Two Seconds - Chapter 3 of Part 1 of WAVES OF WARNING By Glenn Hening
[ Also viewable in Word format at: 103TwoSeconds.doc ]
“No, you can’t come back right now and I won’t send you a ticket! All you’ve got is a few seconds shot from a plane, and there’s five clients at fifteen grand each waiting for you to take them surfing!”
Ian Clark listened for a second before holding the headset away from his ear. Dressed in Armani behind a tech-and-teak desk, he was the image of a successful executive except for the gaunt look on his face and the deep lines around his brown eyes.
“Listen, L.J.,” he interrupted, “I don’t have time right now. Go over to FDX, use their secure web site and send me the file. Then give ‘em the data stick. You did make a backup, didn’t you? Tell ‘em I want it on my desk tomorrow at 9 a.m. Then do what you are paid to do, okay? Take the clients out to dinner, drink some Pisco, and get some sleep. And tomorrow go to that spot, uh - - ” he swiveled around and glanced at the map behind his desk, “that place near Valparaiso and go surfing with those guys.”
Merrill started to argue, but Clark wasn’t listening. His attention was on his computer and the market ticker flowing below a packed spreadsheet. He scribbled down a stock price before it disappeared while Merrill described the turbulence that almost broke up the plane and how he thought he was going to die.
“L.J., I understand you went through a lot. We all go through a lot. Call me back in twenty-four hours. Just give our clients what they paid for and we’ll do just fine.”
“Yeah, but Ian, why can’t you get someone else down here? I’ve just found the best surf spot in the world with the most amazing big waves I’ve ever seen! We’ve got to get on it right away!”
As far as Ian Clark was concerned, the only thing he had to do right away was get off the phone, execute a trade and make some quick money.
“Ian? Didn’t you hear what I said? This place is perfect!”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m listening, L.J. I can’t wait to see it. Send it right away and call me to confirm, no, don’t call me. Have the FDX guy e-mail me the tracking number. I’ll talk to you in exactly twenty-four hours. Use the direct line on the cell phone I gave to the group. Don’t worry, this will work out unreal. Just do what I tell you to do, but do it right now, okay? Talk to you tomorrow. Later, bro.”
* * *
L.J. Merrill and Ian Clark were once the ultimate team when it came to guiding well-heeled surfers to perfect waves all over the globe. Ian was the industry insider, L.J. the pure-hearted adventurer. Together they founded Geosurf Expeditions, although Clark structured the “partnership” to make him sole owner of the company while maintaining a contractor arrangement with Merrill. That was fine by L.J., who didn’t care about business details so long as he was scouting, or riding, perfect waves. Over the past ten years their surf camps and remote resorts had made Clark a millionaire on paper. But now he needed liquidity, because without it he was liable to be indicted.
Ian Clark was a sometime surfer with a degree in journalism from Cal State Long Beach when he got his start in the surf industry writing up glib video reviews and contest results at one of the magazines. He was a quick study and soon understood what the publication was really about, and it wasn’t surfing.
From a strictly business point-of-view, the mag was little more than a catalog for corporations using surfing to sell everything from clothing to cars to deodorant. Therefore, his job depended on ad revenues and making nice with people who didn’t surf. That meant the only way he could get ahead was to keep one foot in editorial and one foot in advertising by building relationships with surf stars while helping companies with branding and market penetration.
It was brutal work, and he spent five years climbing the masthead before finally making associate editor. The salary was good and he had stock options in the conglomerate that owned the magazine. Yet as an employee, no matter how much he made it was never enough for living large in Orange County. He was stuck – until he did a prospectus on himself and came up with an idea that could be leveraged bigtime.
He could sell the soul of surfing. He could deliver on the endless dreams of surfers craving perfection by establishing a global network of resorts near the world’s best waves. And being a veteran of the surf media, he knew how to create myths and heroics out of practically nothing. So it would be easy to create an aura of exclusivity that would have the O.C. surfing elite begging for reservations and paying five figures for high-end excursions to the places he controlled.
First, he needed the waves themselves. He needed a scout, and in all the surfing world there was only one person who knew how to find the quality product high-rolling customers would demand. Clark knew him by reputation only, but from the stories and legends he learned all he needed to know. It took some time and some sleuthing, but the day came when Ian Clark finally found L.J. Merrill on the other side of the world, in Western Australia, camped out on a deserted headland overlooking perfect, empty waves.
He laid out a proposal to start Geosurf Expeditions, correctly guessing Merrill would see it as a way to turn his addiction into a profession. Clark knew Merrill was a Type-A surf junkie, but what he didn’t know at the time was that L.J. Merrill was also a good person at heart. Merrill had always respected the locals he’d met around the world as he searched for bigger, better and faster waves. Clark’s proposal gave him a momentary flash of inspiration: with hard currency coming in from Geosurf clients, they could help impoverished coastal communities throughout the Third World. Without going into a lot of details or learning more about each other, Ian Clark and L.J. Merrill shook hands outside the tent and then went for a surf at what later became one of Geosurf’s first resorts.
Ten years later, the company owned twenty surf camps and eight high-end resorts on five continents, throughout Polynesia, and all around the Indian Ocean. Reservations were booked years in advance and locals had jobs building the camps and working at the resorts. The “Glimmer Twins”, as Clark and Merrill were nicknamed by the surf media, were getting all they wanted in terms of Orange County “juice” and endless tubes, respectively.
It was all good, as they say, until the singer decided he wanted to be a pop star right when the lead guitarist wanted to take the band deeper into the pure fix of the blues.
