ATOMIC TOM

By Michael Conniff

Copyright © 2019

All Rights Reserved

 

A Short Story from the novel

 BOOK OF O’KELLS: NATURE OF THE BEAST

                  The world knows Atomic Tom O’Kell was a hellish man, hellacious at best, hell-bound for all things base—but the world cannot tell you why (as I can) or what the life of such a damnable man has meant to me, to my family, to the world. What better Boswell than a half-brother to tell the story? And what better subject than Atomic Tom himself, the man most responsible for the proliferation of nuclear weapons in our time—and the eradication of the genius Oppenheimer and all things Red? Biography and hagiography can only go so far: his deeds are still hidden by the dumb luck of history and the brute force of our O’Kell family wealth.

Atomic Tom was (is) a genius, and may God have mercy on his soul.

 

Atomic Tom O'Kell was a hell-bent, hellacious man.

Atomic Tom O’Kell took hold of the family fortune before the others could stop him.

Will O’Kell is my name, and I write my tenacled tale in this manic, manacled moment of clarity, without sleep, without surcease from my own tiresome mind: I write before men in surgical masks try to shock me back to life . Atomic Tom put me here in Bellevue last night in what he called an act of mercy: a fortnight from now, after electro-shock treatment, I will be a diapered child with a fractured past, the gaps in my memory as gaping as a bomb exploding inside my brain. My sisters—Eleanor, Diana, Rebecca—will come to see me, of course, but only after the “me” that has caused them such bother is shocked into oblivion.

I will never be the same or know the whole story again. Memory is at best a murmur, and I have been penalized all my life for remembering too much. I have always been the O’Kell hidden behind the curtain of events—the other, younger son—a cost center as Atomic Tom called me in the bomb shelter, at the family meeting this morning where I met my doom.

At what cost did he careen through the decades unchecked? Atomic Tom was (is) obsessed with the bomb, obsessed with the Reds he finds under every bed, obsessed with the notion that life could end in a blink, in the palmed passage of microfilm from spy to spy. The mushroom clouds of danger are everywhere in his world, and nowhere more present than in the wild rantings of a younger brother who claims Atomic Tom is the crazy man, the lunatic who would destroy our way of life to save it.

How could such a man come to be?

Remember: Atomic Tom was/is an O’Kell in name only.

He was all Cushing—or nearly so. He had Thomas Cushing’s daughter as his mother, and for a father he had Thomas Cushing’s eldest son. Atomic Tom was the result of that damnable coupling of Cushing and Cushing, though no one outside our family has known the truth until now. My half-brother and I share the same mother, Kate Briody O’Kell, one of Thomas Cushing’s many daughters born out of wedlock. But we share nothing else that matters.

That’s not even the half of it.

On Atomic Tom’s orders, my keepers here at Bellevue refuse to supply me with research tools as they might deny crayons to a child. I have none of the official documents attached to Atomic Tom’s movement through the American Century, none of the reference books that made people in Manhattan mistake me for a pack mule. There is no time now to be tidy with the facts, not with the clock tocking down on my very being, with the Russians pointing their Cuban warheads squarely at my head. I can only hope the aforementioned biographers sweep up after me with all the histrionics a historian can muster.

The only weapons left in my arsenal, dear reader, are my memory and your soul.

Atomic Tom knew I was planning a history devoted to what made him tick: my half-brother was willing to do anything to make me stop, including a rogue medical procedure sanctioned by science but likely to destroy my life. He is already at work on his own tome, an act of pure fiction carried out by a compliant ghostwriter. Thousands will take Atomic Tom’s history as gospel, but you will hear nothing of the truth from me, your hired gun. As a sentient being my half-brother is willing me to disappear. I can guarantee there will be no mention of my shocking obliteration—not a word about the bomb shelters he built beneath our family’s home with the money from the sale of Father’s inventions. Atomic Tom’s background briefings to reporters as chair of the Nuclear Energy Commission (NEC) helped to create the mindless race to build bigger and bigger bombs, the better to destroy the Red menace, real or imagined, that threatens to overtake us all. Atomic Tom let the world know the communists had bombs of their own ready to reduce us to rubble—Hiroshima or Nagasaki times X—with a payload that could easily wipe out Miami or Manhattan. (Or so he said.) At his urging, in houses big and small across the United States, citizens of the Republic had long been hoarding canned goods in the event of a nuclear attack. Two cars may have been purring in every garage, but nearly every home had a basement full of baked beans, canned peaches, and bottled water, the better to survive a first strike from the godless communists. Nuclear fallout and radiation are still an unsolved mystery to most civilians: a basement in fact affords no protection, a situation known to my half-brother as he stokes the fears of the masses for his own political ends.

