Man in Full (8 CDs)


A decade ago, The Bonfire of the Vanities defined an era—and established Tom Wolfe as our prime fictional chronicler of America at its most outrageous and alive.  Now the master is back with a pitch-perfect coast-to-coast portrait of our wild and wooly, no-holds-barred, multifarious country on the cusp of the millennium.

The setting is Atlanta, Georgia—a racially mixed, late-century boomtown full of fresh wealth and wily ...
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A decade ago, The Bonfire of the Vanities defined an era—and established Tom Wolfe as our prime fictional chronicler of America at its most outrageous and alive.  Now the master is back with a pitch-perfect coast-to-coast portrait of our wild and wooly, no-holds-barred, multifarious country on the cusp of the millennium.

The setting is Atlanta, Georgia—a racially mixed, late-century boomtown full of fresh wealth and wily politicians.  The protagonist is Charles Croker, once a college football star, now a late-middle-aged Atlanta conglomerate king whose outsize ego has at last hit up against reality.  Charlie has a 29,000 acre quail-shooting plantation, a young and demanding second wife, and a half-empty office complex with a staggering load of debt.

Meanwhile, Conrad Hensley, idealistic young father of two, is laid off from his job at the Croker Global Foods warehouse near Oakland and finds himself spiraling into the lower depths of the American legal system.  And back in Atlanta, when star Georgia Tech running back Fareek "the Canon" Fanon, a homegrown product of the city's slums, is accused of date-raping the daughter of a pillar of the white establishment, upscale black lawyer Roger White II is asked to represent Fanon and help keep the city's delicate racial balance from blowing sky-high.

>Networks of illegal Asian immigrants crisscrossing the continent, daily life behind bars, shady real estate syndicates—Wolfe shows us contemporary America with all the verve, wit, and insight that have made him our most admired novelist.  Charlie Croker's deliverance from his tribulationsprovides an unforgettable denouement to the most widely awaited, hilarious and telling novel America has seen in ages—Tom Wolfe's most outstanding achievement to date.
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Editorial Reviews

Michael Lewis
The novel contains passages as powerful and as beautiful as anything written by . . .any American novelist. . . .what Wolfe has attempted [is] the stuffing of the whole of contemporary America into a single, great, sprawling comic work of art. . . .The book is as funny as anything Wolfe has ever written; at the same time it is also deeply, strangely affecting. -- The New York Times Book Review
Michiko Kakutani
It's clear, almost from the start, that A Man in Full is a big if qualified leap forward for Mr. Wolfe as a novelist. The cartoonish cast of Bonfire — a collection of physical and sartorial tics animated by heaps of authorial malice — has been replaced by characters who bear more of a resemblance to real, sympathetic human beings, and Mr. Wolfe's novelistic canvas has expanded persuasively to include not merely the powerful and rich but also the poor and middle-class. — The New York Times
From The Critics
Tom Wolfe is one fine reporter. His second shot at the novel form is thoroughly reported, full of facts and figures and details. Scenes and subplots are so abundant in subcultural minutiae that they could be spun off into movies. Thus, after an immersion in A Man in Full, a reader can't help but be slightly educated about: how to move frozen food in a refrigerated warehouse; how real-estate development debts are created and recouped; how to shoot quail and distinguish the males from the females; how a rattlesnake moves and how to catch one barehanded; how to make a prison knife out of a hardback book cover; or how to talk like a Baker County, Georgia, native, a bank loan "workout artist" or a financial geek. And with Wolfe's frenetically verbalized, punctuated and italicized prose, the ride is a constantly entertaining one.

What makes this a novel, though, is that Wolfe turns his documentarian's gaze to cultural and moral mores as well as to technical procedures. And thus he comes up with The Bonfire of the Vanities II. A Man in Full is a dissertation suggesting that the obsessive compulsions of a society so concerned with all that is physical, temporary and grandiose has as its only hope a return to . . . Stoicism. And just about nobody is going to choose that, Wolfe suggests.

Charlie Croker, a nearly-broke egomaniacal 60-year old Atlanta real-estate developer and former sports hero (whose physical attributes are described in a near-caress of awestruck detail) is leaned on by his bank for money he doesn't have. With the end near (his beloved private Gulfstream jet repossessed), local Atlanta politicos (super-described in their at-least-partiallyaffected blacker-than-thou-ness) start leaning on Croker to speak out in favor of a black college athlete. Fareek "the Cannon" Fanon (also described as quite a physical specimen) is, perhaps, a rapist. If Croker plays his part, the mayor will get PlannersBanc to lay off its pressure; but then Croker's pals would, he fears, think badly of him: One fat cat is the father of the society princess who may have been raped by, or who may have simply been "hooking up" with, "the Cannon." Meanwhile, a mid-level PlannersBanc executive with the apt and Dickensian name (quite a few of those throughout) of Peepgas is plotting to get a big chunk of Croker real estate cheap. Wolfe also manages to include, in the Atlanta action, the racial and political awakening of a light-skinned black lawyer named Roger White II (or Roger Too White); Croker's first and second wives (the former 53 and thickening and wooed by Peepgas; the second a stunningly perfect "boy with breasts" of 28); and the developer's South Georgia plantation.

