'The financial markets are full of hard luck stories these days, so I thought it only right to share my experiences.
I joined Lehman Brothers straight out of college in 2004. Although I didn't really know what I was getting into, a friend of mine worked for the firm, and there was a vacancy in fixed income support, so I tried out for it and lucked out. When it came down to it, however, the job was really nothing more than a glorified PA, as I ran around photocopying things, and undertaking menial tasks like going out to get lunch for busy traders.
After a while, however, I started to get into what I was doing, and learning the lingo. Gradually, I learned what terms like 'ABS', 'MBS' and 'CDO' stood for (although I never really got what they actually were). In time (after 18 months or so), I even found myself on the telephone speaking to clients, who were eager to buy 'top-rated commercial paper' from the firm. Although nervous at first, I soon discovered that as long as the clients thought they were getting investments which would yield good returns, they didn't mind speaking to a young buck, and my confidence quickly grew. Very soon I had my own small portfolio of clients (mostly smaller clients who no-one else had the time to cover). Anyway, although I was never the best salesperson on the block, I closed several deals and walked off with a decent bonus in 2006 (not huge by any means, but substantially more than I ever expected to earn in any one year).
We hit the ground running in 2007, and, in the first-half of the year, our numbers were strong. Then the fixed income markets began to show signs of stress, and concerns started to grow about a sustained downturn in the US housing market. Investors soon became spooked about the true nature of their promised returns, and the safety of their 'risk-free' investments. The likes of Citi and Merrill Lynch started to post losses on huge asset writedowns, and soon the CEOs of both firms had fallen on their swords. We struggled through into 2008, and there were persistent rumours that Lehman (and other firms) had liquidity problems. In March, Bear Stearns fell into the arms of JPMorgan Chase. And, in September, well, you know what happened to Lehman.
In truth, I didn't even make it through until the September. The appetite for asset-backed securities had already dried up, and I was laid-off a couple of months before. At first, I wasn't that bothered - I fell into the markets by accident, so it wasn't as if my dreams had been shattered. But after being knocked back following several job interviews (both in the industry and outside), I started to panic. The financial meltdown that followed the fall of Lehman had spread to Main Street, and it was proving difficult for a young woman who had little by way of transferable skills to find alternative employment. And, to top it all, my severance (such as it was) had run out.
Anyway, I lived on my savings for a while, then noticed a wanted ad in a women's magazine. An out of town 'dancing bar' was seeking an 'exotic' dancer for four night's work each week. I knew that I could dance, and I wasn't bad looking (and, despite working with a group of lardy traders, I had managed to keep my svelte figure). I kept the magazine, and every few days would pull it out and re-read the ad. One afternoon, after receiving another rejection letter from a would-be employer, I called the number listed, and made an appointment to see the manager of the bar.
To say that it was seedy would be a major understatement. The bar was dark, and the carpets smelled of alcohol (and worse). 'Can you dance ?', the manager asked. 'Sure', I nodded. He looked me up and down. 'You'll do. Be here tonight at 10pm. You'll finish at 2am. $120, plus tips. You should do OK'.
That night I joined the group of women in the back (it was described as a 'dressing room', but was really just a large bathroom with a few dressers pushed together). I was really nervous now, and kept eyeing the exit, thinking that the smart thing to do was just to leave. But, despite my reservations, I stuck with it, and, shortly before it was my time to go on, one of the older 'performers' pulled me to one side. 'You're in charge, honey', she said, 'Remember that. The punters will take advantage of you if you let 'em. But there'll be putty in your hands if you show them that you're calling the shots'.
The next thing I remember was that the announcer was calling my name (I was to be known as 'Amazing Grace'), and I was pushed onto the small stage to the cheers of what seemed to be scores of paying clients. Although they could clearly see me, the bright lighting fortunately meant that I could only see the few at the very front. The music started, and I began my first routine'.
'The truth is, I can't remember a whole lot about that first time. I recall my stomach in my mouth as I was pushed onto that stage. I grabbed hold of the pole, closed my eyes tight, and tried to block everything out apart from the beat of the music. The next thing I remember, the music had stopped, and I was being dragged off stage by one of the security guys.
'You should have taken a fortune', one of the other dancers said to me as I passed by, 'The crowd went nuts for you'. I wasn't sure what she meant, but it soon became clear.
'You f.cking idiot', Chad, the manager of the bar said between clenched teeth. 'Didn't you hear us shouting at you ? You're supposed to let go of the f.cking pole and go shake your stuff up close to the punters. How the f.ck else do you think they are gonna get close enough to stick cash in your panties ?'. I had broken the golden rule, and Chad was really angry. 'God knows why, but those guys were loving you. All you had to do was ease to the edge of the stage and we would've done great'. Chad had lost 50% of what he thought I should have taken in tips (my belief that all the tips I made would be mine was very short-lived).
I was gutted. I felt like I did when I first interned at a Fortune 500 company all those summers ago. I felt intimidated, and useless, humiliated. But I had overcome adversity before, after the company told me that perhaps working in a large corporate wasn't for me, and I would do so again now. Although my first thought was to run away, I knew that I had it in me. I was convinced that I could deliver. And it wasn't just the thought of the money - even in this job, I wanted to be a success.
Although the performers could shower and change on the premises, I just couldn't face it. Chad said that I shouldn't do anymore turns that night, and that I should just stay and watch how the older pros did it. But I didn't want to hang around. Telling him that I'd see him the following evening, I slung my coat over my skimpy costume and headed quickly for the exit. When I got home I spent over an hour in the shower, trying to wash off the smell of that place.
'Didn't expect to see you again', Chad said as he looked over at me when I came in the next night, taking his eyes only briefly off the porn magazine he was 'reading'.
'Whatever doesn't kill you makes you strong, and all that', I replied cheerily. But Chad wasn't interested. He was back to his magazine.
Things were a little better that night, and I went up three times. After a few more evenings, I started to get used to it. And dare I say it, I actually started to enjoy myself. Strange as it may seem, there was power in it. I realised that, after all those years thinking that lap dancers and their ilk were exploited, it was the punters themselves who were the ones being taken advantage of. They came in in packs, were encouraged to drink themselves silly and, before they realised what they had done, had spent a fortune paying for the odd dance, some 'companionship', or drugs (and sometimes all three). And mostly they were taken for a ride. The 'companionship' usually never led to anything physical (apart from the odd shove in the chest if the punter tried to get too frisky), and the drugs were cut so thin that they would hardly have had any affect. Still, the 'clients' seemed to get off on it. At least they kept coming back.
It was a little over a month after I first started, that the unthinkable happened. I had put all thoughts to the back of my mind of ever coming across any former Lehman colleagues at the bar. In fact, one of the main reasons why I thought it would be safe to dance at this bar was that it was a bit off the beaten track. But I was being naive - most firms had banned their brokers and traders from 'adult entertainment' clubs (especially if they had clients in tow), so these guys took their partying as far away from Madison Avenue as possible. And, that night, this already alcohol-fuelled group had decided to head my way.
'They're a really rowdy lot tonight', Jane, one of the other dancers remarked as she came off stage. 'And loaded - in more ways than one', she smiled at me as she quickly took some of the cash from her panties and stuffed it down her bra. It looked like Chad wouldn't be getting his full 50% that night either.
Anyway, these high-rollers intrigued me. I squinted out from behind the curtain, and thought that I recognised a couple of them. It couldn't be, could it ? Jesus, it was some of the old Lehman crew! Panic immediately set it, but I quickly calmed down. None of these guys were from my business unit. The last thing they would expect would be to see a former colleague strutting her stuff on this stage. And they were so drunk, I was confident that they wouldn't recognise me. And, even if I was found out, did it really matter ? When my turn came, I took a deep breath and went on stage to bring in some cash.
By now, I had become much more adventurous. I was able to use all the talents God blessed me with to extract every last dollar from the punters. I was really into it now, and completely forgot about the Lehman crew. Until I came face-to-face with one of them. 'Grace, you old tart', he shouted. 'You've finally found your true vocation!'. Taken aback for just a moment, I quickly composed myself. 'F.ck off back to your wife, you jerk', I retorted, turning around and pushing my rear-end right in his face. At that moment I knew no fear. I had been recognised, but I didn't care. After all, was my current job any more immoral than my last ? At least now I was taking advantage of clients who mostly wanted to be taken advantage of!
'What was all that about ?', Jane asked, as I came off. 'Oh, just some jerk that I used to work with. Alan something'.
'He's quite cute, though'.
'Still a loser', I replied cattily.
It was almost 3am when I finally came out the side door and headed to my car for the short ride home. And I was tired. But there waiting for me was Alan.
'Hi', he said, looking sheepishly down at his Gucci loafers.
'God', I groaned, 'What do you want, Alan ? I'm dead beat, and want to go to bed'.
'I just', he stammered, 'I just wanted to apologize'.
'Fine. Apology accepted. Goodnight', I replied as I slammed the car door closed and fiddled with the key in the ignition.
'Wait a minute, Grace', he said as he indicated for me to open the window. 'Can't I buy you a coffee, or something ?'
'Not tonight, Alan', I replied as his cell phone rang. 'Answer your phone. Your wife will be wondering where you are'.
'My wife left me months ago, Grace. She doesn't call me anymore', he retorted while he fiddled with his cell phone.
'I can't imagine why', I replied cruelly, 'Who did she go off with - your best mate, or your boss ?'.
