How To Lose A Fortune In One Day

Flickr / Nick Ares
Flickr / Nick Ares

About a month ago, my wife Laura came into our living room and said, “I did a little favor for Carol today.”

“What was that?” I asked, immediately fearing that Laura had been rummaging around in her whacky idea bin again. Every time she and her friend Carol come up with a plan, someone ends up paying a price and it is often me.

“I took out a storage locker under my name for Carol.”

I knew instantly that what was to follow would be, at the very least interesting, and at the worst, a chargeable offense, but I was hoping for something in between. Carol, or Crazy Carol as she is known around our house when she isn’t around, is a brilliant, boisterous, ballsy person who is capable of almost anything good or bad. One thing for sure about Carol; she will never bore you. If she doesn’t leave you with your jaw hanging out of your mouth, then she is having a very slow day. She has been, among several other things, a lawyer, glass artist, home builder, alcoholic, and small business owner.

It was the latter, which is the latest of her enterprises, that concerned me in this particular situation. The reason for that worry is that she runs a medical marijuana collective in our neighborhood. I am really not sure why they call it a collective, since it is all owned and run by Carol, and Carol only. Truth in advertising would require that it be called simply, “Carol’s Pot Store,” but that is only one of the many euphemisms bandied about in the medical pot business. You also have terms like “medicine” and “patients.” It is always hard for me to listen to Carol use these terms without bursting out laughing. Carol herself is laughing all the way to the bank, since her business is highly profitable. Her problem, which we would all love to have, is that her business generates a lot of cash. This is a problem because, according to federal law, marijuana is still a class-one drug, which causes banks to be very hesitant to allow a dispensary to open a bank account; something to do with money laundering. This has left Carol to her own devices as to how to store this money; a task harder than it might seem.

This, of course, is where we, and the storage locker come into the story. Carol, apparently having watched too many episodes of Breaking Bad, thought it would be a great idea to store her money in a storage locker.

As Laura continued her narrative, I felt compelled to ask her, “Can you not see the possible serious drawbacks to Carol having a storage locker in our name?”

“Huh? What?” she responded, setting new standards for lack of foresight.

“Well, for instance,” I replied, “What if the IRS were to get wind of this money?”

“How would that happen?”

“Didn’t you say that Carol is now undergoing a very thorough IRS audit right now?”

“Yes.”

“It is not then, a strong possibility that they could discover this money and then get curious as to who might have ‘aided and abetted’ her in hiding this money, which I should casually mention is a federal crime.”

She responded with a concerned “Oh.”

If this discussion were a tennis match, I would now be leading by 5 to 0.

Smugly, I went on “That is only one of many downsides, can you see any upside to this situation?”

“Well, what if something, god forbid, were to happen to Carol. I would then be the only one with access to or knowledge of this money.”

I thought deeply for a moment, and then cleverly snapped back “Hmmmmmm…”

With that statement, it appeared to be game, set, match Laura, in a sudden come-from-behind victory.

Now, with my sympathies suddenly on the other team, I inquired about the sums that we might be discussing here.

“$700,000,” Carol replied matter-of-factly. “Well, it’s actually only $687,000 but I rounded off”.

After tending to the mouthful of coffee that I had just sprayed on my lap, I gasped, “She is going to leave THAT MUCH cash in a lousy storage locker? What about a safe deposit box?”

“She says a bank employee told her that would be illegal.”

“That doesn’t make ANY sense at all. First of all, people put cash and jewels and drugs and pretty much anything they want in safe deposit boxes, and second, how would anyone find out?”

“I don’t know, that’s just what she says.”

Being the former owner of a home security company, I then had to emotionally detach from the situation because it set off every alarm, so to speak, in my security-minded brain. If it was my money, I thought, and I was dumb enough to put it in a storage locker, I would at least have installed a cheap safe in the locker, and then bolted it to the ground. That way, any potential thief would have had to work long, hard and loud to get at the goodies, thereby at least partially earning his take. It was hard for me to imagine that kind of stash protected only by a lousy padlock, the likes of which used to take me just a few seconds to pick open, something I had done literally thousands of times when I was in the business. However, since this wasn’t my money, or business, I butted out.

“Well, at least there are security cameras at the storage units,” I offered, trying to be positive, “so that offers some level of security.”

“Oh no, she picked these units especially because they don’t have security cameras,” Laura informed me. “She doesn’t want anyone seeing her going in and out of the unit.”

