Premiered – 1 May 2004 (Beltane)
Herman opened his hotel room door to see Gordon Medson's smiling face in the hallway, and behind him, slightly to one side, Tina's expectant one. Herman quickly looked from one to the other, and then said directly to Gordon, "No, no. I didn't order a woman. I ordered a Ribeye steak, shrimp cocktail, and a large baked potato with sour cream and chives. Besides," with a quick glance toward Tina, "she's not even my type."
Gordon grinned and stepped back as Tina brushed by both men. Her only comment, as she entered the hotel room, was, "Cute."
To Gordon, Herman added, "I really wanted a big, juicy steak." Gordon continued to smile as he turned and took up his position, his back to the open door. Herman eventually realized Gordon would not be coming inside and closed the door. Walking back into the room, Herman asked Tina, "What took you so long? I've been here in the hotel for ten minutes already!"
"Traffic. It's getting worse." Then as an afterthought, "If that's possible."
"You think that's bad," Herman assured her, "You should try the crowded skies over JFK! It's like a new form of bumper cars. We ended up in Newark , inadvertently. I think Captain Griff looked down, saw an unused runway off in a wasteland, and just landed."
"So," Tina began, getting down to business as she dropped into the only marginally comfortable chair in the room, "What did you learn?"
Herman's serious attitude stressed the profound revelation of his words, as he dropped down on the bed, looking intently into Tina's face. "The big news is that we have a very strange family."
Tina smiled. "I know." For a moment, she eased her intensity and mused aloud, "I can't imagine what we ever did to deserve such a weird group?"
Herman shrugged it off. "Hey! It takes all types to make a world!"
"Maybe." Tina did not appear entirely convinced as if perhaps the world might be better off without some of the variety. The question of whether or not the world needs such variety is a rather profound question when you think about it. But Tina elected not to think about it. Instead, she asked, "So what did your strange relatives tell you?"
Herman hesitated a moment, gauging Tina. Then he asked, "How about our exchanging information? As opposed to my simply telling you everything?”
"Boring," Tina replied, a frown displaying her momentary frustration. "We're in this together, Herm, and we can waste time of trivialities. I trust you, and if you don't trust me, that's your problem."
Herman was impressed. "You trust me?" He sounded slightly like a small boy in awe.
Tina didn't bother to directly confirm what she thought was obvious. "For example, Harrison and Dan are not the ones. I had suspected as much, but now I'm quite certain."
"They've been taken care of, bought off. Neither one wants to challenge the way things are. They don't want power, don't want to negotiate for it, and Zak has salved his own guilt, or whatever his feelings are, with money. They're content, and so is Zak."
Herman thought about it for a moment, seeing no problem with accepting Tina's assessment. Meanwhile Tina was continuing.
"I've also just come from a lunch with my mother."
"No kidding!?" Herman was astounded. And secretly delighted for Tina.
Tina ignored Herman's reaction, as she said, "Mom is very happy, content, with no apparent problems. Maybe it's the sign of a mother whose son is finally getting married."
"Andy's getting married?"
"On the twentieth." Tina was somewhat indifferent to the subject of her half-brother. Her thoughts tended more to the matter of her mother's sense of regained confidence and power. That was a subject that seemed to be of more interest. Perhaps even, for the moment, an acceptable yet unresolved mystery on which to ponder.
"The twentieth?" Herman muttered to himself. Suddenly, connections were clicking at the mention of the date. Herman had just been told, less than twenty minutes ago, to keep July twentieth open!
Tina, meanwhile, was still thinking on her own mystery. "It's almost as if things are going too splendidly for my mother. There may be in fact, more to it."
Listening to Tina's comment, Herman was diverted from his own thoughts. Looking suspiciously at his half-sister, he asked, "Have I got this right? You're suspicious of your mother!?
Tina explained, "Mothers can't be trusted. When it comes to their children, they have totally different agendas from the rest of the world."
