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Chapters 3 and 4 From Short by Cort McMeel

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Here are Chapters 3 and 4 from SHORT by Cort McMeel.  Now if you like these two you are going to love the book.  Pick up your copy today.

SHORT
M I LT  T H E  B R O K E R
Every day after the close, traders and brokers would emerge from the New

York Mercantile Exchange like a herd of water buffalo, weary, staggering,

and driven by thirst. The Admiral’s Cup was the bar where the traders went

to guzzle cheap beer and eat salted peanuts out of a huge, oaken keg that sat

in the corner. Nut shells littered the floor. Conversations at the Cup tended

to be loud, much louder than normal bar chatter. This was because many of

the traders were hard of hearing from years of shouting in the pits. Partial

deafness was not uncommon from constant exposure to extreme decibel

levels that occurred daily in the rallying and falling markets. One man

named Milt Harkrader spoke louder than anyone at the bar, but not because

he was deaf. Milt wore a cowboy hat and steel-toed wingtips. The hat was for

after work, his unwinding hat, the essence of his tobacco-chewing Texas per-

sona. The steel-toed wingtips were for work. If things got ugly around market

open or close, the shoes were good for staking out his place in the trading

pit. Shin wreckers, he called them.

Milt, like many other ten-gallon-hat-toting brokers in Manhattan, her-

alded from New Jersey. He needed the hat more than most because his

hairline now began behind his ears. Milt had always been a loudmouth.

Sometime after his divorce he had to have his jaw wired shut, the outcome

of a late-night brawl that had occurred at a 7-Eleven in Rahway. This helped

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Milt develop a new respect for strangers but didn’t stop him from talking so

loud in bars, especially around his coworkers and other people he suspected

wouldn’t take the time to kick his ass.

That Friday Milt Harkrader stood in the Admiral’s Cup, exhausted and

smelling like green onions. He was talking to two screen clerks and pointing

at a fat trader who was leaning against the bar.

—You know who should get a big bonus this year? Milt told the men.

—That guy’s belt, because that thing is fucking working.

The younger of the two screen clerks chuckled. The older one said in a

deadpan tone:

—Harkrader loves being an asshole.

By nine o’clock that night Milt was alone in the corner by the keg of

peanuts, nursing a beer. He was glad when his screen clerks had finally left

the bar. He was getting tired of entertaining them. Now alone, left to his

own thoughts, the sinking feeling in Milt’s guts became more pronounced.

The past week’s botched orders flashed through his mind, a run of bad luck,

a five- day curse. He was on the verge of losing some of his better clients. He

rolled the beer bottle between his hands, as if summoning a genie from a

magic lamp. But nothing came out except for more beer.

On Sunday Milt found himself in Atlantic City, standing by a craps table

at the Sands. He was thinking how he just needed one break. He needed the

clouds to part, so he could be allowed to grasp onto that one ray of sunshine,

that one beam of hope.

As Milt shook the dice, he felt the hard metal in his shoes against the top

of his big toe. Besides the cowboy hat, his steel-toed wingtips were the last

vestige of glory days machismo that Milt still allowed himself.

The croupier gave Milt a smarmy grin beneath a wispy, tan mustache.

—Slapnuts, said Milt as he rolled the dice.

Seven. He crapped out. Again. He swore he saw the dealer sneer.

—Hey chicken shit, yelled Milt. In a sudden motion he spread his arms

and spilled the drink of the gambler standing next to him.

—Yo, buddy, said a man in a purple Baltimore Ravens sweatshirt.

—Taste it, slapnuts, said Milt, trying to provoke the man. —Nice fucking

sweatshirt.

The man backed away and Milt could see the security guards in their

cheap suits already closing in.

For a gambling mecca, Atlantic City had pathetic strip clubs, something

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to do with the zoning. No beaver shots and the dancers had to have green

cards. The city elders wanted AC to be a family town. They imagined

beaches, boardwalks, cotton candy, and roller skaters. Stumbling out of the

Sands with a few remaining twenties in his wallet, Milt made his way across

the gray, trash-strewn streets of AC to the only decent go-go bar in town,

Club Chubby.

Last time Milt came to Club Chubby he had befriended a six-foot-tall

dancer. He had just come from a title bout featuring two out- of-shape

heavyweight fighters. They had spoken briefly at the bar before she went on

for her set. She had an interest in prizefighting and, as it turned out, took

kickboxing lessons.

