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 because...you 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 jgetze@aol.com

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