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Free Short Story

I had a new story idea, and I have been working on it for the past two weeks. Feel free to leave comments.

A Modern Joseph Story

By Danny Mac


The unique ringtone on my phone indicated an unknown caller trying to contact me as I arrived back into the office after lunch. However, my former brother Devan called at nine this morning, and Tom tried his luck at eleven, seeking intervention for the family business. Before pressing the green button, I knew this must be Robert, my oldest former brother.


“JRB Landscaping,” I answered with the familiar sounds of the office buzzing around me.


“Hello, Joseph. This is Robert, your eldest brother.”


“Hey, Bob,” knowing he prefers Robert. “You’re looking for a cash handout to help the family business out of financial ruin. I will tell you exactly as I told your brothers: NO!”


“Our grandfather started this business, and it carries the family name. It is a matter of honor.”


“Honor,” came with a singular growling laugh. “How much of the ownership belongs to me?”


“We had nothing to do with that. It was Dad’s decision.”


“Well, let Dad bail you out.”


“He tied up his savings in the restaurant.”


“Robert’s Bistro? Isn’t that the pretentious supper club on the north side of town with overpriced casual food prepared by less-than-competent cooks?”


“Listen, there is no reason to be rude. It is good food at a fair price. We seek a small loan to get us through some tough times.”


“You have been president for five years and earned a decent salary. Why don’t you loan the company money?”


“Well, frankly, I don’t have the money to make up what we require.”


“You have a million-dollar house, a fifty-foot cabin cruiser on the lake, and countless utility vehicles. Try selling something off to become more liquid.”


“We require more than I am worth.”


“Sorry, I cannot help you.” And then pressed the red stop button.


Patty, the office manager, and my eight-month-pregnant wife questioned, “Why won’t you help your family?”


“It’s a long story.”


“I never pried into your family life because it hurts you. But with the baby coming, I want to know now.”


I signal for her to close the door to my office. “I turned eighteen in March of 2012. The day after my birthday, Dad asked me about college again. I maintained my stance on not attending university, and he kicked me out of the house. He didn’t wait until after high school. He kicked me out that frigid March night.”


“Why take it out on your brothers?”


“I called Robert, who had just bought a house, and asked to stay until I got on my feet. He turned me down. Tom had an apartment, and I asked him to stay on his couch. Again, his answer was no.  Devan lived in a dorm with no room for me and wouldn’t lend me any money to rent a room.”


“You are stubborn enough not to give in to your father’s wishes; what did you do?”


“Before I could call a friend, my phone stopped working. So, I hiked to Carl’s house, and his parents put me in their spare room until after graduation.” The next day, I skipped school and went to the bank. My childhood account, with over a thousand dollars in it, was closed by my father. He didn’t know that I opened a second account in my name only at sixteen and saved over twenty thousand dollars in it. I withdrew a thousand and bought a simple flip phone with a minimum plan.


My first call was to Grandpa for help. He set aside one hundred thousand for my education, but since I didn’t attend school, he offered me fifty thousand to start a business. The transfer took two days, and I bought a used pickup truck, a riding lawn mower, and a push mower. My current boss leased my business to help him and gave me several smaller customers as a starting point. It took me three months of hustling to start making a living. It helped my old boss forward his smaller clients at me and my hustle to find new customers.”


“Why couldn’t you forgive them?” Patty questioned me.


“Robert called JRB Landscaping and found out it was my business. He refused to let me bid on his home or the company's property. I really could have used the work, but he turned me down. All three of my brothers refused to take my calls after that day. It was as if I died and was no longer part of the family.”


Patty’s face turned sad to hear this part: “That September, I moved out of Carl’s house when he went off to college. His parents never took any rent from me, and to this day, I keep their yard free of charge for the kindness they showed. I invited my family to my new apartment, and even Mom refused to join my celebration. I called at Thanksgiving and was told there was no room at the table for a disappointment like me.”


“They didn’t say that?” she questioned in disbelief.


