When Basis Ventures venture capitalist Ted Valmont is belatedly informed that the Chief Scientist of NeuroStimix—a biotech firm in which he has invested—is missing, it’s not just business, it’s personal. Not only is the scientist an old school chum, but his disappearance jeopardizes the development of NeuroStimix’s most important product: a device intended to aid spinal cord injury victims. Since Valmont’s twin brother, Tim, was paralyzed in a college diving accident, finding the scientist and getting him back into harness is of the utmost importance to both brothers.
Valmont engages August Riordan to assist in the search and the men soon discover that the disappearance is part of a larger conspiracy to use NeuroStimix technology for perverse applications. Terrorism. Prostitution. Slave labor. These are just the beginning. And when a beautiful, mysterious young woman comes onto the scene, it’s impossible to say whether the technology will provide the ultimate means to save them all or be the catalyst for tortuous, self-inflicted deaths…
Reviews and Recognitions
Cover story with novel excerpt, Silicon Valley Metro.
“If you laid all the boring Silicon Valley authors end-to-end it would be a good thing. But they still wouldn’t amount to half the insight Coggins lays down in his adventurous novel. Fast cars, nymphomaniac rich kids, billionaires with short attention spans and long money: a truer picture of Silicon Valley can’t be found. In a world transformed through technology-driven change, we need new heroes, a new James Bond—Ted Valmont is it.”
“Coggins is … deftly using the tropes of classic private-eye fiction to give readers a cold, delightfully nasty look at the venture capitalists who rode to fame and glory on the tech boom. His eye is sharp and the details are crisp … From the boardrooms of Palo Alto to the wineries of Napa, Vulture Capital gives us Northern California in the 21st century, as noir as it ever was …
“Po Bronson, for all his talents, did not catch the Valley’s entrepreneurial/venture capital lifeblood in The First Twenty Million Is Always the Hardest as unerringly as Coggins does in Vulture Capital …
“A trip through the dark satanic mills of venture capital with Chandler or Hammett as tour guide.”
“[D]ry ice sarcasm … and plenty of nasty chuckles in route.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Peppered with local landmarks and tech in-jokes, Vulture Capital exposes the seamy underside of venture capital, populated by back-stabbing partners, corrupt CEOs and nasty funding boards.”
—Silicon Valley Metro
“Coggins has a talent for penning credible, often clever dialogue, and some of his more cynical remarks and observations about modern society might reduce a nun to gales of laughter.”
“[T]ruly brings the California private eye novel into the 21st century.”
—What Do I Read Next?, Gale Group
“Vulture Capital is another winner … [S]trong recommendation.”
—Deadly Pleasures Magazine
“Vulture Capital is a well executed, slightly twisted and weird, but completely believable story about the dark side of Silicon Valley’s start-up community.”
—I Love a Mystery
Read an Excerpt (click to expand)
Chapter 1 – Funding Pitch
“Doing a funding pitch is like defending your life at the pearly gates—except Saint Peter doesn’t have a 15 slide limit.”
—Co-founder, failed Internet start-up
The gangly young man at the front of the room swallowed hard and tugged at the knot of his tie. His dark suit appeared new and well made, but the material gave out too soon in the sleeves, exposing bony wrists and an inelegant amount of white cuff. In a nervous gesture, he pushed on the nosepiece of his thick plastic glasses. They failed to oblige him by riding any further up the bridge of his nose. “Could you… I mean, would you repeat the question?” he asked.
Ted Valmont looked up from the note pad he was doodling on and sat back in his chair. At 31, he was about the same age as the man at the front of the room, and nearly as tall. But unlike him, Ted Valmont’s clothes fit him well: possibly too well. His black hair was combed straight back—with more than the proverbial dab of styling cream—and he had olive skin with regular features that were almost delicate. His eyes were a soft gray green, and in the diffuse light from the conference room skylight, they seemed to shine with amusement. He gave the man at the front of the room a sympathetic grin. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was just wondering—what is the advantage of using radar over infrared in this application?”
“Good. Yes. That is a good question,” said the gangly young man. “I have a slide on that right here.” Hunching anxiously over a laptop computer, he repeatedly depressed a key to advance the slides in his presentation. He stopped when one with the title, “Radar vs. Infrared in Automatic Flush Valves” was projected on the screen behind him.
“As you can see,” he said as he straightened up, “there are two clear-cut advantages of radar over infrared. First, infrared works only on a line-of-sight basis. That means the sensor must be placed in plain view near the washbasin or urinal that it’s meant to control. In a public rest room, where vandalism is often a problem, this has distinct disadvantages. On the other hand, a radar sensor can be installed anywhere—even behind porcelain fixtures, tile or masonry. A vandal would literally need a sledge hammer to disable one.”
