The Phoenix Partners

by SDC97230

Copyright© 2018 by SDC97230

Drama Story: The wealthy and powerful play games with peoples lives, and crush those who stand in the way of what they want. But sometimes, just sometimes, they lose.

Tags: Fiction   Crime   Tear Jerker   Workplace   Cheating   Revenge  

Many thanks to SBrooks for his invaluable advice and editing. If there’s anything that still doesn’t work, it’s probably something I chose not to follow his suggestion about.

Rose Valley, Oregon, population 1134, is located about two hours southeast of Portland at the eastern edge of the Mount Hood National Forest. Rose Valley is home to the Maitland Mills, a specialty supplier of natural, organic and heirloom grain-based products. Founded in 1907, the Mills were handed down through three generations of the Maitland family before becoming an employee-owned company in 1996. At the beginning of the 21st century, The Maitland Mills employed 420 people, providing 60% of Rose Valley’s jobs, with the rest of the town’s economy mostly supported by the income from those jobs.

My name is Geoffrey Lee, and Rose Valley is where I was born and raised. You may have noticed that I didn’t say it’s “my home,” or “my home town,” or any of the other things people say when they talk about places they live or used to live and have warm feelings of love or nostalgia for. And therein lies my story.

My older brother Paul and I weren’t officially considered “mill kids,” because our parents weren’t employees of the Maitland Mills. Mom and Dad owned and operated - and Mom still owns and operates - Lee’s Garden, the town’s only Chinese restaurant, across the street and a block south from City Hall.

Lee’s Garden was opened in 1947 by our grandparents. Grandpa was the scion of a successful Portland restaurant family, and after he returned from service in WWII he and my grandmother were ready to open their own place. Rather than start yet another restaurant in Portland’s Chinatown, they chose Rose Valley. Why here? Because the town didn’t have a Chinese restaurant, and with his fellow servicemen coming home from the Pacific theater after being exposed to the cuisines of places like Japan, China, the Philippines, etc., Grandpa saw opportunity outside the big city.

At first, the restaurant was called “Lee’s Chinese and American.” Grandma and Grandpa bought a downtown coffee shop from Fred and Mary Peterson, an elderly couple ready to retire, and added a selection of Cantonese dishes to the Peterson’s existing menu. They held onto longtime customers by keeping everyone’s favorite items, especially Mary Peterson’s fried chicken, which Mary herself used to come in every Friday to make until Grandma had the recipe down (Mary’s Chicken is still on the dinner menu every Friday night, by the way). At first Grandma and Grandpa lived in one of the apartments upstairs from the restaurant, but when my Dad was born the family built a tea garden and house behind the restaurant. When Grandpa passed away and Grandma retired, Mom and Dad took over running the restaurant while Paul and I spent most of our after-school time in the house under Grandma’s watchful eye. Grandma passed away when I was a senior in high school and Paul was in his third year at Portland State University.

My “girl next door” was Kathy O’Haney. Her father, Pete, was a deputy with the county sheriff and her mother, Rose, supplemented Pete’s salary by working a few hours a day at Lee’s Garden. The O’Haneys actually lived next door to our grandparents’ house, not the restaurant, but since Paul and I were at the house most afternoons after school and all day on weekends, close enough. When I was eight and Kathy was starting the first grade, our parents assigned Paul and me to walk her to and from school. One day when she got home she told her mother, “I’m going to marry Geoff when I grow up,” and from that day on, nothing ever happened to convince our parents that anything different was going to happen.

Kathy and I were best friends in grammar school, went steady in high school, and during my first two years away from home at PSU spent as many weekends and holidays as we could together. It was during one of my visits home (for Kathy’s senior prom), that we gave each other our virginities. As soon as Kathy graduated high school she showed up in Portland as a PSU freshman.

