Kimo Balthazer’s internet radio show, This Is Rage, has two very special guests on air today — Ben and Jerry, the two kidnappers trying to negotiate the deal of a lifetime.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This is the eighth chapter in the ongoing syndication of the first section of Ken Goldstein’s new novel, This Is Rage, published by The Story Plant. Need to read other chapters first? Check them out here.
Balthazer awoke to two emails flagged with red exclamation points, accompanied by the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth that he had associated with such urgency in his preference settings. The sun was not quite up, a sight with which he was unfamiliar, particularly looking through the frayed, nearly translucent synthetic white curtains of his Salinas motel room. Surmising that Salinas Valley Memorial would be extremely limited entry following his show yesterday, he had planned to get up early, to make his way to the hospital site before the crowds combined with the cops created too much of an obstacle course. Thus the predawn wake up salutation proved to be opportune, if not pleasant. There was also no love lost between him and the local motel he had selected, amenities rivaling Motel 6, again selected solely for its free Wi-Fi, willingness to take cash, and not ask any questions beyond how many keys he wanted. Balthazer imagined his listenership in this struggling agricultural support town would not be tremendous, and was pleased he could move about freely without being recognized. With the exception of Limbaugh and Stern, almost any radio personality could enjoy the obscurity of their celebrity, whether local or national, although a talk show host always risked an enamored fan sighting, particularly after midnight in a suburban Denny’s. In Salinas, Balthazer was safe—until his remote webcast would light up the grid in just a few hours.
The first of the two emails heating up his laptop screen in bright block text was a dire warning from the Internet Service Provider that hosted his website, demanding that he instantly upgrade his billing plan or ThisIsRage.com would be dropped. Balthazer had enjoyed the graciousness of McDonald’s free Wi-Fi from their parking lot, but he never anticipated the almost one hundred thousand concurrent visitors to his site, nor the cost of bandwidth associated with real-time callers flooding their servers with dialogue. No problem, he logged into his ISP, changed his plan to unlimited, even entered a backup credit card in case his current one on file might be cancelled. What did he care? He was not going to pay the bill until he had income again. If they wanted to charge him more for bandwidth, he would carry it on a revolving balance and pay the minimum monthlies until all his credit was exhausted. This was a critical business expense, and the only thing that mattered to Balthazer was that he was back in business.
The second email alert was much stranger, more intriguing, but not nearly as easy to digest. In the From line appeared the address [email protected] and in the Subject line were the words “Ben & Jerry Phone Number.” At first Balthazer thought this was a hoax, someone messing with his mind, or worse, a phishing expedition looking to steal his identity or crash his system. Wary but unable to ignore the item in his inbox, he took the bait and opened it:
We don’t know each other, but we both have an interest in Calvin Choy and Stephen J. Finkelman. My name is Daniel Steyer. I am the Board Chair at EnvisionInk Systems. Our co-CEOs were abducted from a party at my home. When you dial the phone number (888) 555-6789 to get Ben and Jerry on the phone, you will know this email is authentic because according to them only we have it. They will be surprised to get your call. We are hopeful that you and your participatory audience might be able to persuade them to walk out of the hospital building in an act of willing surrender before anything more troubling occurs. Our belief is that the peer pressure of the crowd is the best chance we have for this to end without violence. The value to you, as I understand the proposition of media, cannot be underestimated. Your popularity will increase exponentially, and you may even set a new live event audience record for an internet talk show. Should Choy and Finkelman be released as a result of your dialogue, you will be lauded as a hero. Please respond to this email if you find this of interest, along with any needs we can provide.
Kind regards, Daniel Steyer.
Balthazer had no idea if this was a game of true and false or truth or dare. To respond to the email could give the sender confirmation that he had been authenticated, in which case his computer could be subject to hacker attack. To ignore it was his safest bet, but the outreach it offered if real could be outrageously opportunistic. Balthazer had originally imagined going to the hospital site, collecting information locally, then coming back to the motel for more free Wi-Fi. If the hospital could provide him with a wireless field connection, his show could be a live on-site remote, and if Steyer’s offer was real, include direct communication with Ben and Jerry, maybe even Choy and Finkelman. The risk was absolutely justified. He hit reply.
