Volume 33, Number 3

The Truth About Brug

Gunther Boccius

Dirk put on his gloves and Armani topcoat. He flipped up the collar to guard against the North Sea wind, pulled his favorite black flat ivy cap with brown trim firmly down over his short hair and went downstairs to the double-stretch limo. As he approached it curbside, the uniformed driver opened his door, stepped out and opened the back door for Dirk, who slid into the rear seat of a set of facing seats. Opposite him sipping wine in the semi-darkness was an enormous man immaculately dressed in a tuxedo and fashionable Russian fur hat matching his fur-trimmed coat. The driver closed the door; the low trim lights came on, making the two men barely visible to each other. Dirk strained to see the face of the Chairman of the Board of EEL. He drew his breath sharply at the unannounced surprise of encountering his employer.

“Good evening, Dirk,” said Igor Bruganich, “Brug” for short.

No one still alive called him “Igor.”

“Are we making money?” he asked in a tortured voice sounding vaguely like gravel in a cement mixer. Dirk knew his boss produced a steady stream of sarcasm intended to substitute for conversation at times. What he did not know was that it was borne of a foster home upbringing where instruction in self-defense was the only class in the school curriculum.

Dirk regulated his breathing. He took off his gloves and cap, stored them in his coat pocket and smiled at myriad implications of the comment. “That’s our aim, Brug.” He thought Brug to be Russian or Sicilian mafia, but he had no proof of any of it.

What is my gaffer doing in my limo? I have to be careful. Is Brug a friend or not?

“Is it indeed, Dirk?” Brug harrumphed. “In ‘Wall Street,’ Michael Douglas’ character said, ‘Greed—or lack of a better word—is good. Greed is right. Greed works.’ In a limited way, he was right, but Dirk, it isn’t always just about the money. It is also about a vision of greater things. The sale of bottled water for money using local resources in one of our divisions is part of that vision. Good that it was your idea.”

Dirk asked, “Are you saying the Board and I have the same aims?”

“Not necessarily. You only have a piece of the puzzle.”

“Then what?”

“Greed and ambition are linked. Liberals use greed as a poster child for demonizing ambition. I see greed as a positive extension of ambition. Ambition is the device used by the middle class to get ahead. Greed is our device to take from the middle class the meager repast that ambition has given them. If greed is used correctly, it can lead to our control and obscene wealth. It all starts with greed. I have it. I think you do, too. Or could have.”

Brug shifted his massive fame in the limo seat, grimacing as he did. In that moment, Dirk saw a distant resemblance to the Edward G. Robinson gangster movie roles. Of the three great gangster actors—Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney—Robinson was evil personified. At this moment, Brug was Robinson.

Brug had a sneer on his lips as he continued. “Still, greed, like fire, is a powerful force which must be tightly channeled and directed to do useful work; otherwise, you have a conflagration leading to a fire storm. You get 1990s Russia, Argentina 2001, Iceland 2008 and now, the once invincible USA today. Uncontrolled greed creates chaos, vindicates liberals and is counterproductive to our ultimate aims.”

Coughing slightly, his body shook from the effort, a sight which startled onlookers. A blimp of a man, Brug was overweight everywhere on his body by a considerable degree, though his big belly did extend beyond the other vast portions. He had crossed the 300-pound threshold long ago, making significant gains towards the diabetic goals of every 400-pound man, if that was the proper phrase for this ample tube of sausage walking upright on two corpulent legs.

In spite of the limitations of his cardiovascular system, Brug was an intelligent man well into a three digit IQ who made himself smarter with a pessimism used to drive towards targeted goals. He acquired this cynicism realizing a career as a sailor was limited even if he was ambitious. Shucking a life on the waves, his college degree in business at Cornell in Ithaca, New York prepared him for his lifetime purpose to be greedy. His cultural background might have been Eastern European Russian, but his crisp use of the English language was distinctly American.

He smiled wanly. “But, in our control, and that of no one else, greed can be our holy grail. Your acquisition of Fluid is just such an example. Presumably your answer to my question about making money is ‘yes.’”

