I post this story of redemption for the enjoyment of my readers.
by Reynold J. Conger
(Copyright 2012 by Reynold Conger. All rights reserved.)
The man who walked through the office door looked timid and out of place. An ill fitting suit hung poorly on his slouching frame. The man appeared to have purchased a cheep suit without regard to the fit, or perhaps he had lost weight. I did not think he belonged here.
I stepped into his path. “My I help you?” My voice rang out as a challenge.
The man cringed and pulled a letter from his pocket. “Perhaps you could please direct me to the offices of Knickerbocker, Klein, Smith, Klein and Cabot. I’m expected there at two.”
I could see that he held a piece of paper bearing our firm’s letterhead. Mentally reviewing the men I expected and those who had arrived, I said, “You have arrived. I am Mr. Cabot. Could you, perhaps be, Henry Nolan?”
“Yes. I was afraid I would be late. This letter almost sounds like a summons.”
I smiled. Paralegals had written to all of the heirs except Henry. Those letters had been formal notification of the reading of the will of the late Rex Nolan. I personally drafted the letter to Henry using my best skills of persuasion, because I had feared Henry would not appear. “We will gather in the large conference room in about five minutes.”
As I moved across the reception area, Sam Herman, a cousin of the deceased, tapped me on the shoulder. “That isn’t Hank, is it? How can he dare to show his face. He is a disgrace to the family.”
“He is an heir,” I answered.
Sam practically shouted, “Impossible. Hank came home from his first year at Harvard and though he had the world by the tail. He demanded half of the old man’s holdings, in cash.”
Hank turned and protested, “I only asked for a grubstake.”
“And of course the old man gave his fair haired boy the entire amount—in cash.” Sam made a face as though he was about to spit in contempt, but he had no place to spit.
Rex Nolan, the CEO of Antigo Food Products, Inc., had recently died of cancer. Before joining the family firm, he had enjoyed a short but highly successful career as an engineer. Royalties from his patents had already made him wealthy before his father had asked him to become manufacturing manager for the cheese factory that was the company’s primary asset. Rex had helped his father expand the business into other dairy products and, more importantly, into products derived from the whey that, until then had been disposed of at high cost. In the course of time, Rex had become CEO with ownership or control of just over half of the company’s stock. Our law firm had been handling the legal affairs of Antigo Food Products, Inc. and of the Nolan family for fifty years.
The widow rushed across the room and gave Henry a big hug. “Hank, I’m so glad you came.”
“Mr. Cabot sent me a letter demanding I attend.” Hank returned the hug in a consoling way. “I’m sorry about Rex. He should have lived. He had a future in you and his sons.”
“Well, if you’re so sorry, you could at least have come to the funeral.”
“Well, yeah, but. . . .”
“We would have sent you a plane ticket, but no one knew where you were. I don’t know how Mr. Cabot found you.”
“Sue, the cost of the ticket aside, I didn’t belong at the funeral.”
“You could have been a comfort to me and to your nephews. They missed their favorite uncle.”
Henry released Sue from his arms and looked at his feet. “I would only have caused a family fight. You didn’t need a fight at the funeral.”
“But you’re Rex’s brother.”
“I’m the family’s black sheep. Everyone except you hates me. Last time I talked with Rex, he was so mad, I thought he would have a heart attack. Look. I had a good thing going and I squandered it.”
“Rex had forgiven you.”
“I didn’t know that until I got a letter Rex wrote just before his death. You see, I was bored in college. I already knew more about accounting and business than they were teaching me. I just knew I could make it big speculating on stock so I went to Dad.”
Sue laughed. “Rex always made jokes about the way your father spoiled you, the younger son.”
Henry went on. “I was a cocky young fellow who thought he knew how to make money on the markets so I went to Dad and asked for part of my inheritance in cash. To my surprise, wrote a check for ten thousand dollars and had half of his net worth in my bank account in 90 days. I moved to Singapore and set myself up as a speculator. I was good in stocks, currencies and futures. The money flowed in so fast I could afford a big apartment with servants. My friends and I partied frequently. What a life.”
Henry shifted his weight from foot to foot. “No one is that good forever. Eventually the Thai Baht crashed. Other currencies followed. The stock market went out of control. I took defensive action to preserve what I could of my capitol. The crash did not wipe me out, but I had been living too high. My living expenses simply drained my bank account. The weather is mild, but sleeping in the park isn’t easy given the mosquitoes.”
Sue took Henry’s hand. “We were all so proud about how well you were doing before that crash.”
“I thought I was doing well, but in reality, all I was doing was squandering Dad’s money by living too high on the hog. The few jobs I could get after the crash were terrible and didn’t quite cover living expenses. Eventually, I was homeless. Some days I only had one meal. Finally it occurred to me that laborers at the cheese factory were better off than me. I worked my way home on a freighter and hitch hiked across the country to Antigo. I was prepared to beg Dad for a job cleaning out milk tanks. I knew I wasn’t even worthy of that.”
“But you are family.”
