Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Chapter 4


I can't say that Meyer's chili was an aid to sound sleep, but trying to put out the fire with Budweiser certainly helped. McGee’s larder was chock full of condiments with names like “Toxic Waste, After Death, and Tabasco Habanero.”

Sue and I stayed awake talking into the small hours of the morning. She is an intelligent woman. We didn’t have to go through the normal getting-to-know-you games; who do we both know, what is your favorite movie, do you like cats? We had more of an abstract conversation about goals and values. It left me with lots to think about: my age, her age, pneumatic nubiles, and bouncing. We talked about Idaho, who was who there, where they were, and what they were likely to be doing. Who might pose a threat? I like her a lot, and I’m afraid she may like me. After some tossing and turning, no bouncing, I finally caught a few hours of sleep.

By daybreak, we were peacefully cruising south along the inland waterway, towing a runabout behind the Busted Flush at a stately four knots and hour. At this rate, we would need to anchor out for a night before we reached our destination in the Keys. Meyer spent the time making notes on some obscure economic theory. Sue lay out in the sun with a bare back and one of Carl Hiaasen's novels, chuckling about his crazy characters. Our progress raised just enough of a breeze to keep the bugs off, and keep us cool throughout the day. I did my best captain imitation, and thought about what mischief McGee might have gotten into.

An hour or so later, Meyer came topside with two large mugs of coffee.

"We haven't had much time to talk M. I thought perhaps you would like to fill me in on yourself."

"Sure. Not much to say. In the real world, I'm a software frog. I started a little over thirty years ago, wiring IBM 407 tabulation machines. They caught me shoving matchbooks into the relays to make them run faster, and moved me to mainframes. Back then, banks, insurance companies, and the moon-shot were where the action was. I stuck with the first two, wrote software for ten years, and then went to work for Control Data, doing software support. At one point, I did support on all of the three main IBM operating systems in the U.S. and Europe. After that, I put together a company that modified IBM's systems to make them work better. My claim to fame was a "Dynamic Installation System" that worked on the bigger machines. It made our products easy to install. Hell, today they would call it a virus. Anyway, that all went by the wayside when my partner tried to cook the books. The last few years, I have been concentrating on PC stuff. They finally got fast enough to do legitimate work. Some of my work since then has been for the satellite people, Aerospace Corporation, and the rest has been network protocol and communications. I'm what the computer hackers call a dinosaur."

"That sounds more like what you do than who you are."

"You are a perceptive man Meyer. There is a train of thought, not unpopular with modern males that would have you believe that the two things are synonymous. I guess there is more to me. Marriage found me twice. A few children claim me. They have their own lives now. My leanings are toward fiscal conservatism and laissez faire economics. If you wrap it all up, you have a Libertarian who is slightly to the right of Ann Rand, but does not own any suits. How about you?"

"Professionally, I'm an economist of the Keynes school. John Maynard Keynes founded twentieth century economics. He first studied under his father, John Neville Keynes who taught economics at Cambridge. His work after World War I, and the depression set the economic landscape for the rest of the century. Most work in economics since then is based on, or in direct opposition to his work. I thought that perhaps I could extend his work, but I have not been terribly successful. Nowadays, I'm more of an amateur historian. I live a sedate life aboard my houseboat. And, on rare occasions, I race around the countryside trying to save Travis."

With that, Meyer wandered off to apply some suntan lotion to Sue's shoulders and back. I sipped at the coffee, and thought about ships passing in the night, and other clichés, anything to take my mind off her hot tanned skin. After lunch, Meyer took a turn at the wheel, and I went below to see if the satellite dish would hold a signal while we were moving. It wouldn't, so I contented myself to writing a few programs that might come in handy later. As the sun began to go down, we found a safe cove off the beaten path, and set anchor for the night. Things were quiet during diner, and afterwards, I took two Buds up topside to watch the clouds scudding past the stars, and try to extend my game plan. Finally, I checked to see that our running lights were set for night, and slipped off to bed.

The next day passed much the same. We found Meyer's friend Rob's dock just in time for cocktails. Most of the talk centered on Florida, and the Keys. Rob had much the same attitude as everyone that has claimed his corner of the world. He thought it was time to cut off the inbound traffic, let everyone else go elsewhere to find their piece of paradise. He was short, and balding, with a well-fed paunch. He had the Florida affinity for pastel colored clothing. You wouldn't catch me dead in yellow slacks and a lime green polo shirt, but there he was. A financier by trade, he was a fountain of information on a subject that I needed to research. I asked him about laundering money. If he thought I was somehow involved with the Colombian drug cartels, he had the good grace not to show it. He delivered his monologue with rapid-fire East Coast English.

"Most people think laundering money is very difficult, which is exactly what our government would like them to believe. That is only true for the poor little shmuck that has ten thousand dollars to hide. His best bet is his mattress. For real money, there is no problem. You can hide money in Alderney, Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Austria, Belize, Barbados, the Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Grenada, Isle of Man, Jersey, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Madeira, Malta, the Marshal Islands, Mauritius, Nauru…. The list goes on, but I think you get the point. If the money is clean, then you can just transfer it from account to account. If someone is following the money, then move it through shell corporations. If you don't have shells of your own, just buy some along the way. You can handle it all online with good encryption. You don't even have to travel. It is expensive. Depending on the amount of money you are moving, expect to spend at least fifteen percent to get it really clean, say five jumps at three percent each, including shells. If you don't have that much to move, go to Vegas. Win some, lose some, when you cash out, get a casino check. Pay taxes on whatever you deposit in the American banks, and stay the hell away from Swiss banks, and telephone lines."

In three minutes, I had learned more about the international shell game than I could have gotten in three jail terms. Who says this isn't a great country?

Meyer appeared at my shoulder, he was white as a ghost, and shaking badly. "Thinking of making a run for Aruba with Travis' booty?" He asked.

"No Meyer, I wasn't. Tell you what Mr. Economist, tomorrow morning you come sit with me for an hour or two at the computer. I'll give you a lesson about money."

“I’m sure it will be fascinating, but at the moment, we have bigger problems.”

“Like what?”

“My houseboat exploded half an hour ago. They’ve taken my home and all my possessions. They tried to kill me.”

“Shit. It looks like we may need to move up the schedule a bit.”