"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.
Copyright © 2002 by Forty-four Steps, Inc.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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