Art Adkins
Author & Leadership Instructor
Your Subtitle text

Mindwalkers - Chapter 3

Chapter Three

Shirley Waterbury preferred to walk to the office on most days and it drove her security staff to the brink of insanity.  Cedar Key was a place she never tired of, despite having lived there since birth.  The main office complex of Waterbury Enterprises dominated the majority of downtown, but even though it was new she had insisted the aboveground architecture resemble the turn of the century Old Florida she had known as a child and was forever imprinted in her memory.  The bowels of her new complex dug deep into the coral of the island and construction on her offices had been going on around the clock for over a year.  The work was nowhere near complete and laborers toiled to expand her vision and help her build the empire her brother had started with his invention Oasis.   

The water desalting machine was more valuable than anyone could have ever imagined and it fueled her burgeoning empire, adding to her wealth at an alarming rate.  The world needed water and Oasis delivered.  Deserts were being turned into bread baskets and third world nations were standing in line for the invention.  Her engineers were working day and night to produce as many of the units as they could, but still the demand outstripped supply.  Oasis had been everything her brother had dreamed and more.  His genius, his legacy, would live forever.  Of that, she would make certain.   

Shirley stopped and stared out at the pier and the shops lining the waterway, trying to chase the memory of her baby brother from her mind.  Billy had been a gift, a treasure and a rare find the human race would not have the pleasure of getting to know due to the greed of an unscrupulous businessman.  Even Shirley had to admit she had not known or suspected the depth of Billy’s intelligence.  The word ‘genius’ was not adequate to describe him.  Billy had seen the world through a different set of eyes than most and it had enabled him to explore regions of science untapped by conventional methods.  Billy was special and her baby brother. She felt a twinge of loneliness strike her when she thought of him and could still see him vividly in her mind’s eye.   

Shrugging her shoulders, Shirley shook off the gloomy mood threatening to settle over her.  What was done was done.  Nothing could change the present circumstances and she had to move on.  That was what her parents would have wanted.  It was what Billy would have wanted and that consolation made acceptance easier.    

Shirley stared at the Cedar Key docks.  Her new restaurant, Whiskers and Wings, occupied the end of the pier and an early morning crowd was already lining up for breakfast.  Ophelia Carmichael managed the restaurant for her and even though she was seventy-two, she moved and acted like a much younger woman.  Shirley smiled when she thought about the first time she had met the woman; Slade introducing them as he was off on another one of his adventures.  Laughing to herself, the young woman of twenty-two resumed her pace to her office, the huge body guard slightly to her side easily keeping pace, watching her with a bemused smile.

“What’s so funny?” asked Dustin Zane.  Bubba Singletee had hired Dustin as security to oversee the personal protection of Shirley.  At 6’7” and close to 300 pounds, the ex-Dartmouth football player was as smart as he was big.  After making a comfortable sum on Wall Street, the grid iron hero had become bored with the sedentary life of sitting behind a desk and chasing numbers on a confined piece of paper.  Balancing ledgers were not his life’s desire. 

Desiring more adventure and excitement, he had formed a profitable personal security company and had merged with Waterbury Enterprises.  As part of the deal, he now provided protection for the richest woman in the world.  Considering her head-strong ways and sometimes stubborn demeanor it was always a challenge where the outcome was far from predictable.  Or routine.  Throw in her friends and the final scenario was speculative at best.

“I would have never dreamed of this life two or three years ago.”  Shirley paused again to stare off at the outlying islands and the birds circling in the air, her eyes taking in the distant horizon.  A serene contentment settled over her young features and she stood perfectly still, drinking in the early morning scene nature was displaying.

“Don’t you have an appointment at 9:00?”  Dustin glanced at his watch.

“Yes, I do.  Thanks for reminding me.”  Shirley briskly tore off down the sidewalk with her personal bodyguard in tow.

“Thank you so much for taking the time to see us, Shirley.”  Paul Akron embraced the young woman, as did his wife Carol.

“I love the way you have decorated your office.” Carol Akron was staring at some pictures on the wall. 

“Those were done by a personal friend of mine.  She’s an artist here in Cedar Key and a rising star in the art world.  She has won countless awards and her work is beginning to crop up in some prestigious magazines, followed by outstanding reviews.  I’ll introduce you later.”  Shirley smiled at the couple.  She had met Paul and Carol at a fundraiser for global awareness in Washington, DC last year and they had become fast friends.  Each shared a healthy respect for all living things and the protection of the unspoiled places on Earth.

“I would love to meet her.  I may purchase a few for myself.”  Both women laughed when Paul rolled his eyes in mock amusement.     

“What brings the two of you to Cedar Key?” asked Shirley, sipping from a glass of iced tea.

