Pay Nissho first. This was my morning chant, my nightly prayer

1975
Pay Nissho first. This was my morning chant, my nightly prayer, my
number one priority. And it was my daily instruction to the man who played
the Sundance Kid to my Butch Cassidy

—Hayes. Before paying back the
bank, I said, before paying back anyone . . . pay Nissho.
It wasn’t so much a strategy as a necessity. Nissho was like equity. Our
line of credit at the bank was $1 million, but we had another million in credit
with Nissho, which willingly took second position, which made the bank feel
more secure. All of this would unspool, however, if Nissho weren’t there.
Ergo, we needed to keep Nissho happy. Always, always, pay Nissho first.
It wasn’t easy, however, this paying Nissho first. It wasn’t easy paying
anyone. We were undergoing an explosion in assets, and inventory, which
put enormous strains on our cash reserves. With any growth company, this is
the typical problem. But we were growing faster than the typical growth
company, faster than any growth company I knew of. Our problems were
unprecedented. Or so it seemed.
I was also partly to blame, of course. I refused to even consider ordering
less inventory. Grow or die, that’s what I believed, no matter the situation.
Why cut your order from $3 million down to $2 million if you believed in
your bones that the demand out there was for $5 million? So I was forever
pushing my conservative bankers to the brink, forcing them into a game of
chicken. I’d order a number of shoes that seemed to them absurd, a number
we’d need to stretch to pay for, and I’d always just barely pay for them, in
the nick of time, and then just barely pay our other monthly bills, at the last
minute, always doing just enough, and no more, to prevent the bankers from
booting us. And then, at the end of the month, I’d empty our accounts to pay
Nissho and start from zero again.
To most observers this would’ve seemed a brazenly reckless, dangerous
way of doing business, but I believed the demand for our shoes was always
greater than our annual sales. Besides, eight of every ten orders were solid
gold, guaranteed, thanks to our Futures program. Full speed ahead.
Others might have argued that we didn’t need to fear Nissho. The
company was our ally, after all. We were making them money, how mad
could they get? Also, I had a strong personal relationship with Sumeragi.
But suddenly in 1975 Sumeragi was no longer running things. Our
account had grown too big for him; our credit was no longer his call alone.
We were now overseen by the West Coast credit manager, Chio Suzuki,
who was based in Los Angeles, and even more directly by the financial
manager of the Portland office, Tadayuki Ito.
Whereas Sumeragi was warm and approachable, Ito was congenitally
aloof. Light seemed to bounce off him differently. No, rather, light didn’t
bounce off him. He absorbed it, like a black hole. Everybody at Blue Ribbon
liked Sumeragi—we invited him to every office party. But I don’t think we
ever invited Ito to anything.
In my mind I called him the Ice Man.
I still had difficulty making eye contact with people, but Ito wouldn’t
allow me to divert my gaze. He looked directly into my eyes, down into my
soul, and it was hypnotizing. Especially when he felt he had the upper hand.
Which was almost always. I’d played golf with him once or twice, and I was
struck, even after he’d hit a terrible shot, at the way he turned and looked
straight at me as he came off the tee. He wasn’t a good golfer, but he was so
confident, so self-assured, he always gave the impression that his ball was
sitting 350 yards away, atop a tuft of grass in the center of the fairway.
And now I remember this in particular. His golf attire, like his business
attire, was meticulous. Mine, of course, was not. During one of our matches,
the weather was cool, and I was wearing a shaggy mohair sweater. As I
approached the first tee Ito asked under his breath if I planned to go skiing
later. I stopped, wheeled. He gave me a half smile. It was the first time I’d
ever known the Ice Man to try humor. And the last.
This was the man I needed to keep happy. It wouldn’t be easy. But I
thought: Always do well in his eyes, and credit will continue to expand, thus
enabling Blue Ribbon to expand. Stay in his good graces and all will be well.
Otherwise . . .
