It was twelve hours to midnight. Nobody had ever closed a mark in twelve hours for the very simple reason that it couldn’t be done. But Adam Sampson was going to do it. At least that’s what he told himself as he strode up the bluestone stairs that led off Swanston Street and towards the coffee shop.
It was a Starbucks that was set well back from the street. The midday sun faded and was replaced by the harsh fluorescent light that filled the cavernous space and bounced off exposed concrete as he entered from the alleyway. His eyes slowly adjusted as he walked over and took the usual seat on the far wall.
The main advantage of meeting in a Starbucks was that you didn’t need to buy coffee. You didn’t need to buy anything. No cashier on minimum wage was going to take the trouble to kick out freeloaders. For that reason, there were usually a few undesirables around but they didn’t cause much trouble and were far outnumbered by paying customers.
The disadvantage of Starbucks was that there weren’t many left in Melbourne. The locals wouldn’t touch the stuff. The stores that remained were filled mostly by international students and their visiting relatives. Occasionally an American tourist would come in. They were easily identifiable by the volume of their speech. There was one at the counter right now. He was having trouble understanding the cashier who was a young girl speaking with a heavy Indian accent.
Adam’s mentor was an American. Not his direct mentor or even the mentor above that. The top guy. The head honcho. He’d never met him personally but late last year at a syndicate meeting they had him on video conference up on the big screen. He was from India originally but he spoke in a big, broad American accent. Part of the prize for this year’s sales winner was a trip to New York for the international conference and the chance to meet the man himself. In a world that was all about contacts, that was the best contact you could have.
Adam checked his watch; a fake Rolex he’d picked up in Thailand. It was two minutes to twelve. He looked around the room but there was no sign of him. He should have been here ten minutes ago. He should have been here before Adam. Any protégé should know that. You don’t keep the boss waiting.
Adam pulled out his phone and was about to call when he saw Cameron come through the door. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Why was he wearing jeans and a t-shirt?
“Hey, man,” said Cameron as he sat down beside Adam in the booth.
“You’re late and you’re not dressed properly,” said Adam.
“Yeah, I wanted to…”
“Don’t worry,” said Adam waving his hand to dismiss Cameron’s excuses. “How did you go with that lead?”
“She’s a filcher.”
In the argot of The Golden Vertex, a filcher is a time waster. A lonely person who just wants somebody to talk to.
“Just cos she’s a filcher doesn’t mean we can’t convert her.”
“Nah. She doesn’t have any money.”
“That not necessarily a problem. I’ve told you we can set up lines of credit. It’s the latest product from the syndicate. Remember? You were there when Singh announced it a couple of months ago.”
“Doesn’t matter. She lives in a home. All the groceries are ordered for her.”
Adam sank back in his chair. There weren’t many deal breakers in this field but that was one. He’d tried it in the past, of course. No harm in trying. But it was a huge waste of time involving powers of attorney and all kinds of crap that you didn’t want to know about.
“We need another mark,” he said more to himself than to Cameron.
“I guess we’re out of time.”
Adam gave Cameron a wack on the arm and stood up. He smiled and waved to the middle-aged man who had just walked in. Neil Mitchell. He was tall, lanky and clumsy. His gait reminded Adam of a mildly drunk giraffe. Adam had never seen a mildly drunk giraffe but he supposed that was how one must look. A little bit ridiculous.
“G’day, Neil.” He reached out and shook the man’s hand.
“G’day, Neil,” said Cameron also holding out his hand for the man to shake.
They sat down.
“So, this is it,” said Adam. “Excited?”
A casual observer would have deduced from the tone of his voice that Neil was about as excited as an overfed koala after half a packet of Valium. Adam knew different. The seven-stage initiation process for entry into The Golden Vertex meant that an associate got to know his marks very well. He’d learned that Neil operated in an emotional continuum that started at morose and ended somewhere around of taciturn.
“Excellent. Now, as we’ve already discussed, this is the seventh and final step in your journey to membership. And, you’ll be pleased to know, it’s also the shortest. All we need is your signature on the paperwork. Did you get a chance to read over everything?”
“Ok. Let’s do it.”
Adam opened his briefcase and pulled out some paperwork and a pen.
“Just a signature and date at the bottom of the last page is all we need.”
Neil took the pen and scribbled in the appropriate places. Adam and Cameron both countersigned. Adam put the papers away and turned to face Neil.
“Neil Mitchell, with this signature you become the latest node in our sacred graph. The sacred graph runs all the way back to our founder, Varinder Singh. Like grandmaster Singh, you are about to embark on a path that leads to resplendence, riches and, above all, freedom. Cameron and I will be your mentors on this path and on behalf of both of us, I hereby wish you all success as you begin your journey as an associate. Welcome to The Golden Vertex.”
“Thanks,” said Neil.
“He’s a talkative one, isn’t he,” said Adam looking over at Cameron with a forced laugh.
“We’ll have to work on that. You’ll need to be the one doing most of the talking when you convert your own marks.”
“Have you got your first marks listed down yet?” asked Cameron.
“Get onto them quickly. You want to start building momentum as soon as possible. Get that network working for you.”
Neil nodded again. Adam looked like he’d had an idea.
“While we’re on the subject of marks, Neil. It is customary for a new protégé to give his mentors his highest probability mark when joining the syndicate. It’s a gesture of, umm, respect and gratitude for the people who initiated him.”
“It is?” said Cameron looking puzzled.
