Chapter 3

There never seemed to be an end of the list of things that Ty could find for Hoyt to do. While he was fixing the kitchen outlets, he heard people bringing the hardwood flooring back in. At one point Ty stopped by where Hoyt was working and said “Now that you have the house back under roof, you want to earn some extra money getting started on the hardwood floors?”

Hoyt looked up with what had to have been a “why me?” look. Ty laughed. “I talked to Sue. She told me that you had flipped a house all by yourself and that you are just outta school and dead broke.”

Hoyt started to say something.

“I know, you probably didn’t tell her you were dead broke but – in case you missed it – she is very perceptive. Now, someone needs to stay late and at least get the floor started. What ever she promised for you for pay, I’ll double that per hour from now until you knock off tonight just to get the floors in.”

Hoyt was speechless. He just bobbed his head and said “Sure. You got it. I’ll stay on.”

By the time he had the first course laid in, Ty was gone.

After a while, so was everyone else.

Around midnight, Hoyt leaned back and tried to get his shoulders to move. They were locked in some titanic struggle with his neck and they were not happy. It was just about that time that Hoyt realized some important facts.

First, he had not eaten all day.

Second, he didn’t have any place to stay.

Third, he really, really needed a shower.

None of those seemed to be solvable.

Except … an idea slid, sideways, into his consciousness. Had he heard someone say the water was back on?

He went to the master bath. It was all dark tile, white accents and glass. And it had water. He turned on the shower and waited for the water to get warm.

That wasn’t going to happen. The water heater must not be turned on yet. Hell, he thought, and stripped down and showered, without soap, in the cold, cold water. Horrid at first, the cold began to actually numb his aching muscles. Not all that bad.

He had no towel, so he pulled and jumped and stumbled back into his very dirty jeans, then clomped into his shoes (thinking: note to self – buy work boots) and stumbled out to his car. He grabbed some clean clothes and his sleeping bag and stumbled back into the house.

The last thought that passed through his mind before complete unconsciousness was “I made it through the first day.”

He made it through Friday and Saturday as well, doing much the same: whatever it was that Ty told him to do.

Sunday was full-tilt boogie day. Every single thing that needed to be done had to be finished and made right. Ty had Hoyt jumping from project to project, tightening, fastening, securing, blending, pushing, aligning, cleaning, dragging, covering and hanging whatever it was that needed doing.

Ty was working off a punch list that seemed infinite.

They got done about 1 in the morning on Monday, but it was done. Hoyt had no idea what that house might have looked like before, but it was drop-dead gorgeous now. They had turned on all the interior and exterior lights, including lights over the pool in the back, the covered deck off the side and the walkway to the front door. Magical, Hoyt thought, looking at the sparking image in the clear night air.

However it worked out, Hoyt and Kirk and Ty were the last three to leave, almost reluctantly turning away from the sight at the end of the cul-de-sac.

As they walked to their cars, Ty asked Hoyt where he was staying. Hoyt nodded towards the VW.

“You’re kidding,” Ty said.

“Best home on four wheels I have ever had.”

Ty reached into his pocket and pulled out several sets of keys. He reached in and flipped on the headlights of his truck, then held the keys in the light, sorting through them.

“Here, he said, handing a set to Hoyt. “Address is on the tag. We haven’t started working on it yet, so it’s rough but not in bad shape. Stay there until you get something better than a back seat.”

“Thanks,” Hoyt surprised himself; ee was getting emotional so he didn’t say anything else.

“Take the rest of the morning off,” Ty said, laughing. “We don’t start on the next house until ….” He paused. “Let’s say noon. Stop by the office. Susie will have your pay and the address of the next property.”

This time Hoyt had to say something. “Susie?” He said with a grin.

“Never in her presence, boy. But that is how I have always thought of her. Still do. The name goes with how I see her in my mind. Always will. She just doesn’t know it.”

That was it for the night. Hoyt found the address on the keychain, parked in the driveway and went in through the kitchen door. He laid down his sleeping bag and fell asleep right there.

When the late morning sun woke him, the kitchen door was still open and the headlights were faintly glowing on the front of his VW. “Must have been tired,” he mumbled.

But he made to the office by noon.

And the work just kept on coming, day after day, house after house.

Hoyt loved ot. There was really something reaffirming about the process of taking a broken-down house and turning into something grand. Susan was wrong, he thought one day, we are flipping homes. It’s just that they start out as a house (or lower down the scale, a property) and it was their job to gift them the ability to become a home.

Every flip had a name. When Hoyt started, the names tended to be unflattering. Dead Rat had a fairly obvious source. Cheese House earned its name by the fact that someone had left a lot a cheese in the refrigerator. Might have been unexceptional right up until when the power was turned off. They bought the place from a broker, without ever being inside. They got it cheap but weren’t sure if it had been cheap enough the first time they opened the door. It turned out to be major relief then the source of the odor was the cheese and not bodies in the basement.

Puke Green, Ugly Red, Many Molds were all names of projects that had been started or identified the day Hoyt signed on. He ended up camping in Ugly Red for six or seven weeks, some of that time while he was working on demo and remo of Ugly Red herself. It was handy, to cut his commute time down to zero.

When he moved out of Ugly Red, he had enough surplus cash to rent an apartment from Ty and Susan. Like his pay, it was strictly cash. They never did get around to putting him officially on the payroll, so every Friday they handed him some cash and once a month he handed some back.

Hoyt was now part of the management team. He still worked all his normal jobs but Ty gave him a crew of his own. He made sure he got Jose David on his team.

Hoyt, Susan and Ty were flipping twice as many homes as they had before he joined, and the money was good.

No, the money was great. Running a team meant he got a decent raise in his hourly wage, but he also got a piece of the profit. That was gravy. He watched every penny that went into the house, not scrimping, mind you, just cautious. The main point that kept Hoyt motivated was the whole concept of creating someone else’s home. That meant it had to be up to his standards. Never top of the line – that was money you were never going to get back – but one or two notches below the top. Close enough to the top that no one questioned the choice but still affordable in the budget for the flip.

Hoyt gave his houses positive names. Capitol Dome for a house with a rotunda. Secret Garden had a walled rose garden off one side of the house. It was a weed infested swamp when they bought it, but an English tea garden when it sold. A couple of months later, most of the homes that Ty was running started to have better names. Greenleaf was one that they all hated to sell. It sat back off the street, surrounded by mature trees. Pick the prettiest park you have ever seen and drop a life-size Queen Anne doll house in the middle. That was Greenleaf.

Work slowed down a little in the winter months. There were fewer houses on the market to buy and fewer potential owners looking to buy. Sitting back, watching TV on a tablet in a half-remodeled house, too tired now to drive back to the apartment, Hoyt thought about packing it in. He could go to a new city and start up the same kind of business that Ty and Susan had. Buy, flip, sell. He knew it well. He also knew he would need a real estate license but figured he could study have and it knocked out in a month.

The thought never grew into anything. He was making lots money most of the year, socking almost all of it away. He had almost 20 thousand sitting in his checking account. He knew he should be smart about it and buy some CDs but he liked having it there. He had converted earlier cash into CDs and that was fine. When they came due, he just bought another CD. It was nice not to worry about money. He laid back, put his feet up on stack of hardwood waiting to be installed. And fell asleep.

Then it was back to busy season. Ty and Hoyt were trying to run three teams this year, with both of them splitting their time to cover the third. It wasn’t working well. Not matter how good someone was at the basics, sometimes they got stuff wrong. It wasn’t always a disaster but it often meant a “rip and replace” on some piece of work that should have already been done. A laundry room wall that was in the wrong place – so tight that once the washer and dryer were installed you wouldn’t have room to open the doors. Decks started that were off the wrong door. A footing for a new garage on the wrong side of the house, making the wall too close to the property line.

While the scheme with three crews worked well enough that they weren’t losing money, it didn’t work well enough to continue.

They decided to keep running the extra crew until they got their inventory of properties down to normal, and then go back to running two crews. Once they made that decision it seemed that every problem that could happen on whichever site Ty or Hoyt did happen. It was exasperating. At least they could see a time when they could get back the level of activity and the standard of quality they all expected.

When Susan called Hoyt at lunch time, he assumed it was going to be to report some screw-up at the other house.

“Not that,” she said. “I need to ask you something personal. Have you done anything illegal before you came to work for us? Is there some reason why a private investigator would be looking for you? Did you jump bail? Leave a wife and starving kids behind?”

“Not sure what this is about,” Hoyt said.

“I’m not sure, either. A guy came by. Said he was an investigator, but he could be government or the law or the CIA for all I know. He wanted you. Showed me an old picture, probably from a high school yearbook. You never told me you were cute in high school.”

Hoyt ignored that. “What did you tell him?”

“I said I might know where you were. He gave me his card. Wanted you to call.”

Hoyt asked for the name and number, then thought about it. He can’t see why anyone would come looking for him. He filed his taxes, never quite reporting all his income but never too far from reality. There were no unhappy girlfriends, no children needing support, at least as far as he knew.

What the heck, he thought. I can handle whatever it is.

He asked one of his crew for their phone, said his battery was flat. He used that phone and called the guy. John Tipton was the name that Susan had given him. The person who picked up the phone said that, just his name, nothing else.

“Mr. Tipton,” Hoyt said, “I hear you are looking for me.”

“Is this Hoyt Albert Harris?”

“Why are you asking?” Something was up and Hoyt didn’t know what it was. Best to be cautious.

“I have two matters to discuss with Mr. Harris. One is sad news, his sister died two months ago and I believe he has not been in contact to know that. The other is good news, but I would rather not go into it on the phone. If you are Hoyt Albert Harris, when can we meet?”

Hoyt’s ruse with the cell phone hadn’t done much to throw this guy off. Might as well meet. He picked a place and Tipton didn’t object. He told Hoyt that he would be wearing a grey suit and carrying a briefcase. That should be pretty easy to spot, Hoyt thought, given where he had set the meeting.

It was lunch time, so he told his crew to knock off. “Let’s go to In-n-Out, he said, my treat.” For a crew that sometimes took a long time to get something done, it appeared as if they had teleported into their trucks, hungry and ready to go.

Hoyt picked In=n-Out for a couple of reasons. First, it was a busy place and very public. Not the ideal place for an assassination. Second, he would have his crew to back him up if things turned south.

And, third, he realized, it was In-n-Out, after all, and he was hungry.

Fifteen minutes later he was sitting at a table outside, waiting for his number to be called when a man who must be Tipton parked a nondescript mid-size SUV facing in towards where Hoyt was sitting. He got out of the car, grey suit and briefcase. Gotta be the guy, Hoyt thought. He handed his receipt to Manny, his tile guy, and asked him to pick it up for him.

Hoyt looked at his hands. Clean enough, he thought. Walking over to the suit, he stuck out a hand and introduced himself. If Tipton was surprised at what he saw, he didn’t let on.

“Want some lunch?” Hoyt asked. Tipton declined. Hoyt walked over to the only empty table as sat down. Tipton followed. He sat down without dusting off the seat first; Tipton went up a notch in Hoyt’s evaluation.

“So it my sister dying is the bad news,” Hoyt didn’t see any reason to beat around the bush, “what’s the good news?”

Tipton leaned back a bit, uncomfortable. “I thought that you might be more concerned about your sister than that.”

“I guess you never knew her. I barely did, she was grown up and living on her own when I was born. I don’t think she approved of my dad, so she pretty much cut off contact with the family. I never pushed it. If her death left people who care for her behind, I am sad for their loss, but that’s about all.”

“She left no one,” Tipton started. He corrected himself, “she left no relatives behind. She never married, never had a child. I don’t know about her personal life, so there could well be close friends that will miss her but that’s about all I know.”

“More than I did. Can we get to the second part of this? I need to get back to work soon.”

“The news might change your opinion.” Tipton unsnapped the locks on his briefcase and pulled out a thick, old-looking and well-worn manila folder. “Have you ever heard of the Beresford Trust?”

Hoyt wasn’t at all sure where this was going. “Nope,” he shrugged.

“The short story is that back in the mid-1800s a man who called himself Bereford walked into the Manhattan offices of Manufacturers Bank. He had a small fortune in gold that he wished to deposit. It was around thirty thousand dollars worth of gold. I’m not sure of the exact conversion, but I would expect that to be the equivalent of thirty million today.”

He paused, but Hoyt wasn’t biting yet.

“He used the money to set up a trust fund. He left a large sealed envelope with instructions to be opened in ten years time. He walked out and was never heard from again.”

“Okay, Hoyt said trying to convey a sense of ‘and then…’ at the same time as ‘and this has what to do with me…’

Tipton smiled. It didn’t fit well on his face. Looked like it hurt him, as if it might do some damage. “In the small world of blind trusts and investments, the Beresford Trust is a legend. The agreement was that the bank was to follow the instructions in the envelope precisely and to treat them as highly confidential – not to be shared with anyone but the trust manager.” He paused.

This time Hoyt couldn’t help himself. “And?” He said, finding himself more than a little intrigued by the tale.

“They opened the envelope as instructed on January 2nd, 1860. Inside were two things. A one page letter of instructions and a second slightly smaller envelope marked to be opened on the same day of the year in 1870. The instructions listed the investments to be made.”

He paused again. Then continued before Hoyt needed to prompt him.

“The history of the account is that the first set of investments were exactly the ones you would want to make if you knew for certain that war would break between the states and that the northern states would win.”

“I suspect that was on a number of people’s minds at the time,” Hoyt said.

“Yes, quite. I would agree. Except for the lists of investments that followed. Every ten years there was a mother set of instructions and another envelope to be opened ten years later. Each set of instructions became more and more difficult to explain. At one point the bank the safe deposit box that held the instructions closed with a brass seal to make certain no one was opening the envelopes and changing the contents. They weren’t. That made the instructions almost impossible to explain.”

Tipton looked like he might need a glass of water to continue. But he kept on.

“These were instructions like ‘Buy stock in AT&T’ written before there was an decades before there was an AT&T. In the instructions for the 1920s, they were quite specific. Convert everything in equities to cash before September 20th, they said. Buy everything back on October 1st. This neatly missed the stock market crash and bought in at what were bargain basement prices.”

“The instructions made a fortune over the course of each of the world wars, moved into tech stocks a the right time and the back out before the dot com bust. The instructions were beyond belief. ‘Buy Apple,’ ‘Buy Amazon.’ These were written a century before there was an Apple or an Amazon to buy stock in. And many more. This is. as I said, the stuff of legend.”

Hoyt had to admit this guy told a good story. He wanted to see the punch line, so he kept listening.

“Fifteen years ago, the fund manager opened the envelope and all that was inside was a single slip of paper. No instructions, no envelope for ten years form then. The paper had your dad’s name and the month and day of his birthdate. That was all. Nothing else.”

“Fifteen years ago? My dad was still alive.”

“Yes. Correct.” Tipton frowned. Frowning was the right look for him; it fit comfortably. Hoyt wondered if frowning brought Tipton pleasure. It should. He was good at it. T”he trust manager had, the bank learned later, been using the insider information in the envelopes to pad his own investments. He had leveraged his funds way out of line based on what he expected to be in the envelope. When there was nothing in it, he tried to bluff his way out. He was moving money around like Chinese checkers. As long as he could keep things moving around enough, no one caught on. But every day he was losing money. It all fell apart just before the next envelope should have been opened. That was six years ago. He got caught, was put out to a quiet, unpleasant retirement from which he will never return. He had moved some of the trust funds around to help cover his losses and the bank made the trust whole.”

“That was when the bank found the note with your father’s name. And then they hired me to find him. By then, as you know, he had passed.”

Why do people use that word, Hoyt thought. Passed; sounds like a test score. He didn’t pass, he died. Cremated and then we buried the urn. Dead.

“That led me to your sister, but by the time I tracked her down she had …”

“Passed,” Hoyt interrupted.

Tipton gave him a strange look, but agreed. :Yes, his face radiating a frown, she had passed. Finding her was a stroll through the park compared to finding you. After you left college you dropped off the face of the earth. Unemployed as near as I could tell. Homeless, too. Don’t look you’re doing poorly, though.”

I’m living mostly in a cash economy.

“If you were looking to stay out of sight, you have done well.”

“I don’t think I intended to be invisible, more like I just didn’t care about being visible.”

“It worked,} Tipton said. Made for a hell of a detective story, getting here.”

“Okay,” Hoyt said, “I enjoyed your other story, about the banker and the fund, and my dad, but where do I fit in?”

“As your dad’s sole surviving heir, the fund comes to you. I have the paperwork here to put you legally in charge of the fund. I can help with your transition – I’m getting paid to see this all the way through.”

“Drop the other shoe, please. After the rogue trader got caught, exactly how much is left?”

“Hard to say,” Tipton said. “Here’s the situation, there are investments in a hundred countries, quadruple that or more accounts, invested in everything from dock yards to rubber tree plantations. Overnight every night there is a sweep of information about the investments that is sent to New York and aggregated with the different currencies normalized.”

“Listen,” Hoyt said, “I really got to get my crew back to work. Is there some way you could make a guess as to the value of this fund?”

“As of this morning,” Tipton said, looking pained to provide positive news, “the aggregate wealth of the fund – your fund now – is just a little shy of three-quarters of a trillion dollars.”

Hoyt must have misheard that. “Sorry. Could you may that another way.”

Tipton looked at a yellow sticky on the front of the manila folder he had pulled out of his briefcase. “Seven hundrend and forty-seven billion dollars.”

“That’s with a M, right?”

“No, I assure you it is with a B. Think of it as seven hundred and fifty thousand million. You are probably in the top 5 wealthiest men in the world. At some point, it gets really hard to know exactly how much anyone is worth. There is a decent chance that you are the wealthiest man alive, perhaps the wealthiest man who has ever been alive. Someone, of course. may have a net worth greater than yours some time form now but right now …” Tipton ran down. He could see total bafflement in the eyes of his subject.

Hoyt shook his head. “Sorry, you were saying something about right now?”

Tipton tried a different tack. “When people have a lot a money, they talk about buying their own island. You could do that, but you could also afford a number of small countries, not just islands. You, Mr. Harris, are rich. Rich beyond your imagination. You are stinking, filthy rich.”

Chapter 4

Fiction Imitating Art