Sep 14 2012 12:00pm
Black Fridays: New Excerpt
An excerpt of Black Fridays, a debut financial thriller in the Jason Stafford series by Michael Sears (available September 18, 2012).
Sometimes a man can be redeemed. But not in the way he expects.
Jason Stafford is a former Wall Street hotshot who made some bad moves, paid the price with two years in prison, and is now trying to put his life back together. He’s unemployable, until an investment firm asks him to look into possible problems left by a junior trader who died recently in an accident. What he discovers is big—there are problems, all right, the kind that get you killed.
But that’s not his only concern. Stafford has another quest as well: to reclaim his five-year-old son, “the Kid,” from his unstable ex-wife, and then learn just what it means to make a life with him. The things Stafford discovers about himself in the process are every bit as gripping as his investigation, and when the two threads of his life come together the results are unforgettable.
The woman screamed for the first three seconds. Three seconds took her down only fourteen stories—she still had twenty-four to go. She fainted. Her arms and legs stopped flailing, her body went limp.
The few pedestrians on Maiden Lane, forced by circumstance to brave the baking midafternoon sidewalk on the hottest first day of summer in New York City history, all froze at the sound, like grown-up children playing a game of Statues.
The bicycle messenger, a recent veteran of two tours of duty in Afghanistan, was busy chaining his vehicle to the no parking sign. When he heard the scream, he dove clear across the sidewalk, landing behind a large concrete planter.
Wind resistance on the woman’s skirt, combined with the relative effects of gravity upon the denser mass of her head, spun her so that when she struck the roof of the idling Town Car at more than one hundred miles per hour, she hit headfirst—like a bullet. Her heart, unaware that the woman was now legally dead, continued to pump for another few seconds, spewing streams and geysers of blood out of various wounds and orifices.
Despite some doubts, the investigating team from NYPD found no reason not to treat the situation as a straightforward successful suicide—thereby both clearing a case and, with the same stroke of the pen, keeping the murder rate down below the previous year’s, a measure of great importance to the mayor’s Office of Tourism.
No one paid much attention to the shaky veteran who told anyone who would listen, “When you want to die, you don’t scream like that.”
I was the first alumnus from my MBA class to make managing director. I was also the first, as far as I know, to go to prison.
They make you skip breakfast the day they release you. It’s not the final indignity, and far from the worst, but it’s such a small thing, so petty, so unnecessary, that it just hammers home one last time, as though you needed another reminder, that in prison you are nothing. Nothing.
I followed the guards down a short corridor, through a final electrically controlled gate, and into a small room with a metal door, two molded plastic chairs, and a three-inch-thick plexiglass window on the far wall. Through the window I could see my father in the next room, showing his ID and signing his name with a pen that was chained to a clipboard. They probably had to throw the whole thing away whenever they ran out of ink.
He saw me staring at him and gave a short wave. He had been to visit only a month before, but he looked years older—grayer, paler, shorter. I imagined there were more pleasant things to do on a late-summer morning than pick up your only son from prison.
My sentence had ended at midnight; that’s the way they do it. For two years, time had been marked by lights on, meals, lights off, with random violence the only relief from boredom. The guards—polite, almost respectful for the first time—had arrived a few minutes early. It didn’t matter—I hadn’t slept.
“Good luck, Jason.” My cellmate was awake as well. He had another four months to go on a two-year stint. He was a car wash owner turned tax protester, who had believed some Internet nonsense about income taxes being unconstitutional. So for a pissy hundred grand or so, he had become a guest of the state, learning the hard realities behind constitutional law.
“Take care, Myron. Give me a call sometime.”
I doubted he would. Neither of us would want to remember where we had met.
There were a few murmured good-byes from the darkened cells as the two guards walked me off the block. Otisville harbored a more congenial, less confrontational clientele than Ray Brook, where I had served the first eighteen months of my sentence. At Otisville, it was possible to play a game of cards that did not lead to getting jumped in the yard the next day. I hadn’t exactly made friends there, just acknowledged fellow travelers.
Two years. Two years earlier, in the midst of a plea bargain meeting, I thought I had misheard. “Two years.” For an accounting shuffle? Ridiculous. You pay a fine and move on. Time served. That’s how these things end up. But the Feds wanted my scalp. It was a half-billion-dollar accounting shuffle, which had come close to bringing down a major investment bank. The stock had plummeted. Investors were outraged. The president’s mother-in-law lost almost ten thousand dollars! The Feds needed someone to put in the stocks and get pelted with stones and rotten fruit. I was their man.
My first stop was Ray Brook. It’s about a long home run from the Canadian border, high in the Adirondacks. It’s the real deal. Somehow, when you do time for a white-collar crime, you think you’re going to spend the days passing around Barron’s and discussing your portfolio with like-minded individuals. Work out, grow a beard, and catch up on your reading. It wasn’t like that.
Most of the habitués were there on drug charges, racketeering, or both. It was an eye-opening master class in Diverse Patterns of Confrontation in Modern Gang Culture. I barely passed. The macho posturing of Wall Street does nothing to prepare you for the moment when a three-hundred-pound Latino man with a dark purple scar running across his throat looks up at you from across the chow hall table and rasps out the words, “Hey, baboso. Give me your lunch.”
I rapped twice on the table and offered him the bread and mashed potatoes. Truce.
In comparison, Otisville was cake. It’s no country club, no matter what the Wall Street Journal implied when I was moved there, but the prisoners are all short-timers and less prone to violent solutions to minor disagreements; no one wants to risk getting his sentence extended when he’s marking off the last days till he goes home. And the food was better.
I hadn’t heard him come in. He was a clerk, not a guard. A little pudgy—baby-faced. Happy to have a ten-dollar-an-hour clerical job with full benefits—even if it was the night shift at the federal prison camp. I had a sudden flash of panic—they weren’t going to let me leave. There was a mistake and this unlikely boob had been assigned the job of letting me know.
“I’m your release expediter. I have some forms to go over with you.”
I sucked in a breath, let it out slowly, then did it again. My pulse rate slowed.
“Will this take long?” As though I had an appointment.
“I’ll do what I can.” His voice went up at the end of every sentence, making it a question. I didn’t know how much of it I could take. “I know you have someone here to pick you up.” He nodded toward the window. A guard was steering my father into an office and out of view. “I hope to get you out in no time at all.”
He wanted to be nice. He wanted me to be nice, too. I thought of some of the other detainees he must have mustered out. It was a high-stress job. I decided to try to make it easy on him.
