Killing John Galt

Intro of my short story, Killing John Galt, from 2011:

How do I kill John Galt? That compact question was consuming my waking thoughts. Plots formed into charts, and charts into mental maps overlain by dramatic forms—murder most foul, suicide, death by ridicule, a drowning, evisceration on the aerial of a low-flying aircraft, a push and crash through a plate glass window, the splintering cacophony of an airborne piano—each device trying to fit the cogs of the pubescent story that was my most recent side project. I emphasize that it was a side project. I am not a writer and don’t care to be. Or, more accurately, I do actually write and earnestly wanted to kill Galt in some literarily significant way, but could only spend a few minutes each day stalking him.  I would therefore never profess to be a writer, with all the semantic baggage that surrounds and enervates the term, but, if Galt died, I would readily admit to having killed him and even that I had enjoyed it.

Then I am an assassin, I thought, as I pulled into the parking lot of the venture capitalist group off the freeway south of San Francisco. The cat-piss smell of decaying Eucalyptus drifted over the rows of luxury cars. A Mexican gardener with a facemask paused his weed eater according to protocol as I drifted between the planters looking for the lobby of the building. The buzz began again and I glanced back as the device sliced deeply into the grass and sent a vortex of clippings into the air. An accident, I thought; Galt chopped up by a robot-controlled combine on a giant industrial farm. It became picturesque: purple and black monsoonal clouds contrasted against ochroid fields; the green machine as large and menacing as a dinosaur churning Galt’s body into blood vapor.

Inside the machine’s noise collapsed as the tinted glass door closed. There was art and I took a moment to look around as a flat Asian face studied me from the reception desk. She was pretty and unadorned save dianthus lips reflecting slivers of light from a screen hidden below. Each sculpture was on a pedestal and trapped inside a cube of Plexiglas. The pedestals were veneered to resemble mahogany. The design motif continued in the reception desk and onto the walls of the space, with the coloration faintly mimicked in ruddy floors of stained and sealed concrete. I edged closer to the nearest pedestal. The face watched me but was willing to wait a few moments until I finished with my distractions. There was a mechanical device inside the transparent box. It was concentric brass rings, designed to look old, perhaps medieval, and held together with bits of slick leather. My immediate thought was astrolabe or antique measuring device, but there were tiny intaglios along the rim: cell phones, sports cars, computers, flat-screen televisions, and atomic bombs. New meets old. A clever joke like the entire oeuvre of Koons, etched small. I laughed and the receptionist looked up suddenly and asked if she could help me. I had an eleven AM meeting with Sam Winborn, I told her, and she consulted a display hidden in her desk.

“You’re in Phoebe,” she said flatly and stood. I waited, unsure what that meant, until she invited me to follow her back to a conference room. Coffee was brought and I stared out the window at the arrow of the Stanford Linear Accelerator piercing the coastal hills. Killing John Galt was just a way station in the plot convolutions that I needed to build my parody of Ayn Rand. Conceptually, the basics were already in place. Rich industrialists were consumed with their intellectual superiority, with the power of their wealth, and with the desire to manipulate the political landscape and marketplace to generate more wealth. The great unveiling arrives late in the book when one of the principal characters has an opportunity to productize a new cold-fusion energy cell but determines that it would cannibalize sales of his oil and gas products. Change is suppressed in an accountancy exercise. There is no complex bureaucracy conspiring to enforce mediocrity or willful masses interfering with excellence. The power relationships flow the other way, exploiting the weaknesses in the law and the psychology of the masses.

But it was the economy of commodities and extraction and marketing that my plot concerned. Rand was a visionary failure in that regard—hence the parody—looking backwards at the robber barons as antitrust regulations were ginned up out of the vapors of their excesses. I was in a different world now where margins were still the conceptual driver but where disruptive innovation was the counterpoint in the layered movements of the symphony of investment cycles.

Winborn arrived in t-shirt and cycling shorts. I could smell sweat tinged by body wash rising off him. He was trim and young—mid-forties—a product of excited waves of technological investments and term sheets and IPOs. He was notoriously inattentive, drifting into odd soliloquies with little notice, but then reemerging to ask pointed questions and make snap decisions. His record was good by the VC community’s standards where exits and valuations were the measures of worth.  I was not here to pitch him anything, however. I was seasoned by two exits myself, with the second one sufficient to keep me in Priuses and Bordeaux until I died. I was here at his request to talk about something different, something new. His admin had contacted me a month back and requested a meeting. Sam knew me from a friend and another friend’s colleague. The timing had been bad, then got worse, but then finally opened up, and I finally drove down. He apologized for that but then turned intense after a brief pause.

“To the point, then. Thanks for your time and I hope your retirement is sufficiently fulfilling.”

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