The great thing about the Carlyle, Peter decided, was that it catered to people as rich if not richer than he was. Insane amounts of wealth and fame were daily fare for the staff, and they greeted him with friendly, polite, helpful gestures and actions, smoothing his way into the suite, accommodating the security detail, all lips sealed about his presence. The media mob would find him, eventually. But not from them.
He woke up after a restless night’s sleep on the most comfortable bed he’d ever slept on – or tried to sleep on, anyway. The press conference would be in three hours. He turned on the TV; the news headlines on NY1 that morning were, in order of importance, Quadrillions winner comes forward today, scaffolding collapses kills three, and deputy mayor resigns in sex scandal to spend more time with the family he was cheating on.
In the Town Car with James Plant, he looked out the window, answering Plant’s questions in monosyllables.
Finally Plant said, “You like theater, right, Peter?”
“Well, that’s what today is. You need to act. You need to say it’s shocking, it’s amazing, I’m so lucky. All of which is true, right?” Plant didn’t add, you need to make sure people don’t hate you for winning, especially when so many of them threw away all their money trying to win this crazy pot of cash.
“And you plan on giving most of it to charity, right?”
“Well, don’t say that. Say that you’ve got a team of professional financial advisors, which you do, I’ve lined them up. Say that they’ll be helping you decide what to do. You’re going to be inundated with requests for money from everyone who’s got cancer, and everyone who pretends to have cancer, and…” He stopped at the shocked look on Peter’s face.
“Yes, you heard me. I’ve taken the liberty of hiring a screening team for you as well. Recommended by Jessica Zane. They’ll filter your emails, your voice mails, the letters that start pouring in. This is a professional team…”
“Wait a minute. You’re telling me people make a living doing that?”
“Yes. Not just for lottery winners, but also for people who hit it big after IPOs, or get gigantic inheritances, anyone who’s going to be prey to the swarms of locusts that come in on big money.”
Peter was stunned, feeling like his life was being taken out of his control, all of it certainly to be watched over by the proverbial machines of loving grace, but still. The idea that strangers would read his email, listen to his voice mails…he thought of Matt, their texts, their calls.
“I don’t want anyone touching my phone.”
“Okay, Peter, but you’ll need to get a new one, a new number that you hand out very circumspectly to the people you want to stay connected to. Your old number, hell, your old life, is about to become unmanageable. People who work at your credit card companies, or the power company, someone is going to give into temptation and sell your address and phone number on the black market, people will show up at your door…”
“Oh my god…”
“That’s why you’re at the Carlyle until you can find a new place to live. I have security squatting in your apartment, outside your building, nothing will happen to your stuff.”
Later he wondered if Plant had done this on purpose, put this stunned look on his face just in time for the cameras, and holy crap, there were so many reporters, it was like he’d won the presidential election or something. But for most people, this was more important news than that, and the amount of media present reflected it. Yes, Peter said, he bought one quick pick on a whim, yes, he was in shock, yes, he took the cash payout, no, he had a team of financial advisers who…blah blah blah.
Then the giant novelty check, clap clap flash flash, and then he was whisked down to the basement of the Blake Building, selected because it had a tunnel to a garage next door. Then two black Town Cars dramatically left the Blake Building garage, paparazzi madly chasing them. And then Peter, in the back of a brown Crown Vic, was quietly taken back to the Carlyle.
Only then did he remember why he’d done this now. “I need some cash,” he said to his attorney.
“A hundred thousand.”
Plant looked up from his BlackBerry. “Peter…”
“Please. Don’t. Just get it for me?”
Plant frowned. “If someone is blackmailing you…”
“No.” Yes, he thought. If emotional blackmail counts. “It’s not that. But I promised someone I’d help him out. What is that, like, one half of one percent of my money?”
“Not even. One percent is 2.2 million, Peter. So that’s like one-twentieth of one percent of your after-tax money.”
Peter laughed. “Math class is hard. Good thing I have a financial team.”
Plant smiled. “Okay. I’ll have it for you tomorrow.”
Peter’s own smile faded; he could hear Cody’s voice in his head already, it’s an emergency, it’s always an emergency, don’t stop to think about what you’re doing, just do it, hurry!
Yeah, it is. And the sooner you get it, the sooner I’ll be free of you. He wanted to believe that, had to believe that.
“So our general sense,” Chadrick said, “is that this dude needs to be burned to the ground.”
Guy and Ned nodded emphatically. The four of them sat around Matt’s kitchen table, a war council. It hadn’t taken long to find out all they needed to know about the man who’d sat across from Matt in the restaurant, the man who had put spyware on Peter’s phone who knew how long ago, and who had obviously found out about the winning ticket that way.
Cody Ray Burrell. Twenty eight years old. Fake IDs in the names Ray Cody Burns, Burt Cody, and Burt Cray, all created with other people’s SSNs and all with their own terrible credit histories. He’d used all three IDs to run up colossal debts and walk away, leaving the actual owners of those names and SSNs fighting the awful impersonal unstoppable machinery of the banks that didn’t believe them when they said they were innocent. Banks that only knew, or cared, that someone had to pay and they weren’t picky about who got stuck with the bill.
He possessed only two things in his own name. One was a motorcycle, a gift from a man they’d traced who had discovered too late that giving a gift to Cody was an invitation for him to take everything else. The other was a rap sheet replete with robbery, battery, sexual assault and drug charges.
