“I once again felt the pain in my chest. My shoulder blades twisted backwards, and an electric bolt coursed the length of both my arms. I quietly cursed the Oracle Delfina as I knew death was not at hand as it would be far too convenient to be granted.” Cusper Lynn
The Occidental Ape
By Cusper Lynn
The Saga of Abby Norman, The Formerly-Wealthy Mormon: A Serialized Novel
Synopsis: A down-on-his-luck corporate consultant tries to get rich quick working with motivational speakers. His first client, an armed, stoned, drunk, bankrupt, and nearly suicidal real-estate guru starts their business relationship with a bang. (To read the entire novel, use these hot links: Prologue Shocking Simon; Chapter 1 Heart of Darkness; Chapter 2 Lancing the Boil; Chapter 3 Cusper & Abby’s Wild Ride; Chapter 4 Our Lady of The Fast Buck; Chapter 5 In The Gallery of The Screaming Man; Chapter 6 Two Chimps & A Gun; Chapter 7 Love In The Time of Lawyers; Chapter 8 Abby Dearest; Chapter 9 Malthus & Marx at Play; Chapter 10 To Urn Trust; Chapter 11 – Matt Tomlinson On Ice
With 24 hours to go, Cusper is beset by bankers, plagued by police, and forsaken by Fortuna. Keeping in mind the Oracle Delfina’s promise that he will survive this, he sallies forth against the irrational, armed only with the unreasonable hope that he can do the impossible.
“This isn’t the New York Public Library reference desk and I’m not some sort of damn search engine,” Blake Morgan complained after I gave him the three names.
“Blake,” I said, “I’m about to give you the story of a lifetime. I just need to know who I’m dealing with.”
“The FBI, so you say.” Morgan was typing away furiously.
“That’s why I need you to tell me everything you can about those three names and Liberty Reserve,” I said, trying to catch my breath.
“What’s wrong with you? Are you having a heart attack?” Blake asked.
“Don’t I wish! Unfortunately, that’d be too convenient,” I said, feeling another stab of chest pain.
“Never mind. I’m taking up speed walking for my health,” I explained. “What about Liberty Reserve?”
“Don’t you read the papers?” Blake asked.
“Did you write something about Liberty Reserve?” I countered.
“No,” Blake said.
“Then, no, I haven’t read anything about it.”
“Suck up,” Blake said. “Liberty Reserve was an international internet financial transfer system. It allowed its members to move millions of dollars through a private, untraceable currency exchange system.”
“Money laundering on steroids. The system was so simple and so anonymous it allowed organized crime groups to move millions of dollars in fraudulent credit card transactions from Dubai to the Cayman Islands and off the grid in a blink of an eye. No special banks, no traceable transaction chains and no registration.”
“You keep saying ‘was,’” I observed.
“Yes, well the United States Global Illicit Financial Team shut down the system in May. It was their largest coordinated police operation ever. The founder was indicted on 6 billion dollars of money-laundering charges,” Blake said.
“Damn it!” Blake said. “That was right in my ear.”
“Sorry,” I apologized. “But that had to make some very dangerous people very angry.”
“The largest online fraud rings, organized crime syndicates worldwide and a lot of white collar criminals,” Blake said.
“So, why are two FBI agents drinking iced lattes and asking me about those three names and Liberty Reserve?” I said.
“That’s it? That’s your big story?” Blake asked.
“No. The story I want you to do is ‘Governor Under Federal Investigation,’” I countered.
“What?” he asked in disbelief.
“Completely true! I asked agent Mayers if his investigation involved the governor and his cronies and he said, ‘We investigate everyone.’”
“C’mon, Cusper, I know how you feel about the governor. But I don’t think I can use that quote,” Blake said, sounding tempted.
“You stick to your journalistic integrity,” I said, trying not to laugh. “But I asked the agents that question, because the topic was, international fraud, terrorism, crimes against the state. . .”
“Terrorism?” Blake said, his typing slowing for just a moment.
“Yup. The federal prosecutor listed every known Federal Agency, and several I have never heard of in a series of seizure notices. They’re using everything from RICO to the Patriot Act and good luck finding out anything to do with the who, what or why of it all,” I said.
“So what’s the story?” Blake asked.
