Just Call Me Angel
By Jack Greene
Seeking funding to complete his breakthrough research, Ben meets Chase Mitchell, billionaire CEO of Mitchell Industries.
Chase agrees to fund Ben's research, but what Ben didn't count on was how handsome Chase is, or how much Ben wants him.
Ben tried not to fidget as he waited in the intimidating lobby of Mitchell Industries. If it wasn’t his last hope, he wouldn’t have been here at all. He despised big corporations and the way they monopolized technology and innovation, gobbling up everything in their path, and Mitchell was one of the biggest. His feelings on the subject were why he’d gone after angel investors rather than venture capitalists to fund his new discovery. Not that venture capitalists would have touched his research with a ten foot pole. Especially in this economic climate, they were all looking for the lowest risk possible, with a fast return. Angel investors, usually individuals or groups of individuals, generally were able to take on much higher risk opportunities that might take a little longer to come to profitability.
Of course, as a scientist, Ben had no doubts about the far-ranging usefulness and profitability of his discovery, but convincing a non-scientist to put money behind his research had been much harder than he’d ever imagined. By the time he got through explaining what rare earth metals were and why they were so important, the investors’ eyes would be glazed over or they’d be surreptitiously checking their iPhones. When Ben tried to point out that they wouldn’t be able to use their smartphones without rare earths, they’d get huffy and shut him down. It had gone that way with several groups of investors now, and Ben was starting to worry.
His science was sound, there was no doubt about it. But synthesizing, then testing the materials he’d developed was extremely costly—not in raw materials, but in the processes. However, when done in bulk, like a major corporation could do, unlike Ben, the cost per pound would average less than ten percent what it was now. That was a huge savings, but there was no way Ben could do it himself. He needed money, quite a bit of it by his standards, to finalize the chemicals and synthesis before his discovery would be profitable. It was so frustrating to have the discovery that would make his career and not be able to see it through for lack of funds.
Ben had a decent job as a lab tech at a major pharmaceutical company. It was far, far below his degree and intellect, but it paid better than yet another post-doc position and it was all he could get with the bad economy. It barely paid for a tiny apartment in Silicon Valley, let alone a car—public transport was decent here—but at least he wasn’t starving.
He’d been working on this project since grad school, while getting his Ph.D. He’d kept careful records and documented everything, filing patents as he went. He’d done everything perfectly. If his research died now due to lack of funds, well...Ben refused to think about it. He wasn’t going to fail.
Which was why, despite his misgivings, here he was waiting to pitch his idea to Chase Mitchell’s CTO’s secretary, or whoever deigned to see him. It had taken months to get this appointment, months in which he’d tried, and failed, to secure funding from absolutely anyone else. He’d even tried to get a loan, which, even if he’d been approved given he had no credit history—and he’d been refused—the amount he would have gotten wouldn’t have been within an order of magnitude of what he needed.
He needed roughly a million dollars. He had about twelve hundred dollars in the bank. So here he was. Offering his soul to the devil. Who would probably turn him down, too.
“Dr. Conrad, please follow me,” a perky, pretty blonde woman announced.
Ben looked up, startled. He’d been so deep in his thoughts that he hadn’t heard anyone approach. He stood quickly, grabbing his backpack. “Thanks.” He followed the woman through glass doors that opened at their approach, down shiny marble and chrome hallways. She didn’t introduce herself, and Ben assumed it wasn’t her that he would be meeting with, so he didn’t bother to start his spiel yet. She also didn’t tell him who he’d be meeting with.
The blonde finally ushered him into a massive boardroom with floor to ceiling windows and a gigantic table made out of some shimmery, dark rock. The name of the mineral, Labradorite, popped into his head unbidden, buried in his brain from some long-ago geology class. He only remembered it because he’d been entranced by the almost holographic play of colors in the rock. He could only imagine how much it cost to make a table with such a large slab. Probably a good percentage of what he needed to complete his research. Another example of Mitchell’s overbearing ostentation.
He walked around the room, shoes sinking into the plush carpet, trying to get his thoughts together before whoever it was decided to make his or her appearance. Just standing here in the midst of all this wealth made him feel grungy. His clothes were worn, though he’d made an effort, wearing khakis and his best white shirt. His clothes had gotten a little wrinkled on the bus ride, though, and his shoes were scuffed. His tie was crooked—it always was, he was no good at tying a Windsor knot—and his glasses always slipped down his nose. His thick, dark brown hair was too long and never looked neat. He felt like a geeky bum.
