Authors: Annette Meyers
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Women Sleuths, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Financial, #Crime Fiction
The Big Killing
is a prize. Introducing financial headhunters Smith and Wetzon. A tautly plotted, stylish mystery ... wittily written. What makes this book outstanding ... is its rendering of detail. Meyers hits the mark every time.”
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio
“Ingratiating first novel featuring the soft-boiled amateur detecting team of Smith and Wetzon, who are actually high-powered Wall St. headhunters.”
“A novel of suspense on Wall Street. A supremely likeable whodunit.”
“ ... the characters are also sharp enough to make you want to dump your broker - quick.”
New York Times Book Review
“Meyer’s storytelling is wonderful.... she evokes the feel, smell, atmosphere of the city so well that I got homesick. Not only that but her portrayal of the life of a headhunter is masterful. Read the book, make up your own mind about it, but read it, please.”
All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Bantam hardcover edition, 1989
Bantam paperback edition, 1990
Baker & Taylor, Replica Books, hardcover edtion, 1998
Baker & Taylor, Replica Books, trade paper edition, 2000
Copyright © by Annette Brafman Meyers 1989, 2011
All rights reserved.
eBook edition, 2011
ISBN (Kindle) 978-1-936441-27-3
Cover Design: Allison Black
The author wishes to acknowledge the support and assistance of Rita Bernhardt, Dolores Bullard, Merle Gordon, Elizabeth Goren, Fred Klein, Marcia Lesser, John Oakes, Linda Ray, Philip Rinaldi, Bruce Stark, Chris Tomasino and the incomparable Kate Miciak, editor of editors.
Who gets the buck? Everything else is just a lot of conversation.
Abraham Pomerantz, Esquire
Wall Street Attorney
It’s about money, it’s always about money.
Xenia Smith, Partner
Smith & Wetzon
Executive Search Specialists
He was running for his life. Sweat rolled off his hairline into the red and white sweatband. His shirt was soaked, and he could no longer feel his legs below his knees. His lungs felt about to burst, and he knew they were gaining on him because he could hear the shouting. He put on a last burst of adrenaline, pressed forward, pumping, pumping, and crossed the finish line to an exuberant cheer and an uneven round of applause, more shouting and squealing from the girls, and a decent amount of skin contact with the scantily clad club cheerleaders awaiting Caravanserie members at the finish line.
It was the “Run for Your Life Sweeps” the ten-miler that was run every year for the benefit of the Cardiopulmonary Care Unit at York Hospital. All the health clubs in the City competed.
He placed his fore, middle, and ring fingers on the underside of his wrist and counted. Perfect. He took a big swallow from the proffered water jug and worked his knees slowly up and down. Then he pulled off the soaking wet Caravanserie Club T-shirt and poured the rest of the water in the jug over his head. He stood for a moment shaking out his legs. He was in great shape and knew it. He’d never felt better. He flexed his biceps, admiring the taut swell of his muscles. Perfect control. That was what he wanted, what he had.
He took his pulse again. Great recovery. Already back to seventy-four. He lay on the grass, knees bent, hands clasped behind his neck. He closed his eyes. Feeling good ... great.
The soft terry of a towel fell across his knees. He opened his eyes and saw a pair of sleek, golden legs in Fila jogging shoes. Long, lean, bare legs. He put the towel over his head and rubbed the sweat out of his hair. Then he draped it around his neck and lazily let his eyes follow the legs upward.
Goddam, today was his lucky day. Here was this sexy blonde in tight, white running shorts and a Shearson sweatshirt coming on with him.
“Shearson, huh?” he said, standing, shaking out his legs.
“Late of Shearson,” the blonde said, tossing her long, glossy hair. “I start at Donahue’s on Monday.”
“Well, waddaya know,” Barry said, arching his back, pulling the ends of her red towel across his neck. He was on a roll. “Funny coincidence,” he said, bunching up the towel and rubbing his chest suggestively. “That’s where I am. Barry Stark.” He held out his hand.
“I know,” she said, in a flat Connecticut accent. She ran a small pink tongue around small pink lips. “Amanda Guilford.” She took his hand.
Strong, athletic handshake. Green eyes. Jesus. “You’ll love it at Jake’s,” Barry told her. “I guarantee it.”
“I’m a little nervous about it.” She smiled with even white teeth, seeming not at all nervous.
