Posted November 27, 2021

The Brilliant Boy Billionaire

The Amazing Journey of a Remarkable Kid, by Altimexis

PART TEN – Franklin

Chapter 2: A Conversation with the Boss

As the family went about preparing a list of family and friends to notify of Jerry’s passing and the funeral, I, too, had a list to prepare. I assumed Juan or Lucinda Gonzalez would notify the Rodriguez family, back in Kansas City. If not, I would. Of course, I’d call Jitendra, and I expected Henry would want Franklin Walters to know. His parents, too. Not that I’d expect them to come to the funeral, but I’d want Greg and Billy to know. Greg, in particular, would understand what we were going through himself, having lost his own father to Covid-19.

Other than that, I couldn’t think of anyone else to tell. I barely knew my colleagues at Applazon in New York, and although I had friendships with colleagues and their families all over the world, some of them very close friendships, none of them had known Jerry, nor would they have any reason to attend his funeral. However, I realized as a courtesy I should probably still notify them that my foster father had passed away.

My first thought was to send out a general email to everyone at once, just to let them know, but that just seemed too impersonal under the circumstances. They might not have known Jerry, but most knew of him, and his death had been sudden and unexpected. I felt guilty for not having kept in touch and realized I needed to get into the habit of writing emails on a regular basis. Some might have felt comfortable merely posting the news of Jerry’s death to Facebook, but I’d never been big on using social media, and somehow, the medium seemed way too shallow for something like that. Writing each one a personal message, however, would take all day and then some, and I didn’t really have the time for it. What I decided to do was to write a lengthy, general message that would suffice for everyone. Although I usually tried to speak to my colleagues in their language, I’d write my email in English. I’d let them know of Jerry’s passing and explain what had been going on in my life, how I’d found true love with Henry and how we were moving to New York. When possible, I’d run it through Google Translate and then correct it to make it less stilted, more natural. For each of my colleagues, I’d then personalize the message with a brief note in their own language.

As I was well into writing about my plans with Henry, Fran arrived home with Juan and Lucinda Gonzalez on either side of her. They all looked like they’d been through hell, but Fran, in particular, seemed to be in shock, with an utterly blank look on her face. Of course, I hugged her as well as Juan and Lucinda, as did all the kids. Lucinda made sure Fran went to bed, while Juan grabbed the pot of coffee and poured himself a mug. He had reason to be in shock, too, as he’d just lost his brother.

While the family consoled each other, Rob and Celia started in on making their phone calls, and I resumed writing the general email to my colleagues. I then ran the note through Google Translate, generating versions in Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, German and Spanish. I didn’t bother with Tagalog, Hindi, Dutch, Swedish or Icelandic, as my colleagues in the associated countries, as well as those in Africa, would have felt insulted if I didn’t write them in English, as if their English wasn’t good enough for me. It was interesting how in some places, speaking in the native language was a sign of respect, but in others it was an insult.

With my base message translated and optimized in each language, I started personalizing a message for each colleague, addressing them by name and asking specifically about wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends and kids. I started with the Far East, as it was already getting to be evening there. My first emails were to my colleagues in Japan, where I’d spent the most time during my two years of traveling and had made the closest friendships. It was as I was moving on to writing my colleagues in South Korea that my phone rang. The call was from one of my colleagues in Japan. It felt good to speak Japanese again and to hear his voice, but I was shocked when he insisted on knowing when the funeral would be so he and my other colleagues from Japan could attend. I assured him that there was no need for them to travel six-thousand miles to attend the funeral of a man they didn’t know. However, he insisted that it was only proper to pay his respects to the father of a close friend. I wondered if he was acting out of a Japanese sense of obligation. If so, it wasn’t up to me to discourage him from what he felt was proper, but I couldn’t help but feel that my colleagues’ sense of loyalty was misplaced.

Coming up behind me and placing an arm around me, Henry said, “I didn’t know you spoke Japanese.”

