Sing Like You Know the Words, page 22
-It sounds like you’ve been doing a little more than reading our press releases. Did you have a friend on the inside by any chance?
-We have some very talented and thorough corporate analysts in our company Mr Thomas.
-I’m sure you do.
-The point is Mr Thomas; we believe that there is a way through your current problems that could be for the benefit of all concerned. We are in a position to make an offer to buy the full shareholding of the company and to de-list it from the stock exchange. That offer would of course include the purchase of your own remaining shares.
-This is my company, why would I want to sell?
-It’s actually a public company Mr Thomas; you already did sell when you listed the company on the stock exchange. I think you did quite well out of the deal. Now you are only the principal shareholder and an officer of the Board of Directors, the same as your colleagues here. As a matter of law, and in common with other Board members, you have duties to the company Mr Thomas; as does Mr Foster being the Chief Executive and Mr Douglas here. You should think very carefully before rejecting a generous bid, when it seems that there may be no viable alternative for the company.
-I’ll go to the banks. They know me well enough.
Foster shook his head. David imagined that he chuckled.
-I’ve already spoken to the banks David, informally of course. They want this deal to happen.
-You’ve done what Andrew?
-Time is short.
-You’ve planned all this carefully in advance haven’t you? You bought the US business to get us into debt. The deal never made any commercial sense. Tell me who is going to be the CEO of this new de-listed company. Surprise me.
Grant answered the question.
-Mr Foster has agreed to stay on as CEO for the time being to ensure there will be a period of stability. Everyone will want to see that, in the interests of the company.
-And with a better package and more share options for him, I suppose.
-I can only say here that the CEO will be offered a remuneration package, including equity participation, consistent with the need of the company to retain its top talent, at this difficult time.
-Thanks Greg, and what have you decided you are prepared to pay me for my stake in the business, at this difficult time?
-It’s Grant actually. I have the calculations here before me Mr Thomas. You are free to look at them here, though for obvious reasons I cannot authorise you to take any copies away from this room at present. You will see there are three alternative bases of calculation set out and that we have taken into account various possible future scenarios for the business.
-That’s not what I asked but thank you. How much per share?
-Forty nine pence
They’re worth two pounds sixty you bastards.
Foster shrugged his shoulders.
-They were priced at two pounds sixty at close of business today David. Next week you have an announcement to make, and by the end of that day, I guess that forty nine pence will look more than generous. However, by next week it would be too late.
Peter had remained silent, his face becoming more flushed. Now at last he spoke.
-We’ll need to think about it. You can’t expect us to make a decision just like that.
-I think that’s exactly what they expect of us Peter.
-It’s just stealing, nothing better. Andrew, you’re behaving like a crook. There’s no difference between you and a common criminal.
-Actually there is a big difference Peter; In the first place I haven’t broken any laws, and second, when you look at the numbers involved here, there is nothing common about it. You shouldn’t look so glum boys. You will still be very well off at forty nine pence, and no need for you to worry about the company any more. David, you made a fortune already when you floated. Now it’s someone else’s turn. That’s the way of things. Nothing personal gentlemen, you’ve both been very agreeable to work with. It’s just the way the wheel turns
-What are you talking about?
-Natural selection. Business. What can be broken must be broken. You know, there are two types of company boss nowadays. The old sort, like you David, they start the company off; probably know something about how the business works, but not about much else. The other sort is more like me. We come after. We’re not so much interested in the business for its own sake, but we know how to make money from it; mostly for ourselves perhaps, but you see, others like ourselves benefit. That’s why the City loves my kind of boss, because around us, there’s always going to be some action that gives smart people a chance to make a lot of money quickly. I’m the sort of boss who comes highly recommended. We are the future. And once you have invited us over the threshold, there is no way back.
-This is against the rules, Peter shouted. He was now red with indignation.
-Really Peter? And how am I breaking the rules, you tell me? Because as far as I can see, I am having this chat with you, and that means that any rules I am breaking you are breaking too.
David stood up.
-Alright, I’ve heard enough, you can both leave now.
-We need your decision David.
-You’ll have it on Sunday night, not before. Give me your contact details.
-We can’t do this kind of deal overnight.
-I’m sure you have it organized so that you could do it in an hour.
-We have to have your decision now
-Well, you can’t have it. You’ll make them wait Andrew, because just now, if there’s no decision, you have something to lose as well as me. And I’ll be taking these calculations with me, for what they’re worth. You’ll have to trust me that they will stay confidential.
Grant sprang up.
-I don’t have instructions that would allow me to release those papers to you.
-Tough shit Greg. Do me a favour now and piss off. I need to talk to my Chairman.
Five minutes later the two men were alone; Peter sitting slumped with his head in his hands, and David standing, pacing the room.
