Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Did The Swamie Call it Again?

Ok, I know it's way too early to gloat, or claim I was right, especially since making such a suggestion would jinx the heck out of my prediction, but have you noticed the market's performance since October 25th?

That's the day I suggested here that The Little Guy was once again betting heavily on a market crash, and that once again, The Little Guy would be wrong. The sky was not falling. Even with yesterday's decline, stocks have raced higher.

But no boasting. Yet. Let's see where we go from here. Remember, Austin Carr, Ace Fictional Stockbroker, alias The Swamie, says stocks will hit new highs before Thanksgiving. They have to. The Little Guy, the small investor who gambles, is so sure they won't.

In case you haven't totally noticed, the two dips in mid-August and October 25th (SEE CHART ABOVE) on the Standard & Poors 500 Index coincide exactly with The Swamie mentioning here how small investors were betting heavily on a crash.

If I'm right about the new stock market high by Thanksgiving, I'm buying a turban.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Redhead of the Week

Anchor, FOX Business Network

Emmy-winner Liz Claman joined FOX Business Network as an anchor in October 2007. Her debut included an exclusive interview with Berkshire Hathaway CEO and legendary investor Warren Buffett.

Before joining FBN, Liz served as an anchor at CNBC, most recently anchoring Morning Call and Cover to Cover. During her time at CNBC, Liz has interviewed hundreds of financial newsmakers, including Warren Buffett, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, and former Treasury Secretary John Snow.

At times, Liz also anchored Wake Up Call, Market Watch, and Today’s Business, and kept a lot of us stockbrokers tuning in to check out her red hair and hear that talk of hers. Vulnerable, attractive, and meant for television, Liz Claman has got it going on.

Before CNBC, Liz served as an anchor and reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV (NBC) and anchored a two-hour daily talk show, The Morning Exchange for WEWS-TV (ABC) in Cleveland. She received an Emmy for her work on The Morning Exchange.

Thanks Liz, for being you, and thanks Fox News' website

Monday, October 29, 2007

What, Me Worry?

Open Energy Corp. (OEGY).

How long have we been buried in this sucker? Two months? Yup. Since August 28.

Worse, we paid an average of over 66 cents a share for our stock. Now it's worth 55 cents.

The Swami looks good on the overall market. He sucks with stock picks.

Ha. Easy to say now. But what will you say next week or next month when I sell OEGY for 85 cents a share?

Huh? What will you say then?

Thanks to E-Trade Charts, Mad Magazine, and Harvey Kurtzman

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sample Chapter Sunday

Published Feb 15, 2007
By Hilliard & Harris


The stench of my own vomit fills my nose. Breath comes in short, shallow gasps. Why doesn’t blabbermouth just shut the hell up and get this over with?

“You said you’ve never been deep-sea fishing, Austin, so I’m guessing you don’t know dick about giant bluefin. But when you were a kid, jigging off that pier in California, did you ever hook up with a two or three-pound bonito?”

A muddy green Atlantic Ocean surrounds us, the expanse of gentle swells empty but for the fifty-two-foot Hatteras under our feet and a dozen chum-sucking seagulls screaming overhead.

“Remember how hard those bonito fought, the way they bent the rod near double?” Mr. Blabbermouth says. “Well, imagine one of those bonito’s big cousins, one that weighs...oh, say five or six-hundred pounds. I’m talking brute force, Austin. Hooking up with a giant bluefin is like playing tug-of-war with a Harley-Davidson.”

Endless waves of dirty wet jade slap against the drifting hull. Clouds shaped like tombstones regularly block the morning sun.

“Those shoulder straps okay?” Mr. Blabbermouth says. “Not too tight, I hope.”

Bastard. I am bridled by what is known as a stand-up fishing belt and harness. Tough leather straps encircle my waist and chest as well as my shoulders. Belts, buckles, and locking brass clips anchor me inside the harness, to the pole, even to the rod-mounted Penn 130 International reel.

“You’re in luck,” he says. “A school’s headed this way.”

Think I’m out for an afternoon of fun? Sport fishing with a buddy? What if I mention nobody but nobody fishes for giant bluefin in a stand-up harness? If you have balls, big balls, you let them strap you into a fighting chair bolted to the deck, hope Big Tuna doesn’t rip that out.

Mr. Blabbermouth saying, “Here they come.”

Did I mention my wrists are bound together with duct tape?

Mr. Blabbermouth leans close to push the chrome drag lever on the Penn 130. “This will be the second time I’ve seen this happen,” he says. “Like you, a friend of mine had this drag on full when a giant bluefin hit. One second the guy’s beside me on deck, the next he’s flying over the transom, a splash in the water. You know, we never found a sign of him.”

I should have seen this coming. That’s why I can’t stand to mention Mr. Blabbermouth’s real name. It’s too damn embarrassing. Of the several wackos who tried killing me this month, only blabbermouth here applied both planning, logic, and persistence. Used allies. Oh, man, I definitely should have seen this coming.

Something heavy bumps the half-pound metal lure to which I am fatally attached. The line draws taut, digging deeper into the green rolling swells. Eternity tugs on my shoulder straps.

“Looks like a hook-up,” Mr. Blabbermouth says.

And I thought life was shitty two weeks ago.


Two Weeks Earlier...

The big thing about living in a truck-mounted camper, you bump your head a lot. So when Luis’s chef Cruz wakes me up with repeated loud knocks, I crack my skull against the tin headliner for the third time in two days. Maybe I need a crash helmet.

“You cannot do the sleep in our parking lot, Austin.”

I rub my sore head and peek through the camper’s wallet-size plastic rear window. Either it’s still dark outside or my brain is beginning to swell.

“I say this a hundred times,” Cruz shouts. “You do not listen. So now I say this...if you use our parking spaces for the bedroom again, I will rat you to the federales.”

Cruz has an edge on him this morning. Central New Jersey being so much colder than his former home near Vera Cruz, Mexico, I suspect it’s the fall weather. Most cool days he doesn’t even bother coming outside, let alone threaten police action. Wait until it snows.

I open the back door and give him the famous, full-boat Carr grin. “Speaking of rats, amigo, can I shower in the employee dressing room?”

Cruz’s eyes shine like black lacquered furniture. He doesn’t want to, but he can’t help liking me. It’s the famous Carr smile. Plus, it helps that every dollar my ex-wife doesn’t garnish is spent at Luis’s restaurant eating Cruz’s delightfully gut-burning Mexican cuisine.

“Use by non-employees is non-allowed,” he says. “And you force me to declare that one bueno stock tip does not make me your bitch forever, Austin. Perhaps if you provided another sure thing. A stock with listed options so I can leverage my asses.”

Wow. Despite the obvious language problems, Cruz is wasting no time learning the secrets of American capitalism. Maybe I should make a pitch for his account.

“Sure things are hard to come by, compadre. But something’s coming soon. Maybe next week.”

He grunts. “You have been suggesting such events since Easter. And now summer is gone. For official.”

I notice the plastic lid on the cup of coffee he carries has an unbroken seal. “Is that coffee for me?” I ask.

“No way ho-zay.”

Ha. Cruz never learns. He has no defense against the famous Carr charm. Over the next five minutes, repeated smiles and a lengthy account of my daughter Beth’s all-star performance at last night’s swim meet rescue Cruz from the Dark Side. He especially likes the story of how I snuck into the beach club wearing only my Speedos.