“I’ve always been good at learning languages, but it was always the written language I learned,” I explained. “It wasn’t until I started traveling that I learned how to speak the languages I already knew. The strange thing is that I emailed my colleagues in Japan more as a courtesy, but they insisted on coming to the funeral. I promised to email the information when it’s available. I suppose it’s out of a misplaced Japanese sense of obligation.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” Henry responded. “I think it’s more likely because you’re you.”

“What in the world do you mean by that?” I asked.

“I mean that you have an endearing personality,” Henry tried to explain. “It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with you. You’ve been through hell and back – I think they call that the haunting, hunted look – but you’ve persevered and become a better person because of it. That, and you’d do anything to help someone in need, as you did with me. That’s why people can’t help but love you.”

“Oh, come on,” I said. “You’re the one who’s lovable.”

“No way,” Henry replied, but I just pulled him in closer.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to sending out emails while it’s still the evening in Asia and Australia,” I added. “By the way, you should give Franklin a call. He’d want to know. His parents, too. They should be back from Scandinavia by now.”

“You think so?” Henry asked.

“I’d bet on it,” I answered. “I’ll forward his number if you don’t already have it.”

“I’m pretty sure I do,” Henry responded. “I’ll let you know if I don’t, but it’s way too early now.”

“You don’t think he’d be up at 5:30 AM?” I quipped as I gave him another squeeze. I couldn’t believe how much Henry’s love did for me. I thought I was in love before, and I was, but that was nothing compared to the way Henry affected me. I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

As Henry walked away, I got to work on contacting my colleagues in South Korea, Australia, Taiwan and then China. Our government restricted exports to China, so I wasn’t allowed to install the liquid-nitrogen-cooled servers there, even after they became available. Emailing China was always a bit creepy, as I knew the contents were parsed for sensitive information. Even though I knew my messages contained nothing that could be seen as subversive, critical or with military implications, I still felt violated. It was even worse when calling China, as I couldn’t help but think that someone was listening in on the conversation. Perhaps it was nothing more than my imagination running wild with me, but I was all too familiar with the Communist regime’s paranoia that was so evident when I lived there, if only briefly. At the least, computers were listening in on my conversation for key phrases, but then our government was guilty of that, too, as we’d learned from Eric Snowden.

Next came Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Turkey, Africa and Europe, where the lion’s share of my colleagues outside the U.S. were located. Lastly, I emailed my colleagues in South and Central America, in Mexico, the Caribbean and a few in Canada. About half of the messages resulted in prompt replies by email, with expressions of condolences. About a third were answered with a prompt text message, but a sizable portion of the remainder resulted in personal phone calls, usually with a request to attend the funeral. I was surprised that so many called and said they’d try to make the funeral if they could get away. Actually, I was shocked.

By then it was time to start calling my friends and colleagues in the U.S., starting with the East Coast. Again, I was shocked when Max and Gideon, our new next-door neighbors in New York, insisted on attending Jerry’s funeral. They barely knew us, but already they seemed like close friends. However, I would’ve been just as adamant in reverse, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Next, I called several of my colleagues from work in Manhattan. Grace Ingram, my immediate boss; Larry Cohen, my second in command, and Terri Simon all indicated that they would come for the funeral. We’d shared a very nice dinner together during my interview there, and I’d spent a bit of time with them during my recent visit. I was looking forward to seeing them again despite the circumstances.

It was as I was talking to Greg and Billy in Illinois, both of whom were intending to come for the funeral, that a call came in from a number I didn’t recognize in Seattle. It was a cell-phone number, however, so I assumed word had gotten from New York to Seattle of Jerry’s passing. I quickly wrapped things up with my friends in Springfield and answered the call.

“Hello, J.J., it’s Jeff,” the person on the other end of the call responded. Holy fuck? People like that didn’t make their own phone calls, let alone call someone like me on their personal cell phones.

“Mr. Barlow?” I asked.

“J.J., what did I tell you to call me?” he admonished me.

“Somehow it doesn’t seem appropriate for a teenager to address one of the richest men in the world, the executive director and founder of my company, by his first name.”

