Protecting David-Christopher Grows Up 3
I glanced quickly at Jeff and said, “You look nervous.”
He grinned, looked out the window, then back. “It makes me crazy when I’m not driving. But you’re doing fine.” We were on our way to the meeting with the cable guys, and I’d insisted we take my new SUV, a Range Rover; which, in the three weeks since I bought it, I had only driven twice, and even then, it was only like for five minutes.
“Everybody drives me; it’s like I’m gonna forget how to drive.” I was moaning without cause. I mean, everybody should have my problems.
Changing the subject, Jeff said, “I reserved a conference room, and one of my guys is there now checking it out.”
“Will they have stuff to eat and drink?”
“I’m told it includes a refreshment table with soft drinks, sandwiches, and chips. Stuff like that.” He glanced at me. “It’s for six, right? You, Michael, the three guys from that company, and Mr. Billings.”
I nodded. “Michael’ll be there early, probably.”
Jeff smiled. “I figured that from the last time. He seems like a worrier.”
I laughed. “Yeah, he is. He likes stuff to be just right.”
It’s funny, because Nick had said the exact same thing the night before. He likes Michael, but he doesn’t totally get him. When I told him that Michael had seen Adam and me having sex, he just shook his head and said, “That is weird. Do you think he’s hot for you? Because that’s the only reason for that, that I can figure.”
“No. I mean not hot, not as in sexual. It’s something else. Michael really is straight, but definitely gay friendly. I always got the feeling that maybe if the right guy hit on him, he might try it; but probably not more than that.” I twisted my head and kissed Nick on the side of his jaw. “But I’m not that guy… not from my point of view, or his.”
Nick laughed, rolled me over onto my back and shoved his knee between my legs. “You sure?”
The hotel where we were having the meeting was part of a large chain owned by Hilton, and it was sitting on a low rise overlooking the freeway. We got there about fifteen minutes early, and when we pulled in, I could see that Michael was already there. He had parked his van under a tree away from the entrance to the hotel. He had the side door open, and was leaning in talking to someone or something. I pulled in next to him, but I still couldn’t see who he was talking to.
When I opened my door, he looked up and said, “Chris, I got a little problem.”
I could sense Jeff beginning to quiver, and Michael must have sensed it too, because in the next breath, he said, “No, Jeff, it’s just my dog.”
I walked over to his van, and Michael said, “Chris, I just picked him up from the vet. Pumpkin was supposed to do it, but she got called in to work. I really didn’t want to leave him there… because he’s like scared out of his mind already.”
I rested my hand on Michael’s shoulder for balance, and looked into the van. Inside, on the back seat was a sort of white dog with curly hair that hung down over his forehead. His pink tongue was popping in and out of his mouth, and he was shaking with fear. He looked like he’d been beaten with a baseball bat… parts of his body had been shaved, where the wounds had been repaired.
“Holy shit, Michael! What happened to your dog?”
“Well actually, he’s not my dog, Chris. He’s a, well a…. the thing is Pumpkin and I rescued him.” Michael looked from me to Jeff, then back again. “That’s something we kinda do. We got him yesterday, and dropped him at the vet for some emergency repairs. She was supposed to get him today, but she couldn’t. I can’t leave him out here in this heat; I asked the hotel, but they don’t want me bringing him inside.”
I looked at Jeff and asked, “Your guy is inside?”
Jeff nodded. “I’ll take care of it.” He pulled out his phone and turned away from us.
I turned to Michael. “It’s okay, Michael. We’ll take him with us. He doesn’t bite, does he?”
Michael looked relieved and grinned. “No way. This guy’s not very brave anymore.”
“Michael, what the fuck happened to him?”
“Whoever owned him beat the crap out of him.” He leaned into the van and touched the dog’s head. The dog had a convulsion of shivering, but tried to lick Michael’s hand. “See these red marks? The vet pulled shotgun pellets out of him. They dumped him, then tried to shoot him, or vice versa… I guess it doesn’t really matter which happened first. A lady called Pumpkin and told her the dog was living under her porch.” Michael turned his head and looked up at me. He sighed. “You wouldn’t believe what people will do to dogs, or for that matter to any animal. We do what we can to help.” He glanced towards the hotel. “I just don’t want anything to mess up this meeting.” Michael looked really worried.
I grinned at him and squeezed his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. The meeting’ll be fine.”
Jeff caught my eye and gave me a thumbs up. I looked at Michael, then at the dog. “We can bring him in… can he walk?”
“Yeah, he can… he’s just skittish. I’ll keep him near me and he should be fine. Just let me let him pee before we go in.”
