At this point in the novel, Ringing True is about to become a full-fledged for-profit corporation complete with a Board of Directors and by-laws in exchange for five million dollars in seed money provided by the famous actress, Gwendolyn Marks. Gwendolyn has installed herself as Chairman of the Board in the new corporate structure and self-styled marketing whiz Matthias Bender (former roommate of Justin and Theo) has helped himself to the role of CEO. Justin and Shelby have been reviewing the by-laws with Theo, Emmy and Emmy’s father (who happens to be an attorney) and have discovered a clause that will effectively strip them of ownership of The Numbers, the text behind the Ringing True religion.
The Gang of Four walked into the nearest branch of Mega Coffee, rearranged a few chairs and formed a loose circle in a relatively quiet corner of the shop. Justin opened up the discussion as soon as they had all sat down with their coffees.
“I can’t sign this. We can’t sign this!” he said with defiance.
Shelby agreed. “I agree. I don’t know what she’s up to, but I’m not about to let that bitch become the Almighty Censor of our thoughts and I’ll be damned if anyone else in this world gets to write new Numbers.”
Emmy seemed agitated, but said nothing that would indicate how she felt. Theo looked confused.
“Uh, I’m not sure where you’re coming from? I mean, she wants to give us five million dollars, right?”
“In exchange for control over The Numbers,” said Shelby, completing the quid pro quo.
“Well, isn’t that worth it? I mean, five million dollars?” said Theo, still befuddled.
Justin raised his hand and said, “Let me give you a little background.” He then told them the story of afternoon tea in the sunroom, throwing all neutrality out the window, emphasizing the sinister nature of Dwayne Barker’s appearance, the suspicious nod and the enigmatic message that ended their conversation. As Theo and Emmy still appeared lost, Shelby added her suspicions about Matthias’ role in the set-up, which finally helped them see the light.
“Oh, dude—what a major-league asshole!” Theo cried.
“That’s just mean!” cried Emmy.
Justin tried to suppress himself, but because being fair was part of his cellular structure, he had to point out the weaknesses of their interpretation.
“We know none of this for sure, and I’ll admit, I’m pretty sensitive when it comes to this stuff—”
“We all know you’re a tight-ass, Justin,” Shelby interrupted.
“But that’s the problem—there are too many unanswered questions. What’s her motive? What’s Matthias’ motive? Why would he give up control of the corporation that was going to make him the shining hero behind The Next Big Thing? And why the specific clause giving her control over The Numbers? I don’t know all the answers, but the whole thing stinks!”
“Why don’t we just ask them to explain it to us?” offered Emmy.
Justin was too stunned to answer such a silly question, so Shelby stepped in.
“Because we all know Matthias is a practiced liar and we have no chance of getting through to the Queen of England,” Shelby explained patiently.
“She seems like such a nice person,” Emmy offered, holding out hope.
Justin took over again. “And for all we know, she may very well be. Maybe this is some form of image protection—I don’t know how these people think. But the simple truth is we don’t know what’s going on and it would be stupid for us to sign off on this without some answers.”
“But how are we going to get answers if they’re all liars?” Emmy cried.
“Well, we’ll have to figure that out. What we need to do first is go to Matthias and tell him we’re not signing unless the word ‘development’ is cut out from that clause,” Justin insisted.
“Stricken from the record,” Shelby declared.
“And a new clause is inserted saying that only Shelby and I have the right to write The Numbers. And that our authorship will remain anonymous,” Justin added.
The others nodded in agreement.
Justin leaned forward. “Now. Under the old corporation rules, we’re four-fifths of the Board. All we need is a 3-2 vote to stop this.”
This was a silly comment, as Theo and Emmy were joined at the hip and would never split their vote. They looked at each other, made a few faces at each other, whispered unintelligibly to each other, and at last nodded in unison.
“We’re with you,” said Theo.
“Thank you,” said Justin, relaxing a bit.
“Let’s go tell the man,” said Shelby. “I think he said he’d be at the office today.”
They went off in search of Matthias.