On the way in a young bouncer gave Milt a disapproving look. Milt won-

dered if he was the one who’d thrown him out on his previous visit.

Club Chubby was a dark parlor shot through with the purple gloom of

halogen lights. Rows of fake bookbindings lined the walls to make it look

classy like a study from the eighteenth century. As soon as Milt took a seat,

a server wearing a tight bodice top and fishnet stockings came over and took

his order.

—Is Zorra around? Milt asked.

—Huh?

—Is Zorra around?

—No one around named Zorra.

—Six-foot-tall blonde? Takes kickboxing?

—You mean Nora, she said.

—Nora. Is she here tonight?

—She went to Georgia. Her daughter’s in the National Cheerleading

Finals.

Milt grunted his disapproval and then got up and left.

Making his way back to the bus station through the empty streets Milt

came upon a newly planted tree, about as wide around as a large grapefruit.

He hugged the base and pulled up with all his might. The moist earth gave.

He heaved again. Slaveship rower. Enraged Cyclops. The tree came up with

seeming ease. He carried it over his shoulder walking through desolate park-

ing lots.

As he approached the bus station, he hurled the tree into the street. It

landed roots first on the pavement, shedding dirt, and stood upright for one

moment before falling on its side. Milt had come from New York to AC on

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the train, business class, with money to spare. Now two thousand dollars

poorer, Milt wallowed in a fit of gambler’s self-loathing. His punishment: a

return home by bus.

The Atlantic City Bus Terminal at 3:00 a.m. was a graveyard of sleeping

drunks and penniless gamblers. The meandering glass-eyed bums were the

only ones with a hint of dignity.

Passed out on a bench was a trader who Milt often saw at AC, ape-man,

Ryan Hogan. Sitting beside him was some sustenance: a can of root beer, a

bag of cheese curls, and a pack of beef jerky. Hogan had been trying to con-

coct some kind of cheese curl beef jerky sandwich when he keeled over.

Milt went over and finished off his cheese curls. Parched, Milt took a sip

of the root beer. Only the root beer didn’t go down so well, because it wasn’t

root beer.

—Chew spittle, gagged Milt.

As the bus pulled out of the station Milt felt a fever coming on. His fore-

head beaded up with tiny droplets of perspiration. The back of the bus

where Milt and Hogan were sitting reeked of exhaust, BO, and the antisep-

tic from the latrine.

—Jesus, said Hogan, still groggy. —What a fucking night.

—Get smoked?

—No, not at the tables. I got shook down at the hospital.

Hogan’s tale was sordid after-hours nastiness. Milt’s eyes flickered with

interest as the pit trader relayed the story of a potbellied whore. She had

driven Hogan to a cheap motel in her broken- down Dodge Dart with imita-

tion white tiger-skin seat covers, sharing a bottle of gin and telling Hogan

the story of how she had evaded a murder/rape attempt by a Chinese serial

killer. An hour later, midcoital transaction, in a motel with a vibrating bed,

the whore received a call on her cell phone. It was an emergency that in-

volved her son being rushed to the hospital for a late-night asthma attack.

While waiting for her out in the parking lot, still ready for her to make fully

good on ser vices rendered, Hogan got approached by a pock-faced man with

skinny arms and a shamrock tattoo on his neck. The man announced him-

self as the whore’s husband. He didn’t pull a knife or a gun. He just stared

down the bigger man, made his intentions known, and relieved Hogan of

his wallet. The disappointed trader leaned back in his seat.

—I guess I had to hand it over, he said.

—The guy had the moral high ground. Pimp or husband, explained Milt.

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—Still, six eighty in cash, said Hogan.

—I like the girl’s style, responded Milt. —A Chinese serial killer.

—Guy left two twenties in my wallet and said “For the bus.”

—Taste it, said Milt.

Three hours later, at six o’clock Monday morning, Milt’s alarm clock went

off. At first he didn’t respond. Then he said in a calm voice, addressing the

alarm clock and the empty room:

—Fuck you.