“Actually, after the divorce, I fell to something like fifteenth. Bill Gates was back on top for a bit until Elon Musk took the lead. We keep swapping places, but I’ll soon be on top for good.” I could almost hear the distaste in Jeff’s voice on uttering his rival’s name. “I know it’s all new to you, but on the list of the thousand richest people in the world, according to Forbes, you’re number 894. At least you were the last time I checked, but your share of the profits on your patents actually increased with each sale. At the rate at which we’re selling the new server design, and at which I’m donating them, you’ll reach the top 200 by year’s end, particularly now that we cut the price to $95 million, installed.”

“You cut the manufacturing costs that much?” I asked in surprise.

“We cut our costs to fifteen million,” he replied. “I have to credit Tim and his solid-state-physics group with that, but our financial guys tell me we’ll lose money if we cut the price any further as it’ll cannibalize our gen-one sales, and some people will wait for the next model to come out. Our engineers have a design on the drawing board that should increase throughput by a factor of four, by the way. By staggering the arrangement of the chips, we can double the number of interconnects.” Damn, I should have thought of that. Shit, with profits of maybe eighty million per unit sold, my share was on the order of twenty million each. I was earning a billion dollars for every fifty units, and we’d already sold hundreds of them. That rate wouldn’t continue indefinitely, but there was a good chance I’d reach the top tier in Forbes magazine in a few years. Holy fuck.

“We cut the price for your original model to twenty million, which is barely above cost, and it’s selling like hotcakes,” Jeff continued. “We’ll retire sales of gen-one as soon as gen-two, version 2, is ready for sale, and then gen-two, version 1, will take the gen-one’s place and at the same price. By then, we expect both gen-two versions to cost ten million or less to manufacture. Of course, we’ll charge more for v-2, which offers four times the throughput and half the latency, but even with a price tag of $60 million for a 160k-server unit, it will offer the lowest cost per gigabyte available today by an order of magnitude. Without the need for liquid-nitrogen cooling and with a failure rate that’s nearly zero, a single tech can manage an entire roomful of gen-two servers. Hence, both versions are a lot less expensive to maintain, and of course, the energy costs are negligible. Hell, they’re so much more efficient that we intend to upgrade all our data centers with the new units and their successors during the course of the next few years.” Holy fuck, even if Applazon bought them at cost, I’d earn billions of dollars from internal sales alone.

“I’m curious,” I asked. “With the success of my hardware designs, why did you ask me to go into A.I.?”

“Because the utility of machines as powerful as yours diminishes as capacity grows,” he explained. “Conventional programming methods developed for massively parallel computing are woefully inadequate when it comes to super­conducting quantum machines. The development of A.I. is inevitable. The only way I can ensure that it’s done the right way is to do it in house with a team of the smartest people I know. Our initial endeavors in A.I. were one big clusterfuck, and we seriously hurt some people’s lives. I think the criticism we received was unfair, but we learn from our mistakes. Because of that, I’ve come to accept that we needed to start anew with a team of engineers that was nowhere near Seattle. You can’t get much further away in the continental U.S. than New York. Of course, it needs to be run by the very smartest person I know, which is why you’re in charge.”

“My boyfriend’s even smarter than I am,” I responded.

“Smarter, I doubt,” he replied, “but I have it that he’s someone we’ll want in our organization. Computational mathematics bridges the gap between the theoretical and the real. We need people like Henry Gonzalez to tackle the intractable problems that have real implications for our survival. Speaking of which, our guys are just getting started in developing commercially viable products based on his Peltier engine,” he continued. “The patents will be in his name, but the stock transfers will be to your jointly owned company. That business by itself may be so large that we need to spin it off on its own as a separate entity within the corporate structure, in which case we’ll need to talk about you and your boyfriend’s role in it.” Whoa!

