The Navigator: New Excerpt

The Navigator by Michael PocalykoThe Navigator by Michael Pocalyko is a financial thriller that wends from Nazi Germany all the way to modern-day Wall Street (available June 11, 2013).

On the darkest night of 1945, a 20-year-old B-24 navigator assists in the liberation of a German concentration camp. His haunting trauma is prologue to destiny.

Flash forward to present-day Manhattan. Warren Hunter, reigning master of the financial universe, is poised to close the world’s first trillion dollar deal. ViroSat is the Street’s biggest-ever technology play—an entirely new worldwide communication system. It will catapult his investment bank and the global economy into a bright future . . . if the deal goes through.

In Washington, ViroSat captures the attention of Senate political aide Julia Toussaint. Meanwhile, battered tech start-up veteran Rick Yeager has just landed his dream job at a mysterious but well-connected financial firm whose partners want a piece of the action.

Warren, Julia, and Rick are caught in a web of intrigue, money, power, and dangerous secrets. Coincidences are not what they seem as the past collides with the present in a way that will change their lives forever.
 

Prologue

April 1945
As darkness edged the empty dawn, the navigator inhaled violently. The Lucky Strike stub burned both his thumb and his lip. He chased the cigarette smoke with a shallow gulp of thick air then held his breath tenta­tively. The nicotine swirling in his lungs provided no relief. He flicked the tiny butt with a hrsssp into the thick mud at his feet. Nothing helped. The stench of death screamed, outshouting the senses. His head hammered hard. His heart raced in the comfortable tobacco rush as his stomach and bowels clenched in irregular spasms. Unable to hold the smoke in any longer, he exhaled and panted involuntarily, wishing for the hun­dredth time tonight that he could have stayed with the damn plane.

“Lieutenant?” The voice, kind and firm, called out to him. “Come on over  here.” It was the tall captain from air intelligence. “Stay with me. We have to talk to this Kraut. He may be what I’m looking for. He wants to say something. How about lending a hand? Can you make me under­stand him?” The navigator slogged through the rain-bred swamp. The mud, ankle-deep, stuck like paste to his flight boots. He approached the German soldier. Christ, he thought. How old can this one be? Sixteen? Seventeen? He studied the German intently. The young face was drained and quite pale, sweating despite the chill night mist. He had no facial hair except an uneven bristle of black stubble on his chin. A wild panic flushed in the boy’s eyes. It was the instinctual fear of a trapped animal.

The navigator himself was twenty, and he suddenly felt very old.

But he felt not one bit of sympathy for the German soldier. It was time to get in character. He braced. Striking quickly with both hands, he lunged and grabbed the young man roughly by the shoulders and neck, shouting and spitting the coarsest rage into his face. “Wer bist du? Who are you? Was machst du denn hier? What do you do here?” The Ameri­can’s swift and perfectly accentless Hochdeutsch German using the fa­miliar form took the young man quite off guard—its precise intended effect. The soldier sputtered and began to speak rapidly.

I have been in the camp less than three weeks and have never had the disposal duties. Never. Nimmer. They did not let me there.The young man made his assertions with an imminent fear of death, providing the purest distillation of truth. So they called it the “disposal duties.” That was the term he used for the operation—die Verfügungschuldigkeiten. The navi­gator had to think about the unusual word for a moment. I am a perim­eter guard. That is all I am. I am begging to make you understand. I am only a man with a sense of loyalty. I have the strength of duty to my family and to the country of my fathers. I have never met Americans before, but naturally you must understand my position. Look at me. I have no control over what goes on here.

The German soldier spoke on, babbling in a distinctive Schwarz­walder accent, wavering on the brink of tears. His voice, deliberately or not, conveyed increasing urgency pleading conviction. But the navigator was hearing less and less of what the boy said. He was finding it terribly hard to concentrate. The stench was simply too distracting, painted thick on the inner walls of his skull. He could taste it, feel it dripping down the back of his throat. The burnt hair and fat, the putrid flesh, the thick air fetid with thousands of human remains in their many strata of destruc­tion and decay. They  were forgotten souls in a forbidding place. The navigator took several shallow breaths. I am choking  here, he thought. So this is how the war ends. I would never have believed it.

“Nothing here, Captain,” he told the officer from air intelligence. “This is just one more of them who never had anything at all to do with this.” His sarcasm rang flat. There was no longer any contempt left in his voice. No matter who he questioned the theme never varied. He was by now well beyond disgust. The navigator felt a heavy tightening in his chest, a thick knot clenching below his sternum. A wave of heat flushed his ears as his body reacted with more unfamiliar mechanics. He began to wonder if he could take much more.

“Thanks,” the tall man replied. “But don’t get too far away from me, okay? I’m still looking for something. I need you to talk to them.” The navigator understood. It was why he was ordered  here in the first place, yanked out of his regular B-24 crew from the stand-down in England.

The native German language ability that he possessed came courtesy of his immigrant father, who called it ein Geschenk: a gift. The naviga­tor’s German was an enablement of beauty and value that had come from a place abandoned shortly after the Great War. This night was the homecoming of an American-born son of the Fatherland. Before today the navigator had passionately hated the Nazis. But it was all done from a distance and through an iron bombsight. He used to despise them for everything they had done to his father’s home—a thought he allowed himself with every weapons release over Köln, Bremerhaven, Dresden, and Berlin. But in this moment he hated all Germans. He even hated himself.

“It’s so much easier when we do it to them from the air,” the captain stated with sincere gravity. “We never have to see the killing we do. It’s cleaner. Nicer. Technical. Not like this. Fucking unbelievable.” The navigator shook his head slowly. He tried very hard not to breathe. De­spite the captain’s instructions, he moved away.

No, it  wasn’t like this. Nothing was ever like this.

As he walked, he continued to feel dizzyingly ill, more lightheaded, but he was managing. He was already quite numb to the sights—a reality darker than his imagination would dare. The carnage without blood. The genderless nude bodies stacked with neat precision at the base of the piles, then strewn haphazardly toward the top as the British infantry forces had advanced and the death camp’s liberation inched nearer. The thick bile liquefied and mixed into the mud at his feet. And all around him, there they  were: the standing, breathing dead, grateful skeletons of thin opal-gray skin draped over atrophied muscles. The navigator wondered if they might envy those who had died. And then there was the other most disquieting image he saw everywhere he turned—the faces of the Englishmen and the other Americans, flattened beyond be­lief in frozen stares that must, he recognized, exactly mirror his own.

Rounding the corner of a barracks, the navigator noticed the first dull sunlight brighten the eastern sky. This was usually his favorite time to fly. He stopped short of the air intelligence captain, who was deep in conversation with two German officers. One of them gestured, attempting to communicate energetically in shards of broken English. He watched and strained to listen, comprehending only part of what the German said. A mute crowd of prisoners, all of them men with deep sunken eyes of unlit rage, gathered.

“Shoes! All shoes, ja,” said one of the German officers to the captain, who watched the slowly advancing crowd. The captain was silent and could not understand.

Juden,” said the navigator, enunciating clearly. Both Germans turned toward him and nodded. “Jews, Captain, not shoes. He’s trying to tell you that these prisoners are all Jewish.”

So there it was. The stories  were true.

The tall American was no longer listening. Now intent on the prison­ers, the captain walked into the small crowd and began to study each man’s face, one at a time, moving slowly, occasionally glancing back at the Germans. He was searching.

In the new dim sunlight, all of the faces looked alike to the navigator. The two German officers stopped talking and also watched the captain among the prisoners. The air intelligence man took his time. For his part, the navigator wanted desperately to light a smoke again, but he could not bring himself to move. In the center of the crowd, the captain leaned over a prisoner. Their conversation became a lengthy exchange which the navigator could not hear no matter how hard he tried. Then gently, courteously, the captain took the man by the arm and led him from the group to where the navigator stood beside the German officers.

The prisoner’s clothing hung on him loosely. A dull gray threadbare tunic full of holes. Ragged black trousers. One pant leg was cut off above the knee exposing a thigh rotten with filth and sores. The prisoner was barefoot and bare headed, his scalp and heavy beard shaved in uneven cuts. He could be twenty-five or he could be fifty, the navigator thought. Who could tell? The air intelligence officer whispered to him once more and the man nodded. Wordlessly, the captain unhooked the holster of his service revolver and withdrew it, turning it around to hand to the prisoner. The navigator froze in panic and disbelief as the man calmly took the weapon and cocked it, lowering the gun and pointing it at the chest of the nearest German officer. Suddenly, the prisoner became a man transformed. The navigator saw in that sallow face the instant serenity of total control. His mind raced with the realization that he had better un­holster his own pistol right now.

He was fumbling for his .45 when the first shot cracked into the near­est German officer’s chest. The prisoner followed the man’s collapse to the ground with the gun barrel, firing his second shot even before the German had finished falling. There was almost no pause before the third round, which hit the other German officer in the side of the head, instantly obliterating most of his skull. Now the navigator had his weapon drawn—a gun that he had carried on bombing runs for two years, but which he had never fired in anger. In the distance, he could hear soldiers running through the mud and shouting, trying to discern where among the many rows of barracks the shots had come from.

