Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Half Standing

I am aware that I have made some wrong decisions. It’s hardly news to me. Gazing from my office window, a dozen stories high above the City, I’m most conscious of my multiple mistakes. Matters could have been handled to the contrary. The benefit of hindsight. The wisdom accrued from time’s passing. But, of course, in the heat of the moment, within the thick of the fight, I assumed I’d pull it off. Superfluous with spirit and banjaxed by bluster, I thought I’d get away with it all.

Where does the money go? All that lovely, teasing money? Every penny, every pound. Every franc, every dollar. It flashes stocking tops, full of pout and promise, but then virginally avoids your clutches. I was so close to getting this right. Provender most fruitfully in the offing. Events, however, conspired against me. The reins of projects lost. A mixture of misfortune and mishap. And now spreadsheets open across my computer screen. Column As figures disappearing as the mouse hovers to B. In the blink of an eye. At the click of a button. Hundreds of thousands gone. Sums so vast they don’t even seem real. Bad investments. Poor choices. A market unstable and ill-researched.

They’ll be here in a moment. Antagonised and aroused. Knocking at the office door. Demanding to know what’s happened. Coming to take it all away from me.

I loosen my tie and remember Mr Featherplume-Dyke. A great man. A mentor. “You have big ideas, young Simon,” he told me upon my career’s commencement. “And a jib I like the cut of. You’ll go a long way with this firm.” An outstanding character. He died with his boots on. Thigh length, they were. Six inch heels and pure black leather. “We should be judged by our business not our leisure,” he once proclaimed whilst stroking my knee and licking his lips. It’s a maxim by which I’ve attempted to live. But what would Mr Featherplume-Dyke make of this? What on earth would he think of me now?

Nearly midday. The accounts will be an end. You can’t hide the figures from Accounts. Petulant swines to a man. Poking noses in where noses most certainly do not belong. The discrepancy will scream from their software. All cards laid damningly on the table. The hunt to then swiftly commence. All those weeks spent shuffling paperwork to the bottom of the pile. Deleting emails and shredding reports. Covering tracks. Wiping off fingerprints. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. What futility. They were going to trace it to me eventually. And with me the buck must stop.

Options. I recall all the options. I’ve given favours. I’ve taken some gambles. But surely gambling is what we do? If only the clock could be rewound. Five million to those Americans seems foolish in the cold light of day, but the deal appeared so convincing after that spectacular luncheon pitch. The start-up in the Soviet states seemed risky even then, but what if it had paid off? The tax breaks alone would have made me for life. I wouldn’t be here, like this, right now. That’s for sure. I’d be sunning it up on the MD’s island. A hooker on either arm and a swimming pool full of champagne. But that’s not why I did this. Of course I wanted success. I desired a certain status. But I yearned for a life of security. Does this mean I’m greedy? Does this mean I’m flawed? I’m honestly not sure. Aren’t we all pursuing – although the paths fumbled along may differ – precisely the same thing?

The phone rings. “Accounts” presented on the display. I think it would be unwise to answer. A few further minutes required. Get my story straight. Figure out what I’m going to do. So much money owed on the second house. Charlotte spending like it’s going out of vogue. Frankie’s school fees and mother’s rest home. All banking on me. All depending on the phone calls I’ve made. It was surely never meant to end quite like this.
Mobile commencing its merry, vibrating tweet. It’s Hammonds. Probably best to ignore him. His quarter will bring no cheer. Christ, how much longer have I got? How soon before the barbarians are rattling the gates? Emails coming in on the laptop. Millions wiped out scream the subject line. Desk phone ringing again, now on all five lines. Red lights flashing like a brothel on fast forward. There are voices in the corridor. Heading right my way. Coming for the showdown. Ready for high noon.

I walk to the window, twelve stories high, and look at the City. So much depending on our currency’s confidence. So much riding on the choices made and deals brokered. So many, many lives…

The knocks commence at my office door. Furious and fuming. I stand at the window and - as the shouting starts, as the threats are unveiled, as my career disappears into dismissal, debt, and an inquest of fraud - discover myself wondering just how far the pane will open.

Mark Colbourne