SECTION 1.1: TODD
Wednesday, March 5; New York, New York
“You are such an asshole.” Her face had gone from red to white as she fumbled to pull her naked legs from under the sheets. Retracing last night’s steps from the living room to the bed, she collected the trail of discarded clothing in her arms.
Todd reached for the remote and turned on MSNBC, hoping the sound of the morning’s market commentary would drown out the awkwardness. He hated morning awkwardness.
The girl came back into the room and started rummaging through the sheets for her underwear. He lifted the covers over his lap to help, which only agitated her more.
“I just don’t …” she started, looking at him. “I just don’t understand why you’re so afraid of commitment.”
“I’m not afraid of commitment,” he said simply, pretending to be absorbed in the television where Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski were debating whether L.Cecil had known the earnings forecast for Catalyst, the company L.Cecil had underwritten last year, was bogus when it sold shares to investors. Todd made a face at the television: that better not affect his bonus.
The girl pulled her skirt back over her thin hips and refastened her push-up bra; her SoulCycle habit had made her thighs too big, but the endurance trade-off had landed her a spot toward the top of Todd’s current lineup of girls he had sex with. Her brown eyes were watery as she looked at him through last night’s smudged eyeliner and decided what to say next.
“Then what’s so wrong with taking me to dinner?” she said softly, still for the first time since she’d left the bed.
“Because that’s not what you are to me,” he answered innocently.
“Then what am I?” Her voice was even softer. Her fingers clenched the sheets and her C-cup chest rose and fell waiting for the answer she didn’t want to hear.
“Listen: we’ve had a really good time. Why ruin it?” Todd said, meaning it.
Her jaw set and her eyes shimmered. “You mean I’m the girl you fuck?”
Don’t put it that way.”
“Excuse me: I’m the girl you call as your backup when you want to have sex.” She shook her head, looked for somewhere to look, and whispered under her breath, “Fuck.”
Todd pinched his cheeks in without saying anything. He needed to go to work.
She looked back up. “Do you know I went to Penn? Like, I’m not some bimbo idiot. I work at a top-tier law firm. And there are about thirty guys back in Philly who would fall all over themselves to marry me.”
Todd shrugged. “Listen, Amy, you’re a really—”
“My name is Amanda.”
Shit. He knew that.
Her chest collapsed in a half laugh, half sob. “Jesus Christ. You don’t even know my name. We’ve slept together four times and you don’t even know my fucking name.”
Now Todd was feeling attacked. “Wait a second. You cannot blame me for this.”
She crossed her arms over her waist and swallowed, waiting.
“We met because you put your profile on a location-based dating app and contacted me, drunk, at a bar at 2 a.m. You, not me, defined yourself that way.”
She didn’t break her gaze. “Hook is a tool for meeting people. You’re on it, and you’re presumably normal. Why does my being on it make me a slut?”
“I didn’t say you were a slut. I said you sought me out in the context of a late-night booty call, and that’s the implicit arrangement we’ve got.”
“But that was four times ago,” Amy/Amanda protested.
Todd shrugged. He didn’t want to hurt her, but he also really didn’t have time for this kind of drama. Of all the things he needed to pay attention to as a soon-to-be managing director in L.Cecil’s investment bank, a girl he’d slept with four times wasn’t high on his list.
“But we’ve gotten to know each other since then.” She wouldn’t let it go. “We talked about your job and I told you about my family and I skipped a really important breakfast meeting to stay in bed because I know you like morning sex.” Her lip was trembling.
“I didn’t ask you to do that.”
Her cheeks went red, knowing it was true. She shook her head. “Oh my god, I can’t believe this is happening.” She turned and finished dressing, abandoning the search for her thong in preference for a quick escape.
Todd pushed himself out of bed toward the bathroom and stepped his six-foot-three-inch, former-D1-water-polo-player frame under the waterfall showerhead.
