“I hear you are worried about the finances,” professor Hubnoth said to Erik as he handed him his drink. I had arranged this late night meeting so that the professor could allay Erik's fears of an imminent financial collapse of the resort whose ridiculous name, by the way, was still a subject of lively and buoyant discussion among us.
“Yes, I'm worried and I do not wish to be called 'darling' by any of you.” Erik accepted his gin and tonic. “Thanks.”
“I fully understand, sweetheart. Nobody will call you 'darling' anymore. But in all seriousness, I come from a wealthy family who for generations have been making money in international trade. Grain, corn, cacao, coffee, you name it, we trade it. Well, not anymore. My older brother Charles, who, after an unfortunate mishap involving a car, a motorbike and too much alcohol, has been getting around in a wheelchair for the last forty years, is now managing the family capital and assets. He moves money around, buys, sells, that sort of thing. He makes a lot of money for us. And I have my own capital, of course, that my father left me and that I can play around with. I too buy and sell. Real estate, mainly, like these twelve houses. It is a fun project, I agree, but it is solid. Trust me.”
“But it is a bottomless pit! There is no end to the expenses and nothing is coming in. No money and no guests. How is it ever going to be profitable?”
“You may think I am throwing money around, but that's not true. We live rather frugally here.”
“Frugally? You call this frugally? Look at the work you have done to these four houses, turning them into one big, luxurious mansion. With a pool! And what about that stupid roundabout? Who for crying out loud needs a roundabout in a one-street-village of twenty four houses? The thing is so big there is hardly room to get around the roundabout.” Erik was getting agitated and – truth be told – I believe he had a point.
“First of all, frugal is a relative concept. We do not have an airport for private planes, or a helipad. Moshe and I do not own a fleet of Rolls Royces or Bentleys. We do not own a yacht. We like to keep it simple. And the roundabout that everybody is so concerned about will be an eye-catcher. It will be talked about, people from all over the world will come to see it. It will be a modern day Andalusian Trevi fountain. Sort of. Trust me.”
Erik just sighed.
“You know, Erik, my father also lived very frugally and let his sons work for their money. I never had a golden spoon in my mouth. The first money I ever had, I earned myself. Let me tell you a story.
When I was a student at the Sorbonne in Paris in the early sixties, I made money for a publisher who wanted to bring out banned books. Mostly erotica, but also handbooks on how to commit suicide, how to start a revolution. These books were kept in L'Enfer, a closed section of the National Library. Students could ask to read them there, but were not allowed to make copies, not even make notes. So the publisher send in a couple of students to learn the book by heart, in segments. I would go in, memorize half a page, go out and quickly write it down. Another student would go in and do the same, same segment. Afterwards we would compare notes and then one of us would go back in to check the differences. And so on and on, until the whole book was copied and could be printed in Switzerland.
Anyway, I spent a lot of time in the National Library and one day I found a little book on how to beat the the roulette in a casino. It was banned for obvious reasons: it worked. I learned all the tricks and tips, knew what to watch out for, when to raise bets, when to walk away. So with five hundred Francs in my pocket, wearing my best suit and tie, I went to the casino and a few hours later, with a violently thumping heart, I walked out again with forty thousand Francs. That's how I made my money. I had to travel around Europe a lot, because after walking away a few times with huge sums of money, the managers started to watch me, some even banned me from entering. It's a true story.”
“That's amazing,” Erik said. “You still play?”
“Every now and then, small winnings, not to attract too much attention. Many of the tips in that book do not work anymore, though. Casino's have changed."