Dirk quietly considered the implication of his answer before nodding his head.

For all their bravado, both men had weaknesses. When Brug felt cornered or unsure of himself, he would stroke his scruffy mustache or rock in his seat. Dirk took the other tack, strutting when he walked if he was undecided. These bold and assertive men did have one clear difference. Brug was so overconfident by the devices put at his disposal he had become a human predator where none existed before him out of the wilds. Dirk had low self-esteem brought on by harsh parents. Becoming a bully by overcompensating, he hoped to evolve into a predator like his boss soon.

The limousine had been moving since they started speaking. Brug slid open the small window between them and the driver. “Take us to Guido’s.”

“You got it.” The driver kept his eyes trained forward, dodging traffic.

Brug closed the slider and returned his attention to Dirk. “I’m ravenous. I’m going to take you to an Italian restaurant, which will excite your taste buds. While we’re there, I’ll excite your imagination. You’ll get the whole picture. You deserve it. Game?”

He took another sip from his Sonoma Cutrer Reserve Chardonnay. Incredible.

“Of course.”

“Dirk, at Guido’s, I’ll introduce you to a fettuccini to die for.”

“I said I was game.”

“Ah, but then I’ll tell you a story about how the world works.”

They lapsed into silence. Burg sipped his wine. Dirk fretted he might be in over his head. He’d heard rumors Brug had had men killed. It was enough to give one pause.

The limo arrived under a red-and-gold sign announcing “Guido’s.” The large wooden entrance was painted bright red, as contrasted with the brownish-red brick building façade. The driver ushered the two men inside, handed them off to the proprietor Giuseppe. He left to park the limousine down the street.

Giuseppe’s father Guido, after whom the restaurant was named, had brought his family to America in 1949 after the war. He died the following year of dyspnea, an “air hunger” disease he contracted from working in the coal mines of the southern Balkans to earn money for his family to emigrate from Italy. His son was born the day after Guido died. When Giuseppe grew old enough to have heard stories of the heroics of his star-crossed father, he felt a need to repay a debt, wanting to honor his father’s memory.

Giuseppe had a natural love for food preparation, having eaten—“mangia, mangia”—his mother’s delicious, plentiful cuisine all his life. Trying out odd jobs as a young man, he had finally settled on food service employment in Manhattan, knocking around for a few years trying to become a chef. When he finally did get to wear the tall, puffy white hat, he had occasion to meet a much younger, diminutive and fetching Dutch NYU exchange student named Marie. They quickly fell in love, pledging themselves to each other. She encouraged him to return with her to Amsterdam to be with her family.

If he agreed, she would marry him and fund a restaurant in his father’s name.

He did. She did and did.

Marie had a close relationship with both her mother Lijsbet and her father Pieter, assuming by their constant affection and support she was their daughter. She supposed the blind trust making her a rich woman when she came of age was from some maternal inheritance since only her mother had ever mentioned it to her. The truth was that Lijsbet had had an affair with a brash young seaman who was in port for the four days prior to her wedding to Pieter. To her regret, the enigmatic young seaman vanished before the wedding, but when the trust appeared on Marie’s twenty-first birthday, Lijsbet knew it was from her lover of long ago, Igor Bruganich, the biological father of her only child.

As she lay on her deathbed prior to the tenth anniversary of Guido’s, Lijsbet smiled at Marie at her bedside and said, “Always remember how important family is.” She thought she knew what her mother was trying to tell her.

Marie did not. Misunderstanding her mother’s enigmatic message giving credit where credit was due, she still loved her parents all the more for what her mother did say. It was a justifiable result of Lijsbet’s attempt to reach out to her daughter.

After Lijsbet’s death, Marie became even closer to her father Pieter.

Giuseppe ushered his favorite customer and his guest into the dining room, took their coats and Brug’s hat, seated them, asked about their health and turned him over to his capable headwaiter. He assumed Mr. Bruganich kept coming back because he valued fine Italian cuisine and Guido’s son’s particular food preparation and presentation.

