Friday, November 30, 2007

BIG MONEY, Chapter 20

In Vick’s old office, I touch a sterling picture frame with strange reverence. Not sure why I left hanging this mid-ocean action photo of Mr. Vick’s forty-four-foot motor yacht, the “Triple-A.” Don’t need visual reminders of my mortality, how close death by drowning came last year. But maybe I relish how much boats like this cost, how much money Mr. Vick made all those years as sole owner of Shore Securities. See, with room and board, figure I’ll need half-a-million for Beth’s and Ryan’s college education, and it’s always good to have hope. Especially in the midst of Shore’s latest tornado.

Except for the yacht shot, most of the rest of the boss’s office crap has pretty much disappeared, casualties of an unbending policy: The Austin Carr Touch, currently amplified I’m sure by the key to Mr. Vick’s well-stocked, well-heeled, and normally well-locked mahogany liquor cabinet. My motto after two weeks of many forty-year-old double-bourbons: Make yourself at home.

A fold-up card table with a nifty Swedish coffee drip machine, straw baskets of sweeteners, nondairy creamer, spoons, paper cups, and napkins replaces Mr. Vick’s antique glass-front lawyer’s bookcase.

If I want to read books, I can go to the library.

A longer, rectangular fold-up table bumps Vick’s ten-ton cluttered desk. Three black trash bags full of knickknacks--Vick can’t remember what his family looks like?--gives me enough room for a cushy swivel chair, four eighteen-inch computer monitors, three state-of-the-art laptops, and a laser printer that could publish the Washington Post. Plus, I can slide my chair underneath and back and forth along the whole table, do four internet dating applications and interviews at the same time.

Just kidding.

The paneled wall’s invisible closet holds half my suits, half my dress shirts, drawers of socks and underwear, and a rack of suitably-conservative neckties. All this so I can dress here or at home, depending on mood, circumstance, and the number of elapsed hours since my latest adventure inside a flaming restaurant.

If this means an occasional wee-bity pile of dirty, smoky laundry, it’s exactly the kind of necessary office evil Austin Carr can live with. Function, not form, is another one of my mottoes, bourbon or no.

The intercom buzzes. Nasty noise, that. Another Mr. Vick leftover I could do without.

I touch the black button. “Carmela, after you call the hospital about Luis, call the electrician for me, will you? I want this intercom--”

“Your appointment is here,” Carmela says.

“It’s four-thirty already?”

My new partner sighs. The sound is breathy and sexy. “It’s five-forty-five,” Carmela says. “You told me to set it up after work, right?”

I sign off my AOL account. This new dating site offers no one worth chasing. Hope I didn’t click myself into the annual membership. I do remember typing in my credit card number. “This appointment is the big hitter from Jaffy Ritter Clark?” I say.


“Frank something?”

“Franny Dahler,” Carmela says. “This hitter’s a female. Did over eight-hundred last year.”

“Oh, my.”

“Right. Should I send her in?”

Talking all day, working her dad’s accounts and helping field my calls, Carmela’s voice grows huskier each day. Sends a low lovely tingle deep in my waist. Jesus, I’m so horny even Miss Butterface is starting to arouse me. Well, everything but her face.

“By all means,” I say. “Send in Ms. Dahler.”

I swear I’m not really cruel. It’s my endless search for sarcasm that leads me astray. Besides, Carmela can’t hear what I’m thinking.

“Hire her,” Carmela says.

Mr. Vick’s daughter has been hurling little tips on running the business my entire two weeks as chief. Even before I ransacked Mr. Vick’s office. I think the busty new college graduate’s heady with power, although it can’t hurt to listen. She already came up with one idea that clicked like the trunk of a new Mercedes: Firing Mr. Vick’s crabby, overpaid secretary was a slash of genius.

What do we care if she’s Vick’s sister?

I stand to greet the hitter from across the street, Franny Dahler. She’s been calling since Monday, one week after Walter left us for Dahler’s current employer, Jaffy Ritter Clark. According to Carmela, Ms. Dahler wants to talk about switching firms.

Bet Jaffy Ritter gave her office to Walter.

My door cracks open.

The loss of Walter’s production hurts Shore badly. And not just in profits for the owners. Shore Securities needs a certain flow of business to justify four back-office people, three secretaries, and two traders, not to mention minimum clearing fees with a New York bank and fifty other expenses included in the cost of selling stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Peoples’ jobs depend on me lining up a new hitter to pick up Walter’s slack.

The door swings open. Oh. My. God.

“You’re Austin Carr?” Ms. Strawberry says.

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