Read an Excerpt
By Jeff Buick
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2007 Jeff Buick
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTaylor Simons kept her mouth shut. The next person to speak would lose.
She let her gaze drift about the boardroom. Six other people sat on the stainless-steel and leather chairs. Three of them were her staff, the key personnel and designers who had spent eight weeks putting together the ad campaign. The other three were the executive team with Hammer-Fire Inc., an international corporation out of New York that developed and marketed fitness equipment. Their newest line of cardio machines was sleek and very expensive. Their target market were the rich and pampered who thought they were devoted enough to work out at home, and every high-end fitness facility in America and Europe that catered to the same people when they found buying the equipment was the easy part. Actually using it was completely different.
Her staff was quiet, unmoving and focused on nothing in particular. They were masters at this segment of the game. Deliver the presentation, answer any questions, then shut up. Let the clients make their decision based on the work. It seldom failed.
"So the bottom line is six-point-two million," said the most senior of the Hammer-Fire executives.
She had them.
"That's correct, Don," Taylor said.
"And there'll be no cost overruns."
"None. We have the quotes for television and print guaranteed for the time frames you need. Our figures are accurate to the dollar."
"Okay, Taylor," he said, standing and extending his hand. "You've got the contract."
"Thanks," she said, shaking his hand. She turned to one of her staff members. "Do you have the paperwork, Reg?"
The man nodded and flipped open a file. "Right here." He slid it across the table to the executive. "I'll need a couple of signatures."
Twenty minutes later, Taylor Simons retreated to her corner office and dropped into her padded chair. She hated the uncomfortable and harsh chairs in the boardroom, but her clients expected a cutting-edge advertising agency to project a certain appearance. And since they were paying the bills, they got the image. She touched her wireless mouse and the computer screen came to life. Seven new e-mails since she had left for the boardroom two hours ago. She was responding to the sixth one when a man walked into her office. He was one of the three from the boardroom, the head of her Web design department.
"Nice work today," he said, leaning on the door jamb. His name was Kelly Kramer, a young-looking thirty-six-year-old and one of Taylor's most trusted and valuable employees. He had thick dark hair, parted in the middle and creeping down over his ears, a goatee that suited his rugged face and a quick smile. For almost five years, he had been a fixture in Taylor's inner circle and had grown close enough to be called a friend.
"Thanks," she said, leaning back in the soft leather. She loved her chair. "Twelve percent of six-point-two million. Not bad for two months' work."
"Our ideas were original," Kelly said. "We deserved the contract over New York and Chicago. They were serving up rehashed concepts."
"Whatever it was, it worked."
"I'm out of here," he said, glancing at his watch. "Been in since four this morning prepping for the meeting. I'll see you tomorrow."
Taylor Simons returned to answering her e-mail. At thirty-seven, she was successful beyond even her own high expectations. She owned G-cubed, one of the most sought-after advertising agencies in San Francisco, with 122 staff and annual revenues topping 150 million dollars a year. Her offices occupied seven thousand square feet of prime space in William Polk's brilliantly designed Hobart Building on Market Street. She was an attractive woman, with high cheekbones, vibrant red hair, green eyes and a facial shape close enough to Nicole Kidman's to warrant second looks from passers-by. People in restaurants often spent more time stealing glimpses of her and whispering among themselves trying to figure out if she was the famous actress than they did eating. All the downside of fame without the upside. But genetics were genetics. There was no changing how she looked.
Her private line rang, and she glanced at the call display. Earl Hinks, her personal banker at Bay City Trust. She picked up the receiver. "Hello, Earl. Calling to tell me I won't be paying any bank fees this month?"
"Taylor, something's happened," Hinks said. His tone was ominous.
"What?" she asked, leaning forward on her desk.
"Call Alan and have him meet you in my office in half an hour. Can you do that?"
"Yes, of course. What's wrong?"
"Not over the phone. I'll see you in half an hour." The line went dead.
Taylor punched a button for an outside line and dialed her husband's work number. He answered on the third ring.
"Hi, honey. What's up? Thought you had a meeting with the Hammer-Fire boys."
"The meeting's finished. I just got a call from Earl Hinks at the bank. He said something happened, but he wouldn't tell me what it was. He wants us to meet him at his office in a half hour."
"What? Why? What's going on?"
"I don't know. He wouldn't say. He wants to meet."
"Christ, Taylor, I'm busy. We've got deadlines on this unit we're designing."
"I know. But he told me to call you and for both of us to be there in half an hour."
"Okay. I'll get there as quick as I can. Half an hour's tight, though."
