I pulled my Mercedes S600 into the garage, killed the engine and finished listening to Musagorsky’s Pictures in a Museum. I’d always loved the ending to that piece, what with its claxons, gongs, cymbals and all.
Joycelin opened the door to the house to greet me; the warm smells of dinner (post roast, one of my favorites) wafted out. “Hi, Sweets,” she chirped, “I heard the car and poured a Scotch for you.” She extended a crystal low-ball filled with cracked ice and the golden elixir. I closed the Mercedes’s door behind me; it gave that satisfying “thunk” I never tire of. What a car.
I took a step up to meet her and took the glass. “Thanks,” I said, and taking the next step up, gave her a peck on the cheek. I walked into the family room, set down my drink, loosened my tie and went to turn on the evening news to see what the markets had done that day. I was a practiced short seller and Uncle Sam’s current prohibition against that most estimable practice was costing me dearly. The day that folly ended, I could go back to seeing my net worth grow.
As our huge Sony plasma TV came to life, Joycelin turned at the kitchen door and in her delightfully casual manner, asked, “What kind of a day did you have, honey?” Well, that was a good question. I stopped, pursed my lips and with the knitted brow of contemplation, reviewed the day’s events.
About nine-thirty that morning, I turned into Amalgamated Technologies’ parking lot and found a Visitors slot. Opening my new pigskin attache case, I reviewed Amalgamated’s file and prepared to go in and see Teddy Wallis, the Chief Information Officer. Teddy had just taken delivery of the last shipment of routers and switches from the fifteen-million order order he’d signed with me the previous August and I wanted to see how things were going. Thanks to Teddy’s quickly closing the deal, I received a nice bonus out of which I bought a new Rolex President – which now read nine-fortyfive, telling me it was time to go in and see Teddy.
Closing my attache case, I looked up and beheld the strangest sight: An unending stream of people was pouring out the doors as if it were a high school fire drill. Almost every one of them was carrying a box or a bag. The remainder carried lose collections of papers, pictures and whatnot, all gathered up in their arms. But it wasn’t a fire drill of course, for none were running – indeed, there was a sad langour to their pace.
They streamed past my Mercedes with stunned expressions, their unseeing eyes fixed on the ground. Off to my right, a few seemed to be in a heated conversation. I was nonplused. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I sat in my car and just watched. Presently, I saw a familiar face: Teddy Wallis. As he approached, I got out of the car. “Teddy!” I called out. “Over here.”
Teddy stopped and turned slowly toward the sound of my voice. He saw me and, without pausing, nodded diffidently.
“Teddy,” I said. “Hold on a second.” He stopped. Trotting over, I asked him what was going on.
Teddy gave a defeated sigh, looked up at me and held my eyes for a few seconds, then told me Amalgamated had just gone bust. An hour ago, three black Fords full of people in blue suits had pulled up, followed closely by two cruisers from the King County Sheriff. Striding in the front door like Christ come to cleanse the Temple, they announced themselves as Federal agents. The big cheese, an ascetically lean man with a military buzz cut, asked to see F. Henry Goniff, Amalgamated’s president. When the receptionist told him Mister Goniff hadn’t arrived yet, he turned to an axe-faced woman behind him and said, “We’ll get him later.”
Turning again to the receptionist, he reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a thick folded paper, handed it to her saying, “Search warrant.” Pulling out another, he handed it to her saying, “This is a court order seizing the business. This company is now in Uncle Sam’s hands – we’re taking over. Who’s in charge this morning?”
It seemed Mister Goniff had been looting the company for years. During the good times, he’d been able to hide his shenanigans but with the economy’s collapse in late 2008, the chickens had come home to roost. The Feds got on the P.A. system and announced, for those who cared to hear, that: Amalgamated was stony-assed broke; a Federal court had put what was left of Amalgamated into Chapter Seven, and; F. Henry Goniff had also looted the pension fund (it was now ninety-percent gone) so everyone should look to their portfolios as soon as possible.
“You must all go home now,” the agent said. “Be sure to take all your personal items with you as the doors will be locked permanently at ten o`clock sharp.” He concluded the death sentence by giving out the address of a website where people could follow the liquidation process and file claims, if claims they had. “Of course, we’re accompanying this announcement with an email and follow-up letter. We’re truly sorry.”
Teddy’s chin trembled: “I’ve been with Amalgamated for thirty-seven goddamned years this June,” he said with a quaking voice. “I’m sixty-four. I was going to retire on my birthday. Joyce and I were going to move to Montana and enjoy ourselves. Now not only is my pension’s gone.” Teddy took a few deep breaths and continued. “But just before the cops took town the internet connection, I logged onto my brokerage account to see how my 401(k) and other stuff were doing. Guess what? It my account was with Lehmann Brothers and I found out that two weeks ago, they went down the toilet, taking all my money with them – you know I never pay much attention to all that financial shit. What am I gonna tell my wife?” he asked rhetorically. “Well, take care of yourself,” he said and shuffled off like a soul of the damned on its way to Hades.
