The day is fucked and it’s not even 7AM.
I throw The Seattle Times onto my desk and pick up the office phone to call Ros.
Trouble in the Boardroom
Heavy industry continues to head to the Far East.
Callum Marchant reports.
As yet another contract by-passes local companies and more redundancies are announced at Puget Sound Dry Dock and Construction Company, fears increase that shipbuilding in Seattle will be entering more than a dry spell.
Founded in 1898, the former family-owned company was floated on the stock market in 1987,having survived the global economic recession of the early 1980s. Riding high on government tax breaks and incentives, PSDD&CC invested heavily in designing and building break-bulk and container ships.
As of 2001, more than 90% of world trade in non-bulk goods is transported in ISO containers. But despite their innovation with double-bottom hulls, designed to contain fuel oil, ballast water or fresh water, new business has fallen by 57% at the Washington based company, leading to a third raft of redundancies in as many years.
A source inside PSDD&CC recently told this paper that, ‘boardroom squabbles have exacerbated the problem’ and that ‘in-fighting’ has led to a below-the-radar search for angel investors to finance a refloatation.
Is time-running out for one of Seattle’s oldest companies?
Ros stalks into my office brandishing her own copy of the newspaper. As always, she’s keeping up with me.
“We’re screwed,” she hisses.
“No, not yet,” I say, leaning back in my chair, feigning a calm I don’t necessarily feel.
“Are you kidding me, Christian? Now this is public knowledge, we’ll be fighting off East Coast investors left, right and center, not to mention the Chinese and Taiwanese. It’ll add at least $250 million to the price! We don’t have that kind of leverage available.”
Her anxiety is having the reverse effect on me, perverse bastard that I am.
“Your five year business plan is based on securing this purchase. You need this, Christian. You’ve been talking about this and planning for this for a whole year. So why are you sitting there like King Canute, willing back the tide, when we’ve put a thousand man-hours in on this – and that’s just you and me?”
A peaceful feeling descends: this is where I belong, in the eye of the storm.
“Because I just figured something out.”
She stares at me, growing impatient when I don’t elucidate.
“And? What did you figure out? Are you going to tell me or is it twenty goddamn questions, because I’ve got to tell you, Christian, right now I’m ready to call the men in white coats because you’re not freaking out.”
If only she knew. Mom has been on me to start seeing a shrink again. Like that’s ever fixed anything.
“Because the company’s audit is wrong.”
The answer has come to me suddenly, unexpectedly. My mind has made one of those unfathomable leaps that even I don’t fully understand.
“What? How do you know their audit is wrong?”
“I just know.”
“Come on, Christian. You’ve got to give me more than that! I’ve met with the accountants, external and internal auditors dozens of times; you’ve scoured the company’s financial reports, interrogated its management – we found nothing. Nothing.”
She stares at me.
It’s hard to explain how I know. It’s a feeling, a gut instinct. I know when people are hiding something. I’m a fucking expert on keeping secrets, and the CEO – Marc Benson – has been… too helpful.
“All I can tell you, Ros, is that there was something nagging at me, and I’ve just worked out what it is: a portion of its revenues in a previous quarter doesn’t add up.”
I spin my laptop around to show her. She squints at the tiny figures then nods slowly.
“Okay, I see it, too. But the amount in question is small – a few million dollars,” and she shrugs.
“I think it’s more than a few million, Ros. If I’m right – and I’m pretty fucking sure I am – the company has improperly overstated its revenues – by more than $300 million.”
Her eyes widen, and she sucks in a deep breath.
“Christian, are you sure…?”
As I explain my reasoning, the certainty grows inside me, and I can see that my argument is convincing Ros.