In June of 2001, Paul passed the Oregon Bar, Kathy received her Bachelor’s in Accounting, I added an MBA to the Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering I had received two years earlier and we all came home to Rose Valley to begin our new jobs. Paul became an associate to a local general practice attorney, Kathy signed on as a junior accountant in the Maitland finance department, and I went to work as an engineer in the Maitland Operations department, which managed the company’s production, quality control, packaging and distribution. Kathy and I had been “unofficially engaged” ever since that day she had first declared her intention to marry me when we grew up. When we returned home we made our engagement official, ring and all, and we tied the knot that September.

In December of 2001, Pete O’Haney was struck and killed by a car while assisting a stranded motorist. A few months after that our dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and even though it was caught early, it didn’t seem to respond to treatment. We lost him just before Thanksgiving. Faced with the prospect of living alone in their houses next door to one another, our moms decided to become roommates. Mom moved in with Kathy’s mom, Kathy and I moved down from our apartment over the restaurant (Paul was living in the other one) to the house and my cousin Zhen from Portland moved into the apartment and became the restaurant’s new chef.

Our mothers insisted that Kathy and I shouldn’t put off starting our family any further. I think planning for the birth of their new grandchild gave them something to keep their minds off our losses of the previous year. Our daughter Callie entered the world on November 24, 2003. She was perfect.

Rose Valley had always seemed isolated from the ups and downs of the national economy. No matter what was going on in other economic sectors, people still needed what the Maitland Mills produced. The first downturn of the 21st century was no exception to this. But soon after, another economic monster came upon the scene: unregulated mortgages. Our town wasn’t a fertile field for the McMansions that grew like a fungus across much of the country; the mill’s employee management board kept a tight rein on the company’s growth to avoid the kind of boom and bust hiring and layoff cycles that seemed to characterize employment in the modern world, and we were too far from the nearest center of growth to be a commuter bedroom community. But mortgage refinancing was another matter. Homeowners were bombarded with offers to refinance homes at amazingly low interest rates, and those who responded found their homes appraised at higher values than they had ever thought possible. Americans became enamored with the miraculous concept of using their homes as ATMs, and the citizens of Rose Valley were as susceptible to the epidemic as everyone else.

In 2008 the bubble burst. America discovered that predatory lenders had targeted borrowers who could never make their payments when low rates didn’t stay low, that corrupt appraisers had deliberately overvalued homes and that banks were hiding bad loans by “bundling” them with good ones into securities that were knowingly being overrated. Borrowers in Rose Valley, as in the rest of America, found themselves buried in debt and their homes sinking deeper and deeper underwater. And that was when the worst predator of all made his appearance.

His name was Troy Tenneson. Multimillionaire president of Tenneson Equity Partners, a private equity firm that acquired small companies and “regrew” them, and he seemed to appear as if by magic during the worst of the mortgage crash. To Rose Valley homeowners being hounded by lenders threatening foreclosure on their underwater mortgages, Tenneson Equity’s offer to buy the Maitland Mills was like throwing life preservers to the passengers of the Titanic.

The company quickly divided into two camps, for and against accepting the buyout offer. I was among those who argued against. Congress and both candidates in the Presidential election were already starting to talk about passing some sort of debt relief, and it seemed premature to be jumping from using homes as ATMs into doing the same with the town’s primary source of jobs. And the amount offered was lower than most business analysts thought the company should be worth. But most of all, to be blunt, Tenneson was a swaggering, arrogant son of a bitch, and there was something about him and his people that simultaneously pissed me off and made my skin crawl.

But the money being offered, divided amongst the employee owners, would be enough for people to get out from under. Most of the proceeds people received would go to the lenders, but their loans would be paid off. And Tenneson and his partners offered all sorts of optimistic projections about how much they could grow the company and bring “real growth” to Rose Valley’s “stagnant” local economy. Those of us who opposed the sale were outvoted, and at the end of October, 2008, the 102-year history of the Maitland Mills as a locally owned and operated Rose Valley company came to an end and the company became Maitland, Inc.

