Insider [NOOK Book]

Overview

New York Times bestselling author Stephen Frey writes thrillers of "ruthless financial terror" (Chicago Tribune), intricately plotted, fast-paced novels where "Grisham meets Ludlum on Wall Street" (USA Today). Now Frey has written his most exciting novel yet, taking us even deeper into the volatile world of raw ambition, million-dollar deals, and wide-eyed dreamers willing to risk everything for a profit.

Hungry to leave his dead-end banking ...
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Insider

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Overview

New York Times bestselling author Stephen Frey writes thrillers of "ruthless financial terror" (Chicago Tribune), intricately plotted, fast-paced novels where "Grisham meets Ludlum on Wall Street" (USA Today). Now Frey has written his most exciting novel yet, taking us even deeper into the volatile world of raw ambition, million-dollar deals, and wide-eyed dreamers willing to risk everything for a profit.

Hungry to leave his dead-end banking job and to play in the big leagues, Jay West lands a coveted position with the powerful investment firm of Donovan & Lloyd, working for the influential, charismatic Oliver Mason, a deal-maker with the Midas touch, a fierce ally who handpicked Jay for the job. With the incentive of a million-dollar bonus at the end of the year, Jay strives to make his mark, unaware that he is stepping into an elaborate trap--baited with the seductive promise of power and influence.

Jay soon suspects that Oliver's stellar track record is more than a result of hard work or good luck. The man seems to have everything--not just fast cars and a luxurious home in Connecticut, but a violent temper, a strained marriage, and a boundless hunger for money and prestige. The stakes are raised when a trusted coworker is brutally murdered and the beautiful Sally Lane joins the team, a mysterious blonde with the ability to coax secrets out of others--while seductively keeping her own.

With a conspiracy of deceit and corruption beginning to close around him, Jay races to untangle the sordid lies that have quickly and too conveniently blackened his name. Trusting no one and remaining one step ahead of both the law and his unknown adversaries, Jay must rely on his own cunning and wits to stay in the game--and to stay alive.

With breakneck pacing from the opening bell, The Insider is a multilayered, action-packed thriller of wealth and the lust for it, heated passion and ruthless competition, survival and power--no matter the cost.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Grisham meets Ludlum on Wall Street."
--USA Today

"Ruthless financial terror."
--Chicago Tribune

"Captivating . . . conspiracy and intrigue."
--New York Daily News

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345482099
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/1/2005
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 217,522
  • File size: 469 KB

Meet the Author

Stephen Frey is a former vice president of corporate finance at a major Manhattan bank and previously worked in mergers and acquisitions at J. P. Morgan and Co. Frey is also the author of the bestsellers The Takeover, The Vulture Fund, The Inner Sanctum, and The Legacy. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with his wife and two daughters.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

JUNE 1999

How much do you make?"        

"Salary or total compensation?" Jay West asked deliberately. He never disclosed sensitive information until he absolutely had to, even in a situation like this one, where he was expected to answer every question quickly and completely.

"What was the income figure on your W-2 last year? A W-2 is that little form your employer sends you each January to let you know how much you have to report to the IRS."

"I know what a W-2 is," Jay answered calmly, displaying no outward irritation at the interviewer's sarcastic tone. The young man on the opposite side of the conference room table wore a dark business suit, as did Jay. However, the other man's suit was custom-made. It was crisper, was crafted of finer material, and followed the contours of his muscular physique perfectly. Jay had purchased his suit off the rack, and it bunched up in certain spots despite a tailor's best efforts. "The commercial bank I work for provides me certain fringe benefits that don't appear on my W-2, so my income is actually more than--"

"What kind of fringe benefits?" the interviewer demanded rudely.

For a moment Jay studied the unfriendly square-jawed face beneath the strawberry-blond crew cut, trying to determine if the confrontational demeanor was forced or natural. He had heard that Wall Street firms often made prospective employees endure at least one stressful interview during the hiring process just to see how they reacted. But if this guy was acting, he was giving an Academy Award performance. "A below-market mortgage rate, a company match on my 401K plan, and a liberal health insurance package."

The man rolled his eyes. "How much can those things be worth, for Christ's sake?"

"The amount is significant."

The man waved a hand in front of his face impatiently. "Okay, I'll be generous and add twenty thousand to the figure you quote me. Now, how much did you make last year?"

Jay shifted uncomfortably in his seat, aware that the figure wouldn't impress the investment banker.

"Hello, Jay." Oliver Mason stood in the conference room doorway, smiling pleasantly, a leather-bound portfolio under his arm. "I'm glad you could make time for us tonight."

Jay glanced at Mason and smiled back, relieved that he wasn't going to have to answer the income question. "Hi, Oliver," he said confidently, standing up and shaking hands. Oliver always had a sleek look about him, like an expensive sports car that had just been detailed. "Thanks for having me."

"My pleasure." Oliver sat in the chair next to Jay's and put his portfolio down. He gestured across the table at Carter Bullock. "Has my lieutenant been grilling you?"

"Not at all," Jay answered, trying to seem unaffected by Bullock's third degree. "We were just having a friendly chat."

