“Silicon Valley parties are notoriously dour.” So begins This Is Rage, a novel we are serializing chapter by chapter. This is Chapter One.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: We are excited to be syndicating the first section of Ken Goldstein’s new novel, This Is Rage, published by The Story Plant. Ken is a long-time Good Men Project contributor, member of Good Men Media, Inc.’s Board of Directors, and has a long history with business and start-ups. This is his first novel. So in the grand tradition of Rolling Stone, who first serialized Bonfire of the Vanities, we proudly present you with This Is Rage. For more background, why Ken wrote the book and why he’s rolling it out this way, read his welcome post, here.
In Tres Partes Divisa Est
Silicon Valley parties are notoriously dour. Some might call them misfit assemblies accompanied by hot and cold hors d’ouvres, mixers where thin manners connect the awkward with the hopeful. If you watched The Social Network in your dorm room, migrated your way to Palo Alto and thought your clever code would land you a Victoria’s Secret model, you were playing for the wrong prize. Forget bikinis, forget bikini waxes, no clinging starlets in lingerie on this peninsula. Truly good wine, that you would find in abundance, and tension-filled stuffiness in every brief exchange. Quiet new money, a quantum inability to fully distinguish between the wackiest of ideas and the next Built-to-Last initial public offering, and elevator pitches that replaced pleasantries, these are the fabric of high-tech social outings. Conversation is a conduit for data extraction, all else is a caustic slide to the next body behind the one currently boring you with an algorithm declared certain for patent award. If that was your idea of a party, you would have come to the right place.
Today’s Sunday afternoon affair was no different. Truth is, manicured lawns were so far removed from geek reality, you had to wonder why you were even there. You were there because someone told you to be there. You were not coding and you were not having fun. What was the point? Fund or get funded.
The decade since Google’s IPO was a time when doors could be opened with impossibly few words, depending on those in the discussion. Like any viable economic ecosystem, Silicon Valley had sized its hierarchy, although here the moving parts were more paradigm than absolute. At the top of any pyramid are always names of substance and continuity, and while every now and again a Buffett-like brand might escape to the public headlines, these were intentionally few. Fame was important in the Valley, but not public fame, that could cost you big money. The Valley was the home of the non-disclosure agreement, the NDA, a much honored but fully irrelevant ritual where The Parties agreed to plot in obscurity. Relationships were built on narrow fame, on reputation and track record, most evaluated by the size and financing arrangements of your private plane.
Three castes of characters ruled the Valley, which like Hollywood had become far more a state of mind than a GPS specific location. While your name could move up or down within your own vertical, your caste was largely set by the way you tallied your hours. At the top of the world were Investors—venture capitalists, private equity managers, angels, anything that was not public money or widely available for the asking. The media would have you believe the world had changed and ideas were the currency of the information age, but the media were not even part of the calculus, they were exchange-traded aftermarket concessions who got just about everything wrong because no one ever asked them to sign an NDA. Nothing had changed. Current money was the fuel of all future value. Investors were Boss, Master, the Absolute Vote. Anyone who questioned that, well, good luck getting your Series-A.
Directly below Investors were Bankers. This was mostly unfair, but Bankers had little problem with it. In terms of starting salaries, they won. A top twenty MBA grad who was brave enough not to go into management consulting and smart enough not to get on the treadmill of corporate climbing could hit the ground running as an analyst and build a following quickly to ascend to managing director—never really adding specific value to any equation but always taking buckets of cash off the table in an IPO, private sale, equity raise, or debt placement. Ask any civilian what a Banker actually did and they would mention something about the desks behind the ATMs in the office at the strip mall, they had no clue. Bankers liked this, it was their secret society, they even invented language to describe new forms of deal constructs around which analogies were not even possible. Money for Nothing, but the hours were excruciating, the document generation an insult to the environment, and the career longevity dire. The old joke prevailed, “What do you call a forty-year-old Banker?” A failure.
