DAVID LENDER

The Gravy Train

 

The Gravy Train


A Thriller


by


David Lender

Copyright 2011 © by David T. Lender


   One

Finn Keane and Kathy Fargo sat next to each other in the back of Room 12 in the McColl Building at the University of North Carolina’s Keenan-Flagar Business School. Four rows separated them from the rest of the group in the Investment Banking Club meeting. At least 25 group members attended; this evening featured Jonathan Moore, the club’s president, crowing about his recruitment process and offer to become an Associate in Goldman Sachs’s Mergers & Acquisitions Group.

Finn leaned toward Kathy and said, “If I listen to any more of this crap I’m gonna puke. Come on, let’s go get a coffee or something.”

She smiled at him, nodded and they got up and left. A few heads turned as they clunked through the theater-style seats to the aisle, up the steps and out the door. Finn could feel eyes burning into his back. He was sure everybody in the club knew that Kathy and he were the only two who hadn’t received investment banking offers yet.

Finn held the front door to the McColl Building for Kathy as they went outside. She wasn’t a girl many guys held doors for, not much of a looker, so he knew Kathy liked it and always made sure to do it. When she’d told him she couldn’t afford to fly home to Chicago for Thanksgiving, he’d brought her home to Cedar Fork. Afterward Uncle Bob said, “Wow, she’s a big-boned one, huh?” Even before he brought her home, he could tell Kathy wanted something more between them. And a couple of times out drinking with classmates she made it clear to Finn it was there for him if he wanted it. He was always glad when he woke up sober the next day that he didn’t do it; he’d always have felt like he was taking advantage of her. He could tell she’d now settled into the knowledge it wasn’t gonna happen.

Kathy smiled and mouthed, “Thank you,” as they went outside.

“Moore was a pain in the ass before he got the offer, but now he struts around like a goddamn rooster,” Finn said.

“Yeah, but you have to admit, he landed the big one.”

Finn just nodded.

Kathy said, “I assume no change at your end or you’d have told me something.”

“No.”

“We’re running out of time.”

“I know. I’m taking the TD Bank thing if nothing else comes through. At least that’ll get me to New York.”

Kathy didn’t reply. He knew what she was thinking. She’d said it before: she’d worked in New York for three years before business school and told him New York wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

“How about you?” he said.

“I guess I’ll take that internet startup my friend offered me.”

Finn nodded. She’d told him about it, but he couldn’t remember the details. Only five or six employees, he thought.

“You did computer programming before B-school, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, but they want me to be CFO. They’re all a bunch of undergrad computer science jocks. Don’t know anything about finance.”

“Sounds like it could be fun,” Finn said, knowing he didn’t sound convincing as the words came out. Nothing like that for him. If nothing in investment banking came through, he’d get to New York, then see if he could leverage the TD Bank commercial banking training program into a job on Wall Street, even if it took him a few years. That’s where he’d make it big. He looked at Kathy. “I forget. What’s the company’s name?”

“Facebook.”

Two

“I want bodies,” Simon Buchannan said. “Give me at least thirty. Maybe forty.” He stood up and looked at his four department heads across his desk, then strode out from behind it with long Senior Managing Director strides of his six-foot-six-inch frame. Buchannan took his time crossing the oversized office, wanting to seem he was looming out at his subordinates from between the skyscrapers up Park Avenue, like some avenging angel. He sat down in the semicircle where his department heads reclined in soft chairs and a sofa around Buchannan’s coffee table.

“We’ve already hired two hundred Associates for this year’s incoming class,” the head of the Mergers & Acquisitions Group said.

“Then hire two hundred thirty or two hundred forty,” Buchannan shot back. Buchannan’s eyes accused him of incompetence.

“It’s April, Simon,” the Head of Corporate Finance said.

