This Brother is Free is about an improbable friendship and the twists of fate, good and bad, that change people’s lives. John Douglas is a successful but increasingly jaded magazine writer; Max Brandt is a wealthy and eccentric auto parts executive. What brings them together despite their many differences is Max’s (and the family business’s) rags-to-riches story. They agree, each with their own motives, noble and otherwise, to collaborate on what they envision as an inspiring epic, a made-in-America ...
This Brother is Free is about an improbable friendship and the twists of fate, good and bad, that change people’s lives. John Douglas is a successful but increasingly jaded magazine writer; Max Brandt is a wealthy and eccentric auto parts executive. What brings them together despite their many differences is Max’s (and the family business’s) rags-to-riches story. They agree, each with their own motives, noble and otherwise, to collaborate on what they envision as an inspiring epic, a made-in-America fairytale-come-true. They are met with resistance and setbacks from the outset - family conflicts, a life-threatening illness, a marriage in crisis - yet the work continues, the friendship deepens, and their project, over the course of a two-year long, on again-off again roller coaster ride, changes constantly in its form, direction, and even its purpose.
Larry Hicock is an award-winning non-fiction author, multimedia producer-director, and former broadcaster. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, he currently lives with his wife in Montreal, Quebec. This Brother is Free is his first novel.
Part One: J.D. Rides Again
Chapter One: The unauthorized version
It was the first week of the New Year, in a new decade, a new millennium, and John Douglas was at long last feeling good about his work. He was starting a new assignment, and for the first time in months he’d be writing about something other than the dreaded Y2K bug and what could happen when the internal clocks in all the computer systems of the world switched from 1999 to 1900 instead of 2000. He had written virtually the same story over and over, modifying it only enough to establish the bug’s grave implications for each of the different industrial markets his publisher catered to. It had been a long run, highly profitable but increasingly tiresome, and he was glad to see the end of it. And glad now to be revisiting, and updating, a familiar story.
If not for this company, and its founding president, the new article would likely have been the same as any of the others – no better, no worse; 2,500 words, no more, no less – but he’d written about RDB International when they were just starting to move beyond the U.S., and Jake Brandt, the first self-made millionaire he’d actually met, was someone he quite admired. This one was going to be different, J.D. thought to himself as he began; this one would be interesting. He was right, except that this time it was not the father who’d make it interesting, and different, but the son.
It started on the second day of his research interviews at RDB’s newly relocated corporate offices on the outskirts of Toledo, Ohio. He was being escorted by Jake Brandt’s secretary to his next appointment when he glanced over his shoulder into the office next to Jake’s and saw Max, Jake’s eldest. He was talking on the phone but he happened to look up from his desk just as J.D. was passing by. Max recognized him and smiled broadly, as if he might be welcoming a long lost friend, which in fact J.D. wasn’t. With a cigarette dangling from his mouth, his fingers winding round the coils of the telephone cord, he invited J.D. in with a quick sidelong glance toward the chair in front of his desk.
J.D. had not expected to see him – not because Max wasn’t on his list, but because he knew Max wasn’t supposed to be there. He’d found out a day earlier, quite by accident, about Max’s illness. He was at the company’s technical center in Detroit when his tour guide, one of the women from Sales, had inadvertently mentioned it. When she saw the puzzled look on his face, she’d covered her mouth and winced at him anxiously. “Don’t tell anyone I told you,” she’d whispered.
It was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, she’d said, taking him aside; J.D. looked at her quizzically, blankly. It was a form of leukemia, she added, a cancer of the blood. J.D. felt a quick jolt in the pit of his stomach. Max, he recalled, was something like forty-four years old – three years younger than him. “He’s been away almost a whole year,” she said. “They say he’s in remission, but…” She hadn’t wanted to finish the sentence any more than J.D. cared to hear it. These were frightening words. Even “remission” had an undertone to it that made him feel queasy.
He smiled as he approached Max’s desk, trying to mask his discomfort. All he could think of was the cancer. If Max raised it, what would he say? Should he act surprised? What if it didn’t come up: did he look like he knew something? He took a seat and waited for Max to finish his call.
