THINK LIKE A THIEF
By Jim Zinaman
Through the glass walls of his office on the Equities Institutional Sales and Trading floor, Brass Brothers Partner Lloyd Fuchsberg glanced at his soldiers battling on his newly expanded realm in 1986. With jackets draped over chair backs, row upon row of men and a few women in business suits eyed display screens and spoke quickly into headsets. Some stood to shout securities bids and offers over phone consoles. Computer screens flickered with green and red numerals of market prices in flux.
Fuchsberg’s rugged face glowed with a tan from the past weekend on Saint Martin beneath his silvering dark hair. Still massive and firm-bodied like the Harvard heavyweight wrestling champion he had been, he sported a crisp white dress shirt and red-and-blue-striped tie. He was leaning over Paul Silven seated in a Queen Anne mahogany armchair. Fuchsberg’s winged-tip shoe occupied one armrest, the toe inches from Paul’s ribs. The Partner was conducting Paul’s year-end review. It consisted of twenty seconds of cursory comments about how The Firm had performed the previous year and how it translated to the only thing Paul had waited to hear: “his number,” his year-end bonus. Fuchsberg had just stated the number. His smile was urbane; his pale-fire eyes bearing down on Paul were those of a tiger.
“So,” Fuchsberg said, “thirty-four years old and you’re making a hundred fifty thousand.”
Paul suppressed a grin. Between his two years at Harvard Business School, Paul had earned just ten thousand as a summer analyst slaving away in Brass Brothers’ investment banking division over eighty hours a week. For that privilege he eventually amassed forty thousand in graduate school debt. He became known among the analysts as the one with chutzpah besides a head for numbers. Fuchsberg hired him the next summer as a potential protégé in his core kingdom of Retail Sales. Now, three years later, he was already at a seventy-five thousand dollar salary doubled by a bonus based on the commissions and asset management fees he generated last year. Not bad for a guy who had spent most of his twenties hitchhiking around the United States.
“And you’re happy with that,” Fuchsberg said.
“Of course not,” Paul said. He knew what response was expected of him by a Partner.
“Then how come you haven’t shown me?”
Paul’s brow furrowed. He looked up at his superior. “You commended the way I brought in my parents’ friends at The Milton Club.”
“Your first year, yes. But since then?”
“The growth in the department gave rise to IT and training issues that I took care of for you. I’ve helped make your new associates the most informed rookies on the Street regarding financial products and negotiating techniques.”
“True. And you’ve settled quite well in the role.”
Paul smiled despite himself.
“That’s not a compliment,” Fuchsberg said.
The Partner moved behind his mahogany desk. He lifted the rightmost of a gleaming set of Newton’s Cradle suspended steel balls. He released the ball, which swung with a clack into the row of touching spheres, sending the leftmost ball swinging away from the pack, before swinging back into its neighbor to set off the next round of impacts. Clack. Clack. Clack.
“Each impact,” said Fuchsberg, “is another day of your career here. What opportunities will you seize and exploit–or let pass you by?”
“Or,” Paul said, “in whose lives will I make a difference?”
Fuchsberg snorted. “Those clients from the Milton Club? You were just gathering people who were predisposed to listen to you because of their relationship with your parents. To build fruitful relationship on your own, you have to be a hunter who can think like a thief.”
Fuchsberg then flashed his signature grin, one whose apparent warmth was not in his eyes. “I have another departmental project for you–while you find more clients. My daughter will be joining The Firm soon. She graduated from MIT Sloan over a year ago. She’s been on some self-designed self-study about computers and people.”
“You want me to be on the lookout for her joining the training class.”
“She’s hard to miss.”
“That good looking?”
Fuchsberg’s face tightened, almost if as if he were wincing as he looked away. He moved behind his desk, sat in his throne of a swivel chair, and swung into position before the blotter laden with a thin stack of documents to one side. Then he fixed Paul with a glance. “I prize her more than anything. You understand?”
“Make sure she feels at home. I’ll introduce you.” He looked down at his paperwork and gave Paul a backward flap of his hand, as if shooing away a fly.
Through The Tide Inn’s plate glass window one could observe the Metro North train station on the other side of Donne Avenue. The Manhattan-fleeing 8:32 had just glided to a stop abreast the concrete platform. The grimy steel passenger cars gave off a dull gleam from the fluorescent lights hanging below the platform roof. Their doors slid open to disgorge executives hunched in thick wool overcoats and scarves wrapped around their necks. Bars of red rear car lights stamped the darkness between the tall cones of illumination descending from the parking lot lamps as vehicles backed out of parking spaces.
