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Background to Murder Imperfect
Someone once described all fiction writing as a play in three acts: in Act I, you have the protagonist climb a tree; in Act II, you throw rocks at the protagonist. In Act III, you allow a wiser protagonist to climb back down the tree. Murder Imperfect has rocks flying right until the very last page.
Kat thinks she has committed the perfect murder. Instead, she has to contend not just with the police, but with a District Attorney who wants to use her as his springboard to higher political office (with a trial date timed to boost his visibility), and an SEC attorney who sees prosecuting Kat as a way of atoning for his rookie mistake of waiting too long to bring in Kat’s husband. Oh, and there’s her late husband’s mistress who very definitely has an agenda.
Three years ago, someone who had looked at my writing to that time told me, ‘great stories, but why are your characters all so nice?’ Taking the hint, I set out to create a protagonist who was sympathetic without necessarily being ‘nice’. I also wanted to create a plausible scenario in which the protagonist commits a murder for other than the usual reasons. I hope you’ll agree that the premise work.
Finally, I wanted a work of true suspense – does someone get away with it or not? My intention is that Murder Imperfect keep the reader guessing right up to the very end – and for readers to be rooting strongly either for or against her.
The first chapter of Murder Imperfect is provided below. I hope, after reading it, you’ll want to own a copy for yourself.
“You can call this a confession if you must. Last year – on June 27 to be specific – I murdered my husband. I did it with malice aforethought – a premeditated, cold blooded killing.”
“No. On second thought, let’s not call this a confession. A confession implies some acknowledgement of guilt or remorse. I don’t feel the least bit guilty and I certainly have no remorse. The bastard got what he deserved.”
With these words, Kat, a well-to-do suburban housewife with a flexible definition of morality, launches into her story. Discovering that her boring husband, George, is cheating on her, Kat compiles ample evidence of his infidelity. Then she discovers something else: her securities analyst husband has squirreled away millions of dollars in secret accounts, violating every law in the SEC handbook.
Claiming half their assets in a divorce would alert authorities to its existence, and the punitive fines and damages might well wipe out their net worth. As Kat puts it, “The notion of George in prison was not so satisfying that I was willing to become poor.”
Murder becomes Kat’s goal, and she carries it out with careful attention to detail. But she hasn’t counted on a debonair district attorney with his eyes on higher political office, an aggressive SEC lawyer chafing because George died just before he was to be brought in for questioning in a financial scandal, or an ambitious mistress with her own not-so-hidden agenda.
Murder Imperfect traces Kat’s tale through a roller coaster of hedge fund shenanigans, ex-lovers and courtroom dramatics. It will leave you guessing, ‘did she get away with it?’ right until the very end.
You can call this a confession if you must. Last year – on June 27 to be specific – I murdered my husband. I did it with malice aforethought – a premeditated, cold blooded killing.
No. On second thought, let’s not call this a confession. A confession implies some acknowledgement of guilt or remorse. I don’t feel the least bit guilty and I certainly have no remorse. The bastard got what he deserved. If I may be permitted a lone dip into melodrama, he was a man who needed killing. I was the one who did it.
So, let’s just call this my story.
Killing him wasn’t my original plan. I was just going to divorce him. The usual grounds: he was cheating on me. Cheating, hell. He was addicted to twenty-six-year-olds and was carrying on affairs with a string of them. And it wasn’t like I didn’t have evidence.
But then I discovered he had squirreled away nearly five million dollars, all of it obtained quite illegally. He didn’t think I knew about it. In a divorce, he would have denied its existence and, once I proved otherwise, the SEC would take notice and lay claim to all of it. George would go to prison, of course, but I’d never see a dime of that five million and the government would start looking at our legitimate assets as well. The IRS or the SEC might well decide that they would make excellent punitive damages to dissuade others from following through with scams like George’s. It was entirely possible that I could end our marriage and wind up broke.
The notion of George in prison was gratifying, but not so much so that I was willing to become poor for the sense of satisfaction.
So, murder it was.