“How do you want to play it? If you have a shred of concern about civil liberties I would suggest ‘Fed Secret Seizures In Sarasota’ or, if you’re a bootlicking, running dog, you could go with ‘Glorious Fed Thwarts Fraud By Amazing New Police Action,’” I suggested.
“Any support documents?” he asked, ignoring my dig.
“To support the great victory of our esteemed leaders over civil liberties? I have a couple of court orders here that will tie knots in the colons of the best attorneys in the county. I also have records of accounts frozen and pending forfeiture hearings. Then there is, of course, my own interview with the FBI. How’s that for starters?”
“It would be better if we could tie it all together,” Blake complained.
“Well, you just might have to do some leg work. After all, I’m not the one who’s related to someone in the Federal Prosecutor’s office,” I said.
There was silence.
“Blake?” I asked.
“You haven’t been following the Department of Justice’s activities lately, have you?” Blake said.
“Which? The NSA or the attack on the Associated Press?” I said.
“Both, either. Sources are drying up. If you read an ‘Anonymous official’ quote today, you can be damn sure it’s cleared by their department head and is the official line,” Blake said.
“You’re telling me I’d get better coverage doing ‘Anonymous Sourcing’ than with a press release? Good to know,” I said.
“I mean, I can’t use my Federal connections. DOJ is watching everyone, sources and reporters!”
“I know you have bigger fish to fry. I’m sure you’re investigating some city council member who tweeted about a contract or posted on Facebook about a pending city hearing. Earth-shattering stuff that will rock your readers’ world! Egregious violations of the State’s sunshine laws! Hell, I expect you could do a shock headline about ‘Panhandlers At the Gates’ for all those exclusive Sarasota subdivisions. Tell you what,” I said picking up steam. “Get a photographer, then pick me up at my office in 20 minutes and I will be a sweaty, filthy mess holding a sign that says ‘Will Market For Food.’ Then you can put me in front of your choice of any gated community in Lakewood or Palmer Ranch. That should merit the damn front page for the Sunday edition. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism that is!” I ranted.
“Cusper, I’m just saying. The sourcing has to be spotless and the story has to be solid,” Blake said.
“Blake, I’m not asking you to be a hero. You don’t have to be Woodward or Bernstein. Just look into those names and find out what they have to do with Liberty Reserve.”
“That was a cheap shot,” Blake said, after a long pause. “You know how I feel about Bernstein.”
“I’ve never understood your love of Bernstein. Man’s a schmuck.”
“He’s underrated,” Blake said, defensively.
“If I go through your album collection I bet I’d find Garfunkel, Oates and Messina.”
“I like Garfunkel,” Blake said flatly.
“Fine. Then out of love for Bernstein and Garfunkel, and all the other underrated second bananas out there, please look into those three names,” I begged him.
“I’ll get back to you in a while,” Blake said and then hung up.
By the time my conversation with Blake had ended, I had reached St. Thomas More’s Catholic Church. This was not an auspicious sign. I pocketed my phone and picked up my pace. Half an hour later I arrived at the door to my office, sweat soaked, salt stained and possessed of a powerful thirst. Bursting in, without even the basic social courtesy to acknowledge any and all present, I made a bee-line to the water cooler and downed several cold cups, scarcely pausing to take a breath.
“A package arrived from Leopold,” Sheila told me. “I placed it on your desk. You had a phone call from Abby that he said was urgent. A call from Detective Ballinger that sounded urgent and a call from a Ms. Wasserman on a ‘private, personal, urgent and confidential matter.’ Oh, and Matt Tomlinson was passed out in the bathroom, so I gave him a glass of water and had him take a nap in your office.”
I felt my legs buckle. Heat stroke was my first thought. No force, natural or supernatural, could possibly have transformed Sheila into a productive or professional being in the relatively short time I’d been gone from the office. Therefore, the only rational assumption I could make was that I was suffering from a heat stroke-induced hallucination and would shortly awaken to find a turkey buzzard plucking out my eye.
But, for the time being, the hallucination involved water and an air conditioned office, so I could see no reason to rush off to my date with the turkey buzzard. I drew off another cup of water from what I believed to be a water cooler, though it might well have been a car bumper or garden gnome in a flower bed along Gulf Gate Drive that I had passed out in. I then turned around and seated myself on a very cool, though quite old, vinyl couch in Reception—I did not even dare consider what I might actually be sitting in—and considered my situation.
