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Chapter 4: “You know I’m not afraid of a little collateral damage”

March 20, 2014

The A6 hovered over the salt-covered pavement, virtually silent on the noisy Detroit Street. The four intersecting circles on the car’s grill gleamed, contrasting the dull grey exterior that blended into the matching overcast skies. Roger Roth rotated the wheel smoothly and pulled into the snowy parking lot of the Woodward Avenue coffee shop. He’d started the day off well and was only three houses away from his goal.

 

His last meeting had been tougher than expected. That kid was stupid to not take the deal. Roth had seen the bank statements. The house was about six months away from foreclosure. For the life of him, he didn’t understand why these people held onto the property as if they ever actually owned the land. They were likely one generation out of the projects and they took pride in being homeowners, but Roth knew their general mentality hadn’t changed. That’s why it baffled him that these people weren’t jumping on these deals. After all, they wanted a handout, and that’s what he was offering. Some of them had never seen as much money as Strigiform was offering in their entire lives! The company was counting on acquiring this last neighborhood block so they could begin stage three of Project Omega, and they had received much more resistance than anticipated.

Roth had been brought in to close the deal. Though now he was technically an executive at Strigiform, he had begun his career as an acquisition specialist in the early days of the company. Back then, most of his colleagues were tree-hugging environmentalists with dreams of feeding the poor more nutritious food from local farms. He feigned excitement at company events when the founders celebrated the number of people they fed or the new land they converted from an eyesore to an opportunity. But to a young Roth, it was a paycheck and a way to use his commercial real estate experience to make a little money in a down economy.

 

When the Fox Investing Group showed interest in converting the small operation into a major corporate profit center, Roger saw an opportunity to make his mark. He excelled in the more aggressive culture of the new Strigiform, using his bare-knuckled approach to negotiations to acquire the rights to more land throughout the metro area. Initially, he was unsure why the company had adopted a hyper growth strategy, but as long as his bonuses kept growing, he was happy to deliver results.

 

After ten years, Roth was quite wealthy and highly regarded at the company. Then, one day, he got tapped on the shoulder and was ushered into the CEO's office. The meeting changed his life and opened his eyes to the big picture at Strigiform. He was chosen to lead Project Omega, a top secret operation that was sure to take the company to the next level and make Roger a rich man. The potential rewards were high, but there was a lot on the line, and Roth was the man to deliver. At this level within the organization, failure could be catastrophic. Since failure wasn't an option for him, refusal wasn't an option for homeowners.

 

The bold aroma of the rich coffee beans greeted Roger as he entered the small, Italian-themed shop. There were few people in the quaint building and that was one of the things Roger liked. He ordered his usual Turkish coffee from a young blonde who was way too pretty to be serving beverages. As she poured the ground coffee into the cezve, he felt his pocket vibrate and quickly retrieved his mobile.

 

“Roger Roth,” he answered. A familiar voice greeted him on the other end.  Roth smiled and nodded confidently. “Yes . . . yes, sir, things are going as planned. Did they run the soil samples? Good, good. I should be wrapping things up here in the next couple weeks at most. Yes, sir. You know I’m not afraid of a little collateral damage.”

 

***

 

Sonny slumped against the cold brick of the interior wall of the coffee shop, the brim of his cap slanted low and crooked, concealing his eyes. To onlookers, he was just another bum who’d scrounged up a couple dollars for a coffee and settled in for a mid-day nap, protected from the icy winter air. However, Sonny had selected a seat that allowed him to view the whole store without changing his angle. As usual, his mark arrived like clockwork. For the life of him, Sonny could not understand why people were so habitual. They did not know that having a predictable pattern could lead to death. He used people’s natural habits to his advantage.

 

Sonny watched the mark enter the store and order coffee from the attractive girl behind the counter. She glanced up at the man with longing eyes as he passed the bills across the counter, but the mark was too engulfed in his phone conversation to notice her gaze. The man cast a disgusted look in Sonny’s direction, then sat two booths away and continued his conversation.

 

Sonny strained to hear fragments of the phone conversation as the man spoke in hushed, intense, tones. At one point, his neck burned hot red, but his voice did not betray his emotion. After ten minutes, the conversation ended abruptly and the man slipped the smart phone back into his pocket. He quickly gathered his briefcase and hurried out of the shop.

 

Sonny waited a few minutes to ensure the man wasn't returning, then stood up and headed to the recently vacated booth. He inconspicuously reached under the table, retrieved the recording device and pressed STOP.

 

 

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