At point three in the triangle were Operators, sometimes called entrepreneurs, founders, CEOs, presidents, general managers. They started companies, or took over from people who started companies, then built and ran things. They almost always came up through some functional discipline, perhaps two-thirds as engineering geeks and a third as sales and marketing wonks, then they became generalists, leaders, visionaries, creatures of passion. They were Operators for only one reason: they could not imagine themselves doing any other thing. Nor were they likely employable, who could manage such an unmovable beast? When you made things for a living, that was a life choice. The hours were equally abusive as those of Investors and Bankers, but the lows lower and the highs almost non-existent. Way more products failed than succeeded, and on the few occasions an Operator found a win, the reward from Investors and Bankers was a request for a comparable forecast—what else do you have and when will you have it? Operators seldom had the academic credentials to become Bankers, but never forgot their own starting salaries were sweat equity while the Bankers flying first class too easily forgot to return their phone calls—until the Operator danced with an Investor, then the phone calls were endless. Operators stalked Investors like adolescent boys tracking high maintenance co-eds at a gymnasium dance, always ready to recite the elevator pitch, terrified of the response, clumsy to a level of vaudeville entr’acte that soon became annoyance. Sand Hill Road was the dance hall, Operators knew the addresses and the names, but until the first big win, that was mostly good for bar chat. After the initial hit, the mating ritual reversed—Operators became gold and Investors prowled.
Investors, Bankers, Operators. All three needed each other, no value creation without the triad. Each of the castes retained profound contempt for the others. None could figure out why anyone would do what the others had chosen as a career. Investors wondered why any Operator would work that hard, wagering it all on a single line item bet, allowing their failures to be publicly displayed and their successes shakedown exploited. If you were smart enough to be an Operator, you could be an Investor, so why didn’t you? Many former Operators eventually did become Investors, only to discover that with few exceptions they had been hoodwinked, they could have bypassed the whole of Operating and gone straight to Investing. Oh well. Investors barely acknowledged that Bankers existed, they were support services, worthy of being interviewed even after they had done a dozen deals for you, unworthy of any praise. Bankers loathed Investors because, as sales people, they ceded all power to the client, and how can you possibly admire the power that can sever your fee with a phone call? Bankers laughed at Operators; who would ever want to weather mandates from Investors and be exposed to the wild odds set by Bankers? Operators had little understanding of what Bankers really did other than introduce them at conferences and give them thick documents that validated, with equal lack of predictability, why their companies were worth more or less than they thought they were. Investors and Bankers collected Tombstones, those acrylic shelf pieces with their company logos that marked liquidity events, and Operators noted their Tombstone collections were much smaller than those of the other castes. Investors and Bankers bet with their time and dollars. Operators bet with their souls.
Where did worlds collide? At parties, forced backyard affairs the nature of this one in the elite flats of Atherton, which just seemed like so much fun, you could hardly wait for the last passed tray of vegan canapés to go soggy and the valet to bring back your Maserati. There were others in attendance, lawyers mostly, but they were not in the club. Occasionally a professor would sneak in, but almost always he was an aspiring minority Investor, limited partner, or board member to be. With real estate exuding fate like no other, Stanford had produced more than its share of invitees, and it would be hard to call this an accident. Today it was tenured Professor George Yamanaka holding court.
“Who could have guessed at the dawn of the twenty-first century, that the seminal technology upon which five thousand years of modern science had resulted in was the click?” intoned Yamanaka to a small assembly of would-be Operators. “Of all mankind’s Faustian discoveries, efficient advertising has entranced the capital markets.”
