Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 39

Work is love made visible

Milada headed for the elevators.

After four hundred years, the seemingly infinite depths of human sentiment still perplexed her. To truly understand human suffering was beyond her. It was safer not to tempt feelings she had never felt. The safest response was to ignore everything.

Ignore what I have just done. In her lifetime she had broken every commandment in the book. But never before had she tempted God. She felt His eyes upon her and had to get herself someplace else.

Her phone hummed in her pocket. Jane. At this hour, it must be important. Over the past four centuries, if nothing else, she had learned the business of business. What she’d told Troy was the truth. This was her higher purpose, her righteous calling, her contribution to human civilization. The one thing she could leave behind when and if her time ever came.

Not answering the phone, she took the stairs at a brisk pace, almost running, her shoes tapping against the skid-resistant concrete steps. When she reached the main entrance, she switched her phone off standby and autodialed New York.

“Finally!” Jane exclaimed. “I was beginning to wonder where you were.”

“Beg pardon, Jane. I’ve been away all night.”

“I know it’s an awkward time to call. But we just got a message from Mr. Wylde. He says he’s going to be at his farm in Wallsburg. I gather it’s not too far from Salt Lake. If you want to see him, he’ll be there today. He’s returning to his ranch in Idaho this evening.”

“Did he leave a number?”

“Nope. Either you show up or you don’t, that’s the gist of things. I’ll fax directions to your home number.”

“Then that’s what I shall do.”

Thanks to daylight savings time and the approaching fall, morning hadn’t broken by the time she got back to the house. She reached Steven and told him to pick her up at eight. Did he know where Wallsburg was? Not a problem, he said.

She showered and dressed. Then stopped dressing. Wylde was going to be at his farm, or so Jane had said. She should not go there in business attire. Mr. Wylde would measure a man by his work and by his manner when surrounded by other men at work. He’d want to see if she tiptoed around the cow patties and balked at the sight of an untethered horse. Knew a prairie-dog hole from a fairway divot. And didn’t go all Greenpeace on him when he took out the trusty Winchester and blew the little critter away.

What kind of a farm was this, anyway? He had definitely given himself the home court advantage.

Jeans and a white shirt—that worked. A white shirt by itself provided too little protection from the sun. She added a denim jacket. A pair of tan Fieldstones—it paid to keep a few stereotypes salted away in the back of her mind. A Stetson? No, that’d be trying too hard. The fedora—it said she would go along, she would conform, but she would not condescend.

She examined the results. She looked like a dude ranch tourist, but she didn’t look stupid.

Lastly, the sun block. If she were lucky, he’d show her the spread from behind the double-pane windows of his palatial—she hoped—cabin. In case not, she’d better use SPF 60. It went on like Elmer’s glue. Not too thick, or she’d end up looking like a lifeguard.

And her gloves.

She clumped up to the kitchen in her Fieldstones. Where was the Wylde file? Where was her attaché? Damn, she’d left it in the hospital room. What did she have in it? Mostly the Wylde Medical papers. The attaché would be turned into the lost and found, not the SEC, thank goodness. She took a deep breath and let it out.

The doorbell rang. That’d be Steven. She checked the fax for the directions, as Jane promised. Steven was waiting at the door. She said, “Where is this Wallsburg, again?”

“Off Deer Creek Reservoir before you get to Heber.”

She nodded, as if she knew what he was talking about.

Steven drove west on 209, picked up I-15 going south. Milada sat in the back seat, primly composed. The jeans were not exactly comfortable. She felt like a girl going on a date. She’d worn herself out getting ready, and the date had yet to begin. On top of that, she’d had hardly any sleep thanks to the damned kid. God, that was a mistake. She had known it going in. The whole Wylde deal would have been wrecked if Jane had missed her.

The highway curved up the shoulders of the bluff at the south end of the valley, past gravel pits and cement factories. Point of the Mountain, they called the bluff. The point was slowly being gnawed away by backhoes and conveyer belts. Down into Utah Valley. Hang gliders, their bright nylon wings catching the first slanting rays of sunlight, sailed off the lee edge of the bluff. Utah Lake lay ahead at two o’clock.

Steven took the North Orem exit, highway 189 east. A hospital on the left, school on the right, used car lot, grocery store, strip mall, block after block of residential housing. The steeples of the ubiquitous Mormon chapels poking up among the trees.

The four-lane highway swept into a jagged V in the mountainside. The highway followed the river up the canyon. The mountains rose up around them like skyscrapers, the canyon floor still shadowed, a slash of sunlight bright against the high northern walls.

