Saturday, August 30, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 56

“You are here at a time of awkwardness.”

“No kidding, Luis. Your sentence structure is indicative,” I say.

“There may be some things, some events, even good friends should not witness or even be aware of,” he says.

“Especially good friends,” Gina says.

Feels like I’m playing charades. “Say what?”

“The possibility exists one could later be asked questions under oath,” Luis says. “And therefore threatened with imprisonment.”

“Questions like, did he tell you this, did she say that,” Gina says.

Okay. Now I get it. What they’re saying is, I don’t want to know what the hell is going on.

“It would be better for you to leave,” Luis says. “In fact, I have an urgent errand.”

I shake my head. “I practically just got here and I’m very hungry.” I glance at the menu. “Or at least give me a little hint. Does this mystery have something to do with Bluefish?”

Luis clasps my shoulder in his right hand. The grip is stern, meant to get my attention. “There is no time. You must take a letter to the post office for me before six o’clock, por favor.”

Moving to the cash register, Luis digs beneath the coin tray. What the hell are these two up to? My shoulder thanks me for arranging its release, but warns against further refusal. Luis’s fingers pinched me like pliers.

Luis hands me a brown number-ten envelope addressed in neatly printed block letters to Rosalinda Sanchez, c/o Teresa Guerrero, 23 Libertad, Zempoala, State of Veracruz, Mexico.

“It is most important,” he says. “I trust only you.”

“Can I have a burrito when I come back?”

Luis smiles. “Umberto will make you something special. Now hurry.”

I sigh. Anybody but Luis, I’d tell them to stick the letter. Anxious for my dinner. Gina here beside me. Hells bells, man. Why would I want to leave?

I brush a napkin across my lips and push off my stool.

Luis says, “And please, mi amigo. Do not read the letter.”

I stare at him. Gee, pal. That’s some level of trust. Imagine Luis thinking I might open his personal, private mail. About to do him a favor, he slaps my face.

I lock the doors of my Camry and rip open the brown envelope. I know, I know. But eight years of stockbrokering withers even an honest man’s conscience. With me, Luis’s privacy has no shot.

Looks like a letter to his sister. Didn’t know he had a sister. And a check for thirty-eight thousand, five-hundred and sixty-four dollars. Nice. Like the envelope, both the check and the letter are for Rosalinda Sanchez.

My Dearest Sister,

It has been ten years since I said goodbye to our small village by the sea. Ten years since I last saw you, Juana, and Esmeralda, my fatherless nieces. Though I long to return home, I cannot. You know as well as I that our family and the village need the American money I send.

Because there is new danger for me here in New Jersey, I would like you to have the money which I have enclosed. Instead of the regular monthly amount, this check represents everything I have saved in the last ten years.

I hope you use at least part of the money to enroll my nieces in a private school where they will learn English well. The money was always for you and their education. The only thing different is that you are to have the money now, in case this danger proves too great a hurdle. Do not be frightened by my words. You know how I tend to dramatize the simplest events.

I must also tell you about a woman I have met. Nothing has been arranged. I have not spoken of my feelings yet. But I believe I have fallen in love.

Ha. I can imagine your smile as you translate this last sentence. Or perhaps Aunt Teresa is reading this letter to you, and the old woman has made you all laugh making her silly voices.

I imagine the whole Guerrero-Sanchez family will be much surprised that I mention my love for a woman. But no one could be more surprised than myself. I did not think myself open to such feelings, especially in America. Yet here I am, your lonely brother, imagining the love a wife and children would offer.

Her name is Angelina, little angel, and though my back was to the door when she first entered my restaurant and my life, I still felt her power, her presence. A tingling at the top of my spine.

Without turning, I knew a great warrior had walked into the room. Imagine my surprise when I saw it was a woman, a mature woman, but with flashing dark hair and shiny bright eyes like the girls from Veracruz. A woman that made my heart beat faster with desire.

Enough. Perhaps one day you will meet her. Who knows what life brings?

Though they must have forgotten by now what I look like, tell Juana and Esmeralda that I love them. And remind them their uncle urgently wishes his nieces to learn English. Until I see you all again, I remain,

Your loving brother, Luis.

Click the headline to read the opening chapters or see what reviewers are saying about BIG MONEY.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Phoenix Fannie?

Don't look too closely, you might jinx it, but our latest stock pick, Federal National Mortgage (FNM), is up. And I don't mean just up from the $4 low it plummeted to after we bought FNM at $7.77 a share...after Corkface (What kind of name is that?) said in the comment section here that FNM was going to zero. And Barron's agreed. No. I mean UP, up. On a late block--probably some poor short--FNM jumped to $7.95 at the close today.

It's been a fantastic week.

Thanks to the this recent action in FNM, our Hot Tip portfolio is ahead on a stock pick for the first time in six months or more. I think The Famous Author's been playing options, doing even better.

