You can’t spend three decades writing about and working in business without appreciating the endless comedy, conflict and drama around you. My novels seek to capture the absurdities that make office politics intriguing, entertaining and dangerous to the participants.
Both books center around the fictional Crowe Power Company, where the descendants of company founder Homer Crowe have lost their way. Nobody’s more adrift than chairman Robbie Crowe, born in the shallow end of the gene pool. It would be so much easier if the support people on his payroll weren’t so dead on their ass.
These books take you inside the executive suites, fancy homes, meeting rooms, and romantic hideaways as the Crowes, their supporters and their nemeses do battle. It’s not always pretty, but it’s usually pretty funny.
A Turn in Fortune
Corporate chairman Robbie Crowe attempts to oust his CEO to grab credit for the company’s success and impress his critics. (2018)
A Turn in Fortune: Where it Happens
A Turn in Fortune is set largely in New York City, with excursions to the Hamptons and Detroit.
Here are some of the sites featured.
(Between Wall Street and Beaver)
This is where the Crowe Power Company is headquartered. It is home to the New York Stock Exchange, as well as several fictional companies featured in movies from the Fifties, including “Sabrina” and “Executive Suite.”
[Robbie describing his ordeal with protesters]
“We had protesters down on Broad Street this morning. Angriest mob I’ve ever seen in my life. They were beating the hood of my car, Marty. Threatening my life! If I hadn’t slid down in my seat so they couldn’t see me, they would have dragged my ass out on the street and beaten me like a piñata.”
Upper East Side
Robbie Crowe’s primary residence is on East 67th Street near Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side, less than a block from Central Park. It’s one of the richest neighborhoods in the city, if not the world. Homes here can run in the tens of millions of dollars.
[The chairman leaving his house on a beautiful morning]
For Robbie, it was a sign of the apocalypse. As he ambled down the steps toward the idling Cadillac Escalade, he could hardly breathe. All he could feel was an overwhelming sense of guilt over a warming climate that threatened to sauté all these people on their sidewalks like so many fillets of trout.
Battery Park City
This quiet residential neighborhood hugging the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan is home for Walker B. Hope. It’s a short walk from his apartment here to Crowe Power headquarters in the Financial District (FiDi).
[Walker, at home late at night]
Why, he wondered, were the lights on and the shades drawn in his office over on Broad Street? He picked up his binoculars and adjusted the focus, making out the singular shadow of a figure moving about. The cleaning crew generally finished by 9 p.m. and they never pulled the shades. Who was in there and why?
South Street Seaport
New York’s original commercial hub on the East River has evolved into a neighborhood that mixes historic structures, cobblestone streets and sleek new apartment buildings and restaurants. Natalia lives here in a fourth-floor walk-up.
[Robbie visits the beautiful barista, Natalia, at her home]
Digby headed back down the stairs and Robbie approached the door. He smoothed his hair over and knocked tentatively. From the other side of the door, he could smell jasmine incense and hear sitar music, but no stirring. He knocked again, harder.
Natalia called to him softly. “Door’s open.”
More of an alley than a street, New Street is the location of rear entrances and loading docks for office buildings on Broad Street and Broadway.
[Directors were dropped off here for a board meeting]
On cue, a black Lincoln Town Car pulled up to the curb with Carlton Lucas sunken into the back seat. His dead weight required the muscle of three security guards to extract him. With a “one-two-three” and a heave-ho, they pushed from behind and pulled from the front to remove him from the car. Tom steadied Carlton on the sidewalk while Winnie greeted him like a long-lost friend.
“Mr. Lucas,” she said, sweetly. “What a pleasure to see you.”
Gotham Bar & Grill
A regular stop for Marty, the iconic Gotham Bar & Grill was one of New York’s best restaurants for 36 years. It closed for business early in the pandemic.