“Look – the Board are a bunch of dicks. They’re harking back to their glory days when PSDD&CC initially listed on the New York Stock Exchange. They haven’t got a fucking clue what’s going on in the real world. They get paid lavishly to mix it with the rich and powerful, shake a few Senators’ hands, catch up with the good ole boys over a grilled tuna lunch, and jet home. They don’t have to make any effort. They listen to Benson, go to one meeting a month, look like they know what the fuck they’re talking about – which they don’t – and agree with everything he says. Then they pocket their $125,000 a year, and act as directors for four other companies that kiss their well-padded asses.”
“Okay, fine. They’re shitty directors, we know that. But they’d still have to vote themselves out of a job.”
She looks skeptical.
“Well, what if you’re right. How are you going to play this?”
I smile at Ros and she blinks, looking momentarily unnerved.
“I take the fuckers apart.”
* * *
Ros sets up the meeting. The timing is still sensitive after the irritating disclosure, courtesy of The Seattle Times, but I’m confidant that I’ve covered every angle and that the deal will still go my way.
When Elliot was ten, he used to like those storybooks where you chose your own ending. You know, decide what the character does next; decide how it ends. I always figured out every possible outcome – every ending – plus a few the author hadn’t even considered. It was easy for me, I don’t know why. Business is just the same: I compute every possible angle; every ramification of every decision; calculate the risk against the potential return on investment. It’s simply a question of logic, backed up by research. That’s where most people fall down – they don’t do their research. They’re sloppy, lazy, driven by emotional incontinence. Since I don’t have any emotions, I have an advantage.
The irony is not lost on me. I’m good, because I’m bad. I win, because I’ve already lost. Making money is easier than breathing. Even my parents have no clue how wealthy I am. Would they be shocked if they knew I earned $50,000 an hour, every hour? Not that they’d care about that. I know exactly what Mom would say, “But does it make you happy?”
How the fuck would I know? It makes me secure. It means that I won’t starve. It means I can look after my family: Mia, Elliot, Mom and Dad, my grandparents. Anything they need, I can give them. Perhaps I should qualify that: anything that can be bought, I can give them.
Elena made me watch Gone with the Wind once. To this day, I don’t know whether or not that was supposed to be punishment or pleasure – although often it was the same thing with her. But one scene in that film resonated with me:
“I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”
Elena laughed at that, scoffing at the sentimentality of it, the melodrama. But Elena has never been truly hungry. She’s never felt the hole in your stomach that hurts so badly, you can’t even crawl across the floor. The kind of hunger where you’d eat grass if you could find a field.
But that’s what drives me – a wish to never be that dirty little four-year-old shit, everyone’s whipping boy. I don’t expect anyone to understand that.
I hold the door open for Ros as we enter the Boardroom at PSDD&CC’s offices. It’s a tactic, as well as manners.
Benson sits at the head of the table; the Chairman of the Board, Malcolm Sutcliffe, sits at the other. The rest of the Board is spread out around the huge slab of wood in a way that’s designed to intimidate the opposition.
They greet Ros, whom they’ve met before, and don’t even acknowledge me. They think I’m her assistant – some wet behind the ears kid. They’ll be surprised when they find out who I am and it’ll throw them off balance. Ros and I have played this riff before. If they’d done their homework, they’d know who the fuck I was. Well, they will soon.
Benson clears his throat and shakes Ros’s hand before we take a seat.
“Good to see you again, Ms. Bailey.” He pauses and looks questioningly towards the door. “Are we waiting for Mr. Grey?”
“Not at all,” Ros says, smoothly. “Allow me to introduce you: Marc Benson, Christian Grey.”
And there it is – the look of shock, badly concealed.
“Ah, Mr. Grey! Well! Well, I see. It’s good to meet you at last.”
I nod, my face blank. I can hold this look for hours – Elena taught me well.
His handshake is limp and a little damp. I pull my handkerchief from my pocket and discreetly wipe my hand.
“Right, well. Let’s get started,” he says, trying to push authority into his voice.
It isn’t working and he can’t stop his eyes flickering toward me. Too young, his brain is telling him. Does not add up; does not compute.
“Ahem,” he clears his throat noisily then fights to bring back his control. “Since our previous meeting,” he begins, looking at Ros, then at me again, “there have been some developments.”
