Montecito — Chapter 26: Summit Success

By Michael Cox   |   October 18, 2022

Take a sneak peek of Montecito by Michael Cox in this ongoing serialization of his yet-to-be-published book. This fictional story is inspired by “tales of true crime THAT HAPPENED HERE.” After Cyrus’s performance at the economic summit and July 4th party, a new round of investors join ExOH holdings. Chapters 24 and 25 are available here.MJ Staff

Chapter 26

“Where were you last night?” Cyrus demanded, arriving only fifteen minutes late for our meeting the next morning; practically on time.

I looked around the room as if he might be talking to someone else. “I was here,” I protested.

“No, you weren’t,” Cyrus said. “At least you weren’t here when the fireworks went off.”

My face pinked. “I’m sorry, Cyrus. I… we have a family tradition of taking the kids to the beach to watch the show, and I did not want to break it. It seemed like you had everything–”

“I wasn’t talking about those fireworks,” he said, his tentacle-like fingers pantomiming explosions overhead. “I was talking about these.” He thwacked a stack of freshly inked papers onto the couch beside me.

“What is …,” I began, thumbing the papers, each identical in form. “Are these new investor agreements?”

“I told you not to worry.”

I flipped the pages, tallying the amounts as I went, my heart racing. “Eleven million dollars?”

“Only eleven?” Cyrus said. He flipped through his own papers. “I forgot one.”

He sent one more document my way, this one signed by Huff Monroe, he of the bolero collection. It was for an additional nine million dollars. “You raised twenty million dollars last night?” I said, my voice suddenly raspy. After the bizarre Central California Economic Summit event where he told the crowd he was done raising capital, I felt as disconnected to his business plan as ever. ExOh’s bank account at Miramar Bank and Trust was effectively at zero, holding only the two-hundred-twenty-five thousand dollars received from those who had given to the new, and still baffling, ExOh Global Relief Charities. 

Cyrus looked back at me matter-of-factly. “I told you that I would take care of it,” he said. “At this point, Hollis, I would expect to see a little less shock and a little more gratitude on your face. Have I failed to deliver on any promise made thus far?”

I raised my hands involuntarily. “No, Cyrus.” I shook my head. “Not at all. I’m… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to give you the impression that–”

“You know, in most companies,” he interrupted, “the CEO oversees raising the money. Why don’t I let you steer this boat for a little bit? See how you like being the one responsible for everything?”

Certainly, I was no stranger to frustrated bosses, but this time I felt more incompetent than self-righteous. The truth was that I could not do what Cyrus was doing. I could not schmooze. I could not host. I could not regale, wow, or inspire. I might be struggling with a few questions, but judging by the enthusiasm of ExOh’s investors, those doubts put me in a crowd of one. If I was not quick to heal Cyrus’s growing annoyance with me, I might find myself cast to the side at precisely the moment when the tide seemed to be turning in the company’s favor. No, no, no, NO! 

“I apologize, Cyrus,” I began, prepared to grovel and flatter until he smiled. “I promise, I have your back. If you sense surprise, it is only because I am in awe of you. You have done an amazing job putting ExOh in position to succeed.”

I could see his face soften a little; I hoped that meant I was on the right track.

“I realize I have a lot to learn,” I continued, “and I’m working hard to build the skills I need so that I can take things off your plate. I promise you; you have my full faith and support.”

A slight grin returned to Cyrus’s face. I counted that as a victory.

“Very good, my friend,” he said, retaking his seat. “The wires for the new investments should start coming in today. We have plenty of bills to pay in Asia, so I will need those funds transferred to Hong Kong immediately.”

I swallowed. “All of it?”

“All of it.”

Moving money always made me nervous, especially when the moved amount had seven zeros in it and left the Miramar bank account with pennies. But I was not about to let Cyrus see that concern on my face. “Absolutely.”

Cyrus’s full smile returned; that was the answer he wanted to hear, I guess. “Good,” he said. “We’ll need a press release about the capital raised ASAP. Also, have you talked to Noah?”

Have I talked to Noah? I had not spoken with Kai, Reuben, Umed, or Noah ever, and had only exchanged written messages with them via the BatSignal app. Increasingly Cyrus would send out group messages that were never responded to by anyone. It was the strangest executive arrangement I had ever witnessed. “No,” I said. “Was I supposed to?”

Cyrus whipped out his phone, tapping and swiping with his right hand. “Three new clients,” he said. “Burberry, Zara, and São Paulo Alpargatas. Noah estimates annual revenues of…,” a few more swipes, “twenty-million dollars from these customers.”

“That is fantastic news, Cyrus,” I said. “When did Noah–”

“Put out one press release about the capital raised,” Cyrus interrupted with a raised hand, “and a separate press release about the new clients and projected revenues. As the CEO, you are the one making the sales projections, is that clear?”

Per usual, it was seventy-two degrees and sunny in Montecito, but I nevertheless shuddered. “Of course.”

“Excellent. Get me those press releases to review this afternoon. I want both pieces to hit the Associated Press newswire before the market opens tomorrow.” He closed his eyes, cracking his neck side to side. “Next week, we’ll be—”

“Cyrus!” a voice bellowed from the hinterlands of the Wimbys’ sprawling house. “What the fuck did I say about my luggage?” The voice continued, growing louder as it approached, the speaker’s high heels echoing off the hardwood floors. “Do I literally have to do everything for you?” It was Genevieve, only in a tone I had never heard from her before. “Man the helm? You want to man the helm? You can barely keep – Hollis!” she said, coming to a full stop when she saw me sitting wide-eyed on her couch.

“Yes, dear,” Cyrus said, with an exaggerated sense of calm. “We were just having our morning executive meeting. Just like always at about this time.” His pseudo-smile conveyed a hidden message. Genevieve’s eyes were locked on his, quickly softening from devilish glare to gracious host.