[Marty McGarry, the communications director, met a reporter here for a drink]
Before Marty could order, the bartender scurried over with a chilled Hendricks martini. “Mr. McGarry,” he said, sliding a bowl of mixed nuts across the bar top toward Marty and fluttering his eyes with the special love reserved for regulars. “A pleasure to see you.” He slid the Discover card back to Jim. “Thank you, sir,” he said sympathetically. “We won’t be needing this any longer.”
The Bitter End
The iconic Greenwich Village coffeehouse, nightclub and folk music venue is where Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor used to play in the 1960s and ‘70s.
[Marty McGarry lives in an apartment above the bar.]
He jiggled the key into the lock of his apartment building door, just next to the wood-framed windows of The Bitter End, an iconic rock and roll club whose name captured where Marty was in his life. Inside the vestibule, two long flights of stairs loomed taller than the north face of K2. He grasped the handrail and trudged up the sagging steps, pausing at the landing to catch his breath and restore feeling to his legs. Marty made a mental note: You’re in pathetic shape.
New York Athletic Club
The private NYAC, located on Central Park South, features extensive athletic facilities as well as restaurants, meeting rooms and guest rooms overlooking the park.
[Robbie had a standing date here with his mistress, Maria, on Tuesday afternoons]
Maria stood at the mirror in a monogrammed robe, brushing her hair and glancing at the reflection of Robbie, reclined on the bed, checking his phone, a top sheet draped over the lower-body parts that frequently governed his brain. The day had warmed up as predicted, and Maria opened the door to the veranda overlooking Central Park, hoping a spring breeze might thaw the frosty air inside.
The oldest private club in the city, the Union League is known for its conservative philosophy and its support for Republican politicians. It was the site of a wedding in the movie, “Working Girl.”
[Robbie meets board member Carlton Lucas at the Union Club to ask for his support]
If Robbie couldn’t win over Carlton, he at least needed to neutralize him. The first step was showing respect by trekking uptown to meet Carlton at the Union League in Murray Hill. There, he found Carlton seated in a large black leather chair in a corner reading Barron’s.
Harry’s, a subterranean restaurant and watering hole in the heart of New York’s Financial District, has been a Wall Street favorite for nearly fifty years.
[Marty meets Walker Hope there for a drink after work, and has one too many.]
“So tell me,” Walker said, “how do you like your job?”
“Oh, man, it’s great.” Graaaaaate.
“What do you like about it?”
Marty rolled his eyes back in his head, thinking. There had to be something he liked.
The Hamptons, a series of quaint communities on the eastern end of Long Island, have long been a summer playground for wealthy New Yorkers who have second homes and beach houses here.
[One of Robbie and Lindsey’s six homes is located on the beach in East Hampton]
(Robbie) had run as far as the house where a woman in a wide-brim straw hat often liked to sunbathe nude in the dunes, only to find her beach deserted. Now, on his way back, he sat down on the sand, out of the path of joggers and walkers, and considered the many ways that everyone was letting him down. Maybe he should just head into the sea and swim out as far as he could, never to be heard from again. How would they all feel then?
The rugged industrial city synonymous with the automotive industry has seen a revival of late in its downtown, where Walker Hope owns a penthouse apartment on Washington Boulevard.
[Robbie’s henchman, Howie-Do-It, spied on Walker on a trip to Detroit]
Howie followed close behind the Escalade on I-94 toward downtown Detroit, slaloming around the speeding semis and pickup trucks. When the caravan reached the stately Neo-Renaissance-style Book Cadillac, Howie pulled in behind Walker’s car and snapped a photo of him entering the building. More evidence!
Cipriani Wall Street
The Financial District’s schmoozers and shakers can dine here and still keep an eye on Wall Street from the second-floor balcony.
[Walker Hope and his hedge fund patron, Moe Klinger, meet here for a strategy session.]
