1D – The Party

When Diogenes awoke, Grabmaler was scrutinizing his pupils, as a doctor might.  All the familial chatter had disappeared and the face he first saw when struggling in the pit hovered over his.

“You slept for a day.  You were delirious and spoke of Lazarus, St. Louis and the Plague.”  Grabmaler, relaxed in his suit, passed Diogenes a glass of mineral water.

The surroundings had completely changed.  He lay on a plush couch the room boasted matching white Persian rugs and transparent chairs.  Silver-trimmed wine glasses rested on a table flanked by leather hardbound books in cedar cabinets.  Japanese prints and framed etchings warmed the white walls.  Grabmaler had also dressed in beige. It was all rather glaring.  Grabmaler wore a gold watch on his suntanned wrist, which he kept twisting, and he had combed his graying hair back.

“Where am I?”  Diogenes asked, watching a seated woman in a dining room skim a coffee table book on Marc Chagall.  Several other guests paced, their steps muted by a plush rug.  Diogenes wondered why he might be allowed to sleep before several rooms full of guests and where the wealth had come from. He had never seen such elegance, even before The Collapse.

He took stock of himself: clean-shaven, cologned, dressed in black tweed and a white pin-striped shirt with modestly decorative cufflinks and wingtip shoes.  “What?”

“We had you dressed.”  Grabmaler explained, dryly.  He pulled him up and placed a confiding hand on his shoulder after Diogenes stopped blinking:  “Diogenes, watch what you say this evening. You must be polite and restrained — but that’s not all we need.  Talk but don’t pry.  These guests are accessible but they are also clients and we’re pursuing very delicate negotiations.”

Diogenes nodded dutifully.

Rupert, tapping on the same shoulder from behind, added, “These are Internationale execs, Diogenes!  If you want to talk seriously … Undine and I will help.  Won’t we Undine?”  Diogenes could faintly smell a lovely perfume and heard a rustling skirt behind him but nothing from the girl called Undine.

Grabmaler bore down harder: “Relax! Mix naturally, but don’t ask anyone what they do or where they come from.”  Then he rose to greet a client.

“Try to remember what we said, Diogenes.”  Rupert added, winking as he left to join Undine, who now glided forward to greet a group of admirers.

Diogenes lifted himself to his feet.  A woman in a low-cut gown bowed to offer him hors-d’oeuvres, crèpes and stuffed mushrooms from a platinum tray, pointing: “There’s quail and squid over on that table. And there’s champagne and French wine in the hall.”  Fluttering her eyelashes, she too disappeared.

Diogenes swung his feet to the floor and gradually stood then walked to a wide foyer to a room lined with paintings and reclining chairs.  A baldheaded man with heavy eyelids, filing his nails, relaxed by himself in a polyester suit.  A group of Japanese businessmen huddled close to their drinks, speaking beyond his earshot.   A French couple lurked in the corner, smoking, elegantly dressed but evidently bored.  He approached them unsteadily until they grew visibly irritated and about-faced.

Trying to find his dignity, Diogenes carried a glass of champagne past an older man in a blue lamé suit and an high-heeled girl in thigh-clipped pink leotards who explored a painting which the old man professed came from the Louvre.  “Ooo Beuve!  It’s so pretty!”  The girl puckered. “Mais oui, ma chère Eva.  Mais c’est l’heure de ton Dada!” The old aesthete lisped, and silently clapped his hands.

To their left, a night photograph of New York a century ago, before The Collapse, camouflaged the windows of a terrace door.  Diogenes twisted the knob, and with some labor, dislodged the sticky door and stepped through and out on a balcony.

In the grimy night air the New York of ashcan fires and sirens still glittered in iridescent red.  He faintly heard explosions and wailing crowds across the Hudson, now a black mass of oil and floating debris.  From the pit, plumes of lime smoked skyward and bulldozers in metallic heaps idled near a gravel no-man’s land.  Nearer yet, searchlights irradiated the compound itself, cyclopean lamps blasting the cement walk between the barbed wire and electrified gate.  Gun turrets stocked with night vision goggled guards in police leather defended the macadam below.  They directed a cook, forced him at gunpoint to rake a mine field, then move aside.  On the wet pavement below, Grabmaler conferred impatiently with a doorman.  He pointed at the ground then over to the gate while the doorman nodded.  A limousine slid through the electric barbed wire.  Grabmaler welcomed the passengers as they stepped out with the help of a chauffeur.

Grabmaler chatted, shook hands, and escorted them upstairs to the party. He would reappear shortly so Diogenes rushed to reopen the sticky terrace door, and slipped inside.

As Diogenes slinked into the room the brooding fat man, the Japanese and the French couple glowered at him as if they had been insulted.  He shuffled past them to find more squid and champagne, pretending not to notice.  Rupert and Undine were chatting in the living room with an athletic looking woman who was ogling Rupert, breathing earnestly as she spoke of the meaning of staying in shape.  Diogenes, chewing squid and sipping champagne, waited on them as Rupert alone mildly acknowledged him.

“You see, with long draughts of aerobic activity endorphins suffuse the body.  Whose to say, that running or swimming were not the primordial activity of pre-humans?  We shambled through forests all day long then sprinted when hunting down prey.  Muscle tone wasn’t a problem in the past.  We carried spears and shared communally everything we trapped.  My name is Vera now, but it might have been cat-girl, or hunting leopard which would have been my bush-soul before the advent of agriculture. Everytime we caught an animal we shared the meat.  Before civilization ruined the world or political philosophers coined the term, we were communists, working out and working together, speaking, singing of our exploits at night around a fire, and condemning our enemy,  she gasped, exulting a little too intensely when she said, “enemies”, a little too earnest to inspire trust.

