BY: TIM HOLLAND
It is 1993, the banking world is in turmoil, and in New Jersey, there is outright panic. The big New York banks and emerging regionals are gobbling up everything in the state. Every financial institution is now both predator and prey. The Fed has opened the floodgates, and traditional banking ethics are disappearing. At a used book sale, Jim Fairmont, a career banker having worked for First State Bank for more than twenty-five years, finds a blank, signed invoice belonging to an auto parts supplier. The document is contained in a box of books donated by Larry McBride, a new-breed, brash, thirty-three-year-old former New York banker. McBride had been hired by First State Bank to give it credibility in its defensive entry into international banking and who, like Jim, is an avid book collector. Alerted by McBride’s strange behavior at the book sale as he searched for something, which Jim suspects was the invoice, Jim begins to investigate McBride’s relationships with some of First State’s customers. What he uncovers is much bigger than he ever imagined, involving clearly unethical conduct and questionable international asset movements. His discoveries put him in the sights of New Jersey’s underworld who are determined to protect McBride and his clients, putting not only Jim’s life in danger, but those of his close associates’ as well.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In What the Mirror Doesn’t See by Tim Holland, Jim Fairmont is a big-city banker who thinks he has discovered something illegal going on in his bank by the person in charge of the international banking department. The problem is that he doesn’t know if what he suspects is actually going on, or if the person in question just has an unusual way of doing things. When Jim goes to his coworker Ed Campbell and explains his concerns, Ed, who has a lot of experience in international banking, confirms Jim’s fears, and together they begin to investigate. But there is a lot more going on than they realize, and soon they are in over their heads. Now, not only their careers are at risk, but their lives too.
Not being one who has much experience in high finance, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I soon found myself drawn into the mystery and the lives of the characters as they dig for the truth. Well written and intriguing, this is one you will want to read more than once so you can get what you missed before. A really good read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: What the Mirror Doesn’t See by Tim Holland is the story of man trying to do the right thing in a world where that is not always appreciated or even helpful to your career. Long-time banker, Jim Fairmont goes to a book sale, where he sees a coworker from his bank acting strangely. Since Jim knows that both he and his coworker, Larry McBride, collect rare books, Jim isn’t surprised to see Larry there. But when Larry starts frantically digging through the boxes of books that he donated to the book sale, Jim can’t help but wonder what he’s looking for. When Larry rushes out of the sale, Jim goes over to the boxes of Larry’s books and finds a blank, signed invoice from a customer at the bank where they both work. Normally, he would have thought nothing of it, but considering the way Larry was behaving, Jim is concerned that something illegal is going that might hurt the bank. He takes the problem to another coworker, Ed Campbell, and the two of them begin to investigate, uncovering much more than either of them bargained for, especially when they find out that the bank might use the two of them as fall guys should any bad publicity touch the bank. But what nobody realizes is that there are other players involved who have a lot more to lose than reputations, and they don’t even pretend to play by the rules.
Holland’s background in international banking is clearly evident as the story unfolds, weaving mystery and suspense with excellent character development and a solid plot, to create a tale of high-finance, intrigue, and two honest men who only want to do the right thing, no matter what the cost. I found it educational, entertaining, and hard to put down.
The Book Sale
Had a strange experience at the book sale this morning,” Jim Fairmont reported, while making a pot of coffee.
“Not mystical, I hope. Wouldn’t want to lose you to some cult in New Mexico and have to suffer here all winter by myself,” Marian Fairmont replied to her husband’s thoughtful observation in her usual quick-witted way.
It was how her mind worked, strange responses just seemed to jump to her lips as though certain words triggered a spring-loaded, verbal slingshot that released a storehouse of retorts awaiting the right words to release them.
Jim smiled. “No chance of that. It was McBride. Very curious behavior.”
“In what way?”
“Well, you know how he and I are usually the first ones at the sale on Saturdays?”
