Chapter 1

Recession bit in the frosty stretches of January when economists returning from the holiday break announced two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

‘It’s a cyclical blip,’ they maintained in the lexicon beloved of quangos and ‘usual to the regular ups and downs on the economic curve. At this point in time, we’re in a trough. However, in the second half of the year we expect a return to growth, albeit a half to one percent at most.’

Still, summer landed and with it further underperforming statistics which exposed the slump as worse than first supposed. International markets became spooked and soon major indices the world over observed thirty percent and more shorn from their value. Pension funds took a hammering, and soon the major economies encountered a knock-on impact.

‘The domino effect’ some termed it, with one nation trailing the other into what organised as more of a crisis with each inevitable show of the sun. Still, leaders gathered at their accustomed summits where they issued predictable proclamations to spell out that what took place remained in the normal sphere of practice with their being no legitimate reasons for undue panic.

Regardless, the year arrived at its twelfth month with ever more turbulent waters gushing beneath the bridges of ruin. Too, in the middle of the joyous season, many of the largest employers in most of the fifty states announced layoffs. While they regretted the reduction of employee numbers, they described in their press releases that they could not enter a new fiscal period carrying the burden of a payroll that weighed excessively on company finances.

It was these businesses which were the frontrunners at withdrawing sharpened hatchets from the tool shed. Yet, through pastures green and in cities grey, a fair quantity of small to mid-size firms supposed they might ride out the roughest of the trade winds and therefore held on to their loyal workforce even while not at full capacity. Soon, however, they too succumbed to the inevitable. Unconfirmed reports placed the total layoffs at extraordinary levels, but not until the department of labour released their official results could they verify this hearsay.

Damage to the system had deteriorated to a position so extraordinary; the president asked her Secretary of State if the calculations were in error. To her dismay, that cabinet member delivered a reply affirming their accuracy.

This havoc continued, and as with a monster who when the meat runs out feeds upon its food-givers, the economy soon gorged upon itself. Inflation soared, provoking large-scale bank withdrawals. Corporations pursued their redundancies with fervour and thus fattened the unemployment lines ever more. Multiple industries without fear or favour became gripped in the squeeze, so that when their businesses went to the wall, it affected entire communities on all four points of the compass.

As a global affair; Central Banks, to halt the decline, pumped money into that funnel reserved for fiscal emergencies. They referred to it as a jab similar to a shot of Vitamin B. All the same; the slide persisted in its relentless march of tears. And more; with every measure the boffins enacted, it merely precipitated additional dire news. Closures doubled, trebled and quadrupled. Staples, which the populace prior to now accepted as a certainty, turned up on shelves in short supply as output affected the various supply chains.

Quarter upon quarter, as opposed to an improvement, the prognosis became more grim. The word everyone resisted the mention of reared its sinister head—Depression.

‘No, they protested—what we’re experiencing we cannot mention in the same sentence as that frightful era of our forefathers. The similarities are few and the dynamics have altered beyond all comprehension.’

All the while, however, and with each date ripped from millions of desk calendars worldwide, present happenings mirrored those of a bygone generation. Then a Friday showed, and with it being the thirteenth, some held that as a portent of ill winds buffeted by a record-setting Jetstream. Thus it came to pass.

The markets, by this juncture having already endured a battering, shed an extra portion of their worth before an automatic shutdown triggered. Despite these instruments of safety, however, the haemorrhaging picked up on the Monday from where it had left off, which forced a second fifteen minute pause.

Financial services, banks and alternate monetary organisations understood the horror they were in. Before the week was out, household names shut their doors, with not just the shedding of jobs in the thousands, but the decimation of modern society. Some ATM’s quit dispensing cash and the tellers of various branches could no longer service what appeared as credit balances in checking and savings account - the notes and bills had run dry.

At last, and with reluctance because up till then they couldn’t countenance it, the Chair of the Reserve declared the present status a depression.  All the same, he still reminded his audience of this being a technical term and not a category to become overly alarmed with.

‘As with a broken heart,’ he stated ‘these trials soften with time.’

