Vaughn suffered from insomnia since the home invasion weeks before. The slightest noises disturbed his slumber and he found himself patrolling the house with his shotgun at least once every night. Jessica, on the other hand, was able to fall asleep without much difficulty which added to Vaughn’s frustration. After his nighttime patrols, he would spend the remainder of his night channel surfing. Lack of sleep was beginning to affect his personality as he was growing increasingly fixated on the radio and television reports of daily five to ten percent moves in the global markets.
The exchanges would almost always start the day with steep crashes at the opening bell, sinking like a stone. The talking heads in the media would hysterically announce, “Flash Crash! Flash Crash! Here we go again! Someone has to do something about those program traders!” After dropping five percent, the market would magically reverse course, rocketing up from the depths like a buoy spit out by some giant fish. Once fully rebounded, the talking heads would return to sobriety, as if nothing had happened.
Vaughn was completing his evening patrol when he decided to pour himself a quadruple Wild Turkey nightcap before flipping on the television. He turned on one of the business channels. The pictures of panicked Asian faces flailing about piqued his curiosity. Something very newsworthy was happening. Vaughn turned up the volume.
“…the selloff started about midway through the session with rumors swirling about the cash-strapped Bank of Japan liquidating half of their U.S. Treasury holdings. Prices on the U.S. ten-year plunged, taking yields up one hundred basis points over the span of about eight minutes. Record volume led one trader to speculate that the Central Banks of the U.K., Saudi Arabia, and China were stepping in to halt a U.S. bond collapse. Yields seemed to level off for about half an hour, but then the frantic selloff resumed driving ten-year Treasury yields up another whopping 190 basis points.” reported an Australian analyst.
“So what impact has this had on the currency markets?” asked the anchor. “Is everyone moving into dollars?”
“Well, the conventional wisdom is that such a dramatic move down in treasuries would drive many investors into U.S. dollars as a safe haven, but that has not been the case today. There is a dollar sell-off happening concurrently with the greenback down almost ten percent against the yen and euro, and off a whopping fifteen percent against the Chinese yuan. These are all unprecedented moves.”
“What are the Chinese doing?”
“Normally, the People’s Bank of China keeps the yuan pegged to the dollar with controlled adjustments, but they’re not intervening. The yuan is taking off.”
“Where are the investors going, then? What’s the safe haven?”
“Yeah,” nodding and holding earpiece, “well, it’s been a huge day for metals, agricultural commodities, and oil. Oil is up almost fifty dollars during the session.”
“Wow. So what happens now?”
“Hmm,” holding earpiece again. ” with commodity futures still climbing and treasuries still tanking, it looks like the bloodbath will continue when DAX opens.”
“Thank you…uh huh…one moment…(holding ear)…Uh, we’ve just received word that the Federal Reserve will be holding an emergency session in…”
Vaughn was struck with uneasiness by the spaced-out look in the reporter’s eyes. He sensed this was the genesis of something most unpleasant. It just had that kind of feeling about it, like when he first saw that black smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center on television. He didn’t know what to do about it but his gut told him to do something.
“Jess! Jess! Wake up!”
Jessica popped up in bed, eyes wide in terror. “What’s going on?”
“We have to go to the grocery store.”
“We have to go to the grocery store. C’mon, get up.”
“Vaughn, no. What’s wrong with you? It’s the middle of the night.”
“We have to go to the grocery store, Jess. I’m not leaving you here alone. It’s not an option. C’mon, get up. I’ll get Brooke ready.”
With a little further prodding, Jessica dragged herself from bed and got dressed. But she let her displeasure be known with a series of sighs and scowls. In the background, the television droned on about the crash contagion that was spreading to the Indian markets.
“Why are we doing this, Vaughn?”
“It’s beginning,” he explained. “Listen to the TV. I think we should stock up on some things before morning. We should fill up on gas and get some groceries and stuff. There might be a panic. Your prescription’s running low, too.”
“The day of reckoning has come.”
Jessica rolled her eyes, but she went along with the drill because ever since the break-in, Vaughn had become obsessive about preparedness. Resistance was futile. He would not let her go back to sleep if she refused to go along. Vaughn loaded his family into his truck in the darkness and they set off. Brooke fell immediately back to sleep.
Vaughn flipped from station to station on the radio as they drove, searching for market updates. Classic rock. Hip hop. Traffic report at 1 am. “Why do they have traffic reports at 1 am?” Vaughn switched to the AM band: infomercial for vitamins…in search of chupacabra…business news. “Finally, a business station!”
