SIXTEEN YEARS AGO
THE SMELL OF WATERMELON, DEAD FISH, AND OIL told me we were getting close to the Galveston harbor. I'd been up since five, pulled on my jeans and boots, fed the dog, downed a quick bowl of cereal, and was ready to go before Dad and my older brother Will even got to the kitchen. It was the end of June, school was out, and I was driving us to a boat that would take us out to a drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
Crossing the bridge to the docks, I got a whiff of sea water and saw seagulls flying around huge cranes, rusty barges, and enormous jack-up rigs that looked like giant erector sets poking out of the sea. This is Texas, where oil, money, and egos are as big as they say they are, at least in the oal' n-gaz bidness.
"Turn right at the stop sign," my dad said.
My name is Max McLennon, and I turned sixteen last week and got my driver's license yesterday. My family's been working for oil companies for three generations, all the way back to the days of Henry Ford. When I graduate from high school, I plan to go into the business myself.
I pulled up to the stop sign, looked both ways, and turned left. "Hey, little brother," Will said, and he didn't need to say more. I stopped the car, made a U turn, and headed back to the right, where Dad had told me to go. Right, left-sometimes I get them confused.
I pulled into a parking lot, locked up the car, and followed Dad and Will onto a service boat that would take us out to sea. Three hours later, a drilling platform called Wild Stallion-a semi-submersible sitting in two thousand feet of water-loomed on the horizon like a city in the middle of the ocean. It had a main deck over a hundred feet high, and above that, towering cranes and stacks of drill pipe. No matter how many times you saw one of these things, their size still knocked you out.
The ocean swells were too big for us tie up, so we used a "swing line"-a rope like Tarzan's vine-to get from the boat to the platform. From there we took an elevator twelve stories up to the main deck where some more roughnecks welcomed us aboard. I like the name "roughneck." I like putting on boots, leather gloves, and a hardhat and spending a day working with the guys who do the tough, dirty job of drilling for oil.
I get to do this because my dad's a drilling rig supervisor for Gulf-Tex Oil and Gas. He's a cool head in the middle of a dangerous business, and the men rely on him to keep them out of trouble.
My brother Will is a rookie roughneck everybody says will someday be as good as Dad. He's a nice guy with a good attitude, washboard abs, and a handsome, tan face that makes him popular with the girls. I'd say Dad's my hero because he takes care of the family, but I'd say Will is cool. I take the same courses in school he took, play the same sports, lift the same weights, and listen to the same Bruce Springsteen albums. I make no bones about wanting to be like him.
After giving us their how-do's, the men went back to work "turning right," which means drilling into the ground. In the on-deck control room-a re-built construction trailer called a "doghouse"-you could see the charts and computerized pictures of the oil field they were aiming for, a deposit about ten thousand feet below the seabed.
At least, that's what they hoped was there. According to Dad, there's a small glitch in the oil industry that has never really been solved: how to find oil. Engineers and drillers have various ways of trying, but none of them's foolproof. The best of the bunch-sound waves-can tell you where to find liquid, but can't always tell you whether it's oil or water. Until somebody invents a pair of eyes that can "see" under the ground, drilling for oil will always be a Las Vegas-sized gamble. But that's another thing I like about this business. Dad says it's always sink or swim. Make it big or not at all. You have to have the stomach for it or you won't survive. For some reason, that works for me.
I stood on a raised metal grating coiling up the heavy chains they use to set drill pipe. Even with noise protectors on my ears, the decibel level of the diesel engines was shouting-loud. It didn't seem to bother the roughnecks, though. They communicated with hand signals when they had to. Some of the signals were easy to figure, like a circle to rev it up, and some weren't, but the roughnecks knew them all. They had to. Their lives depended on it.
I looked up and saw a helicopter settling onto a landing pad above my head, it's high pitched engine screaming like trumpets introducing the boss himself.
THE CHOPPER'S SKIDS hadn't hardly touched down when out stepped Jack Patterson, better known as "Spin," the thirty-eight-year-old CEO of Gulf-Tex Oil. With him was Joe Wright, his chief engineer, and Bud Hightower, the sixty-five-year-old founder of Gulf-Tex who was chairman of he company and its biggest shareholder. He also happened to be Spin's father-in-law, considering Spin married Audrey Hightower when they graduated from college.
Mr. Hightower was lean and tall with a gray buzz cut and weathered skin and a cigarette that never fell out of his mouth. If he'd had a cowboy hat on, he would have been the Marlboro man. Joe Wright, the chief engineer, wore glasses and a baggy jump suit, not looking cool but he didn't need to be, he was as smart as a fox.
