The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line

A Story by Malenkov

A venture capitalist on a mission, to make the Vatican an offer they can't refuse.



























The Bottom Line





“There is one and only one social responsibility of business--to use

 its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.”


           -- Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom




You know me, I don’t pull any punches right?

“Now, let’s get this straight,” I say to him (and his assistant--picture Mussolini in a frock and pointy hat, wringing his hands like a bad case of Eczema) “now it’s all very well sticking to tradition--I’m religious myself, after a fashion--but we’re talking about the bottom line here.” I might as well talk to a wall: the Pope’s drooling all over his robes on the throne, and the pap’s fogeys are sitting around the Vatican Conference chamber in their robes like it was a meeting of the Ku-Klux-Klan, and these creepy guards--SS types in kinky black leather--are hanging in the shadows, itching their machine pistols. I figure it’s either past the pap’s bedtime, or--Pope John bloody Paul II, or not--if I don’t get to the point, he’s gonna die on me.

So I jerk my thumb at the Van Goghs plastering every square inch of the place like it was Sothebys. “Do we really expect to keep this franchise afloat,” I say, “when we’re pissing losses faster than the Niagara Falls?”

Then the pointy-hatted bloke--who’s sitting in the front pew of the council chamber--hops out and croaks like something out of The Godfather. “Il Papa,” he says, and starts the bowing"and-scraping-and-pecking-the-hand routine and prattles in the pap’s ear. And the gist of it is ‘His Holy Father’ needs his beauty sleep (so he can go raise the dead or part the Red Sea or something). So that’s it for the day. The guards close in like storm troopers and I leave Vatican City thinking the CFO’s gonna have a coronary when I tell him I’ve been holed up for three days in the Savoy like it’s Alcatraz--and there’s been no move.

Frankly Jimmy, I’m feeling we shouldn’t have wasted twenty quid on these dinosaurs, let along a big chunk of Enron’s pension assets. I mean how in the world do these geriatrics expect to be treated seriously, when they’re telling the punters they can’t even put a condom on their own Johnny?” 

Get a grip Alex, I tell myself--you’ve seen worse and I regroup for the wild lobster a la carte at the Savoy.

I’m in the restaurant, the 95º heat, the Beluga caviar and a bottle of Pigato loosening my head like a knock out punch, when Lackey-Boy struts in like he owns the place--and the Maître de’s yesing him sir this and that, giving him the best table in the joint. The last thing on my mind is a tête-à-tête with some greasy wop. But, hell, if I’m gonna win these fogeys over, I reckon some sweet talking is in order. So I smooch on over, waiting while he stuffs his fat face with olives like they were going out of fashion--on shareholders expense, I might add--(and he doesn’t even nod, like I was some trash that walked in off the street--Me, A Vice President!). But I reckon we’re paying this twat’s salary--right?--so I flash my deal maker’s grin and park myself in the chair opposite like a toreador.

Well the frock gives me this who-let-this-cockroach-in-the-restaurant look, then leans back--slow and deliberate--drilling me with these slitty black pits for eyes.

“I did not appreciate your little display in there today,” he says, in this tin C3PO voice straight out of The Empire Strikes Back. “His Holy Father is not just some, customer. His Excellency is the Vicar of Christ, spiritual leader of one sixth of the world’s flock. Is it too much to ask for a little deference?” He makes a big show of crossing himself, fires me this deal breaker look hissing: “You cannot run the Roman Catholic Church like McDonald’s.”

Now I’m not a man to beat about the bush, Jimmy. So if this freak expects me to kiss his backside, just coz he’s a honcho in some pointy hated sect--and this dunghill’s the smallest kingdom in the world, by the way--he’s seriously mistaken. So I take a long drag on my twenty euro cigar and puff it right in the wop’s eyes, like it was Anthrax. “Let me guess,” I go, “a question of ethics, right?”

He doesn’t even answer--just shakes his head like I was some retard--like I’m the one walking round like a savage in bed sheets on the set of Harry Potter.

“Listen here, chum,” I start to say, but he kills my spiel--holding this pudgy finger up like the hand of god.

“Alfonso, My name is Cardinal Alfonso.”