“Oh, yes. We wouldn’t want anything to get away from us, would we?”
“Now, now, you know I’ve done very well at that sale. I’ve picked up some pretty good first editions. Anyway, that’s not what I was saying. It was McBride. He really acted strange. You know, I thought for sure I would be ahead of him this morning, with the rain and everything.”
As he began to outline the events of the morning, Marian thumbed through the contents of the Saturday mail and concentrated on her sorting. Jim, on the other hand, continued the process of making a pot of coffee as he talked and reviewed his book sale experience…
The rain fell gently, barely more than a mist, as Jim walked along the cracked and worn sidewalk. He looked appreciatively at the old tree in front of the Oak Street School. The tree’s thick girth and bulging root structure caused the sidewalk to be laid around it in a neat semi circle. It should have been cut down, the new residents claimed. It should have been cut down, some members of the town counsel claimed, fearing a potential law suit from one of the new residents whose daydreaming youngster might accidentally walk into it. Calmer heads prevailed and the tree—which happened to be the old oak in the school name—was grandfathered, having reached its maturity long before the construction of the school. So now it stood as a sentinel watching over generation after generation of promising young minds in the historic center of Liberty Corner, New Jersey.
His black umbrella held upright in his right hand, he made his way to the entrance that would lead him to the now designated ‘multipurpose’ room, using the four steps instead of the newly built ramp for the handicapped. Opening the door, he deftly avoided being impaled on the tip of an umbrella being thrust out in front of a young woman in an obvious rush.
“Whoa!” he said as he jumped to the side, brushed against the sign announcing the AAUW 1993 Book Sale, and knocked it off the tape holding it to the inside of the door’s window.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. Did I hit you?”
“No, I’m fine. Good reflexes.” He reached over to retrieve the sign.
“I am sorry.”
“It’s perfectly all right. I probably should have seen you coming. My own umbrella you see.” He indicated that he had been holding it partially in front of his face. “Okay if I replace this?” he asked, referring to the sign.
“Oh, sure, but we’re not open yet.”
“The book sale. You’re here for the book sale, aren’t you? We’re not open yet.”
“Oh, yes. I expected that. I was trying to be first.”
“I’m afraid you’re not.”
“Really? You mean there’s someone here ahead of me? Wouldn’t happen to be a dark-haired fellow in his mid-thirties, about five foot eight?”
“They still won’t let him in until they officially open, will they?”
“Oh, no. We’re still setting up. I have to bring in some more of the signs.”
“Ah, well, don’t let me keep you. I’ll just head on in and keep the other fellow company. Here let me hold the door for you as you get that umbrella up.”
Jim held the door open as the harried-looking American Association of University Women volunteer put up her umbrella and started out into the mist.
“Hope you find something you like,” she said in parting.
“So do I. Thank you.”
Jim watched the woman head down the stairs, then he let go of the door, turned quickly, and stepped into the vestibule, which was about ten feet square. Directly across from him was another set of doors, but on these were some hand-lettered signs and arrows on white poster paper which pointed the way to the used book sale. Although the old Labor Day Fair was gone, a victim of liability insurance rates that devoured the proceeds that would have gone to charity, the book sale continued, as it had become a major money-raising event for the AAUW. Books were collected all the yearlong so that by the sale weekend there were thousands of titles to choose from. It was difficult to go anywhere in town and not find a book-barrel: supermarkets, banks, town hall. They were everywhere, and they were always full.
As he opened the second set of doors, he immediately spotted the short, slim silhouette of Larry McBride standing at a table that blocked the entrance to the room, apparently talking intensely with someone just in front of him.
“Well, look who’s up bright and early this morning. Hello, Larry.” Jim offered the greeting as he stepped through the doorway. McBride turned and, seeing the speaker, said nothing in response. Not even a flicker of recognition crossed his small, be-speckled face, but he immediately turned and addressed the woman at the table.
