.:VirtualSalt

The Million Dollar Girl
A Novel

Robert Harris
Version Date: October 11, 2008



Chapter 16

Mr. Trimmer was already waiting for Professor Miller and Gina the next morning when they arrived outside the casino buffet. In fact, he had already gotten in line and motioned them to join him. “Our work in the market is timed precisely and will not wait for us if we’re late,” Trimmer explained. “This is the next-to-the-last trading day of the week and we will do the trade near market close. There is no room for error, so we want to be sure we don’t get held up here.”

“Good idea,” Professor Miller said.

“You probably frown if one of your students comes in late,” Trimmer continued, “but here late means no trade and hence, no profit. My employers are considerably less understanding than you might be. I would get an F, if you get my drift.”

“I understand,” Miller said.

Professor Miller and Gina had an unremarkable eating experience, even at this luxurious hotel buffet, where every pleasure for the taste buds was carefully spread out before them. Following Mr. Trimmer’s lead, they moved impatiently down the line, grabbing what would be a quick bite of this and that, all the time feeling a nervous urgency. None of them took the time to wait for a custom omelet or crepe, but instead they took everything ready to eat. Only Gina was willing to spend an extra few moments at the carvery to get a slice of ham. The trio seemed to think of eating merely as a means to an end, a required ritual to be performed at a prescribed pace before they went on to more important business.

Behavior like this would have broken Matt’s heart. Had Matt and Amy been where Miller and Gina were, facing the half-dozen islands of food spread across the room, there would have been none of this bird-like nibbling. There would have been a symphony of pleasure, a whole season of episodes of consumption, a glorious, strolling indulgence of gustatory passion. Matt had always thought those menus that offer a “one-trip salad bar” put the restaurant on the edge of legality, making it guilty of cruelty to the customer. Any salad bar required a minimum of three trips. Buffets, on the other hand, usually required at least four or five, sometimes with two plates per trip. Amy had more than once accused Matt of having a hollow leg as he returned yet one more time, wanting to sample everything and then return for heavier layers of favored items. She would sit there with her modest selections as he came and went. One evening, at a particularly nice smorgasbord, she had surreptitiously observed his forays. First trip sampler, second trip main courses, third trip more main courses, fourth trip soup, fifth trip cheese and salad, sixth trip fruit and dessert, seventh trip favorite tidbits. There was ice tea to open, cola to add on, and coffee to close (decaf in this case). He was a gastronomical artist. Even at breakfast, he could eat an opening salvo of appetizers while his custom omelet was cooking, load the cereal with fruit, and alternate between bacon, sausage, and ham. “If he works as hard at any job,” Amy thought, “he’ll be a great success.”

As the three ate, Trimmer checked his watch once or twice, as if concerned with the time, but he nevertheless maintained his jovial, talkative personality.

“This is a wonderful town, isn’t it?” he asked. “Endless food, endless entertainment, endless opportunity.”

“And endless money, too, it seems,” said Miller.

“We did well yesterday, didn’t we? And I hope we might do something today, too. I should caution you, however, that today there is only a relatively small play in hand. Tomorrow looks much better. But we should still be able to turn a good account. I’m still waiting for the final word on the company, but we are looking at a nice increase.”

“How much, do you think?” asked Miller.

“Double your money, likely.”

Gina almost dropped her mouth open. “Double? In one play?”

“A single transaction can have dramatic results. After all,” he said matter-of-factly, “your two thousand dollars yesterday turned into six thousand dollars each in one transaction. Twelve for two is not bad.”

“That was one transaction?” Gina was stunned. “No way.” But she believed it. Miller said nothing, but his eyes showed he had heard.

“Well,” said Trimmer, “even though today will not be as spectacular, we believe it beats letting our funds rot in a low-interest bank account. Why not let our money go dancing with kings and bring back a king’s ransom?”

“What you’ve got is a gold mine,” Miller said.

“Oh, no, my dear Dr. Miller. Gold mines are too much work. All that ore and dust and digging. We prefer to use our minds to make money. A keyboard and a good idea are infinitely less work and infinitely more rewarding than a mere gold mine.” He smiled broadly.

After breakfast, they all walked toward the front of the hotel. Mr. Trimmer made a quick call on his cell phone. “We’re ready,” he said. Turning to Miller, he noted, “My driver will pick us up.”

