she might catch fire

icebergOIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Sixty-Six

The will had been on file in Kitty’s attorney’s office for years and Bicky had full knowledge of it. He was well aware of the provisions it contained and had pestered Kitty relentlessly after Sonia’s death for her to update the document. Otherwise, he’d argued, the disposition of more than a fortune would be left to the vagaries of Sonia’s will. Bicky was reasonably sure that Sonia’s will left everything to Hart, but he saw no reason to take the chance. Besides, Hart wasn’t blood, and the events of the last few weeks had born that out in crystalline form. Unfortunately for Bicky, Kitty had ignored him, or so he thought, and soon after became sick and since his suggestions angered her so, he ultimately let the whole matter drop. At the time Bicky reasoned that with a little finagling he could fund a buyout of PGWI’s stock using his own assets as collateral and thereby retain ultimate control of Akanabi. But now? The stakes were a good deal higher and though he hated to admit it, there may not be a way to do this deal.

Bicky’s father, that bastard, had set it up so Sonia and Kitty, operating together, could overrule Bicky’s business decisions. Knowing Bicky’s relationship with his wife and what the senior Coleman perceived to be Bicky’s indifference toward his daughter, Bicky’s father made it impossible for him to leave his wife and child without risking the loss of everything. For some reason, Sonia and Kitty never took advantage of their monopoly. Even more amazing, they stayed with him all those years when, had the tables been turned, Bicky would have taken his fifty-one percent and left.

Bicky ran a hand over his stubbled chin and rubbed his bloodshot eyes. The codicil was executed three months after Sonia died. Since Kitty possessed all her faculties up until the end, it would be difficult to argue that Jerry had put her up to it.

“Christ, there’s got to be a way around this mess,” he said out loud. He punched the intercom for Phyllis.

“Yes?”

“Can you come here, please?”

“Certainly.” Phyllis was in the door in moments. “What’s up?”

“I don’t know.” He eyed Phyllis for a moment. “I think I need help.” Bicky slumped back in his seat looking older than Methuselah.

“Do you want me to call your doctor.”

“No. Not that kind of help.” Bicky dropped his head to his hands and rubbed his face. His voice cracked. “I just need a friend, is all.”

“Do you have any friends?” Phyllis asked, smiling. Bicky didn’t return the gesture.

“Do you know anything about Kitty and Jerry?”

“You mean, for instance, Kitty was your wife and Jerry has worked for you for about as long as I’ve worked for you, but now he doesn’t?”

“How did you know?” Bicky asked. His face had assumed its mask-like qualities.

Phyllis’s eyes grew wide, but if she had a quip, she kept it to herself, limiting her retort to the obvious. “With so much cabling in this place word travels fast.”

Bicky tossed a copy of Kitty’s will across the desk. “Did you already read this?”

Phyllis stepped forward, reviewed it quickly, and nodded. It was her turn to put on the mask.

“Did you know?” Bicky asked.

“Know what?”

“That they were having an affair?”

“Well, if the question is have I ever see them hiding behind the water cooler, locked in an embrace, then no, I didn’t.”

“C’mon, Phyllis. Cut the sarcasm,” Bicky replied.

“What’s it matter now, Bicky? Kitty’s gone. What would you do with the information?” Phyllis picked at a loose thread on her suit jacket.

“I just want to know, is all.”

“Well, you’re going to have to draw your own conclusions.” She looked at him with an expression that relayed it to be her final word on the matter and stood to go.

“I just want your opinion.” There was a remote quality to his voice, as if he were speaking into a fierce wind that blew all around him,  sending his words to far off places. “Do you know you are the only person in my entire life that’s never judged me,” Bicky said. “Or at least if you did, you kept it to yourself. If I’ve never thanked you before, I’m doing so now.” The words had the desired effect. Phyllis sat down.

“Why did you torture her so much?”

Bicky responded in a voice that belied years of unrequited love. “Because she didn’t love me. And I was too proud to show her why she should. And now, well, all that crap about it being too late would be appropriate here.” Bicky coughed and rubbed his eyes dry. When he spoke again, his voice was level.

“This could ruin me, you know. A hostile take-over. I’ve not made many friends in this industry. I’d be out on my ass faster than stink. And if Jerry and Hart got together….”

“Ah, the truth comes out,” Phyllis said. “Maybe it’s time to take early retirement.” The sarcasm was notably absent.

“Maybe. Just let go of it all.” He traced his finger over the beautiful mahogany desktop. “That’s been my problem all along, you know. Ever since my mother died, I spent my life with my arms wrapped tight around everything I owned, squeezing the air out of it. Even my own wife.”

