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Storm Variations

by Mike Florian

part 1 of 2


The thirty-five foot sloop Justice left harbor on a quiet, sunny day. The weather blew a breeze from the west. Once around the breakwater, the single-handed sailor hoisted the mainsail and watched it luff as he pointed his vessel into the wind. He winched the main tight. On the starboard side he released the roller furling, and the large jib opened noisily. With one hand on the wheel, he easily pulled in the sail and made fast the sheet to the adjacent cleat. He then sat on the high side, and with his toes steered the boat towards the tankers anchored far away at the mouth of the harbor. A puff heeled Justice over, ever so slightly. It was enough to excite the sailor on this quiet weekday afternoon.


The business channel forecast a storm. A tsunami they called it. Aaron watched in the early morning as breaking news told him his portfolio should be weakening. Turning to his laptop, he noticed he was down two per cent. Not bad for an amateur, he thought. He heard some talking heads give out numbers like ten per cent and higher. With his money well intact, he confidently clicked on a sure thing and bet a huge amount on what, he thought with certainty, was the bottom.


Angela looked at her husband sitting at the kitchen table. He was watching the news and eating toast. Out of the window, in the driveway, she saw that his bicycle sat fixed atop his SUV. It was a midweek morning. She waited all week for Saturday and Sunday so they could be together, to do something together. Suddenly he takes a day off on a Wednesday and Angela was not included in his plans. Fine, she said, well under her breath.


Dr. Gladstone did not receive the news well. The bank called and asked to see him. When he enquired as to the reason, they were vague. They said that his ratios did not match his forecasts. They said that they realized it was only the second quarter but they were worried about his low receivables, his high inventory and the cheques he had been writing to himself. They wanted to talk.

Dr. Gladstone — or Bill to his employees, friends and family — tried to compose himself. He knew he was walking a thin line. He had trouble with his company’s growth in a dynamic industry. He had just lost a great employee to a competitor, and the bank called. He told them that Monday would be a good day to meet. They asked if he was busy that same afternoon. He acquiesced.


The Justice was now out in the bay. It was Wednesday afternoon. The breeze turned into a bit of a squall. The sailor, Matt, was wondering if he should reef. At least put in a Cunningham. He had already rolled up the jib as a start. The wind came up quickly, he noticed, but he saw a clear streak in the sky to the west. He didn’t like the looks of the clouds coming off the mountains. They usually prove to be fluky and unpredictable. As a precaution, he looked about. Except for the few tankers at anchor, he was alone. Another gust heeled him over a little too much. A seagull cried nearby. It was flying motionlessly in the stiffening breeze.


When her husband left the house to go for a ride with his ‘mates’, Angela rolled her eyes at that thought. In the past she wouldn’t have minded. Now she resented it. She left the house almost immediately after he did. She had nowhere to go, but slowly made her way down towards the water. Her dog, Cinder, ran freely beside her.


Aaron clicked on the ‘buy’ tab when the pop-up asked him a simple yes or no. It was a good trade. He got up and left his laptop. In the kitchen he poured himself a coffee. At the lower right-hand corner of the television screen, the Dow had stopped rising. Things oscillate, he thought. He recalled that it stopped at one hundred and eighty-three. Absentmindedly, he watched an interview with Gladstone Industries. It was an old one. A Dr. Gladstone said that the genome potential was huge. The sky’s the limit. Aaron walked back to his computer.


“We asked you to come in because we’re worried about the erosion of your debt to equity position,” said the bank’s account manager. He was sitting in the conference room with two assistants, who were taking notes. “We thought that a chat earlier than later would serve both of us better in the long run,” he continued.

Bill Gladstone’s hands began to moisten, almost imperceptibly. “We noticed that the last few cheques that were issued began to touch the limit of your line of credit,” continued the manager. “Assure us, Dr. Gladstone, that the company will continue to meet its obligations.”

There was no banter, no polite chit-chat and weather talk. This morning it was sunny, and now, clearly looking out at the mountains across the harbor, he saw dark clouds rolling over the tops and into the city. Droplets of rain hit these windows on the thirtieth floor.

“Dr. Gladstone?” asked the account manager. Bill started as he heard his formal name in the quiet of the conference room. He began to explain the difficulties of the business and the opportunities. He noticed, for the first time, that no one had brought him a coffee.