In contrast to canned peaches—the false security bought cheap by the hoi polloi—we O’Kells were rich.

In normal times, ours was a life cushioned by the comfort of extraordinary wealth due to Father’s many patents. Nowhere were our resources more apparent than in the web of brightly lit tunnels in the bomb shelter beneath our house in the country. If the illusion of preparedness was important for the masses, the reality of survival was my half-brother’s creed. Atomic Tom regularly inspected the tunnels deep beneath our home, and he was convinced we could live underground in relative comfort long enough for the nuclear radiation to dissipate into the atmosphere without harmful effect. He had a carnal need for splendid survival.

We had drills.

The beach just below our house had been marvelous that morning—the wind a whisper, the sun in that wonderful space between warm and warmer still. We had all come in for lunch when the alarums of our nuclear protector rang out. Like dogs tasting saliva, we had been trained by Atomic Tom to careen downstairs for salvation at the clang of his bell.

Drill! Drill! DRILL!” he sang out.

We always assumed Atomic Tom’s military contacts, dependent on his blessing for funding, constituted an early warning system. We assumed the short- and long-wave radios in his upstairs study assured us preferred seating when it came to survival of the species. So we complied with his command. In the shelter below ground, our eyes again blinked open to a world of his own making, where only Atomic Tom could give the all-clear. With space at a premium, each of the many tunnels he built beneath the house were lined floor to ceiling with shelves that held the stores he deemed necessary: Atomic Tom’s personal definition of survival easily exceeded the requirements set forth by the Nuclear Energy Commission over which he presided. Stores of salt and silver utensils co-existed with caviar and canned eclairs. The latest batch of Powdered Tang used by astronauts stood ready for crystalline deployment just a few feet from an emergency wine cellar better than the best restaurants. We had the standard cans of beans and rice, but our half-brother arranged for row after row of exotic condiments, iron skillets, and the latest in Army stove-top technology. In the event of a nuclear disaster, we O’Kells would eat quite well for years to come, thank you very much, with our repasts powered below ground by a generator that kept our water hot and our clothes dry.

But that morning we all feared for our lives.

The Soviets put missiles into Cuba, just ninety miles from our shores: Atomic Tom told us the Russians had nuclear warheads ready to punish us at the least provocation; that Khrushchev meant business this time; that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were meeting with the President regarding the crisis as we speak with a national address to the nation before the cock crowed.

In a crisis, Atomic Tom said people of our standing had to survive for the good of the people.

You can imagine his nuclear reaction when he found me guzzling his treasured grape on the cold floor of the emergency wine cellar, after I visited all the vineyards worth noting in the wine racks devoted to Italy and France . Had I been sober, I could describe the fallout below ground in greater detail, but all I remember are my half-brother’s veins bubbling blue and then red on his forehead. Atomic Tom O’Kell was a big-shouldered man with long arms and a wingspan way out of proportion to his height: he could have been a great swooping reptile in another life; when he spoke his arms moved through the air as if bent on destruction. Like all those with the Celtic Cushing blood—like our mother Kate Briody O’Kell—he had a thick hedge of dark eyebrows going white that met at a point between his eyes, and a sharp Cushing widow’s peek that bisected his forehead.

Perhaps I can conjure a collage of Atomic Tom: the photographs a window into his soul—and mine. The endless drone you hear in the black-and-white of official Nuclear Energy Commission transcripts that cannot belong to my half-brother: that man is too measured, too righteous: he bears no relation to the creature willing to shock his drunken half-brother (me) half to death.

“You’re finished,” Atomic Tom said to me in the bomb shelter.

“And you’re the devil,” I said.

Had I known these to be my last moments of free will in a free world, I might have chosen sobriety in the hours below ground. I had always been a good drunk if not a great one, willing to concede the basic goodness of humanity by the third or fourth glass. But now I was simply drunk—a neutral state, the Switzerland of the soul—and so the disposition of my fate took place as if I had willingly waived the right to my own defense.

“Put that out!” Atomic Tom commanded.