Why's the stock up? You mean besides the fact that we picked FNM here, the investment blog of all investment blogs? Well, it seems Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Keefe Bruyette, and several other big investment firms all issued reports this week stating Fannie doesn't need new capital now, that the housing market has to deteriorate another 30% before Fannie's capital could be depleted, and even then, the Treasury might still be able to avoid nationalizing the mortgage finance agency.

All the Wall Street reports said there was no reason to wipe out shareholders. I think my pal Henry Paulson, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, is making his buddies on Wall Street buy the common, then talk it up with these reports. Hey, whatever works, Hank. The Street has much experience doing Washington's dirty work.

One report said the common was going to $20.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Redhead of the Week

Lizzie Andrew Borden (1860 - 1927) is remembered chiefly as the subject of this anonymous American nursery rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

On August 4, 1892, Lizzie and Bridget Sullivan, the maid of the household, discovered the corpses of Mr. Andrew J. Borden and Abby Gray Borden, Lizzie's father and his second wife. Both had been slain by multiple axe blows. The Bordens were one of the wealthiest and most prominent families of Fall River, Massachusetts.

A circumstantial case against Lizzie was made, without any identification of a murder weapon and no incriminating physical evidence such as bloodstained clothes. The case against Lizzie was based mostly on the testimony of a pharmacist that said that Lizzie had attempted to purchase prussic acid, a form of cyanide, and that a neighbour had seen her burning a dress.

Borden's trial occurred in June of 1893. It took two weeks, a quite long time for the period. On June 20, 1893, after ninety minutes of deliberation, the jury acquitted Lizzie of the crime.

Although acquitted of the crime, many people believed that she had done it and ostracized her. Later in life, Lizzie changed her name to Lizbeth and became somewhat eccentric. She died of complications from gall bladder surgery in 1927, at the age of sixty-six.

Thanks to Lizzie, her mean father, and INDOPEDIA

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rescue Plan for FNM Stockholders?

As reported earlier, our investment in Federal National Mortgage (FNM) looks zero-bound. In fact, until late Friday afternoon, not one TV, print, or personal pundit agreed with our assessment that FNM equity might not be wiped out, despite the common stock's drop from about $75 to $3.50 over the past 12 months.

Wonder why the stock rose from $3.50 to $5 late Thurday and Friday? Shorts covering before the weekend? CNBC's Bob Pisani says it's just traders, guys jumping in and out, looking for 25 cents profit. Baha Jeff says it's a classic dead cat bounce.

Maybe. But one of the best banking outfits we know, Keefe Bruyette, said late Friday that FNM would almost certainly remain a shareholder-owned institution. About an hour later on TV, so did the head of Blackrock's fixed income department. Both gentlemen pointed out FNM was created by Congress, and Congress wants FNM shareholder-owned. It's the law.

And then, just after six Friday evening, this story ran on Reuters. I think our investment might still be alive.

US Treasury wants GSEs shareholder-owned -source

By Patrick Rucker

WASHINGTON, Aug 22 (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department still believes that housing finance giants Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) should remain shareholder-owned, a source familiar with Treasury thinking said on Friday.

Shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fell further this week after news reports suggested the federal government was poised to nationalize the two companies, which together underwrite or guarantee nearly half of the $12 trillion U.S. mortgage market.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson last month outlined a series of backstop measures that could be used to support Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, including a fresh injection of capital from the government. Speculation has mounted in financial markets that Treasury eventually would be forced to add capital, causing investors to question how such a move could affect the corporate structures.

When Paulson announced the lifeline for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in July, he and President George W. Bush both said that government policy aimed to maintain the government-sponsored enterprises as private enterprises.

The U.S. Congress backed the proposal in July and on Friday, the White House said that Paulson has unencumbered power to deal with the current crisis as he sees fit.

"Secretary Paulson has the lead on the administration's policies related to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, working with their regulator," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

As the United States suffers the worst housing market downturn since the Great Depression, the two companies' ability to fund mortgages through the issuance of debt to support the U.S housing market is considered crucial for the economy.

Shares of Fannie Mae closed up 3.1 percent at $5.00 on Friday, a day after hitting a roughly two-decade low of $3.53, and down 37 percent for the week. Freddie Mac shares closed down 11.1 percent at $2.81, after earlier hitting a 20-year low of $2.50, and down by more than half for the week.

Investors have pummeled common and preferred shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this year as speculation grew that the pace of losses on their mortgage holdings and guarantees is quickly eroding their capital. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have both lost about 90 percent of their market capitalization since 2008 began.

The two GSEs have reported losses for the past four quarters, and mortgage delinquency rates are rising, reducing the value of their assets and their capital, but they currently meet regulatory capital requirements and are successfully rolling over their debt on the regular schedule, limiting the need for any nationalization by the government.

Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have both encouraged the companies to raise capital in recent months so that they will have the ballast to weather the current U.S. housing market downturn.

When policy-makers hatched their plan to buttress Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in July, they hoped that merely outlining the plan would sooth investor concerns. As the companies have reported bigger losses, however, investor anxiety has risen along with expectations that the government will have to take action.

Still, officials have repeated that they do not want the companies to fall completely into government hands.

Legislation that codified the Treasury rescue plan states that any government aid to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should bear in mind "the need to maintain the corporation's status as a private shareholder-owned company."

We like Reuters. We really hope they're right about this one. AC

Friday, August 22, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 55

Spooky how you can savagely dislike someone on initial eye contact. Their size and shape. Their expression. Don’t know if the feeling’s been natured or nurtured, but when instant aversion kicks me in the ass, hostility and venom rise from deep within.

My gaze locks onto a tall blond man watching the front door as I push inside Luis’s Mexican Grill. Surfer Dude’s wearing knee-length white bathing shorts and a blue T-shirt that says “Can I Put My Burrito in Your Taco?” yet he has the balls to sneer at me while I dance through five or six people waiting for tables.

This single, nonverbal exchange produces a lizard-brain reaction in me of distrust, fear, animosity, and adrenaline. I haven’t wanted to punch a stranger this badly since April Higgins kicked my nuts first day of kindergarten. My feelings about this big blond surfer asshole aren’t logical. They must be prehistoric.

“Hi, Austin.”

Whoa. I’m so busy puffing macho across the noisy restaurant, I’ve failed to notice my bar-area co-occupant, Gina Farascio, her long black hair returned to those wavy curls that Big Daddy imagines spread out before him on a pillow. Curls-to-straight, then back to wavy curls. The lovely Gina must spend as much time doing her dew as I do thinking about sex.

Well, almost.

Gina squeezes my shoulder as she leans in to buss my cheek. Her perfume conjures a summer flower garden, and I can’t help it, my hand instinctively reaches for her waist. Her flesh beneath the black cocktail dress electrifies my fingertips.

“I didn’t see you when I came in,” I say.

Gina pulls away, her gaze locked on mine. “No? What were you looking at?”

I toss her the famous full-boat Carr grin while I dream up a response. I’m looking for clever, flattering, and pithy. Let’s see. How about, “I can’t remember anything before you said hello.”

Her midnight eyes light up like the sky before dawn.

The Gift of Gab has its moments.

I’m on a stool, my back to the front door, when the hubbub level of Luis’s restaurant plunges.

I wrest my attention from Gina to glance down the bar. Dozens of faces are expressing concern. Their gazes seem to have focused on the entrance, or already lowered themselves in submission. Can’t be zombies or masked gunmen. No one’s screaming. Maybe it’s just the threat of violence all these people are worried about.

“Bluefish,” Gina says.

I swivel more, enough to glimpse what most everyone else’s eyes are already glued to like the finals of American Idol. “And Creeper,” I say. “The guy who kidnapped my daughter.”

Beth didn’t have a serious wound on her, the doctor told me. Emotionally or physically. And late last night on the telephone, my daughter told me Creeper mostly behaved like a gentleman, only frightened her when he locked her in the car trunk and drowned some kittens.

The trunk thing pisses me off and murdering kittens is so gruesome I don’t want to think about it. But maybe my anger at the giant creepola should have limits. He didn’t hit, rape, or kill my daughter. Not much to expect of another human being, I suppose, but Creeper being Creeper, I figure the big oaf basically behaved himself.

Jerry, Mr. Diamond, struts and shines between Bluefish and Creeper, the three of them like malevolent cartoon rats--Creeps, Sparkles, and Snake, the boss--parading into some kitchen for a really big cheese heist.

“You’d think making bail, Bluefish would head for places unknown,” I say.

“Bluefish is here to see me,” Luis says.

I reverse direction again to check my favorite bartender. Luis has been extremely busy since I came in. Barely had time to wave hello and take my order. Glad the fire did so little structural damage he’s back raking in the coin already. But someone should tell him all the food tastes like smoke. I don’t have the chilies.

“You and Bluefish have an appointment?” I say.

Luis leans across the bar to kiss Gina on the cheek. Gee. Never saw him do that before. To anyone. There’s a tenderness in his movements, a vulnerability I’ve never witnessed. Or am I imagining too much?

“Bluefish and I have unfinished business,” Luis says. “I knew only that he would come.”

“Me, too,” Gina says.

Huh? The combined fragrances of green chili, onion, cilantro, and warming corn tortillas grows overpowering. My forehead pops beads of sweat like I’m being held over a pot of bubbling verde sauce.

“What the hell is going on?” I say.

The two of them stare at me. Luis solemn and resolute. Gina’s smile sporting an odd twist.

