Rick always knew it was time to catalog his sins when Lamaze appeared over his shoulder in the minutes before the market closed.
Lamaze, whose real name was Edgardo Fuente, never moved from his desk unless he felt it was absolutely necessary. When Rick first started working at Coleman-Bradford, Lamaze was already fat. The intervening years of sedentary prosperity had taken him past fat to corpulence until even the simple act of hauling himself out of his chair and walking to the trading floor left him sweating and out of breath, panting like he was about to give birth.
That was how he'd gotten the nickname "Lamaze." The account manager swore he'd fired the guy who gave him that nickname. Since Rick himself had come up with it, he sometimes wondered who that had been.
As he closed out his last trades for the day, the all-too-familiar wheeze over his shoulder had him considering what he could have done to earn this visit. Nothing immediately came to mind, so he started cataloging past misdeeds by category.
He hadn't cost the firm money. That was the only really unforgiveable sin here. He knew his realized profit and loss to the penny and his open positions hadn't the slightest bit of creativity to them. It had been months since he'd even skirted a "regulatory irregularity." So, that wasn't likely to be it.
It almost certainly wasn't a question of "workplace appropriateness." The last settlement had been expensive. Hell, he was still paying a Park Avenue shrink for mandatory counseling sessions that could only be worse if he actually bothered to go. Now, he just didn't talk to the women at Coleman at all. He saved his socializing for after work. Getting slapped was cheaper than getting sued. And even that rarely happened anymore.
That only left personal indiscrections that occurred away from work. Those usually had to be fairly gargantuan for the management at Coleman-Bradford to take notice. While Rick's sins were certainly numerous, they were fairly garden variety for brokers and traders.
Rick glanced at the TV screen over his trading station. The closing bell was being rung. Maria Bartiromo was on-screen, saying something with her soft, pouty blowjob lips, but the TV was muted. It was probably just chatter anyway.
"Mr. Tinco," wheeze Lamaze, levering himself up from the desk he was leaning against. "I need to see you in my office."
Rick raised an eyebrow, but followed. The traders to either side of him gave him a look as if they could figure out what he'd done wrong just by looking at him. Rick wished he knew. As Lamaze shambled down the hall in front of him, heads turned to watch them go. Rick ignored the querying looks and kept his eyes focused on the middle of the account manager's back.
Lamaze lowering himself into his custom-made Steelcase chair was a glacial process and looked like a slow-motion mudslide as rolls of fat settled into place. Even distracted by the awareness of pending disaster, Rick found himself fascinated by the process.
"Chance Colby..." Lamaze wheezed. " ... just took a large cash position in his portfolio."
Rick frowned and sat down in the ordinary-sized chair across the desk from the big man. Lamaze technically wasn't his boss. But, he was the account manager for Chance Colby. Chance was his bread and butter. More than half the money Rick traded with came from Chance's account.
Still, he wasn't impressed, "He does that about once a year ... usually when he's got some new business venture he wants to get involved in."
Lamaze interrupted him, "It's an eight-figure position. Mr. Coleman thinks it's a precursor to moving some or all of his assets to Goldman Sachs."
Rick allowed himself a low whistle. The part about Goldman Sachs was probably pure paranoia. Aaron Coleman had worked at the larger firm for two years at the beginning of his career and been convinced ever since that they were out to get him. This was in spite of a deafening lack of evidence to support the theory.
Still, losing Colby would hurt. Not only was he Rick's biggest client, he was also one of the most generous. The first year of their association, he'd paid the full commission for every trade he made—the same rate every idiot trying to turn a few hundred bucks a month into a nest egg did. Left to his own devices, he might still be paying those rates. The conversation with his then-new assistant had been painful and awkward as everyone from the firm pretended they hadn't noticed the "discrepancy." Not only had she walked away with a better rate, but she'd gotten the firm to kick back roughly half of the "overpayment."
"It would behoove you to meet with Mr. Colby and convince him that he is well-loved and well cared-for at Coleman-Bradford ... at your earliest convenience."
"Behoove" wasn't a word Lamaze would have chosen for himself. It wasn't particularly vulgar and the "b" at the beginning made his jowls vibrate, mushing the sound. "Behoove" was an Aaron Coleman word. The boss had almost certainly told Lamaze to have the meeting, but Lamaze had decided that Rick would be better suited to the task. Since Rick agreed with that assessment, he didn't bother to argue.