The young man fumbled a laser-pointing device out of his breast pocket and aimed it at the second bullet on his slide. “In addition,” he said breathlessly, “radar is capable of detecting a more subtle range of motion than infrared. As you may know, the ‘holy grail’ in the automatic flush valve industry is providing an automatic flush capability for toilets. Infrared is simply not up for the job. It has been used widely for urinals because the decision of when to flush is binary: you are either standing in front of the urinal or you’re not. But when a person uses a toilet, there is no longer a binary… I mean, there is a more complex—”
Tillman Cardinal, a genial-looking man whose curly, matted hair came to a blunt widow’s peak like a spent Brillo pad, began to laugh. He reached over to Ted Valmont and poked him in the ribs. “What he means, Ted, is that when you lift up to wipe your ass you don’t want the damn toilet flushing early. Be a waste of water.”
Ted Valmont smiled and shook his head. Across the table, Mary Wong narrowed her eyes to glare at both men. She tapped a gold pencil on the table sharply and turned to face the presenter. “Go ahead, Roger,” she said. “I think we’ve grasped your point.”
The gangly man reddened and cleared his throat. “Yes. The key take-away, of course, is that with radar it’s possible to determine the right time to flush. You can avoid flushing too early, or, ah, not at all.”
“What about cost?” said Cardinal in more serious tone. “Have you estimated the manufacturing costs? Will they be comparable to infrared?”
Ted Valmont glanced down at the silver 1920’s tank watch on his wrist. It was 12:35. As the presenter paged through his slide deck looking for manufacturing cost projections, Ted Valmont gathered up his note pad, cell phone and Palm computer. He stood and walked to the front of the room. “Roger, I’m afraid I need to leave for a board meeting at a portfolio company,” he said, extending his hand. “Thanks for taking the time to come down here. I’ll follow up with Tillman and Mary when I get back.”
Roger shot his hand forward to grasp Ted Valmont’s, dropping his laser pointer in the process. “Thank you very much,” said Roger earnestly. “Basis Ventures is our first choice for venture funding. I really hope we can work something out.”
Ted Valmont smiled, pumped Roger’s hand and turned to go out the conference room door. As he pulled it closed behind him, his smile dropped and he chanted in a sardonic undertone, “Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name.”
A sturdy, large-boned woman with wide shoulders and a tremendous bosom strode up to him from further down the corridor. “No sympathy for the devil, boss,” she said matter-of-factly. “Leastwise, not around here.”
Ted Valmont’s smile reasserted itself. “You’re right, Carrie. As Pogo says, ‘We have met the enemy and he is us.’ What’s up?”
Carrie’s voice dropped in volume and tone. “I don’t know from Pogo, but your brother’s on the line. He’s been holding for a half an hour.”
Ted Valmont stared down at Carrie’s size 11 flats. “You told him that I’m booked solid this morning?” he said softly.
“Yes, boss, I did. But he’s had some bad news. He said—well, he said that Christy’s left him.”
Ted Valmont brought a hand up to a spot below his breastbone and clenched it into a fist. He took a deep breath and stood motionless for an uncomfortable moment. “Put him on the line in the small conference room,” he said at last, unclenching his fist. “I’ll talk to him there.”
Carrie acknowledged the request with a truncated nod and broke into a trot. “And I’ll call NeuroStimix to tell them you’ll be late,” she said over her shoulder.
Ted Valmont stepped into a conference room next to the one he had exited and pulled the door shut. He went over to a gray, starfish-shaped phone and pressed the speaker button. “Tim,” he said neutrally. “Are you there?”
“I’m never really all here, am I Ted?” said a voice like Ted Valmont’s, but not like it: deeper, rougher and—just at this moment—much more slurred.
Ted Valmont took hold of the speakerphone by two of its feet. “Have you been drinking, Tim?”
“You bet. That’s one thing I do better than ever.”
Mashing a knuckle into the center of his stomach, Ted Valmont said, “Carrie told me Christy left. Did you two fight?”
A wounded, snarling sound issued from the speaker. “No, we didn’t. She just packed her fucking bags and snuck out in the middle of the night. No mess, no fuss: lose the crip in one easy step.” He laughed contemptuously. “But that’s not why I called. I called to find out where the fuck that device is. You said that NeuroStimix would be ready for clinical trials three months ago.”
Ted Valmont leaned into the speakerphone. “I said as early as May and as late as September. This is research and development, not cake baking. It can’t be pinned down to a precise schedule.”
