When Luc arrived, he sat down and said, "Josh, Mrs. Blankenship called, forgetting you were no longer in the same office. When I answered, she said she could just talk to me. She wants to sell the company.
"I'm sure you disabused her of that idea quickly," Josh said.
"I tried. For half an hour I tried. She kept saying her husband had built Blankenship Ltd from nothing and now that he was gone and you had sent her son—innocent by the way—to prison, she was going to sell the company before you stole it from her."
"I guess I need to talk to her, but it's not going to be fun."
"Not fun and pointless. The woman simply does not hear anything you say. I tried calling Mr. VanWinkle, but he is out of town doing something with someone named Bull…"
"Bull is the man trying to locate Alex. Well, I'll call Mrs. Blankenship's lawyer and see if I can find out what's going on. Right now she could get an ugly rumor going which would set back our plans in a heartbeat."
Since Josh was traveling so much at the beginning, Prue took care of his messages and so on for a week or so. Instead of hiring a secretary for Luc, she took on Elizabeth as her assistant and the two divided up the workload from Josh and Luc. However, to help keep things straight, Elizabeth always took Josh's calls and Prue, Luc's. So it was Elizabeth who answered when Josh called and asked her to get Mrs. Blankenship's lawyer on the phone. "Josh, when you do, see if there's any way he can get her to stop calling and complaining about how you made Kelly queer, started him on coke and are now stealing the business. She's driving Prue and me nuts."
"How long has this been going on? Why wasn't I told?" Josh asked.
"It started right after Kelly was sent to prison and has gotten steadily worse. Prue and I decided she was just mad and you and Luc were so busy, we just listened to her and told her we'd keep an eye out for her. That seemed to satisfy her until a couple weeks ago. I finally put her through to Luc. I'll put a call through to James Davis of Adams, Adams, Adams and Davis," she said.
While Josh waited, he thought about what they should do. Ideally, he and Luc should buy out Mrs. Blankenship, but knew neither of them had the money. However, one way or another, her mouth had to be shut. If any of what she said hit the rumor mill— even if there was not a grain of truth in it—Blankenship would be dealt another blow from which it might not recover. "At the best, it would delay my getting home to Sentinel Mountain," Josh thought.
On impulse, he picked up the phone and called Luc. "Luc, how much money can you beg, borrow or steal in the next twenty-four hours?"
"Very little, I suspect. What did you have in mind?"
"We need to buy out Mrs. Blankenship. You know as well as I, the company was ready to go belly-up when you came back. Now it looks like together we are turning it around. The future looks pretty bright. But let's be honest, all Blankenship has going for it is our skills and willingness to work and the Blankenship name. Had Kelly stayed around it would have had neither. I think given the recent history of the company, which is well-known in the business world, it's practically worthless."
"True, but you know Kelly is pushing Mrs. Blankenship and she will demand several million."
"You're right, of course. Realistically, since it does look like it's turning around it's probably worth a tenth what it was before the Old Man died, maybe six million if we could find a buyer who didn't look at the balance sheet too closely. I think around two million would be a fair price for her share. I have some in a trust fund I haven't touched since I started work, but it's less than a hundred fifty thousand. That leaves us only a million eight hundred fifty or so short." Josh's light indicating Elizabeth had a call for him blinked and he said, "I have a call, probably from her lawyer. Be thinking and I'll call you back.
He punched the lighted button and said, "Josh Taylor here."
"Mr. Taylor, James Davis. Your girl said you needed to talk with me about Mrs. Blankenship."
"I do indeed. She seems to be under the illusion that she still owns Blankenship Ltd which, as you know, is now Blankenship LLLP and she is one of three partners. She, apparently has been hounding Mr. Soares' and my secretaries for a couple months with some pretty serious charges. When Mr Soares took a call from her, she said she was selling the company and there was no way he could convince her she no longer owned it. Can you shed some light on the situation?"
"Maybe I can. You may recall Kelly was called back from a vacation, I seem to recall from St. Croix, some time ago. He was called back because Mrs. Blankenship had a light stroke, but the doctors feared she could suffer another one. Fortunately, she has not until recently. Now it appears she is suffering from rapidly advancing dementia aggravated by a large number of small strokes which have her very confused and disoriented. Added to that, she had already convinced herself Kelly was an innocent victim of unscrupulous person or persons, simply unwilling to admit that he, himself, had almost destroyed himself and brought near ruin to Blankenship Ltd. So far as she is concerned her son is an innocent victim. She is under a doctor's care, of course, and he has placed her in a facility where she and her condition can be closely monitored. She is convinced the company is being stolen and she will end up broke and unable to afford her care. She is terrified at that thought and is obsessed by it. Kelly is encouraging her thinking, I suspect in vindictiveness directed at you as he, too, plays the 'I was innocent until corrupted by unscrupulous queers' card. You might discern from that he has found Jesus in prison," Mr. Davis laughed.