“A disgrace to the family. My last ride let me off in Merrill. I walked the last twenty-eight miles. I slept in a field using a shelter I made of hay bales. I walked into the office building a sorry sight. My shoe soles were flapping. My clothes were torn and dirty. I had hay in my scraggly hair. The receptionist was about to throw me out when Dad came rushing down the stairs. You see, Dad had looked out the window of his second floor office and had seen me out on the street. Long hair, dirt, rags and all, Dad recognized me.”
Sue laughed. “You must not have heard about what erupted when news spread on the grape vine about your arrival.”
“I wasn’t surprised when I did hear. Dad immediately sent the receptionist across the street to bring a lunch to me. Then he sent one of the secretaries into the factory for a set of clothes. They were safety shoes and work clothes, but they were clean and whole. He took me to his office where I cleaned up in his private bathroom. He called Orlow and Schmit asking them to send over a sales clerk with a choice of several suits. Then he sent for Blacky.”
“Of course, Blacky, the best barber in town. The entire time the clothing store clerk was measuring me and Blacky was cutting my hair, Dad was blubbering about how pleased he was to have me back and wouldn’t listen to my apologies or my request for job as a laborer.”
“Let’s see, you arrived about two in the afternoon. Word spread fast that there would be a banquet at the Grange Hall. Everyone had to move fast to be ready, but we were all there.”
“Except Rex. He was in Wausau that day.”
“Everyone was glad to see you again, even those who criticized you. Of course, we were all surprised when Dad named you the new comptroller. Dennis was retiring and everyone expected Sam to get the job.”
Glancing at my watch, I suggested to Henry and Sue that we wanted everyone gathered in the large conference room. As they walked, Henry said, “Rex must have gotten to the Grange Hall just in time to hear the announcement. He turned around and left.”
Sue nodded thanks to the man who held the door for them. “Rex, Sam and a lot of others thought it was pure favoritism. They were angry at the time, but then you did such a good job as comptroller.”
Henry shook his head. “No I just got the company deeper into financial risk. Sure I straightened out the bookkeeping methods, but Rex had plans for that whey solids recovery plant. Dad gave the project the green light so I did what I had do to finance the equipment. No sooner was the ink dry on the loans than the prime rate went up. I was sure those loans would eventually bankrupt Antigo Food Products so I left.”
“By then Rex had gotten over his anger. He liked the results you were getting. You disappeared before Rex could tell you how pleased he was with the financing of the new equipment. By the way, what are you doing now?”
“I’m an inventory clerk for a shoe store in Brooklyn. That’s something I can do with no risk of failure. I married one of the sales ladies. We get by.”
With everyone seated, a paralegal named Glassman read the will. I usually had Glassman read wills because of his booming, rich bass voice. I stood slightly to one side of Glassman so I could see the reactions of people’s faces as they heard the bequests.
The will started with the standard boilerplate of a will. Numerous small bequests were granted to family, friends and significant employees. It was obvious some family members expected to have received more.
The family home, its contents and a car were left to the widow along with a generous monetary bequest. No one seemed surprised, but Sam showed signs of envy.
“Section J, Henry Nolan, “Glassman intoned before pausing. “To my brother, Henry Nolan, I leave twenty thousand dollars in cash and ten thousand shares of common stock in the company.”
Nancy Nolan, a cousin gasped. Sam Herman bellowed, “I will contest the will. Send a copy to my lawyer.” No one except the widow expected this.
“Please, ladies and gentlemen,” Glassman said in a tone that spoke of authority. When the room quieted, he continued. “Section K, my two sons. Each of my sons, Rex Nolan, Junior and John Nolan, shall each receive an immediate cash bequest of five thousand dollars. My remaining shares of stock in the company and all undistributed cash shall be divided evenly between these two sons and held in a trust as defined in section L.
“Section L, the trust benefiting my sons. A trust shall be set up for the benefit of each son. All stock and funds bequeathed to each son shall be held in trust until they reach their twenty-first birthday. My brother, Henry Nolan, shall be the sole trustee for said trusts. He shall invest and administer the funds and vote the stock as he sees fit to the eventual benefit of Rex, Junior and John.”
Sam turned red and shook his fist, but under a stern look from Glassman, he remained silent.
Glassman went on to read provisions dealing with other trusts and procedures for distributing some of the bequests. Other benefits and obligations were specified for Henry. The last section, of course, named me or another member of my firm as executor of the estate. Some heirs left quietly. Others talked among themselves before leaving. Two or three shook my hand and thank me and my firm for our assistance.
Half an hour later, I sat at my desk with Henry across from me. “I can’t do it. I can not accept terms of the will. You have put me in an untenable position,” he said.
“I have done nothing of the kind. The will expresses Rex’s wishes,” I replied.
“But you drafted it.”
“Of course. That’s my job to draft a will that expresses the wishes of the client. A year ago, Rex sat in the same chair you are in. He knew he was dying. We discussed how to distribute his fortune and how best to pass on command of Antigo Food Products. He pondered many possibilities and finally decided that you and several other family members are qualified, but only you have the honesty and moral character to lead the company successfully so that there will be a company to turn over to one of his sons when they are ready.”
