“It’s over,” explained Vaughn’s boss with averted eyes but a look of relief. Perhaps it was a look of surrender. “We didn’t get that Fannie contract so we’re shutting it down. There’s nothing more we can do.”
Vaughn wasn’t at all surprised. He had seen the books. Costs for fuel and insurance were soaring and the customer base was dissolving like a sand castle in the tide. The customers that remained weren’t paying timely so they might as well have been washed away into the sea as well. Without the GSE contract to manage foreclosure properties it didn’t take a CPA to foresee the inevitable.
“Who got the deal?”
“Reznick’s not minority-owned is it?”
“No, but he’s big a donor. That’s how it works now, I suppose. Here’s your deposit stub. I’m sorry, Vaughn. I appreciate all you’ve done for me these years. I wish I could do more.”
“Thanks. I understand,” Vaughn replied, extending his hand.
“I hope you can get your money out and buy something before the banks close again.”
They shook hands.
Vaughn went to his desk and began packing up his things. A lot of stuff can accumulate in fifteen years, even in a small place. It took him three trips to get it all out of his cube and into his truck.
On the final trip he stopped to survey the deserted parking lot. His firm was one of the last ones hanging on at this complex. A massive ‘For Sale- Bank Owned’ sign decorated the entrance. No one had called the agent in eight months despite the newer building’s inspirational architecture, manicured lawns (now overrun by Canadian thistle), and its Renew America ‘Green’ construction rating— which meant that its low volume toilets required three flushes.
Vaughn sighed, got in and started up his truck. He prayed he had enough gas to get home. Before putting it in gear he looked down at the box he had set on the passenger seat. On top of the stash of file folders and fading documents was a photo of his wife and daughter. It was of them both holding a kite string and looking up into the sky.
The family had some savings but it would not last long enough to get them through the winter. Vaughn was going to have to find something and what a horrible time it was to be looking for work. The only people that had jobs seemed to be the people working for the government. ‘Tax feeders’, Vaughn called them and they seemed to be carrying on as if nothing was happening at all. If he saw another one of them protesting a government wage freeze or some such he decided he would run them down. No, not really. But it felt good to channel his rage. You can’t really blame them, he thought. They just want to take care of theirs which made them little different than him.
Vaughn had more important things to consider like: would they lose their house? Hopefully not for a while. There was a 180 day moratorium on foreclosures enacted by yet another Executive Order of the President. There seemed to be a new Executive Order every single day. The bankers holding delinquent mortgages were placated by yet another change in accounting rules and yet another round of congressionally approved bailouts on the order of yet another trillion dollars. A trillion here, a trillion there…pretty soon they would be talking about some real money. How many trillions was it up to now? Who knew. Tack on an additional nine months of legalities and Vaughn’s family would at least have a place to stay for quite a while. That was a positive.
“But am I a failure?” He asked himself as he drove out of the desolate lot. “Define ‘failure’”, he answered himself. “Define it in today’s extraordinary context. I suppose being unable to feed and shelter my family would constitute failure. We’ll be okay for a while. Besides, nobody starves to death in America. If worse came to worst we could always move in with my mother.” Vaughn chuckled at the thought of Jess and his mother living together under one roof. “This’ll all blow over soon. Even if we lose everything I’ll get it all back once things recover. Believe in yourself, Vaughn Clayton. Don’t worry.”
He drove past the For Sale sign noticing it had been tagged with a graffiti sickle-and-hammer.
The idea that it would be the final time driving out of that lot had a profound effect. The last time he had experienced such a sensation was at high school graduation with the accompanying realization that a door was permanently closing on a phase of life that seemed so significant at that time. It was a loss-feeling…disorienting. It was a mixture of sadness, hopelessness, cynicism, and fear but also one of relief and liberation. He didn’t know if he wanted to celebrate, sob or smash something. He had worked so hard there only for it all to be for naught. You are always taught that if you work hard and persevere you will succeed. Now Vaughn wasn’t so sure if that axiom held, anymore. Resourcefulness and craftiness probably had more to do success in these days.
Vaughn passed at least twelve police cruisers on his thirty mile midday commute home. He also passed police Humvees and police MRAPS and even a police tank. He didn’t imagine they were catching speeders (taxation by citation) with these newly commissioned armored vehicles.
As Vaughn approached the beltway he took special note of the strip malls and office buildings that lined his commute which he had made for years in a semi-lucid stupor. The architecture was familiar, like landforms to a sailor making an inland passage, but he truly examined the features of them this time. He looked into their windows. So many were closed, empty or boarded up. More than half, he guessed. He looked at their walls. Covered in graffiti. Many more sickles-and-hammers, he noticed. The grocery stores! Grocery stores never go out of business. Everyone has to eat. Yet there they were, or at least their abandoned husks. Vaughn counted four dead grocery stores along the way.
