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 23



Ross M. Miller
Posted August 26, 2004

I walked through a revolving door into the guest house, which looked like a hotel that was trying not to look like one. It had a front desk where I went to check in and pick up my room key.

“It’s awful quiet around here,” I said to the clerk.

“Yep, everyone left after the Session A’s were finished this afternoon,” he said. “Have you been here before?”

“A long time ago.”

The clerk tapped away at the terminal some more and then said, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t recognize you. If there’s anything that I can do, please let me know.”

“A key is all I need.”

I went to my room, which while not as luxurious as the suite back in Boston—no piano and no antiques—was spacious and comfortable. I turned on the television. Rather than bombard me with hotel services and invitations to view movies in the privacy of my room, it took me straight to GNN, which had the usual evening’s political bickering on. I quickly turned off the TV and phoned Boston.


“Hi, I’m at the hive’s guest house.”

“What’s up?”

“I’ll be back in Boston tomorrow morning as scheduled. You can go enjoy yourselves. It’s all over. I’ll fill you in on the details when I get back.”

“Mission accomplished?”


“See you tomorrow. Take care.”


There are some things one can only say in person.

I checked back with Alaska and things were moving along fine without me. That’s how things were going to have to be from now on.

I left my room and wandered around the guest house. Other than the front desk clerk and a custodian, I saw no one. I hung around the game room for a while, played a few racks of pool against myself, and plopped down in a big leather chair with some cognac. As I rolled the snifter between my palms, I thought about the events of the week.

I accepted that I would never know exactly what was going on with Roland, The Lowell Group, and GFF. Poker had taught me that this was part of life. One could win or lose vast sums of money without ever seeing anyone else’s cards. It was obvious that GFF had no business purchasing The Lowell Group, but Caroline or real estate or class warfare or a combination of all of them or something else entirely served as the catalyst for the deal.

As for my visit to Muir Konin, that was more of a mystery. My best guess was that I was being sent on a wild goose chase because my team too quickly did what it was sent to do. (On the other hand, Roland may have known what I would find and wanted to distance himself from it.) With me in Florida and the rest of the Alaskans busy in well-appointed surroundings, we couldn’t stir up any more trouble at Lowell. And then there was Kenneth Paine. How could the Joseph Campbell of the mutual-fund world have overlooked what might turn out to be one of the biggest myths in corporate history? Perhaps Muir Konin was right and his hedge-fund brethren could correct this egregious error in judgment.

All of these thoughts kept me from focusing on the real issue at hand: Was it right not to tell Mike about the Alpha-Omega process and was I simply trying to cover myself by telling Roland afterward? Telling Mike would have been the heroic thing to do, and possibly even the honest thing, but it seemed to me heroically stupid. I could rationalize that I would eventually tell Mike about the Alpha-Omega process when the time was right, but that was easily months—if not years—away. For now, I had to be content with the part I played in saving Alaska.

I was no hero and perhaps Tara got it right when she said I was a hit man. Heroism rarely plays out well at the card table; indeed, the easiest money is made by exploiting the heroic efforts of players trying to recoup their losses. The true professional is patient, alert to any opportunity, and then makes the quick hit. In the world of business, there are few heroes, but everyone wants hits.

My thoughts then turned to the silos. Once I was ensconced at the hive, I might be able to find out the true story about GFF’s earnings. Even if Ken’s silo story didn’t wash, Alaska was still linked to GFF. If Mike didn’t know what was going on at Alaska, eventually he would. It seemed inevitable.

I was pleased to have bought Alaska more time (though I had no way of knowing how much), but I was most unhappy to have to leave it for the hive. After all, Alaska was my world and the hive was Mike’s. Someday, if things worked out right, I might be able to return.

Finishing the last drops of cognac, I got up and went back to my room to catch what sleep I could before flying off to join up with my team.

I was up before the sun for the second day running and this time I awoke before any of the alarms. I prepared myself for another day, checked out of the guest house, and caught the GFF shuttle van to the airport.

My flight up to Boston was on an old propeller plane and the other passengers were similar to those I would expect to find on a flight out of LaGuardia. I watched the rising sun from the plane and grabbed a cab at Logan. I was back to the hotel in time for breakfast.

I figured that Randy might be in the health club, so I took the stairs up to the club first rather than rush straight to our suite. I looked around and found him on an exercise machine.

“Welcome, stranger,” he greeted me.

“It’s good to be back,” I replied.

“Where’s my manatee?”

“Sitting in a chair suspended from the ceiling on Sanibel Island.”

“If you say so.”

“When you’re finished here, I suggest that the two of us go out.”

“Sounds like fun. Where to?”

