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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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Photo by Alonso Reyes on Unsplash
Veronica, a Harvard M.B.A., helped manage the business and could soothe agitated clients with a wet bar and her velvety charm.

Victor Papadopoulos did not feel too concerned that his offshore oil investments were cratering and the markets seemed uneasy this Friday. He was diversified, and new investors kept seeking him out — friends of friends of the biggest names in Hollywood and the dirtiest names in business. As clouds gathered in global markets, his clientele only seemed to grow.

Every visitor to his midtown Manhattan office was greeted by red-headed Veronica, a former model with a Harvard MBA who helped manage the business and could soothe agitated clients with a wet bar and her velvety charm. The reception area sported a one-of-a-kind Mondrian titled “Broadway Boogie” and overstuffed recliners screaming “wealth grows comfortable here.”

First up today was Hamad Mustafa, the young Egyptian real estate mogul with the eye patch who invested heavily in Dubai waterfront properties. He parked his cash with Papadopoulos’s One World Investment company and enjoyed the New York nightlife seven nights a week. Victor Papadopoulos all but guaranteed his clients double-digit returns while the rest of the market was gyrating between 3 and 6 percent. That was his track record, and word got around.

Mustafa was one of the firm’s early investors, and now made regular deposits every few days on a random basis to one of One World’s offices which included Switzerland, Bermuda, Rio and Dubai. Each month, he received a statement tracking growth. While there was the occasional clunker, his returns over the past five years exceeded 16%. Best of all, as far as Victor Papadopoulos was concerned, Mustafa rarely made a withdrawal over $25,000.

When he arrived, Veronica said Mr. Papadopoulos would be with him shortly. As he sank into the easy chair they started chatting and Veronica offered him a Gray Goose martini with a twist. She already knew the answer as this was their routine, though when she detected tension in his jaw, she made it a double. Veronica continued their banter to let the alcohol sink in. She knew he could be unrelenting. On her last birthday, he sent two dozen roses. As they talked, she felt his pull. He was not hard to look at and was genuinely magnetic, but she knew when to apply the brakes. After 10 minutes, she announced, “Mr. Papadopoulos will see you now.”

Mustafa shook hands but refused to sit when invited. Instead, he set his glass down on Papadopoulos’ expansive mahogany desk. “I can’t stay long. I’m headed back to Dubai next week, and I’m not sure I’ll be coming back.”


“Let’s just say, something’s come up.”

“Is that all?”

“No. I need $100K in cash, and the rest of my holdings wired to this account in Dubai.”

“Are you serious? What is it? You can tell me, Hamad. We’ve been friends for a long, long time. I mean you’re part of our family. Is there something going on with your family, or your real estate operations? Is it the markets, perhaps? What?”

“A bit of all those things. But I assure you, I am serious. Now what’s my current balance?”

Papadopoulos did his best to keep calm. He signaled Veronica who arrived in the doorway a few minutes later and handed Mustafa a slip of paper. “That’s your balance as of 5 pm yesterday.” She then sat at the coffee table and opened a pouch. Mustafa watched from a catbird angle as Veronica, in a lowcut green knit dress, counted out the cash in large bills and $10K bank notes.

“There,” she said, zipping the pouch. She sauntered over and casually brushed her hip against Hamad for a moment as Papadopoulos watched the action. “As I’m sure you know, Mustafa, U.A.E. banks are already closed for the day,” she said.  “We could transfer the balance tomorrow, but we may be able to do better if we liquidate your holdings over a few days and have funds ready when you arrive in Dubai.” She rubbed against him again. “Would that be good for you? When are you planning to arrive?”

“Wednesday night.”

“Perfect then. You can stop in when we open next Thursday.” She placed her hand on his back and pointed him to the hallway.

He reached behind her, sliding his hand to her waist. “And if you don’t have any plans this evening, I’m taking you out to a club.”

“How kind of you, but I am sorry, Hamad. My father’s flying in from Cleveland and I have to pick him up.”

