MANHATTAN – I met a weird man named Ram late at night in Union Square amid the day’s waning chaos – well, he said he said his name was Ram. While I didn’t believe him, I didn’t care enough to figure his real name, figuring it was none of my business. He said has an office set up in an unaccounted for subway car with blacked-out windows, hurtling darkly under the city. I neither had a reason to believe him nor disbelieve him.
Ram had a certain callous efficiency about him and was keenly aware that anything can happen in NYC at any time for any reason.
Ram has a four cellphones, which all work in the subway. At the time, mobile phones didn’t connect to their networks underground in the subway, but he is a man of commerce with important business so his always works and no one ever questions him about it. An acquaintance who owed me a favor (somehow I got the credit for breaking his wife and mistress out of a Argentinian prison) had connections in the NSA and, through sloppy security measures and general incompetence, was able to secure Ram’s file for me.
The odd thing about Ram is he has no known cellular contracts, his phone numbers aren’t traceable and he doesn’t use pay-as-you-go phones. He has no employees, but there is always a menacing looking man to his left who never speaks. A small Korean woman brings him his ramen at precisely 12:30 every day. He has no known bank accounts, family or friends. He has no previous addresses, but is rumored to own mansions in Seattle and Newport.
Ram said he has never cooked a meal for himself or worn the same socks twice.
“I never answer my phone,” he told me over Papaya King hotdogs. “Important people never answer their own phones.”
He nodded to the Papaya King cashier and walked away with a tray of papaya juice and hot dogs without paying. I thought that was some sort of agreement between he and the cashier or the proprietor. Nope … I got stuck with the bill for his dinner.
Ram’s four telephone lines, from three area codes and two country codes, are for calling other people. No one calls Ram, he said calls them and his numbers never appear on caller ID or phone records.
“You’d be surprised how little things like that cost, ” he said while chewing on a hotdog.
We finished our dinner and headed to the Waldorf Astoria, where he led me to an office behind a door with a filthy “Danger, do not enter” sign. Ram said he makes no plans – nothing he shares anyway. He has no past and leaves no shadows. I don’t know his whole name, only Ram.
“My mother wanted to name me George, but my father wanted to name me Gershwin O’Neill, because he loved theater. Luckily they named me neither,” he said laughing. “Your NSA friend has all of the wrong information on me, by design. You’d be surprised how cheap manipulating files and spreading disinformation is.”
He uses no last name, speaks many languages and deals only in foreign currency and domestic weapons.
“Americans make the best weapons,” he admitted later over 24 year-old-scotch sipped from dirty glasses while we sat on wooden rifle crates stamped with dire Cyrillic markings.
“The Americans may make the best, but the Chinese make the most and make a reasonable facsimile for a much better price.”
“The Swiss have more guns than anyone, plenty of money and no one thinks twice about large transactions in cash between people who keep secrets,” Ram said to a contact calling from Davos. “Fuck the Dutch and the Canadians, they can deal with the South Africans for all I fucking care.”
He stared at the floor for a moment while slowly swirling the scotch around his glass then said, “never bother with women older than your scotch, they ask too many questions and make too many demands.”
Ram has contemporaries and associates of many stripes for many reasons that don’t concern anyone. His main concern is business and his personal dealings with warlords and members of the underworld assumed to be dead.
He nuked a frozen burrito on a Delft ceramic plate.
“Martha Stewart gave me a set of these plates. She said they were from the palace of … ” he said, trailing off. “I don’t remember, some Dutch assholes. I hear they’re worth $1200 apiece, but I use them to nuke Don Miguel burritos.”
He took out the burrito, threw the plate against the wall, smashing it into horrifically expensive pieces. He retrieved another from a wooden crate under a table.
I was more impressed with how much he eats than smashing plates that are probably knock-offs from The Oracle’s Chinese factory connection.
Ram has a strange sense of elegance and style, which is apparent in the ostrich leather covering the seating areas of his heavily-renovated subway car. Planks of Californian redwood and Brazilian ipe line the floor of his mobile office. The driver, whom no one has ever seen, and technically does not exist, tells the dispatcher where they are going en route. He never yields right of way; dispatch knows this – although won’t openly admit it – and will always route Ram’s car with the highest priority.
The mysterious business man has the unique ability to be a Ghost of Union Square but also appear other places, generally in the company of non-English speaking Asian women who are intoxicated on rare blends of sake reserved for deities and royalty. He is neither and no one cares, they wave away questions of his authenticity and identity. He never appears on security cameras and leaves confusing finger prints.
From his underground office, Ram runs a multitude of businesses like a banana plantation in Brazil and a coffee farm high in the misty peaks of Jamaica, in addition to automotive repair garages in San Antonio that appear to be locally owned. No one really knows how many he owns, but there is a rumor he owns at least half of them.
He is in contact with people from all over the world, including Basel, Switzerland. Some say he has a doppelgänger in every major city on the planet, and a few minor cities as well. I heard Ram drank home-made moonshine with Franklin D. Roosevelt in FDR’s last days in Georgia. Yes, it was during Prohibition. Ram had a strong distribution business at that time, which doesn’t make sense given it was 70 years ago. He grimly shakes his head with a look of disdain after I asked about that.
“People believe all sorts of stupid shit,” he said. “I let them believe it; it’s good for business.”
He said he still uses the secret train platform under the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan and actually owns the hotel and Grand Central Terminal. We walked down the stairs through the other door in his office, to a different door a few flights down.
He opened a door to a vast underground rail yard where his subway car sat idle.
“Holy shit, it’s real?!” I exclaimed. “I thought it was one of your bullshit stories like the counterfeit Delft plates from China you have in your office.”
“I hear we have some mutual acquaintances,” he said . “How are The Oracle and Reisinger doing these days?
I didn’t get a chance to answer before he walked off into the semi-dark toward his subway car.