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A Deal is Brokered in a Sweat Lodge
Harmony House: Episode 1
Welcome to the beginning of my new serial novel! I hope you’re ready for a fun ride together. New episodes will drop every Tuesday morning. All episodes will be free to read for the first three months before they go into the paid archive. Paid subscribers can enjoy high-quality audio narration like the preview I’m providing to everyone in this first episode.
The snow was punishing. It just kept falling like the sky was made of it.
It had taken him nearly eighteen hours to make it out into the middle of this godforsaken place. Three flight delays, a bus ride, and a four-hour crawl to cover fifty-two miles up a two-lane highway that was little more than the suggestion of a road in the blizzard. But he was here. He was naked, and he was sweating.
But that’s what you had to do if you wanted an audience with Cliff Baron, serial entrepreneur, billionaire, armchair environmentalist, and leftist nutjob with terminal cancer.
“Take a deep breath now. Hold it, hold it, hold it… and release.”
The young spirit guide or whatever he called himself sat cross-legged in the center of the sweat lodge next to Cliff. There was an old Indian guy chanting somewhere in the dark behind them. It stunk like old man sweat and leather and mildew and some heady incense. The steam coming off the pile of molten-hot rocks in the center of this glorified blanket fort made every breath Chris took feel like his lungs were on fire.
“Sir, if I may…”
“You may not right now. This is a holy place. We do not conduct business in a holy place.”
Cliff’s eyes remained closed. He took another long, shuddering breath. The young guide opened his dark eyes long enough to give Chris a withering gaze that was as hot as the embers that heated the rocks outside the sweat lodge. Cliff continued to breathe in and out. Who could blame him? How many more breaths did he have left? It couldn’t be many judging by the hollows of his cheeks and the waxy pallor of his sweaty face. After another cycle of breaths, he made an irritated face and opened his eyes.
“What is it you want? Why did you come all the way here to bother me?”
It felt strange to be making a pitch with his sweaty balls roasting on a scratchy rug in the middle of a blizzard, but here he was. This was his chance, his golden ticket. He took a breath for courage and immediately regretted it. He had a coughing fit that went on for nearly a full minute. He was allergic to this goddamned sage or patchouli or whatever the fuck it was.
“You okay, son?” Cliff asked.
“Ahem… yes. Sorry, I uh. Having trouble breathing…ahuh, ahuh, ahuh.”
“Drink some water,” the guide said, thrusting a pottery mug into his hands.
Chris drank greedily and the cool water dribbled down his chin and chest. He took a cautious breath and tried again.
“Sir, I would like…”
“Cliff, call me Cliff. We’re naked in a sweat lodge together. I think we can forego the formalities unless you plan to pull a PowerPoint out of your ass.”
“Sorry. Cliff. I will try to be quick.”
Chris desperately wished he could pull out a slick PowerPoint right about now, but he’d have to paint a picture with words alone. He felt suddenly inspired. Maybe there was more than sage fogging up this tent.
“The world’s going to hell. Miami Beach is no longer a beach. California is mostly scorched earth. But you know all this. You’ve been ringing the alarm bells for decades but nobody’s listened. What if I told you, I’ve got an opportunity for you to make a change? A real change. A change that could be the first step on the road towards saving us all. It could be your legacy.”
“Son, if you’re trying to get me hard, I’m long past that. Spare me the string music and get to the point.”
“Harmony House.” Chris made a billboard gesture in the darkness between them. “A completely self-sustaining modular home – not just a modular home, but a fully automated, secure, luxury home at an affordable price. We’ve built a prototype and it’s, well, it’s pretty damned amazing. It’s the culmination of decades of science, technology, and human engineering. This thing can sustain a small family, completely off the grid. All that’s required is a level piece of ground, sunlight, and ample rainfall or a water source.”
He paused for effect and took a few shallow breaths.
“I’m listening,” Cliff said.
He had turned to face Chris and his eyes were squinting to take the measure of him.
“We’ve already raised over ten million dollars from a crowd-sourced campaign. This thing is blowing up. People are hungry for it. We’ve got a waiting list of over ten thousand folks who have deposited their hard-earned money to reserve their future home.”
“So, what exactly do you need me for?”
“Sir, Cliff, we need your partnership to make this thing real. The patents you hold for brown water recycling and air purification are fundamental to our design. It’s because of your genius we were able to bring this dream to life at all.”
“I see. So, without me, you don’t have a pot to piss in – heh, well maybe you’ve got the pot, but you need to make that piss drinkable or your whole… what did you call it?”
“Right, Harmony House thing won’t make it past a prototype.”
“That’s right. We need you now to help us save the planet.”
