"Thank you for calling Valencia Systems. How may I direct your call?"
"Yes. I would like to speak with your general council, Lisa Anston. Is she available?"
"One moment please."
"This is Lisa Anston, can I help you?"
"Hello. My name is David Masters. I am with the law firm of Jansson, Masters, Berwick, and Henney. We have a client, who has retained the services of all four named partners, who would like to meet with you and your husband, Mitch Valencia, to discuss an issue."
"Can I ask what this is about?" She managed to keep the shock and surprise out of her voice. Jansson, Masters, Berwick, and Henney was a large national law firm based out of Chicago. A client who could retain all four named partners?
"I am not at liberty to discuss this. Our client wishes to discuss the issue in person."
"Umm, let me check on Mitch's availability. How soon were you thinking about meeting with us?" Some tension could be heard entering her voice. Lawsuits could be costly. It was a significant vulnerability to the relatively small, privately-held company.
"We are in town today through the end of the week to confer with our client. Any time you choose this week would be acceptable."
"Ok, let me check with Mitch. Please hold." Someone who could afford to fly all four partners to Minneapolis for a WEEK? Who was their client? What could his issue with Valencia Systems be?
"Mr. Masters? We have set aside tomorrow afternoon from one o'clock on. Is that sufficient time?"
"Yes, that should be sufficient. We will see you tomorrow then."
"Do you need directions to our location?"
"No, the client knows the way. We won't have any problems."
"Ok. See you then."
"Thank you. Good bye."
"Lisa, this is Jennifer at the front desk. The party you are expecting is in the conference room 1A near the entrance. They asked to be shown there immediately to avoid disturbing anyone else."
"Thank you Lisa. Call Mitch and let him know I will meet him at your desk and we will walk in together."
Lisa and Mitch walked into the conference room together, and looked at the guests. There seemed to be more people than they expected. Everyone was wearing business suits. Some were seated on the far side of the huge conference table, with a cluster looking away from the door out one of the large windows to the outside.
One of the lawyers stood and held out his hand over the table to the couple, shaking hands and saying "Hello, I am David Masters. These are my partners, Lars Jansson, Michael Berwick, and Donald Henney."
After shaking hands down the row, Mitch looked at the men clustered at the window. Two were standing behind the one closest to the window, almost like they were guarding him. As Mitch looked and wondered who the client was, he turned around to face them, and both Lisa and Mitch audibly gasped.
"I don't think we will be shaking hands, will we, 'boss?' Hello, Lisa. Haven't seen you in a while. You haven't changed."
Mitch got over his surprise a little quicker than Lisa did.
"What do you want, Rick?" he asked bluntly.
"Ah yes, the classic Mitch tact. Good to see that hasn't changed. It's been a few years, hasn't it? Nine years to the day, as a matter of fact." The newcomer finished walking over and pulled out the chair to David Master's right, seating himself as the two confirmed their status as bodyguards by parking themselves behind him at either shoulder.
He waited a moment, then spoke again. "Aren't you going to sit down, 'boss?' I assure you, if you don't, things will be much more unpleasant for you."
Mitch sat, then watched Lisa as she sat. Then he turned back to Rick. "Ok, fine, we're sitting. What do you want?" He asked again.
"I wanted to discuss an issue that has arisen. Of sorts. You may not think it is an issue, but I tend to think it is. You see, I still remember what it was like to work here. You ranting at me and insulting me whenever you thought I wasn't working hard enough. Your wife lying to you about me every chance she got, threatening to, how did you put it, Lisa? Oh yes. Here it is. Thank you, David." he said, as he took the sheets of paper the partner offered him.
"'Rick, if you ever do that to me again, I'll cut your dick off.' Threatened anyone else with castration lately?" His smile seemed to be warm and friendly. His eyes were anything but.
"I never said that! You're lying!" Lisa's indignation was impressive. Considering it was entirely contrived.
"Really? I have four signed and notarized affidavits from the people who were in the room or just outside when you said it. All of them are dated within a week of the incident. "Here, you can have a copy of each. I have plenty." He wadded up the papers in his hand and tossed them across the table contemptuously.
Mitch stared at his wife in shock. What was going on here? Had she really said that? He knew she was ruthless, but he was still was stunned by how far she would go.
