The day before the meeting of Regal Mortgage depositors, Madge Thomas was in the kitchen behind the family delicatessen having her first cuppa of the day as she listened to the early edition of AM on the radio.
“There is mounting anger over the collapse of Regal Mortgage and serious allegations of financial impropriety by the senior management of the company,” The journalist reported. “Several financial experts predict depositors will receive as little as four cents in the dollar if the company is wound up today.”
Madge picked up a pen from the kitchen table and carefully wrote the name ‘Murray St Clair’ on a piece of paper.
“Regal Mortgage’s involvement in the US sub-prime market resulted in substantial losses for the company. And, it seems that the domestic loans could also in trouble as it now appears that the securities for many of these loans were grossly over valued.”
As the journalist informed listeners of the depositors meeting planned for the following day, Madge Thomas got up from the kitchen table and deliberately put the piece of paper containing St Clair’s name into the freezer compartment of the family fridge.
The directors of Regal Mortgage had not wanted a large turnout at the depositors meeting. The minimum number of announcements required to meet their legal obligations were placed in newspapers and the remaining advertising was confined to posters inside the various branches of the company, but since the doors had been closed following the suspension of trading these were only seen by members of the staff.
The location of the meeting was a small town hall in one of the city’s outer suburbs renowned for its poor public transport. On the night of the meeting, several hundred small depositors still managed to make their way to the meeting venue, and all available seats were occupied by the time Dean and Madge arrived so they stood with the growing crowd at the back of the room. The audience was the amorphous mix of pensioners, small business proprietors and tradespeople often feted by the media and politicians alike as battlers and aspirationalists. These were people who wanted more, a better life for them and their families, and most with their savings now at risk.
On a stage at the front of the room, Sir Murray St Clair and four members of the Regal Mortgage board, all middle aged men in dark suits, were seated behind a long table looking down on the audience before them.
The Chairman, a retired politician always several steps shy of statesmen status and now one step away from the Zimmer or perhaps the pine-box, droned on about the plight of the company. Warned of dire consequences if depositors were allowed to withdraw all their money, the audience were stunned into passivity by the time Sir Murray St Clair was introduced.
Sir Murray got to his feet and slowly walked to lectern. He looked terrible, his nose red and running, and sounded even worse. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said in a very croaky voice, “It has become fashionable in recent times to knock the competitive spirit, the willingness to struggle, the need to fight, the desire to survive – all those things that made this a great country.”
It was a strong start, if not exactly original. St Clair had deliberately modelled his speech on the Gordon Gekko ‘Greed is Good‘ rant from the film “Wall Street”. The film had long been a favourite of Sir Murray St Clair although he didn’t much like the ending.
The severe and unseasonable bout of flu that had clearly struck Sir Murray caused Madge Thomas to once again wonder whether putting the names of those that crossed her in the freezer was just the bit of silly fun she had always thought. As St Clair’s voice deteriorated to a husky low growl, the overall similarity with the Gekko character became greater: A comic caricature which may have had the audience in stitches if it wasn’t their money at stake.
“Let me assure you, at Regal Mortgage those virtues are still alive,” Sir Murray rasped. “Today, the competitive spirit is once again under threat, and I ask you all to stand firm in the face of this latest adversity, for there is nothing wrong with wanting more. The desire to get more wealth is the…” Sir Murray paused as his voice faded to a whisper. A small group in the audience, young men and women with fashionable haircuts and smart suits, immediately began to applaud.
Dean and Madge Thomas looked at each other in amazement; the robbed cheering the robber for a few stirring words. Dean raised his hand to ask a question, but unable to catch the eye of the Chairman shouted, “All we wanted to do was put some money away for our daughter’s education, and you people said it was safe.”
“There will be a time for questions later, Sir,” the Chairman interjected.
“Before going to questions, I have an important announcement to make, and a request,” St Clair croaked. “We have not been sitting idly by. At this very moment, a rescue bid is being arranged for Regal Mortgage, which should secure the future of the company … and so I ask you ….”
St Clair stopped again, suddenly racked by a bout of coughing. Blew his nose and then continued to speak to the audience who were now listening with the intense interest of the condemned waiting to hear of their pardon.
“So I ask you all to be patient and leave your money in our safe hands. Only in that way will we be able to overcome this current difficulty and give you the dividends you so richly deserve, including you Sir,” St Clair said pointing at Dean. “Your daughter will be able to continue her education and I wish her all the very best.”
Dean wanted to reply but knew that this would not be possible for most of the audience was now enthusiastically clapping, desperately endorsing the slim sliver of salvation offered by Sir Murray St Clair.
“Some choice! Four cents in the dollar wouldn’t pay for the shoes,” Dean sarcastically said to his wife as they left the room.
In the next episode, Kaytee Offer, following a bruising reception at Purvis Holdings, Mr Oshi offers Ray Purvis a possible way out, but at a price.