Coming from the airport in the hotel’s ancient but gleaming Mercedes, Enrico embarked on an enthusiastic account of his trip to London.
‘I never expected it Jason, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. My whole life’s been preparation for this. Man, I’ve never been more sure of a deal. You know Frances, I’ve told you I have an instinct about these things. I can smell a scam. But this is for real. And you know the first thing I plan to do when the money starts rolling in?’
‘What’s that?’ asked Frances, as she felt Enrico’s hand lightly squeeze hers. Jason was sitting up front with Absolom, the driver.
‘I’m going to buy me a villa in the south of France. I know of a fantastic place up for sale in Antibes. And you two gypsies won’t have to roam around Europe no more, hopping between expensive hotels.’
‘Sounds good to me,’ said Jason. ‘But maybe we should buy a place close by. I don’t fancy being a permanent house guest, eh Frances?’
‘Don’t count your chickens Enrico. Dad always said if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,’ said Frances.
‘Not if you’re in the driver’s seat—like your old man was,’ said Enrico. ‘Besides, as I told you, I’ve never been more sure of anything.’
Absolom looked in the rear-view mirror because he thought Enrico had said something to him. ‘Pardon, mister? You say something about my seat?’
They all laughed and Frances explained the metaphor though she wasn’t sure Absolom got the point. He shook his head and then nodded quickly so as to drop the subject.
They sat in Enrico’s room. Jason had opened the minibar and handed out three beers. Enrico was delving into his carry-on leather bag and produced a tissue-wrapped package. ‘This is for you, Frances.’
Frances said nothing, took the package, pulled away the tissue paper to find a small velvet-covered container. She took out two exquisite white gold diamond earrings. ‘Oh my God, these are simply beautiful. Thank you so much Enrico, though I can’t think why…’ She got up from the high-backed chair and planted a light kiss on his cheek.
‘And this is for you, partner,’ said Enrico, as he offered an oblong package to Jason who quickly tore off the cellophane wrap. He opened the box and took out a gold Cartier watch with a round white face and Roman numerals.
Enrico said: ‘I thought it was time to get rid of that ancient Japanese digital piece and wear something with a bit of class.’
Jason was taken aback. ‘I quite like my old Jap job. I’ve had it since my college days. But this is very nice, Enrico. You really shouldn’t have…’ Jason gave the watch to Frances for which she exchanged the earrings. They both examined each other’s gifts. Meanwhile, Enrico busied himself unpacking—putting some folded shirts into drawers and hanging up a couple of suits. Then he sat down on the edge of his bed.
‘This is a good time to tell you what I’ve been up to—the deal, I mean,’ he said. ‘It’s a great story. An old associate of mine has offered me the opportunity of getting in on the ground floor of a share offering his brokerage house is doing for a company on the cutting edge, as he always puts it, of computer technology. Okay. Now Jason, what do you know about computers?’
Jason’s eyes widened. ‘I can use a word processor. We had to at the newspaper.’
‘Okay. Now both of you must have heard of computer chips. These are the vital components of all computers—and much else besides. You must also have heard of Intel, the biggest chip maker in the world. Now it just so happens that Intel has been after this small company for months. But the guys who run the outfit don’t want to sell out—yet. They want to go public first—that is, sell their shares to the public—keeping a big portion for themselves of course. Then a year or so down the road, they’ll be up for sale to any comers. By which time the shares will have climbed, oh say five times higher than when they were offered to the public. Get it?’
Jason and Frances nodded. Enrico leaned his head back to drain the last of the beer. ‘Okay. So this high-tech outfit is called Microtech International. What they’ve done is this: they’ve developed a revolutionary new super-tiny microchip that’s going to make all the products on the market today totally obsolete. They’ll outsell everybody! Guys, can you believe this? Their new chip operates 5000 times faster than the latest Intel chip. I won’t go into all the details. It’s too technical. I tell you, Microtech’s going to be a household name in a year or so. There’s an article coming out next month in Fortune, just before the shares are sold to the public. I tell you, the share price will go through the roof—’
‘Enrico,’ said Jason, ‘hold on a minute. Just explain in layman’s terms what exactly the deal is all about.’