As if that weren't enough, on the other side of the country and in a different plotline, Conrad Hensley, 23-years old and too-soon married-with-wife-and-kids, works in a frozen-food warehouse (a holding of Croker's). Wolfe's attention to Hensley's appearance is, again, rapt. Soon enough, Hensley's been laid off (a cost-cutting move by Croker), has a hard time getting a job even though he's a terribly nice fella and, after a particularly bad day, gets arrested. He's thrown in the pokey and educated about jail life. In jail he becomes a devotee to the writings of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus and a disciple to Zeus. Really. Hensley then escapes during an earthquake-a true deus ex machina-that Hensley believes was caused by the deity.

These plots and others interweave with one another in what dust-jacket blurbs describe as a richly woven tapestry. But Wolfe demands a peculiar sort of inconsistent willing suspension of disbelief from the reader. Names are hyper-unrealistic; physical characteristics seem more symbolic than convincing. You keep hearing machinery whirring and grinding, particularly when the author attempts to make points-about race, about the Internet, about good old boys-that aren't fresh.

Croker is excellently drawn, full-blooded and believable at least to the degree that Wolfe's suspension-of-disbelief atmosphere requires. Hensley seems too saintly until his role in the later part of the book justifies that conceit, but that's a problem few of the other characters have. They are, by and large, short-sighted, acquisitive, vain creatures; people you'd have a hard time hanging around for 750 pages, were there not a greater reason to do so.

It turns out, there is. In a book as massive and eagerly awaited as this, you're really looking for two kinds of "aha" factors: One, you want to say, "Aha, Wolfe's nailed the Zeitgeist." Second, you want to say, as you do reading Dickens et. al., "Aha, so it turns out that the orphan is actually the half-brother of the beggar's benefactor, which is so ironic because that locket in Chapter 3 had the answer the whole time!" Or something. Neither really clicks in A Man in Full. Particularly frustrating is that they start to, as you head into what promises to be a delicious stretch in the last 100 pages of so. But then Wolfe ends things exactly as you would have expected, and has the few loose ends that remain tied up offstage in one of those unfortunate scenes where characters engage in conversations like: "Hey, what did happen to old what's-his-name, the guy who was the main focus of the book for the first section?" And then Character Two says, "Oh, didn't you hear, he did thus and so."

But here's the punchline. The novel works. Despite the audible machinery, the dislikable characters, the sometimes unrevealing revelations, the weak ending, A Man in Full gets in your head and resonates. The subtextual obsession with men's fondness for men and disregard for women, the appearance of the ancient philosopher, the constant point/counterpoint between the ideals held up by most of Wolfe's characters and the apparently laughable stoicism that Hensley subscribes to ... it all evokes a decrepit Rome, a society obsessed with society. Wolfe, with his overactive reporter's notebook, evokes a landscape of people doomed to vacuity. It certainly doesn't work quite the way one might expect a a typical page turner to. But it is a fun ride, and when you get to the final turn, and are initially disappointed, it asks you to reconsider the trip. Did you just read a novel about all kinds of fancy exciting things happening in the late '90s in the City Too Busy to Hate? Or did you just read a document about the state of the state at the end of the millennium? — Jerome Kramer

