Monday, May 4, 2020

Enjoy Chapter Eight of The Blessings of Mr. Watson

Chapter Eight
A New Story

The balance on their mortgage and other debts totaled just over thirty-five thousand pounds. It was an amount Ronan was certain he’d never pay off. Three days after coming down with the flu, he walked into the Dublin office of GG Mortgage and Lending and slapped a cashier’s check for the full amount on the loan processor’s desk. He was still recovering and felt weak, and had a persistent cough. But he had gone to work anyway, and was still dressed in his gas-station-attendant blues, having come from the Topaz directly here. It was precisely how he wanted these bastards to see him.

   Stan, of course, had picked him up. Jordan, who had insisted on going with him, was waiting in the back. “Just to make sure everything is on the up and up.”

   Ronan had no problem with that. He had still not worked a single day for Mr. Watson or Yank-Willow.

   The processor stared at the check, then lifted it. “I’ll need to verify these funds....”

   “No, you don’t,” Jordan shot back before Ronan could. “It’s a cashier’s check. Look at it! Look! It isn’t from some po-dunk bank; it was drawn from Ulster Bank down the block! It requires no verification whatsoever! It’s as good as cash!”

   It was the first time Ronan had seen Jordan get angry. The man, still holding the check, sat back down. Instead of responding, he instead began tapping nervously on the keyboard. He glanced down at the check, then at them.

   “I’m sorry, but this amount is not correct.”

   “That’s the exact amount agreed to by the DFP,” protested Ronan. “That’s the entire balance. I double-checked it. I triple-checked!”

   “It is,” simpered the processor, speaking as though to a child, “but there is unfortunately an additional fee of two point eight percent for full remission of payment on underwater mortgages, which comes out to ...” he tapped rapidly on the keyboard again “... nine hundred eighty-four pounds.”

   Jordan came forward. The movement made the flunky flinch back. “This is why I insisted on coming in here with my associate. Because I knew you people would continue to attempt to nickel and dime him. We’ll play by your rules, Mr. ...” he grabbed the named plate on the desk and brought it closer, then dropped it, causing the processor to jump “... Mr. Teack. Bernie Teack. But you’ve got to know something, Bernie. That thousand clams isn’t worth it. Are you sure you want it? Are you sure?”

   Bernie Teack looked positively confounded. It was clear that Jordan intimidated him. “It’s the rules,” he offered meekly. “I could lose my job if I don’t assess that fee.”

   Jordan smiled coldly. “The rules. Have you ever heard of the Nuremberg Trials, Bernie?”

   Teack swallowed defensively. “Of course ... of course I have.”

   “All those Nazis taking the stand and saying the same thing over and over again: ‘I was just following orders.’ ”

   “This isn’t about deciding who lives and dies, Mr. Page,” countered Teack defensively. “This is about concluding a business transaction.”

   “It’s all right,” said Ronan. “I’ll pay it.”

   “No you won’t,” retorted Jordan, glancing angrily at him. He looked back at the processor. “It’s people like you, Bernie, that prop up really bad people—like your boss, Mr. Goutlos.”

   He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out what looked like a checkbook, but was filled with credit cards. He selected one with strained patience and snapped it down on the desk. “Take that riff-raff fee from this. Go on. I dare you.”

   Teack reached for it. Jordan’s hand shot out and grabbed his. Teack jerked, eyes wide.

   “I want you to remember my face, Bernie. And I want you to remember his.” He turned to look at Ronan. “And I want you to remember his face, Ronan—the face of a cowardly bureaucrat who, were he living in Germany eighty years ago, would have said, ‘I’m just following orders.’

   “Go on!” he roared, releasing him. “Charge it!”

   Teack grabbed the card and scurried out of the office. Jordan sat back down.

   Ronan didn’t know what to say, so he kept his mouth shut.

   “I glanced at some of your documents a few nights ago,” Jordan offered with an apologetic shrug. “I wasn’t prying, but I saw ...”

   He shrugged again. “I’m an expert with financial matters. I know how these things work—how these people work. I was one of them for a long time. This mortgage company nickel and dimed you and Lee into bankruptcy. I caught a glance at the extraneous fees, the bullshit tack-ons, the late fees, the late fees for unpaid late fees, the ‘administrative fees,’ and so on. It got me pretty steamed. I’m not trying to be a daddy figure to you or Lee, Ronan, but goddamnit, I like you two. And I do feel protective of you.”

   Ronan held up. “I have always felt very intimidated in places like these. I’m a pushover in them, a doormat.”

   “We’ve all got our weak points. The question I’ve got for you is, how do you feel about this place, this company, now that you’ve had the blinkers ripped off?”

   He thought of his interview with Paolo Pomoma. “We’re taking this company, aren’t we? Yank-Willow?”

   Jordan grinned just as the door opened and a stout, short-haired, middle-aged woman marched in.