I take my time drinking his coffee. When every drop is savored, I shower in the employee dressing room, put on a clean shirt and tie, and comb my hair with Hollywood gel.

My new Monday through Friday transformation routine now complete--homeless bum to ace salesman--I point my camper toward Branchtown.

Through my ‘93 Chevy pickup’s bug-stained windshield, I watch the odd-shaped line of store-fronts pass, architecture from fifteen different decades, every building mean and dirty despite last night’s rain.

As they have across centuries, Branchtown’s sidewalks bustle with generations of immigrants and the displaced. First the African-Americans, then the Irish and Italians and Germans, now Latinos and Chinese. A mini third world, chasing the American Dream along Central New Jersey’s Atlantic coastline.

I think of a story my ex-wife Susan’s grandmother told me about prohibition, how two rival smuggling gangs dueled one winter night on the Navasquan River, their ice boats circling and firing shots at each other until dawn. The gun battle kept half of Branchtown awake all night, yet no one called the cops, not even when daylight revealed three dead bodies on the ice.

“Faccia rozzo,” Susan’s Italian grandmother said when I first moved here from California and she told me the ice boat story. “Branch-a-town is a hard face, Austin. You be the hard face, too.”

My name’s Austin Carr. I’m a stockbroker. The slick expensive business cards in my wallet say I’m a Senior Financial Consultant for Shore Securities, Inc., Members of the American Association of Securities Dealers, but I’m really just a salesman and I work for myself. Straight commission. If I don’t sell, I don’t eat.

“Another margarita, Luis.”

A lot of people in my line of work call themselves investment counselors. They wear two-thousand-dollar Italian suits, carry alligator attache’ cases, think and talk about themselves as professionals like doctors and lawyers. In truth, we’re closer akin to used car dealers, only more dangerous because losing your life savings is a tad worse than getting stuck with a leaky transmission.

It’s hard to sport illusions about yourself or your profession when you live in a camper. And I’ve always treated my clients with honesty, to the point of aggravating every sales manager I’ve ever had. Even so, keeping my self respect, I have not been thinking about this job in a favorable light. In fact, in the years since the market crashed, ruining my sales numbers, my finances, and more recently, any chance of being with my two children, Ryan and Beth, I’ve been wracking my brain, trying desperately to figure another way to earn a living.

“Another double?” Luis asks.

“Por favor.”

Although no solution to my dilemma has yet presented itself, I’ve discovered it helps to ruminate in a positive setting: Luis’s Mexican Grill on Broad Street in Branchtown. The decor reminds me of home, Los Angeles, and Luis has an authentico Mexican chef, Cruz. Best of all, Luis works the bar himself every day.

“You are not going to work today?” Luis says.

“Careful, Luis. Your query borders on insult. In fact, I have already been to work, only to discover that my monster client delayed our scheduled discourse until this afternoon. I merely returned here to spend some quality time with you and Cruz.”

“I recommend this be your final cocktail,” Luis says.

Dealing with numbers all the time is an ache in the ass, definitely, but my biggest problem with being a stockbroker is having to spend all day on the money machine, dialing for dollars, calling busy people at the wrong time, apologizing because the back office screwed up a check, downplaying the risks of an investment to exaggerate the benefits, dancing investors from one asset to another so I can take part of their principal as commission. To be good at stockbrokering, you have to be slightly larcenous.

I lick the wet salt from the rim of my still empty margarita glass. Of course I never worried about little things like that while I was netting eight to ten-thousand dollars a month. It’s only been since my income dropped by more than half, and mainly since I lost physical contact with my children, Ryan and Beth, that I search for the social significance of securities sales.


Luis discovers the bar bottle of Herradura Gold is empty. He slides left and reaches underneath the counter, moving with a prizefighter’s cat-like quickness, sureness of step.

Today and every day, he shows off his Popeye muscles in a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. A vest and tight-fitting black slacks accentuate his narrow hips and punching-bag shoulders. His high forehead and aquiline nose speak of European ancestry, but the black piercing eyes give him a distinct Native American quality as well.

Luis cracks open a new bottle. In short, my favorite bartender is an hombre. And while I know this sounds girlish, you feel safe sitting at his bar. It’s like being ten years old again and having your sixteen-year-old brother on the playground with you. It’s unlikely the other ten-year-olds will pick on you, but if they do, it won’t be a problem long.

Luis deposits my new margarita on a clean paper napkin. “Are you hungry?” he asks. “Cruz made ablondigas soup this morning.”

The other thing I’d like to say about Luis might be racist, a stereotype, but here it is anyway: 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. Call me a jerk for saying it, but that’s been my experience.

“Bring me a plate of Cruz’s chili Colorado when you get a chance,” I tell Luis. “And get ready to make me another margarita. These doubles are tasty.”

Luis walks away shaking his head. I wonder if he’s disappointed I didn’t order the ablondigas soup. Then I wonder why I respect his opinion so much, why his thoughts are so important to me. Is it because Luis stands as an island of sincerity in my world of lies, deception, and bullshit? Gotta be. I bet Luis never told a fib in his life.

A cup of fresh coffee in my hand, I spy my monster in the glass conference room, his back to me as I stride across the main sales floor.

Standing or sitting at neatly rowed desks, pleading or lecturing into sleek black telephones and headsets, three dozen off-Wall Street brokers fill the barn-size room with birdlike chatter, some loud and incessant, others soft and rhythmical.

It’s good to hear the phones busy for a change, but I don’t have time to find out why. I have to focus on this monster client waiting for me in the conference room. He’s old. He takes my advice. He keeps half a million in his checking account.

Do I sound crass? Less than totally interested in my client’s welfare? Let me explain. My alimony and child support payments were established by New Jersey’s family court during more lucrative times, and for the last eighteen months I have failed to earn my monthly nut. I’ve had my Maxima repossessed, my salary attached, and my visiting rights temporarily suspended. I bought that twelve-year-old Chevy pick-up with the rusty camper last month because another landlord tossed my ass in the street.

I glide into Shore’s glass conference room and pull the door closed behind me. The warm friendly smile on my face is a product of seven years training and experience, plus the heart-twisting desire to earn my way back into the lives of my children.

“What a pleasure it is to see you two,” I say.

“Good to see you, too, Austin. I think you met my wife Kelly once before.”

I’ll never forget. “Yes. Last year.”

My client Gerry Burns thinks he’s a Mexican cowboy, although I doubt the old geezer spends much time on horseback. He’s about five and a half feet tall and carries over two hundred and fifty pounds. I get a kick out of his lizard-skin boots, the Mexican silver and turquoise belt buckle, the pearl-gray Stetson, but it’s the young wife who makes my heart beat faster. Kelly has more curves than the racetrack at Le Mans, shoulder-length red hair, and green eyes as bright as a “go” signal in downtown traffic. I met her when she dropped off a check. Something clicked, too, but I never followed up. Not with my monster’s wife. Jesus. Although I still have a boner.

“Either of you care for coffee?” I ask.

Gerry and Kelly both decline my invitation, so I situate myself behind the conference room’s primary piece of furniture, an eight-foot-long mahogany desk it took four brutes to move in here five years ago. An imposing throne I doubt will ever be moved again. Kelly’s eying me like she knows about the boner. I’m telling you. Something clicked with her, too.

“Business still slow?” Gerry asks.

Slow ain’t the word for it. Every investor in my book is sitting on their assets. Why? Because the Dow Jones Industrial Average hasn’t recovered from the one-two-three punch of a collapsed tech bubble, September Eleventh, and a sudden tripling in the price of oil. Wall Street pretends things are getting better, but the smart money’s buying guns and canned food.

