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 6



Ross M. Miller
Posted June 28, 2004

I centered myself by mentally retracing my favorite poker hands from somewhere deep inside my brain. I was at the Commerce Casino sitting in the small blind with paired nines (a spade and a diamond) and watching the acne-scarred Latvian to my right go all in just a little too nervously when a beautiful blond snapped me back into the moment. Close on her tail were a neat man with gold wire-rimmed glasses and a man who looked like Roland in alien attire. Indeed, all three of them were dressed in business suits—something the Mighty Quinn, who sported a navy blue blazer and an open shirt collar even for his media appearances, would never be caught dead in. Now I knew what Roland looked like in Oxfords instead of the usual Luchesses or Footjoys.

“Doc, I see you made it here safely,” Roland began. “I’d like you meet Kelly Ames, our chief counsel, and Artie Feingold, our comptroller.” I apparently required no introduction and Kelly’s reputation preceded her. There was rumored to be a seat on the Supreme Court with her name on it when she could no longer stomach her current job. I knew nothing of Artie, but he looked the part of chief accountant and would go over well on C-SPAN if that’s where things were headed. Kelly and Artie made a nice couple and could have passed for the Bobbsey Twins of global capitalism and their presence signaled the seriousness of the matter at hand. Conspicuously absent from Roland’s entourage was Matthew Apple, head of the audit team, whose box on the GFF organizational chart came between Artie’s and Kelly’s.

We were alone for all of fifteen seconds when a man at least six-foot-seven, tall even by GFF executive standards, entered the room. He looked like John Kenneth Galbraith did in some tapes I watched in my freshman econ class. I would not have been surprised to see Galbraith himself pop up here, but the professor probably looked much older now. I was disappointed not to see a gold watch chain dangling into the front pocket of this distinguished man’s gray suit pants, but other than that he had the well-weathered patrician look.

“Good morning Roland,” the man said. “I see that you made it through all of this fog. We’re gathering up the old partners—I guess we’re all GFF officers now—though I hear that there’s quite a mess on the Pike. The guys coming in from Wellesley and Weston might be a tad delayed.” The man then looked at Kelly and said, “My, you’ve brought the prettiest queen bee with you from the hive, Roland. Be a gentleman and introduce us.”

“Oh, terribly sorry,” Roland said. “This is Richard Warren, head of Lowell’s private client services. I thought you met Kelly back when we were putting the deal together. And here’s Artie, our comptroller, and this is Doc.”

“So you’re the mysterious one,” Richard said to me. “I can’t say that I like surprises.”

Roland gave the three of us a look that said to cool it. I was now one of the children and Roland and Richard were the grown-ups. There was not much about Richard in Roland’s binder. His private clients now made up less than ten percent of Lowell’s business. Boston’s technology elite would never think of entrusting their fortunes to The Lowell Group, but Beantown’s old money was still firmly within their grasp. Only major malfeasance could pry that money loose.

“There are no mysteries and I hope there are no surprises,” Roland said. “So, how are thing going here?”

“All’s well,” said Richard in an unconvincing tone. “By the way, my guys really enjoyed that—what do you call it—teambuilding exercise of yours. Especially, the part where they built a raft to cross the Hudson.”

Roland looked at Kelly and said, “Well, thanks to counsel here, things have gotten tamer over the years. No whitewater on the lower Hudson. It’s not even a river there; it’s an estuary. I say where’s the fun if there isn’t a real possibility that you’ll lose someone along the way. Everyone signs a waiver anyway, why not make it exciting for them.”

Kelly must have known Roland well enough to know he was not kidding. She also knew better than to advise Roland on what a judge or jury might consider coercion.