Adam and Cameron had been working together for almost twelve months now and had built up a range of non-verbal communicative signals in that time. The look that Adam now gave to Cameron meant “shut the fuck up”. It was the most common non-verbal communication between the two. It was also rather high on the list of their most common verbal communications. Cameron got the message.
“I think Cameron has forgotten his own initiation which was only twelve months ago. Although it does feel like longer than that, doesn’t it?”
“That sounds unfair,” said Neil with newfound verbosity.
“Fair? It’s perfectly fair, Neil. We’ve unlocked the door and set you on the pathway to wealth beyond your wildest dreams. Isn’t it fair to reciprocate our generosity?”
“But I was hoping to start building my own network.”
“And you will start building it, Neil.”
Adam looked at Neil. He had underestimated the man’s emotional range. Neil appeared quite capable of peevishness and querulousness alongside his base level of moroseness.
“Look, I’ll tell you what. Even though it’s highly irregular and frankly a little ungracious, I’ll direct the commission to you. All you have to do is let me handle the conversion and sign the paperwork. That way I get the credit for the conversion and you get the money. What do you say to that?”
Neil gave the smallest possible shrug of the shoulders that was visible to the naked human eye. Adam whipped out his phone.
“Ok. So, who’s your highest probability mark, Neil.”
Neil looked down at the table.
“My mum,” he whispered.
“Say again. I didn’t quite catch that.”
Adam leaned back. Family members were, of course, prime candidates for marks but Neil was middle aged and his mother would have to be really getting on. The primary demographic for the syndicate was younger people. Adam knew that the probabilities of success with the elderly were very low.
“We can’t do his mum,” said Cameron turning to Adam and holding his hands up in a gesture of reluctance.
“Of course we can do his mum,” said Adam.
He turned to Neil.
“We can do your mum, Neil.”
“She doesn’t live in a retirement home, does she?” asked Cameron.
Neil shook his head.
“What about your father? Will he need to be involved?” asked Adam.
“No. He died last week.”
“Last week?” said Cameron.
“I’m really sorry to hear that,” said Adam.
Cameron gave Adam another imploring look and this time Adam was inclined to agree.
“Ok, look. Let’s forget about your mum. Who’s your second highest probability mark? We can use that instead.”
“Mum’s all I’ve got on my list. I was going to convert her when I got home after work tonight.”
“You still live with your mother?” asked Cameron his voice breaking halfway through the sentence and accidentally, but appropriately, conveying his incredulity at this fact.
Cameron looked at Adam again. It was one of the rarer non-verbal gestures between the two of them but Adam had no trouble picking up the meaning. It meant: Fuck no. No fucking way. Don’t fucking do this to me.
Adam’s response said simply: sorry, bro.
“Ok, Neil, just enter your mum’s phone number right there and Cameron and I will be onto her in a flash.”
Adam handed over his phone to Neil who slowly typed in the number. He handed it back to Adam who hit Save and then stood up sharply.
“Ok. Thanks a lot, Neil. Once again, welcome, and we’ll be in touch next week to get you moving towards your hopes and dreams.”
They all shook hands again and Neil hauled himself across the room and out the door.
“Fuck me, what a dead fish,” said Adam sitting down again. “I don’t think we’re gonna get much action out of that guy.”
“But we’re gonna get some action out of his mum?” asked Cameron.
“What was that stuff about it being tradition for a new starter to give up his best mark?”
“Just something I made up.”
“I don’t think it’s right to take a man’s first mark. Especially if it’s his bloody mum.”
“Look, we need another conversion by the end of the day. I don’t have any leads. Do you?”
“Then Neil’s mum is our only chance of winning.”
“We can’t convert her by the end of the day anyway.”
“It’s obvious. She has to attend a syndicate meeting and there’s no syndicate meeting until next week. She has to meet with Mark. She has to meet with Trevor. There’s no time.”
“What’s Varinder’s first rule?”
“His first rule. The first thing in The Golden Vertex handbook.”
“I dunno. I can’t remember.”
“If you think it, it shall be so. In other words, you make your own destiny. Today, my friend, we’re going to make our own destiny.”
A single beep emanated from Adam and Cameron’s phones simultaneously. They both grabbed their respective devices.
“Fuck,” said Adam at a volume befitting an American tourist. Several patrons looked up nervously from their coffee flavoured milkshakes. He threw his phone down on the table.
“Well, that’s it then,” said Cameron closing his phone. “Kenneth has had another conversion certified. He wins.”
Adam slumped into his seat and pushed back against the head rest.
“Kenneth fuckin Xu. Asshole.”
“He’s a smug bastard that’s for sure,” said Cameron in a conciliatory tone that barely hid the fact that he was glad he would no longer have to try and convert Neil’s mum.
Adam sat up straight again and grabbed his phone. He pulled up The Golden Vertex app and went to the leader board. Kenneth Xu and his protégé, Malvin Liu, were now one conversion clear of Adam and Cameron.
“We can still tie it.”
“One more conversion and we tie for top place.”
“What happens then?”
“I dunno. Maybe we all win.”
Cameron turned to Adam.
“Just relax, man. We’ve had a great year. My income has more than doubled. I’m guessing yours must be even better. Let’s just enjoy it. The holidays are coming up.”
“I want to beat Xu and I want to be on that flight to New York in February. Just one last push. One last conversion. Are you in?”
“You know I’m with you all the way.”
Adam turned to his phone and pulled up the number for Neil’s mum. He pressed Dial.
“Mrs Mitchell is it? Good afternoon, Mrs Mitchell. My name’s Adam Sampson. I got your number from your son, Neil. Neil said you were the kind of person who loves to chase after your dreams and let no barrier stand in the way of…”