Maybe I should introduce myself and give you the standard background. My name is Katherine, better known as Kat. I am thirty-six now, considered quite attractive and I take care of myself. My complexion is fair, my hair is brunette and I have green eyes, or at least green contacts. Where I live now is of no consequence to this story but, last June, I lived in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts.
At the time of his death, George was also thirty-six. In the eight years we were married he went from athletic and reasonably good looking to middle-aged with a budding double chin and a thickening waist that he hid by sucking in his stomach when he thought someone was looking, as well as with pleated pants and too-tight belts. He was employed as a securities analyst by the Boston firm of Peavy, Jensen & Beck.
‘Securities analyst’ is one of those job titles that cause peoples’ eyes to glaze over. In the right firm and the right industry, though – say, Goldman Sachs and biotechnology – it’s a very high-powered and prestigious occupation that pays extremely well. In a regional firm like PJ&B (whose clients invariably call it PB&J) and in an industry sector like food, beverage and lodging, it’s a snoozer of a career move, which made it perfect for a dullard like my late, unlamented husband.
My job description since the age of twenty-seven has been housewife, perfect hostess and slave. It wasn’t always like that. I had a career, once. I graduated with honors from Syracuse University with a Masters degree in English. I was a copywriter at Hill, Holliday in Boston. At twenty-three, I moved to Boston to be with the guy I thought I was going to marry. He was my college sweetheart and I was going to be happy with him for the rest of my life.
Mark and I were engaged, or at least I thought we were. I even remember the day he proposed. He got down on one knee, told me he loved me, and said he wanted us to be together always. I had followed him after college to a city that was not exactly my first choice of places to live, but Boston was where he had found a job. I thought we were going to settle down, have kids and be a family.
In three years I never got an engagement ring, though. Mark had a perfectly logical explanation, of course. ‘A down payment on a place of our own is a lot more meaningful than some overpriced diamond,’ he had said. Except that in those three years, we also never got around to finding that place. Instead, one day he announced he had taken a job in Houston and that ‘we needed some time apart’. So much for getting married. So much for being engaged. Suddenly, I was twenty six and all those plans for a happy life had evaporated.
If marriage and a home are part of your life vision, twenty-six is a terrible age to be college-educated, female and unattached. It’s an even worse age if you have nearly a hundred thousand bucks of student loans outstanding. Back when I was eighteen, mom and dad gave me the choice of a free ride at Mankato State University – ten miles from the house I had lived in all my life – or the same amount of money toward any other college I could get into. I frankly thought they were bluffing – have me close to home where they could keep an eye on me.
I was wrong. Three months after graduation, I received a big package stuffed with handy payment envelopes to begin remitting $492.78 each and every month for the rest of my life.
So, at twenty-six, I had a crappy copywriting job at an agency that was the big fish in the fetid, advertising backwater that is Boston, trying to think of clever new things to say about donuts and car dealerships. And I had those student loans as this ticking time bomb. And Mark’s parents had thoughtfully sent me an engagement announcement for their son’s forthcoming nuptials to someone named Audrey. I’ll bet she got the ring up front.
Which explains why, when I caught George’s eye at a wedding, I didn’t mind him sitting down next to me at the reception and listening to his bullshit pickup line. He was a year older than me, had an MBA, and worked at PJ&B as an assistant to the firm’s retail analyst. The job and the firm meant nothing to me but the letters ‘MBA’ caused me to pay much closer attention. MBAs were hot. MBA’s were smart. The letters MBA made something in my mind go ‘ka-ching’.
Today, I know better. At a cocktail party a few years ago, I met the head of graduate school admissions at an extremely prestigious local university that will remain nameless. He had three or four too many Grey Goose martinis and told me how the MBA admissions process really works. Graduate schools are fairly selective about who they let in. Their entering classes are full of bright over-achievers. Just as in undergraduate education, however, a few places are reserved for what are called ‘legacies’, the progeny of wealthy alumni who are already showering the university with donations. For these legacies, the admissions committee turns a blind eye to grades, GREs, and IQ.
