Praise for James Warner’s

All Her Father’s Guns
“All Her Father’s Guns had me laughing out loud. It’s a wonder that a wit so dry can keep topping its own hilarious invention, page after page. And yet, for all the satirical surrealism of this Englishman’s portrait of America, Warner’s characters draw you in: they start to breathe, they make you care, and you end up feeling strangely moved. This is truly a distinctive achievement.” – Tamim Ansary, author of Destiny Disrupted: a History of the World Through Islamic Eyes and The Widow’s Husband “James Warner has revived the fine art of the farce, of using the absurd to reveal deep, disturbing truths. In this novel he takes us on a wild romp through Silicon Valley, Bezerkeley, Arizona, and Mexico, with pit stops in academia, politics, religion, love, and survivalism. The perfect blend of intelligence and humor make All Her Father’s Guns a blast to read.” – Frances Lefkowitz, author of To Have Not “In All Her Father’s Guns, James Warner does to America’s political extremes what Tom Wolfe did to the ‘80s in The Bonfire of the Vanities. Smart, provocative, hilarious.” – Kemble Scott, author of The Sower and SoMa “I very much enjoyed this satire of the American Nightmare.” – John Grant, author of Bogus Science: Or, Some People Really Believe These Things and co-editor of The Enyclopedia of Fantasy “All Her Father’s Guns, by James Warner, is a terrific novel. It’s literary, rollicking, fast-paced, funny, and deeply moving.” – Frank Baldwin, author of Jake & Mimi and Balling the Jack

James Warner

ALL HER FATHER S GUNS
A Novel

San Rafael, California

All Her Father’s Guns. Copyright © 2011 by James Warner All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews. This is a work of fiction. Any similarities between characters in this book and real people alive or dead are coincidental.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Warner, James, 1967All her father's guns : a novel / James Warner. p. cm. "A Vox Novus book." ISBN 978-0-9842600-2-7 1. Family secrets--Fiction. 2. Venture capital--Fiction. 3. Libertarianism--Fiction. 4. California--Fiction. I. Title. PS3623.A86325A79 2011 813'.6--dc22 2010052291 Cover design © 2011 Lucie Zivny Cover photograph by Camaryn McGraw

A Vox Novus Book Published by NUMINA PRESS www.numinapress.com

in memory of my father

PART ONE

“The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.” – Sherwood Anderson, The Book of the Grotesque “It could be, after all, that God is not sleeping but hiding from us out of fear.” – Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock

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REID
I was playing footsie under the restaurant table with my girlfriend Lyllyan, while her father, Cal, tried to persuade me all kindergarteners should be trained in the use of handguns. Do Americans talk so loudly because they’re afraid God can’t hear them? We were seated on a patio in Berkeley, California. For half an hour Lyllyan – skinny, blonde, and indignant – had been sweeping her hair out of her eyes, while over-reacting to Cal’s pronouncements about how government redistribution of wealth was armed robbery, and a progressive income tax infringed on our inalienable rights. I once thought Cal said these things to wind Lyllyan up, but now I knew him well enough to understand these really were his opinions. Rich, white U.S. citizens who’ve led a sheltered life under the protection of a powerful government, without ever being discriminated against, tend to place a lot of faith in rugged individualism. Asian-American women sat transfixed by their laptops. Berkeley in 2002 felt, to me at any rate, like the only peaceful sanctuary of progressive thinking left in the United States – or it had until Cal blew into town. He was wearing a baseball cap printed with his company slogan – VIGILANCE VENTURES: We’re great people. “How’s that crazy place you work for holding up?” he asked me. “More cutbacks on the way,” I told him, not adding that my own salary was among the Department of Theory budget items most likely to be axed. I was close to finishing my doctorate. Jobs for film theorists weren’t abundant. Once I told Cal what I got paid for all the courses I taught, and he said, “You could make more than that picking fruit.” We were currently in the sort of restaurant where fish and chips were called “Pacific halibut breaded with olive-oil-infused batter, complemented by wedge-shaped Yukon potatoes and sea salt.” At $19.99, this was the cheapest entrée. The price list had