-Thank god they’ve gone at least, he said. We’ll have to get this room steam cleaned next week to get rid of the slime.
-I’ve let you down David, I’m so sorry.
-You have let me down Peter, but there’s no point dwelling on it. Go home and leave me to think
-What will you do?
-Have my head examined for trusting that little shit Foster. Then I’m going to make a few calls and see if I can find anyone who has spare cash lying around and might want to help us. Fifty million should do it wouldn’t you say?
That same evening, Matthew’s phone rang. He picked up the call.
-Get your passport handy Matt, we have a flight to catch to Zurich
-Early tomorrow. And don’t forget it’s a cold city. Dress warm.
Matthew started to protest that it was not so easy for him to drop everything and run just because David said so. David asked him what he had to do that was so important. He did not sound in a mood to be argued with: he only added that it was about the business and that he would explain later. Matthew pleaded that whatever David’s difficulties might be, he would be the last person to be able to help. David replied that he did not need anyone to tell him what to do; only someone he could trust to be with him.
The taxi with David already in it picked him up before it was light. It was a strange flight; David barely spoke. The brief day was already fading when reached a high rise hotel in the centre of the freezing city. Finally David explained what he had meant about trust.
-I have to meet some people this evening. There’s no need for you to come. I just need you to stay here. Best you don’t leave the hotel in fact. Keep this case safe, and don’t hand it over to anyone but me.
He presented Matthew with a small, but heavy, black document case.
-If I’m not back by, say one thirty tonight, then you open it, but not befo
-And then what?
-You’ll know once you open the case.
-I’m sorry, but all of this just seems a little mysterious and, well, unnecessary. Anyone would think we were in Chicago in the thirties. This is Switzerland you know: bankers and cuckoo clocks.
-I’ve been here before, yes.
David motioned him to the window. Darkness had fallen quickly. Far below them, the city was a huddle of indistinct black shapes. Harsh neon pools of light illuminated the sides of buildings. Snaking lines of soft amber headlights and harsher red tail lights marked the comings and goings of the traffic.
David pointed. Matthew noticed a space where the streetlights illumined a wooded area, with neat pathways running through it; park land obviously. He could pick out tiny human figures wandering around or slumped on the benches.
-Unusual for so many people to be in the park, when it’s so late and so cold, he commented.
-They’re out there every night; some live there. That’s the needle park – only for people buying selling and using drugs: here in the centre of this neat and prosperous city of bankers.
-You couldn’t stay out there all night. You’d freeze to death
-Some of them do. Others overdose. The city is very efficient about removing the bodies. This is a neat town; even the park. But still, probably not somewhere you want to go for a stroll at this time. I’ve passed through it in daylight. The solid citizens walk by if it’s on their way and don´t seem to notice anything unusual happening.
-What’s your point?
-The park tells you something about the city and its people. The kind of place it is. If you have business here you are more or less free to get on with it, even if it should consist of killing yourself, slowly or quickly. It’s not the kind of city where passers-by involve themselves, unless there’s a percentage in it. I suppose I’m saying that it’s the kind of place where a certain kind of businessman, might feel at home
-Now you have me worried
-Well, don’t be. I’ll call you if I’m going to be any later than expected. Otherwise, the arrangements are as I said.
-I think I can manage that.
Matthew spent an anxious evening drinking hotel beer in his room. He never did look in the case. He didn’t even check if it was locked. He was not so certain that he wanted to have any knowledge of what might be inside. In any case, David was back at the hotel not long after midnight. He seemed relieved, though he didn’t say much. Matthew had to assume that everything had been sorted out.
In the week that followed, Cromwell Industries announced moderately encouraging results, and the unscheduled departure of its Chief Executive Andrew Foster, who the board thanked for his brief but significant contribution to the development of the business. David didn’t have much to say about the split, or how it might be connected to Zurich. He was kept busy as acting chief executive of Cromwell, but that seemed to make him his energetic and positive self again.
It was a typical wet Monday morning in a northern town. The roads were too crowded and the fine rain hung in the grey air making everything seem dirtier than it already was. Just outside the centre, on the south side, a cluster of mixed use commercial buildings crowded like neglected shrubs in the untended deltas between highways and interchanges. The tenants lived a hand to mouth existence, hoping to make enough each month to cover rent and outgoings. There was always a new To Let board appearing somewhere on the estate as another business succumbed.
Mitchell Walcott arrived late to work, confident that nothing interesting or important would be waiting for him. Ignoring the post trays, he slouched straight to the cupboard that served as his private office and let his soft body sink into the heavily cushioned chair. He felt exhausted as if he had done a week’s work already.
His assistant, and sole employee, brought him tea. He watched intently as Susan put the mug down and left the office, noting a small awakening of lust. She knows I’m watching her, he thought, even if she’s not sure that she welcomes the attention.
