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 7



Ross M. Miller
Posted July 1, 2004

Before the car could merge into traffic, Roland edged toward me and asked, “Learn anything interesting?”

“That there’s more to The Lowell Group than what’s in that binder,” I replied, leaning away as I spoke. “What’s really up here? I could use some more background.”

Roland closed the glass partition between the driver and us and made sure the speaker was off before he spoke. “The firm was founded by Simon and Lloyd’s grandfathers. Back then it was known as Lowell, Perkins and Company. Lloyd, whose full name is Lloyd Cabot Perkins, was serious about the business while Simon, who had been an activist at Harvard, was out frolicking on the Riviera and fronting the money to produce spaghetti Westerns. But the boom in mutual funds was changing the business and Lloyd and rest of the gang, especially Richard Warren, had trouble changing with it. In a last-ditch effort to save the company, Simon, who was family and had some experience with popular taste, was brought in to give mutual funds a whirl—what did they have to lose?”

Roland unbuttoned his collar, loosened his tie, and continued, “Simon got Ken to do his thing and brought in Madison Avenue to saturation bomb the media. That’s when the business took off. In exchange for spending all of time in Boston to build up the mutual-fund business, Simon had his partnership share determined by a strict formula based on how much money his new funds brought in. He was far more successful than anyone had counted on, which is why his share grew disproportionately large. It would have gotten bigger, but he agreed to freeze his share in exchange for having the other partners agree to a more modern-sounding name for the firm—one that incidentally dropped Lloyd’s family from it. Now that you know that, what do think?”

“Well, they certainly aren’t like any of GFF’s other businesses. In fact, I don’t see how or where they fit in.”

“You aren’t alone in that opinion.” Roland dropped his voice. “Let’s just say we have our reasons.”

“While I’ve got your ear,” I said as neutrally as possible, “I noticed that there was a property unaccounted for in the deal.”

“Oh,” he replied, “Sutton Place. It’s good to see you’re paying attention. That’s Simon’s. He put it up in lieu of cash for his original partnership share and the other partners let him continue to use it as his New York pad. It was worth peanuts back then—muggers were everywhere, trash was piling up on the streets, and GFF was a small part of the big flight from a city on the verge of bankruptcy. That penthouse turned out to be a even better investment than Ken’s fund. Simon wanted it back and it was a key point in the negotiations.”

“The Mighty Quinn had his eye on it, eh?”

“Not that the co-op board would let him in the building. They turned Gloria Vanderbilt away. Happily, though, Mike’s into flashier stuff like that new Trump building. And by letting the penthouse go to Simon at a hundred and ten percent of its appraised value, we were making a concession that the European bidders, who really had a thing for that property, were reluctant to make.”

As Roland and I spoke, our driver was struggling through the morning rush hour to get to the Ted Williams Tunnel. When it came into view, Roland sighed, “I remember the Splendid Splinter. I saw him at the old Comiskey Park. Maybe a dozen times. Could he ever hit. What an eye. Too bad he had to play for the wrong Sox. Now he’s the Splendid Icicle.”

“I’m too young to have seen him play, but you’ve got to respect any baseball legend who doesn’t hawk coffee makers or second mortgages.”

“I guess you haven’t seen the old Chesterfield ads,” Roland said as he puffed on an imaginary smoke.

“But weren’t cigarettes a health product back then?” I asked as Roland kept puffing. It took him five tries to finally break the nicotine habit, though now I wondered if he really had.

Once we were in the tunnel, Roland got down to business. “Okay, so what did you make of them?” He had asked me this question on a regular basis when I worked for him at the old lab. After a few drinks, Roland was known to refer to me as “his human lie detector.”

“With the possible exception of Simon, that’s not a bunch you’re going to find around a card table.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not that they don’t have the chops to make fine players, it’s just that it’s not in their blood—not like a West Texan or an Okie. I don’t doubt that their ancestors were bold men, but it’s been bred out of them. I can’t see any of them doing anything that would carry the slightest risk of jail time or otherwise blot their reputations.”

“So, you don’t think we have a problem.”

“Well, I wouldn’t trust a thing that Richard Warren says.”

“You don’t say.”

“The Bay of Fundy bit, which I was disappointed that we didn’t get to hear the rest of, was obviously a fish story.”

“You don’t think Richard’s ever been sailing in the Bay of Fundy.”

“If he was, not the way he’s telling it. I bet that if I let it slip that I had an aunt living in a trailer park outside of Elko, he’d say he knew someone in the next trailer over.”

“Could be.”

“Though he wouldn’t admit to having a blood relation live there.”

“Getting back to my question,” Roland said as he played with the ashtray hinge, “do we have a problem here?”

I was not going to come out and say yes or no and Roland knew it. I had spent too many years as an academic not to leave myself wiggle room.

“If we do,” I said, “it’s probably buried deep inside the company. The partners may not be outright crooked, but they probably place too much trust in their subordinates.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Because the company is close-knit to the point of being incestuous. Simply excluding people who are not like yourself is no guarantee that the people you hire are honest.”

“Even if you’re right, I think you may find that their days on the waterfront are numbered,” Roland said.

