It was not the first time I had enjoyed an espresso with Metromonte (never “Mr. Metromonte,” and I doubt it was his first name – unless he had decided it would be his only name, but it seemed rude to inquire), but it was the first time I chose to inquire about his means of acquiring funds.
“I expect that has been occupying the back of your mind for some time now,” he said, smiling gently as he put down his cup. “After all, Evil Genius is not a job which is traditionally salaried.”
“I don’t mean to be gauche, my dear fellow. But, as someone who has always pursued more – traditional – employment, I can’t help but be curious -”
He waved his hand dismissively. “Not at all. It is rather fun to talk shop from time to time.” (As an accountant I could not honestly agree, but then again, I expect this is just one of the many differences between accountancy and Evil Geniusing.) “Some Evil Geniuses are self-funded through inheritances or terrorist organizations which revere them as living gods, of course – but most of us weren’t born into the position of messiah to a cult or with familial ties to the corpocracy.” A shrug. “For those of us who come from humbler stock, the general idea is that of maximizing the utility of vulnerability.”
“You mean like that person who tried to blow up Oregon last year?”
He waved over a club attendant and handed the man a couple of bills, gesturing at the humidor behind the bar. “No, that was just a garden variety lunatic. A sensible man would have tried to blow up something on the eastern seaboard. North Carolina, perhaps. I think that might have some potential. But I digress. The general idea behind maximizing the utility of vulnerability is simple. Something is vulnerable: make money off that vulnerability.”
“I must confess, I’m still not following.”
“If something is vulnerable, it usually follows that nobody particularly cares about the vulnerability. The shopping carts in your supermarket parking lot, for example. No one particularly cares if they’re stolen, correct? Because they have no particular value outside of transporting goods to and from the supermarket, and even then are only good over short distances. However, as a general rule anything with value is vulnerable in some way, and usually that vulnerability can be exploited.” He paused, looking over the selection the attendant had brought, and selected two Black Patch Reserves, handing me one. “The obvious example is a human being’s vulnerability, which can be exploited for personal gain through kidnapping and ransom. Inelegant, to say the least, but simple and direct.”
“I see,” I said, trying to sound knowledgeable, and also trying to politely find a way not to smoke the cigar he had just bought for me.
“But ransom is an exploit which in turn gives the kidnapper vulnerability. It is thus imperfect. Oh, would you get the next round, old chap? I rather fancy an Auchentoshan.” I naturally waved at the attendant, not wanting to seem ungenerous after his kind offer of the cigar, and the alert servant immediately went to the whiskey bar, having paid attention to our conversation without ever having had the appearance of it. Metromonte smiled in anticipation. He had extolled the virtue of the Auchentoshan to me the last time we spoke a couple of weeks prior.
“No, an elegant exploit of vulnerability allows one advantage – ideally, without your mark ever having known they were ill-used. Most con men performing long cons, for example, aim to have their mark totally unaware of the scheme even after their bilking.” The attendant arrived with the Auchentoshan in two squat glasses, and we both sipped. It was sweet with cinnamon undertones and much smoother than most single malts, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Metromonte examined his glass, admiring the golden tones of the booze within. “For example. I purchase two Black Patches, knowing full well that you do not smoke, but also knowing you will be embarrassed by the generous gesture and that, if I suggest you get us a round, you will do so. I also know you are not a Scotch drinker particularly, so you will not be aware that I have just suggested we partake of something that costs approximately five thousand dollars per bottle – but I also know it is a damned fine whisky, and that it is likely you will greatly enjoy it. I know you will simply put it on your monthly tab, so you may well not even notice the expense. And if you do – well, you had a fine whisky, and two glasses will not break you. Meanwhile, I have had a hundred-and-fifty glass of Scotch for the cost of two cigars, and while Black Patches are truly lovely smokes, they are only six dollars apiece. Since I will get to smoke at least one of them, I thus effectively profited twenty-five hundred percent on the six dollar cigar I purchased for you – assuming you don’t simply give it back to me, since you don’t smoke.” He shrugged. “And that is how it works. When I don’t explain it to you.”
I suspect my jaw was hanging, a combination of his amazing plot and the cost of the Auchentoshan. Metromonte laughed a bit. “Oh, not to worry. I’ll cover the cost of the drinks, my friend. As an Evil Genius, I do quite well, and it is always enjoyable to explain one’s process, isn’t it?” He sipped at his drink.
“I am terribly impressed, I have to admit. But it seems that this doesn’t quite scale so effectively. Am I missing something? I have always associated Evil Geniuses with loud, arrogant schemes involving massive destruction. Granted, often it was for economic benefit, but -”
Metromonte sighed. “Those damned trust-fund babies and their war-blimps give us all a bad reputation. Far more cost-effective to work in the shadows. Attention is costly. If you want an example… well, I would point to today. I had a very good day today, you see, and I think you might recognize why. You follow stocks, correct?”
I nodded. “Indeed I do, and today was a startling day. There was a false headline, apparently – the Associated Press generated something via social media claiming that there was to be an economic downturn, but it was a false headline that was the result of a hacked account, and…” I trailed off. “My word, that was you?”
“Naturally. And I think you can guess why, given our conversation.”
“Did you short stocks? The market lost about $150 billion, I read.” I paused. “Did you make a hundred and fifty billion dollars today?”
Metromonte laughed out loud. “Oh, my friend, of course not. And no, I didn’t short stocks. Shorting draws attention. However, I had a good idea of how quickly stocks would drop, and then how quickly the financial world would discover that the Tweet in question was untrue. I simply bought low, and sold high – the standard of any day trader. I spread it out over several aliases, of course, but between those aliases I profited about forty-seven million dollars.” A pause. “Really, once you have some money, it’s dreadfully easy to make more of it. The Evil Geniusing is practically a hobby these days, but I need to keep myself busy somehow, and I don’t want to do crochet. Besides, I rather fancy that the world would be better with me in charge of at least part of it, so it’s really sort of charity work.”
“You could go into finance?”
He shook his head. “I’m an Evil Genius by nature, and finance, despite what you may have heard, is not a genius-heavy occupation. Short-term thinkers and bullyboys looking for a quick score, and not much else. Really, you can almost sympathize with that fellow who threatened Wall Street with an orbital laser. Not my style, perhaps, but that man definitely knew how to pick his targets. I understand his Kickstarter campaign to fire the laser earned two million before they shut it down.”
“Mmm.” I said. The whisky really was very good.