by Stanley McFarland
“Damn, I have a lot of money!”
“Yes you do, Mr. Howell,” said the broker with a shy laugh.
Ted could tell the by the tone that broker was thinking about the TV show. He didn’t mind the laugh; he was used to it. He grew up with Gilligan’s Island, and a lot of his friends (and many non-friends,) used to call him Thurston Howell the Third.
Was that why he was so rich – a power of positive thinking phenomenon, or was it just good guessing?
Ted’s senior year in High School, he had just enough money to go in with some friends on gold futures contract back in seventy-eight. They all made out pretty well, but Ted was the only one brave enough to let it ride. He let it ride for nearly three years of spiraling futures prices only bailing when gold hit six eighty.
The price started spiraling down a week later.
“You were lucky,” said his father who had predicted doom every step of the way. “You don’t build a future on luck.”
Then there was his guess on MCI.
“They’ll never get past AT&T,” his father warned. “You’re throwing your money away.” It wasn’t nearly as successful as his gold speculation. He only multiplied his money ten times.
Then there was Wal-Mart, Apple, Intel, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay and a thousand others that were less dramatic, but almost always profitable. On a whim he sold his tech stocks and went to gold before the Internet bubble burst in two thousand.
He bought back Apple and e-Bay at reduced prices, but instead of buying back Sprint, he bought an IPO called Google.
Finally, after selling most of his portfolio in ‘o eight, to buy gold, he’d jumped back in to triple his money in the market just before gold started to flag.
“That’s a lot of zeros there,” said the broker. “So what’s next?”
Ted didn’t answer. A lot people asked him that question. Three years earlier, the authorities discovered his former broker had been recommending everything Ted bought to his other clients. There was an investigation about insider trading. The broker was in some Club Med federal prison now, and only a sympathetic judge kept Ted from joining him.
“There’s no law against success,” said the judge. “You don’t build a conviction on luck. You’re going to need evidence beyond Mr. Howell’s good fortune.”
You don’t build a conviction on luck – it was almost an echo of his father’s words years before.
What was next? Was Dad right – You don’t build a life on luck?
Now in his fifties, Ted could buy anything he desired. But what did he want? He lived in the house he grew up in. He bought it from his folks when they retired to Florida. It was the only piece of real property he didn’t sell just before the housing bubble burst. It was also the only place he liked being.
He’d tried the Mediterranean, Hawaii, The Hamptons, Carolina’s outer isles. He hated Europe. He felt like everyone was laughing at him. Seeing the ocean made his stomach lurch.
He remembered Dewey back in the eighties. Ted spotted him the money to see if he could break the record score for Space Invaders. Dewey did almost nothing but play Space Invaders for the next decade. Twice he had the top score, but within a week somebody else topped it and Dewey went on trying to re-establish his record.
Dewey died playing Space Invaders. He was thirty-three. Ted was at the funeral. Half the people there were Space Invader freaks; the other half were angry loved ones – angry that Dewey had given his life to such a ridiculous task.
There was a stretch in the nineties where Ted played philanthropist. He really didn’t have any causes he believed in so he spread it around to different groups. A friend pointed out that dispersing his money that way pretty much cancelled out the effect.
He went on a kick of making dreams come true. He wandered around looking for people that needed money – single mothers, street people, people that needed a medical procedure. He handed out bags of cash; he bought people houses and cars. It was fun for a while, but most of the people he helped weren’t any happier after the fizziness of new wealth wore off. Some seemed even more miserable.
Ted realized that his broker was saying something. Probably preaching the standard broker’s credo – diversification. It was the same thing his dad had told him thirty-five years earlier.
He’d ignored the credo then – no reason to pay attention now.
There were spots floating in front of Ted’s eyes. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs.
“Are you all right, Mr. Howell?”
“A little woozy,” said Ted.
“I’ll get you a glass of water.” The broker left and Ted looked around the room, trying to get his eyes to focus better and to make the spots go away.
He picked up the financial page next to him, skipped the articles and went right to the NASDAQ. Spots dotted to page and moved as Ted scanned for promising numbers.
Sounds were running in his head. They were annoying – brash, but very familiar.
Space Invaders! Ted laughed.
A line jumped out at him from the paper – Vanity Tech. Ted knew nothing about it, but when a line jumped at him like that it almost always paid off. The spots in front of his eyes got bigger. Ted swished the financial page around in front of him, trying to wipe out the spots…
Like in a video game.
The broker didn’t know CPR. The paramedic said not to feel guilty. Mr. Howell suffered what they called, sudden death. There wasn’t anything that could have done for him. The broker nodded, with a practiced concerned look.
The broker kept the page that Howell had been waving before he died. Maybe he’d been signaling for help – or maybe he found something worth buying!
“What I wouldn’t give to know what he was thinking,” the broker muttered.