“What do you mean you’re not signing?” Matthias shouted at them as they gathered around the oversized executive desk in his office.
“We’re not signing unless the clause about The Numbers is revised to say that only Shelby and I can write new Numbers.”
“Not negotiable. Next?” Matthias snapped.
“Then we’re not signing,” Justin snapped back.
“And you’re all in this together?” Matthias said slowly sweeping the room like a programmable laser. The laser came to an abrupt halt when it spotted Emmy.
“Emilia! Are you a participant in this—this—mutiny?”
Emmy was trembling in fear, but she swallowed hard and said in a clear voice, “Yes.”
Theo shook his head and said, “I know you too well, dude, I know you too well.”
Matthias rose from his executive chair to emphasize his presence. “Do you all realize what you’re doing? What this means? It means no pay for at least six more months. Justin—you’ll still be pulling shots at the coffee house. Shelby—back to the museum. Theo—you can kiss off that plasma TV you wanted to hang on your wall!”
Justin thought he heard Theo groan, but Theo held his ground.
Matthias pointed his finger at Justin and shouted, “You call this responsible? You’re being a selfish pig, Justin!”
“Takes one to know one,” Justin responded, returning to childhood.
“This is how you show your gratitude? Or have you all forgotten who loaned you the money to make it all happen?”
“I guess you should have done a better job of evaluating the risks before investing,” Justin smirked.
Matthias glared at Justin with a look of almost pure hatred, but he knew he was beaten.
“Jesus! Why have I been saddled with such imbeciles?”
“Guess you got lucky,” Shelby replied.
“Look, I don’t care if she owns the company, I don’t care if you get to play CEO, I don’t care about any of that crap. But she is not getting her hands on The Numbers!” Justin argued in summation.
“It’s our product, you idiot, our product! Every Board of Directors on the planet has the right to approve the development and release of new products and services!”
“You can call it a product, but to me it is what I believe. I don’t have a problem with the Board approving the release of The Numbers—that’s just business. But no one except Shelby and I have the right to create new Numbers—this was our idea and no one is going to take that away from us,” Justin said in a clear, firm voice.
“Crap!” shouted Matthias, kicking the desk and making Emmy hiccup.
“What about our anonymity?” Shelby reminded Justin.
“Oh, yeah—we want the new board members to agree not to disclose that Shelby and I are the authors.”
“Great! Let’s insult all of our new investors!” Matthias shot back.
“If they want to take it as an insult, that’s their problem. Now call your friend Gwendolyn and tell her if she wants in, this is the deal,” Justin insisted.
“I can’t. She’s off on some kind of personal retreat and is not to be disturbed,” Matthias shouted back.
“Well, then, it looks like you’re S. O. L. Let’s go, guys,” said Justin and they all started to walk out the door.
“Wait, wait,” Matthias said, relenting. “Let me talk to Dwayne. Shit!”
“We’ll wait,” said Shelby, admiring her manicure.
Matthias whipped out his cell phone and rang Dwayne. Quickly changing roles from harried executive to entrepreneurial backslapper, he jovially explained that a little snag had come up and he needed some help from his good buddy. Matthias described the problem, attempted to soften the blow by insisting Gwendolyn would, of course, be consulted during the development process (to which Justin nodded his assent), that the issue of Board control over release was not under debate, and concluded by saying that he was sure Gwendolyn understood the sensitivity that always seemed to accompany the issue of artistic control over one’s work. Dwayne put him on hold. During the fifteen minutes of limbo, Matthias maintained a stony silence while Shelby attended to her nails, Theo and Emmy whispered together and Justin sat with his jaw still set but with his insides churning.
Dwayne came back on the line. “That’s great, Dwayne, great. Tell Gwendolyn I appreciate her graciousness in this matter. You’ll send me the papers? Great, great—let’s talk next week. Ciao.”
“We won?” asked Justin.
“You won,” said Matthias. “Now get the fuck out of my office.”
Photo Credit: . Rude rejection of handshake © Lorna 59 at Dreamstime.com