He heard the front door slam and sighed in relief that she was gone. The question of whether to bring a girl back to his place or follow her to her apartment was a perpetual conundrum for Todd. On the one hand, the expensive minimalism of his spacious one-bedroom guaranteed any girl he brought back would have sex with him, even if she’d been committed to prudishness up to that point; on the other hand, away games had the advantage that he could leave on his own terms in the morning. Last night was the wrong call, but a guy can’t be right all the time.
Todd finished his toilet and put on his standard uniform—bespoke suit, Hermès tie, Armani socks, Prada loafers. He used his phone to order a black car on Uber and glanced approvingly in the mirror before heading downstairs.
When he exited the front door of his apartment building Amanda was standing by the door, blowing into her hands to ward off the March breeze. “Jesus Christ,” he whispered to himself.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I know you’re right, I just … I mean, I guess I just wanted to be more. And I could be, you know. I am more than that girl in the Hook profile.”
He put his hand gently on her hip and kissed her cheek softly. “It’s okay,” he said, “but I’ve got a lot going on, and what we’ve got now is the most I can do. If you want more, I respect that, but I can’t give it to you.”
She nodded and looked at the ground.
“Can I help you find a cab?” he offered.
She shook her head. “No, I’ll walk.”
“Okay. Have a good day, all right?” he coaxed, making his blue eyes smile.
“Okay.” She headed down the street, her four-inch stilettos and tangled hair a scarlet letter on the Wednesday morning sidewalk.
Todd climbed into the black car and promptly deleted Amanda’s Hook profile from the contact list on his iPhone.
He pulled out his work BlackBerry and checked the normal morning blasts: the Asian market update, the FX daily forecast, another email stressing the importance of not talking to clients about L.Cecil’s latest fines, and then: an email from Josh@hook.com. He opened it:
Todd—Have decided to go public. Want you to do it. Need it to happen quickly.—JH
Todd almost choked; he looked up at the driver, as if the man might understand the significance of what Todd was holding in his hand, then looked back down at the device and dialed the number on Josh’s email signature.
He glanced at his Rolex and realized it was only 6:15 in San Francisco, but Josh Hart picked up anyway. “Hello?”
“Josh!” Todd exclaimed a bit too enthusiastically. “Josh, it’s Todd. Todd Kent. I just got your email and—I’m sorry, is this a good time?”
“It’s fine.” Josh’s voice was like a robot’s.
“Listen, I’m, uh …” Todd prided himself on his composure, but he was, at this moment, beside himself. Hook was not just a company that had vastly improved the quality of his sex life, it was also the biggest social media company since Facebook, and everyone on Wall Street was clamoring to finance it.
Despite sending the Hook founder and CEO a stock email every other week, Todd hadn’t heard from Josh Hart since they’d met at a strip club in Vegas during CES three years ago, and wondered what he’d done to make Josh Hart choose him over everyone else on Wall Street to lead the deal. Then again, Todd had been in great form that night, ordering magnums of champagne and attracting all the hottest dancers to their table. Josh, a pasty computer science dork with dark circles under his eyes and no social graces, was probably floored by Todd’s effortless cool and, now that his company was ready to go public, felt confident enough to join his aura.
The rationale restored Todd’s composure. “I’m so glad to get your email. I just wanted to call to find out more about what you’re thinking.”
“I told you in my email,” Josh said. He sounded irritated, as if his two-liner was more than sufficient to set an IPO in motion. “I’ve decided to take Hook public and I’d like you to underwrite it. I’d like to raise at least one point eight billion dollars.” Each word was individually packaged, like a computer reading without awareness of how the words fit together.
Todd blinked his eyes: Hook still hadn’t turned a profit, and Wall Street had started to question the massive valuations of social media companies since Twitter went out last fall. Then again, he was Todd Kent, and Todd Kent was nothing if not good at convincing people of something’s worth. “Okay, great; well the typical process is to do a bake-off, where different banks pitch you and—”
“I don’t want to deal with that. I want you to do it.”
