The Novel of Financial Deception
Enters Its Third Year Online
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Casing Wal-Mart
Miller Risk Advisors

Rigged Chapter 2



Ross M. Miller
Posted June 14, 2004

One thing that I have never lost is my sense of adventure. It may be possible to escape the gambler’s life—I’m proof of that—but once you’ve had hundreds of thousands of dollars riding on the turn of a single card, there is always the lingering feeling that having something on the line beats having it in your pocket. I have played for some large stacks of chips but nothing like what that stood in front of me.

Few have seen it and you won’t find it a photograph of it in any book or magazine, nonetheless, Alaska’s main laboratory was a wonder of post-modern architecture—a five-story glass cylinder on a promontory overlooking an obscure Hudson tributary. At the core of the cylinder was a large atrium where a helical ramp spirals up from the lobby to the roof. The building had no front door; indeed, it had no entrance in the traditional sense. The only access was through a network of tunnels that ran under the lab and into its underground parking lot. (Inconspicuous doors on the ground floor were the emergency exits.) Some Alaskans said the lab looked like a more elegant glass version of Manhattan’s Guggenheim Museum with a better view, while others compared it to an alien spaceport.

This was no time to contemplate the building. In the main tunnel, I connected with Alice, Roland’s long-time assistant, to discuss travel arrangements. Alaska was far enough off the grid that commercial cellular access was unthinkable. Instead, an internal wireless network served as a cellular gateway for the immediate area. Alaska’s portable phones employed a tricked-up version of the military’s LPI (Low Probability of Intercept) technology that minimized the risk that their electromagnetic waves would either reach outside ears or scramble Alaskan gray matter. I parked in the first sublevel of the garage and walked past a Volvo with a “Soybeans are Soyrific” bumper sticker that was across from a pickup truck imploring the world to “Eat More Possum” on my way to the elevator. It was a quick ride up to the lobby level.

When the elevator door opened, a photo of a brown-eyed baby stared out at me. In the bottom right-hand corner was etched: “Number 250: Edward Mingus.” I walked rapidly down the hallway where one baby after another peered out at me every few yards. Upon reaching the atrium, I was surrounded by pictures of babies in every imaginable shape and color, all unaware of the miracle that brought them here. Charlotte, a young biologist in a pristine white lab coat who was transfixed by the pictures, had tears welling in her eyes.

I sped up the ramp and past more pictures. At no point was I required to identify myself to anyone. To give it a friendlier feel, Alaska’s the first line of defense was provided by a sophisticated remote surveillance system. Every vehicle allowed in the lab and every employee ID card had an RF transmitter embedded in it. The guards monitoring the cameras knew the employees better than their own families. Even a minor change in appearance or behavior, such as a limp acquired in a skiing accident, could warrant intervention. While the typical Alaskan was oblivious to this unrelenting surveillance, it made me feel like I never left Las Vegas.

Despite the absence of cigarette smoke and flashing lights, Alaska had a distinctly Native-American flavor to it. Researchers didn’t work in labs—they worked in a dozen longhouses and each was home to one of Alaska’s tribes. My first stop, roughly halfway up the ramp, was Baked Alaska, which got its name because it was always several degrees warmer than the rest of the building.

A sultry receptionist guarded this longhouse. If Sophia Loren had a kid sister, this gal was her dead ringer. She smiled, tossed her dark brown hair, and with a slight New Jersey twang said, “Good morning, Doc. You’re looking especially fit today. What can I do for you?”

I vaulted past her desk and into the common area of the longhouse and said, more to myself than to her, “No time for games. I’m here to see Randy.”

As with most Alaskans, Randy was not his real name, but rather his tribal nickname, which in his case was short for “Random Idea Generator.” Randy’s tribe was the Pixels. Randy had worked creating special effects for big-budget movies before disenchantment hit and I made him an offer he could not refuse. You could say that Randy was the Pixel’s Pixel.

