The trading floor was the life and soul of an investment bank. The mergers & acquisitions teams have the glamour and wear the pin-striped suits, but the more street savvy and casual traders were the ones who made the market. There on the endless rows of screens flowed financial data so fast that it was easy to miss with the blink of an eye. The messy and cramped open office space was where millions of dollars were made or lost. One small mistake, one second's hesitation could bankrupt entire institutions. In the past the buying and selling of stocks involved shouting loudly and waving bits of paper at dealers in brightly colored blazers in aptly named pits. Nowadays trading was done via technology and proprietary programs, the urgent glamour of the open outcry system had been replaced by even more urgent, but clinical, effectiveness of computer systems.
The middle wall of this particular trading floor was dominated by a large whiteboard. On it was scribbled the usual diagrams and inspirational quotes that got wiped off occasionally to make space for new scribblings. But at the top left corner, in red marker, was a small grid containing five names and five numbers. The names and numbers might change, but the grid was never erased. It was one of the most important pieces of information on the entire floor.
"You're slacking, Rosenberg."
"What? No I'm not."
"Nikhil is catching up with you."
"He's nowhere close. Plus, we're almost at year end, he's running out of time."
"The way he tells it, he's only one deal away from overtaking you on the board."
"Well, good luck to him if he has a deal that size up his sleeve."
"Willow's name has been at the top spot ever since her first full year here, I can't see her relinquishing it any time soon." Patrick had quietly joined Willow and her colleague in their inspection of the Top 5 board and interrupted with his comment.
"One deal won't be enough either, no matter how plum," Willow said confidently.
"People are lining up to knock you off your perch. And don't make that face; it's as important to you as the rest of the team, no matter how you try to play it cool. Walk with me to my office, Willow."
She fell into step with her boss and mentor. She was one of his youngest and brightest traders, but she knew that she was not the youngest nor the smartest in the history of the Street. Patrick was once considered a prodigy himself, and had risen up the ranks at a breakneck pace. Still, at 34, some of the fledgling traders had already begun calling him a dinosaur. Never to his face naturally, he was the head of department and yielded much in the way of power.
"There are a lot of rules for people who don't make money; and none for those who do," Patrick started.
"Rules are made to be broken, isn't that what you always taught us?" Willow countered.
"As long as I don't have the suits crawling all over my back, I don't care how we make money. I just need them to let me be in charge of my own floor," he said with more emotion than expected. Willow's stomach dropped. He wouldn't be telling her this unless he had something on his mind. She chose to stay silent. "You need to work on your marketing," he said finally.
"I bring in business," she pointed out.
"Referrals and recommendations. Your research alone brings them in, I appreciate this. This isn't meant to be a criticism but I'd like to see you bring in new money, and not just institutional. If you're going to be running this department one day, you need your own client list. Then you can stand up in the boardroom and no one can accuse you of not having the relevant experience."
"We're doing personal banking now?" Willow asked, not pursuing the comment about her possible future responsibilities.
"Cross selling is the newest buzzword that we need to champion. It's not enough to be profitable in one area, we need to be diversified in today's dynamic and volatile market." Willow thought he sounded uncharacteristically like a marketing brochure, she guessed he had his bosses to report to as well.
"I don't mind selling equity products to fixed income clients; or making some of our simpler products available to the private bankers to hawk to their clients. But to actually have our own portfolio of personal clients? The due diligence alone is scaring me," Willow admitted.
They had reached Patrick's office and his secretary was already standing by with a pile of telephone messages.
"You know the drill, Willow. Just make it work," he said, a little wearily.
"Tara, do you have a minute?"
Tara looked up from working on her laptop and smiled at the nervous teenager. They didn't have much privacy at the club but she had commandeered a corner of the rec room so that she could study or complete assignments. "Of course. Sit, sit. Do you want some tea?"
Tara poured two cups of fruit tea and passed one to the girl, sighing gratefully as she realized how cold her fingers had become. She waited for her companion to speak. She didn't know Katrina very well, apart from she wasn't from New York (who was?) and she was popular with the customers.
Katrina took several sips and swallowed before speaking. "Do you know the GlamKat?"
"Yes, I heard they just changed hands."
Katrina lowered her voice. "The owner talked to me about going to work there."
Tara's face turned serious. There was an unspoken agreement among the clubs that there would be no overt poaching of staff even though it was hard to keep people for any length of time in this transient industry. She was surprised that Katrina had been approached directly and wondered if the indecorum was a genuine error of judgment or a blatant declaration of turf war. Fur had held top spot in the competitive, and lucrative, world of high end entertainment for a long time and plenty of upstarts would like a piece of their pie.
"And how do you feel about this?" she asked carefully.
Katrina fidgeted uncomfortably. "I don't know. I'm like, I'm treated good here. I get invited up to the Suite and Mr Wilkins, he takes good care of me."
"But?" Tara shook away the thoughts of her conversation with Willow. "Is that what it's called now, taking care?" She knew that if the girl had flat out refused the GlamKat offer, she wouldn't be this troubled.
"I heard rumors, um, that they keep their girls very happy. You know, an almost unlimited supply of top quality, uh, stuff."
"Oh Katrina, I thought you'd kicked the habit."
Katrina's expression was a mixture of torture and helplessness. "I-i-i, it's so hard. You can't imagine how hard I've tried. But Spike, he's so persuasive."
"The owner. He's good-looking too, Tara, and irresistible. Even though he's gay and all. A girl can always dream. He touches me and ... do you know how it feels? When someone touches you like that? When all they need to do is look at you and you're melting inside? "
Yes. "Yes I do."
It was Katrina's turn to look surprised. "I don't think you truly know, Tara. I mean, I thought you were, well, you know. And we've only seen you with Faith. Not that she isn't a stud, but she isn't the sort to stir deep feelings in people."
"No, not Faith. And we never ... it's not what people think," Tara answered, her mind momentarily far away; but remained tightlipped at Katrina's questioning look.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to intrude," Katrina apologized.
"That's alright," Tara said. "We're not here to talk about me. What are you going to do about the offer?"
"What should I do? I mean, a girl's gotta think of her future. They say as soon as you get to 21 you start losing your looks."
Tara paused. Clearly the girl was there to look for answers, for someone to tell her what to do in a confusing situation. But who was Tara to be giving advice on life? "You have to do what is right for you. But sex and drugs aren't the reason, no matter how alluring they are," she said finally.
"I don't know what to do," Katrina fretted.
Tara put her arms around the distraught girl, but she couldn't think of anything to say that would help.