Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 31

Jaxon

I flick on the shower and pull off my clothes, still wired from my time with Jada.

It’s an unwritten rule that guys who head out for a night or weekend with me can expect a whole range of outcomes, from outrageous bar tabs and gambling debts to being chased by packs of paparazzi to ocean-ruined clothes, transport to other countries, police records, involvement in brawls, and/or unwise sexual escapades.

Women who date me get their own version, minus the bills and the brawling, of course.

I’m the one you hang out with if you want to roughen up your squeaky-clean image. I’m the one you go to when you want to upset the family or make sure the tabloids haven’t forgotten about you between films or coronations or whatever it is that gets you in the papers.

Pushing people past their limits and getting them to go against their better judgment has been my thing for as long as I can remember.

But pushing Jada past her boundaries was something different altogether.

It may have looked like I was pushing and corrupting her, but in truth, it was my soul getting taken apart. It was my heart getting twisted into new shapes.

I stumble in under the hot water and press my forehead to the rough stone that forms the mosaic on the shower walls, probably created by a team of artisans flown in from lord knows where.

I grab hold of myself, letting the water rush over the back of my head and stream down my cheeks as I jerk off to the memory of her expression when I took control, and the way she watched me as I fingered her. Just the wild intimacy of it, something I’d normally find cringy.

I come in a torrent of heat and euphoria.

I’m addicted to her pleasure, but it’s more than that. It’s her. Everything about her.

I let the water rush over me as one single realization dawns: I need to tell her who I am.

It’s messed up I’ve let it go this far. Jada admires honesty and hard work and people who believe in things. She’ll hate that I posed as somebody else. Past me would’ve found it funny. Current me doesn’t see anything funny about it at all, because over the course of the weeks, I’ve come to care about her opinion. I’ve come to care about her.

Caring and concern. Jesus Christ, no wonder I’ve avoided it for so long. And now I’m twisted around like a motherfucker.

I’m gonna go on record here and say that it’s…fun. Unusually hot, in fact.

Unusually hot. That’s how she asked for it. So Jada. No-nonsense, straightforward Jada, blown away by a few bits of gold in some ice cubes. I get this streak of irrational anger for the jackasses she grew up with here, even though I might be the worst jackass of them all.

After my shower I do a punishing workout. Not the best order of activities to go in, but I’m not exactly the picture of mental health at the moment.

Afterwards I place a call to Soto, who’s supposedly on the West Coast at this point.

“What do you have? I have a lot of changes to make.”

“Yeah, about that…” The way he says it, I know I’m not gonna like it.

“Spill it.”

“Your hands are absolutely tied when it comes to Bloxburn. And Bert Johnston is a direct employee of theirs.”

“I don’t care. I’ve documented at least four instances where he’s directly working against the interests of the company. The only way he’s doing a good job is if they’ve put him there to screw things up.”

“Yeah, but here’s the problem. Your parents got into some sort of hassle with the owners of SportyGoCo. They bought SportyGoCo specifically to destroy it.”

My blood goes cold. “They bought it to destroy it?”

“That’s right. I’ve spoken with a few of the Wycliff executives. Your parents were angry with the owners. I have no idea what about, but they apparently went through a great deal of trouble to force those owners to sell. I gather that SportyGoCo was a labor of love for those ex-owners.”

“My parents bought it out of vengeance.”

“Yes.”

My blood goes cold, thinking about Jada, about how much she loves the company. The whole crew loves that company. They have all of those hopes and dreams for Wonderbag. The shipping team has been working so hard to improve the systems. The people here consider each other to be family, what with the cookies and the hats and all the rest of it.

“Wait—I don’t understand,” I say. “If they wanted to destroy SportyGoCo, why keep it running? Why not shut down the business once they had control? Why did they bother keeping it running?”

“Vengeance,” Soto says. “The owners loved their employees. So part of the idea is to make their people miserable. Also, money. If they can force people to quit or fire them for disciplinary reasons, there’s a payroll cost savings associated with that. I’ve been told that Bert has until the end of this accounting period to make people quit or fire them, and to otherwise destroy the value and reputation of the company. I’m guessing that inflicts maximum pain on those former owners, but it’s also better in terms of a loss. For tax purposes.”

“Hurt the people, kill the value, get a tax write-off,” I say.

“Yeah,” Soto says. “What’s more, it appears that Bloxburn specializes in that sort of thing.”

“So it was their bully company,” I say. It makes sense. The whispered name. The sense of anger and grievance swirling around it.

“Exactly,” Soto says.

“Well, I don’t want them managing SportyGoCo anymore. Can’t I pay them and tell them to go away?”

“There’s no way. No ability to cancel the contract once signed, no kill fee—trust me we looked. We had a guy back channeling to Bloxburn, even floated a bit of bribery, but it’s not something they’re interested in. Apparently they’ve got other accounts watching this account. SportyGoCo is a showcase for them. A case study in how much damage they can do legally. Bottom line, they’re very invested in destroying this firm, and that’s exactly what your parents hired them to do.”

“This is unbelievable. There’s nothing I can do. Me. The owner of this entire corporation. A man worth billions. Just nada.”

