.:VirtualSalt

The Million Dollar Girl
A Novel

Robert Harris
Version Date: October 11, 2008



Chapter 18

The hotel’s stores were already open by the time Professor Miller and Gina rode the elevator down to the lobby, so they did a little window shopping as they thought about where to go for breakfast. Miller took a fancy to a scarf in one display, and after a short deliberation, added the item to his own dress. Looking in the mirror, wearing his scarf and beret, he began to feel French. He suggested to Gina that they eat a French breakfast. Ever the accommodating girl, she agreed and they walked down the strip to a casino that featured a French restaurant. Apple and berry crepes, quiche, and some French sausage were soon laid out before them.

“Bon appetit,” he said.

“You’re not going to start talking with a French accent from now on, are you?” Gina asked.

“I don’t know. It’s an idea.” Then he added, “Of course not.”

Soon the conversation turned to the day’s great event.

“It sure is nice of Mr. Trimmer to let us in on this dealing,” Gina said.

“Well, as he says, he made boatloads of money with the information he thought he’d lost, so he’s just showing gratitude to us. It’s not so unusual. But it’s great, isn’t it?”

“Great is scarcely the word.”

“Besides, Trimmer likes you, Gina. You seem to have influenced him toward us.”

“You think so?”

“He seems to be pretty well off. Maybe there’s the million-dollar sugar daddy you’re looking for.”

“I was just thinking that myself.” Gina’s tone was even, but Miller read irony into it. He smiled at her.

“Stranger things have happened,” Miller observed.

After a pause, Gina said, “I wonder what kind of girl would go for a late middle aged, balding beer belly like that?”

“Still, he’s nice and friendly, very enthusiastic, happy.”

“So is a puppy,” Gina said, with a trace of emphasis. Then, changing the subject, she continued, “You said we’re going to make $3.5 million. Some of that is my share, isn’t it?”

“Well, we don’t know for sure that we’ll make that much. It all depends on how far the stock moves. But yes, some of it is yours. You’re putting in, I think it is, well let’s just say forty thousand that you have from yesterday and I’m putting in that plus another 275.” He paused for a moment as a wave of anxiety about the money arriving on time swept over him briefly. “That’s 315. So you’re doing forty and I’m doing 315. Can you calculate your share of three point five mil from that?

“No clue.”

“Okay,” he continued, feeling amused at Gina’s admitted cluelessness. She would be an easy one to swindle, he thought. “We add yours and mine for a total of 355. No, wait, we said yesterday we’d round that to 350. So take 40, your share, over 350, the total and set it equal to X over 3500 and—” a little figuring on a napkin took place. “Looks like about four hundred grand, minus a few expenses, like your part of the loan payback and fees.”

“Four hundred thousand dollars?” Gina could not find the words to comment on it. Eventually, she settled on an awe-struck, “Oh, my.”

“Now you remember that this entire business, the money, the trip here with me, must be kept permanently secret, don’t you?”

“Yes, I think I understand. And of course you don’t want your wife to find out.”

“How did you know I was married?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Your wedding ring may have given me a little hint.”

Miller looked at his hand. He felt stupid. He hadn’t even taken off his ring. Maybe casual onlookers would figure he was with his daughter or a younger wife or maybe they wouldn’t care. Why should he care, anyway? He felt angry with himself for feeling stupid. Who cared? He was living his life. He had only himself to answer to. He was fine with that.

“Your bank won’t question the money, since the check will be from a brokerage house. They will just think you sold some stock or something, young as you are. Just don’t tell others how much you’ve got. You wouldn’t want guys chasing you for your money, now would you?

“Sort of like gold diggers in reverse?”

“Exactly.”

“Don’t you just hate it when people are just after your money?”

“You’re the only one who knows how much I’ve made on my book.”

“And now I’ll have more money than that.”

“Yeah. And I won’t need to write any more books.”

“Going to live a life of leisure, huh? What about teaching?”

“No more teaching. I think I’ll spend some time traveling around and relaxing. Maybe we can hook up again some time and do this again. And maybe then we can stay the whole weekend—or a whole week.”

“You never know what’s going to happen.”

+++

Professor Miller and Gina were to meet Mr. Trimmer at eleven o’clock, which was check-out time at the hotel. Needing to check out a little early, then, Miller and Gina returned to their room to pack their suitcases after their leisurely breakfast. Gina showed Miller each of her new outfits one last time as she rolled them up and put them into her suitcase.

“Rolling clothes gets more in,” she said. Still, it was a mighty challenge for her to put not only her new clothes but the ones she brought with her into the bag. This morning she had put on the same jeans and the ruffled, short top she had worn on the trip over. “My traveling clothes,” she had explained. No reason to risk getting a new outfit dirty at the airport or on the plane.

