Wed
Nov 25 2009 9:00am

Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 62 (of 81)

 

Illustration by Idiots’Books

Something had changed between Kettlewell and Eva since they’d left Florida with the kids. It wasn’t just the legal hassles, though there were plenty of those. They’d gone to Florida with a second chance—a chance for him to be a mover again, a chance for her to have a husband who was happy with his life again.

Now he found himself sneaking past her when she was in the living room and they slept back to back in bed with as much room between them as possible.

Ada missed Lyenitchka and spent all her time in her bedroom IMing her friend or going questing with her in their favorite game, which involved Barbies, balrogs, and buying outfits. Pascal missed all the attention he had received as the designated mascot of the two little girls.

It was not a high point in the history of the Kettlewell clan.

“Hello?”

“Landon Kettlewell?”

“Hello, Freddy,” he said.

“My fame precedes me,” the journalist said. Kettlewell could hear the grin in his voice. That voice was unmistakable—Kettlewell had heard it in the occassional harassing voicemail that Suzanne forwarded on.

“How are you?”

“Oh, I’m very well sir, and kind of you to ask, yes indeed. I hear you’re not doing so well, though?”

“I can’t complain.”

“I wish you would, though.” You could tell, Freddy thought he was a funny son of a bitch. “Seriously, Mr Kettlewell. I’m calling to follow up on the story of the litigation that Perry Gibbons and Lester Banks are facing for unilaterally canceling the arrangement you’d made to finance their litigation. I’m hoping that you’ll give me a quote that might put this into perspective. Is the defense off? Will Gibbons and Banks be sued? Are you a party to the suit?”

“Freddy?”

“Yes, Mr Kettlewell.”

“I am not a child, nor am I a fool, nor am I a sucker. I’m also not a hothead. You can’t goad me into saying something. You can’t trick me into saying something. I haven’t hung up on you yet, but I will unless you can give me a single good reason to believe that any good could possibly come out of talking to you.”

“I’m going to write this story and publish it today. I can either write that you declined to comment or I can write down whatever comment you might have on the matter. You tell me which is fairer?”

“Goodbye, Freddy.”

“Wait, wait! Just wait.”

Kettlewell liked the pleading note in Freddy’s voice.

“What is it, Freddy?”

“Can I get you to comment on the general idea of litigation investment? A lot of people followed your lead in seeking out litigation investment opportunities. There’s lots of money tied up in it these days. Do incidents like the one in Florida mean that litigation investment is a dead strategy?”

“Of course not,” Kettlewell snapped. He shouldn’t be talking to this man, but the question drove him bonkers. He’d invented litigation investment. “Those big old companies have two common characteristics: they’ve accumulated more assets than they know what to do with, and they’ve got poisonous, monopolistic cultures that reward executives who break the law to help the company turn a buck. None of that’s changed, and so long as that’s all true, there will be little companies with legit gripes against big companies that can be used as investment vehicles for unlocking all that dead Fortune 100 capital and putting it to work.”

“But aren’t Fortune 100 companies investing in litigation funds?”

Kettlewell suppressed a nasty laugh. “Yeah, so what?”

“Well, if this is about destroying Fortune 100 companies—”

“It’s about wringing positive social value out of the courts and out of investment. The way it used to work, there were only two possible outcomes when a big company did something rotten: either they’d get away scot-free or they’d make some lawyers very, very rich. Litigation funds fix that. They socialize the cost of bringing big companies to heel, and they free up the capital that these big companies have accumulated.”

“But when a big company invests in destroying another big company—”

“Sometimes you get a forest where a few trees end up winning, they form a canopy that keeps all the sunlight from reaching the floor. Now, this is stable for forests, but stability is the last thing you want in a market. Just look at what happens when one of those big trees falls over: whoosh! A million kinds of life are spawned on the floor, fighting for the light that tree had hogged for itself. In a market, when you topple a company that’s come to complacently control some part of the ecosystem, you free up that niche for new innovators.”

“And why is that better than stability? Don’t the workers at these companies deserve the security that comes from their employers’ survival?”

“Oh come on, Freddy. Stop beating that drum. If you’re an employee and you want to get a good deal out of an employer, you’re better off if you’ve got fifty companies you could work for than just one.”

“So you’re saying that if you destroy Disney with your lawsuit, the fifty thousand people who work at Walt Disney World will be able to, what, work for those little rides like your friends have built?”

“They’ll find lots of work, Freddy. If we make it possible for anyone to open an innovative little ride without worrying about getting clobbered by a big old monopolist. You like big corporations so much?”