   She came around the desk and sat, staring at both of them, but finally settling her glare on Jordan. She carried paperwork in her right hand. At the top of it was paper-clipped Jordan’s credit card.

   “The card has been charged,” she stated like an angry mother would at badly behaving children. “I will need Mr. Sutton’s signature on both of these forms to complete the transaction. Sir,” she continued glaring at Jordan, “I should forewarn you that we have contacted the police. They will be here before you and Mr. Sutton leave.”

   Jordan smiled. “What’s your name?”

   “My name is none of your concern. I am an employee with GG Mortgage; that is all you need concern yourself with.” She shifted her gaze from Jordan to Ronan. “Mr. Sutton, if you’d sign here and here—” she indicated with a pen to the bottom of two pages, then smartly pushed the papers across the desk—“we can finish this transaction. Thank you.”

   “All the misery you and Lee suffered was to keep fat-asses like this creature on her little upward mobility track,” chuckled Jordan. “All their rinky-dink fees that broke you two and put you in the middle of Dublin’s worst slum. Remember that.”

   Ronan had just finished signing the last form. He jerked his head up to look at the woman to see what she would say. The woman, outraged into silence, grabbed the forms, tore copies from each, collected the rest, and hurried out of the office.

   “C’mon, free man,” laughed Jordan, standing. He slapped his shoulder.

   Ronan, so far out of his element, could only nod uneasily as he stood. He folded the papers and followed Jordan to the door. “Does this have to do with my first assignment?”

   “You bet it does. Let’s go.”

   Jordan opened the door. Ronan followed, then caught up. Shoulder to shoulder, they marched through the lobby as employees stared. The few waiting customers stared as well. The room was dead silent. There was no sign of police.

   At the approximate center Jordan stopped and looked around. Bernie Teack, along with his replacement, stood behind the receptionist’s counter in the back, and just below the large GG MORTGAGE & LENDING signage. Law enforcement was nowhere to be found.

   Jordan held up his hands. “Well, I’m waiting! Where are these fuzz you’ve called?”

   No one answered. Everyone had the look that he was about to pull out a submachine gun and wave it around in murderous fury.

   “Take a good look around, folks,” he warned, turning slowly in place. “Because your company made its final mistake today.”

   As a parting gesture, he nodded deferentially at Bernie and his brusque replacement. “Mr. and Mrs. Nuremburg ...”

   He turned to Ronan. “Let’s go.”

   Together they walked out of GG Mortgage and Lending into the bright, hazy sunshine of this Thursday morning.

Jordan slapped his knee as the limo made its way back to the flat. “You look worried.”

   “They called the police.”

   “Nothing will come of it.”

   “How do you know?”

   “I know because Yank-Willow carries a lot of weight, especially in Dublin. Right now they are probably looking at the security camera feed with the Nuremburgs. They are watching as I grab Bernie’s wee wrist, to use the local vernacular. I suppose that can be considered a low-level form of assault. They are looking at your name on the register. And they are looking at mine.”

   He smiled.

   It came to Ronan then.

   “Mr. Watson ... wanted you to come with me today.”

   “Very bright,” Jordan nodded appraisingly. “Very bright indeed.”

   “You warned that processor—Bernie.”

   “That I did.”

   “And instead of me paying that fee, you did with your own credit card.”

   Jordan reached into his suit coat and pulled out the credit-card wallet. He opened it and extracted the card he’d used to pay the fee, and handed it to him. The name on it wasn’t Jordan Page, but


   “You used ... Mr. Watson’s personal credit card ... to pay that fee?”

   “Yep. My guess is that the police are informing the Nuremburgs, and probably the branch manager—did you notice that she was nowhere to be found during that shit-show, not even when we left?—that they’ll ‘keep in touch’ should it be needed, and that they’ll ‘look into it’ and file charges ‘should they be necessary.’ Something like that.”

   “I have no idea what the branch manager looks like,” said Ronan, again struggling for something to say.

   Jordan looked him up and down. “Today, my friend, was the first day of your training.”

   “May I ask a question that might be a little sensitive?”

   “You can ask me anything.”

   “Is my job going to be something like Mr. Watson’s moral police? Am I going to take down companies on his behalf that do shady things like charge extraneous fees, that kind of thing?”

   “Would that be a bad thing?”

   “Is that a yes?”

   Jordan sat back. “I want to tell you something, Ronan. It’s kind of a big deal, because Mr. Watson told me not to tell you. He personally called Gaupos Goutlos on your behalf this morning before we walked into that branch and warned him not to assess that stupid fee against you. The warning obviously fell on deaf ears. Had the Nuremburgs not assessed that fee, I would have known that Goutlos or one of his lieutenants had contacted the branch and warned the employees not to charge it. I would’ve recommended a little leniency and mercy in the future. Now ... well, now the lot of them can go straight to hell.