Why is Gina here, by the way?

Click the headline, BIG MONEY Chapter 55, for a list of independent and Border's bookstores that recently had signed copies of my books for sale. These people are friends, and want me to survive as a series character. Buy from one of them, and I'll have TFA send you a T-shirt. AC

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Man, Henry Paulson

In case you missed it, our latest stock pick, Federal National Mortgage (FNM), is about to go to zero. We bought what shares we could at $7.77 when the rumors of an equity-destroying government bailout intensified again last week (I'm not posting the chart because it makes me dizzy), and yesterday FNM closed at $4.40. Today, who knows. The media is touting the end, that some day very very soon, probably today, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr. will confiscate FNM's current net worth of $50 billion.

Really? Didn't I just hear my man Henry say, on the steps of U.S. Treasury, that the government "was committed" to keeping FNM and its sister agengy, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., "shareholder-owned institutions."

I guess he didn't say which shareholders, right?

The government, and indeed the nation, need to keep these agencies alive and healthy. So restore the market's confidence, which total access to the Treasury didn't do last month, the Treasury needs to somehow help these agencies raise capital. The story on the street says, why bother? Just grab'em.

Henry, my man! You wouldn't do that, would you? Please don't wipe out my trading portfolio. I believed you. And frankly, the solution is so simple, even a stockbroker from New Jersey can see it.

Have the Treasury buy a new convertible preferred, give the agencies new capital. Let the U.S. taxpayers put up some cash now, but reap their rewards about seven years from now. Dilute the stock in 2015 when everything's working again and Federal housing policy isn't being run by shortsellers named Kass.

Come on, Henry. Make me smile again. It's been a very tough three days.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Redhead of the Week

Lily Cole, born in Torquay, England, was walking through the streets of Soho after a hamburger with friends when scout-turned actor Benjamin Hart approached her. Cole ran, fearing she was being chased by 'some dodgy guy' but after being asked to consider modeling, she accepted and was signed on with Storm Models, the mother agency of supermodels such as Kate Moss.

This pickup line works well guys. Trust me.

Despite her successful modeling career, Cole retains a commitment to her education, achieving As in her examinations in English, politics, drama, history and philosophy and ethics at Latymer Upper School, Hammersmith where she was awarded the Mikdadi Prize for Politics in 2006.

Cole has recently been spotted with actor Jude Law, prompting rumors that they are dating. Cole is currently living in New York, with best-friend and fellow model Gemma Ward.

Cole's big break came in 2003 when her long legs, pale skin and fiery red hair caught photographer Steven Meisel's eye. It was on that photoshoot, her first 'only girl' story for Italian Vogue, that Cole was catapulted into the spotlight as one of the leading new faces of the year. Since then, Cole has been featured in top fashion magazines such as Vogue (American, Italian, British, Japanese and Korean), Citizen K, and V. She has also appeared on the cover of Numero and three for British Vogue. In November 2004, the British Fashion Awards named her Model of the Year.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Free Stress Test

Apologies if you've already seen this clever, scientific breakthrough, but I just had to pass this on from our friends Mr. and Mrs. Z in Southern California, the home of do-it-yourself medical devices. The Zs report their happy marriage was saved by self-analysis, prompted by viewing the STRESS TEST below.

OK, ready? Here's the set-up. Look closely at the photograph below. Do you see any differences in the two porpoise? And I mean ANY. Look very closely. The two dolphins are identical, of course, but those of you with stressed-out brains will find tiny differences to complain about. The fins. The placement of the breathing holes. Check it out...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 54

The low black sky is a comfort to Max, the rain and thunder his oldest friends. It is the stark and glaring white sun that unnerves him. Days like today when the cloudless blue sea above has no depth and no spirit, the wind no taste. As if all life had abandoned the planet.

“Get in here and drive this God damn car,” Bluefish says. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”

Boss was never a compassionate man. Much too self-centered, unthinking about others. But two nights in jail make him cranky like circus animal. Cage crazy. “Very sick, boss. Very bad stomach. What Jerry call squirting’ dir--”

“Enough,” Bluefish says. “We’ll stop and buy you some diapers. Now get in the God damned car or you’re fired. We gotta pick up Jerry. I can’t fucking believe you’re afraid of that spic bartender.”

Max sighs. Big-time asshole, what Bluefish is. Sitting in his gas-sucking Chevy Suburban. Shouting orders at Max who could break him into parts. Boss should know Max isn’t afraid. Boss should respect Max’s better knowledge of natural forces.

Today, the sky so pure and empty; today is a day for staying home, not for confronting enemies.

“Okay,” Max says. “But give me one minute.”

“No. Wait!”

Max shuts door in his room.

Inside a cigar box under his bed, his fingers clutch a sharp, hand-hewn arrowhead of flint attached to a thin leather necklace. The familiar rough skin of the stone makes him close his eyes and remember the night his father presented him with a very special gift.

