Promise to play nice? That’s a funny question to ask someone behind bars, isn’t it? What on earth ever gave you the idea that I am capable of playing nice?
Come on, Mike, you know I’m kidding. I’m kidding! Yes, I promise, now shoo. Good old Mike - such a card. I hope he and the others were accommodating on your way in. Yes? That’s good to hear. Sometimes, they can be a little surly, but I’ve discovered they respond well to correction.
Does that surprise you? Hmm.
Right, let’s get to it. Test one two three. Test one two three. “She thrusts her fists against the posts and still insists she sees the ghosts.” My volume good? Excellent. I wasn’t sure if the glass was muffling my voice.
Oh, no, I’m fine standing -- I like to pace. No, thank you. I don’t get many visitors, and I was delighted that the prison officials and your editor were able to arrange this little tête-à-tête. Oh, yes, I’m very familiar with your work. And I don’t want you to feel modest or intimidated in my presence. Your “lifestyle magazine,” as you describe it, reaches a wide audience, and you write well.
I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve taken the liberty of preparing a little procedural that your readers will find uplifting. The truth of the matter is I’m a giver. There, I said it. And here, at the cusp of a major breakthrough, I appreciate getting a chance to share my journey.
So, without further ado, allow me to reflect on the factors that led to my rise in power. I’ve narrowed them down to ten. This isn’t proprietary. As I said, I’m a giver, and anyone following these ten steps should be able to achieve the same level of notoriety that I have. I will add, though, that I will destroy any rivals.
No need to raise that eyebrow; there can only be one of us at a time.
The first factor, unsurprisingly, is opportunity. And by that, I mean you must exist in a time that respects and appreciates villainy. Humans have always accepted a certain level of evil, but there is a noticeable ebb and flow to its popularity. Fortunately, I find myself at a significant crossroads in the history of modern nations, when autocrats and idiots now rule, and great civilizations are revealing the rot within. When armed vigilantes run the streets, they create beneficent shadows for criminal masterminds to rise in power. “With great ignorance comes great irresponsibility,” as a former friend used to say. Yes, I’ve do doubt you’ve heard the same.
I realize your readers will want to parse each sentence of my statement in search of some profound psychological need, perhaps an abusive parent or an oppressively religious training or a relationship with a sociopathic mentor, but alas, none of these apply. I’m a simple girl from Oklahoma who wants to control her destiny. Is that so strange?
And some will say that only men can truly be evil geniuses. I know, right? It’s laughable! As if one X and one Y make you the only danger to the species. What can I say? Despite all the so-called advances of human society, we still live in an essentially patriarchal global mindset that infects all professions, both noble and profane.
That is why getting my story out there is so important, for I have proven that a woman can be every bit the equal of a man in villainy as long as she has the second essential quality: will.
It’s will that sets us apart from ordinary mortals. Will gives us strength and persistence. Will is what drives us even in the face of danger. Will provides us with the resilience we need to recover from betrayal.
You’re right. The world is full of willful idiots; it’s a fair objection. And some of them rise to great heights of leadership, propelled there by like-minded rubes. (Democracy is such a fraud, isn’t it?) They are genius-heroes in their minds, but let’s be honest: these ignorant charlatans are short-lived and have no sustainable drive to be villains in the proper sense of the word.
Because a real villain has, number three, intellect.
And by that, I don’t mean a purely native intelligence, which is essential, of course, but rather the ability to adapt and innovate. Once in power, the greatest of us is capable of wielding enormous control over her environment. But on the way to the top, and this is a critical point, life is likely to batter us with disconcerting surprises. Fortunately, a great mind can transform tragedy into triumph.
I wasn’t sure whether to describe the next item on my list as a fourth step or a corollary to the third. Perhaps you can decide what would read best and adjust accordingly. The issue is enunciation. Notice how well I project and how clearly I articulate each consonant and vowel. No slurring or sloppiness here. Not only does it reveal the breadth of my intellect, but it also shows a clarity of purpose. And trust me when I say that I am utterly clear about the rationale and consequence for each move I make on the chessboard.
Now, brew will and intellect together, and you will concoct a beautiful potion for villains: number five, patience.
Speaking of which, what time do you have?
Perfect, thank you.
When we have no superpower, no sympathy, no strength, we can still rely on the power of patience. Listen, pretenders, I know you’re out there. Are you so foolish as to think that you can defeat us? Impossible! We will simply outwait you. The genius is in its simplicity!
What’s that? Oh, I was using the generic “you,” of course.
Step six? Liquidity. Not just wealth, mind you. The tides of change necessarily buffet a villain’s life, and easy access to cash is utterly necessary. I realize this will be baffling to your readers, most of whom can only dream of the sums of money that I now manipulate regularly and efficiently. Still, they may be surprised to learn that I was once just like them: struggling to get by, agonizing over each bill, searching for change in the sofa cushion.
But a cruel change in my circumstances forced me to see what they cannot: the power of those qualities I have previously mentioned, especially number two, will, and number three, intellect, and number five, patience.
Following long nights of soul searching and reflection on man’s depravity, I realized it was time to choose a different path in life. In some ways, the change was practical. I stopped spending my money on useless things, like eating out and entertainment and relationships. More importantly, however, I changed my entire life philosophy. I decided to stop being the mark and start being the con. I would no longer be tethered to dated moral principles, such as honesty, reverence, and empathy. I committed myself to a life of complete, and (here is number seven), amorality.
