Content Warning: Moderately murderous musings of a megalomaniac...
Gritting his teeth in rage at the mocking laughter, Markus Mordquist tried to force his involuntarily twitching face into stillness. Responding in any way would only encourage the merciless taunting. It was one of the earliest lessons he’d learned as a child. He’d always detested this particular smooth, smug bastard anyway. It must be nice to be handsome, muscular and not overly burdened with enough intelligence to suffer from anxiety or phobias. Markus himself had never been so fortunate. At the moment, he felt as if he had been transported decades back in time to high school, to when the football team captain had dropped his junior physics experiment into a muddy puddle before his eyes. That dreadful puddle had destroyed the delicate laser trigger-mechanism Markus had spent hours building, leading to the only C- grade that he had received in his entire life.
“So that’s what’s really behind your crazy, intricate poisonous gas traps and laser beam-armed robots?” the spy chortled between mirthful chuckles, snapping Markus’s attention back to the present day. “You’re afraid of blood? Blood of all things? In your line of work?”
“I had intended to explain my nefarious plot to you at length so that you understood exactly what you were dying for and what a morass your government had sent you into,” Markus answered stiffly. “That being said, I cannot afford to let you spill my secret. If your sort of would-be-hero believed I had an Achilles’ heel, it would make my life far more difficult. Then the other arch-villains would mock me behind my back at the next monthly lunch meeting. And probably steal my donuts.” The last two sentences slipped out by accident.
Collecting himself, Markus pronounced, “Goodbye for good, Mr. ‘Smith.’” He spoke the last word with the skepticism it deserved. Then he took a deep breath, bracing himself for the unpleasant task ahead.
The laughter stopped abruptly. “Wait a minute,” the self-proclaimed “Mr. Smith” exclaimed in alarm. “Don’t you still need to tell me about…?”
Resolutely, Markus struck the bright red button that activated the laser beam. “Unfortunately, I can no longer indulge your efforts to stall.”
Not the most profound last words, Markus thought smugly.
Next, Markus tapped the adjoining small blue button on the console, summoning his lab assistant. With a dismissive wave of his hand, Markus gestured at his assistant to remove the body. There was literally a large vat of temperature-controlled fluoroantimonic acid with Mr. Smith’s name (or alias) written on it waiting nearby to dispose of the corpse. Ah, how much Markus approved of the automatically cauterizing properties of laser-beams!
Retreating to his over-stuffed black leather desk chair, Markus noticed that he was restlessly toying with a red-ink fountain pen and fidgeting in his seat. If even one of them had figured it out, a part of him whispered nervously, how long would it be until the next so-called “good guy” put the puzzle pieces together again?
And then what if Markus’s minions got wind of his secret? Many of the more...creative...lads were kept in check primarily by intimidation, as well as by the ever-present threat of six-armed laser-robot assassins, getaway car bombs and the trapdoor leading into the lava-pool below Markus’s lair. The latter was really more for show; it only took the more intelligent minions a few days to learn to find an excuse to stand several paces to the left or right. Losing his minions’ respect could rapidly become fatal for Markus. After all, it was challenging enough to find competent minions without scruples these days: finding ones that were also unambitious was almost impossible. It wasn’t as if anyone was considerate enough to maintain a minion hiring-database even on the dark web these days.
Sighing, Markus decided that he probably needed to find an excuse to execute another minion soon, just to be on the safe side. Bad references were never a sufficient deterrent to uprisings. But the potential denial of a payout to a minion’s beneficiaries under the applicable shell company-provided life insurance policy due to execution usually captured their attention: that and the very permanent condition of death. During the recent round of lay-offs caused by the recent pandemic-related economic downturn, that blasted Von Hiddleburg had screwed all of the other arch-villains by implementing severance packages for his most competent minions in the hope of being able to hire them back later. As a result, in order to stay competitive, every arch-villain had to follow suit. It had caused something of a shift in the labor market. The minions had far too much power now. An object lesson was required from time to time to keep order.
