Checkmate Excerpt

Checkmate is available at Amazon.com

Chapter One

Sebastien Masters walked into the darkened factory with mixed emotions. Walking over to the familiar electrical panel, he flipped a few circuit breakers and mercury vapor lights started to hum and light slowly trickled down onto the machinery lying idle. His appearance altered with artificially grayed hair, fake mustache and thick-framed glasses with cosmetic lenses.

There was an air about the place, an air of desperation, of desertion, of lost hope. It was a far cry from when he last stood in that building, when it was filled with the whir and clatter of textile looms running at full tilt, the hubbub of activity and voices giving directions, conversations between the men, workers cajoling the machines.

An opportunity was presenting itself but that opportunity carried more risk than he’d known in his life. He had to overcome the constant reminder that he had built that factory with his father and mother and had it taken from him in a bitter fight, a fight he never saw coming.

Sebastien—Bass to his friends, and he had many—walked down the main aisle, looking carefully left and right. He stopped and walked closer to a machine, ostensibly to check its condition and whether or not it could be returned to service.

In reality, he walked closer because of the memories. He remembered when he put that machine in, calculating that his radical new design would indeed speed productivity and calm the butterflies in his stomach with the gamble.

He remembered old Sarge, the plant foreman, a grizzly coot with a soft heart hidden by a gruff exterior. He remembered Tab, the janitor who rose to become the chief maintenance man, and the one who really made the machines work. Last Bass heard, Tab had gone on to get his engineering degree at MIT at night and landed a job on the east coast in a shipyard.

He remembered when they added a night shift on that machine to keep up with the orders, and the times he came back to the factory at night to watch the machines running. Never to check on the employees—he was of the opinion that if he hired good people, he didn’t have to watch them, and he hired good people. The crew on the floor gradually got used to his visits and struck up conversations with him. It improved morale and production, because he was a boss they could talk to and they trusted him.

Bass looked at the thin film of rust on the moving parts of that machine. He ran a finger over the metal, feeling for a film of oil. There was none, as he suspected, just a thin layer of corrosion on the surface.

He walked on to the next machine, and the next, and the one after that. Memories came flooding back, memories of better days, when the factory ran like a Swiss watch, when product was flying off the machines, crated and shipped to distribution centers, from there to other factories around the country and even around the world.

There were a few people behind him eagerly watching his inspection. Two real estate agents, one for the seller, one for him. His chief counsel, although that was a stretch, as he was only 33, sharp but a little green behind the ears. His secretary, 53, an organizational wiz who continued to stick with him, even after all the troubles.

And finally there was Dirk. Dirk the Dark, some called him, because he was always brooding and complaining and had people skills that didn’t win him many friends. But for all that, he knew how to make numbers work and underneath his brooding disposition and half-scowl he could muster a kind word now and again.

Bass walked over to a darker corner of the factory. He asked for a flashlight. When none was forthcoming, accompanied by stammered excuses and apologies, he looked at Carla, his secretary, with raised eyes. Smiling, she reached into her purse and pulled out a pen light with a surprisingly bright beam.

Bass grabbed the penlight and walked back to the corner alone. Flicking the light on, he shone it on various shapes and objects, all foreign-looking to the crowd behind him.

It was still there, he thought, no expression giving away his satisfaction. A prototype machine, never put into production, that would have been a quantum leap in manufacturing. He lost the designs when he lost the factory, and while he tried to redesign the details since, there was a tricky transfer mechanism that he could not recall and the redesign eluded him.

He saw it, tucked into a corner, went over to it, flipped up the tarp. The mechanism was there, on the machine. He remembered how it worked and remembered again waking up in the middle of the night with his divine inspiration.

A few rats scurried out of the innards and he jumped back in surprise.

He continued his tour of the shop, poking and prodding, dictating cryptic notes to Carla that only the two of them would be able to decipher.

“I can do this,” he thought. “I’ll need a few million to get it reconditioned, another million for start-up costs and salaries until the cash flow starts. But it can work.”

He spent another hour going through the factory, never letting his guard down, maintaining the perfect poker face while setting the hundreds and thousands of memories aside.

His tour complete, they walked outside where he bid adieu to the two real estate agents and promised he’d contact them by the end of the week.

* * *

Bass had to start from scratch, from the beginning, using his wits and connections. Two years of scouring the country looking for a textile company to buy, in any condition as long as it made sense financially, and the only reasonable deal was his own factory. The irony was inescapable.

The hardest part was to get back the factory without Charlene knowing it was him. This was his ticket back in the game, the game of textiles and engineering and business. If he could get back in the game, the sky was the limit. All he needed was one chance, a company he could get moving, a company he could generate a cash flow with and get cracking.

His attempts to get a semiconductor business off the ground were met with failure. Banks and venture capitalists figured Roger was the brains, and what did Bass know about computer chips? He knew textiles. He knew textiles well, they said, but computer chips? And that was a risky business for a new start-up, wasn’t it? There were too many players already with credentials. Why invest in a long shot?

They’d lend him money for textiles, so textiles it was. Times were better and prices were up and the margins were there to be made. To do the deal, he needed to generate cash flow NOW, not three years from now, not ten years from now.

“They say you can never go back,” Bass thought to himself. “Perhaps the past has come back to me.”

Bass looked away from the window and the scenery he wasn’t seeing. “Carla, find Tab. See if Sarge is still around. Chase down Pete, Carol and Shack. And book me on a flight to New York, then Miami, followed by Baltimore and Los Angeles. The game is afoot.”

A wry smile appeared on Bass’ face as he gazed out the window at something only he could see.

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