Killgrace In Depression

Wednesday 30th October 1929

Susan sat down at her desk, staring at the newspapers in front of her blankly. All her trades should have been closed yesterday, but it would take days for the paperwork to catch up as the exhausted staff tried to handle days with more share trades than an average week.

The market had lost thirty percent of its value in under a week, and now it continued its grim inexorable slide downwards, erasing pensions, savings, trusts, on its way. The money was not being distributed, just erased from existance as credit facilities were pulled and margin calls were answered by bankruptcies.

The cheer of last week’s headlines was gone. Canada’s stock exchanges had fallen massively, and Toronto was down eleven percent, probably because so many US residents had been buying shares with borrowed money. London merely continued the steady slide it had begun since the Hatry revelations, but there was no sudden slump. It would take time for the full effects to be felt around the world.

Right here at the heart of it though, where the chaos had happened right down the street, some of the effects were almost immediate. The mood on the street was stunned, as people waited to hear from brokers, from friends and family who owned shares, and simply to find out how bad the damage was going to be. ‘Shares always rose’ had been a given for years, and suddenly that was gone.

Eight and a half billion dollars wiped off the global economy in a day. The stories of the time had made Wall Street sound like a scene of more than financial carnage, but the newspaper pictures showed crowds more stunned than violent. In the time-line Susan knew, she had only known the ticker had closed on the 29th at some time after seven. Yesterday it had ended at 7:45. She tried not to wonder if her extra trades had prolonged it.

Her morning had been hell. An emergency meeting with Sales, Accounts, and Legal had been tense. While she had forecast the future effects on production, she had not expected the crash to affect payments for orders already delivered so quickly. Companies which had been in trouble on Thursday were facing closure on Tuesday.

It was Killgrace’s specialisation in short runs and specialised orders that had done the damage: some many of the owners of the smaller, private, companies had been on the stcok exchange. Now they were scrambling to find ways to pay. Killgrace would offer payment terms where they could, but she knew that in the affected companies, it would be lucky if they made the first two before bankruptcy. She glanced out of the window towards Williams factory. At least their rival would be having the same problem.

There was nothing further she could do until she knew the position of her share trades. Standing up, Susan walked down to reception to check for messages – anything from Canada or London to deal with, or the share data she needed so badly. Her mail slot was empty.

At the front desk Sarah looked up, checked they were alone, and started asking a sudden, desperate, question.

“Miss Chapman, is the company-” Sarah stopped as Susan shook her head.

“Killgrace is privately owned. We’re not listed. Neither Mr. Killgrace or I own shares,” Even if they had just bought thousands, she thought privately.

“But the company investment pool?” Sarah asked, and Susan realised she had been answering the wrong question.

“All positions are closed. We’re just waiting for the paperwork.”

“But is it…I mean does it…?”

“I can’t say,” Susan said, and it hurt to admit. “But we were shorting, not buying.” Sarah nodded, partly reassured, and Susan took the chance to escape the conversation, walking down to the basement.

To her surprise, as she walked into the lounge the oppposite door opened and Cet glided inside. A manipulator folded easily over the case to shut the door behind it. She sat down, watching as it positioned itself across the room.

“Shares continue to fall.”

“Yes, that’s just the main crash out of the way.”

“How do you wish to proceed?”

“If I remember correctly, it’s buy around mid-November, sell in April. Then it all slides until 1932.” She shook her head to herself, “I’m going to reinvest part of the proceeds in a few gold mines. If I’m right, they’ll increase in value five times in the next few years. Since we’re buying the shares outright, if we don’t use margin there’s little risk.”

“And lower return.”

“Look, I’m no stockbroker,” she said, slumping down in her chair. She felt burned out and old. “After the last two months my nerves are shredded. I need to recover before I start playing margin games again.”

“You have completed short-trading.”

“So have you.”

“Affirmative.” Susan sighed. She had guessed correctly that the Cull had been trading behind her back. All that mattered now was how much they had secured, and since she had not received the final valuations from George yet she did not know exactly where the company stood. It was still possible a mis-timed trade would wipe out both their current gains.

“What funds can you add to the war-chest?”

“Once the loan has been paid back, resulting profit will be seven hundred and thirty six thousand, seven hundred and eighteen dollars.”

“The loan?”

“A two million dollar loan was secured from Porter & Mason. If repayment is deferred until next period, total returns are three million dollars.” She took the news calmly, trying not to think about what she could have done with that much seed money. A thirty-six percent return was not bad, she admitted to herself, privately glad her colleague had not told her how much it was risking before the close of Tuesday.

“What did you do, short banks?”

“Negative. Investment trusts. One is now bankrupt. The shares were repurchased at ten cents each.”

“So far then we can be certain of your seven hundred thousand and another one million from my personal funds. Enough to keep the US operation going for the next eighteen months with no income at all.”

“If there will be no income, is it not logical to disband the company?”

“No. We need to be an established company when the recovery starts if we want to get the contracts.”

“Strategic positioning. Understood.” There was a pause for a while and then Susan drew a breath.

“Mentioning strategy, I slipped. I let a few things slip to Porter that I should not have done. He may have been too drunk to remember.” That was not something Susan had ever thought she would be saying to an alien killing machine. The alien in question reacted predictably.