“Yes, that was my father’s assessment of my life. I assumed Christmas was out, too, so I continued my life. I bought a snow plow and a blower for the winter months. Twenty customers paid me a hundred dollars monthly to keep their drives and walks clean of snow. There were another thirty that would call me when they needed snow removed. It was a snowy winter, and I made good money.”


“Have you talked with any of your family since then?” Her near-tearful question.


“No, I tried several times, but they refused to answer my calls. I hired Tyree in the spring since I picked up many new clients from snow plowing. My reputation for providing excellent service preceded me, and by the end of the second summer, I had five people helping with landscaping. I bought more equipment to match the growth. The company grew until I hit two million in revenue when I incorporated it.”


“Why haven’t you tried reaching them recently?”


“The night we met, I was drowning my sorrows in beer because I read an article in the news that Dad turned his company over to his sons. The article mentioned Robert becoming the new president, Thomas achieved the position of vice president of sales, and Devan started as vice president of manufacturing. There was no mention of me as one of his sons, as if I had never been born.”


“I see how they have hurt you, but is there room in your heart for forgiveness?”


“How do I forgive someone who won’t acknowledge my existence?”


Patty thought for what felt like an hour, then said, “There is another Joseph I know whose brothers tried to kill him. When they found they didn’t dare to do that, they sold him into slavery. There, a dishonest woman lied about him, putting him in prison. Eventually, Joseph rose to a very high position. When his eleven brothers came looking for help, he forgave his brothers.”


“Yeah, but his father loved him dearly.”


With a knowing smile, “Do you think that would make a difference?”




“I hope that isn’t aimed at me.”


I shook my head and said, “No, it is at me and my predicament. Maybe a little towards you being right.”


“What now?”


I called Robert back and asked for the financial records for the past three years. He had them to me by five, and I reviewed them that evening.


The next day, just before seven in the morning, I met with Tyree. He agreed to run the operations for JRB Landscaping but wasn’t sure about the accounting and tax record keeping. “Patty will stay and run the office. I need you to schedule jobs, estimate bids, and deal with customers.” We agreed on a pay raise to match his new responsibilities.


I called Robert at eight, but he was not in the office. “Please have him call me when he gets in,” was my only message. Robert returned my call at quarter past ten. “I have a proposal for you and your brothers. Can you meet me at one today?”


Robert started to object, “Listen, if you want my help, you will have my brothers in your office at one.”


While Devan and I waited, Robert and Thomas were late for the one o’clock meeting. They entered the office laughing without a care in the world. “Where have you been?” I admonished them.


“Lunch at Rubio’s ran a little late, sorry,” smirked Robert.


“Here is my proposal. Going through the past three years, your sales have fallen by 30%, operation costs are now running ten points higher than they should, and overhead is through the roof from what I can only surmise is from expensive lunches on a failing company’s dime.”


The three stared embarrassingly at me.


“You have a note due in twenty-eight days that you have no funds to cover them. You have another loan for five million with a balloon payment in two years. This loan the three of you signed over personal property to secure it. If the company closes, you are completely bankrupt.”


They continued to stare without acknowledging my statement.


“For 51% ownership of the company, I am willing to pay the company two million dollars to pay off the note. I can raise another million within sixty days to fortify the operational budget. As president, I will take control of the company over all aspects.”


This statement brought out their ire in Thomas and Robert. They both shouted, “You can’t force us out. This is our company.”


“Okay. Where else will you achieve the infusion of cash you so desperately require? If the company closes, you will lose your positions,” I paused for effect. “Your houses,” another pause, “and all your possessions.”


The look of defeat beamed from their faces. Robert asked, “What will happen to us?”


“I will assess your abilities. If there is room for you, you will have a job to do but at a much-reduced pay rate. In fact, this company is very top-heavy and needs to shed a fair amount of expenses to survive and grow again.”


Devan spoke up: “I’ll sign whatever I need to keep this company alive. Furthermore, I will support you in any required changes, including tendering my resignation.”


I reached into the folder beside me and handed them the contract, “Have your attorney review this. Sign it and have it back to me by noon tomorrow.”


The next day, around nine in the morning, another unidentified number rang my phone. “JRB Landscaping” instinctively escaped my mouth.


