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The tenth-floor offices of Carneccio & Dice LLC were in an aggravated state of disarray when the elevator opened into the firm's usually well-appointed reception area. This morning about a dozen workmen from the construction trades stood around being busily unoccupied. Most were wearing coveralls and grubby clothing. With them were a few building engineers distinguished by their short-sleeve polyester shirts and loosely knotted neckties. Some looked impatient. Others were just plain bored. To one side, hunkered behind her circular desk, a single harried receptionist eyed them warily.
People who did business with Carneccio & Dice—and even some of the seventeen partners, associates, and employees who worked there—were not entirely sure precisely how to categorize the firm. Occupying the top floor of Class A office space in a building on 19th Street Northwest, a few blocks from Washington, DC's K Street power corridor, it wasn't exactly a venture capital firm, a corporate financial advisor, a government marketing advisory firm, or a personal asset management firm. But it would admit to being partly all of these. Mostly what the company did was move money. For the large part, it was OPM: other people's money, scads of it, fueling private deals of all kinds. The firm's prosperity was a legacy of the post-9/11 homeland security business boom, now a distant memory of glory days before the big recession, but still roaring as far as the dealmakers at Carneccio & Dice were concerned. As Washington business languished, a few spots flourished in the desperation to seed economic recovery. This place was an anomaly, and a good one. The people who circulated through here were flush with cash. If they wanted more of it, and of course they all did, a firm like this would be pleased to accommodate them.
There was only one man on the elevator. Slim, fair, his sandy hair just beginning to thin, he was impeccably groomed in a new blue Ermenegildo Zegna suit and knotted Hermès silk tie. Rick Yeager was just handsome enough to get himself noticed in an executive suite. He scanned the scene quickly, approving the appearance of the office. He was entering a firm doing exceptionally well. He liked the corporate image: building, growth, renewal. Stepping from the elevator into what was obviously soon to be chaos, he paused at the display of three easels holding architectural drawings of the new office design. It was an aggressive expansion of which he was personally a part, beginning today.
There is a moment in every man's life when he becomes conscious, in varying degrees depending on the individual, that he really has arrived. At the age of forty-one, Richard Montgomery Yeager was convinced that he had now found his moment. For the past couple of weeks, Rick had fantasy-practiced this day of arrival at Carneccio & Dice. Prior to today, the firm had never brought aboard a new partner as a direct hire. He carefully pre-considered the message he should convey. Confidence and competence, professional reserve and near distance, the light touch of a heavy hand. None of these traits came naturally to him, but he knew how to project an image. In response, what he expected were a few deferential young associates being courteous to a fault. Maybe there would be a hint of gently flirtatious flattery from the women on the clerical staff. He could handle that.
What he got were the suspicious stares of the assembled construction workers, all of whom seemed precisely to record his arrival. He made his way to the receptionist, who smiled and greeted him by name.
"Mr. Yeager, it's so good to see you. The very first thing I was told this morning was to expect you in today." Rick vaguely remembered meeting the woman. "I'm sorry about all the confusion. Didn't they tell you? July first," she said, waving the back of her hand at the room as if the date explained the lounging construction crew. "It's the new fiscal year. Today's the day they start to take us apart."
"Thanks," he replied. "I knew that. Lois Carneccio called me this weekend. She told me to plan on attending her first meeting this morning."
He turned to glare pointedly at one of the workmen who was listening with great interest and no attempt at discretion. Unaffected, the man gazed right back. So much, Rick conceded to himself, for the confidence and the heavy hand.
The receptionist nodded. "Except right now, she and Mr. Dice are tied up with some men who aren't on the calendar. I don't know who they are. And your client is waiting."
"She's a rather sweet older woman. I like her. I asked her to wait in the small conference room—that's the second door over there. She didn't want to give me her name, but she told me that the two of you were friends and that you always handled her accounts personally."
Rick Yeager glanced at his watch: 8:40 A.M. From that description, he thought, the client could be anyone.
