“My Father’s Ashes”
Dan’s train of thought was broken as Doug Kelsey entered the room.
“Dan Peterson, I presume!” he greeted Dan good naturedly as he moved quickly to his desk and set down a stack of file folders. He was a man well into his sixties with close-cropped gray hair and a moustache to match. He was of average height, though best described as ‘portly’ and comfortably dressed in a light wool sport coat with leather patches at the elbows.
With a wide smile, he energetically offered his hand as he sized Dan up through frameless trifocals. “Sorry for the delay this morning but that’s how meetings go sometimes.”
“It’s not a problem, really.”
“My God… if you aren’t the spitting image of your father…” Doug Kelsey marveled as he continued to shake the younger man’s hand.
“I noticed the similarities in the pictures you sent.”
“Well, it’s a lot more than just similarities. Please, please, sit,” he said finally releasing his grip. “It’s the expression on your face… and your voice. You are a carbon copy of him at that same age… Amazing.” They both found their chairs on either side of the large desk. “Did you have a good trip in?”
“Yes, and I thank you for making all the arrangements.”
“Hotel up to snuff?”
“Good, the Grand rolls out a pretty good welcome mat.”
“It was all very nice…” Dan let the conversation lull.
“I want you to know,” the lawyer seemed to shift gears. “We appreciate you making the trip here, taking the time and all. And helping us settle this estate. So!” he said slapping his hands on the padded arms of his high-backed chair. “You must have a shit-load of questions!”
“Actually,” Dan nearly chuckled. “I do, but I guess I just don’t know where to start.”
“Anywhere you want, anything you want to know.”
Dan drew a cautious breath before he began. “Are you sure… are you sure it’s me?”
“Oh, no doubt there, the pictures say it all. And what the pictures don’t say, well, the documents I sent you fill in the rest. You’re the man, Dan… ‘Dan the Man,’ without a doubt.”
“And I’m the only heir?”
“Your father led a fairly private and… ‘secluded’ life. He had a small circle of friends he’d visit, correspond with, but no… no other family ties. You are the only heir and the only provision even mentioned in the will.”
“How much… Mister Kelsey?”
“Doug, please. Your dad always called me Doug. You should, too.”
“How much… Doug—”
“How much inheritance? That’s always the age old question, now isn’t it. How much, well, let’s see… assets are still being evaluated… but the figure I gave you of several million dollars seems pretty accurate.”
“Several million…” Dan repeated as he caught his breath at the scope of it all.
“Now, understand, it’s all been locked up in a trust at your dad’s request. It’s invested and will be eventually transferred to you, but as the beneficiary of that trust.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Could mean a lot of things, but in this case, the way it was all drawn up, it means you don’t get a big fat check to go do with as you please.”
“I don’t?” Dan was surprised.
“Instead, the trust will be cutting you a check, every month, as an income.”
“Income? Well then, how much… Income?”
“On an annual basis, it looks to be about… half a million dollars… give or take, and that’s after taxes,” Doug said very matter of fact.
“Half a million…” Dan muttered in amazement.
“More like…” Doug looked at a small sticky note on his desk blotter. “Forty-eight thousand, eight hundred and thirty five dollars, or thereabouts, payable on the first of every month.”
“For how long?” Dan managed through the shock.
“Well… forever!” the lawyer almost seemed confused at the question. “For as long as grass grows and wind blows, and all that. Until the world financial markets collapse and the dinosaurs come back.”
“That’s… a long time…” Dan breathed still absorbing the numbers.
“You are suddenly a wealthy man, Dan Peterson,” Doug Kelsey smiled at him from across the desk. “And you had no idea? You knew nothing of this before I called you?”
“None whatsoever…” Dan shook his head.
“Well, I’m not surprised, given your parents’ relationship.”
“I was going to ask you about that, too. They seem to have gotten married when I was about… three?”
“Dan… your parents were never married.”
“I saw the birth certificate. I mean, I seem to have two. But the old one, the one I have, shows her name as Peterson, but yours shows it as Nyman. Same for the checks, too, until I was about three years old. Then her name changed to Peterson because she got married… right?”
“Actually… no. She had it legally changed to match yours, that’s all.”
“Now, I’m really confused…” Dan shook his head.
