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Authors: James Grippando

Need You Now

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Need You Now

A Novel

James Grippando

Dedication

In memory of Maria
Hellendoorn.

God needed you
more.

1

G
erry Collins knew that it would end. And end badly. The entire operation was a fraud. His fraud, as much as anyone’s. Still, the breaking news on the Financial News Network left him numb.

“Abe Cushman, a former chairman of the NASDAQ Stock Market and a force on Wall Street trading for nearly fifty years, has reportedly taken his own life this morning.”

Collins stared at the plasma screen on the wall. The Harvard-educated anchorwoman with the beauty-queen hair was almost giddy with excitement, as if the real-time development of a story like this during her midmorning time slot were the journalistic equivalent of winning the Super Bowl.

He did it
, thought Collins.
Abe really did it.

“Cushman’s apparent suicide has sent shock waves through the financial community,” the anchorwoman said, “as it comes just hours before he was to surrender to federal authorities in Manhattan on charges of massive securities fraud.”

The telephone rang. It had been ringing off the hook all morning. Collins ignored it. He went to the window and soaked in one last view of sparkling Biscayne Bay, the port of Miami, and sun-drenched South Beach beyond.

The south Florida office of GC Investments was a lavishly appointed penthouse in Miami’s Financial District. Not bad for a kid from Jersey who had started out selling pre-owned cars. A keen eye for big spenders ready to part with their money was his gift. A little car knowledge and a lot of smooth talking had paid his way through business school, where he’d graduated in the bottom 10 percent, good enough to launch a ten-year string of completely unspectacular career moves. Then his father—buddies with Abe Cushman since grammar school—landed him a dream gig. GC Investments became an approved “feeder fund,” one of a select few investment firms that could funnel cash to Abe Cushman. His bonus the first year had been a million dollars. By age thirty-five he was earning twice that much—
per month
.

And now this. Collins was glad his father wasn’t alive to see it.

Again, the desk phone rang. Collins crossed the room and yanked the cord from the wall jack. There was no one to answer telephones anymore. No financial advisers, no assistants, no receptionist. The office had closed its doors for good at five
P.M.
the day before. Collins was alone.

“We go now to FNN reporter Charlie Hughes,” said the anchorwoman, “who is at the Midtown headquarters of Cushman Investment, where frantic investors are gathering to demand answers about the money they entrusted to Mr. Cushman.”

Collins turned his attention back to the TV screen.

“Shock and anger,” the reporter on the scene said. “Those are the prevailing sentiments right now, as clients of Cushman Investment receive the startling news that the trusted name partner—who may well go down as the worst financial demon in the history of Wall Street—will never answer for his crimes.”

Collins stepped across the silk rug, closer to the television. The FNN reporter was standing in the chrome, glass, and granite lobby of the Cushman office tower on Third Avenue. Behind him, a distraught elderly woman was shouting at a security guard, as if some poor guy with a clipboard and the building’s sign-in register were hiding the keys to the vault where Cushman kept all the stolen money.

“As those of us on Wall Street know,” the reporter continued, “Abe Cushman distinguished himself as one of the most successful and sought-after investment advisors in the business, earning an annual return of ten to twelve percent even in down markets. In the recent financial crisis, however, clients like the ones now standing behind me requested a reported $7 billion dollars in redemptions. This marked the end for Cushman, who apparently never bought or sold anything. Sources have told FNN that Cushman met with his family and lawyer last night and admitted that the business was all a lie, a giant Ponzi scheme in which investors were paid not with earnings from investments but with money collected from other clients. His sons were reportedly prepared to turn him over to the authorities this morning.”

Collins switched off the television and returned to the floor-to-ceiling window of his corner office. He leaned forward, pressed his forehead to the glass, and cast his gaze downward—forty-one stories. The skyscraper’s facade was as flat as a mirror, and he could see all the way to the pavement. Traffic below was a stream of toy cars. The hurricane-proof windows were sealed shut, and there was no way to open them, but for a split second he could almost feel the wind on his face, hear the sounds of the city, and sense the rush of adrenaline that Abe Cushman must have felt. He wondered what had gone through the old man’s head in those final moments of his seventy-one years, as he stood on the balcony outside his bedroom, climbed over the railing, and jumped from the fifty-fifth floor.

