Low Key Sings the High Notes
Low Key Sings the High Notes
“This is like standing on a high springboard and waiting to execute a twisting gainer.” The CEO hadn’t ever done one, and would’ve been antsy about standing on a brink—even with a bracer of drugs to blunt the edge.
“We can’t take the plunge until something distracting occurs.” Hersker had explained this already. “Otherwise, vultures will interject profit taking and it will make the acquisition more expensive than we can afford.”
“We can manufacture news with a scintillating product launch or juicy tidbit.” Bob’s eyes strayed to the TV where the president’s motorcade was seen moving though Spokane. The CEO had a meeting arranged with him: in fact, the leader’s junket to the Pacific Northwest was mostly for that.
“It has to be way bigger than corporate bologna. I wish a couple of big counties would declare a war.” With those words, Collin caught a quick motion in the corner of his eye: Bob had raced to turn up the sound.
“This is live footage of unfolding drama in Spokane. Once again, gun shots have been fired at President Weeds.” The anchorman spoke in front of the screen image of a banner fluttering over a burning motorcycle. Writing stood out crisp and bright—‘Shiva’s Messenger says Stryke Two’.
“Yes!” Colon, ‘the asshole’ slapped is thigh.
“Even if you vote Democrat, that’s still the American president!”
“If he’s dead, I’ll wear a black armband while buying Omani shares.” Collin smirked: the limo’s amour plating might’ve been even thicker than you. “The cross-hairs of every network scope will zoom onto the shooting and few will even take a peep-sight view of stock exchange doings.”
“Let’s lock and load!” The fickle CEO switched off the office TV.
“After this week, people will believe Wall Street is named after you.” Field Marshal Hersker of the boardroom battle sounded a bugle call—in the form of phone calls. His legions of brokers swarmed to the trenches.
“Won’t this run Ghazi’s shares up to astronomical prices?” Bob Wall could almost feel his wallet shrinking to the thickness of a molecule strand.
With Collin as his professional stock market gunfighter, the CEO hadn’t concentrated on fully understanding the process. The asshole had explained several times but Wall had his mind focused on his next steps of garnering political influence. The meeting he arranged with the president, now probably scrubbed, was part of that. His thoughts of slave girls and the brain-numbing drug had rounded out his inattention span.
“The stock exchange isn’t our primary skirmish: is just the diversion.” Collin patiently went over it yet again. “We buy and sell at the same time to manipulate the fluctuations where we want them to go.”
“We’ll be using the stock warrants that you had me authorize.”
“Yes, with the shareholders list I procured.” Hersker outlined. “We’ll contact them to offer quick profits by rolling over Omani shares to ours.”
“I know that’s not quite ethical.” Bob guessed his corrupting effect had rubbed off on the gay paragon of virtue. “I wouldn’t expect that from you—and Ghazi doubtlessly hasn’t either.”
“You didn’t say my fisticuffs needed to be by Marquis of Queensbury rules,” Collin neither felt guilt nor could he credit Bob’s lack of honor with being the corruptive spur, “if one fighter throws an under-the-belt blow, as Ghazi did in his assaulting me, the other can similarly punch back.”
“I feel like I have a box seat,” the CEO plunked down on a padded wooden crate that held audio-visual gear, “for the D-day invasion.”
“The call options we’re issuing as deal sweeteners represent a potential risk.” The asshole threw a splash of ice water onto the CEO’s glee. “If our beachhead doesn’t work as D-day, with waves of troops landing behind, there’s a slim chance that it could recreate Dunkirk instead.”
“I’ll hold up my end.” Bob Wall promised. “You’ll have all the cash you need to gain VG day.”
“Operation Victory Ghazi has to be your final decision.” The proxy general allowed the warning to settle in before asking the fateful question. “Do I proceed forward and fully commit or hold back a reserve?”
“I’ve never had a more well-stocked larder or arsenal and our share price is unassailably strong. My order is to attack with all guns blazing.”
“Aye aye sir.” Collin embellished it with a crisp salute.
“I’m as General Robert E. Lee witnessing Pickett’s heroic charge up Cemetery Ridge.” Robert Wall viewed the frenetic action while enjoying his name’s similarity with Robert Lee and StoneWall Jackson. Wait! His history knowledge surfaced. Gettysburg was defeat for Lee! “Old Granny Lee didn’t commit his full strength though, as I have today at Wallsburg.”
“We haven’t met in person,” Collin Hersker had the managing director of a major brokerage house on the phone, “but I trust you are aware of my current role at Wall Soft Systems.”
“Certainly Mr. Hersker,” Sydney Walsh schmoozed, “few people in the business world haven’t followed your impressive career with interest.”
“I’ll come straight to the point. I want all of your interns and brokers contacting bin Omani shareholders. I can forward you a list.”
