Ross M. Miller
Posted June 24, 2004
“I’m heading down to the
health club. Care to join me?” Randy said with mock propriety after I
had dropped my things off in my room and checked for messages. I assume
that he had done likewise.
“Later maybe,” I replied, “I’m
going to hit the books and then the sack. Early morning, you know.”
“You plan to eat?”
“I can wait until you get back if you
want to go out.”
“Don’t bother, I’m told there’s
fruit down at the health club and I’ve brought along my own
Randy was a nonobservant vegetarian. He
carried his own trail mix, wheat germ, and assorted kibble with him
whenever he went but would eat meat—steak tartare, especially when
made from Kobe beef—on special occasions.
“Any idea what the others are
doing?” I asked.
“Tara’s visiting her folks and
Zero’s entertaining beavers. So it’s just you and me.”
“I never took Zero for the beaver
“That’s what he calls the guys from
MIT who aren’t trolls. On the topic of beavers, there’s this great
IMAX flick that’ll change the way you think of them. Up close
they’re really scary.”
“What isn’t?” I had already begun
to look at the room service menu. “I’m starving. If you don’t
mind, I’ll just order room service. If I don’t see you in the
morning, I’ll get hold of you after my visit to Lowell.”
“I can’t wait for the fun to
begin,” Randy said and then I went back into my room.
I called down for some appetizers to
graze on and dug into Roland’s binder. I was too involved in the
goings-on at Lowell to enjoy my meal. Tara had done an exemplary job of
summarizing the important points in the car, but only with the deal
staring me in the face could I get the gestalt of it.
Actually, the binder told me more about
GFF than it did about The Lowell Group. While I was at the old lab,
Mike’s acquisitions and ventures team would give Roland a buzz once or
twice a month to get his input on any deal involving technology. Roland
would then assemble a team to fly out and kick the tires before the deal
would be pitched to Mike. If we were lucky we’d be on the beach in La
Jolla, but the odds favored melting Missouri blacktop and a motel room
with a complimentary flyswatter. I was no expert on photoelectric diodes
or bulletproof vests, but I could tell when someone sitting across the
table from me did not hold the cards that he was representing.
I had seen a handful of solid deals in
my time and the Lowell deal did not come close. Perhaps I was missing
something. When I worked at the lab, a deal like this would not have
made it into Mike’s conference room, much less merited his signature.
The problem with the deal was that it did not leave any outs. If GFF
failed to take The Lowell Group from solidly in the middle of the second
tier of mutual funds into the Big Three at the end of five years, there
would be red ink as far as the eye could see. Every way I looked at it,
the Lowell deal was a sucker’s bet.
At some point during the evening, I
heard Randy return. When I noticed that it was two in the morning, I
figured that it worth going through the motions of getting some sleep. I
had torn the deal apart and while I found no errors other than some
discrepancies concerning the addresses of Lowell’s
partners—transposed digits, that sort of thing—it all seemed rather
There was one seeming inconsistency,
however, that really caught my eye. It was a property identified only as
“Sutt Pl Ph” and appraised at twelve million dollars. It appeared in
an appendix that enumerated Lowell’s real estate holdings, but was
nowhere to be found in the list of properties worth at least one million
dollars that were included in the deal. I could imagine any number of
reasons why a hunk of prime real estate could go missing. Most likely,
The Lowell Group sold it between the time the appendix was prepared and
the deal was consummated. If so, then it would be nice to know what the
property was, who bought it, and at what price.
The missing property was near the top
of the short list of questions that I compiled before closing the binder
and turning off the light. At the top of the list I wrote, “What’s
the problem with Kenneth Paine?” and underlined it three times.
While in Vegas, I developed the habit
of assigning a grade to each day on a scale of one to
ninety-nine—where one is the worst possible day and ninety-nine is the
best. I figured that on any day that would rate either a zero or a
hundred I probably would not be around to see the end of it. This may
seem like an odd thing to do, but I had a good reason for doing it. A
professional gambler must keep good records so that he doesn’t fall
into the trap of thinking that he’s making money when he’s actually
losing it. I figured that there was more to life than money, so in
addition to tallying each day’s earnings, I would give it an overall
satisfaction ranking. After I did this for several months, I found that
I tended to lose money immediately after days that rated above eighty or
below twenty. I began to grant myself a one-day holiday after
spectacular or dismal days to try to get myself back into equilibrium. I
had just had the kind of day that made me stop rating them altogether.
After four hours of low-quality sleep,
I faced the new day alone. Randy had already left for his morning
workout and I would use the time to psych myself up for the breakfast
Whatever role I’m playing, I dress
for it. Clothing makes up at least half of one’s table image and I had
to project a strong presence to Simon Lowell and his minions. I put on a
gray Brioni suit that a lady friend had picked out for me on a lost
weekend in the thin air of Reno. It was classy in a conservative way. I
left the gangster suit acquired on a similar weekend in Vegas behind.
For accessories, I mucked my flashier jewelry and drew a pair of
tasteful platinum cuff links. While nothing I could wear would let me
fit in with The Lowell Group (or with GFF’s management for that
matter), I felt that it was important to look good on my own terms. At
the same time, however, I kept in mind the warning of a man who once
lived by a pond not far from Boston to “distrust any enterprise that
requires new clothes.” I stood on the bathroom scale and could live
with the results. Randy was only four percent body fat—on a good day,
I hovered above fifteen.