“What do you need from me?”
Forms. He explained them in bureaucratic detail. I signed them. He handed me a big padded envelope that held my clothes from the first day I entered the system. Underwear, jeans, and a polo shirt. I signed for them. I signed a release form that said I had been advised of the necessary procedures I would have to take in the event that I wished to protest any violations of my civil rights I may have suffered during my incarceration. I signed a separate form that absolved the Federal Government of all responsibility for any such violations committed by employees and a third form that said there hadn’t been any such violations anyway. For such a brutal, stone-cold bureaucracy, the powers in charge were pretty sensitive about covering their asses.
“That’s it, then. You can get changed now. I’ll be back to get you in a while.”
The clothes didn’t fit. My waist and hips were slimmer, my chest and shoulders broader. At the ancient age of forty-four, for the first time in my life I had pecs.
“In a while” was still on prison time. No one was rushing to speed my way home. My father was still hidden in the office. I sat down, propped my feet on the other chair, and tried to imagine life on the outside.
No man ever admits to having been asleep, but I had dreamed. Dreams of pain and torture. My body was on a rack, and each click of the wheel shot sharp spasms along my spine.
“Fuck!” I staggered upright and stretched. I had felt much younger going into prison than I did coming out. Outside, two years is an episode—inside, an eternity.
My stomach was telling me it was six, maybe seven. I thought about the hamburger at the 21 Club. Actually, any hamburger would do. And a cold beer.
The door slammed back against the wall.
“Stafford!” It wasn’t the clerk; it was a dull-eyed dayshift guard. That meant it was already after eight. “This way.” He stepped back and waved me out ahead of him, looking me over as though he expected to find I’d stolen a chair and hidden it down my pants.
He swung the final door open and I felt like I was taking my first full breath in two years.
My father wrapped his arms around me and while I wanted to pull away, it just felt too good. I let him go on hugging me until he pulled away in damp-eyed embarrassment.
I looked him in the eye; I owed him that. “Hey, Pop.” There was too much to say—regrets, recriminations, disappointments—so we did what we always did. We said none of it.
It was raining and windy. The tail end of summer was giving way to fall all too quickly. The chill came right through the light nylon jacket he had brought for me. The collar smelled of his Viceroy cigarettes, though he hadn’t smoked in years—not since my mother died. The coat must have come from far back in his closet. We climbed into his near-classic Olds 88 and headed home.
“I thought you might want to spend a night or two with me. Until you can get the apartment together.”
It was a bad jolt. Prison shrinks your brain. I had thought about food and sex and taking my son to a Yankees game and the smell of the ocean and what it would be like to sleep in a room with an unlocked door. But I’d managed to hide from all the big questions. My marriage. Work. The nuts and bolts of basic survival. A future. All the things I hadn’t thought about began screaming for attention. I felt a surge of claustrophobia.
“Thanks, Pop, but no,” I finally managed. “Give me a day or two. I’ll come over for dinner some night.” I wasn’t up to explaining that after two years of no privacy whatsoever, I just wanted to be alone. For at least one night.
“I’ve been aging a nice pair of prime steaks. Some fresh asparagus. A Caesar salad.”
“Great. Sounds great. Friday night?” The prison stench was still in my nostrils, turning my stomach every time I inhaled. I tried breathing in through my mouth, out the nose. The smell faded.
He held back a sigh. “Friday night it is, then.”
“Thanks for understanding,” I said, though I knew he didn’t.
“I brought you a black-and-white.” He handed me a white paper bag. “From Carla’s.”
Carla’s black-and-white cookies had been my unfailing cure for the blues. When I was ten. “Thanks, Pop. Maybe later.” I was hungry enough, but I was afraid I’d start bawling if I ate it.
“So, I thought we’d take 84 over to Milford and then 206/15 down to 80. It’s a pretty drive.”
“Nyah. You want 17 to 87 and over the Tappan Zee,” I said.
“I hate the Tappan Zee. How about the other way on 84—all the way to Brewster and then down the Hutch.”
He was comforting me with his own obsessions. My father could debate four different ways of going down to the 7-Eleven for a pint of half-and-half on a Sunday morning. Around the time I started growing pubic hair, it started making me crazy. Then in college I found myself doing it. Later, I found it made my wife nuts. That’s not fair. My wife was more than a bit nuts when I met her.
“You know what I want? I want to see New York from the GW Bridge.”
“It’s your day.”
We rode in silence for a while.
“You want to play something on the radio? You go ahead.” This was a hugely magnanimous gesture. Not only was he tone-deaf—he loved to repeat the old line “I only know two songs. One of them’s ‘Happy Birthday.’ The other isn’t”—but he also had, what I considered to be, an unhealthy addiction to sports talk radio.
“Thanks, Pop. I’m enjoying the quiet.”
The quiet didn’t last long.
“Have you heard from Angie at all?”
Angie was my wife. Ex-wife. We met at a Bear Stearns party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She and two hundred other models had been hired to circulate at the party and “add color.” I’m sure that it was the first time she had ever been there. I was an adult version of a nerd, a Wall Street trader, and a multimillionaire. Angie was an underwear model with a charming, bubbling ditziness—think Myrna Loy in a D-cup—that disguised all clues to her dark side. She was also a monumental narcissist, a street fighter, and—I discovered later—a lush. But she was never boring. We were both asked to leave that party after Angie convinced me to go wading with her in the fountain at the Temple of Dendur. For the first time in eight years, I called in sick the next day. And I stayed in bed all day—her bed. We were married eight weeks later. I thought I knew what I was doing.
“Idiot!” Pop said, as an SUV swerved into our lane without signaling. The car behind us flashed its brights in protest.
I let him ask the question again.
“So, I was saying . . . heard from Angie?”
“Nothing,” I finally answered. “Not since they left.”
It had been almost eight months. At first she made regular once-a-month trips up to Ray Brook. I grew to resent how dependent I became upon those visits. They brought no pleasure—divorced men get no conjugal visits—only desire, pain, frustration, and anger.
But they were all I had. I never thought they must have been tough for her as well.
She sent me a card announcing the move. Gilt lettering on heavy linen stock, like a wedding invitation. “Angie and Jason Jr. are leaving New York and heading home. Y’all come see us sometime.” Underneath was her mother’s address in Beauville, Louisiana. There was no signature. I suppose I should have been gratified that I was on the distribution list.
“I’ll go see her,” I said. “We can straighten this all out.” I might have believed it, too.