"Seems Jesus never gets lost without being found in a prison. Well, if anything she is saying hits the business rumor mill, she may be right in that the company will be gone, not stolen, but taken over by the bankruptcy court. I can assure you that if the rumors get to flying, Blankenship LLLP is doomed. It cannot withstand the blow. As it is, we are probably halfway to being where we were when the Old Man died and all of us have worked our butts off to get here, but I can assure you that none of us will stay aboard a sinking ship. We have managed to get the USS Blankenship through the storm called Kelly and the sailing ahead looks good, but we also have our lifeboats ready."
There was silence on the other end of the phone. Finally, Mr. Davis said, "You're not bullshittin' me, are you?"
Josh chuckled to himself recalling an expression Jake had used, "Mr. Davis, I am as serious as a cottonmouth water rattler."
"And you think the company is worth half what it was when Kelly took over?"
Winston popped into his mind. "You gotta know what you're dealing with," he thought to himself, "and I think I have a clue."
"That's not at all what I said, Mr. Davis. I said I thought we were halfway to where the company had been before Kelly nearly destroyed it. Kelly and his crony coke-heads are gone and we have good people back and have hired some outstanding new ones—and that costs money, real money. I have worked twelve-hour days, six days a week and brought back good customers he drove off, and managed to get suppliers to trust us again—and that costs money, real money. Production lines cannot just be turned off. Employees have to be paid severance pay, the machines have to be mothballed and facilities secured—and that costs money, real money. Likewise, you cannot just flip a switch and start a production line. Employees have to be hired, machines taken out of mothballs and facilities prepared—and that costs money. Materials have to be purchased and because of Kelly, our suppliers would no longer extend credit, so materials had to be purchased with cash on the barrel head—and that costs money. Do you need to hear more?" Josh asked. Silence. "I said the company was halfway back to where it was BK as we say around here—Before Kelly. Its present worth? Practically speaking, I wouldn't give you the price of scrap metal for it if the people running it leave and I can assure you, I for one will leave in a heartbeat for a paradise in North Carolina if anyone tries to monkey with the company. None of us are willing to work our asses off to keep it afloat again."
"So what about Mrs. Blankenship? After all, the Old Man made you what you are."
"Low blow," Josh responded. "The Old Man recognized my strengths and allowed me to use them. He did not make me anything, but allowed me to develop potential he recognized. He was like a father to me. Mrs. Blankenship? She was the light of the Old Man's eye and, to me, that made her beyond price. However, once he died, she almost allowed Kelly to destroy what the Old Man built and now she accuses me of trying to steal what would not be here had she, she, not finally called his hand. I don't know, maybe she feels she failed him somehow, maybe she feels guilty for calling the law on him. I don't know and I don't give a flying fuck. I just want to know whether you can shut her lying mouth or not."
"How much would you offer her for her share of the company? Fifteen million?"
"Haven't you heard a word I have said? I wouldn't give her fifteen thousand for it. If you can shut her damn mouth, I think I can assure her of her care as long as she lives." While they had been talking Josh's mind had been racing and he had been doodling on a legal pad. "If making sure she is secure for the rest of her life is her concern, I think I can manage to put a hundred thousand in her bank account right now, pay for her care where she is and five hundred a month walking-around money until her death. That should take care of her fears."
"She'll want something for Kelly," Mr. Davis said.
"So far as I am concerned, Kelly can kiss my ass—no, I take that back, good as he is at it, I still don't want his mouth near my ass," Josh was on a roll. "I know for a fact that Kelly was never to get his hands on Blankenship Ltd. He was running the company only because it belonged to her." Josh, in fact, did not know that, but he thought he knew the Old Man well enough to know that after Hawaii, Kelly had been cut out of any possibility of owning or running the company. He didn't know what the Old Man had stipulated about the company at his wife's death and, frankly, didn't want try to bullshit his way through that.
Josh knew he had pinned Mr. Davis and he was enjoying it! He knew why Winston got such a kick out of negotiating. "You can tell her Kelly will receive a hundred dollars a month while he is in prison—he'll not need more than that—and ten thousand when he is released. I will have an automatic draft to an account for Kelly of one hundred a month. A deposit of five thousand to a trust fund for Kelly will be made on the anniversary of the signing of the agreement each of the next two years. All this is contingent on her turning over all her interest in Blankenship LLLP within the next twenty-four hours. I'll fax you an agreement and expect you in my office tomorrow morning at ten, papers signed and notarized. I will turn over a certified check for one hundred thousand for her bank account. I believe that concludes our business and you have a selling job to do. Good day." Josh hung up the phone before the lawyer could answer.
