What If? Quick Take: 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer SRT Hellcat
Welcome to What If? Quick Take, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. While the cars shown in our regular What If? features are full 3D renderings and can appear in any number of images, the Quick Takes are off-the-cuff expressions of Abimelec’s imagination. Each one is accompanied by a short story. Enjoy! — Jack Baruth
Five floors up, in his glass fishbowl of a corner office, Ken idly watched the nerd stumbling across the parking lot towards a used Camry with a concave dent disfiguring the left corner of its back bumper. The poor fellow was wearing a red polyester “dress shirt” better-suited to an Applebee’s manager than to a technical team lead, black tie loose around his neck. A rapidly disintegrating cardboard box held every pathetic possession that had graced the nerd’s sad little open-office desk—right up to the moment when Corporate Security had walked him down to clear it off.
Ken couldn’t be certain, not from this high up, but the shaking of the nerd’s shoulders strongly suggested that he was sobbing. Well, that’s what you get for messing with me, Ken thought. You’re walking across a parking lot to a nine thousand dollar car, and I’m planning my next curated trip to Bali. You lose. I win.
And, really, how could it have been otherwise? Ken had stacked the deck in his favor a long time before today’s senior leaders’ meeting. He’d made sure to schedule a brunch or lunch with every other executive at his level during the past few weeks. During those meals, in the convivial and slightly conspiratorial atmosphere engendered by the sharing of $100 “farm-to-table” plates, Ken had sown doubts with the love and care of a Brooklyn hobby gardener. The nerd was crazy, he was toxic, he didn’t represent our corporate values. And Ken wasn’t worried about his allegations at all! In fact, he’d agreed to give the nerd a full and fair hearing of grievances, because Ken wanted everyone to trust our team norms and processes. The fact that the nerd’s complaints were so extreme … why, they were undermined by their very severity! As if any of it could possibly be true!
Of course Ken knew, and the nerd knew, and Ken knew the nerd knew, that every single one of the allegations was correct. And then some. In the process of his “investigation,” the nerd hadn’t thought big enough. Yes, Ken was taking kickbacks from vendors. Yes, Ken had tirelessly smeared and defamed key people in the firm until they’d quit or been fired, over and over again, always filling the newly-vacated slots with his handpicked people. But the nerd had missed the bigger plan. Ken wasn’t out to steal a million dollars, or even ten million. He was out to steal the whole company. He would hollow it out over time with the vicious patience of a bear cleaning every last bit of honey from a beehive, and no amount of little stings would stop him.
This was how it went down: As everyone got seated for the meeting, Ken checked his Apple Watch to confirm that his pulse was a relaxed 75 bpm. Then he called for silence. He and his fellow executives were seated at a long table facing a whiteboard and chair. The nerd was sitting on the chair.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” Ken said, smooth as soft butter, giving the CEO at one end of the table a reassuring, confident look. “We’re being visited today by Sebastian Ringer, a senior technical lead in Wintel hosting. As you know, Sebastian circulated an email to some of you earlier this month, alleging some misdeeds in our technical stack. I’ve asked him to appear and give us some … clarity on these allegations.” Ken’s voice dropped into an intimate, friendly register. “Sebastian, I want you to be reassured that everyone is here to listen to you today. You will. Be. Heard. I guarantee it.” Around him, bald heads nodded in sympathy, admiring Ken’s obvious dedication to the company.
“Good,” the nerd said, “because you’re a thief, and I have the proof. Let’s start with the fact that you didn’t ‘leave’ your last company. You were fired. Why doesn’t anybody know that? And …”
“Let me stop you for a moment,” Ken said, putting out his hand. “Sebastian, you’re not at the leadership level, so I’ll fill you in on something you can use later. You don’t get ‘fired’ from a chief technical officer position. It’s not … McDonald’s.” Around him, there were knowing chuckles. “Now, you may have heard that I left on contentious terms. This often happens when your vision is too … advanced … for small thinkers. I don’t think I’ve ever misled anyone about that. I’ve never needed to. The men you see around me are … sophisticated. They know how these things work. But,” he magnanimously concluded, “I’m interrupting you. Why don’t you get to the heart of your … complaint?”
“Okay, I will. Since taking this job, you’ve failed at every major project you’ve started. We are years behind the competition now. And somehow these failures are always related to some contracting firm in which you’re a secret partner!” The nerd’s face was red. This was going very well.
Ken chuckled just one. “Sebastian, I would be the first to admit that we have experienced major issues with our recent initiatives. And I’ve explained to the board that these issues are largely due to certain undocumented limitations of the Amazon Cloud.”
“Undocumented limitations of the Amazon Cloud?” the nerd spat. “Are you high? The failures aren’t due to some made-up secret problem, it’s because you don’t know what you’re doing!”
“Oh, Sebastian,” Ken smiled. “I don’t think I would have been the CTO of Kellogg’s if I didn’t know what I was doing. And I wouldn’t have been hired by the men around me if I didn’t know what I was doing. They’re far too perceptive to let something like that happen.” Down the table, the CEO smiled beatifically. Across the room, the nerd was trembling with anger. Ken felt very much in control.