Once someone gets into an MBA program, he said, the school isn’t in the habit of throwing out the student, no matter how poorly they’re doing. Colleges aren’t in the business of creating resentful dropouts with chips on their shoulders for might-have-been alma maters. The role of the university is to put a degree in that person’s hand, send them out into the world and then, starting ten years after they graduate, begin raking in unbelievable amounts of money from grateful alumni in the form of appreciated stock options to swell the university’s endowment.
But I didn’t know that at the time. I assumed the guy whose eye I had caught was some future corporate CEO and I was about to come into his life in a big way. And I was desperate as only a ‘senior copywriter’ (only six steps removed from ‘creative director’ where the real money starts) in hock up to her belly button could be.
At this point you’re saying to yourself, ‘She went after George strictly for the money. She married him because he could repay her student loans. No sympathy.’ Maybe that was some small part of my thinking that lovely Saturday afternoon. Maybe I was wondering how, on my pathetic $30,000 copywriter’s salary, I was going to swing a loan repayment of nearly five hundred dollars a month on top of my share of the fifteen hundred bucks for a one-bedroom apartment I was suddenly sharing with two unwanted roommates. So, yes, some part of my mind was contemplating about how unfair life was.
But you’d be wrong about the rest of it. I still bought into that ‘one day my prince will come’ baloney. I was a dark-haired maiden waiting in the tower to be rescued by a knight in shining armor. Preferably, by a knight who looked like Kenneth Branagh, or what Kenneth Branagh looked like around the time he did ‘Henry V’ and ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. Six weeks after our breakup, I had convinced myself that Mark was a mistake from which I could learn. I had invested five years in him and gotten a lousy return, but I had also gained Wisdom, or at least that’s what some self-help book told me.
And George was good looking with dark wavy hair and a great chin and a smile that melted your heart. He spoke in educated tones and looked sincere, with a way of cocking his head when I spoke that made me believe he was both listening and interested in what I had to say. What’s more, he made it clear from the outset that he was actually looking for Miss Right – weddings are a great place for separating the lookers from the buyers. He was the marrying kind and had decided at twenty-seven it was time to tie the knot just as soon as he found the girl of his dreams.
So, yes, I went after George with every trick in the whole self-help section and we had a whirlwind romance and I overlooked a couple of things like his preening in the bathroom mirror for fifteen minutes every morning or the humming sound he made while he ate Frosted Flakes for breakfast. Maybe I overlooked some things that ought to have been warning flags that George wasn’t the most debonair man on the cruise ship and that those academic credentials were suspect. But I was twenty-six and I desperately wanted happiness.
We made it to the altar nine months after we met, including a four-month engagement and no, I wasn’t pregnant. I was just determined that George wasn’t going to get away and marry some other nubile cutie. Cosmopolitan was a big help. I bowled him over with my nine-step plan, or maybe it was eleven or eight steps. Anyway, it worked. On a Saturday morning in October at a tiny Episcopal church in Ipswich, a minister said, ‘you may kiss the bride’ and it was all official.
Are we destined to marry our fathers? There’s a school of thought that says all women are programmed, for better or worse, to seek out daddy. As for me, I was consciously trying to stay as far away from mine as possible in choice of dates, boyfriends, paramours, fiancées and husbands. My father was rotten to my mother, through and through. For as long as I can remember, he had a standing Thursday night poker game that was a poorly disguised rendezvous with his mistress-secretary at her apartment. When one secretary would quit, he would take up with the next one in a continuing stream of infidelities that lasted decades.
My mother bore it in stoic silence except that she would break down and cry when she washed his clothes and there was makeup on his dress shirts, undershirts and underwear. She took to drinking sherry when I was twelve. I wasn’t about to tell her to stop. I just wrapped my arms around her and told her I was on her side. Incredibly, after forty years they are still married. Watching my mother fall apart was killing me, though, and it explains why I had no desire to get my college education within commuting distance of home.
So, I was looking for ‘happily ever after’ and I was convinced I had found it in George. Did I love him? Oh, yeah. I got goose bumps just from kissing him. He could smile at me and I would feel like that princess. He could put his hand on my face and I’d glow.
