America’s day of reckoning has come….
A global selloff on U.S. Treasuries overwhelms the Federal Reserve and collapses the dollar. Mass inflation sparks civil unrest and panic as store shelves are raided, gas prices rise tenfold, and Americans’ life savings are wiped out. Desperate to maintain control, the federal government grows increasingly totalitarian. The president orders the Army home in an attempt to restore law and order, but the army’s battle-hardened, heavy-handed tactics only manage to spur the rebellion on.
The lives of a tormented soldier, a tyrannical sheriff, a vain diplomat and a desperate father converge amidst the chaos of total economic collapse and civil war in contemporary America.
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“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”
—Bertrand de Jouvenal
They were laughing at her.
Maiden Lane was an Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury, but in addition to that, she was a woman of high-percentile physical attractiveness. A slender, tightly-curved woman of forty five, she was a glimmering Venus, illuminating the otherwise murky cosmos of grim bankers.
Ms. Lane had made her sacrifices to the gods of vanity performing self-flagellating penance on hotel elliptical machines at four a.m. nearly every morning for twenty years. Her high firm features and smoothly-defined legs were accentuated by a wardrobe of tight-fitting business suits—black, thigh-length business suits.
She often pondered all those women she had passed along the way up the career ladder. She pitied those androgynous trolls, as she referred to them, mocking how they sheathed their swords of sensuality in scabbards of shaggy uni-brows and frumpiness. Losers, she regarded them.
Maiden, or Mae for short, had no regrets about wielding her aesthetic weapons. You have to think like a winner in order to win, she reminded herself in her rare moments of doubt. Never project weakness. Never go on the defensive. Never pull a punch. A woman must use everything she’s got if she wants to reach the capstone. It’s a man-eat-man world.
For Mae, it was easy to titillate and manipulate the depraved, balding, Poindexter-archetype whom she encountered over the course of daily Treasury Department routine. Bankers, diplomats, establishment apparatchiks…they were all shallow careerists who believed in nothing other than accumulating personal prestige. These were colorless, shapeless, ambitious men. Their egos were their drugs and their prescriptions were filled on the stage of geopolitics. The political realm in which they acted was a veritable Hollywood for egomaniacal ugly people.
Mae, the shining diva, was accustomed to being ogled. Her attractiveness, in addition to her ruthlessness, got her many promotions. With a flirtatious wink or a juicy pout she could fondle their egos and set them onto her desired course. Maiden’s tools served her well—better even than her PhD—as she sauntered up the rungs of the Treasury Department career ladder. Her meticulous hair, hawkish persona, and high-gloss finish polished her impervious shell of armor and ionized her impregnable aura. She was an invulnerable animatron, a sort of robotic, diplomat dominatrix.
…At least up until now.
Ms. Lane was not accustomed to being mocked.
There were two Chinese fellows, sitting across from her in the limo, and they just weren’t into her. This was not an insurmountable barrier for Mae as she could play it straight as well as anyone, but it did implant an irritating stone in the toeless pump of her mind. Perhaps they’re gay, she thought to herself. Mae was sent by her boss, the Treasury secretary whom everyone referred to as “T”, to meet with a high-ranking representative of the People’s Bank of China—a Minister Tsang. But no one was there to greet her when she arrived at the Shanghai airport. Mae found this disturbingly unusual. She was, after all, a representative of the United Staes Government and it was extraordinary to snub U.S. government officials. After making a call to the Ambassador’s Office and being put on hold for eighteen minutes, Mae was instructed to wait outside for a car. She waited with her assistant. Her irritation grew. Three hours passed. Finally, a limousine pulled up.
The white-gloved driver leapt out and in a heavy Mandarin accent asked her if she was indeed “Mae-de-Raine”. He was wearing one of those little chauffeur hats tilted to one side and his pants were too short, revealing his white socks.
“Maiden Lane,” she corrected him annoyingly and with condescending emphasis on the ‘L’ sound.
The white-gloved driver just nodded with averted eyes, shoved her bag into the trunk, and opened her door. It was just as she was about to step in that she noticed the two young Chinese officials inside, each glancing down and fingering their mobile devices.
It was irregular to be met by officials in the car at the actual airport. Mae directed her assistant to take a cab to the hotel rather than ride along as she sensed there might be some unusual negotiations about to take place. Mae didn’t want to risk her assistant being called up before some kangaroo senate committee to explain, under oath, what she overheard about whatever untoward deal was about to be made in the back of this limousine.
