Rise and Fall of a Blankenship Ltd VP
"Were they federal agents?" Mr. VanWinkle asked, then quickly added, "Hold it, let's take a break. It's mid-morning, I'll order coffee. Meanwhile, I need a good stretch." He started a series of Tai Chi moves.
"Hang on," I said, "that looks like something I'd like." I followed his moves as best I could and found myself really relaxing, getting the kinks out of my muscles.
When the coffee arrived, we sat down, he poured and asked again, "Were they federal agents?"
"Mr. Blankenship said when I entered the room, 'Josh, these men are federal agents. Seems they have received a report that you had sold a top secret military control module to a competing company. I don't believe it, but it seems there has been a deposit of one hundred thousand made to your bank account for which there is no accounting.' I told him I knew nothing of the deposit and that the module was in its steel lock-box in the hotel safe and I had checked it this morning. I was asked why I thought I needed to check it if it had been in the hotel safe and I explained about the note.
"We all went downstairs and the agents asked that the safe be opened and, wearing gloves, they removed both the laptop case and the steel lock-box. They cut the seal on the steel box and asked for the combination to the lock. As an added security, only the Old Man and I had the combination. I looked at the Old Man, he nodded and I gave an agent the combination. He opened the box and in its customized interior, the module rested on a special foam pad. 'Well, we know the module is safe,' the Old Man said.
"'Or a copy,' Kelly said. 'How do we know it is the module and not just a mock-up?' The words were not out of his mouth before I realized he had managed to switch the module with a mock-up.
"'We'll check it,' the Old Man said. 'What about the laptop?'
"An agent opened the case, took out the laptop and turned it on. When it asked for a password, I gave it to him. The next screen was simply one asking for the encryption codes. The laptop's contents were so valuable, every file had been encrypted twice and then the entire contents placed in an encrypted folder. The Old Man and I each had to be present to use a thumbprint recognizer before the codes could be entered. I was very relieved when all was going well until we opened the first single file. It was gibberish.
"I was taken into custody and taken downtown to the jail. As I was led from the room, I saw Kelly in the background grinning as he waved and mouthed ‘Bye bye.’
"After I was processed, I was placed in a cell, feeling utter despair. I knew I had done nothing wrong, but had I been the Old Man or the agents, I would have considered this a slam-dunk case. Two hours later, the Old Man came to the cell accompanied by two lawyers. He told me he didn't know how it had been managed, but he trusted me and believed I had been set up. The lawyers said that the charges against me were such that I would not be released on bond, but they would try to get them reduced and me released.
"Meanwhile, Everette Sloane had tested positive for cocaine and the Old Man was so angry at the way he treated Ms. McCall, he canceled the ticket and told Sloane he would be placed in rehab in Hawaii. 'When you are released, you'll fly back coach and being fired by Mr. Taylor stands.'
"'Bet I could change that if you'd listen,' Sloane said.
"'Speak,' the Old Man said. Sloane told him his son, Kelly, had given him the coke. Sloane was a recreational user and he and Kelly had being using the night before. 'After I fucked him the second time, we both snorted a couple more lines and he started talking about how he was finally even with Taylor for taking his place in the company. "He'll be out of the way tomorrow and I'll be where I am supposed to be," Kelly said. "Had to borrow a hundred thousand, but I'll have more than that soon."'
"The Old Man called the agents and asked that they do a thorough search of Everette's and Kelly's suites. Kelly's was clean, but they found three hundred or so grams of coke, my laptop and the real module in Everette's. Everette would, of course, take the fall, but the only way he could have made the exchanges was with the passwords. Both the Old Man and I knew Kelly knew his dad always wrote down passwords, in his own code, and kept them in the safe in his office. It would have taken a cryptologist ten seconds to crack the Old Man's code. The thumbprint? Kelly saw it on a TV show. The last 'romantic' evening we had together to make up for his being an ass, he 'accidentally' handed me a candle with waxing running down the side. He quickly ran cold water over my hand and the candle, getting a perfect thumbprint in the wax. He painted liquid latex over the wax impression, lifted the positive thumbprint and adhered it to a latex glove.
"Anyway, Kelly was arrested, but since nothing was actually stolen or taken from the company and the only evidence he was involved was the fact that he had access to the Old Man's safe, good lawyers got him off with a slap on the wrist. Everette got stuck with a cocaine charge along with theft of the laptop and the module. Thomson and Morgan, a rival company, got him off somehow or other.
"The rest of the conference went well, but I knew that I should probably be looking for another job. Kelly and I were definitely over. I was in the pits. The Old Man assured me he had every confidence in me but, because of the laptop and module, even though it was clear I had nothing to do with it, my government clearance was pulled and without it, I was practically useless to Blankenship Ltd. The old Man wouldn't hear of my resigning, but it became a moot point two weeks after we got back from Hawaii. He was flying to Washington concerning a major contract when he had a heart attack and died on the plane. The company was family owned and Kelly, of course, took over. He took great delight in firing me, Lucas and Winston before the plane landed which was carrying his father's body. Winston, of course, had the garage to fall back on, but the severe cut in his income would make things hard for him and his family. My bank account had been frozen because of the hundred-thousand-dollar deposit and the government was taking its own slow time clearing that up. In point of fact, I was broke, had no job and no place to live. Winston, of course, insisted I live with them—to the delight of the boys.
