Continued from last week …
Synopsis: After the devastating Coro raid, Special Agent Weidemeyer must close the second half of his trap. If he is to stop a new and more effective counterfeiting organization from glowing out of the ashes of the one he just destroyed, he must kill or arrest everyone who understands how the old one used the Internet to distribute their bogus bills. Only a few targets still remain at large…
The One Gets Away
"Father, I'm confused," said twelve-year-old Arnold Wilson Parker II, known to his acquaintances and family as Junior.
"Not uncommon. At your age. Not at all," answered his father, expecting to begin a discussion of the world's most confusing subject.
"Yes, sir," answered young Parker. He was home from Exeter and his father could see all the signs of budding puberty. Well, a father had to be ready for these sorts of questions.
"Can I help?" he prompted.
"Yes, sir." After a short hesitation, the boy blurted out, "It's about money."
"Good stuff. Money. Good," said Parker with some relief. On that subject, at least, he was quite ready to talk. On the other, well, he was still not all that sure of himself.
"Yes, sir. What is it?"
"Money?" asked the father, surprised by the esoteric nature of the question. His son, after all, was little more than a child.
"Yes, sir. Some of my friends say it's dollars, others say gold. Which is it?"
"This is what you boys talk about?"
"In Social Studies, sir."
Well, at least boys were still boys, thought Arnold. Aloud, he said, "Profound question, son. Tough, too. Profound and tough. What does your teacher say?"
"He won't give us an answer."
"Shows good sense."
"I don't understand."
"Never mind. It's simple, really. Simple. Money is what people think it is."
"Not easy to understand. Like all great truths. Even when you state it. Ambiguous. Subtle. But still true."
The boy looked very confused so Arnold paused, letting the words sink in while he decided where to start.
"Know the definition of money, son?"
"No, sir. Sorry, sir. We haven't gotten to that yet."
"Teacher needs to get on the ball."
"Money is anything used regularly for three-party transactions."
The boy looked back in uncomprehending silence.
"Suppose you give me a sack of wheat. For a week's work. I take it, I eat it. What we did was trade. Barter. Just a trade. No money changed hands. None. See that?"
"Yes, sir. Wheat isn't money."
"No. Didn't say that. When it's only traded between two people, it isn't money. But suppose, instead of eating it, I give it to my landlord to pay my rent. It's still wheat, right?"
"But not a trade. A three-party transaction. My landlord is really getting the wheat from my employer. I'm just the go-between. Passing it along, so to speak. Then wheat is money. See the difference?"
"No, sir. Sorry."
"Enough of the 'sorry,' boy. Don't be sorry. Never be sorry. Never. Do what you have to. But never be sorry. Never."
"Yes, sir. Sor-. I mean, yes, sir."
"Think about the second example. Doesn't matter what my employer gives me. Only matters that I know how much of it my landlord will take for rent. See that?"
"Can be anything. Shells. Pretty stones. Tobacco. Gold. Colored paper. Anything. Doesn't matter. As long as everyone accepts it, it's money. See that?"
"Yes, sir. I think so, sir," the boy said with a smile. "So which is it? Gold or dollars?"
"Right now, today, if you try to buy groceries with a lump of gold, will the cashier take it?"
After a thoughtful moment, the young man answered "I don't think so."
"No, he won't. Not officially, anyway. Might pocket your gold and pay for your groceries himself. But the store won't take it. Right?"
"Do you see why?"
"They don't keep their accounts in it and can't pay their bills with it. Can't pass it through. No three-party exchange."
The boy just looked back in silence.
"Try a three-party transaction with gold, you get turned down. Right?"
He got a nod in response.
"So, is gold money? I mean right now. Today."
"Right. Because right now, today, it won't be accepted for a three-party transaction. What will be?"
"So gold's not money?" asked the child.
"Not today, it's not," answered the older man. Then, after a pause to let his son think about the point, he asked, "Want a trick question?"
