By Brad Meltzer
Published by Warner Books
October 2002; 0446611921 (in paperback); 496 pages
I know where I'm going. And I know who I want to be. That's why I took this job in the first place...and why, four years later, I still put up with the clients. And their demands. And their wads of money. Most of the time, they just want to keep a low profile, which is actually the bank's specialty. Other times, they want a little...personal touch. My phone rings and I tee up the charm. "This is Oliver," I answer. "How can I help you?"
"Where the hell's your boss!?" a Southern chainsaw of a voice explodes in my ear.
"Don't piss on this, Caruso! I want my money!"
It's not until he says the word "money," that I recognize the accent. Tanner Drew, the largest developer of luxury skyscrapers in New York City and chief patriarch of the Drew Family Office. In the world of high-net-worth individuals, a family office is as high as you get. Rockefeller. Rothschild. Gates and Soros. Once hired, the family office supervises all the advisors, lawyers, and bankers who manage the family's money. Paid professionals to maximize every last penny. You don't speak to the family anymore-you speak to the office. So if the head of the clan is calling me directly ...I'm about to get some teeth pulled.
"Has the transfer not posted yet, Mr. Drew?"
"You're damn right it hasn't posted yet, smartass! Now what the hell you gonna do to make that right? Your boss promised me it'd be here by two o'clock! Two o'clock!" he screams.
"I'm sorry, sir, but Mr. Lapidus is-"
"I don't give a raccoon's ass where he is-the guy at Forbes gave me a deadline of today; I gave your boss that deadline, and now I'm giving you that deadline! What the hell else we need to discuss!?"
My mouth goes dry. Every year, the Forbes 400 lists the wealthiest 400 individuals in the United States. Last year, Tanner Drew was number 403. He wasn't pleased. So this year, he's determined to bump himself up a notch. Or three. Too bad for me, the only thing standing in his way is a forty-million-dollar transfer to his personal account that we apparently still haven't released.
"Hold on one second, sir, I..."
"Don't you dare put me on h-"
I push the hold button and pray for rain. A quick extension later, I'm waiting to hear the voice of Judy Sklar, Lapidus's secretary. All I get is voicemail. With the boss at a partners retreat for the rest of the day, she's got no reason to stick around. I hang up and start again. This time, I go straight to DEFCON One. Henry Lapidus's cell phone. On the first ring, no one answers. Same on the second. By the third, all I can do is stare at the blinking red light on my phone. Tanner Drew is still waiting.
I click back to him and grab my own cell phone. "I'm just waiting for a callback from Mr. Lapidus," I explain. "Son, if you ever put me on hold again..."
Whatever he's saying, I'm not listening. Instead, my fingers snake across my cell, rapidly dialing Lapidus's pager. The moment I hear the beep, I enter my extension and add the number "1822." The ultimate emergency: 911 doubled.
"...nother one of your sorry-ass excuses-all I want to hear is that the transfer's complete!"
"I understand, sir."
"No, son. You don't."
C'mon, I beg, staring at my cell. Ring! "What time does your last transfer go out?" he barks.
"Actually, we officially close at three..." The clock on my wall says a quarter past three.
"...but sometimes we can extend it until four." When he doesn't respond, I add, "Now what's the account number and bank it's supposed to go to?"
He quickly relays the details, which I scribble on a nearby Post-it. Eventually, he adds, "Oliver Caruso, right? That's your name?" His voice is soft and smooth.
"Okay, Mr. Caruso. That's all I need to know." With that, he hangs up. I look at my silent cell phone. Still nothing.
Within three minutes, I've paged and dialed every other partner I have access to. No one answers. This is a hundred-and-twenty-five- million-dollar account. I pull off my coat and claw at my tie. With a quick scan of our network's Rolodex, I find the number for the University Club-home of the partners retreat. By the time I start dialing, I swear I can hear my own heartbeat.
"You've reached the University Club," a female voice answers. "Hi, I'm looking for Henry Lapi-"
"If you'd like to speak to the club operator or to a guest room, please press zero," the recorded voice continues.
I pound zero and another mechanized voice says, "All operators are busy-please continue to hold." Grabbing my cell, I dial frantically, looking for anyone with authority. Baraff ...Bernstein... Mary in Accounting-Gone, Gone, and Gone.
