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?
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.”
“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.”
“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.