Rather than confronting some bizarrely transformed Sheila, whose petulance was only matched by her incompetence, I was instead greeted by the much more comforting visage of the tattooed and pierced Gadget, of the alarmingly bright pink-and-blue hair. Who, now that I came to look at her, was also sporting two shiners and a stitched-up, swollen upper lip.
“Good match last night?” I asked causally, as I reassembled my world view.
“Yep. Their Pivot, ‘Boom Boom Barbarossa’ is in Sarasota Memorial,” Gadget smiled, with all her own teeth.
“And Gene?” I asked.
Her face clouded over. “He had a run in with their team captain in the parking lot.”
“Oh, what hospital is he in?” I asked.
“It was just a concussion. I dropped him off at his room last night. He was fine,” Gadget said.
“So Leopold came by,” I said, leaving the politics of roller derby grudge matches for another day.
“Yes. He said to tell you he delivered everything you asked for.”
“And how, might I ask, did you come to be here?” I motioned toward the reception desk.
“Well, I came by to let you know we’re having a problem. Then I found the place empty. Well, mostly empty. I found Matt. . .” Gadget began.
“Let’s back up to ‘empty.’ What do you mean by empty?” I asked.
“Phones ringing, door unlocked, no one in the office looking after the place,” Gadget explained.
I sipped my water calmly and considered this information. Sheila was clearly maintaining the standards of performance I had come to expect from her.
“You said something about our having a problem. What’s the problem we’re having?” I finally asked.
“I think it has to do with your Ms. Wasserman,” Gadget said. “Our payment service is getting rejection notices from your bank.”
I closed my eyes. “Were the transactions payments or withdrawals?”
“Payments,” she said. “We put through seven 50-cent payments to test that the merchant processing system is working. When we ran the test the other day, it was fine. Today, when we saw we were maxed out on registered attendees, I figured we should. . .”
“Maxed out?” I cut her off. “How do you mean maxed out?”
“The list response. I don’t know what happened today, but somebody did an Eblast to their mailing list. Our servers were buried with the sign-ups.” Gadget explained.
The Oracle Delfina, undoubtedly.
“So I’m looking at the figures and thinking,” Gadget continued, “with that number of registrations, even if we only get 60 percent attendance and 4 percent conversion, our merchant service system is going to be slammed. So I told them to dial up our bandwidth; move us up to the larger package for the merchant service side. That’s when I started getting messages that the bank was rejecting the test payments.”
“In English, if you please,” I said, knowing only roughly what all of this meant.
“You’re going to have a lot of buyers and no way to get paid if you don’t get the banking problem fixed.”
“I suspected as much,” I said resignedly. “Any thoughts?”
“Off the top of my head, no. If we had a week, I could set up an account with a different merchant group and they would provide the bank. But, since this is already tied into your bank, the only thing to do is get the bank problem fixed.
I once again felt the pain in my chest. My shoulder blades twisted backwards, and an electric bolt coursed the length of both my arms. I quietly cursed the Oracle Delfina as I knew death was not at hand as it would be far too convenient to be granted.
“Cusper?” Gadget asked.
“Did. . .” I managed to ask, teeth clenched, “Ms. Wasserman leave her cell number?”
“Yes,” Gadget said,bringing it to me.
“How would you like a job?” I asked.
“Here? Thank you, no,” she said, without hesitation.
“Actually,” I said, finally feeling the waves of pain begin to leave me, “I wanted to hire you to give Sheila some private roller derby lessons. Maybe take her to one of your next grudge matches. I’d of course have her sign a waiver of liability.”
Gadget smiled, making the stiches in her lip dimple. “I’ll think about it.”
I took a deep breath, removed my cellphone from my pocket and dialed Ms. Wasserman.
“This is Cusper Lynn returning your call,” I began.
“Mr. Lynn. Thank you for calling me. Tomorrow is Friday,” Ms. Wasserman said.
I let the implied question hover between us.
“Mr. Lynn, the overdraft needs to be made good by tomorrow,” she said finally.
“I am aware of this,” I answered.
“I just wanted to make it clear how serious this situation is.”
“Consider your point made. But I’m wondering why your bank’s refusing deposits to my account?” I asked pointedly.
“Mr. Lynn, until the overdraft issue is resolved, no transactions are allowed on your accounts,” Ms. Wasserman said coldly.