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clearly been composed in a spirit of social satire, and I felt irritated at Lyllyan for taking us somewhere where Cal would have to pay. Cal said, “A humanities Ph.D. nowadays just proves you’re scared of the real world.” Reid Seyton’s my name. Seyton rhymes with Buster Keaton, but Americans sometimes pronounce it “Satan,” and I’ve received odd looks after signing the registries of rural motels. “Someone who spends ten years in a library can convince himself of anything, ” Cal went on. “Not to mention ruin his credit rating.” My fish and chips arrived, a blandly health-conscious simulation of the real thing, accompanied by four blackberries symmetrically arranged around the plate’s edge. Lyllyan’s entrée was the only vegan item on the menu, a $17.50 salad of mesquitegrilled beansprouts and lingonberries. Cal only ate about a third of his steak when it came. “I lost my taste for beef after I tried buffalo meat,” he explained. “Buffalo’s much juicier. You know what else is good? Reindeer. Elk too. Buffalo’s best though, sweeter than beef and with less cholesterol.” Lyllyan ate his mango-cilantro salsa for him, because he didn’t like the look of it. His Blackberry smartphone, the first I’d ever seen, blurted out the “William Tell” overture, and he started talking into it, saying, “If he won’t devolve management control to someone with a track record, that’s a deal breaker.” There were secrets to getting ahead in the world, I used to think, secrets my own father – who died when I was seven – was never able to teach me. A woman jogged past us at speed, pushing twins in a stroller. Lyllyan squeezed my wrist and said she had to go to the restroom, and after she’d gone, Cal pocketed his phone. “Listen, Reid,” he said, “I’ll cut to the chase.” The spokes of parked bicycles glittered in the sun. “We had a woman who took care of Lyllyan in Arizona about fifteen years ago. She was from El Salvador or maybe Nicaragua. I can’t remember her name, or why she was let go. I only met her two or three times, but she and Lyllyan were close. I need you to find out her name and where she lives.” This was typical of Cal, both his forgetting the nanny’s name, and his assumption I’d be happy to spy for him right after he fin-

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ished telling me I was wasting my life. “Why can’t you just ask Lyllyan?” I asked. “She won’t take sides between her mother and me,” Cal explained. “Tabytha’s trying to reopen the divorce settlement. She says I misled the court about my true net worth. She needs more money for her Congressional bid. Well, I’ve bankrolled enough losing ventures over the years, and my ex-wife’s political career isn’t about to be next.” Perhaps I could have said no, I didn’t want to get involved. But helping keep Tabytha out of Congress felt like my civic duty. Tabytha made Cal look positively left-wing. “She says I took funds from a business I owned in Singapore to pay my legal fees, and reported that as a debt instead of as additional income. And I failed to disclose some of the stock options I received through the Galahad Group, yada yada yada. If Tabytha can convince a judge that assets were hidden from the court at the original hearing, the whole settlement could be up for grabs again. But once she knows I’ve got some dirt on her that could shoot down her campaign, our divorce retrial will be over faster than one of Charlie Manson’s parole hearings. I think the nanny’s name was Maria.” Cal glanced at his gold Rolex. “How’s Lyllyan doing?” “Fine,” I said. “She’s happy?” “Think so.” “Make sure she stays that way.” Cal reached into his inside pocket, and I was half-expecting a bullet with my name carved onto it, like the ones he used to present to guys who took Lyllyan out on dates in high school. According to Lyllyan, this is why she didn’t lose her virginity until after Cal lost custody. Instead, he gave me a card. “If you ever want a real job, a company I know’s looking for a rookie technical writer. Very wellthought-out business plan. And another thing. Someone told me a third of the offices in Berkeley are rented by therapists.” I braced myself for another rant. But instead, he wanted a referral. “This is awkward for me,” he explained. “I don’t want the word going around that I’m feeling the pressure.”

