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The engine whining, Nick gunned his battered, old, white Porsche up a Pacific Heights hill. The top was down, as usual, and he was chilled from the damp and cold. He raced up another hill. Grassy knolls were on one side, Victorian houses on the other, and the lights of San Francisco and the black of the Bay waters were far below. He drove higher, past more houses, constructed in Queen Anne, and Italianate style. Almost all of them were redwood, and featured custom woodwork. Heavy-limbed, green-leafed trees surrounded blue and peach and ivory multi-hued houses.
The town�s asleep and it�s not even midnight, he observed. Stock brokers, real estate operators, venture capitalists, all young people making millions, asleep at eight, up at five. Place used to be alive all night long, especially back in the sixties. It�s changed, now all about money. The whole world�s getting to be like that. I don�t seem to fit anywhere anymore.
He pulled up to a white Victorian house with blue trim along the window frames.
Feeling like a thief, he opened the side door and went inside to a spare room. The hardwood floor gleamed, plants scattered about, heavy white drapes covered the large windows. In one corner, an exercise bicycle and a pair of running shoes with white socks spilling out.
Linda was waiting. �A drink?� she asked.
�No, thanks. I don�t need any more.�
He sat next to her, and felt himself aroused. �Where do we go with this? Gettin tired of this sneaking around.�
�It is a problem.� She smiled, showing perfect teeth, and got up. �Music?�
He nodded. She turned on Johnny Mathis, and the music filled the room: �Chances are, �cause I wear a silly grin ��
He tried to stay calm. �I don�t know what I feel about, about you, about anything.�
�How about me? I can�t believe this � nightmare I�m living. Caged every second of every minute of every day.�
He felt helpless. Everything was so out of control �
�He may wake up any time,� Linda said, guiding his hand to her breast. He felt her hard nipple, her in his arms, all lilac perfume and hair back in a bun like a proper Pacific Heights matron should wear it and her faint musky scent.
He was stroking her leg and burning up. Plump pillows were tossed off the couch. He slid into her easily, and all thoughts of tomorrow and right and wrong and friendship and loyalty were discarded. Her hair was in his face, the smell of freshly washed hair.
In his office early the next morning, Nick studied the computer screen. He typed on the keyboard, and on the screen saw: Welcome to the Internet: Sports, Finance, Weather, Travel. He typed some more:
�Nugget Petroleum. State of Incorporation, Delaware. Principal Executive Offices, including Zip Code, 2233 Westheimer, Suite 405, Houston, Texas, 77057. Registrant�s Telephone Number, including area code, (713) 627-5592.�
He scrolled through the many pages of Nugget�s filing with the Security and
Exchange Commission, the SEC, the federal government watchdog overseeing the financial markets. Public companies had to file their financial statements quarterly.
About what I figured, he thought. Lots of oil, lots of gas, much of it in Argentina, out in the Pampas. A line caught his eye:
�� Nugget Petroleum�s oil and gas reserve estimates, both international and domestic, are contracted through Byrd and Company, Houston, Texas. All references and inquiries should be forwarded to the president and CEO, Butch Byrd. The company�s E-mail address is Byrdandco@aol.com�
Pretty cozy, he thought, Brett having his friend contract out the reserve estimates. More than cozy even, not illegal, but very questionable. Reserve estimates should be done by a disinterested thirty party. I wonder how disinterested Butch Byrd is in what estimates come in about Nugget, he thought, knowing the answer. He read on:
�The recently acquired gas wells are expected to become the largest single asset of Nugget Petroleum. As of January 15, the scheduled effective closing date, the property�s proven gas reserves are over 52,000,000 Mcf, and the present value of the future cash flows are estimated at $185,000,000. These properties are expected to provide a long-lived, stable source of cash flow ��
Big numbers but, still, these reserve estimates are done by the head of Nugget�s buddy. Investors think they�re getting full disclosure, but who knows with these estimates just how iffy these gas wells really are.