"You're lying. Nobody ever just chats with Bullock during an interview." Oliver removed two copies of Jay's resume from the portfolio. "Bullock's about as friendly as a honey badger, which is what he's affectionately known as around here," Oliver explained. "Badger, for short." He slid one copy of the resume across the polished tabletop. "Here you go, Badger. Sorry I didn't get this to you sooner. But I'm the captain and you're just a deckhand on this ship, so deal with it."

"Screw you, Oliver." Bullock grabbed the resume with his thick fingers, scanned it quickly, then groaned, crumpled the paper into a ball, and threw it toward a trash can in a far corner of the conference room.

"Do you know about honey badgers, Jay?" Oliver asked in his naturally aloof, nasal voice. He was smiling broadly, unconcerned by Bullock's less-than-positive reaction to Jay's resume.

Jay shook his head, trying to ignore the sight of his life being tossed toward the circular file. "No."

"Most predators aim for the throat when they attack their prey." Oliver chuckled. "Honey badgers aim for the groin. They lock their jaws and don't let go, no matter what the prey does. They don't release their grip until the prey goes into shock, which, as you might imagine, doesn't take long, especially if the prey is the male of the species. Then they tear the animal apart while it's still alive." Oliver shivered, picturing the scene. "What a way to go."

"Screw you and your mother, Oliver." But Bullock was grinning for the first time, obviously pleased with his nickname and his tough-as-tungsten reputation.

Oliver put both hands behind his head and interlaced his fingers. "Don't let me interrupt, Badger."

Bullock leaned over the table, a triumphant expression on his wide, freckled face. "So, Jay, how much did you make last year?"

Oliver Mason's appearance wasn't going to get him off the hot seat after all. "A hundred thousand dollars," Jay answered defiantly, staring at Bullock's flat nose. The figure--salary plus bonus--was actually closer to ninety.

Bullock rolled his eyes at the number. "Do you live in Manhattan?"

"Yes." Jay had been prepared for the negative reaction. He knew that Oliver Mason and Carter Bullock earned many multiples of his salary as senior executives at the boutique investment banking firm of McCarthy & Lloyd.

"How the hell do you survive on that in Manhattan?" Bullock wanted to know.

"A hundred thousand dollars is nothing to scoff at," Jay retorted. He was proud of how far he'd come in life.

"Are you married?" Bullock asked.

Jay shook his head.

"Where do you live?"

"Upper West Side."

"Do you rent or own?"

"Rent."

"One or two bedrooms?"

"One."

"Got a car?"

Jay nodded.

"What kind?"

"A BMW," he answered, aware that Oliver and Bullock wouldn't be impressed if they knew his real mode of transportation was a beat-up, barely operational Ford Taurus. "A three-twenty-eight."

"Do you park it in the city?" Bullock asked.

Jay nodded again, then flashed a quick glance at Oliver, who was staring into space, probably thinking about a deal that would net him millions.

Bullock reclined in his chair and contemplated the ceiling. "So let's think about this," he said, stroking his chin with his thumb and forefinger. "You make a hundred thousand dollars a year, which, without any deductions or exemptions other than yourself, is about seventy thousand after taxes. I'll be generous and assume that you clear six thousand dollars a month." He tapped the arm of his chair, clearly enjoying the analysis. For Bullock, Jay thought, life came down to numbers and little else. "You're probably paying about four thousand a month for your rent, utilities, car loan, parking, and insurance. I'm sure you have a significant amount of school loans, too." Bullock glanced at Jay for confirmation.

But Jay gave no indication that Bullock was right on target. No indication that each month he was writing a hefty check to slowly repay the forty thousand dollars--plus interest--he had borrowed to finance his four years of college.

"That leaves two thousand a month for groceries, clothes, a social life," Bullock continued, "and to save for the house in the suburbs you'll have to buy when you meet that perfect girl and she wants to start nesting. The problem is that you'll only have enough to buy her a two-bedroom box in Jersey City and not the sprawling mansion in Greenwich she'll require." He snickered. "And at a commercial bank your upside is limited. You'll receive inflation raises for the next forty years, then retire with a gold watch and medical benefits. Maybe." Bullock shook his head. "You're poor, pal. You're a hamster on a treadmill, and there's no way off."

Jay didn't flinch despite the accuracy of Bullock's back-of-the-envelope analysis. A hundred thousand dollars a year sounded like a lot of money, but within fifty miles of New York City it didn't go very far. He had almost nothing to show for six years of working at the National City Bank of New York as an account officer making loans to medium-sized companies. And though the upside opportunity at the bank was better than Bullock had described, it wasn't great.

"Oh, wait a minute." Bullock spoke up, touching his forehead. "I almost forgot about all those wonderful fringe benefits you mentioned. Like that below-market mortgage rate you can't take advantage of because you can't afford to buy a place."

Jay felt Oliver tap his shin with the point of a shiny black tasseled loafer.

"Told you." Oliver was refocused on the interview. "My buddy Bullock is a ball-buster, isn't he? We don't let him out in public much, but he's hell on the trading floor." Oliver chuckled. "Badger operates on the golden rule: He who has the gold rules. Remember that. Live every day of your McCarthy and Lloyd career by that simple tenet and you'll be successful."