Moe waved his fork. “I’ve seen this sort of thing at other family-run corporations—at least, the bad ones. Somewhere along the way, they lose the plot. They think they’re special because they’re born rich and they have a famous name. They name their kids Homer the Second, or Charles the Third, or Frankie the Fourth—like they’re American royals or something—when they should have named them with fractions, Fred the One-Eighth or Mary the Three-Sixteenths, which would be a hell of a lot more accurate.
The verdant region along the Hudson River north of New York City has been a home to many prominent figures in business and politics. Homer Crowe, founder of the Crowe Power Company, had an estate here.
[The family gathered here for their annual meeting]
Upon arrival, guests were offered organic sparkling organic wine from Ollie Crowe Vineyards in Healdsburg, California, and hors d’oeuvres from Understory, a “sustainable” new restaurant in Chappaqua featuring foods foraged from the local woods. The celebrated chef, wearing a cape around his bony shoulders, demonstrated to the delighted guests how they should dig into a massive pile of pine branches to find weeds and snails. He provided safety glasses for those concerned about getting pine needles in their eyes.
“You just have to try the nettles,” gushed Morgan Frontenac, Robbie’s third cousin, as she greeted him with air kisses. “They’re amazing.”
A Turn in Fortune: Video Trailers
Heirs on Fire
Everything in Robbie Crowe’s life is teetering toward disaster: his company, his marriage and his reputation. His fixes could make matters worse. (2020)
Heirs on Fire: Where it Happens
Heirs on Fire is set in New York City, as well as Berkeley, California and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Here are some of the sites featured.
Crowe Power’s archrival Staminum Energy is headquartered on Sixth Avenue in Midtown, the traditional home of many of New York’s largest corporations in the post-war era.
[CEO Walker B. Hope asks his leadership team to look out the window at the skyline]
“Look at that, will ya?” Walker said, his arms outstretched. “All those monuments to success. And all them mausoleums of failure.”
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse
Classic steakhouse with two-story windows overlooking Sixth Avenue and the Radio City Music Hall. It’s where Walker Hope and his hedge fund supporter, Moe Klinger, meet for lunch.
[Moe, watching his diet, tries to exercise restraint]
“I’ll get the sea bass. Hit me upside the head if I agree to a side of creamed corn.” Moe slapped the menu shut. “So tell me. Are we ready to move on Crowe Power?”
Astor Court, St. Regis Hotel
Famed for its King Cole bar, featuring a Maxfield Parrish mural, the St. Regis is also home to Astor Court, where Bits and Lindsey often met for a drinking lunch.
[Bits advised the waiter she wanted to be discreet with her beverages.]
“I’ll have an Aperol Spritz.” Bits added in a whisper, “And, since I’m apparently drinking for two, just a teensy bit of Grey Goose on the side. Neat. In a coffee cup. And not too teensy, if you know what I mean.”
The quirky former speakeasy is a favorite meeting place in Midtown. Lindsey meets Robbie’s former mistress, Maria, here to learn more about his activities as chairman of the company.
[Lindsey asks Maria about Robbie’s typical day]
“This may sound funny, but… what does Robbie actually do at the company? I mean, I know he’s the chairman, of course. But how does he, you know, spend his time?”
A grand, iconic hotel on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park. Robbie meets Walker Hope here to negotiate a transaction.
[Walker flatters Robbie with a subtle dig]
“Personally, I don’t know anyone who thinks quite the way you do. Once people see your vision all come together, I predict they’re going to be absolutely stunned at what you’ve done with Crowe Power.”
The rolling countryside in the Berkshire Mountains in Western Massachusetts form a picturesque backdrop for Robbie Crowe to film a commercial touting his company’s green bona fides.
[Robbie, facing the camera]
“We’re harnessing the power of the sun, the wind, the tides…” Robbie gestured behind him. “Even these cows.”
Chapel Hill, NC
The lovely college town is home to the Mission Institute for Higher Corporate Purpose, run by Dr. Kristi Kramer, the noted business guru.