* * *
"Even for private finance," Lois Carneccio commented over a Cobb salad in the wood-paneled Taft Dining Room at Washington's celebrated University Club, "you've had one hell of an eclectic career."
"I don't deny that it's been kind of a wild ride."
"And not at all linear."
"When you called, you told me that wasn't a problem. You said that my background is attractive to you…?"
"Absolutely. Who you are makes you all the more valuable to this firm, especially the way we've built it. Rick, in my firm we embody the entrepreneurial spirit. Carneccio & Dice seeks out exactly the qualities that you possess. Our clients will relate to your career more than you can imagine. You've got to trust me on this."
Rick Yeager began that career in the finance departments of two information technology firms, federal systems contractors. He subsequently worked with varying degrees of success and occasional failure in a commercial bank financing federal government contracts; in a small-fund private equity firm backing information technology plays; in distressed debt lending; and then made a foray into commercial real estate development before the day he started his own company. Terrific timing. Just before the financial crisis. RMY Personal Financial Inc. was headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River.
"I'll have to close my firm."
"Rick, to be blunt, you ought to. At—what is it? RMY?—what you've got is comfort, pitifully low risk, and small reward. You may make what you think is a nice living, but frankly you're just chugging along. You'll never get any respect from the financial big leagues. You won't even come close. We can fold your company and your clients into ours. I'll make it painless. Joining us is the one best way you can overcome your background. Use your advantages and your strengths. With us it doesn't matter where you worked or where you went to business school. All I care about is how goddamn much you deliver, and I wouldn't have invited you here today if I wasn't convinced that you can."
As Rick Yeager now dipped his toes into the waters of middle age, it was getting harder than ever to overcome majoring in fraternity at Washington and Lee and then copping a "distance learning" Internet MBA from a school that he had never visited—one that advertised prominently in Google's sponsored links as "accredited in California."
"The Wall Street boys"—Lois Carneccio practically spit out the words as she continued—"care only about your damn pedigree even when they say they don't. Especially when they say they don't. People like us, Rick, we're the mutts of finance. And we scare the shit out of the big dogs. I know I've come to terms with it. For me it's about the money."
Rick Yeager always hoped and assumed that someday he would catch this one good break. The only part that surprised him was that it came from Lois Carneccio, whom he barely knew.
"And I got your attention," he said.
"You did. Rick, you can do something I can't. You have a way of making people connect with you and trust you. It's a remarkable skill. Be glad that you work in investments and you're not a con man. Although there are days when I swear I don't know what the difference is between those two. I know what you can do. Now I intend to put you in touch with people who are a hell of a lot more wealthy." Lois Carneccio put down her salad fork and tossed back the remaining half of a Grey Goose martini, her second of this lunch. Her reputation for aggressive risk-taking was widely known. She had a knack for bringing in the hot players, no matter where they came from. Provided, of course, they could deliver. Rick Yeager was sure that he could, now that he was moving up to the kind of firm where he belonged all along.
* * *
Stepping over some tarpaulins, careful not to bump the fine art prints piled haphazardly near the reception desk, he made his way to the small conference room, site of his first two interviews at Carneccio & Dice. There, demure and dwarfed by the large round conference table, sat a small woman of somewhat more than eighty very well preserved years. Impeccably groomed and perhaps overdressed for a sweltering Washington July, she was visibly uneasy. Her snow-white hair was pulled back into a small bun. She watched through gold-rimmed glasses as Rick Yeager entered and recognized her.
"Mrs. Geller," he said. The old woman brightened visibly and nodded at the mention of her name. Rick was excellent at remembering names and faces. You had to be if you were in the personal asset management business. Hannah Weiss Geller. Net worth exclusive of her house in north Arlington—owned clear—possibly $155,000, most of which had been invested by Rick in the past three years. Pocket change, considering where he was headed now. Yet he was incapable of any discourtesy to a paying client, no matter how small the opportunity. One never knew. "How are you, my dear?"
"I'm fine and I'm impressed," she answered truthfully. "This is an extremely nice office you have now." RMY Personal Financial had storefront offices in a forty-year-old strip mall in Arlington. Mrs. Geller had been a walk-in.