The truth of it was he barely knew the man. They’d met briefly ten years earlier, in Detroit, when he first wrote about RDB, and he’d seen Max only once since then, in the spring of 1997. Now that he thought of it,that had been an unusual and unexpected encounter, too. He was at O’Hare airport in Chicago, and as he was making his way through the dense crowd he had spotted Max, with a young boy at his side, browsing in a gift shop. Max hadn’t looked up, and J.D. could just as easily have looked the other way and kept going — he was shy by nature, and not usually a very sociable person – but he remembered now why he’d done it: he’d left home that morning without speaking to his wife; he and Allison had argued the night before about his trip, what it represented: another of his pipe dreams. A pleasant little visit with an old acquaintance, however distant, seemed like just what he needed: a bit of sunshine to cheer him up, and so he had decided to walk over and say hello.
Max had looked surprised to see him, and pleased. He’d greeted him warmly and introduced him to his son as “an old friend.” “This is Jacob, my eldest,” he’d said, nudging the boy’s arm toward J.D.’s outstretched hand. “He’s eleven years old and he’s already smarter than I am.” They were on their way back to Toledo, Max explained, but first they were going to the big hockey game in Detroit. (J.D. caught the tail end of it that night in the bar at his hotel; the Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup since 1955. He remembered, oddly enough, that whenever the cameras turned to the crowd, he’d wondered if he might catch a glimpse of Max.) Max also told him he’d just bought himself a little tractor for his new farm, and J.D. had joked about him becoming a country gentleman. “Call me,” Max had said cordially as they were leaving, but he never did get around to it; he doubted that either of them expected that he would.
He recalled noticing when he saw him at the airport that day that Max had put on a considerable amount of weight. Now he was trim again — fit and healthy looking; not at all gaunt, it struck him, and he certainly didn’t look ‘cancer-stricken.’ Back then he’d worn his hair pulled back into a long ponytail, biker-style – like his brother Eric, who really was a biker; now it was cropped short and neatly groomed. The dark brown was now dark gray, nearly white at the temples, and he wore a short, closely-trimmed beard, also gray. He looked his age – forty-ish, no more and no less. He dressed more maturely, too; J.D. suddenly remembered him wearing a Donald Duck tie during a photo shoot with the executive team, and stubbornly refusing to remove it, in spite of, maybe even because of, his father’s objections. Now he had on a charcoal sweater and a smartly tailored light gray suit – all in all quite the distinguished gentleman, J.D. thought to himself.
“Oh go fuck yourself,” Max barked into the phone. “I’ll be dancing on your fucking grave – and you’re gonna live to be ninety, right?” He turned to J.D., smiling playfully as he spoke. “Okay, then. Yeah, you, too.”
He hung up and reached across the desk. “Mister John Douglas,” he said, shaking J.D.’s hand firmly. “It’s been a long time. Jesus, man, where’d all your hair go?”
“Hey,” J.D. said in mock defense, running his fingers along the side of his head, “it’s not that bad, is it?”
“Oh hell, no,” Max chuckled. “At least it’s not all fucking gray already.” He rubbed the back of his head. J.D. noticed him checking his hand, as if to see if anything had rubbed off. It was an odd gesture and it stuck with him.
J.D. was older than Max but he looked younger. His hair, even if it was beginning to thin, was as dark as ever. He was not as slender as he once was – no one thought of him as lanky anymore – but he was reasonably fit, and he worked out regularly, if not diligently, to stay trim. His wardrobe was tasteful and modern; on this day he had on a black wool jacket and slim-fitting brown corduroy slacks, dark brown boots, and a crisp white cotton dress shirt with black pinstripes, worn as usual without a tie, unbuttoned at the neck. Yet it was his disposition, much more than his style, that gave him his youthful demeanor. In his inquisitive nature, his intellectual curiosity – towards the world, towards people, towards life – there was a kind of enthusiastic innocence about him. It was his saving grace, an attractive and disarming quality; it had opened many doors for him.
“I just heard about this article you’re doing,” Max said. “What’s the deal with that?”
“It’s pretty much like the first one, but longer. It’s going to be a retrospective thing, like “RDB International: Ten Years Later.”
“I think you should call it Ten Years After.”
“Like the band,” J.D. nodded.
Max smiled approvingly.
“You’re thinking of Woodstock?”
“Of course,” Max grinned again. “Were you there?”
“I was out west at the time.”
“Hey, me, too. Vancouver.”
“I was in San Diego.”
“I like San Diego,” Max said, leaning back in his chair. Carry on, the gesture told J.D.
J.D. sat back, too. Strangely enough, he was feeling quite at ease. “Yeah, you guys are Hartley’s company of the year, did you know that?”
