IT WAS GOING to be a long drive, but he was looking forward to it. He always loved the excuse to drive through the mountains, and this meeting in Asheville had fallen his way almost by accident. Two days of meetings with clients he'd worked with before, estate clearing and future management for a family of three generations who'd recently lost the patriarch. Now the children were on the verge of division. His job was to mediate and reconcile harmony, keep the money in the family evenly divided as the old man had wished. Jack had known and loved the old man, Frederick Pearson, a second-generation immigrant from what he insisted always upon calling Bohemia, who'd pulled himself up by his bootstraps and founded what could be called a dynasty in the lumber and construction industry. He was fond of his wife, Polly, too and knew that she needed a strong backup against the varying wills of the five children, two of whom lived in town and worked with the business, the other three independently settled in big cities strewn across the nation. The main contest was evident: three against two wanting to sell the business and divide the profits; two against three wanting to retain the family empire and mediate some sort of settlement. Jack knew perfectly well the two youngest kids were right. He also knew the tenacity of the older three, and the selfishness that propelled each one of them.
Jack knew all the children as well as any of his own kin, remembered the three older ones as playmates, remembered too how they'd always preserved a distinctly clear-cut dividing line of privilege. In their eyes then---and now---he was little more than a working-class boy whose father was their father's foreman. He grimly recalled spending most of his young life fighting the older siblings' sense of superiority over him: Jack Nelson didn't belong to the country club; he wore work boots instead of weejuns, denim shirts instead of madras, and frankly, he was embarrassing to be seen with, as much because of his quiet disdain for the very things they held important as for his level gaze and steady temper. But though they
condescended to him, they were yet nagged by the uneasy feeling that he, in turn, felt the same way about them. It unsettled Kitty and Frank that poor tenant-shack Jack had turned out to be a well-heeled corporate attorney in cosmopolitan Atlanta. And deep down they all knew what lay behind Jack's unwavering motivation and ambition.
The knowledge of this---that discrepancy
between what the older Pearson children thought of him, and what, in fact, was Jack Nelson---had always afforded him a modest kind of pleasure, and now, on his drive up toward Asheville, these reflections added more than a little to the anticipation of the task before him.
The two younger Pearson children, however, were
different. They'd looked upon Jack more as a family uncle than a peer. He'd hauled them to school and to various sports and music practices when he himself was finally old enough to inherit
his father's beat-up
pickup truck, and in good weather he'd let them ride in the
open back. They'd keep company
with Jack's retriever mutt
Dashiell, taking turns biting at the fresh air the way he did. Somehow the self-important airs of the older ones had played out by the time the younger kids came along. Jack genuinely thought of them as his own brother and sister.
Well, he thought, casting a resigned look over
his shoulder as he pulled out to pass a heavily loaded truck laboring up a hill, Pearson Enterprise had been good to his father, and good to him in turn by way of it, and he was glad to be in the position of being able to give something back in return. Both the old men were gone now---Pearson and his own dad; the least he could do was help
steady the boat.
Though the tempest ahead promised some interesting moments.
But it was seven in the morning now, with the
freshness of the new day giving a shimmer to
everything around him, and he had three to four uninterrupted hours of isolation stretching before him. That in itself was novel, that in itself was
pleasure to contemplate. Knowing the typical traffic gridlock of rush hour, he'd left home well in advance of the early bird drivers and by now was beyond the maddening loops and strings of cars pouring onto the interstate. I-85 -- even in the freshness of the new day--wasn't exactly what he'd call inspirational, but at least it was a long straight stretch before him that didn't require intense concentration. He flipped on the radio to catch the morning news. He'd allow himself plenty of time to get there in time for a luncheon meeting, and he intended to use the enforced seclusion for relaxing.
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