The Insiders: A Portfolio of Stories from High Financeby David Charters
In this remarkable debut collection of short stories, David Charters reveals the secretive world of international bankers, brokers, and business executives with an insider's acuity. Sharp suits, fast cars, lavish expense accounts, and exclusive clubs are the comforts of lives lived at a furious pace, where betrayal and blackmail are paths to success, extramarital
In this remarkable debut collection of short stories, David Charters reveals the secretive world of international bankers, brokers, and business executives with an insider's acuity. Sharp suits, fast cars, lavish expense accounts, and exclusive clubs are the comforts of lives lived at a furious pace, where betrayal and blackmail are paths to success, extramarital sex is an equal opportunity job perk, and an initial public offering might be a matter of life or death.
An ambitious middle manager offers his wife to his new boss. An overheard conversation between two powerful executives leads to unexpected consequences for the eavesdropper. A cocky young investment banker is sent to Moscow on his first big opportunity---and finds more than he bargained for. A Ferrari-driving businesswoman plays a wicked prank after an anonymous sexual encounter. These and other characters are brought to life with a few deft brushstrokes, as each story veers through twists and turns to a surprising end.
David Charters is a keen-eyed observer and denizen of this world, and the stories of The Insiders are witty, suspenseful, entertaining---and too close to truth for comfort.
- Christopher Reich, author of The Devil's Banker and The First Billion
"Charters . . . has written twenty-five well-turned tales. The dialogue rings most true at its most outrageous."
- Financial News (U.K.)
"No tale is quite what it seems, leaving the reader surprised, shocked, or gleeful at the come-uppance and putdowns."
- The View (U.K)
"[A] finely honed fist of short stories."
- What's On London (U.K.)
- Christopher Reich, author of The Devil's Banker and The First Billion
- Financial News (U.K.)
- The View (U.K)
- St. Martin's Press
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Read an Excerpt
A Portfolio of Stories from High Finance
By David Charters
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2002 David Charters
All rights reserved.
0415 hrs. My driver drops me at home. It's been a long day in the City. First we had dinner at Orso's, then on to Stringfellow's and finally Ali's Bar. I'm mentally exhausted and emotionally drained. I run for the bathroom, trying not to wake my wife.
0430 hrs. After I've cleaned up I quietly enter the bedroom, remove my jacket and tie and start to undo my trousers. My wife stirs, looks up and puts the light on. Fuck. 'Early start,' I lie. '6 a.m. conference call with Tokyo.' I re-zip my trousers, retie my tie, put my jacket on and head back downstairs. I'm still too drunk to drive so I call a cab.
0545 hrs. Alone in the office with nothing to do, head still fuzzy, feeling ill. I try to remember who I was with last night and what I might have done or said. I find some big Amex slips in my pocket. Better remember to charge them to a client account. Fuck. I need to slow down. This could get out of hand.
0615 hrs. I'm so bored I start going through other people's desks. Nothing. Boring bastards. Or maybe they're just too smart. On the other hand, we don't attract the brightest things on two legs at Société Financière de Paris, so maybe I was right the first time. I try to play computer games to while away the time, but I start to feel sick.
0830 hrs. Must have fallen asleep. The phones are ringing but none of the team are here. Can't complain. I don't go in for macho face-time in the office and don't expect the team to either. Let the fucking phones ring.
0855 hrs. One phone keeps ringing. Should I answer it? I finally summon the determination and hit the button at the second attempt. 'SFP,' I bark aggressively. The caller hangs up. This freaks me out. Who the fuck rings up at five to nine in the morning, lets the phone ring and ring and then hangs up when you answer? Could be some bastard checking up on me. Fuck. Better watch out.
0930 hrs. The team have finally started to drift in. They're all hung over. Somebody says it was my fault for insisting on them all attending birthday drinks for Samantha at The Avenue. Who the fuck is Samantha? Apparently the blonde temp with the big personality who was with us last week. I'd forgotten about The Avenue.
0945 hrs. They're all here now, the lazy bastards. One or two look very ill. At least they made the effort. I cancel the morning meeting.
1015 hrs. My secretary brings me a coffee in my office, remarks it seems stuffy, would I mind if she turns up the air-conditioning? Fuck. I go out to Pink's and buy a clean shirt and underwear, then on to Boots for a shaving kit, and disappear to the directors' washroom. When I get back, she says it seems cooler now, perhaps she should turn the air-con back down. I settle down to read the paper.
