"One Hundred Days"


I.

Tony Stark missing in Afghanistan

By JAMES KEEGAN

Published: January 27, 2008

JALALABAD, Afghanistan - Stark Industries CEO Anthony Stark went missing on the border of the Kunar and Nangahar provinces at approximately 2:00 PM local time on January 27. A convoy carrying Mr. Stark along with several military officers and support staff was attacked by insurgents during the escort back to Jalalabad, Nangahar, where a military aircraft was waiting to take Mr. Stark to the Kandahar Air Field. An anonymous source at the U.S. military base in Jalalabad reports that heavy mortar rounds were fired at the vehicles following the detonation of at least one roadside bomb.

At this time no official casualty report has been released by the Department of Defense. However, a White House press release stated that nine airmen were killed and fifteen injured, making the attack the most deadly of its kind since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001. The casualty list does not include Mr. Stark, who was not recovered from the scene of the attack.

At 4:25 pm local time, the Craig Joint-Theater Hospital in Bagram began to receive service members injured in the explosion. Shortly after, an unnamed Air Force officer discovered that Mr. Stark nor his remains had been retrieved.

Mr. Stark arrived in Afghanistan sometime on January 26. According to a company press release dated January 24, a presentation of new military technology was the purpose of the visit. At this time, it is unknown if Mr. Stark's presence was the motive for the attack. "I.E.D.s can sit there for weeks," stated an Army lieutenant stationed at Craig Joint-Theater Hospital. "There's no evidence they were targeting Tony Stark."

An Air Force medic disagreed. "They took heavy artillery fire," he explained. "It was a planned attack."

A wide-ranging recovery effort involving members of the Army, Air Force, and Marines began in the late evening on January 27. So far no leads have been reported. Mr. Stark's office did not return our request for comment.

Copyright © 2008, The New York Times


Her cell phone wakes her up today at 5:25 AM. Honestly, that isn't so unusual. Tony is awake regularly at obscene hours and likes to call her just to chat about the upcoming day, or a funny thing that one of the robots had done, or a plea to get his latest conquest out of the house, stat.

("Potts, she's in the bathroom. I need you. I think she's a little crazy. Well, actually, I'm sure of it. She was purring at me. Purring, Potts. Like a cat.")

However-the fact that James Rhodes is on the other end of the call and not Tony, the fact that he is talking too quickly and too loudly over a bad satellite connection, means that this is one of the scariest moments of Pepper's life.

"Pepper-there was an attack-he's gone, they took him-we can't find him anywhere at Craig-"

When he stops talking to breathe, Pepper can't even respond. Her groggy mind stumbles over his words-is she dreaming?

Pepper, they took him.

"Jim-Jim, slow down," she chokes out. "I don't-what are you saying?"

She hears him breathe heavily, taking such great shuddering gulps of air that some part of her mind wonders idly if he might be crying.

"Tony," he wrenches out. "There was an attack on Tony's convoy, and now we can't find him anywhere."

Pepper feels like she is falling.

Her stomach can't catch up to the rest of her. Hard pressure where her sternum meets her abdomen makes it difficult to breathe. Her head is fuzzy and pounding. She wonders vaguely if she is still seeing and hearing and breathing in real time, or if the world had slowed down.


Tony Stark Missing in Afghanistan-is Tony kidnapped or is he on a bender of STARK proportions?

By Dawn Larkin

LOS ANGELES, California - Billionaire playboy Tony Stark and his entourage of military elites were attacked by insurgents on Sunday. After the firefight, Tony was nowhere to be found. Was the genius inventor kidnapped by al-Qaida operatives, or is Tony playing a classic prank on us all?

The theory is huge on Twitter, where #tonystark, #Afghanistan, and more recently #trollstark have been trending since the news broke last Sunday. Overnight, accounts pretending to be Tony cropped up. "Burqa babes, total tigers in the sack. #trollstark #tonystark" tweeted pretender T0nyst4rk yesterday. "Afghanis really know how to party. Wait, did my jet leave without me? #trollstark" added AEStark moments later. A third impersonator StarkNaked chimed in as well. "Osama bin Laden not as hospitable as you might think. Good to know I'll never be found. #trollstark."

