Foster’s portfolio

I am a salesman who sells wise advice to the wealthy, and I am a liaison officer for an investment consulting firm.

One night, Herbert Foster called me and said that a friend recommended me to him and asked if I could talk about business.

I came to Foster’s residence, which was a crude post-war colonial house with a large attic.

A fierce, skinny woman smiled hollowly at me. “It’s an honor to meet you, Mrs. Foster,” I said. She was surrounded by underwear and socks to be sewn. Herbert said that her name was Alma, which was a good match for her.

“This is the little master,” I said. “A clever little guy who looks like a father.” The two-year-old wiped his dirty hands on my pants, sucked his nose, and walked towards the piano step by step. He stopped by the keys in the high range and hit the key with the highest pitch. Knock one minute, two minutes, three minutes.

“I like music-like his father.” Alma said.

“Do you play the piano, Mr. Foster?”

“Classical,” Herbert said. This is the first time I look at him. He is thinner, with a round face with freckles and big teeth.

“So, about your portfolio—” I started.

Herbert looked a little flustered.

“Ah, yes, I think we’d better talk in the bedroom. Be quiet there.”

I shrugged and followed him into the bedroom. He closed the door behind me. I sat on the edge of the bed and watched him open a small door on the wall, revealing various pipes leading to the bathroom. He reached into the wall with one hand and took out an envelope.

“Here,” Herbert put the envelope on my lap, “I don’t understand this kind of business at all. I think I should turn to professionals for help.”

I sighed and untied the red band that bound the envelope. The bond and securities list slipped onto my knee. I glanced at the bonds and then looked at the list of securities.


I put the list on the faded bedspread, controlled my emotions, and said, “Do you mind telling me where did the securities on this list come from?”

“Grandpa left it to me two years ago. In the hands of the property lawyers, they gave it to me.”

“Do you know how much these stocks are worth?”

“I estimated it when I inherited it.” He told me a number. He was embarrassed, even a little unhappy, which puzzled me.

“Since then they have appreciated again.”

“How many?”

“At today’s market price-they are worth about seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars, Mr. Foster, boss.”

His expression did not change. The information I told him didn’t shock him much, as if I was saying it was cold this winter. Alma’s footsteps sounded in the living room, and he raised his eyebrows: “Hush!”

“she does not know?”

“God, I don’t know!” He seemed to be surprised by his own strong reaction, “I mean the timing is not yet ripe.”

My client Herbert Foster hasn’t bought a new suit in three years. He never had a second pair of shoes. He was worried about his second-hand car loan. He ate tuna and cheese instead of meat because it was too expensive. Their family resolutely lived on Herbert’s meager wages, and Foster worked as an accountant in a food wholesale store.

God knows that there is nothing disgraceful in such a life, it is better than my way of life. However, when you know that Herbert has an annual income of about 20,000 yuan after tax, it is very disturbing to watch them live like this.

I asked our securities analysts to look at Foster’s stock and asked them to write a report.

On Saturday afternoon, the report came to me. I called Herbert.

“When can we talk?”

“I have to work at night.”

“That wholesale store has to work overtime?”

“Another job—in a restaurant. I’m going to work on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings.”

I trembled. This man’s securities bring him about fifty-five dollars a day, but he works three nights a week to make a living!


“Go to the church to rehearse and play the organ for the choir.”


“Volunteer fire training.”


“Go to church and play piano for folk dance.”


“The days when Alma and I watched a movie.”

“So, when?”

He seems to be a little bored. “Well, I’ll be home before nine o’clock tonight, you can bring it to me before nine o’clock.”

“There is one more thing, Herbert.” I left my hand-in-hand for the end. “My valuation of those stocks is so different. They are now about $850,000.”


“You have more money than you think, about a hundred thousand dollars more.”

“Oh. Well, just do it, do whatever you need.”

“Yes, sir.” The phone went off.

Other things held me back, and I arrived at Foster’s house at 10:15. Herbert was gone, Alma answered the door, and to my surprise, she asked me for the report.

“Herbert said I shouldn’t watch it,” she said, “so, you don’t have to worry about me peeking.”

Pausing by the fireplace, I saw a little yellowish photo. “You have a good picture.” I said.

“Everyone said yes. But that’s not me, it’s Herbert’s mother.”

“It looks strange.” Indeed, the girl Herbert married is very similar to the woman his dear father married. “Then this picture belongs to his father?”

“My dad. We don’t want a picture of his dad.”

This is like a pain point, maybe something is expected. “Herbert is such a great person, and his father must be great too, right?”

“He abandoned his wife and children. He is just that great. If you are clever, don’t mention him to Herbert.”

“Sorry. Herbert’s good points come from his mother?”

“She is a saint. She teaches Herbert to be decent and God-fearing.” Alma said seriously.

“Does she like music too?”

“He got this from his father. But the music he makes is completely different from his father’s. His music taste is the same as her mother’s-classical.”

“So his father played jazz?” I started talking.

“He likes playing the piano, smoking, and drinking in a broken bar, not his wife, children, home, and work. In the end, Herbert’s mother said that he must choose between two lives.”

I nodded sympathetically. Perhaps, Herbert thought his wealth was dirty and untouchable, because the money came from his father’s line. “Hebert’s grandpa, died two years ago?”

“He took care of Herbert and Herbert’s mother after his son abandoned them. Herbert respected him.” She shook her head sadly. “He died without a penny.”


“I wish he could leave us something so that Herbert would not have to go to work on weekends.”

