CONNED


     

CHAPTER 1    FOOTLOOSE AND FANCY-FREE                                                           

Nantucket Island,  Massachusetts                                                 Sunday noon-ish

 30 miles south of Cape Cod 41.2708 Latitude, -70.0265 Longitude


“Where the hell is Ian this time?” Harry asked. He had on cut-off jeans and a gray Nantucket t-shirt. A well-worn white Red Sox cap with a black bill and a large red “B” provided some shade to his Irish/Italian skin, but probably not enough to avoid a sunburn. Maybe his goatee would shield his chin from the sun. His untied sneaker laces touched the water’s surface; being 6’2” with long legs will make that happen when you’re sitting on a dock in the middle of a pond.

Harry was Harold Arthur Bartlett III, a soon-to-be-retired Chief Financial Officer, and co-host of last night’s fundraiser for his alma mater, The Boston Orphanage. It was his home from age 5, thanks to Charles Ponzi’s financial destruction of his family. Yes, that Charles Ponzi, the fraud guy in Boston about one hundred years ago.

Ian was Ian Bradford,  the other co-host of the gala, a wealthy wine distributor and owner of a gigantic mansion and the nearby cottage that was Harry’s vacation residence. Ian was Harry’s only friend, his roommate from prep school, and a direct descendant of William Bradford, Plymouth Colony’s second governor in 1621.  Ian wasn’t from old money; he was from the oldest money.

 “And she wants me to find him. I’m no detective.”

She was Ginny, Ian’s wife, and her somewhat frantic call was the reason Harry was sitting on a hard wooden dock instead of cohabitating his warm, soft bed with his sort girlfriend. He couldn’t refuse Ginny’s call to both look for her husband and personally entertain their weekend guests, and so here he was.

The “where” was Nantucket, the “on island” place Harry hoped where Ian was right now. The specific “where” was a wooden, gray, weather-beaten, t-shaped pier that jutted fifty feet into Madaket Pond, a small body of water on the western end of the island.  The pond’s mini-islands were filled with butterfly weed and honeysuckle that created a subtle aroma. Seagulls and herons floated effortlessly on the light winds. The pond was also full of Harry’s prey- snapping turtles.

The “hell” referred to the non-unique nature of Ian’s absence. It wasn’t the first time he’d reverted to teenage behavior and temporarily deserted his wife and 2 young children. Ginny, the ever-patient wife,  had called other times, and either Ian would resurface, or Harry would mount a search and rescue and bring him back home, contrite and apologetic.

The “hell” also encompassed a bit of self-analysis and self-recrimination by Harry.  Ian was Harry’s best and only friend, and as a friend should do,  Harry accepted Ian’s bad with his good. That forbearance took a toll, but Harry knew himself well enough to know that after fifty or so years, he wasn’t going to develop new friends; holding onto this one was important.

A snapping turtle lunged at a dangling shoelace, and Harry moved the sneaker sideways. The turtle followed, Harry moved it again, but the turtle was persistent and followed again. Harry had enough and raised the temptation out of the turtles’ vision.

 “He’s supposed to be here, not me.”

“Excuse me?” the fishing neighbor to his left asked.

“Oh, sorry, just mumbling to myself,” Harry said.

The fishing neighbor was one of the guests he was entertaining.  

Harry shook his head. What a f’ing mess.

Suddenly, the line tightened so fast he thought his finger might be severed at the first knuckle.



 CHAPTER 2 THE B BOYS                                                             

 Ian Bradford’s vacation compound                                       the night before, Saturday evening



“So, Mr. Harold Arthur Bartlett III, Mister Almost Retired Chief Financial Officer, what the hell are you going to do with yourself?” Ian Bradford asked from his green Adirondack chair. “You can’t live in my cottage forever.”

They were sitting on the B deck, their namesake deck off Ian’s second floor that everyone treated like their adult equivalent of a tree-house that didn’t allow entrance to anyone. The Bradford’s house overlooked the harbor in the Polpis section of Nantucket. A sawed-in-half ship mounted on a varnished plank proclaimed, “Mayflower,” in case anyone forgot Ian’s heritage.   

The green lawn surrounding the house was the perfect backdrop for the colorful showcase below. Nantucket red shorts matched with pastel sports jackets.  Green and blue belts with white whales. Blue pin-striped buttoned-down shirts. Light summer dresses displaying bronzed skin acquired through hours of dedicated sun-bathing.

Servers in brightly-colored, parrot head shirts offered tray after tray of hor's d’oeuvres while Caribbean songs played over the concealed speakers. A line had formed at the raw bar.

“103, without the six servers and us,“ Harry said from his white Adirondack chair. He’d automatically counted the attendees when he first sat down. It was a job hazard. Insurance people evaluate risk. Doctors diagnose. Financial people count.

“Abacus head,” Ian said. “And don’t change the subject.”

“I figured you wouldn’t notice, being drunk on your personal wine,” Harry said.

“It’s not my wine, I only distribute it, and you changed the subject again,” Ian said. “You owe me a limerick. You’ve got 10 seconds.”

