The phone call had come through two hours before the email arrived.
‘Samantha? Bill Tempest here in New York.’
‘Hi Bill. Long time no see or hear. How are things going mate?’
‘Sorry Samba. No time to chat. We’ve got an issue building. It needs your attention.’
‘What kind of issue?’
‘Need to know basis—Chinese Walls.’
That was yesterday. Now, Samantha’s mind was numbed by the enormity of what she had read in the email. It had taken her several hours to discover the true extent of the problem and, almost certainly, it had been caused by some dishonest bastard motivated by the myopia of a fat bonus. He or she had very likely chosen to camouflage a blemish on the loan portfolio and present it instead as a beauty spot. Almost certainly, the ratings agencies—the arms length third parties that should have seen through the cosmetic camouflage—had turned a blind eye. Why? Damn them. Where were the checks and balances that should have been in place? Were they too scared of the implications if they were wrong, or maybe … if they were right? For now, it was just speculation of course. But how could anyone with even a smidgeon of training have been fooled by such intellectual dishonesty? Does no one give a damn anymore about ethics and morality?
‘Deep, deep doodoo,’ Samantha heard herself mutter. At best, and given the realities of the financial implications, she couldn’t see how it could possibly be resolved with any semblance of integrity. It would require a master of lies, obfuscation and bullshit artistry to muddle through this one. But then again, maybe the power mongrels—the smoke and mirrors experts—in the world’s corridors of power could pull it off.
Whatever happened to that ‘kinder, gentler nation’ that George Bush the elder had been promoting all those years ago?
‘We’re breaking the problem down into pieces,’ Bill Tempest had said to her, ‘so that each section works only on its piece. Only two people will have the total picture, the chairman and I. Your piece happens to be the most sensitive. That’s why we want you to handle it personally.’ She could hear his breath at the other end of the phone. It was short and shallow. He’d either been running or this issue was bothering him even more than he let on. ‘With you in Oz, you’re far from the action in our time zone, and we don’t want the guys in the US or the UK to get a whiff of what you’re doing.’
‘It is. And that’s also why it’s for your eyes only and no questions. No one gets to hear about this.’
‘Not even Larry?’
‘No one. Larry is Asia-Pacific region. This is Global. You are doing it for us. You talk to me and only me. Are we clear on that?’
‘Clear. But I have one question.’
‘I’m booked to go on holiday for a week to the Barrier Reef, with a friend who’s coming half way across the world to join me. Should I cancel?’
‘When are you scheduled to leave?’
‘Friday. Day after tomorrow.’
‘How long in total?’
‘A week. Maybe ten days.’
‘Don’t cancel. Go. There should be no changes in anyone’s routine. I’ll be sending you an encoded email. It’ll be self-explanatory. Read it, work on the attachment, send it back to me when you’re finished and delete it from your system. I need it by sparrow fart Thursday morning my time. Okay?’
‘Do you want me to keep myself available for follow up?’
‘No. Frankly, it suits me that you’ll be away on vacation. If you’re not around, no one will be able to ask you questions. Just go about your normal business when you get back. Hopefully we can contain this thing to keep it out of the public eye.’
The phone line had gone dead. No goodbye. No nothing.
The email was marked ‘high priority’ for her personal attention. The attachment had been zipped closed, and required a twelve character alphanumeric code to be opened. Samantha Alexander was one of only three people in the Sydney Office of The Union Banking Corporation who had access to that code.
There was no question now as to its importance. Her heart, fuelled by adrenalin, pounded in her chest. Soft, shallow breaths hissed slowly in and out through her slightly parted lips. Her mouth felt dry. Her brow was furrowed from hours of uninterrupted concentration as she stared in disbelief at the numbers that glared mutely back at her. Alarmingly, some of the numbers which, under normal circumstances, would have been black were red—as red as the blood rushing through her veins. And they were very large numbers. Way too large! She ran her finger across one of the cells in the spreadsheet, manually re-counting the zeroes that appeared after the first comma.
‘One, two ... ten, eleven, twelve ...’
The glow of the computer screen contrasted against the midnight sky beyond the windows of her corner office. She was on the fifteenth floor, overlooking Circular Quay in the foreground and Sydney’s famous Opera House beyond. Right now, Samantha could have been sitting in a basement cell for all the attention she paid her multi-million dollar view. She had triple checked every formula in every cell, and every linkage between the cells. There was no mistake. Potentially, there could be trillions of dollars of losses. The spreadsheet on her computer was an attempt to quantify the potential fallout from the collapse of yet another US originated market for packaged loans. The single offending number—the ‘bottom line’—was a multiple of the size of Australia’s total annual $750 billion income.
‘Oh my God ...’
The knock on her closed door caused Samantha to jump in heart-stopping fright. ‘What the ….?’
As she swivelled in her chair to face the intruder, she managed a reflexive glance at the bottom right hand corner of her computer screen. Years of fighting deadlines had trained her.
She swallowed. Unable to speak for the moment, she shook her head. Standing at the now half-open door was a worker employed by the bank’s contract cleaning company. Ostensibly. But why so late?
The cleaner didn’t move. He just stood there, apparently awaiting instructions; one hand on the door handle, the other clutching something behind his back. There was the hint of an expectant smile on his lips, but his eyes showed no expression. Samantha was momentarily paralysed, still locked in the world of sabotage and deceit, until she spotted the feather duster protruding from behind his back. Then, as with the descending curtain at the end of Act One in a murder mystery, reality unfurled itself. Invariably, a cleaner is just a cleaner.