In a noisy cafeteria, Herbert comes here to eat every day. I approached him and said, “Herbert, you are a rich man. You need to focus to get the most return from your holdings.”

“That’s why I found you. I want you to focus, and I hope you can help me take care of this. I don’t have to worry about security deposits, paperwork, and taxes. Don’t bother me with those things.”

“Your lawyer is depositing dividends for you, right?”

“Most of the dividends. I took out thirty-two dollars for Christmas and returned one hundred dollars to the church.”

“Then how much balance do you have?”

He handed me the passbook.

“Not bad.” I said. Even after squandering on Christmas, even if he donated generously to the church, he still saved more than 50,000 US dollars. “Can I ask, why do people with such a deposit balance worry?”

“I was scolded again for going to work.”

“Bought that store and burned it.” I suggested.

“I can, right?” A wild look flashed in his eyes and disappeared.

“Herbert, you can do whatever you want.”

“Oh, probably yes, it all depends on what I think.”

I leaned forward and asked, “What do you think, Herbert?”

“I think everyone, for the sake of self-esteem, should earn money to support themselves. I have a wonderful wife and children, and I have a good house for them, and a car. I earn every penny in it. , I fully shouldered my responsibilities. I can proudly say that I am exactly what my mother hopes to be, and there is no shadow of my father at all.”

“Do you mind if I ask what your father is like?”

“I don’t like talking about him. Home and family are totally meaningless to him. What he really loves is inferior music and bad bars, and what he loves is the trash in there.”

“Do you think he is a good musician?”

“Good?” His voice was excited for a moment. He tensed, as if about to say an important point, but he relaxed again. “Okay?” He repeated, his tone flat this time, “Yes, it’s cruel and good, I think he can pass it–I mean technically.”

“Then he inherited this to you.”

“Maybe it’s his wrists and hands. If he gives me other things, it will die.”

“He also passed on his love for music to you.”

He opened his eyes and said: “I will never let music become my drug. This is very important to me. I control the music, not the other way around.”

Obviously this is a dangerous topic. So, I went back to talk about his financial problems: “Okay, let’s talk about your investment portfolio, what do you hope to use it for?”

“Use a little for Alma and me to support the elderly, and leave most of it to the children.”

“At least you can get some out of the warehouse so you don’t have to work on weekends.”

He stood up suddenly and said, “Listen, I want you to take care of my stocks, not my life. If you have to take care of both, I will find someone else.”

Then he sat down and blushed and said: “Please respect my beliefs. I want to do it my way. If I need to do a second job to make ends meet, that’s the cross I want to carry.”

“Of course, of course. You are absolutely right, Herbert. I respect your approach.” I said.

“I love my family.” Herbert said sincerely.

“I’m sure you love them.”

“I will not trade my current life for anything.”

“I understand very well.” I said.

“When I think about what kind of person my dad is, and look at the life I have worked hard for myself, this is the most exciting experience for me.”

“I’m jealous of you. That must satisfy you.”

“Satisfaction,” he repeated firmly, “Yes, yes, yes.”

My company started to manage Herbert’s portfolio, and his portfolio is our masterpiece. The work done by the company makes me excited and proud, but I can’t show off, not even to Herbert, which makes me very frustrated.

I couldn’t stand it anymore, and decided to make a coincidence. I want to find the restaurant where Herbert works and go in to eat like normal people. I want to bring along his portfolio renovation report.

I called Alma and she told me the name of the restaurant. I never heard of it. Herbert doesn’t want to talk about that place, so I guess the environment there is very poor. As he said, that is the cross he will bear.

It was worse than I thought: crude, dim, noisy. Herbert really picked a hell spot to atone for his wayward father, to prove his gratitude to his wife, to earn money to maintain his self-esteem-to do all the things he needs to do there.

I squeezed past the gambler and the woman with annoying expressions and came to the bar. I can shout loudly for the bartender to hear. After he understood, he yelled at me, saying that he had never heard of Herbert Foster. It seems that Herbert is the lowest employee in such a place.

At this moment, Herbert Foster came in. He was dull and tired, walking through the crowd. His neck was strangely stiff, his arms were on his side, and he made no secret that he did not want to touch anyone, and did not want to look at him.

I called him, but he didn’t respond. No one talked to him.

At the end of the passage that the crowd gave up for him, a light shone, and a small white piano was shining like jewelry there. The bartender walked over and put a glass of wine on the piano, then returned to his post.

Herbert wiped the piano stool clean with a handkerchief and sat down carefully. He took a cigarette from his chest pocket and lit it. The cigarette was held in his mouth and slowly dropped; while the cigarette was hanging down, Herbert fell to the keyboard and squinted as if staring at something beautiful on the distant horizon.

Suddenly, Herbert Foster disappeared. Sitting was an excited stranger, his hands hanging like paws over the keys of the piano. Suddenly, he knocked it down, and a gorgeous, beautiful jazz piece vibrated in the air.

That night, I revisited my masterpiece-Herbert Foster’s portfolio. People call him “Fire Station” Harris. I did not let this portfolio or myself bother the “fire station”.

No one can do anything for Herbert, Herbert already has what he wants. Long before he got the inheritance or I intervened, he had what he wanted. He has the dignity his mother forged, but what is also priceless is an income that is not enough to support life. So, he had no choice but—in the sacred name of his wife, children, and family—to play the piano, smoke, and drink gin in a broken bar, and become the “firehouse” Harris, his father’s son , Every Wednesday night.