To Save The Plurality: An Unfinished Novel: Part Two
In his secret heart he'd wanted to somehow parlay his reputation for firebrand activism into a middle age of material comfort. His dream had been to organize a political consulting firm that specialized in getting progressive, with a capital P Democrats and other alternative party candidates to office, as well as ancillary activities abroad.
He'd never wanted obscene wealth. Ten million dollars was hardly rich anymore. Truth be told, he would have been merrily content with half that much. A healthy portfolio, which he would be coy and modest about, which he would downplay. Serious political influence is what he'd desired.
He'd wanted to be the James Carville of the far left, part of a "dissident" intellectual and political power structure that gently, incrementally, but nevertheless, inexorably toward glorious socialism. And then, after a mostly peaceful revolution, and the masses of people thronged about to declare Liam Emperor-For-Life, he would be noble like George Washington, or better yet, the Roman Cincinnatus, and turn his back on absolute power, returning to his beet farm, leaving democracy in the hands of men and women of admittedly less genius than he, Liam The Great, but of no less good will for their fellow man. Well, life is what happens when you had other plans.
Liam had still kept a hand in the revolution, of course. He made pennies writing articles for bi-monthly and intermittently published radical print and online journals. His writings were always sizzling indictments of the flatulent corporate capitalist order and the imperialism upon which it depends for constant expansion in search of new "free" markets, its deleterious effects on governance and the environment, the grossly inequitable distribution of income of wealth, the role of money and lobbyists in politics, and issues, all of which are naturally founded upon the ruling class's oppression of the working man and the poor.
He made an appearance on an Internet radio program, which went off the air weeks later. He even participated in forums, if "forums" is the word, to talk about these issues -- in people's attics, basements, in people's living rooms, in people's garages, with other "panelists," who, like himself, were far removed from the starting lineup of the authentic left.
Liam and his ilk were strictly minor leagues, the backbenchers, Double A ball, or whatever the term is called in baseball. He had his disciples at the latest humanist club he belonged to. And the political and cultural opinions of his cyberspace alter ego, RockSteady, seemed to have something of a cult following.
Reflexively, cynically, almost like a bear emerging from hibernation Liam -- until well into his forties -- had taken to the streets to protest some outrageous injustice or another... One year his Humanist Club had finally gotten around to awarding him its Humanist of the Year Award.
Liam's acceptance speech had run for two hours and thirty three minutes. And as he looked out over the sea of nine faces, he'd imagined himself giving the same speech to the Nobel Committee in Switzerland and pocketing the check for one point five million dollars. No, no, no. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times. I will not be your Emperor-For-Life.
Liam had belonged to a very small group of online vigilantes, who'd preyed on other Internet scamsters, who, themselves, targeted the particularly gullible and vulnerable sheep among the vast, relatively innocent sheep of America. Please oh please, good sir or madam. Just send a few dollars for a transaction fee so that we may liberate some unclaimed funds from an idle bank account in Nigeria. Untold riches will be yours!
You know the rest. Liam and his group of fellow diverters threw a pitch at these scamsters, that their own greed, invariably, rendered completely unable to resist. Every hour they keep the scamsters jumping through hoops is an hour they are not fleecing the sheep. The object is to try to exhaust them, send the scamsters on long, involved Rube Goldberg adventures, and keep them going for as long as possible before they, the conmen, finally become discouraged and give up.
On one occasion Liam and his fellow diverters had inadvertently led one of their conmen/prey on a trek that had led to his unfortunate death. The conman had succumbed to a "hail of flailing machete blades," as Liam and the others heard about it. The phraseology and imagery had pleased Liam immensely. No one had actually set out to get the conman killed, but on the other hand, Liam for one, certainly didn't lose any sleep over it.
Liam had been prepared to continue but all the others had gone all soft and humanitarian on him. They met at an Internet cafe to talk.
"We killed him," one of the members said.
"The love of money is the root of all evil," Liam said, "and that is what killed him."
"That's like saying 'guns don't kill people, people kill people'."
A careless toss of the head. "We'll just have to be more careful next time.
"How're we gonna live with this?" someone else said.
"Nothing's traceable to us," Liam said. "We're safe."
"I'm talking about our conscience."
"There has to be a balancing of the scales," Liam said. "There has to be a countervailing force. There has to be retribution and compensation. There has to be a settling of accounts. There must be Ying as well as Yang. Otherwise there is no justice in the world."