"Mr. Stark does not own or operate a Twitter account," stated a PR rep for Stark Industries last year in a press release. "Nor does any member of his staff. Any account that claims to be him is false." The statement came after an impostor amassed over 200,000 followers by pretending to be Tony after last October's Stark Birthday Bash, where the work-hard-play-harder CEO was arrested in Las Vegas for a variety of misdemeanors, including lewd and lascivious conduct (for which the charges were later dropped).

What do you think, readers? Is Tony Stark secretly out experiencing the Afghani nightlife? Discuss your theory in the comments!


Pepper isn't sure how she had even made it into the office. Yesterday she'd spent six hours trying to write a single memo for Public Relations. By 1:00 PM, someone over there had taken pity on her and forwarded a statement for Pepper to approve, something very generic, like: 'We're shocked at this terrible news, but we have faith in the men and women working to find Mr. Stark.'

The rest of the day she had spent staring at her inbox and holding her phone in her hands, as if Rhodes would call sooner if she only she were prepared.

She hadn't slept. Instead, she had gotten out of bed at three am, taken a shower, and drove in to the Stark Industries Inglewood campus.

Newspapers sit on her desk. Every day her assistant dutifully brings her the LA Times, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, every major newspaper in the country. And they are all stacked there, Tony's face staring at her from every single front page.

She turns on the television out of habit. Late night (or is it early morning?) talking heads are rehashing the story-as if Tony's capture is noting but a three-minute entertainment puff piece-and so she flips to the next channel, and the next, and the next. Finally she lands on a commercial for and leaves it on for white noise, staring at her computer.

The cursor on her screen blinks at her. She should be drafting another press release, or rearranging Tony's schedule, or something. A slightly hysterical laugh skips out of her mouth. "Mr. Stark will be unable to make the meeting, Mr. Dell," she says out loud to herself, in an ugly mockery of her normal professional tone. "He's unexpectedly out of the country."

She'd actually had to make that excuse once before, when Tony had flown the Playmate of the Year to Barcelona on a whim. On his private jet.

The amount of paperwork she had had to do on his behalf had been ridiculous, even by her standards. Never mind the fact that he hadn't brought his passport or hers, or that they'd had to make an unscheduled landing at El Prat, or that he'd missed a meeting with the CEO of Raytheon-a meeting that had taken literally months to set up. Pepper had spent an hour on the phone with Swanson's assistant before she could talk to the man himself, and by the time she spoke to him, Tony's joyride was headline news.

("Yvetta wants to say hi, Potts. Come on, be polite! What? It can't be that bad, Spain loves me. Well, the women do. The men maybe not as much.")

Pepper's eyes suddenly fill with tears and the tightness in her chest expands so much that she nearly can't breathe.

"-mysterious disappearance of bad boy billionaire Tony Stark a ruse? Is the infamous playboy secretly punking us? Giuliana, what do you think?"

Pepper's eyes snaps up to the screen, where a group of three bottle-blonde and Botoxed women sit holding glasses of white wine in their red-painted talons that match their candy-red, over-inflated lips.

"It would be just like Tony," titters one of the women, talking about him as though they were old friends. "I'll bet you twenty bucks that he shows up hungover in Bangkok in a week."

Before Pepper realizes it, the glass tumbler filled with stale water is in her hand, and she throws it with all her might at the screen.

("Jesus, Potts, relax a little. The problem is that you're drinking water. How about a glass of wine or five? Want to help me uncork a bottle? And of course by 'uncork a bottle,' I mean...")

Her breath comes in a great, shuddering heaves, her heart pounds in her chest, her eyes sting. She can't tell if she is angry at the Barbie dolls and their tinkling little laughs or if she is angry with Tony or if she is angry at herself, for not persuading Tony against this half-baked plan of a weapons demonstration in an active war zone.

"Why did you do it," she asks the room aloud, her voice catching in a way that made her hate herself for the weakness it showed. "Why did you go there, Tony? You asshole, why did you go there?"