But I was a realistic princess. Once burned, twice shy and all that stuff. I had married for love but I also understood that marriage is also an economic union. ‘Happily ever after’ was going to take some work on my part. By the time we were married, I had figured out that a) George wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, and b) he would advance in the business world only with a great deal of help from me. I set about to manage his career.
George’s genetic makeup said lying there and doing nothing was a perfectly acceptable career path. If people were animals, George was a catfish. A sluggish, bottom-dwelling catfish that does the absolute minimum to get by and eats whatever is even slower than it is. That was my George. He had fallen into PJ&B because he had an MBA from the ‘right’ university (and he had gotten into that MBA program because he was a ‘legacy’ admission). He had accepted the job of assistant to the retail analyst because it was offered and, given his druthers, he would stay in that job until he retired or was fired.
Which meant I had to learn the investment banking business. I discovered that being a securities analyst could be a great job, provided you did a couple of things right. One of them was being a pilot fish (my apology for another fish analogy, but it’s the same one they use in the industry). A pilot fish is a small, nimble little creature that doesn’t get eaten by the bigger fish because it is constantly on the move and has an uncanny knack for finding stuff that bigger fish want to eat. It hangs around just long enough to make certain that the big fish see what the pilot fish sees, then it gets out of the way before it becomes part of the lunch.
I had to turn my George from a catfish into a pilot fish. Or at least make him look like one long enough to get a promotion.
It took a year. While George was happily passing his working days proofreading dreary copy no one would ever read produced by the marginally competent retail analyst and filling in numbers on his spreadsheets, I was looking for deals. A good analyst always looks for deals, no matter what industry they’re in, because deals are the lifeblood of investment banking. Bring in deals and you’ll be inundated with money by your firm. Don’t bring in deals and you’ll eventually be asked to leave.
I looked for deals everywhere. Because George’s analyst boss followed the ‘retailing industry’, I chatted up sales clerks at every small chain store in the Boston area, all to no avail. No one was looking to buy, or to be bought. Or, if they were, they weren’t sharing that information with their sales staff. I identified a couple of good prospects of stores that ought to be candidates and I filed them away for the future.
I also listened for deals at work. It was the main reason I kept my copywriting job at Hill, Holliday. Ad people love to gossip. Clients love to gossip and, when they’ve had enough to drink, they’ll tell you all manner of strange and wonderful things.
One evening in November, just after George’s and my first anniversary, I was at a campaign launch party for one of those ‘celebrity’ restaurants named for a quarterback who was still trading on his Heisman Trophy fifteen years after his glory days. The quarterback had opened eight of these restaurants in the Boston area, all stuffed with football memorabilia. Hill, Holliday had been hired to ‘freshen up’ the chain’s image.
As I sipped bad California ‘Chablis’, I overheard two guys next to me talking about ‘discounted cash flow’ and ‘multiples of book value’. But they weren’t talking about the quarterback’s restaurants. They were discussing another restaurant chain, one named for a famous baseball pitcher. And they were talking about the pitcher’s restaurant chain and their frustration that its management wouldn’t talk to these two guys because the quarterback’s chain was smaller even though the baseball player’s chain was less profitable on a per-restaurant basis.
They weren’t the ad guys, or even the marketing guys. These were financial types, horning in the campaign launch party to score free booze. And the more they drank, the more they talked.
I stood within earshot as they commiserated about their problems getting a foot in the door of their rival. I started making notes on cocktail napkins. The next morning, I started doing my homework.
Two weeks later, PJ&B held its Christmas party, a swank affair at the Ritz-Carlton, or what used to be the Ritz-Carlton. And I made my move. I had met the head of mergers and acquisitions at the firm’s summer get-together at one of its founders’ oceanside estate on Cape Cod. I had worn a cute little halter dress that had annoyed George but caught the eye of a number of PJ&B’s dirty old men. The head of mergers and acquisitions – a good looking guy in his forties – had, at the time, given me a conspiratorial wink. I walked up to him with two glasses of Champagne in my hands.
“You probably don’t remember me,” I said. “I’m Kat, George’s wife.” Always put the ‘wife’ word up front if you want the conversation to be about business instead of about the Patriots or Christmas or sex.