Every Pixel came from California and those who weren’t in special effects had designed videogames. A random Pixel had penned a screenplay or television episode. While Alaska’s original settlers had fled the academic world, in recent years fewer original thinkers were to be found there, particularly anyone whose ambitions included fast cars and beautiful women. Randy and his ilk were Alaska’s new breed.

The Baked Alaska common area was a large room with several plasma displays on its walls and ceiling. Real human skeletons and a collection of injection-molded heads of rather ordinary-looking men and women adorned the tables. I peered into Randy’s office and (once I got his attention) said, “Your receptionist has gone a bit overboard on the eye make-up. Not only that, must she be such a flirt?”

Randy looked up and said, “Have you ever tried to program someone to flirt? Anyway, it’s easy enough to trim the ‘sluttiness’ setting.” When I knew him back in LA, Randy might (depending on the circumstances) be mistaken for a blond leading man or an irresponsible pool boy. He tapped on his keyboard quickly and then made a staccato gesture indicating that the program had been successfully altered so that whenever my Alaska ID card was detected within the confines of Baked Alaska, the receptionist would clean up her act.

“Just don’t expect me to sign off on the patent disclosure for Female Android Hooker.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Randy said. “Female Android Lap Dancer has a better ring to it.”

“By the way, you wouldn’t happen to know how many geese are in a flock.”

“Just because of my anatomical peculiarities, you shouldn’t expect that I’m an expert on water fowl.”

“Nothing personal. It’s just that I had this enormous flock fly over me near the lodge. Five thousand—plus or minus a thousand.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it. Their main migration route is over there—it’s their Highway 9 and they’re born to fly. What I find harder to believe is that you were untouched by goose guano, especially considering their fondness for golf courses.”

Over Randy’s head was a framed picture of a baby with “Number 1: Jesus Garcia” in the corner. I looked back at Randy and said, “Speaking of thousands, you’ve heard about number one thousand, haven’t you?”

“Hard not to. It still blows me away how the code I wrote to get a computer-generated gladiator to move in superhuman ways on film can allow a CAT scanner to find heart abnormalities in fidgety newborns. I’m just glad that nobody’s asking me for child support.”

“Or worse yet,” I said, “charging you for the foregone royalties.”

The patent on Randy’s process for tracking high-speed motion was one of several that Alaska had given away to make sure that they would not fall through the cracks and go unused. The only conditions on using the patent were that it be incorporated into every scanner the licensing company sold and that a picture of every baby whose life it helped to save would be sent to Alaska.

“Who cares?” he said. “It’s only money.” Randy’s real passion was for what he knew best and appreciated most—the human body. I first caught a glimpse of him amid a sea of floating breasts in a Malibu hot tub. We were working on a science-fiction feature film (Randy was responsible for seven seconds of special effects in a chase scene and I was writing the equations that appeared on the mad scientist’s computer screen) and had separately finagled invites to a party at the producer’s beach house.

To the mixed despair and delight of my Caltech math department colleagues, I had gone Hollywood. Once I left my sheltered life in Pasadena to see the marvels of Malibu, it was a short hop to Tahoe and then Vegas where I put my mathematics training to profitable use. Randy stayed in Hollywood, but would sometimes visit me in Vegas and I would stay with him whenever I came back to LA for a poker tournament.

I saw little of Randy when I worked at the old lab—I was too busy and he was mired in studio politics. The minute I set foot in Alaska; however, I recruited Randy as the first of the new Alaskans. Once he arrived, many like him would follow. It often took some convincing to get people to trade in their surfboards for snowboards, but the guarantee of total creative freedom coupled with the resources to use that freedom (courtesy of Alaska’s growing portfolio of patents) usually did the trick. The perfect Alaskan came to us disgruntled, disillusioned, and usually—like Randy and his office—disheveled.

Given that Randy had brought up the subject of money and that it was the start of Nobel season, I thought I’d ease into the topic at hand. “Well, if you get an invite to Stockholm, that’s a cool million. For today, you’ll have to settle for Boston with me.”

