A SIMPLE GESTURE—CHRIS OTT
A SIMPLE GESTURE
Goddammit! I can never remember his name.
With a name like that he should be square-jawed, six-feet tall. Polo sweater draped casually across his broad shoulders and a honey-blond goddess on his arm.
Nope. Not him.
Pig-faced bowling ball of a man stuffed into silk suits that cost more than my fucking car. Waddling down the halls glad-handing everybody, followed by his perfumed minions.
Why the fuck can’t I ever remember his name?
And his wife? Jesus what a Mutt and Jeff pair. Towering over him like a gantry crane. All arms, elbows and angles. Demon child of Lurch and Wednesday Addams on her third month of a hunger strike. Eat a fucking taco, for Christ’s sake. It’s not like you can’t afford one.
Goddammit! Why can’t I remember his name?
I should talk about wives. Last one bled me dry. “Marry an older woman,” my father would say. “Your ma’s seven years older than me, and look how happy I am.” Well I almost got the last one right. She was twenty-five and I acted like a fucking eighteen-year old. “Stay away from the young stuff,” he said. I shoulda listened.
And I should remember this fucker’s name. Brenson Bandon?
I’m getting too old for this shit.
Holy shit! What was that?
I practically leapt out of my chair and turned to face the voice. His secretary…nope…not anymore…his Personal Assistant was looking at me.
“Yes?” I said.
“I’m sorry to startle you,” she said with a kind smile, “But Mr. Branson is running eight minutes behind schedule. He’ll be here shortly.”
Branson! That’s it Brendon Branson. I want to kiss her for that.
Looking at her I realize that I want to kiss her for more than just that. She’s a good-looking broad. Not one of the usual puff-pieces you see behind a desk here. She’s substantial. Mid-fifties. Took care of herself. Dyed blonde hair. And eyes. Damn those are some beautiful eyes. Violet. Elizabeth Taylor violet.
“Can I get you something to drink?” she said.
“Bourbon,” I said, “with a Quaalude chaser.”
She smiled, turned around in her chair, opened a small refrigerator behind her desk and stated rifling through it. “Let’s see,” she said, “Kombucha, Kombucha, water, Kombucha and a large bag of crystal meth.” She turned to me and said, “Sorry. No Bourbon or Quaaludes. Here’s some water?” She pulled the bottle out, looked at it and said drily, “It’s glacial water from Finland. It must be the best water in the world.”
Ahh. A sense of humor. Finally.
“How do you know I don’t want the Kombucha?” I said.
“Because nobody under thirty drinks that stuff,” she said.
I unpeeled my hands from the armrests, wiped them on my pants, stood and walked over to her desk. I took the bottle from her, untwisted the cap, smelled it and said,
“Smells like a 2014. Do you have any fresher?”
She laughed. I took a drink from the bottle.
“Yes. Deifinitely 2014,” I said. “It wasn’t Finland’s best year.”
She smiled and said, “Are you okay?”
“Fuck no, I’m not okay,” I said a bit loudly. I stopped, took a breath and said, “I’m sorry. It’s…” I took a few steps from the desk. I took another drink of the water to calm me down.
“I don’t do this shit very well.” I said starting to pace. “Why does Mr. Brendon want to see me? I hate talking to owners. I hate talking to bosses. Hell, I hate talking to everybody. Especially when I don’t know why?”
She sat silently. Calm violet eyes. Watching.
“Did I miss an important meeting? Did Moses himself come down from the goddamn Mount with tablets in hand with the algorithm from the Lord? Did I miss the Holy Grail of fucking apps?”
I went to my chair, put the bottle of water down on the table beside me, and sat down. I took a deep breath, exhaled and said, “I don’t even know why I’m working for this company.”
Throughout my rant she said nothing. She seemed as calm as if she was watching pleasant scenery. I turned, looked at her and said, “I’m sorry to vent.”
She was about to say something when the door opened and himself waddled in. White linen suit, wad of papers under one arm. Christ, he was sweating more than I was.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said to no one in particular, “I’ll be ready in a few.” He opened the door to his office and vanished like the White Rabbit.
I stood up and started pacing again. “Christ I hate this,” I said out loud. I grabbed the bottle of water and finished it off.