Yamanaka was reminiscing about the geyser IPO less than five years ago of EnvisionInk Systems, a company that had thwarted the search engines. Any chance to lecture, rehearsed or extempore, and the real Yamanaka would joyfully recite on cue. Prior to paid search advertising, companies bought their media blind. After paid search they bought it even more blind, but at least they could measure return on investment, so the peddlers of keywords told them. EnvisionInk had launched with a contrarian paradigm, showing much abused corporate customers how to beat the hype and save money through proprietary study patterns that suppressed overpriced clicks before bidders lost their bait. It was math, not magic, a practiced educator like Yamanaka knew any formula could be unspooled—but how to make every ad dollar work harder by applying history and context to reach and frequency, that was disruptive and defensible. These patented processes were theirs alone, the celebrated antidote allowing clients to save vast fortunes avoiding unprofitable keyword buys one at a time. Advertisers had been rescued, and EnvisionInk catapulted to preeminence through a combination of insight, execution, good timing in the face of skepticism, and a touch of luck. The company not only led the industry, it led the equity markets. So rare were companies this closely watched, the riches they generated made reason a punch line. Most academics could mine trends. Yamanaka had dug out something entirely more prized.
“You see that fellow over there?” continued Yamanaka. “That is Daniel Steyer. He was the lead Investor on EnvisionInk. He bet big on some students of mine when no one else would. Later he was gracious enough to bring me on as a director. He is the fellow who saw it coming, that good clicks needn’t have to pay for bad clicks, and how dodging the wrong bits of text could be transformed into white water cash streams.”
“What do you suspect he’s worth?” posed a would-be apostle, donned in the Operator’s uniform of vogue, the grey hoodie sweatshirt.
The Professor found the question flat, a difficult bridge. “How would one know?” he replied. “He has what he needs, ten figures I suppose. I’m not sure his wife knows and they still like each other. More importantly, he understands liquidity, without which wealth is just a scorecard.”
The young fellow who had asked the question seemed unaware he was out of line. Asking someone’s net worth was chit chat for the other end of California. In Brentwood or Pacific Palisades you might schmooze around the topic of income. Glib exchange always trumped tact south of Santa Barbara. In the Valley, you either knew the answer or were polite enough not to ask. Learning such etiquette took time and acquired polish. The friend standing next to him seemed to understand and nudged him accordingly.
“If we had an idea to pitch Mr. Steyer, would this be an appropriate forum?” asked his buddy. Yamanaka sensed that the words did not come naturally to this kid, in many ways just another wide-eyed aspirant like so many around campus, but too strained in the ask. He and his partner may have come with a mission, but they had not had much practice. They were not alone. Just as the North American continent tilted up and to the right each spring for film students to roll west down Interstate 10 to Hollywood, the techies all slid down Interstate 80 along the melting spring snow line, crossed the demon route failed by the Donner Party and planted themselves in the Bay Area. That is, unless they were from the Bay Area, in which case they were likely to be even worse dressed.
“Daniel Steyer will listen to almost anything,” said the Professor. “That’s a meaningful component of what makes him good. Your question should be, how many seconds of his time can you command? He has seen more business plans than exist in all the world’s finest business schools. You see, memory is key, and his is photographic.”
The two hopefuls were not sure what to make of this, as Yamanaka so often scripted it. They wanted more, but Yamanaka found them light. With a polite gesture of his index finger, he ended the mini-lecture and made his way toward Steyer.
Daniel Steyer admired talent more than the people who possessed it, his ability to recall both unmistakably tagged to writing down losses or capitalizing the unimaginable. To say that he had a photographic memory was equal parts understatement and hyperbole. Certainly he could not remember everyone’s name on the lawn, but he could remember in detail the first memory map for the XT he had financed in the early days, when so few could see what was coming. Steyer knew that manipulating memory was the key to getting a computer to do what it was not supposed to do, just as remembering what the talent wanted was the key to getting them to do what they were not supposed to do, or at least what they never intended to do. Computer memory had fundamental protocols. Violate those for your own shortcuts and you would be looking at a crash. People, too.
Steyer slid up to the bar, did not even have to ask, they handed him some medium-aged Cabernet he pretended to appreciate. All those private vineyards purchased for chatter, all those favors to secure the latest cult label, none of it made sense, so much money entombed. He was a fine-looking front man with a Jack Kennedy side part and just enough grey to let you know he had heard too many clichés for one lifetime. Noble trim at an uncompromised six feet, he had been at this well over thirty-five years now and cherished the recollection of what it was like to start with nothing, mostly because he helped new entrants do it every day. What he did not remember was the name of the fast-approaching pitch person suddenly targeting him, only that he was a peripheral Banker to whom he had said “no” more than a dozen times.