Discretion was the first imperative strategy Mae was taught upon attaining a high degree in the cult of bureaucracy. In Mae’s paradigm, a witness creates opportunity for discovery. Discovery leads to transparency. Transparency foments oversight. And oversight is anathema to the efficiency of any bureaucratic system. You cannot be effective as an agency if you have an army of shrill, elected idiots questioning what you’re doing all the time. It’s best to encourage Congress to snipe away at each other and stay out of the really important matters like economics and geopolitics. Deep down inside, Congress didn’t want to know what was really happening because then they might actually be held accountable for it.
Ignorance is bliss, Mae thought.
The two Chinese officials sitting across from Mae were twenty–something and fastidiously dressed in fine black suits and shoes polished to a gleam. Jellied-up black hair, trimmed into fades, framed their high, wide, Manchurian cheek-bones. Their faces were molded into subtle sneers. Both were still fidgeting their handhelds with eyes hidden behind black sunglasses. Mae nicknamed them Chang and Eng.
“Welcome, Ms. Lane,” announced Chang without lifting a glance from his gadget, “How was your flight?” he asked in perfunctory monotone. His English was pristine.
“I’m a little irritated,” Mae answered. “No one was here to pick me up. I had to wait over three hours. I was expecting to meet in person with Minister Tsang at his office at PBC. Are we headed there?”
“Minister Tsang has sent us in his place,” answered Eng in similar monotone and without raising his eyes from his gadget.
“We beg your forgiveness, Ms. Lane,” continued Chang, “but Mr. Tsang had urgent business with officials in Bhutan.”
“I see,” Mae continued, perplexed. Bhutan? What the fuck? she thought. “Are we going to meet with Mr. Tsang tomorrow, then?” She asked, politely but forcefully.
“I do not think that will be possible, Ms. Lane,” answered Chang. “However, we have been empowered by Mr. Tsang to negotiate on behalf of the PBC.”
“You’ll have to excuse me but I must say that this is highly unusual. You two gentlemen haven’t even introduced yourselves, yet. Do you even know who I am?” Mae asked with condescension and the beginnings of a furrow in her brow.
The two young officials glanced at each other, each aping the other’s sneer.
“Of course we do, Ms. Lane,” answered Chang. “We are well aware of who you are and who you represent. You are the assistant to the secretary of the United States Treasury and you’ve been sent in place of the Treasury secretary to conduct negotiations with the PBC.”
“Ah,” continued Eng, “but the Treasury secretary did not feel it necessary to come to Shanghai to meet Mr. Tsang in person so he sent you in his place. Conversely, Mr. Tsang did not feel it necessary to discuss this matter in person with an assistant, so he sent us in his place. So you see, Ms. Lane, there is no need to feel irritated or offended. In fact, Mr. Tsang has already reviewed your latest proposal and we have been instructed by him on how to proceed…”
“…Proceed on behalf of the People of China,” completed Chang.
“Forgive me, but what matter in Bhutan could be so urgent as to cause Mr. Tsang to miss a meeting with the U.S. Treasury Department?” Mae snapped.
“I beg your pardon,” said Eng. “Bhutan may seem insignificant to the Great Superpower of the Glorious United States of America but Bhutan is China’s neighbor and a close and important ally.”
Bhutan: a launching point for operatives, Mae thought.
“As my colleague indicated, we have been fully empowered to conclude the negotiations here,” explained Chang.
“What do you mean by ‘here’?” Mae asked, even more bewildered. “‘Here’ as in here in Shanghai?”
“Uh, more specifically, ‘here’ as in ‘here in this limousine,’” explained Chang.
Mae struggled for a moment to find words, which was an unusual and uncomfortable experience for her. Even when she was trapped, she was always quite nimble at filling in a vacuum with convincing bullshit. She was a politician, after all. It had to be the uncustomary haughtiness of her Chinese counterparts, she thought. Sometimes the French and the Russians were rude, but never the Chinese. The good little Chinese, always so worried about pretense, always so low key and non-confrontational. Mae considered it a cultural inferiority complex. So why the rudeness today? She pondered. Mae’s irritation was growing into frustration. “So you want to negotiate a swap arrangement that could impact the value of a trillion dollars of your Treasury holdings in the back of a limousine?” Mae stared at them, mouth gaping in astonishment. The Chinese officials grinned. “You’re serious? Right here, in this car?” Mae composed herself before continuing. “Fine,” she declared. She opened up her briefcase. Fumbling through it, she removed copies of a summary document on glossy Treasury Department letterhead and handed copies of it to both of them. They received their copies with barely extended hands. Their eyes, concealed by their sunglasses, didn’t appear to even glance at the pages.
