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Seven Degrees of Bogus

by Ilan Herman

part 5 of 6

The Tingle

I drooled when Amazon dove to 34 bucks a share. I knew it wouldn’t go any lower.

I bought a million bucks. I cashed in a year later when Amazon was up to 85. I like Amazon, God bless their cyber conglomerate, and I could’ve waited longer to cash in, but enough is enough. My million got me 2.5 million, and I didn’t get my nails dirty.

Betting on the stock market isn’t about money, at least not for me. I rode the financial tsunami and came to rest on the Pacific jewel of Nosara, Costa Rica, a sandy shore where sea turtles come to nest. I built my house there, and hoped to die in that house when my time came.

You may ask why I was privileged to such a luscious lifestyle. I never planned to get rich. Back in ’86, I inherited 5,000 bucks, according to my beloved uncle’s last will and testament. The money was tied up in stocks, mainly in Microsoft, a small company that went public the same year for 21 bucks a share. The lawyer said I should keep the investment ’cause the market is moving up. I had no idea what he meant, but he sounded okay.

I kept my job as a substitute teacher, saved my pennies and took a cool summer trip to Mexico. I came back to a quarterly report saying my 5k was now 50k. I called the lawyer to check where the accounting error had taken place.

“No error,” he said with glee. “I’m gonna leverage ten million and you’re gettin’ in on the action.”

“How can I trust you?” I asked.

“You can’t. I’m a lawyer, but I ain’t gonna steal your money.”

“I can live with that,” I said and hung up. The guy was possibly foolish but I sensed he wasn’t deranged, and he definitely knew what he was talking about.

Six months later the lawyer called and snickered. “You made two million.”

That’s how it started. I’m a Microsoft millionaire.

I’m not trained in financial ways, but I made more money, lots more. I staggered through cocaine, rolled down an alcoholic slope, found sanctuary between women’s thighs, and when Bill Gates, the master of my fortune, went philanthropic, I did too, and gave away most of my profits to worthwhile NGO’s. If you have a few extra shekels, I advise you give them to the poor, but I won’t preach.

Actually, maybe I will. Here it goes: The U.S. military-industrial complex is the most evil entity ever invented by man. I hate the military-industrial complex, much as President Eisenhower did, and he was a four-star general.

Anyway, I decided never to have more than a million in the bank. Go ahead, flail at my bourgeois conduct, but last year I made about 12 million, and donated 90%. Put that in your pipe and smoke it before you call me a selfish bastard. I have yet to figure out why I was privileged to ride the Microsoft wave. Call it destiny. Money begets money, unless you’re Mike Tyson.

I lived a comfortable and humble life in Nosara. The local community loved me. I helped pay the town’s bills and had earned their trust and loyalty. I had nothing left to wish for. I don’t mean that to sound sad. Having nothing to wish for is good: leaves time to appreciate the is.

Two days after I cashed in my Amazon stock, I was walking to the beach to watch the sunset when a white van pulled up beside me. Two masked men pulled me into the back seat and placed a hood over my head. “You speak, you die,” said a deep voice.

I stayed still and quiet, each trembling breath a gift from eternity. The van chugged to a halt. Still wearing the hood and short of breath I was shoved into a structure and pushed into a chair. The hood was snatched off my head and with it a clump of my thinning hair. My heart beat like a sledgehammer.

A muscular square-jawed man with a crew cut and the frosty-blue eyes of a killer stood over me and said, “How do you know?” A scar ran down his right cheek, from under his eye to the bottom of his chin.

“Know what?” I asked. I was so scared I would’ve gladly licked his toes if he asked me to do so.

“Where the money goes.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.” My voice shook with mortal fear.

The man leaned into me. “Don’t screw with me.”

“I’m not!” I yelled, about ready to lose bladder control.

My interrogator slapped my face and screamed, “Don’t lie!”

Red-faced with shame, I watched warm urine trickle down my legs and puddle on the concrete floor.

The scarred man stepped back and laughed. “Namby-pamby mama’s boy,” and slapped my face and yelled, “How do you know?”

I started to cry. What the hell was he talking about?

The man crossed his thick arms over his chest. “How do you know where the money goes?”

Suddenly I knew what he was after. “You want to know how I make money in the stock market?”

My interrogator rolled his icy-blue eyes and huffed, “Finally comin’ around dickbrain.”

My heart settled a bit, I sat up in the chair. “No need for cussing and hitting. Didn’t they teach you in training that torture doesn’t work?”