“Are you looking to move their offices inland? I heard that the guys at General Casualty are still livid at being kicked out of their lakefront digs and being stuck in an office park in Schaumburg that the company got in a liquidation.”

“Schaumburg is too good for these guys. We’re talking severance.”

“And Simon? Your file says he has a two-year contract. And Ken? He has five years.”

“They’re still Lowell’s MVPs. We can deal with Simon. As for Ken, don’t you think it was a bit odd that he picked today of all days to appear on television?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know, Doc. Maybe he’s avoiding us. Maybe they’re keeping him away from us. I don’t know. He’s the real reason that we even care about Lowell and he’s not around. Go figure.”

“Well, he’s certainly central to the whole story. I’ll see how much resistance I meet trying to get to him. That should be telling.”

With something tying up the tunnel, it took us nearly twenty minutes to reach daylight. That gave us the time to go over some of the minor details. When we finally exited the tunnel, the fog had lifted.

“You need to get right back,” Roland said as the car turned onto a service road. “I’ll have the driver call for a water taxi and drop you at the dock on the way to my flight. It’s looking like a perfect day for a boat ride.”

“Sounds good to me.”

As our car approached the dock, Roland turned to me and said with a big smile on his face, “You folks didn’t have anything to do with shutting down the stock market, now did you?”

I looked at him and smiled back until the driver opened my door. I let Roland hang before saying, “Any jerk with a computer and some brains can do that. Alaskans enjoy a real challenge.”

“I think you’ve got yourselves one,” was Roland’s reply and then he disappeared behind smoked glass.

I walked over to the dock and saw a motorboat waiting for me. It was named “Hope” and had a curved bench in the aft that could fit eight without too much discomfort. The ship’s captain sat in front and was covered by a canopy while the passengers on the boat were left to the elements. A typical businessman with a briefcase was already on the boat. After I boarded, the captain said, “Another guy’s supposed to be coming. If he’s not here in a minute or so, I’m leaving without him.” As the captain was unhitching the boat from the dock, a man ran up to it and jumped aboard.

The businessman sat at the very back of the boat and the latecomer sat down across from me so that I was facing the city and he was facing out to sea. The boat was noisy and kicked up quite a breeze as it sped across the harbor.

I sensed something odd about the latecomer. It’s not just that his suit was cheap; it didn’t hang right. He was medium all around—medium height, medium weight, medium build, medium brown hair, medium nose, medium feet. Except for a cell phone, which he fiddled with in a way that suggested that he was thinking about making a call, he carried nothing with him.

I thought that I might learn something if I engaged him in a conversation. “Did you hear about the market?”

“Whot about it?” he said even more gruffly than Lloyd Perkins.

“Some technical glitch. Stock market’s closed until further notice.”

“Ya don’t say.”

“Some sort of network problem.”

“What’s that?”

“You know, a network, like the Internet, only private.”

The man turned away from me and looked out over the water. After a long pause, he said, “Ya don’t mind if I make a call.”

“Go right ahead,” I said. While he dialed, I looked around. The sun bouncing off the glass and steel of the skyline—Boston’s monument to the financial services industry—highlighted the unnatural beauty of the power of money. The conversation going on across from me for the brief time that it took to reach our destination seemed inconsequential. Looking up the narrow metal ramp that would bring me back to dry land across the street from the hotel, I saw a familiar blond figure and could swear that I heard him singing, “If not for the courage of the fearless crew . . .”

My one-man greeting party was cheerier than anyone had a right to be. In addition to his grin, he was wearing a herringbone suit with a shirt that seemed too blue for Boston.

“Welcome back to dry land,” Randy said when joined up with me. The wooden landing was still pitching in the boat’s wake.

“Okay, who told you I’d be here?” I asked.

“It’s amazing what one can do with a Swiss Army knife and a little duct tape.”

“No matter what anyone tells you, you’re not MacGyver. Besides, you’d need more than that to track me.”

“Like a professional sighting scope.”

“Tara . . .”

“It’s most impressive what you can see from our hotel once the fog lifts. Our Miz Tara has fine optics.” Randy paused, saw that I had nothing to say, and continued. “I’m surprised to see an independent guy like you using mass transit. Whenever I use it, I have to imagine that I’m an visitor from another planet just to make the whole experience bearable.”

“Imagine?” I intoned while making a feeble effort to return Randy’s grin.

I watched the businessman briskly disembark while the mystery man stayed on board. I turned to look straight at him, but he avoided my gaze. I turned back to Randy but kept the man in my peripheral vision, “See anything interesting?”

Randy looked toward the twin residential towers that dominated the waterfront and said, “Nothing I haven’t seen before. And nothing suspicious at their headquarters, either.”

Rather than cross the street and go back into the hotel, Randy and I walked out toward the fish pier.

“How did you pick me up?” I asked.

“I was watching the water taxis zip around—there must be six of them—and yours was the only one where I could see the passengers so it was the obvious one to track.”

“Obviously,” I said. “What about that guy on the boat?”

“The narc?”

“Yeah, that guy.”

“He was on his cell phone.”

“Did you happen to see what number he dialed?”

“Tara’s optics aren’t that good.”