“Daniel Steyer, we among you.” Steyer thought he might vomit spontaneously, just to avoid the sales speak the B-team drone was not even trying to mask.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” choked Steyer. “I can’t quite remember your . . .” The grape would get him through this, or so he prayed.
“Charles McFrank, Dardley Scott Silverman, we’re a boutique investment bank. Focus on quick post-mezzanine sales, private to private, some public market currencies now and again . . .”
“I know your firm, you’ve pitched to me before,” said Steyer. “I really don’t have anything for you.”
“Maybe I have something for you,” said McFrank. “EnvisionInk is a flawless shop, no doubt, but I’m working with a new caching solution you might want to look at.”
“I don’t look at caching solutions,” replied Steyer. “We have a management team that does that.”
“And they are here, are they not?” asked McFrank. “An introduction would be much appreciated. You lead the trail by blazing it.”
An introduction, thought Steyer, that was not much to ask. So why was he annoyed? It was his party, introductions were why he invited the crowd. So what if he no longer needed middlemen. He was admired for his willingness to broker a kind handshake. He was the introduction, the one that mattered, the one they would remember when valuations were set. Like Yamanaka said, Steyer put his firm’s money where others were blind and had delivered for his partners a lottery ticket like few others, an uncharted win that would make the history books, top-tier compounding that most risk managers saw only in prayers. His photographic memory, that was his power jab. He had read the business plan of Calvin Choy and Stephen J. Finkelman with a scope of knowledge that conjured prescience. Steyer had seen in Choy and Finkelman the kind of company builders that made Yamanaka’s campus assessment pay out. They were more than students—not glamour hounds, not reckless pivotors, but notably gifted software engineers whose disciplined studies unveiled chance where others saw obstacles. Choy and Finkelman were that solid, pure talent, gold in Fort Knox West stacked by the craft that Steyer wished to be revered as strategy, but really came down to balls.
“You want to meet the boys?” asked Steyer, turning away from the bar, acknowledging the irritant McFrank if for no other reason than duty. “Let me see if I can find them.”
“There’s a rumor on the street EnvisionInk may get bought by Atom Heart Entertainment,” blurted McFrank. “It would be a heck of a way to for them to diversify. Institutional funds know convergence isn’t going away in our lifetime. With fatter margins, they’re prime to heavy up at choice premiums. Showbiz is now tech biz, the smartest people just have to stay in charge.”
Steyer said nothing. McFrank’s game was sloppy. Steyer had not risen to the throne by babbling innuendo. Steyer placed information, legally, selectively. Still there was something about McFrank that kept him from bolting. McFrank seemed starved, a guy who needed a big win real soon and would serve up value to reserve a favor.
“We’ve approached Atom Heart, pitched them hard with an honest story, but they’re chiseled in with the Wall Street mausoleums,” continued McFrank. “It would really make our name to advise you in a sale, ensure the fairness opinion supports the take out price—pushing comfort appropriately, more than worth the fee.”
Steyer tried to admire his persistence, without the dogged there would be no Valley, but his patience was legendarily thin. “There’s no deal to advise, we’re barely out of the gate. I said I would introduce you to our guys. Should I change my mind?”
“No, I appreciate that,” said McFrank. “Thank you, I’ll be here.”
“I know that,” said Steyer.
“And I’ll owe you,” bid McFrank. “I never forget someone who helps me.”
Steyer knew that too, but he was not sure about following through on the introduction. He knew he had to get away or the conversation with McFrank was going to turn toward insult, either that or an unintended violation of securities law. Steyer liked to sell as well, particularly the art of closing, but like most career money guys, he had little tolerance for being oversold. It was not that his ego was out of check, simply that he believed his time was of such immense value, he measured conversations in sentence fragments the way programmers counted lines of code.
