By the time Dean Thomas got to Regal Mortgage, the line of depositors stretched from the front door and down the footpath for the whole length of the building. Ten floors above, Sir Murray St Clair stood at the window of his plush office looking down on the ever growing queue of desperation below as he half listened to Tom Wright’s dull voice droning on, pleading for something to be done to save the small depositors’ funds.
Tom had been an accountant with the company since its establishment forty years earlier as a Friendly Society for members of the industrial and mining unions. A yesterday’s man, thought St Clair. Not a man for the free enterprise rough and tumble of financial deregulation.
Sir Murray turned away from the window and faced Wright. “What can I do Tom? Do you know what would happen we opened for trading? I’ll tell you. They’d take the money elsewhere.”
“But it’s their money,” Wright pleaded.
“Look at them Wright. They knew the risks,” St Clair said as he motioned for the accountant to join him at the window. “They’ll happily take high rates of interest in good times, but when the going gets tough it’s a different story. All they want to do is bail out.”
“They are depositors, not shareholders,” Tom Wright suggested with growing fatalism.
“Exactly! And our prime responsibility must always be to the shareholders,” St Clair said firmly, ending the conversation as one of his young assistants knocked and walked into the room.
“Are the doors secure and the accounts frozen?” St Clair demanded.
“Yes Sir Murray,” the young man replied.
With this simple confirmation, Tom Wright Knew he had failed. He slipped quietly out of the opulent office, head bowed, and did not even seem to notice the supportive words from Helen as he walked over to the lift.
“So what have you got for me Michael?” Sir Murray asked as the young man laid a spread sheet out on the desk.
The assistant outlined the dismal financial state of the company in general terms, taking care to avoid the technical minutiae of money manipulation which he knew his boss did not understand.
“Yes, that’s all very well,” Sir Murray interrupted irritably. “But how much of our money is safe?”
“We should be able to protect our investments in these developments in Hong Kong and the Philippines,” the assistant said pointing to a couple of rows of figures in the printout. “Perhaps even this one in Italy. And, I think was can also retain control over these foreign currency accounts…”
The assistant stopped suddenly, distracted by the blur of a body as it fell silently past the window.
“By George! Did you see that?” Sir Murray exclaimed as the two men walked to the window and looked down. In the street below, a circle of onlookers was beginning to form around the spreadeagled body of a man on the pavement.
“Looks like Tom Wright,” Sir Murray St Clair said matter-of-factly. “Always took things too much to heart, Old Tom. Not cut out for modern banking. I thought the pressure might eventually push him over the edge.”
Down on the street, Dean Thomas stared blankly at the broken body on the pavement in front of him. Oblivious to the sudden eruption of activity around him, he became a perfect backdrop for the image makers of the news.
A television crew rushed over. The young reporter immediately started a live cross back to the morning news with a piece to camera.
“In a scene reminiscent of the Wall Street crash of 1929, a man has plunged to his death from the window of a company in financial crisis.” The reporter said earnestly. “The man is believed to be an employee of Regal Mortgage, but the cause of his fall remains a mystery.”
Dean was soon surrounded by more reporters sprouting more clichés about the portent of depression where bodies rain from the sky.
When Dean stumbled into their shop several hours later, his wife Madge was glad that their daughter Jane would not be coming home after school. She’d arranged to stay at her friend Ruth’s house that night as they had rowing training early the next morning.
Dean explained what had happened and meekly agreed when Madge suggested she call a doctor. Madge knew her husband must be in a bad way for, like many men, he normally reacted badly to any form of sympathy or the suggestion that he might need help.
In the next episode, Good Rowing, Bad News, following a successful mornings training at the boys rowing shed Jane returns to hear the news that she may have to change schools again.