THE PROFIT FACTOR
The market is a place set apart where men may deceive each other.
— Anacharsis. (Diogenes Laertius, Anacharsis. Sec.5.)
Perry P. Holmes smiled and sipped a glass of champagne. It was a celebration—another celebration in a long line of celebrations over the past twelve months. Perry Holmes was a general contractor in the city of Atlanta—and its numerous outlying suburbs—and his business was booming in 1995. Holmes had learned the construction business from his father, who had recently had a heart attack, and had just taken over as the President of the family business that year. Atlanta was the place to be in 1995; the Atlanta Braves were on their way to a World Series Championship and the 1996 Olympics were just around the corner. Holmes, owner of a conglomerate of homes and apartments, had capitalized on the situation, taking advantage of his position of strength, and had leased six of his homes and over a hundred units in his four apartment buildings. He broke the leases easily, his attorney having written them himself, and then had his representative contact the Olympic committee and his European contacts, and had quickly leased the units, some for as long as three months, some for only three weeks and his profit factor, after figuring his expenses, was somewhere around a million dollars. Holmes had also just bought out another high volume builder, Tom Wash, of Wash Construction, after Wash had been on the verge of a bankruptcy and stood to make another million on a project he inherited from the buy-out. Wash’s wife of twenty years had divorced him and it had further driven him to the brink of disaster. He needed to pay off some loans before he could begin a large project in Morrow, a suburb just south of Atlanta. Holmes had found out Wash’s difficulties and had resolutely bought him out, not giving him very much in the way of cash but paying off all his outstanding loans and restoring his good name to him. He had only had to come up with ten thousand in cash, a pittance for him, and he stood to make a hundred times that amount when the project was completed in less than two years. Yes, Perry P. Holmes, Jr. was on top of the world this day and removed a large stogie from his vest pocket, as one of his many employees walked over to where he sat and proffered a light for the cigar. Holmes smiled at Bill Sibley, one of several vice presidents he employed, and puffed contentedly on the stogie, as Sibley took a seat directly adjacent to Holmes’ booth and leaned in, signifying it would be a private conversation. Holmes frowned, this was a celebration and he sensed Sibley wanted to discuss business, but, if there was one thing he never refused to discuss it was business. He lived it, took it home with him, slept with it and got up with it, and it was all about profit, money, land, development, anything to make a buck or, as in Holmes’ case, a million or more. Holmes wanted to own all the land, he wanted to be the king of all the wheeler-dealers and with assets upwards of one hundred million dollars, he felt he was well on his way. He owned land in several states and planned to branch out into the Orient this year. He allowed a steely grin to cross his face, as his vice president in charge of public relations, informed him that it had just been learned that Tom Wash had been found dead in his Roswell home, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Holmes showed Sibley he had learned much more in two years of law school than just legal thievery. “So what…so—look, let’s not let that dampen our party in the least, Bill,” he said. “It has nothing to do with us. We did the man a favor when we took him off the hook. You know that! Now then, this information needs to stay private for now, Bill. Do I make myself clear on that?”
Sibley turned slightly pale and croaked his usual ‘yessir.’
And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
—Matthew 19:24 (KJV).
The preacher raised his voice an octave and boomed: “Brothers, we must change our ways, our ways of looking at things; we must not think of ourselves first and others last. Put away your greed and self-interest and love one another. Why do you continue to pile up your material wealth on this earth, when you know you cannot take it with you?” As the preacher continued sermonizing, little Perry P. Holmes III fidgeted in his seat. He couldn’t wait for the service to end. His father was taking him to a Braves game that afternoon and he was so nervous his mother had to hold his hands together in order to keep him still, while, just a few feet away, Perry P. Holmes Jr. was nervous and fidgety himself. Usually, he paid little attention to the sermon but this morning it seemed to be directed at him; he could swear the preacher was talking to him. Why? He gave plenty of money to the church and had even donated one of his crews, when they needed some remodeling work done in. one of the buildings the church used for youth gatherings. He loosened his tie and collar. Why was he sweating? He was inside an air-conditioned church. Finally, the preacher led everyone in a prayer and the service was over. Holmes’ nine-year-old son, his only child, immediately jumped up and ran down the aisle, whooping that he was going to the Braves game that afternoon. Several of the congregation smiled and nodded after the youngster, as he ran out the front door of the church. Holmes placated his wife and they left in separate cars; she in her new 1995 Honda Accord, for home, and he and his son in his ’95 Chevy pickup truck, heading down I-75, rolling towards the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium.
Need there groan a world in anguish just to teach us sympathy.
—Robert Browning, La Saisaiz, 1. 312.
“Did you see McGriff hit that homer, Daddy?”