   “You and your lovely bride aren’t the only folks Goutlos and his company have preyed on. There are tens of thousands of folks like you just in Ireland alone. If you want to get blunt about it, sure: Mr. Watson is looking for a do-gooder, you bet. He’s looking for someone with a conscience and a soul who is willing to put things right. He’s looking for someone with smarts and passion, with sensitivity and character. He’s looking for a warrior. I sincerely believe, Ronan, that he’s looking for you.”

Stan slowed the limo as he angled towards the curb in front of the apartment building. When it stopped, he said, “Back home, Mr. Sutton. Please tell Lee hello for me.”

   “I will.”

   Jordan pushed a button above what looked like a fancy glove compartment. The compartment opened with a soft hiss, revealing an official-looking business-size envelope. He grabbed the document and handed it to him. “Your first homework assignment. Read it tonight. It isn’t long—six pages. No legalese. Some basic info on Goutlos and Mr. Watson’s relationship. You are off at the station tomorrow at...?”

   “Two,” said Ronan.

   “Pop by at four? I’d like to take you back to the office.”

   “I think Lee would like to see that place.”

   “Any day with that angel face in it is a good one. By all means, have her come along. I wouldn’t mind her input as well.”

   “Will do.”

   As Ronan climbed out of the car, Jordan reached and grabbed his forearm. “Think about what happened today, my friend, won’t you?”

   “Absolutely,” said Ronan. “Absolutely.”

Lee’s mood had definitely improved.

   “I think it’s because I know I don’t have to go back to that sterile big-box hell-hole anymore,” she said after he asked, “and because we’re now out from under the clutches of that fucking mortgage.”

   She sat next to him and glanced down at the envelope. “From Jordan?”

   “My first assignment,” he answered after kissing her. “He says he wouldn’t mind if you look it over as well.”

   “All right,” she said, glancing at him with concern. “How did it go at the lender? You seem a little on-edge.”

   He told her what happened. She stared without blinking, then blinked emphatically. “Wow. And this ... this is what he gave you afterward? It’s about the owner, that Goutlos bloke?”


   “Well, let’s take a look.”

   They both gazed down at the papers and began reading from the beginning.

   It was basically a condensed biography of Gaupos Goutlos’ life and his relationship with Karl Watson.

   Before he discovered the Alpha, when he was merely a multi-billionaire, Mr. Watson had through one of his many scholarship programs discovered Gaupos Goutlos, then a first-year student at the University of Mainz, and personally taken him under his wing. Goutlos had shown great promise in economics, but came from a very poor family, of which he was the middle child of seven. The Berlin Wall had just come down and Goutlos and his family were from the Eastern side.

   Watson had seen to it that Gaupos and his siblings were all taken care of, and even helped find employment for his parents, of whom the mother passed of an aneurysm a couple years later.

   Ronan and Lee read quietly. It wasn’t written in “legalese,” as Jordan promised, but almost in a storybook style, very engaging if not a bit odd. There was nothing of dry business language anywhere in it.

   Ronan was a slower reader than Lee, who impatiently said a couple of times, “Hurry up! I want to see what happened next!”

   Ronan glanced up at her with a grin. He was still a paragraph from finishing page three.

   He got to the end and turned the page over. They continued reading.

   Goutlos graduated with a degree in business finance. He wanted to start a business, and Mr. Watson fronted him the money. GG Mortgage and Lending was born. Gaupos Goutlos eventually became very wealthy, a billionaire himself.

   Following were various titles of legal investigations in more than a half dozen European countries, newspaper articles detailing scandals and shady deals, and, finally, the first paragraph of a personal letter written to Goutlos from an elderly woman begging him to let her stay in the home she and her husband, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, had spent the last fifteen years. They had nowhere else to go if they were kicked out.

   Ronan lowered the document slowly. Lee had already finished and was looking away, her eyes glistening with tears. She wiped her cheek and looked at him.

   “Wow,” he said.


   “Yeah. Wow. You’re born into a nothing life with no prospects, but somehow, by impossible luck, a billionaire finds or discovers you and helps you out. You have a chance to get your family out of poverty, get yourself out of hell, and make a difference in the world. You ask the billionaire for money to get your business off the ground, then proceed to make a billion yourself—all by shitting on everyone else, taking advantage of them, ripping them off, being merciless and cruel. So yeah. Wow.”

   She wiped another tear away. “I can’t stop thinking of that poor woman and her husband. I wonder what happened to them ...”

   She gave him a pleading stare. He shook his head. “What do you think?”

   She wiped another tear away. “I think you should shut that bastard down with a smile on your face!”

Ronan watched Lee as she took in the sight that was Yank-Willow’s Dublin headquarters.

   “Let’s head to my office,” suggested Jordan. “Ready, Mrs. Ronan?”

