This is the forty-third part of a fiction serial, in 990 words.
Phin’s doctor arrived the next morning, called by Mrs Mallory following the wheezing fit the night before. I agreed to give him some time off from telling his story, and started to go through some of the papers given to me by Brad James. The share certificates made me whistle as I flipped through them. Boeing, Cessna, Stearman, and Beechcraft. They were all successful aircraft manufacturing companies based in and around Wichita, and Phin had some shares dating back to the early days of their founding. One sheaf of paper made my eyebrows raise. He had a big holding in White Castle, the burger chain. I never realised they started out in Wichita.
But the only reference to any oil company holdings was a sales invoice, for the sale of shares in Derby Oil. As we were in Derby, I guessed Phin had got in from the start with that company too, and later cashed out to invest in something else. I made some notes about that, so I would remember to ask him the next time he was well enough to continue. Bank statements and property deeds indicated holdings of something close to one million dollars, an amount I had never imagined, considering Phin’s rather frugal lifestyle. With the money from the sale of my newspaper due in a few weeks, I was never going to have to work again.
With my head buzzing after going through the documents, I went for a walk around the homestead. The line of well-kept graves kept drawing me back to them. Walter Washington, Jessie Fuller, Henry with no surname on his marker, and Susan Fuller. It didn’t escape my notice that there was enough space next to Susan’s grave to allow for Phin. I had to ask him some more about my grandmother, that was for sure.
Mrs Mallory made me wait a whole day, tending to Phin in his bedroom, and gently scolding me again for getting him over-excited. The rest had done him good though, as the next time I turned on the tape recorder, his eyes were bright, and his recall as sharp as ever. I started by asking him about the shares and investments.
“Well I tell you, Julian. Those oil shares made me a small fortune, and I wasn’t about to just rest on that. Once the war was over, people started to arrive in Wichita, and they needed houses. So I bought some land, and I hired the Russian twins to build houses on it. They had a much bigger company by then, and they brought more Russians from back east to work for them. But I kept the deeds to the houses, and rented them out. With the money from that, I invested in Mr Cessna. He was building small airplanes that ordinary people could buy, and I reckoned he had a good idea. Then it seemed only natural to invest in the competition too, when Lloyd Stearman and Walter Beech came along.
There was a depression too, you will know about that of course, as you were a grown man. So I cut my losses in the oil company, and used the money from that sale to buy into Boeing, which took over Stearman’s works in Wichita. Quite some time before that, a man named Walt Anderson came to see me. He had some crazy idea that he was going to sell burgers for just five cents, and open a string of restaurants all over Kansas. He needed just three hundred and fifty dollars to get started, so he could match his partner’s investment. I gave him two hundred for a small share in the company. You will have heard of it by now, White Castle. One of my better decisions, I reckon. Anyhow, it’s all yours now. The investments, the land and house, the rents, and all the money in the bank. Get yourself a good tax lawyer, or those Federals will snatch it back off you”.
Other than talk of his daddy’s bayonet, that was the first time Phin had mentioned anything relating to the civil war, by calling the government ‘Those Federals’. I made a note to ask him a lot more about that. Meanwhile, I wanted to know more about Susan Fuller. There was a sense of regret in his voice as he spoke, and he rubbed his face before answering.
“She was my only love, Julian. Your grandma was such a strong woman, and she went through so much. Walter was as good as a daddy to her, and he was murdered by the damn cowboys. They tried to make it look like the Klan had done it, but we all knew better. Then her ma went back to the tribe, and we never heard what happened to her. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she couldn’t have no more kids, and her beloved Sophia upped and left for Rochester with your daddy. To her dying day, Susan never heard from her, and never knew why. I told her that some folks are just selfish, but she wouldn’t hear a word against our girl.
Truth be told, we ended up living here like strangers. She took no interest in my investments or financial dealings, and she used to say life was better when we worked for a living, raised the animals and grew crops, and lived in cabins. Her life became her garden and planting. I let her buy anything she wanted, and even got her help for the weeding and hole digging and such. She still did my washing and cooked my food, but by twenty-eight we hardly spoke a word to each other.
The next spring, she went out to tend to some of her favourite flowers, and she didn’t come back. I found her face down in the dirt. I knew she would want to be buried with Walter and the others, so that’s where she is”.