Troy Mattingly has a new job as the construction manager for a large industrial plant in Dyersburg, Tennessee. Dealing with the demands of the project itself is almost as challenging as navigating the confusing culture of his new employer, a Belgian firm called Perfect Spring. Things are finally beginning to make sense for Troy—when he suddenly disappears.
His young wife, Janice, enlists the help of Barbara Cummings of the Chamber of Commerce of Dyer County and police detective Jack Beasley. Together, they soon uncover dark truths behind the Perfect Spring project. Troy may have been involved in some shady deals with local contractors, landowners, Belgian operators, consulting companies, and the powerful and arrogant good-old-boy network of Dyer County. The trio try to interpret how seemingly disparate clues—extortion, bribery, falsification of soil tests, attempts to fix construction contracts, and romantic affairs that may or may not be interwoven with business interests—may fit into the big picture. They find themselves ensnared in a perplexing web of international intrigue, jealousy, greed, and abuse of power—complicated further by a budding romance.
The list of suspects is long and heavy, and theories abound. As they unravel the mystery of Troy’s involvement and disappearance, a new mystery emerges. Is Troy really dead? If so, who killed him—and if not, where is he, and why is he hiding? What they learn will shake their community to the core.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)|
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By Jan Smolders
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Jan Smolders
All rights reserved.
6:30 a.m. Thursday, January 13, 2000 Knokke, Belgium
Alex Follon stretched his arms and yawned with abandon. He rubbed the stubble on and under his protruding chin and relaxed his neck. Good thing Francine left early last night, he chuckled inwardly. He knew he was going to need all of his energy for today's big game.
He had slid open the curtains of his luxurious fourth-floor seaside apartment in the Residentie Miramar. It was still dark. He spent a minute taking in the reflection of the boardwalk lights on the barely rippling waves. Our gray North Sea. He turned his eyes to the heavy, dark, water-laden sky. Pea soup again, the Fleming in him swore. Driving will be "fun," mist lights or not.
His breath soon clouded the cold window. His nostrils created two small circles on the glass. He was a weather-sensitive soul who could be drawn, swept, into lows and highs by clouds, light and darkness, wind, sun, rain, hail, and snow. He was the person who always saw more sheep, dogs, and birds with fluffy feathers in a clouded sky than the person standing next to him. He loved listening to the sea and discovering rhythms others wouldn't hear or feel. He was the romantic soul who, at age fifty, had slipped in and out of two brief marriages and was still looking for the real goddess.
His stubborn full-sized potbelly and a quickly graying but still full hairdo testified to the marital and other stresses his mind and his five-foot-nine frame had suffered. He kept his hair long and used his hated reading glasses sparingly. He strained after the image of a slowly aging French troubadour, the type able to attract female company whenever he felt the urge.
He usually looked a bit unkempt—intentionally. He often wouldn't shave on weekends. A little on the bad-boy side, he would philosophize as he puffed away at his Gauloise. On his cheekbones, the skin showed red spots. A red that was suspiciously intense. Alcohol. Liver issues? He would wonder about it for a moment and shrug.
Financial stress weighed him down too. He had great employment and compensation at Perfect Spring, a company with worldwide operations. It was the king among top-quality spring producers. Alex had landed a job there that was challenging and varied enough for his keen intellect and interests. He was a graduate in economics from the University of Leuven. His salary and significant bonus were, however, barely sufficient to make ends meet; his lifestyle demanded a lot. He was frequently in salary discussions with the chairman and CEO of the company, Michel Deltour, to whom he reported directly. Alex was the chairman's chosen man for special missions—wherever and whenever—and felt he should get paid accordingly.
Rush hour. Alex abruptly interrupted his inward musings, turned around, and went for a superficial shower, quick, no shampoo. He wanted to keep his hair heavy. He ran through his bare-bones morning routine and ended with the toothbrush—hated it—and a forceful Listerine gargle. He applied an extra-heavy dose of cologne. He skipped the shoe polish lest he be caught in the traffic jams into Brussels. He had to attend a crucial board meeting at nine thirty in the morning on the mezzanine floor of the Conrad Hilton Hotel on Avenue Louise.
