Title: A Northern Gentleman
Author: Lane Everett
Publisher: Senior Prospect Publishing Co.
Publication Date: July 15, 2015
Format: eBook / Paperback (US Only) / PDF - 298 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Because the year is 1890, the people who he meets after he leaves Atlanta have no easy way to find out who he really is, allowing Drucker to reinvent himself in each stop that he makes along the way to California. As he travels, he explores late 19th century America as well as his own identity – both real and mistaken – all while solving a mystery, falling in love and getting caught up in a wild west caper gone awry.
This story isn't just a rollicking ride from one town and one mistaken identity to the next, though. It's the tale of a man trying to strike a balance between his responsibility to his family and his desire to be his own man. Alternately moving and laugh out loud funny, A Northern Gentleman chronicles the adventures that unfold when one man decides to leave his boring desk-work behind to seek out the life he's meant to lead and to find that special something that his life has been missing.
There’s a photograph that’s kept upstairs in the same wooden box that holds the invitation to Grandmother’s wedding and some yellowing stationery that is all but illegible, and an election-year button that used to be blue and bears a name that used to be important. The photograph is black-and-white and there’s an inscription on the back of it, in looping longhand, in dark ink. Five words, each character tied together by a dragging pen as their author noted what the photo captured: Atlanta Southern National Bank, 1890.
The picture is a portrait, though there’s no one in the photograph. There’s a desk, but no one sits behind it. There’s a window, but no one looks through it. Instead, what must have been the golden light of a low and setting sun streams through the window onto the lonely desk. And somehow, though the sloping curves of human flesh are absent, and in their place only the severe angles of lifeless wood appear, the photograph becomes a portrait nonetheless. A portrait that, even without eyes or lips or teeth, captures the stilted smile of capitalism begging the question of the hour: Isn’t there something more than this?
The desk didn’t always sit unmanned, and to glimpse this particular photograph is to witness a ship without its captain. With a broad body of dark wood, the desk was itself both ocean liner and iceberg. It was a vessel on which one could have enjoyed a comfortable cruise up the corporate ladder; yet, simultaneously, it formed a ruinous blockade against all that stood beyond the door. And though its home in the office of the vice president of Atlanta Southern National Bank should have made it a vehicle of transport to the highest ranks of economy and society, to its owner it was a slave ship.
When the desk belonged to Atlanta Southern National Bank’s vice president, Drucker May, the desk sat squarely in the middle of an office that was regal in its décor. A green rug lay underfoot, gold cresting marked the line where wall ended and ceiling began, and a garish bronze sculpture of a tufted eagle perched above a second doorway.
In an office quite remarkable for its ornamentation, that second door was perhaps the most notable sign of prosperity. Though the door itself was unembellished, confederate in its colorlessness, its value was inflated greatly by a single fact: it led directly to the bank president’s adjoining office, which was twice the depth, thrice the length, and many multiples as lavish as its neighbor. The desk there was no dowdy brunette, but rather a brilliant blonde, painted in gold leaf, and more like a banquet table than a workstation. Next to it, Drucker’s mahogany steamship was reduced to tugboat. It was as if the bank’s own vault had been emptied and its content melted and molded into the shape of a desk, behind which sat the bank’s president, a king on his throne, presiding over business.
Daily, the door that joined the offices would swing open, and the booming voice of the bank’s president would rouse Drucker from his daydreams. The accuracy of a clock could be measured against the precisely timed roar that each day at half past one prompted a dozen bankers to rush to the threshold of the ornamented office. Drucker was among the crowd, though he was never the first to arrive, which the president was pained to notice every time.
This daily assembly was brief and usually followed by a demand that some item or other that the president had misplaced be found before the hour was up, inevitably prompting a scramble.
The lengthier congress would follow each day at three. One financier would read aloud from the newspaper. Another would recite notes from a pad—covered in his own scribbles—on the availability of silver or the latest blustering of William Jennings Bryan, at which all in attendance would groan in unison. No matter how little there was to say, the meeting would always manage to drag on for an hour.
For Drucker, the afternoon assembly was a prime opportunity for him to do what he was best at: daydream that he was somewhere else. As his eyes wandered to the windows, his thoughts drifting in the same direction, he would lose himself in a world where the memories he had mingled with the ones he had not yet made, where he could be anyone, do anything, live anyplace. Though he was careful to keep a straight face so as to appear engaged, in his mind he was running, arms flailing, through a meadow of tall grasses, never looking back as the banality of a life spent behind that wooden desk grew smaller and smaller in the distance behind him.
Outside the boardroom’s window, the sun shone brightly over Atlanta’s verdant Peachtree Street. There was one tree in particular that had the same branch structure as the one Drucker used to climb as a boy, when Atlanta was nursing its burn wounds and the talk of rebuilding, like the lemonade he would gulp on blistering afternoons, was endless. These days it seemed that the only thing endless was the daily midafternoon summit, and so Drucker allowed himself to drift back into the comfortable memory of what it felt like to perch in the highest branches of the tree.
“Drucker!” The voice was sweet but sharp, the last syllable pronounced fully, unlike when his mother called his name, dropping the final ‘r’.
“I brought you a glass,” called Lucy.
“Just one?” asked Drucker, looking down through a leafy web of foliage below him.
“Yes. And a peach.”
“Throw it up here,” instructed Drucker. “The peach, not the glass,” he added slyly, “I’ll have the lemonade when I come down.”
Even through layers of leaves and branches he could see her frowning. “Ten minutes,” she sighed. “Or I’ll climb up there and get you. Your mother wants you to know that dinner is at six, and if you’re late, you won’t be served.”