I too could smell the unmistakable odor of Rebecca’s cigarettes in the close air of our confinement below ground. Rebecca complied by dropping the cigarette on the concrete floor of the shelter after one more long pull.

Even with the invasion of nicotine my sister should have been beautiful. With Diana’s fashionable help, Becca’s dark brown hair was cut past her shoulders to bring out the softness of her fair skin. Her lipstick, off-red, was just so, soft enough to do the same, fair and fair alike. Diana showed her how to eliminate the convergence of Cushing eyebrows with a tweezer, and if anything Rebecca accomplished the task of subtraction too well, with her wide blue eyes left too far apart, as if in shock. Even the outfit she had worn to the beach that morning was to Diana’s taste: the silken bathing suit covered by a sheer white shift, the matching bonnet at the height of fashion. As Atomic Tom held me by the collar, I could see the sum of her parts were far less than the whole.

“Oh Will!” Rebecca said when she saw me.

“Sorry,” I said.

“Will is always sorry,” Diana said.

Diana had none of the damning morality you might want to read into her words. She never judged anyone harshly: neither me, nor Rebecca, nor Eleanor, nor even Atomic Tom, and she certainly kept her judgment of society’s leading figures to herself, despite their invariable vacuity. That was her saving grace, her gift from the gods: Diana embraced the world and all of God’s creatures without the punishing moral code by now second nature to the rest of us. That was our only explanation for her marriage to Luigi Campobello. How could she put up with such a man? Years had passed since Luigi won Wimbledon or anything close, and there was nothing worse than watching a minor immortal tread water after his time has come and gone. In the early years of their marriage, Diana had been the ornament, but as Luigi’s lingering skills on grass began to vanish, his singles became doubles and then mixed just as Diana’s influence as the chief fashion editor at Imagine magazine became a matter of fact. Now Luigi was the ornament to Diana, with one remaining asset: his fractured English sure to break the ice at even the most formal occasion. Diana’s genius as a mate was to never let him know he no longer mattered.

“Will?” Eleanor said. “Sit down and shut up.”

Eleanor, the eldest of my O’Kell sisters, sucked up all of Mother’s moral indignation before the rest of us were born. She had much of Atomic Tom’s darkness and his need to dominate, but as a woman born of wealth her willfulness had nowhere to go. The early pictures of her in frills can’t hide the brooding beneath her thick brow: even as a child, Eleanor carried the weight of our world on her shoulders . Despite her shadow, she could always bend lesser beings to her own needs: as she came of age there was much speculation as to which rich and spineless fop she might marry, though Bucky Harwood had the early lead in the Irish Catholic Sweepstakes. There had been plans for the wedding at the Plaza and the inevitable honeymoon in Bermuda. An offer on a co-op on the East Side had been approved. But then Eleanor eloped with a suitor who was not of this world: her decision to go into the Convent on the eve of her wedding was such a shock that society was still talking about it for years thereafter. Eleanor never offered a word of explanation for her sudden departure from the cares of the world. My guess is she faced a simple decision at the time. Because she could no longer stand to live with Mother and Father, she could (a) get married; or (b) become a nun. The prospect of life with Bucky Harwood (a) took a back seat to the possibility of (b)—blissful eternity with the one true God, with not a single O’Kell to tell her what to do.

In the tunnels beneath our country home, as my family weighed my fate, Eleanor was without her habit or any of the trappings of the nunnery: I was able to see what the Bucky Harwood version of Eleanor might have become: a dominant woman lost in space, relegated by society to a supporting role. There was none of that in the nunnery: Eleanor rose with every posting, and her superiors finally brought her in to manage the finances of the order. Before long Eleanor turned their hospitals into a cash cow for further expansion. The Sisters of Mercy became known as the Sisters of Currency on Wall Street, and their bonds were ranked Triple-A. Eleanor did away with hospitals nurturing the poor until the Sisters were sitting on a cash hoard worthy of an industrial colossus. As she climbed the religious hierarchy, there seemed to be less evidence of her vow of poverty or the trappings of the holy life. We were now seeing more and more of Eleanor in the country, driving a fast car with the top down in the summer—and drinking at The Big House from noon until after dark, lolling with Bloody Marys at brunch, moving liquidly through the day with gin and a touch of tonic, then wine with a late dinner—and tumblers of brandy before she passed out in the rocker facing the ocean.