Jay eyed Oliver. He was thirty-eight, ten years older than Jay. His handsome face was deeply tanned from weekends spent sailing his fifty-foot sloop on Long Island Sound. His dark brown eyes were in constant motion, darting about, taking in everything around him so that his brain could process as much information as possible. A got-the-world-by-the-short-hairs grin was etched onto his thin lips, and his long, jet-black hair was combed straight back and kept fastidiously in place with a generous amount of gel, revealing a wide, sloping forehead. Navy blue suspenders divided his starched white shirt into three distinct sectors, and a brightly colored Herm├Ęs tie fell smartly from his neck, a perfect divot in the middle of the knot.

Jay gave Oliver a quick grin. "His nickname does fit."

Bullock folded his arms across his chest, satisfied that he had accurately dissected Jay West's personal financial statement and, by doing so, established rank.

"We all know that commercial banks don't pay anywhere near what we do. They can't afford to because they don't take real risks." Oliver broke into his take-charge-of-the-meeting voice, more nasal than normal. "But that isn't what we're here to discuss. We're here to discuss Jay's joining McCarthy and Lloyd to work for me on the equity arbitrage desk."

"But why him?" Bullock pointed at Jay, then at the crumpled resume lying beside the trash can. "No offense, kid, but you've got an average resume at best." Bullock was thirty-three, only five years older than Jay, but he was perfectly at ease addressing Jay as "kid" because he made so much more money. "You went to Lehigh." Bullock tilted his head back. "It's a good school but certainly not A-list, not Ivy League. And you haven't even been to graduate business school yet."

"Hey, I--"

Bullock kept going. "There's a ton of young people out there with sterling-silver resumes." He waved nonchalantly at

the window. "People who attended Princeton, Harvard, or Yale. People with the experience and background we're looking for. We can attract the cream of the crop. Why should we bother with you?"

"That's enough--"

"Why would you hire him, Oliver?" Bullock ignored Jay's second attempt to turn the tide. "Forget about where he went to school, or didn't--he's never had any arbitrage experience. He has no idea how to identify or value potential takeover stocks. He's a damn lending officer at a run-of-the-mill commercial bank making dog shit for a living."

"Exactly!" Jay slammed his fist on the table.

Oliver and Bullock both flinched, caught off guard by the sudden, loud noise.

"I'm hungry." Jay suppressed a smile at Bullock's startled expression. "I'll work twenty-four seven. I'll dedicate myself to this firm. I'll do whatever it takes."

"Yeah, yeah," Bullock said, smirking. "Everybody wants to be an investment banker these days, but--"

"And I do know how to find and value potential takeover stocks." It was Jay's turn to interrupt Bullock. "I'm not just a lending officer. I've acted as a financial advisor on several takeovers at National City in which I initiated the transactions for our clients. They were small, private deals, I'll be the first to admit. Not the sexy deals, splashed all over the Wall Street Journal, that you guys are involved with, but my bank still made a great deal of money." Jay drew in a quick breath without giving Bullock a chance to cut in. "Numbers are numbers. Your deals just have a few more zeros than mine. But I've made a good reputation for myself at National City."

"That's true," Oliver agreed. "The senior people at National City love him, Badger. I called a few people and checked him out." Oliver put a hand on Jay's shoulder. "He's talented."

Bullock shook his head. "I'm not convinced. Let's hire a Harvard Business School grad and cover our asses. If the HBS person doesn't work out, we'll have a lot less explaining to do. If this guy doesn't work out"--Bullock pointed at Jay again--"we'll be in hot water with the man. He'll want to know what in the hell we were thinking about." Bullock paused. "I really liked that woman we saw last night. What was her name?" He snapped his fingers several times.

Jay's eyes narrowed. "Why are you so concerned with where I went to college, Badger?"

"Huh?"

"Your boss here," Jay said, gesturing at Oliver, "went to City College. City College is about as far from the Ivy League as anyone can get, and he's done pretty well without the privilege of attending one of those highbrow schools."

Oliver bit his lip to keep from smiling. Bullock might possess the relentless determination of a honey badger, but in a different way Jay West was equally formidable. Jay was street-smart. He knew how to obtain sensitive information and was willing to use it. That was the word on him. And he came from a lower-middle-class background, so he was financially motivated. It was the perfect combination for what Oliver needed.

"I know you went to Harvard, Badger," Jay continued. "I know you're a Crimson man."

"Yeah, so?" Bullock asked hesitantly.

"But it isn't as if your family and the Ivy League are synonymous. There is no Bullock Hall at Harvard, Badger. Quite the opposite. Your mother went to a community college, and your father never even graduated from high school. He's a mechanic, just like my father is. Though I'm sure my father's better." Jay winked at Oliver. "In fact, Badger, we have more in common than you'd probably like to admit. We're both from way-past-their-prime steel towns in eastern Pennsylvania."

Bullock bristled. "How the hell did you find out all that?"

"I have--"

"It doesn't matter how he found out," Oliver interrupted. "What's important is that he did. It's obvious to me that Jay can access information when he needs to, which is the most important quality someone can have in the arbitrage business." Oliver thought for a moment. "And he's hungry. An HBS grad is likely to have a trust fund we don't know about, Badger. When the going gets tough and the days get long, that person might bail out on us. Jay won't. He'll do whatever it takes to make money for

McCarthy and Lloyd." Oliver glanced at Jay. "Won't you?"

