Sally Benson had been surprised to get a call from Jim Dolan of Norton Utilities. She had never followed the company that closely, but was aware of Dolan's retirement several years ago. It was well known around Marbury that he remained an active member in the community as well as still wielding power at Norton.
Dolan had suggested they get together for lunch. He wanted to discuss current real estate values on Arrowhead Lake in regards to Norton’s holdings. Since the company owned a thousand acres, Sally readily accepted. Beth had been invited also, but was too busy attending one of the many closings they had in the next few days.
A few minutes on the internet had been well worth it for Sally. She was able to learn some things about Norton’s recent financial situation that would certainly prove valuable at the luncheon. Gatsby’s in Westport had been chosen by Dolan and Sally agreed to meet him there at twelve noon.
She arrived early and was escorted to a table on the veranda which looked out onto a beautiful view of Long Island Sound. A few minutes later Dolan appeared with the maitre’d. Sally was immediately impressed. He was a man that had aged gracefully. His tanned face contrasted a white silk shirt with an ascot tucked into the open collar. He moved toward the table nodding to a few people he knew along the way.
“Good afternoon Ms Benson,” he said cheerfully taking her hand. “How nice of you to meet on such short notice. I appreciate it.”
“My pleasure,” Sally replied. “What a nice choice for lunch.”
“I make it a point to come here whenever I’m in the area,” Dolan said taking his seat across from her. “Love the Cobb salad. And the view…just wonderful don’t you think.”
Sally agreed. Dolan said he was happy to leave Florida for the summer to experience many of the pleasures of the Northeast. He and his wife had a home in Ridgewood, an exclusive town just west of Marbury, and also spent time in New York City where they had a small apartment. “Have to make up for the lack of the arts in Florida,” he said. “We both love the opera and Broadway theater.” The waiter appeared to take drink orders. Sally had a gin fizz. Dolan ordered a Scotch straight up. His taste for the arts may be delicate, Sally thought, but his drink choice was down and dirty.
They talked about the seasons in Connecticut as opposed to the sameness of Florida. Then Dolan subtly got around to the subject of Arrowhead by saying that he had purchased a boat during the winter to put on the lake.
“And I came here to find it closed,” he said sipping his drink. “Because of a shark. My first thought was it was straight out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”
“Well unfortunately we have to believe it,” Sally said. “There doesn’t seem to be any doubt now.”
“I agree,” Daly said. “It’s terrible. Four people attacked and I don’t think they’re any closer to finding this shark.”
“I don’t think so either,” Sally said. “With the latest failure of that Navy plane, it doesn’t look very encouraging.”
“No it doesn’t. Which of course is why I wanted to meet with you. The more discouraging the news gets the more its affecting Norton Utilities. I don’t know how closely you watch the market but our stock has dropped nearly forty percent since the beginning of this incident. The thousand acres we still own on the lake represents a significant value in the company.”
Significant was an understatement as far as Sally was concerned. Norton’s land, if they continued to get the zoning changes they had gotten over the years, was worth over a billion. Unfortunately that was becoming less and less every day now.
She said nothing and waited for him to continue.
“I know your agency has been selling a lot of real estate because of this scare. So I thought you might have a better fix on current land values than anybody,” he said finishing his drink. Sally had barely touched hers.
‘Well we’ve been dealing strictly in residential lakeshore properties,” she replied. “Undeveloped land is different. And in your case we’re talking about a lot of acreage. It would also depend how it was sold: in small two to four acre lots or possibly whole tracts.”
Dolan thought for a moment. Sally could see he was trying to put a specific value on the property. She decided to help him.
“What I can do is give you a percentage in value that the property may have suffered in light of the shark,” she said. “We’re currently purchasing lakefront residential at about sixty percent of its former value. And the prices are still coming down. I think the loss in value to Norton’s undeveloped property would be slightly less. Say within five or six percent. For estimating purposes, Norton has lost a third of its property value.