‘Sure. In plain language, I’m being offered a big block of shares—say 100,000 by way of example—at a very low price. Let’s say my friend will let me buy in at $1.00 a share, okay. Then the shares are priced at $5.00 a share to the public. A few months down the road, why the shares have climbed to maybe as high as $25 a share. My money’s gone from $100,000 to what—’ ( Enrico took a small pocket calculator from the bedside table) ‘oh some $2.5 million. How’s that for starters?’
‘Wow,’ cried Jason. He looked at his sister for some shared enthusiasm. But Frances kept her eyes on Enrico and betrayed neither enthusiasm not indifference.
Enrico was not done. ‘But actually the deal’s much bigger than my example, Jason. Here’s what’s really happening: to gear up production to meet demand for these little chips, Microtech needs to raise $20 million from investors—the public. So my friend’s brokerage outfit plans to sell ten million shares at just $2.00 apiece. Okay? With me so far? But here’s the thing. Listen carefully both of you. I can get my hands on three million shares at a price of only 50 cents a share. So immediately—even before the shares start trading at the offer price of $2.00 a share, we’re looking at a profit of—’(again Enrico’s long manicured fingers danced on the small calculator) ‘no less than $4.5 million. Four million, five hundred big ones, my friends.’
‘So far, so good,’ said Jason. ‘Are you following Frances?’
Frances nodded. She began to closely examine Jason’s new watch.
‘But here’s the point. I’ve just outlined the worst case scenario, okay?’ said Enrico. ‘My friend’s a real operator, a world- class stock promoter. He’ll have those fucking shares, excuse me Frances—he’ll have those shares selling at $5.00 a share within a week or so of the public offer. So we’re now looking at three million shares selling at $5.00 a share. When I was at school, that added up to $15 million—a real profit of $13,500,000 after deducting our initial cost of $1.5 million. Don’t forget we bought our three million shares for 50 cents a share for a cost of $1.5 million. Bottom line: we’ve made ten times our money in probably less than a month.’
Enrico was now unwrapping a cigar, no doubt by way of celebration, or so Frances thought.
‘Why is this guy being so nice to you, Enrico?’ asked Jason.
‘Good question. Look, I’ve been around, as I told you,. I’ve given him a lot of business—and I mean a lot, millions of dollars worth of buying I’ve steered his way. Through my own clients and various bankers. So he owes me, all right? He’s always promised to pay me back, big time—and now he has.
‘But now, my friends, we come to the critical part. I haven’t a bean. I lack the cash to take advantage of this guy’s generous deal. I totally lack the funds to take this opportunity of a lifetime. Which is where you guys come in—or didn’t you expect to?’ Enrico sniggered, his lips curled into a smile that invited some sort of answer.
‘Frankly,’ said Frances, ‘I was wondering why you kept saying that we stood to make all this money. I’m not sure we want or need to.’
This was the last thing Enrico wanted to hear from Frances. He looked quickly at Jason, a sort of unspoken appeal to him to be more positive.
‘Let’s hear Enrico out before we come to any conclusions, Frances.’
A good cue. Boys were always easier than girls, thought Enrico. ‘If you’re wondering why I’m basically broke for a man who deals in millions of dollars of other people’s money, it’s a fair question. It’s a long story: it’s too painful to go into right now. Let’s just say it has a lot to do with oil tankers and a deal that turned sour. I was leveraged to the hilt, and when the finance boys came knocking I lost everything—literally overnight. But that was yesterday, okay? Let’s talk about today’s deal. As far as I’m concerned—and I’ve had a lot of experience, you’ll grant me that—it’s a win-win, no-lose situation.’