"But this situation is not acute," said Wismer Stroock.
Peepgass cut a glance at Harry, and they both smiled. The developers and their minions never used the word problem; to these shitheads there were only situations.
"The underlying assets remain sound," Stroock continued. "After the market saturation of 1989 and 1990, the absorption rate of commercial space in metro Atlanta has steadily increased, and vacancies have dropped below 20 percent, making Croker Concourse, as a prime outer perimeter property, perfectly positioned for the inevitable upswing in demand. As for Croker Global Foods, our facilities are mainstays in fourteen key markets, from Contra Costa County, California, to Monmouth County, New Jersey. It just so happens that all our divisions have been hit simultaneously by the same cyclical downturn, that's all. What we're talking about here is a cash-flow situation. All our divisions have potential for tremendous growth in the near term, once the general climate improves. Now, you take Global Foods."
Oh, he was very smooth in his modem-mouth fashion, this Wismer Stroock. He commenced a disquisition about Croker Global Foods and its wholesale food distribution centers and about "emerging pockets of regional restaurant strength" and "food deflation" and "dampened margins" and "the enhanced pricing of crop packs" . . .
Harry let Stroock have his head until he said, "Anyway, what we're really looking at here is the prospect of a significant uptick in cash flow over the next two quarters. This is not a stagnant situation by any means. All we really need is a temporary freeze on these big principal payments, and..."
"Whoa!" said Harry with a grating whine, "whoa, whoa, whoa. Did I hear the word freeze?" Then he looked at Charlie Croker. "Mr. Croker, did Mr. Stroock just say something about freezing the principal payments?"
He kept staring at Croker with his chin lifted and his head cocked, as if his credulity was being put to a severe test. "Let me tell you two gentlemen something about loans. A loan is not a gift. When we make a loan, we actually expect to get paid back."
"Nobody's talkin' about not payin' you back," snapped Croker. "We're talkin' about something very simple." Sump'm veh simple.
"Simple I like," said the Artiste. "I'd like to hear some simple proposals as to how we're gonna get paid back. Simple, no assembly necessary, batteries included."
Peepgass noticed that the first little dark crescents of sweat were beginning to form on Croker's shirt, beneath his arms.
Seeing that Croker was once again speechless, Harry chose this moment to take off his jacket. He stood up and removed it very slowly. Peepgass knew what was coming. This was always a great touch.
In the process of taking his jacket off, the Artiste thrust his thick chest forward. Running down it were a pair of suspenders. They were broad and black, these suspenders, and even at the other end of the table you couldn't miss the motif embroidered on them in dead white: the skull and crossbones, repeated over and over.
As for Charlie Croker the shitheads, Peepgass had observed, always pretended they hadn't noticed the damnable death's-head suspenders; although later, if they were in any mood to reminisce, they would invariably ask about the suspenders and inquire if this had been a calculated gesture on the Artiste's part or if he just happened to be wearing a pair of skull-and-crossbones suspenders. Croker did the usual. He tried to act as if he hadn't noticed. He looked away and scanned the room. . . but of course there was no relief there, just more of the cheap and seedy details, the Streptolon carpet, the synthetic furniture, the no smoking signs, the glare, the dying dracaena, the vile cinnamon-Cheddar coffee buns on the paper plates . . .
Copyright ©1998 Tom Wolfe
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