Friday, August 31, 2007


The Famous Author's longtime whip was last heard from as she took her seat on a plane to Barcelona. She and her two girlfriends got to the airport early, had a few cocktails, and almost missed their ride. Point being, I have convinced TFA to take me to the beach this weekend.

Therefore, in thanks to the Geez, I offered him this entire weekend for Blatant Self Promotion, namely his June 9 episode of the Big Numbers World Tour. "Advice From Robert Crais" is the top voted, featured story this week on

But Austin Carr bloggers don't have to go there. Here's that long-lived piece yet again. (I know brown-nosing the boss really sucks, but hats off, TFA. You did good with this one.) Bloggers also get the only known shot (above) showing TFA posing as an author with Robert Crais. Notice Bobby got as far away as possible. I only call him Bobby when Joe Pike's not around. Anyway, the photo is proof that half of this story is actually true.

BOISE, IDAHO (June 9) -- Walking from my hotel to the Saturday evening reception, Murder in the Grove’s closing show, I find myself mano-a-mano with New York Times best-selling author, this mystery convention’s Guest of Honor, Robert Crais.

Strolling the sidewalk, just the two of us, one author to another.

Sure. Like Roger Clemens and my granddaughter are both baseball players.

“You’ve got to lose your ego in this business,” Crais says.

My ears perk up. The first reason is Crais himself. One of the publishing industry’s biggest stars, and about to be presented with Idaho’s Bloody Pen Award for his contribution to crime fiction, Crais is wearing blue jeans, sneakers, shades, and a dark suit jacket over an untucked flowered shirt.

“I showed up at a bookstore not that long ago and they’d completely forgotten about my signing,” Crais says. “The place was empty. When I found the manager, he offered me a job application.”

All I can do is shake my head. Crais is telling me this story, talking about egos, for a reason. On his author panel earlier in the day, answering a question about my most embarrassing moment as a novelist, I mentioned what happened the night before. The bookstore we were all bussed to, for a signing, featured books by every author but me.

“My point is, you can’t let that stuff upset you,” Crais says. “That stuff happens all the time, to everybody. It’s part of the business.”

We’re about ten strides from the reception where one-hundred people await the presentation of Crais’s award and his acceptance speech. He’s a very funny, charming guy. I’ve got about four seconds before the crowd swallows him.

“I wasn’t upset with that bookstore lady,” I say. “Pouring whipped-creme latte on people’s shoes is pretty calm for me.”

Crais hesitates before joining the crowd, grins at me. “Yeah, but ramming the author bus into her Volkswagen was a bit much, don’t you think? You don’t want people saying you’re a hothead.”

Before I can tell him it was an accident, that I’m not used to driving International diesels, Crais disappears into a sea of friends and fans.

Maybe he’s right. I don’t want the publishing industry or potential readers to think I have a nasty temper.

Then again, if the bus driver and that bookstore lady actually file charges, I could get some decent news coverage.

BIG MONEY, Chapter 7

The Suburban’s headlights slice through the inky air like white lasers, searching the blacktop gliding toward us. Pine and oak trees border both sides of the confined two-lane road, a thick black wall of forest. Above the treetops, a narrow strip of sky shimmers with stars.

I’m definitely getting nervous. The only thing keeping my heart rate below two-hundred per minute sits calmly beside me. Luis. Like Mr. T--the former TV star who claimed fame winning The World’s Greatest Bartender title--mi amigo Luis can handle anything.

The Suburban’s red-glow dash lights fire up the angled edges of Creeper’s profile. Almost inhuman, really. Cartoonish. Fiery colors. Trick imaging, yes, but I can’t shake the feeling he’s a monster driving me and Luis on some highway to hell.

Bluefish saying, “So, Max, tell the guys here about your first job. The one you had when you were thirteen.”

Bluefish thinks this is funny. He covers his mouth with his fingers. Call it a silly hunch, but I’m going out on a limb here. I predict this revelation about creepy Max’s teenage past is going to make me worry even more about Luis’s future.

“Max work with circus,” Creeper says. Talking about himself in the third person again, his voice is a crackling whisper. Broken glass thrown on sandpaper.

“No, tell them what you did for the circus,” Bluefish says.

“Max wrestle bears.”

Bluefish fakes a cough. “Notice he said ‘bears,’ guys. Not ‘bear.’”

The Suburban swings into a private driveway. Six-foot lengths of treated logs bridge the roadside ditch where water trickles through tall grass. A battered black-squirrel mailbox stands as wooden sentry. How cute, except the critter’s had his head shot off. The trees outside the SUV window are broken, gnarled, and twisted pine.

Seventy-five feet off the blacktop, the forest opens into a grassy clearing and a mulched playground for kids, with slides and jungle gym, and a parking lot big enough for a dozen cars. Three brick barbecues line one side of the parking area. Probably where Bluefish holds his company picnics. Buries his wives and girlfriends.

The Suburban rolls to a stop against the parking lot’s log boundary. Luis’s hand is locked onto the door handle, his gaze pinned on Creeper. Luis’s body language reminds me of a house cat. Watching Max like he’s a mouse.

Trouble is, I figure Creeper for more the Giant Rat of Sumatra.

Bluefish saying, “Do I even need to get out of the car, Max? I mean, how long could this take?”

I hear Max click a switch. All the Suburban’s doors pop free, and Luis is outside before I smell fresh air. Wow. I saw his hand move this quickly once, when some pachuko hoisted Luis by the collar and my favorite bartender went for his switchblade. But Luis’s whole body is a blur this time. Like that house cat, making his move.

Poking my head outside, I see over the SUV’s roof that Luis is loose and ready beside the Suburban’s flank while Max still squeezes from behind the wheel like some ugly brown gob of toothpaste.

When Luis kicks Max’s door, stomping on the hinged steel like he’s breaking down a locked vault, Luis times his explosion. He catches Max’s pumpkin-sized noggin just as Creeper’s face moves between the top of the Suburban’s door and the truck’s frame.

Ouch. The chunky sound of steel on Creeper’s thick head--like someone dropped a stick of butter--makes me wince.

Max staggers down to one knee, blood oozing from his temple. His body weaves, then tumbles face first onto the parking lot’s shredded bark. The earth shakes like somebody dropped a piano.

My heart’s drumming, hard rain on a cardboard roof. The two guys in suits scramble out of the Suburban’s rear seat, knocking me down, pushing past. They want Luis. One rushes around the grill, the other goes for the rear bumper. My lungs want more oxygen.

Luis stoops out of my view, then reappears like magic photography back inside the Suburban, scrambling into the driver’s seat. One hand extends a gun toward Bluefish’s head. Luis must have taken the weapon from Max. A tear of sweat rolls down my right flank.

I see Luis’s end game, at last, and jump back inside the Suburban. Same seat I had before, behind Bluefish. Damned if I don’t hear the hoot-hoot-hoot of a horned owl before I slam the door. Are the spirits with us?

Luis hits the override soon as my door shuts, locking the three of us inside. Luis grins as he hands me the gun. What an hombre. “Watch carefully Bluefish’s hands. If you lose sight of them, shoot.”

It would be my pleasure, I think. I’m no killer, but if Bluefish has another gun on him, and I don’t shoot when he goes for it, Luis and/or me could suffer serious and permanent injury.

No risk taker, however, Bluefish shows me the back of his hands, one poised by each ear. How sweet. He’s wearing his missing wife’s wedding band. Wonder if he’s still offering a reward.