My father made that little noncommittal grunt that manages to express nonbelief in the most nonconfrontational manner and we lapsed back into silence.
The traffic was starting to get to me. They all drove too fast. The trucks and SUVs all looked impossibly large and the way everyone careened from lane to lane with only limited regard for human life—their own or anyone else’s—gave me a headache. I put my head back and closed my eyes.
A few minutes later, I felt my father’s hand cover mine. He gave a gentle squeeze.
“Keep the faith, bud. Fresh start. It’s all going to work out.”
I didn’t tell him about the big trucks and the headache. I just squeezed his hand back. Maybe he was right.
“Thanks, Pop.” I nodded off for a bit.
The rain tapered off, leaving a thick fog. I couldn’t see shit from the GW Bridge. If New York City was throwing a party for my return, it was well hidden.
The first step had been just a mistake. An error. I put the wrong date on a trade ticket and the computer, rather than catching it and spitting it back to our clerk, assigned the trade to the following year.
In this case, changing the settlement date gave a huge boost to the plus column for the day’s trading. The group had already had a very good day—we were up almost five million according to the computer. The fact that we should have been up only four and a quarter mil got lost in the euphoria.
Two days later, my clerk came to me with a report showing our unsettled trades. It was immediately apparent to me what had happened, and under normal conditions, I would have told him to make the corrections and shrugged off the restatement of our earnings.
But it was not a normal day. I had just had a major antler-crashing session with a bureaucrat from the risk management department who didn’t understand why my group kept going over their intra-day risk limits. I tried to explain that it was an inevitable function of our business. Customers often ganged up, all leaning in the same direction at the same time. We waited for our moment and then struck—sometimes we made out, more often lately we had not. But forcing already stressed traders to keep watch over their shoulder while in the middle of the fray was a sure way to get them all to sit on their hands. They would manage themselves toward the risk goals rather than the profit goals. The bureaucrat thought that this was a good thing.
I took the report from the clerk and ran my eye down the page. The mistake stood out like a pink elephant in Antarctica. Why hadn’t anyone else caught it?
I checked the computer—the trading desk was having a bad day. A brutal day. They were down close to three mil. If I authorized a correction on the trade, we would be down almost four. I made a second mistake.
“Why are you sticking this in my face, Joseph?” I only called him Joseph when I was pissed at him, otherwise he was Joe, or Joey if he had done something of special note.
He almost flinched. “It just needs your initials, Jason.”
“Is there a question? Do you think there’s something here I should see?”
He hesitated. “No, sir.”
“Fine.” I signed off with a scrawl and dismissed him.
I walked off the trading floor and hid in my office for the next hour, watching the red numbers accumulate on my monitor. The desk was getting crushed.
At that moment, I still had every intention of correcting that one trade just as soon as we had one good day. We had had many more good days than bad in the previous years. This was just a dry spell. A batting slump. The market had changed abruptly after the introduction of the euro. We would find a way to get our groove back. When we did, I would put through the correction.
That was the plan.
The next time was not a mistake. Once again, I had just walked out of a meeting. The little fucking bulldog from risk had taken his problem up the chain of command. I had to “explain” the “discrepancies” to a bunch of suits from the risk committee. The senior guys were all graybeards who hadn’t traded anything since Nixon let the dollar float. They did not understand. Markets had moved on. They should all have been out playing golf rather than wasting my time.
The truly fucked-up thing was that they were not asking me about a three-quarter-million-dollar mistake—that I had signed off on twice—but about limits of risk exposure that my twelve traders collectively violated each and every day—and always had—but for only brief moments. An hour at most. Not a big deal. To me.
The seat-of-the-pants approach for risk had always worked well enough for me. You take on what your gut tells you is right. If it smells bad, get out. And don’t risk more than you can make back in a day. So, if a young trader’s best day ever was up a hundred grand, you don’t let him take positions that might move against him by more than that in a day. This approach can sometimes be hard to quantify and the manager needs to keep an eye on what the troops are doing. Sometimes you have to cut somebody some slack, sometimes you have to rein a guy in, or even shut him down. Those are judgment calls. It used to be called managing.
But Wall Street fell in love with models. Not like Angie, these were black-box models that took in numbers, mashed and mangled them through t-statistics and standard deviations, and spit out other numbers. And since really smart guys were making the boxes—and, I must admit, sometimes creating huge profits with them—the rest of the world fell in step. This created a bureaucracy of monitors—typically not traders, but programmers and mathematicians—to watch over the rest of us and make sure we didn’t do anything to upset their black boxes.
I had never agreed to those limits when they were introduced—they were forced on me by this same group of old mother hens, who imagined they were appeasing the regulators by strangling my ability to get business done. My boss understood. He knew what the game was about. But in that meeting he just kept his head down and let me take the flack.
They let us leave only when I had agreed to abide by another meaningless set of even stricter guidelines. Another victory for form over substance.
I buttonholed my boss in the elevator.
“Why did you leave me hanging out there, David? I kept waiting for you to come charging to the rescue, flags flying and bugles blaring.”
He spoke quietly and urgently. “You just dodged a bullet, Jason. When the firm is doing well, producers run the show—you know that. But we’re not. The suits are taking over. We’ve had a couple of tough quarters and the board is looking for someone to take the fall.”
“Come on, man. You know it’s just the cycle. We’ve been through it before. We’ll be knocking ’em out of the park again soon enough.”
“Right now, the board would be thrilled with some consistent singles. You run a good team, Jason. Everybody knows it. If you keep your head down and your group starts making a little money on a regular basis, you should be fine.”
That stopped me. “And if not?”
“Those old farts will serve you up to the board as the sacrificial lamb, and there won’t be a thing I can do about it.”
I had just bought Angie another new toy—a sixty-thousand-dollar Cadillac Escalade. She wanted it to ferry her fashion-world friends out to the Montauk house. But Angie hated to drive. So did I. She would lose all interest in that huge machine by midsummer. Ironically, it was a belt-tightening gesture on her part; she would not have to hire a limo each time she wanted to show off the beach house. But buying her expensive presents—on a whim, to feed her acquisitive and mercurial spirit—was part of how I saw myself then. It was important to my self-image that I could go on being that guy for her. And for that I needed a job—a big job. With a big bonus.
“I hear you, David.” I wasn’t going to let a bunch of empty suits stop me. “Thanks for the heads-up. Don’t worry. I’ll make it work.”
