Authors: Neil Behrmann
The story of Jack Miner
Neil Behrmann has pulled off a literary coup with
He has crossed the frontier of financial commentary - where his penetrating analysis has earned a global reputation for exceptional quality - into the world of fiction and created a gem. This is not just a financial thriller which keeps the reader spellbound through a roller-coaster ride in market speculation. It deeply stirs the emotions - in particular anguish for the lead character, Jack. Some may see in him the alienated outsider, but he is also a descendant of Voltaire's naive, gullible ingenue. Jack journeys through the global financial markets, populated by villains, but he also encounters goodness.
This gripping story which I couldn't put down, is in its deepest sense a scathing indictment of shallowness, greed and hubris, interspersed with humour of the absurd.
will bemuse and entrance all those lucky enough to find their way to it.
— Brendan Brown, author of
is Executive Director and Chief Economist of Mitsubishi UFJ Securities International.
Copyright © 2010 Neil Behrmann
The right of Neil Behrmann to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced stored, or transmitted in any form, or by any means electronic, mechanical or otherwise, without the express written permission of the publisher.
First published in Great Britain by
HandE Media Production and Publishing 2011
Second Paperback Edition published by New End Books 2011
A CIP catalogue reference for this book is available from The British Library
New End Books Ltd, London, UK
This is a work of fiction. All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. Names of real world media such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Financial Times and other companies such as Nestle, Maxwell, Lavazza, Sarah Lee, Kraft and Illy have on occasion been used solely for the purpose of creating the illusion that the story occurs in the real world, but their inclusion
does not imply any endorsement by those companies. The names of the companies mentioned are registered trademarks and the rights of the proprietors are acknowledged.
Cover Design by Ruth Mahoney
Typeset by Avon DataSet Ltd, Bidford on Avon, UK
Mobi by Primedia eLaunch
To Joy, Anna & Amy For all their help and encouragement
In Memory of my parents, George and Anne and my brother Tony
About fifty people were sheltering in the open parking space under Queen Elizabeth Hall. A few were in sleeping bags, but most were under blankets and cardboard boxes. The moon and streetlights helped us see what we were doing and we settled down next to a pillar. Before long we were asleep.
The girls slept well, but I kept waking up. The hard, cold concrete floor penetrated my sleeping bag. My bones were aching and I was feeling stiff. I lay there with my eyes open, observing the others. Some slept soundly, others shuffled about. Further into the darkness, I could see the red tip of a cigarette.
Jazz stood up and pawed me, demanding a walk. I put on my jacket and left my stuff with the sleeping girls. It had stopped raining and the moon was full. We passed the Royal Festival Hall and a pier and walked alongside the river. The reflection of the moon was on the water and Big Ben, on the other side. Its bells chimed and I glanced at my watch; 3am. Waterloo Bridge was on our right. On the left, a railway bridge with a pedestrian crossing. The London Eye, the huge Millennium Wheel, was about two hundred yards away.
We began our walk on the south bank towards the Eye when I heard a thud and a choking cry. It came from the pedestrian bridge. A man must have jumped, but instead of falling into the river, he had come to a halt in midair. He hung from the end of a rope, kicking and struggling.
I rushed to the bridge, my dog alongside me and sped up the stairs towards the rope. It was tied to a railing about halfway across the bridge. The man was kicking and shaking; the rope swaying. I reached for the rope and managed to catch it. The knot fixed to the balustrade was thick and I struggled to untie it. It was too tight. I dug into the knot with my pocketknife to loosen it, so that he could fall into the river. It was his best chance. No use. The man was now twitching. Time was running out.
Jazz started growling and I looked up. There were two of them. They were at the other end of the bridge and were beginning to turn back and come towards me. The first was about six foot four with a burly body and thick beard. The other was wiry and small. I called them to help me relax the stranglehold. Jazz bared his teeth and barked; made me feel uneasy.
The yellow light of the moon, shone on them. Both were in black and they had covered their faces with balaclavas. The big one had a rope in his hand. They were coming to stop me, not to help. I felt the rope with its heavy burden. The twitching was beginning to stop and the poor man was no longer lurching furiously. It was too late. I could be next. There was only one thing to do. Run!
They tensed up like runners on a starter block and sprinted after us. Followed us from the bridge to the walkway, past the Royal Festival Hall. We turned towards Queen Elizabeth Hall where the girls were. Maybe we could hide there, but there could be a gang of them and they would find me. Better keep going. They were getting closer; their panting, louder. We ran up the stairs to Waterloo Bridge. The small wiry guy reached out to me and as I turned, I saw his small black eyes and a snake tattoo on his arm. Lucky. He tripped over a homeless guy lying in the corner of the stairs. The big man lunged at me, but missed.
I was now on the bridge and was too far ahead of them. I looked around, the men, hot from the chase, had taken off their balaclavas. Under the light of the streetlamp, the small guy was bald and had a scar across his cheek. The big guy, with the beard had a large flat nose. It looked as if it had been broken. They cursed in a language that sounded Eastern European.
I stepped up the pace and managed to get further away from them. A police car drove by on the other side of the road. I shouted for help. The police didn't stop, but it was enough to make my pursuers hesitate; allowed me to widen the distance between us. At the end of the bridge, a car was waiting for the traffic lights to turn green.
