My father, who liked to affect gruffness, often warned me, “Everyone is a son of a bitch until he proves different.” Yet, in his own life, he was a trusting man inclined to give huge benefits of doubt. He gave not only second chances, but third and fourth. My mother was quite the reverse. She had a kindly manner and advised charity in judging others, all the while keeping an eye on friends and strangers alike as wary as the one she kept on the cat when fresh fish was on the countertop.
I inherited my mother’s manner and my father’s nature, a combination that has proved both rewarding and expensive. The rewards come from the company of odd and fascinating people who find nonjudgmental companionship congenial. The expenses, unsurprisingly, often come from those same people. The single most fascinating and expensive acquaintanceship was with Brendan Gaffrey.
Brendan Gaffrey was a man with a terrible affliction: he loved his wife. Uxoriousness is no certain recipe for pain, but in this case it was the main course.
I own a small office building on the main street of the quaint town of
Peapack, . Designated a historical landmark by the inclusive standards of the local historical society, the building was constructed sometime before 1850. In a few rooms on the second floor I manage a portfolio of bonds, REITS, and stocks for myself and a handful of select investors. I’m cautious enough to have limited losses during the 2008 financial debacle to less than half the percentage decline in the S & P. No one wins accolades for losing money, but arguably this was a better performance than any year in which I actually made money. I lease out the lower level of the building, which covers most of the costs of owning it. For twenty-five years my tenant was an insurance broker. Mortality overcame him, and so the space became available. New Jersey
It was a sunny mid-morning when I heard footsteps on the stairs coming up to my office. A trim and handsome man in a sport jacket appeared in my door.
“Hello, I’m looking for the building owner or manager.”
“You found him. Henry Quenton.” I held out my hand. He shook it warmly.
“I instantly like a man with two first names.”
“Well, I suppose there are people with the first name Quenton, but I never met one.”
“Anyone call you Q?” he asked.
“No one. I didn’t catch your name.”
“Brendan Gaffrey. It originally was Gaffe, but I changed it. It is hard to win people’s confidence when your name means ‘mistake.’”
“I see. So what may I do for you Mister Gaffrey?”
The fellow fell into my guest chair with a thump. He leaned back, stretched out his legs, and folded his hands over his stomach.
“Your business sign out front doesn’t state the type of business. I see bond statements on your desk though,” he observed.
“I manage some investments in the form of a limited partnership. I don’t need new clients, so I don’t advertise,” I explained.
“Doesn’t sound ambitious.”
“Are you’re clients rich?”
“Well, they have investments.”
“Lots of them around here, aren’t there?”
“I suppose.” The town had acquired an upscale reputation a century earlier and still maintained it, though truly wealthy residents, as everywhere, were a minority.
“Can I help you with something specific?” I prompted again.
“Q, I can help you.”
“Anything is possible.”
“I couldn’t agree more. Look, Q, I’m here because of my wife.”
“Oh? Do I know her?”
“You will. You’ll be impressed. Her smile is like morning sunshine.”
“Uh-huh.” It was sufficiently uncommon a way for a man to speak of his wife to make me uncertain of a proper response. I let him continue.
“Are you married?” he asked
“You should be.”
“So my departed mother always told me. Does all this relate to making the sun shine in the morning?”
“Precisely. Show me the space you have to rent on the first floor. If it is the right space, Miranda will be pleased,” he said.
“Ah, why didn’t you say so? Follow me?” I led Gaffrey downstairs and unlocked the suite of rooms.
“There are four rooms and a small lavatory. Parking in back,” I explained.
“People think old buildings like this are classy, don’t they?”
“Yes, if I had an outhouse and a hand pump, instead of indoor plumbing which some thoughtless person installed in the 1920s, I could double the rent.” This reminded me to discuss the amount of the rent and the terms.
He listened, and said simply, “I’ll take it, if you don’t mind the competition.”
“Competition? What is it you do, Mr. Gaffrey?”
“Same as you. I’m more ambitious. I invest money and I make it. Lots of it. Is that a problem?”
“Not at all. I’m not looking for new clients, so there will be no competition. When do you want to take possession?”