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Can I really be blamed for telling him about Viorela Kescu? The only other shrink I even knew was a hypnotherapist that one of Lyllyan’s schoolfriends met at a Managing Inherited Wealth conference. Yet it must have been partly out of mischief that I wrote Viorela’s e-mail down on a napkin. “She’s a Lacanian,” I explained. Midges were starting to appear, as late afternoon slipped into evening. A man sprinted down Bancroft Avenue after a bus, waving vainly at it to stop. “A Romanian Lacanian.” Typing Viorela’s information into his Blackberry, Cal kept glancing anxiously toward the restrooms, awaiting Lyllyan’s return, and when he saw her coming back, he looked momentarily relieved. Part of him still saw her as a small child. I found that touching. Still hungry, I looked down at his burnished alligator boots, around which tiny birds were battling for crumbs.

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CAL
Cruising down Sand Hill Road in my BMW, past stands of pine and redwood and the offices of Vigilance’s competitors, I flipped some Bob Marley into the CD player. The expressway traffic was only managing three miles an hour, but the carpool lane was only for cars with at least two people in them. And in Silicon Valley, there are never two people in one car. I gunned the engine and drove in the carpool lane anyway, singing along with “Redemption Songs.” I was headed to the wedding of my business partner Igloo. Igloo worked for the CIA in Colombia, and Bengal, and some other places he wasn’t allowed to mention, and he had five sons by about nine different women. This was his fourth wedding. I avoided going to his stag party in Bangkok because I had too many weird memories of that place, back in the 1960s – joss sticks burning creepily in the entranceways to brothels, or ordering a beer and having a naked woman, standing on the bar, offer to open the bottle by twisting the cap in her cervix. Igloo’s primary residence in Woodside was surrounded by an authentic granite wall, imported from Scotland. Z.T. Zwak, my other business partner, was getting out of his sky-blue Rolls-Royce just as I pulled into Igloo’s eight-car garage. Z.T. was a straight shooter, but a registered Democrat. There’s lots of them in Silicon Valley, for some reason. Fluorides in the drinking water? And the Republicans are worse. George W. Bush turned out to be more of a money hole than my ex-wife. My Christian therapist in Redwood City once asked me if I really did have concealed assets Tabytha didn’t know about. When I asked him if he was on Tabytha’s payroll too, he told me I was paranoid. I told him he was fired. That man lasted three sessions – longer than the so-called “lifestyle coach” in San Mateo who told me I was having a “mid-life crisis.” Ducks swam around a stone folly at the edge of the driveway. Z.T. and I walked together through an arboretum of native Californian trees, and let ourselves into Igloo’s mansion. Near the fireplace, beneath a pair of crossed swords with lacquer handles,

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Igloo’s bride Erin was talking to one of Z.T.’s sons. Erin was a former Miss Philadelphia and occasional lingerie model who looked around nineteen. I noticed she’d had her tongue pierced. Locating Igloo in the living-room with Erin, I gave them their wedding present, an M72 bazooka. When Erin had quit thanking me for it, she said, “You were smart not to go to the stag party, Cal. Drinking with Igloo is a way bad idea.” “I hardly drink at all nowadays,” Igloo said, snaring a glass of Napa cabernet from a passing tray. “Not like I used to, I mean. Back in the mid 1970s, I was meant to recruit a junior diplomat from the Soviet Embassy in Bogotá. For months I did nothing but hang out with him, and we’d meet for breakfast and eat a lot, so we could drink more. Then for the rest of the day we just pounded back shots of vodka until we passed out.” Erin laughed the way people do when they figure they’re supposed to be laughing. I told Igloo, “You must have learned a lot of things from that guy that enhanced our national security.” “That’s the funny thing,” Igloo said. “By the next morning I never remembered a thing he’d said. I was under orders not to write anything down. Actually the whole period from U.S. troops leaving Vietnam to the Soviets entering Afghanistan is kind of a blur. Maybe I screwed up and told him something, and that’s why they never promoted me to GS-15.” “You’re so funny when you’re drunk,” said Erin. “It’s cute.” “After that they transferred me to Calcutta,” Igloo said, “to let off stink bombs at trade union meetings and hand out condoms filled with itching powder at Communist Party functions. You know the drill.” Erin offered me a beer, but I said no. To my way of thinking, you shouldn’t drink around guns, and you shouldn’t ever not be around guns, so you shouldn’t drink, period. “Excuse me, boys,” said Erin, “I need to go to the ladies’ room.” “Got to say hi to some people,” Igloo said. Z.T. and I went out to the patio. Lu’au torches flamed at the foot of the Olympic-sized swimming pool. Waiters offered us Chilean sea bass and pancetta-wrapped scallops. As we walked past the deep end, hieroglyphs of light formed on the water, and I began to feel queasy.

