Part I

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.

—Friedrich Nietzsche

1 | Jerry Cavanaugh

November 15, 2005

I can’t stand other people half the time. I’m not a cynical person by nature, but sometimes if you look up, you realize everything around you has slowly been turning to crap. Time screws with everything, and thirteen years on the Bear Stearns trading floor selling corporate bonds can change a person.

There are few careers in life that require a person to be a genius. Business and politics are not among them. Selling bonds and bank debt for Bear is certainly not among them, but I’ve done it for more than a decade and made a lot of money. It’s a lifestyle I knew nothing about before I got here, and I try to keep a barrier between this life and all the people who knew me before. As if I were a CIA agent, other people know only my cover and nothing about how I actually live day to day. They know only that I work in finance and get paid very well.

“Farmer!” I ignore the yell. “Farmer!” Jerry Cavanaugh shouts again from over my left shoulder. Jerry runs the trading desk for the fixed income products we buy and sell every day. Bond issuances for casinos, airlines, shipping and transportation companies.

Stuff like that.

“Nick! Farmer!” It’s a thuggish, Staten Island accent, incongruous with a dress shirt, tie, and an annual bonus of three million dollars. I turn around with hands in the air and an expression as if to say I heard you the first time.

“Where are we on the Continental bonds? I want to be out of that position by the end of the day. What level can you get?”

“Ninety and a quarter for most of it. I’m waiting on a call back from Chappy.” We trade mostly distressed stuff. Companies that raised a lot of money, hit some hard times, and now the market wonders if they can pay it all back and service the debt. We factor in the risk that the company will fail to repay by making a market for the debt at less than the issued value.

Jerry scowls. “What do you mean, ‘most of it’?”

“I’m working on it.” I watch the scowl deepen. Jerry has a round, Irish face, red-brown hair, and translucent white skin like the belly of a fish. He looks younger than his thirty-eight years, though I suspect that may be because he’s so fat. If he stopped adding weight, his skin might have a chance to wrinkle. I turn back around and call my client at UBS who has interest in the bonds.


You can read the complete excerpt from Ghosts of Manhattan here (PDF)

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