The prisoner fired a fourth time, into the trunk of the second Ger­man officer. The navigator kept his eyes fixed on the man. He was terri­fied, stock-still, unsure how to act. The prisoner’s next move made the decision for him. Carefully, the pistol turned directly toward the naviga­tor and for a fifth time the prisoner took aim.

The navigator was never exactly sure what happened next.

He had a sensation—that was all it was—that he had lived. He never knew how many shots he fired or where they hit. Prisoners crowded about. Many American soldiers appeared and converged. Men stood over him, armed statuary arrested in place. There were wide stares, orders barked with cracking voices, cries of disbelief. Permeating everything was the smell. The navigator’s last conscious memory from the camp—and from the war—was of the blooming sunrise. When the medics finally arrived they found him sobbing loudly and incoherently, sitting cross-legged in the thick mud and rocking rapidly back and forth, his  whole mind and what little was left of his soul thoroughly shattered.

Chapter 1

The tenth-floor offices of Carneccio & Dice LLC  were in an aggravated state of disarray when the elevator opened into the firm’s usually well-appointed reception area. This morning about a dozen workmen from the construction trades stood around being busily unoccupied. Most  were wearing coveralls and grubby clothing. With them  were a few building engineers distinguished by their short-sleeve polyester shirts and loosely knotted neckties. Some looked impatient. Others  were just plain bored. To one side, hunkered behind her circular desk, a single harried recep­tionist eyed them warily.

People who did business with Carneccio & Dice—and even some of the seventeen partners, associates, and employees who worked there— were not entirely sure precisely how to categorize the firm. Occupying the top floor of Class A office space in a building on 19th Street North­west, a few blocks from Washington, DC’s K Street power corridor, it wasn’t exactly a venture capital firm, a corporate financial advisor, a gov­ernment marketing advisory firm, or a personal asset management firm. But it would admit to being partly all of these. Mostly what the company did was move money. For the large part, it was OPM: other people’s money, scads of it, fueling private deals of all kinds. The firm’s prosperity was a legacy of the post-9/11 homeland security business boom, now a distant memory of glory days before the big recession, but still roaring as far as the dealmakers at Carneccio & Dice were concerned. As Washing­ton business languished, a few spots flourished in the desperation to seed economic recovery. This place was an anomaly, and a good one. The people who circulated through  here were flush with cash. If they wanted more of it, and of course they all did, a firm like this would be pleased to accommodate them.

There was only one man on the elevator. Slim, fair, his sandy hair just beginning to thin, he was impeccably groomed in a new blue Ermene­gildo Zegna suit and knotted Hermès silk tie. Rick Yeager was just hand­some enough to get himself noticed in an executive suite. He scanned the scene quickly, approving the appearance of the office. He was enter­ing a firm doing exceptionally well. He liked the corporate image: build­ing, growth, renewal. Stepping from the elevator into what was obviously soon to be chaos, he paused at the display of three easels holding archi­tectural drawings of the new office design. It was an aggressive expan­sion of which he was personally a part, beginning today.

There is a moment in every man’s life when he becomes conscious, in varying degrees depending on the individual, that he really has arrived. At the age of forty-one, Richard Montgomery Yeager was convinced that he had now found his moment. For the past couple of weeks, Rick had fantasy-practiced this day of arrival at Carneccio & Dice. Prior to today, the firm had never brought aboard a new partner as a direct hire. He carefully pre-considered the message he should convey. Confidence and competence, professional reserve and near distance, the light touch of a heavy hand. None of these traits came naturally to him, but he knew how to project an image. In response, what he expected  were a few def­erential young associates being courteous to a fault. Maybe there would be a hint of gently flirtatious flattery from the women on the clerical staff. He could handle that.

What he got  were the suspicious stares of the assembled construction workers, all of whom seemed precisely to record his arrival. He made his way to the receptionist, who smiled and greeted him by name.

“Mr. Yeager, it’s so good to see you. The very first thing I was told this morning was to expect you in today.” Rick vaguely remembered meeting the woman. “I’m sorry about all the confusion. Didn’t they tell you? July first,” she said, waving the back of her hand at the room as if the date ex­plained the lounging construction crew. “It’s the new fiscal year. Today’s the day they start to take us apart.”

“Thanks,” he replied. “I knew that. Lois Carneccio called me this weekend. She told me to plan on attending her first meeting this morning.”

He turned to glare pointedly at one of the workmen who was listening with great interest and no attempt at discretion. Unaffected, the man gazed right back. So much, Rick conceded to himself, for the confidence and the heavy hand.