My obsession with keeping Nissho happy, with keeping Ito happy,
combined with my refusal to ease up on growth, created a frantic
atmosphere around the office. We struggled to make every payment, to
Bank of California, to all our other creditors, but that Nissho payment at the
end of the month was like passing a kidney stone. As we’d begin scraping
together our available cash, writing checks with barely enough to cover
them, we’d start to sweat. The Nissho payment was sometimes so big that
we’d be dead broke for a day or two. Then every other creditor would have
to wait.
Too bad for them, I’d tell Hayes.
I know, I know, he’d say. Pay Nissho first.
Hayes didn’t like this state of affairs. It was hard on his nerves. “So what
do you want to do,” I’d ask him, “slow down?” Which would always draw a
guilty smile. Silly question.
Occasionally, when our cash reserves were really stretched thin, our
account at the bank wouldn’t just be empty, it would be overdrawn. Then
Hayes and I would have to go down to the bank and explain the situation to
Holland. We’d show him our financial statements, point out that our sales
were doubling, that our inventory was flying out the door. Our cash flow
“situation,” we’d say, is merely temporary.
We knew, of course, that living on the float wasn’t the way to do things.
But we’d always tell ourselves: It’s temporary. Besides, everyone did it. Some
of the biggest companies in America lived on the float. Banks themselves
lived on the float. Holland acknowledged as much. “Sure, boys, I get it,”
he’d say with a nod. As long as we were up-front with him, as long as we
were transparent, he could work with us.
And then came that fateful rainy day. A Wednesday afternoon. The
spring of 1975. Hayes and I found ourselves staring into the abyss. We owed
Nissho $1 million, our first-ever million-dollar payment, and, hello, we
didn’t have $1 million lying around. We were about $75,000 short.
I recall that we were sitting in my office, watching raindrops race down
the windowpane. Occasionally we’d look through the books, curse the
numbers, then look back at the raindrops. “We have to pay Nissho,” I said
quietly.
“Yes, yes, yes,” Hayes said. “But to cover a check this large? We’ll have to
drain all our other bank accounts dry. All. Dry.”
“Yes.”
We had retail stores in Berkeley, Los Angeles, Portland, New England,
each with its own bank account. We’d have to empty them all, divert all that
money to the home office account for a day or two—or three. Along with
every cent from Johnson’s factory in Exeter. We’d have to hold our breath,
like walking past a graveyard, until we could replenish those accounts. And
still we might not be able to cover that massive check to Nissho. We’d still
need a little luck, a payment or two to land from one of the many retailers
who owed us money.
“Circular funding,” Hayes said.
“Magical banking,” I said.
“Son of a bitch,” Hayes said, “if you look at our cash flow over the next six
months, we’re in good shape. It’s just this one payment to Nissho that’s
screwing up everything.”
“Yes,” I said, “if we can get past this one payment, we’re home free.”
“But this is some payment.”
“We’ve always covered checks to Nissho within a day or two. But this
time it might take us—what—three? Four?”
“I don’t know,” Hayes said, “I honestly don’t know.”
I followed two raindrops racing down the glass. Neck and neck. You are
remembered for the rules you break. “Damn the torpedoes,” I said. “Pay
Nissho.”
Hayes nodded. He stood. We looked at each other for one long second.
He said he’d tell Carole Fields, our head bookkeeper, what we’d decided.
He’d have her start moving the money around.
And come Friday he’d have her cut the check to Nissho.
These are the moments, I thought.
TWO DAYS LATER Johnson was in his new office at the Exeter factory,
doing paperwork, when a mob of angry workers suddenly appeared at his
door. Their paychecks had bounced, they said. They wanted answers.
Johnson, of course, had no answers to give. He implored them to hold on,
there must be some mistake. He phoned Oregon, reached Fields, and told
her what was happening. He expected her to say it was all a big
misunderstanding, an accounting error. Instead she whispered, “Oooh, shit.”
Then hung up on him.