Slowly, using unusual ceremony, his father lifted the rock necklace over his head and placed it around Max’s neck. “Thousands of years ago,” said his father, “this arrowhead belonged to a wise and experienced hunter. A man with special knowledge. Carry it when you face danger, Max. The rock has a spirit inside that will protect you.”

Three days after his father gave him the arrowhead, Max’s father was dead. Killed by lions. Did the world’s strongest man die because he gave Max the ancient rock? Something Max always wonder.

“Max, God damn it!”

Bluefish calls him from hallway.

Max stuffs the arrowhead in pocket of his jeans. Logic tells him no rock, even such an old and perfectly carved one, can protect Max from bullets.

But why would his father lie? And besides, like Jerry says, it can’t hurt.

“I’m coming,” Max says.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Buy Fannie Mae

Back in 1938, with the nation reeling from a long and deep economic depression, Congress deemed home ownership to be a national priority. The Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae (FNM on the New York Stock Exchange), was established to buy Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages from commercial banks, thereby replenishing the supply of cash banks could lend.

Able to pass on risk (housing prices don't always go up), commercial banks were willing to lend a lot more of their capital and their depositors funds with real estate as collateral. More people got loans and houses. The economy improved.

The plan worked so well that in 1968 Congress expanded Fannie Mae's role. By joining with banks and other commercial lenders to create new mortgage products, and by expanding traditional government loan limits, Congress sought to increase the availability and affordability of homeownership for low-, moderate-, and middle-income Americans.

Conservatives objected strongly at the time, and so, as a compromise, to keep Fannie Mae's debt off the federal books, Fannie Mae was made private. That is, capital was raised from the public (chiefly its bank customers), and the Federal National Mortgage Assn. became a public traded stock. Congress maintained considerable control, however, and made sure the company had virtually unlimited access to the U.S. Treasury in case of economic turmoil.

Well, guess what. If you own a trillion-dollar pool of mortgages, insured or uninsured, every downtown in home prices creates economic turmoil. A bank's capital can get wiped out if loans drop 10% in value and it's forced to sell or mark the assets down on the bank's books. Because of its government-sponsored purpose, and it's Treasury backing, Fannie Mae is only required to maintain capital of 1%. Every housing blip makes FNM potentially insolvent. Any downturn brings out the critics.

But Fannie's not like other lenders, folks. It's not like other stocks. This company has a government sponsored purpose and charter. And it's not going to fail or have it's equity wiped out because of a downturn in home prices. It hasn't the last five economic downturns.

That's our opinion. About one million short-sellers take an opposite view. They say Fannie Mae is broke, worthless, soon to be bankrupt. Looking at the chart, I can understand if you think I'm crazy and they're right. If this company is backed by the government, how come its stock is now under $8 a share?

Good question. And there's no real answer, except that housing sucks, the credit market is in turmoil, Fannie's losing money (it has before), and fear is rampant. And just like they have in the past, conservatives are screaming for a national takeover of Fannie and other government-sponsored agencies that help our lending institutions manage risk.

I say Congress keeps Fannie Mae as a stockholder-owned institution, and that Fannie lives to earn $4 a share in 2011. Within the first hour of trading this morning, we're selling our DISK and putting what little hot tip money we have left into Fannie Mae common stock. Wish us luck.

(As a disclaimer, please remember I am a fictional stockbroker. You can sue me, but I probably won't show up in court, and I definitely don't have any money. PLAIN ENGLISH: If you buy this tip, you are on your own!)

MORNING UPDATE, 11:45 am: In the Hot Tip Account, we sold 2,000 Image Entertainment (DISK) @ an average of $1.26, and bought 360 shares of Federal National Mortgage (FNM) at $7.77. We also have a whopping $155 now in cash. Our Hot Tip account is down roughly 70% this year.

Thanks to E-Trade for the charts and dates.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Redhead of the Week

Laura Prepon is best known for her role as Donna Pinciotti on the hit television series, That '70s Show. We're fans because Laura was born and raised in Watchung, New Jersey.

Maybe this photo had something to do with it, too.

Prepon's first acting job was a 1995 television commercial for MCI. She worked as a model in Paris, Milan, and Brazil, and starred on the Fox television series from 1998 to 2006.

Prepon was a cast member of the ABC show October Road, which debuted March 15, 2007 and cancelled May 12, 2008. Ouch. And we thought stockbroking was a tough biz.

Laura, baby, we miss you down on the Jersey Shore. Remember those summer nights under the boardwalk?

Thanks for the memories, and to Wikipedia. Check out all the past Redheads of the Week by clicking on the headline.

Monday, August 11, 2008

He Turns to the Darkside

He didn't seem like a bad guy when we met him. Neither did his protagonist, John Ceepak.