He stepped in his Porsche at seven fifteen.
* * *
"They've been trickling in for thirty minutes, sir," Michel Deltour heard his administrative assistant, Suzanne, say as he entered the boardroom of the Conrad Hilton at nine o'clock.
She pointed with the palm of her right hand at the buffet. "We've set up the regular fare: croissants, baguettes, cheeses, yogurt, juices, jam, cereals, skim milk, tea, and coffee."
"Good," Deltour chuckled. "They all skip breakfast at home. 'Meet and eat,' they say, or is it 'eat and meet'? Buffets work wonders."
"Yes, and the traffic jams are bad, Mr. Deltour. I got up half an hour early today."
"Sweet girl," he said and tapped her on the shoulder.
Those thirty minutes just before the official meeting, thirty unscripted and uncontrolled minutes, always are the most productive of the day. This buffet has a great return, he thought with satisfaction. He had figured that out years ago.
Suzanne handed him a tan folder. "These are the last-minute notes," she said.
He turned his head left and right, seeing intense discussions and gesturing going on. He nodded approvingly. He leaned toward Suzanne and joked, whispering in her ear, "Did we put the schnapps in the coffee this time?"
He had never acted on this rascal impulse of his, but he kept thinking about it, snickering inwardly.
"No sir, maybe next time," Suzanne answered, her face not showing any reaction, her gaze covering the entire room in seconds.
I must have asked her this silly question fifty times. Too bad it would be improper for her to wink at me.
He noticed Alex. Already schmoozing away. Okay, but he'd better have facts today; we'll be talking about a ton of money. Deltour wouldn't admit to himself that he felt a little nervous.
The conference room looked functional but lacked personality and any decoration worth the term. The only thing that stood out was a giant black-and-white map of Brussels, anno 1552. It faced a huge window, which needed cleaning. Less than four hours from now, the Procter and Gamble bunch would move in for a buffet lunch, according to the schedule on the door.
Chairman Deltour was in his midseventies, wise and totally bald. "My giant billiard ball up here," he would joke, self-assured and feeling smart. "Don't mess with my hair."
He had a successful thirty-five-year career in Perfect Spring under his belt. His health was great, his walk steady, upright, and smooth, and he had a ready smile. That had been his weapon par excellence over the years. His voice was still forceful, as was his body of average height. He commanded respect naturally.
Michel Deltour was a straight shooter, a no-nonsense man. Merit and achievement were the only yardsticks he applied in his management. For one person, however, he would make an exception, reluctantly but again and again. That person was Alex Follon.
Mr. Deltour was keenly aware of the very special relationship Alex had with the widow of the founder of the company. Mrs. Liliane was in her eighties but still in good health—and in possession of most of the shares in the company. And she lets me know it, Michel would sigh or swear sometimes. Alex's mother had been a dear friend of Mrs. Liliane's since kindergarten in Antwerp. Alex was six years old when his mother passed away. Mrs. Liliane, who was childless, had promised her friend that she would look after the little boy, assisting his widowed father. She had visited Alex's boyhood home almost daily for many years.
Another factor was at play when Michel Deltour had to judge Alex's performance: any objective criterion Deltour would try to use simply would not work. Damn Alex is a fish in dark, wild water, slippery, invisible when you try to find him, and fast as lightning when he needs an escape from an argument he can't win, Michel had to admit to himself.
He had to give Alex free rein to a great extent, and over the years it had worked reasonably well. Michel knew he could call on Alex for unusual tasks with sizable risks. Alex had the guts and the nerve you need to confront high odds and bluff. He's got brains and cojones—a fortunate combination, also for business, he would muse and smile.
At 9:30 sharp, Michel Deltour called the meeting to order.
Half an hour into the discussions, the Tennessee project was brought to the attention of the meeting. Alex Follon stood up, buttoned his coat, ran his fingers through his hair, and started his presentation.