I hate Fridays close to Christmas. Where the hell is everyone? In my ear, the mechanized female voice repeats, "All operators are busy-please continue to hold."
I'm tempted to hit the panic button and call Shep, who's in charge of the bank's security, but...no...too much of a stickler...without the right signatures, he'll never let me get away with it. So if I can't find someone with transfer authority, I need to at least find someone in the back office who can-
I got it.
With my receiver in one ear and my cell in the other, I shut my eyes and listen as his phone rings. Once...twice... "I'm Charlie," he answers.
"You're still here!?"
"Nope-I left an hour ago," he deadpans. "Figment of your imagination."
I ignore the joke. "Do you still know where Mary in Accounting keeps her username and password?"
"I think so...why?"
"Don't go anywhere! I'll be right down."
My fingers dance like lightning across my phone's keypad, forwarding my line to my cell phone-just in case the University Club picks up.
Dashing out of my office, I make a sharp right and head straight for the private elevator at the end of the dark mahogany-paneled hallway. I don't care if it's just for clients. I enter Lapidus's six-digit code at the keypad above the call buttons, and the doors slide open.
Shep in Security wouldn't like that one either.
The instant I step inside, I spin around and pound the Door Close button. Last week, I read in some business book that Door Close buttons in elevators are almost always disconnected- they're just there to make hurried people feel like they're in control. Wiping a forehead full of sweat back through my dark brown hair, I push the button anyway. Then I push it again. Three floors to go.
"Well, well, well," Charlie announces, looking up from a stack of papers with his forever-boyish grin. Lowering his chin, he peers over his vintage horn-rimmed glasses. He's been wearing the glasses for years-way before they were fashionable. The same holds true for his white shirt and rumpled slacks. Both are hand-me-downs from my closet, but somehow, the way they hang on his lean frame, they look perfect. Downtown stylish; never preppy. "Look who's slumming!" he cheers. "Hey, where's your 'I'm no longer a member of the proletariat' button?"
I ignore the jab. It's something I've had to get used to over the past few months. Six months, to be exact-which is how long it's been since I got him the job at the bank. He needed the money, and mom and I needed help with the bills. If it were just gas, electric, and rent, we'd be fine. But our tab at the hospital-for Charlie, that's always been personal. It's the only reason he took the job in the first place. And while I know he just sees it as a way to pitch in while he writes his music, it can't be easy for him to see me up in a private office with a walnut desk and a leather chair, while he's down here with the cubicles and beige Formica.
"Whatsa matter?" he asks as I rub my eyes. "The fluorescent light making you sick? If you want, I'll go upstairs and get your lamp- or maybe I should bring down your mini-Persian rug-I know how the industrial carpet hurts your-"
"Can you please shut up for a second!"
"What happened?" he asks, suddenly concerned. "Is it mom?"
That's always his first question when he sees me upset-especially after the debt collectors gave her a scare last month. "No, it's not mom..."
"Then don't do that! You almost gave me a vomit attack!"
"I'm sorry...I just...I'm running out of time. One of our clients...Lapidus was supposed to put through a transfer, and I just got my ass handed to me because it still hasn't arrived."
Kicking his clunky black shoes up on his desk, Charlie tips his chair back on its hind legs and grabs a yellow can of Play-Doh from the corner of his desk. Lifting it to his nose, he cracks open the top, steals a sniff of childhood, and lets out a laugh. It's a typical high-pitched, little-brother laugh.
"How can you think this is funny?" I demand.
"That's what you're worried about? Some guy didn't get his walking-around money? Tell him to wait until Monday."
"Why don't you tell him-his name's Tanner Drew."
Charlie's chair drops to the floor. "Are you serious?" he asks. "How much?"
I don't answer. "C'mon, Ollie, I won't make a big deal."
I still don't say a word.
"Listen, if you didn't want to tell me, why'd you come down?"
There's no debating that one. My answer's a whisper. "Forty million dollars."
"Forty mil!?" he screams. "Are you on the pipe!?"
"You said you wouldn't make a big deal!"
"Ollie, this isn't like shorting some goober a roll of quarters. When you're talking eight figures ...even to Tanner that's not spare change-and the guy already owns half of downt-"
"Charlie!" I shout.
