Part 4 & Epilogue
by Yves Jaques
My Uncle is dead convinced. Having spent the afternoon in charming Charlotte, where I once again was forced to cancel an appointment Id hastily made with a Carolina lawyer before leaving Las Vegas, we are aboard the plane back to Vegas and to Foraker. My Uncles money is clearly burning a hole in his pocket. He can hardly wait to hand Billy his money and get on with the other part of his deal with U.S. Platinum Refinery, the purchase of the building in Switzerland for the purpose of re-minting the Marcos ingots. Work the mark into your deal, as Leff says. Make him feel like hes a player.
For myself, Im pretty muddled at this point. I had a momentary feeling that Foraker was legitimate, and that Id wronged him, but as I reflect on the plane back to Vegas, things just dont stack up. We havent seen the mans office, or warehouse, weve seen no equipment, no employees, no product. It stinks. But Im resigned to the fact that my Uncle is in a state of helplessness. Hes going to give Billy Jerry Foraker his money. As the plane wings over the Southern United States, I write out a set of amendments to the contract. Ill be damned If my beloved Uncle is going to lose all of his money.
I come up with a three pronged attack. One, insist on a purchase receipt and a bill of lading for the concentrates before Pierrot is required to dump Foraker a second $25,000. At least well know that Forakers bought the stuff, and shipped it across the country. Second, according to Foraker, he will then be able to begin actual refining. He had estimated in one of our conversations that he could come up with a fairly pure amalgam before running out of money on the second installment. He called the stuff doré gold. So the second amendment will call for the shipment to Pierrot of a quantity of this half-refined metal sufficient to act as surety for Pierrots third installment of $25,000.
This seems like a great idea. If Pierrot gets the doré bars and theyre garbage, he can withhold his third installment. So the worst case scenario is that Foraker puts out the money for the concentrates, knowing theyre worthless, and pays to have them shipped across the country. Fine, in that case my Uncle loses $50,000. But at least the hemorrhage stops there.
Foraker picks us up at the airport and we head over to his suburban house, but not before I ask him if we can stop by a second warehouse, where yesterday hed claimed to have some of his equipment. He drives us by a mini-storage place, which is conveniently closed for the night. Hed love to take us there tomorrow, he says, oh yes. A shame that my Uncle and I are leaving town first thing in the morning.
As we walk into Bills new suburban home, all tasteful gray and tope, I notice a sign on the garage door that reads, "For Lease." As I look around at the fresh streets and sidewalks, I feel like the entire subdivision has an aura of eerie impermanence, as if the whole damn neighborhood is about to pack up and disappear.
In the living room, scotch in hand, we discuss the amendments. Foraker calls me a fool and a meddler. He says that Im too young to understand this kind of business. "Youd better get back to selling those repo-homes you were telling me about," he says, trying to inject a few drops of mirth and easygoing joviality into his voice. But it comes out nasty. He says he cant believe that Im interfering with an investment that will make my Uncle rich, and myself too, he adds, since Im likely to be my Uncles U.S. go-between.
But I stick to my guns, and again he acquiesces with that sudden grace that Ive begun to expect. As he disappears upstairs to draft my amendments verbatim on his laptop, I feel a subtle sense of victory. Ridiculous considering that my Uncle is going to lose $25,000, and more than likely double that.
Within minutes hes back. Signatures and corporate seals are applied. The check is surrendered. I notice another kind of letterhead lying about, printed on tan rather than the cream paper of U.S. Platinum Refinery. "Gray Panther Precious Metals," it reads. Another front company. Suddenly, I just dont care. I just want to go home. Im sick of all this fencing. Its pointless. Theres no thrust that Foraker cant feint or parry. Hes a King of the Grifters. My Uncle is but one silly investor out of what are surely dozens, in a dozen or more schemes. The man is a genius. I, whove thought myself a spanner in the works have never been more than a fly to this man. A fat buzzing insect that he can wave away whenever it comes too close. Im not even worth swatting.
As Foraker drives my Uncle and I back to the Excalibur Hotel, the preceding days take on a sense of total unreality. I dissolve into the blank stare of the neon city. Las Vegas rolls by my window, gaudy film set casinos filled with sacrificial lambs begging for the slaughter. My sense of ethics and morality are stripped bare. It all seems funny. I feel glad that these people, all of them, even my Uncle, are being fleeced of their money by clever people. What the hell. Its great theater.
