Mae spent a week holed up at the airport Red Roof Inn waffling over what to do. She would have preferred a Hyatt, of course, but the DIA Hyatt was boarded up. She couldn’t bring herself to go back to the DIA catacombs but she hadn’t quite convinced herself to make the call to impose upon the one person she could trust in the whole greater Denver area. So Mae stalled, passing the dull nights with her security detail turning them into lounge drinking buddies and then one drunken and regrettable three-way.
She finally received the phone call she dreaded. An unfamiliar and nasally voice, probably some low-level douche from secret Service, informed her that her time at the lonely hotel purgatory was up. She requested a driver and in about an hour a solitary black SUV picked her up.
“People will think I’m a Senator or something riding around in this thing,” she mused as the black GM rolled down the sparsely developed airport superhighway.
“Sorry, ma’am. It’s all we got with bulletproof glass,” explained the driver who mistook her observation as a complaint.
They rolled on down the pristine DIA superhighway which traversed property coincidentally owned by one of the cronies that secured its taxpayer funding and ensured DIA’s strategic placement beyond the orbit of Neptune in terms of Denver metro convenience. Pena Boulevard spanned fifteen miles of bleak, windswept, Colorado steppe between Interstate 70 and the gleaming canvas spires of the most expensive airport ever constructed. Those magnificent, ivory pyramids rose up from the plain much like the Pyramids in a design that was probably inspired more by that goofy Christo guy than creepy Egyptian mystics. Christo was that dude who once hung a sheet across the Rifle Gap and called it ‘art’.
Mae decided she wanted nothing more to do with that spooky place as they passed the sculpture of Bluecifer— which was a giant apocalyptic blue horse with orange glowing eyes that had fallen over and killed its sculptor. She especially hoped to never see the two young men of her security detail ever, ever again and they probably felt likewise. During their encounter, Mae skillfully guided them into a potentially embarrassing lack of inhibition during their naughty little rendezvous. If word of that were to ever leak out it would certainly not be good for their career advancement. Even in the heat of passion Mae was cunning enough to create a mutually assured destruction.
She was making her getaway and despite pleadings and protestations of her boss and other Treasury officials. But she could not persuaded to go back to that dungeon and pass through that red door.
Traffic on the highway was light that morning as it had been for several weeks. The big crash was like a concussion that scared all the civilian agents of commerce into their bunkers.
To make matters worse, the reeling banks had closed a half dozen times since that black Friday. The slightest rumor triggered panic redemptions and movement into commodities. This didn’t sit too well with the bankers so they leaned on The Gnome to lean on Congress to make these new ‘alternative currencies’ less attractive than their beleaguered dollar. ‘The Currency Stabilization Act’, drafted by the bankers themselves, rammed through by the Speaker between botox sessions, and hastily passed by the worms in Congress, slapped a 100% “windfall gains tax” on the sale of twenty five different commodities. This didn’t accomplish anything other than to drive the commodity markets out from the light of the exchanges and into the dark alleys but at least they were ‘doing something’.
The first bank holiday was the longest at five business days and a weekend. By business day three, tens of millions of Americans had exhausted their emergency stores of frozen pizza and soft drinks. The diapers all ran out and so did the baby formula and then the graham crackers and the egg noodles and eventually even the olives and mustard.
In order to save everyone, FEMA set up Ramen Noodle/baby formula distribution centers at all the nation’s football stadiums. They were quickly inundated by angry, hungry, desperate mobs. The cops drove them back with their megaphones. The mobs re-congealed. They were driven back again by water cannon and sound blasters. They reformed. Out came the batons and the tasers. They finally dispersed.
Batons and tasers worked well for the desperate mobs at the FEMA centers but not so well at the banks where the throng had justice and retribution on their mind. Many of the fine banking institutions across the nation were set ablaze, often with their pitiable, essentially blameless, minimum-wage-earning clerks still holed up inside.
By the fourth business day of the holiday, many cops had been on duty for stretches of twenty four straight hours. Their nerves and sanity were pushed beyond mortal limits. They had become the proverbial ‘rusty wire holding the cork that keeps the anger in’ as Roger Waters once described it. Not all of them held it together. Rumors of mass shootings both by and of cops swirled around on the internet. Television and the papers reported none of it so mainstream Americanus just shrugged it’s shoulders.
