Killgrace In Depression

Friday 1st November 1929

Susan looked at the bank draft from Ferris with an odd mix of guilt and relief before she handed it to her bank manager. When the runner arrived on her doorstep that morning, she had not waited, hailing a cab and going directly to Ferris’ offices to collect the draft. She would be late into work, but this was more important. Since she had already told Cet about the money, knowing her chances of hiding that much money were non-existent, there was no reason to keep hiding her broker.

As the banker handed her the paperwork, she signed and checked it had been added to her account correctly. As of this moment, she was now officially a millionaire. Susan had tried many things in her long life, being a resistance fighter, a scientist, poverty, nobility, a mother, a grandmother, but never yet being filthy, stinking, rich. She would probably enjoy it more if she did not know how badly so many people were going to suffer in the upcoming crisis. Still, at least in her small corner of the world, she could keep the wolf from the factory door.

Gathering her things, trying not to notice the poorly hidden relief on her bank manager’s face at the unexpected and large payment, she hurried out. According to her diary she had not missed another meeting, but with the current pace of change she could take no chances. She could also – and she smiled to herself – afford another cab to drive her back to Killgrace and drop her at the end of the road.


The crowd was visible from the end of the street. With a sinking feeling, she began to walk down the road, trying to get a glimpse of the Killgrace factory. From here it was still hidden by the larger buildings around it, and the towering shape of Williams’ building.

Oddly, the doors of the Williams factory were still closed. There were workers milling around outside, and the crowd were beginning to get agitated as the horrible truth slowly dawned. Susan kept her head down, hoping they would not recognise her as she threaded her way through the workers.

She did not risk the front entrance of the factory, walking round to the back entrance for trade deliveries and cutting through to reception inside the building. There was a new girl sitting behind the reception desk, but a couple of the larger warehouse workers were with her. Susan recognised impromptu security when she saw it. Beyond the small windows in the front doors, the crowd were still visible further out on the street.

“What’s happening at Williams?” Susan asked, too worried to remember a polite greeting.

“I don’t know, Miss Chapman,” the new receptionist said, a little tense but otherwise composed. “They just didn’t open this morning.”

“Keep an eye on it. If the crowd gets dangerous, call the police.”

“I already have. They’re sending a few mounted officers down to keep an eye on things.”

“Well done,” Susan said. “Will you be alright here?”

“Yes.” The receptionist gave a bright smile to the two men with her. “I’ve got the deadbolts down. Nothing comes in here until Bill or Charlie have checked them through the window.” Susan nodded, reassured.

“Any letters or messages for me?” She asked, and the girl glanced at the window a little nervously.

“I’m afraid not, Miss Chapman.” Given the mood of the crowd outside, there probably would not be any until it was cleared, Susan knew.

“Send it up when it gets here, please,” she asked, and walked into the offices, slinging her coat over one arm. Even in the stairwell, she could just hear the noises from the street. The rowdy crowd outside could be a problem, particularly when Porter turned up and reminded certain workers of the bank they had failed to close.

Opening a new bank branch on the day the factory next door closed down might not be the best time for staff moral. Perhaps she should wait until after the Election Day. Before she could decide anything, she needed to speak to Williams and find out what was going on. The rival industrialist would hate the idea, but a buyout by Killgrace could solve both their problems – he’d have funds and they would be able to refill their production schedule. It just depended on what happened with the shares.

Dropping her coat in her office, she opened the door to the breakroom, lighting the stove and putting the kettle on before she realised that the people in there had not moved. Mary was sitting at the table, clutching a handkerchief tightly in one hand. Her fingers were flexing, digging into the material as her hands moved convulsively.

“Mary?” Susan said, and the woman just shook her head, lips pressed tightly together. There was a knock at the door. Susan opened it, confused. The breakroom was open to all. Henry stood there, face drawn.

“Can I come in?” Susan was so stunned by the request she did not think to say it was not necessary to ask. She just stepped to one side.

“Sarah said you might ask about the Williams factory,” he said gravely. There was a choked sob from Mary. “I guess you didn’t hear. Last Thursday, after the crash, the bank called in the mortgage. They started foreclosure at the beginning of the week.”

“Oh no. Where’s Mr. Williams? I’d better call him.” Susan reached for her coat, and Mary just shook her head again.

“Susan.” Henry’s voice cut into her thoughts. “They’d mortgaged everything to pay for the upgrade. The factory, the house, and they lost their savings in the crash.”