"Well, it's hardly mine. Here I'm just one of the hired help." Yeager tried out a bit of self-deprecating humor, which was a new style he had been considering. "How did you know where to find me?" he asked as he took a seat next to Hannah Geller at the conference table. "I haven't even started work here yet, officially."
"Your new company wrote to me," she explained, reaching into her purse to produce a letter, which she unfolded and handed to Yeager.
"And here you are on my first day."
"Should I have made an appointment?" The old woman acted suddenly chagrined.
Rick saw that her chagrin was feigned. He smiled. "No, don't think about it. You know that I'm always delighted to see you." He leaned forward, conspiratorially, squinting slightly. "And when is it ever wrong to bring in clients? So what can I do for you? Can I help you with something?"
"Richard," she said, "its time. We haven't talked about this, because I have resisted the matter for quite a long while. But now it's very apparent to me that I should place some priority on planning my estate. I do have a will, but there is a very serious financial matter that I have to attend to. For several reasons no one but you is appropriate to that task." Hannah Geller still spoke with the thinnest hint of some European accent, from where exactly Rick Yeager had never ascertained.
"I'm flattered," Yeager said. "Is your health—"
"No, nothing particular," she said, anticipating his question. "It's my age that is finally getting my attention. I'm slowing down more than I want to. It's harder for me to see, and it's harder to get around, you know."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Yeager said, and he genuinely was. This would be very routine, he thought. What could be simpler? Conversion to liquid instruments, a pitifully small commission, maybe some billable time. Not the strongest start out of the blocks at Carneccio & Dice.
"I don't even drive anymore, Richard. Now I take the bus. I anticipate that in the next year I'll sell the house and the car and relocate. I'll want to stay here in the area of course, but I do need to get some personal financial holdings in order." She hesitated, pointing to the letter with the C&D letterhead. "This is good. I was pleased to see that you have access to the resources of a larger firm now. I am going to need a great deal of assistance with something which will become immensely complicated. And I will need to trust you much more than was necessary in our professional relationship up until now."
Rick nodded. It was not uncommon for older clients to believe that their estates were unbearably complex. This was not the first time that Hannah Geller had shown a tendency for overstatement.
"I'll help," he said. "But we'll need to find a time to meet in a few days, after I'm settled in here." He began to think of a way to extricate himself gently from this conversation, aware that he was due to meet with his new senior partners just about now.
As he stood, the commotion in the hall began with two loud crashes. Doors slammed hard against non-load-bearing walls. The thud of heavy running surrounded the conference room. Muffled shouts quickly followed, then the sound of women shrieking in genuine panic. Rick made his way quickly to the door, which was slightly ajar. As he reached for the handle, it came bursting toward him with a swift kick. He found himself face-to-face with four members of the construction crew, all with pistols drawn and held with both hands in combat shooting stance. Two of the crew trained their weapons directly at him. All four of them shouted in clear voices.
"Move! Move! Turn around! Hands behind your head, fingers interlaced! Do it! Move!" He had no time for rational thought as he was grabbed, pushed, manhandled, and spun about to face a thoroughly shocked Mrs. Geller. One of the construction men pushed Rick forward roughly, bending him at the waist over the conference table. Another punched him with a closed fist to the middle of his back, low between the shoulder blades, while kicking his feet apart and jamming his stomach into the table's edge. He was still attempting unsuccessfully to interlace his fingers behind his head as the men grabbed both of his wrists and twisted. The four of them all seemed to swarm on top of him at the same time. He was immobile, his face pressed hard into the top of the conference table.
"Tell me your name!" one of the men ordered.
"Do you work here, Richard Yeager?"
"That's all I need. Mr. Yeager, we are special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation." The man held up to Rick's face a small rectangular leather badge holder strung from a dog tag chain around his neck. "Pursuant to warrants issued yesterday in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, you are under arrest."
Copyright © 2013 by Michael Pocalyko