“No taxi, then?”

“Oh, please.”

They stepped out the front doors of the hotel just as a white stretch limo trimmed in gold pulled up. “Here we are,” said Trimmer. They got in and the car drove off.

+++

The office was a storefront in a strip mall. A sign on the door said, “Confidential Brokerage Services. Members Only.” The windows were darkened with a very deep, reflective tint, preventing Gina and Professor Miller from seeing inside. Mr. Trimmer inserted a coded keycard into the electronic lock and the door opened. Inside, the entire store space was furnished as one large room. More than a dozen desks were occupied by men and women peering at computer screens, typing quickly, answering the phone, and printing off paper. The floor was littered with paperwork, much of it torn to shreds. Paper shredders by each desk looked full already. Miller checked his watch reflexively, just to be sure that the hour was still early. He was surprised at the level of activity.

Hanging along the walls all around the room were at least a dozen giant screen monitors, some with stock tickers running, some with background information about companies, some with rapidly refreshing Internet newsgroup postings, some with email messages, and some with active chat room conversations. Others showed bar graphs, line graphs, and grids of data, all in multicolors. Many of the men and women at the desks looked up at intervals to study one or more of the screens. Those talking on the phone wore wireless headsets that allowed them to pace around while looking from screen to screen. They spoke in urgent tones. Occasionally they would fly to a computer and begin typing furiously.

Professor Miller scrutinized the large displays, attempting to gain insight into the workings of the office. The earnings from his critical thinking textbook were still parked in a money market account, so he had not yet had the opportunity to visit a stock broker and learn about the details of investing, electronic or otherwise. He knew quite a lot from reading the business section of the paper, but had not yet taken the plunge into the capital markets himself. He was beginning to think that this might be a good way to do that.

Miller found it difficult to tell just what was going on because the display information changed so quickly. The tickers ran by so fast, and the symbols were so incomprehensible, that they meant nothing to him. The graphs seemed to indicate trends or historical activity of sales volumes or prices, but that, too, was difficult to make out.

In the midst of his puzzling, a somewhat older, gray haired man with an intelligent look came over to the three. “Hello, Lars,” he said. “Are these people members?”

“No, they are friends of mine. I’ll vouch for them. People of integrity. Remember my lost wallet? These are the ones who returned it.”

“I see.” Turning to Miller, he said, “Excuse me. I’m Roy Gandalf, the office manager. Non-members are really not supposed to be allowed in or permitted to trade.”

“You remember how well we did yesterday with Synchro Transducer?” asked Trimmer. A fleeting, half smile passed across Gandalf’s face.

“Well,” Gandalf said, “perhaps you can make a play today.”

Gina jumped and clapped her hands. Miller nodded and smiled.

“If you two don’t mind joining together, we’ll set up a single margin account in Dr. Miller’s name,” said Trimmer.

“I’ve heard of a margin account,” Miller said, “but I’m not really familiar with it. What does that do?”

“A margin account allows you to leverage your money. You invest your $6,000 and borrow another $6,000 from the brokerage. When you make your profits, you repay the borrowed money and keep the profits it earned. It’s leverage.”

“Sounds like money on steroids.”

“Exactly so.”

“And if we lose money?”

“I thought I explained yesterday that my company is not set up to lose. We have factored that out of the equation.”

Mr. Trimmer explained that, on his guarantee, Miller could set up a margin account with only a signature. When the account was set up, Miller and Gina deposited their checks into it, with an additional $20 cash to make a round $12,500, and borrowed an additional $12,500 against it. They thus stood ready to invest $25,000.

Gina sat down at one of the computers, where Mr. Gandalf helped her log on.

“If my information is correct,” Trimmer said, checking his watch and confirming the time with two more clocks in the room, “and it always is, we should get final word in just a couple of minutes.”

“Where do we get the word from?” Gina asked. As if on cue, Trimmer’s beeper went off.

“Here’s the play,” he said. The tension rolled over into excitement. Looking at the message on the tiny screen, Trimmer spoke in Gina’s direction. “Martrax Financial. Type it in, there, now.” Gina typed. “It’s four and a quarter,” Trimmer said, pointing to a corner of the screen. “Let’s see, you have 25.” He grabbed a calculator from the desk. “Buy 5800 shares. Now. Do it, girl!” Gina typed in the information and clicked on buy.