If this is really you, and I’m not convinced it is, forward a wireless network I can log onto from the hospital area and an encryption key. Lock the channel just for me so I have enough bandwidth for the broadcast. BTW, no commitment of any kind on the content of my show, no input from you or anyone else. Deal?—KB
Balthazer hit send and looked down the list of his “regular status” emails. There were hundreds, too many to read, but the subject lines all carried a bizarre, similar theme:
Subject: Maybe more CEOs should be taken hostage.
Subject: Give executives the same misery they create.
Subject: Corporate crime is crime.
Subject: Leave the criminals to the criminals.
Subject: Who cares about a couple of rich dudes?
Subject: Choy & Finkelman no better than Ben & Jerry.
Subject: Let them croak.
It was a reaction that Balthazer had not at all anticipated. He thought his listeners would despise the board and the corporation. He thought they would loathe the kidnappers. What they seemed to hate most was the victims. If anything, he had expected some empathy for Choy and Finkelman. The two young prodigies had been praised far and wide, across all forms of media for setting the tone of the new economy, for taking a more human approach to business, for creating jobs and treating employees differently. That may or may not have been the case, but there certainly was no goodwill with his audience. Instead the forum reflected retribution, a crude expression of digital street justice bucketing a universal dislike of CEOs, who—even if co-CEOs—embodied in title alone a basket of badness that included greed and oppression, even if these two really were not such bad guys. EnvisionInk might have been as good at manufacturing its own storybook goodness as it was saving its advertisers money. Even Steyer, if that email was from Steyer, seemed to think that public opinion would help him, to motivate the real criminals, Ben and Jerry, to give up their undertaking. At this point there was only one item of certainty in Balthazer’s mind: today he was going to have an excellent show.
The four note intro of Beethoven’s Fifth rang anew, and with it came the re-reply from Steyer to the response Balthazer had just sent. Someone was definitely hovering over that email account with eyes on the inbox, so whoever it was had to be serious. Balthazer opened the new email with Subject: re: re: Ben & Jerry Phone Number.
You will have all the bandwidth you need on a dedicated network. We will send ID and password in an hour. The hospital site is locked down, but you will be escorted in when you arrive, just identify yourselves to the Salinas Police (please do not disturb the FBI). You will be provided full security while on site. I ask that you don’t reveal this source, your journalist’s privilege applies. What time will you be on-air?
Kind regards, Daniel Steyer.
Balthazer still was not certain if the correspondence was real, but it was too deliciously tempting to ignore. Balthazer had to take up the sender on this offer, Steyer or not. What was the worst that could happen, he’d be arrested on arrival? For what? He knew he had not committed any serious crime. Besides, a public arrest after yesterday’s show was more than enough to put him back on the map. He almost hoped the invitation was a fake, but not really. The opening, if real, was talk show heaven. He hit reply again.
Live[email protected] PST. Do not piss on me or I’ll serve you up. Believe me on that.—KB
Balthazer hit send, noticing on his home page that as the stock market opened just then at 6:30 a.m. PST, EnvisionInk stock had jumped again, soaring up another 18%. Balthazer could not imagine how that could be. First the crowd was against Choy and Finkelman, now the Street seemed to be applauding their capture. There had to be piles of nasty poop being shoveled all through the night he did not know about, erased conversations to which he would never be privy. It barely made sense to him that the FBI—whom he had just been instructed to avoid—had not brought this thing to a close. He did not much care, as long as he could get on the air today and do what he was best at, turning conflict into entertainment. He closed his laptop, swiftly packed up the few belongings he had toted into the motel, and headed out to the Infiniti. No question about it, this was going to be a show like no other.
