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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 surreal-
ism 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 us-
ing 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, relig-
ion, 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 Night-

mare.” – John Grant, author of Bogus Science: Or, Some People
Really Believe These Things and co-editor of The Enyclopedia of

“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


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, 1967-

All 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

Cover design © 2011 Lucie Zivny

Cover photograph by Camaryn McGraw

A Vox Novus Book

Published by NUMINA PRESS
in memory of my father

“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
All Her Father’s Guns 9


I was playing footsie under the restaurant table with my girl-

friend 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 pronounce-
ments 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 dis-
criminated against, tend to place a lot of faith in rugged
Asian-American women sat transfixed by their laptops. Ber-
keley 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
10 James Warner

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 him-
self of anything, ” Cal went on. “Not to mention ruin his credit
My fish and chips arrived, a blandly health-conscious simula-
tion 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 mesquite-
grilled 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. Buf-
falo’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
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-
All Her Father’s Guns 11

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 ex-
plained. “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 addi-
tional 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 well-
thought-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.”
12 James Warner

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
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 ap-
pear, as late afternoon slipped into evening. A man sprinted down
Bancroft Avenue after a bus, waving vainly at it to stop. “A Roma-
nian Lacanian.”
Typing Viorela’s information into his Blackberry, Cal kept
glancing anxiously toward the restrooms, awaiting Lyllyan’s re-
turn, and when he saw her coming back, he looked momentarily
relieved. Part of him still saw her as a small child. I found that
Still hungry, I looked down at his burnished alligator boots,
around which tiny birds were battling for crumbs.
All Her Father’s Guns 13


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. Ig-
loo 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 memo-
ries 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 Califor-
nian trees, and let ourselves into Igloo’s mansion. Near the
fireplace, beneath a pair of crossed swords with lacquer handles,
14 James Warner

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 sup-
posed 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 Chil-
ean 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.
All Her Father’s Guns 15

“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 com-
munity, 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 him-
self 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.
16 James Warner

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 bot-
tom, 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 mistak-
ing 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
I let the guy pull me out of the pool, then picked up my Black-
berry 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
And what did she see in that kid Reid? Where was the hustle
in the guy, the fire in his belly?
All Her Father’s Guns 17

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
Reid reminded me of that guy. Somewhere along the line, the
British lost their killer instinct. Probably started when they out-
lawed guns.
It took me thirty minutes to reach the north side of Berkeley.
Bouncing over speed bumps, I passed furniture warehouses, strag-
glers 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
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 over-
flowing 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 im-
perative 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
18 James Warner

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
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 Reming-
ton 20-gauge waiting for her under the tree. Do you have kids
Viorela shook her head.
“If you did, you’d know nothing brings more security to a fa-
ther’s heart than hearing his daughter operate the slide of a
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 down-
side right now. That’s just not what I’m about. I think Igloo’s pissed
with me.”
“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.”
All Her Father’s Guns 19

“Aren’t you supposed to be improving my health?”

“There is no such thing as health,” Viorela said. “Only hys-
teria, 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 at-
tracted to her, but I was. She said, “Your session is over now, Mr.
“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 men-
tioned Dale to my other therapists ... Are you totally winging it or
Back outside, I watched joggers wheeze by, and the defeated
expressions of women carrying groceries. Cardboard notices adver-
tised 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 beg-
gars. 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.
20 James Warner

“Sorry I came unglued there,” I said. “You know what they say.
Americans think problems have solutions. Europeans think solu-
tions 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 min-
utes. 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.
“It is illegal, though, in California.”
“I can get it for you. Wild horse meat from the plains of Ka-
zakhstan. 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 Ar-
chive 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
All Her Father’s Guns 21

“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 po-
ems 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. “Early-
stage is meant to be a gamble,” Viorela said and, leaning across the
table, ran her hand breathtakingly through my hair.

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