Shakedown by Martin Bodenham is a financial thriller dealing with corruption and greed that stretches all the way to the White House (available November 13, 2017).
Damon Traynor leaves a glittering career on Wall Street to set up his own private equity business. When it is the winning bidder in the multi-billion dollar auction for a government-owned defense company, his firm’s future success looks certain.
But soon after the deal closes, Damon makes an alarming discovery—something that makes the recent acquisition worthless. Then, he learns he was duped by the financially-strapped federal administration and that there are many others in the same position. Facing financial ruin, he investigates the US Treasury officials behind the transaction.
What Damon uncovers is a terrifying web of organized crime—extending all the way to the White House itself—involving blackmail and assassination on an industrial scale. When those around him begin to die, Damon finds himself locked in a deadly battle with the leader of the free world.
I prayed my father was right that I could trust the man I was about to meet.
The law offices of Hennigar and Partners were located on Cambridge Parkway, overlooking the boats moored along Boston’s Charles River Basin. I found a spot on the road outside the building, fed the meter with quarters, and walked into reception. Compared to the mega-firms I was used to dealing with at work, the place was austere—no oversized vases of fresh flowers, no Nespresso coffee machine, no expensive artwork on the walls. This was a firm with a handle on its costs. It reminded me of Dad’s old practice where a large fee was measured in the low thousands, not millions.
The senior partner was a short man in his late fifties, almost bald on top, except for a wavy two-inch thatch of gray above his forehead. The suit he wore looked expensive, but the pants were far too tight, emphasizing his considerable paunch. The missing lower button on his outstretched shirt didn’t help much either. As long as I can trust him, nothing else matters, I thought.
“Doug Hennigar,” he said, offering me his outstretched hand.
“Damon Traynor,” I said, trying to smile. “My father speaks highly of you.”
“He’s very generous. Did he tell you I learned everything about the law from him?”
“He mentioned you worked together, yes.”
“If it wasn’t for your father,” Hennigar’s face filled with pride, and he circled the air with his finger, “none of this would’ve been possible. So when he called me yesterday, I said I’d be delighted to help his son out.” He pointed to the chair on the other side of his walnut desk. “Please take a seat.”
“Thanks for agreeing to see me at short notice.” I stared at the space behind him. A preserved blue marlin was screwed into the drywall.
Hennigar must have been watching for my reaction. “Caught that one in Hawaii a couple of years back.” His face lit up with the memory. “Sure put up a fight, I can tell you.”
“I’ve never tried it.”
“You should. It’s a lot of fun. They smoke it over there you know. Sort of enhances the flavor.”
“I’ll add it to my bucket list.”
An open box of cinnamon rolls was sitting on the credenza. He picked it up and held it in my direction. “Hungry?”
“No thanks, I’ve had breakfast.”
Hennigar laughed. “So have I, but these babies, well…” He devoured half of one in a single bite then wiped his fingers on a handkerchief. “Your father tells me you run a private equity firm here in Boston.”
“That’s right. I set up CCP last year, but that’s not why I’m here.”
“Then I assume this is a personal matter?” Another bite and the pastry was gone.
Hennigar looked at his fingers then licked the sugar off them. “What can I do for you?”
“I need you to keep something for me.”
“Sure. What is it?”
“A document. Something really important to me.”
“I’m guessing a will or some deeds, maybe?”
“No. Nothing like that. I can’t tell you what it is. Is that a problem?”
“Not at all. I was just curious. How long do you want me to keep it?”
“I don’t know yet.”
Hennigar tilted his head. “Okay.”
“I’m hoping one day, I’ll be able to come and collect it from you.” I leaned forward, reached into my briefcase to retrieve a sealed envelope, and slid it across the desk. The man in front of me had no idea of the risk I was taking. To say I was scared witless would be a massive understatement.
Hennigar pointed to the single word written in capital letters on the outside of the envelope. “What does ‘MYLOR’ mean?”
“It’s better you don’t know.”
He wrinkled his nose. “You said you hope to collect this someday.”
“So there’s a chance you won’t be back for it?”