The message, “Transaction completed,” soon came on the screen.

“Now what?” asked Gina.

“We wait for the good news. Martrax seems to have a very bright future, according to some people.” Trimmer glanced at some of the large screens to see if the news had begun to appear.

“Hey,” someone across the room said, just loud enough to be heard, “Martrax is moving.”

One of the displays overhead flipped over to a screen tracking just the price of Martrax shares. The stock was already at six and a half. Then eight.

Miller could almost taste the money. He knew how rapidly his free investment was growing, multiplying. This was better than grinding away writing textbooks, even successful textbooks. In fact, Trimmer was right. This was much better than a gold mine. This was even better than robbing banks.

“Wait until it gets over 17,” Trimmer said. “There’s much more good news to share with the world.”

“The question is,” noted Miller, “How credulous is the world? Will everyone really believe all this good news?” He looked at one of the message boards, claiming that Martrax would report lower than expected losses on bad debts in the last quarter. Another screen showed a newsgroup posting saying that Martrax executives were trying to keep quiet the repayment of a debt previously written off, until they could increase their own holdings.

“Not everyone will believe this news,” Trimmer acknowledged. “But enough will. After all,” nodding toward the board Miller was reading, “everyone knows that some insider trading goes on.”

“So we get rich because some people are fools. They ought to use their minds.”

“Mm hm.”

“It’s dropping from 16 and a half,” Gina said, watching the tracking monitor. “Now it’s at 16 and a quarter.”

“I guess we aren’t going to get the run to 17 after all,” Trimmer said. “Okay. Sell it all.”

“Sell it?”

“Yes, move on it, quickly. Sell 5800 shares. It’s dropping.” Trimmer’s voice had an edge to it.

Soon the screen in front of Gina returned a “Transaction completed” message. The sale had gone through at 16.

“Well, your gross is about 92 grand,” noted Trimmer, pointing at a total on the screen.

Miller did some quick figuring. “That’s a $67,000 profit. In less than an hour.” Miller sat down. He had just watched his investment increase five fold in the course of one quick transaction.

“This is unbelievable,” said Gina. “I’ve never even seen this kind of money. And it was all so fast.”

“It’s even faster when we do a short, like the deal coming up tomorrow,” said Trimmer.

“I want my money in,” said Gina. “If that’s okay with you,” she added softly, and not without a bit of winsomeness.

Trimmer hesitated. “Well, all right,” he said with some reluctance. “I guess one more outsider investment won’t hurt. After all,” he added, brightening, “you two saved me several million dollars by returning that wallet yesterday.”

“Million? Really?” Gina was awed. So was Professor Miller, though he hid it well.

“Mr. Trimmer,” Miller began slowly. “Could I—.” He hesitated. “Could I put in some additional money of my own on this one last play tomorrow?”

“How much?” asked Trimmer.

“Say, two hundred and seventy five thousand.”

Trimmer did not react to the amount, as Miller had expected him to. No whistling or raised eyebrows. Instead, Trimmer said, matter-of-factly, stroking his face, “Well, I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to do anything that might affect my company’s overall operation.”

“Oh, please,” pleaded Gina. She reached her arm around Mr. Trimmer’s arm and looked into his eyes. He looked back for a moment. Miller thought he saw her wink at him. Trimmer and Miller looked at each other.

“Well, why not?” said Trimmer at last. “But that will be the final play. Then you will have to forget that all this ever happened. Where are the funds?”

Professor Miller exhaled before answering. “In my bank. How do I get them in time?” He was doing the mental calculations of a five-for-one profit on more than a quarter of a million dollars. He would be more than a millionaire by this time tomorrow.

“A wire transfer will work fine,” said Trimmer, motioning for a runner to come to him. “This gentleman needs a wire transfer order.” The runner dashed off to get one and was soon back. The form was already mostly filled in, with the name and account numbers of Confidential Brokerage on it. “There is a phone you can use to call your bank and make arrangements.”

Soon Miller was on the phone with his bank.