She leant down, picked up the waste paper basket and carried it to the door.
‘Just empty this for me please. You can leave my office until tomorrow night.’
‘You wait. I bling back stlaight way.’
Instead of seating herself once more, she eased her stiffened back, stretched and took the few steps to the window. She plucked a tissue from its gaudy floral box and absent-mindedly dried her damp hands. Her nerves were certainly on edge. The main question she had been so far unable to fathom was, why me? Why not Larry? Was it a guy thing? Larry was Bill Tempest’s mate. Was she being set up as a patsy, a fall-guy, to be let go? She leant her head against the cool of the window to clear her mind from the fog of unreality. Her eyes panned aimlessly across the harbour beyond the darkened glass until arrested by the movement of a water taxi approaching from beneath the Harbour Bridge. It skipped along the water’s rippled surface—like one of those flat stones she and her brother Pete, and his mate Patrick, used to throw when they were kids. It didn’t make a right hand turn into the Quay. Perhaps it was headed for one of the eastern suburbs? Rose Bay? Maybe even Manly, if the water-taxi driver was lucky. Or do you call them water-taxi captains?
Her eyes moved again to follow the craft’s progress for a few more seconds, then stopped as the V of its wake stretched outwards, almost stroking the shoreline below Kirribilli House, the official Sydney residence of Australia’s Prime Minister. She lifted her line of sight and stared at the structure on the hill on the opposite side of the harbour.
‘He must know,’ she muttered. ‘Surely, he must be in the loop on this one.’
But Kirribilli House was in total darkness. Could the Prime Minister of Australia also be in the dark? Highly unlikely. Not with the numbers so large, and not given the incestuous relationships that now existed at the intersection of the global corridors of power of banking, politics and industry.
There was a time when the various power camps were separated, and when each camp treated the other two with deferential respect. The Central Bankers ran the economy, the democratically elected politicians ran the country, and the industrialists minded their own businesses and were accountable to their shareholders. No longer. Nowadays, everyone was in everyone else’s pockets. Scratch that. Even the term had changed. Everyone was inside everyone else’s pants. Business had grown to become the economy, and the economy had evolved to become the country. The demarcation lines between authority and responsibility had blurred. There was no longer any meaningful accountability in any walk of life.
Samantha shook her head to clear the radiating thought-webs and turned back to her desk. The figures that glared out at her were not so much related to how many loans might go into default, or how big the dollar value of these loans might be. It had to do with the so-called insurance policies—the derivative contracts—that hung off these loans. If this problem could not be contained, there would very likely be a catastrophic domino effect. The entire $500 trillion derivatives industry could be at risk. The previous sub-prime stumbles were child’s play in comparison.
Of course, the theory was that even if a bank was heavily involved in such contracts, so long as it balanced its portfolio by having a roughly equal value of buy contracts and sell contracts to offset one another, the probability of something going wrong could be kept very low.
That was the theory. The facts—as her spreadsheet was now showing—were that something had gone horribly wrong, and that The Union Banking Corporation Inc. was one of the counterparty banks that would be affected. It was not a problem Union alone would be capable of solving. There was even some doubt in her mind as to whether the world’s Central Banks acting in concert could solve it.
Samantha pursed her lips. Suddenly, she couldn’t wait for the following day when she and Patrick would be flying out for their island resort holiday. Her brother’s old school friend. The one long-standing relationship in her life …
After drafting her email reply to Bill Tempest, she hit ‘send’ and deleted all traces of both the email and its attachment. Her reply was devoid of any expression of her personal opinion. Satisfied that she had followed his instructions to the letter, and mindful of the energy efficiency memos that Admin liked to send around, she switched off her computer and the lights on her way out.
There is an energy force in the world—known to the Ancients—that has largely escaped the interest of the modern day world. Why? There are allusions to this energy in the Chinese I-Ching, in the Hebrew Torah, in the Christian Bible, in the Hindu Sanskrit Ramayana and in the Muslim Holy Qur'an. Its force is strongest within the Earth's magnetic triangles.
Near one of these--the Bermuda Triangle--circumstances bring together four very different people. Patrick Gallagher is a mining engineer searching for a viable alternative to fossil fuels; Tara Geoffrey, an airline pilot on holidays in the Caribbean; Yehuda Rosenberg, a physicist preoccupied with ancient history; and Mehmet Kuhl, a minerals broker, a Sufi Muslim with an unusual past. Can they unravel the secrets of the Ancients that may also hold the answer to the future of civilization?
About the Author:
In 1987, Brian and his young family migrated from South Africa to Australia where he was employed in Citicorp’s Venture Capital division. He was expecting that Natural Gas would become the world’s next energy paradigm but, surprisingly, it was slow in coming. He then became conscious of the raw power of self-serving vested interests to trump what – from an ethical perspective – should have been society’s greater interests.
Eventually, in 2005, with encouragement from his long suffering wife, Denise, he decided to do something about what he was witnessing: Beyond Neanderthal was the result; The Last Finesse is the prequel.
The Last Finesse is Brian’s second factional novel. Both were written for the simultaneous entertainment and invigoration of the thinking element of society. It is a prequel to Beyond Neanderthal, which takes a visionary view of humanity’s future, provided we can sublimate our Neanderthal drive to entrench pecking orders in society. The Last Finesse is more “now” oriented. Together, these two books reflect a holistic, right brain/left brain view of the challenges faced by humanity; and how we might meet them. All our problems – including the mountain of debt that casts its shadow over the world’s wallowing economy – are soluble.
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Genre – Thriller
Rating – MA (15+)
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