. There is nothing we would not have done to keep you and stay with you. In fact that was out plan when this all started happening, but somehow it all got away from us. We had wanted to just take you and run away. Just find a place and live our lives. But things don’t always work out the way we want. I’m sure you are starting to see that in your own life.”

 

“I am going to try to set down as accurately as I can what happened and the way it happened, even what people said as nearly as possible anyway. Maybe I won’t have to give you this letter. Your father is in the city right now making one last try. We never actually said this to each other, but neither of us believes his plan will work. But there is always hope, isn’t there.   And if he succeeds we have a chance to get away. If it doesn’t he won’t return and they will come for me. All I can do now is trust my own father can get you away from all this.”

 

“And to think this is all over a book. A simple little book. Was it all worth it? I don’t know. I hope so. We have lost so much. We are going probably going to lose much more. I really hope it was worth it.”

 

“Do you think it was worth it?” My granddaughter asked. It was the first of that kind of question, something mature, something beyond the immediate and the close that children are always concerned with.   I didn’t remember her ever asking such a question before.

 

“It’s not something I can say really. It was bad losing her. And your Father too. I hated everything a long time. Still a lot of hate in me. So I can’t be exactly rational.”

 

She nodded.

 

“Read the rest,” she said.   “It helps me to hear her words spoken. I can imagine them being said by her.”

 

I looked back at the pages to continue reading, but she interrupted me again.

 

“Was she a good person, my mother?”

 

“She was a very good person.”

 

“That’s not what they all said. My teachers. The case workers, you know, before you took me out of that place.”

 

“I know what they must have said. But you know now. They could make changes to profiles. Change who were; who you had been. Even your teachers, the caseworkers probably didn’t know the truth. They didn’t know her. They had never met her. They read records. Records were changed like I said.”

 

She nodded so I continued.

 

It was like my daughter had heard us talking and was joining in and advancing the conversation.

 

“I know they will tell you things about us. Your father and I believe, however, and I can’t explain how we know this, but we do, we just do, that deep down, down in your bones, your cells, where we live through you, those things are not true. You will figure that out. That one thing, we are confident about.

 

What you won’t know though is the rest. About the world. How they changed what was true. History itself. I’m sure my father will fill you in on a lot, but you need to know how it affected us. How it caused us to be lost to you forever.

 

This dam book! What we did was right. I know that. But I dam this book. I turn it over to you as the only precious thing I have left, but I do dam this book for what it cost us.”

 

“I’ve never seen paper like that,” my granddaughter said out of the blue.

 

“And you won’t.” I told her.

 

“It’s thin. How’d it last so long?”

 

I realized something I should have recognized. She had very little experience with paper at all.

 

“It is called stationary. Once, long time ago, you could get all kinds. Different designs embossed in it, colors, gold symbols. People bought it just for letter writing.”

 

Until then I didn’t understand why my daughter used the paper she did. She was as clever in this as she had been in other things. She was communicating and passing on information on more than just the surface level of her words on the paper. She knew somehow, it would cause her daughter to ask just such a question.

 

“The only paper I’ve seen with words on it, was the orders they posted sometimes at school or the facility. They re-used the paper for a lot of orders.”

 

“That’s because there isn’t much of the stuff anymore.”

 

“Why not?”

 

A simple child’s question. The Answer was more complicated. I needed to make her understand. Understand all of it.

 

“Listen” I said, “the Corps had control of more than just individual profiles. That only gave them the ability to change who we were to the world.   That was bad enough. But you need to understand, and I think your Mother wanted you to understand; they also needed the power to change what the world had been. The human race’s memory; their history.“

 

“The mergers that allowed them to assume all the real power in the world were possible because they had all the knowledge. It was all on the computers they controlled. Science sure. Medicine. Finances. Coins, money, gold by then was rare. Most every thing was credit and debit. Easier to control. But there was more that they controlled.“

 

“They possessed all the art and literature. And history. World history. By the time the mergers took place, there were no more paper books or records or stand-alones containing music, art or history.”

