By the time they get to the airport, everybody is elated. The feedback on the cell phone from the Barcourt salesman on the Semper account couldn't be better: "Tom Chen loves the story. He loves Larry. He loves Donna. He wants a million shares, he loves us so much. I told you I had him prepared to eat out of your hand."
"He's the first guy who understood 'e-com squared'," says Larry. "That must've been it. Did he say anything about that part of the pitch?"
The salesman can't remember him mentioning that.
"I sure hope Braxton keeps his deal and follows up with 'e-com cubed'," says Larry. "He'll want three million shares then."
"Of course, he can't have a million shares and he knows that," Gustav explains. "It's all part of the game. It's like bridge. We'll give him a bigger allocation because he asked for a million than we would if he'd asked for 500 thousand. He'll complain about how small his allocation is, but he'll buy in the aftermarket, and might well end up with a position of around a million shares. Not only that; people watch him. When they see the stock in Semper Internet Fund, they'll buy, too. SIF is hot, hot, hot."
It's still pouring, but the limo drives onto the tarmac next to the chartered BeechJet waiting to take them to Fort Worth. The crew and the limo driver huddle over the passengers with umbrellas as they climb the short airstair into the plane. Luggage, too, is handled without the roadshow crew having to get wet or even bend over - they just have to point out which bags they want in the cabin and which can go in the baggage compartment.
At twenty-six, the plane is Rachel's age but looks younger. The cabin has recently been refurbished; phones and a GPS display to show where they are en route have been added. The upholstery is modern and there's a DVD player. On the left side there are large individual leather seats; on the right is a comfortable couch in the same leather.
The single seats swivel towards the center so that Larry and Donna, who are sitting in them, can face Gustav and Rachel on the couch. There's a tiny galley where the copilot prepares adequate meals. Liquor's been preloaded to the tastes of the passengers and there are always fresh jumbo shrimp, crackers, fruits, and good cheeses. The seats have foldout trays and a clever mechanism brings up a polished wood table from under the front of the couch. No one tells them that any of this has to be stowed for takeoff although they are asked, politely, to fasten their seatbelts.
Because of the driving rain, takeoff from Logan is delayed; the roadshow team has a slight buzz before they leave the ground.
Larry and Donna have told the bankers about the questions John Signal asked at the end of the pitch. "What was all that about?" Larry asks. "Why was he focusing on announcements?"
"He's looking for his out," says Gustav. "He wants to know how long he is going to have to wait to flip the stock. Son of a bitch Signal does that too often. He buys almost everything and then he's out of ninety-five percent of it after the first good announcement or positive press release. He can be pretty sure that your first announcement after the quiet period ends isn't going to be negative but he was trying to check."
"So we shouldn't give him any kind of allocations," says Donna.
"Unfortunately, it is not so simple," says Gustav. "Semper has its own trading desk. When they order, we don't know whether it's for Tom Chen or John Signal or for one of their other funds. Sometimes one fund is buying when another one's selling. Our desk tries to psych out their desk and, of course, the traders tell each other things. But they lie, too. So you don't know if what they told you is the real thing or just what they want you to think."
"But the salesman said Tom Chen was asking for a million shares," objects Donna.
"You believe a salesman?" says Larry reasserting his cynicism.
"We can believe that Semper is asking for a million shares," says Gustav seriously. "But Larry is right; we don't really know whether it's for SIF or for John Signal's fund or whatever. And we won't know whom they're buying for when they buy in the aftermarket. After each quarter, the individual funds have to report their quarter-end holdings so we'll have a good idea after the fact what happened during the quarter, but not while it's happening. Still, a million shares is a great order; you guys are on a roll. Word of this will get around the Barcourt sales force and we'll make sure the other members of the syndicate get the word out to the field as well. This is great. Salud!"
They refill their drinks. The plane is cleared for takeoff and turns onto the huge runway, taxis briefly, and climbs at a very steep angle. The wet green, red, and white lights of the airport and a glimpse of downtown Boston quickly disappear as they enter the low clouds. Somewhere over the ocean they make a sharp turn towards Texas, soon break out on top, and are greeted by a sky that appears to be full of dollar signs.
