Read Bandwidth Online

Authors: Angus Morrison

Tags: #Literary, #Fiction, #General

Bandwidth (19 page)

BOOK: Bandwidth
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Hayden admired Braun’s media skill. Like Braun, he didn’t take many things for granted in his life, but a bet on the willingness of the crowded journalism industry to blindly match each other’s stories was usually a sure thing. What an elegant deal: if the
Journal
reporters didn’t misquote Braun or make him look silly, he was all theirs. If they broke that trust, it was bye-bye and a quick phone call over to the
New York Times.

For the most part, the reporters kept it polite when covering Cheyenne. The one exception was the freelancer from Aaron’s party

- Tom Feegan. The blowhards on the financial TV networks occasionally interviewed Feegan about the technology universe as if he was some sort of oracle. For some inexplicable reason, Feegan came off as a lone voice of reason, always reminding investors how drunk they had gotten in the 90s. Now, he was their designated driver, their roving reporter broadcasting live on the Street from the corner of Fact and Fiction.

Feegan’s prose had a way of gradually making monied folk grow horns and a tail right before readers’ eyes. The TV networks sometimes allowed themselves to be taken in by the homely heartland type taking it to the Wall Street sharks, and in Feegan they had found their Boy Scout.

Still, Hayden had heard Braun say on at least one occasion that Feegan didn’t faze him. Sure, Cheyenne didn’t have profits, and wouldn’t have any for some time, but it had a shit pile of potential, not to mention the backing of the sixth richest man in the world. Braun wrote that the stock should go from $28 to $150 within a year and a half.

That sounded optimistic to Hayden. One thing that he had noticed that Braun had clearly downplayed in his reports was the high level of debt that Cheyenne was carrying on its books. Nor had he noted that the timeline for fully building out Cheyenne’s network would almost certainly be longer than the company had indicated in a previous prospectus.

Hayden’s cell rang.

“Hayden?”

“Yes.”

“This is Libby Dunn, Mr. Cannondale’s new personal assistant.” 

“Oh yes, how are you, Libby?”

“I’m well, thank you. Mr. Cannondale has a message for you.” 

“Sure, go ahead.”

“He says, you’re late.”

Hayden looked at his watch. He was supposed to have met Aaron for a drink at the Ritz ten minutes ago.

“Shit, you’re right.”

“I’m sorry?”

“My apologies. Would you be kind enough to let Mr. Cannondale know that I am running late and will join him in 15 minutes?”

 “Of course.”

The French cabby took his sweet time getting through traffic, and even then the guy expected some sort of tip from his American fare. Fat chance. Hayden tossed the guy the exact amount and rolled out of the back seat amid a torrent of insult.

“Good of you to make it, Hayden,” Aaron said, signing a piece of paper and handing it to Pettigrew as Hayden walked in.

“Pettigrew! How the heck are you?”

“I’d be better without this damn cane.”

Hayden couldn’t believe the guy was even alive after the Amsterdam bombing. Pettigrew had been through the ringer – physical therapy, operations, learning how to walk again.

“What brings you to Paris?”

“He’s just doing some paperwork for me,” Aaron said, stepping in, giving Pettigrew a look clearly intended for him to keep his mouth shut and not share whatever they were working on with Hayden.”

“Sorry to be late, Aaron. Bourbon on ice, please.”

“Traipsing around the Tuileries, were you, Hayden?”

“Point taken. I was actually just reading one of Braun’s reports on Cheyenne.”

“Was it any good?”

“You mean positive?”

“Yes, positive.”

“It was.”

“I love that guy.”

CHAPTER FORTY

Aaron’s speech in Paris had gone well. The audience was a group of young European entrepreneurs who wanted to know what it took to become a cold-blooded capitalist, American style, in the post-dot.com world. It had been a powerful speech. The look on the faces of the young

entrepreneurs told Hayden so. To them, whatever Aaron said was gospel. How could they possibly disagree with the guy? He was wildly successful, brash, and wealthy.

Most of all, Aaron was different from their parents, and that appealed to them. Aaron represented the future, and a clean break from the stagnant drone of socialism that they had grown up with — the drone that most of their compatriots listened to every single day, never wanting more, never wishing to stick out their necks, never eager to take risks.