“Mr. Leonard,” she said calmly.
I stopped pacing, turned to her and said, “I’m sorry. It’s just…”
“Mr. Leonard,” she said interrupting me, “Please stop with the apologies. I hate them as much as I am sure you do. And it’s Branson.”
“What?” I said.
“It’s Branson. You just called him Mr. Brendon.”
“Oh shit,” I said and rubbed my face with my hands. “Branson, Brendon, Brendson. I’ll never get it straight.”
“I’m glad you find this funny,” I said. “It ain’t your ass on the line. What if he fires me?”
She paused and looked at me with a smile in her eyes. Damn those were beautiful eyes.
“Mr. Leonard. Perhaps you might want to relax a little bit. It’s not uncommon for Mr. Branson to see a dozen or so of his employees every day – especially his managers. He is hands-on and likes to keep in touch. And he really is a nice man.”
“Look,” I said, “uh..?”
“Melanie,” she said.
“Yes. Melanie. I’m sure Mr. Brendon is a very “nice” man, “ I said making air quotes, “But I have never met him. I’ve been here for five years and I’ve fucking never met the man.” I started pacing again. “Why now?”
She paused. Looked at me coolly and said. “It amazes that Mr. Brendon wouldn’t want to have you in his daily life. Someone with your charm – your… joi de vivre. It astounds me that you don’t have your personal pulpit in his office right beside his desk. I am shocked, shocked, I tell you””
Christ. She’s busting my balls with Casablanca.
Before I could respond, her phone beeped. She picked it up and said, “Yes?” She listened for a few seconds, spoke briefly and hung up the phone. She turned to me and said, “He’s ready for you.”
I started to say something. She held up her hand and said, “No more apologies. “ She looked at me. Her eyes widened as she slowly pointed to the door and said mockingly, “Your destiny awaits you.”
Jesus! What a piker.
I turned to face the door, wiped my hands on my pants, opened it and stepped in.
Holy shit! This wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought it’d be all techy or space-age. The size of an airplane hangar. Fluorescent lights. A desk the size of a garage door with a dozen computer screens. Basketball hoop on the wall or at least a vintage Donkey Kong machine. But there was none of that shit. This is like walking into someone’s living room. No. Their den.
It was small. Cozy. The walls were paneled with cherry wood. The window wall had thick velvet curtains in dark burgundy that were closed. There was no desk. There were two old leather sofas, a matched set of overstuffed chairs, a coffee table and a few end tables. Light came from a number of floor lamps with brocade shades.
One wall had a series of low, built-in book cases stuffed with books. On top were dozens of photographs in varying-sized frames. On the walls above were a number of tasteful still-lifes. The second wall had a fireplace framed with bookcases. There was a large oil painting of a couple over the mantle. The man looked like an older version of Mr. Brandon. The handsome woman beside him seemed to be about the same age.
The third wall had a built-in bar with bookcases on either side. Mr. Benson stood with his back to me pouring drinks. Damn he was huge. He turned around with two highball glasses in his hand, gestured at me with one and said in a soft voice, “Please, make yourself comfortable.”
I sat on the right side of the sofa. He waddled over to me, handed me a drink and said, “There are coasters in the drawer of the end table.” He went to the overstuffed chair opposite me and plopped down.
I took a sip of the drink. Bourbon. Holy shit. Bourbon at ten in the morning. He looked at me calmly and said, “Sorry I can’t provide you with the Quaaludes, but I believe they are illegal.” He gave me a Cheshire Cat smile.
What the fuck! How did he know?
I took a big drink of the bourbon. Damn good bourbon!
“This is some damn good bourbon,” I said raising my glass slightly to him. “Thank you.”
“It’s my pleasure,” he said with a slight nod of his head. And then he sat there. Saying nothing. Just enjoying his drink. Looking at nothing in particular.
Jesus Christ it was eerie. I tried to relax, but the longer the silence went on the more nervous I got. I chugged the rest of my drink and set the empty glass on the table. I crossed my hands over my chest then uncrossed them. I wiped my palms on my pants leg, locked my fingers together in my lap and tried to sit as still as he was.