Library Journal
Wolfe serves up all the greed, nastiness, and political correctness of the late 1990s in his latest novel about a good-ol'-boy zillionaire with a staggering load of debt and a trophy wife. Woven in with the Atlanta real estate developer's story are those of an idealistic young man in jail in California who discovers the Stoic philosophers and an African American football star accused of raping a white debutante. All of the threads come together in the end, with a plot twist that leaves the listener blinking in wonderment. Still, Wolfe is masterful at capturing the echoes of people and events in recent American experience with exuberance and wit. The scene in the race horse breeding barn is an absolute masterpiece. David Ogden Stiers does a wonderful job with the many voices in this immense story. His ability to capture regional speech and timing are flawless, and his portrayal of each character's emotional range is dead on. The production is terrific. For all libraries with popular fiction collections.--Barbara Valle, El Paso P.L., TX
John Updike
. . .[A] muscular opus. . . .warmed by the Southern setting. . . . A Man in Full touches us with its grand ambition: a talented, inventive, philosophical-minded journalist. . .has gone for broke in this populous cyclorama of an Atlanta still at war. -- The New Yorker
Michiko Kakutani
It's clear, almost from the start, that A Man in Full is a big if qualified leap forward for Mr. Wolfe as a novelist. The cartoonish cast of Bonfire -- a collection of physical and sartorial tics animated by heaps of authorial malice -- has been replaced by characters who bear more of a resemblance to real, sympathetic human beings, and Mr. Wolfe's novelistic canvas has expanded persuasively to include not merely the powerful and rich but also the poor and middle-class. -- The New York Times
Paul Gray
No summary of A Man in Full can do justice to the novel's ethical nuances and hell-bent pacing, its sweep and intricate interweaving of private and public responsibilities, its electric sense of conveying current events and its knowing portraits of people actually doing their jobs. Who, besides Wolfe, would have thought that banking and real estate transactions could be the stuff of gripping fiction? Who else would have set a scene, the most over-the-top in the whole novel, in the breeding barn of Turpmtine, where Charlie, in a misguided attempt to impress his guests from Atlanta, makes them, male and female alike, witness a tumultuous mating between one of his stallions and a mare?
-- Time Magazine
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553456196
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/1998
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Abridged, 8 CDs, 9 hrs.
  • Product dimensions: 5.69 (w) x 5.22 (h) x 2.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and graduated from Washington and Lee University. He received his doctorate in American Studies from Yale University. Mr. Wolfe worked as a reporter for the Springfield Union, The Washington Post, and the New York Herald Tribune. His writing has also appeared in New York magazine, Esquire, and Harper's
In 1965 he published The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, and in 1968 The Pump House Gang and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test were published simultaneously. Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers was published in 1970.

In 1975 Wolfe published The Painted Word, an incandescent, hilarious look at the world of modern art; it caused as much controversy as anything Mr. Wolfe has written. Mauve Gloves and Madmen, Clutter and Vine, a collection of essays, was published in 1976.

The Right Stuff, a national bestseller published in 1979, won the American Book Award for general nonfiction. The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters named Mr. Wolfe as recipient of the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for distinguished service in the field of journalism. From Bauhaus to Our House, his distinctive look at contemporary architecture, was published in the fall of 1981 and became another national bestseller; in 1982 he published The Purple Decades: A Reader. Mr. Wolfe's novel The Bonfire of the Vanities was published in 1987, and went on to become one of the top ten bestselling books of the decade.

Tom Wolfe lives in New York City.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 2, 1931
    2. Place of Birth:
      Richmond, Virginia
    1. Education:
      B.A. (cum laude), Washington and Lee University, 1951; Ph.D. in American Studies, Yale University, 1957
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Cap'm Charlie

Charlie Croker, astride his favorite tennessee walking horse, pulled his shoulders back to make sure he was erect in the saddle and took a deep breath . . . Ahhhh, that was the ticket . . . He loved the way his mighty chest rose and fell beneath his khaki shirt and imagined that everyone in the hunting party noticed how powerfully built he was. Everybody; not just his seven guests but also his six black retainers and his young wife, who was on a horse behind him near the teams of La Mancha mules that pulled the buckboard and the kennel wagon. For good measure, he flexed and fanned out the biggest muscles of his back, the latissimi dorsi, in a Charlie Croker version of a peacock or a turkey preening. His wife, Serena, was only twenty-eight, whereas he had just turned sixty and was bald on top and had only a swath of curly gray hair on the sides and in back. He seldom passed up an opportunity to remind her of what a sturdy cord—no, what a veritable cable—kept him connected to the rude animal vitality of his youth.

By now they were already a good mile away from the Big House and deep into the plantation's seemingly endless fields of broom sedge. This late in February, this far south in Georgia, the sun was strong enough by 8 a.m. to make the ground mist lift like wisps of smoke and create a heavenly green glow in the pine forests and light up the sedge with a tawny gold. Charlie took another deep breath . . . Ahhhhhh . . . the husky aroma of the grass . . . the resinous air of the pines . . . the heavy, fleshy odor of all his animals, the horses, the mules, the dogs . . . Somehow nothing reminded him so instantly of how far he hadcome in his sixty years on this earth as the smell of the animals. Turpmtine Plantation! Twenty-nine thousand acres of prime southwest Georgia forest, fields, and swamp! And all of it, every square inch of it, every beast that moved on it, all fifty-nine horses, all twenty-two mules, all forty dogs, all thirty-six buildings that stood upon it, plus a mile-long asphalt landing strip, complete with jet-fuel pumps and a hangar—all of it was his, Cap'm Charlie Croker's, to do with as he chose, which was: to shoot quail.

