The Money Masquerade

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Chapter 6


Tel Aviv, Israel

1999

CARYSSA

“I used every sales tactic you taught me!” My hands shook as I gripped the phone. It was 7 a.m. in California, and here’s my boss bugging me about gobbling up a small tech start-up in Tel Aviv. I had pitched our technology to help build a stronger network for the Israel Defense Forces.

“You couldn’t have used our complete marketing arsenal, every weapon we have against Flash Systems. If you instilled enough fear, uncertainty, and doubt we’d have won the acquisition bid.”

“Rob, Flash’s offer was a $118 million-dollar all-stock deal. What I went up against today was no typical acquisition proposal. It was a… like a hostile takeover! We hadn’t a chance in hell.”

“Fuck.”

I couldn’t tell if his simple response meant he recognized the winning bid was likely sealed before our team touched down at Ben Gurion Airport, or if he thinks I can wave my marketing analyst magic wand. The silence remained, so I continued.

“Believe me, I used every sales bullet and emptied my corporate guns of ammunition. Ask the team! I didn’t miss a step in the sales dance including all about ’our superior stacking architecture, Flash’s single point of failure and what that means to Israel’s critical military operations.’ Either these guys don’t give a crap about a fault-tolerant network design, or the competition’s buy-out of their shares was too sexy.”

I continued babbling to fill the space. “Why come down on me, the puny analyst when we had C-level executives presenting? Scott… Scott even offered a premium—”

We can’t afford such goodwill; the market value of Pentacom is too high!” I heard Rob pound his fist on the table.

“If the target firm—Pentacom has such high value, why are they so willing to be acquired by technology giants like Unabridged Networks or Flash??” I asked.

“Caryssa, for our top Senior Marketing Analyst, you sure have a lot to learn about the corporate world. Business is a battlefield.”

“I’ve learned more than you realize, Rob. Might I remind you, I worked undercover as a consultant spying on the competition, and you nearly got fired over it?” I flinched at my bold statement. Did I step over the line?

Rob’s voice came in a frustrated spurt: “We’re fucked, fuckity fuck, motherfucker.”

If I didn’t get to happy hour in the hotel lobby soon, the rest of the team might leave without me for dinner at the meat and wine bistro they’ve been raving about.

The confidence that came with being reminded I’m the top-performing Competitive Marketing Analyst at Unabridged Networks found its way to my lips. “Look Rob, it’s obvious you’re upset. But unless you string together a coherent sentence beyond the F word, I’m gonna catch up to the others for wine —”

“I booked you into the finest hotel in Tel Aviv.”

I couldn’t argue with him. The view comprised of yachts moored in the bay and colorful umbrellas on the golden beaches. “The Dan Tel Aviv Hotel is gorgeous, Rob. I much appreciate it.” But don’t put me through a guilt trip.

There was a long pause and I started to wonder if Rob had hung up the phone.

“Well… I realize it’s not your fault we lost the bid,” Rob’s tone sounded resigned, as if he’d given up the fight.

After we hung up, I admired my executive room with the sea view, marveling at the unique two-tone wall of slate grey and white, leather headboard and herringbone flooring. The minimalist look contrasted with the colorful street art on the wall—the word “LOVE” in big bold black letters surrounded by red hearts. The sketching appeared almost like a child could have done it, in a fun and funky sort of way.

Needing to get out of the hotel room and into the amazing culinary hot spot and beach destination of Tel Aviv, I rushed down to the hotel lobby. There remained an array of bread and spreads, olives, hummus, cheese, and wine. But my business colleagues seemed to have fled the scene.

Helping myself to a glass of white wine and cube of cheese, I survey the small group of people, enjoying the business casual look. People wore relaxed suits paired with flip-flops.

Scott Cohen, our Chief Financial Officer, approached me from the lounge.

“I thought you all left me. Where is everyone?”

“Out to some fancy restaurant on Rothschild Boulevard.” He checks his watch. “We could meet up with them if you want. I waited for you realizing you were taking the heat for our bad decisions today by our hard-ass, Rob Ramírez.”

“That hard ass promoted me to senior analyst, he’s not all bad. I’d rather get street food and sit outside somewhere.” My eyes roam the exquisite interior, its soothing creams, and blacks with gold accents complemented by multi-colored windows.

“True, Rob is good for business, and he vouched for you to come on this trip because you know the competitive technology. But you know what?”

“What?” I take another sip of the delicious Israeli wine, balancing a little plate of spicy food while holding my purse.

“Technology had nothing to do with us losing the acquisition bid. It’s clear we have superior computer network equipment.” Scott speared a toothpick into a line of olives and pops them into his mouth, washing them down with Goldstar beer.

“This is what I tried to tell Rob on the phone. I could have danced naked on the table and it wouldn’t have worked. I said I used every value proposition we have. Flash Systems has market share, and their militarized software and hardware is already helping the IDF today.”

Scott slashed the air with his hand. “Yes, we already lost the battle in this market, and I’m happy we didn’t win the bid.”

“You’re happy? I don’t get it; our CFO is happy we lost a chance to buy Israel’s top LAN switching technology for the defense sector? Makes no sense. It’s a hot market.”

“Let’s go outside.” Scott seemed distracted, and I wondered why.

We walked out of the lobby and sat near the large outdoor salt-water pool set on the sundeck overlooking the beach. The pool had a unique shape wrapping closely around the hotel building.

“We could eat here,” he suggested.

“I want to see the sights, go walking on the beach and through the streets. I’ll eat anywhere, if it’s Israeli cuisine. I want nothing but middle-eastern food.”

Scott said nothing. He stared out at the ocean.