“Business is picking up,” I say.

Gerry nods. “Glad to hear it, because the reason for my visit today is not going to do your sales production any good.”

You know that loosey-goosey feeling you get when a station logo interrupts your television show and a serious male voice says, “Stay tuned for an important news bulletin.” That queasiness in your stomach? The tingling at the back of your neck because you don’t know if you’re going to hear about a snow storm or thermonuclear war?

“This isn’t easy for me to say,” Gerry adds.

Oh, come on, Gerry. Spit it out. Sweet Jesus. Seconds ago I’m tickled because I think my monster is about to spend some of his half-million in cash, and now I’m in a panic, terrified by words no one wants to speak.

“I’m dying of pancreatic cancer,” he says.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Buffalo Girl

L.L. Bartlett

After a mugging in Manhattan leaves him with a broken arm and fractured skull, insurance investigator Jeff Resnick reluctantly agrees to recover at the home of his estranged half brother, Richard. At first, Jeff believes his graphic nightmares of murder are just the workings of his traumatized mind. But when a local banker is found dead, Jeff believes the attack has left him with a sixth sense—an ability to see murder before it happens.

Piecing together clues he saw in his dreams, Jeff attempts to solve the crime. His brother Richard is skeptical, but unsettling developments begin to forge a tentative bond. Soon, things that couldn’t be explained by premonition come to light, and Jeff finds himself probing into dangerous secrets that touch his own traumatic past in wintry Buffalo—where a killer is ready to darken Jeff’s visions permanently.

L.L. Bartlett also writes under the name of Lorraine Bartlett. She's more popular in Buffalo than the Bills.

Friday, October 26, 2007

BIG MONEY, Chapter 15

Gina Farascio’s unruly gaze fixes on two Branchtown police cruisers bouncing into the Martha’s parking lot. Behind the black-and-whites, I recognize Detective James Mallory’s dirty brown Ford Fairlane. He hits the driveway at thirty miles an hour.

I’m guessing Branchtown’s Bravest found something inside the Martha of serious interest to Branchtown’s Finest. Arson? Or maybe somebody got burned.

Another half-hour goes by and we’re still not back inside. The number of people waiting to return has dwindled considerably, no doubt a casualty of alcoholic thirst. I could use another see-through myself. In fact, I’d head back to Luis’s if it wasn’t for Tony and Bluefish’s one-hundred-thousand cash.

I’m beginning to consider final resting spots.


Detective Mallory stalks me from behind. He has two uniformed officers beside him and a tense, don’t-screw-with-me expression on his face.

Actually, the only time Mallory doesn’t have that nasty cast on his face is when he’s coaching Little League baseball. Even then he talks to the kids like the umpire instead of a coach.

He grips my arm. “Talk to me, pal. Over there, by the patrol car.”

Mallory tugs me over, hands on, like he’s dragging a convict up before the judge. He nudges me against the black-and-white’s rear fender and pushes his face up close. I think he might have had a beer with lunch. Sam Adams? Our noses are almost touching.

“Know a woman named Anne Marie Talbot?” he says.

Gulp. “Yeah.” Mallory’s eyebrows snap higher. I can almost feel wind. “She’s an investigator with the American Association of Securities Dealers,” I say. “She’s been auditing Shore.”

“Did you see her today?”


“You sure? I found your name on a pad by her telephone.”

Double gulp. Why was Mallory up in Talbot’s room? My stomach begins to fill with battery acid. Is there a criminal reason why I haven’t seen Tony or Talbot?

“I had an appointment but didn’t go,” I say.

Mallory grins. Now his breath smells like gasoline. Maybe he was drinking brandy. “You’re a bad liar, Carr. You expect me to believe you’re at her hotel, but you didn’t keep that appointment?”

“I don’t care if you believe me or not. It’s the truth. I sent an associate to keep my appointment.”

Oh, my, that was dumb. Sometimes my gift of blab just means I have a big mouth.

“Yeah? And who would that be?” Mallory says.

I suck a big breath. Considering what Tony was carrying, and what he may have been doing with it, I’m not the smallest bit anxious to reveal Tony Farascio’s identity. Or Shore’s semiserious A.A.S.D. troubles. Oh, man, when am I going to learn to keep my trap shut?

I stall. “Tell me what’s going on. Why all the questions?”

Mallory's right hand jumps up and pinches my shoulder. I feel like knocking it away. “Who went to see her, Carr? Tell me.”

If people exercised the right to remain silent, our prisons would be empty. Too bad so many of us figure this out too late. I say, “You want me to say another word, Jim, explain what’s happened. My lawyer’s phone number is programmed into my cell phone.”

His intense gaze holds onto mine, trying to intimidate me. Fat chance, Jimbo. I watched you throw baseballs all one summer. I’ve seen stronger arms on a Queen Anne chair.

Mallory saying, “Your five o’clock appointment was canceled, Carr. Anne Marie Talbot is dead.”

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Sky is Not Falling (Again)

The Swami wants to be bold. Not sure why. Predicting the future is difficult. But like I did last August 16th, I'm saying again now that the little guy is betting heavily on a market crash, and the little guy is always wrong.

Not surprisingly, this surge of bearishness of the part of the borish coincides with a plague of media stories predicting recession and market collapse. Oh, yeah. And a string of bad days in the stock market.

I warned you last week (during one of my recent bragging sessions) that we could see some profit-taking. I believe that's what we've just witnessed...or are witnessING.

But I'm still betting we see a new high on most market indices by Thanksgiving.

Let's see if The Swami can do it again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Cops' Perspective

Joseph Wambaugh has gone back to his award-winning roots with HOLLYWOOD STATION, showing us what it's like to be a Los Angeles cop.

Like his earlist works, NEW CENTURIONS, THE BLUE KNIGHT, and THE CHOIRBOYS, Wambaugh makes us laugh, cry, and fear for our lives as we become part of a police squad working through a daily routine of absurdity, gore, and mirth.

The Hollywood street people are both fascinating and repugnant, the cops who deal with them human and professional. One minute, HOLLYWOOD STATION is laugh-out-loud, the next high tension.

I loved it. I think you will, too. Available now in paperback.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Clara (tie me in a) Bow

Clara Gordon Bow (1905 – 1965) was an American actress and sex symbol, best known for her silent film work in the 1920s. Bow is recognized as an archetypal flapper and the original "It Girl".

I also have it on good authority Clara was a knockout redhead with a reputation.

A tomboy as a child, Clara played games in the streets with the boys, and she liked her clothes ragged and dirty.

Bow got her big break when an officer of Preferred Pictures approached her on a New York movie set and offered her train fare to screen test in Hollywood. But the first time Preferred Pictures head B.P. Schulberg saw disheveled Clara Bow in her one messed up dress, he almost didn't give her the test.

Supposedly, the results astounded him. Bow was adept at pantomime, and she could cry on command.

Starting with Maytime (1923), Schulberg cast Bow in a series of small roles. She nearly always stole her scenes. However, instead of creating projects for her, he loaned her out to other studios for easy money.

Bow was adored during this time of her career, according to scribes of the times. Crew members always seemed to fall in love with her.

In 1925, Schulberg cast Bow in The Plastic Age. The movie was a huge hit, and Bow was suddenly the studio's most popular star. She also began to date her co-star Gilbert Roland, who would become the first of many engagements for her. Bow followed her first big success with Mantrap (1926), directed by Victor Fleming. Though he was twice her age, Bow quickly fell in love with her director. She began seeing both Roland and Fleming at the same time.

