Avery Success held the bleeding corpse of her dead husband Max on a sunny Monday morning in the office of their commodities hedge fund – Success Inc. located on the 23rd Floor of 17 State Street in Lower Manhattan. The laminated glass windows of 17 state street allowed rays of sunlight into the office which bounced off Avery’s woolen black suit onto the face of her husband that was covered with dried blood. Twenty-three! There were twenty-three stab wounds on his chest. Avery’s fists were tightly clenched as she wept hysterically, too afraid to call 911 and too gripped by the torment of loss that paralyzed her limbs. Who had done this? And why?
Avery found it strange when she woke up alone in bed this morning. Max never spent Sunday nights at the office. But it was possible that in the anticipation of the expected crash of the Soybean Futures market, Max had raced to the office this morning to see the impact on the overall position of their hedge fund. Avery still couldn’t muster the strength to use her phone and call 911 while her eyes frantically searched the office for clues to who might have killed her husband. She stroked his hair and wept louder, foraging what was left of her thoughts for heavy apologies that swam out of her mouth in faint whimpers. In that instant, it didn’t matter anymore. The last ten years spent with her husband studying the world markets to predict bullish and bearish movements and making phenomenal bets that worked in their favor most of the time – none of that mattered anymore. She had lost the only companion she had. All the money in the world didn’t matter anymore. She wished she could turn back time and take Max back home with her last evening.
Her hands quivered as she ran them over the torso of her husband. There were maddening fits of rage that ate into her abdomen, but she was unable to give expression to them. She gritted her teeth and shook her head violently in denial. But she didn’t scream. She wanted a few more moments alone with Max before the press would come hounding into the building. She wanted a few more moments alone with her husband before the investors who kept their hedge fund alive came storming inside curious about what had happened.
As the last of tears remaining in her eyes had dried up, she swore to herself that she would avenge her husband. But how? She was no killer. Her skills and intellect were so limited to the world of Wall Street that the she could not even begin to fathom what revenge should look like. She submitted herself to her fate and kissed the forehead of her husband one last time before she reached for her cellphone to call
911. As she stood up, her attention was caught by an open email on Max’s laptop that was received from Dr. Bull – Avery’s psychotherapist. She moved to the table and began to read the email that would lead her to make a drastic decision; one that would alter the investment choice of the largest institutional investor in New York City in the commodities speculative space – Tony Weatherman.
“I’m sorry Ms. Carter but Weatherman Capital have decided to go ahead and invest $500 million in Success Inc. The Successes have predicted yet another bearish market to perfection and we feel that our funds will merit the best return from their risky but well-calculated bets. We have great faith in Max Success’s technological prowess in trading arbitrage and his wife Avery’s brilliant ability to call a bullish or bearish market much in advance. Their macroeconomic forecasts have seen the light of day time and time again and we are convinced that their expertise in the commodities sector deserves this large investment. We appreciate the time you have taken to do your due diligence and share your
presentations with us. We will reach out to you in the future if we find a match between our investment goals and your venture,” Tony Weatherman hung up and sighed heavily in relief after he had finally got Foxy Carter, the manager of Carter & Associates off his back. The last one year had been spent analyzing the best commodity hedge funds in New York to invest the newly available $500 million of funds at Weatherman Capital. Tony had been a very conservative investor all his life, but the recent volatility in commodities markets around the world due to heavy fluctuations in the currencies of emerging markets had increased his appetite for risk. His analyses had showed him that an adventurous couple originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, had been taking risky bets on commodities markets around the world for the last decade and had increased the value of their hedge fund portfolio from $30 million to $200 million during that time. Speculating in the commodities sector had always been a fool’s endeavor. The high upfront margin capital required for trading coupled with irritating uncertainty meant that you could move from being a comfortable millionaire with a 10,000 square feet mansion in Stony Brook, Long Island to a bankrupt American citizen struggling to pay his lawyer’s fees.
