“Rosebud” was the last thing he said, but what did it mean? What was Charles Foster Kane, one of the most successful, most detested, and most envied business men in the country, thinking in those last few minutes? Jedediah Leland, the reporter friend on the The Inquirer set out to find the answer. He wasn’t as good an investigative reporter as he thought, as he missed many leads, though admittedly false ones.
When he was sixteen, Charles ran away from his strict school, his uncaring father and his over-protective mother. He wanted space. He found it in the great wide open spaces of Arizona. Twenty dollars in his pocket and all he could earn from wiping tables. He rode the box cars, got thrown out of the box cars, travelled further and further from civilised life, finally reaching the little town. There he begged a job in the cafe that sold good coffee and bad cooking. He wiped the tables, swept the floors, cleaned the bathrooms, took out the garbage and unblocked the sinks. He worked from 8am to 8pm with a break for lunch if he was lucky. And he was in heaven.
He worked hard; at first, his well-turned accent made locals suspicious, but he worked hard and slowly won them over. He was enjoying it. That day, that last day, he was up on the bluff above the town watching a dawn breaking over the desert; slowly the black land turned red, then golden, and finally yellow as the burning sun bleached the colour out of the land again. When he returned, there was a suited man in dark glasses in the cafe drinking a black coffee. He nodded at Charles who nodded back. Charles knew why he was here, he knew how the world worked. He thought of running but realised he’d just be delaying the inevitable. “You know who I am?”
“Sent by your ... parents”
“You mean my mother! Father wouldn’t employ anybody to find me, he’d wait to see if I’d come back”
“Whatever. You have to come back”
And so his escape to a new life ended.
He remembered Rhodes Butt for a long time; but it wasn’t a misheard remembrance of a happier time that people heard.
At thirteen, he met his cousin. She was sent out from Boston in disgrace. She had told the Senator exactly what she thought of his politics, of his greed, his support of the rich against the poor. She was an independent soul; even a thrashing wouldn’t change her mind. She wouldn’t even apologise; she didn’t understand the bigger picture. Like the fact that Senator Murphy could ruin the family by stopping all government contracts. Or even arrange for her to have an accident if she didn’t apologise. She was sent to live with her mother’s sister. They weren’t keen, but seemed to have no choice really. When she arrived, his father told her firmly not to make trouble with their local politicians.
It wasn’t long before Charles and her were getting on well. Both found the environment they lived in stultifying; they wanted to get free. Their common ground drew them together, even if they would never, ever have been soul mates.
They would talk of how awful their lives were, how their parents were trying to re-creating them in their own image, how their lives were hemmed in and controlled from morning until night; never once considering that the lives of those beyond their privilege and wealth were similarly hemmed in and controlled by circumstance with none of the benefits of three good meals a day, clean clothes to wear or clean air to breathe. They were typical of that breed that would eventually be called ‘teenager’; they were just ahead of their time.
Still, that did not mean that Rose Tremaine had not been correct in what she had said to the venal Senator.
They took to visiting the art gallery and, since it was a public place, no objection was made to them going alone. The library would have restricted the books they could borrow; the art gallery could hardly establish adult only sections. The Greek statues were nude, and, though the males had been modified by a skewed morality, naked buttocks were still very much in evidence. Rose was surprised that they had no penises, they had clearly all been removed. Since their fingers and other extremities were often intact, it seemed unlikely that it was their antiquity that had damaged them. Rose began to ask Charles what his looked like.
In the pictures there were plenty of nudes women, though few enough men – though there were several chubby cherubs with small organs between their legs. It did not do to stare as the curators would shoo you out; but walking slowly past gave ample time to example the large hips and thighs, the heavy breasts and the lack of any apparent pubic hair. For many years he assumed that only men grew hair there. Charles began to wonder what real ones would look like, and even what they would feel like.
