Back in 2013….
It was early March and New Yorkers were slogging through the snowy streets of Manhattan after concluding another day of work. A cold Nor’easter had deposited six inches of snow two days ago that had now turned to slush. As Joey DePew walked in the shadow of the new Freedom Tower he entered the front door of his favorite corner bodega and read the headlines of the New York Post: Bloomberg Loses The Soda Battle, Not The War.
“Hi Joey,” said the Russian owner.
“Hi Viktor. Give me the ham and cheese and a Big Gulp; that is, if the mayor doesn’t mind with his stupid war on big sodas,” said Joey.
“Let me join you my boy,” said Victor. “Let us toast your mayor, his honor fine, and when we’re through, your mayor too, can stick it where the sun don’t shine.”
“I love it Viktor. You are now a spot-on truly jaded American,” said Joey. “Here, keep the change.”
“Spasiba, Joey. Thank you.”
As he pushed through the Times Square crowd Joey spied a cab.
“Taxi.” He heard another voice nearby.
As he reached the curb another hand touched the car door.
“This is my cab,” said the man.
“No, I got here first,” said Joey.
“You were too slow,” said the man.
“That’s not what your wife said last night,” said Joey.
“Ha, ha. Tell you what,” said the man. “Let’s share.”
“Okay, after you,” said Joey.
“Trump Hotel,” said the man to the driver.
“Uh, Wellington Hotel,” said Joey.
“Are you really going to the Wellington?” asked the man.
“Uh, well sure,” replied Joey. “At least nearby.”
“Declan. Declan Carter,” said the man. He held out his hand. Declan was short, balding, puffy cheeked, a longshoreman in a blue suit.
“Joey. Joey DePew. Glad to meet you.”
Joey didn’t like the way he dragged out his name.
“So what do you do for a living Depewwww?”
“At the moment, nothing,” said Joey. “I just graduated from Harvard Business School. Seems business graduates are a dime a dozen here. I haven’t found a job yet. What do you do, work in one of the investment firms?”
“Are you kidding?” said Declan. “I wouldn’t work in one of those money factories for all the tea in China. I’m in real estate. That’s my niche. I came up the hard way, boy―on the streets. I buy low and sell high. Money never sleeps, kid. Remember that, money never sleeps.”
Declan looked at Joey’s sandwich and Big Gulp. “It looks like you’re ready for a really big night.”
“Uh, yeah. I decided against beef wellington,” said Joey.
“Hey, here’s the Trump,” said Declan. “Tell you what kid, here’s my card. Give me a call sometime.”
Joey looked at his card―Declan Carter, Real Estate Investments-568.3656. Short and to the point, he thought.
“Are we still going to the Wellington, signore?” asked the cabbie.
“Yeah, I just live around the corner from the Wellington,” said Joey. “Sei italiano?”
“Si signore. I come from Italy.”
The next morning as Joey walked down Fifth Avenue he marveled at the throng of businessmen hustling before him. A late bloomer he had come a long way from being the shortest kid in school. One prankster’s joke rang hollow in his ear: Hey, Joey. You oughta sue the city for making your face so close to the street. Ha, ha.
Joey wasn’t short anymore and as he walked along he was caught up in the sensation of confidence every fresh faced New Yorker feels while bumping into all the successful Wall Street twenty-to-thirty-year olds in their thousand dollar suits and their finely polished black shoes.
Five hours later he returned to his apartment and reached for his phone.
“Hello, Declan? This is Joey, Joey Depew. We met in the taxi yesterday. Yeah, hey, I got a job as a stock broker today and I need to pick your brain. How about dinner tonight? Jean Georges in the Trump? Okay I’ll meet you at seven.”
“You are a pig and a narcissist!” Joey overheard the lady as she marched away from Declan sitting at the corner table.
“Who was that?” asked Joey.
“Oh, the lady thought we had something going,” said Declan. “Not likely. I’m too busy for the ladies right now. Maybe it’s low T. Sit down. Now…what was I doing before I was so rudely interrupted? Oh yeah, what do you want beer…scotch…wine?”
“Gimme a beer,” said Joey. “You’re divorced?”
“Bring me a Manhattan,” Declan told the waiter. “Yeah, we split last year. We have three kids. But, I rarely see them.”
Joey imagined Declan’s kids, three tiny versions of this little man running around looking like three Russian nesting dolls―the kind Viktor displayed in his bodega shop window.