Elponzo--and this guy never thought of a name change? “Listen Alf,” I say, “the Paps may be bigger than Madonna to you guys, but the way I see it your outfit is just another company bleeding cash, that needs to put shareholders first and rethink it’s selling point--and I’m talking the spiritual concept here as well. And I’m going to tell the pap’s exactly what to do about turning this little operation around.”

And would you believe what Elponzo does? He says I’m morally bankrupt. (Immoral--and these guys did more business with dictators than the CIA). Anyway, I’m going to discredit the pap’s infallibility--as if the dinosaur had an ounce of street cred in the first place. I’m tarnishing the “sacrament of the Holy Order”--what ever that s**t means, and Elponzo--boot licker to the paps himself--will personally see to it that I’m stopped.

“Wait a second,” I go. “I didn’t fly all the way from London just to be told to go home with my tail between my legs--a job’s a job. Now I respect tradition like the next man, and this joint may have twenty centuries behind it--I’ll give you that. But that stunt about barring f**s and chicks from office, is about as consumer friendly as a neutron bomb. Hell, this franchise is up against every New-Age segment of the month--you’ve lost more of the 15-35 age group in a decade, than you gained in a century. Either you move with the times, or you and the rest of the little Ku Klux clowns are going Jurassic--That’s no skin off my nose, believe me. But I’m not about to get torched by Jeff--and trust me on this, you don’t wanna go making the CFO angry--and explain why fifty million in venture cap went down the pan, because some dorks can’t face facts.”

Elponzo’s quiet a while, wiping his greasy fingers on a napkin. “Fine,” he says, “fine--Have it your way, but let us see how much of an effect your . . . marketing--as you bankers like to call it--has upon His Eminence’s policy.” And he guns me this tight lipped f**k-you-and-all smile. 

Then I see it: No wonder they let me talk to the old man--he’s halfway to hell, and gaga anyway; And Elponzo here has the stooges in the council--the stakeholders I gotta win over--eating out of his hand.

Then Elponzo gets up, scraping his chair, narrows his eyes and drops this napkin like it was a glove in the face. “I wish you luck.”

Fine, I think. But I don’t say a dickey bird. You wanna play that way, let’s play it that way.           


So I guess you’re thinking Jimmy, let’s pull the plug on these schmucks and go home, before Jeff gets wind and pulls the trigger on us--right? Christ, these jerks barely make their overheads with all those churches--let alone giving away their core service for free. But I’m wondering what kinda niche can we exploit here? And I’m guessing an untapped market worth big stock multiples--Hell, you can market anything these days with the right spin. We’re talking a whole new god concept-- Repackaging religion: from the poverty end (and hell, what’s that segment worth to shareholders?), to the higher end--say, the 50K plus consumer segment.

Seriously, if we can flog dental care, privatise motorways, and sell tap water in bottles, why not spirituality? We’ve got a billion plus suckers going to church every Sunday that we’re not squeezing value from. We can capitalize on the whole god/brand thing here; play the faith card and lock in customer loyalty with spiritual air miles. Hey, and while we’re at it let’s do the online play--I’m talking virtual liturgy, pay-per-view sermons, and confession/prayer packages. We could build a Second Life presence--I mean do people actually have time these days to go to church? And just think of the premium we could make if we rented the Vatican City as blue chip offices?--or converted it into a theme park? And s**t, if Lucas can hustle Star Wars figures for twenty a throw, why can’t we do the whole bible set?--that’s gotta be worth a bill at least, right? But unless I can convince the dinosaurs on the Vatican Council, I’m stuffed.

It’s still nine in the morning Greenwich Time, so I get on the blower to Jan and run the spiel by her. “Jan”, I tell her, “I need marketing to crank me up a knockout PowerPoint presentation by six morning, Italy time--with enough wow to make Steve Jobs look like an amateur.”

Come morning, seven sharp in the restaurant, I’m downloading the presentation and dosing up on black coffee like it was mineral water. I still don’t have an appointment, but hey, you know me, I like to hit the ground running--I figure I’ll get my foot in the door and play it by ear. I’ve got a flight to catch at six forty PM. So I swing out the restaurant, slamming the laptop in my briefcase like it’s a lethal weapon. I don’t even finish my croissants.         


