The sound of the sliding door is the signal. The comforting silence of the waiting room is suddenly broken by the noise coming from the open space. With a deep exhalation, Fabio stands up. He leaves behind the feeling of limbo in which he was floating, to enter the hell of the Five Aces Financials office. After seven interviews, four psychological tests and three language tests, one last hurdle separates him from the coveted position of financial analyst: the interview with the big boss himself, His Excellency Don Osvaldo Marchetti. - Don Osvaldo is waiting for him in his office - the secretary informs him without any empathy.
The big boss's office is so white and sanitized that it looks like an operating theatre. Sitting at his desk, hidden between four screens and a ficus plant, one can hardly feel Don Osvaldo Marchetti's presence.
'Good morning, Your Excellency, I'm Fabio Romano... I'm here for the interview' - he starts shyly. Wearing a blue suit, a white shirt and an impeccable sky-blue tie, Don Osvaldo indifferently points to an oval table surrounded by white leather armchairs.
'Before we begin, Your Excellency, I must tell you that I still don't believe I have the opportunity ...'
'Well, I believe it' - answers the arrogant Marchetti sitting down 'We are the only ones still giving work. We have never stopped hiring, even during the closure phase, and do you know why? Because we're dealing with the only product that never stopped working... even when everything was stopped: money. But now let's talk about you: your training, your experience and above all your motivation to apply for this job.'
'Working in the financial sector has been my dream since I was a child. Two years ago, I graduated as a financial products engineer, with a specialization in creative finance.'
'Very good. What was the subject of your thesis?'
'A case study on the application, in the banking field, of the theory of the three card games.'
'Well, very interesting!'
'Thank you very much' Fabio proudly replies 'After graduation, I enrolled in a postgraduate course in acrobatic finance at the Goldman School of Economics.'
Don Osvaldo cannot hide a smile.
'I am impressed, you have a brilliant academic record. In addition, I know Goldman very well. You may not know this, but before founding Five Aces Financials, I taught monetary economics for many years. I still have a very good relationship with the president of Goldman, and last year he invited me to several conferences.'
'His theories on cash and the spiral of money are the focus of everyone who wants to make a career in the financial sector!'
'Come on, don't exaggerate!', Marchetti says with a smile. 'These are worthless essays I wrote when I was still a teacher.'
'Not very valuable, you say? Are you kidding? I still don't understand why you decided to leave the academic world. Your 2011 paper on excrementation of the money, for example'
Don Osvaldo scrutinizes it with bulging pupils. Suddenly he starts looking with a mixture of astonishment and suspicion.
'Have you read this book? When did you read it? Where did you find it? '
'Well, I... I found it,' replies Fabio, surprised and a little uncomfortable.
'There was only one copy', continues Marchetti, 'printed and bound by me, and it was never published. There's no way you could have read it!'
The two look at each other for a few seconds, the tension is palpable. With his back to the wall, Fabio decides to tell him everything.
'That's the way it is. It all happened in my second year of graduate school. I was in class, during Professor Eusebio's tax regatta lesson. Right in the middle of the class, I started getting terrible stomach cramps. I confess that the day before, I had a few too many drinks... But the fact is that, suddenly, I began to have an attack of diarrhea so strong that I could hear my sphincter whistling. The students' toilets were too far away, so I went to the teachers’ without giving it a second thought. What a relief! A few seconds after I emptied my guts, I grabbed the toilet paper. Only then did I discover, with great disgust, that I was deep in it! There was no paper! This discovery puts me in total panic: I was never going to get out of there in my life! But it is then, in the moment of deepest despair, that something unexpectedly caught my eye, peeking out slightly from the bathroom to my right. I reach out two fingers and pull it towards me. Suddenly I find in my hands a very beautiful book, barely a hundred pages long: "The Excrementation of Money", by Osvaldo Marchetti. As soon as I read the first line, I was unable to tear my eyes away. I stayed in that toilet until the next morning, reading over and over again all the coolest passages of the book. A revelation! Everything I had learned so far about economics, finance, money... It seemed like prehistory to me. You've opened my eyes, Don Osvaldo!
'But... And the book?' asks Marchetti, worried. 'What have you done with it? Do you have it with you?'
Fabio hesitates for a moment as he starts to sweat cold.
'Listen Don Osvaldo, I want to be honest with you. I didn't stay in the bathroom just because your book captivated me. In fact, I was also waiting for someone to bring some paper. But nobody came! Do you understand what I'm saying? And I was already hungry! Hungry, thirsty and a shitty ass ...'
'What have you done with my book, Fabio?' Don Marchetti insists.
Fabio can't take it anymore and starts crying like a child.
'I used it to wipe my ass! Excuse me, Don Osvaldo, but how was I supposed to know it was the only copy in the world?'
Marchetti gets up, in front of Fabio's desperate tears, without saying a word. Unexpectedly, he approaches the young man and puts his hand tenderly on his shoulder. Feeling the sudden contact, Fabio, his eyes full of tears, raises his gaze. Despair turns into amazement, and he discovers that a satanic smile is drawn on Don Osvaldo's face.