"Yeah," Herman agreed. "Mothers will do the craziest things for their kids." Then as a corollary, he added, "Fathers don't seem to go quite so far."
Tina frowned, thinking of Zak. "Apparently not."
Then Herman brightened. "Speaking of which, I don't see our uncles as a problem. They either don't know what's going on with Zak or they've been bought off themselves. This was particularly obvious with Uncle Paul, and less so with Uncle Hal. Our Italian connection isn't too pleased with the final tallies, but then again he never was. However, the distance, not to mention the mutual suspicions, between Zak and both Paul and Hal that's developed over the last several decades, pretty well eliminates them as serious contenders for the throne. Frankly, they're just too old and stuck in their ways."
Tina was not surprised, and despite a fair amount of additional discussion (including some very direct questions from Tina) about the ins and outs of Paul, Hal, Dan, and Harrison, it was increasingly clear that there was very little additional information to learn from any of the four. Herman added to Tina's knowledge about some of the family history, while Tina tried to explain the total weirdness of Dan and Harrison. As the intensity of the information sharing waned, Herman added, "By the way, did you hear about the earthquake in Greece ? I was there at the time!"
Tina was unimpressed. " Greece is always having earthquakes. In fact, Earthquakes are happening everywhere. One just occurred in Santa Fe , along the Rio Grande fault line."
Herman didn't care about a Santa Fe earthquake; he was more involved with his disappointment at not having Tina show any more interest in his own adventure. "Really?"
Tina was following another line of thought. "What about Aunt Ester?"
"She's involved," Herman decided. "I don't know how, but somehow she knows at least a part of what's happening."
Tina was immediately intrigued. "Why do you say that?"
"There's too much happening around her. You don't live at the end of the earth, and still have messages flying in and out."
"What do you mean?"
"There was another messenger there when I arrived. We even left together. Her name was Iris. I don't know her last name."
"So that's who you've been trying to check out with my sources," Tina said. When Herman looked expectant, she added, "Nothing yet." Then it hit her! "Wait a minute! When I was with my mother, she received a telephone call from someone named Iris!"
"No. She also said something about Chirles, our half-uncle."
Herman's expression was sufficient to tell Tina that she had struck a nerve. But he quickly voiced it as well. "Ester mentioned that name as well!"
The party took on a greater intensity while the two compared notes, and Herman gave the run down on Chirles he had acquired. Room service arrived in the midst of it all, giving Tina some time to digest the new information and think about it. Then as Herman began to dive into the traditional, albeit unhealthy, meal of meat and potatoes, with Tina having an occasional shrimp from the cocktail, Herman made the obvious comment: "Obviously, Aunt Ester, your mother, our alleged uncle Chirles, and whoever-the-hell Iris is, are all involved in something! The question is whether or not it has anything to do with Zak."
"I'll bet money on it," Tina answered confidentially.
Herman laughed between bites. "You already have. In fact, you've bet Worldwide Enterprises on it."
Tina abruptly felt the seriousness of the matter. "What about Aunt Ester's return letter? Did you bring one back?"
"Naturally," Herman replied, relishing the last bites of the tenderloin portion of his steak.
"Where is it?"
Herman stopped momentarily, puzzled by the question. "Zak has it," he replied, as if the answer should have been obvious.
It wasn't. At least to Tina. "When did you see Zak?"
The tone of Tina's question was more than enough to alert Herman to the fact that the answer had not been obvious. It also rather strongly suggested to Herman that perhaps he should have let Tina in on his recent itinerary, somewhat earlier in their conversation. Sheepishly, he said, "In the limousine. He met me at the pier when I arrived. We drove here to the hotel and he took off for lunch with someone else."
"What!!!?" Tina was beyond incredulous. "And you didn't think to mention to me that you had just come from a meeting with Zak!?"
