Killgrace In Depression

Thursday 31st October 1929

It was Halloween, but for many the horrors had already happened. Susan knew it was going to be a bad day when she arrived at the office to a diary full of emergency meetings to see Sarah put the phone down and look straight at her.

“Miss Chapman? That was Mr Porter, for you.” At this time in the morning, a call from the banker could not be good news, and Susan did not bother to take her coat off.

“What did he say?”

“He said it was about Saturday, and he’d like to move tomorrow’s meeting forward?” Susan blinked. If Porter was not prepared to discuss it on the phone, Susan would have to go to him.

“This is important. Hold my meetings for the morning and tell Henry to bring the car round.” She leafed quickly through her post as Sarah made the calls. She was not looking forward to facing Porter after Tuesday. She could only hope shock and adrenaline had blurred his memories of her comments or this meeting could be difficult. “Anything else for me?”

“No.” Sarah’s quick shake of the head told Susan everything. There was no detail on the share portfolio yet. “When will you be back?”

“I’m not sure. If it runs into the afternoon I’ll call you,” she said, running down the front steps as the car pulled round from the back.

“Morning, Henry. Porter & Mason, please.”

“Morning.” He pulled the car away quickly as he picked up her her urgent comment. “Any news?”

“On the share pool?” Susan asked, and caught his quick nod. “Not yet. Apparently we did make a profit, but I don’t know how much. How are things with you?”

“It’s all rumours. I can’t find out whats true until things happen.”

“Believe me, I know that feeling.” There was a moment’s hush as Henry turned a corner.

“We’ve got Jeannie’s friend staying with us now. She was a live-in maid for a fund manager’s family. He came home on Tuesday, said he had had a bad day on the market, and fired her. They’re selling the house.” Susan nodded. If there was no money to pay the bills, luxuries like a maid would be the first things to go. The lack of labour laws that worked in Killgrace’s favour left most employees at their employers’ mercy. For many the idea of the loyal retainer for life was about to shatter.

“It’s happening a lot. We just want to make sure it doesn’t happen here.”

It was a short trip to Porter & Mason bank, but the number of people thronging the streets made it slow. Susan jumped out as soon as she was near enough, leaving Henry to find a parking space, and made the rest of the way on foot. Pushing through the crowds she reached the bank. The clerk hurried her straight into Mr. Porter’s office, ignoring the glares of those waiting for appointments.

“Mr Travis has declared he is winding up his company and retiring.” Porter began. That is nearly ten percent of the bank’s cash deposit gone.”

“How quickly is he winding it up?” she asked

“He will be scaling down operations over the next few months with an eye to selling remaining stock and closing by Christmas,” Porter said, turning a bank ledger round and pushing it towards her. “After Saturday we are already very low on cash. We could not survive another run.”

“There won’t be one. All Williams’ accounts are paid out?”

“Yes. Williams is not a problem.” Porter dismissed it easily, but continued before she could ask why not. “It’s Mason. He’s been going to the social clubs, saying we’re failing and he is in a position to know.”

“I doubt he will be a problem,” Susan said, annoyed with herself for forgetting to deal with the errant bank partner earlier. “There are too many rumours going around for people to listen to his. Has anyone withdrawn their accounts because of him?”

“I don’t know. We are having the expected amount of account closures, but we aren’t getting any new business to make it up.” Susan looked at him and smiled. The bank needed more cash and account holders, a way to silence a neighsayer, and a way to prove its stability.

“Mr. Porter,” she said, leaning forward “before everything fell apart, I believe we were discussing opening a bank branch.”

“You can’t think that now is a good time to expand? After last week?” He sounded appalled.

“Mr. Porter, I don’t believe there will be any better time,” Susan said. “People want security, now more than ever.”

“People are pulling their money out of the banks!”

“Because the banks were on the stock market. Porter & Mason were not.”

“Yes, but obviously we can’t stay out.” He said it as if it were obvious. “It’s the only way to make up the cash losses. I’ve started planning our re-entry onto the market -”

“Porter & Mason are not re-entering the stock market.”

“Surely now is the best time to repurchase!” he exclaimed, but Susan shook her head.

“No. We will be staying with banking, not broking. The days of high stock returns are over, for now. The way ahead is secured loans, high cash reserves, and moderate interest. Be prudent, Mr. Porter.”

“But we’ve come through the crash. It’s over,” he said, and there was a horror in his voice, a please for reassurance she could not answer.

