Features & Columns

An excerpt from Cash Out

Three Days to Cash Out
cash out JOURNALISM, SPIN, FICTION: Before he joined the high-tech world, before he wrote a novel, Greg Bardsley covered San Jose politics in the early '90s for 'Metro.'

In this excerpt from Greg Bardsley's novel, our hero, Dan Jordan, dreams of riches from his job as a speechwriter for the CEO of high-tech firm FlowBid. Soon, however, he finds himself kidnapped by disgruntled IT geeks. The place is Silicon Valley; the time is 2008 ...

Pushing through the doors and into the California sunshine, I keep telling myself, Three days. In three days, not only will my vasectomy wounds be healed, but my first round of stock options will vest, at which point I'll cash them out. Result: more than a million bucks in profit. I had never imagined the possibility of amassing so much wealth in one small moment; two years ago, no one would have guessed that FlowBid stock would increase like it has. But now here I am, just three days away from a whole new life.

In three days, my first block of options will vest—5,300 in all. It's the first of two installments from my original 2005 grant of 10,600 options, but I'm not going to stick around another two years to pocket the full grant. Hell, I won't even stick around another week.

As soon as the options vest, I'll call Smith Barney to place a same-day sale—purchasing my options at the grant price of $8, and selling them immediately at the current market price of $216. The funds will be wired to my FlowBid-issued account at Smith Barney, which will arrange to have the check printed two days later at its Menlo Park office near Sand Hill Road, the epicenter of the venture capital world. I'll show up in my Corolla, pick up the check and proceed directly to nearby Mountain View to deposit it into our checking account.

The next day, I'll give FlowBid my two weeks' notice. I'm sure it will shock the hell out of them. Conventional wisdom around here is that only a numbskull would walk away with $1.1 million when he can stick around two more years for another million—or much more, assuming the stock keeps climbing, assuming the bottom doesn't fall out. But that's the difference between the conventionally wise and me.

I want out.

We'll call our Real Estate agent to put our little peninsula cottage up for sale, for what's sure to be an insane profit. Seven years ago, we bought that little 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom place for $589,000; today, there's guaranteed to be a bidding war, and it's bound to go for at least a million.

That night we'll go out for Mexican food, to a worn-in, hole-in-the-wall place we love, peopled by longtime locals and phenomenal margaritas. The next day, we'll get up, pack the car and head over the hill and south along the shoreline, straight for the coastal communities between Santa Cruz and Monterey, where we'll start the search for the perfect "beach shack." Kate will say, "You're really gonna go barefoot the whole day?" And I'll glance back at her, a big grin spreading across my face, and nod.

Within a month, after all the dust settles, we'll have bought a waterfront property with great views and beach access. It won't be luxurious, just functional and well-made. We'll either have a tiny mortgage or none at all, and the profit from our cottage sale will be sitting in savings.

Out will go the twelve-hour workdays, the endless chatter about the need for more server capacity, the continual asides about stock options and growing fortunes, the late-night slide-deck drills with a jittery VP three years out of college, the sheer exhaustion that makes you want to avoid eye contact with the world just so you can get home already. Out will go all those San Francisco dinner parties, those thinly disguised boasting contests where guests compete for top bragging rights on everything from whose house has the newest amenity, to who has the most "nanny help," to whose kid is succeeding the most without trying. Out will go the Range Rovers and Mercedes and BMW utility vehicles. Out will go Janice from Finance.

Out. All of it.

In will come Hondas and sandals and Fords and old VW buses with longboards tied to the roof. In will come locals riding on old beach cruisers, smiling back at us.

I want to do the things we'd stopped doing on the other side: making meals from scratch, enjoying lazy visits with friends, spending real time on the phone with loved ones, smiling at strangers, getting caught up in a good book. I want to work in the front yard and get my hands dirty, my body scraped up, my sweat mixed with dirt. Sure, it'll stink, that mixture of sweat and dirt—until I run across the beach and dive into the ocean.

We'll leave our TV in a box, in the garage.

Wi-Fi? We'll never even unpack the router.

I'll spend real time with my wife and children, the kind of time I never quite manage to spend in my current life, that life on the other side where I just can't stop to count my blessings.

We'll spend the whole summer on the beach. In the morning, Kate will run her three miles on the hard, wet sand as the boys and I prepare breakfast: melons, toast and Raisin Bran, a coffee for Daddy. In the afternoon, I'll sit on our old canvas beach chair, a kid on each side of my lap, my father's fifty-year-old Coleman sunk into the sand, icing apple juice, water and few cans of Tecate, as I read them another installment of Robinson Crusoe. When evening approaches, I'll take a siesta in the sand, the pulsing of the waves sedating me, the Pacific breeze washing over me, as Kate brings the boys home and sparks up the barbecue. At night, the boys and I will build castles and car garages out of blocks, the sound of crashing waves easing through the windows and mixing with the saxophone-heavy ska echoing throughout the house.

When the house is quiet, Kate and I will sit on the couch and hold hands and talk. We'll actually hang out and talk.

This is all doable, I think as I hobble to my Corolla. It's not a dream. It's a plan.

My reverie is interrupted by the sound of footsteps.

Then a bizarre sight: two little geeks, coming at me like a pair of bats out of hell, running awkwardly, each of them holding one end of a rope. "Hey!"

Before I know what's hit me, they've got the rope wrapped around me, circling me in opposite directions, pinning my wrists to my hips. In seconds I'm wrapped up, immobilized, toppling over.

And then, a high-pitched voice. "Stay cool, stud machine."

What is this? My mind is scrambling. A prank?

I open my eyes. From my upside-down view, I see an unmarked white van skid to a stop. The side door rolls open, and I'm pulled off the ground and made to hop toward the van. When I try to resist, they poke me in the spine with something hard and threatening.