“It’s possible. And if I don’t come back, there’s something I need you to do for me.”
“I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t you come—?”
“It means I will have been killed.”
Hennigar stopped reaching for another pastry and suddenly looked worried. “You have my attention.” He paused. “Are you in some sort of trouble, Damon?”
I ignored the question—I had no choice. To answer that one truthfully would take me all day, and he’d never agree to help me if he knew the kind of trouble I was in. “Look, if you hear of my death, I need you to open the envelope.”
“And do what exactly?” Hennigar’s tone was more cagey than concerned.
“Copy the contents and send them to every news channel and newspaper you can find.”
“Whoa.” He bolted upright in his chair. “I’d like to know what I’m getting into here.”
“It’s better that you don’t. Believe me.”
Seemingly lost for words, Hennigar rubbed his two chins with his left hand. “I hope this is nothing illegal?”
Another difficult question. What was inside the envelope pointed to a mountain of illegal activity, but none of it was mine. “I wouldn’t ask you to do anything like that.”
Hennigar looked unconvinced. “You know if it wasn’t for your father…”
“I get it and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your help.”
He exhaled loudly through his nose. “Forgive me, but how will I know you’re dead?”
“I’ll ask my father to contact you with the news.”
Hennigar put the lid down on the box of doughnuts and pushed it out of reach. “Do you think something will happen to you?”
“I hope not, but if it does, it’s really important you do this for me.”
Four months earlier
President Brad Halley retired at midnight and rose at four—the same hours he’d kept when he was a five-star general in the U.S. Army. Sleep was a waste of time. Now almost seventy, and still sporting a military crew cut, he looked a good ten years younger—a product of his strict vegetarian diet and daily exercise routine. After an early morning workout in the White House gym, he’d wade through his correspondence and make a few phone calls, both tasks he couldn’t stand. For Halley was a man who preferred face to face meetings where he could look the other person in the eye, weigh them up, and study their body language. Such meetings could be called any hour of the day or night, and members of his cabinet were expected to be available at all times. Those who needed more than four hours of sleep or simply couldn’t take the pressure didn’t last long in the Halley administration.
“Everyone is ready, sir,” said one of his personal assistants standing in the northeast door of the Oval Office, poking her head into the lion’s den.
President Halley looked up from the mountain of papers spread across the Resolute solid oak desk. “Everyone?”
“Yes, sir. I’ve double checked.”
He stood, took a moment to straighten his tie, and slipped on his jacket. He marched through to the adjoining Cabinet Room and took his seat at the middle of the long mahogany table, his back facing the French doors leading to the Rose Garden. The room, which moments earlier had been filled with a cacophony of voices, fell quiet.
Halley held a bunch of papers in his hand and waved them in the air. “I assume you’ve all read these?” he asked, working around the table, making eye contact and collecting the nods. “Then I’ll hand right over to Secretary Allen, who’s going to explain how we found ourselves in this shithole.” He glared at Allen, who licked his lips and swallowed. “Then we’ll discuss how we’re going to get out of it.” He jabbed his right index finger across the table toward Allen. “Go.”
Treasury Secretary Allen cleared his throat. “Thank you, Mr. President,” he said, his fingers revealing a slight tremble when he picked up his notes. A career civil servant in his mid-sixties, Allen was a gaunt, weedy-looking man with the pallor of someone badly in need of some sun. “I’d like to start by drawing your attention to page six.” He waited until his colleagues had turned to the relevant page and then cleared his throat again. “When this administration took over three years ago, we inherited a record level of debt. For every ten dollars of federal spending, five dollars had to be borrowed. I refer you to the tables on—”
Halley rolled his eyes before leaning forward onto his forearms. “In other words, our nation was living way beyond its means, and only at the expense of the generations who follow us,” he said, then pointed to Allen again.
“Thank you, Mr. President. Succinctly put, as usual.”
Halley tapped the ends of his fingers together. “Move on to the main issue, would you?”
