Authors: Mario Bolduc
novel, based on real political events, is nevertheless a work of complete fiction, and, except for public personalities and incidents already known through the media, neither the characters nor the events are real. Some historical chronology has been altered for narrative purposes.
The whole universe is borne along by violence.
No living being can refuse to admit responsibility for war.
Who could sleep while others are dying?
â Translated from
adapted by Jean-Claude CarriÃ¨re
architect enraptured with Louisiana had designed this palace, three storeys of it overlooking a cornice, typical of old Creole homes in the Deep South. Massive columns gave it a Greco-Victorian look, a definite aura of wealth that was confirmed by its four garages, each one wide as an avenue. Max O'Brien had learned from reading
Car and Driver
that one of them contained a veritable Ferrari room, decorated in red and black, in the middle of which sat a marvel of an Enzo, a Modena 360. The owner rarely took it for a spin, and then only on special days: summer, for instance, cruising down Fifth Avenue in order to get stuck in East Village traffic, then back again to its special shrine for the rest of the year, surrounded by furniture and mementos emblazoned with the Scuderia logo.
In this upscale New York suburb, each crossroad ended in a circle of houses just as spectacular as this one. The neighbourhood was a magnet for the rich, who used such dead-end loops to insulate themselves from the rest of the world on huge fenced lots with fortressed homes.
Each one, of course including the one where the Ferrari lived, was equipped with a sophisticated Securex L2245 security system, the very latest in personal protection â “Fort Knox has nothing on you!” said the ads for Bells & Whistles, a surveillance company based in Queens. In the pages of the
New York Times
they showed a tough, imposing baseball umpire, whistle in hand. On the menu were break-and-entry sensors, motion detectors, sirens, cameras, and other dissuasive measures, all relayed to headquarters, which looked more like Cape Canaveral than the dingy closets of any ordinary security companies.
Naturally, this included all the old-school features. About a hundred well-selected, well-trained agents with spotless records and in exceptional physical condition, some with expertise in martial arts, patrolling the neighbourhood day and night, on foot and in cars. Dogs, too, trained to attack and intimidate. Huge monsters just drooling for the chance to lunge at any intruders and chew them to bits, or so the yellow-and-black notices posted on fences and at the entrances proclaimed.
At the annual Burglars' Convention and in the exclusive catalogue of places to consider knocking over, if such amenities existed, houses protected by Bells & Whistles would probably be marked off-limits with a big red star. Okay, hands off. Would the amateur weekend hiker try Mount Everest? What about Jacuzzi-waders plying the English Channel? Thinking of doing a Bells & Whistles place? Un-unh. Suicide, baby, suicide.
So, of course, this morning, that is exactly what Max was planning to do, and in broad daylight as well. The haul would be 14.2 million. He could have his pick of these places, but he chose Chez Ferrari for three specific reasons. First, the house had been sold several times in recent years, and the previous owner, creator of the start-up Chronodesk, the San Diego computer giant, had passed it along to one of the heirs to the Toolbox stores â a chain selling office furniture kits out of Tampa â the present owner of the house in question.
The second reason was that Gerry Monaghan, the heir, had taken an extended vacation in Ireland on the recommendation of his accountant, so he was spending the better part of a year at his cottage in DÃºn Laoghaire (eighteen rooms and a view of Dalkey Island), reaping the tax benefits offered to artists by the Irish government. He was, in fact, author of the book for the musical comedy hit
launched in 1989 on Broadway and reproduced from time to time by regional troupes all over the U.S.
The third reason was the Ferrari.
Normally, to pull off something like this, Max would need a formidable team to neutralize the horde of security agents, the dogs, and the surveillance system. He'd also need a mole inside Bells & Whistles to cover him so he could work in peace. Max was no ordinary thief, and for backup he had just one man, Jiri Schiller, a crook of his own ilk. Max had chosen him for his diploma from the Boston University School of Law. Specializing in real estate, Jiri had inherited from his old man â a trucker â a big physique, an equally big mouth, and a ravishing smile that swept both bankers and women off their feet.
Max had chosen his victim with the same care as the Monaghan residence. Bill Lockwood had just been named head of the mortgage department at the Chase Manhattan Bank on Madison Avenue. Newly arrived from Cincinnati, he was full of the usual clichÃ©s â if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, et cetera â and considered the promotion an opportunity from heaven, a springboard to who-knows-where. Today, whiz kid in mortgages: tomorrow, financial adviser to the President of the United States, why not? Max had hung out at the Manhattan Plaza Health Club tennis courts enough to know he was a blowhard, vain, pretentious, sure of himself, and, of course, ambitious. He also knew Lockwood had played hardball to get where he was, to the detriment of colleagues who lacked his “killer instinct.” He laughed about it under the shower after beating Max to a pulp.
Divorced, with no children, Bill found Max (no â¦ uh â¦ better make that Max's alter ego Robert Cheskin) the ideal confidant, whose ear he could fill with dream-bubbles and still not fear ridicule. Max had let on he was divorced, too, and in a custody battle with his ex over the house and Ferrari,
Ferrari. Imagine, he'd waited over three years for delivery! The house? Easy. There was always some excuse for not inviting Lockwood over, and anyway, the banker was too busy for a social life. His morning tennis games were the only exception to a long day at the office, his career coming before all else.