His spirits thus buoyed, he turned to his shooting partner, a stout brick-faced man named Inman Armholster, who was abreast of him on another of his walking horses, and said:

"Inman, I'm gonna—"

But Inman, with a typical Inman Armholster bluster, cut him off and insisted on resuming a pretty boring disquisition concerning the upcoming mayoral race in Atlanta: "Listen, Charlie, I know Jordan's got charm and party manners and he talks white and all that, but that doesn't"—dud'n—"mean he's any friend of . . ."

Charlie continued to look at him, but he tuned out. Soon he was aware only of the deep, rumbling timbre of Inman's voice, which had been smoke-cured the classic Southern way, by decades of Camel cigarettes, unfiltered. He was an odd-looking duck, Inman was. He was in his mid-fifties but still had a head of thick black hair, which began low on his forehead and was slicked back over his small round skull. Everything about Inman was round. He seemed to be made of a series of balls piled one atop the other. His buttery cheeks and jowls seemed to rest, without benefit of a neck, upon the two balls of fat that comprised his chest, which in turn rested upon a great swollen paunch. Even his arms and legs, which looked much too short, appeared to be made of spherical parts. The down-filled vest he wore over his hunting khakis only made him look that much rounder. Nevertheless, this ruddy pudge was chairman of Armaxco Chemical and about as influential a businessman as existed in Atlanta. He was this weekend's prize pigeon, as Charlie thought of it, at Turpmtine. Charlie desperately wanted Armaxco to lease space in what so far was the worst mistake of his career as a real estate developer, a soaring monster he had megalomaniacally named Croker Concourse.

"—gon' say Fleet's too young, too brash, too quick to play the race card. Am I right?"

Suddenly Charlie realized Inman was asking him a question. But other than the fact that it concerned André Fleet, the black "activist," Charlie didn't have a clue what it was about.

So he went, "Ummmmmmmmmmmm."

Inman apparently took this to be a negative comment, because he said, "Now, don't give me any a that stuff from the smear campaign. I know there's people going around calling him an out-and-out crook. But I'm telling you, if Fleet's a crook, then he's my kinda crook."

Charlie was beginning to dislike this conversation, on every level. For a start, you didn't go out on a beautiful Saturday morning like this on the next to last weekend of the quail season and talk politics, especially not Atlanta politics. Charlie liked to think he went out shooting quail at Turpmtine just the way the most famous master of Turpmtine, a Confederate Civil War hero named Austin Roberdeau Wheat, had done it a hundred years ago; and a hundred years ago nobody on a quail hunt at Turpmtine would have been out in the sedge talking about an Atlanta whose candidates for mayor were both black. But then Charlie was honest with himself. There was more. There was . . . Fleet. Charlie had had his own dealings with André Fleet, and not all that long ago, either, and he didn't feel like being reminded of them now or, for that matter, later.

So this time it was Charlie who broke in:

"Inman, I'm gonna tell you something I may regret later on, but I'm gonna tell you anyway, ahead a time."

After a couple of puzzled blinks Inman said, "All right . . . go ahead."

"This morning," said Charlie, "I'm only gonna shoot the bobs." Morning came out close to moanin', just as something had come out sump'm. When he was here at Turpmtine, he liked to shed Atlanta, even in his voice. He liked to feel earthy, Down Home, elemental; which is to say, he was no longer merely a real estate developer, he was . . . a man.

"Only gon' shoot the bobs, hunh," said Inman. "With that?"

He gestured toward Charlie's .410-gauge shotgun, which was in a leather scabbard strapped to his saddle. The spread of bird shot a .410 fired was smaller than any other shotgun's, and with quail the only way you could tell a bob from a hen was by a patch of white on the throat of a bird that wasn't much more than eight inches long to start with.

"Yep," said Charlie, grinning, "and remember, I told you ahead a time."

"Yeah? I'll tell you what," said Inman. "I'll betcha you can't. I'll betcha a hundred dollars."

"What kinda odds you gon' give me?"

"Odds? You're the one who brought it up! You're the one staking out the bragging rights! You know, there's an old saying, Charlie: 'When the tailgate drops, the bullshit stops.'"

"All right," said Charlie, "a hundred dollars on the first covey, even Stephen." He leaned over and extended his hand, and the two of them shook on the bet.

Immediately he regretted it. Money on the line. A certain deep worry came bubbling up into his brain. PlannersBanc! Croker Concourse! Debt! A mountain of it! But real estate developers like him learned to live with debt, didn't they . . . It was a normal condition of your existence, wasn't it . . . You just naturally grew gills for breathing it, didn't you . . . So he took another deep breath to drive the spurt of panic back down again and flexed his big back muscles once more.