When Lin glanced up from her desk and saw Rick approaching, her placid, professional demeanor seemed to slip for a half-second. She made a face as if some particularly unwholesome scent had wafted up from the sewers. The look was gone before Rick could comment or even be sure he'd really seen it.
"Mr. Tinco." Her tone was clipped and precise. "Do you have an appointment to see Mr. Colby?"
Rick gave her his most winning smile, knowing it was wasted. Lin Bao might be a hot, little Chinese number. But, she was enough of a tight-ass to turn coal into diamonds, "I talked to him on the phone. He said I could come right over."
Lin's gaze swept over him. Rick held his ground. Unlike most women, Lin was a couple of inches shorter than him, but she could make him feel even smaller than he already was, "Let me confirm that he's available."
After a brief conversation over the intercom, Lin waved Rick into her boss's office. Chance sat a dented, gunmetal gray desk. Three walls of the office had wide, glass windows. With the shades pulled up, they looked down on the main floor of the gym. Hundreds of machines and free-weights were lined up in neat rows, most of them waiting for one of the maybe two dozen patrons to use them.
"What's with working out of the gym?" asked Rick. "Aside from the obvious, I mean."
Chance had gotten up from his desk and half-extended his hand to shake. He paused, "What's 'the obvious?'"
Rick shrugged, "You know ... sweaty women in leotards, hot tubs..." He waved his hands in a vague gesture that might have been an hourglass, "Don't get me wrong. If I could trade from here, I probably would. But ... It's kind of low rent."
Chance's laugh was derisive, "I wish. It's actually pretty expensive to run. I'm ... trying to get it to the point where it's actually making money."
"Is that what you need so much cash for?" Rick knew he was probably being too unsubtle again. He couldn't help it. Every time he tried to be subtle, people seemed to assume he was making a double entendre or just high.
Chance shook his head, "Not this time. When it started losing money, I put in a lot of capital improvements. They ... didn't help. Membership is down. We ... lost our number one personal trainer. A lot of people went with him."
"Dante Freeman. Right?" Rick walked over to a window, "I see him on Fit TV all the time. Good stuff."
Chance's scowl suggested that Rick had said exactly the wrong thing, "Right. Anyway, he had some ... minor celebrities for clients. Apparently, people like the idea that they're working out with ... or at least near minor celebrities. I need to find something that will fill the vacuum he created."
"You have anybody on staff good enough?" Rick asked idly. His attention was on a woman using a stationary bicycle almost directly beneath his feet or, more specifically, her cleavage. "Somebody that could make videos or something."
Chance seemed to think about that for a few seconds before answering, "Maybe. There's somebody here I worked with for a few months. She's really good. It would be ... complicated, though."
Rick nodded thoughtfully, "Boning her?"
Chance came to stand next to his broker, "Not anymore."
Rick shrugged, "Could be a good way to get back into her pants--kill two birds with one stone."
Chance shook his head, "That bird has flown. And it's definitely for the best." He looked over, "What brings you here anyway, Rick? It's been a while."
"My boss thinks you're about to move your money to another firm. He wants me to convince you not to."
"I'm not," said Chance immediately. "There's nothing to worry about."
Rick took a deep breath. He should leave it at that. In spite of his wealth, Chance expected no special treatment. It would be best, not to mention most profitable, to leave it that way ... at least in the short term.
But he would eventually figure out that he could do better elsewhere. If he didn't figure it out. Lin would. She probably already had. She probably told him regularly. It would just be a matter of time before he listened.
"You really shouldn't say that," said Rick quietly. "My boss is convinced you're going to bolt. He's willing to spend money to keep that from happening. You should take advantage of that. I could ... I don't know, take you to Vegas for the weekend on their dime or something."
Chance looked over at him, considering. Rick could already imagine the suite he'd get himself as Chance's guide, the champagne he could expense, the coke he could list as "sundries."
Chance shook his head, "I don't really have time to take a vacation right now. I'm pretty focused on the business." He laughed, "Unless you can help me fill an empty gym, I don't know what I would ask for."
Rick thought that sentiment showed a remarkable lack of imagination, but it also gave him an idea, "Maybe I could. I can spread the word that the gym's here, get some guys to start working out here."
Chance raised an eyebrow, "You'd talk to your friends on the Street?"
Rick had been thinking about the clerks and junior traders at his own firm, people he could more or less order to come here. But, he nodded, "Sure."
"That would be a good start." Chance walked from one side of his office to the other, "A lot of Wall Street guys work out. Don't they?"
"Pretty much all of them."
"Cool." Chance had gotten an unfocused, faraway look in his eyes. "If you could get them to start coming in, that would be awesome."
