He could either break old rules or invent new ones.
December 18, 2013
An Excerpt from Gamble In the Devil’s Chalk, a nonfictional account of the men who fought and feuded, drilled with each other and sued each other to bring in the second largest oilfield in the United States in fifty years.
Pat Holloway was well versed in the practice of being disliked. Didn’t bother him. Never had. He was, after all, a lawyer, who handled and repackaged truths as deftly as a sleight-of-hand magician. Now you see it. Now you don’t. He was not afraid to break old rules or invent new ones. Holloway was tall, slender, had blue eyes, strawberry blond hair, and was considered quite handsome within the inner circles of Dallas society. Well, if not handsome, he was at least debonair and supremely confident. He was sure of who he was and where he was going, although it was not unusual for him to keep changing directions at the oddest of times.
Attorneys, especially those who had the misfortune of opposing him, regarded Holloway as arrogant and abrasive. He could charm a man as easily as cut his heart out with some dusty law or precedent that the innocent had never heard about and the guilty didn’t know was on the books. Holloway was a schemer – both brash and brilliant.
Some feared him. Others damned him. A few had threatened him. He worked hard and drank even harder, but said he never let an overabundance of alcohol cloud his good judgment. He passed off any bad judgment as bad luck. Holloway punctuated his sentences with intermittent explosions of profanity as though curse words, when cleverly pieced together, were the stuff of poetry. He almost always looked as if he had just walked off the cover of Gentleman’s Quarterly, and he was recognized as one of the more flamboyant figures – lawyer or otherwise – to swagger down the hallways of the Dallas courthouse.
Pat Holloway loved the law. It was a chess game of the mind, a matching of wits, played out with briefs and pleadings, and it was his belief that whenever a legal matter was being discussed, debated, defended, disputed, denied, or negotiated, the best team always won. The facts be damned. He was slick. He was smooth. He was tenacious. He had a deep aversion to losing. Did not like it. Never accepted it. Did not believe it had any place in his life or his profession.
No. It didn’t bother him at all to be disliked. He expected it, even reveled in the rock-hard reputation that he had carved for himself. Holloway had long ago decided that angered accusations or condemnations – the wilder the better – merely came with the territory.
And now Pat Holloway was determined to leave the courtroom for the oilfield.
He made his way across Dallas, meeting with a dozen or more potential investors, including an old ally from Yale, William Browning, who preferred to be called Bill. Holloway and Browning’s relationship, in fact, went back to their boyhood days as classmates at the prestigious St. Mark’s of Dallas. The two men shared an affinity and passion for fast cars and exotic women. Or was it exotic cars and fast women? Browning was quick to tell him, “I’ll be your first investor and chances are damn good that I’ll be your largest investor.”
Holloway knew that Browning probably had the most dollars, and he had never been shy about looking for a new and better deal. He was a sophisticated investor who owned, among other things, an automobile dealership, a plane dealership, and a boat dealership. Browning was a swashbuckling gambler at heart, having raced automobiles on the road course of Europe during an earlier time in his life, and he already understood the potential financial rewards of the oil business. He had taken a big chunk of acreage in the Slaughter Field, and some were known to whisper that his royalty payment balanced out around a half million dollars a month. Bill Browning had an affinity for oil. Oil had been good to him. With the influential William Browning now on board, other investors would start lining up to make their wager on oil as well. At the moment, it was the only gamble paying off in a tough economy. Pat Holloway would never have trouble tracking down investors, and they could always find the investment dollars. It was, he admitted, a deadly combination.
Bill Browning suddenly dropped a bombshell into the conversation. It came out of the blue and was totally unexpected. He set his chin defiantly and said he not only wanted to invest in the company, he wanted to be president as well.
“I sure would like to be able to travel around the country and tell people I’m the president of a genuine oil company,” he said. “There’s a significant difference between a player and the man who runs the play.”
“You won’t be running the play,” Holloway said.
Browning shrugged. “They’ll think I am,” he replied.
Holloway mentally departed the table and crawled back into the sanctity of his own mind. He sat deep in thought. He and Bill Browning had known each other for a long time, and Browning would let him run the company anyway he wanted, as long as they found a little oil from time to time. He did not want to run the risk losing the kind of investment funds that Browning could bring him, and he could not remember the two of them ever disagreeing, much less quarreling, on any deal or project where they worked together. Besides titles were cheap. Even the title of president was not worth much more than ink on a business card. Holloway grinned. Browning, as was his nature, was simply buying another plaything. It might be a mistake, he thought, but it wouldn’t be a big one.
“Okay,” Holloway said at last. “Here’s what I’m prepared to do, Bill. I will make you president of the exploration company. I’ve also decided to give Mike Starnes, your business manager, ten percent of the stock to handle all of our accounting needs and make sure the books are kept and audited properly. I won’t have time to do it myself. That leaves me with the remaining ninety percent of the company. If it works for you, Bill, it works for me.”
Browning nodded. He was president. It worked for him.
Bill Browning leaned back, smiled broadly, and poured himself another drink. He had what he wanted and all that he wanted. No negotiations. No hard feelings. No regrets. But one question did concern him. “What’s the name of our company?” he asked.
Pat Holloway had been thinking about it for some time. He wanted a name that had immediate credibility and stature, one that did not belie the small size of a start up company that had not yet drilled its first well. “Humble Exploration Company,” he said.
“Seems like I’ve heard that name Humble before.”
“What will the folks down in Houston think?”
“They don’t use the name anymore. They’d rather be Exxon.”
“What’s the next step?” Browning asked.
“Do we have any locations yet?”
Pat Holloway laughed. “We’ve got the whole world,” he said.
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