With a smile, the boy nodded. Father always made trick questions easy.
"Will dollars be money tomorrow?"
The smile vanished. Father hadn't come through this time. The young Parker was at a loss for the right answer. There was a pause while he considered trying to guess, but decided against it. With Father, guessing was rarely a good idea.
"I don't know," the boy admitted.
"Good. Right answer. No one can predict tomorrow. When it comes, how will you find the answer?"
"Right. And, tomorrow, if you do the same thing, but they won't take dollars, only gold, will dollars still be money?"
Junior took a second to be sure of his answer, then said, "No."
"Right. What would be?"
"Smart boy. Money is what people say it is. And sometimes, people change their minds. So money is not always the same thing. Today, the answer to your question is dollars. But, tomorrow, it might be gold."
Junior became pensive, trying to digest a difficult concept. He had just been told that a rock of his existence, one of the framing members of his world, was not solid. That was a scary idea for a twelve-year-old to accept.
"Father," he finally asked, "that can't really happen, can it? Gold can't really become money someday, can it?"
"Yes, son. Afraid it can. But don't worry. It won't. Not as long as I have anything to do with it, it won't."
* * *
Eddy* sat alone in his battered Civic by the edge of a warm New Jersey parking lot. Balanced on the dash next to him, a homemade Yagi Wi-Fi antenna connected him to the Internet through a small cafe on the other side of a busy highway. Around him, a crowded parking lot provided cover. His laptop sat open on his lap, powered by the same inverter that ran his antenna amplifier.
He was in his car rather than the cafe because what he was doing was illegal. The extra separation gave him a better chance of escaping if anything went wrong. As most members of his family could have told him from personal experience, always have a good get-away plan when dealing with the law.
Two years ago, Eddy quit college because he ran out of money. The loans ended when he was still six months short of graduating. With thousands of dollars of debt, he learned that 90 percent of a computer science degree only got you food stamps. Alone, depressed, and almost on the street, one of his uncles gave him an IP address and told him to visit the site.
Now he was working on his graduate degree, free and clear.
Thank you, FUNNY MONEY*.
Now he was logged on to order another shipment of bogus bills. Everyone else must be doing the same thing, though, because the site was taking forever to complete his order.
While he waited, he rested his eyes on the cafe across the street. Without warning, two sedans sped up to it and stopped in the fire zone. Six clean-cut men in business suits jumped out and ran through the front door, guns drawn.
Eddy knew what a raid looked like, though he had never seen one. Until now, that is. Jerking the remote antenna off the dash, he shoved the laptop to the floor, slid over into the driver's seat, and backed quickly out of the parking space. Seconds later he was exiting the far end of the Stop & Shop lot.
Meanwhile, agents from the two cars moved quickly through the cafe, targeting everyone with a computer. A third sedan blocked the rear exit, ready to catch anyone who tried to leave by that route.
All those without computers, including any employees, were identified, logged, searched, and sent home. But possession of a laptop got the owner a free ride to the new Federal Building. Three customers, along with their laptops, made the trip. The cafe's computers and router also went, as did the manager. The building was searched, then closed for the rest of the week. Finally, the suits left.
And Eddy, now sitting comfortably in front of his TV, decided it was time to do something else for a living. But what?
* * *
"Father, can silver be money, too?" asked Junior Parker.
They were sitting at the informal dining room table, the one that overlooked the veranda and the Rockies. At one end sat the boy's mother, thin and straight, leaning over her soup at just the proper angle. At the other sat his father, Arnold Wilson Parker. And, as usual, Junior was in the middle.
The question caught both parents by surprise. Arnold was pleased by it, his wife much less so. The interest his son had shown in money earlier in the week was something Arnold hoped to encourage, so this question was a blessing. If the boy was ever to grow into the job his father planned for him, that interest had to be encouraged.