He still can’t take his eyes off of me; he’s trying to work it out, but he’s coming up short. His demeanor, however, is intentionally smug.
“We’ve been approached by a number of private equity firms and are confident that their offer will provide the growth capital we need to return PSDD&CC to its rightful place as a global player in shipping and ship construction.”
The Board members smile their satisfied, shark smiles, leaning back in their chairs.
Benson lets his empty words hang in the air. I let them drift to the floor as the silence billows out.
When my lack of response has unnerved them, I speak quietly but clearly.
“You think Star Management is going to offer you a leveraged buyout,” I say, pretending to be thoughtful.
Their smiles fade.
“How did you know that Star M…?”
Benson halts himself, realizing he’s giving himself away.
I meet his gaze. “They won’t offer you anything.”
His lips tighten and he desperately wants to ask how much I know and what I mean, but he’ll lose face if he does.
“Nor will Acron Developments,” my voice whispers out, like a dry finger of death. “They both found the ratio of debt to equity was not to their liking,” I continue quietly.
Benson freezes and several members of the Board look annoyed. They don’t like surprises. They don’t know how to adapt. They didn’t have the training that I had. They haven’t had to recite the periodic table while wearing a cock cage, trying not to get aroused as Elena teaches me control with a cane. They should put that in Business 101 at Harvard.
“In fact, they learned that you have overstated the company’s revenues by $327.3 million,” I intone.
The comments from the Board rain down thick and fast, but Benson has yet to reply.
“What this company is looking at,” I say, my voice rising above the babble, “is three years embroiled in a massive accounting scandal. There will be government investigations, potential lawsuits by former shareholders, and endless press speculation of misfeasance if not malfeasance. Ultimately you will have to write off $192 million of your earnings. But, of course, PSDD&CC would not survive.”
“Benson!” yelps Sutcliffe. “What the hell is he saying? Is there any basis for truth in these… in these laughable assertions?”
Benson looks green and Ros edges away from him, apparently concerned that he might vomit on her Gucci pumps.
“Your D&O insurance will not cover you for this, gentleman,” I offer, almost gently.
All talk dies away.
The Board members look helplessly at Benson who is still silent.
“You… you have an alternative suggestion?” asks Sutcliffe in a strangled voice when it becomes clear that their CEO is still mute.
“As of 8AM this morning, I became PSDD&CC’s sole shareholder. I suggest you vote yourselves out of a job, gentlemen… and give me the keys to the front door.”
There’s an astonished silence. I have the bizarre sensation that I’m looking into a fish tank and all the inmates are blinking back at me, mouths opening and shutting as I stare at them.
I stand, fasten a single button on my jacket. As Ros catches my eye, I feel my lips twitch in what might be a smile.
“You can take it from here, Ros.”
* * *
That was such a fucking rush.
I seriously need to burn off some adrenaline after that. I wish I’d arranged for a new Sub, but I haven’t gotten around to it. The whole scenario with Kirsten was… disconcerting. I mean, for fuck’s sake – all that bullshit she was talking about love. That was just bizarre – she was my Sub; she ought to have known her place. I conclude that Christine’s screening process was incomplete and I must go back and look at the details I provided, too. I have to make it clear and unequivocal that being my Sub is a business relationship of mutual pleasure and convenience – nothing more.
Elena told me that a lot of married couples also have additional Dom/Sub relationships with third parties. Sometimes this is a shared pleasure but, more usually, because the needs of one half of the couple are not met within the marital unit. It makes sense to use the services of another person rather than to break up a marriage which is otherwise workable.
I admit the concept makes me uneasy, although I’m not sure why. I can see the benefits, and I do know of Doms who have more than one Sub. Although Elena never mentioned anything, I long suspected that I wasn’t the only Sub that she had at any one time, although I do believe that I stayed with her the longest.
