“Good Evening Stapleton.” Stapleton was the butler, Varella had never been able to figure out how old the man was, he’d been with the Perlman house for years. All Varella knew is that the man was from England. Gramps Perlman had many ties to United Kingdom. Stapleton was just one of them.
Varella knew where the family would be. “Are they in the den?”
“Yes sir” said Stapleton “Mr. Perlman is in the den with a few of the family. Mrs. Wassau is still upstairs but will be joining you all shortly.”
“I’ll go in myself, you don’t need to announce me, thank you Stapleton.”
The door to the den was open and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony floated out softly. Varella’s personal opinion of the piece was that if you were going to listen to it, you should crank it. He stepped into the room. It was a large room with thick carpeting and bookshelves all around the sides. Off to the corner was a TV set that was on, but no noise was coming out of it. On it, a muted Alice was having a discussion with the enigmatic Cheshire Cat. Gramps was sitting in a great armchair reading a big book, a wine glass in his hand.
Cynthia, Carl’s sister was seated on the couch next to one of the Uncles whom Varella had seen but never met. He was Carl’s father’s brother and had been at the elder Mr. Wassau’s funeral last year. He and Cynthia were facing each other talking in soft whispers. The third person on the couch was a very large lady, fast asleep. That was Aunt Sharon. Carl’s mother’s sister.
“Ah, Dare'” said Gramps spotting him first. “Susan will be so glad that you are here. Can I interest you in a glass of wine”
“Yes, Thank you Gramps, I’d like that”
Cynthia uncoiled her long legs from the couch, came over and fit herself under his arm. He hugged her tightly with the arm. He turned to face her, catching her eyes and holding them, “How are you babe?” he asked sincerely.
She looked at him deeply, “Better” she said her eyes showing how much she trusted him. Then she squeezed him tight.
She stayed there under his arm enjoying his warmth, while Gramps got him his drink, then she went back to the couch and her conversation with Uncle Somebody.
Varella turned to Gramps, the wonderful old man looked at him intently, “How are you Dare’? How are you holding up son?” He asked sincerely.
“I’m OK Gramps, it’s just sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s real and that Carl isn’t coming back. Sometimes there’s this big empty hole in my stomach.”
Gramps looked at him understandingly, Varella felt a lot of love for this man. “Dare’, I lost my best friend in France” Gramps said, “Not on the beaches but in the town of Arnhem, shot by a sniper, one minute he was there cracking a joke and the next minute he was dead. You know Dare’, I don’t think I fully understood the impact until days later. It’s not something that you ever get used to. How can a man’s soul so suddenly leave his body and leave behind something that is only a shell of your loved one? The spark has gone.”
Varella thought about Carl’s dreams and plans. Carl had had all these dreams, less than a third of them had been fulfilled. All those dreams, dead and unfulfilled. All that potential wasted. A man who’d died so suddenly. It wasn’t fair. A man shouldn’t die until his dreams had been fulfilled. So many dreams. There were enough people in the world trying to kill dreams, there were enough people in the world who had just given up their dreams and gone on to live dull lifeless hopeless lives. But Carl had fought for his dreams, he’d been the man who’d made his dreams come true and when they failed at least he failed while striving for them and he moved on. It was not right for one of these men to die. Let die those who had given up their dreams or who’d let others suppress or manipulate away their dreams, but let not die one who dreamed and made those dreams real. Let not die, one who truly lived.
Gramps had always been a fascinating conversationalist. In addition, he had the ability to listen and Varella always found it easy to talk with him. Even when he was a young college student, Gramps had always listened attentively to Varella, treating whatever the then idealistic student had to say with utmost respect. Nobody else had treated him as well as respectfully as Gramps had treated him.
Gramps had come into the money the hard way, he had worked his way into it. He hadn’t started any big companies, he hadn’t invented any amazing gadgets, he’d simply and consistently worked his way up into power and into the position of President.
He’d started very young. At the age of 14 his immigrant father had died of lung cancer, leaving his mother with 6 very hungry kids to feed. The young boy had grown up real fast and soon became father to his younger siblings as well as his two older sisters. He started working after school, selling newspapers on the street corner at first but then later moving to a newsstand. He still told stories of his street corner days. It sounded like a typical “when I was a young boy” story, “we had to walk 20 miles to school, uphill both ways.” But this story was indeed true. He’d wake up at 4 am to have all his papers ready by the 6 am rush. The stock market crash was just over and the paper seemed to be the only thing that sold. School would start by 9 am and by 5 pm he was back on his corner with the evening edition of the news trying to catch the business men on their way home. It didn’t pay much, but it helped add to his mom’s income from the grocery store. But he didn’t give it all to his mother, he saved 10% of each day’s profits and kept it under his cot. When he had saved $10 he walked proudly into a bank and started his first savings account.
