This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.
His war was almost too long ago.
There were gadgets and gizmos but mostly the killing was analog.
Popular wisdom says that firepower and industrial might win wars; but it was then, as it always has been; spies and code breakers win wars.
American code breakers had cracked the Japanese code in the early 1930s, and the US president most probably knew that the Japanese were going to attack. He wanted the US in the war but he needed an excuse. He got one. It’s a hell of an advantage to know what your enemy is going to do before he does it, as Admiral Yamamoto found out.
His number was almost up but that was fine with him, he felt that he had lived too long anyway.
It had been a long time since anyone had asked him to crack a code.
There was a chill in the air and it looked like rain but nothing was going to stop his daily walk.
There wasn’t much else to do except walk.
He’d had that coat for as long as he could remember.
“If you buy the best it will last you for a lifetime.” He could almost hear her saying it, and up until now she had been right.
She had to go, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.
Now he was just waiting.
He liked to travel but his kind of travel meant going to an interesting city and living there for a while. Sometimes a few weeks, but more often it was months. It all depended on the friends he made.
Cities are just bricks and mortar.
The places people love to talk about visiting are the ones where they met people and shared their lives.
After Mary died he traveled to the cities that they had loved. It was too painful and it just wasn’t the same if you did not have someone to share it with.
So now he traveled to places where they had not been.
He kept a dialogue going as though she was there with him.
He had some time to kill and walking was the best way to do it.
The young couple who lived in the apartment just below him had invited him to dinner and he was looking forward to it.
They were very young and very much in love.
He sometimes had to turn the music up in his apartment because he was embarrassed by the sounds that came through his floor. He felt that they deserved their privacy but they probably didn’t care, young ones were like that.
The young couple was amazed that he was so proficient at number puzzles.
The young man was a maths teacher but he could not compete with the older man.
They had asked him a few times what he did for a living, but even after all these years he never mention Bletchley Park or any of his assignments back in the days when his ‘green and pleasant land’ was fighting for it’s life.
One of the things that makes a good code breaker is the ability to accurately predict the reoccurrence of a number in a given sequence.
This ability had come in handy over the years.
He had been able to see significant changes in market economies before they had occurred.
His time on this earth was nearly over but before he went he wanted to give the young couple a gift that would set them up for a bright future. He could not teach the young mathematician how he did it, it was something you could do but not something you could learn.
Over dinner the conversation turned to the stock market and the world economy, as it often did.
The old man looked into the young couples eyes and said, “You know that I have had a lot of experience in equities trading, and you know that I’m pretty good at it. I never give tips, never ever, but just this once I’m going to tell you something and you can decide what to do with what I tell you.
Very soon there will be a break in the banking sector, and I’m not talking about a small retracement, I’m talking about a full on break. So big in fact that some banks may not survive. It has to do with housing loans and derivatives that have been created around that debt. There isn’t any way that these derivatives can continue, it’s basically a pyramid scheme and when it collapses it is going to take the overall market with it. This is going to happen very soon and you don’t want to be in the market when it happens. More importantly you need to be short the market index and you need to stay short until you see a double bottom with volume. This means that you will have to keep your nerve as there will be times when it looks like the market is recovering.
If you keep your nerve and ride it all the way down you will make enough money to set you both up for life.”
The young couple had a little money put aside and two days after they attended the old man’s funeral the market started it’s downward spiral.
The rest was panic and pointless questions with no answers.
The old man was reunited with his Mary and the young couple held their nerve for two years until the market settled and the young mathematician saw the sign that the old man had told him to look for.
Even though their initial stake was small they had realized an enormous profit; more than enough to give them choices in life.
Every year the young couple would visit the old man’s grave and let him know how their lives were going.
Each time they came the young man would place old house numbers on his grave.
The young man would prize them off gate posts and save them up for that one day of the year.
Amazingly, they would still be there when the young man added to the collection each year.
The old man took his code breaking secrets to his grave except for the one he gave to his young neighbours.
As long as their young lives continued they would remember the old man in the well-worn overcoat.