I line up the muzzle with the back of Bluefish’s demented cerebellum.

The two guys in suits are hammering the windows and yanking on the doors. When that fails, they start shooting. Cracks appear on the window beside Luis’s head, but the bullets don’t penetrate. Wow. Bulletproof glass. I’m impressed with Bluefish’s defenses, and the fact Luis must have figured this out earlier. I remember him tapping the glass with his knuckles.

Luis throttles the Suburban into a bark-spewing K-turn.

Bluefish saying, “You humps are as good as dead.”

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rags Grabs the Phone

"Carr, if you're calling to tell me you're not coming in today, that your aunt is sick, or that you have a doctor's appointment in're fired. I don't care--"

"I'm playing with Mr. Vick. I'm surprised he didn't tell you, you being Sales Manager and all."

"Bullshit, Carr. Vick's right here."

"Ask him."

Rags is such a numb-nuts. No wonder he's a bad gambler. Wish I could get invited to one of his poker games.

He comes back on. "Vick says you don't tee off until twelve."

"Ask him if he wants me to hit two buckets of balls, use the putting green for an hour? Or if he wants me to play these five-handicappers from Bayonne cold?"

I can hear my dickhead Sales Manager--Mr. Vick's son-in-law--thinking. It's a grinding squeak.

"We're playing for fifty bucks a hole, Rags. Automatic presses."

Finally he says, "Have your butt in here EARLY tomorrow."

"Bye, Rags."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Real Estate Investing

For me, it's like driving by a graveyard. A jolt of mortality, then the re-invigoration of desire and purpose.

I read the names one by one and tried to visualize... tried to imagine what their lives were like, or in some cases, actually remember them.

Gone now, all, but not yet forgotten.

I saw these posts today on a mystery-related listserv: All under the subject, Series I Miss:

Troy Soos isn't doing any more of his Mickey Rawlings Baseball Mysteries.

I miss Dorothy Simpson's Luke Thanet series. I understand why she isn't writing, but I liked Thanet, and his family life.

I miss Les Roberts' Milan Jacovich series. I liked the character, and, as a former resident of northern Ohio, and graduate of Kent State, I was familiar with all of the locations.

One I truly miss is the Tory Bauer series by Kathleen Taylor.

Linda Barnes - Michael Spraggue series. I liked the character and his relationship to his grandmother. I felt the series was just getting really interesting when it stopped.

Dan Burton - He wrote a series of three books where the protagonist was a stand-up comic.

Wendy Hornsby - I'd love to see both the Maggie McGowen and the Roger Tajada series return.

Dennis Lehane - I loved the Patrick and Angie series.

A.E. Maxwell - The Fiddler and Fiora books

Don Wilcox - The Neal Carey books are still some of the best.

Oh, my. All these characters dead and gone. It's a tragedy, but one we've already spoken about at length. Too many books. The competition for mystery readers and their purchasing dollars. Publishing is a business. Yak, yak, yak. Doesn't anybody care about these poor characters? Did the authors hold a wake? The character laid out in a little coffin?

No one is promised tomorrow. The time to rally, the time to fight back against the grinding machine that is life, is now, people. Today. Tonight. This very minute!

I think I need a shot of tequila.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


This one's for The Famous Author. TFA's first adult-rated dreams may have included Ann-Margret Olsson, born overseas somewhere, one of those countries where everyone's named Olsson. Renamed Ann-Margret by her Las Vegas mentor, George Burns, she turned her redhaired beauty and singing/dancing talents into major film roles in "Pocketful of Miracles," "State Fair," "Bye Bye Birdie," "Viva Las Vegas" with Elvis, "Stagecoach," and "The Cincinnati Kid." Oh, and Academy Award nominations for "Carnal Knowledge," with Jack Nicholson, and "Tommy."

TFA says she had a sexy voice, too, and "a hit record." He remembers getting...thrilled...over the sound of her music. We checked it out with another character we know, Kate London, and she says TFA is half-right. Ann-Margret scored once with a song called 'I Just Don't Understand' that peaked at 17 on Billboard's Top 40, the third week of August 1961. Ann-Margret's thoaty voice rocked TFA on the top 40 six weeks straight that summer of '61. He can probably sing the words. I hope he waits until he gets inside the Social Security office before he breaks out.

SUB HEADS: The knock-out redhead's live performances have drawn record audiences in the Orient, Las Vegas, and Miami for several decades...She fell off a stage once, and the injuries almost ended her career...Her husband Roger Smith took good care of her...She put her own career aside when Roger got sick himself.

Cheers, Ann! Thanks for making TFA happy during those formative 60s. Your inspirations have been good for us all.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Seeing is Believing WYW

Check out OPEN ENERGY CORP (OEGY) on the OTC Bulletin Board. The price as of Friday's close was seventy-two cents. Each. That's right. I'm giving you a penny stock. Pull on your helmit, or stand back and watch.

OEGY is a renewable energy company focused on the development and commercialization of solar products for power, fresh water and related commodities. OEGY's products include roofing membranes, roofing tiles, and architectural glass, all of this and the charts according to Reuters ProVestor Plus Company Report, via E*TRADE.

I'm buying the stock this morning for our Hot Tips Account, currently plus $134 on three trades. (Not exactly burning down the house, I know, but at least we're winning.) ((Ed. Note 8/27: HTA is plus $132))

Why would I risk good money on a stock so close to zero? The charts, people. Those little pictures into a trader's mind.

Our Hot Tipster this week rides the $40 ferry to New York City everyday and an expensive Wall Street office. He hangs in great drinking holes. Better for us, the man has big ears and a bigger mouth. The only thing that makes me skeptical, this man is also a chartist. And he says the chart directly above shows it's time to buy OEGY.

What about the chart above that one? The chart that shows a perfect double-top forming?

"No, no," the Hot Tipster says. "You have to look at the Big Picture. Check the chart on the left NOW."

Looks like a hump to me.

But I think I understand now. It's all What You Want to see. Like any kind of fortune telling, a lucky interpretation is the key to success. Especially with penny stocks. And I'm hoping, wishing, thinking OEGY is as good as the last one this guy gave me. WWAT. That's the chart to the left now. Trouble is, what usually happens with tips, they're like roads and highways: The one you take is never as good as the one you passed.

I'll check back in here when I've made my purchase. (Okay, at 9:47 this morning I bought 3,000 shares at 72 cents for a total cost of $2,160.)

"Hey, Patrick. Where's your New York Giant's helmit?"

WARNING: DANGER TO YOUR FINANCIAL HEALTH. Taking Austin Carr's advice is like standing outside in a rainstorm. You will get wet. Lightning could strike. Austin Carr is a fiction of TFA's warped and aging mind. If you buy one of these stocks and lose money, you can't tell the judge, "Hey, Your Honor. I thought it was real."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Beach Day

Don't look at the calendar. The sight could depress you.

Labor Day Weekend and the frosts of fall close in like a pack of white wolves. The sun has been crossing the sky in lower arcs since June 22, but soon its path will topple, bringing to the Northeast cold, snow, and icy surfaces.

All of which sends me to the beach today, even if clouds block the sun. I will dunk myself in the Atlantic Ocean, perhaps body surf if the waves are right. No one is promised tomorrow.

I might even wear my Speedo.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Swimming with Swamies

I hate to brag. Well actually, I love to brag. And I think I'm entitled.

