By Kevin Deenihan
Soon the economy came down to Robby, because Robby was the only one with any money left. The businessmen of America changed their sleep-schedules to Pacific Coast Time, to 6:20 a.m., when Robby awoke. Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal (online and paper special editions) reported when he picked up his wallet (black leather, regrettably new, no need to replace) and strode out of his two-bed in the Culver City area.
For Captains of Industry the moment of emergence was tense and fraught with anticipation. If he climbed into his car, then the gas industry cheered and hugged each other on desolate trading floors. On chill morns the sellers of hot drinks, blankets, and jackets crossed their fingers.
Robby on Saturday wore jeans and a t-shirt (reported blogs across the country).
CNN followed him surreptitiously up three blocks, across a quiet intersection. Cars, driven till the gas bled out, laid flat on the street, pushed as far as the last dregs of liquid coin could take them.
Robby wove between them and emerged at Starbucks. The corporation had cannibalized and cannibalized, closing and burning other stores in a wave of coffee-scented arson across the continent, to keep open this last outpost.
At nights the store engaged in shooting wars with the Coffee Bean across the street, and in the early mid-morn the two patched over bullet holes and dragged away bodies, so that Robby wouldn’t notice anything amiss.
He walked inside, and waited patiently in line. Millions and billions, glued to television sets, shouted at the screen for the two freeloaders to stop waiting for gratis cups of water. Oblivious, they took hastily prepared cups of water and touched them to parched lips.
There was a moment of collective breath-holding as Robby vacillated at the counter. Behind it, the clerk (former actress, Hollywood, chosen to resemble Robby’s wife but with larger boobs) remembered her instructions not to push him.
“I’ll have…………. a latte,” Robby said.
Phones rang, and relieved members of the coffee, milk, and cup industries shook hands and hugged.
The clerk went off script.
“Want something sweet with that?” she asked, and attempted to exude charm. “For the missus?” She made a show of noticing his wedding ring.
There was collective horror in the coffee community, and CEOs were fired with terse board of director resolutions. The psych committee had already determined NOT TO PUSH THE CUSTOMER.
Meanwhile, the cheesecake and sweets industries sat on the edge of their seats. They had overleveraged themselves, promised the clerk leading roles in various movies (when the economy recovered). Promises they couldn’t, actually, keep.
“Why not,” Robby said. He surveyed the display. “Danish. Lets do that.”
A coup. Business biographies of mastermind Eric Jawolski (CEO, Sara Lee) were written.
“That’ll be $6.87,” the clerk said, and held out her hand. The other clerk (gold medalist, decathalon) handed over a latte.
Robby opened his wallet.
News cameras clicked and whirred. Pundits argued over whether the blurry telescope lens photos, taken through smeared glass, revealed a Benjamin Franklin. The government opined that it was merely a few twenties.
Robby paid. The amount included tax. The President nodded his head, slowly, and turned the TV off.
“I’m afraid we can’t make change,” the clerk said. She kept the money clutched in her palm. If she released it, the woman was assured, a small bomb would detonate somewhere in the store.
“Keep the tip,” Robby assured her, and the second-richest woman in the world trembled on quivering legs. The Oscar committee nodded thoughtfully and had identical thoughts.
He left, sipping thoughtfully at his latte and wondering if he should eat the Danish instead of delivering it to his wife.
Behind him, a team of scruffy accountants, secreted in nearby basements, flooded the coffee shop and ransacked the register. The amount ($6.87) was placed in bags, and whisked away to a secret location, guarded by actual generals with stars on their shoulders.
Lawyers descended, clutching agreements and contracts drawn up for this very eventuality, each cross-referenced and annotated to prevent any chance of a messy legal battle. $1.00 to the lawyers and accountants for fees, $2.11 (!!) to Starbucks, tax paid out, the remainder divided among the coffee, wheat, pastry, plastic goods, and other industries. And from there, parceled out, faster and faster, pushed from person to person as pre-arranged.
The gears of industry began to tremble loose. A long ways away, in the heartland, farmers started to grow crops once again.
Depression re-emerged when Robby spent the next two hours on the couch, reading old comic books and coursing with caffeine. He ate the Danish. Dow Chemical waited in vain for a load of laundry to run, or a dishwasher full of dirty dishes to get a rinse cycle.
His cell phone rang. He checked the ID (unnecessarily, as everyone else had run out of minutes ages ago, and had to subsist entirely on free text messages).
It was Ally, his wife.
They called her The Saver in business circles, and legions of humorists had lampooned her cautious, miserly ways. Her antics had enraged, had ruined careers. Ally, the woman who had darned a shirt with needle and thread, had replaced a button when the need for a new shirt COULD have led to a MALL TRIP, GOD DAMN IT. Ally the credit-card-balance-payer. They said that she would rather eat a fistful of glass then go to a restaurant, or tip more then 15%.
