Sentinel Mountain

Chapter Ten
Ghosts of the Past and Wisps of the Future

"Kelly wasn't beside me when I finally managed to get my eyes open at nine. After a moment's foggy thought I realized he was already at the office. I knew the Old Man was in a snit about my being in Alabama and in a rush about something since he spent the money to send a jet for me, but I took my time showering and shaving, making breakfast and getting dressed. It was close to eleven when I left the apartment. As soon as I walked in, Prue said, 'Mr. Taylor, the Old Man has been storming around all morning.' I had told her a hundred times to call me Josh. She had finally laughed and said, 'That wouldn't be prudent,' which ended that discussion. She now continued, 'He had Mr. Blankenship junior in the office at nine. When I came in at eight…'

"'Whoa! Why did you come in at eight?'

"'The Old Man called me at ten last night and asked if I could come in early. Anyway, when I came in at eight, he was walking out of junior's office shouting into his phone. I quote, "I have been on the phone chasing down your wandering ass for an hour. You either have your ass planted in a chair in my office at nine or it will be on the street looking for a job. Hell, yes, I am pissed." Sorry for the language,' Prue grinned, 'but I thought you needed the flavor because my instructions were to call him as soon as you arrived. I was then to make coffee—which you know I only do for the Old Man. Further, I was to see that you stayed in your office and to hold your calls and keep everyone out.'

"'Then I guess we better follow orders.'

"Prue—yes, my secretary's name actually was Prudence and it fit her behavior if not her looks. She was efficient as hell, but a dream walking for anyone into women—had just brought in a tray with a coffee carafe, cream and sugar—the Old Man took both, I took neither—when he walked in. 'Good morning, Prue. Sorry about getting you out early. I appreciate it.' Prue just smiled. I knew she'd never pretend it was ok. I had to let her know I appreciated that. 'Coffee, I see.'

"'Yes, sir. Shall I pour?' I almost fainted. Prue didn't do that even for the Old Man!

"The Old Man roared, 'Prue, I think I just about pushed you over the edge by asking you to come in early and make coffee. I may be head of this company and a brave man, but I know my limit. I can pour my own.' Prue smiled and walked back to her desk, closing the door on her way.

"'Have a seat, Mr. Blankenship,' I said indicating a chair. When he was seated, I took the chair opposite him.

"I was very surprised at his first question. 'Josh, how complex was the problem in Alabama?'

"'Not complex at all. I guess it could be vexing if you knew nothing about gins and the ginning process, which I did not. Oh, I knew the machine removed seed from cotton, but I knew nothing about cotton or what was involved in separating the cotton from the seed. I did a bit of research on the way and found out the basics. When I arrived, I asked the owner who had been there the longest and he told me it was Slim Johnson. I asked to talk to him. Slim was, as his nickname implied, a tall, very slender black man. I'm sure he was once ramrod straight, but he was now bent and walked with a kind of shuffle. You might have thought he was retarded from his speech, looks and all. After introducing myself, I asked him how old he was and he said he thought he was eighty-five or so, but he might be a little older. He knew he was older than Jasper, his brother, and Jasper's birth was recorded. He was eighty-two. There were two sisters between them.

"'How long have you been working around gins, Mr. Johnson?'

"'Son, I started when I was twelve or thirteen and been at it ever since.'

"'Then you've seen all the changes.'

"'Yassuh, lot of changes, but still the same. The saw pull the lint through the comb and the seed go one way and the lint the other seventy years ago. Still do.'

"'You know what the new controls installed last week are supposed to do?'

"'Yassuh, know what they suppose to do, but ain't.'

"'What needs changing?'

"'Well, Suh, it's this way.' Not in engineer talk, but in plain English he spelled out the problem and it took some program changes to get things running to his satisfaction and I knew that was the way it was supposed to work.'

"'Winston's maxim.'

"'Yes, sir, Winston's maxim.'

"'Could one of our field men have handled that?'

"'If he couldn't we don't need him on the payroll.'

"'So why were you sent?'

"'I haven't the foggiest. I was just told to go.'

"'I have the memo. Well, I wanted to tell you yesterday, but you were being a cotton ginner in Bumfuck, Alabama. You have a new boss, me. As of yesterday, you are vice president in charge of quality control. You have two divisions under you—engineering, which will handle the programing and design of the controls and performance—that's what you and Kelly have been doing—and another which will handle field testing and troubleshooting. I'm separating the two, but I want you to rotate the personnel who are qualified, that is, I want the engineers to experience both ends of the business. Think you can handle that?'

"'Will I still be doing a lot of troubleshooting?'

"'Practically none. Of course, there will be times when the people we have are completely buffaloed and you'll have to give them a hand, but that better be rare or we'll be finding some new engineers. There will be none, and I mean, none of what happened yesterday.'

"'The other divisions?'

"'Kelly will head performance. I'm undecided as to who will head engineering and programing at the moment. Suggestions?

"'There's a guy in Brazil who is top-notch. He's been kinda stuck there running in circles as first one department has to have him, then another. When I asked him how he managed, he replied, 'Você tem que saber com o que estê lidando; you have to know what you're dealing with.'