Herman tried a vain smile. "I guess it slipped my mind. There were so many other things to talk about. And it really wasn't a 'meeting'."
Tina snorted, her expression suggesting acute frustration, and the distinct possibility of considering having Herman boiled in salad dressing. "What happened?" Her tone now had the quality of 'What are your last words, before the guillotine falls?'
Herman tired to ease things. "He didn't really say anything! And I didn't have a chance to ask..."
"In detail," Tina prompted, ready to drag every possible morsel out of his alleged mind. "Tell me exactly what happened from the time, you first saw him."
Herman swallowed, suddenly concerned that a misstep in his memory might doom him to some eternal torture. Like listening, ad infinitum, to Geraldo Rivera announce the opening of Al Capone's vault. "When I got off the boat," he began, carefully trying to be as precise as possible, "the limousine was waiting for me. I had called ahead. But when I got into the car, there was Zak! I almost dropped by teeth!"
"What was he doing?"
"Smiling. Like he was pleased to see me. Scared me to death! He doesn't smile that much at me." Herman quickly added an afterthought. "He laughs at me a lot, but he doesn't smile that much."
"What did he say!?" Tina was still fighting acute frustration, and the urge to rip out someone's brain and dissect it for every possible bit of information.
"He said, 'Welcome home, Herm. How was the flight?' I told him. He then asked how his brothers were." Herman swallowed, just thinking about the moment. "I gagged a little bit, and I told him that Ester had indicated there was no hurry for her return message, and that I had been wanting to see my uncles for some time. That obviously didn't fly, so I added that I had recently become very interested in earthquakes, and that my uncles had always seemed to know about such things. So I had stopped by to talk about them."
"What did he say to that?"
"He laughed, and said something about his always enjoying my fabrications, that they were always so inventive."
"Too bad you weren't sufficiently inventive as to ask him some pertinent questions."
It was a small morsel, but Herman offered it with as much profundity as possible. "He told me to keep July twentieth open!"
Tina sat suddenly still, reading on Herman's face that he had already made the connection as well. "Andy's wedding date?"
Tina thought aloud for a moment. "My mother said Zak would be there."
Herman shrugged his shoulders as he accepted the plausibility of the idea. "Zak was married to her. Wouldn't that make him a friend of the family?"
Tina still struggled with the idea. "But why would he invite you!?"
This is the sort of question a person might find insulting. Herman had not taken offense, of course, but his voiced seemed to suggest otherwise. "Why not? I'm a lot of fun, the life of the party! Usually." As Tina continued to think and effectively ignore Herman's reply, Herman added, his voice much more serious, "Should we be concerned about Andy as a possible contender?"
The question momentarily interfered with Tina's train of thought. After thinking about it, she replied, "I can't see why. He's not Zak's son. In fact, I suspect that when my mother got pregnant with Andy, the idea of another man pretty much drove another wedge between her and my father. Zak may have actually been upset at her involvement with someone else."
"That's not like Zak."
"Maybe not, but I don't think Andy's the one."
"Who is Andy's father?"
"No idea. Metese has always been totally silent about that. You'd think that she had Andy without the help of a male." Tina grimaced at the thought.
"What about Chirles? There's no possibility of his...?"
"Are you kidding?" When it was obvious Herman was not entirely kidding, Tina frowned. "I suppose it's possible. But I really find it hard to believe."
"I don't know. Just doesn't seem quite right."
"I might try to find out more about that," Herman added, not quite willing to drop the idea.
Tina, on the other hand, was willing to drop the idea. In lieu thereof she went back to her original thought. "Did Zak say anything else to you?"
"Yeah," Herman replied. "When he mentioned keeping the twentieth open, he also said something about it being an auspicious day."
"My mother said the same thing." Tina was stunned. "What the hell is 'auspicious day' supposed to mean!?"
"I have no idea."
