Chapter 5
Sandoor himself was waiting for me inside the terminal. He was wearing weekend attire: a synthetic tie-die tee shirt, a bead necklace, and skintight purple pants that flared out toward the ankles. He obviously hadn't shaved this morning and his hair was combed down over his forehead.

"Let me guess...Paul, right?" Sandoor was indulging in the latest fad: weekend impersonation of one of the Beatles.

"Fab four is right, man. I look just like him, don't I?" I nodded and forced a smile. Sandoor did not a good Paul McCartney look-a-like make.

"My plane is fueled and ready for take off," he smirked under his faux bangs.

"Your plane? Since when do you have a plane?"

"Since the Phoenix Project. When I started in Phoenix, its shares were selling for nine--can you imagine--nine credits per share. After operations I sold 'em at fifty-nine credits per share. Had over a hundred thousand shares. I did okay."

"I'll say you did okay. Jeeza Louisa, you're not our best investor for nothing!"

"I do my best." Sandoor reached down and rubbed his shoe with a piece of cloth. Even on fab four weekends he had to make sure his shoes shined all day long.

"Let's head out, shall we?" I activated my magnetized luggage so it could obediently follow me, and we started walking through the long corridors toward the landing strip. This had been a huge bustling airport until the free market came in and privatized it. Hell, nowadays if you were important enough to fly anywhere, you were important enough to have your own jet. Folks don't do much flying these days anyway. At one point, Macrohard was going to buy out most of the airports and reserve the planes for its executives, but then Will came up with a new type of communications software that pretty much eliminated the need for executives to travel. That sure saved him a bundle. Oh sure, some business people still fly around the world, but it's a hell of a luxury. Sure isn't cost effective, that's for sure.

We arrived at the departure gate. Three of Sandoor's staff greeted us and took our luggage.

"Well, what do you think, Kemosabe?" Sandoor said as he raised his arm to display his new jet.

"Looks real nice, Sandy. You've done well." Sandoor always treated me like an older brother. He seemed to need my approval. He winked at one of his female assistants and we climbed on board. Inside we were quickly strapped in and off the ground. All the amenities were here: Acustim, Endostim, Relaxanyl, Topical Valium 5, even grade 5 Prozametaphin.

"Where'd you get the Proz? This is hard to get shit, even by investor standards. Whose chain did you have to pull?"

Sandoor opened a huge wooden box and took out a giant Cuban cigar. "Oh, you know me. Friends in low places, I guess." Sandoor reached into his pharmaceutical bag and pulled out the bottle of Prozaphetamin.

"Let's start with an appetizer," he said as he placed a teaspoonful of the gray powder into a plastic bag. He closed the bag and shook it vigorously. Then, he opened the top of the bag and vigorously inhaled all of the contents. A huge grin appeared on his face as his body fell limp for five seconds. He then sat up, lit his cigar, and stared out the window.

"Ah, the prose of Proz," I said as I reached into the black bag. "Tis truly poetry." I preferred to take my Proz in tablet form.

"How can you inhale this stuff? And that damn cigar, why don't you go modern and use tubes like I do?"

"Because of the fucking spirituality that's involved. That's why." Sandoor's eyes were moving back-and-forth rapidly.

"Spirituality?" I said, wondering where this Proz inspired conversation was leading.

"Of course. When I inhale, I am breathing in the Holy Spirit. Don't you read? That's why so many people used to smoke their cigarettes."

"Now, wait a minute, I'm not up on that theory," I said as I reached for one of my tobacco tubes.

"Sure. People smoked, and even smoked themselves to death, because smoking was the last twentieth century ritual. The act of inhaling the white by-product of burning tobacco leaves was an unconscious metaphor for the Holy Spirit entering the body." Sandoor never talked philosophy, except after taking Proz.

"Let me see if I get this: smoking cigarettes was a religious act? Cigarettes were some kind of sacrament? Is that what you're fuckin' trying to tell me?"