“How could you come by those names and phone numbers?”
“Ghazi magnanimously delivered up a goodwill gesture,” the asshole offered an obvious lie that couldn’t be proven as false, “but how I obtained a list is immaterial. Your staff should convince the shareholders to convert the bin Omani stock they have into Wall Soft Shares with warrants.”
“That isn’t exactly our business model.” Sydney balked. “We will of course be happy to process the share transactions.”
“I’m sure I’ve caught you in a bad moment so I’ll clarify.” Collin was expecting the reaction but he needed all the assistance he could wrangle. “My request is what your business model should be. Instead of cold calls in hope of a nibble, your staff will be fishing in a well-stocked pond. Your firm will gain the commission on the shares your people convert.”
“While ones they don’t,” Walsh guessed, “will go to another house.”
“I have a lot of shares to buy and that’s an equitable distribution.”
“Fax over the list.”
Some curses in Arabic defy interpretation into any other languages. As blood in the form of red ink on his shareholder tally filled the gutters of his ledger board, Ghazi bin Omani’s tongue issued a string of them.
“Like half the world, I was caught with my imprudent eyes glued to the set. Wall’s queer was behind me and busy tugging my pants to my knees.” The staunchly heterosexual Arab rued his analogy as soon as it left his lips. “He’s more likely a eunuch putting his sexual energy into other purposes. Seemingly, he has artificial intelligence dedicated to the single-minded job of bringing me down—but an inspired grandmaster can beat a computer.”
“It’s fortunate that a shareholder friend alerted me to the ploy.” Rajah Fakir cemented the new footing he had poured: it was a much safer tack than his telling his unstable boss that his rant was rambling.
“I want gibbets in the main boardroom.” Ghazi glared at Rajah as if he wanted him to personally oversee the installation. The sheik had expected a protracted game of trading blows on the market but Hersker’s clever ploy gave him a seemingly insurmountable advantage. “If I find out who leaked secure information, there will soon be a corpse or three dangling there!”
“Bob’s queen has your king one move from checkmate,” Rajah paused: his helping put up those medieval castle meat-hooks, would be as if he was nailing together the gallows that he might be hung on, “but he’s left open an avenue of last desperation—if you tip over your own king.”
“I’ll stick my dagger in Bob’s entrails before I accept defeat.” Ghazi’s face darkened as he thought about loosing his company. “I should run you through too for suggesting it.” The talk of deadly force reminded the Sheik of his dagger that was now drawn from its Bangkok scabbard—and ready.
“The deal sweeteners Wall issued present an exploitable opportunity.” Fakir chose to push his luck: he had quailed once before and it hadn’t been opportune. “Those options are exercisable from the corporation’s holdings and so they reduce Bob’s controlling interest. Every purchased warrant is the equivalent of buying two Wall Soft shares from the stock market.”
“What difference does that make if I’m bought out?” Ghazi bin Omani took his new friend’s show of guts as being worth hearing him out.
“If Wall buys 51% then your 49% becomes subservient to him. If you sell your personally held bin Omani shares in favor of buying his warrants, you may gain enough to swing a Wall Soft Systems shareholder’s vote.”
“I won’t topple my own king,” the sheik growled, “and a hand reaching to do it will pull sharply back with missing fingers.” He stroked his beard. The underling didn’t know just how much money Ghazi was holding. “I have new orders. We are buying those Wall Soft Systems stock options.”
“If Wall falls one share shy of control you could reverse the colors.”
“Bob’s asshole will know the threat and he wouldn’t take such a chance if he weren’t certain of his victory.” Despite his cursing the gay opponent, Ghazi had come to respect him. “Except for one slip on an insignificant trading day, the queen has been an inhuman opponent.”
“Any rectum can fart at a particularly embarrassing moment.”
“If he passes wind, I want to be the first one to smell it.”
“It’s an odd turn,” Rajah broke the moment’s tension with some ironic humor, “when one’s nose yearns for the savory aroma of bowel methane.”
“I need a bigger cork to wedge into the fuming butt hole.” With having made the decision to risk everything, Ghazi knew he had to take the long beyond step. “My entire stake in Stryker’s Group resides within my main holdings. Were Wall to take over, he would be getting those for free.”
“You want to start offloading those shares?” Rajah inquired and inside he rejoiced: for this tidbit, Lauren Smyth should make another visitation.
“Anyone taking ground from me—gains only scorched earth.”
“Mr. Zimmerman,” Collin had farmed out much of the shareholder list work but some large stakeholders merited his personal attention, “I’m a vice-president at Wall Soft Systems.”
“If this a marketing call, I’ll jump to answering the final question. Yes, I have your software on my computer—and I frigging hate it.”
“That’s not what I’m calling about.” Hersker had taken more than a few complaints along the way. “I wonder if you’ve heard Omani Holdings and Wall Soft are exploring the possibility of a merger.”