“Unfortunately the story I’m about to tell you will seem incredulous, but it’s true.  I don’t know where to begin.”  Paul stared at his lap, running his hands up and down the creases in his pants.  Cautiously he glanced over at his wife, who reached out and placed her hand over his.  Paul was in his late sixties, the veins one acquires with age beginning to show on the back of his hand, despite the mottled sun spots that was trying in vain to hide them.  Slightly balding, he was still very astute and sure of himself.    

“Start at the beginning.  Shirley will appreciate the story.”  Carol reassured her husband and her soft, caring words had the desired effect.  Glancing at Shirley, she patted the back of Paul’s hand and waited.

“You know I started Akron Pharmaceuticals over forty years ago, way before all the mergers and big corporations took off.  Started as a pharmacist in a local drug store, saved my money and bought a string of them.  Launched my own brands and Akron Pharmaceuticals emerged out of the turmoil we call business.  We opened a Research and Development Division over twenty years ago and have been successful with developing several new drugs for medical purposes.  Our strength lies in distribution and customer satisfaction however, not development.  Even with the growing population, we pride ourselves in getting to know our patients and delivering the personal service they would expect from a pharmacy in a much smaller town or community. We try to bring the human aspect to the business.”  Paul stopped to collect his thoughts, the worry etched across his face.

“We have stores overseas and in every state in the United States.  We currently are the sixth largest pharmaceutical company in the world.  Very few can match us for distribution capabilities.  Paul has made sure to position us very wisely.”  Carol looked lovingly at the man she still held at the center of her heart.  To her, he was still the young man she had fallen in love with; the young entrepreneur who had captured her imagination and filled her dreams.

“I know.  I was reading a prospectus on your company the other day.” Shirley looked past her glass of tea at them.  “Thought I would read up on your company when you called and said you wanted to visit.”

“Then if you were reading a prospectus on our company, you know our stock has slid almost thirty percent in the last week.”  Paul studied the younger woman.  Though very young, she had an innate business sense about her and was not wary of confrontation or having someone challenge her opinion.  She also remained impassive, which meant she knew how to play the ‘poker game’ and keep her feelings bottled inside when discussing finances.  Emotion had no place in the corporate world.

 “I noticed a slight dip in the shares of your company, but credited it to market volatility during these times.  Knowing both of you, I dismissed it when I compared it to the five and ten year averages of your company’s growth and income.  You have done quite well with it.”  Shirley sensed something was wrong.  She could feel it.  Paul and Carol were hiding something.

“It is market volatility driving the price down, but it’s not because of mis-management or anything we can control.  Rumors are being spread to investors and the major stock holders who have purchased our shares.  Even innuendos about our ability to conduct viable research and handle distribution of our product have been circulated.  There has even been speculation regarding our cash flow and the balancing of our books.  It’s preposterous.”  Paul’s face flushed red from the anger he felt.

“Where is the information coming from?” asked Shirley.

“We don’t know.”  Carol had reached over and again rubbed the hand of her husband, the mere contact seeming to soothe him.

“What do they stand to gain?” Shirley was watching the two of them closely and her heart went out to them.  All their lives they had toiled to make Akron Pharmaceuticals a success and now the company was being attacked and damaged by an unseen and unknown antagonist, whose motive was yet to surface.  She could understand their anger.  And frustration.

“We believe it is to position our company for a hostile take over.”  Paul looked over at Shirley and waited for her to catch up.  There was a long silence before the head of Waterbury Enterprises responded. 

“I don’t really understand all of this financial terminology, but I have a knowledgeable member on my staff.  Do you mind if I call him in?” asked Shirley.

“Not at all.  We could use help on this,” answered Paul, sweat beading on his brow near his hairline despite the efforts of the air conditioner.  Shirley’s office was several floors underground and the room was kept a constant seventy two degrees, but the manufactured air was no match for the tension filling the older man’s body causing him to perspire.

“Harry, do you have a moment?” asked Shirley, speaking softly into the phone.  Harry Sloan had handled the financial affairs of her parents and he was now Chief Financial Officer of Waterbury Enterprises.  Under his direction her fortune had mushroomed and grown.  A team of accountants were needed to balance the books and track investments, all under Harry’s watchful eye.  “Splendid.”  Shirley hung up the phone and looked over at Paul and Carol.  “Harry will be here in a minute.”

“Thank you, Shirley.” Carol smiled at the younger woman.

“Don’t thank me yet.  I haven’t done anything.”  They all laughed and Shirley poured each of them another round of iced tea.  “My mother got me hooked on this stuff when I was a child and I still love it.”  Shirley rattled some ice into her glass and dropped a couple of cubes in Paul and Carol’s.

“Thank you, young lady,” said Paul and then added, “For everything.”  A twinkle skipped across his eyes.