"'How tied is he to Brazil and how's his English?'

"'His English is basically British English with an American English flavoring. No problem there and the guy has a killer sense of humor.'

"'Straight? Gay?'

"'Why would I ever ask?'

"'Right answer.'

"'How tied down is he?'

"'Not sure.'

"'Would you hire him to head programing and engineering?'

"'In a heartbeat.'

"'Do it.'

"'I will.'

"'Why wait? I'm in no rush.'

"I picked up the phone and asked Prue to get me Lucas Soares at the Brazilian facility. 'So a Brazilian knew Winston's maxim,' Mr. Blankinship said.

"'I guess it's just common sense when you get down to it.'

"'It's sense alright, but I'm not so sure about the common. When have you heard from Winston?' Mr. Blankenship asked out of the blue.

"'It's been a while,' I replied as my phone rang.

"'Mr. Taylor, Senhor Soares is on the line.'

"I immediately slipped into Portuguese and began by asking Lucas how the facility was running and got a good report. I then told him why I had called and we discussed that for twenty minutes or so. Finally I realized this wasn't something to be completed over the phone. I asked him if he was married and he said he was. When I asked about children, he replied they hoped that there would be in the future. When I asked if they could come to the US for a couple weeks, he laughed and reminded me that Blankenship Ltd determined that for him. 'I'll check when I get home and let you know tomorrow about my better half.' He then asked if that was not possible, should he come alone.

"'Depend on it,' I replied. 'I'll expect your call tomorrow.'

"'Damn!' I said, 'you know you may have made things difficult at home. If I understand what you have said, I'm Kelly's boss.'

"'You understand,' he said, standing up. 'By the way, you will be traveling week after next. We're holding a meeting for company officials and top engineers and programers in Hawaii. We're doing some major rethinking and maybe deciding whether or not we should concentrate on what we are doing and stop this headlong growth. My boy, you look like shit. Go home, go to bed by yourself. Well, I think I've taken care of that. Oh, before you go, do check your messages. I came looking for the 'hot ass' memo and noticed a 'Please call' message from a Winston Mason. That is our Winston, right?'

"'Right. Thank you, sir. I'll try not to disappoint you.'

"'I'm not worried,' he replied. 'I don't think you'll be disappointed in your new salary either. Go by Ms. Chandler's office before you leave—but leave soon.'

"I fished though my messages and found the 'call Winston' one and got Susan on the phone. 'Susan, Josh. Have a note to call Winston. Sorry I was in Alabama yesterday and didn't get back to you. What's up.'

"Susan burst into tears. 'Josh, you know Winston. He is as loyal as a sheep dog and I don't mean anything bad by that. You know he insisted on naming the garage Mason's and Taylor's. Someone sent a photo to the bishop of you kissing Alex…'

"'I wish to hell I knew who did that,' I said. 'Someone sent Mr. Blankenship one as well. He gave it to me. God, Susan, I still love the guy. Anyway, what happened?'

"'Suddenly everyone stopped coming to the garage and we are going broke. Winston is stubborn. The bishop and stake president said if he would change the name, they would give their blessing to his business. Well, you know Winston.'

"'Susan, how wed are you and Winston to Wellsburg?'

"'Not at all, especially right now, at least I'm not. Winston has his mother to think about.'

"'Let me call you back.' I suddenly realized it had been a long time since I had contacted Susan and Winston and regretted it. 'Oh, you are a mother, right?'

"She sniffled, then laughed, 'You are behind, Josh. Yes, twice, close to three years ago. We kinda jumped the gun on that score. We have twin sons, Alexander and Joshua.' I couldn't hold back the tears. So much for Alex not being a part of my life. I finally regained enough control to tell her to expect a call within the hour.

"'Prue, get the Old Man for me.' When she said he was on the line, I explained the situation. 'Anyway we can find a place for Winston at Blankenship Ltd?' I asked.

"'Get the boy and his family out here and we'll find a place even if it's just reminding engineers of Winston's maxim. Offer three-fourths an engineer's salary. Maybe he can work half-time for us and have a garage, maybe in Oakland, if that's better. Have Prue find out about a garage in Oakland. Hell, just get that family out of there.'

"I called Prue in and asked her what she knew about Oakland.

"'Grew up there. Still live there. What do you need to know?'

"I explained the situation and asked her to call on the resources she needed to find a possible place for Winston in the company and maybe a garage in Oakland.

"'He's a good guy?'

"'The best.' I explained how I got to know Winston, how he was slow because of a childhood illness and, finally, how much common sense and negotiating skills he had.

"'Sounds like he's a natural for purchasing. We buy a lot of stuff and usually just pay what's asked. Might know an opportunity in Oakland as well. Should I look at housing in Oakland?'

"'If you would.'

"I called Susan back and told her the offer. 'Maybe his mom will consider moving as well. San Francisco, I can tell you, is an expensive place to live, but Oakland's more reasonable. My secretary's looking into housing.'

"'I'll talk to Winston tonight. Thanks, Josh. You have a good heart.'

"'You're special people. Hug Winston, Alex and Josh for me.'

"'Sorry, Josh, but Winston insists, they're Alexander and Joshua. There's only one Alex and Josh, he says.'

