Posted July 10, 2021

The Brilliant Boy Billionaire

The Amazing Journey of a Remarkable Kid, by Altimexis

PART FOUR – The Executive Suite

J.J.’s Red Tesla Model 3

Chapter 1: Corporate Calculus

Nearly two months had passed since I’d sent the new, server-design idea to corporate headquarters via Mr. Winters into what I’d presumed would be a black hole from which it would never emerge. In the interim, I’d started rewriting the code for the web interface we used to manage the data center, but that had come to a halt while I worked on completing the math and comp-sci qualifying exams. I’d been hired to do web design but had yet to be given a project even though I was being paid more than any other data-center technicians. With all the time I’d spent on the QEs, I’d completely forgotten about all of those things and was merely going about my daily tasks of maintaining servers, working on the exam components during the occasional periods of downtime.

Thus, I was completely unprepared for what happened on the Friday Henry and Darren were planning to have their sleepover. I was at work, as usual, literally in the process of troubleshooting a server that wasn’t performing as expected. It was evident that data were being dropped intermittently, causing data requests to be repeated and dramatically slowing performance. I’d already pulled the server from the rack and replaced it, but the diagnostics failed to reveal anything wrong with any of the server components. On a hunch, I measured the interconnect capacitance, suspicious of a bad solder joint on one of them. If I was wrong the server would be scrapped, components and all, at a cost of thousands of dollars. If I was right, a few seconds with a soldering iron would fix the problem, easily justifying the cost of my time.

It was approaching the lunch hour and I’d already heard from Rob that he would be picking up lunch at Panera Bread. I asked him to pick up a Sierra Turkey with chips for me. I loved Panera’s Sierra Turkey sandwich and hoped they never discontinued it. I was hungry but still focused on the task at hand and pumped my fist when I measured a discrepancy that could only come from a bad solder joint. I quickly located which one and was in the process of applying my soldering iron to the affected joint when Mr. Winters called out, “Mr. Jeffries!” I was so focused on my task that I was startled by hearing my name and nearly burned my hand and started to drop the soldering iron, but I caught myself. At least, I’d finished my task.

I looked up to see that Mr. Winters had two men with him, and all three were in semi-formal dress: suits and ties. One of them in fact had a face I recognized from reading the regular bulletins online that came out of Seattle. He was one of the executives, but other than seeing his face next to an occasional column on the business end of Applazon Cloud Resources, I didn’t know anything more. I wracked my brain to try to remember his name and then it came to me. “Mr. Jenkins? To what do I owe this pleasure?” I asked.

He seemed genuinely surprised and pleased that I’d recognized him, having never actually met him before.

“J.J. ,” Mr. Jenkins responded. “The pleasure’s all mine. Please call me Andy. I’d be offended if you call me anything else – and particularly Mr. Jenkins,” he added as he shook my hand. How interesting. Here was a distinguished-looking white guy with brown hair that was greying at the temples, vivid green eyes and glasses with designer rims, and he was addressing a sixteen-year-old kid who looked more like he was twelve or thirteen and was, in fact, fourteen. I was wearing a plain white t-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers, had a blond buzz cut that was very popular in Nebraska, especially around Offutt Air Force Base. I could have been any kid off the street, and here one of the top executives at Applazon was telling me to call him by his first name and was presumptuous enough to call me by mine.

“Please allow me to introduce my colleague,” he continued, “Dr. Jitendra Moorthy, our chief engineer in charge of ACR. Please feel free to call him Jeff as we all do,” he added as I shook Dr. Moorthy’s hand. Dr. Moorthy was quite clearly dressed in a designer suit, whereas Mr. Jenkins wore a custom-made suit. I’d never seen anything like it before. Dr. Moorthy was a round-faced, black-haired, brown-eyed gentleman with the dark complexion of a man from India. He had not a speck of grey hair although I strongly suspected he wasn’t that much younger than Mr. Jenkins, and he also wore glasses that although attractive, did not include designer frames. His smile appeared to be genuine, and I took a liking to him right away.

Smiling back at Dr. Moorthy, I responded, “Dr. Moorthy, although your colleagues may call you Jeff, I am only sixteen and at the start of my career. I cannot bring myself to call you anything other than Dr. Moorthy out of respect.”

“That is very kind of you,” Dr. Moorthy replied in a southern Indian accent, confirming my suspicion that he was an immigrant. Offering my respect was definitely the right thing to do. In fact, the use of an Americanized first name was blatantly disrespectful and condescending on the part of Mr. Jenkins. I was going to have to tread lightly.