“Maybe we can–” She stuttered to a halt as her mind recoiled from the obvious implication. Henry looked at her and nodded.

“Last night there was an accident. Mr. and Mrs. Williams were found in their kitchen this morning. The gas had been left on. They passed away in their sleep.” In the parlance of the time, Susan knew that most likely meant they had put a pillow on the table, closed the windows, and turned on the gas. Faced with an old age with no money and no home, she wondered how many would take that choice in the coming days — and how many sympathetic coroners would report such cases as accidents to spare the surviving family the stigma of suicide.

“I see. Thank you for telling me.” Susan rose, walking down to the basement. She had not known Williams well but for two years he had been a rival. Two weeks ago they had been having dinner in the Marine Grill. Now he and his wife were gone.

She let herself in, looking towards the bench where the alien worked.

“The Williams factory was foreclosed on yesterday. Mr. Williams is dead.” Susan said it emotionlessly only from long practice of breaking such news to relatives. Her colleague was completely unmoved.

“Their location is of unique value.”

“True, but we should not buy it yet unless someone else decides to move in. Let them sort out the legal issues and liens first. The value is going to drop anyway.” As the market collapsed, more and more factories would close, leading to industrial property prices plummeting. Susan hoped, for the sake of Williams’ never-met daughter, that his finances were separate from the company. Otherwise his debts may not die with him.

“The operation is suitable for strategic acquisition as one unit?”

“No. Their production line is inefficient and they’ve got five times our workers.” It was the cold logic of business, but it was inescapable: overloading their lifeboat would help no one. The price for the company as a going concern – paying debts obtaining the factory, upgrading it and retraining the workers – would be far too high, even with all their reserves. She forced herself to take the logical view. “Do we know who his customers were, and are we in a position to acquire his contracts?”

“Current factory production is at ninety-eight percent of full capacity.”

“Expect that to drop,” Susan said, bluntly. The first cancelled orders had already come in. Somehow she could not see the rail expansion going ahead, and many of the planned skyscrapers would be cancelled or reduced in scope. “We will have spare capacity. If necessary we can introduce a second shift, or half-shift, in the evenings.”

Susan watched Cet carefully as she made the suggestion. It would make things more difficult for Cet, since the alien disliked company and could only move freely when the factory was empty. To her surprise it did not immediately reject the idea.

“Details of potential orders will be required.”

“I will get those-” She shrugged, “-or Henry will.”

“Progress on boarding houses?”

“I’ve one person who I’d trust to run one. Finding properties won’t be a problem.” Between the general trend of the economy and her knowledge of Porter & Mason’s property and mortgage portfolio it would not be hard to find people in trouble to buy from. She just hoped she would have enough to offer a fair price.

“A further logical acquisition would be a hospital.” Susan thought about it, and nodded.

“True, but then we’re hardly Killgrace Industries are we? Components, Glassware in London, a US bank, a hospital, boarding houses, mining in Canada…it’s turning into an enterprise-level organisation.”

“Then we shall require enterprise-level command.” It sounded completely unpeturbed, and Susan glared at it.

“You planned this,” she accused. “So much for not making a footprint on reality!”

“I am acting consistantly with a businessman in my position during this period.” Cet sounded smug, and worse, it was right. The I’s were back again, and Susan sighed, wondering if fostering individuality in such a creature was really a good idea.

“And if you push the change too far?”

“Low probability. Adaptations have begun.” Susan looked up sharply, and it continued. “High probability Killgrace will assume the Williams’ historic role.” Susan kept her face carefully blank. It was a horrible thought that just by being there they had replaced Williams within the timeline. Every step of the conflict between the businesses had been a logical one, every action within the remit of the period. Yet, she knew too well, that was exactly how reality would fit them in, forming a pearl of history to contain the irritant. It was better not to wonder whether Williams would still be alive if they had sold the factory to him.

“So you’re going to get round the problem of reality rejecting you by taking the role of major global industrialist?” Susan said, focusing on the present.

“It is an easy adaptation for reality to make, and allows limited use of advanced technology without causing issues.” She sat back, shaking her head.

“And I am your assistant?”

“This is also a role wielding considerable power.”

“There is one problem: you are not David Kilgrace.”

“I am what is left of David Kilgrace. I am acting in accord with his behaviour patterns.” Susan bit her lip to keep from saying that what was left of David Kilgrace was at the back of the lab, in the freezer, and the only reason she was working with the alien was to stop other humans ending up the same way. She turned on her heel and left.


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