1130 hrs. Weekly directors' meeting. I make sure I'm early, so that I can sit close to Simon, though not too close in case he thinks the air-conditioning needs turning up too. I make a big thing about the Client Marketing Initiative that I'm leading on at group level for the division. It's all bullshit, no one believes in it, but they all wait for Simon's reaction and then nod vigorously when he seems to agree. Phew, made it for another week.
1230 hrs. Christ, I need a drink. Thank God, I've got lunch today with Jimmy Smith from Swiss Credit. He knows how to have lunch. I take a cab to the City Club.
1530 hrs. Hallelujah! Saved. I feel warm, relaxed, at ease again. That was a freakish morning. I'm tired, but at least I've rejoined the human race. Back at my desk I fire off some e-mails about the Client Marketing Initiative, the need for cross-marketing on a multi-product, inter-divisional basis if we are to compete with the Americans, the lessons to be drawn from recent marketing failures, and suggest it's all reviewed at an off-site – where? – yes, brilliant! – in South Africa in April. Simon's half South African and I know he'll kill for a chance to be down there for the rugby. A fine afternoon's work. My secretary brings me my Sporting Life and I get down to serious business, just in time for the four o'clock from Sandown.
1630 hrs. Review time. Two of the graduate trainees have completed their probationary period in the department. Edwards is a spotty creep with a PhD and a high opinion of himself. Works damned hard and doesn't always come out for a drink when I summon the team to drink with me. Diane on the other hand is a darling, incredibly cute, something of a flirt, sends me the most outrageous e-mails. I extend his probationary period for another six months; he almost bursts into tears. I nearly lose it, try desperately to think of terminal illnesses, bankruptcy, losing my car parking space underneath the building, anything not to laugh. I tell Diane she has made it. She is overwhelmed, agrees to dinner to review her career options and how far she might go from here. Must think carefully how I play that one.
1745 hrs. Simon wants to do the off-site in South Africa. He wants me to lead on it, sends an e-mail to all the directors, urging full co-operation in this important initiative. I instruct the whole team to work on an agenda and a presentation for me to give. I want it ready for the morning, so that I can show it to Simon. Then I head off to meet Adam Whitehead from Hellerbank for drinks.
1930 hrs. Three Martinis later and I'm flying again. I try to recall what I told my wife about this evening. Fuck. Did I tell her anything? Did she tell me anything? Fuck.
2250 hrs. I'm lost. Staggered out of dinner and caught a cab, but threw up in the back and the driver ordered me out. Fuck.
0130 hrs. I'm trying to work out how to use my mobile. It isn't normally this hard. Fuck. I push a button. I hear a vaguely familiar voice. 'Taxi desk, please.' Then the voice starts shouting at me, 'For God's sake – it's me! Where the hell are you? We were due at the Evans's for supper at 8:00. I've been calling you all evening. No-one knows where you are.' Fuck. I've got to slow down. One of these days this could get out of hand.CHAPTER 2
'Richard, how good to see you!'
'Lucy, darling – as gorgeous as ever! I'm so sorry I'm so late – I got stuck in the office. Here, these are for you.'
He handed her an enormous bunch of lilies selected by his secretary and gave her a peck on the cheek. She showed him into the dining room.
'Everybody, I'd like you to meet one of my oldest friends – Richard was at Oxford with me, but now he's a partner at Hardman Stoney, the American investment bank in the City. Richard, this is Gavin and his wife Sheila. Gavin writes for The Guardian, and Sheila's a full-time mum! And this is Arthur, who works with me in the library at the LSE, and his partner Josh, who's in therapy Josh is a super-duper cook and he's prepared the pudding tonight. And this is Alison. Alison works for the probation service.'
Richard nodded and shook hands and said hello and asked himself for the thousandth time why, in a moment of insane weakness, he had ever agreed to come to dinner. And why, for God's sake, hadn't he cancelled? Partners of Hardman Stoney were notorious for their social faux pas, turning up on social occasions late or not at all. Why hadn't he simply cancelled?