“So, the fact that merchant deposits exceeding 250 thousand dollars will be submitted to my account tomorrow evening. . .” I began to work up steam.
“Mr. Lynn, until you bring cash or a certified check to settle the overdraft, no transactions will be allowed on that account,” Ms. Wasserman said, her voice remaining chilly.
“Fine. So I bring in that payment. When can my account accept merchant deposits?” I said with a belligerence that suggested this matter was going to be easily resolved.
“Immediately,” she said, without hesitation.
“Ms. Wasserman, I want you to understand that I’m being patient as these are exceptional circumstances. I will be in tomorrow morning to take care of this. But if your bank fails to accept payments for my merchant account tomorrow, as you have promised they will, then I will be turning this matter over to my attorneys. Oh, and I will be seeking damages against the bank and its officers. Have a good evening,” I said, hanging up.
“So that’s all taken care of?” Gadget asked, optimistically.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d only succeeded in digging myself a deeper hole. There was no way I’d have that money by tomorrow morning. I just smiled and nodded.
“That’s good. One less problem,” she said, heading for the front door.
“Where are you going?” I asked, alarmed at the prospect of being left alone with my problems.
“Things to do,” she said, standing at the door. “By the way, Detective Ballinger just pulled into the parking lot.”
The good news just kept coming. “The package from Leopold is for you,” I said. “It’s the remaining web content and the product for you to upload.”
“Perfect.” She turned and went back down the hall to get the package.
The front office door opened and the tall, square-shouldered figure of Detective Ballinger intruded into Reception and into what was already a miserable afternoon.
“Hello? Mr. Lynn?” He called out.
“Over here.” I waved to him.
“Yes, Mr. Lynn,” he began, the door swinging closed behind him.
“I would try to get up, but I can barely move,” I explained
“What happened?” Detective Ballinger asked, crossing over to me.
“Car problems,” I said. “I had to walk back from Stickney Point.”
“I’ve been trying to reach you,” he said, his tone official but not accusatory.
“So I’ve just been informed,” I answered, looking up at the towering police detective and feeling another wonderful convulsion of chest pain.
“I have a few questions I need to ask you,” he said, standing over me.
“More than happy to help. But, if you don’t mind, could you please sit down?”
“Why?” he asked.
“For one thing, I’m going to get a crick in my neck if I have to keep looking up. For another, the first time we met I was sitting on a couch and you were standing. It’s bringing back some very unpleasant memories.”
“Oh, sure,” he said, and dragged over one of the reception chairs so that he could sit opposite me. “Now, Mr. Lynn. . .”
“Detective Ballinger,” Gadget greeted him as she walked back through reception with the large sealed manila package Leopold had delivered.
“Ms. Mili. . .” Detective Ballinger trailed off as Gadget’s eyes narrowed to dangerous slits.
“Ms. Gadget,” he recovered. “While you’re here, I need to ask you a few questions also.”
“Is this going to take long?” she asked, her eyes returning to a less threatening, but still swollen state. “I’ve got to get to practice.”
“No,” he said, extracting a picture from his jacket pocket. “Have you have seen this person before?”
Gadget looked at the image for a few seconds and announced, “No.”
“You’re sure?” he said, clearly disappointed.
“Yes, I’m sure. Is there anything else?”
“Not for now. Thank you for your assistance,” Detective Ballinger said.
“You’re welcome,” Gadget said and went to the front door. “Cusper, I’ll get this content loaded up tonight after practice and I’ll be back here tomorrow around 3 to make sure everything is ready to go for the webinar.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Oh, by the way,” Detective Ballinger addressed Gadget’s retreating back. “Congratulations, I hear your squad won last night.”
Gadget turned in the doorway and smiled. “Yes, we did. Someone you know watched us?”
“A friend of mine, on the ambulance crew,” Detective Ballinger explained.
“It was a very good match,” Gadget agreed and then left.
There was a several, second silence following Gadget’s departure which Detective Ballinger broke with a long sigh.
“I have a daughter,” he said.
For a moment I struggled for some reply, but all I managed was, “Makes you worry?”
“Makes me wish my daughter had her shit together as much as Gadget does,” he said.
“Yes, she is quite independent,” I observed.
“Anyway,” Detective Ballinger said, his voice resuming its official tone, “have you seen this person before?”
For the second time that day I was looking at a grainy picture of a man in his early 40s with short black hair and a goatee.
