Please do be fucking quiet, James,’ hissed Chuck through clenched teeth, spitting out each individual syllable. My fifteen fellow research department MDs seated at the boardroom’s impressive oblong table all looked at poor James. Most had a slight smile that betrayed the joy they were feeling at their colleague’s obvious discomfort. Whilst the boss was berating someone else, they could momentarily rest easy . . . and Chuck’s diatribe wasn’t finished.
‘Stop being so damn negative and start offering me solutions, not problems, OK? This little sub-prime issue is going to blow over and most of the people around this table will still be getting a decent bonus this year and hopefully next year too. However, some of you, especially those who are telling all and sundry that Geldlust bank is in big fucking trouble, might not even be here to receive said bonus – so let’s start being a little bit more positive, OK?’
There it was again. I was feeling like a leprous crack baby on cold turkey, but even through my debilitating, soul-destroying hangover I knew there was simply no way in hell it was just my imagination. My boss, Chuck, had blatantly singled me out with his steely stare when he produced that last little threat. The fat fuck was on my case. The malicious, power-hungry cocksucker was going to do me – it was just a question of when, not if.
This was definitely not a delusion, unquestionably not just a product of my fetid, addled brain. The simple fact was that I’d been slapdash. On a couple of occasions I’d sent my column to thelondonpaper from my work email address rather than my hotmail account by mistake. Everyone knows that work emails are randomly checked by Compliance and I remember thinking at the time that I was probably done for.
Then there was the little fact that two of my colleagues had recently found out what I was up to. About two months before, my secretary Claire had found a column that I’d left on the printer during an especially virulent hangover. She’d soon put two and two together and no amount of bullshit was going to persuade her that I wasn’t the increasingly notorious columnist ‘Cityboy’. Benjamin, the oil team’s graduate trainee, had also worked it out after I’d made the mistake of drunkenly recounting a story to him about bumping into two clients at a fancy dress party I’d attended at a stately home in Shropshire. When he saw the same tale appear in thelondonpaper two weeks later he didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out my dual identity. I’d taken both Claire and Benjamin into what I referred to as ‘my inner circle of trust’ but the simple fact is that no one keeps a secret in an office. Clearly, one of them had got arseholed at some work knees-up and word had now reached Chuck – probably via the secretary network. If you want to know anything at Geldlust bank, or any major firm for that matter, first port of call should always be the secretaries.
If I was right, then this was truly appalling. I understood exactly what Chuck’s evil little game was. It was September and I’d been working my arse off all year. He obviously knew about my column, so he’d probably checked out my website too. That meant he would have seen the backlog of articles I’d written – some of which were scathing about Geldlust and, indeed, him.
Christ, I’d written one entitled ‘Herding Cats’ in which I’d mocked an appalling, ineffectual management chat he’d delivered a few months before. I’d actually referred to him as ‘a failed broker who was too expensive to fire’ and even mentioned the old adage that the scum always rises to the top. Make no mistake, I was in big effing trouble.
As I sat there among the other MDs, with a film of nervous, toxic sweat rapidly spreading over my forehead, my mind went into overdrive trying to anticipate Chuck’s likely agenda. It soon became clear that he was going to do the old City trick of sacking me just before bonus day. That way his department would benefit from all the commission I generated until the last possible moment without reducing the firm’s bonus pool one iota. No doubt the flabby, vicious wanker was looking forward to the look of shock on my face when he handed me a P45 instead of half a million quid.
Of course, any objections I might raise would be totally pointless as I’d clearly broken about three contractual restrictions. If Chuck wanted to play hardball there was every chance I wouldn’t just be kicked out but also be classified as a ‘bad leaver’. That would mean I’d forfeit nearly all of the equity in Geldlust bank that I’d accrued over the years. A third of my previous three bonuses had been paid to me in Geldlust shares that I wasn’t able to touch for three years and those would automatically not vest if it could be proved that I had in any way badmouthed my former employer. That wasn’t going to be too hard to do seeing as there was a year’s worth of columns out there stating what a bunch of worthless scumbags Cityboys were.