He’s so steeped in his bits and bauds that he completely ignores the larger world, as does his dull and uninteresting wife. Boy, weren’t they in for a surprise. Together, they’d missed all the news on the housing bubble and the looming depression it was causing to unfold, and now they were caught flat-footed. Unlike Joycelin and me! She and I’d smelled something in the wind a year ago and liquidated our positions in the markets, turning everything into cash, most of which we put into insured certificates of deposit and the remaining half-million into a safe deposit box.
Of course our ace-in-the-hole was our fifty-one percent share in the Loving Flames chain of crematoria, a business that was depression-proof if ever there was one. I’d bought the shares from the drunken fool who started the business and was running it into the ground. I fired him immediately and brought in a seasoned MBA to run the place. Now Loving Flames was going gangbusters.
Joycelin and I would weather this little storm in fine shape.
Oh well. Shit happens.
With Amalgamated done for, I could take an early lunch downtown. I started the engine and drove away.
McDougal’s Seafood and Chowder House was one of Seattle’s most trendy restaurants. Located on the edge of the financial district, McDougal’s catered to young snot-noses who though their shit didn’t stink. And though I didn’t particularly care for McDougal’s clientele, I did love their crab cakes, so . . .
Normally packed by eleven with these parvenus, it was strangely empty this day. The hostess seated me by the window next to a young couple. Judging by their twitterings and gushing endearments, they were on their honeymoon. I busied myself with the business section of the Times.
I was half-way through my Ceaser’s salad when I heard a loud, deep and lingering belch. I looked up; it was coming from the young husband. “What an oaf!” I thought to myself, and put down my newspaper the better to give him the bad eye. The young man then bolted upright, spilling the table’s contents to the floor and sending his chair backwards as if from a slingshot. He stood there with an expression of perplexity as his little wife asked “Honey, what’s wrong?”
Without a word, the young man bent forward from the waist and, making the awful noise of retching, shot out a stream of projectile vomit, rich in blood. Then he stood upright once again, took a deep breath, bent forward and vomited again, but this time it was all blood. His bride clasped her hands to her cheeks in horror and cried out, “Peteie, oh Peteie! What’s wrong?” Of course Peteie was in no position to answer as he vomited thrice more. With these smells, sounds and sights, McDougal’s began to clear out. Someone hollered, “Call 9-1-1.”
Then I realized some of the bloody vomits could have splattered onto my trouser leg. “Goddamnit!” I thought as I wet my napkin in the water glass and inspected my pant leg. Fortunately, he’d missed.
When I looked up, Peteie had collapsed to the floor amidst his puddle of red vomit. His little wife had run to him, knelt, and was cradling his bloody head in her arms. With nothing more to upchuck, Peteie looked up at her, his eyes fluttered and he weakly mouthed, “I love you so,” then expired. Wifey began to bawl her head off.
Confusion reigned at McDougal’s: What was left of the lunch crowed had gathered about to watch while employees ran around trying to figure out what to do. A couple of cops had responded to the 9-1-1 call and were trying to resuscitate the poor groom. I quietly closed my attache case, rose and snuck out the door, saving myself a good twenty dollars – and why not? I hadn’t even finished my salad.
Out on the street, I worked my way through the gathering crowd as the siren of Medic 1 drew closer.
Heading to the parking lot, I saw a woman and her young daughter, a child of about age five, begin to cross against the light. “Fricking jaywalker,” I thought. “Where’s a cop when you want one.” I had no sooner completed this thought when I saw a low dark shape shoot past; it was a huge male Rottweiler that had slipped his leash. With flews flapping and froth flying, it headed for the girl. Neither mother nor daughter saw it coming so when it closed its fearsome jaws on the tot’s arm, both were shocked – to say the least.
With a firm purchase on the arm, the dog gave one shake of its monstrous head and tore the little limb from the shoulder. While the animal began to dine on this tidbit, the girl, who was most certainly in shock, simply looked at the empty socket and the spurting blood, and blinked. Her mother, stunned at the eldritch spectacle before her, stood rooted to the spot for a few seconds that seemed an eternity.
In the background, I could hear an agitated man shouting, “Butch. Butch. Damn it, come back here;” the dog’s owner no doubt. By this time, the mother had recovered her composure and began to attend her daughter. Great sobs poured from the mother as the little girl began a soft whimper. Then, wouldn’t you know, the cop I’d hoped for a few moments ago suddenly appeared (better late than never, I guess). She drew her sidearm and emptied the magazine into the offending animal. One of the slugs passed through Butch, ricocheted off the sidewalk, caught a bystander in the temple and the poor slob went down with a thud.
