Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: BUSY (02/02/17)
TITLE: Good Times
By Gary Ritter
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Howard Marsden glanced up with a grimace from his financial analysis. He knew he should have closed his office door completely. The earnest young man sticking his head in probably deserved better, but Howard simply didn’t have the time to bother with interruptions; there was money to be made.
He recognized the kid and had heard he was well spoken and doing well in his new mailroom job. Regardless, that didn’t give him the right to barge in given Howard’s position and responsibilities. “No, kid, I don’t. What you can do is run get me a fresh cup of coffee.”
His face fell, then brightened. “I’d be happy to, sir. Oh, I’m Thomas. Cream or sugar?”
Howard told him and off he went, hopefully for long enough that the numbers on the page in front of him would begin to make sense. The trolley on the ground floor trundled by with a loud clacking. He’d worked and reworked the bank’s numbers for hours knowing that despite what his eyes told him he could still pull a golden goose from the fire.
The Twenties had been stupendous for Howard’s bank; it had made loans to every business that came along. Its stock had soared. The good times rolled and seemed like they’d never end. But there’d been harbingers in the last couple of trading days that something wasn’t right. People had begun to exercise caution in their financial affairs. The market had corrected. Still, the easy money was too good; Howard saw no need to pull back from the loans and recent stock buying frenzy to change what had worked so well for years.
“What? Oh, it’s you, kid.” Howard accepted the hot cup and sipped. The young man didn’t leave and Howard spread his hands in frustration. “You need something?”
Thomas stood straighter and tugged at his ill-fitting suit. After an uncomfortable hesitation, he said, “I…I’ve seen you walk by my church, and…and just wanted to invite you there next Sunday.”
Howard couldn’t believe it. “Son, do you have any idea the demands on my time? Sunday is a prelude to Monday. Besides, church isn’t for me. You better get back to the mailroom.”
“Sure,” came the crestfallen reply. “I thought you might want to hear the Good News. Thank you for your time, sir. I know you’re busy.”
“More than you know.” The kid left and Howard blew out a puff of air as he took in the date again on that morning’s New York Times: October 29, 1929.
Suddenly a commotion arose outside his office. Some of his employees let out screams. Others ran past his door in a frenzy. What now? His vice president, John Turnbull rushed in, his face a mask of fear. “Howard, have you heard? It’s awful!”
“What is it with you people? Do I have to fire every one of you to get some quiet around here? This is a bank, you know.”
“Howard, the market has crashed. Our stock has fallen to zero. We’re ruined”
In his scramble to stand, Howard’s chair tipped over and nearly brought him down as well. “What are you saying?”
Chaos had erupted in the street. With a start, Howard saw a man on a nearby tall building balancing on the ledge. He threw out his arms, and to Howard’s horror, plummeted to the ground.
His accountants began to line up outside his door. One shouted, “The bank’s assets have dropped through the basement.”
“Get out, every one of you. Go back to your desks. Do your work.”
“We have nothing to work on, sir.”
Howard slammed his door in their faces. His stomach in a knot, he slipped to the floor, his back to the wall. What could he do? Everything he’d worked so hard for; given all of his time; sacrificed his family; nights, weekends—for what?
He crawled to the window and peered out. Another man plunged to his death. Howard shuddered. Perhaps that was best. He was finished. Life without his bank and the wealth it generated meant nothing.
He clawed himself up and opened the window. A slight breeze blew in. He embraced it with his first step onto the ledge. Seventeen stories up. That would do it.
A stray thought came. What was that Good News the kid—Thomas—mentioned? It didn’t matter. He lurched into space…
…just as hands grabbed at his coattails.
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