As Max Stone considered the outside of World Class Gym, Rick considered Max Stone. Square-jawed and stern-eyed, he could easily have been the model for the strong, peasant worker in any number of communist propaganda posters. Rick kept the thought to himself. Max wouldn't appreciate the irony.
"I walk past here all the time," Max declared. He had a way of making basic statements sound like declarations and every conversation like a stump speech, "I've never been tempted to go in."
Rick considered a hard sell and rejected the idea at once. Max Stone didn't like being told what to do. Instead, he just shrugged, "And it might not be to your taste. But, it's worth a look. A lot of Wall Street guys work out here. If you're serious about running for mayor, that's a lot of potential backers."
Max probably considered the face he made to be "thoughtful," but Rick could see he'd dangled the right hook. Stone had talked a lot about "funding diversity" when he discussed his political aspirations. For Max, that meant finding donors who didn't have the same last name as him. He was one of those Stones—the ones who seemed to have their name on half the hospitals, libraries, and charities in the country.
More important than his being a Stone or having political aspirations at the moment was Max's fame. He'd spent six years as a Major League baseball player, most of it with the Yankees. Early comparisons to Ty Cobb had probably been fueled as much by his family fortune as his talent. Either way, he'd had a spectacular rookie year followed by a string of injuries. Chance had been upset that the minor celebrities had followed Dante out of his gym. Max was the epitome of a minor celebrity.
"Tell me about this trainer," intoned Max. "This Sassy Red ... whatever her name is."
"Shashi Radivary," Rick filled in. "She's about to be the biggest thing in fitness television. She's just inked a production deal."
"She sounds foreign."
"I think she's from New Jersey," offered Rick.
"In politics, the truth doesn't matter. If she sounds foreign, people will vote like she is foreign."
It was a line Rick had heard plenty of times from Max, "She's not in politics. She's in fitness."
Max squinted at the building, "She's not Muslim. Is she?"
"Episcopalian." Rick offered, pulling a name at random out of a hat marked "politically inoffensive religions."
"All right," said Max, finally. "Let's check this place out."
Chance was hovering near the front door of when Max and Rick walked in. He grinned and shook Max's hand, "Councilman Stone, it's nice to meet you."
Max's smile actually seemed to reflect the overhead lights in the room, "Always glad to meet a constituent. This is a nice-looking gym you've got here."
Chance may have found the statement puzzling since Max had so far only seen the reception area. The look of puzzlement only lasted a second before he was smiling again, "Let me show you the rest of it."
As Chance led Max away, Rick took the opportunity to smile at Emily. The receptionist was the epitome of a corn-fed Midwestern farmgirl—soft, blonde hair worn long, generous curves, and tits to make a priest kick a hole in a stained-glass window. She didn't look up from the paperback in front of her.
"What are you reading?" Rick asked.
"A book." Emily still didn't look up.
"Anything I might like?" Rick asked, undaunted.
Now, Emily looked up, "I doubt it. I did say it was a book. Right?"
"I read books." Rick let himself sound indignant. He hadn't actually read a book since college. But, Emily didn't know him well enough to make such assumptions.
Emily purposefully picked up a folded gym schedule, placed it where she'd been reading, closed the book, and stood up. Like most women, she was a few inches taller than Rick, even in sneakers, "Listen ... Dick..."
"It's Rick, actually ... short for Enrico." Some women liked foreign-sounding names.
"Rick, then," said Emily. She closed her eyes and took a breath before going on, "I felt ... unclean for three days after our last conversation, particularly after I Googled..." She raised her hands in a gesture of surrender, " ... things I definitely shouldn't have Googled. It's not a conversation I want to repeat."
Rick shrugged, "So, you're not even a little intrigued?"
Emily shook her head, "Not even a little."
"No chance that will change?"
Another head shake, "Maybe if I lose every scrap of self-esteem I currently possess."
Rick's smile returned. With a practiced move, he produced a business card, "Great. If that happens, here's my number."
Rick caught up with Max and Chance outside the dance studio. The room was empty except for a couple of clerks from Coleman using the mats for floor exercises.
Searching through the gym to find them, Rick had seen that the place was now running at about half capacity. He'd put out word that junior traders who worked out here were much more likely to eventually become senior traders. The Coleman crowd were bright and motivated enough to recognize the difference between a suggestion and a command and had shown up en mass shortly after the closing bell, streaming past Rick and Max as they stood outside.