"After the funeral and the graveside service, I was walking away when it all hit me. First, I realized the Old Man had become a father to me. As soon as the reality hit, so did deep, deep grief. That was almost so overpowering I had forgotten my total situation. After applying for two very promising positions, I learned that the pulling of my security clearance was on my record and even companies with no interest in government contracts saw that as a very black mark. I was spiraling downward rapidly, sinking deeper and deeper into depression. In the next week I reached the point where suicide crossed my mind more than once, then settled in as a real possibility. Had it not been for Alexander and Joshua, I think I would have done it within a week of the Old Man's death.
"To add to my own problems, I was getting constant calls from people I knew and respected who were still at Blankenship Ltd lamenting over what Kelly was doing with the company, about his drug use and about his abusiveness until I finally simply refused to take calls from anyone associated with the company. Just when I thought my despair had reached bottom, I learned Kelly had circulated a letter—anonymously, of course, but on company letterhead—suggesting that I had embezzled money from Blankenship Ltd and stolen and sold company secrets. I couldn't even get an interview with any company in the area. My despair deepened. Both Susan and Mrs. Mason did all they could to be supportive as, of course, did Winston, but it was to no avail.
"My depression and despair could not help but have an effect on the Mason household, and it did, and both kept getting worse. One afternoon, I packed a couple suitcases and disappeared. I found a room for rent in the low-rent district of San Francisco—you may read slums—and started staying half drunk on cheap beer. Kelly did have to give me severance pay since it was in my contract and I had enough to live on for a while. I didn't shave, bathe or change clothes after a couple weeks. I spent my days in an alcohol daze feeling sorry for myself and weeping over my loss of Alex. One morning I was rummaging through my things and discovered a bottle of sleeping pills I'd had for some time. I decided I'd get really drunk and swallow them and go to sleep, not to wake up. And that, Mr. VanWinkle, was my state when I got a call from Ms. Trent. End of story."
"I guess someone was looking out for you, Josh. Well, there's nothing I can do about your grief, your money problems are solved—at least for the immediate future—and you have enough to help tide the Masons over. You have a job deciding what you're going to do with your great-uncle's estate so, I guess, suicide is no longer a consideration. But it's time for lunch. How about we get a caterer to prepare a picnic lunch and go to Golden Gate Park for lunch and at least let me tell the beginning of my side of the story."
Half an hour later, they had picked up a picnic basket and were in the Rolls headed for the park. Josh was surprised when Ms. Trent was able to reserve a single site picnic spot for them on such short notice, but she did. A very nice site indeed, even though it was closed to vehicles and they had to walk in. Once they reached the site, they spread a table cloth from the picnic basket on a picnic table and placed the plates, silver, wine glasses and the food on it. The basket included a nice bottle of red which Mr. VanWinkle opened. He poured two glasses and as they raised their glasses said, "To good days ahead." They drank to that, then tackled the food. After they had eaten and packed things away, Mr. VanWinkle asked, "How about a stroll around the park? We have been sitting a long time, maybe this time we can walk and talk, at least for starters."
"So long as I'm not expected to chew gum as well," I laughed.
"Josh," he said, "I guess you don't know Blankenship Ltd announced day before yesterday the family had decided to sell forty-eight percent of its stock over the counter. The family will hold fifty-two percent, keeping control. I guess since Kelly fired the leaders, things have gone downhill. It was being offered at two hundred dollars a share, but is probably, given the state of the company, worth less that half that."
"How many shares are being offered?" Josh asked.
"Forty-two thousand at two hundred dollars a share."
"Total worth of the company is twenty million? That sounds about right," I said.
"Maybe before the death of the Old Man. With Kelly running the show, their credit rating has already dropped. I understand a number of large contracts will not be renewed. From talk among friends, the betting is that the company will go under in less than six months, a year at most."
"So what do you think it's worth today?"
"If you say it was worth twenty million before the Old Man died, I'd say it's worth between five and seven now, ten at the outside."
"Have your broker keep an eye on it and if it drops below sixty, buy sixty-five hundred shares."
"You sure?" Mr. Van Winkle asked. "That will leave you with less than two hundred thousand to do what you decide to do in North Carolina."
"No, I'm not sure, but that will enable me to take control with Mrs. Blankenship's shares which I think she might be willing to allow me to vote and, if not, there will be other shares available as soon as Kelly needs money and he will. I know just the people who can run the company the way the Old Man planned to have it operate because they were in on the planning." Mr. VanWinkle phoned the broker who told him the stock had dropped to seventy-two, but was not moving. He advised waiting a day or two saying the stock would continue to drop. He also said he thought as soon as it reached sixty-five, buying a few shares would be ok, but to spread purchases out so the stock would not go back up.
discussed the situation for a few more minutes and Mr. VanWinkle
convinced me I should wait a few days to see what would come of
Blankenship Ltd's stock offering. Then he said, "Well, Josh, I
will give you a summary of the story of your great-uncle for
are named, Joshua Elijah Taylor."
Jesse and Scott
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