 

“Like I said, there were no independent controls, nothing important was in the hands of individual people anymore. The military, the drones and driverless tanks and pilotless planes, the missile silos, all were under the control of algorithms in computer banks. It was all in the shared cloud. And it was all in the hands of the Data Corps.   And they had simply took control of it all. And by then they literally had the ability to control human knowledge, learning and history.”

 

“About the paper?” She said it with a hint of impatience. I had told her that part before and she wanted to know what I had started to tell her about the paper.

 

“There were no physical backups for anything. All the paper records had been destroyed in the great recycling campaign of 2045. It was said to be an effort to save the trees and fight global warming.   That’s what all the experts told us. If we surrendered all the paper for recycling into fresh paper, we could rely on the cloud records. They were much more responsive anyway, we were told. And, you know, they were.”

 

“Of course, as the months passed we never saw the recycled paper return to the shelves. It had been recycled instead to make wallboard, first for homes then later for such things as the attractions on the Disney continent.   Gradually paper disappeared altogether from the store shelves. And nobody really cared. There simply was so little demand the product quit being produced other than in the more useful forms like paper towels or clothes.”

 

She was looking at the paper in my hands. And she was running her own hands over the cover of the book she was holding in her lap.

 

“What happened to them?” she asked.

 

“It says in the letter.”

 

“I read what she said, but there is more. They died. How did they die?”

 

The ember of hate in my gut, I could feel flaring up and I knew if I wasn’t careful it would soon be raging and consuming my judgment. It wasn’t the right time.

 

I couldn’t answer for a moment. I had to gather myself.

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“You don’t?”

 

“No. I took you and we left.”

 

She stared at me. I could see her mind working it out.

 

“But then, how do you know? How do you know they are dead?”

 

“I know they were taken away. When I went back to see, Mrs. Winters, one of the few friends we could trust anymore, just an old lady lived down the street. She had been married to a college professor. They had taken him too you see. Well she told me she watched them arrive at our home to get your mother. Said your father was in the back of the car. His hands were behind him. Like they were tied, handcuffed, or something. And they marched your mother out and put her in the back of the car right next to him. She said she saw your mother, I will never forget this, she said she saw her lean over and put her head on your Father’s shoulder. And the car left. No one ever saw them again.”

 

She was more animated then. “Well, they could still be alive.”

 

I shook my head. “They may have lived for a while. But where they were going, they wouldn’t last. No one ever did.”

 

“But you don’t know for sure.”

“The lady, the old lady, Mrs. Winters I said saw them? Well, her husband had been a fitness nut. Jogged, lifted weights, you know? She said they let her see him once. He wasn’t the same. He had been re-indoctrinated. He weighed less than half of what he weighed when they took him. She believed he had been starved. They starve them into submission the way they do slaves. It’s a common enough technique. And they work them to death in the pits. He was dying, she said, and he didn’t even know it. She said he was already dead, who he had once been was already dead anyway, and he just didn’t know it. She never tried to see him again.”

 

“So you didn’t even try to find them!”

 

“I didn’t want to. I had you to think about. Your mother wanted me to have you, take care of you. They took you away for a while, we knew they would, but I got you back. Its what I said I would do.”

 

I could tell by the set of her mouth she was angry, she was disappointed in me. Few things hurt as bad as having a grandchild look at you with that kind of disappointment in their eyes. And I knew she would never think of me again with the trust and affection she had up until that moment.

 

“So this book, why was it so important?”

 

“Let’s finish the letter. Then I will answer all the questions I can.”

 

She didn’t ease herself back in the chair. Instead she clutched the book to her chest and scooted up on the edge of the seat to listen. But as I started to return to the letter I felt her get up. I watched her walk to the edge of the porch still clutching the book to her chest, both arms folded in front. She looked away across the fields. I knew as I read she would be seeing it all, the past, for the first time.