'The TV repairman, actually', he said as he turned off his cell, cutting off the incoming call. 'I always wondered why the f.cking TV keep going wrong', he laughed.
I smiled. At least he had a sense of humor.
'When you next on ?', he asked, clearly not put off by feeble attempt at giving him the brush-off.
'Two days. Bring some more cash, and I'll make sure you get a good view!', I teased as I drove off into the night.
I looked back at Alan through the rear mirror. He was quite a sight in his rumpled suit and with his dishevelled hair. But he was kind of cute. I wondered if I'd see him again. These banker types are mostly wimps, though. One put down is usually enough to scare them off. I kind of regretted that I'd given him a hard time. But I was too tired to mull on it very long, and the dancing made you hard anyway. I'd already noticed that I was becoming emotionally detached from reality. Guess it was a survival mechanism.
It was a few days later, and I'd forgotten all about Alan. He hadn't been back to the bar, and I can't say that I was that surprised. I got in early that night and, before I'd even had the chance to dump my stuff, Chad called me over.
'Grace, Grace, can you come into my office please ?, he asked. I was immediately on my guard. I'd been at that place nearly two months and the only time I'd heard Chad say 'please' was when he was trying to persuade one of the other girls to let him have his evil way with her. He could beg all he wanted, I thought, as I followed him back to his office. He wasn't getting anything except a turn-down from me.
'Listen, Grace', he began. 'You've been with us a while now, and you're doing really well. You've got quite a following.......'.
'Forget it, Chad', I interrupted. 'I'm not sleeping with you'.
'No, no, Grace. You've got it all wrong. It's not me I want you to sleep with'.
'What the hell are you talking about, Chad ? Are you on something ?'
'Just calm down and listen, will you', he replied, 'Now, how would you like to make some real money ?'
'Are you offering me a raise, then ?', I retorted.
'In a way, I guess I am'.
'Spit it out, Chad. Just get to the point will you'. I was feeling even more uneasy now.
'Calm down, Grace. I've just got a business proposition for you, that's all', he said as he closed the door to give us some privacy. 'Listen, from time to time, I give some of the best girls the opportunity to make some extra money on the side. I just wondered if you wanted in ?'.
'I'm all ears, Chad. But exactly what do I have to do for this extra cash ?'.
'Well, let's just say that I have a few 'special clients'. And I do favours for them every once in a while'.
The son-of-a-bitch was actually offering to be my pimp! 'Don't you mean you get the girls to do the favours, Chad ? Well, you can f.ck right off. I'm no hooker if that's where this is going', I shouted. 'Just because I'm down on my luck doesn't mean that you can take any more advantage of me than you already are. You're just scum', I screamed at him.
'It's $500 an hour', he continued calmly.
'$500 an hour ?', I exclaimed, 'Do your clients take block bookings ?'. Chad had pressed the right button, after all.
'Well, yeah. But then there's my cut. But this client doesn't want you for a hour anyway. He wants you for a whole night. And that's $3,500, split right down the middle between you and me. A cool $1,750 for you just to do what comes natural, babe. I presume we have a deal', he added triumphantly.
'Chad, if you think that I'm going to spend the whole f.cking night shagging some loser, only to give 50% of the fee to you, you can think again'.
'40%, then', he replied, 'Final offer'.
'25% or take a hike', I quickly came back.
'Done', he smiled. Damn, he gave in far too easily. I knew right then that I could have got a better deal.
'But no kinky stuff', I insisted. 'And I get the evening off this place the day after'.
'Of course, Grace. You'll be treated like a princess now'. He was like the cat that got the cream now.
'So how does this work ?', I asked.
'You'll be picked up outside this place tomorrow night. Just make sure that you're clean. And wear something tasteful. And remember, it's just like the dancing. Don't get too involved with the punters. Always remember it's just a job'.
'Tomorrow!'. My heart was in my mouth. I hadn't expected that I'd have to 'perform' quite so soon. But Chad was a fast worker. He had seen his prey, and moved in quickly for the kill.
'What about the money', I asked.
'Don't worry about that', he said. 'I'll get the money and then sort you out'.
'No way, Chad. You must think I'm really stupid. The guy will need to let me have the cash as soon as I arrive. No cash, no sex. And you'll get your cut from me - after I'm happy with the way things turn out', I insisted. 'But let me be clear. No threesomes, no drugs, no more than once in one night. And no S&M!'.
'Relax, Grace. You'll be fine. You took to the dancing like a duck to water. This will be no different'.
No different. Just a few months before I was working for a top US investment bank, was earning a lot of money and was the envy of my friends. Just look at me now, I thought. I had descended to lap-dancing, and then hooking in short order. Did I have no shame ?
'So just who is this guy', I asked as I headed out of Chad's office. 'And how do you know he will like me'.
'Oh, some hedge fund guy. He's got his own fund, or something. He's rolling in it. Very well connected, apparently. And don't worry, he's seen your picture. He's gagging for it'.
'Well he'll be the only one 'gagging', Chad, as I'm not doing that either! And you've got a f.cking cheek taking my picture and showing it around to your dirty 'clients'!
He laughed, and I left to get ready for the evening's show, having entered into yet another sleazy deal with the Devil.
The chauffeur driven car drew up outside the bar at 9pm the following evening. Although I had serious misgivings, I knew it was too late to back out now. Chad would fire me, and I was already out of cash. In truth, I needed this job. I needed the money, no matter how I had to earn it.
And I was, indeed, treated like royalty. The chauffeur doffed his hat and opened the door for me. As I sat in the back of the limo, sipping champagne and watching the old Nicholas Cage film that was playing on the screen, I wondered what this hedge fund guy would be like. I'd had hedgies for clients before, of course, but this was clearly different. Anyway, I wouldn't have long to find out, as, after just a 20 minute drive, my ride pulled up outside one of New York's finest hotels..........'.
'I expected to be shown straight up to a hotel room but, to my surprise, the maitre'd led me to a discreet table in the restaurant. Sitting there, with his cell glued to his ear, was Alex. Another surprise. The maitre'd smiled and signalled for me to take a seat. I sat down and looked around the restaurant, remembering the last time I was there with a client, some 18 months before, under very different circumstances. Alex looked over at me and nodded, but continued talking in a whisper into his cell.
'Delighted to meet you, Grace', he said after finishing his call, 'I've heard lots of good things about you'. He stood up and walked over to kiss my hand. 'Your photographs do not do you justice'.
I smiled hesitantly. Alex wasn't at all what I expected. He was tall and elegant, and fairly in shape. I guessed that he was around 40, much younger than I assumed he would be. And although not traditionally good looking, he had an aura about him. I had seen that aura many times before - it came from the confidence of knowing that you had power. This was clearly a man used to getting his own way.
For once, I was tongue-tied. I nervously played with my napkin, and looked down at the table.
'Relax, Grace', he said in his New York accent. 'I know that you haven't done this kind of thing before. Let's have some dinner and get to know each other'.
I hadn't eaten that evening, and food was the last thing on my mind. But I nodded meekly, and took the menu the attentive waiter held out for me.
'The food's very good here, Grace. You'll enjoy it'.
'Yes, I know', I replied.
Alex looked up quizically from his menu, clearly taken back that I may have eaten there before. 'Have you been here before then, Grace ? My, you are a dark horse', he laughed.
'No' I lied. 'It's just that this place has a good reputation'. The last thing I wanted was for Alex to know anything about me. I planned to keep the evening strictly business. It was the only way that I knew I could get through it. And I thought that Alex might freak if he knew that I once worked for Lehman. It was just too close to home. As Chad kept reminding me, it was my job to ensure that Alex felt comfortable too. And if he wasn't, there would probably be no repeat business.
Anyway, the first part of the evening passed without incident. Alex was clearly educated, had an opinion on most things and appeared to be on his best behaviour. He was clearly determined not to scare me off. And, I have to admit, he was quite entertaining. He even managed to get me feeling slightly more relaxed. The only thing that irritated me was that his cell phone seemed to constantly ring. He must have excused himself from the table at least six times, as he moved to the corner of the restaurant to take each incoming call. And every time he returned, he seemed to be in an even better mood. I'd seen that look before, too. Clearly things were going his way. He was doing what he loved best - making money.
After a couple of drinks at the bar, Alex suggested that we 'retire' for the evening. His hotel suite was amazing, but I expected nothing less. He offered me another drink, and then suggested that I go to the bathroom to freshen up. It was then that it hit me.
I splashed some water on my face, and found myself staring at my reflection in the mirror. Had it really come to this, I thought. Was I about to hit a new low and, for the first time in my life, actually take money for sex ? I thought about my mother. She's British, and typically rather reserved. What would she ever think if she found out what I was doing ? She would never understand (but, then again, she never understood what I did working in an investment bank!) I sat on the toilet seat, and put my head in my hands. This was the big moment. Decision time. If I was going to back out, now was my last chance. I knew that if I went in that room and took my clothes off, that there would be no escape. I'd spoken to one of the other girls about this, and she said that I'd be at my most vulnerable when I was naked. If I was going to duck out, it would need to be while I still had my clothes on. Once I crossed that line, there would be no turning back.
My mind was in a whirl, as conflicting thoughts came in and out of my head. I needed the money, but I was disgusted at myself. And I kept thinking about my mother. I wasn't sure that I could do it. At that moment, Alex knocked on the bathroom door. 'Grace', he said apologetically, ' I need to pop out for a while. Will you be alright here on your own ?'