“Kat, sure,” he said, probably not remembering me from Adam, but flashing me a white-toothed smile all the same.
“The summer party. On the Cape. I was wearing a bright red dress.” And then, with a little blushing and lowering of my eyes, I added, “It was a little inappropriate for a company function. I was a little embarrassed…” I made a curving ‘vee’ down my chest to indicate how low cut the halter had been.
“Kat. Of course.” And he did remember. God bless men, their predictability, and their one-track minds.
Looking back up, straight into his eyes and dropping all pretense of modesty, I said, “I have this bet with George.” I handed him a fresh glass of Champagne. “George says the firm won’t be interested because food and beverage really isn’t PJ&B’s thing and it’s probably worth only a million in fees, but I told George…”
I had him hooked at, ‘million dollars in fees.’ Fees are all that count. An investment banking firm will do a deal for elephant manure if it pays a modified Lehman formula and the fees get into seven figures.
So I explained to the head of mergers and acquisitions how George had cultivated a contact at the quarterback’s restaurant and there was a lightly leveraged stock-for-stock deal to be done to buy a chain half again as large but with quantifiable cost savings that would make it a win-win deal, but the quarterback’s in-house financial guys couldn’t get their foot in the door because the Merrill Lynches and J.P. Morgans of the world looked down their noses at ‘little deals’.
Like I said, I had learned the investment banking business.
Over Christmas, the quarterback’s chain acquired the pitcher’s chain. It merited only three paragraphs in the Wall Street Journal, but it netted PJ&B a little over a million in fees. And it got George a handsome bonus, which he took without the slightest embarrassment despite the fact that I had to explain the deal to him at least twice the following morning when he was sober. But for a catfish, George proved he could rouse himself long enough to gulp some food.
On January 1, George also became PJ&B’s first-ever restaurant, food and beverage analyst. The bonus plus the new salary meant we could move out of his South End condo. I had already looked at the home addresses of every senior manager at PJ&B and plotted them on a map. There was a nifty cluster of them in Wellesley Hills, a rarefied corner of a snooty suburb. George’s idea of upgrading his living arrangements would have consisted of buying a bright red Porsche. Instead, in the cold winds of January, I dragged him out house hunting.
Wellesley Hills has a number of streets – Abbott Road is the showcase – with huge, fancy houses on them. They were built in the twenties when Boston bankers must all have had ten children. The houses were gorgeous, but they were out of our reach financially and, anyway, I wasn’t going to spend my life cleaning one of them. North of those fancy digs is another area with slightly more modest homes, but you get the same zip code and ride the train from the same commuter rail station.
We moved in March. For a housewarming present, I outfitted George with a new Burberry coat and a spiffy briefcase so he wouldn’t look out of place on the platform.
I also quit my job. It was time, I thought, to start that family. I had my heart set on a boy, to be followed after eighteen months by a girl. That’s how much I was into the family thing.
My going-away party at Hill, Holliday was a tour-de-force of false modesty on my part. The women envied me my move up in the world and ogled the fancy bracelet George bought me with that first bonus check. The men, who would miss staring down my neckline when I leaned over to edit their copy, ogled my sweater. I gave a tearful speech about this having been the best four years of my life. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Farewell career, hello to the good life.
It was the late 1990s and the markets – especially Nasdaq – were going crazy. Just having the sign ‘investment banker’ on your door brought you business, and PJ&B prospered. Deals came George’s way just because he proved he could breathe. George brought half a dozen deals to the firm for restaurant chains going public. He did this by answering the phone or, more specifically, by having his assistant answer the phone. None of those callers, unfortunately, were Starbucks. They were ludicrous concepts for restaurants – think waitresses dressed as aliens -with hallucination-driven earnings forecasts. But in 1999 or the first few months of 2000, anybody could go public and put a hundred million in the bank. We paid off my student loans from George’s 1999 bonus and had plenty left over.
The Nasdaq crossed 5000 in early 2000 then fell on a ‘temporary pullback’. By July the market was in the tank. George squeezed in a couple of more deals before the window slammed shut completely, but the party was over. By early 2001, everybody realized to their shock and amazement that it had all been a bubble.