“ASAP. I’ll bring Miranda by this afternoon.”
“Shall I wear sunglasses?”
“You’ll need them. She may want to make changes. You know: paint, carpets. Is that OK?”
“Are the changes out of your pocket?”
“Then they are OK.”
Gaffrey pulled a bank envelope out of his pocket. He counted out the security deposit and pro-rated the first month’s rent in $100 bills.
As promised, Miranda showed up with Brendan in the early afternoon. I went downstairs to meet her. She was petite, slender, and tanned. Her hair was a light brown cut to the shoulders. She wore a mink coat and blue jeans. She was not unpretty, but the need for sunglasses was not immediately obvious. This didn’t surprise me. One man’s sunshine is another man’s moonshine.
“Q, Miranda,” Brendan introduced us.
“Most people call me Henry,” I mentioned.
She smiled. “The carpets will have to go,” she said with an accent too slight to place.
“Well, I’ll let you two discuss decorating.”
Miranda succeeded in impressing more thoroughly me two days later when workmen showed up to begin remodeling. Even when times are bad, I don’t have the knack for getting contractors to show up in a timely fashion. Amid a cacophony of skill saws, thumps, and hammer whacks below my feet, Brendan appeared again in my doorway. He carried maps and papers under each arm.
“I hope we’re not bothering you with this ruckus.”
“No. If you improve the place too much though, I’ll have to raise the rent.”
“Aren’t we decreasing the building’s value by making it less historic?”
“Conceded. The rent stays fixed. What is on your mind?”
“My wife is Argentine. She comes from a good family. They have servants and all that.” He paused for a response as though something in his remarks was self-explanatory.
“I’m not sure I get your point.”
“The point is, we live in a center hall colonial with no servants in
. I have a Chevy.” Randolph
is nice. I like Chevys.” Randolph
“Yes, but I want her to have what she is used to having.”
“Sometimes we have to be happy just for what is.”
“I disagree, Q. This is
. The land of opportunity and all that. I’m going to be rich. I’ve waited long enough.” America
“What bank are you casing?” I joked.
“Several. Actually they are offering me their money to me. They’ve lost so much money in real estate in recent years that they are jumping at the chance to be involved in a deal where the profits are so solid and unmistakable. I have an option on a shopping center in
,” Brendan said as he spread a survey map across my desk. “I bought the option for a song when values went bust. Now things have recovered enough that I already have buyers interested in paying me $4,000,000 over the price for which I can buy the property. All I need is the money to close on it, and then I can flip the shopping center over and pocket the profit. That’s where investors come in.” Tulsa
“Why not just sell the option? You won’t have to close,” I suggested.
“I can’t. It’s worded to be non-assignable. I’m willing to sell you a piece of the deal. I guarantee you a 30% return with an expected turnaround time of less than six months.”
He dropped on my desk a satellite photograph of the shopping center plus copies of the option, deed, and letters from prospective buyers.
“Why ask me? I thought banks were forcing money on you.”
“They are. But why should they get all the benefits? We’re friends, aren’t we? Besides I have two other deals just as good in the works. There is a marina in
Michigan and a REIT-owned apartment complex in . We can catch this market perfectly on the upswing. I always can use more investors.” North Carolina
“Well, thank you, but count me out. I’m too conservative an investor for this sort of thing.”
“Are you sure your partners feel the same way?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Is there any way I could meet them? Look, I’m not trying to steal them away from you. I’m sure they’ll always want the mix of blue chips and municipals you offer them for most of their cash, but maybe they’d like to put some toward making real money, too.”
“Some partners and I have a business lunch at the Gladstone Tavern this Saturday at noon. You can stop at the table and I’ll introduce you.”
“Now you are talking, Q.”
Saturday’s lunch began as usual. I commented on general economic trends and recommended market strategies. Then, Brendan marched in the door with briefcase in hand. He strode to our table. I expected him to shake a few hands and, perhaps, exchange a few cards. Instead, after my introduction he took over the meeting. He pulled up a chair and opened his brief case. He launched into a description of the profit potential in the three deals he mentioned to me and in two others besides. He documented his case with letters, comparable sales data, and copies of his contracts and options. Everyone at the table was intrigued except myself and a real estate broker name George Lester. Even Trudy Bechenforth, who habitually was suspicious of all my investment recommendations, became excited.