Sure John's a ramrod straight kind of guy. Never tells a lie. Returns the change when the clerk miscounts. Not a typical friend of your average, morally challenged stockbroker. But at least you know where you stand with John, and he does like a good laugh once and a while.

So, anyway, we wondered why John and his author, Chris Grabenstein, have suddenly turned dark.

Here's the old look from his old publisher. Purple, pink, and lime green. Not too scary, huh? We know one mystery book store owner who missed out on this highly acclaimed mystery series for the first book or two because he thought the covers were, uh..well, they looked like chick lit.

(That guy caught on quick, however. Chris's first book won an Anthony and, more important, they sell like blueberrie pancakes.)

But now Chris is with St. Martins, and his new publisher thinks Chris's covers ought to look different. Dark, baby. Black and scary. Here's the latest, now available at every bookstore in America.

Whatever cover they put on Chris's stories, they are sure fun to read. He even gives you clues...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Where's Mine?

Isn't this the question we ask ourselves every night when we go to bed? What happened to my dreams? Where did the thrills and excitement go? Why did my life turn this way instead of that?

Or, like The Famous Author's newest granddaughter, Kyleigh, seems to be saying here, "Where's MY piece of the pie?"

On one of her first trips to a restaurant, Kyleigh got left out. Everybody had something to eat but her. You have to look a little closer if you want to see EXACTLY how she feels about it.

Friday, August 8, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 53

I was wrong about the Branchtown Sun. Checking Mike’s Newsstand on my way back to work, I learn our local paper did not run Mr. Vick’s photograph on page one under the caption, “Crook.” In fact, Mr. Vick’s page-one head-shot is captioned, “Mob Ties.”

Since everybody in this part of New Jersey knows Bluefish murdered his wife, and once robbed churches, the Sun’s story skips the background stuff to play up his alleged connection to Shore Securities, the unsolved murder of Anne Marie Talbot, and the dead A.A.S.D. agent’s allegations of co-mingling at “Bluefish’s operation,” the previously mentioned Shore.

Jesus. The facts are bad enough. Why do they have to make up crap? What are we, George Bush Securities?

I hear telephones ringing as I walk into Shore from the sidewalk. Yolanda, our current greeter-slash-phone monkey, is talking, writing, and listening as fast as she can, taking messages and punching flashing lights. The pink phone slips are piling up in front of her like lawn flamingos after a hurricane.

All of Shore’s clients must be pulling their accounts.

I wave at Yolanda to start sending my calls through, then jog to Mr. Vick’s office.

“Are you sure?” I say. “I can’t believe it.”

Carmela’s grinning, her shoulders a brace against my office doorway. Her sweater’s been exchanged for a loose-fitting blouse. “Why can’t you believe it?” she says. “We’ve lost a total of five accounts. And none of the brokers was sorry about losing the customers.”

“I can’t believe it,” I say. “The newspapers made us sound La Costa Nostra’s private investment bank.”

“What do you want me to say? Nobody reads the paper? I’ll tell you this, Austin. The people that did read it said they knew Mr. Vick, and the paper had to be full of crap. Or, like my friend says, maybe people like being connected.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“You said that. Three times now. Are you hungry? Want me to call out for some dinner?”

I shake my head. The stock market tape travels across my office’s TV screen. The Dow was up big today. The Fed signaled they’re done raising interest rates, and the institutions were buying heavy. Even individual investors jumped in. That’s why the phones were busy.

“How about Chinese?” Carmela says.

“Not one of the calls I took this afternoon even mentioned the story.”

“Mexican? I could send somebody to Luis’s?”

Her smile reminds me of sunshine and hay. Or maybe it’s the freckles and hair on her upper lip.

“Red chili burritos?” she says. “Or did Chinese sound good?”

Sounds like Carmela’s been dreaming about pork lo mien, although my mind’s suddenly spinning off in another direction entirely. Whoa. One of those crazy ideas that come out of nowhere. Or was it that homily Luis threw out there this morning? That concept he tossed at me, an over-polished gem about turning crisis into opportunity.

“Hold off on lunch,” I say to Carmela. “If he’s still alive, I want you to find Rags, get his fax number, send him a copy of both The New York Times story and the Branchtown one, the picture of Mr. Vick.”

“I’m not talking to that scum bag,” Carmela says. “He tried to kill me, remember?”

“You mean when he pretended to wrap that calculator cord around your neck?”


“You know he still loves you, Carm. He probably just did it to scare he could crack that line about recalculating your yield to maturity.”

“You’re an asshole, you know that?”

“Okay, you’re right. It was definitely an act of violence. Plus, I forgot you almost married the jerk. Can you just find him for me then? Get me a phone number?”

Yes, sir. A gem of an idea, Luis. Thank you. Crisis does indeed offer opportunity.

