Rumors had been flying for days behind the energy-neutral windows of Antelope Valley Casualty. The company was being sold. A huge restructuring, with accompanying layoff massacre, was on the horizon. A big change in the regulations was about to be announced that would drive them out of business. Martin Kindred listened to them all on his way to the coffee machine, and listened to them all again on his way back. Then he kept working. Anything that happened up on the ninth floor might as well be the weather, was the way he looked at it. He had policies to revise and the first quarterly report of the year coming due
in a week. AVC had had a tough go of 2039, and he was feeling a little pressure—make that a lot—to make Q1 of 2040 cheerful. The fourth-floor financial daemon was gloomy, and Martin pushed figures around his desktop, experimenting with different configurations to see which would go over the best on the ninth floor.
He was pinged, at ten fifty-seven, by Santos Queiroz, an AVC lifer who, by quiet obsequiousness and careful displacement of his mistakes onto subordinates, had gradually moved up to the ninth floor. Martin answered the ping with some reluctance, since Santos was more nervous about the Q1 report than he was, but answer it he did, doing his best to look professionally optimistic as Santos’ face wiped out the unsatisfactory arrangement of figures on the desktop.
“Martin, hi, how are you,” Santos said. “Listen, can you come upstairs?” By which Martin assumed Santos meant Santos’ office, so he said, “Sure.” When he got up to the ninth floor, he found Santos’ office empty. Wandering in the direction of the conference room on that floor, he passed an open door and heard Santos call out to him. Backing up, Martin said, “I looked in your office.”
“Yeah, I know, sorry about that,” Santos said. There were four other people in the room with him. It was an unused office, with furniture left over from its previous occupant, whom Martin vaguely remembered as a manager of some kind who had left under a cloud having to do with reimbursement for adjuster’s expenses. He didn’t know any of the other four people, but Santos took care of that. “This is Kai Fonseca,” he said, indicating a seated Hispanic woman who radiated the intense confidence of a college basketball coach. “She’s a consultant working with us on liaising with Sacramento and Washington. Representing Washington is Victor Eads, who’s with Senator Ron Dempsey’s office.” Martin thought Eads looked like an uglier, older version of his boss, the state’s junior senator and self-proclaimed “law-and-order fundamentalist.” The senator himself affected cowboy gear and cowboy pronouncements that would have embarrassed John Wayne, to whom he bore a cultivated resemblance. Next to Eads, bookending a leather couch out of the 1990s, were a matched pair of Executiva californiensis: tall, athletic, tanned, and wearing several thousand dollars’ worth of tailored clothing. “And this is Scott and Jocelyn Krakauer,” Santos finished up. “They’re the ones who really wanted to talk to you.”
Martin shook hands all around, in the order of Santos’ introductions. Scott Krakauer gestured at an empty chair and started his pitch as if triggered by the contact of Martin’s buttocks with its seat. “Until recently, Jocelyn and I were consultants to the private corrections industry, primarily in Texas,” he began. “I don’t mind telling you that’s not a bad line of work to be in, but one of the things about Texas is that it gets you thinking big, right?” Eads chuckled, and belatedly Martin realized he should have, too, but by then the moment had passed. “We’ve been working on a project, the three of us, and Kai came in on it a little later. We thought we had it set up in Texas, and then Oklahoma, but one of the things about new ideas is that they’re new, right? People need time to get used to them, and maybe some people need too much time. So then we thought of California. Out here, if you’re not trying something new they send you to Nevada.”
Which was the kind of macabre joke that told you something about Scott Krakauer’s personality. Since the Water Crisis, southern Nevada was largely depopulated, and you needed Code Orange clearance even to drive on I-15 to Las Vegas . . . although you could still fly there for nothing as long as you contracted to stay at one of the casino hotels and you subscribed to certain of the services they provided. Once, in college, Martin had driven out to Las Vegas and back, passing through Barstow at four in the morning both ways. The world seemed a little diminished by the fact that you couldn’t do that anymore without being killed by desert bandits or careless checkpoint security on the outskirts of Sin City.