“Fellas, what is this?” Buchannan said and stood up. He summoned his best impatient sigh. “The markets are booming. IPOs. Converts. High Yield. Rates are low. The economy’s chugging along and corporate earnings are still going up, up, up. The entire Street’s firing on all cylinders. We need to bang this cycle until it drops.” He started pacing. “Bang it. Bang it hard. And BofA Merrill Lynch is still number one. You saw the first quarter underwriting statistics. I wanna beat these guys in equity offerings this year, give us a couple more years to catch them in debt underwritings, and in another year or two we’ll take on Goldman Sachs for number one in the M&A rankings.” He stopped and looked at his department heads, disappointed they didn’t seem to be summoning some urge to go out and win one for the Gipper. Maybe they were all immune to him by now because he intentionally acted so crazy and made himself so scary looking half the time. But Buchannan meant it. He wanted to win.

“Simon, it’s April,” his head of Corporate Finance, John “Stinky” Bates, reminded him again.

“So it’s fucking April.”

“Yes, it’s fucking April and all the top kids from all the top business schools are gone. We’ve milked Harvard, Stanford, Kellogg, Wharton, Chicago, all of them dry.”

“So get me lateral hires from other firms. Dip down to the second tier business schools, hell, go to the third tier if you have to, just get me the bodies. Or it’s my ass.” Buchannan thought of the new house his wife had been harping about, prayed to the unknown for a $15 million bonus again, then thought of what his mistress wanted and looked back at his department heads in renewed earnest. “I didn’t get to be head of Investment Banking by screwing up, and if I start firing blanks, I’m gonna be out on my ear.” Buchannan gave Bates a look that told Bates he was lazy, stupid and paunchy. “Got that, Stinky?”

Bates nodded that he did. Probably even the look. The four department heads got up to leave after Buchannan signaled the meeting was over by striding back behind his desk and punching the phone keys, holding the receiver to his ear.

He saw Bates hovering in the doorway as the other three department heads left. Rolling their eyes. Yeah, they were tired of Buchannan’s antics. Hell, they were just tired. Business was so good they were run ragged. They knew better than anyone they needed the help. Buchannan was preaching to the converted. Buchannan saw Bates turn back to face him.

Buchannan finished his call and hung up. “Something I can do for you?” Buchannan said. He hoped Bates heard the word “Stinky” in his tone even though he didn’t use it again.

“I need a minute.”

“You seem to be taking it. What can I do for you?”

“It’s about Shane.” Bates shifted his weight onto his other foot. His big gut sloshed to the side. Buchannan looked at it with disdain. “All of the department heads are cooperating—M&A, High Yield, Corporate Finance—”

“I know what our departments are, John.”

“Yeah,” Bates said, shifting his weight back to his other foot. “Well, everybody’s working together just fine, even across the sector specialties,” he paused. “Everybody except Shane. He’s still a lone wolf just like he’s always been since he joined us.”

Buchannan stared at Bates, impatient. “You think I give a shit? Shane is Shane. He’s the only other Senior Managing Director around here but me for a reason. Because he’s a money-maker. He’s got big clients, he’s the best new business guy I’ve ever seen and he’s one of the crispest execution guys we’ve got. My attitude with Shane is to stay out of his way and let him do what he does best. Just keep feeding him bodies to help him process his deals, give him his slice of the fees and then count the money.”

“But it’s not setting a good example, it’s not good for the rest of the teams to see they can still elbow each other out of the way.”

“Let me ask you something, John. How long you been head of Corporate Finance?”

“About four years.”

“Well, it seems to me you should be more worried about how much longer you can stay that way than worrying about Shane. Because four years is an eternity by Wall Street standards,” and in the same instant Buchannan thought of his own six-year tenure as head of Investment Banking, “so if I were you I’d spend more time worrying about your own ass than Shane’s.” Buchannan punctuated the sentence with a glare that sent Bates out the door.


#


Jack Shane descended in the elevator to the 45th floor of 280 Park Avenue. Since he’d boarded the elevator on the Penthouse, 46th floor, his eyes had been tracking his path, assuming the role of his client’s first impression. His office was up there with the other senior luminaries—Simon Buchannan, the two Vice Chairmen and the CEO of Abercrombie, Wirth & Co., or “ABC” as the investment banking firm was known on Wall Street. He took in the polished mahogany and brass of the elevator doors—one of four elevators that were dedicated to the firm’s seven top floors of the building—then watched them slide open into the 45th-floor lobby. The lobby was a faux-finish limestone block, a knockoff of the real limestone in the firm’s former downtown offices. The detailed observer could tell it wasn’t real, but the ambiance was unmistakable. Particularly when you turned to walk into the spacious reception area. Period furniture, a mixture of tasteful reproductions and genuine antiques. Persian rugs and a drop-dead gorgeous receptionist. Today she was Little Miss Something-Or-Other, a 25-year-old voluptuous brunette with a pouting mouth and soulful eyes, sitting behind a tiger maple veneer Beidermeier four-legged desk, open at the bottom to show off her legs.

