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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Chapter One

Sarah looked up at the numbers on the screen, a hard, impersonal row of pixels, each of them coloured red. The figures started to streak into each other as her vision blurred. I've just lost one million dollars, she told herself, the words sinking through her brain and stabbing at her chest. Not a great start to my first day in this job.

The clocks on the wall, displayed the time in London, New York, Tokyo, Paris and Frankfurt. Just after 10.00, she noted. I have been an employee of the Leopard Fund for precisely one hour, and I have begun losing more money than most people make in a lifetime.

This, she told herself, can only get better.

Sarah had arrived at its gleaming modern offices of the Fund at 7.45 that morning, precisely on time. Before stepping inside she had walked around the block twice to steady her nerves. The badge on the label the security guard gave her said Miss S. Turnbull, and it was from that the man who met her at the lobby had identified her. A tall, handsome American called David Sheldon, he took her towards her desk, then spent the next hour explaining Leopard Fund staff policies; no smoking inside the building, no drinking at lunchtime, no downloading porn from the web, a minimum twelve hour working day, and no dealing privately without authorisation from your department head.

"Ever done any actual trading," said the next man who introduced himself.

His name, he said, was Terry Semple. A thin, wiry character, with fading hair and dark eyes slung back deep into his skull, Semple looked in his mid-thirties but Sarah realised she could have been a decade wrong either way. As a senior trader with the Fund, one of his jobs, he explained, was to show the new people how the system worked.

"I'm joining as a currency analyst," said Sarah politely, tucking a lock of her thick blonde hair back under its clip. "I don't think I'll actually have to trade."

Semple grinned, took a packet of Polo mints from his pocket and popped one into his mouth. "The Leopard is the biggest and most successful hedge fund in the world," he said. "Trading is what we do. Its sort of a ritual around here. When people join we like them to do a bit of your actual real-life dealing. Nothing spectacular. Just so they get a feel for what the Fund actually does."

He lent over her desk, pointing to the Reuters and Bloomberg screens, both linked to separate keyboards. In less than two minutes, he explained the basics of using the machine to trade currencies: Sarah was familiar with the system from her last job, even through she had never tried it for herself. Have a go for yourself, Semple suggested as he walked away. "You'll soon get the hang of it. Anyone who makes a profit trading in their first morning get to keep it," he added. "That's a house rule."

Do they get to keep the losses as well, wondered Sarah gloomily. It was only fifteen minutes since Semple had left her, and she was already a million down. She had started with what she had thought would be a simple trade. The machine only dealt in units of ten million dollars, and Sarah had placed an order to switch three units of Euros into Polish zlotys. That was thirty million dollars, but she knew the Polish central bank was due to publish inflation figures at nine; those, she expected, would show prices rising more swiftly than last month, raising pressure to hike interest rates, which should push up the currency. When she saw the announcement scrolling forwards on her Reuters screen, she could almost feel the blood stop pumping through her heart. Polish inflation was much lower than expected. The currency promptly sank by 3.4% in the markets. Her zlotys were now worth $1,020,000 less than she had paid for them.

This can only get better, she reminded herself.

Cut your losers, and run your winners, Sarah decided. That was one of the few pieces of investment advice her father had given her, back when he was still a player in the markets. Using the keyboard, she sold the zlotys into dollars, then bought six units of Hungarian crowns. Should be safe enough, she told herself. Hungary's balance of payments figures were set to be released, which she calculated should be encouraging for its economy. The trade completed, she scanned the screen, anxiously waiting for the information. A 9:15, the numbers scrolled in front of her eyes. Hungary's current account had moved sharply into the red. In the next minute, the currency dropped by five percent. Sarah had lost another $3 million.

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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