Ms. Butterface will talk to Rags. I know she knows where to find him.

I’ll call Walter myself.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Redhead of the Week

Angie Everhart was born in Akron, Ohio, the fifth child of six siblings, in 1972. She began modeling when she was 15, a Firestone High School cheerleader and school mascot. By the end of the following year, she had graced the covers of such fashion mainstays as ELLE and Glamour magazine, where she was the first-ever redheaded cover girl.

She broke her back in an accident at 19, but eventually recovered through physical therapy. After years of publicly insisting she would never pose nude, Everhart did just that for the February 2000 issue of Playboy.

Everhart made her film debut in 1993 with the Arnold Schwarzenegger action-comedy Last Action Hero. She has since appeared in such features as Tales From the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood (1996), Denial (1998), Trigger Happy (1996) and Gunblast Vodka (2000). No Oscars for those roles.

Other movies she has appeared in include Jade (1995), and Executive Target (1997), Since then, her feature film roles have been restricted to low budget erotic thrillers with obligatory nude scenes, such as Another 9 1/2 Weeks (1997) Sexual Predator (2001) and Bare Witness (2001).

Angie was briefly engaged to Sylvester Stallone in 1995, married to Ashley Hamilton from December 1996 until March 1997, and has been rumored to be involved with Prince Albert of Monaco. She briefly dated Howard Stern after his divorce from his wife and before he became engaged to fiancee, Beth Ostrosky.

Stern has admitted to it and openly discussed having dated and slept with her. Stern only went public about his tryst with Everhart because she went public with it first, calling Stern the "best sex she's ever had" in an interview with FHM magazine.

Howard Stern? But Angie, what about that night on the roller coaster?

Thanks to Wikipedia, Angie, and Sly for letting her go.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Baby Crime Writer

This young lady, Grace Getze, is already planning her career as a crime fiction writer. Her father, TFA's number one son, reports Grace

is already drawing pictures of badges, guns, and getaway cars. Of course these objects are being realized in gooey mashed peas and carrots, but why be picky? What else does a nine-month-old have to work with?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

They Thought He Was Superman

When The Famous Author was growing up in Alhambra, California, living in a small tract home not 500 yards from the Crawford's Market where they shot and killed The Man from Mars during a hold-up, all the kids on his block thought TFA's Dad was Superman. No kidding. He was a reporter for a large metropolitan daily. He looked liked a nerd with those glasses and the businessman's haircut. He had a son who told everybody he WAS Superman.

George W. Getze was not Superman. No, his only claims to fame are the original news story revealing and detailing a new earthquake measurement system by some guy at Cal Tech--oh, yeah, Charles Richter--and the fact that Pop shared this Los Angeles Mirror cityroom with Jim Thompson, cult hero and noir novelist of the 1950s. Pop didn't like him much. He told TFA that JT was usually drunk and unable to help with the rewrite load.

One more tidbit: This photo was taken around 1949-1950 for the inhouse, employee newsletter. Some smartass photog pinned the calendar girl on the wall behind TFA's Pop when he wasn't looking. Or at least that was Pop's story.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 52

Carmela hands me a twice-folded section of newspaper. I try not to think of her as Ms. Butterface anymore because I understand it’s sexually demeaning. But Vick’s daughter has on a scooped-neck, tight yellow sweater, and her scoops are bulging from their sugar cones. My horny-boy eyes require a hard sell to wrap themselves around a newspaper.

I stand behind Shore’s trading desk, unable to sit or focus on gray printed matter.

“This is page ten of today’s New York Times,” Carmela says. “A friend woke me up at five o’clock this morning to read it to me.”

Here’s the thing about guys and breasts: If the FCC would allow it, a television channel with nothing but naked boobs would win every ratings sweep. No male above the age of seven would watch much else.

“Stop staring at my tits and read,” she says.

Oops. “Sorry, Carm.”

“I knew I shouldn’t have worn this sweater.”

I didn’t have my coffee yet this morning, and now I’m thinking why bother. The headline makes me want bourbon and tequila because I know Carmela wouldn’t show me this story unless Shore is mentioned.

Grand Jury Claims Auto Shop
Owner is NJ Shore Crime Boss

The story’s opening paragraph--that Joseph “Bluefish” Pepperman was indicted and arrested last night following a two-year investigation by FBI and New Jersey State organized crime units--is pretty much all the news they've got.

More of a feature, the story details Bluefish’s alleged illegal operations--gambling, loan sharking, fencing stolen goods--and his colorful past, including dropped murder charges because of missing witnesses, a disappearing wife--a possible crime for which he is still under suspicion--and five years in prison for assaulting two priests in the course of a robbery.

Just before jumping to another page, the story mentions the unsolved murder of Anne Marie Talbot and her about-to-be-released A.A.S.D. report--oh shit--detailing the transgressions of one Shore Securities of Branchtown, New Jersey.

