The Goon Squad

By Ray Schultz

Business took me to Boston recently, and as usual I sprang for the Acela train because I insist on luxury when a client is paying the bill. I was in the club car enjoying coffee and a danish when Sonny Taylor, the simian cyber criminal, came in and ordered three vodkas. 

Now nobody would mistake Sonny for a teenager, but the server asked for ID, and Sonny exploded in a rage, hurling threats and foul language. 

I snuck back to my seat, thankful he hadn’t seen me. At length, Sonny came in with three Diet Cokes and sat down next to two men I hadn’t noticed before: his brother, the formerly late Sid Taylor, and the gravel-voiced attorney and fixer Erwin Forrest. How did I end up on a train with this trio? 

I tried to bury my face in my laptop, but somewhere around New Haven, Sid noticed me and called out, “Scoop,” his unaffectionate nickname for me.

“You thought old Sid was dead didn’t you?” he chortled. “Another factual error by the man who invented them.”

That riled me up. 

“I reported you were believed to be dead,” I said. “I always thought it was a trick to get the FBI off your trail. How come you’re not in jail right now?” 

Sonny glared at me menacingly, and Erwin said, “I have instructed my client not to answer that question.” 

“Your own brother said you were killed by crocodiles,” I reminded Sid. 

“I was bitten by a lizard,” Sid said.  “But let’s forget the past. We’re all older now. I have a new product, and I’ll give you the exclusive story on it.”

I didn’t know why I deserved this honor. But before I could refuse it, Sid handed me an announcement promoting the new Undesirables database of boozers, scofflaws, slot machine addicts and other unfortunates.

“This looks just like Mo Moss’s Proclivities database,” I observed. “Did you steal this from Mo?”

Sonny glared at me again, and I was afraid he would throw me through the train window. But Sid acted like he was impressed.  

“You’ve gotten smarter in your old age,” he said. “Did you go back to college or something?”

He explained that he was licensing the Proclivities list from Mo and repackaging it for his own clientele.

 “In that case, Mo is ripping you off,” I said. “Most of the people on it are dead.” 

“I take back what I said about you being smarter. Some of them are still alive, and I have NFT opportunities to offer them.”

“And you’re planning to amortize the cost by renting out the email names?” I asked. 

“Very good,” Sid said, clapping his hands. “You are smart after all. How would you like to come and work for me?”

“I’d rather starve to death on the street.”

The conversation lagged as I read the incomprehensible announcement. Finally, I asked, “Why are you going to Boston?” 

“I have instructed my client not to answer that question,” Erwin said. 

The rest of the ride was tense, and I was glad to get off the train at Back Bay. 

Ace reporter that I am, though, I soon solved two mysteries: 

  1. The Gang of Three was in Boston to negotiate a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Massachusetts. Sid somehow escaped jail, but Sonny will have to do time once they’ve settled cases with nine other jurisdictions, including two in foreign countries. 
  2. As I suspected, Sid had hacked and stolen the entire Proclivities database. Mo Moss said, “I’m suing those bastards.” 

Days later, I received a letter from the “law” offices of Erwin Forrest, threatening me with a defamation suit if I wrote anything derogatory about the Taylor family.

I am not planning any other train trips at this time. 

(Note: Thankfully, there is no resemblance between these characters and real persons, living or dead.)

Lunch With The Old Gang In Boca

By Ray Schultz

Earlier this fall, braving my first plane ride since the pandemic: I flew to Boca Raton to help Mo Moss with his futile annual effort to get into the Inc 500. In lieu of payment, Mo treated me to lunch in an outdoor place in Boca, and pointed out various celebrity criminals who were eating there, like the one who invented automatic debiting that you can never stop as long as you live. 

Suddenly one of them came over to us: A bear of a man I recognized as Sonny Taylor. Mo introduced us, but fortunately Sonny did not remember my name or face. The last time I saw him, he threatened to break my back over something I wrote about him. 

“You owe me $40,000,” he said gruffly to Mo. 

“What for?” Mo asked. 

“I’m being sued by Walmart for breach of contract, and they were once a client of yours. Somebody’s got to pay.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Mo said. 

“You could end up in a swamp,” Sonny said. 

I was ready to leave at this point, but instead Mo and Sonny started talking business. Sonny needed the emails of 1 million chain smokers, preferably hooked  on opioids.

“I’ve got them,” Mo said. 

They negotiated a price on the spot. And when it ended, Mo said, “I’ll have my lawyer contact you about the Walmart suit.”

“Why are you caving in to this extortion attempt?” I asked Mo when Sonny had left.

“I need the list order. I’ll pay him $10,000. It’s a cost of doing business.”    