“The same goes for you, Mr. Jenkins,” I added, catching myself in what could’ve been a major gaffe. “Again, to what do I owe this pleasure?”

“Rather than discuss it here, let’s go someplace where we can talk at our leisure,” Mr. Jenkins suggested. “We have a reservation for lunch at the Field Club of Omaha, where, of course, we have a corporate membership. I think we’ll all be more comfortable discussing the reason for our visit over lunch at Omaha’s finest private club.”

“Um, I’m not exactly dressed for lunch at a private club,” I pointed out.

“Not to worry,” Mr. Jenkins replied. “It’s a golf club, and dress is very casual. Besides which, we’ll have a private room.”

“Okay —” I responded. “Is there something you’d like me to bring with me to lunch? Is there something I should be prepared to discuss?”

“Just yourself, J.J.,” Mr. Jenkins answered. “We’ll be joining Tim Cooper, who flew in from San Jose.” Whoa! Tim Cooper was nearly as well-known as Jeff Barlow himself, having taken over Applazon’s consumer-electronics division after the passing of its charismatic founder, who was one of the true pioneers in personal computing. Cooper had a distinguished career in his own right but was best known as the first openly gay chief executive of a major division of a Fortune 500 company. The consumer-electronics division of Applazon, like ACR, would be a Fortune 500 company in its own right if it were a separate company. I was gonna have lunch with two or possibly three of the richest people in the world.

“I’m going to leave you now, J.J.,” Mr. Winters interjected. “I won’t be going to lunch with you. I’ll leave you in these gentlemen’s competent hands.” So, he was leaving me to fend for myself against the wolves.

“In that case, until the next time,” I replied. As we walked out the front door of the data center, we were approached by Rob, who was bringing me my lunch. He took one look at me and who I was with, and, rather than say anything, we both nodded at each other. Rob continued into the building, clearly aware something was up. He’d probably give my sandwich to one of my colleagues.

Directly across from the front door, actually blocking the way into the parking lot, was a black stretch limo. I’d never actually seen one until I lived in Kansas City, and I’d certainly never ridden in one. The driver, or perhaps he was more properly called a chauffeur, held the door open for us, and Mr. Jenkins motioned for me to lead the way inside. This was such a step up from Dad’s rusty old Ford pickup truck back in Indiana, it wasn’t even funny.

There was a single seat inside that wrapped around the interior, so I grabbed a spot directly across from the door. In retrospect, that was probably the worst spot, ’cause it meant Mr. Jenkins and Dr. Moorthy had to step around me, but there was plenty of room for them to do so. I didn’t see any seatbelts inside, so I just accepted that the driver would be careful. Once we were seated, the driver closed the door and then got in up front and slowly drove away. We entered nearby Interstate 80 and took it almost right to downtown. As soon as we were underway, Mr. Jenkins began what I guess you’d call polite conversation by asking, “Do you play golf, J.J.?”

“There weren’t any golf courses near where I grew up,” I replied, “so I never had the chance to learn how. I’m afraid I wasn’t very athletic to begin with, preferring to spend all my time in the library. On the other hand, that was how I managed to skip middle school entirely. However, I wouldn’t recommend doing that, even to my worst enemies.”

“You would’ve been, what, twelve when you started high school?” Mr. Jenkins asked.

“Eleven,” I replied. “You can imagine how welcome the fourteen-year-old freshmen made me feel. It didn’t help that I always looked young for my age. Even now, in spite of my freakish height, I look more like thirteen than sixteen. Indeed, my voice finally changed just over a month ago.”

“How tall are you, J.J.?” Mr. Jenkins asked.

“As of the last time I checked, six-foot two inches and still growing,” I answered. I was significantly taller than the other men, but still skinny as a rail, as Mamá used to say.

We exited the interstate just before getting to downtown and within a few blocks pulled into the entrance of a very-nice-looking complex of buildings and what appeared to be a very large outdoor pool. To the side and behind the buildings was a golf course. A sign proclaimed this was the Field Club of Omaha. The chauffeur drove right up to an impressive front entrance and again held the door open for us as we exited the limo.

Just as we were about to enter the facility, a couple of boys walked across our path right in front of us. One of the boys was perhaps sixteen or seventeen and dressed in what was probably a groundskeeper’s uniform, and the other boy appeared to be maybe twelve, if that, and was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. It was still a bit chilly for shorts, but preteen boys aren’t known for dressing sensibly.