He rubbed his chest again with the towel and handed it back to her. “Don’t worry about a thing, babe. Your friend Barry will show you the ropes.”
They smiled at each other.
“Well, if it isn’t the Barry Stark we all know and love!” Georgie Travers said, loudly, breaking the moment.
Then the other club members who were there began to close in on him. He had, after all, won the race. Amanda Guilford receded into the background and Barry stood, bare-chested, the dark hair on his chest still glistening with sweat and water, accepting the adulation that was his due.
“My name is Leslie Wetzon,” Wetzon began in her soft, agreeable voice, “and my firm is Smith and Wetzon,” she continued, firmer now and subtly more decisive. “We are an executive search firm, Lon, and we work in the brokerage industry.”
“Yeah, so you’re a headhunter,” Lon Campbell said. Campbell was a confidential referral from Eddie Barnes, a broker Wetzon had placed a year earlier. “Well, I’m really pissed off with the Dayne ... you like that, huh? You got me at just the right time ...”
“I love it,” Wetzon said. “Why are you pissed off with Dayne Becker?”
“Because they promised anyone who did over a quarter of a mil in the first year a Toyota, and all kinds of extras to go along with—”
“And there were three of us and they just
“Dayne is not known for generosity.”
“I know, I know.... They’re out-and-out cheap.”
Wetzon could almost feel Campbell’s discontent through the telephone wire. Good. He was halfway in her pocket. “The firms take the brokers who start with them for granted,” she said sympathetically. “They bring people in from other firms who are doing less than you are and give them big up-front deals, an office, a sales assistant. For example, do you have your own sales assistant?”
Go for it
, she thought.
“Not yet, but they promised me ... I’m supposed to get one ... I’ve been using someone, actually ... we have a thing going—”
“Oh, you believe in living dangerously.”
“Yeah, why not—what do I care about whether I get ahead in the company? I’m building my own business.... Yeah, we look at each other sometimes, and I see that twinkle in her eye, and we get out of here for a little while. It’s really a great thing ... I don’t know why I’m telling you this ... I don’t know you ... but I do know you, don’t I? We just never met.”
“But we should, you know. If I can ever get you out of the office at a decent time, I’ll buy you a drink.”
“I have an appointment that’ll get me out of the office early one day next week—”
“Okay, when shall I call you to set it up?”
“Call me Monday.”
“Great. Talk to you Monday.”
“Take care of yourself, Wetzon, y’hear?”
“Goodbye.” She replaced the phone, smiling, and made a note on her calendar. Once they met face to face, the relationship was made. Chances were that if Campbell moved, he’d let her represent him.
She recorded her conversation on a suspect sheet. One day soon they would put everything on computer. In the meantime she and Smith worked from 8 1/2- by-11 profile forms, which search professionals dubbed “suspect sheets.”
What she and Smith did was mysterious, in the best sense of the word, and therefore it was glamorous. They saw themselves as detectives, searching out the best candidates for the positions their clients had to fill. The Street called them, and those like them, headhunters, and they didn’t really mind. Away from the Street, recruiting professionals were recruiting professionals, and
was a derogatory term. But the Street admired toughness and even admired piracy. Anyone who could “get away with it” was respected.
And the clients were not ordinary business people, they were the movers and the shakers of the all-powerful financial community. The Street, with a capital S.
While Smith and Wetzon were not truly insiders, they were not outsiders either. Thus, they were in a perfect position to see every problem objectively and give the client an overview.
They were an odd couple. Smith had come out of personnel, and Wetzon had come out of show business. That together their names were memorably similar to the gunsmiths served only to amuse them, but they used it to enhance their singularity. They were women in a man’s world.
They worked out of a small office that had been a one-bedroom apartment in a converted brownstone, just off Second Avenue and Forty-ninth Street. It was ground-floor space, the doors opening onto a lovely garden just now starting to bloom with forsythia. A red brick walkway bordered plantings of tulips, daffodils, and irises.
“Bring those things out here in the back,” a voice called. The door opened and Smith emerged, a tall, broad-shouldered young woman in her thirties, leading two overall-clad deliverymen, who carried cast iron garden chairs, white and Victorian, with floral motifs. They set them down on the brick patio, which ran about four feet from the rear of the building, and left Smith to fuss with the direction of the chairs. Moments later they returned with a round table and two more chairs. Smith reached into her suit pocket and gave each of the men, who were waiting expectantly, five dollars. Then she stood surveying the patio, hands on hips, very pleased with herself.
