Chapter 4

I am an action freak. Making money loses some of its appeal to me if the making is not accompanied by some element of personal risk. It's more fun that way. Cheating injury or death, bending a law here and there while thumbing my nose at authorities that could lock me up and throw away the key or testing the cojones of my competitors mano a mano, these things are the spice, the salsa in the capitalistic stew. And the promise of a little fun along the way has kept my staff a loyal and hardworking bunch. I had them assembled in my conference room the day after the fundraiser. Maury was ticking off the economic attributes of the Aristito, just like he had done for me the night before; supply and demand equations, spot market price curves on A-fur, collection and delivery networks, enforcement strength in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cost/benefit ratios, that sort of thing. Maury said that, as far as he could see, an entire underground backdoor economy had existed for years centered around A-fur as the medium of exchange, an economy that in terms of stability outperformed those based on the gold standard. A few cautious questions were tossed his way but I could tell that my team was waiting to hear from their quarterback. I cleared my throat when Maury was finished.

"We're going to corner the A-fur market," I told them. "Just like the Hunts tried to do with silver, but with one big difference..." I paused for effect and checked their eyes, "...we're going to get the job done." They held their breath. I beg your pardon -- I haven't properly introduced these fine people yet. Starting around the table from my left -- Maury you already know. The portly gentleman with the bushy eyebrows and the sharkskin suit is Salvatore Calabrese, my lawyer and former consigliere for the Sicilian import/export firm of Gennaro and Altobaldi. He came to me as part of the deal in my unfriendly and messy leveraged takeover of that concern. Seated next to Sal and peeling the jumbo shrimp is Lars von Rindt, my chief of security and accounts receivable. Lars is wearing a tasteful summer weight suit from Big Man's Body Armor (capable of deflecting a projectile of .41 caliber at 3250 fps.) and his favorite hobbies are surfing and kendo. To see him go about his work is to witness a thing of consummate and frightening beauty. Mona Sparrow is my secretary. The former Mother Superior of the California Convent of the Little Sisters of Unfortunate Life Choices, she possesses a photographic memory for facts, figures, names, dates...it's quite extraordinary. Mona is the undisputed manager of the office and sees to it that my more zealous staff do not bring opprobrium to the fine name of this house. Even Lars gives her wide berth. Finally, down at the end of the table, you have Tyrone Alvarado. Tyrone has far and away the most interesting curriculum vita of any of my staff, having served as the Secretary of the Bernalillo chapter of the Hell's Angels, as Chancellor of the Conservative Vice Lords of South Chicago in charge of ferreting out police informants and as defense counsel's coordinator of character witnesses at the Manson trial. Tyrone's ethnic -- half blood, half latino -and, even though that fact helps considerably with the EEO requirements for my government contracts, I hired him for his mind. He is my factotum, my subaltern. I chose these people because they all share my orthodoxy. Each is a true believer in the principles of unregulated free enterprise, the accumulation of private wealth, the subservience of labor to capital, the ascendancy of the individual over the collective and natural selection. These are

our rods, our fasces. We are a team. "Maury's not exaggerating," I told them. "This A-fur thing is gonna be big. Very big. Maury, put that chart up again. See that supply curve?" I pointed to a flat horizontal line at the bottom of the graph. "Static. There hasn't been more than a hundred, hundred and twenty units of fur available to the market annually for what Maury, thirty years?" "They're very hard to get, people." Maury explained and tapped at the graph. "There's only one source, a part of the jungle controlled by some pygmy tribe in South America -- headhunters, cannibals, I don't know. They know where these weasels live and know how to catch 'em. But every so often, someone sneaks into their turf and bootlegs out a few head. But it looks like pretty dicey poaching. What we know so far's pretty thin, but it looks like for every pelt brought out, somebody dies. 'Bout a one-to-one ratio. Dangerous work." In our preconference meeting, I had told Maury to emphasize the perils of capitalizing on Aristito fur, to underline for the staff the physical danger of making this particular dollar. His presentation had the effects I sought, a certain setting of the jaws around the table, a little brighter glint in these eyes. I knew how to motivate my people -- a bottom line with lots of zeroes and the promise of risking everything for that payoff. These folks know to a man (or woman) that, for the fights we enter, they hand out no runner-up trophies. I didn’t build my empire on the red ribbons they hand out for second place. "Here's my plan," I said. "We're going to put together an A-fur cartel. Maury says that the latent demand for the product will support a worldwide supply of about what Maury, four thousand square feet a year?" While Maury nodded, the staff around the table did some quick arithmetic. "That's a market of about four billion dollars a year gross that's just sitting there to be tapped." This was about as large a figure as I had ever tossed out at one of these meetings and I had their attention. Oh, I had their attention. Tyrone was cleaning his fingernails with his switchblade and asked, "What's the net, Cowboy? Seems like there'd be a lotta overhead what with all them trips into the jungle. And if I

got this figured right, there'd be about four thousand people croakin' a year. You'll have to hire more staff, right?" He slid his shades to the top of his crinkly head and his mestizo eyes twinkled. "And if your thinkin' of taking over whatever little wiener country these rats call home, four billion won't begin to touch your admin costs. What's the net?" "One trip, Tyrone. One trip. What I got in mind is a quick surgical strike to kidnap a few of the little guys. We'll bring them back home and breed them like chinchillas. And maybe a couple people have to die to get them out but that don't mean it has to be a couple of us." I love this little half-breed like a son, and his question deserved an answer. "The net won't be any less than threepoint-five, three-point-six billion a year. And that's worst case scenario."

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