Down in the bomb shelter, she had been deprived of the afternoon’s libations. With Atomic Tom making the case for my incarceration, unwelcome sobriety meant Eleanor was in no mood to acquit.

For me the worst was to come. My half-brother and three sisters had seen my ceremonial posting in the family business as a formality, a way to appease Mother in the years after Father’s death. I admit to playing both fop and fool: I am guilty as charged of never putting in a hard day’s work until I took up the pen. But what work was there for a son of the O’Kells, a youngest child coddled from the crib? Mother and Father had always made it clear nothing was expected of me, and I complied by accomplishing nothing, by veering randomly through the best schools on the path of least resistance. My position on the board of O’Kell Consolidated had always been a formality, and I gladly gave my proxy to Atomic Tom without any concern for how he came to wield it.

My fatal enlightenment came in my office in town one evening, just moments before my scheduled departure for the ballet. The city was dancing that night, spinning in the windows that framed our view of Fifth Avenue. Horses clopped down Central Park South as if for once content with their load. Young people on the cusp of love, as fresh and twisted as pretzels, waited at our corner for the light . To that point, mine was the life unexamined, but there was nothing about the city proper that I did not know, from the best tailor in town to how to flag down a taxi in the sopping rain.

I always dropped by my office when all work was done, before it was time for me to play in the city at night. There was always mail to go through—I sat on boards and attached my name to charitable causes—and I could enjoy the trappings of prestige without rolling up my sleeves to do the work required.

That night a high stack of correspondence teetered dangerously in my in-box. The size of the pile was beyond the normal run of business: a mistake. As the pivotal member of the Nuclear Energy Commission, Atomic Tom had been detained in Washington with President Kennedy, meaning he was unable to give more than a passing glance at the O’Kell family business. His secretary had been out with the flu all that week, and I correctly assumed the imposing pile of letters and envelopes were actually meant for my half-brother. Gravity then intervened on my behalf: letters and envelopes came tumbling down across my desk and onto the floor. Loathe to break the spell of the city, I called out—but my secretary was gone for the day. The correspondence had been split open according to Atomic Tom’s longstanding instructions, with the contents of one such missive now on my lap: I could see a letter and a check in the high six figures from the Enright Corporation made out to O’Kell Consolidated.

Dear Tom:

Herewith and forthwith the final installment for the rights to the O’Kell filtration patents.

Beth and I look forward to that lunch at The Ocean Club with you and Lynda.

 

Sincerely,

Robert F. Marlin

Chairman and CEO

Enright Corporation

 

I have no mind for figures—none—and there had been no change in the portion of the family fortune doled out to me on a monthly basis since I had come of age. My check always went directly to the family accountant down the hall from Atomic Tom, and it was his duty to see that my bills were paid on time and in full. He always did. Aside from my considerable wad of pocket cash, I never even saw the money or bothered to balance my checkbook. I was simply given an enormous allowance each week to feed my habits and appetites: that was that. It was a good life that required no effort on my part, and I never had a reason to question the source or worry for one minute about its disposition. Being rich was a constant for me, and I had active accounts in all the men’s stores and floral shops and four-star restaurants in the city. I saw myself as something of a city squire: a harmless fixture on the society pages, a man with the right name and nothing more because my name was more than sufficient. I convinced myself I was waving the family flag at these occasions—that somehow the mention of William O’Kell, vice chairman of O’Kell Consolidated, had quantifiable value when my own self-interests coincided with the family business.

Why question success, when everything about O’Kell Consolidated bespoke old money?

The source of our wealth was the plethora of patents left behind by Father, a man with the genius of his father, Thomas Edison, to draw directly upon: draw Father did with the sharp copper wire and copper plate kept next to his bed at all times, there to capture whatever sparks of invention might fly. My father Jake O’Kell’s field was electrical power, and before he was done the copper wire and plate yielded precisely 1,111 patents—a number second only to the achievements of his own blood, the immortal and inescapable Edison. As a direct result, we O’Kells wanted for nothing, and there was no warning we were now on a trajectory to meet our ultimate demise.

And yet: the check.

I had always known Robert Marlin and the Enright Corporation to be a deadly O’Kell competitor, the name spit out in our boardroom in fear and contempt, a formidable and never-friendly adversary. My attention and attendance at board meetings was sporadic at best, of course, but I could not recall any news of the sale to Enright or the veiled transaction this check seemed to imply.