“Nonsense, tell him to come.”

“Nonsense,” she said. “Now give me a kiss and go.”

As soon as the door closed, she heard her name.

“That was close,” Papadopoulos said. “Good job.”

“You don’t know how close,” Veronica said. “We’ve only got $20K left in the vault. The markets are off to a precipitous start, and I don’t know how we’re going to cover his $67M when he gets to Dubai when we only have $29M globally – and that was yesterday.”

“Ask BoA for another line of credit.”

“We’re maxed out there.”

“What about Chase?”

“I can ask again, but we’ve been to the well too many times already.”

“Wells Fargo?”

She touched the top of his desk. “They’ve had us surrounded for a long time…” Veronica lifted her hand to her face and rubbed her fingers. “Mustafa not only left a hole in our wagon, but he left a ring on the mahogany.”

The next hour whipped into a froth of calls as the markets continued to plummet. Unflappable Victor continued to talk customers down from the ceiling, and off the ledge with his reassuring tone. But Veronica could detect the strain in his voice. She contacted as many banks as she could beginning with banks in Switzerland and Brazil, and their branch in Dubai, requesting transfers.

At 10:30 a.m. Ms. Beatrice Giannelli exited the elevator and pushed through the glass door for her quarterly appointment. Fit and smartly dressed for her early seventies, Beatrice carried a cobalt-blue Gucci handbag and a matching streak in her tightly coiled hair. Veronica knew that the woman had invested $2.25 million with them and favored Bloody Marys with a slice of celery for her morning visits.

Ms. Giannelli, too, was concerned. Veronica ushered her into Victor’s office and then tapped her Bluetooth to hear Victor’s placating spiel from her desk. “You know, Bea, you’ve never lost any money with us, and in fact, no one who follows our strategies ever has.”

“…And I don’t want to be the first, Victor. I want to withdraw $50,000 now.”

“The only ones who lose are the ones who jump, and they jump straight into a deep hole. So stay calm. We’re diversified. We see what’s happening and are adjusting. You’ll see, we’ll double your money on the rebound.”

“I want $50,000 now, and $100,000 next week.”

When Victor tried again, Bea ratcheted her request to include $250,000 next month, her tone growing shrill. That’s when Victor called Veronica.

Again, she worked her magic. She agreed to set up $145,000 in transfers for Monday and ushered Beatrice to the elevator holding a gift bag with $5K in crisp $100 bills.

Of course, Veronica had seen clouds building for weeks. Finance was her métier, and she knew just how to pack an umbrella.

Back at her desk, she canceled Victor’s appointments, held all calls, and locked the office door. Then she ordered a pepperoni pizza for lunch, his favorite. At 11:55 a.m., she rang the delivery guy up the elevator, unlocked and relocked the glass, and took the pizza to Victor’s office. Though his nerves seldom showed, a tremor flashed below one eye. A moment later, she returned with a Jim Beam on ice (and a Sloe gin fizz for herself).

She jingled the ice and handed him the glass. “Don’t worry about a thing, Victor. We’ll buy some time and get it under control. I’ll rejigger the accounts, so you can contact the other offices and finish calling clients to head off steam.”

Veronica was busy at her desk making some final arrangements for herself when a burly man in a leather jacket stormed off the elevator. He pulled hard on the handle to the office.

“We’re closed.” Veronica shooed him away.

“Open up. Open up!” His yanks rattled the hinges top and bottom.

Veronica did not get up. “What do you want?”

“I want to talk to Mr. Papadopoulos.”

“He’s not here this afternoon.”

Papadopoulos picked a bad time to raise his voice: “What the hell’s going on out there?”

“I know that rat’s in there. Now open this damn door.” The man started banging the glass with his fist revealing a black widow tattoo.

“OK. Please stop, sir, and just give me a minute.” Veronica dialed security and put them on speaker.

“Look, I know you want to see Mr. Papadopoulos, but who are you?”

“Let’s just say I’m a friend of one of your customers.”