Perry P. Holmes Jr. smiled at his son and patted him on the head, as they walked out of the stadium. The Braves had won another one and everyone was happy. It was just before eight p.m. and the light was fast disappearing. Holmes spied a cripple, in a wheelchair ahead and, knowing his son’s penchant for wanting to give them some money, reached into his pocket. He slipped a handful of change into little Perry P. the third’s hand but suddenly frowned when he realized he had just given him a dozen, or even more, Susan B. Anthony silver dollars. Only a slight fraction larger than a quarter, Holmes had several hundred of them, thinking they would, some day, be worth considerably more than their actual face value. He had meant to give them to his son, an object lesson on how he played the futures market with worldwide currencies, as well as American dollars. He stepped forward and grabbed his son’s forearm, while the boy’s hand stood motionless, directly over a large, tin coffee cup in the hand of an ageless black woman, whose legs were no longer where they had once been, having been amputated during a bout with polio, decades in the past. Holmes had meant to retrieve the silver dollars but his vice-like grip, on his son’s elbow, actually opened the youngster’s hand and the handful of silver clanked into the cup, the sheer weight of them dipping the tin mug several inches, onto the woman’s lap. Holmes bent towards the cup to retrieve them when his eyes locked with those of the disabled black woman’s. She was smiling and he pulled his hand back, as if the cup were on fire, and was struck with an overwhelming urge to give all the money he had on him to the crippled woman. Suddenly, he began shaking and shivering but then just as suddenly stopped and Perry P. Holmes Jr.’s soul returned to the realm it knew best—to the realm it had survived in for nearly a half-century. Holmes glanced around and saw the swarms of people passing him by, oblivious of him, oblivious of an ageless, black cripple with the face of a ripe apricot but the smile of an angel. He was wearing sunglasses and glad of it because no one, including his son, had seen the tears. He walked hurriedly towards his pickup truck and his son gave no hint that he had been aware of anything irregular. Indeed, the youngster even banged his right fist into a fielder’s glove his father had recently bought him. “I’m ‘onna be a baseball playah when I grow up, Dad.” Holmes smiled and turned the ignition key. Glancing to his left, he could see the exact spot where the wheelchair-bound woman had been, but no longer was. He pulled the truck slowly forward and scanned the area, turning his head slowly, finally drawing the attention of several spectators attempting to walk to their cars, as well as his son. “Dad, Dad, what’er yah lookin’ for?”
“The ah-er-um…that woman…you know, the woman in—”
“Dad, in ah wheelchair, Dad…in the—”
“I, ah-er-um-ah, yuh-yuh, um-hmmmm…ah…yeah…I mean—”
Perry P. the third frowned. His father never talked this way except when he had been drinking, but he remembered clearly that they had both drank Cokes and 7 Up that afternoon, but something seemed wrong with his Dad now. “I don’t see her, Dad. Why do you want to find her?”
The question seemed to awaken his father, who quickly stepped on the gas pedal and shot out of the stadium parking lot. He lit a cigarette. “Nothin’ son, it’s nothin’—I don’t know what I was even thinkin’—heh-heh, yeah, don’t know, don’t know. Hey son, that was some game, huh?”
CHANGE OF HEART
Since all the riches of this world
May be gifts from the devil and earthly kings,
I should suspect that I worshipp’d the devil
If I thank’d my God for worldly things.
—William Blake, Gnomic Verses, xix.
Perry P. Holmes Jr. smiled at the head of Barton Properties. They were in the Hilton Hotel, where Barton and his partners were staying, and they had just entered into a joint venture that would make them five million dollars during June and July of 1996. Barton’s companies were going to assist Holmes’ company in evicting and refurbishing a large public housing unit that Holmes had purchased from the government, in 1989, before Atlanta had been chosen as the Olympic city. Over two hundred units had already been completed with another two hundred yet to begin. They had just finished having lunch and solidifying their partnership. Barton Industries, a group of attorneys, employing specialists in evictions and tenant removals, would get the other two hundred occupants removed and then assist Holmes in the remodeling job. They would split nearly five million dollars, after expenses. Holmes’ lucky year was turning out even better than he could have ever dreamed or expected. He toasted Bert Barton now and they talked in low monotones, as Barton’s subordinates gathered in the paperwork that had just been perused by both men. Finally, Barton excused himself and his subordinates jumped to attention, stumbling over themselves for the great man, whose wealth was estimated at almost a billion dollars. They parted company and Holmes rushed away. He was in a hurry to get home, as it was his son’s tenth birthday. He staggered towards the door and realized he had had too much to drink. Holmes had missed his son’s last five birthdays and had made a promise to be on time for this one. It was past two p.m. and his son’s birthday had started at noon. The breakfast meeting had been prolonged, a not unusual occurrence for either man, both being in their element when discussing the profit factor.