“Come on!” I insist again. “Let’s take a stroll along the beach, go to Carmel Market and other attractions, see the beautiful White City.”

We crossed the street to Frishman Beach and strolled north along the water’s edge, the sea buzzing with its dormant strength. We remained quiet for a while, simply enjoying the lime-green water, vintage beach chairs and bright umbrellas. “I love Tel Aviv,” I said. “It’s young, fresh, pulsing.” Colorful attractions and raucous sounds surrounded us, including volleyball nets, children laughing, my bare toes sifting through soft white sand. “What a vibrant place.”

“I’m an American Jew with relatives here. I traveled to Israel with family throughout my childhood. It’s why I wanted this business trip —not the potential buy-out.”

Cohen. I should have realized. “Seems strange you’re against defending the Jews…” The look on Scott’s face froze my words.

“It’s not… you said you’re hungry and we’re close to Carmel Market. Let’s head toward the street.” We had strolled through Gordon Beach, past the Hilton and circled back. “Or we could walk south to Alma, Banana—”

“No, let’s go to the fresh foodie market and sit outside, I’d be happy with a kebab and killer wine. After that free enormous brunch, I’m not so hungry. Even the coffee and couscous are better than I’ve ever had.” Why does he keep changing the topic from the IDF?

A dreamy shadow cast over the sea, the sun now a low orb in the sky. The waves crawled gently to the shore. The glow of the sun and soft crash of the breakers invigorated my senses.

We walked in the crisp sea breeze past beachside cafes packed with artsy Bohemian types, the sounds of crazy drumbeats delighting my ears. “I’d love to go back to Ben Gurion Boulevard where we walked with the group last night,” I announce.

“We’ll go back after we eat, there’s some street art there I want to show you anyhow.”

Rounding the corner to a narrow alleyway my senses are struck by so many smells, colors sights, and sounds, it was almost intimidating. Spices and spirits fill the air. A blend of oregano, thyme, cloves, sesame seed, and other aromas I never experienced before. “Wow!” I exclaim. Among the hustle and bustle, rows of boutique stalls and small eateries line the street.

The distinct buzz of middle eastern vibes blends with the knick-knack vendors and souvenir stands. The scent of seasonings and meats suspend in the air like perfumed oil.

“This is Carmel Market. You said everything is good here, so trust me. Grab those chairs at the umbrella over there,” he pointed to the only spot open. “I’ll surprise you with fantastic eats.”

I sit in the open air enjoying the people and hip-hop music. The only thing bothering me are the flies. Bright colors of locally grown produce and the sound of lamb kebabs crackling on a grill come together in a foodie experience delighting the senses. A white coat and stethoscope marked the man to my left as a doctor, who lifted his beer in a toast with a soldier to my right.

Scott returns with two plates of food, a mix of fresh and dried fruit, nuts, tabbouleh, crepe-like stuffed pita, falafel, and other yummy things I can’t name. Huge salted sunflower seeds are our dessert. We eat in silence while people watching.

“Ready?” Scott suggests after our plates are clean. He offers me a hand and we continue our walk among the beautiful, fit people of Tel Aviv, full of life, passion, and good vibes. We pass sculptures, kiosks, and unique architecture, the streets lined with sycamore, olive, and ficus trees.

“I love the architecture, so different,” I said, admiring the avant-garde structures with splashes of modern art.

“The Bauhaus design was built by German-Jewish architects after fleeing Hitler. It’s unique, with the flat rooftops, undecorated surfaces, ribbon windows, and outdoor living spaces.”

Half the buildings looked set for demolition, being demolished now or slowly rising into the air again. Yet somehow it all looked hip, like a pop-up art museum. The air here wasn’t as pleasant as Carmel Market. A combination of roof tar and fumes, and lots of construction noise. “Isn’t graffiti illegal here?” I ask.

“This street-art is so unique it’s accepted. Come, let me show you.”

“This place reminds me of Silicon Valley with all the tech-start-ups.” The resemblance startled me.

“That’s what’s going up, lots of office buildings. They call it Silicon Wadi here. This is what concerns me, the flow of capital between Israel and California.”

I was about to ask for clarification as we walk, when a monument looking vaguely like a woman’s body, or perhaps a tree trunk depicting three roses cut off at the stem, appears in front of two benches. Scott seems to sense my curiosity and says, “a memorial for the three women killed in a Palestinian suicide bombing here two years ago. This was the site of a coffee shop, Café Apropo.”

Then we approach a group of sculptures carved from sand, tree trunks, and metal. Shocking in detail, they suggest human forms, body bags, and hospital beds. Again, I couldn’t read the plaques, all written in Hebrew. Yet one of the artist’s names jumps at me, Hava Mehutan.” Looks like a peace activist did these sculptures and paintings,” I observed.

“Yes, this corner displays the works of three Israeli women who saw their children serve in the military. Their art addresses the issue of war.”

Something in Scott’s eyes tells me that insisting I see this art is connected to his feelings about our attempted acquisition today. “What are you not telling me, Scott?”

“There’s a gap between my American and Israeli Jewish families because I protested against the IDF. I have cousins here, all drafted into the Israeli army. When my cousin Maya was killed in combat, that was it—I snapped.” He took his wallet out of his pocket and grabbed a photo. “This was her.”

I look at the young teenage girl in army fatigues, her blond hair spilling out of her helmet. Huge sparkling blue eyes stare back at me. “She’s… was pretty. Is this connected with your relief about our proposal today?”

Scott shook his head, “For such a smart woman, you’ve got a lot to learn—”

“Ha, Rob said the same thing. He thinks I don’t understand business is a battlefield.”

Scott’s eyes locked with mine, and I saw wisdom that comes with age and experience. “Money can be a powerful weapon.”

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