George challenged him. “These mark-ups are very hard to believe. I’ve been in business a long time and never have seen anything like them.”
“Is that really true?” Brendan responded quickly. “Haven’t you ever passed on a chance to buy a lot, commercial building, or house that afterward leapt in value by these same percentages or more?”
“Well, sure. It happens to all of us,” George conceded. “We don’t have crystal balls. Even professionals misjudge upsides and downsides with some frequency. But that doesn’t explain how you just stumbled onto such bargains.”
“I didn’t stumble. Everything comes down to contacts. If you know enough of the right people, you can build bridges between them and collect your profits on the tolls. One man’s turkey is another man’s eagle. Buy turkeys from the first, and sell them as eagles to the second. The business becomes self-generating, because once you are known as a deal-maker, the contacts find you. Now all of you are my contacts, too."
“GL, if I may call you that…”
“If you must,” George said.
“You’ll find this working to your advantage starting this very minute. You are a real estate broker, aren’t you? My wife wants a home in Peapack with more space.”
“How much space?”
“8000 square feet. Maybe 10,000. Acreage too.”
George instantly became friendlier. “I’m sure I can find something.”
Brad, a loan officer at a regional bank spoke up, “Will you need a jumbo loan for the house?”
“No, I was thinking of paying cash.”
“Bad move. Mortgage interest is one of the few deductibles left. You may have heard how conservative we lenders have gotten, but, for the right client with a good balance sheet, you’d be surprised at what we can do.”
“I’m willing to discuss it.”
“Good. Take my card.”
So did Brendan reluctantly allow himself to be offered money.
A scant two weeks after this meeting, I pulled into my parking lot. A BMW and a Mercedes were in the lot. I entered my building. Brendan caught my arm before I climbed the stairs. He ushered me into the first floor suite. Miranda was inside. The suite had been re-paneled and was full of oak and leather office furniture.
“Very nice,” I said.
“Image matters. Money trusts money.”
“Does it? How’s the house-hunting going?” I asked.
“Good,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about actually. George found us a big old mansion on
. Lots of class. Brad gave us an 80% loan and the seller took back the downpayment as a second, so we aren’t even out of pocket.” Willow
“It needs work,” Miranda added. “I don’t think the kitchen was updated since 1925. The estimates for upgrading it are only about $250,000, though, which isn’t bad. I like the separate wing for the nanny.”
“Oh, you have kids.”
“Twins. They’re in
with my mother right now. They’re four. They’ll being flying back soon.” Buenos Aires
“Anyway,” Brendan said, “you are so plainly Old School that I figure you must have studied Latin.”
“Amo, amas, amat.”
“I thought so. Tell me, what does ‘gaudium formandum’ mean? It is over the front door. Some kind of motto, I guess.”
“ ‘Happiness must be constructed.’ ‘Joy must be built,’ ‘Pleasure must be forged.’ Something like that.”
“‘Pleasure must be forged.’ I like that. Want to go to
The change in subject disconcerted me. “Why on earth would I want to go to
“To look at the shopping center project. Four of your partners are going including Trudy.”
“Thank you, but no.”
“You need to be more adventurous. There is more to life than this little town. Where do you live by the way?”
“In a stuffy little Victorian around the corner.”
“I thought so. We need to loosen up that prep school tie.”
“This isn’t my school tie.”
“It is even when it isn’t.”
“No wonder the Alumni Office is always asking me for money.”
“Could you introduce me to them?”
“The Alumni Office? Whatever for?”
“I’m more interested in the alumni than the Office. Most are pretty well-to-do, aren’t they?”
“Oh. I see. I’ll print out the contact numbers. It’s on the alumni website.”
“I can use your name for introduction, right?” he asked.
“So long as you don’t say I endorse any investments.”
“I understand. You have your own business to protect.”
“Is this Trudy woman pretty?” Miranda asked suddenly.
