The Plutocrat’s Tale
It was well after dark when the line of buses pulled into the shopping center’s parking lot. The passengers who disembarked milled around aimlessly, confused that there was no fuss made at their arrival. People who were used to comfort and deference, they had been transported the short distance to the old Scottish city from the famous golf resort, from which they had been evacuated soon after their expensive dinners, due to, they had been told, a credible terrorist bomb threat. That no one in the city seemed to know of any such incident was both confusing and infuriating to them.
Eventually appropriate government officials and news media arrived to provide the respectful attention the evacuees routinely expected, and as the erstwhile bus passengers (some of whose pique seemed unreasonably focused on having been conveyed in buses) were interviewed, another smaller line of buses arrived. These proved to contain the resort’s staff, who explained that the cargo compartments of their buses contained the carefully packed and labeled luggage that the previous arrivals had been forced to leave behind in their rapid departure.
“They were very polite,” said one young member of the housekeeping staff. “They said to be careful to collect everybody’s belongings and make sure to label them by room number, so they’d be easy to sort out to their proper owners once we got here.”
One of the waiters piped up. “They didn’t look like terrorists, though — they looked like those guys in that heist film, you know, the one with whatsisname, Clive Owen. That one in that bank in New York City, where they all had on coveralls and big sunglasses with their faces covered. And big guns.”
The Youtube video showed up online while the luggage was still being sorted out. The terrorists, as that was what they seemed to be, claimed to have taken over the entire resort and demanded that the resort owner, a plutocrat who had recently been inaugurated as president of the United States, agree to support and ratify the major international climate accord whose negotiations had just concluded. Otherwise, said the man in the coveralls and mask and sunglasses in the video, his group would raze one hole of the resort’s championship course each day, followed by the demolition of the clubhouse building.
The Scottish government pondered the local geography, the efficient evacuation of potential victims, and the intense national dislike for the new American president, and opted to wait the terrorists out. “We are keeping a close eye on the situation,” said a spokesperson, “but for the time being, we are keeping our distance. We have established appropriate surveillance over the resort, and while we can see numerous armed guards around the property, there appears to be no immediate threat to the local populace.”
After acrimonious discussion in the White House, the press secretary read a terse statement that the substance of the terrorists’ demands was irrelevant, and that the United States as now led by the plutocrat would never accede to such extortion attempts.
At noon the next day, a new video appeared, showing coverall-clad workers on bulldozers at work demolishing the first hole of the famous golf course. By that evening, it had logged over a million views worldwide.
Several government agencies — local police, Scotland, and more than one American agency — opened investigations but were unable to discover much useful information. None of the evacuees had had close enough views of any of the terrorists to see more than their garb and their weapons. The buses had been chartered through the bus company’s online portal, and the credit card that paid for them was that of a travel agency that had been hired by phone and paid by direct deposit from a bank account that that appeared to belong to a corporation owned by a series of holding companies whose ownership was proving difficult to trace.
The plutocrat was said to be livid, though uncharacteristically he made no public statement. It was said that he called the British Ambassador in a fury, demanding that the British government attack the terrorists to free his resort. The Ambassador calmly explained (though he said later he was never sure the plutocrat understood) that the situation was under the jurisdiction of the Scottish government.
Each day’s video proved more popular than the last. Edited versions set to classical themes and pop tunes proliferated, as did GIFs and memes that went viral on Twitter, disappearing and reemerging in seemingly infinite loops. Private polls commissioned by initially nervous Scottish politicians showed that the wait-and-see policy was wildly popular both within Scotland and internationally.
On the ninth day, a Washington Post columnist wondered whether an incident a few weeks earlier at one of the plutocrat’s smaller southern American golf resorts had been a trial run for the Scottish situation. In that case, the clubhouse had suffered some sort of pest infestation that required a huge fumigation tent over the entire building. The exterminator had warned resort employees to stay well away from the building due to the toxic chemicals being used, but when the process dragged on well past the original time estimate, the resort manager had discovered the building abandoned, with the tent itself the only sign the exterminators had ever been there. That, and the rainbow paint design newly adorning what had once been a classic white plantation mansion. The building had been quickly repainted, though not before photos and videos had made almost every American cable news show, to much delight. No trace of the pest management company had since been found.
