Thursday, October 13, 2011
A titan of industry puts down - or, rather, reroutes - a revolution
J. Packington Paco III sat behind his gargantuan empire desk, staring at a sheet of paper. To the casual observer (should one have been present), it would have appeared to be similar to the other sheets of paper that were piled neatly to either side. But to the gimlet eye of this shrewd financier, it might as well have been an angry pit viper coiled and ready to strike.
Only a very small pit viper, perhaps, since the dollars did not amount to much – only a few hundred thousand – but there was no question that it rankled. Here were all these other papers - financial summaries of his vast holdings, all swimming luxuriously in black ink - while this piece of paper revealed an irritating blush, a dab of red ink indicating that thing he abhorred above all else: an economic loss. It didn’t matter that the amount was trifling; it was the principle of the thing (or, rather, the principal and accrued, unpaid interest).
To be specific, it was a house that had been foreclosed by one of his many financial subsidiaries, and it looked to be a complete write-off. A smallish affair of only 5,000 square feet, it had now been on the market for nearly five years, with no takers. No, this wouldn’t do.
J.P.’s brooding was interrupted by a light tap on the pocket doors of the library, which suddenly opened with a whisper no louder than the whoosh of a maestro’s baton, conducting a movement in Andante moderato. J.P.’s gentleman’s personal gentleman, the redoubtable Spurgeon, approached his master carrying a silver tray with a demitasse on board.
J.P.’s troubled reverie dissipated somewhat at the prospect of his afternoon espresso.
“Ah! Thank you, Spurgeon. Mmmm! The pause that refreshes.”
“I am glad that you find it satisfactory, sir.”
J.P.’s brows suddenly furrowed in silent puzzlement. “I say, Spurgeon, you know this is liberty hall as far as your sartorial tastes go, but I’m bound to ask: why do you have that old Enfield rifle slung over your shoulder? And what is the point of the WWII-era Tommy helmet?”
“I regret to inform you, sir, that a mob of Bolsheviks and anarchists has foregathered in front of Paco Tower, under the auspices of the notorious “Occupy” movement. They seem to be clamoring for the overthrow of – forgive me for repeating something so vile, Mr. Paco – for the overthrow of capitalism. And in your own person, they apparently think they have found a highly symbolic target. The crowd is heaping obloquy on your head, and they are preparing to burn you in effigy. I sincerely fear pillage and mayhem.”
“The Great Unwashed, eh?”
“Certainly unwashed, sir, although not particularly great. They number about twenty.”
J.P. downed the rest of his coffee. “Good, that. From one of my coffee plantations in Brazil?”
“Indeed, sir. The one located on the site of a reclaimed rainforest.”
“Well,” J.P. said, rising from his chair and rubbing his hands together. “I believe I’ll go downstairs and show the flag.”
“I shall accompany you, Mr. Paco.”
“No, no, Spurgeon. Take up a position in yonder window, and pick off as many as you can if they become violent. I assure you that I shall be well protected.” He patted the copious pocket of his tweed jacket.
“Now, now, Spurgeon. I have faced many an irate minority investor at shareholders’ meetings over the years, and once held off a band of scalp-hunting Securities & Exchange Commission investigators with nothing but a cherubic smile and a couple of byzantine organizational charts until they finally withdrew, exhausted and demoralized, from the field. Handling this small delegation of the lumpenproletariat is well within my scope.”
With a hearty clap on his man’s shoulder, J.P. bustled over to his private elevator and descended to the first floor. As he walked toward the front entrance, he encountered the security guard, who was scowling through the glass at the milling mob. Joe, an African-American built along the lines of a particularly large NFL linebacker, and a veteran of several foreign wars, removed the vintage Colt 1911 pistol from its holster and checked the safety; in his massive paw, the thing looked like a derringer.
“Going out, Mr. Paco? No problem. I’ll just take out a few in front, starting with that four-eyed string-bean with the ZZ Top beard…”
“No, no, Joseph. Please don’t trouble yourself. I thought it might be good to go outside and have a peaceful word or two. Oil on troubled waters; that sort of thing.”
“What you oughta do, is have Spurgeon pour some boiling oil off the balcony. That’ll settle their hash.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Just stay back here and act as a reserve.”
“All right, sir. But you keep a sharp lookout, you hear? And holler if you need me.”
“I will, Joe.” J.P. smiled to himself, confident in the knowledge that, before he ever had occasion to holler, Joe would be on the spot, dealing out destruction with both hands.
J.P. pushed through the door and walked out on the spacious landing. His olfactory sense was immediately assaulted by the aroma of unwashed proletarians. Nonetheless, he beamed at them.
“Good afternoon, fellow citizens! I understand that you would have a word with me.”
The crowd, finally face to face with a genuine capitalist, grew silent. It is one thing to talk of streets running red with the blood of the oppressors, quite another to encounter an oppressor in the flesh, swaddled in tweed, and resembling nothing so much as a jolly sportsman who has just come back from potting a few grouse on the moor. With the insolence and false courage provided by the presence of his fellows, however, one of the rowdies piped up.
“Your time is up, man!” said the bespectacled and bearded revolutionary, to whom Joe the security guard previously drew our attention.
“On the contrary, young man. I have all day. I am completely at your disposal.”