What the fuck was going on. I wanted to get on my feet and start pacing. Hell, I wanted to jump across the room and punch him in his fucking face. He’s calm as can be because he knows what’s going on. I’m crawling out of my skin because I don’t have a fucking clue. He finally sat forward in his chair and said,
“Mr. Leonard. Why don’t you get the bottle from the bar and bring it over.”
I bolted off the couch and crossed to the bar. There were a couple dozen bottles, none that I recognized.
“It’s the Blanton’s bottle. The one that’s shaped like me,” he said.
Sitting in the middle of the bottles was a short, round bottle with a stubby neck. This guy had a sense of humor too. I grabbed it, brought it over. He proffered his glass and I poured in a couple of shots. I sat down, filled my glass and took a long pull.
“Mr. Leonard, I can imagine how uncomfortable you are feeling,” he said sitting forward in his chair and focusing on me for the first time. “But I, like you, tend to do things my own way. If people are uncomfortable with it, I believe it is up to them to, as you would say, ‘get your head out of your ass and deal with it.’” He sat back in his chair and took a sip of his drink. “I’m not allowed to drink very often, and when I do I like to savor the moment. I should have had my first drink in private, so you wouldn’t have had to sit there in my silence. But I didn’t, and here we now are.”
I started to say something, but he put his hand up and said, “Please, Mr. Leonard. Let me finish. There is a lot you don’t know, although that may come as a surprise to you.”
Pompous fuck. Now he’s busting my balls. But it’s his bourbon, so I can play his fucking game.
“I’m sure you’re wondering why, after four years, I finally want to meet with you.”
“Yeah, “ I said. “It seems kinda strange.”
“Fair enough. But before we get into that,” he said, “tell me what you know, or think you know, about me.”
“I don’t know how I can state it more clearly,” he said. “I’m curious to know what you know about me.”
Ahh. Here comes the ass-kissing part. Tell me all of the wonderful things I’ve done while reminding yourself that you are a failure. Just another fucking peon. I’m not gonna play that fucking game. But I need the job, goddammit. Keep it in check. Don’t say too much.
“Let’s see,” I said as I started ticking them off on my fingers, “Harvard; Harvard Law; Harvard Medical; started StrataSys, sold it for a couple million; started DataSys, sold it for half a billion; started StenGen, it went belly-up; took a break; married the bean-pole; had two kids; started BizGen and now you own a company valued a twenty billion or so.” I stopped and looked at him. “How’d I do?”
He looked at me evenly. “By ‘the bean-pole,’ I assume you meant my wife, Carolyn,” he said.
Shit! Shit, shit, shit!
“I’m sorry, Mr. Brandon. I didn’t mean…”
And he started to laugh He reared his head back and let out a laugh that brought tears to his eyes. I sat there in stunned silence. His laughter kept building until he had to stand up and walk away. He paced a while, heaving in laughter. He went to the bar, poured himself a glass of water from the sink, drank it, walked back to his chair and sat down. He looked at me grinning and shook his head.
“You are one serious piece of work,” he said. As he continued to talk his laughter started up again, “You drink a half bottle of my bourbon, insult the woman I married, and you don’t even know my name.” He reared his head back and laughed so hard he started to cough. “My goodness,” he choked, “You are a treat.”
I sat there in stunned silence.
He finally regained his composure, sat forward, reached his glass over to me and said, “You might as well fill it up.”
I did so.
He sat back, took a small drink and said, “I’ve heard about you. You have quite a reputation in this company, but I always assumed that the stories were exaggerated. After meeting you I’m beginning to believe that you were being underplayed.”
I said nothing. I didn’t even know what to think.
“Do you know why you are working at this company?” he said.
“You do?’ He seemed startled. “Would you care to elaborate?”
“EOE,’ I said.
He thought for a moment, and finally said, “EOE? I’m not familiar with that acronym. What does it stand for?”
“Equal Opportunity Employer,” I said. “You need some old fucks like me around so the government doesn’t get on your ass about age discrimination. I’m probably three times older than some of the guys you got working here, so you ass is covered. I figure that’s why you’ve got that secretary out there.”
“Ah, that EOE,” he said. “I haven’t heard that used in a long time. I guess the government assumes that tech is a young person’s job. No, you’re not here because of the EOE.”