Problems began almost as soon as the new management was in place. Local family farmers who had sold to Maitland for generations found themselves forced to lower their prices or lose sales to out-of-state-suppliers, and even if they agreed, payments took longer and longer. Production was ordered to increase speed, and quality inspectors were overruled when they wanted to halt the lines to fix problems. Even the packaging started coming from unfamiliar sources, and was of cheaper quality. Distributors and retail outlets started complaining about product quality. But month after month, Finance kept reporting a healthy increase in sales and profits, so nothing was ever done. The new management said it was just a reflection of the degree to which the old Maitland had “gold plated” its products to the point where they weren’t bringing in an “optimal return on investment.”

It just didn’t make sense to me. How could management that was just so obviously ... stupid ... be running the company profitably? Maybe it was because I had grown up watching Robert Maitland and my father throwing back shots of single malt and rice baiju every Friday night as a kid, or the sage advice both men had given Paul and me during our teen years about never giving anything less than our best efforts, or maybe it was the little voice in my head that kept telling me that what we were being told just didn’t make any sense, but keeping my mouth shut and my head down while the Tenneson management turned what used to be a high quality line of products into utter crap just didn’t sit well with me. I persisted in raising issues, and as time passed the idea of walking away from a job I found myself less and less able to take pride in and joining Mom in running Lee’s Garden was starting to sound better and better to me.

The worst thing about what was happening at Maitland was that Kathy didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong. Okay, so the quality of our product wasn’t what it used to be. Maybe consumers really didn’t care if their flours and meals were made from lower quality ingredients, weren’t as consistently milled as they used to be and weren’t as well packaged as they used to be. After all, sales hadn’t suffered and revenues were actually up, weren’t they?

“We’re not owners anymore, Geoff,” Kathy would say, “We just put in a day’s work and collect our checks now. Unless you keep stirring things up the way you are.”

The less said about Kathy’s reaction to my thoughts about quitting Maitland in favor of the restaurant the better. They weren’t pretty. As time passed there was less and less shop talk between us. But Callie was a good listener, even if her “solution” to all of Daddy’s sad moments was a tea party with dolls.

January of 2009 saw the inauguration of a new President. A month later, federal programs were passed to modify and refinance troubled home mortgages to reduce payments and foreclosures. Economists and politicians still argue about whether these programs were successful, so I won’t say that Rose Valley’s mortgage foreclosure crisis could have been resolved without the employees of Maitland Mills cashing out their ownership of the company. But to this day, the fact that we couldn’t persuade them to try still sticks in my craw.

By the time the summer of 2009 was over it had become obvious that the economy wasn’t in just another recession. The domestic uncertainty of “the war on terror,” two foreign wars, the near-crash of the stock market, the bursting of the housing bubble and the epidemic of mortgages gone bad had been labeled “The Great Recession,” and America was hemorrhaging jobs. So it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone that despite continuing to report record sales and profits, layoffs came to Maitland for the first time since the Great Depression of the 1930s. There was a lot of big talk from management about how the reductions would “hopefully” not be long term and about severance “benefits,” but it did not go unnoticed that the 30% or so of Maitland’s employees who lost their jobs consisted almost exclusively of those who had voted against the selloff to Tenneson Equity Partners the year before, and shown reluctance to “go along to get along” with the new management.

“So you’ll get your wish about becoming kitchen help after all,” Kathy sneered as we waited for my turn at the guillotine. Her tone was anything but sympathetic; if anything, it was mocking. I let it pass. There was just no point in another of “those” exchanges. My time was better spent with Callie and her dolls.

By the time my call from HR came, I was ready to leave.

“Never mind the separation benefits speech, Sharon” I told the HR manager as I walked into her office, “I’m not going to sign the nondisclosure agreement or the release of claims waiver. Just hand me the state-mandated checks for my last week and my unused vacation and get my COBRA forms into the mail and I’ll be on my way.”

