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Authors: Tod Goldberg

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BOOK: The Bad Beat
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“You’re a prince,” Sam said.

“It’s the business,” Peter said.

“What else?”

“Well, again, off the record, he actually took out a life insurance policy three weeks ago. Pays out two million five to his son in the case of his death. Paid the premiums on that two years in advance.”

Two years. Savvy, Sam thought. He also began to rethink how awful he considered Henry to be. He’d left his son to deal with this shit but also left him set up for the rest of his life.

“He just sent in a check?”

“No, paid by credit card over the phone.”

Smart again, Sam thought.

“Off the record?”

“You’re talking to a federal agent, Handel. None of this is off the record.”

“Right. Right. I just . . . guess . . . Well, I guess here’s the weird thing. He paid for the premiums using a VISA gift card. It’s basically the same as cash, but he puts close to six grand on it and buys life insurance. It was very unusual.”

And very smart, Sam realized. He could have purchased the gift card at any time and loaded the money on it over the course of a very long time, which would essentially render it traceless in the event he needed to use it to disappear. No usable trail of the money transfer if he did it early, no usable trail of the credit card purchase if he did it early, either. And if he’s smart, he called using Skype and thus no way to triangulate his location until long after he was gone, not that the insurance company would have been looking to do that. But if you’re angry enough, Sam knew, any information could be bought. And it seemed like these bookies were angry.

“Tell me something, Concerto-boy, before this month, was Grayson regular on his payments?”

“He’d usually pay a year in advance. Sometimes in cash. Come by our office on Grand Street and hand over an envelope. We don’t encourage that, but some people in Miami are . . . eccentric.”

“What’s his full loss payout?”

Handel flipped through his pages. “Not a lot,” he said. “Just the base minimums. A notary, all he really needs is his satchel of stamps, plus the books he has to keep for the state; that’s why most of them are mobile now. No sense keeping an office unless you got something else going on. Most of our clients in this business are pretty lucrative, really, because they’ve got PO boxes or UPS operating out of the shop, or maybe they’re also a greeting card place or, we’ve got this one in Doral that’s a soft-serve joint, really strange.”

Handel went on then, at length, about other odd notary businesses, which was fine. It gave Sam a moment to gather his thoughts. First, he decided that if he ever had the choice between going into the insurance industry or being eaten alive by fire ants, he’d look long into the fire ant angle. Second, he saw how odd it was that
all
Grayson did was run a notarizing service out of his office. Rents were high in the neighborhood and Sam had a hard time believing the notarization business could sustain the roof, even with his gambling. No, Sam thought, there was probably something more. Something Henry Grayson’s son, Brent, didn’t, and probably shouldn’t, know about.

“That’s all fascinating, Handel,” Sam said.

“See a lot of crazy things in this business,” he said.

“One last thing,” Sam said. “Was there anything on his policy that was unusual?”

“Here? No. But on his home policy, yeah.”

“You cover his house, too?”

“Yeah, didn’t I mention that?”

“No,” Sam said. “Anything else you’re holding out on me? Or should I just call the IRS right now and have them start your audit while we chat?”

Mention the IRS to anyone, even the guy in charge of the IRS, and immediately people get that look on their face like someone just unscrewed something in their bowels.

“He had an unusual amount of televisions in his house,” Handel said.

“What’s unusual?”

“Ten.”

That was unusual and it dovetailed into what the detective had said about Grayson possibly, at least at one point, running his own book. It didn’t make him any easier to find, but it gave Sam a few ideas about what his next step might be after he and Michael met with Big Lumpy.

“All right, Handel,” Sam said. “I’m going to do some checking into things on my end, both on Mr. Grayson and on you. I like what I see, I lose your Social Security number. I have concerns, you’ll be hearing from someone. You understand?”

Handel looked grave, so Sam gave him a wink . . . which was probably hard for Handel to see since Sam still had on his sunglasses, but karmically Sam felt closer to even.

5

Taking on a disguise is not about changing the way you look. It’s about changing the way you think. Someone who has never met you before and doesn’t have access to DNA technology is going to have a difficult time identifying you as anyone other than who you say you are, so when you take on a new identity, you have to make sure you know all the possible angles of inquiry. If, for instance, you say you’re from the South, you should have more than a passing knowledge of grits, college football and sweet tea and you should probably still have a strong opinion about the Civil War . . . or the War of Northern Aggression, as it were.