“As for my secretary, as you call her, she is here because she is smarter than anybody else in this company, knows business from top to bottom and keeps me on track. Melanie was my first employee at StrataSys. She’s been with me since.”
“What, no stock options for her, huh?” I said.
He leaned forward and stared at me with a perplexed look on his face. After a few moments he said, “Mr. Leonard. Do you have no filters between your mind and your mouth? Do you just say anything that pops into your head?”
“What?” I said. “It just seems strange. You’ve made all these billions and she’s still pounding away as your wage slave. I’m sure you pay her well, but, c’mon.”
He sat back, shaking his head slightly, and said. “As far as how well or poorly I have compensated Ms. Edelson, I can assure you that it is none of your business. I believe you will have ample time to ask her yourself. And I can further assure you that if I just wanted some “old fucks around,” as you delicately put it, I could have found someone a bit less acerbic than you.”
“No, Mr. Leonard, you were hired into my company at my personal request. I sought you out, had Human Resources track you down with a headhunting outfit, and hired you.”
“Why?” I said.
“Believe me,” he said. “I’ve been asked that same question by just about everybody in my company who have had dealings with you.”
He sat back, rested his elbows on the armrests of his chair, tented his stubby fingers in front of him and continued,
“I know more about you than you are aware of. You went to three colleges before you graduated with honors from Cal Tech. You were arrested twice for being drunk and disorderly. You joined the Marines. I assume you were given the choice of that or jail.”
“I was a hothead,” I said and shrugged.
“You’ve been married five times, each time to progressively younger women. You have three estranged children from two different wives. The longest you have held a job prior to now is thirteen months. You are living in a two-bedroom house that is currently underwater and your credit rating is hovering somewhere around 500.”
“What the hell is this?” I said as I popped-up from the couch. “What the hell business do you have prying into my fucking life? You do this to all your employees?” I started pacing. “I do good work around here. I ain’t the easiest guy to deal with, but so what! I get the job done.”
“Goddamit. I’m sick of getting my balls busted. I never fuck off on company time. You have no fucking business prying into my life just because I work for you. What I do on my time is my business.”
“Mr. Leonard,” he said.
“My name’s John, fer crissakes,” I said. “Isn’t that in your fucking report?”
He stood up quickly, crossed to me, got right in my face and said, “I know your name is John. I know everything about you. You have been a part of my life since I was born. Now will you please sit down and let me finish.”
He said it with a calm ferocity that stopped me dead in my tracks. I backed up a step, walked to the couch and sat down.
“I just don’t like people snooping into my life,” I said. I picked up the bottle, poured a half a glass and took a drink. He moved back to his chair and sat down. We said nothing for a few minutes.
“I apologize for losing my temper, Mr. Leonard,” he said. “And I agree that as your employer I have no right to pry into your personal life. I assure you I haven’t. The only personnel files we have are the standard applications and interview summaries.”
“Then how do you know…,” I started to say. He held his hand up in a stop gesture.
“Will you please let me finish,” he said. “None of this information was gathered by me or by anybody in my company.” He picked up a thick file that was sitting on the table beside his chair and said, “I want you to look at this. It is going to upset you. You will want to rage against the furies. You will want to throw another of your tantrums. But it is a fait accompli, and I hope a bit of reason and curiosity will prevail so I can give you the full story. Could you please promise me one thing before I give it to you?”
“What?” I said.
“Please promise that you will find a way to calm yourself and let me finish what I have to say. I am happy to answer any questions, but only if they are questions. No more ranting.” He leaned forward, reached his hand across the table and said, “Will you agree to that?”
“I guess so, “ I said as I shook his hand.
“Is that a firm yes?” he said, still clasping my hand.
“I promise,” I said. “I’ll be good.”
He handed me the file and I started to look through it. It was about five inches thick and had three tabbed sections marked ‘Personal,’ ‘Financial’ and ‘Work.” I started reading the ‘Personal’ section first.
It was chronologically ordered and started with transcripts from my first college. My second college transcripts followed and then a summary of my first arrest. This was followed by my final college and my second arrest. Then my brief stint in the Marines. My first marriage. My daughter’s birth. There were newspaper articles, transcripts, military records, judge’s decrees. I was stunned.