When it came to cool, Spin was another story. He was rich, powerful, and good looking, the kind big dog all the other dogs wanted to run with. He had on this dark suit and a silver hard hat with the Gulf-Tex logo on it, but underneath the glitz he was a regular guy who was comfortable shooting the breeze with the roughnecks and getting a feel for what was really going on. According to Dad, Spin's biggest problem was trimming the company's fat by getting rid of old rigs, obsolete machinery, and things they didn't need.
Even though Spin was young and married to the boss's daughter, everybody respected him because he'd come up the hard way. First he was a roughneck, then a wildcatter, then he was head of a drilling service company in Corpus. Dad said he'd taken over Gulf-Tex when it was about to go bankrupt and in only three years turned it around. Will said he was a man with vision who understood that the only way to find oil was with modern technology. Apparently that's why he'd hired Joe Wright, this genius engineer from the University of Texas.
Spin led the way down the metal steps to the landing where I was standing while his helicopter shut down the engines. I lifted off my ear protectors and waited for him to come by. The minute he saw me, he smiled and stuck out his hand.
"Hey, Max, what brings you out here?" he shouted.
"It's June, Mr. Patterson, school's out," I yelled. "It's my chance to be a roughneck."
He pulled the strap under my hard hat and hit the top. "Keep that thing on tight, okay?" He started to leave, then stopped and looked at me. "You know what?" he said after thinking it over, "Why don't you climb up the crane cab and watch from there? You'll get a view of everything and Puck can explain what's going on."
He lifted his walkie-talkie, hit the transmit button, and told the crane operator, Puck Tarver, I was coming up. I don't think Puck liked the idea at first, because Spin turned away to talk to him in private, but after that, he smiled at me and pointed at the steel ladder leading six stories up to the control cab. I waved at him, grabbed my ear protectors, and went for the ladder while Spin and Mr. Hightower walked down the metal steps to the main deck.
By the time I'd reached the cab it felt like I'd climbed up a circus ladder to a high wire platform. I opened the door, entered, and sat in the chair behind Mr. Tarver, who got the nickname "Puck" because he'd played semi-pro hockey. He was wearing a hardhat, earphones with a microphone curled in front of his mouth, and dark sunglasses, and he was busy raising a heavy new Caterpillar diesel engine from a sea-going barge a hundred feet up to the main deck. I watched him operate the crane controls-the joysticks, foot pedals, and buttons-while he talked to the guys on the deck below. I was curious about which levers took the crane hook in which direction, but I didn't interrupt him to ask.
There was an extra headset on the control panel, so I picked it up and put it over my head and listened as Puck and a roughneck guiding the payload into position talked to each other. I recognized the other voice instantly: it was my brother Will's. I looked down and saw him standing next to the empty mud pit-a shallow well on the deck where they were going to store the engine-his headset on, waiting for the crane to bring the engine to him.
Looking at the other side of the deck, I saw Spin, Joe, and Mr. Hightower greet my Dad with handshakes and shouts over the noise, then I saw Spin and Mr. Hightower walk to the railing on the far side of the platform and look down at a fuel boat delivery hose that was being lifted by a small crane. When it got up to the deck, a couple of roughnecks with goggles and gloves grabbed it and guided its nozzle into a metal coupling, and a few minutes later the hose swelled up with diesel fuel that was being pumped into a huge tank. Diesel oil's critical on a drilling platform because it runs all the engines, generators, and pumps you need to produce a field. It seemed kind of ironic to me, all that oil being burned to find more oil.
Back on the near side of the platform, the Caterpillar engine dangled a few feet above the deck. Puck talked into his mike-didn't get an answer from Will-asked Will if he could hear him-then repeated himself but still got no answer.
He tapped the mike with his finger, cussed when it didn't work, and pulled a plastic pill case out of his breast pocket. He opened it and fished out a couple of white pills and said, "Excedrin?" to me, holding three in his hand. When I shook my head no thanks, he put the case back into his pocket and held onto the pills.
I could hear him talking into the mike, but I heard no answer from Will or anyone else on the deck. Evidently the intercom was busted. How they could put a man on the moon and still couldn't get an intercom to work was a mystery to me, but it happened all the time.
I saw Puck change channels from number two to number three on his headset and say, "My reception's out, Spin. Can't hear Will on channel two, and I can't hear you on channel three. Can you hear me? If you can, give me a hand signal!"
I saw Spin wave to Puck saying yes, he could hear.
