As Gil’s slippered feet hit the carpeted stairs, Kori was opening the front door. Gil froze. Sunlight blazed in through the door obliterating the man’s visage, but Gil could see the silhouette looming and spreading across the space between the door frame. Kori exchanged pleasantries which Gil didn’t catch because his ears were buzzing. She gestured toward Gil on the stairs and the large man in the Armani suit stood in the middle of the living room moving his mouth, but with no sound coming out. The man smiled his giant toothy smile, waiting for Gil to say something, Gil was sure. Kori slammed the door behind the man and Gil ducked at the sound. The man had one foot on the second stair now. Gil’s throat emitted a strange noise, even by his standards, as the man held out his hand for a shake. Gil grabbed Max by the collar, ran upstairs and locked himself in his room.
Bicky stood with his foot on the stair, his hand outstretched in the gesture of greeting. He watched Gil’s lithe body retreat until he crested the top of the stairs and disappeared. Bicky turned to look at Kori, his arm still outstretched.
“Was it something I said?”
“He gets like that. He’s really smart. It comes out in weird ways.” She ran a hand through her hair and looked Bicky over, the Armani suit, the soft hands with nails more expertly manicured than her own. “Maybe you want to come back after breakfast? He’s usually pretty communicative after a meal.”
Bicky’s face contorted into something that had the capacity to be a smile, but fell short somehow.
“How about I talk to you for awhile?” Bicky said.
Kori shrugged. “I guess that’s okay.”
“Maybe your other brother, too. Is he home?”
Kori narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth as if to speak.
“The newspaper article,” Bicky said, intercepting her query.
“Oh. Okay.” She turned and led him to the kitchen. Avery looked up from reading his magazine, but his expression did not change.
“Avery, this is Mr. Coleman. He owns Akanabi Oil. He wants to talk to us about the TDU.” Bicky held out his hand for a shake, but Avery ignored it. Instead, he stood, coming eye-to-eye with Bicky, and sneezed.
“Excuse me,” Avery said, and walked around Bicky holding a hand over his nose to hide the runny mucus. He sneezed again, grabbed a few tissues and blew out a noseful of snot. He tossed the tissues in the trash can, then held out his hand to Bicky who dropped his own hand to his side. Avery sneezed again, but it was only the first in a continuing series.
Kori counted ten sneezes before she said, “Why don’t we go sit in the living room and wait until Avery’s done.” Bicky nodded and retreated. Kori glanced back over her shoulder to see Avery pulling out the tissues three and four at a time.
Bicky settled himself in an armchair as Avery continued sneezing in the kitchen. Neither Bicky nor Kori noticed Gil sitting in the shadows at the top stairs, peering through the banister.
“So, I read about you kids in the newspaper. I understand you’ve invented an amazing new piece of equipment.”
“Actually, we didn’t. My father did.”
“Yes. I’m sorry about your father,” Bicky said with as much emotion as he could muster. Kori nodded, sighed and drew a deep breath. “We don’t know what we’re going to do with it yet.”
Bicky kept the emotion in his voice well-checked, and continued. “Perhaps I’ve come along just in time.”
“In time for what?” Avery walked into the living room holding a box of tissues.
“You done now?” Kori asked. Avery nodded.
“Sorry. It’s like I breathed in something toxic.” He looked directly at Bicky’s impassive mask.
“You sound all stuffy now,” Kori said.
“I feel like someone sprayed caulk up my nose.” Avery said. Gil giggled from his spot on the stairs and covered his mouth. Bicky turned toward the sound, but said nothing.
“So, Mr. Coleman,” Avery said. “I’m sure that as the head of Akanabi Oil you’re acquainted with one David Hartos.
“Yes, I know one David Hartos,” Bicky said, struggling against the dozens of facial muscles tugging valiantly at the corners of his mouth, pulling them toward a full-fledged smile. “He works for me.”
“It was my understanding that he’s currently on sabbatical from the oil industry so technically speaking, he is not working for you at all, but rather, for himself at present.”
“You sound like every lawyer I’ve ever hired.”
Avery held his smile in check with a stern, tight-lipped countenance. “Kori, can I see you in the kitchen for a minute?” Kori gave her brother a weird look, but rose to go.
“Excuse us, Mr. Coleman,” Avery said. “We’ll be back shortly.
As soon as Avery and Kori had left, Bicky smiled, his first genuine, uncoached smile in years.
Avery pulled Kori out the back door onto the deck, leaving the door ajar.
“What is wrong with you?” Kori asked. “First the gnarly sneezing and now you’re being so rude. This guy’s the head of a big oil company. He probably wants to buy the TDU and if that’s the case, I say good riddance for all the trouble it’s caused.”
“What about Hart? We told him we’d work with him.”
“You didn’t sign anything, did you?”
“Listen to you!”
“No, listen to you, Mr. Lawyer. If you didn’t sign anything, where’s your obligation?
“We made a deal to work with him, me and Gil. Gil thinks the guy walks on water. And I think we can trust him. He’s out looking for financing, right now. I’m not going to call him up and tell him the deal’s off.”
“Spare me the drama.”