Oh, my.

In 1927, Bow reached the heights of her popularity with the film It, after Bow had already been dubbed "The It Girl" by Elinor Glyn in her novel It.

"It, hell," quipped Dorothy Parker, "She had those."

Thanks to Wikipedia, B.P. Schulberg, and one of the first redheaded film stars, Clara Bow.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bloody Booksignings

The Famous Author has been dragging me with him to the slaughter lately. You know, those bookstore or library things where they've ordered stacks of BIG NUMBERS and TFA tries to sell them?

Probably most people think of booksigning events as if they were Small Movie Premiers. A crowd of fans, on-lookers, and press. By reading about what happens at the events of publishing biggies like Crais, Morrell, Lippman, they think authors draw attention. But what I saw, when TFA finally starting bringing me along in the computer case...well, it shocked me.

The first place be brought me, in San Diego, turned out eight people, not counting two high school hot rod friends who escaped retirement homes to be there. TFA sold no books. He gave one away to his chum, still a motorhead. I suppose he works on the retirement home bus.

After that, TFA let me start telling him what to say, and even speaking for him, from inside the case. Outside of Los Angeles, in the Borders store in Valencia, TFA kept me by his feet, the computer case zipper wide open so I could see and hear better. And it was easier to make my voice sound like it was coming from TFA.

Of the dozen or so people he talked to, by asking them if they liked mysteries, we sold four books. I could have done better, but TFA won't let me ask for the order, a sales industry standard.

But more than the sales training, I'm just more outgoing than TFA. He's too polite, thinks asking strangers if they like mysteries is rude behavior. I say no, not if when you're doing it, you give them the full-boat Carr grin.

Noticing the improvement in sales, and the overall improvement in his booksigning experience, TFA has allowed me more and more onto the stage with each event. Pretty soon, I hope, he will let me ask for the order.

Right now, it's still a slaughter.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Murder on the Web

Check out Liz Clifford's website today (link in right column as "TFA's Favorite Reviewer") for sample chapters from new and celebrated authors, including The Famous Author himself, who made me post his opening for BIG MONEY (again) here as part of Liz's celebration.

Actually, he's using me as his link.


Maybe it’s only a ghost.

The lady’s two-story house ranks as ancient, so it’s no surprise the pine floorboards creak. But do I detect a certain in footsteps? Hope I didn’t make too much noise going through her dirty laundry.

I lean back on the blood red living-room sofa and hold my breath to listen. A grandfather clock tick-tocks in the foyer. The oil-burning basement heater pops and rumbles. And yes, there...bare or stocking feet pad quickly toward me down the hall. My heart rate ratchets up to match the hurried footfalls.

I stuff the DVD under my laptop and work hard to put on my three-o’clock-in-the-morning, full-boat Carr grin. Not exactly a simple trick. And definitely not sincere. I mean, how am I supposed to be calm and forthright when this DVD suggests last night’s love interest may not be the innocent beauty I imagined?

In truth, the lady headed this way could be a killer.

Clever of me to wake her up.

I don’t mention her name because...well, gentlemen do not identify their secret lovers, not even by pet handles. And seeing her march out of the murky hall into the living area’s yellowish lamplight strongly suggests the need for a new nickname anyway.

I gasp. Oh, my. And oops. Oh my because she’s wearing nothing but white athletic socks. And oops because she’s using both hands and all ten red-nailed fingers to grasp a pump-action, single-barrel shotgun.

“You found the DVD, didn’t you?” Ms. Shotgun says.

“DVD?” If it wasn’t for rhyming consonants, I’d be pretty much speechless. My gaze is tightly focused on her bare breasts and that shotgun in the same close-up. Visually and emotionally, it’s a lot to absorb.

Her right foot slides back, toes out. Improving her balance.

“I know you found it,” she says. “Wrapped in my black beach dress.”

My lips move without sound. I suppose my throat might be choked with fear, but I’d rather think I’m distracted by the long curve of Ms. Shotgun’s hip, the loose weight of her breasts swinging below the carved gun stock.

Watch me get a boner.

“I just checked the bathroom,” Ms. Shotgun says. “You rifled the hamper, found the black dress.’ve got my DVD.”

I try taking a deep breath. On tough stock and bond clients, this often works as a show of calm sincerity. “I swear I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She racks a shell into the shotgun’s firing chamber.

My pledge of innocence must have lacked conviction.

I lift my iBook and offer her the DVD. My heart ticks to an even quicker time. My ego slips a notch. Time was, the full-boat Carr grin and a reasonable lie got me through bumpy spots with naked women.

My heart’s really thumping now, but I probably don’t have to worry anymore about that possible erection.

“Play it,” she says. “We’ll solve the murder together.”

I slide the silver disk into my Mac and wonder if I’m really going to view what the Branchtown Sun calls the “MISSING HOTEL MURDER VIDEO.” Like smoking, this feels very unhealthy.

The DVD’s first images show a thirty-ish woman primping her hair before a gilded oval mirror. Oh, my. I recognize her all right. The happy smile fooled me.

“Don’t you want to fast-forward?” Ms. Shotgun says. “Get right to the choking and burning?”

On screen, the doomed victim cracks open her hotel-room door. Until tonight, I would have been surprised by what I see next: Ms. Shotgun’s digital image rushes inside, pushing violently into the startled hotel guest and knocking her onto the carpet.

I turn from the laptop. “So it was you.”

Ms. Shotgun raises the pump-action level with my nose.

And I thought my future looked shitty last month.

One Month Earlier...

The big thing about my pal Walter Osgood, Shore Securities’ biggest producer, he’s like a kid when it comes to his feelings. He just can’t hide them. So when I walk into Luis’s Mexican Grill, see Walter at the bar and notice his every other breath is a sigh, that he’s clutching his Gray Goose like a soldier with a ticket to Iraq, I know Walter’s worried about seeing me.

He’s got news I’m not going to like.

Great. A fitting end to a wonderful week. I’ve been taking it hard in the wallet, even harder in the shorts. Ever since Monday morning’s annual appointment with the New York urologist.

The name’s Austin Carr, by the way. Since my Series Seven stockbroker’s license is temporarily suspended, instead of Senior Financial Consultant, the slick business cards in my wallet say I’m a Special Management Adviser to Shore Securities, Inc., Members of the American Assn. of Securities Dealers. In truth, I am really just a salesman--like Walter--and I work for myself. Straight commission.

If we don’t sell, we don’t eat.

I slide in next to Walter at Luis’s horseshoe bar and touch the slick Gucci material covering my buddy’s shoulder. “What the hell’s bothering you?”

Another sigh from Shore Securities’ number one producer of commission dollars. A bit girlish if you ask me. Maybe I’ve been living in Central New Jersey too long, but I find myself fighting an urge to smack him.

A lot of us stockbrokers call ourselves investment counselors, or if we have a license to sell insurance, too, then we’re financial planners. We like to wear two-thousand-dollar suits, carry leather attaché’ cases, and think of ourselves as professionals, like doctors, lawyers. But really we’re more like car salesmen.

“You worried about the business?” I say to Walter. “We’ll be okay without Mr. Vick. Carmela and I can take care of his accounts, keep the numbers coming.”