“Why don’t you ever take me to Hawaii?”

“Because no one invites us.”

“That’s no excuse. So, Doc, what’s up in Boston?” Roland was the one who started calling me “Doc.” He got it from the old saying that goes, “Never play cards with a man called Doc” and not because I—like him, the Mighty Quinn, and most of the old lab—was a Doctor of Philosophy.

“A mutual-fund emergency,” I replied. “We leave from the lodge at four. Be there.”

“Sounds like Mission Impossible. I’d imagine that my picture was in the envelope. I hope I looked good. Did the message self-destruct?”

“No, the pictures come later and they’re small. The message came in the person of Roland who is winging back to the hive as we speak and he had better not self-destruct.”

“Most intriguing. How long will we be away?”

“Until Thursday, Friday at the latest. I’ll tell you more on the way there—not that I know that much yet—but the bottom line is that GFF’s new mutual fund company, The Lowell Group, has upset the powers that be and Roland wants us to take a look-see.” I thought it unwise to mention the true sense of urgency that Roland had conveyed to me. One of the first things that you learn as a manager in any research organization is to shield your people from bureaucratic noise so that they can keep their minds on their work. In a place like Alaska, however, that can be difficult. People can figure out for themselves what is going on without being told, that is, if they even care.

With Randy ransacking his office, I laid out our travel plans. Randy was pleased to hear that the luxury hotel where Alice had gotten us all rooms had an extensive health club. Even by Alaska’s high standards, Randy was a rare specimen. It made sense that someone who knew so much about the human body would expend the effort to keep his in fabulous shape.

When Randy turned around to face me again he declared, “I’m packed.”

Like most of his contemporaries, Randy virtually lived at the lab. Rooms at the lodge were provided as a comfortable alternative to sleeping in one’s office, but Randy rarely availed himself of the opportunity. Laundry service was one of the myriad free amenities provided to Alaskans. Randy sometimes had to be reminded when his clothes had begun to ripen because he was born with anosmia—the complete absence of a sense of smell and a limited sense of taste. Something was definitely off-kilter about Randy, but only those close to him had any idea what made him that way.

“Doc, are we doing this alone, or will we have company?” Randy asked.

“Don’t expect me to take any of your creations with us.”

“They’re not combat-ready yet.”

“I was thinking of bringing Tara along.”

Randy’s pupils expanded. “She’s snappier than anyone I can build. When you consider that she can find new galaxies billions of light-years from Earth, this mutual fund business should be a piece of cake for her. But aren’t redheads supposed to be bad—”

“You know me. I make my own luck.”

“Okay. She’s cool. Who else?”

“Oh, maybe a Binar or two.”

“Bitchin’,” Randy replied, “even if they’re not Tara.”

The Binars were a tribe of dedicated computer whizzes. A few came over from the Research Lab; however, most of the tribe had bailed out of the world’s leading computer software and hardware companies, where their talents were underutilized. (One prominent software company would warehouse talent in key technologies simply so that the best researchers would be unavailable to its competitors.) Binars were known around the lab for their technical prowess, but they were not the kind of people that any non-Binar would want to socialize with.

“I may need an inducement to get a Binar to come along, it’s hard enough to get them to venture into sunlight, much less go on a road trip,” I said.

“I assume that their inducement is your next stop,” Randy said in an abrupt manner that indicated that he was done entertaining me and wanted to get back to work, if you could call it that.

I left Baked Alaska and dashed several yards up the ramp to the Robert W. Service Area, the longhouse where Tara’s tribe—the Pulsars—crunched away on some of the biggest problems in astronomy and physics. The senior Pulsars were exiles from the Research Laboratory; the new recruits, like Tara, were former post-doctoral students who had become impatient with the years of grunt work that faced them in their long climb up the academic ladder.