Anybody notice the direction of the stock market since I mentioned I wasn't selling EXC because I thought stocks were over-sold? Go back and look, people. Almost immediately, the Dow Jones, Nasdaq, and every other stock index crashed, then turned around and finished on the plus, and stocks had their best week in what...weeks, months? Felt like years.

Anyway, its been almost straight up since my call. The rally is on.

Austin Carr, Stock Market Swami.

Ok, ok, enough bragging. Here's the final word (maybe) on EXC. I sold Friday as the stock popped above $73. I'll put the final stats down below in the Hot Tip section later, but off the top of my head, I figure a net profit of less than $15. I'm bored to death with this puppy. I'll make some calls, hunt down a new Hot Tip for us to play Monday.

Friday, August 24, 2007

BIG MONEY, Chapter 6

Bluefish’s black Chevy Suburban crunches gravel in Luis’s parking lot and then rolls quietly across the sidewalk into light traffic. Red dash lights cast a hellish glow on Bluefish and his doublewide driver, Max, who waited for us outside and had big trouble squeezing inside the SUV.

Max would have trouble squeezing inside a bus.

Luis and I are tucked in the Suburban’s middle row behind Max and Bluefish. From the jump seat behind us, Bluefish’s two pals in business suits press their semiautomatics against our necks.

“Here’s the deal,” Bluefish says. “Tom Ragsdale is a degenerate gambler. No one will take his action. But then your asshole boss Vick tells me he’ll guarantee his son-in-law’s bets. Okay, I know Vick a long time. I take his word. But a few months go by, and now this hump Ragsdale is into me for eighty-nine gees.”

“Rags and Vick’s daughter are getting divorced,” I say.


“Well, I’m just saying. But no matter what, why is this my problem?”

Bluefish’s head turns back to the windshield. “Everybody tells me Vick’s coming back at the end of the summer. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. In the meantime, I’m holding Vick’s share of Shore as collateral, meaning you and your big mouth friend are going to do me a couple of favors.”

The Suburban turns off Broad St. at Newman Springs Road and heads toward the Garden State Parkway. Every other building is a gas station or a liquor store. Guess people who work in Branchtown like to fuel up before the big ride home.

“Carr, you’re going to open an account for me at Shore Securities, help manage my money.”

Luis raps his window with soft knuckles, listening at the glass. He silently tests the door handle, too. It’s locked. The driver Max must have switched on his override. Is my favorite bartender considering a bailout?

“Sounds painless,” I say to Bluefish, “but a few months from now you’ll want Shore to accept bags of cash, or stolen negotiable securities. I know how this crap works. It’s why Mr. Vick never opened an account for you all the time he’s known you.”

Luis’s hand tests the door handle again. Hope to hell he doesn’t leave me in here alone. Double hell. That driver Max makes my skin creep. His head is the size of a jack-o-lantern, his back and shoulders like a rhino.

“What favor do you ask of me?” Luis says.

“Liquor distribution,” Bluefish says. “I got a company in Philly would like to supply your restaurant.”

“No,” Luis says.

Bluefish’s head drops to his chest. Very expressive, this bookie. I should introduce him to Walter. “This ain’t no negotiation, asshole, you and me going back and forth. Do what you’re fuckin’ told or I bury both of you alive in the pine barrens.”

He nods out the window. We’re on the Parkway headed south now. Manicured lines of scrub pine, oak, and maple trees border both north and south lanes. Another fifteen or twenty miles, the forest turns shorter and wilder. Nothing but scrub pine.

“Perhaps there is a third choice,” Luis says. “A contest. Myself against your driver.”

Turning to us, Bluefish’s eyebrows jump halfway to his receding hairline. “You want a piece of Max? That’s your genius solution?” Bluefish shakes his head. “You come across as smart, too, although maybe I was fooled ‘cause you don’t talk much. But no, I see no benefit. I’ve got what I want right now.”

“What if I agree to include a one-quarter interest in the restaurant itself--in addition to my liquor business?” Luis says.

Wow. My man is feeling confident. Is Luis in possession of material facts of which I am unaware? Maybe something to do with that door handle?

“Hey, I’m impressed,” Bluefish says. “How about you, Carr? You’re not going along with this dumb idea, are you?”

I’ve never gone wrong trusting Luis yet. El Hombre. He’s got a mean plan, I know it.

“Sure I’m going along,” I say. “Here’s my offer: Max wins, you get your new account at Shore, plus I’ll agree to launder cash for you, say $100,000 a month.”

Bluefish scratches his narrow chin. “Your actually making this tempting.” He sighs. “Max? What do you think?”

A bus zooms by in the fast lane, a steel box loaded with senior citizens and their rolls of slot change headed for Atlantic City. Max, The Creeper, shrugs. As if the Suburban went over a small bump.

“Max stomp him,” Max says.

Bluefish says, “Hmm. So what’s the rules, Pedro?”

“No weapons,” Luis says. “The fight will continue until there is only one man still able to fight.”

“Sounds like a waste of time,” Bluefish says. “Max?”

The driver’s huge head bounces up and down maybe an inch. My pulse ticks much higher than that. This duel is going to happen. Luis versus The Creeper. A ball of imaginary grease rolls around my stomach.

“Max stomp him quick,” Max says.

Bluefish stares out the car window. “Well, why the hell not.”

“If I win, you will forget about these so-called favors?” Luis says.

Bluefish shrugs. “If you win? Right. Turn off at the next exit, Max. I can’t look down at a fifty-dollar-bill lying on the sidewalk and not pick it up.”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

10:30 Tee Time

"Hey, Rags. I won't be in today. I have a doctor's appointment in Manhattan."

"Who do you think you're kidding, Carr? It's a different excuse every week. I know you're playing golf."

"No way, boss. This is real. Strange gastric occurrances. Besides, it's raining."

"It's supposed to clear up by 10. Especially a little south."

"No kidding?"

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Dennis Lehane, Where R U?

Since they made a movie out of Mystic River, and author Dennis Lehane reaped Hollywood-size rewards (think big bucks and busty broads), what the heck has he been doing? Oh, sure, his publishers batched some of his short stories and came out with Coronado last year, but I'm talking about a novel, Dennis. Have you gone J.D. Salinger on us? Hidden yourself away to spend all that loot and enjoy your fame?

As a friend of his private detective character, Patrick Kenzie, I miss reading about my buddy in print. I love that series. But I'm starting to worry about Patrick and his on-again/off-again girlfriend (Aren't they all?). Like so many series characters do, has Patrick quietly died?

Thinking he might know something I don't because of his recent crime convention tour, I asked The Famous Author if he's heard any news about Dennis and my buddy Patrick.

"Nothing on Patrick, but I heard Dennis Lehane worked on one new novel for months, then threw it away," TFA said last night. "Supposedly, he's started another. Oh, and I just found out last week he's been busy doing workshops on the craft of writing. In fact, I've applied for one. If he accepts us, I'm taking you to Florida in January."

"Really? And when we're you going to mention it? As we're heading for the airport? I've got to stock up on coconut oil and some new Hawaiian shirts."

TFA hung up on me. The guy's a bit touchy lately. Oh well, who cares.

Anyway, if any of you liked the atmospheric darkness, the sudden violence of Mystic River, I think you'd also enjoy my buddy Patrick Kenzie and his series. Here's a brief description of Gone Baby Gone, but the first couple of sentences pretty much apply to the whole series.

