The Trader: Who's going to miss a tiny little million?

They're doing well but not retire-at-35 well and they start to panic. That's when the temptation kicks in

EVERY MORNING for the past week, I have woken up at 6am, convinced that what has roused me was not my alarm clock but the front door being kicked in.

I've even stopped ordering delivery pizzas; that way I know that if the door-bell rings it's either Jehovah's Witnesses or the fraud squad - and who wants to speak to any of them?

This is not mere paranoia, I'd like to point out. After all, I did spend hours and hours sitting next to the ghastly Neil on the way back from New York, the same ghastly Neil who was picked up for questioning at the airport by men in rumpled grey suits. If I'd listened to a word he'd said on the journey, instead of doing flower arrangements in my head, I might well be a useful witness.

By the time I stumbled blearily into the office, the news had already hit the City. Laura pounced on me before I'd even had a coffee.

"You'll never guess," she said triumphantly, and I couldn't bear to spoil her fun by saying I could, so I let her continue. "It's Neil. Horrible, horrible Neil has been arrested along with two of his colleagues. Apparently they had some scheme going that was going to cream two million out of the bank's coffers."

So, I thought, more victims of our get-rich-quick culture. It is an unwritten rule that at every dinner party you attend, at least one person has to tell you that they're planning to make a fortune and retire at 35.

Most of them are aiming to do it by devoting their every waking moment to some utterly depressing American financial institution. I bet they buy lottery tickets every week, though, just to be on the safe side.

Then the years go by and they're doing very nicely, thank you, but not that well - not retire-at-35 well - and they start to panic.

Another five years in the City will drive them insane, and they have to do something to escape. And that's when the temptation becomes unbearable. After all, they think, there's so much money washing around this place, who's going to miss a tiny little million?

Then the phones began ringing. First there was Peter the Heavy Breather, who sounded as if he was hyperventilating with all the excitement.

"Did you hear?" he panted. "I can't believe it. Five million pounds. Apparently it was an insurance scam." Then he rushed off to give all his other contacts the news.

Next up was Belgian Philippe with the chocolate-smooth voice: "Well, I know you never trusted him," he purred.

"But even you must be surprised that he would try to defraud a pension company out of pounds 10m."

I'd hardly put the phone down before Jane rang, and I told her my part in the story, and she commiserated and told me that the word round her place was that it was pounds 20m, and it involved some wheeze with futures.

"It'll be pounds 100m and ripping off the Queen next," I muttered to Laura. "I wish we knew the real story."

But there was nothing in the papers the next day, or the next, or the next - nothing to banish my nightmares.

Then, at lunchtime today, Laura suddenly stabbed the Standard and squeaked, "It's here! Listen: `Neil... blah blah... questioned over the past week... blah blah... The three men, who will be formally charged next week, were arrested after pounds 100,000 went missing from their employer's coffers. The managing director said, `This was a particularly pointless and amateurish attempt to defraud the company. Even a child could have spotted it' - only pounds 100,000 after all!"

"Well, there's a relief," I said. "At least no one will want to make a film about it..."

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