“…the foreign market volume is extremely heavy—record levels. The yen plunged first then bounced, then the dollar just absolutely tanked. I’ve never seen the dollar move like that. The Chinese yuan is up sharply, as much as thirty percent…”
“Will you please tell me what’s going on?” Jessica asked.
“This is the big one!” Vaughn offered. “Is Anderson’s open twenty-four hours?”
“They closed down a month ago. You have to go to King’s.”
Either way, it was a seven-mile drive on winding country roads in the dead of night. They made it in twelve minutes. Vaughn expected to find a calamity of cars in the lot but it was nearly empty. Jess rolled her eyes at the lack of panic.
Vaughn dropped Jess off at the front entrance and pulled into the gas station. Only one other car was there. Thankfully, the gas prices were the same as the day before. “Whew.” It was probably a little crazy to think the manager would have come out and raised them in the middle of the night, Vaughn thought as he slid his credit card through the pump’s swiper and waited for it to process.
…and he waited.
He swiped again…
…and he waited.
Brooke started to get restless. Vaughn watched her rousing in her car seat through the side window. He checked the card indicator again.
“Card Failed To Read”
Vaughn swiped his card again. He didn’t have any cash and there wasn’t any attendant to pay at that hour, anyway. The reader processed again. Could it be that the banks had been closed or electronic transactions had been frozen to stop bank runs or something? he thought.
“C’mon, God damn it,” he muttered, realizing that he might not have enough gas to get home.
Brooke was awake and looking at him from her car seat. Her lower lip began to hang in a pout like it always did when she was about to start crying. Next would be the chin quiver, then a full-throttle wail. He made a funny face at her which made her smile. Crisis temporarily averted.
“Come on!” he barked at the pump.
What will I do if I don’t have enough gas to get home? It was a seven-mile walk in the darkness through mountain lion country with a two-year-old in tow. He checked out the other car.
“Hey!” Vaughn shouted towards the other patron. “Is your pump working?”
“No! It doesn’t seem to want to read my card.”
“God damn it,” Vaughn whispered to himself. “Do you think they’ve closed the banks?” he asked.
“Huh?” replied the other patron. He was obviously not up to date on the Asian markets crash.
“Never mind,” Vaughn replied.
“Thank God!” Vaughn shouted as the pump clicked on and the nectar of capitalism began to flow into his tank. After topping off, Vaughn pulled in to the front of the grocery store. He took Brooke in, set her gently into a shopping cart and cushioned her with her blanket and her toy monkey. A handful of people were grazing around inside, a few more than one would expect for that time of night, but certainly not a panicked mob of hoarders. Vaughn was a little bit disappointed by that as he felt that the presence of a chaotic throng might somehow validate his insistence on dragging his family out in the middle of the night.
What should we buy? he asked himself as he scanned the rows. He started to the right in produce, but produce doesn’t keep so he didn’t gather anything there except for some grapes which Brooke liked. He worked his way down the dairy end but that too seemed to be a poor choice for a doomsday stockpile. With his cart still empty, and Brooke slumped to one side, asleep, he skipped the greeting card aisle and turned down the next row—paper products. It was there that he ran into his next-door neighbor, a man he had never spoken too and whose name he had forgotten, but whom he recognized by his straw cowboy hat and full, wiry beard. Vaughn stopped and took note of the contents of his neighbor’s cart which was jammed to overflowing. He must have been working back Vaughn’s way from the other direction. It contained, among other things: several boxes of oatmeal, bags of rice, dried pasta, instant potatoes, dozens upon dozens of cans of vegetables and fruits, sugar, flour, vegetable oil, peanut butter, cans of tuna, spam and chicken, box after box of macaroni and cheese, a large brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide, bandages and iodine
His neighbor apparently had things figured out.
“Howdy,” Vaughn said as his neighbor scanned the top shelf. “It looks like you’re stocking up for something.”
Their eyes met. Vaughn glanced admiringly at his neighbor’s hoard. He nodded and smiled back, tipping his straw hat.
“I think I’m your neighbor. I’m Vaughn Clayton.”
“Good evening to you,” he answered with a nod. I’m Ian…Ian Croukamp.”
“What brings you out at this time of night?” Vaughn asked.
“Bad news,” he answered bluntly, with an odd quality to his enunciation.
