New York. April 23, 1980.
Louis Visconti was a happy man. Alone at his massive glass topped desk on the fifty-sixth floor of the south tower of The World Trade Center, he stared pensively in the direction of the windows, refusing to allow his steely grey eyes to focus on anything. He reflected on his considerable achievements. Thirty-three years of age, ten years out of Harvard Business School, and already a multimillionaire, he figured his income for the year would be between two and three million, his lofty projection based on annualizing outstanding results of the first half of the year.
His personal spending had increased in proportion to his considerable investment successes. With every reason to believe the cash flow would continue forever, there was no need to save. The cost of most anything he wanted was irrelevant. Image and profile were everything. When he threw a party, his only concern was how lavish he could make it. No expense was spared to make certain it was more ostentatious than any he had attended. There were women in his life, but only one of his relationships had ever reached critical mass, the price of love and commitment refusing to allow that threshold to be breached. Money was his real lover, possessions and power his consuming passions.
Finally realizing his dream of becoming one of the most important figures in New York’s financial community, his picture had not only appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, but also in the financial sections of most important newspapers in the industrialized world. His brilliant and phenomenal investment record had become legendary. He was the man, in demand. Movers and shakers stumbled over one another to be and seen in his company. His schedule had become so tight that he was compelled to turn down numerous invitations to speak at luncheons, dinners and conventions in North America, Europe and Asia.
His brief experience with marriage was an unmitigated disaster, fortunately ending before wealth and children. He was strikingly handsome and extremely eligible, the only child of near penniless Italian immigrants who had fled to the United States in late 1946. He frequently boasted about the source of his survival instincts by claiming that both he and his mother had narrowly escaped death when she gave birth to him within minutes of her arrival at Ellis Island.
Blessed with a brilliant mind and fanatical ambition, he had scratched and clawed his way through public and high schools in Queens. Hustling, working and studying hard eventually earned him a near full ticket scholarship at Harvard Business School. His lucky break was to have been offered a full partnership with his two friends and former classmates, Jerry Mara and Allen Griesdorf. Seven years earlier, the three had taken an enormous gamble when they quit the relative security of their jobs as account executives with Green, Waltrum, a large and extremely prestigious Wall Street investment banking firm. With the horsepower of youthful courage and a boatload of borrowed money, they boldly formed their own company.
Mara, Griesdorf and Visconti grew quickly. The partners took a pass on ordinary money. They romanced and managed only wealthy money in a single investment fund. From the very beginning they had set an unrelenting minimum per account of five hundred thousand dollars. By investing the bulk of the fat portfolios in tangible assets during the highly inflationary seventies, they had enriched their clients and achieved personal success beyond their wildest dreams.
As word of the company’s brilliant investment techniques and incredible track record spread, more clients came, anxious to receive the twenty-plus percent annual return others had enjoyed for five consecutive years. Now that the partners were managing over a billion dollars, the fund had become unwieldy. Closing it and refusing further entry was now well within the partners’ contemplation.
Visconti displayed a lecherous smirk as he watched Susan, his secretary, a shapely twenty-eight year old brunette, enter his office.
“I have a call for you on line eight,” she announced with a fetching smile, then placed a black coffee mug on Visconti’s desk.
“Who is it?” Visconti asked, refusing to shift his grey eyes from Susan’s tantalizing breasts.
“Alfred Schnieder. He’s calling again from Caracas… You know him?”
Visconti nodded. “One of the old-time banking farts. Been around since Methuselah was a teen-ager.”
“Want me to tell him you’re busy?”
Visconti took a micro sip of his coffee, then shook his head. “Nope. I’ll take it. Thanks for the coffee.” He lifted his receiver, then forced a smile. “Alfred, thanks for calling. What’s shaking?”
“I have clients for you.”
Visconti tightened his lips and rolled his eyes skyward. “Don’t do me any favors. I need more clients like I need another wife.”
“But these are not ordinary clients.”
“What makes them different?”
“Over three hundred million reasons.”
Visconti bolted upright and immediately began to salivate. “How much?” he shouted.
“I believe you heard me the first time.”
“Who are they? You said clients.”
“I had the distinct impression you had no interest.”
“Well suddenly I do. Who are they?”
“The ownership is quite complex. I’m compelled to tell you it’s hot money.”
“If it’s In God We Trust, I don’t give a shit what the temperature is.”
Schnieder chuckled. “Am I to assume you’re interested?”
“That’s a gigantic understatement! Jesus, Alfred, who the hell are these people?”
“Shortly, you will receive a telephone call from a man named Mike King. He will arrange a meeting with you to determine your qualifications to manage that vast sum of money.”
“Is he one of the clients?”
“Yes. His wife was married to the man who accumulated the money. Currently, it’s under my care and control, but the wretched calendar never lies. Soon I will be too old to continue the responsibility. That is the primary reason I have referred you to Mike King. If he approves of you, I will make the necessary arrangements to transfer the responsibility to you.”
“What’s your fee?”
“One percent on the capital, and ten percent of real annual gains in excess of ten percent.”
“Visconti completed a quick mental calculation and salivated more. He wondered however, why Schnieder had chosen him. “Why me, Alfred?” he asked.
“Elementary, my friend. You are the most qualified,” Schnieder conceded, well aware of Visconti’s larcenous tendencies.
“Cut the bullshit! What’s in it for you? I know you’re not doing this for the good of your health.”
“As perceptive as ever, Louis… I want my retirement to be as comfortable as possible. If King gives you the job, I plan to give you the number of my bank account in Geneva. Then before we complete the transfer of responsibility, I will expect to see the balance increased by five million.”
“I’m sure you will. Maybe you can tell me where the hell I’m going to get five big ones.”
“From the trust, my friend. Your first assignment will be to arrange five million of transitional slippage. Of course it will have to be replaced with first proceeds… Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Exquisite,” Visconti declared, chuckling at the irony of Schnieder’s proposition. Five million dollars would be removed from the trust during the transfer, wired to Schnieder’s Swiss account, then replaced with future income in the trust. Subsequently, the accounting would be cooked to hide the removal. “You need me to help you to steal five million dollars of stolen money.”
“Precisely, my friend. I prefer to think of it as an interest free loan, to be used for the balance of my useful life… I expect King will call you very soon. When he does, you must be prepared to romance him.”
“I’ll be ready. You can bank on it.”
“Good pun… One final word of advice. Beware of interest rates. They are heading north.”
“When and how far north?”
“Soon. Bankers are living in fear of Paul Volcker’s intentions. They’re convinced he’s serious about killing inflation. They think he’ll raise Prime to twenty percent, perhaps higher. With twelve percent inflation in the United States, you can draw your own conclusions. Real rates must climb well above historic norms to break inflationary psychology. You know that.”
“Thanks again, Alfred. I’m gonna start liquidating. I’ll talk to you soon.”
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