“Believe me, Mr. Porter, it is only just beginning.” She found she could smile, for the first time in days. The future was dark, but they were well prepared to face it. Now she just had to make sure her employees were protected too. “So, about that bank branch…”

“We don’t really have enough staff, and it will be far too complicated for a junior clerk,” Porter said, trying to make it sound like a confession. Susan recognised the delaying tactic and her smile widened.

“So assign us a senior clerk, promote a promising junior and advertise for a new junior clerk.”

“Hire someone? In this climate?” he protested, and Susan smiled. It was back to business as usual.

“In this climate you may find that being the bank that is opening a new branch and hiring people does more for your customers’ confidence than anything else.”

Porter nodded very slowly as he caught up.

“And it would prove Mason wrong?”

“Exactly. I’d suggest you move our Friday meeting to the afternoon, bring your clerk along and I’ll have some staff ready to start setting up a bank branch.” As he opened his mouth to protest, she continued. “We already have a meeting room ready. Now, if there’s nothing else, I have to get back to work.”


Susan wanted to go home, take a day off for sanity and sleep, but the demands of the business prevented it. It was after ten when she got back to the office, and Sarah hailed her as she came through the door.

“Miss Chapman, the university meeting – ” Susan checked her diary quickly and swore outloud. She had been so busy with the bank she had missed a meeting with one of the few clients she knew would survive the downturn.

“Can they re-arrange?” she asked quickly. Sarah smiled and gestured slightly to calm down.

“Don’t worry. When you weren’t back I sent them to Mr. Marcus. He’s writing the contract now.” Susan let out a quiet, relieved, breath. Her mistake could have cost them a client, and at a time like this that was – as Cet would say – unacceptable. “He asked if you can stick your head through the door to sign on behalf of Mr. Killgrace at ten-thirty?” Susan nodded, relieved.

“Thanks.” It was not like Susan to miss meetings, but over the last few days she had been run ragged. She could do with a secretary, but she simply did not have time to handle advertising, interviewing and hiring a new person right now. Hiring one internally would normally mean going through Mary and promoting from the typing pool, but Susan was the company owner after all, and rank had privileges.

“Sarah, are you a qualified secretary?”

“Yes,” the girl said, in surprise.

“Would you like a promotion? You were right, I do need a secretary.”

“Shouldn’t you be asking Mary this?” Sarah said, obviously wanting the role but wary of future problems.

“I’ll speak to her,” Susan said diplomatically, not mentioning she was going to tell Mary, not ask her. Asking would be a perfect opportunity for Susan to prove she was a bigger person and let Mary prove she was improving, but recently, Mary had a bit too much on her plate and she did not need the stress. “I would suggest this as a temporary role, with an eye to permanent if it works out.”

“But reception?”

“Would one of the part-timers you had doing lates would like to go full-time?” After what had just happened on the markets, that was a silly question and Susan knew it.


“Then please make the arrangements, and move upstairs tomorrow. I’ll let Mary know.” She walked up the stairs quickly, slowing as she reached the tpying pool. It would be the first time she had seen the secretary since the mess last week, and this seemed to be the day for meetings like minefields.

She walked through the typing pool, noting the lowered heads and frantic industry of the typing girls. They were desperate to look busy, to protect their jobs. The light mood and friendly chat were absent for now. Susan could only hope they would return.

“Mary, I need a word,” Susan said, letting herself into the head secretary’s office.

“Thank you for your help, but the problem is solved,” Mary replied, with icy poise.

“Glad to hear it. This is–” Susan said, and Mary promptly interrupted her.

“I have no wish to discuss the matter further,” Mary said over her, and Susan sighed. It would be funny if it were not so irritating. She cut straight to the chase.

“My appointment of an assistant is something you need to be informed of.” Mary stared at her and Susan met her gaze patiently and explained. “I have appointed Sarah from reception as my assistant and full-time secretary.”

“Good,” Mary said, and Susan blinked. That was not the expected reaction.

“Why, may I ask?”

“Sarah’s a good typist, keeps a neat diary, and takes excellent shorthand.” Mary’s tone left unsaid that Susan did none of those things. “She would be a very good secretary.”

“And having a private secretary in the company who cannot type or take shorthand is embarrassing?” Susan said slowly. She was actually trying not to laugh. Mary considered it, and conceded with a dignified nod.

“It says certain things about the company, you understand.”

“Then I am sure the fact the secretary now has a secretary will say something else.”

“Yes.” Mary actually smiled. Susan kept her face straight until she got back to the office. Then, making sure no one could see her, Susan slid the faceplate on her door to busy with a polite nod to Sarah. She shut the door, locking herself in and pulled the window blind down. Then, confident that nothing could observe her, she folded her arms on the table to muffle sound and buried her head in them. Ladylike poise and decorum rarely survived being caught laughing hysterically.


