Vaughn was dealing with a chronic bout of insomnia since the home invasion weeks before. The slightest of noises disturbed his slumber and he found himself patrolling the house with his rifle at least once every night. Jessica was able fall asleep without much difficulty which only added to Vaughn’s frustration. After his patrols, he would usually spend the remainder of his evenings watching old movies on dish. Lack of sleep was beginning to affect his personality as he was growing increasingly paranoid and fixated.
This carried over into the daytime as Vaughn found himself mesmerized by the radio and television reports of the recent radical fluctuations in the stock market. The five to seven percent daily moves were compelling fodder for his sleep-deprived mind. The markets would always start off downwards from the bell like a sinking millstone. The talking head media idiots would hysterically proclaim “Flash crash! Flash Crash! Here we go again! Someone has to do something about those program traders!” After dropping ten to fifteen percent it would magically reverse course, rocketing up from the depths like a scuba diver’s marker buoy spit out by some Great White that had just devoured him. Once fully rebounded, the talking-head media idiots would return to sanity as if nothing had happened.
Vaughn was making his evening rounds one night when he decided to pour himself a quadruple Wild Turkey nightcap and flip on the television. He fat-fingered the remote with the television stopping on a business channel. Pictures of panicked Asian faces flailing about caught his attention. Something newsworthy was definitely happening. He turned up the volume.
“…the selloff started about midway through the session with rumors swirling about the cash strapped Bank of Japan liquidating roughly half their U.S. Treasury holdings. Prices on the ten year plunged, taking yields up one hundred basis points over the course of about eight minutes. Record volume led one trader to speculate that the Central Banks of the U.K., the Saudis and the Chinese were stepping in to halt the U.S. bond collapse. But soon after things appeared to be calming down, the frantic selloff resumed driving ten year Treasury yields up a whopping one hundred and ninety basis points!” observed a reporter in Australian accent.
“So what impact has this had on the currency markets?” asked the anchor.
“Yes…well, the conventional wisdom is that such a dramatic move down in treasuries would drive many investors into U.S. dollars but that has not been the case. There is a dollar selloff happening concurrently with the dollar down almost ten percent against the yen and euro and off a whopping fifteen percent against the Chinese yuan. These are all unprecedented moves, Sam.”
“Where are the investors going?”
“Right…(nodding)…well, it’s been a huge day for metals, ag commodities and oil with oil itself up almost ten percent in dollars during the session.
“So what’s next?”
“Yes…well, with commodity futures still climbing and treasuries declining by the minute, it looks like the bloodbath will continue when the DAX opens.”
“Thank you, Mel…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 stricken with uneasiness by the spaced-out look in the reporter’s eyes. He sensed this was merely the genesis of something most unpleasant. It just had that kind of feeling about it. He didn’t know what to do but his gut told him he had to do something.
“Jess! Jess! Wake up!”
Jessica jerked up in bed, terrified that there was another invader in the house. “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 is wrong with you? It’s the middle of the night.”
“We have to go to the grocery store, Jess, and I’m not leaving you here alone! C’mon, get up. I’ll get Brooke.”
With a little further prodding, Jessica reluctantly got up and got herself dressed. She let her displeasure be known with a series of sighs and a scowls.
Vaughn left the television on in the background. The crash contagion was spreading to the Indian market.
“Why are we doing this, Vaughn?”
“Something bad is happening,” he explained. “Listen to the T.V. I think we should stock up on some things before morning. We should fill up on gas and get some groceries and stuff. Your prescription’s running low, too.”
“The hens are coming home to roost. Who knows what’ll happen. There could be panic tomorrow.”
Jessica rolled her eyes. But she went along with the exercise because since the break-in Vaughn had become unrelentingly obsessive about preparedness. He would not let her back to sleep if she refused to go along.
The continuous gaping mouths and uncomfortable pauses of the T.V. reporters added a surreal quality to things much like just after the World Trade Center imploded.