“Is that how you’re spinning it?” Walter Zimmerman laughed.
“You’re portfolio has some bin Omani stock. I want to make an offer.”
“How do you know that? Is your calling me like this legal?”
“There’s oodles of information available if a person knows where to look for it and my offer is in accordance with prevailing laws.”
“Ghazi has done well for me.”
“In today’s dollars, past money isn’t really worth much anymore.”
“That is true. So tell me about the present and future of my funds.”
“We’ll buy your block of shares and pay you in Wall Soft Stock, along with warrants for a matching amount at the same strike price.”
“I’ve heard that when a company is the target of a take-over, the price rises.” Walter countered. “Why don’t I wait until it does and then sell?”
“Omani stock would have to rise substantially before it matches the value of the offer we’re making today.”
“It could go much higher than that.”
“But it also might not and our reason for calling shareholders is to keep the stock value within our optimum price range. Personally, I believe a dollar in the nebulous future is as valueless as one in a memory.”
“You sold me.” Walter Zimmerman decided to take a profit now.
“I’ll transfer you over to our brokerage.” Collin put a tick on his list and then glanced at his wristwatch. “Eleven hours is plenty for the day.”
“~I’m proud of you.” As he held the shaking girl, Collin Hersker was neither genderless nor robotic as Ghazi described. Instead, he felt fragile and fallible as a tightrope walker on a windy wire. The vision of his office tote board loomed in his mind with the dreaded numbers climbing steadily. “When we win; I’ll lose: Bob will evict me from this apartment. Were we even to inconceivably fail: the Sheik would doubtlessly fire me.”
“~I’m only strong when you’re here.” Oksana turned her elbow over to expose a mark. “~I took an injection but the tablets made it worthless.”
“~It just prolongs your addiction.” Hersker knew she was still taking the pills so the shot wouldn’t help her—or really hurt either. Collin gave her a supporting hug and felt her spasm from an internal pain. “~I know your heart. You will beat the drug.”
“~Take me somewhere tonight.” The girl needed to get away from her prison for a while. “~I just want to go walking with you.”
“~Give me a few minutes.” The Russian woman leapt to her feet. “~I can’t go out looking like a farmer.” Her few minutes stretched to an hour.
“~You look fabulous!” Collin gushed: Oksana must’ve self tailored the slightly larger girl’s clothes to fit her so snuggly. The compliment had the blonde woman beaming as brightly as halogen headlamps as the ultra-sleek Lamborghini Diablo zipped into the night.
“~This car,” as he took fast corners, the junky girl squealed louder than rubber tires on the asphalt, “~is like a fighter jet on wheels.”
Soon, they came to the trendy Bell Town district and found parking off the main street. As they walked, the svelte female gripped his elbow: her withdrawal symptoms were superfluous to the thrilling moment.
“~Should we stop in somewhere for a drink?” Collin offered: on this weeknight, there wouldn’t be any admission lineups.
“~I just want to walk.” She also wanted to see and be seen. Strolling on the busy street, Oksana compared her image against the other females. In her eyes, the girls here seemed to shop only for comfortable clothing.
By contrast, the young Russian woman could be a fashion supermodel. In her peripheral vision, she saw heads turning as she passed. Male eyes then fixed on her bottom as it shimmied under her thigh-length dress.
“~Oksana makes you feel proud,” the girl glanced up at her tall escort: his eyes were meeting the passersby, “of jealous looks from other men.”
“~I was just noticing that.” Collin reached his free hand to stroke hers, as it rested on the crook of his elbow. His mind’s eye went back to a badly beaten and anorexic female he collected from the helicopter. Her bruises were long gone and she had filled out with some healthy weight: she was making strides on the drug issue. “~To me, you’ve come from the cinders of heroin and physical abuse, to your now being the belle of the ball.”
“~I like stories with happily-ever-after endings.” She dared to hope.
“~My part in this Cinderella tale is set to end tomorrow.” He muttered: despite the pleasant mood, the numbers on the tally had intruded. By the next market day’s close, Wall Soft Systems would probably have control of bin Omani and Collin Hersker’s non-monetary good fortunes would fall. “~When Rumpelstiltskin Wall comes demanding the babe he is owed.”
They meandered for another hour and conversed on minor topics. The time was near to midnight: when pumpkin coaches fail. Unbeknownst, the American Prince Charming and his Russian cinder girl were adjacent to the programmer’s apartment. A computer server isn’t a fairy godmother, but it was ready to show which foot didn’t fit in the glass slipper.
‘Low-Key saves it output to my Seattle server but you’ll need to sort the data.’ Tariq’s instructions were in her mind but the protégé hacker also had jotted notes to jog her memory. Jacqueline used the Internet to reach the Bell Town apartment’s computer and found the file. It’s in order of when installed: I want to sort it into where it is located.