Those days on the corner taught him a lot. He listened to the rich business men as they waited for the bus. And he asked questions of those men he’d befriended. He also learned about leverage, and unfairness of life. A few months into his newspaper career he started getting pressure from a group of newspaper boys who felt he was cutting into their profits. There were 5 of them and they had the monopoly on the area. They all worked for one of the other local newsstands and decided that Perlman’s enthusiasm was costing them profits. The first warning was just a threat. When that didn’t work they worked him over and left him penniless and bleeding. He had to dig into his money under the cot to pay back the newsstand owner for the papers. It set him back by three months. It was a very bitter experience for him, but he never shared it with anyone, he told his mom that he got into a fight at school. But inside he knew that he had to do something or he’d be out of business real soon.
Leverage is what he needed and leverage could only be bought. The 14 year old boy bought protection. He wasn’t very big so he’d need a big friend. Spiro was a dropout, the son of Armenian immigrants. He’d flunked 7th grade twice now and they’d finally let him move to 8th. The young Perlman quickly made friends with the much bigger and stronger 17 year old, it was easy, Spiro needed help to get through the school day and Perlman needed help to make it through the business day. It was a good partnership, and the other newspaper boys soon faded out of the picture, allowing him to expand even more.
By the time he’d graduated from high school, the money in the savings account had grown enough to buy a newsstand, he hired his younger brothers and they soon were doing a brisk business on more than half the street corners in their area, Spiro became a full time employee and sort of handy man. But Perlman knew that he had to get himself a college degree. It wasn’t a normal thing to do and only rich kids really got to go to college, but he was determined to do so. The newsstand under the able guidance of his kid brothers was doing well. Using that as collateral Perlman bought out another newsstand and then another and then another. By the time he’d reached the age of 20 the family was able to live quite comfortably on newspaper, magazine and tobacco sales.
When the war came he still hadn’t been able to go to college and he realized that that was one dream that would never be fulfilled unless he made specific plans to achieve it. But the opportunity never seemed to make itself available. He enlisted. After the war he set about using the contacts he’d made while fighting in Europe to start selling imported items from his newsstands, the concept caught on and he soon found himself opening a purely import store. Then leaving the business in the hands of his brothers and the ever present Spiro, he went to college. He graduated 4 years later with a degree in business and then he applied for his first real job.
His impressive business resume that included owning 6 newsstands and one import business enabled him to bypass all the other candidates in line for the junior marketing position at the Taylor-Frey Distribution company. They did basically what Perlman was already doing, but on a much larger scale. They imported and distributed to the entire United States.
He moved up rapidly, his keen sense of survival and his drive to succeed served him well, by the age of 40 he had moved corporations twice and was now Vice President of Maxxim Caldwell. By this time he’d married the most beautiful woman in the world, who also happened to be Spiro’s kid sister and he’d had two lovely kids.
They’d just finished building their dream house when tragedy struck. His beautiful wife, Carl’s grandmother, died in plane crash. Perlman would never forget that awful moment when he found out. And he had never shared that pain with anyone. Yes, while he may talk about the best friend he’d lost in France during the war, he’s real best friend had been lost in peacetime on her way to see him while he’d been on a business trip in California. He’d sent for her and she’d come, leaving the two kids behind for just a weekend that turned into forever. Their personally designed house in New York and all the places she used to love just held too many memories. So he’d moved out to California, bringing with him the two kids who, like him had also had to grow up fast.
The move to California had been facilitated by Perlman’s transfer to an even bigger and more powerful company. At the time, TJ Reynolds was only in the import/export business but now they were in every kind of business you could think of. Under their different brand names, they made or imported or had their hands in the sale and manufacture of everything from soap to cereal to shirts and shoes. The only thing they didn’t seem to sell or import was spices, McCormick and Schilling held that market. A lot of the decisions to move and expand into other segments of the industry had been made or influenced by Perlman. These astute decisions and his continous high performance allowed him to rise rapidly in the corporation.
While he was still just a VP, he now wielded much more power and had other VPs reporting to him. As time passed he became more well known and eventually became a partner in the company. The San Jose area was turning to silicon and he was just the man to realize the potential of the land around a small but rapidly growing company run by two young engineers called (first names) Hewlett and Packard. In the years to come he would personally end up owning as much land as the two soon to be millionaires themselves. And in the process he would not only become a millionaire like them but he would also become very close friends with both men.
But while money and land have their appeal, Gramps Perlman’s real goal was to be President and CEO of TJ Reynolds. To him this was the ultimate symbol of success, to have a pulse on the spending habits of the entire United States. It wasn’t so much to have power, but more to be able to influence America. And indeed he was next in line for the job. When the president of TJ Reynolds retired Perlman was sure that he would get the job. But when the time came, the odds turned against him. He’d been working out some plans and saw a lot of potential in a small island country in the Far East, a small country called Taiwan. This country, Perlman was convinced would soon be a major supplier of low cost, high profit goods to not only the United States but also the entire world. His visit to Taipei only lasted a two weeks, but in that two weeks that he was gone, a ‘coup’ took place in the central offices of TJ Reynolds. When Perlman came back the President of TJ Reynolds was ready to retire and Perlman wasn’t in the running to succeed him anymore.