 

“You will learn, dear daughter, and I hope not through sad experience, about the betrayal of friends. They can, if they have fear, turn on you. Some few will do it for money, others out of jealously, but those aren’t true friends. Only fear will cause a true friend to do what you would never expect. Don’t trust, dear, not anyone, not ever in all situations. Don’t let it make you bitter; just don’t expose yourself completely to anyone.

 

“She used a name.”

 

“Rosalind.”

 

“Yes, Rosalind. Who was she?”

 

“It tells in the letter.”

 

“The letter says she was a close friend. She worked with my Mother. It says nothing else about her as a person. Who was she? Did you know her?”

 

“ I knew her.   Let’s finish the letter first.”

 

“No. I need to know who she was. Mother would want me to understand why she did what she did.”

 

My granddaughter could be stubborn. Got more like that with every passing year. I was glad. She would need that kind of resolve. And I also realized that in her mind she now had a relationship with her mother. Through the letter.

 

“I will tell you what I know. Rosalind was a pretty girl. Too pretty. It wasn’t like beauty. You know, like some women have beauty. Well, she was pretty in a prissy way. Like she never wanted to grow up. All curls and frills, and she liked that, liked the fancy things. She and your mother knew each other since they were kids. Played dollhouses. I know you don’t know what that was about, but it was a made up, imaginary game and they set up housekeeping. Your mom even copied her when she was very little. Got my wife to curl her hair like Rosalind and started wearing these little girls dresses. I remember we thought it was cute. They looked like sisters.”

 

“Well they grew up. Your mother got over the little girlie things. Rosalind never did, but they kept their friendship. They stayed close friends. They bought houses right across the street from each other. Spent time together, family stuff and all. Like sisters they were. The strange thing was their husbands never got along that well. He worked for a Data Corp and your father was in Ag. Before all the farms were taken by the big Ag Corps. He was with a small little ranch. Took care of groves of walnut trees, the irrigation, the pesticides, and equipment. He was like a foreman. Well, Rosalind got pregnant and had a little girl. And then your folks had you. You were born virtually the same year.”

 

“My mother says in there Rosalind betrayed her. Said it was out of fear. That she wanted to forgive her, but couldn’t.”

 

“The letter says what she did. She betrayed us all. None of us could forgive her.”

 

“What was her fear?”

 

“It doesn’t really matter.”

 

“It matters. If my mother wanted to forgive her, it matters. I just know it matters. She would want me to know.”

 

She was right. My daughter would want her to know, to be aware of motivations of people, of their vulnerabilities, of their weaknesses and how they can be exploited. Heroes there are. But heroism is a gift when it happens. It is wise to never expect it from anyone. It is never to be depended upon. And it will most come from someone whom you don’t expect and almost never from those whom you do.

 

“They had her little girl. They took her. Her husband was the one who turned her over actually. For nothing more than to advance his own career. He did it to his own kid. They had this campaign. It was like a friendship between nations. An actual exchange of kids. Kids from China would be placed with American parents and their own kids would be placed with the Chinese parents. Strictly voluntary they said, but the parents that volunteered got these incredible benefits, advancements, and advantages of all kinds. But the kids never came back until they were older. Her husband was very ambitious. He wanted things, the positions, the status, and so he volunteered their child. He did it without telling Rosalind. She was distraught. He ignored her. Told her to get over it. She hated him for that. And one day, she went over her husband’s head, she took a bus to the regional governor’s office. Got in to talk to the people in charge of the program. And they figured out she had something they could use. That she they could get to your mother through her. And see, she, for good measure, betrayed him too. Her husband. When she made her deal, they arrested him too. She is the only one that came out ahead in all of it. By then she hated him so much she didn’t care. I don’t know how she felt about your mom. Never figured that one out.”

 

“So, how did that work? I mean what did that have to do with my parents?”

 

“It was the books. Your Mother got involved with opposing the regional government’s book retirement program. Your father and I told her not to do it. But she had a stubborn streak. You have that streak. She just went right ahead and did it anyway. It just made her a target. They wanted her. They set her up and Rosalind helped them trap her.”