Fearing an inability to contain the cauldron of civil unrest on the brink of boiling over, the President took decisive action. He held a press conference flanked on either side by the Fed Chairman and the Treasury Secretary— whose red hair, small stature, and pointy nose gave him a leprechaun-ish aura. So together, The Gnome, the Leprechaun, and Prince Charming declared that the crisis was “over” and the banks would open the next morning. It would be a Friday so the triumvirate clung to hope that they would only have to make it through one grim day of “holy-fucking-shit-here’s-our-last-chance-to-get-our-money-out” panic. Then they would be saved by the weekend.
Truckloads upon truckloads of paper money emerged from the garages of Federal Reserve regional banks. New bills were included, with bigger denominations of one thousand and five thousand…Reagans and Roosevelts. To hell with money-laundering drug dealers! America needed liquidity. They stuffed the new bills into the vaults of every bank of any significance, nationwide.
And so The Gnome, the Leprechaun and Prince Charming crossed their fingers and held their breath. Futures trading revealed nothing as the Plunge Protection Team was keystroking money and buying everything in sight trying to tame the animal spirits again.
Ding Ding Ding Ding!
Their mouths dropped. In less than one hour the markets were ‘limit down’ again.
“Fuck!” exclaimed the President flanked by his fairy tale sidekicks as he lit a Marlboro.
The trio somberly ordered the foreign currency trading desks closed. No dollars were allowed to be dumped until the threesome could come up with some other scheme to halt the slide.
The domestic banks, however, remained open. They had too. The entire economy had nearly dissolved in a week without money. As an emergency remediation, all the NY banks were given access to emergency lending facilities. In other words, every bank that The Gnome deemed “too big to fail” gained access to an unlimited line of credit at 0% interest that was never to come due so that they might supply enough digital dollars to offset the panic cash withdrawals that were sure to take place.
The move to shutter the banks a week before proved disastrous. Keeping them open might have been even worse but closing them definitely fomented the panic…giving it ‘legs’ as it were. The lesson of being caught without the ability to buy toilet paper because debit card transactions were shut off was not lost on Americanus. Americans could be accused of sheep-like idiocy in times-o-plenty but they were quick learners. They were not going to get caught with their pants down again.
When word got out in the middle of the night that the banks were reopening, the lines accumulated within fifteen minutes. When the doors opened, a swarm inundated the pimply-faced bank tellers. The truckloads of cash were quickly exhausted despite personal withdrawal limits of ten Reagans per. Customers were turned away cursing. Some turned over the signage. Some banks reported assaults.
With their digital money turned back on, there was a mad rush to the grocery stores and gas stations. People weren’t buying popsicles and root beer, this time. Now they were buying fuel and canned goods and dried goods and paper products. The pumps and shelves were cleaned out in minutes. Americanus indeed learned quickly.
The supply chain, which was an uber-complex machine greased by millions upon millions of credit transactions began sputtering within hours of the original collapse. Parts of it blew apart as unsound trucking companies ran out of gas and could not do anything about it other than pull their trucks on to the shoulder and walk away.
But despite the gaping holes, sound businesses endured by the wits of their brilliant, industrious managers who hustled fuel with collateralized IOUs to keep their fleets rolling. The goods that were moving were moving based on million dollar deals sealed with handshakes and emails. There were crafty, resourceful men and women, millions of them, dealing in millions of products, making billions of decisions that held the fragile economic order together. They were adjusting to the extraordinary situation. They were surviving.
Then the government just had to do something.
The government’s busybody administrators could not resist their pervasive and pathological need to save the day. So like a monkey wrench…nay…a hand grenade tossed into the works, the government busybodies went about meddling and destroying the fragile arrangements created by the resourceful managers. The government busybodies had to save everyone from evil greed!
First, the evil price gougers were to be cited, than arrested, than their assets were to be commandeered. This started with the gas stations and progressed to the sellers of produce, and then the diaper merchants. The possibility of high profits that could be made if one could only get a truckload of diapers to Flagstaff was quickly doused by the government busy bodies who made it illegal to make any ‘windfall profits’. The exploiters who were on their way to Flagstaff to fulfill the diaper demand and make a buck caught wind of the new laws that could result in five years in prison and turned their loads back for home. It was no longer worth it. Arizonians would have to do without diapers and the other things they needed regardless of what they were willing to pay. Thank god the government put those evil price gougers in their place.