“When you lose your kids,” said Declan, “you lose part of your existence. You’ve heard the expression a shell of a man? You’re lookin’ at him, kid. Loneliness is a bitter dish long past spoiled.”
“Well, you need cheering up,” said Joey. “Let’s drink to my new job.”
“Great. Let’s celebrate. Bring on the booze,” said Declan.
After dinner Declan said, “Come with me Joey to the parking garage. I want to show you something.”
Declan clicked the car trunk open. Inside were boxes of cash―twenties, fifties, hundred dollar bills.
“Holy crap, there must be thousands of dollars there!” said Joey.
“Yeah, don’t get any ideas, boy. I’m armed,” said Declan. “I just wanted to show you what you can do in this town.”
“Why do you keep it in cash? Why don’t you put it in a bank?” asked Joey.
“To keep it away from the IRS and my ex, of course,” said Declan. “I’m no fool.”
“I’ve never seen so much money at one time,” said Joey.
“Get in. I’ll drive you home,” said Declan.
“No thanks. I’ll…I’ll catch a cab,” said Joey.
As Joey walked outside to hail a taxi he remembered his favorite line by W.C. Fields―A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money. Declan fit the bill.
Her name was Shibani―bright, petite, born of Indian immigrants. She worked as a cold caller in Joey’s stock brokerage firm. They had been seeing each other for two weeks. Their favorite after work meeting place was Starbucks at 100 Wall Street. It was Friday, after work.
“I met this guy not long after I came to New York. We met in a cab. He’s fascinating. I don’t know whether to be buddies with him or run. He’s kinda scary,” said Joey.
“He sounds like a gangster, Joey. Maybe you should stay away from him.”
Joey looked out the window. “You know, I want to be like him. But then again, it does sorta bother my conscience.”
“That’s cognitive dissonance,” said Shibani.
“What is?” asked Joey.
“Wanting to be a corrupt and not wanting to be a corrupt both at the same time,” said Shibani.
“I know. But, man, is he loaded,” said Joey. “He’s an autodidact with a ruthless slant and I want to know what he knows.”
“I don’t know, Joey. Look, you learned critical thinking at Harvard. Use it, and be careful.”
A week later Joey received a phone call.
“Hey, boy. Wanta have lunch?” It was Declan.
“Okay. Let’s just go to McDonald’s, the one on Times Square. I can run back to work from there,” said Joey.
McDonald’s was busy, but the pair found a table on the second floor landing.
“Guess how much money I made today, sport?” asked Declan.
“I don’t have a clue,” said Joey.
“Here’s what happened,” said Declan. “When I came to town I had about three hundred thousand dollars worth of Walmart stock that my dad had given me. I used most of it for collateral in buying a warehouse on the lower east side. The stock went up yesterday. So I talked the bank into letting me take it out and sell some of it off. I told them I would put back the remainder for the original loan collateral.”
“So, what happened?” asked Joey.
“I kept it. I kept it all,” said Declan.
“Are you crazy?” said Joey. “Dude, they’ll put you in jail.”
“I don’t think so,” said Declan. “The suits won’t miss it for a while. The word is audacity, Joey. You have to have audacity. Have you not heard the old adage the less accessible a man is, the more he impacts other people?”
“Oh, you have a knack for impact alright,” said Joey.
“I know. Sometimes, I can go too far…I suppose. Like, for instance, I’ve got this buddy who I’ve traded properties with for years and we’ve screwed each other over and over, but mostly for chump change. But, last week he got to me. He took me for $100,000 on a hotel trade.”
“So what happened?” asked Joey.
“We had lunch at Aperitivo’s in Midtown East. Sittin’ in a far corner was a hired gun. If I had scratched my head our long time relationship would have been terminated with extreme prejudice,” said Declan.
“You mean kill him? Are you serious?” said Joey.
“I never got the itch,” said Declan. “I just never got the itch. So...I guess you win some, you lose some. He’ll get his one of these days. What was that old Japanese proverb―if you sit by the river long enough, you will see the bodies of your enemies float by?”
“You mean karma?” asked Joey.
“Declan, you’re a damn threat. Why are you telling me all of this?”
“I’ve been thinking about cuttin’ you in man. But, trust comes along with it. Can I trust you Joey?”
Declan’s question sounded menacing and Joey didn’t miss the fact that he could return home and confront his tormentors with his new found success.
“I don’t know Declan. I’ve never been involved in any kind of tricky stuff. I need to think about it,” said Joey.