I checked in with the trading desk. We were down just under a mil for the day. That meant we were only up two for the month. It was a meager showing for a dozen experienced traders. I checked the trade blotter. They hadn’t really been doing so badly, most of the trades were reasonably profitable. And one was not. It was a big trade with a Middle Eastern monetary authority. My trader had been caught wrong-footed and had dropped two mil before he could get right way round. I couldn’t undo the trade, or the trades he had done to offset the mini-disaster, but I could shift the settlement date. Instead of settling three days in the future, it would settle 368 days in the future. The desk would be up a mil on the day—four for the month—and today’s problem would become next year’s problem. I could reverse it again the next time the desk had a big day. It would only be for a few days. Or a week. If anyone caught it in the meantime, I could bluff it out. If a junior clerk caught it, I’d tell him I was right and he was wrong. If anyone more senior asked, I would call it a mistake. Just like the previous one.
From the vantage point of a prison cell, it was ridiculously easy to see the flaws in my logic. By the time the markets became more favorable, and my group was hitting homers on a regular basis, I owed the future over fifty mil. There never seemed to be a right time to go back and make the corrections. A year later, it was two hundred and fifty. Every time I rolled out a settlement date, our profits ballooned. The board was thrilled. Dave made sure I was very well compensated. The graybeards and the suits backed off—reluctantly and only temporarily.
The day—five years ago—when Angie brought the Kid home from the hospital, I had three grand worth of flowers delivered to the apartment, and I stayed in the office until almost midnight. I was scrambling to offset a pair of trades that were finally due to settle. I waited until the Tokyo markets opened, executed enough large trades to offset the problem—baffling the Japanese traders—and plugged in the long settlements. Then I went home to meet my son.
Jason Jr. was not an easy baby. He never giggled or cooed; he screamed when he was held; he resisted making eye contact unless caught nose to nose, in which case he became almost feral, clawing and biting. Angie, having sacrificed her normal pillar of vodka, for the sake of this child, was a wreck. She cried whenever she was awake. Maybe not every woman should be a mother, but not every mother had to deal with a child like mine. Vodka bottles began showing up in the recycling bin. I started sleeping on the couch.
I was busy. I had to keep trading so that I could keep rolling settlement dates into the future and keep posting the phony profits. On the Kid’s first birthday, I gave Angie a teardrop sapphire pendant the size of a robin’s egg. That was the day that the hole I had dug hit five hundred million. Half a yard.
I stayed late every night reviewing old trades to watch for upcoming settlement dates. I gave up vacations because I was afraid of being found out if I were out of the office for more than a day or two at a time. I rarely had a pleasant word for anyone. I was sure a couple of my traders were starting to suspect me, which I ascribed to paranoia until the day I found one of them had “mistakenly” dated a trade 368 days in the future, generating a large, and false, profit of one million dollars. I told Joe to correct it and barricaded myself in my office for the rest of the day. That night, I found myself arguing with myself as I walked home—out loud. Very loud. I frightened a homeless man who scurried out of my way when he heard my two-sided tirade.
The only thing that made the grinding machine in my head stop for even a brief moment was sex. Angie provided. She was where I went for oblivion. We were barely even speaking by then. She was dealing with her own feelings of inadequacy and rejection by her own child and living on 80-proof fruit drinks. But most nights, before I headed for the couch, we met on Frette sheets for a brief and savage encounter—that left us further apart and more alone, but at least exhausted and able to sleep.
By the time David called me into his office for our last chat, I had been running the scam for three years. I knew it was over. The group had run up profits of over a billion dollars during that time—more than half of it was legit. I had even started reversing some of my “mistakes,” covering the losses with our legitimate gains. David had been showing me off at board meetings; my traders were being treated like rock stars by the sales force; I made it onto the CEO’s Christmas card list.
But the graybeards had, quite sensibly, determined that it was statistically impossible for our group to have performed that well, given our mandated risk parameters. They started the investigation—not because they had any inkling that I had been fudging the books to create profits, but because they thought I was cheating on their stupid risk levels. They called in the accountants to check. The green eyeshade guys found the fiddle, panicked, and notified the SEC.
Things began to get weird. I started getting requests for clarification of trades that had happened years ago. My clerk got “transferred” to the accounting department, though he seemed to spend all of his time in the eighth-floor conference room with a lot of guys in ill-fitting gray suits. It wasn’t hard to read the smoke signals—I was surrounded.
I hired a lawyer and gave him a huge retainer. I put the Montauk house on the market. I set up the trust fund for the Kid. Angie and I set up the divorce scam to keep some of our assets from the Feds. Then I waited.
David finally called me in, late one Friday morning.
“I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending you don’t know why you’re here. It’s over, Jason.”
There are times when a trader gets stuck in a losing trade and hangs on way too long waiting for it to get better. He loses all perspective. That trade is all he can focus on. It becomes an obsession. His whole body becomes involved. He finds himself walking stiffly, as though his nerves had turned to glass. Cramps and flatulence are typical symptoms. So are headaches, blurred vision, and sleeplessness.
At that point there is only one thing to do—take your lumps. Sell out the position causing you pain. Take the loss and move on. The first loss is always the easiest. A bad position never gets better, it just gets older.
Traders call this “puking” because the feelings before and after are just the same. For all the pain and discomfort in the moment before puking, there is as much relief, release, and resignation immediately after. Puking is always better than fighting it.
I felt the cold sweat on my back, the hot, green flush on my cheeks. I choked back the acid rising in my throat.
David was still talking. “The firm has agreed to provide you with legal counsel, but only insofar as our interests coincide.”
In other words, “Get a lawyer.”
“Thank you. That won’t be necessary. I’ve already taken care of that.” My head was clearing. The angry knot in my stomach that had me drinking Pepto-Bismol for lunch every day was loosening. The hundred-pound anvils that had been sitting on each shoulder for the past three years metamorphosed into butterflies and flew away. This was far from over, and the ulcer-and angina-inducing symptoms would return many times over the next year, as the Feds threatened and my legal team negotiated, but at that one moment I felt the elation of finally being caught.
“Jason, it’s been a good run. We have all benefited from your group’s performance. This is a tragedy. I’m sorry it has to end this way.”
What was he saying? Of course everyone benefited. He had benefited even more than I, that being the reality of the Wall Street compensation pyramid. The chairman and CEO benefited. The bank had weathered the recent credit crisis by jettisoning the mortgage portfolio early, but it had been a close thing. Now they would have to restate earnings to the tune of half a billion dollars—the stock would take a hit. A big hit.