Stark Industries (SIA) suffers on Wall Street

By Elizabeth Gardener

January 29, 2008

NEW YORK, New York - By the closing bell on Monday, industrial giant Stark Industries (SIA) stock had fallen to 108.54 ( -19.00%, -25.46) in the Dow Jones. The huge loss was no doubt the financial world's reaction to CEO Anthony Stark's shocking abduction twenty-five miles outside Jalalabad, Afghanistan on Sunday, January 27. The loss followed what had been a strong recovery performance for Stark Industries (SIA) after January 21, when the company's stock fell by -4.17% (-10.26) in reaction to global losses.

"It wasn't as bad as it could have been," CNN financial expert Walter Lundgren explained. "If the Exchange had been closed, that would have been bad, especially in consideration of the market crashes last week in Asia and Europe. But this is a wild swing, and swings like this go the other way real fast. Plus, this isn't Obadiah Stane's first rodeo. It's not the first time the world's thrown a curveball at Stark Industries."

Lundgren was of course referring to the 1991 death of Stark Industries founder and president Howard Stark, whose untimely death in an automobile accident took place shortly before Stark Industries had planned to go public (after his death, Stark Industries did not become a publicly-traded company until 1993). In a press conference, Chief Operating Officer Obadiah Stane said, "We have every faith that the servicemen and women in Afghanistan will find Tony and bring him back to us." The obviously distraught Stane went on to say, "I ask that the people of this nation pray for Tony, for the young people wounded in the attack, and for the families of those who perished on Sunday. Tony's like a son to me, and just as we have done in the past, the board will make sure that his company will be waiting for him when he makes it back to American soil."

A high-level executive at the New York office of Stark Industries reports that an emergency board meeting will take place on Wednesday, January 30. "Everything's ground to a halt," the executive informed the WSJ. "The board will make Stane interim CEO to stop the bleeding, and start interviewing for a CTO under the radar."

In Afghanistan, the search continues for the missing billionaire. "They found a shoe," said reporter Nathan Groenig in a phone interview with National Public Radio's Terry Gross. Embedded with a Marine Reconnaissance unit in Jalalabad, Groenig described the find. "It was a moment of levity for the searchers. One Air Force officer commented, 'Only Tony would wear Italian leather to a war zone.'"

David Arterton and Bernard Longi contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008, The Wall Street Journal


"Now Pepper," says Obadiah kindly. "I know you. You're not doing what I told you to do, which is to turn off that damn laptop and just take a breather."

Pepper feels like her muscles are made of guitar strings tuned so sharp that they no longer even resemble the notes that they're supposed to be. "Mr. Stane, I assure you, I'm perfectly fine-"

She hears Obadiah's heavy sigh, the one he uses when he's trying to get Tony to just listen to reason.

("Tony," she remembers Obadiah saying once, "Tony, you will not talk to Stevens and Kubasik like that. I don't care what you think about Lockheed's garbage ideas for the Orion spacecraft, they are not impressed with you and you're just making yourself look like a jackass. Do better. Stevens at least was a friend of your father, if you recall.")

She falls silent. "Pepper," says the COO again. "I know how much he means to you. I need you to take a few days to get your bearings."

Pepper is glad this conversation is over the phone, because she's not sure she'd ever be able to face Obadiah again if he could see her chin trembling like it is now. "I..."

"Go visit JARVIS," Obadiah says before she can get out an excuse. "I'm sure he's lonely by now without Tony to natter at him."

("I don't natter," Tony would say, aghast.)

And Pepper listens. Later, when she is sitting alone in Tony's house, staring at the great blue beyond, she realizes that she is not going to be fine at all.


Still no sign of Stark

By Nancy Sheen

January 31, 2008

INGLEWOOD, California - Its CEO Tony Stark now missing in Afghanistan for four days, the impressive Stark Industries campus is a flurry of activity. "News crews, choppers, reporters, everything," stated one employee who wished to remain anonymous. "The moment the news broke, it's been like this. I heard the PCH was gridlocked for ten miles through Malibu, too."

Along with other residents of the city, Stark's spectacular, self-designed mansion in Malibu, California has been under siege since the CEO's office released the brief statement, "We have every confidence in the search effort led by the American military and look forward to Mr. Stark's safe return."

Stark's famously hand-picked entourage has been approached for interviews by all the major networks and news organizations, but none agreed to comment on the situation. "[Personal Assistant Virginia] 'Pepper' Potts spent about twenty hours in the office on Tuesday," revealed a female employee working in the accounting department at Stark Industries. "No one has seen her since."