In fishing, the wait is the hardest part, but the most important. Patience is a crook's best friend, Max liked to say. To steal, you need to weave a web, and that means not being in a hurry. With Bill Lockwood, he took his sweet time, and only went into action after the web had become a masterwork of lace. Max could have waited longer, but that would have been a mistake. The amateur thief gets wrapped up in his own prowess and mesmerized by his own lies. His new identity is precious to him. It is reassuring and comfortable, so he puts off the time for action as long as he can. To move on feels a bit like death. A part of you disappears.
That morning, Max called Lockwood to announce that he and his ex had finally agreed to settle on the house. It would be put on the market, and they'd each get half the proceeds. Max could sense Lockwood getting jumpy on the other end of the line. He was flapping his tail in circles around the bait. So much for Step One: the sucker was on the hook. Now for Step Two. It seemed the German buyer needed a mortgage, so naturally Max had recommended Lockwood: “Wait till you meet him. He's a great guy.” This was far better than working with a bank in Stuttgart, which had no U.S. subsidiary anyway.
“Mmmm,” hummed Lockwood, smelling blood in the water.
Becoming a member of the club was a wise choice â¦ a multimillionaire client had fallen into his lap, just like that. Not an ounce of effort required. They'd done right giving him the job in New York.
“Just one small problem,” sighed Max. “The buyer won't touch the Ferrari.”
Lockwood was amazed: “What kinda moron is he?” he yelled. “A German? So what, Schumacher's German, isn't he?” Max couldn't believe it either, but it was their problem now, and they were stuck with it â¦
“Look, I owe you a big thank-you for handling this so fast and smoothly. You know what Nancy's like, always changing her mind,” Max said. “I'll let you have the Ferrari as a gift for, say, fifty grand.”
In the preceding months, Max had made a point of mentioning the Ferrari often and emphatically, watching Lockwood salivate each time it came up. He'd even gone so far as to doctor pictures of the car in
and print up a fake edition of the magazine complete with an article on the painful divorce of Robert Cheskin, no actual pictures, of course, but plenty of interior and exterior shots of the Monaghan place (not really). That took brass. So, Lockwood, without ever setting foot there, felt he knew the place inside and out â¦ its “owner,” too. Nothing could possibly make him doubt his friend's sincerity. The whole thing, their “friendship” included, was an elaborate fiction from the get-go, and now the intimacy of that private relationship was about to get propelled into the public sphere. This was the keystone of the con man's art.
So Step Two could be checked off, and now all Max had to do was let out some line so the fish believed it was free, and it wasn't too late to change his mind if Lockwood wanted. He could call a halt and back up all the way if he so wished. Actually, no, it was too late for that. This was an offer he couldn't refuse. Blinded by the Ferrari that would soon be his for a pittance, he personally walked Jiri Schiller's mortgage application through the system, after Max brought him to Lockwood's office. He even offered the services of his own notary, an important client of Chase Manhattan. Max, of course, graciously accepted. This Lockwood was an open book: he was going to hand-deliver his chance multimillionaire acquaintance to the bank and pile up some more brownie points for the future. Max could tell that Lockwood knew he was making out like a bandit on this one. Certain that he was, in fact, the
con man, Lockwood would obligingly jump like a fish straight into the frying pan.
The last step, the actual “frying,” was the transaction itself, and it took place early one morning in the Park Avenue office of Notary Warren, who had Schiller fill out all the necessary documents â after duly verifying all the fake property titles Max had manufactured â and handed a cheque to the “Vendor” for the amount of the mortgage obtained from the banker the day before (minus fees, of course). Lockwood's $50,000 for the Ferrari would be directly payable to Max at noon tomorrow, when Lockwood would take possession in a shopping-centre parking lot not far from Monaghan's house.
Max then deposited the cheque in an account he'd opened a few months prior at a branch on Third Avenue. Half of it he promptly transferred to an account he held under yet another name in Geneva, the other half going to Jiri Schiller in Frankfurt. What did he spend it on? Well, the first $11.95 went on a miniature Ferrari he saw in the window at F.A.O. Schwartz. He'd have it sent specially wrapped to the Mortgage Department at Chase Manhattan, care of Bill Lockwood.
As the saleslady was copying the address, Max suddenly felt a wave of fatigue creep over him, as though the weight of six months of lies suddenly fell on his shoulders right there at the counter. He was completely indifferent to the fate of Bill Lockwood. He was just a pigeon, a tool to get a few million out of Chase Manhattan. A drop in the bucket of their affairs. If, once in a while, Max felt himself about to go soft on anyone, he thought about what had happened to his father. There weren't enough Bill Lockwoods in the entire world to make up for what had been done to him, his life ruined and plunged into deepest despair.
Max hailed a taxi and headed for Brooklyn Heights, his real home from the start of this affair. His bags were already packed, so all he had to do was grab them and head for the airport.
Hawaii, Jamaica, the Azores â¦ the choice was his.