In February 2001, a year after the market peak and with the Nasdaq barely above the 1000 mark, PJ&B axed half of its staff, including all but one technology analyst from what had been a staff of ten. George survived. Not because he was especially good, but because he was the sole incumbent. The market for semiconductor chips crashed with a thud but potato chips held up nicely. When PJ&B let go its hotels and lodging analyst, George picked up coverage on those companies, furthering his job security.
For the next several years, we all laid low. I played housewife and George dutifully brought home a paycheck. Not a huge one, but sufficient for our needs. Then, the market turned up. Deals started getting done again. There were bonuses for the first time in what seemed like forever.
But things had changed. I had changed. And unexpectedly, George had changed though, in his case, it was not for the better.
Which is not to say that George had been a perfect husband to that point. My knight in shining armor fell off his horse about eight months after we got back from our honeymoon. George had gone to an analyst’s conference put on my one of the companies he covered. He was away four days and suspiciously not answering his cell phone at night.
I had offered to pick him up at the airport on his return and he had pointedly declined. But I was still being a model wife and decided to surprise him by meeting him at baggage claim. I was getting ready to wave at him when I saw him coming down the escalator, but something about the tableau made me stop.
He was holding hands with a woman.
I didn’t know her. She wasn’t my best friend and it wasn’t his secretary. But she was young and pretty and well-dressed. I faded into the background and watched. They giggled as they talked and waited for their luggage. And when they parted at the door out to ground transportation, there was a kiss that told me this was not some boy-just-met-girl sort of thing. He had his hand on her ass and she was enjoying it.
I didn’t confront him. Maybe that was a mistake. Maybe I was too shocked. More likely, I was in denial, even after I checked and found that the analyst conference he had attended was a day-and-a-half event. I didn’t want to believe that less than a year after he said, ‘I do’ to me, he was doing it with someone else.
Maybe I didn’t want to admit that marrying George was a mistake.
I watched him closely thereafter. I monitored his supply of condoms. I sniffed his shirts for the tell-tale signs of an errant spouse. Over the intervening years there would be other times. Quite a few of them, actually. Always on business trips and not with the same woman. George apparently believed in the Boarding Pass Compact: once you’ve handed the gate agent your boarding pass, anything that happens thereafter doesn’t count.
Somehow, I adjusted. And maybe that was my real mistake.
But starting a little over a year ago, things really changed. The first thing was that George became sneaky. He had always brought home his office computer – your basic Dell laptop – and spent an hour each morning and another each evening in the study with the door closed, making phone calls and plugging numbers into spreadsheets. I left him alone. One day while looking for some note cards in the study, I stumbled on a second laptop – an identical brand and model – rife with password protection, stashed behind the Monopoly set we hadn’t played since before we were married. George was doing something with that computer and I made it my new years’ resolution to find out what it was.
The second thing was that George changed his habits. For eight years, except when he was attending conferences (with or without something on the side) or visiting companies, he was invariably on the 6:04 and at home with a martini in his hand before 6:20. Suddenly, he was seldom home before 11 p.m., when he wasn’t mysteriously out of town at trade shows I had never heard of. He was, he said, checking out restaurants and hotels, doing ‘due diligence’ and coming up with merger candidates.
This was not my George. My dull, unimaginative George was up to no good. My second new years’ resolution was to find out what he was really doing with his time.
The first rule of being a suspicious wife is to ask no questions of her spouse. You can observe, poke, and ferret out information by any methods available, but under no conditions can you ever let on that you’re suspicious. When people know you’re suspicious of them, they start trying to throw you off the scent. I wanted George to believe I was blissfully ignorant.
Because George was tedious and predictable, but nevertheless a male, the secrets of the changes in his schedule revealed themselves first. George was stepping out on me. And, this time, he was doing so seriously. No furtive trysts between analyst meetings in St. Louis. This was going on in my back yard.
Was I surprised? Well, yes. George had no reason to complain about his sex life or about me in general. I had more than held up my end of the bargain. I had reached my mid-30s with an unlined, bag-free face. I had kept my figure and I was enthusiastic about sex even when I knew it was going to be one of George’s ninety-second specials. I was an asset to him in business and I ran our house efficiently.