“You don’t get it, do you, bloodsucker? We’re taking the country back from the Man! Light the effigy, Bryan!”
Bryan, another hirsute member of the masses, fumbled in his pockets ineffectually. “I don’t have any matches.”
The first rabble-rouser, who seemed to be the leader, spat in disgust. “Doesn’t anybody have any matches?”
A ragged chorus of negatives greeted his inquiry. An obese girl with pimples (attired, somewhat dubiously, in a t-shirt celebrating the virtues of vegetarianism) spoke for the crowd. “None of us smoke.”
J.P., ever obliging, offered up a lighter, after first igniting an Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur. “Here you are. Be my guest.”
The leader grabbed the lighter, set fire to the effigy, and began to spell out the demands of the revolution. “We insist on the redistribution of wealth! Free health care! The cancelation of all student debt! Subsidized housing! Yikes!”
At first, J.P. found this last demand somewhat baffling, but quickly concluded that the exclamation was more in the nature of a response by the leader to the sudden realization that his beard was on fire.
J.P. offered some friendly advice. “You people are the experts – the vanguard and all that – so I’m reluctant to counsel you on the nuts and bolts of protesting; however, I’m fairly certain that you’re supposed to let go of the effigy once you’ve set it alight.”
After dousing himself with a bottle or two of natural spring water, the leader stood before J.P., smelling like a singed horse that had narrowly escaped from a burning barn, and trembling with rage. “Effigy, smeffigy! It’s time to go after the real thing!” He removed a brick from his knapsack, and brandished it menacingly.
But not for long. From the heights above, a loud report sounded, and the brick splintered in the leader’s hand. J.P. turned and looked up to see Spurgeon at his post, the Enfield still held in firing position. With a “thumbs-up” sign to his man, J.P. faced the crowd again, intending to resume his conversation with the leader; but he saw nothing but his scrawny form, receding rapidly into the distance, all flapping shirt tail and pumping arms. Half of his followers had decamped with him, at similar, if not greater, speed.
Ten or so anarchists remained, however, either braver than their comrades, or perhaps simply weighed down by bovine incomprehension. A large brute, clad in dungarees and a denim shirt with the sleeves cut off (one arm decorated with a tattoo of a knife sticking through a skull, the word “Mother” spelled out underneath in Gothic lettering) picked up a chunk of the shattered brick and tossed it, meditatively, in the air a couple of times.
J.P., unsure of the gorilla’s immediate plans, slipped a hand into his pocket and withdrew an antique Colt Peacemaker. Passed down through the generations, it had belonged to an earlier Paco who had achieved a degree of notoriety in the Old West as a venture capitalist in his own right (he had made his money in stagecoach lines – typically from horseback on moonless nights, with a bandana drawn around his face, and backed by similarly attired business partners, playfully described by various sheriffs and town marshals as a “gang”). The big fellow sighed and dropped the fragment of brick.
“Aw, we didn’t mean no harm. It’s just that none of us have jobs, and most of us don’t even have a place to sleep. Looked like a good opportunity to shake down some of you rich folks.”
J.P.’s physiognomy underwent a transformation, his features resolving themselves into a configuration that an astute observer would have read as signifying the word, “Eureka!”
“No place to sleep? Why, that’s a shame. Listen, you’ve moved me deeply. If you’re not too particular about the location, I’ve got a house in Omaha, just sitting there empty. And, if you’re still keen on protesting against the wealthy, you’ll be glad to learn that it’s adjacent to the property of one of the wealthiest men in the world. You’ll be able to protest around the clock, from the comfort of your own back yard!”
“Hey, that sounds great! But,” the homunculus said, turning his pants pockets inside out, “it takes dough to buy a bus ticket.”
“That’s no problem at all, my hulking friend! Here.” J.P. withdrew his small-change purse from within the recesses of his costume and fished out a handful of c-notes. “This should see you all there safely.”
Almost speechless with gratitude, the man muttered his heart-felt thanks and informed his friends of the godsend. They gave three cheers for J.P., waved good-bye, and trooped off to the bus station.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
J.P. returned to his penthouse suite and found Spurgeon in the kitchen, cleaning and oiling his rifle. Spurgeon stood to attention and stared morosely into the middle distance.
“Fine bit of shooting, old fellow!”
“I offer my sincerest apologies, sir.”
“What? Apologies? What are you talking about, man? That was as splendid a shot as I’ve ever seen. You popped the brick out of his hand with ease.”
“I was aiming at his forehead, sir.”
“Ah. Well, brick, forehead; in his case, the two were practically identical in appearance. Superb marksmanship any way you slice it. Annie Oakley has nothing on you!”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a telephone call to make.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“Hello? I’d like to speak to Warren Buffett, please. Oh, is that you, old top? You sound a little hoarse. Probably comes from all that bellowing for higher taxes. Very bad for the larynx, not to mention business. Say, you know that place next door to your house in Omaha, the one that you’ve been unreasonably refusing to buy, even though I’ve offered you an outstanding discount, the one you said you won’t buy at any price? Well, you’ll be buying it soon, and not just at any price – at my price. No, no, I don’t want to ruin the surprise. But here’s a tip: keep my telephone number handy. You’ll be wanting to call me in a few days. Count on it.”