Internet Radio phenomenon Kimo Balthazer is up to his tricks again, posting on his site: Bad News: EnvisionInk Does Not Seem to Want Choy & Finkelman Back, Good News: Here is a Picture of Ben & Jerry, Zoom & Spread Viral
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This is the ninth chapter in the ongoing syndication of the first section of Ken Goldstein’s new novel, This Is Rage, published by The Story Plant. It is the end of the first section, and the last chapter we will be serializing. Need to read other chapters first? Check them out here. Hooked on the story? The book releases October 8th. Pre order the book here.
Of the more than one million internet listeners tuning into the This Is Rage live remote from Salinas Valley Memorial Medical Center, several thousand IP addresses pointed directly to a sprawling business campus in Santa Clara, global headquarters of EnvisionInk Systems. It was too hard for employees of the great tech giant not to watch the bodies being pummeled and drowned in the pond scum by civilian workers across the nation who knew nothing about virtuoso software engineering, nothing about the launch vision of their co-CEOs, nothing about genuine Silicon Valley culture.
Any observer of business norms would almost have to expect a defensive posture from EnvisionInk’s tens of thousands of generously paid programmers, network architects, database administrators, sales and marketing types, even administrative and support staff, the majority of whom had benefitted immensely in gains attributed to their stock options from the magnificent growth of the mother ship, the genesis of which would never have occurred without the leadership of Calvin Choy and Stephen J. Finkelman. If Choy and Finkelman were being trashed for the sake of lowbrow entertainment, then the company was being trashed, and by implication they were being trashed. Loyalty would have to rule the day. How could it be otherwise in a place where so much democratic wealth had been created legally for so many lucky participants, for the sole effort of proving themselves intellectually worthy of an EnvisionInk logo on their business card and a colorful lanyard dangling a combination front door security pass / electronic garage parking permit.
Yet that was not how it was going down. Something eerily more powerful had gripped the grey cubicles and cryptically named conference rooms of the Santa Clara office park. For anyone who ever worked in Silicon Valley for any time at all, there were two clear speeds for the rapid capacity engine: high octane creative energy powered by optimism, or apathetic gossip powered by stalled growth. Accompanying these two notches on the gear shift were the two most powerful extremes of morale: twenty-four hour days of nose down work fueled by peer pressure, or lazy complaining about virtually everything fueled by negativity. When the aroma of fear in the hallways became inescapable, any impulse to alter the mood was impossible to come by. Long before layoffs would hit, people knew they were coming. Fear depressed productivity, fear destroyed innovation, fear fed the rumor mill. The one thing all high fliers had in common was the power of the rumor mill, and at EnvisionInk, it was already pumping out warnings even before the webcast. After the webcast, the rumor mill got a colossal dose of Red Bull and pure oxygen that made just about anything anyone said remarkably truthful. Just as it seldom took facts to fire up people and motivate a mission statement, facts were not required to burn a mission statement to fumes. Virtual bonfires were in the making, and leadership was locked in a Salinas hospital room. The secret recipe for malaise salad had been released from the well-traveled commissary.
What was curious about the mass lashing out of employees was the timing and circumstances. Usually the rumor mill announcing layoffs followed a steep drop in a company’s share price, and some carefully worded public statement from management that the company’s performance had been acknowledged in the boardroom as unacceptable, suggesting matters were being taken seriously. That meant cost cutting was coming, so if employees were not already dismayed by the their stock options dropping under water—a condition where the strike price was above market price, making them for the moment, or perhaps eternally, worthless—they would soon be more fully walloped by the ready tactic of management to reverse that situation, which involved dumping employees by the boatload. In fact EnvisionInk stock, having been almost mystically flat for well over a year, had only dipped for a day after the abduction of its co-CEOs, then ran straight up almost 40% over the past week, taking it to a new all-time high. That put the company’s market cap at over $50 billion, reflecting the metrics of a big growth tech play, trading at over 8x sales and more than 33x net income, now a painful reach for Seidelmeyer. Atom Heart would barely constitute a majority at that deal size, requiring Seidelmeyer to take on significantly more leverage than he ever intended if he wanted to stay at the table, certainly not what he had in mind when he approached Steyer. It also meant almost every EnvisionInk employee was in the money, with paper gains ready to become liquidity just as soon as vesting—enough time spent on the job—allowed them to sell their shares on the open market and take the cash home in barrels, large and medium. Low morale and fear of layoffs seldom followed run-ups in valuation, unless a merger was in the works that anticipated major cost cuts by both the target company and the acquirer to improve earnings, and that rumor was now everywhere. Unvested stock options, regardless of their spreads, were worthless, and vesting required continuity of employment. Start-ups used stock options as golden handcuffs to bolster the achievements of talent on controlled timetables, but releasing the value of this currency was seldom in one’s own control. Companies called it sharing the risk; employees called it a crap shoot.