 

“Book Retirement?”

 

“That was the final piece of the mergers. Again in the interests of saving the planet, a cash-for-books program was established. Paid for by offshore cash reserves of the Double A, ‘AA’ Data Corp (Amazon/Apple). The plan was a good one. Coin was given for every book brought to recycle centers. And people wanted coins. They could buy things that were “off the data bases.”

 

The Data Corp even uploaded those books on the individual Kindle/Fire electronic tablets of those who gave up their paper books. The program was extensive. Any book, no matter the age or condition, no matter if it was pornographic, scientific, or dealt with engineering much less books by the likes of Shakespeare, Faulkner and Hemingway were eligible for the cash back and free replacement upload.”

 

“Thousands, millions, of paper books were recycled into plain paperboard for the construction of houses and businesses. There were periodic reports of rogue libraries popping up around the globe with actual printed books, but most people believed those stories were myths.”

 

“Admittedly there were a few who regretted their decision to surrender their books, especially after the Kindle/Fire Reset Day. That’s when they changed history itself.”

 

“What was that?” She was following what I was telling her closely. Taking it all in. Just like, I realized, her mother knew she would.

 

“Though the governments promised investigations and the political leaders railed some, all the uploaded books on everyone’s machine were one day, Christmas day to be exact, just wiped out. Gone. They said it was necessary to eliminate a vicious and destructive computer virus. And, I guess, to calm everyone down, ‘AA’ Data Corp immediately began replacing all the online books that had been lost. So most people never worried too much. They figured it would all be okay after the books were downloaded back on the devices.”

 

“Over the next two years, the Data Corps reloaded the books. There were a few professors and other so-called experts who complained the books had been changed. But this was explained as a necessary clean up of the originals to eliminate offensive language, phrases, and overly violent descriptions and situations. Stuff that made certain groups uncomfortable or stressed them. And now with the Data Corps in control, only certain segments of the population were allowed to upload literature of any kind anyway. The Corps urged their friends in the governments to rewrite the laws on access. For security reasons they said. That it would be better for everyone. And one by one the laws were changed.”

 

“Essentially there had to be a demonstrated “ need to read”.   If you were a certified engineer you could have access to certain engineering tracts at least up to the level of complexity appropriate for your assigned duties. But of course there would be no need for you to read Walt Whitman.”

 

“Again there were stories about a return to oral traditions where certain groups sought to pass down to generations the originals of information that had once been in the public square. But it seemed so tedious no one gave it much credence. I don’t think it ever got done. And even discussing the banned works was considered a serious ethical breach of the accepted political speak and could lead to one being dismissed from his/her position and even expelled or, worse, sent to the work pits. The offense was considered so egregious; it didn’t matter if you were original male, female, hybrid, changeling or a trans or reverse trans. All the book violators were going to eventually be sent to the pits. It wasn’t worth it to most people to have original versions of the literature and history books.”

 

“That book you are holding was on the banned list. It is unashamedly patriotic. Contends the old United States was an exceptional country, better than every other country on the planet. Boy was it controversial. Hell, it is poorly written and the research is highly questionable, but it struck a cord and people started talking about it and exchanging it, passing it around. And it had one other thing in it that was really forbidden. This guy that wrote it, talked a lot about Religion, about his belief that the old United States was a Christian nation and that it had been punished for straying from those old beliefs. Really weird stuff. I think bogus. But it got to your Mother. She started speaking out very publically. And she developed a following. I think more for saving the books than the religious part. But it was mixed for sure.”

 

“So how did they use that on her.”

 

“Well, by then it was on a special list. Books they said might insight an insurrection. It was a crime to have it. She had it. That book right there. But it was kept well hid. They never found it. That’s why you have it. And then the religious things she said. Well, they couldn’t have that. It was too offensive to too many people. It was against the law.”

 

“So Rosalind turned her in?”