At a makeshift command post under a nondescript canvass framed by tent poles, Special Agent in Charge Hussaini was coming to the conclusion that he was not going to be home in Virginia for the weekend. Based on the phone call he had received yesterday just before 6:00 p.m. from the Director, he was also not likely to be back at his desk next Monday morning, focused on matters he deemed to be of significantly greater national importance. When the call from the Director had come in, Hussaini was convinced it would be the green light allowing him to take out Ben and Jerry, which with relatively uncomplicated ground coordination looked to be a no brainer. Ben and Jerry had cornered themselves in the windowless two room hospital suite. Even as amateurs they would know to come out of the suite with Choy and Finkelman in front of them, hands tied, their one gun trained on their captives. As soon as Ben or Jerry cleared the shallow doorjamb, there were any number of clean angles his sharpshooters could take that would safely avoid Choy and Finkelman. With the proper planning Hussaini had reviewed in a dozen rehearsals, all of ten seconds were needed to finish this. All Hussaini needed was an okay from the Director to engage, and the suite door to open. He could have personally talked Ben and Jerry through the door, offering them anything they wanted in a deal meant to be broken, if only he had been given the authority to take over the direct negotiation with them. The fact that he had not been given this authority throughout the day was a bad sign in his mind. Hussaini’s key concern since being deployed had been that Ben and Jerry would panic and kill Choy and Finkelman before opening the door. That would mean Hussaini would have to take them into custody alive, hardly the heroic ending that could be, and many months of heavily edited paperwork required to assure due justice.
Thus when Hussaini saw the Director’s name on his phone ID shortly before 6:00 p.m., he thought he would be given control. The rest would be textbook. Instead the Director informed him that Ben and Jerry had extended the 6:00 p.m. deadline indefinitely while they continued their negotiation with members of the EnvisionInk corporate team. Hussaini had attempted to debate this approach with the Director, to allow him the element of surprise and blow through the door now that Ben and Jerry would be least expecting it. It would not be a ten second operation, it might now take half a minute, but Hussaini was still convinced that speed meant everything if they wanted this to end the right way. The Director had let Hussaini say his piece, and then reaffirmed the answer: no. The Director had given Steyer his word that if Ben and Jerry would voluntarily stand down, he would direct his strike team to wait patiently for a deal to be cut before he would risk any further impact to Choy or Finkelman. The entire operation was about rescuing Choy and Finkelman, not capturing Ben and Jerry, which the Director saw as two separate incidents even though Hussaini saw them as the same. Unwilling to put his career at risk and with complete respect for the chain of command, Hussaini had acquiesced as any loyal underling would. He found himself a nearby motel room to get a decent night’s sleep, albeit a cheap one with scruffy white curtains almost translucent in nature.
When Hussaini had returned to the hospital site early that morning, he had not been sure what to expect. There had been no further dialogue with the Director since the order to freeze all action, so at this point Hussaini could only speculate what discussion might be going on between Ben and Jerry and EnvisionInk. When Hussaini’s phone rang, he had little reason to expect the voice of former Senator Henderson, since the two of them had no previous relationship, and the basic protocol of a former US Senator with ongoing ties to the Justice Department calling a field agent on assignment was essentially non-existent. Hussaini knew that meant nothing to Henderson, who was predisposed to call anyone he wanted whenever he wanted, obviously motivated by an inside bet on the two prize horses in this race. Hussaini could tell this was not business as usual when the Senator announced himself without excuse or qualification.
“Senator, I am not sure it is appropriate for you to be calling me,” said Hussaini after Henderson bypassed pleasantries.
“Special Agent in Charge Hussaini, was there any part of my greeting that led you to believe I had a desire to know what you think is appropriate? From what I hear, you wanted to go in last night guns blazing, even after we got those two losers to give us more time. A few dozen stretchers is your idea of appropriate?”
“It would have been a pair, and it would be helpful if you let me do my job, Senator. I am sure you offered useful, impartial advice to the Director, whose instructions I continue to follow without question, but your insertion of yourself in this matter is not good for anyone. It’s all about time. Time is everything. Now we’re watching the clock instead of owning it.”
“You’re not a very good listener, are you, Hussaini?”
“I had a full array of clean shots lined up. All I needed was for that door to open or be opened. They changed their minds, I didn’t. You changed the plan.”
“I know, the element of surprise. Ben and Jerry think they extend the deadline and let down their guard, boom boom, out go the lights. You’re the expert, acknowledged, but that’s not what the EnvisionInk board wanted, and the links between the private and public sector are critical to the well-being of our nation. Let’s get that behind us.”
“Why are you calling me, Senator? I don’t suspect you called to praise my expert working ability and apologize for having to intervene.”
