No one said investment banking was easy. The money was good. And good money was easy money--easy women, quality blow, fast cars. But that's the polished veneer on the meat grinder of arcane finance. Sixteen hour days, cold calling clients, nosebleeds, and staying one step ahead of the securities commission don't have the same romance of being twenty four and paper rich. Being at the beck and call of a monster of a boss doesn't impress at the bar.
Gideon St. George worked for a real beast. He was sure the stories about Gardiner and Co. were industry embellishments. The gripes of hacks and has-beens, burnouts who couldn't handle the strain of success. Merchants who couldn't carve a pound of flesh. Hunters without hunger.
Then he met Mr. Gardiner himself.
The real sharks have a rep of being cold blooded. Ice in their veins. A penchant and thrill for the strict calculus of profit and loss. Jorn M. Gardiner honored to this cliché with religious devotion, keeping his offices a sweltering ninety degrees year round. Managers claimed it kept the traders alert. Gideon wasn’t so sure. Sweat slicked and fumbling over prospects he could have sworn he saw a tail swishing behind the principle as he stalked between cubes, snarling for margin calls and hawking spot bonuses and brokers with the highest sales. It slithered like an extruded shadow, a withering presence, flicking between disdain and pleasure as the firm raked in commissions and brokers slumped into feinting spells. Gideon tottered. His brow furrowed, eyes swam, and suddenly the lunchtime boiler makers seemed poorly advised.
“The beauty of microcaps is that the offer average folks like us an affordable buy in to the stock market. You’ll never get rich pulling in a salary,” Gideon’s tongue was heavy, leaden, “But playing the right angle in the market buys time shares, college tuition, pays off the mortgage. And buddy, I’ve picked a winner for you.”
He saw stars. The edges of his vision fuzzed. He sold seven hundred shares in a lithium extraction company that had never bought a plane ticket to central Africa, let alone secured a concession, melted into his chair, and squandered the afternoon redialing the same disconnected phone number.
Gideon couldn’t believe the office environment. His friends couldn’t either. Day drinking on the regular. Doing lines in the conference room. Smoking in the office. Who still worked in a building that allowed smoking?
Gardiner and Co. did. Mr. Gardiner was enveloped in a belching cloud of smoke that followed him from the morning pep talk to the VIP room at the club. Gideon had never seen his face. No one had. Not exactly. Nothing that hadn’t been shrouded by noxious fumes. Did he look green from tobacco nausea? Gideon felt green. Those closest to Mr. Gardiner always coughed and Gideon was no exception. He felt like he was walking into a house fire every time he got a sale ticket signed.
“What isss the ssspread on Ssserano Genomixsss?” a long tongue flicked out of the principle’s mouth, pink and rubbery.
“Twelve hundred shares at forty-eight percent.”
“That’sss over one hundred eighty thousssandsss of mortal dollarsss. Not bad for a Tuesssday morning. Thisss callsss for a toassst,” It could be difficult working for a boss with a speech impediment. Miscues and blown instructions often marred Gideon’s work. More than once he’d had to confront whether his misgivings weren’t deeper seeded schoolyard cruelties that refused to yield to a more mature self. A bottle of blue label slid across the desk, followed by a bejeweled golden goblet, “Sssip of the eternal inebriation that isss wealth.”
If nothing else, the old man was generous. Gideon poured himself two fingers and threw it back in a gulp. Then he poured two more and took the goblet out to his desk.
His days there were numbered. Gideon felt it in his bones. A sort of built in obsolescence that haunted flesh and blood men in a digital world. He’d seen the eighth floor. Taken a nip of tequila and orange juice for a liquid lunch. Cords poured down from the ceiling like ominous tendrils, sucking up traders’ jobs like an elder god seeking endless sacrifice. It was going to be a huge server room. Racks and racks of algorithms who could parse trades and pad margins faster, better, and cheaper than his commission. Trading in volumes that could make or break entire markets. Manipulations that swapped penny ante dupes for fiber optic speed. Straight profit for the firm.
“Gloriousss, isssn’t it?” Gardiner hissed, emerging from the shadows. He was a man of uncommon height and imposing stature, and something about him seemed to loom, as if the shoulder pads on his pinstriped suit were wings about to unfurl, “A cavern made for a true horde. Thisss beautiful ssscentury, where wealth hasss become sssmaller than the vault and greater than the imagination. It bogglesss. Bitsss and block chainsss, new tradable asssetsss and marketsss made daily. Greater than my wildessst dreamsss.”
Gideon looked at the husk of the future. It was altricial, ominous, hungering like some emergent void about to cross the event horizon towards an inescapably devouring. World eating. He was stuck in that gravity, like a fly in amber or a mammoth in a tar pit.
“What about us?” The booze was going to his head.
Gardiner looked at him. Gideon could have sworn that there were gleaming fangs in that smile. A trick of the smoke.
“Might asss well asssk what about the dinosaursss. It usssed to be that you held a kingdom prisssoner with the ransssom of a princesss. Now, I can hold nation hossstage with a warehoussse full of copper in New Jersssey. Aluminum in Detroit. Tomorrow might be lithium or sssome yet undreamed of commodity. The future isss not about you. It isss about great enduring wealth, and who controlsss the hoard. The flow of moniesss. Not the fate of sssome sssoldier here, sssome peasant there, a broker or a banker.”
The tequila burned as he drank it, mixing with the acid of the orange juice. What was the difference between a sunrise and a sunset? Grenadine and brandy? Would Gideon know it if he stepped out into a burning horizon, know the day up from down without the ticker of stock prices? He wasn’t sure of anything at all.
“Besssidesss, your convertible will ssstill drive after go-live. You’ll have money for rent. There will be another firm or bank. If not, you can alwaysss defect to the government, try and help then underssstand what we’ve built, try to unwind it or ssshop yourssself out to the bank that needsss a sssympathetic ear of a regulator. It’sss not over for you. It’sss just beginning for me. Once again. Forever.”
“That’s consolation then? A new job, maybe, doing something else for someone else?”
“Consssolation wasss the money. Whatever bought your consssciencssse. After that, I don’t give a fuck.”
Gardiner stomped back towards the elevator, the unfinished walls shaking with each thudding step, air rent by the screeching of his nails along the flooring. Gideon wondered what he’d give to have, for just one day, the things that Gardiner would control for a thousand lifetimes. Was it worth all the silver and gold in the world? The fate of a kingdom? The love of a good woman or the saintly regard of untold generations? These levers of fate, earned or bought, guiding fortunes to the pockets of winners determined before they were even born. Who could put a price on that?
He came to work a week later with a gun and shot the security guard and one of the secretaries before being subdued by the police. The brief coverage in the media read that he was a drunk and habitual drug user. A hack, has-been, burnout who could not handle the pressure of his job. Gardiner and Co. would later settle some trading violations with the securities commission, naming Gideon St. George as the principle perpetrator and absolving the firm of all fault but negligence in oversight of a rogue trader.
As his trial concluded with a symbolically harsh sentence, Gideon’s last official statements to the court warned of a great serpent of financial conspiracy slowly encircling global markets, poisoning politics with influence and stealing from us our very destiny. The words were cast as the ravings of a madman, succor for conspiracy theorists, then appropriated and subverted by some political personalities for their own agendas before being altogether forgotten amidst the projections of next quarter’s profits.