Some people are larger than life. Most are simply large. Stuart Byrd is both.
I was told to meet Stuart Byrd at his office on Milam street in downtown Houston at 7 am. The Byrd Services lobby was pretty standard.
They had a pair of corn plants, a ficus tree that was steadily dropping leaves and a collection of drilling bits and burning oil well photos.
The receptionist, Sharita, peered over the desk when I walked in, asked for my name and asked me to take a seat. She was doing her best to look busy but you could tell by the rotation of her shoulder she was most likely playing solataire on her computer. I caught her glancing a few times over at me while a waited. She obviously was curious as to why I was there. I’m sure she was the only black woman working at Byrd Services.
A few employees passed through the lobby dressed in off the rack suits. I know my blue jeans and polo shirt announced that I was not a regular member of the Byrd Services hive.
The HR manager, Blake, met me at 7:15. The wait was long enough to suggest that he was “busy” but short enough to indicate my arrival was important for him.
He was a nervous, wiry man with short cropped hair that was graying at the temples. His dress was a little too stylish and preppy for an oil company. The manicured nails and lack of a wedding ring indicated he was probably gay.
We exchanged some shallow pleasantries as he guided me through a maze of high walled cubicles that eventually parted into an open expanse of carpet at the far corner of the office. A very sourthern secretary named Cindy rose sharply to meet me and Blake quickly slipped away.
Cindy was probably in her mid-40’s. She had thick shoulder length hair that was dyed a very natural chestnut hue. She framed her lightly stained teeth with a deep scarlet smear of lipstick.
I told a quick, and not too funny joke. She feigned a polite laugh.
“He’ll be with you in just a minute,” Cindy asked.
I sat down in a well worn leather chair and waited until she ushered me in to meet Mr. Byrd.
Mr. Byrd is an imposing figure. When I shook his meaty hand my hand disappeared inside of his paw. The handshake was more like trying to control an unwieldy chain saw than greeting a company executive. I sensed that if he wanted to, Mr. Byrd could have snapped my wrist. He seemed to also be aware of this.
He wore a well cut grey suit that was destroyed by a horrible looking Texas flag neck tie flapping across his heavily starched white shirt. His black ostrich belt matched his roper style boots. There was a lock blade knife clipped inside his pants pocket.
“I have a problem,” Mr. Byrd said in a slow, deep east Texas grumble. He didn’t ask me to sit down and his presence strongly suggested I remain standing.
“I like to solve problems, Mr. Byrd,” I said.
His look cut me off at the knees and then softened.
“The people out there call me Mr. Byrd,” he said, pointing his finger indifferently towards his honeycomb of office cubicles. “My doctor and my lawyer call me Stuart. You are going to be more like a doctor. This job, your role, your purpose, is not a task. It’s going to be like applying chemo to cancer or stalling a claimant into reaching a settlement. You can call me Stuart”
“Well, Blake said I am suppose to help your daughter….”
Mr. Byrd ignored me and turned his chair so that he was looking out the window. The chair’s bearing creaked under his 350 pound frame.
“Blakes a faggot,” he said. “Sick fuck. He can process paper but I don’t trust him with much more.”
“My daughter Jessie is a doper. Her mother…”
His voice softened and he pointed to large portrait hanging on the wall of a stunning woman with long blonde hair and heavy mascara. The woman had high cheek bones and smooth, pale complexion. It was difficult to tell if the artist had enhanced her looks. Either way, to be alone in this office with such a beauty gazing silently at you for most of the day would be difficult if you knew she was no longer alive.
“Her mother, she died when Jessie was just a kid. She must have been 11 at the time. Her mother, my wife, could probably have managed Jesssie. I had to manage this business.”
He spoke with ackward pauses peppering his sentences, indicating this was a subject he was not accustomed to talking about and was difficult to express, especially to a stranger.
“I did a lot in my life. I did not produce a successful daughter. I can’t have this. She’s going to end up in a ditch or tied to some useless piece of trash for the rest of her life. When her mother died, she set aside money for Jessie. I didn’t see the point in it. I thought Jessie would grow and blossom and move on and up in this world. But Karen must have known better.”
“Yes, Kitty knew. She could probably feel the hurricane churning before Jessie was even born. Jessie was a great little girl. We had her in sports. Her teachers loved her. We both spoiled her but then, after her mom died, something turned in her. She changed. I had to run her through 5 different schools before she finally graduated from high school. It cost me a fortune. I cut the checks to get her into college but she quickly flunked out.”
His tempo began to quicken, the volume was starting to flare and his turkey neck started to wobble.
“I told her I was done with her. Told her she was on her own. The only time I hear from her now is when she needs money or she’s been picked up for drunk driving. She assaulted a cop at some fucking protest last month. I left her in jail for a week before finally bailing her out. I had to pay that fucking cop $5,000 not to press charges.”
His eyes were filled with rage and his voice was starting to boil in the back of his throat.
“It’s done. If she graduates, she can have the money her mother left her and I’m done. I don’t want her around. She can move to Aspen or San Francisco or where ever losers go these days.”
He swung his chair to face me.
“Get her to graduate. Get her to leave Houston. You understand?”
“Yessir,” I said.
“Good,” Mr. Byrd said, looking me over one last time. “You are suppose to know how to write. You used to be a reporter, correct?”
“Yessir,” I said.
“Write the fucking papers for her if you have to and make sure you figure out a way to get in her head and straighten her out. I want her to keep a low profile. I want a weekly progress report from you. If you can get her to ditch that piece of shit Theo, you’ll get a bonus.”
He stood up, abruptly told me he was busy and I left.
As I was walking out, Cyndi stopped me.
“She’s really not that bad,” she said. “She’s just, well, she’s just a kid.”
“Sure,” I said.
Cyndi handed me a scrap of paper with a phone number and address on it.
“It’s Jessie’s,” she said. “Go slow and be patient.”