What affected me wasn’t how they dressed or that they nearly bumped into us. What affected me was how they talked and what they said. The older boy was practically shouting at the younger one, who was in tears, saying, “Ya can’t cut school ta go swimmin’, Clark. Ya can’t cut school at all. Ma and Pa are gonna tan yer hide. The pool ain’t even open yet. An jist ’cause I work here don’t mean ya kin swim here. Now, I hasta take ya home an I’m gonna git all kinda shit from ma boss. Ma an’ Pa are gonna be so fuckin’ pissed at both a’ us —”

The conversation really affected me more than I thought it would. Although the accent was different than in Southern Indiana and the language much cruder than anything I’d have ever used, it reminded me so much of how I talked just a few months ago. I always talked the way people around me talked. The difference between myself and the rural Nebraska boys, or perhaps they were Iowa boys, who crossed our path was that I was well-read and educated, and I knew what proper English was supposed to sound like. Ever since moving in with the Gonzalez’s, I’d only been exposed to American Standard English. Every trace of my rural accent had disappeared, and now I spoke like a regular city boy and a college-educated one at that. I needed to be careful not to forget my rural, small-town roots.

Once inside, we walked down a long entryway until we reached a reception desk. I could see a very attractive dining room ahead of us, but before we even had a chance to approach it, we were met by a very tall woman in an emerald-green dress who greeted Mr. Jenkins by name and introduced herself as Valerie, escorting us in a different direction. She was nearly as tall as I was, which was unusually tall for a woman. She took us in a sort of roundabout way to a separate room off of a side corridor. Mr. Cooper was waiting for us inside, and I was immediately introduced to him.

The room faced the golf course with a wall that was entirely glass. From the direction of the shadows, I could tell that we were facing north, which meant that the sun probably never shone into the room, yet the view was always of a sunny, grassy landscape, provided the sun was shining. That certainly wasn’t a given in Omaha, which enjoyed less than 40% of available sunshine. Today, at least, it was sunny, and the view was inviting. I noticed that a row of hedges kept anyone from walking up to the window from the outside. I wondered if perhaps the window was also mirrored on the outside to further thwart spies, but then I had a thought: “I see that the window has been placed so as to prevent anyone from looking in, but couldn’t an industrial spy listen in on our conversation using a laser microphone?”

“You’ve been watching too many James Bond movies, J.J.,” Mr. Cooper said. Actually, I’d never even seen one before, but the technique of using a laser beam reflected from a window to listen in on a conversation was a frequent trick used in a number of detective novels. “There’s a ribbon speaker built into the window frame, all around the frame,” he continued. “We use the same noise-cancellation technology that powers our headphones to block transmission of sound through the window. That reduces the transmission of sound by 80 db, but that’s still not zero, so we add a jamming signal in the form of a white-noise generator. If you place your ear near the glass, you can actually hear a hissing noise. Finally, we added an optical matching layer to the outside of the glass which reflects incoherent light and admits common monochromatic laser wavelengths, preventing laser beams from being reflected back to the sender. We actually developed the technology.”

“Very interesting. Very clever,” I responded.

“Could I interest you gentlemen in something to drink?” Valerie asked. I guess she was gonna be our server.

“I’ll have a martini, shaken, not stirred, and generous on the vermouth, please,” Mr. Jenkins answered.

“A tonic with lime for me,” Mr. Cooper added, and I remembered that it was well-known that he didn’t drink alcoholic beverages.

“A glass of white wine will suffice for me, please,” Dr. Moorthy chimed in.

Obviously, I couldn’t order anything alcoholic at my age, nor did I particularly wish to. An ice-cold beer at a family picnic was one thing, but this was a business meeting. Even if I could have a drink, instinctively I knew I needed to be on my toes and unimpeded. Otherwise, my ‘friends’ would run roughshod over me. Years of being bullied had taught me that. “I’ll have a Schweppes bitter lemon with an ounce of lime juice, a dash of salt and a twist of lime, please,” I responded.

“What happens here is private, J.J.,” Mr. Jenkins said. “As far as anyone is concerned, we’re all adults, and no one will think any less of you if you’d like to have a drink. If you wish, they’ll be happy to serve your drink with the addition of gin, rum or vodka, or you could have beer or wine instead.”

As curious as I was to try hard liquor, I needed to keep my wits about me, and so I replied, “So long as no one will think any less of me for declining to drink alcohol when offered, I think I’d rather pass.”

