The following is excerpted from the first chapter of Sink.
“Under the sink.”
“Just sitting there?”
“Wait? Just sitting there.”
“Yes. In a paper bag.”
“Just behind a bunch of moisturizers. Lots of moisturizers. They were falling all over the place.”
“Ball sacking nuts! A Disco grocery bag.”
“Regular old bag.”
“And it, inside, it was real?”
“It looked it.” I gulped my fernet.
“Who else has access to her bathroom?” Alan asked.
“Only the other women in the office.”
“One time when Delfina was in the hallway bathroom, these two– Doesn’t matter. Delfina’s on vacation in Córdoba. Carly never uses it. It’s Ana’s.”
“Could it have been there a while?”
“Who would keep that in a bathroom, unguarded, for who knows how long?”
“I don’t know. It’s crazy as Belushi comma Jim. But maybe that stuff doesn’t matter to her. Just a drop in the bucket. Maybe she forgot about it.”
“You don’t get as rich as she is being careless with money.”
“Sure you do. There are tons of rich idiots.”
“Few that are self-made. Think about Mark Brandson. Or Judy Zilber.”
“What about MC Hammer? Or Vanilla Ice? Or any childhood star.”
“Non-celebrities. She knows money better than anyone in this hemisphere.” I downed another mouthful of fernet. “Fuck.”
“What am I going to do?”
“Nothing. It’s fine.”
He leaned back and cocked his arms behind his head his biceps flexing under his grey polo. “Panicker-in-chief, relax a little will you? You asked me to come meet you. I came. And hearing what you’re saying, I’m telling you frankly, because I’m a frankly kind of dude, this doesn’t matter. No one cares about your hedge fund. Or your boss. No offense. She’s throwing a little money around. Whatever. The fund keeps kicking butt, right. Didn’t you say you made $62 million last quarter?”
“Last year. Last quarter we lost $29 million.”
“Sure, but the market’s been tanking. Everyone’s losing money.”
“Unless you have something to hide, you don’t just have….” I looked both ways. People in black shirts and skinny jeans and leggings and dresses thronged the plaza. They crowded around the nearby tables and dotted the open area near the boarded-over crafts booths. I didn’t recognize anyone. I leaned in: “You remember that Berg Siegel hedge fund blew up this summer?”
“Sure. Pantheon Lane or something.”
“Yeah, exactly.” I sipped my water. The condensate dripped on the metal table, splashing my hand. I wiped it on my forehead. “Taylor was telling me, and Taylor’s never lied to me, that one of the MDs there, sorry, one of the Managing Directors, he started embezzling before it fell apart. Steve Compson, he was in mine and Taylor’s analyst class at Berg, he became an associate at Pantheon. According to him, a few months before it fell apart, this boss saw the writing on the wall and stole seven million bucks. Seven million. Steve didn’t find out until last week. It’s still not public five months later.”
Alan smirked, then his lips curled way up, his cheeks glowing, and he shook his head. “You know it’s not right.”
“You’re even sexier when you turn all crimson like that. Just by the by.”
“This isn’t a joke.”
Alan tried to stifle a smile.
I said, “Ana thinks we’re going down.”
“I don’t see a more likely scenario.”
“Then use that I-banker imagination of yours! Don’t tell me they sucked it all out of you. She’s worth gatrillions of dollars, no?”
“So who says it’s FEP’s money? Maybe she’s buying a house and the seller wants cash. Maybe she’s paying a high-end gigolo. It’s not me, don’t worry. Who cares if she’s flushing some down the drain? Or the toilet. Or the bidet. Wherever the hell she wants. Maybe she just really wants to fight inflation. You said she’s very patriotic, right? Let her honor her back-asswards country.”
I started coughing. Fernet dries me out. I bent over, trying to force it out and my neck contorted to make my wind pipe work again.
“Drink! Drink.” Alan pushed me my water. When it was gone, the acerbic aftertaste of the fernet still clung to my throat and tongue, so I downed half his water, too. He said, “I’m sorry. I was just trying to be funny with the inflation.”
