Back in Houston, Bicky pulled the article off the fax machine and skimmed it. He huffed and sighed and stared out the bedroom window. He rubbed his head to stave off the headache that seemed inevitable.
“Dammit,” he said to no one in particular. “God dammit.” He dialed Jerry’s number and waited. The phone rang half a dozen times before Jerry picked up.
“I thought I told you to get back east and get those Goddamn kids under control,” Bicky barked into the phone.
“The inventor’s kids! Did you check it out? No. You were too busy dicking around here doing God-knows-what.” Bicky was so angry he was sputtering.
“Kitty died. Remember? You know. Kitty. Your wife, of thirty-seven years. I was here for the funeral,” Jerry said.
“Don’t screw with me, Jerry.”
“I’m not screwing with you, Bicky. I’m telling you that some things are more important than others, which is something you haven’t learned in the last sixty years.”
“I didn’t call you for a psych session. I got a shrink for that. I called you about the kids.”
“I sent somebody. He said there was nothin’ going on.”
“Who the hell’d you send?”
“Guy that used to drive for us.”
“The guy I fired a few months ago. You know. High strung.”
“You are freaking kidding me. You sent someone who didn’t work for us?”
“He was a good guy. And he had first hand knowledge, and if he got caught, he wasn’t one of us,” Jerry said. “Jesus, I’ll go check it out tomorrow.”
“Forget it. I’ll do it myself.” Bicky slammed down the receiver. He ran his hands through his hair and stared out into the darkness.
Across town, Jerry hung up the phone and rubbed his eyes. An open book lay on the bed next to him and the light was still on. He roused himself and walked to the window. The night spread before him in varying shades of black like a Hollywood wardrobe.
“Damn psychotic son-of-a-bitch,” Jerry murmured.
He scanned the sparse room. A book shelf, filled to overflowing, a night stand and lamp, a single chair, behind him the silhouette of leafless trees. “What the hell am I doing?” He closed the curtain, shut the light and crawled back into bed.
Jerry’s office, located in the basement of Akanabi Oil, was a tech-geek’s delight of an environment, encompassing ten thousand square feet and housing Akanabi’s main frame and various and sundry computer gadgetry. The whir and buzz of computer equipment was so intense that many of the technicians wore earplugs.
At the far end of the room, walled off from the rest of the equipment, was the closed circuitry monitoring station, Jerry’s own personal feifdom. The room had no windows and if not for the door at the far end, would appear to be a wall. Hundreds of cameras graced the offices, hallways, elevators and common areas at Akanabi Oil. Some were in plain view, some were circumspectly installed, all of them were monitored from this room. The cameras were such a ubiquitous part of the decor at Akanabi that after awhile people forgot they were being watched, an important plus from Jerry Dixon’s standpoint. These cameras in the offices of mid-management had originally been installed as a training mechanism. Surreptitious monitoring allowed suggestions as to tact and style that could be made later without embarrassing the manager in front of the customer. These had been “disabled” or so the managers thought, and could be brought back online with a few adjustments prior to a meeting should the manager request it.
The managers didn’t know what Jerry knew. The company’s fascination, it’s complete fixation with safety had morphed into something more sinister. Cameras and listening devices as small as buttons and earplugs graced every office, corridor and waiting area of Akanabi. The registered number of monitoring devices, about 1341, was more likely twice that many. Jerry kept the real list locked in a vault for which only he and Bicky had the combination.
Some days Jerry would come down to this room simply to watch. His voyeuristic desire had grown from his abject loneliness. Had you asked him, point blank, whether he was lonely he would have vehemently denied it, but the signs were there, the fastidiousness, the borderline obsessive compulsive behavior traits, the need to control his environment and to have things “just so”.
Kitty had the ability to curtail in him some of his more destructive tendencies simply by being in the room. Yet in the days since her death, he’d felt a welling up of those emotions and was at a loss as to how to channel the energy. He sat, staring at a computer screen, contemplating this very issue when Bicky burst through the door.
Jerry catapulted from his chair, rolled to the floor, drew his gun, released the safety and pointed it directly at Bicky’s head.
“Are you crazy?” he shouted from a crouching position on the floor.
Bicky said nothing, but jumped on Jerry like a feral cat, punching and clawing at his face. Jerry put up his hands to deflect the onslaught, but not before a right hook caught him in the temple. That was the last contact Bicky made. In moments, Jerry reversed positions and had Bicky pinned with a knee on one elbow, his hand holding down the other, the gun pointed at Bicky’s forehead. Jerry hovered above Bicky, relishing the role reversal. He stepped back so Bicky could stand, but offered no hand to help.
“Was that some kind of test?” Jerry laid the gun aside, but did not turn his back to his boss. Bicky brushed himself off and straightened his suit and tie. He stared at Jerry so ferociously that Jerry’s hand instinctively found his gun. Bicky threw a stack of papers at the ground.
“You’re fired. Collect your stuff. Leave your keys, your combinations, your camera equipment, and all your other stuff with Phyllis. I want you gone by the end of the day. And if I catch you anywhere near here, ever, I’ll rip your balls off with my bare hands.” He stared at Jerry for a few seconds working his jaw as if to get the tension out before speaking again.
“You were like my brother, you little prick.” Bicky spat at the ground, turned on his heel and left.
Jerry stared at the papers on the floor until his vision went soft and he leaned over to pick them up. The top paper was a codicil to the Last Will and Testament of Kitty McCain Coleman. The original will lay underneath. Jerry sat down to read.
The original will gave the portion of Kitty’s estate that she brought with her into the marriage, substantial in its own right, to Sonia. In addition, half the shares of Akanabi left to Kitty by her father-in-law went to Sonia to do with as she pleased. The other half went to The Nature Conservancy with instructions that the stocks be sold and PGWI given the fair market value of them. There were additional provisions on what PGWI should do with the money. Jerry skipped over them and continued, flipping through the document until a specific provision caught his eye. First Bicky, and then Sonia had a guaranteed thirty-day right of first refusal on the PGWI stocks. In this manner, Kitty assured that control of the company stayed within the family should the family still want it. Probably why Bicky agreed to this will in the first place. The mansion, in Kitty’s family for generations, went to Bicky. “Straight forward enough,” Jerry said to himself. He turned to the codicil and what he read made the hair on his arms stand up and his body shudder.
The codicil changed everything. Kitty had left her personal estate — everything that would have gone to Sonia which included a good deal of jewelry and other family heirlooms as well as shares of various stocks and bonds – to Hart. The mansion she left to Bicky. The remainder which consisted solely of Akanabi stock and which should have gone to Sonia and PGWI, now went solely to Jerry with instructions to sell it all and give half the proceeds to PGWI, but only if he was so inclined. Notably absent from the codicil was the provision giving Bicky a thirty-day right of first refusal. The codicil was executed three months after Sonia died. Kitty had never said a word to him.
Jerry looked up from the papers and saw, as if for the first time, the drab, windowless office. Hundreds of images blurred, a thousand sounds merged into an incessant buzzing that seemed bearable only minutes ago, and for the last thirty odd years before that. His eyes followed the bundled cabling, sitting in silence while billions of bytes of information cruised through its wires every hour and he was suddenly very tired. He inhaled deep and full, his first real breath in decades, but his nostrils were met with the dustiness of a room that never saw daylight and he coughed the breath out, his body repelling it like poison. Jerry thought he could see the rejected breath, little dust clouds riding an imaginary wave of sunlight. The stack of papers in his lap looked very far away, like something on the horizon that you knew was there, but couldn’t quite make out. A giant tear drop fell from each eye and landed neatly on the page, spreading slowly, like a virus.
to be continued. . .