• Jake

Short Story: Wall Street and the Modern Priestly Class

Updated: Feb 23

Seated first is the Babylonian Magi, next to the Aztec high priest. More denizens of religious history are on their way. The Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, Indians, and even a religious expert from the Pacific Islanders is expected. The conversation flows as freely as the blood down Temple Tlachihualtepet. Every nation has been sinning, a constant problem, and the solution, since time immemorial, is sacrifice, in a temple, on an altar, by a priest.

But that is far from the only point of consensus, as today's feast will include a comparison of pantheons, talks on temple treasury stewardship, and, the main event, breakthroughs in astrology and foretelling the future.

Just before the Q&A section of the astrology and foreknowledge talk, another guest arrives. Turns out, the pacific islands will not be represented after all due to, ironically, an unexpected storm. Steve, a Wall Street hedge fund manager, slides into the open chair.

Self-depricating as Aztec priests tend to be, the well-trodden tale of the Spanish conquest is recounted from the stage up front to wrap up the talk. “Okay, we had the year right," the Aztec priest declares. "We sketched out the right religious art, complete with the shining steel armor and the four legged beast that the God rode.” The crowd chuckles knowing whats is coming next. “Then Boom! Pow! Those damn thunder-sticks!”

The powerpoint slide changes as the priest takes a sip of sacred wine. “Let this be a lesson to all! It is easy to get lost in the particulars and lose the big picture.”

Applause fills the room as Jethro of Midian, the host of tonight's luminary feast, leans into the mic. “The floor is now open for questions!"

Steve shoots up his hand, “Mr Priest! Sir, my Quant firm has been hit hard this quarter. Do you forecast more foreign direct investment in emerging economies? Should we expect to see more steel imports showing up on our shores? Will there be unrest in oil producing nations due to the influx of illegal arms?"

“Steve was it?" replies the priest. "Where's your big picture? What truth are you seeking with this knowledge?” Steve clears his throat, “My firm and I are seeking Alpha in the market in order to bring wealth to ourselves and clients."

“Alpha, you say?” the priest slurs, polishing off the contents of his gilded goblet. “Yes," Steve replies. "A return that is not correla-” the priest loudly interrupts, “Where's my Babylonian brother! He mentioned seeking alpha the other day.”

The Magi helps his suddenly sodden friend off stage and motions Steve to his table. “It has been more than a few years now, but my friends and I once made a great journey guided by a star to find the Alpha and the Omega.”

“What stars are you following?” the Greek priest asks Steve as he sidles over, uninvited.

Steve pushes away his plate, no longer sure why he even chose to attend this event, and explains, “In the modern world, we don’t follow the stars. We use mathematics to model regularities in the universe, and then physicists are hired by my firm to apply those mathematical models to the world of finance to predict the movement of prices. You see, it's all very Scientific,” he finishes, smugly.

The Greek responds with a boast of his own, “You do know that we used math to measure the circumference of the earth by observing when and where one can see to the bottom of a well."

“Yeah," Steve nods, "25,000 miles. Good one,”

The Aztec raises a finger. “We calculated the wobble of the earth on its axis within one degree by watching the stars. That took a lot of math too! It only completes that cycle every 26,000 years after all.”

“It doesn't take the stars to observe you have a you have a bit of a wobble as well my friend!” quips the stoic Greek with his characteristically razor wit.

Steve begins to make his escape when Jethro walks over. “Steve, I can have the kitchen serve you something else. I see the meal may not have been to your liking.”

Steve declines, "Finance is a dog-eat-dog world. I have to stay at the top of my game, so my nutritionist has me eating clean, and I didn’t get a chance to see if the steak was grass fed."

“I can find that out for you. Hang on.” Jethro waves to someone across the room.

“No, it's really not a problem,” Steve insists with no small urgency. Now, two or three other honored guests loom over his plate. “Look at the fat pattern here...” says one. “Where are the animal's entrails?” asks another. The Chinese priestess puts her hand on his shoulder, “The energy of this animal will give you long life. Is this silk?” she asks distractedly, as she strokes his suit jacket. She pops the top off of his now empty Starbucks cup and looks inside for traces of grounds, grimly muttering as she walks away.

Steve bursts from his seat, cellphone in hand. “Thank you everyone. I, uh, just checked my calendar, and it turns out I have a meeting soon and really must be going.” The harried hedge fund manager gathers his effects into his briefcase.

“I checked my calendar, and your world is ending,” the inebriated Aztec quips soberly.

“Didn’t you want to hear what I found at the end of my journey?” asks the Magi.

“Yes," Steve replies, feeling for a pen. "Here is my email address.” As he pulls the pen from his pocket, he hears the Egyptian priest mutter a quiet word. "I didn't quite catch that," he says, as he struggles with the pen's cap and finds it wriggling to avoid his hand. He throws the previously pen, now snake across the room, his cries lost in the crowd's laughter.

Bolting toward the exit, briefcase abandoned, he is knocked down by a stern looking Indian sous chef. “The nations have sinned” exclaims the chef, a note of finality in his voice. He looks up at the expectant crowd.

“No!” cries Jethro in sudden comprehension. “He is our guest! He is one of us!” the magi yells desperately.

The door of the kitchen opens to reveal an altar and the priest from the Island of Maui holding a knife.

The Aztec staggers over, clicking his tongue. “The Big Picture!” he laughs, as Steve is dragged out of sight.

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