Rikke's Angels

They're young, beautiful corporate headhunters for the high-tech industry. How have they survived the crash of 2001? Simple: By partying like it's 1999.

"I could tell, just looking at them, that something was wrong," she recalls. "And that was when I remember thinking, "Oh my God, I'm gonna have to find another job.'"

Christensen sat her "angels" down for a meeting and explained that the company's second-quarter earnings were only about one-third of what they had been a year earlier, which -- barring a quick upturn -- wouldn't be enough to survive.

Desperate, the girls scoured the city's e-commerce directory, cover to cover. They made cold calls. And they plotted their survival, which was to involve a lot of cost-cutting (they shed their occasionally used Market Street office and lowered their already modest commission charges) and even more partying. That would be tough: The launch parties and job-hopping of 1999 were a thing of the past. The girls knew that survival meant going out to every event they could find and working the rooms hard.

"We just have to treat everything like a networking event," Christensen says. "It doesn't matter if it's supposed to be, or if someone's just having a happy hour somewhere. There could be clients there."

And then, after their toughest day, Christensen dragged her angels out for a drink at the Marina Lounge. And they went to work.

Social Hacking

Tonight, Rikke Christensen is trying to get past the bouncer standing guard beneath the oversize marquee for the downtown club Ruby Skye. And the way the evening has unfolded, there is little question that she will.

Truly profligate, business-sponsored social evenings are a lot harder to come by now than they were six months ago, but tonight Christensen is riding on the crest of one: She's fresh from the posh bar at the W Hotel, where on cigarette break No. 1 she snared a card from a businessman looking to hire 10 positions, and on cigarette break No. 2 she snared an invite to an exclusive cocktail party upstairs with free food, free drinks, and plenty of potential contacts.

But here, face to face with the burly bouncer outside Ruby Skye, a touch intoxicated from three glasses of chardonnay and stuffed with pot stickers, crab cakes, and a "roasted meats sampler plate" from the free buffet, Christensen's a tad off her game.

"Can I see your invite?" the bouncer asks.

"Oh," Christensen says, flipping her blond mane forward, "we don't have one. We lost it."

"Who are you with?"

"Uuuuuh," she stutters, blatantly scanning for promotional signs, eventually catching sight of one, "Compaq."

"All right," the bouncer sighs, as if he didn't have a choice in the matter, while unbuckling the velvet rope gate and granting Christensen, Anne Saunders -- who manages human resources at software-maker Yakatus.com and occasionally helps out as a fourth TecHunter -- and the male entourage they picked up at the W access to the opulence within.

By Christensen's standards, gaining access to Ruby Skye on this night hardly amounts to a coup. After all, sneaking into parties is basically part of her job, and it is increasingly essential in the newly downsized tech party scene. "We've been told we're very good social hackers," she says, setting up her favorite TecHunters anecdote: the night they posed as trophy wives to sneak into a $3,000-a-plate chief executives dinner at the Sheraton Palace Hotel, where they found a candidate who may soon translate into a hefty commission.

After completing their latest social hack, however, they find themselves in what feels like a scene out of Moulin Rouge: a circus of overwhelming visuals with wealthy, well-dressed thirtysomethings.

It is immediately obvious why Ruby Skye has been a favorite of the Internet crowd: As in their industry, a lot of things at this nightclub are overblown and overstated. The centerpiece of the club is a boulder of a disco ball that colors the entire room. A faux opera-balcony facade lines the mezzanine overlooking the dance floor, where there are exotically dressed, midriff-baring female dancers on stilts and others, dressed in battery-operated neon clothing that outlines their forms, on foot.

On an elaborate stage, a 14-piece band -- 10 male musicians in white tuxedos, fronted by four women in brightly colored, shimmering dresses -- is exhausting its catalog of late '70s and '80s radio hits. During "Hot, Hot, Hot," Christensen snares a business card while dancing with a shorter, Latin guy in an unfortunate checkered shirt. The dance continues, a tad closer, as the band segues into a slower, sultrier disco number, prompting Saunders to declare, her normally pleasant facial features scrunching together: "Uck. Death in a room full of geeks."

Eventually, after a few dance partners and a few more snared business cards, Christensen wrests herself free of the dancing and rejoins her companions near the bar, apparently in a mood to lecture about the networking display she just put on. "When you're not trying to sell, you sell," she says, probably sounding a tad more smug than intended, while sipping yet another glass of wine and showing off the latest stash of cards.

There's little question that Christensen relishes the covert, bounty-hunting aspect of her job. And she loves that a scene like this sensory-overload dance club is her version of the trading room floor. To hear her tell it, she's a sort of born schemer, "the girl who wore too much makeup" in high school. Her greatest caper during her childhood in Denmark, she says, got her and a friend out of gym class for her entire senior year in high school. She convinced the teacher that she wanted to run cross-country instead of playing team sports. He responded that she would have to bring him back some sand from the beach, a considerable jog from campus, each day to prove she wasn't cutting class. Which was fine with Christensen, who promptly drove down to the beach and filled her trunk with a semester's worth of sand.

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