'Can you take me to a police station?' I called.
The guy closed his window, but pointed to the left. We ran across the road ignoring the red lights. I quickly turned around. The two men had suddenly stopped chasing. They were gone, but where? Maybe they knew a short cut. They could still get me. I turned left and jogged up The Strand, the road that leads to Trafalgar Square. We raced past pubs, restaurants and theatres; past other homeless people, who were lying in shop doorways. At last a sign: Charing Cross Police Station. I rested a bit, caught my breath, tied Jazz to a pole, climbed up the stairs between two big columns and went inside.
An officer was working behind a small window to the left of the reception. In front of me was a notice board with a poster of a missing girl. Another poster sought information about a man with a thick beard. Under his picture was the warning, 'Dangerous'. I went to a desk under the notice board and took a pen out of my jacket. On the back of a pamphlet about crime prevention, I wrote: 'Man hanging from railway bridge. Opposite Royal Festival Hall. Happened at 3am.'
I folded up the note and passed it to the officer behind the window. He opened it, just as I walked out. No way was I going to get involved in the murder. Me, the only witness. They would ask too many questions. I would be news. The killers could find me.
'Hey you, come back!' the officer shouted.
But I was gone. I untied Jazz quickly and we ran around the corner. We wandered through Covent Garden and eventually found an entrance to a shop. Huddled together and got some sleep.
When I woke up, it was light. We walked to Trafalgar Square, tired and hungry. My backpack was at Queen Elizabeth Hall and the girls would be wondering where I was. But I couldn't go back until there were lots of people around.
Later during the morning, we went back to the Hall. From Waterloo Bridge, I could see the ribbon cordon at the entrance of the railway bridge. They had cut the man down. The police must have taken my note seriously. There was quite a big crowd there. Using people as cover we made our way towards our sleeping place, next to a wall covered with graffiti. The girls had disappeared. I looked around to see if they had put my stuff in a corner or something. The homeless and cardboard boxes were gone. Empty. The police must have been around asking questions. They could have my bag. Fortunately my passport and letters were on me. But my fingerprints were on that rope, the hanging rope. That was scary.
A large dustbin van was in the street, between the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Royal Festival Hall.
'I'm looking for some bags. Did you see any?' I asked.
They didn't bother to answer. There was no point in staying there. Best to move on. Get out of London, but with no money, how?
* * *
It's five years since it happened, but I still can’t get it out of my head.
And now I'm writing about it. Not once. Not twice. The fourth fucking time!
Mrs Small keeps crossing out swearing: 'Broaden your language. Dig deep. Find new words. Write. Rewrite.'
Lights still on. Jim down there snoring. How the hell can you sleep in this place? Hot, noisy and stinks. Had enough of writing. Don't feel like reading.
Two months since I've been banged up. Fraud! Not small stuff! Big time! Lost seven billion. Seven years for seven thousand million.
Twenty one in June. Twenty eight when I'm out. Must cut time. Keep my head down. Mrs Small's Creative Writing Group. It has to get me out. It must! Problem. Mayfair murder. They still think I did it. Don't believe me. Keep coming back. Questions, more questions.
Can't sleep. Going nuts in here. Memories. What I did. What I should have done.
Thoughts, round and round. OK, take it easy. Write them down. My story. Everything. The truth. Make them understand. From the beginning, when Bill died. . .
I still remember the coffin. The big knot in the pine wood. The circles around that knot. The vicar droning on. I wasn't listening. Just looked at the plain wooden box; the knot.
They began to sing but I didn't join in. My throat was dry. Nothing came out. Then silence and the conveyer belt began to move. The coffin slid further away, through the curtain. Gone.
The vicar pointed to the door and I walked out without looking around. Outside, the sun was blinding. I shielded my eyes and through the gaps between my fingers, saw red, pink, yellow, orange and white roses. I walked over to the bushes, snatched a few yellow petals, crunched them in my hands and read some memorials: 'James McNaughton. Darling Husband and Father. Rest in peace.'
Then another one: 'Timothy Kane . . . Darling Brave Tim. God's always with you. Died October 1998 aged Thirteen.' It was bad enough losing a dad, but imagine a son!
I turned to face them. They were now out of the chapel; about thirty of them huddled in a group. I was hot and itchy as they shuffled up to me, one by one. I stuck my finger into my collar and loosened the button and tie. Felt a bit better. Dad had bought the second hand blue suit nine months ago. But I had grown a bit and it felt tight.
Aunty Peggy was first. Short and fat with dyed blonde hair, a red blotchy face and grey sunken eyes, Peggy planted a kiss on my cheek. I can still smell her sweat through her sickly perfume; her breath an ashtray. Uncle Martin, her husband, was next. He put a wet palm in my hand. A drop of sweat fell from his nose on to his thick grey beard. About six foot three and one and a half foot wide, his stomach sagged over his trousers. Both of them were in black; all of them dressed in black. They kept on coming; a long line of uncles, aunts, cousins and Dad's drinking mates.
The only ones I wanted to be there were at the end of the queue. They were in their navy blue school blazers.