Giuseppe was right, at least in part.

The dining room had subdued lighting, paisley wallpaper, heavy burgundy curtains over the windows and lit candles on all tables. Seated at a table in a quiet corner, Brug did the ordering of practically the entire left side of the menu. “Bring us only one course at a time. Capisce?

Giving no visible sign he had heard and understood, the waiter left, returned with the wine, a chewy cab and poured it slowly for effect and left again.

“Dirk, do you know what EEL does?”

Dirk hadn’t expected the question. “Well, yes, I think so… after all, as Chief Operating Officer, I should know. I’ll give it a go.”

“Tell me.” The big man had a beguiling smile when his lips were sealed but sinister if his teeth showed through the hairs of his overlapping mustache.

His lips were sealed.

Dirk straightened up in his chair, unfolded his napkin and put it in his lap. He was prepared for this tutorial. “We have six divisions. Pharmaceuticals. Weapons hardware. Oil from the Russian steppes. Mining from Nevada and Utah. Real estate in California, New York and Florida. And now bottled water, thanks to the acquisition of Mike Lanier’s corporation Fluid. Is that what you mean?”

“As a starter, yes,” admitted Brug. “That’s what you’re assigned to oversee as the COO. We on the Board see you’ve managed the divisions well, if somewhat benignly. You inherited the first three from your predecessor Milo Vladimir, built up the next two and have now acquired the latter. As well, unbeknownst to you, we have started up another division which has responsibility for acquiring media outlets, politicians, judges, justices and addictive slot machines – we skim the most money from profits off the top—for government-authorized casinos in many states to allow us to manage our message, but that’s a story for another time.”

“Crikey, what ever happened to Milo?” asked Dirk. “I haven’t heard his name lately. Was he bone-idle? Is he still in the organization?”

“Sadly, no,” answered Brug, teeth showing through his smile as he looked into his wine glass before sticking in his nose. “He had a boating accident on the Caspian Sea. But, that’s also a story for another time.”

He took a swallow and put down his glass. “Let’s get back to you. I’ve read your reports. I listen when you speak to the Board. You’ve concentrated on profits of our divisions, with emphasis on increasing market share and maintaining maximum return on assets. You are keeping your costs down, especially the unskilled employment in our oil, silver and gold operations, which you have manipulated by discriminating in hiring and firing practices. As well, your inflated silver and gold sales to commodity traders has been produced with figurative Dutch metal costs; that of making imitation gold leaf with copper and zinc. You have kept accidental worker deaths down in all divisions, although I want you to know the Board is not concerned about them if you can fly under the radar with the media.”

Brug caught his breath, which he often had to do when he drank and talked at the same time. “You have increased your revenues year-over-year, kept your costs under even our expectations and abused your workers about the way we intend. Yes, Dirk, we’re pleased with that portion of your job.”


Not knowing what was being said, Dirk ran his fingers over the closely cropped salt-and-pepper hair on his head before fingering the stubble on his face. Two shaves a day were required to trim his heavy five o’clock shadow. He had unsuccessfully tried the two-day-shadow look when he was younger.

I didn’t shave this afternoon!

Bloody hell!

“There’s more to EEL, Dirk. I’ll tell you what it is tonight because we want something in return. We want an even more aggressive approach. Are you capable of it?”

The waiter arrived with several braised quail under glass. He parceled out one each to his guests and left. Brug grabbed his with both meaty hands and started gnawing at it as if it were corn on the cob. Dirk eyed his suspiciously, choosing rather to swirl the wine in his glass, watching it leave a filmy residue on the inside edge. Brug proceeded to eat the remaining small birds under glass, then with a questioning glance and approving nod from Dirk, reached over and devoured his in a few bites.

Dirk was awestruck at his boss. How did he get so big? He’s a salad dodger!

Brug wiped his mouth and fingers with his napkin, which he tossed aside. Unsolicited, the waiter appeared, picked it up and deposited another on Brug’s lap with a flourish, bused the dishes and disappeared into the kitchen.

The two men were alone for their conversation, undisturbed.