“Yes, but it’s not little innovative startups that invest in these funds, is it?”

“It’s they who benefit once the fund takes up their cause.”

“And how’s that working out for the ride people you’re meant to be helping out? They rejected you, didn’t they?”

Kettlewell really hated Freddy, he realized. Not just a little—he had a deep and genuine loathing. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. You don’t like little companies. You don’t like big companies. You don’t like workers’ co-ops. What do you want us to do, Freddy? You want us to just curl up under a rock and die? You sit there and make up your funny names for things; you make your snarky little commentaries, but how much good have you done for the world, you complaining, sniping little troll?”

The line got very quiet. “Can I quote you?”

“You certainly can,” Kettlewell huffed. In for a penny, in for a pound. “You can print that, and you can kiss my ass.”

“Thank you, Mr Kettlewell,” Freddy said. “I’ll certainly take the suggestion under advisement.”

Kettlewell stood in his home office and stared at the four walls. Upstairs, Pascal was crying. He did that a lot lately. Kettlewell breathed deeply and tried to chill out.

Someone was knocking at his door, though. He answered it tentatively. The kid he found there was well-scrubbed, black, in his twenties, and smiling amiably.

“Landon Kettlewell?”

“Who’s suing me?” Kettlewell could spot a process server a mile away.

The guy shrugged and made a little you-got-me smile. “Couldn’t say, sir,” he said, and handed Kettlewell the envelope, holding it so that the header was clearly visible to the camera set into the lapel of his shirt.

“You want me to sign something?” Kettlewell said.

“It’s all right, sir,” the kid said and pointed at the camera. “It’s all caught on video.”

“Oh, right,” Kettlewell said. “Want a cup of water? Coffee?”

“I expect you’re going to be too busy to entertain, sir,” the kid said, and ticked a little salute off his forehead. “But you seem like a nice guy. Good luck with it all.”

Kettlewell watched him go, then closed the door and walked back to his office, opening the envelope and scanning it. No surprises there—the shareholders in the investment syndicate that had backed Lester and Perry were suing him for making false representations about his ability to speak for them.

Tjan called him a minute later.

“They got you too, huh?” Kettlewell said.

“Just left. Wish I could say it was unexpected.”

“Wish I could say I blamed them,” Kettlewell said.

“Hey, you should see what the ride’s been doing this week since Florida went down,” Tjan said. “It’s totally mutated. I think it’s mostly coming from the Midwest, though those Brazilians seem to keep on logging in somehow too.”

“How many rides are there in South America, anyways?”

“Brazilians of them!” Tjan said with a mirthless chuckle. “Impossible to say. They’ve got some kind of variant on the protocol that lets a bunch of them share one network address. I think some of them aren’t even physical rides, just virtual flythroughs. Some are directly linked, some do a kind of mash-up between their current norms and other rides’ current norms. It’s pretty weird.”

Kettlewell paced. “Well, at least someone’s having a good time.”

“They’re going to nail us to the wall,” Tjan said. “Both of us. Probably the individual ride-operators, too. They’re out for blood.”

“It’s not like they even lost much money.”

“They didn’t need to—they feel like they lost the money they might have won from Disney.”

“But that was twenty years away, and highly speculative.”

Tjan sighed heavily on the other end of the phone. “Landon, you’re a very, very good finance person. The best I’ve ever met, but you really need to understand that even the most speculative investor is mostly speculating about how he’s going to spend all the money you’re about to make him. If investors didn’t count their chickens before they hatched, you’d never raise a cent.”

“Yeah,” Kettlewell said. He knew it, but he couldn’t soak it in. He’d won and lost so many fortunes—his own and others’—that he’d learned to take it all in stride. Not everyone else was so sanguine.

“So what do we do about it? I don’t much want to lose everything.”

“You could always go back to Russia,” Kettlewell said, suddenly feeling short-tempered. Why did he always have to come up with the plan? “Sorry. You know what the lawyers are going to tell us.”

“Yeah. Sue Perry and Lester.”

“And we told Lester we wouldn’t do that. It was probably a mistake to do this at all, you know.”

“No, don’t say that. The idea was a really good one. You might have saved their asses if they’d played along.”

“And if I’d kept the lawyers on a shorter leash.”

They both sat in glum silence.

“How about if we defend ourselves by producing evidence that they reneged on a deal we’d made in good faith. Then the bastards can sue Perry and Lester and we’ll still be keeping our promise.”

Kettlewell tried to picture Perry in a courtroom. He’d never been the most even-keeled dude and since he’d been shot and had his arm broken and been gassed, he was almost pathological.