Milt drifted off to sleep for some period of time, dreaming of two sick li-

ons being stalked in the empty stands of a football stadium by a ferocious

and powerful-looking green-eyed tiger. When he finally awoke he vaguely

remembered the dream and had an uneasy feeling in his belly. Milt then got

out of bed and took a long shower. Stepping out of the shower, he looked in

the mirror at the saggy jowls beneath his chin. He put his hands around

each side of his rotund belly. Monday, he thought, a school day. Before get-

ting on the PATH train to the city, Milt decided that he couldn’t make it

through the day unless he had a beer in him. Something to ease the cotton-

mouth and pain behind his eyes and general ache of alcoholic malaise that

creaked throughout his worn body. At the station package store Milt bought

a Budweiser tallboy, a distinctly American beer to start the workweek off on

the right foot. He boarded the 8:15 train with the beer wrapped in a paper

bag. During the commute Milt sipped away at his breakfast and watched the

underground tunnel pass by him in shafts of flickering light and darkness.

When the train came to the end of the line, Milt let out a soft belch and,

feeling somewhat better, crushed the tallboy and placed it under his seat.

Milt was sweating by the time he got off the elevator at the forty-ninth

floor of One World Financial Center. He made a halfhearted hustle through

the glass doors of NYMB. He hadn’t even made it down the row to his desk

on the floor when his boss, Dartmouth Collins, known as the Commander,

waved him over to the corner office. The offense of being late was not in the

Commander’s wheelhouse. However, chronic lateness, of which Milt was

guilty, certainly might hit the radar. Milt walked into the office. The Com-

mander sat behind his desk and shot the cuffs of his forest green Fendi suit.

The six-foot-three, well-pressed Commander stood in stark contrast to the

booze-reeking, bald, run- down Milt who shambled into the corner office

looking like someone who’d recently come down with a bad case of the flu.

The Commander’s tanned, tennis-player good looks, fine scent of expensive

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cologne, and coiffed mane of ash blond hair were all punctuated by a

crescent-shaped scar that ran from below the Commander’s earlobe to just

above his right eyelid, allowing him to emanate a hint of worldly menace.

Milt, however, was not intimidated, assuming the scar was obtained while

shucking lobster or other shellfish at a New England clambake.

—Have a seat, Milt, said the Commander, not offering a handshake.

Milt slumped into the chair and, smelling his own breath, realized he

needed a breath mint.

—Who do you cover at Allied Power? asked the Commander, nodding

his head pleasantly. Milt immediately knew that he wasn’t in trouble for

chronic lateness, and relaxed, taking a cavalier tone, relishing the experi-

ence of being in the corner office and not being braced for underperfor-

mance or some HR infraction.

—The young buck over there. Kid’s making waves. Name’s Joe Galla-

gher. One of my best clients.

—Right, that’s his name. You’ve done well by him. Your numbers are

back up where they belong, stated the Commander, flipping a paper clip

adroitly between his fingers.

—I’ve brought him along, said Milt, trying to take a little credit. —Got a

very solid relationship.

The Commander put down the paper clip.

—There’s some big news today. If you’d come in on time you would have

heard it.

Milt nodded his head, acknowledging the jibe.

—Randall Jennings is back in play. Allied Power hired him on Friday.

—Fascinating, said Milt.

—That’s right, said the Commander. —Your Gallagher trades the Texas

region.

—Yes. ERCOT, corrected Milt, using the technical term for the region.

—Jennings is going to be able to swing a big stick now with Allied Power

behind him and he loves ERCOT; little, illiquid hub he can bash around.

Gallagher will be his boy. Randall will run it and squeeze it. Lots of com-

mission for you, Milt: a real chance for you to shine if the kid makes you his

top broker.

—I’m on it. I’m on a plane to Beantown this week to wine and dine

the kid.

The Commander shook his head.

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—I don’t think so, Milt. Gallagher is a young guy, right? Tell you what.

You fly him down here. Show him a good time in the city. Make him your

buddy. And, Milt, spare no expense.

Milt coughed and then winced like he had to use the facilities.

—And Milt, you’re getting in with the kid to eventually get in with Jen-

nings. You know that, right? He’s the big fish.

—I got one problem, said Milt.

The Commander was already turning around to read the Journal. He

didn’t want to hear it. When the excuse came, it was more pathetic than the

Commander expected.

—It has to be next week, though, stumbled Milt. —I forgot. I got some

personal days this week. I’m going to Florida to see my son while he’s on

spring break for school.

The Commander opened up the Journal.

—Next week then, but book it with Gallagher today, said the Com-

mander in a resigned, tired voice, contemplating if he should take a sad sack

like Milt off the account.