Lot of investors glancing at the filings don�t even notice the details, Nick pondered. There are so many reports to read, how could they check out all the companies they look at? Most rely on brokers and investment banker. But bankers and brokers get paid to do trades and deals. Are they really going to dig for negative information? I don�t think so.
But what bothers me the most are those Argentinean wells, the ones near Buenos Aires, he decided. They�re the backbone of Nugget�s reserves, yet the numbers just don�t add up. I could do my due diligence; I could do it the right way, the hard way. I could go and kick the tires. But, you know? None of this is my problem. I�m paid to do a job, which is to move the stock. He turned off the computer, thinking, but I know the oil business. His stomach knotted. I guess if I�m promoting the company I should know as much as I can. I don�t have to guess, it�s true. He thought about it: but I�m not paid to research Nugget. Another voice answered, but I should know as much as I can. People will put money into this stock. The knot in his gut got tighter. I just can�t screw the people I�m talking to, he decided. Okay. All right. All right. I�ll go down there and check out the wells.
The best flight Nick could arrange to Buenos Aires would get into the city at the dead of night and would cost thirteen hundred dollars. He did not want to spend the money; he did not want to go. But he got tired of fighting with himself, and found himself flying for several hours, touching down in Rio, changing planes, then landing in Buenos Aires in the blackness.
He got into a yellow cab at the front of the airport, and settled back into the cloth-covered seat.
Driving down the highway, leaving the bright lights glowing from the Buenos Aires Aeropuerto, the cab driver looked at him in the rear-view window. �Donde?�
�The Hotel Urugray, near La Recoleta,� Nick said. The district was a fashionable barrio containing high-priced shops, elegant restaurants, and expensive homes.
�First time you in Buenos Aires?�
�I remember this,� Nick said. �This smell of the countryside. Woody and grassy and dusty. �No, I�ve been here. A long time ago.� He thought about when he came here with Julie, and now it all seemed very empty.
�You will be in Buenos Aires long?�
�Just overnight.� He watched the flatlands go by. Julie loved it here, he thought. Loved dancing. He imagined her face, the black night in the background. �Then I go to the oil wells, the ones outside of Cordoba. Do you know it?�
�Si. I know muy bien.�
Julie. Julie and Madrid and Paris. Most of all, Paris, Nick thought. �Buenos Aires reminds me of Paris very much,� he said. �And what is your name?�
�Mi llama Oscar.� After awhile, Oscar said, �Yes, especially the houses in La Recoleta, like Paris.�
�Mostly when my wife and I lived in Paris we�d walk from the hotel down Rue de Rivoli to the Place de La Concorde ��
�Muy caro. St. Honore, you know that district? My favorite.�
�You know St. Honore?�
�Yes. I went to school there,� Oscar said, watching the road. �You ever go otro, the other way, to Les Halles, past the Musee Picasso, to the old houses?�
�All the time,� Nick said. �What did you study?�
�Architecture. But I did not finish.�
�The times, they go bad here.�
�About nineteen seventy-eight, seventy-nine.�
�Oh.� The time of the �disappeared,� Nick thought. The military took over the government and declared war on leftists, labor unions, hell, just about everybody. They disappeared people, who knows for what reason. Must�ve been a lousy time.
�When I got home, mis padres, a sister, gone. See them no mas.�
�That would be hard. A lot of things are hard.�
�We must be strong, senor, be men, or who are we?� Oscar said.
Nick thought for a while of the job he had to do. �About the oil fields to the north of Cordoba?�
�Si,� Oscar said.
�You could take me there tomorrow?�
Slender beech trees grew tall on the side of the highway as they drove closer to Buenos Aires.
�It is not
much around Cordoba anymore,� Oscar said. �They drilled for water there,
the peasants, long ago. They got unlucky; they hit oil. The gordo
oil companies came, the gringos came, drove the peasants out.� Oscar
looked at Nick in the rearview mirror. �There has always been nothing but
trouble at those wells. Nobody wants to go there