Back by popular demand - we're re-running this old chestnut over the next few days.
'I'd like you to meet Peter', my boss said as he introduced me to the man standing by his side. 'He's going to be working with us for a bit - on your desk'.
Working on my desk ? Had I heard right ? This Peter character was at least 60 years old, and looked well out of place on our trading floor. I didn't really know what to say, so I just nodded in acknowledgement and looked back at my screen.
'Can you get someone to show Peter around, Dave ? And then pop into my office'.
I arranged for one of the grunts to give Peter his guided tour, and I headed straight for Nigel's office.
'What the fuck is all this about ?', I shouted as soon as I entered. 'Are you having a laugh ?'
'Relax, Dave', came the reply. 'It won't be for long. And Peter's a good trader. At least he was - in his day'.
'And when exactly was 'his day', Nigel. Around the time England last won the fucking World Cup ?'
'Ok, so it was a while back. But this guy really knew the ropes back then. He was a fucking genius'.
I remained dubious.
'Come on, Nigel. What's really going on ?', I asked. 'This guy is right out of the fucking Ark. And has he ever traded electronically ?'.
'Of course he has. Don't be stupid, Dave'.
'Well exactly when did he last trade for a living, then ?' I not unreasonably asked.
Nigel was silent. He finally looked over at me and smiled, 'About 12 years ago'.
'12 fucking years ago!', I screamed. 'I don't think the rest of the desk have 12 years trading experience between them, and you're telling me that this bloke has been sitting at home with his pipe and slippers for over a fucking decade! No, Nigel. I'm sorry. You'll have to find someone else to babysit him. I'm far too busy for all this crap'.
'There is no-one else, Dave. That's the problem. Look, I owe this guy. He gave me my start in the markets. He stood by me a couple of times when I screwed up. I wouldn't have this job if it weren't for him, so I owe him. And you owe me', he reminded me with a wink of his eye. 'Look, Dave', he continued. 'Peter's going through a bad time. He's gone through a lot of his money, and his wife recently died. I just want to give him a break, and the chance to make some money back. Is that asking too much ?'.
Although I was unconvinced, there was nothing to do but accept the inevitable. Nigel was my boss, and my friend too. And he was right, I did owe him. So I just shrugged my shoulders and went back to the my desk.
'And keep his limits tight,' Nigel shouted after me. 'At least initially'.
'Is he even registered ?' I called back.
'Registered blind', I heard one of my traders say under his breath, clearly referring to Peter's thick 'coke-bottle' glasses.
I sat back and looked over at Peter (apparently he refused to respond to 'Pete'). I knew that he was going to be a problem. He was he at least 30 years older than anyone else on the desk (including me), and he dressed differently too. The rest of us all wore casual clothes, but Peter came to the office in a pin-stripe, braces, colourful shirt and a buttonhole! Very quickly he was given a nickname - 'Noah' (from out of the Ark).
I just hoped that Nigel knew what he was doing, and that Peter wasn't as clueless as he looked.
'Look at Noah', Andy, the youngest member of my team said that morning. 'He's comatose'.
Peter had spent his first few days on 'orientation' - something Human Resources made-up a few years back to try and justify their existence. And this included some simulated trading which, I must admit, is usually essential. Although the new recruits who go through our simulated trading programmes usually do a 12 week course, Nigel wanted Peter to rush through it at high-speed. 'It'll only bore him', he told me.
As I looked over at him, I saw what Andy meant. Peter was just sitting there, seemingly in a daze watching the data dance across his screen.
'The silly old fucker's been like that since he first came in this morning. He's just sitting there staring at the fucking screen', Andy laughed loudly. 'What a fucking joke!'.
Peter must have heard Andy's outburst (not that he made much of an effort to keep it quiet), as he quickly came out of his trance-like state and headed to the gents toilet. I wasn't sure what to do. I instinctively wanted to go after him, to see if he was OK. But I also didn't want to embarrass him. I knew that this whole experience would be difficult for him too. I was sure that the last place he really wanted to be was on a highly sophisticated trading floor, surrounded by a bunch of less-than sophisticated kids who clearly regarded him as a dinosaur.
In the end, after giving Andy the sign to 'zip it', I followed Peter into the toilet. As I entered, I saw that he had taken off his glasses and his tie, unbuttoned the top of his shirt, and started to slosh water on his face. And he was shaking.
'Everything OK ?', I asked as nonchalantly as possible.
'Does it look like it, Dave ?', came the reply. 'I don't know what made me think I could hack it after all these years. I must be mad. This is a disaster. Everything is so different now. I just don't have it in me anymore. I was hoping that it would all fall back into place, but it hasn't. Trading is a different game now, a different animal'.
'Come on, Peter', I replied. 'You've got to give yourself a chance'.
'That's just it. I've had my chance. And I blew it. My time was in the 80s, and I made a lot of money. I was set up for life, but I wasted it. It's no good me thinking that I can reclaim former glories. The markets have moved on. Your kids are right. I am a fucking dinosaur'.
'Don't worry about them', I insisted. 'There a good crew really. They'll come 'round'.
'No, Dave. Those kids have got my number. I can't even bring myself to execute a fucking trade. I so scared of losing money, and letting Nigel down'.
'But you'll be letting Nigel down if you don't start trading', I pointed out. 'He's taken a lot of stick for you. You owe it to him to give it your best shot. And, anyway, he's clearly got a lot of faith in you'.
'But it's misguided faith, Dave. Don't you see ? Nigel and I have made the classic mistake of looking back into the past and romanticising. Times were never as good as we remember them, and we weren't as great as we think we were. Growing old does that to you, Dave. It plays tricks with your memory. Nigel seems to think that I'm a great conqueror back to reclaim his kingdom. The pressure on me to perform is immense'.
'Come on, Peter', I said as I grabbed hold of him. 'Let's go for a coffee. And leave your fucking tie off, will you!'.
'There's just so much information', Peter said as we sat down in the corner of the local Starbucks with our lattes. 'It's wasn't like that in my day. All this stuff just confuses you. All these analyst reports, opinions, charts, newsfeeds, blogs. It's a wonder anyone gets the time to do any fucking trading. It's just not healthy'.
'You'll learn to block that out', I reassured him. 'You just need a few good trades under your belt to get your confidence back. I'm sure it's no different than the old days really. You just have to make your trade and stay unemotional about it. And don't worry too much about what everyone else thinks. Do your own research and come to your own conclusions. I'm sure you'll be fine'.
'Fuck the coffee', Peter said as he stood up. 'It's almost lunchtime. Let's go and have a drink'.
A drink at lunchtime was not something that I'd ever done, because I always felt that I needed to be on top of my game. But I felt that I had started to bond with Peter, and that it was important to let him know that I was there for him.
We returned to the office over three hours later, both stinking of drink and worst the wear. And Nigel wasn't best pleased.
'You can't encourage him to drink', Nigel said to me sternly the following morning'.
'He didn't need much encouragement', I joked in reply.
'This is serious, Dave', Nigel continued. 'Peter's an alcoholic. That's the main cause of all his problems. You've got to keep him off the drink'.
'Well how the fuck was I too know he had a fucking drink problem ? Is there anything else I need to know about this man, Nigel ?', I shouted. 'I'm doing the best I can to try and make this work, but you're not doing anyone any favours by hiding stuff from me!'.
'No, No. You're right', he replied. 'I should have told you. There's nothing else though. But for God's sake, please just keep him away from any booze'.
Peter rocked up a little later than me that morning (and without his trademark tie), but that wasn't unusual. I'm an early-bird by nature and am always among the first to arrive. He seemed in good humour, though, and gave me the thumbs up sign as he sat down at his desk. Then he started to trade.
And as he did so, the trading floor erupted. Almost all the traders stood on their feet, clapping their hands in mock applause. They cheered and whistled, and pelted him with screwed up pieces of paper. This was their way of letting him know that they had been watching him. I looked over at him, anxious to see how he would respond to this onslaught. I knew that this was a key moment, as the mockery could easily further dent his confidence. But I needn't have worried, as Peter simply stood up from his chair, bowed, and then gave the floor his middle finger. The floor erupted again, but this time in appreciation of his response. I could hardly believe it, but it looked like Peter might be beginning to win them over.
Peter sat back down, and continued trading. At the end of the day, he closed out his positions and had made a profit of almost 50,000 pounds - not a lot by the standards of the desk, but an encouraging enough start.
If Peter was going to have any trouble with anyone on my desk, it was always going to be Tim. Tim was as brash a trader as they come. He was supremely confident in his owns ability to make money (in fact, sometimes too confident). He seemed to be fearless, and thrived on taking big risks. But he was also a terrible show-off, who liked everyone to know just how well he was doing. And he had a bell which he had started to bring into the office (you know, the kind of bell a teacher would use to signal the start and end of a school day). And Tim had taken to ringing this fucking bell every time he closed out a profitable trade. It was only in hindsight that I realised that I was asking for trouble giving Peter the seat next to Tim.