Strictly, Markus instructed himself to stop dwelling on petty employment issues and to focus on the problem at hand. What was he to do about his little handicap? It wasn’t as if he hadn’t sought therapy for the issue several times. But each effort had ended poorly, and the police forces in the communities adjoining his base of operations had commenced an inconvenient cross-jurisdictional investigation into a therapist-targeting killer. Markus had literally run out of novel ways to easily and bloodlessly dispose of the bodies. Not to mention the different insurance co-pays, deductibles, explanation of benefits forms, and invoices. The paperwork had become too voluminous and complex even for an evil super-genius. It certainly wasn’t as if he could hand the pile of papers to his secretary if he wanted his secret to remain safe. Markus supposed he could resort to the old suitcase full of cash trope, but, dammit, if he had to maintain that ridiculously expensive health insurance plan for his minions, he intended to wring some benefit out of it for himself! Insurance companies were the true thieves in this world!
Above and beyond the costs incurred to maintain insurance coverage, recent market fluctuations in the price of antimony due to its increased use in batteries had made Markus’s preferred method of disposal far more expensive. Occasional repairs relating to explosions caused by inadvertent water contamination of the acid were another associated expense. Reminiscing, he winced. The last time there had been such an accident, several million dollars’ worth of damage had been done to the lab. He was still fighting with the insurance company for full reimbursement. Not to mention the inconvenient loss of a highly-educated lab assistant. It took a rare set of qualifications to handle fabricating fluoroantimonic acid in large quantities.
Fiercely, Markus frowned at the stack of financial statements on his desk. There was a great deal more red ink than he liked to see smeared across those documents. In fact, it rather reminded him of blood and he felt a little queasy, come to think of it. Sometimes he questioned the long-term profitability of his entire arch-villain enterprise. Even laser components were becoming more expensive, due to all the blasted iThings saturating the world. Did every idiot alive truly have to video-stream constantly? How many cat videos could any one human watch?
As Markus examined the financial statements more closely, the vague queasiness became a sinking feeling in his stomach. Perhaps he would have to explore more cost-effective approaches, he admitted to himself. If only he could find a minion with both a chemistry background and a specialization in accounting who also had a selective lack of curiosity...
One way or the other, Markus simply refused to back-burner his pet space-laser project, even if it was his largest expenditure. Every arch-villain had to have an overarching global domination plan. If he didn’t have a global domination plan, could he truly call himself an arch-villain? What would he brag about at the monthly meetings? No, the funds would have to come from somewhere. He would simply have to prioritize profitable transgressions over truly dastardly misdeeds.
Markus’s stomach continued to churn. It had been such a long time since he’d experienced that particular form of discomfort that it took him several minutes to recognize it: the squirming of a mildly guilty conscience. Although it had been necessary under the circumstances, he’d crossed a line by executing the alleged Mr. Smith without fully explaining the reasons he had to die to the man. Such behavior was considered tacky and uncivilized by the arch-villain community at large. The indignities Markus’s phobia inflicted upon him!
He supposed he could try to overcome the condition with reverse conditioning through repeated exposure, but he truly didn’t have the stomach for it. He’d tried exposure therapy once, on the advice of one of his former therapists; the experiment had ended with him being forced to silence the minion who’d witnessed Markus plummeting into a dead faint upon catching his first glimpse of a drop of blood. To Markus’s good fortune, the minion at issue happened to be one of the few reasonably loyal ones who understood the value of discretion. As a result, Markus had been able to place the minion in another arch-villain’s entourage with competitive compensation on the other side of the world. He hadn’t needed to hastily resort to an improvised bloodless execution. A competent minion was a terrible thing to waste.
What was an honest arch-villain with such an affliction to do in these difficult times? Markus pondered. After all, he wasn’t getting any younger; retirement was approaching and he had nowhere near enough saved to buy his own island situated within the territory of a nice country with a non-extradition treaty anywhere even near the equator. The economic downturn certainly wasn’t helping his retirement accounts! Reluctantly, he admitted to himself that he should probably diversify his investments beyond publicly-traded companies that manufactured lab equipment and industrial lasers. But he’d heard some investment guru on television claim that one should never invest in something that one didn’t understand and those fields were what he knew the best.