Before Shirley could answer the door opened and Harry Sloan slipped inside.  A small man with a receding hairline, Harry had a warm face and a genuine affectionate air about him that enveloped those he met.  Most people liked the little man immediately.    

Shirley motioned for Harry to pull up a chair and quickly brought him up to speed on the situation.  The accountant remained silent until each of them had spoken. 

“Do you know who is organizing the devaluation of your stock?” asked Harry, scribbling some notes onto a notepad.  Peering over his glasses he looked directly at Paul.

“No. It does not take much to panic investors and have them pull money away from a company.  Our position has always been sound and I’ve never placed the company in a position where it was over-extended.  In fact I’ve been overly cautious with regards to expansion.  Many times I’ve been urged by the Board to seek more aggressive markets, but I’ve never made a move unless we were in a financial position to handle the growth and absorb the associated debt should the venture fail.  Not the popular choice each time, but the safe bet.  That means more to me than a gamble.  Over the years it has paid off.  When there has been an economic slowdown I’ve never had to worry about laying people off or cutting distribution.  Our solid financial foundation has allowed us to weather any economic storm and prevail.”  Paul stared back at the Chief Financial Officer, trying to get a read on the man.  Harry’s next words did not surprise Paul. Harry was a shrewd financial planner and Shirley had done well to place him in charge of her assets.

“Why Shirley?  Why not go to the International Banking Commission or the Securities and Exchange Commission?  After the near collapse of the financial system several years ago I’m sure you would find a receptive ear willing to listen to your story.  More than likely they would know who has been spreading the alleged rumors to devalue your company and drive you out of business.  To me, it seems the logical place to start.”  Harry was cut off by his boss.

“Harry!”  Shirley looked sharply at the accountant, her face turning red from embarrassment and anger.  “These are my friends.  I don’t expect you to chastise them…”  Shirley was stopped by Paul Akron.

“If I may.”  Paul looked over at Shirley.  “You should reward Mr. Sloan.  He obviously has your best interests at heart.  He’s never met us and we show up on your doorstep with this incredible story where we’re fearful our company is being positioned for an aggressive and hostile take over.  But we don’t know by whom or why.  Harry is correct to ask why we haven’t gone to the authorities and I can see the skepticism in his eyes and hear it in his voice.”  Paul looked directly at Harry.

“Sorry.  I have her interests to worry about.”  Harry had motioned toward Shirley.  “Nothing else is my priority.  I knew her family and as long as she will allow me to, I will look after her as if she was my daughter.”

Shirley reached over and squeezed her friend on the shoulder.  Her father had told her many times Harry Sloan was the most honest man he had ever met and once again, she was seeing the wisdom in her father’s choice.  Harry stared through his glasses at her before turning back to Paul Akron.

“Let me answer your question, Mr. Sloan.  I cannot afford the publicity.  If I go to the International Banking Administration or the Securities and Exchange Commission, do you have any idea what it would do to the company?  It could devalue the stock to a point where a hostile takeover is not only viable, but inevitable.  I was hoping Shirley, with her tremendous connections, could assist us.”  Paul looked over at her.

“That’s not the whole truth.”  Carol stared at her husband. 

Paul’s eyes dropped to the floor and when he spoke it was barely above a whisper.

“That is correct.  I’ve heard how a friend of yours has a knack for unraveling mysteries.  He seems to be able to find an answer when none is given or offered.  I don’t mean to dredge up old memories, but I know he found the man who killed your family and brought him to justice.  I was hoping he could help us.  Help Akron Pharmaceutical.”  Paul looked pleadingly at Shirley, finally exposing the Ace he had held up his sleeve. 

“We were hoping you could persuade him to look into the matter, Shirley.  We really don’t have anyone else to turn to.”  Carol Akron looked directly at the younger woman seated across from her, the concern evident on her face.

“You’re talking about Slade Lockwood,” replied Harry Sloan.

“Yes, I am,” answered Paul.

“Slade may not have to get involved in this.  If the people who are driving your stock down are intent on a hostile take over, there may be another way to expose and defeat them.  It may prove to be a bit of a challenge.” Harry had a slight grin on his face as he turned to Shirley.

“Why do I get the feeling I may like what you have to say?” asked the CEO of Waterbury Enterprises.

“Because like Slade Lockwood, you love a good fight and this one could prove to be the real deal.  Plus, you have the financial capability to thwart the culprit without damaging your assets or financial position.  Just numbers on a ledger sheet.”  Harry laughed and the others joined the little accountant. 

Shirley glanced over at Paul and saw his face relax.  Finally the businessman had found someone to help him.  Shirley felt the warmth spread through her and she had to fight back a tear.  It felt good to help a friend.

Read Chapter Four