Need You Now
Gerry Collins knew that it would end. And end badly. The entire operation was a fraud. His fraud, as much as anyone’s. Still, the breaking news on the Financial News Network left him numb.
“Abe Cushman, a former chairman of the NASDAQ Stock Market and a force on Wall Street trading for nearly fifty years, has reportedly taken his own life this morning.”
Collins stared at the plasma screen on the wall. The Harvard-educated anchorwoman with the beauty-queen hair was almost giddy with excitement, as if the real-time development of a story like this during her midmorning time slot were the journalistic equivalent of winning the Super Bowl.
“Cushman’s apparent suicide has sent shock waves through the financial community,” the anchorwoman said, “as it comes just hours before he was to surrender to federal authorities in Manhattan on charges of massive securities fraud.”
The telephone rang. It had been ringing off the hook all morning. Collins ignored it. He went to the window and soaked in one last view of sparkling Biscayne Bay, the port of Miami, and sun-drenched South Beach beyond.
The south Florida office of GC Investments was a lavishly appointed penthouse in Miami’s Financial District. Not bad for a kid from Jersey who had started out selling pre-owned cars. A keen eye for big spenders ready to part with their money was his gift. A little car knowledge and a lot of smooth talking had paid his way through business school, where he’d graduated in the bottom 10 percent, good enough to launch a ten-year string of completely unspectacular career moves. Then his father-buddies with Abe Cushman since grammar school-landed him a dream gig. GC Investments became an approved “feeder fund,” one of a select few investment firms that could funnel cash to Abe Cushman. His bonus the first year had been a million dollars. By age thirty-five he was earning twice that much-
And now this. Collins was glad his father wasn’t alive to see it.
Again, the desk phone rang. Collins crossed the room and yanked the cord from the wall jack. There was no one to answer telephones anymore. No financial advisers, no assistants, no receptionist. The office had closed its doors for good at five P.M. the day before. Collins was alone.
“We go now to FNN reporter Charlie Hughes,” said the anchorwoman, “who is at the Midtown headquarters of Cushman Investment, where frantic investors are gathering to demand answers about the money they entrusted to Mr. Cushman.”
Collins turned his attention back to the TV screen.
“Shock and anger,” the reporter on the scene said. “Those are the prevailing sentiments right now, as clients of Cushman Investment receive the startling news that the trusted name partner-who may well go down as the worst financial demon in the history of Wall Street-will never answer for his crimes.”
Collins stepped across the silk rug, closer to the television. The FNN reporter was standing in the chrome, glass, and granite lobby of the Cushman office tower on Third Avenue. Behind him, a distraught elderly woman was shouting at a security guard, as if some poor guy with a clipboard and the building’s sign-in register were hiding the keys to the vault where Cushman kept all the stolen money.
“As those of us on Wall Street know,” the reporter continued, “Abe Cushman distinguished himself as one of the most successful and sought-after investment advisors in the business, earning an annual return of ten to twelve percent even in down markets. In the recent financial crisis, however, clients like the ones now standing behind me requested a reported $7 billion dollars in redemptions. This marked the end for Cushman, who apparently never bought or sold anything. Sources have told FNN that Cushman met with his family and lawyer last night and admitted that the business was all a lie, a giant Ponzi scheme in which investors were paid not with earnings from investments but with money collected from other clients. His sons were reportedly prepared to turn him over to the authorities this morning.”
Collins switched off the television and returned to the floor-to-ceiling window of his corner office. He leaned forward, pressed his forehead to the glass, and cast his gaze downward-forty-one stories. The skyscraper’s facade was as flat as a mirror, and he could see all the way to the pavement. Traffic below was a stream of toy cars. The hurricane-proof windows were sealed shut, and there was no way to open them, but for a split second he could almost feel the wind on his face, hear the sounds of the city, and sense the rush of adrenaline that Abe Cushman must have felt. He wondered what had gone through the old man’s head in those final moments of his seventy-one years, as he stood on the balcony outside his bedroom, climbed over the railing, and jumped from the fifty-fifth floor.
Collins closed his eyes tightly, then opened them. It was hard to get his mind around this, but he had to focus. Since his father’s death, he’d heard Cushman say over and again that he was “like a son” to him. The real Cushman sons oversaw the firm’s proprietary trading and market-making operations-the legitimate front. Cushman ran a separate investment-advisory business that managed money for investors. He shied away from individuals, no matter how rich; they asked too many questions. Cushman’s bread and butter were his approved “feeder funds” that only pretended to perform the due diligence a reasonable investor would perform. Gerry Collins at GC Investments was one of Cushman’s gatekeepers-spigots of private wealth who questioned nothing and profited handsomely from Cushman’s fraud. Collins’ big hits were the famous winter playgrounds for billionaires-Ocean Reef Yacht Club in Key Largo, Fisher Island on Miami Beach, the Palm Beach Country Club, and the like. Collins was the master of the Cushman pitch, the golden boy who made investors feel privileged to hand over their life savings or mega inheritance to Cushman. It was like the old days of selling cars, except that “Lemme go back and talk to the manager” was “Lemme talk to Abe, see what I can do for you, my friend.” Same bullshit, bigger numbers. Much bigger.
His BlackBerry vibrated in his pocket. It was nonstop-clients in a panic, demanding to know where their money was. Collins was in no position to talk.
He went to the wall safe behind his desk. It wasn’t nearly big enough to hold the billions that had vanished in the Ponzi scheme, but it was adequate to safeguard his emergency provisions. Stacks of hunded-dollar bills. An equal number of euros and sterling notes. A Glock 9-millimeter pistol. An extra ammunition clip. British and U.S. passports under an assumed name. He stuffed everything into a leather travel bag and hurried out of the office, no