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Addicted

Filed Under , on September 16th, 2017

Constant Friend

By Seth Kabala

Numbers.

Numbers on paper. Numbers displayed in the digital realm. Public numbers. Like a deep-sea dwelling stonefish disguising itself as coral, waiting to strike, in milliseconds, an unsuspecting fish, and feed its predatory ways, things are what they are until they’re not. It was observations like that, Anthony thought, that kept him up here in the business suites and out of the comedy clubs.

He liked to think his mind moved appropriately in both analytical and humorous dimensions, but alcohol could fool you into believing many lies. Or, stated more positively, it smoothed over the rougher parts of an embarrassing situation and delivered you on the other side, remembering only scratchy clips of the scene. People could say you acted like a fool or that you were great. The alcohol, always a constant friend, gave you the ability to choose which one, or none, you believed.

Anthony Bay sat on the deck adjoining his 16th floor luxury room in downtown Seattle. His view afforded him scenic panoramas of some of the best skyline and water shots the Northwest city had to offer. Refracted through his crystal glass, further filtered through vodka, his view was unique. A wind kicked up, blowing the marijuana smoke from the pipe in his hand toward his face, where he took in the aroma, the essence. Until this sudden breeze, the smoke had been curling around his hand in the relative stillness of the morning, creating a tenuous digital enclosure, hiding his fingers like a sad attempt at a sword’s quillon. Whatever protection, faux or otherwise, the circling smoke afforded his fingers from the treachery of the world, it failed when Anthony broke the confines of the wispy shroud and took a hit. On this day, he needed psychotropics and depressants in equal doses. He did a back and forth act with the weed and vodka, threaded with salty bay oxygen.

His cell buzzed. Wolf. Fuck.

He stood and went to the railing, leaned over, squinted down at the 6a traffic. Relatively light still, and most cars sported fashionable tones of grays and whites. All falling in sync with corporate drone mentality and complying with noise regulations. Nothing blood red. Nothing missing from the fog horn of a mega cargo ship and finding itself placed into the heart of downtown Seattle. Nothing begging for attention and citations.

“Mr. Wolf?” Anthony said, returning to his deck chair.

“I trust your morning is treating you well, Mr. Bay,” Stanley Wolf said. Wolf was the founder and CEO of Celestial Telecommunications. “What do you have in front of you for the day?”

“I’ve got a 50-mile view,” Anthony said, sweeping his hand in a panorama from east to west, though, except for a few pigeons fluttering nearby, this was a futile gesture. Likely the state of my career depending on how this call goes, he thought. “Hitting up the salt-water pool later this morning, weights this afternoon, massage scheduled for just before dinner, 50 degrees on the iPhone, might get out for a short jog along the waterfront. Who could ask for anything more?” As Celestial Telecommunication’s Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs, he knew full well the inadequacy of his response, but like most mammals, he sought to avoid risk and pain for as long as possible.

“Not where I was going with that query, but since you’ve posed another in response to mine, I could ask for at least one other thing.”

Anthony waited. In Anthony’s experience, Wolf thought of himself as a master of the effective in-sentence pause. He expected no response to the previous supposition, needed none, would tell you to shut the fuck up if you conjured an interjection at his obvious rhetorical. So Anthony waited.

At $4B net worth and climbing, according to the latest Forbes report, regular appearances at industry conferences, feature pieces on his life and work in the tech and telecom publications every other month–and intensifying with every passing moment and exponential technological broadband communications innovation–guest interview spots on all the cable channels, Wolf’s thinking of himself was less unbridled ego spouting than legitimate fact.

People wanted his time, wanted his words. Here Anthony was privy to both, and he wanted neither, not because he personally disliked the guy, but because he feared him like an amateur, untrained, unarmed African safari participant, separated from his group, would fear a lion whose path he crossed, especially if the lion looked like it had gone a few hours without eating. It’s not that it was a given the lion would attack; it was the unknown.

“Meet me in the downstairs bar in 10 minutes,” Wolf said.

Before Anthony could draw breath to phonate his response, the blatting tailpipes shattered his tranquility. The unmistakable sound of power of the mechanical and influential variety. Wolf was here. “Happy to,” Anthony said. “But I thought you were in Colorado this weekend.”

“I’ll see you in 10.”


After the world’s quickest shower, which felt like the equivalent of sprinkling water onto the clothes iron and standing in the steam cloud, Anthony walked into the hotel bar nine minutes and 58 seconds later. Lucky for him, the bar was constructed in a concatenated design, flowing directly off the hotel’s lobby. All the better to avoid DUIs, he thought. It was barely quarter-after-six in the morning. A sign posted next to the entrance listed the hours of operation. Today, Friday, the hours were 10a – 3a. Yet another example of power and influence in motion. Anthony guessed that if he bothered to do the research, he would find an ownership link to Celestial in the articles of incorporation for the bar.

If not that, some business connection, a pattern of legally greased palms stretching half the world around and back, was sure to exist. Wolf was fastidious about operating within the bounds of the law. To be fair, this required the law, and those administering it, to be flexible, but, still, within the law he remained. Every move was something for something, mutually beneficial or abandoned. Such a pattern kept the law flexible and uncalcified, something which could not be said for Anthony’s spine as he took the seat at the bar next to Wolf. He felt like a downed tree in the Petrified Forest. Needed that massage now. Fuck–needed the goddamned masseuse to follow him around for a while.

