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 9



Ross M. Miller
Posted July 8, 2004

We assembled in the Admiral’s Suite before heading off together. The half-mile jaunt from the wharf to the financial district was pleasant enough. I walked in front with Zero while Tara and Randy trailed behind. All of us, even Zero, looked like we were off to job interviews. Seeing the water taxi pass by reminded me of my suspicious companion.

“Zero,” I asked, “what do you think of an otherwise inconspicuous white, middle-aged man in a ill-fitting suit carrying only a cell phone on a water taxi?”

“Not much. Why? Is he following us?”

“He could be.” I turned and saw only Tara and Randy, deep in their own conversation, several steps behind us. “He was on the water taxi with me.”

“You watch too many movies. If anyone competent were tailing you, you’d never see him.” Zero looked up at the skyline of downtown Boston directly in front of us. “My guess is that right now dozens of people are tapping into what’s going on in those buildings.”


“Okay, maybe hundreds. There’s no way to tell. It’s not that hard to do, especially with all of them out in the open, like that. It’s not like military planners told them that it was safer to locate their businesses on thousands of acres of Adirondack wilderness.” Zero uncharacteristically chuckled.

“Ahhh, the joys of isolation,” I said. “So, who’s listening?”

“The usual suspects. For most, it’s a sport; for some, it’s a business. Waves—from the sound of our voices to the electromagnetic ones thrown off by a computer’s microprocessors—travel farther than most people realize. Someone with a good parabolic microphone in any of those buildings can hear my every word almost as clearly as you can. And there’s always lipreading.” Zero stopped to wave at the skyline. “With the right equipment, I could listen in on them, too.”

“Some of those conversations could be worth a lot of money,” I said with my hand over my mouth. “Like the buying and selling decisions of any of the thousands of money managers who work in those buildings.”

“The Russians have you beat to that one. It’s no secret that they already play the market by tapping phone lines. Major players in the market know to send anything sensitive out over heavily encrypted lines, but I wouldn’t put it past the Russians to break the code.”

Even though the Cold War was long over, some Alaskans remained obsessed with the Russians. To the best of our knowledge, there were no Russians (or Ukrainians, etc.) working at the lab—basic security procedures screened them out immediately. In terms of raw talent, one could argue that the best Russians outclassed the best Alaskans. The problem was that Russians tended to be uselessly abstract or dangerously practical. All I could say back to Zero was: “Russians, hmmm.” I wondered how long it would take to train a Russian agent to do a passable Boston accent.

I turned around to Tara when we reached the bridge back to civilization. “This one took a while to build,” she said while looking at an enormous red brick building with “John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse” tattooed on it.

“Who’s John Joseph Moakley?” I asked.

“Joe Moakley,” Tara said. “He’s a star in Southie, some might even say a saint. He was their Congressman as far back as I can remember. A democrat, of course. Old time pol—shaking hands, kissing babies, that sort of thing. When my uncle Liam had trouble getting disability benefits from Social Security, Joe took the time to help him out. He did that kind of thing all the time for his constituents. And then, after Tip O’Neill, he’s the one most responsible for this and all the jobs and disruption that it has created.” Tara motioned toward the Big Dig that lay a block ahead of us.

 As were crossing the bridge, it dawned on me just how untidy a place Boston was. The bridge was covered with rust except for a small portion that was painted a nautical green. It looked like someone had begun to rehabilitate the bridge and stopped in mid-girder upon realizing the futility. Only pedestrians were allowed on the bridge; the weight of vehicular traffic was likely more than it could bear. Construction and demolition were all around us. Besides the Big Dig going down in front of us, a convention center, hotels, and a “T” station were going up behind us. Fortunately, GFF, which sought to impose order on all within its realm, had only purchased The Lowell Group and not the city that housed it.

Amid the approaching construction noise, I felt it was safe to stop and turn to my colleagues and say, “The game plan for today is as follows: We’ll let them do the talking. We’ll take it easy for today—lull them into complacency. No tough questions. Let’s see what cards we’re dealt. Then, we can study things overnight and return with guns blazing tomorrow.”

The others nodded their heads as we entered the financial district via a small walkway that snaked under what remained of the central artery. It was a short walk through what were either narrow streets or broad alleys to our lunch spot. Randy looked wistful but said nothing as we passed a vegetarian eatery.

Zero asked Tara, “Is there a convenience store nearby?”

“I think that there’s one just around the corner,” she replied. “They’re pretty much everywhere.”

“Great,” said Randy, “I know how to act. I’ve seen Clerks, watched the alternate ending, and listened to the commentary track. Repeatedly.”

We confirmed that Tara had her local geography down cold.

“Let me have your ID cards,” Zero said. “I’m getting a burrito. You can create a diversion.”

We walked into the store, which appeared to serve mainly as a gambling outpost—Mass Millions, Megabucks, and strings of cards beckoning scratchers. Zero grabbed a sandwich from cold storage, paid for it, and took it to the microwave. While I paid for some tourist postcards, Zero was nuking the sandwich.

“That’s long enough, Sonny,” the cashier yelled. “It’ll explode.”

“Right,” Zero said as he opened the door and carefully removed the wilted sandwich. After we left the store and were walking to lunch, Zero threw the sandwich in the trash and said, “Didn’t have burritos—I hope you like yours well done,” as he handed our cards back to us. Mine looked fine and was not the least bit warm. Randy sniffed his and said, “Mine smells of ham. Next time, try limiting yourself to kosher lunch meats.”

We arrived early enough to secure a table for four, waiting only for the table to be set. Tara’s trattoria was fancy enough, but not outrageously so.

