The Habit

TWO

It was still very early, in fact too early I thought as I got into my car and headed off towards the City. I went smoothly up through the gears of my BMW. I had bought it six months earlier and it still had that new, fresh out the showroom smell to it. The strong aroma of leather was as fresh and crisp as the day I’d bought it. It had seemed a long time coming. I had wanted the M3 for over a year and had decided to wait until I had the cash. It was a dream to drive and although I could use the tube to get to and from my office in Cannon Street, a car like mine had to be driven.
I had always wanted to wander into a dealership looking really scruffy with a pile of cash in a briefcase and buy my M3. I didn’t do it, too dangerous carrying fifty grand in cash, but I did turn up for a test drive looking like a tramp. The sales guy at the first place explained that there were no cars available and asked me to leave. I laughed at him and explained I had the money but he got really impatient and stroppy and escorted me to the door! I couldn’t believe it. I left him my business card and said I would be in touch. I rang him a week later and informed him and his sales manager that I had in fact bought my M3 from BMW in Knightsbridge. I don’t think that they really believed me until I turned up at their showroom in my car. Still looking like a tramp, I had my smelly painting gear on with rips in the shirt and jeans, I marched up to the sales manager and pointed at my car and said, ‘Big mistake! Big mistake!’ and walked out. The look on his face was a picture. I felt like Julia Roberts in ‘Pretty Woman’.
My two-bedroom flat disappeared into the distance behind me, and I noticed the sun was just coming up so I slid on my Oakley sunglasses. I raced to work, carving up most of the other traffic, especially the cabs. They all thought they owned the roads in London and I detested them. As far as I was concerned, a car was for getting from A to B as quickly as possible. The journey each morning was a Grand Prix and I was the Ayrton Senna of commuters. My record time from the flat to Cannon Street was eleven minutes, twelve seconds according to my car’s on-board trip computer.
There was no way I was going to beat it today. I’d had a fantastic weekend and felt totally relaxed. I was in love; I had found the lady of my dreams. Emma had beautiful blue eyes and a body to die for which came hand in hand with being an aerobics instructor. I had met her in a nightclub a couple of weeks ago and on Saturday she had stayed over for the first time!
The lift doors opened on the twentieth floor of Four Cannon Street, where Kaplan Stewart International was based. I’d worked in the City for fifteen years, since leaving school, the last eight years for Kaplan Stewart. I was now the head of the Gilt desk; we dealt in UK Government debt, which was normally very lucrative. My three-year guaranteed deal was a comfort and an incentive to keep the desk producing. The last couple of years had been very good for my desk until the fifty percent commission cut last month, and now that Labour were paying off the PSBR, liquidity in Gilt’s was drying up. Not good news for our figures and it was going to get worse as we approached the inevitable union with the rest of Europe.
The dealing floor spread right across the open plan office and there were two more, one upstairs and the other below. Three floors dedicated to broking any financial product in the world. As markets disappeared others popped up. Emerging markets were all the rage at the moment. A couple of my customers who were feeling the squeeze had said that they were considering job offers, trading the bond markets of Korea, China, Russia and even Turkey! Maybe I should learn a new language, I thought as I sat at my desk.
I ran a team of fourteen brokers and we had a customer base of just sixteen firms. We were basically middlemen, paid a small commission to match a buyer with a seller. We operated an anonymous screen based dealing system and had three competitors. We were the market leaders. The phone boards started ringing at about seven thirty and stopped at around five thirty. It was seven o’clock; I liked to get in ahead of my team. That way I was free to do my paperwork and read the FT in peace.
I was amazed at how everyone suddenly wanted a bit of my time now I was the boss. I was promoted three months ago after my predecessor, Gareth Miller, had keeled over from a heart attack and died. He was only forty-two at the time and had been cheering on his football team at Stamford Bridge. He had been a very heavy drinker and his marriage was ‘a roller coaster ride from hell’ he had confided in me. High blood pressure, too much booze, rich food and lots of late nights had all added up to an early grave. I was asked to take over the reins the very next day and was determined to be different. I tried to get to the gym at least three times a week and Emma said she would keep me on my toes at the weekend from now on!