“Let me start at the beginning.” The lawyer took off his glasses and cleaned the lenses with his necktie. He took a deep breath and settled in. “In a nutshell, after your father got out of the Air Force—”
“My father was in the Air Force?”
“Oh yes! Served in Vietnam, too. He did Air Force ROTC at Michigan State down in East Lansing. Honestly… he was hoping the war would be over by the time he was done. Even took time to earn his wings in Colorado but still, that war dragged on and on and when there was no more delaying it, they shipped him off. But the whole thing with your mother started when he got back. After the Air Force, he did something he always wanted to do, and started writing freelance magazine and newspaper articles.”
“I Googled him, you know. I never found anything like that.”
“That’s because he liked to write under pen names. A lot of what he wrote, made it into Rolling Stone Magazine. There, he wrote under the name… Howard or Hunter something… can’t remember, but it’s not important here. Anyway—”
“My father wrote about rock and roll bands?” Dan asked with some level of disbelief.
“Your dad’s last Air Force station was Selfridge Air Base just outside Detroit. Detroit was the place to be in those days and everybody in that business wanted to sit down with the Rolling Stone guy. Let’s just say, he ran with a pretty wild crowd.”
“But my mother was nothing like that!”
“Let me go on… Back about the mid-eighties, your dad was in a really nasty car accident. I’ll be honest with you, drugs and alcohol were involved and while Bob wasn’t behind the wheel, they were all… ‘chemically enhanced’ that night. Your dad was in a hospital out in L.A. for a good many weeks. That’s where the accident happened, up there in one of those canyons overlooking the city. Anyway, after several weeks, he was transferred to a long term care facility.”
“A nursing home?”
“He would have said that was for old people, actually, this one was pretty expensive and meant for a younger, more private clientele. A lot of that cost was picked up by the band he was traveling with that night. There’s a lot of money in rock and roll…” the lawyer added thoughtfully. “And the friendships there run pretty deep, too. So… in this long term care facility for the insanely rich, he meets a nurse…”
“Nancy Nyman…” Dan filled in the blank.
“Exactly… And let’s just say they got to know each other real well, too. When she turned up pregnant, Bob offered to marry her but she wanted it all on her terms.”
“What do you mean?”
“She wanted the house with the white picket fence and husband that came home every day at five-thirty. You know, Sunday backyard barbeques and holiday turkeys in the oven.”
“That sounds a lot like her…” Dan nodded.
“But it just wasn’t your dad. When he was done with physical therapy, he wanted to get back on the road. Rolling Stone had several big names that were waiting just for him to do the interviews.”
“So, what happened?”
“They fought… a lot. She was adamant that if she couldn’t have Bob her way, she didn’t want him in your life at all. There were lawyers, me for one representing your dad, and there were motions and filings lots of things where lawyers make money. They fought over you tooth and nail, literally. And one day, your father calls me up and says, let’s just stop it. Let’s call off the dogs and declare some form of peace. That’s all he wanted… peace. He figured that fighting over you was only going to end up with you hating one or the other, or both of them. And if he hung back, and waited, maybe someday you’d get curious enough to come and look him up. You know, ‘discover’ him when you were ready.”
“But I never did…”
“Your mom had you on a pretty tight career path… kept you busy… at least, that’s the way he put it.”
“I guess… that’s a pretty good take on things. I just never knew.” Dan thought quietly a moment. “So, why do I have two birth certificates?”
“The one I sent you, is the original, from the day you were born. Your mom was Nancy Nyman then. About the time you were three, she suddenly became concerned that you would suffer some confusion, or angst, or shame because your name wasn’t the same as hers. So, she filed to have hers legally changed to match. Even got your dad to pay for it, too!”
“But they even changed the birth certificate?”
“Money is a powerful thing. It can move mountains if you need to.”
“He had that much money in those days? The Poppyseed books… he hadn’t really gotten started yet.”
“No, but Rolling Stone, Harper’s Bazaar, Time… all the magazine’s he wrote for under different names, did pay pretty well. But it really didn’t matter. Remember, I told you there was a lot of money in rock and roll and your dad had a lot of friends who didn’t care where the money went. There were a good many times I got paid with a gym bag full of cash.”
“You’ve known him that long, then?”
“Oh yeah!” the lawyer chuckled.