“Work on the motor has been much more problematic, as I’m sure Jitendra will tell you when he sees you,” Jeff continued. “At least with your latest design and Peltier cooling, it’ll work for racing now – at least we think think it will – but the efficiency isn’t high enough to make it a commercially viable product. There are huge losses due to heat. I’m not sure why that should happen in a super­conducting motor. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done. I know you think I’m in this to show up Elon Musk – well, that’s definitely part of it – but if we can build a super­conducting motor and make it cost-effective, it could provide the best solution yet to the climate crisis. If only we could reverse the motor and use it as a generator, we might be able to dramatically increase wind-power generation, but your use of the Hall effect pretty much precludes that —”

“Actually, you can use the motor design as a generator,” I interrupted. “We plan to use 100% regenerative braking in our race-car design, with a mechanical brake as an emergency backup. The trick is to prime the pump with an electric current first, setting up the Hall effect that will ultimately generate more power than it uses. There’s no reason that shouldn’t work in a wind turbine, with much greater power output than typical of a conventional generator design.” But then I suddenly had another thought and I continued, “On the other hand, the Seebeck effect might be an even better approach to wind power. When wind is forced to go around an obstruction such as a cylinder, there’ll be a temperature differential between the front and back sides of the cylinder. The front will be heated and the back cooled. Even if it’s only a few degrees, if the inside of the cylinder is a vacuum and we place super­conducting rods inside, the temperature difference will generate a current without the need for any moving parts.”

“You should discuss it with Jitendra when you see him,” he responded. “We have lots of wind in the Pacific Northwest, and we could easily mock up a prototype to check it out. We have a number of wind farms in Eastern Washington State, so it would be easy for us to build a small demonstration project based on the concept.” After a prolonged period of silence, as I was about to speak Jeff’s name to see if he was still there, he resumed, “You never cease to surprise me, J.J. I wouldn’t want you to change a thing you’re doing, but I fear that word will leak about the kid who’s going to save the world, and then every news operation on the planet’s going to want to know who this kid really is —”

“And my stolen identity will be exposed,” I said.

“The people who need to know already do,” Jeff added, “but we need to prepare for the inevitability that your secret may be discovered. We found your parents, by the way. I know you didn’t want us to pursue it, but we had to protect ourselves against the possibility, and if you’d like to meet them – and your brother – that can be arranged.”

“My brother!” I practically shouted.

“Yes, it turns out you have a thirteen-year-old brother who’s getting ready to go to college in a couple of years. Genius, it seems, runs in the family. However, there are some things in your background that could work in your favor when it comes to how the public views the issue of identity theft. In any case, we have feelers out to the Biden White House and may ask for a pardon or at least clemency in the national interest should you be exposed.”

When at first, I didn’t respond, Jeff called out to me, “J.J.?”

“Oh, sorry, Jeff,” I replied. “It’s just that this shit’s coming so fast at me. It’s like trying to thread a needle in the midst of an earthquake.”

“That sounds like an apt description,” Jeff commented with a chuckle.

“And now with my boyfriend’s father’s passing, well, everything’s changed,” I chimed in.

“Speaking of which, the reason I called was to express my sincere condolences for the passing of Henry’s father, whom I understand is like a father to you as well. Please pass my condolences on to the rest of the family. I regret that I won’t be able to attend the funeral, but Jitendra, Andy and Tim will be there, from what I understand.”

“Oh, my god, that’s incredible,” I responded. “As far as I’m concerned, you taking the time out of your busy schedule to call me is incredible enough. I appreciate it very much.”

“You aren’t the first teenage genius I’ve hired, but you’re definitely the least assuming,” he said. “I must say it’s refreshing to talk to someone who treats me with respect but who doesn’t feel the need to prostrate themselves in front of me and isn’t full of themselves, either. I hope you never change in that way, but in time you’ll appreciate that you’re one of the most valuable members of the organization. Of course, we’re on a first-name basis as we should be. I will always call you when there are major events in your life. If you and Henry ever decide to tie the knot, I’ll expect an invitation to the wedding. Likewise, you and Henry can expect invitations to major events in my life. You’ll be getting an invitation to my holiday party this year.”