“I’ve seen his picture before.”
“This picture?” he asked, suspiciously.
“No, a similar one, though. Actually, two pictures: one with the goatee and one without,” I appended.
“Where? When?” Detective Ballinger demanded.
“This afternoon, I was at the coffee shop at the end of Gulf Gate. Two FBI agents wanted to talk to me about the break-in,” I explained.
Detective Ballinger’s face colored. “One, a tall guy?”
“Agents Trimbull and Mayers,” I said. “You know them?”
“They’re in my office,” he growled.
“They work with you?” I asked.
“No,” Ballinger said, putting away the picture. “They are in my office. They came down from Tampa yesterday and were put in my office temporarily.”
From his tone and manner, it was clear to me that this was not an arrangement he found agreeable.
I tried a sympathetic tack. “Tight quarters.”
“No quarters. I’m stuck in a cubicle with another detective,” Ballinger grumbled.
“Do you know what they’re working on?” I asked.
“They’re working on a Federal financial fraud investigation task force,” Ballinger said, rising up.
“You might want to compare notes, because the guy in your picture is the one they’re looking for. I think it has something to do with Liberty Reserve,” I offered.
Ballinger’s eyes flashed. “Liberty Reserve?”
“Yep. Three names they kept after me about and Liberty Reserve. Then they shoved two pictures of that guy at me.”
Detective Ballinger got out a note pad. “What were the names?”
“Why don’t you ask them? I’m sure they’ll tell you,” I suggested.
Detective Ballinger’s lip twitched slightly.
“Don’t get along with them?”
“Trimbull was using my daughter’s photo as a coaster for his coffee mug before I moved my belongings out this morning,” Ballinger confessed.
“Courtesy among colleagues,” I said.
“Well, I can’t say I’m favorably disposed to them, either. They hit me with a subpoena to appear before a Federal Prosecutor, and confiscated the car I was driving,” I said.
“Those three names could be helpful,” he said, still holding the pad.
“I don’t remember the three names precisely. But I called someone to have them look into it for me. If you would like, I can get the names for you,” I offered. “One thing, can you tell me where you got that picture?”
“Why?” Ballinger said.
“Well there were two pictures, one of him with a goatee at an intersection and the other of him clean shaven. So I’m wondering how old the picture is and where it’s from,” I explained.
“We got it off the ATM machine across the street. It was taken the evening your place was broken into. There were a few others that showed a figure approaching your building. But this was the only one where we could see a face,” Ballinger said.
“Tell you what, let me make a quick phone call,” I said, taking out my cellphone. I pressed the contact and, within two rings, Blake picked up.
“Cusper, I’m just getting the last of it together. But I have to tell you. . .” Blake started in.
I cut him off. “I’m here with Detective Ballinger and I need you to read back those three names to me. They might have something to do with the break in at my office.”
“What do you mean, read them off to you? You gave them to me!” Blake said, clearly perturbed.
“I’ve got heat stroke, heart attack and a possible side of cerebral hemorrhage on my current health issues plate at the moment!” I snapped, “so I’m not necessarily retaining things terribly well. What are the three names?”
“Alberto Mariche, Stephen Pencheco and Barenth Ahearne. . .” Blake said.
I repeated the names back to Detective Ballinger, who wrote them down.
“But Cusper, I wanted to let you know about getting my wires crossed. . .” Blake said and my phone beeped.
“Hold on a second Blake, I have to take this other call.”
“Cusper,” Abby said urgently, “I need to talk to you. Now!”
“There’s a lot of that going around,” I said. “What do you need?”
“I need to talk to you about tomorrow’s webinar! I have something you have to see!”
I quietly cursed at myself for having failed to block Abby’s call. “Look, Abby,” I began and then my phone beeped again. “Abby, I have to take this,” I explained, and pressed the accept feature only to realize, too late, that I had dumped both Abby and Blake’s callss. “Damn,” I muttered. “Hello?”
“Cusper,” a breathless female voice said.
“Gadget?? Are you OK?” I asked, looking down at the Caller ID.
“Is Detective Ballinger still there?” she asked, ignoring my question.
“That guy in the picture. I just saw him!”
“Where?” I asked.
“Bee Ridge and Beneva. He busted out my passenger window and took the Leopold package!”
Note: The image used to illustrate this column derives from Christopher Neugebauer.