“He can be disposed of.”

“No. He’s a good bank manager, even if he’s a-” she reconsidered the phrase ‘dreadful human being’ “-a product of his time.”

“Understood.” For a moment Susan thought it sounded relieved, and cautioned herself against anthropomorphising the creature. “What is the tactical impact?”

“He now believes I am your sister,” she said dryly. “I should be able to keep working with him. I hope so. Finding reliable replacements is difficult.”

There was a knock at the door. Susan stood up, looking quickly at Cet to see if it would retreat out of sight of the door. Instead, with a spark and flare, the hologram flickered to life and the businessman was seated in a chair that had not been there a moment before. Killgrace inclined his head, and Susan opened the door. One of the office girls – Helen, Susan vaguely remembered – stood there, clutching the Toronto file in one hand.

“Susan, I’m sorry to interrupt but – Mr. Killgrace?” Susan looked round in time to see him nod.

“Helen, if you can leave the papers on the desk, we’ll look at them in a minute,” he instructed. “Thank you.” Susan stepped back and the girl did as requested, sneaking glances at her elusive boss the entire way to the desk and nearly tripping over the chair. Then, to Susan’s great amusement, Helen dropped a curtsey like a ladies’ maid and almost fled. Susan closed the door and chuckled.

“And now we will be interrupted continuously for the next hour as the staff confirm the existence of Mr. Killgrace is not, in fact, a polite fiction.”

“Half an hour. I have little energy, but it will improve troop morale.”

“Understood.” Susan picked up the file and flipped it open. “The latest profit and loss updates, with a query about status from Mr. Gagnon.”

“A personal telegram. Unnecessary.”

“He’s concerned.”

“Tell him to proceed as ordered.” Another knock. Susan raised an eyebrow, and opened the door.

“Your coffee, Miss Chapman.” Henry held the cup out.

“Oh thank you, Henry, I’d forgotten it.” To her surprise, he glanced at Killgrace, gave an acknowledging nod, and turned back to her.

“Will you need anything else, Miss Chapman?”

“No, I’m going to be tied up here for a while. Get yourself some lunch.” As the door closed Killgrace looked at her with a grin.

“There’s no doubt who he works for. I’ll have to remind him who pays his wages.”

“Currently me,” Susan said dryly. “London’s still on track.”

“Should we invest further afield? Asia, Germany or Japan…”

“No,” she said, “the mess that’s about to hit Europe over the next twenty years is worse in Asia. We wait until the fifties or sixties.” There would be a lot of things they could do in the fifties and sixties, if they survived the next few years – and the coming war.

“So this is phase one, by your plans, complete.” He actually moved, steepling fingers in a gesture she was beginning to find familiar. “What is phase two?”

“Now we take advantage of the lower prices to stockpile imports before June 1930. We need the same stockpiled in Canada and Britain, before the worst tariffs come in.”

“Define ‘worst’?”

“I don’t remember the exact date, but the Smoot-Hawley bill comes in in June 1930, followed by retaliatory tariffs world-wide. World-wide trade is devastated, it drops by sixty percent and the import tariffs mean our costs will go up by around thirty percent if we have to move any goods.

“For the duration, our three sites need to operate autonomously. The British and Canadian subsidiaries are well-placed to ride this out. They can operate autonomously until the tariffs are revoked. We need to hold as much stock as we can to ride it out.”

“Why do you believe we need overseas sites?” He asked. She paused, wondering how much information to give away. If she told him too much she would lose a major bargaining chip. On the other hand, this was one she would need to act on soon anyway.

“Because from 1933 onwards it becomes illegal for Americans to own monetary gold until the 1970’s. It’s too useful a commodity for us to lose access to.”

“Agreed.” He looked at her, tilting his head with a smirk. “And you are not a US citizen.”

“Why, how good of you to notice,” she said, with slight irony. “And you are. Going to vote?”

“I already did.” Killgrace responded, and Susan looked up in surprise. The smirk got wider. “Absentee ballot.”

“Exercising the only influence you can over the government?”

“It is power. I possess it, so I use it.” Logical and succinct, as always, and yet the creature sounded almost relaxed.

“Did you know Election Day this year is also Guy Fawkes Night?” she said with a chuckle, sitting on the edge of the desk. “The US are electing their governments on the same day we celebrate an attempt to blow ours up.”

“Are you not supposed to be celebrating their survival?” Killgrace asked sardonically, and Susan coughed.



The meeting ended shortly afterwards. The truth was that until the prices came in from George, Susan had no solid information to plan ahead. Instead she was trapped behind her desk for most of the day, torn between phone calls, arranging meetings for later in the week, and the newspapers detailing the catastrophic of the last few days. The wireless in the background told the story of the slump continuing, even as the announcers tried to place a positive spin on it.

Even the announcements of dividends by US Steel and American Can did not help. Rockefeller announced he and his family were buying, with a focus on solid stocks that would hardly help the investment trusts, and the market continued to slump lifelessly.

By close of day the prices had rallied a little. She knew it would not last. The Crash was behind them. The Great Depression lay ahead.

~ End Entry ~

(Closing Index: 258.47)

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