The cruel man leaned into me. From close up, the whites of his eyes were tinted murky yellow and pink. “Torture works,” he whispered. “Want me to pull out one of your fingernails? It’ll be fun. I promise.”

I clenched my fists. “That won’t be necessary.”

He sat in the metal chair across from me and said, “You never made a bad trade. How come?”

I shrugged. “What’s the big deal? There’s lots of traders like me out there.”

“No one has your track record.” The man sounded almost cordial.

I frowned. “I don’t believe you, makes no sense.”

The scarred man reached for the folder on the table and opened it. He scanned the pages for a moment and said, “Your ratio of profit to investment is the best on Wall Street. No one knows better than you when to buy and when to sell.” He slammed shut the folder. “How do you know?”

I sensed he was honest about my monetary talent. I shrugged. “I get a tingle.”

He leaned forward in his chair. “Where?”

“In the back of my neck.”

My inquisitor smiled a missing front tooth. “You get a tingle in the back of your neck.”

“I do. I swear I’m tellin’ the truth.”

“I know you’re tellin’ the truth,” he said. “I’m not as dumb as you look.”

“That’s a Laurel and Hardy line,” I said and, somewhat at ease, then asked, “Who are you?”

“The one who’ll kill you if you don’t behave.”

“That’s not funny,” I said, once again a trapped mouse.

The scarred man stood up and paced the room. “You want funny? Watch Seinfeld. Here’s the deal. You keep doing what you do and give us eighty percent or we snuff you. Casinos in Vegas don’t care for card counters and we don’t like it when someone makes more money than us.”

“Who’s we? Who’s us?” I asked.

“You’ll never know and don’t try to find out unless you have a death wish.”

I was getting tired of his crap. You don’t threaten to kill the goose laying the golden eggs. “Eighty percent is too much. I’ll give you thirty percent.”

The scarred man had a high-pitched hyena-like laugh. “You’re bargaining with us? We don’t bargain, dickface. You have three minutes to give me an answer.”

He walked out. I got up and walked around the room, my wet pants stuck to my thighs, smelling sour. I was never a fighter, even in elementary school when I was challenged by a boy shorter and skinnier than me. Maybe I was a coward or maybe I just knew better: anyone who uses violence is an emotional Neanderthal. Therefore, when my interrogator walked back in the room, I shrugged and said, “Okay.”

What else could I do? Fight some humongous and shady corporate entity with zero regard for human life?

I loved my life in Nosara. Let ’em blackmail me. I’d still make two million a year and put it to good use.

I was blindfolded and guided to the van that dropped me off a short walk from my house and then sped away into the twilight. I had been gone about two hours. How quickly life veers in unexpected ways.

I uncorked a bottle of wine and walked to the beach. I sat in a cove overlooking the Pacific, sipped the wine, and listened to waves erupt through cavernous rocks and spew rainbows of droplets like a locomotive farting steam.

I slept badly and woke up breathless from a nightmare where I’m tortured by the scarred man who giggles while he wraps my face in a wet towel and holds his wide palms over my mouth and nose.

The next day I sat at my computer. Financial data streamed before my tired eyes. I waited to feel the tingle in the back of my neck but nothing happened. I was dead to the world.

Five hours later I shut down the computer and took a long nap. I woke up at midnight and followed Asian and European stocks. The markets were flat but that hadn’t bothered me in the past. I sat at my computer until five in the morning and pounded shots of whiskey. Getting drunk had sometimes proved useful when I needed to sense the subliminal trend that sent the tingle rushing from the base of my skull down to my shoulders.

Fatigue soaked my bones. Roosters crowed dawn. I hadn’t made a single transaction. Fear shook my heart. The tingle that had led me to lovely Nosara in the enchanted land of Costa Rica was gone. I was screwed.

Two weeks passed. Knowing I’d been crippled doubled my fear of the muscular man with the crew-cut and further exacerbated my loss of sleep.

“The fear of the fear,” my therapist had said, when I’d shared my phobia of getting stuck in an elevator, “is the worst fear of all.”

I reverted to financial forecasts and even listened to pompous pundits on CNBC.

I invested a few times and lost heavily. I was terrorized by having to face the scarred man and his insane eyes. I was condemned and awaiting execution.

The next day, late in the afternoon, a black Jeep drove up to my house. I waited for my nemesis in the doorway. His tight lips said he was pissed. The scar on his cheek glowed pink. He walked in and grabbed me by the throat and slammed me against the wall. His nose flat against mine, dead eyes an inch away, he grinned and said, “What the hell you doin’?”

Proceed to part 6...

Copyright © 2011 by Ilan Herman

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