Diogenes looked over and saw a man dressed strangely, with epaulettes and a white coat covered in medals from seemingly imaginary military campaigns then back to this intense Vera who had beaded on him when she said “enemies”, and he shivered, sensing something more up her sleeve than good health and group togetherness.

He hadn’t noticed that Grabmaler by now at his elbow was hovering over his shoulder.

“Diogenes, if you will excuse me,”  He said, nodding toward the others, “I’d like to show you something.”  Rupert, Undine and the aerobics instructor waved assent.

Grabmaler marched Diogenes through a corridor lined with French impressionist paintings and erotic mobiles to an elevator which he summoned with a gold card-key: “I know you’ll admire what I’m about to show you.”

They began a swift descent which almost made the near-drunken Diogenes faint.  A diagram on the panels of the elevator which itemized each floor by color revealed an inverted skyscraper.  It represented a huge structure –  a slim pyramid broader at the top and coning down to a needle point well below ground level.  The light which represented the elevator in the diagram moved slowly, even though the floors raced by.  Diogenes underwent a mild nausea leaving the penthouse ground floor, plummeting down.

Remembering the pit, he meditated on Grabmaler’s transformation from their first encounter to the self-engrossed businessman before him now.  Lazarus’ pasty face appeared to his mind’s eye when they seemed to shoot back upward as the elevator slowed.  They came to a stop as the indicator light on the diagram illustrated that they were only midway to the “top” of the pyramid.

As the padded door slid open Grabmaler keyed open another sliding glass panel and they were greeted by a maid.

“Are Bernard and Grant in good health?” Grabmaler asked, running his fingers over a desk.

“Oh yes sir, they’re dining in the cafeteria,”  She curtseyed heavily.

“Don’t disturb them now.  I intend to show Diogenes, here, the printing room.” He said, peeking over her shoulder.

Wandering, they entered a printing room, filled with collating machines, binders, cameras, microscopes, computers. An air of cleanliness radiated from the stainless press.  Diogenes surveyed the room, awed by the technology.

Grabmaler leaning toward him stated, “If you please, this is where you will work.  You’ll have an assistant who consulted on the original design and supervised installation.  He will be instructed to acquaint you with our press and programs.  Grant is devoted to the press but he has no printing expertise.  This is where you’ll come in.  Your job, will be ‘monetary reproduction’, the replication of bills still issued by what remains of our Treasury Department.  If you must know, we do not plan to spend the money but flatly distribute it, give it away.  Spending would cost us time and attention and whatever the money could buy, now, would prove worthless.  And, finally, by not engaging personally in spending, we will not be identified as the printers.”

“What? Why print money if you don’t intend to spend it?”  Diogenes asked, astonished.

“My dear Diogenes, we give money away!  We are destroying the tyranny of money.  An idealistic project, isn’t it …”  Grabmaler suggested, with a wink.

Diogenes could not decide yet what Grabmaler knew of his former counterfeiting — or his father’s.

Why me?”

Your employee application for Lazarus stated you have experience in printing … “

“What do you know of Lazarus or my former employment?”

“Lazarus worked for us.”

“But he was the founder of Tombstone Internationale.”

Founder but not the owner, nor did he sit on the enhanced board of directors.”

“What do you mean enhanced?”

“Let’s not beat around the bush.  That was a small operation with a peculiar clientele and a dwindling market.”

“Peculiar clientele, is that a joke?”

“No joke.  I mean, the families who could buy headstones disappeared with the middle class.  Every year, demand, with the ability to pay, dwindled.  Without restructuring ownership, the quarry became useless.  Except as landfill.  It was idle a year prior to Tombstone’s liquidation.  Don’t tell me you didn’t know this.  You worked there well beyond its liquidation.”

“That’s not completely true.  I discovered the transfer of shares the very day I was evicted.”

“And what about the conduct in the office after Lazarus died?”

“What conduct?”

“I mean, who gave you the authorization to stay after Lazarus’ death?”

“Did I need authorization?”

“Are you kidding?  You squatted our office and privately collected a profit.”

“Tombstone had no profits last year — it was all reinvested in maintenance.”

“Bullshit!  Tombstone had no operation!  You squatted our office, counterfeiting money!”

“How did you know?”

I owned Tombstone and the office!”

“And now, you want me to print money for you … You’re going to collect the profit?”

“There’s no real profit in counterfeiting.”

“Then why do it?”

“I told you — to destroy money!  Look, here’s the deal.  I’m offering you three times what you earned, plus room, and board.  It can be in Black Market coupons or specific goods, as you wish.  This includes your regular salary before the company ceased to exist and what you little were able to net counterfeiting.  You will not have to hide.  You’ll have all clean, pre-Collapse technology, an assistant, food, videos, a maid!  I’m offering you the best job you’ll ever have.  And, we promise security.”

“Security?”

“Yes, security.  You will not be pummeled, arrested or beaten.  Your operation will thrive under the umbrella of a much larger, stable corporation.  You’ll be … safe.”

“Why me?  If you knew my performance under Lazarus, why would you prefer me to a more honest worker?”

“Because we know your performance!” Grabmaler replied, winking again. “You accept or not?  Production will accelerate under your direction, and expertise.  You’ll have all this: new computers, high resolution microscopes.  And, you’ll be paid while you train.  What else could you do now but accept?”

“Do I have time to consider?”

“No. No you don’t.”  Grabmaler barked.

“O.K. … then, yes!”  Diogenes relented.

Grabmaler then signaled the maid they were finished, dimmed the corridor lamps, and walked Diogenes through the transparent glass back to the elevator after inserting his gold card-key. The elevator was already whirring down to meet them.