Was I angry? The surprise was that I was not. I may have started off truly in love with him but somewhere along the way – say, between his ‘due diligence session’ in San Diego and the ‘food and beverage convention’ in Atlanta, I had enough.
And, let’s be completely honest: I had gotten bored with George. I knew everything there was to know about him. When you got down to the root of everything, my husband was completely predictable and not especially interesting. He had also – and I don’t apologize for pointing this out again – gotten prematurely middle aged.
I was, however, annoyed at George’s choice of companionship. She was twenty-six, single, and in need of a sugar daddy. She was also a brunette. In psychological terms, George was repeating those heady early days of his relationship with me, except that now he was definitely the one in charge. He had the money and the power. Put in less psychologically acceptable terms, George was seriously warped.
He broke it off with that first ‘she’ six weeks after I learned about her, but immediately moved onto a second mistress. She was also twenty-six, also brunette and sported a hair style remarkably similar to the one I had worn nine years earlier. How many times did George have to re-live his twenties? It was freaky. He was repeating that halcyon courting process he had followed with me, though at much nicer restaurants.
I found out these things by discreetly following my husband. And in the process, I uncovered a disturbing question to which I did not know the answer. How, exactly, was George paying for all this?
His paycheck was being deposited directly into our joint checking account. As part of my household management duties I kept the account balanced. I knew of his ATM withdrawals and they were for the usual amounts. I also paid the bills including the credit cards, and there were no charges for the places he was squiring these chippies to.
George had an outside source of income. One I didn’t know about.
I watched this going on for several months. George dropped brunette number two and took up with brunette number three. Of course, she was twenty-six. He probably dumped them on their twenty-seventh birthday. Gave them a swell piece of jewelry and their walking papers.
By this time I had all the evidence I needed. It was time to confront him with the whole string of infidelities going back to the one eight months after our honeymoon. I knew to the dollar what we had in the bank, our IRAs and in our brokerage accounts and I did enough research to understand what kind of settlement I was going to get and what level alimony I could expect in a community property state like Massachusetts. On the whole it would be quite satisfactory. I was going to be a thirty-something divorcee with a million-dollar cushion plus most of the proceeds from the sale of our home, which was now worth at least half a million dollars more than we paid for it eight years earlier.
I hadn’t yet gone to see a lawyer, though that was the next step. Before I did anything, though, I wanted to know where George was getting all that money he was throwing around.
Then, one evening in early May when George was supposed to be in New York at a trade show but was in fact at a hotel in Boston’s financial district planking brunette number three, I cracked the code on his laptop.
He had been reasonably cute about the passwords, which is what took me a while. But once I was in, it was a revelation.
George was a thief. And not a small-time thief. Over the previous eighteen months, George had surreptitiously accumulated just short of five million dollars.
He had gotten it in several ways, none of them legal. First, he solicited payments to provide coverage of companies. Second, he had accepted bribes to upgrade recommendations. Third, he had received payoffs to tip off certain institutional investors in advance of changes in his ratings. And fourth, he had traded in the stocks of companies that were acquisition targets of PJ&B clients.
The securities industry is a clubby world. Once you’re in, you’re golden. It’s a lifetime deal – if not with one firm then with another – unless you really screw up. It is also a world built on trust. As an analyst, you sign a million forms swearing you will never accept payment for anything under any circumstances, except from your employer for the services you render to the firm. Every research report that goes out contains a sworn statement that the analyst has no financial interest in the company about which the report is written. The SEC files those forms by the bushel basket but no one goes out and audits analysts’ brokerage accounts. Unless someone says something that causes the SEC to start issuing subpoenas, persons within securities firms are deemed to be good little boys and girls.
Why does an analyst choose to follow the Amalgamated Cookie Company? Once upon a time, it was because Amalgamated Cookie was an investment banking client of the analyst’s employer. You hire PJ&B and you’re guaranteed coverage from a specific analyst, starting with a table-pounding ‘buy’ rating. No one put that sort of thing in writing, but it was understood by everyone concerned.
