Cream City Hustle. A Personal Finance Thriller. Available at Amazon
A listing of released installments can be found at the end of each installment
Startled awake by the blare of his alarm clock, Marcus rolled over and smacked the snooze button. Seven minutes later, although he wanted to hit snooze again, he hit the off button instead. Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he sat up and let out a soft chuckle. If he didn’t know any better, he’d swear he just had a Groundhog Day moment. The last few minutes seemed eerily familiar to yesterday morning. It was déjà vu all over again. Throwing his feet to the floor, he headed to the kitchen, stretching and yawning all the way. Yep, just like yesterday.
Today however, he was taking a day off from running. Instead, he turned on the television, flipping the channels until he got to Bloomberg TV. The financial news channel would serve as adequate background noise while he made his smoothie and got ready for work. First however, some push-ups and sit-ups. One hundred and fifty each, six sets of twenty-five, should do it.
Finishing up with the chest, triceps and ab work, Marcus sprang to his feet and washed his hands. As he threw some frozen blueberries into the blender, followed by a banana, a little Greek yogurt and a couple of apples, he listened in as one of the regular talking heads prognosticated about the market:
“If you look at history, the bull markets do not end when the Fed starts raising interest rates. Bull markets could go on for another nine months to two years. Maybe it will be March or April instead of June or July. That should not matter at all, in terms of the big picture. The bull market is definitely not over. I still think the bull is taking control of this market. I don’t think he’s going to give up.”
“What?” he asked incredulously to the empty room. Just a couple of days ago, another well respected, presumably knowledgeable investor, had literally guaranteed that the Bull Run was over and we were at the beginning of an extended Bear market. Well, one of them was going to be wrong. But of course, these would be Nostradamuses always offered a caveat, just enough room to wiggle out of any predictions. Ha, who could believe any of them?
With more time today, Marcus adopted a leisurely pace as he got ready. After enjoying his smoothie he set about preparing his coffee. The first order of business was to fill the maker with four cups of cold, charcoal-filtered water. Next, two heaping scoops of Yuban Organic Medium Roast, his current favorite. Turning the coffee pot on, he grabbed his mug adding one teaspoon of sugar and one tablespoon of heavy whipping cream. It was the routine he performed every morning when he had time. Soon the intense aroma of plum blossom and black currant began to waft throughout the apartment.
Once the coffee was finished brewing he poured the black liquid into his favorite mug and watched as it morphed into a caramel colored nectar. Reaching for the remote, he changed the channel to CNBC to see what was going on over there. Apparently a panel was in the middle of a conversation with the President of Investment Strategies for a financial services company about geopolitical risks and the impacts to stock markets:
Host: “Describe the relationship between geopolitical risks and the stock market.”
Guest: “The stock market often trades very well during crises. While crises such as Brexit and ongoing tensions such as the war on terror do inject some anxiety, the market seems able to absorb the often bad news. Right now the NASDAQ is trading at a historically modest valuation and at the same time, the economy in the United States appears to be picking up a little steam. Perhaps more importantly, the auto manufacturers are rising. The improvements in the overall fundamentals seem to offset these short-term geopolitical stressors.”
On and on the TV droned. Finishing up his coffee, he turned off the TV and laced up his shoes. Ten minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive, he grabbed his backpack, wallet and keys and slipped out the door. The start to his workday got off to a promising start as the bus was right on time and he made it to work with 12 minutes to spare.
Looking around as he stepped through the door, he didn’t see Vanessa. That was odd as it seemed like she was always here and always out on the floor or in the kitchen. In fact, now that he thought about it, he couldn’t remember the last time he didn’t see her at work. She was always here and he had never seen her take a break. Ever.
Taking off his coat, out of the corner of his eye he saw Antoine approaching him.
“I’m gonna need you to help me today,” Antoine said, almost pleadingly. “Vanessa called in sick about 40 minutes ago and we’ve got two trainees in house today.”
“Not a problem, we should be alright,” Marcus assured him as he headed back toward the kitchen. He had no idea how wrong he would be.
Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong, did. Neither of the crew members on the front counter could get it together, the trainees were getting in the way more than anything else – in fact, one ended up quitting later that day – one of the grills was not heating properly and to make matters worse, the breakfast crowd was larger than normal. You would have thought somebody told all these people free hash browns were being given away. And whereas the transition from the breakfast menu to the lunch menu went smoothly yesterday, that definitely was not the case today.