I started scanning it quickly and realized that I was looking at my life from the moment I graduated high school until the present. Every marriage, divorce, settlement. My kid’s report cards. Every aspect of my life.
Interspersed throughout the official documents were interview forms with the heading “Ensign Security.” There were interviews with professors, friends, neighbors, my kid’s teachers., my ex-wives, their family. All asking about me.
What the fuck was this? I started getting angry. Somebody was tracking my every move. Somebody spent a lot of time and money stalking me. Who? Why?
I flipped to the ‘Financial’ tab. All of my bank accounts, investments, mortgages. Every financial decision laid out in front of me.
The ‘Work’ section consisted of interviews with ex-employers, bosses, co-workers, HR people. Work performance? Timeliness? Ability? Motivation? Page after page of people judging me.
By the time I was finished I was trembling. Who the fuck has the right to dissect a man like this. I wasn’t applying for a key to the fucking nuclear arsenal. How dare anyone pry into my life like this. Interviewing my fucking kids.
I closed the file. I looked at him coldly. It took everything I had to not jump across the table and throttle him. I took a few deep breaths, set the file on the table, leaned forward and said,
He had been watching me closely as I scanned the file. He exhaled and seemed to relax slightly. He pointed to the portrait above the mantle and asked, “Do you recognized that man?”
I looked at the painting of the man and woman standing side-by-side. “Nope,” I said. “Never seen him. He looks like he might be your dad. And if that’s his wife he married well. But I’ve never seen him.”
“You are correct,” he said. “That is my father, with my mother, and he did marry well. You are, however, incorrect about not having met him.”
“What?” I said. “Look. I’m good with remembering people. Especially people that big. I never met him. And what the hell has he got to do with this?” I said pointing to my file.
He took a sip from his drink. “Do you know my name?” he said, “My real name?”
Here we go.
“I’m pretty sure it’s Brandon Benson,” I replied.
“Bravo, Mr. Leonard,” he said. “You finally got that name right. But that is not my birth name. I was born Robert Dougherty. Robert Dougherty Junior.” He looked at me like he was expecting a reaction. It was my turn to look perplexed.
“That’s a great name,” I said. “Easier to remember than Branson Brendon. Is it supposed to mean something to me?”
He looked at me like he was seeing me for the first time. He seemed as confused as I was. “You don’t remember Bobby Dougherty from high school?” He had a look that was part amazement, part pleading. This connection between his father and me seemed important to him.
I sat back and tried to think if I’d ever heard that name. High school was about a half-century in my past. I remembered a few girlfriends names, but his father’s name was foreign to me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t help you. I never met anyone named Bobby Dougherty.”
He reached into the inner pocket of his jacked and pulled out an envelope. He held it out to me. I reached across the table and took it from him.
“This will help explain,” he said. “You have not only met my father, but you have been a tremendous influence on his life and, by extension, my life. He passed away last week, and he wanted me to give this to you after he died.”
It was a standard-sized, white envelope with John Leonard hand written on the front. It was unsealed. Inside was a single sheet of paper with careful handwriting. I unfolded the paper and read.
If you are reading this then I am dead. You have had a chance to look at the flies I’ve compiled about your life and are no doubt upset. I hope this letter will help explain.
You may or may not remember me from high school, but I remember you well. You saved my life without knowing it.
My childhood was horrific. I will spare you the details, just understand that school was my only escape from the horrors of home. It was also the place where I ate my only meal of the day. In the cafeteria I was usually taunted by kids with their chant of “Dough Boy, Dough Boy, Pillsbury Dough Boy.” Being the fat kid I was used to it, and it was nothing compared to what I faced at home.
On the day I first met you one of the kids had tripped me and my lunch tray fell to the ground. I was scared. It was a Friday and I knew I wouldn’t eat again until Monday. For the first time in my life I was going to start crying in school. I knew that if I cried in school I was going to kill myself. I thought of suicide constantly. The only thing that kept me alive on a day-to-day basis was knowing that I maintained my dignity between the hell of home and the abuse of school.