But Tony believed in the Success couple. He found both their personalities intriguing and loved the fact that Max Success was an experienced algorithmic trader who had made his first million bucks just by milking arbitrages across commodity markets. Avery Success, on the other hand, was the former “Head of Commodity Derivatives Trading” at Goldman Sachs and she was specialized in risky over-the-counter derivatives designed to ensure maximum participation in the upside of markets and solid protection against the downside. Following her stint at Goldman Sachs, she had worked in a very senior role in the Risk Management division at Deutsche Bank during the macroeconomic horror of 2008 that left thousands of Americans homeless. She had constantly stated how she was witness to Greg Lippmann doling out Credit Default Swaps on Collateralized Debt Obligations to members of a niche segment of investors who shorted the American Housing Market. She had clearly seen what these niche investors saw and was desperate to participate, but was unable to do so because she was not an institutional investor with an ISDA status and worse, her employment with Deutsche Bank would have implied a conflict of interest. Only good could come off such a marvelous combination of experience, Tony thought to himself.
As Tony watched the Soybean Futures prices drop by over 20% from Friday’s close, he was beginning to wonder why neither Avery nor Max were answering his phone calls. The move in the Soybean market meant that the Successes had drawn blood again by successfully shorting another grains index on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) and had induced the final piece of conviction into Tony to invest in Success Inc. Tony decided to drive down a couple of blocks to the 17 State Street building and meet the Successes at their office to share the good news. Little did he know that the shock in the Soybeans Market was going to be the smaller of two big shocks on Wall Street today.
One Day Earlier
Max watched his wife working fervently on her laptop as his mind wandered off into thoughts of their life together. The Bear Couple, they were known as on Wall Street for their undeniable prowess in shorting commodity markets. For 6 years, since the inception of their Hedge Fund in 2009, the value of their portfolio had fluctuated between $20-$50 million dollars. The initial investment had been $30 million with Max and Avery shelling out $10 million from their savings to own a little more than 30% of the fund – quite a steep involvement for managers of a fund. They had struggled to attract the attention
of larger institutional investors until 2015 when Avery’s contact in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, a tiny nation on the West Coast of Africa that produced 35% of the world’s cocoa informed her of a definite shortage of the crop in the coming months. Her contact was a small-time farmer who understood weather conditions better than any member of Le Conseil du Café’-Cacao – the bureaucracy that controlled cocoa and coffee trade in the country. Avery had the knack of touching base with the most unexpected of people who provided information that was strongly tied to the world commodity markets. On receiving the enlightening news of shortage, Avery bought a bunch of vanilla call options on the London Cocoa Exchange and a bunch of zero-cost barrier options tailored to acquire long futures on London Cocoa at prices much lower than the market from several small firms on Wall Street. When the London Cocoa Index rallied, Success Inc. closed out their positions and ended up rocketing the value of their portfolio to over $100 million. This began to attract the attention of larger institutional investors and Success Inc. were on the Wall Street Commodity map, each of their trades scrutinized by bloggers, money managers, and risk marketers desperately seeking inspiration.
Following the bet on Cocoa, Max watched Avery with pride as she shorted coffee, sugar, soybeans, hogs, and wheat in the following years milking the markets whenever there was excess supply and stupendously pessimistic money managers closing out their long positions too soon. As they grew on Wall Street, Max always had a piece of code ready to execute Avery’s view on the markets. They championed the favor of all the enthusiasts on Wall Street who loathed the philosophy of risk aversion. They were more than just a successful couple at what they did. They were an inspiration to American citizens who still believed that East Coast Finance was the true beating heart of America and not the tangible technological revolution that burned bright on the West Coast; and most certainly not the rust addiction or agricultural drabness of Midwest America.
As Max continued to watch Avery work, he opened his inbox to see a message from Dr. Bull – Avery’s psychotherapist. Avery had been encountering short stints of depression in the last two years but Max considered that normal in her line of work. Constantly having to keep an eye the agricultural conditions of major commodity producing countries and the random behavior of money managers across New York, London, Singapore, and Hong Kong was a tiring process. Avery and Max were a team of two and they never deviated from the trust in their philosophy of “one devil’s advocate only.” They believed that hiring more brains to aid their hedge fund would merit the presence of too much scrutiny and hinder the adventurousness that was the foundation of their hedge fund. However, Max was still concerned about his wife. Raised in the presence of an abusive alcoholic father, an abusive elder brother, Avery was the product of a dark past that Max believed could be the source of her unconscious motivation to bet on markets crashing instead of otherwise. She never for a moment doubted the power of her pessimism.