Walter and I agreed to meet here after work, tune up before Mr. Vick’s Friday night dockside farewell party in Atlantic Highlands. Shore’s boss, Vick Bonacelli, sails with his family tomorrow for Tuscany. Only his daughter Carmela refused to go. She’s staying behind to help me run Shore.

“Carmela’s just like her old man,” I say. “Slick on the phone.”

Walter shakes his head.

I like to ruminate over the shortcomings of my profession with double margaritas and a positive setting: Luis’s Mexican Grill on Broad Street in Branchtown. The decor reminds me of home, the east side of Los Angeles, and Luis, the owner-slash-bartender, is mi amigo.

“Shore’s a dead puppy without Vick,” Walter says. “You know it better than I do.”

My jaw stiffens. “Whoa, Walter. Things aren’t that bad. A couple of lousy months.”

“Shore’s toast,” he says.

I lean forward, make him look directly at me. I need to see those expressive blue eyes. If Walter really believes Shore isn’t going to survive, then I can easily guess the nature of tonight’s bad news.

“You’re leaving?” I say.

Walter nods.

Shit. “Today was your last day?”

He nods again, then bumps his shoulder against mine. “You know how this friggin’ business is,” he says. “Two minutes after I’m gone, the back office is passing out my accounts and my best friends are telling my clients I’ve got AIDS and ran off with my twelve-year-old babysitter.”

Luis’s Mexican Grill is Friday-night packed, loud and oblivious. Walter still has his voice set on whisper.

“This way,” he says, “I’ve got a weekend to prepare my clients for your assault.”

Except for math, science, history, and geography, Walter’s no dummy. Guaranteed he’s been tenderizing his good clients about this move for weeks.

“You’re a part owner, Walter. You have a piece of Shore. Why would you throw that away after only a few bad months?”

When he shakes his head this time, not a hair moves. Walter Osgood pays a hundred bucks per styling. “Shore’s lost money every month since we bought in,” he says. “With Vick leaving town, this A.A.S.D. investigation, Sunny and Doppler taking a walk...the red numbers can only get worse, Austin. I’m bailing.”

Sunny was a complainer and Doppler spent his days distressed over potential bad weather. They’ve had a pissy attitude since Mr. Vick sold me, Carmela’s now-estranged husband Tom Ragsdale, and Walter half of Shore’s stock.

“Are you worried about this A.A.S.D. investigation?” I say. “Is that why you’re leaving?”

“No,” Walter says. “I’m leaving because Jaffy Ritter Clark is handing me a check for $450,000 when I show up for work Monday. But if I were you, I’d worry what that A.A.S.D. cutie might dig up on Shore Securities marketing practices. Remember that St. Louis bond default last year? Mr. Vick’s sales contest?”

I turn Walter’s shoulder, make him look at me again. “You’re leaving me, Vick, and Carmela dead in the water, man. Without your numbers, we are in trouble. Can’t you give it another six months?”

Walter’s pale blue eyes turn cold. “What’s going to change?”

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Buffalo Airport Blues

The Famous Author called me from Buffalo, New York. He says he's trapped in this Erie Lakeside metropolis of constant lake effect rain. And he thought Seattle was bad.

"I haven't seen the sun since Wednesday afternoon," TFA said on the phone minutes ago. "I'm turning into a prune. Worse, I can't get home. They cancelled my flight last night. They cancelled my flight today. They cancelled my good humor."

Oh, buck up, TFA. Go find a taco.

Friday, October 19, 2007

BIG MONEY, Chapter 14

I extend my tongue full length, French-kissing my third martini. The now-empty, nearly clean conical glass winks back at me, another subtle indicator of full-boat overindulgence. Could this martini-glass warning blinker--a lighthouse perched above the jagged coastline of reality--suggest my ineligibility for a fourth see-through?

My only hesitation in leaving the bar involves a strawberry blonde. She’s sitting on a nearby stool--we’re upstairs at the Martha--and, more important, the lady seems to like my looks. Grinning at me in a very particular way. I have the feeling if I stay right here, drinking and winking, Cutie Pie with an Edge may just wander over here and rub me up. She’s got that “I do whatever the hell I want” line etched into her chin.

Logic, Shore’s business, and my children's’ college education luckily snag hold of my over sexed, gin-rotted brain. Checking the bartender’s watch, I see Brooklyn Tony’s been up in Talbot’s room more than an hour. If he’s trying to bribe that woman from the American Assn. of Securities Dealers, Tony could put Shore out of business, maybe install my pink ass in a white-collar prison. The U.S. District Attorney in Trenton loves to make an example of corporate criminals.

I throw down thirty bucks and slide off my stool. I must be nuts letting Tony go up to Talbot’s room, let him represent Shore Securities with the A.A.S.D.. What was I thinking? At the very least I should have held out as long as physically possible, let the contusions and concussions speak later of my attempt to prevent Tony’s madness.

Besides Carmela, who walked in ten minutes ago, the Martha’s bar swells with lingering sunset gazers and silver-haired seniors ordering early-bird specials from the bar menu. Through the crowd, the strawberry blonde and I find each other’s gaze.

I only snag a glimpse on my way out, but Strawberry’s wearing a scooped-neck black dress that frames her breasts and drapes her hips like liquid chocolate. Diamond earrings twinkle at me, but not as brightly as the lady’s smile. If Johnny Depp the pirate had a blonde sister...

I wave and disappear into the elevator lobby.

Figures. Probably the love of my life back there, and I’m ditching the bar and a chance to meet her because everything I have, everything my children need, could be sliding down the big financial drain as I speak.

The room tilts. Oops. I should have gone for the martini quatro. The third one buried me anyway.

The elevator doors rattle open before I push the button, and Tony’s wife Gina the Luscious almost crashes into me rushing out. What the hell’s she doing here? Her shoulder-length black hair dangles loose and uncombed. Her cashmere sweater sports a torn seam across the right shoulder. And Gina Farascio’s gorgeous face is drawn tight, her mascara smeared by tears.

The instant I catch her shoulders, preventing our collision, the lights go off and the Martha’s fire alarm fills the hall with high-pitched electronic screaming. The piercing, throbbing whine stabs at my ears, the ugly noise somehow louder in the dark.

In a wash of red light, Gina’s eyes go wide and wild. An intense red beacon flashes above us from high in the elevator lobby--the alarm’s screaming now has a frightening visual quality.

The good news, if I have my bearings right in the semidarkness, the flashing red light locates the stairway. Escape. My heart’s drumming.

It figures that lives are at stake. I’ve got five or six ounces of Bombay Sapphire in me, not to mention the vermouth. Plus--let’s see if I can put this delicately--my brain’s missing some blood thanks to Gina being so close. Like an airline’s overhead baggage compartment, my contents have shifted.

A crowd of alarm-driven bar patrons streams into the small elevator lobby. The elevators lock shut. I reach for Gina’s hand as the swelling pack of panicked seniors herds toward the stairs. I don’t see or smell any smoke, but Gina and I don’t have a choice. We’re swept up like leaves in a water-filled gutter.

I slip my arm around her waist to keep us together.

Outside in the parking lot, Gina and I huddle with two or three dozen other elderly bar patrons, hotel guests, and staff while two Branchtown fire crews rush inside the Martha. I don’t spot Tony, Ms. Strawberry, or Anne Marie Talbot anywhere in the crowd, but Carmela’s out here. She’s talking with three young women and a uniformed cop.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Don't Tell Me"

"It's you, isn't it, Carr? Calling again on Thursday morning to tell me some messed up, BS story why you can't come to work. Well, listen. Save yourself the trouble of concocting another spine tingling tale, okay? Go play golf. Whack that little ball around until your face turns blue. It's your commission run coming up. You know, the short little list of your sales so far this month. The basis for your freakin' income."

