Sunday, November 05, 2006

Not Too Shabby

Here's what Tomcat wrote last night:


His Grandmother had been right. There was a perfect word for everything. If not, one should be made up. But schmuck was the perfect description of this person.

He wasn't an asshole; he wasn't a dickhead; he wasn't even a shithead. All of that would have indicated maliciousness. This one was a schmuck.

Grandpa had a different piece of wisdom to impart. "Put that down, idiot child, I told you not to touch it!" But he was a carpenter and Gran was a teacher.

The melting ice had diluted the Scotch more than he would have preferred. But sitting on the edge of the sink for half an hour had caused the inevitable. Foster had simple leaned against the wall of the stall.

A tap at the door followed by the timid but earnest voice of Mike Wagner brought him near to reality. "Mr. Foster, are you OK in there?"

"Just dandy, Mike". Jon Foster raised himself back squarely on the commode. "Is Cornwall still in my office?"

"Uh, yeah. He asked me to see if your were OK".


Jon Foster, age 49, MBA from the University of Hard Knocks, sole stockholder in a company that recycled computer monitors, stood and pulled up his shorts. After some thought and balancing, he pulled up his trousers and fastened his belt. Then he washed his hands and left the men's room for the long walk down the hall to his office.

He sat down in his worn chair, entwined his fingers on the top of his head, leaned back and closed his eyes.

"David, I understand what you've done. Can you tell me what you were thinking when you did it?"

"You mean the pension fund, Jon?"

"You stupid fuck, of course I mean the pension fund! What the hell else were we talking about when I turned pale and started drinking? What the fuck were you thinking?"

The sound of the glass hitting the wall over his shoulder was still echoing in his ears, but Cornwall was able to make out what his boss was yelling.

Wagner came running in. "Everyone OK?"

"Fine, Mike. David and I are just having a private conversation about the oil industry." Foster forced a weak smile. David Wagner closed the door without a word.

"OK. So you cut class and got laid the day they talked about diversification. Or you were hungover or something. Now fast forward for me and tell me why you placed thirty percent of the pension fund in Enron?"

"Well, it seemed that the market price of Exxon and Haliburtin was overpriced, so I figured we should take our gains and reduce our holdings in those companies. Oh, and Becthtel too."

Foster dropped his head to his chest.

"You know, David, I would have diversified away from those companies as well, at least over time. Moved some of the fund into socially conscious investments. I mean we're in the recycling business. But thirty percent of the fund in a single company? And it had to be Enron."

Cornwall was silent.

"No more than ten percent of the fund in any single segment; no more than five percent in any single company. That's how we've done it since the beginning. Take our gains at 15% and reinvest. That's what we have done since the beginning." Foster turned his head to the security monitor, which watched over the production line.

"You know," Foster pronounced, "I don't even want to pollute my consciousness with what you were thinking. Your office has a window onto the production floor doesn't it?"


"I want you to go back to your office and touch nothing. Do not touch the phone. Do not open e-mail. Do not shuffle a single piece of paper. Don't even think about reading the Wall Street Journal. Turn off the radio or CD or whatever you listen too. I want you to stare out the window at the production workers out there and just watch them for the rest of the day."
Foster leaned back. "You are to take no more than your usual hour for lunch, during which time you are forbidden to shoot yourself. If your life ends prematurely it will be my doing, not yours. When you come back, you are to park yourself at that same window and watch our people work. Imagine especially the older ones, and consider how many balls you've managed to cut off."

After an eternal silence, Wagner offered "The market price was climbing every week.

" I said I didn't want to hear it!"

Cornwall left without another word and did as he was told.

Jon Foster leaned back again and closed his eyes. Precious eyes. When he had been eight years old, he and a friend found an abandoned television set. It was a decrepit blank and white left along side the Dumpster in their apartment complex. Young Jon had missed the screen with his rock, but Kevin stood closer. When the screen exploded a shard of glass hit Kevin in the left eye. A smaller piece had lodge itself into Jon's cheek and sent him into a momentary panic.
Jon's scar was almost imperceptible, but Kevin was blind in one eye. Smashing the TV had been Jon's idea.

Now, the cathode ray tubes were removed from the casings by workers who had learned every inch of every model of monitor that had ever been manufactured. They knew what to touch and what could electrocute them with stored electricity. Each piece deconstructed on a bench in a deliberate perversion of an assembly line. The components were sorted and dropped into bins; the tubes themselves handled more carefully. The younger cavalier bench techs were convinced that Foster was being over cautious, but understood that rules were rules.