“Whatever, man,” said Declan. “I gotta go. I have to finish up some work so I can pay back the bank.”
The next Monday morning started out sunny bright, but windy. March was coming in like the proverbial lion. After three hours of stock telemarketing Joey decided to take a break and walk outside. As he walked by Maria’s Mont Blanc on 48th Street he heard a familiar voice.
“Hey, Depewwww. Wait up. What are you doing? Aren’t you working?” asked Declan.
“I took a lunch break,” said Joey.
“Let’s go in to Maria’s. I’ll buy your lunch.”
For some reason Joey had the feeling Declan was stalking him. The waitress was cleaning a table and placing silverware and napkins as they sat down. Declan had chosen one of the few smaller tables at the front of the old conservative restaurant with its brick interior walls, stars painted on the ceiling and uncommonly plain beige floor tiles.
“I’ll have the Linguine and Manila Clams with the white wine and garlic,” said Declan.
“I guess I’ll have the same,” said Joey.
“Want to hear about my two big deals?” asked Declan.
“Sure,” said Joey.
“Well,” said Declan. “I wrote to a bankruptcy court this morning and claimed that a businessman who went bankrupt recently owed me six hundred and fifty thousand dollars and when they pay off his debts I want to collect.”
“Will that really happen?” asked Joey.
“Likely not,” said Declan. “But if it does work I should get a large part of the six-fifty large.”
“Man, you’re living on the edge,” said Joey. “Are you crazy? I’ve heard some of these Wall Street wheeler dealers are bipolar. You fit the type.”
“Here’s the other deal,” said Declan. “You know that money I kept from the bank? Well, I bought a vacant lot with it in a very prime commercial area and I need you to help me with the, uh, client.”
“Listen Declan. If I screw up in any way the Securities and Exchange Commission can put me away for good. Do you realize that?”
“So…what do I have to do?” asked Joey.
“Well, I paid eight hundred thousand for the lot. I have a buyer who will pay a million-one for it. That’s a tidy three hundred thousand profit. But he won’t pay without a million-one appraisal. It’s already been appraised for the eight hundred thousand, so I need you to find an appraiser who will value it at a million-one. The client will use that same appraisal to get a bank loan. If you have to double the appraiser’s fee, so be it. It’ll be worth it.”
“Man, I don’t know,” said Joey. “That sounds really creepy. I’ve been talking to my girlfriend and she’s starting to scare me off. But, man, you would be a great character in a movie or a book, though.”
“Really?” said Declan. “Wow. Listen, Joey. About ninety-percent of the wise guys in this town are always trying to grab the action compared to the rest of the fools. You have to grab the ring, kid. Grab it. I tell you what…if you decide to do it, I’ll give you five thousand bucks
for about an hour’s work. Think it over, man.”
That night in her apartment Shibani was glaring at Joey over a glass of wine.
“Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking about Declan,” said Joey. “But, you’ll never guess what he offered me today―five grand just for finding an appraiser who will value a vacant lot for a million-one.”
“Is it legal?” asked Shibani.
“I’m sure it isn’t,” said Joey.
“Don’t you remember what I said about cognitive dissonance, thinking two contradictory things at the same time?” asked Shibani. “More people go to jail with that little angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. Think about it Joey. Please don’t get into trouble.”
It was 8 a.m. the next day, a Tuesday morning. The wind blew around Manhattan’s buildings like it was Chicago. As Joey arrived at work he had no more sat down at his desk when his phone rang.
“Hey, Depewww. It’s Declan. What have you decided?”
“Oh, hi Declan. I appreciate your offer. But, I think I’ll pass.”
“Okay, Joey. You’re a bit of a wuss I think. But, good luck in your career anyway and remember what Frank Sinatra said―if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
The following Thursday afternoon Joey met Shabini at Starbuck’s. Turning on his laptop he clicked on WCBS’s news website and was stunned to see in bold type:
Manhattan Businessman Indicted In Real Estate Scam
Fifty-seven-year old Declan Carter of New York City has been charged in a 17-count indictment by a federal grand jury on Feb. 28, 2013. Carter is charged with four counts of bank fraud, 10 counts of money laundering, two counts of wire fraud and one count of bankruptcy
fraud. He could face up to thirty years in prison.
Joey slowly turned his laptop toward Shibani. After reading it she said, “It was Dorothy Parker who said…If you want to know what God thinks of money, look at the people he gave it to.”