“Told you he wouldn’t be far behind me,” Larry said and then continued talking to the woman as though no one had come along. “Would you happen to know from which estates the major donations have come?”
“Well, they’re not all from estates.”
“Oh, I’m sure he knows that,” Jim cut in, and then, in a flippant tone, added, “But if you could point him in a direction where he might find something of rare value, but as yet undiscovered, I’m sure he would be most appreciative.”
“Fairmont, I don’t need your help,” McBride snapped, exasperated.
The poor woman at the desk was beginning to look nervous. This being her first year as a volunteer at the sale—it wasn’t what she had anticipated.
“Just being helpful.”
“Now, miss,” Larry continued. “Why don’t you just tell me how the room is set up this year?”
“Well, as I started to say, not many of the books are from estates this year.” As she spoke, the attendant stood up behind the desk and began pointing out sections of the room—a cavernous area that was filled with rectangular folding tables, upon which were stacked boxes and boxes of books. Some of the tables had identifying signs on them, such as FICTION, BIOGRAPHY, RELIGION, HISTORY, etc., while others had merely letters of the alphabet.
“And the ‘special donation’ section?” pursued McBride.
“We haven’t set up that area this year.”
“What do you mean you haven’t set up that area?” McBride was obviously agitated, and his voice rose as he continued speaking. “Will it be set up later?”
“Well, as I said before, we haven’t had many estate or special donors this year and, quite frankly, we’ve been somewhat short on volunteers, so that we just didn’t have the time to set up two alphabetical groupings. I hope it’s not going to be too inconvenient?”
He snapped his response at the unsuspecting volunteer, “Well, it is! When people make special donations, you should at least recognize them. Are you telling me everything is all mixed together out there? How the hell do you expect people to find the quality stuff? How do you people expect to make any money?”
“We do very well,” said the woman, getting her back up. “Besides, this is a charity event. No one here is paid.”
“Yes, yes, I know. What time can I go in?”
“It’s still five minutes to eight, but I suppose there’s no reason why you can’t go in now.”
“Good.” Larry immediately turned and headed inside and could be heard mumbling, “You get what you pay for.”
“I’m sorry,” said Jim as he moved in front of the desk. “Didn’t mean to start a row. Larry’s usually a pretty good guy. A little down to earth sometimes but a pretty good guy, nonetheless. Not sure what’s bugging him today.”
“He certainly is rude,” she said while getting a good look at her second customer of the day, as he moved from the hallway to her desk front.
“Well, I’m certainly not going to defend him. Is this your first time working the door?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Well, look, I’m Jim Fairmont,” he said, extending his hand. “And I do appreciate all you’re doing. Volunteering your time, and all.”
“Jean Slattery,” she said, taking his hand. As she looked at him, the word brown came to mind as that’s what she saw: brown hair, brown eyes, brown coat, brown sweater. Even the frames of his glasses were brown. “He is rather intense, isn’t he?”
McBride came into view heading for the BIOGRAPHY section.
“A collector of books. But then so am I. He obviously has something on his mind today.”
“Have you known one another long?”
“I suppose you could say we really don’t know one another at all, even though we work for the same company.” Fairmont spotted McBride moving toward the FICTION section. “Do you mind if I go in as well? Wouldn’t want Mr. Rude to find something valuable and make his day.”
“Sure,” she said, cracking a smile. “Good luck,” she offered as he started to move away from the desk. “By the way, the prices are posted above the books on each of the walls.”
“Thank you. See you in a few hours.”