Todd’s brain whirred: no one ever didn’t do a bake-off. Was it even allowed? “That’s great, I mean, that saves us a lot of time,” he said. “So I’ll talk to my boss, Larry, he’s the one who will be in charge of the—”
“No, I said I want you to do it.”
Todd let that land: he wasn’t even a managing director yet, and Larry was head of the group. Cutting Larry out was political suicide. Unless it went well, in which case Todd catapulted himself into a position of greater power and Larry would have to play along. “Well, the way it works is, Larry will—”
“I don’t care how it normally works. I want you to be in charge, I want it to go quickly, and I don’t want to have to deal with any Wall Street suits.” Josh’s computer voice sped to express his annoyance. “If you can’t accommodate that, I will find a banker who will.”
Todd inhaled sharply. He knew from growing up in northern California that the West Coast didn’t like Wall Street, but it took a lot of balls to totally bunk the rules of banks that had been around for a hundred years.
“You can obviously have your team,” Josh continued. “But choose carefully and don’t let any of them bother me. Any slick dicks and the deal is off. Understood?”
“Yeah, of course,” Todd assured him, glancing down at his tailored suit.
“Good,” Josh said. “Let me know what we need to do to finalize.”
Todd thought quickly. “Why don’t we come out next week and talk through everything with your CFO and general counsel?”
“We don’t have a general counsel anymore, but next week is fine.”
“What happened to your GC?”
“It isn’t important. We work directly with Crowley Brown.”
“Great,” Todd said. In the underwriting hierarchy, he wasn’t allowed to boss around general counsels, but he had full power over outside attorneys. “Why don’t we come out on Wednesday?” Todd asked.
“Great. I’ll buy you a drink afterward, too,” Todd added magnanimously.
Todd hung up the phone and took a deep breath as he fell back into the seat, letting it all sink in. This was absolutely huge. Men waited their whole careers for an opportunity like this, and here he was, at thirty-two, owning it.
He looked back down at his phone and made another call.
“Todd? Is everything okay?” his mother answered the phone, her anxiety as much a part of her as her still-hot-at-age-sixty looks.
“Yes, Mom,” he said jovially. “Everything’s great. I’m calling because I’m going to be out there next week.”
“In Marin?” Her voice brightened. “Todd, that’s great. I’ll get your room ready. Do you want me to invite Bill and Shar—”
“I’m not going to have much time,” he cut her off. “I’ve got a new deal. A really big deal. I mean”—it still didn’t seem real—“this deal is the biggest in the world right now, Mom, and I was specifically requested to lead it by the company’s founder and CEO.”
“Todd, that’s wonderful.”
“It’s really big.” It sunk in even more, and felt better each time.
“Your father would be so proud.”
Todd’s chest tightened. It had been eight years since his dad died and she still couldn’t let it go. “Well, I’ve got to run, but I’ll call you when I’ve got a better sense of our schedule.”
“I’m so excited for you, sweetheart,” she said, and her voice now felt syrupy and annoying.
“Thanks.” He tried to hide his irritation.
“I love you.”
“Love you too, Mom,” he conceded and hung up the phone.
He’d hated his father, and hated his mother for still glorifying him. He could still feel the grip on his shoulder, the voice yelling at him after every water polo match. The fact that Mr. Kent had died suddenly of a brain tumor did not make him a hero.
“Whatever,” he said out loud, refocusing on his own success as the car pulled up to L.Cecil’s headquarters, where he’d spent every workday and most weekends for the past ten years, save the two-week vacation the regulators forced bankers to take each year because they thought it would somehow curb insider dealing.
Todd got out of the car and proudly followed the other tailored suits into the building, feeling with pleasure the weight of his own significance.
SECTION 1.2: NICK
Wednesday, March 5; San Francisco, California
“I know you don’t like talking about money, but as the chief financial officer of this company, it’s my responsibility to tell you that we have no choice but to raise more capital if you want to keep this vision alive,” Nick Winthrop said firmly …