Harry produced a cigar smoke ring, took a sip of Ian’s 1990 Meursault Charmes Comtes Lafon Chardonnay, and said,”

             There once was a man on Nantucket

             Who was challenged to write a quick couplet

             He sat in his chair

             In the warm summer air

             And created this cute little nugget.”

“Russian judge 10,” Ian said.

They sat quietly for a while, listening to the Beach Boys perform “Kokomo.”

“I honestly don’t know,” Harry said. “Schools have asked me to teach, but they require tests and papers and summer sessions. There’s consulting, but being nice to idiotic clients sounds horrific. People say everyone has a story in them; maybe I should write a book?”

“Right, a  beancounter stringing five words together. When was the last time you wrote something other than a business email, Freshman year English?”

“Sophomore year. Nora Wilde,” Harry said. “Maybe I’ll go to fashion school or learn to play an instrument.”

“You could do more fundraising and collect these,” Ian said, shaking the red fabric bracelet he and Harry had received from the Boston orphans.

“I only want one, thanks,” Harry said.

“How about a permanent relationship?”

“Things are going okay with Yvette.” Harry had met Yvette Truque’ last summer when she produced the Orphanage event, and they’d been going out since.

“Harry, she’s great, but you are the Holy Grail, a leprechaun, and a merman all rolled into one. Single, not ugly, reasonably well-off, able to speak in sentences, only 1 failed marriage. You are the Hope Diamond of single men. You need to be out there, finding your soul mate.”

“That’s not a full-time gig.”

“In your case, it might be.”

“Ouch,” Harry said.

“Speaking truth to power, my brother,” Ian said.

The five-year-old boy clutched his knees to his chest, still wearing his best clothes from the funeral and clutching a flower from his mother’s coffin. The paper bag next to his three-legged stool held everything he owned. 

The boxing club was hot and humid and full of huge sweaty men beating the snot out of each other. Occasionally one of the behemoths would spit blood and sometimes a tooth into a metal bucket a few feet away. They’d laugh and tussle his hair with their sweaty, blood-soaked boxing gloves, caking Harry’s brown hair into wild spikes. 

He’d dozed off and awoke with a start when a voice called his name. He opened his eyes to see a big, swarthy looking face. It was time to go.

He always remembered Uncle Louie’s promise as they walked to the orphanage that day. “I’ll come by every week, Harry. You do your homework and work on them numbers. Be smart, like your mom. Not dumb like me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


         


 CHAPTER 3 DAMN THE TORPEDOES                                                          

 Nantucket                                                                                                     Saturday evening


“To be continued,” Ian said. “Now, let’s get this show on the road. How about we let our better halves start things off ?” Ian sent two texts. Their better halves arrived in five minutes.

 “How do you look the same as when we went to college?” Harry asked.

 “Staying in shape by cleaning up after you two idiots,” Ginny Bradford said.

 Yvette gave her a high-five. “Now, what do you two want?  I’m running someone’s party, you know, working for a living, not like some people I could name,” Yvette said.

“We thought you two would like to shoot the cannons tonight,” Harry said.

“You mean it’s not just a male sexual thing?” Ginny asked.

“Well, maybe, but the offer still stands,” Harry said.

The gala invitation had spelled out the rules for donations: When the cannon booms, everyone reaches for their checkbook and fills in plenty of zeroes. Ian attached his Civil War replica cannon to the deck’s railing with two long bolts. Harry did likewise with his U.S.S. Constitution version. Uncle Louie had bought it for him on one of Harry’s first weekend furloughs from the Orphanage. Shotgun shells were loaded, and earplugs handed out.

“Fire when ready, ladies!” Harry said.

Ginny and Yvette steadied themselves, wound up, and smashed the wooden mallets into the firing knobs at the end of the cannons. The simultaneous booms echoed off the nearby houses, and a few foghorns replied from the harbor.

“We French come to America’s aide once again,” Yvette said.  

Harry and Ian replaced the cannons and the accessories in their wooden, velvet-lined cases. As the white smoke floated away, the servers collected the checks in canvas bags decorated with a map of Nantucket.

Harry raised his bullhorn. “Thank you all for your donations. Please proceed to the tent below. I think you’ll enjoy tonight’s musical guest. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Jimmy Buffet and his Coral Reefer Band!” The crowd bolted down the wooden stairs like kids leaving school for summer break, oohing and aahing at the news of their “A” list entertainment.               

“How do you get the checks?” Ian asked. “Those servers could be stealing.”

 “Watch,” Yvette said. “The parrot head shirts aren’t just for show.” Sure enough, the shirts stuck out like red foxes on white snow and moved opposite the crowd flow, toward the house and in the front door below. The foursome traipsed down to the dining room where three people took the bags from the servers.

“Oh, and the bags have GPS buttons,” Yvette said.

“Harry, that must make your beancounter brain explode with endolphins!” Ian said.

“It’s endorphins, you moron, and you keel over at the sight of a number unless it’s your commission check,” Harry said.