“I don’t know what to say,”

“There’s nothing more to say,” he responded. “Just know that you and your family are in my thoughts. I know you were on vacation and have quite a bit more time left. Take as much time as you need, but please don’t take too much time. We need you in New York.”

Chuckling, I replied, “Yes sir. I’ll keep you and the organization apprised.”

After hanging up the phone, I was startled when Henry asked, “Was that who I think it was?” I hadn’t even realized Henry was there.

“If you’re referring to Jeff, which is what he expects me to call him, then the answer is yes,” I replied. “By the way, he wants to hire you as soon as you finish your Ph.D. He believes computational mathematics will play a huge role in the future of computing, in bridging the gap between the theoretical and the real.”

“He’s right, you know,” Henry said, “Not to mention solving fluid-dynamic and thermodynamic problems,” he added with a laugh. “I’m not sure if I want to work for Applazon, though. I’d always assumed I’d go into academics, but Applazon would be considerably better than working for the CIA, which is where a lot of the top people in my field end up.”

“He also said he expects an invitation to our wedding, and he put us on notice that we’d be getting invitations to his affairs, too, starting with this year’s holiday party,” I informed my boyfriend.

“Wow, you’ve made it to the big leagues,” Henry responded. “I wonder what one wears to one of his holiday parties. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a black-tie affair. Perhaps we’d each better buy a tux.” My eyes widened as I realized that that’s exactly what we needed to do. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Very,” I agreed. “I don’t even know where to go to buy a tux suitable for one of Jeff’s parties.”

“At least for now, we probably have the advantage as teenagers of buying something off the rack from one of the better men’s stores,” Henry suggested. “We’re still growing, after all, or at least I am. There are plenty of places in New York where we can go for one.”

“No doubt,” I agreed, “and that’s not the half of it. The real bombshell Jeff told me about was that he hired investigators to track down my family, and he found them.”

“Really!” Henry exclaimed.

“Yeah, it seems I have a mother and father somewhere, as well as a thirteen-year-old brother who’ll be starting college in a couple of years.”

“That sounds vaguely familiar,” Henry said.

“Yeah, but the reason he even brought it up is because he expects the secret of my identity theft is bound to come out given the visibility I’ll get from being the kid who’s gonna save the world. Those are his words, not mine, by the way.”

“He’s probably right, but, fuck, that could sure mess things up,” Henry responded.

“Apparently they’ve already been in touch with the White House about a pardon or clemency should it be necessary,” I said.

“I guess that explains your comment about threading a needle in an earthquake,” Henry quipped. I hadn’t realized he’d been listening. Looking around and noticing that Juan, Rob and Sam were nowhere in sight, I asked Henry if he knew where they were.

“They’re at the funeral home making arrangements,” Henry replied. “It’s a bit more complicated than you might have thought because it’s a military funeral, and we have to use a mortuary with a government contract. Dad has the option of being buried in Arlington Cemetery, but Mom doesn’t. We talked it over, my brothers, my sisters and I, and we decided to make the decision for her. We don’t want her to feel constrained when we know she’d want to be buried by his side.”

“Is there a date yet for the funeral?” I asked.

“The autopsy will be completed on Wednesday, and the body should be released on Thursday. We don’t expect any delays there since there’s no suspicion of foul play. Because so many people have to journey from so far, we’re delaying the wake until Friday evening. It’ll be a traditional Mexican wake and not an Irish one. The wake would be held in the home, but that’s not legal here, so it will be held at the funeral home with visitation, viewing and votive candles. There will need to be a display of photos of Dad’s life and possibly a continuous slide show with video of scenes from his life.

“The funeral will be Saturday morning at Saint Mary’s, which is where my family has attended services since we moved here. They are familiar with military funerals, too, being so close to Offutt. The burial will follow at Calvary Cemetery and includes a traditional Catholic graveside service. Normally we’d have visitation and lunch back at the house, but I’m not sure we have enough room for that.”

“We have a large back yard,” I pointed out. “What if we set up a tent and have it catered?”