Likewise in the same way the public perception of Choy and Finkelman had been carefully orchestrated through crafting of their image and general likeability to make them poster boys for day traders on retail desks and discount brokerage sites, callers on This Is Rage were now equating them with every other scumbag executive known to the headlines. Perhaps it was a self-selecting set of callers sharing their passionate views with Kimo Balthazer, but at a million and counting it was hard to consider them inconsequential. This Is Rage had always been successful because it reflected undercurrents in popular opinion among ordinary folks, and that was with a syndicated national broadcast audience. If a million people had found Kimo Balthazer on the internet just a few days after he took an interest in Choy and Finkelman, the potential extrapolation to the number of public voices they represented could be immeasurable. That the online naysayers were being validated by hoards of EnvisionInk employees made no sense at all. Choy and Finkelman were their co-CEOs, the reason they had jobs, yet employees were joining in the thrashing, not refuting it. Beyond the inability to stay focused on doing the work for which they were being paid, they were not just listening to the rumble, they were part of it. Emails across the company were sent openly from employee to employee offering sympathy for the callers on This Is Rage, not for Choy and Finkelman. Ben and Jerry, identified wholeheartedly as criminals, were more often described as frustrated and emerging entrepreneurs, foils to Choy and Finkelman more than foes. Nothing could be stranger, employee tensions were rising faster than the stock price, and employee anger was increasing in lock step with Balthazer’s audience. The rumor mill had been set free, ennui was the order of the day, workflow had come to a near stop, and there was hardly a word of expressed worry for the kidnapped executives.
Attempting to digest this with a lukewarm Starbucks d’jour in hand, Steyer was sitting in the tidy office of his fellow board member, Professor George Yamanaka, at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. The two of them were combing through long lists of employee emails that Steyer had asked the IT department at EnvisionInk to pull off the servers for board review in light of security. The fact that there was as much deep-rooted dissatisfaction in the IT department as in the rest of the company only added more wood to the fire pit—the rumor mill was basted and cooking. Employees never took their non-disclosure promises seriously when they felt their jobs were at risk. Now the board was reading their emails in reaction to the Balthazer show, with their real names attached in clear type. Not only didn’t the emails stop, employees wrote more emails about the rumor that their emails were being read, which pissed off everyone even more.
“Explain this to me, George,” said Steyer, scanning an employee email on a tablet while deftly balancing his coffee cup. “Here’s what one of the senior engineers on the Advanced Solutions team wrote:”
I guess we should feel sorry for Choy and Finkelman, but I don’t. They used to be like us, but now they rake in the cash and take all the credit. How is that good for the rest of us who are trying to do something new? Management says they want us to do something new, but every time we propose a new idea, they say, no, that’s not the company’s core mission. So we keep doing the same thing, because they know it works, but of course we’re not growing. We already corned the ad optimization market and decimated the competition. I’m not saying I want any harm to come to the bosses, but maybe we have to get them out of here to unblock the funnel and get this company moving again.
Steyer tapped the tablet to close the window and looked at Yamanaka in disbelief, then continued. “I don’t know, George. This borders on insubordination, don’t you think? Should I can the guy?”
