Authors: Adam Mitzner
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To my parents, Linda and Milton Mitzner, who would have thoroughly enjoyed seeing their names in a book
Sitting in a prison in East Carlisle, Jonathan recalls that he often considered his hometown a prison unto itself, and it seems redundant for him to actually be incarcerated within it. Only a few months ago, a future of endless wealth and possibilities awaited him, but that was so far behind him now it felt as if he'd only imagined it. His more recent circumstances had required acceptance that his freedom might have an expiration date, but he had assumed that if he did go away, it would be a short stint, something to burnish his biography. Like the way some people talk about their time in the army. But this wasn't that. This was a murder charge. The rest of his life in a steel box.
The key was held by Jackie. The girl from home whom Jonathan had loved from afar all those years ago. Yesterday he thought of her as his savior, but today she might become his prosecutor.
The thought of being caged made people do things. Things that they might not have ever conceived of doing before.
onathan Caine's morning routine is to rise at five o'clock and run a seven-mile loop along the Hudson River. It is a point of pride that the circuit never takes him longer than forty-five minutes, and he's always back to his apartment in cooldown mode by six. Then he makes himself a health shake with the $2,500 commercial blender he purchased three months agoâit's at least the seventh he's had in the last two years, as he replaces them whenever he hears there is a better one on the market. He sips nutrients while checking the market positions from the club chair beside the window that captures a panoramic view of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
It is in these moments that Jonathan feels the full magnitude of all he's accomplished and imagines all that still awaits his capture. He finds it ridiculous whenever someone suggests that he has it all. If there's one thing Jonathan Caine knows with the utmost certainty, it's that there's so much more still to obtain.
This morning's quiet is interrupted by a phone call from Norman Solomon, a midlevel investor in the hedge fund Jonathan runs under the auspices of the international investment bank Harper Sawyer & Company. Jonathan's tempted to let Solomon's call go straight to voice mail, but even though he finds Solomon to be a first-class idiot, the man still controls a few hundred million dollars, and for all Jonathan knows, Solomon is calling to give him a little more of that money to invest.
“Norm, my man,” Jonathan says jovially.
Jonathan is a firm believer that clients are vain enough to believe he's actually thrilled to hear from them before working hours. In Solomon's case, that went double.
“Did you see it?” Solomon says, panic in his voice. “Page three. Bottom left.”
“Of course I saw it,” Jonathan replies, even though he has no idea what Solomon is talking about.
Jonathan's determined to have Norm Solomonâand all investors, for that matterâbelieve that he knows everything that goes on in the world well before it happens. Investors are like children in that way. In order to sleep at night, they have to believe their fund manager is able to protect them from any danger.
Jonathan taps the track pad on his laptop and navigates to the
Wall Street Journa
's home page. Once there, he scrolls through the top stories.
There's nothing on page three of the
that causes Jonathan any concernâor has anything to do with the investments made by his fund. The disconnect might be because a dinosaur like Solomon still reads the print version, which has a different pagination than the online edition. The other possibility is that Solomon wasn't referencing the
at all. It would be just like Solomon to think that the
was the source of go-to information.
Unable to find what the hell Solomon is talking about, Jonathan is about to go into full BS mode. He'll spout some garbage about interest-rate circularity, and then tell Solomon that the position is not only hedged but cuffed and collared, too. If that doesn't do the trick, he'll throw in some more nonspeak until Solomon relents.
But then Jonathan sees it. It's actually on page six of the online
, under the headline “Russian Hard-Liner's Growing Influence.” He skims the text while Solomon continues to drone on, which makes it difficult for Jonathan to focus on what he's trying to read.
“I'd be the first to admit that I don't have a clue as to how you actually invest the millions I send you,” Solomon is saying, “but I do know it has something to do with the Russian market, and so I figure that it requires that the Russians pay their goddamn debts.”
Norman Solomon runs what is euphemistically called a “feeder fund.” In reality, he's little more than a middleman, telling his clients that he performs the role of investment advisor. The one saving grace is that Solomon is self-aware enough to recognize he's a poseur, which is why he sends his clients' money to people like Jonathan, who actually know how to invest it.
The article is at least three screens long, and Jonathan hasn't skimmed more than a few paragraphs when Solomon's stopped talking. That means Jonathan now has to say something to calm him down. So Jonathan lies through his teeth.
“Norm, we've anticipated this long ago, and the fund is totally hedged. No matter what happens in the market, you're golden.”
It's like Jonathan has discovered the chocolate chip cookie that actually makes you lose weight. His pitch to investors is that no matter what happens in the worldâmarkets are up, markets are down, inflation, deflation, war, peaceâhis fund will still return a handsome profit each year because of his magic potion called “hedging.”
