a.k.a. "Genocide as a Method of Insider Trading"
A 13-chapter Superhero
"Royal" Richard K. Lyon
About the author
"Diet Another Day" is the third Lightningman story. The first two, "The Secret Identity Diet" and "The Chocolate Chip Cookie Conspiracy”, are available on request from the author at Lyonheart@cableone.net
Death Sentence For Half the World
"Charles," he exclaimed, "I've called so many people and nobody knows anything and I should have thought of you but --" He stopped himself, took a deep breath, and continued in a slightly calmer tone: "What's happening is the damnedest thing! I mean, I've never seen anything like it! Somebody is shorting millions of shares of Double X stock, so much that the stock's down 50 points!"
"Someone's doing what?" I asked
Some of the excitement drained from Seymour's face as he remembered that he was talking to his stupid cousin who didn't know anything about the stock market.
"Shorting," he explained with labored patience, "is short selling, selling a stock which you don't own. It's perfectly legal because you do it through a financial institution and they guarantee that you will buy the stock you've sold."
"Well, what's the point in that?" I demanded, "If you just buy and sell at the same time, the transaction's a nullity."
Smiling at my naivete, he replied, "That's just it. It's not quite the same time. For example, right now the New York Stock Exchange is shut down cause it's a long weekend. You can short a stock on the London Exchange and not have to cover until Monday. That way -- well, suppose you looked out of your bedroom window and saw that the AAA Company's factory is burning down. You know that when the New York Exchange opens on Monday, AAA will be bankrupt and their stock worthless so, well, you tell me, Charlie, what would you do?"
"Call the fire department?"
"NO!" he snapped, "You call your London broker and tell him to short AAA. That way you're making a fortune by selling high and buying low."
"But would that be legal?" I asked, "Wouldn't it be insider trading?"
He smiled, implying that I'd asked a halfway intelligent question. "For the example I gave it would be perfectly legal. Anybody who looks can see the fire so it's public information." Seymour looked at me to make sure I was following what he was saying, and continued, "If you want an example of something that would be illegal insider trading, well, suppose you were the president of a large oil company and one fine morning you discovered that your engineers had made a horrendous blunder, a megaproject with a hidden flaw that's guaranteed to bankrupt your company. At first you think about doing this or doing that, but soon you see that there's nothing for it. Your company's going down the tube and the only way you can salvage anything for yourself is to shortsell just before the bad news hit the fan."
"Is that what's happening with Double Oil?"
"That's the rumor," he said, giving me a teacher-to-bright-student smile, "but whether or not it's true is the 64-billion-dollar question. If it is true, there'll be some very bad news between now and when the Market opens on Monday. The bottom will drop out of Double X and all the people who sold Double X short will make a bundle, and everybody who's still holding it will be down the tube! If it isn't true, if there isn't any bad news, Double X stock will shoot back up like a rocket. The boot will be on the other foot, the shortsellers will be flushed, and anyone who buys Double X now will clean up, and I mean big-time! Normally the market is a somebody-win-a-little, somebody-loses-a-little-game, but this is big, really big! One way or another, billions are going to change hands! So, PLEASE COUSIN CHARLES, PLEASE! If you've heard anything, anything at all, PLEASE TELL ME!"
"I'm sorry," I told my cousin, "but I don't know anything about Double X except what I read in the papers."
"Okay," he said, "thanks anyway. I've got a lot of other people to call."
After Seymour hung up, I sat staring at the screen trying to digest what I'd just learned. Thanks to a hideous blunder by Double X Oil Company, enough poison gas had accumulated on the bottom of the South China Sea to kill hundreds of millions of people. Probably everyone in Double X was blissfully unaware of this monstrous danger, but someone else knew. A monster. Someone or something called the Deadman. He'd been shortselling Double X stock because he was planning to release the gas before Monday morning. The deaths of all those people would be blamed on Double X, the price of its stock would fall below used toilet paper, and the Deadman would make billions
This was genocide as a method of insider trading.
It was happening, I knew it and I couldn't prove any of it.