The Department of Defense has been unsurprisingly tight-lipped about the search effort. "A superior joint operations force has been engaged to locate Mr. Stark," stated General Dan McNeill in a briefing in Kandahar on Wednesday. The commander of Afghanistan operations went on to admit "No demands have been made."

General David Mondale, Ret. commented on the situation on Fox News. "It's bad for everyone. It's bad for the United States military, bad for Stark Industries... but mostly it's bad for the eleven airmen killed and the billionaire patriot in the hands of terrorists. If they haven't received a ransom demand, then it's because Stark is dead."

Stark Industries spokesmen refused comment.

Copyright © 2008, The Los Angeles Times


The reporters found her apartment. Now Pepper regrets moving to the Villa Malibu complex, because if she had just stayed in the stupid place she'd had before, she highly doubts that the news crews would have even known where to look for her.

("Pepper," Tony wheedles, drawing out the 'R' in a whine. "C'mon. I just gave you a raise. You want more, is that it? You're trying to embarrass me with this place? 'Tony Stark's Assistant Forced To Live in Squalor?' That's what the headlines will say.")

So three years ago she'd given in, and three years later there is a news chopper overhead because Tony is gone.

She gets through the gate somehow, despite the flash photography and the press of bodies against her Audi. If Tony was with her, he would be disgusted.

("I just detailed this for you," he would moan. "Don't they have any appreciation for fine vehicles, even if this is a 2006?")

She parks the car ("Potts, this thing is practically an antique. Obie's grandma called, she wants the car back for parts for her Model T.") and steps out into the garage, her Louboutin Privatitas echoing as she stalks to the lobby.

Jim calls the moment she makes it to her apartment. Pepper feels adrenaline and excitement for the three seconds it takes to answer and say, 'Hello?' until the first words from Tony's oldest friend are: "No joy."

She deflates and falls into her sofa like the bones in her legs have disappeared. "Just wanted to check in with you," says Jim, sounding tired and tense. "The special forces guys arrived here from Bragg late last night, I guess that was this morning for you... and we're putting together a strategy. JSOC wants to be the frontman on the operation of course, but the attack happened on AFSOC watch so McChrystal and Wooley are going at it, each trying to make sure their guys get in first."

"Are you saying that they flew in to Afghanistan?"

"Wooley did, McChrystal is still at Fort Bragg," Jim clarifies. "I met with Wooley this morning, requested special permission to stay. He's pulling some strings at the Pentagon for me. I'll be deploying with the search effort."

"That's great," says Pepper after a few seconds of silence. Anything to fill the static between them.

("Christ, lighten up, you two," Tony would smirk. "Pussy got your tongue, Rhodey? Oh, Pepper, want me to show you what I mean?")

"It's only been a few days, Pepper." Jim says finally. "That's nothing. We'll find him."

"You would tell me if they-if the terrorists sent something, right?" says Pepper suddenly. "You would tell me if-if there was a video, or-or, a message, or something, right?"

Now that the thought has occurred to her, now that she has remembered that Jim is a military man, that he has to obey his superiors, she is suddenly terrified that she won't know if they find something.

"Of course I would," Jim snaps. "Tony has me and Obadiah listed as his next-of-kin, I think. I don't advertise it, but even if I'm instructed not to tell you something on a professional level, on a personal level I can tell you whatever the hell I want."

The relief she feels is like taking a deep breath after too long underwater. "Thanks Jim."

"Thank me when I find him," says Jim, his voice hard. "And I will. I will find him."


Afghanistan, National security, and Tony Stark major topics during debate

By Thomas Clarkson

February 1, 2008

LOS ANGELES, California - The most prominent Republican that featured in last night's debate at the Kodak Theater between Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was not Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who won yesterday's Florida Republican presidential primary in a landslide victory over opponents Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Nor was it President George W. Bush. Instead, Stark Industries CEO Anthony Stark was the catchphrase of the evening, each candidate using the billionaire businessman's January 27 abduction to frame their positions on national security.