Vaughn loaded his family into his pickup in the darkness and they were off to the grocery store. Brooke fell immediately back to sleep. Jessica continued to look disgusted. Vaughn flipped from station to station on the radio as they drove. Classic rock. Hip hop. Traffic report at 1 AM. Why do they have traffic reports at 1AM? Vaughn turned to the AM band. Infomercial for colon cleanse. In search of Chupacabra. Business News. Finally, a business station.
“…the foreign market trading volume is extremely heavy. The Yen went down first, then the dollar followed suit. The Chinese Yuan is up sharply, as much as twenty percent…”
“Will you please tell me what’s going on?” Jessica asked.
“The big one!” Vaughn offered. “Is Albertson’s open twenty four hours?”
“They went out of business. You have to go to King’s.”
Either way it was a fifteen mile drive in the rural dead of night. Jessica expected a calamity of cars in the lot. She rolled her eyes when she found the lot to be nearly empty—just Vaughn’s hysteria. Vaughn dropped her off at the front entrance and pulled in to the gas station. Only one other car was there. Thankfully, the gas prices were the same as the day before. “Wheww.” 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.
…and he waited.
Brooke started to get restless. The card reader processed away. Vaughn watched her rousing. 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 this hour, anyway. The card 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, damn it!” He shouted, realizing that he might not have enough gas to get home.
Brooke was awake and now 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 full throttle wail. He made a funny face at her which made her smile. One crisis averted.
“Come on!” He barked at the pump.
If he didn’t have enough gas to get home what would he do? It was a seven mile walk in the darkness with mountain lions on the prowl and a two year old in tow. He checked out the other car.
“Hey!” Vaughn shouted towards the patron. “Is your pump working?”
“No! It doesn’t seem to want to read my card.”
Damn it, Vaughn repeated to himself.
“Do you think they’ve closed the banks?” He asked.
Obviously, the other fellow was not up to date on the Asian markets crash.
“Nevermind,” 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 parked at the front of the grocery store and took Brooke in, setting her gently into a shopping cart and cushioning her with her blanket and her monkey. A handful of people were grazing about inside; a few more than one would expect for that time of night but not a full-on mob. Vaughn was a little bit disappointed by that fact as he felt that the presence of a 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 accept 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, fast asleep, he skipped the greeting cards and turned down the next one over—paper products. It was there that he ran into his next door neighbor—a man he had never spoken too but recognized by his straw cowboy hat and a mop of a beard. Vaughn took note of the contents of his neighbor’s shopping cart which was jammed to overflowing. He must have been working back his way from the other direction.
It contained, among other things:
A half dozen boxes of oatmeal.
Five bags of rice.
Dried pasta, instant potatoes, dozens upon dozens of cans of vegetables and fruits.
Sugar, flour, vegetable oil.
Peanut butter, several cans of tuna, spam and chicken.
Box after box of macaroni and cheese.
His neighbor apparently had things figured out.
“Howdy,” Vaughn interrupted him as his neighbor scanned the top shelf. “It looks like you’re stocking up for something.”
Their eyes met then Vaughn glanced admiringly at his neighbor’s stash. His neighbor nodded and smiled back.
“I think I’m your next door neighbor. I’m Vaughn Clayton.”
“Good evening to you,” he answered with a nod. I’m Ian… Ian Croucamp. Pleased to meet you.”
“What brings you out at this time of night?” Vaughn continued.
“The radio,” he answered bluntly with an odd quality to his annunciation.
“Hear about the stuff going on in Asia?”
“Indeed I have.”
“I was surprised there’s not more people in here stocking up.”
Mr. Croucamp chuckled, “There ain’t gonna be no panic just yet.”
Vaughn detected a British accent—kind of British but not quite.
“Why’s that?” Vaughn asked. “Why no panic?”
“Because CNN didn’t tell everyone to panic…yet,” he explained, his black pool eyes firing out beams of negative energy.
Vaughn laughed uncomfortably.
“So what brings you out here at night if there ain’t a panic?” Vaughn persisted.
“I’m stocking up before they change the prices.”