"I didn't say they actually were a sacrament, ditto head. I only said the act of smoking served as a substitute for ritual in a secular culture that had essentially lost its sense of ritual. Think about it: the act of smoking is the pulling in and physical intermingling of the physical--the body--and the non-physical--the smoke. The unification of matter and spirit. Remember the violent attacks against public institutions by smokers in the last part of the century staged by smokers and tobacco companies fighting against all the anti-smoking regulations? Thousands of people died. It was a religious war, not a drug war. If you watched your fuckin' history you'd know that."

"You're a twisted dick head, you know Sandoor?" I laughed as I saw him grinning at me with a halo of smoke around his head.

"Laugh all you want. But for hopeless sinners like me, this is as close to the heavenly gates as I'm ever gonna get."

Maybe he's right. Maybe smoking is some sort of religious thing. I remember the first time Sandoor smoked. We had just finished our first sweep. I'll never forget the day. Sandoor took off his helmet and literally poured the perspiration out of it. His face was as white as his helmet. He was trembling as he barked out orders for the cashier to give him a pack of cigarettes. He sat down and proceeded to chain smoke the entire pack. I felt pity for this lone figure who sat gazing from one object to another quietly trying to catch butterfly-like thoughts with a ragged net in his own private haze. Sandoor never could adjust to the minesweeping life. It twisted the cables inside the core of his being almost to the breaking point.

The plane was due to arrive in xOMA in twenty minutes. Sandoor told three of the monitors to brief me on the plan. The price of a share for the city of xOMA was currently 18 credits a share, down twenty points from its yearly high of 38 credits. As was shown to me with alarming clarity, a series of epidemics have taken close to fifteen-percent of the work force out of circulation. Sandoor's eyes started to bulge as the monitor displayed the increases in medical costs to the city.

"That there is the trick, my friend, look at these charts." Sandoor asked the monitor to display a graph comparing the increase in medical expenses along with the decrease in the stock price. "Do you see that? For every increase of 10,000 credits in medical expenses, the stock price has decreased one credit a week." Soon graphs were popping up all around me showing the correlation between medical costs and the decrease in value of xOMA stock.

"So, it's pretty clear, I said. "They are suffering from some sort of illness. We need to send in a medical team to sort it out; find a cure so these poor sons-of-bitches can go back to work." Sandoor snickered at what I considered to be a fairly reasonable solution.

"Who the hell's gonna sit around and wait? Do you think people are going to sit quietly and watch the stock price continue to dip while a team of medical experts analyzes the problem? Hell, no! The basic scenario looks like this: as you can see, we figure the stock price will never go lower than 15 credits per share because that's the level which historically pushes the majority of the share holders to action: to taking the situation into their own hands. At 15 credits a share, the normal forces of correction take over. The shareholders pull the problem out at its roots without our help. Someone's got to keep the guillotine operators employed, right? Okay, so what we do is we come in with a buy and resolve strategy: We buy a block of 1,000,000 shares at 18 while simultaneously taking care of their medical problems. We sit back and watch the share price shoot up with the combined effects of the increased buying and the resolution of their problems. As you can see within one week the stock should soar back to at least thirty points at which point we sell off the 1,000,000 shares and go to the Caribbean. Voila!"

"So it's buy low, sell dear," I said.

"You've got it Bucko," Sandoor said as he told the monitors to begin a Beatles retrospective. I closed my eyes and tried to rest. I felt glad to be on the Macrohard side of life instead of dredging away on the outside. Shit, out there if you step out of line, the invisible fist will whack you without warning. I remember seeing images from an old Hollywood movie, "The Invisible Man," about a guy who drank some chemical that made him invisible. He would walk around and no one could see him unless he put on some clothes. Yeah, that's what Macrohard does for the world. It's an invisible man with two big invisible fists, constantly on the lookout for violations of economic law. You never see the dude, but if you fuck up you can bet he'll sure as hell be there waiting to pop you at just the right moment. Geez, what the hell can you do? You sure as hell can't box an invisible boxer. Shit, he's probably there now just waiting for me to step out of line.

I dozed into a light sleep. I started dreaming and jumped because I was dreaming about diving in the ocean when I turned and saw a shark coming at me.

"Hey, come on Lane. We're here. I stood up and shook out the wrinkles in my synthetics. I peeked out the window. This was xOMA all right. Sandoor was staring at his mobile stock quoter hanging around his neck.