At the check out, they arranged for their luggage to be held until they picked it up later on the way to the airport. Miller had scheduled both their flights—hers back to the university and his to the conference—for the late afternoon to maximize the time in the city. That allowed plenty of time to return to the hotel after their visit to the brokerage. And the rental car would not be charged a late fee until the next morning, since it was rented on a 24-hour contract. Miller stopped himself. Why should he care about something as insignificant as rental car fees? Let the car be late, a few weeks late, for all he cared. He was above those thoughts now. He ordered them out of his mind.

Mr. Trimmer walked into the coffee bistro soon after Miller and Gina sat down with a cup of coffee. He had a sprightly step and was all smiles.

“The game’s afoot!” he said happily. He sat down with them.

“We’re ready to go,” Miller said.

“This is so exciting!” Gina added.

Trimmer’s beeper went off. He looked down at it. “Ah. Great news. Your money has been received by the brokerage. You can go for the big score. Let me congratulate you.” Trimmer shook Miller’s hand. “Let’s go on over and sign you up for the margin loan so that everything will be ready. My driver is waiting just outside.”

+++

A few minutes and a stretch limo ride later, they were all inside the offices of Confidential Brokerage Services. Miller signed the necessary documents, borrowing $352,000 against his and Gina’s pool of $352,000. The brokerage fees had been a little higher than he had expected, but who cared? He now had $704,000 to work with.

“The company we are watching today is Continental Metallic,” Mr. Trimmer announced, “a large metals firm. Their stock is quite healthy. It will be amazing to see what our news will do.”

Trimmer’s beeper went off. He looked at the message and scowled slightly. “Things are developing a little early,” he said. “In fact, time’s already running out on this play. News must be leaking.” He appeared slightly agitated. “This will have to be a short one. Quickly, let’s go.”

“I’ll do it,” Gina said. She bounced into the chair. “Just remind me how to do it.” Trimmer showed her how to bring up the trading screen. She began typing. “Got Continental on the screen,” she announced. Others in the room began watching the displays more alertly. Several of the displays changed to monitor different newsgroups. The name Continental Metallic appeared in one or two messages. The screen that monitored the movement of Martrax Financial the day before was now showing Continental. Trimmer began to supervise another worker as she entered the numbers for his company’s trade.

“Tell me what to do,” Gina said.

Mr. Trimmer punched a few keys on his pocket calculator. “Since we’re short, you want to do about 87,000 shares. That should pull you about two million, if all goes as planned.” He looked up at one of the large displays, then uttered a cry of dismay. “Quick, do it short, hurry.” He turned back to the computer operator to hurry her. “I wish they wouldn’t allow these leaks,” he muttered.

Soon the overhead displays began to show many more comments related to Continental Metallic on the Internet message boards, chat rooms, newsgroups, and listserves. “Continental Metallic has just admitted to three previous years of accounting irregularities that have misrepresented their earnings and debt,” said one message.

Participants in the Metals Futures listserve began arguing about a coming “major restatement of income” for Continental Metallic in the current year.

Another message board began to solicit members for a class action lawsuit against the company for misleading investors.

Several participants in an online chat said they had heard that the CEO of Continental Metallic could not be contacted.

“The SEC may soon halt trading in Continental Metallic!” screamed one message. “Get out while you can.”

“Transaction completed!” said Gina, as she got up to go the printer to get the confirmation.

Gina returned from the printer with her transaction slip and handed it to Miller, while announcing its contents to Trimmer.

“Continental Metallic. We bought 87,000 shares, ” she said brightly.

“Bought? No!” shouted Trimmer, looking suddenly very alarmed. “Not buy! Sell! I told you this had to be a short! A short sale! Sell at 22, not buy!”

They all turned quickly to the information board. The stock of Continental Metallic was dropping like a load of refuse from a garbage truck. The plunge from 22 to 8 took only a minute or so.

“Metallic is tanking,” someone across the room said.

“Gold into lead,” another joked.

“Oh, no!” said Trimmer, looking at a computer display with Miller’s account information. “A margin call. They’re selling your shares to cover the loan! It looks like you’ve been zeroed. You may end up owing.”

“You stupid slut!” shouted Miller at Gina, grabbing onto her ruffles. “You’ve ruined me!” He gave her a shove and she fell back roughly into her chair.

“I didn’t know,” Gina protested, looking very hurt. “I thought he meant buy.”

“You idiot,” Trimmer said hotly. “Why have we been talking about a short sale all this time? Are you too stupid to pay attention? To understand English?”

“I don’t know,” Gina said again, almost crying. “I’m only seventeen. I don’t know all this money stuff.” Miller, who had been looking at Trimmer when he spoke, jerked his head violently to look at Gina.

