Bobby Astor curled his toes over the lip of the chimney and looked down at the pool 20 feet below. It was a big pool with plenty of room to land. Even so, his knees were shaking and it required his last measure of courage to stand up straight. The problem wasn't just the height. It was the leap. He had to carry a good 6 feet of flagstone to make it to the water. Call it 8 feet to the safety zone. Anything shy and he'd get a mouthful of cement.
It was not the smartest bet he'd ever accepted.
"Two mil," came another voice. "You can do it!"
"Come on, Bobby. We don't have all night."
The $2 million wasn't a bet exactly, but more like a pledge. All Astor had to do was jump from the chimney into the pool and the money would go to charity. Last year he had brought in a million seven walking across a bed of hot coals. The year before he'd parachuted out of a chopper onto the beach. It dawned on him that the stunts were growing increasingly dangerous. It might be better to skip next year altogether and just write a check.
"Hold your horses," said Astor, with a bravado he had no right to claim. "Let me enjoy the view."
Afternoon thundershowers had left the sky clear. Stars glittered across the evening canopy. Up the coast, the lights of Amagansett on the eastern shore of Long Island glowed invitingly. Closer, the breakers fizzed like seltzer on the black sea. Along Further Lane, his neighbors' homes were dark.
Astor steadied himself and studied the water. It was midnight and the pool lights were on, and the water had that spooky aquamarine translucence he'd marveled at off the coast of Phuket and in the ocean grottoes beneath the cliffs of Capri. Twenty feet didn't sound like much, but when you were perched on a piece of rock the size of a phone book, it was high enough. The wise, cautious part of him urged him to bend down, take hold of the brick, and lower himself onto the roof. He couldn't, of course. There was the bet. And there was the other thing. The other thing was his pride. Bobby Astor always kept his word.
"Come on, Bobby! Don't be a pussy! Jump!"
"Here, kitty, kitty!"
Astor raised a hand above his head to show that he was ready. At forty-one, he was lean and fit and stood a few inches under six feet. At prep school and college, he'd played football and lacrosse and earned the nickname "the Hammer" because of the crushing hits he laid on his opponents. He still had an athlete's build: broad shoulders, flat stomach, muscled legs. He also had an athlete's knees, with long, ugly scars crisscrossing both, evidence of the nearly dozen operations he'd undergone.
His hair was dark and short and receding faster than the polar ice cap. His eyes were brown and serious, keen to meet life's challenges. His smile could win over his bitterest rival. His scowl meant war. If anything, he was too thin. Over the past month he'd lost ten pounds, and his board shorts hung low on his hips. He never ate when he had a big bet on the market.
Someone turned off the music and the guests quieted. Two hundred sweaty, sun-reddened faces peered up at him. He looked among them, counting his friends. He stopped at three, then cut the number to two. His enemies were more numerous, and easier to spot. But it was the weekend, and hostilities were suspended until the market opened in the morning. Until then, he'd consider them his business associates like the rest, men and women he worked with on the Street. Brokers, traders, fund managers, salesmen, and, of course, his employees. Good people for the most part. Hardworking, intelligent, nearly honest.
It was July 28, and the seventh annual Comstock Clambake was lurching to a loud, boozy halt. Comstock came from Comstock Partners, Astor's company, and Comstock Partners was an investment firm that managed a little more than $5 billion of very wealthy people's money. More commonly, it was referred to as a hedge fund.
As always, the clambake was a ritzy affair. There were clams, of course, but also lobster, sushi, Wagyu beef, and so on and so forth. There was an open bar and bottle service and plenty of servers wandering around the patio to make certain everyone got their fill. The band had stopped an hour earlier, and a DJ from one of the trendier clubs in the city was on until midnight. To cap things off, every guest received a gift in parting--a Gucci handbag for the ladies and an engraved Dunhill lighter for the men.
All in all, the clambake ran to a cool half million. Astor had been poor enough once to know the value of every one of those greenbacks. Though born to money, he'd had the silver spoon yanked out of his mouth when he was sixteen. What he'd called pride, his father had called defiance. Astor decided he liked his definition better. The decision left him an emancipated minor living on his own. Not exactly penniless, but as close as he ever wanted to come.