"Howdy, good morning."
Foreign slang. Turns me off, but that's Alex, old Deltour told himself, amused.
"The Tennessee Project calls for an investment of half a billion Euros, in a plant that will produce springs for the most sophisticated industries and complicated applications. Oil, electronics, aircraft, medicine, space exploration, advanced testing equipment, etc. We'll serve them all."
Alex's eyes roamed the room.
"Processing in the plant will be comprehensive," he went on. He explained with great authority the different technologies and machinery that would be used in the plant.
Deltour showed a slight smile. His usual flair and confidence.
"Marketing and feasibility studies done over the last six months show great profit potential and reasonable downward risk. This is a great opportunity," Alex concluded after more than half an hour of detailed analysis. He looked at his audience and said, "Thank you for your attention."
"Why in Tennessee? So far away from good ports?" a banker wondered.
"Sophisticated studies by Davis Site Selection Consultants have pointed us to northwest Tennessee as the overall best location for the project, Mr. Chaumont."
Yeah. He hired them. But he may be right, Deltour mumbled inwardly.
Board members intermittently looked at each other. Two of them nodded approvingly.
"And who's going to run this wonderful moneymaking machine, Mr. Follon?" another banker/board member asked.
Michel Deltour detected some skepticism in the question.
"We've got the people lined up, no problem," Alex answered. He sounded a little flippant. "We have good connections in the States."
The banker frowned and turned to Michel, his eyes asking for reassurance by the chairman.
"Alex, Mr. Follon, is right. And I've had a hand in this myself," Michel explained. "I was introduced by Gutfreund Bank to Mike Dean, a good man with a record of success in companies that Gutfreund funds. Mike's still young enough and dynamic. He'll manage the overall project, and we have a second guy, Troy Mattingly, who has worked with Dean before and has his confidence. He'll oversee the actual construction of the plant, the nuts and bolts of it."
"Where are they from, Dean and Mattingly? Tennessee?" the banker inquired further.
Michel turned to Alex.
"Dean's from Tennessee, mechanical engineer from the Colorado School of Mines. Great school," Alex said. "Mattingly's a New Yorker, graduate of West Point. Chemical engineer. He's half-Lebanese, half-Caucasian. Has been all over the place. Great guy. Fun wife. And he—"
"We want to know the families of the key people we hire," Michel jumped in to clarify. "We have to take it all into account." He looked at Alex.
The attendees went on, further analyzing technical, legal, and marketing aspects, and after thorough consideration, the board unanimously approved the funding of the project.
Sylvain, the rotund accountant who had delivered most of the figures for the meeting, sighed, "Finally. I don't know how many times I've calculated this baby." He slammed his folder shut.
"Thank you for all your work, Sylvain," Alex responded.CHAPTER 2
"Here's to the best spring factory in the world!" Alex shouted exuberantly as he lifted his near-empty glass of Lujuria Malbec in the Capriccio Grill. It was April 27. He had invited Mike Dean and Troy Mattingly for dinner at this restaurant in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Time had come for the threesome who would run the show to celebrate the board's approval of the Tennessee plant. Alex had said it would be an honor and a pleasure to have Ann and Janice join their husbands Mike and Troy.
The place was dimly lit, and the atmosphere was more suitable for a romantic rendezvous than a business gathering.
When Alex made his inappropriately boisterous toast, two guests at a nearby table halted their conversation and stared disapprovingly at him. He noticed their frowns but couldn't care less. Hell, I'm dropping hundreds of millions on their state, he shrugged inwardly. He assumed they were Tennesseans. The near-finished drink he was holding was his fourth or fifth; he wasn't sure, but nobody was counting. He felt like he owned the place.
After Alex's toast, Ann briefly looked down at her napkin but then joined Mike, Troy, and Janice in congratulating Alex for "handling the board so cleverly."
Mike stood up, dropping his napkin, and stated formally, "We thank you, Alex, for the opportunity to be part of the history you and Perfect Spring are going to write into the annals of Tennessee." He sat down and took his napkin back from Ann, who had picked it up and folded it for him.