Just as people were trying to get in their last orders before 10:30, a fight broke out between two homeless dudes in the lobby area. Both reeked of alcohol and sweat; and were drunk as hell. Who the hell was that drunk at 10:30 in the morning? Marcus got them to settle down and separated by threatening to call the police and the promise of a complimentary cup of coffee. Three minutes later, Marcus delivered the coffee to the combatants, now seated on opposite sides of the restaurant.
At times it seemed like there were only three people, Marcus, Antoine and Trey – who was on the grill – holding it all together. Marcus did a little of everything during his shift: worked the front counter, worked the drive thru, packed orders, cleaned lobby tables, emptied garbage and broke up the fight. He was pretty sure that last part wasn’t in the job description. And poor Antoine, he was running around like a chicken with his head cut off. Marcus wondered if he was starting to regret accepting the promotion. Ultimately though, he held it together.
Just as the lunch rush got into full swing and he was preparing to make his exit, since his shift ended at 12:00, Antoine approached.
“Can you stay until 2:00, Marcus?” he asked, “although I think we’ve got things under control, you know how hectic it can be at lunch. I’d like to have someone with experience around just in case.” Although he really had no desire to stay and he had runs to make, he couldn’t say no to Antoine. He was a good brotha. Marcus knew he had two kids at the house and his wife was finding it hard to hold down a job. God knows the promotion, the pay raise that came with it and being successful as a shift leader is just what Antoine needed.
“Not a problem. Let me just take a quick break and get some fresh air.” As he headed out the door, he thought to himself, I’m really earning that $7.55 an hour today. Two minutes later he was out back checking his text messages and responding to some clients. It was going to be a long afternoon with the extra time being put in here, but he should still be able to take care of all that he needed to this afternoon.
Thankfully, the last two hours proved to be uneventful. Each crew member pulled their weight and the customers were quite civil. Finishing up his shift, he grabbed his backpack, headed to the bathroom and changed into some fresh clothes. Instead of going straight home, he had a few deliveries to make on the way, and he didn’t want to show up at client’s homes in his McDonald’s costume, smelling like a large order of fries or a chicken sandwich. Although he was a drug dealer, he didn’t want to look like one, particularly when visiting the homes of his clients. Moreover, he had no desire to draw any unnecessary attention to himself. Changed and cleaned up, he very much looked like any of the Marquette students walking around the area.
Just as he was preparing to leave, Estelle walked in. Although she didn’t stop by on a regular basis, it wasn’t unusual to see her here. She did visit the restaurant occasionally. In fact, this is where he first met her. That was about 9 – 10 months ago. They struck up a conversation, and in passing, she mentioned that she suffered from some lower back pain. Laughing slightly, she said a friend had jokingly suggested, or at least Estelle thought she might be joking a little, she try marijuana. They both had heard it often relieved the pain. Marcus had nodded his head and agreed that he had heard the same thing.
Two or three visits later, she mentioned trying marijuana again. However, she had no idea how to go about getting some. Wisconsin wasn’t like California or Oregon, where you could get medicinal marijuana with a doctor’s prescription. Marcus casually noted, “I know someone. I might be able to get a little for you, see if it helps.”
“Could you?” she asked. “Would you?” I wouldn’t want you to get into any kind of trouble.”
“It’s not a problem,” Marcus said. “You’re not an undercover agent or something are you?”
“Ha!” she laughed. “Just call me secret agent grandma.”
“I’m working tomorrow,” Marcus said. “If you stop by about this time, I should have something for you.” She did, and he did. That was how their relationship began.
As she was sitting down, Marcus told her to stay right there. He excused himself and was back in a few minutes with a fresh cup of coffee.
“Thank you, Marcus. A nice, hot cup of coffee is just what I needed.” They exchanged some small talk for about 10 minutes and then Marcus excused himself.
“Well, I have to get going, Estelle. My work is never done.”
“I know, dear,” she said. “Take care and we’ll talk soon.”
“Yes we will,” he said. With that, he made his exit.
I will be sharing a half chapter or so of my first personal finance thriller each Sunday. Check back on Sunday, July 3rd for the next installment.