“Do you really have that many smokers?”

“No, but he won’t know the difference.” 

I watched Sonny return to his table, then noticed a desiccated-looking man wearing a knit cap, sunglasses and an inhaler, seated in a wheel chair. It couldn’t have been his father, because I wrote the old man’s obituary 15 years ago. 

“Who is that man in the wheelchair?” I asked Mo. 

“I don’t know. Probably a client.”

“Who wheels his client around in a wheelchair?”

“It doesn’t pay to ask questions,” Mo said. 

We had dessert, and I typed up the flawed Inc 500 data. Then I flew back to New York (at my own expense), and Mo returned to Tampa. 

A couple of weeks later, Mo emailed me a link to this local story:

Man Busted In Florida For Digital Fraud

A Florida man was arrested Wednesday for his alleged role in an international conspiracy to sell fraudulent pennystocks online. 

Sonny Taylor, age 65, of Boca Raton, was booked after a brief armed standoff outside his home at the Luxuria condominiums. 

Police are also looking for an unidentified man in a wheelchair, who fled on foot. They believe he may be Taylor’s brother Sidney, age 70, long thought to be dead but still on the wanted lists of the FBI  and Interpol.”

I nearly choked on my Starbucks Americano. Sid Taylor was reported dead 20 years ago, believed to be eaten by crocodiles in Central America. 

 “Is this true? I emailed Mo. 

“It’s him,” he replied. 

Well, it figures: There’s no way Sonny could have come up with an online scam on his own, especially one that pulled in $100 million, as the story said. But he was clearly going to take the rap for it. Sid was still missing, the last I heard.   

As for Mo, he failed to make the Inc 500, the Inc 1000, or even the Inc 100,000, as far as that goes. 

Note: Any resemblance between these characters and living persons is strictly coincidental.

Yale And Danny Do The Pandemic

By Ray Schultz

A Sunday or two ago, I was enjoying a stroll in Central Park when I was almost knocked over by a lout on a skateboard, wearing no shirt and no mask. I was about to curse the Millennials, then I saw it was a particular Millennial: Yale Moss by name.

I tried to hold my temper because Yale’s wife Danny was sitting on a bench not three feet away, wheeling a baby carriage back and forth. And she at least had a mask on.

The last time, I had seen this pair was at their belated wedding reception in January. Danny’s dad Hal Hall had finally accepted Yale as his son-in-law, mostly because of Yale’s sales record, and had even named him as VP in charge of used car lots and hauling and cartage concerns for the Middle-Atlantic region. And a baby was on the way.

Not that I cared, but how had they been faring and what were they doing in Central Park?  They looked a little gaunt. I sat down with them, carefully social distancing myself, and they told me the story. Yale did most of the talking.

The baby arrived in March and he was named in honor of his two grandfathers. There was some debate over whose name should go first, but Hal’s was chosen because Hal Mo sounds better than Mo Hal when the contractions are used together, and Hal is the billionaire.

Over Danny’s objections, Yale insisted that they fly to Tampa to see his folks Mo and Wendy. But the minute they landed, they were clapped into quarantine because Florida ordered that anyone from New York be isolated for two weeks. The only food they could get was takeout pizza during a three-hour window each day. Fortunately, they had enough baby formula and diapers.

The minute they arrived back in New York, though, they were  thrown into quarantine again because New York was retaliating by blocking anyone arriving from Florida. Here they were given leftover jailhouse bologna sandwiches once a day.

No sooner had the last two weeks expired, with things getting gamier by the day, when they were grabbed by ICE and transported on a bus with barred windows to Easton, Pennsylvania because someone heard Yale joke that they were being  “deported.” They were quarantined again, and left to rot  in a motel where there was no food available at all, and they had to subsist on small packets of Famous Amos cookies and Cheezits from a vending machine.

One night, Danny’s dad Hal was venting to Mo over the phone, and Mo suggested he call Erwin Forrest, a landlord-tenant lawyer and the fixer of all fixers in New York. Erwin was happy to hear from Hal because business was slow, there being a moratorium on evictions in New York State.

Hal, a man accustomed to great authority, had to visit Erwin’s office in a rat-trap office on Fulton Street, where file cabinets were kept in the hallway outside the elevators. Speaking over a telecom, Hal explained the problem and Erwin gruffly ordered Hal to deliver $20,000 in small unmarked bills, exclusive of fees.

Hal has never been talked to this way in his life, but he had a certain familiarity with criminality. He sent the assistant who was with him to his office to get the cash from a safe.  It took a day or two, but thanks to Erwin’s magic, Yale, Danny and little Hal Mo arrived back in the city by private limo.

