Read on for an exclusive excerpt from Poisonfeather by Matthew FitzSimmons!
When the hour of his interview arrived, a guard led Merrick into one of the cramped legal counseling rooms. It was bare bones, empty but for a long table and uncomfortable metal chairs. He’d been in it, or one like it, innumerable times. At the table sat a woman about the age of his daughter—maybe twenty-five? She was scribbling notes on a legal pad. Not all that attractive, even if he were being charitable. Probably an intern sent along to get some experience in the field. Fine, fine. Two women were always better than one.
She put down her pen and stood to greet him. “It’s good to meet you, Mr. Merrick.”
“Will she be long?”
“Lydia Malkin. Will she be long? I don’t know how long the guards will give us. They can be . . . unhelpful,” he said as though describing the service at a hotel.
“I am Lydia Malkin.” She held out her hand. He looked at it and felt his blood pressure rising at the thought that someone had sent this child to interview him.
“You’re a reporter with Finance?”
“I am, yes.”
“What are you? Twenty? Have you even finished college?”
“I’m twenty-six. I have a master’s in journalism from Northwestern.”
“Do you even know who I am?”
“You’re Charles Merrick.”
“Good for you. But I know full well that Finance does not hand twenty-six-year-olds cover interviews.”
She looked at him with surprise. “I’m sorry if there’s been some miscommunication. This isn’t for the cover.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“This is a little profile piece. ‘Where is he now?’ That sort of thing. Since you’re getting out soon.”
“A profile piece? Is Peter still the editor?”
“Peter Moynihan is the editor,” she said in a weary tone that irritated Merrick.
“And he thought it would be a good idea to do a . . . how did you put it? A ‘little profile piece’ on me?”
“Actually Peter wasn’t all that big on the idea. Initially.”
“I convinced him.”
“Well, thank you so very much,” Merrick said. “For being my champion.”
“Perhaps I should go.”
He watched her gather up the materials that she’d laid out on the table. In the old days, he would have laughed a reporter out of his office for trying such a transparent tactic. He wanted badly to let her leave Niobe Prison disappointed and empty-handed, but he stopped her because it would have hurt him far worse.
“Why weren’t they interested?”
She paused and looked him over, held his gaze steadily, assessing him confidently. He didn’t care for it but forced a smile. Much as he disliked to admit it, he needed Lydia Malkin more than she needed him.
“Honestly? No one cares,” she said. “Many resent the plea deal you cut with the Justice Department. Eight years for the devastation Merrick Capital caused its investors strikes some as ludicrous. And the net value of the assets seized didn’t come close to compensating your victims. Lives were ruined.”
Merrick dismissed the notion that his deal had been overly generous. If little Miss Lydia Malkin only knew the half of it. The gift that he’d granted this great country in exchange for so-called leniency. The CIA should have thrown him a parade instead of locking him away in here.
“Not to mention the fact that you were sent to a place like this rather than a real prison.”
“A real prison? Oh, instead of this ‘country club’?”
“Do you know we don’t actually have a tennis court? We did, but they bulldozed it. Know why? Because of the idea that this was a ‘country club.’ That’s discrimination.”
“Absolutely. I’m denied a valid form of exercise, because why? Because it’s a sport people such as myself enjoy. That’s discrimination. They let them play basketball. A game they enjoy so much. How is that just?”
“Them?” she asked, attempting to bait him.
He wouldn’t play her game.
“So . . . if no one cares, why are you here?”
“To find out if prison changed the man known as Madoff Junior.”
“That’s what they call you. You haven’t heard that?”
“Of course I’ve heard it. I just can’t believe it stuck.”
“Because Merrick Capital wasn’t a Ponzi scheme, that’s why. It’s insulting. Madoff’s operation was amateur hour. Everyone knew what he was doing. It was blatant. Note that not one of the major Wall Street firms invested a single cent with Madoff. A little peculiar given that Madoff only reported four down months in twenty years, no? That’s like a baseball player hitting .900 for a season and still not getting signed by a major league team. The only reason Madoff wasn’t caught sooner was that the SEC had its head up its incompetent, underfunded ass. They investigated him six times. Six! They should have had him in ’99 when Harry Markopolos blew the whistle on him, but the SEC never bothered to confirm his accusations with the Depository Trust. So, yes, I’m offended to be lumped in with that hack.”
She started the digital voice recorder in the center of the table. “Merrick Capital was so different?”
“Merrick Capital was a work of art. Our investment strategies were entirely legitimate, and our returns to investors unprecedented.”
“Merrick Capital began falsifying returns as far back as 1998.”
He could feel the blood pounding in his ears. “My clients still got rich.”
“Not in 2008, they didn’t. You lost a fortune betting on nickel in Western Australia.”
“Ah, yes, the crash,” said Merrick. “If only the American people knew how to pay their mortgages on time.”
“It’s the American people’s fault you got caught?”
“You’re damned right it is. If the crash hadn’t caused the price of nickel to tank, then my bet, as you call it, would have paid off.”
“Well, that’s certainly a unique perspective,” she said, leaning in. “But it was still an all-or-nothing bet. You must admit at least that much. Economists have called it one of the most irresponsible gambles in modern finance . . . with or without the crash. Yet here you sit, confident of a different outcome. How can you justify such certainty?”
Some part of Merrick knew, even then, that he should have checked himself.
Instead, he answered her question.
Excerpted from POISONFEATHER © Copyright 2016 by Matthew FitzSimmons. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
Gibson Vaughn, hero of the bestselling novel The Short Drop, returns in a smoldering thriller.
When jailed billionaire Charles Merrick hints publicly that he has stashed a fortune in an offshore cache, a school of sharks converges upon his release from federal prison.
Among his swindled victims is Judge Hammond Birk, the man who saved Gibson Vaughn’s life when he was a troubled teenager. Now Gibson intends to repay that debt by recovering Merrick’s victims’ money.
But Gibson isn’t the only one on the trail of the hidden fortune.
The promise of billions has drawn a horde of ruthless treasure hunters, including an edgy ex-con, a female bartender with a mysterious history, a Chinese spy with a passion for fly-fishing, and a veritable army of hardened mercenaries. To stay ahead of the sharks and win justice for his mentor, Gibson will need all his formidable skills. But at the end of the road, he’ll still have to face “Poisonfeather”—a geopolitical secret that just might get Gibson killed…or worse.
About the author
Matthew FitzSimmons is the author of the bestselling first novel in the Gibson Vaughn series, The Short Drop. Born in Illinois and raised in London, England, he now lives in Washington, DC, where he taught English literature and theater at a private high school for over a decade. Poisonfeather is his second novel.