Matt slipped into his Sperry shoes. He had put a second reef into the mainsail. The jib was furled almost completely. Justice started to fly at six knots. The sailor now stood spread-legged, both hands on the wheel. He felt the rush, but he was also apprehensive. The dark clouds at the mountainsides were even more threatening. Out at the mouth of the harbor, the tankers slowly changed directions as they hung on to their anchors.

Matt tacked over to port and kept heading towards the large ships. He donned his life jacket. As he put it on, he noticed that, behind him, and slightly to the starboard, a white line of foamy turbulence appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. He reached for his glasses and looked towards the mountains. A wall of water was rushing towards his position.

He put the binoculars back in their holder and came about. As he did so, a crab-pot buoy appeared alongside, and before Matt knew it, he was caught in the line. Justice sailed to a sudden stop. The boat was stern-to and without steerage. Matt saw the wall of water and wind bearing down on him. The rudder was useless. He leaped out of the cockpit and onto the deck to take in the sails.


Angela and Cinder made their way through the avenues of her neighborhood. She knew that her husband was having an affair. She wasn’t told as much, but her radar had been active for quite some time. These days off from work had not become unusual.

She crossed the street without care for the traffic. Tears started to flow. Did he think she was stupid? Would she think it was normal to take a day off in the middle of the week to go for an afternoon workout? Previously, it had been the odd Friday or Monday, but the middle of the week? She knew he worked hard and that there was a genuine need to unwind, but this was not right. She’d had enough. The feelings that churn the stomach, that give off waves of despair, are so draining.

When she stopped thinking she realized she was down at the beach. The water always calmed her. She loved playing with her dog, throwing some driftwood for him to chase. Today she might pass on that. Whitecaps were whipping up the sea. She saw a lone sailboat far out in the harbor. Angela sat down on a log and massaged her misery.


At his desk, Aaron noticed that the Dow held steadily at one seventy-five. He’d had enough. He got up again and walked out on his veranda. He had left the corporate life some time ago. At the time he wanted to stop and change his life abruptly. He was experiencing panic attacks and chest pains and general malaise. Now, with his life a little more under control, things had calmed down. What he was doing served to fill a need, to allow him to compete, to keep his brain active.

He walked along the expansive balcony and pulled up a white canvas chair. He sat down and put his feet up on the round glass table. Aaron thought the heck with his computer and trades. Tomorrow is another day. As he faced the southeast morning sun he never noticed the clouds slipping over the mountains behind him.


Bill Gladstone looked across the table at the man who was talking to him about ratios and required reporting procedures. He was thirty years old. Bill wondered what had happened to his previous manager. That one was experienced and knew Bill’s business inside out.

As the young banker continued to talk, Bill glanced outside and saw the city. He looked past the buildings, past the park, and out beyond at the harbor. It was one of the largest natural harbors in the world. For once, just once, he wished for a break from this incessant life of running Gladstone. He wished he was down there somewhere, away from the banks and the shareholders and employees. He longed for a moment that he couldn’t define. He was certain, however, that the moment wasn’t this one.


Matt was anxious but calm. Crab pots were dangerous and he knew he was literally in a bind. With the rudder disabled and with his boat hooked to some fisherman’s crab line, he’d better do something. He could see the line astern as the boat was swept ahead of the gusting wind. The wall of white water, off in the distance, was threatening. Justice’s transom was taking a beating by the waves. He grabbed for the knife attached to the front of the cockpit. He took off the life jacket to lower himself into the water and cut the line. He had no choice.


Broken-hearted, Angela wrapped her coat tighter around her body as she sat on a log at Jericho beach. Her thoughts drifted back, back towards the beginning. She thought about the men in her life over the years, the choices she had made. As she did so, she kept being interrupted by the scene developing in front of her. The sailboat in the distance was having trouble. The mountains were darkening on the other side of the harbor and the boat, a bright white spot against the green backdrop, lay unnaturally against the oncoming wind. She was glad for the distraction and looked about to see if she was alone on this sad Wednesday afternoon.


Aaron wanted to go outside for a stroll. He took one more look at the television screen to see how the market was coming along. In the corner, the Dow Jones was down eight hundred points. Aaron looked closer, not believing what he saw. He sat down hard at the kitchen table. There was bedlam on the exchange floor. Each channel had the same news.

What is happening? he thought. He couldn’t sell the trade he had made just one hour ago. Eight hundred points, now eight twenty-five, almost wiped him out. He thought the worst. As relaxed as he was a moment ago, he was now frightened. He glued himself to the set and surfed the channels searching for an explanation.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2012 by Mike Florian

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