Puck cupped his hand around his mike and talked into it so he didn't have to yell at Spin over the cab noise. I couldn't hear what he said, but apparently he and Spin got their hand signals worked out. Puck popped the three Excedrin pills into his mouth, chewed them up without water, and worked the joy stick. A second later, the Caterpillar engine began moving across the deck toward the mud pit.
That's when it happened.
PUCK LOOKED OVER AT ME with his mouth open in surprise. "What's wrong?" I said.
His face turned red like he was doing sit ups-his hands rose to his throat-and he pitched forward against the glass window, knocking his hardhat to the floor.
I got out of my chair and leaned over him. His cheek was pushed up against the glass, his eyes were half open, and his skin was sweaty.
I looked down and saw the diesel engine swinging across the deck a few feet above the surface. I hit the transmit button on my mike. "Puck's passed out!" I yelled. Channel two: "Will?" No answer. Channel three: "Can anybody hear me down there? Puck's passed out!" I tried talking on All Channels, but nobody answered. As I later found out, they could hear me but I couldn't hear them.
Will and the roughnecks with him looked up at me. I pointed at Puck collapsed in against the window-yelled into my mike again-"Puck's out!"-then threw my hands high into the air-What should I do?
The two-ton diesel engine was approaching the mud pit, but when the roughnecks raised their hands to stop it, it kept going and sailed past them. Now they looked up at me, too-What's happening up there?
I looked at the control panel. The joystick had arrows pointing in four directions-North, East, South, and West-but I couldn't tell what they meant when it came to understanding the direction of the swinging payload.
I started talking to myself. "If I push it forward, which way will it go?" I could see an arrow pointing forward but didn't know if that meant "up" or "down." Same for right and left. Fuckin' dyslexia. When I played quarterback, my center would touch his right or left knee just to make sure I knew which way the play was going.
I wiped away the sweat dripping off the end of my nose and looked down at the deck. Everything was happening fast: the diesel engine was headed for the edge of the platform-Will was drawing his hand across his neck telling me to cut the engine-I looked for the ignition switch but couldn't find it-the payload kept moving.
It was headed right at Mr. Hightower, who was leaning over the railing looking down at the fuel boat.
I saw men cup their hands at their mouths and yell at him.
I grabbed the joystick and pushed it to the side, hoping for the best. The engine started moving left.
It hit Mr. Hightower just as he was turning to see what they were yelling about, lifted him off his feet, and knocked him over the railing.
The engine continued swinging out over the sea. I saw my dad run over to see where Mr. Hightower had fallen and look down. The engine swung out over the water as far as it could go, like a kid on swing, and started back. Men were pointing and running everywhere.
The Caterpillar engine picked up speed and headed back across the deck toward the mud pit. I stared at the damned arrows and told myself to figure it out, but I couldn't. I looked out the window and saw the engine heading toward a fuel tank next to the mud pit.
That would be an even bigger disaster.
Blinking away sweat, I grabbed the joystick and started to pull it back-would that lift it or drop it?-I wanted to lift it-get it to clear the fuel tank-pulling back would drop it, right?-so pushing it forward would lift it!
I pushed the stick forward but it didn't lift. Instead, the engine dropped to the deck, hit a steel bin that held drill pipe, spilling them like Pick Up sticks, then spun around and dropped onto the deck and rolled, cutting the diesel fuel hose in two and knocking one of the roughnecks and some equipment into the mud pit.
The engine fell into the mud pit on top of the roughneck.
The severed fuel hose rose up in the air like a cobra and lashed back and forth spewing diesel fuel, then flopped onto the deck and continued gushing liquid. Some of the men were running toward the roughneck in the pit.
The door to the cab opened and a roughneck came running in, pushed me aside, and worked the joystick and some other controls.
I felt like I'd left my own body. It was all my fault.
I pushed open the cab door, swung around a metal pole, found the top rung of the ladder beneath my foot, and started climbing down. When I got to the deck, I ran toward the mud pit, which was the size of a living room sunk five feet into the deck, and looked to see what had happened. I could see the roughneck pinned against the wall by the engine. Was he dead? No, but his face was red with pain.
It was my brother Will.
Good God, what have I done?
SIXTEEN YEARS LATER
I SHOULD HAVE BEEN PAYING ATTENTION to what was going on in the meeting, but I couldn't take my eyes off her neck.