"This neighborhood is no place for the innocent, the young, the defenseless or the pure. This is a territory of broken families, bitter cops, whacked out ex-cons, and a mother who watches herself on the nightly news as her missing child floats further and further into the unknown. Boston private investigators, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, don't want this case. But after pleas from the child's aunt, they embark upon an investigation and ultimately risk losing everything- their relationship, their sanity, and even their lives-to find this little-girl-lost."

Don't tell him, but I hope TFA gets approved for Lehane's writing workshop. I could use some nastier villains to overcome. Lehane's scare the crap out of me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Redheaded Classic

Eleanor Parker was born (1922) in Cedarville, Ohio, and was signed by Warner Brothers in 1941, at the age of 19. By 1946, she had starred in Between Two Worlds, Hollywood Canteen, Pride of the Marines and Of Human Bondage. In 1950 she received the first of three nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress, for Caged, in which she played a prison inmate. She was also nominated in 1951 for her performance as Kirk Douglas's wife in Detective Story and again in 1955 for her portrayal of opera singer Marjorie Lawrence in the film bio, Interrupted Melody.

Incredibly, Ms. Parker was overlooked for her 1954 role opposite Charlton Heston in George Pal's jungle fantasy film about killer ants, The Naked Jungle. The Famous Author was nine when his Papi took him to see those marabunta (army ants) eating everything in sight, and TFA reports he suffered a serious crying jag when they threatened Ms. Parker. Her long red hair in that movie is still the stuff of TFA's midnight fantasies, and having seen the old movie on tape more than a dozen times, I have to agree. The woman is gorgeous. The red hair breathtaking.

Perhaps Ms. Parker's most famous screen role was as "Baroness Elsa Schraeder" in 1965's The Sound Of Music. A big big star in Hollywood's Golden Era, she is less remembered now despite her Oscar nominations. She is the mother of actor Paul Clemens, as well as three other children by another marriage. She wrote the preface to the book "How Your Mind Can Keep You Well", a meditation technique developed by Roy Masters.

Thanks to Wikipedia. And thanks to Ms. Parker for appearing regularly in our dreams.

Monday, August 20, 2007

#1 Reason You Lose

Over-confidence. Last week we went against our own pre-trade plan, holding onto EXC at $69 a share. We'd planned to sell below $70, but had a "hunch" the market was over-sold, and stayed in the saddle as the Down Jones Industrials plunged over 300 points, and EXC dipped to $66. Hanging on, playing that hunch, ended up working late Thursday and again Friday, bringing EXC back to $71.30 as we open Monday.

I say the Number One reason people lose, whether they're trading stocks or choosing mates--anything judgemental--is this kind of thinking: I'm so smart because my hunches are good. Therefore, playing hunches usually works.

If I had a brain, or rather, if I was a professional trader, I would work my plan. Having spent experience and analysis-time planning my work, I would do what I said I would, sell at $69.

But I'm hanging onto my current, one-point loss. I'm still going with that hunch.

Number one, it's a LOT more fun.

Two, I feel lucky.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

You Asked For It

TFA Lurks Above

Do You Really Wear Speedos?

Not many days of summer left, mi amigos and amigas, so I'm heading to the beach to catch some of the very last rays of 2007. But before I do, I wanted to share a snippet of The Famous Author's interview yesterday with a widely read fiction website. TFA's not sure when it will be published. I'm hoping NEVER!

The interviewer put TFA in a good mood (a common, professional technique) by calling BIG NUMBERS an "impressive debut." But later, the interviewer asked: "What, if anything, did you do to get into this character who is a bit of a greedy horny guy, or did that not require anything in the way of, er, research?"

TFA's shocking answer: "Sometimes I think Austin Carr is the little red devil sitting on my shoulder. If I listened to that beast all the time, I'm sure I'd be in jail, or even dead. But in small doses, he can be very entertaining."

Gee, thanks, Geez. I'm a beast, am I?

Then the reviewer said, "Please tell me you don’t really walk around in a Speedo."

Incredibly, TFA answered, "No. Not since my prostate operation."

Un-be-lievable! As long as I live, I will never understand why TFA is always blurting out personal things for the world to ridicule. Does he think this kind of thing sells books? I have no clue. And knowing him the way I do, I'd have to say TFA has no clue either. He just does it. I can't wait until the Big Numbers World Tour resumes next month in California and some old high school classmate asks him about his missing organ.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Discount Rate Cut

Now there's a headline sure to attract readers. People just go nuts over financial news.

I couldn't pass this up, however, as my loyal readers (Hi Mom!) will note I told you earlier this week the market was "way, way oversold" and due for a bounce. (I know, I know. The Dow dropped 330 points immediately following my pronouncement, but that downdraft only lasted a few hours and I'm ignoring it. By the end of trading that day, the Dow was back on the plus side and Austin Carr was proven right.)

Since I'm a stockbroker and really don't give a rat's ass, I figured we'd contact The Famous Author and find out what the heck a discount rate is and why the Federal Reserve decided to cut it.

"Hey, Pops. Feeling better?"

"Much, " TFA said on the telephone. "Things are looking better for both of us."

"Excellent-tay. Now tell us about the discount rate. WTF is it?"

"It's the rate of interest the Fed charges financial institutions who need to borrow money from the central bank."

"And why did this spark a rally in stocks?"

"Because by cutting it, the Fed has acknowledged the current financial situation is getting a tad rough on some people."

"Say what?"

"Since you haven't tried to get a mortgage lately--and I'd know because I'd have to co-sign--you are perhaps unaware that the current climate for home financing is dark. It started with so-called sub-prime lenders--banks and mortgage companies that loan money to less-than-stellar credits. Then it spread to second-tier mortgage lenders and recently included just about everybody. If you don't have a very very high credit rating, getting a home mortgage was almost impossible."

"And that's going to change now?"

"It should. The Fed is saying, don't worry gang, we're in there helping out. We don't like what's happening."

"Okay. I think I get it. The Fed is sending a signal more than anything. They'll do whatever they have to in order to support the housing market?"

"Close enough," TFA said. "Now let me ask you a question. How the heck did you know the market was over-sold?"

"I'll never tell, boss. It's a proprietary system. Basically, it's finding out what the "little guy" believes is going to happen and then betting the other way. When the small investor gets excited about the market, and makes risky investments in support of his or her beliefs, the bozos are always wrong."


"Remember every taxi cab driver and shoe salesman was giving us stock tips?"


"Well, you know what happened. The bottom fell out, especially on those day-trader specials--the NASDAQ flyers."

"The little guy is always wrong?"

"Always, TFA. Always.

Friday, August 17, 2007

BIG MONEY, Chapter 5

One week later, I’m grabbing a stool at the bar of Luis’s Mexican Grill, anxious to eat a couple of Chef Umberto’s green-chili burritos for dinner, when the world’s greatest bartender comes over and leans across the counter.

“Do you know this man?” Luis whispers. His head tilts, indicating I should look in the direction of the corner booth nearest the kitchen.

I follow Luis’s gaze. Looks is, Joseph “Bluefish” Pepperman. Dining with two business-types, although now that I look a tad closer, both of his friends maybe a little too athletic and solid under the suits, ties, and starched white collars. Imported muscle.

“Anybody who bets in Branchtown knows Bluefish,” I say. “I’ve never seen him in here before, though. Have you?”