On one notable occasion he was nearly caught by his father stroking himself as he thought of his cousin’s breasts. The lower area looked distinctly uninteresting in the paintings, but the upper swellings attracted his interest hugely. If he had been caught he would have been beaten mercilessly. He proposed to Rose that she show him hers so he might no longer need to fantasise; never realising that they would feed rather than quell his ardour.
Finally they came to an agreement, he would show his penis and genitals if she would show her breasts. He had to go first and, in the half hour of quiet time before dinner, when the adults were dressing and the servants were all rushing in the kitchen, he dropped his trousers for her to see. She was delighted and fascinated by the erect and solid phallus which appeared as a result of being stared at by a girl.
And so she unbuttoned her dress and allowed it to drop, showing her young breasts. Rose smiled and said “Mother called them my buds; said I was budding into a ripe fruit”
He reached out and touched Rose’s buds, his first experience of the female sex. He remembered that first stroke of a girl’s breast all his life, the soft, smooth silk-like feel of her lovely, but ever so small, breast.
But it wasn’t Rose’s buds he was thinking of when he uttered those words.
As a rich young man, he had lots of opportunities to take advantage of the women around him. One such woman who came into his orbit was Rosa Budlinskaya. Fleeing from the Soviet menace with little more than her clothes, she arrived and took whatever job she could to get by. She found herself in the Kane household. It was only temporary of course. Soon she would find her feet; she was intelligent, well-educated, she could speak five languages fluently, and two more poorly. She was also pretty and young.
He was nineteen when she came to work for them, and she was twenty five. As first she found the work hard but she kept at it and her temporary contract became permanent – at least as far as Mrs Kane was concerned, Rosa was still sure she would find better things. Charles began to notice her when she was kneeling, black leading the hearth. He began to make sure he was in the right place when she came in to work. At first she did not notice this, then she started to find it uncomfortable. But what could she say? She could hardly complain the young master Kane was in the same room as her when she worked.
She tried to ignore it, but found it difficult. Still she could say nothing.
One day the house was oddly quiet. Mr Kane was at work of course, Mrs Kane was paying a social call. The housekeeper was complaining to the laundry, the cook was negotiating with the grocer. The butler was down the road in the bar for a swift one whilst the master and mistress were out. The house was quiet. Rosa entered the parlour to clean the grate and Charles did an unforgiveable thing, he grabbed her and said “Give me a kiss Rosa, my lovely. You are quite, quite lovely”
“Master Kane!” she pushed at him. He leant in and planted a kiss on her lips. SLAP! A stinging flat hand hit his cheek “How dare you!”
He retreated, dismayed. What if she complained? Her mistake was to assume that was the end of the matter. She bent down and began the work with the black lead. He sat in his chair and sulked, ruefully rubbing his cheek. Slowly, as slowly as continental drift, his mood changed from chagrin to anger. How dare she slap him! She could complain all she liked, he’d simply deny it. There were no witnesses. No witnesses!
He advanced towards her, intent on revenge, but not sure what until he got there. Then he started to lift her skirts.
“What?! What are you doing?”
“You have teased me long enough, you minx. You do it deliberately I bet. I only wanted a kiss ... yes, yes, only a kiss ... now I want more. I shall have you and you know you want it really, else you wouldn’t shake your rear end so inticingly” This was unfair, she was rubbing hard, with her whole body, her bottom was bound to shake. She fought, but it was a losing battle. Already in the receiving position, all he had to do was hold her there and lift her skirts.
Still, the fighting was fun; both fought with a minimum of noise. Even if the house was not empty they would not want to be discovered like this. She would be instantly dismissed, he would be sent away, no doubt. Her fighting made him firmer and more erect.
Finally the target appeared from all the material. She begged him not to, but his blood was up and he forced himself upon her. After, she cried, then she left. Five years later she was sent by the agency to fill in a gap. Still she was working as a domestic servant, as a lady’s maid now, not a skivvy. The family did not recognised Rosa Budd as Rosa Budlinskaya and once again she got taken on as permanent. She stayed when the parents died and continued her work. Although it was not her poison, administered slowly to weaken him, that killed him, it would have done in time. She had waited a long while, then she had acquired the poison and begun to poison her employer. There, in that bedroom, as he lay dying, he, Charles, suddenly realised why he had been feeling so grim? Perhaps he recognised an evil glint of satisfaction in the faithful old woman’s face?
