Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Distance, Chapter 5


January Sixteenth
3:12 p.m.

Doug’s dual computer monitors were working overtime. The screen on the left had his portfolio breakdown, with the trade window active, and he’d successfully entered ‘sell’ orders on three of the five accounts, but not before they suffered significant losses.  He was trying to get the last two sold into his cash account through both the computer and his phone.  He resorted to fishing out the wired cellphone charger, rather than the cradle.  His battery failed twice during the long day on the phone.   The second monitor was filled with multiple windows on his research project for his upcoming interview.

The ‘call waiting’ signal rattled his ear as he listened to the monotonous message from Raleigh Investment Group.

“Doug Peterson,” he answered without checking the caller I.D.

“Good afternoon, Daniel. This is Julie. Have a few minutes to go over schedule?”

“Uh, yeah. Julie.  I take it things are not going well,” Doug said.

“No, I don’t think so either,” she replied.

“O.K.  Is she on meds?”

“Yes, but I don’t think that’ll work either. We’re planning on catching a train later this afternoon though, and should be back in the office late tomorrow morning.  I think we can prep for the takeover meeting, and then I think it’ll be time for a couple days off,” Julie said. “Right Cammie? I know that I’ll be ready for a day or two off, right?” Julie forced a laugh, it seemed.

Doug heard Camille in the background, in a voice not quite her own, agree.

“All right, Julie.  She’s not that much better.  Should I pick you both up at Union Station when you arrive?”

“No, Daniel. That won’t be necessary.  We’ll just have a car from the club pick us up and take us both home,” Julie said before pausing.  “Doug? Sorry about that.  Cam just went into the bathroom to shower. She’s an absolute wreck!

“I understand, Julie.  Is there anything I can do? Should I call her cell and talk?”

“I don’t know. Maybe text-message her and let her know that you’re thinking about her.  I don’t know how she’ll react to you on the phone.  She’s like a yo-yo.”

Doug hesitated for a long moment. “Julie, have you been watching the news? I mean, the financial markets and such?”

“Another down day, according to the television. Why do you ask?”

“One of my friends believes that the markets are in for a serious fall, or…..collapse.  He…” Doug paused, “Julie, I might sound like a nut for saying this, it sounds damned odd, but he thinks that there could be riots or an all-out financial collapse.  I cannot imagine that New York would be a pleasant place to be if that happens.”

“I can’t say I’m all that surprised. We’ve been on borrowed time for too long,” she said, matter-of-factly.  

Doug didn’t have anything to say. 

“Doug, are you there?”

“Yeah, sorry. There is a lot on my mind right now, including Cammie.  I don’t know if Cam told you, but I lost my job last week.”

“She didn’t mention it, actually.”

“I’m picking myself back up, and have an interview this week. Things’ll work out…..but I’ll tell you…I went shopping late last night and there were guards down at the Amerimart here…a couple stores to be honest.  The ATM’s have pretty much been cleaned out.  I’m at a bit of a loss to figure out where things are going with the world, let alone with my girlfriend.”

It was Julie that now paused. “Doug, I really think that there is no future for you and Camille.   Her personality is almost unrecognizable. Frankly, I cannot see how I can keep her employed unless she makes a complete one-eighty. I don’t like telling you this,” she said.

“Julie, to be honest, I love the woman, but we do have our differences.  This I think for both of us, has always been of convenience and fun and less of the long-term.” 

“I know that you were both, well, on the rebound. I just…Honestly, Doug, I just don’t understand what happened to her,” Julie said.  “Listen. Text her like everything is OK.  Maybe it’ll snap her back. I don’t know.  We should be in tomorrow morning if the train schedule is to be believed.  I’ll let you know when we’re back though.”

“Thanks, Julie.  I appreciate it.”

“Wish there was more I could do,” Julie said. Doug thought she was almost in tears.  “And Doug? What your friend said about a chance of…collapse? I think you need to take it seriously. My older brother emailed me last night about the same thing.  They’re leaving the city for his wife’s families’ farm, down in Iowa…and they’re leaving tomorrow.”

“Just…pack up and go?” Doug said, with some shock.  Leaving didn’t really occur to him, despite what Hal had told him. He wondered for a moment, where Hal would run to?

“He’s been out of steady work for more than a year, his last round of unemployment just ended, and Molly’s pregnant.  Her father said that they should high-tail it out of Chicago without delay.  Said, ‘he didn’t like the looks of what’s comin.’  Peter—that’s my brother—said that Molly’s parents have been expecting this. He said….that I should get out as well. He didn’t tell me much more, but Peter doesn’t say things like that without cause.” 

“They might be right. I don’t know,” Doug said.