Giving a short wave of his hand, Jim headed for the FICTION section to see what he could find. Books were everywhere. For the most part, they were arranged lying on their ends so that the spine was parallel to the table, making it easier to read the titles. The selection was definitely smaller than in years past, although to a new browser it would be difficult to tell. Then he recalled that the woman said the estate and special donations were down this year. That, in itself though, was not significant, as it was all in the luck of the draw. Sometimes he had done well in small shops, so he knew volume was not always a critical factor. There was that time in Trenton when he had spent almost four hours in a used bookstore in The Commons. They had an enormous selection, but virtually every work by an author that interested him he already had. For all that time, he ended up with only one volume. Being the senior corporate officer of the commercial banking division of a bank had certain advantages, as it enabled Jim to travel around the state. He knew where most of the good used bookshops were, and he did his best to frequent them during his designated lunchtime—as long as he didn’t have to entertain a customer. In fact, there had been a number of times when he specifically avoided a customer lunch in order to provide more time to pursue his hobby. Besides, over the years, many of his best contemporary account contacts—presidents, vice presidents, and treasurers—had many of the same interests as he did in history and literature. Although the group continued to diminish of late, as more and more of the old guard retired and were replaced by youngsters with a variety of advanced university degrees but lacking an actual education. The twenty-first century loomed just around the corner, and Jim didn’t look upon it as a particularly inviting prospect given the emerging business leaders he had thus far come across.
Time passed quickly, and the room was beginning to fill. This was a favorite place for people to pick up their annual reading material inexpensively. Many of the books were best sellers only a few years ago. Not a bad bargain when you thought of it: eighteen and twenty dollar books going for one and two dollars. The big bargain hunters came on the final day when, in order to get rid of the leftovers, a bag of books went for two dollars. His own search was not going too well thus far, as all he had to show for his efforts was the original hard cover edition of Number One by John Dos Passos.
As he excused himself around a rather large, stern looking woman with a bulging shopping bag, he spotted a volume under the table and immediately squatted down, reaching for it. The Breaking Strain by John Masters. This would make seventeen of Masters’ books he now had in the original hardcover edition. Then, as he thumbed through the pages, checking the binding and the jacket, he saw, peripherally, a very intense Larry McBride looking through a box of books across from him. Jim had to admit he really did not know the man, had never engaged him in a serious non-business conversation. Jim began to consider what it was about McBride that bothered him. His appearance was pleasant enough—slightly below average height, mid-thirties, dark hair, clean shaven, neatly dressed. But there was that something in his manner. He usually had a quick smile and an engaging way about him that undoubtedly worked well with customers—that salesman’s way of making pleasing small talk: remembering names of wives, children, dogs, common events of interest. But there was always something Jim felt in the background—something he didn’t trust. When McBride smiled, Jim felt like grabbing for his wallet or double checking to see if there wasn’t something sticking out of his back. To those who didn’t know him well, McBride always appeared as a “good guy,” smiling, joking, kidding, and pleasant. But if you worked for him, what then? Jim wondered.
McBride managed the international group at First State which, for a moderate sized emerging regional bank, meant working with local companies interested in importing and exporting and some foreign corporations located in the state. Jim covered the domestic corporations so that their paths did occasionally cross when one of Jim’s customers needed some international help. They were usually civil in a business setting, but Jim just didn’t know what to make of him. He remembered being invited to McBride’s house in July for a cocktail party. Anyone perceived important was there, something he learned was a characteristic of a McBride gathering. The parties were always entertaining, probably the best given in a town of six thousand suburbanites. Everything was first class: the food, the conversation, the entertainment. But there always existed an edge to everything McBride did, which distracted from his efforts—usually involving trying to impress an acquaintance with his superior sense of culture. To attend the opera was not enough. McBride would make sure you knew he had season tickets, classical music was always playing in the background whenever you attended one of his gatherings, and he always served the in-fashion food and drink properly provided by the “in-caterer.” Jim was quite sure the man must have spent every available cent he earned on entertaining and the finer things of life. Then again, maybe it was the international influence, the broader scope he was supposed to have for his job.