Alex nodded and remarked that Mike looked unusually upbeat. "You barely drink, but you seem so happy tonight," he said, pushing his arm against Troy's elbow. "What's up, Mike? Did Ann promise you something special tonight here in the Peabody? Great rooms."
He knew that Mike didn't handle alcohol too well; the man had grown up in dry Dyer County, in the northwest corner of Tennessee. It now was no longer dry, but it had been for ages.
Mike just said, lifting his glass again, "Dyersburg welcomes Perfect Spring and its great people."
"Thank you, Mike, but not so fast. Dyersburg isn't a done deal yet. Madison County is still in the picture. And only last week did we get rid of Chattanooga. They tried to pay off the site-selection consultants, but I wasn't born yesterday." Alex laughed loudly again. He was euphoric.
Mike looked his serious self as he went into some of the details of the negotiations. These weren't really dinner conversation topics, but they did bring the noise level down.
Alex now started listening and observed the man who would carry the project. Long, slightly graying sideburns and a well-groomed mustache gave character to Mike, the serene, quiet family man. At forty-five, he was clean-cut, healthy-looking, and of average size and girth. He sounded reserved but naturally friendly and exuded conscientiousness. The "choirboy" looked younger than his age, with few wrinkles. His brown hair stayed impeccably in place, Trent Lott style.
Alex kept studying Mike's hair and wondering what his trick was. Then he thought about the straight-shooting, plain-speaking, innocent Mike who had visited Perfect's headquarters in Antwerp; not even ten minutes into his first meeting with Michel Deltour, his prospective employer, he had said, "A wall of cigarette smoke hit me as I exited the Brussels airport. Of course, people are free to give themselves cancer, but I don't want any part of it."
Alex smiled as he mused, Michel Deltour would die for a good cigar. Must have had a good chuckle.
Mike's wife of close to twenty-five years, Ann—a bit heavyset, about Mike's height, round-faced with short, curly blonde hair—looked the perfect mate as she sat next to her husband and listened with visible pride to his cogent explanations. She dripped sweetness.
Alex intermittently averted his eyes to look at Troy. He wondered how the Mike-and-Troy team clicked. "So, Troy, I hear that you're even smarter than your boss?" Alex joked, winking at Janice. "Is that true?"
"Huh? Ha-ha! Of course I am, Alex. What makes you doubt it?" Troy laughed and looked at Mike.
Mike smiled and rolled his eyes slightly.
"I bet you think you are, Troy," Alex went on. He was sitting next to Janice and pushed his right leg against her left to tell her to pay attention to what he was going to say. "Number-two dogs on sled teams must become top dogs, or the view never changes, right, Troy?" Alex looked at Janice. He felt he had delivered that old line well.
Troy, a weary expression on his face, looked again at Mike and said, "Alex, the dogs have a point, but Mike's a great boss. We're having fun."
Mike didn't seem to mind Alex's quips and just said, "We sure are." He turned his eyes back to his plate.
Alex trusted it was true, to a great extent anyway, that the two, Mike and Troy, complemented each other. Troy was about ten years younger than his boss. He stood six foot tall and gave the impression that he was fighting the bulge with reasonable success. He had black curly hair, cut very short. He had an infectious, big laugh and wit that could work wonders in discussions. West Point had taught him how to keep in shape with diet and time-consuming workouts. "Janice doesn't mind at all," he would explain with a wink. He was a confident guy, of somewhat dark complexion. In Tennessee, his heavy New York accent served as an icebreaker, irritant, butt of jokes, or object of curiosity, depending on the situation.
Excerpted from Tennessee TREMORS by Jan Smolders. Copyright © 2014 Jan Smolders. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Tennessee Tremors is a thriller that keeps the reader glued to see who is responsible for Troy's disappearance - a big player in the construction business. The finger points to many as this yarn unfolds in Dyersburg where big money, hot weather and alcohol make a dangerous mix. Great read!