Tacoma and I were an audience of two sitting in club chairs listening as our boss, Spin Patterson, practice a speech he'd be giving in a couple of weeks to a group at the United Nations. At the moment, his shirtsleeves were rolled up, his bow tie loosened, and a Jack-and-water was within reach, but come the day of the speech he'd be the elegant, dynamic, highly-respected CEO of Gulf-Tex Oil who'd have everyone's undivided attention. Which was good, because what he had to say stood a good chance of turning the oil industry into a world-class engine of peace, win him a Nobel Prize, and make all of us very rich. Everything was riding on his words, including my career, and yet here I was staring at Tacoma's neck.
The object of my affection was thirty-one-year-old Tacoma Reed, a colleague of mine here at Gulf-Tex who serves as Spin's in-house counsel while I serve as his thirty-three year-old vice-president for special projects. That's a fancy title for right-hand-man and chief bottle washer, but it's not the title that matters, it's what I do. My proximity to the throne gives me clout and the opportunity of a lifetime.
I love this job. And I love my boss. For better or worse-and it's usually worse-I also love Tacoma. Her neck would have been beautiful enough as Michelangelo's marble, but in real life it was more interesting than that. You can see her breathing there. Imagine her pulse. See it as the bridge between her face and her body. She was wearing a beautiful white dress-after practicing the speech, we were all going to the company Christmas party at one of Houston's finer country clubs-and it revealed just enough of her elegant figure to fuel a not-so-elegant lust in my heart. I wanted her so much I would have taken her to the opera.
I got up from my chair while Spin spoke about changing the world with the biggest invention since the steam engine, then I walked over to Tacoma, ran my fingers up the nape of her neck into her coal black hair, pulled her head back, and kissed the hollow of her neck . . .
"Max? Hello?" Spin's voice snapped me out of my fantasy.
"Yes, boss," I said. "I'm listening."
"If this speech is boring you," he said, "keep in mind that you wrote it."
Tacoma flashed a gotcha smile at me from across the coffee table. She knew I was day dreaming about her, I have a bad poker face. I gave her eye daggers in return. She and I have this friendly-well, mostly friendly-professional competition which is complicated by tormented personal feelings. Mine, not hers. We're sort of like Romeo and Juliet except she refuses to be Juliet. And if I were a Romeo with any brains, I'd remember how that story ends, but love isn't blind, it's stupid.
"Speaking as an American," Spin read from his speech, "I find it outrageous that every time I fill up my gas tank I'm helping the terrorists who want to destroy my family and country."
"Give it more from the gut, Spin," I said. "You're gonna be a rock star up there, don't be afraid to act like one."
He took a sip of bourbon, mumbled something about Mick Jagger, and read the draft in silence. At fifty-three he was as charismatic as anybody you could find-handsome without being pretty, intelligent but with a common touch-a sophisticated Texan as prime as a perfectly aged sirloin steak.
"Yadda, yadda, yadda," he said, turning pages to the end. "When I'm done, the lights dim and the screen behind me gives them the video show, right?"
"Right," I said. "After that, it's Q and A with the press and members of the audience." The room at the UN would be filled with oil company executives, petroleum explorers, ambassadors and reporters from all over the world.
"I think the speech should be shorter," Tacoma said.
"I've already cut it twice," I said.
"Maybe you should cut it again."
"Maybe he should stand there and say nothing?"
She gave me her Mona Lisa smile-Maybe he should-then turned to Spin and said, "What are you planning to wear?"
"What do you suggest?"
"A midnight blue Armani with a blue silk tie."
"Not too bright," I said. "It shouldn't compete with the message."
"But it shouldn't be funereal, " Tacoma said.
"Did I say funereal?"
"In so many words." Delivered with another sultry, half-lidded smile.
They say people have bad dreams about the people they love because of a deep-seated fear they'll lose them. Me, I get wide-awake, flirtatious insults from someone unattainable. I know, I know, but I can't help myself any more than Romeo could.
Spin gathered up the draft and sat on the sofa next to our chairs. His black tie hung loosely around his unbuttoned collar and the studs on his French cuffs sparkled. Tacoma lifted a remote control from the glass coffee table, lowered the room's lights, and opened the vertical blinds, giving us the Houston skyline.
Spin said, "If everything goes right, two weeks from now nothing will be the same-not for Gulf-Tex, the three of us, or the rest of the world. Here's to Black Eyes."
Black Eyes was the codename of the company's new deep earth sonar technology Spin had spent years developing and would soon unveil to the world. If it worked as advertised, it would be able to find oil and hydrocarbons in new places all over the globe, far beneath oceans and countries who, possessing no petroleum of their own, were hostages to the few who did.