“Seventeen?” he demanded.

“Yeah,” Gina said. “I’m only a freshman. No one told me to sell.”

Miller closed his eyes just for a moment, trying to think how he could have been so careless and stupid as to sleep with an underage girl he had brought across a state line. Now he had a federal offense to worry about.

His thought was broken by the sound of Trimmer’s beeper. Trimmer looked briefly at the message and then said, almost to himself, “We’ve been ratted out.” Then, to the whole room, he shouted, “The police are coming! Everybody out!”

The room exploded in flying papers, falling chairs, and rushing bodies. Trimmer ran to the front and locked the door. By the time he returned to the panicked pair, someone began knocking insistently on the front door. Trimmer, Gina, and Miller looked reflexively at the door and saw a man peering in, trying to see through the heavy tint. He was holding a badge with one hand and knocking with the other. Soon he put down the badge and grabbed a radio handset.

“He’s calling for backup. Let’s get out.”

Just as they turned and began to make their way toward the back, Mr. Gandalf, the office manager, strode across the room, jerked open a panel, and flipped all the circuit breakers off. Every overhead display, every computer display, and every light went immediately dark. The noise pattern in the room changed as all the machines fell silent. Only rushing and banging and running and a little yelling were left.

“Go in different directions,” Trimmer said as they reached the back door. “Meet up later.” They ran outside and took different directions. Someone behind them shouted, “You there, stop!” but no one turned to find out who exactly “you there” was.

Miller made his way between several buildings in the middle of the block and out to another street, barely aware of what he was doing or where he was going. His brain was reeling from the shock of the loss and Gina’s revelation and the panic of being pursued. He knew there was paperwork in the brokerage with his name on it. He wondered how long it would be before he was arrested. Arrested at two in the morning by a knock on the door. What could he offer in his defense? He could hear his own unbelievable story. “I came to Las Vegas to have a simple tryst, but accidentally committed a felony, and then in the process I somehow got involved in a stock swindle designed to cheat investors out of their money, only I lost all my money when the girl made a mistake.” Now, he thought, even if he could stay out of prison, he would not be divorcing his wife; it would be the other way around. And he would have to keep teaching—that is, unless he was fired, which now seemed likely.

Miller tried to shake off these thoughts, but they kept buzzing in his head. He felt faint, flushed, dizzy. His heart seemed to be pounding in his ears. He looked all around as he sat on a fire hydrant on the new street, waiting to hear approaching sirens. He picked out several directions he might run if necessary. Nothing on the street seemed to be unusual. A city police car drove down the street at one point, staggering him with fear, but it did not slow down or stop. He must have waited for an hour, maybe two. When he felt it safe enough, he hailed a cab and rode back to the hotel.

Miller wondered what had happened to Gina. It occurred to him that he had not asked her for her cell phone number, or he could have simply given her a call. But there had been no need for her number. They were always together. And now, what if the police had caught her? Was she down at the police station telling the whole story? Would he be in prison soon? He wondered whether he should try to flee, perhaps flee the country, or whether he should return home and wait to see what happened.

At the concierge desk, Professor Miller picked up his luggage. There were only a few bags and the attendant allowed him to walk behind the counter and wheel his suitcase out himself. As he did so, he noticed that Gina’s suitcase was no longer there next to his. She had tied a colorful little pom pom to the handle, making it easily recognizable. There was no bag behind the counter that was even close.

Miller felt relieved. Gina was not at the police department, singing her heart out about the professor and the stock swindle. And she was not there to see him panicked and flustered. He looked around the lobby to make sure. She could take care of herself, he thought.

“Did anyone leave a message for me?” he asked the attendant.

“Your name?”

“Miller. Mark Miller.”

“No, Mr. Miller. No messages.”

“Thanks.”

Professor Miller wheeled his suitcase out to the rental car and drove to the airport. On the way, he wondered whether he would see Gina at the terminal, waiting to board her flight home. But this thought was pushed aside by his fear that every police car he saw might be after him. He was careful not to speed or make any illegal maneuvers. He had a throbbing headache. He wondered whether his wife would stick a kitchen knife into him when she found out that he had lost all that money, and in the process of having an affair. He wondered if he could make up a story that was credible, that did not involve Gina or the stock market manipulators. Would she believe gambling losses? He doubted it. Maybe he could try.

Gina was not at the airport. Miller looked for her. He thought about having her paged, but he really did not care to see her again. A wave of anger rushed over him. The stupid fool had cost him a fortune and ruined his life. A freshman, an idiot freshman.

Only when Professor Miller sat down in the airplane and adjusted his coat did he become aware that he was no longer wearing his beret or scarf.

.



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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