 

“More than that. There was a bombing. At a different regional office.   Rosalind lied. She said, it was your mother who planned the whole thing, was the leader of the cell of terrorists that did the bombing. Warrants were issued. We knew they would come for her.”

 

“Your dad made one last effort. He went to the husband of Rosalind. He was still high up in the Corp. Begged him to intervene. He actually tried. But by then they were ready to arrest him too. You know the rest.”

 

My granddaughter’s eyes misted over.   I waited for tears. They never came. Not ever.

 

It has been years since I thought of the book I gave my grandchild. And now that was all past and I had my work to do.

 

I sometimes wonder why we keep fighting. The seas keep rising. We lose almost as many Free Thinkers to sun cancer as we do from the drone flybys and government tracker bombs.

 

But Terrell was with us for this operation. Everyone felt better, more encouraged with him here. And, if all went as planned, we would bring three of the great dams down and the mighty Kaweah would return to the valley floor.

 

Farm Factories would be under water. And, unfortunately, floating among the produce and the nuts and greens would be the workers, the factorettes, as well as the local managers. None of them had ever been allowed to taste the bounty produced there anyway. And they never would. They would all be dead.

 

I felt bad about that and, no, I didn’t know if it would do any good. But then it was our belief that putting back Nature the way it had been once, might save us. Destroy everything else and put Nature back in its place. And see what happens. An existential thought for sure. But it was ours to have as free persons. Some of our bodies may have been modified, but our minds could still be free. For those of us who still cared, our thoughts could be free a while longer.

 

I sat and looked at Terrell like the rest. He was indeed beautiful. And I knew he would join my granddaughter in her tent tonight. And tomorrow we would sweep away the machines and all below them. I belched. The aftertaste of Lab dog was not something I enjoyed all that much.

 

 

Chapter 12

 

I sat way back in the shadows of the trees. Their tent flap was open on this side, the side facing away from the camp. I listened.

 

“I’m going to miss this,” he said.

 

She was lying on her side watching Terrell pull on his shirt. It was third time since he joined our Queda I had urged her to go to him.

 

He looked down at her as he buttoned his shirt. She lay naked before him. Her legs were splayed apart. As I watched, his eyes traveled the length of her body. It was having an effect. She spread her legs father apart and laughed at him.   He ignored her invitation and turned his back to reach down and begin to pull his pants on.

 

He turned back to face her as he continued buttoning them up.

 

“We can’t wait any longer. The Defoliators will start their march today. In two days they will eat right past the dam. Then the redwoods will be history and the mountain will be alive with the buzzing of flybys. None of us will survive that and the dam will still be intact and the food supply will keep flowing to FACEBOOK Land and Disney.”

 

She replied that she knew he was right. What they didn’t discuss was that we all knew there would be vengeance taken by the Big Data Corps. We knew their philosophy well enough. Always respond. Always hurt us worse than we hurt them. It had served them well and they had prospered. And we hadn’t. We damaged their factories we destroyed their fields. But we weren’t growing.

 

Another thing the Corps didn’t appreciate having to think about was food prioritizing and distribution much less actually having to develop other food sources. Their machines had never been able to master food preparation. The tastes of humans, all humans, even the hybrids, were too varied and idiosyncratic to be satisfied with the fare produced by the machines. The Farm Corps served a purpose so the Data Corps had never tried to merge them. As long as their delicacies were on the table they didn’t care all that much about how it was done.

 

“Did you see the flags?” She asked him.

 

“Yes. Some Flag Day celebration, huh?”

 

He nodded. “They do it to humiliate any body who might be left still identifying as American.”

 

“Oh, I don’t think they care enough to deliver a message just to humiliate. It’s more likely they just want to emphasize we can never go back. The Merge was done. American for Chinese. They adopt our economy in whole and we surrender a separate corporate identity. It was a deal. Lots of profits. They get control of the data. And if they control the data, they control us. We can never go back on that deal. They have ownership now. All the shares. Bought and paid for. Fair and square. The flags, I think, just emphasize that.”

