I was nursing a bad glass of house wine when Brian walked in, alone.
" You didn’t call the cops?”
“Is there a reason I should have?”
“Angie said she’d get an order of protection.”
“You hit her?”
“Then just stalking.”
“We’ve kind of been a thing since high school. Off and on, I don’t know. I just always pictured myself with her. The dancing always got in the way.”
“Then back off. Find your dance and if it’s meant to be, it will be.”
“What do you mean ‘find my dance?’”
“Who you are, what you do. Artists usually find it early. I’d say most people never do. You can’t connect with someone who has, if you haven’t. I haven’t a clue about what Tori does, she does it, lives it. I live what I do, the connection is the dedication to it, not what it is. We both found ourselves, Angie has, you haven’t.”
“How do you know that?”
“You wouldn’t need to stalk Angie, to hang on, if you had. You’d have a base, a Brian to move on from. What do you do, by the way?”
“I am about a clerk really. The family signed up as clients so I handle what looks like a fair-sized corporation, but the money goes to the wine, not into the market. Haven’t hooked up any other clients, so I’m a gopher for the name on the client list. Hell, I think you’re a client, you’re on the board.”
“Case in point. You haven’t pitched me. How about your aunt?”
“Is that important?”
“Only if you want to be a stock broker. Which you don’t, that’s obvious.”
“What’d you mean?”
“I know a lot of Street people. It’s a high energy gambling game, and they get off on it. Part of that is building and keeping a stake, and that stake is what your clients invest with you. It’s your pile of chips. It’s a poker game where you ask to bet, raise and call, and control, selling the people you have to ask is a large part of it. You don’t do it, so you don’t like it. ”
“Look, I make good money.”
“But you don’t like what you do.”
“I might. But I’m scared. Not like you’re taking it. I want your account and Aunt Jo’s. Look, do me a favor.”
He handed me a briefcase, and continued: “Something isn’t right. I know how I bought and the return is too high. I checked a couple other brokers, and it looks more like 12% averaged across the accounts with better returns added, than a normal distribution.”
“Why you giving this to me?”
“Because you caught me tonight and it suddenly came to me that I didn’t know anyone to give it to that I could trust. Look I could be off base. I could blackball myself. If it’s honest I need to know, if not, well, I need to know that too.”
“I’ll let you know,” I said. “Can we contact you?”
I got a business card with his home phone.
When the crew arrived, I lasted about ten minutes before I hit the bar again. The wine was awful, but better than listening to the pack emasculate a fellow male. Vern Kaplan joined me a couple of minutes later.
“I think you pretty much solved the stalker problem,” he said. “I’ll send him tickets for the last performance and a season ticket for next year. If it isn’t resolved by then it isn’t going to be.”
“Didn’t feel like manning up and extricating him?”
“Like I could have? Hey, I just avoided being a target; it was time to get off the range. Why didn’t you?”
“You know my wife and daughter. I don’t have a death wish.”
I plunged into the dancer story the next morning in the office. It was twelve thirty when I finally looked up and went into Tori’s office to take her to lunch. I ran into a crowd.
Tori had Brian across her desk, and Jenni, Ali and Joey were circling.
“Hey,” I said, “it isn’t man season, and you don’t all have licenses. You had your shot last night. Leave the guy alone, he’s not a story,”
“Then don’t point a loaded briefcase at me,” answered Tori. “He’s a story and we’re waiting for Dee and Larry to decide where it goes. I knew by ten it was a Ponzi. That’s why snookims is here. We’re just starting with him.”
“You can verify this? It’s a story? I am the editor, I get to do neat things like decide what we pursue.”
“So, sit down and listen. I went through the statements Brian gave us. The volume is twice what the markets record. Losers get bounced back with winners, the thrust is new capital. I sent it all to Harold.
“Oh, shut up, it’s like his family heritage. In any case I was just getting around to explaining to Brian his new clientele. Harold dropped a hundred shares of common to be split between us, Larry and Jo get forty, we get forty, Kat, and Teddy get ten each. Creates four good clients. Brian gambles big, if I’m right he pulls our initial stake before we hit them.”
“And what cloak and dagger crap keeps us in the loop?”
“Ali and Brian are San Francisco’s new ‘in’ couple. Planted that twenty minutes ago, the paparazzi will catch them tonight at Alioto’s. Brian, it seems, commutes from Daly City.”
“Where I wait every night to record his eventful day,” said Jenni with a smirk.
“You buying this?” I said to Brian.
“Just heard it. And Ali is like, major arm candy.”
I keep being assaulted with this as I get older. The little girl I ferried to grade school, took to the zoo is now ‘major arm candy?’ The women seem to know when this transition occurs. I have always considered an unkind trick of nature. But, objectively, looking at Ali, she was every bit of ‘major arm candy. ’
Ali modeled a bit in college and could have taken a contract with Ford. Her stark, wide green eyes in an ebony face were arresting and she had fine features with high cheekbones. As a Confidential writer, she got both high profile dates and some back pages in the tabloids. Deena shepherded her through high school and college developing a talent for writing, and I helped that along. Despite the attractive package it came in Ali was anything but a glamour girl, her mind was as sharp as a centurion’s dagger.