“A place where we can talk.”


“You wouldn’t happen to know where Zero and Tara are.”

“You can try upstairs.”

“Will do,” I said. “Catch you later.”

I left the health club, took the elevator up to my suite, and dropped some things off. Then, I went over to Zero’s suite. He answered the door and let me in. It hadn’t gotten any warmer since the last time I was there.

“Got some coffee?” I asked.

“A whole carafe,” Zero replied. “And some donuts, of course.”

“Of course.”

“How was the trip?”

“I am willing to call it a success.”

“Anything new back at the hive?”

“You could say that. Roland is leaving to run The Lowell Group and I’m taking his place at the hive.”

Zero put down his donut. “You don’t say. Does this have anything to do with the Alpha-Omega process? You know we figured all that out.”

“Randy indicated that. No, this goes beyond Alpha-Omega.”

“So what’s up at Alaska?”

“You are.”

“Me? In what sense?” asked Zero, donut still by his side.

“I doubt that you’ve planned on a career in management—not that I ever did—but I want you to consider running Alaska.”

Zero looked at me incredulously. “But I’m a Binar.”

“So was I, in fact, I was the first—not that anyone remembers that. You’ll adjust.”

“What does running Alaska entail?”

“Less than you might think. There’s a popular belief that managing scientists is like herding cats, but only a fool tries to herd cats. Just keep an eye on the cats and hire the best ones that you can find. And be nice to the patent attorneys.”

“Anything else?”

“You may want to think about charm school. I understand that MIT has a good one. Perhaps you can hire one of their instructors to serve as your personal coach for a few weeks.”

“Can I stay in C9?” Zero asked. He was clearly attached to the Binar way of life.

“It’s up to you,” I said. “You’ll be the boss. But I strongly suggest that you follow my lead and rotate from tribe to tribe. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn. For now, however, I strongly suggest that you return the climate control system to the state that you found it before we go.”

“And when will that be?”

“Checkout time is noon. Can you get all the equipment packed and ready to go by then?”

“Nolo problemo,” Zero said.

I let myself out, walked across the hall to Tara’s suite and knocked on her door.

“Welcome back,” she said. “Come on in. I want to hear what happened.”

“Have you got a few minutes?”

“Sure,” she said. Her suite was as neat as Zero’s was messy. I noticed her sighting scope on a tripod by the window. We stood as we spoke.

“See anything interesting?” I asked.

“Not really, just conventioneers, tourists, and construction workers.”

“So you solved the puzzle, too?”

“Yes, once we got past the numbers and started looking at words, it jumped right out.”

“Any idea why your astrofinance didn’t turn this up? It seemed like pretty powerful stuff.”

“Blame it on flat-earth thinking,” Tara said.

“So, the earth really is round?” I never thought I’d say that to an astronomer.

“Financially, yes. Remember what I said about east and west and that a company could not become so fluffy that it would become unfluffy. Well, with the Alpha-Omega process, it can become so dependable that it becomes undependable. So the real picture of the financial sky was spherical, not flat.”

“That actually makes sense to me.”

“As far as I can tell,” Tara said, “when the process is first introduced into a business it does good things. It’s related to something called the Hawthorne effect. Some time ago, researchers found that introducing a new process into a business, even one that might be counterproductive, can have short-term positive effects just because people start paying attention to what they’re doing.”

“Like a placebo effect for companies.”

“That’s right. Also, there may have been something to the process beyond that. The quality of a company’s existing products did go up and their costs did go down. At some point, depending on the type of business and how extensively Alpha-Omega was deployed, the black hole appeared. The company’s products were more dependable than before, but its growth prospects were now anything but dependable. That’s what caused all the confusion.”

“So why was that such a big problem for Ken?” I asked.

“Because as far as I can tell, whether Ken realized it or not, his investment strategy was geared toward growth that was not so much aggressive as it was dependable. While many such companies never went near the Alpha-Omega process and are doing just fine, Ken held a disproportionate number of companies that adopted it. Looking at it another way—Ken was either incredibly unlucky or incredibly clueless.”

“What about Randy’s virus theory?”

“That was dead on and explains why GFF’s industrial customers were having the sales problems that they talked about at the basketball game. The Alpha-Omega process doesn’t pop up at random, it moves up and down the supply chain. It takes contact between companies—one selling something to another—for it to spread. Of course, there’s nothing in the numbers that shows this kind of relationship between companies. Viewed in epidemiological terms, Samsara Tool & Die was patient zero—no pun intended—and GFF was a carrier. They spread the disease, but neither their stock price nor their income statement has exhibited any of the symptoms.”

“It’s only a matter of time,” I said.

