Monday, August 2, 2010
A titan of industry considers a loan request
It was after 10 pm when a light knock, barely more audible than the noise of a distant raccoon banging a pecan against a rock, sounded on the closed panel doors of the library of J. Packington Paco III.
“Enter”, the great man said, as he idly waggled the lit cigar in his hand, creating a double helix of smoke.
The doors opened with a soft swoosh, revealing the imposing form of his gentleman’s personal gentleman, Spurgeon.
“I beg your pardon, sir, but …sniff…Senator Kerry is here to see you. He urges the extremity of some unnamed misfortune as the cause of this unseasonable intrusion.”
“Send him in, by all means, Spurgeon. And don’t scowl, so. Frankly, I have rarely entertained a senator without some ultimate profit to myself.”
As respectful as he was toward the industrious rich – men like his revered employer, for example, who, with their brains and energy and cunning, had amassed great wealth – Spurgeon harbored a deep-seated contempt for spongers and drones, especially for mere arrivistes who had gained positions of influence by virtue of the marriage bed. Yet his overriding sense of professionalism prohibited him from expressing his disdain for the aforementioned senator, except for the slight self-indulgence of an almost undetectable dilation of the nostrils.
“Very good, sir.”
A moment later, the well-known senator was ushered into J.P.’s sanctum sanctorum. The titan of industry rose to greet him, with the smile of pecuniary expectation that blossomed on his face whenever he encountered a member of the politician class.
Kerry – tall and saturnine, with a face like a garden spade and hair resembling a nicely maintained badger pelt – walked hurriedly into the room and took J.P.’s outstretched hand.
“Senator, what a delightful surprise! May I offer you some refreshment? A drink, perhaps?”
Kerry, looking more than ever like the thing Mary Shelley really had in mind when she wrote her famous novel, accepted the offer with alacrity. “Yes, yes, thanks…whiskey…neat, if you please.”
J.P. cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at Spurgeon, who nodded and glided silently to a small table, where a generous selection of spirituous beverages was arrayed in cobalt-blue, Victorian-era crystal decanters. Spurgeon picked up a decanter filled with Macallan (1947) and glanced at his employer; J.P. surreptitiously held up two fingers, signifying an order for a double. Spurgeon poured the whiskey into a tumbler, placed it on a silver salver, and presented it to Kerry – who grabbed the glass, knocked back the whiskey, wiped his mouth and asked for another.
In spite of his ingrained self-control, Spurgeon’s nostrils were now flaring like those of a bull in the arena that had just been introduced to an emaciated Spaniard wearing tight satin trousers and waving a little red cape. He took the liberty of addressing the senator.
“You found the whiskey…the Macallan 1947…to your liking, sir?”
“What? Oh, yes, fine, fine. Although I’m really more of a bourbon man.”
Thinking inwardly that, whatever else the senator might be, he was certainly not a Bourbon, Spurgeon suggested (with a wryness that escaped Kerry) that doubtless he could send a footman into one of the less prosperous precincts of the city in search of a bottle of Old Crow, if the senator preferred.
“No, no, some more of this stuff is ok.”
Having refreshed Kerry’s drink, Spurgeon withdrew in high (but concealed) dudgeon.
J.P. waved a hand in the direction of the wing chair in front of his desk. “Won’t you have a seat, senator? If I may say so, you appear a trifle distracted.”
“You don’t know the half of it, J.P. You see, I’ve got this little…financial problem.”
“Do go on, senator.”
“Well, I’ve been docking my yacht in Rhode Island to avoid the high taxes that my home state of Massachusetts charges, and the newspapers found out and now I’m stuck on the horns of a dilemma. I can tell the state of Massachusetts to pound sand – which I’ve got every right to do, my lawyers tell me – but then, the media will make me out to be some kind of fat cat who thinks high taxes are alright for everybody else but not for me. Which is, in point of fact, my view, but it’s not the kind of thing that helps at election time. Or, I can pay the taxes and ingratiate myself with the little people. I’ve decided that I need to do the latter, but here’s the rub: Teresa won’t give me any more money!”
“And why is that?”
“Aw, she pitched a fit when Barney Frank and I decided on kind of a whim to open a little donut stand near the Capitol Building. We thought it would bring in some pocket money, be sort of a lark, you know? Teresa really kicked about that idea, but in the end she staked us. And everything was going along pretty well, until Barney got the notion that it would be fun, and maybe get us some publicity, if we worked behind the counter ourselves one afternoon. I agreed, and one day around one o’clock in the afternoon – after the end of the congressional work day – Barney and I worked at the stand. Things were going fine until the city health inspector dropped by and happened to see Barney carrying the donuts from the kitchen to the display racks.”
“I don’t see anything remarkable about that.”
“Well…er…Barney wasn’t using his hands.”
“So, we got shut down and Teresa lost her investment, and on top of that, she had to spread some money around to keep the story out of the papers. She told me that, from then on, all I would get from her was my allowance. She has flatly refused to give me the money to pay the taxes on my yacht.”
“I see. And how much are the taxes?”
“Five hundred thousand dollars. Not really so much, when you think about it, but that would pretty much eat up my annual allowance.”
J.P. lit a fresh cigar, flicking the match into the onyx ashtray on his desk. “And you would like for me to lend you this money?”