A few days after Peter started, Tim was in the middle of a very profitable run. And the bell was driving us all crazy. But no one, including me, said anything about the noise and the fact that he was distracting the rest of us from working. Tim was, after all, one of our star traders. And you don't upset star traders.
'Do you think you could keep it down, Tim', Peter asked after the bell tolled loudly once again that day.
'What's that, Noah', came the reply.
'I said 'do you think you could keep it down'. I'm trying to concentrate here'.
'Fucking hell, Noah!', Tim shouted for all to hear. 'You mean to say that you can actually hear the bell ? And to think, we all thought you were deaf as well as fucking dumb', he laughed loudly.
The laughter around the trading floor was somewhat muted this time, and all eyes set upon Peter, whose face flushed a deep red. But he let it go. He wasn't going to take the bait. At least not yet. 'Arsehole', Peter said under his breath, as Tim continued to ring his fucking bell.
It wasn't long before Tim's run of good fortune started to come to an end. After an incredible few weeks, the markets started to move against him and he began to give back some of his huge profits. At times like this, experienced traders will sit back and take stock. They won't rush into new positions, in a hurried attempt to recoup some of their profits. But Tim was still relatively new to trading. He was the classic case of 'too much, too young'.
In hindsight, I should have given Tim a few days off, and told him to take it easy (although I doubt he would have listened). But, as his losses built up, Tim became bold instead of cautious. And he made the novice trader's mistake of chasing his losses - gambling, instead of trading.
'You need to come with me', Nigel said as he breezed past my desk. 'It's Tim. I think he's blowing up'.
I immediately stopped what I was doing, and followed Nigel to Tim's desk. There was already a guy from Compliance there, and one Hell of a row was going on.
'Who gives a fuck if I'm over my fucking limits!', I heard Tim shout. 'I've made this firms tens of millions. How dare you try and pull me up. Who the fuck do you think you are, you fucking fag!!'.
'What's the problem here, Tim ?', Nigel asked as calmly as he could.
'It's this fucking geek', Tim answered, pointing at the Compliance Officer. 'He's trying to stop me making the firm money'.
'It's OK', Nigel said to the compliance guy. 'Sorry about this. I'll catch up with you later. I'll take it from here'.
Nigel and I looked over at the numbers on Tim's screen, anxious to see what all the fuss was about. Incredibly, Tim had purchased stock in a company on our 'avoid' list (a list of companies the firm didn't want us to trade in for a variety of reasons). In this case, the company had recently issued a second profit warning, was in danger of breaching its bank covenants, and there were rumours that it could even file for bankruptcy at any moment. And Tim's position was large. Betting that the stock price would rise before the day was out, Tim was sitting on a paper loss of over 18 million pounds!
'Relax', he said, when he saw the look of panic in our eyes. 'This baby's gonna make us a ton of money before the market closes'.
But Tim looked anything but relaxed. The sweat was poring from his brow, and he was clearly feeling the pressure, nervously fiddling with his pen, his mouse and various other items on his desk. I'd never seen him like this before. He was out of control.
Our eyes were firmly fixed on the numbers on Tim's screen.....The stock dropped another 2%.
'We've got to cut it, Tim', Nigel said. 'It's a bad trade. Cut it, and walk away', he ordered.
'What the fuck are you talking about, Nigel', Tim roared. 'I'll lose over 20 million pounds. Are you fucking crazy ?'.
This was madness. I couldn't believe this was happening. Tim hardly ever traded equities in any case, and when he did, he sold short. What the fuck was he doing taking a 'long' position on this stock ?
As we continued to watch the monitor, the stock fell another 1%.
'That's it, Tim', Nigel shouted. 'Cut it NOW, or I will'.
Tim's hand hovered over the mouse, but he seemed unable to close out the position. I knew what he was going through. I knew what he was thinking - a loss is not a loss, after all, until you close out.
'Now, Tim!', Nigel screamed. Tim looked up, imploring Nigel to let him continue to run with it, but Nigel was adamant. 'It's over', he said.
Tim looked back at the mouse and moved as if to close out the position, when, out of nowhere, Peter's hand came across the desk and pushed Tim's away. Peter looked over at Nigel and shook his head. I was stunned, and I could see that Nigel didn't know what to make of it either. At that very moment, a flash message came across Tim's screen. The London Stock Exchange had issued a notice saying that shares in the company had been suspended, pending an announcement.
When Tim saw the notice, he went into meltdown. The tears were streaming down his face, and he was hyperventilating. 'It's all over!', he screamed. 'The fucking company's bankrupt'. He rushed off to the toilet and promptly puked his guts up. Interestingly, no-one followed him in to check on him.
'I hope you know what you're doing, old man. For both our sakes', Nigel said to Peter as he walked back to his office.
'Well I guess we won't have long to find out', came the reply.
Although we only had to wait around 30 minutes until the company issued its press release, it seemed like an age. And there was a lot riding on it. Not only were there implications for Tim, but I knew that both Nigel and I could be in serious trouble for not managing him properly. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, I knew, but big trading losses always need scapegoats, and I had no doubt that I, if not Nigel too, could end up paying the price for this with our jobs.
I looked over into Nigel's office, and saw that he was deep in conversation with the Head of Compliance, who had arrived on the scene soon after the company shares were suspended.
The mood on the trading floor was strange. Tim's meltdown had left everyone on edge. Most of the traders had stopped trading, unnerved by witnessing what Tim had put himself through. We were all just waiting for the news. And no-one expected the news to be good.
Tim had returned to his desk by now, and he just sat there, staring at his screen. He seemed to be reading the announcement of the suspension of the company's shares over and over again, as if, by some magic, he would be able to pick up something which would give him a clue as to what was coming next. I looked over at Peter, close by Tim, and he appeared to be the only one unaffected by what went on. He sat there, quietly executing a few trades.
Then it came. The news we had all been waiting for. I felt sick to my stomach as I read the press release. Not sure that I had quite taken it in, I re-read it. The company was announcing that it was being taken over by a rival, at a price which was at a 25% premium on the stock's last closing price! I quickly did the math. Not only had Tim recouped his losses, but he would even return a profit of around one million pounds!
Nigel ran out of his office, and over to my desk. 'The old fucker', he yelled as he looked over at Peter. 'He fucking knew about the takeover. One of his old muckers on the inside must have told him. He fucking knew all along!!'.
Tim, in the meantime, had collapsed in a heap on his desk, sobbing uncontrollably. The stress had taken its toll on him.
'We'll have to work out what to do with him', Nigel whispered, motioning his head in Tim's direction. 'This could be the end of him. He looks totally crushed. And I'm not sure I can save him - even if I wanted to'.
Without saying a word, Peter then got up from his chair. All eyes on the trading floor were upon him. Then, in a moment of high drama, he reached across Tim's desk and picked up the bell, hurling it straight into the nearest wastepaper bin. Retrieving his jacket from the back of his chair, Peter looked over at Nigel and I, winked, and headed out of the office for the day.
Peter was alone (as usual) in his flat that night when there was a knock on his door. He grumbled to himself as he pushed himself up from the sofa, and opened it. It was Tim, with a bottle of expensive champagne in hand.
'What the fuck', Peter said as he saw the young trader standing there. He quickly slammed the door in Tim's face. Before he could sit back down, however, there was another wrap on the door.
'Come on, man', Tim pleaded. 'Be gracious. This ain't easy for me'.
'Why should I make it easy', Peter said as he re-opened the door.
'How did you get my address ?', he asked.
'I've been fucking this girl in Human Resources', Tim boasted. 'I always knew it would come in handy'.
'What, did you promise to stop fucking her if she gave you my address', Peter said sarcastically.
'Well, can I come in ?'
'You fucking are in. Now close the fucking door!'.
'Hope you like the champers', Tim said, pointing at the bottle, 'I just wanted to come over and say thanks for what you did today'.
'Next time bring whisky', Peter replied.
'OK, I'll remember that. Anyway, I guess I'll be off. I just wanted to pay my respects', Tim said as he headed back towards the door. He felt uncomfortable, like he was intruding. And Peter hadn't exactly made him feel welcome.
'Sit the fuck down, will you', Peter ordered. 'The very least you can do is stay and help me drink this shit'.
Tim smiled, happy to have been asked to stay.
'Nice place', Tim said, as he looked around at the few sticks of furniture contained in Peter's one-room apartment.
'Yeah', said Peter. 'It's where you end up if you fuck your life up like I have. Let this be a lesson to you, boy. Any more tricks like you pulled today, and you'll end up in a place like this too'.
'Oh, I don't think that I'll be given another chance to fuck up', Tim said. 'Nigel's suspended me. I'm pretty sure I'm finished'.
'Well, we'll just have to see about that', Peter replied.
'You got any interesting music on that old wind-up', Tim asked, spying Peter's ancient record player over in the corner.
'Only the best fucking band in the world', came the reply.
'Yeah, and who's that, then ?'
'Fleetwood Mac, of course'.
'Oh yeah, I think I've heard of them'.
Both men laughed, as they knocked back the champagne.