What a mess.
Well, at least the Medic 1 unit was still at McDougal’s, half a block back.
Once in the car, I took out my Blackberry to see who I might visit on the east side. There were a couple of guys in Redmond who I hadn’t stroked in a while so I started the engine, pulled out on the street and headed for the I-5 on-ramp.
I was heading north in the slow lane when I noticed something amiss. A clapped-out old Chevie full of swarthy young men pulled up along side my Mercedes and the young men gave me the once-over. I mean there are lots of S600 sedans in the Seattle area – well, a few, anyway – so why their interest? I returned their gaze. With that, the driver accelerated, then pulled in front of me, the young men then all faced forward and seemed to brace. As they did this, I noticed an ancient Plymouth pull up on my left, and a quick glance over disclosed another swarthy young man at the wheel. A look in my rearview mirror disclosed an enormous Ford 4×4 closing in.
Then I remembered! There was a scam afoot: Crooked chiropractors and shyster lawyers would collaborate with a bunch of hard-up wetbacks to bilk insurance companies through staged traffic accidents. A car full of “victims” would pull in front of someone who looked well-off (and a Mercedes-Benz S600 would be that kind of indicator) while a compatriot pulled up on the mark’s left to hem him in. With that, the first car slammed on the brakes and the mark, unable to stop or take evasive action, would rear-end it. I was being set up.
I tapped my brake to kill off a bit of speed and yanked the wheel to the right to get over on the shoulder. No sooner had I begun this than the driver of the old Chevie locked his brakes and I went sailing safely past on his right. Unfortunately for the clowns in the Chevie, they didn’t see me pull over or the driver might have let off the brakes. But he didn’t, and the big Ford closed the gap, slamming hard into the Chevie’s rear; a cloud of antifreeze, transmission fluid, glass, chrome hunks and associated debris blew outward.
Safely on the shoulder, I stopped, switched on my four-ways, turned and looked out the backlight. The Chevie looked like a stepped-on tin can. The big pickup had run half-way up onto its trunk lid and crushed it. Those beaners wouldn’t be faking anything today – the sore necks would be for real.
Out of curiosity more than anything, I got out and walked back to the scene of the crime. The Chevie had been hit so hard all its doors were sprung and unable to open. A string of Spanish imprecations came from within as the occupants futilely shouldered the doors. At least one was moaning in pain. “Serves them right,” I thought.
Turning my attentions to the pickup, I saw it’s four doors open and its occupants disgorge. And what occupants they were! Bikers and skinheads, by the look of them. “Aw, shit!” came an angry bellow from the driver’s side, “Lookit ma fuckin truck!”
“You boys OK?” I asked a waxy looking fellow who was nursing a knot on his forehead. Another fellow with White Power tattooed on his two cheeks came up to inspect his comrade. On the other side of the truck, more cursing and shouting.
“We’ll live,” grunted an enormous man with more muscle than a Percheron. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and I couldn’t help but notice his back covered with pustules and blackheads. Obviously an abuser of anabolic steroids. Would he now have one of the rages for which such men were known? Indeed. Looking over to the driver’s side, he saw the Chevie’s driver crawling out the window: “Where the fuck you think you’re goin, shithead?” he roared. The driver looked at the big man and redoubled his efforts to escape.
“Motherfucker,” the big man muttered as he reached into the pickup’s bed and retrieved a baseball bat that had a six-inch deck screw driven through the business end. Hefting the bat by the handle, he walked around the back of the pickup and in less than six strides, had the Chevie’s driver by the collar. “Here, let me help you,” he growled and pulled the Mexican out the window. The Mexican stumbled to his feet to confront his fate. The big man wound up and swung the bat at the man’s mid-section with the force of Babe Ruth hitting a homer. There was a soft “whump” as the bat struck and the deck screw buried itself in the Mexican’s bowels. Yanking the bat backwards, the deck screw tore through the Mexican’s belly, bringing with it a length of intestine. The Mexican fell, assuming the foetal position, and the big man proceeded to administer several more strokes to the man’s back. The Mexican squirmed for a while, then was still. “Way to go, man,” squealed the wax colored man I’d seen first.
Another of the truck’s occupants appeared. He wasn’t as big as the guy who was working on the Mexican driver, but he was by far the more intimidating. He was covered with Nazi tattoos, large scars, and had his teeth festooned with rhinestones and bright-work. He said nothing as he reached in the truck’s bed and fetched a gallon can of gasoline and a tire iron. These in hand, he walked to the Chevie, set down the gas can and hopped onto what was left of the trunk lid. Using the tire iron, he knocked a hole in the glass. Climbing back down, he walked around the car, smashing out the side windows. Noticing that I was observing, he turned to me and said, “Fire’s gotta have air.” With that, the picked up the gas can and began to douse the car’s remaining occupants. The Mexican’s began to protest and holler.
