Authors: Ben Mezrich
Tags: #General, #Business & Economics
THE TRUE STORY OF AN IVY
LEAGUE KID WHO CHANGED THE
WORLD OF OIL, FROM WALL
STREET TO DUBAI
Three-thirty in the morning, maybe closer to four.
David Russo would always remember the moment when clarity first…
There was something uniquely soothing about the whir of helicopter…
I’m sorry, David. He’s on his way to his son’s…
Geography aside, it was hard to tell where Wall Street…
Monday morning, 8:59 A.M.
The first thing David noticed as he stepped out onto…
David stepped out into what looked to be a lounge,…
The view was like something out of a science fiction…
Are you sure about this?”
David came awake to the sound of classical music.
Monday morning, 9:10 A.M., the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Four hours later, David was so deep in oil, he…
David grimaced as he kicked sawdust off his only pair…
If one were to choose a place in which to…
I could get used to this,” Serena said, and David…
As David’s index finger plunged toward his laptop’s keyboard, he…
David should have seen the bombshell coming the minute Harriet…
For the third time in ten minutes, Khaled’s life flashed…
Look at the bright side, kid. At least they weren’t…
How long do you think we could stay in here…
Now this was the way to travel.
The minute he slung his carry-on bag over his shoulder,…
From the very moment David lowered himself into his seat…
The nightclub was called Kasbah, though it didn’t need to…
The swimming pool was enormous and shaped like a kidney;…
It wasn’t until David was sitting in the first-class lounge…
At that very moment, ten miles away, Khaled closed his…
You have three minutes. Don’t embarrass yourself.”
The trading floor was in full swing as David stepped…
It’s kind of like chess. The key is always to…
If ever there was a moment that seemed to justify…
Out of the frying pan and into the fire…
Suddenly there was darkness.
Two days before his twenty-sixth birthday, David made a life-altering…
If the villains in a James Bond movie had been…
In a perfect world, David would have come to his…
Twenty minutes later, when David stepped through the entrance of…
Wow, you’re really not much for that lived-in look, are…
Eight hours later—and at thirty thousand feet—David’s celebration was still…
Even during takeoff, the hundred-million-dollar jet’s twin Rolls Royce engines…
The minute David stepped out of the taxicab and onto…
On the Arab street, they have another name for it: “the Black Blood of Allah.” A gift, handed down directly from God, endowing the Muslim world with everlasting power over the West.
In the West, oil is no less influential; it is inarguably the most important tradable commodity on earth. Oil is the source of wealth and power, the currency that drives the world economy. Some believe it is also the cause of most wars and acts of terrorism.
In truth, there’s a reason men fight wars over oil: at its essence, oil is energy. It powers everything. It is, in itself,
but power with a price—historically, oil has always divided the world into two opposing forces: those who
, and those who
Very soon that historical fact may change. Because very soon oil may also end up bringing the world together in a way that politics, diplomacy, and war never could….
hree-thirty in the morning, maybe closer to four.
A packed club in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, a place called Gypsy Tea. Trendy as hell, the velvet rope outside lorded over by a doorman with a shaved head and a name nobody could pronounce, and a girl in a leather skirt so short she could have worn it as a wristband. Two couch-strewn floors teeming with pretty people in designer clothes, their New York hip-factor ratified by the fact that it was past three in the morning on a Tuesday and that they’d somehow made it past the door-bitches and their mysterious and uniquely New York vetting practices. The music was dangerously loud, bouncing off the walls in ear-shattering waves, and the champagne was flowing freely, splashing down the sides of crystal flutes and splattering all over the thick faux-leather carpeting.
The VIP area took up most of the back corner of the first floor, separated from the rest of the club by another velvet rope. The bouncers at this rope were wearing headsets and holding clipboards, but the clipboards were really just for show. If you were going to get into the VIP, the bouncers wouldn’t need to find your
name on a list. The crowd beyond the rope was young—twenties and thirties—and obviously well-heeled. Bankers in tailored Brooks Brothers mingled with hip-hop execs in Armani and Sean John. Prime Time celebs swirled about like errant weather patterns, trailing wakes of PR flunkies, oversized bodyguards, and harried assistants. And of course, there were girls—there were always girls, models from Ford and Elite and Next, too tall and too thin and too angled, more giraffes than gazelles.
