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 5



Ross M. Miller
Posted June 24, 2004

“I’m heading down to the health club. Care to join me?” Randy said with mock propriety after I had dropped my things off in my room and checked for messages. I assume that he had done likewise.

“Later maybe,” I replied, “I’m going to hit the books and then the sack. Early morning, you know.”

“You plan to eat?”

“I can wait until you get back if you want to go out.”

“Don’t bother, I’m told there’s fruit down at the health club and I’ve brought along my own provisions.”

Randy was a nonobservant vegetarian. He carried his own trail mix, wheat germ, and assorted kibble with him whenever he went but would eat meat—steak tartare, especially when made from Kobe beef—on special occasions.

“Any idea what the others are doing?” I asked.

“Tara’s visiting her folks and Zero’s entertaining beavers. So it’s just you and me.”

“I never took Zero for the beaver type.”

“That’s what he calls the guys from MIT who aren’t trolls. On the topic of beavers, there’s this great IMAX flick that’ll change the way you think of them. Up close they’re really scary.”

“What isn’t?” I had already begun to look at the room service menu. “I’m starving. If you don’t mind, I’ll just order room service. If I don’t see you in the morning, I’ll get hold of you after my visit to Lowell.”

“I can’t wait for the fun to begin,” Randy said and then I went back into my room.

I called down for some appetizers to graze on and dug into Roland’s binder. I was too involved in the goings-on at Lowell to enjoy my meal. Tara had done an exemplary job of summarizing the important points in the car, but only with the deal staring me in the face could I get the gestalt of it.

Actually, the binder told me more about GFF than it did about The Lowell Group. While I was at the old lab, Mike’s acquisitions and ventures team would give Roland a buzz once or twice a month to get his input on any deal involving technology. Roland would then assemble a team to fly out and kick the tires before the deal would be pitched to Mike. If we were lucky we’d be on the beach in La Jolla, but the odds favored melting Missouri blacktop and a motel room with a complimentary flyswatter. I was no expert on photoelectric diodes or bulletproof vests, but I could tell when someone sitting across the table from me did not hold the cards that he was representing.

I had seen a handful of solid deals in my time and the Lowell deal did not come close. Perhaps I was missing something. When I worked at the lab, a deal like this would not have made it into Mike’s conference room, much less merited his signature. The problem with the deal was that it did not leave any outs. If GFF failed to take The Lowell Group from solidly in the middle of the second tier of mutual funds into the Big Three at the end of five years, there would be red ink as far as the eye could see. Every way I looked at it, the Lowell deal was a sucker’s bet.

At some point during the evening, I heard Randy return. When I noticed that it was two in the morning, I figured that it worth going through the motions of getting some sleep. I had torn the deal apart and while I found no errors other than some discrepancies concerning the addresses of Lowell’s partners—transposed digits, that sort of thing—it all seemed rather thrown together.

There was one seeming inconsistency, however, that really caught my eye. It was a property identified only as “Sutt Pl Ph” and appraised at twelve million dollars. It appeared in an appendix that enumerated Lowell’s real estate holdings, but was nowhere to be found in the list of properties worth at least one million dollars that were included in the deal. I could imagine any number of reasons why a hunk of prime real estate could go missing. Most likely, The Lowell Group sold it between the time the appendix was prepared and the deal was consummated. If so, then it would be nice to know what the property was, who bought it, and at what price.

The missing property was near the top of the short list of questions that I compiled before closing the binder and turning off the light. At the top of the list I wrote, “What’s the problem with Kenneth Paine?” and underlined it three times.

While in Vegas, I developed the habit of assigning a grade to each day on a scale of one to ninety-nine—where one is the worst possible day and ninety-nine is the best. I figured that on any day that would rate either a zero or a hundred I probably would not be around to see the end of it. This may seem like an odd thing to do, but I had a good reason for doing it. A professional gambler must keep good records so that he doesn’t fall into the trap of thinking that he’s making money when he’s actually losing it. I figured that there was more to life than money, so in addition to tallying each day’s earnings, I would give it an overall satisfaction ranking. After I did this for several months, I found that I tended to lose money immediately after days that rated above eighty or below twenty. I began to grant myself a one-day holiday after spectacular or dismal days to try to get myself back into equilibrium. I had just had the kind of day that made me stop rating them altogether.

After four hours of low-quality sleep, I faced the new day alone. Randy had already left for his morning workout and I would use the time to psych myself up for the breakfast meeting.

Whatever role I’m playing, I dress for it. Clothing makes up at least half of one’s table image and I had to project a strong presence to Simon Lowell and his minions. I put on a gray Brioni suit that a lady friend had picked out for me on a lost weekend in the thin air of Reno. It was classy in a conservative way. I left the gangster suit acquired on a similar weekend in Vegas behind. For accessories, I mucked my flashier jewelry and drew a pair of tasteful platinum cuff links. While nothing I could wear would let me fit in with The Lowell Group (or with GFF’s management for that matter), I felt that it was important to look good on my own terms. At the same time, however, I kept in mind the warning of a man who once lived by a pond not far from Boston to “distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.” I stood on the bathroom scale and could live with the results. Randy was only four percent body fat—on a good day, I hovered above fifteen.