"Yes," Jay answered forcefully. "Whatever it takes." He sensed that this was the deciding moment. "Whatever it takes," he repeated.

"I worked with Jay on a transaction and I liked what I saw. I've been talking to him about this position for three months while I've been doing my background checks. I have confidence he would do very well here at McCarthy and Lloyd."

Bullock shrugged, unimpressed by his superior's argument. "You asked me to meet this guy and give you my honest opinion, Oliver." Bullock eyed Jay skeptically. "I don't think you should hire him." He hesitated. "But you're the boss."

"Good, then it's settled." Oliver shook Jay's hand. "You've got the job."

Jay's body relaxed, as if he'd finally been able to let go of a great weight. "Really?"

"Yup."

"That fast?"

"I'm the boss." Oliver waved a hand in Bullock's direction. "I wanted to give Badger a chance to rage. Things have been pretty calm around here the past few days, and he gets out of sorts if he doesn't have an opportunity to get angry once in a while."

"What can I say except thanks?" Jay shook Oliver's hand again. "I accept." He gave Bullock a subtle victory smile.

Bullock stood up, shook his head, snorted, and exited the room without saying goodbye.

"Not a very friendly guy," Jay observed, watching the strawberry-blond crew cut disappear into the hallway.

"Does that bother you?"

Jay exhaled heavily. "No. I want to work at McCarthy and Lloyd to make money, not friends."

Oliver nodded approvingly. "That's what I wanted to hear you say." His expression turned serious. "I had to put you through all that because I needed to see how you reacted under pressure. I asked Badger to make things rough on you before I came in. It can get crazy around this place when deals unfold. You did great, like I knew you would." Oliver rubbed his hands together. "Now let's talk about McCarthy and Lloyd."

Jay closed his eyes and allowed himself a moment of immense elation. He had made the jump to the major leagues of the financial world. "Okay," he said calmly.

"As we've discussed, I run the equity arbitrage desk. My mandate is simple: to make money by speculating on publicly traded stocks." Oliver flipped Jay's resume over and scribbled something on the back. "Sometimes we buy stocks of companies that are 'in play,'" he continued. "Those are situations in which a company has already received a takeover offer, and we bet that it will receive another, higher offer from a second bidder or from the original bidder. Perhaps several more offers surface from several more bidders. Ultimately, I sell our shares to the highest bidder. The risk for me in those situations is that no other bidders surface or that the target's management can't goose up the original bidder. Then I probably lose a couple of bucks a share when the stock price settles back down, because it usually pops above the initial offer price when the deal is first announced."

"That makes sense." Jay watched Oliver scribble again on the paper. He was constantly making notes to himself, carrying on the conversation with Jay and thinking about several other things simultaneously.

Oliver finished writing, then carefully replaced his Mont Blanc pen in his shirt pocket. "We'll also buy shares of companiesthat my people and I think would make particularly attractive takeover candidates--situations in which a takeover hasn't yet been announced, but we think it will be in the near future. If a takeover is announced, we benefit when the price of the stock we hold runs up toward the offer price, which, as you probably know, is always above the current trading price because acquirers must pay a premium for control."

"Sure."

Oliver smiled as if he were consuming a delicious dessert. "It's beautiful when we buy a stock before the first offer is announced, because that's where the real juice in the takeover game is. That's when the stock price can double or triple overnight. After the first offer, subsequent bids are usually only a few dollars higher." He laughed. "We sit back and watch the stock price soar. Ultimately we make millions, sometimes tens of millions in those deals."

"It's got to be tough to hit on many deals where you buy the stock even before the first offer is announced," Jay pointed out. "You'd have to have privileged information to do it consistently."

Oliver's eyes narrowed slightly. "Do you mean inside information?"

Jay hesitated, aware that he had stepped into no-man's-land.

"Trading on inside information would be illegal," Oliver said quietly after an uncomfortable silence. "Listen to me and listen to me good. We are absolutely ethical around here. If a deal smells at all, we don't get involved. It's like that piece of week-old meat in the refrigerator that doesn't look or smell too good. Some idiots are willing to risk food poisoning because they can't bear to see the meat wasted. So they eat it and end up in the hospital. Here at McCarthy and Lloyd, we don't care. We make enough money that we don't have to take those kinds of foolish risks. We toss the rotten meat out and make a fresh kill. Our chairman wouldn't have it any other way. All you have in this business is your reputation, Jay. We want to keep ours pristine."

"Of course," Jay agreed. "How many people work in the arbitrage group?" he asked, quickly steering the conversation in a different direction.

"Right now three professionals, a secretary, and an administrative assistant. You'll be the fourth professional." Oliver hesitated. "We may hire one more at some point. Anyway, I run the desk, and my title is managing director," he continued, gesturing at the door. "Bullock is a director, one title below me, and my right-hand man. We also have an associate. Her name is Abigail Cooper. You'll be a vice president, the title between director and associate, and report to Bullock, as Abby does."

Jay nodded. It wasn't going to be much fun reporting to Bullock, but then, life couldn't be perfect. And Jay knew Bullock's attitude would improve if Jay made money.

"Now let's focus on compensation," Oliver said.