“So you do think something bad is gonna happen?”
“I’m hoping not, but I expect so. I’d like to get me some of that toilet paper in case it goes up to $25 a roll. Can you reach that bundle up there for me?”
Vaughn reached up and pushed a bundle off the shelf. Mr. Croucup caught it and stacked it on his cart.
“So what do you think’ll happen?” Vaughn asked.
“It’s starting to stink…stink like my homeland.”
“I’m from Rhodesia.”
“You mean Zimbabwe?”
“I mean Rhodesia.”
“Wow! Were you there when Mugabe did all those terrible thing? That must have been a quite an experience.”
“There aren’t any words to describe that man.”
Vaughn recognized that he was getting way out of line with his prodding. He tried to rein things in a little.
“So, do you have any suggestions for me?”
“I do,” Mr. Croucup answered. “Buy Krugerrands. Lot’s of them. $50,000 worth ought to do it. Good evening and good luck to you.”
Vaughn ran into Jessica about halfway through the store. She was building her own cart and had done surprisingly well considering her skepticism. Her cart was nearly full with non-perishables items with the exception of a few indulgences like potato chips. Her prescription was filled as well and they decided that they had accumulated enough for one night. They proceeded to the checkout lane where Vaughn examined the cart ahead of him.
A woman with bleached hair pulled back into a pony tail was unloading her cart onto the conveyor belt for the checker. She was building an assembly line of liters of soda pop and frozen waffles. Then hot dogs, french bread, organic tomatoes, brown eggs, yogurt, three frozen pizzas, shrimp cocktail, flowers, hair conditioner…
Vaughn was shaking his head when Jessica yanked on his arm, casting her well-worn glare of disfavor, reminding Vaughn of his rudeness.
“Excuse me,” interrupted another voice from behind them. Turning, they saw a smallish fellow hiding behind dark sunglasses and a ball cap. “Mind of I cut in front of you?” He asked, presumptively pushing his cart through before Vaughn and Jess had even responded. “I only have a couple things and I’m in quite a hurry.”
“Sure,” Vaughn answered reflexively, clearing him a way but astonished by the man’s brazenness. His cart contained three designer bottled waters, three individually wrapped, miniature gourmet cheeses, and a bottle of baby lotion.
“Rudy, can you assist checkout?” barked the clerk impatiently into the P.A.
Jessica pulled Vaughn back towards her and whispered in his ear. “Do you know who that is?”
“Who? That guy there?”
“Shhhh. Don’t stare. Yeah, him.”
“I have no idea, Jess. Is he from your spinning class or something?”
“No, stupid. That’s Buster McDougal.”
“Buster McDougal? The actor?”
“You’re high on drugs. “
“Look at him!” Jessica whispered emphatically.
Vaughn looked him over again. He was maybe five foot six. He was very thin but broad shouldered. He was dressed very casually but not cheaply. His sweatpants were label. His black sweater was silk and he was wearing Bruno Magli loafers—OJ loafers. Vaughn looked him over real good, almost ogling him. He wouldn’t normally ogle a man but Jessica’s convincing put him fully on to it. She was embarrassed by Vaughn’s staring as she could tell that the famous Mr. McDougal was well aware and trying to act oblivious the way celebrities do when they don’t want to be pestered. She yanked on Vaughn’s arm again but he kept staring, searching for more covert signs of royalty.
The alleged Mr. McDougal had manicured, almost feminine hands, a silver chain bracelet which was an extremely rare accessory for a man to wear in a rural town. The sunglasses worn in the middle off the night (as mentioned before). Then the giveaway: a white-gold Movado watch as was indicated by its black face and the solitary dot marking 12 O’clock. Who in the hell would wear a five thousand dollar Movado watch to the grocery store at 2 AM?
Vaughn only knew what the watch was because a young hot shot VP at his job, an obnoxious, cro magnon of a man who wore the exact same watch himself to work every day and made sure his sleeve was pulled up just sufficiently so as to enable its full display.
“Could it really be him?” 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 all a myth.”