'What do you mean that you're gonna let him go', Peter asked incredulously. 'He's a fucking good trader, and you know it. Are you fucking crazy ?'
'But he's out of control', Nigel replied. 'What he did was unacceptable'.
'Unacceptable ? Didn't he make you about a million pounds ?'
'No, Peter. He almost lost us 20 million'.
'Look, you know that letting him go now will kill his career. He'll be finished. No-one will hire him. You took a chance on me, didn't you ?', Peter pointed out. 'This guy could be the real deal. You just gotta give him another chance. And besides, if I'd have bailed out on you at the first sign of trouble...'.
'Oh fuck off, Peter', Nigel interrupted. 'I was never like that. I may have been guilty of being inexperienced and over-confident, but I was never reckless. Tim's off the reservation. And he's done this before. He's already on notice about breaching his limits. Anyway, it's out of my hands now. Compliance is involved. Human Resources are involved. We can't just brush it under the carpet. What he did amounts to gross misconduct, easily enough for him to be fired'.
'I can't believe what you're saying. This kid makes you loads of money, and you're going to fire him!'.
'It's not just about making money anymore, Peter. We can't have lose cannons around. Firms are more concerned with reputational risk these days. That can be more important than making a few quid'.
'Bollocks! It's always about the money. Cut his limits if you must. Put a black mark against his name. But give the kid another fucking chance'.
Nigel shrugged his shoulders. 'I'll do what I can', he sighed. 'But I gotta say that you are the last person I thought would be in here fighting his corner'.
As Peter headed to his desk, Nigel called him back. 'Oh, and thanks for what you did yesterday', he said. 'We would have been in an even bigger mess if you hadn't pulled that rabbit out of your hat'.
Not concerned about the reputational risk, then ?', Peter teased.
That night after work, Nigel, Peter and I were having a quick drink in a local bar.
'I'll just have some ice, please', Peter said to the waitress. 'And make sure that you put a double whisky in with it!'.
'I thought you promised to keep off stuff like that', Nigel said.
'And I thought you promised to keep me out of places like this', Peter laughed.
In fact, we all laughed. And, in truth, we had a lot to be happy about. The firm was doing well, and our trading unit had enjoyed another strong month. The volatility in the markets was proving to be our friend.
'So, Peter', I asked. 'Are you glad to be back in the markets ?'
'Not sure that I'd say that', he replied. 'I'd rather not have had to come back. But I guess things are about as good as I could have hoped for'.
'And what about the old days', I probed. 'Are things very different now ?'
'Not really', he said, as he nursed his whisky. 'It's still a dog-eat-dog world, where making money is all that counts'.
'Oh don't start on that one again, Peter', Nigel interrupted. 'You gotta admit that the City has really cleaned up its act in the last few years'.
'Cleaned up its act!', Peter laughed. 'That's a good one', he continued. 'Sure, there's a lot more talk now about ethics and compliance, and level-playing fields, but it's just the same as it always was. People have the same mentality, and behave in the same way as they always did. The only difference is that it's less obvious now - people are less honest about their dishonesty!'.
'Cheers,' I said as I looked over at Peter and Nigel, 'Here's to the future'.
'To the future', Nigel and Peter repeated.
I arrived at work a little later than usual the next day, and saw Peter looking at something on Bloomberg.
'Have you heard the news ?', he asked.
'We're being taken over'.
'What!', I cried.
'Yep, and by a big fucking bureaucratic US bank, as well', Peter continued. 'So much for our 'future''.
Wow, this was a game-changer. In a matter of a few seconds, our cozy little world was invaded by outsiders. And, worse, the invaders were a bunch of fucking Yanks.
'This is not a takeover', our new regional chairman said as he addressed us a few days later, 'Please look at it as a partnership whereby we will harness the best of both our businesses - people, technology, processes. We didn't buy this business to destroy it, I assure you'.
'Total crap', Adrian, another young trader in my team said to me as we listened. 'If it isn't a takeover, then why are they all over the trading floor, the conference rooms and the canteen ? Of course it's a fucking takeover'.
'Take it easy, Adrian', I replied. 'You've got to give the Yanks a chance'.
'A chance to do what ? Get rid of us all ? And won't that be fun being out looking for a job in this market'.
'Dave's right, Adrian', Peter interjected, 'Give them a chance. And anyway, decent traders are always in demand. You've got nothing to worry about'.
'Nigel's leaving', Adrian said a he rushed up to me.
'What!?', I said, clearly startled.
And it was true. I looked over to see that he was already clearing his desk.
'Oh well', Nigel said as I entered his office. 'I guess I didn't make the cut'.
'Fuck, Nigel', I replied, 'They're a ruthless bunch of fuckers'.
'It's just business, Dave. It's nothing personal. Anyway, I've got a decent pay-off, and I've a few irons in the fire. I won't be out the market for long. I'll be back after gardening leave, I'm sure', Nigel said confidently.
'Well, don't forget your old mate', I said hopefully, 'I might be looking for a new job too soon'.
We shook hands, and Nigel promised to keep in touch.
'Any idea who's coming in to replace you ?', I asked as I headed back to my desk.
'They're sending someone over from New York', he shouted after me. 'He'll be here tomorrow'.
The next day arrived, and sure enough, so did Michael. But we weren't introduced to him. He just sat in his office that day, and, in fact, for the rest of the week, immersed in papers and looking up computer files.
'Do you think he'll ever come out of that office', Adrian asked.
'It's probably better for us lot if he doesn't', Peter replied. 'At least while he's in there he can't do much damage', he laughed.
But Peter was wrong. We found out later that day that Michael had left his office long enough to meet with Tim in an upstairs conference room - and fire him.
'We'll all go on strike', Adrian said. 'We'll show solidarity with Tim. If they fire one of our best traders, then what hope is there for the rest of us'.
'But that's just it, Adrian', I replied. 'They don't regard Tim as anything but a menace. They won't tolerate his sort here'.
'But he is one of us', shouted one of the other traders from across the floor. 'He's an arsehole, yeah, but at least he's our arsehole. We gotta do something'.
'A strike it is', Adrian repeated.
'Don't be stupid', Peter said as he joined the huddle around my desk, 'You'll just get fired for doing that. You need to be more subtle'.
'Any ideas, Peter ?' I asked.
'We'll just start by going sick - 10 at a time'.
'Six traders have called in sick this morning', Judy, Michael's PA, told him soon after 7.30am the following day.
'Yeah', Michael replied. 'There are a few others on the floor complaining of being ill too. Must be something going around'.
And the 'sickness' got worse. Another 9 traders went down with the mystery illness the next day, and 7 more the day after.
'This is crazy', Michael said to Judy. 'We'll never hit our monthly revenue target at this rate. I've never seen such a bunch of wimps. Traders never get sick. You got any idea what's wrong with these guys ?'
'That Peter guy, the older man over there. He told me he'd heard it was something called 'Timitis'', Judy replied.
'Timitis', Michael repeated. 'That's a new one on me'.
'I think I know what 'Timitis' is', Judy said breathlessly, as she entered Michael's office later that day. Michael listened intently as she gave her explanation.
'I don't know whether to laugh or cry', Michael said after he had heard her out. 'You'd better get that Peter in here. He seems to know what's going on'.
'Good to finally meet you, Peter', Michael said as he strode across his office floor and shook the older man's hand. 'I'm just sorry that I haven't had the chance to say 'hello' before'.
'So am I', Peter replied somewhat enigmatically.
Michael got the point, but decided to let it go. 'I'm in a bit of a bind here', Michael said as he faced Peter. 'You guys have forced me into a corner; either I fire all those traders who have been taking days off sick, or I reinstate Tim. And to be honest, neither prospect fills me with joy'.
'Firing staff who are sick isn't the way things we do things over here', Peter replied. 'And I'm sure that every trader will have got a sick note from his doctor', he continued. 'Having said that, I bet that a lot of people around here would feel a whole lot better if Tim was to get his job back'.
'But that's blackmail, Peter'.
'No, Michael, that's just good business'.
'Do you really think that having me perceived as a weak manager is going to be good for business ?'
'I don't know about that', Peter replied, 'But I do know that it won't do your career much good if you lose a lot of traders and fail to meet your revenue targets'.
'So very true, Peter. So, is there a way out ? Is there a way of sorting this thing out so that no-one loses face ?'
'Well, I guess you could always bring over some of your own traders, Michael. Form a new team, and stick Tim in with them. Maybe they can knock him into shape. Make him fit in. That should bring him down a peg or two. And it'll give you a chance to have a proper look at him. He's a good trader. You'll be surprised'.
'I'll mull that over. Thanks for that', Michael replied, as he stretched over and shook Peter's hand once again. 'Oh, and I'll be watching you', he said, as he escorted him to the door.
'I think everyone will be watching you, too', Peter replied.
Michael seemed to be lightening up. He emerged from his office more often, and started to walk the floor, engaging with the traders. And they responded well. Michael's face was soon seen in the canteen each lunchtime, and we even got him out for a beer one evening after work'.