'Eh, yes', I stammered in reply, clearly taken by surprise.
'I won't be long. I just need to see someone down in the lobby. Feel free to call room service if you need anything'. And with that, I heard the hotel room door close behind him.
I unlocked the door, and emerged from the bathroom. I couldn't help myself, I started to have a good look around the suite. I looked through the hand-made suits hanging in the wardrobe, noticed the designer shoes and the luxury watch Alex had taken-off and left by the side of the bed. Clearly his visitor was unexpected. Alex had treated me like a princess. He had been on his best behaviour. But, when it came down to it, I knew that, no matter what the consequences, I couldn't go through with it. I don't know why, but I felt compelled to leave him a note, apologizing that I had let him down. I grabbed my purse, and slowly opened the door into the hallway. A quick look out was enough to confirm that it was all-clear, and I headed for the stairs, not wanting to run the risk of bumping into Alex in the elevator on his way back up. I was free, but I didn't feel elated. In fact, I felt guilty that I'd let Alex down. I wondered what he'd think when he returned to find me gone. But I smiled when the thought struck me that Chad would go berserk when he found out what I'd done.
It was two days later, when the pounding on my apartment door woke me up. I looked over at the alarm clock. It was almost three o'clock in the morning. What the heck was all this about ? As the banging continued, I got up sleepily and headed for the door, peering through the spy-hole to see who was making all the noise. It was Alan!
'What the Hell do you want, Alan ?', I hissed, without opening the door. 'And how did you get my Goddam address ?'.
'Sorry, Grace, but your boss at the bar gave it me. He knew that I'd been trying to get to see you the last couple of days, and he's been calling and texting you too. He's worried. He wanted me to make sure that you were alright'.
Chad had been trying to get hold of me, it was true, but I had blocked his calls and texts. I'd not been back to work either. I knew it was all over, and I figured that there wasn't much point listening to him sound off.
'Can you let me in, Grace', Alan begged. 'It's freezing out here'.
I looked around my apartment. It was a mess, and, in truth, I was ashamed that it wasn't full of designer furniture and all the nice things I had when I was working at Lehman. That all went months ago.
'Sorry, Alan', I replied, 'I'm going back to bed. Thanks for checking in on me, though. And you can tell Chad that I'm still alive and kicking. Well, alive, anyhow'.
'Oh come on, Grace', he insisted, 'I've a note from Chad for you. For God's sake, just let me in, will you ?'.
What the heck, I thought, as I took the chain off the latch. Alan was inside in an instant. 'Here's the note', he said passing me an envelope. I quickly tore it open and, to my surprise, saw that it was filled with cash.
'Hey, breakfast's on you', Alan laughed, eyeing the money. I swiftly put it in my purse. 'Thanks, Alan', I replied, 'But they'll be no breakfast this morning. I'm going back to bed'.
'We can do breakfast after bed, Grace', Alan came back. 'Nice try, Alan', I said as I opened the door and pushed him out.
'Look, Grace, can I see you ?, he turned and asked. 'How about dinner sometime ? It would be good to catch-up'.
I looked at him. He was a trier, that was for sure. And he was starting to get me interested in him. There was something about him. And I needed a friend. 'OK, wait', I said, before quickly scribbling out my cell number on a piece of paper for him. 'Call me in a few days. We'll sort something out'.
'You can count on it', he beamed. And I knew that I could.
Closing the door behind Alan, I rushed over to retrieve my purse. Opening the envelope from Chad, I counted out $3,000 - more than I was due for the 'overnight'. I hadn't expected anything. In fact, I was convinced that Alex wouldn't have paid at all, bearing in mind that I hadn't delivered on my end of the bargain. In with the cash was a note in Chad's spidery handwriting:
Here's your money (plus a tip from Alex). He is really sorry for what happened the other night, and wants to make amends. Can you call round tomorrow ? There's more money in this if you want it.
'Grace, where have you been ?', Chad asked as if he almost really cared, 'I've been worried sick'.
'About me, or your 'pension' ?', I retorted.
He smiled and indicated for me to follow him into his office.
'Look, Grace, I don't know what that stunt you pulled on Alex was all about, but all is forgiven now. But we do need to know if you are still up for this'.
'Up for what, exactly ?', I interrupted.
'To be honest, Grace, I'm not sure. Alex seems to have a thing for you. He wants to see you again and start over. And what Alex wants he usually gets'.
'Well he didn't last time, did he ?', I laughed.
I wasn't really sure where this was going. I was happy to continue with the dancing, but I had drawn a line on the escorting. And I made this clear to Chad. It was a self-respect thing; I didn't mind using my body to get money, but I wasn't prepared to sell it. But Chad seemed fine with it - as long as I agreed to give Alex another chance by going on a proper date.
'A proper date ? Let's be sure we understand what that means, Chad'.
'Yes, Yes', he cut in before I could elaborate. 'I understand. Sex not guaranteed. I get it'.
'More like 'sex not likely'', Chad, I continued. 'And the most important thing is that Alex gets it too. Otherwise you'll end up with real egg on your face next time'.
'Leave Alex to me', he reassured, 'He won't be a problem'.
'But what's in it for me, Chad ?, I asked.
'You get to keep your job. And you might even enjoy yourself', he laughed.
So that's how I ended up in the hotel lobby again the next evening, waiting for Alex to take me to his 'club'.
'Grace, you look stunning', he said, rather overdoing it, as he swept through the lobby, kissing me on the hand once again. 'I'm so sorry about the other evening. It's just that I get so wrapped up in work.......'.
I wondered just how long he was away after leaving me in that room. In fact, I started to believe that he had perhaps forgotten all about me!
Anyway, before we could engage in anything more than a few minutes of harmless small talk, the limo pulled up in a rather seedy looking street in Lower Manhattan.
'We need to walk the rest of the way, Grace', Alex said in response to my quizzical look, 'Bear with me, you'll understand in a little while'.
He grabbed my arm and we walked a couple of blocks, until we came to a old hotel which had clearly seen better days. The guy on the desk beamed when he saw Alex, jumped up to pump him by the hand, and quickly led us both out back. From out of nowhere, a door opened in the wall, and we ascended a narrow wooden staircase until we reached a second door that literally opened into another world. My jaw dropped.
'Nice, isn't is ?', Alex said, clearly happy that he had obviously impressed me.
'It's...it's like a casino', I spluttered.
'It is a casino, Grace', he replied, 'But a rather exclusive one. Come on, let's go and explore'.
I'd heard about places like this. Some of the guys at Lehman even said that they had visited them, but I doubted it. These were exclusive private clubs where unregulated gambling took place. They were playgrounds for the super-rich, where there were no rules and no limits. Tens of millions of dollars would change hands during just one evening outside the restrictions imposed by New York's gaming laws. To keep one step ahead of the cops (and the Feds), the 'casino' would spring up in a particular location just for one night, before moving on to the next venue several weeks later. And it was all here. Craps and roulette tables, blackjack. There was even a bar and a restaurant area.
We moved quickly to the restaurant, and were escorted to a discreet table in the corner. Alex was clearly a regular at these events, as he was acknowledged by some of the other gamblers, and greeted profusely by many of the staff.
This guy really was a big-shot, I thought, as I sat across the table from him. You had to be worth a mint to get in with this crowd.
'Why did you bring me here, Alex ?', I asked after taking the first sip from the drink that I'd ordered, 'You don't even know me, yet you risked taking me somewhere illegal. For all you know, I could work for the FBI'.
'Grace, my dear, the risk is all part of the fun', he replied. 'Besides I don't know of too many Feds who go in for exotic dancing', he laughed.
I smiled too. He was an interesting guy. And it wasn't just the money or the power. There was something about this man.
'Let's hit the tables, Grace', he said excitedly the moment we finished dinner. 'Roulette is my passion', he gushed, 'Do you have a lucky number ?'.
'Seven', I replied.
He rushed over to the first table, and a place was immediately found for him to sit. I stood behind him, as was astounded when he threw a thick wad of one hundred dollar bills on the table, which he quickly exchanged for chips which were then all placed on number 7.
'It's not that lucky', I cried when I realised what he was doing. In fact, it was not lucky at all, as he lost the lot. Undaunted, he continued to bet on number 7 until his cash ran out. It hadn't come once.
'Just off to the cashier', he smiled. He checked his pockets again and found a few more bills. 'Here', he said, 'have a play with that'.
There must have been three thousand dollars there, which I quickly passed across to the croupier in exchange for some chips. (It's amazing that $3,000 in my new circumstances seemed an awful lot of money. In the old days, of course, it was the cost of a nice weekend away).
I took $100 and placed in across a couple of numbers. 'Sorry, Madam', the croupier said as he pushed the chips back towards me. 'Minimum bet $500'. My face reddened. I was clearly out of my depth. I decided to wait it out until Alex came back.
Alex returned, and we spent the next several hours jumping from table to table as he continued to place large bets on a variety of numbers. He insisted that he had a 'system', but I couldn't work out what it was, and it didn't seem to be a very good system, as he continued to lose throughout the night. At one point he did win big on number 7, and insisted that I take half the 'winnings'. I put up a token fight, but soon relented. I needed the money, and he could clearly afford it. He was soon back on a losing streak, but it didn't bother him one bit. He wasn't here to win - he was just here to play.
It must have been close to 4am when we sat back down in the restaurant to have 'breakfast'. Alex was in an expansive mood, despite dropping a fortune.