By this time his grandchildren were in college and his favorite grandson shared his disappointment with him. Carl had come along when Gramps was only 44 and was almost a son to him. The two had been inseparable since Carl’s birth. Carl had almost died at birth and the elder Perlman had right from the start taken the role of protector and future mentor for the young child. The day they found out that Perlman was no longer in the running for the Presidency, Carl had shown much more anger and frustration than his grandfather.
But then a tragedy had struck the TJ Reynolds company, the man who was to become President of TJ Reynolds died while on a business trip. While Perlman hadn’t been the closest of friends with his competitor he was still saddened by the death of this very great business man and partner.
Perlman took the helm of TJ Reynolds that year and led the company to enormous success utilizing the potential of offshore manufacturing in places like Taiwan and later Korea and Mexico. In the latter years Perlman had become renown in the business community for the way he ran his company and now was inexorably linked as the brains behind the current and ongoing success of TJ Reynolds. Their stock had risen in popularity just as their name had risen in popularity and both were now synonymous with stability and good dividends.
Even while Carl’s father was still alive, the Wassau’s had spent much of their time in Gramps’ very large home overlooking the city of San Jose. It seemed that if the Wassau’s weren’t over at the Perlman mansion, then Gramps was over visiting the Wassaus. After Mr. Wassau had died last year, Mrs. Wassau and Cindy had moved back into the big house. Gramps liked it this way, at least the big house was being used. It was a happier house this way, he’d said.
Carl’s two closest friends stood there by the great window in the study and reminisced as they watched the sun set over San Jose. They had both lost someone infinitely valuable who could never be replaced?
By the time Mrs. Wassau came down the stairs, the light through the great window had died down to a majestic red glow. For some reason it made Varella think about death, and going out in a blaze of glory. Is that what Carl had done? Josh sure seemed to think Carl had gone out in a blaze of Glory. “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.” Had he? Where was Carl now? Starting to rot in an expensive casket or with God, if there was a God. Where was Carl’s soul now?. After he’d stopped going to church Varella hadn’t really thought about death. But now he found himself hoping that there was a heaven. Wanting the reassurance that Carl hadn’t disappeared in the black forever. Hoping that one day he would see Carl somewhere “over there.” “Every night I lay awake and pray in the hope that there’s a heaven. Show me the way” …… wasn’t that a song by Styx?
Carl’s mom had been crying, her makeup managed to hide the tears but her eyes were red. She put on a brave smile as she came across the den to Varella but when he hugged her the tears came back as the memories of these two young friends reminded her of her great loss. She collected herself after a few minutes and apologized, dabbing her eyes with an already soaked handkerchief and smiling embarrassedly, he touched her hand wordlessly saying “I understand completely.” They walked arm in arm into the dining room.
Dinner was a very quite and almost cold affair. Varella tried to smile as much as he could but there was a terrible emptiness in the air. The only person to eat much at all was Uncle Whatshisname, everybody else had lost their appetite, including Aunt Sharon. Varella wanted desperately to leave this place of gloom, but he knew that they needed him here, not to say anything, but just to be there. His presence was needed, and oh how desperately.
After dinner they ‘repaired’ to the den for coffee as Stapleton put it. During the conversation Varella found out that Gramps had already started all the legal inheritance paper work going, while Sandy would get most everything, Carl’s well defined will had ensured Cynthia and his mother continued comfort of living. It was unnecessary from a financial point of view, Gramps would no doubt have taken care of them in any event. But it was necessary from an emotional and family point of view. Even in death Carl had taken care of his family.
After coffee, Gramps suggested a stiff Brandy for everyone, Varella walked over to help him fix it. “I’m not too confident that the guy we caught is going to know much. I don’t think it is going to answer any questions” he said. Deep down inside Varella fervently hoped that he was wrong. But he had to be a pragmatist. “We need to know exactly what Carl had been getting from Egypt.” He told Gramps “He’d had a few shipments of antiques recently and I’m wondering what was in them. Besides, everything that had anything to do with antiques is missing. And I want to know why? Why did they steal antiques and not cash or any valuables?”
Gramps looked at him with concern, “Dare’, don’t you think that it would be better to hire a private detective? In fact I’ve already asked our attorneys to hire one just to do some general housekeeping and looking around. Why don’t you at least wait until the guy they caught speaks, he may have some answers, you never know.”
Varella understood Gramps’ concern, the old man had heard about the attempt on his life and the arrest of the now comatose man, and was very concerned that Varella would eventually end up a victim of whomever had killed Carl.
Varella smiled, don’t worry Gramps I promise I won’t get myself killed, I’ll be very careful. I’m just going to look around and talk to a few people.
“Be careful Dare’” Gramps looked very concerned for him.
They spent the rest of the evening talking about the past and the future, through it all Varella’s already high esteem for Gramps grew even higher as he realized how this old and wise man was keeping what was left of this family together.
Later that evening as he was leaving Cynthia walked him to the door. “Gram hasn’t been the same.” She said, “Everybody seems to have changed. Promise me one thing Dare.’” He turned to look at her, “promise me that you’ll still visit, that we’ll still see you often?” He hugged her tight and kissed her on the cheek.
“I’ll be right here.” he said.
* * *