If so, if he had recognised her, that wasn’t the reason he said something like her name at the last.
The child became the man, and the man became his father. Ruthless, driven, greedy. Being rich wasn’t enough, being powerful wasn’t enough. He had started to expand his interests.
“The bloody Glazers have just bought fucking Manchester United! And Kroenke owns most of Arsenal. What the fuck! Why don’t I own one?”
“A bloody English football team. Everybody has one, every dago, Some Sheikh owns the other Manchester team, rangers, or something. I bet even ISIS have bought a team! What do I have to do? Why haven’t I got a team? Who’s for sale?”
His P.A. said he didn’t know.
“Well fucking well find out! What do I pay you for?”
A day later, twenty four hours of calls and faxes and he had found a team. Tottenham Hotspur could be purchased for the right price.
“Well buy it then. What the friggin hell is a Hotspur?”
And that was how the Kane family bought Spurs. Proudly he flew over to see a game, to be welcomed as the new owner. He arrived in his Bentley (kept in London for the occasional visits to his British investments) and the booing started. “Spurs is not for sale” said the first banner he saw. Others questioned his parentage, even the humanity of his mother.
“How dare they! How dare these bastards suggest my mother was a ... a...”
“I know, it’s unacceptable. I can only apologise” said the manager “They’ll come back”
“No, no. I OWN THIS COMPANY, I MEAN THIS TEAM! I OWN IT. They are just the fucking – what is it? They are just the fans. I OWN IT. THEY ARE MINE!
And I hate that strip. White and blue? Just boring. I’m getting my design team on the job.”
The manager was speechless, no amount of explanation or reasoning would shift Charles Foster Kane. He would change their strip and ignore the history behind the colours they wore.
The designers came up with three suggestions – Orange and Black Hoops (we can call them the bumblebees!), Lime Green (the Limeys! Cos they are from England see?) or pink (no, it isn’t pink, it’s Rosebud). “I’ll leave you to decide sir”
When he said those last words, maybe he was selecting the new team strip for Spurs, the finest team in the western world. But he wasn’t.
At fifteen he had shown great promise as an engineer. His father had even encouraged him for a while. Had let him buy an old broken heap of junk. A motorbike. It would take ages to repair but would teach him something about hard work. Charles set to, reading all the books on internal combustion from the library.
He had used his allowance to buy tools and a manual and carefully dismantled the bike even more. His father laughed that he was making it worse, not better; but he knew that to fix something – a machine, a business, or even a relationship – you had to know how it works; sometimes you had to break it down to build it up. One day he would eclipse his father in business because of that understanding, though he never managed to apply it successfully to his personal life.
He cleaned the parts that needed cleaning, reamed the jets, greased the bearings and painted the frame. His father had left him to it and didn’t see the bike coming back together, didn’t see the test runs in the garden. The first time his father saw the motorbike was when he went to the police station to collect his son, stopped for racing with the Angels (who were amused at this young lad turning up on his bike) on the highway. He could have been charged with being underage, not having a licence, not having passed a test, not having insurance. His father smoothed the problem over with a large donation to the station’s entertainment fund (these days we’d call it a bribe), sold the bike for scrap – deliberately to punish the boy, let him see the bike broken up, and banned him from ever riding a bike again. When he was 21 he bought a Harley and pointedly went to work every day on it for three years.
A year later, not long after the running-away incident, he went to his father with a drawing. His father, no engineer, did not understand it. “It’s a valve, father. It would be much more effective and efficient. It...”
“Very, good, very good. Leave it there, I’ll take a look”
A couple of days later, Charles found it in his father’s paper bin. Screwed up and thrown away. His father didn’t understand it and didn’t want to.