The receptionist nodded. “Except right now, she and Mr. Dice are tied up with some men who aren’t on the calendar. I don’t know who they are. And your client is waiting.”

“My client?”

“She’s a rather sweet older woman. I like her. I asked her to wait in the small conference room—that’s the second door over there. She didn’t want to give me her name, but she told me that the two of you  were friends and that you always handled her accounts personally.”

Rick Yeager glanced at his watch: 8:40 a.m. From that description, he thought, the client could be anyone.

“Even for private finance,” Lois Carneccio commented over a Cobb salad in the wood-paneled Taft Dining Room at Washington’s celebrated University Club, “you’ve had one hell of an eclectic career.”

“I don’t deny that it’s been kind of a wild  ride.”

“And not at all linear.”

“When you called, you told me that  wasn’t a problem. You said that my background is attractive to you . . . ?”

“Absolutely. Who you are makes you all the more valuable to this firm, especially the way  we’ve built it. Rick, in my firm we embody the entrepreneurial spirit. Carneccio & Dice seeks out exactly the qualities that you possess. Our clients will relate to your career more than you can imagine. You’ve got to trust me on this.”

Rick Yeager began that career in the finance departments of two in­formation technology firms, federal systems contractors. He subsequently worked with varying degrees of success and occasional failure in a com­mercial bank financing federal government contracts; in a small-fund private equity firm backing information technology plays; in distressed debt lending; and then made a foray into commercial real estate devel­opment before the day he started his own company. Terrific timing. Just before the financial crisis. RMY Personal Financial Inc. was headquar­tered in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River.

“I’ll have to close my firm.”

“Rick, to be blunt, you ought to. At—what is it? RMY?—what you’ve got is comfort, pitifully low risk, and small reward. You may make what you think is a nice living, but frankly you’re just chugging along. You’ll never get any respect from the financial big leagues. You won’t even come close. We can fold your company and your clients into ours. I’ll make it painless. Joining us is the one best way you can overcome your background. Use your advantages and your strengths. With us it  doesn’t matter where you worked or where you went to business school. All I care about is how goddamn much you deliver, and I  wouldn’t have invited you  here today if I  wasn’t convinced that you can.”

As Rick Yeager now dipped his toes into the waters of middle age, it was getting harder than ever to overcome majoring in fraternity at Wash­ington and Lee and then copping a “distance learning” Internet MBA from a school that he had never visited—one that advertised prominently in Google’s sponsored links as “accredited in California.”

“The Wall Street boys”—Lois Carneccio practically spit out the words as she continued—“care only about your damn pedigree even when they say they don’t. Especially when they say they don’t. People like us, Rick, we’re the mutts of finance. And we scare the shit out of the big dogs. I know I’ve come to terms with it. For me it’s about the money.”

Rick Yeager always hoped and assumed that someday he would catch this one good break. The only part that surprised him was that it came from Lois Carneccio, whom he barely knew.

“And I got your attention,” he said.

“You did. Rick, you can do something I  can’t. You have a way of mak­ing people connect with you and trust you. It’s a remarkable skill. Be glad that you work in investments and you’re not a con man. Although there are days when I swear I don’t know what the difference is between those two. I know what you can do. Now I intend to put you in touch with people who are a hell of a lot more wealthy.” Lois Carneccio put down her salad fork and tossed back the remaining half of a Grey Goose martini, her second of this lunch. Her reputation for aggressive risk-taking was widely known. She had a knack for bringing in the hot play­ers, no matter where they came from. Provided, of course, they could deliver. Rick Yeager was sure that he could, now that he was moving up to the kind of firm where he belonged all along.

Stepping over some tarpaulins, careful not to bump the fine art prints piled haphazardly near the reception desk, he made his way to the small conference room, site of his first two interviews at Carneccio & Dice. There, demure and dwarfed by the large round conference table, sat a small woman of somewhat more than eighty very well preserved years. Impeccably groomed and perhaps overdressed for a sweltering Washing­ton July, she was visibly uneasy. Her snow-white hair was pulled back into a small bun. She watched through gold-rimmed glasses as Rick Yeager entered and recognized her.

“Mrs. Geller,” he said. The old woman brightened visibly and nodded at the mention of her name. Rick was excellent at remembering names and faces. You had to be if you  were in the personal asset management business. Hannah Weiss Geller. Net worth exclusive of her  house in north Arlington—owned clear—possibly $155,000, most of which had been invested by Rick in the past three years. Pocket change, consider­ing where he was headed now. Yet he was incapable of any discourtesy to a paying client, no matter how small the opportunity. One never knew. “How are you, my dear?”

