Short Story: “Full Value”

Nightmares have a nasty habit of coming true. (This series of business stories on the aftermath of the Financial Meltdown started in “As Is“)

“Full Value”
Part 2 of a series
by P. Orin Zack
(12/26/2007)

Ryan Svorlin, bleary-eyed from a lack of sleep, had nearly stopped noticing the stench from the corpse in the kitchen. Nearly. The distraction of reading might have been more effective if he’d become engrossed in a good spy thriller instead of the stack of financial records left by the suicide down the hall.

At the sound of footsteps from the front room, he stopped reading a ‘white paper’ laying out the political strategy of a powerful industrial lobby and cocked his head to listen. Might be a paying customer, he thought. “Come on in!” he shouted over his shoulder.

Knowing that the former owner had been personally responsible for the chaos unleashed when the Ponzi scheme the international banking cartel called a monetary system collapsed was enough reason to try to make sense of it all. Finding both the man and his legacy in the mansion he’d just lucked into made it imperative. At a buck a shot, though, it didn’t look like he’d make enough money from people coming in to spit on the bloody hulk to cover the cost of getting rid of him. Ever since the global monetary meltdown, there were no municipal services any more, no police department to investigate the death, or morgue to pick up the body. Well, not that you’d notice, anyway. And there was just so long Ryan was willing to share his kitchen with the guy.

“Gregory Davis, you slimy son-of-a-bitch!” The voice echoed hollowly, sounding dry, raspy.

Svorlin smiled, and spun around on the expensive office chair. He’d left a donation jar amongst the knives that Davis had laid out beside the kitchen island sink where he’d slit his own wrist. He dropped the paper and rose to meet his guest.

“But why’d you have to go and kill yourself?” the voice lamented. “I’d have gladly saved you the trouble.”

By the time Ryan reached the kitchen, his visitor, a middle-aged man in a dirty business suit, was stuffing what looked like a hundred dollar bill into the jar. “Hi,” he said. “Sounds like you got here a bit late. Did you have a personal beef with him?”

The man nodded, turning. “You could say that. I’m Horace Lembridge, a member of the last class of Representatives voted into office before the roof fell. And to think I actually believed there was anything I could do to avert the crisis. More fool me.”

Ryan introduced himself, explained how he’d won the house in the foreclosure lottery, and then gestured at the jar. “Was that a Ben Franklin you just dropped on me?”

“Yeah. It’s blood money as far as I’m concerned, though. You’re welcome to it if it’ll help put his ass where the sun don’t shine.” Lembridge looked around for a moment. “Listen, can you spare a bite to eat? It was a long bus trip, and I didn’t stop for anything but nature.”

“Sure. I didn’t want to keep any food in here until I’d had a chance to disinfect. Fortunately, my benefactor had another fridge in the den. Come on back.”

They walked past the office where Ryan had found Davis’ paper trail, and down two steps into a big room at the rear of the mansion. Ryan had set up a make-do kitchen beside the wet-bar, and used the ornate pool table by the picture window for a pantry. There was a wealth of packaged goods stacked by a corner pocket, and some plates and tableware nearby. They cracked some cans and boxes, opened some drinks, and sat in two of the ugliest chairs Ryan had ever seen.

Once they got settled, Lembridge picked up the conversation. “I was prepared to find that the true face of governance was ravaged with sores before I was sworn in, but I never expected to discover that the people elected to congress were embedded in a 360-degree theater of propaganda so compelling that they didn’t doubt it for a minute.”

Ryan chuckled humorlessly. “Naïve, were you?”

“It’s worse than that. You think you’re doing some good for the people who elected you. And you make excuses for the compromises you’re forced into, thinking that on balance you’re improving things. But the problem was that no matter which way you looked, the world you saw was contrived. Every source of information at your disposal, every choice you’re faced with, has been rigged. It’s like the whole government exists inside some perverted version of that movie, ‘The Truman Show’. And it’s not just our government, either. They’re all like that, or most of them, anyway. I don’t know what to believe any more.”

“Yeah,” Ryan said somberly as he picked up a can of tuna. “I was reading through Davis’ papers when you came in. And as usual, it all comes down to money. I used to scoff at all the conspiracy theorists… especially the ones who claimed the terrorist attacks on 9/11 were an inside job. But there it is. They were right. And it all came down to money.”

Congressman Lembridge lowered the stalk of canned asparagus he was munching and narrowed his eyes. “What?”

“The whole so-called ‘War on Terror’ was a put-up job. You knew that, right?”

“But that was the basis of my whole campaign. We’ve been struggling for years to prevent another attack like that. And it’s worked, too. Okay, I’ll grant you that there’s been some games played with the intelligence, but only to focus our efforts, to make it clear what we’re really up against.” The man’s voice had slowly taken on an edge of angry desperation, one that was now beginning to reflect in his face as well.