In part, he supposed, it was curiosity. Once upon a time, Lucy and he had briefly been an item, and he was curious to know how she had fared in the years that had passed. She looked older now, and dowdy, and he wondered where her earlier beauty had gone. Perhaps it had never been there in the first place. Her house in Hackney was tiny and shabby and was in a part of town that he had never visited before. He felt distinctly over-dressed in the company of her friends. He was in a double-breasted, pinstriped suit, complete with Hermès tie and Patek Philippe watch, and they were in corduroys, denims, open shirts and rolled-up sleeves. Josh was smoking what appeared to be a joint. Richard took it all in, but said nothing. They were all looking at him.
'I'm sorry to be so late. I got stuck in the office.' He shrugged. They looked at him blankly.
Lucy intervened. 'Don't worry, I kept you a plate of pasta, and Josh doesn't mind holding the pudding while you eat, do you, Josh, darling?'
Josh ignored her and carried on staring at Richard.
The pasta was half cold, stodgy and almost tasteless. He ploughed his way through it in silence. Lucy could feel the tension.
'So Richard, why don't you tell us all about your work? It must be wonderful, flying all over the world at the drop of a hat, Concorde to New York, trips to Hong Kong, Tokyo, Frankfurt ...'
'It's okay. It's not as glamorous as people think.'
'Oh really?' It was Josh. 'The last time I flew Concorde I thought it was terribly glam. What did everybody else think?'
They all laughed.
'Everybody, please, this is so unfair.' Lucy was concerned for her guest. 'It's no use you all ganging up on Richard just because he's rich and talented and successful. It's not your fault you earn such mega-bonuses, is it, darling?' she said, touching him playfully on the knee.
He smiled, uncertain how to respond, wishing he was somewhere – anywhere – else. It was clear that Lucy had been drinking, but he wondered if they had all been smoking joints.
'So how much do you earn, Richard?' It was Alison, the probation officer. He looked at her, taking in the barely concealed hostility. To hell with it, he thought, why should we always be on the receiving end?
'Oh, in an average year about the same as two hundred probation officers, I suppose – assuming they all get performance bonuses, of course. I am right in thinking you're eligible for £500 annual performance incentives, aren't I?'
She sat back in her chair and almost hissed at him.
He looked thoughtful. 'That means, with sixty partners in the London office ...' he paused, reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a calculator, into which he tapped some numbers, '... we could cover the salaries of twelve thousand probation officers for a year. Interesting, isn't it? How many probation officers are there in the service as a whole?'
Before she could answer, Josh came through from the kitchen, carrying dessert.
'How wonderful!' beamed Lucy, seizing on the distraction. 'Look, everybody, isn't Josh brilliant?'
She kissed Josh on the cheek and Alison subsided into silence. Sheila turned to Richard.
'What exactly do you do, Richard?'
He paused to collect his thoughts while Josh handed round the crème brulée.
'Well, I buy businesses. Not for our clients, you understand, for ourselves. I act as principal, not as an adviser to other people.'
Alison looked up. 'Principle? Did you say principle? That's a laugh.'
'No, Alison,' he smiled as patronisingly as he could. 'Principal.' He emphasised the last syllable as strongly as he could. 'There's a very important difference. Principals can act without having regard to principles, always providing they don't actually break the law or do anything that would bring the firm into disrepute. Our principle is to maximise returns for the firm. We buy businesses, put in new management, strip out costs, then sell them on for a profit. Our principle is the principle of enlightened self-interest. Didn't you ever see the movie 'Wall Street'? Do you remember that great Michael Douglas speech – 'Greed is good' ... or is it 'God'? – I can never remember!'
He helped himself to a large spoonful of dessert. 'Mmm ... this is excellent. Well done, Josh!'
He could feel them scowling at him, though Lucy tried to keep the conversation going, desperately hoping to salvage the evening.
'But Richard, you still haven't really explained to those of us who don't work in the City what your job actually involves from day to day?'
'He strips out costs,' interrupted Gavin. 'It means he fires people to increase profits.'
Richard looked at Gavin, weighing him up carefully. He had to be careful, he was starting to enjoy himself too much. He took a sip of wine and tried not to grimace. He checked the bottle, which was standing on the sideboard. It brought back memories of student days.
'Well, technically speaking that's not quite right. A business might have any amount of underutilised assets tied up in it – buildings, land, plant and machinery, for example ... and of course people. What we try to do is slim the business down so that it's as efficient as possible. We take a long hard look at it, get out our calculators, and do what's commercially expedient.'
Gavin threw down his spoon.
