Ghosts of Bergen County288
Ghosts of Bergen County288
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Tin House Books|
|Product dimensions:||4.90(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Ghosts of Bergen County
By Dana Cann
TIN HOUSE BOOKSCopyright © 2016 Dana Cann
All rights reserved.
Gil Ferko sat in a conference room on the fiftieth floor, arranging business cards before him according to who sat where across the table — a narrow oval, with eight chairs on each side. Ferko's chair wasn't in the middle; nor was it on the end. He was a bishop, an important enough guy, strategic to a point, comfortable in his role, able to take a piece or two if such an opportunity presented itself. He had the king's ear; though, more accurately, the king had Ferko's ear.
The king in this case was William Prauer, a founding partner at Riverfront Capital. He was thirty-five, two years younger than Ferko, and worth a few hundred million, rumor had it. Prauer had worked at Goldman, then at age twenty-nine launched Riverfront in a Midtown office a half-dozen blocks from either river. Since then, Prauer had timed metals, then automotive, buying at the trough and holding, sometimes selling, always higher, while the rich guys from Europe and the Mideast and the pension funds in the US kept betting with him, pouring billions into his funds. Now he was on to retail, and posted up, in the corner of the conference room, with Roy Grove, the controlling shareholder of Grove Department Stores, with sixty stores operating in eleven states that once comprised the Confederacy. It didn't make sense to Ferko — this push for Grove, a brand beaten down figuratively and literally, as lately, it seemed, the paths of hurricanes crossed the nearest Grove store with alarming precision. Three roofs blown off last season alone. It didn't make sense that Prauer and Grove were doing their little dance in the corner, lips to ears, practically holding hands. Prauer had friends in media, rich friends who bought his funds and were conflicted enough to deliver bad news on a company like Grove, with closely held equity and publicly held debt. If Prauer couldn't buy the equity from the Grove family, he could buy the debt in the market. He had plenty of time. Ferko had watched Prauer do it before — buy bonds on the cheap and convert them to equity. He had a reputation as a shark because he was one. Now Ferko watched his boss with Roy Grove. Was Prauer threatening the man? Win-win was a myth, a platitude the losers consoled themselves with each time they lost. Ferko had been with the losers. He could hardly believe his luck now. He hadn't gone to the right schools. He'd never paid his dues, working sixty to eighty hours a week on the lower rungs. He was sure that one day he'd be discovered, banished to some faceless box in an industrial park in Parsippany or outside of the Oranges, where his former classmates — the MBAs who, like Ferko, had completed their degrees at night, part-time — compared monthly budgets with actual results and noted variances on a spreadsheet. Was Ferko really better than them?
"Do you know any of these guys?" Lisa Becker whispered into his ear, indicating the business cards Ferko had arranged before him. She sat to his left, the knight to Ferko's bishop, the nimble piece that was brought out early and arguably worked the hardest. She was thirty-one, unmarried and unattached, though Ferko suspected she was seeing George Cosler, a managing director, another bishop, who oversaw automotive for Prauer. Ferko wondered if that relationship had brought Lisa to this meeting, this conference table, at Ferko's elbow. The toe of her shoe touched his ankle. And again. She played guard for a women's basketball team in some city league.
Ferko shook his head no. Grove was represented by a new firm started by a couple of guys from New York who collected some bankers from California and called themselves, not so cleverly, EastWest Partners. This was their first transaction, as far as Ferko knew. But then he read the name on the business card he was holding: GREGORY A. FLETCHER, PARTNER, EASTWEST. Ferko glanced up and found Greg sitting directly across the table — the right age, late thirties, with a full head of hair the color of sand. But this Greg Fletcher had sleepy eyes, half slits. Ferko thought of those mailings you sometimes get with photographs of missing kids and computer-generated age progressions of what they might look like now. Greg had been thirteen when he left Edgefield Junior High. Then Ferko saw it — the sideways grin, directed at an associate, then across the table at him.
"Gaylord Ferko," Greg Fletcher said.
Here's what happened to those guys who tormented you growing up: they became investment bankers and private equity kings.
Not the bullies, the ones who frightened you physically. The other guys — the ones you envied, because they were popular. Years ago, they came up with stupid names to call you, like Gaylord, which stuck, because Greg Fletcher could hit a baseball and throw a football and shoot a basketball better than anyone else in fourth grade. Back then Ferko hadn't known what to make of Greg Fletcher's sudden interest, even as Ferko understood it was merely for ridicule. Still, he went with it. First because he had no choice, but then because Greg Fletcher was actually talking to Ferko. Which became a bigger deal in fifth grade and bigger still in sixth, when Greg advanced to the regional finals of the Punt, Pass, and Kick competition, and everyone watched during halftime of the Giants-Cardinals game, at home, on their TV sets, as Greg was introduced in a Giants uniform, number one, along with the other shaggy-haired kids, the other Greg Fletchers of New Jersey and New York, with a ball in one hand and a helmet in the other, standing along the home sideline at Giants Stadium. Ferko cheered. He waited. Then Greg proved he was human. His punt was not the best. His pass wobbled and fell outside the hash marks. His kick knuckled and died. And he didn't advance. No Hawaii. No Pro Bowl. He remained a local hero until seventh grade, when his locker was next to Ferko's. Then Greg moved to California.
Now Ferko stood at the far end of the conference table, by the window that faced east, where a tugboat pushed up the East River, and shook Greg Fletcher's hand.
"This is weird, man," Greg said. "Like déjà vu, you know?"
"Like memory," Ferko said.
"Dude, I know the difference. I was just thinking about you the other day."
