"That's because you don't want to believe it," Lewis retorted. "You're a banker. If the money system collapses, you and your bank are out of business. All you could do would be to sell off the worthless paper currency as wallpaper or toilet rolls." Margot said, "Oh, come one"
Edwina sighed. "You know this always happens when you provoke him, so why do it
"No, not" her husband insisted. "With all respect, my dear, I demand to be taken seriously. I neither need nor want tolerance." Margot asked, "What do you want?"
"I want the truth to be accepted that America has ruined its own and the world's money system because of politics, greed, and debt. I want it clearly understood that bankruptcy can happen to nations as well as to individuals and corporations.I want a realization that the United States is close to bankruptcy because, God knows!, there's enough precedent and history to show us how and why it happens. Look at the city of New York! It's bankrupt, broke, patched up with string and Band-Aids, with anarchy waiting in the wings. And that's only the beginning. What's happening in New York will happen nationally."
Lewis went on, "The collapse of currencies isn't new. Our own century is littered with examples, each one traceable to the selfsame cause a government which began the syphilis of inflation by printing fiat money unbacked by gold or any other value. For the past fifteen years the United States has done precisely that."
"There are more dollars in circulation than there should be," Alex admitted. "No one with any sense doubts it."
Lewis nodded dourly. 'There's also more debt than can ever be repaid; debt that's expanding like a monstrous bubble. American governments have spent billions wildly, borrowed insanely, piled up debits beyond believing, then used the printing presses to create more paper money and inflation. And people, individuals, have followed tl" example." Lewis motioned in the direction of the hearse ahead. "Bankers like Ben Rosselli have done their damnedest, piling crazy debts on debts. You too, Alex, with your inflationary credit cards and easy borrowing. When will people relearn the lesson that there isn't any easy debt? I tell you, as a nation and as individuals, Americans have lost what they once had financial sanity." "In case you're wondering, Margot," Edwina said,
"Lewis and I don't discuss banking much. It's more peaceful at home that way."
Margot smiled. "Lewis, you sounded exactly like your newsletter."
"Or," he said, "like the beating of wings in an empty room where no one hears."
Edwina said suddenly, "It's going to be a white funeral." She leaned forward, looking through the car's steamy windows at the snow outside, now falling heavily. The suburban streets which they had reached were smooth with freshly fallen snow and the cortege slowed as the police motorcycle escort up ahead reduced its speed for safety.
The cemetery, Alex realized, was barely half a mile away.
Lewis D'Orsey was adding a postscript. "So, for the bulk of people, all hope is gone, the money game is over. Savings, pensions and fixed interest investments are becoming worthless; the clock's at five past midnight. Right now it's every man for himself, a time to survive, for individuals to scramble for financial life belts. And there are ways to profit from general misfortune. In case you're interested, Margot, you'll find descriptions in my latest book, Depressions and Disasters: How to Make Money from Them. Incidentally, it's selling very well."
"If you don't mind," Margot said, 'I'll pass. It seems a bit like cornering vaccine in an outbreak of bubonic plague."
Alex had turned his back to the others and was peering through the windshield. Sometimes, he reflected, Lewis became theatrical and went too far. Usually, though, an undercurrent of sense and solid reasoning ran through everything he said. It had today. And Lewis could be tight about a financial crash ahead. If it happened, it would be the most disastrous in history.
Nor was Lewis D'Orsey alone. A few financial pundits shared his views, though they were unpopular and frequently derided, perhaps because no one wanted to believe an apocalypse of doom bankers least of all. But it was coincidental that Alex's own thoughts had been turning of late in two of Lewis's directions. One was a need for greater thrift and saving a reason Alex had urged emphasis on savings deposits in his presentation to the board a week ago. The second was unease about the swelling debts of individuals resulting from proliferating credit, including, especially, those plastic cards
He swung around once more, confronting Lewis. "Believing the way you do that a crash is coming soon and assuming you were an ordinary saver or depositor with U.S. dollars, what kind of bank would you want to have your money in?"
Lewis said unhesitatingly, "A big bank. When a crash comes, small banks are the first to fail. It happened in the 1920s when small banks went down like tenpins' and it win happen again because small banks don't have sufficient cash to survive a panic and a run Incidentally, forget federal deposit insurance! The money available is less than one percent of all bank deposits, nowhere near enough to cover a countrywide chain of bank failures."
Lewis considered, then went on. "But small banks won't be the only ones to fail next time. A few of the big ones will go under, too those with too many millions locked into big industrial loans; with too him a proportion of international deposits hot money which can vanish overnight; with too little liquidity when scared depositors want cash. So if I were your mythical depositor, Alex, I'd study the balance sheets of the big banks, then choose one with a low loan-to-deposit ratio and a broad base of domestic depositors."
"Well, that's nice," Edwina said. "It just so happens that FMA fills all of those conditions."
Alex nodded. "At the moment." But the picture could change, he reasoned, if Roscoe Heyward's plans for new and massive loans to industry were agreed to by the board.
The thought was a reminder that the bank's directors would meet again, two days from now, to resume their interrupted meeting of a week ago. Now the car slowed and stopped, inched forward, stopped again. They had come to the cemetery and traveled through its roads.
Doors of other cars were opening, figures emerging, carrying umbrellas or holding coat collars tightly, hunched up against the cold and falling snow. The coffin was being lifted from the hearse. Soon it, too, was snow covered.
Margot took Alex's arm and, with the D'Orseys, joined others in the quiet procession following Ben Rosselli to his grave.
By prior agreement, Roscoe Heyward and Alex Vandervoort did not attend the reconvened meeting of the board. Bach waited in his office until summoned.
The summons came shortly before noon, two hours after the board had begun discussion. Also called to the boardroom was the bank's vice-president of public relations, Dick French, who would release an announcement to the press concerning the new FMA president.
Already the PR chief had had two news releases prepared with accompanying photographs. Their respective headings read:
ROSCOE D. HEYWARD
IS FIRST MERCANTILE AMERICAN BANK PRESIDENT
IS FIRST MERCANTILE AMERICAN BANK PRESIDENT
Envelopes were addressed. Messengers had been alerted. Priority copies of one release or the other were to be delivered this afternoon to wire services, newspaper city desks, TV and radio stations. Several hundred more would go out by first-class mail tonight.
Heyward and Alex arrived at the boardroom together. They slipped into their regular, vacant seats at the long elliptical table.
The PR vice-president hovered behind the meeting chairman, Jerome Patterton.
It was the director with the longest service, the Honorable Harold Austin, who announced the board's decision.
Jerome Patterton, he stated, until now vice-chairman of the board, would become president of First Mercantile American Bank immediately.
While the announcement was being made, the appointee himself seemed somewhat dazed. The PR vice-president mouthed inaudibly, "Oh, shit"
Later the same day Jerome Patterton had separate talks with Heyward and Vandervoort.
"I'm an interim Pope," he informed each of them. 'I didn't seek this job, as you're aware. You also know, and so do the directors, that I'm only thirteen months from mandatory retirement.
"But the board was deadlocked over you two, and choosing me allows that length of time before they need make up their minds.
"Your guess about what happens then is as good as mine. In the meantime, though, I intend to do my best and I need the help of both of you. I know I shall get it because that's to your best advantage.