“I want to transfer $275,000 to Confidential Brokerage Services. I’ve got the account number right here.” The reply on the other end was not what Miller wanted to hear. “But I need the money right away,” he said with some temper. “What? Well, fax it right over then.” The conversation went on, with Miller giving the fax number of the investment office and continuing to insist on speed. He hung up. “They won’t wire transfer the money without an original signature. So they will fax the form to me and I’ll overnight it back to them. The money won’t transfer until tomorrow morning.”

“That might not be enough time. The play could go forward before you got your funds. Maybe we should just forget this one.” Miller was dismayed.

“Let me see,” Trimmer continued. “I think this deal has to go at ten o’clock.” He checked some notes. “Oh. No. It goes at noon. There may be enough time, but then maybe not.”

“We can try,” Miller said, trying not to allow a tone of desperation or pleading to enter his voice.

Within minutes the fax arrived, authorizing the transfer of Miller’s funds to the brokerage. Miller filled out and signed the form, and then handed it to Mr. Trimmer, who put it in an express envelope. A runner then rushed it to the express office to overnight it to Miller’s bank.

Miller was flying high with speculation. “We’ve got roughly eighty grand after paying back the margin loan.” He could not suppress his smile. He liked saying the words eighty grand. He was talking like someone for whom large amounts of money were commonplace. “We can add the $275,000 to that for about $355,000. Might as well round it off to 350 grand,” he said, nonchalantly. “Got to cover expenses of sale, you know.”

Gina shrugged as if to say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but it’s okay by me.”

“Then with a margin loan of another three fifty,” Miller continued, “we’ve got seven hundred K to invest. If we can get a 5 to 1 return like today, we’re looking at three and a half million dollars.” He paused a moment. “Can that be right?” He rechecked his figures. They were correct. Then he turned to Trimmer. “Is it possible to make that much on tomorrow’s investment?” Miller did not like the word play. He preferred investment.

“Well, five to one may be a bit optimistic, but I think it may be possible. Tomorrow’s move is with a large metals corporation with quite a bit of market cap. There should be a goodly amount of cash in it for you. A couple of million, if not three point five. I’m hoping to do somewhat better than that for my syndicate.” He smiled, as if he expected Miller to understand that “somewhat better” was a wild understatement. Hearing Trimmer say “three point five,” made Miller wish he had used the expression, or at least “three and a half mil” instead of “three and a half million dollars.” Nonetheless, the money was still real and virtually on the way, however it was described.

Miller was beginning to feel powerful, brilliant, almost godlike. Two, maybe three, million dollars for an hour’s work. Just as a thank you from a friend. Just for being honest and returning a wallet and knowing how to be shrewd and clever about it all. True, he would have to share some of it with Gina. He wondered if there was a way to cut her out of the deal. Give Gina her half of the $67,000 now and not get her involved with the plan tomorrow. But Trimmer seemed to like her and was at least in part persuaded by her to let them in on the scheme one more day. He decided to drop it. She just had to be kept quiet about it all.

“Well, our work for today is done,” Trimmer announced. As if on cue, the driver of the stretch limo came in the door.

“Your car is ready, sir.”

The trio rode back to the hotel conversing much less than one might otherwise think. Each was busy with a full and active imagination. Mr. Trimmer’s face showed a calm, businesslike expression. His head tilted toward the roof of the limo, but his eyes were closed as he seemed to be doing calculations or making plans in his head. Professor Miller and Gina both realized that they were facing a life-changing experience. The dream of financial independence stimulates many ideas. The staggering possibility that such a dream was on the verge of fulfillment made both of them quiet and contemplative. Professor Miller would remember this day for the rest of his life. What, a day before, was only an idle whim to be dismissed with laughter or scorn was now looming within reach, easy reach. Yesterday, he had thought himself successful and financially fortunate; today he looked at his book earnings as chump change, merely a tool to be used to make some real money. Never again would he labor for money. He had found an easier way. And there was no risk to it. It was guaranteed.

At the hotel, Trimmer excused himself from them, saying that he had a number of lengthy calls to make and that he would order room service for his lunch.

“Oh, I forgot to explain one of the details of tomorrow’s transaction,” he said, just as they were parting. “Got a few minutes? The young lady need not stay.”

“Sure,” said Miller. “Gina, you can go on up to the room. I’ll meet you there and we can decide what to do with the rest of the day.”