The government busybodies then decided that certain goods had to have priority and thus their handlers were to be moved to the front of the growing fuel lines. This destroyed the complex procurement and hauling matrix of pickup, delivery and backhaul. Within hours of the regulations, trucks were rolling empty. Gluts and shortages of goods exploded everywhere. A mountain of tires accumulated in Toledo while trucks across the country sat idle on their flats.
Mae, of course, cared not one whit about any of it. She only studied ‘aggregate demand’ in her PhD program. She was incapable of even comprehending the interdependent, infinite locus of goods and services and time preferences that form an economy. Economics was just two intersecting curves on a graph and a bunch of equations with Greek notation. Besides, she was still getting paid. Her investments were adjusted in value by keystroke entry so as to keep her whole.
Her job function as an Assistant Treasury Secretary was for the moment pointless. The Asian countries were her clients and they were not speaking to anyone in the U.S. All she wanted to do was reach her hideout and wait until the whole thing blew over.
She gazed out the window from behind her Jackie-O sunglasses as the SUV flew down I70. She had not been outside the Red Roof Inn in three weeks. She noticed that along the sides of the road were parked hundreds of fifty foot semi trailers; their tires removed and their doors pried open contents looted. Many were burned. Most were scrawled with illegible graffiti.
Many abandoned cars lined the interstate as well, mostly older models, beaten down by years of abuse. They were the cars of poor people, cars with mismatched wheels, dented, rusted quarter panels and scraping gouges along their sides. Their destitute owners lacked the wherewithal to get them home.
It only takes about 4 days before an abandoned vehicle gets raided. All of these abandoned cars had their windows smashed out. Whatever was of value on the inside was long gone.
Mae sipped from a martini glass as they whizzed past the heaps.
The interstates, the arteries of commerce spanning coast to coast and state to state were now the repository of the plaques of economic collapse. Wasted machines on the shoulders nearly outnumbered the machines being driven on the road.
Mae’s SUV was making good time until they hit a traffic jam.
“What’s going on?” She asked as she checked her lipstick in her compact. It had gotten smudged by her martini glass.
“Got a call out. Should hear any second,” replied the driver.
“Well, I don’t want to be stuck out here on this highway with all these lunatics.”
“Don’t worry, ma’am. We’re bulletproof. I can always call in air support, too.”
They sat there staring into the ass-end of a rusted out Sierra pickup, mud flaps emblazoned with chrome nudes. Its expired tag was from Guadalajara.
“Allmighty says there was some kind of an explosion up ahead. DHS and FBI are investigating. They think it was a roadside bomb. Can you believe that? An IED in Denver.”
“It could be a while, ma’am.”
“Any way we can take a detour?”
“Not from here. We’re a mile or so from the next exit.”
Mae sipped the last of her martini. She didn’t check her lipstick. She dozed off in the air conditioned, leather seat.
Mae awoke to a forward thrust. She checked her watch. She’d been asleep for over an hour. At last they were moving, albeit at about a geriatric’s pace. Mae poured another martini.
After about twenty minutes the roadside carnage came into view. Two fire trucks, one facing the wrong direction, flanked the smoldering shell. Its tires had completely burned away and the twisted, blackened heap rested on its metal wheels in a puddle of grease and foam. A group of policemen were huddled on the shoulder. On the ground before them was a white sheet covering a corpse with two stumps of charcoal poking out one end.
Mae downed her glass and sucked the olive off the plastic skewer.
“Never thought I’d see anything like that, here,” remarked the driver who chomped away at his chewing gum as they passed the carnage. “I’ve got some bad news, Ms. Lane.”
“We gotta get some gas.”
“Oh no. You’re not stopping!” Mae ordered, terrified at the prospect of pulling off the highway into some Globeville ghetto and waiting for gas in a government limo.
“We’re stopping one way or another, ma’am.”
“Then turn back,” she ordered.
“Can’t do it. We wouldn’t make it back to DIA. Just relax. You’ll be fine. Did I tell you we’re bullet proof?”
They pulled off the interstate onto an arterial and found an open gas station not far from the highway. Preceding the pump was a line of thirty cars waiting for the petrol that had tripled in price in just three weeks. Mae’s driver accelerated, bypassing them all, eventually angling the SUV into the front of the line.
The horns let loose in a fury. Then the drivers started getting out of their cars and letting curses and gestures fly. They had been stuck in that line for forty five minutes. Their patience was razor thin.