“Which reminds me that we ran into some nasty weather in the Bay of Fundy a few years back,” Richard said. “If you haven’t been, you must really go. It’s another world up there. Anyway, we had just passed this pod of orcas hightailing it in the other direction when our sloop, a seventy-footer that had just come back from the shop in Amsterdam, was literally ripped from bow to stern by this Nor’easter—”

At this point in the story, Simon Lowell arrived with the others in tow. They were four minutes late. Although none of them were as tall or as patrician as Richard, the partners looked like they had popped off the end of a GFF assembly line in Akron. They now—with the notable exception of the Mighty Quinn himself—were GFF’s wealthiest officers and Simon’s five billion and change must have pushed his net worth past Mike’s. Taking command of the room with his round pink face, snowy hair, and pale blue eyes, Simon roared, “Well, well, great to have you here,” to our contingent. He extended his right hand first to Roland and then to the rest of us. He shook my hand just below pain’s threshold.

Quickly sizing up our hosts, I saw that starched white button-down shirts and regimental ties were essential elements of their uniform. The only scope for individual expression was suit color, which ranged from fecal brown to funereal navy. Richard’s gray suit was handily the best of the lot. The stretched and somewhat threadbare suit jackets of the more senior partners indicated both the wealth and complacency of the men who wore them.

Simon, no doubt operating by force of habit, acted as if his four visitors hailed not from his corporate parent but rather from one of Lowell’s most cherished clients. I wondered if he thought that if after he had charmed us with his customary dog-and-pony show that we would be so bowled over that we would simply go away to never return.

Kelly, Roland, Artie, and I were given first dibs on breakfast. We each took a bit of everything. The Lowell contingent had oatmeal, salmon hash, grapefruit, and black coffee. Simon was the exception—he substituted an oversize bran muffin for his grapefruit half and took milk in his coffee. Protocol held that Simon would sit at the head of the table and Roland at the far end. Kelly sat next to Roland facing toward the window, then Artie, then me. The more senior partners from Lowell sat with their backs to the window and the lesser partners were stuck sitting next to the visitors. The lowliest of the Lowells sat next to me.

Once everyone was settled, Simon began, “First off, Ken sends his regrets. He’s in New York for an appearance on the eight o’clock segment of GNN’s morning show. If no one objects, it might be interesting to tune him in then.” Lowell must have hoped to get some positive publicity to neutralize Ken’s recent problems with Aggressive Growth.

We then went through the standard round of introductions. Simon began by asking a haggard man at his right to introduce himself.

“Good morning. I’m Lloyd Perkins. I run our mutual funds.” Lloyd’s speech, unlike that of Richard and Simon, was gruff and clipped. If Simon was Pooh, Lloyd was Eeyore without his tail. He had the semi-drunk countenance of a master hustler and left the impression that his clothes and face were on their third day at the office. I had learned the expensive way to beware of his kind.

The other members of Lowell’s senior management introduced themselves in a slightly more cordial manner. One partner, I think that he was in charge of international operations (not that it mattered), had a nose with what looked like either a giant dimple at the end of it though it appeared to me to be a small buttocks. Chalk another one up to the hazards of inbreeding. When it came to Richard Warren’s introduction, I learned that he not only ran private client services, but also shared marketing duties with Simon, who dealt with the masses while Richard handled their own kind.

When the baton reached Roland at the other end of the table, he took it upon himself to provide introductions for the entire GFF contingent, thereby preempting any possibility that we, the underlings, might create what is known around the company as an incident. Roland always did things this way. I was introduced as GFF’s chief scientist, technically my title, though no Alaskan ever called me “chief” except in jest and it remains an open question as to whether mathematicians should be considered scientists at all. Lowell’s management team looked at me like they had never been introduced to a chief scientist before, much less one who was sitting in their boardroom and munching down one of their croissants. Roland concluded by saying, “Mike wanted to be here today, but he has a full day of Session A’s to deal with back at the hive.”

The last Lowell, their head bean counter and Artie’s counterpart, introduced himself and that brought us back to Simon who said, “Why don’t we start by having Lloyd give you a rundown of our operations.” Lloyd pushed a button underneath the table that exposed the projection screen and then dove into the standard client presentation showing Lowell’s history of superior performance and steady growth while omitting any mention of its new parent. Simon would interrupt every few sentences to elaborate on a point and then let Lloyd go on.