“I just wish you had come to me with this, Jason. I am sure we could have worked something out. A quiet resignation with an acceptable severance package. The restatement of earnings could have been spread over the next few years. We all thought there were avenues we could have pursued. We were prepared to work with you.”
They knew. They fucking knew! I was sure my usual stony expression was shot, but I managed not to gasp like a fifth grader finding out about sex for the first time.
“Almost since the beginning.” He shrugged and smiled. “It was a trying time here. It suited all of us to have one department that seemed to be doing well.”
“I don’t know whether to shit or go blind.”
He stood up. The meeting was over.
“Everything we have discussed here is deniable, of course. I really am sorry, Jason. I enjoyed working with you.”
I shook the proffered hand without thinking about it. I was shattered. I knew the poker warning: if you look around the table and can’t identify the mark, then you’re it.
The Feds knew. They offered me a six-month sentence at a low-security country club with views of the Allegheny foothills if I agreed to give up all I knew about the “conspiracy.” I had nothing to give them. I went to Ray Brook for two years instead.
The press figured it out. Floyd Norris at the Times kept hammering away that upper management had to have known what was going on. The Journal and the Financial Times followed suit. The pressure built.
David was allowed to retire. They vested all of his deferred compensation and gave him a twenty-million-dollar check—in return for signing a stack of documents that prevented him from being able to testify about his years of working there. He and his second wife moved to the south of France. Last I heard, he was learning to windsurf.
Just before they transferred me from Ray Brook to the downstate facility, I saw an item on the news that the chairman of Case Securities was stepping down to spend more time with his family. In a surprise move, the board elected not to name the CEO to take his place. His resignation was expected as soon as a new chairman was announced. Each of their severance packages was rumored to be enough to buy a small country.
My father dropped me off on Seventy-second Street and handed me the apartment keys.
“Oh, and don’t forget this.” He reached into the backseat and brought out my Valextra briefcase. I had left it at his apartment in Queens the last night before entering the system.
The case contained the last remains of my previous life. My passport, the Breitling watch I had given to myself when I first made managing director, my platinum wedding band, now too loose to wear comfortably. And a half-dozen stacks of fifty-dollar bills, still in the bank wrappers. Enough to keep the wolves away until I could straighten things out with Angie.
“Thanks, Pop,” I said, raising the bag in a nonchalant salute. “See you Friday.”
He pulled away. I took a deep breath and began an inventory of the neighborhood.
Change is the constant of New York City geography. The mark of a true New Yorker is how many evolutionary generations of storefronts on your block you can remember.
The Papaya King was still there, but there was a big hole in the ground on the far corner where the fruit market had been. I looked up Amsterdam. The weird little store that sold perpetual motion machines and maps of the universe was gone, but somehow P&G’s, the local dive bar, had survived. Over the park loomed the Apple Bank, looking more like a prison than any of the institutions I had visited. And just beyond it, looking like some Austrian wedding cake on growth hormones, stood the Ansonia Hotel. Home.
I bought the apartment in 1999—the year of the euro. My group of traders had cleared over $200 million on the conversion and I took home my first ten-million-dollar bonus. I got used to that quickly. I loved everything about that apartment—the neighborhood, the history of the place, the architecture, the way it was a condo but still run like a residential hotel, the commute (twelve minutes to the office on the express train across the street), and the tax benefits.
Angie hated it. We met a few years after I moved in.
“But why? I just don’t get the Upper West Side. Isn’t it all gay?”
“Not really.” No more than the Village or Gramercy Park or most of the rest of Manhattan below Ninety-sixth Street.
“But there’s nothing up there. What is there to do?”
“There’s the Beacon Theatre,” where I’d been to see the Allman Brothers every March. And RatDog. And Phil Lesh and Friends. And the Dylan–Patti Smith show.
Angie raised one eyebrow. I wished I could do that back.
“All right,” I tried. “Lincoln Center.” I didn’t go there as often, but I had found it rarely failed to impress.
“Oh, please.” Angie managed to squeeze five syllables out of those two words. “And there’s nowhere to eat.”
“We just went to Cafe Luxembourg a month ago. It was your choice.”
“That was years ago. I remember because Brooke Shields was at the next table and I thought she looked really young for being so old.”
“That’s because it was Liv Tyler—who is almost your age. And we weren’t dating years ago.”
“Really? You were so mean that night. You wouldn’t let me order champers.”
“I didn’t let you order champagne because you were already sliding out of your chair from the martinis at the Monkey Bar.”
Angie picked out our apartment downtown. I was too besotted to care. I would have bought her a planet just to hear her laugh.
I never sold the apartment uptown. After the move, I sublet it. But a few years later, when the tenants moved out, my mind was on other problems. The place had been empty ever since.
Room 811 was a one-bedroom—with alcove—in the southeast turret. It got tons of sunlight. And it was the only prime-numbered apartment on the floor. Some traders believe in luck, some in value, and some attach magical importance to various mathematical progressions. If a trader made money, I didn’t care if he read chicken entrails at Santeria gatherings. I wasn’t superstitious. Patterns of numbers revealed themselves to me without my bidding. I didn’t do it; I couldn’t help it.
The lock opened too smoothly. Someone had been in recently. Probably my father, airing the rooms for me. He would have driven in from Queens and taken care of it, never mentioning it or expecting thanks.
The apartment was smaller than I remembered and still palatial. I was used to sharing an eight-by-twelve space with bars in place of a fourth wall and nothing beyond a toothbrush to call my own. This space—where I could walk more than five paces in any direction without running into a wall—was all mine.
The three tall living room windows looked down on Broadway. New York—or my little slice of it, at least—was laid out below me. Not at some distance where all the human beings on the street were reduced to ants, but immediate, as though I could become just another man on the street, going about his business, never having been to prison. Never having had my fifteen minutes of infamy.
I turned back to the room and began an inventory.
The furnishings were all mine, but nothing felt right. It was like walking through a diorama of someplace I had once lived.
Dust covered everything. I would need to have the place cleaned.
Then I realized I couldn’t afford to think that way anymore. I would need to buy a vacuum. A broom. A mop. I had no idea where to shop for those things, but that’s one of the things I love about New York. You can always find anything you might ever want at any time of day. And have it delivered.
Three large cardboard boxes blocked the entrance to the bedroom. I opened the first, and recognized the faint scent of Bolt of Lightning. Angie. The box held linens, blankets, pillows, all still wrapped in Bloomingdale’s bags. The sheets were Ralph Lauren—600-thread count—and all in various shades of lavender. Angie was incapable of giving a present that wasn’t something she would rather have bought for herself. I would have bet she got herself a set as well.