Charlie was proud of his entire physique, his massive neck, his broad shoulders, his prodigious forearms; but above all he was proud of his back. His employees here at Turpmtine called him Cap'm Charlie, after a Lake Seminole fishing-boat captain from a hundred years ago with the same name, Charlie Croker, a sort of Pecos Bill figure with curly blond hair who, according to local legend, had accomplished daring feats of strength. There was a song about him, which some of the old folks knew by heart. It went: "Charlie Croker was a man in full. He had a back like a Jersey bull. Didn't like okra, didn't like pears. He liked a gal that had no hairs. Charlie Croker! Charlie Croker! Charlie Croker!" Whether or not there had actually existed such a figure, Charlie had never been ableto find out. But he loved the idea, and he often said to himself what he was saying to himself at this moment: "Yes! I got a back like a Jersey bull!" In his day he had been a star on the Georgia Tech football team. Football had left him with a banged-up right knee, that had turned arthritic about three years ago. He didn't associate that with age, however. It was an honorable wound of war. One of the beauties of a Tennessee walking horse was that its gait spared you from having to post, to pump up and down at the knees when the horse trotted.

He wasn't sure he could take posting on this chilly February morning.

Up ahead, his hunting guide and dog trainer, Moseby, was riding yet another of his walking horses. Moseby signaled the dogs with a curious, low-pitched, drawn-out whistle he somehow produced from deep in his throat. Charlie could just make out one of his two prize pointers, King's Whipple and Duke's Knob, ranging through the golden sea of sedge, trying to get wind of quail coveys.

The two shooters, Charlie and Inman, rode on in silence for a while, listening to the creaking of the wagons and the clip-clopping of the mules and the snorts of the horses of the outriders and waiting for some signal from Moseby. One wagon was a rolling dog kennel containing cages for three more pairs of pointers to take turns in the ceaseless roaming of the sedge, plus a pair of golden retrievers that had been born in the same litter and were known as Ronald and Roland. A team of La Mancha mules, adorned in brass-knobbed yokes and studded harnessing, pulled the wagon, and two of Charlie's dog handlers, both of them black, attired in thornproof yellow overalls, drove them. The other was the buckboard, an ancient wooden thing rebuilt with shock absorbers and pneumatic tires and upholstered with rich tan leather, like a Mercedes-Benz's. Two more of Charlie's black employees, wearing the yellow overalls, drove the La Manchas that pulled the buckboard and served food and drink from an Igloo cooler built into the back. Sitting on the leather seats were Inman's wife, Ellen, who was close to his age and didn't ride anymore, and Betty and Halbert Morrissey and Thurston and Cindy Stannard, four more of Charlie's weekend guests who didn't ride or shoot. Charlie himself wouldn't have been caught dead confined to a buckboard during a quail shoot, but he liked having an audience. Off to the side were two black employees on horseback, wearing the yellow overalls, whose main job was to hold the horses of the shooters or of Charlie's wife, Serena, and Inman and Ellen's eighteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, when they dismounted.

Serena and Elizabeth had drifted off from the rest of them and were riding side by side fifty or sixty yards away, Charlie now discovered. This he found annoying, although at first he couldn't have said why. Both were dressed with perfect propriety, in khaki—at a Georgia plantation shoot khaki was as obligatory as tweeds at a grouse shoot in Scotland—and both were mounted flawlessly on their horses, except that they were leaning slightly toward one another, chatting away softly, smiling, and then going into convulsions of stifled laughter. Oh, what great chums they had become this morning—his wife and Inman and Ellen's daughter . . . No one who saw Serena's thick, slightly wild array of black hair and her big periwinkle-blue eyes, which stood out so vividly beneath it, could help but realize how young she was. Less than half his age! Even from fifty or sixty yards away she had Second Wife written all over her! Moreover, she was making it pretty obvious that she had more in common with this teenager, Elizabeth Armholster, than with Elizabeth's mother or Betty Morrissey or Cindy Stannard or anybody else in the party. Elizabeth was a sexy little number herself . . . pale skin, a great mane of light brown hair, big sensual lips, and a chest she made sure you saw, even beneath the khaki . . . Charlie chided himself for thinking that way about his friend's eighteen-year-old daughter, but the way she flaunted it all—the way her stretch riding pants hugged her thighs and the declivities of her loins fore and aft—how could you help it? What did Ellen Armholster really make of Serena, who was much closer to being her daughter's contemporary than her own—Ellen, who had been such a pal of Martha's? Then he took a deep breath and drove Martha and all of that old business out of his mind, too.

