Monday, January 17, 2011

The Bean King - 2

George Tilman was a lucky man, although not necessarily in the way that people thought he was. As far as the world was concerned, he’d managed to revive his failing company despite his disastrous turn as CEO of his old company, going from has been and laughing stock to the comeback kid, although at age forty two and staring down the barrel of heart disease, he was no one’s kid.

Tilman was a smart man, and the last year, the year since he caught the bean, he’d developed a talent for introspection that had eluded him in a previous life. Part of that was knowing what the public didn’t. He was lucky. There was no doubt about that. But luck had nothing to do with his rebound success, to the repair of his reputation. That was all down to him being the Bean King.

He took his hand off the wheel for a second and rubbed the bean, still indistinguishable from a stone to him, secure in it’s leather ouch on a thing around his neck. Like Tilman’s status as this year’s Bean King, it was something he almost forgot about but played at the edges of his mind nearly all the time, like a song stuck in his head.

Before the Bean King, Tilman blamed his failure on everyone but himself. In the year since, he’d come to see that the only person that could be blamed for the tens of millions that had gone down the tube was Tilman. He had panicked too late and not soon enough, and he’d lost everything.

Tilman ended up with a company that vivisected by investors and creditors while he watched, a wife who took half of everything which, in what Tilman now looked at as bit of small luck, ended up being half of nothing. His house was on the auction block and the car he’d had was his until the repo man caught up.

He hadn’t really minded losing all that. They were trophies, not prize possessions. He’d made his bones in the early days in sales, and he was just as happy on a hard mattress in small room as he was in a California king at his entirely too palatial home. Tilman was happy when he was winning. Where he was winning was purely a secondary consideration.

He had time to consider what he was responsible for in the last year because he really wasn’t responsible for much in the past year. While those that were in a position to know who Tilman was and be aware of climb back to the top considered it a combination of luck and savvy, with the emphasis on luck for those who were still stung from the fall, Tilman knew that it had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with Holly Falls and Edward Drew.

The idea was simple, if you accepted the position as Bean King, then the people of Holly Falls did everything they could to make your life as ideal as possible. Considering the sheer accumulation of wealth and power in the town, the possible was considerable.

Exactly what ideal was varied from Bean King to Bean King. Tilman gathered from what Drew said an, more importantly, didn’t say, that the last King had been a homeless man who’d ended up staying in the town when winter fell. His needs had been simple, a roof over his head and some company. Tilman’s impression was maybe that the man was a bit off in the head, as well, and that the people of Holly Falls had helped take care of that, too.

The catch they told you about was that the position was only for one year, from New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve. After that, you were on your own. This was, in Tilman’s estimation, a pretty big catch. As Drew explained it, the town considered it important to do this as thanks for their good fortune, but extending it for more than one year would be go against the values of hard work and self sufficiency, so the one year ‘term’ was the compromise.

Tilman had many failings, but being stupid wasn’t generally one of them. The problem wasn’t getting what you wanted; it was keeping it once you had it. If you weren’t smart enough to get it in the first place, you’d be damn lucky to be able to hold onto it. A long line of lottery winning loser had more than proved that.

So Tilman was happy to take the offer, and smart enough to understand what it meant. The Holly Falls residents had poured money into his new business, and propped up his decisions. They manipulated things behind the scenes, and to all the world it looked like Tilman was a magnificent lucky genius. He knew he wasn’t a genius, and the only luck involved was biting down on a petrified bean and nearly breaking his teeth. If you could even call that luck.

Because Tilman wasn’t stupid, he also made sure that he had plenty of other investors. He was good, maybe great, at the hustle and jive. He could sell a dream like nobody else, and with the good people of Holly Falls behind, he’d sold a lot of dreams. He’d made sure to pack some of that money away on a few nice little island with favorable laws, far away from the eyes of the IRS and the SEC. If he failed again, he wouldn’t be left with nothing again. Tilman didn’t really care about money or the trappings of, but you’d needed cash to stay in the game.

Drew didn’t say it, not outright, but he knew that as soon as his tenure as Bean King was over, the town would sell of their stocks and pull away from Tilman and all his works. His stock price would plummet, and he figured he had maybe a fifty/fifty chance of surviving it.

He’d done the best he could to shore up the company with other investors, but if they jumped ship, too, the company wasn’t stable enough to survive that. Maybe Tilman could convince them to stay on, maybe not. He grinned with anticipation, the buzz in his blood again. There wasn’t a businessman who’d ever done a damn that wasn’t a gambler in his bones.

There was another catch on becoming the Bean king, not just unspoken but hidden. Like Holly Falls was hidden. Oh, the town was easy to find, at the north end of the state in winter country. Anyone could drive through the town, and many did, in the fall, when the leaves changed and the land was rendered in Technicolor glory. But all you’d see was a town that barely qualified as town, beautiful with old style buildings and possessing the benign charm of a Norman Rockwell painting.

That was not Holly Falls. No book cited it as the wealthiest town per capita in the country, but that was what it was. Its residents didn’t appear in Forbes or Business Week, but billions or more poured through their subtle fingers. They didn’t advertise, and they had the wealth and the power to make sure that they stayed private in a world where nothing was.

But no one was invisible, not in this life, and Tilman had used the resources they gave him to push and probe. There was nothing to find, but Tilman was smart, and years of experience had shown him to look for what wasn’t there. That was how he figured the secret cost to being the Bean King, and that was why he was driving through the snow, back towards Holly Falls and Edward Drew.

George Tilman was a lucky man, and he meant to push it all the way.

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