“A candle to your halogen floodlight,” Brendan answered.
Despite his affected hyperbole, we both knew he was serious. Brendan’s romantic streak in truth was one of the few things I liked about him. It was rare and quaint. I’ve always invested my emotions as carefully as my money, which no doubt explains my old bachelorhood. Brendan’s lack of reserve in this matter was refreshing. Otherwise I found him crude and abrasive, and half regretted renting space to him.
I regretted renting to Brendan Gaffrey even more in the ensuing months when, one after another, my investors withdrew their accounts and deposited them with Gaffrey. Unlike myself, they seemed quite taken by his bonhomie.
One day, he again appeared in my office door.
“Q, our remodeling at home is finished. Next Saturday there is a housewarming party. You are coming,” Brendan said.
I was about to beg off, when my curiosity about his other guests got the better of me. “As you wish.”
On the evening of the party I pulled into the driveway of the 1920s brick monstrosity the Gaffreys called home. Cars were parked along the side of the driveway’s entire 500 foot length. Others were lined up on the lawn. I found a lawn space near the road and walked the distance to the house.
The limestone steps to the front porch were stained but otherwise in good shape. The fluted columns looked solid. As Brendan had said, a carved scroll with the motto “gaudium formandum” arced over the oak paneled front door. The door was ajar. I pushed the door open further and entered the huge and crowded center hallway which stretched from the front door to the back of the house, where French doors opened onto the lawn and more partiers. Frank Sinatra’s voice emanating from hidden speakers was almost overwhelmed by the sound of guests chatting and laughing.
I wended through the guests, several of whom were old classmates. Many others were complete strangers. In the absurdly huge dining room to the right was a long long table topped with a small mountain range of food attended by caterers. A bartender at a built-in bar across the hallway was being kept busy. I marveled at it all. A hand slapped me on the back.
“Glad you could make it, Q. I think you know a lot of the folks here.”
“Some of them. You put out quite a spread, Brendan.”
“As I said, money trusts money. Our new kitchen made it easy for the caterers, with all the Viking ranges and Subzeros.”
“You and Miranda must love to cook.”
“Not really. We eat out almost every night. But Miranda wanted a quality kitchen. She has excellent taste.”
“Same thing, Q.”
I chose not to debate the point.
A young boy at the top of the stairs looked down at us. He shouted, “Daddy is a piggy!” and then fled down the hall.
“Well, he knows his father,” said Miranda with a smile. “I have to go mingle. Maybe you should do that yourself. There are single women here, you know. Or do you prefer them married?”
“The latter are more discreet.”
She smiled again and aimed herself for a clump of people just beyond the French doors. Brendan excused himself as well. I couldn’t deny that the Gaffreys looked happy. They had made the home’s motto their own and apparently succeeded at it.
I chose not to mingle. On the way back to the front door I passed Brendan, who was talking with four men. I overheard something about an industrial park in
In the weeks and months that followed I saw Brendan and Miranda only in passing. They worked irregular hours at the office. In December they announced the
deal had closed. The investor party which followed was legendary. I did not attend. I heard the marina scored big too. His investors, which included two local banks, were ecstatic over double digit returns. The Gaffreys scarcely could hold back the flow of new clients wishing to invest with them. The couple went from success to success. Oklahoma
In early March, as a late snow dusted the region, Brendan pulled into the office parking lot. I heard him climb the steps to my suite.
“Hello, Q. Look, I’m sorry about taking away your clients.”
“It’s all right. I can get by on my own. I had no ownership claim on them.”
“I don’t understand why I haven’t been able to tempt you though. Ask any of your old buddies. Not one has made less than 20% with me. Try doing that anywhere else in the market today,” he said.
“I make enough for my needs, which are modest. I would rather play it safe and live quietly.”
“Doesn’t sound exciting.”
“Excitement is overrated. Was there something else, Brendan?”
“Yes, do you have a safe?”
“Yes. I just keep documents in it. No money.”
“One of my clients invested cash and I have nowhere to put it.”
“Cash as in Federal Reserve Notes?”