“Tell me about the contracts,” Wolf said, barely waiting until the squeak from Anthony’s stool had subsided.

“The contracts are progressing,” Anthony said. “It takes some time to finalize all the terms, as you know. These local government folks move as fast as old folks out driving on a Sunday in the Midwest.”

“How fast is that?”

Anthony’s voice hitched. He thought he’d delivered the punchline perfectly, though the material was admittedly weak, fit for inclusion into the Dad Jokes category of his humor journals. Still, the humor was implied. Wasn’t it?

“I’m guessing it’s not fast at all,” Wolf said. “In fact, let’s use the positive voice. Keep the mind in a positive frame, we must. Allow the mind to weaken, to atrophy, is unacceptable. They drive slowly, yes? Ergo, the local government ‘folks,’ as you call them, are also slow, yes? Do I understand your report correctly?”

Tough crowd, Anthony thought, though he was comforted that at least the implication had reached Wolf. He was human, power and prestige and Yoda-esque sentence fragments and all. “You do, Sir.”

Wolf sipped from his glass of water. A gremlin voice in Anthony’s mind yelled Vodka! Grab! Slam! He pushed it away. The afterimage, however, remained.

“The problem, Mr. Bay,” Wolf said, “is that other telecoms also must deal with the same folks, and based on my examination of their progress, it appears they are ahead of us. What say you to that?”

“I say I have calls scheduled with the rights-of-way folks in six major cities, three counties, and two states in the next week. Franchise authority to use the streets is always vested with a different party depending on the jurisdiction. They know our business. They have our recommended, standard franchise terms. It’s now just a matter of time before we get everything signed. The next step is deployment.”

“You say ‘next step’ as though it were Usain Bolt progressing down the final stretch on the track, as though this proverbial ‘next step’ were a non-event, a formality, a forgone conclusion to which no more thought should be given than to how many squares to use for my next shit.”

“Not at all, Sir,” Anthony said, and thought, ‘squares to use’? The fuck?

“In answer to the question in your mind–yes. I do count the squares, but in accordance with the associated meal, of course.”

Wolf said this as though it were completely normal, as though everyone had a chart on their wall that listed each element of their diet, average time for digestion, average volume of excretory function from said dietary element, and the corresponding squares of toilet paper required to deal with the resulting volume.

Was this how you became a billionaire? By being a cheap-ass with your ass? Anthony found himself falling into the logic of what Wolf had said. Bran cereal, 10 squares; tuna casserole, 25; barbecued ribs, 50, oh who am I kidding–at least 100. Wolf’s thought process was equal parts, fascinating, troubling, and disgusting.

A not sure expression crossed Anthony’s face, squinting his eyes. Thinking Wolf would take this as either an affront to his words (which it was) or a waste of his time (which it was), Anthony said, “Your business is your business, Sir.”

“And the contracts are yours,” Wolf said.

“Yes.”

“Business that needs to accelerate.”

“Yes.”

“Do you know how much one-billion dollars is, Mr. Bay?”

“I took an accounting course or two, Sir.”

“What do you suppose the significance of one-billion dollars is to these contracts?”

Once again, Anthony waited for the inevitable reply, offering only an open-palmed tell me gesture. Then his neurons misfired and he said, “Why don’t you—” Followed immediately by Stupid, stupid, stupid.

“Shut the fuck up, Mr. Bay,” Wolf said, his voice flat but with steely-edged menace. “It’s a rhetorical fucking question. It’s the annual value of each of these markets with which you’ve scheduled calls, and the first player in always sets the precedent and takes the largest market share.” Wolf took another sip.

The Gremlin voice spoke softly in Anthony’s mind, almost inaudible, but Anthony knew what it was saying.

Wolf continued: “Whoever controls the local-access telecommunications market will control the world, Mr. Bay. That’s not exaggeration; it’s a fact. Everything is going to the cloud. Everything is going to be connected much sooner than the public thinks. Right now, you control our contact with the gate-keepers to this new level of control. I trust you understand the gravity of your role.”

“I do indeed, Sir.”

“I can consider these deals done?”

Quit now? Give up his $200K/year job? Hit the comedy scene full-time? He didn’t need the money. Ha! That was a crock of shit. Of course he needed the money. The only payment he’d received thus far from the clubs was a hand-written note that said “Tip: quit or kill yourself. Your choice.” Comedy was its own monster, offering possibility and soul-shattering truth from one punchline to the next. The Celestial gig was all stress. He didn’t need the stress, but the stress was inextricably linked to his vices, inevitably telegraphed heart attack coming soon or not. His decision-making ability in this moment seemed like a storm-severed high-voltage line that was dancing on the pavement, throwing off sparks everywhere and accomplishing nothing productive.

“Yes, Sir,” Anthony said. “I’ll get them done.”

“Good,” Wolf said. “And call me Wolf.”

Wolf smiled, and Anthony saw it: the wolf in him, the animal predator of his namesake. He, Anthony, was the lost safari member alone on the African plain. He needed some cover. He needed a weapon.

He needed a drink.

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Seth Kabala

About: Seth Kabala
Seth is an entrepreneur, writer, musician, family man, and juggler of balls--big ones. He lives with his wife and three children in Portland, OR.

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