“I know what you’re doing!” the nerd snapped, dangerously close to an outdoor voice. “And I have all the proof I need, right here. It starts with the contract to revamp the Tucson production line, which …” Ken raised his hand for silence.
“Sebastian, are you implying that the board was somehow in on this evil scheme? Is Mr. Smith, our CEO, also a thief? Is the ‘fraud’ in the room with us, right now?” Staring the nerd directly in the eye, Ken smiled and winked. As he’d hoped, this was the final straw.
“No, God damn it! He’s not the thief! YOU ARE! AND I’M GOING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!” At that moment, Ken made a hand signal to the Corporate Security guard standing in the corner, who swiftly stepped forward and, in a single motion, swept both of the nerd’s wrists between his back.
“I’m afraid this is where the discussion ends, Sebastian,” Ken purred, as the nerd twisted and flopped under the guard’s weight. “We can’t have violent discourse at the executive level. If we can’t feel safe, we can’t continue. And the violence of your speech prevents us from feeling safe. I’m afraid this is your last day with us. Gentlemen,” he continued, turning to face the assembled executive group, “I think this concludes the meeting. Thank you for giving Sebastian a chance to expand on his concerns. I’m sorry that your safety was put at risk. It won’t happen again.” The men filed out of the room and Ken followed them, heading for his office and only with difficulty concealing the grin that tempted to overwhelm his face.
It had been just that simple. And now, with the nerd securely ejected from the premises, Ken made a few calls. His latest initiative had funneled thirteen million dollars to a desktop-support firm that had been unable to begin the support in question, citing certain incompatibilities between their proprietary platform and the existing network infrastructure. “It’s a lesson learned,” Ken had told the board, “and I consider it a big win.” He then promptly signed a new contract with another support firm and released the original company from their obligations, at which point a fifty-three BTC transfer worth almost three million dollars registered in his blockchain account. But the agreement had been for seventy BTC, so Ken wasted no time communicating his displeasure with the company’s owner.
“Ken, Bitcoin went up twenty percent during the past month. You got the same amount of cash.”
“We had a deal,” Ken snarled. “If you want back on the gravy train next year, using a different LLC, I want that missing 17 BTC.”
“With that kind of incentive, I’ll absorb the extra,” the voice on the other end of the call conceded. “You’ll see it shortly.”
“No more sloppiness on your part,” Ken reiterated, and hung up before taking the elevator down to the underground parking garage where his new Grand Wagoneer Hellcat was waiting. This was a departure for Ken, who normally enjoyed sports cars like the Macan or SQ5, but since this was nominally an American manufacturing firm he’d felt compelled to buy something “American” for the drive to work. The Hellcat was dirt-cheap—$117,500—and it had plenty of room for the in vitro baby he’d just conceived with his new bride, a woman from Latvia whose desperation for an American passport had caused her to turn a blind eye to Ken’s, shall we say, peculiar appetites.
The roar of the supercharged V-8 resonated across the parking garage as Ken accelerated up the ramp and out of the building. As he made a right turn onto the main drag, Ken saw a flicker of motion to the left and behind him. Why, it was the nerd! And the fellow’s Camry was headed straight at him!
“Bring it on,” Ken spat, as the scowl of the beige Toyota’s grill filled his left rearview mirror. At the last moment, Ken floored the gas and the Wagoneer leapt out of the Camry’s way, leaving the nerd facing a steel light pole. There was a metallic artificial scream of impact, audible but not unpleasant behind the Jeep’s double-paned glass, as a plume of dust and smoke obscured everything behind him. “YOU LOSE!” Ken screamed. “I WIN! AGAIN!” He eased off on the throttle and looked down. His heartbeat was 130 bpm but falling rapidly. Then he heard the notification of an incoming call. The gravely, hesitant voice that resonated through the Jeep’s cabin belonged to his CEO.
“Ken,” the man said, “today was something, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, Bill, it was, and I’m sorry you had to experience it. On a happier note, I’m preparing to bring the new factory software package announcement forward. We’ve settled on the interface the workers will use. It’s very clean, very much like Spotify’s UI, and I know you’ll …”
“Let me stop you there,” the CEO said. “That Sebastian fellow was a real piece of work. But he’s been in touch with the investors, and they think there’s something worth looking at in the materials he sent along. Now, I want you to know that you have my confidence, and the confidence of the board. But … Ken, we’re going to have to talk about restitution for this. I’m depending on you to make this right.”
“Of course, Bill, anything for you.” Ken’s Apple Watch was buzzing. His pulse was out of control. This could set his goals back by years. Maybe a decade. But it wouldn’t keep him down forever. There would be another pigeon out there, another company with the right combination of naïveté and hard cash. Another way to make eight figures and more. He’d still walk away from this a winner. Didn’t he always?