I remember when I first realized that she wasn’t exclusively mine – and it burned to think of her with someone else. For a long time I believed that it was my fault, that I wasn’t enough for her. I later came to see that it was merely expedience. Because of school, and living at home, I wasn’t available to her as often as either of us would have wished. And she had needs. Living under my parents’ roof, there was little I could do about mine, let alone hers.
Yes, about those needs – I really have to make an appointment with Christine.
I make a spur of the moment decision and instead of heading back to the office, I make an illegal U-turn and drive toward Greenlake.
It’s early evening and the traffic is heavy. It takes nearly 40 minutes before I reach the lake front. I pull over and stare out at the darkening water, cold and silent.
I nearly have a fucking heart attack when a ghoulish face peers in my window – long, yellow teeth and a pock-marked face.
Fuck. Halloween. I’d forgotten.
I always enjoyed Halloween when I was a kid – it was the only time that my outside appearance reflected the chaos inside. Surrounded by horror, it was the only time I felt normal.
I realize that the year is nearly over. It’s been months since I’ve seen my family. Mia texts me and includes me in links on her Facebook page. Perhaps it’s appropriate that a line of digital zeroes and ones have become my link to my family. I’m surprised to realize that I miss them, but they’re better off without me. I know I’m not the son and brother they want, but my work – my money – will keep them safe.
I restart the car, enjoying the speed and sophistication of the new Mercedes SL Class Cabriolet. It’s a toy but if nothing else, my money affords me the wherewithal to have the best. I’ve heard that Audi are re-launching the Spyder R8. It’s a mid-engine, two-seater sports car – with a waiting list, unless you’re Christian Grey and money is no object. It will have the quattro permanent all-wheel drive system and will use an aluminum monocoque built around space frame principles. I’m considering flying out to at Neckarsulm in Germany to visit the factory. I can combine work with pleasure and check on a cell phone manufacturing company in the Ruhr valley that I have an interest in. Who says I don’t have a life?
I haven’t had much time for more flying lessons, but that’s something else I’ll get back to. I’m not that far off taking my test and getting a license. That’s a project for next year.
Christine’s BDSM members-only club has changed since I was last here. It now has valet parking, and I hand my keys to a uniformed man who looks about Elliot’s age. His eyes widen with pleasure as I step out, but it’s the car that’s turning him on. Sometimes, being well-dressed, being surrounded by beautiful things, it deflects people from staring at me. It doesn’t always work, but it gives me a moment of peace, a fleeting feeling of normalcy. I hate it when they stare.
The doorman pushes the heavy wooden door, allowing me to enter the opulent reception. He deftly pockets the $10 bill I give him. Very smooth, no fumbling. I’m pleased to see that Christine hires only the best. It makes me hopeful that she’ll select a more appropriate match for me this time.
I’m welcomed by the concierge who hears my request to meet with Christine.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey. Miss Christine is in a meeting at the moment. She’ll be free in half-an-hour if you’d care to wait in our lounge.”
She escorts me to the room that reminds me of an old-fashioned gentleman’s club with heavy, over-stuffed leather armchairs, and the smell of beeswax.
A waiter glides across the room, bringing me a glass of Montrachet. Impressive. I’ve only been here once before and that was nearly a year ago, yet my wine preference is immediately supplied. I relax a little.
My thoughts stray to the first time I came here. With Elena. And the first time I saw Kirsten. I still don’t understand why she chose to go to Florida. I made it my business to find out about her Dom. He was considerably older than me, but couldn’t supply anything like the level of comfort I could offer Kirsten. So why did she leave?
“How lovely to see you, Christian. You look well.”
Thinking of Elena appears to have conjured her forth.
Her voice is a cool whisper close to my ear. I’m pleased that I don’t react, either to the surprise or to her presence. I stand and kiss her cheek.
“Elena, always a pleasure.”
Her small frown is immediately swept away, but she knows that I’ve seen it. She wanted to see the affect she has on me. And she’s disappointed.