“In the past few weeks, you have spoken about ‘control’ to your subordinates,” insisted Brug. “Why is that?”

Dirk’s mind was racing. He took a sip of wine to give himself time to think. How does he know that? I don’t remember writing it or mentioning it in his presence.

“Control?” asked Dirk. “I don’t understand.”

“Of course, you do, Dirk,” suggested Brug. “As an example, tonight you spoke to Mike Lanier about ‘control.’ What did you mean?”

The light dawned with Dirk. “Are you bugging me?”

“S.O.P., Dirk. Standard Operating Procedure. We have been watching you ever since you started working here three years ago,” said Brug. “We need to know what you’re doing with our valuable assets. Don’t be upset. It’s S.O.P. Now, what did you mean?” His eyes narrowed, causing the intersection of several fat pockets in his face to make him resemble a menacing gargoyle

Dirk searched his memory of the conversation less than an hour ago. “I don’t think Mike heard me, but I wanted him to concentrate on being sure the people working for him assured the outcome we want to achieve.”

“Excellent. I couldn’t have said it better myself,” exalted Brug, taking a gulp of wine in celebration. “That’s what we want from you, too. We want total control of the events under your control.”

Dirk ignored the play on words while trying to understand what had been said. “Could you give me a description of what you mean?”

Brug laughed. “That’s why we like you for this job, Dirk. You’re cautious, deliberate, private, want it spelled out, but—once you get it—you’re with the program.”

The waiter brought two bowls of minestrone and left.

“Eat, Dirk. You’ve got to eat,” said Brug. “Mangia, mangia.”

This time Dirk ate. The soup was delicious. Brug watched Dirk eat, refraining from doing so himself. “We want you to increase your control over our divisions for both financial and political ends, Dirk. Tighten down the screws. Be coldblooded. The money you make is for us. The political effects are for our silent partners. By controlling our customers, these partners keep us in business. In turn, we make money, and so on…”

Dirk kept eating and listening intently.

He is asking—no, demanding—that I become more ruthless. Can I?

“You want me to suss everyone out and then wind them up?”

“Yes, exactly,” said the big man, laughing sarcastically. “I’d forgotten you went to a British school. Too bad. They’ve bastardized their own language.”

Brug took a spoonful of soup, savored it and put down his spoon, wiping his mouth, more delicately this time. “Now, here’s a history lesson. A movement called fascism was one of the main causes of World War II. Fascism was a combination of an unauthorized centralized government partnering with big business to create wealth and power in the same place.”

He rubbed his chin, enjoying getting back to being the teacher. “It initially affected only two countries, but eventually it touched the rest of the industrialized and so-called civilized world, even some emerging nations. Germany and Italy were made to pay for their boasts and brash transgressions during and after the war. The Allies reacted substantially to this frontal approach. They conquered the evil menace. Fascism was thought to be dead once the victors walked off the field of battle.”

Furrows appeared on Dirk’s brow.

“It isn’t, Dirk. Dead, I mean,” smiled Brug. “It is here, now, growing, ever so much stronger with each day, only less conspicuous.”

“What?” asked Dirk, unbelieving. “I hadn’t heard anything of the sort, of its resurrection, except maybe in the tabloids or on the lips of American Republicans.”

“Practically no one has,” chortled Brug. “That’s the beauty of it. We’ve learned.”

Dirk observed his dinner companion. He’d spoken and dealt with Brug a few times in the past, but never like this. He was seeing a new side to his boss.

“Who are the ‘we’?”

“Bingo!” exclaimed Brug. “I think you’ve got it. The ‘we’ is what this evening is all about. I want you to join the ‘we.’”

One hand fiddled with his mustache while the other ran its fingers through his slicked-back hair, both of them jet-black from repeated applications of hair dye so that it was indistinguishable from oil on a dipstick which had not been changed in a year.

Dirk felt cold at the suggestion, then mentally chided himself for the reaction.

The waiter brought the fettuccini previously advertised. As before, he was gone as quickly as he’d arrived.

