Tuesday, July 10, 2012
A titan of industry - or, rather, his housekeeper - solves a personnel problem
Although the city sweltered under unusually high temperatures, exacerbated by power outages caused by a series of severe thunderstorms, the Titan of Industry sat in the library of his penthouse high atop Paco Tower, sipping occasionally from a glass of ice-cold lemonade in the cool air of a building having its own electrical system, the nature of which was something of a popular mystery in the neighborhood. [Interestingly, Paco Tower had been rumored to possess a mini-nuclear power plant of illegal manufacture and installation, located in vast subterranean chambers beneath the foundation; however, two EPA investigators who checked out the story reported that there was nothing to it. In a strange and surely unrelated coincidence, the two EPA employees, although nowhere near retirement age, quit their jobs shortly thereafter and were last heard of living a life of ease in the luxurious resort community of Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic].
The T of I – more commonly known as J. Packington Paco III – busied himself in making the final edits to a prospectus for an investment that he planned to float in the near future. A cautious man - who, though he sometimes came very near to what one might call the “frontier” of the letter of the law, never quite seemed to find himself indisputably south of the border (so to speak) – J.P. was going through the document with a fine-toothed comb.
“The Peruvian-American Copper Organization is a limited liability company dedicated to the development of a copper mining operation on leased land located relatively close to the existing mining activities of Southern Copper’s Antamina property in the Andes (unaffiliated with Peruvian-American). Preliminary engineering reports indicate that copper deposits may exist on Peruvian-American’s property, which could conceivably result in the profitable extraction of copper ore at some future date. ”
J.P.’s happy dabbling in the many and varied uses of conditional verbs – which, as he was always quick to point out to budding financiers, makes all the difference between coining money and stamping license plates – was interrupted by three quick raps on the library door, followed by a pause and a knock, then two more quick raps, ending with a final pause and knock (a signal which experts in international Morse code will recognize as the dollar sign).
The pocket doors opened to reveal J.P.’s gentleman’s personal gentleman. With his unique bearing of what can best be described as magisterial deference, Spurgeon approached his employer.
“Begging your pardon, sir, but the itinerant painter you hired, Mr. Smith, has indicated that he will need another twenty gallons of paint for the living room.”
Although J.P. ordinarily would have received such a bulletin with complete equanimity, his gimlet eye had detected an almost microscopic upheaval in Spurgeon’s philtrum, an obvious sign that his man was in the grip of some strong emotion. The tycoon furrowed his brow.
“Spurgeon, you are troubled. What seems to be the problem?”
“Well, sir, if I may take the liberty of saying so, the painter does not strike me as being entirely deserving of the trust that you have placed in him.”
“You offered to let him stay on the premises for a few days to do the job, since, according to his asseveration, his apartment had become unendurable due to the power outage and the excessive heat. He has now been here for a week, and I fear that he has abused your charitable nature by extending his stay for some ulterior purpose.”
“Perhaps he’s simply being methodical.”
“He has only half finished a single room, sir, and, to be brutally frank, I find his brushwork to be decidedly amateurish. On top of that, the larder seems to have been afflicted with what I believe retail executives refer to as ‘shrinkage’”.
“Hmmm. There may be something in that. I did notice when I got up for a late night snack yesterday, that a delicious slab of Virginia ham which had been troubling my dreams had vanished from the refrigerator, along with half a sweet potato pie. Of course, I don’t mind a little sponging, but if his work is as shoddy as you say, perhaps I’d better have a talk with the fellow.”
“No time like the present,” a rather oily voice announced from the doorway. J.P. and Spurgeon were startled to see that the subject of their discussion had silently slipped into the room. Far more startling was the fact that he was covering them with a pistol.
J.P. scowled. “Smith, “he said, “what is the meaning of this armed intrusion?”
“First things first, Mr. Paco. My name is not really Smith. It’s Ayers. William Ayers, late Professor of Education at the University of Illinois.”
“William Ayers? The radical activist and, if you don’t mind my saying so, rather spectacularly incompetent terrorist?”
It was now Ayers’ turn to scowl. “Incompetent?”, he growled.