Shane nodded, not so much to acknowledge her but in deference to her beauty, and Miss Something-Or-Other responded with a brilliant smile. Shane took a left down the corridor toward the conference rooms, his feet hushed on the Persian runner that ran the entire length of the building toward Park Avenue. He continued to absorb it all through the eyes of Stanley Waldwrick, the CEO of Kristos & Company. Stanley was a small-minded Boston WASP and the son-in-law of the founder of the company. After six months of Shane’s nursing, cajoling and ministering to Stanley’s ego, Shane had figured out what Stanley really wanted to do was show his father-in-law he could catapult the northeastern regional department store chain into a nationwide business with a major acquisition. This would be Stanley’s first visit to ABC’s offices in New York and Shane wanted it to go just right. He wanted the right amount of mood, panache and bare-knuckles Wall Street pressure.

This’ll do, Shane thought. The marble floor of the lobby, Miss So-And-So behind the desk, the swish of feet on the plush carpets, the elements had been perfectly designed to impress with an Old World elegance. In his four years at ABC, Shane had always believed it was a good platform for him, the seventh firm he had been with in twenty-four years on the Street. I just might stay, he had once remarked to himself.

Shane picked up the pace. He wanted to get to the conference room early. In time to have a minute with Stinky Bates, the head of Corporate Finance, and Charles Fitzgibbons, the head of the Mergers & Acquisitions Group. At 50 years old, Shane was still slim and athletic, and wore his clothes with the air of a man who had them custom made for him, because he did. He was tall, six feet four inches, and loved the look of himself reflected in the glass of the conference rooms. Gucci loafers. Sharp creases, and although you couldn’t see them beneath his midnight- blue suit jacket, suspenders that matched his tie. All carried off with a practiced, devil-may-care attitude. His dark-brown hair was slicked back. His eyes were bloodshot, as they always were, like he’d stayed up too late the night before or had done too much cocaine. He smelled faintly of soap. No cologne.

He reached the door of the conference room, at the northwest corner of the building facing north on Park Avenue. Bates and Fitzgibbons were already there. He’d made sure that Buchannan made sure that they would be. “Morning,” he said without emotion. Fitzgibbons, the head of M&A, was on the phone and didn’t look up. Bates turned and nodded to Shane. Shane closed the door behind him and stood in the doorway, again seeing the room through his client’s eyes. The bright light of the day and the grandeur of Park Avenue skyscrapers gleamed in through the windows. The room was a continuation of the seductive opulence of the rest of the place. The polished antique conference table and Chippendale chairs reeked of money. Old World, New World, definitely not nouveau riche money. But better-than-you, some-son-in-law from-Boston, money.

Shane strode across the room and stood in front of Fitzgibbons. He waved at him until Fitzgibbons put his hand over the receiver.

“Yeah?”

“I’d like a minute with the two of you before Stanley gets here.” Fitzgibbons nodded and then turned his back to Shane to finish his conversation. Shane crossed the room again to the console that was bedecked with danish, bagels, and fruits, and poured himself a cup of coffee.

“How’s it going, Stinky?” Shane said with his back to Bates. Shane chuckled under his breath, guessing how Bates was reacting to the hated nickname. Fitzgibbons hung up the phone.

“Morning, Jack,” Fitzgibbons said. He leaned on one leg, pulling his jacket open with one hand and thrusting it into his pocket, posing like a window display in Paul Stuart. “I’m all yours,” he said. “How long you figure this will take?” He looked at his watch, then up at Shane again.

