“I want you to come with me tomorrow morning to have a talk with your Aunt Gally.” Jewel Wallner Drummond was Beale’s widow. Kendell was their only child, currently Vice-President for WMT European operations, directly under Gally’s son Spencer. There were four other VPs in Hamburg, but they were technocrats, not leadership. “Spencer is a sixty-year-old puppet. If Violette ever took her hand out of his ass, he’d crumble. You are ten years younger and fifty IQ points ahead of him. And I know you’re who really runs things in Europe, in the big picture sense.”

“Mom, quit with this stuff.” Kendell pretended to put her hands over her ears. “I’ll see Aunt G any time she wants. I’m not going to stand around her deathbed for the eenie-meenie-miney-moe. I don’t want to be CEO of Planet Wallner. If Spencer takes over, as he probably will, I’ll likely get his job. That would be great. I know Europe, after 17 years. My husband and my kids are native Hamburgers, they’re happy there. I don’t know Pittsburgh anymore. I don’t want to be the one to choose between making tools for robots and tools for humans, or whether we’ll be producing machinery or computer code. Let Pittsburgh decide, or Gally with her last breath. I’m sixty years old, I get to make my own choices for me and my family.”

“Sweetheart, I own 15% of Wallner, more than anyone but your Aunt Lizzie, when Gally’s gone. I trust you to keep my stake safe. I don’t believe either your cousin or that Czech has the sense God gave a mud hen. Spencer is a fool and Mikala believes robots should rule the earth. I want you in charge.”

“I get that. But you have to get that I don’t want to be.”

“If Gally asked you?”

“That answer’s not going to be different, the 57th time you ask. I’d tell her why she was wrong. If she still wanted me, I’d say, yes. Only then. And this is still not an invitation for you to stage something. However this turns out, I’m good. And so are you. You’re 77, ma, that’s too old for this Game of Thrones shit.”

“What about the witch, the one that shrivels up when she takes off her necklace?”

“And you’re wrong about Cousin Spencer. He’s not brilliant, needs some help with technical stuff, but he’s solid. People trust him.”

“Because they don’t know him. He has a nice smile, but I want a good brain running my company, not good teeth. I’ll talk to Gally tonight, set something up for us.”

“Please don’t, ma. Don’t make me tell her I don’t want to see her, because that’s not true. And what about the twins? Why aren’t you crabbing out on Ricard and Arona? I realize they’re working under Aunt G in Philadelphia and Spencer has Europe to himself, as it were. So they’re slightly junior. But there’s two good brains and they work together like, well, twins. And Vernon’s kids have as much claim as I do.”

“Kendell, you’re so far above them. It’s not even a contest, unless you stay under your damn bushel. You need to think about the company first.”

“Why, Ma? Why must I? 70-80 hours a week of my best effort, that’s not enough? How about early retirement instead. I’ve got plenty saved, I could help in Alwyn’s office, we could travel, spend time with our kids, pretty soon grandkids. That sounds damn good.”

“Financial security with an architect in private practice? Right. The next commission might be the one that never comes. Your savings won’t cover the malpractice insurance. It’s like fashion models, they’re hot until they’re not. Wake up one day, nobody wants to see Twiggy’s bony knees ever again.”

“You know, mommy dearest, that you can’t win anything here? You can irritate the hell out of me. You’re getting close.”

“I just want the best for you. Go ahead, sue your mother.”

“You don’t. You want the best for Wallner, which is weird, really, for somebody not born into the thing.”

“A 110 year old company is a ‘thing?’ The largest tool maker in private hands is a ‘thing?’ Twelfth largest tool maker in the world? The seventh largest privately owned manufacturing company?”

“Something like that. I’m sure your numbers are right. But try to remember I was cleaning Wallner offices at eleven, on the factory floor at fourteen, sent to Hamburg right out of grad school. I’ve worked for your company for forty years. I’ve never worked anywhere else. One more little cheerleader happy fact and I’ll slap you.”

“You’re threatening the woman who pushed you into the world? Of course you are. You’re my very own damn darling daughter. I really am not trying to piss you off. I just want … well, you know.”

“Yeah. I know. And you could not love me so much loved you not Wallner Machine Tools more. I forgave you years ago for not knowing that you needed forgiving. All in a daughter’s day’s work. Waters broken under the bridge. I love you, too.”