“Are you planning to fire everyone who wrote an email of a similar nature?” asked Yamanaka. “Or the roughly 4500 employees who logged onto Balthazer’s webcast from their desks? If you want to fire a few thousand employees immediately for cause, you better get some temp help in human resources.”
“I guess you are saying no,” followed Steyer, scrolling the tablet with his index finger and tapping it heatedly. “Here’s another gem:”
So the stock is up but we’re going to have a layoff, because no one has any good ideas how to make more money here. The only way to make more money is to get rid of us, since we’re all worthless anyway. And they wonder why we aren’t upset that Choy and Finkelman are gone? Why would we be upset? This is how they run the company. And since our stock options are finally valuable, why not fire us before we can cash them in? They just get rid of us and then cash them in for themselves, makes perfect sense.
Steyer kept shaking his head, unable to internalize a logical response. “George, how do they come up with this drivel?”
“Are you asking me as an observer of the enterprise or as a board member?” replied Yamanaka.
“It was largely a rhetorical question, George. They invent this stuff in their minds. All they think about is themselves. For the love of god, Choy and Finkelman are being held at gun point. Don’t our payroll recipients have the basic human decency to care?”
“Is that rhetorical too?” answered Yamanaka, a bit snider this time. “I am sure a few of them do, the ones who know them, the ones who remember when we were smaller. To most of these employees, Choy and Finkelman are no more accessible than they are to the people calling Balthazer’s show. That happens after companies go public, you know that. They become more icons than individuals. And rich icons, with their own jumbo jet, so when fear sets in, they become easy targets. That was the same way Ben and Jerry saw them, right after they saw the same in you.”
“Where are they getting the layoff stuff?” asked Steyer. “They have no basis for that. It’s conjecture and it’s not healthy. It’s not good for anyone.”
“Are you suggesting the company would not be considering layoffs?” asked Yamanaka. “Our employees may not be as smart as you or able to remember the discount rate of every deal that ever happened in small cap history, but most of them have been through more than one start-up. They know the game.”
“But we’ve never had a layoff at this company, and our share price is up,” said Steyer. “They have no reason to be feeding on each other’s anxiety.”
“Perhaps, until we leaked the Atom Heart deal,” said Yamanaka. “As I said, their eyes are open. Why else would our share price be up when our co-CEOs might be dead at any moment?”
“So they think the only reason we leaked Atom Heart was to deflect from the bad news around Choy and Finkelman, to hold the share price,” said Steyer. “The truth is we had no choice. If we hadn’t confirmed the rumor, Seidelmeyer would have used it on the inside to work our price down, manipulating what happened to Choy and Finkelman to create a scare.”
“We did the only sensible thing given the chain of events,” said Yamanaka. “The problem is, anyone can read what the analysts are writing, and they like the deal even more than we thought they would. They see efficiencies Choy and Finkelman could never imagine.”
“But Seidelmeyer could. They’re giving him a lot of credit.”
“They have to if the price keeps rising and he still wants the keys,” said Yamanaka. “With our current run up, the expected earnings improvement of the combination is now fully baked into our share price. The revenue is additive, but the expected synergies are all on the cost side, not in revenue growth. To hold the inflated share price post transaction, management would have to cut a quarter of the combined staff, and that only gets the NewCo to a P/E of around twenty. That would make it a mature company, practically a value play with $2 billion in savings and about 35% improvement in earnings. To sell the upside and finance the debt, Seidelmeyer either has to have a new growth story or be willing to cut deeper.”
“You can’t sell this deal on fundamentals, it’s not that kind of deal,” said Steyer.
“We’ve had two market meltdowns in the last ten years, there has to be more to this than ego,” conveyed Yamanaka. “I know Seidelmeyer’s unparalleled as a storyteller, but until he’s honed the growth pitch, all the Street sees are enormous cost reductions. Imagine what the employees at Atom Heart must be writing in their emails.”