   She gave him a lopsided grin. “Yes. Let’s.”

   Staff smiled as they walked past. A beautiful dark-skinned woman approached. Gail.

   “Files are on your desk, Mr. Page,” she said before glancing at Ronan and Lee. “Can I bring you some fresh coffee, maybe a pastry, Mr. and Mrs. Sutton?”

   Ronan said no; Lee nodded. “Please. Thank you.”

   Gail acknowledged her with a smile and went on her way.

   Jordan opened a door at the end of the hallway and motioned them inside.

   His office was spacious but spartan: very little artwork on the walls, his desk almost bare save for a laptop computer, the furniture against the walls with little or nothing on them. The drapes covering the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over Dublin had been opened all the way. The gray of the day only added to the bare feel of the space, almost as though it were naked. Ronan felt a sudden impulse to close the drapes.

   “I don’t use this place much,” said Jordan as he brought his desk chair around to face theirs. Gail came in a minute later with Lee’s coffee and pastry. She shut the door as Jordan pulled a small stack of files on the corner of his desk closer. He grabbed two.

   “Take a look at these later tonight,” he said. “Fair warning: some of it is heartbreaking.”

   “More of Mr. Goutlos’ misdeeds?” asked Ronan.

   Jordan, nodding, sighed.

   “Mr. Watson doesn’t need to buy GG Mortgage and Lending. There is no financial incentive for him to. He has no desire to purchase it. He’s doing it because he wants to stop Goutlos from harming more innocent people.

   “Goutlos went public recently. Mr. Watson saw his chance. When he found out what happened to you too, his motivation to move swiftly solidified.”

   “I guess I have to ask a delicate question I’ve been thinking of for some time now,” said Ronan.

   Jordan waited. “Go ahead. Ask me anything, partner.”

   Lee watched him expectantly. She was the one who had actually brought it up last night before bed.

   “Why doesn’t Mr. Watson do this himself? I mean, if he wants to shut Goutlos down, why not march in there himself and take care of it? Or why not send in an experienced henchman? He must have hundreds on his payroll!”

   “He does,” said Jordan. “And yeah, he could take Goutlos down himself. No one in the world would stop him from entering any building he wanted to walk into. So why you?”

   “Yeah. Why me?”

   Lee reached for his hand and squeezed it.

   “It just feels like ... like ... like I’m not getting the whole story here,” Ronan continued. “I’m not calling you duplicitous, Jordan, please believe me. There are so many questions, and the answers I’ve gotten have been like eating Chinese food. You’re hungry for more half an hour later.”

   Jordan laughed. “Good one!”

   “It’s not mine,” admitted Ronan. “Lee said it last night.”

   Jordan didn’t immediately answer. He studied Ronan, a half-smile still on his face.

   “This isn’t going to satisfy you any more than Chinese food,” he finally answered, “and I’m sorry for that. You’re right—you’re right—Mr. Watson has a whole stable of steely-eyed folks more than ready to fearlessly follow any order he gives. He has no fear of Goutlos. He holds him in contempt, and not just a little anger and heartbreak for turning out so rotten.”

   He glanced at Lee, then back at him. “This is your story, you two. It’s being written as we speak. This is about you. You made a choice to help him fix a flat tire in a downpour. You did that even though you were frantic to get home to a job interview. You put Mr. Watson’s needs above your own, even though it ultimately harmed you.”

   He leaned closed and reached for both of their hands. “This is your story, and Mr. Watson is, shall we say, an avid reader. He wants to read more. Okay?”

   Before either could respond (for Ronan’s part, he had nothing to say, stupefied as he was), Jordan stood and went around his desk, pulled open a drawer, and lifted from it a sealed file. He handed it to Ronan.

   “These offices are yours to use as you will. I’m going to New York tomorrow morning to meet with Mr. Watson. I’ll be back in a week.

   “Consider this your office,” he went on. “Hell, remodel it if you want. Everything you could ever want to know about GG Mortgage and Lending, and Goutlos, can be found here. Gail will assist you. And Lee? This is your story too. We can accommodate you in any way you please. Just ask.”

   Ronan was still speechless; so too was Lee.

   “The hardest part about writing a new story is the beginning. This is your beginning. Don’t be afraid to let it be difficult, and don’t be afraid because it is difficult. It’ll get easier, I promise. That’s my job—to help make things a little easier. When I get back, Ronan, we’ll pack our bags and head to Germany.”

   He didn’t accompany them back to the flat, but left them at Yank-Willow’s door. “I’ll see you two when I get back.” He shook Ronan’s hand and gave Lee a kiss on her cheek. “Stan is your permanently assigned driver. He’s waiting downstairs. I’ll see you two in a week.”

   Files in his grip, Ronan and Lee went back downstairs. Stan was waiting in the lobby.

   They didn’t speak until they closed to the door to their flat twenty-five minutes later.