“I can’t be liable for that,”
“Of course not. I doubt the owner would report it if it did go missing, if you catch my meaning. But I’ll sign a note taking liability for it if you like.”
“OK, on those terms.” I scribbled a note relieving me of any responsibility for theft or destruction of the cash and shoved it across the desk. He signed it readily. He then handed me a paper bag.
“This is it?” I asked.
I peeked inside. The denominations were most fifties and hundreds.
“OK, I’ll lock it up.”
The money remained there for months.
Brendan’s reputation for business acumen and splendid parties continued to spread. Miranda flew back and forth to
regularly. She seemed happy. However, as time passed I noticed a change in Brendan. He looked increasingly harried and careworn. Argentina
Another summer passed. The leaves fell.
Brendan, looking five years older than the previous spring, walked in my door.
“Q, you’ve been ignoring us. Come to our Halloween party. I insist.”
It was a costume party. A few of those present were elaborately masqueraded, the hosts among them. Brendan and Miranda were Caesar and Cleopatra. Miranda chose the Claudette Colbert rather than the Liz Taylor version. Brendan looked uncomfortable in his toga.
“Hello, Q.” he greeted me.
“Ave. Why not
?” I asked. Antony
“Miranda said he lost.”
“True, but Julius was assassinated.”
“I guess that’s better than losing. I see you came as an aging WASP. Clever disguise,” he joked.
“The aging part was tough to fake.”
“You pulled it off. No date tonight?”
“Her husband wouldn’t like it.”
“Ah, yes. Very discreet, Q. Breeding shows.”
It wasn’t many days after the party that Brendan showed up in my office.
“Q, you still have the $280,000?”
“I spent that months ago.” When he didn’t smile, I added, “Of course I still have it.”
“I need it.”
“Some new venture?”
This time he smiled wanly. “Yes. Out West.”
“Very good. I’ll get the money for you.” He took the bag without examining the contents.
Neither he nor Miranda came to work the next day. The following morning, Brad the banker came into my office. He looked worried.
“Hi Brad. It’s been a long time. Want to go back to boring safe investments?”
He looked pained and asked, “Do you know where the Gaffreys are?”
“No. Brendon said he was going out West. I don’t know about Miranda, but she travels a lot.”
“Yeah. I’ve been to the house.”
“Is something wrong?”
“I hope not. It is probably just a paperwork mix-up, but I’m on the spot until it is straightened out.”
“Why are you on the spot?”
“Because I OK’d the loans. When you see him, tell him to call me. Night or day.”
Brad was just the first. A parade of investors followed. All were angry at me, though I had urged none of them to invest with Brendan. No one was giving me a clear explanation of the problem. I assumed some deal had gone bad, but while that might be a loss it was unlikely to be a catastrophe. Trudy was the last and the angriest. She, at last, imparted some information.
“You son of a bitch!” she yelled as she burst into my office. “You set me up with the bastard!”
“I did no such thing. He asked to come to lunch one day. That is all. What is going on?”
“Bullshit! You’re in it with him!”
“I’m in nothing. What is going on Trudy? I haven’t a clue.”
“You do know! They screwed the banks! They screwed me! They screwed everybody! No one can get their money back!”
“Brad seemed to think it was a paperwork error.”
“It had better be! You don’t understand. I invested most of my assets with those people.”
“That was an egg laden basket. Why?”
“They were paying 20%. Sometimes 30%. With you I got seven in a good year.”
“Well, at least you have that money until things are straightened out.”
“No. I never saw any checks from them. They added the profits to my ‘account.’ What am I going to do? I may have to sell my house. You’ve got to help me.”
“I don’t see what I can do, Trudy.”
“I’ll see you put in a jail cell with them!” she shouted. She was in tears as she stomped down the steps.
The next day a nationwide bulletin was put out for Brendan Gaffrey. The following morning the New Jersey Bureau of Investigation arrived. The two agents in charge were neither gentle nor polite. The file cabinets, computers, and desks in the Gaffreys’ suite were carried out to a van. Then a beefy Agent Krentzler stood before my desk.
“Yes sir. How may I help?” I asked.
“You can get out while we search your office, too.”