“This is Robert Benning Sr., your father,” sounded firmly through the speaker.


“My father?” hung in the air for just a moment. “What can I do for you?”


“I would like to meet with you today. It seems my sons want to sell the company, but they need my permission to do so. I want to meet the new owner.”


“I will meet you in the president's office at noon today.” I disconnected the call before he could answer.


Patty heard the curt reply and saw the resentment on my face. “Will you give him a chance to reconcile?” came soothingly out of her. With just a look, she knew I didn’t have the answer to her question.


At noon, I came to the meeting armed with a check for two million made out to Benning Industries. Robert Sr. sat in the president’s chair, and his three sons bunched on the couch to his right. A single folding chair was left for me to sit on. I stood my ground, overlooking all of them in a power play of my own.


Robert Sr. started, “Where did you obtain the money to make your offer?”


“You kicked me out of our house the day after my eighteenth birthday. Then, you took all the money from the joint account I had saved from childhood. That was about $1527.57 at the time, not that I am holding any grudges.”


Senior looked rather displeased over my lack of response to his direct question. “Who is backing you in this takeover of my company?”


I ignored his condescending question. “You didn’t realize that when I was sixteen, I opened my own account and saved my money there. The day you kicked me out, there was a little over twenty thousand dollars in the account. That’s right, when my brothers relied totally on you for all their needs, I worked and saved for my own life. Furthermore, my grandfather, your father, spotted me $50,000 to start a business in lieu of going to college.”


“I told him not to do that,” grumbled from the old man’s mouth.


“I guess he is like me and doesn’t feel the need to behold your word as law. While my brothers spent their post high school years partying at university, I built a business from scratch. Vincent Merchant helped me get started. It took me $20,000 to buy an old truck and a used lawnmower and get a business license. He gave me several smaller clients and hired me as a contract laborer to make a living.”


“I suppose you used my good name to court clients?” smugly filled the room.


“Your reputation only curries favor with those politicians that rely on you for donations. After learning my last name, several clients threatened to cancel the deal with me. I explained to them why I started my business and how you threw me out before I graduated high school. They took pity on me, and a few sent even more clients my way.” I chuckled slightly, “I suppose I did gain clients from your name.”


Senior’s face gained a bright red hue, “Where did you gather the funds to buy my company?”


“I grew my company with no help from you or my brothers, even though they could have. Did you hear about the new golf course at the Northside Country Club?” Senior nodded, “I built that thirty million dollar course.  The last payment for the work is due in a month, and that is the money I plan to invest a million more later.”


“Where did the two million for the initial investment come from? Did you finagle it from Dad?”


“Do you remember when I used to play the stock market as a teen? I used pretend money to buy and sell shares of stock. You complained it was a waste of time and resources and that I should stick to my studies.”


I felt the smile break across my face, “Well, I average between twenty and twenty-five percent return on my money playing in the market, as you called it. Within three years, the 50K Grandpa gave me turned into almost two hundred thousand. My business was strong, and I put more money into the stock market. Today, after retrieving this seed money, my account still shows over two million dollars.”


“It pleases me to have Robert as president. Is there any chance of him remaining the head of the company?”


“Robert was pompous, arrogant, and entitled growing up. He continued following you in a life of does no wrong. He led Benning Industries to the brink of bankruptcy, and you wish him to stay.”


“Yes, but” I cut him off with a familiar phrase.


“Stupid is trying the same procedure, by the same method, and expecting different results. If I purchase controlling shares in this company, I’ll be the highest office holder in the company.”


“Why Robert can’t remain the president, and you take a higher office,” was his interpretation of my statement.


“Robert knows nothing of the company’s operations. He never had to learn the operation. Brian Bachman ran the operation successfully for twenty years before Robert fired him for spending money on preventative maintenance. Since then, there have been times when machines shut down for weeks, waiting on replacement parts. If Robert wants to be president, he needs to know the proper operation of the plant.”


“Are you suggesting he work in the plant?”


“If he wishes to continue working for the family business, yes. He will spend six weeks working in each position in the plant, including maintenance. That goes for Devan and Thomas as well.”