"Senator Clinton and I agree on this," said Obama in a question about the War in Afghanistan. "The tragedy that happened last week serves to show exactly how much work still needs to be done in Afghanistan-work that has been neglected in favor of continued operations in Iraq. Mr. Stark along with twenty-four American servicemen and women were ambushed only twenty miles outside Jalalabad, a major US military position. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida and its Taliban allies are still at large and very much able to operate."

Clinton later took the opportunity to take a jab at the Republican position on the war in Iraq. "It has been a nearly week since Mr. Stark was taken captive, yet Republicans on the Hill continue to call for more resources and money to be thrown at the war in Iraq. Another troop surge. How could it possibly be any clearer that the real fight is in Afghanistan? Last week, one of richest men in the world was taken captive by insurgents. Tony Stark was protected by the best military in the world, the military who had at their disposal the top-of-the-line weapons that he himself had provided to them. And he was abducted in the span of about twenty minutes. Afghanistan needs to be the priority. The security of this nation and of Americans needs to be the priority."

"The missing CEO and Chairman of Stark Industries has redefined the current discourse," leading political analyst James Gengras said on MSNBC following the debate. "The big issue was the economy. But out of nowhere, a billionaire gets plucked out of a Humvee, the stocks tank in response, and suddenly people don't care about the ramifications of a U.S. recession any more. There hasn't been a hotter national security issue since the invasion of Iraq in 2003."

Despite Clinton's assertion to the contrary, both parties are taking the Stark abduction seriously. In fact, most analysts have credited Senator McCain's unique perspective on the situation with his surprisingly decisive victory in Florida. "If I could say one thing to Tony right now," said McCain in a statement last week, "it would be this: don't give the bastards what they want, and don't give up."

Copyright © 2008, The Los Angeles Times


"Thank you, Mr. Chabraja," says Pepper smoothly. "I appreciate the phone call. However, I do think it is a little too early for condolences, as Mr. Stark has been missing for barely a week," she adds.

Her assistant is listening to the phone call. He leans against the door of her office, clipboard in hand, looking entirely uncertain of himself.

"If General Dynamics is determined to give a sympathy gift, then I would suggest a donation to one of Mr. Stark's preferred non-profit organizations," she continues. "Perhaps the World Wildlife Fund or Mr. Stark's personal charity, the Stark Science Scholarship Fund. Yes, thank you again, Mr. Chabraja."

Pepper hangs up the phone and stares at the receiver, seething. "Peter," she says grimly, "If one more CEO calls from a Stark Industries competitor to let me just how 'devastated' and how 'terribly sorry' they are about Tony, I want you to tell them to go fuck themselves."

Peter's eyes go wide. He's new on the job, only a few months, and Pepper suddenly remembers that he might take her seriously.

"I'm not serious," she says flatly, and in her mind she scorns the abject relief that she sees in his eyes.

"Um, yes, Ms. Potts. Of course."

It's a well-kept secret that Pepper goes through at least three assistants a year. Either they can't handle the job, or Tony sleeps with them, or Pepper fires them. What she would really like is just a clone of herself.

("I think it's charming, actually," said Tony once, with a grin. "The indomitable Pepper Potts, harsh taskmistress of her domain! Approach not, lest ye be judged incompetent... it's kind of a kinky image, Potts. By the way, I think you should hire another brunette. With glasses. And a world-class rack.")

"Ms. Potts-are you, um, are you doing okay?"

Peter's baby-smooth face and half-eager, half-afraid eyes is suddenly the most irritating thing Pepper can imagine. "Thank you, Mr. Hartley," she says coolly. "That's all I need for now."


Stark Industries to offer reward for CEO

By ARNOLD DENTON

Published: February 4, 2008

INGLEWOOD, California - Stark Industries announced in a press conference today that it would provide a significant financial reward for any leads to CEO Anthony Stark's whereabouts. "The Stark Industries Board of Directors has decided to offer $10 million for information leading to the retrieval of Tony Stark," said Chief Financial Officer Peter Fontaine in prepared remarks. "The reward is contingent upon Tony's safe return."

"Tony has been a friend ever since I joined the company nine years ago," Mr. Fontaine continued. "He is a part of the Stark Industries family and is one of this generation's most brilliant minds. We miss him deeply and we as a company are praying daily that he will be found and returned to us."