Michael led the dog over to a patch of grass under the tree just as a dark SUV pulled into the parking lot, followed by Jamie Billings small Mercedes. Both of them spotted us, and pulled in next to us.
The three guys in the SUV were all dressed in dark slacks with white shirts and dark ties; and they all got out of the SUV carrying suit jackets.
Pumpkin’s Uncle Harold turned out to be a tall, thin, handsome dark- haired guy in his early forties; the financial officer was Doug, and the purchasing and warehouse guy was Sam. The thing is I look really young, and when I run into guys in suits, it kinda freaks me out a little; but I just shoved that thought out of my head and started shaking hands.
Michael finished pretty quickly with the dog, stepped back over to us, and introduced everyone while the dog hid behind him. My attorney Jamie finally gestured towards the building and said, “Why don’t we all get outta the sun.”
Inside, Jamie took over, made sure everyone got food and something to drink, then gently herded us over to a large round table. A stack of papers was on the table in front of each of the five chairs. Michael sat on my left, and Jamie sat on my right. The dog lay down on the floor between Michael and me, looking worried as hell… like he figured it was only a matter of time before we killed him.
I leafed through the pages. They were the income statements and a pro forma balance sheet for the company. I was already familiar with the figures; Jamie and I had been going over them for the last two days since Harold emailed them to us. We had also been in touch with the bank that owned their paper. The original million dollar loan had been accumulating interest and fees for quite a while, and now they were looking for a million seven. Jamie said he was pretty sure we could knock three hundred thousand off of that. The next big question would be what they owed their suppliers, and how much additional was going to be needed in inventory and working capital. There was also the question of putting someone in to act as CEO.
I looked at Doug, the financial guy, “Doug, what is the situation with the building? I know from the papers you gave us that you lease it.”
He cleared his throat, bobbed his head like he had a neck problem, then leaned forward with his arms on the table. “You’re right, it is a lease; and frankly, we owe them about fifty grand. The thing is they’d also love to sell it, if you’d be interested. It’s pretty new, and everything is in great shape. A couple of years ago, the furnaces were replaced, so that’s good. Oh, and it’s about thirty thousand square feet, so there’s plenty of room for expansion.”
Jamie jumped in and started asking questions from a long list he had written out on a long yellow legal pad. I glanced down at the dog; he looked up at me, shuddered, and stuck his tongue out for a split second. I took a small piece of ham off my plate, and dropped my hand down by the side of my chair. The dog looked at it, sniffed the air and stuck his tongue out again. I moved my hand cautiously toward his mouth with the ham at the tips of my fingers. A warm lick of my fingers and the ham was gone. Michael seemed to be paying close attention to Jamie’s questions, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw the slightest of smiles begin to form.
When Jamie paused for a moment, I looked at Doug again and asked, “When we send accountants in, what do you think the figure will be that you owe suppliers? I mean, I’d actually prefer to understand the worst case scenario, and I don’t expect you to be accurate to the penny.” Alex had told me many times that in situations like this, everyone was too optimistic.
Doug looked at me, took a deep breath, and slid a sheet of paper out of his portfolio. “Slightly more than six hundred grand is more than one hundred and twenty days past due, and half of that is older than six months; roughly, two hundred is over ninety, and another hundred and fifty is current, more or less.”
I pulled off another piece of ham and held it down by the side of my chair. It vanished instantly, and a warm tongue licked each finger.
I looked at Sam and asked, “How about the inventory?”
He sat forward, glanced quickly at Harold and said, “It’s been deteriorating. Right now about half of it is old; so, you’re probably going to need to add seven hundred grand or so. As you can see in the figures we’ve already given you, it’s at about eight hundred thousand now. It’s not that the older stuff won’t sell eventually, it’s just that we shouldn’t have that much.”
The dog stood up, turned in a circle, and sat back down. He looked up at me for a moment, then put his right paw on my thigh. Michael started to reach for him to pull him down, but I shook my head. “He’s okay, Michael,” I whispered. Then I pulled off another small piece of ham and let him eat it, before asking Michael, “What’s his name?”
Michael grinned. “Damned if I know. I been calling him, Puppy.”
I said softly, “Puppy,” and the dog looked up at me, then put his left paw on my thigh next to his right and, almost in slow motion, climbed onto my lap. Michael started to jump up, but I stopped him, and the dog curled up as best he could on my lap. He was a bit too big to be a lap dog and was kind of hanging over on one side; he wasn’t a huge dog, but he wasn’t tiny either.
Michael said, “Chris, you don’t…”
“It’s okay, Michael.” I never had a dog, and I wasn’t really sure what I thought about them.