“Sounds like a big deal.”
“It’s the cover story for the annual awards issue. Still a bit of a scam – you know that, but…”
“Listen,” Max said, tapping his finger on his desk emphatically as he spoke, “Jake still talks about that first story. Best marketing investment he ever made. I bet we were handing that thing out for a good three, four years.”
J.D. had written the piece for a monthly feature called “Industry Spotlight,” which ran in each of Hartley Industrial Press’s trade magazines. The series showcased businesses in a full-length article, reprints of which could then be purchased from Hartley at a very attractive price. The series was one of Hartley Industrial’s most consistent performers, and it was good for J.D., too. For the better part of ten years, it had been a cash cow, his largest source of income.
“Jake asked specifically if you were writing the new one. He might not have let anyone else in here, did you know that?”
“I take that as a real compliment, Max. I have great respect for your father, for all of you, really.”
“It’s really something to see how far you guys have come.”
“Not bad for a bunch of local fuck-ups, huh?”
“Not bad at all.”
“And what about John Douglas?” Max said with a warm smile, leaning toward him. “How’s your thing going?”
“Great, really good.”
The instant the words left his mouth J.D. felt dishonest. It must be Max’s sincerity, he thought. He seemed genuinely interested in J.D.’s well-being. This was a rare quality, he felt, one that deserved a frank response, and so he looked at Max straight on, intent on redeeming himself, and gave him one.
“Actually, this has been a crazy time for me, Max, a real roller coaster ride. I’m busy and all that, but it’s been rough. It’s hard to take sometimes, you know?”
Max put a fresh cigarette in his mouth and fished a lighter out of his jacket pocket, all the while looking at J.D. curiously. “Is the business in trouble?”
“No, no, it’s fine. I’ve had a good year, actually. No, I’m talking about other stuff. Things I’ve done on my own.”
“I did a TV series, educational TV — I lost my shirt on that one… I started writing a book, too. That was quite a while ago – it’s still not done, though... And obviously I’m still doing magazine work.”
“But it’s not what you want.”
“What I want?” He thought about saying something sarcastic, something deflective, but somehow it felt like it was too late for that. He let out a sigh and smiled.
“It’s funny... With all these projects I was doing, it was like I was fighting upstream — pushing, pulling, trying to make things happen, but not getting anywhere. Then about eight or nine months ago, when my cash flow started getting tight, I went back to writing articles again. Suddenly there was no resistance, no more aggravation. So I started thinking to myself, why am I fighting this? If this is what the world is giving me — good work, decent money, no more bullshit — why not just go with it?”
“I see,” Max said, nodding his head empathetically. “But you haven’t answered my question.”
“No,” J.D. laughed. “I guess I haven’t.”
Max smiled back but he kept his eyes fixed firmly on J.D.’s. “So? What do you want?”
J.D. uncrossed his legs and began to shift in his chair. It wasn’t the question that troubled him, it was his answer; it was going to sound lame and pathetic. Then again, he thought, at least it would be true.
“You know something? I’m really not sure. Right now I’m just going with the flow, you know? I’m just kind of floating along…” He gave a shrug and laughed self-consciously. “This must sound pretty weird to you.”
“Not at all. It’s interesting.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s definitely been interesting – like the Chinese curse.”
“Ah, yes,” Max said, narrowing his eyes. “May you lead an interesting life…”
“Yeah, that’s about it — an interesting life in interesting times.”
“Those motherfuckers sure got that one right, didn’t they?”
The two of them had a long hard laugh, in the middle of which Max took a drag on his cigarette, choked on the smoke, and went into a violent coughing spasm. That made him laugh harder; they both did. Finally he jumped up, holding his throat in exaggerated desperation, and ran out in search of a glass of water.
J.D.’s interview with Derek Derksen, vice-president of engineering, eldest son of the late co-founder Manfred Derksen, had been flat and colorless, but J.D. had persisted, as he always did, until he got a presentable quote out of him. It even inspired one of his story lines. RDB had been one of the first auto parts companies to go high-tech, Derksen had boasted — “the earliest of the so-called early adopters.” Even as the words rolled from Derksen’s tongue J.D. could see them on the page. In the story he’d link RDB’s rapid growth to its willingness to embrace ever newer and better technologies. In fact that would be his title: “Harnessing Technology,” which tied in nicely with RDB’s main product line: wire harnesses, the pre-bundled, color-coded strings of electrical cable that are found on every motor vehicle on the planet.
