Home Stretch

A Santa Anita Park guard stopped me as I entered the luxury box area reserved for owners.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“Benny Goldfarb. I’m meeting Tom Reynolds.”

“He’s expecting you. His box is straight ahead, the fifth one on the left.”

Nobody likes getting ripped off, especially to the tune of three and a half million dollars. Furlong Finance, a private bank, specialized in making loans on thoroughbred racehorses. Four horses, pledged as collateral by a syndicate, were imposters. When the loan defaulted, Furlong was left with ownership of four mounts of unknown breeding and experience. Tom Reynolds, the firm’s president, wanted me to retrieve the money. He was willing to pay my ten percent recovery fee plus expenses.

Reynolds rose from his seat as he saw me approach. He was about sixty-five, six feet tall and had a full head of silver-gray hair. His blue eyes studied me closely, helping make the assessment that someone experienced in deal-making would do as a matter of course.

“Nice to meet you, Benny,” he said with an engaging smile, his right hand offered in greeting. He wore the accoutrements of success: the gold Rolex, cashmere sports jacket, black Bruno Magli loafers with tan lacing and, as a concession to informality, ordinary khakis. “Please, have a seat. Can I pour you a drink? We have some delicious watermelon sangria.”

“A cup of coffee would be great.” Reynolds asked the waitress to bring my coffee. I didn’t want to reject his hospitality, but I preferred a clear head when interviewing a client. “Can you fill me in on what we’re dealing with here?”

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’ve had more than thirty years’ experience in this business. This Argentine syndicate came to us for financing on four horses. We checked their background, the horses’ thoroughbred registration and their company assets. Everything appeared in good order. They wanted to race the U.S. circuit and needed money for training, stables and transportation. Since we didn’t have a longstanding relationship, we asked for a pledge of collateral. They gave us title to the horses and their ranch outside of Buenos Aires.”

As he told the story, his brow furrowed and his lips stiffened. “It sounds like you were careful,” I said.

“Not careful enough. The tattoo numbers inside the horses’ upper lips were taken from deceased animals. The documents for the ranch in Argentina were forged. We had a real estate attorney in Buenos Aires investigate the property before we approved the loan. It looks like he was paid off.”

Reynolds paused to drink from his glass of sangria. He loosened his shirt collar, as if it were too tight, and sighed.

“Why me?” I asked. I was happy to have the business, but I liked to know why clients hired me.

“The police here can’t help with this. I don’t want to throw money down a rat-hole by using someone I don’t know in Argentina. You have a reputation for being willing to travel to get the job done. My Jewish attorney knows about you and suggested that I call you.”

“You’ll have to give me his name so I can send him a gift for Hannukah,”

“Don’t be so sensitive. I trust him. If he thinks you’re okay, so do I.”

“Thanks for your vote of confidence. I’ll take the case. But you’ll have to agree to introduce me to people I need to speak with and get me into places I need to go.”

“It’s a deal.” He stood up without waiting for me to finish my coffee. “Let me know whatever else I can do.”

“You don’t mind if I finish my coffee, do you?” This man was obviously accustomed to dismissing people. I didn’t like being dismissed. I deliberately took my time emptying the cup. He got the message, acknowledging my meaning with a small smile as he stood watching.

“You don’t take any crap, do you? I think you’re a match for these scoundrels,” he said. “I apologize for my rudeness.”

“Apology accepted.” I got up, shook his hand and walked to the parking lot.

&&&

The paperwork provided by Furlong included copies of the loan form, an appraisal report, photographs of four horses, numbers from the tattoo registry, the wire transfer, passports and a police report. I presumed the identities were bogus. The photographs on the passports, however, were probably right on. Everyone who enters the country gets eyeballed by Customs and Immigration.

“Annie, I hope you like horses,” I said, passing her on the way to my office.

“We have a horse case.”

“I’ll be right in.” She picked up her note pad, followed me in and sat down across from me.

“Here’s what I need,” I said. “One, call Furlong and ask where the loan signing took place. Find out where everyone sat and what they touched. I’m looking for traces of DNA or prints. Two, ask if anyone there has an idea when the perps might have arrived from Argentina. I might be able to access info on a customs landing form. Three, get information on the lawyer they hired in Buenos Aires. And four, check the larger hotels in Pasadena, Arcadia and downtown Los Angeles. Tell them you’re looking for your relatives from Argentina. See what shakes out.”

“You got it.”

Annie kept detailed computerized records of each case and its progression. When we filled in the map with what we knew, we would make clear what we didn’t know. Somewhere during the process, the bad guy’s mistakes would come to the surface. My experience taught me that no matter what we learned in our preliminary investigation, we would have to face the wolves in their den.

Synopsis

A Santa Anita Park guard stopped me as I entered the luxury box area reserved for owners.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“Benny Goldfarb. I’m meeting Tom Reynolds.”