'Oh, God – I don't believe it! You City people make me sick. Do you ever think of the social consequences of what you do? If you 'slim down' a factory, let's say in a small town in the north-east, where there's high unemployment, what do those people actually do? Do you have any idea what high unemployment does to divorce rates? Do you know what happens to suicides? Or mental illness? Or drug and alcohol abuse? Or crime? Or child abuse? Well, do you?!'
Richard stared at him, wide-eyed, his eyes suddenly opened by Gavin's revelation. It was time to go. If he did not leave now, this would definitely get physical.
'Gavin, you're quite right! I've never seen it that way before, but you're so, so right. How can I have been so blind?' He turned to Lucy. 'Lucy, I'm so sorry, but I have to go. I have to get back to the office. I need to get this stuff down on paper. Thank you for a wonderful evening.' He kissed her on the cheek and turned to Josh. 'And Josh, the dessert was superb, you're a star.' He leant forward and kissed Josh on the cheek. Josh scowled back at him. 'But what Gavin's said demands action. Hardman Stoney has a whole stack of investments in the north-east, seven companies, if I'm not mistaken, and I've never really thought about them in the way Gavin described tonight.' He turned to Gavin. 'Gavin, you're absolutely right. Those small towns must be hotbeds of social upheaval, crime, drug abuse, what did you say – oh yes, alcohol abuse,' he looked at Alison, 'wife beating. In fact it's clear to me that those places simply aren't suitable for us to be doing business in.' They were staring at him, baffled. 'From now on, I'll ensure that we hold the Annual General Meetings of all those businesses down here in London. Management committees too. It'll save on travel costs, and will mean we don't have to risk going up there.' He reached across the table and slapped Gavin on the shoulder, before heading for the door. 'Lucy – thanks again. Gavin – thanks for the insight – the less my team and I see of those places in future, the happier we shall be!' He winked and closed the door a split second before Gavin's wine glass smashed into it.CHAPTER 3
'£1 million a year, guaranteed for three years.'
'Jesus Christ! You've got my attention.'
She could not help smiling, and sat back in her chair, taking a moment to sip her wine. She had deliberately insisted on a corner table where they could not be overheard. She had been nervous approaching Mark, her deputy, in case it backfired. If he went running off to tell the board, she would be in deep water.
'You'd still be my number two, but you'd join as a managing director on a base salary of a hundred and thirty. All the usual perks, plus I told them they'd have to give you the car of your choice, knowing what a speed freak you are.'
'Are you serious? Any car?'
'Well, within reason. I specifically mentioned the new 911, and they said it wouldn't be a problem.'
He looked at her curiously.
'How long have you been planning this?'
It was her turn to laugh.
'They first approached me through a headhunter six months ago. I played hard to get, but I soon realised they were serious. Bartons don't have a Convertible team at all, and we're one of the top three teams in the City by pretty much any measure. But I couldn't do it on my own. I need you, and I need most of the rest of the team.'
'A team move? They want to lift the whole team?'
'Lock, stock and barrel. They'll take everyone we think we need.'
'Okay, so how do we do it?'
She paused. This was the tricky bit.
'Well, I won't pretend it'll be easy. And I'm counting on you to play a pivotal role. The difficulty I face is that as a managing director my legal and contractual responsibilities are much more onerous than yours. If I act against the firm's best interests, they can nail me. And to be frank I have a higher profile. You're in a much better position. And the team look to you for day-to-day leadership. You hired most of them before I even joined the firm. Sure, they respect me, but I was just the hotshot the firm brought in to stir things up. You'd been there for almost five years before I even started. Do you feel up to it?'
He paused, looking pensive. Oh God, she thought to herself, I hope I haven't blown it.
'Sure. I can do it.'
He called across to the waiter, indicating his empty gin and tonic glass.
Excerpted from The Insiders by David Charters. Copyright © 2002 David Charters. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
David Charters worked five years in the British Foreign Office, and later became managing director of Deutsche Bank's Equity Capital Markets team, where he oversaw the flotation of Amazon.com and France Telecom. He is also the cofounder of The Beacon Fellowship Charitable Trust. He is married, has six children, and lives in London.
David Charters worked five years in the British Foreign Office, and later became managing director of Deutsche Bank's Equity Capital Markets team, where he oversaw the flotation of Amazon.com and France Telecom. He is the author of The Insiders and Trust Me, I'm a Banker. He is also the cofounder of The Beacon Fellowship Charitable Trust. He is married, has six children, and lives in London.
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