Moof sat behind the driver and didn’t wear a seat belt. He sat lazily, and I imagined he was waiting for my internal monologue to end, but in truth he was not the kind of guy who waited for
“God, remember that government class senior year of high school?”
“Mr. Caufield, was it? No, Collett. Yeah, we did Model Congress.”
“Fifth Period was the House, Sixth Period was the Senate, and Collett was the pres. Everyone had to generate two bills, and you got an automatic A if one of your bills became law. Remember? There was instant crazy competition, lobbying outside of class time… we learned more about politics in a week than we would have in a semester of lectures.”
“I was the Senator from North Dakota. I thought it would help me keep a low profile, I wouldn’t have to talk so much.”
“But we all generated bills. There must have been ten scenarios to legalize pot. Here we are thirty years later, and it might actually happen.”
“Has it ever struck you, with the possible exception of Collett’s class, how unprepared we were for our future selves?”
I looked out the window.
“We both ended up in theater,” I said. “A little tangential, maybe, but not terrible training.”
“Maybe not. Oh, we’re here.”
We couldn’t have gone more than a mile, and in front of us was the river. And six mountain bikes for rent. “Beautiful day, good company, easy ride along the river,” Moof explained. “We keep moving at an easy pace, no one will hear us, and we’ll be impossible to follow. Bikes are a fairly new thing here, socially, so we might get some stares but we’ll generally be dismissed. Kind of like homeless people in Manhattan. Promise we won’t do anything to endanger your fucked up lower half. Let’s go.”
He gave the driver some instructions through the window and worked the transaction with the vendor. I was impressed with his language skills, though I didn’t understand a word; he spoke quickly, hit consonants confidently, and had the man laughing within two minutes. Moof Curtis had a gift, sure as shit. We mounted the bikes and gently pushed off, Moof holding to the river.
The payoff began almost immediately.
“So, what we’re talking about is a limited engagement, couple of years at most. You’re going to create a narrative that causes capital to flow here, where we want it. The trick is, you can never explicitly reveal the entire narrative. It’s got to be clues, individual moves that lead the reader into conclusions.”
“You want me to show them what they want to see, and get them to act on very limited data, is that it?”
“Exactly. It can’t just be raw data, although you do have to give me some points that can be verified. It can’t be full analysis, because then we run the risk that the action taken is too comprehensive. It just has to be a steady trickle of information, triggering a steady trickle of money. Which contributes in real time to the public.”
I wanted to see if he would say it. “Who’s the reader? You’re talking about ripping off USG, aren’t you?”
“Stealing from Da Man, yep. Although there is already aid flowing here, given our geopolitical position, so it’s more a case of redirecting and intensifying the trickle, rather than draining the reservoir.” Apparently Moof had thought through the moral and legal implications of defrauding his employer, and come up justified.
“You don’t have confidence in our foreign aid policy here?”
At this he chuckled. “What foreign aid policy? Some very good people at the embassy do a lot of careful work and push paper up the food chain with recommendations. That gets pushed to a regional desk. Further pushes, until all that careful work is one box in a spreadsheet. Then your elected representatives, who know that ‘foreign affairs’ gets weighted at around 4% in surveys about what voters care about, horse trade around issues that have nothing to do with this country.”
“Each push along the way dilutes the value of the report,” he continued. “And each push takes the information closer to the source of the money, but further from someone who knows the ground. At the end of the budget debate, five hundred thousand for science training gets earmarked for promoting Judeo-Christian preschools, in a country that’s already 96% on the side of Christ. That’s our standard operating procedure, and it’s no way to run a railroad. Oh, let’s shoot up here.”
Moof Curtis slid off the bike and crossed the street to a grassy slope. I followed along, still confused.
“How is my reporting supposed to be more effective than existing work coming out of the embassy and the intelligence community?”
“Your stuff will get better play, don’t worry about that. I can guarantee within three months, you’ll be the go-to source. Existing reporting is very careful about over-committing, they recognize perception for what it is, so they qualify everything. Example: we are pushing these bikes up a hill, toward the cemetery, to maintain some operational quiet while we talk about wholesale fraud. Fact. Anyone observing us right now would simply report ‘two subjects, possibly male, of unknown citizenship, seen pushing bicycles through grass, on an incline, north.’ They’re just never going to commit. They’re too career-minded. They don’t want to be wrong. In your case, you have the passion of conviction, because you know how the story ends. Because you’re writing it.”
“What happens to the money that gets diverted?”
“That’s gonna be out of your area for now. But I’ll tell you this. We’re going to steer money to far better places than it’s going now.” I found it appropriate that we now had a superior view of the river, and that Curtis was leaning against the wall of a cemetery. In nearly thirty years, we always seemed to be among the dead, with a clear vision of what needed to be done.
“Now, pay attention, double-oh-seven,” Moof said, assuming a British accent just for effect. “Look, I want to bring you in, but… I have assets to protect. Let me just say this: right now there are four major sources of money. The diaspora lobbies Congress and State takes their watered-down intentions and spends what they’ve sucked out on dreamy ideas like ‘promoting democracy’. You can imagine how that plays around here. Department of Defense is still winding down their logistics aid from the earthquake back in the early 90s, but considering who’s on the southern border they want to keep their fingers in. They call this ‘force preparedness’ and it means keeping key figures greased in the local military. They encourage a bit too much fascism for my taste, but then I was always a rebel. Then there’s the global economy, the corporate presence. They have so much money, they just throw it this way on speculation. Just in case a business opportunity arises in a country with almost no resources, they want to keep regulations minimal. Massive ecology damage to clean up here, mind you, but they just want to maintain the status quo, and in the meantime, depress wages if they can.”
“I imagine that leaves the company.”
“Yes. Given the southern threat, we’ve developed a couple of listening posts, monitoring for underground tests, heavy vehicle movement, that sort of thing. Very little development of human sources, typical short-sighted over-reliance on tech, but in the ridiculous scenario of a large armored force coming north, we’ll be in a great position to say I Told You So.”
“What changes when you and I fool everyone into a new utopia?”
“It’s gonna be great.”
“I need buy-in, Moof. Plus I need to know which direction to send the narrative.”
“Okay, well, in rough terms, State will focus on local politicians. That’s what they’re doing now, and they’re reasonably good at it. DoD will find themselves donating to and employing the poor. The Corporates will beg to develop infrastructure and build wages, and Your Humble Servants will find themselves funding the new middle class.” He got back on his bike and gestured toward a path that led to another road. I followed suit.
“So you want me to trick everyone, possible exception State, into doing the opposite of what they’re doing now?”
“More or less.”
“You. You are good. This is why you make the big bucks.”
We coasted down the path and back onto the riverside road. The course seemed to be back to the car, which meant Moof Curtis was unilaterally closing the open conversation. Had something spooked him? Or was he just not willing to reveal much more?
“You play chess?”
“Yeah,” I laughed. “Not well, I generally lose, but I know the rules.”
“Chess is the only ancient game that doesn’t involve chance,” he said solemnly. “There’s no dice, no cards, no wheel to spin. It’s pure strategy. Outlawed by a lot of governments over the years, not least because the King is the weakest piece on the board. Now imagine a game of chess where you stop trying to kill the other guy, and just preserve as many pieces as you can.”
His voice dropped a little. “Especially the pawns.”