“How did you meet him… my dad?”
“Well, that was quite a night… and a whole ‘nother story. Sure you want to hear it?”
“Actually, I do. I want to know…”
“It was the early-seventies. Your dad hadn’t been out of the Air Force that long, but had hit two home runs with stories for Rolling Stone, to the point where they’d give him anything he wanted for more. He rode up from Detroit with some up-and-coming rocker buddies so they could do a concert at Michigan State, the ‘old barn,’ Jenison Fieldhouse. Your dad was covering the behind the scenes story. Anyway, after the concert, there was drinking and carrying on and they wound up driving around in this van looking for pizza. Quite honest, they were pretty snockered…”
For whatever reason, Dan quietly smiled at this mental image.
“They wound up, out in the boonies, a good thirty miles southwest of Lansing and they got pulled over by the local township police. Well, open liquor in the car, blind drunk and ‘acting strange’ as the police report would later say, and they found themselves dragged in front of the Justice of the Peace. And by that, I mean right to his house! The courthouse was all locked up for the night so the deputy took them right to the Judge’s residence, woke him up and they convened night court right there in his parlor. Now, at the time, this small township was also probably the last remaining DRY township in all of Michigan.”
“Still honoring the laws of Prohibition. You had to drive out of town to the crossroads, across the township line to just buy beer in those days.”
“Places like that still existed then?”
“Still do today… you just gotta know where to find them. Anyway, back then, I was fresh out of law school, had just passed the Bar and was a newly minted, ‘for real’ lawyer still living with my mother right there in town. It was the middle of the night and they needed a lawyer to represent your dad and these guys sitting in the Judge’s parlor. So, they dragged me out of bed and down to the Judge’s house. I walk in, and there the Judge is, behind his writing desk in his bathrobe, and your dad and Frank are sitting on the love seat with a couple long-haired guitar player types leaning up against the archway to the dining room.”
“He was the front man for that band… It’s not important now, but they were pretty big in those days. I recognized him right away. He was probably the drunkest guy in the room for that matter, too. Anyway, these are my ‘clients’ and without any time to converse, the Judge slams his gavel on the desk just to wake everybody up again. He looks right at those two guys on the sofa, shakes that gavel at them and says: ‘You know, we don’t believe in distilled spirits around here!’ Then your dad…” Doug Kelsey paused to chuckle at the memory. “Your dad raises his hand and says: ‘Oh, I assure you, they’re quite real!’” The lawyer laughed out loud as he retold this part of the tale. “And just as the Judge’s eyebrows were about to pop right off his face, Frank leans over the arm of that love seat and pukes all over the cat!”
“You’re kidding!” Dan found himself laughing out loud right along with the lawyer.
“Things got a little strange after that, I’ll tell ya! But I saw an opening. The Judge was all worried about his cat and wanted to get the poor animal into the kitchen sink before she melted or something. But I reminded the Judge how improper it would be to suspend the proceedings for personal issues, and that we had to conclude before he could adjourn to the kitchen. He bought it! Back in those days, our town’s volunteer fire department was sharing space underneath the old Opera House with the township library and they’d really outgrown it. There was an empty building across Main Street that would be perfect but there was no money to renovate it.”
“But there’s lots of money in rock and roll!” Dan found himself contributing to the story.
The Lawyer nodded. “I negotiated a suspended sentence in exchange for a generous donation from Frank, George and Mike and all four of them wound up sleeping it off on the floor of my mother’s garage. About noon the next day, they were up, sort of, we got their van out of the village impound and I sent them on their merry way. And that’s how I met Robert Peterson!”
“Sounds like he was lucky you were there…”
“No, I was the lucky one! I have been your father’s council in all issues since. And, he brought me all kinds of his rock and roll friends, too. Both the hairy ones and the scary ones… There’s lots of money in rock and roll, and where there’s money… there’s trouble.”
“And trouble needs representation…” Dan added with a smile.
“Every day! That client list brought me here,” he motioned to the room around them. “Right to this corner office, so, I owe your dad a lot there, too.” Dan sat there, stunned, as all this new information soaked in. “Does all this kind of connect the dots for you? So far, anyway?”
“I told you, your father was a complicated man…”
Copyright © 2016 by Bruce Jenvey
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