“Of course, sir. Borrowing at those levels was unsustainable, which is why we had to raise taxes and slash government spending the moment we came into office. Even today, after all that pain, we still have to borrow three dollars for every ten we spend. That was sustainable while foreign nations were prepared to lend to us—”
“He means the Chinese,” Halley said. “There’s no one else out there with a big enough checkbook.”
At the far end of the table, the attorney general laughed, but soon stopped when Halley’s face made it clear he wasn’t joking.
“Yes, the Chinese,” Allen said before looking down at his notes. “They’ve bought over ninety percent of all U.S. Treasury bills sold to foreign nations in the last decade.” He looked up. “Trouble is, three weeks ago, they stopped buying them. They completely shut off the tap.”
“One day they were lending to us.” Halley clicked his fingers. “The next, nothing. It’s a belligerent, calculated move,” he said, chopping the side of his right hand into his left palm with each word.
“They say there’s better value in European government debt,” Allen said.
“I know what they’re saying, but it’s complete bullshit. Most of Europe is broke. Look at the state of Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain. I could go on. You’re telling me they’d rather lend to that lot?”
Some cabinet members shook their heads in disbelief, while others held their heads in their hands—anything to demonstrate to their boss they were listening and taking this as seriously as he was.
“If we continue as we are, unable to borrow, this country will default on its obligations within months,” Allen said. “All of our budget cuts will have been for nothing.”
“A few months,” said Halley, thumping the table with his right hand, “before this great nation is bankrupt. It’s economic warfare. The Chinese see our weakness and are intent on exploiting it. Well, we’re not taking it. I want you to understand one thing: this country is not going down on my watch. That will never happen.”
“Can we really cut expenditures any further?” the secretary of Defense asked, sitting right across the table from the president. “We’ve seen some social unrest already, but we’ve managed to keep a lid on it. Deeper cuts and there’ll be riots. It’ll make Greece look like a kids’ party.”
“We’d never see a second term,” the attorney general said, safe now that someone else had put his head above the parapet.
Halley banged the table again. “Have you heard anything we’ve said? This is not a debate. We don’t have that luxury.”
“All I was trying to say—”
“This morning, I instructed Secretary Allen to take another brutal look at expenditures, but even that’s not going to be enough. We have to do more,” Halley said. “Much more.”
“I can’t see how—” said the secretary of defense, before being chopped off at the knees by Halley’s icy stare.
“We need cash fast,” Halley continued. “I’ve already ordered Secretary Allen to investigate and action the sale of all government-owned assets. Nothing is sacred. I want that understood.” He paused a moment, taking the time to look at every member of the cabinet. “If we can sell it, then it goes on the block. No arguments. No special pleading. No excuses. The Chinese will soon get the message. When they see we’re not going over the cliff, they’ll come to their senses. In the long run, they need a relationship with this country if they want to keep our market for their goods. They know that as much as we do.”
The meeting lasted another hour. When Halley had wire-brushed every member of his cabinet, he brought it to a close. “Ladies and gentlemen, you know what we have to do. Our nation is in crisis, and it will not be solved by exercising our jaws in this room. An ounce of action is worth a ton of talk, so let’s get on with this.” He rose from the table and marched out.
Immediately afterward, Secretary Allen returned to his own office, closed the door, and picked up the phone. He punched in the number from memory.
“Patterson,” the voice at the other end of the line said.
“How’d it go?”
“As expected. The president spelled it out so everyone in the cabinet understood.”
“Do you think they really get this country is on the brink of financial disaster?”
“They do now.”
Patterson paused. “So, are you ready to do this?”
Allen hesitated, pinching his chin with the fingers of his left hand. “I think so.”
“You don’t seem certain.”
“I am. I can’t see another way out.”
“How much does Halley know about the plan?”
“Everything. I talked him through it before the meeting.”
“Better that way. We don’t want any misunderstanding.”
“And your man in Bethesda. Is he ready?”
“Mylor’s in good shape. He’s had a whole team laying the groundwork for weeks, just waiting on you and Halley to give the word.”
“He knows how to do this, right?”