‘We want the Trojan running by time zones,’ the programmer had said, ‘so it will look as if it was preset, instead of triggered.’
Jacqueline had waited until three AM in Toronto.
‘It’s apropos to start in Wall’s time zone,’ she recalled his conversation, ‘but the better reason is it will happen while most of the U.S. is asleep.’
“Have some sweet nightmares Bob.” Jacqueline spoke with venom.
‘Set the infiltration routine for a three-hour delay.’ She carried out the task. Then, her right hand’s ring finger hovered above the enter key. ‘A deactivation code sequence will transmit out to all pirated replications.’
“All Greeks away!” Bob Wall’s former slave giggled at her keyboard, as she pushed the Trojan’s final button. “My ex-owner will awake to find his stock market stakes race has skidded into some wooden horse poop.”
“Wall Soft rubbish.” Passing a convenience store, the young executive caught a vehement reference to his company’s products.
“~Let’s go in here,” Collin tugged his date into a shop where the clerk was slapping the side of his monitor, “~for a minute.”
“~I don’t suppose it’s occurred to him that the video display unit isn’t the culprit.” Oksana was proficient with electronics and the shopkeeper’s trouble-shooting was senseless. “~He should kick the processor box.”
“What’s the matter with it?” Collin’s query in English was overtop the girl’s Russian muttering. “I’m pretty good with computers.”
“The stupid thing suddenly went to this funny screen.” The frustrated man swiveled the monitor—with his fist. “I didn’t even touch it.”
“Shit!” The executive who rarely used any x-rated words couldn’t bite back the impromptu utterance. The monitor was locked in blue screen and emblazoned with a hash-marked border, ‘THIS SOFTWARE IS CODED AND OWNED BY LOW-KEY SYSTEMS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.’
“Try rebooting.” Hersker suggested. Oksana’s suggestion was close.
“I don’t know how.” The employee broke his store manager’s rules by inviting a customer behind the counter. “You do it.”
“Sure.” The asshole raced around and tried a soft reboot as triggered by a keystroke combination. “The message is back again!”
“~I have to go to the office.” The Wall Soft executive didn’t bother to walk around. He hopped his butt onto the counter and swung his legs over.
“Hey!” The clerk shouted. “I thought you were going to fix this.”
“~Is there a problem?” The girl scurried as quickly as she could on her high heels but it still wasn’t fast enough.
“~Problem is an understatement.” Collin had a cell phone to his ear as they climbed into his car: he dialed Bob’s private number as they drove.
“Hello.” A sleepy voice answered.
“The code you stole has taken full control of the operating software!” The young exec pinched the cell phone in his neck briefly as he had to use both hands to navigate a tight corner onto a freeway ramp.
“Who is this?” The CEO smacked his dry lips.
“Collin the asshole.” Hersker used the nickname in hopes of shocking his boss into alertness. “I just knew that thing was worrisome and it waited until the worst imaginable moment to exact the programmer’s revenge.”
“I’m awake now,” Bob was at least standing, “so tell me again.”
“Handshake Lite is a virus embedded in a Trojan and it went active at midnight.” Now on the expressway, Collin put his gas pedal to the carpet: the horses in the Lamborghini’s precision engine responded to the whip.
“How bad is it?” Wall staggered to his bathroom and drank from the coldwater faucet. “Is it attacking any stored data files?”
“It’s a complete system lock.” The executive steered onto the Alaskan Way Viaduct. An earthquake damaged this traffic monstrosity and a virus may well shake the digital landscape enough to collapse ours. “I couldn’t tell what it was doing behind the message screen.”
“Shit, Shit, double-shit, triple-shit!”
“Fecal matter to the n’th power.” Collin supplied a higher multiplier.
“Call in our specialists and don’t be such a brainy asshole.” The CEO tried to think passed his grogginess. “What message screen?”
“Would those be the same experts that still haven’t cracked the code?” Collin had already begun the sentence and Bob’s next question had spoken over part. “It’s the visual activated by the keystroke combo. Nobody has know the sequence to see it’s stolen: the world will get the accusation—delivered automatically with their morning coffee.”
“What will this do to our takeover bid?”
“I haven’t thought passed the current crisis. It sure isn’t beneficial.” Hersker juggled the phone as he closed rapidly on a pair of busses in front. “Just now, I have my hands full driving. I’ll meet you at the office.”
“~What’re you grinning at?” Collin looked at his delighted passenger.
“~Your fast driving excites me.” Oksana braced herself as he swerved onto the shoulder to swoop past the busses taking up both driving lanes.
“~Bus drivers think they own the road,” he steered back onto the road, “~but their vehicle size makes few people doubt that ownership claim.”
