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Overseas(6)
Beatriz Williams

“So what did you think?” Banner began, taking a drink of cappuccino. In Italy, two summers and a lifetime ago, I’d learned that nobody drank cappuccino after eleven in the morning; the knowledge gave me a pleasant surge of moral confidence.

I settled against the slippery wooden back of my chair and crossed my legs. “I don’t know. I wasn’t there. What did they make of the revenue projections?”

“They had a few questions.” He drummed his fingers against the table and peered outside at the narrow swarming sidewalks. The Sterling Bates headquarters were located only one block down from the New York Stock Exchange, which meant we were among the relatively few people working on Wall Street who actually worked on Wall Street. My folks got a kick out of that.

I sipped at my mocha and waited for him to continue.

“Katie,” he said finally, “what are your plans for next year? Business school?”

“I think so. I just sent off the last application on Friday.”

“Where did you go to undergrad, again?”

I hesitated. “University of Wisconsin.”

“That’s right. I remember. We don’t usually recruit from there, do we?”

“No,” I said. “Not usually.”

“Well, I’m glad we made the exception. You’ve been a remarkably productive asset for us. We’d hate to lose you.”

I laughed politely. “Even after this morning?”

“Especially after this morning. Don’t think I didn’t see how Alicia sandbagged you in there. I’ve been around here long enough to know a thing or two.”

“Hmm.” Probably not the right moment to make my j’accuse just yet.

His eyes latched onto mine, trying to connect; I raised my coffee cup again as a buffer. “Now, that’s what I like about you,” he said. “You don’t waste your killer instinct on office politics. Unlike most of the jackasses around here. Myself included,” he added, with a laugh. “Anyway, you got out of there with poise, Katie. Real poise. Laurence was impressed.”

The coffee caught at the back of my throat.

“Very impressed. He was asking me a lot of questions about you at lunch.”

“Really.” Cough, sputter. “What kind of questions?”

“Just questions. Here’s the deal, Katie. I’d like you to take the lead on this thing. Rework the numbers, get something back to them in the next day or two.”

“What?” I wheezed out, through the coffee droplets. I set down my cup and wiped at my watering eyes, not quite sure I’d heard him properly.

He leaned forward across the table, until I could count the stress lines cutting across his forehead. “We need Southfield in on this deal, Katie,” he insisted, pressing his right index finger into the wood veneer. “If Southfield’s in, others will follow. Fucking lemmings. You know that.”

“No, I get it.” I edged back my chair as discreetly as possible. “I’m really flattered. It’s just… are you sure you want me taking the lead? I’m not exactly senior. I wasn’t even in the meeting.”

“If you’re worried about Alicia, I can promise you she won’t be a problem.”

“No, no,” I said swiftly. “I can handle that.”

He paused for a beat or two, inspecting my expression, and then his face eased into a smug smile. “Relax, Katie. Laurence likes you, and it would be a good high-profile project for you. Pretty straightforward, too. And I’d be one hundred percent behind you.”

“Wow,” I said. I was beginning to feel like one of those poor schmucks in the Godfather movies, being made an offer he couldn’t refuse. I ran my finger delicately around the rim of the plastic coffee lid and tried to think of something more to say.

“Good, then.” Banner sat back. “Consider yourself the point man. I’ll give Laurence a shout to let him know it’s coming.” He stood and picked up his cup with a wink. “Now, try to go home early and get some beauty sleep.”

“SO, DUDE,” CHARLIE SAID, around one o’clock the next morning, “what’s the fucking deal here? Banner’s not pimping you, is he?”

I swiveled my chair to face him. “What? Oh please. Not that Banner wouldn’t try if he could,” I admitted, “but I’m not exactly hedgie bait.”

“Whatever. I smell a Banner plot.” Charlie propped his feet up on his desk and balanced a red editing pen on his knee. He looked tired and pasty under the fluorescent lights, like he’d been hung upside down in a meat locker for the day. “And Alicia’s on the fucking warpath, by the way. You’d better watch your ass.”

I leaned back in my chair and rubbed my eyes. “That’s all I need.”

We were sitting in adjoining cubes, coming up with a more sensible revenue model for ChemoDerma. That was the cover story, anyway; at the moment my laptop displayed a long list of Google search results for Julian Laurence Southfield.

I’d already read most of them, doing my due diligence on Southfield the last few days, and there wasn’t much I didn’t already know. How Julian Laurence had started the fund in 2001, bringing together a couple of genius traders and his own impeccable talent for timing markets. Returns had piled up, new investors had piled on, and now Southfield Associates was one of the largest hedge funds in the world.

But for such a dynamic company, it had remarkably little buzz. Here and there a quote appeared, attributed to Julian, usually some dull reflection on market conditions, nothing with any sort of personality.

And that was the strange part. Here was this freakishly handsome man, the young CEO of an explosive hedge fund, an absolute prodigy in every respect: where were the interviews, the Vanity Fair cover, the snarky New York magazine hit job? Even Page Six returned only one mention from last year, when he had attended some charity function at MoMA: Julian Laurence, the elusive founder of mega hedge fund Southfield Associates, made a rare appearance, setting socialites’ hearts briefly aflutter until his early departure.

That was it. Not even a photo of that remarkable face.

I ran my cursor over his name. Why keep such a low profile? He ought to be out enjoying himself, dating supermodels and buying up beachfront property in the Hamptons. He had the world at his feet. He couldn’t just be staying in at night.

“So are we supposed to check any of this shit with ChemoDerma?” Charlie was asking. “Because it’s pretty weird, messing with the IPO pitch without… shit.” His feet swung back down to the floor.

I looked down his line of sight and saw Alicia marching toward us in a sleek black pantsuit. There were about a dozen other analysts still in the bullpen, working on various projects, but I knew there wasn’t a chance she was hunting down one of them.

It didn’t take her long to find me. “Kate, I’d like to…” She stopped and ran her eyes up and down my figure. “Is that what you’re wearing these days?”

My hand went to the strand of faux pearls at my throat, lying atop the wide neck of my charcoal sweater-dress. “I don’t have any meetings today.”

She narrowed her eyes at me. “Whatever, Kate. I need to talk to you. Is there a conference room free?”

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