The steaks everybody except Rachel ordered are very good; she's a vegetarian and says her steamed turbot is also good although she's not quite sure what's in the sauce. The wine is excellent, thanks to Gustav, who brought it from his ersatz cellar. The first thing he wants, he says, when he buys a house out of the City is a wine cellar and a cigar room with separate ventilation. His wife is also a banker with a different firm. They met at Columbia Business School, he says. They will have children soon and that's when they'll need the house in the suburbs. For now, the City is great.
Rachel went to Columbia Business School also, she says. Gustav was a few years ahead of her so they didn't know each other there but they had all the same professors and know all the same people now. She is Jewish and lives with a guy who's Muslim. Not that either of them are practicing, but these are cultures as much as religions and that sometimes makes things difficult. Especially with parents. Neither of their parents are willing to meet the significant other.
"Not a bad deal," says Larry. "I could've done without my in-laws, especially my father-in-law. My wife is the world's last genuine Jewish-American Princess. Never worked a day for pay in her life. Her dad owned a hardware store in the five towns on Long Island before they were really settled; then he owned five hardware stores in the five towns. Then he owned hardware stores all over Long Island. Had a mild heart attack just before Home Depot was invented. Best thing that ever happened to him. Sold all those stores and all that downtown real estate just before they lost value.
"He thought I was just what his princess needed to keep her in the style she was accustomed to or better; Harvard B-School and everything. And he always assumed I was Jewish - really, I'm a half-breed. But when I went to prison - shit, that was it - the end of the world. He wanted Louise out of the marriage right now. Had the lawyer all lined up for the divorce. But, funny thing, she stuck with me. Returned the lawyer and bought another fur with what she got back on the retainer. Visited me almost every week. Had a big party at The Plaza when I got out and made them tie yellow ribbons around the pillars in The Palm Court."
"That's romantic," says Rachel. She's a little flushed, probably from the wine. "Ahmed's not romantic; Arabs aren't."
"They used to be," says Larry. "What about Sinbad? What about the Sheiks of Araby? What about all those characters Rudolph Valentino used to play? And the guy that married Rita Hayworth - the Ali Khan - I think. You may just have the wrong guy. Or maybe the world changed."
"What does your husband do?" Gustav asks Donna.
"He's an attorney."
"What kind of attorney? What firm is he with?"
"He's a partner at Grant and Gilding. He's the kind of lawyer that does class action suits against companies that have IPOs."
There is a weighty silence. No one wants to talk about that.
"Don't worry," says Donna. "He wouldn't be able to take a case against us; conflict of interest. He'd have to leave it to someone else in the firm and he's the best, so we'd only have a second-string lawyer representing the poor aggrieved investors."
Still no one wants to talk about that.
Gustav gets everyone's permission to play a DVD of the Sopranos he's brought aboard for quiet minutes. They watch well-dressed New Jersey gangsters throw obscenities, occasional fists, and occasional bullets at each other as they (the roadshow team, not the gangsters) fly over Pennsylvania.
Donna may be asleep. And she may not be.
By protocol, Larry and Donna check in first when they arrive in the enormous atrium of that night's hotel in Fort Worth. Rooms have been reserved for them on an executive floor near the top. They say good night to Gustav and Rachel, who are still in the process of checking into their non executive rooms, and head for the elevator.
On the way up, Donna reaches down and rubs Larry's balls through his pin-striped pants. Not only is this very amusing to the patrons of the third floor bar, which the glass-side elevator is rising through, but it is also intensely interesting to the bored security guard at the video camera who immediately secures the loop of tape containing the rub. It is destined for fifteen minutes of fame on an Internet site where security guards post such happenings for their own amusement.
The elevator stops at Donna's floor first but she doesn't get off. The security guard is amused but not surprised. She gets off before Larry at his floor and gives him another rub as she brushes past him.
"Coming along nicely," she observes.
"To what do I owe this honor?" asks Larry.
"You were great at Semper. Made me wet just listening to you," she says as she pushes closed the door to his room and locks the safety latch.
