Keep Your Head Down, Bernie

For most of a decade I worked for San Francisco’s Montgomery Securities (which became Banc of America Securities after a purchase).  I was a securities analyst and then an institutional salesman. We called ourselves investment bankers, but no one ever asked for a definition of that title. I joined in 1986, staggered through the 1987 crash, then rode the market upward until my retirement in late 1994, just in time to miss the Great Market Uptick. My boss once told me that could have been a great salesman if I only had “more larceny in my heart.” My assignment, he more than once intoned, was “to turn my clients’ assets into my personal net worth.”

I was not well-suited to the job.

If the salespeople were Machiavellians, the traders were Capones. Some were brilliant, extraordinarily overpaid hagglers. Some, had they not been fortunate—through friends, family, or luck—to find their way to Wall Street, would certainly have been Mob underlings. One such, a ruggedly handsome, NYC transplant whom I will call Paulie, had nothing pleasant to say to me for five years. Word was that his father, due to Family problems, had been whacked when Paulie was a teenager. He thought I was a smart-ass. Good call.

At one gala party for clients about halfway through my tenure, I found myself nursing a drink at a table with Paulie. After some awkward non-conversation, we traded stories, which led to further exaggerations and additional drinks, and finally to Paulie’s wrapping an arm around my shoulder and announcing, with great sincerity, that he had misjudged me. After several woozy paragraphs of macho affection, Paulie made an out-loud decision that I was alright.

“Cotler,” he said, eyes locked hard on mine, “if you ever need someone taken care of…you talk to me. Get it?”

I searched for just the right bon mot to test whether he was joking, but his slit-eye, blood-brotherish mien deflated my smile. He was dead serious. I now had access to a hitman.

News of Bernard Madoff’s assault on my personal fortune has caused me to wonder whether now would be the right time to call in Paulie’s offer. And as the Madoff fraud oscillates outward rapidly, its financial tsunami swamping many more lives, I suspect that my musings are duplicated in other minds.

I have not seen my Paulie in 14 years. Some of Madoff’s other victims are undoubtedly closer to their Paulies than I am.

Madoff should hie to the safety of his inevitable Milken/Boesky country club prison…or imitate Ken Lay and die quickly.

Paulie’s phone may already be ringing.

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