The $10 million reward is a conservative figure by some estimates, particularly in consideration of the robust kidnapping insurance that all Stark Industries board members are required to have. Since the late nineties, the mercurial businessman has made frequent appearances in "World's Wealthiest" lists. In early January, Forbes Magazine estimated Mr. Stark's net worth at $30.8 billion, making the genius engineer cum infamous playboy the 8th richest man in the world.

Since the January 27 attack on the caravan of military vehicles that was escorting Mr. Stark back to Jalalabad Airport, no group has come forward to take responsibility for his abduction. Top military officials have also revealed that no ransom demands have reached them.

"The Taliban and al-Qaeda are the most likely perpetrators, obviously," said terrorism expert Dr. John Linderman of UCLA. "The so-called 'Merchant of Death' is just as famous in the Middle East as in the United States. It may be that a routine insurgent operation happened to strike the protective convoy, and Mr. Stark happened to be recognized. In this situation, there's no financial incentive for the group that has him. Neither the Taliban nor al-Qaeda has the resources to play out a successful ransom scenario."

When asked what that meant for Mr. Stark, Dr. Linderman shook his head. "Unfortunately, the most likely scenario here would be another Daniel Pearl situation. The murder of a high-profile captive like Tony Stark would provide exactly the kind of notoriety on which these terrorist organizations thrive."

Not everyone agrees with Dr. Linderman's assessment. "Tony Stark is a genius," states Dr. Ahmed Patel, a former professor of Computer Science at MIT who taught Mr. Stark when he was just fifteen years old. "He is a man who programmed a world-class missile targeting system at sixteen. What terrorist group does not want to use that mind?"

Copyright © 2008, The New York Times


The workshop feels empty. Dummy and You are charging, the fabrication shop is silent, the cars parked and untouched. The engine block of the roadster is just as he left it. Everything is as he left it.

Despite all the stuff-and god knows, there is a lot of stuff-it still feels empty.

Pepper stares at the cavernous room and walks over to Tony's desk, where a fine film of dust has settled on old components, pens, a coffee mug, a few pictures. Three or four crumpled up napkins from Caesar's Palace would be trash but for the line drawings and dimensions and equations that he had scribbled on them eight days prior.

Pepper sits down on the stool at his desk, setting down the bottle of wine and single glass that she had brought down with her. They had purchased this bottle of Bâtard-Montrachet together, after Tony had found out that she was an oenophile and proceeded to repurpose a basement room into a wine cellar.

("All the great men have them," he had announced airily one day out of the blue. "I don't drink wine myself, of course, but I'll need you to curate it, Potts. I can't have a substandard collection. And you'll need to taste them, too, to make sure they're good. I'll make JARVIS tell if you don't.")

Like the art collection, like the rare books, this was for her. It was Tony's way of giving outlandish gifts to her that she couldn't refuse. The first time he'd ever been to her apartment and seen the array of modern art prints on the walls, he'd gotten the look in his eye that she now knew to watch out for, but back then she hadn't even noticed. Two weeks later, he had told her he wanted some art.

("New art," he'd said abruptly over Thai takeout. "Some, ah, Picasso or something. You know, modern stuff. Like the guy who paints with dots and cut off his ear. I need it. I love it. Take care of it for me.")

Pepper stares at the bottle. It is a 1992 vintage, and they had bought it when they'd been in Paris for a technical conference-a conference which he'd gotten out of the moment his own speech was done and instead taken her to a specialty wine shop on the Rue des Archives in the Hôtel-de-Ville arrondissement.

("I like this one," he'd said, pointing at a Grand Cru bottle. "Cool label." He'd turned to the shop owner, who had looked scandalized, and said, "Une dégustation de vin pour la mademoiselle, s'il vous plaît. Rien de tout pour moi, je n'aime pas le vin.")

They'd left the shop with three cases of wine in the trunk of the Bentley that Stark Industries Paris had assigned them, and Pepper a little tipsy-she should have spat out the wine after each tasting, but Tony had wrinkled his nose and told her to knock it off after the first time she'd tried it.

("What do you think, Potts?" Tony had asked her in the car, grinning. Of the wine? she'd asked. "Yes, you know, specific kinds of grapes that they stomp on and let ferment until some sap decides they're worth about ₣20 million. Good for our collection?")