"Neither do I," Tina admitted. Then her will reasserted itself. "But I intend to find out! Even if it..." Tina didn't bother to finish, and Herman was pretty certain he knew where she was heading. Then Tina's logical mind noted, "From what we know now, I think the heir apparent, if that's what's happening, will be either Aaron or myself, or possibly you, Tess, and perhaps even Lars. Those are the only 'seeds' of Zak's that we haven't eliminated."
"What about the Brotherhood and all those illegitimate Greeks that Zak has spawned over the years?
"I checked that out after I received your e-mail from Greece . Zak's Greek bastards -- if they are his kids -- seem oblivious to the possibility of Zak being their father. None feel they belong to Zak, have no expectations with respect to him, and all of them have their own parentage of which they seem quite content. In fact, their total separateness from Zak makes me wonder if perhaps the stories of Zak spreading his wild oats all around Greece was more in the form of establishing a legend, something of a status symbol, instead of his actually fathering that many children."
"They're not his bastards? He just wanted everyone to think they were?"
"Quite possibly. Zak was never one to miss a trick; including the possibility of rewriting the history books."
Herman smiled. "May be that's why they call it history. His-story, and not her-story."
Tina frowned slightly. "Makes sense to me."
"Fascinating." Herman momentarily cocked an eyebrow. Possibly it's a family trait.
"Perhaps, but let's get back to who's left. I've been thinking about Tess lately."
Herman turned to Tina, questioning the idea. "You really think Tess is a contender?"
"Why not? Zak has always been enamored with her, even when she did strictly what ever she damn well pleased!"
"The ultimate male chauvinist enamored with the penultimate feminist?" Herman almost laughed.
"Tess never pushed that stuff on Zak; she knew better. And Zak was willing to let her have her way. In fact, he once offered her anything in the world she wanted. Anything!"
Herman was amazed, "What did she ask for?"
"I don't remember. She was just a kid at the time and it didn't make much difference." Then Tina's emotions flared. "But he sure never offered any of his other children whatever they wanted!" The childhood hurt made itself felt once again in Tina's being. With a hint of bitterness in her voice, she added, "Tess is still a contender!"
Herman sensed Tina was feeling an old hurt, and quite possibly could use with a change in subject. "What about Lars? Zak has never seemed to care much for Helen's side of the family."
Tina laughed slightly. "Zak despised him, particularly when Lars was still a kid. He was too emotional, too out of control. Zak hated that kind of thing!" Tina's face then showed a change of heart. "But then as Lars grew up, I think there was a change of heart. It was as if he had become valuable to Zak. Right now, I really don't know what their relationship is!"
"So we really can't eliminate Lars."
"Not without my spending some time with the guy."
Herman suddenly felt the need for diplomacy. "Is that wise? I mean, I sort of always assumed the two of you had reached new heights in sibling rivalry."
"That was a long time ago, when we were just kids. We get along fine now. I was finally able to teach him a little restraint. In any case, I intend to talk to him. You can drop in on Tess. Between the two visits, we should be able to narrow the field pretty well."
"Uh," Herman began, just enough to catch Tina's full attention. "There's one other stray 'seed' floating about. Perses. Denise Spear's daughter. Uncle Paul pretty well put the finger on Zak for that one."
"You didn't mention her in your e-mail." Tina tone was a suspicious one.
"I wanted to check out Italy first. Apparently, Uncle Hal had a thing about Perses as well. But from what I was able to piece together from some of Hal's staff, that seems less important than the fact that she's a daughter of Zak's, and what's more, Zak may have quite a debt to her."
"What do you mean?"
"Zak may have been partially responsible for Perses flipping out and ending up in the nut house. I don't know the details, but it seemed common knowledge that Zak did, or failed to do, something. Possibly let his parental duties slide, or something to that effect."
Tina smiled slightly. "Interesting. I've always suspected that Perses had some sort of grudge against Zak, but I never knew why."
"We're going to have to check her out."