Hussaini was not just irritated by the limitless Washington practice of non-experts sticking their nose in work like his—he was becoming uncomfortable to the point of concern. Too often the orderly work of the bureau was compromised by politicians and lobbyists, by individuals with influence and non-objective agendas injecting opinions in potentially dangerous arenas that needed to be made less dangerous, not more so. Hussaini was a family man, his wife was an elementary school teacher and they had a son and a daughter in fourth and sixth grade. It was not unusual for a field agent to have a family, but Hussaini had sought internet intelligence work not just because of its vital importance and intellectual challenge, but because for the most part it was office work, a place where he constantly observed challenges to public safety but seldom to his own. Problem was, prior to being married, Hussaini proved himself an exceptional criminal negotiator, diffusing small but difficult situations time and again, so occasionally in high-tech related matters his name would come up for higher profile assignments like this one, involving corporations with extensive networks and influence in the federal government. None of that bothered Hussaini as long as they let him do his job, because given his own street smarts he would never be much at risk. It was uncontrolled intervention that bothered him. With tinkering came uninformed decisions that were almost impossible to offset. Hussaini never wanted to be on the phone with someone like Henderson, whose tirelessly demanding norms could become destabilizing. Getting home was all that mattered to Hussaini. Henderson was not helping.
“You’re not as independent as you are sure of yourself, Hussaini, so I feel a little better,” continued Henderson. “I’m actually calling to make an introduction. Sylvia Normandy is the company’s general counsel and corporate secretary. She’s going to talk with you.”
“Is it any more appropriate for me to take her call than yours?” replied Hussaini.
“You seem to think you have choices, Hussaini. If you want to keep moving up the ladder, you better give up that notion and come to terms with how decisions are made. No, she’s not going to call you. By the time I hang up the phone she will probably be standing in front of you. She’s there in Salinas. I’m calling as a courtesy so you understand what to do when she gets there and you don’t waste any of her time.”
“What are Counselor Normandy and I to discuss?” asked Hussaini.
“Candidly, I don’t know. The conversation is privileged. She is there on behalf of her bosses, Choy and Finkelman. To be clear, the conversation she has with you will de facto not be privileged, but better meet her litmus test of confidentiality to determine whether you stay Agent in Charge there or not. Am I being clear?”
“Respectfully, Senator, if I’m ever subpoenaed on this, I will look to my own counsel for direction on disclosure. Please tell me why is it you who called to make the introduction on her behalf?”
“Guess I drew the short straw,” answered Henderson. “This could be a game changer for you, Hussaini. Get it right.”
Henderson ended the call. Hussaini clicked off his phone and looked around for Sylvia. Sure enough, an attractive women in her late forties wearing a grey business suit and fashionable heels was being led directly to his post by one of the more junior special agents assigned to the case. Henderson must have been on the phone with her not five minutes before, when she arrived on the hospital site and was allowed to bypass the barricade. Nothing was going to give Hussaini the opportunity to evade a conversation with Normandy. The timing of the power puppet masters was as good or better than his.
“Let me guess, Sylvia Normandy?” said Hussaini as she arrived at the post.
“Just got off with the Senator, did you?” replied Normandy as her escorting agent politely departed. “I asked him to bridge the formalities. I hope you understand.”
“He said he didn’t know what you were going to tell me,” conveyed Hussaini. “I’m not sure I believe him. You must be in touch with Choy and Finkelman. What happens now?”
“As I’m sure the Senator told you, I’ve had a privileged conversation with Choy and Finkelman. The contents of that conversation have not been shared with any other member of the EnvisionInk board, at the direction of our co-CEOs. I’m here to tell you what they want to do, without judgment or comment. What they want to do involves your team, and you will have to take that up with the Director in deciding what you do next.”
“And you drove here to talk to me in person rather than call so that there could be no possible recording of the contents of that conversation?”
“Something like that,” answered Normandy. “Here’s the deal, there now exists a Chinese Wall between what the company wants to do and will do, and what Choy and Finkelman as private citizens want to do and will do. You can have the Justice Department review this at your leisure. I would expect no less of the Director before you commit to action.”
“What do the private citizens want to do?” asked Hussaini.
“They want to use their own money to buy their way out, and they want to use their own jet to fly their way out.” Normandy was direct, matter of fact, without judgment or comment, just as she had promised.
“How does that work?” asked Hussaini. “We have a kidnapping and a murder. We can’t just let them walk.”