I put the check to one side and bent over to pick up the rest of what had fallen to the floor: there, in the fodder, folded into a plain white piece of paper, was another check for the high seven figures made out directly to Thomas O’Kell Jr., with no mention whatsoever of O’Kell Consolidated or the reason for this sudden windfall.

I went through every envelope, every letter, until I compiled a small stack off to one side for the checks and short notes of thanks and/or explanation. By then I had canceled out of all my engagements for the evening, blaming the disappointment with accuracy on an unsettled stomach. There were perhaps three dozen checks in all with explanations enclosed. Some were a pittance—ten or twenty thousand dollars—but I could see the payment from the Enright Corporation was closer to the mean. In all, checks made directly payable to my half-brother Thomas O’Kell amounted to a million dollars or more, while those made payable to O’Kell Consolidated easily exceeded $10 million in total value.

My half-brother had always been a custodian rather than a creator, an administrator able to take Father’s hundreds upon hundreds of patents and turn them into recurring revenue streams. Neither my sisters nor I ever had reason to complain: their monthly checks matched my own princely stipend. But beneath the currents of cash flow there were darker forces at work. I have no doubt Atomic Tom’s ghostwriter will conclude my half-brother sold out brilliantly, at the very top of the market, as Father’s electro-mechanical processes gave way to the nuclear age now a matter of fact. But I sensed unsaid an undercurrent of desperation in these transactions. I had a conviction they had been concluded quickly and not always under the best of circumstances for O’Kell Consolidated. The cash in hand was considerable, but the foundation of our O’Kell family wealth had been all but liquidated.

Consider the filtration system now in the hands of the Enright Corporation. Over the years, the original patents produced steady profits for O’Kell Consolidated, especially after we moved the manufacturing of the product and its offspring offshore. In all, it is no exaggeration to state royalties on O’Kell filtration systems produced $3 million to $4 million per annum, a considerable sum with no end in sight.

It is also fair to say something so innocuous as a filter had an importance to me and to my family far beyond words. No anecdote about the O’Kells is more telling than the one explaining our presence and pre-eminence in Southampton society to this day. In the year of Our Lord 1962, we now have in hand our first Irish Catholic president, but when Father first delivered his young family unto the East End of Long Island, the Protestants were having none of it. The occasional sign—“No Irish Need Apply”—greeted Father as he came upon Southampton village though there was no need for the redundancy of such a warning. The roads like Gin Lane where the landed gentry landed were closed off to our kind, and so Father took us away from the village to a beautiful patch of land forever after known as The O’Kell Compound: hundreds of acres along the beach he bought for a pittance. There, by the water, Father built The Big House, where Tom, Eleanor, Diana, Rebecca, and I came of age, and beneath which Atomic Tom’s bomb shelter now sits like an egg finally hatched.

As children, we could enjoy the wonderful obliteration of sun and sand and salt water without fully knowing Southampton was all but closed off to us. We had the beach and the wind and The Big House—we had our shovels and our tartan blankets, our wicker picnic baskets laced with real lace—but all doors were shut in our face, all gates bolted against the Papacy. As my sisters grew older, a pressing need to infiltrate the life of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant society became insufferable: the last thing WASPS in Southampton wanted was a rogue Irish Catholic family fairly gleaming with the sheen of ambition.

And so things might have stood for generations, were it not for divine intervention in the form of The Ocean Club pool.

You will soon understand why the sale of the filtration patents would have such resonance within our family. Father was a genius in all small things: the family saying became “Edison invented the light bulb, but O’Kell invented everything else.” Think of it. The bulb proper was the sine qua non of Edison’s electrical system, but it begged the question of switches and circuits, of the immensely complex infrastructure required to deliver his precious light.

Our father, the Irish Catholic Jake O’Kell, was the high priest of such inventive minutiae, and the board at The Ocean Club knew it. That was why a board member came to our family compound in the year after the stock market crash. Father had wisely moved our money out of the market months before Armageddon: the pain evident throughout the city and Southampton completely bypassed his brood. He took the opportunity instead to buy more land adjacent to our own, and to make large lots available to his associates for the enclave under his direct control. But Father—and, more importantly, his daughters—had no interest in segregation in Southampton according to religion. He pursued admission to the Ocean Club for years, and for years his overtures had been met with a polite letter of rejection signed by an unrelenting board and delivered by an underling at the last possible moment. This summer no such letter had come, and as the high season came upon us we were astonished to see a representative of the Ocean Club on the doorstep of The Big House, asking for an unannounced audience with Father.