“Excuse me? Don’t you need a warrant?”
He dropped one on my desk.
“But I have nothing to do with this.”
“Have friends in
, do you?” Costa Rica
“What? No. I don’t understand.”
He showed me a copy of my telephone charges. I hadn’t yet received this bill in the mail. He pointed to two long distance calls to a number in
. Costa Rica
“I didn’t make those.”
“I don’t know. I suppose someone came in and made the call. I don’t always lock my office door at night. I just lock the outer door of the building when I leave.”
“Who else has keys to the outer door?”
“The Gaffreys, but I thought Miranda was from
has tighter bank secrecy laws, doesn’t it?” Costa Rica
“I really wouldn’t know.”
“Why don’t you call the number and find out who it is?”
“We did. It is just a hotel desk. Get out. Oh, open the safe first. I’ll let you know when you can return.”
As I waited outside in my car in the parking lot for two hours, I saw my files, desk drawers, and CPU join the Gaffreys’ goods in the van. At last, Krentzler approached my car.
“OK, you can go home. Do not re-enter this building until we tell you.”
“It’s my building.”
“Stay out of it.” He handed me a card. Be at this address first thing Monday morning. The address was the NJBI in
Saturday night I received a call at home. I said “hello” twice and was about to hand up when a voice said, “Q?”
“Yeah. The shit really hit the fan, didn’t it?”
“Where are you?”
“I was in Vegas trying to win back investor money with the $280,000. Miranda was against it, but I wanted to try. She was right, of course. I lost the money. I’m home now.”
“Do you mean to tell me that, with a nationwide alarm out for you, you drove all the way to
Nevada and all the way back again in a Mercedes Benz sports coupe with plates, and no one stopped you?” New Jersey
“No one stopped me. What do you think I should do?”
“Turn yourself in. You’ll only make things worse if you do anything else.”
“Maybe you are right.”
I arrived on Monday at the NJBI at nine o’clock. Krentzler let me wait on a hard bench in a sitting area until ten. Then he opened his door and waved me in.
“Come on. Don’t sit around out there all day.” I followed him into an inner office. He pointed to a chair inside the office. “Sit there.”
He closed the door. He remained standing. An associate sat on his desk with his arms folded.
“Gaffrey tells us you told him to turn himself in. Very wise. Let’s see how wise you can continue to be.”
“I’m not quite sure what you want from me.”
“You are involved in this up to your eyeballs, Quenton. How long do you think Gaffrey will hold out before he rats on you? Suppose I offer to cut him some slack if he does?”
“There is nothing to rat about. I’m still not even clear what happened. Brendan can’t implicate me in anything unless he lies.”
“And he never would do that, would he? Look, we know what you did. You set up his marks and you collected your cut.”
“I collected no cut.”
“I have a receipt for one $280,000 pay-off right here.” He waived the slip of paper at me I had Brendan sign. “How many more were there?”
“That was no pay-off! He just wanted to put some money in my safe. I made him sign that so I wouldn’t be responsible. Ask him.”
“You know, I don’t consider him a credible source. Where is the money, Quenton?”
“I gave it back to him! That’s the money he lost in
.” Las Vegas
“So you two say. Maybe you agreed to split it with him if he stays silent.”
“Silent about what?”
“All right, let’s pretend for a moment that you don’t know about the Gaffrey’s scheme. Let’s pretend you don't know all those real estate deals of his were fake. The documents were fake. The contracts were fake. The title insurance was fake. The 1040s he gave to the banks to show inflated income were fake. The properties all have real owners who never heard of Brendan Gaffrey. Word processors are very good these days at making convincing forgeries. All he did was pocket the investors' money and write fake totals on their accounts. He pocketed the cash.”
“But that’s crazy. Sooner or later you would run out of new investors and old ones will want their money back. It was bound to fall apart.”
“Of course. The idea in a Ponzi scheme is to disappear by then.”
“Who found out what was going on?”
“The Oldwick Bank did a routine check on some documents and found a problem. They thought it was a paperwork glitch at first, because deeds and contracts aren’t always recorded properly. The more they tried to clear it up, the worse it looked. They called in their loans.”
