It is July of 1987, and Christof Douglas, president of an entertainment company, which is part of a multinational conglomerate, has just arrived at his summer cottage to meet his wife, Katya, for much-needed respite when he receives two urgent messages from a Miss Kelso, who implies he knows her. But there is only one problem: Douglas has never heard of her—or so he thinks.
Douglas, who has been working incessantly ever since his daughter was killed years earlier, continues at a frenetic pace, even when he should be reconnecting with his wife. When a big deal suddenly falls through and Douglas learns that Kelso has been murdered, however, he finds himself in the midst of a homicide investigation where he soon discovers that Kelso is really his former fiancée, Maria Ladillya. When he finds out why Maria contacted him after all those years, Douglas must rely on his instincts—and fate—as he is unwittingly pulled into an illegal, international operation that exposes lies, revenge, and cover-ups.
In this espionage thriller, a broadcasting executive who is about to face loss like never before is consoled by a mysterious woman who encourages him to take a brave journey through his past, present, and future as he questions his true destiny.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.72(d)|
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Parcae's Wisha novel
By J. Nicholas
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 J. Nicholas
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWITH ONLY OPEN PARKWAY lanes before me, I was working at keeping the Teutonic toy under its natural speed of eighty. These were the moments when I enjoyed driving the vehicle the autobahn aficionados referred to as the "whispering bomb." Inside my mobile concert hall, the Allman Brothers were shouting, "That just may be your man downstairs ... I don't know ... I ain't gonna find out."
It was the summer of 1987, and the July sky was perfect. It was the kind of day that my wife, Katya, said reminded her of Bermuda.
"With those puffy white clouds so delicately framed by that background of higher blue sky," she would proclaim in that clipped British accent of hers I loved. "But what makes them uniquely Bermuda clouds," she would go on, ever the impressionist, "is their faint, translucent hint of pink which peeks its way through."
It was early Friday afternoon, and I was light-years ahead of the weekend horde of sun and surf worshippers. It was a great feeling to get that jump on the shore crowd and avoid the nerve-racking, bumper-to-bumper aggravation that would follow. I pictured myself curled up on the sunporch, an ice-cold drink never more than an arm's length away, with "Judy Blue Eyes" playing on the Blaupunkt. At the speed I was moving, I would be at the summer cottage in Sea Isle, my vision realized, in less than an hour.
Katya and I talked about living year-round down the Jersey Shore. Once we came close when we almost bought a country gentleman's estate in Rumson. Well, that's how I liked to think of it. The property was less than a quarter mile from the ocean—an easy bike ride. But as hard as we tried, the owner wouldn't budge from his already-inflated asking price. Sometimes it was funny how things turned out, because in retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise.
Those two-hour daily commutes from there to my office in Midtown Manhattan would have taken their toll. At least Katya didn't have a commute, as the museum allowed her to take a sabbatical each summer. Then again, as I liked to tease her, perhaps they were only too glad to reduce their bloated payroll costs.
Passing exit 123, I looked for Cubbies Marina. Whenever I got to this point in my travels, I felt I was now officially at the Shore. It reminded me of the way things would have looked in a much earlier age, with its array of timeworn wooden sailboats and rust-encrusted fishing scows—not the slightest trace of go-go eighties upscale commercialization. You knew that anyone with enough nerve to set foot on one of those vessels was not your typical weekend sailor.
There were many marinas along the Jersey coast, but Cubbies intrigued me. I could imagine those sailboats, their crews easing them from the docks at the break of dawn, staying under motor power until they cleared the reeds and marshes to reach the estuary of the Cheesequake River. Then they'd swing into action, their sails unfurling, and caught by the brisk sea winds, they'd go racing for the open Atlantic. Of course, like so many of us, those ancient and rust-bucketed fishing boats would, without the slightest fanfare, just keep chugging out into the ocean until they reached wherever it was they were headed.
"Beeeep ... Beeeep"
Nothing like modern technology to bring you back to reality. I forced my eyes from Cubbies, lowered the stereo volume, and picked up the phone.
"Chris, Andy here. I'm glad I reached you before I left for LA."
"Andy, what's up?" Andrew Kiner was general counsel and my most trusted associate at DFT Entertainment, the organization for which I was president and chief operating officer.
"It seems Great Air is balking at the recent WXRA revisions we submitted," he said, telling me what was down and not up. "All of a sudden they woke up and felt the revenue multiples couldn't carry the debt load for the station," he continued in his usual no-nonsense, machine-gun fashion.
"You know how they don't commingle revenue projections for their radio properties, insisting that every broadcast entity is a standalone unit, left to rise and fall on its own merit. If they didn't take that narrow-minded, pigheaded position and instead bundled all of their stations as a mini-network and treated this deal for what it really is—their entry into the New York market—this thing would be a no-brainer for them."
"So what else is new? We anticipated this when they started their due diligence and heard some of their preliminary reactions."
"Well, for one thing, they're maintaining that what we pay our talent is way out of line with industry norms and excessive in comparison with their own in-house talent."
