Shepherds by Bud Fussell

shepherds_thDavid Shepherd, loved and loathed in equal parts, is an aging tycoon. With a checkered past, he has mellowed over the years and become a business icon. His grown children, however, struggle with his legacy and their own passions. Shepherds sizzles with intrigue and moral dilemma as the descendants of a great man wrestle with the ancient proverb: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Bud Fussell’s second allegorical novel breathes life into the classic themes of power and love

Chapter One

As David turned through the big brick entrance to the headquarters of Shepherd Apparel Group, he glanced at Jesse. “Well Dad, today’s a big day for us. Are you sure you’re ready for it?”

“Yep, I’m ready. I’ve been grooming you for this most of your life, and I think now is the time. You’re going to do great.”

“This has been my dream for a long time, Dad. I’m not going to let you down.”

“I know you won’t. I have complete confidence in you.”

“Well, here we are. Dad, do you want to meet in your office or mine?”

“Let’s meet in yours.”

“Okay. I’ll tell Ruby to get everyone together. Let’s say fifteen minutes. Is that okay?”

“Perfect”

David went in his office to get ready for the meeting he and Jesse were going to have with their key people, and Jesse walked down the hall to his office. He wanted to get a special something to take to the meeting.

When everyone was present, David told his secretary, Ruby, to hold all their calls, and to please close the door.

Jesse started the meeting. “Folks, you’re probably wondering why we are having a meeting on Friday instead of our regular meeting day on Monday. Well, you will still have your regular staff meeting Monday, but today is a special day, and I didn’t want to wait.”

“I started this company nearly forty years ago, and after a really bleak beginning, we have managed, with God’s help and blessings, to grow into a major force in the apparel industry. David hadn’t been born when we started. He came along a few years later and as soon as he was old enough, he started working here. He did the usual floor-sweeping and things like that until I felt he was ready for a little more advanced job. I believe I’m right when I say he started by running a bar-tacker. He ran several different machines, worked in cutting and other departments until he went away to college. After graduation he came in full-time, and has been here ever since. Over the last fifteen years I have come to rely on his work ethic, knowledge, and judgment when it comes to making business decisions.”

“David, stand up. Folks, the reason for this meeting is to tell you that I am announcing my retirement and turning the reins of the company over to David. He is now the new President and CEO of Shepherd Apparel.”

The group applauded.

“Several years ago, on a trip to Ireland, I bought this shepherd’s staff, and it has sort of become a symbol of our company. David, I’m presenting the staff to you, and hope you treasure it the way I have. Congratulations, son. I love you, and I’m very proud of you. Now, do you have anything you want to say to your people?”

“I sure do,” and David began addressing the group. He was a fine specimen of a man. At 6’1”, his blond hair emphasized his tan, handsome face. The broad shoulders and small waist made his store-bought clothes look as if they had been tailored especially for his 37 year old frame. “I have worked with all but a couple of you for several years now, and I don’t recall ever having any problem with anyone, and don’t expect any problems in the future. You’re all key to the success of this company, and with what I envision Shepherd Apparel becoming, you are sure enough going to be keys.”

“I have been doing a lot of research, as well as corresponding with a lot of people, and Dad doesn’t even know this, but if things work out the way I hope, Shepherd Apparel will soon become an international company.”

“I have been in frequent touch with a man in Munich, Germany, and I think Germany may be the first country we go into. This man–”

Ruby knocked and opened the door. “I’m sorry Mr. Shepherd, but there’s a man on the phone that I think you need to speak with. I told him I wasn’t supposed to interrupt you, but he said some disturbing things, and I believe you should take the call. You might want to take it on my phone.”

David went to the outer office and picked up the phone. “Hello, this is David Shepherd.”

On the other end, “Is this Donny Shepherd’s old man?”

“Yes, I’m Don’s dad. What can I do for you?”

“This is the only warning you’re gonna get, Shepherd. You’d better get a handle on little Donny, or he’s gonna wind up with a broken kneecap or worse.”

“Who is this? What do you mean broken kneecap? What are you talking about?”

“Your boy is messing with something that he’s not supposed to. He’s taking money outa my pocket, and if you don’t stop him, I will. Got that?”

“I got it, but I don’t know what you’re talking about. He’s just a high school boy. What’s he done to take money from you?”

“Being just a boy is why I’m giving you a heads up. Ever hear of numbers, Shepherd?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Well, little Donny has been running numbers in my area and taking several hundred dollars a week outa my pocket. As I said, this is your only warning. If I catch him back on the street, remember, you were warned.” Click. The caller hung up.

Upset over the call, David went back into his office and told the group something had come up, and he would fill them in on the international plans later. As they were filing out, he said, “Dad, can you wait a minute?”

He told Jesse about the call. “Do you know anything about numbers, Dad?”

“As a matter of fact I do. I used to bet a few dollars from time to time. You have to be real careful, though. Most of the time, the game is operated by organized crime, and those people don’t mess around with you. Do you remember hearing about that guy over in North Chattanooga a couple years ago that got killed? You know, the guy that ran that bar-b-que place out on Dayton Boulevard. It was said that he was killed because he crossed the mob. I don’t know, but I do know you don’t fool around with those people. If Don is involved in running numbers in some way, you had better do what you have to do to get him out of it.”

“What does a numbers runner do anyway?”