A PARTITION WALL separated Fields’s office from mine. She ran around
the wall and up to my desk. “You’d better sit down,” she blurted.
“I am sitting down.”
“It’s all hitting the fan,” she said.
“What is?”
“The checks. All the checks.”
I called in Hayes. By then he weighed 330 pounds, but he seemed to be
shrinking before me as Fields described to us every particular of the Johnson
phone call. “We might’ve really fucked up this time,” he said. “What do we
do?” I said. “I’ll call Holland,” Hayes said.
Minutes later Hayes came back into my office, holding up his hands.
“Holland says it’s fine, no worries, he’ll smooth things over with his bosses.”
I sighed. Disaster averted.
In the meantime, however, Johnson wasn’t waiting for us to get back to
him. He phoned his local bank and learned that his account, for some
reason, was bone dry. He called in Giampietro, who drove up the road to see
an old friend, a man who owned a local box company. Giampietro asked the
man for a loan of five thousand dollars, cash. An outrageous request. But the
man’s box company depended on Blue Ribbon for its survival. If we went out
of business, the box company might, too. So the box man became our bag
man, forking over fifty crisp hundred-dollar bills.
Giampietro then raced back to the factory and doled out everyone’s pay,
in cash, like Jimmy Stewart keeping the Bailey Bros. Building & Loan afloat.
HAYES LUMBERED INTO my office. “Holland says we need to get our
asses down to the bank. Pronto.”
Next thing I knew, we were all sitting in a conference room at the Bank of
California. On one side of the table were Holland and two nameless men in
suits. They looked like undertakers. On the other side were Hayes and I.
Holland, somber, opened. “Gentlemen . . .”
Not good, I thought. “Gentlemen?” I said. “Gentlemen? Perry, it’s us.”
“Gentlemen, we’ve decided we no longer want your business at this
bank.”
Hayes and I stared.
“Does that mean you’re throwing us out?” Hayes asked.
“It does indeed,” Holland said.
“You can’t do that,” Hayes said.
“We can and we are,” Holland said. “We’re freezing your funds, and we
will no longer honor any more checks you write on this account.”
“Freezing our—! I don’t believe this,” Hayes said.
“Believe it,” Holland said.
I said nothing. I wrapped my arms around my torso and thought, This
isn’t good, this isn’t good, this isn’t good.
Never mind the embarrassment, the hassles, the cascade of bad
consequences that would follow if Holland threw us out. All I could think of
was Nissho. How would they react? How would Ito react? I pictured myself
telling the Ice Man that we couldn’t give him his million dollars. It chilled
me down to my marrow.
I don’t remember the end of that meeting. I don’t remember leaving the
bank, or walking out, or going across the street, or getting on the elevator,
or riding it to the top floor. I only recall shaking, violently shaking, as I
asked for a word with Mr. Ito.
The next thing I recall is Ito and Sumeragi taking Hayes and me into
their conference room. They could sense that we were fragile. They led us
to chairs, and they both looked at the floor as I spoke. Kei. Much kei. “Well,”
I said, “I have some bad news. Our bank . . . has thrown us out.”
Ito looked up. “Why?” he said.
His eyes hardened. But his voice was surprisingly soft. I thought of the
wind atop Mount Fuji. I thought of the gentle breeze stirring the ginkgo
leaves in the Meiji gardens. I said, “Mr. Ito, do you know how the big
trading companies and banks ‘live on the float’? Okay, we at Blue Ribbon
tend to do that, too, from time to time, including last month. And the fact of
the matter is, sir, well, we missed the float. And now the Bank of California
has decided to kick us out.”
Sumeragi lit a Lucky Strike. One puff. Two.
Ito did the same. One puff. Two. But on the exhale, the smoke didn’t
seem to come from his mouth. It seemed to emanate from deep down inside
him, to curl from his cuffs and shirt collar. He looked into my eyes. He
bored into me. “They should not have done that,” he said.
