Authors: Angus Morrison
Tags: #Literary, #Fiction, #General
© 2010 Angus Morrison All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of the author.
First published by Dog Ear Publishing 4010 W. 86th Street, Ste H
Indianapolis, IN 46268
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
This book is a work of fiction. Places, events, and situations in this book are purely fictional and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Thank you to my parents and my wife, Lianne, for their support and encouragement.
A hearty thank you to the following: Justin Morrison, John Stemper, Vinnie Simone, Rob Simone, Charles Hoots, Khadija al-Salami, Paul Soukup, Asieh Kehyari, Karin Blokdijk, Michael Glen, Frank Mankiewicz, Harry & Susan Reilly, Sarat Reilly & Kevin Luckham, Herb & Diane Harmon,
Deborah Wright, Brent Studds, Dan Heck, Leo Cendrowicz, Navarre Joseph, Peter Kilroy, Sue Stiles, Marino Marcich and Derek Evans.
There’s not much dignity in dying in the bathtub, but that’s where they found him – naked, wet, and full of electricity. To the coroner, it could have been just another lump of flesh laid out on a metal slab waiting to be cut up and exposed for what it was essentially a bucket of water with carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, tin, lead, copper, tungsten, sulfur, sodium, germanium and a cocktail of 48 other elements. But he knew this guy. Well, he didn’t really
him, he knew
him, from the headlines.
“Somebody murdered him. Right, doctor?” the detective asked, making a face at the sight of the clammy body.
“Hard to say, monsieur. No marks point to a struggle.”
“You mean he hugged his radio and fried himself in 12 inches of water? That’s talent.”
“Was there any sign of forced entry?”
“Painful way to relieve oneself of this world, you know.”
“What is, doctor?”
“Electrocution. Kind of like par-boiling from the inside out.”
“Well, the combination of water from the tub and salt in the body cause the electricity to course through you, which causes painful muscle contractions, burning, and swelling of the organs because of the rapid rise in body temperature. A small amount of electricity also enters the brain, but because there is no massive coagulation necrosis of brain tissue, the brain doesn’t cease to function instantaneously. The electricity that does penetrate the brain activates those regions that produce intense feelings of fear, dread and pain. The real cause of death is normally laryngeal asphyxia due to muscle contraction of the larynx, or general asphyxia due to the muscle contraction of the lungs, or ventricular fibrillation of the heart. Bottom line: they know what’s going on before they die.”
“Why do people do it, doc?”
“Kill themselves? Hard to say. For many of them, it comes down to science - chemical imbalance, that sort of thing. Others just don’t want to wake up in the morning. Then there are those people who are shamed into doing it.”
“That what happened to him?”
“I didn’t think that shame was part of their DNA — guys like him.”
“He obviously had a good dose of it, enough to do himself in.”
“But he wasn’t the one who brought that company down.”
“No, monsieur, but he played the game. He compromised himself just like the rest of them. Probably couldn’t bear it anymore, which is why he brought his radio in the bath with him. That is, of course, assuming that it was he who did that.”
”I thought you said it was suicide?”
“No, I said that there were no signs of struggle on the body, nor does there seem to have been a forced entry. I can’t prove that he was murdered. Therefore, I’ve got to tag him as a probable suicide. At least he didn’t slit his wrists or put a rifle in his mouth. That’s always messy.”
“You’re a real softy, aren’t you, doc?”
The hot wash of the stage lights had no affect on Aaron Cannondale. He was on. He could feel his connection with the audience building. It was as if he’d thrown them a lifeline and they were clamoring to be pulled in:
“… On July 4, 1776, King George III wrote the following
entry in his diary: ‘nothing of importance happened today.’
“That’s because he had no idea that a group of men 3,000 miles away in Philadelphia had just declared their independence from the British Crown. I bet the fair king wished he’d had a television, or a telegraph, or a radio ... anything that would have connected him to the rest of the world a bit more quickly. Even today, a lot of people still wish they had such outlets. Half of the world still lives on $1 a day. Half of the world has yet to make its first phone call. As immediate as the world has become, plenty of places are still in the dark. But that’s changing … We sit on the eve of a new frontier …”
Aaron noticed a portly fellow in the front row hanging on every word. That’s how he wanted them — mesmerized, hypnotized, his.
“The digital railroad tracks of the future continue to be set in place as we speak. Tremendous progress has been made in getting information from A to B quicker than ever before. But it’s not good enough. Those without cable modems or DSL lines — the majority — still endure the pain of sluggish email, and stalled-out Internet connections and ten-minute waits for our browsers to load. Would any of us put up with this kind of shoddy service from our cars?”