Once Susan had recovered her composure, it was back to the business of the day. The papers reported a cautious recovery on the 30th, as dealers snapped up bargains, but the prices in general still seemed to be falling. Susan no longer cared. The wireless confirmed that today’s trading would be a short session, ending at noon with the announcement that the Exchange staff were too exhausted to continue. The market would be closed for two days to let them recover – and, Susan suspected, to let the system get any chance of another slide out of the way before proper trading resumed.

Further news from Canada and London had arrived. Toronto, after its second huge dip in a month, was too erratic to reinvest in. Mr. Gagnon was holding gold reserves instead, an action she could agree with. With almost four million Canadian dollars in reserve, the Canadian operation was set for the next ten years at least.

The overnight telegram from London, on the other hand, she re-read in disbelief. In New York, the market had collapsed, the world had changed forever. The word from London was that the market in general was far less affected. The difference was borne out by a somewhat smug newspaper piece preaching the dangers of speculation in American stocks. The telegram concluded with share figures, purchased before Meadows had received her hold order on Monday. While she had not intended to repurchase, she could not fault his selection. All solid blue-chip companies, she knew half of the names from her history classes in ways that made them solid long-term holds. They still had enough cash to keep London going. She wrote notes back to them, and then as Sarah knocked on the door waving a diary, Susan stood up to get ready for the afternoon round of meetings.


That evening, Susan gave a quick knock at her final stop of the day. The doorman saw who it was and let her in. The coffee shop above the speakeasy was packed.

“Sorry, we’re not doing credit,” he said, and Susan smiled.

“That’s alright. I’m here to clear the tabs and drop something off.” She suspected she would be a little busy tomorrow, but the delivery was a commitment she had to uphold. Walking through the coffee bar she let herself down the backway, emerging into a packed bar. It was surprisingly quiet for the number of people, no music, little conversation, just exhausted people very serious about their drinks.

“Nice to see you,” Sam said, taking the small bottle of alcohol. “Unflavoured right?”

“Yes.” Susan grinned. “You know, when it smelt of apples, I could tell the police it was perfume.” Sam laughed.

“There’s someone here who definitely wants to see you.” He pointed down the bar, to where a man slouched, normally pristine clothes rumpled and stained. Empty glasses were beginning to line up in front of him.

“George!” she said in relief, and then she saw his face and changed her question on the spot. “George, what happened?”

“That’s what I said,” Sam butted in, and whistled. “It’s a hell of a shiner.”

“War wounds.” George grinned rakishly and held up a dollar for another glass. “Thanks to someone not-so-far-away, I was standing on the trading floor on Black Tuesday with a bulk-load of buy-orders. Never been so popular in my life. Never want to be again.”

“Sorry,” Susan said, cringing slightly.

“You’d think I’d have learned after Thursday. The rest of ’em did. It turned out half of ’em were just waiting for me to stand up.” Susan cringed, and he grinned at her. “So the least you can do is pay my tab.”

“Well George, sorry to be a bother, but there’s only one bit of news I need from you,” Susan said, taking the hint and gesturing for a drink for him.

“All done. Closed. Huge profit,” he said, taking the glass gratefully. “The figures should be done by tomorrow, but that was a hell of a lot of trades you left me with. I’ve been up to my eyes in paperwork. I still got catching up to do.”

“I heard that’s true all over. Are they really closing the trading floor tomorrow to stop the panic?” For a moment she wondered if she had closed her short positions early, and then felt guilty for the thought.

“It’s got nothing to do with controlling the panic. Most of the staff are exhausted. Two or three days without sleep, and most of the traders slept in their offices. Trust me, when they announced the shut down, we cheered.” He gestured round the bar and she took his meaning. Most of the drinkers were male, wearing suits, and looked like they had not slept or shaved for a week. It was probably true. “Gossip has it, it’s going on half-days next week as well to catch up.”

“And you’ll be back out there, wheeling and dealing.” She saw the look on his face, and chuckled “Or you’re taking a holiday?”

“No way, I’m retiring.” It was his turn to laugh at the expression she must have been wearing.

“Got wiped out?” she said, doubtfully.

“Nope, I’m just getting out while it’s good.”

“Good?” she said, wondering how drunk he was. Sam refilled his glass again, leaning back across to them.

“So how come you ain’t gone under?” Sam said, “Half the guys in here look like someone shot their dog.”