“That’s right,” Soto says. “They have about a month to run the company into the ground.”

“And they’ll write it off as a Wycliff loss.”

“Technically, a Wycliff sub-brand loss.”

“I won’t accept this. Give me one way to void the contract.”

“Fine. If at the end of this accounting period the company is profitable, they would be in breach.”

“When’s the end of the accounting period?”

“End of this month. You won’t make it. The hole is too deep.”

I go to the window and look down at a horse and buggy parked in front of the entrance to the park. It’s a misty, foggy night, and the lights have come on, lending things an otherworldly look.

“And what will it take to simply buy these assholes?”

“Buy Bloxburn? I don’t see how. This is a very large business—I think it’s owned by Major & Bow. I don’t see them letting it go. It’s too deeply integrated with the rest of their businesses.”

“Get me a number.”

“And if they don’t want to sell?”

“Then I buy Major & Bow.”

“Nope. Too big even for you,” Soto says.

“Are you sure?”

Soto is silent for a while, probably looking at stock prices or who knows what. “Financing would take too long.” There’s a pause. I hear his chair creak. “Let me think.”

I wait. Papers rustle. He’s probably writing on a notepad. Soto thinks on paper. “You could snap it up with a consortium. It’s possible with a consortium. If you got Charley on board and maybe one of the Rheingold cousins and a few others. Marina Apondi. Of course Major & Bow would have to accept any offer unless you went in hostile. You could get what you want with a group. It could be a good investment for people.”

“So basically, I go begging to everybody who I have a beef with, hat in hand.”

“This is business.”

“Begging my frenemies, my haters, hat in hand.” Does he not get it? “That sounds worse than plucking out my own eyeballs. More to the point, it wouldn’t work. Nobody in their right mind would think it’s a good idea to go in with me, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m not the kind of man people partner with.”

“Are you so sure?”

“Trust me—I’m not.” I grab a glass and pour a scotch. “Find another way to break the contract that doesn’t involve me asking for favors. I want control, and I want Bert Johnston gone.”

“Then we’re back to making the company profitable.”

“What if I buy all the merchandise?”

“Won’t work. There are about five legal problems with that. You can’t inflate your own profits by buying your own merchandise.”

We go on brainstorming. In the end, we’re back to the company having to be profitable—an impossibility, considering that Bert’s in charge, merrily sabotaging the operations. It all makes sense now. Jada thought he was trying to throw a monkey wrench into things, and I didn’t believe her. But she was right.

“Find another way.” I hang up feeling unbelievably annoyed.

I head downstairs and pull on my coat and boots and hat.

“Is that a new hat, sir?” Arnold asks; due to his valet duties, he’s familiar with every piece of clothing that I have.

“Somebody at work gave it to me,” I mumble. “I should toss it, is what I should do.”

“Do you want a different one? We have a selection in the cedar chest.”

“It’s fine,” I bark.

Arnold hovers with a concerned expression.

“What? I can see you have something to say.”

“Why not try to save the company, sir?” Because naturally, he heard the whole call.

“I’m trying. Did you not hear what he said? I can’t cancel the contract or affect it in any way.”

“Except…you are currently an employee there, are you not?”

“What? I should hop onto the hamster wheel and run as fast as I can? That’s how you think I can save the company?”

“People do that sort of thing all the time.”

“There are actual industry professionals about ten times as qualified as I am who’ve been trying to make SportyGoCo profitable. The problem is that the man who runs that place, the man who has the power to make all of the operational decisions, is dedicated to destroying the business. It’s not feasible.” I button up my overcoat.

“Bullshit, sir,” Arnold says.

This stops me. “Excuse me?”

“You rose to the top in one of the most grueling sports in existence,” Arnold says. “You worked out in the gym and on that track for longer hours than any of your opponents. You were in the garage, shoulder to shoulder with your mechanics. You put together a team that would’ve killed for you. You kept your cool during that crash in Azerbaijan and you dominated for a good two years. You’re telling me you can’t take on some man whose main talent is to run companies into the ground?”

“I nearly got thrown in jail for assault, you forgot that part.”

“Gundrun cheated and endangered your team,” Arnold says. “Give it a shot. This SportyGoCo bit. What do you have to lose?”

I grumble my answer and get out of there. As if that’s the answer to my problems—more investment, more involvement. It’s not bad enough that I’m obsessed with a woman I can’t have in the end—not once she knows the truth—but I should work my ass off for a company I can’t save?

A chilly autumn wind blows as I make my way up Seventy-sixth. Shop windows are starting to fill with orange lights and pumpkins, though some shops have skipped right to Christmas. We’ll have our first snow in a month or so. What am I still doing here? I got what I came for—the identity of the butt-dialer. I could sell Wycliff and be done with the whole thing. The stock price has long since stabilized. Nobody will be jumping from the rooftops. I have a plane in a hangar out at Teterboro Airport, ready to take me to any beautiful place I choose.

Charley was right; coming here was a bad move.

I wouldn’t have gotten involved in all of this.

I wouldn’t be wearing this ridiculous hat.

I wouldn’t be stumbling across Broadway, confused and alone, trying not to look at the fucking pigeons.

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