Scott was talking over Martin’s woolgathering: “Plus, California is the other state that gets you thinking big. So here we are, and with Kai’s and Victor’s help, we’re about to . . . well, this is where Jocelyn usually takes over.” Scott leaned back and looked to his wife.
“Scott and I both used to be cops,” she began. “Right here in LA, before we were seduced by the blandishments of the private sector. Now, nobody expects cops to be big thinkers. And most of us—them, I should say—aren’t. But when you’re a cop, you spend an awful lot of time waiting for something to happen, and idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” This last delivered with a smile both predatory and self- mocking. “Or so my grandmother told me. We’ve got an idea that’s going to shake the bow ties off the insurance business. What’s more, we’re going to shake the pinstripes off the lawyers, and we’re going to give the regular person a whole new way to look at life and death, prison and freedom. Plus, and I’m not afraid to tell you this, we’re going to make an awful lot of money. We’d like you to be part of it, Martin.”
Martin felt the force of her charisma. If she’d once been a cop, she could have gotten a confession from a corpse. “Part of what?” he asked.
“How much do you think it costs to feed, clothe, and house the average maximum-security prisoner?” Jocelyn asked in return. Martin had been raised to mistrust people who answered questions with questions, but he played along.
“Quite a bit,” he said. He’d done some work with private prisons, insuring the facilities, and he remembered seeing six-figure-per- annum costs. “A hundred thousand?”
“Triple that,” Jocelyn said. “And that’s before the inmate gets old and you have to provide him with medical care. The actuaries tell us that the average murderer commits his crime at twenty-six years of age and will live to be eighty-plus. That’s fifty-four years at more than three hundred thousand dollars a year. And that’s in today’s dollars, without anticipating uncertainties in future medical costs and legal expenses. We’ll double that, given how squirrelly currency has been lately. So to incarcerate the actuarially average murderer from crime to death is going to cost us approximately thirty-six million dollars. For one human being to be in a six-by-nine cell. Excuse me: for one murderer to be in a six-by-nine cell. Thirty-six million dollars. Now, according to federal regulations, we’re going to need to keep a certain amount of that money as cash on hand to ensure that we’re going to be liquid for the foreseeable future. That’s a reserve amount.”
Martin was feeling the pressure to finish the quarterly report. “I know what a reserve is,” he said.
Jocelyn grinned at him. “Not afraid to speak up. Excellent. That’s the kind of independence we need.” Behind him, Martin could feel Santos’ gaze burning into the base of his skull, but he had work to do. His plan for the day didn’t include a lecture on cost control in the corrections industry.
Still, the quicker he moved this along, the quicker he could get the report done. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m just trying to let you skip to the good stuff.”
“Which,” Jocelyn said, “I will now do.”
“If Martin will let you,” Santos said.
“Jesus Christ, Santos.” Eads threw up his hands, letting his pod fall into his lap. “I wanted you in this meeting, but now I’m starting to regret it.”
Santos shut up, and Jocelyn glanced at the other four people in the room, checking them into silence before she went on. “There are studies showing that up to ninety percent of the prison inmates serving life sentences without parole—ninety percent—would rather have been executed.” Studies, Martin thought, with maximal unspoken derision. But he didn’t say anything. “So let’s put together a hypothetical situation. You killed someone. You got caught. You got sentenced to life in prison without parole. You’re serving your sentence, you’ve got nothing to look forward to but sixty years of bad food and gang rape and bars on your windows. Then someone comes to you and says . . .”
“I’ll pitch it,” Scott said. “Here’s the deal. We’re going to spend as much as thirty-six million dollars to keep you right here, just as you are, until you die. What if you could take some of that money and do some good? What if I said to you that I’d give you, say, five million, right now? Today. And you decide where the money goes. The company gets out from under a future obligation, and is therefore more liquid, and therefore more attractive to shareholders. The five million dollars can give how many people a new start? How many charities could that fund? How many kids can it put through college?”
The logic, Martin had to admit, was persuasive. He decided not to say anything.