Dolan raised his glass to take another sip of his Scotch but there was nothing left. Sally had just verified what his accountants had reported to him and the Norton board. A one third loss based on value before the shark, translated into about three hundred and thirty million. That figure was growing every day the shark wasn’t found and destroyed.
“Well that certainly is considerable,” he said putting the glass down.
“Is Norton considering selling its properties?” Sally asked sensing a possible deal. A huge one at that.
“Possibly. But I must say Ms Benson, there are two types of players in this shark scare environment aren’t there: the optimists and the pessimists. The optimists are saying that eventually the shark, no matter how elusive, will eventually be caught and killed. They’re holding onto their property because they know it will return to full value when that happens. The pessimists are selling as fast as they can because they believe the shark has taken over the lake and may never be killed.”
“So which are you Mr. Dolan?”
Sally was enjoying this now. Dolan was right about the optimists and the pessimists. But she didn’t have to choose between the two. She was making money from both of them.
“That’s a little complicated,” he replied. “My board of directors, mostly spineless financial types, are definitely pessimists. They want to sell as quickly as possible. I on the other hand, would do exactly the opposite. I would buy everything I could at a low price and reap the high profits when the shark is killed. And yes, I am optimistic that it will be killed.”
“But sooner or later the company is going to have to make a decision,” Sally said. And she didn’t see Dolan in a position to make either without the Norton board.
“That’s right,” he said. “But first we have to give careful consideration to both options. In fact I’d like to ask you about the first one: selling the property. It seems that you have one buyer purchasing all of your residential listings. Is he interested in a large tract of waterfront property on the lake?”
“No he isn’t is the direct answer,” Sally replied. “He specifically stated he isn’t interested in undeveloped property. However, he hasn’t been presented with a large holding like Norton’s. I don’t know if he would react differently to that.”
“Would it be possible for you to discreetly inquire?”
“Yes it would. But on one condition.”
“And that is?”
“That our agency handle the transaction for Norton.”
“Well that goes without saying,” Dolan replied.
The waiter came and they placed their orders. Sally ordered a fruit salad and Dolan his Cobb. When the waiter left Dolan leaned forward and spoke in a lower voice.
“Your client apparently is an optimist like myself. Can you tell me who he is?”
“No I can’t,” Sally replied. “He prefers to remain anonymous. But I can tell you he has considerable assets.” She wasn’t going to tell Dolan that she was dealing through a Swiss numbered account.
Dolan wondered if she knew just how considerable they were. It would take at least two hundred million to get Norton’s stock back on track.
“Well you must tell your client that I admire his confidence that the shark will be killed. Once that happens he stands to make a lot of money reselling when values go back up. As I said, if Norton had the financial means I would embark on the same strategy.”
“What makes you so confident that the shark will be found?” Sally asked.
Dolan wasn’t about to tell her about his conversation with Sheriff Piccolo. He said, “Let me just simply say Ms. Benson that when there is the greatest opportunity for profits to be made, the shark will be destroyed.”
Sally knew she had heard those same words before. Welty had said them. They weren’t his words though. They were those of his anonymous client.
Later that afternoon Sally told Beth all about the Dolan meeting. Beth said she thought Dolan was a desperate man whose company was headed for bankruptcy because of the shark. She doubted very much that Norton could raise money to buy additional land at reduced prices. Dolan was deluding himself if he thought that an option. His only option was to sell off what he had now just like the lakeshore owners and that’s what the meeting really was about.
They decided to call Welty in Zurich then and there. Beth asked him early in the conversation if his client would be interested in Norton’s one thousand acres. Welty emphasized his instructions were not to purchase anything but residential property, but agreed to check again due to the large parcel involved.
Sally and Beth were surprised to hear back from him so quickly. An hour later he called and verified what he said earlier. His client wasn’t interested in Norton property.
Other ebooks by Bob Neidhardt are
Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com