“Ah, that’s ‘cos I got a pretty little lady who comes in here every now and again and places pretty interesting deals. And you know what? She’s never wrong.” George raised his whiskey to an imaginary customer. “Well, Ma Bevard didn’t raise no dummy. So I watched her make a killing the first coupla times, and then I started placing my own money following hers. Me and Esme, we’re off to the country. Gotta nice place to retire to.” Susan laughed. She had not realised, but she should have. She had hired George because he was smart; of course a smart broker would follow the money.

“You’ve earned the break,” she said with a grin.

“No problem. I owe it all to you.”

“Is that so?” she said archly, and he grinned at her.

“Weeell…when you took your trade elsewhere as few years ago I might have tracked you down at the new place and slipped the office boy five bucks a week to tell me whenever you made a trade. And Sam, to tell me when you might be in the market for coming back to your old broker.” Susan choked, remembering why she had left George’s services in the first place. He really was too bright.

“Congratulations and Happy Retirement!” she said, holding her glass up, and it was heart-felt. “You took an awful chance.”

“And now we’re both very rich,” George said. “I was pretty sure that you and that company of yours were going to do well. You had to be pretty confident when you bought that bank.”

“I didn’t–”

“Look you want to hire a guy to front the thing, I don’t care. But don’t you tell me you weren’t the one doing the share trading.” Susan coughed.

“Women are far too emotional for that,” she said. George looked at her and burst into cynical laughter. She glared and changed the subject. “So, how’s the brokerage house doing?”

“Wonderfully. I forced them out of the market on the twenty-third.”

“That must have been an interesting meeting.”

“There wasn’t one. I took the shares onto the floor and sold the lot.” George stared at his glass, raising it for a refill. Susan took a sip of her drink, trying to turn it over in her mind. She was not blind to the fact that what George had done was very similar to what Warrbler-Nightingale had done to her back in September, but she thought she could live with it. Unlike the bank, he did not think what he had done was right. It had been a desperation move that saved his clients’ savings — literally — and if it had gone wrong he would have lost everything.

“How did they take it?” she prompted, finally.

“Wednesday night they wanted to fire me. I didn’t dare risk going back to the office. By Thursday morning they’d changed their minds.”

“And what did the clients say?” she probed.

“What? When they phoned in Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, demanding that we sell, and found out we’d sold last week and they still had eighty percent of their savings?” George smirked. “I think they’re putting in a petition for sainthood.” Susan nodded, and braced herself to ask the final million-dollar question.

“So why quit?”

“Going out on the high. I’ve made my fortune and reputation.” He looked at the glass. “As long as I live I’ve never going to match this, am I? Unless you have a hot tip?”

“No, I’m swearing off the stock market for a couple of years. My nerves won’t take much more.”

“Well, tell me when you’re going back on, and I’ll make sure there’s a decent broker waiting.”

“Thanks.” She examined the contents of her glass, watching the sediment stir in the dim light. “And thank goodness it’s over for now.”

“Yeah,” George said, exhausted, happy, and mostly drunk. “What a ride! I think at one point on Friday I’d sold five times as many shares as GE had issued. Then I bought them all back on Tuesday!” He burst out laughing.

“You sold shares you didn’t own?” Susan said, cautiously.

“Yep. I’ve been doing it all month. You really think even I can get hold of that many shares in those companies that fast? The art of the naked short sell.” There was a thump from beside him. Susan had slumped against the side of the bar, dreadfully pale. He stared blankly for a moment. “Hey, hey, wake up…”

“I…” she gasped for air, one hand trying to loosen the button at her throat. He held the sherry up under her nose, wafting it, and supported her glass while she took a gulp. As the colour came back to her face, she sat up straighter on the chair and swallowed. “You mean if I…if anything had gone wrong…”

“But it didn’t.”

“And what do you do if they track that down?”

“Blame exhaustion. Everyone else will be.” It was too late to do anything about it now.

“Well, whatever you did, it worked. Thanks for all your work.” She finished her drink, leaving the slightly suspcious dregs in the glass, and stood up.

“I just got one question before you go.” George knocked his drink back and called for a refill. “If the Rockefellers are buying why aren’t you?” She smiled, leaned across the stool, and muttered, her voice almost too quiet to hear.

“I’ll be buying goldminers in June 1932. Bye, George.” She stood up and threaded her way out through the crowd, as she heard him call for another drink.

Outside the speakeasy, Susan leant against the wall, still recovering from the shock. She was not sure what was worse, that George had committed what could be considered multi-million dollar share fraud with her as an unknowing accomplice, or that she was not sure she would have stopped him if she had known.

~ End Entry ~

(Closing Index: 273.51)

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