Pepper uncorks the bottle and pours a third of a glass. She had brought the wrong kind of glassware for a Chardonnay, but she can't find it within herself to care.

"Cheers," she murmurs into the silence as she tips the glass back. Her voice is loud in the workshop, but it doesn't echo. There is too much stuff for that. But it still feels empty.


Stark Industries investors relieved as Stane takes top job

By Martin Reaver

February 14, 2008

NEW YORK, New York - Stark Industries (SIA) formally announced Thursday morning that longtime Chief Operating Officer Obadiah Stane would become interim CEO effective immediately. It's a move that financial experts have anticipated since the abduction of wunderkind Anthony Stark late in January, but one that the Stark Industries Board of Directors has hesitated to make.

"After a great deal of deliberation," said CFO Peter Fontaine in a statement released before the market opened today, "the Board of Directors has unanimously decided that it is in the company's best interest to appoint Obadiah Stane as interim CEO. It is our responsibility to ensure that Tony's company is in good hands in his absence and we have every confidence that Obadiah will lead Stark Industries in the direction that Tony dreamed for us."

It's a sobering change of attitude from the endlessly optimistic CFO. Prior to the announcement, the company line was simple: "We believe that Tony will be found and returned to American soil by the great efforts of the men and women of the United States military." Yet nearly three weeks after the abduction, the trail has gone cold.

"I'm not sure we'll ever know what happened to Tony Stark," said a high-ranking military official in a comment to the WSJ. "There are no leads, no informants, no ransom notes, no messages at all from his captors. This late in the game, the chances that he's alive are probably nil. It's a tragedy, but that is the reality of the situation. The search effort has already slowed. I expect that [General Dan] McNeill will call off the search entirely in a few days."

Stane taking the reins injected some confidence into the flagging market on Tuesday. Last week on February 5 Stark Industries (SIA) dropped under 100 points for the first time in six years. By the closing bell today, however, the company ended at 121.03 (+23.50%, +23.03), marking its first significant gains since Stark went missing in January.

The improved performance was undoubtedly a result of Stane's appointment. "Staying in limbo was going to make the stocks plummet," said a Bear Stearns trader. "They had to stop the bleeding. They should have made Stane CEO the day it happened, but they were probably afraid that admitting Stark was dead would crash them. Stark was the technical brains, sure, but there are other geniuses in town. Stane's got the business sense to find them, and he will."

"No body has been found," said Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last Friday. "We'll keep looking until we find him. Stark never served in the military, but he and his family have been the United States Armed Forces' greatest allies since World War II, and it is not the practice of the United States to leave her allies behind."

Copyright © 2008, The Wall Street Journal


"Ms. Potts, it is time to shift some of Tony's responsibilities elsewhere," says CFO Peter Fontaine. "As responsible executives, we must do some temporary restructuring."

Despite having worked in the corporate world for over ten years, business euphemisms still grate on Pepper. 'Restructuring?' Distaste for the MBA lingo is one of the things that she shares with Tony, though she never admits to him that she enjoys his little rants about the latest go-to corporate buzz words.

("For Christ's sake, can we stop using the word 'synergy?' Seriously?" Tony had snapped out in the middle of a Board presentation. "The only 'synergy' I want to hear about is mixing Valium and scotch, because that's what I'm going to need if I keep hearing that fucking word.")

"I've already had several meetings with Stephan," Pepper says instead. "As the Vice President of Research and Development, he seems to be the best choice to temporarily assume some of the duties that Mr. Stark handles that would normally be managed by a CTO."

"Excellent," says Fontaine. "I agree. That would be my choice as well. I know you've been off-loading some items over to Obadiah, which is excellent. If you would send me a list of those things offline, that would be great."

("'Offline?' Where do they come up with this bullshit? We're not robots. I'm going to start calling him Fountain, because all he does is spout out the management keywords he learned at Stanford Business School. 'Going forward!' 'ROI!' I'm going to 'table' his entire job one of these days.")

After a few more minutes of mindless 'restructuring' chatter, Pepper finally hangs up the phone. She had already made all of the changes they had discussed a week and a half ago. That's why Tony pays her to run his company, and that's why he listens to her instead of attending Board of Directors meetings.

