Thursday, December 1, 2005

The Conference

 A few years ago I visited a museum exhibiting work by the late Mark Lombardi, a conceptual artist who researched “the political and social terrain” that surrounded him.  Over the course of several years, Lombardi mapped his findings in an aesthetic manner, providing a concise and intriguing analysis of the most complex business transactions in recent history.  His subjects consist of both individuals and groups who have had economic ties to war, tyranny, exploitation, imperialism, and other forms of social injustice.  The diverse gamut of perpetrators includes notorious criminal groups such as the Italian Mafia, “morally upright” public personalities such as Reverend Pat Robertson and ex-president Ronald Reagan, and everyone in between.  These are the true bad-asses of the world – the ones who should be on every “most wanted” list from here to Timbuktu.  Lombardi’s final collection of diagrams, entitled “Global Networks”, were drawn out on enormous sheets of paper, revealing intricate constellations of corruption, as though the financial connections depicted are as significant as the vast galaxies of the universe they seem to emulate.  Regardless of their relevant insight, these ground breaking banners still lack a crucial aspect necessary in understanding modern capitalism, specifically the link between the Business World and the Underworld.
             It was a silent and frigid winter night when I first noticed the eerie red glow that mysteriously illuminated the 42nd floor windows of the downtown Knosol Bank Complex.  Initially I dismissed the strange radiance as just another part of this high-tech world that I would never be old enough to understand.  But this odd light captivated me deeply, even to the point of insomnia.  Its elegant yet authoritative aura instilled an insatiable force of curiosity in my soul – a curiosity that only desperate measures could quench.  While lying there motionless, wide-awake in my bed, I suddenly devised an ingenious strategy – a strategy that was just crazy enough to work.
            I awoke the next morning with a twinkle in my eye and a bounce in my step.  I was under the influence of a fresh perspective, and my countenance resembled that of a fearless child about sprint into an unsuspecting street for the very first time.  In hindsight I have realized that the whole scheme was dangerously na├»ve. 
            I promptly hailed a passing cab and soon arrived at a local thrift shop.  Wasting no time, I purchased a pair of black khakis, a plain white long-sleeved button-up dress-shirt accompanied by a black suit-coat, and a pair of snappy black loafers.  I strolled out the door and headed down the block to the nearest barbershop, where I was afforded a Slick Business Executive Cut for only $9.99.  Due to my high morale, the barber received $2.50 in gratuity.  I walked outside and lit up my last Parliament Light, putting it out of its lonely misery.  I pulled out my cell-phone and called my faithful comrade Stewart Thompson, a city renowned computer nerd and willing participant in select illegal acts involving computers.   You might call him a “hacker”.
            Pigeons scattered as I made my way toward a dilapidated apartment on 35th Street.  In this neighborhood, the thunder of indiscriminate gunfire was just as common in broad daylight as it was during the wee hours of the night.  Stewart answered the door wearing red sweat pants and an ancient AC/DC T-shirt decorated with random holes and spots of white paint.
            “We need to discuss exactly how the hell you expect all of this to go down…” 
            A few strands of dark, greasy hair fell from behind his ear and slid along the thick frame of his glasses.  He quickly tucked them back where they belonged.
            “Just trust me,” I said with an ear-to-ear grin of confidence, “you’ve got nothing to lose.  Besides, have I every gotten you into trouble before?”
            “No, but this is serious shit, man!  If we get caught, we’re as good as dead.  The fucking FBI will be on our backs!  Maybe worse!  Maybe the CIA, or NSA!  Maybe FEMA, or COINTELPRO, or other acronyms we’ve never even heard before!” 
            The history of crimes perpetrated by Stewart and I began about three years ago, when we ordered hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise from eBay using a credit card Steward’s girlfriend found while bussing tables at Jim’s Bar & Steakhouse downtown.  Many of these lightly used items were instrumental in propelling our marginal criminal enterprise into the big leagues.
            “Relax, man.  You know I’m a genius.”   
            Stewart’s apartment was filled with copious amounts of wires, hard-drives, scanners, and other computer equipment.  I gawked at several gadgets that were so technologically advanced that I would never have even dreamed of their existence.  Stew has always been the technician. 
We discussed my proposal in great detail for about an hour, and before I knew it, Stewart was hard at work, hacking into the Knosol Bank database.  With beads of sweat accumulating on his forehead, he paused every few minutes to sip his coffee.  Stewart, the real genius, was in the process of obtaining classified information regarding upcoming events and meetings that were scheduled to take place on the upper floors of the Knosol Bank Complex.  I knew I had to get to the top of the building, to get to the bottom of this.  The table shook and coffee spilled as Stewart slammed his fists down and let out a howl of victory.
