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?”

“Pretended?”

“You know he still loves you, Carm. He probably just did it to scare you...so 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.

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