Drucker reached out his hands, beckoning for her to toss up the peach. Lucy was more than a governess to Drucker. She was an ally and a friend, and he had no doubt that his mother had instructed her not to give him the peach, but she had snuck it to him anyway. “Toss it,” he urged. “C’mon, toss it up here.”
Toss she did, but the arch of the fruit’s trajectory was short of where Drucker could reach, and Lucy threw up her arms, waving him off from the catch. “No, no! You’ll fall!” she called up to him as the peach thumped back into her outstretched palms.
“Aw, Lucy,” he teased, “I thought you could have thrown it better than that!”
“You know I could have thrown better than that.”
“Or forgot that you couldn’t throw it better than that,” he taunted from a dozen feet off the ground.
The playful exchange delighted nine-year-old Drucker, who prided himself on keeping pace with the twenty-six-year-old blonde who had lived upstairs for as long as he could remember. Drucker considered her a best friend, and it had never occurred to him that she felt any different than he, or that the fact that she was paid to look after him was the reason they spent their days together. Though to his mother she was one among a crew of employees who flitted about the property, gardening and cooking and generally serving as directed, to Drucker she more than took the place of the sisters and brothers his parents never gave him, and she lavished on him the attention and affection his parents similarly failed to provide.
A slap on the table ceremoniously ended the meeting. The men rose to their feet and shuffled papers and murmured to one another, their voices blending into a single sustained note. It was not unlike the drone of the meeting itself, which was little more to Drucker than a continuous low-pitched whine.
Back at his desk, Drucker eased into his chair, reclining for a few moments before hearing footsteps approaching his door and, on cue, straightening his spine. He glued his eyes to the front page of the newspaper that lay across his desk. Not a sentence was familiar, though the meeting had been dedicated to hashing through each and every headline.
“Hello, Drucker. I’m sorry to interrupt.”
Drucker looked up from his display of feigned diligence. The interruption was, in fact, not an interruption at all, as the scene in which Drucker was consumed by work was no more than a show, performed for the benefit of his one-man audience.
“I just spoke with Hank,” continued the bank’s president before Drucker could get a word in, “and I’m more than a bit concerned. Another five accounts have moved over to Georgia Consolidated Bank, and Hank expects the Langdons will move most of their assets by the end of the year. That damn bank hasn’t been operating six months, and already we’ve lost a dozen of Atlanta Southern’s…” he hesitated, grasping for the right word.
“Richest sons of—” Drucker tried to offer.
“Beloved patrons,” the bank’s president cut him off, giving Drucker a stern glance.
Drucker smirked but returned to the question at hand. “Five more accounts,” he mused.
“Since March, no less. At this rate we’ll be sucked dry in a matter of months,” the president replied, gravely.
“Well,” said Drucker, feeling apathetic, “I’d say it sounds as if this calls for a detailed discussion in tomorrow’s afternoon meeting.”
Sarcasm was always lost on the bank’s president. “Forget the meeting,” said the president, waving a dismissive hand. “This is a project for you.”
He looked down at Drucker’s desk, which was artfully staged to look like the station of a diligent worker. “You’re very busy, I know, but we’ll just have to find someone else to take the rest of this.” He motioned toward the stacks of financial records and yellowing newspapers on Drucker’s desk, all of which had been carefully arranged to look worn out from frequent and heavy use.
Drucker admired the scene he had crafted. “It is tiring,” he said. This was the truth. He couldn’t fight the sedative effect that all things banking had on him, even the relatively exciting prospect of the bank’s demise.
“Good then, it’s settled,” said the president. “You’ll be in charge,” he added, gaining momentum, “of making sure that Atlanta Southern doesn’t see the—suffer from the—well, that we don’t…” Momentum halted. He stammered through a long sentence that ultimately went unfinished.
“To be clear,” said Drucker, “you’re telling me that you’ll give all my work to someone else in exchange for me coming up with a plan to stop our accounts from moving to our competitor?” It suddenly occurred to him that this was a disadvantageous trade. He had made a practice of doing practically nothing all day, and suddenly here he was being asked to barter it away for a nearly impossible task.
The president nodded. “Precisely. This will look quite good for the board review, too.” It was widely known that the president intended to step down by year’s end, and the board would soon be appointing his replacement. Despite Drucker’s lackluster performance at every element of his job, the president threw the full weight of his portly existence behind the naming of Drucker as his successor.
“Or, I suppose, it could look quite bad for the board review. That is, if Georgia Consolidated continues to steal our customers,” Drucker replied evenly.
The president cringed deeply. “It could, yes, if you fail. But if you fail, I suppose we all shall. And if there is no bank for me to preside over, there will be no bank for you to preside over.”
A glum thought, but for some reason it delighted Drucker. “Well, when you put it that way,” said Drucker, “you give me no choice.”
Another glum thought, but for some reason it delighted the president. “Good, then it’s settled. I’ll tell Hank. I’ll tell him I’ve put you in charge, and that Atlanta Southern is in good hands.” He paused to consider his last statement and then added without humor, “It’s sink or swim now, Drucker, but you’ll keep us afloat. Won’t you?”
“Yes,” said Drucker quietly. “Of course, I will, Father.”
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The novel follows Drucker May who abandons his privileged life, embarking on a series of adventures allowing him to reinvent himself at every stop while searching for the life he’s always longed for and discovering the man he’s meant to be.
Her writing has been formed through writing education attained through Brown University (Providence, RI) creative writing courses, plenty of writing on the topic of American Government during her undergraduate education at Georgetown University (Washington, DC) and plenty more writing on the topic of American Business History, her chosen field of concentration for her MBA at NYU (New York, NY).
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Email Address: Author.LaneEverett@gmail.com