David Russo watched the circus from the safety of a corner banquette, his shoulders tense beneath the thin material of his charcoal-colored Zegna suit. The banquette was lodged behind a black marble table, which struggled beneath a glass metropolis of champagne and vodka bottles, ensconced by overflowing buckets of ice. David had a drink in his hand—something with vodka, he assumed—but he hadn’t even taken a sip. Although he was not a stranger to places like this, he was definitely an outsider. At twenty-six, he had never made a hobby of decadence, and at this hour he was usually holed up in his office, preparing for the market’s next opening, or home in bed with Serena, his girlfriend of two years. But tonight he hadn’t had much of a choice. In less than a week, David’s entire life was going to change—and he had to tread carefully. He had to keep up appearances, act as though nothing was out of the ordinary, no matter how far from ordinary things were about to become.
“Fucking awesome, isn’t it?”
Michael Vitzioli winked at him from a thickly cushioned couch to his right, then high-fived the two young men sitting across the table from them. Joey Brunetti and Jim Rosa shouted something back, but their voices were lost in the noise of the club. David smiled and nodded, stifling his nervous energy as best he could. He had been watching the three traders decimate bottle after bottle of alcohol for the past few hours, and he was beginning to believe that the night would never end. For the hundredth time, he regretted accepting the invite from Vitzi and his trading partners—but really, David couldn’t have turned them down. Over
the last six months he had worked hard to win the trust of the traders—no small task, considering how different his background and theirs seemed to be. Even the way the three young men were dressed—Vitzi in a leather jacket and ripped jeans, Brunetti in a denim ensemble that would have given Serena a heart attack, and Rosa in what looked to be an overpriced sweat suit—betrayed the different paths they’d traveled to this chaotic, late-night moment. Even so, the three men had finally grown to accept David as one of their own. And if what David had planned was going to work, he needed to remain in their good graces.
He needed to continue to play the part.
“Hell of a party,” he shouted back to Vitzi. “You’re gonna break a record tonight. That waitress nearly fainted when you ordered that twelfth bottle of Cristal.”
Vitzi grinned. The excess of the evening was a point of pride to him, especially because he knew that word of the night’s spending spree would move across the trading floor faster than he’d been spreading drinks around the VIP room. Vitzi certainly didn’t care about the money; he had made five hundred thousand dollars’ profit that morning. Half a million wasn’t a record for the Merc Exchange, but it was a pretty damn impressive take. Especially considering that just two weeks earlier Vitzi had turned twenty-four.
“Can you fucking believe the girls in here?” Vitzi responded. Then he pointed at Rosa across the table. “Hey, maybe you can bring one of ’em to work with you tomorrow. Even the worst one here would be better than the shit you pulled yesterday.”
Rosa’s cheeks reddened as David and the others had a laugh at his expense. In truth, David knew that Rosa wasn’t really embarrassed by the crack; his escapade of the day before was already fast becoming legend.
Yesterday morning, Rosa’s clerk had called in sick just hours before the opening bell. The young trader had needed to find a replacement clerk, anyone at all—he had just needed a body on the floor. So he had brought along the woman who had happened to
be in bed with him at the time—a prostitute he’d hired the night before. All morning the nineteen-year-old hooker had strolled up and down the trading floor in transparent, high-heeled shoes, her hair sprayed up to the ceiling.
“And nobody batted a fucking eye,” David said out loud, shaking his head. Vitzi and Rosa high-fived again.
A hooker strolling around the trading floor, and nobody had even raised an eyebrow.
David had been sequestered in his upstairs office during the entire episode, but he hadn’t been surprised when he first heard the story. The New York Mercantile Exchange wasn’t Wall Street, and the eight hundred or so traders who worked the Merc floor certainly weren’t the regular Wall Street set. They didn’t live in houses in the Hamptons or brown-stones on Park Avenue. The Merc traders—guys like Vitzi, Rosa, and Brunetti—were mostly young men without college educations, from Italian and Jewish blue-collar backgrounds.
