"The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do." ~ Eric Hoffer
Minerva, Chapter 6
'Yummy ass,' Tara whispered after leaning over.
'Hush!' Amy whispered back, jabbing Tara with her elbow and giggling. The plump woman was always exhilarated to be doing anything outside the office with Tara , but still! Sometimes Tara could be so immature. O'Toole, dressed in a fabulous Armani suit, turned back to face the audience.
'And so you see, if we guarantee them the tonnage figures I discussed earlier, they can profitably add us to a shipping route. And once we've got that, it means anyone else living on the island can ship items as cheaply as from anywhere else in the world.' O'Toole paused and then remembered to add, 'You might have to wait longer, of course, for your product to get somewhere; but the point is, you'd pay the same to ship it.
'And so,' O'Toole continued, 'if a business operation (1) only uses low-skill labor, (2) makes a product with a relatively high price per cubic foot, and (3) already serves an international market, then I'd bet you good money that this business could double its profits by relocating to our island.
'I have to tell you folks,' O'Toole said as he looked at the crowd, who put only a dent in the large auditorium, 'I'm very excited about this. For those of you who've read Professor Mason's book,' O'Toole said, raising a copy of Minerva, 'you understand what we're about to do. We are going to have the world's first truly free economy. Our banking institutions will be completely private, offering security for their customers that will make Switzerland look like Russia . As you can read in the corporate charter, there is absolutely no power to establish an official currency or to regulate money in any way. And although no one would be forced to use it, I agree with Professor Mason that businessmen in today's world of rampant inflation will once again adopt gold as the international money par excellence. Foreign investment will be flooding our shores.
'Ladies and gentlemen,' O'Toole said as he beamed at the crowd, 'what I want you to picture is this: Suppose that an old wizard lived on a small island in the Pacific. Now when he grew very old, that wizard cast a spell, so that when the villagers buried his body in their native soil, the wizard's magic would spread throughout the land. From that moment on, anyone who grew crops, or made shoes, or went fishing, discovered something absolutely magical! You see, every night, when all the villagers went to sleep, the wizard's power would cause all of the day's harvest, or all of the cobbler's shoes, or all of the fishermen's catch, to double in size.
'Now as you can imagine,' O'Toole said matter-of-factly, 'word of this spread pretty quickly throughout the world. Foreigners came from all over to set up their own experiments. And sure enough, when the manufacturers of stereo equipment started producing speakers and tape decks, they found that every night the units made during that day would magically double. And the manufacturers lived happily ever after. The End.'
The audience laughed. Even Tara had to chuckle.
'Now folks, what's the point of my little story? Simple: Professor Mason over there is the old wizard on his deathbed''everyone laughed as Mason feigned outrage''and a fair and stable business climate is going to be our magic. We already have the stereo manufacturers on board; they've already invested millions both in the Minerva Corporation and in their own manpower programs. They've really done the hard part: Dealing with the shippers, food vendors, construction companies, and so on. The Minerva Corporation is a go. It's going to happen, and these joint owners are going to be turning a profit in eighteen months, and they're going to earn millions within the first five years.
'So the only question remaining is this: Do you want to be a part of it? I personally am putting all of my own money into buying as much land from the Minerva Corporation as I can. The way I see it, Minerva's purchase from the Lotosian government is the exact same thing that happened when the Europeans bought Manhattan Island from the Indians for under thirty bucks.
'I know it seems too good to be true. But the prospectus is right here; you can see that what we're doing is perfectly legal''as he said this, O'Toole wondered if bribing two Senate committee chairs were 'perfectly legal'''and legitimate. The reason I'm coming to you here, rather than holding an IPO, is simple: Only the truly perceptive can understand the significance of this. You are all here because I knew you'd at least understand the potential of what I'm showing you.
'Of course there are risks. That's true of any investment opportunity. But for a mere thousand dollars, you can buy a parcel of land in what's going to be the new Hong Kong . Now when the rest of the world catches on, and everybody realizes how lucrative this project is going to be, everyone is going to want to move their business to our island. And if, at that time, you were smart and bought some of this land, you can sit back and earn the generous rental payments for the use of your property, or you can choose to sell your parcel to the highest bidder. How much more than one thousand dollars do you think you'll be able to get for it? How much did the price of Manhattan real estate go up?
'In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I know I am personally not looking at this as a business venture, but as a way of insuring myself. You see, I like to fancy myself a savvy businessman. And I know that if I passed up this chance, and twenty-five years from now the little island off the coast of Lotos ends up as an economic powerhouse, I would just have to kick myself in the rear.'
Can I do it? Tara thought with a smile.
* * *
'Thank you,' Tara said as O'Toole handed her a mug of coffee. Tara proceeded to fill it with six packets of sugar.