You could hear the low voice of one of the buckboard drivers saying, "Buckboard One to base . . . Buckboard One to base . . ." There was a radio transmitter under the driver's seat. "Base" was the overseer's office, back near the Big House. Buckboard One . . . Charlie hoped Inman and Ellen and the Morrisseys and the Stannards got the drift of that and were reminded that he had sent out four shooting parties this morning, four sets of weekend guests, with four buckboards (Buckboards One, Two, Three, and Four), four kennel wagons, four dog trainers, four sets of outriders, four of everything . . . Turpmtine was that big and that lavishly run. There was a formula. To send out one shooting party, with one pair of shooters, half a day each week for the entire season, which ran only from Thanksgiving to the end of February, you had to have at least five hundred acres. Otherwise you would wipe out your quail coveys and have no birds to shoot the following year. To send out one party all day once a week, you had to have at least a thousand acres. Well, he had 29,000 acres. If he felt like it, he could send out four parties all day, every day, seven days a week, throughout the season. Quail! The aristocrat of American wild game! It was what the grouse and the pheasant were in England and Scotland and Europe—only better! With the grouse and the pheasant you had your help literally beating the bushes and driving the birds toward you. With the quail you had to stay on the move. You had to have great dogs, great horses, and great shooters. Quail was king. Only the quail exploded upward into the sky and made your heart bang away so madly in your rib cage. And to think what he, Cap'm Charlie, had here! Second biggest plantation in the state of Georgia! He kept up 29,000 acres of fields, woods, and swamp, plus the Big House, the Jook House for the guests, the overseer's house, the stables, the big barn, the breeding barn, the Snake House, the kennels, the gardening shed, the plantation store, the same one that had been there ever since the end of the Civil War, likewise the twenty-five cabins for the help—he kept all this going, staffed, and operating, not to mention the landing field and a hangar big enough to accommodate a Gulfstream Five—he kept all this going, staffed, and operating year round . . . for the sole purpose of hunting quail for thirteen weeks. And it wasn't sufficient to be rich enough to do it. No, this was the South. You had to be man enough to deserve a quail plantation. You had to be able to deal with man and beast, in every form they came in, with your wits, your bare hands, and your gun.

He wished there was some way he could underline all this for Inman, but of course there wasn't, unless he wanted to sound like a complete fool. So he decided to approach the subject from a wholly different direction.

"Inman," he said, "did I ever tell you my daddy used to work here at Turpmtine?"

"He did? When?"

"Aw, back when I was nine or ten."

"What'd he do?"

Charlie chuckled. "Not a hell of a lot, I s'peck. He only lasted a couple months. Daddy musta got fired"—came out farred—"from half the plantations south of Albany."

Inman didn't say anything, and Charlie couldn't read anything in his face. He wondered if this reference to the Cracker origins of Clan Croker had made Inman uncomfortable. Inman was Old Atlanta, insofar as there was any Old Atlanta. Atlanta had never been a true Old Southern city like Savannah or Charleston or Richmond, where wealth had originated with the land. Atlanta was an offspring of the railroad business. It had been created from scratch barely 150 years ago, and people had been making money there on the hustle ever since. The place had already run through three names. First they called it Terminus, because that was where the new railroad ended. Then they named it Marthasville, after the wife of the governor. Then they called it Atlanta, after the Western and Atlantic Railroad and on the boosters' pretext that the rail link with Savannah made it tantamount to a port on the Atlantic Ocean itself. The Armholsters had hustled and boosted with the best of them, Charlie had to admit. Inman's father had built up a pharmaceuticals company back at a time when that was not even a well-known industry, and Inman had turned it into a chemicals conglomerate, Armaxco. Right now he wouldn't mind being in Inman's shoes. Armaxco was so big, so diverse, so well established, it was cycleproof. Inman could probably go to sleep for twenty years and Armaxco would just keep chugging away, minting money. Not that Inman would want to miss a minute of it. He loved all those board meetings too much, loved being up on the dais at all those banquets too much, loved all those tributes to Inman Armholster the great philanthropist, all those junkets to the north of Italy, the south of France, and God knew where else on Armaxco's Falcon 900, all those minions jumping every time he so much as crooked his little finger. With a corporate structure like Armaxco's beneath him, Inman could sit on that throne of his as long as he wanted or until he downed the last mouthful of lamb shanks and mint jelly God allowed him—whereas he, Charlie, was a one-man band. That was what a real estate developer was, a one-man band! You had to sell the world on . . . yourself! Before they would lend you all that money, they had to believe in . . . you! They had to think you were some kind of omnipotent, flaw-free genius. Not my corporation but Me, Myself & I! His mistake was that he had started believing it himself, hadn't he . . . Why had he ever built a mixed-use development out inCherokee County crowned with a forty-story tower and namedit after himself? Croker Concourse! No other Atlanta developer had ever dared display that much ego, whether he had it or not. And now the damned thing stood there, 60 percent empty and hemorrhaging money.

The deep worry was lit up like an inflammation. Couldn't let that happen . . . not on a perfect morning for shooting quail at Turpmtine. So he returned to the subject of his father.

