Milada asked Jane, her assistant, “Is Garrick on the line yet?”
She heard a click in her headset. Garrick Burke said, in the lower Middlesex accent he’d never bothered to shed, “Morning to you, girls. At least to you, Milly. Still morning there, isn’t it?” He was on speakerphone, sounding like he was in the middle of the Holland Tunnel.
“Talk to me about Wylde Medical,” she said. “I don’t like what I’m seeing.”
“Neither do I. I’m looking at thirty-seven and change on the big board right now.”
Milada sucked air through her teeth. Garrick said, “I’m telling you, Milly, the float is a bloody mess. Every time I buy into a position, the day traders are all over me. It’s like throwing a stuck pig in the Amazon.”
“What are we holding?”
“I figure we’ve got over a third of outstanding. With the churn we’re kicking up, we could sell off right now and make a killing. All that irrational exuberance, don’t you know.”
“Get it up to half first.”
“How high are you willing to go?”
She knew Garrick was shaking his head when he said, “It’ll go there, Milly, on a rocket. But I wouldn’t pay ten for the whole shebang. They’ve sunk fifty million into that new biotech venture of theirs—fifty million in new debt on marginal earnings, and not a dime of profit so far.”
“Those are real assets, Garrick. Fungible R&D resources. Push come to shove, everything else depends on the unregistered shares. That’s what’s flogging the float. Have your elves start digging.”
“That was elves,” Jane interrupted. “Not dwarves.”
Milada laughed. “Jane, have we heard anything from corporate? Let them know I’ve come all the way out here just to look at DEI’s investment. Considering their stock buybacks, we’re putting a lot of money into their coffers. In the meantime, have research do another patent search. I don’t want this to be easy for the wrong reasons.”
Jane agreed. Then she asked, “How’re you doing, Milada? The Hilton treating you all right?”
“I moved out of the Hilton. Rented a house in the honest-to-God suburbs.”
“You did what?”
“It’s a great improvement. I’ll fax you the papers. You can pull off the contact information in case my cell goes out.”
Garrick chuckled. “The suburbs? No kidding? You mean the quarter-acre plot, the two-car garage, the neighbor kid who comes over every week to trim the lawn—”
“That describes the situation.”
“You know what the old song says about mad dogs and Englishmen, Milly.”
“Yes, I know, Garrick. I will stay out of the midday sun.”
“And watch your diet. You must be a mile high. The blood thins out at those altitudes.”
She ignored him. “Jane, ride their little backsides and FedEx me by Thursday latest. I want hard copies.”
Jane cheerfully said she would. Milada hung up the phone and called Karen back into the room. “I have a job for you.” She handed Karen the annual report for Wylde Medical Informatics. “That Post-It note marks a listing of the board of directors. I want you to find out who they are, where they live, who they’re related to, how many kids they have, what charities they contribute to, other boards they sit on, and what they eat for breakfast. Especially Darren Wylde. Does Loveridge have an Edgar or Morningstar account?”
“I don’t know. Probably.”
“Find out. If not, you can use mine. I’ll show you how it works.”
“Okay!” said Karen. She sounded excited to find out, to get involved in The Big Project. Better than pushing the mail cart and making coffee.
The first batch of SEC reports arrived the next morning with the FedEx courier, a thick wad of Xeroxed forms crammed with tiny, practically indecipherable print, the dirt hauled out of an economic archeological dig. The valuable artifacts wouldn’t show themselves without a good deal of sifting.
Milada called in Karen, and they started going through the forms. “How is your research going?” Milada asked.
“It looks like the biggest stockholder in WMI got into the business as a funeral home operator.”
“Yes, that’s Darren Wylde, the CEO. A well-run funeral home is a veritable cash machine, so that’s no surprise.”
“Up to 1979 the only hits in LexisNexis had to do with Wylde Funeral Homes and his work on the board of the National Funeral Directors Association,” Karen said. “Wylde remains the largest locally owned chain of funeral homes in the Intermountain West. Listings related to Wylde Medical Informatics start in the late 1980s, and then there’s a bunch more in the last five years.”
“So he stays out of the spotlight. How much of the company does he own?”
“About twenty percent.” Karen looked at the papers they were stacking in small piles around the conference room table. “What exactly are we doing?”
“We are trying to determine the size of the float. When a company goes public, the stock they sell to you and me is called the float. The rest gets divided up among the company’s officers. Since the volume of held stock determines who controls the company, the principals will try not to sell off their holdings—their unregistered shares—even after the lockup has expired and their options vest.”
“So we’re trying to find out how much of the company Mr. Wylde controls?”
“Precisely,” said Milada, rewarding her pupil with a smile. “The stock he owns and the stock he controls. Love, money, and in-laws.”
The phone rang. It was Jane. “Yes,” Milada confirmed, “we’ve received the first batch.”
“I just had a pleasant conversation with Dr. Richard Brickey, CTO at Wylde. He’s dying to show you the place. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. The meeting’s set for tomorrow at two.”
Milada rolled her eyes. “Yes. That works for me.”
“They’re off the Van Winkle Expressway in Murray. I assume that means something to you. You have the address?”
“I’m sure Steven will be able to find it.”
“Garrick promised the rest of the WMI statements will reach you by tomorrow.”
“Good work, Jane. I’ll ring you tomorrow after the meeting.”
Jane hung up. The phone intercom buzzed. Cindy at the front desk said, “I’ve got a call for Ms. Daranyi.”
“Who is it from?”
“A Mr. Troy Ellis.”
“Ellis?” Milada glanced at Karen. Karen shook her head. “Ah,” said Milada, remembering. “That Troy Ellis. Well—” She thought it over for a minute. The pious had always proved adept at her game. It was the historical perspective that religion provided, the willingness to believe in devils and angels. The greater the challenge, the greater the reward. “I’ll take the call.”