“~The roads in the Ukraine,” she giggled, “~would have us rattling and bouncing like on a square-wheeled roller-coaster.”
“~This isn’t even top gear yet~.” Collin up-shifted and the automobile took full flight. I wish I could do this more but police are party-poopers.
While Hersker was driving in Seattle, Jacqueline poured a cup of tea.
“Get one for me too.” Sam Levy shuffled from his bedroom in a robe that seen better decades. His slippers also had his toes poking through.
“It’s early afternoon in Kiev.” The young woman observed. “I wonder what my brother is up to? Do you suppose our Trojan will affect him?”
“Both are questions that I can’t answer.”
“I remember one summer,” the thoughts of her brother and a father she didn’t know had stirred a memory, “when Mom and I lived in Spain.”
“A boy and his dad,” Sam continued the narration for her, arrived in Alicante for an extended vacation. You became like part of their family.”
“I knew it!” Jacqueline set the tea out: she had fixed Sam’s as he liked. “We two were inseparable while they were there: like a brother and sister.”
“If you remember,” Sam sipped, “your mother was in a bad patch.”
“I was angry at her,” Jacqueline chuckled ironically, “but I have mom to thank for letting me to make childhood memories with my brother.”
“I believe that time was very good for all four of you.”
“I’ll never forget my brother’s birthday. My adoptive dad treated it as mine too, even though my ID didn’t show that date. We went to the Paseo de la Explanada and had an awesome day—even my Mom came along and she enjoyed it too. After the wonderful gesture, I used him as my mind’s vision of what I wanted my father to be like.”
“He knew the truth—it really was your birthday too.”
“I wrote letters after they left but I never got an answer.”
“I kept those unopened,” the forger confessed, “and his to you too.”
“I think I’ll wait to look at those until John is here with me.”
“This is just weird.” Collin took his fingers from the keyboard. “After over two hours of getting nowhere with the virus, it unlocked itself.”
“What did I do?” Bob also found his program access regained.
“Nothing!” About five voices answered at once.
“The system is usable but the piracy notice is prominent on the screen.” Collin tried some applications. “Programs run but that stays resident.”
“What do we know so far?” The head geek was in his element.
“The virus appeared to have progressed westward around the globe.” A man that had been on the phones spoke up. “An hour ago, computers on the Eastern seaboard were unaffected. Then they suddenly locked as well.”
“If it struck by time zones,” Hersker spotted a discrepancy, “the effects should’ve taken 24 hours instead of three?”
“Maybe the trigger was a Boolean function,” Bob offered a possibility thereby discounted the relevance, “factoring time zones as divisible by 8.”
George Boole’s algebraic system emerged out of his study of cognitive reasoning but your dismissing a pertinent clue is illogical. For once, Hersker the asshole held his cutting tongue.
“Computers in other time regions unlocked,” a second team member on the phones offered a fresh tidbit, “at the same instant ours just did.”
“The effect of the virus,” Bob jumped on the encouraging revelation, “might be just a PR nightmare instead of digitally devastating.”
“I’m really not certain,” Collin spoke but five other people speaking at once almost drowned it out, “if this was an automatic occurrence.”
“What if we legally change Wall Soft’s name,” instead of tackling the problem, the CEO tossed a ridiculous suggestion, “to Low Key Systems?”
“It seems you were short of tokens at reality’s tollbooth.” Collin said quietly and was unheard: he had recalled Bob’s ludicrous theory. “Or just snoozing.” That and his close call on the freeway reminded him of a joke. As my uncle did, I’d like to peacefully die in my sleep: not screaming in terror like the passengers on his bus. “I’m in a clumsy vehicle and being outmaneuvered at each turning but I wasn’t hired to drive a bus.”
“I’m out of my technical depth here. Collin gripped his employer by the shoulder and turned him: the CEO’s ashen face hinted that he was also treading in water too deep. “I’ll assess whether our takeover is bankrupt.”
“Bankrupt!” Bob Wall gasped on the word implying his ruination was immanent. All of my wealth! His personal fortune was in the offing as was his corporation’s. By a primal fear response, the software thief’s sphincter spontaneously opened and his morning defecation occurred. “Shit!”
Collin became instantly aware of Bob’s major gaffe by the muffled wet noise and a ghastly stench. But they were separated from the others by the length of a desk and the programming team remained unaware. The CEO scrambled away to belatedly find a washroom.
“This the breaking of wind I’ve been sniffing for.” Sheik bin Omani switched on the computer at his penthouse suite to check overnight email and his day’s schedules. Then without stopping to even shower, the Arab threw on his thobe. He called for his driver while riding the elevator and his trip in the back of the limousine was a flurry of phone calls.
“Wall Soft will plummet when the market opens.” Ghazi gathered his troops before Wall Street’s opening bell. “We’ll collect shares but not so fast that our purchasing prevents the price slide.”