Holmes stumbled into the sunlight now, and his eyes immediately closed; he had been inside for five hours, eating, smoking and drinking. He nodded at a doorman and smiled. “Say-up know, uh-um-nah, which way’s dah ah-umm, um-nah Civ’ Cen-nah, ah-rah…do yah…ah—”
The doorman, thinking Holmes had attempted to ask where the Omni Coliseum was, pointed in a westward direction. “Right down that way, sir. It’s…it’s not far.”
Holmes smiled and burped a thank you, then weaved his way down the stairs and onto the street. He quickly became confused and lost. Coming to an intersection, he glanced at the street signs. Standing on the corner of International Boulevard and Spring Street, he spied a man in a business suit and walked over to him. He was being accosted by a beggar, a black man in very ragged clothes and as he came upon them, Holmes heard the suit growl: “G’wan, beat it, worthless bum.”
“Ah, excuse me, sir, but I wonder if you could help me?”
“Could jah spare some change, Mistah, anything?”
Holmes reached for his pocket but the man in the suit scowled at him. “G’wan, can’t jah hear?”
Holmes glanced at the vagrant. “Ah, no, I’m ah…well—”
“What can I help you with, sir?”
“Well, ah-er, I seem to be lost. I parked by the Civic Center and I can’t find it?”
“Oh, you’re heading in the wrong direction. Just go back down International and turn left on Piedmont, and you’re right there.”
“Yeah, hey, okay then, yeah, tha’…th’…thanks.”
“No problem. Don’t let these dirty beggars bother you either, huh?”
“Ah, er, yuh, yuh-yeah, tha’…thanks.” Holmes swiveled his head in a circle, searching for the beggar. He had an overwhelming urge to give the man some money. He shook his head heavily and thought to himself that it must be the liquor. He turned back towards the suit but he was gone and five minutes later, Holmes was in his pickup, heading down I-75, towards his home.
Perry P. Holmes III was excited. His Dad was taking him to the Georgia World Congress Center, where his Cub Scout pack was involved in a large exhibition and it was a show that Perry P. the third had attended the previous year. Every pack had a different exhibition and the scouts got to participate in the ones they wanted to. Perry P. the third’s pack was doing an exhibition on the Cherokee Indians and he was going to be a chief. He also looked forward to seeing the other exhibits and all the food that was available. His Dad was rich and he always liked to eat everything. Everybody always wanted to talk to his Dad and he got to be with him for almost a whole day; except he had to go to a business meeting at three in the afternoon. Perry P. the third hated it when his Dad did that; he always had business meetings. His mom told him that he would just have to realize that a very important man like his father had to spend a lot of time at his business but Perry couldn’t yet grasp why, especially considering he was so wealthy. Why did he have to work so much if he had over a hundred employees, as Perry had heard him say many times? Perry decided not to think about it anymore and just to enjoy himself this bright summer day, as his father’s pickup truck pulled into the parking lot of the Georgia World Congress Center—just across from the Omni Convention Center and the Georgia Dome—in downtown Atlanta.
Perry P. Holmes III smiled and stuck the last of a chili dog into his mouth. He was having fun with his friends but his stomach was stretched to its limit. He just wanted to show his dad what his pack had learned about the Cherokee Indians and what he had done for his share of the exhibition. The more he had learned about the way the Cherokees had lived the more the youngster realized that his father was living his life in the exact opposite fashion, pursuing money and possessions. He couldn’t understand why his dad was always hurrying, always talking loudly on the telephone and always rushing off in every direction, to so many business meetings. He just wanted to yell at his dad, as it appeared the only way to reach him, and tell him that he was his son and he wanted to show him something but then Perry realized that nothing ever appeared important to his father—unless it involved either business or money.
He looked around for his dad, who was on his cellphone, and frowned when he rang off and folded the phone up, then walked over and leaned down. “Gotta go, son,” he said “but I’ll be right back.”
The boy started to beg his father to stay just a little while longer but the elder Holmes was already off and running, having spent little more than an hour with his son. His partners had called about a lunch meeting with an Arab banker that was critical to a large upcoming project. Perry frowned. It was the same old story, the same old song that his father had been singing to him ever since he could remember; it was business, as usual.
THE KISS OF LIFE
With your last breath you saved my soul
You smiled at me like Jesus to a child
—George Michael, ‘Jesus to a Child’.
You wrapped me up in the color of love
Must have been an angel came down from above
You gave me the kiss of life
—Sade, ‘Kiss of Life’
The ‘wages’ of every noble work do yet lie in Heaven or else Nowhere.
—Carlyle, Past and Present, bk. iii, ch. 12.
