BY LARRY FLEWIN
Copyright is held by the author.
“THAT’S HOW I see it Carly,” said Bruce. He was a family friend and a cop. And the one who’d responded to the call about an abandoned car beside the Bay Street bridge. And not just any car but a fire engine red Ferrari. Al’s Ferrari, the one he was leasing. “Look I know it’s a little early to call it what it might be. River runs awful fast this time of the year. If he did go over, and I’m not saying he has, but it might take months before we find him, if at all. Sorry to say that’s how it is.”
“I appreciate that Bruce,” I whispered, swallowing hard. “Can you give me a couple of days before you do anything? I mean it’s not like he hasn’t done this before, you know that. It’s just that he’s never left his car before, it’s his baby, you know. I’m pretty sure he’ll turn up. He’s not the end it all type.”
“Yeah I know. Look I can probably squeeze a couple days before I need to do anything official. I’ll make it a missing persons or a domestic dispute, something simple. Just keep me posted all right? And if he does comes back, and, I’m betting he will, I need to see him, just to be sure he’s okay.”
“No problem.” He left by the back door, thank god.
I poured myself another drink, and sat back on the recliner. Al, I whispered to myself, do you know what you’re doing?
From the very beginning it seemed that he did. I mean right from high school he seemed to have this all figured out. And he couldn’t wait to get started. His was the path to glory you read about all the time.
A small town kid with big-town dreams and an innate ability to make it happen. President of the student council, a member of more clubs than he could possibly attend, and a part-time job after school. Selling newspapers, financial papers no less, all with it a message about the health of investing for the future, theirs, the subscribers. It won him a lot of smiles, and a lot more subscribers.
Despite all his social activities Al was able to maintain pretty good grades, get into a mid-level university, and come out the other end with a mid-level degree. And after that, he got right down to business. He had his first wealth management company up and running within six months. He knew what he was doing, and where he wanted to go.
A beautiful mind, just like the movie, said his Aunt Lilly, more nerve than a toothache quipped Uncle Sal. While much the charmer, all full of laughs and jokes and hugs, he was a very aggressive investment manager. He showed no shame in going after everyone and everything to reel in as much cash as possible, as quickly as possible, and invest it. Darling Aunt Lilly was his first client.
Which is why he was such a toothache. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He had a nose for money that would make a bloodhound jealous. If he knew you had any extra cash anywhere he was all over you until you gave it to him to invest. He went after everybody and I mean everybody.
It had been a real struggle at first. Money was tight, the economy in the throws of another recession and investing for the future was a new thing that not too many people knew about, thought about, or even cared about. And it didn’t help that Al was so pushy.
He figured he knew everything there was to know about the money world and talked long, loud, and hard about how much money there was to be made if you could just reach into your hearts and your souls and your wallets and pull it out. Pull it out, give to me, and let me make some real money with it. Your money, all of it safely invested and generating returns and dividends that will see you on easy street until the day you die. Why let the taxman him have all the fun, give it to me and I’ll give it back to you, in spades!
He started out with a broom closet office downtown with me as his sole staffer and an old push button telephone. I was an acquisition just like everything else in his life. I was the skinny one with the braces hanging around the back of the gym while everyone else danced up a storm. He said the first time he saw me he sensed my potential and came right over to ask me to dance. I was his first investment.
Despite all the difficulties it was magic watching him work. Money that he managed to pry out of some very tight, and suspicious, fingers immediately went into building up the business, as in carpeting, furniture, and beautifully tailored suits. And almost none of it into any kind of investment. Was it a pyramid scheme or some ponzi thing? No, but it was damn close.
“Yeah I know I know but what else can I do, Myrna, he’s the man of my life and I gotta support him, even when he runs off. Look, it’s not a bad thing, he just can’t handle the pressure sometimes is all. So, can you help me? I just have to pick up his car before they tow it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming. Give me 20 minutes and I’ll be at the door. Just be ready okay I have to get Sandra to dance lessons before five.”