"Then tell them to check the latest Arbitron book. Our guys deserve it. Theirs don't. Period and end of story." I downshifted into fourth gear and swung into the fast lane as the open-topped Jeep that had been a half mile ahead loomed less than fifty feet away. "But before I say what I feel," I said, pausing to glance into the passenger-side mirror, watching the Jeep fade from view, "what exactly is it, pray tell, that they're suggesting?"
"They didn't come out and say it ... but ... but I think they're hinting that we should restructure some of those contracts ... or even—"
"Andy, if you don't spit it out by the time I get to Sea Isle, perhaps we should think about restructuring your contact."
"They want us to fire the Caseys. If we don't, Chris, I'm afraid this deal is history."
Few things left in my life could surprise me, but I was not yet at a place where I could always best my temper. For the moment, that ugly genie was still in the bottle.
"Andy, I know at times the Casey clan can get on one's nerves. Especially when the new book comes out and they are once again sitting smugly in the catbird's seat as the number-one morning-drive program in the metro area. And while we're on this subject, we all know that their approach when it comes to renegotiating is bizarre, to say the least. What with their off-the-wall attempts at recreating some cockamamie sixties-style sit-in."
I smiled as I remembered the Caseys prone on the ground, their limbs spread-eagled as they blocked WXRA's entranceway, the last time this sticky topic had come up.
"Except in their case," I continued, "capitalistic gain is always their modus operandi. Having said all that, we also know that these same eccentricities are what make them what they are—the biggest radio personalities and draw on the entire East Coast."
"I understand that, Chris. More to the point, though, those bastards at Great Air do also." His words sounded weaker than his meaning as the transmission faded.
Right about then, I was pulling into the Long Branch toll plaza, fishing in my pockets for the correct change and thinking of those lucky sailors back at Cubbies. One thing that did serve me well in the corporate world, however, was that I was a quick study. That was doubly so when others were trying their damnedest to send me on that early retirement cruise.
"Andy, the SOBs want us to fire the Caseys, which in turn will drive the ratings through the floor, taking the sales price along with it and allowing one of the more prized radio names in the business to be gobbled up for a fraction of its worth." I was annoyed for not realizing this ploy sooner.
"You forgot one small detail," Andy said, his voice loud and clear, the quality of our communication restored.
"Our friends at the FCC!"
At the mention of that den of thieves, the cork went flying out of the bottle; the genie was out.
The Federal Communication Commission, or FCC, was created in 1934 by Congress to monitor and regulate, among other matters, radio and television stations and the broadcast networks. Since then, that charter had been expanded to cover cable and wireless traffic that in many ways bore little resemblance to the industry the original FCC members were concerned with.
The one issue that remained constant, much to my ever-mounting frustrations, was the one of ownership—a misnomer if ever there was one, considering that the owner, in truth, was just a licensee, someone whom the FCC, in their magnanimity, granted a renewal privilege every fourth year.
Airing pro bono public service offerings, being a good corporate citizen, maintaining decent programming standards, and, probably most importantly of all, keeping the necessary politicians happy—a euphemism in my circles for buying them off—were all part of the renewal process. Most of the time, especially when it came to the major players—and we were definitely recognized as one—renewal was nothing but a formality. Unfortunately, sometimes the system didn't work the way it was supposed to, and other factors, such as egos or personalities, played a larger part than they should have. In our case, they constituted more than just a part; they were the whole ball of wax.
And it cost us a station.
After five years of bickering, millions in attorneys' fees, and a circle-the-wagons, us-versus-them attitude, we lost the only real asset a TV or radio station had—we lost an FCC license and, with it, the privilege to broadcast. And as if that weren't bad enough, it was WCAK we lost, one of our crown jewels.
We also lost, give or take a few million, $200 million. Without that license, we were not much different from a luxury home sitting atop a toxic dump. The physical assets could be sold, but at a fraction of their previous value.
Well, the wound hadn't healed. The FCC, like all politically motivated institutions, had a long memory. There was no way they were about to stop with that initial victory. They smelled blood, and the rest of the stations were on the menu, scheduled to be their main course. My instincts told me that whatever stumbling blocks we faced with the sale of WXRA ultimately originated with these folks.
"Chris ... Christof! Are you still there?"
"Damn it. Yes, I'm still here." The edge in my voice said more than my words. "What's their interest in the Great Air negotiations beyond the existing legal proceedings they have pending against the other properties? Those proceedings that our outside counsel assures us have no bearing on the WXRA sale."
"Chris, let's not go over that again," he answered defensively. "The legislation enacted last year clearly exempted WXRA from the rest of the lawsuits. But to answer your question, our man on the committee, Teddy Simmons, says he's hearing rumblings of Great Air trying to cut some kind of deal with Walker to influence the sale price however they can."
I knew it. My instincts were right on the money. The mention of Vince Walker, the chair of the FCC and sleazebag nonpareil, caused me to accelerate and pass one very surprised state employee.
