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Authors: Luca Pesaro

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BOOK: Zero Alternative
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The Eurostoxx screamed upwards in relief, and the market exploded towards the stratosphere. Within forty seconds it was almost unchanged on the day.

For a while at least, the Crisis appeared over.

Drinks

Walker reached the Brasserie Rock a few minutes before six in the evening. The atmosphere was electric, and the relief that the day had not turned into a complete disaster was firing up the hormones of the survivors. The bar was teeming with bankers and brokers, ties askew, shirts untucked. Quite a few younger ladies were already wearing low-cut blouses, short skirts and high heels. He wondered how many of them kept eveningwear at the office, and how many just came along from home or university trying to catch a wealthy banker-fish.

Using his elbows, Walker made his way through the crowds at the entrance and searched for his colleagues. He noticed a few known faces – after almost fifteen years in the City his acquaintances in Finance were in the hundreds – but he carefully avoided any eye contact. He needed a drink, or five, before he could start any kind of conversation. Someone bumped him from behind and he turned, grabbing the bottle that Tony Mendes thrust at him with a wink.

‘Yours…’

Walker leaned forward; the noise in the Rock was just a few decibels short of an airplane landing.

‘… we’ve got a spot outside. It’s too loud in here.’

He nodded and followed Mendes back out, into a wide beer garden where dozens of wooden tables creaked under giant buckets of ice-cold lagers. The evening was mild and the open bar was also packed, but at least you didn’t have to breathe the sour stink of sweaty bankers. They had almost reached the spot where their colleagues stood around a couple of small wrought-iron tables when Mendes slowed and turned about, his head drifting closer to Walker’s.

‘That was a gutsy one today – Fontaine could have skinned you alive. When did you decide to go for it?’

‘Just after the reopen. I bumped into Beano and he gave me the final nudge, I guess…’ Walker stopped short and looked down at his friend. ‘Wait, did… did you talk to Friedman after our chat?’

Mendes’ eyes crinkled up in amusement. ‘Me? Of course not. I would never go over Fontaine’s head like that, would I?’

Walker laughed, raised his bottle and touched its neck against his friend’s glass. ‘I owe you one.’

‘I’ll remind you on Bonus Day.’

They reached the tables and Walker got a small cheer from the Dorfmann crew. There were about twenty of them, from the Derivatives area; Steph was there, deep in conversation with Liam Gander, another desk assistant who had come up to the floor from the Middle Office cave just a few days earlier. Thomas Setter and a couple of Exotic traders were chatting to Alice Cramer, a saleswoman in her late twenties who looked like she had just walked off the cover of Playboy magazine. One of her colleagues stood silently next to her, very pretty in a short cocktail dress but overshadowed by the stunning Cramer.

Walker put down his beer and grabbed a plastic glass full of ice. Ralph House, one of a trio of Dorfmann Flow traders, grinned at him and picked up a bottle of crystal-clear liquid. ‘Yours, I think you are looking for this, right?’

He poured a generous dose of the ice-cold drink into Walker’s glass just as he noticed the brand. ‘Jewel of Russia. Obviously you had to pick this one, since it’s on my credit card…’

‘We couldn’t find anything more expensive.’

Walker sighed, downed the vodka in one shot and shook his head, dizzy.

House refilled him and turned around to answer someone’s question. Walker found a bit of space and lit a cigarette, savouring the hot smoke and waiting for the nicotine and alcohol to dissolve the last few strands of adrenaline coursing through his veins.

He looked around the beer garden and groaned: impossibly, more people seemed to have materialized out of thin air. Even their own group was growing all the time, as a few secretaries and more traders and salespeople joined them at the lower level of Broadgate Circle from the Dorfmann building. He took another drag from his Marlboro and inevitably Mendes arrived, like a truffle hound excited by the smell of tobacco.

‘Have you got a spare one?’

‘Sure. Your wife will smell it on you, though.’

‘I’m allowed one a day, with drinks.’

‘This is the fifth cigarette you’ve pinched from me this afternoon.’

‘Well, she’s not here is she?’

Steph and Gander joined them, both smoking as well. Gander must have been only a few months out of university, still shy around the senior traders. He nodded to Walker and Mendes, then stammered, ‘Sc… Scott, can I ask you a question?’