The shock on the faces of my family at my demand to keep their jobs sent a smile into my heart.


“Devan, do you like being in charge of operations?”


“Yes, I do,” his shocked face turned to perplexed.


“I offered Brian a two-year contract to return and run the plant. You will have two years to learn from him before returning head of operations.”


“Thomas, I offered Althea Huther a two-year contract to come out of retirement and run our sales department. She is a client of JRB Landscaping and sold business to business for a Fortune 500 company before retiring early to enjoy life. You will enjoy the same two years to master your craft as head of sales.”


The elder Robert stiffened, “I haven’t given my permission to sell the company to you.”


“No, you haven’t. Do you have the three million to prop up the company and the nerve to pull it out of bankruptcy?


“I successfully ran my company for twenty profitable years.”


“Your old and outdated method of running the company left it precariously on the edge of faltering. Your hand-picked son pushed it into the abyss of despair. The fact is you do not have the financial ability to save the company, and your father refuses to bail you or your sons out because he sees the ruin falling on the company he started and built for success.”


“You talked with Dad?”


“My grandfather and I have grown very close in the past twelve years. He refused to help me financially but has offered his support in advice, encouragement, and mentoring. He likes my can-do spirit, as he calls it.”


“Do your three sons sign this contract, or do I walk away and let them fail?”


Devan broke first from the solidarity behind his father, “I’ll sign it.”


Robert stood second, “Give me a pen, and I’ll sign.”


Thomas rose without a word, stared at his father for a moment, and then signed the document.


Robert started collecting his personal property from the president’s desk. I asked, “Robert, what are you going to do?”


For the first time in my life, Robert looked at me with respect, “I will humble myself to learn from you. If this means sweeping the floors for a while, then so be it. I don’t know how to live off seven-five thousand, but I will learn.”


I turned to the man I once called father, “And you? Do I earn your respect?”


“I thought you would come back to me. It wasn’t about going to college. It was appreciating my authority.”


“You always served your authority with malice in a totalitarian manner. I, like my grandfather before me, would never submit to an authoritarian regime. He escaped the Soviet Bloc in the 1960s, came to this country with little, and built a life from scratch. I inherited his fortitude to work for what I wanted, the insight to recognize the best path, and the courage to see it to the end.”


Robert, the father of my three brothers, rose from his chair, a disdained look smeared across his face. Sternly staring at the three, who had followed his every command since they were toddlers, he turned and left the office.


I gave Devan and Thomas’ new bosses' phone numbers for the next two years. “You call them today and have your office ready for them to take over tomorrow,” I stated without reservation. They left the office to accomplish the task at hand.


Robert looked pleadingly at me, “Can we do anything to improve my salary?”


“Not until you show competency at running this company. I want you here tomorrow, and you will work at the number one stamping line. You will do anything required to keep the line moving. You will work for the operators. They are good men, and Marvin has been here since our grandfather ran this company. Please work closely with him. He will show you all the ins and outs of running the machines.”


“The seventy-five thousand won’t pay my mortgage, let alone all the other bills,” Robert continued to plea.


“Don’t you have any savings?”


“Not really.”


“I still drive the old pickup truck I bought twelve years ago. Patty and I bought a nice but not extravagant house in our grandfather’s neighborhood. Perhaps you should cut back on some of your expenses like the country club, sell a few of your ten sports cars, and how often do you use your boat docked at the marina?”


“You are asking a lot of me.”


“Yes, I am. You need to learn what is essential in life to make honest decisions about running this company.”


“I am taking the rest of the day off to make arrangements to survive the next two years. I will report to Marvin in the morning.”


I spent the rest of the day watching the office. It seemed half the people had nothing to do all day. The comptroller did not return from lunch until two thirty. I handed Mike the check to bail out the company, and he referred me to Alice. I took the check to Alice, and she appeared quite relieved to see the funds come in to cover the bills. “No, this money is earmarked to pay off the loans at the end of this month. The bank will not negotiate where our other vendors will.”


“I am so tired of coaxing money around to pay everyone.” The exacerbation creased every word.