“As you can see,” Mae explained futilely, “it is a pretty standard reverse-repo—one the likes of which we’ve executed many times before with the PBC. The bottom line is that we’re asking the PBC to purchase $400 billion using the exchanges. It’s the same old drill: work the purchases through your third party dealers so it doesn’t set off any market alarms. This should relieve some of the upward pressure on the yuan. You’ll then use those dollars to purchase equivalent U.S. Treasuries that will be auctioned over the course of the subsequent seven days. Your purchase will be about half of the seven-day issue. Our Fed will then repurchase those Treasuries from you within the next thirty days…with a guaranteed ten percent yield, of course.”
The two Chinese officials burst into laughter.
“Guaranteed?” mocked Chang.
They continued laughing.
Mae’s frustration turned to anger. Who in the hell do these stooges think they are? she thought. “I really think we should be speaking to Mr. Tsang directly about this,” she snapped. “This is a negotiation with enormous sovereign ramifications!”
“Like I said before,” explained Chang, “we are fully authorized by Mr. Tsang, himself. We have his complete confidence.”
Mae knew then that she would get nowhere with these two. She stared at them in disbelief while their laughing trailed off and they went back to fingering their gadgets. She slammed her briefcase shut. She wanted nothing more than to leap out of the limousine, get to her hotel, order a $300 bottle of Chateau Lafite and place some calls to certain contacts who could make these two juniors feel some retributive discomfort. But that was impossible at the moment as they were now moving forty miles per hour on a congested, twelve-lane highway, motoring through an industrial sector of Shanghai. Even if they were stopped, Mae wouldn’t dare get out alone in the middle of Shanghai.
Up until very recent times, the U.S. Treasury was supremely confident in its ability to habitually fuck the Chinese over. The U.S. owned China—or so the U.S. banking leadership believed—owning them in the sense that every debtor owns his lender. If the lender squeezes too hard calling in the debt, the debtor might just walk away. The Treasury Department, the biggest debtor in human history, knew this and leveraged it. What was China going to do if the U.S. walked away from making its interest payments? Send the United States of America to a collections agency? Send out a repo-man? Get real. That was the Treasury Department’s attitude about it, anyway.
China made the market for U.S. debt since China owned so much of it. A bad issue, meaning a U.S. debt issue with not enough buyers, would catastrophically drive down the price of China’s entire portfolio, ultimately hurting the Chinese the most. Even when the PBC wasn’t overtly buying U.S. debt, they were covertly doing it through third party affiliates and through other countries like Belgium. The U.S. Treasury knew it had China by the short-and-curlies and they could always count on their good little Asian chumps to cough up another half trillion whenever needed, in order to keep the deficit shell game going. The Chinese would never let the Treasury market tank. It would be their own suicide if they did.
This latest negotiation was supposed to be a gimme. Mae was to meet Mr. Tsang like she had fifteen times before. He would initially pretend to be resistant. Mae would flirt, maybe she’d reveal a little cleavage, maybe she’d brush against him as she went through the documents. Tsang would pretend to be oblivious. Then they would ink a deal and go out to dinner. China would then print, or more aptly keystroke, a cosmological shitload of yuan, then use those yuan to buy a shitload of dollars, then use those dollars to buy a shitload of U.S. Treasuries. Then the Fed would keystroke a cosmological shitload of new dollars and use those dollars to buy those Treasuries back from the Chinese…plus ten percent, of course. It was Ivy League Genius—a laundering scheme that could be perpetuated ad infinitum. At the end of the day, other than a twenty percent increase in the price of rice, what did the Chinese Commissars have to lose? The yuan would remain soft. Chinese exports would remain cheap. And the Chinese industrial cartels would remain operating at full capacity.
But something was different this time. Mr. Tsang was conspicuously absent. These two juniors were negotiating on his behalf.
Mae hated them now.
Why didn’t Mr. Tsang come? she asked herself. Because of Bhutan? Impossible. No one snubs the United States of America for a Himalayan Deliverance—a tiny mountain fiefdom of gong-bangers. “I just don’t understand,” she said. “Is this some sort of joke? This entire arrangement today is highly irregular.”
“‘Highly irregular’ indeed, Ms. Lane,” remarked Chang.
Mae decided that she especially hated him. She hated his tone. She hated his phony politeness. She hated his Elvis-like sneer.
“Unbelievable!” She snapped. “You pick me up three hours late in this second-rate limo and treat me like this and… just take me to Shanghai One so I can speak to someone there.”