“Half hour for you guys, then I’ll stay with him from there.” He looked at each of them in turn. “Thanks for coming,” he added, half under his breath as if it hurt him to say it. “I’ll make this brief.” Shane sat down at the far end of the table. Fitzgibbons took a seat at the exact opposite end when he saw Shane do so.

“Stanley is the CEO of Kristos & Company, a chain of 160 regional stores in the northeast. Middle-end department stores, started in the 1950s by his father-in-law, Nikolas Christanapoulas. The old man built it up to its present size, then passed the reins about a year ago to the son-in-law, because he had turned 70, wanted to retire and didn’t have any male heirs.” He looked at Bates, who still stood awkwardly leaning on one leg, and then at Fitzgibbons. He saw they understood. He took a long sip of his black coffee. “So Stanley decides he wants to make a big splash, and as you know, Charles, we’ve got him teed up to buy Milstein Brothers Stores, the 50 store nationwide high-end department store chain. It’s about a $3 billion deal, worth roughly three times as much as Kristos & Company is worth.” About $15 million in fees for that piece, Shane thought, not permitting himself to do the exact calculation in deference to his superstition. “We do a $550 million IPO for Kristos & Company, which I presume you know all about, John,” he said toward Bates rather than to him, refusing to meet eyes with him, “and then a $1.5 billion high yield deal. The use of proceeds for the financings is to acquire Milstein Brothers, except for $50 million father-in-law’s taking off the table by selling some of his shares in the IPO.”

Shane looked at the other two, who nodded that they understood.

“You being taken care of with staffing on the M&A side?” Fitzgibbons said.

“I could use another pair of hands, you know that.”

“We’re a little tight right now, like we’ve been telling you. But we’re going to get a pack of new Associates in here pretty soon. Hang in there for a while, we’ll get you covered in a month or so,” Fitzgibbons said. Bates shifted his weight again.

“Okay, so that’s the story, which I presume both of you guys have read in the briefing books,” Shane said. He resisted the urge to scowl. He knew damn well these guys hadn’t read any of the materials he’d had prepared for either the M&A deal or the IPO. They probably skimmed a one-or two-page note prepared by some poor slob Associate or Vice President on their staffs. But that was it today in investment banking. Senior guys didn’t really know what was going on. They just popped into meetings to wave the flag to impress clients that the head of this or that gave a damn about their deal. Guys like Shane were a dying breed, bankers who did soup-to-nuts for their clients: conceived the deals, actually gave advice on strategy, and did the execution themselves. None of this specialist bullshit where a guy stepped in and did his two little pieces and then left. Well, they’d get him through this phase, because Stanley really wanted to see the head of M&A and the head of Corporate Finance to know the “experts” were paying attention to his deals.

“So we jawbone the guy for half an hour or so, and then you guys are free to go. Any questions?” They both shook their heads. Shane nodded and turned to pour himself another cup of coffee, then looked at his watch. Ten minutes, he thought. Fitzgibbons stood up and went back to the telephone.


#


“Stanley!” Shane said in his practiced, melodious baritone when an attractive blonde showed Stanley into the conference room. The blonde lowered her eyes demurely and pulled the door closed behind Stanley.

“Jack, always great to see you,” Stanley said in a Northeastern-boarding-school voice, while pumping on Shane’s hand. Stanley was tall, blond and thin. He parted his hair in the middle and wore a correspondingly WASPy three-button suit. Shane smiled and extended an arm toward the center of the room. He made sure his brown eyes swam with goodwill.

“Thanks, Stanley, and you, too. And let me introduce my colleagues, John Bates, Managing Director and Head of all ABC’s Corporate Finance activities, and John Fitzgibbons, Managing Director and Head of ABC’s Mergers & Acquisitions Group.” Shane threw a look of collegial affection at each of his colleagues as he introduced them. They walked across the room to shake hands with Stanley, Bates with his jacket buttoned and Fitzgibbons with one hand still in his pocket, bright blue suspenders showing against an English striped shirt of yellow and blue, and a matching blue Gucci tie with the label splayed outward.

Coffee and breakfast was offered. Additional pleasantries were exchanged. They sat down around one end of the table with Stanley at the head and got down to business.