He stops right there-he already knows I'm wound too tight. "I could really use your help," I add, watching his reaction. For anyone else, it'd be a moment to treasure-an admission of weakness that could forever retip the scales between walnut desks and beige Formica. To be honest, I probably have it coming. My brother looks me straight in the eye. "Tell me what you need me to do," he says.
Sitting in Charlie's chair, I enter Lapidus's username and password. I may not be squatting at the top of the totem pole, but I'm still an associate. The youngest associate-and the only one assigned directly to Lapidus. In a place with only twelve partners, that alone gets me further than most. Like me, Lapidus didn't grow up with a money clip in his pocket. But the right job, with the right boss, led him to the right business school, which launched him up through the private elevators. Now he's ready to return the favor. As he taught me on my first day, the simple plans work best. I help him; he helps me. Like Charlie, we all have our ways of getting out of debt.
As I scooch forward in the chair, I wait for the computer to kick in. Behind me, Charlie's sidesaddle on the armrest, leaning on my back and the edge of my shoulder for balance. When I angle my head just right, I see our warped images in the curve of the computer screen. If I squint real quick, we look like kids. But just like that, Tanner Drew's corporate account lights up the screen-and everything else is gone.
Charlie's eyes go straight to the balance: $126,023,164.27. "A la peanut butter sandwiches! My balance is so low I don't order sodas with my meals anymore, and this guy thinks he's got a right to complain?"
It's hard to argue-even to a bank like us, that's a lot of change. Of course, saying Greene & Greene is just a bank is like saying Einstein's "good at math."
Greene & Greene is what's known as a "private bank." That's our main service: privacy-which is why we don't take just anyone's money. In fact, when it comes to clients, they don't choose us; we choose them. And like most banks, we require a minimum deposit. The difference is, our minimum is two million dollars. And that's just to open your account. If you have five million, we say, "That's good-a nice start." At fifteen million, "We'd like to talk." And at seventy-five million and above, we gas up the private jet and come see you right away, Mr. Drew, sir, yes, sir.
"I knew it," I say, pointing at the screen. "Lapidus didn't even cue it in the system. He must've completely forgotten the whole thing." Using another one of Lapidus's passwords, I quickly type in the first part of the request.
"Are you sure it's okay to use his password like that?"
"Don't worry-it'll be fine."
"Maybe we should call Security and Shep can-"
"I don't want to call Shep!" I insist, knowing the outcome.
Shaking his head, Charlie looks back at the screen. Under Current Activity, he spots three check disbursements-all of them to "Kelli Turnley."
"I bet that's his mistress," he says.
"Why?" I ask.
"Because she has a name like Kelli?"
"You better believe it, Watson. Jenni, Candi, Brandi-it's like a family pass to the Playboy Mansion-show the 'i' and you get right in."
"First of all, you're wrong. Second of all, without exaggeration, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. And third..."
"What was dad's first girlfriend's name? Lemme think...was it...Randi?" With a quick shove, I push my chair back, knock Charlie off the sidesaddle, and storm out of his cubicle.
"Don't you want to hear her turn-ons and turn-offs?" he calls out behind me.
Heading up the hallway, I'm lost in my cell phone, still listening to recorded greetings of the University Club. Enraged, I hang up and start again. This time, I actually get a voice. "University Club-how may I assist you?"
"I'm trying to reach Henry Lapidus-he's in a meeting in one of your conference rooms."
"Please hold, sir, and I'll..."
"Don't transfer me! I need to find him now."
"I'm just the operator, sir-the best I can do is transfer you down there."
There's a click and another noise. "You've reached the University Club's Conference Center. All operators are busy-please continue to hold."
Clutching the phone even tighter, I race up the hallway and stop at an unmarked metal door. The Cage, as it's known throughout the bank, is one of the few private offices on the floor and also home to our entire money transfer system. Cash, checks, wires-it all starts here.
Naturally, there's a punch-code lock above the doorknob. Lapidus's code gets me in. Managing Director goes everywhere. Ten steps behind me, Charlie enters the six-person office. The rectangular room runs along the back wall of the fourth floor, but inside, it's the same as the cubes: fluorescent lights, modular desks, gray carpet. The only differences are the industrial-sized adding machines that decorate everyone's desks. Accounting's version of Play-Doh.
"Why do you always have to blow up like that?" Charlie asks as he catches up.