Mitchell gnawed at a biscuit while reflecting on that. Pretty girl; should be out of his league, but with two young kids and the man gone, who could say? Probably lonely; probably could do with some help with the kids. Children though. The thought made him shudder.
She brought the post in, and some telephone messages, none of which amounted to much. Time to speak to Derek. Unusually his partner was actually present in the office that morning.
-What do you have for us today, Derek?
Nothing real, as usual. Just the appearance of being very busy. Derek was a big man, fat in fact. Bustling around his own tiny office, hands never still, threatening to spill the many papers that were stacked around the room. But it was always the same papers that had been lying there for months. Derek muttered something about having a lead on a big consumer debt, needing to follow up on a trace. Mitchell ignored that.
-We have a stack of bills that we need to talk about. Here are some of them. Look.
-And we will, but just now I have to follow up on this (putting on his coat). There is a good chance I can find us this Hawkins guy before the end of the week.
-Bear in mind you probably won’t find him in the bar at the Old Fox.
Derek nodded gravely, as if this was information worthy of proper consideration, and then he was gone. Mitchell returned the overdue invoices to Derek’s in tray, feeling that he may just as well put them in the waste basket.
That was Monday´s business.
On Tuesday, Mitchell had nothing at all to do. He received three phone calls from a firm of enquiry agents, whose invoices were gathering dust in Derek’s tray, and another call from his wife, which was about picking up his wonderful children. Derek made an appearance late in the afternoon. Mitchell followed him into his office to cut off the avenue of escape. He insisted that Derek should listen and that they should confront the financial realities of their situation. Derek listened to what he had to say for a while, with a show of great attention. Finally he interrupted to say that he had not understood anything of what Mitchell was saying
-That’s why you and I make a good team Mitch. You have the accounting knowledge to deal with all this. My expertise is in the field. I’ve got every confidence in you. But you know that everything you say about numbers is Greek to me.
Then of course he had to leave to follow up an urgent lead in the Hawkins case.
Mitchell returned to his office and opened the dreaded ledgers on his personal computer. The firm was not so much sinking rapidly as sitting on the bottom, drowning slowly. Not for the first time, he reflected that Derek had invited him to join the business less for his bookkeeping skills than for the money he´d paid to buy into the business; money that Mitchell had raised on the security of his house. Taking on a debt that now he couldn´t afford to service. The cash was gone and there was nothing to show. So much for business projections. Better to have stayed an anonymous number cruncher at the old firm than this. He could say he was his own boss; probably for another month or two at most. And after that bankruptcy, most likely. He opened the office door.
-Sue, do you fancy a quick drink after work again tonight? This place is getting to me?
-Why not? My mum has the kids tonight. Are you ok to be late home?
-Not my night to collect the brats. If Mrs W rings, tell her I will be working a little late
Not that she’d notice or care, he thought. Probably, on balance, she would prefer that I should be late, as in, the late Mitchell Walcott. He thought about his solid, unremarkable wife and the two teenage children. At that moment he couldn´t imagine a single reason why he would ever in his life want to go home again.
Then he thought back to his own childhood, trying to picture some moment of domestic tenderness, that would shine out past the years of boredom and resentment that he remembered all too well. There must have been some moments wh
His thoughts returned to his wife. How to describe her? Words came readily to mind; middle-aged, aging, past her prime. But in fact they were the same age. That realization made his hands start to shake. I’m feeling panic, he marvelled. Maybe it was better to feel that than nothing at all.
On Wednesday it rained again, so naturally this was the day he had to leave the office. Derek had actually managed to trace a couple of debtors. Local small time stuff but business was business, as Derek reminded him. Mitchell asked why, if he was the back office man, it should be him who had to make the call. Derek was very apologetic, patiently explaining that he would have seen to it himself only that he was completely overwhelmed by the Hawkins case, which was making good progress, thanks to help from Derek’s old friends in the police force. It’s not what you know; it’s who you know, eh Mitch?
Who was he kidding? Derek didn´t have any friends. And Mitchell knew that the police force had kicked him out, even though Derek didn´t know that he knew.
-This job is not such a big deal, but it will be a good opportunity for you to learn about the operational side. The address is rented and I don´t expect the debtors are working, but, you know, it´s a catalogue debt. All this cash they´ve spent, they must have some stuff lying around that they’d rather hold on to and I´ll bet they can raise some cash once you let them see that it would be better for them to see the back of you.
-But there are two of them. Two blokes in one house
-Are you worried that they might be dangerous, or that they might be gay?
-I’m worried that they might be dangerous gays.
-These two aren’t dangerous, except where there’s a window left open or a door unlocked. Believe me I know these two characters from way back.