Here was the crux of the issue. The reason Jay was willing to have no life outside of McCarthy & Lloyd.

"Your annual salary will be fifty thousand dollars."

"Excuse me?" Jay's exhilaration faded.

Oliver saw the disappointment evident in Jay's expression. "Yup, fifty grand. That's what every professional at your level makes here at McCarthy and Lloyd."

"But I earn more than fifty thousand a year now."

"And we don't make any fringe benefits available to the professional staff," Oliver continued, ignoring Jay's objection. "No health or life insurance, no 401K plan, not even a pension."

"Are you serious?"

"Absolutely."

Jay looked down.

"But I will make you one promise, Jay West."

"What's that?"

"I'll guarantee you a minimum bonus of a million dollars, and I'll guarantee it to you in writing. You show up on the arbitrage desk every day until the end of the year, and on January fifteenth McCarthy and Lloyd will stroke you a check for at least a million."

Jay managed to control his show of emotion despite the anticipation tearing through his body. "Really?"

"Absolutely." Oliver watched Jay's reaction carefully, vaguely disappointed that the younger man hadn't been more outwardly affected by news of the huge bonus. "And I want you to consider two things. First, it's already the middle of June, so that million dollars represents compensation for only half a year's work. I'll let you do the math." Oliver paused as if to allow Jay a moment to double a million. "Second, if you do more than simply come into the desk every day, your bonus next January could be well in excess of your guarantee. If you come up with a couple of stocks that end up being taken over and the firm makes some real money directly as a result of your contribution, your actual bonus in January could be multiples of what I've guaranteed you."

Jay curled his fingers around the arms of the chair. A million dollars in one lump sum. His life would change dramatically with that deposit. His annual salary at National City had been seventy thousand dollars and his last bonus twenty-three. He had been at the top of his peer group in terms of the bonus amount and considered himself a success. Now he realized how wrong he'd been.

"You're lucky," Oliver remarked. "Around here we like to say that we eat only what we kill. But in your case, you'll have a guarantee. At least for the first year. Of course, if you don't produce, you'll be out on your ass."

"I understand," Jay answered. "But I'll earn the million."

Oliver leaned back and yawned, as if a million was nothing to be particularly impressed with. "Bullock earned three million last January," he said casually.

Jay's heart rate jumped several notches, but he made certain Oliver detected no sign of his excitement. Being too excited about anything, even the possibility of a huge bonus, could be taken as a sign of weakness.

"He does an outstanding job, and I recognize him for it because I don't want him jumping ship for another firm. He made McCarthy and Lloyd almost thirty million dollars last year using very little of the firm's capital."

"I won't let Bullock know that you told me what he makes," Jay said.

"I don't care if you tell him. He's proud of it. Wouldn't you be?" Oliver hesitated. "There aren't any secrets about what people earn around here. We want the figures to be out in the open. It makes you work harder." His eyes flashed. "See, that's the way Wall Street operates. We bring life down to its most basic element, survival, and its most powerful motivator, incentive. We make every day an all-out competition. If you win, you win big. If you lose, you find out pretty quickly and you get out. Or you get fired." Oliver's smile broadened. "But you strike me as a winner."

"I am," Jay said confidently. He had left his office at National City that night not knowing what to expect, and the last half hour had been an emotional roller-coaster ride. But the interview had ultimately turned out far better than he could have imagined. Taking the cut in salary would be a small, short-term price to pay for that million-dollar guarantee.

Oliver picked up Jay's resume. "Let's go meet Bill McCarthy. He's the chairman of McCarthy and Lloyd."

"I know who he is."

Everyone in the financial industry recognized the name Bill McCarthy. Ten years before, he and Graham Lloyd had left promising careers at one of Wall Street's most prestigious investment banks to strike out on their own. Now McCarthy was chairman of one of the Street's most profitable private firms, a firm that executed stock and bond trades and provided financial advice to America's wealthiest individuals as well as the world's bluest-chip companies and most stable governments. McCarthy regularly counseled senior White House officials and prominent CEOs. Forbes had estimated his net worth to be half a billion dollars, and he counted the governor of New York and the mayor of New York City as friends.

"Hurry up." Oliver beckoned to Jay from the conference room doorway. "Oh, one thing," Oliver cautioned, holding up his hand.

"What?"

"Everything that goes on at McCarthy and Lloyd stays within the walls of the firm. You know what Bullock's bonus was last year, but that figure doesn't get to anyone who isn't employed by McCarthy and Lloyd. Just the same way you wouldn't discuss proprietary information about one of our clients with anyone outside the firm. If someone is caught discussing any of our business with anyone on the outside, it's grounds for immediate dismissal. We are privy to very sensitive information around here on an almost hourly basis. We need to protect our clients' privacy, and as the saying goes, loose lips sink ships."

Only in times of war, Jay thought.

"Bill McCarthy is a stickler on that issue, and people have been terminated for violating the policy," Oliver continued. "For getting drunk in a bar and saying things they shouldn't have. Got that?"

Jay heard an ominous tone in Oliver's voice. "Yes."

"Good." The warning was over and the friendly tone returned. "Let's go." Oliver moved out into the hallway, and Jay hustled to keep pace. "It's the press that's the real problem," Oliver called over his shoulder. "They're so damn hungry to find out about this place."