Paul and his father, Sy, sipped from their mugs of beer in a booth by the window. The whiskey-tinted glow from a shaded bulb on the pine-paneled wall rested in Sy’s salt-and-pepper hair, which was now more salt than pepper. The beat of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” pumped from ceiling corner speakers. It would always be the 1970’s at The Tide.
Paul had ended his travels around the country five years ago when his mother, who for forty years had catalyzed his father’s appetite for life, died of pancreatic cancer. He returned to the house where he had grown up and helped his father in Silven Hardware a few stores down from the train station until he figured out what he wanted to do with his life. When he finished business school, he moved back in with his father to avoid the rent he would have paid in Manhattan and to pay down his grad school loan, which he had just extinguished.
“Good day today?” said Sy.
“Yeah. Got the bonus I expected.”
“Good for you, son.”
Compensation specifics had always been an implicitly forbidden topic of conversation between them. Not only was it a mark of poor breeding to discuss one’s earnings, it was just something a father never told his son. And Paul didn’t want him to know that he was already making more than he believed his father had ever made in a year.
“Things still fine with Fuchsberg?” Sy said.
“Can’t claim to know where I stand with him at any given moment.”
“That’s why he is where he is. I don’t really know that world you’re in, but my understanding is that if you don’t want to become Partner, you don’t belong there.”
“That’s a core motivation at the firm, no doubt. Sales can be a definite pathway to the prize. But more than that, I see the growing demand at the firm for technology expertise in every business.
There’s an endless need for people like me, people who can design and manage a project and help others share information.”
Sy nodded slowly. “Sounds good. But if it doesn’t work out, you know I could always use you at the store. You could take it over some day.”
“Of course it’ll work out. I’m moving into the City soon.”
Sy pursed his lips. “I see.” He took another sip of his beer. “Anything else new at work?”
“Fuchsberg’s daughter is coming to the firm. She’ll be in the class I teach.”
“Ah,” said Sy with a smile.
“Attend to her, and you’ll know where you stand with Fuchsberg.”
“You mean use her to get what I want? Not my thing, Dad.”
“It’s not about a ‘thing.’” Sy raised his beer mug for Paul to join him in a toast. “It’s about doing what you have to do.”
Young men and women closed their Sales Associate Training Program binders and rose from their mahogany armchairs around the conference table. 9:00 PM and the red or navy-blue silk neckties of these MBA graduates eight months into the program were all still perfectly knotted.
After the last Associate filed out the doorway, Paul pushed the off switch on the overhead projector and slipped the sheaf of transparencies with options payoff diagrams into his attaché case. He stepped to the doorway to flick off the room’s light switch, but noticed a woman with curtains of black hair to her shoulders still seated at the far end of the table. She stared down at her binder with an elbow on the mahogany table, her cheek upon a fist. The top two buttons of her white silk blouse were undone. Her free hand hung with fingers curled upon the placket by her collar bone. The widened blouse opening revealed her cleavage. A black V-neck cashmere sweater concealed the ample swell of her breasts.
“What are you looking at?” Paul said.
Without raising her head she said, “This C = S + P.”
“The payoff of a call equals—”
“But why? Why do people devote so much time to figuring out how to hedge their risk?”
“You expect them just to invest and pray that it all works out?”
“But all that energy could be devoted to creating themselves,” she said, looking up with a slight turn of her free cheek away from him, but not before he saw why she would do that. The corner of her mouth flared open with the lips frozen in a grotesque deformity.
So as not to stare at it, he trained his eyes on hers, which was easy since her eyes were a riveting hazel.
She said, “Didn’t anyone ever teach you it’s rude to stare? I have a congenital defect. Get over it.”
“I didn’t mean—“
“Get your fill.” She held up the flared corner of her mouth toward him.
She lowered her face and held his gaze. “Can’t take it?”
“I wasn’t staring at your face.”
“Then what were you looking at?”
She picked up notebook and stormed along the side wall toward the door. A black pencil skirt caressed her hips and the thighs scissoring swiftly beneath it.
“What did you mean by ‘creating yourself?’” Paul said.
She stopped by the doorway and turned to him. “To keep meeting people and finding more of yourself in them. We are who we meet, after all.”
“You remind me of a few I met years ago when I was wandering around the country. They thought it was so great that I was trying to ‘find myself.’”
“But you didn’t think so.”
“I did. I loved the adventure. But I was always anxious about not finding it.”
