Money to Burn: A Novel of Suspense

1

THE WARNING SIGNS WERE THERE. I JUST COULDN’T SEE THEM. MY nose was in my BlackBerry—“crackberry”—except when I was talking into it.

“Can you get me the numbers on Argentine debt denominated in Japanese yen?” I said. I was on with my Asia investment team leader.

The cabdriver glanced at me in the rearview mirror as if I were speaking Martian.

“Michael, give it a rest,” said Ivy. “We’re supposed to be on vacation.”

Ivy and I were stuck in traffic on the busy Dolphin Expressway, having just flown in from New York. We were headed to the port of Miami for a Caribbean cruise that was luxurious by anyone’s standards, all expenses paid—one of the perks of being a top young producer at Saxton Silvers, one of Wall Street’s premier investment banking firms.

“This is the last phone call, I promise.”

She knew I was lying, and I knew she really didn’t mind. More than any woman I’d ever dated, Ivy Layton understood my world.

We’d met when she was a trader at Ploutus Investments, a multibillion-dollar hedge fund with offices in Manhattan and—where else?—Greenwich. It was also Saxton Silvers’ biggest prime brokerage client. Ivy’s boss managed the fund and steered all that business my way because he was incredibly intuitive and completely understood that on the day that I was born the angels got together and decided to create a—puh-LEEZ. Chalk it up to the fact that I was one of the lucky bastards who had correctly timed the burst of the IT bubble, making me a financial genius in a field of idiots. Idiots who apparently believed that overpaid CEOs of dot-com darlings didn’t have to do anything but pick out flashy corporate logos for negative earnings reports and watch the NASDAQ rise like a helium balloon on steroids. I gave Ploutus a reality check on a barfing—yes, barfing—dog that looked like a sock puppet but turned out to be the proverbial pin in the bursting bubble. Ploutus made me the go-to guy on Wall Street, which would never change so long as those aforementioned angels continued to sprinkle moon dust in my hair and starlight in my…whatever.

“Whoa,” Ivy said. “I haven’t seen this many fifty-story cranes since Shanghai.”

I glanced up from my BlackBerry. She was right. Downtown Miami had more empty towers under construction than South Beach had palm trees. I tried to imagine the skyline without the works in progress—what it must have looked like just three or four years earlier. Maybe a handful of skyscrapers over fifty stories.

“Condo crazies,” said the cabbie. “I bought one preconstruction in dat building over there.”

Our driver was a Bahamian immigrant, which was cool. It was as if we were already in the islands.

“Congrats,” said Ivy.

“And one in dat really tall one, too,” he said, pointing upward.

“Two condos in downtown Miami?”

“Plus three more in Fort Lauderdale.”

I was going back to my BlackBerry, but Donald Trump with the island accent had snagged my full attention. “You own five condos?”

“Yeah, mon.”

“No offense, but—”

“I know, mon. I drive a cab. But my mortgage broker says no problem.”

“Who’s your mortgage broker?”

“A friend who live in Little Haiti. He used to drive a taxi like me. Dresses really smart now. We call him the Haitian Sensation. Got me a NINA loan for one-point-six mill.”

NINA—no income, no assets, no problem. Just find a property appraiser to certify that the real estate was worth more than the amount of the loan and $1.6 million was yours. All you needed was a credit score and a pulse. Actually, that pulse thing was optional, too. Reports of dead people getting loans were proliferating. To me, the