" ... maybe even end up on Dancing with the Stars," Max was saying. Chance shrugged as if to suggest that such things were within the realm of possibility.
"We'd be happy to start you off for free," Chance told him. "A well-known athlete like yourself working out here can only be good for business."
Max's shoulders flexed like he was fighting the urge to preen. Instead, he patted Chance on the back hard enough to make a dull thud, "I appreciate that. But, I'd better pay my own way. I wouldn't want to pass some ordinance about gyms only to have people wonder if I was in your pocket." He looked over to the glassed-in box that overlooked the main floor, "Why don't we go to your office so I can sign the paperwork?"
Chance grinned, "Of course. And, if you change your mind, we offer all sorts of deals to all sorts of people. It has nothing to do with politics."
Max was already walking to the stairs and didn't turn around, "I know that ... and you know that. But, politics is all about perception."
Chance followed after Max, asking about one of the highlights of the man's playing career. Rick let himself trail a little behind, willing to blend into the background. With two different men, the conversation would have seemed positively unctuous. But, Chance seemed earnest in his admiration of Max's play and Max had likely never received a compliment he didn't consider his due. They seemed to be hitting it off.
When he caught up with them, Chance was gathering papers from a filing cabinet. Max stood by one of the office's windows, looking down at the main floor and the people working out down there. Chance was still talking, but Max was frowning.
Rick recognized the frown enough to know that there was trouble brewing. He walked over next to Max, hoping to distract him, "Chance actually replaced all of the equipment here a couple of years back. So, it's all..."
"Where are the women?" Max asked.
Silence fell over the office for a few second before Chance asked, "Beg pardon?"
"I don't see any women working out down there," said Max. "What kind of gym is this?"
Chance rose, "It's ... just a gym. Plenty of women work out here." He came to stand next to Max. A few more seconds of silence went by before he pointed, "There's Mrs. Madison, over on the elliptical machine."
Max took a deep breath, "And everybody else down there is a dude." He turned to Rick, "This isn't some kind of gay pick-up spot. Is it?"
"This is New York, but I don't think it would help my polls if people found out I was exercising in a gay pick-up spot." Max's brow was darkening.
"It's totally not," said Rick immediately. "It's just ... an unusual day. They're doing repairs on the women's locker room. That's why there are no women here."
Max looked from Rick to Chance, then up to the clock on the wall, "Holy cow. It's after four already. I'm late for a meeting in Queens." He shook Chance's hand, "It was nice meeting you, Mr. Colby. We'll have to take care of that paperwork the next time I come by."
"Monday," offered Rick. "You should come by on Monday. There will be plenty of women here then."
Max didn't answer, only offering a wave over his shoulder as he left.
Chance watched him go, then turned to look at Rick. Neither man spoke for a while.
"I didn't know we were doing repairs on the women's locker room."
It took Rick a moment to find his voice, "I ... kind of made that up."
"Oh." Chance looked back out the window of his office. He considered the gym, "So ... why are there so many dudes in my gym?"
Rick shrugged, "They're Wall Street guys. Most Wall Street guys are ... you know, guys." That was true and easier to explain than why he didn't talk to the women at Coleman anymore.
"Oh." Chance frowned down at the men working out. "You need to find me some women ... by Monday."
"Me?" For a moment, Rick was indignant. Then, he remembered that he'd been the one to suggest Max come back Monday, "Actually, I don't know many women. Like I said, I work on Wall Street and don't get a lot of time to socialize."
Chance turned to him, "You must know some women."
Rick considered the challenge, "I know ... a few." An idea hit him all at once. His face lit up, "Actually, you know what? You have nothing to worry about. Leave it to me."
All cooking skill, Rick knew, came down to a question of time management and efficient concurrency. Knowing a recipe wasn't enough. You had to be able to figure out how to make sure that everything you were serving would be at the peak of readiness at the same time. Anybody could learn a recipe. Few people could execute it perfectly.
Once you learned time management and efficient concurrency along with a handful of specific techniques, you could cook anything. It didn't matter what nationality had come up with a dish or what sort of exotic ingredients it required, all good food was about timing.
Rick had learned that theory from his father decades ago and never put it into practice until tonight. He loved cooking and would cook food of any nationality as long as it was Italian. Of course, until recently, he hadn't cooked for anyone other than himself.
Sofie knocked on his door just as he was covering the last dish he'd made. Rick could make this experiment because she was always there promptly when she said she would be. He opened the door, still wearing his green, white, and red apron, emblazoned with "KISS ME. I'M ITALIAN."