I took the elevator down to the lobby where I asked the concierge for a map of the area. He greeted me by name, produced a map, and circled both the hotel and Lowell’s headquarters (which was on the next wharf over) in red marker. I headed out the front entrance and before I got halfway through it, the humidity hit me. I was unmistakably in Boston.

It was a challenge getting to the morning meeting. A thick fog had set in overnight—a brinier version of the kind that swooped down into Pasadena during the rainy season—so it wasn’t obvious where the land left off and the water began.

Lowell’s offices were in a six-story building that jutted out into the harbor. The building was sandwiched between two yachts—each at least fifty yards long—that bobbed in the water and tugged at their moorings. Through the fog, I could make out that the more ostentatious of the two was outfitted with his-and-her speedboats and a large Jacuzzi.

My supine research had revealed that Lowell maintained three offices in the Boston area as well as token presences in world’s largest financial centers—New York and London among them. Only Lowell’s senior executives and their support staff were afforded the luxury of waterfront offices. Its money mangers worked nearby in a block of offices located on the middle floors of one of the newer additions to Boston’s skyline. These downtown offices were on the high-rent outskirts of Boston’s financial district, closer to both the train station and ferry terminal than the older, more centrally located, buildings. The clerks and other support staff were relegated to a low-rent office park in an obscure little town out past Concord.

I timed my arrival at Lowell’s headquarters for fifteen minutes before the meeting’s seven-thirty starting time. At GFF, it was a cardinal sin to be late for a meeting. Managers were trained to start meetings on time and they, in turn, taught their subordinates to show up on time. Punctuality was primary among the secrets to GFF’s success. Even the Mighty Quinn himself was known to insist that none of his meetings run into overtime to set a good example for the company.

I flashed my GFF identification card to the security guard. He asked me to wait until one of Simon’s assistants could escort me to the boardroom. I remained standing and browsed the Financial Times in its peachy splendor. No mention of GFF. No mention of Lowell. So far, so good.

A young lady who stretched the limits of perkiness soon came for me. Had I stumbled into the offices of a cruise line by mistake? She introduced herself as Leslie and escorted me to the elevator. On closer inspection, she walked and talked in a manner that said Simmons, not showgirl. (Randy had a weakness for the occasional actress/model/whatever with the emphasis on the “whatever”.) Leslie need not worry that her doppelganger might one day be working in a distant laboratory, or worse yet, in offices or clubs around the world.

As we went up to the sixth floor, we made the usual small talk. “It’s quite a horrid morning, but it should be a splendid day once the fog burns off,” Leslie told me. I knew better than to talk about anything other than the weather with her.

The corridor from the elevator to Lowell’s boardroom was a museum curator’s paradise. It was one thing to read about Lowell’s art collection and another to see it. The thick crimson carpet and mahogany paneling (whose grain was matched so meticulously that I could not find the seams) added to the overall effect.

I stopped in front of a large, dark painting of a ship caught in a storm with the wind ripping its sails from the main mast. “Winslow Homer?” I asked.

“Naturally,” Leslie said, “it’s one of my favorites, too, though Simon has a more colorful seascape in his library. Still, this one is very expressive.”

And very expensive, I thought to myself. I would have happily spent the morning admiring the art rather than confront what awaited me at the end of the hall. Twenty feet from our destination, Leslie said, “I think you can find your way from here,” before pivoting on her right foot and retreating to the interior of the building.

The caterers, who were setting up breakfast, ignored me as I stole into the boardroom. I knew that I should do nothing—especially not touch the food—until someone from Lowell arrived. Guests of dubious provenance should ignore the obligatory secretarial exhortations to make themselves at home.

I noticed that the pastries, no doubt from Lowell’s own bakery, were arranged neatly on silver platters and the caterers were fiddling with the temperature settings on the hot dishes—large pots of salmon hash and oatmeal. Much of the china was chipped and the silver was dull with specks of tarnish.

The boardroom appeared to float above the water like the crow’s nest of a whaler. The far end of the boardroom consisted of a series of panes of plate glass about ten feet high and four feet wide that wrapped around the room. Only the thin steel supports that held the glass in place obstructed whatever view might lie beyond the fog. A thirty-foot long table with eighteen black leather chairs around it dominated the room. The tabletop was an elegant hunk of tree bordered in ebony and studded with marble. The chairs were arranged with one at either end and eight along each side. A video projector was mounted on the ceiling above the table. At the head of the table were two large doors that concealed a projection screen behind them. The back wall of the room was covered with tasteful prints that extolled the joys of country living. Clearly, no one would display paintings of any value in a room that was, on some occasions, so exposed to the sun.

The only missing ingredients were the cards, the chips, and a green felt surface. While I surveyed the room, I entered the same heightened state of awareness that came naturally to me before a big round of poker—I became both the observer and the observed. I knew how to control my breathing so that regardless of the thoughts or emotions racing through my head I would appear calm. I felt ready.

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