One evening a few weeks ago, my home phone rang. “You have a collect call from Bernard Madoff, an inmate at a federal prison,” a recorded message announced. Out of nowhere, there was that accent, familiar to anyone who’s visited Queens. Madoff apologized for calling collect. “I don’t have that much money in my commissary account,” he told me, before starting on a remarkable conversation that would stretch to several hours in more than a dozen phone calls. This being Bernie Madoff, in dollar terms the greatest criminal in history, I didn’t know what to believe. But I listened.