Kindle ebook

West of the City


Chapter 1 - sample


The rain falls in sheets, the wind blows, and the world is grey: it is winter in the City. I get to work early, and passing his office I put my head round his door.


Nobody there.

In my own office I hang my jacket over the chair. The floor-to-ceiling window gives me a view of the Thames, and for a moment I watch the dim light move slowly up the river. Then I glance at the Reuters screen and flick through the paperwork on my desk, a sheaf of documents and memos, the litter of the previous day’s problems that filters up to me each morning. There’s one long memo from Stephen Vance, our Finance Director, about the Meyer Group’s bid for Parnells. This is the big one.

For two years now our Corporate Finance Department has been strangely becalmed. The bread-and-butter work, the underwritings and flotations, have kept coming in, but the big deals that Vance once pulled off so regularly, the takeovers and defences, have dried up. The fees and bonuses have gone elsewhere. The simmering discontent in the department had begun to break into open revolt before the Meyer deal came along: three of our best employees walked. Vance promises me the Meyer deal will mark the beginning of our renaissance, but reading his memo now I’m not at all reassured. The Meyer brothers don’t want to raise the bid. If they don’t raise their bid they won’t get Parnells, and if they don’t get Parnells we won’t get our success fee. No success fee, no bonuses, and a full-scale meltdown in our Corporate Finance Department will follow. Then everyone worth keeping will walk.

Rubbing my eyes, I put the memo aside. I came in to work early to escape the heart-numbing silence that I wake to each morning these days. My daughter no longer stumbles sleepily into our room and crawls into bed between us; my wife no longer turns on the radio and listens to the morning prayer. They have left me. Theresa has taken our daughter Annie, and gone. I came in to escape, and now this. Looking down at Vance’s memo, I try very hard not to contemplate what might happen to the bank should the Meyer bid fail. Troubles, they come not single spies.

Coffee. I need a mug of coffee, black and strong.

The Corporate Finance offices are still empty, but inside the Dealing Room alcove I surprise a dealer from the nightdesk blowing smoke-rings into the steam from the urn. He’s young, twenty-two or -three perhaps.

‘Morning,’ he says, pushing away from the bench.

‘Busy night?’ I ask, and he shakes his head. ‘Jimmie, isn’t it?’

‘Jamie,’ he says. But he doesn’t seem troubled by my mistake. And I remember him now, one of last year’s graduate intake, a first in Medieval French History. As I get myself a coffee, I ask what the US dollar did overnight.

‘Down a bit.’ He stubs out his cigarette. ‘Big-figure on the Mark.’

Someone calls to him from the Dealing Room and he hurries away. Stirring my coffee, I sip a little, and then follow. Including Jamie, there are three of them down on the nightdesk, they sit in a small pool of light at the far end of the Room. The other desks are in darkness, all empty. Very early. I glance at my wrist, but there’s only a bruise where my watch should be.

‘Hey! How was the party?’ Owen Baxter, the loud braying voice is unmistakable. ‘Big night?’ he bellows. He’s a senior dealer, usually on the proprietary trading desk, and depending on your point of view either the team-joker or the biggest bore out here in Treasury. He trades like the rest of us breathe. When the real markets fall quiet he gets involved in those quirky parallel markets that ripple across the City from time to time: Christmas trees at Christmas; at Easter, chocolate Easter eggs. Last week it was bananas. Owen bid too high, and a barrowload of rotting fruit was subsequently dumped at the Carlton Brothers reception. Daniel, our treasurer, was not impressed. As a punishment for the misdemeanour, Owen is now in temporary exile on the nightdesk.

‘Not bad,’ I answer, approaching down the aisle. Overhead, on the big wall-screen, the closing numbers from Tokyo glow in the darkness. Endless lines of numbers go flickering across the Reuters screens, and the PCs hum quietly, unattended. The dragon sleeps.

‘Becky go?’

Becky, my secretary, falsely rumoured to be sleeping her way towards a trial as a trainee dealer.

‘Didn’t notice,’ I say, and Owen smiles while the two younger men avoid my eyes. I really don’t need this. They’ve been watching over the bank’s currency exposure, and now I ask how it went. Owen reaches across and gives me the deal-sheet. There’s one big number buried there, a Yen trade. I look up. ‘Who gave you the ton?’ One hundred million US.

‘Bunara,’ he says, and I wince. Bank Bunara, a heavyweight from the Far East, the rogue‘ elephant of the currency markets. ‘Dumped it quick as I could,’ he adds unhappily. ‘Bloody pricks.’

‘Expensive?’ When he shakes his head, I ask him what the Profit and Loss was for the night.

‘Even, pretty much. Ten grand up,’ he says.

But without the disastrous Yen deal they’d be up two hundred thousand. Expensive enough, and I’m surprised he’s been caught like this. I hand back the deal-sheet. Owen keeps his eyes lowered, telling me now about some revised growth figures due out later, and then he gives me a quick summary of some statement the German Chancellor made at a conference in Beijing. Owen’s second offsider plays with a Gameboy; watching him play, my mind drifts. I see moonlight on the Thames; hear laughter and the clink of a glass.


Pinching the bridge of my nose, I ask if Bunara were trying to stuff us.

Owen turns to the other pair. ‘Sure they were trying to stuff us, right?’

The one with the Gameboy mutters, ‘Dollar—Yen just dived.’ Jamie continues ticking off deals, checking them against the slips in his hand.

I tell Owen to leave it with me, that I’ll have a word with Daniel. The big glass doors swing open, and the first few of the day-shift come in. Suddenly the electronic ping from the Gameboy turns musical. The lad whoops and pushes the toy up near Owen’s face. He calls Owen a loser.

Owen swears. He grabs the Gameboy and smashes it on the desk, the thing bursts into a shower of shattered plastic. Jamie keeps his head down, but the other lad stares at the mess in disbelief. ‘What the fuck?’ he murmurs.

A smile rises to Owen's lips. ‘Unlucky bounce,’ he says.

Now I push away from the desk and head for the door. Around the room the squawkboxes, the speakers that sit in rows on each desk, are coming to life. The brokers at the far end of the lines are putting together the first bids and offers of the day. The Dealing Room is two floors deep, and up on the next level, through the glass wall of the bank’s in-house restaurant, a cleaner waves down. I nod in return. When I hit the switches by the door, the whole Dealing Room is awash with light, and Owen cheers as more of the day shift arrives.

Back in my office I sip my coffee and glance at Vance’s memo again. I must get a grip. I tell myself this quite firmly. Pull yourself together; snap out of it . . . all the clichés. Zero hour is approaching for the bank, and I’m only half here. My ship is drifting towards the rocks, and I — the man with his hand on the tiller — I am still gazing astern, looking backwards, stricken by the sun. Get a grip. I sit down, take a breath, and gather myself. Then I draw a jotting pad near and pick up a pen. The desk calendar, six hours late, ticks over. Thursday morning, and for me, the Honourable Raef Carlton, Deputy Managing Director of Carlton Brothers, the phoney war is over. Alone at my desk it comes to me quite clearly: the real battle at the bank has now begun.

  © Grant Sutherland