The second box was full of clothes—suits, shirts, socks, etc.—all custom-fitted for a different man. A man two years younger. A man with the concave shoulders and nascent paunch of a desk-bound Wall Street executive. I doubted that I would ever fit that model again.
The last box touched me. It was my music. Hundreds of CDs—jazz, rock, funk, fusion, and a smattering of classical all mixed together in a plastic soup. It would take hours—days—to sort through and arrange my collection, but the fact that Angie had even thought to save it all for me was enough to generate a single shaft of hope.
She’d called four days after the party at the Met.
“Hey, cher. Are you busy?”
It was the middle of the trading day.
“Not at all,” I said, all thoughts of the euro’s two-cent plummet driven immediately from my mind. “Where are you? I thought you were working this week.”
She had flown to the British Virgin Islands on Sunday.
“We’re done. Paolo finished shooting this morning. Everyone is going home.”
“That’s great. Can I pick you up at the airport?”
“Well,” she said, with a sly smile in her voice, “I have this huge room with a private pool outside where I can lie out all day with nothing on but my sunglasses.”
“I see.” Crashing disappointment met full-color mental images of her basking while she was talking to me. At that moment I wouldn’t have known a British pound from a Thai baht.
“And it’s all paid for through Friday and I was thinking it would be a shame to just up and leave!”
The magazine had booked Richard Branson’s Necker Island resort for five days for the shoot. The annual swimsuit issue.
“Everyone else is leaving?”
“Almost. I’ll be all alone on this whole island with no one to rub lotion on my back. There’s this one little spot I just can’t reach.”
I was on a flight three hours later.
The dust and the memories were starting to get to me. It was hard to breathe. I needed to get out. I went for a beer.
I grew up living over a neighborhood bar. My father owned what he affectionately referred to as a “gin joint” in College Point. It was the kind of place that can be a gold mine or an albatross, depending on how much time and energy the boss puts into keeping an eye on things. We had a six-room railroad flat on the third floor, and my father’s commute, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, was up and down those stairs. I did my homework most nights, sitting on a barstool, sipping my Coke or ginger ale and listening to the locals tell each other tall tales. To me, that joint was just another room in our home.
The P&G wasn’t exactly like that, but it may have been a close second. I hadn’t been there since moving downtown.
The afternoon crowd hadn’t changed. Vinny the Gambler nodded from his corner by the window, his Racing Form folded and cushioning his forearm, his short snifter of Rémy and his pack of Camels on the bar within reach. The two Johns, Ma and Pa, a respectable gay couple who had been holding up the far end of the bar for three or four decades, gave a polite “Hello” and went back to their crossword. There was a new bartender, Rollie, but otherwise the place was just the same. The bucolic, medieval-themed mural that covered the wall over the single bathroom in back was still there, permanently nicotine-stained to an old master’s sepia finish. A third television had been added, but as all three showed the same horse race, it didn’t affect the overall decor. The jukebox had not been updated—a mixed blessing, as it held, in my opinion, way too much mid-career Neil Diamond. I put a foot on the rail and sipped my Bud Light.
There was a copy of the Post—every New Yorker’s guilty pleasure—lying on the bar. When I first started working on Wall Street, the head foreign exchange trader had a framed copy over his desk of the Post’s then most famous front page. “Headless Body in Topless Bar.” The editors had worked hard to maintain that level of journalism.
The headline I was now looking at read “He Sleeps with the Fishes.” There was a picture of a bloated corpse—facedown and therefore not in such bad taste as to cause lawsuits—wearing a torn and faded life jacket. Without the picture, the story would have been nothing more than a follow-up buried on page 12. A few weeks earlier, a junior trader from a Wall Street firm had fallen overboard in a storm on the Long Island Sound. His body had just been discovered thirty miles away by a pair of sport fishermen out for striped bass. I followed the story to page 3. There was a picture of a dismasted yacht, broken and leaning at an impossible angle, high on the rocks in a bay near Greenwich. The captain of the yacht had no comment. The guy’s employer had no comment. His parents had no comment. Even his roommate had no comment. The Coast Guard had ruled it accidental and had no further comment. Still, the paper managed to instill the story with intrigue, cover-up, and the hint of scandal.
Two men walked in, arguing agreeably about something about the Grateful Dead. I eavesdropped until I found a way to insinuate myself into the conversation. I mentioned that I, too, had been to some of their shows. Immediate acceptance.
“So, you gonna buy me a drink or what?”
I looked around. The saddest-faced little man in the world stood at my side. Despite his age—somewhere well past Medicare eligibility—he looked like he was made out of rubber, like you could stretch him in any direction and when you let go he would zap back into the same compact form.
“How are you, Roger? Long time.”
He was a late-afternoon regular. When the cocktail hour crowd began to arrive, he tended to take his glass of brandy and retire to one of the back booths. I had joined him there many a night before I met Angie.
We had met on the corner of Seventy-second Street. I was running late and just wanted to get to the subway. Blocking the sidewalk was a clown. A happy clown. With a big, cockeyed smile, like the letter J. He was trying to raise a wheeled trunk up over the curb. The trunk was as big as he was. It wasn’t going too well.
“Give me a hand here, willya?”
I acted as though he must be speaking to someone else.
“Come on, big fella, don’t be a hump. It’s gonna hurt you to do a good deed?”
I stopped. I was in a hurry, but he was right. Besides, it would make a good story for the guys on the desk. I helped a clown.
Together we wrestled the trunk up onto the sidewalk.
“You’re all right. Hey, I seen you. Over to the bar. Am I right or what?”
Was he one of the sad-eyed regulars who could be found propping up the bar at P& G’s any hour of the day or night?
“I’ve never seen any clowns in there,” I said.
He laughed. “Sure you have. The joint is full of ’em.” He reached into a pocket. “Here, take my card. You never know, you might need a clown someday.”
“JACQUES-EMO and WANDA the WANDAFUL—From Birthday Parties to Corporate Retreats—We’ll make you smile.”
“What does Wanda do?”
“It’s my act,” he said. “She’s just there for color, know what I mean? I do some magic and she keeps the rubes from watching too closely.”
I pocketed the card. “Nice to meet you, Jacques. I’ve got to run.”
“It’s Roger. Jacques is the name of the clown.”
“I’ll remember,” I said.
I ordered us a round.
“So how ya been?” He did a little hop that got his butt up onto the barstool.
It could have been a loaded question—my picture had been plastered all over the news two years earlier—but maybe I was being paranoid. I didn’t want to talk about where I had been the day before or the two years prior. But I trusted Roger. We’d been friends—bar friends. We didn’t vacation together or even send cards at Christmas, but we had spent hours together talking about everything and nothing once upon a time.
“I’ve been away, Roger,” I said, hoping he would hear my reluctance.
“I ain’t talkin’ about that,” he said. “You moved downtown, what? Five years ago? Six? And you never once come uptown to see your old friend? You should be ashamed.”
Something else to be ashamed of. Pile it on.
“I got married. Had a kid. Things got a little crazy with work for a while.”
He was shaking his head. “I coulda read all that in the paper. I’m asking, how you been?”
I had no prospects of a career. Few friends. An ex-wife, who I may still have loved, but maybe not, and maybe I didn’t really know what that meant anyway. And a son. Sick and a thousand miles away and being cared for by the alcoholic ex. It was all rather complicated.
“I’ve been better.”
“I hear ya.”
“And worse,” I said.
“Ain’t it always the way.”
And something went click and I felt like I was home. The wolves were still outside, there was a hurricane brewing, and madmen ruled the world. But for the moment, a cold beer in a comfortable bar was pure bliss.
Friday morning I met with my parole officer. He had bad hair plugs and breath that stank of cigarettes and coffee. The man who would have absolute control over my life for the next three years didn’t bother to hide his boredom. He rattled off all the restrictions I would have to live with—including no travel outside the five boroughs without his written permission and don’t expect it anytime soon—then he gave me a list of ten employers who would hire ex-cons. I ran my eyes down the page. Terrific, I could become a bicycle messenger or a dishwasher. He saved his inspirational speech for last.
“Listen up.” For the first time, he made eye contact. They were not kind eyes. “I wish you the best of luck and I hope you make it. Nobody wants to go back, but it happens. It happens often. I’ve got a good record with my clients and I’d like to keep it that way. But have no doubt—you screw up, you start missing meetings, you get caught hanging with the wrong people—I will file a request for an arrest warrant and never give it a second thought. Are we clear on that?”
For a moment, I felt the walls closing in and thought I smelled the stench of prison. “Understood,” I managed to say.
Still, the interview marked my first official act as a free man. No one was coming to take me back today. I headed home. When I walked through the door of the Ansonia, a smiling man in uniform held it open for me. A second greeted me by name and held the elevator. I had gone from a prison to a palace, and I could luxuriate in the differences.
There was a broken spring in the seat of my leather easy chair, so that I had to shift my butt over sideways, but it was the best seat in the house. Looking out on the city, I had not a touch of the claustrophobia that had been haunting me since my release. The weather had turned again. It was stunningly hot, a late-September surprise, and the women on Broadway had responded with shorter skirts and skimpier tops. I considered investing in a pair of binoculars.
I pulled out my cell phone—my lifeline to this new world of freedom—and started picking up the pieces. My first call was to my father—to check in, give him the number, and assure him I would see him that night.
Then I made a flurry of calls to old colleagues. Though I was barred by court order from contacting anyone from my old firm, there were plenty of other acquaintances to be renewed. Networking, my parole officer had assured me, was the key to finding some kind of employment.
Some people would not take my call. I respected that. Others took it and shined me on. Cowards. But a few sounded genuinely glad to hear from me, wished me luck, and promised to keep an ear open for anything that might fit.
I was going to be a tough fit. Anything but advisory or consulting work in the securities industry was out of the question. I was also specifically prohibited from any position where I would be handling money—a basic requirement for just about any job on Wall Street.
I was avoiding making the one call that mattered.
A lesson learned early in my trading career was “Always do the hard thing first.” Once you get whatever it is out of the way, the rest feels easy and your brain functions better without the distraction. I was having a difficult time applying that discipline to my life.
I was afraid to make that call. Whatever Angie might have to say, the odds were good that it was going to hurt.
I finally dialed the number anyway.
Her mother answered on the third ring—not enough of a delay for me to chicken out and hang up—and as soon as she realized who was calling, her voice went into that shrill effusion that is often mistaken for southern charm. She was so pleased to hear from me. She had missed me. She was so sure that I was good for Angie and it was all so sad about my legal problems, but she was sure it would all be sorted out someday and those men who had hounded me—hounded me, she repeated—would have to accept that they were wrong. She was sure of it. And then she asked after my dear father. All of it came out without a pause, almost without a breath. It was like being smothered in butterflies and molasses.
“I was hoping to get to talk with Angie,” I said.
That brought on another tornado of words. She was thrilled to have her little girl around, though she didn’t get to see her as much as she wanted because her Evangeline was so busy, reconnecting with all of her old friends and such, and she could not understand why that girl had felt the need to rent herself a house down to Morgan City while there was plenty of room right there.
I fought my way through. “Could you give me her number down there?”
She couldn’t. She would not give out Angie’s number, or her address, without checking with her first.
“After you-all’s difficulties, it just would not be right, I don’t think,” she whispered, as though speaking of our divorce in a normal tone of voice might have been offensive. “But I will pass on your good wishes and I’m sure she will get right back to you. I will be seeing her this weekend, of course, when she comes up to visit the boy. She comes up every weekend. Without fail. She is such a good mother to that boy.”
Once a week.
“How is my son?”
“Well, he is a trial. A trial. But I believe the Lord has a plan for that boy, Jason.”
That made me nervous.
I let her ring off with her usual “Bye-bye, now.”
Sometimes doing the hard thing first turns out to be ripping the top off Pandora’s box.
The last time Angie came to visit up at Ray Brook, she was drunk. Not falling down. Not even sloppy. Just a little louder than absolutely necessary. Louder and a lot more Bayou.
It was eleven o’clock in the morning and she was telling me about our son’s latest round of doctors’ examinations. Four years old and barely able to speak. He communicated in grunts, growls, and snatches of ads he picked up from the television. Angie made it sound like he wasn’t trying. I lost it. I yelled at her. Told her to clean up her act. She owed it to the boy. Implicit, of course, was the accusation that all of the Kid’s problems were in some way her fault.
She cried. Then she screamed. Then she called me a maggot and I laughed. I thought it was funny that in the midst of her histrionics she would think of the word “maggot.” And that’s when she hit me with the BIG news.
Autism. Our son had been slow to walk, slower to talk. He never goo-gooed or giggled like other babies. He practically flinched when anyone tried to look into his eyes. If I hadn’t had my head screwed on backwards all that time, I might even have noticed.