‘Yep.’

‘If I’m not too nosy, why do… why do they call you “Yours”?’

Mendes cracked up, his laughter turning into a cough when he inhaled too much smoke. ‘I thought everyone knew about that!’

Gander and Steph both shook their heads. Mendes glanced at Walker and grinned. ‘It’s because this man has never met a financial instrument he doesn’t like to sell short. He might be the best bear-trader you’ll ever meet, but apparently he’s yet to see a level of the market that he doesn’t find too expensive…’

Walker’s private phone vibrated. He pulled it out of his inside pocket and unlocked it, checking the screen.
Mosha
. He walked a few steps away, towards the outer edge of the garden where he found a quieter spot. Mendes’ voice faded away and he answered the call, ‘Hi mate.’

‘Thanks, Scott. I owe you big time.’ The Serb’s voice sounded tired, and worried.

‘You do. How did you get on in the end?’

‘Not good, but it could have been worse. And don’t worry, I always repay my debts.’

It probably came with the territory, Walker guessed. ‘I know.’

‘Listen – I’m in London next week. Let’s meet up. And if you need
anything
…’

‘I’ll think about it.’ He grinned.

‘Great. I’ll buzz you. Ciao.’

Walker shut off his phone and was about to go back to the Dorfmann tables when he heard someone calling out, ‘Yours, where are you?’

‘Here.’ He slid the phone away and raised his hand.

Alice Cramer walked towards him holding two glasses full to the brim of a transparent liquid. Her hips swayed slightly as she glided around a group of semi-drunk brokers, smiling when she saw him. She had long reddish hair and was still wearing her work suit – her skirt a little too short for Dorfmann, really – but she had changed into a semi-transparent top under her jacket, her ample cleavage pushed up by a sheer satin bra.
Fine, I’ll admit she IS quite hot
. She passed him a glass and her dark blue eyes sparkled.

‘I hear you like the strong stuff.’

Walker nodded and tried a sip; the vodka carried a weird earth-like flavour, a hint of bison grass and something else, impossible to place.

‘Me too.’ Cramer’s voice dropped an octave lower as she leaned closer. ‘I’m told this is a special brand.’

‘What’s the occasion?’

‘You are…’ Her tone was almost husky as she placed a hand on his arm. ‘How does it feel to be the Hero?’

Walker shrugged, reminding himself to be careful. ‘There were no heroes today. The floor dropped nearly a hundred bucks, I think.’

‘It could have been a lot worse. Especially without a certain trader.’ She stood on tiptoes and moved closer, her toned body pushing against his arm and shoulder. ‘How much did you make, today?’ Her mouth almost brushed his ear as she whispered, her long hair caressing his nose and cheek.

‘Sixty-eight.’

‘Wow.’ She exhaled softly, her breath tickling his earlobe and sending a shiver down his spine. ‘I’m impressed.’

‘You shouldn’t be. It’s only a number on a computer monitor.’

‘A large number, though.’ She stood back a little, her hand still on Walker’s arm. ‘You live near Tower Bridge, right?’

‘Yes.’

‘Let me know when you’re done here. We’ll share a cab back.’

He nodded and watched her moving gracefully back towards the Dorfmann group. After a few steps she turned around and flashed him a smile, then disappeared into a heaving throng of people. Pop music started blaring out from a few waterproof speakers scattered around the outside bar.

Walker lit another cigarette and shook his head with a small grin.
This could turn messy
. He tried to ignore the sparkling in his veins and bit on his tongue. It wasn’t the first time that Cramer had come on to him, but the last thing he was looking for was an office romance. Much better to spend some hard cash at the Snake, and avoid problems in the morning.

Chapter Six

Fear

The clicking sound was soft, nearly inaudible
.

Normally DM would have missed it but his Wagner playlist had just ran out into silence and his drug-heightened senses tingled, raw and sharp. He strained his hearing and stared at the entrance. Another gentle scraping noise and the doorknob moved a few millimetres. He typed a combination of numbers and letters on his keyboard and the computer screens turned black, plunging his living room into semi-darkness
.