Milada hit line four. “Good morning, Troy.”
“Milada! How are you?”
“I’m doing fine, Troy. And yourself?”
“Better that ever.” Milada could hear the sound of printing presses running in the background. He said, “I was wondering if you might be free Friday night?”
“I might well be.”
“The Utah Symphony Orchestra is playing at Abravanel Hall. They’re performing Scheherazade.”
“I have always enjoyed Rimsky-Korsakov. When does the concert begin?”
“Eight o’clock. I was thinking dinner first. How does Japanese sound? There’s a little place in Sugarhouse that has great sushi. The Bamboo Grove.”
“Japanese sounds fine. Why don’t we meet there around—”
“My driver will drop me off at the restaurant, and we shall take it from there.”
“Great. I’ll see you Friday.”
“Good-bye, Troy.” Milada took off the headset.
Karen said, “You’ve got a date! Who is it? Who asked you out?” She made it sound like an accomplishment more profound than taking over a publicly traded company.
“Some of my neighbors invited me to a barbecue yesterday. Mr. Ellis was one of their guests.”
“The curious thing is, he’s a bishop. Or maybe that’s not so odd.”
“No, my neighbor. I wonder how he got my number.”
My bishop? Did one have a Mormon bishop whether one wanted one or not? Milada shook her head. “Mr. Ellis.”
“Oh. Well, a good bishop can find out just about anything.”
Thursday afternoon, following a pleasant if unproductive meeting with Richard Brickey at WMI headquarters—he steadfastly refused to promise her a face-to-face with Mr. Wylde—Steven picked up Milada at the Wylde headquarters in Murray. Milada had Jane on the phone by the time the car door closed. It was six o’clock in New York, but Jane had hung around for the call.
“How’d it go?” Jane asked.
“Give Bob a holler. He’s got himself a new client. They don’t know about it yet, but lay the groundwork.”
“Are you sure you want Prince Machiavelli consorting with those nice Mormons?”
“Bob knows when to put on his family values cap. The man has that Dobson fellow on speed-dial. Or is it the other way around? He’ll know what to do.”
“He’s a son of a bitch—” Jane began.
“Yes, but he’s our son of a bitch.”
“About the tender offer, how soon do you want to start getting proffers from Garrick?”
“Not until I can talk to Mr. Wylde himself and hopefully prevent a hostile takeover and the predictable poison pills. But tell Garrick to get his team together and start chipping away.”
Steven exited Highland Drive and drove into the north Sandy suburbs.
A girl was walking by herself along the sidewalk, carrying a clarinet case and a backpack slung over her right shoulder. “Steven,” said Milada, “pull over. The girl we passed, her name is Laura Forsythe. Ask her if she would like a ride home.”
As Steven pulled over and stepped out, Milada watched through the tinted side window. For a brief, unbearable moment, her mind flashed back to the wet, reeking alleys winding off the Borough High Street. She remembered wending her way through the stews of Southwark, through the theater crowds at Bankside, past the brothels and bear-baiting arenas—trolling the dens and warrens for that impressionable, lost girl to bring home to Rakosi and her sisters.
Laura walked over to the limo. God, she was trusting. It jarred Milada. Some things, like the inherent trust of children, never changed. Steven opened the door. Laura peered in, her hair haloed in sunlight. Her face brightened with recognition. Milada said, “Good afternoon, Laura.”
“Hey, hi!” She climbed into the car. Steven shut the door behind her. Laura confided, “I’ve never had a chauffeur before.”
“Steven is a very good one.”
Laura said, “What are you doing here?”
“We are returning from a trip to Murray. Do you go to school nearby?”
“Alta High. Over there.” She pointed over her shoulder.
“I see you play the clarinet.”
“Yeah. I’m in marching band.”
“I saw Benny Goodman in his Carnegie Hall concert. That was when Harry James and Teddy Wilson were still with the orchestra. Do you have any of his CDs?”
Laura shook her head, and Milada suspected she had no idea who Benny Goodman was. Just some dead jazz guy. Still, it was fun to match wits with children, even more so than with priests. The church ladies at the Forsythes’ backyard barbecue politely had refused to take a thing she said literally, but children always believed her. She would pick out a child and stroll beside her and smile and say, Come with me, and I will show you things, things you have never seen before and never will see again.
The child would hear her strange accent and hesitate—
Come, she would insist, and you shall see. My Master lives in a fine merchant’s house. He shall treat you as he has always treated me.
She did not lie. That was exactly how he would treat them. And so she won them over with her lilting voice and with her poisonous, compelling touch. With the promise of money or food. She would promise them the whole world, if that was what was required. It’s a game, don’t you see?
They sang and giggled as they skipped along: Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies—
Milada shook the melody out of her head. Her mouth tasted dry as ash. She’d left that life behind her so long ago. But the memories could still gain a powerful momentum, screaming at her out of the past. The oldest habits were the hardest to break.
The limo wove slowly through the sculpted suburban streets. Milada said, “It’s not easy being the big sister in the family, is it?”
“You have a sister? Oh, yeah, two.”
“And when one of them gets into trouble, who does your father pay his attention to?”
“Yeah,” said Laura with wry empathy.
Steven announced, “Cottonwood Estates.” He glanced over his shoulder at the back seat. “Where do you need to go, Miss?”
Laura giggled at the formalities. “It’s 445 Willow Way.”
Steven stopped in front of the Forsythes’ driveway, got out, and opened the car door for Laura. Laura said, “Thank you, Mr. Day.”
Steven answered with a polite bow and a tip of his hat.