Ryan sat back, nervously fingering his fork. “Let me ask you a question, then. Do you believe that anything a business does to increase its profits is fair game… that an industry can legitimately induce national governments to act in its best interest?”

“Well, of course. They’ve just been taking it a bit too far, that’s all.”

“Even,” Ryan said, and paused uncertainly, “even if that means some people get hurt… or killed?”

His visitor’s face darkened. “Sometimes that can’t be helped.”

“If it’s intentional,” Ryan pressed.

“What are you suggesting?”

“I’m not ‘suggesting’ anything. According to Gregory Davis’ records, the Senate hearing that was conveniently cancelled so he wouldn’t be called to testify at was investigating the GDP derivatives being floated by the three biggest banks in the country. Those were the goodies that were sold short by an unidentified cartel of investors just before the mortgage strike hit the wind. The greedy bastards who placed those sell orders were betting that the US economy was about to tank. They positioned themselves to make the biggest killing in history on the backs of every single person and business that went into the crapper that day. Do you, in your wildest imagination, believe that anyone with the gall to pull that stunt would balk at killing a few thousand people for the sake of drumming up trillions in war profits?”

Lembridge stared at him, ashen-faced. “You’re serious?”

“Like the corpse in my kitchen. I’m sitting on proof of how the house of cards the banking cartel built up over the years was pulled. It’s all in Davis’ office. But what people have to be shown is how that house of cards was built, who was involved, and how long it took to build it. This isn’t something engineered by a bunch of billionaire cowboys. They might have gotten some of the booty, but anything with a time horizon that long has to be organized by something that has an even longer lifetime.”

The congressman rose and faced the window. He stood there for some minutes, nearly long enough for Ryan to finish the tuna in his can. Then he walked over to the pool table and leaned heavily against it, arms crossed tightly. “Like who?”

“I thought it was the old banking families at first. You know, Morgan and the rest. But then I wondered how there could have been a recurring effort to put them down, to reclaim the money system from the people who create it in the form of debt, rather than as payment for work done, the way the gang at Independence Hall laid it out when they founded this country. And I had to wonder if there wasn’t another player out there, and that maybe this struggle has been going on for longer than that, even.”

Lembridge relaxed a bit, dropping his arms and draping his fingers over the edge of the table’s felt inner ledge. “Like the perpetual struggle between good and evil?”

“Something like that, yeah. Maybe. Or perhaps a competition between two secret societies that have been manipulating humanity for millennia. But the point is that we have to start looking at the evidence, at all of the evidence, and in a way that doesn’t discard out of hand the possibility that what we see isn’t really what’s going on. Because sometimes, the truth is only obvious in hindsight. Sometimes, the only way to get there is by seeing the world in ways that others don’t.”

“So what do you intend to do?”

“Bury Mr. Davis, for one thing. But not too deeply, and not too far away. There’s plenty of lawn out there, and I’ve found a few shovels. If you want to help, I’d be thankful for it.”

Lembridge stepped away from the pool table, and faced Ryan squarely. “I think I would.”

“Great.” Ryan started towards the door, then stopped and turned back. “I do have one question for you before we start.”

“Oh?”

“You said you had a personal bone to pick with Davis. What was it?”

He smiled. “My sister. She worked on K Street, for one of the more specialized lobbying outfits. They focused on environmental issues, mostly. She thought she was one of the good guys, helping show Congress and the various agencies how their decisions affected the planet.”

Ryan shrugged. “I don’t understand. From what you just said, I’d say she was one of the good guys. That’s the upside of lobbying.”

“You’re right. And she was proud of her work there. But then she discovered that some of their work was being directed by outside interests. They were being used as cover, to make people like me vote for things that had other effects as well. Far worse ones.”

“So why didn’t she come here herself?”

“That’s kind of hard when you’re dead. She was killed in an explosion. What’s left of the media parroted the usual drivel about some lone terrorist who blamed environmentalists for destroying the economy. But after talking with you, I’m pretty sure it was much simpler. They just weren’t useful any more.”

“Grisly. But what does that have to do with our stiff?”

Lembridge didn’t answer right away. Instead, he continued on into the kitchen and stopped in front of Davis’ smelly corpse, still hanging there face down over the sink. “Our boy ran a clearing house for coordinating lobby activities, watching out for conflicts that could get them in each others’ way, right?”

“Sure. That’s how he put the bug in so many institutional ears about the new GDP derivative he was asked to testified about.”

The congressman glared angrily at Davis. “One of those institutions was my sister’s agency. He bankrupted the good guys along with everyone else. Oh, right,” he said, “I almost forgot,” and cast the spit he’d paid for. “Come on. Let’s go dig a hole.”

THE END

[Afterword: There’s more in “LA Scrip“. Or for a taste of corporate pay-back, try “Logical Conclusion“]

Copyright 2007 by P. Orin Zack

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