 

She nodded again and began gathering her own clothing. I thought he was being needlessly sardonic. Battles we would loose, but battles where, if we were lucky we would hurt the Data Corps. Maybe show others out there, fighting, keeping up the resistance, that we just maybe can inflict some real hurt on the Data Corps. Maybe we can destroy all this before its too late.

 

I left where I had been standing in the shadows and moved to the other side of the camp.

 

I was sitting on a rock overlooking the camp, when Terrell left her tent. When she emerged a few minutes later, she had put on my side arm, took her rifle, and slung it over her shoulder. She wanted to create an illusion they had just been conferring on military matters, even if no one really bought into it. Appearances were important and the pretense forestalled the inevitable barrage of questions. Everyone in her troop was curious, intensely curious, about sex with an original Male.

 

She whistled. And the others started gathering around her. She was in the center of the Queda. I knew Terrell would not be standing with the others. He would be preparing the explosives. It was time for her to explain the operation to those who would carry it out.

 

Before she could get started, there were more arguments to be made. It would try her patience, but she needed to allow the arguments of free people to be vetted out for a while as they must, but at the end of the hour, she would need to have made assignments and issued the orders. Once that was done it was very unlikely the orders could be withdrawn. Once we broke up and went to do our assignments, there was no real way to communicate with each other. The Data Corps employed an army of hackers. They could monitor any online or oral conversation, which used a computer chip.

 

I listened for a while to the arguments. She finally raised her hand and the group stopped arguing. She let the silence linger for a few moments. Then she gave out the orders.

 

It was time.

 

 

Chapter 13

 

It was a quiet morning along the banks of Tulare Lake. The water had spread and settled for a hundred miles in every direction. It wasn’t deep but you couldn’t see the far shore of the lake. As the water spread it sought and found ancient forgotten rivulets, crevices and beds. It was like the lake had come home. Had longed to be home for a hundred years. And indeed it had returned.

 

In the soft morning sunlight coming off the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the water reflected a million diamonds in the rippling eddies and shifts in the lake’s surface. The treetops of the orchards were still visible. It was an awkward phenomena and it wouldn’t last long. The root systems of the oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and almond trees were not bred to survive in a lake bottom. They would rot and the trees would lose their anchor and float away from their mores until they hung up on the banks or sank below the surface. Here and there green immature Tules could already be seen sprouting above the shallows. They hadn’t been seen for decades, but their long dormant seeds had sprouted, resurrecting life from inanimate buried pods. Their stored energy had been given life again by the returning waters.

 

As I walked, I couldn’t ignore the smell. There were still too many bodies floating to the surface or snagged in the treetops. It has been two weeks since the deluge and they were beginning to rot. Some of them were members of my granddaughter’s Queda. We had lost over half our number. The rest of her band were scattered among the hills, some no doubt were making their way out of the valley to find other Quedas and continue the war. We had won this one battle though clearly the Data Corps would count it more of a defeat for them than we counted it a victory for us. The cost to them had been dear in financial and distribution terms. The cost to us in trusted allies and soldiers had been proportionally more devastating. Not that we hadn’t expected losses. But the reality was harsh. Even though the attack had went as expected.

 

All three dams had collapsed in sequence just as Terrell had planned. The three mighty rivers, East Fork, South Fork and North Fork coming together and building up an irresistible force as they joined into a mighty wall of water and roared down the canyons swamping all, taking everything man-made before it. And most importantly, the Defoliators and all the platoons backing them up were gone.

 

Out of the mountains the three rivers, the three sources of the mighty Kaweah, once again joined, came down from the mountains and flooded every town, every orchard, drowned all the animals and humans alike. Tulare Lake was formed once again almost as if it had been waiting two hundred years to cast aside man made impediments and come back to rest at the place that once had been its home.

 

As I looked out across the lake some kind of wild fowl, I hadn’t seen before, landed together and floated on the lake surface. Pretty birds, grey and blue, dashes of yellow, honking and flapping their wings, seemingly at home also.