'I'm almost afraid to read your story,' O'Toole said with a smile. 'After your review of Mason's book, I'd hate to hear what you think of my vulgar commercialism.'
'You actually read my review?' Tara asked with surprise.
'Yes, I can read papers other than the Wall Street Journal,' O'Toole answered.
'Well, I wrote that a long time ago.' Tara recalled the joyous certainty she'd felt at that stage of her life.
'Oh, don't get me wrong, I loved your review, and so did Mason.' O'Toole sipped from his own coffee.
'He did?' Tara snapped out of her daydream. 'What did he say?'
'Oh, I don't remember exactly,' O'Toole said, wishing to divert the conversation. ''Lovely girl' or something like that.'
Tara 's face drooped. 'Oh, he was just being sarcastic then.' Her face lit back up. 'Anyway, don't you worry Mr. Peter O'Toole, I pledge that I will not make fun of your speech.' She quickly added, 'But I make no promises about your name.'
'Oh I get it,' O'Toole said with mock cynicism. 'Let's blame someone for the name his parents chose. Believe it or not, you aren't the first person to notice that connection. I think this is the point where I say, 'Do you want some coffee with your sugar?''
'Aww don't be a bad sport about it,' Tara said. 'C'mon, what was the best one you ever heard?'
'Hmm.' O'Toole thought for a moment. 'Well, it wasn't a movie reference, but someone once told me that my name was doubly phallic, and I thought that was pretty good. As it turns out, several years later, I heard that some comedian had said the same thing about the actor, so I'm sure this guy just stole the line.'
Tara smiled, not at the anecdote, but at O'Toole's reference to 'the actor,' when most people would have said 'the real Peter O'Toole' or 'the Peter O'Toole.'
'Well, I've got a friend waiting, so we should really get started.' Tara looked over her notes. 'Okay Mr. O'Toole, what in the world made you work on a new mousetrap?'
O'Toole smiled. The clich's were coming fast and furious today.
'My neighbor bought a trap for outdoor rodents that was basically a big box with a one-way door. You placed bait inside, the animal would walk in to get the food, the door would close behind it, and the animal was stuck inside.
'So I thought that was a great idea. But the box had clear walls, maybe so the rodent could see the bait; I don't know. So what I did was adapt the concept for an indoor mousetrap, using a much smaller box made out of cheap plastic. The plastic was opaque so that a housewife wouldn't have to look at the dead mouse inside. I put holes in the box so the mice could still smell the bait, and I put a handle on the top so the housewife could pick the whole thing up and throw it out without touching anything that a mouse might have.
'I offered it in various sizes.' O'Toole always slipped into his sales swing when someone asked him about the Trap Door. 'Those glue traps you can buy simply aren't effective against big enough rats. And those are precisely the kind that you don't want to have sprawled on your kitchen floor with a broken neck from using a more traditional trap.'
'Very interesting,' Tara said, glancing at the notes she'd jotted on her pad. She looked up, 'Do you always focus on housewives so much, Mr. Peter O'Toole?'
* * *
''and so what we're doing is a win-win situation. The Lotosian mainland gets a much needed injection of cash to maintain law and order during its tragic civil war, and we help entrepreneurs crank out products with lower prices for the consumer. We've hired legal experts to go over the deal. Under international law, the Minerva Corporation is technically buying the political sovereignty of the island from the government of Lotos. It just so happens that, as specified clearly in the corporate charter, the Minerva Corporation will choose not to exercise any of its internationally recognized powers. It will be as if someone ran for President, but signed a legally binding contract with everyone in the U.S. agreeing not to sign any bills once in office.'
Tara nodded as she finished jotting her notes. She placed the pad on the table to her right, placed her elbows on her thighs while folding her hands, and rested her chin on her fingers.
'You've sold me,' she said. 'My father has a large stake in the paper. I can cut you a check immediately for, say, $250,000?'
O'Toole was stunned but didn't show it. Throughout the interview, Tara 's frequent smirks and grunts had made him certain that she found the proposal ridiculous. Before he could respond, Tara spoke.
'There's just one condition.' Tara sat back in her chair, arching her back into perfect posture.
'Yes?' O'Toole asked.
'I'll only give you the check tomorrow morning'' Tara paused to allow O'Toole's mind to dare. ''in my hotel room.'
O'Toole stood up. 'Thank you for your generous offer, Miss McClare.' He walked over to the door and opened it. 'Were we in Nevada , perhaps things would be different. But as I have repeatedly emphasized, what we're doing here is raising funds for a completely legitimate business venture. I thank you again for taking time out of your schedule and I look forward to reading your story.'
Tara grunted, grabbed her things, and headed for the open door, which led back to the auditorium. She stared at O'Toole with amusement as she walked out of the makeshift office, but said nothing more to him.