Milada rolled down the window. The wind whipped against her face. A sign flashed by:

Vivian Park
South Fork
Historic Railroad

“Steven,” she said, “pull off here.”

The car bumped over a railroad crossing. Steven pulled into the parking lot. The tires crunched on loose gravel. “I’ll be a few minutes only.” Milada let herself out of the car, walked up the path, and found herself in a grove of trees at the edge of a pond.

What did the child say? Give the old man what he wants.

What did the old man want?

She leaned back her head, trying to remember. He doesn’t want to sell out. Not the company. His ideals. All the reasons that had kept him going all these years, all the reasons that enough was never enough.

Milada opened her eyes. All around her the gray canyon walls shot up in vertical columns. A great calm descended upon her, like the calm she’d first felt at the manor house in Cheapside. She’d hid herself within the heavy stone walls, within the deep, damp darkness where God would never find her.

In that solitude she had shaped her atonement. It was there that she’d come to understand that the name Daranyi and its wealth were the only inheritances she could ever bequeath. Only this enterprise would grow with her, yield to her guidance and direction. She would ensure that her child would never die. The great estates of England would crumble around her, meet all the prosaic ends their founders feared. But Daranyi—Daranyi would live forever.

Wylde had a family, sons and daughters, two dozen grandchildren. Fecundity that could found a nation. Or disperse a fortune to the four winds, grind diamonds into dust. What he wanted—more than any heavenly reward—was to know that his life just wasn’t about the money. His death wouldn’t just be about the dissipation of assets.

It was always about the money. But more than the money, what he did with it made all the difference. He had bought power, influence, and reputation and did what good he could in the world the best he knew how.

Now in his twilight years the old man had gathered his family around him, felt their love, and welcomed their affection. Yet he knew that none of them really understood what he had built or why it was so important to him. They wanted for nothing, including passions of their own. Had a son or daughter pursued some high-minded, impractical, or pointless cause, exhausted a fortune in pursuit of a political seat even, he’d willingly have let the coin spill through his fingers.

But he feared that all they really cared about was comfort—a bigger house, a better car, a higher standard of living. Liquidate his life’s work for that? Look at the roots, Milada told herself. Look at where the tree took hold. The engineer was still at work on his Sistine Chapel, digging the foundations by hand. When he was gone he wanted his life to say: I made something, I created something, I left something real behind in the world.

That assurance she understood, and that assurance she could give him.

Past the turnoff to Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort, the road narrowed and serpentined along the northern wall of the canyon. Every mile or so along the route, the parking lane was crowded with SUVs and pickups, men in hip waders hauling fishing equipment from the trunks of their cars.

Fall descended as they climbed up through the Wasatch Range toward Heber Valley. An early frost had already painted the foothills with pointillist daubs of neon red and electric yellow. The highway turned across Deer Creek Dam, hugged the south rim of the reservoir. A sign pointing off to the right said: “Wallsburg.”

The rolling brown hills were dotted with juniper and sagebrush. Farmhouses surrounded by thousand-acre spreads. Horses standing in open fields, a feed silo sheathed in corrugated tin.

It was like they had driven into western Oklahoma. A Mormon chapel stood on the left. They came to a crossroads scattered with a handful of houses and trees and sheds. The Round Valley Market, the post office, another chapel. Steven pulled into the church parking lot and examined Jane’s instructions. He nodded to himself. Back on the road, he took the next right, a left, and a right. The road bordered a long rectangular field for almost a mile. Left onto a particular road.

“This is the place, I think.”

He turned into an unpaved driveway and parked behind a Ford F-150 pickup with Idaho plates. Milada put on her hat and sunglasses. The sky overhead was a pure transparent blue. The sun itself seemed only an arm’s length away.

The driveway ran alongside a simple A-frame cabin. A rusted-out Escort was parked on the lawn next to a GMC Sierra. An older Chevy sat on blocks in front of the garage, a hay tedder on the ground next to it.

Milada came around the corner of the house. A herd of—not horses—in the north paddock. In the field east, a good hundred yards off, a tractor hauled a hay rack. The man on the tractor saw her and waved, jumped down off the tractor. She might as well meet him halfway. Good thing she wore the Fieldstones.

She stepped into the raw sunlight, unfiltered by smog or haze. Her skin tingled. She lowered her head against the angle of the sun, as if striding against a driving rain. Chaff drifted up into her face, bringing with it the smell of earth and the last of the dew burning off the scattered hay left behind in the windrows.

She straightened as they met. He reached out a big hand. “Miss Daranyi.”

“Mr. Wylde.”

“Got to finish up these couple of rows. Then we’ll have our meeting. That okay with you?”