“And yet he walks the streets, happy as a jaybird,” Matt said. “How?”
Ned flipped through the pages of their report. “A series of men and women who fall for his looks and his alleged charm, and find themselves under his Svengali-like spell, and who put out enormous sums on excellent lawyers when he gets into trouble.”
“The proverbial sweet and tender hooligan,” Chad added. “Lawyers got him diverted to a court ordered drug rehab program back in Santa Vera, which included twelve-step meetings held at the community college, where Peter was taking classes at the time.”
“And there our viper sank his fangs into Peter,” Ned added.
It all made sense to Matt now, that dark streak in Peter, that fatalism. Sure, he’d come up hard, but he’d been resilient, he’d been on his way to something better. And then, fucking Cody, that was his new two word name in Matt’s mind, fucking Cody had come along.
“Um…” Guy said hesitantly. “There’s something else.”
Matt sighed. “Let me have it.”
“Well, our spyware is still active on Peter’s phone. He and Cody texted this morning, after he cashed the ticket. I can pull up the convo…”
“Shit!” Matt said, banging his fist on the kitchen table, rattling the coffee cups. This asshole was a leech, a bloodsucker who’d refastened himself to Peter. And Matt knew that the money he’d take would be the least of what he’d take from Peter. “Turn it off, Guy.”
“We know who and what Cody is. I feel…” Matt frowned. “I feel bad about spying on Peter. I don’t think I thought this out. I just wanted to know if Cody was spying on him, not…join him in doing it.”
“Okay, man. But know thine enemy and all…”
“I know. But there has to be another way. I can’t…”
He stopped, and the sick, awful realization came to him.
I can’t fix this. I can’t go any farther with this. If Peter wants to keep this a secret from me, that’s his decision. If Peter wants to give fucking Cody all his money, that’s his decision, too.
“Money,” he said finally. A tear slipped down his cheek, to the shock of his friends. “Money ruins everything. If it hadn’t been for this lottery bullshit, me and Peter would be…” He broke off.
Chadrick put a hand on Matt’s shoulder. “Dude. If this is love, if this is the right guy for you, he’ll tell you. He’ll tell you everything, in his own time. If he doesn’t, then, yeah, sorry man.”
Matt nodded. “Yeah. I know.”
>DUDE. Congratulations! That is so awesome!
Cody’s text was the last thing Peter needed after he got back to the hotel.
>I’ll have your $100k tomorrow. He thought he might as well cut to the chase, rather than going through the fiction of accepting Cody’s best wishes for his happiness.
>You’re literally saving my life 🙂
Right, Peter thought. If only I was evil, like you, if only I could let you die….
But then, mercifully, he was too busy after that to dwell on Cody. Nina Slate was his new “wealth manager,” one of a handful of bankers at a very private bank, located on the Upper East Side in a lovely townhouse with no sign out front. Though, of course, she came to him today.
Documents passed from her to Peter and then to James Plant, who’d already vetted it all, so that he could sign as a witness.
“You got a head start on all this paperwork,” Peter said to Plant.
“Early bird et cetera,” Plant replied. “And there is so very much paper here to work.”
Peter couldn’t argue with that. There were IRS forms, New York City and State forms, bank forms, so many bank forms – Peter’s money would be distributed across several institutions, including a Swiss bank and another in the Caymans, to ensure that even if one of them collapsed spectacularly a la Lehman Brothers, all of it wouldn’t disappear.
“So let’s talk about your foundation,” Nina said.
“Your charitable foundation. We’ll need to set up a trust instrument, corporate charter, articles of association, and we’ll need a board of directors…”
“What if I don’t want a board of directors?”
James and Nina looked at each other. “When we file for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, the IRS prefers that you have at least three people on the board of directors. You’ll be the chairman, of course.”
Peter laughed. “Even with a bazillion dollars, I still can’t do what I want.”
“We can find you two people who’ll fit the bill, Peter. Trust me, you’ll be able to do anything you want.”
Anything I want. It still hadn’t hit him, or to be precise, it had hit him, and he was still in shock from the impact.
“Do you know what your primary charitable focus is going to be?” Nina asked him. “That’ll help us find the right people for the board.”
“I…I need time to think about that.”
“Of course. Let’s get the banking done, and we can meet again later on that.”
When they were gone, taking the marching instructions for Peter’s money with them, he fell on the bed, exhausted. But everything he had to do today was…
No. One more thing. He called Matt.
“Hey, how are you holding up?” Matt said, and his warm, kind voice made Peter happy. Only Matt understood what a drain all this was.
“I’m holding. They tell me the real crazy is about to start now.”
“Yeah. Where are you?”
“At the Carlyle, can you believe it?”
“That’s a good choice.” Matt paused. “Can I come see you?”
Peter felt sick, the knowledge that he had to deceive Matt was like a knife in his guts. “How about tomorrow?” he said brightly. “Afternoon?”
“Sure. That sounds good. Peter…”
“Take care of yourself.”
“I will! I’ll talk to you later!” When he hung up, he knew how ringingly artificial he’d sounded. But I have to get rid of Cody first. I have to do that, and then Matt and I can have a future.
Maybe. If the money doesn’t ruin it.
And then one more thought, buried, masked, drowned but not dead, that he refused to listen to, refused to believe. If you can buy Cody off with a measly hundred grand. If he doesn’t come back again and again and again…