“Calvin Choy is prepared to take responsibility for the McFrank shooting incident,” explained Normandy. “He asserts that his hand was on the gun in the back of the SUV and there was a struggle. He said it was an accident, but he believes he pulled the trigger.”
“This is wrong,” argued Hussaini.
“You can also take up that with the Director,” said Normandy. “What we’d like you to do is move all of them—Choy, Finkelman, Ben, Jerry, and a doctor of their choosing. Get them out of here first thing tomorrow morning. Escort them to Choy and Finkelman’s plane, which will be on the tarmac at Moffett Field.”
“Moffett is federal, tied in with NASA,” said Hussaini. “How does a private jet get on a government field?”
“They rent space there, they’re a good tenant,” answered Normandy. “They have a hangar next to the Google guys, which really irks the Google guys because they thought they got something no one else could have, but all they did was set a precedent. Take them there.”
“Then what?” posed Hussaini.
“As of this morning, I have transferred $200 million into a trust account in Shanghai. You offer them a lift to their new home.”
“You’re giving them exactly what they want, a hundred million more than what they asked for,” growled Hussaini. “And you want me to chaperone the ride? It doesn’t matter what I think, the Director will never authorize this. That’s not bending the rules. That’s no rules of any kind.”
“I said ‘offer,’ that was the word I used, I selected it with precision,” replied Normandy. “Listen carefully because it would be extraordinarily inappropriate for me to editorialize on the wishes of my clients, who have been quite clear in their offer to back Ben and Jerry in their new overseas venture and facilitate their transportation needs. Given a choice between taking action at a public hospital surrounded by reporters and moving this mess to Moffett Airfield, which is adjacent to a National Guard station and an Army Reserve post, it is my sense the Director may want to exercise some discretion. I believe you should let him make that call.”
Hussaini was catching on. Normandy had conveyed exactly what her clients were willing to do, which was within their legal right as individuals. The company was off the hook, no one on the board even knew there was such an offer, but someone with legal authority still had to let that plane fly out of the country—or at least make it look like they intended to do so. Normandy had brought the FBI a gift by bringing them home court advantage, and in the same move she had done exactly as she was instructed. Hussaini could still end this the way it was meant to be ended, only under much safer and less visible circumstances. No, he was not going to make it home for the weekend, and he most certainly was going to need some more clean clothes, probably FedEx’d. He was also going to need to recruit an entirely different back up team. The good news was that would not be a problem at Moffett Field.
Hussaini smiled for the first time since arriving in California. He and Normandy had an understanding. He had some selling to do with the Director. The trick would be to keep Senator Henderson out of it, and he could probably count on her for that. They both seemed to acknowledge this could be a turn for the good, and they were only mildly distracted by the heavy set man with stringy long hair driving an Infinity M who was being led into the parking lot by the Salinas police to yet another nondescript canvass overhang. They had never seen him before, and had no idea why he was being offered VIP handling, but unlike Normandy, he did not need an introduction.
It was twenty seconds before noon. Balthazer was sitting behind an expanded fold-up table, comfortably reclining in a natural fabric lawn chair, a molded inflatable cushion supporting his lower back. His laptop was open, his headphones and microphone were humming Bluetooth, and he had plenty of Wi-Fi on a dedicated channel. Ready to go live, Balthazer looked down to check his home page. Moments before airtime, the visitor ticker counted 221,558. Balthazer opened a thirty-two-ounce full-sugar soda from the nearby ice chest, took a half bottle gulp, mouse-clicked the mic icon, and the afternoon tirade known as his show commenced.
