Sam had considered washing the red dirt from the SUV before turning onto Beverly Drive, in Highland Park, but thought better of it. Maybe it’d piss Magnus off. The thought made him smile. He pulled into the driveway, but instead of driving around behind the house he parked directly in front of the white-pillared portico framing the front door. Through the mud-streaked window he could see a curtain drawn aside by someone looking out, but the face in the window remained in shadow. Probably the housekeeper, Juanita.
Memories of his home had comforted him during the long bleak night of Greenland’s winter—mental images of its two stories of faded red brick set in the neatly manicured yard on tree-lined Beverly Drive had eased the cold and loneliness. Not much had changed—the place still looked like something out of a real estate agent’s picture book.
As he approached the front door, he saw that it was slightly ajar. Through the opening he saw half of Juanita’s tiny brown face, plump and expressionless, one eye peering at him. His father’s housekeeper swung it wide open as she always did and gave Sam a hug.
“Your father. He wait for you upstair.” She pointed behind her, as if he’d never been in the place.
“Sam! My boy! Come in here and let me get a look at you.”
Magnus grunted, struggling to lift his 270 pounds from behind his massive mahogany desk. He offered one meaty hand, and they shook without emotion, as if agreeing to a third party contract negotiation. Magnus lowered himself back down, signaling Sam to sit in the black leather chair facing him. The room hadn’t changed. In one dark-paneled wall was a nook where bottles of whiskey and bourbon sat proudly atop shelves containing neat lines of shot glasses. Above the liquor was a black-and-white photo of grinning men, their faces and hands drenched black by a Texas gusher, still clenching the tools that had brought the black gold into the sky and down on them. The man in the foreground was shiny black from head to toe, the whites of his eyes and his teeth gleaming at Sam across nearly a century: great-grandfather Magnus Sawyer, first of the Sawyer oilmen, founder of Empire Oil.
“I want to hear all about your trip,” said Magnus, sounding almost as if he did. “How about dinner tonight, here, just the two of us? We can drink ourselves silly.”
“Thanks, Magnus, but can’t. I gotta get settled in and get back to the University. Maybe the weekend?”
“Sure, sure, Sam. Look, I want to hear all about Greenland.” His brown eyes narrowed to a squint and his nostrils flared. “You and me have some unfinished business to attend to.”
It was the unfinished business his father really wanted to talk about. Sam knew it. Magnus had made it clear where he thought his son’s allegiance lay. Three generations of Sawyers had made their fortunes extracting Texas tea directly from the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, but now, under the leadership of Magnus III, Empire Oil was crumbling. Sam knew his father was neither a businessman nor an oilman. It was his crew, the men who’d raised Sam—Grimes, Kyle, Andy, and the other roughnecks—who kept Empire limping along, making just enough money to keep the bankers at bay. Without them, Empire Oil would collapse.
The roughnecks had been hired and groomed by Sam’s grandfather, Magnus II, a man who seemed larger than life in a state that prided itself on breeding them. Now there was an oilman, thought Sam. Texas crude ran through Grandad’s veins. He could smell where to drill, and the men he hired knew it and would follow him anywhere. Anything and anyone who got in the way of his rigs was either sweet-talked into submission or mown down. Didn’t matter much to Grandpa. He built up Empire Oil from the small but profitable company founded by Magnus I, and now Magnus III was squandering all that Grandpa had built, and expected Sam to take over and save his ass, or take the hit for its demise. Academe had been far more appealing.
“Tell you what, son. Friday night we’re having a dinner party in honor of your return to Texas. Seven p.m. sharp. Dress real nice like. I’ve invited some pretty important friends.” He raised an eyebrow.