Of course I don’t even get an appointment and this secretary, she’s giving me the there’s-no-time-in-the-paps-calendar-until the-next-century bull (some humanitarian mission s**t in Ethiopia and such like)--as if the fifty big ones we’ve burned in this venture means squat to these guys. So my patience finally snaps, and I throw a barney: making it clear that if I don’t get a meeting in the next two hours, she can kiss her sorry-a*s-job goodbye. Fifteen minutes later she’s all sugar smiles, telling me that after all, (surprise, surprise) she might be able to squeeze me in at eight thirty for an hour, before the Pap’s Jour Fix. So I’m back in the same room and Elponzo’s there with the rest of the committee crows--slouched like pan handlers in pyjamas--and there he is, the Pope perched on the throne, white hair like candy floss, snores ricocheting around the chamber.     

I’ve barely clicked open the PowerPoint and launched my intro, when Elponzo bangs the conference table, stands up, fingers hail Hitlering and jabbering in that weird wop way that sounds like he’s had his testicles ripped out. From what I grab from the snatches of English, Elponzo’s giving it the I’m-abusing-the-pap’s-health-and-selling-out-Catholicism s**t. Well, the storm troopers are shifting uneasily on the back of the walls, like wondering whether to kick me out right there and then, and Elponzo finishes his sermon, crossing his hands and giving me this smug-b*****d smile. The council’s watching me like a hawk, but I don’t bat an eyelid. I’ve seen worse, right? (Me--Mr. Grace Under Pressure) And I walk right up to the Pap’s rocking chair, who’s drooling like a baby, and figure I gotta hit the what’s-in-it-for-them factor right now, or I’m history.

I raise my voice--picture Mark Anthony, funeral speech, the big orator himself, and give it, “Hey, the Pap’s infallible, right? So what’s the big worry?”

This just blows Elponzo away. The audience is shifting in their seats like they’ve got itching powder in their pants, and Elponzo starts stamping around like a kid in a Kindergarten having an epileptic fit. But this younger guy on the front row barks at him to can it and sit down, and Elponzo bows like he’s been smacked in the face.

It’s quiet as a church now, so I see my chance and go for the pitch. “Give me ten minutes,” I say, “and I’ll show you how we can rescue this wreck, and generate serious value for the key stakeholders here.” I turbo through the PowerPoint, hammering the facts and the big concept; and by the time I’m through, they’re sitting there gob smacked--like someone spiked their coffee with LSD. So I launch my close. “Hell,” I say, “we need to get away from this spiritually is free s**t. The bottom line is . . . there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Let’s not forget we’re talking one billion consumers here--there’s got to be serious revenue generation possibilities in this, right?”

Then I see it--what these guy’s want, that’ll make it a win-win for us all.

I thumb at the corpse on the throne, “We can make paps here, spiritual CEO and you boys get majority interests in one of the fastest growing segments around--we’ll throw in executive voting rights too, so you keep control and we take our twenty percent. No other company has a defensible niche like that. In my book, that’s real spiritual strength--s**t, that’s a licence to print money. Not even the Scientologist’s have that much market clout.”

Some of the old men scratch their beards, and the younger guy in front’s cocked his head--and I’m feeling: I’m tuned into these guys.

“And this Papal Infallibility lark,” I continue, “it’s a neat branding thing--if you look at it laterally. I mean we need only prop the old guy on the throne here, get him to croak some product bull, and one billion punters are gonna lap it up like the eleventh commandment. Now that’s what I call leverage; hell, it’s a spiritual patent. With papal directives behind our marketing teams, we can shift more volume than Wall-Mart.

Would you believe it? It turns out the guy that was sitting out front in the conference chamber--Benedict--is second in line to the paps.

We did lunch yesterday. Turns out Ben and us, have a lot in common (he’s a Wharton Grad, MBA) with ideas of his own, that the cronies poo-pooed just because they’ve got this tradition fetish--Ben’s been just gagging for someone to lay the jazz on these old birds, so he can have an excuse to modernize the joint.

I’m seeing great things, Jimmy. Trust me, the shareholders are gonna sing our praises. I’m seeing Enron’s stock going ballistic, and a front page headline in The Economist: “Spiritual Capitalism: A Billion Dollar Trend?”