“I’m sorry, Geoff.” Sharon said sadly. Sharon Metcalf had been Maitland’s HR manager since before I had joined the company. A usually smiling woman about my Mom’s age, she was the company’s unofficial “den mother,” and like me had voted against the Tenneson buyout. I had no doubt that she felt just as bad about what was happening to the company as I did. “But there’s a lot I’m supposed to go over with you...”

“Well, what are they going to do to me if I refuse to sit through it?” I asked with a shrug, “Fire me?”

“Save a place for me on the unemployment line?” Sharon sighed as she handed me my severance packet. She obviously expected that once she had delivered everyone else’s, there’d be one for her as well.

“Come by the restaurant when you don’t have to worry about being accused of fraternizing with the enemy anymore,” I told her, “Dinner and an umbrella drink on me.”

“Deal.” We shook on it, and she even kissed me on the cheek before I left.

I had removed all the personal property I wanted to keep from the office weeks ago, so I just said, “let’s go” to the security guard whose task it was to escort me from the building, got into my car and headed for Callie’s school. A tea party with dolls sounded like just what I needed right about now.

I got to the school as classes were breaking for lunch, and after stopping in at the office to arrange a “family emergency” release for the rest of the school day, buckled Callie into her car seat and headed for home. Kathy didn’t answer her phone when I called, so I had no idea if she knew I’d been walked out the door. I made a quick call to let the grandmas know that they wouldn’t need to pick Callie up after school as they usually did, headed for home and figured we’d all have a family meeting about it when Kathy got home.

Something didn’t “feel right” when we got home. Maybe I just wasn’t used to seeing the house empty, especially at midday. Or maybe that day everything in the world just felt “not right.” It wasn’t as if the house had been stripped or there were drawers or closet doors left open. I’ll probably never know why it felt the way it did.

But the note on the kitchen table left no doubt about what “wasn’t right”:

You had to do it. You just couldn’t let it go and now you’re fired. I’m not going to end up supporting your dream of being kitchen help. I’m leaving you for someone who can do better for me and Callie. You can keep everything. I don’t want any of it. Don’t bother to look for us. We’re gone and you’ll never find us. Sign the papers when you’re served and don’t make problems, or you’ll never see your daughter again.

“Crap,” I muttered to myself, and hit Paul’s speed dial.

“Paul, I got fired today and Kathy’s gone. She left a note that says she’s taken Callie and if I don’t sign divorce papers I’ll never see her again, but I picked Callie up before I came home and she’s with me.”

“Get out of there right now, Geoff,” Paul said, “Don’t wait for the papers. You and Callie come to the office, and make sure you bring that note with you.”

Twenty minutes later, I was sitting at a conference table with Paul and his boss, Alex Benson, while Alex’s PA was keeping Callie entertained.

“You’ve thrown a monkey wrench into your wife’s plan,” Alex told me, “You were supposed to be sitting in an exit interview while she took Callie and left, probably for somewhere out of state.

“Any idea who this ‘someone who can do better’ is?” Paul asked.

“Not a clue,” I said, “My guess is that it’s one of those out-of-town managers that Tenneson brought in to run the mills, but she’s never mentioned any of them by name.”

“What about her threat?” Paul asked, “Can she do that? Keep Geoff from seeing Callie?”

“If she’d managed to get her out of state, maybe,” Alex said, Kathy’s note in his hand, “But she’s shot herself in the foot with this.

“The state of Oregon, like most other states, makes custody decisions based on which parent represents ‘the best interests of the child.’ Unlike some other states, however, Oregon law specifically bars basing that decision on whether the parent is the mother or the father.

“Is one of you the primary caregiver?”

“We’ve both always worked,” I replied. “I drop Callie off at school every morning. One of our mothers picks her up after school and they both look after her until we get home from work.”

“Either of you ever abused the other, verbally or physically, or abused Callie?”

“No, and we practically live with our family, so there’s no way anything like that could happen without them knowing.”

“Now that you’ve lost your job, will you have financial issues supporting a child?”