“I choked there, too,” Carmela says.

I quickly read that nasty, ugly, make-a-broker-cry word, co-mingling.

“Talbot’s field summary is a proposed report that has to be approved by A.A.S.D. regional office,” I say.

“I know.”

“And it’s subject to challenge. No way her findings are supposed to be made public.”

“It gets worse,” Carmela says. She points to a quote near the end.

Oh, great. Wonderful. The New York Times, the World’s Paper of Record, quotes “a source familiar with the investigation” as saying Joe Pepperman “effectively controls” Shore Securities.

Franny’s payback rings like cold steel.

Luis’s Mexican Grill doesn’t officially open until eleven o’clock. But having tired of stocks and bonds early today, even before the market opens, I try the back, push inside Luis’s kitchen door about nine-fifteen. Something about the news this morning makes me thirsty.

Maybe I’ll go back to work later, assess the initial damage, call the landlord to see what I can do about breaking the lease. Not something I want to do without significant fortification.

While he chops tomatoes on a wooden cutting board, Umberto talks to Luis about the lack of fresh chili pablano. He cuts off when he sees me, and Umberto and Luis exchange an exaggerated look of surprise at my sudden presence.

Luis adjusts the case of Corona long-necks balanced on his shoulder. “Have you been sleeping again in my parking spaces?” His thin-lipped grin wouldn’t capture any smile contests, but if you know him, this wry twist of Luis’s equates to a belly laugh.

“No more football helmets for me,” I say.

For a brief period last year, I lived in a Chevy truck-mounted camper, often parking overnight in my favorite restaurant’s lot. I bought a football helmet to survive my home’s unusually low ceiling.

“My investment in Shore Securities just took a serious, probably fatal hit,” I say. “I require the hearty consolation of premium tequila.” I give Luis the full-boat Carr grin. “And maybe a shot of forty-year-old bourbon.”

Luis can’t spare time to read newspapers or even pour liquor, so I verbalize highlights--lowlights?--of The Times story for him while I slice limes at his bar.

Faster the bar’s ready for business, I figure the quicker I taste Herradura. Like the writers of American tax code learned long ago, a measure of self-interest strongly increases the population’s appetite for good works.

I’m heaping two mixing bowls with green wedges, the acidic sting of citrus tickling my nose. Umberto bangs pots in the kitchen. Luis pours ice over a tub full of those bottled Coronas, rattling the air.

“So you are here drinking at nine-thirty in the morning believe this story will badly influence your business?" Luis says.

My elbow on the bar, I extend a forefinger toward the ceiling. “First of all--and this is important, Luis--notice I am not drinking. You won’t let me. You’ve got your best customer chopping fruit.”

“You offered your help,” Luis says.

“Slave labor. I work only for the sustenance you promised. Second, it’s not just one story. All the Jersey papers, maybe The Wall Street Journal, will have stories. The Branchtown Sun probably has Mr. Vick’s picture on the front page under a caption that says ‘Crook.’”

Luis hefts another brown paper bag of ice onto the rim of a wading-pool-size aluminum beer tub. “Sometimes great crisis brings great opportunity.”

Thank you, Yoda. But I think not in this case. To your average investor, co-mingling sounds like stealing no matter how hard you explain clearing-bank procedures and their overnight help’s frequent mistakes.

Half my clients will want their accounts transferred. The other half will seek my torture and death.

AC: The Boss has free BIG MONEY staff T-shirts available for anyone who wants one. Email TFA at

Friday, August 1, 2008

Does Book PR Ever Work?

I'm a professional salesman, but even I have trouble sometimes believing in book signings and radio appearances. I mean, if you're brand new like The Famous Author, who really cares if you're coming to town, appearing at the book store, or answering silly questions about your book on the radio? No one, that's who. All the mystery fans are waiting for Robert Crais, Lee Child, or maybe--just maybe--new authors like Rosemary Harris or Marcus Sakey.

But TFA? I don't think so. Perhaps if his mother was still alive...

Our recent trip to Texas, however, is beginning to change our fictional mind. Even TFA's. It seems there have been some minor, anecdotal results of our whirlwind, six-day tour of the Houston and Dallas areas, the radio and TV spots we did all over the state. Within the last two weeks, three Texas book clubs have requested our book, TFA has received a handful of personal emails and letters from new readers in Texas, and several strangers from the Lone Star state have requested TFA's friendship on Facebook.

Is this hard evidence of promotional results? Our PR lady, PJ Nunn (click on the headline) thinks so. PJ says these radio spots and booksignings pay off--IF you work smartly at it, IF you stick with it, month after month, and IF your books are really any good.

Now there's a big if.

Find out for yourself tomorrow when I publish chapter 52 of BIG MONEY.