"I know." Then Tina shook her head in amazement. "Zak's legacy of bastards, semi- bastards and progeny, is absolutely phenomenal!"
Herman felt a slight pain. "I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't think of me as a bastard." The expression on his face was enough to make anyone sympathetic. Or cause them to lose it and begin rolling in the aisle, laughing.
Tina smiled reassuringly. "I'm sorry. But it's not such a put down when you consider that you were never treated as a bastard."
"Except by Aaron."
"I suppose so. But look at the source!"
Herman's attitude became abruptly more serious. "He's still the front runner!" As Tina's expression mirrored his, Herman asked, "Could you work for Aaron if it came down to that?"
Tina's response was immediate and definite. "No. I've thought a lot about it. While I could probably tolerate it, I don't think I'd choose to do so. Aaron is not Zak. Worse yet, he'd want to prove himself. I don't want to be part of that."
For a moment Herman felt her intensity, as well as his own. "Nor me."
There was a long pause, as Herman decided he wasn't interested in eating any more steak and Tina allowed some of her emotions free rein. After a short while, she decided that she wasn't interested in doing that anymore, and shifted back into her planning mind. "I'll make the contact with Perses and Lars; you talk to Tess."
"Oh no!" Herman countered, half-mockingly, "Not the Tess!"
"Don't worry," Tina said, "Tess hates Aaron, not you."
Herman smiled. "I know." He added, "I'm also going to try to find Chirles."
Tina seemed to care less. "Fine."
"And," Herman continued, "I'm going to talk to April Ikaria. Zak just might have confided in her."
"But will she confide in you?"
Herman smiled, as if he actually knew one way or the other. "I think so. Besides, she's one of his best friends and we need to check it out."
"You may be right," Tina conceded.
Herman then added, "April's probably the only woman in creation that Zak ever met, found attractive, and didn't screw. I think that's significant!" Both laughed slightly at the seemingly illogical.
Oblivious to his thoughts, Tina asked, "Why is that, do you suppose?"
Herman frowned, trying with a hint of laughter, to avoid thinking about the fact that April might be Zak's aunt. "I have no idea," he managed to say.
Which is precisely the way they left it. Both smiling, but a little worried.
Coincidentally, Aaron was smiling as well. But he was not worried. His fledgling spy network was beginning to prove itself with a wide variety of tidbits, which when combined in a clever way (allegedly Aaron's only way of combining tidbits) yielded some very interesting results. Aaron was still willing to admit that the conclusions were somewhat tentative, but the evidence of Zak's preparations for the handing over of the keys to the kingdom was becoming ever more obvious and certain. Zak was, in fact, preparing to step down in favor of an heir apparent! Aaron was certain of it!
Aaron still could not guarantee who would be receiving the keys to the kingdom, but he had to believe that Zak's prime son would be the one. As he sat at his desk, Aaron relished the moment when he would finally come into his own. He began to think about all the major improvements that he'd make at Worldwide Enterprises. Aggressively attack some of the seemingly unsolvable problems. Create a whole new dynasty. People would soon sit up and take notice of Aaron Gilan, particularly when they saw all the things he could do!
He smiled, as he thought about all the really worthwhile changes he would instigate, the problems he would solve. Even his mother would be proud!
Then reality slipped in a few hints of its continuing existence, and Aaron thought again about Tina. He had to admit she was still a possible. But for the moment, he just didn't want to give it too much credence. In addition, with Aaron taking over as the Chief Executive Officer of Worldwide Enterprises, Tina would still be a critical asset. It might be time, Aaron thought, to make some overtures to Tina, just in case, but primarily to expedite things when Zak picked Aaron. The heir apparent would need Tina's talents -- if only as a second in command.
Aaron's expression became all the more intense as he thought about the fact that Tina would have to be handled very carefully. One didn't squander assets. One used them.
Chapter Thirteen – Back to Nature
Chapter Fifteen – Inmates and Outmates
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]