by John F. Di Leo
Nervously, little Greco approached the tough old guy watching the door at mob headquarters in Brussels. “I need to see Madame Angela and Slick Nicky. I need some dough.”
“Both of ‘em, Greco? You need to see ‘em both? Man alive, son, how much do you need?”
“A trillion USD, give or take.” Greco stammered, and tried to explain. “My operation just isn’t as profitable as it once was. Tourism’s down, we’re not making as much stuff… oh, heck, we’re not making anything but ouzo these days, and I’m drinking it all as fast as we can make it… I need sharks with deep pockets, and everybody said this was the place to come.”
“I dunno, Greco, even Madame Angela and Slick Nicky don’t have pockets as deep as you might think, not these days… they’ll probably have to cross the Pond for the money for this one, and get the backing from the big guy.”
Greco paused. Who could be bigger than Madame Angela and Slick Nicky? “The big guy? Who’s the big guy?”
The doorman bent close to his ear. “Little Barry, of course… who do ya think? He’s the only one around who can come up with a trillion bucks nowadays.”
Greco didn’t understand. “If Little Barry’s across the Pond, why are we whispering?”
“Shhh! Little Barry has big ears. Cells everywhere. More spies than you can imagine.” And to prove it, the doorman pointed to a pair of foreign correspondents who had been talking and enjoying an espresso at a bistro table just a moment before, but now were taking notes as surreptitiously as they could, trying not to look like they were listening. “AP, Reuters, NBC, they all work for Little Barry. Well, not Fox, but the rest of ‘em… just watch what you say, okay?”
Greco was beginning to get the point. He asked the doorman how it would be done.
“Well, you’ll get the loan from Madame Angela and Slick Nicky, all right… they’ve gotta keep up appearances. It’ll appear to all and sundry that they’re the ones who’ve flown in and saved the day.” The doorman dropped his voice again. “But in the background, see, they’ll do this complicated currency swap so that the money is really backed by Little Barry’s operation. He’s got the printing presses, ya know, running twenty-four hours a day (I know; I took the tour once and lived to tell about it).”
“Okay,” said Greco, “but then, what’s the problem? Why are you acting like I should be scared of all this?”
The doorman looked around to ensure they were alone. “See, Greco, Little Barry isn’t like your average loan shark. He’s tough. He doesn’t like acting like our boys usually do. He does other stuff.”
Greco smiled. “I’m not afraid of his baseball bats and brass knuckles. I’ve got bodyguards.”
“That’s not it, Greco. See, when Little Barry loans money, he doesn’t want you to pay it back.”
“He doesn’t? Cool! Cause I can’t pay it back anyway, truth be told! Heh, heh…”
“You think that’s funny?” The doorman was floored. “This guy doesn’t just kneecap you, or rough you up, or your wife or your kids… that’s not how he works. When you can’t repay a loan from him, he just takes over. That’s why he loans it in the first place; he likes to take over.”
Greco was amazed; he’d never heard of a loan shark who liked getting their hands dirty with “business management.” How could it be possible?
The doorman continued. “First there were the car companies… then the banks… then the insurance companies… or maybe the insurance companies and then the car companies; I don’t remember now… first he loans them a mint, to save their necks, then he says ‘Pay up!,’ knowing they can’t, and then he moves in.
“He fires the old management, lets them have a big bonus, then pillories them in the press for their golden parachute, like he had nothing to do with it. Then he cuts up the business, sells the parts, or just shuts down office after office, branch after branch, plant after plant, dealership after dealership. The empty husks of companies and dealers he shut down are littering the countryside.”
“But I don’t get it!” Greco was growing more and more baffled as the story went on. “But the more he closes down, the more capacity he shutters, the less and less able the poor welcher will be to pay him back! You can’t pay back a loan if you don’t have profit coming in! Why would he act like that? Why destroy the only collateral on an outstanding loan that’s owed to him?”
The doorman looked around again. “Because he can. Because he likes it. Because he’d rather see people out of work than see them gainfully employed and self-sufficient. Because when people have jobs and success and prosperity, they don’t need him, but when they’re destitute, they do.
“Because if you pay him back, all he has is more money, and he doesn’t really care about money. What he cares about is the lines of people, all lining up to ask him for something. Little Barry likes it when people depend on him, when they can’t do without him, when they can only live in his housing, eating his food aid, sending their kids to his schools, depending on his checks to get by.”
“But how can he not care about his money?”
“It’s not his money, don’t you see?” The doorman was getting frustrated. How thick could Greco be? “It’s not his money. He prints it, he manages it, he has the power to control it… but it’s not his.
“So, whether you pay it back or not, it’s no skin off his nose. But if a default gives him the ability to do what he likes to do – to shut down farms, to close family businesses, to shutter a factory or two, to put people out of work and into his breadlines, into his soup kitchens, so he can step in and ‘save the day’… oh yeah, that’s the kind of thing he really goes for.
“So the real question is, How attached are you to your operation away there in the Mediterranean Sea?”
Greco saw the doorman being signaled. It was time to send in the next supplicant. He was going to have to make a choice. Now that he understood what this loan would mean, not only to him, but to his entire operation, people, lands, and businesses… what would he do?
With only the slightest moment of hesitation, Greco went in to meet with Madama Angela and Slick Nicky, hat in hand, ready to betray 3000 years of history and culture.
As he kissed their rings, he began the ritual supplication. “Good evening, Godmother. Good evening, Godfather. How fast can you loan me a trillion bucks?”
Copyright 2010 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Customs broker and international trade compliance trainer. He has never been to Athens, Mycenae, or the mob headquarters in Brussels, and he is trying his best to convince himself that today’s column is a work of fiction.
Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provide the byline and IR URL are included.
This was the first episode in the tales of Greco, a minor mob boss anthropomorphically representing Greece, the poor old relative of prosperous Western Europe, as it began to face its severe ongoing economic crisis in the 2010s. Several more episodes in the somewhat fictional tales of Greco the Mob Boss can be found in Illinois Review.