“I’ve always had a fallback in the family business. And if Callie is living here, she’s got two grandmothers for a support system.”

“And an uncle,” Paul added.

“Then the biggest factors the court will consider will be ‘attitude of parents toward the child,’ and ‘the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child.’ And this,” Alex said, waving Kathy’s note, “Is going to be Kathy’s kryptonite. Threatening to withhold access to a child to force your spouse to sign divorce papers will be the opposite of encouraging a close and continuing relationship in the eyes of the court.”

And so we filed a counterclaim, arguing that Kathy’s plan to abscond with our daughter and use threats to withhold visitation to extort my signature on the divorce papers, a plan that was only thwarted by my unexpected early departure from being terminated from my job, was evidence that granting her any form of custody was not “in the best interests of the child.” The court granted me temporary custody pending a final decision, and we prepared to do legal battle.

The high-priced legal team that appeared in court to argue against us quickly revealed who Kathy’s “someone who can do better” was.

Troy Tenneson. But you saw that coming didn’t you?

I’ve already told you my opinion of Troy Tenneson. He thought he was smarter, richer and more powerful than you, so you should just lay down and let him walk all over you. Or rather, let those he hired to walk all over you do their jobs, because walking all over you himself was beneath him. But where our divorce was concerned, Tenneson’s wealth, his power and most importantly his attitude all ended up working against him.

Alex decided that Paul should take the lead and be my attorney of record while he served as advisor and took care of the rest of his and Paul’s clients. We’d be two brothers standing together against Tenneson’s school of legal sharks, a pair of Davids against an army of Goliaths. The sight of a half dozen lawyers in five thousand dollar suits showing up to try to steamroll over a small town lawyer representing a newly unemployed husband and father fighting for the daughter who was all he had left that could be taken from him rubbed the county judge in the family court the wrong way from day one. The fact that the newly unemployed husband and father was being divorced and sued for custody by a wife who had left him for the wealthy man who had so recently made the husband and father unemployed and was paying for the half dozen lawyers in five thousand dollar suits did nothing to relieve that first impression. When the mother of the wife who had left the newly unemployed husband and father angrily declared to the court that she would be happy to help her son-in-law care for her granddaughter but wanted nothing to do with her own daughter, some of those lawyers in five thousand dollar suits started to look nervous. And when copies of the wife’s “fuck you, loser kitchen help” farewell note threatening to keep the husband and father her lover had made newly unemployed from ever seeing his daughter again were distributed in court the half dozen lawyers in five thousand dollar suits looked as if they’d rather be anywhere else but in that county judge’s family court.

Ultimately, the judge took Kathy’s note at face value. She ruled that Kathy had relinquished all claim to our marital assets, not that there were all that many marital assets to claim; our house was in my mother’s name, as was the family business, so the assets consisted of our cars, IRAs and the contents of our savings and checking accounts. But most importantly, the judge agreed with Paul’s argument that Kathy’s threat was evidence of a negative attitude toward her own child and a clear unwillingness to “facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child,” and ruled that full custody of our daughter be awarded to me, and allowed Kathy unlimited visitation but under court-approved supervision. Kathy stared daggers at me as she left the courtroom, and Tenneson, who had shown up only on the last day of proceedings, probably expecting to bask in the triumph of my defeat and humiliation, had the shocked look of a hulking bully who had just been beaten by a 98 pound weakling.

We closed the restaurant that evening for a private celebration, though I seemed to spend most of the evening hugging a crying Rose O’Haney, thanking her for her support in court and assuring her that I didn’t feel that what Kathy had done was in any way her fault.

A couple of weeks after our divorce was final Kathy became the fourth Mrs. Troy Tenneson, and the “happy couple” made their home in Los Angeles. Kathy actually sent her mother a wedding invitation. Rose’s reaction was ... colorful, and became characteristic of their relationship from that point on.

