Trading Places

Trading Places lunasonline

From my Flash Fiction collection

John stared at the spreadsheet in disbelief. He placed the sheet inside the file in front of him carefully and looked across the desk at James, his finance director. The man opposite him shifted uncomfortably in his seat and adjusted his tie.

‘It’s…it’s…’ the man stammered, fidgeting desperately with his fountain pen.

‘It’s a total disaster,’ said John quietly. ‘How have you allowed this to happen?’

‘There was a problem with one of the traders were using. It seems that he has been siphoning off large amounts of cash, investing them in high risk stocks in the hope of covering up…’

‘What trader?’ John interrupted.

‘Well, I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s Jeremy.’

‘Old Northrop’s son?’

‘Yes sir, that’s the one.’

‘I don’t believe it,’ John said, shaking his head. ‘Such a bright boy, impeccable credentials and all that…’ John frowned. ‘Does Northrop know?’

‘No-one’s been able to get hold of either of them, apparently.’

‘Apparently? Have you tried to reach him yourself?’ John put his hand out for his phone.

‘Yes, of course, sir. I even tried his wife at home. She’s in a terrible state.’

‘I imagine so,’ said John slowly. Picking up the receiver, he started to dial but then thought better of it and pushed the phone aside. ‘Okay, James, will you contact the relevant authorities.’

‘Already done, sir.’

‘Very well, James, see what you can do in terms of damage limitation.’

‘I’m sorry, sir. The way Jeremy was working, well it was clever, but of course it was unsustainable and when…’

John held up his hand. ‘Stop. I don’t need apologies or explanations. What’s done is done. We all need to work out a way forward.’ John looked down at the papers on his desk. ‘Thank you, James,’ he said without looking up.

James hurried out of the room, closing the door behind him. He strode along the plush office corridor and pressed the upward call button for the lift.

John got up and crossed the thick pile carpet to the floor to ceiling window behind his polished mahogany desk. From 22 floors up the view over the Thames was spectacular. He picked out the office blocks and apartment buildings in which he had invested: the banks, the investment houses and the post-modernist stock exchange building all of which were, or had been, the bedrock of his life. Sunlight sparkled on the river hiding its murky depths and reflecting the imposing buildings which lined its banks representing the city of London’s success.

John too reflected. He had spent so much of his life building up his fortune. He had hardly seen his children as they grew up. Of course they had been sent to the best schools and colleges and enjoyed expensive and exotic vacations, from which John had been largely absent. But nevertheless, he had ensured that while they wanted for nothing, they had not spoilt them in the same way as some rich fathers had. They never were simply given handouts, in some way or another they had had to earn their privileges. Both had taken what John considered unusual careers; his son, a semi-successful sculptor and his daughter a member of the Covent Garden ballet company. He was proud that they did not rely on his money; they had made their own way in the world.

He thought about his ex-wife, who had played her supporting role to him so successfully in the early years. But when the children flew the nest, so had she. He had let her go. He supposed he should have fought harder, but in the end Sylvia had accepted a modest settlement from him and went off to California to join an artists’ commune.

And so, here he was John Sutherland; his investment business all but ruined by the shiny bright son of an old friend. On a personal level the situation was survivable. He still had bricks and mortar assets he could sell. He didn’t need his country house, his New York apartment or his share in the Caribbean resort. Maybe it was time to embrace a simpler life.

John turned away from the window and plucked his jacket from the coat stand. He checked his pocket for his car keys and headed for the lift.

Five minutes later John was easing his silver Audi out of the underground car park and into the early afternoon traffic. He switched the car radio on, drowning out the impatient hooting of the taxi behind him.

Had John lingered over his spectacular view just a little longer, he would have seen James Springer, his finance director, as he plummeted past his office window on the way down from the roof.

On the radio Seasick Steve was singing, ‘I started out with nothing and I still most of it left.’  John was smiling as he tapped the steering wheel in time to the song.

©2018 Chris Hall