“If you two five-year old’s can control yourselves, take a look over there,” Ginny said.

They watched the people seated at the dining room table: a man in a green Red Sox cap and two women in pink versions. The checks were dumped out like Halloween candy after trick-or-treating, arranged face up, and then fed into a machine with a telephone wire leading to a wall jack.  One or two checks were rejected, and the operator input the information using a keyboard.

 “Let me introduce you to my most trusted contractor, Hancock Hancock.”

“Just one second, let me finish this batch,” Hancock said. After a moment or two shuffling a pile of checks, the middle-aged man stood, removed his green Red Sox cap, and shook hands. “Hi, I’m Hancock Hancock,” he said, handing over business cards.

“Any relation to the famous John Hancock?” Harry asked. This Hancock looked nothing like the famous John Singleton Copley portrait of the wigged, well-dressed, Revolutionary War hero. The man before Harry was pot-bellied, with an ill-fitting brown toupee’ under which gray strands protruded around his ears.

“Well, if you believe in family lore, yes, but I’d be a lot richer if it were true,” he said.

“And this is your business?” Harry asked.

“Yes, Hancock Contract Help. Mostly we staff parties and basic office help, but we started processing charity donations after I saw the number of parties each summer.”

“Those scanners are great,” Harry said. “At my office, we’re linked to our bank account, it copies the checks and makes the deposit. I’m guessing yours creates a database from the check name and address and mails a tax receipt to the donors?”

“Saves a ton of time,” Hancock said. “We keep the checks for a month just for safety, but we could, in theory, destroy them right now, and we’d be fine. Want to hand me that cigar, and I’ll light them up?”

“No, we’ll take your word for it,” Harry said, backing away. “But how do we know the money is in the bank?”

Hancock pulled out his cell phone, tapped a few keys, and showed the screen to the group. It was a bank website; he’d accessed the individual transactions of an account called “Boston Orphanage.”  “Today’s deposits totaled over a million dollars. Hancock grabbed a piece of paper, wrote something, and handed it to Harry.

“That’s the website and your username and a temporary password. Access it whenever you want,” Hancock said, and Harry pocketed the slip of paper.

“Mind if I take a picture of this? It’ll be a great shot for the Orphanage’s newsletter.”

“Sure, why not?” Hancock said. He and his associates posed with the spoils and the machines. Harry sent a copy to Ian and Yvette.

 “Thanks for helping out,” Harry said. “I’ll have the staff bring you folks up a meal.”

“Glad to. Oh, and I’m also a notary if you ever need one,” Hancock said.

They finished the scanning in 5 minutes, and Hancock handed Yvette a slip of paper.  

“Our usual bet?” she asked.  She explained their game, similar to guessing a restaurant check. If Hancock guessed within $10,000, he’d win five dollars.

“Big stakes,” Ian said.

Hancock closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead, imitating a magician trying to prove to his audience how hard a trick it was.   

“$1,075,000,” Hancock said.

“You want to take a stab?” Yvette asked Harry.

“Last year we had 53 people who gave $556,600 or 10.5 thousand per person. This year we’ve got 103. Let’s say each person gave 5% more, that’s 11,025. Rounding up, I’d say $1,140,000.”

Yvette showed a piece of paper. $1,130,000. “Freak,” she said and handed over his winnings.

“Add it to the waiters’ tips,” Harry said. “Hancock, I hear you invest the donations at a better rate than we’d get?”

Hancock nodded. “I bundle all the parties’ money together and get to a higher threshold than they could individually. Maybe 500 basis points.”

Harry did some quick math. “That’s an extra $25,000 for half a year. Pretty good. Well, thanks to all of you.”

Yvette curtsied. “Glad to help a worthy cause.”

“Before you go, I have a request,” Hancock said. “I’m a bit of a wine collector, and was wondering if I could buy a bottle from Mr. Bradford’s stock?”

“Sure, why not?” Ian said. He led the group to his den. Ian pushed a button; one half of a glass circle in the floor rotated to reveal a circular stairway. The walls of the stairway were lined with bottles in wooden slots. Several gauges reflected the temperature- 53.5 degrees Fahrenheit. “I split the difference between 50 and 57, the perfect temperature for keeping wine unspoiled,” Ian said.

A thirty by twenty room opened up before them. Hundreds of bottles were stored in wooden racks along the wall and the ceiling. A long bar with antique bottler openers and glasses was ready for use.

“What would you like?” Ian asked.

“You know where each wine is?” Yvette asked. “I thought Harry was Butch Cassidy, and you were the Sundance Kid. One with brains, one with looks.”

Ian picked up a small laptop. “My crutch.”

“Let see who’s quicker, “ Ginny said. “Man  versus machine.”

“You up for it, Harry? I’ll double the price and it goes to your charity,” Hancock said.

“You’re on,” Harry said.

Hancock counted down from five, then requested a 1992 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon. Ian punched the keys, Harry closed his eyes, and the electronic and human brains raced to find the correct holding pen.

The bottle was in section C, slot 25, down the room to the left.

Harry won.


                         

                            











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