But Liam's arguments for homicidal indifference to the fate of the human slime had proved ineffective with his colleagues. All of his efforts, all of his best laid plans always seemed to come to naught.
Maybe that was because he was a loser like his father. LIam's mother had been a beautiful but vain woman from a family of petty bourgeoisie with ridiculous pretensions and earnest aspirations. She married Liam's father, Sir Robert, also known as "Smiling Bob" by his American friends.
Sir Robert had been a Lithuanian count, wealthy but socially and politically marginal in European elite society. A century prior, Sir Robert's ancestors had made the family fortune in banking and minerals. The fortune was well managed, as is typical in these cases, to the extent that precisely one hundred and thirteen years later, not one of the descendants had needed to trouble themselves with anything so boorish as working for a living. And Robert, heir to that proud family tradition, had perfected the lifestyle of graceful indolence.
Sir Robert, the black sheep of the family, spoke impeccable American English. Indeed, he could perfectly mimic any regional or ethnic variety. He had always been fascinated by the western genre of American cinema and television. He hung out at rodeos, first learning to ride bulls, "bust broncos," as it were, before seeming to find his sweet spot as a rodeo clown.
Sir Robert, who had died in a car accident when Liam was but five years old, was also said to have been an avante garde "performance artist." Having seen YouTube videos of his father at work, Liam tended to think that "Smiling Bob" had been more "avante garde" as a rodeo clown than as a performance artist.
Smiling Bob's stage work had consisted of the deployment of various handheld power tools to create impromptu sculptures out of enormous blocks of old chocolate, rancid cheddar cheese, and slimy pork fat. He'd used excessive force on fruit, smashing pumpkins, watermelons, apples, and anything else with a sledgehammer. He'd also liked to make paintings, or drawings, or etchings, or whatever you'd call them, on huge canvasses with squeeze bottles of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. Apparently he had also seemed to think it amusing to squirt the audience with the condiments.
All people have their flaws and Liam is certainly not one to throw stones. So Leslie did not stay on at the bank with Liam, under the benevolent, paternalistic dictatorship of Mr. Baxter. She went to a financial services multinational called Gurman and Sharks, to run a hedge fund. She rose quickly through the ranks to become the chief financial officer.
Her office was right across the hall from the chief executive officer's himself -- with whom she had had a brief affair. Come to think of it, this had quite possibly eased Leslie's ascendancy. Liam knew intuitively that his wife was not above sex-based careerism. If she had been an actress, say, and she had been single, free from at least the moderating influence of husband and children, and her career wasn't moving as fast as she wanted it to, and if she was convinced there was no other way -- she'd hit that "casting couch" like nobody's business, rocking the world of writers, directors, studio execs, and the like.
But Leslie was experienced, smart, talented, and credentialed. She had initially studied English at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest, at sixteen, before changing her mind in the middle of her sophmore year, transferring to Cornell University, and finishing in four more years with both a law degree and MBA, summa cum laude, of course. And she had earned these honors solely on her academic ability despite having cut quite a libidinous swath through much of the teaching faculty.
Leslie had passed her bar exam almost as an afterthought, and went on to study at the London School of Economics. And just for the hell of it, she picked up an engineering degree from the California Institute of Technology. Why the overkill? (and Liam did think this was overkill). No doubt the product of overeducated parents, Leslie had picked up a tendency to be somewhat school-addicted; and, too, extra education, if you can afford it, is a nice way to ride out an odd recession.
As CFO of Gurman and Sharks, and with her high-tech background, Leslie had helped interpet the high-tech exotic financial instruments, that they and other firms like them, had hired M.I.T grads, people with advanced degrees in math and physics, and the like, to design for them. She had boldly taken the organization into deep exposure to the sub prime mortgage game.
Gurman and Sharks had not actually sold sub prime mortgages to hard luck, working class black and brown people. Oh no, they had occupied a more removed, and much more profitable position in the hierarchy of the food chain. G&S made their astronomical profits by securitizing the debt, collateralizing the debt, slicing and dicing the debt, segregating the debt into investment properties of different levels of desirability called traunches, repacking it a thousand ways from Sunday, and putting the strong arm on bond rating agencies to give them the Triple A rating, investment gold!
And now part three.