“What does Mike do all day?”


“He arrives around ten, checks his investments till noon, and then breaks for lunch. Sometime during the afternoon, I bring him checks to sign, and he goes home at around four.”


“Can you do his job?”


“I’m doing it now for a quarter of his pay.”


“Why does he work here?”


“He is a friend of Robert from college. I don’t know if he has any other credentials.”


“Don’t leave our company just yet, please.”


Alice smiled at my comment. I wasn’t sure, but that smile indicated that she was looking for another job.


The next morning, I saw Robert entering the plant at seven, dressed for hard labor, including the PPE required for protection. Devan and Brian came from the office to start reviewing the plant.


I stopped by Thomas’s office, and he and Althea were reviewing our current customers. I called Alice into my office, and her face showed her displeasure at being taken away from her duties.


“I’ll try to be brief.” My attempt to relieve her stress. “How would you like to be our new company treasurer?” A stroke of confusion flashed across her face, and then a gentle smile followed. “The promotion comes with a slight pay bump, but times are tough.”


“What happens with Mike?”


“I’ll need you to clear his personal belongings out of the office and bring them to me. I want you to spend the rest of the day organizing your department for maximum efficiency. Anyone who doesn’t fit into said efficiencies will be relieved of duty.”


For the rest of the morning, I organized other departments similarly. By lunchtime, we had lost a third of the office workers. Many newly unemployed office personnel were my brothers' friends who thought they didn’t have to work because of their relationship with the owners.


Patty brought me lunch, and I stopped to enjoy a meal with my wife. As we finished, my mother, of all people, knocked politely on the opened door while peering her head into the room. Patty rushed out after pecking me on the lips.


“Is that your wife?” my mother asked. I nodded, and she said, “She is quite beautiful.”


“What brings you into my office this fine afternoon,” with a bit of sarcasm dripping on each word.


“Robert returned home yesterday in a completely foul mood. Your little stunt of taking over the company without his approval has him quite annoyed.”


“You mean his pouting when the world doesn’t bow to his demands?”


“Yes, you do remember your father. Frankly, I am very pleased you succeeded and rescued the family business. I am here on another matter. It has to do with Robert’s Bistro. I am listed as the sole owner of it even though Robert spent a great amount to start it and another great sum to keep it running. He wants me to use my retirement plan to keep it running.”


“And you do not want to waste your money?” as I waited for her to want me to bail her out.


“Yes, and no. I am willing to spend money to fix the restaurant, but not to keep it going as is.” She smiled at me.


I smiled to myself and thought I could never figure her out. “I don’t know anything about restaurants other than if you are not fully involved, it will cost you.”


“Yes, I found that out. You have many connections. I was hoping you know someone who can make the changes to bring the restaurant to life.”


I thought momentarily, “I might know some people, but they will want you to do a complete makeover and have total control of the operations.”


“I can deal with that. You inspired me to go against Robert’s rule for the first time in forty years of marriage. For this, I want to thank you.” She rose from her chair and left the office. Miguel, an old friend and restaurant owner, had a chef looking to expand to other venues.


Over the next two weeks, the company saw market improvements in operations, financing, and selling. Orders began to meet projected shipping times. It was partly due to sales no longer promising unrealistic delivery times but mostly because operations met production goals for the first time in several years. During these same two weeks, many freeloaders were allowed to leave. Trevor, another friend of the old president, was asked to work for his pay and quit without notice.


My first quarter as president ended with the company breaking even. It was the first quarter in three years that didn’t finish with a loss. A week later, the quarterly report hit all owners' inboxes. Unbeknownst to me, Robert Sr. was still on the list of those receiving financial reports.


He knocked on my open door and waited to enter. “Come,” spurted out my mouth before looking up to see who it was.


“Hi, I received the quarterly report yesterday. It seems you are bringing the company back into the black. There are several red ink numbers, but far fewer than before your arrival.”


I sat for a minute and waited for the other shoe to drop, which stated his dissatisfaction with my leadership. After the prolonged silence, I simply said, “Thank you.”