 

I did find it surprising that the drones were absent today. For the first few days after the destruction of the dams they had buzzed above us constantly back and forth to every location along the hillsides, the lake shore and on up to the new base of the Kaweah river on and on up to Forks where the dams had been blown up. The buzzing had no discernible pattern. It was like they were in a panic mode, in a worrying confusion over what to do.

 

A few helicopters had come. And as I had watched with binoculars from under the protective canopy of the downed Oaks along the banks, they landed on Rocky Hill and a few figures emerged who seemed to be surveying the damage, the submerged fields and orchards. Though we had weapons we had secured away before the destruction of the dams and with which we could have attacked the helicopters, we waited and held our fire. We weren’t a strong enough force to press any advantage gained from our attack. In true guerilla fashion we would wait now to see what the enemy would do before we reacted. Or maybe we would all just disappear.

 

Though none of us knew for sure, my granddaughter was confident the Corps would try to rebuild the dams. And she hoped to keep enough of the Queda together to attack them piecemeal and make it difficult for them to complete the task. Her strategy would be to make it so difficult they would abandon the valley as economically unfeasible to defend. If so that meant we had returned this one valley, this one river, to what it once was. And that was, I suppose, a victory. At least as we defined victory.

 

I heard voices. I recognized who was speaking. As always I stayed hidden in the shadows and listened.

 

I wondered if she would tell him about the baby. I had warned her not to tell him. She had seemed to agree.

 

Terrell was waiting at Mayor’s Rock. We had discovered it a year earlier complete with plaque. One of the mayors listed on the plaque had the same name as my own granddad. His name had been Easley.

 

The plaque honored the mayors of the city that had once been on that spot. Ironically, the city had been named Dry Creek. Added to the irony was the fact that the rock was the only thing in the immediate vicinity that was not under water.

 

Terrell was sitting arrogantly out in the open atop the rock and watching my granddaughter as she made her way towards him along the banks of the lake.

 

He smiled when she got to the shore directly across from him. Though separated by water, they were close enough to have a conversation in a normal tone of voice. He did nothing to leave the rock and join her on the shore.

 

“No drones today?” She asked.

 

“None we can see. They may be too small to see. Did you enjoy your walk around our new lake?”

 

“It’s not a new lake. My granddad told me long ago, or maybe I read it, not sure which, but anyway, he told me there was a lake here before the dams. It had been there who knows how many hundreds of years or even longer. Then they dammed up the rivers and turned the lakebed into Ag fields.   And towns. We just put the lake back where it was supposed to be.”

 

“Well, maybe that is so. Lots of bodies floating in your lake now. And lots of produce which won’t be going where the Farm Corps want it to go.”

 

“We killed thousands. No doubt about that. And we will kill many more before this war is through.”

 

“Will it ever be through?”

 

She didn’t answer. There was no answer to give. An end to the war would mean our side had lost. She stood there with her hands on her hips and looked at Terrell. He looked at the water flowing among the treetops.

 

“Will you leave?”

 

He nodded.

 

“You could stay. We have more work to do, if they try to rebuild.”

 

“They will rebuild. There are too few of you to stop them.”

 

“You could help.”

 

“No.   There is another river to return. Our leaders want to reclaim the Colorado. And I want to bring down the Hoover. That will be something.”

 

“The Data Corps will think of that. They will protect Hoover better than here. By now they have computer models of your attacks. All of them. It won’t be easy to do what you did here.” She paused for a second.   “You should stay with me.”

 

“I will leave.”

 

“When?”

 

“Tomorrow. Early.”

 

“So we have today.”

 

“And tonight,” he said with a smile. He stood, easily balancing himself on the Rock. He spread his arms.   “And we have all this.”

 

She smiled back. I could tell she thought he was beautiful. An original. One of the few left.

 

“Yes. Tonight,” she said. “We have the lake. And we have tonight.”

 

 

 

The End