There’s no such thing as a bad trading day, Irene Skews, day trader magnifico, reminded herself, her hand poised over the keyboard, index finger lifted. Click! Her copious bangles pealed against the desk. Her order—the sale of a thousand Solution 6 shares at $18.10—vanished, to be rewarded with the computerized chime of a trade consummated.
Two sleeps until Christmas, in the year of 1999, and Irene wished only that the day after tomorrow could be a trading day. For here amongst the buccaneers of Tech Power Trading, she counted herself happy.
In front of her, overlapping windows on the screen scrolled with share prices, order queues, market indices, and one-line news items—endless hieroglyphics in reds and greens and whites. She inhaled the aroma of the trading room: coffee, McDonald’s fries, sweat, the sour smell she called adrenaline rather than fear. The public address system cooed: “All Ords 3,121, down 20.” She heard responding groans, and a choked obscenity.
She blew a kiss into the air and wheeled her office chair back from the screen to survey the two rows of shoulder-height cubicles, bookmarked by huge television screens at both ends.
A prickle traversed the back of her neck.
Mostly the traders were doing what they paid TPT for, feverishly buying and selling shares. But by the coffee table halfway down the aisle, a handful of fellow traders chatted. Len Maguire stroked his beard. The sweetie-pie Singaporean, Lawrence Lim, jiggled a teabag. Gil Oldfield had his handsome head lowered. What was awry?
Perhaps her qualms were merely the inevitable sense of dislocation upon returning to the physical world. Immersed chaos was Irene’s way, absorption in the never-ending flow of stock market data, newspapers, emails, newsletters, and loudspeaker announcements. She lived and breathed that babble of information.
Last night Irene had spent hours on HotCopper, the online chat site for like-minded investment enthusiasts. She had devoured the stunning news of opportunity: Nasdaq, American home to the booming dot-coms, had risen—again!—26 points to 3,937. But in the morning, as she digested the ten o’clock opening trades on the Australian Stock Exchange, instead of rushing into the stocks hyped overnight, she had paid heed to the info babble.
Over the first half-hour of trading, she’d concentrated on exiting every one of her positions. Pat-on-the-back time, she now breathed, for the All Ords index had tumbled, all arrows down, all colors red.
Tech Power Trading’s twig of a receptionist was slanting the banks of venetian blinds facing the sunshine pouring in from Collins Street.
Irene said, “You’re a wonder, dear.” She liked Robyn, even if the poor girl looked permanently stunned. “Glare simply has to be a trader’s worst enemy.”
Robyn gave a hesitant smile.
Irene couldn’t shake her edginess. She rose, straightened her jacket, and made for the coffee area.
“…that is the key, I believe.” Lawrence Lim’s soft accented English was barely audible above the noise. “I do believe watching the market can help. Signs of sustained strength or weakness, that’s what I look for.”
Gil Oldfield wasn’t paying attention. His tanned face, with its customary early shadow, was directed at a television interview. Formerly a “real” share trading professional, Gil sneered at TPT’s day traders, Irene especially.
Something flickered at the edge of Irene’s mind.
“Dears, wasn’t that a ride and a half this morning?” she said. “I knew it, simply knew it, in the very first minute. So what if Nasdaq had a wonderful day, so what? Where’s the good news in Australia, that’s what I want to know.”
A brusque bark halted her words and she ceased stirring sugar into her tea. She looked up at the inflamed cheeks of Len Maguire. Santa, the traders called him, because of his large gut and bushy gingery-white beard.
Len, here at the coffee spot…
There it was.
Len never, never ever, left his screen in the first two hours. His system, he’d once told her while wiping greasy fingers on his beard, that’s when the volatility peaks.
Today Len wore a jacket, a bulky leather affair, over new jeans and his trademark Harley Davidson T-shirt. A heavy jacket, on a mild day forecast at twenty-three degrees…
Len jerked and looked directly at her. Behind smeared glasses his eyes blazed. A weird beatific smile lit his face. Then his hands sprouted squat metal extensions.
“Listen up!” Len roared.
Lawrence stumbled back into Gil. Heads appeared over cubicles. Irene lurched away from the guns.
“You call this a tough trading day,” bellowed Len. “Invest in some of this, you bastards!”
Before Irene could react, Len shoved both guns into Lawrence’s cheeks. Two retorts shattered the hush. Lawrence’s head exploded in a spray of red.
Irene wailed, stumbled backward. Screams whizzed around her head. A man ran past, only to cry out and fall at another shot.
Len screamed, “This is for the shorts.”
Gil had become pinned under Lawrence’s body and was clawing at the bloodied weight.
To Irene’s horror, Len chuckled. “Here’s to the bloody pro…fessionals.”
He shouted something else, aimed, and fired once, then again. Gil’s twitching ceased.
“No,” moaned Irene.
All she could think of was home, her cats. Down the aisle, toward the rear of the office, between abandoned screens still scrolling in kaleidoscopic colors, she tottered backward on high heels, those darned rickety heels.
Her nostrils stung with an acrid reek. Len was shooting steadily at traders rushing for the entrance. Bodies lay in the aisle like discarded mannequins.
Her ankle turned on a high heel. She shook the shoe off. The screams had ceased, replaced by Len’s guttural raves and victims’ wet moans.
She turned and ran, a limping gait with one shoe missing. Under the desk of the last cubicle, she glimpsed a face. Then she was past the television screen, around the corner, blubbering.
Just fifty meters away, at the door of the training room, moonfaced Gus Youde signaled frantically.
“Run!” Gus shouted.
Irene staggered toward him. She risked a look over a shoulder.
Len! He’d followed, was peering into the final cubicle. Shrill cackling filled her ears. A shot rang out.
Irene lost her footing and plummeted onto carpet. Pain stabbed an elbow. She scrambled on hands and knees over the prickly surface toward manic voices.
A quick backward glance froze her. Len had emerged from the cubicle. He was muttering and his beard was spotted with blood. He’d discarded one gun, now he raised the other. The mad eyes caught hers.
Len began to run full tilt, every stride bringing him closer.
Terror lent Irene wings. Somehow she was in the training room and Gus was piling tables against the door. Others were there, Robyn among them, but Irene barely noticed. She cowered in a corner, listening to her jewelry chime in time with her shakes.
She heard shots, Len’s roar. Then later, much later it seemed, a universe away, sirens wailed.