The world economy had hotly considered killing her off. Conferences had debated the morality and ethics of it, and prominent philosophers had wrought rhetorical knots around her death (politely called the Disappearance Method.)
Propagandists had proposed blistering television campaigns aimed at her. But no station would carry them, worried as hell that Robby would turn offended, would click on to the next available station. And assassination, well, no one knew how that would turn out -- Robby might go into a buying funk that could never end. (Although the funeral home industry was still sorely tempted, but since Robby had an elderly grandmother, they were persuaded to wait and wait.)
“Hey babe,” Robby said. “All done with your morning run?”
Once again, the former executives of Verizon rattled their chains and rued the day they had sold Free-for-Family plans.
“Yep. Hey, do you want to go to the car dealership today? I know we’ve been putting it off.”
Stock markets surged. Bond markets plunged. Economic indicators swung upwards, and various economists pecked feverishly at calculators. A CAR? No one had… where had this come from?
In Europe, loud bangs on the door awoke sleeping VW and BMW officials. Fiat google searched their own dealerships. Who did they have out there? Anyone? There had to be a way into this! In Japan, festive drinking bouts sprang up in Tokyo, Minato ward, a fatal sign of overconfidence. Detroit fretted but held out hope -- what if Ally was pregnant? They had decent mini-vans, decent SUVs.
Below the executive level, where actual work was done, the sales managers and salesmen and women ran or rode bicycles towards their dusty, locked-up dealerships. Fat men panted with red faces, running in their suits and wingtips. The smart ones took several deep breaths, ran in running shoes, and put on their suits after arrival.
The Kia manager forgot the door keys. The company, white-faced, announced bankruptcy moments later. The country of Korea faced an uncertain future. The Chrysler dealership nearly electrocuted three good men, attempting to restart their treadmill-based generator. One brave lad reached out with wet fingers to connect the two wires with his own flesh, and had to be hauled back by co-workers.
Ally and Robby arrived at the Auto Mall an hour later. They passed the store manager of Mitsubishi, just arrived from Silver Lake, having run as far and as fast as any man could. He took two steps, and fell onto his knees.
“You want to go out to dinner tonight?” Robby asked.
Ally eyed crumbs on her husband’s stomach. He had developed an unattractive paunch. “I was going to cook,” she murmured.
They pulled into the Ford lot. Europe blinked and rubbed their eyes, disbelieving. Japan’s cheers turned into a drunken wake. There was loud talk about honorable disemboweling.
Peter strolled forwards, and, correctly, shook hands with Ally before turning to Robby. His eyes betrayed no fear. He exuded confidence. A phone call had assured him, moments before, that his family’s health depended on him closing a sale. There were screams in the background.
“You’ve come just in time for our big sale,” he drawled.
Decades later, his pitch would still be repeated in plays and performances, specially adapted to movies and serialized for a mini-series on several stations. Letting Ally lead the way, politely assuming she was in charge, then dropping back to exchange manly winks and asides with Robby. Steering the twosome past corridors they hadn’t had time to clean, crucially delaying them with an anecdote as the other salesmen fought off sobbing Toyota men and women.
Yes, there were second-guessers, and Twitter rang with different approaches and critical commentaries. Advising Peter to start them with coffee, or some doughnuts (as if they had doughnuts outside of pre-collapse Hostess!)
Mothers woke up their children, even the youngest, and placed them in front of the TV. The broadcasters knew this was important, and brought out their hushed tones. On the other side of the world, those who could speak English translated at intervals to crowds, which passed the news back from person to person.
There was a fifteen minute interval, the test drive, where the cameras could do nothing but chronicle a slow drag through empty city streets. The trio stopped at red lights and waited for nobody to pass, and passed a few encampments on deserted side streets. Ally drove, with Peter in the back seat.
And in the end, they arrived at the office.
“I don’t want to pressure you,” Peter said. He glanced at his phone. They had sent him a picture of his wife and child smiling, meant to be reassuring, but who was holding the camera?
Ally and Robby glanced at each other. There was a moment of impasse.
“Maybe we should think about it,” Robby suggested.
The world shrank back, and pissed itself.
Ally fidgeted with the drawstring on her pants. She had worn her running shorts, and didn’t look any pregnant. “Lets just do it,” she said. “I really need this to get to sewing class.”
Peter, graciously, didn’t take advantage of his newfound bargaining position.
“Let me talk to my manager, and we’ll make you an offer,” he said, and walked out of the room. There he, trembling, put a cigarette in his mouth. Then he remembered that Ally hated cigarettes, pulled it out, and went back in.
“I think he’ll let me knock $1000 off the sticker, and throw in an iPod deck,” Peter said.
“We’ll take it,” Robby said.
He pulled out his wallet.
That night, orbiting telescopes saw lights emerge from blackness, first in Detroit, then in financial centers in America, and from there spreading out like rivulets in ravines across the length of the globe. There were still big blank spots, including Russia, but the body lived.
A world awoke.