Funding?--Got it figured. If we flesh this concept out, we can float this baby on the Euro Bond Market--get legal to rig us something low key, off balance sheet--maybe a Caymen Islands job. I’m even thinking that with the Pope behind this vehicle, we can do some cute personal investor psychology play, even ramp up our liquidity. Think about it. If my Roman Catholic investor has to choose between upholding faith in the stock, or selling on fundamentals, my bet’s they’ll back the pap’s stock. It’s beautiful: we leverage faith as shareholder value.

Trust me, Jimmy. This is gonna be bigger than the Spice Girls, bigger than iPods--hell, it’s gonna be bigger than God.






“The Bottom Line" appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of The Black Oak Media Magazine.

Many thanks for your wonderful reviews and for voting for this.







© 2010 Malenkov

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Featured Review

Not only is the piece wildly funny, but the construction is wonderful--it flows excellently, and you have the rapid-fire voice (and the internal dialogue) of the 21st Century venture capitalist down pat. The combination of concept and execution work to create a piece that is absolutely top-shelf work.

Posted 10 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


Not only is the piece wildly funny, but the construction is wonderful--it flows excellently, and you have the rapid-fire voice (and the internal dialogue) of the 21st Century venture capitalist down pat. The combination of concept and execution work to create a piece that is absolutely top-shelf work.

Posted 10 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

No other better market than spirituality indeed. This work has it all, and the story flowed well like a Johnny Walker Swing (the smoothest whiskey in their label. I tried it, real smooth). I enjoyed this story. This is a very good piece

Posted 10 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

well done - angsty almost satirical writing. I did love it. A strong voice from a strong character permeates this piece and it is an unusual setting for a story.

Posted 10 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Oh well! Knowing the wit of L.L. Valentim I did not expect anything less!

Besides the typical images of L.L. Valentim's world such as Enron (why the obsession?), MBA managers et al., you wrote about a subject that indeed is sure to attract attention and comments. Very usual indeed for you. The story is very well written and although one does not get the overall point in the beginning, one is naturally drawn to read the rest of the story.

Somehow, there is always a slight mismatch between the author and his works. Although the talent is there, one might regret not to find the full scope of the author in this particular story: how much greater it would be if one finds the full intelligence and sensitivity of the author in a story! Every one is still expecting such a story! That said, this story deserves its merit.

Posted 10 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

lol i thought this was very funny, but a few minor spelling mistakes. i'm not positive about all of thse, but these are what i noticed:

"Either you move with the times, or you and the rest of the little Ku-Klux-clowns are going Jurassic-That's no skin off my noise, believe me." -noise should be nose, i think

"But I reckon we're paying this twat's salary-right?-so I flash my deal maker's grin and park myself in the chair opposite like a toreador." -i'm not sure about this one, but is twat's supposed to be twit's?

""Listen here, chum," I start to say, but he kills my spiel-holding this podgy finger up like the hand of god." -should podgy be pudgy?

i liked this piece a lot. i don't want to nitpick with spelling errors, but i noticed these as i read through this and i wasn't sure if you wanted to correct them or not.

also, just a suggestion from a reader, instead of the person he's talking to being "James," i'd think something like "Jimmy" or "Jim" would be more appropriate given his "i-don't-give-a-s**t," laid-back attitude. this character just doesn't catch me as someone to call a friend or co-worker "James."

just my thoughts. i thought this was a fantastic story with incredible details. i love the descriptions of people like the Pope; they were hilarious.

Posted 10 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

lol i loved it. i wrote a simlar piece called is god a conservative republican or a liberal democrat. I also had one called evangelical eddies super revival reunion fish fry.
Mine are a bit more blunt but you have a tendency to make your tale a bit lofty shall we
That is not a bad thing but it is funny that self prescribed intellectuals like to sit around and read this sort of thing and think of themselves as being intellectuals.
I rather enjoyed your piece... keep writing

Posted 10 Years Ago

2 of 3 people found this review constructive.

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6 Reviews
Shelved in 1 Library
Added on March 10, 2008
Last Updated on August 16, 2010
Tags: short story, humor, satire, fiction



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