Pickwick Paper

Wanna make a billion bucks? Here's how.

You'll need some plates to print from — 20-dollar plates are good. The denomination is small enough to ease into circulation; not so small as to be wasting your time in two-bit hard work. But you'll need security clearance to get inside a branch of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, where those plates are housed. A heavily protected New York City branch of the bank will do, and a Latin bombshell by the name of Milagro Perdido is the woman to see, because she's got the clearance and the security code. Just ask Carlos Ferrar. Carlos is a smooth operator and big-shot bogus businessman up from Panama, and he's got Milagro's number.

But you'll need some paper to print on too — the paper supplied by a plant in Pickwick, Tennessee, will do. The U.S. Treasury uses trees shipped down the Tennessee River, and the pulp from those trees goes into the making of U.S. bills. But you'll need to see a guy in Pickwick named Sliver about it. Sliver is a real estate broker and banker, and Carlos saw Sliver about getting hold of that paper. But Sliver got bumped off in New York City. An FBI agent on the professional downswing, Garrett Tedia, is investigating.

And meanwhile, a mobile printing unit in the New York area is printing up 20-dollar bills by the armful. Every couple weeks, that money is being stored in a warehouse in Brooklyn by the pallet-full. What to do with it? Three million every three days?

Milagro secretly wants a good chunk of it so she can split with it, retire to the good life, sight unseen, in Mexico. Martin (Marty) Tyroni is just the guy she's looking for. And as for Carlos: He needs honest investors to go with his Park Avenue (and sham) investment company. He also needs a tax-free set-up offshore to launder the money. Cassidy Tyroni is just the gal he's looking for.

Who are Marty and Cassidy Tyroni? They're the happily married couple — well, mostly happy — at the heart of One Hour Martin-izing (AuthorHouse) by Memphian Frank Saitta, and they sort of know just what they're getting into when it comes to Carlos and Milagro. Cassidy, a high-end real estate agent with the right instincts and blue-chip contacts, will make a killing legally earning the commission on brokering Carlos' ill-gotten gains. Marty will clear a cool $300,000 simply by helping Milagro help herself to some of Carlos' warehoused millions.

Marty, ga-ga over Milagro, will be finally doing his part — really doing his part — in the breadwinner department, because, you see, there's only so much a dry-cleaning business in Manhattan can earn, and what Marty makes as owner of Meltzy's Dry Cleaning and One Hour Martinizing (Marty won the business years ago off a winning hand against his friend Bill Meltzy) can't hold a candle to the big bucks Cassidy makes as a premier broker of some of Manhattan's finest real estate. No joke. She runs a top-class outfit, and it means the couple can enjoy living in a brownstone on East 81st and the high-price name brands that go with it. Not bad for a guy like the likable Marty, who freely admits he's always wanted greatness and all that went with (except for the actual hard work).

Just ask Marty's friend and confidant Walt at the Mixer, the Upper East Side bar where Marty is known to have a drink or three before and after work and where Walt comes up with a plan of his own to make off with a good handful of Carlos' counterfeit 20s. Walt, you see, is a recovering alcoholic, and that money could get him out of some serious debt and out of the bar business. What he wants is to set up a rehab center somewhere in the mountains. Crazy?

No crazier than the very high high jinks that make up this madcap caper of a novel — a first novel — from Frank Saitta, Brooklyn-born into what the author calls a very Italian family but a Memphian for the past 15 years as senior director for Hilton Hotel's Homewood Suites division. Talk to the author, and there's no guessing where the high spirits and brisk action of One Hour Martin-izing come from. Saitta's a man of high spirits himself.

"I'm a glass-half-full kinda guy," Saitta admits, but during downtime with his wife and daughter at Pickwick Lake on weekends, he's a real reader: Hunter S. Thompson, Philip Roth, Sidney Sheldon, Chuck Palahniuk, and Tom Wolfe — all "those guys," a real "mishmash" of writers, are the writers Saitta looks to learn from. But what's Saitto himself doing joining their ranks? According to the author, one weekend at Pickwick, he got a "wild hair":

"Ten or so years ago, I started journaling. Then I wrote a couple of short stories. Two got published, and that early bit of success was dangerous. I started another story, and after about 75,000 words, I thought, Okay, this is not going to be a short story. It took on a life of its own."

Which made it a little, Saitta says, like a game of golf — a good game of golf. Sort of Zen-like. A lot of One Hour Martin-izing:

"It unfolded right on the screen in front of me," Saitta says. "I had a loose outline, but much of the dialogue and some of the plot twists came right as I was going. I'd kind of look up from the computer and say, Okay, yeah."

That makes the business of writing a far cry from Saitta's day job traveling to Homewood Suites across the country, working with managers, and upholding Hilton's standards. But that day job is no surprise. An eighth-grade aptitude test recommended Saitta go into hotel management, and he hasn't gone wrong yet by doing so. He points with pride to his days working for hotel magnate Leona Helmsley. He recalls his days at the famed Algonquin hotel in Manhattan and meeting the likes of Eudora Welty. And he remembers what his father once said: "Son," he told Frank, "find something you like to do, and you'll never work a day in your life."

But these days, Saitta's worked himself well into a sequel to One Hour Martin-izing. In fact, he's 10,000 words into it.

"I'm continuing the saga of those two," Saitta says, referring to Martin and Cassidy Tyroni. "People at my booksignings say they like these characters. They connect with them right away. Others say they didn't want to see the book end."

And it's not going to.

"In the new book, Marty and Cassidy are on a tax-free island," according to Saitta. "They might just buy a hotel. You know, Cassidy's not the type to sit around."

Nor is Frank Saitta, whose glass, to hear him tell it, is way more than half-full.

Frank Saitta will be reading from and signing One Hour Martin-izing at Java Cabana, 2170 Young Avenue, on Saturday, March 14th, 2009, from 2 to 4 p.m.

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