“Well, what do you think?’’ she demanded of Wetzon, who appeared in the open doorway.
“I love them,” Wetzon said, coming out on the patio. Wetzon still moved like the dancer she had been. She turned one of the chairs, adjusting a point of view. “They’re perfect.”
“Do you think we need anything more?”
“Not just yet. Let’s wait and see,” Wetzon said, stroking the iron filigree. “Maybe a bench later, but this is a good start.”
“We can have our lunches out here pretty soon,” Smith said happily, “and get our tans going.”
Smith always talked in terms of
, when she meant
. In the summer she tanned as dark as a gypsy. With her short, thick, dark hair and olive skin tone, she was a natural summer person. Wetzon was pale and blonde, her thin, fine hair still worn in a dancer’s knot on top of her head. She kept a hat on when out in the sun.
But she sat in the sun with Smith because that’s where they got their best ideas. Last summer they had used old lawn chairs that Wetzon, an avid scrounger, had found at the Irvington Thrift Shop, but they’d just completed a glorious business year, their best year yet, so they had decided to splurge on the white Victorian garden pieces that Wetzon had spotted in a shop on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
“Smith—” Harold came to the door. His eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses lit up. “Wow.”
“Yes,” Smith said smugly. “It does look great. You wanted me?”
“Oh, I almost forgot. Frank Farnham is on the phone for you.”
Harold Alpert was their assistant. While still in college he had come to work for them as a summer intern, and now that he had graduated, he was eager to become a real headhunter.
They had found Harold through an accident of timing. Smith had been working with a husband and wife team from Dean Witter. She had successfully arranged for them to make a move to Bear, Stearns, but the deal, as lush as it was, did not include their summer employee, a college student, for whom they felt responsible. The problem, as small as it was, seemed to be taking on more importance than it was worth because the Bear simply refused to accept Harold as a summer intern, and everyone was getting sensitive about it. So Smith suggested that she and Wetzon could probably use an assistant, and Harold had come to them for the rest of that summer, during which he grew a mustache and beard to make himself look more mature. That was two summers ago, and now he was a full-time employee.
He had been planning on going to graduate school for an MBA, but now he wasn’t sure, and in the meantime he had a good job, which is more than a great many of his classmates from Colgate had.
The stock market crash in October of 1987, otherwise known as Black Monday, when the market plummeted over five hundred points, had actually enhanced their business. Retail account executives—stockbrokers—who generated good commissions, were in tremendous demand. The brokerage firms were falling all over themselves offering special deals to these individuals. And Smith and Wetzon were delighted to be of service. Therefore, they had agreed that Harold would eventually become an associate, and soon they would start him on telephone interviews, but first they had to hire another assistant to take his place. He kept saying, “Now, Smith? Now, Wetzon? I think I’m ready now. When can I start doing interviews?”
He was too hot—too hungry—for them to keep him waiting much longer. Tomorrow they would begin interviewing the first candidates for his old job.
When Wetzon came back into the room after a last and satisfying survey of the garden, Smith was on the phone with Frank Farnham, the manager at Boyd & Boyd, who still owed them the fee on Roger Compari. They were paid, as were all headhunters in their specialty, a percentage of the broker’s gross production; that is, his annual gross commissions on sales of stocks, bonds, and products. Nearly four months before, they had placed Roger Compari at Boyd & Boyd, and every month they had sent their bill, and every month there was a new excuse as to why it had not been paid.
Smith, whose back was to Wetzon, turned in her chair and pointed to the phone, then to her head, making a circle with her hand. Wetzon rolled her eyes and held up her middle finger. Smith put her hand over the mouthpiece and laughed.
The phone rang. And rang again. Where had Harold disappeared to? Wetzon reached for the phone.
“Smith and Wetzon,” she said crisply.
“Oh, good, it’s you.” Wetzon recognized Barry Stark’s voice immediately although she could hardly hear him. It had a nasal quality, as if he had a sinus condition, which he probably did—who in New York City didn’t?—but it was out of character for him to speak so softly.
Wetzon had known Barry Stark for three years. First at Merrill, now at Jake Donahue’s.