“And you’re gonna pay for that?” Henry asked, but before I could reply, he held up his hand. “I know you feel this is your family, as do we, but you can’t take on the full cost by yourself.”

I countered, “Yes, I can. After all your family has done for me, it would be wrong for me not to help with the expenses. A number of the attendees will be here because of me. If it would make you feel better, you can pay for the funeral itself, and I’ll pay for everything else, including hotel expenses for those coming in from out of town. I’ll reserve a block of rooms. And of course, I’ll pay for a tent and caterers.”

Nodding his head, Henry agreed, “I think the family will go for that, but let’s at least split the hotel bill.”

Shaking my head, I replied, “Let’s make it easy, and I’ll take care of it. You’ll have enough to pay for with such a large funeral.”

“I’ve no idea how much that’ll cost,” Henry replied.

“Well into five figures,” I said. “You should check with the Air Force, though. They may cover some of it.”

“Yeah, Rob is taking care of that, I think,” Henry responded. Then yawning fiercely, he added, “I’m gonna go crash for a bit. Wanna join me?”

“Long as it’s only for sleep, I’d love to,” I replied. Unfortunately, our sleep kept getting interrupted by messages and phone calls, and there was still much to do, including notifying everyone who intended to come when and where the funeral would be, to reserve a block of rooms for them and to make arrangements for a tent and caterers. And Henry and I needed to make a trip to Joseph A. Bank for suits and a new wardrobe.

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The events of the next week took on a life of their own as Henry and I proceeded through the motions as if on autopilot. It turned out the military took care of the bulk of the funeral expenses and even provided on-base lodging for out-of-town military guests. With so little left to cover, the Gonzalez family took care of the cost of the tent and caterer, leaving me to cover only the cost of lodging for my out-of-town guests. Surprisingly, nearly sixty colleagues and friends came, some of them with their families. I put them up in a block of rooms in the Holiday Inn and Suites in Council Bluffs, located between the Ameristar Hotel and Casino and the Hampton Inn. It was a convenient location with regular shuttle service to and from the airport and with easy access to both downtown Omaha and to area attractions as well as to Bellevue. The Holiday inn was by far the classiest of the casino hotels and quite a bit nicer than most of the hotels in Bellevue itself. I made sure all the rooms had a river view, and everyone seemed pleased with the place.

Henry and I spent an entire afternoon at Joseph A. Bank getting outfitted for the funeral and associated events. We essentially bought an all-new wardrobe as well as our first thousand-dollar suits. The tailor was an old crotchety guy who definitely seemed to bat for our team. Henry actually flirted a bit with him, and perhaps I did, too, which seemed to delight the guy. He certainly was meticulous in making his measurements. When he was done, he actually said, “I want to thank the two of you for making my afternoon such a delight.” Then sighing, he added, “If only we’d had it so easy in our day. I realize coming out is still a big deal, but in my day, it was considered suicide, often literally. I was but a young man when Stonewall happened, and that was in New York. It might as well have been on Mars for as much relevance as it had here in Omaha.”

“Did your parents know?” Henry asked.

“I think they always knew,” he answered, “and they certainly knew my partner was more than just my roommate, but such things just weren’t talked about back then.”

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Henry and Hillary put together a video ‘slide show’ of Jerry’s life, and I thought it was as professional as any production I’d seen. The wake was certainly different from what I was used to, with an open casket and touches that were not only Catholic but distinctly Mexican. The funeral service was very traditional and quite beautiful. A lot of top Air Force brass were in attendance. A military eulogy was delivered by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force himself. Naturally Juan Gonzalez gave the family eulogy, but I was flabbergasted when the Gonzalez children unanimously voted for me to deliver a eulogy from the Gonzalez children.

As the funeral service proceeded, I became increasingly nervous as the time grew near for me to speak. I’d recently spoken to one of the richest and most powerful men on earth, and I took that all in stride. Yet here I was, about to speak in front of friends and family about the man who threw me a lifeline when I needed it the most.

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.