As soon as he did, he buzzed Elizabeth to send Luc up. When Luc walked in, he said, "Josh, try as hard as I can, I can't come up with the money we need to buy out Mrs. Blankenship."
"Are you sure?"
"I called my parents who are not wealthy, but not poor either, and spoke with Cândido who has a bit of money from his father which he has refused to touch. My parents said flat out, 'No way.' Cândido says he can lay his hands on twenty thousand. When Kelly fired me, Cândido said we would have to learn to live on less until we could do better. We moved out of the fancy apartment to a nice, but small one we lucked up on in Berkeley, Cândido rode a bike to campus and I took BART. We only recently, as you know, moved in next door to you," Luc said, "but even at that, I can come up with ten thousand, that's all."
"I have been doodling, so what I can throw in is a guesstimate. Without using the line of credit, I can come up with fifteen thousand. I'll be close to broke, but I do have that line of credit and what's in my checking account. We're still short fifty-five thousand or so," Josh said.
"I like your arithmetic," Luc laughed. "We have forty-five thousand dollars and need only that much more to reach five or six million?"
"Oh," Josh exclaimed, "I forgot you didn't know. I have been on the phone with James Davis of Adams, Adams, Adams and Davis. Winston would be proud of me." He then gave Luc a blow by blow account of their conversation.
"You didn't tell him you didn't want Kelly's mouth near your ass."
"You bet your sweet as– life I did. Damn, I nearly ran the risk of a Bororo blowgun dart in the neck there," Josh laughed. "Anyway, we need one hundred thousand dollars in the morning by ten."
"Ok," Luc said, "let's work this out. As partners, we can agree to pay Mrs. Blankenship's upkeep and walking around money and the money to Kelly out of company profits, so we don't worry about that. Right now, we need to come up with the hundred thousand to hand over tomorrow between the two of us."
"You're making sense," Josh said.
"Ok, let's say the partners hold three thousand shares of Blankenship. You and I hold two thousand shares and Mrs. Blankenship has one thousand. You with me?"
"Ok, her thousand shares are worth one hundred thousand dollars or one hundred dollars a share. Still with me?" Josh nodded. "Cândido puts in twenty thousand for two hundred shares and he is a nonparticipating partner. My ten thousand and your fifteen buy three hundred fifty shares. We are left with five hundred fifty shares to sell to non-participating partners at one hundred dollars per share. Let's get to working the phones. You start with Mr. T'an and I'll call Senhor Dimas."
When Josh called Luc to tell him Mr. T'an has eagerly snapped up two hundred shares, Luc had just concluded his call to Senhor Dimas which had been successful and he was wiring money for two hundred fifty shares. "Wish we could get in touch with Mr. VanWinkle," Josh said.
"Have you tried today?" Luc asked.
"No, I haven't," Josh said, hung up and asked Elizabeth to see if she could locate Mr. VanWinkle. He then turned to his computer and started checking his accounts. He had been right, he could buy one hundred fifty shares without scraping the bottom. He started doodling, trying to come up with the names of other investors. Elizabeth buzzed Josh and told him she had managed to reach Mr. VanWinkle, but before she could say much more than she was calling for Josh, he said he'd be at a landline in an hour or so and would call. "He barely had the words out before we had a dropped signal," she said.
Luc called and said, "I'm out of ideas."
"So am I," Josh replied and hung up. He sat doodling again, his mind a blank. He must have dozed off because the telephone ringing startled him. When he picked up the phone, Elizabeth said, "Josh, I have Mr. VanWinkle on the line."
"Mr. VanWinkle," Josh said, "where the hell are you? I've been trying to reach you for a couple days."
"Josh, I'm not sure I'm even on earth, but Bull tells me are still on Planet Earth somewhere in godforsaken Utah. But what's going on with you, my boy?"
Josh explained what had happened in heading off Mrs. Blankenship's mouth. He laughed and said, "So you did a job on James Davis. Wait till the son and grandson learn that. He's a slick one. Not sure how you managed that scheme with him, but glad you saved the company—again."
"Well, I'm not sure we have. Luc and I haven't managed to get the money for tomorrow. We still have a hundred shares to sell and are out of ideas and prospects."
"Are you hinting that I buy in?" Mr. VanWinkle laughed and said, "I can see that sly grin on your face. Well, anything to stick it to Davis, but I'm not quite up to a hundred shares right now. Put me down for twenty and call my son and tell him to get you the money. Tell him about the whole mess and ask him if he and the grandson would like a few shares. Tell them they need to invest in some for those great-grandkids of mine."
"Will do, but where and why are you in Utah?"