"Can we please not talk about it here?"
"Just tell me why you-"
"Because I work here!" I shout, spinning around. "And you work here-and our personal lives should stay at home! Is that okay?" In his hands, he's holding a pen and his small notepad. The student of life. "And don't start writing this down," I warn. "I don't need this in one of your songs."
Charlie stares at the floor, wondering if it's worth an argument. "Whatever you want," he says, lowering the pad. He never fights about his art.
"Thank you," I offer, heading deeper into the office. But just as I approach Mary's desk, I hear scribbling behind me. "What're you doing?"
"I'm sorry," he laughs, jotting a few final words in his notepad. "Okay, I'm done."
"What'd you write?" I demand.
"Nothing, just a-"
"What'd you write!?"
He holds up the notepad. "I don't need this in one of your songs," he relays. "How good of an album title is that?"
Without responding, I once again look back at Mary's desk. "Can you please just show me where she keeps her password?"
Strolling over to the neatest, most organized desk in the room, he mockingly brushes off Mary's seat, slides into her chair, and reaches for the three plastic picture frames that stand next to her computer. There's a twelve-year-old boy holding a football, a nine-year- old boy in a baseball uniform, and a six-year-old girl posing with a soccer ball. Charlie goes straight for the one with the football and turns it upside down. Under the base of the frame is her user-name and password: marydamski-3BUG5E. Charlie shakes his head, smiling. "Firstborn kid-always loved the most."
"How did you...?"
"She may be the queen of numbers, but she hates computers. One day I came in, she asked me for a good hiding spot, and I told her to try the photos."
Typical Charlie. Everyone's pal.
I turn on Mary's computer and glance at the clock on the wall: 3:37 P.M. Barely twenty-five minutes to go. Using her password, I go straight to Funds Disbursement. There's Tanner's transfer queued up on Mary's screen-waiting for final approval. I type in the code for Tanner's bank, as well as the account number he gave me.
"Requested Amount?" It almost hurts to enter: $40,000,000.00.
"That's a lot of sweet potatoes," Charlie says.
I look up at the clock on the wall: 3:45 P.M. Fifteen minutes to spare.
Behind me, Charlie's once again jotting something in his notepad. That's his mantra: Grab the world; eat a dandelion. I move the cursor to Send. Almost done.
"Can I ask you a question?" Charlie calls out. Before I can answer, he adds, "How cool would it be if this whole thing was a scam?"
"The whole thing...the phone call, the yelling..." He laughs as he plays it out in his head. With all the chaos blowing, how do you know that was the real Tanner Drew?"
My body stiffens. "Excuse me?"
"I mean, the guy has a family office-how do you even know what his voice sounds like?"
I let go of the mouse and try to ignore the chill that licks the hairs on the back of my neck. I turn around to face my brother. He's stopped writing.Copyright © 2002 by Forty-four Steps, Inc.
Reprinted with permission. (back to top)
What would you steal if you couldn't get caught?
It started as the perfect crime. Then it took a turn for the worse.
Charlie and Oliver Caruso are brothers who work at Greene & Greene, a private bank so exclusive you need two million dollars just to be a client. But when the door of success slams in their faces, they're faced with an offer they can't refuse: three million dollars in an abandoned account. No one knows it exists, and even better, it doesn't belong to anyone.
It's a foolproof crime. More importantly, for Charlie and Oliver, it's a way out of debt and the key to a new life. All they have to do is take the money.
But when they do, they discover they've got a lot more on their hands than the prize. Before they can blink, a friend is dead -- and the bank, the Secret Service, and a female private investigator are suddenly closing in. What invisible strings were attached to that account? How are they going to prove they're innocent? And why is the Secret Service trying to kill them? Trapped in a breakneck race to stay alive, Charlie and Oliver are about to discover a secret that will test their trust and forever change their lives.
This is Brad Meltzer at his most electrifying -- a breathtaking, suspenseful story about two brothers chasing a dream that may cost them everything they hold most dear.
Brad Meltzer is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Tenth Justice. Raised in Brooklyn and Miami, he graduated with honors from the University of Michigan and earned a degree from Columbia Law School in 1996. He has written speeches for President Clinton's national service program, devised marketing strategies for Games magazine, and now lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Cori, also an attorney. They never fight.