Authors: Angus Morrison
Tags: #Literary, #Fiction, #General
Hayden liked this game of Aaron’s. He was inclined to do the same thing when he found himself in a conversation with someone who was talking out of their cake hole, but he didn’t have the luxury of having a Neville on the payroll. He imagined a Quasimodo-type figure locked up somewhere in the cellar of Kshanti, surrounded by walls of computers. Hayden had never actually laid eyes on Neville. They communicated by phone or email. One of the perks of being Aaron’s speechwriter was access to Neville’s services. Hayden regularly took him up on it.
Indeed, the day after Aaron had invited Hayden to Brussels, Hayden sent an email to Neville asking for additional fodder on bandwidth issues. Neville’s responses were normally curt, thorough and humorless. Despite Hayden’s many attempts to get the man to crack some sort of cyber smile through their emails, Neville wasn’t interested. On this particular day, though, Neville was downright chatty. He told Hayden that it was uncanny that he was asking for information on bandwidth because Aaron had himself asked for information on the same subject, in addition to a background check on some Dutch graduate student and a lot of information on water. He volunteered that he hadn’t seen Aaron do quite so much homework on a subject in a long time. He also mentioned that Aaron’s lobbyist in Washington, Elliot Pettigrew, was bombarding him with requests on international merger and acquisition law. Neville complained to Hayden that all this research was taking valuable time away from his latest pursuit — memorizing Swiss train timetables.
Aaron powered off his cell phone. “Do you like truffles?” he asked, slapping Hayden’s knee.
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Not to worry. Listen, we’re meeting some people at a place called La Trouffe Sympatique. Every course is served with truffles. I’d like to ask a favor. You speak French, right?”
“What about Dutch?”
“Alright then, let me give you the lay of the land. Timmermans will, of course, be there. In addition to French, he also speaks Dutch, or Flemish, you know what I mean. Don’t be surprised if he slips into multiple tongues with his colleague during the meeting.”
“A young Dutch student named Peter Van Weert. He’s the tech geek behind this company. We must make him feel part of this.”
“What is ‘this’, Aaron? I still don’t get what’s going down here exactly.”
“Did you read the article?”
Before they left, Aaron had tossed Hayden a copy of a European money magazine. It contained a piece about Timmermans’ new company, “Cheyenne” that had just been formed in the Netherlands. Despite Hayden’s tech background, Cheyenne’s goal seemed like fantasy. The premise was devilishly simple: provide virtually unlimited bandwidth to people’s homes through the existing system of municipal water pipes.
At first, Hayden was a bit surprised that Aaron seemed to be jumping into the technology so quickly, but then again, Aaron was the sixth richest man in the world; he, Hayden, was not. It was Aaron’s willingness to take such risks that had made him so rich. And the more Hayden thought about the technology, the more it actually made sense.
One of the great technology battles of the 90s that still raged into the first decade of the new century was the competition between telephone, satellite, Internet, cable and electric power companies to control the “last mile” of service to individual homes and businesses. Own the last mile and you controlled customer access to telephone, TV, movies, music and the Internet. Own the last mile and you made a lot of money.
Clearly, Aaron was contemplating an alternative to the last mile – water – and he didn’t mind going all the way to the Netherlands to get it. Timmermans acted as Cheyenne’s CEO. In the article that Hayden had read, Timmermans explained that Cheyenne’s plan was to offer a device that connected the main water supply running into homes and businesses with people’s computers. Digitized information sent from the computers would flow through the water pipes to the local water utility, which in turn would use Cheyenne-supplied technology to convert the signal and link customers up to the Internet. Data would bounce from utility to utility through water pipes across Europe, and eventually beyond. In areas that did not have adequate access to the Internet backbone, signals would have to be beamed up to satellites.
“Just tell me what Timmermans says if he slips into French for any reason, will you?” Aaron asked, smiling.
Clearly, Aaron didn’t entirely trust his friend Timmermans. Maybe it was just “bizness,” but it got Hayden thinking. He liked Aaron, liked him a lot. But he wasn’t sure he trusted him. Of the little that Hayden knew about Aaron, he was aware that the man had been a software programmer early on. Beyond that, all he knew was that Aaron was an uncommon cocktail — one part geek to two parts Machiavelli. It’s what took Lyrical from an “also ran” networking hardware company to one of the world’s premier technology names.