When I first accepted that my illegal accounting scheme wasn’t going to go on forever—and before I had felt the SEC closing in—I had set up the divorce scam. I signed over the Tribeca loft and half the assets to Angie and set up a small trust fund for the Kid. It worked. The Feds let me keep my old apartment uptown, but they took everything else. They left Angie alone. They never even looked her way.
The plan was that we would hook up again as soon as I got out. We’d move to some tax haven and live off the interest. Of course, the whole fantasy depended upon Angie coming through—being there when I came home. Like building a mansion on a cliff, the view may be great but the foundation is the key.
I made the assumption that my chances of getting my P.O. to approve me taking a trip to Louisiana were exactly zero. Therefore, he must never find out. I called and made my travel arrangements.
I was due at my father’s house for dinner at six. There was nothing to do until then but drink coffee, stare out at Broadway, and write the script for what I was going to say to Angie.
My cell phone rang, giving me a sudden shock. It was the first time. So far every conversation I had had on the little device was one I had initiated.
“Mr. Stafford? This is Gwendolyn in Mr. Stockman’s office. Are you available to speak with him?”
My mind was racing, trying to place the name. “I’m sorry. You’re with . . .?”
“Weld Securities.” A medium-sized boutique firm, I remembered, with a middle-market focus. “Mr. Stockman is our Chief Financial Officer.”
I remembered him. We had been introduced at a Federal Reserve meeting years ago. An accountant, not a trader. A lightweight, I thought, a bit out of his depth and working too hard to impress. He dressed too well and wore cologne to a business meeting. He was also on the short side, which I didn’t hold against him, but judging by the lifts on his custom-made shoes, I had guessed it was an issue for him.
“Certainly. Do you have any idea why he wants to talk to me?”
“I’m sorry, sir. Mr. Stockman does not always confide in me. Will you hold, please?”
I held. I vowed to project confidence, aggressiveness, and strength. I felt desperate, unsure, and needy. Minutes dragged by, draining my strength.
Finally. “Jason? Thanks so much for waiting. I’m glad I could get you. How are you? How you holding up?”
So he knew my history. Now we could comfortably talk around it.
“I’m doing well. Glad to be enjoying this weather. Looking forward to being productive again, in some way.”
“Excellent. Excellent. This might dovetail nicely for both of us. I was talking to an old friend of yours today—Al Pierce, over at your old shop.”
Al Pierce had never been my friend. He had been CFO at Case Securities when I was there and it was discovered that the billion dollars in profits my group had run up over three years was, in fact, only a half-billion dollars, the rest being a function of my imagination and faking a few hundred trade tickets. Al hadn’t caught it and was gobsmacked when the Feds showed up with the evidence. It was a mystery to me how he’d held on to his job. He had no reason to be doing me any favors.
“He suggested I should give you a call. We have a situation here and he thought you might be able to pilot us through these troubled waters.”
“Listen, Mr. Stockman . . .”
“Okay. Bill. It’s nice to be thought of, but I’m not sure what I can do for you. I am permanently barred from my old job, and I don’t know whether Al mentioned it or not, but I’m under court order not to even speak to him.”
There it was—as out in the open as I could make it. If he was still interested, that told me something. It told me he was scared.
“Yes, he made that clear. But this is an unusual situation, Jay . . .”
I hated it when people called me Jay. They always wanted something.
“. . . and we would not be asking you to do anything that would jeopardize your legal standing.”
There was a tell in Stockman’s voice. He was smooth—a Wall Street senior bureaucrat, and they’re the worst kind—but he didn’t sound smooth. He sounded like somebody had his balls in a vise, but hadn’t started squeezing. Yet. I wanted to hear more. But I didn’t want him to know I wanted it.
“Bill, I’m sorry. I just got home. I have personal things I need to sort out. What’s your timing on this?”
“We are prepared to make this worth your while.”
“You have my full attention.”
“A young trader at the firm was in an unfortunate accident this summer. There was no question at the time that it was an accident. A boating accident . . .”
“Is this the story that was in the news this week?” I interrupted.
“Ahh, you saw it.” He sighed, as though the world would be a much better place if William Stockman controlled the flow of all information. “Yes, well, what was not mentioned by the press was that the SEC has indicated an interest in his trading reports. They have asked us to turn over all of his trade blotters, tickets, reports, notebooks, and market diary.”
“What are they looking for?”
“I don’t know. I have had our internal auditors and compliance officers go over everything and they’ve come up with nothing that would interest the regulators.”
“But you’re not comfortable with that?”
“The markets are in turmoil every day. I am focused on doing whatever it takes to guarantee the survival of this firm . . .”
I wondered if I was supposed to salute.
“. . . and if there is anything there that could jeopardize my work, I want to know about it. Before I hand it over to the SEC.”
I was interested. My parole officer would be happy. My bank account would be happy. And I wouldn’t mind beating the Feds at their own game. A little bit of payback.
“I can clear up my issues and start a week Monday. Does that work for you?”
“I was hoping to get you started next week. There are bigger considerations. I doubt this will take more than a week or two, but I need it cleared up well before the SEC deadline.”
My return ticket from New Orleans was for Wednesday, which would get me back a full two days before my next P.O. meeting.
“I might be able to swing it by Thursday.”
“I’m prepared to offer you five thousand a day, plus expenses, if you can start this Monday.”
Two weeks’ work at five thousand a day. I was willing to bend for that kind of money.
“Make it Tuesday and you’re done.” I could find a late flight back on Monday.
“Done. Come to my office. I’ll expect you at nine-thirty Tuesday morning. And thank you.”
I did the Dirty Bird touchdown dance around the living room.
There was money coming in. I was on top of the world. Persuading Angie to return seemed possible. Anything was possible.
I went across the street and stopped at the oldest wine store in America to pick up something a little special to take to dinner at my Pop’s. I ogled the Bordeaux—the seven-hundred-dollar Mouton Rothschild, the three-hundred-dollar Cos. I almost bought a ninety-dollar Barolo—it was on sale and I was sure it would be worth twice that in a year or two. Finally, I settled on a twenty-dollar California merlot. Times had changed.
Copyright © 2012 by Michael Sears
Michael Sears spent more than twenty years on Wall Street, rising to become a managing director at Paine Webber and Jeffries & Co., before leaving the business in 2005. He lives in Sea Cliff, New York, where he is at work on a second book featuring Jason Stafford and his son.