'So, how long you been with the bank', I asked as I knocked back a lager.
'Around 12 years', Michael replied. 'All my career, really. And all of it in New York'.
'Hear that, Peter', I teased. 'No wonder Michael was scared to leave his office. He's never been anywhere but New York before!'.
'Typical fucking yank', Peter replied. 'Bet you thought Paris was in Texas, didn't you ?', he said as he looked across at Michael. We all laughed.
'And what about US Bank ?', I said as I continued the questioning. 'They're pretty ruthless aren't they ? Coming in and ripping the heart out of everything they acquire'.
'They're pretty good at extracting value, if that's what you mean'.
'Extracting value!', Peter interjected. 'That's a fucking good one'.
'And what about the CEO ?' I asked, 'Isn't he a piece of work !'.
Michael laughed. 'Yeah', he said. 'He's pretty gruff. But he knows what he's doing. He's tough, but has a big following. And that's because he tells it like it is. He doesn't care who he upsets - employees, clients, stockholders, regulators, lawmakers. He shoots straight from the hip'.
'You sound like quite a fan', Peter said.
'I'm not sure that 'fan' is the right word, Peter, but I do know him quite well. After all', he smiled, 'He is my dad'.
'Fuck me', I said to Peter as we climbed in the taxi to share a ride home. 'I knew they had the same surname, but had no idea he was the son of the CEO!'.
'We shouldn't hold that against him, Dave', Peter said as he lit up a cigarette, ignoring the 'No Smoking' sign inside the vehicle. 'He seems like a decent guy'.
'Yes, he does', I replied, 'But I'm not sure I how feel about having the Group CEO's son as my boss!'.
Michael thought it was about time we all had a night out.
'It'll be a good bit of bonding', he insisted.
'But we've already bonded', Andy pointed out.
'OK, then it will be a good opportunity for you guys to bond with me, then!'. We all laughed. We'd come to like Michael over the course of the last few weeks. Despite replacing Nigel, and him being the son of the CEO, Michael had a good way about him. He had started to earn our respect, and we'd begun to get used to the idea of him being our boss. But we remained unnerved by the takeover, and uncertain about our own futures.
Anyway, that's how we all ended up on a Riverboat moored on the River Thames. The boat never actually left its moorings, but it was better than going to a traditional pub, and was a favourite haunt of City traders.
'The drinks are on US Bank', Michael shouted, as we piled across the wooden plank that led us onto the boat. Smart move, I thought, as I saw how the other traders were reacting. Michael was pushing all the right buttons. I knew that, if I stayed, I'd probably learn a lot from him.
It was good to let off steam occasionally, and the last few weeks had been tough. The markets had been a lot less volatile, and it was beginning to be more difficult for smart traders to make money. And then there was the stress of the takeover. Although the people who worked for US Bank seemed mostly a good sort, they thought in a totally different way from the rest of us. US Bank was a large global player, with a footprint in retail, consumer and investment banking, and asset and wealth management. We were basically a small trading outfit. Where we were entrepreneurial, they were bureaucratic. While they convened committees of people to mull over key decisions, we just got on and did it. And then there was the fact that most of our senior management were either being replaced, or had resigned 'to pursue other opportunities'. It didn't seem a marriage made in Heaven.
In truth, headhunters had been all over us since the takeover was announced, and many of the team, including me, had had preliminary discussions about a switch to a rival firm. There was even talk of a big team move. I looked over at Michael, who was clearly enjoying himself, and wondered how he would take it if we all handed in our notices. That wouldn't be pleasant. Anyway, that might all be in the future. For now, I just wanted to party.
Predictably, as the drinks flowed, we became louder and rowdier. And I'd noticed before that Tim, in particular, found it difficult to contain himself when plied with alcohol.
'They want us to leave', Andy said as he came over to my table.
'Fuck 'em', Tim replied. 'Our money's as good as anyone else's. We ain't going anywhere'.
And with that, he picked up a full jug of beer, jumped on the table and drenched the guests on an adjoining table. 'The drinks are on me!', he shouted.
'That's it', I said, noticing the skipper and two heavies were on their way over to us, 'I think we just outstayed our welcome'.
'OK guys', the skipper said calmly, 'That's enough. You'd better leave now, before things get out of hand'.
'Shut the fuck up Captain Birdseye!', Tim shouted, still dancing atop the table.
'Get down, son', the skipper asked, 'Before you make me do something I might regret'.
I looked up at Tim, not certain how he would respond. But, drunk as he was, the size of the two heavies had a sobering affect. He slowly climbed down from the table and made for the exit. The rest of the team tamely followed.
But they weren't done yet, and Tim, Andy and Ian, a junior trader who had only recently joined us, strode across the walkway that connected the riverboat to the Embankment, turned around with their rear-ends facing the boat, and flipped a moonie at the crowd inside the boat.
As the trio stood on the roadside laughing, with their exposed parts there for any who cared to see, Michael came over, accompanied by a young(ish) woman.
'Not quite the introduction I thought I'd be making', he laughed, 'Guys, I'd like you to meet Trudie. I'm hoping she'll soon be joining us'.
'Sorry you got an eyeful', Tim smirked.
'An eyeful', Trudie repeated, 'Hardly. Six more inches and it might have looked liked a proper dick!'.
The rest of us laughed, and I wondered just who this ballsy woman was, and where she came from. Instantly, I sensed competition.
'Trudie's coming into the office next week for a quick look around', Michael said, 'But as she was in the neighbourhood, I suggested she join us tonight'.
'We're off to a strip-joint now', Tim piped up, 'You up for that ?'.
'Thanks for the kind offer, but I think I'll pass', she replied, 'I'd rather watch paint dry. But you boys run along'.
She's a fucking lesbian', Tim said as soon as Trudie was out of earshot.
'Isn't every female who puts you in your place, Tim ?', I replied.
'She's quite hot, though', Andy remarked.
'Fuck off', said Tim, 'She's probably got a bigger dick than you!'.
'Well, she wasn't that impressed with the size of yours, that's for sure', Andy snickered, as we headed off for some 'light' entertainment.
It was a few months later, after the customary 'gardening leave', that Trudie finally joined us. She arrived early on her first morning, only to discover that the trading floor was already bustling with activity. But no-one was working - the traders all got in early to witness the fun and games planned for Trudie's first day.
Trudie was a woman clearly on a mission. She had a point to make from the off - or least thought she did. It wasn't going to be an easy ride for her, and she knew it. First off, she was Michael's first proper hire since he took over from Nigel. And although Michael had now earned the respect of the traders, there was still some grumbling that he was bringing in some new blood at a time when other staff were losing their jobs following the takeover. And then there was the 'woman' thing. Trudie would be the only female trader on the floor, and, as such, would be under tremendous pressure to perform from the get-go. She couldn't merely be as good as the rest of us - she had to be better. Otherwise, she would just be dismissed as a silly female failing to make her way in a man's world. In truth, however, this was something Trudie had been dealing with all her professional life. The perceived wisdom was that there were simply some things a woman wasn't meant to do - play football, drink lager and be anywhere near a trading floor (unless she was bringing the traders their lunch, of course).
Anyway, Michael was showing Trudie to her desk (the one next to Peter that once belonged to Tim), when he saw it. A half-smile crept across his face. He knew that there was something going on (the trading floor was never this crowded so early). This was Trudie's first test, and it would be interesting to see how she came out of it. Trudie had been around traders and trading floors too long, however, to rise to the bait.
'This yours, old man ?', she said to Peter as she held up the 12 inch dildo, complete with pink ribbon on the base, that had been left on her desk as a kind of arrival present.
'Might have been once', Peter replied. 'But it's been a few years since I saw anything like that'.
'Tim ?', Trudie asked quietly.
Trudie walked slowly over to the other side of the trading floor, where a group of traders were standing, smirking, around Tim's desk.
'Go easy on them', Peter called out after her.
'Someone left this on my desk', she said. Immediately, the smirking stopped. All eyes were on Trudie now, anxious to see how she would respond.
'It's far too big to belong to you little chaps', she continued. 'But if you do find out who it belongs to, be sure to give him my number. In the meantime', she said looking straight at Tim, 'I understand that you'll probably have more use for this than me'. And she tossed the dildo in Tim's direction. Instinctively, he caught it. The was silence for just a second, then the trading floor erupted in laughter, as Tim's face flushed. He had been outsmarted by the female.
'Good job', Peter remarked as Trudie returned to her now clear desk, 'I'm impressed'.
'That's nothing', she replied, 'Be impressed with my P&L'.
'I intend to be', he responded.
'Well', Michael said to Trudie, 'I was going to introduce you all round, but I don't think you'll need any introductions now', he laughed.
'The market is just too toppy', Michael said, as he addressed our weekly meeting. 'We're heading south. Stock prices have got way ahead of earnings. We're due a massive correction. I think we need to short the market'.
That was a big call. The bears had been calling for a correction for months, but the market ploughed on through the conflicting economic reports and data, and kept on steaming ahead; we'd now seen a 40% rise since the bottom.