Kathy flew back to Oregon in Tenneson’s private jet every week, but her visits with Callie became problematic. The court readily accepted Callie’s grandmothers as court approved supervision, but their home, the house Kathy’s parents had raised her in, proved to be unworkable as a visitation location. Kathy and her mother kept getting into screaming arguments every time Kathy visited, the last of which ended with Rose calling her daughter “an evil bitch she was ashamed had ever come from her womb,” and declaring that Kathy “should never again dishonor her sainted father’s memory by setting foot in his house.” We moved visitations to the restaurant, where we rearranged one of our two private dining rooms into a play space. Rose was more restrained in the presence of the staff and customers, but every time Kathy came, she took up a position at a table just outside the door, “just in case the bitch tries to do something she shouldn’t.”

My idea about going back to the restaurant turned out to be premature. The reality was that having grown up in the business there wasn’t all that much left for me to learn about running it, and until my mother was ready to retire, I wasn’t needed there full time. And since Mom’s opinion of retirement was that it was “waiting to die,” retirement wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. So when Marty Ball, my former boss from Maitland Operations who had been fired at the same time as me, stopped in one day to tell me that he and some of the other fired Maitland managers were getting together to talk about starting their own business and asked if I would be interested in joining them, my answer was an immediate, “Hell, yeah.”

The idea behind the new business, which we named “Phoenix,” after the mythical bird that erupts in flames as it dies and is reborn out of the ashes (we almost called it “Lazarus,” but someone had beaten us to the name, believe it or not) was to bring the suppliers who had been lowballed or dropped as vendors by the “new” Maitland together to form a cooperative. We’d produce a high-quality product, and market it to boutique natural food retailers who were increasingly refusing to carry the lower quality “new Maitland” products. Our foot in the door was that we were the management group from the “old” Maitland they used to have a good business relationship with

Since we didn’t have any “operations” to manage yet, and if we ever did Marty would manage them, I was tasked to apply my previously untapped MBA to devise a business plan we could present to banks to secure funding and a marketing plan to convince the people we wanted to bring together that we could actually sell what we proposed to produce. That was what I was working on the day the call came.

“Geoff!” Paul’s shouting voice came from my phone when I picked up, “Where are you?”

“Meeting in Pendleton,” I replied concerned at his tone, “What’s up?”

“Kathy tried to take Callie! Rose tried to stop her, and ... Rose and Callie are both in the hospital, it’s bad, Geoff, you have to get back here!”

“On my way!” I shouted, and quickly broke up my meeting and ran for my car. I was about seventy miles from home, and probably broke every speed limit there was along the quickest route back.

As I drove, Paul brought me up to speed. Kathy had arrived for her visitation as usual, in a big, fancy car with a driver, who always waited in the lounge while Kathy was with Callie. But at the end of the visit, Kathy grabbed Callie’s arm and started dragging her out the front door. Rose tried to stop them, but Kathy’s driver stepped up and blasted Rose in the face with pepper spray, and as Rose started screaming the two of them exited with Callie in tow.

Somehow, despite the searing pain and being nearly blinded by the chemicals in her eyes, Rose ran after them. When Callie saw her Gramma stumble and collapse in the street, she broke free from Kathy’s grasp and ran back toward Rose.

The driver of the truck wasn’t speeding, talking on his phone, texting or doing anything else he shouldn’t have been doing. But the realities of human reaction time and braking distance meant there was never any chance of swerving or stopping his huge, heavily loaded truck in time.

Much later, I would learn that the truck’s trailer was boldly emblazoned with the logo of “The NEW Maitland Mills.”

My mother-in-law, Rose Bridget O’Haney, died in the emergency room shortly after I arrived at the hospital. She was fifty-eight years old.

My daughter, Callie An Lee, lingered in a coma for eight days before her tiny body gave up fighting for life. She would have been seven in another month.