He smiled and left again without sitting down. My ire started to rise when I thought about the proud man he was. I chuckled to myself how hard it was for him to admit I was suitable for the company. Then, the humility saddened my heart, knowing my father dared to show gratitude for someone he had disdained for the past twelve years. This was his way of acknowledging me as a good leader. Moreover, for the first time in my life, he admitted he was wrong or at least miscalculated the outcome.


My oldest brother, Robert, has submitted several applications within the plant that could be upgraded. The equipment is old and requires frequent maintenance to keep it running. We identified future upgrades as the company becomes more profitable.


Devan spent more time on the plant floor, working with supervisors and occasionally sitting with employees to get their feedback on improving production. He saw the importance of cross-training and started an incentive program for workers willing to participate. The overall reaction from the rank and file has been hesitantly positive.


Thomas oversaw several extensions to current contracts and has two customers who want to sign future contracts. He spent more time on the phone and on the road working with existing customers while seeking new ones. Sales for the next quarter look to improve by ten percent.


The day after Dad visited my office, Mom came to see me. We discussed the recent changes to her restaurant, including changing the name to Park Street Supper Club. The new chef completely changed the menu to be more in line with the taste of the city's north side. Then Mom’s face became stern, and said, “Your father came home yesterday after meeting you very troubled. It appeared as if he cried on the way home. I asked him what happened, and he told me about your brief meeting.”


“I thanked him, and he left.”


“You paused for a long moment before answering him.”


I waited to hear his criticism to his praise. There was always a downside to any good I did growing up. When there was no negativity, I was taken aback.”


“I know the problem was his own by how he raised you. You were a free spirit and marched to the tune of a different drummer, and he didn’t like that. He had his view for you, and you saw your life going in another direction. Your teenage years were tumultuous as the two of you battled priorities. You both were so hard-headed that neither could conceive even a little of the other.”


I nodded my head in agreement with her assessment of those days. “What you don’t know is your father kept an eye on you. He claimed it was to see you fall and come crawling back to him like the Prodigal Son. Instead, he kept reading how you were succeeding in business. He beamed with pride when the story made the news that you won the contract for building the new golf course at the country club. He called his father to see if he could help you finance the expansion. Your grandfather told him you had it under control, shocking him.”


“Why is he so cold around me?”


“Pride can be a complicated sin to overcome. It sits in his throat and chokes him. He tried to swallow it yesterday, but when you returned the coldness back on him, it broke him. He knew all those years of coldness towards you returned tenfold to him.”


Those last words rang in my ears and were repeated in my heart all morning. Patty came with lunch in hand. I started eating without a word, with Mom’s explanation playing in my head.


“What’s wrong?” Patty demanded.


I told Patty about Mom’s meeting that morning. She gently squeezed my hand. “Forgiveness is never easy when a lifetime of resentment is present. It sounds like your father is trying to reach out to you but doesn’t know how.”


After lunch, my hand began to shake as I reached for the phone. Two years ago, I signed a thirty-million-dollar contract, and my hands didn’t shake. Why does one phone call to my father make my hand shake so hard? My right hand lifted the receiver while my left hand pressed the button that reads Robert Sr. The phone rang once, then a second time. As my mind timed the third ring, I heard, “Hello.”


“Hello, Dad,” the strange, uneasy voice uttered from my lips.


“Hello, son,” came back with equal uncertainty.


“I’m sorry for being curt with you yesterday. I was in the middle of a report.”


“No worries, son. I know the strain of being the president of the company.”


We talked for a half hour about the progress made in the past quarter. I assured him Robert, Thomas, and Devan were all on track to become executives soon. For the first time, I thought they were beginning to understand what makes the company run.


Dad reported that Robert sold several cars, opted out of the country club, and severely cut back on his expenses. For the first time in his life, he was showing the responsibilities of adulthood. He made his two teenage sons get jobs to support their wants instead of relying on him to fund everything.


I said goodbye as my secretary waved papers at me. My heart melted when Dad said, “I am proud of you, son. Bye.”


With a new stack of papers on my desk waiting for review, I wondered if Joseph in the Bible felt the same joy when he reconnected with his family all those years ago.

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