Steyer looked around for Choy and Finkelman, but the landscape was a blur of breathable textiles. Not less than two hundred, not more than three hundred, all blue blazers except for the occasional hoodie accompanied by sneakers. Since this was a party of homage and prospecting, the crowd was over-weighted with Investors and Bankers. That did not give Steyer great pleasure, at this stage in his lifecycle he did not need to meet any more Investors or Bankers. His younger, better educated partners at the near mythic SugarSpring Ventures had suggested on more than one occasion they keep the invitation list narrow so their image reflected increased scarcity, but that had never been Steyer’s style. His annual backyard gathering had become part of the tight-ticket-must-attend-if-asked circuit, but throughout the years the original purpose of talent attraction had never been lost on Steyer. Part old school, always the pragmatist, he knew without an open door talent could not get to him. A little friction to filter the poseurs, he could do that with an offstage glance, but they had to come through the gate. Talent was the lifeblood that mattered, a dream and a plan. The younger partners surely had a point, invention was rare, and while Steyer knew when to stop listening, lately he had begun thinking his tricks might be getting tired. Maybe it was time for him to get out, but not today.
Yamanaka intercepted him. “Tell me again why you do this every year,” goaded the Professor.
“I was just thinking the same thing,” replied Steyer. “You hearing anything about Atom Heart?”
Yamanaka looked surprised. “Not at all, not outside our circle. Is it leaking?”
“Yeah, I don’t know how wide. Some Banker from Dardley Scott just asked me if we were represented.”
“Not good,” replied Yamanaka. “Especially since the seller doesn’t yet agree we’re a seller.”
Steyer nodded. “We have to keep a lid on this or we’re going to have a fiasco. Choy and Finkelman still aren’t on board. If it gets out that we’re considering something and we’re not ready to act, we’ll have to stay organic for at least a few quarters to keep the stock out of play.”
“Also not good,” offered The Professor. “Internal product development has been lifeless. Our stock price reflects that. No innovation, no improving multiples.”
“I have enough trouble selling this internally, I don’t need the SEC camping out in our cafeteria,” defended Steyer. “Meanwhile, cash flow keeps getting stronger, our standalone position is enviable.”
“But predictable,” returned Yamanaka. “The ticker doesn’t reflect our top line, because it all comes from a single source, no more triple digit growth rate.”
“I love it when you teach me my side of the business,” said Steyer. “Got any new students for me to meet, someone with a big idea we can leverage?”
“Not mine, but there are a few here I don’t recognize,” offered Yamanaka. “I was just chatting with two newbies across the yard. They weren’t at all familiar with the terrain. You might want to wander over and see what they have.”
“Great, my kind of crashers, the only reason for me to be here. Let’s hope they can levitate a brick.”
Steyer made his way back to the staging of Yamanaka’s soap box and eyed the two lost hoodies in the crowd. As expected he did not recognize them, but that was not unusual. Deal memory placed all the Bankers and Investors into mind storage, but new blood had to be encoded. No chance these two were Investors or Bankers. They were Operators without invitations, Operator wannabes more likely. That was either a payday five years in the future or an exit whistle instantly. It would not take more than a minute to find out.
“Gentlemen, have we funded one of your companies?” opened Steyer.
There was silence. Boys among deity.
“Has someone else here backed one of your projects, someone I might know?”
Still silence. This was their opening, but it was not going in the right direction.
“Do you fellows have a new product to share, a business model of some sort?”
Steyer’s gift of the one-minute hearing was ticking down to time out, but just at the moment he was hedging to turn away, he felt his legs buckle. It was as though something had hit him, he wasn’t sure what, but there was acute pain behind his left knee. A blood clot? Snake bite? The possibilities raced through his mind as his weight overcame his balance. Next thing he knew his head hit the grass, he was on his stomach, face down. The only variant that had not registered in his brain was the incident actually occurring.
