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Bitter Business

Bitter Business

Titel: Bitter Business
Autoren: Gini Hartzmark
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sarcasm. “But he’s not in the running.”
    “Why not?”
    “He’s just not front-office material,” Daniel answered a shade too quickly.
    “So who does that leave us with? Anybody else in the picture?”
    “Lydia.” Babbage sighed. “She was Jack and Eleanor’s surprise package—back then we called them bonus babies. Eleanor died three days after she was born.”
    “So Philip’s the oldest and Lydia’s the baby of the family,” I said, trying to keep them straight in my mind.
    “She’s more of an enfant terrible. In my line of work you can always tell which kid had the bad luck to grow up after the company’s cash flow turned positive. Lydia’s thirty-three going on thirteen. She’s had four kids, three husbands, and it’s a safe bet she spends all her money on shrinks.”
    “Does she work for the company?”
    “She draws a salary, but believe me, they pay Lydia to shut up, not show up.”
    I looked over the notes I’d made.
    “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Jack Cavanaugh is the CEO of a large and highly profitable plating and specialty chemical company. His oldest son, Philip, has the title of company president, but no real authority. His sister Dagny has the brains to be CEO, but no balls, while brother Eugene has balls, but no brains. In the meantime baby Lydia gets herself psychoanalyzed and presumably makes trouble. Jack, who is pushing seventy, plans on living forever, while Philip, I presume, can’t wait to give him the shove.”
    “Correct on all counts,” replied Babbage.
    “Jesus, Daniel!” I exclaimed. “Is this a corporate file you’re handing me or a soap-opera plot?”
    “It gets worse. Read this. Jack received it by messenger at his home first thing this morning.” He handed me a faxed copy of a single sheet of letterhead stationery. I scanned it quickly. It was from Lydia’s attorneys, announcing her decision to sell her shares of Superior Plating and Specialty Chemical stock.
    “I bet this made Jack’s day,” I observed. “How many shares does she own?”
    “Twelve percent of the company. Jack owns fifty-two percent and the rest is divided equally among the four adult children.”
    “Can I see a copy of the buyback agreement?” I asked. Family-owned companies invariably had some sort of agreement that said that if one family member wanted to sell their shares, the rest of the family got first dibs on the stock.
    “Jack had me draw one up when Lydia turned twenty-one and got control of her shares.”
    “Good, then it should be straightforward. We’ll bring in the investment bankers to do a valuation. Then we’ll start haggling over the share price.”
    “Unfortunately, with Lydia, nothing is straightforward.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “We prepared a buyback agreement, but Lydia refused to sign it.”
    “You’re kidding!” I exclaimed. “Why wouldn’t she sign?”
    “Because Lydia is a little girl in a woman’s body,” Daniel Babbage answered with surprising venom. “A spoiled, wealthy little girl who likes trouble the way that a vampire likes blood.”
    It was spring in Chicago, but you wouldn’t have known it. The sky was the color of cold slate and it seemed to bleed into the drab hues of the concrete until the entire city seemed washed in muted shades of gray. It was snowing again and the March wind, blowing in unpredictable gusts, flung wet flakes into the faces of the miserable lunchtime crowds.
    Huddled in the back of a cab on my way to meet Jack Cavanaugh, I couldn’t help thinking about Daniel Babbage. At the office we all worked hard to maintain the fiction that his illness was a temporary inconvenience, tiresome but best ignored. But I knew that pancreatic cancer is painful, difficult to treat, and invariably fatal. Daniel, no weakling when it came to facing facts, undoubtedly knew it, too.
    Up until now I’d done very little work for Babbage, but that didn’t prevent me from liking him enormously. Daniel’s uncanny ability to put people at ease had served him well over the years and I for one was not immune to his avuncular charm. But more importantly, Daniel was one of the few people at the firm who seemed completely unimpressed by my family. For that alone I would be undyingly grateful.
    There’s no getting around the fact that the Millhollands are famous in this town. There is even a statue of my great-great-grandfather, Theodore Millholland, in the park on East Lake Shore Drive across the street from the
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