Turning to his son, he said "Of course, Junior. Anything can-"
"Not at the table" interrupted his wife, not shrilly, but with the razor in her voice. Arnold turned to see her looking back at him, the displeasure on her face masked by the tight smile she used for appearances. He knew that face all too well.
When they decided to marry, he had not known of her proclivity for the proper. She had been a young woman then, attractive in many ways, in particular because of her family connections. Those contacts still held, as did her looks. And her determination to raise her son to fit in with the right people. Learning correct manners, including the social skills, was high on her list.
Most of the time, he simply acquiesced to her demands. The proper schools, the proper friends, the proper sports. Usually, he accepted her control of the boy's upbringing. But this was different. Curiosity was hard to cultivate in a young man. For whatever reason, his son had shown some interest in economics. That had to be encouraged, not squashed. Ignoring his wife, he turned back to Junior.
"Yes, of course it can-" he began.
"Junior, honey," his wife interrupted again, "didn't you just get a new computer game?"
The boy knew what was coming. Nodding silently, he waited.
"Why don't you and James go play with it?" James, their servant of many years, knew the drill. Stepping forward, he assumed the role of babysitter for the storm that was to come. Quietly, the boy slipped away from the table and, under James's reassuring hand, left the room.
When both were out of earshot, she turned back to her husband. Arnold was prepared for her assault. Eyes flashing, she hissed, "I will not have my son raised in the gutter."
"Money is not filth," he responded, the familiar retort slipping out easily.
"It's base and ugly-"
"It runs the world."
"You will not encourage my son to wallow in it."
"How'd we get all this?" he asked, gesturing around in a wide sweeping motion.
"A vulgar necessity. Talk about it in the toilet, if you have to, but not at the dinner table!"
Stupid cow, Parker thought. But she wasn't, not really. Stupid women don't graduate from Vassar, no matter how rich they are. In his less angry moments, he saw that her limitations lay, not in intellect, but in depth.
His wife was just another soccer mom. Richer than most, but still as limited as the rest of that class. Her life's objective was ease and comfort for her son and herself. To her, money was for buying another chateau on the Riviera. But nothing more. She made it vulgar because she used it only for base purposes.
Of course, she supported the correct boutique charities. Social standing required it. But the idea of using money for a greater good, of using it to force noble goals on a society that would otherwise not undertake them, that had never occurred to her.
No, she was not stupid. Just shallow.
Well, his son mattered to him, too. He couldn't allow the boy to be subsumed by the vapid and simple. This was one battle he would not give up on.
"Strike when the iron's hot. Have to. When there's interest. Can't wait," he tried again.
"No," she shot back. "There is a time and place for everything. You must learn that."
"He must understand money. Must."
"Why? So he can be a good accountant? I will not have my son be a damned bookkeeper."
Well, at least we agree on something, thought Arnold.
"It's not about keeping track of it."
"Making it and using it."
"So? You run the presses. Just print more. See? Is that so hard?"
Yes it is. If you want people to keep accepting what you print, that is. But how to explain it to a cow? How could he show her that they were all at the mercy of the public? If everyone stopped using the dollars he printed, just stopped, it was all over. That money controlled the people who held the guns. If those men and women couldn't spend their pay, she would be dead. Our whole society would be. The dollar brought order. Without it, humanity would sink into a new dark age. And most of us would die.
He had to work for the only alternative. A unified world, with no more nuclear war. Hell, no more war anywhere. Peace. For the first time in humanity's history, peace everywhere. And it was so close. Just within his grasp.
His son had to learn how to control people with money. Not just for his own sake, but for the future of the world. Had to.
But how do you tell all that to a cow, even a smart one?
*See Appendix for a list of characters and a glossary.
* * *
Thieves Emporium is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle and in epub format from Smashwords or Nook. Max Hernandez welcomes comments and feedback and can be reached at MaxHernandez@protonmail.ch.
© 2012-2015 Max Hernandez. Reprinted with permission.