“You think our employees have it all figured out?” asked Steyer. “They can see with Atom Heart’s content and our technology platform that we can unlock a lot of sidelined value without more investment. We can all get along with a lot less R&D, and that’s how we justify the improved share price. What if the deal falls apart?”
“You’re asking me, O Master of The Valley?” exclaimed Yamanaka . “At this point, you know, and I know, and the Street knows—the deal can’t fall apart.”
“If it does, we’re going to crash big time. Then they’ll get their wish, only the layoffs will be worse.”
“The only layoff that matters is the one that comes in an envelope to the person who opens it. Right now, a lot of them are coming either way. You want to make the Street happy they bid up the deal, there will be layoffs. You want to tell them there’s no deal and our price is due for a correction, there will be layoffs. You can’t make everyone happy. I suggest you let it roll off your back and move onto more important things.”
“The strategy we tried from Seidelmeyer didn’t help. The crowd was against Choy and Finkelman, not for them. That didn’t get us anywhere with their release.”
“You think Seidelmeyer is going to say something that helps you before he buys us and enshrines himself?” asked Yamanaka. “Your biggest problem now is to get the Atom Heart deal done while the share price is still high enough not to resist, but not so high Atom Heart walks. Whatever common wisdom is out there, you have to close before Choy and Finkelman come back to kill it—we don’t need their vote if we have the board, the institutionals will vote with SugarSpring and Throckmore’s people. That’s the trick you have to pull off, it’s all about timing. It’s why you are who you are. The impossible has to happen for the real money to flow.”
“There’s no way we can do this deal with Choy and Finkelman off the job. The board has no executive authority. We’re an instrument of governance. They’re on TV with a death threat looming over them and we’re supposed to do a merger?”
“I never knew you to be so concerned about conflicts,” said Yamanaka. “You know what’s right, appearances shouldn’t be a factor. An Atom Heart deal will prove visionary. No one cares that Seidelmeyer is your wine buddy.”
“He isn’t my wine buddy,” snapped Steyer. “We know each other through business and shared interests.”
“You’re the one who kept the hotline open when Choy and Finkelman said no to the proposal,” returned Yamanaka. “That’s not what I would call governance. It’s what I would call the right thing to do. Those two young fellows are still naïve. I know, I saw their genius in the classroom, but they need you to get this done. Down the road they will appreciate you for it.”
“No way, the SEC will have our ass,” countered Steyer. “Besides, you know that no deal this size gets done that quickly, not definitively. We have to hope Sylvia is successful working directly with Choy and Finkelman and the FBI, then hope we can sell them on the concept when they get back, before Seidelmeyer holds us hostage and low balls us publicly.”
“You’re dreaming,” said Yamanaka. “In my humble opinion, we have one move left. Getting a deal done can be a matter of perception. You must reach agreement in principle with Seidelmeyer and have the deal announced before Choy and Finkelman get back. Then once it’s public you’ll convince them the only way not to have their beloved company crushed by an SEC investigation is to affirm the board’s position that they bravely authorized it while they were in captivity. If you don’t pull that off, our share price is going to tumble, and it’s likely to take down the whole market with it. It’s in your hands, not theirs.”
“These are your students we’re talking about,” exclaimed Steyer. “You’re telling me our only move is to play them, to leave them with Ben and Jerry and hope no one pulls the trigger?”
“The greatest good, which is value creation, will be realized in this outcome,” said Yamanaka. “No one is going to pull the trigger. The shootings are over. This is how we all get out and continue to lead the bull market. It’s the only way. And it’s right.”
“You sound like Seidelmeyer,” said Steyer. “And you’re conflicted. You can’t be objective. You have liquidity risk.”
“A good deal less than you,” replied Yamanaka. “Certainly we have a vested interest. We are aligned with all constituencies, as we should be. We authorize the merger, we protect our shareholders, we protect our board, and we protect the company in case something does happen to Choy and Finkelman—which it won’t because they are smart, they will get themselves out. That just can’t happen sooner than we want them back. Have you run any of this by your wife?”