Heaven help the little children, I thought. “Alrighty then, so good luck with that,” was the best I could offer.

What’s to follow here probably won’t surprise anyone, least of all me. What did surprise me however, was that I was the one who got the call on my cell phone. Not Laura, not Carol, but me.

“Is Laura Dover there?” the lady from the storage units asked.

“No, what is this regarding?” I asked, pretending I didn’t already know.

“We have an issue regarding her storage locker that needs to be dealt with immediately.”

“How did you get this number?”

“Oh it was put on the application when the storage locker was taken out.”

At this point I made a mental note to thank Laura for THAT.

When I informed Laura of the call, she immediately contacted the storage company and was told that the padlock appeared to have been pried off the storage unit, and that the storage unit was empty.

As I listened to the phone conversation, I felt like I was being sucked into a lost episode of I Love Lucy. One in which Lucy and Ethel were incompetent drug dealers.

The storage employee then asked Laura, “Is there a problem here?”

Making an effort to avoid the gag reflex, Laura informed her that we would get back to her on that. As she hung up the phone, I tried to point out the positive in the situation by saying, “Wow, I am sure glad it’s not MY job to tell Carol about this.” It didn’t seem to help.

In what seemed to me to be slightly early onset paranoia, Laura turned to me and only a little jokingly asked “It wasn’t you was it?” While I was impressed that I had amassed so much trust over the decades of our marriage, it didn’t really bother me, until she asked a second time.

“If it was me, do you think I would be able to hold back a grin while talking about it?” That seemed to reassure her.

“And how do we know it wasn’t you, miss prissy pants?” I asked just to return the favor of mistrust, knowing full well she won’t do that to a friend.

“It wasn’t me, but I’ll tell you this, if I had known that money was going to go to some sleazy scumbag burglar, I swear I would have taken it myself and donated it to an elephant sanctuary where it would have done some good.”

“Okay fine, but if I see an elephant wearing any bling then I will know what happened.”

Back to the reality of the situation, Laura, in her panic, was afraid that it might have been the IRS who took the money, and then tapped into everyone’s phone, including ours. I pointed out to her that if the IRS knew about and wanted that money they wouldn’t need to sneak around, they would simply show up and say, “Hello, we are from the IRS and we are taking your money now, good luck in getting it back from us, have a nice day.” I have seen them do this many times.

“They can do that?” Laura asked.

“Hey, they are the IRS, they are more powerful than magic underwear.”

Laura insisted I come with her to Carol’s house to tell her the news in person. I thought, oh well, since this all occurred under my phone number, I was already involved up to about my nipples anyway, I might as well finish it out.

Carol took the news amazingly well. If I didn’t know better, I would have suspected she had partaken of her own product, she was so calm, even though the loss represented the profits from the business for the last few years. If I had been in her position, I would probably have thrown out my knee trying to kick myself in my own rear end, but she took it as though it was just a minor irritation, like finding a fly at the bottom of the beer you just drank. Of course having a few million dollars in net worth left over after such an incident helped to cushion the blow for Carol, so it wasn’t as if the loss of this money was going to put her out on the street, but still, I thought she showed great composure. Of course after we left, she probably kicked her cat and threw a few of her appliances out the window, but I wouldn’t have blamed her.

After informing Carol of the news, the three of us then discussed what might be done about the situation. Carol’s first reaction, of course, was to just go ahead and file a police report. I pointed out that yes, that was her best chance of possibly recovering at least some of the money, but that she should be prepared for a great deal of scrutiny, since the local news reporters, who scoured the police blotters everyday, were not going to let this type of incident slip by without giving it headline news treatment in the local papers. After some thought, Carol opted against the police report, but that meant it was up to us to catch the culprit.

We bandied about all the many options available to us such as attaching a GPS tracker to the cars of all the collective employees as well as the employees of the storage facilities, hiring a private eye and so on, but none of them seemed practical because, even if we found a plausible suspect, then what? How would we collect from this very possibly dangerous individual? Hire a mafioso to do the job? It was all beginning to sound like a bad detective novel.

So we did nothing, and the trail is now cold and the deal is done. There must be some kind of moral to this story: Get a cast iron, two thousand pound piggy bank? Always launder your drug profits into a Swiss bank account? Anyway, let that be some kind of lesson to you. TC mark

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