"It was a whole different world back then, Inman. A big Saturday night was going to the jookhouse up near the—"
Charlie broke off in the middle of the sentence. Up ahead, Moseby, the dog trainer, had stopped and looked back and lifted his cap. That was the signal. Then his low voice came rolling across the sedge:


Sure enough, over there was Knobby—Duke's Knob—in the classic pointer's stance, his nose thrust forward and his tail sticking up at a forty-five-degree angle like a rod. He had gotten wind of a covey of quail in the sedge. Out beyond Moseby, Whip—King's Whipple—was in the same position, backing Knobby's point.

The wagons came to a halt, and everyone grew quiet, and the two shooters, Charlie and Inman, dismounted. Luckily for Charlie, when you mounted or dismounted, your left leg bore the weight as you swung yourself over the horse's back, and his right knee didn't have to go through the ordeal. He had barely dismounted when one of his boys in the yellow overalls, Ernest, arrived on horseback and took the reins of his horse and Inman's. Charlie withdrew his .410 from the leather scabbard and slipped two shells into its twin barrels and began walking through the sedge with Inman. He realized that the knee had stiffened and he was limping, but he was not conscious of the pain. The adrenaline took care of that. His heart was thumping away. No matter how many times you went hunting quail, you never became immune to the feeling that came over you when the dogs set the point and you approached a covey hidden somewhere nearby in the grass. The quails' instinct in the face of danger was to hide in the tall grass and then, all at once, to explode upward in flight with incredible acceleration. Everybody used the same term for it: explode. You didn't dare have more than two shooters at a time. The little birds rocketed upward in every direction, scattering in order to confound their predators. In the excitement, hunters swung their guns about so wildly that three or more shooters would pose more of a threat to each other than to the quail. It was dangerous enough with two. That was why he made his help wear the yellow overalls. He didn't want some idiot guest with buck fever cutting loose with a load of bird shot in the direction of one of his boys.

Inman took a position off to Charlie's right. The understanding was that an imaginary line ran between them, and Charlie could go after any birds to the left of it. It was so quiet, he could hear his own breathing, which was too rapid. He could feel the pressure of all the eyes now fixed upon him, the guests', the mule drivers', the outriders', Moseby's, his wife's . . . He'd brought quite a little army out here, hadn't he—and he'd opened his big mouth and announced he was going to shootonly the males—and bet Inman a hundred dollars, within practically everybody's hearing.

He had the stock of the .410 up near his shoulder. It seemed to take forever. In fact, it was no more than twenty seconds—Thrash!

With an extraordinary pounding of the air the covey burst up out of the grass. The sound seemed suffocatingly loud. Gray blurs hurtled at every angle. A patch of white. He swung the .410 to the left. Keep the barrel moving ahead of the bird! That was the main thing. He fired one barrel. He thought—didn't know. Another white patch. Swung the barrel almost straight up. Fired again. A bird came peeling down out of the sky.

Charlie stood there holding the shotgun, conscious of the sharp smell of exploded gunpowder, his heart hammering away. He turned toward Inman.

"How'd you do?"

Inman was shaking his head so hard his jowls were lagging behind his chin and flopping around. "Shit—'scuse me, ladies"—his wife, Ellen, and Betty and Halbert Morrissey and the Stannards had climbed down off the buckboard and were heading toward the two shooters—"I missed the first one. Didn't lead the sonofabitch." He seemed furious with himself. "I might've gotten the second one, but I ain't even sure a that, goddamn it, 'scuse me." He shook his head some more.

Charlie hadn't even been aware of Inman's gun going off.

Inman said, "How'd you do?"

"I know I got the second one," said Charlie. "I don't know about the first one."

"Got both, Cap'm Charlie." It was Lonnie, one of the dog handlers on the kennel wagon.

"Better be bobs," said Inman. "Either that or you better have a picture of Ben Franklin handy."

Soon enough the retrievers, Ronald and Roland, had fetched both of Charlie's birds from the underbrush and brought them to Lonnie, who in turn brought them over to Cap'm Charlie.

Quail seemed so small, once you actually had one in your hands. Their bodies were still warm, almost hot. Charlie turned up their beaks with his forefinger, and there they were, the white patches on their throats.

A surge of inexpressible joy swept through him. He had done it, just as he said he would! Shot two males from out of that rocketing bevy! It was an omen! What could go wrong now? Nothing! He didn't even dare to let himself smile, for fear of revealing just how proud and sure he was of himself.

He could hear a buzz of conversation between the mule drivers and the outriders and among the guests about how Cap'm Charlie had called his shots and made them, with a hundred dollars riding on the outcome. Inman came over and put his hand down on one bob and then the other.

Now Charlie allowed himself a smile. "Whatcha doing, Inman? You think me and Lonnie's got a couple of old birds stowed away to trick you with?"

"Well, I'll be a sonofabitch," said Inman glumly. "I didn't think you could do it."