'What do you think, Peter ?', Michael asked.
'It's probably sensible to take some off the table, but shorting the whole market is very risky', he replied. 'This market is defying all sensible analysis. But we should probably get research to do some more in-depth sector analysis, and look at specific companies to short. We don't want to be caught with our pants down, though, if stocks just continue to rise'.
'And what about FX ?', Michael asked the gathering.
'Sell the dollar', came the reply from one of the other traders, 'The dollar's fucked'.
'Be careful betting against the dollar', Larry, our chief economist, warned. 'All this talk of dollar weakness on budget deficits is overblown'.
'Going to $100-a-barrel. Get on the train and enjoy the ride!'.
These weekly sessions were useful, but nothing more than a forum for traders to throw out ideas. The serious analysis was done elsewhere, and traders were expected to attend formal presentations on the economy and the markets every few days. But it was important for us traders to stop looking at our screens for a while and get the old grey matter working. It's too easy to get lost in all those numbers racing across your screen, and lose perspective.
Tim, however, certainly had a new perspective. The woman in Human Resources he had been briefly shagging earlier in the year had just told him that she was pregnant. And her husband, who had apparently had the 'snip' a few years back, was not best pleased.
'Have you heard the news ?', Andy asked breathlessly, as he rushed up to my desk.
I shook my head, already fixated by the figures jumping across my screen.
'It's a fucking liberty!', he continued. 'They've only put the fucking prices up in the canteen!!'.
'And they're fucking rationing serviettes now, too', Tim chimed in.
'What', I said incredulously, all thoughts about the performance of the Hang Seng and Nikkei 225 instantly forgotten, 'They can't do that'.
'Well, they have', Andy replied, 'And there'll be a mutiny'.
'Not a mutiny', I replied, 'A fucking boycott, that's what'.
And such was the strength of feeling about this issue, that it also surfaced in that morning's team meeting.
'I've got to say', Michael laughed, 'I just don't get it. Why are you lot all worked up over the fucking canteen ? It's not as if you guys can't afford to pay a bit extra'.
'Don't you understand ?', Andy said, 'This is war'.
'If it's war you want', Trudie piped up, 'Join the fucking army and go to Afghanistan. This is just about the price of a cup of tea!'.
'And you shouldn't mess with the price of an Englishman's cup of tea!', one of the other traders shouted.
'But the tea tastes like cat's piss anyway', Trudie pointed out.
'Even more reason why they shouldn't put the fucking price up, then', Andy retorted, 'The firm can't be allowed to get away with it!'.
'But it's nothing to do with the firm', Michael said, 'The canteen's run by an independent firm. It's outsourced, you clowns'.
'That's not the point', Andy replied, 'We're not having anyone putting up prices and rationing serviettes. It's just not right'.
The campaign to roll back the canteen price rises began in earnest the following morning. For the first time anyone could remember, front, middle and back office were as one. All stood firmly together, determined to achieve their objective. And the campaign was officially launched at 7am, when the first group of staff arrived with bagels and coffee purchased from the sandwich shop up the road. The bemused canteen staff stood idly by, as the canteen started to fill up, but not one person went up to make a purchase.
It was just after 7.30am when the trouble first started. That was when the restaurant manager stormed in, demanding to know what was going on.
'You can't sit here if you aren't eating', he said as he approached the group of employees at the first table.
'We are eating', one of the women pointed out.
'Not our food you're not', the restaurant manager replied, 'I'm sorry, either buy something, or leave'.
'Piss off', one of the young guys in operations said, 'Leave us alone. Go terrorise someone else'.
'What did you say ?', the restaurant manager asked, as he faced up to the young staffer.
'You heard. Piss off!', he repeated.
I arrived on the scene just as the restaurant manager had grabbed hold of the guy from operations, and was about to throw him out.
'Take it easy', I said calmly, 'This is supposed to be a peaceful protest. There's no need for violence'.
'You'll just have to have your protest someone else', the manager replied. 'Fuck off out of here, the lot of you. Or I'll call the police'.
'I think you'll find you can't do that', I said.
'Try me', he replied. 'This is private property, and right now you lot are trespassing. This is your last chance. Get out, or I'll call the police'.
'The guy's bluffing', Tim said as he arrived by my side, 'He wouldn't dare'.
But he did. As soon as we marched back to the table and signalled that we had no intention of buying anything, or leaving, the restaurant guy called the police.
'You're a fucking idiot', I said when I realised that he had made good on his threat, 'You've just committed professional suicide. You'll be fired before the day's out'.
'We'll see about that', he shouted as he approached me, pointing his finger.
'Get your fucking finger out of my face', I screamed, feeling the anger rise up inside.
But the restaurant guy ignored me, and continued to mouth off, still pointing his finger at me. I wasn't even listening to what he was saying now, as I was so incensed that this guy was in my face.
'I told you to get your finger out of my face', I repeated, and forcefully pushed it away.
'Don't you touch me', he shouted, and then shoved me to one side.
Well, that's when I lost it. So much for a peaceful protest. We were on the ground, scrapping, in seconds.
And that's when the police arrived, along with our internal security staff and, predictably, folks from Human Resources.
He assaulted me, officer', the restaurant manager told the police, after they had prised us apart.
'Bollocks,' I replied, 'He started it'.
'It was just handbags at three paces, officer', Michael said as he, too, made his way over to where we were being interviewed, 'We'll take it from here. We don't want any more trouble'.
'I'm afraid it's a bit late for all that now, sir. It's a police matter now. These gentleman are accusing each other of assault. We're going to have to arrest them both, and then take down witness statements'.
And with that, we were bundled into separate police cars and taken down to the station to be booked.
Fortunately for me, the fracas happened first thing in the morning, so I didn't have to spend long in a cell. I was processed fairly quickly - examined by a doctor, photographed, finger-printed, and gave a statement. I was locked up for just over an hour, before my lawyer managed to bail me out. I had two weeks to either press charges against the restaurant guy (which, despite him being an arsehole, I didn't really want to do), or wait to see if he pressed charges against me.
As I was in the taxi returning home, I turned on my mobile (which had been given back, together with my other belongings, by the police). There was a message from Michael, so I returned his call.
'You'll have to come in tomorrow for the disciplinary', he said.
'What you on about ?', I laughed, 'I thought 'disciplinaries' were only for back and middle office staff!'.
'Don't worry,' he said. 'We'll sort it, but you're going have to accept getting a slap on the wrist by HR. And, by the way, you're banned from going to the fucking canteen!'.
A few nights later, Tim, Peter and I went for a quick drink after work, which soon turned into a bit of a session. We all knew that Peter should keep off the drink, but he was big enough to know his own mind, and he had a few too. After a while, Peter suggested that we go for something to eat, and persuaded Tim and I to go to one of his favourite City restaurants.
Although Tim seemed to be in good spirits when we kicked off, the longer the evening went on (and the more he had to drink), the more morose he became. As we tucked into our food, he suddenly opened up.
'To be honest, I'm pretty pissed off with Jane', he blurted out. Jane was the lady in HR he had a brief affair with, and who had only recently told him that she was pregnant with his child.
'I don't know how she could do this to me', he continued, 'She's 10 years older than me, and married. This wasn't supposed to happen. She was just supposed to be a good shag, and now she lands this on me!'.
'Well I don't suppose she's too happy about it either', Peter pointed out.
'To be honest, I'm not sure how she's feeling. She's not to talking to me'.
'Well want exactly do you want ?', Peter asked.
'That's just it', Tim replied, 'I'm not sure. But I damn well want to know what her plans are! She just laid it on me that she was up the duff, and then has gone all silent, the selfish bitch. She doesn't seem to give a damn about my feelings'.
'Well I'm sure she got a lot on her plate, Tim', Peter laughed, 'After all, it will be her who's literally left holding the baby'.
'Or not, as the case may be', Tim retorted.
'You'll just have to have a grown-up conversation with her, then', I heard Peter say.
But I kept quiet all through this. In truth, I was a bit uncomfortable. I always was when the guys starting talking about women and shagging. Although my colleagues don't know it, I'm gay. I've limited experience with girls in the sexual sense (and what experience I have had didn't work out too well). And my sexuality is something that I find hard to deal with. For much of my life I've fought against it, but in recent years I have at least admitted to myself where my sexual preferences are, even if I dare not tell my family or anyone at work about it.
Work was especially tough. I saw more of my colleagues than I did of my family, and the trading floor is such a place for banter and macho behaviour. I felt obliged to join in, and be one of the lads, and I felt that I'd be treated differently if they knew I was a poof. So I am basically living a lie. Sure, we have all that stuff about diversity, but that's mostly lip-service (we don't have one openly gay man in an executive position at the firm). And, to be honest, I really couldn't stand the idea of being called 'Shirley' (or something similar) for the rest of my time there!
