Ryan had started to sleep badly again that week and was awake. Through the curtains, a grey light pushed through, and even though it was June, he knew it was early. He glanced over at the side table and hoped his phone would ring. Anyway what time was it, two, three?
He wasn’t sure, but then blinking, and with a yawn, he propped himself up on the clammy warm pillows. As if on a cue his phone stirred and a blue metallic light shone out. The purring ringtone of the Pet Shop Boys, a prank by a long-vanished junior, broke the silence. He picked it up. The metal was cold to his ear as he pushed the button to answer.
‘Ryan,’ he said.
‘Ryan’ said a familiar voice, ‘it’s Charlie here,’ he paused, ‘mate, can we talk?’
Charlie worked in the Hong Kong office of the bank he used as a counterparty for the hedge fund he managed. Although he was young, was viewed with much respect. He was a now senior trader in the investment section with responsibility for currency and risk. He was not a hell-raiser like so many of the bachelor staff in Asia, always on the town with cheap girls, but thoughtful and quiet.
‘Of course, what’s up, it must be what, eight, nine with you?’
‘Yeah,’ said Charlie, and passing over that question spoke quickly, ‘something odd is going on and I am not sure what is happening, frankly, I have not seen anything like this, I mean it was all so quiet.’
Ryan interrupted him. ‘one second, let me check?’
He reached over to a remote, switched on the TV. The 24-hour news channel came into focus. Sure enough, he saw the ticker tape and the breaking news box on the screen.
‘Well, see what I mean is that,’ said Charlie, ‘it looks like the China Investment Bank is buying sterling and lots of it.’
‘And so what, that’s nothing new, oh wait, actually hold on,’ said Ryan who now had moved to the end of the bed and was sitting in his shorts, staring at the screen. He put the phone down on the mattress. The breaking news was that sterling was being bought massively and the ticker confirmed the trade price. 1.31, 1.35, 1.37; it was rare to see jumps like this.
Each pound bought was costing China more in dollars, not that it would worry Beijing. Their reserves were the largest in dollar terms. They owned close to $1.5 trillion in US debt, about 10% of the total.
Hong Kong and Singapore were the targets of the trades. 1.40 came and went as a dream bounce, if you were on the right side and as the next price was being hurriedly spoken from the commentator, Ryan’s house phone rang.
This could be interesting he thought as he reached behind him to pick it up.
The mobile then slipped off the bed, along with the remote to the cold floor as the numbers on the ticker tape ran up past 1.45.
He listened to the landline.
It was Talal al-Hareb, his best mate from an MBA course. Talal now ran a sovereign debt fund in Abu Dhabi and what he said in his few words, worried Ryan.
‘Ryan, it’s Talal, I think there is a push now for China to buy sterling, yes, I am sure, must go, call me later’ and then line went dead.
Ryan knew it was time to get up and see what he could do in the City. Upswings have a daunting history of sudden reversals and Ryan did not want to be on that roller coaster.
He owned a lot of dollar assets and their revaluation worried him.
Ryan dressed quickly. This was one of the many advantages of the changed City of London, and not that he remembered the old days anyway. Casual trousers and a sweatshirt were all that was needed, and anyone seen in a suit was either going to an interview or was looking to get fired.
He shut the door the mews house in Paddington and unlocked his scooter. It started as always on the first time and with no traffic to worry about, he slipped silently into the dawning gloom of the city. It was going to be quite a day.
Weaving through the bin carts, he cleared Oxford Street and was soon approaching St. Paul’s. The main metalled doors looked firmly shut and he saw a huddle of people, rough sleepers at the base of the columns. Soon he approached Lombard Street and parked behind another nameless building. Ryan half-ran to the rear door swiped a card and he entered the dark warmth.
The lights weren’t on, and he pushed the bell for the night messenger to open the inner door. He could smell burning; perhaps a fuse had blown, and using his phone torch started to walk up the corridor that would take him to the main entrance hall.
He suddenly tripped forward, thrown from his stride against what he later knew was a piano wire, about three inches from the floor, his phone spilling from his hand.
As he pushed himself up, hands seemed to emerge from the walls and grabbed him under his arms. Whoever they belonged to pulled him up roughly. The torch was still on, spinning on the floor and he saw a woman in a flickering shadow in front of him. Her red shoe was keeping the security door open, and he smelt a powerful perfume. He would remember that smell later.
‘What the hell,’ Ryan said and the woman countered, ‘quiet now, we have some work to do, bring him in’.
Ryan was pushed out of the corridor to the main reception. On the floor lay the night guard, he looked asleep and unharmed but even that did look right.
Ryan thought quickly. It must be four or five and soon the others would arrive.