“Let’s not jerk each other off here son. We both know this is the money business. But you see I’m about to retire from the money business and pretty much all business very soon. The only thing I care about in this world anymore is my daughter, Evangeline.”
Outside the wind buffeted the blankets that surrounded them. Steam hissed from the large stones at the back of the lodge as the old Indian poured water over them and murmured some incantation. Chris knew he had given it his best shot, but it wasn’t going to happen. This crazy old fucker would kick off clutching his patents. His money and his influence would all be gone – distributed to a bunch of well-marketed charitable foundations already too fat and happy to change the world.
Maybe he stretched the truth a little bit. Maybe it was too much, and the old guy sniffed it out. So, they really only had a couple thousand pre-orders. The business plan was sound. It was better than sound, it was revolutionary. Harmony House could save the world – one household at a time.
Chris sighed, uncrossed his legs, and began to sit up so he could escape the intense heat and stench of other men.
“Okay, I’m in,” Cliff said.
Chris froze in his awkward crouch. “I’m sorry?”
“I’m in,” the old man said louder. “I’m in 100%, but I have one non-negotiable condition.”
“You make Evangeline a full partner in this enterprise and she has the final say on marketing.”
Chris felt swimmy and nearly wept. It might have been the sage or maybe he was oxygen-deprived. He couldn’t believe it. He and his brother had worked toward this dream for their entire lives. They’d borrowed money from every friend and family member. They’d built a hundred flawed prototypes. They’d nearly given up a thousand times. But now it was going to happen. Cliff fucking Baron was going to make it happen.
“Yes sir, we have a deal,” he said before opening the flap of the sweat lodge and stepping naked into the swirling snow globe that was February in Montana.
“It’s like, so sleek. Like some James Bond dollhouse shit. I mean when Daddy told me about this I was like, oh great! Eve, here ya go, you can be the CMO for this company that makes like trailers for you know, hippies. But this. Dude, you guys are wizards.”
Chris watched his brother, Scott watch Eve Baron prattle on as she ran one of her pink, glossy fingernails along the door trim of Harmony House, the polished glass of its wall-to-roof wraparound windows, glinted in the sunlight coming through the open bay of the warehouse.
“Thanks, I guess?” Scott said, wincing as his brother’s elbow jabbed him in the ribs.
“We’re glad you like it,” Chris said.
He stepped up beside Eve, punched a four-digit code into the keypad and the glass sliding, pocket door whirred open. A rush of cool air washed over them, carrying with it the scent of a luxury hotel lobby – notes of cedar, citrus, and expensive leather. Chris gestured for Eve to step inside, and he followed her.
It didn’t matter how many times he stepped into this dwelling that he and his brother had built, it still felt like a dream. It was a far cry from the first one they made out of a refrigerator box in the garage when they were ten and twelve. It was even a far cry from last year’s prototype which was held together in places with duct tape and wood glue. This five-hundred-square-foot capsule was a harmonious marriage of engineering and design, a perfect coupling of sustainable elements.
This was unit number 46 in the first production run of Harmony House. It was a model with the premium trim package, and he marveled at the impossible shine of the polished stone countertops that weren’t actually stone but some eco-friendly composite material made from recycled plastic his brother had sourced from a company in Santa Cruz.
“Oh my god! It’s like being in a spaceship!” Eve squealed.
Eve had plopped down onto the l-shaped couch beneath the window and was preening like a cat, her expensive heels digging into the vegan-leather upholstery. Scott moved to put an end to this, but Chris blocked him with an outstretched arm.
“I read on the website that you can actually tell it to play music?” she asked, taking out her phone to pose for a selfie.
“That’s right. It can. House, play Beast of Burden by the Rolling Stones,” Chris said.
Keith Richards’s opening guitar riff slinked and swaggered out of the hidden speakers in the ceiling in stereo perfection. Scott and Chris exchanged a look. Scott smirked and shook his head.
“So cool!” Eve shouted over the music as she got up and began to dance over to the small refrigerator. “Are there like drinks in here?”
“Um, no,” Scott said. “But you can try some water, filtered courtesy of your dad’s technology.”
He stepped over to the kitchen, reached over Eve’s shoulder, and gently pressed on one of the faux mahogany cabinet doors. It automatically lifted open to reveal four perfect rows of sparkling glassware. He palmed a crystal tumbler and held it under the faucet. A sensor detected the glass and a tight, clear stream of water poured into it, filling in seconds.
“Here ya go,” he said, handing it to her.
She took a sip and smiled. “Awe, Daddy would be so proud. I wish he could be here.”
Scott smiled without showing any teeth. He was really not a fan of Evangeline Baron. Her father, while still an ass, was at least a self-made ass and he was, without a doubt one of the giants in green technology. When Chris called him six weeks earlier to tell him they were taking on a partner, he hung up the phone and screamed into a throw pillow until his voice was ragged.