Collins closed his eyes tightly, then opened them. It was hard to get his mind around this, but he had to focus. Since his father’s death, he’d heard Cushman say over and again that he was “like a son” to him. The real Cushman sons oversaw the firm’s proprietary trading and market-making operations—the legitimate front. Cushman ran a separate investment-advisory business that managed money for investors. He shied away from individuals, no matter how rich; they asked too many questions. Cushman’s bread and butter were his approved “feeder funds” that only pretended to perform the due diligence a reasonable investor would perform. Gerry Collins at GC Investments was one of Cushman’s gatekeepers—spigots of private wealth who questioned nothing and profited handsomely from Cushman’s fraud. Collins’ big hits were the famous winter playgrounds for billionaires—Ocean Reef Yacht Club in Key Largo, Fisher Island on Miami Beach, the Palm Beach Country Club, and the like. Collins was the master of the Cushman pitch, the golden boy who made investors feel privileged to hand over their life savings or mega inheritance to Cushman. It was like the old days of selling cars, except that “Lemme go back and talk to the manager” was “Lemme talk to Abe, see what I can do for you, my friend.” Same bullshit, bigger numbers. Much bigger.

His BlackBerry vibrated in his pocket. It was nonstop—clients in a panic, demanding to know where their money was. Collins was in no position to talk.

He went to the wall safe behind his desk. It wasn’t nearly big enough to hold the billions that had vanished in the Ponzi scheme, but it was adequate to safeguard his emergency provisions. Stacks of hunded-dollar bills. An equal number of euros and sterling notes. A Glock 9-millimeter pistol. An extra ammunition clip. British and U.S. passports under an assumed name. He stuffed everything into a leather travel bag and hurried out of the office, no time to turn out the lights or even lock the doors. He stopped himself, however, just before pressing the call button for the elevator. The image from FNN flashed in his mind: swarms of irate clients gathering in the ground-floor lobby of Cushman Investment in New York. On second thought, he headed for the stairwell.

He tried to control the pace of his descent, to be careful not to trip and tumble down the stairs, but he gained momentum with each passing floor. Thirty-nine. Thirty-eight. Thirty-seven. Soon his feet were moving like Gregory Hines on too much caffeine. His pulse pounded, and he could hear his own breathing, but he’d found his rhythm and was flying down the stairwell. He was taking two steps at a time as he rounded the landing on the tenth floor. Thirty seconds later he reached the parking entrance on level four. He pushed through the metal door to the garage and stopped to catch his breath. His BlackBerry vibrated yet again, which he ignored, but the call triggered a thought. There was one item of unfinished business. He dialed as he walked quickly down the ramp to his car, but the call went straight to voice mail. No surprise there. It was the middle of the night in Singapore. He left a quick message for his banker.

“It’s blown up,” he said into the phone. “I’ll call you when I can. Talk to no one until I reach you.”

He tucked the phone into his pocket and climbed into his Bentley. It felt good to slide into the driver’s seat and get the weight of the travel bag off his shoulder. He pulled the door shut and buckled his seat belt, but as he reached for the ignition, his head snapped back against the seat—pulled by a wire around his neck.

“What?”
he started to say, but he had no voice. His legs churned with kicks and stomps to the floorboard. His spine arched. His whole body twisted in desperation as he tugged at the wire around his neck, unable to pry away the death grip. It only drew tighter against his throat—so tight that he could feel the heat of his own blood on his skin. The noose around his neck wasn’t smooth like piano wire. This thing had the teeth of a piranha.

Stop!

He banged on the horn, but he heard nothing. His head pounded with congestion, like the worst sinus headache imaginable. His temples throbbed. His vision blurred, and in the struggle, his eyes allowed barely a glimpse of his attacker in the rearview mirror.

I’ll tell you anything! Anything!

The silent reply came quickly: a quick jerk from left to right, and the wire slid against his throat, those tiny teeth ripping into his skin like a cable saw.

Did they not believe him? He really would tell all, give them whatever they wanted—if only they would let him. A final jerk of the wire sliced even deeper, cutting through his vocal cords and into the carotid artery. The trickle of blood down his neck was suddenly a fountain that sprayed across the dash, soaked his shirt, and stained the saddle-leather seats with pools of crimson.

In his mind’s eye Collins could see himself falling like Abe Cushman, the streets of New York racing up to meet him. Collins screamed, but the sound was only in his head. No one could hear him.

No one was even listening.

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