Friday, April 20, 2012

The Bernie Madoff Ploy, Lake Bemidji, Minnesota

It was the perfect crime. The victim vanished from the face of the earth, as if snatched by aliens. The neighbors all came to the party, never suspecting. Good fun.
        Billy-Ray Burke stood in the driveway of the estate house that overlooked Lake Bemidji in Northwest Minnesota. This was the big one and Billy-Ray, known on the edge of legerdemain finance as Winston Farnham, was dressed for the kill in a navy blazer, ecru shirt and smart khakis. His black hair was slicked back, his angular face clean shaven and his sky blue eyes, which few women could resist, focused on the lake-side retreat. This was his ticket to Portland, Oregon and the winery he coveted.
        Winston marched to the door and in a few seconds, Luella Anne Kellogg greeted him, looking younger and fresher than Winston recalled her in the super market. She was neatly attired in a smart, black dress with a white, v-neck collar. Her face was lightly rouged and she wore a pale lipstick. Her brown eyes sparkled with intelligence, which gave Winston pause.
         Luella smiled radiantly and ushered Winston into the large hallway with its oak floors. She directed Winston to an elaborate, ebony leather chair, while she took a seat on the couch in the opulent living room.
        On cue, a large Latino dressed in tan slacks and a white shirt entered with two drinks and snacks on a platter.
        “It’s after two and I feel naughty.” Luella said, as the man set the drinks and canapes down.
         Miguel nodded a solemn greeting, and then backed out of the room. Luella took her glass and raised it to toast Winston, saying she hoped he could be helpful. Winston smiled and took his drink, noting the two olives on the toothpick, guessing he was having afternoon martinis.
         They sipped in silence and then Luella apologized for banging into Winston’s shopping cart at the Lueken’s Village Food Market. She noted again she was distracted by the death of her long-time investment advisor who had keeled over a few days before. Luella felt adrift in the world of finance and was delighted when Winston offered his card, noting he was a certified financial planner, summering in Bemidji at the Ruttgers Inn. Unfortunately his firm Golden Eagle was closed to new clients, but he had offered to discuss investment options with Luella and she had invited him to a late lunch.
          “I did talk to my partners.” Winston said after a decent interval. “We might have an opening in our private-client group, our most prestigious investors.”
         Luella perked up at this news and set her drink down. She titled her patrician head and her brown eyes opened wide in hopeful expectation.
          “There is a minimum investment.” Winston intoned… a warning note.
           The dowager put her hand to her throat, as if bad news was on the way. Winston tilted his head, and then looked at her seriously with his Lothario blue eyes. His approach was to set the minimum at one million. If she balked, he would posture a bit, then take pity on her. He would excuse himself and pretend to make a call to his phantom partners. After much back and forth, presumably arguing for Luella, Winston would return and say they could make an exception and reduce her initial investment to a half a million.
          As they sat sipping their drinks, Luella gripped her hands, asking how much was the initial investment. When she heard a million dollars, she sat back. Her brown eyes fluttered and she looked away, as if calculating.
          Winston held his breath, sat straight and sipped his drink. Finally, Luella leaned forward conspiratorially and asked in a hushed tone. “Could I invest two million?”
          Taking a breath, Winston feigned a reflective look. He nodded his head, telling Luella that would be acceptable.
          “Robert had me in Treasuries and some gold. What is you approach?”
          Winston explained that Golden Eagle had prime notes, which were special short-term credits for reputable corporations, the Fortune 500. Emergency cash flow to tide companies over. Luella could expect a yield no less than 12%.
          The older woman puckered her lips, not bad. She passed the canapes to Winston who took one and nibbled.
           “At 12% a year, your money doubles in 6 years.” Winston added, driving in the nail.
           Winston finished his snack and looked at Luella, who suddenly was double, two of her sitting side by side. He blinked his eyes and felt very sleepy. He tried to rise, but was helpless.
           His new client smiled, “too good to be true.”
           When Winston awoke he was strapped down on a table, a bright light shining down on him. He could not move; looking to his right he could see Luella grinning down at him. Behind her was Miguel wearing a hair net and a white butcher’s apron and sharpening a nasty cleaver.
          Luella looked back at Miguel. “I think ribeyes.”
          “Si, Senora.”

Weeks later Adele and Arthur Fairhaven were sitting on the lawn by the lake. Arthur looked up from his chair and sniffed the air. “Luella must be grilling.  My guess is steak.”
         Adele looked over. “She’s having her summer kickoff next week. We must go as she is featuring an eclectic menu.”
         Her husband chuckled. “Martinis and grinders.”
         Adele sniffed and looked down her nose. “What is a grinder?”


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