“But I’m a failure, a college dropout. I went broke in Asia.”
“And you learned from the experience.”
“When I set out to conquer the world, I asked for a chunk of money as a grubstake. Dad gave me half his net worth. When I became comptroller, I was shocked to see how he had raided the corporate coffers to pay me.”
I chuckled, “Yes, I know. I helped him do it, the old pirate.”
“Then I squandered all that money. I am not worthy of becoming CEO as specified in section N of the will.”
I made a tent with my fingers and leaned back in my chair. “Then who is worthy? Would you rather see Sam become CEO or your cousin, Becky?”
“Sam may have a degree in accounting, but all he has no leadership talent. Thank God that Dad found someone else to take over as comptroller when I left. As for Becky, she is an out and out thief. She’d make sure at least some of the cash flow goes into her bank account. One of these days she will be caught and end up in jail.”
I leaned across my desk. “To repeat myself, Rex thought that only you have the moral character to lead the company.”
“He’s wrong. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. Take back the money and the stock per the provisions of Section N. Find another trustee for the boys’ trusts.”
“So you’re willing to forfeit the entire bequest?”
“Yes. I will remain an inventory clerk. At least there is no risk of failure in that.”
I picked up a file folder. “Are you satisfied with your wife’s care at the mental hospital on Roosevelt Island?”
“I’d like something better for her, but it’s out of the question.”
“Section P of Rex’s will would pay for private treatment.”
“How did Rex know my wife is mentally ill?”
“Somehow he chased you down and discovered that your wife is a patient in the city’s mental hospital. He thought that was further evidence of your moral character. You could have just dumped her, but you didn’t.”
“But the trust fund in section P disappears with everything else if I don’t take over the reins of the company.”
I sat back in my chair relaxed. “Rex thought you would need some persuasion to become CEO. There is a small private residential clinic outside of Antigo.”
Henry frowned. “Yes, I am familiar with the Schneider Sanitarium. They’re good, but even on the CEO’s salary, I would be pressed financially if I placed my wife there.”
“That is why Rex asked me to set up the trust in section P to cover medical expenses for your wife. I took the liberty of asking Schneider’s medical director to review your wife’s records. He thinks there is a good prognosis if your wife gets some intense, individual therapy. The Schneider facility happens to have an open bed. Everything has been tentatively arranged. If you agree, we can put you and your wife on a flight out Thursday and get her checked in that afternoon.”
“You put me in the position of the captain of the Titanic charging through the ice field at full speed. I won’t take the risk. I don’t want to be responsible for the demise of Antigo Food Products.”
“So you’d rather put one of your incompetent cousins at the helm. Sam perhaps?”
“At least I wouldn’t bear the responsibility.”
“Rex didn’t think you would fail, and Rex was sure you would want better care for your wife.”
“Rex could always beat me at chess. I feel like his rook and bishops have my king cornered.”
I folded my hands across my chest. “Checkmate.”
Hank was silent for a moment. “God help Antigo Food Products. What do I need to do to become CEO?”
“Sign where indicated.” I passed a pen and a folder of documents across the desk. “You will arrive Thursday evening after checking your wife into the clinic. The board of directors is prepared to meet Monday morning to elect you the new CEO. Rex set that up before he died.
Henry began reading and signing documents. I made a phone call to give my secretary instructions. As Henry signed he began to sit straighter with a look of determination on his face.
Between documents, Henry said, “I’m broke. Can I get an advance?”
“My secretary will be in momentarily with an envelope containing a check for twenty thousand dollars and your airline tickets. You know, your father was somewhat like God.”
“Yeah, he liked to be in control.”
“Yes, he did, but I was thinking about how he was ready to forgive you even after you demanded your inheritance and then squandered it. He took you back. God takes us back when we sin.”
“Yes, Dad forgave me when I didn’t deserve it. That is like God.”
Henry signed the last document with a flourish, took the envelope from my secretary’s hand and gave me a firm handshake. “Thank you for your encouragement. If the ship sinks, it won’t go down without a fight.”
Time passed as I wrote and administered other wills. The economy became unstable. Interest rates rose. I would have worried about the financial health of Antigo Food Products were I not so busy with my law practice.
Five years later, Glassman entered my office with a magazine. “Do you remember the Nolan will?”
“Rex Nolan’s will?”
“That’s the one.”
“The strangest will I ever drafted. They don’t teach one in law school how to force an heir to accept an bequest.”
Glassman threw the open magazine on my desk. There on the page before me was a photo of Henry Nolan with his wife at his side. The article told how Henry had lead the highly leveraged company out of debt and then doubled its size.
Copyright 2012 by Reynold Conger. All rights reserved. My readers are given permission to use this story for non-commercial purposes. Those desiring to publish this story or otherwise make use of this story for profit may send requests to Reynold Conger at CongerNM@msn.com.