But the inspiration for his main theme, innovation, had come from Jake. In Jake’s view, product innovation was no mere platitude: it was RDB’s only real edge. “It usually takes our competitors about two years to catch up to us,” he’d explained. “Once that happens, all you have is a commodity, and you don’t make much money on that. So then we have to have something new to take its place. That’s innovation.”
J.D. had admired Jake Brandt since the first time they met. He’d come to America with no money, no education, no formal training; even his broken English and his heavy Slavic accent would have been serious handicaps in Detroit’s WASP-dominated auto industry. Yet here he was, on top of the world, proof positive of what is possible in a country like this. All you really needed was the drive, the willpower, to be successful. “Do I make it look easy?” he’d asked coyly. “It is easy. But you have to work hard. And you have to believe you can do it. Then anything is possible.”
Jake was a short, heavyset man; he looked slightly slimmer than when J.D. first met him, but even then there’d been nothing soft or flabby about him. He was like an old bulldog, or better yet the bull itself: unfazed by your presence, but poised, ready to charge at the slightest provocation. He walked with a pronounced limp, the result of a car accident in his youth, which to J.D. only added to his tough demeanor. J.D. saw him as an aging warrior, battle-scarred but still vital, still dangerous. He had a commanding voice, quiet but powerful; its resonance alone, like the deep low growl of a lion or a grizzly, demanded your attention. J.D. had never heard him raise his voice, but he couldn’t imagine his shout being any more fearsome than the quiet, raspy rumble of his normal speaking voice. He remembered noticing when he first met Jake how he used to wink whenever he told a joke. It was such an old-fashioned habit, he’d thought, yet when Jake did it, it was endearing. He was gruff and intimidating in almost every way, but that little wink, and the way he grinned at you expectantly as he delivered his corny punch lines, gave him the air of a kindly, harmless grandfather.
RDB had done well since J.D.’s first encounter with them, surviving a worldwide recession and a brutal industry shake-out without shutting down a single plant or laying off any employees. From five factories and about four hundred workers they’d grown to twenty plants, in nine countries, with three thousand people. It wasn’t just the technology this company was harnessing, J.D. thought, nor was it their products alone that got them here. It was Jake’s energy, his ambition, the sheer force of his character.
“Tell me,” J.D. said to him, “did you ever think it would get this big? I remember you talking to me about what it was like for you as a kid, after the war — having no food, no money, no home... Look where you are now.”
Jake pondered the question for a moment. “You know, I can tell you a story. I used to say to my wife, ‘Some day I’m going to be a millionaire.’ One time she said to me, ‘A millionaire? Oh, I see. And how much do you make right now?’ So I said, ‘One hundred dollars a week.’ And she tells me, ‘Well, why don’t you see if you can get to two hundred dollars.’” He sat back, resting his hands on his knees. “So that’s what I did. I made it to two hundred dollars a week. Then it was three hundred, then four… And you know something? I remember when the company got to ten million dollars in sales, which everybody was telling us, no, no, this was impossible. Well, we did it. Then I thought, well how can we get to a hundred million? Then it was four hundred million. That’s still the way we work today.”
“Wasn’t that a fucking barrel of monkeys.”
Max came in as loudly and as quickly as he’d left, handing J.D. a bottle of water as he made his way to his desk. “So tell me about this book of yours,” he said, settling back into his chair.
“It’s another one of those weird projects of mine,” J.D. said awkwardly. He was never comfortable talking about himself and certainly not about his book; it had been dragging on for such a long time that he often doubted that he ever would finish it, that he really could.
“Hey, I like weird.”
“Me too,” J.D. smiled, “Actually, do you remember that day we met at O’Hare?”
“I do remember.”
“That trip was where the book started. I was doing my first interviews.”
“Very interesting,” Max nodded, waiting for him to continue. J.D. smiled again at his persistence.
“It’s about a jazz group. They’re not a band, exactly; they’re a collective. They play together in various configurations — trio, quartet, big band, all kinds of things. It’s biographical, except it’s about several people, not just one. It’s more about their common philosophy.”
Max nodded thoughtfully. “You’re right. It does sound weird.”
The two of them laughed.
“You know something? I’ve never really listened to much jazz.”
“I don’t like a lot of it myself, actually. Now, these guys I do like, obviously. Not many people have heard of them, though; not even jazz people. They’re kind of a sub-subculture, like two floors below the underground.”