"I'm sure." Jay was well aware that details of what went on inside McCarthy & Lloyd were not generally available to the outside world. The Wall Street Journal had nicknamed the firm Area 51 after the top-secret Air Force base in the Nevada desert where the government developed next-generation weapons and was rumored by conspiracy zealots to have interred the Roswell aliens. And reporters had dubbed Bill McCarthy "Howard Hughes" for his total abhorrence of publicity.

"Of course, our desire to maintain a low profile only feeds the press's appetite." Oliver smiled. "Bill is a smooth operator.

We get more publicity by saying nothing than we would by advertising."

The hallway suddenly opened up onto McCarthy & Lloyd's huge trading floor--over an acre in size. In front of the two men lay row after row of lunch-counter-like workstations, each twenty feet long and facing a bulkhead, on the other side of which was another workstation of equal length. Four to five people sat elbow to elbow on either side of the bulkhead like patrons at a diner. Each chair was known as a "position" on the floor. In front of each position, and supported by the bulkhead, were several computer screens providing up-to-the-second data concerning stock, bond, currency, and derivative markets around the world. Also in front of each position were telephone banks with multiple lines so that the trader could buy and sell securities instantaneously. Televisions tuned to CNN were positioned through-

out the room to give them information on world events, because a coup in Russia could trash U.S. markets as quickly as chaos at home--and vice versa. There was little decoration around the room, just a small country flag or two on top of the bulkheads of the foreign-exchange areas signifying the currencies traded there. Overall it was a bland and uninviting environment. But decoration was superfluous, and the people there didn't have time for nonessentials. They were there to make money and that was all.

Oliver stopped and pointed toward a far corner. "Over there," he said, having to speak loudly over the dull roar of many voices, "is the equity desk--"

"Desk?" Jay asked.

"Yeah," Oliver replied. "We don't use the word groups or divisions on the trading floor. We call them desks."

"Okay."

"Those three workstations in the corner comprise the equity desk--salespeople as well as traders using house money. Along that wall is the fixed-income desk, and beside them is--"

"Oliver!" A short, dark-haired young woman rushed toward them down the open corridor paralleling the length of the trading floor. She was clutching a single piece of paper.

"Hi, Abby," Oliver called.

"I've got the offer sheet ready for that block trade." Abby smiled politely at Jay, then looked back at Oliver. "I'm going to fax it over."

"Good." Out of the corner of his eye Jay noticed Oliver's and Abby's fingers intertwine momentarily. Then she rushed away and the scent of her perfume drifted over him.

"Abby's a sweet girl," Oliver said. "A tremendously hard worker. She'll be here until at least ten o'clock tonight." He glanced at Jay. "Abby is the associate on the arbitrage desk I mentioned earlier. You'll like her."

"I'm sure." Jay checked Oliver's left hand and saw a wedding band.

"Hey, pal, I saw you checking Abby out, and I've got to say I agree with your taste." Oliver gave Jay a friendly punch on the upper arm. "But don't get any ideas. She's spoken for." He turned and began moving forward again. "As I was saying, the capital market desk is over there, next to the fixed-income people, and our home, the equity arbitrage desk, is positioned in the far corner. We have only one workstation, but we make more money than anyone else on the entire floor." He waved toward the desk casually. "The difference between us and the equity guys in the far corner is that we trade only takeover stocks. They trade all other stocks."

Jay followed Oliver's gesture and caught a glimpse of Bullock sitting in front of a computer, studying one of his screens.

"Hey, it's God!"

Jay's head snapped right. A young trader twenty feet away had directed the remark at Oliver.

"You the man, Oliver!" another yelled.

"What's that all about?" Jay asked.

Oliver gave the two traders a friendly nod. "The arbitrage desk has performed tremendously well since I arrived here five years ago," he explained immodestly. "As I said, we're small in terms of people, but we make more money than any other desk. The fixed-income desk those two guys work on didn't do too well last year. In fact, they lost money for the firm, but they still received decent bonuses because my desk, the desk you are about to become a part of," Oliver emphasized, "tore the cover off the ball. Again," he bragged.

"There goes the king!" someone yelled.

Jay shook his head. It was like accompanying royalty.

"Upstairs are the merger-and-acquisition, corporate-finance, and project-finance groups," Oliver continued, ignoring the last accolade. "Bill doesn't like those groups being located on the trading floor because of the potential conflict of interest. Like it isn't a conflict of interest to have the arbitrage desk on the same floor with the equity traders," he said smugly. "They hear about takeover bids before almost anyone except the M and A people, and it would be very easy for one of them to run over to us and give us the inside scoop so we could trade on it. But hey, it's Bill's firm. He can do what he wants."

Jay scanned the floor. Most of the several hundred individuals talking into phones, checking computer screens, or conversing with each other were men, and the few women on the floor were young and attractive. He noticed the way most of them nodded deferentially to Oliver, and how Oliver acknowledged very few of them.

"You will sign a contract with us tomorrow," Oliver remarked. "You probably never did that at National City, did you?"

"No."