I took the elevator down to the lobby
where I asked the concierge for a map of the area. He greeted me by
name, produced a map, and circled both the hotel and Lowell’s
headquarters (which was on the next wharf over) in red marker. I headed
out the front entrance and before I got halfway through it, the humidity
hit me. I was unmistakably in Boston.
It was a challenge getting to the
morning meeting. A thick fog had set in overnight—a brinier version of
the kind that swooped down into Pasadena during the rainy season—so it
wasn’t obvious where the land left off and the water began.
Lowell’s offices were in a six-story
building that jutted out into the harbor. The building was sandwiched
between two yachts—each at least fifty yards long—that bobbed in the
water and tugged at their moorings. Through the fog, I could make out
that the more ostentatious of the two was outfitted with his-and-her
speedboats and a large Jacuzzi.
My supine research had revealed that
Lowell maintained three offices in the Boston area as well as token
presences in world’s largest financial centers—New York and London
among them. Only Lowell’s senior executives and their support staff
were afforded the luxury of waterfront offices. Its money mangers worked
nearby in a block of offices located on the middle floors of one of the
newer additions to Boston’s skyline. These downtown offices were on
the high-rent outskirts of Boston’s financial district, closer to both
the train station and ferry terminal than the older, more centrally
located, buildings. The clerks and other support staff were relegated to
a low-rent office park in an obscure little town out past Concord.
I timed my arrival at Lowell’s
headquarters for fifteen minutes before the meeting’s seven-thirty
starting time. At GFF, it was a cardinal sin to be late for a meeting.
Managers were trained to start meetings on time and they, in turn,
taught their subordinates to show up on time. Punctuality was primary
among the secrets to GFF’s success. Even the Mighty Quinn himself was
known to insist that none of his meetings run into overtime to set a
good example for the company.
I flashed my GFF identification card to
the security guard. He asked me to wait until one of Simon’s
assistants could escort me to the boardroom. I remained standing and
browsed the Financial Times in
its peachy splendor. No mention of GFF. No mention of Lowell. So far, so
A young lady who stretched the limits
of perkiness soon came for me. Had I stumbled into the offices of a
cruise line by mistake? She introduced herself as Leslie and escorted me
to the elevator. On closer inspection, she walked and talked in a manner
that said Simmons, not showgirl. (Randy had a weakness for the
occasional actress/model/whatever with the emphasis on the
“whatever”.) Leslie need not worry that her doppelganger might one
day be working in a distant laboratory, or worse yet, in offices or
clubs around the world.
As we went up to the sixth floor, we
made the usual small talk. “It’s quite a horrid morning, but it
should be a splendid day once the fog burns off,” Leslie told me. I
knew better than to talk about anything other than the weather with her.
The corridor from the elevator to
Lowell’s boardroom was a museum curator’s paradise. It was one thing
to read about Lowell’s art collection and another to see it. The thick
crimson carpet and mahogany paneling (whose grain was matched so
meticulously that I could not find the seams) added to the overall
I stopped in front of a large, dark
painting of a ship caught in a storm with the wind ripping its sails
from the main mast. “Winslow Homer?” I asked.
“Naturally,” Leslie said, “it’s
one of my favorites, too, though Simon has a more colorful seascape in
his library. Still, this one is very expressive.”
And very expensive, I thought to
myself. I would have happily spent the morning admiring the art rather
than confront what awaited me at the end of the hall. Twenty feet from
our destination, Leslie said, “I think you can find your way from
here,” before pivoting on her right foot and retreating to the
interior of the building.
The caterers, who were setting up
breakfast, ignored me as I stole into the boardroom. I knew that I
should do nothing—especially not touch the food—until someone from
Lowell arrived. Guests of dubious provenance should ignore the
obligatory secretarial exhortations to make themselves at home.
I noticed that the pastries, no doubt
from Lowell’s own bakery, were arranged neatly on silver platters and
the caterers were fiddling with the temperature settings on the hot
dishes—large pots of salmon hash and oatmeal. Much of the china was
chipped and the silver was dull with specks of tarnish.
The boardroom appeared to float above
the water like the crow’s nest of a whaler. The far end of the
boardroom consisted of a series of panes of plate glass about ten feet
high and four feet wide that wrapped around the room. Only the thin
steel supports that held the glass in place obstructed whatever view
might lie beyond the fog. A thirty-foot long table with eighteen black
leather chairs around it dominated the room. The tabletop was an elegant
hunk of tree bordered in ebony and studded with marble. The chairs were
arranged with one at either end and eight along each side. A video
projector was mounted on the ceiling above the table. At the head of the
table were two large doors that concealed a projection screen behind
them. The back wall of the room was covered with tasteful prints that
extolled the joys of country living. Clearly, no one would display
paintings of any value in a room that was, on some occasions, so exposed
to the sun.
The only missing ingredients were the
cards, the chips, and a green felt surface. While I surveyed the room, I
entered the same heightened state of awareness that came naturally to me
before a big round of poker—I became both the observer and the
observed. I knew how to control my breathing so that regardless of the
thoughts or emotions racing through my head I would appear calm. I felt
Copyright 2004 by Ross M. Miller. Permission
granted to forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250
words or less provided a citation is made to RiggedOnline.com.