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“I’m concerned,” Z.T. said. “Igloo’s drinking too much.” Two thirty-something CEOs waved to me from beside the pizza oven. They had forced smiles, but I could tell they were freaked out. Their companies hadn’t yet found viable paths to profitability, we could pull the plug on them any time, and they could hear the clock ticking. “Igloo’s upset about our deal flow, we all are,” Z.T. said. “Feels like there’s nothing out there any more.” The less-than-stellar performance of Vigilance’s last few funds had dampened investor enthusiasm. So far we’d spent more of 2002 helping the companies in our portfolios stay afloat than scouting out new ventures. “So what are we supposed to do until things pick up?” Z.T. said. “Sit on our uninvested money, live off our management fees, and work on our golf games? Truth is, some mornings lately, I haven’t felt like coming into work. And that’s never happened, since I’ve been at Vigilance.” Z.T. looked around him. “We have a community here in the Valley, don’t we?” “We have a network,” I said. “Don’t expect to find anyone around here watching your back for you. If you want to see a community, come with me to Prague Springs some time. We have pistol, rifle, and submachine gun ranges, and our private ranch buffalo hunting is one of Nevada’s best-kept secrets.” Z.T. said, “I’m not sure your black helicopter crowd would take a shine to me, Cal.” You see the kind of prejudices a guy encounters when he sticks up for his Second Amendment rights? We were walking around the shallow end of the swimming pool when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Before I knew what I was doing, I threw my Blackberry onto a deckchair and jumped into the water. There was a boy lying at the bottom of the pool, looking up at me with scared eyes. I knelt down and put my arms around him. As he pulled himself gently away, Erin swam up to me. “Cal,” she said, “he was seeing how long he could lie on the bottom and hold his breath underwater. It’s a game, you know?” “Mom, please ask this man to let go of me.” I released my grip.

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The boy was Erin’s son from a former marriage, although Igloo had hinted to me that he was the boy’s real father. I apologized to the kid, who nodded meekly and lay down again on the pool bottom, watching me through the aquamarine ripples. He sure had Igloo’s ears. “Hey Cal, I wish I had a camcorder,” one of Z.T.’s sons called. The water was only three feet deep. I was soaked up to my waist, and the chlorine was wrecking my Brooks Brothers pants. I’d misread the situation, like a nuclear early warning system mistaking Brent geese for ICBMs. Z.T. was covering his mouth, trying not to laugh. I hate swimming pools. They make me think of mass graves. Water slapped against ceramic tiles. Our investors stood around the rim, hands behind their backs, some giving me weird looks, others turning away. A nervous-looking CEO leaned over and reached out a hand to help me out. I glared back, the tiny waves I’d made lapping against my flesh, understanding something was missing in my life. It was like I’d lost something, in a place I’d forgotten. I let the guy pull me out of the pool, then picked up my Blackberry and went indoors to e-mail Viorela Kescu.