Brug’s beady black eyes bore into Dirk. “This is your initiation. Like it or don’t. But first, you must tell me your reaction to our entree.”

Pressure. Dirk felt pressure. Not about doing a taste test.

The ‘we’ scares me.

Dirk saw they were going to have a plate of fettuccine Alfredo. It was handsomely presented, with a thick, creamy sauce draped over thin strips of pasta. He leaned over to smell, encountering a familiar aroma, but with something added…

“I know what your nose knows. It’s the oregano,” interceded Brug. “It has to be added in just the right amounts. Try it. You be the judge.”

Dirk twirled some pasta around his fork, lifted it carefully and took a bite. He chewed tentatively, letting the sauce invade his mouth and linger before swallowing. Their eyes met. Both started laughing. “I agree with you. It’s delicious.”

“I told you!” As Brug laughed, his belly bounced in cadence with his belching laugh. If set to music, it would have made a great YouTube video.

Both men ate heartily for a few minutes, wordlessly.

Furrows reappeared on Dirk’s brow.

Brug saw the increasing concern on his employee’s face. He reached over to tap him on the back of his wrist. “I don’t want you to tense up on me. Lighten up. Let me tell you a story. Do you remember Sidney Lumet’s 1980 movie ‘Tell Me What You Want’?” Alan King’s character is a sleazebag with a skill for obfuscation. One scene tells it all. Alan’s character is bedding girlfriend Ally McGraw’s character in his connubial bed when in walks his wife, played brilliantly by Dina Merrill. She has caught Alan and Ally in coitus interruptus, yet, as Dina rants and raves, Alan and Ally calmly get out of bed, dress, engage Dina in small talk and make the bed. Ally leaves. Alan sits in his favorite chair reading the paper, leaving a resigned, exasperated Dina to finally ask, ‘What do you want for dinner, dear’?”

Brug smiled a Cheshire-cat smile. “Patience and obfuscation. Mussolini and Hitler were just too bombastic.” He swilled more wine. “Our way works, especially in America. You’ll see.

“Finding the truth requires an abundance of patience and precision. Americans have a deficit in both and do not show a penchant for acquiring either soon. They will be forever destined not to know the difference between truth and fiction—fiction is more logical, making sense—so they will live lives as false as three-dollar bills. That is about the most we will eventually have to pay for each one of their souls.

“To get our way, we will lie, deny and be shy.”

His hands spread face-down over the food. “My offer to you will be just as appealing to your palate as this dish. Once you take it, though, you’ll have to abide by our rules, which may seem foreign to you, at least initially. We are a secretive and a disciplined bunch. Of course, I am telling you details about our background assuming you will join us.”

“I’m listening.”

“Earlier, I asked you what EEL does. You answered correctly, from what you know. But, what do the letters of our group stand for?” asked Brug. Not waiting for an answer, he revealed, “EEL stands for Espouse Euphemisms Lavishly.”


Again, Brug gave a belching, stomach-dancing laugh.

“For all our seriousness, our title shows a bit of whimsy on our part,” bragged Brug. “It does have a more simple definition: ‘Support Vagueness Generously,’ which I would have preferred. If we had used that, we would have been SVG. I also liked Crime Does Pay, which would have been CDP. Conventional wisdom—which we invented—makes people believe crime doesn’t pay, but that’s only to keep the natives from getting restless and causing chaos, which helps no one, except us, eventually. I was outvoted for SVG and CDP. Being a team player, I went along.

“We all like EEL.”

“My dear fellow, we lie often to get what we want. We are important people who are loyal to each other in a united cause of wealth extraction marketed with statements of indirection rather than blunt declarations. We lie to get control and money, in that order. When questioned, we are vague, vague, vague…and tell our questioners whatever they want to hear. We use code words and uncertified polls and surveys for public consumption. That’s what we’ve learned. The public is only comfortable with lies. If they are told the truth, they rebel. As Nicholson told Cruise in ‘A Few Good Men,’ ‘…you can’t handle the truth!’”

“But Nixon and his staff tried that in Watergate and failed miserably.” It was the only countervailing point of value Dirk could remember for the moment.