My heart stopped midbeat. This was an almost sympathetic thing for Ito
to say. I looked at Hayes. I looked back at Ito. I allowed myself to think: We
might . . . just . . . get away with this.
Then I realized that I hadn’t yet told him the bad part. “Be that as it
may,” I said, “they did throw us out, Mr. Ito, they did, and the net-net is that
I have no bank. And thus I have no money. And I need to make payroll. And
I need to pay my other creditors. And if I can’t meet those obligations, I am
out of business. Today. In which case, not only can I not pay you the million
dollars I owe you, sir . . . but I need to ask to borrow another one million
dollars.”
Ito and Sumeragi slid their eyes toward each other for one half second,
then slid them back to me. Everything in the room came to a stop. The dust
motes, the molecules of air, paused midflight. “Mr. Knight,” Ito said, “before
giving you another cent . . . I will need to look at your books.”
WHEN I GOT home from Nissho it was about 9:00 p.m. Penny said
Holland had phoned. “Holland?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “He left instructions that you should call whenever you
got home. He left his home number.”
He answered on the first ring. His voice was . . . off. He’d been stiff
earlier in the day, while carrying out orders from his bosses, but now he
sounded more like a human being. A sad, stressed human being. “Phil,” he
said, “I feel I ought to tell you . . . we’ve had to notify the FBI.”
I gripped the phone tighter. “Say that again,” I whispered. “Say that
again, Perry.”
“We had no choice.”
“What are you telling me?”
“It’s—well, it looks to us like fraud.”
I WENT INTO the kitchen and fell into a chair. “What is it?” Penny said.
I told her. Bankruptcy, scandal, ruin—the works.
“Is there no hope?” she asked.
“It’s all up to Nissho.”
“Tom Sumeragi?”
“And his bosses.”
“No problem, then. Sumeragi loves you.”
She stood. She had faith. She was completely ready for whatever may
come. She even managed to turn in.
Not me. I sat up all night, playing out a hundred different scenarios,
castigating myself for taking such a risk.
When I finally crawled into bed, my mind wouldn’t stop. Lying in the
dark I thought over and over: Am I going to jail?
Me? Jail?
I got up, poured myself a glass of water, checked on the boys. They were
both sprawled on their tummies, dead to the world. What would they do?
What would become of them? Then I went into the den and researched the
homestead laws. I was relieved to learn that the Feds couldn’t take the house.
They could take everything else, but not this little sixteen-hundred-squarefoot sanctuary.
I sighed, but the relief didn’t last. I started thinking about my life. I
scrolled back years, questioning every decision I’d ever made that led to this
point. If only I’d been better at selling encyclopedias, I thought. Everything
would be different.
I tried to give myself the standard catechism.
What do you know?
But I didn’t know anything. Sitting in my recliner I wanted to cry out: I
know nothing!
I’d always had an answer, some kind of answer, to every problem. But this
moment, this night, I had no answers. I got up, found a yellow legal pad,
started making lists. But my mind kept drifting; when I looked down at the
pad there were only doodles. Check marks, squiggles, lightning bolts.
In the eerie glow of the moon they all looked liked angry, defiant
swooshes.
Don’t go to sleep one night. What you most want will come to you then.
I MANAGED TO fall asleep for an hour or two, and I spent most of that
bleary Saturday morning on the phone, reaching out to people for advice.
Everyone said Monday would be the critical day. Perhaps the most critical of
my life. I would need to act swiftly and boldly. So, to prepare, I organized a
summit for Sunday afternoon.
We all gathered in the conference room at Blue Ribbon. There was
Woodell, who must have caught the first flight out of Boston, and Hayes,
and Strasser, and Cale flew up from Los Angeles. Someone brought
doughnuts. Someone sent out for pizzas. Someone dialed Johnson and put
him on the speakerphone. The mood in the room, at first, was somber,
because that was my mood. But having my friends around, my team, made
me feel better, and as I lightened up, they did, too.