“Who the fuck are you?!” Screamed a mull-man three cars back who looked as if he might storm up and throw his fist through the SUV’s bulletproof windshield, yank her driver out through the hole, and strangle him to death with his sausage fingers. The driver calmly radioed in the situation to Allmighty. Then, to Mae’s surprise, he got out.
“Where’re you going? Don’t get out!” she screamed.
“Everyone just calm down!” the driver ordered while displaying his badge.
The populist response was a barrage of four-lettered curses and threats of violence. The proles were really, really pissed off.
“I’m with the Federal Government,” the driver continued as he raised his badge even higher. “I do apologize for cutting into line like this but we must not be delayed. We are on official government business.”
“The line starts back there, asshole,” remarked the mullet-man with balled up, sausage-finger fists.
One car lurched forward and bumped the SUV jolting Mae’s head back and spilling her martini. She was afraid.
“Everyone just calm down,” the driver replied. “It’ll only be a minute and then we’ll be on our way.”
“You can wait just like everyone else,” screamed a greasy-haired woman with a screaming kid strapped into her beat up minivan.
“Look,” the driver continued, “…we are with the government. We are here to help you.”
“Haven’t you helped us enough?” replied the mullet-man. “Huh, haven’t yah? Fuck you! Move that fucking car to the back of the line!”
The car that had just bumped the SUV backed up and revved its engine. Mae’s driver decided that the mob was not amenable to reason so he got back in. He too was beginning to feel anxious as images of the roasted car and the two charred stumps on the highway flashed through his mind. Although his SUV was bullet proof, it wasn’t fireproof.
“Where are they?” lamented the driver.
“What’s wrong with these idiots?” Mae asked. “Don’t they know who we are?” She rolled down her window and screamed out to the proles, “Don’t you know who we are?!?” One responded by tossing a beer bottle at her window SUV which shattered into foamy shards on its bullet proof glass. Mae rolled the thick window of agate back up. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” She pleaded.
“Hang on. We’ve got support coming.”
“Well, where the hell are they?”
Outside, the driver noticed the mullet-man had taken out an aluminum softball bat from his backseat and was making his way towards the SUV. He stopped at each car along the way, cajoling the occupants to get out and join him. Some did. A wake of pissed off proles formed behind him as he approached. The driver wondered if they had access to fire.
“Let’s go! Let’s go now!” Mae screamed.
“Hang on. I hear them.”
The mullet-man reached the back of the SUV. He looked over his shoulder at the line of cars behind him noticing a throng of about a dozen had formed. He turned back to the SUV. His grip was sweaty on the rubber grip of the DeMarini. His heart was racing. What would happen to him if he took a swing? He would definitely ruin his bat. He didn’t care anymore. There was nothing left to lose. Softball season was cancelled.
To Mae’s surprise, her driver got out again.
“Don’t be stupid!” he ordered. “The police will be here any instant.”
“Screw you, Fed,” the mullet-man man replied, scanning the driver for whatever weapon he might be carrying.
“I’m armed,” the driver advised, noticing his glance. “Don’t make me use it.”
“You can’t shoot all of us.”
“Yeah. True,” the driver answered. “But I can shoot you. Then I can get back in this car and wait another two minutes for the cavalry to arrive. So I suggest you just calm down and back away and I’ll forget about how you threatened a government agent with that bat. We’ll just get our gas and be on our way. Is that a DeMarini, by the way? Nice bat.”
The mullet-man was not disarmed by the driver’s small talk. He was ready to make his move, hoping to swing his metal pipe in a wide, wind-ripping arc, landing the meat of it squarely on the side of the driver’s skull. But he took one quick glance over his shoulder for moral support and found that his posse was dissolving.
“Your odds ain’t so good anymore,” commented the driver.
“Who do you think you are?” asked the mullet-man as he lowered his weapon. “You Feds think you’re royalty or something?”
“Honestly? More or less, yes. We’re the government. Our job is to run things. And you’re job is to do what you’re told.”
“You people lie. You’re all liars. You caused all this.”
“These are tough times, my friend. We’re all in it together.”
“Bullshit. You ain’t felt it like us.”
The thumping of the helicopters appeared over the surrounding cottonwoods and elm trees. The choppers hovered around and above the SUV. A sniper had the mullet-man in his sights. One gentle squeeze and the bullet would explode through his barrel chest, the energy sending him flopping into the air like stuffed animal.
“Go back to your car,” ordered the driver in a calm voice.
The mullet-man complied.
Chapter 9 Chapter 11 available Sunday
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