And now Charlie let himself laugh from deep inside. "Don't do to doubt me, Inman, not where quail's concerned! Now how 'bout introducing me to that pal a yours you were talking about, Ben Franklin!"

Inman thrust his hands down into the pockets of his khakis, and a sheepish expression came over his face. "Well, hell . . . I didn't bring anything out here. I didn't come out here to shop, f'r chrissake, and I sure as hell wasn't gonna buy anything at that plantation store a yours."

"Oh brother!" said Charlie. "'Didn't bring anything out here'! I'm gonna file that one along with 'The truck's broke down' and 'The cook took sick'! 'Didn't bring anything out here'?" Charlie looked around at Ellen Armholster and the Morrisseys and the Stannards and beamed.

"Juh hear that? It's easy to bet blue chips when you ain't even got table stakes!"

Oh, this was rich stuff. Now he looked around at his mule drivers and outriders, all his boys in the yellow overalls, to make sure they were in on it, too, and at Moseby, who had ridden back toward them, and at Serena——but where was she? Then he spotted her. She was still way off, maybe seventy or eighty yards away, out in the field, Serena and Elizabeth Armholster, too, still on their horses, which were side by side. They were chatting and laughing up a storm. He couldn't believe it. The two young women, with their wild hair and loamy loins, hadn't paid the slightest attention to what had just gone on. Couldn't have cared less about what two . . . old men . . . had or hadn't accomplished with their shotguns. He was suddenly filled with a rage he didn't dare express.

Just then Serena and Elizabeth swung their mounts about and headed toward them, laughing and talking to each other the whole time. And now, still high in the saddle, they pulled up beside Charlie and Inman and Ellen and the Morrisseys and the Stannards. Their youthfulness couldn't have been more obvious . . . the high color in their flawlessly smooth cheeks . . . the imperiously correct postures of two girls at a horse show . . . the tender curves of their necks and jaws . . . the perfectly packed fullness of their cloven hindquarters . . . as compared to the sagging hides of Ellen Armholster and Betty Morrissey and Cindy Stannard's generation . . .

The ever-obliging Betty Morrissey looked up at Serena and said, "You know what your husband just did? He shot two bobs, and Inman owes him a hundred dollars."

"Oh, that's wonderful, Charlie," said Serena.

Charlie studied her face. She hadn't said it in any pointedly ironic way, but from the mischievous way her eyes, which were such a vivid blue, flashed beneath the black corona of her hair and from the little glance she flicked toward Elizabeth Armholster, he knew she meant it ironically. He could feel his face turning hot.

Elizabeth looked down at her father and said, "How'd you do, Daddy?"

"Don't ask," said Inman in a glum voice.

Teasingly: "Oh, come on, Daddy. 'Fess up."

"Believe me, you don't want to know," said Inman, twisting his lips in a way that tried, unsuccessfully, to make it seem as if he were making light of his miserable performance.

Then Elizabeth leaned way over in the saddle, causing her long, light brown hair to cascade down either side of her face, and put her hand on the back of Inman's neck and rubbed it and puckered up those full lips of hers and said in a babyish, coquettish voice she had obviously used on her father before:

"Oh, golly gee, Daddy didn't shoot anybody in the whole quail family?"

With that she flicked a glance of her own toward Serena, who compressed her lips as if she was making a determined effort not to laugh in the two old shooters' faces.

Now Charlie's face was red hot. The whole quail family! What was that supposed to mean? Animal rights? Whatever
it was, it was intentional heresy—the two of them peering down from the eminence of their steeds upon the old parties below and sniggering and exchanging glances of conspiratorial superiority—why, the . . . the . . . the . . . the impudence of it! According to a tradition as old as the plantations themselves, a quail shoot was a ritual in which the male of the human species acted out his role of hunter, provider, and protector, and the female acted as if this was part of the natural, laudable, excellent, and compelling order of things. None of this could Charlie have put into words, but he felt it. Oh, he felt it—

Just then a burst of static came over the radio on the buckboard, followed by some words in a deep voice Charlie couldn't make out.

One of the mule drivers yelled over: "Cap'm Charlie! It's Durwood. Says Mr. Stroock called from Atlanta and wants you to call him back right away."

A sinking feeling ran through Charlie. There was only one reason why Wismer Stroock, his young chief financial officer, would ever dare try to track him down in the fields of Turpmtine on a Saturday morning during a quail shoot.

"Tell'm—tell'm I'll call him later on, after we get back to the Gun House." He wondered if the quaver of concern in his voice had been detectable.

"Says it's urgent, Cap'm."

Charlie hesitated. "Just tell'm what I said."

He looked down at the patches of white on the throats of the two dead bobs, but he could no longer focus on them. The birds' bellies looked like a reddish-gray fuzz.

PlannersBanc. The mountain of debt. The avalanche has begun, thought Cap'm Charlie.

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