She leans back in her chair and takes a deep breath. Tony has been gone now for eighteen days. Eighteen days without a modicum of success. Jim still calls her daily, but every time she speaks to him, all she can hear is the desperation and disappointment and the hopelessness in his voice.

"Ms. Potts, I have Mr. Hammer on the phone for you, um, again."

Pepper sits forward to look at her assistant. He still hasn't lost the eager puppy demeanor, and it's been four months since she hired him. "Mr. Hartley, I am not available to speak with that man. I do not care if it's a 'stunning' job opportunity. You may tell him that I don't appreciate the harassment, and that if he calls here one more time, I will personally send him a pallet of ten penny nails that he can hammer up his ass, because that will be a lot less painful than the lawsuit I'll file if he calls again."

Peter stares at her and nods once. "Yes ma'am."

("Well done! And so imaginative!" Tony would crow. "It's times like these when I remember why I hired you. Can I give you another raise?")

Pepper stands abruptly, breathing harshly in the quiet of her office. Everyone is giving up, she realizes. The Board is giving up. Obadiah is giving up. The entire world is giving up. That's why she has a stack of cover letters on her desk, all introduction letters from headhunters across the country trying to lure her away from Stark Industries.

Because they think that she is giving up, too.

Pepper grabs her keys and her bag, and marches out of the door. She'll take a drive. She'll go to his house. Anywhere but here.


Notes

Languages

French: Une dégustation de vin pour la mademoiselle, s'il vous plaît. Rien de tout pour moi, je n'aime pas le vin. (A wine tasting for the miss, please. Nothing for me, I don't like wine.)

People

Most of the people mentioned in this chapter are real. The jobs and positions mentioned in the text are those they had during this time period. A full list:

Mr. Dell (Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Inc.); Swanson (William H. Swanson, CEO of Raytheon Company); Stevens (Robert Stevens, CEO of Lockheed Martin), Kubasik (Christopher Kubasik, Executive Vice President of the Electronic Systems Business Area of Lockheed Martin); Terry Gross (NPR reporter who hosts "Fresh Air"); General Dan McNeill (International Security Assistance Force commander); Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal (JSOC commander; now infamous for disparaging comments made about Pres. Obama in 2010); Lieutenant General Michael W. Wooley (AFSOC commander); Mr. Cabraja (Nicholas Cabraja, CEO of General Dynamics Corporation); Daniel Pearl (journalist captured by al-Qaeda in Pakistan in 2002, later beheaded); Admiral Mike Mullen (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).

Places

All international locations mentioned are real. A full list:

Afghanistan: Kunar Province, Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Jalalabad, Bagram Air Base, Nangahar Province, Province, Kandahar, Kandahar Air Base, Kandahar Combat Hospital.

France: Rue des Archives in the Hôtel-de-Ville arrondissement, Paris.

Events

January 21, 2008 - The Indian stock market crashed by over 1400 points, which became known as "Black Monday."

January 30, 2008 - A debate between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton did take place on this date in Los Angeles in the Kodak Theatre, but it focused primarily on health care and the economy rather than national security. Sen. John McCain did win the Florida primary, but not as decisively as I portrayed in the story.

February 5, 2008 - Known as "Super Tuesday" because of the large number of presidential primaries that took place on this day. It was also a pretty bad day for the U.S. stock market, with both the Dow and the Nasdaq at around -3%.

Miscellaneous

The Orion Spacecraft was designed by Lockheed Martin for NASA for use in the Constellation program, which was supposed to have replaced the Space Shuttle Program but was shut down in 2010.

Bâtard-Montrachet is an AOC vineyard that produces only Chardonnay. AOC is a cultural preservation system instituted by the French government that designates what foods and wines may call themselves. For example, any vineyard could make champagne, but it's not officially Champagne unless it was produced at a vineyard in the Champagne region of France and adheres to a very specific set of standards.

In 2008, Forbes Magazine listed KP Singh at the 8th Richest Person in the World with a fortune of approximately $30.0 billion. The 7th richest was Ingvar Kamprad & family, worth $31.0 billion.

"The guy who paints with dots" was Georges Seurat, but he did not cut off his ear. That was Vincent Van Gogh.