Luis shrugs. “No, he has never been here before this afternoon.”

Luis wears his usual black slacks and white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. My friend’s high forehead and aquiline nose tell of European descent, but his black penetrating eyes and high cheek bones give him a distinct Native American quality as well.

“Did Bluefish say something to you?” I ask.

“No. But his arrival encouraged several of my customers to abandon their dinner plans. I believe he has more of an interest in you, does he not?”

“What? Has he been staring at me or something?”

“As soon as you walked in,” Luis says.

When I tasted how oily fillet of bluefish was, maybe at a fish fry two years ago, I figured it must be Bluefish’s greasy appearance that earned the local bookie his nickname. The black silk shirts. The slicked back hair. The man definitely sports a slippery quality that seems to match the oily taste of the fish.

Bluefish catches me looking. Slowly, he nods his long narrow head at me in recognition.

But Bluefish’s nickname has nothing to do with oil or grease I learned last year from my friend at the Newark Herald-Examiner.

“You ever see swimmers called out of the Jersey surf by the lifeguards because of a boiling mass of fish?” my friend said.

“Last summer. Somebody said it was a school of bluefish.”

“I don’t know if the bluefish are in a frenzy because they’re eating something smaller, or because they’re being eaten by something bigger,” my friend said. “I never asked because I figured it didn’t matter. It’s the way the school acts that got Bluefish his nickname.”

“Violent, you mean?”

“Out of control.”

Glad I remembered that now. And truly glad that except for the ponies once in a while, I don’t gamble.

This is all doubly good because, now that I’ve noticed them, Branchtown’s minor-league version of a New York goon squad leaves the table and strolls around the bar in my direction. Another doubly good thing: I met Bluefish once at a restaurant in Spring Lake. Mr. Vick, who was taking me and some guys to dinner after a round of golf, told us he knew Bluefish from high school.

“Hey, Carr,” Bluefish says. He offers his hand.

I’m surprised he remembers my name. There were four or five of us at the dinner table that night. The guy must have taken a Dale Carnegie class. I slide off my stool and shake. “Nice to see you again, Mr. Pepperman.”

He slaps my shoulder like an old drinking buddy. “Call me Bluefish.”

Luis saying, “It is not good for my business that you are here.”

Luis leans across the dark horseshoe bar, staring at Bluefish, showing all of us that windy Halloween look in his eyes I’ve only seen once or twice before.

“I would like you and your friends to leave,” Luis says.

Thanks, Luis. Trying to get me killed?

Bluefish’s two sidekicks slide up quietly beside their bookie boss, creating a wall to screen us from most of the restaurant. Bluefish’s men unbutton their Italian sports coats and show us the pistols stuffed in their belts.

Luis may have to reconsider his poor hospitality.

Across the room, a young woman leads her table in sharp laughter. The TV behind the bar blares spring-training baseball highlights. The restaurant’s familiar onion, cilantro, and simmering chili smells seem suddenly sharp and pungent. My pulse is up. What the hell is it with me and guns? Suddenly, they’re a major part of my life.

“Are you leaving?” Luis says. “Or will I call the police?”

I grew up in the eastern, Mexican-American section of Los Angeles. Ever since grammar school I’ve admired the code of honor and fierce pride with which so many Hispanics are raised. Simply put, my favorite bartender is an hombre. You feel safe drinking at his bar, but I hope Luis doesn’t think the switchblade he carries in his back pocket matches him up with those two semiautomatics I saw.

“We’re happy to leave,” Bluefish says. “Your food looks like runny dog shit. However, Pedro, you’re coming with us. I think your big mouth has earned you a spot next to Carr in my back seat. Get your ass out from behind the bar.”

Luis’s face hardens into wood. “I have customers. I will not leave my place of business.”

Bluefish’s men aim their pistols at my head.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

In Recovery

Mr. Vick and I are off to Spring Lake Country Club today for a rematch with those two toothless sharks from Staten Island, but before I pack my clubs and hit the links, I thought I'd better provide a few updates.

First and foremost, The Famous Author is feeling better today. Yesterday's post described TFA's waning enthusiasm for our future, and a number of friends checked in to voice their concern. TFA's PR lady even called with a new radio interview. Despite a certain lack of PC-ness, and the risk of offending some of TFA's friends, here's my favorite email on the subject, which was addressed to TFA:

"Hope you will hang in there and remember you have a lot of fans who care about you, even if there isn't a goddam book store in Fairyland smart enough to promote a good mystery. Maybe if you have Austin consider a lifestyle change, the (San Francisco) Bay area will get 'behind' him. He can sing in the gay chorus and solve a murder at a bathhouse."

In the area of hot tips, our current investment vehicle, EXC, fell below $70 a share yesterday. On Monday, I said I would sell at this point and take the loss, but darn if I'm throwing in the towel when I feel a change coming. My market indicators suggest stocks in general are way, way oversold, and I think EXC (Exelon) is extremely well positioned to rebound.

Sometimes you have to go with your gut. Plus, I keep thinking about that $90 a share takeover rumor.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Doom and Gloom

The Famous Author was supposed to send me a mystery book or two last night, examples of crime fiction that I could talk about here and perhaps recommend to you. He didn't. He says the world is coming to an end, everybody's dying, and so why the hell bother?

Yikes. Understand, I am used to TFA's occasional bouts of depression. He's getting old. Our book seems to have hit a few roadblocks on the road to bestsellerdom. And for the last six months, he's spent too much time trying to promote himself instead of writing more funny adventures for me.

It's very depressing trying to sell books. Too much competition. Our publisher is small, and looked down upon, even by some of our friends. Few mystery readers will even TRY a debut author. Thus, TFA has been out there spitting into the wind when he could have been locked in a room alone, making himself laugh and having fun.

But last night, he seemed particularly morose, and I'm worried about the old geezer. Let's get him on the phone and find out what's happening.

"Hey, TFA. What's the haps?"

"Doom and gloom, Austin. Everything is turning to crap."

"Everything? Could you be a bit more specific, Ace?"

"Okay. How about this: My best and oldest friend was just diagnosed with colon cancer. My big California tour has turned into three stops--two in San Diego and one in Los Angeles. My PR lady couldn't find one bookstore in San Francisco who would have me."

"That's it?"

"Well...uh, no. Looks like my sales ranking on Amazon is about to hit seven figures on BOTH editions for the first time since February. It's over, pal. We're dead."

"Dead? But...but we have a new book coming out in February. Austin Carr--I mean, me--I'm still alive, aren't I?"

"Sort of. But you aren't going to be doing much until February 15th."

"Maybe from your miserable perspective. But I've got a blog to write, new adventures coming in book three, not to mention more trips to the beach, hot tips to play, and redheads to seduce."

"Wake up, Carr. You're a fictional character. This is all make believe."

"Maybe to you, geezer breath. But not to me. I'm alive. I'm alive. I have a voice. I have things to say."

"You're dead as a door knob, sucker. Wake up and look around!"

Then he hung up on me.

Wow. The old man is definitely losing it. BIG NUMBERS is only our first book. Nobody got a series rolling fast on the first book. Not even Janet Evanovich, Robert Crais, or Dennis Lehane. It takes time, maybe four or five books before you have enough fans to get some real attention. Heck if I'm giving up.