“What we have for you is not an ordinary proposition,” said uninvited Hoodie One.
“We’ll need for you to come with us,” added uninvited Hoodie Two.
Steyer had hit the ground without much noise or prelude, so most of the party continued. As a small group nearby looked over to see if the fallen giant was okay, Steyer realized that uninvited Hoodie One had eased behind him during their brief, stalled conversation and walloped him behind his knee with something incredibly hard. That’s when he saw what he had been hit with, the handle of a handgun.
“Guys, get out of here, this isn’t going to happen.”
Hoodie One awkwardly drew down on Steyer. “Let’s go, Mr. V.C.”
“You broke something in my leg,” said Steyer. “I don’t think I can get up. I know I can’t walk. You need to leave.”
Steyer tried to ignore the pain, to pretend a thick sweat was not already building above his eyebrows. He could still see clearly, but he was not sure for how long. The crowd around him, his personal and professional guests all around the lawn, all at once they knew this was not just a bad party, it was a party interrupted. Steyer needed it to be contained. He could neither be the nucleus of rumors nor open the barn for wolves.
“I said let’s go,” continued Hoodie One. “I can carry you or drag you, your call.”
Steyer was not budging, not only for pain, but for principle. “Guys, there’s armed security all around the property, in about four minutes you’re going to be in handcuffs.”
“In four minutes we’ll be in another zip code,” said Hoodie One as he rammed the gun barrel in Steyer’s mouth and yanked him to his feet. Steyer felt a dull, numbing pain in his upper jaw. He reached up to his mouth, trying to push it aside to let enough air into his throat to breathe. At least one of his front teeth was missing. He didn’t know about the other one, the gun barrel lodged between his tongue and molars. He looked around him, at the yard of sycophants his fortune had attracted, at their near frozen state of fear.
Hoodie Two draped Steyer’s arm over his shoulder and started to push-pull him through the crowd, his partner shadowing the death march with the gun still in Steyer’s mouth. “Let us through or he loses all his teeth,” shouted Hoodie One. Steyer again pushed past the pain. He heard concerned mutters in the crowd, but could not believe they were doing what they were told, standing back, no bravery to be had. Of course things like this did not happen in Atherton, but were these people on lithium? Here they were, sealed within an armed commando attack on a reserve canteen, and not one of them had a clue how to respond. Maybe it was more than that.
Postponing the despair of abandonment, Steyer saw his wife Riley, making her way across the compound, pushing through the chaos. As Yamanaka had hinted, Steyer was somewhat unique among his peers in that he had remained devoted to Riley all their many years, which paralleled his rise to distinction. Most of his partners had suffered the expected mid-life crises and made spectacles of themselves with trophy accompaniment, but not Steyer. An award-winning author with a deft sense of the sardonic, Riley had been there on day zero, and she would be there on day last. Steyer wondered what she was thinking, the hope that this was not going to be day last, how with their security bill did two geek thugs get on their property with a gun, or why was no one helping her husband? Had she figured out what he knew, that everyone here had come to drink his wine and pitch their hearts out? She always wanted to have more faith in people than he could, but she never forgot that protecting him from his own opportunism meant calling out the heartless even when it meant leaving money on the table.
“Dan, they aren’t going to get you off the property,” she cried. “Security has the fence sealed and we called nine-one-one. This is already over, they just don’t know it.”
“Lady, if we don’t get off the property, you’re going to find yourself stupid lonely in this fairy princess estate,” belted Hoodie One, stuffing the gun deeper in Steyer’s mouth. “We’re going, that’s it.”
“He has to be with us,” said Hoodie Two, bracing himself under Steyer’s frame.
Hoodie One and Two continued forcing their way toward the gate, the crowd stepping back, parting without prompting. Shock had replaced maneuvering, too many blue blazers, not enough street sense. Steyer tried to talk but could not, the gun was wholly jammed down his throat. It was all he could do to stay conscious while his feet bumped along the pathway. His knee was swelling, his jaw throbbed, his full weight now loading down the torso of Hoodie Two while Hoodie One managed to keep the gun in his mouth. Steyer looked at Riley and did not know if this would be her final memory of him, seeing him hauled away with mud stains by a pair of no-name criminals.
