The Frankfurt-Amsterdam Bank (“FraAm”) knows how to make a killing. Senior management would put this down to a culture of “blood, sweat and tears” in service of customers. Detractors paint a different picture. That of a kennel of bloodhounds, obsessively sniffing around for the next lucrative financial scheme. Leaving no prisoners as they ravage the old Continent.
Whether the product of honest, Puritanical-inspired toil or Midas-like greed, it is clear that FraAm is not for the fainthearted. The spirit of “Arbeit” and “Disziplin” runs deep in the roots of this Germanic institution. Its staff give many of their cut-throat Yankee competitors a run for their money.
Such a “all work, little play” culture can lead to collateral damage. Outside of the gaze of the public eye of course. An unparalleled rate of middle management burnouts are glossed over by a thin veneer of “work life balance” initiatives. Compulsory 15 minute “Yoga for every body” sessions at the start of an employee’s 16-hour shift.
Every now and then, the painful inner reality surfaces. Like during the Summer of 2006, when an intern jumped out of a 10th story meeting room. Incessant bullying had put the Chinese MBA student on the edge. The lack of a graduate job offer pushed him over it.
By 2019 this dark chapter had largely been forgotten. The erstwhile co-interns and tormentors had now risen to Director and Managing Director roles. They rarely spoke about the incident.
Business was as usual, deals were executed, bonuses were splashed out. All without further fatalities.
Until the 15th March 2017. That evening at 9.15pm one of the cleaners had the scare of a lifetime.
He had made his way into the male toilets, surprised that a “Closed for cleaning” sign had already been placed in front of the door. “Anyone in there?” he checked as he knocked on an occupied toilet cubicle. Receiving no response he bent down on the floor and looked inside. What he saw caused him to shriek and recoil.
A corpse of a 20-something year old man lay collapsed, head against the tank and limbs sprawled around the bowl. Blood had discoloured the rose pink tailored Save Row shirt and was forming a pool on the floor of the lavatory. The lower back of the body revealed three deep wounds.
City of London police arrived only 30 minutes later from their nearby offices. By 10.30pm the scene was fully cordoned off and PC’s were rummaging around.
“What a sad ending of such a young life.” DCI Dominic Hedges lamented. His thoughts inevitably turned to his own eldest son, who was taking a work experience placement elsewhere in the square mile.
“Have you been able to identify the body?”
“Alan Pines, sir” replied the on-duty security manager Jomo Mwangi. “An associate in the Transportation team. Nice man, he was. Would often say goodnight to me and my men on the way out of the office. And hardworking too! Put in many late shifts. Hard working professional, you know.”
Hedges certainly knows. He is an ex-City Boy himself, spending the better part of his 20s and 30s pursuing big-ticket merger and acquisitions. Yet this chase left him feeling increasingly empty on the inside. A void that no amount of alcohol, drugs or sex could fill.
The double whammy of the 2008 financial crisis and the 2011 England riots caused him to quit. He had lapsed in his enduring faith in financial capitalism. Several of his clients had followed the fate of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. And despite being a self-styled “master of the universe”, he watched powerlessly as his local neighbourhood in Lewisham succumbed to vandalism and looting. It was time to change course. Hedges switched from the private to the public sector, proudly donning the badge and helmet of the City of London police force. As a newly initiated detective sergeant he took on every case with the zealousness of a recent convert.
Dr. Thomas Waugh, the force’s forensic medical examiner was leaning over the body. “The cause of death is quite straightforward.” He observed. “The killer was stabbed below the ribcage several times with a long knife.” Dr. Thomas carefully turned the body. “It will have pierced through to the intestines, causing him to collapse and die within minutes. Our victim probably fell down before he knew what hit him.”
“How long do you think he’s been dead?” asked Hedges.
“It couldn’t have been more than two hours. I will take the temperature later, but the body still feels quite warm.”
Hedges turned to Jomo. “Are there any CCTV cameras around here?”
“Not really sir. The area around the toilets here is not seen as a security priority. Management prefer not having cameras here anyway. It’s one of the few places employees can unwind a bit, with the mobile phone ban on the office floor and all.”
“Yes, I can imagine what goes on here late at night.” said Hedges, not without a hint of sarcasm. “Certainly not things any married man would want his other half to catch sight of.”
Inspector George Vickford, part of Hedges’ team, sniggered. “The married MD snogging the secretary after a raunchy office party! No surprises there.”
Jomo’s face reddened slightly. “Can I be of any further assistance to you?” he asked Hedges.
“No thank you. We will speak to some of the staff here, and return tomorrow morning.”
“Very well sir.”
Hedges made his way to the open plan office floor. Hundreds of desks, occupied by no fewer than 4 computer screens. Mini financial virtual realities. Allowing employee to immerse themselves into their world of numbers and charts. CNBC News was showing on several tv screens, covering the US market close through a litany of stock price movements.
A few desks showed signs of nocturnal life. Hedges made his way to a 20-something year old East Asian man sitting nearby. “Excuse me, do you mind if we have a quick chat?”
“Ehm, sorry, just on an urgent task sir. Very confidential project! My MD expects it done so…”
“That will have to wait.” Said Hedges’ in a tone that brooks no argument. “City of London police, Detective Inspector Hedges. Now your turn - let’s start with your name and position here.”
“I’m Justin Chang. I’m an analyst in the Consumer and Retail sector team. I didn’t mean to be impolite, I really didn’t. I just thought you were with the FCA doing a late night raid on the premises – and we’re always told that we shouldn’t be talking directly to the regulator.”
“I’m afraid this is a bit more serious than financial misconduct. We are dealing with an enquiry into the murder of your colleague Alan Pines.”
“No! Alan? That can’t be!” Justin’s skin turned pale as he led out a deep sigh.
“I’m afraid so. We’re trying to gather as much evidence as we can and appreciate your assistance. Now when did you last see Alan?”
“Not since the afternoon.” replied Justin, now hunched forward on his desk, both hands supporting his head. “I remember him being at our PSI training with Mr Braintree at 4pm. And the M&A weekly meeting afterwards. Don’t remember seeing him at his desk this evening. I guess it was strange but to be honest sir, I was so busy. And analysts don’t really challenge associates. We know our place.”
“I understand Justin. Thank you. Was there anyone Alan was particularly close to, who can give us more information?”
“He got along well with most people. I haven’t been here that long, so can’t really say. Maybe ask his line manager Jane. Jane Hodgson.”
“OK. Well, it’s late and you probably want to get your work done for today. Here is my card in case you can think of any more information that can help us here.”
A well-liked young associate knifed in the toilet. This felt more like Peckham than the City. Who could be responsible? Hedges’ head was spinning with hypotheses.