Prologue to On the Floor: the BFT
5 March 1986
Here’s how it goes, the Moment of my becoming:
The call comes in at 16:09, while we’re already winding down. The London market’s just closed so the trading floor is quiet and the only shouting is what’s spilling out of the squawk box from New York.
First thing I notice is a flurry on the Block Desk, a change in tempo, like the rumble of approaching thunder. Then the Grope strides out of his glass tower, his jawbone set like stone, the way it always is when something big is going down. And it’s like a tom-tom alert has gone out, faces are bobbing up behind the rows of monitors as a Mexican wave of heads rolls right across the floor from South East Asia to
the US desk.
Rob stands up at his pitch directly opposite me, slaps the receiver in his palm like he’s testing a cosh. Al rises from the chair beside me and the big fat research report on waste management that he keeps telling us is the Industry Of The Future. And then I’m standing too, the skirt amongst men.
The Grope stops at the Block Desk where Skippy Dolan is on his feet with the phone clamped to his ear. His elbow sticks out at a right angle so you can see the sweatcircle darken his blue armpit. And I’m thinking it looks bad, Skippy standing there leaking like that, he’s the only Yank on the floor who doesn’t wear a white shirt with a vest underneath to mop up the juice. The Grope leans into the Reuters screen and we’re all craning our necks like prairie dogs, trying to see whose vitals he is checking.
‘I’m guessing it’s Fido on the line,’ says Al. ‘Skippy said he’s getting real tight with them.’
And Skippy is ranting into the phone, nodding his strawberry meathead as if he’s in spasm, as if he can’t stop. His free hand chops the air space in front of him into big empty pieces and after 352 days in this job I can read all the signs: Skippy’s client is a seller in size who wants out NOW. And I can tell from the way he’s bent double and winding the phone cord around his neck, that if we don’t pull the trigger soon, Skippy’s client will trade away.
‘Let me call Felix Mann.’ My voice is very loud and very clear. The Grope snaps round. Heads swivel. Rob turns to face me with a flopped jaw. I hear Al sucking wind through his teeth.
The Grope hoovers up the space between us and leans across Rob’s desk to fix me with that killer stare.
‘Felix Mann is the only one who can do this.’ I say, the receiver smooth and warm in my hand like a favourite toy.
You make your own luck. You pick your Moments and this is mine.
‘Two minutes,’ Skippy squeals, air-slicing his throat. ‘Or my man takes his business to Goldman’s.’
‘OK Geri, let’s smile and dial,’ says the Grope, all soft and dangerous. And then he tells me what Skippy’s got to show.
It is midnight in Hong Kong but Felix answers on the first ring.
‘Cemco,’ I say. ‘I have a seller in size.’
I hear his fingers flutter across the keyboard. Picture his pale face spotlit in the darkened office, the harbour lights twinkling behind the black glass.
‘I’ve got 56 million shares on offer at 224.’
Al is a still life beside me. The Grope and Rob like a tableau on the other side of the monitors. And behind them an audience is assembling to witness my circus animal performance. The truth is I have no fucking clue what Felix thinks of Cemco. Or the price. Or anything. But I know that he’s the only one who can do this right here, right now.
‘And I’ve got one minute,’ I tell Felix. Skippy is in panicked silence, his fingers counting down the seconds to expiry.
There is lurch in my chest like a part of my lung has just collapsed. The tickers whizz green across the black tape and I reach out to touch the Reuters like a sacred stone. In the corner of my eye I see Al’s finger tapping his desk, he is keeping time with Skippy’s countdown as I hurtle towards my own funeral.
‘Geri,’ the Grope’s voice hits me like a blow to the temple.
‘Felix,’ I say. ‘We’re out of time.’
There’s a crackling on the line and I imagine my voice sinking undersea, picture starfish gliding dumbly over the transcontinental cable, a scuttle of claws across the silent floor. Al stops tapping the desk and the faithless audience leans in to get a better view of Geri Molloy choking on the slime of reckless ambition.
Felix’s voice shoots to the surface and into my ear.
‘He’ll pay 223 for the lot,’ I look up into the Grope’s blinkless stare. Skippy holds three frantic fingers in the air. The Grope nods quick and tight and I raise my trembling thumb level with his head and say loudly, so everyone can hear: ‘You’re done, Felix. 56 million Cemco sold to you at 223’. And Skippy is thumping into his phone now, he’s spinning round and unravelling the coil, waving the blue ticket above his head. ‘Thank you Felix.’ I kill the line, write out a pick ticket and slam it in the timestamp. It is 16:21 on 5th March 1986 and everyone is gawping like I just became someone else.
‘’Kin-ell Geri,’ roars Rob and a hoot goes up. Skippy lunges across the monitors and my palm is burning from a machine gun of high fives.
Then the Grope is beside me showing the full set of white teeth. His hand lands hard and heavy on my shoulder like it has never done before. He lets it linger for a Moment while he looks down at me, differently somehow, like I’m not the person he thought I was. For I am now re-born and in my hand is a piece of living history: the biggest ticket ever written on Steiner’s trading floor.
This was how I became a legend in my own lifetime.
This was the Big Fucking Ticket that made me everything I am.
Extract from On The Floor published March 1 by Serpent’s Tail.