You also need to be aware of the knowledge base of the person you’re hoping to deceive. If he’s also a spy, your cover needs to be more than rock solid—you need a fake mother, a fake sister, a fake wife and two fake dogs, one dead, one still alive. Fiona was going to get as close to Drubich’s local operation as possible using whatever cover she deemed best. Being an attractive woman often requires only that a very short skirt be utilized in the building of a backstory, so she had it easier than I did, though I assumed dealing with someone named Big Lumpy wouldn’t require much in the way of world building, either.

Or at least I assumed that until Sam got to my loft that next morning.

First, he filled me in on everything that he’d learned about Brent’s father—most of which was a surprise to Brent, particularly the $2.5 million he stood to earn upon his father’s death—and the more upsetting news that the Russians hadn’t just casually destroyed his office but had actually brought a rocket launcher with them. Not exactly the kind of thing you pack as an afterthought.

“Brent,” I said, “did these guys give you any indication that they’d be coming to see you with weapons of mass destruction?”

“No,” he said. He was curled up on the floor in front of one of his laptops downloading all of the information I’d asked for from him: the voice mail and e-mail from Drubich’s people, Brent’s correspondence, a trail of every dollar he’d spent (I had a feeling this would be difficult, but I wanted to make sure he wasn’t omitting anything that might cause all of us trouble down the line) and the text of all of his Web pages. “They just said either they’d get what they paid for or they’d kill me.”

“And so you thought Sugar could fix that?” I said.

“Sugar and Sam,” he said. “But I didn’t think they were serious. I mean, you know, we’re businessmen.”

“Really?” I said.

“Well, sort of.”

“Neither you nor the Russians are businessmen. You’re both fakes. You just happened to piss off a fake named Yuri Drubich who typically does business with Chech-nyans and the odd Afghan warlord moving poppy seeds.”

“Cool,” Brent said.

“No,” I said. “Not cool. Not cool at all.”

“I didn’t mean it was cool literally. I just, I guess, think it’s kinda crazy that I’m involved with people like that. It was just a Web site.”

It was just a Web site, true, but it was also a fantastic idea for a new way to move information, even if it was one born out of total fantasy. That someone like Drubich found it and wanted a piece of it said a lot about Brent’s idea and about his actual smarts. Even if his smarts didn’t exactly pop up on display in casual conversation.

It occurred to me that I’d failed to ask him perhaps the most important question. “How did Drubich know to send his men to your father’s office?”

Brent stopped typing for a moment, but didn’t look up from his computer. “I made another mistake,” he said quietly.

“Let’s just settle on the fact that this is all one huge mistake and be honest with each other, okay?” I said. “I need you to be a man, Brent. And that means owning up to your mistakes. Don’t be your father.”

I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth. I sounded . . . parental. And certainly nothing like my own father.

“All right,” he said.

I walked over and closed his laptop. “Now,” I said, “look me in the eye and speak.”

“One of the last times I e-mailed them back,” he said, “I did it from the wrong e-mail address. I used the one I have through my dad’s business, so when all of this fell apart, they sent me a message saying they’d be there yesterday at three and I’d better have their money or the specs for the Kineoptic Transference devices, because they were beginning to think they’d been had. I assured them they weren’t and then, you know, I called Sugar.”

“And he called me,” Sam said. “He ever talk to you about any Dolphins tickets, Brent?”

“No,” Brent said.

“Mikey,” Sam said, “remind me to never do any favors for Sugar ever again. Did you know he even promised me parking? Who promises parking and doesn’t even really have tickets?”

“A liar,” I said.

Sam didn’t like that answer. He went into my kitchen and opened the fridge, pulled out three beers and set them on the counter. “You got any limes?” he asked.

“All out from the last time you got disappointed by life,” I said. “Tell me about this Big Lumpy.”

“Yeah,” Sam said, “about that. I was under the impression that maybe he was some New York wise guy slumming in Miami. You know, one of those guys who gives himself a nice, threatening nickname but is mostly a businessman now?”