Suppose I could talk to -- what was his name? The CEO of Double X Oil -- Marsh? -- Martan? -- Maritson! -- Gerald P Maritson! -- what would I say to him? "Hello, Mr. Maritson, sir, I'm sorry to disturb you but, ahh, well, you see I have this reliable information. It comes to me kinda indirectly from this psychotic ex-KGB agent, one of the nicest homicidal paranoids you'd ever want to meet, and she said that your company's made this little mistake and as a result you're going to wind up killing 5 or 10 percent of the world's population."
Was there any way I could deliver a message like that and not be instantly dismissed as a crank?
Obviously a direct approach to Mr. Maritson would be futile. He was unlikely to even listen and certain to disbelieve. Suppose, however, that I contacted one of his senior technical people, someone he trusted who was an expert on gas hydrates. If I could convince him, he'd convince Maritson.
Sitting down at my PC, I started running programs to identify the person I needed. It was the kind of snooping I did routinely as part of my job in the Bureau of Export Controls and I'm rather good at it. Unfortunately, however, what I was looking for didn't exist. Double X Oil Company didn't have a senior scientist who was likely to have Maritson's confidence because Double X didn't have any senior scientists. While building Terminus, Double X did a cost cutting program. All the older scientists and engineers had been fired because they were getting higher salaries than the younger scientists and engineers.
Among the technical people still with Double X, none appeared to have any background in gas hydrates. That wasn't too surprising. They were all freshly minted PhDs, educated in whatever topics were the latest scientific fashion. Gas hydrates hadn't been fashionable since Prausnitz published that paper back in 1978.
Maybe I could find the man I needed among the older technical people Double X had fired. In fact -- BINGO -- there he was, Dr. John David Richards, a former student of Prausnitz and holder of the American Chemical Society's Priestly Award. After the Nobel Prize that was the highest award in Chemistry. With that kind of standing in the scientific community he'd have plenty of credibility and even though he'd been fired, he'd still have excellent contacts in Double X. All I needed now was his phone number and address ‑‑
Oops! Dr. Richards was deceased. He'd gone out for a job interview, called his wife to tell her that he'd gotten it and that his new employer was going to help him embarrass Double X, and then fallen in front of a subway train ... or at least that's what the NYPD said in the accident report.
Richards would almost certainly have recognized the danger in what Double X Oil was planning to do. Given the timing of events, he could have been writing a memo to his bosses explaining the problem when he got his pink slip. The level of confusion a mass firing causes is horrendous. Once the firing started, Richards could have written and sent a dozen memos and no one would have noticed.
To Dr. Richards' great misfortune, the first people he found who were willing to listen to him were running a front company for the Deadman. They'd seen an opportunity to commit the largest and most profitable mass murder in history. Since Richards was unlikely to agree to their plan, they'd eliminated him.
Without Richards, what I had to do would be a lot harder, but there were other experts on gas hydrates. There was Professor Obser of Harvard, but I found he'd died in a boating accident. More checking identified other scientific experts, all deceased: Dr. Smythe of DuPont, a traffic accident; Professor Highler-Jones of Oxford, a hunting accident; Dr. Barbara Most, a particularly brutal rapist; and so on, down the line. In the entire world there had been only a handful of men and women who qualified as experts on gas hydrates and over the past decade the opposition had been systematically murdering them.
I was too late, far too late. A horrendous disaster was coming, but I couldn't prove it and without proof I couldn't get anyone to do anything. Here I was, a fat, unimportant paper shuffler in the U. S. Federal Government, with no credibility and --
The AI unit in my TV spotted the word Lightningman in a news cast and turned itself on. NBC's Jane Blitzer was talking to a man in front of Central Park Lake. She was saying, "Now as I understand it, Mr. Harlan, you saw the entire battle between Lightningman and the Deadman's henchmen?"