“No, no, I told you—yes I did, I recorded that conversation—no I didn’t, just kidding, but I have a eidetic memory. Look it up.”
Ben looked up to see a man backing into the room, clearly talking to someone. Ben didn’t see a phone so it must have been a headset. The man still had his back to him as he closed the door to the room, and continued talking.
“So do it. Yeah. Do it yesterday. And, damn, I got another call coming in, yeah, email me the specs.” The man turned around to face Ben as he tapped at his ear, clearly ending the call, and Ben realized with shock that it was none other than Chase Mitchell, billionaire entrepreneur, himself. “Idiot,” he said this while staring directly at Ben.
“Excuse me?” Ben stared at the other man.
“I wasn’t calling you an idiot. I was calling my lawyer an idiot. He is. You aren’t. Are you? Probably not, just look at you.” Mitchell talked a mile a minute and Ben struggled to keep up.
“If your lawyer is an idiot, why don’t you get another?” Ben managed, trying not to stare at Chase Mitchell. The man looked much younger in person than he did on TV or in magazines. He wasn’t tall, only a little taller than Ben, but he had an imposing presence that made him seem taller. He had broad shoulders and slender hips, his expensive suit tailored perfectly to his body. His dark hair was neat, but not overly so, styled in a windswept look that probably took ages to make it look that casual. His eyes were a compelling hazel, and he had a neat moustache and small goatee. Ben usually didn’t like facial hair on men, but on Mitchell it worked. Really well. Ben swallowed as he realized that Chase Mitchell was a very handsome man. He’d known that academically, of course, but meeting him in person was very different. Mitchell had to be pushing forty, but he sure as hell didn’t look like it.
“Too much trouble. They’re all idiots,” Mitchell proclaimed with a dismissive wave of his hand.
Ben realized he was probably staring. “I’m Ben—”
“Yes, yes,” Mitchell cut him off. “I know who you are. I know why you’re here. You want my money.” Mitchell gave Ben a cold, appraising gaze for a long moment, and Ben figured this was all a colossal waste of time. He was about to apologize for wasting the man’s time when Mitchell broke into a grin that lit up his entire face and changed his mien completely. “Nice to meet you, Ben Conrad. Now why don’t you tell me just why I should give you my not-so-hard-earned money?” Mitchell perched on the edge of the rock table, still grinning. “By the way, nice job. That glare usually has them wetting themselves by now.”
Ben felt completely off balance. He’d heard Mitchell was crazy but he didn’t think they meant it literally. How could a crazy man make so much money? “I, um, I have a presentation—”
Mitchell waved his hand. “Boring. Just tell me.”
“Well, there’s some background science I need to explain—”
“I have a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cambridge. I think I can muddle through. Try me.”
Ben blinked. He hadn’t known that about Mitchell. “Okay. So rare earth metals—”
“Are used in everything from iPhones to Priuses, all of which this country is highly addicted to, China mines ninety-five percent of them, and loves to use that fact to extort even more money out of the evil West.”
Ben was amazed, but then he supposed Mitchell didn’t get to be where he was by being behind the times. “Exactly. And it’s not that they’re actually rare, it’s just that the mining process is time consuming, costly, and produces a lot of by-products and pollution.”
Chase nodded, crossing his arms. “Don’t tell me you’re trying to sell me on some new mining process. There’s a company out in the desert who’s trying that right now, and I didn’t invest in them, either. It’s never going to make piles of money.”
“No, no,” Ben insisted. He’d never had anyone actually know what rare earth metals were, let alone the problems in mining them. “I’ve figured out how to synthesize them.”
Mitchell was silent for a moment, and Ben took that for a small victory, as the man hadn’t stopped talking since he’d walked in. “Synthesize them? In the lab?”
“Yes. From a material we have lots and lots of. The most plentiful material on the earth, in fact.”
Mitchell’s expression was slack. “You can make rare earths out of silica.”
“Yes. Well, I can. Theoretically. I’ve succeeded in very small quantities. But I need money to refine the process. Test the results. Figure out how to scale up to the necessary quantities.” Ben was breathless now. Mitchell understood how important this could be. Seemed impressed.
“Well fuck me sideways.”
Ben suppressed a laugh at the incongruous words coming from this polished, obscenely rich man. “Now would you like to see the presentation?”