“Don’t worry, Lady, you’ll hear from someone, not us,” offered Hoodie Two. “This can all end fine, we just gotta get out of here.”
“You got the valet timed?” said Hoodie One.
“Car should be there waiting,” said Hoodie Two.
“You valet parked?” cried Riley. “You crashed our party and you think you’re walking out with my husband? You’re really not that smart.”
“We made the guest list,” said Hoodie One. “We thank your husband for his open door policy.”
They were almost to the gate now. At the rim fence stood the rent-a-uniforms, but everyone knew they were unarmed. Question was, how fast could nine-one-one respond, and how good were these guys at tying down their exit? They sure did not seem like pros. Police sirens wailed in the distance. Perhaps the Steyers’ tax dollars had been better spent on municipal services than the cash retainer for security detail. It would be close.
As Steyer’s knees pushed toward the gate, through his haze he saw his prodigies Choy and Finkelman arriving. They were young, and they owed him, he thought. Maybe they would do something. Imagine their surprise, arriving at Steyer’s Tudor mansion, late to a fault, only to find uniforms on the street, sirens in the background, and their board chairman being dragged through his own yard with a gun barrel down his throat.
Steyer kept focus as the hoodies pulled him across to the street, where the three of them were equally startled by the sound of the lawn sprinklers. It was McFrank. He had found the throttle and turned the key setting of the irrigation system. No question, this was his in, heroics for a chance at serious commission. In seconds at the street curb, water was everywhere. At the same time, up the street was a pair of dispatched police sedans, blue lights spinning, a third of a mile away at most. Across the gate, Hoodie One and Two noted their retrieved SUV, ordinary as ten thousand others, parked and ready to go with a stored second set of plates primed to be deployed on exit.
McFrank dove at Hoodie One, the one with the gun down Steyer’s throat. As all three men slipped in the water, the gun hit the ground. Hoodie Two quickly retrieved the loose gun, put it in Hoodie One’s grip, then opened the tail door of his SUV. He knew they only had seconds remaining to finish the job, with very few options.
As McFrank struggled with Hoodie One, he found his attack stance far more valiant than his fighting ability. He was a Banker who picked up a lot of dinner tabs, and although he had wrestled high school junior varsity, that was several decades and forty pounds ago. Hoodie One had him by at least twenty years, and each blow to the head was weakening him. Steyer tried to pull away, but his head was even lighter, his focus unclear. Not allowing himself to pass out, Steyer saw Choy and Finkelman diving into the fray. They had figured it out, the numbers clearly on their side. Steyer thought this just might end reasonably, as his wife observed, the pair in control were not bastions of intellect. That argument might or might not hold, depending on their level of desperation, the look of confusion he saw in their eyes he had committed to memory. Unfortunately, he did not even hear the gunshot that ripped apart half of Finkelman’s left lower leg. Finkelman was fast losing blood. Steyer lost consciousness.
It was all George Yamanaka could do to hold back Riley Steyer from lunging at the intruders, weaponless, but determined nonetheless to get to her husband, thirty feet of life risk beyond their driveway. Yamanaka would not let her go, he knew better, that this at least he owed Steyer. The mess around them was more than he could analyze, he simply knew there was value in winding down what he could, protect the wife. Less pain, just prevent more pain.
Hoodie One held up the gun. The blast had silenced the crowd again. Yamanaka saw that Steyer was out cold, too heavy to move. He knew that Hoodie One and his partner were out of time, they had to make a move, any move.
“In the car,” shouted Hoodie One at Choy and Finkelman.
Hoodie Two started the car, then taking guidance from his partner, jumped to the curb, grabbed Choy by the midsection and managed to hurl him into the rear cargo section of the SUV. Hoodie One approached Finkelman, on his back, half under the hood.