“He’s expecting you. His box is straight ahead, the fifth one on the left.”

Nobody likes getting ripped off, especially to the tune of three and a half million dollars. Furlong Finance, a private bank, specialized in making loans on thoroughbred racehorses. Four horses, pledged as collateral by a syndicate, were imposters. When the loan defaulted, Furlong was left with ownership of four mounts of unknown breeding and experience. Tom Reynolds, the firm’s president, wanted me to retrieve the money. He was willing to pay my ten percent recovery fee plus expenses.

Reynolds rose from his seat as he saw me approach. He was about sixty-five, six feet tall and had a full head of silver-gray hair. His blue eyes studied me closely, helping make the assessment that someone experienced in deal-making would do as a matter of course.

“Nice to meet you, Benny,” he said with an engaging smile, his right hand offered in greeting. He wore the accoutrements of success: the gold Rolex, cashmere sports jacket, black Bruno Magli loafers with tan lacing and, as a concession to informality, ordinary khakis. “Please, have a seat. Can I pour you a drink? We have some delicious watermelon sangria.”

“A cup of coffee would be great.” Reynolds asked the waitress to bring my coffee. I didn’t want to reject his hospitality, but I preferred a clear head when interviewing a client. “Can you fill me in on what we’re dealing with here?”

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’ve had more than thirty years’ experience in this business. This Argentine syndicate came to us for financing on four horses. We checked their background, the horses’ thoroughbred registration and their company assets. Everything appeared in good order. They wanted to race the U.S. circuit and needed money for training, stables and transportation. Since we didn’t have a longstanding relationship, we asked for a pledge of collateral. They gave us title to the horses and their ranch outside of Buenos Aires.”

As he told the story, his brow furrowed and his lips stiffened. “It sounds like you were careful,” I said.

“Not careful enough. The tattoo numbers inside the horses’ upper lips were taken from deceased animals. The documents for the ranch in Argentina were forged. We had a real estate attorney in Buenos Aires investigate the property before we approved the loan. It looks like he was paid off.”

Reynolds paused to drink from his glass of sangria. He loosened his shirt collar, as if it were too tight, and sighed.

“Why me?” I asked. I was happy to have the business, but I liked to know why clients hired me.

“The police here can’t help with this. I don’t want to throw money down a rat-hole by using someone I don’t know in Argentina. You have a reputation for being willing to travel to get the job done. My Jewish attorney knows about you and suggested that I call you.”

“You’ll have to give me his name so I can send him a gift for Hannukah,”

“Don’t be so sensitive. I trust him. If he thinks you’re okay, so do I.”

“Thanks for your vote of confidence. I’ll take the case. But you’ll have to agree to introduce me to people I need to speak with and get me into places I need to go.”

“It’s a deal.” He stood up without waiting for me to finish my coffee. “Let me know whatever else I can do.”

“You don’t mind if I finish my coffee, do you?” This man was obviously accustomed to dismissing people. I didn’t like being dismissed. I deliberately took my time emptying the cup. He got the message, acknowledging my meaning with a small smile as he stood watching.

“You don’t take any crap, do you? I think you’re a match for these scoundrels,” he said. “I apologize for my rudeness.”

“Apology accepted.” I got up, shook his hand and walked to the parking lot.

&&&

The paperwork provided by Furlong included copies of the loan form, an appraisal report, photographs of four horses, numbers from the tattoo registry, the wire transfer, passports and a police report. I presumed the identities were bogus. The photographs on the passports, however, were probably right on. Everyone who enters the country gets eyeballed by Customs and Immigration.

“Annie, I hope you like horses,” I said, passing her on the way to my office.

“We have a horse case.”

“I’ll be right in.” She picked up her note pad, followed me in and sat down across from me.

“Here’s what I need,” I said. “One, call Furlong and ask where the loan signing took place. Find out where everyone sat and what they touched. I’m looking for traces of DNA or prints. Two, ask if anyone there has an idea when the perps might have arrived from Argentina. I might be able to access info on a customs landing form. Three, get information on the lawyer they hired in Buenos Aires. And four, check the larger hotels in Pasadena, Arcadia and downtown Los Angeles. Tell them you’re looking for your relatives from Argentina. See what shakes out.”

“You got it.”

Annie kept detailed computerized records of each case and its progression. When we filled in the map with what we knew, we would make clear what we didn’t know. Somewhere during the process, the bad guy’s mistakes would come to the surface. My experience taught me that no matter what we learned in our preliminary investigation, we would have to face the wolves in their den.

I have been a writer for most of my life. Or, maybe I’ve been a storyteller. It’s hard to know for sure. In the fifth grade, a poem, my first published work, Ethan Allen and the Green Boys, appeared in the school newspaper.