“Mylor’s the best man I have. He’ll do whatever it takes to get it done, but we don’t have a lot of time.”
“Okay. Then start pressing the buttons—quickly.”
Allen replaced the receiver then stared at the reflection of his terror-filled face in the monitor of his PC.
USS Dean Franklin broke all records when it was launched two years earlier: the world’s largest naval vessel ever built at one hundred and eighty thousand tons, the fastest aircraft carrier with a maximum speed of fifty knots—propelled by eight nuclear powered steam turbines—and, when it overran its initial budget by thirty percent, the most expensive single piece of military hardware ever commissioned, at a final cost of eleven and a half billion dollars. The press called it a monstrous extravagance when the country was broke—proof positive that politicians should never be trusted with the nation’s checkbook. It didn’t matter that it had been ordered some twelve years earlier in another era when the U.S. ran a budget surplus.
In one of the officer cabins, Ben Mylor shook his head, scribbled another note in the margin and double underlined it. So far, he’d read fifty-two pages of the document in front of him and he’d written comments on every sheet, none of them positive. Since joining the carrier in Hawaii two days earlier, he’d reviewed six sale memoranda drafted by the team at DH&W, and none of them had made the mark. They’d all have to be rewritten. Why was it that the best investment banking brains in the country were unable to write in plain English? This is meant to be a selling document, not a damn technical manual, he thought, throwingthe papers onto his tiny bunk.
Someone knocked on the cabin door, breaking the constant background hum of the engines.
“Come,” Mylor said.
A young naval officer, in service dress blue, opened the door, letting in a rush of fresh air. “We’re ready for you now, sir.”
“At last. Another day on board this thing…” Mylor knocked over his coffee cup as he reached for his jacket hanging on the back of the chair. “How do you live in these cramped conditions?”
“Forget it. Let’s go.”
Mylor followed the lieutenant along the officers’ cabin deck then up three flights of metal steps before reaching the bridge. There, he walked into a sea of blue uniforms crowded around the main Sperry Marine control panel.
“Mr. Mylor, everything’s ready. Just waiting on your order,” the captain said, emerging from the huddle, his face glowing with pride.
“Where are we exactly?” Mylor asked, rubbing his eyes as they adjusted to the increased light level on the bridge. He slipped on his sunglasses.
“Thirteen hundred miles northwest of Honolulu,” the captain said, handing over a pair of binoculars. He pointed toward the horizon. “I suggest you focus on that buoy.”
Mylor removed his sunglasses, focused the left lens first and then the right. “Got it. How far is that?”
“Fifteen hundred yards.”
“And the sub is on the other side of the buoy, right?”
“That’s right. An LA class operating sixty yards below the surface. Are we clear to continue?”
“Just a moment.” Mylor lowered the binoculars and turned to the three-man camera crew at the back of the bridge. Two of them held shoulder-mounted Sony camcorders. “Are you guys set?”
“Ready when you are, sir,” the one without a camera said. He was in charge and directing the filming.
“Don’t screw this up. We’ll only have one take.”
All three nodded.
“Go ahead, Captain,” Mylor said.
The captain turned to the radio operator. “Launch the birds.”
“Flight deck, you are clear to go,” the operator said, leaning into his microphone.
Mylor looked down at the steel runway some fifty feet beneath them. For the first time in days, he could hardly hear the background noise of the ship’s propulsion units in the cocooned environment of the bridge. The peace would not last long, though. Soon two Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets moved into the middle of the metal runway. The bridge’s floor vibrated with the deafening roar of their Pratt & Whitney engines as the aircraft accelerated for takeoff. Moments later, they were in the air, and Mylor raised the binoculars to his eyes to track their progress.
The captain glanced at the control panel in front of him. “Proceed.”
“Yes, sir,” the radio operator said, turning again toward the microphone. “Predator, this is Falcon. Do you copy, over?”
A crackle came over the bridge speaker system then, “This is Predator. Copy, over.”
“Predator, you are clear to proceed, over.”
“Copy that, over.”