"Rags," I say.

"Go ahead. Play golf. See if I give a rat's ass."



"I'm coming in. I have a big trade to make today. Half a million in corporate bonds."

"Really? That's great."

"No, I'm kidding. I'm playing golf with Mr. Vick."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bailouts & Beanies

A few weeks ago, The Famous Author had his picture taken with this hat on. Thought I've give you a close-up peek at this puppy today instead of posting, as TFA requires my presence in the fiction office all day today. Some major fight scene or something. He needs me to stage out the action.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Magical Molly

Molly Kathleen Ringwald, born February 18, 1968, became popular in the 1980s as a result of starring roles in the John Hughes movies Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink.

Ringwald was born outside Sacramento, California in Roseville, the daughter of blind jazz pianist Robert Scott "Bob" Ringwald. She started her acting career at age five, starring in a stage production of Alice in Wonderland as the dormouse. By the time she was six years old, she had recorded I Wanna Be Loved by You, a music album of Dixieland jazz with her father and his group, the Fulton Street Jazz Band.

Though she played a high school "princess" in her biggest hit, 1985's The Breakfast Club, Ringwald specialized in portrayals of moody, awkward, brainy, angst-filled characters. Her performances greatly influenced teen-oriented television and movies that would follow in the 1990s.

Her career slowed in the 1990s as she reportedly turned down the leading role of Julia Roberts' part in the 1990 box office smash Pretty Woman, and also Demi Moore's leading role in the film Ghost.

She has stated many times that she regrets turning down those roles.

We still love you, Molly. In fact, we think you would be a great choice for the part of Kelly Burns when someone gets around to making a movie out of BIG NUMBERS. I'll have The Famous Author's people send your people a copy.

Thanks to Molly, Roseville, and Wikipedia.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Market Was Up Again?

Yep. That's right. Another new high on the major indices. Sorry, but I have to brag again.

Look at this chart of the S&P. Check the middle of August.

That's when I said the pundits and the little guys buying puts were full of crap, that stocks and the economy would improve. Ta, da!

Call me Swami. Moreover, despite a potential hiccough of profit-taking, look for the market to set new highs through Thanksgiving. Christmas retail sales will be better than the gloom they're predicting.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bus Breakdown Blues

(Today's post is a Guest Blog from The Famous Author. He calls it #11 in the 2007 Big Numbers World Tour series.)

Escondido, CA. -- In the yellow-brown dust alongside U.S. Highway 15, a major new freeway through the heart of San Diego County’s hilly desert region, the Big Numbers World Tour bus suffers a meltdown.

Out of gas, two flat tires, and a broken, cranky heart. The Old Steel Warrior just couldn’t take the pounding schedule. Those endless miles in the dead of night. The refueling and maintenance nightmares in unknown territory. Those snubs from fancier buses.

“No problem,” Desmond says. “We call a tow truck.”

My new driver sports long hair, a beard, and, so far anyway, an unlikely wealth of common sense.

“That’s one idea,” I say. “Another is to leave the bus here for the buzzards and fly home. I think I’ve had it with the Big Numbers World Tour.”

Desmond’s eyebrows scrunch into a single dark patch. “You can’t give up.”

“Why not?” I say. “It’s almost Halloween. Another month and it’s Thanksgiving. The publishing industry shuts down.”

Desmond wags his head, no. “But not the book stores. December and January are the biggest months of the year for retail book sales. You’ve got to be out there, getting people to try your work.”

Over my shoulder, construction equipment carves brown California desert into a shopping center. Men and their machines are moving mountains.

Funny, but I’m not feeling that same level of ambition anymore.

“We’re wasting our time, Desmond. Nobody wants to come to a signing for Jack Getze. They never heard of Jack Getze. They want to come to a signing for Robert Crais, or Lee Child, or Charlaine Harris.”

“You have to start somewhere,” Desmond says.

Maybe. But I think I should start with a strong, new book, a number three in the Austin Carr Mystery Series that kicks tail. I want to lock myself up in the fiction office for a while.

“We have the Cavalcade of Authors next week in Buffalo,” Desmond says. “Remember? That Mystery Writers of America signing at Border’s?”


“But after that, just telephone stuff. You can take another long break. Let me call the tow truck.”

“Wait a minute. We have to get to Buffalo by next week?”

“No sweat,” Desmond says. “We take U.S. 70, straight across the country.”

I glance down at the spreading pool of engine oil. The flat tires. My own worn shoes. “It’s not the route I’m worried about, pal.”

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Bestseller List

Okay, this is one bookstore, one month, and The Famous Author probably pulled some cheap trick to make it happen, but look what I found online yesterday from The Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pennsylvania:

(Short attention span? Check out number seven. Don't believe me? Go to

Trade Paperback Best Sellers (for September)

1. The Child That Books Built by Francis Spufford

2. The Cinderella Pact by Sarah Strohmeyer

3. The Diagnosis of Love by Maggie Leffler

4. Face Down O'er the Border by Kathy Lynn Emerson

5. The War Against Miss Winter by Kathryn Miller Haines

6. Howdunit: Police Procedure and Investigation by Lee Lofland

7. Big Numbers by Jack Getze

8. Leave Me Alone I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan

9. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

10. The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard

Friday, October 12, 2007

BIG MONEY, Chapter 13

Max stares at Anne Marie on the tiny black and white recording monitor. Look at her, rubbing that silly deodorant under her shaved arms. Powder on her crotch. Now pulling those see-through black panties on her ass.

He should ask Jerry for a bigger screen. Maybe one of those big plasma televisions like Jerry just bought for his apartment.

Max completes another set of one-hundred push-ups. He rolls onto his back for a set of sit-ups, but swaps his head for his feet so he can watch Anne Marie finish dressing. Hooking lace bra under her pillowy breasts; stuffing her soft flesh and into those small cups.

What would she do if he went next door right now, to her hotel room?

He sighs. Maybe she’s the woman to take Max away from this life. Anne Marie has been very nice to him, that’s for sure, like Jerry says. She has sex with him almost anytime he wants. Even cooks dinner for him once and a while.

He checks the lights on the recording equipment, just like Jerry showed him. Red and blue. Gauges okay. Everything is good, working fine. Jerry and the rest of Bluefish’s boys will be lining up to watch this tape.

Max wipes the sweat off his forehead, stands, and then bends at the waist, hands on his thighs. He takes a long slow breath. Then another.

He glances at the monitor. Bluefish says Anne Marie doesn’t know about the camera. But the way she’s playing with her breasts, she has to know she’s being watched.

She looks like she’s putting on a show.

Max unzips his pants.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

SWAT Team Surrounds Me

"I was making coffee when I heard the first shots, " I say. "The Special Weapons And Tactical truck arrived just as I looked out the window."

"Carr, you're the worst liar ever," Rags says. "They don't even HAVE Swat teams in New Jersey. Get in here and get on the money machine, or you're fired."

"I swear, Boss. I'm not allowed to leave the house. The cops just knocked on my door, told me to stay inside until further notice."

"That's the worst story you ever came up with. You know that? The worst. How do you make this stuff up? Your talents are wasted selling stocks and bonds. You should be in Hollywood, writing for television."