"I hung up the phone and sat in a fog, thinking about the Masons and what good people they were and how they were being treated, the pain the community had caused me and I was sure Alex, about how much I still loved him. I was sitting there, tears streaming down my face, when Prue came in. 'I'm sorry,' she said and turned to go.

"'No, come on in. I'm almost ok.'

"'You sure?'

"'Yeah. One day I'll tell you about the love of my life, but not today. I'm too exhausted physically and emotionally. Give me some good news.'

"'We're in luck, I think. Mrs. Wilson, who lives down the street from my parents, is having to move to Fresno since she can no longer live alone and her son and his family live there. Her house was to go on the market as soon as she moved, but I called dad and she is willing to hold off until Winston can have a look at it. It's an older house in a very stable neighborhood, a good place for kids with good schools. Since there will be no agent's commission, she will sell it for less. Dad's also checking with a classmate of mine who had taken over his father's garage, but would like to work half time as he also has another business. How soon can Winston and Susan be here?'

"'Today's Wednesday and I have been ordered to go home and get some rest. What's on the schedule Thursday and Friday?'

"'Nothing special. Senhor Soares is to call tomorrow, nothing else on my calendar.'

"'Is the plane available?'

"'I guess it is, you're not flying it and Walt is somewhere in northern California camping with a grandson.'

"'Make a formal request for it from tomorrow at eight until Sunday midnight. Make sure it has been serviced. Put me down for vacation days Thursday and Friday. I will be out of cell phone contact much of the time. I'll be in radio contact while I am in the air, otherwise, I've disappeared. Call Kelly if there's an emergency. I'll check voice mail when I can. I'm out of here!'

"I went home and crashed. I was still asleep when Kelly came home. He walked into the bedroom and greeted me with, 'Damn! That was a kick in the teeth.'

"I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, made a dash for the bathroom to relieve an overfilled bladder, splashed water on my face and brushed my teeth. I was finally awake. When I walked back in the bedroom and started getting dressed I said, 'You were saying?'

"'I said "Damn! That was a kick in the teeth."'

"'"That" being?'

"'Your being promoted above me. How did that happen? I know the Old Man was pissed when he found you in Alabama and had trouble locating me, but making you a vice president over me was a bit extreme.'

"'Kelly, I knew nothing about it even though he said he planned to tell me yesterday. He, for all practical purposes, gave me no reason. He just told me I had the job and he was splitting out the divisions with you over one and Lucas Soares will probably be over the other. I told him my being over you might cause a problem at home, but he said your being over me seemed to have worked and that closed the subject so far as he was concerned. Is it going to be a problem?'

"'Maybe not. Why were you home in bed?'

"'Had you been home last night, you would have known I was ordered back from Alabama and didn't get to bed until the wee hours after a very exhausting day with little sleep the night before. I was practically sleep walking when I got through at the office. By the way, where were you last night?"

"Kelly has had years of practice of evading the issue, but he had never been very good at it. 'I was at Stan and Hank's. We had drinks while Stan finished dinner and after dinner, watched a movie while having drinks. By the time the movie was over, they decided I wasn't in any shape to drive, so I spent the night there."

"Kelly was lying or not telling the whole truth and I knew it, but ignored it, just saying 'Next time be sure your service knows where you are. Had I been in your place yesterday, I'd be looking for a job."

"'Are you suggesting that I only have my job because I am the boss's son?'

"'No, I'm just saying I never want the Old Man as pissed at me as he was at you when he called me in Alabama. And why was I in Alabama?'

"'What's going on here? Are you pulling "I'm your boss now," shit on me?'

"'Sorry, Kelly, it's been a hard two days. Sure the promotion counts on the good side, but most of the rest has been shitty, echoes from my past. Sorry. I am going away for a long weekend to help out one of the best friends I have ever had who had just been dumped on big time. I guess I'm taking some of that crap out on you. Sorry.' I pulled him to myself for a kiss, but neither of us was into doing anything more.

"'Guess you're not up to going out tonight,' he said.

"'No, but call Stan and Hank or one of the other guys and enjoy yourself. I would just be a drag.'

"'Thanks, Josh. Hope everything works out this weekend,' he kissed me and said 'Thanks again.'"


One of the things that keeps an author looking good is editors. Two from opposite sides of the world worked on Sentinel Mountain.

Jesse from coastal North Carolina (a visit with Jesse inspired the setting for The Saga of the Elizabethton Tarheels) got first crack at Sentinel Mountain and paid special attention to my haphazard use of commas.

Scott from Australia has been editing since second or third chapter of A Special Place. Any polish that Sentinel Mountain has owes much to Scott who managed to edit the manuscript in spite of loss of a job—which he loved, paid the bills and gave him time to work for free—floods and typhoons. The mistakes are mine.

Miguel should now be added to the list. Occasionally Brazilian Portuguese phrases appear in Sentinel Mountain. What I wrote were Google translations. Miguel has graciously agreed to translate them into the real thing. Could have avoided the issue and might have without his generous offer.

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All persons and places are fictional and any similarity to persons or places living or dead is coincidental. Again, it's fiction, folks.