Chapter 20: Bear Market

Finegan is continuing to peddle along the rocky shoreline, formerly a mountainous area such as eastern Kentucky or West Virginia. They are coming closer to the heavy population centers along the East Coast. The houseboat is approaching a mountain top resort area. The main buildings have partially collapsed roofs and a wall here and there collapsed also. The yards and bushes have not been mowed or trimmed. Sheep can be seen grazing on the former golf course. The houseboat approaches a grassy slope of land with a winding road leading down into the water. Finegan is preparing to moor the houseboat there, Joey getting ready to sling a grappling hook.

Finegan and Joey approach the former resort. As usual Barney waits for them on the houseboat, standing guard. The resport appears to be deserted, but then the sound of muffled voices can be heard from the basement area. The collapsed roof of the resort is in pieces on the floor of the lobby, but the floor held so the basement is intact. The lobby had a lofting ceiling, unstable during the quakes. Finegan and Joey come down some winding stairs leading from the lobby of the resort to a basement recreation area.

The basement has huge wooden beams and a stone floor, pool tables and a bar, stuffed animal heads mounted on the walls, and over-stuffed chairs in the corners around coffee tables and tables with lamps. A generator is sitting near the bar, with some lamps moved to the bar with extension cords, but it has long since run out of gasoline, useless.

A portly man, a former billionaire, is arguing with another portly man, their hands gesturing in the air. The second man is backing away from the former billionaire during this conversation. Lounging in one corner, on some of the over-stuffed chairs, are several young women, a couple decades younger than the men. The former billionaire says,

. . Need to hire some new men . .

Both men suddenly realize that Finegan and Joey are quietly descending the stairs and jerk their heads around in that direction. They stare silently at the newcomers, as though expecting an apology or explanation. The former billionaire says,

This is a private resort.

Finegan says,

Finegan Fine here, trader. I come to see what you might need, and what you have in trade.

The two portly men look at each other for a minute, unspoken communications between them. The former billionaire says,

You have food? I'm looking to get the damn phone connected but the batteries are dead.

His partner motions to the quiet generator and says,

And that thing don't work.

Finegan says,

Cell phones? You need towers for those, and the towers are down.

The former billionaire says,

Oh yeah? How would you know?

Finegan says the obvious.

How long you been trying to raise someone? . . Phones don't work no more. Short wave is the only thing and that's real spotty.

The former billionaire and his buddy don't look surprised. The former billionaire reaches into his back pocket, pulling out a checkbook, and slaps it on the bar.

Yeah, well, I can write you a check. Bring the food supplies and gas for the generator in here.

He points to the middle of the floor and proceeds to fill out the check. Finegan says,

Paper's no good.

The former billionaire flushes with anger and looks sharply over at Finegan, his voice rising.

Paper? This is backed. This isn't paper, this is solid, negotiable anywhere.

Finegan holds his ground.

No one deals in paper anymore. It's no good. You gotta barter goods and services.

The former billionaire throws his pen down on the bar in disgust and turns his back. Finally he explodes in anger.

We need something to eat! Damit. I don't care what it takes, bring some food in here and on the double.

Finegan is beginning to suspect that this group had been dislodged from the internment camp, and has headed to the only location nearby where they expected to get a warm welcome as former members of the resort. Finegan winks covertly at Joey to clue him in.

Don't you garden or tend sheep or something? Most survivors have to do that to survive. What you been eating?

Finegan is pretending to look around the rec room for evidence of gardening or hunting or fishing. The former billionaire says,

Not that it's any of your business, but our help quit. Ran off and left us.

Finegan motions to the several young women lounging in the corner on over-stuffed chairs, looking blaze. They are well dressed though some weed seeds are entangled in hair or on clothing, and their panty hose ripped and shoes muddy. Finegan says,

Doen't take much to seed and weed a garden. They break a leg or something?

The former billionaire is twitching slightly.

We don't garden. The help does that.

The former billionaire is losing his temper again, looking around and up at the ceiling, calling out to the general area as though expecting the resort staff to suddenly appear out of thin air.

I'm a paid member. Where the hell is the help!

Joey is trying not to smile and trying to play dumb, almost biting his lip at times, in on the secret. Finegan says,

So you had a garden but left it? Just because the help ran off? Didn't you treat them right?

The former billionaire is now sounding a bit desperate.

I paid them well but they wanted more, had a better offer. I'll pay you plenty. You'd be set for life after this all blows over. I'm worth billions. . . Billions.

Finegan again holds his ground.

I told you, paper's no good. That includes stocks, bonds, cash. So what you gonna do now? How you gonna live?

The former billionaire is deflated but still trying to act in charge.

You tell me. What'll it take?

The former billionaire is jerking his chin at the young women lounging in the corner, indicating they should go over to Finegan. Seeing them start to rise from their chairs, Finegan rejects the offer.

And I ain't interested in that either. There's plenty of tail being offered, but food is worth more. You can't beg, borrow, or steal these days. Those growing food work too hard for what they get. . . But there is one thing you can do.

The former billionaire is fuming again, but glances up through angry brows at Finegan, too astute at business to pass up a tip. Finegan says,

Too late to start a garden but there's grass and weeds to eat. Fish or set traps if you know how. And you know, rats aren't half bad in the stew pot.

Joey can't hold it in any more and break out in a guffaw, then slaps his hand over his mouth and runs up the stairs. Finegan follows him, barely suppressing a smile himself.

______________________________

The houseboat is pulling away from the resort shoreline. Up on the hill, in the former golf course, two young women are running after sheep, their hands outstretched, trying to corral a lamb. The sheep of course are way ahead of them, flowing like water up and over the hill.