This was just the latest in what seemed like a truckload of brick-shaped turds his brother happily laid on their well-intentioned path to save the world with the dream they had shared since they were kids. First, it had been making the thing a luxury good and all the shit that went along with that: chrome fittings, faux-wood paneling, an aromatherapy atomizer to pump their hand-crafted fragrance (to the tune of a $100,000). Then it was bringing in the venture capital fucks with all their “suggestions” about how to make this thing go BIG. What was once their dual vision had become a committee of dunces and now one of those dunces was a full partner and her suggestions couldn’t be ignored.
But Scott knew himself. He knew where they would be if it weren’t for Chris. They would still be tinkering on Sundays in his garage, taking a welding torch to a battle-worn Airstream. His brother was worldly, and he knew how to make things happen. As Scott looked around the climate-controlled sanctuary of this thing they’d made, he couldn’t help but feel satisfied. No matter what it took to bring it into being, it was here. And he’d not completely sold his soul. The price per unit for the base model was still affordable for lower-middle-class families and, he’d been firm about holding to their promise that twenty percent of their profits off the top went to sustainable farming practices.
“Hey, space man! Over here,” Chris said, gesturing for him to join them at the small dining table. “We were just talking about the latest marketing plan.”
Scott slid in next to his brother, so they were both facing Eve.
“So, I’ve been thinking about how we can get the word out about this,” she said, taking the sunglasses off her head and laying them on the tabletop. “A contest.”
“You mean like a sweepstakes kind of thing?” Chris asked.
“Fuck no! I mean like a CONTEST, like that old television show from before we were born where the naked people had to live on an island or some shit… what’s it called?”
“Survivor,” Scott said, his face slack. “You mean Survivor.”
“Bingo! That’s what I’m talking about. People will eat that shit up. We hold auditions and pick like ten people and they have to come live together in this thing. The last person standing gets to keep it!” She squealed.
“Ten people. Living in here?” Chris asked.
“That’s fucking crazy,” Scott said before he could help himself.
Chris punched his leg under the table. Eve frowned at him, her bottom lip pooching out in a pout. She blinked twice, her long eyelashes fluttering in a way that reminded Scott of a small child or baby animal.
“Daddy thought it was a great idea,” she said.
“Yeah… I can see how that could work…” Chris said. He looked up through the glass roof as he scratched his throat, pretending to think about the possibilities. “But maybe ten people is too many?”
It was his turn to be punched under the table and he winced. His big brother had fists like nine-pound hammers.
“How does making this a survivor contest align with our mission?” Scott asked, incredulous.
“Isn’t a big part of your mission to sell these thingys?” Eve asked.
“Yes, but don’t you think this is the wrong message to be sending? Have you read our mission statement as a company? Do you know what we’ve been trying to build?”
“I skimmed it. Save the planet, sustainable future, no carbon, yada yada. You guys are smart and really sweet, but Jesus, nobody wants to buy that.”
“How about we give one away to a deserving family? Make that the contest,” Chris offered.
Eve frowned. She reached into her oversized Gucci purse and pulled out a slick glossy folder with a gold embossed logo in the bottom right corner: BangOn! Media : You make it. We make it real.
“I’ve already engaged a top firm to put together a proposal. It’s all right here for you to check out. I think you’ll see it’s pretty fuckin’ rad.”
Chris sighed and hung his head. He had that all-to-familiar feeling of late, that feeling of things sliding sideways. There was an inevitability to a thing once you got so many people involved. He hated how Scott always got to be the outraged one, the principled one leaving him to pander to the gatekeepers for both of them.
“Four people,” Chris said. “That’s the most people you can fit in here. There’s two queen beds. Maybe it could be two couples.”
“Nine,” Eve said, leveling her gaze at them. “It’s got to be a spectacle, otherwise, what’s the point? Take a look at the proposal. It’s all in there.”
“Six people and that’s it,” Scott said with the absolute, unwavering conviction that had always infuriated Chris but in this case, he welcomed. “And I don’t care what these BangOn people say in their proposal, we’re not gonna make this like some kind of knife fight, cage match. I mean, for fuck’s sake, this thing is called Harmony House.”
Eve looked stunned, but only for a beat before she smiled and pushed the glossy folder across the tabletop. “About that…” she said.
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I’m so glad you’re in this with me.
I can’t wait to drop the next episode for you next Tuesday. How are you feeling? Did you like the audio? Enjoy the soundtrack? I’d love to build a community of readers as this book evolves. Please jump in and start a conversation.
Who’s Who in Harmony House?
Having trouble keeping track of who’s who from one week to the next? It’s tough when you only get to visit once a week. I made a little cheat sheet just for you: