When I first met Riley Gulick, little did I know that someday I’d have to chase him halfway around the world to retrieve the money he stole from me and our clients.
I met Riley at an investment conference in New York. We’d both grown up in small towns and we both liked to jog early in the morning. While we circled the pond in Central Park, we decided to combine our investment advisory businesses.
Given our country roots we both had lots of ag-clients in rice, sugar, orchards and livestock. I had followed the academic route and was well connected with university professors and government bureaucrats including a few Nobel prize winners. Riley had solid contacts in entertainment and sports. One of his clients was the family of rock and roll star Bill Haley. Haley had lived in the small town of Harlingen Texas where Riley grew up.
“I know Chip,” said Riley during a break at one of our quarterly meetings, “how much you hate the administrative bullshit, all the hoops we have to go through just to do our business. You complain about the bean counters every time we get together.”
“You saying you don’t hate it?” I said.
“I hate it too,” said Riley. “But I’ve put together one hell of an administrative staff. Your value is in your unparalleled ability to close new clients. I propose a splitting of duties. My office will handle the burdensome administrative paperwork. That will free you to focus exclusively on landing new business. We can grow our assets a lot faster that way. What do you think?”
“I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with that,” I said.
“What’s wrong Mr. Charles Stokes?” said Riley. “You don’t think I can handle it? Or, maybe you don’t trust me? Is that it? Or, maybe I’m wrong, you actually like all that paperwork?”
“No, no, no,” I said. “None of that. It’s a good idea, I agree. The paperwork gives me a certain amount of control but I hate it. I agree with the benefits of specialization. After all, I’ve read Adam Smith.”
“Right,” said Riley.
“Look, I’ll think about it,” I said. “Give me a couple of weeks, it’s a good idea.”
It was a good idea. We had half a billion in assets. I was sure I could double that over the next year if I wasn’t slowed down by all the buttons I had to push. There was the risk of losing contact with certain details. But, I could check the books whenever I wanted. The quarterly reporting gave me a margin of comfort. In retrospect, I should have thought it through more but the extra fees from all that new money blinded me.
I called Riley after the second week.
“I’m in,” I said. “Work out the details and we’ll sign the agreement at our next quarterly meeting.”
Riley was about six feet, wavy blond hair, blue eyes and a pretty boy face. Some guys get all the luck. I’m barely five eight with brown hair, brown eyes and a nondescript face. You’d think it’d be the other way around, Riley the people guy and me the numbers guy. But, it wasn’t. For whatever reason people trusted me and felt comfortable investing their hard earned money with me. My natural humility attracted small business types who had worked their way up from nothing. Maybe Riley came off a little too slick for my kind of client. This didn’t bother me at the time. After all, it played well with rock stars and professional athletes and that was good for our business.
A few months after I agreed to the division of tasks within our company, I noticed a new investment option that popped up on the quarterly reports.
“Hey Riley, explain this Charter Income investment that we’ve been using lately. Why do you like it so much?” We were on the phone when I brought this up. I’d hoped to meet with him in person so I could read his body language but I was swamped with client meetings and I didn’t have time to fly out to meet him.
“Chip, you know where stock prices are. Sky high. Charter Income is a safe fixed income play that can keep us in the game without risking a big loss if we have a stock price reversal.”
“I get it, Riley, but how do you know these guys really know what they’re doing? I’ve read through the prospectus but honestly I can’t follow the models they’re using. It sounds a little too good to be true.”
“Trust me on this. I know the head guy personally, Chip,” said Riley.. “They know what they’re doing. Don’t worry, I won’t allocate more than 5% across the board to Charter.”
“Okay. Fine,” I said. “But I want to meet with their people directly the next time I come out. Set it up.”
“I’ll do my best”, said Riley, “but they’re really busy guys especially now. Honestly, Chip, we’re lucky to get the allocation we’ve got. I don’t want to rock the boat. Maybe a little later in the year would be better.”
“Well, as soon as possible,” I said. “I have a responsibility to my clients. We both do.”
I didn’t know it then but that would be the last time I’d speak to Riley.
❀ ❀ ❀
A month later I got a call from Riley’s office manager.
“I don’t know what to say, Chip,” said Lorna. “Riley’s gone. Nowhere to be found. He said he was going on vacation and that he’d stay in touch. He called a couple of times and everything seemed fine. And then the calls stopped. What’s worse though, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Charter Income has been marked to zero in all our accounts. Apparently there was some kind of Ponzi thing going on that Riley set up. I hate to say it, hate to think this about him, but it looks like he’s a crook. You’re my first call. The authorities are here right now going through all our files.”
I could feel the empty spot in the pit of my stomach. That son of a bitch had pulled me in just before the collapse. “How much, Lorna?”
“Fifteen million,” she said, “about ten million in Riley’s accounts and five million in yours. I’m sorry, Chip. Truly sorry. I absolutely did not see this coming.”
“No more than 5% in any single account, right?” I said.
“That was the limit but I’ll have to wait for the auditors report. I think you’ll be in the clear on the criminal case but your clients can sue in civil court. Your E&O insurance should cover most of your exposure assuming you were unaware of Riley’s scheme.”
“Jesus Lorna!” I said. My voice cracked. “Of course I didn’t know. I just spoke with him a month ago and asked about Charter Income. He put me off. Now I know why. I’ve got to notify my clients immediately. I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m able.”
That afternoon the SEC closed my office. They took over all my client accounts. My business, my income, my life as I knew it was gone. It took me a couple of months to sort out my legal exposure. All my personal assets were confiscated to be held and administered by the SEC until the case was settled.
After a few months I was allowed access to my personal liquid funds. I was banned from the investment business until if and when I was fully exonerated. At least I received one piece of good news. I was found innocent of any criminal connection to the fraud perpetrated by Riley Gulick. I was, however, guilty of insufficient oversight and subject to potential civil settlements.
With limited immediate options, I decided on a lark to try to find Riley and bring him to justice. Partly out of pure revenge, partly to clear my name, but mostly because the FEDs had lost interest. The FEDs had reached a dead end and they had moved on to cases more important for them.
I started with a wild guess. I was certain Riley was out of the country. He’d been seeing a Dutch girl named Anika Visser who was from a little port town north of Amsterdam called Harlingen. “Same town, different country,” Riley laughed when he told me about Anika. If Riley was out of the country, the Netherlands was as good a place as any to look for him. Besides, I thought, what a great place to visit, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Anne Frank, canals, tulips and my curiosity about Amsterdam’s reputation as a sin city.
❀ ❀ ❀
I landed at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam with no real plan. I took the NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) to the Centraal Station. I had no room reservations so I consulted my guidebook as I stood in the railway station. While I was trying to find a suitable hotel a young blond woman approached me. She spoke perfect English.
“Please. Stay with me at my B&B. It’s very competitively priced. It’s close by and within easy access to all major tourist attractions. We serve a large breakfast and can provide you with helpful information about any of your interests both here in Amsterdam and in the surrounding areas.”
Her smile was warm and friendly. It was already dark outside. She seemed as professional and trustworthy as she was attractive.
“Here.” She handed me a bus ticket. “Take the bus to Marco Polostraat. It’s a fifteen to twenty minute ride. Walk all the way to the end. One of my employees will check you in. I’ll meet you there after I pick up a few more guests.”
I took the ticket and got on the bus. It was a bit of a gamble but it solved my immediate problem. It turned out to be a better decision that I could have imagined.
The next morning at the breakfast table I met the other guests. A very talkative couple from Israel sat next to me.
“They call my husband the little elephant,” laughed Talia. I could see why. He ate everything. The table was packed with a variety of breakfast cereals, cheeses, cold meats, pastries, coffee, tea and milk. There was a young American couple, two Moroccans, and a French couple. They were all younger than me.
After breakfast I sat with the owner who met me at the rail station. Her name was Tara.
“I suppose you want to visit all the usual tourist spots,” she said as we shared a cup of coffee.
“Actually, I’m in the Netherlands looking for a friend. I want to start in Harlingen where she worked as a waitress in one of the restaurants in the harbor.”
“A girlfriend?” Tara’s blue eyes blinked as she spoke.
I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond. I decided to confide in her. I told her the whole story of Riley’s theft and disappearance.
“I don’t know why, but something about Anika makes me think she brought Riley here to hide out. I only met her once but the vibes I got clearly indicated trouble with a capital T. There is no trace of Riley anywhere. The authorities have exhausted all the usual places. The path has gone cold. The same for Anika. I presume they’ve changed identities. I know she worked at one of the restaurants at the port in Harlingen. I’m hoping I can find her and get some answers. I know it won’t be easy but I’ve got to try. I want to get my life back or at least get to a point where I can move on and put this ugly period behind me.”
Tara took a moment to respond. “That’s a terrible story,” she said. “Look, I have an idea. My place is full for a few days and my staff can handle things. Let me drive you to Harlingen and help you look. An American asking questions might get the cold shoulder especially if someone thinks they could get a friend in trouble.”
“You’d do that? Be my driver and guide? Help me look,” I said.
I must have appeared shocked because she laughed. “Charles, don’t look so surprised. We Dutch are not all standoffish. I have the time and I’d enjoy helping if I can. Listen, it’s a long drive, three to four hours. I’ll meet you back here in fifteen minutes. We can check out as many restaurants as possible and have dinner. It’ll be a long day but we can get it done.”
Harlingen is a beautiful and historic city. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to explore any of that. We spent all our time slogging from one restaurant to another, interviewing owners and employees. We struck out time after time. I was almost ready to give up when we got lucky. A customer at one of the restaurants we visited overheard Tara’s questions and asked to see a picture of Anika.
“Oh, her. Yea, I knew her well. She waited on me every time I came in. Haven’t seen her for a year or more though. I heard she left with some American. She told me she had a brother who entertained the tourists as an organ grinder in the main square of Den Burg on Texel. He might know more if you can find him.”
“Bingo!” I said to Tara as we left. “So, where’s Texel?”
“It’s a little island about an hour north from Amsterdam,” said Tara. “We can go there tomorrow. It’s an easy trip.”
“Are you sure?” I said. “You don’t have to taxi me around.”
Tara gave me a quizzical look. “Of course I’m sure. This is fun, Charles. It’s like hunting for the colored eggs the paashaas hides on Easter Sunday.” Tara smiled in a way that made me think there could something more between us than searching for Riley and Anika.
“Paashaas?” I said looking into her blue eyes.
“Our Easter hare, like your bunny.”
The next morning Tara drove us to the boat that ferried us to the small island of Texel. We parked on the main square and strolled around between the cafes, shops, and street vendors. Next to a sausage vendor I spotted the only organ grinder. I stayed put while Tara walked over and waited for a break in the music. I saw her walk up and speak to him. I could see the discomfort in his face. She laughed and flipped her blond hair and took out a small notepad from her purse. They spoke a bit longer, then she wrote something on the pad and put it away. She kissed him on both cheeks and gave him some money to play her a tune.
I could tell she was excited as she walked back to me. On the way to our car she told me the good news.
“He was very reluctant at first but I managed to gain his confidence. I told him I worked with Anika at the restaurant and was leaving the Netherlands. I had some things of hers I wanted to return. I just needed an address where I could mail them,” said Tara.
“You’re a natural detective,” I said. “So, what did you find?”
“He told me to mail my package to Anna Guffey in Leiden and gave me her address. He said to put a note inside and that Anna would forward it to Anika. What do you think?”
“I think we need to find out who this Anna Guffey is,” I said. “ How far away is Leiden?”
“It’s an easy hour drive from Amsterdam,” said Tara. “Let’s take a break and celebrate tonight. I’ll drive you there tomorrow.”
The way Tara looked at me, I wasn’t sure what she meant by celebrate.
“Good. I’ll take you out to dinner. Pick your favorite place.”
Tara reached over and held my hand. Her hand was cold. I didn’t look at her. We passed Vondelpark. Two girls were lying on their backs, their long bare legs exposed to the sun.
“I will,” she said, “but first I’ll show you the part of my house that’s not part of the B&B.
❀ ❀ ❀
Tara told me she’d inherited the house from her father. She had transformed the house into the B&B. The income supported her and she enjoyed the work, the opportunity to meet interesting people and the feeling of accomplishment she had when her guests told her how much they enjoyed their stay. She kept a separate unit upstairs in the back that looked out onto a beautiful garden.
“I get enormous satisfaction from that garden,” she said. “The beds furthest back are vegetables. Those closest are shrubs and flowers as you can see.”
“It’s lovely,” I said. “It’s like a little world all its own.”
We had a glass of wine, and another, and we ended up in bed together without the dinner I’d promised.
“This is my dinner,” she laughed.
“It’s a feast,” I said. And it was.
We slept in the next morning. After breakfast we drove to Leiden. The hunt was on.
Anna Guffey lived in an elegant villa that faced the Herengracht canal. We waited outside and watched for a glimpse of her. It took awhile but eventually she came outside and walked along the canal.
“She’s probably headed to one of those cafes we saw on the way here,” said Tara.
“Or maybe she’s just out for a morning walk,” I said.
“So,” said Tara, “what do you think?”
“No doubt about it. That’s Anika Visser. I wonder if Riley’s inside.”
“Let me check,” said Tara.
Tara walked to the front door of the villa and knocked. No answer. She knocked again. This time a maid opened the door.
“Is Anna here?” asked Tara.
“I’m afraid you just missed her,” said the maid. “She’s off to Elsa’s Café.”
“What about her husband?” asked Tara innocently.
The maid put her hand to her face. She looked at Tara. “You haven’t heard? Mr. Roger Guffey is dead. He was murdered, poor man, stabbed on the De Vliet bridge.”
“Oh my God!” said Tara, visibly shocked. “No, I haven’t heard. Have they caught the murderer?”
“There are no clues as yet. They think it was a robbery. Mr. Guffey was known to carry large amounts of cash because of his investment business.”
“I … I’m too distraught to speak,” said Tara. She turned and walked away.
“Miss!” said the maid. “Who shall I say came calling?”
Tara didn’t answer. She just ran to the car and we left.
❀ ❀ ❀
Several months have passed since we discovered Anika and Riley’s hideout. I turned over all I learned to the police in Amsterdam and in the United States. Anika was arrested for conspiracy to defraud because of her role in Riley’s investment caper. However, she has not been extradited because she was also arrested for having arranged for Riley’s murder after the man responsible was captured and confessed. Most of the money that Riley stole was recovered and returned to clients. He didn’t have much of a chance to enjoy his ill-gotten wealth. Treasures of wickedness profit nothing.
I am now a permanent resident of Amsterdam. Tara and I sometimes walk through the famed Red Light District to remind ourselves that choice and fate are no more than a hairline apart.
The black prostitutes have their spots in the small alleyways behind the brothels. The blue lights are for the transsexuals, Thai and Filipino. The S&M ladies, the South Americans, the Chinese, and the Eastern Europeans in the windows—they’ve all marked their private fiefdoms with the zeal of a chained dog that pisses in the grass at the edges of his pen. Busy coffee shops, cafés where the motorcycle gangs hang out, the entire De Wallen area surrounds Oudezijds Voorburgwal 14 the very place where Alida Margaretha Bosshardt (Major Bosshardt) set up the headquarters of the Dutch Salvation Army in 1951. Belief and sin go hand and hand here in Amsterdam just like they do back in my old home country though here they are a little more out in the open.