“Riley is still in shock over what happened at the house. She never expected guerilla warfare anywhere near our zip code, let alone in our backyard. We hardly ever fight, but now she can’t understand why I have to stay on this, why I can’t take some time off and let the FBI do its job. She still doesn’t understand I can’t make business stop.”
“Maybe after this deal she’ll get what she wants,” suggested Yamanaka. “She doesn’t need to understand if this one goes in the record books. We get this deal done the way it should happen, you put it all behind you. You put everything behind you.”
“Not if the next ten years are in depositions,” said Steyer, segueing from the sticky personal turf and kicking back into gear. “Look, there’s only one way this happens and we don’t do time. Seidelmeyer has to force the deal. He has to put a gun to our head. The public may be against Choy and Finkelman now because they look self-absorbed and weak, but they won’t like Seidelmeyer any better. He can force the close by making the deal so far above market it’s too good to refuse. That we can sell to Choy and Finkelman, that we had no choice, Seidelmeyer demanded a deal and if we didn’t agree, we would all implode in the aftermath.”
“His board won’t let him overpay by a nonsensical amount, just to get the deal.”
“He won’t, it just has to look that way,” said Steyer. “He has to draw a line in the sky that looks stupid generous and hope that market greed doesn’t rocket us above the pull of gravity. He has to sell it, it’s all in the positioning. For good faith he has to leave Choy and Finkelman as co-CEOs, he becomes executive chairman and they’re all free of me. We just have to hope they don’t get released before all that gets done.”
“You have that correct,” said Yamanaka. “If Choy and Finkelman return before we close and they kill the deal, we crash. No more bulls, the whole thing comes down.”
Yamanaka reached for his briefcase, he was late for a class on corporate strategy and alignment. He looked to Steyer for concurrence, but also for reassurance. Steyer grabbed his tablet from Yamanaka’s desk and scrolled through another list of employee emails, then another. The EnvisionInk employees did not seem to like their jobs or their company much anymore. Perhaps they preferred something else to complain about. Soon enough, they would have their pick of any number of annoyances, including outplacement services.
Balthazer was aglow. Yesterday’s show had reminded him that he was really good at what he did, something he had forgotten of late, even the last few years on the air where, if truth be told, he knew in his heart he was dialing it in. Sure, he could always get a rise out of people, especially wage earners who were already prone to irritation, that was no harder than having a dog love you because you fed it meat. It had been a long time since Balthazer thought he was worthy of respect, that his show was something other than a repetitive way to spend a few hours each day getting paid to make station owners wealthier, or in the case of internet radio, simply practicing his craft and remaining relevant. The show yesterday did something he had not experienced in some time—it produced unexpected results. He had thought listeners would admire Choy and Finkelman for their track record, but instead they admired Ben and Jerry for standing up to the Entrenched. That might not have been fair, it probably was not moral, but it was honest and very good radio. It also told him something quite clearly—this anger thread he had been pulling at oh so gently for oh so many years was longer and thicker than he anticipated, and tied to something at its end that if pulled hard enough might surface emotion he could not predict. It was not a thread but a heavy rope, and the contest of tug-of-war could result in an unprecedented prize of staggering change. This was the heart of the new social media, the real voice of the unedited, and it was a rope that needed to be unraveled. No one alive was more willing or better motivated to unravel that rope than Kimo Balthazer.
As pleased as he was with himself prancing around the plaza of the hospital complex, preparing for another show in just a few hours, the change in mood from yesterday among the support staff around him was striking. There was no beach chair for him today, no back pillow and no ice chest. Where yesterday he had been escorted to his field position, today he had to remind everyone he was an invited guest. He was not as yet specifically being blocked, it was more like he was being ignored. No one would talk with him, and the broadband channel he had logged onto yesterday was now a dead signal. Balthazer asked around for some assistance to reestablish his Wi-Fi connection, but no help was to be found. It did not take long for him to figure out that the authorities present were not nearly as pleased with his show as he was. The hope from Steyer’s point of view had been that the show would have put pressure on Ben and Jerry to give up their folly, but Balthazer’s listeners had instead emboldened them and trash talked the great Choy and Finkelman as if they were the criminals. As he meandered about, trying desperately to break the state of being disregarded, a familiar voice caught his attention, breaking the silence with a happy surprise.