I took the scenic route up the coast. Manzanitas and lupins grew along the roadside. The insides of my boots were still wet. A mile before I reached I-101, a psychic sat with a FUTURES FORETOLD sign, and cars pulled over for her. Two years before, she’d been the CEO of a San Francisco multimedia startup. I’d have stopped to consult her myself – venture capitalists can be as superstitious as actors, baseball players, or combat pilots –- except that I hated waiting in line. My photographs of Lyllyan, aligned along the dashboard, all captured her in the act of turning her back on the camera. My daughter had always been hard to figure. Why was her hair such a mess? And what did she see in that kid Reid? Where was the hustle in the guy, the fire in his belly?

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There was an entrepreneur from San Diego I used to meet at industry functions, who founded a dot com back in the boom years, got rich after the IPO, and bought a big house up in Shasta County. He walked out into his garden one Sunday, tried to brush the snow from a low-hanging sequoia branch, and brought thirty tons of snow clumping down on him. Weeks passed before they dug out his body. Reid reminded me of that guy. Somewhere along the line, the British lost their killer instinct. Probably started when they outlawed guns. It took me thirty minutes to reach the north side of Berkeley. Bouncing over speed bumps, I passed furniture warehouses, stragglers from the Pagan Pride Parade, and protesters opposing the corporate takeover of a radio station. I drove past clapboard churches, Berkeley brownshingles, and stucco bungalows shaded by persimmon and monkey-puzzle trees. Bumper stickers read SAVE TIBET and MY CHILD IS AN HONOR ROLL STUDENT. Dr. Kescu’s office was above an empty café. Ivy crawled up an old slat fence, reminding me of the house in Ohio where I was raised. The scent of freshly mown grass was everywhere. I climbed a staircase, walked down a narrow corridor past tables stacked with old fashion magazines, and edged my way into a room overflowing with trailing ferns. Viorela was forty, but looked younger. Even wearing a tweed suit, she was a head-turner, with green eyes and dark hair. “Reid says you’re from Romania?” I said. She nodded. I sat back in an uncomfortable armchair. “Would you mind not smoking?” I asked. Viorela said, “I would, yes, mind. And do not fidget. It is imperative to turn off your cell phone for the duration of the therapy. Also you will be aware that Lacanians use variable-length sessions. This means, I will decide when the session is over. Some sessions will last less than a full fifty minutes.” “Will any sessions last more than a full fifty minutes?” She shook her head. “I don’t really know why I’m here,” I said. “No therapist I’ve hired so far has been worth a damn. They only tell me obvious things, that I’m under work-related stress, that I have difficulty

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communicating with my daughter, that I’m afraid of burning out. They wanted me to take anger management courses, but I’ve known a lot of people, and the ones who weren’t angry were the ones who never got anywhere. Are you lighting another cigarette already?” Viorela returned my stare. She took a drag on her Lucky Strike as if it was her final request before facing a firing squad. “My daughter had a healthy upbringing near Phoenix,” I said. “I started teaching her to play golf when she was seven. On her thirteenth birthday, I gave her the complete works of Ayn Rand, bound in sealskin. The Christmas after that, there was a Remington 20-gauge waiting for her under the tree. Do you have kids yourself?” Viorela shook her head. “If you did, you’d know nothing brings more security to a father’s heart than hearing his daughter operate the slide of a shotgun.” Viorela blew some smoke rings. She made me feel like I really was having a mid-life crisis after all. “Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my grip,” I told her. “The whole business is emotionally biased towards the economic downside right now. That’s just not what I’m about. I think Igloo’s pissed with me.” “Igloo?” “One of my partners.” “But Igloo?” “Short for Luther.” “Is it?” “It’s what people call him.” “What are you doing to piss him off?” she said. “Following hunches. Igloo wants to play by the rules. He’s the kind of guy who keeps all the money in his wallet facing the same way. He cuts his steak into little cubes before eating it. He can spend weeks reevaluating our screening metrics and valuation formulas. I’ve always said, when you look at companies, you’re looking at the people. Early-stage investing is supposed to be a gamble. It’s about feel, knowing when you’re in the zone. Isn’t there a law against smoking during therapy in Berkeley?” “You are free to look for another therapist.”