Sons of garbagemen and street cleaners, plumbers and electricians.
When they got rich on the Merc—Vitzi’s half a million in an afternoon—they were the first in their families to ever have had access to that kind of wealth, and often they spent it as fast and furiously as they had made it.
If Wall Street was the financial equivalent of Vegas, the Merc was Atlantic City—on crack. At the same time, the Merc was one of the most important financial institutions that had ever been built. Because, unlike Wall Street, the Merc wasn’t about stocks or bonds. The Merc was about something much more important.
Much more valuable.
David felt the nervous energy inside him multiply as he watched Vitzi pour them all another drink, and he quickly took the opportunity to excuse himself. He started off toward the bathrooms, but as soon as he was out of sight of the three traders, he took a sharp right, pushing his way out of the crowded VIP room. A minute later, he had worked his way onto Twenty-first Street.
He moved beyond the velvet rope, strolling as calmly as he could down the sidewalk until he was fairly sure he was out of
earshot of the bouncer and the woman in the napkin-sized skirt. Then he took his cell phone out of his pocket.
A brisk breeze pulled at his sleeve as he clicked the phone open. It was the middle of February, and David had left his overcoat back at his office when he joined the three traders for their first drink—fourteen hours ago. Still, the cold didn’t bother him. His mind was already someplace else—a place that was always unbearably warm.
He dialed carefully, from memory. If anyone had been close enough to see, they would have been surprised by the number of digits he pressed into the phone. Although the destination of David’s call was halfway around the world, that didn’t explain all of the numbers he pressed. The first six were part of a code he had been given one week ago by a sixteen-year-old kid who had approached him in a Starbucks near his apartment in Midtown.
the kid had explained, in an accent David hadn’t been able to place.
After he finished dialing, David pressed the phone against his ear. There was no ringing, just a series of clicks and a five-second pause. Then a familiar voice.
“It’s almost time.”
David smiled, despite his nerves. There was something about his friend’s voice that always made him feel calm. It had a lilting quality, a mixture of accents that somehow mingled together into a tranquil whole. David immediately imagined his friend’s face: the dark caramel skin, the jet black eyes, the ever-present half-smile. Roughly the same age as David, the friend on the other end of the line was more than just his counterpart on the project—he had become almost a brother.
“I’m standing in the middle of it,” the friend’s voice continued. “Right where it’s going to happen.”
David closed his eyes and tried to picture it. First the brightness. Then the heat—mind-numbing, stifling, utterly debilitating. And then the sand—everywhere, always, shifting and turning like a living creature.
“Bulldozers,” David said aloud, imagining them as he said the words. “Cranes. As far as the eye can see.”
“The future, David.”
“It’s really going to be something, isn’t it?” David asked. He could feel the nervous energy turning into excitement. He could not believe they were so close to completing what they had been working on for nearly a year.
So close to doing what nobody else had ever done.
“Our children’s children will thank us for it.”
David opened his eyes and felt a chill rise through him that had nothing to do with the February breeze. He wasn’t going to pretend that he really knew how much what he and his counterpart were about to do would affect the future. He didn’t know if his children’s children would thank him, or if he’d even ever have children who’d live to see what he’d done.
know was that the thing he and his friend two continents away were planning was going to change the world. He also knew that there were people—powerful people—who would do almost anything to see them fail.
“I guess I’ll see for myself in a few days,” David said quietly.
“Allah willing,” the young man responded. Then the line went dead.
Though the voice had remained lilting and calm, the words themselves were like a belt snapping tight.
Allah willing. My God,
David thought to himself,
do I really know what I’ve gotten myself into?
He paused for a moment, staring at the phone in his hand.
WO HUNDRED YARDS
away and thirty feet up, a figure crouched low against the roof of a three-story warehouse. The figure was dressed entirely in black, nearly invisible against the backdrop of the predawn sky.
The figure watched through a high-powered telescopic lens as David Russo slid his cell phone into his pocket, took a deep breath, and slipped back into the throbbing club.