So tell me, Alex', I ventured. 'What do you actually do for a living'.
'I'm an investor, Grace', he replied as he leaned back in his chair and drew on his large cigar.
'An investor in what', I continued to probe, doing exactly what Chad had forbidden me to do.
'Equities....Stocks to you'.
'And you clearly do it very well'.
'Let's just say that I'm very well connected, Grace, and those connections help me make money'.
'You mean like insider trading', I asked in as disarming a manner as I could muster.
That unexpected question threw him. He coughed, and for a moment I thought he was going to swallow his cigar!
'Insider trading', he repeated quietly. 'Keep your voice down, Grace. People like me don't talk about things like that, even in jest. Wherever did you get to learn about that anyway ?'.
'Oh, let's just say that I have some interest in the markets, Alex', I replied coyly.
'Now you are beginning to worry me, Grace', he laughed. 'You have me wondering if you really are working for the FBI, after all'.
When the night was finally over, I insisted on being dropped a few blocks from where I lived. I gave Alex a peck on the cheek. He seemed satisfied with that. He had clearly enjoyed himself, and so had I. As I walked back to my apartment I thought back over the last few months. I had come a long way - from Lehman Brothers to exotic dancing. From investment bankers to hedge fund managers. And now into a world where laws were clearly there to be broken, and the biggest crime was getting caught. I went to bed that morning flushed with excitement. I was living on the edge again, and I liked it'.
Chad was full of beans when I got into work the next evening. He was clearly getting some kind of rake off from Alex, and was determined that I carried on seeing him. I didn't mind that he was profiting at my expense though, as Alex was fun and I'd had a really good time the night before.
'He's loaded, Grace. You know that, don't you ?', he said excitedly. 'And he's dead keen to see you again'.
'Relax, Chad', I replied. 'You needn't worry about your retainer. I dare say Alex and I will hook up again soon'.
I'd got the dancing down to a fine art now. In fact, I was a master. I even looked forward to getting up on that stage and strutting my stuff now. It was good thinking time, as I found that while I was turning on the guys in the audience, I was able to tune out and think about other things. And that night, I found myself thinking about Alex. And I kept wondering if he was married.
While I was holding that thought, all Hell broke loose. It took me a while to realise what was going on, but I first heard the shouting, and then some of the audience jumped up on stage to get out of the way. Finally, the music stopped and the lights came up. And there they were - a group of drunken bankers throwing beer bottles and trading punches. I stood back and watched the fun unfold, and realised that, even though times had been tough for me over recent months, I'd rather be on stage than working in an investment bank. These would-be masters of the universe were wound-up so tight that they simply had to blow off steam every now and then. But they were pathetic creatures; overweight, out of condition and out of control. And as the traders tried to knock seven bells out of each other, even more trouble arrived. Someone had called the cops. There were at least 10 of them, all with guns and all chewing gum. Typically, the traders ignored the warnings, and three ended up being hauled off to spend the night in a cell. Another two were booked for possession of cocaine. Two others ended up in a hospital bed.
Typically, we got closed down for the night, and I was heading back home for a long bath and a good sleep when my cell rang. It was Alan. He'd been trying to reach me for a few days, but I'd avoided taking his calls. I still thought he was an amusing guy, but life was becoming complicated enough as it was. The last thing I needed was to get something going with Alan. But he was persistent, so I knew that I had to deal with this before it got out of hand.
'Hi', I answered, perhaps a little too disinterestedly. I didn't want to come across as being rude, just firm. I had to end it with Alan, even though there was really nothing to end. He was clearly keen to start something, but the time just wasn't right for me.
'Hi', he responded, 'You're a difficult girl to get hold of'.
'Just busy, Alan. That's all. I've just got back home', I said, as I locked up the car and headed across the street.
'I know', he said. 'I can see you. I'm just outside your door'.
I looked over, and there he was, waving at me from under the tree that stood just outside the apartment building. And he had a silly grin on his face. This guy was always just turning up!
'So what happened with Lorraine', I asked as we sat down in my living room to drink some coffee. I kicked off my shoes, expecting a long story. I wanted to get Alan to talk, so that I could think through how to put him off without hurting his feelings. 'Did she really run off with a TV repair man ?'.
'No', he laughed. 'It was actually the cable guy. There was me working all the hours to earn the big bucks for our future, and she was screwing the cable guy. And in my house, in front of my kid!'.
'Your kid ?'. I didn't know that Alan had a kid.
'Yes. He's five years old now. And I hardly ever get to see him. She took me to the cleaners when we got divorced. She got the apartment, the car, the kid. And all I got was the fucking bill and limited access!'.
'Oh, I'm sorry, Alan. I didn't know. What happened to the cable guy. Is is still around ?'.
'Nope, he replied nonchalantly, 'He moved on. It was just a bit of fun for him. But I don't blame him. He didn't cause the split. It was all my fault. I never got the balance right. I became so wrapped up in my job that I just forgot about my marriage. It was an accident waiting to happen. I guess I learned my lesson the hard way.'
Alan had more luck with his career, however. He had the good fortune to secure a new job offer just the week before Lehman filed for bankruptcy. Although Barclays Capital, which took over the firm's US businesses a couple of days after the bankruptcy filing, did try to get him to stay on, he went to work for one of Lehman's bigger rivals, and had been there just a few weeks.
'And how's the new firm ?', I asked.
'It's different', he replied. 'It's not Lehman. It's much more corporate. But it's a job'.
'And the market ?'.
'It stinks. In my sector, there's just no appetite for deals. It's not a good time to be in M&A'.
The more he talked, the more I started to feel more relaxed with him. For the first time, I thought that I was seeing the real Alan. The more we talked, the more he let his barriers come down. All the bullshit evaporated, and there before me was just an ordinary guy, as vulnerable and as hurt as the rest of us.
As the night started to turn into morning, Alan and I continued to talk. And we had graduated from coffee to wine. I can't blame the drink, though, for what happened next, for we were starting to feel more comfortable with each out, and soon began to flirt. Alan then reached over and touched my hand, pulling me towards him. In a moment we were locked in a passionate grasp, and quickly moved on into the bedroom.
Alan was asleep now, sprawled across me. I lay on my back thinking. A few hours ago I was going to ditch him, but now things had changed. I wanted Alan, but I wanted Alex too. In fact, I wanted it all.
'Do you think I'm crazy, Jane ?' I asked.
Jane and I had become quite close over the last few weeks. Although Chad told me never to discuss Alex with any of the other girls, I had to tell someone. Jane was around my age, and had been dancing at the club for a good 18 months before me, so she was more experienced and, if truth be told, had a wiser head than mine.
'Life is always complicated', she replied. 'Even a woman with a good husband, a nice house and beautiful children has her complications. I wouldn't worry about Alan or Alex. Just play it by ear. But don't make any promises you can't keep - to either of them. Otherwise it could get nasty'. It was a warning I would later look back on and wish I had taken more seriously.
'Davos! He wants me to go to Davos with him ?'
'It's some banking conference, or something', Chad replied.
'I know what Davos is, Chad. And it's not just some 'banking conference'.
So that's how I found out that Alex wanted me to spend a few days in Switzerland with him while he attended the World Economic Forum. And although it wouldn't be such a grand affair that year (as many top banking CEOs would remain close to home dealing with the unfolding financial crisis), Davos was still the place to be in January if you worked in the financial markets. I'd never been anywhere near the center of such power before, and the thought was intoxicating. My only concern was that I'd have to lie to Alan about where I was going. I'd been seeing him three or four times a week since we slept together, and I had to find an excuse to explain why I'd be out of town for a few days. I was already having to start covering my tracks. Life was indeed becoming complicated, but it seemed a small price to pay to go to Davos!'
Alex was in an ebullient mood as we headed for JFK International, and he kept talking about 'the big one'. But he was also starting to annoy me with his smug attitude. I forget how many times he asked me just how many hedge fund managers I thought were making money at that moment in time. And predictably, he confirmed that he was one of the very few. These guys have egos as big as houses!
Before we checked in, Alex left me with the luggage and told me to get a coffee and wait for him. He had to meet a 'big' contact, who had apparently come to the airport to discuss some business with him.
'This is the one, Grace', Alex said as he returned. 'Mark my words, in a few weeks I'll be a household name'.
He was off on one again when, incredibly, I saw Alan in the distance, just leaving the airport. The bastard must have been following me! He wasn't happy that I was going away, and I'm wasn't sure that he bought my story that June's mother was gravely ill, and that I was going to New Hampshire to help her through what was looking likely to be a very difficult time. Telling Alex that I need to pop to the ladies room, I rushed off to call Alan and give him a piece of my mind.
'You slimeball!', I shouted into my cell. 'How dare you follow me!'.
'What ?!', he seemed taken aback. 'What the fuck are you talking about, Grace ?'.
'Following me to the airport. That's really low, Alan. I never had you down for a loser like that'.
'Calm down, Grace', he replied. 'I didn't follow you anywhere. I went to JFK to meet someone. And anyway, you're in the wrong terminal if you saw me. Domestic flights fly from Terminal 8!'.
I was on the back foot now. 'Oh, I'm sorry', I apologized. 'I just jumped to the wrong conclusion. It's just one of those silly co-incidences. And yes, you're right, the cab driver dropped me off at the wrong terminal. I'm sorry, I've got to rush, I'm late for check-in now. I'll call you when we land'. I couldn't cut him off soon enough. I felt so stupid and, at the same time, scared that he would catch me out.