KIMO: Friends, we are back, together again on internet radio. What a difference a day makes. Before we begin, a grateful shout out to the accommodating mums and kiddos and all the management staff at McDonald’s of Stockton for their warmth and hospitality yesterday—it wouldn’t have been the same show without you. But today, goodness, do I have something dandy. I am coming to you live from the plaza of Salinas Valley Memorial Medical Center, where in residence we note the presence of one Calvin Choy and one Stephen J. Finkelman, the captured co-CEOs of EnvisionInk Systems—whose stock is up an astonishing 30% already this week. If that’s not exciting enough in the ‘let’s share’ department, here’s an add-on. My invited guests on the show today are the two soon-to-be notorious fanboys who have Choy and Finkelman in their possession. In a few moments you will come to know these fellows the same way I do, by the ascribed names Ben and Jerry. That’s right, I have Ben and Jerry ready on the line with me. If you want to talk with them, all you have to do is log onto ThisIsRage.com. By the way, there’s a bright yellow “forward to a friend” button on my website, now would be a great time to put it to the test. I paid my hosting bill in full this morning, so when we hit a half million listeners this hour, and we will, we won’t crash the site or have the plug pulled. But enough of that, I am delaying the important conversation. Let’s say hello to Ben and Jerry. Ben, Jerry, Welcome, This Is Rage!
BEN: Uh, thank you, Kimo. We appreciate being invited on the show today. This is internet radio, right?
KIMO: Just like I told you when I called this morning. You think you could get on the air any other way? You have broken a few laws.
BEN: Yes, we know that. We are really sorry. None of this has gone the way we intended. All Jerry and I wanted to do was start a company in Silicon Valley, so we could hire as many people as possible with the economy being so bad, you know. But things didn’t go as we planned, so here we are.
KIMO: Let me get this straight for the more than 325,000 listeners you now have as your own dedicated audience. I’ll recap our conversation from this morning, when you graciously agreed to come on my show. You kidnapped two of the most important rising star technology executives in the world, but you never meant to, it just kind of happened. You accidentally shot one in the leg, that would be Stephen J. Finkelman—and by the way, listening audience, that is breaking news—which is how you ended up at this hospital in Salinas, California, which was accurately reported by one of my callers on yesterday’s show. Now you’re surrounded by FBI agents, backed up by police from five area counties, and you think somehow this ends okay for you.
BEN: Not just for us, Kimo, for everyone. We always wanted it to be okay for everyone, and that’s the way we hope it ends. I can’t tell you much more, but I can tell you we are working on a deal. Choy and Finkelman are helping with that, and if all goes the way we think it will, we should have some more news for your listeners tomorrow.
KIMO: Well, that’s something. That gives me at least one more day on the air to keep working up these numbers. Sooner or later we’re bound to hit a million internet listeners. We’re making history, you know? But let’s go back to what you just said, Choy and Finkelman are helping you with your deal. How does that work?
JERRY: Hey, Kimo, this is Jerry. Can I talk?
KIMO: Jerry, if I understand it right, you’re the brainy one, the chief technology officer of the partnership. I don’t know, will Ben let you talk?
JERRY: Sure, of course. And thanks, you flatter me with that CTO title, not sure I’ve earned it yet. Here’s the thing, and the reason we came on your show. We’re really not bad guys. I think Calvin and Stephen know that. We’ve gotten to know them a little, and we have some stuff in common with them.
KIMO: I’ve heard of that, the captives identifying with the captors. Deeply disturbing, don’t you think? So you came on my show, which I do appreciate, to let my listeners know you are not bad guys. Shall we find out what they think?
BEN: Sure, Kimo. What do we have to lose? Bring ‘em on.
KIMO: Outstanding. Emma Sue Yu, from Rockport, Illinois, Welcome, This Is Rage. You’re on with Ben and Jerry!
CALLER EMMA SUE YU: Ben, Jerry, I just want to say, on behalf of my Thursday night bowling league, which I barely can still afford, you guys rock. What you did takes guts. People like me, we appreciate that.
BEN: Thanks, Emma, you roll a two hundred for us tonight.
CALLER EMMA SUE YU: That’s my base game. Tonight I try for something perfect.
KIMO: Emma, I want to get this straight. You are sending a virtual high five to two guys who have locked themselves behind a windowless door in a semi-rural hospital with two CEOs and a gun. Are we all on the same show?
CALLER EMMA SUE YU: Damn straight, Kimo. They got pissed off, they took the company’s co-CEOs, now maybe a few other CEOs will think twice before they treat the rest of us like garbage. I wish it didn’t have to come to this, but it does. You guys hang in there. You’re teaching all of them a lesson.
KIMO: Thank you, Emma Sue Yu. That was some opening act. Let’s see if she is alone in her opinion. Stan1234, from Billings, Montana, Welcome, This Is Rage.