Each dissected piece was sorted into tubs and moved along a slow conveyer. The CRT's were slowly dropped into a sealed crusher. The materials were contained and the vapors were filtered. Nobody had ever been injured by a CRT that had been crushed.
The electronics were melted and distilled by chemicals safely sealed in closed vats. Plastic was melted and molded into bean-sized pellets. The Great Mother was spared a tiny bit of gouging in a search for new strategic minerals.
The margin in this business was small but adequate. It was also very volatile. The market for the recovered minerals changed daily. The value of recycled plastic only slightly outweighed the cost of making more, at least for some of his customers.
Ingots of recovered gold, silver and copper were molded and stored as the market fluctuated. The vile chemicals used to recover them from the guts of the deceased machines were filtered and themselves recycled.

The business stayed, usually, on the north side of the balance sheets. Timing was crucial and Jon Foster's sense of timing was better than most. The Air Force Academy had seen to that. When his Reserve Unit was called to Desert Storm, he demonstrated that it had not been lost.

"He was trying to maximize the pension fund. That’s all that schmuck was trying to do", he told himself. Then he prepared his coffee maker for the first of many hours of labor. Returning phone calls and e-mails had better wait for a bit.

His company's pension fund had been cut off at the knees. Elmer? No, don't call the lawyers yet. Steve? Why the hell wasn't his CPA calling him? What would General Billy Mitchell do? Screw that; they court-martialed Billy Mitchell. He knew what his father would have done, and he had already done that. Balls! Drunk and under fire, what the hell was I thinking? Not even noon. Damnation!

All he'd every wanted to do is save the world, was that so much to ask? Perhaps he should have become an architect like his older brother. Richard had been so revolted by their father's irresponsibility that he had changed his name back to the family's ancient German version: Faustus.

All that was water under the bridge. Now Jon was going to have to find a way to protect his people.

Wow! Tomcat did GOOD. Drink: Black Russians.

Here's what I came up with, which was a continuation of my WIP:

He knew solace wouldn't be found in the bottle this time. Anger sustained him for a while, until the shame set in. She'd only meant to help, and she'd offered him more than he'd had a right to expect. It's just that he had expected more. He'd expected love and romance and hot sex, and understanding and companionship and everything he'd kept out of his life since the divorce. He'd wanted it all, needed it all to come back, all at once, and he blamed Brandye when it didn't happen.

The shaking was under control by the time he'd showered and dressed. He walked across the landing to knock on her door and apologize, but she had gone. He thought of leaving a note, but what if that guy, Sean, came back with her and saw it? Nah, too humiliating.

He bought groceries, sorted the mail, put fresh sheets on the bed, tried to get back to normalcy after jail and being on the run. He couldn't think about the future just now, or he'd need another drink for sure.

Chapter 16

At Howard's in the morning, Mimosas were served all around by a bickering Arthur and Maria, but Gino declined.

Arthur was surprised. "God, what did they do to you?"

"I'll just have some water, please," Gino said.

Maria said, "I will get," and hurried off, returning with a cold Perrier.

Brandye was absent from the meeting, and since they hadn't asked about her, he assumed everyone knew what had happened between them.

"I propose a toast," said Howard, raising his glass. Danny, Maud-Ann, and Heather did the same. "To Gino, whom I was chasing long before it became fashionable."

Gino clinked their glasses with his Perrier and laughed. He had forced the laugh, and he thought it must have shown because there was an awkward silence afterward. Damn it. He wanted to make things right with Brandye, to gratefully accept her friendship like he should have done to begin with. And he sure as hell didn't want to be reminded of his criminal status.

"To Maud-Ann," Gino said, "without whom my sorry ass would still –" Without warning, Gino's voice faltered and he could not speak.

"Hear, hear," said Howard, and it was echoed around the room.

Maud-Ann said, "I'm dying to know what Danny's found out about all this. Let's get to it." She squeezed Gino's hand.

Howard gestured for everyone to be seated in his spacious Mission-style living room. "Danny?" he said.

Danny stood and pulled his Moleskine reporter's notebook from his inside jacket pocket. "Okay," he said, flipping pages, "I'll start with the victim's wife, Tammy Simms.

Drink: White Zinfandel