“Ali is also, very likely, the smartest girl you’ve ever dated,” I said. “If you’re working for us, you have to be that sharp. Nothing in your office gets past you; you do your work so no one notices and within the next two weeks, we see either a Ponzi scheme or a legitimate brokerage house. I want our money out, if that can happen and you get an expense account, make sure you keep up with it to the damn penny.
“Now because Abe and Forest are going to ask, and ask me, what are the sleeping arrangements in Daly City?”
“Ali and I have twin beds in the bedroom. Aunt Jo says there will be a pull out couch in the living room today,” said Jenni.
Larry and Deena walked in then and got a rundown.
“We’re pursuing it,” I said.
“I want it,” answered Larry.
“Can I take Jenni’s place?” said Deena.
“Whoa,” I said. “We don’t know whether we have a puff piece or a scoop. Don’t go off half-cocked here. Jenni stays, and once we know what it is it’s Larry’s decision or he and I will make it together. ”
Ali chuckled. “‘He and I’ do you always talk like you write Uncle Nick? What happened to we?”
“Not as exact. ‘We’ implies a royal prerogative, ‘he and I’ implies a partnership,” I said.
“Is it time for a language lesson?” said Tori.
“From Uncle Nick, yes,” answered Ali. “Always, since I was a kid. I write like he talks. You train yourself to the nuances.”
“Find your own groove, Pixie,” I said.
“Grrrr, you and Aunt Jo. I’m trying dammit.”
“Okay,” said Tori, ” You bring us the facts Brian. You should be a star this afternoon, don’t waste it. And gamble big, if it’s Ponzi we can’t lose. The money won’t go anywhere. ” She handed him a card. “Pull what you can and invest it here, safely, he’ll try to rebuild the stake in Confidential common.
“Pixie, be major arm candy and keep those beautiful green eyes open. Jen-Jen, late nights and you don’t miss anything or I’ll have your head on a platter. Deena, you’re with Jen every morning. Larry, go away until you’re called, Joey you’re with me and Nick, my love, my sweetheart, play with your dancers and don’t bother us.”
“Two weeks,” I said,
It only took eight days. Brian had gambled well, even spectacularly, we had a hundred and fifty shares of Confidential common banked and an account that was half again the initial stake, as Tori told me burrowing backward into my stomach in bed.
“I’m putting the fifty shares back in tomorrow,” she said. “Adding Dee to the client list, I’ve arranged for Brian to switch brokerage houses. When he can’t get the accounts transferred, it should be the last nail in the coffin.”
“I think that they will transfer. We’re not into them deep enough that they can’t just buy what Brian has down and let it go,” I answered. “It’s the nature of a Ponzi scheme to pay out.”
“But they will have to buy. All but admitting they weren’t holding the accounts. Either way they’re sunk. With what Brian has brought in the evidence is pretty overwhelming. None of Brian’s orders have been filled. They cashed the Confidential shares and did nothing. Our accounts are air on paper. If we dump the rest of it back, with a new client in the mix, Brian will make a load of new, safe trades, and split. So, in less than two weeks, they’ve got a pretty heavy loss.”
“And for anyone without the juice to access the records, a gigantic check mark in the reliability column,” I said. “Also, an incentive to return to the fold when the return isn’t as good elsewhere. I think they’ll just let it go. Which gives us a problem.”
“How?” said Tori. “There’s no insider trading going on.”
“A good case can be made for our prior knowledge of a Ponzi scheme, and, if we pull our accounts when it is confirmed that could be deemed an insider trade. Brian becomes the insider.”
“Who moved the accounts and blew the whistle?”
“Check with legal first. We could have to justify a couple hundred-thousand-dollar profit,” I said. “We’re free and clear breaking even if Brian doesn’t switch houses.”
“And not very credible,” said Tori, “as well as having to explain why we didn’t pull the accounts when we learned it was a possible scam. But I’ll check in first, just to be safe.”
As it worked out, I was wrong. However, Tori’s explanation from the legal department became a central part of the articles on it. Ali got the byline in Confidential, as well as shared Deena’s in The Business Report.
Brian found himself pretty well set at Cozwell and Fredricks as Harold added a brokerage account to the five that were what was in actuality a windfall of almost three quarters of a million, and his family’s account. Everyone left the proceeds for Brian to manage.
The surprise, at least to me, was that Ali and Brian remained a couple. Ali was prone to surprising us however. Her nickname, Pixie, was bestowed on her by Deena, who declared that she popped up at the most surprising times as a youngster, and also because, until she hit her junior year of high school, she was exceptionally tiny.
Ray was the one who made Jenni, Jen Jen. Living in Brooklyn on weekends and other heavy baby-sitting periods, Jen Jen was his favorite sitter. Hetty was often busy on weekends.