I “checked out” after that. I remember the doctor telling us Callie was gone. The next thing I knew, it was six days later and I was in the restaurant kitchen cutting up a chicken. It should have been disquieting to suddenly find myself with a razor-sharp cleaver in my hand and no memory of how it got there, or how I got where I was, but at the time it just didn’t seem to register. Apparently, Mom and Paul had sort of hovered over me and made sure I didn’t do anything to harm myself with sharp things as they waited for me to get hold of myself. I guess I did, but at the cost of not being able to feel much of anything for a very long while.

Arrangements were made for two more family funerals. I was surprised when I was informed that there were papers recently signed by Rose naming me as her next of kin for all legal matters and a will leaving everything to Callie and/or me, but it was something “Chinese-y” that Rose had picked up from spending so much time working and living with my Mom; I had married the daughter of a family with no sons, and Rose had disowned her daughter for leaving me. So the duty of making Rose’s final arrangements and disposing of her estate fell to me as Rose’s “son.”

I couldn’t live in the house anymore; there were just too many memories and they were all just too raw. I took Paul’s apartment, and he and cousin Zhen argued over who should take the house. Zhen prevailed by insisting that he had to be close to “his” kitchen, so Paul ended up being the one living alone in a three-bedroom house. Mom was technically living alone in Rose’s house, which was now legally mine, but she was spending most of her time in the restaurant or with me in my apartment and only going back to the house to sleep.

Kathy and her driver had been arrested at the scene the day of the accident when the restaurant staff and witnesses on the street told police what they had seen. The DA charged Kathy with “custodial interference in the first degree,” and her driver with “kidnapping in the second degree,” for their attempted abduction of Callie, and the driver with “assault in the third degree” for macing Rose, all felonies, which enabled her to charge them both with two counts of “felony murder” for the deaths of Rose and Callie. They were both facing mandatory prison sentences as high as 25 years, and when the DA had Paul and Alex appear at their arraignments to provide the judge with information about Kathy’s previous threat to take Callie and the fact that Kathy had left me for a multimillionaire from out of state and her driver was employed by that same person, both were deemed flight risks and denied bail pending trial.

“I need to tell you that they probably won’t be convicted on these charges,” the DA told us, “though I certainly think they’re guilty of them. The vast majority of cases like this end in plea bargains.”

“I don’t suppose there’s any chance of tying Tenneson to this,” Paul asked. “It had to be his money behind it.”

“I doubt it, but we could take a shot at offering them more generous plea bargains if they’ll implicate him.”

“If you think you can get them to do that, try,” I said, still devoid of emotion, “Otherwise, nothing you do can bring Rose or Callie back, and I don’t care.”

The DA proved to be correct. Neither Kathy nor the driver could implicate Tenneson, and they eventually entered guilty pleas to two counts of “second degree manslaughter.” With concurrent sentencing they’d be eligible for parole after serving the state mandated minimum sentence of six years and three months. I chose not to speak or submit a “victim’s statement” at either of their sentencing hearings. I’ve heard that some people feel a sense of satisfaction, justice or closure when those who have harmed them or those they love are sentenced. I felt nothing.

The first months after that were a blur. When I was working, whether in the restaurant or on Phoenix business, time seemed to fly by. When I wasn’t, it slowed to an interminable crawl. The nights were the worst, and sleep was hard to come by. I finally decided that flying by was better than crawling, and worked as much as I could. I was digging a hole in the tea garden to plant a new shrub when my phone rang.

“Hello,” said a female voice with an accent. French, I thought. “My name is Sofie Soulis. Am I speaking to Mister Geoffrey Lee of the Phoenix Group?”

“Yes, you are,” I replied. Soulis, named sounded familiar.

“I am calling for Mister Arnau Soulis. Mister Soulis would like to meet with you to discuss a partnership opportunity.” Arnau Soulis, that name I knew. Multi-billionaire Greek shipping magnate.

“Well,” I said, “I am not really the person you should be speaking to about a partnership with Phoenix.”

“We would prefer to discuss this with you first, for personal reasons.”

