Excerpt from The Month of The Leopard by James Harland, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Month of The Leopard

by James Harland

The Month of The Leopard
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    Jun 2002, 352 pages

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"Setback to Czech EU hopes," read the story scrolling across the Reuters screen two minutes later. She switched over to the Bloomberg display. "Czech Republic rebuffed by EU," it read. She called up the information. "The European Commission this morning said the Czech Republic's application to join the EU was likely to be delayed because the country was making slower than expected progress in harmonising its legal system with that of the EU, according to a report released in Brussels today," it began.

Sarah looked up to the currency board. The crown had already slipped almost two percent against the euro. Smashing her fingers into the keyboard, she attempted to trade; I have to sell those contracts before this gets any worse, she thought to herself. The machine refused to respond, ignoring every command she keyed into it; even as her fingers battered the keyboard, it felt as if it had been unplugged from the machine. She could feel a sweat starting to form on her forehead, and a dull ache begun to throb within her heart. A message flashed onto the screen. "Your trading account has been suspended as the account is now empty," it read, the words displayed in neat black lettering on a shimmering blue background. "No more trades will be accepted. Thank you for using the system today."

One hundred million dollars, she thought to herself. Turned into dust.

A silence seemed to descend upon her, as if she had suddenly disappeared into a vacuum. Around her Sarah could see people talking into the mouthpieces, hitting their keyboards, and walking quickly along the corridors, but she could hear nothing as though she was trapped within an insulated bubble, through which no sound could penetrate. She glanced towards the clock, watching as the second hand clicked towards ten o'clock. Only just over two hours since I walked though the door, she thought to herself. And I have just lost more money than most people could even dream about.

Sarah stared blankly at the computer screen, aware of her reflection caught in the glass of the monitor; her skin, she noticed, had turned whiter, and her eyes had crept deeper into her face, as though they were retreating from the moment. Better not to look at anyone, she thought to herself. If I catch their eye they might ask me what is happening. The minutes seemed to tick painfully away, each second a prolonged, tortured agony. Sarah could feel her limbs begin to stiffen under the desk, but she was, for now, too frightened to move. Better just to sit here, she thought to herself, repeating the command again and again. Better not to saying anything. Better not to move. Perhaps the whole situation will just go away.

Terry Semple looked at her curiously for a moment, leaning forwards on the edge of his desk, but she ignored him, looking straight ahead, her eyes fixed on her computer screen. He offered her a crisp from the packet in his hand, but she said nothing; she could feel her lips starting to move, but no sound emerged. "You've either done something brilliantly clever or amazingly stupid," he said, leaning into her face, his expression suggesting he was betting on the latter. "Because the chairman would like to see you."

* * *

"Ten million," said Tom, his tone betraying his surprise. "You dropped ten million in a single week."

From the look of anxiety fluttering across the man's face, Tom could already tell the answer was going to be yes. "That's right," answered John. "The question is, how am I going to make it up."

The other three men around the table nodded, but their lips remained motionless; their silence roared through Tom's head, opening up seams of memory. "And since it falls into my territory, I suppose its up to me," said Tom.

"It would be a big favour," said John.

"Club rules, Tom," said Andrew.

Rules, Tom reflected. In every community there were always codes that people lived and worked by. In today's business world, the main rule was very simple; be loyal to and true to your friends, not your company or your client, since there is a chance your loyalty to your friends might be repaid one day whilst your loyalty to your company or your client would be forgotten by the end of the week. That much had always been agreed between them. It was the code on which they had forged their careers. "Of course, of course," said Tom, a grin spreading out across his lips. "The only question is how."

Copyright James Harland, all rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the author or publisher, Simon & Schuster.

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