“If that’s the case, what did Roland think about all this? He must not have been thrilled to find out that GFF has a virus.”

“Roland clearly suspected that there was a problem, but that brings me to the real news.”

“Yes,” Tara said, “do tell.”

“Roland is going to be the new head of The Lowell Group and I will be taking over his slot at the hive.”

“Congratulations,” Tara said enthusiastically, but then added, “You do want to go, don’t you?”

“I have mixed feelings, something you might have when I tell you the next bit of news, assuming you haven’t already heard.”

“I haven’t heard a thing, what is it?”

“Roland wants you to work for him at The Lowell Group.”

Tara looked at me in disbelief. Stunningly beautiful disbelief. “Really. What would I do there?”

“He didn’t mention anything specific, but you must have left a good impression. He told me that he knew you when you were growing up.”

“That’s possible,” Tara said. “I was introduced to a lot of people when I was little.”

“He said that your father worked at The Country Club.”

“He still does. He’s the green keeper, which may sound like what he does is mow the grass and fix spike marks, but he manages the golf course, which is a big operation, and spends a lot of time dealing with tournaments. It took years to get things ready for the Ryder Cup.”

“Yes,” I said, “just keeping the patrons—that is how you fancy folk refer to the fans—from crippling Colin Montgomerie must be a lot of work.”

Tara, not amused, continued, “He would often take my two brothers and me to work with him, which was always a big treat. One of my brothers went pro, but no one’s heard of him because he’s trying to work his way up through the mini-tours. Golf wasn’t my cup of tea, though I do play a mean game of squash.”

“I played squash once,” I said. “Long ago. I’m not sure the bruises from where the ball hit me have completely healed. Anyway, with all your Harvard degrees, you’d have something in common with the guys at Lowell. Not to mention that you’d be near your family, if that’s what you want to do. You can ask Roland about the details, but he says that he can arrange things so you wouldn’t have to abandon your research.”

“I must say that while financial astronomer was an interesting occupation for a week, it’s no match for the real thing.”

“I just thought that I’d give you a heads up. It’s not something that you want to have catch you by surprise.”

“Thanks,” Tara said. “I’ll have to think about it though.”

“I’m sure you will. It’s not like you have to take the job. It’s your choice.”

“It certainly is.”

“By the way,” I said, “I’ve been giving your ‘hit man’ observation a lot of thought.”

“I would hope so.”

“I probably should have been more forthcoming with all of you. The problem is that I’m not sure I know how to do that. What I do best is improvise. If I don’t what I’m going to do from moment to moment, then there’s no way that any one else can know. Still, I could have mapped things out better for you and I probably could have gotten the same results by different means.”

“I appreciate that,” Tara said, “but I was thinking more of you than of myself. Of what it must be like to do the things you do. Of whether you had thought through the consequences of your actions.”

“You can be certain that I had. I knew what this meant to The Lowell Group and I knew what it meant to Alaska. I take full responsibility for every one of my actions regardless of who might be trying to manipulate or deceive me.”

Tara stood there thinking, as if she had something to say and so I waited. Then, after what seemed like a minute, that coquettish look that I had seen earlier in the hall reappeared as she looked straight at me and said, “Well, even if you are a hit man, with me at Lowell and you at the hive, you’d be free to send me love poems.”

“I’m free to do that now, as long as you don’t object and things don’t get—”

“Out of control.”

“Something like that.”

“You can write love poems, can’t you?”

“You can read minds, can’t you?”

“A lady never tells.”

“The last time that I wrote a love poem was to my fourth-grade teacher, Miss Orsini. My parents said that I had to stop sending them because she was—how did they put it—connected. But I can guarantee you that even my earliest works were better than Simon’s. More original. And more tasteful.”

“That’s not saying a lot.”

“Okay, much better than Simon’s.”

“Come on,” Tara said with a note of insistence in her voice.

“That sounds like a dare to me.”

Tara handed me a hotel memo pad and said, “You can use this and I’ll find something for you to write with.”

“Don’t bother,” I said.


“Very funny. They’re fine if your message is only a single letter long.”

“Or a single number that goes on forever. I wanted to leave pi, but then Zero ate all of the fourth donut.”

“If you’d left alpha and omega, you might have saved me a trip.”

“You’re stalling again,” Tara said. “I should start packing and that will give you time to compose something suitable.”

“I have to see Randy, but I’ll leave the poem on the coffee table and drop by after I’m done with him.”

“This should be good,” Tara said as she went into her suite’s bedroom and closed the door behind her.

I tore eight sheets from the memo pad, arranged them on the coffee table, and left to check on Randy. Back in our suite, I found him picking out a tune at the piano.

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