It was like watching a crash in slow motion.
Danier Leyte, the brightest boy of his class of ’10, the one picked to become a millionaire before he turned 40, the one that all of the best and the brightest of his class looked up to, was watching his career fall apart and – yes, yes, yes – crash in the rudest and worst possible way.
A bus crash?
A train crash?
A ten-car pile up?
No, no… This was ugly and real, happening in real time, with real consequences for real people.
He was one of those real people. That jagged red line, tracing a jagged path down toward the right hand side of his screen, disappeared into the axis of a graph.
Yes, that graph. Danier looked at the ice melting and blending into each other in the last dregs of his whiskey (it was a good year). Maybe it was too early to be drunk – just post-noon on a grey Monday – but he knew that he did not want to be sober for what was about to happen.
He did not work in the office, so there were less chances of having an angry customer come in with their tears, anger and a possible weapon. His home address was near the exchange, a four-story walk up with a private balcony, but that was possibly a brilliant gambit to get out of being hunted down. Who would be stupid enough to live near the slaughterhouse if they did not have to?
Someone who loved the smell of blood, he thought.
His blood, their blood…
He was going to be bled over this.
Danier loosened his tie – why was that still on him? – and looked out the window. Maybe a chance of rain today? That would be perfect.
He had noticed the crush outside about an hour ago when he had been screaming at his team and tried to stem the flow of cash. It was not just money they were losing. Yes, as he and everyone else knew, fear and greed moved the market into waves and valleys. But what was the real monster was confidence. When that stepped out the door, it could not come back in. No one would let it in. You could not grow it, tempt it, or tie it down. It had its own rules, and it did not care how you felt about it.
It was gone.
The line on the graph flattened out.
Then, the phone rang.
It was his cell phone, meaning that it would not be a call from his office. Danier had the phone ready for tossing out if something nasty like this ever happened. That was the only thing he had ready for such a day.
So, who was calling him?
This day could not be any worse, so why not answer it?
“Is that the way you answer the phone, Mr. Leyte? Even on a private line, I would be a little more polite, especially on a day like today.”
His first temptation was to hang up the phone, remove the SIM card, and then find a convenient furnace. As if in anticipation of this dream, the voice continued to speak.
“Don’t worry. You are not someone whom I would allow to handle our money. We have noted your successes and wondered what would happen when you finally faced the harsh reality of the market: you cannot win all the time and the fall is always nasty.”
“Please,” Danier stirred his drink with a finger, “if you are the police…”
“Oh, dear God, no, we would not have them involved in this situation. People tend to get nervous around the boys in blue…”
“Who the hell…?”
“Apologies. I should have begun with the proposal.”
Danier was at the beginning of a separate headache apart from the one that grew from today’s earlier events. “Please, sir. It has been a very nasty day and I don’t think…”
“No, you do think. In fact, you think too much. That is why things have happened the way they have. What we are offering, however, is a way out of this.”
Okay, okay… No real threat there. He sounded like a much older, stable, well-invested man who did not carry a gun or knife. Why would he dangle something like this for a sinking ship?
“A way out...?”
“A way to get out from under the rock you now reside…under. Sorry, it sounded better when I practiced that line. We are offering you a break.”
“Keep talking.” What did he have to lose? The bottle was not empty yet.
“My employers study the market and occasionally decide to assist those companies and businesses we feel have potential.”
Danier was smiling now. “Of course… You are investors.”
“No, not just that. We do make money, but we also provide…incentives to the companies and businesses we support. And we have spent a long time studying your work.”
Let the other guy speak before jumping in, he thought. Danier had another bottle somewhere in this room.
“We are going to help you.”
He stood up, went to the portable fridge under a windowsill, and took out another bottle.
“Help me? Well, that is a very nice offer. But I can see that things are leveling off and that they might go back to what they were…”
The man over the phone cleared his throat. Danier could hear the irritation in him and decided to not interrupt again.
If he was actually serious…
“Mr. Leyte, you know as well as I do that once the investor loses confidence, you lose everything else.”
Psychic? Perhaps so…
“We are going to help you. You are going to see your business recover. Your clients are going to trust you again.”
Now, he had something to say.
“You manipulate the market and now you want to manipulate me.”
The man on the phone had to laugh out loud at that. “Business is business, Mr. Letye. Nobody cares where the money comes from; they only want to make sure it is still in their pocket. And besides, it is good to have a stable market out there, right? It makes us all look better. No one wants to hoard every last bill in a mattress. Not really…”
Fair points all around, he thought. He now wanted to find some ice for his drink.
“We only have one real condition that you must follow.”
Here we go. The ice tray was down to its last cubes.
“At the end of the fourth quarter, you must donate fifty percent.”
Maybe he did not need the ice.
“You are about to become a very rich man with a lot of very happy clients in a tough market. You will make more money than you have ever had before. But you must lift other boats when the tide rises. You must help others…even if that has not been a priority for your business.”
This must be a prank. Was it Richards pulling this nonsense? He had known Leyte since business school and did this sort of thing with clients. Have to call him later…
“Nice, very nice. You are just pulling my leg.”
“No leg pulls here, Mr. Leyte. All I need you to do is say ‘Yes’ and we will help you.”
“That’s it?” The whiskey was really getting to his head. “One word?”
“Right, so say it.”
Danier looked outside at the sky and crowds. Both were beginning to thin out.
He could almost hear the smile of the man on the line.
“Excellent! In the next hour, you are going to notice some changes with your company. You can walk over to the office and see it in person. Not too far from your home, I believe.”
Definitely a prank.
“Well, thanks again for the call. Tell your bosses you made me laugh for a bit in all this.”
The pause on the phone felt chilling.