“I’ve got a better idea,” he said, growing excited as it unfolded in his mind. He had that burning sensation he got sometimes when he knew he was having a real doozy. “How about if we approach each of the individual ride co-ops and see if they’ll join the lawsuit separately from the umbrella org? Play it right and we’ll have the lawsuit back on, without having to get our asses handed to us and without having to destroy Perry and Lester!”

Tjan laughed. “That’s—that’s... Wow! Genius. Yeah, OK, right! The Boston group is in, I’ll tell you that much. I’m sure we can get half a dozen more in, too. Especially if we can get Perry to agree not to block it, which I’m sure he’ll do after I have a little talk with him. This’ll work!”

“Sometimes the threat of total legal destruction can have a wonderful, clarifying effect on one’s mind,” Kettlewell said drily. “How’re the kids?”

“Lyenitchka is in a sulk. She wants to go back to Florida and she wants to see Ada some more. Plus she’s upset that we never made it to Disney World.”

Kettlewell flopped down on his couch. “Have you seen Suzanne’s blog lately?”

Tjan laughed. “Yeah. Man, she’s giving it to them with both barrels. Makes me feel sorry for ‘em.”

“Um, you do know that we’re suing them for everything they’ve got, right?”

“Well, yes. But that’s just money. Suzanne’s going to take their balls.”

They exchanged some more niceties and promised that they’d get together face-to-face real soon and Kettlewell hung up. From behind him, he heard someone fidgeting.

“Kids, you know you aren’t supposed to come into my office.”

“Sounds like things have gotten started up again.” It wasn’t the kids, it was Eva. He sat up. She was standing with her arms folded in the doorway of his office, staring at him.

“Yeah,” he said, mumbling a little. She was really beautiful, his wife, and she put up with a hell of a lot. He felt obscurely ashamed of the way that he’d treated her. He wished he could stand up and give her a warm hug. He couldn’t.

Instead, she sat beside him. “Sounds like you’ll be busy.”

“Oh, I just need to get all the individual co-ops on board, talk to the lawyers, get the investors off my back. Have a shareholders’ meeting. It’ll be fine.”

Her smile was little and sad. “I’m going, Landon,” she said.

The blood drained from his face. She’d left him plenty, over the years. He’d deserved it. But it had always been white-hot, in the middle of a fight, and it had always ended with some kind of reconciliation. This time, it had the feeling of something planned and executed in cold blood.

He sat up and folded his hands in his lap. He didn’t know what else to do.

Her smile wilted. “It’s not going to work, you and me. I can’t live like this, lurching from crisis to crisis. I love you too much to watch that happen. I hate what it turns me into. You’re only happy when you’re miserable, you know that? I can’t do that forever. We’ll be part of each others’ lives forever, but I can’t be Mrs Stressbunny forever.”

None of this was new. She’d shouted variations on this at him at many times in their relationship. The difference was that now she wasn’t shouting. She was calm, assured, sad but not crying. Behind her in the hallway, he saw that she’d packed her suitcase, and the little suitcases the kids used when they travelled together.

“Where will you go?”

“I’m going to stay with Lucy, from college. She’s living down the peninsula in Mountain View. She’s got room for the kids.”

He felt like raging at her, promising her a bitter divorce and custody suit, but he couldn’t do it. She was completely right, after all. Even though his first impulse was to argue, he couldn’t do it just then.

So she left, and Kettlewell was alone in his nice apartment with his phone and his computer and his lawsuits and his mind fizzing with ideas.

<<< Back to Part 61

Continue to Part 63>>>

As part of the ongoing project of crafting Tor.com’s electronic edition of Makers, the author would like for readers to chime in with their favorite booksellers and stories about them in the comments sections for each piece of Makers, for consideration as a possible addition to a future edition of the novel.


Doctorow’s Makers is now available in print from Tor Books. You can read all previous installments of Makers on Tor.com on our index page.

2 comments
Michael Blackburn
1. Michael Blackburn
Nicely done. All us geeks can empathize with this situation. My wife has just learned to live with a laptop for a nightlight.

I know this is a published book, but a nice touch would have been using "Landon" in the last paragraph. Sometimes there are two people, the work guy and the emotional man, and there's nothing worse than Blackburn wanting to get some work done but Michael just wants to crawl under the covers.
Michael Blackburn
2. Maui Maker
Onward to post 63 (someday TOR might actually update the links)

http://www.tor.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=blog&id=58278

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment
Latest Comments › show all