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M I LT I N F L O R I DA
A seagull was perched on the railing outside the bar of the Don CeSar, a

famous pink Spanish stucco hotel. It peered in through the bay window, its

orange eyes unblinking, as if looking for someone. After some time the bird

hopped from the railing onto one of the empty tables on the balcony. The

bird stood there for a moment and then, seeming satisfied, walked in a circle.

Milt tilted his silver-gray Stetson back off his forehead. The seagull,

strutting on the balcony table, let out a contemptuous squawk. Milt watched

the bird and threw a handful of bar cashews in his mouth. Sounds like he’s

begging for money, thought Milt. The bartender stood with his back turned

to Milt, fiddling with a bottle. Milt frowned at the man’s cheap imitation

snakeskin belt.

—That shit can’t be sanitary, chimed Milt. The bartender turned

around. His face was weather-beaten and tanned except where the rolls of

fat met on his neck, leaving two white strings of flesh untouched by the

Florida sun. The bartender had made a sloppy piña colada, turned his back

on Milt, and hadn’t refreshed the bowl of cashews.

—Can I get you another drink, sir? asked the bartender.

—You guys always let the birds shit on those outside tables? Because if

that’s the case, I don’t know if I’m coming in here anymore. I mean maybe

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this glass I’m drinking from was crapped in just the other day. I could catch

a serious disease. Or worse.

—The gulls are a part of the ecosystem down here, sir. And I assure you

we wash everything down twice at the end of the night.

Milt silently contemplated the bartender’s answer, gauging it for any

smart-ass remarks or taunts. Milt nodded his head slightly. The bartender

had made an attempt at manners. Still, Milt decided he didn’t like anyone

who used the word “ecosystem.”

—How about another piña colada with a decent amount of rum in it?

And try not to fill it right to the top. It spills and I hate that coconut sugary

shit all over my hands.

Milt looked through the bay window. White crests of waves disappeared

into the black surf, only to rise again. The fronds of the palm trees whipped

about in the wind like frantic tails. The sky seemed darker than usual,

crowned with looming clouds. Milt looked back at the table on the balcony.

The seagull was gone.

Milt’s ex-wife, Debby, was ten minutes late. She refused to let Milt take

her to dinner in the main dining room. She insisted instead that they meet

in the bar. After all, in her reasoning, they had first met in a bar and she

could afford to split the bill there. She didn’t want to give Milt any ideas that

she was fishing or hard up for cash.

Debby wore her one nice work suit, a chocolate brown Ralph Lauren,

matched with a pair of tweed shoes. It was her lucky suit. She sat next to

Milt at the bar. She had intended to shake Milt’s hand as a gesture of profes-

sionalism and friendship but Milt slid a drink in front of her.

—Drink this, he said. —I’ve been here two hours schooling our boy here

on how to make a piña colada. He finally got one right.

Debby could already feel his hands in his words. They slithered over her

like they were groping her. Milt had that effect, she thought; he could feel

you up by merely offering you a cocktail.

—Nice to see you, too, Milt, she said.

—Sell any condos today? asked Milt.

—Work sucks, baby. Can we talk about Aaron?

Milt raised his own glass.

—To the boy then.

Debby hesitated and then picked up the drink.

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—Cheers, she said. —To our boy.

Milt tried to flag the bartender down for some appetizers. He’d seen

some coconut shrimp and raw blue point oysters on the menu.

—Milt, we’ll eat after.

—Like last time, he said, and put his hand on her thigh.

Debby shook off his hand and let out an exasperated sigh. She pulled out

some paperwork—an application, a brochure, and some information leaflets.

Then she handed them to Milt, inundating him with paper.

—These are for you. This is Aaron’s new school. It’s expensive. Twenty-

five K a year.

—Whoa! You’re not dropping this shit on me now. On my one weekend

to visit the kid.

—You ask him tomorrow. The public junior high school down here

is  bad. It’s not Newark or Detroit but it’s bad. And, well, Aaron’s not

adjusting.

Milt tugged at his belt buckle.

—It’s because his stepdad is a redneck, racist cop. Ignorant fuckhead.

Debby could feel the anger coming off Milt like a red steam. She wanted

to defend her husband, Curt Long, a state trooper, a decent man with none

of Milt’s vices, but she needed Milt. She needed his money. She touched

the back of Milt’s hand. He calmed instantly.

—What do you want me to say, Milt?

—What’s wrong? asked Milt. —Is he failing out? Or is he getting his ass

beat?

Milt knew the answer. He felt himself shrinking in his stool until he was

three inches tall. His son, his skinny, bright, funny, sarcastic kid catching

beatdowns from bigger, stronger, meaner kids.

Debby said something too soft for Milt to hear. All the alcohol in his

system was either going to make him very brave and great or he was going to

weep like a baby. He put his fist into his hand.

—I’ll fucking kill all those motherfuckers, screamed Milt at the top of

his lungs.

—Hey! shouted the bartender from the end of the bar, hunched over a

martini shaker. Two or three other patrons stared up from their drinks.

—My wife’s cancer has been misdiagnosed. She’s going to die, said Milt

loudly. —I’m sorry about the F bomb.

A few people mumbled “sorry” back to Milt and Debby. They kept star-

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ing for a moment, out of morbid curiosity, wondering if Debby was the

woman marked for death.

Milt refocused on the task at hand. He leafed through the brochure: St.

Paul’s Episcopal High School. There were pictures of students in white lab

coats and safety goggles holding beakers above a Bunsen burner, an artsy

shot of a modern library that looked like a spaceship, a photo of male stu-

dents dancing in tights, a nice sports panorama featuring a football field,

track, and eight tennis courts. The last picture was the kicker. They had a

planetarium.

—A planetarium, said Milt, stunned. —How about that?

—Milt, baby, Debby said, touching his hand again. —Aaron needs this.

—I’d like to go and kill just one, just one of those kids that are picking on

my boy, said Milt, putting down the brochure. —But your boyfriend would

probably arrest me.

—You know, Milty. You’re his daddy, said Debby, ignoring the comment

about her husband. —Aaron knows that.

Milt grabbed her hand and picked it up. He kissed her knuckle.

—I used to be your daddy.

Debby pulled her hand down, still clutching Milt’s. It was waist level,

the handshake she’d been looking for on greeting him.

—Can you do it, Milt? Can you promise this?

Milt wasn’t going to make the mother of his child beg, although he was

trying to find a way quickly before the interview ended to somehow interest

her in a drink, a conversation, a walk on the beach.

—Done, he said. —It’s already paid.

Debby picked up the brochure and sundry papers and stuffed them in

her bag. She got up from the stool and stood stiffly in front of Milt.

—You were a cheat, Milt. But you’re a good father. I got to give you credit

for that.

She felt if she were honest and upright, she could inspire some honor in

the man.

—I was a cheat. Now I’m lonely and middle-aged. Won’t you come for a

walk on the beach with me? It’ll be like the boardwalk in Wildwood. Only

nicer.

Debby fixed her stiff peroxide blond hair with one hand.

—No, Milty. That is not going to happen, she said.

Milt lifted his drink. For a moment he considered humility, saying

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something witty and self- deprecating, that his ex-wife might appreciate his

maturity, be proud that she had given birth to his child. But he imagined

her state trooper husband with his long, narrow face and blank expression,

the dead, gray, close-set eyes that displayed a vacancy somewhere beyond

stupid, and he chose instead to please himself.

—Give my best to Robo Cop. He carries a gun but he can’t pay the bills.

All cock and no balls, said Milt, putting his drink to his lips and already eye-

ing a heavyset fifty-year- old redhead who had just rolled into the bar.

At eleven o’clock the next day Aaron requested that Milt take him to his fa-

vorite lunch joint, Cawley’s Cove. It was a hamburger shack right on the

beach just a five-minute stroll from the Don CeSar. Milt and Aaron sat down

on one of the wood picnic-style tables complete with rust- colored chipped

paint. It was a dive compared to the other faux French Riviera cafes of St.

Pete Beach with their wrought-iron chairs, cream- colored embroidered nap-

kins, and little white fences keeping out the sand from their patios. No, his

boy had chosen the one beach shack that most resembled the places where

he’d spent summers eating zeppole with Milt on the Jersey Shore.

—Dad, you look like a total tourist.

—You don’t like my shirt? Tommy Bahama is the thing back home.

—I’m talking about your cheesy flip-up sunglasses. And your nose is all

white. You got to rub in the sunblock more.

—I need my nose, said Milt. —I can be uncool for a day. Skin cancer

lasts a lifetime.