“Oh,” I said, unable to think of anything that a billionaire Greek shipping magnate would want to talk with me about for personal reasons. There were a few moments of dead air, and then another voice came on the line.

“Mister Lee, this is Arnau Soulis. I believe we have a common interest and may be able to be of assistance to one another...

“Troy Tenneson.”

Timberline Lodge is situated on the south side of Mount Hood, about 60 miles east of Portland. It was built and furnished by local artisans during the Great Depression under the sponsorship of the Works Progress Administration, and dedicated September 28, 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The lodge is a National Historic Landmark within the Mount Hood National Forest. If you saw Jack Nicholson in The Shining, the resort was the exterior of the “Overlook Hotel.”

I checked in three days after the call from Arnau Soulis, ostensibly needing to “just get away and clear my head” of my black cloud of sadness in Rose Valley. I didn’t mention to anyone that I’d be meeting someone else there. There was a message waiting for me at the front desk inviting me to dinner at one of the luxury condominiums at the nearby Lodge at Government Camp, and the lodge’s concierge had arranged for someone to drive me there and back.

Upon my arrival I was greeted by Arnau Soulis, a dapper looking elderly gentleman. Sofie Soulis, his companion, was a woman a few years older than me who bore no family resemblance whatsoever to Soulis and turned out to be his daughter-in-law. They both insisted we all use first names, and we sat down to be served a sumptuous dinner. All mention of business, whatever that was going to be, was deferred until after the dishes had been cleared away.

“Your recent experiences with Troy Tenneson are known to us,” Arnau finally began, “But I doubt that Sofie’s and my experience with the man are known to you.

“Troy Tenneson is responsible for the murder of my son, Armand,” Arnau flatly declared, “Sofie’s husband.”

Arnau Soulis was a man with a checkered past. The son of a Greek fisherman who had no wish to inherit his father’s life, he instead used his small fishing boat to carry cargo, almost none of it legal. In time, he owned a fleet of such boats. In more time, he owned a fleet of freighters and oil tankers. He was ambitious and ruthlessly avaricious in his pursuit of wealth ... until he met and married his wife, Manon.

Manon Soulis was a woman of compassion and charity. In order to win her love, Arnau had to put aside many of his ambitions and become “a good man” in her eyes. That meant no more illegal shipments, treating his workers, business partners and even his competitors fairly and, eventually, dedicating his vast fortune to attempting to make amends for the worst of his past sins. He funded the Soulis Foundation, with a mission to combat poverty and exploitation, and Manon raised their son Andre to share her passion for making that mission a success. Upon Manon’s death, the foundation became the Manon Soulis Foundation, and Andre was its chairman.

The foundation had become involved in the affairs of San Lorenze, a small, impoverished South American state whose government was negotiating a deal that would fund schools and hospitals for all its citizens. But the cost would be the granting of over a half-million acres of rainforest to an energy and mining cartel that would, over the next ten years, deforest almost all the land, turn it from an environmental treasure into a wasteland of oil fields and mining pits and displace the indigenous tribal peoples who made their homes there. It was truly a deal with the devil, but it was also the needs of the many today vs. those of the few and the future.

The foundation had submitted a competing proposal to fund those schools and hospitals. Not as many as the corporate land deal would provide, but enough to make the destructive land deal unnecessary. The president of the country was receptive, and Andre travelled to San Lorenze to join him for a summit with local officials and tribal leaders. Their aircraft dropped off radar over the rain forest, and soon after the vice president assumed the presidency. The aircraft’s disappearance was blamed on unidentified “ecoterrorists.” All discussions with the foundation were terminated without explanation, the deal with the cartel was rushed through and another rainforest was promptly signed away into oblivion.

The funder of the energy and mining cartel?

Tenneson Equity Partners. You saw that coming too, didn’t you?

“You believe that Troy Tenneson assassinated the president of San Lorenze and murdered your son?” I certainly had a low opinion of Tenneson, but this was far beyond my imaginings.

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