Hayden had seen Aaron orchestrate deals where he successfully pitted techies and executives against each other without either side knowing. By the time it was all over, he had them handing out their sisters’ phone numbers. Hayden was eager to witness the dance that was about to unfold.
“I mean to buy Cheyenne, Hayden,” Aaron announced suddenly.
“Buy it?” Hayden almost shouted. “Why not just make an initial investment?”
“Oh, I’ll do that. And then I’ll buy it. Timmermans is getting too old to make this thing work. He needs me. He’s going to screw it up. He doesn’t want to see that happen. Neither do I. I don’t like screw ups. No sir, I do not like screw ups, Hayden.”
“Does Timmermans know that you intend to buy it?”
“He wants to sell.”
“But does he know?”
“Like that kid, Peter?”
“No, Peter doesn’t know.”
“But Aaron, he’s the brains behind the entire thing.”
“Is he, Hayden? Is he really?” Aaron said with a penetrating look followed by a quick smile. And in that brief second, Hayden saw it – that “kill or be killed” instinct that Hayden imagined rose up in every species of animal around an African watering hole in the dead of summer when it’s hotter than hell and the water table is balancing just above bone dry.
“The hell with him, Hayden. Now listen, from now on, I want to elevate this whole idea of bandwidth in my speeches. Every talk that I give — PC World, Comdex, AARP, I don’t care. We need to hit this message like a piñata. Nobody has quite figured out how to provide unlimited bandwidth yet. It’s a land grab, Hayden, I’m sure of it. And, oh yeah, I hope you’re taking good notes on what we’re about to embark on here.”
“For my book, I mean.”
“Right. I’ve already filled part of a notebook. Have you thought of a title yet?”
“No, have you?”
“We’ll get there, Hayden. Don’t worry. That’s down the road. All I care about is hitting this bandwidth message. It’s gonna be big …”
Hayden let Aaron go off on his stream of consciousness carpet ride. No doubt, unlimited bandwidth would be a good thing. Even with DSL and cable modems, the Internet could be a tortoise. Hayden had often thought that waiting for Web pages to load on dial up was a bit like waiting for southerners to finish their sentences.
“It might as well be me, right, Hayden? I mean, plenty of people talk about it.
What counts is doing it, owning it. I know how to
things, Hayden. And then this kid — this wonderful Dutch kid ...”
“Yeah. This kid who doesn’t get up much before noon, this kid who finds it right there in a glass of water perched on some titty magazine next to his desk. You’ve gotta love that.”
Yeah, you do gotta love that
, Hayden thought to himself as the car pulled up to the restaurant.
“Oh, by the way, Hayden, in addition to being my speechwriter, you’re now Director of Communications.”
“Yeah. I like the sound of it, don’t you?”
“Director of Communications of what?”
“I don’t know, we’ll see.”
Aaron got out of the car first. “Monsieur Cannondale, bonsoir,” the owner beamed from the steps, reaching to shake Aaron’s hand. He was a small, fat, sycophant with a painted, Peter Lorre smile - the kind of smile that small, fat, sycophants perfect. Claude was his name. “Ça va, Claude?” Aaron said without accent. Hayden grinned.
Typical Aaron charm. He didn’t speak a word of French, but he could give the impression that he did. Inside, sumptuous women, most of whom looked more Latin than northern European, took their coats and guided them to the private room decorated in Victor Horta art nouveau.
“Don’t get too friendly with these girls,” Aaron whispered to Hayden. “They’ll break your heart.”
Hayden was introduced to Timmermans and to the boy wonder, Peter. He also met Cheyenne’s talented but quiet CFO, Michelle Vandermullen. Hayden caught himself staring at her, but not before she had caught him. She was lovely — blonde, blue eyes, red lips and a cream cheese complexion. Two of Cheyenne’s lawyers were also there, as was Aaron’s attorney — a pug-nosed Italian from Brooklyn named Fiorello Bertolini.
