This is a true story. The names and natures of the characters have been changed to protect the innocent.

They set up a printing press in the back of a bank. They each hired an artist to craft a boilerplate that contains a mark nearly impossible to duplicate. They print IOUs for the bank to give its loan customers in order to charge those customers interest on the IOUs. They found some mercenaries willing to accept the IOUs as payment. The mercenaries threaten anyone that refuses to accept these IOUs as payment of a debt. The master swindlers are named Sam and Earl.

The essence of this swindle is the ability to print the IOUs and then go buy stuff with them. The bank and the mercenaries are only required because if people cottoned on to the scheme, they would be angry and demand retribution. Sam and Earl have to be careful because if they print too many IOUs, their swindle will become obvious. This has happened to several other swindlers, including fellows named Geronimo in 1922, Argus in 1989, and Ukiah in 1993. Their swindles hinge on an ever more precariously balanced knife-edge called perception. Sam has proven to be the best at this balancing act.

Sam and Earl have been doing this for several years, parleying their success into larger and larger amounts of control. Banks that were able to resist the mercenaries have all but vanished. People who used actual commodities or paper representations of actual commodities to pay down their debts to each other have also all but vanished. The world has become Sam and Earl’s oyster.

However, they have bumped heads recently because of olives. The people that borrow and save their money using banks that Sam’s mercenaries control and the people that borrow and save their money using banks that Earl’s mercenaries control all like olives. Olives are delicious, nutritious, and provide useful byproducts. Everybody loves olives. So owning an olive tree is a great thing, and lots of people own one or more.

There are people that use olives as money, but the olives are slippery and the weight of the olives you have to pay for a car makes olive-trading very cumbersome. There are some, but not many. Most people who own olive trees collect IOUs for their olives. Some collect Sam’s IOUs and some collect Earl’s IOUs. This is a problem for Sam because before Earl showed up, Sam’s IOUs were the shit. Everybody wanted them. Everybody needed them. They were in demand, and so Sam was able to run his presses and buy lots of stuff for himself and his friends without worrying too much about getting caught.

But as more and more people decided to trade their olives in for Earl’s IOUs - namely Ira and his brother Ira - the demand for Sam’s IOUs went down. When Sam’s IOUs go down in value, he has to print more of them to maintain his lifestyle. It’s starting to prove more and more of a problem for Sam to balance on the ever sharpening knife-edge of perception. So, a couple years ago (2003), Sam decided to pay a visit to Ira.

“I don’t want you collecting Earl’s IOUs for your olives any more, Ira” said Sam.

“But your IOUs are not worth very much any more, my friend. Earl’s IOUs are very important to all the people that live near me.”

“Well, Ira, then I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to tell my people that you have some terrible three-letter acronym that requires me to take over your orchard.”

“Sam, you can’t do that!”

But Sam did it anyway, and the mercenaries came, and the mercenaries dug up the irrigation systems and the olives began falling off the trees and decaying in the sand. Then Sam’s mercenaries installed a new irrigation system and took the olive collecting equipment from Ira’s employees and told them how to use it (though they already knew) and when to use it (though they already knew) and where to use it (though they already knew). And Sam’s mercenaries told them to trade the olives for Sam’s IOUs and not Earl’s. And they did this.

Ira is a mess. He gets some sun, and it shines, but it does not warm him. He takes baths, but they do not clean him. He eats curds, but they do not fill him. He is wasting away and the world blames Sam. Sam admits that there was no terrible three-letter acronym, but claims that something was wrong with Ira’s olives, and now it has been fixed. The people are suspicious of Sam’s claims, but he prints IOUs for them and they believe their prosperity is a result of his wonderful printing press and his amazing artist and his heroic mercenaries, so they bury their suspicions in holly and encase the holly in wood and laugh and sing about it all.

But Ira has a brother, and they have cousins, and friends, and these people own olive trees, and Sam is yelling that there’s something wrong, something fishy, some short fuse, some nucleus of error that has spread to the other Ira’s olives and threatens to spread to olive trees everywhere. And Sam is right. The olive trees are infected. But Sam’s game is coming to an end, because the only two people that had ever died from bad olives were Hiro and Nagasa, and the olives they ate came from Sam himself.

Swindlers - the best swindlers - do whatever it takes to keep their game going. Earl and Sam are beginning to work together these days, because their squabble over whose IOUs are used to trade olives pales in comparison to the problem they’ll have when people understand their scheme. But Sam still pursues the Ira who still sells olives, and what happens between those two, we will have to wade into the murky future to find out. But let us remember Sam and Earl, and do what we can to steer clear of them. If we get mixed up with swindlers, we’re asking for trouble. Oh yes, Sam and Earl are in for trouble when this story gets out.

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