Emery International | Sep 16 | 5:05pm
I started to understand why Darren Emery would want to invest in the Dude’s company when I realized the place I was meeting him wasn’t his office. Apparently, he works out of his house too.
There was no secretary, no robot butler. He opened the door himself. His button down shirt was crisp, his smile relaxed, his head bald. “Hi there. Are you Winston?”
I shook my head and walked past him. “Oscar.” That’s what happens when I ask Harry to set up a meeting. The living room behind him was huge and bright. Everything was clean. I felt out of place, but the feel of the room relaxed me.
“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. Have a seat.” The investor waved his hand at an arrangement of couches and soft chairs. “Or I have a regular office upstairs, if you would be more comfortable there.”
“This is fine.” I sat on a white couch by the window. My pants were filthy.
The guy didn’t seem to mind. He stood next to a chair facing the couch I was on. “So you worked with the Dude.”
“Not directly. The way I understand it, he used to work for you.”
He laughed. “I certainly wouldn’t call it that. No, I haven’t been welcome over there in a long time, but I keep on believing. The company has become a slot machine I put money and energy into, convinced it’s got to pay off sometime, or everything I’ve already put in will be worthless. The new boss there, Hans, says he’s going to do right by us, but even he can’t seem to explain what you’ve got. You’re my chance to fill in some of the blanks.” He went to the wall and opened a low cabinet, showing off an impressive liquor collection. “Drink?”
“Do you have any wine?” My brain was recovering, and I figured it was time to start building my tolerance again.
He smiled. “I have a pinot blanc chilling in here that’s very good.” I noticed he didn’t offer a red to the guy on his nice white sofa. Still, how did he know to have that ready?
“How did you know I liked wine? What did Har– Hans tell you about me?”
“Just that a colleague of his wanted to meet me.” He poured scotch over a single giant ice cube for himself. “I try to have a little of everything available for these meetings.”
Could it be that even with the way I was dressed, he though I was somebody important? “Makes sense.” He really didn’t know anything about me.
He handed me the wine glass. “How are things going over there, by the way? Can the software really predict people’s movements? What kind of accuracy does it give?” If he didn’t know what was going on in the company, I couldn’t blame him for the shitty labor practices.
I took a sip. Man, that was good. “So you don’t know any of that stuff?”
He shook his head, sitting in the big chair facing me. “The Dude wasn’t exactly a chatterbug to begin with, but he pulled back further over time.”
I leaned back into the couch. I’m starting to understand how knowledge really can be power, and I had that over this guy, even against all his money. I kept things general. “The system is coming along. There’s been successful tests, but there’s still a lot of mistakes happening.” Harry being in charge was the biggest one.
“Hm.” Darren took a sip of his scotch. “How close are we to a solid proof of concept?”
“Not far. What are you gonna do with this technology once you get it?” I took another sip of wine.
“That depends what exactly it’s suited to, but I’m sure all the investors will have opinions.”
I nodded, totally casual. “Mm, and where are they?” If I could get to the money guys, I could break the demand for the system. “What do they want it for?”
“They represent a range of interests all over the world, but really what it always comes down to is return on investment. That’s what allows us to keep doing what we do. I mean, where would you be without money?”
I didn’t want to think about that. It didn’t sound like there was a way I could get to all of them at once. “You want it to be an app?”
“If possible. That was one idea. There’s been some interest from government agencies in the underlying technology, but Hans keeps up the Dude’s refusal to sell outright.” Harry and the Dude refusing to sell out? That’s cool. Darren gestured with his glass. “Do you understand the power of having a breakthrough before anyone else? The potential of that, I get goosebumps.”
I sipped the wine again, even though I could feel my mind slowing down. “How much money have you put in?”
“Some of it. I was one of the first, but I championed the idea to other people I know. The Dude had good ideas, but the real reason I was impressed was this guy who used to hang around with him, Mister Veles.”
“Hold on.” I was sure I heard that wrong. “Casimir?”
Darren nodded. “That was his name. He’s the reason I gave the Dude’s system a try, put in that first money and left them alone to build it. He had this Steve Jobs kind of energy about him. Haven’t seen that guy in a while though.”
“Oh, come on.” I stood up. He was full of shit. “Casimir wouldn’t do that. I knew him.”
“You too?” Darren smiled. “I’m friends with Steve, actually — Steve Jobs. Guys like that surprise you. Nobody thinks to do stuff like his until he announces the product, and then it’s like magic. We all know there’s no other way it could have been done.” He laughed, and I saw in him the same faith I had in Casimir. “I think he can even beat this cancer, even though he says he stepping down. I tell you, it’s a lot harder to get something going without a guy like that in your corner.”
“I know.” I sat down again, thinking of good times Casimir and I shared, but I also remember all the times he disappeared and we didn’t know what happened with him. Did he come to places like this, have some other secret life?
Darren finished the last of his scotch. “Mister Veles had the attitude that reminded me of the kinds of stuff we used to do.”
“You were a musician?”
“I was a hacker, when that was still a dangerous word to throw around.” He smiled. “We started out trying to take down big companies, under the radar. I still miss the times when nobody knew we existed except other people like us.” Maybe this guy wasn’t all bad. That did sound like the band, but we never went beyond that point. His voice got the sing-song pattern of a story he’s told a thousand times. “After we got caught, we avoided prosecution providing computer companies with information about their own weaknesses. That became our business.”
“Is that where you got all this money?”
He leaned back, looking out the window. “Back when Silicon Valley was showing its first potential to make money, all we had to do was say we had a website, and people would practically beg to invest in us. I got lucky, sold out before that bubble burst. Since then, it’s just been a series of wise speculations, with a few exceptions.”
“And now you sit around and give money to people like you used to be?” Maybe he was cool once, but he sold out a long time ago. “What have you done lately?”
“I have my share of pitch meetings. The last time I talked to the Dude, he got me to get him another million, but that’s all I could get him on faith.” Darren turned to look me in the eyes, and I tried not to look surprised at the amount of money involved. “Let me ask you, because he was always so mysterious, did the Dude wear the hood when he talked to you?”
“And he only talked in lines from movies?”
I laughed at that. “I don’t think he can talk any other way.”
“Yeah, but why those movies? Did you ever wonder?” Darren leaned forward in his chair. He seemed really excited. “I have a theory. What’s the first James Bond movie you saw in the theater?”
I thought back. “The one with the video game. Goldeneye.”
“You were probably pretty young, too. You saw Brosnan on the big screen and had to look up to him. My first theater Bond was Goldfinger.” He smiled for a second at the memory. “Every generation has their own James Bond. I bet the movies the Dude quotes were his Goldfinger, hitting at just the right time in his life. Now, I know what you’re thinking.” He started to sip the melted ice in his scotch glass, then set it down.
I shrugged. “What am I thinking?”
“He loves Star Wars. He was too young to see that in theaters. Well, you’re forgetting about the special editions, my friend.” He pointed at me.
“I’m sure that’s it.” I smiled. He called me his friend, but I put down the wine. “I should go.”
“No, stay. Have more wine.”
I shook my head. “I can’t drink like I used to.”
“I can make espresso. Don’t go. We don’t have to talk about the Dude.” I could tell from his voice, from the big empty house, he was lonely.
I drank with my enemy and made him a friend for a second. I looked in his eyes and wasn’t afraid of him. I wanted to do the same with the other investors, but they would all still want money from us, and they were all around the world. I couldn’t handle them as well as I could handle Harry.