Page 70 of The Moneychangers

"And Lewis said he was a good man who'd done work for the SEC."

"I heard that, too. Probably it's because Vernon has a degree in economics."

Alex added the information to notes he had already made! "Is Jax discreet? Trustworthy?" 'Totally." "Where do I find him?" 'All find hirn. Tell me where and when you want him." "In my office, Bracken. Today without fail."

Alex studied the untidy, balding, nondescript man seated opposite him in his office conference area. It was mid-afternoon.

Jax, Alex guessed, was in his early fifties. He looked like a small-town grocer, not too prosperous. His shoes were scuffed and there was a food stain on his jacket. Alex had already learned that Jax had been a staff investigator for the IRS before going into business for himself.

"I'm told you also have a degree in economics," Alex said,

The other shrugged deprecatingly. "Night school. You know how it is. Time on your hands." His voice tailed off, leaving the explanation incomplete.

"How about accounting? Do you have much knowledge there?" "Some. Studying for CPA exams right now."

"Night school, I suppose." Alex was beginning to catch on. "Yep." A pale ghost of a smile. "Mr. Jax," Alex began.

"Most folks just call me Vernon."

"Vernon, I'm considering having you undertake an inquiry. It will require absolute discretion and speed is essential. You've heard of Supranational Corporation?" "Sure."

"I want a financial investigation of that company. But it will have to be I'm afraid there's no other word for it an outside snooping job."

Jax smiled again. "Mr. Vandervoort" this time his tone was crisper "that's precisely the business I'm in."

It would require a month, they agreed, though an interim report would be made to Alex if it seemed warranted. Complete confidentiality concerning the bank's investigative role would be preserved. Nothing illegal would be done. The investigator's fee was to be fifteen thousand plus reasonable expenses, half the fee payable immediately, the balance after a final report. Alex would arrange payment from FMA operating funds. He realized he might have to justify the expense later, but would worry about it when the time came.

Late in the afternoon, when Jax had gone, Margot phoned. "Did you hire him?" `Yes, "Were you impressed?" Alex decided he would play the game. "Not really." Margot laughed softly. "You will be. You'll see."

But Alex hoped he wouldn't. He hoped fervently that Lewis D'Orsey's instincts were wrong, that Vernon Jax would discover nothing, and that adverse rumors about Supranational would prove rumors nothing more.

That night, Alex paid one of his periodic visits to Celia at the Remedial Center. He had come to dread the visits even more; he always came away deeply depressed, but continued them out of a sense of duty. Or was it guilt? He was never sure.

As usual, he was escorted by a nurse to Celia's private room in the institution. When the nurse had gone, Alex sat talking, chatting in an inane, one-sided conversation about whatever things occurred to him, though Celia gave no sign of hearing, or even an awareness of his presence. Once, on an earlier occasion, he spoke gibberish just to see if her blankness of expression changed. It hadn't. Afterward he felt ashamed and hadn't done it since.

Even so, he had formed the habit during these sessions with Celia, of prattling on, scarcely listening to himself, while half his mind was wandering elsewhere. Tonight, among other things, he said, "People have all kinds of problems nowadays, Celia, problems which no one ever thought of a few years ago. Along with every clever thing mankind discovers or invents, come dozens of questions and decisions we never had to face before. Take electric can openers. If you have one and I do in my apartment there's a problem of where to plug it, when to use it, how to clean it, what to do when it goes wrong; all problems nobody would have if there weren't electric can openers and, after all, who needs them? Speaking of problems, I have several at this moment personal and at the bank. A big one came up today. In some ways you may be better off in hereā€¦"

Alex checked himself, realizing he was talking, if not gibberish, then rubbish. No one was better off here, in this tragic twilight quarter-life;

Yet nothing else was left for Celia; in the past few months that fact had become even clearer than before. As recently as a year ago there had been traces of her former girlish, fragile beauty. Now they were gone. Her once-glorious fair hair was dull and sparse. Her skin had a grayish texture; in places eruptions showed where she had scratched herself.

Where once her curled-up fetal position had been occasional, now she adopted it most of the time. And though Celia was ten years younger than Alex, she appeared hag-like and twenty years older.

It was nearly five years since Celia had entered the Remedial Center. In the meantime she had become totally institutionalized, and was likely to remain so.

Watching his wife, and continuing to talk, Alex felt compassion and sadness, but no sense of attachment or affection any more. Perhaps he ought to experience some of those emotions but, being honest with himself, he no longer found it possible. Yet he was tied to Celia, he recognized, by bonds he would never sever until one or the other of them died.

He remembered his conversation with Dr. McCartney, head of the Remedial Center, almost eleven months ago, the day after Ben Rosselli so dramatically announced his impending death. Answering Alex's question about the effect on Celia of a divorce and Alex's remarriage, the psychiatrist had said: It might drive her over the brink into a totally demented state.

And, later, Margot had declared: What I won't have on my conscience, or yours, is shoving what's left of Celia sanity into a Bottomless pit.

Tonight, Alex wondered if Celia's sanity was in some bottomless pit already. But even if true, it didn't change his reluctance to set in motion the final, ruthless machinery of divorce.

Nor had he gone to live permanently with Margot Bracken, or she with him. Margot remained agreeable to either arrangement, though Alex still wanted marriage which obviously he couldn't have without divorcing Celia. Lately, though, he had sensed Margot's impatience at the lack of a decision.

How strange that he, accustomed at First Mercantile American to taking large decisions swiftly in stride, should wrestle with indecision in lapis private lifer

The essence of the problem, Alex realized, was his old ambivalence_about his personal guilt. Could he, years ago, by greater effort, love, and understanding, have saved his young, nervous, insecure bride from what she had become? If he had been more a devoted husband, less a devoted banker, he still suspected that he might.

It was why he came here, why he continued doing the little that he could.

When it was time to leave Celia, he rose and went toward her, intending to kiss her forehead as he did whenever she allowed hi But tonight she shrank away, curling her body even tighter, her eyes alert with sudden fear. He sighed and abandoned the attempt. "Good night, Celia," Alex said.

There was no answer and he went out, leaving his wife to whatever lonely world she now inhabited.

Next morning Alex sent for Nolan Wainwright. He told the security chief that the investigator's fee to be paid Vernon fax would be remitted through Wainwright's department. Alex would authorize the expense. Alex didn't state, and Wainwright didn't ask, the specific nature of Jax's investigation. For the moment, Alex decided, the fewer people who knew the target, the better.

Nolan Wainwright had a reciprocal report for Alex. It concerned his arrangement that Miles Eastin would be an undercover agent for the bank. Alex's reaction was immediate. "No. I don't want that man ever again on our payroll."

"He won't be on the payroll," Wainwright argued. "I've explained to him that as far as the bank is concerned, he has no status. Any money he'll receive will be in cash, with nothing to show where it came from."

"That's hairsplitting, Nolan. One way or the other he'd be employed by us, and that I can't agree to."

"If you don't agree," Wainwright objected, "you'll be tying my hands, not letting me do my job."

"Doing your job doesn't require you to hire a convicted thief." "Ever hear of using one to catch ones" "Then use one who didn't personally defraud this bank."

They argued back and forth, at moments heatedly. In the end, Alex reluctantly conceded. Afterward he asked, "Does Eastin realize how much of a risk he's taking?" "He knows."