CEO Fat Rat, who had been reading his copy of The Daily Rat quietly in his comfy ultra-chair, threw his newspaper on the floor in disgust. (Fat Rat, who was old-fashioned, still liked to read the newspaper, although all day long he received the latest news by hologram projection in the middle of the board room.) He flung out his little paws. “No one knows how to riot properly anymore,” he snarled.
Tommyrat looked up from some papers he was signing with his beautiful handwriting. “But a riot is… trouble, Boss. We don’t want any trouble from the lower classes. Sir,” he added.
Everyone in the elegant library of the mansion looked at Fat Rat now, who sat baring his teeth at nothing and digging his nails into the arms of his chair (ultrachair). Fat Rat, grand CEO of Always Investing Gonads Corp., seldom discussed business openly with his underlings except when he was issuing orders. A watchful silence fell, and all the rats regarded one another in sidelong glances.
Fat Rat leaned forward. “In the old days, there was a starch to them. The poor people, I mean. They were starchy, all of them. And when we put the pressure on, they’d yell and bite and put up a ruckus. It was interesting.”
Tommy blinked. “I don’t think they have the teeth anymore, sir. In fact” — he shuffled some pages — “their dental plans are practically nonexistent.” He smiled.
“Where are the pitchforks and torches?” Fat Rat yelled. “Where is the outrage, the ugly crowds? We just leaked to the press that we’re giving bonuses to our top staff totaling $165 million, and all the reaction we get is a busload or two of some very polite people asking politely if our guys would consider giving the bonuses back. Then some of them blessed us. Blessed us! Christ, if they get out of hand we’ll just call Nanny911.”
Tommy took off his small eyeglasses and pushed his chair back. “Sir,” he said. “In the present political climate, there is a negative outcome to activity on the part of the workers. Congress sees the populace as volatile, electionarily speaking. So when the workers hold up signs saying ‘Bonuses Unfair,’ Congress says they think so too.”
“I bought 20,000 shares of Pitchforks International last week. I was sure mob rule was about to happen, and they’d charge up the street holding the usual torches and pitchforks, and try to pull us from our beds. The very air smelled like — mob. ”
“Sir,” Tommyrat said, “it’s bad enough. They’re investigating us. They’re inventing new taxes for us.” He peered over his spectacles at his superior. “And of course there have been the threats.”
“No, our propaganda department spread that death-threat rumor. Don’t worry about that,” Fat Rat replied. He was gazing out the floor-to-ceiling window. He sighed. “We had to. The workers didn’t think of it.”
“You… actually bought pitchfork stock, sir?”
Fat Rat nodded. “I was hedging,” he snapped.
“Sir, in order to hedge in this instance, you would –”
“I know, I know. It was something else, I suppose. It was satisfying.”
Tommy punched numbers. “Ah. You are not in difficulties, however, sir. The price of pitchfork shares has not moved. No one in fact remembers what they are.” He squinted at the touchscreen of his ultraphone. “Evidently they are farm implements, sir? Each one costs approximately $34.95.”
From the chair nearby, an ancient, quavering rat spoke. ” I remember when a good old hay-pitchin’ fork would go for $2.75 and a couple of sticks of gum. Or you could swap for one if you had a nice pair of shoe-stretchers. Or if you talked polite to the storekeep, he’d let you have a pitchfork for a bottle of cold rooty-beer and a new nickel. That was back in the days when nickels had bumblebees on ‘em.”
Tommy rolled his eyes. Fat Rat was still staring out the big window, looking quite lost and for the first time, old. “Bumble…bees,” he murmured. Tommy frowned.
An elegant chime rang somewhere in the hall, and a uniformed rat opened the door and announced a guest. “Mister Whiterat,” he said.
Fat Rat brightened as the newcomer, a snow-white rodent wearing a black homberg strode in. Tommyrat jumped to his feet and dragged a second ultrachair forward. “So, how’s it dangling, Whitey?” Fat Rat said.
Whitey twisted around to look. “Great. Just smashing.” He deposited himself into the soft ultrachair, then pushed back his sleeve to check the internet readout which danced in pictures and text across the inside of his forearm.