We talked long into the evening, and if we agreed on anything, we agreed
there wasn’t an easy solution. There usually isn’t when the FBI has been
notified. Or when you’ve been ousted by your bank for the second time in
five years.
As the summit drew to a close the mood shifted again. The air in the
room grew stale, heavy. The pizza looked like poison. A consensus formed.
The resolution of this crisis, whatever it might be, is in the hands of others.
And of all those others, Nissho was our best hope.
We discussed tactics for Monday morning. That’s when the men from
Nissho were due to arrive. Ito and Sumeragi were going to pore through our
books, and while there was no telling what they might think of our finances,
one thing was pretty much preordained. They were going to see right away
that we’d used a big chunk of their financing not to purchase shoes from
overseas but to run a secret factory in Exeter. Best case, this would make
them mad. Worst case, it would make them lose their minds. If they
considered our accounting sleight of hand a full-fledged betrayal, they would
abandon us, faster than the bank had, in which case we’d be out of business.
Simple as that.
We talked about hiding the factory from them. But everyone around the
table agreed that we needed to play this one straight. As in the Onitsuka
trial, full disclosure, total transparency, was the only course. It made sense,
strategically and morally.
Throughout this summit the phones rang constantly. Creditors from
coast to coast were trying to find out what was going on, why our checks
were bouncing like Super Balls. Two creditors in particular were livid. One
was Bill Shesky, head of Bostonian Shoes. We owed him a cool half million
dollars, and he wanted to let us know that he was boarding a plane and
coming to Oregon to get it. The second was Bill Manowitz, head of Mano
International, a trading company in New York. We owed him one hundred
thousand dollars, and he, too, was coming to Oregon to force a showdown.
And to cash out.
After the summit adjourned I was the last to leave. Alone, I staggered out
to my car. In my lifetime I had finished many races on sore legs, gimpy
knees, zero energy, but that night I wasn’t altogether sure I had the strength
to drive home.
ITO AND SUMERAGI were right on time. Monday morning, 9:00 a.m.
sharp, they pulled up to the building, each wearing a dark suit and dark tie,
each carrying a black briefcase. I thought of all the samurai movies I’d seen,
all the books I’d read about ninjas. This was how it always looked before the
ritual killing of the bad shogun.
They walked straight through our lobby and into our conference room
and sat down. Without a word of small talk we stacked our books in front of
them. Sumeragi lit a cigarette, Ito uncapped a fountain pen. They
commenced. Pecking at calculators, scratching at legal pads, drinking
bottomless cups of coffee and green tea, they slowly peeled back the layers of
our operation and peered inside.
I walked in and out, every fifteen minutes or so, to ask if they needed
anything. They never did.
The bank auditor arrived soon after to collect all our cash receipts. A
fifty-thousand-dollar check from United Sporting Goods really had been in
the mail. We showed him: It was right on Carole Fields’s desk. This was the
late check that set all the dominoes in motion. This, plus the normal day’s
receipts, covered our shortfall. The bank auditor telephoned United
Sporting Goods’ bank in Los Angeles and asked that their account be
charged immediately, the funds transferred to our account at Bank of
California. The Los Angeles bank said no. There were insufficient funds in
the United Sporting Goods account.
United Sporting Goods had also been playing the float.
Already feeling a splitting headache coming on, I walked back into the
conference room. I could smell it in the air. We’d reached that fateful
moment. Leaning over the books, Ito realized what he was looking at and
did a slow double-take. Exeter. Secret factory. Then I saw the realization
dawn that he was the sucker who’d paid for it.
He looked up at me and pushed his head forward on his neck, as if to say:
Really?
I nodded.
And then . . . he smiled. It was only a half smile, a mohair sweater smile,
but it meant everything.
I gave him a weak half smile in return, and in that brief wordless exchange
countless fates and futures were decided.

PAST MIDNIGHT, ITO

and Sumeragi were still there, still busy with their
calculators and legal pads. When they finally left for the day they promised
to return early the next morning. I drove home and found Penny waiting up.