His needle was on ‘E’.
He whizzed past apartments and condominiums advertising free rent. Many were empty, abandoned, some had their windows and facades blackened by fire and left that way. Where did all the people go?
Passing by a residential neighborhood, he took note of the large number of empty houses with their unkempt yards and broken windows and empty driveways. So many empty houses. Who was going tom buy all these houses? Why did they build so many? Who loaned them the money to build them and buy them? Where did all the money come from?
Making it home was going to be close.
He searched for an open gas station. None were to be found as even the gas stations were dying. Three and fourfold increases in prices couldn’t save them. The convenience stores and the fast food joints— they never closed fast food joints— but there they were…golden arch rainbows culminating in big pots of emptiness. So many were gone…boarded up. Some were even bulldozed leaving nothing but scarred earth which itself was overrun by more of that damn thistle. Nothing overran the thistle. Some shops were fortunate enough to be reborn as dog groomers and prepaid cell phone outlets but then only to die again.
There was one sector of the economy that was still thriving, though: the banks. The banks and their big, blocky, menacing, obnoxious bank buildings were all still brimming with bankerly activity. These survivors were not the little, local banks and credit unions, mind you, but the big, bloated national banks with big, bloated, patriotic, bankerly names like Ameribank, Freedombank, Libertybank, Nations, U.S., Allied, Republic, and Victory. Their names sounded as if they were devised by Rooseveltian war propagandists. They all remained intact, gleaming, buff-polished granite, indulgent lawns neatly groomed, hedges sculpted into fluffy green balls of foliage, fresh stripes of luminescent gold-leaf lining the smooth, black asphalt of their parking lots.
Their lots were full, too, corralling the filthy autos of their army of hapless, banker wage-serfs. These hourlies were charged with deciding the creditworthiness of borrowers with a ten question computer algorithm. No skill at character evaluation was needed. No need for business modeling and what if analysis. No need to even look ‘em in the eye. Relationships? Bah! Too extravagant an expense. A spreadsheet and a regression equation can replace a professional loan analyst. Any monkey can press ten buttons and if the equations are wrong? Who cares! They are too big to fail. Here, put on this blue polo shirt and name tag, Bonzo.
If the banks failed, the economy would collapse and America would regress into a third world country. So the banks were infused with trillions of dollars and their worthless assets were bundled up and delivered unto the banker’s bank…the super bank…the uber-bank of all banks…the Federal Reserve. No need to worry about taking on all that risk, the Fed is god! It can keystroke all the money necessary to keep all the failures going and going and going. A trillion. Two trillion. Four. Eight. Sixteen trillion…each crisis they would ‘double down’. Anything less and the ponzi would have collapsed.
And while the Fed presented their teat to their suckling cronies the rest of the economy withered away. The bankers prospered on Fed-backed investments and the carry trade and paid multi-billion dollar bonuses to their Manhattan executives while the auto lots and the grocery stores and the restaurants and the apartment complexes and the carpet cleaning businesses and the construction firms and the manufacturing plants died. The banksters took it all for themselves and the chumps on Main Street, who were told by insistent Bloomberg tarts that it is indeed a “free market”, starved to death awaiting banker-chimp approval of their lines of credit. Yeah, it sure was a good thing that the banks were bailed out. If they weren’t, America would have turned into a third world country!
Vaughn laughed at that thought as he scanned the economic ruin and the broken-down, burning cars and the cops driving around in tanks and the piles of litter and tires and busted furniture and soda bottles filled with piss that covered the shoulder of the highway.
His needle was now well below ‘E’.
Vaughn wondered why he didn’t notice it all before. He supposed he was always superficially aware of it but he never really processed it. Why? It didn’t happen overnight. Perhaps it took the loss of his job to jolt his consciousness. It’s a recession when a neighbor loses his job. It’s a depression when you lose yours. It was a really, really bad time to be looking for work.
The government, on the other hand, was doing its best to redirect the boiling domestic rage. For months they paraded their financial scapegoat around— those evil, sneaky Asians! How dare they dump our Treasury debt and crash our dollar! It was an act of economic war! We should retaliate! We should teach them a lesson!
The media, of course, never used bigoted terms directly. The media were all college-educated, east coast progressives who would never permit themselves to even be accused of a proletarian gutter-trait like ‘racism’. But that was EXACTLY what the message was as every big media story had its margins colored in with references to the “unexpected” (sneaky) and the “underhanded” (treacherous) means by which these oddly-customed Asians kamikazied America’s economy. The media did it while reading their politically correct scripts, no doubt, but while showing file footage of Mao and robed Buddhists and short, squinty-eyed Asian men with coke-bottle glasses dressed in western suits always ritually, chronically bowing. It was all very subtle racism, designed specifically to allow the media presenters to maintain their aura of self-righteousness.