Aaron slurped at his Coke and nodded. Milt figured Aaron’s stepdad

didn’t have many good one-liners. Milt hoped he’d come up with at least two

or three more keepers for his son to repeat ad nauseam to Debby and Trooper

Long. Milt bit into his cheeseburger. He was in the middle of chewing his

way through an aggressive-sized bite when he saw her, the redhead from last

night, walking toward him and his son. In the light of day her legs were

twice as large as he remembered and pocked with cellulite that moved on

its own.

—Hi Milt, she called, waving.

He raised his hand and waved it like a drowning man, a salute of the

bewildered. He choked down his burger and took a sip of Coke while trying

to remember her name.

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—Heya, Kathy.

—You guys just having some burgers? This place is my favorite. I’ve

eaten lunch here each day.

Her eyes were bright blue and seemed a touch mournful shrouded in the

shade of her wide-brimmed straw hat. Her hair fell to her shoulders. It was

an iridescent scarlet with purple highlights when the sun caught it at a cer-

tain angle. Milt introduced his son and Kathy leaned forward and shook his

hand.

—I’m taking my son up to Epcot today, explained Milt. —We got a little

bit of a ride ahead of us.

—Such a beautiful day. Too bad you have to spend it in a car.

Milt nodded in agreement, but said nothing, his mouth full again.

Kathy stood there for a moment stroking a hand over a freckled shoulder, as

if caressing a sunburn. When Kathy looked toward Cawley’s menu board,

Milt made a hand gesture for his son to finish his hot dog.

Before she could tell Milt that she was staying for another three days, he

and his son were already by the trash can, disposing of their waste. Milt

made a big deal of shooing away the hornets and did not turn to face her.

Milt and his son made their way up the beach back toward the hotel.

They walked for some time in silence. The echo of the surf rumbled across

the glinting white sand.

—I didn’t know we were going to Epcot today, Dad.

Caught in an improvised lie, Milt made the best of it.

—It’s a haul. But I thought you always wanted to go there.

—Oh, man, said Aaron. —You bet. Curt says Epcot is for losers. No way

he’d ever pay for gas money from St. Pete.

—Losers worry about gas money. We’re going to fucking Epcot, said

Milt, secretly reveling in the fact that he’d delivered yet another classic one-

liner that was sure to be repeated.

He put out his hand and his son high-fived him. Then Aaron took two

bounding leaps over the hot sand. His skinny legs moved with an athleti-

cism that Milt had not formerly seen in his son. Aaron plopped down in

front of Milt and threw a light jab at his belly. Milt deflected it with a hairy

forearm. But the kid has no jab, thought Milt sadly.

—Who was that lady, Dad? Did you meet her at the hotel?

—She’s my maid, said Milt. —This must be her day off.

Milt bought his son a beer in Germany but some greasy-haired kid fresh

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out of his teens in his German Epcot Staff alpiners hat appeared at their

table and confiscated Aaron’s mug. The manager of the tavern, a middle-aged

man in khaki pants and white oxford shirt with the Epcot logo, came over a

moment later and told Milt that if he tried it again he’d be asked to leave the

park. Father and son sat at the faux Bavarian bar table, eating their brats.

—The world’s gone pussy, said Milt.

—Dad, I’m not twenty- one. It’s illegal. What did you expect?

—This is over your head. This is all about insurance companies and le-

gal torts and shit. You’ll see when you get older. But don’t worry, I’ll buy you

a beer in China. Nobody knows this, but the Chinese make good beer. It

isn’t heavy like this shit.

—Dad, they’ll kick us out.

—I’d like to see them try, said Milt.

—This is Epcot, said Aaron. —I bet they have photo imaging with face

recognition technology. Besides, Dad, at the very least they radioed your

description ahead to the other stations. With that shirt and your cowboy hat

it’s not like you are low profile.

Milt flicked his son’s left ear with a snapping middle finger.

—What’s wrong with you? I’m trying to buy you a beer, huh?

Milt took a sip from his foamy mug.

—I got to figure out how to pay for that school. Yah. That St. Paul’s. You

going to make it worth my while?

—I’d like to go there if you and Mom can afford it, said his son.

—Just do good when you get there. And remember me when you’re a

lawyer. I’m going to need someone to look after me in my twilight years.

Milt bit into his bratwurst. Some of the juices squirted out onto his shirt

and some ran down his chin. He wiped his face with the back of his hand.

—You know that wrinkle you have on your forehead, Dad, said Aaron.

