The Scheme – Ash Thakur
Suburban financial advisor Julian Kay has an elegant lifestyle and a glamorous fiancée, Stephanie, all supported by a fraudulent investment scheme. When things go wrong and clients ask for their money back, he must take desperate measures to maintain his standard of living.
Along the way he meets Sonia, a young literature student who has some interesting money making sidelines of her own. Julian tries to start an affair with her, but his attempts at impressing her never seem to have the intended effect.
This darkly humorous thriller puts you inside the head of a charming sociopath as he struggles to stop his comfortable word falling apart.
Click here to contact us and obtain a review copy of The Scheme
Ash Thakur was born in Edgware, north London and grew up in Hendon. He was educated at the Haberdashers’ Aske’s school in Hertfordshire and Imperial College, London, where he read Mathematics.
Following a fifteen year career working for a variety of banks in the City, he decided to write a story about some of the shadier goings on at the edges of the financial world. The Scheme is his debut novel.
He now resides in Golders Green, former home of Evelyn Waugh and presently Kazuo Ishiguro. His pastimes are travel, cooking and attending the theatre and classical concerts.
The Kays’ north London suburb was often described by estate agents as a village, although Julian thought just about anywhere in London not overlooking a dual carriageway could be described thus. It had enough of the spacious greenness that gives one a sense of calm and really having left the centre of town whilst retaining some interesting Victorian and Regency red brick architecture. Normal middle class people, those skilled, numerate professionals who toil in open plan offices and consider a seat on a tube train a blessing had long since lost the ability to purchase a house here. A cramped apartment was the best most of them could aim for, the financial burden to be further eased by the practice of flat sharing. Julian thought maybe once in a while that could lead to a lifelong friendship.
He walked the familiar route to up to his favourite café on the narrow, winding high street. He walked briskly and easily, having shed the last remnants of childhood asthma years ago. Unencumbered by briefcase, laptop or umbrella – it was a lovely early Summer morning, too – he reflected on how others might see him. As a lucky chap, a guy who had landed on his feet, perhaps? Or someone of exceptional ability? He knew that the reality for most Londoners was struggling to pay the bills at the end of each month; a month spent quietly hating their boss.
Café Franz was dark, dingy, comfortable and familiar; in short, perfect. What was remarkable was that the furnishings had remained unchanged in appearance from the late nineteen seventies: its teak effect formica tables, oversized sponge stuffed orange seating and swirly brown carpet were actually being imitated elsewhere in the capital. The second generation of the Italian family that had taken over from the original Austrian Jewish founder knew perfectly well that the well-heeled locals would howl if any attempt were made to ‘modernise’. The food lived up to the décor, with beans on toast being the most ordered dish (by Julian at any rate). All that had changed was, possibly, the increased use of rapeseed oil.
Julian filled his nostrils with the soothing musty smell of the cafe and sat down in the corner. He had no papers or laptop with him. Nothing remotely A4 sized. No, that’s just far too risky; anyone can look over your shoulder. What he did have was a mini smartphone, something quite ancient by technology standards: it was about five years old. Squinting at the tiny, brightly glowing screen he pulled up a file. Or more accurately, the file. The one that contained everything that had got him this far in life, from cherry wood floors to the fascinating girl who walked barefoot on them. The success file.
The file had four columns: Name, Occupation, Starting Balance, and – the really important one – Theoretical Balance. That was essentially what the investor thought he had in his account. Put simply it was equal to the starting balance (which was real enough: basically, the cash an investor had stumped up to buy in) plus any investment “growth”, minus all the cash amounts that the investor had taken out. That last bit was tricky. Any good investment advisor will tell his eager customer not to cash in the profit he’s just made but to keep it working for him, keep it growing. Withdrawals can be supremely irritating, not to mention harmful; but when people insist, what can you do? In the best tradition of gentleman fraudsters and well-dressed persuaders, Julian was a man who always stayed calm.
‘High yield’ investment scheme lesson number one: new customers’ money is used to pay ‘profits’ to existing customers. Lesson number two: obviously, you have to keep finding new customers. There isn’t really a lesson three other than that number two will keep you very busy. And Julian had always been prepared to work hard.
He added “Paul Kelmer, £25,000” in blue text – black was reserved for funds that had cleared – and emailed him the signing up forms. That would normally have been that, but this time he began scrolling up and down the file to remind himself of the punters he had signed up so far. Fragments of lives, personalities and finances played with his memory.
There was Sunil Sharma, his dentist, successful and intensely practical. He spent his days shuttling between his swish practice in North London and its mirror image clone south of the river. A busy man of many projects, he had pondered Julian’s investment proposition briefly and then replied with “Yeah, let’s go for it. I’ll put in a hundred grand. This is going to be a cash cow”. Every six months Julian returned for his check up. Neither the man nor his dentist spoke a word about money, but instead discussed every other topic beloved of innocent people. As they chatted, both men glowed with the knowledge that impressive wealth was being created while Julian’s teeth were getting serviced.
And also George McCrum, his neighbour three doors away, an elderly, straight talking man known locally as “the inventor”. He held a patent on some sort of gas valve and had apparently done very well out of it. He had been the hardest to persuade. A mathematician and scientist by training, he had genuinely wanted to understand exactly how Julian was generating such huge profits. The quizzing had become intense. On the verge of being caught out, Julian had got up to leave, with the parting words: “Well, look, perhaps it’s not for you. Not everyone can adopt a new mindset.” A firm grey hand on his shoulder as he got to the door had ensured he wouldn’t be leaving without a hefty chunk of McCrum’s money: “You mark my words, sunshine. Old McCrum doesn’t miss out on profit!”
His favourite was Marek Wybrowsky, a builder. He had redecorated the Kays’ house the previous year and nowadays was to be found hard at work in the surrounding streets, thriving on referrals and the relentless rise in property prices. A consistently cheerful young man with a balding head, huge shoulders and a paunch nurtured on gallons of imported Polish lager, he and his girlfriend Maria had struggled to come up with their ten thousand pounds starting investment (Julian had let them in with less than the usual twenty-five thousand pound minimum). They had certainly been enjoying the results. Maria’s shoe collection and Marek’s wardrobe of jeans and leather jackets had been moving upmarket in recent months. The belly was growing too, slowly but reassuringly.
Julian basked momentarily in the warm feeling that he was making people happy, improving their lives and fulfilling dreams. But it occurred to him that virtually nothing had changed about his own life. Visibly, at any rate. True, he had bought a bigger house, but that was really Stephanie’s project. He still drove the same car and wore the same chain store suits, ate at cheap cafes and drank at old men’s pubs with proper beer. But he felt the change inside. Life seemed to have more edge, that delicious danger that, he believed, a certain elite of achievers got to experience each and every day. He mulled over whether it was about social class, contacts, wealth or something else entirely: who and what you actually are.
There were a couple of youngish men and one girl on his client list who all had their details entered in blue. Julian had no doubt they would all have their funds cleared and settled in the next few days as they had seemed very well to do. He had a group nickname for them: ‘the trustfunders’. In truth they all worked or did something resembling work (one even had a job in banking) but he got the strong sense that family money was somehow a significant part of their lifestyle. He had met them all at the same place: a stylish new members’ club that had opened up just over a year ago in West London. The lighting was dim and tinged with purple. It had run a discreet advertisement in a couple of the glossy monthlies Stephanie read: “If you have made it or are making it in the arts, media or finance, or are just good company and a fan of well put together cocktails, register here to meet others on your wavelength.“ It is bad form for a club to tout for new members, but Julian had liked the direct, cheeky approach and signed up. He realised it would soon be time for another visit.
Click here to contact us and obtain a review copy of The Scheme