“Mr. Leyte, this is no prank. We are quite serious about what we do. If you take a moment, you can refer to your company’s stock online. You will notice how it is now rising on a serious curve. It will continue as such for a very long time. As I said, you are going to make a lot of people very happy…and you are going to make more money.”
“But I have to give half of it away.”
“Yes. To charities and reputable non-profit organizations. Fifty percent.”
“Right. Well, I said ‘Yes’. Thanks.”
“No, thank you, Mr. Leyte. We will be in touch later.”
There was one thing he wanted to know and had to get out.
“And if I don’t?”
“Don’t what, Mr. Leyte?” The man over the phone was surprised by the question.
“Give away half. What happens?”
Again, there was a very long pause that made Danier very uncomfortable. He drank a little more. Why was he still sober?
The man hung up, and the sun came out. Danier looked out across the main road leading to the office. A few things came to mind: he did not even know the man’s name.
He did not even know the name of that organization he kept mentioning.
Must have been Richards…
He went back to the laptop.
The line was rising.
He almost dropped the bottle and the glass.
The line, now green, was heading straight up. The numbers were definitely improving (there would probably be something on the news about this later). And it was not even the end of his lunch time yet (ha, ha; some joke). A wave of relief settled at the back of his mind. Okay, okay, so this one is actually helping out. This is more than just a stunt.
Maybe it was a philanthropic group?
Maybe it was really an investor?
Maybe it was an expensive prank?
Danier had to take a long walk.
The news was good; it was actually fantastic for a weekday. The company’s stock price rose dramatically over the next few days, with prospects for the future being evaluated as “positive, positive, and more positive!” by a long time journalist Danier could not usually stand. He was also interviewed on another program and asked, by a young woman who reminded Danier of an old magazine his father had hidden under a mattress, how he did it. This was something that Danier was prepared for. A standard speech about “eventualities can be taken as a correction in the market”. His company was “prepared for such problems”, the business “would continue with all precautions in place”, and “confidence is the most important thing to an investor”.
He had not forgotten that lesson.
And he knew a way to make those investors even more confident in his predictions.
The company ran ads for career opportunities.
They were going to expand.
And why not? The business did better and better during the first quarter of that year; the money seemed to be pouring in through some sort of tap that no one wanted to touch; the news programs did all the work for them with their endless coverage of their “success story of the year”. It was all going better than anyone could have predicted (he became known as “Boy Wonder” by some of the older board members).
But there was something in the back of his mind.
Something in his head about charity.
In the second quarter, he began to propose that they make bigger donations to charities than usual. This was a bit of a surprise to many who knew Danier and remembered some of his comments about the poor and the homeless (“You can’t help a rock turn into a rose”; that was taken from an uncle in banking, but he made it his own). But he knew that there was a reason why he was doing it.
That phone call…
Greenpeace, UNHCR, The National Institutes for the Blind, Deaf, Sick Children, Red Cross, various local charities, and several schools received a great deal of money, often from Mr. Leyte personally, and were quite happy to praise him to the media. He became a great philanthropist who not only how to “get a business back on its feet,” but also felt “endless miles of compassion for the less than lucky of the world” (same centerfold model said that…or was it a new one?) He was all over the news again, as was the company (whatever creates the right impression, he was told).
By the third quarter, he was the man who could not be touched. His salary had gone up so frequently that he did not even wonder if their success would continue. The clients were happy; the bosses overjoyed; the market on their side. No clouds or storms were coming their way.
And then the fourth quarter appeared and everything changed.
Danier, again working from home in the afternoon, saw the number on his phone as it vibrated. He never gave the caller a name or title, but he did not forget their deal.
Again, he heard that slight pause on the phone. Was it the same old man? Did they put them on a cycle? He was probably hitting the bottle too early (there were several of them in the cabinet now; gifts from his executives).
Ah, it was the same one. He recognized the tones of contempt and friendliness.
“Hello, stranger! I must thank you for all the good deeds. It really helped us.”
“Yes…um, do you remember our talk from earlier?”
Earlier… Like they had spoken to each other only that morning…
“Yes, I remember…”
“You remember what I said about…the fifty percent?”
“Yes, sir.” Why was he feeling nervous now? Danier was working from home on another cloudy day and he felt like he was being watched.
“Then why did you not give away the fifty percent?”
From fear, he traveled straight toward confusion.
“But, I did. I donated to multiple charities and even encouraged the company to give a lot of the money we usually put aside for a rainy day to different local groups. We gave a lot of it away.”
For the first time, he heard other voices behind the man on the phone. Danier wondered if he should have recorded the call.
“Mr. Leyte, we have looked over the financials, and analyzed the market, and it seems as though you did not keep up your end of things. In fact, you kept most of the money and did not donate enough.”
He waited for a verdict.
“At least you still have until the end of this quarter, Mr. Leyte. We do have a figure in mind that will settle this.”
Danier heard the number, but did not hear it. His heartbeat and nerve endings would not accept it.
“Now, wait a minute…”
“End of quarter, Mr. Leyte. Or things will change.”
After the man hung up, Danier put the glass down, walked to the balcony door, slid it open and stood out in the cool air. A few light drops became very heavy drops of rain and the crowds and traffic began to disappear. As he stood there, he looked toward the offices and let the water soak him to the skin. They could do what they wanted, he thought. Up or down, up or down…
Richards was never that funny…
But this was so funny…
He looked up at the sky as it opened up and he felt his clothes stick to his body and heard thunder in the approaching distance.
No fear now. No fear.
If they wanted to destroy what they built, let them come. He wanted to see what they could do.
He knew what he could do right now.
The glass and bottle were inside, but he did not need them for this next part.
Danier did a two-step, then went to a sway and what he could have called a cha-cha…
He needed to dance today.