Phyllis reached across the desk and patted Bicky’s hand.

“I know I wasted a lot of time. Time I can’t get back.” He pulled his hand free and walked to the window. He stared out across Houston’s skyline for several minutes before continuing. “But what am I supposed to do? Roll over and die? Do you really think anyone will remember me?” Bicky slumped back in his chair looking frail and pathetic. Phyllis spoke softly, with tenderness.

“You have resources. Plenty of friends. People with fat checkbooks.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Bicky snapped. Phyllis recoiled as if stung, all the goodwill of the last moments evaporating with a word.

Phyllis stood up and said in ice blue tones: “It’s just an observation.”

“Yeah, well keep your observations to yourself.” Phyllis focused on the back of Bicky’s head.

“I could fight this for years, but he’s still going to win. He’ll bring on witness after witness that says my wife was of sound mind and body when she executed that codicil. Witnesses that will say I was a lousy husband. Hundreds of pages of briefs will be filed and they’ll have life expectancy charts and police testimony and psychological exams. My life will be on complete display for the gossip columnist and at the end of the day, he still wins.”

Bicky rested his forehead against the cool glass and stood as if cast in bronze.

“Well if you have nothing else to say, I have something,” Phyllis said. Bicky didn’t bother to turn around. “I’m tendering my resignation. As of today. I’m giving you two weeks notice.”

Bicky was stricken, a look Phyllis couldn’t see. “Why?” he croaked.

The standard line.  “I want to spend more time with my family.”

He wanted to say to say something to change her mind, tell a joke, rehash the past, anything, but words had abandoned him. He felt the weight of Phyllis’ stare, but the profundity of his misfortunes rooted him to the spot: he couldn’t even turn around. Finally, Phyllis left.

And for the first time in over thirty years, Bicky Coleman was suddenly and completely alone.

 ➣➣➣

Phyllis sat in front of the computer reading her email when Jerry walked into the office, looking drawn. She smiled, stood and walked around to the front of her desk. They hugged, a bit stiff, like old friends who had served in the same war, but hadn’t seen each other since experiencing all the pain and suffering they had learned to forget. When they pulled away, they both looked sad. Jerry nodded toward “the big door,” but Phyllis shook her head.

Jerry walked back out into the hall and returned with a cardboard box filled with keys. “My instructions were to leave these with you.” He set the box on the desk and backed away as if it were something extremely fragile. “Guess that’s it. Thirty years of loyal service,” Jerry said in a voice redolent with sarcasm. He laughed, a dry mirthless sound emanating from his throat, and stared at the box to see if some part of those years would replay before him.

Phyllis touched him on the shoulder and he stared at her so intently she thought she might catch fire. She bristled and looked away, breaking the connection. Jerry laughed, at first a small chuckle which grew into a giggle and then a full-fledged belly laugh, ultimately careening into complete hysteria. Phyllis stared at him in mute horror, then turned and walked to the other side of her desk, her hand on the hidden button underneath. Jerry’s laughter died down until he, too, became silent. If he noticed Phyllis’ hand on the button, he didn’t say.

“I guess you heard about Kitty’s will,” he asked.

Phyllis nodded.

“I didn’t ask her to do that, you know. I never asked her for anything. Except to just leave with me.” Jerry stared at his well-manicured nails, his tone flat and even. “She couldn’t do it. Never could bring herself to leave that son-of-a-bitch. Now she’s gone and left us both.” He looked up at Phyllis without emotion.

“I’m sorry for you.”

“You think I was wrong, don’t you? To love her like that.”

“It’s not for me to say, Jerry. Everybody has to live by the dictates of their own conscience. Otherwise you’re not living, just going through the motions. But since you asked, no, I don’t think you were wrong. Love is never wrong.”

“Maybe if I would have tried harder to convince her.” Jerry shook his head. “It was always because of Sonia, you know. That she would never leave. She didn’t want Sonia to lose out on what Kitty thought was rightfully hers and if the truth came out that…” Jerry stopped, his mouth still open, the unspoken words still on his lips.

“What?”

“Nothing.” Jerry dropped into a chair as if he were suddenly very tired. “Right now it feels as if my whole life’s been one giant lie.”

“So make it right.”

Jerry nodded, leaving Phyllis with the impression that the words were reaching him only after covering a great distance.

“How do I do that?” he finally said.

Phyllis shrugged. She’d said her peace.

After a minute, Jerry turned to stare at Bicky’s door. “You’re right.” He sighed and heaved himself up. The young, virile man was gone. An old, regretful man had taken his place.

“Thanks.”