That was Myrna, my best friend and fellow skinny from high school. She ended up marrying some dope from shop class who turned out to be an ace plumber. We were best friends and neighbours, with a lot of their money tied up in our business. She was quick and quiet, and didn’t start in with the questions until we were half way there. Then I guess she couldn’t contain herself any longer.
“So when did he start running off on you. He’s got someone somewhere, doesn’t he?”
“No, no he doesn’t. This all just started a couple of years ago. That’s when the economy really took a nosedive. He started getting a little frantic, pacing around the office, talking about how he had more money than he knew what to do with but he could do nothing with it. And Aunt Lilly didn’t help, phoning every five minutes to ask about her money. He just walked out at that point and disappeared for three days. Came back like it was all nothing and went straight back to work.”
“Wow! Didn’t you ask where he’d been, what he’d been up to?”
“Oh yeah but he wouldn’t say, he just smiled and said not to worry it was all over and we were back on track.”
It was damn close to be sure, but that little liability went away when he scared up enough money to really start investing and actually send out his promised returns. God knows where he got it from but he seemed to have a nose for digging up these awful looking investment dogs that paid out in spades. Anything and everything that came his way that promised any kind of return over and above the current market average got the Allan Taylor treatment.
A printed prospectus only, never anything online. Touch it, taste it, read it, press it to his forehead and then toss it on the floor was how it was for 99 per cent of the stuff he looked at. The one per cent he kept went into a neat pile on his desk, and became the recipient of large sums of the investment capital that he was raking in.
I watched him go through this routine every Friday. Once done, he would toss me the pile with numbers scrawled on each on one — the amount he was going to invest. And for the first little while the returns exploded.
At one point, at the height of all this, he turned to me and said, “You know, it’s about time we invested in us. We’ve worked long enough and hard enough, damn it we’ve earned it.”
And so we did, only now it was travel, clothing, cars and food. He was such a foodie. We hit every place in town with an entrée over 20 bucks, always with a reservation and always with the top of the menu coming our way. And you wonder why I spent so much time at the gym.
Cruises became a favourite of his. We started going two or three times a year and spent a lot of time in the sand, or at least I did. Allan was always on the phone or online with somebody somewhere, making money.
I must admit I was curious, but to tell the truth, I was having the time of my life. I didn’t want to jinx it by asking too many questions. So I just pushed the paper, wrote the cheques, and gave out hugs and tours to anyone who came to visit.
On the third day, even as Bruce was filing his official report, and as word of Allan being missing began to leak out, I was holding a small open house at the office, trying to reassure anyone who came in or called that things were okay so far. The business was going to continue as before, albeit a little more slowly for a while. I’ve done this before, and you all know Allan, even the most brilliant mind needs a break once in a while. He just takes his differently is all, everybody just needs to have a little patience. The cheques are in the mail I joked, don’t worry I’m right here to answer any questions. Really, ask me anything, I’m not going anywhere just yet, I’m committed to all of you. And nobody asked, except darling Aunt Lilly.
Everybody thought we were living the good life, and for a few — a very few years — we were. Until the man with the golden touch got antsy and decided to switch gears. The markets, as markets eventually do, began to slide again. For Action Jackson, as he called himself, a slowdown was a bore down. Financial advice and prospectus surfing just wasn’t cutting it for him. To have the kind of money Al wanted coming in he figured foreign currency trading was the next big thing.
That had been the point of all those phone calls overseas he confessed. I was setting up a few contacts, a couple of accounts, people and places we could get money into on spec, and maybe up our profit margin a whole bunch. He quoted figures as high as 10 per cent return but it meant diving into the murky world of speculation — guestimates of what certain currencies would do, some of it politically based and not market driven.
He was in over his head and he knew it but he figured he could bull his way through. Problem was you had to be more of a gambler than a guesser at this, willing to play for higher than normal stakes for higher than normal returns, and higher than normal losses. And there was that lag between investing and returns that was the real killer. Most of the companies he was investing in were in the Caribbean, and while they were quick enough to take your money, returns were on Jamaica time, as in whenever.