“True, true, because in the end, Nixon did a mea culpa with David Frost and fell on his sword anyway. We will do no such thing. We will lie, deny and be shy. No one will suspect we are snakes in the grass. Eventually, everyone buys in to our spin, if for no other reason than the American people go to sleep and become children for long periods of time. They don’t want to be bothered with reality if we give them what they want. That’s where you come in. You provide them with the goods and services to keep them happy, when you are actually making them into fatted calves.”

Dirk was intrigued with this philosophical argument more than put off by its implications. He put his fork down and waved his napkin at Brug. “Once they figure it out, people could charge us with complicity based on circumstantial evidence. There is a section of the law which covers ulterior motives in such a setting.

“Facts which are discerned objectively from the outside looking in are just as truly valuable as facts which are certified to be true by way of physical evidence. Such facts are considered circumstantial evidence under law. In other words, if something is seen or heard without prejudice, it carries the same weight as physical proof.

“Scott Peterson was convicted in California of killing his pregnant wife Laci based on circumstantial evidence. We could be found culpable in the same way.”

Dirk had an Oxford law degree.

Brug was delighted at Dirk enunciating his legal arguments. He was a worthy adversary. “You forget that George W. Bush created—with a massive push from his Vice President—the beginnings of fascism in America with nary an objection from anyone. He could declare anyone an ‘enemy combatant’ to be incarcerated for a lifetime, he tapped phones without judicial oversight, he awarded Halliburton no-bid contracts worth billions with impunity, he invaded two sovereign nations because they represented new weapons hardware profit centers for those of us in the business and blamed one on ‘bad intelligence’—an oxymoron, if there ever was one—and the other on 9/11 and finally, fucked over the African—Americans in New Orleans during Katrina. All that was facilitated and accomplished by three puppet-Attorneys General who would approve anything the Prez did and who would stonewall the other branches of government when challenged.

“All the while, those so-called vigilant and well-informed Americans sat on their hands and went along, happy to play with the toys we gave them.

“And besides,” grinned Brug broadly, “even before “W” became President, we made him the Chief Executive. In best fascist fashion, our justices on the Supreme Court put him there for his first term with their ‘one time only’ ruling and stood by while we stole his second election by hacking the computerized voting machines in Ohio to swing the Electoral College his way.

“Wasn’t that great?” He took another deep breath and grinned. “Shall I go on?”

Dirk was impressed, but not swayed. “The minute the body politic senses an Achilles Heel in such a setup, it swoops in for the kill. No conspiracy ever survives.”

“Today, it can, it has and it will. All it takes is patience and deniability,” divulged Brug reflectively. “All other conspiracies in the past have lacked those two essential ingredients and as such, all have been failures. But, as I’ve said, we’ve learned. The past efforts have been attempts to attack from the outside. Now, though, we are invading from the inside with a quieter Trojan horse approach. I can tell you it is going well and is entering its final phases, but we are always on guard. In the past, when we failed and were challenged, we took action. The ‘we’ of yesteryear created the rabble-rousting local conditions where some kooks were inspired to kill JFK, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King when the effects of their actions threatened us. Our security setup now is just as capable. We’ll make the same conditions for this President if he gets in our way.

“You see, all who believe in our form of fascism are in a loosely-formed world-wide confederation—of which EEL is a part—and now use patience and deniability to good effect. You can tell that by the fact that we haven’t been identified. What’s in a name? Fascism? Camorra? Gestapo? Mafia? Republican? You see? EEL is just a name.

“Why would we wage war on Americans is this way? Because we can!”

Dirk remained silent at Brug’s assertions, not knowing what to add to the lecture.

Brug was buoyant regardless. “Don’t be so serious, Dirk, my boy. Here’s a funny…let me tell you what my mother used to say. She said two things were bad. ‘Don’t run with scissors and don’t vote for Republicans. Both will hurt you.’”

Both men laughed uproariously, but one more than the other.

“One correction, though. I lied. My mother didn’t tell me anything of the sort.”