(Continuing the narrative which began here.)
Chapter 7: In Which I Visit Midas Geldman.
WE DIDN’T ACTUALLY leave town, Mr. Higgins and I. We did leave the Hagia Sophia Diner, but only after Mr. Higgins had finished his coffee. After that we parted ways: Mr. Higgins offered to drive me back home, but—late as it was—I preferred to walk rather than stuff myself back into the Bantam. So. Mr. Higgins drove off to return to the Boli mansion, and I walked homeward through the dark and silent streets of the city.
The darkness and silence made it all the more jarring when a loud horn suddenly sounded right next to my left ear. After I put the top of my head back in, I looked to my left and saw about a block’s worth of limousine. It looked a lot like the one Mr. Higgins had picked me up in that afternoon, but under the sodium-vapor streetlights I could see that it was dark red rather than black.
A window rolled down and the head of the Countess appeared behind it.
“What did Midas Geldman tell you?” she demanded.
“Who?” I asked.
“Oaf! she spat, and suddenly I was covered with sprouts again. “When you’re looking for money, you talk to Midas Geldman!”
The window rolled up, and the limousine drove on, leaving me alone on the sidewalk with sprouts in my hair.
The next morning I wasted no time. As soon as I woke up, which was about eleven, I looked up Midas Geldman and made an appointment to see him. He wasn’t hard to find: there was only one Midas Geldman, and he was filthy rich.
I had expected to find him in a mansion, or at least in a penthouse palace in Shadyside. After all, if my sources (Wikipedia) were correct, Midas Geldman was second-richest, after H. Albertus Boli. But instead I found him in a run-down two-bedroom ranch house in a run-down suburb just outside city limits to the southeast.
The house looked like all the other houses on the street from the outside; but when Mr. Geldman opened the door, I could tell it probably wasn’t much like them on the inside.
“Please come in,” Mr. Geldman wheezed. “And please do pardon my cough. Antibiotics are so expensive.”
The entry was a narrow hall with steel walls on both sides. It led past a few very secure-looking steel doors to a little room with steel walls, two white plastic chairs, and a small white plastic table. Except for the remains of a plain cheese pizza on the table, those were the only furnishings. Three of the doors that lined the walls of the room were steel like the ones in the hall; the fourth, plain wood, was open to reveal a Spartan powder room.
“Welcome to my humble home,” Mr. Geldman said, and by golly he meant the “humble” part. “Would you care for, um, a pizza crust?”
“No, thank you,” I answered.
“So what was it you wanted again? Something to do with the Countess, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, sir. She told me you might know something about a missing case of hers.”
“Really?” He looked genuinely puzzled. “Why do you suppose she said that?”
“I don’t know. We didn’t have much of a conversation.”
“Well, that’s very odd,” he said. “I don’t think I know anything about any of the Countess’s luggage. Not since—well, anyway, a long time. Did she say what was in the case?”
“About thirty-five million in cash.”
His face lit up like a Vegas hotel. “Oh, well, now I see. Yes, I do know about money. I keep track of money. Money is what I do.”
“Does that mean you know something about the missing case?”
“If it had money in it, I know something about it. Now then, young man, can you tell me precisely how much money was in this case? I need to know the exact sum it contained.”
“$35,462,817.98,” I told him. By this time, I could rattle off the figure without thinking about it.
Mr. Geldman closed his eyes and leaned back in his plastic chair. “I am sorting,” he said quietly. “I shall not be with you for several minutes.”
After that, he was silent for twelve minutes and eighteen seconds. Since I had nothing better to do, I timed him.
At the end of that time, his eyes slowly opened. “A sum equal to that amount was deposited three days ago at the Steamfitters & Phrenologists Federal Savings Bank, Lysle Boulevard branch.”
“It’s amazing how you can do that,” I said, suitably amazed. “Who deposited it?”
“I have no idea. I keep track of money. People are of no interest to me at all.”
That was disappointing, but at least I had something to go on. And purely as a feat of memory, what I had just seen was astonishing. “How do you keep track of things like that?” I asked.
“Money,” Mr. Geldman answered, “is the only thing that has ever captured my interest. You clutter your brain with family or hobbies or infinite numbers of lesser pursuits. But for me, with the exception of a certain minimal interest in continued existence that suffices to keep me alive, the only thing that occupies my mind is money. I have had this house specifically adapted to my needs, and here my money and I can live in ease and contentment, undisturbed by external influences. And here, within certain parameters, I am happy.”
“Well,” I remarked, “you certainly do live differently from the other rich guy I just visited. Doc Boli has a mansion the size of Connecticut.”
Over the next few seconds, whole weather systems played across his face. A cold front passed over, bringing storms in its wake; then a period of changeable weather, followed at last by a cool but sunny serenity. “Dr. Boli,” he said after his demonstration of physiognomical meteorology was over, “does not enjoy his money in its pure state. He prefers to make use of it for purchases and investments, which in my opinion sullies money.”
“So do you just sit and count your money or what?”
“Oh, no. Counting it more than once would soil it, even if one’s hands were as clean as they could be made. No, it is enough for my contentment to know that it is here, with me, sorted in my various rooms according to country of origin and denomination.”
“But what happens to it all when you—you know—aren’t around anymore?”
“My will provides for my money after my decease,” he explained. “A certain number of the more recent American bills, which are much less attractive than they used to be, will be used to build the Geldman Archive of World Currency, which will be open to the public.”
“I suppose that might be fun, seeing all the different kinds of money they have in different countries.”
“Oh, no, the money will not be on display. That would be vulgar. No, I simply wish others to be able to enjoy the same experience I enjoy every day, of knowing that they are surrounded by money, money in its pure form, untainted by conversion to imaginary electronic accounts.”
“I see,” I said, trying to think of what else I could say. “Well, I’m sure that will be popular with the kids. At any rate, you’ve been a big help to me and the countess, and maybe now she’ll stop throwing sprouts at me.”
“You’re quite welcome, young man. Any time you have a question about money, I’m always delighted to help. But I do have one more word of advice. Be careful with the Countess. She is not quite what she seems to be.”
“What does that mean?” As you know, it wasn’t the first time someone had warned me about the Countess.
“I don’t really know,” he replied. “I heard it somewhere, and I thought I’d pass it along to you.”
Proceed to Chapter 8.