In early-2001, Cairo Enterprises completed its merger with Bickering Plummet, becoming the largest such transaction of the new millennium. It was agreed the combined company would retain the name Bickering Plummet, Incorporated, with Cairo Enterprises becoming a subsidiary that would be phased out over time, and David Cairo earned a seat on Bickering’s board of directors. It wasn’t a good fit. Cairo was never well-suited for corporate culture and didn’t like playing second fiddle in a company he founded and once ran. Consequently, he spent a lot of time pursuing other endeavors, supplying some venture capital for other companies, but mostly just trying to find the next big thing to keep him occupied.
It was one such venture which brought him to New York City in late-2001, where he was scheduled to meet with a law firm on the 100th floor of the North tower of the World Trade Center on the morning of 11 September to discuss representation. The meeting came about because a friend of Cairo’s, Michelle Boomer, worked in the firm as an intern while she was attending college in New York. To impress their new client, the firm insisted that all their employees be present well before their usual mid-morning start time, so the office was fully manned by 8 a.m. Cairo overslept, and had left strict instructions with the front desk that he not be disturbed, not even for the Second Coming, so no one was able to reach him via phone at his hotel. Michelle was dispatched around 8:25 to round him up and bring him in. She would be the only one of the fifty-nine employees of the New York branch of the firm to survive the destruction of the Towers.
Cairo blamed himself for the deaths of all those employees, knowing fully well that if he hadn’t insisted on the early morning meeting, which he was certain he’d be late in attending, none of them would have been there. Over the next year, as he increasingly took a back seat on the board at Bickering, he grew more and more disillusioned with the course he had taken with his life since acquiring his vast fortune. In October 2002, he submitted his resignation, effective 1 January 2003. As a parting shot, he planned to extract a pound of flesh as he left.
Bickering Plummet always prided itself on the number of government contracts it had under its belt, and the person most responsible for them was Tracey Whitaker McIntosh, who had started as an entry-level accountant with the company in 1975, fresh out of Georgia State University, where she majored in Business Administration. Her father was a Korean War veteran, wounded in battle late in 1951, who met her mother, a Korean nurse, while he was recovering at a hospital in Seoul. Not long after starting at Bickering, Tracey married Lance McIntosh, an electrical engineering graduate of Georgia Tech, who she met at church, and over time they had two daughters and a son. Tracey availed herself of an opportunity to get on the team which put together the proposals for government work, hoping it would be a way of distinguishing herself outside of the low-level accounting job she had, and over time, she became adept at securing contracts for the company. As vital as she was to the success of these endeavors, her position allowed her a sufficient level of anonymity, and, other than her immediate coworkers, only the mostly highly placed in the company knew of her work.
Which is why she was surprised when one day, late in 2002, David Cairo stopped by her desk and offered to buy her coffee. The offer itself didn’t surprise her, Cairo was famous for his eccentricity and lack of business decorum, but she was surprised he had apparently sought her out. Not wanting to insult a sitting board member, Tracey agreed and soon learned of Cairo’s plans for her.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’ve tendered my resignation with the board,” he said.
“There are rumors floating around,” she said. “I take everything with a grain of salt until I hear it from someone in charge.”
“Then let me confirm it,” he said. “I’m leaving, and I want to take you with me.”
This caught her off guard. “Me? Who you’ve never worked with a day in your life?”
“I know the power behind the throne,” he said. “There’s a short list of people Bickering feels it can’t live without and you’re at the top of that list with gold stars by your name.”
“You know what I do for the company,” Tracey said. “Is that something you’ll have a need for?”
“Not really,” he said.
“Then what do you foresee me doing for you?”
“Whatever you want,” he said. “You can write your own ticket.” Tracey shook her head and started to respond. Cairo held up his hand. “Before you reply, here’s something to consider.” He slid a folded piece of notebook paper over to her.
She opened it to find a salary offer considerably more than she was making.
“This is nearly double what I’m making now,” she said.
“I’m prepared to triple it,” he said, “if it will sweeten the deal. Beyond that, ask for anything you want. Holidays. Abbreviated working hours. The sky’s not even the limit. I’ll book the space shuttle if it gets you on my team.”
“Your team?” She considered this. “Just so we’re fully clear, you’re offering me this salary just so I won’t work for Bickering, correct?”
“That sounds about right,” Cairo said. “Do we have a deal?”
Tracey shook her head. “I’ll need to discuss this with my family.”
“Fine by me,” he said. He handed her his business card. “There’s my number when you’re ready. You dictate the terms. You tailor the job to suit you.”
A thought occurred to her. “If I ask for Wednesdays off?”
“You get Wednesdays off,” Cairo said. “It’s that simple.”
As Tracey suspected, Lance was in favor of the move, since it would mean more money without the demanding schedule. Her supervisors at Bickering Plummet were devastated when she tendered her resignation shortly thereafter and offered her a twenty percent increase in salary, nowhere near the amount Cairo was offering. Tracey said she’d consider it, then almost immediately refused. Her last day of work was 30 November 2002. She and Lance went on a Caribbean cruise for the entire month of December.