“Yo, Bat Out Of Hell, that was one hell of a show!” It was the voice of his old producer, Lee Creighton, whom he had not seen in over a month, but who had tipped him off about a week ago before the Choy and Finkelman finding that he needed to get out of his apartment.
“Producer Lee Creighton, who let you on site? This is a crime scene. What is this, professional courtesy, because you work for those broadcast criminals in LA?”
“Not anymore,” replied Creighton. “It didn’t work out. I called in a favor and stashed myself in one of the local news trucks with a borrowed credential, probably all the political capital I have left. Besides, I’m too old for the overnight. You appear to have survived nicely.”
“Internet radio is a step down from the overnight, my friend. I hope you don’t think I can hire you back. I’m not in a position to pay a salary.”
“Maybe I am,” said Creighton. “Like I said, I checked out your show yesterday. You turned audience reaction to this fiasco into a completely different story. All the stations dumped the filtered version and picked up your lead.”
“Weird breakthrough, huh?” responded Balthazer. “This Is Rage putting up numbers on internet radio. No studio, no tower, just a laptop. Who’d have called that?”
“The only thing missing was a producer,” said Creighton. “Minor critique, but you let too many whiners on the air, too downbeat for my taste. Psychos make the show, but only in moderation. Maybe I can help.”
“I’m a one man army now,” said Balthazer. “How are you going to pay your way? We don’t sell ads in Salinas.”
“Don’t get me wrong, your show was damn good, the callers just need a little fine tuning. Without a wrangler the hogs can ramble. I took the liberty of making a few calls on your behalf. I hope you don’t mind. An hour later after sending a few old timers your link, I got a deal memo from satellite radio. They want to uplink the feed. It’s not a lot of money, but it will help at meal time . . . and with child support.”
“The reunion didn’t work out so well either?” inquired Balthazer. “I could have guessed. So you’re telling me you cut a deal to syndicate the show from the internet to satellite? It’s supposed to go the other way.”
“Until you, the internet content was crap. You’re changing the paradigm, Kimo. I also have interest from the station groups. Give me a little time, we can get you back on the air at the same reach you had before. No production investment required, you’ve proven that. All you need is that laptop. They’ll pay for the pick-up. Work for you?”
“It’s the only offer I’ve heard since being fired,” chuckled Balthazer. “How could I say no? Problem is, no one here is being very helpful today, just when a paycheck is back in draft form. It’s like a time warp, yesterday never happened. The great minds in charge aren’t too happy my listeners think the good guys are the bad guys.”
“We have an important story to follow here, Kimo. This is not just about being back on the air and making a living again. It’s about finding out why your listeners think the bad guys are good guys. We do that, we make the hall of fame.”
“What about the FCC?” asked Balthazer. “They’re also not real happy with me, for a few words that didn’t get bleeped.”
“Sure, they’ll get you eventually, someone will pay the fine,” noted Producer Lee Creighton. “But you’re originating from the internet now, where they have no jurisdiction. License not required, we’re going to feed the unregulated back to the mainstream. We just have to be careful what we put through, which is why you need someone running the dials.”
Balthazer felt sorry for Producer Lee Creighton. He knew his old friend was sincere in trying to make his marriage work and hold down a corporate job. He also knew that Creighton was like him, real radio was in his blood, and real radio was dead. He gave Creighton a lot of credit for putting this deal together, and knew that with his partnership and a national audience something big had to be on the horizon. Somewhere waited Pandora, wanting to let herself out of the box, all they had to do was find the box. With This Is Rage in full distribution again and a direct line to Ben and Jerry, it seemed they would have all they needed to get to the next level. There was the immediate issue on the horizon of how to get the show on the air today with no bandwidth, and the approaching even more immediate concern of Special Agent in Charge Hussaini, who as of yet had not given him the time of day, but now was approaching without any hint of endorsement.