“No kidding… So why write a book about someone nobody’s heard of?”
“That’s what I keep asking myself,” J.D. answered wryly, but then he caught himself and quickly pulled back. “Actually, it’s not like that. I was drawn to them because they were unknown, and because they weren’t successful — not commercially, at least — yet they kept on doing their thing anyway. I wanted to do this story because I wanted to know what drove them.”
“Drove them...” Max’s ears seemed to perk up. “Just like with our guys.”
“Your guys?” J.D. had never actually made that connection before, between the people in business that he’d written about, often quite enthusiastically, and those he admired in music or any of the arts, but suddenly the parallel seemed obvious. He was impressed – surprised, actually – by Max’s perceptiveness.
“I guess you’re right, except that these guys aren’t amassing great fortunes, they’re making music. That was part of the attraction, too. The book was dealing with something that wasn’t about making money, and I wasn’t writing it for the money, either.”
Max nodded approvingly. “Money isn’t everything,” he muttered, reaching for another cigarette. The pack was empty; he got up and reached behind his office door to fetch a fresh one from his coat pocket.
“I like biographies,” he said, glancing at J.D. from the corner of his eye. “And history. As a matter of fact I want to do something about my life, and my family’s history.”
“Really?” Now it was J.D.’s ears that perked up. He thought back to his first interview with Jake Brandt and his fascination with Jake’s rags to riches journey. “There’s a hell of a story there, Max.”
“You don’t know the half of it, my friend.” He put his cigarette down and took a drink of water. “You ever watch those biography shows on TV?”
“Not too often, actually.”
“I’d like to do something like that, but better,” he said curtly. “The other night I saw one about the Rockefellers. It went from John D., when he was a three-dollar-a-week bookkeeper in Cleveland, up to Nelson, David, and all their children — I think it was four generations all together.”
“Fascinating stuff, huh?”
“Absolutely — and pure bullshit. They kept going on and on about the old man’s charities and shit. Made him look like a fucking saint.”
“Well, Max, the guy practically invented —“
“Fuck that,” he snapped. “Save the Pollyanna shit for Disneyland, okay? Just tell it like it is!” His face was flushed; suddenly he was glaring at J.D. fiercely. An instant later, his smile returned. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said, leaning towards him with a blank gaze that J.D. found unnerving, “I love Disneyland. Ever been there?”
“Only Disney World.”
“I prefer the original,” Max said quietly. “You should check it out some time.”
“You know,” J.D. said jokingly, “Disney was no angel, either.”
Max looked at him curiously. “Uncle Walt?”
“I read that about him,” J.D. nodded, “in a biography, as a matter of fact. He was one of the shrewdest operators in Hollywood.”
“Now this I didn’t know, and I’m a Mickey Mouse man from way back.”
“Ever heard of Ub Iwerks?”
“Apparently he deserves half the credit for creating Mickey — his family swears it should be more than half — but nobody ever hears his name, right? Not only that, he’s the guy who invented half of Disney’s animation techniques, and he didn’t make a cent from any of it.”
“See? This is exactly the kind of shit I’m talking about.”
“Of course,” J.D. nodded. “You prefer the unauthorized version.”
“Exactly,” Max shouted excitedly. “Not just the whitewash. Let’s have the whole truth and nothing but.”
He put out his cigarette and went to the window behind his desk and stood there for a long moment, gazing out at the traffic. J.D. wondered if this might be his cue.
“I should be going,” he said, getting up from his chair. “I’m supposed to see Gerry –”
“Just sit down, will you? I still haven’t heard about our story. Gerry will wait.”
He went to the door and called out to his secretary, who appeared in an instant. She waved hello to J.D. with a broad, warm smile, then turned attentively to Max.
“Zoë, honey, please call Gerry Fuller,” Max said to her. “Tell him J.D. is still with me. We won’t be too much longer.”
“There,” he said to J.D. as he returned to his window. “Oh, Mickey, Mickey, Mickey,” he mumbled to himself, “look what’s happened to Mickey…”
He stared out the window again and seemed lost in his thoughts. J.D. sat quietly, uneasily, unsure of what to expect. A moment later Max turned around, smiling widely.
“It’s like our fine friends the Stranahans,” he said, emphasizing the name sarcastically. “You know who they are?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Champion Spark Plugs?”
“That name I do know.”
