“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
— John Maynard Keynes
The autonomous stretch limousine stopped again, then again, at various Manhattan street corners. Men ducked into it, one by one, until four were seated inside. Armored and electronically cloaked to Secret Service specifications, the limo turned onto the Henry Hudson Parkway and proceeded west, ubiquitous and unnoticed.
“What are we gonna do?” said the short bald man, pouring himself a hearty shot of whiskey.
“What do you mean, ‘what are we gonna do?’” said the towheaded young guy, waving the decanter away. “We’re gonna keep doing what we do and wait for it to blow over.”
“We can’t,” said the man with the full head of gray hair. He stared at each man for what seemed like hours, not seconds, and said, “Google it: we’re under attack from all sides. Customers are abandoning high-tech.” He pointed his sunglasses at each of them. “Like flies. They8 can’t get product from China because of Trump’s goddam tariffs. Internet security is a massive expense. And if all that isn’t enough, it’s election year and Elizabeth Warren is hot on our tails.” He furrowed his big eyebrows and murmured, “and I, for one, sure don’t want her anywhere near my ass.”
“Too much Washington meddling,” said the casually dressed—also gray-haired—man thoughtfully. “Look, we don ‘t need a crystal ball to see what Washington is up to. They love to break up any business that’s doing well. Never mind what we do for the country. Never mind free enterprise, dismantle ‘em! Never mind they’re always the last to know what’s going on. I mean, Microsoft lost its founder because of that rat judge Boies. Next thing we know, we’ll all be going to court and getting blown to bits like they did to IBM and AT&T.”
“Yeah,” said the kid. ”Speaking of Microsoft, shouldn’t they be here with us? Isn’t this gonna end up raining on their parade, too?”
“Hah!”, the gray-haired man in Nikes glared through his glitteringly clean glasses. “That’s unlikely. Some CEOs and their companies learn from their mistakes.”
The Cadillac was silent except for its turn-signal tick-tock. The limo slowed and stopped outside a nondescript spa. A tall, handsome, square-jawed man stepped out, unwrapping a Mars bar, and opened the car door. The others, muttering hellos, slid around, making room for him to sit. “What an odd car,” the newcomer spoke with a bit of an accent. “Perhaps we should be making something like this?”
“Microsoft has effectively diversified,” said the richest and best-dressed of the foursome, taking up the conversational thread again. “And they, too, have learned how to avoid the Big Bad Dee-oh-Jay.”
“Maybe our problem is we’re too insulated from the ways of the world,” said the guy with the tech Ph.D., polishing his lenses with a high-tech microfiber cloth.
“Maybe, yes, but I don’t see that having much to do with fending off Justice attorneys,” said another of the billionaires. They’re the meanest rats in the alley.”
“If I may cut to the point of all this,” said the one still cleaning his glasses, “What’s at stake? Can we be personally at risk? Are we talking about no longer being perceived as doing good for the world? Is it about power? Money? Envy? What?”
“All the above,” said the bald guy. “All the above, and who knows what else?”
“Got that right,” said the kid. “If some asshole filmmaker ever tries to make another documentary about me—”
“He’s right,” said the bald guy, ignoring the kid. “Look at what Justice did to Elizabeth Holmes.”
The driverless limo continued its smooth, steady progress toward Westchester County, where each of its riders had a home. Or two. Maybe three.
“But the stock market still loves us,” said the new guy, grinning. “Can the public not be behind us?”
“We have all the power, man!” said towheaded kid. “The AI! The Big Data! Server farms around the whole world!”
“There is that,” said the guy with the bushy black eyebrows. “Which does, more or less, raise the question I asked you to contemplate when we decided to meet.”
The men nodded and um-hummed like a Greek chorus.
“This is the time, now, while Fat Boy’s gotten his nuts in a vise,” said the bald guy.
“We’ve got followers! Influencers!” said the tow-headed kid. “Millions will stand with us.”
The other men looked at him quizzically.
“And the lobbyists? Can we count on them?” said handsome, not grinning for once. He looked into each face, his gaze steady and strong. Each man nodded in agreement.
“Then we all agree?” said the somewhat younger, gray-haired, former CEO.
More nods, more um-humms.
“All right, then. Tomorrow we fall on our swords, so to speak. Tell Washington we give up, that we’ll let them regulate us.”
“But wait!” said towhead. “They’re likely to take us at our word! Those politicians are nothing but bozos on the bus!”
“Aw, hell, they’re too busy playing with the impeachment to pay attention to anything else,” said the auto exec.
“Point well taken,” said the bald guy. “I can’t even get any traction for the Saudi prince hacking my phone.”
“It’ll work,” said the former CEO. “They’ll think we’ve caved and stop paying attention to us long enough for . . . .”
“We won’t give them time to think. Or act,” said the tall, handsome guy, grinning from ear to ear. “I’ll launch a rocket. It’ll be our Trojan horse.”
Everybody began laughing at that. They laughed and laughed and couldn’t stop. When they did, the older gray-haired guy said, “Show of hands?”
Five hands rose. Everyone nodded his approval. Backs straightened. Smiles appeared on faces. The former CEO took his phone out of his pocket and hit a speed-dial button.
“Hello, Carl? We’re buying the United States Government.”