In the beginning, and for some time afterwards, Geosurf was welcomed by indigenous communities who were grateful for the positive economic impacts on their village economies. But after ten years of double digit growth, the locals began to want a bigger cut of the action. Merrill could not help but agree with them and, remembering Clark’s promises from the early days, began to talk about turning the resorts into surfing preserves locally owned and operated by cooperatives that would share the profits to the benefit of families and communities.
This was not what Ian Clark was about by any means, since Merrill’s “share the wealth” attitude would have done nothing for Clark’s upward climb in cash-conscious Orange County. Clark had indeed made a lot of promises to Merrill at first and had kept some of them, but he found it increasingly difficult to endure Merrill’s shrill tirades about the rich getting richer, the social inequities of the Third World, and Geosurf’s profits.
After one particularly boring dose of Merrill’s naiveté, Clark had snickered, “You only know the half of it.”
“What did you say Ian?”
“Oh, nothing, L.J. You only know the heart of it, of surfing, that is. I’ve got a lot of other things I gotta think about to keep Geosurf going.”
Geosurf did business in a variety of currencies and Ian Clark had become adept at moving money from one country to another. The upside was not big in the beginning, but there came a time when he was able to skim off enough cash to start playing the international commodities markets. He would keep the money moving until he had enough to invest in offshore corporations on the advice of brash young stockbrokers driving Ferraris around Newport Beach.
Soon he was looking and acting like a player, and that was good enough for them, and him. It was a fast crowd to run with, and Ian Clark found himself golfing and partying instead of doing much surfing. After all, he was the owner of a major company in the surf industry, but truth was, he never liked to ride waves all that much. He was always afraid of being pushed underwater and hitting the bottom. The day came, however, when he learned that wipeouts in the world of money could be just as bad, or worse.
Thanks to Clark’s fast-and-loose use of the company as his personal piggy bank, Geosurf’s business plan began to fray at the edges. The waves never changed, so he could only make more money by first increasing his volume, then his prices. Geosurf was turning big dollars, but it was never enough. His problems began to gather steam as his worldwide exposure to market fluctuations increased. Because of the amounts of money he was moving to cover his growing losses, he found himself skirting laws first devised to snare drug dealers. That’s when he began to realize there was only one solution to his downward spiral. He needed a pile of cash, and he needed it fast.
* * *
The forty-five seconds went by all too quickly, so he ran the data stream again in slow motion after enlarging the video window in the center of the screen until it covered more than half the spreadsheet displaying his daily investment positions.
He stopped the motion on one particularly clear frame. Then he stared at the three registered letters sitting on his desk: one from his accountant, one from his lawyer, and one from the I.R.S. He looked again at the waves arrayed around a perfect reef, but a phone icon began to blink at the top of the screen. He saw the number, knew who it was, and knew he had to think fast.
“You weren’t supposed to call back until tomorrow, L.J., but yeah, I got it and just looked at it. It’s hand-held, slightly out-of-focus, not long enough and you were up at what, ten thousand feet? So I’m going to have it re-processed to see what’s really down there.”
Ian Clark paused and took a deep breath before taking a fateful step.
“I’m going to need some time to figure out how we’re going to market this place, L.J., because you did find the best surf spot in the world and the most amazing big waves ever!”
Clark heard the excitement in Merrill’s voice and for a moment his heart felt heavy - until ticker numbers running across the bottom of the screen reminded him he had no time for nostalgia.
“No, you’re staying there. I need you to take those guys surfing. You can fly back when they do. They paid a surcharge because they wanted to surf with the legendary L.J. Merrill, so you’re going to make an extra three hundred a day!”
Merrill started to protest, but Clark cut him off.
“L.J., we can sell some big ticket packages when we open up your reef. We can get some local fishermen involved and really help out their villages. It’s way out in the ocean, isn’t it?”
Clark caught himself before saying another word. Keeping the exact location of a new discovery secret until they were face-to-face was an important tradition for L.J. Merrill.
“That’s why I want to come back now! I can show you where it is and we can get started right away!”
“L.J., you’ll be back in two weeks,” said Clark in a firm-but-friendly voice, “Right now you need to do what you’re paid to do. Go surfing, keep the customers happy, and make some good money. And trust me, when you get back, I’ll have a game plan ready to go.”
“Ok, Ian, maybe you’re right. Besides, the place probably won’t be good again till March or April. We’re gonna need a seaplane and all kinds of stuff, but it will all be worth it.”
“I’m sure it will, L.J., I’m sure it will. See ya at LAX.”
He pressed delete on the keyboard and the phone icon disappeared from the display, leaving the biggest perfect waves in surfing’s history superimposed over the spreadsheet that mapped his world of money. He looked at the computer screen for a long time and saw his future begin to take shape - until he realized Merrill would never agree to selling out to a big corporation for the kind of cash he so desperately needed. Maybe he could flip a deal before Merrill got back? But as soon as the thought occurred to him, he knew it wouldn’t work. The legendary scout had found surfing’s Shangri-la and would demand to know why his once-in-a-lifetime discovery had been sold to the highest bidder.
“And then what would I tell him? That I needed a lot of cash to pay off debts because I’ve been skimming profits instead of keeping promises?” he said in a voice that only his conscience could hear.
The relentless data streaming across the bottom of the screen never stopped, and he knew he was cornered by two alternatives with but one way out: he’d either have to admit his mistakes and trust L.J. Merrill, or betray him and stay out of jail.
It took Ian Clark all of two seconds to make his decision.
Preview of Chapter 4
The largest corporation in the surf industry is dominating the marketplace – and yet has problems on Wall Street that threaten the very existence of the company. Wavelife International needs something new, something revolutionary, something that no one has ever seen before - to ignite investor interest in surfing and get the numbers growing again. And Ian Clark has exactly what they need...