Christian Gillette sat on the balcony of his suite at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, watching first light scale the craggy peaks in the distance. In a few hours tourists would be mobbing the casino on the ground floor. He hoped soon it would be his casino they’d be mobbing.
Christian ran Everest Capital, a Manhattan-based investment firm that owned thirty companies in a wide range of industries—smokestack to high-tech. The companies were all large, at least a billion in sales, and Christian chaired eighteen of them. He also chaired Central States Telecom and Satellite, a communications company in Chicago that Everest had taken public six months ago—after owning for three years. Everest had made four hundred million on the CST initial public offering—Christian had gotten twenty of that. Forty years old, he’d already made fifty times more than most people did in a lifetime, but it hadn’t gone to his head. Money was just money, and success could be fleeting.
He dialed Nigel Faraday’s cell number. Nigel was one of Everest’s five managing partners. There were sixty-four people at the firm, but, other than his assistant, Debbie, the five partners were Christian’s only direct reports. Beneath the partners was a burgeoning pyramid of managing directors, vice presidents, and associates, but he rarely dealt with them. Five years ago, he’d known everyone at Everest by name. He missed those days.
Nigel answered on the third ring. “Well, well, you gambling, Chris?” Nigel had lived in the United States for almost twenty years, but his British accent remained heavy. “Sitting in front of some one-armed bandit with your bucket of quarters?” He laughed. “Ah, the slot machine. Another wonderful contribution to mankind from you Americans. Right up there with rap music and the Big Mac.”
Playing the slots actually sounded like fun to Christian, if only for its pure simplicity, but there wasn’t time. It seemed like there never was anymore for things like that. “Hey, I don’t mind rap once in a while, and I don’t know why you, of all people, would bash the Big Mac. You’ve eaten your share.”
“Hey, chap, what I eat is my business.”
“Relax, chap, I’m just kidding.” Christian heard traffic in the background at the other end of the line—horns blaring, engines revving, tires skidding. “Where are you?”
“Walking down Park. Bit of a late start to the office this morning, I’m afraid.”
Nigel was huffing as he strode toward Everest’s Park Avenue headquarters. The Brit was thirty pounds overweight thanks to a steady diet of rocky road ice cream and those Big Macs. “Up late last night?” Christian asked. Nigel was fresh into a new relationship with a pretty brunette he’d met a few weeks ago. They were in the infatuation stage, calling each other five times a day and staying out late every night. “I don’t want that woman distracting you, no matter how wonderful she is.”
“No, no, I’m glad you’re finally enjoying yourself,” Christian broke in. Nigel had put in a lot of long days the last few years, taking care of administrative details so Christian could focus on the big picture. Nigel had been Mr. Inside so Christian could be Mr. Outside, and the formula worked. Both Forbes and Fortune had tabbed Everest Capital as one of the top investment firms. “Now, any updates?”
Christian picked up something in Nigel’s tone, and a tiny alarm went off in his head. “What?”
“After you left for Vegas last night, I got an e-mail from Bob Galloway.”
Bob Galloway was the chief financial officer of CST. Despite being chairman of CST, Christian didn’t know Galloway well, just saw him for a few hours at quarterly board meetings. Nigel, on the other hand, knew Galloway very well. Though Nigel wasn’t technically a CST officer like Christian, he was Everest’s day-to-day person on the investment. The one at Everest who constantly kept up with how CST was doing. The one who knew CST’s financial staff and had been in charge of dealing directly with the lawyers and investment bankers during the IPO.
“Some woman from the Securities and Exchange Commission called Galloway yesterday,” Nigel explained.
Hearing from the SEC was like hearing from the IRS or the Grim Reaper: Safe bet it wasn’t good news. “What did she want?” Christian asked.
“She called to demand a meeting. Didn’t tell Galloway any more than that.”
“Okay, call Galloway as soon as we’re finished. Tell him to get back in touch with the SEC right away and find out what’s going on. Let me know as soon as you hear anything. And, Nigel?”
“Make sure Galloway doesn’t mention this to anyone else at CST.”
Christian heard a trace of fear in Nigel’s tone. “It’ll be fine, pal. Don’t worry.”
“Oh, I’m worried all right,” Nigel admitted.
“Being worried doesn’t help.”
“Sorry I’m human. I’m glad you can stay so cool about it, Chris, but those people scare the hell out of me. They can destroy anybody anytime. Remember that guy who got twenty years for telling his girlfriend he had a stock tip over the phone, when what he really said was he had a sock that was ripped?”
“What guy? I don’t remember that.”
“And with my accent,” Nigel continued, “I could see it happening to me.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Oh yeah? Ask the guys at Enron and MCI.”
“They got what they deserved.”
“You’ll be whistling a different tune when they bust into Everest and lead you and me out in shackles in front of the whole firm.”
Sometimes Nigel panicked too quickly. He didn’t have many faults, but hitting the eject button prematurely was one of them. “That call Galloway got was probably nothing, probably just some kind of follow-up on the IPO.”
“I hope so. Hey, what about the casino license?” Nigel asked, his voice growing stronger as he switched subjects. “Everything all right there? Opening day isn’t far off.”