“Stanley, as I told you, I thought you might like to hear from the Department heads who would oversee your transactions, and whose teams would report in to me.” Shane gave Stanley another of his client smiles, then nodded to each of his colleagues. “Our objective for today is to give you the comfort that we can bring the resources to bear on your proposed deals, give you a sense of the commitment of the firm to Kristos & Company, and of course to you personally Stanley, and then we can handle some of the details on our engagement structure later, perhaps after lunch. We’ve got a dining room booked across the floor at 12:30. I’ll be introducing you to Steven Dick, the Chairman of our firm at that time. But for now, I thought it might make sense to let you hear from John and Charles, here, about what we see for the respective deals. Sound okay?” Shane said and opened his palms toward Stanley.

“Absolutely,” Stanley said and rested his folded hands on the table.

“Maybe I should speak first, since the M&A transaction on Milstein Brothers Stores is the crux of the whole thing,” Fitzgibbons said. “As you know directly from your own meetings with the Milstein brothers, they are favorably disposed and we’re drafting the definitive purchase agreement right now. Through Jack’s good offices we know you’re being well taken care of, but you should also know that one of our other colleagues has the direct relationship with the Milstein brothers and he also says they’re delighted with the prospective transaction. Everything seems poised for a deal thanks to Jack, and I’ve got some of my best guys working with Jack and your attorneys at Winston & Sterling.”

Shane’s mind drifted off as Fitzgibbons went through his shtick. IPO and high-yield financing and M&A fees. Then there was the bank financing of about $1 billion. All-in about $90 million in fees, Shane thought. And after these guys get done salami-ing off whatever they can get their hands on, it should still about make my year. Let’s hope the markets hold up. He looked at Stanley. Shane noted the pinkish glow under his skin, a glow of vulnerability. And let’s hope you don’t get hit by a truck, dear Stanley. And that old man Nick decides not to step back in and change the game plan.

After Fitzgibbons was through, Bates did his part. Shane was actually impressed. Bates carried it off with style, relating the history of the growth of the 1,000-strong Investment Banking Group of Abercrombie, Wirth & Co., describing its downtown roots from a 50-person boutique firm specializing in corporate advisory to its current stature as the last privately owned of the elite Wall Street firms that dominated the underwriting, mergers and acquisitions, and capital markets businesses. “We’re considered the guys to watch, because we’re the ones with the momentum. And we’re having fun,” Bates said, smiling with sincerity, conveying a warmth that again surprised Shane. “We like our business, we enjoy our clients, and we’d be happy to count you among them.”

Afterward Shane walked Stanley back along the same route through which he had entered, then downstairs to the 42nd-floor trading room. The trading floor took up the entire 100,000-square-foot floor and was three stories high, extending up to the 45th floor. The effect was intoxicating, as always. Hundreds of shouting, gesturing, and athletic young bodies, barking into telephones, hollering at each other, all banked in row upon row of high-tech Bloomberg and analytical trading screens stacked two and three high, blinking in multihued colors. The noise, the phones, the energy, all rose in a multitudinous dim that said, “This is where it happens. This is where it is. The money.” Stanley seemed awestruck.

Over lunch he spilled his wine, which delighted Shane. Great, keep him off balance. Shane zeroed in on Stanley after that. By 2:00 p.m. he was in front of the building with Stanley to deposit him in a limo.

“Great day,” Stanley said, pumping Shane’s hand again. “We’ll have to do that golf game before the deal’s done.”

“Absolutely,” Shane said and closed the limo door. Golf, he thought as he headed back into the building, now there’s a dumbass game. Thousands of hours of practice to sit in a goofy little cart with a numbskull twit like Stanley for five hours. He’d rather get his fingers smashed in a car door. If Stanley’d said tennis, maybe. At least that was a man’s game. There you worked up a sweat, got a chance to pound out some aggressions, even smash the shit out of the ball down the other guy’s throat. Golf, my ass.

Five minutes later Shane sat with his feet up on his desk, an executed original of his engagement letter propped in his lap. “All right, Stanley, away we go,” he said aloud.

Copyright 2011 © by David T. Lender

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