The Keyby Jennifer Sturman
Ever wished your boss would drop dead?
Of course not. Well, not really. And neither had Rachel Benjamin—until she finds herself working for Wall Street terror Glenn Gallagher on his latest pet project. Rachel thinks the deal—and Glenn—are more than a little shady, but she has a promotion at stake. It's either keep her lips sealed or/i>/p>
Ever wished your boss would drop dead?
Of course not. Well, not really. And neither had Rachel Benjamin—until she finds herself working for Wall Street terror Glenn Gallagher on his latest pet project. Rachel thinks the deal—and Glenn—are more than a little shady, but she has a promotion at stake. It's either keep her lips sealed or kiss her partnership goodbye. Or kill Glenn. (Just kidding!)
At least she has Peter. Rachel's too-good-to-be-true fiancé has moved in, and while his stuff is everywhere and he's strangely jealous of her friendly new coworker, she's confident they'll figure things out. It would help if Glenn's killer schedule didn't have Rachel working around the clock. Really, the man must be stopped.
Rachel's jokes about killing her boss don't seem so funny when Glenn is murdered. And it's even less laughable when she becomes the prime suspect. With the police hot on her very stylish heels, and the threat of an unflattering orange jumpsuit in her future, Rachel's learning the hard way to be careful what you wish for. She needs to catch the true killer quickly, before the killer catches her.
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Read an Excerpt
I was having my favorite type of dream, a flying dream, when the phone rang.
I opened one eye, testing to see if this was part of the dream. But in my dream the skies were blue and lit by golden sunlight. In my bedroom, it was dark, and freezing, since my new roommate liked to sleep with the windows wide open, even in March and even in Manhattan. And the phone was still ringing.
Peter mumbled something unintelligible and pulled the duvet over his head. I thought about doing the same, but surely nobody would call in the middle of the night unless it was important. I reached out for the phone.
"Rachel. Glenn Gallagher here."
This had to be a joke."What time is it?"
"Almost six. Listen, I need you in the office. We don't have much time to get ready."
"Ready for what?"
"I'll tell you when you get in. See you in an hour."
"But it's Satur--" I began to say before I realized I was talking to a dial tone.
I was still half-asleep, so my reaction was somewhat delayed. It was nearly five seconds before I'd collected myself sufficiently to say the only appropriate thing that could be said in such a situation.
Peter gasped and shot into a sitting position. I'd spoken more loudly than I'd intended. "And a good morning to you, too." Even in the dark, I could make out the silhouette of his sandy hair.
"You look like Alfalfa."
"From The Little Rascals. You know, the one with the piece of hair that stuck straight up. He sang."
"I'm in the Mood for Love."
"Uh-huh. He had a crush on Darla."
"Andthat makes me an asshole?"
"No. Who said you were an asshole?"
"You did. Just now."
"Oh. I wasn't talking to you."
"Good to know,I guess."He settled back into the pillows and reached for me."So who were you talking to?"
I snuggled into his embrace. Despite the Arctic chill to the room, his body radiated heat. "Glenn Gallagher.
But he didn't hear me call him an asshole. He'd already hung up."
"Who's Glenn Gallagher?"
"The new guy Stan Winslow brought in."
"And why was he calling us in the middle of the night?" Even as I answered Peter's question I was marveling at the unfamiliar use of "us." I'd lived alone from the day I graduated college until the previous week, and I still wasn't accustomed to the first person plural being applied in reference to my household. Our household.
"He said he needs me in the office. In an hour. Actually, more like fifty-five minutes at this point."
"Do you think he knows it's Saturday?"
"And do you think he knows we were going to sleep in? And have a nice leisurely brunch and read The New York Times? And then figure out where I can put all my stuff ?" Peter's worldly belongings had arrived from San Francisco a few days ago, and stacks of unopened cardboard cartons now occupied every available square foot of the apartment.
"I doubt he gave it that much thought."
"Why do you do this again?"
I sighed and detached myself from Peter's arms. The rug was cold beneath my bare feet. "Because this is how you make partner at an investment bank."
"By letting assholes order you out of bed in the wee hours on weekends?"
"If I keep it up, one day I'll get to order other people out of bed in the wee hours on weekends."
"Something to look forward to."
"Go back to sleep. I'll call you later, when I know what this is all about. Maybe I can rescue at least part of our day together."
But I wasn't too confident about that.
By Monday morning, the only thing I was confident about was that I wanted Glenn Gallagher dead.