My eyes slide over to her companion whom she hasn’t introduced. Her new Sub. His build is similar to mine, although he’s not quite as tall; he’s about the same age.
“This is Andrei; Andrei, Christian.”
We shake hands and his eyes meet mine briefly. I see a flash of recognition – not because he knows me, but he can see what I am. Perhaps he’s also guessed what I was. He looks down at the carpet and waits.
I realize that I’m waiting, too – waiting for a flush of jealousy now I’ve met Elena’s new interest. But nothing happens. Curious.
“I assume you’re here to see Christine?” Elena muses. “I hope she can do better than that little social worker she matched you up with last time. Goodness, I thought she was running a professional business here.”
I’m irritated, and although I hide it well, Elena isn’t fooled.
She turns to her Sub. “Andrei, go and wait at our table.”
He leaves immediately and Elena settles herself in the chair next to me, even though I haven’t invited her to sit.
I lower myself back to my own chair wondering what’s coming next. The anticipation of sparring with her is a sensation I enjoy.
“We’ve known each other quite a few years now, Christian.” She smiles, silkily. “But I’d like to add a new element to our friendship.”
She edges forward, all playfulness gone.
“I want to open a beauty salon, Christian. I’m tired of substandard service and half-trained girls who haven’t got a clue how to serve a client. I’ve located a suitable downtown location and I need $850,000 for the premises and eight months running costs.”
I see no problem with that. Elena loaned me money to get me started – I’m happy to repay the favor. Relieved, in fact, that the debt is repaid with more than hard cash.
“Fine. I’ll write you a check.”
She leans back in her seat, her body stiff with anger. I don’t know why.
“It’s so easy for you, isn’t it, Christian?” she hisses. “All you have to do is to write a check – problem solved.”
I blink at the vitriol in her voice.
“God, you’re just like him – just like my ex-husband,” she mutters.
What the fuck?
“Don’t look at me like that,” she sneers. “You are like him. He thought fobbing me off with money would keep me quiet, keep me occupied so I could be a dutiful little …”
Her words come to an abrupt halt as she reins in her scalding anger.
“I can do this, Christian,” she says with more composure. “I’ve got a sound business plan and I know what is needed. I want you as a silent partner. There’s an opportunity here for a whole chain of salons across the city. Maybe in other cities, too. Who knows? The potential is enormous.”
I know nothing about beauty salons and have less interest. But Elena is astute and reads people well. Hell, she could see what a fucked up kid I was as a teenager and knew exactly how to help me when a decade of shrinks had done nothing.
“Do you have a name for this salon yet?”
She lifts her eyebrows. “Esclava.”
“Esclava? The Spanish for ‘female slave’? That’s very… very you, Elena.”
“I thought you’d like it, Christian. I chose the name with you in mind.” She smiles. “Regardless, your return on investment will be substantial.”
“Elena, I’m not worried about that. Of course I’ll help you.”
“I don’t want help,” she snaps. “This is a business opportunity.”
I’m struggling to see the difference, but if that’s the way she wants to play it.
“Fine. Come by the office next week. I’ll look at your business plan and have a contract drawn up.”
“Thank you,” she says, after a short pause.
The conversation over, we both stand. She raises her hands to my shoulders and I resist stepping away from her. She gives me another chaste kiss on the cheek.
She smiles, her eyes glittering with excitement.
“This is the start of our new relationship, Christian,” she breathes into my ear.
I nod but don’t reply.
She starts to walk away and I call after her.
“Elena, call my secretary for an appointment.”
A look of fury crosses her face and I smile my first genuine smile of the day.
She recovers herself quickly.
“Do say hello to Grace for me, Christian, next time you see her. I know she misses her boy.”
My smile vanishes. She knew it would.
Thank you for putting up with the delay in posting, lovely people. Part of the delay is due to my writing a new book, ‘Dangerous to Know & Love’ which will be published May 17 on Amazon and Smashwords. Thanks for reading. jhb x