Larry drops his bags and carefully hangs his roadshow jacket on the highly-polished wooden coat tree. He kicks off his shoes, gets himself a Scotch and Donna a vodka from the mini-bar. She folds her jacket carefully and drapes it over the back of a chair before taking the drink.
"You have the hots for that twat from Barcourt?" she asks.
"Do you have the hots for what's-her-name - Rachel?" asks Donna.
"What? Why? ...And what do you care?"
Donna is sitting in a small armchair; Larry at the end of a two-seater couch at right angles to the armchair. They put their drinks on a glass coffee table in the angle formed by the chair and the couch heaped with magazines; the top one has a picture of the hotel chain's CEO on the cover.
Donna smiles. "You never talk about being in jail. At Semper, you had to say what you said and you were great." She smiles. " But you told the story when you didn't have to, on the plane, and you actually talked about jail. That was for Rachel. The bigger her eyes got, the more that you talked. The more you talked, the bigger her eyes got." Donna's smile changes; her eyes cold green.
"Look, I'm not gonna screw the help on the roadshow," says Larry. "Might blow what little brains she has. But why do you care? How's your husband?"
"I don't care," says Donna. "I don't care who you screw, but I do care if you screw up the roadshow. We've come too far for you to fuck all this up because you've got the hots for some twat with big eyes. You asked me in Geneva if this was really going to happen and I said 'Probably, yes, unless something goes wrong'. I don't want you to be the something that goes wrong."
"So what are you doing rubbing my balls and coming to my room?" asks Larry. "We said we weren't going to screw around when you took the job. You said that and I agreed. What are you doing here?"
"I never do anything I don't want to do," says Donna. "Never." She rises and walks around the coffee table to the other side of the couch and sits next to Larry. "I'm here to take care of my CEO."
"Which is it?" asks Larry. "Are you doing what you want to do or taking care of your CEO?"
"Do you care?" asks Donna. She rubs the inside of his thigh, slowly, still sipping her drink.
"Yeah, I do."
"You do what?" asks Donna.
"I do care. I do care why you do what you do. I don't like surprises and you're surprising me..."
"Surprise!" she says as she unzips his fly expertly with one hand. A bulge of white underwear pushes out of the breach on cue. "I think you like surprises."
"No, I DON'T," he says with emphasis. He tries to push her away with his elbow and connects with her left breast.
She leans forward towards the bulge of underwear which grows obligingly towards her and rubs her breast on his arm.
"We both know we're here for the money and not for fun and games," he says.
"Don't be so hard," she smiles, then: "Actually, I like you hard." She disengages his cock from his underpants and then tongues the first leaking drop from the tip.
"Okay," says Larry. "Okay." He undoes his belt; then slides his right hand up the back of her blouse and tries to disengage her bra.
She pulls her mouth back so she can talk. "It hooks in front, Lar. Some things have changed since graduate school."
He gently pushes her head back down into his lap. "Your mouth hasn't," he says, but he is talking very softly now. He presses her breasts with his forearm as he reaches under her chest to unbutton the blouse and unhook the bra.
She straightens up just long enough to shrug off both blouse and the bra and to push her shoulders back for a second as if her newly liberated breasts need a stretch. They are larger and more sloped than in graduate school but still firm; her nipples, which always were large, have grown. She leans back down.
Larry pushes her off gently, stands up, kicks off his shoes, and slips off his pants; has a moment's difficulty with his jockey shorts because his erection is protruding from the fly but manages to back it out. He still has his shirt on and his tie and socks.
Donna steps out of her skirt.
"I thought only kids wear thongs," says Larry softly.
"Since Monica, we all do," says Donna. "Got a cigar, Bill?"
"I've got better," says Larry, turning her around and bending her over the couch after he pushes the coffee table back with some difficulty. "I like these," he says about the thong, as he realizes he can enter her cunt from behind even while she's wearing it. "Just for the record, this is sex and I know what 'is' means."
"Shut up, Larry."
After, Donna puts on the robe from the closet and Larry pulls his jockey shorts back on. They finish their drinks without talking.
"Go to your room, Donna," says Larry gently. It is an old joke from their graduate school dorm. When she doesn't move, he adds: "I've got to call Louise."
"I don't care," she says. "Call."