Perry P. Holmes Jr. pulled to the stoplight and frowned, as a man in a wheelchair smiled up at him from the curb. He had a sign that read that he was a homeless Vietnam veteran. Holmes was about to pull away when suddenly he reached into his pocket and pulled out two twenties and a ten. He gave the crippled beggar one of the twenties. “Sorry it can’t be more.”
“Oh, this is plenty, sir. Thankyou, thankyou so much…ah—”
“I ah-er…yeah, yeah-ah-er, sure…anytime…any…” A horn resounded and reverberated in Holmes’ eardrum, as he glanced in his rear-view mirror to see a woman in a ’94 Mercedes leaning on her horn and waving her fist at him. He nodded at the cripple and pulled up Simpson Street, then left on Spring Street. A few minutes later, he pulled his pickup truck into the parking lot of an upscale eatery and opened the door, then hesitated and slumped backwards onto his seat. He put the key back into the ignition and hurriedly pulled his pickup out of the lot, responding to an overwhelming urge to relocate the crippled Vietnam veteran. He had the thirty dollars in his pocket and another hundred and fifty in his wallet, and he meant to give it the man. As he pulled his pickup to the stoplight where the man had been, he saw the corner was now vacant. He pulled to a parking meter and got out of his truck. He walked down Simpson Street and continued walking until he found himself standing on the corner of Central Avenue and Fulton Street, just across from Fulton County Stadium. He glanced at his watch; he had been walking for thirty minutes, and was late for his business luncheon. As he scanned the area for a taxi, he spied a wheelchair-bound figure sitting in front of the Stadium. It was a legless black woman and she appeared to be slumped over. Holmes sighed and began walking towards the wheelchair. He saw that the woman appeared to be asleep and was turning away from her when he heard a groan. Turning back, he saw the woman was falling out of the wheelchair. He ran to the wheelchair just as she lurched out of it; she would have fallen on the pavement had Holmes not caught her. It was the same woman he had given the Susan B. Anthony silver dollars to, some several weeks in the past. He stared into her face and she smiled at him, her face almost glowing. She was moving her lips but no words came forth. Holmes’ eyes overflowed with tears and he turned his head for a second, ashamed even as he saw no one was anywhere nearby. He inhaled deeply and stared at the woman.
“Come closer, closer,” she said, waving her hand.
As he moved his face closer to hers, she suddenly shivered and for an instant she appeared to be a man—it was the crippled Vietnam veteran Holmes had gone looking for, he would swear to it—but then he blinked and it was the woman, once again, beckoning him with a frail whisper to come closer. He did and she said something inaudible. Then Holmes moved his ear against her mouth and heard the words, “Bless you, God blesses you.” He felt her lips against his cheek and she kissed him, then sighed and went limp in his arms. Tears streaked down his face, as he saw she was no longer among the living. He picked her up and walked towards the State Capitol. She must have weighed all of sixty pounds and Holmes carried her past the Capitol Building, past Martin Luthur King Jr. Drive, past the Martin Luthur King Jr. National Historic Site and into the Georgia Baptist Medical Center, over thirty blocks. Of course, she was dead and nothing could be done to bring her back into this life and Holmes smiled at the doctor who examined her and the doctor shrugged, as they both seemed to realize that the woman was no longer in any pain.
WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND
Of this blest man, let this just praise be given: heaven was in him before he was in heaven.
—Izaak Walton, written in his copy of Dr. Richard Sibbes’ The Returning Backslider
The preacher stormed to the podium and began a sermon that moved many to tears. It was a sermon he had preached many times before and it was one close to his heart for he had seen his father live it. He preached for his congregation to do more than merely swear to live by Jesus’ word but to actually do it; he preached for them to give up their evil ways and to give up their possessions. Many amens echoed and reverberated throughout the congregation that morning, but none more fervent than the preacher’s own father, a man many thought to be insane. He had been slandered, sued, demonized, immortalized, revered by few and hated by many. He had been declared legally insane, yet had never been in a hospital. He had seen unfathomable wealth and brutal poverty. He had disavowed possessions and money and had caused many bankruptcies, bank failures, failed projects and mergers; and all because he had declared himself a new man, a man who had been reborn in the face of God to follow in the footsteps of what Christ had preached on earth. He had given up great wealth and had become an itinerant preacher, traveling the world over to preach his message, and had used his own money to feed millions, and when it ran out, had raised more. He was a legend in many parts of the world, but nearly ninety years old now, was hard-pressed to keep up his lifelong work, but his son would now take up the challenge. Revered as almost a god himself in many regions of the world, there was but light applause when the preacher begged him, his father, to stand, as he introduced him: “My father—whom I love dearly—Perry P. Holmes Junior.”