"Yes, indeed, that I did," the middle-aged man in a jogging suit said cheerfully, " but now you have to understand that the Big L, that's what we call him in Kansas, was using his powers of invisibility the whole time so I never really got to see him all that clearly. The way it happened was I was jogging along right over there when I noticed this phone booth. There wasn't anybody in it but the light was on like there was. Well, I didn't think too much of that but then I noticed the phone. It was hanging in midair so I knew there had to be somebody invisible holding it and that could only be Lightningman. I mean, we have our superheros in Kansas, Haymaker and Silver Bullet and all them, but for powers, I gotta admit your Lightningman has it.
"Anyway, I whipped out my autograph book and started running for the phone booth but before I was halfway there this big black limo goes flying past me and hits that phone booth with God-only-knows what all. I mean, there was just all kinds of different stuff flying through the air and the smoke and the dust kinda makes Lightningman visible but you gotta look real fast cause he don't stay in one place long. One minute he's this patch of empty air by the phone booth, then, wham, the limo's taking off, burning rubber like the Devil was after it and Mr. L, he's flying right after it.
"The guys in the limo were throwing out these firecrackers laced with LSD, dream grenades they call 'em, and they explode with big puffs of dust so I keep catching glimpses of Lightningman until he catches the car. I think it was going a little fast for him cause he lost his grip when he grabbed it. That's how come it bounced off a tree and went into the lake."
The Central Park scene faded. "That," Jennings said, "was an eye-witness account of Lightningman's latest battle and, beyond that, very little information is available. While the police arrived in time to arrest the limo driver and his accomplices as they were coming out of the lake, they were just hired muscle, apparently employed by someone called the Deadman but even that's uncertain. Thus, some very mysterious events are in progress."
My phone was ringing. Flicking off the TV, I answered it. Marge was sitting in a hospital bed and looking exhausted. "Darling," I exclaimed, "I know I should have called you and I meant to but --"
"There are," she interrupted, "FBI agents here with me so I don't want you to say anything of a personal nature. In fact don't say anything, just listen. There's a lot I need to tell you about. First off there's been a development..." She started to cry uncontrollably. Marge had always prided herself on having complete control and for her to break down this way was alarming. I desperately wanted to reach through the screen and take her in my arms and comfort her. Of course I couldn't, but I tried. I put my lips to the phone's view screen and started kissing it. In a moment I heard Marge laughing, then she too was making kissing sounds.
When we stopped, Marge said in a very tired voice, "Charles, if you've been listening to the TV news, you've heard a parade of FBI people saying that they're making great progress on my stepfather's kidnapping. Actually they've been a day late and a dollar short at every turn. They didn't identify the private jet the kidnappers used until after it refueled in Nome. Their flight plan said the next stop would be Singapore. The Bureau had men at the airport waiting there, but the plane landed at a drug dealers' airstrip in the jungle. By the time the FBI realized they'd been had, it was too late. Dad had been taken by jeep through the jungle to the shore where a submarine was waiting. Now they're saying that the Navy's responsible but the horrid fact is that there's no way the Navy or anyone else can locate that sub."
Taking several deep breaths, she continued: "Dad's gone. It's terrible for Mom, losing her husband this way, but there's nothing anyone can do. Charles, I don't want anything bad happening to you. I know you'd like to find some clue that would help rescue Dad, but that's foolish. I love you for being a good man and I don't want a hero. I just want you to keep yourself safe. Forget about those computer searches. These are extremely dangerous people. Please don't do anything which might attract their attention. I love you. Goodbye."
"I love you too," I said and got no further because Marge had hung up. With very mixed emotions I starred at the blank view screen. On the one hand, Marge was an utterly beautiful wonderful woman I loved with all my heart. What she'd just said was perfectly logical and true. Maybe the Deadman actually did have supernormal powers. For sure he headed an extremely powerful organization, the kind of group that killed people like me as a matter of routine. Despite the delusions of the news media I, Charles Kent, was simply a fat civilian and obviously no match for them. Therefore the only sensible choice was be as inconspicuous as possible and hope they wouldn't notice me.
I wasn't going to be sensible. I was going to be
Back to Episode 5....Danger on the Phone
On to Episode 7....Angel of Mercy Airlines
Back to Diet Another Day!