(I wrote this short story a while ago, but the news
is catching up fast, so I'd better put it up now.)
"Look, Agent Bellamy, I appreciate you coming out,
but it's three in the morning. Can we set up a time
to discuss this tomorrow, and can your people check
the house while I'm at the office?"
Jack Murphy was too tired to follow some involved
technical discussion with the big Intellectual
Property Enforcement agent, who sat in Murphy's
old steam-bent office chair, briefcase at his feet.
Murphy, quickly dressed in chinos and Stanford Law
sweatshirt, sat in his new ergonomic chair at a
gleaming glass and metal desk. The desk looked out
of place in the rambling Maryland house that Linda
had found when Murphy accepted the appointment in DC.
"I'm afraid it won't wait, sir," Bellamy said.
"Sorry for the unannounced visit, but as you're
probably aware, our agency tracks the Free Markets
"The Free Markets? That underground money web site?"
"Yes, basicially. Although it's not really a
site, just a system for communicating and trading.
That's what makes it so hard to shut down."
"Well, all I know is that if you jailbreak your
computer you can get on anonymously and buy drugs or
guns or whatever."
"That's right. Let me show you an example."
Bellamy pulled a plastic IPEA evidence bag out of his
briefcase. Inside was a heavy semiautomatic pistol.
It was raw machined steel without the usual blued
finish, and a blank slide where the manufacturer's
name and serial number would be. The plastic bag,
oily on the inside, looked like it was lined with
little rainbows. "You can't make steel parts like
this on a 3D printer, but you can make parts for a
plastic machine that will cut aluminum. Then you
can use aluminum parts to make machines that can cut
steel. People trade machines, parts and weapons every
step of the way. This one's complete, and it works.
It was on its way to an underground gunsmith who puts
a nice finish on them."
Murphy could see the shiny steel reflected in both
of the room's immaculate black windows. "It's like
Adam Smith's pin factory."
"Yes. And this piece could have come from any
combination of thousands of basement workshops.
It's completely untraceable, and infringes a zillion
patents. These things are a headache for us, but
that's not why I'm here."
Murphy leaned over the desk, and Bellamy continued.
"There's also an online scene called the prediction
markets. Oh, hold on, sorry." Bellamy spoke
quietly into his jacket cuff. The agents who had
arrived with Bellamy were still doing some kind of
security sweep of the house. Murphy was glad that
Linda was away, dropping Jack Jr. off at college.
Security stuff always put her on edge.
"All right. Prediction markets," Bellamy said.
"If I want to bet on a football game, I can buy a
prediction, say 'Eagles win on Sunday.' If they
win, after the game the prediction expires and I
get a dollar."
"Sounds like just online gambling. They're just
saying 'prediction' instead of 'bet.'" Murphy yawned
and shook his head to try to clear it.
"Yes, it's like an ordinary bet in a lot of ways.
If the Eagles lose, my prediction expires worthless.
Just like losing a bet. But those predictions trade
up and down, like stocks and bonds, right up until
the end of the game."
"And they're untaxed and anonymous."
"Right. And there are other predictions I could make.
I could buy a prediction on 'Jack Murphy dead before
October 14th'." And if, for whatever reason, you're
no longer with us that day, I make a dollar."
"So is that how the assassination market works?
Someone just makes a bet that somebody else will be
"That's one side of the deal. That's the bet that the
assassin makes. Someone else has to take the other
side of the bet, and lose. If you want somebody
dead, you just place a bet that they'll be alive.
You lose your bet, but they get taken care of."
One of the agents who had come in with Bellamy was
standing in the office door. His light blue gloves
and shoe covers didn't go with his dark blue suit.
He was holding Murphy's laptop computer, with Murphy's
mobile phone and charger on top.
"We're going to need to check those in the van,"
Bellamy said. "We'll have them back in ten minutes."
Murphy nodded and the agent turned and left.
Bellamy had introduced him but Jack was too tired to
remember the name.
"So the original client, or whatever you want to
call him, makes a bet, and loses, and the assassin
wins, and that's how the assassin gets paid. But you
said a dollar. Nobody's going to murder someone for
"Right. There has to be some volume in the market
for it to be a significant risk. A lot of people
have to be willing to buy those predictions of 'Jack
Murphy alive.' and lose the money."
"So how is my stock doing?" Murphy knew that DC
was still chattering about the news of his surprise
appointment. The Secretary was an old colleague
from think tank days, but nobody expected that the
President would go along with bringing Murphy in.
The President was too good a politician not to have
his own person in every department's number two spot.
"That's why we're here. There's a lot of volume.
A lot of outstanding predictions on you alive."
"They're predicting I'll be alive because they want
me dead." Murphy finally yawned and got his hand
Bellamy just continued. "Yes, that's right. The good
news is that the administration has an independent
fund for protecting appointees. Our agency can't
know about it officially, of course. That fund buys
the same 'dead' predictions that an assassin would.
Makes it less profitable for the assassin. Basically,
we play the market to lose. It's expensive, and
it's not a hundred percent solution, but it's the
best answer so far."
"What about just going after the people who want
"Frankly, sir, that wouldn't scale. Between the
senior citizens and the cat thing, our market model
says that more than four hundred thousand people
have some money on you. If you're alive next week,
they make a little money. If you're dead, they're
Murphy was silent.
Bellamy said, "They don't really think of it as
gambling. More like they're hedging their exposure
to your continued existence."
Murphy looked up. One of the other agents, whose
name Murphy didn't remember either, was standing
in the doorway. "We're clear, sir. No cameras or
devices left. Verified no other residents present.
Charlie team is watching the egress. We're good
"All right." Bellamy ripped open the evidence bag
and pulled out the raw steel untraceable pistol.
The room smelled of some kind of oil.
"What are you doing?" Murphy yelled. His voice went
up in a squeak at the end. He grabbed for his desk
phone and realized it was gone.
"Sorry, sir," said Bellamy. "But the money in that
slush fund has to come from somewhere. Sometimes we
play to win."
Syndicated 2013-02-19 13:21:29 from Don Marti