“For?”

“Always being an ally in the war against tyranny.”

“You’re welcome.”

 ➣➣➣

Hours later, Bicky sat in front of the fire, stone-drunk. He paced the room like a caged animal, wringing his hands in despair. He wailed, a deep, mournful, bellowing sound that started in the pit of his stomach and ascended, higher and higher, until it reached a screeching pitch that even he couldn’t abide. He fell to the floor, covering his own ears, thrashing and hissing at the unseen demons that surrounded him, a man possessed. He banged his head on the floor, a rapid succession of syncopated rhythm. He pulled his body in close and fell over on his side into the fetal position, wrapped his arms around his knees and began to rock like a baby. He cried, using the tears he’d stockpiled for the last thirty years, until he’d drained enough of the agony from his body that he no longer felt like throwing up. Hopelessness was quick to fill the void, however, and he succumbed to the fresh onslaught.

When his body grew tired, he sat up, dried his eyes and cast an appraising glance around a room that for years had been shrouded in egotism and greed. He walked over to the side table and picked up a framed photograph of himself and Kitty on their honeymoon. The tears were back and he was about to scratch them out with his own fingers, but rubbed his eyes sharply instead, and with so much pressure that he experienced a stab of pain, causing him to stumble backwards. He shook his head to clear his vision and Hatred, Anger’s nimble first cousin, flew in, replacing the light. He screamed, raised the photo above his head and threw the picture into the fire. The glass in the metal frame shattered when it landed. Bicky stared after it, momentarily stunned, ready to accuse the perpetrator.

“Aaaaahhhhh,” he yelled, and ran to the fire. The edges of the photograph had begun to singe and without thinking, Bicky reached into the fire with his bare hand, his skin melding with the hot metal. He screamed again, this time from the burns, but he wouldn’t let go of her, never let go . The skin on his fingers began to melt so he dropped the frame. It clattered as it landed on the hardwood floor. He grabbed a pillow from the couch and blotted at the photo. His raw hand had already started to blister. He looked at the appendage as if it belonged to someone else, shook it twice then knelt down, hovering over the photo. He pushed aside the remaining pieces of broken glass with a pen from his pocket and pried the picture free, shoving the ruined frame away with his good hand. He knelt down on the floor, his chest to his legs and leaned in to kiss Kitty’s face. He traced her body with his good fingers, the lovely creme taffeta dress flowing around her like a breeze, and kissed her now browned visage before starting to cry again.

 ➣➣➣

At his apartment, Jerry packed one suitcase with winter clothes and a second one with shorts, T-shirts, suntan lotion and other summer weather sundries. He walked over to the bookshelf and took down a dozen of his favorite titles along with a few he hadn’t read yet and tossed them in the “warm” suitcase. He glanced around the room. Other than the floor-to-ceiling book case that lined one entire wall of his bedroom, there was nothing in this room he wanted.

He sat down on the bed and called Kitty’s lawyer giving him instructions to sell half the Akanabi stock Kitty had left him once the will was probated and to put that money in trust that named PGWI as the recipient. The fund was to be placed under the direction of David C. Hartos with specific instructions to invest the money in either a private or publicly traded company as long as Hart had an affiliation with it. Each year, the dividends earned on such a phenomenal amount of money were to be turned over to PGWI, used to drill wells and build wastewater treatment plants in developing countries all in memory of Kitty Coleman and Jerry Dixon. Should the principal devalue in any given year, the dividend was to be reinvested, thus assuring the principal remained intact.

What to do with the rest of the Akanabi stock was the more difficult question and one he’d have to deal with Bicky directly on. For now he’d instructed the lawyer to hold the stock certificates and gave him power of attorney so Jerry could access the revenue, should it be necessary, from anywhere in the world. Jerry himself had no use for the money. He’d lived a Spartan existence all these years and saved a ton of his own money, because if nothing else, Bicky paid well. And other than the gobs of money he spent on books, Jerry had no real hobbies. For him to get this kind of money now in his life meant nothing. Had he had it when she was alive, well, it may have made a difference. He shook his head. It didn’t help to think about it.

He placed two firearms in the “cool” suitcase. He’d have to notify airport security and show them his permit. Likely it would be no problem as long as the guns were stowed in the cargo hold. He snapped the suitcases shut. Leather bound and heavy, they once belonged to his father. He knew today’s models didn’t take much in the way of coordination to carry and many came on wheels, but he like the weight of them, the feel of the strength in his arms as he hefted them off the bed. He set one down, took a last look around the room, shut the light and headed out to put things right.

 to be continued. . .

start with this and move on

copyright 2012

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