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Chapter 10

After getting turned around in a couple of cul-de-sacs, TF and Double A pulled into a driveway in front of a house with the correct address.

“Nice place.” Double A exited the car. “Looks like no-rubbers Ricky has done well for himself since leaving Imperial Cola.”

TF closed the driver’s side door. “Yeah, not too shabby.”

“Hey there,” said a man waving a pair of tongs from the front porch. “I thought I heard a car pull up. Follow me around back...I just fired up the grill.”

* * *

Double A reclined on a patio chaise lounge, sipping a glass of rosé, as TF and Ricky stood near the grill drinking beers. Ricky’s skin cooked in the late afternoon sun and appeared nearly the same hue as the red hots on the Weber.

“This seems like a really great neighborhood,” TF said.

“The schools around here are good, which is pretty much why we bought this house. If it was up to me, I’d prefer to live in the city close to campus, but it’d be tough to raise a kid down there.”

“How is your kiddo...you had a daughter, right?”

“Yep, Juliet—she’s my sun...in the Shakespeare-sense, not gender-wise.” Ricky flipped a burger. “So, you’re in the junior executive training program at I.C.?”

“Yeah, we both are.”

Ricky turned to look at Double A. “That’s surprising.”

“Why is that?” asked Double A.

“Because you’re black.”

“Ricky, I didn’t know you well back in college since you left the fraternity just as I joined, but I never took you to be a racist.”

“Nor should you have.” Ricky looked up to the open balcony on the second floor of his home and called, “Juliet.”

A three-year-old with olive gray skin and a flouncy afro stepped out onto the balcony. “What daddy?”

“Sweetie, do you want a burger or a dog for dinner?”

“Hot dawg, p’ease.”

“Go tell mommy that dinner will be ready soon.”

“Okay.” The little girl padded back inside.

“My apologies,” TF said. “I didn’t—”

“Forget it. I was only surprised because I always got the sense that the Imperial executives believed that caramel coloring should only be added to their colas.”

“The times, they are a changing.” TF took a swig of beer.

“Or at least the importance of optics are,” said Double A.

“Yeah, I wish they’d changed a little sooner so that I could’ve kept a family picture on my damn desk.”

“Is that why you were with I.C. for such a short time?” Double A asked.

“No...not exactly.”

“Why did you leave so soon?” asked TF. “If you don’t mind our asking.”

“Well, since we’re brothers and all...and you being a sister, I’ll tell you two, but keep it in the vault.”

“Sure thing,” said Double A.

“Me and my family have a history with Imperial Cola. My dad got my mom pregnant when she was still in college. I guess we Roberts men have a tendency to start our families young...at least my old man managed to graduate first—barely. He’d planned to go to law school, but he needed to make money to support his new family, so he took a job at I.C. as a junior executive trainee. From what I understand those cohorts in the early years of the program were more competitive—even cutthroat, you might say, since that’s exactly what happened. One of the junior execs snapped. Slashed my dad’s carotid artery then ran up to the roof and jumped off. My dad bled out before that asshole hit the pavement. It was a different time, so they were mostly able to cover it up...called it a training accident or some such in the newspaper, as if that makes any damn sense. There was a settlement, of course, so my mom was taken care of—she never had to work. Fast forward a couple of decades, and I get my girlfriend pregnant, which disappointed mom no end, since she missed out on a lot having me so young...and she also never approved of my girlfriend—only partly because of her skin color. Being such an understanding mother, she stopped paying my tuition. I needed money, so I followed in my dad’s footsteps—even though I thought they were bastards for covering up how he really died in order to protect their bullshit family-values reputation. It seems they felt bad about it too, since they let me in their trainee program despite me being a semester short of getting my degree. So I stayed long enough to complete the program, then I went across town and applied at Libation Unlimited...with junior executive already on my resumé, they never bothered to check my transcripts to see if I’d actually graduated from college.”

“That’s quite a story,” TF said. “I’m awfully sorry about your father.”

“I was younger than my daughter is now when it happened, so I don’t remember much from that time...at least none of the details.”

“Did your mom ever come around?” Double A asked. “I mean, does she spend time with her granddaughter.”

“Not anymore. She died last year. She knew how hard it was for me to go to work for Imperial—I think she hated the thought of it almost as much as I did—so she eventually came back into our life, and then when she saw my daughter for the first time...well, none of that other stuff mattered anymore. Juliet and her grandma were as close as could be until her passing.”

“That’s really nice,” said TF. “I don’t mean that your mom passed, but that—”

“I know what you mean...thanks.”

“This may seem like an odd question,” Double A said, “but do you know if there was a man named Tom in that same cohort with your dad?”

“I have no idea...as I mentioned, I was too young to remember any of the specifics, but there was that article in the paper. My mom saved it, though I think her scrapbooks are all buried in storage someplace, but you could check the newspaper’s archives.”

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