1 NEW YORK CITY, MARCH 24, 9:53 AM
Garrett Reilly did not bake that morning, which was unusual. He hadn’t dipped into his bag of Hindu Skunk because it was a Tuesday, and new bond issues priced in the market on Tuesdays, usually right at 8:00 a.m., and if you were stoned when the new issues priced you would miss a step, and if you missed a step you would make mistakes, and if you made mistakes you would lose money.
Garrett Reilly hated losing money.
So he was straight, and he was happy about it, which was doubly unusual. Mostly when he was sober he was angry: angry at his parents, his brother, the government, corporations, his boss. Everybody and everything. He considered anger a constant—his equilibrium state. But when he was high, a fuzzy, contented peace settled on his brain as he watched the buy and sell numbers float across his Bloomberg terminal. Stoned, he could ignore the twenty ringing phone lines at his elbow, and he would wander to the large, noisy room’s single window and watch the seagulls circle over Rockefeller Park and glide out over the Hudson River, or he would trade video-game tips and stories of botched hookups with his coworkers at the other cubicles. They were all young, horny, indifferent to the wider world if it didn’t involve money. Or sex.
But today was different. He had fielded all the calls, had bid on the bonds conservatively, but well, and had made enough money for his firm—Jenkins & Altshuler—to justify his growing salary. That was all run-of-the-mill. Garrett Diego Reilly, two weeks past his twenty-sixth birthday, with a freckled, black-haired, half-Irish, half-Mexican face and the languid drawl of a kid from the slums
of Long Beach, California, was a rising star at the firm, a bond trader, probably the best young talent the company had, maybe the best in all of lower Manhattan, so a day of profits was normal. What wasn’t normal were the Treasury bond CUSIP numbers scrolling across his screen. T-bonds, as they were called, were long-term, government-issued debt, backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury, and there were a lot of them out there—trillions of dollars’ worth. They had, by and large, financed the deficit spending of the last two presidential administrations, and accounted for a massive amount of the country’s red ink. A CUSIP number—named after the Committee on Uniform Securities Identification Procedures—was a way of tracking every bond and share of stock sold in the United States and Canada. Every T-bond had a nine-digit alphanumeric CUSIP number.
Garrett knew his CUSIP numbers. His memory for numbers was photographic. He could scan a page of new bond issues and then repeat them back, number by number, verbatim, a week later. It was part of the reason Garrett, a janitor’s kid, had gotten into Yale. That, and a push from his nagging older brother. It was also part of how he’d landed a job at Jenkins & Altshuler, and then risen to the top of his department. But it wasn’t the entire reason. That came from another, related skill: pattern recognition.
Garrett didn’t just memorize numbers. He sorted them, ranked them, shifted them into discrete categories, until a pattern emerged. A flow. Until the numbers made sense. Garrett didn’t mean to do it—he just did it. Obsessively, 24/7, 365. It was simply how he saw the world, how he interpreted information. It wasn’t even that he found patterns.
He sensed them.
Just the barest hint of a pattern—in numbers, colors, sounds, smells—would start a tingling feeling at the base of his spine, the faintest electric shock that was somewhere between pleasure and alarm. As the pattern, whatever it happened to be, became clearer to him, the tingling dissipated, melding quickly into hard fact. It was always at that point that he knew he had a recognizable, quantifiable thing in front of him—a sine curve of equity prices, a three-to-one ratio of descending musical notes, a purple-to-green blended fade of bus transfer colors—and he would jot it down or discard it and move on to the next one. It didn’t matter if there was purpose or intent behind the patterns; Garrett simply saw them, felt them, everywhere, and then recorded them in his brain. Just like that. Every minute of every hour of every day.
And that was another reason he smoked marijuana: when he was stoned, the tingling went away, patterns melted into the chaotic white noise of everyday life, and Garrett became, at least momentarily, like everybody else. Information wasn’t sorted. It simply was. And that was a relief. Getting high was a vacation from Garrett’s singular ability.
But today, he wasn’t high. He was straight. And he could feel the pattern emerging from the CUSIP numbers on T-bonds being sold all around the world since yesterday, 1:04 a.m., Greenwich Mean Time. The familiar tingle had started just after his second coffee. This one was an almost sensual pulse as he read what must have been the four hundredth CUSIP on a bond selling out of the Middle East. He had read that number five times. And then he let the memory of all the other CUSIP numbers he knew wash over him like a tsunami of digits. And just like that, boom, a pattern emerged.
The first six places of a CUSIP were simple—they identified the issuer of the security or bond. The seventh and eighth digits identified the issue—what it was that was being sold; numbers, usually, for equities, letters for fixed income, or bonds. The ninth—and sometimes tenth—digits were what was known as checksums, automatically generated numbers that ensured the rest of the CUSIP was delivered without transmission errors.
Garrett knew the first four digits of U.S. Treasury bond issues cold: 9128. After that, the digits varied according to type of issue: inflation-protected securities were 10. Short maturing T-bills: 08.
But this pattern wasn’t about inflation-protected securities or T-bills. It involved Treasury bonds maturing in twenty to thirty years, the longest of the government’s debt issues. Someone, somewhere, was selling off T-bonds in small packets, in lots of different markets, all over the world. That alone wasn’t so very unusual. The market for Treasury bonds was huge, and buying and selling them was a twenty-four-hour-a-day game.
But two things were unusual, and they both caught Garrett’s attention.
The first was that all the bonds being sold had been bought at one auction, a dozen years ago, and by one, unspecified buyer.
The second was that if you added up the net worth of all those bonds that had been bought twelve years ago, by that one buyer, it totaled two hundred billion dollars. And even to Garrett, that was a fuckload of money.