American cable news programs had — contrary to their previous history — begun intensely discussing climate change and the pros and cons of the latest climate accord, but now they began assembling panels of terrorism experts to consider whether these two events were evidence of a growing ecoterrorism trend, along with the likelihood of terrorist acts that might endanger people rather than mere property.
By the twelfth day, the plutocrat was neglecting everything to rant about the news coverage. “Mere property! These are not mere property! These are beautiful beautiful places, tremendous places!” His staffers congratulated themselves for managing to persuade him that he could not bomb Scotland, reminding him that he did in fact love the Scottish people, that they were really great people.
By the fifteenth day, Scotland was no longer the plutocrat’s only concern. The dictator of the lovely Caribbean island where another of the plutocrat’s resorts was located announced that, due to the risk of potential terrorism, he was nationalizing the resort, and would turn it into a residential school for children orphaned by a recent earthquake.
On the nineteenth day, the noon video showed the implosion of the Scottish clubhouse, announced that the occupation of the resort was over, and thanked the Scottish people for their patience. When Scottish officials reached the clubhouse site, they found in front of it a small table holding several bound documents and blueprints, which proved to be complete plans and instructions for rehabilitating the property to its original coastal dunes.
After several weeks’ secret negotiations, the plutocrat grudgingly agreed to let the Scottish government purchase the resort tract from him, though he was furious that they insisted on paying only the assessed tax value of the property instead of the much larger value he’d claimed on his campaign financial disclosure forms. “After all,” the Scottish negotiator told him, “it’s not as though you’d ever get a permit to rebuild. Much too risky a proposition for us.” Within five years, the property would become one of Scotland’s most popular national parks.
Two months later, at hotels belonging to the plutocrat in Toronto and Dubai, the faucets began dispensing colored water, purple in Toronto and green in Dubai. Guests were, to put it mildly, less than thrilled to discover their skin dyed (and some lucky few managed to acquire impressively discolored teeth). Chemical analysis revealed that the colors were food-grade vegetable dyes, and those affected were assured that the stain would eventually fade away. The sources for the dyes were eventually found deep in the lower basement levels of the affected properties, but as with the earlier incidents, no useful evidence was found of their provider.
Bookings at the plutocrat’s properties dropped precipitously. The cable news shows again ramped up their speculation about potential terrorism risks at any of the plutocrat’s properties worldwide. The owners of properties which had only licensed the use of the plutocrat’s name rushed to rename their hotels and casinos and apartment complexes. In New York City, even longtime tenants began to abandon their intimidating offices and luxury apartments. The plutocrat’s vaunted brand had collapsed.
The plutocrat’s aides became alarmed at his singleminded focus on his properties. He sat at his desk for hours, poring over full-color brochures of his resorts and skyscrapers, muttering incoherently about making them great again. After a short visit when he listened to the plutocrat maundering on — “So sad. Such tremendous properties. If only they let me negotiate with the terrorists, I could have made such good deals. Really, really great deals.” — and couldn’t get him to talk at all of his governmental duties, the Vice President decided it was time to meet with the Congressional leadership.
The group considered the relative merits of Section 4 of the 25th Amendment and outright impeachment. With a Section 4 disability, the Vice President could become Acting President almost immediately, but impeachment might be perceived as more legitimate and bipartisan.
“It takes so damn long, though,” said the Senate Majority Leader.
“Why not both?” said the Speaker. “Veep here becomes Acting President right away, and while the President is trying to recuperate, we can sadly discover grounds for impeachment. That way, we get him out of power now and then impeachment keeps him from being able to come back if he recovers.”
“I like that,” said the Majority Leader. “But what are our grounds for impeachment?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” said the Vice President. He pulled a document out of a folder. “One of his secretaries gave me a copy of his Scotland agreement. It seems our plutocrat has a little emoluments problem.”