I think maybe TFA needs a few shots of Herradura. In fact, that's a great idea. I'm throwing a party August 25. We'll call it Cinco de Mayo, the Summer Edition, and you're all invited. Check in here with your RSVPs.

Let's try to cheer the old geezer up.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Moore Redhead

The daughter of a military judge and a Scottish social worker, Julianne Moore was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina (1960). She graduated from Boston University (School of the Performing Arts) in 1983, then went to New York and worked off-Broadway. She moved to television, on the soap "As the World Turns," which led to an Outstanding Ingénue Daytime Emmy Award in 1988. She played a small role as Harrison Ford's colleague in The Fugitive (1993) where Steven Spielberg saw and cast her for Jurassic Park (1993) and The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997).

That same year, Paul Thomas Anderson asked Julianne to appear in his movie, Boogie Nights. Hesitant because of the many nude scenes scheduled for her porn-star character, Amber Waves, Ms. Moore (thrice married) says the script finally won her over. Thank Goodness! I think I've been in love ever since.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Market Timing vs. Gypsy Luck

Our repurchase last week of EXC at $72+ prompts a serious discussion of timing, it seems to me. What the heck was I thinking last Thursday when EXC traded over $77? Why didn't I sell for a $250 profit?

In a word, Greed. I kept thinking about that $90 takeover price our Hot Tipster mentioned, and I wanted to make $1,000, not $250. This is the tough part about stock trading: When to sell. Do I take the profit now on the table? Or do I go for more? Or, in reverse, do I take my losses now, or do I hang on and hope for a turnaround?

No easy answer here, folks. Whatever one does, it won't (or very rarely) be the absolute best you could have done. No one in their right mind thinks they can buy at the very bottom and sell at the very top. It just doesn't happen that way, unless you are a gypsy and have perfect luck built into your gene pool.

The answer then, at least from most expert traders I know, is to plan your work and work your plan. That is, whenever you buy a stock, know exactly when you are going to get out. That was my mistake with EXC. I didn't have a plan. I just bought it again and hoped it would go higher. You have to say, beforehand, that I'm going to sell at this price if it goes up, or at this price if it goes down. Have a plan. Stick to it.

So my plan for this week: If EXC drops below $70 a share, or rises to $75, I'm out.

I'll update here when and if EXC moves to either level.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Fall is in the Air

Which means we must cram in all the beach time possible before the Jersey air and surf turn cold. Besides, one of those redheads I met under the umbrella last week said she'd be there again today.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Sky is Not Falling

A couple of my stockbroker buddies called yesterday, both of them worried the stock market is crashing.

I understand. Customers see their net worth declining, they become frightened and call their brokers. The fear rubs off. The brokers start looking for reassurance, too.

And they know who to call. Me. Forever the optimist, I am always ready to cite the statistics that give them hope. Best second-quarter GDP growth in years. Historically low unemplyment. Low interest rates. Strong worldwide demand for U.S. products thanks to a cheap dollar. And here's one nobody's talking about on television: Despite the current housing slump and the mini-crisis over sub-prime mortgages, more than 98% of all mortgage payments are being paid on time.

Does that sound like the end of the world to you? Of course not. As usual, the current flap revolves around uncertainty. How bad will the housing slump get? How many hedge funds will fail because they took incredible risks trying to carve out a quick profit on derivitive interest-rate products? Will any major banks find themselves sinking because of too many loans in one particular segment of the economy? That happened in housing before. It also happened with oil, and before that, corporate conglomerates that were acquiring firms willy nilly (with borrowed money).

This ebb and flow of winners and losers is the essence of our economy's greatness. Smart is rewarded, dumb is thrashed back into the trash. There are always reasons to be frightened. And the stock market could go a lot lower. But in the long run, betting against the U.S. economy is the surest way I know to lose money.

Hang tough, America. The sky is not falling.

Friday, August 10, 2007

BIG MONEY, Chapter 4

I’m in Mr. Vick’s mahogany-paneled private office, one hand on the boss’s previously locked and out-of-bounds liquor cabinet, the other on an unopened bottle of forty-year-old bourbon, when I hear Carmela scream.

I have to say, my first thought is Carmela’s seen a mouse. The scream is high-pitched, sort of squeaky, and I expect there’s a little smile on my face when I reach Vick’s office doorway to check the scene out. But it’s not a mouse chasing Carmela down the center isle of Shore’s half-staffed big sales room. It’s a rat--Carmela’s estranged husband and Shore’s ex-sales manager, Tom Ragsdale. More surprising, shocking even, Rags is wielding a steak knife. My old boss and nemesis is pretty fast, too.

Probably the only way to catch him is to step on his tail.

Breaking into a run, and spotting no other available appendages, I dive for his legs. I’m not really the hero type, but Rags’s small and demented brain seems completely focused on catching Carmela. Plus, I personally owe this bastard plenty. Before he turned his life over to booze, drugs, and gambling, Rags actually ran me down last year with his Jaguar.

My shoulder makes perfect contact with his knee, a classic, all-pro tackle, and we tumble together in a ball of fists and elbows, crashing against the bottom of Bobby G’s desk bordering the main aisle. High school football coaches everywhere would be proud of my form.

My ears await the rush of cheers and accolades from the dwindling, late Monday afternoon sales staff as I push up onto my hands and knees. But the only sound I hear are gasps.

What? Did my pants fall down?

Nope. It’s Rags, up much faster than me.

As I’m still scrambling to my feet, Rags grabs Carmela, rips a bond calculator from the top of Bobby G’s desk, then wraps the machine’s electric cord around Carmela’s neck.

“Back off, sucker,” Rags says, “or I’m going to recalculate Carmela’s yield to maturity.”



I decided to call Brooklyn. It’s what Mr. Vick told me to do, and except for lining up left-to-right-breaking putts, and maybe right-to-left ones as well, Mr. Vick’s past advice has proven...well, not bad.

“My name’s Austin Carr, Tony. My partner Vick Bonacelli said I should call you if his daughter’s jilted husband came back and caused trouble.”

“Jelly what?”

“Jilted. Carmela’s husband. He’s here.”

“Vick’s in trouble?”

This guy Tony sounds like major mental midget. Hope it’s just a bad first impression. “No, his daughter Carmela’s in trouble. Vick’s in Italy.”

“Right. Uh...what’s going on...exactly?”

I shake my head at the phone, then glance at Rags. He’s had Carmela inside the big glass conference room for five minutes now. The door’s locked and that black electric cord still winds tight around Carmela’s neck like a snake. Maybe I should have called the police instead of this Tony guy, but Rags appears very scary. Beady, drug-zapped eyes. Oily sweaty skin. I’m afraid he could be too much for local law enforcement. Besides, the boss Mr. Vick told me to call Brooklyn, not the cops.

“Hey, Carr. I’m waiting here,” Tony says.

“Sorry. I was just taking a look. Right this second, Rags is holding Carmela hostage inside our conference room. He has an electric cord wrapped around her throat. I don’t know what to do.”

“Did he say what he wants?” Tony says.

“A hundred grand to pay off some gambling debt. Says it’s a loan against the stock in Shore he’s signing over to Carmela as part of their divorce settlement. The split’s not a done-deal yet, so he thinks he’s got leverage.”

“Okay, that’s good. That’s very good. Tell him someone’s on the way with the hundred thousand.”

“You want me to tell him you’re going to give him the money?”

“That’s what I said, right? Now get in there, tell him what I told you. And make sure he knows he doesn’t get the money if he hurts Carmela.”