We sat in the dining room, talking. I gave her an update. We agreed that
Nissho was done with their audit; they’d known everything they needed to
know before lunch. What followed, and was yet to follow, was simply
punishment. “Don’t let them push you around like this!” Penny said.
“Are you kidding?” I said. “Right now they can push me around all they
want. They’re my only hope.”
“At least there are no more surprises,” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “No more shoes to drop.”
ITO AND SUMERAGI were back at 9:00 a.m. the next morning, and took up
their places in the conference room. I went around the office and told
everyone, “It’s almost over. Just hang on. Just a little longer. There’s nothing
else for them to find.”
Not long after they’d arrived, Sumeragi stood, stretched, and looked as if
he was going to step outside for a smoke. He motioned to me. A word? We
walked down the hall to my office. “I fear this audit is worse than you
realize,” he said. “What—why?” I said. “Because,” he said, “I delayed . . . I
sometimes did not put invoices through right away.” “You did what now?” I
said.
Hangdog, Sumeragi explained that he’d been worried about us, that he’d
tried to help us manage our credit problems by hiding Nissho’s invoices in a
drawer. He’d held them back, not sent them on through to his accounting
people, until he felt we had enough cash to pay them, which in turn made it
appear on the Nissho books that their credit exposure to us was much lower
than it actually was. In other words, all this time we’d been stressing about
paying Nissho on time, and we were never paying them on time, because
Sumeragi wasn’t invoicing us on time, thinking he was helping. “This is bad,”
I said to Sumeragi. “Yes,” he said, relighting a Lucky Strike, “is bad, Buck. Is
very very bad.”
I marched him back to the conference room and together we told Ito,
who was, of course, appalled. At first he suspected Sumeragi of acting at our
behest. I couldn’t blame him. A conspiracy was the most logical explanation.
In his place I would’ve thought the same thing. But Sumeragi, who looked as
if he was about to prostrate himself before Ito, swore on his life that he’d
been acting independently, that he’d gone rogue.
“Why you do such a thing?” Ito demanded.
“Because I think Blue Ribbon could be great success,” Sumeragi said,
“maybe $20 million account. I shake hands many times with Mr. Steve
Prefontaine. I shake hands with Mr. Bill Bowerman. I go many times to
Trail Blazer game with Mr. Phil Knight. I even pack orders at warehouse.
Nike is my business child. Always it is nice to see one’s business child grow.”
“So then,” Ito said, “you hide invoices because . . . you . . . like these men?”
Deeply ashamed, Sumeragi bowed his head. “Hai,” he said. “Hai.”
I HAD NO idea what Ito might do. But I couldn’t stick around to find out. I
suddenly had another problem. My two angriest creditors had just landed.
Shesky from Bostonian and Manowitz from Mano were both on the ground,
in Portland, headed our way.
Quickly, I gathered everyone in my office and gave them their final
orders. “Folks—we’re going to Code Red. This building, this forty-fivehundred-square-foot building, is about to be swarming with people to whom
we owe money. Whatever else we do today, we cannot let any of them bump
into each other. Bad enough that we owe them money. If they cross paths in
the hall, if one unhappy creditor meets another unhappy creditor, and if they
should have a chance to compare notes, they will freak out. They could team
up and decide on some sort of collaborative payment schedule! Which would
be Armageddon.”
We drew up a plan. We assigned a person to each creditor, someone who
would keep an eye on him at all times, even escorting him to the restroom.
Then we assigned a person to coordinate everything, to be like air traffic
control, making sure the creditors and their escorts were always in separate
airspace. Meanwhile, I would scurry from room to room, apologizing and
genuflecting.
At times the tension was unbearable. At other times it was a bad Marx
Brothers movie. In the end, somehow, it worked. None of the creditors met
any of the others. Both Shesky and Manowitz left the building that night
feeling reassured, even murmuring nice things about Blue Ribbon.