But as I walked over to where Alex was waiting, my mind started to process what had happened, and it suddenly dawned on me. Was Alan Alex's 'big' contact. Was he feeding him inside information ? If so, what was I to do, and what kind of mess was I now in the middle of ?
Davos didn't go well. And my opinion of Alex had started to change. He was ever the gentleman when he was trying to woo me (although he had yet to get me between the sheets), but I started to see signs that this man might not be quite the catch I originally thought he was. I called Chad to tell him that things were becoming difficult, but he begged me to stick with it. The last thing he wanted was me ditching Alex in Davos.
'The fucking suite hasn't been been cleaned!', he yelled when we returned after a late breakfast that first morning. Alex was straight on the telephone screaming for the hotel manager, who quickly appeared with an army of cleaners.
'I'm sorry, Mr Raban', the manager said as he entered. 'Please just give us a few minutes and all will be sorted'.
'This is a fucking disgrace!', Alex shouted, his eyes staring wildly and the veins in his temple appearing to stand to attention. 'To think that I'm paying thousands of dollars for this room, and I get treated like this!'.
'But Mr Raban', the manager replied, 'You had the 'Do not disturb' sign on the door. My staff clearly wouldn't have interrupted you to clean the suite in those circumstances'.
'Rubbish!', Alex shouted. 'That's a poor excuse for a pathetic service! I demand to be compensated!!'.
But it wasn't rubbish at all. I remembered that Alex had placed the sign on the door the evening before (clearly hoping that he would be having fun with me!). Alex was making a scene, when it was all his own fault. But he just wouldn't back down and admit that he was wrong. And I wasn't impressed.
Alex soon rushed off to participate in the World Economic Forum, and I was left kicking my heels in the hotel, thus setting a pattern that would last for a few days. I was being truly naive when I thought that I would be rubbing shoulders with the great and the good in Davos. But Alex was full of it, returning to the suite each evening with tales of which global CEO he had met, and who he had added to his rolodex. And I just found myself laying in bed for most of the day, drinking alone most of the afternoon and becoming bored senseless with Alex's stories long into each evening.
My thoughts, however, kept turning back to seeing Alan at JFK. Was it really just all one huge co-incidence, or was something going on between him and Alex ? I wasn't sure. Alan wasn't a bigshot. Sure he'd worked on a few high profile deals while at Lehman (as part of a team), but would he really have access to the kind of information that Alex could use to his advantage ? And why would someone like Alex need someone like Alan ? They inhabited different worlds. Indeed, it would have been a truly strange relationship. But I decided to try and press Alex on his 'contacts', to see whether he'd give anything away that might identify just who was feeding him his inside information. And I didn't have long to wait to get my opening, as Alex returned on the third evening slightly drunk, and clearly in an expansive mood. It didn't take much prompting for me to get him to talk about how wonderful he was, and how he was going to rake in millions from his next big deal.
'I shouldn't be talking to you about all this, Grace', he said as he relaxed with his feet up on the sofa, and a glass of brandy in his hand.
'Humor me, Alex', I said, 'I probably won't understand what you are talking about anyway, but I guess I want to learn something about what you do, and what makes you tick'. I was trying to coax him out by appealing to his vanity.
'Well, Grace', he started to pontificate. 'Life is not a level-playing field. There's always an advantage to be had. And my job is to find that advantage and exploit it. And that's what I've been doing for much of my career'. He kicked off his shoes, and continued: 'Don't let anyone ever tell you that being fair will make you a success. Nothing in life is fair; ask the people in countries in Africa what fair is. Explain to them why they and their children continue to die through lack of food and because of disease, while the West lives high on the hog on a diet of fast food, cable TV and prescription drugs. I learned long ago that being fair would get you nowhere. You need to find an edge. And that's what I do well'.
'But does that have to mean breaking the law ?', I asked.
'The law ?', he sneered. 'Who do you think made these laws ? They were made by people simply to ensure that they themselves retained an advantage. Your so-called laws are not there to protect anyone, they are there to protect the status quo. No, those laws mean nothing. Not anymore. And I am proud that I can flout them so easily'.
'And how do you get an advantage ?', I continued pressing.
'Information', Grace. 'Information. I pay well for information that the general public does not have access to. I get ahead of the curve, out front of the information flow. And that gives me my advantage'.
'Insider trading, then ?', I asked boldly.
'Smart trading, Grace', he replied, 'Just smart trading. And I'm so close to making the big kill, I can almost smell it'.
'The 'big kill' ?'
'Yes', I have a reliable new source who has fed me some very good information recently that I have been able to capitalize on. And this same source has given me another sure thing. I'm so confident that this will mean the big time for me, that I've literally bet the bank. I'm practically all in on it! And I won't have long to wait, as the action is due to go down next week'.
But that's as far as I got. He didn't go into any specifics, and I didn't want to arouse any suspicions by pushing it. I was none the wiser about his mystery informant, although I was a lot wiser about Alex; he was just another big-mouthed, self-righteous, arrogant hedge fund manager who thought that he was above the law and free to operate by a different set of rules than the rest of us. I was beginning to despise him. And needless to say that, as I continued to evade his amorous advances, our time together in Davos became more and more tense.
I was glad to get back at the end of the week, and determined that Alex would have to go. Having said that, Alex appeared to be less bothered as the week wore on, becoming bored when his constant attempts to seduce me were thwarted. I planned to tell Chad how I felt, and either he could tell Alex that it wasn't working out, or I would.
It was as I was approaching the apartment that I saw a figure emerge from the tree outside the building. For a moment I thought it was Alan, and my heart started to beat faster. I had missed him. But it wasn't. It was a woman in her late twenties, and she had a young child with her. Dragging the boy along after her, she headed straight for me, stopped in front of my path, and looked me up and down before slapping me hard across the face.
I was too shocked to react. I just stood there, staring at this crazed woman. 'That's for sleeping with my husband!', she screamed uncontrollably. She let go of the child's hand, and launched a new offensive against me, grabbing hold of my hair and kicking me simultaneously. I'd usually have a pepper spray easily accessible for situations like this (although I'd imagined that I'd first have to use it against a drunken or over-sexed man who'd seen me doing my thing at the club). But I didn't think that I'd need the spray in Switzerland, so I was defenseless as this woman continued to try and take lumps out of me. In the end, it was the tears from the young boy that saved me. The sound of her child crying brought this woman back to her senses, and she was distracted just long enough for me to pull away and run up the steps to the apartment building.
'I haven't finished with you', she yelled as she saw me make my escape. 'You've not heard the last of me for what you've done with Alan!'.
Alan! I stopped in my tracks and turned back towards her. 'What's this got to do with Alan ?', I shouted, already fearing the response I'd get. As I walked back down towards her, I saw that this feisty woman was crying too. I then realised that she was the real victim in all this, not me. I approached her slowly, and touched her gently on the arm. 'You've got to believe me', I said, 'I had no idea that you and Alan were still together. He told me that you split up a long time ago, that you were divorced'.
She said nothing, but nodded and looked down forlornly at her young son. 'Hey, it's cold out here', I said rather impulsively, 'Do you want to come up for a coffee or something ?'. She nodded again, and we all tramped up to the apartment for a more civilized showdown.
Lorraine wasn't a traditional beauty, and looked like she'd let herself go a little, probably since she had her son. But I was unable to recognise the picture that Alan had painted of her. She didn't seem to be the money-grabbing fatal attraction that he delighted in describing. And she seemed at her wits end. Her small hands shook as they grasped the mug of coffee. Sitting in silence for a short while, as Thomas played with one of my old teddy bears, Lorraine slowly came out of her shell.
'He's done this before', she whispered, 'He can't help himself. He's a fantasist. He's sick. I keep trying to get him to go to the doctor, but he won't have it. Every few months he goes off the rails and leads this fantasy life. It's like an escape for him, but it does the rest of us no good. I just don't know what to do', she sobbed.
'So how does he keep his job down ?', was all I could think to ask.
'His job ?', she half-laughed, 'That's a good one. I think that's the problem. Since he left Lehman, he's found it tough. The market is so bad, he just can't find anything. Things started to go downhill for us soon after Lehman went bankrupt'.
'I thought he was at JPMorgan now ?', I asked incredulously.
'I wish!', she replied, 'That's where he'd like to be, but he can't even get through the front door for an interview. They're not hiring in his area. In fact, no-one seems to be hiring in his area'.
'I'm sorry', I said rather lamely, 'I truly didn't know. I guess I just fell for Alan's story. There was really no reason for me not to believe him'.
'Don't worry', she replied, 'You're not the first. I think he's stringing along another dumb female too. I found your name and address scrawled on a scrap of paper he left in his wallet. And there's also a cell number for a girl called Alex'.
'A girl called Alex'. It all fell into place now. Lorraine was wrong about Alex's gender, but she had unknowingly confirmed to me that the two main men in my life were in cahoots.
We swapped cell numbers, and agreed to keep in touch. I wanted to try and help, as it was clear that Alan wasn't well. Lorraine hadn't seen him for several days, and I agreed to let her know when I next saw him. In the meantime, we both agreed that neither would say anything to Alan about us having met. And I said nothing to Lorraine about Alex - that would have been far too much for her to have to deal with. I went over to the apartment window and saw them walking off slowly into the distance. I smiled as I saw that Thomas was holding his mother's hand tightly, and was dragging my old teddy along with the other. I didn't mind that he had taken it. He probably needed it more than I did.