“You’re going to have to move along,” announced Hussaini, a dab or two of sweat breaking through the Oxford cloth. “We are clearing the site of all media, and I’m not even sure you’re that.”
“My name is Kimo Balthazer,” said Balthazer, extending his handshake and for the first time introducing himself to the agent, more to aggravate Hussaini than to extend any sense of formality. “And you would be . . . ?”
“Special Agent in Charge Kaamil Hussaini. You know who I am. Sorry, this isn’t yesterday. You didn’t exactly impress whoever arranged for you to be here. My instructions are to clear the site, primarily of you. You and your buddy need to leave. We’ve got the hospital doors opening in a few minutes and confidentiality has been mandated.”
Balthazer and Producer Lee Creighton looked across the parking lot and noticed an approaching stretch limousine, the polished executive model that hauls celebrities to banal award shows and corporate egos from drunken banquets. Creighton was right, there was a breaking story here. There was not going to be a strike force attack or there would have been more FBI trucks instead of a limo. Balthazer knew he had to get more information before he left, but he had no idea how to get sweat pits Hussaini to share. Perhaps a trade might interest the overpriced crossing guard, a little gossip exchange. It had to be worth a try.
“Is Steyer changing his mind?” said Balthazer. “He hasn’t exactly been Speed Racer bringing home Choy and Finkelman. I’m thinking he may not want them back. Got the idea from a listener. Pretty outrageous.”
“Give me a reason and I will arrest you,” parried Hussaini, no opening to give and take.
“I hear you, you’ve been clear,” replied Balthazer. “Let me go get my laptop and we’ll be on our way.”
“You have 120 seconds to be off the grounds,” said Hussaini. “If those secure doors open and you are here, you will be in my custody and I am sure there are others who will find interest in that.”
Hussaini directed a junior agent to accompany Balthazer and Producer Lee Creighton as they turned and went back to get Balthazer’s laptop. Across the plaza activity was vibrant. True enough, all media were being removed. News trucks were being directed to the exits and satellite links were being pulled down. Hussaini was obviously good at his job, he was fully in control. Preparation was his style and had been complete. When the time came and he gave the order to clear the site, his orders were followed instantly and expertly. Ben and Jerry were at last about to emerge. Where the limo would take them with Choy and Finkelman was anyone’s guess.
“We get a picture, we got a scoop,” muttered Balthazer to Producer Lee Creighton, just out of the junior agent’s hearing range.
“I’m on it,” quietly replied Creighton. “Keep it in slow motion, need that door to open.”
Balthazer stepped onto yesterday’s observation platform, grabbed his laptop, fiddled with the shutdown mode and closed the lid as unhurriedly as he could, attempting to buy as much time as possible to see who was coming out of that hospital door. Appearing to be responsive but letting as many seconds as he could tick off the clock, he packed up his headphones and mic and all the cords, one peripheral at a time, gradually stuffing them into his computer bag.
“Limo, the new federal M.O. for unconditional surrender?” sniped Balthazer, trying to get any hint of the group’s destination from the emotionless junior agent. “Or maybe they’re taking an exercise break. Golf outing? Team building at a spa?”
The junior agent was not amused and instructed Balthazer that he was at the high end of his 120 seconds, that if the Infiniti was not out of park and following his government plates down the driveway toward the main road at clock expiration, he had been given the authority by Hussaini to make the arrest. Balthazer knew this was no bluff. He climbed into the Infiniti and was joined in the passenger seat by Producer Lee Creighton, whose eyes remained fixed on the hospital door, about fifty yards away. All the media had been cleared and Balthazer was at the end of the exit parade.