Recently, Jim and Marian had been invited to a number of McBride-sponsored events, and even though they were only business colleagues, Larry knew that Jim was a valuable addition to any evening. The Fairmonts were not old money, nor did they have a great deal of wealth, but they lived very comfortably with a sense of style that came from existing in a world Larry McBride didn’t really understand. They lived in a two-hundred-year-old-house—that had been Marian’s parents—in Fordstown, New Jersey. It sat in an area of similar homes on one-acre lots not far from the train station, which provided access to one of the primary commuter lines into lower Manhattan—Fordstown was an upscale town even 100 years ago. The New York theater district was a half hour to forty minutes away, depending on if you took the train or drove. The City was filled with museums and art galleries of every possible kind and the Public Library system was probably one of the best in the world. So opportunity was present. It was just a matter of taking advantage of it. And New York always proved to be one of those places where you were in control of your own destiny. Certainly, there were pressures from all sides, both good and bad, but the responsibility was still with the individual. Jim’s parents were both in education, one at the University level and the other a local private high school. He grew up in an environment of books and argumentative discussion and was well prepared to mix with the Somerset County social scene. He and Marian hob-knobbed with the Pingry and Princeton crowd that traced their families back to the mid-1700s. He had considered teaching once, with thoughts of living the college professor’s life but then decided, from a purely practical standpoint, somewhat prodded by financial considerations, to enter the world of commercial banking. In preparation, he did his mandatory time on Wall Street with Chase Manhattan Bank, learning the business until he had been actively recruited by First State. He now worked out of the Morristown Central Office, an easy drive from his home.
He spotted McBride again, this time, uncharacteristically on his hands and knees digging through a box of books under the table marked BIOGRAPHY A M. Jim was two aisles away and could clearly see the intensity in Larry’s face. It fascinated him so much that he just stopped what he was doing and stared. A man trying to look at the books on the table in front of him finally became tired of waiting for Jim to move and said: “Excuse me, can I get in here?” meaning the exact spot where Jim was standing.
Jim, startled, said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Certainly,” and moved out of the man’s way. Once set in motion, he kept moving toward the end of the row but continued to watch McBride on the floor. He seemed to be more interested in the boxes than the books in them. He kept looking at the identifying marks on their sides. Finally, McBride seemed to find the box he had been searching for, as he grabbed it with both hands and began to empty the books from it. By the time Jim was at the end of the row just behind McBride, he saw him pull some papers from the bottom of the box. He checked them over carefully and then stuffed them into the cover of one of the books he had previously removed from the box.
“Find anything interesting,” Jim said in the friendliest tones he could muster.
Larry was startled by the comment and cleared his throat. “Oh, nothing special. One or two. A bit slow this year.”
“Same here. Look, I’m really sorry about earlier at the door. I really didn’t mean anything.”
“Oh, I know,” Larry said, now under control and flashing his best salesman’s smile. “I shouldn’t have snapped that way. You’re an okay guy, Fairmont, it’s just me. I have another appointment today at ten, and I really wanted to spend more time here. Anyway, I have to be on my way. Nothing seems to go right when you need it to. There just never seems to be enough time for anything.”
“Not work I hope?”
“Actually it is. Some of these small exporters seem to work twenty-four hours a day and expect you to do the same.”
“I guess it’s a different breed. We old time domestic bankers just don’t have a good handle on the international side. Hopefully, next week’s international seminar will open our eyes a bit.”
“That’s why we’re here. But I really do have to take off. I’ll see you next week.”
McBride tucked the book, into which he had placed the papers, under his arm and headed for the exit. Jim watched him as he made his way toward the nearest door, the one where they had come in. He was obviously in such a rush to leave that, when he reached Jean Slattery’s desk and tried to pay for the book, she was clearly happy to remind him of the procedure and pointed to the back of the room, explaining that purchases had to be paid for at the exit in the back. McBride started in that direction but stopped at another table—the TRAVEL section. He looked to see if anyone was watching him, then placed the book he had obtained in the BIOGRAPHY section onto the TRAVEL section table, headed back to the entrance, now empty handed, and went out the door.