“Why, yes, obviously. You dedicated your callow youth to washing the streets with the blood of capitalists, and yet, as you can see, mine is still circulating within the confines of its natural anatomical setting.”
Ayers readjusted his grip on the pistol. “I’d be more than happy to let a little of it out.”
“What do you want? Why have you gone to so much trouble to worm your way into my household?”
“Because I’m returning to the field of direct action, and that takes money – of which, I’m reliably informed, you have more than a sufficiency.” Ayer’s face abruptly took on a grim, far-away look. “I’m sick of padding around classrooms, delivering the same old lectures, attending excruciatingly boring faculty meetings, raffling off dinners hosted by Bernardine and me to raise money. The last straw was having to share one of those dinners with freakin’ Tucker Carlson and Andrew Breitbart! Sure, there’s lots of sex with juicy young co-eds in exchange for good grades, but even that palls after a while. Time is running out and I need to fulfill my destiny as a revolutionary.”
Spurgeon’s face, at this point, broke into a most unprecedented, and lupine, grin.
“Mr. Paco, the pistol in the hands of this marauder is of small caliber – a .25, unless I miss my guess – and appears to have been manufactured by Sterling Arms, a now defunct company that was much criticized for the poor quality of this very model. I am confident that I can disarm this Red bandit with only a minimal risk of harm to my own person, and that probably non-lethal.” Spurgeon took a firm step forward, the thought, as is the case with most strong-willed men, ineluctably leading to the deed.
J.P., however admirably feudal he found Spurgeon’s spirit of self-sacrifice, was nonetheless unwilling to let his man take such a dangerous chance. He gripped his arm firmly and pulled him back.
“No, Spurgeon. There is nothing here, including my own blood, that is worth the risk to your life.”
Ayers chuckled. “He’s right, Spurgeon. If you lackeys started worrying more about your own skins, and less about your beloved masters, the revolution would come much quicker.”
Spurgeon turned to J.P. and said, “Forgive the liberty, sir,” then turned to face Ayers, drawing himself up to his full, and very intimidating, height, before uttering the following broadside.
“Hierarchy and subordination, Mr. Ayers, are the natural elements of any society. In the one in which I am privileged to live, these relationships take shape through the actions of free men acting in accordance with their own interest. In the kind of society you propose, there are also different levels, but the structure is more like a food chain, the many existing to satisfy the rigid ideological cravings of a few. Mine is the society of a free people; yours is the society of a vast prison, in which you hope to be a guard, or maybe even a warden. Strange - or perhaps not so, given the sad decline in educational standards – that a professor with some pretensions to historical knowledge seems unaware of the frequency with which the wardens in revolutionary societies sometimes find themselves on the wrong side of the strong iron bars they have put in place to eliminate the liberty of their former charges. Revolutions, sir, particularly of the Marxist variety, usually turn out to be cannibalistic feasts, indeed! Are you so entirely certain that, in the event of the success of your venture, you would ultimately find yourself in command of, rather than under, the blades and tines of the cutlery? ”
Ayers, who literally had been squirming beneath the force of the unanticipated eloquence of a mere servant, began to boil with rage, and was mortified at his inability to do more than splutter, “Oh, yeah?”
J.P. guffawed, sounding vaguely like a fanfare played in the lower register on a French horn. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Verily, thou hast spoken a mouthful! Pretty feeble rebuttal, on your part, professor, I’m sorry to say. Now, let’s get down to brass tacks. It is your intention to rob me, is that it?”
“Emphatically, yes. Although your man has been dogging my heels the last few days, I managed to slip in here while he was away on an errand and discovered that you have a wall safe, hidden behind the portrait of that shifty-looking character over the fireplace. A near-relative, perchance?”
J.P. cast a reverent look at the portrait in question , the subject of which was the famous – or rather, notorious – 19th century robber baron, Jim Fisk, who, upon fleeing New York on a celebrated occasion, one step ahead of the law, was heard to remark to his confederates, “Don’t’ worry, boys, nothing’s lost, save honor.”
J.P. smiled beatifically at Ayers. “Ah, you’d like to purloin my little hoard of cash to buy the ingredients for bombs and so forth. Would it alter your plan in any way if I were to inform you that, while Spurgeon was giving his speech – and a more rousing stem-winder I have not heard in a long time, my dear fellow! – I surreptitiously fingered a button under my desk, which alerted building security? Paco Tower is now on lock-down; there is no escape.”