This remarkable turn of events was attributable, at least in part, to an act of nature. For the last three summers, a mysterious algae had been growing in the salt water of The Ocean Club pool, dense blue-green organisms of unknown origin expanding with every attempt to eradicate these interlopers from the water. The pool proper was all but unswimmable by the summer after the Crash: algae alone might have been enough to send an Ocean Club board member trooping to our door in search of assistance, but the fall of the stock market added its own momentum to the discussion in The Big House that day. The Ocean Club was suffering a calamitous drop in membership for the first time in its history, a decline directly attributable to the demise of the market. Even as a boy, I had been hearing stories in the village of club members who swan-dived to their deaths on Wall Street pavement when the news from the ticker turned dire. Many who eschewed suicide were nonetheless ruined: the membership rolls of The Ocean Club ebbed overnight, and the tide of membership was outgoing. By the time their supplicant came to see Father, the board had all but decided to let Catholics into the club.

Armageddon had arrived in The Hamptons.

Father listened as the board member, boater in hand, lipped at Mother’s iced tea and swabbed at the sweat beading high on his forehead. The board, he said, had a problem that might allow The Ocean Club to take full advantage of his skills as an inventor.

“And my membership?” Father said.

“Fix the damn pool, Mr. O’Kell,” the board member said, “and you can write your own ticket.”

Imagine the joy of my teenage sisters at the prospect of infiltrating Southampton society! But don’t underestimate the anguish this proposition caused our father. He told the board member he would think the matter over, and by nightfall he had decided on the need for one important change in the transaction. He gave the Ocean Club an ultimatum: admit the O’Kells to the Ocean Club first—as the first Irish Catholic family tendered membership—and only then would Father swear to God to eliminate the algae.

When my sisters realized their entrance into proper Southampton society was still in jeopardy, their wails that night could be heard from The Big House all the way to the wash of the sea. Failure to join The Ocean Club had immediate implications for that summer: failure in society at that age might have changed their lives for all time. My sisters fell to their knees and prayed to God that Father might see the light by morning. Eleanor, Diana, and Rebecca all cried themselves to sleep—their sobs and the swell of the ocean the last sounds heard in The Big House that night.

They should not have worried. Father was nothing if not a practical man: his love of the small albeit necessary invention was matched by an uncanny sense of what could be done in a deal. He sent his driver to The Ocean Club the next morning with his ultimatum.

By noon, a letter embossed with the seal of the board was in his hand, and I could hear the squeals of delight coming from my sisters all the way down to the beach.

By nightfall—sweating through the cotton of his summer seersucker suit—Father improvised a series of interlocking mesh gates diverting the algae into a dry gutter where they could do no harm.

By the next morning, unwanted organisms at The Ocean Club pool were a matter of historical record only, and my ripening sisters were at the center of a rippling circle of wealthy Protestant admirers, a group including a young teenager by the name of Henry Ford II.

Father was a genius in the fine art of leveraging his patents: he traveled back to the city after that summer with a mastery of the dynamics of filtration systems for dams and waterways, for the sluices and locks he knew so well as the runt called Tommy Tom Cushing in the last town along the canal. Within a decade, his modest filtration system for The Ocean Club pool had become a thriving line of business including industrial coolants and the core technology the Enright Corporation coveted. In all, it would not be an exaggeration to say O’Kell Consolidated’s filtration systems accounted for millions of dollars, year after year, with millions more possible had the patents been retained.

The city was done with its dancing when I broke open a new bottle of brandy in my O’Kell Consolidated office that night. As I sat surrounded by letters slit open to let loose their secrets, the long rows of figures representing the sale of Father’s patents mounted on the yellow legal pad before me.

If one put aside checks written directly to Atomic Tom’s account, many more millions were still available than any of us would ever need. But what should have felt like a windfall left me unable to catch my breath. Atomic Tom had taken Father’s life work and reduced it to rubble without the knowledge or permission of anyone in the company or the family. We were still rich, of course, but as I drank my way toward morning in our office, I could not help but think we would never be quite so rich again, and I would never be quite so sober.

The family jewels were gone for good.