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Publication: The Kansas City Star
Date: April 1, 2007

American business in The King of Kings County
EXCERPT - William Rockhill Nelson Awards


Editor's note: Today The Star presents the first of three excerpts from the books that won the 2006 William Rockhill Nelson Awards. The fiction category was won by Whitney Terrell of Kansas City for The King of Kings County.

The judge was Laura Kasischke, who commented that "the book is ... rich in complex and convincing characters, densely and skillfully written, and there is ... a strong evocation of time and place ..." Terrell and the other winners, Candice Millard and Kevin Prufer, will receive their awards at 5:30 p.m. April 20 in a ceremony at The Star's Press Pavilion.

If you're interested in attending, send e-mail to director@writersplace.org, put "RSVP" in your subject line and indicate how many seats you're requesting. The Star and The Writers Place co-founded the awards to recognize excellence by Kansas and Missouri writers.

The King of Kings County is narrated by Jack Acheson. This excerpt begins in the middle of page 8 of the hardcover edition.

In the fifth grade, I spent the entire semester explaining to my teacher, Mr. Franz, that my father traveled every weekend, to New Orleans, Salem, Asheville, Omaha, and thus would be unavailable, under any circumstances, to address our class about his profession, as everybody else's father did. However, Mr. Franz must have decided to go behind my back and call my father directly, because on the last Friday of the year, he stood up before the class and announced, "Today, children, we are going to hear from Jack's father, Mr. Alton Acheson, who has offered to lecture on the history of American business today."

My father's first rhetorical gesture had been to crack the cover of his favorite book, A Railroad to the Sea, and display the frontispiece photograph of Tom Durant, slouched in a coat with a mink collar thick as a tire tread and his hair grown long and curly past his ears. "Anybody in here recognize this guy?" he asked.

Preston Petersen had his hand up immediately and with a sly look at the rest of the class, said, "Well, sir, he looks a lot like you." My father gave a Bronx cheer. "I wish," he said. "Try again." Others guess the names of European kings or characters in Shakespeare -- these being the only other men they d ever heard of with long hair. ...

"Nugget," my father said, turning to me. "Tell them who it is." He had to wait for an answer until the class stopped breaking up at this introduction of my nickname. When they finally seemed to settle down, Preston shouted out, "Go on, answer him, Nugget!" breaking everybody up again. ...

"He was the president of the Union Pacific Railroad," I said resignedly. "He drove the golden spike, connecting the first train tracks across the country."

Once I got started it wasn't so bad. With my father's help (and hoping at the same time to distract attention from several cigarette burns I d noticed in his lapel), I went over what he d taught me of Durant's history: How he d gotten hold of the Union Pacific in the first place by buying up all the stock under a false name, then electing himself treasurer. How Durant, needing a way to siphon off the money that Congress gave him, formed his own company to supply the railroad and then paid double or triple the actual cost to himself for the materials he might need, making sure that enough senators and congressmen had shares in the supply company ... "I am sure, class," Mr. Franz said, hoarsely, "that Mr. Acheson is by no means trying to suggest that all American businesses are run this way."

"Only the ones that work," my father said. "The rest are just a dream."