“That was the general idea.”
“And what do you offer as security?”
Kerry stared at J.P. blankly. “Security? But…I’m John Kerry!”
J.P. permitted his head to rest on the back of his chair, his hard, cold blue eyes peering down his nose at the senator; he might have been a vulture considering the palatability of a dubious piece of carrion.
“Yes, indeed…You are John Kerry; however, it is generally considered bad practice in negotiations to lead off with your weakest point. Meaning no offense, senator, but your wife is your primary source of income, and I believe I am right in assuming, from your previous remarks, that her personal guarantee is not forthcoming. And five hundred thousand dollars is…five hundred thousand dollars.”
Kerry frowned moodily, then brightened suddenly as a thought occurred to him.
“Say, I’ve got some valuable Vietnam War memorabilia; I could pledge that.”
“What sort of memorabilia?”
“Well, there’s my famous lucky hat, the one that the special forces guys gave me when I was transporting them by boat into Cambodian territory one Christmas Eve.”
J.P. smiled. “I beg your pardon?”
“Ok, ok. I didn’t actually cross over into Cambodia, but I came within a few miles of it.”
J.P. slowly shook his head from side to side.
“Well, I might have been nowhere near Cambodia, and, come to think of it, it was actually Ground Hog Day...”
“What else do you have?”
“A pair of Ho Chi Minh’s rope-soled sandals and some boxer shorts that belonged to General Giap.”
“Aside from the questionable market value and liquidity afforded by these items, I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of your mementos in the event of a default. No, I believe I have a more satisfactory alternative. Why not go for the obvious? A lien on the yacht.”
Kerry squirmed in his chair and brought his whiskey glass to his lips, only to discover, sadly, that it was empty. Accepting the inevitable, he agreed. “I guess I could go along with that. By the way, what kind of interest are you going to charge me?”
J.P. beamed and spread his hands in an expansive gesture. “Why, no interest at all.”
“Well, that’s fine! Very generous of you.”
“I always try to accommodate our hard-working public servants when I can. There is, however, one small favor you can do for me, in lieu of interest charges.”
“I find that my supply of Cuban cigars is running low. Perhaps you can pop over to Bermuda in your yacht and pick up a hundred boxes. I can arrange for my tobacconist to meet you and he’ll take charge of the loading.”
“Hmm. It’s a little dicey. It’s illegal to bring those into the U.S.”
“Well, it was just a thought. I suppose it would be safer to charge you interest, after all.”
Kerry quickly suppressed any legal qualms he might have had. “No, no. I’ll be glad to bring back your cigars.”
“Splendid! We can meet at my bank tomorrow morning and close the deal.”
After seeing Kerry to the door personally (motivated as much by a desire to insure that the senator didn’t absentmindedly walk off with the odd obect d’art as by the courtesy due to a guest), J.P. called Spurgeon into his office.
Resuming his seat behind the desk, J.P. proceeded to outline his plan to Spurgeon.
“I would like for you to call our man Higgins in Bermuda. Tell him that, in a couple of weeks, a yacht will be putting in belonging to Senator John Kerry – it’s a 76-foot sloop called Isabel. I will follow up later with the exact date. Higgins is to find a hundred or so empty Cuban-cigar boxes, stuff all of them, save three or four, with rags or newspapers. The remaining boxes he is to fill with hashish. Tell him to seal all the boxes and then load them on the boat.”
Spurgeon ventured a query. “But, if I may say so, sir, won’t the senator be taking an enormous gamble?”
A booming guffaw emerged from the depths of J.P.’s voluminous frame.
“Mwaha! A gamble, indeed! One he is bound to lose, since the roulette wheel is fixed, so to speak.”
“I intend to leave nothing to chance. Shortly before Kerry is to arrive back in the states, I will alert the Coast Guard – anonymously, of course – to the fact that the senator is bringing contraband into the country on his yacht. The boat will be confiscated and put up for auction, and I will be very surprised, indeed, if I don’t succeed in snagging it for a fraction of its estimated seven million dollar value - particularly since I intend to arrange with one of my government contacts to auction the thing in Oklahoma. Not much likelihood of being outbid for a sea-going yacht in a landlocked state at an auction featuring used HP printers, what?” J.P. entered into a momentary reverie. “I think I shall rechristen it The Jolly Codger”.
Spurgeon gazed upon his employer with something bordering on reverence. He said, in an awed tone, “He would be proud of you, sir”, nodding in the direction of a portrait of 19th-century American robber-baron Jay Gould, which enjoyed pride of place above the hearth. J.P. rose and walked over to the fireplace, gazing at the portrait with a mixture of affection and respect. “That is high praise, indeed, Spurgeon. Do you remember what Jay said to his confederates, as they escaped from New York one step ahead of the law?”
Spurgeon looked off into the middle distance, eager to recall the words exactly.
“’Don’t worry, boys; nothing’s lost, save honor.’ That is the precise phrase, is it not, sir?”
“That is the phrase, verbatim, Spurgeon! Will you not set aside your feudal prejudices for the nonce and join me in a glass of Macallan, 1947?”
“With pleasure, sir!”
Update: Linked by that discriminating literary critic, Smitty