“Uh, we’ll only be a couple of minutes,” Trimmer said quickly. “Here. Why don’t you play the slots for a bit and we will be finished soon.” Trimmer gave Gina a bill to feed the slots.

Gina shrugged and headed for the 25-cent slots. Mr. Trimmer escorted Professor Miller to a coffee bistro just off the casino, where they could still see Gina.

“I wanted to talk to you away from the girl,” he began. “But we must not allow her to be by herself. Had she gone up to the room alone, she might get on the phone to her friends or relatives and blab about the entire plan.”

“That’s true. Didn’t think about that.”

“And with the sensitive nature of the information, that must not be released until just the right moment, that could spell disaster for my organization. They would not be very happy.” Trimmer drew his finger across his throat as he spoke.

For the first time, Miller wondered about the organization Trimmer worked for. Who were they? What exactly did he mean by syndicate? Was that like mob?

“So they might feel double-crossed.”

“Not even that. They are nice enough when everything is running smoothly, but if you so much as step on their toes, they do not say, ‘Quite all right.’”

“Well, I’ll be sure to keep an even closer eye on Gina for the next 24 hours. After that, though, she will be on her own.”

“After that, it won’t matter. She can say what she likes. We will be in another city by then.”

“I see. You move around a lot.”

“Keeps one healthier to stir about.”

“Okay. Got it. I’ll take care of the girl, and we will see you here at the coffee shop about, when?”

“Let’s say eleven o’clock tomorrow.”

“Done.”

Miller looked over at Gina, sitting on a stool in front of a slot machine. He thought her pose was particularly attractive. One leg hung down in a pleasant arc. Her profile revealed her perfect eyelashes, her rosy cheeks, her full lips. He permitted himself to gaze for a few moments, knowing that she was not looking back. He thought, “I can have a whole flock of girls like this now.”

“Enjoy yourself,” Trimmer said, getting up to leave.

“Of course.”

+++

The result of earning almost all of his $275,000 savings from the royalties on a successful critical thinking book was that Miller permed his hair and adopted the attitude of a brilliant professor. The result of the prospect of $3.5 million was even more dramatic. Miller’s brain seemed to have gotten a perm. He grew expansive, almost swaggering. As he and Gina walked the strip for awhile, stopping in at a few stores here and there, he began to spend money freely, the way he believed the very rich do. Miller bought Gina some outrageously expensive perfume. For lunch, he took her to the most expensive restaurant in one of the fanciest hotels. He left a fifty-dollar tip.

“Let’s get you a new outfit,” he told her as they ate.

After lunch they went shopping. A couple of blouses, pants, shorts, shoes, a tennis outfit, some lingerie, even a hat, were all added to Gina’s wardrobe, courtesy of Miller’s credit cards. He enjoyed seeing her model the items under consideration. He pretended to be selective, often rejecting several outfits on minor objections just to see her try on and model more.

After settling on a new bikini, Gina wanted to stop shopping and try the suit out at the pool, to catch some late afternoon sunshine while there was still enough warmth in the air to make tanning bearable.

At the pool, Miller continued thinking about his wealth. “Twenty-four hours ago, I was just a professor, a drudge, grinding away trying to teach lazy and uninterested students who have no clue about how to do a bit of thinking.” He could hardly wait to resign his appointment. He fantasized about going into his department chair’s office and telling Chuck what he could do with the job. He replayed the scene several times because he liked the frightened and confused look on Chuck’s face. No more years of combating new waves of ignorance and apathy every term. That life seemed so far away from him now. He hardly recognized the person he had been so recently. He wondered whether he should divorce his wife to free up his lifestyle. He wondered if he should ask Trimmer for a job with the syndicate. Who knows how much money could be made? Millions of dollars on one trade? What about trading every day? It was unreal. “Tonight,” he thought, “we’re going to the buffet, and I’m going to have too many crab legs. Who’s to say it’s unreasonable?”

Miller looked over at Gina. She was lying on her back, soaking up the sun as if she had not a care in the world. He thought she might be asleep, but he could not see her eyes through the sunglasses. He noticed that her toenails had red polish on them. He could not remember seeing that before. “Success has made me more observant,” he thought.

“Gina?” he said. “You awake?”

“Mm hm.”