Tony’s confidence is not catching, but it does somewhat relieve my first impression. He sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. Perhaps he has experience with unwrapping cords from people’s necks.

“But how can I stall him for hours while you get the money, then drive down from Brooklyn?” I say.

“This is a cell phone, sunshine. I’ll be there in ten minutes. Don’t worry ‘bout the cash.”

Handsome man, Tony Farascio. Six-foot-plus. Wide shoulders. That Mediterranean-dusky thing, onyx-black hair with a beard heavy enough to sprout five o’clock shadows at breakfast. But also with delicate features; chin, nose, and cheekbones like a movie star. George Clooney pretty.

Through the conference-room glass, I watch Tony show my ex sales manager what’s inside his New York Giants sports bag. I’m guessing the contents must look like a hundred grand because Rags pushes Carmela closer to the glass and reaches to unlock the solid oak door.

I hold my breath.

Tony glances over his shoulder to make sure I’ve emptied the office of potential witnesses, then kicks the just-unlocked door in on Rags. I hear and feel the thud of the collision. Carmela goes flying, too.

Tony is inside instantly, ripping the calculator from Rags and freeing Carmela.

By the time I rush in, the skirmish is over. Rags moans on the floor. Carmela’s crying, but standing off in a neutral corner. Tony digs in his pocket.

“Bring my car around back,” Tony says.

He tosses me his keys. My hand drops from the weight of the catch. Must be fifteen or twenty keys on this NY Giants ring.

“It’s the dark blue Town Car out front,” he says.

Flat on his back, Rags kicks at Tony’s crotch. It’s wild, and pretty much telegraphed. He misses, Rags’s Gucci-shoed foot barely scraping the bigger man’s thigh.

Tony raises his fist and pops Rags hard in the forehead.

“Don’t hurt him,” Carmela says.

Too late for that, Carmela. Your hubby’s eyes are rolling back into his head as we speak. He’s unconscious and probably has a concussion.

Tony nods to me. “Get my car.”

“What are you going to do with him?” I say.

Tony grins. “Don’t worry ‘bout it. Let’s just say I’m going to relocate his ass. Like one of your dangerous New Jersey black bears.”

Thursday, August 9, 2007

I Have a Sick Aunt

"I won't be in today. I have to drive to Philly and see my Aunt Gertrude."

"Where are you playing golf?"

"I swear, Rags. Gertie is very very sick."

"Carr, you're the biggest bull-thrower I've ever seen. Get your ass in here to work."

"Family duty, boss. But maybe I'll sell her some insurance with my new Financial Planner's license."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

TFA Named Guest Editor

We have no clue how The Famous Author weased his way into THIS gig, but all the short stories in Spinetingler Magazine's upcoming Winter Issue (January 2008) will be selected and edited by a special guest editor, none other than my boss, TFA. Sandra Ruttan will be doing her usual interviews (with authors Ray Banks, Christa Faust, and others), but TFA will be at the controls, selecting the fiction.

On Spinetingler's website (there's a link in the lower right column), Sandra and her husband, K. Robert Einarson, talk about their new-writer-friendly mission:

"The writing industry is often difficult to enter as an emerging writer. Writers are routinely rejected simply because their name or work is not known. Often, exceptional manuscripts are returned unread with a rejection form letter. Many of our staff writers have faced this challenge and know the frustration of spending months or even years waiting for the big break.

"We also realized that the publishing industry was not being responsive to the changes in the world. Too often an author is forced to mail a manuscript with an SASE to a magazine or publisher, required to spend time and money on a process that does not make sense in a world where doing things "online" is a normal way of doing business.

"That's why we created Spinetingler Magazine. We want to entertain our audience while we promote and enhance the profile of talented emerging writers using the exciting forum of electronic publishing. We know there are a lot of great stories out there that should have a place where they can be told, so we are providing that venue for them."

All you writers of crime-centered short stories, please check out Spinetingler's submission guidelines (and cutoff dates) on their website, and don't hesitate to try your hand. TFA says most of the stories have already been selected for that Winter issue, but there will be many more Spinetingler's after that.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Redhead Jokes

Terry Banker, a writer pal of The Famous Author, shares our affinity for red haired ladies. In a private correspondence, Terry offered the following one-liners as proof of his devotion. He actually offered a few others, too, but his list needed some editing for the mixed company here. Thanks, Terry. And good hunting!

Q. Why would a redhead take a blonde shopping?
A. To get a handicapped space.

Q. What do you call a woman who knows where her husband is every night?
A. A redhead!

Q. What do you call a redhead with an attitude?
A. Normal.

Only two things are necessary to keep a redhead happy.
One is to let her think she is having her own way, and the other is to let her have it.

Q. What does a redhead, an anniversary, and a toilet have in common?
A. Men always miss them.

Q. What is the difference between a redhead and a computer?
A. A redhead won't accept a three and a half inch floppy!

Q. How do you get a redhead to argue with you?
A. Say something.

Q. What do redheads and McDonald's have in common?
A. You've never had it SO good and So fast.

Q. What's the difference between a blonde and a redhead in bed?
A. A blonde let's you leave the bed when YOU are satisfied.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Hot Tip #2 Revisited

At the beach yesterday, I was patting myself on the back for trading Exelon Corp. (EXC) so well last week. After selling out at more than $74 a share, EXC dropped back to $71. More important, our Hot Tip account is actually in the black. Wonder of wonders, we're up $120 after two trades. But then my EXC Hot Tipster called on the cell phone.

"You didn't sell, did you?" he said.

"I sure the heck did. Five points in three days?"

"But I'm telling you, there's a merger coming."

"Bulls make money," I said. "Bears make money. Pigs get slaughtered."

"Oh, save the axioms for your blog readers. When EXC gets taken out for $90 a share, you're going to be sorry."

That got me, I have to admit. I just LOVE takeover rumors. So despite my fear we're about to get slaughtered like a pig, I'm going back into EXC this morning near the opening. I'll update here when I make the purchase.


UPDATE @ 9:39 -- Bought us the 50 shares of EXC back at $72.36 each. Total cost, $3,626.

Double oink!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Strictly Research

I'm off to the beach this morning. I want to see what other people are reading under those brightly colored umbrellas. I will make careful observation, take detailed notes, and actually speak with readers who seem...well, knowledgable.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Three Summer Reads

Here's three books you might enjoy, all of them more along the lines of a cozy than hardboiled or noir. I've met and talked with all of the main characters, and they're cool guys (and one gal) who deserve a long life.

In MAHU SURFER, Kimo Kanapa’aka goes undercover on Oahu’s north shore to catch a gunman who has killed three surfers. After telling the truth about his gay lifestyle to family and friends, he must lie to them about his return to the force in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation.

Journalist and amateur sleuth Cassie O’Malley is back in A MINOR CASE OF MURDER. When Andy MacTavish brings baseball to White Sands Beach, the local birdwatching contingent is freaked by the location of Sand Skeeter Ballpark. Will they resort to murder to protect the birds’ nesting areas?

In WHACK A MOLE, a long dormant serial killer seems ready to strike again. Narrator Danny and his partner Ceepak, the cop with a stiff moral code, must uncover a hidden mole with a twisted code all his own. If they don’t catch the killer in time, someone they love may become the next victim.