“Oh, yeah? Well I can tell you precisely how long it takes me to empty my bowels: an hour and a half. Of course, that’s only if Archie doesn’t have to break out the heavy implements.”
“Don’t ‘please Tim’ me. Now what the hell is going on at that place? When am I going to get out of this fucking wheelchair?”
“I’m going to a board meeting today, so I should get an update. But you know there’s no guarantee you’ll be selected for the trials.”
“Tell them they have to take me. You put money in the company.”
“We’ve been over this already. I’ll do my best, but there’s only so far I can push it. It’s a conflict of interest for board members—”
“You sanctimonious bastard! Nobody makes the millions you have without breaking a few rules. Now you won’t even round the corners to help your own brother.” The connection dropped with a brittle snap.
Ted Valmont reddened and propelled the speakerphone across the conference room table. “Putain de merde!” he barked, and launched out the door. He went down the bright hallway—passing several original Mark Citret prints—and into a spacious reception area paneled with cherry and ash woods and illuminated by dramatic columns of light beaming down from triangular skylights nearly thirty feet above.
A receptionist sat behind a U-shaped desk with a pair of crossed polo mallets tacked to the front. The telephone console in front of her flashed and buzzed at a furious pace. By the time Ted Valmont crossed the polished marble floor of the lobby, she had said, “Basis Ventures, would you hold please?” a half dozen times.
Ted Valmont pushed through tall, double glass doors, then paused to slip on a pair of minuscule oval sunglasses. He went down a sidewalk bounded by a carefully tended flower garden to a small parking area in front of the building. His car—a midnight blue Ferrari F355 Spider—was parked in a space with his name. He disabled the alarm and door locks remotely and levered himself into the low seat of the roadster. The car started with a throaty rumble, and Ted Valmont belted up and flipped the lever to retract the convertible roof.
He pulled onto Sand Hill Road and streaked up the quarter mile to Highway 280. Heading south on the freeway, he used the speech recognition technology in the car’s hands-free cell phone to check his voice mail.
“New messages,” he said to the microphone.
An anxious male voice came onto the line. “Ted, this is Dan Willhite from Infrisco Software. It’s been three weeks since we sent you our business plan—”
A no nonsense female voice came next. “It’s Sarah. Are you in this deal or not? I’ve got the green light from my partners. We’ll put in six mil if you match it. That gets us each a board seat and 20 percent of the company. I—”
Carrie’s clipped speech filled the car. “Boss, Dr. Pettibone says he can’t refill the prescription unless you come in for an appointment. I squeezed you in on Thursday—”
Ted Valmont wrung the steering wheel in frustration. “Reply,” he said sharply, cutting off the message. “Carrie, you’ve got to get that prescription refilled for me. I can’t see Dr. Pettibone on Thursday—or any other day for the next two weeks. If I wait that long, the damn ulcer will eat right through me. Please.” He stabbed at a button to drop the connection.
On Shoreline Avenue in Mountain View, he fought lunch-hour traffic across Central Expressway and Highway 101 and continued until he came to Charleston Road. Futuristic buildings from a variety of high technology companies lined Charleston, including the imitation spaceport that comprised the corporate headquarters of Silicon Graphics. Passing the glitzier buildings, Ted Valmont pulled into the parking lot of a modest concrete tilt-up with a placard reading, “NeuroStimix Technologies.” He glanced at his watch as he went up the walk to the lobby door. It was 1:10.
He greeted the pudgy black woman at the front desk as Betty, and after slipping off his sunglasses, inquired about her vegetable garden. Betty smiled uncomfortably and smoothed a nonexistent wrinkle out of her floral-patterned skirt. Her eyes crawled sideways to the corridor that opened on her left. “Fine,” she said. “It’s fine. We had some of the asparagus last night.”
Ted Valmont ran his tongue speculatively over his lower lip and leaned down to scribble his name in the visitor log. “Keep me in mind if you have any surplus. Those tomatoes you gave me last summer were great.” He looked up. “I’m running late again. Are they waiting for me? Usual room?”
Betty raised her eyebrows in a look of forced candor and nodded precipitously. “Everyone—” she stumbled over the word. “Everyone’s there. The big conference room like usual.”
Ted Valmont tugged on his earlobe with a thoughtful expression and walked down the corridor. No Mark Citret prints graced its walls, only framed enlargements of medical equipment from the NeuroStimix catalog. He passed the open door of an empty conference room and continued to a closed one further down. He knocked lightly, and without waiting for a response, pushed it open.