Rich Carver’s morning routine has scarcely varied in the 9 months since his transfer from Wall Street, courtesy of his employers, an American investment bank. It commences with a shower, then a rigorous gym workout, and another shower. He then shaves his dark stubble for the first time, which grows at Nixon-like rates and often needs a second brush with the razor before the evening session begins. He then plucks eyebrows, nose and ears, and indulges lingering self-congratulatory viewing in a full-length bathroom mirror of his toned, naked body. Finally, Rich takes in coffee and orange juice while skipping through the Financial Times and flicking through the markets, dressed in the perfect pure white robe. He dresses in the obligatory power suit and white shirt, plain tie in a rich silk, before arriving at his desk on the dot of 7am to plan a strategy for the day.
Given that Rich also develops and monitors the success of strategies for the week, month, year and decade, a daily strategy might seem to some superfluous, but he spends 30 minutes planning with great care what his achievements will be, how he will treat his colleagues (the competition), clients he will meet or phone (income sources), and how he will reward himself for so doing.
Daily targets are stretch targets and usually depend on some devious manipulation of other people to persuade them to do his bidding. Rich prides himself on being Machiavellian but within a very strict ethical code, one established purely for his own protection against anyone with an equally devious mindset but lacking in any scruples, by which he means anyone prepared to bring down Rich. At every meeting, detailed notes are taken, often by Rich himself. Who said what to whom is recorded with meticulous precision. Evidence is collated, dossiers on all key players maintained. Nothing is left to chance. Sometimes, this leaves scores to be settled, marked in red with an asterisk and noted in a little black book, though Rich takes the view that profit comes first and revenge is a dish best eaten cold. The response, when it comes, is merciless and terminal. Nobody ever crosses Rich twice, and woe betide them if they do.
Among the uneasy relationships maintained with office folk, Rich maintains an uneasy truce with the man designated as his line manager. Although at 29, Rich is young, his fellow American Aaron Drysdale is younger, and, if anything, sleeker. The jealousy between the two is palpable, but began five seconds into their relationship when the Carver Yale tie was trumped by the Drysdale Harvard neckwear, both in tasteful navy blue. The two meet infrequently, and any directions given by Drysdale are automatically ignored by Rich, who regards all authority with suspicion and believes himself to require no supervision, since his bottom line profit speaks for itself, and keeps in healthy multimillion bonuses year on year.
During the day Rich’s focus is total. Updating the Gordon Gecko mantra, Rich never stops for lunch but does permit his PA to bring a designated sandwich and a can of zero caffeine Diet Coke to his desk, where it may sit for a few hours but is invariably eaten during “thinking time,” 15 flexible minutes where Rich pauses to reflect and to adjust the daily strategy, if required. Sometimes targets are exceeded, in which case the sandwich is eaten and Coke drunk with an air of self-congratulatory invincibility before fresh goals are set. If things are going badly, new and even more ruthless tactics are employed, and the sandwich may be left, barely touched. At no point will Rich rest until the job has been done, even if that means being slumped over his desk at 3am before returning home for a shower and change of clothing.
That eventuality notwithstanding, Rich’s evenings divide neatly into four: Some nights he will leave the office prompt at 8pm, hail a black cab, head towards the West End, and dine alone in one of his three favourite restaurants (J Sheekey, Le Gavroche and Rules), drinking a bottle of red burgundy and several cocktails at Henry’s in the process; on occasions he may be travelling for business and find himself in a luxurious suite in some foreign hotel; on others he will be found in one of a number of London watering holes, entertaining clients or favoured colleagues (never Drysdale) for mutual advantage and potential blackmail; but his favourite evenings are those very rare occasions when Wynona Judge consents to be his escort for the night.
Judge is one challenge Rich has yet to master. A tall, leggy Texan, Wynona is a colleague in the bank, a bonds specialist and a rare specimen of womanhood at senior levels in investment banking and nobody’s fool. Rich is permitted to wine and dine her, sleep with her on her terms and conditions, but never to come so much as an inch closer than permitted. Conversation with Judge was like swimming with your head inside a shark’s mouth. After 6 solid months of trying, Rich had never found the secret of melting her heart, but was not about to give up in a hurry.
On one such evening that the pair arrive back at Rich’s well-appointed penthouse overlooking the Thames after an evening drinking vintage Bollinger and eating oysters at Sheekeys, to find a pile of mail filling the lockable box by his front door. Rich applies his thumb to the door control and heads straight for the champagne bar strategically located near a deep, white leather sofa and the customised rack hosting remote controls for the lighting, heating, curtains, music system and much more besides. Finding the box unlocked, Wynona Judge empties the mail and follows Rich through the door and into a huge open expanse filled with expensive minimalist furniture.
“You shouldn’t leave that box unlocked,” she chides him, “someone mail steal your mail.”
“Let them,” he calls from the bar, two champagne flutes in his hands.
“You got lots of junk mail and lots of bills,” she replies, more playfully than Rich, in her opinion, warrants.
“That’s why they can take the goddamn lot,” Rich winks back at her.
“Hang on, what’s this?”
“What’s what?” he asks, handing her the glass but finding his invitation ignored.
“Looks like an invite.” She raises a sculpted eyebrow: “Who have you been dating?”
Rich hands her the glass and takes the invitation from her with a faint rebuke in his eyes. The envelope tells him this is no ordinary invite. The hand-made paper marks it out to be superior to the recyclables compromising the rest of the pile. His name and address have been lovingly written by hand in fine calligraphy, using a proper black ink. The envelope is even scented.
“Classy,” mutters Rich, taking a pewter letter opener from the long beechwood desk at one end of his living space, a desk otherwise festooned with computers and displays indicating the prices of world stocks, shares, currencies and commodities in London, Tokyo, Frankfurt and New York.
He slits open the envelope with one savage movement and pulls out a gilt-edged embossed card.
“What is it?” asks Wynona, even her curiosity aroused by something out of the ordinary, even by the standards of the dumb-ass rich kid Carver.
“’Redbrook Place requests the pleasure of Mr Richard Carver and guest to dinner on 15 December, 2004.’ Address in Bloomsbury. ‘Transport will be provided for the convenience of all guests.’ What the fuck is that all about?”
Wynona shrugs: “Is this to do with any of your merger clients?”
“Not that I know of. Never heard of Redbrook Place. What sort of joint is it?”
“I don’t know. Where’s your laptop? Let’s research this first.”
Wynona strides off in search of a computer she can use for web searching. Rich calls after her: “I’m inviting you as my guest, OK?”