“What was I thinking?” she said, taking the final three steps into the sunken living room. “Hollis, please excuse my interruption.” 

I stood and she approached, dismissing once again my futile attempts at shaking her hand and moving in straight for a kiss hello. The room’s tension was tar thick, but it was a reprieve for me. I had just barely escaped yet another groveling at Cyrus’s feet, and now he seemed distracted by whatever was going on with Genevieve. I had not known her long, but she did not strike me as the kind of person who dropped f-bombs casually. And what to make of her man the helm utterance? Every couple has their inside jokes, I reasoned, but nautical themed ones were new to me. Regardless, even though the substance of the argument was over my head, I was grateful for the interference.

“We are getting ready to visit our home in Fiji,” Genevieve said, eyeing me and turning a cold shoulder to Cyrus, “and, well, it wouldn’t be a vacation without a little chaos.” She smiled, clasped her hands together, and turned her body to Cyrus. “Sweetie,” she began, though it still didn’t sound sweet, “I found my Louis Vuitton luggage stuffed haphazardly into the closet of the guest bedroom. Several pieces are scratched, and I cannot find the keys to the locks. I believe I put you in charge of storing these things after we returned from Oman, no?”

Cyrus bit his lower lip and scratched his chin. I was not astute at reading the room, but even a dolt like me could recognize that both Wimbys wished I were not here.

“Let me finish up with Hollis, dear, and then I’ll find those keys and sort out your luggage situation, ok?” He smiled but there was no covering his frustration.

“Of course, sweetheart,” she said, matching his concealed frustration with her own veiled fury. She turned and marched away, stomping the floor even louder than on her arrival.

Cyrus turned his eyes back to me, suddenly looking very tired. “Where were we?”

“Uh,” I stammered, “I think you were advising me about the incoming investor funds.”

“Right,” Cyrus said, still distracted. “Right. So, I want you moving that money to Hong Kong the instant it clears our Miramar account.”

“Yes. Absolutely. You got it,” I said, as enthusiastically as possible; I was nodding like a bobblehead and nearly gave him a thumbs up. All of this was procrastination. I had one more thing to discuss, and I dreaded broaching it. Cyrus’s Syrian refugee fundraising drive had come from leftfield the night of his Summit address, and I was unsure how to handle the next steps. It was a reasonable query, but I sensed that it was old news to him and might chafe our newly-healed scab. “And, uh, one last thing,” I stuttered, “How do you want me to handle those donations to the ExOh Global Relief Charities?”

“What?”

The irritated look on his face was exactly what I feared. “The, uh, ExOh Global Relief Charities?” I squeaked.

“I heard you the first time,” he said. “What about it?”

“Well,” I said, my stomach knotting. I had just clambered to solid ground, but my grip was slipping. “We need to send charitable donation receipts.”

Cyrus rolled his eyes. “So, send them.”

I swallowed. “But this is sort of an official process. It is for tax purposes. So, we actually need to – you know – donate the money to a charity.”

He shook his head. “Fine. Give it to the United Way.”

Every fiber of my being wanted to just say, sure, and be done with pushing the issue further, but I could not stop my mouth from moving. “Is the United Way doing charity work in Syria? Because I know that was the cause that you highlighted when—”

“I do not give a flying fuck what the United Way is doing!” Cyrus yelled. “Give it to the Red Cross. Give it to UNICEF. I do not care. Just donate the money to someone doing something in Syria and send the fucking receipts!”

Three f-bombs in five minutes; I was on a roll. “Ok, I can definitely do that,” I said, back in bobblehead mode. “And then, do you want the matching money from ExOh to go to the same charity?”

“What?” he repeated.

I was not going to make the same mistake in questioning his auditory capabilities, so I tried rephrasing my question. “You – I mean, we – pledged to match the contributions from donors five-to-one. So, ExOh needs to make its own charitable donation of,” I paused, pretending I needed to do the math in my head, “one-point-one-two-five-million to a Syrian relief charity.”

He scowled at me, ready to explode. Several seconds ticked by, his face slowly relaxing into a grimace of mild irritation. “Of course,” he said. “But Kai will make the matching donation out of the Hong Kong account. You just pass the money along, and I will take care of the rest.”

The distant sound of a train whistle echoed as I processed his words and formulated my follow up questions. Why wouldn’t I just send ExOh’s matching donation at the same time I sent the contributions from everyone else? The back and forth made no sense. The old me wanted to literally raise a hand and object. But, as previously noted, my intuition had a spotty track record in professional settings. If it were a restaurant, I would give it a one-star Yelp review. Challenging Cyrus on this issue would be a direct affront to his honesty. 

My brain tried to square its circle. I was not doing anything wrong, I attempted to reason. I would be transferring money and following a direct order. If Cyrus Wimby —majority shareholder of ExOh Holdings – said he would handle the matching charitable donation from a bank account I did not control, I had every reason to believe he would, didn’t I?

But what if he did not? Had not good still been achieved? UNICEF or the Red Cross or the United Way or some other equally worthwhile charity would be receiving money inspired by Cyrus’s efforts, even if his efforts were rooted in a falsehood. That counted for something, didn’t it? And what good would come from me pitching myself onto the train tracks? Who would that serve?

In the nanoseconds that I contemplated these questions, Cyrus’s eyes narrowed. What’s it going to be? they said.

I would be lying if I said that I completely believed Cyrus would make the donation. I was suspicious, but I had no facts. Scratch that, I did have one fact: ExOh’s stock price had touched $42 that morning, making my on-paper position now worth four-point-two-million dollars. Life-changing money, even in Montecito.

“Will do,” I finally said.  

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