"I do," he says.
She dresses, picks up her bags, and leaves. "Good job today, Lar," she says. "Watch where you put your pecker, though."
Gustav and Rachel don't go straight to their non-executive rooms after checking in; they stop in the hanging bar on the third floor of the atrium for a drink.
"He's something," says Rachel about Larry.
"Ja, he's a piece of work," agrees Gustav. "He acts like he's proud of having gone to prison."
"I don't think he is," says Rachel. "But he can't put it behind him; he has to be able to talk about it the way he did at Semper. It's part of the company's story. But it must be painful. The part about his wife and the yellow ribbons at the Plaza was almost romantic."
"I don't think he's romantic," says Gustav stolidly.
"Am I what?" Gustav asks.
"Are you romantic? Are you and your wife lovers or are you, you know, just married?"
"I suppose we are romantic," says Gustav. "I think so."
"Ahmed's not romantic," Rachel says. "He's very handsome and he treats me very well and he never forgets a birthday or an anniversary but he's not romantic. I don't know if I care or not but he's not romantic. He'll expect me to call him tonight. If I don't call, he'll be upset because I'm supposed to call; but I don't know if he really cares. About talking to me, I mean. I'm just supposed to call. Maybe I won't."
She orders another drink. Gustav doesn't.
"Will you call me in my room if there are any changes in tomorrow's schedule?" asks Gustav. "I'm having trouble with my modem and I don't know if I'm going to be able to get online and get my email. Just in case, will you call me?"
"Do you want to come to my room and get your email on my computer?" asks Rachel. "I know how important it is to you to get your email."
"Uh ... thank you but no. I don't think so," says Gustav. "Thank you, anyway, though."
Rachel is angry. "That's absurd. If I were a guy you'd go in a minute; you'd never pass up a chance to get your email. Are you afraid I'm trying to seduce you?"
"No! No, of course not. It's just that ... I mean, I really don't need to see my email that much. Maybe my modem will work this time. Thank you, but ... uh ... I think not."
"Maybe I AM trying to seduce you," says Rachel. She puts her hand roughly over his on the cocktail table. "Do you want to come up to my room?" she asks, looking him in the eye.
"You're tired, Rachel," says Gustav. "This is a tough trip. Get some sleep and let me know if there are any changes to the schedule in case I can't get online." He signs the check, hefts his bags, and goes to his room.
Rachel leaves soon afterwards. She doesn't call Ahmed.
In the morning, taking advantage of the time difference between Texas and New York, Gustav calls his boss, Harvey Maklin, at Barcourt in New York.
"Sounds like Semper went great," says Harvey. "Congratulations."
"Ja," says Gustav, "it did, thanks. But that is not why I am calling you."
"What's up?" asks Harvey.
"I have a problem. I THINK I have a problem, with Rachel."
"Oh, no," says Harvey. "Am I about to get a sexual harassment complaint from her about you, too?"
"Me, too?" says Gustav. "No, no; it's the other way around. I think she may have propositioned me."
"You think?" asks Harvey. "You don't know if you've been propositioned?"
"I'm not sure," says Gustav. "See, my modem is not working and she offered to let me go to her room to get my email. I thought that wasn't a good idea so I said 'no.' Then she got mad and said I was a chauvinist and that I thought she was trying to seduce me. Then she said maybe she was trying to seduce me and she touched me..."
"Oh, God," says Harvey. "I really don't want to get into this. Touched you where?"
"My hand. Just my hand," says Gustav quickly.
"Thank God," says Harvey. "Look, women touch hands all the time. We can't do that, but they can, so that's not so bad. But the discussion - maybe that's a problem. If she's mad, she still might accuse you of harassment, too."
"Who else did she accuse of harassment?" asks Gustav.
"You wouldn't believe it if I told you and I'm not going to. In fact, I never mentioned it to you. Look, if I were you, I'd write a memo to file just in case. You can never be too careful."
"I'll do that," says Gustav.
After hanging up, Harvey writes a memo to file about the call. He leaves out telling Gustav about Rachel's other complaint.
Gustav also writes a memo to file. He scrupulously documents Harvey telling him about Rachel's other complaint.
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