“Fair enough,” Mr. Jenkins responded.

“Do you have any food allergies we should know about or food preferences, Mr. Jeffries,” Valerie asked.

“Food preferences?” I wondered aloud.

“Are there any foods you don’t eat, such as pork, red meat, all meat, fish or anything else?” she explained.

Trying to inject humor, I replied, “With the way Applazon is trying to project its concern for the environment, I suppose we should all become vegetarians or even vegans, but around here, that would be sacrilege. Nebraskan’s love their… beef.” I’d almost said, ‘meat’, which would’ve been incredibly embarrassing, but I managed a last minute save on that one. I needed to be very careful when it came to humor. “I’ll eat anything,” I concluded.

“Very well, gentlemen, I’ll be back shortly with your drinks,” she said and then retreated.

“You really ought to take up playing golf, J.J.,” Mr. Jenkins suggested. “In business, it’s a useful skill, as a lunch like this is often followed by a round of golf. This club has a nice course, but an old one. The nice thing is, it’s right in the heart of the city. There are some world-class golf courses in and around Omaha. Golf’s a bit of an obsession here.”

“It’s difficult to play golf when you’re not athletic and don’t know how,” I replied.

“Not everyone likes to play golf, Andy,” Mr. Cooper chimed in.

“However, we’d be happy to set you up with a personal golf trainer, J.J. As I mentioned, we have a corporate membership at this club, and the cost to us would be nominal for private lessons,” Mr. Jenkins suggested.

Laughing, I replied. “I don’t even have a driver’s license yet, let alone a car. I’ll be taking Driver’s Ed in a few weeks, and perhaps by next season, I might actually have a way to get to golf lessons. However, I doubt I’ll ever be a businessman. That’s why we need people like you two. Not to toot my horn, and the term is society’s term and not mine, but someone has to be the creative genius so that the businessmen can turn it into something practical and profitable.”

“Very well put, J.J.,” Mr. Jenkins answered. “With your interests, it’s far more likely you’ll end up in a place where golf isn’t as viable a pastime, such as Seattle, Cupertino, New York or D.C… Not that it’s stopped us from playing, unless you’re wedded to staying in Omaha.”

“Not at all,” I replied. “I only ended up here by happenstance, but I’m happy, and I have an adopted family here. I expect that sooner or later, I’ll indeed end up in a place like Seattle, San Francisco, San Antonio, Boston, New York or D.C.” From his composure, I gathered that Mr. Jenkins had gotten the point of the cities I’d listed. I’d made it clear that I was thinking larger than just Applazon. As his frown deepened, however, I decided I’d better dial it back a bit, and so I added, “Of course I’m more likely to end up in Seattle, Cupertino, New York or D.C., given the opportunity Applazon has given me.” His smile returned.

At that moment, Valerie arrived with our drinks, so we started sipping them but remained standing. “So J.J.,” Mr. Jenkins began, “you’re a bit of a mystery to us. You’re sixteen, but your family left Wyoming when you were an infant, and then you seemed to disappear. There’s a record of your having lived in Iowa, but the boy who lived there with his parents and sister was in special education, and then they all were killed in a car accident, so obviously that wasn’t you. Some clerk in Social Security must have crossed the records between your family and the one in Iowa, which had the same last name.” Special education? Damn, I really fucked up on that one. I guess I shoulda checked into J.J.’s school records before using his identity.

“So, we know you were born in Wyoming and then you suddenly showed up in Kansas City, but we have no idea what happened to you in between,” Mr. Cooper continued. “We’re all curious to know your story.”

Swallowing hard, but not so as to be obvious, I needed to avoid catching myself in a lie or introducing discrepancies from what I’d told the Rodriguez family. However, I needed to avoid connecting myself to the kid who escaped from the Hilltop School or anything that happened before. “My mother died in childbirth. I once heard my father talking to someone else, and he told them she’d had a placental abruption and that the hospital screwed up, but he couldn’t prove it. If that was the case, I’m very lucky to be here.

“Until recently, I didn’t even know I was born in Wyoming. I grew up in a small town in Southern Indiana, where I lived with my Dad until he found out I was gay and threw me out of the house. Up until then, we lived together in a tiny shack in the middle of nowhere and lived off of the money we got from painting houses and various odd jobs. It wasn’t until I was older that I figured out we were squatters and that we didn’t pay any taxes. We also got food stamps and public assistance, so Dad was using some creative financing. I think we were filching electricity and cable, too.”