"Don't worry, it's standard stuff. It'll spell out in detail the financial and legal terms of your employment." Oliver clapped his hands and laughed. "It'll stipulate that you can't sue us for anything. That any dispute you ever have with McCarthy and Lloyd will be settled by an industry arbitrator. Probably by someone who owes Bill a big favor. A lot of the big investment banks have gotten away from that policy and have allowed employees to sue them, but not us. We don't have to." Oliver slammed the wall with his open palm. "What a crock of shit that is, huh? But what difference does it make? Everybody understands that you're here to make money and if you don't, you'll be fired. If you want a comfortable living, Jay West, sell sofas and easy chairs. And for Christ's sake, don't tell the human-resources person that you need to have an attorney review the contract. That's a big red flag."

"I won't."

Oliver turned down a hallway leading away from the trading floor, and the dull roar subsided. "What's today?"

"Tuesday," Jay answered, glad to be of even trivial assistance to a man who had just guaranteed him at least a million-dollar payday in a little over seven months.

"All right, then you'll start on Thursday."

"I can't."

"What?" Oliver stopped abruptly and whipped around, hands on hips, his face twisted into an expression of intense irritation.

Jay blinked slowly. "I want to give the people at National City the standard two weeks before I leave. I want them to have plenty of time to put someone on my accounts and make the transition smooth."

"Bullshit, Jay!" Oliver bellowed, furious. "Son, I've just guaranteed you a million-dollar bonus in January from my personal operating budget. I want you in this building ASAP. Not next week, not the week after, but Thursday. I think I'm being pretty damn generous to give you two days to get your personal house in order. For a million dollars you ought to be planting your ass on the desk and getting to work for me as soon as you finish speaking to Bill McCarthy. Every day you're working for National City, you're not working for me."

"It's just that the people at National City have been good to me," Jay said quietly. "They're my friends. I want to leave there on good terms. I think that's important."

"Not half as important as pleasing me, pal," Oliver replied coldly.

Jay gazed at Oliver for several moments. The senior executives at National City weren't going to be happy, but Oliver Mason had offered him the opportunity of a lifetime. He had no choice. "Okay, I'll be here first thing Thursday morning."

"That's the right answer. You had me worried for a second, son. Remember, no matter what anyone tells you, life is a one-way street. That one way is straight ahead. Keep your eye on the target, move directly at it any way you can, and don't waste time worrying about people who can't do anything for you anymore. As of this moment, those idiots at National City are in the past. Fuck 'em." Oliver saw that Jay was struggling with his decision to leave National City so abruptly. "You don't have any children, do you?" he asked.

"No."

"Get some," Oliver advised.

"Why?"

"They're the only people who will ever truly appreciate you."

"What do you mean?"

"They don't know any better. Unfortunately, even they catch on at some point." Oliver shook his head. "Yup, get yourself some children, Jay, but don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting that you get a wife." He continued down the hallway. "Here we are," he announced suddenly, pushing open a door without knocking. "Hello, Karen."

"Hi, Oliver."

Jay watched Oliver stride to the desk, take the hand of a woman sitting behind it, then lean down and gallantly kiss the backs of her fingers.

"Oh, Oliver." The woman turned her head to the side, delighted with Oliver's attention.

"Jay, meet Karen Walker." Oliver gestured at Karen. "She is Bill McCarthy's very capable executive assistant."

Jay judged Karen to be in her fifties. She was the first woman even close to that age he had encountered at McCarthy & Lloyd. "Hello."

"Hi," she said politely, then quickly turned her attention back to Oliver. "How is that lovely wife of yours?"

"Just fine, thanks."

"Hello, Oliver." Bill McCarthy's voice boomed out as he appeared in the doorway of the inner office, shirtsleeves rolled up above his elbows and what little remained of a lit cigar clenched between his teeth. He was a bear of a man with a large nose, meaty cheeks, and an unruly head of shaggy blond hair.

"Hello, Bill." Oliver held up a black leather cigar case. "I've got something for you."

"What?" McCarthy asked in his deep southern drawl.

"Davidoff Double R's." He pulled two out of the case and handed them to McCarthy. "Twenty bucks a pop. Best cigar this side of Cuba."

McCarthy snatched the cigars from Oliver without a word, then walked directly to Jay and shook his hand. "Bill McCarthy."

"Jay West."

"Follow me, Mr. West," McCarthy ordered gruffly, heading back into his office.

Jay stepped toward the office doorway through which

McCarthy had disappeared.

"Have fun," Oliver said quietly. "But don't say anything stupid, like you can't leave National City for another two weeks because the people there have been so good to you."

"Aren't you coming in?" Jay asked, ignoring Oliver's remark.

"Nope. You won't be in there very long. Find me when you're done."

"Right."

"Come in," McCarthy growled when Jay hesitated at the doorway of the spacious office. It was a corner office with a panoramic view of lower Manhattan and New York Harbor beyond. Lights from ships anchored north of the Verrazano-

Narrows Bridge shimmered in the distance with dusk falling on the city. "Shut the door," McCarthy instructed, sitting down behind his massive desk, cluttered with newspapers and Styrofoam cups half full of black coffee.

Jay pushed the door shut, and it clicked behind him.

"Let's get a couple of things straight right off the bat,"

McCarthy began. "Don't call me Mr. McCarthy or sir. Call me Bill. This is a collegial firm."