I'd actually lived in fear of being 'outed' since I joined the firm, and often wondered why the guys didn't pick up on the fact that I didn't have a girlfriend. During my first couple of years at the firm, I took to bringing a series of attractive women with me to social events and parties, but I found that I couldn't really enjoy myself, so, in the end, took to coming alone. I've never had a boyfriend either. I just can't deal with that. Maybe one day, but right now the thought leaves me petrified. And I'm ashamed to say that I satisfy my natural (some think unnatural) urges in seedy liaisons with gay or bisexual guys I meet via internet chat rooms and the like. I'm not proud that I'm not strong enough to 'come out', and am often disgusted that I engage in meaningless sexual activities with total strangers (I never meet the same person twice). But there it is, that's my life.
'You're right', Tim said, shaking me out of my train of thought, 'I'll go see her tomorrow. We just need to behave like adults'.
'You've got a fucking cheek just barging into my office, Tim. What the fuck do you want ?'
'Keep you voice down', Tim said as he closed the door, 'I don't want any trouble. I just want to know what's going on'.
'It's nothing to do with you what's going on, Tim. Just leave me alone, will you ? You've done enough damage already'.
'Look, Jane', Tim said, raising his voice, 'I'm not gonna just fade away. I have a right to know what's going on'.
'Fuck off! You don't have any rights. How dare you come in here talking about your 'rights' - after all you've put me through!'.
'I've put you through', Tim shouted, 'That's a good one! I don't remember you complaining when we were alone doing the business. In fact, you couldn't get enough of me then. It's not my fault you got yourself fucking pregnant!'.
'Yeah, you're right, Tim', Jane screamed, 'I did it all on my fucking own!'.
'Calm down, will you, Jane', Tim pleaded, 'I haven't said that I'm not responsible too. That's why I'm here. I just want to know what you're going to do, that's all'.
'Well, I'm having the baby, that's what', Jane replied defiantly.
'What the fuck for ?', Tim blurted out, quickly losing control. This was the last thing he wanted to hear, 'This was supposed to be about sex, not fucking babies!'.
'It's not about babies - at least not for you', Jane replied, 'I don't want you around this baby. And, don't worry, I don't want your fucking money either!'.
'What are you talking about ? How the hell you gonna manage ?', Tim asked, calming down a little.
'John and I are going to raise it', Jane replied, 'It will be ours. John's going to be the baby's father. I've told him everything. He hit the roof first off, but we're working it out now. This baby just might be the best thing that's ever happened to us'.
'Well fucking congratulations', Tim said sarcastically, 'So, you told your old man about me, then ?'
'No, Tim', she replied, 'So you don't have to worry about your pretty face being smashed in. I told him that I had a one-night stand with a loser who's now left the firm. It's all fixed, Tim. Please don't get involved', she urged, as the tears started to fall down her face, 'Please don't mess this up for me. Things are hard enough. Now, please, go away, will you. Just leave me alone'.
Tim felt deflated as he waited outside for the lift to take him back to the trading floor. He came to see Jane to get some clarity. And he thought that meant either that she was going to get rid of the baby (which he felt was most likely), or that he would in some way be involved in its upbringing. He hadn't expected to be given the cold shoulder, and effectively be told to butt out, and he didn't know how he felt about that. Despite what Jane wanted, Tim still thought they had a lot of unfinished business to attend to. She hadn't heard the last of this.
'Don't forget the scum's arriving tomorrow lads,' Andy reminded everyone as the trading floor emptied that evening.
The 'scum' being the G20 protesters who were to descend mob-like on the City in droves for the next several days. They like a good old protest do these so-called 'anti-capitalist' sorts. In fact, many of them make a career out of it, swanning around the world having a pop at bankers and other groups of people who actually work for a living. They claim, of course, that they are against a society which mugs ordinary people and exploits the under privileged, but many get by on state handouts - mugging the very people that they claim to represent. That was our view, in any case.
Anyway, most of the traders were really looking forward to locking horns with the protesters. And, as most of the group were relatively young, this would be the first chance they would have to experience the fun and games that could be had at the scum's expense. The protesters were, of course, a welcome distraction. Any excuse to down tools for a few days and take the mickey out of a bunch of ne'er-do-wells was a gift - especially at a time when life was difficult if you were a trader in the City.
'Look at him', Tim said. A few of the traders had gathered by the window to get a look at the early action. 'He's fucking bonkers!'.
I peered out of the window, and was amazed to see Peter running the gauntlet of protesters. Although we'd been told by HR to wear casual gear (so that us City types couldn't be identified and wouldn't be picked on), Peter clearly wasn't prepared to compromise. In fact, he seemed to be taking great pleasure in baiting the crowd, as he calmly passed through, wearing his best pin-striped suit, his most outrageous tie, and swinging his umbrella. All he was missing was a bowler hat!
'You capitalist pig!', someone in the crowd shouted somewhat unimaginatively.
'Fucking toff!', cried another, as the mob moved in scenting a kill.
If Peter was worried, he surely didn't show it. And, within seconds, the police (there were hundreds of them) quickly moved in to form a barrier between him and the mob, escorting him skillfully to the front of our building. The crowd was jeering now, and a few empty scrunched up paper coffee cups came Peter's way. Before entering the building, he turned, smiled, and then gave the crowd the finger. They were provoked now, and quickly came to the conclusion that our building was the centre of all things evil, and that it was their duty to give it, and its occupants, their particular attention before the day was out. Peter had successfully marked our card.
In our office, however, Peter was even more the hero.
'Good on yer', one of the other traders said as Peter came onto the floor to much applause.
'Fuck 'em', he said. 'It's times like this when you wish you had a gun'.
'We've got a gun!', Andy replied, 'I'd almost forgotten all about it'.
And indeed we did. Well, it wasn't a proper gun, it was an air rifle. It'd been kept in a cupboard for years, together with a box of pellets. Many years back, there was a terrible mice problem in the office, and one of the traders (now long since departed) decided that it would be a good idea to bring the air rifle to work to take pot-shots at the mice, who had become so brazen that they even took to coming out during daylight hours. Rumor has it that he was an expert marksman, and killed several vermin, until a stray shot bounced off a computer screen and lodged into one of the office walls. The gun was then placed in a cupboard, where it has mostly been ever since.
'There's fucking thousands of them', Tim cried out, 'And they're all heading this way'. It had taken several hours for the crowd to obtain critical mass, but they were now a seething mob, having worked each other up into a frenzy. Luckily for us, the police were one step ahead of them, and had cordoned off the building.
'Let's really wind 'em up', Andy said as he and a few other young traders broke into the cleaner's cupboard and took half-a-dozen mop buckets and filled them with water. Taking the buckets up to the roof, the traders proceeded to throw the contents over the first line of protesters, drenching them (and a few police) in the process.
By this time, a number of staff in the surrounding offices had clocked on to what was going on, and they had come to their office windows to watch events unfold. A huge cheer went up when several of the mob got soaked, and this just made the protesters even more annoyed. Surging forward, it was clear that, despite their numbers, the police would soon be overcome. And I genuinely started to feel for our safety.
'Women, children and big revenue-generators first', Andy joked as he returned to the trading floor.
'I'm not sure that was so smart', I said as he approached me, still grinning from ear to ear.
It was then that I heard the gasp of the crowd, and the screaming began.
'There's a rifle up there by the window', one of the protesters cried, 'There gonna shoot us!'.
Panic ensued, as those at the front tried to clamour to safety. But no-one could move, as the crowd was packed so tightly together. People were being pushed to one side, and I saw that several had been forced to the ground, being trampled underfoot.
My heart was in my mouth as I saw what was happening, and realised that someone had got hold of our old air rifle and was pointing it out of an upstairs window at the crowd. I looked around. Most of the traders were back the floor, but Tim was conspicuous by his absence. The stupid fucker!
It was only a couple of minutes later that Tim resurfaced. 'Where's the fucking rifle ?' I shouted.
'Relax, Dave, will you', he replied. 'And keep your fucking voice down. It worked didn't it ?', he laughed. 'Scared the fucking shit out of them, didn't it ? Serves 'em fucking right. And it was all over before the police noticed what was going on. So no-one's gonna know. The police will think they just made it up'.
'Oh my God', I then heard Michael groan. 'I don't fucking believe it'.
And with that, we all looked over at the large Bloomberg screen on the front wall. Michael was glued to it. And Bloomberg was repeatedly showing a brief clip of what looked like a gun protruding from one of our office windows. We were done for - or at least Tim was.
It wasn't long before the police were all over the building. And this time they came in numbers, and they were armed. They were also very pissed, as some of the mob had been injured in the panic that followed the sighting of the 'rifle'. By this time, it was all over the news, and the BBC, CNN and Sky TV were running reports of what had happened. We were hitting the headlines around the world. The guys in Corporate Communications would be having kittens!
After a thorough search of the top floors, the police descended onto the trading area (a member of staff had apparently pointed out that it was more than likely a trader that had pulled the stunt - on the basis that traders were the only ones stupid enough to do something like that). The police also knew about the air-gun's history (and that it had been kept in a cupboard on the trading floor for years), and were determined to find it, fingerprint it, and identify the culprit. But, despite a full-blown search of the building, they had been unable to uncover it (I later learned that Tim, in one of his quicker-thinking moments, had thrown a wad of cash at one of the messengers, and persuaded him to smuggle the air-gun out of the building in his gym bag, before the police arrived).