All three had contracted colds, but thankfully not Covid-19. They were sure of this because the adults were painfully tested with long nasal swabs that went right up to the eyeball at every step of the journey.

Altogether, they  were in custody for two months, and their marital relations were severely strained. In fact. Danny threw Yale out of her apartment in the Pierre the day they got back.

Luckily, Yale had won a contract to gut the office of a bankrupt Philadelphia law firm for $1.5 million, and Hal brought in a telehealth marriage counselor so he could save the deal. The counselor advised  Yale and Danny to laugh at themselves and then go isolate in the Hall family compound in Southhampton, Long Island;; they were leaving the next day. Meanwhile, here they were, making goo-goo eyes at each other again.

I was happy that the lovebirds were reconciled, but not that happy. When I got home, I found that I had a fever.

Moss In Love

By Ray Schultz

One evening last fall, my wife and I were enjoying some Blue Point oysters at the Oyster Bar when she turned and said, “Isn’t that your friend Yale?”

Yale Moss! I tried to duck under the counter, but it was too late. Yale was on his way over, accompanied by a very tall young woman who looked vaguely familiar.

The last I’d heard of Yale, he was trying to get into the cannabis business. He sent an offer to his dad Mo’s Proclivities database of drunkards, dope fiends, deadbeats and other such riffraff.

The list hadn’t been updated in years, and the people on it were unresponsive and presumed dead. But many now came forward to place cannabis orders.

It might have worked. But then Yale offered an imported hashish sampler and was sued by a consortium of state AGs. He must have been testing his own product because he looked a little loopy.

Yale introduced us to his friend: Danielle Hall, also called Danny. Though Yale described her as a sculptor, we recognized her at once as the scion of the Hall family, the owner of vast real estate holdings, luxury car dealerships and many other businesses, and super-wealthy in her own right.

We got acquainted—Danny seemed gracious, if slightly bored with people at our level–and Yale offered me “a nice piece of opiated hash,” which I declined since I eschew drug use in all its forms.

Yale and I went to look at the desserts, and he let me in on his plan: “I met her online. I’m gonna marry her. In a month, my algorithms will be running the entire Hall empire. We’re on our way to Tampa to meet my folks.”

Now I wouldn’t be in a hurry to introduce a fiancé of mine to Mo and Wendy, especially one like Danny. But nobody asked my opinion, and they left the next day.

Predictably, Mo instantly saw the advantage of a match between the Moss and Hall families, and he arranged to have the couple married in his living room the very night of their arrival by a judge who had fixed some of his real estate cases.

I was relieved—the fact that we weren’t invited to the wedding meant we didn’t have to send a gift. But I didn’t get it. “What does she see in him?” I asked my wife.

“Well, he is a bit of a hunk,” she replied. (Something she never said about me). “He’s the only man who’s as tall as she is.”

I had to hand it to Yale—he had married into money, which is just as legitimate a way of getting it as any other.

Unfortunately, things did not go well in Yale’s initial interview with Danny’s father Hal Hall, a short man with a huge chest and a large round face.

Yale had set up a presentation on his technology (which had been down since May).

“Don’t bother,” Hal growled. “I’ve got the best IT department in the country, and if I needed any help, you’d be the last person I’d turn to.”

Then, as if he were talking to an employment counselor, Yale said he might like to get into real estate development.

Hal hissed, “When my daughter divorces you, I’ll see you end up on the street.”

Under that cloud, Yale and Danny embarked upon married life. Of course, they needed to find a job for Yale, and Hal came through in the end because Danny usually gets her way. But the job reflected Yale’s standing in the business and also, sadly, in the marriage—that of a kept man.

Every morning, Yale and Danny leave her private 12-room residence in the Pierre, Yale carrying a peanut butter sandwich in a brown paper bag. He wears an outfit that looks as if it was issued by a halfway house: an ill-fitting sports jacket, corduroy pants, a shirt and a knit tie.

They enter a chauffeured SUV and are driven it to Danny’s massive sculpture studio in Long Island City. Then Yale is on his own, and has to catch the No. 7 El to Woodside, and transfer to the Long Island Railroad. This he takes to Rockville Centre, Long Island, where he walks half a mile to a building in back of a used-car lot: the Sunrise Hauling & Cartage Company.

On Hal’s command, the low-level hood who runs the place hired Yale as a salesman on a commission basis—no salary. They expected him to fail—the next step was driving one of the trucks.

Yale sat around for a day or two staring into space. Then he had a brainstorm. Mo has always kept his customer list up to date—it’s far more important than the list they actually sell. So Yale started calling some of the businesses on it, asking if any of them were moving.

Some weren’t happy to hear from him, but you know how real estate is in New York. In two weeks, Yale sold four pretty hefty contracts to factories with all kinds of heavy equipment and computers, and more were coming in as he also worked his father’s bankruptcy list. Of course, he had to go out on the jobs himself, wearing a helmet.

Relieved that the business was starting to show a pulse, Yale’s boss asked him to sell the used cars in the adjoining lot, some of which were on cement blocks or contained stolen parts. Yale was so good at that—nobody who entered the lot, or even passed on the street, escaped without buying a car.

And so, Yale enjoyed some success, probably the first in his entire life. He didn’t make much money by Hall standards, and the pittance he made Danny demanded for household expenses—“I’m sure you want to pay your own way,” she said. But he did receive one token of family esteem.

Hal Hall always bestows lavish gifts on his key employees during the holidays: Cadillacs, Aston Martins, custom yachts. And while Yale was way down the list, he did get a present: a 1985 Chevvy with a badly repaired fender. How do I know? He tried to sell it to me.

Note: Any resemblance between companies and persons is strictly coincidental, etc. 

Previous Moss family misadventures:

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

Your GDPR Security Blanket

I Was A Bitcoin Billionnaire

We Work At The Jollity Building

By Ray Schultz

Work recently took me to a WeWork facility in midtown Manhattan, where an upstart with no standing can rent a few feet of space and establish a New York presence. I waited in the shared space or Hot Desk area, where prices start at $450 a month; the coffee and wi-fi are thrown in. People lounged around with their laptops and smartphones, as they would in a Starbucks. Then there are the offices in back, which start at $450 but probably average out at around $2,500—my interview subject, from a foreign company, was located there. It made me wonder if the founders of this outfit ever read The Telephone Booth Indian, A.J. Liebling’s masterpiece on the Jollity Building, circa 1942. It seems to be built on the same business model.

Mostly occupied by hustlers who tried to make a buck or two by “promoting” people (i.e., swindling them), the Jollity Building had a similar sliding fee structure to We Work’s (in 1942 dollars). At the bottom rung were the Telephone Booth Indians, who simply hung out in in the lobby for free and used the telephone booths; often they could not afford the price of coffee and a pastrami sandwich, but they lived in perpetual hope of making a score.

Upstairs, there were spaces for rent on a monthly basis. But you had to see Morty, the rental agent, who refers to the renters as “heels.” Liebling writes:

Morty usually reserves the appellation heel for the people who rent the forty-eight cubicles, each furnished with a desk and two chairs, on the third floor of the Jollity Building. These cubicles are formed by partitions of wood and frosted glass which do not quite reach the ceiling. Sufficient air to maintain human life is supposed to circulate over the partitions. The offices rent for $10.00 and $12.00 a month, payable in advance. “Twelve and a half dollars with air, ten dollars without air,” Morty says facetiously. “Very often the heels who rent them take the air without telling me.” Sometimes a Telephone Booth Indian acquires enough capital to rent a cubicle. He thus rises in the social scale and becomes a heel. A cubicle has three advantages over a telephone booth. One is that you cannot get a desk into a telephone booth. Another is that you can play pinochle in a cubicle. Another is that a heel gets his name on the directory in the lobby, and the white letters have a bold, legitimate look.

The vertical social structure of the Jollity Building is subject to continual shifts. Not only do Indians become heels, but a heel occasionally accumulates forty or fifty dollars with which to pay a month’s rent on one of the larger offices, all of them unfurnished on the fourth, fifth, or sixth floor. He then becomes a tenant. Morty always views such progress with suspicion, because it involves signing a lease, and once a heel has signed a lease, you cannot put him out without serving a dispossess notice and waiting ten days. A tenant, in Morty’s opinion, is just a heel who is planning to get ten days’ free rent. “Any time a heel acts prosperous enough to rent an office,” Morty says, “you know he’s getting ready to take you.” A dispossessed tenant often reappears in the Jollity Building as an Indian. It is a life cycle.

One of the few legitimate tenants is Hy Sky, a sign painter who serves the heels in setting up their usually unsuccessful scams. He laughs when painting the signs because he knows he “will receive the only dollar that is likely to change hands in the transaction—the dollar he gets for painting the sign,” Liebling wrote. Often, Hy Sky would call Morty to say, ““Morty, pop up here and see the character I got here! He is the most phoniest character I seen in several years.”

The name Jollity Building was fictional, but it was based on a real place, or a composite of such places. Of course, two big differences between Jollity and We Work (beyond the clientele) is that you had to buy your own coffee at a counter in the old building’s basement, and We Work doesn’t have a dance palace on the bottom floor.