Ominously, Ayers merely smirked. “I suspected that I might encounter some difficulties leaving in the normal way, which is why I brought this.” He backed up to the doorway, continuing to keep J.P. and Spurgeon covered, and reached into the hall, dragging forth what appeared to be an odd sort of knapsack, which he began carefully strapping on. “Thirty stories ought to give me plenty of time.”
J.P. was astonished. “Gad, man, you don’t mean to parachute off the balcony?”
“I most certainly do, as soon as I relieve you of the contents of that safe. Open it!”
J.P. sighed, walked over to the portrait, swung it open on its hinges, and twirled the dial on the door of the safe a few times, this way and that. Opening the safe, he withdrew three thick wads of cash, and a small jewelry box, containing several large stones of remarkable clarity.
“Ok, put it all on the coffee table over here.” After J.P. had complied, Ayers picked up the rolls of currency – each of which displayed, as an outer wrapping, a hundred-dollar bill – and the gem stones.
“W-e-l-l,” Ayers said contentedly. “I hadn’t expected diamonds! The Revolution thanks you. Let’s walk out to the balcony - slowly.”
Ayers ushered the two men out of the library, down the hall, through an atrium and onto an extensive balcony, containing, most notably, J.P.’s collection of carnivorous plants.
“J.P., it’s been a pleasure! I’m sure I’ll be seeing you some day - perhaps as you mount the gallows after being sentenced by a people’s court.”
“Break a leg, Mr. Ayers.”
Ayers tucked the pistol in his back pocket, ascended the wall surrounding the balcony, and leapt over the side. J.P. and Spurgeon rushed to watch the descent.
Standing side by side, the men observed Ayers’ fall, as he rocketed toward the ground. Suddenly, a rectangular piece of fabric popped out of the parachute bag and…floated away in the hot breeze, at a right angle to the direction in which Ayers’ was heading.
“I do not pretend to be an expert, Spurgeon, on the physics of parachuting, but that last bit struck me as being somehow not quite right.”
Another moment, and both men grimaced as they witnessed conclusive evidence that the operation of the parachute had, indeed, been “not quite right”.
Spurgeon cleared his throat. “If you’ll excuse me, sir, I will go down and collect your money and jewels right away.”
J.P. extracted a cigar from the leather case that he had removed from his jacket pocket and lit it. After a couple of meditative puffs, he said, “No, that won’t be necessary. The rolls of cash consisted of old Zimbabwe dollars – quite worthless – each roll wrapped with a single genuine c-note for verisimilitude. And the diamonds were paste. I keep those items in the safe for precisely this sort of emergency. You know, Spurgeon, I can’t imagine what went wrong with Ayers’ parachute.”
At that precise moment, J.P.’s housekeeper walked out on the terrace. A short, plump woman of about fifty, Juanita hailed from Mexico and had been sponsored for residency, and subsequently for citizenship, by J.P., personally. She shuffled up to her employer with a despondent expression on her face, and an enormous, balled up piece of fabric in her arms.
Sensing that she was near the point of crying, J.P. patted her gingerly on the arm.
“My dear Juanita, what’s wrong? You seem upset.”
“Oh, señor Paco, I make the big mistake! Since Meester Smith is staying with us, I think, maybe I should do his laundry. He don’t got no power at his home, so maybe he need clean clothes. So, I go in his bag, and I find this big silk sheet - ah, muy grande! - and I can tell it is very valuable because it is tied to the inside of the bag with cords so it won't fall out or get stolen. I had to cut the cords to get it loose, and it is such a big sheet, it barely fit in the washing machine, and when I take it out, I see the machine had torn a large hole in it. Díos mío! I didn’t know what to do, so I took an old sheet from the closet and I put it in the bag. But now, I think, Meester Smith, he will know the difference and be angry with me. I am so sorry, Meester Paco!”
J.P. smiled benevolently on his housekeeper. “There, there, Juanita. Don’t you worry about it. I can assure you that Mister Smith will never know the difference.”