“Let’s just say, my Aunt Bea.”

“Oh, yes, Mrs. Giannelli. We took care of her this morning. What a wonderful woman. She’s your aunt, you say?” As Veronica tried to stall, she hoped Papadopoulos might make it to the stairwell before this man breached the door.

“Look, lady. Open up. Now.” The man grabbed the fire extinguisher and waited for a reaction.

“OK. I’m getting the key.” Veronica put her handbag in the tall blue shopping bag next to her desk, then opened her top drawer and dangled the keys. She could open the door, but the sound of glass would be heard both by security and Papadopoulos, and it was Papadopoulos he wanted not her.

Still holding the keys, she smiled at the man. When he raised the extinguisher over his head with two hands, she ducked. The extinguisher came through the Plexiglas at an angle sending chunks across the room and creating a basketball-sized hole. The man kicked at the hole until he could step through.

“Where is he?”

Veronica was under her desk. “Around the corner to the left.” This was true. Plus, the empty safe was to the right, and she didn’t want the man to go there first.

As soon as he passed her desk, she grabbed her coat, picked up the bag, and stepped toward the elevator. She pushed the button and held her breath, knowing if she had attempted the stairs, she might encounter the intruder again. A moment later, the elevator opened. She simply pointed and the security guard rushed to the jagged hole.

She stepped onto the street and hailed a cab to LaGuardia Airport.

Three days later, Veronica was enjoying an afternoon under dark sunglasses on Ipanema Beach in Brazil, a Sloe gin fizz in hand. She set the paper umbrella aside and took a deep draw, then settled back surveying colorful bathers bobbing in the waves. Fully relaxed, she shut her eyes and listened to the sounds of seagulls and distant laughter. She felt the warmth of the sun and noticed the rush of blood through her eyelids.

But now something blocked the sun. “Hamad…What are you doing here?”

“The truth will always find you, my dear Veronica. Did you think you could just run away?”

“That was my plan.  And my name isn’t Veronica anymore. It’s Catherine, Catherine Gold.”

“Fine, Catherine,” he said tasting her new name like taffy. “Did you know people are looking for you? They found Papadopoulos at the bottom of the stairs with two broken legs. He’s awaiting federal trial without parole. He’ll likely do serious time.”

“So you want to rescue me?”

“You know I’ve always liked you, Catherine. But you’ve done some serious damage.”

“You’ve got it wrong. It was all Victor, and you know it. I just don’t want to be involved anymore.”

“Well, you are involved. Victor’s defense team wants to talk to you, the feds, the Manhattan D.A., and so do I. If I can find you, so can they.”

“What do you want to talk to me about Hamad?”

“Well, I thought we could start with a little chat at the Tiki Bar.”

Hamad wanted to check if there was a flicker of attraction. He told her a joke about three men on camels and she broke a smile. Of course, he found her intensely attractive and felt sure he could bring her around. His private jet could whisk her away with him to Dubai where she could live in luxury and obscurity while working to help pay off some of the $40 million he lost to One World.

He wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “So you see Catherine, you do have a decision to make.”

Catherine turned toward Hamad with a gentle smile that did not waver at the garlic. She placed a hand on his knee, let it slide to the inside, then leaned in for a kiss. “You’re kind to make it so easy for me.”

She decided she could figure the rest out later.

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About the Contributor
Charles Bins
Charles Bins, Writer, illustrator
Charles Bins is the author of Quirky Stories & Poems: Backwards, Forward & Upside Down published in the fall of 2023. The book is about many things – real and fictional accounts about growing up, pleasure and pain, good and evil, as well as quirky insights into human nature.  As a marketing PR pro, he wrote hundreds of articles for clients on topics spanning business, technology and consumer products. Early in his career, he was a syndicated entertainment columnist, interviewing celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Kenny Rogers and Patty Duke. He lives with his wife, Mary, two cats and a cockatoo in Leland, N.C. Learn more on his website.


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