Despite being exhausted from the Davos trip, I found it difficult to sleep that night, as I tried to put all the pieces together. Alan remained married, and my relationship with him was a fraud. That had to end, but I had to do it in a delicate way that didn't make life anymore difficult for Lorraine and Thomas. I felt that I at least owed them that. Alan was also clearly Alex's informant. But quite what information Alan was feeding him was unclear. And where that information came from was another question, bearing in mind that Alan appeared to have been out of the deal action for months. But how was I to confront Alan ? And what of Alex ? He was a nasty piece of work, but looked like he was placing huge bets on unreliable information provided by Alan. I had to let him know, not because I cared about Alex's financial well-being, but because I feared what he would do to Alan and his family if he lost most of his money.
But it was too late. Alex called me later that evening. He wanted to see me again soon - to celebrate. His ship, he said, would be coming in the next day or so. He told me to watch the financial news for details of a really big deal that would soon be announced which would blow the markets away. And he had taken a huge stake in the company being acquired (and had encouraged a number of his friends to invest too), and was sitting back expecting a massive killing. But had Alex been set-up for a fall by a fantasist ?
All went quiet for over a week, and I started to think that I was making a big thing out of nothing, and that perhaps things weren't going to be as bad as I had feared. Then Chad called.
'Have you seen the news ?', he asked breathlessly'.
'The news ? What news, Chad ?', I replied
'It's Alex', he continued. 'Quick. Tune in to CNBC'.
CNBC! I knew it was serious if Chad was watching CNBC!! I put the receiver down on the dresser, and rushed over to turn on the TV. And there it was - pictures of Alex, surrounded by Feds, being escorted out of his building in handcuffs. And the commentator was all excited, talking about 'insider trading allegations' and another 'mini-Madoff'!
'What's going on ?', I asked Chad as soon as I retrieved the phone.
'Beats me', he said gloomily, realising that another meal ticket had gone west. 'But it sure looks like Alex'll be out of action for a while'.
Although I had seen the nasty side of this man, and I realised that he was up to no good, I took no pleasure in Alex's apparent demise. From the limited time I had spent with him, I knew that he was a very proud person, and, even on TV, I could see the hurt in his eyes. And I pitied him. Only a few days before, he was on top of the world (or so he thought), and now everything had fallen down around him. Fascinated, I watched the screen as he elbowed photographers out of the way, was bundled into a waiting car, and driven off at high speed to be booked for securities fraud. Alex had got his wish. He really was public property now, but not quite in the way that he had imagined.
The business press was full of it the following day. It seemed that Alex was being watched by the Feds, under suspicion of insider trading. An informant, someone who he had relied on for information, had apparently turned him in. More arrests were expected. My heart sank. Was that Alan ? Was he the informant ? And, if so, what was going to happen to him ? But there was more. It soon became apparent that Alex had only resorted to insider trading as his own investment strategy had been a disaster. And he had been hiding his losses from clients, issuing false claims and phony statements. Quite how long the fraud had been going on, no-one yet knew, but a lot of investors stood to lose a lot of money. Like many rogue financiers before him, Alex was hoping to pull-off one big investment coup and make good the losses before anyone noticed. But he was caught out, and now looked like paying a heavy price.
I had to speak to Alan. I had attempted to get him a few times after the episode with his wife, but his cell just kept going to voicemail. It wasn't that I was angry with him or anything, but I just needed closure. I wanted some kind of explanation, and I thought that I would be able to move on more easily if I could just talk things over with him. After a few days of trying, however, I gave up. I imagined that he knew the game was up with me anyway, and that the last thing he probably needed was me bending his ear. And I had no better luck getting him on this occasion either. My mind was racing as I had him on continued speed dial, and, as I just had to find out what was going on, I decided to try Lorraine, and searched around for the cell number she had given me when we met.
After several rings, Lorraine answered. She was clearly in a state, and I immediately regretted bothering her. But as soon as she realised it was me, she started to unburden herself. 'I'm at my wits end', she sobbed. 'We had a huge row when I told him that I'd met up with you, but then things started to get back to normal. We were doing OK.......'. Her voice trailed off.
'So where is he ?', I asked.
'I don't know', she replied. 'He's been away for hours. He just went off to the drugstore, and never came back'.
'How about his cell ? Have you tried it ?', I rather stupidly asked.
'It's here. He didn't bother to take it with him. That's why I'm so worried. He was only supposed to be gone for 15 minutes at most. I'm worried that he's gone off the rails again. I really thought that we'd turned a corner this time; I managed to get him back to his counselor, and he even started taking his pills again'.
'Have you called the cops ?', I interjected.
'No, not yet', she replied. 'But I'm frightened, Grace. I think that something really terrible has happened to him'.
My heart went out to this woman, and I really wanted to help, but I was reluctant to get even more involved in what was turning out to be a real drama. In the end, however, I couldn't help myself. 'Do you want me to come over ?', I asked. After a brief moment's thought, she said that she could do with the support. I wrote down her address, quickly showered and changed, and headed downtown to her place.
As the taxi cab wound its way through the busy streets, I thought how strange this was. Just a few days ago I was the subject of all Lorraine's anger, and yet now I was going to be her emotional support. I thought it was sad that she had no-one else that she could rely on.
The taxi pulled up outside a shabby apartment block, and my first thought was that the cab driver had gone to the wrong address. Trash was spewing along the sidewalk, and young children were playing in outside in the dirt.
'Are you sure that we're at the right place ?', I asked.
'Look, Miss', the cabbie replied. 'I've been doing this beat for 16 years. Believe me, this is it'. I paid the fare and walked towards the building, carefully avoiding the vomit, discarded food and general mess that seemed to be everywhere. I called the elevator. 'Doesn't work, ma'ma', an old gentleman with a walking stick called out as he was hobbling by. 'Hasn't worked in years......... We don't normally see your sort here', he added quietly as an after-thought. I headed for the stairs, and the smell of urine was at once overpowering; I had to run up to the third floor without drawing breath. I wondered why Alan and his family were living in a place like this. This didn't make sense. Although Alan was not the master of the universe he liked to make out he was, he would still have earned a fair living from Lehman; a decent salary, good bonuses over a number of years and other perks. I was dumbfounded.
As I came on to the landing and approached the door, I noticed that it was slightly ajar. On further inspection I saw that someone had used a jemmy to force it open. My heart started to beat faster. Reluctant to enter the apartment on my own, I looked around outside to see if there was anyone who could perhaps help me out, but I was alone. I pushed against the door, and slowly walked in. The lights were on, and I could hear the sound of a TV coming from somewhere out back. I could also smell home cooking. 'Lorraine!', I called as I proceeded down the narrow hallway. 'It's me, Grace'. Not a word.
The first room was the sitting room, and there was nothing unusual there. I passed the kitchen, and noticed that something was boiling away on the stove. I pushed the door to a small bedroom, where Thomas clearly slept, but the room was empty. As I approached what turned out to be the main bedroom, I noticed a bloody smudge on the door. I stopped in my tracks. I now feared the worst. My throat was dry and my hand was shaking as I slowly entered the bedroom. Although it was early afternoon by now, the curtains were still drawn and the room was in darkness. I fumbled for the light, found it, and quickly threw the switch. The room was a mess. There had clearly been a struggle; there were books strewn across the floor as an old bookcase had been overturned, and there was a broken lampshade on the bed, with a cord trailing down to the floor. My eyes immediately fixed on the cord, and, to my horror, I saw Lorraine, motionless on the carpet, with the other end of the cord wrapped tightly around her throat. I rushed over to her, pushed her over onto her back, and slowly unwound the cord from her throat. On autopilot, I then felt for a pulse, but there was none. I was too late. She was dead.
I leapt up, with my heart in my mouth. 'Thomas!', I shouted, as I ran from room to room searching for the young boy. I looked under the beds and in the cupboards, searching in all those places where I remembered hiding myself as a child. But he was nowhere to be found. In a state of panic, I headed back out of the apartment. I knew that I had to call 911, but I needed to get some air. I rushed for the door, knocking against some furniture in my haste to get out. I was feeling dizzy, and thought that I was likely to throw up at any moment. But, before I knew it, I ran straight into something. I was startled and scared at the same time. It was a man, and he was standing at the apartment entrance, barring my exit. Wiping away the tears that had welled up in my eyes, I looked up and realised, to my horror, that it was Alan. And I could straightaway see that he was out of control. He was unshaven, and his face was contorted with rage. I screamed at the top of my voice, convinced that I was to become his next murder victim.
Not even the sound of my piercing scream seemed to register with Alan, who rushed passed me and headed back into the apartment. In a state of panic, I ran out and scrambled quickly down the stairs. I must have gone at least three blocks before I felt safe enough to stop and call 911. The operator calmly took the details, and told me to head back to the apartment and wait nearby until the cops arrived.
Although I was reluctant to go back to the scene I had just left, I clearly had no choice. I was a witness of sorts, my fingerprints were all over the flat (not to mention Lorraine's body), so I had to come forward if only to clear my name. The cops were already there when I got back; three squad cars, all lights flashing. And the neighbors were out in force too. I noticed that the cops had taped off the stairwell and cordoned off Alan's apartment.
'Excuse me', I said as I approached one of the uniforms, 'I'm looking for the detective in charge'.