Perhaps Hussaini was distracted, perhaps he was overconfident in executing his plan, or perhaps he was working on someone else’s timeline in the nature of a government agent following the orders he was given, but just as Balthazer’s Infiniti was leaving the parking lot, the hospital door opened. Hussaini must have given the order, thought Balthazer, noting that Producer Lee Creighton’s sightline from the passenger seat remained dutifully transfixed on the hospital door. Balthazer looked in the rear view mirror and got the tiniest glimpse of what had to be Calvin Choy walking out the door, followed by Stephen J. Finkelman in a rolling hospital bed, with what appeared to be a doctor on one side and a nurse on the other. He had seen the co-CEOs headshots online via the EnvisionInk corporate profile, and though they were at distance, he was sure it was them. Balthazer knew Creighton had the same glimpse, probably a little clearer, when Creighton nudged Balthazer to keep the car moving slowly, as slowly as possible without buying them a jail cell. Balthazer eyed Creighton, as Creighton watched Choy get in the limo, followed by Finkelman, the doctor, and the nurse. Still looking in the car mirror, Balthazer saw the perspiring Hussaini standing by the limo door, assisting Finkelman from the hospital bed, talking occasionally into his shoulder mic, eyes maintaining intense contact on the hospital entrance. With the Infiniti now building distance from the plaza, Balthazer at last caught a far off image of his two most important show guests ever, the shadow of what had to be Ben and Jerry. Balthazer came off the gas one more instant, giving Producer Lee Creighton the cue. In a single reaching move through the glass of the rear window, hand kept low and hidden from the junior agent in the car ahead, Producer Lee Creighton raised his smart phone and clicked one camera frame. The suppressed grin formed by Creighton’s lips told Balthazer all he needed to know. They would be tiny and in poor scale, but Creighton got them, Ben and Jerry in a digital image that could be enhanced. Together they laughed aloud. They had what no one else had, and that rendering belonged to This Is Rage.
Balthazer was still in good form with the junior agent leading the Infiniti when he looked back over his shoulder and saw Hussaini getting in the limo as well. That made it a party of seven: Choy, Finkelman, Ben, Jerry, Doctor, Nurse, and Special Agent in Charge. It was a party all right—all they had to do next was find out the future venue and keep wrenching the story from secrecy.
The junior agent escorted Balthazer and Creighton back to the motel, where Balthazer now intended to do today’s show, especially since he had a producer for the first time in a long while. Unfortunately the junior agent proceeded to check out for them and gave Balthazer five minutes to pack and be on his way, with clear instructions not to be within one hundred miles of the area in the next two hours or his license plates would be picked up by the Highway Patrol. With only minutes to be on his way or enjoy an evening’s cuisine in custody, Balthazer rapidly managed to upload an informative bit of copy to ThisIsRage.com:
Bad News: No Show Today, Technical Difficulties, Will Explain Tomorrow
Good News: Producer Lee Creighton is Back, I Forgive Him
Bad News: Don’t Know Where Ben & Jerry Have Taken Choy & Finkelman
Good News: Tomorrow We’re on Satellite, Soon Back on AM/FM
Bad News: EnvisionInk Does Not Seem to Want Choy & Finkelman Back
Good News: Here is a Picture of Ben & Jerry, Zoom & Spread Viral
Balthazer uploaded the snapshot via Bluetooth that Creighton had taken while they were departing, bridging his friend’s smart phone. Then he tagged the photo with a closing bit of text:
Daniel Steyer: If You Would Like to Comment, Please Join Me as a Guest.
Balthazer saved and published the web page, saying nothing to the junior agent, instead grabbing the balance of his belongings and returning to his car. He waved goodbye to the junior agent, nodded success to Producer Lee Creighton, and together they headed south on Highway 101. The hundred-mile demand was no doubt a clue. Balthazer knew if he had to be outside that radius then the Hussaini escorted party necessarily had to be within that range. With a million followers and growing, a published photo of Ben and Jerry on his home page, and a hard dare of courage to the chairman of EnvisionInk, he knew it would not be long until he located Choy and Finkelman. How his wacky listeners would digest all this remained the wild card, but the social anarchy he knew he could arouse was much more than entertainment, it was media and technology history. Balthazer truly could not remember his job ever being this much fun. There was only one thing that would make it more fun: Steyer.
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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