“A numbers game is like a daily lottery. One version works like this: you pick one of one-thousand three digit numbers, and pay your local numbers runner one dollar to enter your bet. Each day, one three digit number is chosen at random and pays off $600.00. Normally, the runner gets ten percent. It can mount up in a hurry, depending on where you do most of your collecting. I have heard of people playing a one dollar bet every day for years. The numbers racket is a well-entrenched illegal gambling operation in most large cities, and I’m a little surprised at one here in Chattanooga.”

“It all makes sense to me now. I couldn’t understand why Don quit playing sports. You know, Dad, he might could have gotten a scholarship to college in baseball, but he can’t play ball and run numbers at the same time. I guess the quick cash meant more to him than a scholarship. I’m really disappointed in him.”

“I’m going to call the school and have them dismiss him at lunchtime and tell him to come straight here. I want to get him before he has a chance to get back out on the street. Better yet, I think I’ll go to school and pick him up.”

David called the school and later, when he got there, Don was waiting on him. Don favored his dad in both facial features and height. His 16 year old physique hadn’t filled out yet, so he looked slender. He was a good athlete, but failed to play sports because of his outside activities. His mom, Judith, died three years ago of ovarian cancer, and David had tried overly hard to be both a mom and dad.

“Hey Pop. What’s up?”

“A lot is up Don. I’m going to wait ‘til we get to the office to talk to you. I’ll tell you this – I’m very upset right now.”

Don didn’t know what to think about that so he just sat silently until they reached Shepherd Apparel. When they arrived, they got out of the car and walked silently into the lobby. When he passed Ruby, he smiled and said “Hi Rube. How’s it goin’?”

“I’m just fine Don. Thank you.”

David went into the office first and sat down at his desk. “Close the door, Don and sit down.”

“What’s wrong, Pop? I don’t like the way you are right now.”

“I’m going to tell you what’s wrong. How long have you been running numbers, Don?”

“Running what?”

“Don’t give me that innocent look. You know exactly what I’m talking about. I got a call this morning; a very disturbing call.”

“Who from, Pop?”

“He didn’t give me his name, but he knows who you are, and gave me what he called my only warning. He said you were taking hundreds of dollars out of his pocket, and if he sees you back on the street, he will break your kneecaps or maybe worse. How long have you been doing this, son?”

“I first did it last summer between my sophomore and junior year. It didn’t seem like it would hurt anything, and I could make some good money.”

“Is that why you quit football and baseball?”

“Yes sir.”

“You know you could have possibly been in line for a baseball scholarship.”

“Yes sir.”

“Well, was the money worth losing the scholarship?”

“I thought it was.”

“Well, you’re stupid, Don. Give me your car keys.”

“Pop, please don’t take my keys. I promise I’ll be good. Please don’t take ‘em.”

“I’m going to keep them until I’m satisfied you’re not going back to the street. This should help teach you a lesson, and it might keep you from getting killed. That’s my main concern. At this point, I’m not sure you’re smart enough to figure that out. Hand me your keys.”

“Okay. Here they are.”

“Now, Don, I’m going to increase your hours in the cutting department. This will help keep you out of trouble, and give you some extra money at the same time. I don’t know what you’ve been making running numbers. I’m sure it was more than spreading cloth, but at least this is an honest way to do it. You’ve got a future here, Son. Don’t mess it up.”

“Now promise me you won’t run anymore numbers. It would kill me if you went out there and something happened to you.”

“I promise, Pop.”

“Here are your keys. When we leave this afternoon, we’ll go by the school and pick up your car, but I want the keys back when we get home.”

“Okay.”

“C’mon, let’s go out to the cutting department. I want to tell Bud Weddle about your increased hours, and have him set up a regular routine for you after school.”

“You’re serious about this, aren’t you Pop?”

“You’re right about that. I may just be saving your life for you.”

After they had their meeting with Bud Weddle, David went back to the building that housed the offices, and walked down the hall to Jesse’s office. “Are you feeling any regrets Dad?”

“None at all. I’ve been looking forward to this day for quite a while. Did you get things squared away with Don?”

“I hope so. When I told him about that guy threatening to break his kneecaps or even worse, I think he realized that a seventeen year old is no match for those people. You never know about Don, though. He’s such a free spirit I’ll have to keep a pretty tight leash on him. You can never tell what hair-brained scheme he might come up with.”

“It sounds like you’ve got things pretty well under control. Now, maybe I can catch some fish. It’s been hard living on the lake and not having time to get out and do some fishing. I’m even anxious for today to end so I can get started on my retirement.”

“That’s good, Dad. Since you won’t be here after today, you won’t mind if I take over your office, will you?”

“I figured you would. Most of my stuff is already out, so move in whenever you’re ready.”

“Thanks. Since today’s Friday, I may just use the weekend to do it. I’ll get Don to help me. I don’t want to take away from work time to move. I’m anxious to get started with our international expansion.”

“Sometime you’re going to have to tell me what you’re planning. It sounds interesting.”

“I will, Dad. I think you’ll be impressed, and if I’m right, it will make Shepherd Apparel a lot of money. Since I didn’t get to finish explaining the plan to the key people today, I’ll be doing it at the staff meeting Monday. Would you like to sit in?”

“I’ll let you know. I may be too busy doing nothing.”

***

Bud Fussell was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee and moved to Mount Airy, North Carolina in 1967, where he currently lives. He is 76 years old and has been married to his high school sweetheart, Jane Ward, for 57 years. Bud and Jane have 3 sons, 7 grandsons, 2 great-grandsons, and one great-granddaughter. He is retired after spending many years in the apparel and hosiery industries. In addition to his new-found love of writing, Bud loves to hunt and fish.

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