“Slug,” he asked the fellow with the banged-up forehead, “Ya got a light?”
A smile swept across Slug’s face, “Ya bettcha, man,” he said as he took a large Zippo from his pocket and tossed it to the Nazi-man. The Zippo’s wheel was struck one, then twice and the wick came to flame. Chittering like a crazy monkey, the Nazi-man tossed the burning lighter through one of the smashed-out windows. There was a loud Whuff, a ball of fire and enough heat to make one turn away, then the screaming began.
From my vantage point, I could see in through the Chevie’s windshield. The front seat passenger was clawing at the glass, his mouth open in howls of pain. Then he saw me. He looked at me beseechingly, as if asking me to relieve his suffering as his fingers continued raking the glass. Well what could I do? Nothing, obviously. And I so indicated by giving the man a “tough shit” look and shrugging my shoulders. Soon the flames engulfed his face and that was the last I saw of him.
While I was watching the Chevie burn, the big man with the pustulous back had come up beside me. Tapping me on the shoulder, he got my attention. He put his face close to mine and asked if I was having any trouble with all this.
“On the contrary,” I said as I extended my hand. “Those mutts were trying to scam me with a phony accident. Thanks to you guys, they won’t be pulling that shit any more.”
The big man beamed, shook my hand, slapped me on the back and said, “Well, you’d best get outta here a-fore the cops show up.” Turning toward his companions, he hollered, “Let’s go, boys.” With that, all four climbed over the guard rail and scampered off into the underbrush. I got back into my Mercedes, put it in gear and nailed the throttle. Seconds later, I rounded the curve on I-5 and the grisly sight was gone.
On to Redmond. My time there was productive, picking up a small quarter million-dollar order. After signing the papers, I took my customer out for a late lunch and beers at Hooters and by four, was on my way home.
As I was coming down Elm Street toward our home, I noticed some commotion off on my left. Something was going on at the Jenkins’ place. The Jenkins’ were an older couple – late fifties, early sixties – who ran a small software business out of their downstairs. Their business had sputtered along for a few years, going much of nowhere. Then, three years ago, their product seemed to catch on and prosperity seemed to be assured.
But it was not to be. The old boy got a nasty cancer and spent the next year focused on getting well. Too bad, for it was during that year that the window of opportunity for which he’d been looking, opened up; in the year 2000, speculators, angel investors, venture capitalists and agglomerators of every sort were looking for software companies, but my elderly neighbor was in his sickbed and out of circulation. By the time he was able to work again, the window had slammed shut. The Bush recession was in full swing and the enormities of 11 September had exacerbated the problem. The poor old guy’s customers had all headed for the hills and his business went in the crapper.
My neighbor and his long-suffering wife tried to pull several rabbits out of the hat and after five years of slogging away, seemed to have come up with another winner, though it wasn’t yet ready for market. Of course, by then they’d eaten through whatever resources they had and were about to head for permanent retirement in Panama when an angel investor appeared. The angel thought their product, which was but weeks away from beta testing, was, in his words, “kick ass.” He offered half a million to finish the coding and do a product launch.
That night, giddy with delight at his reprieve from ruin, the old boy showed up at my door, drunk and waiving a bottle of the cheap Scotch he liked (or could afford; I’m not sure which). He told me of his good fortune and we proceeded to get happily loaded. Unhappily, the angel investor promptly turned into a pumpkin and welshed on the deal. Now my poor old neighbor was totally and royally hosed. His being sixty-something wasn’t a good augury for gainful employment, so . . . They would probably have to move in with their kids. I saw very little of him after that.
About four weeks ago, while driving down our street, I happened to look over at the old goat’s place and saw a sheet of paper nailed to his garage door. An eviction notice no doubt (when the ghouls come to take your house, they are especially graceless and take full delight in all the humiliations they can inflict). Now, tonight, I saw the hubbub was indeed the aforesaid eviction. A squad car was parked down in one end of the driveway. The cop was standing watch as the old folks loaded their stuff in the back of a small U-Haul. I slowed to watch.
The missus was standing by two cat carriers and quietly sobbing while the old boy struggled to horse their sofa into the trailer. “Don’t suppose you could give me a hand, here,” he asked the deputy. The cop set his mouth in a sad smile, looked at the ground and shook his head No. I motored on.
While I was waiting for the garage door to open, I looked in the mirror and saw the old couple pull out of their driveway and go slowly up the street. Jeeze: mid-sixties; broke; ridden with cancer and, now; homeless. Hell of a combination. Wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled off the road somewhere and blew out their brains.
Well, Joycelin had asked what kind of a day I’d had, hadn’t she. Thinking of all I witnessed today, I smiled, looked at her and answered: “It was a very good day, my sweet. A very good day.”