Nissho left a couple hours later. By then Ito had accepted that Sumeragi
was acting unilaterally, hiding invoices on his own initiative, unbeknownst to
me. And he had forgiven me my sins, including my secret factory. “There
are worse things,” he said, “than ambition.”

ONLY ONE PROBLEM

remained. And it was The Problem. All else paled
by comparison. The FBI.
Late the next morning Hayes and I drove downtown. We said very little
in the car, very little in the elevator ride up to Nissho. We met Ito in his
outer office and he said nothing. He bowed. We bowed. Then the three of
us rode the elevator silently down to the ground floor and walked across the
street. For the second time in a week I saw Ito as a mythic samurai, wielding
a jeweled sword. But this time he was preparing to defend—me.
If only I could count on his protection when I went to jail.
We walked into the Bank of California, shoulder to shoulder, and asked
to speak with Holland. A receptionist told us to have a seat.
Five minutes passed.
Ten.
Holland came out. He shook Ito’s hand. He nodded to me and Hayes and
led us into the conference room in the back, the same conference room
where he’d lowered the boom days before. Holland said we were going to be
joined by a Mr. So-and-So and a Mr. Such-and-Such. We all sat in silence
and waited for Holland’s cohorts to be released from whatever crypt they
were kept in. Finally they arrived and sat on either side of him. No one was
sure who should start. It was the ultimate high-stakes game. Only aces or
better.
Ito touched his chin and decided he would open. Right away he went all
in. All. Fucking. In. “Gentlemen,” he said, though he was speaking only to
Holland, “it is my understanding that you refuse to handle Blue Ribbon’s
account any longer?”
Holland nodded. “Yes, that’s right, Mr. Ito.”
“In that case,” Ito said, “Nissho would like to pay off the debt of Blue
Ribbon—in full.”
Holland stared. “The full . . . ?”
Ito grunted. I glowered at Holland. I wanted to say, That’s Japanese for:
Did I stutter?
“Yes,” Ito said. “What is the number?”
Holland wrote a number on his pad and slid the paper toward Ito, who
glanced quickly down. “Yes,” Ito said. “That is what your people have
already told my people. And so.” He opened his briefcase, removed an
envelope, and slid it across the table at Holland. “Here is a check for the full
amount.”
“It will be deposited first thing in the morning,” Holland said.
“It will be deposited first thing today!” Ito said.
Holland stammered. “Okay, right, today.”
The cohorts looked bewildered, terrified.
Ito swiveled in his chair, took them all in with a subzero gaze. “There is
one more thing,” he said. “I believe your bank has been negotiating in San
Francisco to become one of Nissho’s banks?”
“That’s right,” Holland said.
“Ah. I must tell you that it will be a waste of your time to pursue those
negotiations any further.”
“Are you sure?” Holland asked.
“I am quite sure.”
The Ice Man cometh.
I slid my eyes toward Hayes. I tried not to smile. I tried very hard. I
failed.
Then I looked right at Holland. It was all there in his unblinking eyes. He
knew the bank had overplayed its hand. He knew the bank’s officers had
overreacted. I could see, in that moment, there would be no more FBI
investigation. He and the bank wanted this matter closed, over, done with.
They’d treated a good customer shabbily, and they didn’t want to have to
answer for their actions.
We would never hear of them, or him, again.
I looked at the suits on either side of Holland. “Gentlemen,” I said,
standing.
Gentlemen. Sometimes that’s Business-ese for: Take your FBI and shove it.
WHEN WE WERE all outside the bank, I bowed to Ito. I wanted to kiss him,
but I only bowed. Hayes bowed, too, though for a moment I thought he was
pitching forward from the stress of the last three days. “Thank you,” I said to
Ito. “You will never be sorry that you defended us like that.”
He straightened his tie. “Such stupidity,” he said.
At first I thought he was talking about me. Then I realized he meant the
bank. “I do not like stupidity,” he said. “People pay too much attention to
numbers.”

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