“We can assure you, Ms. Lane,” interjected Eng, “that the PBC will make every attempt to unwind our remaining U.S. Treasury position in an orderly fashion.”
“Yes,” affirmed Chang, “in an orderly fashion if that is at all possible.”
They both glanced at each other and laughed, again.
“I would not delay in any search for new sovereign buyers,” added Eng.
“I didn’t follow that,” Mae remarked. “What do you mean ‘unwind your remaining position’?”
Chang had to stop laughing and catch his breath before answering. “What we mean is that the PBC will not be entering into any more ‘reverse-repos’ as you call them. And we want to also inform the Treasury Department that the PBC intends to sell our remaining Treasury holdings—over time, if that is possible.”
“What is going on here?”
“You Americans are so arrogant,” observed Eng. “The PBC has been quietly divesting itself of treasuries for many months, now. Frankly, we are surprised your forensic accountants have not discovered this.”
“We sincerely hope that you are able to find new buyers for your issues. Perhaps Zimbabwe might be interested?” snarked Chang.
Bastards! Mae thought. She reached reflexively for her cell but then thought better of it. Never show panic, she advised herself. She composed herself the best she could. “What is happening here?” She asked them. “Don’t you understand? Don’t you know that this might trigger a meltdown? If you walk away we all lose! Who are you going export your chotskies to? Vietnam?”
They laughed again. This time, Eng had to remove his sunglasses and wipe the tears from his eyes. Then he started to preach. “There is an old economics axiom that they used to teach to your MBAs many years ago.”
“What are you talking about?” Mae asked.
“We are talking about investment theory, Ms. Lane. You see, China has come to the realization that you can no longer repay us. At least not without printing money in order to do it. America’s deficits are now growing so fast that she no longer even has the ability to meet her interest obligations. In other words, your America is bankrupt. America is insolvent and we cannot continue to—how do you say—‘throw good money after bad.’ Yes, that’s the term they used at Wharton years ago. The PBC has accepted that axiom and China has decided to cut her losses.”
Mae stared at them silently, her brow now deeply furrowed.
“Sunk costs are sunk, Ms. Lane,” explained Eng. “The era of China devaluing our yuan in order to enable you fat Americans to watch the Texas Cowboys on 3D televisions made by our workers is over.”
“This is outrageous!” Mae barked. “I demand to speak to—”
“Our negotiations are complete,” interrupted Chang.
Chang tapped the glass partition and the limousine veered off the highway coming to a screeching halt at the curb of a bustling intersection. The driver jumped out, adjusted his cap, darted to the trunk in a flash of white socks, and removed Mae’s luggage to the curb. He darted around and opened Mae’s door.
“Please leave, Ms. Lane. We have no more business with you,” Chang.
Mae was frozen in disbelief.
“You may go now!” ordered Chang, who dropped his device as he gestured for Mae to get out. Mae noticed the screen of his mobile was filled with a game of ‘Angry Birds’. Chang quickly snatched it up off the floor hoping Mae didn’t notice.
Mae crawled out of the limousine. The driver slammed the door shut, shuffled back into the limo and the car disappeared into the smoggy commotion of industrial Shanghai.
Mae darted under an awning, took out her cell phone and speed-dialed her boss, the Treasury secretary. The odors of cooking oil, diesel fuel and dead animal nearly overcame her as it rang. The pheromones of industrialism always made her ill.
“‘T’ here,” came the other end.
“It’s Mae. I can barely hear you…I’m out on the street…Yeah, Shanghai…They dumped me here…I don’t know what to say…It was a very strange meeting…No, Tsang was not here…He sent two junior guys, real assholes…No, they rejected the deal… They said ‘sunk costs are sunk’…”
Mae stared at her phone for a second wondering if she should redial, feeling conspicuous and helpless in her high heels and high gloss and high hemline amidst the noise and smells and dirt of the real world. She backed herself to a wall, looking around for a sign, something coherent, an English phrase, an advertisement, anything American. She couldn’t find a single word of anything in English. It was all cuneiform gibberish, everywhere. There was no stamp of the good old USA, not even so much as a Coke machine.
Her terror of conspicuous vulnerability quickly withered into a sense of mere insignificance as the hundreds of people that passed her by every minute paid her no heed. No one cared who she was. A lost American official meant nothing to these Chinese, not even as a peculiarity. They were too busy buying and selling and making a living—producing. These were people of action, oblivious to superficial shock and awe. If Mae were to drop dead at that instant she would just be swept out of the way or stepped over like so much rubbish.