McCarthy's southern accent was heavy, and Jay had to listen carefully to make certain he understood. "Okay ... Bill."

"Don't kiss my ass with any false respect crap, either. And, yes, I'm worth north of five hundred million dollars. Actually, well north. North Pole north, in fact." He chuckled. "And I do talk to one of the president's senior advisors every few days. The governor's and mayor's offices as well. They are constantly looking to me for guidance. The Forbes article you probably read to prepare for your interview was accurate; in fact, it didn't really paint the whole picture. I'm even better-connected than it reported, and that is for two very good reasons: I'm almost always right when I give advice, and I'm generous with my contributions. Give politicians money and they'll do anything for you. They are the most predictable people in the world that way." McCarthy took a puff from his cigar and tossed the Davidoffs Oliver had given him onto the cluttered desk. "Now sit down," he directed again, pointing at a chair in front of the desk as he began to search through the mess before him.

Jay moved to the chair and sat.

McCarthy glanced at the younger man as he rummaged through papers. Jay was tall and lanky with straight, layered dirty-blond hair, parted on one side. It fell over his forehead almost to his dark eyebrows in the front and to the bottom of his collar in the back. His face was thin but strong, dominated by large dark blue eyes, full lips, and a nose that was slightly crooked--probably broken at one point, McCarthy assumed. And under one eye was a faded half-inch-long scar, the only imperfection on a smooth complexion that still needed shaving only twice a week to keep a sparse cover of whiskers at bay. But the characteristic that struck McCarthy most wasn't physical. What impressed McCarthy so strongly, and gave him the slightest seed of concern, was the steely self-assurance evident in Jay's measured manner.

McCarthy drew himself up in the desk chair. "You need a haircut," he blurted suddenly.

"Excuse me?" Jay had been taking in the view of the harbor.

"Your hair's too long. I don't like that."

"All right." Jay stole an inquisitive glance at McCarthy's own longish hair.

McCarthy continued hunting through the papers on his desk. "I know Oliver sent me your resume in the office mail, but I can't find it in this pile of crap." He abandoned the search and reclined in his large leather chair. "So give me the audio version, and make it the abridged one."

"Okay. I'm from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I graduated from Lehigh six years ago last week with a degree in English. And since then I've been working for the National City Bank of New York as a corporate finance specialist."

McCarthy removed the stub of the cigar from his mouth and pointed it at Jay. "You mean you've been working as a lending officer."

"Pardon?"

"All you people at commercial banks claim you're corporate-finance specialists," McCarthy said testily. "But to me, a corporate-finance specialist is someone who underwrites public debt and equity deals, which I'd be willing to bet a lot of money you've never done. You've made loans, right?"

In six years at National City Jay had never experienced a personal confrontation or had someone call into question his abilities. At McCarthy & Lloyd it had happened three times in the last twenty minutes, and he wasn't even officially an employee yet. "I've done my share of deals," he responded evenly.

McCarthy thought about digging deeper, then decided against it. "I'll be blunt. Oliver's taking a big chance on you. I told him he ought to hire somebody from Princeton or Harvard, but he wants to hire you." McCarthy shrugged. "Oliver's instincts are excellent. He runs the arbitrage desk and has made lots of money doing that for me over the past five years. If he wants to take a chance on you, it's his business. But let me tell you something." McCarthy leaned over the desk. "People will be watching you closely, and Oliver's reputation will suffer if you don't work out. He's made me a great deal of money, but I don't much care about the past. I care about today. Remember that," McCarthy said forcefully. "Oliver is under an immense amount of pressure, as everyone around here is. But in return for dealing with that pressure Oliver owns a vacation home in the Caribbean, sails his fifty-foot boat out of the Westchester Yacht Club in the summertime, drives expensive cars, sends his kid to the finest private
school in the area, and takes vacations most people only hear about from Robin Leach." McCarthy smashed the glowing end of his cigar into a crystal ashtray sitting atop a stack of folders. "Oliver wants to guarantee you a million dollars in January. Personally, I can't see why. However, it's his budget and he has the authority to do it." McCarthy held up his hand. "It's his budget, but ultimately it's my money. If you don't produce, you'll be gone and Oliver will have a big problem, because I detest wasting money. For me it's like hearing fingernails screech slowly down a blackboard. It makes my skin crawl." McCarthy paused. "Oliver has stuck his neck out on a chopping block for you. He's given you an opportunity a great many people would kill for. You better appreciate that."

"I do," Jay said calmly. Now he understood why Oliver had exploded at the idea of Jay's taking two weeks to leave National City. At McCarthy & Lloyd you were expected to produce immediately. The pace there would be frenetic from the opening bell and would only intensify after that. Losing would not be tolerated. "I won't forget what he's done for me."

"Good." McCarthy checked his watch. "I've got to get to a dinner at the Waldorf. Do you have any questions?"

"Just one." Jay held up his forefinger. "What's it like to have half a billion dollars?"

McCarthy glared at Jay for several moments, then stood up and walked around the desk until he was standing directly in front of the younger man. "Maybe you'll find out someday," he growled, then grinned in spite of himself. He took Jay's hand. "Welcome to the club, Mr. West."


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