My brain was fried and my thoughts scattered from too much caffeine and not enough sleep, but I did know with absolute clarity that I despised Glenn Gallagher and would be delighted to see him die a slow and painful death.
My firm, Winslow, Brown, had lured Gallagher from a competing bank six months ago, bringing him in as a senior partner and lavishing him with an enormous corner office and matching expense account. He'd been putting together leveraged buyouts for close to thirty years, and while LBOs were no longer as fashionable as they'd been in the junk-bond fueled eighties,Gallagher seemed to be doing just fine,judging by the addresses of his homes on Fifth Avenue and in Bridgehampton.
Regardless of his impressive real estate holdings, it hadn't taken long for him to become the most hated man at Winslow, Brown--no easy feat in a place where there were a lot of hated men and even a few hated women. By the end of his first week he'd terrorized enough junior bankers to earn some interesting nicknames, including Adolf and Saddam.
Gallagher had learned late on Friday that Thunderbolt Industries, a Pittsburgh-based defense contractor, had chosen Winslow, Brown as its advisor on a management buyout. He hadn't wasted any time scheduling a meeting with Thunderbolt's CEO for Monday morning, which left just the weekend to get ready. Meanwhile, I wasn't sure how my name had ended up at the top of the staffing list, but I'd lost this particular game of Russian Roulette without even realizing I was playing. I'd spent most of the past forty-eight hours in the office with Jake Channing and Mark Anders, the other unfortunates who'd been shanghaied into working on the deal.
The "team" had gathered in Gallagher's office for a final prep session. He had called another 7:00 a.m. meeting but hadn't sauntered in until half past, and he was now attending to a few personal matters before we began.First we were treated to a conversation, on speakerphone, between Gallagher and his lawyer regarding his ex-wife's complaints that he was behind in child support. Gallagher earned more in a year than most people earned in a lifetime, and the fees he paid his lawyer probably far exceeded the sums he coughed up for the basic care and feeding of his daughter, but he apparently was not the sort to open his checkbook on behalf of others without the threat of legal action.
The next call was to a tailor to complain about the imperfect fit of a custom-made suit, which seemed futile, at best. Gallagher could spend every penny he made on his clothes, and he still wouldn't be much to look at. He had the physique of a scarecrow, with stooping shoulders and sallow skin. What hair he had was a mousy shade, and the cut did nothing to disguise the way his ears stuck out.
I stole a glance at Jake, who rolled his eyes in shared exasperation. Like me, he was a vice president, although slightly more senior, and while he'd transferred only recently from the Chicago office, we'd quickly become friends. But I still hadn't figured out how he always managed to look as if he'd just come from a GQ photo shoot. Today was no exception--his blue eyes were bright and every blond hair was in place--nobody ever would have guessed that he was running on only a few hours of sleep.
Mark, on the other hand, took nondescript to a new level: brown-haired, brown-eyed, neither short nor tall, and in no danger of being mistaken for a male model. Still, he seemed like a decent guy, unassuming and mild-mannered, and as the junior-most person on the team he'd more than pulled his weight over the hellish weekend.
Gallagher reached for one of the pencils he kept in a silver mug on his desk and rammed it into an electric pencil sharpener. He sucked on the newly sharpened point as his tailor stammered a response. Gallagher let him get a few words out before he snatched up the receiver, uttered an impressive string of expletives, and slammed the phone down.
"Where is it?" he barked.
Jake handed him a neatly bound sheaf of papers.
"This had better be an improvement over the crap you faxed me last night."
"We've made a lot of progress since then," Jake assured him.He'd worked with Gallagher before and was one of the few people around who seemed unfazed by his complete lack of interpersonal skills. I, on the other hand, was gripping my chair's armrests so tightly my knuckles were white. In an industry notorious for badly behaved people,Gallagher was in a class by himself.
He flipped through the pages,giving an occasional grunt. The presentation was flawless--we'd double-and triple-checked every detail--but he almost seemed disappointed when he didn't find even a single typo.
"I guess it will do," he said grudgingly."Now, here's the drill.Nicholas Perry, Thunderbolt's CEO,will be here at ten. I do the talking. You guys keep your mouths shut unless I ask you a direct question. And you'd better know every number, every fact in here, backward and forward. There's big money riding on this. Got it?"
"Got it," I said."But I was wondering about something." Gallagher narrowed his eyes in an expression that made him look even more like a ferret."Wondering about what?"