“This is our last evening in Vegas. Too bad we can’t stay the weekend, too. But I’ve got to put in an appearance at the conference.” The conference, he thought, would be all the more useful for pretending that Las Vegas had never happened. And, as enjoyable as Gina was, he was anxious now to take care of his new life’s fortune. There were many details to attend to. Maybe he would just say he was going to the conference, after all. He turned again to Gina.

“What do you want to do tonight? The city beckons once again.”

Gina took off her sunglasses and rolled her head sideways to look at Miller. “The show was fun,” she said, squinting at him.

“Another show? Okay. Any particular one?”

“You pick.” She rolled her head back and put her sunglasses on again.

“Buffet for dinner?”

“Mmm.”

Miller was not a suntanner, but, bored with his magazine and finished with his drink, he put the back of the chaise lounge down and stretched out. “I just hope I don’t get burned,” was all he thought.

+++

For dinner, Gina put on one of her new outfits and her new perfume. Miller contented himself with adding a beret he had picked up during their shopping, telling himself that he looked “jaunty.” Gina was polite enough not to contradict him.

They did indeed eat at the buffet, where Miller did indeed pile a plate with too many crab legs. He looked around to see if anyone was watching, especially with a disapproving look, but no one seemed to notice. Miller was not exactly disappointed, but he would have enjoyed knowing that his actions were being observed. He was important now. People should be watching him.

As Miller overstuffed himself, with Gina smiling cheerfully at him, he felt happy and powerful. Only once or twice did he give himself a rush of adrenaline as he momentarily feared that his money might not arrive in time for the big play, or rather, investment. He wondered if he could make a phone call or do something else to help assure its timely arrival. But then the worry passed and he was again happy and open.

The pair went to an early show this night, a popular circus performance. Miller was so late in asking for tickets that he had to pay $500 each for two specially reserved seats right in front. But it was a pittance. Only those in the working classes had to worry about trifles like the cost of theater tickets.

Gina loved the show. She turned frequently to Professor Miller to comment, smile, or whisper breathily in his ear. She laughed and was amazed. Miller, to his own surprise, thought the show was almost trivial. He had expected to enjoy entertainment all the more now that he was a wealthy man, a man of real status and power, but instead, he felt that the entertainment was somehow beneath him, unimportant and banal. He attributed these feelings to his preoccupation with the morning’s work, and once again he felt a pang of concern about the arrival of his funds.

Gina excused herself and stood up.

“Where are you going?” Miller heard himself say in almost an accusatory tone.

“Powder room. I’ll be right back.”

“Oh, okay. Hurry. You don’t want to miss this.”

Soon after Gina left, Miller began looking at his watch, pushing the light button so he could see the time in the darkened arena. Each time he looked, it seemed to be nearly the same time as before. Gina seemed to be taking an eternity, but his watch said only a few minutes had passed. Was she calling her friends? Her family? He could almost hear her bragging to her mother about her coming wealth. But then again, would her mother ask questions that Gina might not want to answer? He could imagine the conversation: “Hi, mom. I’m staying in a Las Vegas hotel with one of my professors and we met a guy who manipulates the stock market. He let us make a lot of money and it’s okay as long as we don’t tell anyone or get caught.” Miller wondered for a moment whether Gina might actually say something like that. He laughed. Just then, Gina returned.

“How are the folks?” Miller asked, thinking himself clever.

“I went to the bathroom,” Gina said, in that college-student get-a-clue tone.

+++

Professor Miller’s only indulgence to be frustrated this night was his plan to get an enormous, glutton-stuffing ice cream dessert after the show. He had wanted to continue his newly liberal attitude toward culinary excess, but there simply was not enough Professor Miller. He was still very full from dinner, and the thought of even a small dish of ice cream was altogether unappealing. Gina pronounced herself content without a late dessert, so they walked from the arena through the casino and toward the elevators. Miller debated making a large bet or playing the $100 minimum blackjack table, but he still could not overcome his view of the folly of gambling. He took a cue from Mr. Trimmer and scorned those who take a chance on getting rich. It is far better to get rich without any risk.

As they rode the elevator up to their room, Miller thought, “I’ve managed to keep an eye on her pretty well.”
 

.



Go on to Chapter 17
Return to the Table of Contents


VirtualSalt Home
Copyright 2008 by Robert Harris | How to cite this page
w w w . v i r t u a l s a l t . c o m
About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com