He simply nodded his head in the direction of a man in his mid-thirties, who was busy scribbling down notes and listening intently to one of the locals. I caught his eye, and went over. 'Are you the detective in charge ?' I asked. He smiled, and for a moment he reminded me of Alex. Alex, too, had that glint in his eye when he smiled (at least when he wanted to). 'I'm Grace Driver'.
'Oh, yes', he replied, 'You're the person who called this in. I'm John Dinallo'. He came closer and extended his hand. 'Thanks for coming back. So, can we go over it ? All of it - from start to finish'. Although he told me that I'd have to go to the station to sign a statement, Dinallo wanted to walk me through the crime scene, and tell him everything I remembered while it was still fresh in my mind. I took him through the background, too. How I knew Alan, the affair, the meeting with his wife, Alan's illness, the reason for my visit to the apartment earlier that day, my discovery of Lorraine's body, my feeble attempt to revive her, and the final sight I had of Alan. The worst bit was having to see Lorraine again. Her unblinking eyes seemed to be staring straight at me. It was so unnerving, as I looked down at her and speculated that I could quite easily have suffered her fate at Alan's hand.
It was as we were in the car on the way to the station that my cell rang. I looked down at the incoming number. My heart started to beat off the scale. 'It's him!', I shouted. 'It's Alan!!'.
Dinallo pulled over and told me to answer it. 'See if you can get him to meet you. Somewhere in a public place, preferably out in the open', he ordered. 'And we'll need at least an hour to get our men in place'.
'Alan', I exclaimed when I picked up. 'What the fuck is going on ?'.
He was crying, and I struggled to make any sense of what he was saying.
'Look, Alan', I insisted, 'The cops are all over your apartment. You can't go back home. Let's meet. I want to help'.
He grunted, and wanted to know when and where.
'Somewhere open', I said. 'You can't be too careful'. I looked over to Dinallo for some help, but he just shrugged his shoulders. He couldn't say anything for fear of giving the game away.
'How about the Children's Zoo at Central Park ?', I finally suggested, again looking over at the Detective. Dinallo gave me the thumbs up. 'Let's meet outside the Acorn Theatre in ninety minutes', I said.
'You'll need to wear a wire', Dinallo insisted as I ended the call. Strange as it may seem, this appeared to be the most normal thing in the world to do. The events of the last few weeks had been so extraordinary, but now even the most bizarre suggestions seemed fairly run-on-the-mill.
Dinallo had a technician meet us at my apartment, as I needed to change into something more substantial in order to hide the wire. And it was when I was back in the sanctity of my apartment, being fitted, that I started to freak out. I grabbed the wire and ripped it off, throwing it down on the ground. 'I can't do this!', I shouted as Dinallo looked on. 'I can't face him. I'm sorry, but I just can't. I've had it. I can't cope with any more'.
The detective grabbed my arm as I tried to walk away. 'Listen Grace', he said soothingly, 'I can't force you to do this, and if you want to back out, then that's fine. We'll catch up with him sooner or later. But you'll be safe if you go ahead. I can guarantee that. And we stand more chance taking Alan alive if we can get him when his guard is down and he least expects it'.
'You mean you might have to shoot him, or something ?', I asked incredulously.
He nodded. 'He's dangerous, Grace. We may not have a choice'. He looked me straight in the eye, knowing that this would strike a cord with me. For all that he had done, I didn't want Alan to come to any harm. He needed help; he wasn't well.
'OK', I finally blurted out, 'Let's do it your way, and I guess I'll just have to trust you'.
'Don't worry, Grace', he said, 'There will be at least six expert marksmen with rifles trained on him. And we're covering the place with undercover cops too. You'll be fine', he said squeezing my arm gently now.
Just over an hour later, Dinallo dropped me at the Lehman Gates (somewhat appropriate, I thought), and I nervously headed towards my rendezvous with Alan. The cops had also fitted me out with a miniature ear-piece, and Dinallo was making reassuring noises to me every step along the way. It was 10 minutes before the agreed time, and I was hanging around the theatre, trying to work out who among the several passers-by were actually undercover cops, when my cell rang. I glanced down at the incoming number, almost certain it would be Alan. But it wasn't. Although I didn't recognise the caller, I picked up.
'Grace, you cheating whore!', came the voice at the other end. It sounded like Alex! Dinallo was screaming into my ear, demanding to know if it was Alan. He instructed me to drop the newspaper I was carrying under my arm if it was. Clearly he was somewhere close by, watching. I shook my head vigorously, trying to make Dinallo understand that this was something else. I didn't want Alex involved in all this. He had enough problems of his own, and it was far too complicated to have to tell Dinallo about him, especially when I was confident that it wasn't really relevant.
'Sorry ?', I replied still somewhat taken aback. 'Is that you Alex ?', I asked, wondering whether it really was him, as it wasn't like Alex to shout at me in that way.
'You know damn well it's me, you bitch!', he shouted. 'I don't know how or why you are involved, but I've uncovered your involvement in setting me up. You're dead meat', he screamed.
'Alex, what are you talking about ?'. He was scaring me now, and this was the last thing I needed going into the meeting with Alan. And thank God Dinallo couldn't hear what was going on.
'I know you were in on it. I know all about you and your fucking boyfriend', Alex continued, 'And you can tell him that we've got his kid too, and unless you both get over here pronto, the kid will go the same fucking way as the wife!'.
I felt sick to my stomach. My hands started to shake, and my face flushed. 'Alex, you've got it all wrong', I declared. 'I'm not involved in anything!', I cried.
'Leave it out, Grace. You had me well and truly fooled, but I'll sort you both out for what you did to me. I'll text you a time and location, and you and your boyfriend had better be there, or you'll never see that kid, or your fucking teddy bear, again!'.
'Alex!', I shouted into my cell. But he had hung up. The teddy bear! So that was it. Alex had only been to my apartment once (I was late, and asked him to come up for a quick drink while I changed). I remember him aimlessly picking up the teddy bear and making some smart remark about it. It was all falling into place now. Alex had been the one behind Lorraine's murder, and had arranged to abduct Thomas in order to get at Alan. And Thomas must have taken the teddy with him when he was kidnapped, Alex recognised it as mine, and naturally assumed that Alan and I were in some way in cahoots, and that I was therefore responsible too for the mess he found himself in!
Now I was in a panic! I looked up, and Alan was heading towards me, totally unaware that he was being set up. He was about to be arrested for a crime I now knew he didn't commit. Worse, unless Alan and I somehow got to Alex, Thomas was done for. I glanced over trying to locate where Dinallo was hiding, but succeeded only in seeing the sun glance off the barrel of a rifle, which was pointing directly at Alan. Were the cops going to take him down ? Had I lured this troubled, but innocent man, to his death ?
There was nothing I could do; I was completely powerless. I wanted to warn him, to shout at Alan to run, but I knew that if I did so, he wouldn't stand a chance. If he made a break for it, he would be shot, and possibly even killed.
I didn't want to be responsible for his death. I just had to keep him alive; we could always explain what had happened when we got back to the station. It would all be alright, wouldn't it ? I knew that I'd have to get up as close as possible to protect him. The cops were unlikely to take him down if I was too close. I rushed over to greet him, placing my arms around him and hugging him. I held on to him as tightly as I could. He looked even worse than when I saw him just a couple of hours before. He was clearly startled by the way I ran over to him, and mumbled something I couldn't make out. He was disorientated. Confused, and in a state of high anxiety.
'I'm sorry', I whispered into his ear. Alan looked me in the eye, clearly unable to understand why I was apologizing.
In just seconds we were surrounded by undercover cops. They quickly separated us, grabbed Alan and pushed him to the ground. Strangely, he didn't protest. He hardly moved. As I looked over at this sad and desperate man laying face-down on the ground, I could only imagine what he was going through. I just had to help him.
'OK, good work', Dinallo was beaming as he emerged from his lair. 'Grace, you were excellent. If you ever need a job in law enforcement, just give me a call', he joked. 'Secure him inside my car', Dinallo told the officer who now had custody of Alan, 'We'll take him downtown to book him'. The officer pushed Alan into the back of the car, handcuffing him to something in the rear which presumably would prevent him from making a getaway.
'Detective', I interrupted, 'Please let me come with you. Maybe I can help you get some sense out of him', I implored.
Dinallo looked over at me, unsure whether to grant my request. It was obviously a breach of protocol, as I was a witness who could put Alan at the scene of the murder. 'OK', he said after a long pause. 'But you're in the front with me. Officer, you're in the back with the suspect.'.
The car pulled away with the four of us inside. My head was spinning. Although part of me believed that all this would be sorted out, I knew that I couldn't take the risk. What if the cops didn't believe us ? And Alan was hardly in the best frame of mind to fight his corner. I could just imagine the cops taking him into interrogation and quickly emerging with a signed 'confession'. And what about Thomas ? His life was in danger. We had to be there when Alex called. We had to be ready to meet with him.
Dinallo's cell rang, and he picked up, continuing to drive while he talked. And, as he held the cell to his ear, I got a glimpse at the handgun in his shoulder holster. Dinallo was off his guard now, pleased with himself that he had Alan in custody. And he was talking to someone at the precinct, detailing the chain of events that led to Alan's capture. I looked back over at Alan, and noticed that the officer by his side also seemed to have his mind on other things. Alan was neutralized now, so what possible danger could there be ?