The trading floor was packed, as the police descended and moved quickly to seal off the exits. A number of other staff from operations, IT and compliance, anxious to see the drama unfold, came onto the floor just ahead of the police.
I looked over at Tim, who was sweating, only now appreciating how reckless he had been. He wasn't laughing now, knowing that, if he was caught, he would be in serious trouble - he might even end up doing jail time. Tim was an idiot. He had become a big liability and, whatever the outcome of this little affair, he was unlikely to have a job with us for much longer. He was just too irresponsible. But, right now, he was one of us. And the few people who knew that he was the culprit still wanted to do all that they could to protect him.
The crowd gathered on the trading floor went silent, as the Detective in charge addressed us, standing on a desk at the front of the floor, near the huge Bloomberg screen. Looking stern, and clearly angry, he told us that he was determined to find out the identity of the person who caused the mayhem, and that, if necessary, he would pull every one of us into the station, and take statements; in short, he would make life very difficult for us to operate.
'So', he continued, 'You get just one chance. The person responsible for this foolhardy act needs to come forward now and take the consequences. Otherwise, you'll all suffer. I promise you that'.
A total quiet enveloped the floor, as everyone waited to see what would happen next. Michael was standing next to me, and he had his head in his hands, wondering where all this was going, and fearing the worst (and what would his dad think ?!). I wanted to look over at Tim, to see if there was any indication that he would fess up, but I couldn't do so without drawing attention to him, so I kept my eyes out front.
The Detective Inspector looked around at the faces on the trading floor, as if, by sheer will power, he would be able to flush out the guilty party. But he clearly couldn't. And just as if it looked as if the Detective was going to call time, and have us all rounded up, Peter stepped forward and shouted: 'It was me. I am Spartacus!'. I was stunned, and so were a lot of other traders on the floor. They might not have known exactly who was responsible for the incident, but they knew it couldn't have been Peter, as he hadn't left his desk since he made his dramatic entry that morning.
The police moved quickly, and surrounded him. And they were just about to cuff him, when Neil, the head of derivatives settlements, also stepped forward, saying: 'It was me. I am Spartacus!'. The police checked, and looked at each other in bemusement. They hadn't expected this. Two employees had owned up - and one must have been over 60 years old. This didn't add up.
Tim sidled over to me, just as Trudie stepped forward, shouting: 'It was me. I am Spartacus!'. The police officers and the Detective exchanged confused glances.
'What the fuck ?', Tim asked.
'It's an old Kirk Douglas film', I replied. 'Rebel slaves were caught by the Romans, who were anxious to round up Spartacus, the leader, and make an example of him. Rather than give him up, they all claimed that they were Spartacus'.
'Well, what happened to them all then ?' Tim wanted to know.
'They got fucking crucified!', I pointed out.
Getting it at last, and flushed with pride that his colleagues were doing their best to protect him, Tim stepped forward too, crying the now-familiar: 'It was me. I am Spartacus!', and before long most everyone on the floor had followed suit. The police were now totally flummoxed. They didn't know what to do, as there was no way that they could arrest everybody. And the firm staff had made it clear in dramatic style that, even if they were taken down the station, they wouldn't tell anyone anything - no matter the consequences.
Realising that he was defeated, the Detective just shook his head, and ordered the police officers out of the building. 'Come on', he shouted, 'We've wasted enough time in here already. We'll never get to the truth. Fucking bankers!'. And with that, they all left. Tim had once again lucked out. But, although he didn't know it, his luck was about to run out.
And strangely enough, although the incidents with the G20 protesters didn't do us any favours with the general public, who thought that we were just typical greedy, irresponsible bankers, they did wonders for the firm's efforts to bring in new talent. All of a sudden, we were seen as a cool firm to work for, and we were contacted by all manner of people who wanted to get on the payroll. It's a strange world, the City. Even in these politically correct days, it's still full of people trying to be rebellious.
'Calm down, will you', Peter said as the nine of us sat round the circular table in Michael's office. It was after work near to Halloween, and the rest of the traders had left for the evening.
'I can't fucking believe you got me into this', Tim complained, 'Haven't we got better things to do on a Friday night ?'.
'Look Tim, if you're not into it, then fuck off', I exclaimed, 'Peter's got powers. But all your negativity will put him off', I continued as I gently kicked Peter under the table, and tried to stop myself laughing.
'It's not me he'll put off', Peter said all-knowingly, 'It's the spirits. They won't show up if there are too many doubters. You'll have to try and keep an open mind, Tim'.
'Can we try and get in contact with someone specific', asked Trudie.
'Who do you have in mind ?', I asked.
'Her hero - Jade fucking Goody, of course', Tim laughed.
'Fuck off, Tim', Trudie replied, 'No, I want to connect with some of my family, that's all'.
'It doesn't work like that anyway', Peter interjected, 'Whoever comes through, comes through. Now, can we focus please ?'.
All went quiet. Even though I knew that this was a put-up job, I felt the tension. Although there had been a lot of mickey taking, everyone seemed to be on edge - just in case there was something in it. And Peter was really up for it, hamming it up big time.
'Someone's has broken the circle', he exclaimed, 'I can't make contact if you break the circle. Please hold hands and clear your minds'.
We settled back down.
'Is there anybody there ?', Peter asked dramatically. 'Is there a friendly spirit who wants to come through ?'
'We are your friends', he continued in his deep rich voice. 'We want to make contact. Is there anyone there who has something to say to the living ?'
I looked over at Peter. Wasn't this about the time that the IT guy, who was hiding in Michael's cupboard, was supposed to set-off the sound effects ? Peter returned my quizzical stare and shrugged his shoulders.
'Fucking IT', I said under my breath. 'Typical'.
Playing for time, Peter suggested that we grip each others hands more tightly, and try closing our eyes.
'What was that ?' Andy asked, as we heard a thud coming from the direction of the cupboard. All eyes were in that direction.
'Shhh', Peter ordered, 'It's starting. Someone's here'.
'Who ?', Andy asked, his enlarged eyes betraying that he was nervous.
'Probably the Head of Compliance', Tim joked.
'He's not dead, stupid', Trudie pointed out.
'Well he'd certainly have a heart attack if he examined some of my recent trades!', Tim retorted.
And just as Tim had broken the ice with that gag, an empty glass appeared to jump from a small cabinet on the other side of the office, and ended up in two pieces on the carpet.
'Fuck', said Andy, 'Did you see that ?' We did. Well, at least we heard it hit the carpet. 'Shit', Andy continued, 'We're all holding hands. It can't have been a trick. No one touched it'.
'Calm down, Andy', Tim said, 'It just fell off. It's no big deal. It was just too close to the edge'.
And then Trudie screamed, and pointed to the painting above the cabinet. 'It moved', she said breathlessly. 'The fucking thing moved'. It was a weird painting anyway. But it had been in that office ever since I'd been at the firm, outlasting all its occupants. It was a picture of a male witch being burned at the stake, surrounded by a baying mob. I'd always hated it. It gave me the creeps.
'Fuck off, Trudie. It did no such thing', said the ever-sceptical Tim.
But move it did. And it moved again. We all saw it. Fuck me, I thought. This was impressive. I never thought that Peter could set this up so convincingly. I was scared shitless (and I was in on it). How the hell must the others feel ?
And just as we were freaking each other out, there was a loud knock on the door. Trudie screamed again, although this time for longer and even louder.
I looked over at Tim. He wasn't cracking jokes anymore. It looked like he was the one going to have the heart attack now! 'Who the fuck's there ?', he shouted.
'Alistair Darling. And I've come for your bonuses', Michael said as he entered his office. 'And what's all the racket ? What's going on ? And as for you, Tim, you look like you've just seen a ghost!'.
Michael entrance couldn't have been more timely, and we all quickly made our excuses and left. Most of us were just pleased to get out of that room.
'Well that was fucking impressive, Peter', I said as we gathered up our belongings and made to exit the building.
'Yes, it was', he replied. 'But I can't take the credit. It was that IT guy. He really delivered'.
'The IT guy!', we both cried in unison, and rushed back to Michael's office.
Fortunately, Michael had left too, so there was no-one else there. We rushed to the cupboard.
'Fuck, it's stuck', I said as I tried to open the cupboard door.
'Shit. I locked him in', Peter said. 'I didn't want anyone trying the door and finding him. The key's in my desk. I'll run back and get it'.
The door finally open, we saw the IT guy slumped against the back wall.
'Is he dead ?', I asked, convinced that he was.
'I hope not', Peter replied, 'That'll be a bit embarrassing. I don't even know his name'.
'You don't know his name ?', I repeated incredulously.
'Well, do you ?', he asked.
'Eh, he's the fucking IT guy, ain't he ?', I conceded.