It was very effective at stimulating the proletarian’s jingoist nerve. The economic war fever spread like a plague delivered by flees on supersonic, flying rats. The horribly portrayed Chinese and Japanese who were merely protecting themselves as any self-interested peoples would, deflected blame from where it belonged.
Vaughn drove up into the foothills. His morning commute in to work was brightened by sunshine. The premature drive home was clouding over. There was a hint of snow as specs of white danced over his hood. It was early in the season for snow.
The needle went back up to ‘E’ as his truck climbed and his gas tank inclined.
He turned on the radio.
“Unpatriotic short sellers are pushing the equity markets down as…”
He flipped to the next station.
“…Reports indicate heavy casualties as the 101st attempts to break out from encirclement. This marks the first time since the Vietnam War that American forces have been…”
“Greedy speculators drive the price of oil up to a record high for a twenty second consecutive trading day. The Secretary of State is meeting with OPEC officials to work out the details of…”
“In order to combat the persistent disinformation which is undermining law enforcement and security efforts, the President is using Executive Order to attach provisions to the Cyber Security Act which will enable the Department of Homeland Security to block malicious, unpatriotic websites…”
Flashers just ahead. Checkpoint. Checkpoints were common now. Vaughn slowed and stopped. The officer approached. Vaughn rolled down his window.
“Where you headed?” the cop asked, authoritatively, sunglasses reflecting the gray.
“And where’s home?”
Vaughn gave him his address.
“License, please,” the cop asked.
Vaughn handed it over. The cop scanned it into his database, gave it back and waived Vaughn through.
Vaughn turned off the highway, past the gas station and onto the winding canyon road leading up to his neighborhood. The silent, ancient ponderosa pine filled his field of vision. Nobody was on the road at this time of day on a weekday. It was a workday, after all, and those that had them were at their jobs and those that didn’t were on the internet pretending to look for one. Vaughn drove up his lane. Dogs came out to bark at him. Snowflakes filled the air. He turned the last bend in the road and approached his driveway.
But something wasn’t right. He couldn’t put his finger on it at that instant but something out of place; an open window, a strange car. No. What then? Then he saw it. It was an unusual tire rut in the muddy shoulder leading to the top of his driveway. He stopped his truck and examined it trying to comprehend where it might have come from. A delivery truck, perhaps? He couldn’t think of what Jess would have delivered.
He pulled into the long driveway and stopped at the front of the house. The front door was wide open. Something was definitely wrong. It was below freezing. The wind was starting whip the snowflakes around. He parked and jogged up to the door. He could hear his daughter screaming. He ran into the house. He took a deep breath. The house was in shambles. The furniture was turned over. The cupboards were thrown open. Piles of smashed dishes and picture glass and lamps and books and papers and overturned potted plants littered nearly every inch of the floor. He didn’t stop to look. He ran into his daughter’s room. She was standing up in her crib with a crimson, contorted, screaming little face. Vaughn shouted for Jessica. There was no answer. He picked up the child and darted from room to room.
Still no answer. Brooke’s screams turned to sobs. She plunged two fingers into her mouth. They found the bedroom ripped apart as well. The mattress was turned over and cut open and shards of foam shrapnel had exploded everywhere. The contents of the closet were strewn across the floor. The carpet in the corners was ripped up revealing the plywood subfloor. He dialed Jessica on his cell. It rang. He bounced Brooke up and down to calm her sobbing. It rang. Brooke clutched tightly. It went to voicemail.
“Where are you!” he shouted into the phone.
Startled by his tone, Brooke started screaming again.
Vaughn sat down with her and calmed her again by holding her head on his shoulder and rocking gently. He looked out the window at the snow that was beginning to accumulate on the pines outside. The magpies were darting to their havens.
Both doors to the house were still open and a bitter cold draft blew past them both as they sat rocking in the bedroom. Brooke’s tiny hands were purple and freezing cold. Vaughn carried her to the front doors and kicked the debris out of the way to clear an arc by which to close them.
“What is happening?” He asked.
He sat down again and took a deep breath. His heart was pounding. He had difficulty getting enough oxygen. His mind sifted through all the details trying to cobble them together into something coherent. There was no possible explanation for events other than something horrible. Pounding, pounding, pounding heartbeats. He was hyperventilating.
“Breathe,” he commanded.
Chapter 12 Chapters 14 and 15 will be available this weekend
Indivisible can be purchased here from Amazon: