Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Farewell, My Liquidity

Part III of Drunken Banker Week

Rediscount Harrison lived in a Bay City apartment house in what polite society likes to call "reduced circumstances". To me, the place looked like a dump. I walked into the lobby, past a couple of yellowing potted palms rooted in cigarette butts and thumbed the button for the elevator. Through the elevator doors I heard an electric motor above me whine into life then just as quickly give up. I pushed a couple more times, but the elevator refused to move. Whatever was happening on the sixth floor interested it a lot more than a visitor in the lobby.

I took the stairs up to the third floor and knocked on the door of 302, Harrison's apartment. The dirty white paint on the door was stating to peel, so you could see the mahogany stain underneath it, with here and there a yellowing streak of the original grain where the timber had chipped. The door opened a crack, and pulled a cheap dime store security chain tight. A pair of rheumy eyes peered at me through the gap.

"Who are you?" the mouth under the nose under the eyes asked.

"Marlowe." I handed one of my business cards through the gap. I took it out of the pocket where I had put the pint of scotch, making sure that the neck of the bottle followed the card a good way up out of the pocket. "I heard you're the guy to talk to about open market operations."

Maybe he wanted to talk about open market operations too, but I figured he was more interested in the scotch. Whatever the reason, he opened the door to let me into a small parlour with a davenport, an armchair and an occasional table. He mmade himself comfortable on the davenport so I settled for the armchair and made the scotch comfortable on the occasional table. He looked at it like he was seeing a long lost friend.

"Chivas Regal," he said. "I always used to have a bottle for visitors in my office at the Fed."

That wasn't exactly the way I'd heard it; when Bernie Ohls at the DAs office filled me in on Harrison's career he'd mentioned a bottle in the top drawer of the desk and one in the filing cabinet for emergencies too. I let it pass.

"Not too early for you is it?" I hinted. His eyes fixed on the bottle and I could tell what he was seeing; a glass fronted walnut drinks cabinet in a wood-panelled office, with clean cut glass tumblers lined up beside a bottle of Scotland's finest. the moment passed and he was back in the room with me. Back in a run down Bay City apartment parlour which badly needed someone to open the window to let in some fresh air and then leave it open for the next six months.

He didn't like the change. He glared at me, demanding "Just who the hell do you think you are mister? Why don't you take your questions, and your liquor and ..." His voice broke and he started to shake. I got up and went to the door where I figured the kitchen was. I couldn't find any cut glass tumblers but the jelly jars cleaned up nicely. There was no ice in the refrigerator but he looked like a man who preferred his liquor neat.

Part II: We the Solvent

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