The next few seconds seemed to happen in slow motion. Acting on total impulse, I lunged at Dinallo and reached into his shoulder-holster. In a flash, I had his pistol in my hand. As luck would have it, the safety catch was easy to recognise, and I threw it and pointed the weapon straight at the startled detective's head. 'Stop the fucking car!', I shouted. Dinallo dropped his cell, and slammed on the brakes, pushing everyone violently forward. In the meantime, the officer in the back had drawn his weapon, but the forward-movement of the squad car loosened his grip, and it fell from his hand.
Dinallo recovered quickly, and made a grab for his gun. I swung back round and faced him. 'Don't do anything stupid, Detective', I screamed, 'I know how to use this'. I was shaking from top to toe. But I didn't have time to think about the magnitude of what I was doing. I was operating on pure adrenalin. 'Tell him to take the cuffs off Alan!', I ordered, nodding my head in the direction of the officer in the back, 'And tell him not to try anything clever, or I'll blow your fucking brains out!', I screamed. I knew that if the detective called my bluff, I was done for. There was no way that I could have pulled that trigger. And Dinallo was clearly mulling over the odds in his mind, trying to work out whether I had it in me to go through with my threat. In the end, he backed-off and, after a brief hesitation, turned to the officer and nodded his agreement for Alan to be uncuffed.
As soon as Dinallo and the officer got out, I slid across into the driver's seat and pushed the accelerator to the floor as hard as I could. Off we roared. I looked in the rearview mirror, and saw the two cops standing helplessly in the middle of the road. I looked over at Alan. He was just sitting there, still in a daze. My mind was racing overtime. I was now on the run from the law, having threatened to kill a detective. In the back of the car was a man wanted for murder. I had no idea where I was headed, and no plan for what to do next. I knew, however, that we'd have to ditch the squad car. And quickly. Its location would obviously be tracked by the cops.
I was busy scouring the street for another vehicle, when I spied a young man in a pick-up waiting outside a deli. And, as luck would have it, his engine was idling. I could see him freeze when the squad car pulled up behind him, wondering just what kind of trouble he was in. 'Out the car!', I shouted as I jumped out of the police vehicle, pointing the gun at his head. 'Now!', I shouted as he hesitated, not knowing what to make of the situation and now in fear for his life. Alan had by now regained some of his equilibrium. He ran round to the passenger door and jumped inside. As soon as the startled driver got out, I jumped into the driver's seat, and we continued our getaway in yet another hijacked vehicle. After a few minutes, Alan looked over and smiled. 'I'm not entirely sure what's going on', he said, 'But I guess I should thank you for what you've done'. Now wasn't the time for explanations though, so I simply returned his smile and focused on the road ahead. But it was good to see that he could still smile.
Thankfully I had the presence of mind to stop off at an ATM and take out as much cash as I could from all the cards I had in my possession. And I got Alan to do the same. Then we had to get as far away as possible, as the cops would be monitoring our bank transactions and would doubtless soon be following our trail.
We kept on the move, but I decided it would be sensible to remain close to New York City, as Alex would probably want to meet us somewhere nearby. In the end, we ditched the pick-up and took a Greyhound to Newark, registering at the County Motel.
Although Alan and I were both exhausted due to the full-on events of the day, we knew that neither of us would be able to sleep straightaway. So, after we showered and ordered in a pizza, we began to unwind. Then, over the course of the next two hours, we brought each other up to speed on what had happened. First, I laid it all out for him; the way I came to meet Alex; how he boasted that he had bet the ranch after receiving sound insider tips; the visit from Lorraine and Thomas; my telephone call to Lorraine after discovering that Alex had been charged with securities fraud; my trip to Alan's apartment and discovery of Lorraine's body; my suspicion that Alan was the murderer; the agreement to help the cops bring him in; the last minute phone-call from Alex admitting that he had Thomas and that he was responsible for Lorraine's death; and the teddy bear, which appeared to tie me to what Alex was convinced was the plot that brought him down.
Alan mostly listened, throwing in the odd question. Then it was his turn, and slowly he started to come out of his shell.
'I was always a bit of a journeyman, Grace', he admitted. It was the first time that he gave me the impression that he was anything less than perfect. 'I had average grades through college, and I only got to work at Lehman because they acquired the mortgage firm I was working for. I fell into M&A, mainly doing the grunt work. Although I joined a deal team, I was never an originator of business; I just didn't have the contacts. I met Alex last spring at a hedge fund poker tournament in Chicago. I fancied myself as a bit of a player, but Alex took me to the cleaners that night. In truth, I was close to busted; I never was any good with money. It always seems to just fall through my hands'. As he was speaking, I remembered my surprise when the taxi pulled up outside his apartment earlier that day; it certainly wasn't the kind of place I expected an investment banker to live in with his family. Now things were beginning to fall into place.
'It was only afterwards, at the bar, that Alex and I got talking, and he started to push me into giving him information about pending M&A deals. But I didn't tell him anything, at least not at that stage', Alan continued. 'But things then went from bad to worse for me. The deals dried up at work, and I was spending more and more of my time just looking out the window at work. And Lehman was making the news for all the wrong reasons. We were all worried about our livelihoods. Anyway, I went into a deep depression, and did what I usually did when the pressure was on - retreated into a kind of fantasy world. I starting mixing with the wrong crowd, people who really did have money. I struggled to keep up with them and, before I knew what I'd done - spending money that I never had - we were almost bankrupt. We had to sell our apartment. Lorraine went spare; I thought she was going to leave me and take Thomas, but we found a place to rent and things settled down. And then, just as I managed to stave off bankruptcy, fucking Lehman went belly up, and I lost my job. How ironic is that ?', he laughed.
'I couldn't find another job. I looked for weeks', He continued. 'But I didn't get one interview. Nobody was hiring then. And it was soon after that that Alex called me out of the blue. He assumed that I'd been taken on by Barclays after they took Lehman's US businesses, and it was fairly easy for me to lead him on. He wanted information, and I needed money. You work it out, Grace. Anyway, that's how it all started'.
'But how come that last deal went bad, Alan ?', I asked.
'Simple', he replied. 'Because the information I fed him was mostly made up, or at least based on conjecture!'.
'Made up!', I repeated incredulously.
'Listen, when you work in M&A at a firm like Lehman, there's always lots of ideas for clients being thrown around. I knew that most of these were long-shots, and I was never really in the loop on any big deal anyway. Even more so after I lost my job. But I just pieced a few things together and made some logical assumptions'.
'But how were you able to gain his trust ? Alex must have believed in you to stake everything on that last deal', I asked.
'I just got lucky, Grace. There were a couple of things that were tentative deals that I knew some of guys were working on when I was at Lehman. I didn't really have a clue if they would progress, but I was in such a hole that I just feed Alex the information as if it was fact. He went for it, and made a small amount of money on each deal as they were announced. No one was more surprised than me that these deals went through! It was then that he started pestering me for more. I had no idea that he was in any kind of financial difficulty, but he clearly persuaded himself that I was the solution to all his problems. His calls became more frequent and, in hindsight, more desperate'.
'So, what was the last 'deal' ? What happened ?', I asked, becoming more and more intrigued as his story unfolded.
There was a brief pause. 'Well', he laughed, 'You're not going to believe it, but I told him that Satyam Computers was going to be bought out by one of the big boys! How wrong was I ? I couldn't have picked a worse company'.
Satyam had been the main topic of conversation in the financial community over the last few days, and was being described as 'India's Enron'. The company's founder and Chairman, Ramalinga Raju, was on the run, after writing a letter to his board confessing that he had overstated revenues and profits for years. The stock nosed dived 90% overnight. No wonder Alex was pissed!
'Why Satyam ?'
'Oh, I remembered a few guys talking about the company as a possible target, that's all. Nothing concrete. And I read something about it in The Times, I think. I was just clutching at straws, the same as Alex really. When I woke up to the news that the stock had plummeted, I literally threw up. And Alex kept calling and calling. He wouldn't leave me alone. In the end, I just couldn't handle it. I left the apartment to go get some air and just walked around, in a daze. It was a few hours later that I plucked up the courage to pick up one of his calls, and Alex told me that he had Thomas. I rushed back to the apartment, but it was too late. I still don't remember you being there. I was in shock. I couldn't believe that he had done it. And seeing Lorraine there...............'. His voice trailed off as he started to relive the terrible scene he had witnessed just a few hours before. The tears welled up in his eyes, and he started to shake. 'We have to save him', he sobbed. 'We've got to get Thomas back! He's the only thing that I've got left now'.
But the ball was in Alex's court. We were now playing a waiting game. He was in control. We just had to stay one step ahead of the law and await Alex's call. And Alex was still in custody.
'And were you the mole who shopped him ?', I asked.
'No', he said, shaking his head and regaining his composure, 'He thinks it was me, but it wasn't. It could have been anybody, though. I later found out that Alex was known all over the Street for paying for information. Word is that he had someone on the inside at most of the big firms'.
I'd just turned off the light, and was looking over at Alan, who had already fallen asleep on the couch. And no wonder - it had been one Hell of a day, especially for him. But one thing was still troubling me; I couldn't understand how Alex had managed to put that call into me earlier in the day. It didn't make any sense. He was in police custody. But, before I could reflect anymore on it, I was distracted by a noise outside. I rushed to the window and slowly pulled back the curtain. It was Dinallo. The cops had found us already! I bet we'd been fingered by the pizza delivery boy. I knew we were making a big mistake when we ordered in. Now what were we to do ? The place was probably surrounded'.