The phone rang. Five past seven. A bit early I thought, as I promptly picked up the line.
‘Roger, we need to talk. Expenses are way too high again. See you in five.’
Click! The line went dead. Michael Irwin was never too keen on politeness. He was the big boss and I remembered being warned before I met him he was arrogant and very aloof. Since then we’d had lots of meetings and he was a hard-nosed businessman. As long as your desk was making money you were safe. The moment you started losing money, that was it, no leeway, just a simple ‘you are surplus to our requirements.’ At least we all knew where we stood with Michael! I thought as I took the lift upstairs. I laughed as I straightened my tie in the mirror.
I got out of the meeting at seven twenty. The expenses weren’t too high, they were justified by the amount of business we were doing, I had told Michael. I agreed that the figure was high but still within five percent of turnover as required. We had to entertain our customers, wine and dine them, take them to the theatre, the odd Grand Prix, the big one this year will be tickets for the World Cup in France. If the customer wants to do it, they do it and we pay! It’s a sad reflection of the business, but as a broker, you are only as good as your last entertainment trip! If I wasn’t taking my customers out, the oppo would be and they would be doing all the business. I knew for a fact not one of my brokers would chose their clients as mates. The only reason they suck up to them is for business. For example, my man at Morgan Stanley thinks I’m his best mate. I think he’s arrogant and boring and wouldn’t choose him as a friend, but because he pays my mortgage and more, he’s my best friend too! That’s one of the downsides to the job. You have to be very two-faced. We got to go to some of London’s finest restaurants and the best sporting occasions, but believe me, an evening in a box at Wembley watching England with a leery, foul-mouthed lager lout from Essex was not my idea of fun!
Mondays were always our worst day and most of the guys didn’t bother getting in too early. Today was no exception, I noted, as I retook my seat.
‘Morning Rog.’
‘Morning Eddie.’ I replied. I liked Eddie, he was hard working, loyal and one of Kaplan Stewart’s good brokers. He was great fun to go out with and we often had a quick beer after work. He was thirty-six years old but looked a lot older, mainly due to his rapidly greying hair.
I nodded morning to Jamie and got up the Gilt comment on Bloomberg. We didn’t have to be too technical but I liked to have a handle on the market, it was a talking point. Jamie Berry was a waste of space and on my list of things to do. It was a never-ending list. Jamie was a good-looking twenty one year old with blue eyes and blond, permed hair. On anyone else it would have looked ridiculous, but the perm suited him. It gave him a pop star quality. He was one of those old Etonian Sloane rangers and a lot of us were convinced he spent most weekends raving with his mates on Charlie or Speed. He was always tired, never ate and couldn’t concentrate for more than five minutes at a time. He was still scared to go on and talk to his man at FDS and whenever his customer did come on with a price or a swap, Jamie was like ‘Bright Eyes’ in Watership Down; a frightened rabbit frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car! My old boss was too worried about Peter Jarvis at FDS and what he would do if we sacked Jamie, but not me. I didn’t have room for dead wood, especially dead wood that did drugs.
‘Rog, Frank for you.’ Eddie shouted over the desk.
I picked up the outside line. ‘Hi Henson. You still on for tonight?’
‘Of course mate. Whose turn is it?’ He asked playfully. I always paid for dinner whenever the two of us got together. He was a detective in the rape division of the Met. Police. He was very good at his job, one of the very best, but he was also underpaid and overworked, as always seemed to be the case outside the boundaries of the City. I would never let him pay but at least he offered. He never took me for granted. Frank was working on various rape cases and I was hoping for my weekly update.
‘Your turn, I think.’ I joked.
‘Right. I’ll rob a bank on the way home! Usual place, eight o’clock and there’ve been some developments.’ He sounded excited.
‘Excellent! I’ll see you at the bar.’

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Copyright © 2002 Richard Armour