Fat Rat consulted his own forearm hurriedly. He hated appearing to be behind the latest news. Then he synched it with his thumbnail screen. He also gazed for a moment at the tony black hat WhiteRat tossed onto a table. His own headwear was almost always a silk top hat, and his friend’s hombergs puzzled him. He’d have to remember to take Whitey shopping. “A drink, Whitey?” He signaled to the butler, who brought forth a golden tray with whiskey, siphon, and chunky glasses. The two rats sipped companionably.
“So, Whitey, tell me your view on this populist anger — this populist nonsense we’re all worried about.”
“Poof,” said Whitey, waving a paw in the air.
“Poof?” said Fat Rat.
“Yes. It’s nothing. It’s about to blow away like vapor in the wind.”
“But can you operate with all this going on?” nagged Fat Rat. “As Tommy here insists on reminding me, they’re passing bills in Congress to do what the bailout didn’t. They’re adding conditions. This hasn’t happened in at least 2 decades, Whitey. Isn’t your stock going through the floor?”
“Not at all, not at all. My investments are fine. For instance I just bought a nice lot of shares of Octomom, and look how those are paying out! That woman can’t stay out of the news if she tries. Which I don’t think she has tried.”
“You bought Octomom? Well –”
“I’m a big shareholder. The entire public has a piece of her, you know. And in return we get to see the damn little whelplings any time we want. Make them roll, jump, do tricks for us. That’s the kind of ownership I like.”
Fat Rat turned pale. “Whitey, you’re strictly a stockbroker, not a banker like me. No one can own you.”
Whitey chewed his whisker and looked thoughtful. “Fatty, I’m sorry. You’re in a bind, aren’t you? The public might just realize it owns you, at 80% too. It could — well, what couldn’t it make you do?”
“My bonuses,” Fat Rat croaked. “My beautiful, beautiful bonuses.”
“And your stock options,” added Whitey.
“And my lovely lovely salary. Capped?” screamed Fat Rat.
Whitey bowed his head as his fat friend began to weep. Just then, his fluffy ultra-dog Spanky ran in and put his head on Fat Rat’s knee. Fat Rat patted the dog’s head. “Good old Spanky,” he said. “Good boy.” Spanky licked his hand and began to oscillate, his ears rising and falling in proper ultradog fashion. Spanky, who had cost more than $200,000 to whelp, and came back from every magnetic adjustment even more faithful and true, knew how to cheer up his master. He did so, now.
“Divestiture,” Spanky barked. “New position.”
Fat Rat stared at his dog. “What was that, boy?”
Spanky whined, and pawed at him. Whitey leaned forward. “Now, that’s one wise dog you’ve bought. Listen to him.”
“Ye-es,” Fat Rat said. “He makes a good point. I don’t own Always Investing Gonads (AIG) myself, do I? I’m merely an employee.”
“Go on,” encouraged his companion.
“I currently have an outstanding compensation package, although our stock price has fallen by 60% since this time last year.”
“Go on; you’re at a simmer,” urged Whitey.
“Those personal shares in the company can be sold immediately. I have lots of severance salary, a nice retirement package, and perks like a limo and driver and use of the corporate jets. My salary this year may be only $1, but what do I care?”
“You’ve got it exactly,” yelled Whitey.
“I’m going to make a call to the board of Bank of Assets (BOASS) and see if they’d like to take me on. It’s time for a new job, this one smells!”
Spanky barked and jumped; Whitey shouted a hurrah. Tommy, jumping to refill their glasses, coughed significantly. Fat Rat said, “And of course you’re coming with me, Tommy.” Tommy did a dance and filled a glass for himself. The three rats clinked their glasses.
The old rat in the nearby (ordinary) chair said weakly, “I remember when dogs didn’t talk; they only barked when someone fell down a well or something. And they never, ever gave financial advice.”
“Shut up, you old coot,” said Tommy. “We have ultradogs and the Internet from Neptune on our wrists and golden top hats and flying yachts and ultrachairs and fine whiskey. And we’re going to keep them.”
“Here’s to capitalism,” shouted Fat Rat.
“To capitalism,” dittoed Whitey.
“Capitalism!” barked Spanky.