Our friendship goes back twenty-four years, so recollections and the exact sequence of events have grown fuzzy, but the character and actions of my friend remain crystal clear. Telling a story about him is the best way I know to describe the man he was.
“What the hell are you doing answering the phone there?” A sense of relief spread over me as I recognized CT’s raspy chuckle. He always made me laugh and I needed a good laugh. A sneaky constable had just served me with lawsuit papers.
I could not manage even a chuckle. “Believe me, I’ve been asking myself that same question.” I glanced at the papers lying on the table next to the phone. It was not my office, not my table, not my phone, not my chair, yet the process server had tracked me here.
CT and I had been friends about seven years back then. We lived three hundred miles apart and could not have been more dissimilar, but we hit it off right away. We had met while working as registered representatives (stockbrokers) for the same broker-dealer. Those had been the good old days—days before I took an inside job as vice-president of that BD—days before things began to unravel.
There had been contentious stockholder meetings, resignations, replacements, a new president, lawsuits and threatened lawsuits; a friend of ours had been fired. What started out as bright and shiny had become tarnished for CT and me. When they fired the new president, a man I had come to respect, I resigned.
I knew a lot of other reps and they kept the phone lines hot speculating about my next move. More out of curiosity and a haunting feeling of unfinished business than anything else, I visited an old friend at his fledgling BD and wound up spending the day, then the next. I had been there about two weeks when CT called.
I asked him, “How did you know how to find me?”
CT’s voice still had a smile in it. “Just a lucky guess. You staying there?”
“Seems too late to turn back now. People like you and me don’t like to be told we can’t do something—especially by lawyers.”
Another throaty laugh. “I’ll call back when you really decide.”
When he called back a few weeks later, I was president of that tiny new BD. President of three people including myself. The throaty voice laughed. “I see you’re still answering the phone. How are you holding out?”
The little triangle closet I was in had a metal desk and a phone with a shoulder rest to ease the neck crick I was getting from talking eight hours a day. We had been sued because we were competing, told to cease and desist and had been warned that our phones were tapped and that private investigators followed us everywhere we went. I did not believe that, and besides, what did it matter now? I was neither happy nor invigorated about all of it, but I had to be energized or lose everything I owned. “Hanging in there, barely.”
“Got enough money?”
“I could float you a loan.”
“You can’t do that. You can’t even talk to me. I’m told our phones are tapped.”
“How would it be if I came over and brought my clients?”
I waited a long time to answer. My heartbeat stepped up a notch or two thinking of having my old friend with me again. Not only would he make things more fun and interesting, but we also badly needed someone who could generate revenues. And CT could generate revenues better than a slot machine. “You know the answer to that, but I can’t ask you to do it. You know I got sued. With your production and reputation with other reps and in the industry, you will be, too.”
“Who was it said people like us don’t like to be told what we can and can’t do?”
It’s a simple story to this point, one that some people won’t see as significant. But CT knew its significance, and so did I. CT was a major stockholder in the BD that was suing me. It made sense for him to go on his merry, profitable way and stay where he was. We would still have been friends. He really had no reason to come over, other than our friendship and his trust in me.
Of course, CT liked the thrill of it all. The challenge. He was willing to roll the dice, risk everything, and spend who-knew-how-long-or-how-much defending himself and his family against a lawsuit, all for the sake of friendship and to show folks that he was in charge of his own destiny. Not many men left like CT.
He did join us; he did get sued; he did become our top producer. Since CT’s integrity was beyond reproach throughout the industry, his stamp of approval meant that many more reps would follow. He brought our fledgling firm legitimacy we might never have attained without him.
There were other reps that were extremely important to our success; reps with integrity and clout that I am proud to call friends and colleagues; reps who showed courage and faith by joining a startup. They would all agree, however, that CT was the catalyst.
When I discovered that he was not cashing his commission checks, I called and asked why. He just said he figured we could use a little float. I told him the checks were good, but he delayed cashing them anyway. “Don’t need the money,” he said.
Next time, the rest of the story about CT and me and my apology to a good friend.