Excerpt from "Maricahi Money",  available on Amazon.com in print and for Kindle

The phone had emitted five rings by the time a groggy Buck Camilla grabbed the receiver. Coming awake as he put it to his ear, he realized he was in his own bed with his wife beside him. His eyes focused on the lighted alarm clock on his bedside table. It was almost two o’clock in the morning.
“Hello,” he mumbled.
“Did I wake you?”
Buck sat up straighter in bed when he heard the slightly accented voice of Antonio Rodriguez. “Of course you woke me. What would you expect at two o’clock in the morning?”
“You sound drunk. Did you have too much to drink tonight?
“I went to a dinner party that lasted almost till midnight. I’ve only been asleep a short time.” Buck glanced over his shoulder at his wife and watched her curl into a tighter ball and pull the covers over her head. Buck liked to sleep with the windows open, and the bedroom was cold. “
What do you want?” Irritation momentarily overcame Buck’s fear of Antonio.
“I want to talk with you. I thought this might be the right time to get your full attention.”
“Two o’clock in the morning?”
“If you’re busy, I can call back later.”
“I’m not busy. Tell me what you want.” Buck’s head ached from wine and after-dinner cordials. However, the pain was not enough to distract him from the earnestness in Antonio’s voice. His fear of the man quickly resurfaced.
“I too went out to dinner with a few friends this evening, mushroom house owners who are some of your largest customers.” Antonio paused, giving Buck the chance to say something. When he didn’t, Antonio continued.
“I’ve been sitting here thinking about our dinner conversation and what it means to the future, particularly your future.”
“What do you mean my future?” Buck was wide awake now.
“Well, your new branch manager, Mr. Sargent, is asking a lot of questions, just like your previous manager did. As you might guess, it is upsetting people. The Mexican workers don’t understand why they are being questioned, and worse, the mushroom farm owners do understand why they are being questioned. You know and I know that a lot of these workers might be on shaky ground if anyone looks too closely at their papers. The fact that they are putting away so much money might also raise red flags in certain quarters, were it examined too closely. The owners know this, and they also know that if the workers stop putting away all that money, then they themselves will be forced to cut back on their pretax savings. I think the technical term is the savings plan would become ‘top heavy.’ The owners would be putting in too great a percentage of the money and would be forced to cut back.”
“I know all that. Why are you calling me in the middle of the night to tell me?”
“Because the owners and I decided tonight that unless you get Mr. Sargent to stop asking questions, we’re going to transfer the accounts to a different brokerage house. If that happens, you are going to be missing a hell of a lot of your income.”
“You can’t do that.”
“Oh, but I can. Or rather, the mushroom farm owners can. The workers and I will just be going along for the ride. After all, these are company sponsored retirement savings plans, and the farm owners can place them with any broker they choose.”
“Think about how complicated that would be. First of all, you would have to get all new papers for every account at the new brokerage house. Now that we have the Patriot Act, do you know how much trouble that will be? It’s not like it was when we set those accounts up.”
“Perhaps not, but the owners seem willing to go ahead if your manager doesn’t stop asking questions.”
“Why don’t they just answer his questions so he’ll go away? What’s so hard about that?”
“We tried that with the last manager, Sam Kinston. He didn’t go away, and the questions got more and more difficult. You saw that it didn’t work.”
“I know, but Sam knew the people involved. The new manager doesn’t. He may be satisfied with a lot less information.” Buck tried to take a new tack.
“Let’s just try it with this new guy. After all, I have as much to lose as anybody. I helped set the program up in the beginning. I know where all the skeletons are buried.” There was total silence on the other end of the line, and Buck immediately realized his misstep. “I mean that I know what all the problems could be.”
“That wasn’t a threat, was it? What you just said?”
“Of course not. I have as much to lose as anybody in this program.”
“Then you will persuade Mr. Sargent to make his inquires in other directions?”
“How can I do that?”
“I assume you will think of a way.”
“You don’t understand. He’s asking these questions because the compliance department in our New York office is telling him to. He can’t just stop doing it because I ask him to.”
“Then you’re going to think of a reason for his stopping, one he can accept that gets him off the hook with the compliance department.”
“I’ll try. You know I will. I have as much to lose as anyone.” Again there was silence on the other end. Then Antonio said, “Buck, when any plan goes wrong, money is not the worst thing you can lose. Certainly money’s not as important as your own life.”
The phone clicked, and Buck found himself listening to a dial tone. He set the receiver gently in its cradle and lay back on the bed beside his wife, aware that no amount of alcohol was going to help him sleep any more that night.

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