Friday, August 3, 2007

BIG MONEY, Chapter 3

It’s a mournful, no-more-Walter Monday. The late winter storm that blew in Friday became a nasty nor’easter Saturday. The black sky still howls wet pellets of ice and occasional snow flakes sixty hours later. Only our nickname for Shore’s newest rookie salesman--Dominic Defino (rhymes with albino) offers our bullpen any relief from a mirthless world.

Wonder what these simultaneous callers want?

Damn Defino.

Carmela informs me “Mama Bones” Bonacelli is on line one, some kind of confrontation with the Branchtown police. Oh, boy. Line two is that tight-assed sweetie from the American Assn. of Securities Dealers, Ann Marie Talbot. Kinda of a living Betty Boop, Ann Marie wants to update me on her regulatory audit.

I’d like to update her audit.

I flip a coin to see who gets first crack at me. The nickel hits my hand but I don’t look. My eyes drift instead to the empty desk where Walter sat for seven years. I smile remembering the time we sent phone-sex into our new sales manager’s first meeting.

“Hi, Mama Bones. What’s up?”

“’Allo, Austin. I needa you help.”

Mr. Vick’s mom, Angelina Bonacelli, has lived in Branchtown, New Jersey seventy of her seventy-eight years, but she still speaks English as if she’d heard our language for the first time last week. She does this on purpose, I’ve decided, makes herself sound helpless when in truth the woman is tougher than week-old tomato pie.

I tuck the phone between my ear and shoulder, plop down in Mr. Vick’s padded swivel chair overlooking Shore Securities’s sales floor. The guys are busy on the phones. “What’s the matter, Mama Bones. One of your zombies bite a cop?”

“Uppa yours, Austin,” she says. “My little Vittorio say I call you if I need help. And I need your help. I’m under the arrest.”

Sounds like she needs a lawyer, not a stockbroker. “You’re at the police station?”

“I’m home now, but the policeman is here to take me there. He say I cheat on the bingo game.”

“Bingo game?”

“What are you, a parrot? Atta the church. You know. I go every Sunday night. The policeman say the game is fixed. That I gotta go to jail. Can you believe such a thing about Mama Bones?”

As a matter of fact...

“Austin?” It’s Carmela, tugging on my sleeve. “Ms. Talbot of the A.A.S.D. said to tell you she’s finished the audit and that she’s leaving town. She needs to talk to you immediately. And Bobby G. says you have to speak with one of Vick’s clients.”

Screw Talbot, the A.A.S.D., Vick’s client, and Bobby G. Bingo, huh? I’m really curious about this. The world of chance is Mama Bones’s oyster, and if there’s a way to cheat at bingo, she’s the one to have figured it out. His mother put Vick through four years at Rutgers by playing the ponies.

“Can I talk to the policeman, Mama Bones? Maybe I can straighten this out.”

“Sure, smarty pants. Is why I call. Here’s your friend, Jimmy Mallory.”

I should have known. Branchtown Detective James Mallory and I coached our sons at T-ball together, and last year renewed our acquaintance when I got mixed up with a bad crowd, had my stockbroker’s license suspended.

“Vick’s mom is not under arrest,” Mallory says. “I can’t make her understand. She just has to come to the station with me, answer the charges. Sign a paper, then she can go.”

“What charges?”

“Like she said, fixing the bingo game. Misdemeanor fraud maybe. She just answers the charges, we investigate.”

“Jim, how the hell do you cheat at bingo?”

“Arrange with the priest to draw certain numbers, split the pot with him.”

Wow. I’ve heard Mama Bones works people over better than the Rutgers offensive line, but this manipulation truly ranks as awesome. She probably convinced the priest he was doing God’s work, keeping half for the church.

“This is Ann Marie Talbot.”

“Austin Carr returning your call, Ms. Talbot. Carmela tells me you’ve finished your audit.”

“Yes, and I have bad news.”

“You’re coming again next month?”

“No reason to be rude, Mr. Carr. Frankly, it’s the kind of thing you don’t need right now.”

Ms. Betty Boop’s pretty. But her tone riles the back of my neck. Worse, the pitch of her voice grates my ass. “Why’s that?”

“Our audit turned up three different instances where your clients cash balances were used to reduce your overnight broker loan. The money was only co-mingled for a day, possibly because your bank failed to follow instructions, but it’s still co-mingling.”

The lights of Shore’s big sales room slide to dim. I notice I’m suddenly breathing through my mouth. Co-mingling is one ugly-ass word in the securities business. If the charge sticks, and the A.A.S.D. holds one of their nasty, hero-A.A.S.D.-saves-the-world-from-crooks press conferences, Shore Securities will be called thieves by every media outlet in New Jersey. Branchtown’s a long way from Wall Street, but even The Wall Street Journal might run a story.

“Could we discuss this in person, Ms. Talbot? I mean before you turn in that report? Co-mingling’s a very serious charge.”

“I’m headed back to Philadelphia tonight,” she says. “I don’t see there’s time.”

My guts twist into a tight ball. Every night Shore deposits whatever bonds, stocks, and cash we’ve collected during the day into our New York clearing bank, along with very specific instructions about what goes where, i.e., our account, or individual customers’ accounts.

“I’m returning to Branchtown next week,” she says. “You can still have input at that time.”

Our bank makes occasional mistakes, putting people’s money in with Shore’s, mixing client funds with ours. But everything gets sorted out and corrected the next morning by phone when we see a printout of what the graveyard bank shift did to us the night before.

“If the mistakes are corrected immediately, how can you call it co-mingling?” I say. “I mean, you have to find out about a mistake before you can fix it, right?”

“I’ll try to call you next week,” she says.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

We Picked a Winner

Mr. Vick is dragging me to his private golf club today for a Big Money match with two sharks from Brooklyn, but before I head for the putting green, I thought I'd brag a little about EXC on the Big Board. We bought it Monday morning at $69.12 a share in the midst of fear and loathing on Wall Street. It closed last night at $74.10 a share, so we're up about $5 on each of our 50 shares. Since a $250 gain would put us back in the black for our Hot Tips section, I'm thinking about selling now instead of waiting for the rumored merger my Hot Tipster told us about. Any pop at the opening today and we're gonzo. I'll update later today from the clubhouse if in fact I bail.

Update -- I sold the 50 EXC shares this morning at $74.25 for a net profit on this trade of $240.50. Minus the $120 we lost on TGE, our Hot Tipster account is now up $120.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Let's Get Cozy

Christine Goff writes humorous, cozy mysteries that focus on environmental concerns and bird-watching. Not MY usual cup of tea, as it has no sex and no overt violence, but Chris's writing is so good, the puzzles so much fun to ponder, each new book in her series is a must-read for this crime fiction fan.

In her most recent title, DEATH SHOOTS A BIRDIE, the fifth in the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series, Chris exposes the effects of development on the fragile coastal Georgia environment while unmasking the killer of the keynote speaker at a birding convention. Lots of alligators, snakes, and a fine mystery that kept me scratching my head until the final reveal.

I couldn't get Christine on the telephone yesterday, so I asked The Famous Author about her. Often in mutual attendance at various conferences and conventions, Chris and TFA like to plot practical jokes together.

AC: What's Christine like as a person?

TFA: First and foremost, Chris is a real lady. She's smart, clever, and has a great sense of humor, but it's her always-pleasant personality that first attracts.

AC: Not the red hair?

TFA: Chris doesn't have red hair. She's a brunette.

AC: Interview over.