Even as I said it, I realized I’d made a grave error in telling them that I grew up in Indiana. I wanted to be consistent with what I’d told Papi, Mamá and Steve, but they would have supported me in whatever I told someone else. They’d said as much. There was no taking back what I’d just said, and I only hoped Applazon didn’t try to track down my school records from North Vernon. They’d already hired an investigator – that much was evident – and if they turned their investigator loose to look for a young teen who lived in a small town and who skipped middle school, I was royally screwed.

Valerie returned, bringing a large platter under a metal top. She placed the platter on a separate, freestanding table off to the side and removed the top to reveal a pile of long, thin, fried stuff along with fried rings. I had no idea what it was, but it smelled wonderful. In the center of the platter was a bowl filled with some sort of red sauce. It looked too thick to be salsa, but too orange to be ketchup. She placed a stack of small plates next to the platter, along with spoons, forks and napkins. She placed a serving spoon in the red sauce and a serving fork on the platter and left.

“I hear the calamari here is excellent,” Mr. Jenkins said as he used the serving fork to scoop up a mound of the fried stuff onto one of the small plates and then spooned a dollop of the red sauce to the side of it. Calamari? Wasn’t that squid or something? When I scooped a portion onto my own plate, I could see tentacles. Yuck! I watched as the Applazon execs dipped the calamari into the sauce and ate it, so I did likewise. Actually, it turned out it was delicious.

I continued, “My dad was abusive, and I’d rather not go into the details. From early on, I made it a point to spend as much time as I could at the public library, particularly when I was eight and got my first bike. Even then, I realized I’d already learned the things they taught in school, but I did my best to fit in. Then my fifth-grade teacher tricked me and gave me the achievement test for eighth graders in place of the one I was supposed to take. Overnight I skipped from fifth grade to ninth. You can imagine how welcome I was made to feel as a high school freshman at the age of eleven.

“I don’t think I could’ve done that,” Dr. Moorthy commented.

“It wasn’t like I had a choice,” I replied. “Life was hell at home, and it became hell at school, so again I retreated to the library – this time the school library – and read like crazy, especially stuff on math and science online, but I also studied things like American, English, Spanish, French and German literature in their native languages —”

“Sprichst du Deutsch?” Mr. Jenkins interrupted.

Rather than embarrass myself, I answered, “Let me just say that I understand spoken German, but I only learned to read and write the languages and not to speak them. I’m entirely self-taught and for my college degree, I’ll still have to take foreign-language courses.

“Starting when I was twelve, I earned some spending money by tutoring middle-school students. One of the librarians arranged it, and it paid well. I didn’t want my father to find out about it, so I figured out how to use Applazon gift cards to launder my earnings. I purchased them at a convenience store with cash and moved the funds around online. I didn’t even need an Applazon account to do that.”

“I had no idea such a thing was possible,” Mr. Jenkins observed.

“Applazon was the only gift card that I could use as if it were cash yet was secure, or so I thought,” I replied.

“What do you mean by you thought,” Dr. Moorthy asked.

“I memorized the serial numbers and PINs, so even if the cards were stolen, I could still get my cash. Unfortunately, I found out after all my belongings were stolen that when Applazon gift cards end up in the hands of the police, they’re reported to Applazon as stolen, and then Applazon invalidates them.”

Valerie returned with another tray. She moved the leftover calamari to the side and added a bowl with greens and serving utensils, as well as multiple small pitchers with what I presumed to be different salad dressings. She set down a small stack of somewhat larger, fancy frosted glass plates and then left.

“Gentlemen, why don’t we sit down?” Mr. Cooper suggested.

We set our calamari plates down on a round tray on a stand, and each grabbed one of the glass plates, which were actually cold. I spooned some greens onto the plate, followed by a creamy white dressing with black flecks in it. We then headed to a square table in the center of the room that was set with four places. I ended up sitting across from Jitendra Moorthy, with Andy Jenkins on my left and Tim Cooper on my right. When I tasted the salad, it tasted peppery, so I figured the dressing was some sort of a pepper or maybe peppercorn dressing.

As I started in on my salad, Mr. Jenkins continued, “We’d like to get to know you better, J.J. Let’s get back to your story.”

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope and vwl-rec in editing my stories, as well as Awesome Dude and Gay Authors for hosting them.

Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is unintentional. Although it takes place in actual locations, in no way are any official policies, opinions or events inferred. Some characters may be underage and at times engage in homosexual acts. Anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of material where they live. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication in any form.