“What if there were no ‘it’ to find?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if it’s just a matter of creating it with the person you’re with at the moment?”
Suddenly everything grew still for Paul. It was the stillness he found with those same people he had met along the Interstates, the ones who like he refused to stop wondering why they were doing what they were doing.
Paul moved toward her. “I never caught your name,” he said, extending his hand.
She shook it. Her grip was firm and warm.
“Jessica,” she said. “Jessica Fuchsberg.”
The Retail Sales floor accommodated twenty high-net-worth-client sales reps. They sat at spacious mahogany desks in a grid of low cubicle walls carpeted in burgundy, holding hushed and unhurried phone conversations with customers. Market prices and news feeds for stocks and fixed income instruments glowed on green Quotron screens. Computer terminal screens were white with word-processed documents.
Every day Paul would note Jessica’s movements at the opposite corner of the room. When she went to and from the department’s kitchenette for a drink or a snack. When she left to see her father or traders upstairs about a particular stock. Out of the corner of his eye as he dialed a client, he sometimes caught her returning his glance with a brief, but unwavering gaze.
One day around lunchtime he observed two salesmen, Rod Darling and Don Rockefeller, standing in the corner by the large network printer as it ejected page upon page of a document. Ten-year veterans at The Firm, they were the top revenue generators in Retail Sales. Their long-standing clients were their fathers and their fathers’ friends, who were either hedge fund managers or tech start-up founders.
Jessica rose from her desk and walked toward the doorway. Instead of leaving the floor for the cafeteria, she continued along the perimeter of the room, turned the corner, and headed for Paul’s desk. She stopped by his cubicle wall.
“Care to join me for lunch?”
Paul had made a point of not going to lunch with her the first week so as not to provoke any office gossip.
“Sure,” he said.
“Meet you in the hallway in five minutes.”
She headed toward the corner with the network printer. As she passed Rod and Don, their eyes peeled to the skirt hugging her butt, Rod suddenly turned to his companion and flared the corner of his mouth in imitation of her. Don snickered.
Paul glared at them. He waited until the duo left the room a minute later for their typical hour in the cafeteria. Retrieving a fat wad of napkins and a styrofoam cup of the water in the kitchenette, he moved swiftly but casually to Rod’s desk. Making sure the one admin remaining in the room was busy with a phone call, he placed a row of overlapping napkin wads beneath Rod’s keyboard and poured water on it. He swept the sodden wads into plastic-bag-lined wastepaper basket with his hand, wiped the desktop dry with the remaining napkins, crumpled some yellow lined sheets of paper from a legal-sized pad, and placed them over the wet refuse. Then he walked to the doorway in the most unhurried manner he could manage and exited. His whole body tingled, nearly quivering from the accomplished mischief.
He encountered Jessica by the elevators, where fifteenth-century diptych donor panels of Dutch bankers in pious prayer hung between the sets of doors.
She looked at him as he approached, her head cocked to one side. “What happened?”
“What do you mean?”
“You have this like glow to you.”
He smiled. “Just happy to have your company.”
The elevator doors parted, and they descended in a packed car to the spotless bustling basement dining venue. They drifted their way together along the food line and sat at a table. Amid the clamor of diners, they floated upon their own luminous cloud, sharing idea after idea. They discussed why The Wizard of Oz was her favorite movie from childhood and why It’s a Wonderful Life was his. They talked about the crazy extent to which people will chase an experience of feeling uniquely alive in a time of nuclear power plant meltdowns and mushrooming computerization. And about how from the nature of their work, from how what seemed so definitively right one day could seem just a misguided waste of effort the next, playwrights and software engineers understood what Shakespeare knew so well: we are indeed such stuff as dreams are made on.
They stepped off the elevator car and headed down the hallway toward the office.
Paul said, “So why are you at Brass Brothers?”
“My father suggested I try working in the markets. It seemed more fun than writing code or doing university research.”
Paul snorted. “Must be nice.”
She looked at him sharply. “You think I’m daddy’s little dilettante. Well I’ve always paid my own way, Paul. With scholarships and grants.”
“Sorry if I presumed.’
“Everyone here presumes.” She studied him. “Has this place been what you expected?”
“There are good days and bad.”
“You don’t like working for my father, do you.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Not in words.”
“He’s my boss, Jessica.”
“Always the salesman. So painfully polite.”
They now stood before cubicles loaded with their office colleagues.
“Paul,” someone said. “My document’s frozen.”
“I can’t even get into word processing,” said another salesperson.