"Good idea, Rags. Turn on the TV," I say. "I hear like ten helicopters buzzing around. This thing has to be on the local news channel. Probably a hostage situation at that stripper Trixie's apartment."

"I'm hanging up, Carr. If you're not at your desk in thirty minutes, on the phone, I'm firing you."

"Rags, please. Turn on the TV. The police are cutting the telephone lines--"

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What's Hot

"So," Detective Rowcliff asked, "did you kill her?"

With that line, author Jane K. Cleland begins the second of her antique mystery series, DEADLY APPRAISAL. Mystery, suspense, romance, old furniture. How could I resist? Plus, I met Jane's heroine, Josie Prescot, at Deadly Ink's famous hotel bar this summer. She's a peach.

Oh, yeah. And she's a redhead.

Jane's first book, CONSIGNED TO DEATH, has been nominated for more awards than Marlon Brando. She's also President of the Mystery Writers of America's New York Chapter.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Aye, aye, Captain

Katherine Kiernan Mulgrew

BORN: April 29, 1955
PARENTS: The late Joan Kiernan Mulgrew and the late Thomas James Mulgrew II
SIBLINGS: Kate is the second oldest child (oldest daughter) in a family of eight children.
CHILDREN: Two sons - Ian Thomas (born 1983) and Alexander James (born 1984); one daughter
MARITAL STATUS: Married to Tim Hagan
Wahlert High School
New York University, New York, NY
A.A. Degree, 1976
left after junior year to pursue acting full-time
Stella Adler Conservatory, New York, NY
accepted into NYU affiliated program
Kate was nominated for the 73rd Annual Drama League Award for her performance in 'Our Leading Lady'.
In 2004 received Carbonell Award for Best Actress (Touring, Independent Production - Cuillo Centre) for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in Tea at Five.
In 2003 received's Audience Award for Favorite Solo Performance in Tea at Five.
In 2003 received an Outer Critics Circle nomination for Outstanding Solo Performance in Tea at Five.
In 2003 received a Lucille Lortel nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress for Tea at Five.

Mulgrew won the Saturn award for Best TV Actress presented by the Academy of Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films for her portrayal of Captain Kathryn Janeway on "Star Trek: Voyager".

Mulgrew won the Tracey Humanitarian Award for her performance as driven alcoholic news anchor Hillary Wheaton on a 5/4/92 episode of "Murphy Brown" entitled "On the Rocks".

Thanks to Kate's Official Website.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Columbus Day Winner a Fan

Sci-Fi Writer Extraordinaire, Champion Long Distance Runner, and 2007 winner of a Darkly Comic, Very Official BIG NUMBERS T-shirt, Dennis Bounds, today wrapped up his third straight victory in Australia's famous Columbus Day Marathon, held each year in White Snake. Bounds completed the twenty-six-plus miles in a record forty-seven minutes.

"Aliens Rule," Bounds said.

By wearing his BIG NUMBERS T-shirt, Dennis clearly shows he's a fan, but The Famous Author reports Mr. B also had a hand in actually writing my first adventure.

"It was at a WRW critique session," TFA said. "Dennis enjoyed my prologue for BIG NUMBERS, but had some suggestions, including an additional line that became part of the book's short, opening paragraph: "Why doesn't he just shut the hell up and get this over with?"

Thanks, Pal.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Beach Day

The sun might come out today, and I have to be on the sand if it does, waving goodbye to summer. This is a sad time for me. The warmth of father sun will soon fade quicker than my tan. Mother earth will grow cold. Instead of bare feet, I'll have to wear socks.

I am seizing the day.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Mystery Research

The Famous Author shanghaied me before dawn this morning. He wants to research several chapters in his current Work In Progress, Big Mojo. In a few scenes, I have to run through the rough and cluttered terrain of the decaying World War II embattlements at the end of Sandy Hook.

For non-Jerseyites, The Hook is a long peninsula that points toward Manhattan, the first piece of NJ protecting New York Harbor. It's now a popular station for the U.S. Coast Guard and thousands of fishermen, bird watchers, and sunbathers, but as far back as revolutionary times, Sandy Hook has always played an important role in the military defense of New York.

In World War II, the artillery bunkers at the tip of Sandy Hook achieved small-city status, and their current remnants provide a dangerous and mood-provoking ruin of broken steel and cement, an ominous background for TFA's WIP.

I only brave the action-packed sequence, he tells me, because I'm protecting a redhead.

Friday, October 5, 2007

BIG MONEY, Chapter 12

The next day after work I find Luis’s Mexican Grill in the full-boat grip of rigor mortis. Subdued voices, no laughter. The light crowd focuses either on round plates of Umberto’s semi-famous enchiladas or CNN’s pretty-face actress blaring death estimates for another Baghdad bombing. The air tastes brittle, ready to crack.

A stranger might think America’s war in Iraq was to blame for this pall, but I can see the cause is much more personal. Armed violence threatens the home front as well. I don’t recognize him as being among Luis’s friends, but another Toltec warrior pins me from under Luis’s caballista sombreros. Within reach of the stranger’s big paws, a tall brown package leans against his barstool. Could be a couple of golf clubs. Maybe one of those thin, fungo baseball bats. Then again, the shape reminds me a whole bunch more of a single-barrel, pump-action shotgun.

No wonder the joint’s tense.

Luis is busy making drinks. He takes a few minutes to spot me, Luis collecting money and mixing big pitchers of margaritas. Soon as our eyes lock though, my favorite bartender/club owner wipes his hands on a white towel and struts my way, Luis jaunty, but tense, too, the swagger contained.

He snatches at my offer of a handshake. Wow. The restaurant’s atmosphere isn’t the only thing uptight around here. Luis’s shiny black eyes bear the resolute, defensive wariness of a big-city cop walking up beside your car. One hand on his holster.

Whatever Luis’s problems, mine are worse. I decide to file a formal complaint. “Bluefish threatened my children, Luis. He brought that creep-ass giant with him, too, surprised me, Ryan, and Beth at the restaurant. Bastard had me roughed up in front of my kids.”

Luis’s eyes briefly shut. A long, slow blink. He says, “Did you agree to do him the favor?”

I nod. “I couldn’t say no.”

“What about this man Tony?”

“I haven’t heard from him since the day before yesterday.”

Luis reaches low to his left, draws up a half-full bottle of Herradura Gold and pours us two shots. “It is lucky for me I have not yet fathered children. I have only myself and the restaurant to protect.”

My friend doesn’t know the half of it. Besides Beth and Ryan, my current security responsibilities include Carmela, Shore Securities, and Mama Bones. Thanks to my boss and market mentor, Mr. Vick, I’m sworn to protect his, mine, and ours. Where’s my badge? My troops? Where’s Tony?

“I noticed the guy with the shotgun,” I say. “I assume he’s a friend of yours.”

Luis ignores my implied question. He wraps two fingers around his shot glass, drinks his Herradura and sneaks a glance at the front door. Maybe he thinks I’m guessing, that his armed pal remains obscure.

I throw back my own tequila. Tilt my head in the guard’s direction. “I admit I’m nervous looking. I have to go see the A.A.S.D. lady in a few minutes. But, come on, Luis. That guy pinned me like an owl on a field mouse when I walked in. And that brown paper package beside him is about as subtle as a bazooka.”

He shakes his head. “Then Bluefish’s spy will easily pick him out as well.”

“Count on it.”

He pours us another shot. “I must make my friend less visible.”