I have a vision of Pierrot back in Switzerland, with his instruments, his black powder, and his carriages. I see him with his farmhouse, his snowdrifts, and his cargo truck. Las Vegas, flat and hot, and devoid of history and soul is all wrong. Its not for him. He should not be here. I should not be here. Im clawing at the windows to get out. But hes not. Hes still taking pictures, and smiling at the novelty of it all.
As Id more or less expected, Pierrot receives the agreed upon purchase receipt and bill of lading. Convinced of Billy Jerry Forakers legitimacy, he happily wires him the second $25,000.
Nevertheless, nagging doubts persist. Concerned to know whether refining is taking place, my Uncle telephones me several weeks later and asks me to fly to Las Vegas one more time, to inspect the warehouse.
I agree to do it. This is my favorite Uncle, after all. And Im really hoping, for personal reasons now, to flush out this master confidence man. I try for several days to set up an appointment with him, but finding that Foraker never picks up his phone, and never returns my calls, I book a flight and resolve to drop in unannounced.
I drive the rental car from the airport straight down to Oasis. All is as I had expected. The warehouse is locked and there appears to be absolutely no activity taking place.
I speak with the mechanic who runs a small garage next to the restaurant. He tells me that as far as he knows, someone had attempted to purchase the warehouse and the whole site, including the restaurant and the land upon which stands his garage. "But the mans check was no good. Thats what I heard," he tells me. "I know my lease money goes up to the same owner as always. Lives up in the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State that is."
And his names not Billy Jerry Foraker, or Bill Foraker, or Jerry Foraker?"
I walk in to the Oasis restaurant and sit at the lunch counter. Figuring the wait-staff probably knows more than anybody about whats going on around here, I order a burger and casually ask the waitress about the warehouse out back.
"You with the band?" she asks.
"Oh, you auditioning then?"
"Hunh. I thought you was. People been comin by. I guess they need a guitar player."
"Who needs a guitar player?"
"The band does."
"The Steve Miller Band."
"The Steve Miller Band?"
"Ummhunh. Theyve been practicing back there for a couple of weeks now. Gettin ready to go on tour."
I dont know whether to laugh or cry. I feel that same subtle sense of victory. I have flushed Foraker out. My uncle cant possibly maintain his faith in the face of this fresh bit of news. What a farce.
I gulp my burger and head straight back to Vegas, where I drink the afternoon into oblivion before catching an evening flight home.
Now, you would think that this would be enough to deter my Uncle but it isnt. He forks over another $25,000 without receiving the agreed upon doré bars. Foraker claims hes run into unspecified cost overruns, and needs the extra $25,000 to actually begin production.
Its when Foraker asks for another $25,000 that my Uncle actually flies to Las Vegas a second time. Once hes there, Foraker hands him a leather satchel full of doré bars in exchange for a fourth installment of $25,000. I hadnt counted upon this contingency. Id assumed when crafting my amendments to the contract that Foraker would send the material to my Uncle, that my Uncle would have it tested, and that would be the end of it.
But my Uncles terrible eagerness proves his own undoing. He telephones me from his hotel room in Las Vegas. He wants to know where he can purchase a few simple tools - he needs to check the density of the very heavy bars Foraker has just given him. He figures he can check the water displacement versus the weight and get the density. I urge him to look in the phone book for an assayer. No good, he tells me, hes leaving first thing in the morning. I tell him to look for a Payless drug store. He can probably weigh the damn thing on a guess-your-fortune coin-op weight scale there, and purchase some kind of container with a graduated measurement to determine the volume.
I dont hear back from him for months. I hear from my Father that Metalor, a Swiss assaying firm, tested the doré and found it to contain not even a fractional percentage of gold. The bar was nothing more than a worthless assortment of common industrial metals.
My Uncle has never managed to track this man down. A good con man knows when to cut and run. Foraker played my Uncle for as much as he could get, and skillfully timed the moment when he would give up the con. I wonder how many others were linked to my Uncles timing. Just how much did Foraker walk off with? And what ingenious deal to juice the greed instinct is he working on now? Or does he just work the same deal over and over again, moving from country to country in order to locate fresh victims?
Pierrot was just about financially ruined by this investment. But being an indomitable person, he somehow picked up the pieces. He still delivers product from one place to another, but its no longer furniture, and its certainly not gold. He now runs a moderately successful business exporting used clothing to the Ivory Coast for re-sale. In the last photo that Ive seen of him, hes hoisting a beer in the shade of a tin-roof shanty, a dark, smiling young woman at his side.
Yves Jaques can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org