"Surprised, Mitch? I warned you she was after me. You told me not to make you choose between me and your wife. Then when you let me go, you didn't have the guts to show up at the final meeting and tell me yourself. You sent her. She had the biggest smile on her face I think I had ever seen. Funny. She doesn't seem to be smiling anymore."
Lisa had smoothed out the pages, and was looking them over, shocked and confused.
"I would warn you not to retaliate against them, but none of the four are with your company any more, are they? All four have since resigned over time since then, and have gotten other jobs on their own. They left here in good standing, eligible for rehire. At least, that's what they told me later." Rick was no longer smiling.
"The truth of the matter is, they couldn't stand to work here anymore. I can't blame them. Mitch and the Bitch, as everyone I knew around here called you. At least they did in my day. Do they still call you that?"
Mitch was getting angry. "How dare you come into my company and..."
Rick cut him off. "And what? Speak truth to power? Put a petty technocrat who doesn't have enough pennies put aside to hire an outside lawyer for this meeting in his place? How's the recession hitting your business? Pretty bad? Gee, I feel awful for you." It certainly sounded sincere. No one was fooled.
"Since neither of you has changed, I don't have to be nice and restrain myself. I'm really glad that is the case."
He turned to David on his left. "David, time for twenty questions."
"Ok, go ahead. I'll do my best."
Rick turned back to Mitch and Lisa.
"How did we get here today?"
"We rode in two of your cars."
"What are those cars?"
"One is a silver 2009 Bentley Flying Spur Speed. The other is a black 2009 Bentley Flying Spur Speed."
"What is the combined worth of those cars?"
"Who paid for them."
"You did, Mr. Johnson."
"How did I get the money to pay for them?"
"You sold something classified to the Pentagon."
"What was my portion of the complete purchase agreement?"
There was a pause in the room. David had been told to count to five before continuing. Mitch and Lisa were greedy, selfish people who would do anything to be rich. This would be good.
"Just over three billion dollars."
Silence reigned throughout the now shabby-seeming conference room. Mitch was stunned. His mouth was hanging open, and his eyes were huge. Lisa's hand flew to her mouth, her eyes even wider than her husband's.
After a moment of silence, Rick continued.
"How much did I deposit with your firm to pursue overturning the agreement I was forced to sign at the termination of my employment here at this lovely little company?"
Silence again as David counted to five. He could see that Mitch and Lisa were both holding their breath. Was that fear in their eyes? I think so! Serves them right, he said to himself. His investigators had turned up almost two dozen former employees who were more than happy to dish dirt on their old company, and the owner and his wife in particular had been the target of their ... negative feelings was such a weak phrase.
"Ten million dollars. With the assumption that you would add another twenty million if it took longer than expected."
Mitch paled. Lisa's face was completely white.
"And what did we do last Friday?"
"We closed on the purchase of the building we are in at the moment, with the provision that all previous leases were terminated with the intent to renegotiate."
Now Mitch was completely white, and beginning to turn green.
Rick turned back to Mitch. "In the course of my investigators looking into your company and background, we discovered that there would be a number of different ways to handle this ... issue between us. I find its nice having options on how to proceed, don't you?" The whimsy in his voice didn't fool anyone; especially Mitch and Lisa.
"Do you remember when you warned me not to make you choose between you and your wife? The fact that you could ask that question told me then, and still tells me now, that you knew she was wrong and I was right. I was acting in the best interests of YOUR company. She was playing power games and fighting to hold on to her little hegemony that she had created here.
"I warned you that the decisions she was making would hurt my ability to provide the services to its customers that the company required. I specifically told you how her decision on the HVAC design would result in LESS cooling and therefore less capacity for servers in the server room, and that our existing servers would struggle to stay functioning as waste heat would not be moved away and adequate cooling would not make it to the servers to keep them from overheating and shutting down.
"You chose to decide in favor of the person who shared your bed, instead of the person you hired specifically because I had the training, knowledge, and experience to make those decisions. What does a lawyer know about Information Technology? What does this lawyer know about information technology? Absolutely nothing. Would you have ever asked me to represent your interests in court?
"The thought would be ludicrous. Everyone would laugh you out of the court house. But you decided to have a lawyer represent you at the IT table. Good choice.