My head floats. "What the hell is this?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," one voice says, shoving the barrel of something deeper into my back.

"What do you guys want with me? I have a wife and kids at home."

"I'm sure they're darling." They push me. "Sit down."

What choice do I have? Grimacing, I hop to one of the bench seats.

"Hit it." The van peels out of the parking lot.

I give my kidnappers a quick glance; they look dimly familiar. The tiny driver is a rail-thin, pasty-skinned nerd in his thirties; I swear he's wearing a Star Trek shirt. The guy seated beside me is tiny, too, with jeans pulled up to his ribs—not floods, but high-riders. I can't help but give them a very long double-take.

The third guy is small but muscular, with a giant head of wavy, flaming-red hair—he may be the alpha male in this pack of tinies.

♦♦♦

Stephen Fitzroy is my CEO. That's my job: I write his speeches. I travel on the company jet with him; I go to his compound to work on speaker notes and slide decks; I put words in his mouth. Stephen Fitzroy is worth hundreds of millions of dollars; he's one of those visionaries who's always in the right business at the right time.

A lot of people don't like Stephen Fitzroy.

I look around the van for guns. Nothing.

High Rider squints at me. "You may recognize us. Of course, hotshot pretty boys like yourself usually looked right through us at FlowBid. We were expendable, weren't we, Dan? IT guys like us."

IT guys? Aw, man.

I try to stay calm. "No, I remember you."

"Good, because we remembered you. Sure, we got outsourced. And him over here"—he nods to Little Red—"his job got offshored to Bangalore. But we remember you." He glances at Star Trek, who snickers. "How could we forget the tall and charming speechwriter to the great Silicon Valley icon Stephen Fitzroy?"

I shake my head. "I'm not like that, guys."

"You may not have known our names, but we knew yours. How could we not, Dan? All that interesting IT activity of yours? All that inappropriate use of FlowBid IT resources?"

Wait, what?

"You know, the kinds of activities I don't think you want your CEO knowing about."

My heart sinks and my skin cools. IT guys. When it comes to the network, those guys can go anywhere and see anything. Like the calendar on my Treo, for instance.

The van makes a hard left. High Rider pulls out some kind of printout. "Here I have a high-level summary of the IT activity of one Dan Jordan at FlowBid. It's quite interesting." He glances at me. "So, in no particular order: approximately one hundred and fifty-six hours spent on personal email accounts. Ninety-eight hours spent working on your personal web pages. The photocopying of some twelve hundred pages of fliers for your son's preschool, at a cost of six hundred dollars to the company. And the laser-printing of some three thousand Yahtzee score sheets for some stupid prank, at a company cost of nearly fifteen hundred dollars."

"Oh, come on. Find me one FlowBid staffer who doesn't use the goddam Xerox machine."

"Okay, shall I go on? All right, then. What about . . . sixty hours spent at MILFs in Heat dot-com? Forty-three hours spent at an assortment of websites specializing in the female posterior? Or . . ." He turns over to look me in the eye. ". . . seventeen minutes exchanging erotica with a married coworker?"

I'm about to pass out.

"Mr. Jordan," he squeaks. "Would you like us to share this information, including transcripts of said erotica, with the entire workforce at FlowBid?"

I can see where this is headed.

"No."

"And would you like us to send details of your improper use of FlowBid IT resources to the business conduct office? Surely, any of these offenses would suffice to have your employment summarily terminated, making you ineligible for scheduled disbursement of non-cash compensation and benefits?"

If the company found out, I'd lose everything: my job, my options, my ability to get rehired. I think of that $1.1 million in options, of those three days before they vest, and I see stars.

"I don't believe you'd want us to do that."

"You guys are IT?"

"No, we were IT. Now we're just outsourced, off-shored, and unemployed. We just had the foresight to back up some very interesting data before we packed our bags."

I try to steady myself. "So now you want something."

He leans forward and snaps, "We want your cooperation, pretty boy."

Little Red releases a noise, adds, "Pretty boy."

High Rider pauses, examines my reaction. "We want you to do as we say, when we're ready." Another pause. "Otherwise . . ."

Little Red finishes, ". . . no more fat hookers for you."

High Rider glares at Little Red. "Keep your fantasies out of this." Then, to me: "Otherwise, we'll release your information."

I look away and shake my head. Of course there is the $1.1 million, but I'm thinking about Kate and the boys. What will happen to our family if the other stuff gets out—the stuff where I tell another woman I'd like to burrow my face into her hindquarters? With my long hours, Kate's already feeling abandoned at home—hence the couples counseling sessions. She jokes about the notion of me cheating—"You're always getting home too late for dinner. You have some hot admin there willing to take your order?"—but lately the joke part has sounded a little halfhearted. I just roll my eyes, wave her off, because in truth I've never been tempted—well, almost never.

The van skids to a stop, and I realize we're back in the parking lot, in front of my car. "Would you like some good news, Dan?" says High Rider.

I stare at him.

"The good news is, we don't want any of your precious stock-option money."

"But we do want your collusion. We're going after that bowl of loose stool you call a CEO. When we come calling—and it will be soon—you will assist us. Shouldn't be hard for a sellout like you."

Sellout? Damn. These guys did their homework.

"Otherwise, you will lose everything: the chance to cash out your options, the comfy little life with your hardbody wife, the ability to support your sweet little family."

I look at High Rider's left hand. No ring.

"Get out, Dan. Get out of the van."

Still tied up, I hop out of the van, stumble and crash to the asphalt. I roll and groan.

"And one more thing."

I glance up at him.

His eyes twinkle. "Have fun with the sex counselor." He rolls the door shut, and a loud burst of laughter erupts inside the mini-van.

Copyright 2011 by Greg Bardsley. Reprinted by permission.