Paul sighed. “I’ll check it out.”
“You better,” Rod Darling said. “None of my keys work.”
Paul held him in a level gaze. “Sounds like you need a new keyboard.”
“So get me one.”
“Get it yourself.”
Rod exchanged glances with Don Rockefeller and then leered at Paul. “You want me to tell Lloyd that his boy is keeping his highest earner from doing business?”
Paul walked over to him and did not lower his voice. “Tell Lloyd whatever the fuck you want. The network affects everyone, and that’s what I have to check out first.”
He moved swiftly back to his desk to sit at his computer and verify what he assumed was the source of the problem.
“Hey,” said a soft voice.
He looked up to find Jessica smiling down at him by his cubicle wall with her forearms upon the railing.
She jutted her chin toward Rod’s cubicle on the other side of the office. “Rather impolite of you back there.”
“He mocked your mouth to his sidekick when you passed him this morning. I washed out his keyboard with a cup of water.”
She fixed him the gaze of those hazel eyes. “So how does it feel?”
“What–destroying his keyboard?”
“No. Being up-front. In his face.”
Paul smiled. “Kind of nice.”
She laughed. “You should do it more often.”
Paul turned his attention the computer screen. The cursor did not move when he clicked the mouse. He could open his spreadsheets and any of the other files he had copied onto the CPU under his desk for disruptions like this. However he could not access documents and market news stories available only through the network. He rose from his seat. “I have to take care of this.”
Jessica followed him to a seven-foot-high thinly lined rectangle cut into the wall of gold fabric beside the kitchenette entrance. Paul pulled a bronze retractable handle sunk into the wall rectangle and opened a door to a dark space. He reached around the door jamb, and suddenly glaring light revealed a deep closet with a tall column of blinking amber dots.
“Welcome to the Local Area Network,” Paul said.
They entered a narrow unfinished room and wormed their way back between metal racks bearing long flat metal boxes from floor to ceiling. Attached to the backs of them were red, yellow, and blue cables hanging in braids bound by zip ties. Across those backs tiny round amber bulbs of light pulsed in stuttering blinks.
Paul pointed at a red toggle switch on one of the stacked servers. At the back of the box one amber light was not blinking.
“There it is,” he said. “The Retail Sales gateway to the network.
“You don’t need the MIS department to fix it?”
“Nagh. I could trouble-shoot, but sometimes an age-old non-technical solution works its charm: the off-on trick.”
Paul depressed the red toggle power switch marked by an “O” printed in white. The amber light shrank to a lifeless dark bulb.
He turned to her. “And now let us count to thirty, Brass Brothers style, to allow time for the curse to drain from the circuits. One one-million, two one-million, three one-million…”
As they chanted their way together through the procession of numbers, they stood within inches of each other, bathed by the heat from all those electrons racing through cables and circuit boards. Their shoulders kissed as they reached the end of the incantation. He inhaled the piquant scent of her perspiration.
Paul swallowed. “And now,” he said, taking her hand and guiding it toward the protruding side of the toggle switch marked by a white dash, “be my guest.” He released her hand.
Her eyes flashed with a mirthful glint. She reached down—below the designated switch to the one on the next server box.
“No!” Paul cried, grabbing her wrist. “You can’t do that.”
She laughed, her head tilted back, her throat so white and bare.
“’You can’t do that,’” she said in the high-pitched nasal voice like that of the Wicked Witch. Her glance sliced him like a razor. “Why not?”
“You’d turn off the network to somewhere else. Maybe part of the trading floor.”
“God forbidI do that, and big bad Lloyd Fuchsberg finds out.” She looked at him askance. “You really thought I’d actually touch the wrong switch?”
She turned to leave, but he was still holding her wrist.
She smiled. “Always the gentleman, he just stands there.”
She drew him to her and kissed him, her tongue issuing from the flared corner of her mouth, meeting the curled caress of his waiting tongue.
He drew back. “Not here.”
She pressed against him. “I’m staying at my parents’ place for now. Meet me at seven-forty-five. They’ll have surely gone out to dinner by then.”
The front door to the Fuchsberg’s apartment at 969 Park Avenue was unlocked. The doorman in the lobby had delivered Paul the message from Jessica that he should just come in.
Mint-green walls painted with faux side tables and festoonery defined a rotunda foyer with a circular Persian rug covering the center of the parquet oak floor. In one quick shrug, like on the commuter train, Paul removed his overcoat with the suit jacket inside it.
“In here,” Jessica called from a spacious room immediately to his left.
Paul entered a living room where a fire blazed in a black marble hearth. The flickering firelight licked the cream-white dentil moldings of a wall bearing seventeenth-century Dutch group portraits of militia men wearing broad-brimmed hats and fluted ruffs. A rosy glow rested upon the mahogany frames of two richly upholstered wing chairs before the hearth. Jessica sat with her head nestled in the corner of one of them.
“Join me?” she said, beckoning with her hand.
He sat in the other wing chair.
“I meant beside me,” she said, patting her seat cushion.
He moved to her chair, squeezing in beside her and slipping his arm around her shoulders. The wings and back of the chair hugged them like a plush cocoon.
“Cozy,” he said.
“Stuffy, if you ask me.”
“Then let’s change that,” he said, getting to his feet.
“Where are you going?”
“To a greater space.” He took her hand. “Let’s find one.”
She rose beside him, and they returned to the rotunda. There were three other doorways. He gestured at the one guarded by a closed mahogany door to their immediate left.
“My parents’ bedroom,” she said.
He wrinkled his nose. “I don’t want to even think about what goes on in there.” He indicated the next doorway.
“A hallway,” Jessica said, “to the kitchen, a pantry that used to be the live-in housekeeper’s room, the dinette, and my bedroom. All of them far more cramped than the living room.”
That left another closed mahogany door.
“There we definitely can’t go,” she said.
He looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Because…?”
“It’s my father’s study.”
He grinned. “Wouldn’t want to upset big bad Lloyd Fuchsberg now …”
Paul led her across the rotunda and opened the door.
A massive oak desk and leather couch dominated the room. Shelves built into the walls floor to ceiling were lined with books. A shelf at eye-level included a set of red hardbound volumes, each with its gilt-lettered Roman numeral and the title, THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
He drew her to the couch, where he lay down and pulled her on top of him.
“When will they be back?” he said.
“Not before his client is done on my father’s tab. A lo-o-ong time.”
They undid the pants and skirt. He rolled on top of her right onto the rug with a thud, which made them laugh until their eyes were wet. She rolled on top, pinning him like a lioness. She bit his shoulder. Their tongues found each other once again, his hands running to whatever her body had to offer. He rolled atop her once more. His knees split her thighs.
Suddenly there was the sound of hard heavy shoes upon the rotunda parquet floor. A rattle of wooden coat hangers in the rotunda closet.
“Hurry,” Jessica whispered fiercely. She tried to slip from under Paul. He held her in place, her wrists pinned into the rug, his knees planted in the crooks of her legs.
Her eyes bulged. “Are you crazy?”
“He’ll fire you.”
He leered. “Not if you won’t let him.”
Her pupils flared bright as she smiled. “I dare you.”
From the rotunda Lloyd said to his wife, “Nice work, saying Jessica needed us.”
“God were they boring. If it had gone beyond drinks, I would have taken a steak knife and slit my throat. It’s not going to cost you the account, is it?”
There was the grunt of Lloyd’s tight laugh. “I got him an allocation on the Microsoft IPO he never expected. He’s mine forever.”
There was the squeak of a kiss on a cheek bone. “My hero,” his wife said in a husky mock voice.
“So where is Jessica tonight?” Lloyd said.
“She called and said she’d be out with a friend.”
Jessica bit her lips to suppress a giggle.
“What kind of friend?” Lloyd said.
“Lloyd,” his wife said. “Be happy she has any.”
“I just don’t want her to get hurt.”
“It’s her life to live, love. Come. Hill Street Blues is on soon.”
Footsteps receded to other side of rotunda.
“Lloyd!” Paul bellowed.
Jessica’s eyes flashed with frightful surprise that, upon seeing the look in Paul’s eyes as they sat up and quickly buttoned their clothes, settled into a shared thievish glee.
Paul strode out of the room into the rotunda with his suit-jacket-lined overcoat pinned under his arm as he tucked in his shirt.
Lloyd stood staring at him from his bedroom doorway, his mouth agape.
Slipping his arms into the suit jacket sleeves on his way to the front door, Paul stopped and smiled as he placed a hand on Lloyd’s shoulder. “No need to introduce me to Jessica. I took your advice to heart.”
About the Author:
Jim Zinaman is a former executive recruiter and Goldman Sachs VP. Hitchhiking around the United States, he worked as a carpenter and a cook and joined and helped deprogram members from a cult. His Best Short Story of 2017 in Adelaide Literary Journal was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.