Mylor looked over his shoulder at the camera crew and jabbed his right index finger at the spot near the window where he wanted them to stand. The three men shuffled closer to the glass. “Don’t move from there until I tell you,” he said.
The captain raised his head toward the digital clock above the control panel before looking at the radio operator. “Thirty seconds. Wait for my further command.”
“Sir,” said the radio operator, nodding.
Mylor focused on the buoy again. Some two thousand yards away, behind the buoy, a small wave appeared. He adjusted the lenses to bring the wave closer. The tip of a ballistic missile emerged from the water, like a blue whale coming up for air. Mylor smiled as he fine-tuned the focus. The missile glided out of the water and appeared to hover in midair before accelerating. He tracked its flight path climbing above the horizon.
“Target two is now airborne,” said the captain, his eyes locked onto the screen in front of him.
Mylor lowered the binoculars to water level. A second missile floated above the surface of the ocean. He took the binoculars away for a moment so he could see the two missiles in flight at the same time.
“Commence procedure,” said the captain to the radio operator.
“Eagle, this is Falcon. You are clear to go. Copy, over.”
“This is Eagle. Copy that, over.”
“Eyes to the sky,” the captain said.
Everyone on the bridge raised their heads. The missiles climbed further into the bright sky. Mylor narrowed his eyes then slipped his sunglasses back on. A single bright flash came first, followed by an explosion of reds and whites shooting across the sky like a giant firework then, a few seconds after, a deep booming sound. Moments later, the process repeated and both missiles were gone. White smoke trails doodled across the blue sky before drifting toward the ocean.
The captain stood over the radio controls and leaned toward the microphone. “Great work, everyone. Predator, you are clear to go, over.”
“Our pleasure, Falcon. Good working with you, over,” the submarine commander said.
Mylor ignored the chatter between the senior naval officers and walked over to the camera crew. “Did you get it all?” he asked.
“Every moment, sir,” the film director said. “Incredible how accurate that laser is. Where is that controlled from?”
Mylor ignored the question. “Make sure I receive the edited version by Friday. My people will do the voiceover.” He nodded to the captain and returned to his cabin to continue reviewing the documents.
Three days later Mylor was back at his office in Bethesda, Maryland. The first call he made on his secure line was to George Patterson, Director of National Intelligence, who as an ex-military man, had seen active service under, then General, Halley.
“How was it?” Patterson asked.
“Like clockwork,” Mylor said. “I’ve seen the first cut of the video and even I’m impressed.”
“Good. Who are you targeting with this one?”
“CCP in Boston.”
“The same guys about to win the airports auction?”
“Yeah. The airport deal is the bait.”
“That’s clever. I like it.”
Mylor laughed. “I thought you would.”
“You’re certain they’re good for the money? The laser system is a much larger transaction altogether.”
“We’ve checked them out. They’ve got plenty in their new fund.”
“Where are we on the others?”
“Eight deals already in place, including this one. Five almost there.”
“And they’re all being fronted by DH&W?”
“As we agreed. Orlando Barrett is heading it up over there.”
“Okay, press ahead with the eight and keep me up to speed on the others.”
“You got it.”
“How quickly can you extend this to the wider list?”
“I already have my people working on them. A lot of the prep’s been done.” Mylor paused. “Maybe a month before—”
“We don’t have that much time.”
“Then I’ll step it up and report back on timescale.”
“Do you need more staff?”
“Not right now. I’ve just hired two more from Langley and I have a few more coming on board soon.”
“Be sure to let me know if you need more bodies. Nothing’s more important than this.”
“Halley knows this won’t be pretty, right?”
“Don’t worry. I’ve spoken to Allen. They all understand the consequences.”
“I sure hope so, because there’s no free ride on this one.”
It had just started to rain when my Town Car pulled up outside Saint Peter’s homeless shelter on Camden Street. I put my iPhone into silent mode then stepped out of the back of the vehicle. “I should only be a couple of hours,” I said, leaning on the driver’s door. “I’ll call you when the meeting’s over.”
“See you around four then, sir,” my driver said through his open window before tilting his head toward the building. “Watch yourself.”
