Max Hartman, the philanthropist and holy terror, the founder of Hartman Capital Management. The self-made immigrant who'd arrived in America, a refugee from Nazi Germany, with the proverbial ten bucks in his pocket, had founded an investment company right after the war, and relentlessly built it up into the multibillion-dollar firm it was now. Old Max, in his eighties and living in solitary splendor in Bedford, New York, still ran the company and made sure no one ever forgot it.
It wasn't easy working for your father, but it was even harder when you had precious little interest in investment banking, in "asset allocation" and "risk management," and in all the other mind-numbing buzzwords.
Or when you had just about zero interest in money. Which was, he realized, a luxury enjoyed mainly by those who had too much of it. Like the Hartmans, with their trust funds and private schools and the immense Westchester County estate. Not to mention the twenty-thousand acre spread near the Greenbriar, and all the rest of it.
Until Peter's plane fell out of the sky, Ben had been able to do what he really loved: teaching, especially teaching kids whom most people had given up on. He'd taught fifth grade in a tough school in an area of Brooklyn known as East New York. A lot of the kids were trouble, and yes, there were gangs and sullen ten-year-olds as well armed as Colombian drug lords. But they needed a teacher who actually gave a damn about them. Ben did give a damn, and every once in a while he actually made a difference to somebody's life.
When Peter died, however, Ben had been all but forced to join the family business. He'd told friends it was a deathbed promise exacted by his mother, and he supposed it was. But cancer or no cancer, he could never refuse her anyway. He remembered her drawn face, the skin ashen from another bout of chemotherapy, the reddish smudges beneath her eyes like bruises. She'd been almost twenty years younger than Dad, and he had never imagined that she might be the first to go. Work, for the night cometh, she'd said, smiling bravely. Most of the rest she left unspoken. Max had survived Dachau only to lose a son, and now he was about to lose his wife. How much could any man, however powerful, stand?
"Has he lost you, too?" she had whispered. At the time, Ben was living a few blocks from the school, in a sixth-floor walk-up in a decrepit tenement building where the corridors stank of cat urine and the linoleum curled up from the floors. As a matter of principle, he refused to accept any money from his parents.
"Do you hear what I'm asking you, Ben?"
"My kids," Ben had said, though there was already defeat in his voice. "They need me."
"He needs you," she'd replied, very quietly, and that was the end of the discussion.
So now he took the big private clients out to lunch, made them feel important and well cared for and flattered to be cosseted by the founder's son. A little furtive volunteer work at a center for "troubled kids" who made his fifth-graders look like altar boys. And as much time as he could grab traveling, skiing, parasailing, snowboarding, or rock-climbing, and going out with a series of women while fastidiously avoiding settling down with any of them.
Old Max would have to wait.
Suddenly the St. Gotthard lobby, all rose damask and heavy dark Viennese furniture, felt oppressive. "You know, I think I'd prefer to wait outside," Ben told the Hotelpage. The man in the loden-green uniform simpered, "Of course, sir, whatever you prefer."
Ben stepped blinking into the bright noontime sun, and took in the pedestrian traffic on the Bahnhofstrasse, the stately avenue lined with linden trees, expensive shops, and cafes, and a procession of financial institutions housed in small limestone mansions. The bellhop scurried behind him with his baggage, hovering until Ben disbursed a fifty-franc note and gestured for him to leave.
Excerpted from The SIGMA Protocol, (c) 2002 Robert Ludlum. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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