We drank to Black Eyes, then Spin checked his Rolex and said, "Time to go, Audrey will be downstairs in the car and I don't want to keep her waiting." He stood and pulled on his tux jacket, then reached out and grabbed my arm and squeezed. "It's a good speech, Max. I only wish he could have been here to hear it."
He didn't have to say who "he" was. We both knew. There was a picture of him right there on the wall.
Spin let go and patted me once. "Can we give you guys a lift?" he said, walking to a mirror on the back of a closet door to tie his bow tie.
"We've got a car, thanks," I said. I escort Tacoma to this party each year. Notice I didn't say "date" her, just "escort" her.
Tacoma said to Spin, "We'll see you at the party," then to me, "I'm going to the ladies room, be right back," and went out the door.
Sitting there alone, toying with my glass of scotch, I looked at that picture hanging on Spin's wall. It was a black-and-white photograph of the four of us-my brother Will, my dad, Spin, and me-standing on Wild Stallion Platform, hardhats off, goggles down, leather gloves in hand, squinting into the sun and smiling as if we owned the future. It was taken a year before the accident, at a time when we were fearless and full of life and the thought of disaster never entered our minds.
"I only wish he could have been here to hear it."
It came rushing back like it was yesterday.
WILLS LEG WAS PINNED against the wall of the pit by a broken steel rod on the diesel engine. The men had thrown off their noise protectors and were kneeling around the edge of the crater to help get him out. The engines on the rig began shutting down and the deck turned quiet enough you could hear people talk. The hook on the crane line was still trapped under the engine, which was on its side.
My dad yelled at Will to hold on.
Out on the deck, a bunch of roughnecks tried to get control of the spewing fuel hose. One of them ran to the edge of the platform and signaled down to the boat captain to stop pumping, but for some reason, the fuel kept shooting out.
My father jumped into the hole to check out Will. Spin and Joe Wright joined the roughnecks ringed the pit. After a few minutes, Spin received a message on his headset and his face went kind of white. He looked at my dad and shook his head. They'd found Mr. Hightower's body floating face down in the sea.
I told myself none of this was my fault, but of course I didn't believe it
Will was propped up on his elbows looking at his foot. As I positioned myself to see him better, I saw something else that spelled trouble.
"Mr. Patterson!" I yelled at Spin. "Look!"
He looked and his face froze. Diesel fuel was rolling across the deck toward us. The surface wasn't exactly level, and I guess we were on the downhill side. Spin ran toward the men who were fighting the severed hose.
"Dad!" I said. "Fuel's coming!"
His eyes turned to the platform as the first trickle spilled over the edge and dropped onto the floor at his feet. He gave me a worried look I'd never seen before, then said to one of the men, "Get a pneumatic jack," and went back to work on Will's foot. I couldn't believe how calm he was. The rest of us were pretty much terrified.
So was Will. At the first smell of fuel he backed up against the wall like a bird in a cage. A moment later the fluid oozed against his waist and elbows. A second later a roughneck appeared with two fire extinguishers, pulled the safety pins, and laid a blanket of foam on the floor around Will's body. But the fuel kept spilling in, and it wasn't in a dribble.
Spin was on his headset talking to the man who'd climbed up to the crane cab to help Puck and operate the hoist. He told two men to get down in the pit and try to free the hook from under the Caterpillar engine and told the man in the cab to get ready to lift it off with the crane.
The men on deck were trying to stop the flow of fuel using boards and pipes and anything they could find to make a dam. I ran over and helped them, but it was like getting the Mississippi to go back. One of the men yelled at me to take another fire extinguisher to the pit, so I did.
Lying in a pool about three inches deep, Will tried to yank his foot loose but it held fast and his hands just slipped in the goo. Dad leaned over to him, put his hand behind his neck, and said something that calmed him down. After that, Dad straightened up and yelled, "Where's that jack?"
Somebody came over with it and lowered it into the well and tried to position it against the steel rod, but they couldn't fit it in right.
Come on, Will, pull your leg free or you're gonna drown.
The sound of the crane engine revved up. I looked up and saw Spin motioning to the operator to raise the hook and lift the Caterpillar engine off Will's shin. The cable line went taught, and there was sound of metal against metal, but the instant the Caterpillar engine started moving, Will yelled out in pain.
"Stop!" Dad yelled. "We're crushing his leg!"
Spin made some hand gestures and the crane operator stopped and eased the line.
