Chapter 2 of Arlo

Aloha – Below is the first draft of chapter 2 of the new novel I’m working on:  Arlo.  Good news is that I’m staying about 12 chapters ahead on the rough draft.  I’ll post subsequent chapters as I finish new ones :o)

Chapter 2  Midas

Seven men and four women sat around the polished mahogany table in the dark paneled office.  Floor to ceiling glass on the outer wall displayed an expanse of Chicago from the 80th floor of the downtown skycraper.  Today there was not much to see as clouds enveloped the city.

A middle aged man with blond hair pulled back in a short pony tail, leaned over to the newest Vice President of the company, 36 year old Barbara Fielder, “He’s on a roll today,” he whispered conspiratorially.

“Calvin!  Something you want to share?” the short, dark haired man who had been pacing while he spoke paused suddenly.

Calvin Graham’s head jerked away from his efforts to flirt, “No sir.  I think the plans for building refineries in Tijuana and Matamoros is brilliant.  Have you considered cross-border transportations issues?”  Calvin slide comfortably back in his seat.  Ever since the CEO had caught him not paying attention eight, or was it nine years ago, he had always read the agenda carefully and developed what he referred to as a save comment for each agenda item.

“Excellent question Graham,” the man at the front of the room frowned and turned to the Vice President of Operations for Mexico, Central and South America, “Well Tate?”

“Arthur, we have Senator Harkin who chairs the oversight committee in our pocket.  The Tamaulipas government is on board for anything that will create jobs.  The Baja government is not a problem.  But we are still negotiating with the cartel.  They’re unhappy with your decision not to allow contraband.”

Arthur motioned to the secretary taking notes from the side and she stopped writing, “Samuel, we built a $200 billion company without getting involved with drugs; we don’t need to go there now.  Blood money to protect our assets and people I do reluctantly.”

Samuel leaned forward as if to argue, and then sat back tenting his fingers on the table, “As you wish, Arthur.”

Arthur Salt, CEO of Salt Industries would not admit it, but had considered dealing with the Tijuana cartel, just like he had considered such temptations at least a dozen times in the past thirty five years.  His career in business had started as a joke.  He was just in his second year with an investment banking firm when he was presented an opportunity to acquire a small salt processing facility in the West.  It was the humor in the coincidence of his name and the industry that grabbed his interest.  It turned out to be a sweet deal.  The owner’s family had run the business for four generations, but none of the children wanted to carry on the tradition.  All Arthur had to do was come up with a buyout plan to pay off the book value of the assets, which were almost zero.  He borrowed $50,000 to buy the assets then improved production by laying off a third of the workforce and adjusting production toward efficiencies rather than family tradition.  He was out of debt in less than six months.

The first time that the temptation of illegal drug affiliation came up was two years later when he was trying to acquire rights to another salt refining operation in Columbia.  He had already made his first $10 million by then, and could have jumped that value to $100 million just by cutting an agreement with another drug cartel.  He had paced the floor half the night over that one.  It was a benchmark moment in his life.  He decided to thumb his nose at the cartel and walked away from the deal.  But the cartel then threatened to break him.  He took the threat as a challenge and had determined that he would build the largest corporation in the world.

Since that time, Arthur Salt had cut deals and cut corners.  He had bowed to corrupt politicians and he had broken just as many more politicians.  He sometimes wondered whether he had simply traded one version of evil for another.  But he continued to grow and expand.  He was at the threshold of meeting that goal he set so long ago.  Forbes placed his company at number three, and his personal assets in the top ten in the world.

Turning to his old friend Roberto Trujillo, and the CFO of Salt Industries, Arthur queried, “What about those earnings reports?  I was anticipating 5.6 percent Return on Assets.  What happened?”

Roberto Trujillo looked up from the spreadsheets on the table in front of him.  He still preferred paper to computer screens when reporting.  “Arthur we’re still at 5.5 percent.  The difference is a flux in exchange rates.  The Euro decline was more than we anticipated.”

“Humph!  Never saw you get caught with you pants down like this before,” Arthur Salt snapped.  “Didn’t you have arbitrage to cover the gaps?”

Trujillo didn’t even flinch at the attack, “Our models indicated a four percent exchange loss against the dollar, it was six percent.  It will bounce back this quarter.  We’re already seeing it.”

Turning back to Graham, “Well, Calvin?”

Calvin Graham smiled, “We’ve settled the appeal on the fraking class action in Farlap, North Dakota.  The final settlement was $82 million.”

“What?  $82 million?  What the hell are you smiling about?”

Calvin grinned wolfishly, “As you will recall, the original settlement was for $700 million.  You signed off on any settlement under $100 million.  We did well.  The attorney’s for the plaintiffs could not underwrite another five years through the court system on their own, and if they brought in a bigger firm, their cut on the deal would have been reduced from $30 million to around $25 million even if the settlement stuck.  Ergo, the best deal for the plaintiff’s attorneys was the deal we offered.  Much lower and they probably would have pulled in some New York powerhouse firm with deep pockets.  Calvin noted that Arthur was trying to scowl, but that one side of his lip was turning to a smile.  Good, another home run for me, he thought smugly.

“Okay, time for damage control then,” Arthur’s stoic look returned.  “What is that state university about 30 miles downriver?  Nevermind,” he paced.  “They have been looking for a new basketball arena.  Contact their fund raising group and offer to donate $5 million to the school toward that event center if they’ll put my name of the building.”

Calvin interrupted, “They’ll jump at three million.”

“Calvin, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in 35 years is to fight hard and win, but not to be cheap on redeeming your reputation.  Five million is fine.”

The meeting continued at a break neck pace for another hour, then as suddenly as the meeting started it ended, and the executives vacated the board room in less than a minute leaving Arthur Salt and Roberto Trujillo alone in the room.  “So what do you think of Graham?” Arthur asked as he leaned back in the chair he had not sat in throughout the two hour meeting.

“Clever,” Roberto replied leaning back across from Arthur.

“And….?” Arthur probed.

“Arrogant, narcissist, who thinks he is God’s gift to women.”

“It seems to be paying off for us,” Arthur reflected aloud, “He’s five and oh on those litigation issues I’ve sent his way.  The last two he surprised even me.”

“But…?” Roberto leaned forward.

“He’s married with two children, yet he continues to act as if he’s on the prowl.  I know that sooner or later we’re going to have to deal with a sexual harassment case.  We have enough litigation going on for that to make me nervous, but I’ve never had much luck with loyalty from employees who can’t be loyal to their spouses,” Arthur slouched.  “I get twitchy when I have key executives so overtly trying to cheat on their partners.”

“So…?”

“His dirt quotient is low; not much harm he can do us there.  But I hate to give up on someone with his obvious talent.  I’m thinking a two year assignment in Argentina.”

“What did Argentina do to you?” Roberto laughed.

“He is fluent in Spanish.  He has credentials and experience in International Law.  I also think that taking his family to Argentina for two years will either make or break the marriage.  If he can clear that hurdle I’m thinking of tracking him for Chief Operating Officer in about five years.”

Roberto laughed again, “With his ego do you think he can wait five years?”

“We have other choices if he moves on.”

The conference line in the board room buzzed.

“What now?  I told Janice not to bother me while I was in here,” Arthur complained as he hit the speaker phone.

“Mr. Salt, I have a call for you,” a middle-aged female voice echoed through the chamber.

“Who is it?” Arthur snapped.

“It’s your son,” Janice snapped back.

Arthur Salt rose to his feet suddenly, “I’ll take it in my office.

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