"Bull decided I needed some excitement in my life, so I'm here with him kinda following up on your suggestion that Maria Crimshaw might be with some fundamentalist Mormon sect. I'll be back this weekend and we'll have dinner together. If you need to contact me before then, call Bull's son. They maintain radio contact at least twice a day." He gave Josh a phone number and said, "Be sure to let VanWinkle and VanWinkle know you outfoxed James Davis."
Josh had Elizabeth put in a call to VanWinkle, VanWinkle, VanWinkle and Adams. "I'll speak to either VanWinkle. Tell the secretary I have a message from the senior VanWinkle." A few minutes later Elizabeth put Mr. VanWinkle through. "Mr. VanWinkle, Josh Taylor here. I just talked with your father or grandfather…"
"It's Dad," Mr. VanWinkle said. "Where the hell is he? I've tried to call him and his cell phone says he's unavailable and his answering machine plays a jingle and says, 'Have a nice day,' and hangs up."
"He's somewhere in Utah with Bull, I guess you know Bull."
"I have known Bull since I can remember anything. He's as old as Dad and they were bumming around together before I was born. Anyway, what are they up to now?"
"I'm not sure. Bull's trying to locate someone for me and I, too, have been trying to reach your dad for two days and finally got him on his cell long enough for him to find a landline and call. He said Bull decided he needed some excitement in his life and they headed for Utah on a hunch I had, but what I called about is something going on here at Blankenship that he thought might interest you." Josh then told him the whole story and ended by saying, "He said tell you and your son you needed to pick up shares for his great-grandkids."
Mr. VanWinkle laughed and said, "He would say that. So James Davis got beat in his own poker game. Wait until I tell the son. By the way, I'm Rob, Robert. Dad is the end of the Julius, for a while anyway, at his insistence. My son is Richard, not a dick and not Dick. He's a smart fellow and his grandfather's pride and joy. So how many shares do you have left?"
"We'll take forty." He then gave me the names of his two grandchildren and the trust fund into which any profits were to be placed. "I'll courier a check over this afternoon."
Josh called Luc and said, "We only need to sell forty more shares."
"May as well be a hundred," Luc said. "I can't see where we are going to come up with more."
"I'll look at my accounts again," Josh said. "I'm not letting this slip away. Wait a minute. We need to refigure. We were assuming you and I and Mrs. Blankenship had equal interest in the company, but you and I already own stock."
"Good thought, but it doesn't work. All of this was based on her getting a hundred thousand and that's fixed."
"Yeah, right. I'll call you back. I have a light flashing." Josh pushed the button for another line and Elizabeth said, "Josh, Mr. Davis is calling. Something about buying some stock. Blankenship selling stock these days?"
"Anyone get in on the deal?"
"Well, not just anyone. Who'd you have in mind?"
"Hold that thought while I talk to Davis." Elizabeth put him through and Josh said, "Josh here."
"James Davis, Josh. Look, I am just the messenger on this. I just got a call from Kelly's new lawyer, a scumbag if there ever was one. Anyway, he said Kelly had heard Blankenship was selling stock and if so, Kelly asked him to purchase all the available shares. I told him to call you, but I wanted to give you a heads up."
"Where's he getting the money to buy anything?"
"Mama, of course. I applied for a competency hearing which will be held this week, but Kelly has been bleeding her dry."
"Well, we are raising the hundred thousand, but no way is Kelly getting a hook into this company."
"Thought as much. Would like a few shares myself, but that would be a conflict of interest."
"Afraid so. Thanks for the heads up."
"Just be sure to watch your back so long as that coke-head is breathing."
"You too," Josh responded.
"You better believe it."
When Josh hung up, he buzzed Elizabeth. "Ok, I'm back. You're interested in buying into Blankenship?"
"Sure," she said. "I know it's in good hands now and I have some loose change. Prue too."
"Just how much change are we talking about?"
"How much loose change do you need?"
"Not a lot. Four thousand."
"Put each of us down for two thousand."
"Done! Thank you! Put me through to Luc."
The contracts were signed, sealed and delivered at ten the next day and rest of the week passed peacefully and Josh was glad. The company was running smoothly and he was really thinking he'd be in NC in a couple weeks.
When the weekend arrived, Mr. VanWinkle called and suggested Josh join him and Bull for dinner at an Italian place in Berkeley. When Josh entered he saw it was definitely Italian and thought if the Mafia was in Berkeley, the godfather hung out there. It was dim inside and took a couple minutes before he spotted Mr. VanWinkle sitting at a table in the corner with a man who had to be Bull. Mr. VanWinkle waved him over and as Josh approached, he introduced him. Josh understood why the man was called Bull. After he was introduced, he sat down and Mr. VanWinkle asked, "Did you get the rest of the money you needed out of the boys?"
"Not quite. Actually, Luc's and my executive assistants put us over."
"Can't ask for a better endorsement of a company than that. Josh, I guess this is just your lucky day."
Editors: Jesse and Scott.
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