That and the difficulty of finding good minions! Markus snorted to himself in exasperation. Then his mind froze around that thought in a moment of crystalline clarity, and flashed instinctively into the hyper-focused state that generated his most spectacular schemes.
Perhaps, just perhaps, there was an alternative path here. Markus prided himself on the strength of his minion pipeline; unlike many arch-villains, Markus had never discriminated on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexuality, ethnic origin, or political perspective when it came to his recruitment efforts. As a result, he had connections around the world and was generally considered to be an excellent source of recommendations among the other arch-villains. Maybe Markus could leverage those assets and personally develop the sort of minion-hiring network he’d dreamed of. In fact, he could offer his recruitment services to other arch-villains for exorbitant fees! He could even offer to take on the burden of developing compensation packages and providing ongoing minion management and containment services for a monthly retainer! That sort of administrative bureaucracy was one of the primary subjects of complaints at all of the arch-villain meetings. He could only imagine how much some of his fellow arch-villains would pay to have the inconvenience taken off their hands.
Instead of spending inordinate amounts of time recruiting competent minions for his own depraved endeavors, Markus could become a minion resources specialist for the entire arch-villain community. He would become a….what was the word people used these days…? “Consultant”? Such a system would have the added benefit of giving minions the illusion of choice while also centralizing and standardizing minion employment practices so that no miscreant like Von Hiddleburg would have the ability to undercut his or her fellow arch-villains again. He made a note to use that example as a potential talking point with everyone except Von Hiddleburg.
But was he truly considering voluntarily stepping back from his position as an active arch-villain? The loss of status would be enormous! Markus’s self-esteem began to shrivel a little at just the thought.
And yet, it was a convenient solution to his problem. Vaguely, he noticed that his fingers had instinctively begun to twiddle eagerly and ominously in a truly villainous manner. Markus was well-versed in efficiently managing minions without bloodshed; it was the would-be-heroes that were the true problem. There would be less personal physical peril, which was a definite positive. He would no longer be forced to tolerate the awkwardness of personally confronting self-proclaimed “good guys.” The risk of being forced to participate in an unexpected blood-letting would be much lower. Involuntarily, he shivered in relief at the very thought, feeling tension drain out of his shoulders. The sensation was so intense that he checked to see if he’d inadvertently activated the back-massaging feature of his chair. No, he hadn’t.
Even better, Markus would also be able to divest himself of many of the expenditures of his criminal enterprise, such as the vast booby-trap, defense, financing and utility costs associated with his underground base. He could himself work remotely, in the comfy, velvety black track-suit that he had reluctantly decided was too undignified to wear to the office! While he would of course need to maintain a skeleton staff of enforcers to keep order among the minions he would be managing, insurance costs would be reduced along with headcount. Similarly, it seemed likely that the supply costs associated with the manufacture of acid, laser components and robot-assassins would materially decrease, even if they did not fully vanish. No reason to abandon the minion-management methods he’d perfected over the course of years, after all.
But what about his space-laser? His soul wept at the prospect of abandoning the project that had been his lifelong dream. In a moment of combined honesty and despair, Markus admitted to himself that it was not exactly the most creative arch-villain pet project he’d ever heard of. In fact, it was rather “done.” And it was honestly the greatest obstacle in the path of the retirement to an exotic tropical island that he’d been dreaming of.
Markus could see the ornately embossed business card in his imagination as clearly as if it physically rested in the palm of his hand: “Markus Mordquist, Minion Headhunter and Loyalty Retention Specialist, Extraordinaire.” Yes! He decided firmly. He would do it! In fact, he would start planning this very afternoon! Perhaps he could even finish the transition before the next month’s mortgage payment was due. Von Hiddleburg would gnash his teeth in envy that he hadn’t thought of the idea first!
“BWAHAHAHAHA!” Markus’s evil laugh rose from the depths of his diaphragm in its full unconstrained glory, as it had not for weeks, filling his entire office with ominous echoes.