Then she remembered playing hide and seek with her mother out in the big garden as a little girl. That was the best of times. Of course by now, she realized that she had been a terrible hider. She could hide behind some small bushes or between the flower beds and be visible for miles in her white dress. As long as her mother pretended to be an even worse seeker, it worked. She would run around the garden without finding her. Her mother could almost stumble over her without finding her. Finally, she was found because she laughed so much that her mother could no longer pretend not to hear it.
But one day, she found a real hiding place, a place her mother would never find her. She had discovered some planks missing under the porch, creating an opening just wide enough for her to fit in. Her mother finished counting and she could hear the laughter in her voice as she started to search. Gradually, the laughter disappeared from her mother’s voice as she called out her name.
“Show yourself, please,” her mother pleaded.
She was reluctant to give away her good hiding place, but when she realized that her mother was crying, she came out. Her mother ran towards her and held her firmly in her arms. She couldn’t stop crying. They never played hide and seek after that. She was far too young to understand it, but somehow she understood. Her little family’s happiness balanced on a sharp edge.
Not knowing what could tip the family out of balance or what might happen if it did, she decided she had to always pay attention to her mother to be sure she didn’t do anything wrong. She was complimented for being such a good kid, but most of it was fear.
What had happened, she couldn’t tell. If it was something she had done, or someone else had done it. Or maybe it was bound to happen anyway. She couldn’t tell what made her little family tip over; she only knew that it tipped.
“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes…” the pastor recited. Ed Sanders stood on the other side of the coffin. His mum, Trudy, clenched his arm and dissolved in tears. Ed’s legs were about to give out; his vision was blurry and he had to swallow hard. Still he kept himself standing, both to support his mother, who right now relied on his support, and also because he had promised himself not to cry at his father’s funeral. It wasn’t even the death of his father that caused this reaction; it was the memory. Ed was suddenly sixteen years old all over again in this very same spot, listening to the very same words. The only difference was that under the flower-covered casket lay his little sister. She never reached her thirteenth birthday. Back then, he had not cried either, partly because he didn’t fully grasp the meaning of his sister being dead and partly because he blamed himself for what had happened. Now he knew too well what his sister’s death meant to him. He knew what it did to their family. They had been a tight family that did everything together, talked about everything, and despite Lucy’s illness, could laugh about everything. After she died, there were things they could not do and subjects they shouldn’t talk about. For Ed, his family had turned into a minefield, where he never knew what could cause tears or anger in his parents. As a sixteen year old, he didn’t know how much he would miss Lucy. Now he knew. He also knew that no sixteen-year-old brother could be blamed for his sister’s leukemia.
Had it been his sister’s funeral, he would have cried, louder than any, but it wasn’t. If he didn’t cry at his sister’s funeral, how could he cry at his father’s? It was not that he was indifferent about his father’s death. Or maybe that was exactly what he was. Not glad, but not really sad either. His father had been okay—as a matter of fact, he had been Ed’s hero when he was a kid. But something had changed when Lucy died. It was like he was held back and never given the chance to try. He had done everything that was expected from him, but still was not given a chance. Ed got an education in oil engineering so he could work in his father’s firm. He was more educated in the field than his father, but he was still kept on the floor. Now his dad had given him what he couldn’t as long as he lived. He had given him a chance to prove himself.
His mother let go of his arm, and he realized the pastor was done with his ceremony. People lined up to hug his mum and shake Ed’s hand. His mother had others to lean on, and Ed had regained his cool.
“Sorry for your loss, son.” Hoss Jennings, his only uncle on his mother’s side, grabbed hold of his arm just above the elbow and led him a few steps away from the others. They found shade under a nearby tree. Uncle Hoss had been his father’s right hand since he started his company. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to you for a minute.”
“Sure,” Ed said.
“It is your company now and I might as well say it sooner than later. We’re in the middle of a recession. The oil prices are down and the order books are almost empty. You have to let some people go.” Hoss tightened his grip on Ed’s arm. “I tried to tell your dad, but the stubborn fool wouldn’t listen.”
“My dad ran the company for forty years and he never even once cut off anyone, and now you’re telling me the first thing I should do is fire people?” Ed saw the others had moved off the lawn and headed towards the cars. “There have been rough times before, but he didn’t have to let anyone go.”