Milt munched and with his thumb rubbed the single deep, straight cre-

vasse above his brow. It looked like someone had attempted to sharpen their

ax on Milt’s skull.

—My friend, Zach, saw a picture of you and he said your wrinkle looked

exactly like one that Pablo Picasso had. He thought you looked intense and

wondered if you were an artist or something.

Milt washed down his brat with some more beer. After two gulps, he

pointed at his son with a thick finger and said:

—Don’t you butter my ass with Pablo Picasso. I don’t want no con jobs.

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If I send you to this school, you’re going to go to college and get a real job:

doctor, lawyer, banker. You flake out on me and I’ll beat your ass worse than

those kids at Tampa Junior High.

Milt put his hatbox with the Stetson in the overhead bin. He then plunked

down in the aisle seat and massaged his temples. Someday he’d retire here

in sunny Florida and be near the kid and the palm trees and the white sandy

beaches. Milt decided that if he had the money, he was going to live at the

Don CeSar. It was a rococo pink Spanish castle; a Vegas-inspired atrocity.

Milt liked the idea of living in the four-star pink hotel. It suited a man who

wore a silver-gray cowboy hat and had an affinity for baggy Hawaiian shirts.

Those poor shits in New York City who choked through life with the gray

smoke in their eyes, barraged with scampering rats, insolent pigeons, ma-

niac cabdrivers, the screech of trains, the blaring of sirens, the ugly crush of

humanity rubbing and pushing and fighting one another as the roaches

thrived and sat perched on the back of your chair, mocking you, as you ate

dinner in an expensive four-star restaurant. Fools, thought Milt. Then imag-

ining a single palm tree, he was overcome with happiness and shut his eyes.

Ten minutes or so after takeoff, Milt opened his eyes. Without hesitat-

ing, Milt pushed the flight attendant call button. She appeared almost im-

mediately, a tired-looking thirty-something brunette with pretty green eyes

that were offset by a prematurely wrinkled mouth. Probably a smoker, thought

Milt.

—May I help you? she asked.

—I’d like a Jack and Coke and also a pen and paper, if you have it.

She returned quicker than expected and Milt overtipped her. He

thought for a few moments more about the Hunt Brothers. In 1979 they had

effectively cornered the silver market. The economy had been ripe for a sil-

ver boom. Oil prices had been high, the dollar had been devalued due to

the recession. The Hunts had speculated they could take silver up to forty

dollars. They then went out and bought up all the physical silver they could

get their hands on: bullion stored in banks; mining operations in Mexico,

Peru, New Zealand, and Kazakhstan; as well as coins, currency, whatever.

Once they commanded a big presence in the market share of the world’s

physical silver, they began to push the paper.

It wasn’t long before all the shorts were clamoring to cover and the

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Hunts pushed the futures up in their faces, ruining many speculators and

sticking it to the investment banks whose traders had sold prematurely.

It had almost worked, but for the age- old maxim: Don’t piss off the

wrong people. The Hunts had effectively cornered the market but they’d

taken the price action too far. The scheme unraveled. The predators be-

came the patsy. First, the Hunts ran into oil tycoon Armand Hammer, who

brought all his big forces to play in shorting silver. Second, the Hunts be-

came targets of the brokerage and trading firms who were getting killed on

margin though they were long silver. Too many important people had lost

too much money and the Hunts’ score was considered little better than sto-

len property. Politicians who lunched with brokerage firm partners, their

fellow members at the Winged Foot Club and the Metropolitan Club,

learned, over lobster rolls and escargots, of the Hunts’ egregiousness, and it

wasn’t long before the government investigators and FBI had their snouts

in the silver pot pie fiasco.

Milt felt something lodged in between his molars, a piece of food or

small fish bone. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and removed his busi-

ness card. He then began flossing his teeth with the card but it didn’t work,

the card was too thick. Using his tongue, he tried to push the particle out,

but that didn’t work either.

Finally, Milt stopped trying and took the piece of paper the flight atten-

dant handed him and wrote down some names:

Joe Gallagher=Randall Jennings (the Ghost)

Stan Couch

The Hunt Brothers had been traders. If two or more traders, in collusion,

try to corner a market, they’ll eventually get caught. All the price action is a

result of their buying. It becomes blatantly apparent who is moving the mar-

ket. But Milt was not a trader, he was a broker, the middleman who executed

trades for them. If he could convince Gallagher and Couch, separately, that

the other was trying to short the summer futures contract in ERCOT, they

would both sell it down and send prices to new lows. ERCOT was the per-

fect market for this ploy, small and illiquid.

