Too old to please the pretty girls, too young to take the needle.
I’m stacking time with Crestor, and a heart that’s growing feeble.
Green tea and green label,
keep my mind alert, my liver stable.
Doing less than I am able.
I’ve become The Displaced Man.
I’ve become The Displaced Man.
We switched from rye to green tea. Organic tea, Genmaicha. A green tea blended with toasted brown rice.
“Listen,” I said. “I can’t quite describe what it’s like to see you again – or see you in person. I can’t turn on the TV these days without seeing you. “I know the old days are long ago and far away, like the song says, and neither one of us wants to revisit who did what way back when. I’ve been blessed beyond my imagination – blessed more than anyone I know, other than you, to be honest. And it’s like having lightning strike for you to walk in here tonight. I knew you would be in town, for University Day. But I didn’t expect to see you. And I certainly didn’t expect to be up drinking whiskey with you – “
“Tea,” she interrupted. “We’re drinking tea.”
“and to be eating biscuits with you again,” I said, the sentence trailing off.
I was drunk. I was rambling. I didn’t have a point, and I couldn’t talk my way toward one. So I did what smart drunks do. I shut up. I drank tea.
Ray Wylie Hubbard came on the juke box, then Hayes Carll and Shooter Jennings. Then Patsy Cline.
“So…” I started in again. Goddammit, I was going to find a point to make. I’m not that smart a drunk, after all.
“So, welcome home. Glad to see you. Glad you’re here, Tar Heel born and bred and all that. Glad we’re drinking whiskey. Glad Siler is getting biscuits.
“But I have a job. Or I don’t need a job. Or I don’t need a job from you. Or I don’t know why you need me to do a job. Or don’t care.”
A long pause. Siler came back in. Closed the door to the cold blast.
“Let’s just eat the fucking biscuits,” I said, as triumphantly as I could sound.
Fats chomped off big bites of gooey cheese, fried chicken and warm biscuit.
“I have a job for you,” she said again.
Before I could swallow and reply, Siler jumped in.
“Cool. What you need him to do?” he asked.
“It’s an inside job,” she began.
Fats explained that her company, which she had named Gimghoul Research Labs, was a kind of hybrid. It included some pharmacology labs, with many scholars leading basic research, and a network of centers that were unifying genetics and pharmacological research. There was a product innovation department figuring out how to translate the R&D into consumer products – both the designer products driving the profit and the products promising to improve the human condition.
While many of the phases of the work required proprietary research and trade secrets, there were also parts of the work that required transparency and full disclosure. GRL, as her firm was known, had built its own publishing unit to create, vet and publish findings from its research efforts and the research run by others. There was special emphasis placed on publishing findings that built bridges from the basic research to the applied research. This created a public record of evidence that helped make the case for consumer products.
“It’s all bigger than I can manage – or anyone could manage. It’s what keeps me up at night,” Fats said, starting in on her second biscuit.
Siler poured her more tea. He had one glass of whiskey and one cup of coffee, alternating sips from one to the other.
“OK, you’re running a multi-national corporation that’s making you billions of dollars,” I said. “Seems fair you’d have some headaches. Nothing I can do about that. If you don’t want the nightmares, sell the business. I’m sure Dow or Pfizer or somebody would give you a few billion for it. You can buy another house in the islands.”
“I’ve bought a house on Gimghoul Road,” she said.
That threw me.
“I’m moving home,” she said. “I told you we would meet up in the fall to watch the leaves change. Well. It’s this fall. I’m not here for the week to get some kind of award on University Day. I’m back in Chapel Hill to see you.
“And I have for job for you,” she repeated.
“Hey, take the job,” Siler said, sipping the whiskey, then the coffee, then the whiskey again.
The rye was still escalating in my system. The genmaicha couldn’t knock down the alcohol. Fats never needed sleep. She was flying. My brain was whirring. My eyes were tired, and I could see a headache just ahead. I was overmatched.
“What’s the job?” I asked, surrendering.
“I know you won the Pulitzer for uncovering the LIBOR fraud that helped create the financial crisis,” Fats continued.
She was referring to the conspiracy among financial institutions to cook the numbers on the London Interbank Offered Rate. The LIBOR lending rates sets the number on what it costs banks to borrow money from other banks, covering 10 currencies and more than dozen periods of time for loans. This trickles down the entire global financial system. If you’re a newlywed in Little Rock looking for a home mortgage loan, you ended up paying a higher rate than you needed to when banks cooked the LIBOR numbers. Same if you’re running a French apparel company that needs to borrow money to expand factories. You ended up paying too much in interest.
“You have a talent for finding needles in haystacks,” Fats said. “GRL is publishing haystacks of research studies. I’ve been getting anonymous emails claiming there’s fraud in my publishing units. I don’t know if this is sour grapes from someone who didn’t become the star researcher they wanted to be. Or if it’s legitimate. But I know who can find out. You can find out.
“I’ll hire you to run an investigative journalism project – an independent project. No oversight from me. I will have no editorial input. No approval rights. You can publish anything, anywhere. You get full access to everything in my shop that is not protected as a trade secret.”
Siler spoke first: “How much does the gig pay?’
“Well start with a year-long contract for $5 million,” Fats said. She moved from the biscuit to a cinnamon roll.
“He’ll take it,” Siler said, and the two of them shook hands.