Martin nodded at the shoe repair man, watching him flick the butt of his cigarette into the kerb. “Thanks”. No point arguing, or telling him that he had bought a typewriter there the other day. Despite the chill in his stomach, he had to accept that things changed beyond comprehension when he used the Remington. Pamela had been married, so had never come to his flat. He now had a lot of money, no questions asked about where it had come from. The shop where he had bought the machine hadn’t been trading for twenty years, so he had never been inside it. If he thought about it too long, he might end up in the madhouse. Best to go with the flow, and to hopefully make it work for him. Trying to make any sense of it was impossible, for any normal human being. But he felt a niggle of foreboding. He was going to have to be very careful. After all, he was all-too aware that things can change overnight.
When you have reached the top of the world, and then watched it all come crashing down around you, it tended to make you resentful at first. Blame anyone except yourself, defend your actions in your own mind. Refuse to take any responsibility. But over time, you had to deal with it, and face the demons. If you didn’t, you would surely end up sleeping in a shop doorway, and shouting incoherently at the sky. Martin certainly couldn’t complain, he knew that. From street trader to insurance salesman, on to being one of the most successful stockbrokers in the history of trading. No training, no contacts, just instinct. A ruthless streak and lack of conscience had seen him through, watching lesser men fall by the wayside. It all came easy. Money, women, reputation, prestige. A luxury flat, the latest, smartest car, and handmade suits from the best tailor.
He even got to marry the boss’s daughter. It was like one of those old Mills and Boon books his Mum loved to read. And his wife loved him too, with a passion. Chloe Harris could have had any eligible man she wanted, but she chose him. Those were the best times. Holidaying on huge motor yachts with the rich and famous. A weekend cottage in The Lake District, and a holiday home in Tuscany. Work very hard, play even harder. Travelling first class, drinking the finest wines, eating gourmet food. When they moved into a house in its own grounds near Totteridge, he kept on the riverside flat to use when they stayed late in town. A man of property, with a wealthy wife, and a wonderful future.
When he had first been approached by Nikolai, he had been very flattered. The Russian billionaire was the talk of the city. With his forty-million pound house in Kensington, and contacts in all the best places, including Buckingham Palace, so gossip had it. And he wanted Martin to manage his portfolio.
What is it about greed? Over the years, Martin had often wondered about that. He wasn’t religious, but concluded that if there was a God, and The Devil, then The Devil had invented greed to bring about the downfall of men with no character. And God was there to make you realise your mistakes too late.
It was all too easy. Just a bit of insider trading at first. Everyone did it, it was just a question of scale. He got to know about the deals Nikolai was into, long before they became public. Create some ghost accounts, speculate a little, see what happened. A lot happened, and very soon Martin was rich beyond his wildest dreams, most of the money spirited away to offshore accounts, buried and reburied in a succession of dummy shell companies, and dubious fronts. Then he heard about the big one. The Russian was planning to take over almost all the gas supplies in Europe. If he got those contracts and bought out the existing suppliers, the shares in his international corporation would treble overnight, if not more.
Stocks and shares are just gambling, after all. Players and brokers are just gamblers too. If they weren’t doing what they did, they would be playing roulette or poker, or betting on which raindrop would reach the windowsill first. This was the big one, the life-changer, so Martin didn’t hesitate to go all-in. He used everything in his own name, as well as all the savings he and Chloe had accrued. This would work, and they would never have to worry about money again, as long as they lived.
Just before the announcement, Nikolai returned to his native country to answer some charges about his tax dealings, and he was arrested. The Russkies threw the book at him. Tax evasion, money-laundering, corruption, bribery of officials. They probably even dredged up some old unpaid parking tickets. He was facing twenty years in jail, which was pretty bad. But for Martin, the worst news was that all the assets of the companies had been frozen, including the tens of thousands of shares he had bought two days earlier, with almost every penny he owned.
It didn’t take long for Chloe to realise the money was gone, and even less time after that to go crying to her father. Retribution was swift. Job gone, wife gone, money gone. By the time Friday night came, he was sitting alone in his flat holding a sheaf of papers that effectively outlined the end of his life as he knew it. Old man Harris had bailed out his daughter financially, but nothing was coming Martin’s way. He avoided prosecution, so Chloe’s name wouldn’t be dragged through the papers. But it was a close call, and he would never see the money again. He signed all the paper work put in front of him, not bothering to read it. He knew what it would say. All assets to his wife, no future claim on anything, and agreement to a divorce on any grounds the lawyers came up with. Better than jail.
The flat was all he had left to call his own, and he knew that would have to go. His credit card bills alone stood him in almost a grand a month. When he had been earning that much every day, it seemed like a drop in the ocean. But now he was potless, he would have to sell up to raise funds, rent somewhere cheap, and try to rebuild his life. Trouble was, riverside flats, once so desirable, were now ten a penny. He took a hit of over fifty grand on what he paid for it, and rented a reasonable flat in north London, making sure to pay off his credit cards with the capital. Even his car was gone, as it had been leased by the company. So he bought a travel card, the first one he had ever owned. But getting work proved to be impossible. He should have known. His name was mud, blacklisted by Harris-Coyle, he could forget anything in the financial sector. So the reasonable flat in north London had to go, replaced by the tip he still lived in, far to the east of the city. Now the money had been running out, and buying the typewriter had been very much his last roll of the dice.
Martin flagged down a taxi on the main road, and headed for Oxford Street. In one of the biggest phone shops, he bought the latest Apple Smartphone, on a rolling contract that cost fifty quid a month, with unlimited Internet. Crossing over to the huge department store, John Lewis, he bought the latest I-pad, and a smart case to keep it in. Another taxi took him back to the High Street near his flat, and he went into the Estate Agent there, to inquire about a smarter flat, on a nicer street. By the time he got home that night, he had signed a rental agreement on a two-bed top floor flat, and arranged for broadband to be installed. The new place was nicely furnished, and all he would need was some bedding and towels. He would buy those soon, along with some new clothes. A lot of new clothes.
He ate the takeaway pizza he had brought home, then sat at the table, pulling the Remington closer.
The gambler was back in business.