'The dead IT guy, by the looks of it'.
But the IT guy wasn't dead (we never did find out his name). It turns out that he was claustrophobic (something he forgot to mention), and had simply passed out in that confined space. We soon revived him, and he went off on his way.
'So what the fuck happened in here, then ?' I asked. 'It can't have been the IT guy, coz he was sparko'.
'I don't know', Peter replied, as he picked up the broken glass and replaced in on the cabinet. I looked over at the painting that several of us had earlier swore blind had moved. It looked fine now, exactly in its proper position. Maybe we'd just imagined it. Mass hysteria, or something.
'You shouldn't muck about with things you don't understand', came the voice from just outside the office door. Peter and I almost wet ourselves.
It was the cleaner. An old guy I'd never seen before, but whose face seemed strangely familiar.
'What's that ?', asked Peter, recovering his composure.
'You shouldn't be messing with things like that. You don't know what you're going to disturb. Leave all that alone. You'll find out what's on the other side soon enough'.
'It was just a bit of fun, that's all', I replied.
'This place was built on an old execution site, you know', the cleaner continued. 'You can't imagine what horrors happened here. They used to burn people at the stake here in the 17th century, you know, thinking they were witches. People died horrible deaths'.
I hadn't heard that before, but I was starting to get really freaked out now.
'And anyway', the cleaner carried on, 'You should never do something like that without protection'.
'Protection ?', I repeated.
'Yes. You need a cross, a cross blessed by a priest. That will ward off the evil spirits'.
'Well', said Peter after a few moments reflection, 'I guess we'd best be on our way. Have a good weekend', he said to the cleaner as we brushed passed him on our way out. The old man nodded and went back to his duties.
'That old cleaner sacred the shit out me', I said on Monday morning, as a few of us sat in the canteen drinking our first group coffee of the week.
'Did you know that people were actually executed on this site ? Burned at the stake as witches', I continued.
'Who told you that ?', Michael scoffed.
'One of the cleaners on Friday night', I replied.
'Well I don't know anything about that', Michael said, 'But I do know that you must have been mistaken about the cleaner. They don't work on a Friday. They come in on Sundays'.
My heart jumped into my mouth. I looked over at Peter, who had gone strangely quiet and was clearly deep in thought.
'Oh well', Peter finally said, 'I'm going upstairs. Got some work to do. Come on', he said to me.
'I've got to check something out', Peter said as we went up in the lift. 'It's been bothering me all weekend. That cleaner. He looked real familiar....'
'Yeah, I replied, 'That's what I thought, but I just couldn't place him'.
I followed Peter back to the trading floor, and into Michael's office. He walked up to look at the painting that had spooked us all out on the Friday. He stood there staring at it, saying nothing. I looked up at the painting too. It was the witch. The one being burned at the stake. There was no doubt. His face was clearly visible. It was the old man who had warned us off messing with the spirits. The man who had appeared to us as a cleaner.
It was a late Friday afternoon, and most of us were truly pissed off. All trading had stopped, as we set to work complaining about the most important thing in our lives - our annual bonuses.
The big problem this year was that we were now part of a major banking group which had been bailed out by the US government, and as such we had certain compensation restrictions. Under pressure from US lawmakers, the bank that owned us had amended its compensation policy earlier in the year, and that meant that the majority of our bonus payments were going to be paid in deferred equity, which vested in up to 5 years. For us, this was a disaster.
We as a firm had never got involved in trading mortgage debt, so we had managed to dodge the subprime bullet. All through the financial crisis we had remained profitable (that was why US Bank decided to take advantage of our low stock price and acquire us), but now, through no fault of our own, we had been dragged into all the political nonsense and were facing the prospect of a practically cashless bonus this year-end. And mutiny was in the air.
'Fuck it', Tim said, 'Why are we even having this conversation ? We knew that no good would come of this fucking takeover. It's been nothing but aggro. US Bank is one bureaucratic nightmare, and now this. And we didn't even get retentions when they bought us out. It's a fucking joke!'.
'That's right', Adrian agreed, 'We know that ICAT is after us (that was the firm that had expressed a keen interest in hiring most of our front office staff). Let's go talk to them again. We could get huge salary increases, a big sign-on, and they'd buy out this year's stock award in cash. It's a no brainer'.
Even I had to agree. 'It's probably worth treating their overtures more seriously', I said, 'After all, what have we got to lose ?'.
'What's the matter with you guys ?', Peter interjected, 'Can't you see how lucky you are ? Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs in our industry over the last 2 years. Firms have gone bust, failed. US Bank may not be what we signed up for, but it has mostly left us alone. And Michael's a good bloke. He's looked after us. You can't just walk away. Where's your loyalty ? Can't you see that you are all just acting like the greedy devils we are portrayed to be in the media ? It makes me sick. Don't you have enough cash ? Don't you have good jobs with a decent company ? Take a look outside. Take a look at what's happening back home where you live. Shops are closing, people are suffering. For fuck's sake, stop complaining and thank your lucky stars you're in the the position you are'.
'Nice speech, Peter', Tim replied, 'But all that loyalty thing just doesn't cut it. There's no such thing as loyalty now. US Bank would fire us tomorrow if it suited 'em. And they wouldn't think twice',
'Let's go to the pub and discuss this over a beer', I suggested, 'You coming Peter ?'.
'No, but you go ahead', He replied, 'I've said my piece, and anyway, I've got some stuff to clear up here before I leave'.
I was the first in the following Monday. Or at least I thought I was. I'd done little else all weekend but think about the possibility of leaving the firm, and Peter's little rant. I walked across the trading floor to my desk, and was surprised to see Peter already at his desk.
'Bloody hell', I said, 'You're early, old chap'.
He said nothing. Surely he couldn't still be pissed off about us all thinking of leaving ?
'Come on, Peter, don't be mad at us', I said as I walked over.
He still didn't move, so I put my hand on his shoulder, and he slumped forward in his chair. My heart jumped, and I panicked.
'Peter!, Peter! Jesus Christ!', I shouted, 'Will someone help me!', I screamed, knowing full well that there was no-one else on the floor.
I felt his head, then his hand, frantically trying to find a pulse. But it was too late. He was obviously dead.
As the tears fell down my face, I dialled the emergency services and explained the situation. An ambulance crew arrived in minutes, just as the trading floor started to fill up. The Coroner arrived soon after, and told us that it looked as if Peter had been dead since Friday. It seemed that he must have had a heart attack soon after we left for the pub. Quite how the cleaning crew missed him when they came in on the Sunday, I'll never understand.
Everyone was shocked about what had happened, but life (for the rest of us) clearly went on. The market was open, so we traded, although only a few traders really had the stomach for it. I left early and went to the pub that had become Peter's favourite 'watering hole' (as he liked to describe it). I sat in the back, right where we used to sit, and slowly downed a pint in tribute to him. Back at work, Tim and some of the others guys decided to pick up where they left off with ICAT, and remained highly confident that they would soon be on their way to bigger things. And then there was the funeral to look forward to.
I don't think that I've ever seen so many people crammed into a church. Certainly not for a funeral. Peter had worked in the markets forever, and the church was full of the who's who of the City. I was amazed at the some of the senior guys that attended the ceremony, and surprised to learn that Peter had started many of them off on their roads to success. And none of them had forgotten him, gladly coming to pay their respects. One surprise, however, was that Peter didn't seem to have any family, or at least there didn't appear to be any present.
After the service, during which Nigel gave a moving eulogy, a group of about 50 of us moved outside to witness the burial itself, and participate in that service.
The rain had started to fall, and it was quite muddy. We stood on the grass as they lowered the coffin into the ground. I'd never witnessed anything like this before, and I could feel a lump in my throat. I was going to miss the old fellow. I clearly had my doubts all those months back, when Nigel first introduced him and told me that Peter would be on my team. At first I thought it was a joke, but Peter ended up winning most of us over. They don't make them like Peter any more, and I guess we'll never see his like again. At least not in the City.
Tim's laughter brought me back from my thoughts about Peter. He was waving his job offer in his hand, and, in my view being totally disrespectful. But that was Tim. I was fed up making excuses for him.
'Keep it down, Tim', I whispered as I sidled up to him, 'Have a bit of respect, will you!'.
'Fuck off, Dave', he said loudly, 'You're only jealous because I've got a new job. And if I'd have listened to that old sod (he said pointing to the coffin), I'd not have this fucking whopping contract!'.
With that, I lost it. I grabbed Tim by his collar, and smacked him in the mouth with my other hand. He buckled immediately, and fell to the ground. And to my horror, he rolled straight on top of the coffin.
'Oh my God', I said, 'What have I done now!'.
'Don't worry', Nigel said as he came up to me with a smile across his face, 'Peter would have enjoyed that. He came to think that Tim was nothing but a jerk, anyway'.
I smiled back at Nigel, looked over at Tim's listless body on top of the coffin, and turned and walked away.
Who says 'old traders never die', I thought as I walked passed the cemetery gates. They do, of course they do. But some of them will never be forgotten.