A throng of niceties ensued — handshakes, pats on the back, fake smiles. When the guests settled in, Claude read the menu: wild mushroom tarte with truffles, seared fois gras, asperges à la Flamande, and escargot for starters. Grilled squab with potato truffle confit and swedes, tripe a l’Armagnac, giant ravioli stuffed with wild boar and pumpkin, and steak topped with truffles and duck fat. Aperitifs were passed around — Campari, Kir Royale, Vodka, Port. Water with lemon for Aaron.
“Gentlemen,” Aaron said with a sudden tone of seriousness. With that one word the meeting had begun. “Let’s get right to it. Valuation. How is the world going to value Cheyenne? It’s not going to be an easy story to tell the general public. To some it may sound like science fiction, but then again, that’s what I like about it.”
Peter, who had been looking at Aaron skeptically from the get go, finally pinpointed what he didn’t like about this Cannondale. He reminded him of the cocky American business students he had come across while he studied at the University of North Carolina for a year. God, he disliked them — their arrogance, their one-dimensional pursuit, their almost religious belief in the power of capitalism to heal mankind’s ills.
“Look, it’s very simple, Aaron said. “Before I move on investing in this ... if I move on this ... the first thing we need to talk about is valuation.”
“What are you talking about?” Peter said abruptly. Aaron ignored Peter at first, but then turned directly toward him.
“How much do you think this thing is going to ultimately be worth, my friend?”
“I don’t know. Millions, I suppose,” Peter said.
“Millions, really?” Aaron said, slightly annoyed at Peter’s naiveté. “How many ... Two million? Two-hundred? A billion?”
“A billion sounds good,” Timmermans joked.
“You see my point. It’s ultimately only worth what the market says it’s worth. And the market will value it more favorably when it knows that someone with a track record that speaks for itself has invested — someone who is willing to assume the risk.”
“This is bullshit,” Peter squawked. One of Cheyenne’s lawyers put his hand on Peter’s forearm.
“But that’s why you came to
, isn’t it?” Aaron said. “I am that someone. And this someone is saying that this will be big. It could deliver the true promise of the Internet that everyone has been gagging for over the past decade. Forget about delivering videos to people’s doors, or online universities, or auctioning off your uncle’s baseball cards online. That’s old school. What we have before us is something that could fundamentally alter the way we live, work, play and trade.”
Aaron was good. Right about here, Hayden thought he might have heard a choir of angels and cherubs with trumpets heralding the arrival of a new day. The door to the room opened. A waiter came in with a trolley of amuse bouche and wine.
Peter stood up. “Let’s get something straight, Cannondale. You’re not going to run this company.”
“No, I’m not, Peter, that’s right,” Aaron said coolly.
going to run it, along with Timmermans and Michelle. I’m just going to be an investor.”
The others laughed. Hayden felt bad for Peter. The kid was just beginning to realize that he was the only one at the table who wasn’t on board. No one had consulted him.
“Timmermans, what the hell is going on here?” Peter asked, irate.
“It’s the best thing for Cheyenne, Peter,” Timmermans said. “You’ll be taken care of.”
“Taken care of? The hell with being taken care of. I don’t need to be taken care of.”
“Yes, you do,” Aaron said. “We all do.”
“Cut the philosophy, Cannondale,” Peter said, getting hotter. “Timmermans?”
“It’s just business, Peter.”
, Hayden thought to himself. What a funny little phrase. He never really understood what it meant. It was a license for two or more parties to obtain what they needed, or wanted. It could also be a license to put one’s morality on a shelf until such time that one needed it again. There was a lot that Hayden didn’t understand about business - a lot that he didn’t want to understand. But he couldn’t help but be glued to the bull fight playing out before him. Aaron was toying with the kid like a matador with a red cape.
“You’re about to give the whole goddam thing away, Timmermans,” Peter said, hurt.
The lawyer, Bertolini, opened his leather attaché case. “Taking into account significant regulatory hurdles, the necessary coordination with the European Commission, and the initial risk involved with an unproven technology, Mr. Cannondale’s Lyrical, through its U.S. subsidiary, Cheyenne Acquisition Corp., is prepared to make an initial investment of $90 million, leading to the eventual purchase of Cheyenne B.V. of the Netherlands
which our bankers currently value at several hundred million dollars.”