Avery was an ardent supporter of women’s lib and often told Max, “Women need more of an image in American Finance.” While Avery had a gentle personality that exuded tremendous candor jeweled with the right amount of class, her lack of resistance in making statements that exaggerated the chauvinism of “Men in Finance” was a clear indicator of her disapproval of many things. Max worried that she was developing a negative attitude toward the male sex in general and that was resulting in her feeling less appreciated for the work she did. Or perhaps it was the other way around?
Having worked for two huge global investment banks in the past, it was possible that Avery felt under-appreciated for her work due to chauvinistic superiors who never truly gave her enough credit. And so,
he had referred her to Dr. Seamus Bull, one of New York’s most esteemed psychotherapists known for successfully helping victims of depression bred in the competitive maze of Lower Manhattan.
After over a year of psychotherapy, Avery was beginning to show signs of improvement. However, once Max finished reading through Dr. Bull’s email, a new concern began to take shape in his mind. Avery was not just a victim of casual depression anymore. Dr. Bull’s words hinted at a diagnosis and Max feared the worst. At least in the case of his wife’s mental health, he was willing to be risk averse. Just as he turned to speak to her about his e-mail, he noticed that she had shut down her computer and was preparing to leave.
“Do you want to grab dinner before leaving home, love?” He asked her.
“I’m not too hungry, Max. Maybe, we can catch dinner and a movie tomorrow?”
“Sure,” Max decided to speak to her about the email after getting home. He watched her exit the office and heard his mind whispering a small prayer in the hope that Dr. Bull was a bad psychotherapist making a rash and hasty diagnosis of the mental health of Wall Street’s most talented woman.
The next few minutes passed quickly as Max worked on the last piece of code to execute arbitrage trades between the London and New York Cocoa Exchanges in the event of large disparities between the two. As he looked through his drawers for a cigarette, he heard footsteps approaching him from behind.
“Avery? Is that you?”
“I’m sorry Max, but I have to do this.”
“I’m sorry?” As Max turned to see where the voice came from, he saw a face all too familiar but didn’t have the time to hear his mind assign a name to the figure. He was hit on the head with a fire extinguisher that slowly rendered him unconscious. As all form of light disappeared from his awareness, Max felt sharp stabs of pain emanating out from different points of his abdomen. Am I being stabbed? What felt worse was the feeling of undeniable familiarity with his killer accompanied with the inability of his mind to name the person. I love you Avery, Max thought to himself as the last ounce of consciousness began to disappear. His anguish finally disappeared with his consciousness, as the killer continued to stab her way upwards from his abdomen to his chest. The killer looked down at her clinical work without a pinch of emotion. As the blood oozed out of the twenty-three stab wounds on the body of Mr. Success, the killer exited 17 State Street into Battery Park, her gaze wandering from the Statue of Liberty in the distance to the skyscrapers in Jersey City to the right. It was Sunday evening in New York City. And Max Success was dead.
The NYU Freshman
Back to Present
Gillian Bear parked her hired CitiBike at the parking station near 17 State Street and walked into Battery Park. There were about 30 minutes remaining for her meeting with Avery Success, an alum of New York University where Gillian was a freshman aspiring to complete a degree with a major in Structured Finance. She had the goal of a summer internship with Success Inc. in her mind but knew clearly well that the Successes were folks who preferred working alone. However, a meeting with Avery was a
dream come true for a freshman like Gillian who dreamed of making it big in New York’s financial district someday.
As she walked into Battery Park, she looked back and up at 17 State Street, the skyscraper covered with bluish laminated glass and curved convexly to make it look like a futuristic edifice pulled right out of “The Jetson’s.” The 23rd Floor, Gillian thought to herself. She would give anything to intern with the successful Successes. As she looked at her watch to gauge the time remaining for her meeting, she sat on one of the park benches and began scrolling through her Instagram profile to pass time.
Dr. Bull’s Letter
Avery began to tremble as she read Dr. Bull’s e-mail on Max’s laptop. She took another glance at her dead husband’s body and found fresh tears rolling down her cheeks again as she continued reading the e-mail. The e-mail was as follows:
Dear Mr. Success,