“It smells pretty stinky,” Rajah pinched his nose as the software giant’s stock took a whopping tumble, “and it’s as fragrant as blooming fig trees.”
“It’s funny,” Ghazi was reflective, “people claim to know contrarians make the real money on the market, yet they can’t help acting on instincts to cut-and-run on a sign of trouble. A savvy investor like me would buy Wall Soft now, even if I didn’t have conquest as my motivation.”
“Who wants to hold ownership in a company run by a proven thief,” the sheik’s flunky glowered: the hot lawyer would doubtlessly be giving a cold shoulder now, “and one in for a lawsuit of gargantuan proportions?”
“Buy faster.” By mid-morning the beleaguered stock’s collapse was in free-fall mode. The rapid price drop coupled with a public gaffe on half of the computer screens in the civilized world had shaken loose institutional share holds. “My ravenous demand isn’t offsetting the glut of supply.”
“If we hold off,” Fakir murmured: Lauren would arrive here but his hot new information was now old and cold, “we can fish them from a toilet.”
“My bin Omani Holdings stock is at a record highs.” Pacing behind his staff at their monitors, like an instructor of computer literacy, Ghazi barked instructions and sought screen changes to stay up on every detail. “Wall is close to his magic share number but now has to get them from the market.”
“Nobody is dumb enough,” Rajah bemoaned: Ms. Smyth had paid him very well for the list—and then swiftly helped him to spend an awful lot of it with her, and on her, “to take the options on that lead sinker anymore.”
“The damage from that masterful ploy,” this time, Ghazi had heard the snide remark and he rounded sharply to address it, “was already done.”
“Will Bob even have the cash to make his payroll?” Fakir disparaged the opposition again but he rued it when blistered by a venomous look.
“In case you’re blind,” Ghazi pointed a finger at the board, “that wily asshole is still buying my shares and the margin is getting narrowly close.”
Rajah’s throat constricted and he crept to a sideline chair. If his spine were a tail, it would’ve been tucked between his legs like a kicked cur.
Ghazi bin Omani stood in place and pirouetted slowly to take in every scrap of data he could glean. His mind found the snags in his next moves. I need my stock information down to single shares. I may have to sell off much of my own stock to raise the cash required to buy enough of Bob’s. I must know exactly how many I can afford to drop and retain my control.
“I want exact figures on shares I control,” the Sheik’s bellow wasn’t aimed at any specific recipient, “and where they’re stored.”
“That data hasn’t been recovered.” A junior exec delivered the news.
“That hacker continues to make my life miserable.” Ghazi pointed a manicured finger at the man who had spoken up. “Physically gather every certificate from my sub-unit’s vaults. In fact, get all the subordinate entity shares too. I want everything here in my safe where I can look at it. I want it done by tomorrow morning—even if you have to work all night.”
“With the shares here,” Rajah interjected, “you’re vulnerable to lose all. I assumed that was one major reason why the stocks are separate.”
“I don’t cringe from danger,” Ghazi’s remark was partially to chastise his recent confidant’s uncharacteristically caustic and timorous display, but Rajah had just earned another chance, “and the situation is different now.”
Across the country, a boardroom was twice as busy as Omani’s: two task groups worked feverishly. The one was under Collin Hersker and it was trying to conclude the devastating war. A second, under the CEO in his new pair of pants, had hit an impenetrable obstacle.
“I hate this freaking program!” Bob grumbled: he had been originally confounded by inability to remove the nag screen. Now, it was seemingly able to write itself onto a freshly compiled version of their old bundle.
“The incriminating message shows,” a techie gave the news that Bob didn’t want, “unless Handshake Lite is removed from the install disks.”
“I can’t take it out.” The geek transcribed the crux into dollar sense. “That feature is the only thing people have bought my upgrade to get.”
All faces in the virus task force were focused on the boss.
“Keep working!” Bob swore and wished he had a bullwhip handy to spur on production. “I want results!” He stormed from his own group.
“Please,” the stressed out CEO found his proxy war general similarly inundated—but handling it better, “give me some positive news.”
“That’s a rare commodity just now.” Hersker pinched at a headache in the bridge of his nose: he was running on zero sleep. “We were very close to taking over bin Omani Holdings. I’m sure we would’ve had it today but the program glitch killed that chance. Omani shareholders are unwilling to accept our freefalling stock even with an offer of double warrants.”
“Buy the final shares off the market.”
“That’s where our last ones have to come from but even gaining a one-percent stake in a company requires a huge number of shares. The market float has dried to a trickle and the price is now in the stratosphere.”
“Buy them anyways. I need that take over or I’m bankrupt.” Tears formed in the CEO’s eyes and he whined. “Don’t let me fail.”