"See you there," she said, hanging up. She shut down her computer, stopped at the reception desk on the way out to let them know she would be out of the office for an hour or two, then took the elevator to P6, where her Audi A4 waited. The drive to the bank, on Sacramento Street, near Lafayette Park, was quick for a Monday afternoon. The September sun was high in its daily arc, and the temperature hovered in the mid-eighties. There was little breeze from the bay and no chill in the air. It was a perfect day.
Taylor pulled into the small parking lot behind the bank and squeezed the Audi between two SUVs. She slid out, her long legs cramped between her car and the truck. She entered the bank through the side door and headed for Earl Hinks's office, down the hall on the left. The receptionist looked up as she approached.
"Hello, Lois," Taylor said as she walked past the woman's desk. Earl Hinks was the manager of the branch, but his door was always open to her, and she never waited.
"Ms. Simons, Mr. Hinks has asked that you and Mr. Bestwick go in together today. He'd like you to wait in the reception area until your husband arrives."
Taylor stopped and cocked her head. "What is this all about?" she asked.
The woman shrugged. "I don't know."
Taylor teetered between steps, then moved back to the small grouping of chairs where clients waited for Hinks or one of the high-end personal bankers who worked in the branch, serving financial advice to the wealthy. She had been waiting about ten minutes when her husband came in the side door looking confused.
"What's going on?" he asked, taking the seat beside her.
Taylor still liked what she saw when she looked at her husband. Alan Bestwick was thirty-eight, one year older than she was, and in peak physical condition. He had a ruggedly handsome face, with strong lines accenting his cheeks and jaw, and steely blue eyes beneath a mop of curly off-blond hair. He was dressed in jeans and a loose-fitting shirt rolled up to expose his sinewy forearms. Taylor didn't have time to answer before Earl Hinks appeared in the hallway entrance.
"Come on in," Hinks said, turning and shuffling down the hall to his office. Earl Hinks was in his late fifties and a poster boy for a heart attack. He was sixty pounds overweight, ate junk food three times a day, didn't exercise and drank to excess. And he smoked.
Taylor and Alan followed him and sat in the comfortable chairs facing his desk. Hinks closed the door and sat down, his chair groaning under the weight. He wiped his brow from the exertion and tucked the handkerchief in his inside suit pocket. He adjusted his glasses and opened the lone file sitting on his desk.
"There's no easy way to say this," he began, clearing his throat, "but the bank is calling your loan."
Alan sat forward. "What? Calling the loan? Why, Earl? Why would they do that?"
Now Hinks looked really uncomfortable. He fidgeted in his chair for a moment, then said, "NewPro has disappeared."
Neither Alan nor Taylor uttered a word for the better part of ten seconds. Then Taylor said, "What do you mean, Earl? How can a company disappear?"
"Our bank regularly sends out teams of inspectors to monitor new companies our clients have used our funds to invest in. Strictly due diligence, nothing else. We do it all the time. When our man arrived at the NewPro offices this morning, they were empty. Everything inside was gone: the desks, the computers and servers, the copiers, even the coffee machine." Hinks was quiet for a moment, then said, "This looks like it could be fraud." He cleared his throat, a strange gargling sound. "Do either of you know about this? Did Edward Brand mention he was moving to a new location?"
Both shook their heads. Alan said, "What does this mean, Earl. For us?"
Earl Hinks took a couple of deep breaths. "The loan has to be repaid."
"When?" Taylor asked, her voice barely a whisper.
"Define now," Alan said.
Hinks glanced at the file on his desk. "When you invested in NewPro, you gave them one-point-six million in cash and levered another thirteen million using the equity in G-cubed. The cash was yours, but the thirteen million was our money, and according to the contract, the money is due immediately if the bank decides the risk is too great. That's why it's called a demand loan. And obviously, if the business you invested in has packed up shop and disappeared, the risk is no longer acceptable."
"You didn't answer the question, Earl," Alan said.
"We need the money from the sale of G-cubed to cover the loan," Hinks said. "That would mean you need to put the business on the market immediately. At a price where it will sell. We can wait a bit for you to find a buyer and for the deal to close, but we're talking within one to three months. Any longer and the guys in the head office are going to force the sale, and that'll mean you'll be taking a fire-sale price on the business."
Taylor stared at the banker, the room about her swaying. "Earl, it's all we've got. The cash plus the business. Aside from our house, there's nothing else."
Hinks didn't respond. He was taking shallow breaths and repeatedly wiping his brow despite the cool air being pumped into the enclosed room. Finally, he said, "I'm sorry. Maybe the police ..." He let the sentence trail off.
Alan slumped back in the chair. "Jesus. We're ruined."
Taylor didn't say a word.
Excerpted from Shell Game by Jeff Buick Copyright © 2007 by Jeff Buick. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.