“I like your style,” he’d told her after she had cold called him that first time. “You’re really good. You listen. You can call me anytime.” His voice had practically roared at her across the telephone lines.
She had never gotten him to interview, and probably never would, but he was a good source of information. Because he seemed to know everyone, he was able to provide Wetzon, whom he considered a friend, and she was—as much as people were able to have friends in the industry—with lists of names and directories of every broker in each office of each firm he had a contact in, with a description of each individual down to what kind of business he did and how much he earned. One thing you had to say for Barry, he missed nothing. She hadn’t spoken to him in months, not since Christmas, when she’d called to wish him happy holidays, and he’d been too busy to talk.
“I have to see you, it’s urgent,” he was saying now. He sounded tense.
“Are you all right?” Wetzon asked. Smith frequently scolded her for being too kindhearted and a pushover for all these sleazebags with problems, who used Wetzon to vent whatever was bugging them at any time, but Barry wasn’t as bad as Smith thought he was.
“Why do you let yourself be used?” Smith was always asking. “That’s what they’re doing, you know. They’re getting off on you. And Barry Stark is just another cokehead.”
“Oh, I know what he’s doing,” Wetzon would respond, “and I don’t think he’s a cokehead. He’s too into the body beautiful. But if someone needs help, how can I say no? It’s just not in me.”
And she couldn’t, which is why she did some quick schedule juggling now in her head. “Hold on a minute, Barry, let me see what I can do. What time do you want to meet? Would five be all right?”
“Five would be great. It’ll take me about a half-hour to get uptown. Where do you want to meet?”
“The Four Seasons,” Wetzon said. “Go in on the Fifty-second Street entrance between Park and Lexington, go up the stairs on the left. Remember, when you get to the top of the stairs, on your right is the bar and on your left are some chairs. I’ll be there.”
“Okay,” Barry said, “I remember. Where we met before.” His voice was still strange, almost a whisper.
“Are you all right, Barry?”
“Something’s happened,” he said. “They’re—I’ll tell you later—” He hung up.
Wetzon sighed, replacing the receiver. Poor Barry must have run into a compliance problem. He just had to cut corners, couldn’t follow the rules. He’d made a lot of money very quickly, and he was probably still under thirty. He always seemed to live life on the brink, craving action all the time; it was like a drug, and he saw himself as a wheeler-dealer who could make his own deals. Even the Crash hadn’t toned him down.
But Wetzon, from her vantage point, saw that Barry was on an ego trip. He’d make mistakes, and one day he’d make a bad one and blow himself and his clients out. He had
written all over him.
Three years ago, when she’d first met him, he had bounded up the stairs of the Four Seasons like a jock, almost larger than life, late. Very tall, over six feet, dark brown curly hair in ringlets almost to his shoulders, cleft chin. He looked like a Greek god in a gray pinstriped suit.
“So talk to me, Wetzon,” he’d boomed. “What’ve you got?”
She smiled, remembering how people had stared.
Smith banged down the phone.
“More excuses?” Wetzon asked.
“The check is in the mail,” Smith said, turning, smiling crookedly. “I think Frank has a problem. Booze or drugs. I don’t know which, but he has these deep depressions and then these highs. Sometimes he doesn’t even make sense.” She shook her head. It was a fact of life that drugs were rampant on the Street.
“Listen,” Wetzon said. “Last time I talked with Roger, he said things were not going smoothly there, that Frank had promised him his own sales assistant, and a cold caller, and none of that has been forthcoming, plus they’re so disorganized about everything, he can’t seem to break through. He doesn’t even know whom he’s supposed to deal with on any level. What do we do if he doesn’t stay and they still haven’t paid us?”
“We sue them,” Smith said, grinning.
“Oh, not again,” Wetzon groaned.
They had been fabulously lucky with their lawsuits, and the settlements always included legal fees, but Smith had this penchant for suing, which made Wetzon extremely uncomfortable. Smith was a superb negotiator, and they had always won. They had been so successful that their clients now paid them on time, and those who were sued for nonpayment were not kept on as clients. The only trouble was that lawsuits drag on forever, and Leon and Smith seemed to enjoy the legal skirmishes so much. But Leon, their lawyer, always got paid, one way or the other, so why wouldn’t he enjoy it? If they had to sue Boyd & Boyd and Frank Farnham for the money, it might take a year. Their fee was twenty thousand dollars, and they’d probably have to settle for less.