“That’s nonsense! We have never had it like this. The last time the oil prices were down, we didn’t have so many employees, and the oil investments weren’t slowing down like they are now.”
“Okay, I will look into it over the weekend.”
“You do that. If you let a hundred people go now, you can at least save the remaining hundred.”
Hoss patted him on his shoulder and he walked in silence back to the cars. Some way to create your legacy, Dad, Ed thought. “You set your own son up for a fall, you bastard,” Ed said towards the open grave before he caught up with his uncle.
Both mourning and celebration “Texas style” are the same. Basically, you bring your guns to the gun range. The bigger the celebration, the bigger the guns you bring out. It is the same thing on the other end of the scale. Celebrating the Fourth of July or mourning the loss of your father; both needed something with a kick. Stan was the gunman between them; the gun he didn’t own wasn’t worth having. Ed was more conservative. He had a pump action shotgun at his house for self-defense and two pistols; a Beretta and the lighter Glock 19. He sometimes shot his pistols at the range for target practice, but for occasions like this, he used his M16 assault rifle. Stan had already arrived, and Ed parked his pickup beside Stan’s black Chrysler 300.
“Ready for some action?” It had been Stan’s idea to spend a day at the gun range. Ed didn’t feel like he was particularly sad or angry or anything like that, but going to the gun range with Stan was a welcome change.
“Sure,” Ed replied and pulled his black canvas bag out of the truck.
The boy at the gate nodded as they showed their membership passes. Crackles of shots greeted them as they approached the range.
“Let’s go to the hundred yarder,” Stan said. Ed nodded. They greeted a couple with sniper rifles they passed at the two-hundred-yard range. They offered their condolences to Ed in return. At the hundred-yard-range, they placed their bags on one of the tables.
“Sure you don’t want something that kicks a bit today?” Ed said, holding his AK 47. The AK was a more powerful rifle and had a much heavier recoil than the M16. That also made it a rifle to be shot in more controlled small bursts.
“No thanks. I’ll stick with my M16,” Ed said. He found the M16 in the bag, took out one mag, put it in the rifle, and pulled the bolt. He put his weight behind the rifle to hold back the recoil and fired. One pull at the trigger and he emptied the whole mag into the target. “Your turn.”
Stan stepped up to the booth with his AK 47. Unlike Ed, he fired in controlled bursts, taking far longer to empty his mag.
As the noise of the Kalashnikov died out, they heard the ringing of Ed’s cell phone. He reached for it, but it stopped just before Ed reached to answer.
“Should I call him back, or should I consider this my day off?”
“Call back, and I’ll reload for both of us,” Stan said. He found a box of Ed’s standard NATO ammo and loaded the mag. Ed pressed redial.
“Hello,” the answer came almost immediately.
“This is Ed Sanders; did you try to reach me?” Ed said.
“I did. My name is Bryant and let me first offer my condolences.”
“Thank you,” Ed answered.
“And I presume I am now speaking with the executive of Sanders Oil Supply and Service?”
“You sure are, but the formalities of reading the will and such remain.”
“When that is done, how would you like to trade with the world’s largest oil company?”
“Saudi Aramco? As far as I know, they don’t trade with US-based companies,” Ed said. Everything he knew made him doubt this offer was real; then again, if it was real, it wouldn’t be a small order. Aramco didn’t do small.
“You’re well informed, but their subcontractors are not bound by Al Saud’s anti-Americanism. So, when Aramco needs something from the US, they go through a subcontractor. And I am an agent for this particular subcontractor.”
“My problem is that I don’t know about business in Saudi. And I don’t like to deliver merchandise worth millions of dollars to a company I’ve never heard of, issued by an agent I don’t know.”
“They will pay 40 percent up front. Will that drop any risk?”
“Send me an e-mail of what you need and I will give you a price during the weekend.”
“Good; you’ll have it in a matter of minutes,” Mr. Bryant said and hung up.
“This day is getting even better.”
“What?” Stan had just finished loading his AK for a new round.
“I might land a major deal during the weekend,” Ed said as he took the M16 up, pulled the bolt, flipped off the safety, and fired.