I cursed my stupidity at having started writing the column in the first place. My egotistical urge to spill the beans on the financial world was going to cost me not just my job but also about three hundred grand. The column might have been a kind of confessional for me, allowing me to get off my chest the countless misgivings I had about my chosen career, but now it was going to hit me where it hurt most – my wallet.
I sat there in the hallowed directors’ boardroom on the eighth floor playing with my food, feeling far too rancid to even consider eating the rich, creamy dish festering in front of me. I’d only been a managing director for just over a year and was happy not to get involved in the tedious point-scoring discussion that was taking place around me. There seemed to be an unofficial competition going on amongst my colleagues as to who could spend the longest licking Chuck’s sweaty, pock-marked arse. It was the same story at every one of these ‘quarterly performance meetings’ but, of course, this time it was even worse than usual as bonuses would be being decided within a month. James had clearly screwed up big-time by querying how Geldlust was going to be impacted by the sub-prime crisis that had caused a run on the Northern Rock Building Society just the week before.
I took no pleasure from his obvious distress. He was just another mindless drone sleepwalking his way towards a bloated middle age of varicose veins, gout and coronary embolism. At least the poor bastard actually gave a shit about his job. For years I’d viewed my pinstriped drudgery as nothing more than an unpleasant stopgap that I had to endure before I could trip the light fantastic. The non-stop pretence that I actually harboured any ambition other than the procurement of sufficient cash to be able to waltz around the planet whilst still young enough to know the steps was tiring me out. I just needed to survive one more bonus round – one more officially sanctioned robbery from the unsuspecting shareholders of Geldlust bank – and then I could spend my remaining years sucking the marrow out of this all too short life.
I remembered how I’d promised myself that I’d only throw away five years chasing the dollar before pursuing something more worthwhile, something I vaguely believed in. The day before I started at a piss-poor French investment bank I’d ceremoniously removed my silver hoop earrings, ponytail and goatee beard – the last vestiges of my previous hippy identity.
That had been over ten years ago. After five years of selling my soul my annual pay packet had hit £350,000 and friends and parents alike had convinced me that, in the absence of a serious alternative, I should keep milking the system. My elder brother, a fund manager at a sleepy mutual who’d conned some greedy salesman into giving me my first job, had left finance himself but even he had argued that I should cling on to the gravy train with all my might while it was still steaming along. He and most of my senior colleagues had been saying for years that the party was going to come to an end soon and that chaps like me needed to make hay while the sun shone. Christ, my whole life had been dictated by a series of tiresome clichés! But now the end was in sight – just one more big score and then I could start living . . . really living.
‘I was only trying to say that there’s gonna be a lot of resentment . . . from equities, corporate finance, commodities and bonds . . . if the bonus pool for all is hit just because the boys in structured finance . . . well, specifically, in mortgage-backed securities . . . screwed up big-time,’ spluttered James, trying to sound confident but failing dismally. That one ill-thought-out comment was probably going to cost him about forty grand come December and he knew it. He was flapping badly and the other MDs could hardly disguise their glee at his schoolboy error.
‘As I said,’ replied Chuck through gritted teeth, ‘most of the people around this table are gonna be all right. Most, but not all.’ Oh, Christ, I swear he looked at me again. I was clearly going to be fired and almost a million pounds less well off than I’d estimated come January ’08. I could feel the colour drain out of my face as I took on board this new financial reality.
‘Are you OK there, Steve? You’re looking a little peaky,’ sneered Chuck.
I was feeling absolutely shattered and the black rings under my bloodshot eyes were signalling to anyone who had the misfortune to survey my blotchy face that the previous night had been disgustingly debauched.
‘Er . . . truth be told, I’m not a hundred per cent. I’ve got this nasty flu that’s been going around. But I came in because I didn’t want to miss this important meeting and because my clients really need guidance in these tricky times. Anyway, I just want to say that I, for one, am not concerned about this Northern Rock thing – my customers are still trading and I know that Geldlust will reward those who bring home the bacon.’ Phew.
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