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“Aren’t you supposed to be improving my health?” “There is no such thing as health,” Viorela said. “Only hysteria, obsessional neurosis, psychosis, or perversion.” “Which is better?” Viorela shrugged. “You are searching for something that does not exist,” she said. “Maybe I’m just looking for a woman. She nodded. “La femme n’existe pas,” she said. “Lacan said that. Woman does not exist.” It didn’t make sense that I was attracted to her, but I was. She said, “Your session is over now, Mr. Lyte.” “But there’s something I have to tell you. I had … Tabytha and I had…” Viorela stood up. “We had a son.” “Your session is over,” she repeated. “A son who drowned in our swimming pool ...” “You may go home.” “But it’s only 6:15.” “I decide when we are done.” “But I thought we only finished early if … I never even mentioned Dale to my other therapists ... Are you totally winging it or what?” Back outside, I watched joggers wheeze by, and the defeated expressions of women carrying groceries. Cardboard notices advertised yard sales and bake sales. A tricycle had been upended on an otherwise immaculate lawn. A woman put down suitcases on the porch opposite, before knocking insistently on the door. Some barbarian had slashed the tires of my BMW, and they’d keyed the paintwork too. A homeless guy asked me for spare change. I thought of the sermon Pastor Joey gave in Prague Springs the Sunday before. He said today’s liberal bureaucrats were like the sleazy monks of the Middle Ages, and their so-called charity only bred legions of beggars. Pastor Joey learned all about history as part of a Deliverance Ministry extension course. After calling a garage to tow the car, I returned to Viorela’s door and pressed the buzzer. “Hello?” she said.

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“Sorry I came unglued there,” I said. “You know what they say. Americans think problems have solutions. Europeans think solutions have problems.” “What happens,” Viorela told me, “is one desires a solution, then to justify imposing it, one fantasizes a problem.” I grappled with that for a while. The business mindset is there’s always a solution. “My car’s out of commission,” I said. “We both know you’re not doing anything for the next forty-five minutes. Know somewhere good to eat around here?” “What do you like to eat?” “First tell me what you like.” “Pheasant,” she said. “Rabbit. Most game. Venison.” “How about buffalo?” “Buffalo meat is good,” she said. “Cooked rare. But best of all?” “I know what you’re going to say.” “Horseflesh,” she said. “Exactly.” “It is illegal, though, in California.” “I can get it for you. Wild horse meat from the plains of Kazakhstan. Igloo has contacts there. Look, do you want to go see a movie first?” “There is a late Godard film playing at the Pacific Film Archive in half an hour.” I’d been thinking more along the lines of “Mutant Arachnids 5,” but I said, “Sure. You’ll have to drive though. And let’s get something to drink first. I’m parched.” Once the garage owner showed up in his tow truck, I signed some forms, then Viorela drove me in her white Subaru to a café in Albany that was known for defying the California smoking ban. She’d changed into a black skirt with a red top, and a jacket with a zebra-skin pattern. She also wore leather boots. As we entered the café, the waitress recognized Viorela and hurried over with an ashtray. The place was closing, and somebody was stacking plastic chairs. Past the café windows swarmed late-returning commuters. Viorela ordered a vodka straight up, and I asked for a Gatorade. She rested her foot on top of mine. “Why don’t you run your own business?” she asked. “Instead of helping other people to start theirs?”

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“You run into more liabilities that way. I guess I’m happier coaching people? But maybe you’re right. Maybe I’d be happier as an individual private investor, you know, an angel.” Viorela said, “You’re already an angel.” A bearded man in a lumberjack shirt sat reading a book of poems by Jimmy Carter. On the sidewalk, a child strapped into a high-tech-looking stroller let out a wail. Viorela shuddered. “What’s your deal?” I asked. “I don’t get you at all.” The moon was already visible in the still-blue sky. “Earlystage is meant to be a gamble,” Viorela said and, leaning across the table, ran her hand breathtakingly through my hair.