“Hear about the stuff going on in Asia?”
“Oh I’m happy to hear I’m not the only one. I’m surprised there aren’t more people in here stocking up.”
Croukamp chuckled, “They won’t panic just yet.”
Vaughn detected a kind of British accent, but not quite. “Why’s that?” Vaughn asked.
“Why no panic?”
“Because CNN hasn’t told them to panic, yet,” he explained.
Vaughn laughed uncomfortably. “So what brings you out here at night if there isn’t any panic?” Vaughn persisted.
“A day early is better than a minute late. I’m stocking up before they change the prices.”
“So you do think something’s happening?”
“I hope not, but I expect so. I’d like to get some of that toilet paper before it goes up to $25 a roll. Can you reach that bundle up there for me?”
Vaughn reached up and pushed an eighteen pack off the shelf. Croukamp caught it and stacked it on top of his cart.
“So what do you think’ll happen?” Vaughn asked.
“My guess is it’s just like back home.”
“Oh, you mean Zimbabwe?”
“I mean Rhodesia.”
“No kidding? Were you there when Mugabe took over? That must have been a quite an experience.”
“Mugabe… there aren’t ample words to describe that man. Murdering, Marxist butcher is insufficient.”
Vaughn recognized that he was getting way out of line with his questions. He tried to rein things in a little. “So, do you have any suggestions for me? What should I stock up on?”
“Oh, I don’t do that.”
“Please. I have no clue what to get.”
Croukamp scratched his head but finally answered. “Buy Krugerrands. Lots of them. Ten, twenty, fifty ounces ought to get you started. That will help protect you a little. Good evening and good luck to you.” Croukamp pushed off down the aisle and disappeared around the end.
Vaughn ran into Jess about halfway through the store. She was filling her own cart and had built a surprisingly good hoard considering her doomsday skepticism. Her cart was nearly full with non-perishables with the exception of a few indulgences like potato chips. They decided that they had accumulated enough of a stash for one night and proceeded to the checkout lane.
In the line ahead, a chubby fellow with long hair pulled back into a pony tail was unloading his cart onto the conveyor belt. He built an assembly line of liters of soda pop and frozen waffles. Then hot dogs, French bread, tomatoes, eggs, yogurt, three frozen pizzas, shrimp cocktail, hair conditioner…
“Excuse me,” interrupted another voice from behind them. Turning, Vaughn saw a slight fellow hiding behind dark sunglasses and a ball cap. “Mind if I cut in front of you?” he asked, presumptively pushing his cart through before Vaughn had even responded. “I only have a couple things and I’m in quite a hurry.”
“Sure,” Vaughn answered reflexively. His cart contained three bottles of designer water, three individually wrapped, miniature, gourmet cheeses, and a bottle of baby lotion.
“Rudy, can you assist checkout?” barked the clerk impatiently into the intercom.
Jessica pulled Vaughn back towards her and whispered in his ear. “Do you know who that is?”
“Who? That guy there?”
“Shhhh. He’ll hear you. Don’t stare. Yeah, him.”
“I have no idea, Jess. Is he from your spinning class or something?”
“No, stupid. That’s Johnny McDouglas.”
“Johnny McDouglas? The actor?”
“You’re on drugs.”
“Look at him!” Jessica whispered emphatically.
Vaughn looked him over again. He was maybe five foot six. He was very thin, but square-shouldered. He was dressed casually but not cheaply. His sweats were label. His black sweater was silk and he was wearing Bruno Magli shoes—OJ loafers. He sensed that McDouglas was aware of it but was trying to act oblivious, the way celebrities act when they don’t want to be pestered by obnoxious, laypeople.
Jessica yanked on Vaughn’s arm, again, but he kept staring, searching for additional signs of Hollywood royalty. The alleged Mr. McDouglas had manicured, almost feminine hands. He wore a silver chain bracelet which was a rare accessory for a man to wear in a mountain town. His sunglasses, worn in the middle of the night, were another indication. Then the giveaway, a white-gold Movado watch with its black face and the solitary dot marking twelve o’clock. Who in the heck would wear a five-thousand-dollar Movado watch to the grocery store at 3 a.m.?
Whoever he was, he had money.
“I think you may be right,” Vaughn whispered back to Jessica.
“How could you tell? The watch?”
“It’s the shoes.”
“Look around…I bet he’s on one of these magazines in here.”
“Wow. So he really does live here. I thought that was a myth.”