“I’ll talk with you tomorrow. Maybe we’re all just stressed out over nothing,” Julie said, pulling herself together a bit.

“Talk to you then, Julie. Thanks,” Doug replied, hearing the phone click.

The television droned on in the background, as Doug sat and thought about what Cammie would be like when she and Julie returned home.   Doug spent a few minutes putting a text message together, erased most of it, started over, and finally came up with something he thought was suitable to send. 
Cammie usually responded quickly, being a ‘crackberry addict’. The TV droned on as Doug looked at his phone, waiting for her customary response. This one went unanswered.

“…closed early at seventy-seven fifty-one.  Gold has resumed the uptrend from last years lows, firing up and now passing seven hundred and thirty-three dollars per ounce.  Silver, likewise, is again beginning to turn from the yearly low, now at twelve oh-five an ounce, with extremely high demand for all precious metals, as well as virtually all commodities.   We’ve seen the price of wheat and corn double in three years, and we saw a thirty-one percent increase in four hours of trading today.”

“Much of the drive in today’s market action was triggered by international discussion of the solvency of the financial system of the United States today. Bankers in Brussels discussed the potential of a wholesale default of the United States on international obligations, and punitive measures that the international banking community would be forced to take should the U.S. renege on debt obligations.”

“Another major issue in the business climate is the bankruptcy of DeVeers Carnegie Limited and Business Ventures Surety, both headquartered in New York.  A Federal investigation was ordered today by the Attorney General, after the firms declared insolvency after the earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.  Both companies….and several others it should be noted….provided coverage to businesses in the region specifically for earthquake coverage, but both had large business units in the pension market.”

Doug switched to another financial news channel, hearing much the same.

“In the markets just before the close, trading circuit breakers kicked in this morning, halting trading after a significant decline in the thirty industrials.  At the close, the Dow was at seventy-seven-fifty-one, and the S&P five hundred declined to just over eight hundred, and the NASDAQ tested lows at fifteen-fifty.”

“In precious metals news, gold and silver both increased today on the decline of stocks and bonds, with gold rising in a dramatic one-day price increase of nearly twenty-eight percent, rising to seven hundred thirty-three dollars per ounce. Silver ended at twelve oh-five at the close.”

“The President and the Fed Chairman are in meetings at this hour to discuss the looming financial crisis and rampant price increases seen since Saturday.  In Chicago, less affluent areas of Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, minor civil unrest has been reported at grocery stores where food stamps have been refused by store operators. No reason has been given for the seemingly coordinated effort on the part of store owners to accept cash only.  Fuel price increases, too have resulted in minor problems at gasoline stations.”

The commentators on this channel went into great detail on what they believed would be an all-out collapse of the dollar.  One of their field reporters was at a burned out AmeriMart store in Atlanta.  Six people had been killed when looters overwhelmed the store, and security guards had reacted.  Doug didn’t know what a ‘rifled slug’ was, but the talking heads in the D.C. news bureau appeared to be mortified.

They next went to a series of stories about people who were fleeing the cities….similar to what Julie was saying about her brother and his wife. The long segment showed several groups of people, caravanning together, heading north out of Little Rock, while another was leaving Baltimore; a third leaving Phoenix.  The vehicles included big four-wheel-drive trucks, heavily modified RV’s, and SUV’s with rooftop carriers and trailers.  They called them ‘bug out vehicles.’  Only one of the people they were filming spoke to the reporter, if you could count telling the reporter to ‘kindly drop dead.’ the rest of them didn’t say a word.  Doug noted they wore pistols. 

Doug didn’t have a holster for the old .32 handgun that had belonged to his father, and he’d only fired a gun two or three times in his life. He thought he’d probably be more of a danger to himself than to anyone he tried to shoot, he realized, sitting in his living room, as the world outside began to tear itself apart.

Monday evening
January Sixteenth
7:30 p.m.

None of Doug’s trade orders had been confirmed, despite multiple orders, confirmation numbers, and receipts of the orders placed. His account balances remained the same as they had before he placed the sell orders; backchecks of his confirmation numbers stated, ‘no such transaction.’   None of the phone calls to his broker had been returned.   An email that he’d sent to the brokerage; copying a dozen different email addresses in an attempt to get any response, was answered only by one person…who he’d not copied on the email.

Doug had demanded that ‘action be taken on his accounts immediately, including liquidating all of his mutual funds and placing them in his cash brokerage account, at which time he would decide on a new course of action.’   The response was less than satisfactory, especially since the trading day had carved a full thirty percent from his portfolio.