Two years ago Everest Capital had won the National Football League’s new Las Vegas franchise and named it the Dice. They’d spent over seven hundred million for the team and a new stadium they were building east of the city. As part of the deal with the NFL, Christian had gotten permission to build a casino, also naming it the Dice. The casino was supposed to open the day of the team’s home opener, which was just a few months away. On top of the seven hundred million for the team and the stadium, Everest had forked out a billion on construction of the casino—which was almost finished. Now, at the last minute, the Nevada Gaming Commission was holding off on approving the operating license. What seemed like a dream come true a month ago was turning into a nightmare. Christian hadn’t told anyone else at the firm how bad the situa- tion was.
“We’ll get the license,” he assured Nigel. Trying to figure out what was going on with the license was Christian’s main reason for coming to Las Vegas. At two o’clock he was meeting with the chairman of the Gaming Commission. “Don’t sweat it.” Sometimes it seemed like he spent half his life convincing people there wasn’t any smoke and the other half putting out fires.
“You think the mob’s involved?” Nigel asked. “Think they’re holding the commission up for some last-minute dough?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m here, to find out.”
“Didn’t we hire somebody in Vegas to take care of those things, to deal with the mob? Like most people out there do when they’re building something big. What’s his name?”
“Carmine Torino.” Christian had been trying to reach Torino for a week, but suddenly no one could find him. Until now the guy had never taken more than fifteen minutes to return his call. Torino had vanished into thin air.
“Yeah, right, Carmine Torino.”
“I’ve gotta go, Nigel. Ray Lancaster’s going to be here in a few minutes.”
Ray Lancaster was the Dice’s head coach and general manager. Christian had hired him away from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last February. Nigel had gone to Florida to do the negotiating on the contract, so this was going to be Christian’s first face-to-face meeting with Lancaster.
“Ray’s tough,” Nigel warned.
“He better be. I want the Dice in the play-offs this season so we get all that extra publicity for the casino. Call me back when—”
“What about Laurel Energy?” Nigel interrupted. “Anything on that? Are we close to selling it?”
Christian let out a ten-ton sigh. “Let’s talk about it later.” Laurel Energy was a Canadian oil and gas company—and another Everest problem child. Christian—and everyone else at Everest—had been anticipating a huge profit on the sale of Laurel, but it had been on the market for a while and there weren’t any takers. Just a few nibbles from bottom feeders, and no one could figure out what was wrong because it was reserve-rich. “I’ve got to go,” he said firmly. “Call me back when Galloway knows why the SEC’s snooping around CST so I can—”
Another of Nigel’s annoying habits. Sometimes it was impossible to get him off the phone. “What?”
“Where’s Allison? I’ve been trying to get her for days. She’s been out of the office and hasn’t returned my calls.”
Allison Wallace was another of Everest’s five managing partners. “She’s on the West Coast working on that deal, you know, that company she’s been trying to buy for a month. Aero Systems. I talked to her last night. It’s going pretty well. She thinks the sellers are about to agree to terms.”
Nigel snorted. “I guess the bitch doesn’t think I’m important enough to call back.”
“Hey, Nigel, none of that. She’s just—” There was a loud rap on the suite door. “Talk to you later, Nigel.” Christian slipped the phone in his pocket as the person in the hallway knocked again, louder this time. “Who is it?”
“Hi, Ray,” Christian said, extending his hand when he’d opened the door.
Lancaster had played defensive back for the Lions in the early eighties, but age and the stress of coaching had clearly caught up with him. His curly black hair was thinning and streaked with gray, his cheeks were pudgy, and there was a bulging spare tire beneath his shirt. Like Nigel, Ray probably ate a lot of his frustration.
“Christian Gillette. Thanks for coming so early.”
“No problem, been looking at tapes since five this morning. First game’s closing in. Cleveland Browns. We’re gonna kick some ass. At least on defense.”
“Good. I want to make the play-offs this season.”
Lancaster stopped short. “Well, I don’t know if we’re—”
“Let’s go out on the balcony,” Christian suggested, motioning toward the back of the suite. “I like it.” Christian pointed at the Dice logo on Lancaster’s aqua golf shirt as they sat down. Two tumbling die—one showing a single dot, the other six—with a sharp orange flame trailing behind them.
“Yeah, it’s way cool.”
“How’s your family doing?” Lancaster and his second wife had two boys—one thirteen, one eleven. Whenever Christian relocated an executive he always worried about the family adapting to the new city. If the family wasn’t happy, neither was the executive. “Las Vegas is a big change from Tampa.”
“They’re fine. Thanks for asking.”
Lancaster seemed anxious, like something was on his mind. “Everything all right, Ray?”
“I should have called you after we inked my contract, but, well, better late than never.” Lancaster looked directly into Christian’s eyes. “Thanks for giving me this chance. I owe you.”
Lancaster hadn’t been the Buccaneers general manager in Tampa, just head coach, so this was a big promotion. “Win me a Super Bowl and we’ll call it even.”
Lancaster laughed nervously. “Yeah, right.” He tugged at the front of his shirt like it had suddenly gotten tight. “I didn’t think I’d ever get a shot to be a GM in this league,” he continued, skirting Christian’s Super Bowl demand. “Hardly any black men get to be head coach in the NFL, let alone GM.”
“You’ve won a lot of football games. You got the Bucs to the NFC championship last year without a lot of talent. You deserve this.”
“And I really didn’t think I’d get a shot from a white man,” Lancaster went on. “I thought I might eventually get it from a black owner, but not a guy like you.”