“Perhaps it might go faster if I helped.”

He didn’t hide the dubious look in his eyes. “We’re stacking hay, here. It’s some heavy lifting.”

“I did my share of field work when I was growing up.”

“Well. Never would have guessed.”

She smiled. “Most people don’t.”

She fell into step behind him, taking out her cell phone. She felt faintly ridiculous making a hundred-yard phone call. But it was preferable to turning around and marching all the way back. Or having Steven sit there blocking the driveway.

“Steven, we’re going to be a couple of hours. If you’ve got someplace to go—”

“BYU’s only a half-hour from here. I could go there to study.”

“Do that. I’ll call you.” She folded up the cell phone.

They walked up to the hay rack. Darren Wylde said, “This here’s Terry Lang.”

A burly man in his early forties heaved a hay bale onto the bed of the hay rack. Milada stepped forward and shook his hand. He nodded, put his hands on his hips. “And his son Blake.” The teenage boy waved from the bed of the hay rack. “Terry’s got the hundred-fifty acres starting at the north road, leases another hundred of mine.”

Milada assumed he’d already told them who she was. Darren Wylde climbed back on the tractor. “Blake, you got another pair of gloves for the lady?”

The boy reached down and tossed her a pair of heavy work gloves, stiff and creased across the palms. She put them over her gloves. Wylde jammed the tractor into gear. The hay rack lurched forward and then clunked along at walking speed.

Milada observed Terry Lang out of the corner of her eyes. He’d catch the baling wire, his hand even with the heel of his right boot, and lift as he stepped forward, letting gravity swing it forward, heaving the bale onto the bed of the rack, where Blake was stacking them.

She figured out the motion after a few tries and fell into step just behind the elder Lang. Darren Wylde watched her over his shoulder. He raised an eyebrow and nodded. She’d made an impression—the right one, she hoped. At the end of the row, he said, cranking the tractor around, “You might want to take off that jacket, Miss Daranyi. You’re gonna give yourself sunstroke.”

The sun was blazing down by now, all the more reason to leave on the jacket. Not taking the man’s advice would require a suspicious amount of prevarication. Taking the man’s advice would put her in good stead. So she took off the jacket and handed it to Blake, who hung it on the top spike on the rack.

They worked down the next row. “That should do it,” said Wylde. He wheeled the tractor around and drove to the edge of the property line, marked by a line of oak and box elder. They offloaded the bales onto a round slab sheltered by a concrete umbrella.

“What you got there is a stressed rebar frame,” explained Darren Wylde. “We poured her the same time we did the footings for the cabin. Hoisted her up with a hydraulic jack. Textbook structural engineering. Did it for my senior thesis.” He said to the Langs, “Thanks, Terry, Blake. You need anything, let me know.”

Father and son walked back to the driveway and drove off in the Sierra.

“Miss Daranyi—”

“Milada, please.”

“I go by Jack. I guess you did grow up on a farm.”

“The sisters at the orphanage believed we should earn our keep by the sweat of our brows.”

“Where was that? You don’t sound American. Sorry if that’s not a good way to put it.”

“Hungary. But I’ve been an American for at least a lifetime.”

“We’re all immigrants one way or another. C’mon, I’ll show you the burros.”

He stopped at a weeded-over garden. “Here we go. A few old carrots.” He knocked off the dirt, gave her a bunch. When they approach the paddock, the burros came trotting over to the fence. “You can’t ask for a better pack animal.” He patted the muzzle. The huge ears swiveled from side to side like radar dishes. The other burros crowded in to get their fair share. Milada was glad she still had on the heavy gloves.

“We lend them out to the scout troops. Good camping in these hills here.”

The carrots gone, they retreated to the porch. The old man shadowed his eyes and stared up at the sky. “Looks like a front’s moving in.”

Milada followed his gaze. A towering column of cumulonimbus advanced on the valley from the south. Not quickly enough. A wisp of cirrus momentarily dimmed the sun. Milada felt the refreshing shadow on her face.

Darren Wylde lowered his gaze and gestured expansively at his property. “We bought this land while we were going to the Y. Started off with a hundred acres. Had it in mind to build some equity, graduate with something in the pocket other than a diploma. Took us that long too. Dug the foundations, did all the framing ourselves. Then we liked it so much we couldn’t bear to let it go.”

Milada recalled her biographical notes. “You studied mechanical engineering.”

“That’s right. But when my dad died I took over the funeral home. There was just one at the time. I taught myself what I needed to know and grew the business. Then I ran into an old classmate of mine, Clayton Reid, about twenty years ago. He had a startup going out of the University of Utah School of Medicine and was looking for venture capital. Clayton knew the biology, I knew the tech, so we leveraged the business and here we are today.”