Dear Mr. Peterson:

Rest assured that your accounts in Raleigh Investment Group are in safe hands. Our business analysts and brokers are working diligently to protect the accounts of all of our members, and striving to achieve outstanding growth potential as opportunities arise in the days and weeks ahead.  While at the moment, there is a flight to archaic industrial metals including platinum, gold, silver and palladium, we see these as exceptionally poor performers over time. None of them are truly investments, and the track record of them does not come close to the performance of equities over the long term.
There are a number of growth areas that Raleigh believes are on the verge of explosive growth.  We will be in touch with you as soon as possible to present these options to you.

With warmest regards,

Leonard Varney
Senior Broker
Raleigh Investment Group, LLC

Doug read and re-read the email a half dozen times, deciphering the meaning of it versus the facts of the situation.  They were encouraging him to stay the course, trust them, inferring that they would make him more money if he did so.

They also went out of their way to discourage him from investing in ‘archaic’ precious metals, which it had seemed to Doug, started a ramp up with no end in sight. 

He was also faced with the fact that he couldn’t get them to act on his orders…despite the ‘confirmation numbers’ that he’d been given on-line. Raleigh had a Chicago office though, and he quickly looked it up.  He’d be visiting it tomorrow morning at the start of the business day, to make sure his orders were followed.  He closed out the window on the computer; feeling as if what they’d sent him was a complete lie. Maybe it was…

Doug took a break, and put more of his purchased goods in a semblance of order.  There wasn’t room for all of the stuff in the kitchen, and he wondered after his talk with Hal, if it made sense to put it away at all…or where he’d go if he had to ‘leave.’ He shut off the lights in the rooms facing the street, double checked the door locks, and went back into the living room.

Unlike Hal, Doug didn’t have a ‘Site B’ that allowed him to pack up and bail out. The family place in Duluth was long gone; he didn’t have any other living relatives. He didn’t have ‘options.’ The townhouse apartment was ‘it.’

Doug lay down on the couch, television news still talking about the ‘volatility in the market’ when they weren’t following search and rescue teams in King County, Washington. He dozed off to the sounds of the helicopters.

Tuesday morning
January Seventeenth
5:15 a.m.

The promise of the spring day was shrouded by the noise and smoke.  The noise was increasing, and the smoke in the air made Doug cover his nose with a bandanna. He’d been struggling to put all of his supplies into the Acura, but no matter how he tried, he couldn’t get anything through the passenger door—his armload of stuff wouldn’t fit…and the Acura was the wrong color. As the noise grew louder, he sensed that he was out of time and he turned to face the crowd, now running at him. He had never been more afraid. He reached for the pistol….

Doug woke up, heart pounding and soaked with sweat, realizing that the smoke from his dream was real.   He leapt from the couch and checked the townhouse, but found no sign of fire.  Still, the smell was everywhere.  The smoke alarms did not sound, though.

The TV was still on, but the screen was nothing but ‘snow’…which was damned peculiar, since programming was full-time.  He pulled on some shoes and looked outside from his darkened apartment, before opening the door.

Out the front door, to the east, there was a glow in the sky that shouldn’t have been there.  It was at least a mile away, but even at this distance he could see the flames were at least fifty feet above the rooftops….but the smoke plume was blowing towards the east, and therefore not the source of the terrible smell in the apartment.

Doug turned off the television…noting that it only had ‘snow’ where the twenty-four hour news station was supposed to be, and then opened the back door to the second-floor deck, and looked out to the west.
Three large fires burned, one less than a mile away was the source of the smell. Doug finally realized as he nearly vomited, it was the smell of burning flesh. He’d smelled it before, after a fiery crash on the Dan Ryan Expressway.  He closed the door quickly, wondering if this were in fact, the nightmare.

‘What could have happened to cause this?’ Doug thought to himself as he turned on one of the small lights in the apartment, and sat for a moment.  He turned the television back on, and cycled through the channels.  The cable was out—nothing on any channel.

“Dammit. Helluva time for this to go out,” he said to the furniture, before realizing that perhaps it was all tied together.   His radio and internet connection were also cable-provided, he remembered, so if the TV was out, so was the radio and the ‘net. He went to the bathroom, and turned on the clock radio that he listened to each work-morning.

“…are requested to remain in their homes until further notice.  Chicago Police are instituting a lockdown of all neighborhoods until disturbances are quelled.  At this time we have three alarm fires in twenty-two locations within a ten-mile radius of downtown, and countless smaller fires. Looting overnight has resulted in at least thirty dead, with six police officers killed in various locations and many, many civilians. Governor Veldman, reached in Columbia, South Carolina where she is vacationing, has mobilized the National Guard to assist local emergency service personnel…”

The urge to vomit returned, and Doug couldn’t hold it back.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great addition to the Deep Winter saga. I've started to re-read things from the beginning, to help refresh my memory for Distance.


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