Once we'd lost that first station, the FCC had filed against us as if we were unfit parents. If we couldn't do a good job with our firstborn, why expect anything better for the remainder of the litter? So, with debatable exception of WXRA—counselor's comments duly noted—we were now entangled in legal battles for the rest of the nineteen stations. But these lawsuits were public knowledge. They had been going on for years and, in all likelihood, would continue to do so through the next decade. There had to be something else behind this.
"Andy, we felt from the get-go that Great Air would try to pull an end run and put Walker in its pocket. What's changed now?"
"I'm not sure, but something isn't quite kosher. The obvious scenario unfolds pretty much as you stated. Let's say we don't fire the Caseys but rather, when you consider the personalities involved, attempt to renegotiate their contract. They are now the proverbial disgruntled employees. However, in their case, they have an open forum to air, pardon the pun, their grievances. Ratings fall. Revenue follows. And zap, the station's sales price plummets right behind."
He continued, "But here's the kicker. Walker mounts a public opinion campaign through his media-controlled sycophants and exerts pressure on us to drop the WXRA legal exemption and settle by having the FCC designate the new station owners. And take one guess who that might be."
I spat out the initials GA and then added, "There's one other, somewhat minor item you almost forgot under this wonderful scenario."
"The stock price of our parent goes down the tube."
Like the majority of American companies in the eighties, including our competition, our motto was "grow today or be history tomorrow." Today's competitor was nothing more than a future, a possible acquisition, a strategic cornerstone. Said another way, we hedged our options any way we could, grabbing a piece of everybody who was slower, less focused. After all, that was how DFT, the multinational industrial conglomerate, had acquired the group of broadcast stations we were discussing, further ensuring its status as one of Wall Street's favorites.
DFT was also led to believe that, as the new owners, they had an agreement with the FCC that the pending litigation would be dropped and they would be allowed eternal "quiet enjoyment" from further action—a sort of quid pro quo not to rattle each other's cage. Regrettably, it didn't work out the way they had planned.
Instead, about a year after the deal was approved, the FCC trumped up one charge after another in much the same manner as they had against the former owners. All of this formed the basis for the current legal contentions.
About the time WCAK was lost, my predecessor was rolled out to pasture and I was brought in as president of DFT Entertainment to restore some integrity to their business. Perhaps more appropriately stated, to help maintain market price of their broadcast empire, which was estimated to be in excess of $1 billion.
WHOOOP! WHOOOP! WHOOOP!
The state trooper's siren caused me to leap out of both my thoughts and my concert seat. He was less than a car length behind, bumpercar close, his flashing red lights signaling to me to pull over. His face had an ear-to-ear grin that reminded me of a great white shark, poised and about to sink his teeth into some unsuspecting surfer.
"Andy, I need to hang up now." I cursed myself for not paying more attention to my speed and downshifted into second gear, slowing the Bimmer onto the highway shoulder. "There's a state trooper that wants to talk with me. I'll call you back later."
"I have a three fifteen flight for LA, so figure I'll be leaving in about fifteen minutes."
"Okay, I'll call back as soon as I can. If we miss each other, I'll catch you tomorrow at the Century Towers."
"Right. Talk with you later." He tossed in "good luck," seemingly as an afterthought, before disconnecting.
I kept the irritation off my face as the trooper approached my lowered window. "License and registration, please."
Ouch. I guess license is the operative word. I noticed the trooper still grinning, his eyes examining my car as he ran his fingers over it.
His gray eyes peered over his aviator sunglasses and into my face. "Nice car you have here, sir," he said. His left hand rested on the door, fingering it. "But, in my opinion, I think it's too much engine for this part of Jersey. In my opinion, it's more of a big-city car or maybe even one of those fancy Long Islander vehicles."
'No one's asking your opinion,' I thought, glad that my mind was overloaded with more serious issues, or I might have made some kind of wisecrack guaranteed to elevate the summer temperatures. I handed him the information.
"Sir, when you passed me, I was doing sixty-five. You must have been doing at least eighty. Fortunately for you, my gun clocked you at seventy-five." The grin became a leer. "Seems this is your lucky day, Mr. Douglas. You were moving too slow to have your license suspended. I'd appreciate it, though, if you would please remain in your car while I check your driving record."
I have news for you, Shark; you can't have my license, because someone else has first dibs. This had better not drag on too long. I need to call Andy pronto..
After an interminable period during which I watched his every gesture in my mirror, he returned.
"More good news, Mr. Douglas. Your motor vehicle record doesn't reflect any outstanding violations. Nonetheless, I'm required to issue a summons for exceeding the parkway speed limit." He handed me the ticket. "Like I said, this vehicle has too much engine for these parts. I'm sure we'll be seeing each other soon." He delivered his lecture with the same frozen smile plastered across his face and then walked back to his patrol car. "Have a nice day," he added over his shoulder.
Why did I get the sense that he was probably right? I stared at him in the rearview mirror as he got in his car. He reminded me of that insane shark hunter from the movie Jaws — a sort of Robert Shaw of the parkway.
Excerpted from Parcae's Wish by J. Nicholas Copyright © 2013 by J. Nicholas. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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