"The stock has slipped down to 17. We better get a move on." The doors of the plane slid open and we were greeted by Sandoor's crew.

"Lane, this is Billibee, Freddy Savey, Custor Ray, and the Stinger. Boys, this is Lane Cooper. He's an old pal of mine and he works in corporate investor relations, so be good to him."

These guys were genuine Rock Roxey Rollers, a powerful street gang. I could read their history, tattooed on their arms like concentric circles on a stump of redwood. All of them had been in various gangs, but the Rock Roxey Rollers was their last. Now, they work for Sandoor.

As the crew picked up our baggage, Sandoor turned to me and said, "These guys are the best. I've made every one of 'em rich, because they've made me rich. I treat them very, very well."

We got in the van and left the airport. xOMA was no different from any other medium sized city. It had its guillotines proudly displayed right by the airport. Inside the van, the Roxey Rollers were busy at work assembling a large collection of electronic gadgets. They were tied into the phone and computer networks of the whole town. Sandoor leaned over to me. "We have established a communications base connecting us to the nerve centers of the city. From inside this van we can intercept any communication coming into or out of xOMA. Freddy boy here is my communications expert." Freddy had short red hair cut in a flat top, which seemed perfectly suited to supporting the two headphones perched atop his head. He barked out orders to the others showing off his military training.

Sandoor leaned back and admired his crew. "Look at these guys. Do they know what they're doing, or what?" Custor Ray and Billibee were hunched over an electric map circling each hospital with red electric light pens. As they scribbled, detailed images of the hospitals appeared on the monitors above our heads. Sandoor reached into his overnight bag and pulled out a jar of hair gel.

"Fab four day is over my man. Time to get back to work." He reached into the jar and spread a handful of grease into his hair and began pulling his bangs back over his forehead revealing his widow's peak.

"Do you see that map on the monitor?" He said to me with a smirk on his face. "That's no ordinary map. It shows the fiscal responsibility level of each coordinate point. The green areas indicate a financially healthy section; the red areas are the money losers. Every point on this map is tied into the Revenue department's main database. I programmed this pup myself."

"You mean to tell me you can look at any building or house on this map and tell whether or not the inhabitants are profitable?"

"That's exactly what I'm telling you. Look at this apartment house for example. Stinger, pull over for a second!" Sandoor peered out the window. "Look, here we are at the corner of Eighth and Brown Streets. I circle the coordinates with my light pen, and voila! Take a look." As he circled the points on the map, the image of the corner popped up on the monitor.

"There it is. Flashing in red. It's a deadbeat house as you can plainly see." He put the pen away and yelled, "Get going Stinger."

"So this is how you fucking do it. Who else knows about this?"

"What do you mean, who else? Who the fuck do you think? It's a trade secret that's what it is. I'm a business man for Chrissakes." Sandoor took out another of his cigars and filled the van up with his holy mist. All his men were hunched over their instruments, carefully calculating the geographic-economic variables of the whole city. Hell, with the gadgets in this van these guys have turned into some sort of giant police dog, trained to sniff out insolvency.

"Sandman," Custor Ray called out to Sandoor. "Take a look. Here's the printout." He tore a long sheet of paper out of the printer. Sandoor looked up at me through his veil of smoke and lifted his eyebrows.

"Alright. Yep...yep. That's just what I expected. Okay boys, veer southwest to Severance Lane. We're heading to a hotel before we head out toward the VA hospital." Sandoor slid over next to me and leaned his elbow on my shoulder.

"Take a peek, pal. This here is where it all goes down. At least for us, it is. This hospital is the greatest source of financial leakage in this whole damn town." Sandoor showed me the case files of approximately twenty-five patients all of whom have been receiving extensive treatments over several years. Sandoor continued fiddling with his keyboard; scratching away like a Chinese shopkeeper working out a problem on his abacus. His monitor lit up with graphs and more graphs.

"Look at this. This program never ceases to fuckin' amaze me. Check out the convergence of factors we got going here. xOMA'S stock price has been steadily declining in proportion to the federal money being pumped into the hospital." Sandoor's eyes gazed into the screen as if in a trance. The reflections of the red graphs jaggedly shined across his face like a cracked egg.

"Welcome to the mother load me hardies."

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