He checked his watch. “Look at that, half past eleven. I caught some rainbow trout this morning. Thought I’d fry it up with a little rice. Come on in.” He got up and opened the sliding glass doors.

It was pleasantly cool in the cabin. Wylde could not resist commenting on that fact. “Yep, these mountain valleys heat up fast and cool down fast. You see twenty, thirty below in the winter on a regular basis. I got high-R insulation in here”—he smacked the closest wall with the palm of his hand—“and double-glazed windows. I can heat her year round for a hundred dollars of Carbon County anthracite.”

With that bit of show and tell, Darren Wylde disappeared into the kitchen.

Milada paused to take in the interior of the cabin. It was the definition of what antique dealers meant by “original condition.” Nothing tattered, but well worn.

Wylde called from the kitchen, “If you need the bathroom, it’s up the stairs and at the end of the hall.”

The floor plan divided the cabin along the frame of the A. The living room faced north. The kitchen faced south. The staircase wound up to an open hallway, the bedrooms over the kitchen. A basketball hoop was nailed to the banisters. It’d probably been there forty years.

In the kitchen, Wylde had gutted and filleted the trout. A daub of butter melted in the frying pan. He tossed in a handful of mushrooms and sliced summer squash. A pot of rice bubbled away on the stove.

“Plates in the cupboard there,” he said, with a nod of his head. “Silverware in the drawer next to the sink.”

So Milada set the table. When the rice was just about ready, he fried up the trout, a few minutes on each side. He placed the frying pan on a hot pad on the table next to the rice. He couldn’t find any napkins, so he tore a couple of sheets from a roll of paper towels.

They sat down. He said a quick grace and then served the trout. “Got yourself a bit of a sunburn there,” he said. “On a clear day in these high, dry valleys, it’s easy to overlook the UV.”

“I don’t get out much.” Milada took a bite of the trout. “This is quite good.”

“Keep it simple, and you can’t go wrong.” Then he said, “Seems you did some profit taking the other day.”

“Do you believe your stock is worth forty dollars a share?”

“Of course not! But better if some people found out more gentle-like, not with an uppercut to the jaw. I’ve got too many relatives who think a stock certificate is money.”

“My broker says we lost almost as much as we made.”

“And acquired another ten percent of outstanding shares in the bargain. By my calculations, you could acquire us outright. You don’t need me at this stage of the game. So I have to wonder what you’re doing here.”

“There’s more to running a company than electing the board,” she said with a small shrug. “And it’s not always the CEO who’s the problem.”

“In any case, this CEO’s not going to be around forever.”

“My sister would run the company, meaning the primary WMI assets.”

“Your sister?” Then he nodded. “She made quite an impression on Dr. Brickey.”

“Kamilla has an M.D. in pediatrics and a Ph.D. in biochemistry.”

“Impressive. But that’s not all the company does.”

“I’ve looked over the numbers. For a mortuary business of its size, you should be netting a good fifty percent more.”

“There’s no easier way to make good money in a bad way than with a funeral home, guilting people with a lot of grief in their hearts into burying a goodly part of their inheritance six feet under.”

“I can respect that. Frankly, I have no plans of interfering with the operations of Wylde Funeral Homes as long as it earns its keep. I’m more interested in the potential of your genealogical database technology. The problem is, you’re undercapitalized. The informatics business pays its own way, but there isn’t enough left over to fund R&D without leveraging the mortuary business. You push one at the expense of the rest.”

“I’m not arguing with you about that,” said Wylde.

“So this is what I propose. We split off a tracking stock, call it Daranyi Medical Informatics.”

“Like selling off the division.”

“Yes, but not quite. It will still fall under our corporate umbrella. The Daranyi name will give you considerable leverage in the financial markets when it comes to raising new financing.”

Wylde sat back in his chair and folded his hands on his stomach. He nodded. “Yes, I can see how that would work.” He leaned forward. “You realize that what makes the data so valuable is its home-grown roots. Public domain genealogical records aren’t enough. Getting the rights to the gene surveys requires a delicate touch and a lot of personal trust, the kind of thing easily lost in a business acquisition. Turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, that’s the way people around here see their genealogy.”

“That’s from Malachi, isn’t it?”

Wylde smiled and nodded. “Every good Mormon knows it by heart.”

Milada smiled as well. She’d made exactly the impression she’d intended. “I don’t see a problem with that.”

“Then I think we have something to negotiate about.”

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