A firm believer in maintaining a good facade Oil Can stepped out of the elevator with the intention of exuding the confidence of a man who just penned an agreement with a billionaire, then almost stopped in his tracks upon seeing the brokers' glum faces.
"What's up?" Oil Can asked a sweating salesman.
"Market's tanking again."
"How bad?" It wasn't even 10am. There was no shouting from the trading pit and this was a crew that never shut their mouths.
"Bad." The trader shook his head. Oil Can glanced at a screen. The stock market had entered a dimension where every vector pointed down and the staff wore the misery of the last months like cheap margarine on Wonder Bread at a homeless shelter.
"Bad is good." Oil Can stood up straight, knowing it was one thing to be defeated and another to look beaten. He strode to his corner suite, as if it was still in 2005. No one else bothered to upgrade to his level of happiness.
"Good morning." His secretary greeted him without saying his name.
"Why the sad face? Everything is going to be fine." Oil Can handed his Brooks Brothers overcoat to Josie. He could smell massacre in the air and locked his office door before calling his boss.
"What's up?" Oil Can looked out the window on East 57th Street. Only a few pedestrians were on the sidewalk and the lights atop the taxis indicated none of them had passengers.
"Nothing special." His boss was a master of deception.
"Nothing special. Everyone in the office looks like someone strangled their puppy. Who's getting axed?" Oil Can's sales were down 10% from 2011, which was 200% better than the other earners in his firm.
"We're shaking of the tree to get rid of some dead wood. Not you. I promise." His boss spoke about the advantage of a leaner executive staff and the opportunities presenting by the current challenges. Oil Can thanked him for his honesty and thirty seconds later got on the phone with a VP of Sales for a Swiss Bank. They offered him a new position. The pay was less than he earned in 2010, but his income was based on sales, not salary.
"Whatever you kill, you get to keep." The VP of Sales used that expression, because every autumn he hunted moose in Northern Ontario.
"That's the way I like it." Oil Can had once accompanied the VP to the near-frozen wasteland. The banker had missed every shot. Finally Oil Can paid the guide to shoot at the same time as the banker. One dead moose and ever since then the banker had considered Oil Can good luck.
He hung up and asked Josie for the morning's calls.
"None of them are happy calls."
"This isn't a happy time of year." Oil Can shut the door and scanned the list. Everyone wanted cash out their investments. None of them were getting a cent. The money was staying where it was. One number stuck out in the list. It was his cousin. James Steele was working on 47th Street selling diamonds. Oil Can checked his calendar. Tonight was an open date and he dialed cousin's office. He could use a break.
"You open for dinner tonight?" Oil Can knew the answer. His cousin had no plans other than to return to Thailand.
"Your choice. Money's no object." Losing your job was one thing. Not eating at a good restaurant was another.
"Le Bernadin is 4 star. My friend is the maitre de, so we don't need reservations."
"I'll meet you at 6."
"Come to the diamond store. You know where it is."
"Of course." Oil Can had been avoiding the Diamond District, because his cousin wanted him to buy an anniversary present. His wife and he had been married almost 30 years. Last year they had been contemplating a gala event for a hundred. Now the plans were for a quiet dinner together. Tonight he could celebrate the anniversary of the his bachelor party. His cousin would be his best man and he eagerly said, "I'll see you then."
The rest of the day was punctuated by security escorting several people from the office. Survivors wagered bets on who would be next to go in this round of 'musical chairs'. The bloodletting didn't stop until the market closed with a slight rally. over for this day. Oil Can ended the day in the black.
"Good day. Good to have you here." His boss bumped his fist on the way out. Care to go to Philippe's for drinks?"
"No thanks. I'm going to meet my cousin." Philippe's meant footing a bill for Opus 1 wine. Each bottle cost $700. His cousin was a cheaper date and he didn't need to be in a restaurant packed with shouting investment bankers. The volume of their conversation increased according to their desperation.
"Your mysterious cousin." His boss asked to meet James on several occasions. It was better for those twains to never run into each other. His cousin didn't know how to keep his mouth shut about anything.
"I'll see you tomorrow bright and early."
A light rain accompanied Oil Can down Fifth Avenue. Few stores were crowded with shoppers. Abercrombie and Finch was the exception, however he noted those exiting the world-famous store were carrying smaller packages than previous years. The rain drops fell heavier, as he passed the Rockefeller Center. A couple of minutes later he rapped on the window of the diamond exchange. His cousin was closing up the shop. His boss was giving him a hard time. Work sucked everywhere. James signaled for him to wait at the Ocean Grill and that he'd be there in ten minutes. Both of them were good at reading lips.Oil Can went over to the basement bar in Rockefeller Center. The room was pleasantly decorated with floral arrangements. The management wasn't skimping on atmosphere, even though only a few customers was sitting at the bar. "I'll have a Cosmopolitan." Oil Can told the bartender and phoned his cousin.He could tell Derek was disappointed that he wasn't coming down to his shop. No one really wanted to buy diamonds in this economy. Beer seemed to be selling better than martinis at the bar, but even Budweiser was taking a hit this winter. Three bankers in a corner table were drinking tumblers of whiskey. A man and his wife were fighting over the bill. She had never paid before. Five British tourists by the window drank beer, as if England had won the World Cup. Oil Can drank half his drink in one go. Two seconds later he ordered another for James, who joined him at the bar.
"How's work?" James signaled the bartender for two more Cosmos .
"It's been a tough year, but don't worry, we're going to have a super dinner tonight. When can we leave?"
"I don't think yet." James looked out the window. The drizzle had intensified to a downpour.Oil Can examined his cousin. He had gained weight since his return from Thailand last summer. His hair was grayer too.
"Life's been tough this year." Oil Can confessed without any guilt. "Same for everyone, but last year was worst. Always is if you start it with an arrest in a foreign country."
"But that's all over?" Oil Can had heard the story about James getting caught in Thailand for copyright infringement. He was lucky not to be in jail.
"Yeah, I'm still persona grata.""How's the food here?""Good.""Want to eat here?""Why not?" James settled the bar bill and they were escorted to the dining room by a fashionable blonde. Oil Can heeded the sommelier's suggestion for a Bourgogne and the two men drank two bottles throughout dinner. The chef offered them crepes Suzettes on the house. The bill came to $900 mostly for the wine. After calling his wife from the coat check, Oil Can and his cousin went outside to 59th Street.
The rain hadn't let up.
"I have a big sale tomorrow." James was bailing on him.
"And what about going for a massage?" Oil Can was sure that his cousin hadn't had sex in months. "It's on me."
"No, I don't like those old hookers."
"What about a strip club?"
"Don't like Russians, but I'll tell you something. A friend of mine called today with a tip."
"A tip?" Oil Can remembered that JP Morgan said, "When your taxi driver gives you a tip, it's time to get out of the stock market."
"Yes, the market is really going to tank all week long."
"And?" He wasn't in the mood to hear more bad news.
"Then it's going to nosedive to 6000."
"Who's your informant?"
The name James whispered was well-known through the financial markets. "We did drugs together in the 80s. Of course this information can't help me and probably can't help you, but at least you'll be prepared if it comes true."
"To be honest it doesn't matter. The whole world is fucked right now. So what's the use?" Oil Can was feeling tired. Everything he knew was valueless. The meal in his stomach felt like dust. The wine burned his esophagus. This crisis was killing him and his cousin sensed his loss.
"Okay, strippers. But only for a few hours."
"That's more like it." Oil Can could forget today in the arms of a stripper. And tomorrow he could forget until then, because tomorrow would be today until tomorrow.