“We don’t know if the Sheik has the funds to pull it off.” Collin tried not to see the pathetic performance. “With his shares at record levels, for every one he sells, Ghazi can purchase almost three of yours. I’ll bet he is counting each certificate: it’s a game of balance for him.”
“Balance?” The chief executive officer blinked at the moisture.
“Fifty-one percent is the magic number to gain control but it isn’t the same one to retain possession.” Collin put a hand gingerly on the CEO’s shoulder: last time this action had brought a nasty physiological result. I’m teaching realistic corporate economics to a CEO. “If we could force a shareholders meeting for bin Omani’s corporation, we could probably elect you CEO with the voting units we control right now. But we can’t do that in time, so the sheik has the leeway to reduce his holdings, as long as he can regain control before the next election of officers. If he can buy us out, he’ll regain possession of the portion of his company that is in our vault.”
“We can’t let our holdings drop below the fifty percent.”
“You’ve never held fifty percent and maybe you’ve forgotten all the warrants attached to our purchase of Omani shares.” He must know all this already. It must be his recent shock and drug use causing slowness in the thought processes. “Ghazi can use those to reduce your controlling interest while he is increasing his. I firmly told you those were a calculated risk.”
“What can we do?”
“We wait and see how deep his well of money is.” Hersker felt like grabbing the man and physically shaking him. Doesn’t he realize just how staggeringly much coin Ghazi would have to flip out on the table? “Along the way, I’ll try to procure the final percentage points.”
“What should I be doing to help?”
“Finding an inoculation against the virus is the only sure cure.”
“I’ll work on that and leave the rest to you.” Bob sat moping instead, in a chair in the center of the room. From there he could watch both of the groups without having to participate in either.
“I need something to cheer me up.” Wall’s voice was barely a whisper. “My slave girl must be horny to the point of frantic by now, for the lack of a real man.” Bob rolled his casters towards the task group nearest the exit.
“Megaman went into the superhero’s clubhouse, where Dynobabe was naked on the floor with her legs spread.” One programmer was pretending to work but he was actually telling a joke. “Megaman unzipped and rushed in to take sexual advantage. Inviso-boy received one super-duper shock.”
“This inane bantering why nothing is being accomplished.” Bob raged. He didn’t find the story particularly funny. Moreover, it put him off his plan to visit the Russian girl. That could place Wallet-man in Inviso-boy’s vulnerable position, if Homo-guy suddenly appeared.
“You,” the CEO pointed a finger at the joke teller, “are fired. The rest of you can do some real work on curing this virus!” The software geek then opted for his plan ‘B’ and he slipped into the executive washroom for a quick pick-me-up shot-in-the-arm.
“Walter Zimmerman?” Ghazi bin Omani asked but the call’s recipient wasn’t the only one that heard it. The sheik had ordered the partition walls stripped from a huge work area. The employee’s desks were arranged like sewing machine tables in a sweatshop and this call was a training tool.
“I’m calling from bin Omani Holdings.”
“You’re too late,” Walter chuckled at the call: a company whose shares he owned had never contacted him before but now this was the second, “I’ve traded away my bin Omani shares.”
“It was a wise decision.” Ghazi bit his lip: complementing the man’s jumping his ship took a conscious strain. “You made money on paper but the stock you received is swiftly falling in value.”
“It’s dropping faster than a goose full of buckshot.” Zimmerman had seen the news. “You’ll buy my Wall Soft shares?”
“We’ll take them at market value but we’re much more interested in the attached warrants.” The sheik’s eyes scanned the room to see that all were paying close attention. Ghazi was handling the bigger accounts personally but he needed his people to call the rest of the shareholders. “We’ll pay you twenty percent of Wall Soft’s share price for those option coupons.”
“If you want those shares so badly,” Walter really didn’t know much about investing: he’d become a big shareholder when he won a lottery, “then why are you only offering twenty beans on the buck?”
“Mr. Zimmerman,” Ghazi’s Oxford English accent was as honey on a warm crumpet when he wanted it to be, “I’m speaking to many people with a wide range of market knowledge so if my explanation is far below your level of savvy, I apologize in advance. Many of our previous shareholder’s are uncertain of exactly what these warrants are and Wall Soft didn’t carefully explain when they sold them.”
“The warrants are shares at a certain price?” Walter conjectured.
“Not quite. You were given one share of Wall Soft in return for every one of the Omani shares you traded: that was a share. The warrant allows you to buy one additional share of Wall Soft at the specified price. With shares currently trading below that strike price—the option is worthless. It’s like a coupon to buy an item for two bucks—when it’s selling for one.”
“The man from Wall Soft cheated me?”
“No, he didn’t.” For a second time the sheik had to suppress his strong urge to say what he really felt. “When you made the trade, the shares were at a higher price than the warrant’s face: they were worth the difference between the market price and the option’s amount.”
“The situation changed when Wall Soft tanked.”