I glanced over my shoulder. A tall man with long, matted hair stood propped against the railing at the shelter’s entrance. He was wearing a filthy trench coat, mumbling something, and shaking his head as though he was in the middle of an argument with himself. I smiled at my driver. “Don’t worry about him. I’ll be fine.”
When the car pulled away, I walked over to the disheveled man and put my arm around his shoulder. “Come on, Jarel,” I said, feeling his bony frame protruding through the fabric of his coat. “Let’s get you inside, out of this rain.”
Jarel flinched then his face lit up. “Mr. Traynor.” There was a strong smell of alcohol mixed with stale breath.
We entered the building, where I escorted Jarel down the corridor to the open door of the duty manager’s office. The manager looked up from her paperwork and stared over her reading glasses.
“I found Jarel waiting outside,” I said, hoping for a friendly response. “Let’s see if we can get him something to eat and some place to dry off.”
The manager frowned. “Jarel, you know the rules now, don’t you? No one gets to come in before six.”
Jarel rolled his eyes. “I guess I’ll wait outside.” He paused. “In the rain.”
“I think we can break the rules today, Talisha,” I said, reading from the plastic nameplate sitting at the front of the manager’s desk. “Just this once.”
She forced a smile, conceding defeat. “Well, seeing as you’re the chairman, Mr. Traynor, I guess we can make an exception today.”
“That’s right,” said the shelter director, approaching the doorway from behind me. “Let’s get Jarel something to eat.”
I turned, smiled and shook the director’s hand. “Good to see you. Are we all set for the board meeting?”
“Everyone’s here.” The director set off down the corridor. “Let’s go join them.”
I tapped Jarel on the back. “It was nice to see you again, Jarel. Talisha here will take good care of you.” I winked at her and joined the director, who was waiting for me outside the meeting room.
“You look tired, Damon,” the director said, opening the door for me.
I wasn’t offended. He was right. I’d been working all hours recently and, no doubt, it was beginning to show. “We have a lot going on at the moment. In fact, I’m sorry but there’s a chance I’ll get called away this afternoon.” I pointed to the duty manager’s office. “I hope you didn’t mind…”
“You realize Jarel will be back again tomorrow afternoon asking to come in early?”
“I know, but there was no way I could walk by and leave him standing out there in the rain. I didn’t mean to meddle.”
“Hey, you put up most of the money for this place. If you can’t break a few rules, then who can?”
I felt a twinge of embarrassment, hoping the director didn’t think I thought I could do whatever I wanted just because I’d financed the homeless shelter. While I was their main backer, the last thing I wanted was to interfere in operations. I’d always been uneasy with the amount of money people make in private equity. Just because I was good at numbers seemed a strange reason why the market paid me so much more than people who did more valuable work for society. Being able to use some of my money to help others gave me much more pleasure than spending it on toys and things that didn’t really matter. I decided to change the subject. “You know Jarel was a doctor when he was in the army?”
“I do.” The director shook his head. “They all have a story.”
“I’m sorry.” I raised both palms. “Don’t say it. I know I get too personally involved. I can’t help it.”
“There’s no need to apologize. Just wish there were a few more like you.”
An hour into the shelter’s board meeting, I felt my phone vibrate in my jacket pocket. When I took it out, there was a text message from my office: DH&W have promised a decision at four today. I made my apologies to the other members of the board for having to leave early, called my driver, and headed back to my office downtown.
Excerpted from SHAKEDOWN courtesy of Down & Out Books. Copyright (c) 2017 by Martin Bodenham. All Rights Reserved.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Martin Bodenham moved to the west coast of Canada, where he writes full-time, after a 30-year career in private equity and corporate finance. He held corporate finance partner positions at both KPMG and Ernst & Young as well as senior roles at a number of private equity firms before founding his own private equity company in 2001. Much of the tension in his thrillers is based on the greed and fear he witnessed first-hand while working in international finance. Martin is the author of two previously published novels, The Geneva Connection and Once a Killer, both of which will be reissued by Down & Out books in 2018.