“Okay, my brother,” Solomon says. “That's all I got to know. Keep doing what you've been doing. Love seeing that thirty-plus ROI.”
Return on investment, he means. The scorecard of investing.
Jonathan can't help but mutter “moron” the moment after he hangs up. Then he reads the
article more closely to see whether, despite that he just finished telling Solomon not to worry, there's actually cause for any concern.
*Â Â *Â Â *
An hour later, Jonathan's at his desk, seven o'clock on the nose. Like so much on Wall Street, the word
is a term of art because it's not one in any conventional sense. It's actually two long tables that form an X, with thirteen traders sitting along each axis, and Jonathan at the vortex that floats in the center of a twenty-thousand-foot trading floor. The walls are covered with large screens, forever blinking numbers and ticker symbols with the market's changes. And it's loud. Very loud. The phones ring incessantly and the traders scream and curse nonstop, either into the phone or at one another.
Jonathan normally focuses on the Russian market first because it's still tradingâTokyo and the Indian markets having already closed for the dayâbut he has even greater interest in the price of the ruble today because of Norman Solomon's distress.
He's already checked the quotes three times this morningâthe last time just fifteen minutes ago from the back of the cab on his way to work. The ruble has been consistently down, but not too much. A few ticks. The MICEXâthe Moscow Interbank Currency Exchangeâwhich is Russia's equivalent of the New York Stock Exchange, except it's only been around for twenty-five years, is up seventy points, nearly six percent. That's good news, but it doesn't make total sense for the ruble to be down against the dollar while the MICEX is trending up. So Jonathan does what he always does when things seem out of whack in the financial worldâhe reaches for the phone and dials Haresh Venagopul.
Jonathan deals with a lot of people for whom the accolade
is bandied about. Some of them, like the Nobel laureates who created the fund's trading model, have the credentials to back it up. But for Jonathan's money, Haresh Venagopul has more raw candlepower than any other man on the planet.
Haresh isn't a trader, and therefore he doesn't sit on Jonathan's trading desk. His workspace is a cubicle a hundred feet away, in the bull pen with the other analysts. Despite the lack of immediate proximity, he's Jonathan's unofficial second-in-command, and holds that position because he's the only person on earth on whose judgment Jonathan relies besides his own.
“Yo, Haresh. Talk to me about the ruble.”
Jonathan can hear the clicking of keyboard strokes. “Down four cents against the dollar. Two percent against the yen,” Haresh says with an upper-crust British accent, even though he was born dirt-poor in Calcutta.
“I got a Bloomberg terminal, too. I mean,
is it down when the MICEX is up seventy?”
“Why?” Haresh laughs. “Because they're Russians. You know as well as I do that their system never makes any sense.”
“Yeah, I know. But I just got a call from an investor this morning who was spooked by an article in the
that the Russians are going to default on their foreign debt.”
“I read that too. Total nonsense. I'd sooner ask a six-year-old for investment advice before relying on anything reported in the press. I mean, last week the
ran this investigative report about the uptick in construction in Dubai, and the stats were at least two months out of date.”
“Okay, if you say so.”
“I say so, Jonathan. Nothing to worry about in Russia. But if you want something to lose sleep over, you should check out the Delhi Exchange. Hoo boy.”
*Â Â *Â Â *
Two hours later, Jonathan's in the elevator on the way to the forty-seventh floor. A few minutes earlier, he had been summoned by Harper Sawyer's chief executive officer, Vincent Komaroff, via the head honcho's administrative assistant, who said that Komaroff wanted to have “a brief chat.”
Virtually every other Harper Sawyer employee would feel panic about being called in by the big boss, but not Jonathan. He's acutely aware of his contribution to the firm's bottom line, so being sacked is the farthest thought from his mind. In fact, Jonathan firmly believes he could punch Komaroff in the teeth and still keep his job.
That doesn't mean he's happy to be going, of course. He hates being pulled away from the desk during trading hours. Especially if the reason is to kiss the rings of the suits on 47, which is usually why he's ordered up thereâto have guys who don't know the first thing about investing harp on about reputational risk and overleverage, all the while reaping the rewards he brings to them by eschewing those very concerns.
If Jonathan had his way, Harper Sawyer's executive suite would be located in another building entirely. Maybe a different state even. He hates the idea that these menâand they're
menâwork above him, fancying themselves as gods on Olympus, sitting in judgment over those below, all without contributing a goddamned nickel to the firm's bottom line.
Francis Lawrence, the firm's number two, greets Jonathan at the reception area. At six foot four and probably not more than 175 pounds, Lawrence is a gangly jumble of arms and legs encased in a vested bespoke suit.
“So glad we were able to pull you away from that desk of yours,” Lawrence says with a smile as he shakes Jonathan's hand.