“I’m fine and I’m impressed,” she answered truthfully. “This is an ex­tremely nice office you have now.” RMY Personal Financial had store­front offices in a forty-year-old strip mall in Arlington. Mrs. Geller had been a walk-in.

“Well, it’s hardly mine.  Here I’m just one of the hired help.” Yeager tried out a bit of self-deprecating humor, which was a new style he had been considering. “How did you know where to find me?” he asked as he took a seat next to Hannah Geller at the conference table. “I haven’t even started work here yet, officially.”

“Your new company wrote to me,” she explained, reaching into her purse to produce a letter, which she unfolded and handed to Yeager.

“And  here you are on my first day.”

“Should I have made an appointment?” The old woman acted sud­denly chagrined.

Rick saw that her chagrin was feigned. He smiled. “No, don’t think about it. You know that I’m always delighted to see you.” He leaned for­ward, conspiratorially, squinting slightly. “And when is it ever wrong to bring in clients? So what can I do for you? Can I help you with some­thing?”

“Richard,” she said, “it’s time. We haven’t talked about this, because I have resisted the matter for quite a long while. But now it’s very appar­ent to me that I should place some priority on planning my estate. I do have a will, but there is a very serious financial matter that I have to at­tend to. For several reasons no one but you is appropriate to that task.” Hannah Geller still spoke with the thinnest hint of some European ac­cent, from where exactly Rick Yeager had never ascertained.

“I’m flattered,” Yeager said. “Is your health—”

“No, nothing particu lar,” she said, anticipating his question. “It’s my age that is finally getting my attention. I’m slowing down more than I want to. It’s harder for me to see, and it’s harder to get around, you know.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Yeager said, and he genuinely was. This would be very routine, he thought. What could be simpler? Conver­sion to liquid instruments, a pitifully small commission, maybe some billable time. Not the strongest start out of the blocks at Carneccio & Dice.

“I don’t even drive anymore, Richard. Now I take the bus. I anticipate that in the next year I’ll sell the  house and the car and relocate. I’ll want to stay  here in the area of course, but I do need to get some personal fi­nancial holdings in order.” She hesitated, pointing to the letter with the C&D letterhead. “This is good. I was pleased to see that you have access to the resources of a larger firm now. I am going to need a great deal of assistance with something which will become im mensely complicated. And I will need to trust you much more than was necessary in our pro­fessional relationship up until now.”

Rick nodded. It was not uncommon for older clients to believe that their estates  were unbearably complex. This was not the first time that Hannah Geller had shown a tendency for overstatement.

“I’ll help,” he said. “But we’ll need to find a time to meet in a few days, after I’m settled in  here.” He began to think of a way to extricate himself gently from this conversation, aware that he was due to meet with his new senior partners just about now.

As he stood, the commotion in the hall began with two loud crashes. Doors slammed hard against non-load-bearing walls. The thud of heavy running surrounded the conference room. Muffled shouts quickly fol­lowed, then the sound of women shrieking in genuine panic. Rick made his way quickly to the door, which was slightly ajar. As he reached for the handle, it came bursting toward him with a swift kick. He found himself face-to-face with four members of the construction crew, all with pistols drawn and held with both hands in combat shooting stance. Two of the crew trained their weapons directly at him. All four of them shouted in clear voices.

“Move! Move! Turn around! Hands behind your head, fingers inter­laced! Do it! Move!” He had no time for rational thought as he was grabbed, pushed, manhandled, and spun about to face a thoroughly shocked Mrs. Geller. One of the construction men pushed Rick forward roughly, bending him at the waist over the conference table. Another punched him with a closed fist to the middle of his back, low between the shoulder blades, while kicking his feet apart and jamming his stomach into the table’s edge. He was still attempting unsuccessfully to interlace his fingers behind his head as the men grabbed both of his wrists and twisted. The four of them all seemed to swarm on top of him at the same time. He was immobile, his face pressed hard into the top of the conference table.

“Tell me your name!” one of the men ordered.

“Richard Yeager.”

“Do you work  here, Richard Yeager?”

“Yes, but—”

“That’s all I need. Mr. Yeager, we are special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” The man held up to Rick’s face a small rectan­gular leather badge holder strung from a dog tag chain around his neck. “Pursuant to warrants issued yesterday in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, you are under arrest.”

Copyright ©2013 Michael Pocalyko

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Michael Pocalyko is CEO of Monticello Capital, a boutique investment bank.  He’s been a combat aviator, Navy commander, political candidate, venture capitalist, and global corporate chair.  He has degrees from Muhlenberg, Harvard, and Wharton, and lives in northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.

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