“Nice music,” Randy said. “I always wondered what ‘Feelings’ sounded like in Italian. Perhaps there’s a jukebox.”

“Don’t even think it,” Tara said, eyes shooting darts.

Randy looked pleased to have elicited a strong reaction from Tara. “Word gets around, does it?”

“My dear Randall, you can’t expect to play ‘Achy Breaky Heart,’ as performed by those horrid chipmunks a dozen times in a row at the townies’ dinner and not have word get around.”

“Infamy travels fast,” Randy responded. “Anyway, they unplugged the jukebox less than thirty seconds into the twelfth spin.”

Leaving the choice of music to the proprietors, we ordered “family style,” sharing three appetizers and as many entrees, careful to take it easy on the garlic so as not to offend those at the meeting to follow. Randy and I split a bottle of Pellegrino, while Tara and Zero went for Pepsi, diet in Tara’s case. Surrounded by workers who likely had offices in the neighboring buildings, we limited our conversation.

“How did you learn about this place?” I asked Tara, who sat to my right at the square table with the white cotton tablecloth. “The food is great.”

“A friend from high school took me here many years ago. There’s a club upstairs. I don’t know what happened to him, but I still come here from time to time.”

While Tara and I discussed fine dining in Boston, Randy and Zero talked shop. The one thing that they—and every other Alaskan working with computers—shared was a disdain for packaged software, especially operating systems. Every line of code that ran on Randy’s robots and Zero’s networks was written by an Alaskan and meticulously tested and documented. That most of the rest of the world, including the people eating in the restaurant with us, used software that someone else wrote was something that Randy and Zero could not understand. Who knows what a programmer might stick in his code? And why didn’t this seem to bother more people?

After lively discussion on the topic of operating system kernels, Randy left for the men’s room—giving Zero a few minutes to fiddle with his computer—and then returned with a grin. “They have green toilet paper in the men’s room,” Randy declared with the same glee that would accompany his announcement of a robotic breakthrough.

Confronted with this challenge, Zero and I paused as we considered our response only to have Tara plunge in: “It’s nice to hear that this place is environmentally conscious.”

“No, I mean green, like the color of—”

I finished Randy’s sentence with, “Money.”

“Greener. And just in case you don’t believe me, here’s a square.” Randy wasn’t kidding. He plopped the greenest piece of green toilet paper down in the middle of our table.

“I hate to be the one to tell you, but Miss Manners frowns on this sort of thing,” Tara said. “Anyway, your display proves nothing, how do we know that you don’t carry green toilet paper around with you?”

“If you don’t trust me,” Randy said, “see for yourself.”

Zero wasn’t listening to Randy at this point; he was involved with his computer. He looked up and said, “Yes, there obviously is such a thing as green—really green, not just pastel—toilet paper, it’s just that no janitorial supply house sells it, probably because with all the dye in it, it isn’t green enough.”

“I think what you have there is a square of illicit toilet paper,” I prodded Randy.

“Remember that this is Boston,” Tara said. “When I was growing up, people used to have that for Saint Paddy’s Day—I guess that it goes with green beer.”

“But it is nowhere near that time of year and this is an Italian restaurant,” Randy battled back.

“Was there lots of green toilet paper in there, or just the roll that you got it from? Maybe we should send Tara into the ladies room,” Zero said.

“I could only see one roll,” Randy replied. “Maybe she knows what’s going on,” Randy said as our server approached. “Inquiring minds want to know.”

Our server looked at the green square on the table without commenting on it and Randy decided not to press the issue as she acted like nothing was unusual and tried to entice us into some cannoli, tiramisu, or a shot of sambuca.

We passed on dessert, but ordered a round of double espressos (I considered raising it to a triple) and sipped them as I paid with a company card. Randy and Zero concocted several elaborate explanations as to the source of the green toilet paper while Tara maintained that in all likelihood the restaurant had run out of bath tissue and managed to scrounge up an ancient roll that was sitting around, possibly from an earlier incarnation as an Irish pub. The one thing that we could all agree on was that as odd as it might be, it was ultimately insignificant.

After I got my company card back from the server and signed the check, I looked up and said, “Thank you, Roland.” The hostess said, “Ciao,” to us on our way out.

Tara and I returned to our pre-toilet paper conversation on the way to our meeting with Lloyd Perkins and his people. With less possibility of being overheard as we walked through a back alley, we spoke a little more freely but were careful not to mention any names.

“Any more thoughts about their place in the financial universe?” I asked.

“Not to complain,” Tara said, “but I’d rather be searching for distant galaxies—they’re a lot easier to find than information about a given mutual fund’s holdings. Funds are only required to file their holdings with the SEC twice a year and, even then, they can report them in a way that’s difficult to decipher and can sit on their hands for sixty days before sending the numbers off to DC. The last info we have is from the end of March, which is right before things got funky. Everything looks in order there, as it does for the previous filings going back five years. Their next filing with the SEC is due two months from now and that won’t do us a lot of good.”

“Well, they say they’re willing to provide us with anything and everything, so we can ask for their holdings and see what happens. What else?”

“If it is a source of any consolation, Ken is not alone in his misery. While he has been the hardest hit in the past six months, some other growth-oriented funds have had similar problems. My best guess is that these funds are copycats. Before they were trying to copy his success, now they manage to copy his failure. Regardless, most of the copycats have done only half as poorly as he has.”

We arrived at our destination before I had a chance to quiz Tara further. The entrance to the building that housed Lowell’s downtown offices had a small congregation on the stairs. They were faithful smokers in exile, some talking, others staring into space. As we passed them on our way in, Randy said, “It’s show time, folks.”

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