Charlie Westerman was just drifting off to sleep beside his wife. It had been a late night with difficult business decisions. He had cut some managers loose, disciplined others, and re-set the priorities among his minions. His instructions, rubber stamped by the Board and officers, would be drifting down, percolating through the organization, reaching the overseas branches in the Far East; being read now. Later, London would open to the news and then New York. Here, in the Valley, part of the great Los Angeles sprawl, his immediate staff would be the last to know.
He had just entered REM sleep when a disturbance in the ether startled him back to consciousness. His dark eyes fluttered open, trying to focus. Someone was sitting beside him on the bed, softly shaking him. Through the blur and illumination trickling from the bedroom window he made out the shape of Jay, the youngest.
“Dad, Dad. Wake up! I’ve got something to show you. It’s important. You must come look.”
Jay sounded excited. He tended to be an excitable young man. Just turned twenty and still living at home. Floundering around UCLA, trying to decide what the hell to do with his life. Recently distraught over a breakup with some Cuban princess Jay was too ashamed to bring home to meet the family. An artistic and sensitive soul like his mother. Charlie could see none of himself in the face of this young man staring down at him earnestly. Well, he thought, there wouldn’t be.
Jay would be a taker, never a producer. Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations. That’s what they said. Someone pulls himself up, makes a lot of money, is hugely successful through pure grit, hard work enormous focus. And then his children come along, the spenders, living lavishly under the father’s tent, spending their inheritance willy-nilly, accomplishing little.
As to their children, the grandchildren… well, it was back to the street for them. Back to shirt sleeves. Back to scrabbling around in the herd trying to make ends meet. Trying to satisfy a dominant boss at work; trying to scratch together money here and there for a modest vacation and to put something away for savings and retirement. It was the way of the human tribe.
He didn’t understand people like that. People like Jay. Helpless people with no vision, no drive. He’d tried to educate, mostly by example; but he’d failed. If a person had no fire in their belly you couldn’t manufacture it there. He was older now and had given up on changing the nature of Jay, or any of them. Spenders all. But of the three young people in his family, Jay had always been the irritation.
“Come on Dad, hurry. This is important. Just throw your robe on; it’ll only take a minute.”
Charlie rolled out from under the covers with a sigh, nude, how he slept. He cast an envious glance at his wife, still sound asleep, purring slightly. He threw on his robe and slid into his slippers. This had better be good.
“It’s down here Dad, downstairs, out on the driveway. Hurry!”
“Jesus Christ… on the driveway?”
Jay led the way down the stairs, across the sprawling living room and toward the front door which was standing open. He reluctantly followed, shaking his head. Muttering to himself under his breath, still half asleep, he stumbled out of the front door, across the grand porch, down the steps on to the driveway.
“You stand here, Dad. Right here. See? X marks the spot.”
He walked toward the little pink chalk X faintly visible on the asphalt. He was a large man, six foot two, with broad shoulders and a prodigious stomach which might have benefited from suspenders to keep his pants up. He loved to eat. His bulk cast a shadow in the moonlight, hiding the pink X, forcing him to guess where it was. Where he was supposed to stand? Shit! This was hair-brained!
Jay crossed diagonally to the other side of the driveway, twenty feet away. He stopped beside a Folgers Coffee can sitting on the asphalt with the top missing. Jay put his hands out, palms up, flat. “You stay right there, Dad. This will only take a minute.”
He’d already heard that before, five minutes before. Humph!
Jay reached into his pocket and brought out a silver lighter. Shit, that was his lighter. It had gone missing a week ago. Damn it, this kid was turning into a kleptomaniac.
Jay paused for a minute, starting to hyperventilate. He was more excited now.
“Here’s what I want to tell you, Dad.” Jay took a big breath. “You’re a mean, greedy son of a bitch. An ugly man with an ugly soul.”
The father started to sputter. No one talked to him that way. Particularly some useless pup suckling under his roof. He could feel the rage in him, never far from the surface, rising, warming his face.
“You can’t talk to me that way, Jay. You useless pieces of shit. A weak good-for-nothing just like your mother, sucking up my money to fund your lazy lifestyle. Your hands out to beg for your big-boy allowance but bad-mouthing me behind my back. You are twenty and you’ve accomplished nothing. Never will. You’ll always be just a useless dependent. Look at you. All I see is failure and deceit for as far into the future as you last.”
Jay smiled grimly. “I knew you’d say something like that, Dad. You are so predictable. You have mistreated me, Mom, and the other kids brutally in your pursuit of money and power. In your headlong dash for wealth, you’re destroying the oceans, maybe the entire food chain of this planet. I’m so ashamed to have come from you. I would stop you and your company if could, but I can’t. All I can do is disassociate from you forever.”
“Tut… tut. You can’t survive without my money, Jay.”
Jay swooped up the Folgers coffee can with his right hand, brought it above his head and turned it upside down, soaking his hair, his face, his t-shirt, his workout pants with some sort of clear liquid. Shit, it was gas; the damn can was filled with gasoline. Jay flicked the lighter in his left hand and brought the flame to his chest.
The flame caught and spread instantly up across Jay’s face and into his hair, across his t-shirt and down the length of his pants, turning him into a towering fireball that whirled and danced in a screaming jig for seconds, then collapsed into a flaming lump on the asphalt.