As I started to cry and began to crumble, you stepped in. You grabbed the ear of the boy who had tripped me, twisted it hard, and said, “You think that’s fucking clever?” The way you said it stopped my crying. I sounded like you were going to kill him. He thought so too. He started blubbering and his friends looked terrified. You then said, “If anybody in this school messes with that kid again, I’m going to cut your dick off and shove it down your throat. Got it?”
Then, as if you knew my situation, you let go of the kid’s ear, took his lunch tray, handed it to me and said, “C’mon. Sit with me.” For the rest of the year you would sit with me in the cafeteria from time to time. It was the first time in my life that I felt someone cared about me. It was the first time I didn’t feel totally alone. It was the first time I felt like I had a friend.
You graduated that year, but for the rest of high school nobody teased me. Watching how you dealt with people gave me strength. I started fighting back at home and at school. I started becoming a person instead of a whipped dog.
Everything that has happened from that point on is in large part due to your willingness to stand up for me. I can never thank you enough, but I can try. Brandon will provide you with the details.
Thank you again, my friend. I’m sorry we didn’t meet face-to-face, but I didn’t think it would be best for either of us.
It was signed Robert Pillsbury Dougherty.
I sat their quietly looking at the letter in my hand. Something seemed to shift in me. I looked up at Mr. Benson.
“He was your father?” I said. He nodded yes. We sat there quietly for a few minutes.
“Mr. Leonard,” he said after a while, “Do you remember that day? Do you remember my father?”
I slowly nodded and said, “Yeah. I remember him. And I remember that day.” I sat for a bit collecting my thoughts.
“I was eating lunch and just happened to look over when they tripped him.” I stopped and thought for a moment. “Harley Jensen was the kid that did it. I knew his older brother Amos. He was alright. But Harley was a shit. I saw him do it, and I just snapped. Why are they doing that? Your dad didn’t do anything.”
“You seem to have made an impression on Harley as well as my father,” he said.
“I was a senior and they were freshman,” I said. “And nobody wanted to mess with me. I was a fighter.”
We sat quietly. I read the letter again. I put it down, picked up the file and started looking through it.
“I get that I made an impression on your dad,” I said, “but this seems a bit overboard. Why was he so interested in my life? Why did he investigate me like this? Why didn’t he ever just call me and thank me?
Mr. Benson reached his glass out to me. I poured a couple shots into it as he said, “You might want to refresh your drink as well.” I did so as he sat back and took a sip.
“According to my father,” he said, “his life started on that Friday. The first thing he did was he decided to stop the abuse he and his sister were getting at home.”
“How bad was it,” I asked?
“I would rather not go into details, as they are quite gruesome, “ he said. “It can best be summed up by the fact that my father’s second fondest memory of his youth was the day his parents died.”
“Your interaction with him sparked something in him. He was class valedictorian in high school and received a perfect score on his SATs. He received a full scholarship to Harvard and got his PhD in Psychology. He became the youngest professor of Psychology in Harvard’s history and throughout his life published hundreds of articles, papers and books. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that the focus of most of his research was bullying – both the reasons for and the results of. At the time you were being cashiered out of the Marines he was considered one of the leading authorities on the effects of abuse by parents and bullies on the developing mind.”
“He met my mother at a symposium. She was researching the reasons why some bystanders choose to get involved in crisis situations while others stand by and watch.”
“It was their meeting that led to that,” he said, pointing to my file. “He had not thought about you while he was single-mindedly pursuing his research, but as he talked with her he realized he had a perfect subject. You.”
“He started gathering everything he could about you. He hired an agency to help him track down the information. At first he treated you like a research subject, but then I was born.”
“According to my mother, my birth changed my father in profound ways. My father had been a distant man – understandable considering his upbringing. He was not very self-reflective and seemed to keep people at an arms length. He seemed to be protecting himself. He was all work and very little play.”
Mr. Branson stopped. He leaned forward in his chair. He had a look of intensity on his face.
“It just occurred to me,” he said, “that my arrival had much the same affect on my father as did yours.”
“How’s that?” I said.
“After I arrived my father changed. Being a father became his main focus. And he was a wonderful father. He continued his research and his teaching, but I was at his side constantly. According to my mother he also became a better husband. She told me that for the first time in their lives vacations became a priority. And playtime was an integral part of everything we did.”
