Billion-dollar vulture investor Zell/Chilmark Fund put the first notch in its belt yesterday with a surprise bid for bankrupt Carter Hawley Hale Stores Inc.'s junk bonds.

The Chicago-based fund, which has not completed a single deal since its launch in July 1990, offered 40 cents on the dollar for $550 million of the troubled retailer's bonds -- about twice their recent market value.

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