“And he’s not that?” I said.

“No,” Sam said. “You want to know how he got his nickname? His professors at MIT gave it to him. He apparently has one of the largest brains in history. So, you know, they got cute and called him Big Lumpy.”

“MIT?”

“Yeeeeeah,” Sam said. He opened his first beer and drained it in a few swallows. “About
that
. Turns out Big Lumpy is actually a guy named Mark McGregor. That name mean anything to you?”

“Should it?” I said.

“No,” Sam said. “No. That would be easy. Mark McGregor graduated at age nineteen, top of his class, from MIT in 1989. Worked for seven years in the NSA, then left to gamble professionally. Took down most of Las Vegas. This ringing any bells?”

“Only alarms,” I said. “What did he do in NSA?”

“Computer security, intelligence analysis, game theory as warfare, that sort of thing,” Sam said. “His IQ is supposed to be two hundred. That’s even higher than that ‘Ask Marilyn’ lady in
Parade.

“And now he’s a bookie?” I said.

“He’s been banned from every casino in the world,” Sam said. “Might as well make his own odds, I guess.”

“So he sounds like someone we can reason with,” I said.

“Hmm, no,” Sam said. “I made a few calls last night to some local lowlifes I happen to know? And it turns out he’s known for his unusual brutality.”

“Who’d you call?”

Sam coughed, opened the second bottle, drained it and then kept talking. “So, yeah, he’s known to cut off important parts of people. Fingers. Toes. Eyelids. Brutal guy. Not a nice person at all. To be avoided at all costs if you happen to, you know, stiff him for cash like our young friend’s father did.”

“Sam,” I said, “who’d you call?”

“Mikey, understand that when I say ‘lowlife,’ I mean that as a term of endearment, truly.”

“Sam,” I said, “tell me you didn’t call my brother, Nate.”

“I didn’t call Nate.”

That was a relief....

“I texted him,” Sam said. “I thought it was too early to call, but it turns out that when you don’t go out until three a.m., nine a.m. is dinnertime.”

My brother, Nate, lived in Las Vegas with his, uh,
lovely wife
, Ruth, but had spent the previous three-plus decades in Miami. He wasn’t a spy. He wasn’t even gainfully employed on a regular basis. He was the kind of guy who could get you a suit for a good price, because he’d found it in the back of an open truck somewhere and decided that “finders keepers” was an actual law. When he still lived in Miami he helped me out on a number of occasions, usually by mucking situations up and occasionally by shooting someone at just the right time.

He also had a bit of a reputation for, well, being a lowlife. Not a mean lowlife, just a person leading a life of slightly lower moral standards than most.

I walked over to the kitchen and took Sam’s third beer, opened it and poured it down the sink. “I don’t want him involved in our business, Sam. He’s finally safe in Las Vegas.”

“Safe in Las Vegas?” Sam said.

“My point is, you ask him for advice and then he starts feeling like he’s out solving crimes and that causes bigger problems down the line. Last thing I need is for my mom to call and tell me Nate’s in trouble three thousand miles away and I’m stuck here.”

“I hear you, Mikey,” Sam said, “I do. Problem was, I couldn’t find anyone else to talk to. I mentioned Big Lumpy to all of my normal dirtbags and most of them hung up on me. Apparently he’s considered some mad genius. A buddy of mine? A guy named Sal? He told me he was pretty sure Big Lumpy was a telepath.”

“I highly doubt that,” I said.

“He did work NSA,” Sam said. “Did you know they have a whole division of psychics?”

“Sam.”

“It’s true. I met one once. We were in Chile. She had a body like a rocket, Mikey, and she knew all of my moves before I even tried them. Spooky stuff, Mikey. Spooky stuff.”

“You don’t exactly cloak your thoughts, Sam,” I said.

“Well, be that as it may, she was pretty much a Ouija board in a skirt. Could be Big Lumpy is one of those, too. Minus the skirt.”

The more likely scenario was that Big Lumpy was probably just much more intelligent than the people who decided to bet with him. And if he was setting the odds, it was a good bet that he was setting them in his favor.

“If he’s such a bad guy,” I said, “why would anyone bet with him?”

BOOK: The Bad Beat
10.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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