The Robert W. Service Area had no receptionist, just a white cat with orange ears (one of Alaska’s many pets) who had the sense to cast a desultory purr in my direction. Once inside their common room, I was surrounded by a spectacular display of distant galaxies and nebulas. Some objects graced large posters while others appeared as video animations. This was the Pulsars trophy room; they had discovered all this and more.

Tara was easy to locate. Her statuesque personage stood out wherever she went. There were even reports of her literally stopping traffic around Lake George. But even if she was uncommonly beautiful, I liked Tara for her intelligence and her spirit.

I stood in the doorway to her office until I got her attention and said, “What’s up?”

“Looking for more black holes,” she replied. “We just downloaded some new data from Chandra and there could be something there. It’s too early to tell.”

Tara had developed the world’s fastest and most accurate method for detecting the phantoms of the universe based on the behavior of their cosmic neighbors. The lab had built a modest observatory on the northern edge of its property, but most of its serious astronomical work was performed on data and images collected from the premier telescopes on Earth as well as some in orbit around it, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Alaska had to pay considerably more than universities for its scope time, but it did not matter considering we had money to burn.

“Tara, I may need to find a needle in a haystack and I thought you might be up to the challenge assuming I can drag your away from here for the rest of the week.”

“What kind of needle?” she asked.

“A golden one that belongs to our illustrious corporate parent.”

“And where is the haystack?”


Her lips became notably round and red as she said, “Tell me more. I was born there and my parents still have their house in Brookline.”

“Back in February, GFF acquired a mutual-fund business in Boston called The Lowell Group.”

“Any relation to the astronomer, Percival Lowell?”

“Beats me, but his name sounds familiar.”

“It should be. Lowell was the world’s preeminent astronomer at the turn of the last century. He was obsessed with Mars and believed that an ancient race of Martians had built canals there. He took off to Arizona and built an observatory there so that he could get a better look at the canals. The Mars stuff went nowhere, but he did detect anomalies in the orbit of Neptune and correctly inferred that the gravitational field of a so-called Planet X was tugging on it. After Lowell’s death, Planet X was eventually found and named Pluto even if some would argue that it’s not a planet.”

“Not me,” said I.

“What’s going on in Boston and what’s GFF doing in mutual funds? That’s not their usual business.”

“Ego? Hubris? Global Domination? Who knows? Whatever’s going on, now it seems that Lowell’s flagship fund, Lowell Aggressive Growth, is in trouble.”

Tara tapped on her keyboard as I was talking and pulled up a graph that charted all of the Lowell funds against the market averages. With a full more keystrokes, she sliced and diced the graphs. She then looked at me and said, “You must be kidding?”

“Would I ever kid you?”

“April Fool’s Day. Look. That’s when they went supernova. I’m glad that this wasn’t in my 401(k).”

Tara showed me her graph. The distinctive statistical signature traced by the prices of each of Lowell’s funds disappeared on April first—the beginning of the second quarter.

“And it took this long for anyone to notice,” she said.

“Apparently.” I looked directly at her. “Interested? Maybe you’ll find Planet X there?” I could tell that I not only had her hooked but that we could be lost without her.

“Sure. Why not? When do we start?”

“I need you packed and in front of the lodge at four o’clock sharp.”

“Okay, I guess that the universe can manage without me.”

“I’m not so sure, but we’ll have to risk it. One more thing, it would be nice if you could spare a few minutes to come along with me to C9.” That was the name of the Binar’s longhouse.

“Now that’s a proposition. I just hope we don’t spontaneously annihilate each other.” This was Tara’s way of noting that Binars and Pulsars, like matter and antimatter, were profound opposites. The Pulsars looked out into the universe for the answers to their questions, while the Binars thought the only universe of any consequence was one that could be created inside a computer.

Tara and I walked down the ramp and around a corner to the entrance of C9. The common area of C9 could easily be mistaken for a storage room where surplus electronic components were kept. The only piece of purely mechanical equipment in sight was an antique pachinko machine covered with Kana script that had taken a circuitous journey from the Ginza to its current home. The walls were covered with cryptic flow diagrams and chunks of computer code in the Binar’s own dialect of C++ that might as well have been Kana. I made a mental note of several safety violations, none of them imminently life-threatening.