Still, however, that genial old man failed to materialise and wrap an affable arm about American industry. The pink slips of termination churned out with gusto; the machines spewing them, evidently functioning without a break. Supplies became scarce and mass movement of people befell the country like no other for decades. Wherever leads concerning available work surfaced, that’s where the buses and trains ferried men and women for the maximum twenty-four hours.

Much of the rumour mill was bogus. A fellow might arrive in the south to learn that it was out west they needed his skills. Next, a girl could venture to California only to realise her line of work lay in Colorado. Here and there they shuttled, but few hired. ‘No Work’ signs hung from inside the double-doors to those firms that yet muddled through. Some resorted to the installation of electronic buzzers to keep the prospectors out. Hence, similar to a swanky jewellery store with expensive stones in the cabinet, they did not grant admittance unless a person appeared to belong—in the right way.

Maintaining a shrewd eye on this mayhem was one Bryce Ditloc, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ditcloc Pharmaceuticals LLC. Quite what the distinction was between these titles remained anyone’s guess as his was a privately owned company with no shareholders except for the family which lent it its name. Most of Ditloc’s employees were of the assumption the title sounded delicious to an audience, seasoned or green and correct they stood. Bryce had included the CEO portion upon taking the helm, declaring it a modern necessity and presuming it lent gravitas to his station.

From the 3rd and top floor to the headquarter building in that strange mix of commercial and residential throughout the suburbs on the north side of Houston, he reclined in a plush chair of cream leather interior to an equally opulent suite which overlooked a shared parking lot in this once busy district of the city. The sun was out, and it glistened off the light silvery concrete surface in a sheen which might blind if one hadn’t the benefit of an air-conditioned office or a pair of tinted glasses, both of which the above enjoyed.

Ditloc, although indoors yet sported his fashionable and expensive set of frames (he’d not yet removed them since stepping out from the car several minutes earlier) as he perused the traffic on the side-streets and service roads of the area then speculated on the destination or purpose of each traveller.

Bryce remained fond of this guessing game, for a question that passed through his considerations was if the body behind the wheel performed better or worse than before the collapse.

If one driver operated a late model vehicle, he assumed them unaffected. If, however, it seemed to his eye they’d traded their upmarket ride for a fuel-efficient five-year-old run-around, he then supposed they’d taken a hit. If it looked like they might be off to the grocery store instead of pulling up outside one of the clustered-together office blocks or steering towards the communal parking garages to the rear, his logic told him they’d no work to go to. This conjecture wasn’t grounded in fact but regardless, for Bryce it passed for a fun quiz.

His attention switched to the few pedestrians milling about. Noting the ones who walked with haste, he predicted they held jobs they daren’t be late for. Someone with a reason to hurry may either be the middle-manager boss who never slacked off out of fear of demotion or the skivvy beneath him terrified of the soup kitchen. More on foot he thought might well be checking in with the several employment agencies that functioned around here or perhaps trying their hand with those premises’ which yet had activity.

Hasn’t one or two o’ those agencies pulled the shutters down? Bryce queried in his regional accent before contemplating the irony of a jobless recruiter. Best o’ luck too in your cold-callin’; he chuckled to the pane of glass between him and the open air, understanding most of these hunters wouldn’t make it past the entrance.

Still more of the pavement amblers impressed him as having neither any urgency in their gait nor the obvious indicators of what took up their time: ‘Maybe it’s as simple as these bums havin’ nothin’ more beneficial t’ do than skive off,’ said he out loud.

He peered down at their clothes and posture. Ditloc, if nothing else, was a studier of humanity. He didn’t keep many pastimes, although this revealed as a hobby he adored. He disliked people with an intensity that chiefly he hid. However, in a plain contradiction to this, he still relished their examining. Bryce Ditloc, when a boy wished not for a Chemistry Set, but its biological equivalent. It was a yearning of his to prod, poke, slice and dissect while yet alive. And that passion inside of him continued into adulthood with his fantasy being to survey, experiment, and then test the limits of human endurance.