I simply refuse to play by the long-established rules of etiquette. If people are going to cheat me, then they should pay seventy-seven times. You know, the rule of Lamech. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is child’s play. If a senator doesn’t take my call, I will publish a recording of his private affairs. If a company sells me a faulty product, then I will burn their inventory. If a man gazes at me in complete adoration and pledges his life to me while having an affair, then I will put him into the ground. The world is better without them all.
Time again, please?
Anyway, about "henchmen," number eight. Could we agree to avoid using that term? It has such a derogatory, negative connotation. And I think I’ve already made my feeling clear about the sexism inherent in the world of moral avatars.
I prefer "associates."
Where do I get mine? Wouldn’t you like to know! I’m an open book, yes, but I never talk about the background of my associates. Why would I blow the cover of those who are helping catapult me to my most significant achievement? The truth is, good help is hard to find, and I am not so vile as to betray those I trust or love. That is simply not in the purview of villainy.
And I would not be on the verge of such greatness without the work of my associates. They remained loyal to me. They spent countless hours in research and surveillance, compiling kompromat not only on the usual bribable law enforcement and government officials but on all kinds of rivals.
Such as you.
I’m sorry to laugh, but the look on your face! Ever since you sat down across from me, you have been reeking of self-satisfaction. At least you are not the one behind bars, you thought to yourself. You are not the one who embodies criminal insanity. You are not the one with delusions of grandeur. You’re just the cub reporter that lucked into a once-in-a-lifetime interview with the most remarkable criminal mastermind this city has ever seen.
Lucky, lucky you.
Didn’t you hear anything I said? Opportunity, will, intellect, enunciation, patience, liquidity, amorality, loyal associates. You have none of these, and will the least of all. You’re a fallen tree leaf bouncing along on any gust that comes your way. The gods have smiled on you, to bless you with the perfect job, the perfect good looks, the ideal affair with a man who belonged to another. Yes?
Yes! Oh, to watch the arrogance and naivete disappear from your face is more gratifying than I could ever have predicted!
It’s all coming to you now! Richard never told you about me, did he? But he had secrets. You suspected. You had moments when you considered the possibility that you might be intruding on someone else’s territory. But you ignored all the signs! Why? Because you were in love?
Yes, that Richard. Looked equally fine in a three-piece suit or sweatshirt and jeans. Loved classic rock, foodie pics, and late-night picnics under the stars with brie and Cabernet. You thought you were his guiding light, his north star because he told you this over and over again. As you lay together in bedsheets soaked in sweat and love, he declared that you alone of all of the angels fell to living among mortals on Earth. Made you feel truly alive for the first time. Promised you the world. Fond of heroin.
Died of an overdose, did he?
I’m sorry, but I’m going to need you to stop hyperventilating. That’s going to throw off my timing, and I can’t have that.
Where were we? That’s right, number nine. More of an axiom, really: never underestimate the importance of good PR.
All PR is good PR, yes, but I do prefer to control the messaging. The bad news is that plotting and scheming are incredibly time-consuming, so I’m going to have to outsource my marketing. The good news is that I have a writer in my debt.
And you do owe me.
Besides, you’ve already recorded my manifesto, and you will be the first witness to my most fantastic achievement yet -- my glorious ascension into the pantheon of evil genius! My time has come at last!
Go ahead, laugh. I’ll wait.
You seem to be very impressed by the bars between us. And you’re right. They are remarkably sturdy, as is the bulletproof glass. But if you’re going to be my scribe, you’re going to have to sharpen your powers of observation.
Instead of focusing on the barrier between us, what you should be paying attention to instead is my bunk. Watch this. See? Just underneath? Yes, that’s right! It’s an oxygen mask, courtesy of number six, liquidity, and number eight associates.
I put it on like this. Pull tight on the straps. And I should still be good for the recording because I can, number four, enunciate. You understand me, yes? Good. I want to be sure my words are intelligible over the hissing sound of gas as it vents into the cell block.
You’re panicking, but I assure you there’s no need. It’s just a little fentanyl derivative to induce some sleepiness. You’ll wake up, and other than a smidge of nausea, you should be fine.
Although I have to confess that I was tempted at this point to play the part of a speed reader in a pharmaceutical ad enumerating all the possible side effects, we don’t have that kind of time. Suffice it to say that the administration of this gas is not one hundred percent foolproof. I suppose there is a slight possibility that the drug could have a lethal effect. But why would I kill my brand-new amanuensis?
Oh, right, right. Yeah, that would do it.
Oops, I’m afraid I’ve given you a bit of a fright.
I see you’re too weak to run for the door, but go ahead, shout all you want. Everyone is asleep, and you will be drifting off soon as well. But first, do you hear that grinding sound? That’s just the tip of a mining drill in the wall behind me. A small crew of my associates (number eight) is on their way now!
And here come the klaxons and lights! Candy apple red, pumpkin orange, and all that flashing silver! So loud, so radiant, so spectacular!
And there it is! Step number ten: theatricality!
Isn’t it wonderful? And the back wall is beginning to crumble now. Look at all this dust!
Oh, dear, you are out like a light.
I’ll be in touch.