I glance at the hombre beneath the sombreros. “And maybe get a couple more friends.”

I park in the Martha Washington Inn’s side lot, grab my coat, and slide out of the Camry. A putrid, river-bottom odor whacks my nose. Branchtown residents have been throwing nasty things in the Navasquan River for more than four-hundred years. The gifts return in spirit every low tide.

I breathe as shallowly as possible walking to the hotel’s main entrance. The Martha Washington Inn perches on a small bluff overlooking the river, the hotel’s whitewashed wooden exterior molting away like feathers from an ancient seagull.

Cool and clear this evening in Central New Jersey. A few clouds glow pink in the west. Not a bad night to roost at the Martha’s upstairs brass and mahogany bar, watch the sun go down. After dark, lights pop on in the big river estates, throwing sparklers onto black water.

Maybe after I meet with the A.A.S.D.’s Anne Marie Talbot, I’ll have a Bombay martini and check out the lights.

“Hey. Carr.”

I let go of the Martha’s front glass door and swivel to see who’s called my name. It’s Tony Farascio, all six feet of him, the stubble on his George Clooney cheeks thick and black as coal dust.

“Hey, Tony. What’s up?”

“I decided to help you with that other thing.”

Tony sticks out his hand. He’s wearing tan cotton slacks, new white sneakers, and another extra-big, short-sleeve knitted green golf shirt beneath an unzipped Navy blue London Fog wind breaker. I’m familiar with his big hands, that crunching grip, but as he walks toward me I notice Tony also owns exceptionally light feet for a big man. Like a pro defensive lineman.

We drop the shake. “Carmela told you I was going to be here?” I say.


“Well, I don’t need any help with the A.A.S.D.. But I sure could have used you last night. Bluefish threatened my children.”

Tony slams a forefinger to his lips. “Wait a minute,” he says. He guides me inside the Martha’s lobby, then off to a quiet corner beside a thirty-gallon blue Chinese vase filled with blooming yellow forsythia stalks.

“Sorry, pal,” he says. “But I didn’t think Bluefish would make his move that fast. Plus, I had to get permission. But I’m on it now.”

I nod.

“I heard about the cash he gave you,” Tony says.

“You did? From who?”

“I got friends in Bluefish’s family. All over, in fact. You still have his money?”


Tony smiles and wraps a thick arm around my shoulders. “Let’s go have a pop at the bar. You can tell me about this A.A.S.D. problem.”

“I don’t have time. The A.A.S.D. woman is waiting for me now. She just came into town today on a fluke and agreed to meet me. So it’s important. I don’t want to be late.”

He shrugs and redirects me toward the elevators. “Okay, let’s go see her. We’ll have a pop later.”

Once again I resist his forward momentum. Like before, my shoes slide on the slick marble. “You can’t go with me,” I say.

“Sure I can. You’re going to need me.”

He plows another few steps toward the elevators, me scuffing along with him. Suddenly he brings us both to a halt. “Wait. I got an idea. Let’s go back to your car, get Bluefish’s money. We might need that, too.”

My heart rate ticks up a notch. “What are you talking about? What’s Bluefish’s money got to do with the A.A.S.D.? Jesus, Tony. You’ll get Shore closed down letting her see all that cash. Like I’m trying to bribe her.”

“Her name’s Anne Marie Talbot, right?”

“Yeah. So?”

“And if she files her report with co-mingling charges included, Shore Securities gets hurt bad?”

“Probably. But--”

“So trust me, Carr. Vick told you to ask for my help, right?”

“Yeah, but there’s no way Mr. Vick would want you to bribe her. Jesus.”

Tony tows me through the glass doors, back outside. Once more, the gooey, tongue swelling smell of dead fish punches me in the nose. Tony’s arm, the odors, fear suddenly pumping up my heart rate...feels like I’m about to faint.

Mr. Brooklyn checks my face, shakes his head. “You look upset.”

There’s no way I can stop Tony Farascio from doing whatever the hell he wants. If I try to muscle him, I’ll end up as rotting goo, reeking like the other poor souls paving the Navasquan River bottom.

“When you give me Bluefish’s money, I think I gotta go see this Anne Marie by myself,” Tony says.

My jaw drops. Joining my series seven license, my Gift of Gab turns temporarily suspended.

I am freaking speechless.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

"You're Not Going to Believe This...

...Rags, but my car broke down."


"My Camry."

"No, I mean is this Austin Carr?" Rags says. "Calling me on a Thursday with another stupid-ass lie about why he can't come to work?"

"Well, yes, it's me. Austin Carr. But this is the real deal here, Rags. My Camry's idiot light came on about two blocks from my apartment. I pulled over, and the gas station guy says I have a blown water pump."

"Shut the hell up," Rags says.

"I'd walk the fifteen, twenty blocks to work, boss, but my ankle's still sore from stepping in that sand trap last week."

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Is Nature Ever the Villain?

Check out this 900-pound Giant Bluefin, a member of the tuna family slowly disappearing off the New Jersey coast. The Jersey record is over 1,200 pounds, the average 600.

In the opening sequence of BIG NUMBERS, The Famous Author has me preparing to be yanked overboard by one of these suckers. Murdered. Then at the end of the story, I try to survive my battle with that same Giant Bluefin, one of nature's strongest creatures.

Me, I don't see Mr. Tuna here as the bad guy. Like so many disaster films--earthquakes, floods, meteors--nature is just nature, a force mostly beyond our control. TFA, however, says sometimes, for dramatic effect, a character should react emotionally to nature's forces, in effect making them a villain.

What do YOU think? Any examples I'm not aware of? Say, in science fiction?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Howdy Doody was a freckle-faced boy marionette and a children's television program, aired on NBC from 1947 through 1960. Considered a pioneer in children's programming, NBC reportedly used the show to sell color television sets in the 1950s. The show's host, "Buffalo Bob" Smith suffered a heart attack in 1954, but NBC managed to keep the show going with guest hosts like Gabby Hayes and Ted Brown. Some sponsors insisted on having Buffalo Bob sell their products, however, and NBC set up a special studio at Smith's home.

Clarabell the Clown communicated by honking horns and squirting seltzer. Chief Thunderthud originated the cry "Kowabonga!". Princess Summerfall Winterspring, originally a puppet, was later played by the actress Judy Tyler. The characters inhabit the fictional town of "Doodyville".

The Famous Author loved this show, and he wasn't the only one. Originally an hour on Saturdays, the show moved to Monday through Friday, 5:30-6:00 pm EST in 1948. Beginning in 1954, the NBC test pattern featured a picture of Howdy.

The peanut gallery was 40 kids in on-stage bleachers. Each show began with Buffalo Bob asking, "Say kids, what time is it?" and the kids yelling, "It's Howdy Doody Time!".

Thanks to Howdy, Buffalo Bob, and Wikipedia.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Market Swami

Check out this chart of the S&P 500 Spyders. Boy, am I smart.

OK, so my stock pick (Open Energy, OEGY) is down. No sweat. It rallied last week and I'm hanging on. The REAL news is that your Swami Austin was dead-on August 16 when he said the little guy is always wrong. Go back and check me. I told you the market looked good because so many dopes were buying out-of-the-money puts.

The S&P 500 is up more than seven percent since August 16. Too bad I didn't buy the Spiders (SPY) instead of OEGY, the S&P index units jumping from 142 to 152.

Damn, I'm good.

Just not quite good enough to make any money yet.

Let's hope Open Energy fires up this week.