Finding all of this to be curious and certainly intriguing, Jim headed for the TRAVEL section table to see what it was that Larry had left behind. American Caesar by William Manchester was not a particularly valuable, although certainly noteworthy, biography of General Douglas MacArthur, even though it was a first edition. So it was puzzling that McBride had picked it up at all. Jim then began looking at it more closely, flipping through the pages and then the inside cover. From the Library of L. A. McBride jumped at him from the page. It was stamped in black ink in a most conspicuous place.
Why his own book? Jim mused.
It was not unusual to make a gift of some books to the sale. He had done it himself when he was cleaning up, getting rid of duplicates of those volumes he decided he didn’t really want any longer. It was better than throwing them away, something it would be very difficult for either Jim or Larry to do. But why seek out a book you gave up only to search for it madly and then leave it behind? And what happened to the papers? Taking the book with him, Jim headed back to the BIOGRAPHY section and began to search for the box the book had come from. Like McBride, he ended up on his knees and wondered if anyone thought his conduct as strange as he had viewed Larry’s to be. His search was not unlike McBride’s, except that he had no idea of its object. He checked box after box until, upon opening one of the books, he came across the McBride library stamp. He then started emptying the books, as Larry had done, but found nothing unusual. Most of the books were biographies of one type or another and were a mix of hard cover and paperback. He assumed that McBride had been doing a cleanup of his biography section and this box was the result. With the box now empty and nothing to explain McBride’s actions, Jim considered giving up when he saw a box, similar to the one he held, marked “Special Donation,” a few feet down the aisle under an adjacent table. Jim began emptying the box and flipping through the books. He now understood why McBride had been upset about there not being that special donation section this year, as that would have made his search much easier. What Jim expected to find he had no idea but felt compelled to look—and suddenly there it was in the bottom of the box—another sheet of paper. Presumably, it had fallen into the box somehow when Larry did his weeding of books for the sale. Jim retrieved it. It appeared to be a sheet of some kind of letterhead stationery belonging to Alliance Automotive Export Corp. He stood up with the paper in his hand and left the box empty, with its former contents spewed on top of other boxes of books. He stared at the piece of paper, trying to determine what was different about it when he saw the words “Invoice No:” and a signature.
McBride wasted no time getting out of the building, taking the steps two at a time. On arriving, he had parked his car on Liberty Corner Road rather than in the school parking lot, so he would not be blocked, as so often happened on the first day of the book sale. He exited the door and headed to the left, crossing in front of the Liberty Corner Presbyterian Church, the way he had come. Halfway to his car he reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved the papers that had come from the box. He unfolded them and spread the sheets out slightly to count them and then stopped dead in his tracks. There were only four sheets. He was missing one.
“Damn!” he muttered aloud to himself and then began to analyze the situation.
Should he return to the book room and look for the missing sheet or go home first and make certain he didn’t miscount? No, he was sure there were five sheets missing, he had to go back. It had to be in the second box. He didn’t bother to look for it, as he didn’t feel he needed to, once the papers were found in the first box. Turning to head back to the school, he took two steps and stopped. What about Fairmont? What would he say to him? How would he explain his return after having left in such a hurry?
Maybe he could sneak in and out without being seen, since he knew where to look, and the second box of books must be nearby. He knew it had not been emptied as he had carefully looked on all the tables and none of the books he had donated were on display. He would try it. But not by the front entrance. He stuffed the papers back into the inside pocket of his jacket and re-entered the school by the door designated as the exit from the sale area.
As he went past the payment table, the woman behind it, who had a simple cashbox in front of her along with three ball point pens for check writing, was about to speak but Larry spoke first.
“Sorry, just forgot something. Be right out,” he said and whizzed right by her.
He stopped at the doorway to the book room to get his bearings and see where Jim Fairmont might be. McBride saw him standing in the middle of the BIOGRAPHY section looking at a sheet of paper. Mc Bride knew exactly what it was, but he wondered if Fairmont did.
© 2018 by Tim Holland