CALLER STAN1234: Ben, Jerry, how you have kept yourselves from the pulling the trigger is beyond me. The restraint you have shown is remarkable. You’re probably not going to get out of there alive, which is probably how it should be, but you will be remembered by folks like me, that I can promise you.
BEN: Well, I’m hoping we get out of here alive. Don’t count us out yet. We think there’s still a deal to be made.
CALLER STAN1234: No, really, there isn’t. I work security part time, I’m pretty sure they got you. But the longer you hold out, the longer Kimo can get your message heard. These CEO types are bad news. I haven’t worked forty hours in over three years. I had a great factory job with benefits, then my company merged with another one in Brazil and all the jobs went away, poof. Then the merger didn’t work out so well, and the CEO got canned too. Only he retired with a net worth of $400 million to a beachfront compound in Rio. For what? Ruining my company, taking away my job? Like that Emma woman said, I wish I had your guts. I hope it doesn’t hurt much when they shoot you. You really don’t deserve to die in pain. Stay brave.
KIMO: There’s an idealist if I ever I heard one. I don’t know, Ben—Stan seemed to know his stuff. What do you say? I’m guessing you don’t really want it all to end that way. Is there anything I can say to get you to throw it in right now?
BEN: I don’t think that’s our best move, Kimo. Like I said, we’re working on something, and I think Choy and Finkelman are on board.
KIMO: How about you let us talk to Mr. Choy and Mr. Finkelman? I’m sure there’s nothing more my listeners would like to hear than the sound of their voices.
JERRY: Not what we talked about this morning, Kimo. Calvin and Stephen are safe. They’re in the room next to us, but they aren’t coming on the show.
BEN: Yeah, don’t ask again or this call is over. We’re not coming out and you’re only talking to us.
KIMO: Fair enough, but you can’t fault a host for asking. It’s my job, you know, push that envelope, you should respect that. I just hate to see anyone get hurt, and if I can help as well as set an internet record, hey, call me a multi-tasker. Let’s take another caller. Ms B Spears, San Fernando, California, Welcome, This Is Rage.
CALLER MS B SPEARS: You know what I think, Kimo? I think there’s a reason these two guys haven’t been popped. This thing is too smooth. It’s too well planned.
KIMO: You think there’s some offstage conspiracy keeping Ben and Jerry alive? Do share.
CALLER MS B SPEARS: Sorry, Ben and Jerry, but I think you’re bought. I think you’re both guns for hire. That doesn’t mean you’re not cool, but let’s be real.
BEN: You don’t know what you’re talking about, Ms. Spears.
CALLER MS B SPEARS: No, really? You think it’s normal you and your brother . . .
BEN: He’s not my brother. He’s my cousin.
CALLER MS B SPEARS: Cousin, brother, buddy, boyfriend, I don’t really care. And like the others, if you really did kidnap a couple of asshole executives, good for you. But I think you were hired. And I think you were hired by the company.
KIMO: The company?
CALLER MS B SPEARS: Their own company, Kimo. EnvisionInk.
KIMO: Oooh, this really is a conspiracy theory. Tell us more, Ms B Spears.
CALLER MS B SPEARS: Hey, I’m no genius. I’m actually a professional attendant, a corporate date. I’m not a hooker, I don’t do that, but I get hired as an escort for a lot of these CEO types when they’re in town, for trade shows, dinners, when their wives won’t come to an event or they’re separated. I go along and listen. The shit I hear, it’s mind boggling. These kinds of guys will do anything, I mean anything, to close a deal.
KIMO: I’m not trying to rush you, ma-am, but we do have over six hundred thousand people on the internet awaiting your point, as well as the details of your biography.
CALLER MS B SPEARS: My point is this, read the press release. That Atom Heart deal stinks all the way from the Hollywood sign to the San Mateo Bridge, a pile up of bodies to push profits. They can smell the rancid fish heads in Zuccotti Park on their way to Wall Street. I’m guessing some power players really want this deal to happen, and those two CEOs you got there aren’t the guys, or you wouldn’t have them. How does that work, the company just oops leaks an uku-billion dollar deal while their co-CEOs are being held at gunpoint? Am I the only one with a nose for stank?