“And so the cascade started. How much money are we talking about?”
“Millions upon millions.”
“But this still has nothing to do with me.”
“I’m afraid it does. We are freezing your assets. They will be sold off to pay the investors in this scheme.”
“It’s not my scheme!”
“A jury may not agree, especially when they see this $280,000 receipt. A woman named Trudy Bechenforth is screaming for your blood. She makes a very convincing witness.”
Krentzler gestured to his associate with his right forefinger. The fellow leaned back, opened a desk drawer, and turned off a tape recorder.
“I’ll be honest with you Quenton. I don’t know what to believe about your role in all this. Maybe you are part of the ring, maybe not. Whatever you may think of me, I really don’t want to railroad an innocent person. What I can prove is that you received $280,000. Give it back and we’ll call it even.”
“I already gave it back!”
“You are not hearing me. Bring the $280,000, I tear up this receipt, and no charges will be brought against you. Or, I make a phone call to the judge and we take everything you own. You have one minute to decide. You now have 55 seconds.”
I was slow catching on, but I finally realized that, by bad luck, the two agents assigned to the case shared Gaffrey’s moral philosophy on the acquisition of wealth. I assumed they were atypical, but, if I complained to other agents, they would deny my accusations and follow through on their threat. I decided to make sure.
“Will a check do? Certified?”
“No checks. The money was in cash. Bring it in cash.”
I was sure.
“It may be difficult to get the banks to give me that much actual money.”
“Your problem. Get it. Don’t bring it here. Bring it to the parking lot at this address.” He scribbled a street address on a Post-it on his desk. He handed me the note. “You have until six.”
“But that barely gives me time even to get to my banks.”
“Then you better get rolling.”
I caused more than a little consternation at the banks with my sudden large withdrawals. I suffered heavy penalties on CDs.
I fought my way through brutal traffic down Route 206 to
. I reached the assigned parking lot at 5:57. A Ford sedan pulled alongside. Krentzler was on the passenger side. His associate was behind the wheel. Krentzler opened his window. I handed him the bag. Trenton
“Do you want to count it?” I asked.
“Nah, I trust you. Know why?”
“If I shorted you, you’ll deny the whole thing and bring charges against me anyway.”
“Skillful deduction. You may want to consider detective work.”
The car pulled away. Several minutes later I did too.
Since then, I have had to scale back my modest lifestyle. All lawsuits against me were summarily dismissed, but they still cost me attorney’s fees.
Brendan took the fall for Miranda as I expected. He denied she knew anything about his business. He was sentenced to ten years. She did not return to the
. United States
Six months after Brendan’s sentencing, while driving on Willow Avenue, I saw an Open House sign in front of their old house. George, the real estate agent, recognized me at once and beamed a smile. Not many people smile at me anymore, but he hadn’t been hurt in the affair. He led me around the house, including the remodeled kitchen. The kitchen was a sterile white, almost laboratorial, but all the equipment shouted expense.
“Strange they spent money on this when they knew they would have to leave,” I observed.
“Oh I don’t think they ever paid the contractor,” he answered.
“You know,” he spoke in a confidential tone, “the police never accounted for twelve million dollars. Brendan claimed anything missing had been spent, but that doesn’t seem possible. Rumors are that some people invested cash, so it may have been much more than twelve million.”
“I see. I suppose no one ever heard from Miranda again.”
“Yes. Her attorney served Brendan in jail with divorce papers – said it was best for the kids. He signed them.”
“Yes, I suppose he would.”
“The return address was in
Latin America somewhere.”
“She was from
“It was someplace else I think.”
?” Costa Rica
“That may have been it.”
To my mind, the twelve million dollar mystery was solved.
Gaffrey was a romantic figure in his own way, but that doesn’t make him alright in the end. Sacrificing oneself for love is one thing. Sacrificing others is quite another.
It took many months for me to find a new tenant. At last a psychic reader rented the space. I was pleased to have so much more honest a neighbor. I even submitted to a reading. The prediction of good fortune was pleasing enough, but the promise of romance I find ominous.