"Did Dynamic Systems Inc ever tell you why they took their business elsewhere? Keep in mind, they made the decision to go with someone else two months after that disaster in the server room. You remember that? When the primary database server overheated and shut down, crashing the core application database so badly that it took sixteen hours to get the service back up on the failover node?"
Mitch was looking decidedly less optimal now. "I don't have to discuss internal company business with a pathetic hack who couldn't keep my systems up and running." It didn't sound convincing, David thought. Sweat was starting to bead his forehead.
"You're right. After all, it would be easier to blame me for all the problems leading up to my termination, than it would be to put the blame squarely where it belongs." Rick swiveled his gaze over to Lisa, and the intensity made her flinch. "Tell me, Lisa. Did you ever tell Mitch what the Dynamic Systems VP told you and I in that final meeting? And what your response was?
"You kept harping on how important a customer they were. Millions were at stake. You beat me over the head with that every chance you had before the meeting. Why didn't you ever say anything to me about it after? You blamed me for the systems crash in that meeting, when the customer knew that you made the decision about the HVAC design YOU knew, with your many years experience in IT and datacenter construction and architecture, was the greatest thing since sliced bread." Lightly salted with sarcasm, with just a hint of contempt on the side.
"How did they know? I didn't..." Lisa could barely talk know. She sounded faint, in fact. David thought it was appropriate, given what he had found out about her past dealings with H1B visa holders and tech immigrants from India in the last eight years. Slaverly had been outlawed in this country for well over a century, but some still try to get away with it. Not many do, though.
"Yes, you did. When you were giving tours to the new datacenter the year before, you told everyone proudly all about your contributions to the design. I was getting looks filled with contempt and concern, and outright worry, even back then. You saved twenty kay on ducting. It was the most wonderful thing! A whole twenty thousand dollars! Wow! Uhhh, wait; didn't a single node in the primary app core database cluster cost, oh, I don't know, two hundred thousand dollars? The entire database cluster installation cost almost three million. And you thought it was great that you saved twenty fucking kay?!?!"
Lisa's mouth fell open as the numbers hit home. Mitch looked like he was going to hit someone. Rick hoped it would be Lisa while he still had the chance. She deserved it. She manipulated Mitch into firing Rick by constantly discrediting everything Rick said to Mitch, twisting everything until it all sounded like Rick was out of his mind.
"I will quote for you what the VP said, since I remember it fondly just like it was yesterday. 'I don't think we are interested in doing business with a company that does not have effective management and separation of duties. It is obvious that you are not utilizing your people's strengths and backgrounds in their chosen fields to your best advantage. Instead, it appears that Valencia Systems is home to a disproportionate number of people who let their egos and pride make all their decisions. We have decided to go with Davidson Software. Thank you for your time.'"
Mitch turned apoplectic with rage as he rounded on Lisa. "You fucking bitch! You told me that Rick swore at the VP when he questioned something in the proposal we presented! GOD DAMMIT! You cost this company a THIRTY FIVE MILLION DOLLAR CONTRACT!" Screaming does interesting things to the atmosphere in a corporate boardroom. Especially when the profanity-laced tirade can be heard past the reception desk.
David quickly raised his hand to cover the smile that he couldn't prevent from flashing across his face, giving himself just enough time to get himself composed as Mitch verbally destroyed his once haughty wife. He glanced to his left, and saw his partners more or less in the same situation. He didn't trust himself to look back across the table for a few moments as he looked to his right at Rick, expecting the same thing.
Rick was not smiling. The rage was just barely evident on his face to someone who knew him good enough to see it. Amazing how long and deeply some people can hold a grudge, David thought to himself. The sobering thought helped him marshall his own thoughts and composure.
Rick stopped the screaming by slapping his right hand, and the heavy platinum ring on his ring finger, hard on the deeply polished oak conference table, producing a very loud THOCK that cut through the din. Mitch turned to look at Rick, and Rick merely pointed down at Mitch's seat. He sat silently, still fuming inside as he glared at his wife.
"Lisa did everything to undermine me in your eyes. Everything I said was twisted to suit her agenda of getting rid of me. She viewed me as a competitor in her eyes. I never did. I refused to play the game.