I wondered why Simon did not give the pitch himself. If he was giving Lloyd a chance to save his job by making a good impression on Roland, it was not working. Roland fidgeted and looked at some papers, but he let the show go on for a few slides before blurting out, “We know all this. Let’s get down to real business. What the hell is wrong with Ken’s fund?”

Lloyd had the floor and was the natural person to reply, but he threw Simon a glance before saying, “Nothing. There’s nothing wrong with Ken or Aggressive Growth. We built our business one brick at a time. We’ve been at it for eighty years. This is but a case of the hiccups that will quickly pass. Lowell has withstood many a crisis in the past—wars, depressions. We will get through this as well. We take the long view. Consider—”

Roland cut in. “We at GFF try to take the long view as well,” he said. “Our illustrious history goes back over a century and a half. If not for us, everyone would be sitting around in the dark. The reason that we’ve survived this long is that we’re proactive—we try to address little problems before they become big ones. Right now, Ken’s fund is the biggest blip on our radar screen and—as much as we’d like to—we aren’t in a position to trust you to make that problem go away.” Roland punched the word “we” each time he used it to make it clear that he spoke for Mike.

“We don’t have a problem.” Lloyd responded with his voice raised a few decibels higher. “We know what we’re doing. Like everyone else, we are subject to the whims of the market. You have to understand our business.”

Roland lowered his voice back to normal speaking level and said, “I understand your business.” He paused to gauge the group’s reaction and continued, “I walked Mike through the acquisition and have the responsibility to get to the bottom of things as quickly as possible.” Another pause. “I can only hope that you will help us out as much as possible.”

Taking the floor from Lloyd, Simon gave what I took to be a conciliatory smile and said, “Of course, everyone here will help you.”

“That’s better,” Roland replied, happy to be getting at least the appearance of cooperation. He then looked directly at me and said, “I brought Doc here with me to be our eyes and ears. He has assembled a team of our brightest scientists—I might, with ample justification, say that they are among the best in the world—who will get to the bottom of things and report back to us.” Every retina in the room was on me as Roland continued, “We’d like you to give him carte blanche.”

“And by carte blanche you mean . . . what?” asked Simon before Lloyd or the others could voice disapproval. One chief scientist was bad enough, but an unspecified team of scientists raised more than eyebrows.

“Unconditional cooperation. If they want something, no matter what it is, give it to them.”

In any other GFF business, the conversation would have stopped there. When Mike (even through one of his surrogates) wanted something done, it was done without question or delay.

Simon had yet to fall in line. “Roland, please understand that we want to do everything to help and to satisfy Mike that we don’t have any problems here. We do, however, have a business to run and some aspects of that business are horribly proprietary.”

“Not matter how horrible they are, you should have no problem trusting Doc or any of his people. GFF is a prime defense contractor and we run a tight ship when it comes to security. As for the disruption of your business, I think we can both agree that the Justice Department, the SEC, or—God forbid—the state attorney general would be far more disruptive.” As Roland said this, he glanced at Kelly for emphasis.

Simon turned his palms to the ceiling. “Okay,” he said. “When do you want to start?”

“Yesterday wouldn’t be soon enough. Doc’s people are here in Boston. When do you think you can have them over?”

“As soon as they’ll have us,” I said.

“Fine, you can work out the details with Lloyd.” Roland, in loco Quinn, had spoken.

It was now eight o’clock and time for Ken’s interview. A technician arrived to switch the video system from Lloyd’s presentation to the GNN satellite feed. Once the tuner had locked onto the signal we heard, “Next up, Kenneth Paine, manager of the Lowell Aggressive Growth Fund, talks about investing in turbulent times.”