DM stood up and crossed to the open foyer, careful not to step on any of the discarded junk that lay on the floor. He reached the door and was preparing to look into the peephole when the panel slammed open, hitting his face and sending him sprawling. The back of his head bounced on a table and he rolled to the floor in blinding pain, his brain shutting down for a few seconds
.

When he regained consciousness a man was standing astride his body, a black ski-mask covering most of his face. The intruder was pointing a small handgun at his chest
.


Get up, you stupid fuck
.’
The thug’s voice was curt, with a strong Australian accent
.

DM struggled to his feet, tears of pain blurring his vision. He glanced at his computer, realising that in seconds the fail-safe he had turned on was going to burn his hard drives and flash-memory to digital ashes
. ‘
What do you want? I’ve got some money…

The intruder slapped him hard, a small ring opening a cut on his cheek. DM staggered back, shocked, and half-sat, half-fell on his sofa. The man stepped closer, shoving the gun in his face
.


You will only talk to answer questions
.’
He gestured towards the overflowing bookcase where the mathematician kept his expensive sound system and hissed
, ‘
Turn that thing on and play your classical crap. We don’t want to be overheard, especially if I have to make you scream
.’

DM stood gingerly and crossed the room, almost stumbling onto a discarded takeaway box. His pulse was racing and his heart felt about to explode, overwhelmed. Trembling, he switched on the stereo and as the music restarted he saw the intruder drawing the heavy curtains closed. The Australian gestured for him to come nearer and made him sit at his workstation, lighting a
table-lamp
.

DM blinked

the stranger’s shadow projected on the wall, like a huge reptile about to bite his head off
.


Log on to your computer
.’


I can’t…

The intruder slapped him again, twice. Hard
. ‘
Wrong answer
.’

DM could feel himself shaking. A soft, wet feeling spread across his legs and he sobbed, tasting the blood from his split lips
.


I… it won’t work. The hardware burnt itself out after you came in, as a security measure
.’

The big man stared at him, unblinking
. ‘
Fine
.’
He pulled up a second chair, just in front of DM’s
.


Really?


I guess we’re just gonna have ourselves a very nice, long conversation
.’
The Australian sat down, shifted the handgun to his left and grabbed DM’s wrist with his right hand
.

Then he snapped the mathematician’s ring finger, breaking it
.

DM screamed, a short sharp howl of pain that was drowned by Wagner’s aggression. The intruder shoved the gun barrel down his throat and he stopped, gagging
.


You need to learn to suffer quietly, mate, or we won’t get along very well tonight
.’

The Dancing Snake

Walker lit a cigarette as he stood with Stephane Buvier in the short queue at the entrance of the Dancing Snake. A few bankers, a bunch of rich kids and a small stag-do. All participants at various degrees of inebriation. He wondered how drunk he looked, then checked his watch. It was well past ten – DM should be on the way, or inside already. Steph nudged him and Walker noticed that the nightclub bouncer was pointing at him. He recognised the massive man from the last time he had been around, an expensive evening only a few nights before, and smiled. The queue parted, letting them through. Grudgingly.

‘Have a good time, sir,’ the bouncer rumbled, opening a red velvet rope into the Gentlemen’s Club.

Walker nodded and hurried through the foyer into a poorly lit, cavernous room. A few dozen men were scattered around the lowered floor, most sitting in small groups at tables and alcoves, others enjoying the views alone. The bass beat thrummed in the semi-darkness and he headed for a gleaming copper bar in the farthest corner, Steph just behind him. He grabbed one of the stools and leaned on an elbow, his head spinning softly.

A gorgeous black girl in her early twenties – wearing a sheer top with nothing underneath – smiled at him. ‘Anything to drink, sir?’

‘Double vodka on ice, and a glass of still water.’ Walker turned to Steph, who nodded. ‘And a Gin and Tonic, thanks.’ He handed the girl his American Express Black. ‘I’ll be running a tab.’

As he waited, Walker glanced to the nearest of three stages where a few good-looking women were dancing sinuously to the rhythm of some African music. Suffused lights shone on the central one, a redhead Russian-type doll with enormous breasts who was in the middle of a striptease.

‘Been here before, Steph?’

BOOK: Zero Alternative
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