Hayden Campbell, Aaron’s speechwriter, sat in the back of the UN central chamber, his lips silently synching the words coming out of his client’s mouth - the sixth richest man in the world. Aaron paced around the stage now, just as Hayden had instructed him. Hayden liked that Aaron listened to his advice. He appreciated that Aaron remembered his pointers, like the fact that 70% of every speech was visual. This was the way a speech giver and speechwriter were supposed to work, a symbiotic relationship between pen and mouth. There was trust and mutual admiration for their respective abilities.
Aaron wasn’t like the others Hayden had served. There had been clients – humorless clients - who pulled 14-hour days at the office, who didn’t know their children, who walked around like modern-day Atlases, boldly trying to support the weight of the world with some self-delusional notion that they, or anyone for that matter, were actually equipped to do so. His last client, the head of a major oil company, fell into that category. The executive had been a complete disappointment – a guy whose arrogance often caused him to make bad decisions; one of those dangerous kinds of men who, having read the Cliff Notes version of “The Prince,” were under the impression that they understood how to play that game, even though they failed to grasp that running a company with shareholders was considerably different than running a fiefdom with armies.
Hayden had been hesitant when the client recommended him to Cannondale. He assumed it would be more of the same, but the two men couldn’t have been more different.
Then there were the other clients - ruffians who dealt with triads and metaphors the way a wrestler might manhandle a porcelain figurine. And there were the terrified, the ones who were so afraid of getting up in front of an audience that the only way they could deny that fear was to attack Hayden by questioning his research, or his sources, or his ideas.
In the late 90s, when technology temporarily replaced religion and the word “genius” was thrown around loosely, Hayden had found himself working for a particularly untalented speaker; good executive, bad speaker. Their first trip together was to Atlanta. When they arrived at the hotel lobby, the executive pulled him aside. Hayden thought the man was going to ask him to add something to the speech or put the text in a larger font. Instead, the executive asked Hayden to run out to the airport to pick up his lost luggage. Hayden had just started out. He needed the money, and the reference. So he picked up the monogrammed bag and returned to the hotel ballroom to catch the last few minutes of the executive’s mediocre delivery. Hayden gave the bag to the guy’s secretary backstage, and then camped out in the green room.
The man was bad, real bad, but to Hayden’s immediate right sat a medieval-sized pewter bowl of peeled shrimp. It was full when Hayden got to it; it was practically empty by the time the two or three lobotomized souls in the audience who actually seemed to like the speech began to clap. Hayden slipped out the back and grabbed a cab to the airport. He relished the thought of the executive looking around for him after the talk, eagerly waiting to be regaled by the kind of ass-sniffing that previous speechwriters had afforded him over the course of his career.
Sure, Hayden’s new client, Aaron Cannondale, was as arrogant as they came, but somehow he carried it. His ego wasn’t too large to listen or to learn. He valued words. He understood that putting them together just the right way was like having a backstage pass to people’s hearts and minds. The guy just got it.
Aaron’s inflection was perfect now. His body language was strong. Eye contact was good. He owned the oxygen in the room. The venue was a U.N.-sponsored conference on closing the digital divide. People were still talking about the “haves and have nots.” Aaron had balked at making an appearance; “too much on my plate,” he’d said. But Hayden had talked him into it. A couple of other headline CEOs were there. It wouldn’t have looked right if Aaron had missed it.
It was a time of reckoning. The technology industry had been battered around the head. CEOs and CFOs were getting hauled up before grand juries and Senate committee chairmen to answer for accounting gimmickry. Under pressure to move quickly against corporate corruption, a bad piece of legislation — the Sarbanes-Oxley Act – had rocketed through Congress in 2002. The costs to publiclytraded companies was now in the billions. Small and medium-sized businesses were beginning to list overseas instead of in the States. Rounding errors carried the threat of prison sentences. U.S. corporations, paralyzed by fear, sat on their cash, too timid to invest.
Value investors, who were once ridiculed as conservative stegosauruses, were enjoying telling people “I told you so.” In the mid-90s, the Telecom Act had opened the floodgates of competition. It had turned a meat and potatoes industry like telecom into a porterhouse of profits. The pioneers had been an odd mix of entrepreneurs
– guys who used to climb telephone poles, owners of AM radio stations, construction company foremen, used car salesmen and high school gym teachers. Each wanted to be the Cornelius Vanderbilt of his time. They had formed their companies with a goal – to build the fiber-optic railroad tracks that would allow people to send huge quantities of data over the Internet.