Warren Murphy: Funny Money

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The San Diego branch of the Secret Service is receiving some absolutely perfect counterfeit U.S. currency in the mail, and getting nervous. A flood of these bogus bucks could cripple the economy. But plans for using the funny money are more devious than that - and it's all the work of an utterly gorgeous impossible brilliant female scientist and her not-quite-human associate, Mr. Gordons. She's holding the world's monetary system, as ransom for a NASA space-age computer program so advanced its use on earth is limited. In space? That's another matter - a matter for Remo Williams, the Destroyer, to settle before the future of America -- and the world -- becomes the property of a beautiful, diabolical creature and her unstoppable sidekick!

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* Title : #018 : FUNNY MONEY *

* Series : The Destroyer *

* Author(s) : Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir *

* Location : Gillian Archives *



On the last day that his arms were attached to his shoulders and his spinal vertebrae still formed an unbroken, flexible column, James Castellano took down his .38 police special from the top shelf of his foyer closet.

It was in a Thom McAn shoe box, secured with heavy electrical tape that his children could not pick or bite through, even if they had discovered it in the small ranch house in the middle-income San Diego neighborhood where Castellano lived.

But the children were long gone now and had children of their own. The old tape cracked in his hands as he picked it off at the kitchen table where he sat eating a hard early summer peach and listening to his wife, Beth Marie, complain about prices, his salary, the new elements moving into the neighborhood, the car needing repairs, and of course, their not being able to afford the repairs.

When Castellano heard a pause, he would say "uh huh" and when Beth Marie's voice would rise, he would say "that's awful." The last layer of tape came off with the top of the box, uncovering a price of $7.95; Castellano remembered the shoes as being finer and stronger than those he now paid $24.95 for.

The pistol was nestled in a bedding of white toilet paper and was caked with a Vaseline-like substance someone at Weapons had given him years before. There was a note to himself on a three-by-five card, hand-printed in old fountain-pen strokes with a blob in the corner.

The hand-printed card was a ten-step program he had written for cleaning the gun. It began with removing the sticky substance and it ended with "point it at Nichols's face and pull the trigger."

Castellano smiled reading the card. Nichols, as he remembered, had been an assistant district supervisor of the Secret Service. Everyone had hated him. Now the hate seemed somewhat obscene because Nichols had died more than fifteen years ago of a heart attack, and now that Castellano himself was an assistant district supervisor for counterfeit currency—"funny money" as they called it—he realized Nichols had not been such a hard boss. He had just been precise. Well, you had to be precise. It was a precise business.

"Uh huh," said Castellano, examining the absolutely clean barrel against the bright overhead kitchen light. "That's awful."

"What's awful?" demanded Beth Marie.

"What you said, dear."

"What did I say?"

"How awful it's becoming," said Castellano, and seeing that Step Eight called for the insertion of six bullets, he scraped around the bottom of the box until he found them.

"What are we going to do about it? These prices are killing us. Killing us. It's like you're taking a pay cut every month," said Beth Marie.

"We'll eat more hamburger, dear."

"More hamburger? That's what we're cutting down on to save money."

"What?" said Castellano, looking up from his gun.

"I said we're cutting down on hamburger to save money."

"Good, dear," said Castellano. In place of Step Ten, which at this date would have required digging up Assistant District Supervisor Nichols's long-dead body, Castellano flicked on the gun's safety catch and put the pistol in the inside pocket of his gray seersucker suit jacket. He would get a shoulder holster at the office.

"Why the gun?" asked Beth Marie.

"The office," said Castellano.

"I know it's the office. I didn't think you were about to hold up the Bank of America. Have you been demoted to agent or something?"

"No. It's something special tonight."

"I know it's something special. You wouldn't be taking your gun out if it weren't something special. I know I'm wasting my time even asking."

"Uh huh," said Castellano and kissed his wife on the cheek. He felt her hug him more strongly than usual and he returned the hard embrace just to let her know that the comfort of their relationship had not smothered his love.

"Bring home some samples, dear. I hear they're getting better every day."

"What?" asked Castellano.

"Oh, don't look so worried. I read it in the paper. You didn't tell me anything. You never tell me anything. I read that there's a lot of counterfeit twenties around. High-quality ones."

"Good, dear," said Castellano and kissed Beth Marie warmly on the lips. When she turned to go back into the kitchen, he patted her on her ample backside and she shrieked, just as shocked as she had been when they were first married and she had threatened if he ever did that again, she would leave him. More than twenty-five years and 70,000 pats ago.

At the federal building in downtown San Diego, Castellano entered the blessed air-conditioned coolness of his office that made staying in a requirement for this hot summer day. In the afternoon, a messenger from Supplies brought him a shoulder holster and showed him how to put it on.

At 4:45 P.M., the district supervisor called to ask him if he had his weapon. Castellano said "yes," and the supervisor said, "Good, I'll be back to you."

At 7 P.M., two and a half hours after Castellano normally left to go home, the supervisor phoned again and asked whether Castellano had gotten it.

"Got what?" asked Castellano.

"It should have been there by now."

There was a knock on his door and Castellano told his supervisor about it.

"That must be it," the supervisor said. "Phone back after you have looked at it."

Two men entered his office with a sealed manila envelope. The envelope was stamped in black ink: "For your eyes only." The two men asked him to sign for it, and when Castellano signed the receipt, he saw that his supervisor had signed it, and strangely enough so had the Undersecretary of the Treasury and the Undersecretary of State also. This envelope had been around. Following proper form, Castellano waited until the two men were out of his office before opening the seal of the envelope. Inside were two small envelopes and a note. The first small envelope was marked: "Open this first." The second warned: "Do not open without specific telephone authorization." The note from his supervisor said: "Jim, tell me what you think."

Castellano opened the first envelope at the corner and shook out a mint-fresh fifty-dollar bill. He held it in his hands. The paper felt real. The most common mistake in counterfeiting was the paper. An experienced bank teller, ruffling through stacks of bills, could spot funny money easily, sometimes even with his eyes closed. There was a feel to counterfeit, a cheap paper kind of feel because the rag content was usually deficient.

This bill felt real. He rubbed the corners of the bill against a piece of plain white paper, very hard. The green ink smeared off. This was a test not so much of the ink but of the paper. The special money paper of the United States government was not porous enough for the proper ink to dry. So far this bill looked good. In the corner of his office, underneath blowups of now-famous counterfeits—like the Hitler fifties that were so good they just let them stay in circulation—was the ultraviolet light. Many counterfeiters, in an effort to get the right feel, which would fool a bank teller, would use commercial high rag content paper.

The flaw was that commercial rag paper was made of used cloth and used cloth had been washed at least once and all detergents left traces that would show up under ultraviolet light. United States money was made with unwashed rags. New rag content.

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