The technician muted the commercials and some light chatter ensued—the guys who walked into work mentioned the fog, those who drove in said they only noticed it was bad when they couldn’t see the Citgo sign and, of course, everyone talked about whether this would be the year for the Red Sox. GNN’s morning anchor, Sally Santorini (who looked remarkably like Randy’s receptionist) appeared after a brief promo for GNN’s ever-changing evening line-up.

“I am pleased to have Kenneth Paine with me this morning,” said Sally. “Ken is now in his twelfth year as head of the Lowell Aggressive Growth Fund, one of several funds managed by The Lowell Group, which is a subsidiary of our parent company, GFF. Ken, we’re pleased you could make it.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” Ken responded. He was definitely cut from a different bolt of sailcloth than his boardroom counterparts. For one thing, he had a blue shirt with a spread collar and a fashionable suit jacket. For another, he exuded an earnestness that his Lowell colleagues lacked.

Sally said, “Now tell me—” and then stopped. A full second of dead air passed before she looked back into the camera and said, “Sorry to interrupt, Ken, but we have breaking news from floor of the New York Stock Exchange.”

From a media perch suspended above the main trading floor, one of Sally’s prettier male colleagues gave the following report: “Sally, it appears that this morning’s open will be delayed indefinitely. Word on the floor is that the computer network linking the exchange to its member firms went down. This problem is not isolated to this exchange, but will also delay the open on Nasdaq, the regionals, and the ECNs. For now, the nature of the problem is undetermined and officials cannot estimate when the exchange will be back up other than to say that they are doing everything they can to get operations back to normal and keep any disruption to a minimum.”

Sally then fielded a series of reports from the trading floors of Wall Street to the pits of Chicago. Ten minutes into what should have been an interview with Ken, she apologized for the interruption and invited him back on a future date of his choosing.

Lloyd switched off the monitor and closed the doors over the screen. He acted as though he thought that this would make everything go away.

Roland reached for his black leather travel bag and then looked down the table at Simon and said, “It’s unfortunate that the markets won’t be opening on time, but at least this is one less distraction that might keep your people busy while Doc’s crew is here.”

Roland stood and the rest of all followed suit. Once we were all standing, I approached Lloyd while Simon lingered within earshot. Before I could say anything, Lloyd, acting as if he knew me from somewhere, said: “Hey, Doc. I’ve got a story for you. There’s this guy in a grocery store across the river. He’s standing in the express lane and the sign reads, ‘Ten Items or Less.’ He has fifteen items, maybe more. When he gets to the cashier, she says to him, ‘What’s the matter? Are you from MIT and can’t read or from Harvard and can’t count?’“

After an awkward moment or two, I simply let this pass with a weak laugh and got on with the business of getting “his people” together with “my people.” I could have pressed for a morning meeting, but Ken’s absence seemed like a good excuse to postpone the meeting and the unpleasantness that it might bring until after lunch, which was the earliest time that Ken might be available if he shuttled right back. We would meet in a conference room at Lowell’s Financial District offices where the dirty job of managing money was performed.

After I was done with Lloyd (and him with me), Simon Lowell tried his hand at chatting me up. “Doc, it’s great to finally see you in person. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“You have quite a place here, Simon,” I said.

“Thank you,” Simon said before shifting gears and dropping the façade. He snarled, “At least you’re Lloyd’s problem now, not mine,” and walked away.

Artie, Kelly, and Roland were gathered nearby but were too preoccupied to witness Simon’s parting shot. I was headed for the door beside a small group of Lowell partners when Roland grasped my arm.

“Look,” he said, “I’ve got to run to the airport. Artie and Kelly are staying on here for the duration. My car’s downstairs, why don’t you come along and we can talk? You can be back here within the hour and I doubt anyone will miss you.”

“Sure thing, Roland.”

We waltzed past security on the way out. Because we were not considered visitors, neither of us had to sign out. A black car was waiting for Roland on the street closest to the building and the chauffeur jumped out and opened the rear doors for us. As we settled in, I passed the Lowell binder back to Roland and watched him zip it into his travel bag. I was happy to be rid of it and the responsibility for its safekeeping.

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