I looked at Jamie for a second, then turned to Doug, the financial guy, because he looked like the one most in charge. Jack had been talking to a guy his old law firm used to hire as a consultant to check out companies involved in lawsuits. “I’ve got a guy that I’d like to send into your company for a couple of days. Frankly, I feel fairly comfortable with this whole idea, but I’d like to get his input. How would you guys feel about that? For him to get an accurate idea of what’s going on, I need you to be willing to work with him.” Truthfully they didn’t have much choice. I could have simply bought the company out from under them, and I’m sure they understood that, but both Alex and David had always pushed the idea that nicer, when possible, was better.
He stared at me for a moment, then said, “How serious are you?” Then quickly he smiled, and shook his head like he realized something. “Forget that, you wouldn’t be here, if you weren’t. Sure, just let us know when he can come in.”
I looked at them and said, “I know it probably hasn’t been easy trying to hold things together. I mean, I’m aware of what happened, and I wouldn’t jerk you guys around if I wasn’t serious and capable of doing this. I just want to be sure I understand everything.”
When the three guys and Jamie left, I walked out with them to their cars. Then went back to the room to talk to Michael.
When I sat back down, the puppy was lying on the floor; but after I sat down, he got up, came over to me, and rested his head on my knee.
Michael gave me a twisted grin and said, “Looks like you’ve made a friend.”
I grunted and pulled out my cell phone. “Is he for sale?
Michael smiled and said, “You can have him, that’s what we do, place these guys with people who’ll take care of them.”
I leaned back in the chair and hit Nick’s cell number, and a few seconds later he answered. He sounded a little frazzled, so I said quickly, “I love you.”
He laughed and said, “What did you do?”
“I haven’t actually done it yet, but I might be bringing home a dog, if that won’t make you crazy.”
“A dog?” He sounded like he had never thought of it.
“Un huh. I think he needs me.”
I could hear Nick exhale. “A dog. Yeah, I guess. I mean, why not. I just never thought about it. Ummm, a dog.”
Then suddenly, Nick said, “Oh fuck! Baby, I gotta go! These people are all fucking crazy!”
I grinned at Michael and lifted an eyebrow. “He said okay. I think it’s really that he’s just too busy to really care. Anyway, how much do you want for him?”
“He wasn’t free to you, what did those vet bills run?”
He laughed and shook his head. “Don’t ask. This is the most expensive crusade in the world. Well… that’s not totally true; the vets will usually give us a huge discount… but it still keeps us broke.”
I pulled a business card out of my briefcase. “Not anymore... send the bills here, and I mean all of them - it’s the least I can do.” All that I could think was that here Michael is saving mistreated dogs, and I wasn’t doing shit with my life.
“The other thing I wanted to ask you is, if you might want to do this full time. I mean, finding companies; the dog thing you gotta do on your own time.”
Michael stared at me for a moment, then said, “You’re kidding.”
I shook my head slowly, “Nope. I mean, why not, Michael? You know everything that’s goin on in this town - every little college boy start up; so, why not help them, and make some money for yourself? It’s something you could do. We’ll get you an office and a secretary; and you’ll make more than you’re making with the bank, plus the commission.”
His mouth was open, but he closed it and said, “What if I screwed it up? I’ve never really done this for a living.”
“Yes, you have, you did it with the valve guys, and besides Jamie is there in town. If you start feeling nervous about something, you just call him, or me. I really think you can do it.” He was just staring at me.
Finally, he said, “Pumkin is gonna wanna know exactly what this pays, whether we could live on it or not. You actually mean more than the bank’s paying me?”
I grabbed a sheet of the papers the cable guys had left, wrote a figure on it, and slid it over to him.
Michael looked down at the paper, brought his hand up, touched his forehead and whispered, “Oh fuck.”
I let Jeff drive home, while I sat in the passenger seat with Puppy wrapped around my feet.
I looked over at Jeff. “I guess we need to stop for dog food… and dog stuff, like a leash.”
He grinned. “It’s already being done. I sent a guy to get the stuff. If you’re sure you want to do this, I’ll arrange for someone to come it and build a run for him.”
“What’s a run?”
“Someplace you put him, where he can get some exercise and take a crap… someplace fenced in.”
“How do you know that stuff?”
He laughed. “I’ve got three dogs.” How did I not know that? “Plus, you’ll need a vet; he’s been seriously abused, and you’ll need someone to check him to make sure he’s healing properly.”
“I never had a dog.”
He grinned at me. “You’ll be glad you got him. Dogs make everything better.”