            “HA!  Take that!  The oldest password in the book!” 
He was glowing with arrogance. 
At last, we had gained access to various private memos.  After browsing through a few, I noticed one that caught my attention.  It read:
            18 February
WTO Conference 
7:00 PM 
42nd floor
            A brief description of the conference followed, including the names of every individual who was scheduled to attend.  Since the topic of the conference was “Recent Developments in the North American Free Trade Agreement”, high-ranking executives from the largest American corporations were scheduled to attend, as well as the president of the World Trade Organization and the CEO of Knosol Bank.
            As Stewart printed the precious memo, I grabbed my thrift shop bag and headed to the bathroom to put on my new budget business attire.  Stew then directed me toward a solid white wall, where he had set up adequate lighting conditions, and took a mug shot of me using his (stolen) digital camera.  This image would soon be used in the making of a false identification card, a process The Technician was quite accustomed to.
            On the morning of the 18th, I awoke with butterflies in my stomach – big ones, trying to burst right through, like an impatient fetus.  Every muscle in my body was tense and knotted.  I tried like hell to think of any reason to abort the mission, but it was no use.  It was too late.  I had come too far to turn away at the last second.  I am no quitter – I am a fucking champion.
At 6:53 PM my loafers greeted the monotonous cement stairs leading to the Knosol Bank Complex entrance.  My laminated ID card was clipped onto the left front pocket of my suit coat.  It claimed that my name was Jeffrey Carlson, and that I was a journalist with a prominent news organization.  The ID appeared to be legitimate, as did my hair-style, my loafers, and of course, my thrift shop outfit. Using the sly social skills I had developed throughout many years of practicing deception, I easily gained access to the private elevator.
I reluctantly pressed the highest button on the right – the one labeled “42” – the one containing my destiny.  My palms began to sweat profusely as the elevator rose steadily toward the great unknown.  The butterflies were now fiercely jabbing my internal organs while frolicking in my stomach acid.  I could feel my armpits getting warm and damp.  Though my anxiety level was quite high, a strong adrenaline flow suddenly commenced, supplying the shred of confidence necessary to continue.  I felt euphoric and invincible, as if God were on my side.  Inevitably, my brief vertical journey decelerated and finally came to a halt.  I took a deep breath as the mighty elevator doors heaved apart, revealing the 42nd floor.
Immediately, I was subjected to a sight that could have made Ron Jeremy impotent, a sight that could have made Karl Rove honest, a sight so ghastly, it could have made Ed Gein cringe.  Boiling blood pumped violently through the veins in my forehead like a desperate jailbreak as my wide-open eyes stared, paralyzed with fear and disbelief.  There before me was the source of the fascinating red illumination I so diligently sought – none other than LUCIFER, PRINCE OF DARKNESS AND KING OF THE UNDERWORLD!
Satan was lounging in a hot tub in the center of the room, surrounded by several demon prostitutes who were massaging his entire body with Saudi Arabian oil and feeding him a variety of poisonous grapes.  This was not your average hot tub.  Instead of bubbling chlorine water, it was filled with Liquid Cash.  Satan grunted, and one of the prostitutes promptly bent over, her shimmering scarlet ass facing him.  Using a rolled hundred-dollar bill, Satan proceeded to snort a heaping line of Pure Columbian Cocaine off the arch of the prostitute’s back, instantly moaning with pleasure and splashing in the Liquid Cash.
Surrounding the hot tub was a circular table made of red marble.  Around this table, in large leopard-spotted reclining thrones, sat all of the men whose names appeared on the memo.  Then I witnessed an astonishing spectacle: Seven winged demon prostitutes suddenly appeared above Satan, hovering, while strumming mini-guitars, which spouted purple flames in unison.  When the first chorus commenced, the tune became clearly recognizable – “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC.  I wondered if Stewart would want to rock out, were he here, standing next to me, watching this gruesome display.    
In a powerful flash, I saw Satan emerge from the hot tub, roaring with three hideous voices.  The words were indistinguishable - maybe Latin - but it was clear that he meant business.  Ten twisting horns sprouted from his scaly noggin, each bearing a platinum crown with the name of a large corporation engraved into it.  In one swift mechanical motion of glistening crimson he twirled around toward the south wall, where a line of businessmen stood, cowering in fear.  Each of these stalwart gentlemen was a high-ranking executive at one of the corporations flaunted by Satan’s horns.  In a dreadful rumble that shook the glass and stopped the heart of every mortal present, Satan bellowed, “There is a great opportunity to gain wealth through destruction.  Who among you will join me?”  
The conference had begun...