Cars flooded the Plaza Serrano, their headlights bright in my eyes as they passed. Three beautiful women with glowing skin emerged from a BMW with black chrome. They were tall and serious and strode across the traffic circle and into the overflowing Valle bar. At one table beneath the neon yellow sign, a different tall thin woman in a short pink dress bent away from a tall man with a ponytail, laughing. I wiped the condensation from his glass. My voice hoarse, “Thank you.”
Alan drained his beer. “It’s quality water down here.”
“You’re used to it?” I said.
“It’s been a month. Give me a little credit.”
“I do miss Berkeley water though,” he said.
“I don’t remember it.”
“No? But it’s so silky smooth.”
I shook my head.
“What? EBMUD’s got it going on.” he said.
“I don’t know many people who would call water that.”
“I’m a diamond in the rough.”
“You’re definitely something. I’ll give you that.”
“And I’ll take it. And more.”
“Don’t bet on it.”
“Oh, I will.”
“You must lose a lot of bets, Alan.”
“Say what you will. I’m wearing you down, Van Rensselaer-Kauffman.” He cocked his head and leaned in close, and he was smiling. He held his lips tight and his eyes wide.
I sat up. “Three years building this, and now this.”
“Man, you go form zero to a million really fast. You know that? Even in kilometers that’s pretty bad. You’ve got to relax.”
“I… It was right there. And we’re taking loss after loss.”
“So take some dough-lah for yourself,” Alan said. “Kidding! Look, is it still there?”
“Do you think I have it on me?”
He tapped out a rumba on his stomach. “Go in early. See if it’s still there.”
“And if it is?”
“Watch what leaves her office.”
“I have a job to do.”
“So that’s a lot of effort. I can’t monitor her all day.”
“If that’s a lot of effort, then calling me up at ten pm and making me come meet you here was an obscene excuse to get quality time with me. You could have just said you wanted me to help fix a leaky refrigerator or something and I’d come over and talk about my big wrench and it would be awesome.”
I sighed. “Fine. Let’s say I’m watching it and it disappears.”
“Then check again and see if more reappears.”
“Okay, say it does.”
“I don’t know. Would it be crazy to just ask her?”
“Ask her?” I said.
“Based on all your years of investigative and pranking and bizarro experiences, your telling me that your recommendation is I go up to her and say, ‘Hey Ana, I was using your bathroom, but the toilet clogged and overflowed. I was searching for a plunger and I found $450,000 cash in a paper bag instead. Oh, and then it was gone. Oh, and now more money is back again. Can you tell me what’s going on?’”
“She’ll fire me! Or at least relegate me to bullshit work forever.”
“Okay, then don’t ask.”
“Come on, Alan.”
“You, come on,” he said. “Stop acting like a paranoid cock-saurus. You have no idea what’s going on. Maybe it’s for the gigolo. Maybe her cousin was kidnapped in Rio and she needs to pay ransom. It’s just money. You tinker with it all day. I’d think by now it would bore you.”
“I stare at spreadsheets and Bloomberg machines all day. I never see that kind of money. In cash. Independence Hall and Ben Franklin over and over again. It’s so green. It really is. And you could feel how much cloth goes into it.”
“You’re weird. And uber-nerdy sometimes. But that’s cool. I still think you’re cool.”
“I need to go back.”
“That’s ridiculous, Esther.”
I finished my fernet, clunked the tumbler down, and stared.
“Shit. Sorry. Celeste. Celeste. I’m sorry. I keep forgetting. I’m a douchebag,” Alan said.
I said, “Make it up to me. Come with me to the office.”
“I won’t sleep if I don’t go.”
“Come on, Celeste. This is crazy.”
“Have you ever seen that much money?”
I followed his gaze to the cloudy, washed-out sky. He came back down, “For the record, I think you’re acting nuts. And bossy. Like Judith Light. But you are ridiculously hot. So fine, let’s blow the fuck-nast out of here.”
In the taxi, I hoped for red lights, but we raced up Libertador. We almost stopped at one light, but the driver floored it, and the Fiat’s cylinders roared.
I checked my phone. I had no emails from Ana.