“You want no legs?” yelled Hoodie One. “In the car!” Finkelman tried to drag himself on his one good knee away from the SUV, toward the gate. Hoodie One looked at him, then back at Choy. “In the SUV or your friend loses a leg, too. That’s one warning more than you got.”
Finkelman could not pull himself to his feet, but stopped crawling. He did not want his partner, his friend, to be where he was. “You gotta help me get there,” said Finkelman. “I can’t walk.”
Hoodie One approached, paused, cold-cocked him with the pistol handle. Finkelman was out, same as Steyer, but he was closer to the SUV, and many pounds lighter. Hoodie Two was back at the wheel of the SUV, ready to drop it into gear. The police were now pulling to a stop, both cars, four officers. Yamanaka saw McFrank trying to wave them off, signaling them to pause, but they were still coming, hesitant momentarily in assessing the suburban calamity. Too much edge, it was all about to explode.
“Grab him,” yelled Hoodie One at McFrank. You wanna be Superman, save his life. Help me put him in the SUV.”
McFrank looked back at Yamanaka, his body still blocking Steyer’s wife from coming at them. Yamanaka tilted his head guardedly to let McFrank know it was the right thing to do. It was clear McFrank had no choice, his options were to help load-out Finkelman or watch him take a second bullet and be memorialized in the street. McFrank nodded and lifted Finkelman’s upper body. Hoodie One handed the gun back to his partner through the car window and heaved the lower half into the SUV’s back seat.
As Hoodie One closed the car door and made his way for the passenger seat, Choy leaned over from the cargo hold, saw his unconscious friend, leg half blasted, and knew he was all in. In one swift move, he threw himself over the seat edge, hurling his body at Hoodie Two’s gun hand. Coming up short on the reach, Choy got a piece of Hoodie Two’s hand but not control and landed instead flat on Finkelman. Caught off guard by Choy, Hoodie Two slammed his gun hand through the backseat window and damn it all, another shot rang out. This time McFrank dropped to the ground. It was not clear to Yamanaka who had popped the trigger—Hoodie Two or Choy—but it was clear that McFrank was not going to make it.
His hand shaking, Hoodie Two tossed the gun to Hoodie One, shifted the SUV into gear and pulled away as quickly as it would accelerate, planting skid marks on El Camino Real. The extra seconds had counted, local law enforcement arriving on scene too late to do anything but attend to the afflicted. The SUV was gone, another department’s chase if it could be found.
Yamanaka stepped forward through the gate and Riley ran to her thrashed husband. The Professor gazed at McFrank’s splattered sport coat torn to shreds, a collage of acquired business cards from the day scattered on the pavement. The afternoon’s hijinks were complete. The tally? One dead Banker, one beaten and unconscious Investor, two accidentally kidnapped Operators, one of them badly wounded. Not your ordinary Silicon Valley social affair, this one would deliver vast unwanted headlines.
Yamanaka would be the first witness interviewed by the Atherton police, knowing the investigation would soon be escalated to state or federal authorities. For whatever reason, the only thing going through his head was that yesterday he had filed a disclosure and placed an order to sell ten thousand shares of EnvisionInk in the upcoming open window for insiders. The stock had closed Friday at $135, with a still coveted price-earnings ratio, a P/E of fifty-five. Clearly he was not going to get that price.
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Chapter 2, “It’s Terrestial”, will be published on August 12.
This Is Rage: Serialization Schedule
We will be serializing the complete first section of This Is Rage.
This Is Rage: Serialization Schedule
We will be serializing the complete first section of This Is Rage.
August 5……..In Tres Partes Divisa Est
August 12…….It’s Terrestrial
August 19…… Never Bet Against the Bozos
August 26…….Let’s Get Small
September 2….No Such Thing as CEO School
September 9….Live from the Boulevard of Broken Dreams
September 16…The House Checks and Raises
September 20…If There Were Rules Who Would Listen?
September 30…Show Me Your Bulls