“Yes, but don’t worry about that because we’ll buy them for cash and you still have a profit—albeit less than Software Bob suggested.”
“You’ve said those things are worthless,” Walter Zimmerman smelled a possible muskrat, “so you’re willingness to buy them is a bit fishy.”
“Do you mind my asking what kind of work you do?”
“I’m a retired carpenter.”
“If the economy were based on hammers instead of dollars, then the worth of hammers could fluctuate in financial circles, but a hammer would still be worth a hammer to a carpenter.”
“Just now, Wall’s warrant isn’t worth much money,” Ghazi continued, “but my journey trade is company shares and I need it as a hammer. With a warranty, Bob Wall is nailed: he has to sell me those shares.”
“I’ll sell mine.” Walter chuckled. “An apprentice needs a tool belt.”
“You see how simple that was?” Sheik bin Omani transferred the call over to the brokerage and then spoke firmly to his telemarketers. “You have a good deal to sell to these people—I expect none to decline it.”
[When a marine screams ‘HUAW’: does he mean hurry up and wait?]
“Tell me about it.” Currently in a semi-rural Denver subdivision, Tariq paced the acreage. The jihad squad had met up in Miami after flying from Bangkok. In a seeming panic, they had been shipped to here. The Denver airport was a hub and flights connected to anywhere they might be needed.
“What are you up to?” Kareem stepped around the bole of a tree and the two men surprised each other.
[HUAW! This time it means Hello Ugly Ass Wipe.]
“I’m just taking a morning walk for my constitution.” The programmer feigned a smile. I can’t get even a few minutes of solitude.
“I’m instructed to keep the team together and ready for an assignment.”
“Being trapped in a house for days on end is stifling.” After the halt, Tariq resumed his walk and the captain changed directions to go with him. “The squad is chafing like ten prickly porcupines in an apple crate.”
“How is Fatima?” The commander intended to switch the conversation to a more amicable one but found another bristle instead.
“How could I know?” The Iranian snapped. “We’re incommunicado.”
“I’m sure we’ll know what our mission is soon.”
“If you don’t know what it is,” Tariq stopped walking and squared off on the bigger man, “then you’re the only moron who hasn’t deduced it.”
“What is it then?” Kareem glowered as if he was facing a mutiny.
“We were brought here to dish out a retaliation over Ghazi bin Omani’s defeat. The western media made that simple enough to spot.” I’ve also just seen an opportunity to topple the tyrant’s tight restrictions. The Iranian backpedaled from his earlier surliness. “Now, the Islamic Sheik’s fight is on the attack—so we won’t be needed for awhile. In your own words, my job as one of your elite troops was to be when dire circumstances arise.”
“Would you like to bring Fatima here?” Kareem’s bluster dissolved in a bubbling cauldron of his lust’s brewing. “I can arrange for that.”
“I won’t bring her here to live with all these frustrated men,” Tariq had chain-sawed a cut in the Arab’s trunk and he hammered in a further wedge to fell him in the chosen direction, “but I would like to see her close-by.”
“I’m not supposed to tell but you’ve guessed it right anyways.”
“Fatima and I could remain handy.” The Iranian tapped the shim again.
“Alright.” Kareem felt a tickle near his zipper. Tariq didn’t matter: he was just a bug to bring the Venus to a flytrap.
“It’s been another surrealistic day.” Collin Hersker pulled up a chair to sit in front of Bob’s desk. “The infamous Shiva’s Messenger missed his third assassination attempt but killed the White House Chief of Staff. Our corporation is being bought out from under us.” My boss is also spaced out on drugs, while I’m shacked up with his mistress.
“What’s that?” The CEO lifted his glassy eyes from the blotter.
“Never mind.” Man! He really is whacked out.
“How much did we have to pay today in product returns?” Wall’s face was an oxymoronic mixture of deep concern and heroin’s ‘I-don’t-care’.
“None yet. I issued a press statement for you promising a patch to fix the problem. That’s just a stopgap. When people learn the repair bandage will eliminate the favorite feature program, we can expect the worst.”
“How much ground did I loose to Ghazi today?”
“It was substantial.” Hersker couldn’t bring himself to be an asshole about telling him. The man could be declared a national disaster area! “Bob, why don’t you go and spend some time on your new yacht?”
“It’s not been delivered yet. I asked them to change the name,” Bob wondered why they couldn’t paint it on while cruising: he hoped the broker hadn’t just squeezed extra by leasing it out, “from Squid to the Wall-Dorf.”
“The Wall-Dorf?” Collin almost choked. Didn’t he realize how many folk would be calling it the Wall-Dork? That’s just begging for ridicule.
“Like the fancy hotel.” Bob explained. “Except mine is floating.”
Too bad your solvency isn’t. Collin wasn’t an asshole enough to say it.