“Toledo’s finest citizens, the Stranahans. They came here in 1910, okay? Two brothers, Robert and... What’s the other one’s name again? I always forget. There’s a place up here called Wildwood Manor, a big mansion in Ottawa Hills – it’s five minutes from my house as a matter of fact. Robert built it in the thirties. The city bought the place from the family in the seventies and now it’s part of a park, right next to the university. Beautiful fucking place, man. If you lived in Toledo, you’d know all about the Stranahans, okay? But not many people have heard of a guy named Albert Champion.”
“You mean –”
He nodded and smiled. “I mean that’s the guy. Champion! Champion Spark Plug Company! He founded it up in Flint, in 1904 – six years before the Stranahans got involved. He came over here from Paris in 1900. He used to make bicycles, then he got into the car business. I guess he thought there might be a future in it…” Max paused, chuckling at his own joke. Just like his father, J.D. thought to himself. “The guy was a genius, a wonder boy, but guess what — he got fucked over by his partners! The investors got the company and ran with it. And poor old Albert ended up on the fucking street.”
“Another one, huh?”
“That’s right, another one. I think of Albert every time I start my car and I hear those little fuckers start doing their magic. It reminds me every day how many backstabbers there are in the world.”
He turned again to the window. A moment later he made his way back to his desk and reached for another cigarette. “M’sieur Al-bert, zat clever leetle bastard, he bounced back after that, oui? You’re fucking right he did,” he shouted, dropping the accent. “He got another company going,” he said, lowering his voice again, “The AC Spark Plug Company. He did better with that one, so I guess he learned his lesson. And they’re still around, too.”
“You mean AC –”
“AC-Delco,” Max smiled. “Buick bought Albert out in the twenties and GM merged it with Delco fifty years later. Now you know what the AC stands for.”
“Isn’t that interesting.”
“Yes indeed it is,” he said, returning to his desk, “but that’s another story, right? I want to know what you’re writing about us. Who’s on your shit list — I mean hit list.”
J.D. eyed him curiously.
“Just joking. Don’t mind me.”
“So far I’ve met with your father and Derek Derksen – and I did three interviews at the technical center. Good people there, Max, and a very impressive facility, by the way.”
“You been to any of the plants yet?”
“I have one on my list, in —“
“Are you seeing David Arnold?”
No, J.D. nodded.
“Go talk to him. He’s out near Perrysburg, it’s about half an hour south of here. He’s not running it yet, he’s the production manager, but to me, he’s the future of this company. He’s the kind of people we need if we’re ever going to amount to anything.”
J.D. looked at him again with a confused smile. “Did you say ‘if’?”
“Yes I did,” Max answered flatly, letting his words hang mysteriously in the air. His expression had turned serious — almost angry, J.D. thought — but then it changed again just as abruptly. He stood up and gave a little shrug of his shoulders, smiling at J.D. mischievously. “That’s another discussion, for another time.”
“Sure,” said J.D. “So does that mean I get to interview you?”
“Ab-sa-toot-ly. Otherwise, who knows what kind of a bullshit story you’ll end up with.”
“You’ll tell it like it is, huh, Max?”
“You got it, Pontiac.”
J.D. spent almost three weeks on his first draft, but he never quite shook the feeling that there was something missing, something far more interesting, that only Max could provide. Yet he doubted he’d hear back from him; he thought Max’s interest in the story was no more than a passing whim. Still, his curiosity had been roused, so much so that it puzzled him. This was just another magazine gig, wasn’t it? It would be written, published, and quickly forgotten. But it stuck with him. Max stuck with him. He wanted to hear the real story, the inside story – not about the company but about these people, this family. He wanted to know about Max’s anger, his bitterness towards his partners. He realized, too, that he’d taken a liking to Max personally, and that he felt concerned for his well-being. And, yes, he had to admit it: He wanted to know what drove him.
He got the call in mid-February, one morning around seven thirty. When he picked up the phone, Max started in without so much as a hello.
“I can do our thing on Thursday morning,” he declared, his voice cutting in and out through heavy static. “We’ll meet out at my property, not the office, okay? Zoë will fax you the directions.”
J.D. was barely awake, and he hadn’t even recognized the caller until he heard Zoë’s name. “Max?”
“At your service, my good man. I had some shit to take care of, okay? It took a bit longer than I thought, but here I am, and I’m rarin’ to go.”
The signal broke up, then died altogether. Max never did call him back, but the map arrived by fax an hour later.