Astor lived in another world now. In this world, parties cost $500,000 and guests received ungodly expensive purses for showing up. He knew it was crazy and he scolded himself for buying into the entire scene. But in the end, buy he did. And as with everything he committed to, he did it in a big way. The Astor way. He knew enough about luck and risk and the wicked whim of fate to feel privileged to be able to pony up and pay.
Anyway, it had been a good year.
"Come on, Bobby! You da man!"
"He'll never do it," shouted a Brooklyn-born voice. "All talk and no show." It was Marv Shank, Comstock's vice chairman and head trader, and until that outburst Astor's best friend.
"Says you," called Astor. "You're coming up here next."
"Not in a million years," said Shank, waving him off amid a flurry of expletives.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said Astor. "Your attention. As most of you know, it's our tradition at the clambake to give back a little of the good fortune we who work in this industry have been so lucky to have. A few years back, Marv convinced me that instead of just asking, I ought to do something crazy to help convince you to donate your hard-earned money to an organization I started, Helping Hands, which does a great job with kids in our fine city who didn't get the fairest shake in life. This year I'm pleased to announce that you nice folks have come up with a cool two million dollars, which I will happily make you pay if and when I gather the courage to jump."
"You can do it, Bobby," shouted a woman.
"So," Astor continued, "before I give this a shot, I just want to say thank you for coming out and making this night special for me--and for the kids. Drum roll, please."
It was then that a gust blew in off the ocean. Umbrellas swayed on the deck. A woman shrieked as her cap skittered across the flagstones and into the pool. The wind hit Astor like a baseball bat. One foot lifted off the chimney, and for a moment he swayed perilously. He threw his arms out for balance. Teetering, he landed a heel on a barb protruding from the ember grate. He bit his lip, burying a yelp, then quickly waved to show everyone he was all right. He even managed a smile. A smattering of applause broke out. Someone whistled, and with a bold step he retook his position at the edge of the chimney.
Marv Shank glared at him from the far side of the pool. He was a short, barrel-chested man, a grind in the office and out, argumentative by default. He was as white as a ghost, and his pale stomach bulged obscenely over the waistline of his madras shorts. Shank shook his head, and Astor could read his mind: one more dangerous situation the boss had gotten himself into.
Because, of course, it hadn't been Shank's idea to do the stunt each year.
It had been Astor's.
Shank cupped hands to his mouth and shouted, "Swan dive!"
"Not a chance!" Astor shook his head furiously, and Shank repeated his demand.
A current of excitement rolled across the crowd.
Astor let it build. Shank's request was no random demand. When it came to Helping Hands, Astor was zealous in his efforts to separate his guests' money from their wallets. "How much you give me?"
"Twenty grand," said Shank.
"Make it fifty."
"Deal," said Astor. "Any other takers?" He called out a few of his wealthier guests and they graciously agreed to chip in, taking the total to $2,250,000.
Shank turned to his fellow guests and raised his arms in the air, exhorting them to join him. In a moment the entire crowd was chanting, "Dive! Dive!"
Over the heads of his guests, Astor caught a pair of headlights turning onto Further Lane a half mile up the road. It wasn't a BMW or a Mercedes or even a Lexus. The car had its brights illuminated and was moving fast. He followed it up the road until he recognized it as a Dodge Charger. Black. He knew the car's stats by heart: 5.7 liter V8 Hemi engine. Dual Flowmaster exhausts. Eibach shocks. This one even came with an assault shotgun under the driver's seat, a 3,000-lumen floodlight, and a light stick of red and blue strobes.
What was she doing out here at this time of night?
Astor squared his shoulders and raised his chin. He knew it was too far, and that if he had any brains at all, he'd jump feet first and take his lumps afterward.
But that was out of the question. A bet was a bet.
And after all, Bobby Astor was invincible.
Excerpted from The Prince of Risk: A Novel
by Christopher Reich
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provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or
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