"Well, Thunderbolt--" I winced every time I said the word--what sort of phallo-centric moron would name a company Thunderbolt? "--just doesn't seem like an obvious candidate for a buyout. Its revenues have been declining, and the union's making trouble so its labor costs are likely to increase, and--"
"Your point?"asked Gallagher."Get to the point already." My grip on the armrests tightened yet further."The point is that a buyout will add a lot more debt to Thunderbolt's balance sheet. The company's interest payments will skyrocket, and I don't see how it will cover them."
An LBO is sort of like buying an apartment by making the smallest of down payments and taking out a huge mortgage, all based on the assumption that you can generate enough money renting out the apartment to cover the mortgage payments. In this case, it was unclear that you could count on the tenant paying his rent on time. Or that you'd even be able to find a tenant in the first place.
Gallagher gestured impatiently toward the dozens of Lu-cite deal mementos lining his credenza. "See those? Each one represents a successfully executed LBO."
Successfully executed, maybe, but more than a couple of the Lucites bore the names of companies that no longer existed, victims of a crushing debt load.
"I've been in this business a long time," he said."I know what I'm doing. So, why don't you do your job, and I'll do mine?"
"I was just--"
"Enough already! Nick Perry and I go way back--I've known him since Princeton. This deal is ours, and I'm not going to let anything screw that up. We do the work, we collect our fees, and everybody goes home happy. Can you get that through your pretty little head?"
Unbelievable. He'd actually said,"pretty little head." Pick your battles. That was what my mother always told me. Good advice, certainly, but not necessarily easy to follow. I opened my mouth to speak again but he cut me off.
Meet the Author
Like Rachel Benjamin, the heroine of The Key, The Pact and The Jinx, Jennifer Sturman grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, the birthplace of another fictional character, Ward Cleaver. She also attended the same school as actress Margaret Hamilton, the Cleveland native who played the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. When Jennifer was in the fourth grade Ms. Hamilton visited her alma mater and told the students how she melted. While sworn to secrecy, Jennifer does offer the following hint: trapdoor.
Jennifer graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College with a degree in history and literature. She began her business career as a financial analyst in mergers and acquisitions at Goldman, Sachs. Unlike her heroine, Jennifer did not thrive on the all-nighters and number crunching demanded by Wall Street, although she managed to sustain herself by consuming a steady stream of Diet Coke. After two years, she enrolled at Harvard Business School, where, with the aid of yet more Diet Coke, she earned her MBA with distinction. She then joined McKinsey & Company as a management consultant, advising clients in media, consumer packaged goods and retail on a broad range of strategic issues. She now works in corporate strategy at Time Warner, but she does not get free cable.
Jennifer resides in Manhattan. She has no free time, but if she did, she would probably spend it doing a New York Times crossword puzzle, watching bad teen movies from the eighties and sipping drinks that come with little umbrellas in them. She is currently at work on her fourth Red Dress Ink book in the Rachel Benjamin series, The Hunt, to be released in December2007.
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This book will not disapoint! It was just as good as the first in the series (The Pact). I recommend getting the entire Rachael Benjamin Mystery series.
In Manhattan, Rachel Benjamin feels her chances of making partner at Winslow Brown Investment Bank remains excellent in spite of her obnoxious demanding new boss from hell Glenn Gallagher. Under his difficult direction, she, Jake Channing and Mark Anders are working on a buy-out of Thunderbolt Industries that looks suspicious to her. She believes it is a bad deal. She also receives emails at home from the anonymous Man of the People insisting that Gallagher has done this questionable transaction before. --- When Gallagher dies from chewing on a poisoned pencil, suspicion falls on Rachel because she had described the modus operendi to her work-mates not long before the murder. Someone looking just like Rachel pushes office assistant Dahlia towards a train just after mentioning to Rachel she needed to tell her something important. With the help of her friends and her live in boyfriend Peter Forrest, Rachel investigates while hiding from the law and from clever killers. --- The third Rachel Benjamin Mystery (see THE JINX and THE PACT) is a wonderful amateur sleuth thriller in which the female buddies and Peter play the key roles in helping the heroine extract herself from being the prime suspect. Rachel is wonderful as she goes from sure shot partner to loathing her odious new supervisor to woman on the lam trying to prove her innocence and not get killed while doing so. Readers will appreciate this pleasing tale that also warns fans not to chew on their pencils. --- Harriet Klausner