After the market melt-down in 2000, everything was supposed to change. Too many analysts had kept up those ‘buy’ ratings on banking clients even as Amalgamated Cookie’s earnings were crumbling. New laws took away the unspoken promise of coverage for banking and the perpetual ‘buy’. Analysts gained new respect and new freedoms.
Freedoms which analysts like George used to become entrepreneurial. Or, in his case, a crook.
The computer spelled out the payments George had received, especially those from hedge funds. These funds raked in obscene amounts of money and paid out a pittance to analysts like George to give them advanced warning of market-changing events like rating changes. Except that to these hedge funds, a pittance amounted to nearly three million dollars over two years.
George had also pocketed half a million dollars for agreeing to cover three companies that desperately wanted Wall Street brokerage reports on them. George didn’t inform his superiors at PJ&B that there was a financial reward for him. He just used his ‘discretion’ to add companies to his coverage universe. He had added two hundred thousand dollars more for a couple of unwarranted upgrades.
The hedge-fund payments and the pay-for-coverage deals were Bad Things that would get George barred from the securities industry for life if and when he were caught. But George hadn’t stopped there. He had also done the ultimate no-no. He had set up half a dozen internet brokerage accounts to purchase stocks and options on stocks of companies that were targeted as takeover candidates by PJ&B clients. Of all the dumb things to do, this was the dumbest because the SEC routinely scrutinizes all trades for the period prior to an announcement of a merger or acquisition, and singles out those ‘lucky’ trades that make people lots of money. George had made more than a million dollars in ‘lucky’ trades in the preceding six months. One of the deals had already been announced, the other were in the pipeline. It was only a matter of time before he got caught.
Plan ‘A’ – which I had been following up until that day in May when I cracked the passwords on George’s computer – had been to confront him with his infidelities, file for a divorce and settle for half of the marital assets plus a reasonable alimony. Once I unlocked the secrets of that computer behind the Monopoly set, I determined to add a demand for most if not all of the five million, with the expectation that George could cheat his way into another five million on his own and bed all the twenty-six-year-old brunettes in Boston in the process.
However, the more I looked at the implications of what George had done – using the computers in the Wellesley Free Library to do my research, of course – the more I realized that Plan A wasn’t going to work. The companies that had paid George to follow them were unlikely to go public with what they had done, but hedge funds were making all the wrong kinds of headlines for just such shenanigans. George was on the payroll of four different hedge fund managers – all cloaked by code names – and there was a reasonable prospect that someday, one of those funds was going to implode. When it did, all that dirty laundry was going to get aired.
And the inside trades were the most unstable element of all. It wasn’t a question of whether the SEC was going to investigate; it was a matter of when. And, when they did, the SEC was going to want ‘disgorgement’ of the gains, plus a penalty.
I was technically an ‘innocent spouse’, a term that showed up in several IRS documents. George had done this conniving without my knowledge and I sure as hell wasn’t going to admit that I had figured it all out several months earlier and kept my mouth shut about it. However, all that an ‘innocent spouse’ meant was that I wasn’t going to join George in prison. The SEC and the IRS were going to seize the five million. And then, to dissuade the next analyst from contemplating such a get-rich-scheme, they were going to make an example of George by taking a couple million more in penalties.
Those penalties would wipe out our joint financial assets. I was going to be the penniless ex-wife of a jailed and disgraced securities analyst. And let’s not forget the astronomical legal costs of defending him while he professed his innocence. I wouldn’t just be broke – I’d be in hock for his attorney’s fees.
I was going to be indigent, homeless and living on food stamps. All because George was stupid.
All of which suddenly made divorce impossible.
If I was going to get my hands on that money, there was only one way I was going to get out of the marriage and with my well-deserved share of our true net worth.
I was going to have to kill George and make it look like an accident. And, at the same time, I was going to have to liquidate all those accounts of his without calling attention to what I was doing. Once it was done, there was a very real possibility that I might have to disappear for a very long time.
That realization came, like I said, in May. At the time, I figured I had about four months to pull it off. But timetables change with events. And in just a few weeks time, I had more than my share of events.