“Who do you think he was?”

“We can eliminate hit man; otherwise, I wouldn’t be talking to you. Feds dress better than that, except for the IRS. You got any tax problems?”

“No, but the guy seemed suspicious.”

The water taxi was out of sight and so was the man. Randy looked down into the harbor’s rippling water and said, “Isn’t it something how evolution makes jellyfish look just like plastic beer cans rings so that they can blend in with the garbage? But enough said about the wonders of the deep, have you heard about the stock market?”

“Not for an hour. Right before I left Lowell, they said that the opening was delayed because of network problems.” I then pointedly asked, “Is there something you want to tell me?”

“Who? Me? No. When I left the hotel to meet you, they were talking about not being able to open at all today. You haven’t told me yet. How did the meeting go?”

“Let’s just say that I made it to the next table and that you, Tara, and Zero will be dealt in.” Then I told Randy about the yachts, artwork, china, silver, conference table, Richard, Simon, Lloyd, Roland, the view, and (with some embellishment) Leslie, Kelly, and Artie. I was not about to be sidetracked by a nose, so I left that detail out.

“So when and where is the next table?”

“This afternoon, over there—the round one in front,” I said, pointing at the skyline.

“I’ve got to take Tara’s scope over there, the view from the top must really be something.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, but Lowell’s offices are more earthbound.”

“Is that where Ken, their rock star, works?”

“I guess. Unless they hid him away in a secret bunker.”

“Bunker Hill?” Randy said as he looked across the harbor in the direction of the commemorative obelisk.

“So, what have you been doing?”

“While you’ve been living high on the hog and taking limo and boat rides, we’ve made some real progress.”

“Tell me more.”

“Tara’s invented something she calls astrofinance. It’s like astrophysics, but with finance instead of physics.”

“I’ve heard of astrologers who use a company’s place and date of birth to predict its stock price?”

“You better not let Tara catch you saying the evil ‘A’ word. I’ll let her explain it to you. Zero’s been pulling data for her and I’ve been . . .”


“I like to think of it as providing keen technical insight.”


With that said, we finally entered the hotel. We made only idle chit-chat on our beeline to Tara’s suite. She was out, so we went across the hall to see Zero. A “Privacy Please” sign hung on his door, but like any well-intentioned boss, I figured that it didn’t apply to me. I knocked with gentle insistence and then waited until Zero’s pale face appeared in the doorway.

“Come on in,” Zero monotoned. Zero had done an excellent job of making himself at home—circuit boards and donut boxes had already taken over his living room and I certainly didn’t want to see the bedroom or bathroom.

“In case you’re interested, the donut shop across the way opens at five in the morning. I heartily recommend the chocolate glazed.” Zero directed this bit of information to Randy, ignoring me for the moment.

“Ah, donuts, food of the gods,” Randy said.

Zero caught me ogling a potato-chip can that was connected to a laptop computer. “Homebrew antenna,” he explained. “MIT’s campus network comes in loud and clear, but Harvard pops in and out. Of course, anything downtown is a slam dunk. But there’s lots of congestion today.”

I didn’t think Zero was referring to allergies, so I asked for clarification: “How so?”

“Throughput along the Northeastern backbone is down by a third—could be a worm spreading, could just be bad karma. Too early to tell.”

“You know that the stock market’s having trouble opening.”

“Am I supposed to be surprised? I’ll keep an eye on that.” Zero tabbed through a few screens before he looked up and said, “Anything else?”

“Can you pick up The Lowell Group on that thing?” I asked, careful not to touch the antenna.

“Loud and clear. Both networks. TLGWharf down here and TLGBost over there. I can’t say that they have adequate security. At least they’re password-protected, even if they’re broadcasting their presence to the entire planet.”

“And beyond,” Randy added.

At this point, I noticed that Zero’s suite was not just cold—it was downright glacial. “Aren’t you freezing?” I asked him.

“No, not at all. Though I did have to hack the air conditioning unit to get the temperature down. The way they had it adjusted, sixty-seven degrees was as low as it would go. The filter was filthy, too.”

“Just put it back the way you found it when we leave. And don’t let the maid in. We don’t want to get bounced from this hotel.” Randy spoke from experience. “By the way, how were the beavers?”

“Three guys were interested in becoming Alaskans—make that four—there was an Institute Professor, too. And there’s this guy who’s hoping to make it as a professional wrestler like that Harvard guy.”

“When he gets an agent,” Randy said, “have him give me a ring.”

“On the way back,” Zero said, “I ran into Tara in the elevator. She had some ideas and needed some financial data. I downloaded it onto her machine after I got the donuts and that’s the last that I’ve seen of her.”

“She’ll turn up,” I said.

“So when does the fun begin?” Zero asked.

“We’ll head over after lunch.” I wondered if Zero possessed the notion of an organized meal rather than his usual inhalation of food while hunched over a computer. What was even more amazing was how Zero could eat so much yet stay so thin. I chalked it up to high metabolism, which might explain the air conditioning.

“Ummm, lunch. Sounds good. Come get me.”

“Remember, Lowell can’t cope with the Hawaiian look,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” Zero replied. “I’ve got the threads.”

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