Which wasn’t a bad thing, I mean there was a period where money coming in was almost zero but we had just enough money in the local banks to pay people off. Sometimes it was awful close to being nothing but Allan would make a few phone calls and suddenly it was there and life was good again. That was Allan all over.
Then came a brief period when I couldn’t write cheques at all, and the phone calls starting coming, even from Darling Aunt Lilly, nattering on about her cat. It became a game of snakes and ladders. On the one hand here was Al going through the phone book looking for investment capital, on the other hand using whatever came in to pay what ever was owed, while buying and selling 24/7 to try to make things work. It didn’t. The losses began to pile up. We were losing what we had worked so hard to build up.
I started going through things the very next day. Fortunately Allan had left his laptop behind so I was able to go through his emails, files, and folders. And they were a mess, at first glance. It would have taken some high school geek years to figure it all out, but that’s how Allan was. Very secretive and very careful, everything all mixed up so someone with less than a PHD wouldn’t be able to find anything.
The business was starting to look as much of a mess as his laptop. There was enough money to cover the next round of cheques, dividends, the thank you’s, as he called them, and that was it. No one with cash in their hands ever thought to ask for details or question how it all worked. Paid people were happy people and happy people didn’t rock the boat.
“Gotta be careful babe, can’t make it too easy for them. If anybody ever finds out about this . . .”
And on he went about security and secrecy. Just write the cheques he would say, use those thank you cards I got, remember to sign each one personally. And on and on and on. But because I did the filing, wrote the cheques, and covered for him when he ran off, I was the only other geek in the country who had this all figured out.
I pretty much wore out the delete key and the shredder cleaning things up. I mean Al was a nice guy but he had gotten in over his head and it was all about to explode and very publicly.
Darling Aunt Lilly had not helped by taking it upon herself to contact anyone and everyone she could think off to let them know that I needed a little help. Allan was gone and the poor girl was handling things all on her own. Couldn’t you just drop by and see how she’s doing, and check on my money while you’re at it, I need to feed Timmy and I’m down to my last tin of Fancy Feast.
One of her many calls had been to the Investment brokerage that Allan had first allied himself with; he still sold some of its product on occasion. The brokerage became quite concerned when darling Aunt Lilly’s daily phone calls became hourly. After a couple of days of that someone from the brokerage very kindly called me to assure me they were ready to help and would be sending someone out right away. Glad to help out a long time advisor in time of need, yadda yadda yadda. That’s all I needed, someone who was going to ask questions.
“I can’t do this anymore Myrna,” I moaned. “I can’t do it, it’s just too much. I’ve got to get away for a couple days, you know just to think a little, get my head straight. I mean it’s been almost a week and no word from him yet. This isn’t like him, I’m almost afraid to think there’s something else going on, but I’m not sure.” I sighed heavily, burying my face in my hands so she couldn’t see the look on my face.
Myrna wrapped her arms around me to try to comfort me. “It’s all right honey, I can’t imagine what it must be like. You go and do what you have to do and I’ll hold the fort. I‘ve got house keys and I’ll lock up the office. You just go and relax and come back in a couple of days and everything will be okay, you’ll see.”
“Thanks, I really appreciate this,” I said, sobbing onto my hands. “I’ll only be at the condo a couple days, I don’t want to screw up your plans either.”
“Don’t worry about it. I spoke to Tom and not only is he willing to let you have it for as long as you need, he even got you a flight out there. Used up his precious AirMiles to do it, but he’ll live.”
I poured myself another drink, and sat back on the recliner savouring the warmth of the sun as it slowly melted into the deep blue sea. Al, I whispered do you know what you’re doing?
“Yeah I know what you’re thinking babe, I almost screwed the pooch on this. Almost but not quite. Lucky for me I got out when I did. All I needed was that one extra push, that one last call.”
“So here’s to us,” he said raising his glass in a toast. “Here’s to us doing what it takes to get all this and not have to give it back. All it took was a good idea, a little luck . . . and more nerve than a toothache.”
Here’s to you darling Aunt Lilly.