KIMO: You make a good point, Ms. Spears. I wish you could have made it more quickly. What do you say, fellows? Our caller thinks perhaps you were hired to get the real CEOs out of the way, because they would have blocked the Atom Heart deal. I’m not saying there’s a rational basis for her argument, but we left rationale behind about a week ago. Are you on someone’s payroll, maybe Steyer’s?
BEN: That’s absurd. That’s just utterly absurd.
JERRY: We didn’t know anything about Atom Heart when we took Choy and Finkelman. We didn’t even want to take Choy and Finkelman.
CALLER MS B SPEARS: Uh-huh, sure. You pulled all this off on your own: the kidnapping, the hospital, the fact that your hearts are still beating. I don’t buy it. Nice head fake, bonking Steyer on the noggin, but the act needs some work.
BEN: There’s no way we are working for Steyer, lady. Or anyone. This is our situation, and we’re going to get out of it.
CALLER MS B SPEARS: Like I said, any of these pompous assholes you get off the street is fine with me. I can always go back to reading tarot cards for lottery addicts, it’s not much of a pay cut. Choy and Finkelman are weak, they tried so hard to be nice, they led their lambs to the slaughter. You managed to get them out of the limelight for a quick interlude and they lost control of their company. What kind of leadership is that?
JERRY: That’s not what happened.
CALLER MS B SPEARS: Okay, then you stepped in front of a rolling freight train with a pistol and accidentally stopped it. It was all Choy and Finkelman’s idea, they planned all along to flip the company they created, but didn’t want to take the heat so they had themselves kidnapped. No, they didn’t, they’re pawns, same as you. And it’s the employees who always get hosed. The Investor guys are scary, but nothing kills off employees faster than Operators who can’t make the hard calls. The bull market eats them alive, the bear starves them. Either way, they lose, the employees get creamed.
BEN: That’s quite a bit of insight from a professional dinner companion. You must listen closely to the conversation around you.
CALLER MS. B SPEARS: I make my real money in stock tips. Some people call it insider trading. I call it justice. Maybe someday they’ll arrest me. But here’s the good news, as long as you hang onto Choy and Finkelman, no merger or acquisition is going to happen. They may have needed Choy and Finkelman gone to make the deal, but they’ll need them back to vote their shares if they want to close. And if they wait too long and the EnvisionInk stock price goes high enough, Atom Heart will back away. As far as I can tell, the employees at EnvisionInk are like the callers on this show, we’re all rooting for Ben and Jerry, they’re the real heroes. They took out a pair of overpaid, arrogant executives, and as long as they hang onto them, they’re the only thing standing between the employees and their jobs. I’d say Ben and Jerry did a hell of a job. Screw Choy and Finkelman.
BEN: Damn it, Kimo, you need to keep your listeners under control or we’re going to cut this short.
KIMO: This is the internet, fellows. I can’t control the internet, it legislates itself. Welcome to the twenty-first century, where chaos is regulation. Anyway, she’s gone, said what she had to say and off to dinner she went for more tips. I wouldn’t worry about it. These listeners love you. You make disruption fun—and we’ve got the rest of the afternoon for them to tell you. Stick around, we’re all going to make a good bit more digital history.
This Is Rage was once again firing up the crowd, costing businesses across the nation untold sums in productivity, magnet of choice for bored and angry cubicle inhabitants. Balthazer’s callers were not letting him down. This show was indeed going to be his ticket back. The afternoon was young, Balthazer was just getting started with his exclusive guests, and by the end of the show he would undoubtedly surpass a million listeners, a feat worthy of front page coverage in the industry rag Talkers. Where his callers would lead him was anyone’s guess, but the biggest challenge he would face that day was clearing his head of the conspiracy notion raised by that escort lady. She seemed to be snapping the pieces into place a little cleaner than he was, and the idea that Steyer did not seem to be trying all that hard to rescue Choy and Finkelman was hard to resist, personally or professionally. If Steyer wanted Choy and Finkelman free, there had to be better ways to do it than feed him Ben and Jerry’s phone number. Maybe she was wrong, maybe Steyer did not need them back to close, he was the big money. Maybe he was just working the meltdown of confusion and uncertainty, running up the price and running down the clock. Steyer seemed to be behind everything, and at some point Balthazer was going to want to get to know him a lot better. He might even make a decent guest on the show.
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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