"Sure, man." His hair was actually longer than it had been in seventh grade. He swept it out of his eyes with his tanned fingers. "I've been back east a year or so. I ran into Jen Yoder. She trades metals for Deveraux, so she's interested in our world."
Ferko was unsure whether our world included him.
"We get together every now and then," Greg said. "We'll loop you in. She's still very cool."
"That's cool," Ferko said, like a parrot. Jen Yoder had been untouchable in high school. She'd walked the halls on a raised dais, it seemed, in her white cheerleader uniform on game days, her black hair spilling down her back, her face freckled, light-complexioned. Was she even pretty? He remembered her perched on the back of a convertible, with an armful of lilies, cruising laps around the track that circled the football field, where Greg Fletcher's old buddies — who could never throw or kick the football as far as Greg, but that year, Ferko's senior year, were on their way to the state finals — stood and applauded along with those in the bleachers, the parents and the students, including Ferko, who'd realized years before, when he'd first been called Gaylord, the benefits of invisibility, of blending in. So much so that now he couldn't be sure he had actually been there that day, standing in the bleachers, when Jen Yoder was named homecoming queen. Maybe it was a picture in the yearbook he remembered, the victory lap in the convertible from some movie he once saw. He couldn't remember a single conversation with her. He imagined Greg calling her later, telling her he ran into Ferko, and Jen saying, "Who?" "Gaylord," Greg would say, and Jen would say, "Who?"
She'd had a party at her house the night of graduation, smack in the middle of the two-week window that marked the end of high school and the start of the next stage, when the spirit of achievement trumped the cliques and their laws of exclusion. Ferko swam in the pool in Jen Yoder's backyard. He drank beer from the coolers that had been stashed beyond the hibiscus, away from the lights of the pool deck and the patio and the imposing house, in the dark part of the yard, where the leaves on the trees cast shadows in the moonlight, and where, later, as Ferko left, faceless couples sat along the stone wall, making out. He walked home alone in the moonlight, his hair, which he wore long then, still damp from his swim in Jen Yoder's pool.
"You're married," Greg Fletcher said now. His thumb and forefinger touched his own bare ring finger like pincers.
Ferko looked at his gold band and shrugged. It was a symbol, sure, an asset even. It defined men; those pushing forty who lacked one began to exude an air of damage, despite the feigned envy of their peers. He supposed his ring scored him one up on Greg. It was, perhaps, the first time Ferko had had anything on Greg. Though he remembered Mary Beth, at home in their dark room, the heavy curtains drawn to proscribe the fine day. The truth was something else.
Ferko prepared himself for the logical follow-up, the one about kids. He'd come up with an answer some months ago that had proved useful in deflecting the question: We don't. Vague enough, casual enough, true enough. The answer defeated the question, conquered it, rendered it as inconsequential as the asker had intended.
But Greg didn't ask the logical follow-up, which left a void in the small talk, one Ferko was eager to fill: "And you?"
"My sweetheart and I cohabitate." Somehow Greg managed this proclamation without a whiff of irony. He glanced toward the window, where Prauer and Grove had parted. They took their seats — the black king and the white king, facing each other. The tug on the river had motored out of view.
"Game face." Greg touched his chin and the smile he'd worn since the instant of recognition vanished, replaced by the intimidating, blank look of a boxer at a weigh-in — eyes small, mouth drawn to a frown.
And then he was gone, back to his seat, and Ferko took his, across from Greg's. The toe of Lisa's shoe, suspended from her crossed leg, touched Ferko's ankle. She leaned over and picked up his pen and wrote in his notebook, You know a lot of people! She dropped the pen, hesitated, then picked it up again and underlined the words a lot.
Ferko crossed it out and wrote at the top, Initial Meeting w/ Grove, along with the date. She was flirting, sucking up, or it was simply her way. It was difficult to distinguish the sincere from the bullshit, especially when the sincere traversed such a wide moral spectrum. The fortunes of associates like Lisa were tied to those on the higher rungs — the Ferkos and Coslers — for the slather from the annual bonus and the juice from the next assignment. She had to play nice, right? Though it was true that each time they'd worked together (there'd been only three instances) he'd known someone on the other side. Maybe she was right — he knew a lot of people. And maybe his value to Prauer was ripening. Promise sparked like a flash on a camera, blinding him for an instant before the table was revealed, the conference room, the bank of windows, the haze between here and Queens, and Scott Horowitz, Grove's attorney, the meeting's host, who sat to the left of his client and began to speak, a preamble of how the parties got here. It was a speech Ferko had heard a hundred times at the start of as many different pitches. He could deliver it himself if pressed. He knew the words. He knew the punch line: the company was for sale! He leaned back and soaked up the lack of pressure. He was making good money to sit here and listen.
Greg Fletcher's sleepy eyes dimmed. His face was still boyish, his hair unkempt. He listened to the preamble with an indifference to match Ferko's. They were peers, right? They would go one-on-one — valuation, strategy, negotiation. It was no longer about brawn, about arm strength or foot speed. It was about creativity, intellectual agility, collaboration. And names couldn't hurt Ferko any longer.
The toe of Lisa's shoe brushed his ankle. He nudged her elbow with his. He would speak with Greg, his once-tormentor, at the meeting's conclusion. There was this deal. There were others. And Jen Yoder, the homecoming queen. Beyond Greg Fletcher's sleepy head, beyond the glass that separated meeting from sky, the day was as bright as that.
Excerpted from Ghosts of Bergen County by Dana Cann. Copyright © 2016 Dana Cann. Excerpted by permission of TIN HOUSE BOOKS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.