“Apart from the money,” Jocelyn said, “it’s about control. It’s about a prisoner taking control again, after his control has been taken away. It’s about atonement, about the opportunity to put that money to work atoning for the act that put the prisoner where he is instead of pouring it into the maintenance of a life that’s already been thrown away. Not that money can ever atone for the loss of a loved one, but the angle here is bringing some good out of a situation that seems to be nothing but negative and sorrowful.”
Martin was starting to intuit where this was all going, but then Scott eliminated all doubt. “And the prisoner,” he said, “agrees to finalization of the deal within twenty-four hours.”
At the word finalization, Scott made a subtle gesture, two fingers of his right hand pointing at and pushing toward the crook of his left elbow. So this is where we get to the euphemisms, Martin thought.
Everyone was quiet, and the gap was Martin’s to fill. “I hadn’t heard about any of this,” he said.
“Nobody has,” Eads said. “We’ve kept the volume down while we got everything ready. Counting votes in Congress, lining up the right kinds of people in the corrections unions, DA’s offices, that kind of thing. But it’s ready to go now.”
“And we hope you’re ready to go, too,” Jocelyn said. “As of Thursday morning, Antelope Valley Casualty is going to be Nautilus Casualty and Property, a subsidiary of ValCorp/KRK Holdings, which is a holding company we created to make strategic facility acquisitions in the corrections area. We launch with the first buyout announcements the next week, and then . . .”
“Then,” Scott stepped in, “is when we really see whether the whole thing has legs. But we wouldn’t be here if we thought it didn’t. Our investors don’t throw money away.”
“They sure don’t,” said Victor Eads. “Not the ones I work for, anyway.”
So the Krakauers had bought a bunch of prisons, and now were poised to add an insurance company to the portfolio so they could keep this buyout thing under one roof. They had at least one senator behind the project, and God knew what other kinds of clout. What did you do with an idea like this? Martin wasn’t sure how they thought they’d be able to do it, who would be the clientele—or, most importantly, what they were asking him to do. There. A question he could ask. “What exactly did you want me to do here?”
“We’re going to need someone to initiate client contact and generate deals,” Scott said. “And we’d like you to be that guy.”
“Sales?” Martin said. “What am I going to do, drive around to prisons and yell into the cell block if anyone wants to be executed?”
“It’s a little more sophisticated than that,” Jocelyn said.
“And we can do without the flip tone, Martin,” Santos added. Just like him to play enforcer in a room full of people who could buy and sell him, Martin thought. But he played along.
“Okay,” he said. “So how does it work? Who do I pitch? Is it lawyers? Do I contact people before their sentencing, just in case, or do I wait until they’re serving their time? Hypothetically.”
“Of course, hypothetically,” Jocelyn said. “Some of those details are yet to be worked out. We’re still doing the build on this thing, and if you’re in, you’ll have input about how those initial contacts are handled. You’ll be our man in the field, and as the project grows and we bring more field agents in, your experience will be critical to making sure that they can hit the ground running.”
“You’re making about an even hundred thousand now, right?” Scott asked.
“About,” Martin said, although the question meant that Scott already knew the answer.
“The way we have the numbers figured, that’s about what you’d make for finalizing three buyouts,” Jocelyn said. “Right now there are approximately three thousand buyout-eligible inmates in prisons under Nautilus control.” Martin watched her watching him, and saw the change in the set of her facial muscles as she arrived at a decision. “Take a couple of days to think about it. Let us know by Friday, though, okay? We’re going to need to move quickly.” She stood, and everyone else in the room stood with her. “Thanks for coming up, Martin. I really hope this is going to work out for all of us.”
At the door, Martin paused. “Hypothetically,” he said.
Scott was walking him out. “Hypothetically what?”
“Hypothetically, what happens if someone takes a buyout and then we find out he was innocent?”
“This isn’t philosophy, Martin,” said Victor Eads. “Anybody who says that it’s better to have a hundred guilty men go free than one innocent man die has never watched a guilty man walk free. We’re not in a world that can afford to be high-minded.”
Excerpted from Buyout by Alexander C. Irvine. Copyright © 2009 by Alexander Irvine. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.