I set down the extinguisher and licked my lips. I remembered seeing a gas-driven chain saw they used to cut timber with, so I ran over to the equipment room, picked it up, and brought it back.
"Cut the rod!" I said holding it out to Dad.
"Can't," he yelled. "Sparks." Even with the protective foam, he was afraid they'd ignite the diesel fuel like a pan of hot grease.
There was blood running down Wills leg into his torn pants. Dad and another guy were using a huge crowbar to force the rod away from the wall without smashing Will's leg.
"It's moving!" one of the men yelled.
That was the good news.
Then came the bad.
It was a single word yelled by one of the roughnecks, and it was the worst word you could possibly imagine.
He yelled, "Fire!"
"FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!"
I looked over and saw yellow flames and black smoke spreading in our direction.
Some of the men helping Dad got up and ran toward it. More extinguishers roared out white foam. The flames stopped a minute, then kept coming. Men beat at the licks with jackets and canvas tool bags, but it didn't help. Burning metal stunk up the air with the smell of a shorted-out light socket.
I laid on my stomach at the edge of the pit, took off my gloves, and reached down for Will's hand. Spin looked at the fire and yelled at my Dad.
Dad heard him but didn't even look up. He calmly tore Will's pant leg up to his knee.
Spin looked at the approaching flames and said, "Sam, for God's sake!"
The flames were about a front yard away.
Spin got on his knees and joined the men who were pushing back the fuel with boards and shovels to try to keep it out of the pit.
I couldn't see how my brother was going to get out of this. I felt trapped myself. My heart was pounding out of my chest.
Dad picked up the chain saw and pulled the starter cord, and I thought, what the hell is he doing? The second it touches steel the fuel's gonna ignite.
I didn't get it, but Will did. He reached up, gave his hands to Spin and the roughnecks on the edge of the pit, and closed his eyes. The chain saw revved up the way it does when it's about to cut a tree limb, and that's when I realized Dad wasn't about to cut the metal rod.
"No!" I yelled, and jumped down into the pit next to Will.
Dad reached out and slapped my face with the back of his hand to bring me to my senses. He'd never hit me before and it felt unreal. Two roughnecks grabbed my arms and yanked me out of the pit.
Then Dad lowered the saw.
Will screamed as a pink mist rose in the air. My face was tingling from what I saw.
The flames crept over the side.
Spin and the roughnecks yanked Will out of the hole.
The flames whooshed up from the floor of the pit.
After that, my memory gets a little fuzzy. I remember men yelling and shooting tons of white foam on Dad and throwing a canvas tarpaulin over him before pulling him out. I remember voices talking to him, and I remember Will lying on his back yelling for Dad and trying to turn over so he could crawl over to him. I remember pushing my way through the guys to get to Dad. I remember wanting to make sure he was going to be okay, and wanting to tell him I was sorry I'd tried to stop him from cutting Will loose, that I knew why he'd hit me, it was a good thing he had, I could have screwed everything up even more than I already had.
After that, I don't remember much at all. Except I know I was too stunned to cry, and so was Will.
I guess we were saving that for the funeral.
Over time, Spin had become the hero I'd lost in my dad and the idol I'd lost in my brother. With his foot amputated, Will never worked as a roughneck again. He lost the swagger that had made him everybody's favorite guy and put on weight, drank too much, and turned bitter. Despite that, he was the family's chief provider, which he managed by using his disability insurance, his dad's wrongful death insurance, and a private settlement with Gulf-Tex that remains confidential to this day. Will never talked about it because it contained a nondisclosure clause, he said, so I never asked. Besides, once I got to law school, I assumed I understood the reason for it: Spin had engineered an unusually large settlement from Gulf-Tex and didn't want people with a jealous streak to know. Anyway, there was no reason for me to get nosy about it.
For awhile, Spin kept Will on the company payroll to do odd jobs here and there-he walked with his prosthesis so well you wouldn't know he had one-but in time he stopped working all together. Photography, a solitary endeavor, suited him fine and became his only interest. The girls who'd once melted in his arms now simply melted away. He'd never married.
The door opened and Tacoma came back into the room. "Ready?" she said.
I took a last sip of scotch, got up, and walked to Spin's mirror where I fixed my tie, combed my hair, and practiced my smile. The accident at Wild Stallion was sixteen years ago, but whenever it appeared on my horizon, my bravado and self-confidence dropped away like a mask off a trick-or-treater. And I didn't like what I saw.
Excerpted from THE BOSS © Copyright 2011 by Stan Pottinger. Reprinted with permission by St. Martin’s Paperbacks. All rights reserved.