The Binars were the exception to Alaska’s annual rotation ritual in which tribes were encouraged to move to new longhouses during the end-of-year holiday observance so that no one became too entrenched. For every other tribe, C9 was the least desirable longhouse—it had a good, but not spectacular, view and a northern exposure. Nonetheless, being located directly above Alaska’s server room made it the perfect place for the Binars.

Longhouse C9 was Alaska’s Alaska. Nowadays, they rarely hired anyone from the outside. Instead, they attracted the best computer people from other tribes; however, they had yet to score a Pulsar. To my knowledge, Tara would be the first Pulsar to set foot in C9.

Several Binars were working in the common area and I asked one where I could find Zero. He pointed to an office on the other side of the room and said, “Zero’s in his office. Are you a new patent attorney?” He didn’t need to ask who Tara was; he just gawked.

“No,” I replied and walked over to Zero’s office with Tara in tow.

“How’s things, Zero?” I asked. He turned to me and noticed a smiling Tara beside me. Although Zero was an obvious nickname for a Binar, Zero’s name according to his employment records really was Zero. He wore a Hawaiian shirt, baggy shorts, and sandals over droopy white athletic socks on a year-round basis. His pallor and personal habits left the impression that his father was a vending machine and his mother a microwave oven.

Zero began to fidget with a palm-sized beanbag that was among the swag littering his office. After he must have figured that we could wait him out, he looked up and said, “Are you just visiting or can I do something for you?”

“Now that you mention it, we’d like you to join us on a little road trip to Boston,” I said.

“Yes,” Tara added, “there’s something peculiar going on at a company called The Lowell Group that GFF recently bought.”

Zero said, “GFF? I think I’ve heard of them.”

“I have, too,” Tara said. “Some misguided people think they own this place.”

Zero tapped away and produced on his screen what looked like a dossier on the company. “Lots of chatter leading up the acquisition. Then just the usual garbage.” He paused and then said, “What does The Lowell Group do?”

“They’re investment managers,” I replied. “Mostly mutual funds. You’ve heard of those?”

“Yes, I know what they do. If you’re too lazy or too busy to pick your own stocks or bonds or whatever, they’ll do it for you, charge you for the privilege, and sometimes swindle you while they’re at it.”

 “And they use lots computers in the process,” I said, “so I thought it would be nice to have you along for the ride. Also, Roland personally asked us to do this.” Zero perked up. Roland’s name carried weight even with the Binars. Roland would have been an honorary Binar if there were such a thing.

“When do we leave?” Zero asked.

“You need to be packed and at the lodge by four.”

“Nolo problemo. Who else’s going?”

“Randy. I think the four of us should be able to handle anything that comes up and we can always call back to the lab for reinforcements.”

“I’ll make sure that everyone has sanitized computers,” Zero added. As part of the elaborate security that the Binars had crafted for Alaska, none of the lab’s computers could leave it. People traveling to the outside world had to pick up computers at the lodge that carried nothing useful out nor brought anything dangerous into the lab. Indeed, all of Zero’s research was conducted in a so-called clean room that was isolated from both the rest of Alaska and the outside world.

As I walked Tara back to her office, she asked me, “Do you think he owns a pair of long pants?”

“If he doesn’t,” I said as I started walking away, “I’m sure he won’t mind if you take him shopping.”

An absence of several days from the lab was easy for me to arrange. My staff took care of the day-to-day details of running the place and I was left to deal with those issues that no one else wanted to touch. Formal meetings were rare as was anything that might distract Alaskans from their research. The weekly seminars were available on the video server. Sense of adventure notwithstanding, I would miss the place.

Copyright 2004 by Ross M. Miller. Permission granted to forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250 words or less provided a citation is made to