“He also realized the debt he felt he owed to you. He intensified his research on you, because he wanted to find a way to pay you back for what you had done for him. But it seemed that the more he learned the harder it was for him to approach you.”
“Why was that?” I asked.
“If I may be blunt, Mr. Leonard, it is because you are an angry and prideful man. My parents were psychologists and the more they investigated your life the more they were convinced that whatever help my father might offer would be taken in the wrong way. You have been struggling your whole life. Any time that it seemed as if you had settled down and might be open to my father’s assistance, your life would turn to shambles. He didn’t want to think that you were being pitied.”
He caught himself and said, “I’m sorry. It wasn’t right of me to speak to you that way.”
“No,” I said. “You’re right. He’s right. I’ve pretty much fucked up my whole life.”
We both took a drink from our glass. He sat back in his chair.
“My father tracked your life hoping that at some point you would, and I’m using his phrase, ‘grow up.’ He passed away still waiting.”
He stood up, went to the bar and picked up the phone. He spoke briefly into it, hung it up and returned to sit.
“My father is gone, and it is now my duty to fulfill his wishes. You will note in his letter that he said that I would provide details.” As he said this the door opened and Melanie walked in.
“Mr. Leonard, “ she said. “I see you have survived.” She handed Mr. Branson a manila enveloped. “I told you he was a ‘nice’ man,” giving me the same air quotes I gave her. She smiled, and I watched her as she walked out and closed the door behind her.
“Woh,” I said under my breath.
“Yes, Mr. Leonard, “ Mr. Benson said, “Ms. Edelson is definitely worth a ‘Woh.’ And for some reason that I find incomprehensible she seems attracted to you.”
“To me?” I said.
“Yes. I see it shocks you as much as me. You will have plenty of time to pursue that as you will soon see.” He took a sheaf of documents out of the manila folder, ordered them and said,
“Before my father passed away we discussed what might be the best way to reward you for what you had done for him. He believed that your anger came from your frustration over a lack of control – with your wives, your kids, your work. He also believed that rather than mellowing with age your anger was increasing, because as you got older your options became less. We more or less concurred and together worked out a plan for you. If you don’t like it my mother and I are more than happy to say we tried. But we have made some proactive moves.”
“First,” he said as he handed me a thick stack of legal sized papers, “your house has been paid off. There are some documents for you to sign, and once you do you own the house outright.”
“Second,” he said handing me a number of bank statements, “we have deposited enough in your escrow to cover taxes and insurance for the next the ten years.”
“Third, all of your debts have been paid off.’
“Fourth, there has been a charitable annuity established in your name that will pay you a monthly stipend with a built-in cost of living allowance that will ensure you can maintain a comfortable lifestyle. Once you have passed, the money will revert to the Stop Bullying Now foundation.
“Fifth,” he said handing me the last of the papers, “you are terminated as of this moment. If you wish to continue developing product we will be more than happy to provide you with seed capital to start your own company and provide you any assistance you may require. My father and I both agree that you are a brilliant man, but as an employee you leave much to be desired. Perhaps as the head of your own company you will find the control you seem to need so badly.”
I sat in stunned silence. He leaned back and finished the last of his drink.
“You are free, Mr. Leonard. You are no longer beholden to anybody. My father wanted to provide you the same sense of freedom you provided him. He knew that you could not refuse the last wishes of a dying man.”
“I don’t know what to say,” I said.
“Say you’ll take the offer,” he said.
“Hell yes,” I said.
He stood, stuck his hand out to me and said, “Good. Melaine has a number of documents for you to sign. And thank you. For everything.”
I stood and shook his hand. “I’m sorry for your loss. I wish I could have met your father. I mean while he was your father.”
I started for the door, stopped and turned. “Why did you change your name to Brendon Branson?”
“I didn’t,” he said. “He did. I imagine he was trying to protect me from his past.”
I opened the door, tuned one last time, caught his eyes and nodded to him. I closed the door behind me. Melanie was at her desk with a sheaf of papers in her hand. She said, “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“Are you kidding me,” I said. “The bastard fired me.”