After the speech, Hayden and Aaron boarded separate planes. Aaron went back to the States; Hayden headed for Holland. He had agreed to go sailing with Michelle. From the vertiginous perch that Hayden’s job afforded him, he was beginning to see Cheyenne’s players shrink away from the headiness that had once consumed them.

Kuipers’ death was the culprit. Timmermans and Peter were shaken, as was Michelle. Without saying it, they seemed to understand that other forces were at work now, forces beyond their control, and it made them nervous.

Cheyenne was no longer just an interesting idea, or a way to make money. It had transcended into something more like a stage coach being dragged down a dusty road by a team of runaway horses. Although they now had more than 300 employees and were getting great press, none of the principals were really sure who was in command any more. Office doors remained closed most of the day. No one met for drinks after work. Camaraderie had evaporated. And not lost in the equation, but somewhere deep in the background, was Aaron. Neither Peter, nor Timmermans, nor Michelle, had heard from him for some time. Hayden seemed to be the only one of them who had access to the great wizard. After Pettigrew’s near death experience in front of Kuipers’ building, the best that Aaron could do was send flowers to Pettigrew’s hospital room with a card that simply read: “Hang in there, old boy.”

Timmermans, Peter and Michelle weren’t exactly clear what they would have said to Aaron had he called more often, but the fact that he didn’t made them uneasy. And although they never really involved Aaron in the day-to-day running of the business, something about Aaron being the principal benefactor made them instinctively look to him for guidance, or approval, or blessing. They weren’t getting any of these things.

But they were getting rich. Peter sensed that it was too good to be true. He hadn’t asked a lot of questions about Cheyenne before, but he was beginning to ask them now. Peter found it strange that a company which hadn’t really produced anything yet and didn’t really have any customers could be so highly prized. Wasn’t that the sort of exuberance that had got folks into trouble back in the 90s? Then again, what did he know? The Teestone guys were pros when it came to these things. He was just the geek.

What ate at Peter the most, though, was Braun’s patronizing attitude in meetings or on phone calls. Peter wasn’t a financial guru, and he knew that, but he didn’t like it when Braun was sarcastic or cut him short when he pointed out problems, or delays, or just basic concerns. And in those situations when Peter spoke his mind, Braun would give Timmermans a look like “who the hell is this guy?”

It angered Peter, big time. Peter was the brain behind the company. He was the kid who spent all his time working to get the network up and running while pricks like Braun were making appointments at tanning salons. The least Braun could do was show some respect.

It was all moving too fast for Peter. He needed a break, so for a time he returned to the people he knew best — career graduate students who stayed up late drinking beer and smoking cigarettes in cramped apartments with take-out cartons and used furniture they’d found on the curb.

The other principals retreated for a time, as well. Timmermans reconciled with his wife after fessing up to the Bavarian call girl in Frankfurt. His wife had taken it harder than he expected. Conversation was difficult, dinners were mainly eaten in silence, playfulness had been abandoned.

As for Michelle, she was going sailing with Hayden. 

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

 

They set out on a windy, sunny Friday. They sailed by the broad beaches of the island of Texel, with its sheep. They passed Vlieland, and then the island of Terschelling with its cranberries, and eventually the sand flats of Ameland.

Michelle loved her boat. It was a 48-foot Swan with flared topsides, a flat run aft, and a beamy, powerful stern. Long waterlines and efficient foils allowed her to easily cut through the choppy North Sea waters. Below deck, a warm, cherry interior took some of the sting out of the wind. Michelle called her
“Bandwidth”
in honor of all they were trying to achieve with Cheyenne.

The boat was the only retreat left where Michelle felt that she had some semblance of control, although as a sailor she instinctively knew that the sea had the upper hand. Her boat, indeed her life, could be stripped away if the sea felt like it.

In their more philosophical moments aboard together, Hayden and Michelle talked about the respective anchors weighing them down from what they really wanted to do with their lives. In Michelle’s case it was children, and the Calvinist notion that God’s grace came through financial success. For Hayden, it was a curiosity and wanderlust that prevented him from embracing any particular form of stability. At one point, they agreed that they envied each other, but also that if they were to trade places they would only be comfortable with a temporary arrangement.