[Robbie visits Dr. Kramer to discuss unfinished business]
Robbie dropped his mask below his chin and rang a doorbell, which was answered by Dr. Kristi Kramer. “Robbie, darlin’!” she cried. “You found me! Come on in!”
This historic building near New York City Hall was renovated and converted into a luxury hotel with a soaring atrium. The Crowe family holds an important meeting here on the future of the company.
[Robbie vents to Digby about the upcoming meeting]
“It’s outrageous it has even come to this. Why is this on me? It’s like nobody who ran this company before me had anything to do with these problems.”
Claremont Club & Spa
Expansive resort in Berkeley, California is the site of the Crowe Power Company executive offsite meeting.
[Robbie address his leadership team from the stage after dinner]
“Wow,” Robbie said, looking over the bleary-eyed people wobbling at their tables. “I really appreciate that.” He motioned for them all to sit. Considering how hammered they were, it was for their own safety.
A popular restaurant for breakfast in Tribeca, a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan.
[Marty meets reporter Tilda Ecklund there.]
Tilda had made her reputation breaking big stories… This made her dangerous—to Walker, to Staminum, and, most worrisome, to Marty. If he wanted to move Tilda off that story line, he would need to dish up more than blueberry pancakes.
Washington Square Park
The park is a popular spot for musicians, chess players, sunbathers and families with children. Marty cuts through the Greenwich Village park to get to the subway and head uptown for work.
As he crossed through the center of Washington Square Park, passing the demented Pigeon Man tossing handfuls of corn on the walk while the grateful fluttering birds covered him in shit, a familiar voice called from behind. “Nice suit.”
Marty turned to see Howie-Do-It, Robbie’s trusted henchman, closing fast.
Robbie has a suite at the luxurious Peninsula Hotel on Fifth Avenue. He meets Digby here as the pressure intensifies.
“Digs,” he said, motioning for him to come in. “Where have you been, man? We’ve got a hell of a situation here.”
Digby winced. “I stopped to watch the coverage in the lobby.”
“Oh, Christ. They’re showing it here?”
“It’s everywhere, bro. TV. Radio. The marquee in Times Square.”
“You’re the story of the day.”
The North Shore of Long Island near New York City is known for its lavish estates. Staminum Energy chairman Steadman “Steady” Stamper has a home here.
[Walker meets Steady in the library]
Waldo entered with a tall glass of iced tea and placed it on a monogrammed leather coaster next to Walker. Steady regarded the beverage with a disdain bordering on disgust. “Good God, man. Don’t you want something stronger than that?” he asked.
Heirs on Fire: Video Trailers
What Readers Are Saying…
- Intractable Reader | Heirs on Fire
“Just as Joseph Heller took us inside the absurdities of the military, this book takes us inside the craziness of the corporate American. Told with great insights and wit, this is a book that is impossible to put down.”
- Amazon Customer | A Turn in Fortune
“Beautifully told story of the games people play in corporate America. Insightful without taking itself seriously. A fun read that never gets silly. Found myself highlighting or bookmarking well-written passages regularly. Enjoyable read that left me wanting another 30 pages.”
- Christine L. | A Turn in Fortune
“A fun and fascinating insight into the corporate world. Beautifully written with well-crafted characters and a wonderful story line.”
- Kirkus Reviews | Heirs on Fire
“This satire of industrial fortune and family money brims with wickedly funny moments and offers readers plenty of memorable characters. There are also many laugh-out-loud scenes.”
- Reading in Tucson | Heirs on Fire
“The story moved along with great characters and you’ll find yourself cheering at the conclusion.”
- C J Tennyson | Heirs on Fire
“The saga of the Crowe family business empire provides laughs on every page. Pepper’s understanding of the corporate world makes his characters as authentic as they are farcical. Great read and a great escape.”
- William G. Abbatt | Heirs on Fire
“A gifted communicator, Pepper’s way with words shows in the text and even in the Chapter headings… Pepper write(s) insightfully and often hilariously in this genre. Heirs engages and challenges.”