“So am I. If the TDU is so fantastic, investors will be pounding down our door.”
“Well it looks like that parade might have just started.” Avery poked his head in the door and strained his ear toward the living room. He could hear nothing.
“He might be about to offer us some serious money, Avery. And I think we should take it. Wouldn’t it be nice to be out of debt for a change? I mean, this morning…”
“We can’t do that, Kori. I don’t like him. And I don’t trust him.”
“You don’t even know him.”
“I know I’m having an allergic reaction to him.”
Kori rolled her eyes. “That is the dumbest thing I ever heard. You’re not going to take his money because of a few sneezes?”
“Give me one good reason why we shouldn’t work with him, Avery.”
“Dad.” Avery said. “Dad would never sell out.”
Kori stared at her brother and when she spoke, her voice was quiet, reluctant. “Well, Dad isn’t here to provide for us anymore, Avery. And we need to pay our bills and keep food on the table and all those other things that parents do for their kids, but we now have to do for ourselves.” Kori turned to go inside, but Avery grabbed her wrist.
Avery drew a deep breath. “All right. We’ll listen to what he has to say. But no decisions until we talk to Hart. Okay?”
“All right.” She sighed, squeezing Avery’s arm. “Let’s get back in there.”
Gil strolled down the steps with Max. Bicky heard them coming, but acted surprised when they entered the room. Holding Max by the collar, Gil took a seat on the couch and stared at Bicky until even the unflappable Coleman became a bit unhinged.
“What?” Bicky finally said.
“What?” Gil replied.
“What are you looking at?”
“What are you looking at?”
“I asked you first.”
“I asked you first.”
“Is this some kind of joke?” Bicky shifted in his chair, annoyed.
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“You’re not one of those idiot savants, are you?”
“You’re not one of those…”
“Oh shut up, already. I get the game.” Bicky huffed as if the very idea was ridiculous to him. “My own daughter used to play it all the time. I didn’t like it then and I…”
“What happened to your hand?” Bicky covered his bandaged hand with his free hand in response.
“What are you doing here?” Gil asked.
Bicky looked Gil over, the piercing, intelligent eyes, the purposeful posture, the fact that he had his own hand resting lightly on the neck of a seventy-five pound ferocious looking dog with a mean set of teeth. In that instant he knew this child, for that was what he was, could not be trifled with, and moreover that it was more than intellect working in that compact, graceful body. He decided instantly, subconsciously, that truth was the best course of action.
“Well, I’m not here to help, obviously. I’m a businessman and businessmen do not become successful by helping,” Bicky said. True confessions.
Gil nodded, a beneficent king waiting for his subject to continue.
“But I’m not here to steal anything from you either. I’m willing to pay the fair market value for the product you’ve invented, and should that not be possible given the scope and reach of the product, then I’m willing to bring you in as a partner, to a limited extent, of course, given that I’m taking all the financial risks, and to make sure your family receives money from the development and sale of this product for years to come. You’ll never have to worry about money again, that’s for sure.”
“I’m ten. I don’t worry about money now. That’s for Kori and Avery to worry about.”
“Well, what do I have that would interest you? I’m sure there’s something I can give you to make this deal not just acceptable, but attractive to you.”
Gil shook his head slowly back and forth. “We don’t need you. We have Hart.”
Bicky smiled slightly, relishing the delivery of this news. “Hart works for me.”
“I know that. But he’s not doing this with you. He’s doing this with us.”
“Hart can’t give you what I can give you.”
“He can get as much money as we need to build a factory.”
“Hart’s a very rich man and I’m sure he’ll be true to his word. But have you thought about the expense of not only developing your machine, but building, staffing and maintaining an oil refinery? It’s not just the cost, but the labor that’s very intensive. The insurance alone on a facility like that’ll kill you. I can offer you a fully functional, completely operational facility. Already built and running and only a scant thirty or so miles from here.”
“We already have one in the backyard,” Gil said.
Bicky’s raised his eyebrows, but he didn’t say anything.
“They’re not hard to make if you know what you’re doing.”
“Surely you don’t think you’re going to build something of this magnitude in your backyard?”
“I told you. I’m only ten. That part’s up to Avery.” As if on cue, the backdoor slammed and Bicky heard strangled whispers and two sets of footsteps approaching. And given the four seconds he’d spent in the presence of the sixteen-year old – for Chrissakes was everyone in this family a prodigy? – Bicky knew he needed to make his move now or lose his chance forever.
“The plant will be a monument to your father. I’ll even rename the refinery after him. By the time we’re finished, not just the U.S., but all the world will know how great he was. We can even market some of his other inventions. I mean, he didn’t create something like this in a vacuum. The man was obviously a genius.” Bicky paused for effect. “Of course, I’ll leave it up to you whether you’d like to pursue those other avenues.”
“Hey, Gil,” Avery said, coming into the room. “I see you’ve met Mr. Coleman. He…”
“He’s taking us on a tour of his oil refinery this morning,” Gil said, before turning to Kori. “Do we have any pop tarts? Me and Max are starving.”
“Ah. Okay,” Bicky said. “Shall we take breakfast on the road?”
to be continued. . .
read what came before