His plan was simple: Get the heavy hitters on board and then front run

them with his own private account.

Milt had one big name who was already short: Stan Couch. But with

Randall Jennings, otherwise known as the Ghost, behind him, Joe Galla-

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gher would now be a factor. The Ghost would make Gallagher swing a big

book. Once they both started selling the two could send prices south and

create a short squeeze among the utilities, who were already net long off

their generation units. Milt realized his own stake had to be sold early in the

over-the- counter (OTC) market and through an anonymous third party.

Once he sold a small, but still viable, portion of the summer contract, he’d

implement his plan. The two big traders would crush the market and Milt

would buy back at a lower price and collect his winnings.

It wasn’t exactly illegal, thought Milt, because it would be nearly impos-

sible for the Feds to prosecute, since it wasn’t Milt himself shorting the

markets. However, the plan wasn’t foolproof either. If the traders spoke to

each other they might discern Milt’s front-running scheme. The more likely

scenario in Milt’s mind was that he would use his Svengali-like brokering

powers and succeed in luring the two big traders into a pitched selling

frenzy of coerced collusion.

The chance of them talking to each other and discerning Milt’s hand at

play, the one true risk, was very small in Milt’s mind. Traders by nature are

suspicious of each other. Furthermore, he knew that the Ghost and Stan

Couch were sworn enemies who’d worked across from each other at Pied-

mont Power in the early days, so the chance of them speaking was nonexis-

tent. Milt tapped his wingtips with a certain glee. He felt like the troll under

the bridge in that fairy tale, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Only this time,

thought Milt, the billy goats are going to get milked.

Milt put the piece of paper in his pocket. He thought conservatively he

could make five dollars on three “pieces” of the summer contract, which

was listed as NQ on the NYMEX floor. This would equate to about a half

million dollars, a humble amount that wouldn’t hit the Fed radar screen. It

wouldn’t get him a lifetime suite at the Don CeSar, but it would more than

pay for the kid’s education. After all, why should Milt’s good fortune mostly

benefit the Commander and the other higher-ups who made off with the

lion’s share of Milt’s commissions?

Milt sat back in his seat and drank his Jack and Coke. Then four more

after that. He put down his fourth drink and felt it again, the piece of food

still lodged in his teeth. Determined, he flicked at it with his tongue. Finally,

more tired than annoyed, he got up and made his way back to the bathroom.

After some time spent attacking the foreign object stuck in his gum line

with his craggy, bitten- down thumbnail, it came loose. Milt held it aloft

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between his thumb and forefinger. Under the fluorescent light of the air-

plane bathroom, it looked for a moment like it was a tiny, translucent fish

bone. When he held it up closer to the mirror, he realized it was a single,

wiry, white hair.

—A pussy hair, exclaimed Milt.

It brought Milt back to that Friday night in his hotel room at the Don

CeSar. Milt was a haggard forty- one but Kathy had been much older.

Maybe, Milt thought, his oldest ever. She’d had a bad back and had asked

Milt to put a pillow under her coccyx before he fucked her. She also had

slathered a certain gel in her vagina that had made Milt’s cock turn red and

tingle with a burning sensation. The gel had smelled and tasted like mint.

Milt put the hair in his pocket and decided that he had wronged her by tell-

ing his son that she’d been a hotel employee. Milt thought, maybe, when he

retired, he’d give her a call some day and buy her a nice dinner. He at least

owed her that.

On the way back to his seat, an obese woman who had been talking

loudly the entire flight stopped Milt with a soft, white hand. Her fingers

were adorned with an array of rings, featuring platinum bands and exotic

gemstones, turquoise and amber. She wore a brightly patterned scarf woven

through her auburn hair. With her technicolored ensemble and large dark

eyes, the woman could’ve been mistaken for a gypsy, if her clothes hadn’t

been high-priced designer fashion.

—You look familiar to me, she said. —Don’t I know you?

Milt juxtaposed this woman in his mind with Kathy the sexagenarian

redhead. They trade about flat, thought Milt. He reached for his wallet to

grab the remaining business card that he hadn’t used as a toothpick.

—I’m sure you know me, replied Milt, slightly drunk, extending his

hand. —My name is Pablo Picasso.

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John is a badass motha fucka

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