'Great', Don Osvaldo murmured with satisfaction, 'now you and I have a secret' he said, addressing the window. 'Look, my boy, the world, the economy and money itself, were not always like that, as you see it now. Long ago, our ancestors worked the land, raised animals, carved wood. And then they traded freely what they had produced by the sweat of their brow. The fruit of their labor was their wealth. Until the day someone invented money. Easy to divide, easy to exchange. To accumulate. And that's when we witnessed the first wonderful game of prestidigitation. What was born as a means, becomes an end. Suddenly, the coin becomes attractive in itself and not just for what it can buy, and it soon becomes an object of desire and a motor for human actions.'
'But the most interesting thing, my boy, is that as it transforms, gold becomes copper, then paper, plastic, ... It loses more and more contact with those goods, those products it's supposed to buy. Until one day, as if by magic, it disappears. It dematerializes. Where's your money? What's your currency? An incomprehensible bit sequence in a computer in Singapore? Is this your wealth? '
'I'm not sure I understand...' Fabio interrupted him. 'Are you saying we should hide the money under the mattress again? I didn't expect this from you...'
'On the contrary. I'm saying that if money is ephemeral, if currency is virtual, then anyone can create it! Anyone who knows the system, of course' says Don Osvaldo. Then he smiled, looking at Fabio who was completely stunned, 'funny, isn't it? Just at a time when governments are desperately looking for the "magic money" for economic recovery, to fund research for a vaccine against Covid-19, to pay for hospitals, companies, social security,... I'm telling you, we've got the recipe right here.'
'And what would that recipe be?' Fabio asks with an open mouth. 'How to create the money?'
'Think about speculation. Nowadays, everyone dreams of getting rich without having to sweat. Everyone is kept in the hope of buying something at 100 and selling it at 200 the next month. Huge sums of money move from account to account every day, these numbers go up and down, and what happens underneath? Trust, expectation, potential. But what's real in all this? Well, nothing. People, "savers" buy an illusion, nothing but the lottery ticket. And if one wins, there's always another who loses. But not the house. The house always wins, don't forget.'
'And who would the house be?' Fabio asks timidly, completely lost.
'Us!' shouts Don Osvaldo, losing his temper for a second. 'We are the house! Those of us who issue securities, throw them on the market and in exchange we get money, cash!'
'But in exchange for what? A financial value, however complicated, must be based on a product, a company, a currency, on something that has economic significance!'
'Of course, but who really cares what it is?' - Don Osvaldo answers enigmatically. 'People buy an index, a code. ETC, ETF, CDO, what is it? And who cares? What matters is that there is a good herd of greedy and ignorant financial promoters who care about selling it, who promise you dizzying returns, growth potential, extraordinary profits. What matters is that it's constantly increasing in value, so that it can be sold one day. It can be anything. It could be a house, it could be gold, oil, corn. It can be the same currency, the dollar, the euro, the yen. It can be nothing. It could be... Shit !'
'What the hell just happened?' Fabio asks, jumping up and down, worried.
However, Don Osvaldo, immersed in his own delirium, doesn't pay the slightest attention to him.
'Shit! Why not? There's something to give and take, it doesn't cost anything, it can be easily stored. And if our investors want to transform the value into their underlying asset, we'll be happy to do so!' says Don Osvaldo, laughing out loud.
'Finally, Fabio's neurons wake up from their nap and slowly start moving. The young man looks at his interlocutor in amazement.
'Are you telling me that this company issues financial derivatives on the basis of... excrement?'
'Wake up, boy!' Don Osvaldo squeals irritated. 'Have you really read my book, or did you just wipe your ass with it? What kind of question is that? Derivatives, CDO, ETF... All guaranteed by Five Aces Financials. Complex, convoluted, indecipherable financial products, but all of them combined... into the same shit, let's face it.' The man was now laughing.
'But it's disgusting! It's criminal! Sneaking into the financial markets like it's gold. You have crossed the line! I have never seen anything so disgusting in my life!'
'Did you do it?' Don Osvaldo's laughter turns into hysterical laughter when he sits down at the table again. 'Have you never seen anything so disgusting? And then the Argentinean bonds, what were they? The subprime derivatives? Well, shit, that's what they were! The truth is, we can't even boast that we invented something. Shit has been circulating freely in the financial markets for years!'
With a lot of effort, Don Osvaldo finally manages to control his laughter and regain his calm, under the gaze of Fabio who can no longer hide his uneasiness and disapproval. Don Osvaldo doesn't pay much attention to him and tries not to over dramatize.
'Come on! Don't you believe in the story of the magic beans? You're an intelligent boy, and your academic training would be an added value for this company. You start work on Monday. Does that work for you?' he asks, reaching out his hand.
Looking Don Osvaldo in the eyes, Fabio stands up very seriously, his arms firmly attached to his body.
'And what would you think of me if you knew that...'
'The basic salary is 50,000 plus variable' Marchetti interrupts him.
'Great!' Fabio complied.
In just 3.2 seconds he shook his hands and disappeared out the door - 'I don't want him to change his mind' - he thinked to himself. Twenty seconds later he found himself in the street.
He went home, an unusual feeling of bitterness in his mouth. He tried to fool it with coconut and pistachio ice cream, his favourite flavours, but the ice cream also tasted very strange. It tasted like shit.
Don't miss the next episodes... !
Sergio Montanino is Italian, with the head in Rome and the heart in Spain. Theatre and travels are his biggest passions. He believes that creating stories help the people to free themselves from the grey cage of reality and realism.