Somewhere between the Friesian Islands and Denmark, Michelle came out with it. Hayden had been half expecting it. Anytime he was with her she made him feel like an involuntary ambassador for Aaron Cannondale.

“Hayden, I’m going to ask you this once.”

“Shoot.”

“Did Aaron have something to do with Kuipers’ death?” Hayden paused, deeply. It wasn’t the question he thought

Michelle was going to ask him. He thought it would be more along the lines of, “Why haven’t we heard from Aaron?”

“Jesus, I don’t know, Michelle. You think Aaron had something to do with it?”

“Does he have it in him, is what I mean, Hayden.”

“I don’t think he does.”

Michelle paused. “I think you’re naive. I think he’s entirely capable. Kuipers was threatening to block the merger. He was in the way. Aaron is a puppeteer, Hayden. I’m supposed to be running the finances for this company and I don’t know what the hell is going on half the time. Aaron never returns my calls. I’m not told about certain meetings. Timmermans’ marriage is about to implode, and those assholes from Teestone always seem to be hanging around. Peter is uncontainable. What’s the point of it any longer?”

Michelle remained at the helm of her boat, looking straight ahead, stoic. Hayden faced her, perpendicular to her profile. She was sexy, and tough. He wanted her. Her blonde hair blew in the wind. Her face was sunburned; her lips slightly chapped.

“Michelle, I don’t have the answers you are looking for. I’m Aaron’s speechwriter, not his minder.”

“I know. It’s just that you spend considerably more time with him than I do.” Michelle began to anchor the boat. It was lunch time.

“The more time I spend with Aaron, Michelle, the less I feel that I really know him.”

“Why did you take the job – with Aaron, I mean?”

“Why did you take the job with Cheyenne?”

“Bit of adventure, I suppose.”

“Bingo.”

“I could do with a little less adventure at the moment, Hayden. Know what I mean?” Michelle motioned to move into the cabin to have something to eat. Hayden ducked as he made his way down.

They prepared a simple spread of Gouda, olives, herring, bread, tomatoes and a bit of wine. Hayden could see the stress in her face. She opened more wine.

“How much time have you spent with the guys from Riga-Tech, Michelle?”

“Those Latvian/Russian idiots? None.”

“I was just with them.”

“I know. I don’t think I like Russians very much.”

Hayden smiled. “Why is that?”

“Pretty significant inferiority complex going on there, don’t you think?”

“I can’t disagree with you on that.”

“And why did Aaron have you stay behind in Frankfurt anyway?”

“Intel. He wanted someone to keep an eye on them. That’s just the way he is.”

“And you don’t mind playing that role?”

“It’s not something I’m going to get too worked up about, if that’s what you mean.”

Michelle got a mischievous look in her eye. She was now sitting quite close to him. “What
does
it take to get you worked up, Hayden Campbell?” She looked into his eyes.

“Michelle … about New York … Central Park …”

She put her index finger on his lips, shook her head, and leaned in for a long, steady kiss.”

Hayden pulled back for a second. “Michelle …”

She shook her head again. “No more talking, Hayden. I can’t stand to talk anymore. I just need it to be quiet.”

Hayden looked at her for a moment. He stroked her forehead. She was vulnerable. He knew that, but he didn’t care. She didn’t care. She wanted a distraction from the headaches of Cheyenne, Aaron, satellites and Russians, and Hayden was it.

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

Hayden was back in the U.S. and on his way to Detroit with Aaron, who had been invited to speak to a special session of the Economic Club of Detroit. The topic was what it was going to take to get the economy back on its feet. It was the kind of venue Hayden loved writing for — a high-profile audience with a serious issue at hand, the

kind that would allow his client to temporarily sidestep the quotidian rituals of quarterly earnings and stockholder returns. In a world that had gone visual, it was one of the last places left where words still mattered.

After a typically flattering introduction by the chairman of a local bank, Aaron rose slowly and deliberately in the center of the threetiered Cobo Hall dais filled with Detroit’s auto moguls, politicians and what seemed to him to be an unusual number of black Baptist pastors.

Aaron wasn’t a flag waver, but he was about to give the most patriotic speech he’d ever given. He paused at the podium like an Olympic diver balancing on the platform before a dive. Then he leapt.

BOOK: Bandwidth
3.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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