Comedy is anguish. I fought the urge to pull out my phone while driving and jot that down. A joke or two is easy. Bleak observations of the irony of modern life are more challenging, but a sustained effort at literary comedy is anguish itself. Start with a plotline, invert the plotline, punish the good, and reward the absurd. Even the beginning is anguish, but finishing is utter terror. Galt might not literally die, I suddenly thought, but his career might before it ever begins as he ranges over the countryside in his eclectic obsession to turn the cognoscenti against the faceless bureaucracy gone awry. Could I have withstood the ranting and joined in on the strikes? The strike itself, the shrugging, was so collectivist in character, and so secret in formulation, that there should have been, must have been, detractors along the way. The implausibility of Galt’s plot surviving requires as implausible an ideological commitment as the extremists in the political parties of today, but also requires secrecy on a massive scale. But killing them martyrs them, and so I finally saw Galt, having failed to convince anyone of his grandiose vision—having failed to achieve excellence—hanging himself with a sheet in a motel bathroom during his peripatetic lecture circuit, but failing in even that as a rigged arrangement of shower bars collapses under the weight of his massive girth brought on by overeating as the stressors of his failure weighed more and more on the man. He is diagnosed a danger to himself and never to the invidious society he rails against, and treated for free in a mental hospital, and for heart disease and diabetes. Rand visits him one August day and watches as he snacks on raw vegetables while begging her to sneak him candy bars when she next visits. Meanwhile, in the Colorado Rockies, a small town continues to raise sheep as always and the odd man the old timers recall gesticulating wildly at them never reappears.
I tried to organize a meeting with Winborn. I wanted him to meet Sonya. I decided she was as good as anyone could possibly be—maybe better—but needed at least a second opinion. I had no experience in team building for something like what he was imagining. Winborn was out of the country and unavailable for another week, so I continued to research the options for the new fund. Microloans had shown remarkable progress in India and Bangladesh, for instance, but only on the ground with micropreneurs. Supporting larger enterprises had promise, but required significantly more funding. It overlapped into the realm that was more properly that of government and international NGOs. I needed to go out and talk to everyone, to travel for a year and find out what worked and didn’t work, and where there was an opening for productive help. I needed to run that by Winborn and admit that I thought the start would be slower than he had anticipated.
I drove up Sand Hill Road to our appointment. Sonya would meet me there, but would be half-an-hour late due to a class. That was fine, I thought, because it would give me an opportunity to probe Winborn further on the new developments, as well as to frame the introduction of my new intern. I had decided that travel and introductions to facilitate learning were the priority and had some initial figures about the expenses involved.
The dark glass doors were propped open by a box of folders as I arrived, and I made my way past a cart loaded with books and moving boxes coming in. Winborn’s admin was not at her desk but two short men in coveralls emerged from the back carrying boxes, chatting in conspiratorial whispers as they strained to walk with loads. Southeast Asian. Vietnamese, maybe, I thought. I waited by the reception desk for a few minutes and then wandered down the hallway, calling restrained Hellos as I moved from door to door. I passed Phoebe as the men returned and slipped by me, heading for the end of the hall.
Winborn’s admin was in his office, filtering through a box of files on the desk. Other boxes and a massive looking globe of polished precious stones were piled in the center of the office. She looked up at me as I entered and muttered, “Shit, sorry, I thought I had cleared all the appointments.”
“Oh, sorry, no one was at the front desk,” I responded.
“No problem. Sorry, my fault. Winborn’s gone.”
“OK, can I reschedule?”
“No, sorry. I’m saying sorry a lot these days. Oh, shit,” she continued, “Winborn’s been arrested.”
“Arrested? Really? For what?”
“Insider trading. The investigation has been going for some time. He knew they were coming for him, but just kept plugging along. The SEC claims he’s been passing information about the tech sector to hedge funds for years. He uses his network of contacts. He says he’s innocent, but federal agents showed up yesterday. They took him out in handcuffs. I was ordered to put everything in storage today by a limited partner. I don’t think he’s coming back, one way or another.”
That meant my project was done, I realized. It was over. Without Winborn, there was no project. A warm rush of relief washed over me. Selfish, I realized, but I had not been altogether sure that I was capable of running his new vision. Sonya would be let down, but at least she hadn’t put any real effort in yet.
The woman motioned to the men and one picked up a box. He nodded at the giant globe with a faint laugh. The other crouched before the object and spun the sphere a little in its fittings, the jumbled syllables of his native tongue mixed with laughter as he stopped the turning globe with the palm of his hand in a gentle squeak. He strained as he began to lift from the brass hoop that surrounded and cupped the globe. With a second strain and some quick laughs from his coworker, he hefted the globe onto a shoulder, turned, and left, slipping sideways through the doorway with a careful sidle to protect the expensive sculpture.