by Kit Bradley
Written March 2017
Ronnie Drumpf in Galt’s Gulch by Kit Bradley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Some of Ronald Joseph Drumpf’s first memories were helping his father to collect rents from Brooklyn tenements. Ronald’s old man, Fred Drumpf, left Germany in his teens to avoid military service – in later years, Ronald would avoid the American draft into World War II. It was just Ronald, his father and Vincent – a heavyset Italian-American with scars on his face and knuckles. Fred Drumpf introduced Vincent as a “boxer,” and it was true after a fashion, and Vincent was certainly in the hurt business.
Usually, Vincent’s presence was enough to get the rents. But once, as a fourteen-year-old boy, Ronnie Drumpf saw what happened when a someone refused to pay up. Vincent, hands heavy with gold rings, rocked a man’s head back and forth with lefts and rights, drilling the man with looping shots that turned the man’s skull into hamburger. Blood got splattered on Ronnie’s clothes, on his face.
Ronnie thought it was fucking awesome. He was a big kid, and he’d put a roll of quarters in his hand and walk his dad’s tenements. He knew which kids’ parents owed money, and he’d crack them upside the head. No one dared to do anything since he was the landlord’s son.
Ronnie would tell the kids bleeding and crying on the ground, “Get your old man to pay his fucking rent, or next time I won’t be so nice.”
It was what Vincent said, and Ronnie liked the way it sounded.
Ronnie was a young man during World War II, but he had no interest in fighting. There was money to be made and women to be fucked right at home. Fred Drumpf knew people, and Ronnie’s draft number got lost.
During the war, though, Ronnie went off on his own with a loan of half a million dollars from his father. There were buildings to be built, after all. His father’s contacts became his own, and Ronnie Drumpf got rich building barracks in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. He bought the cheapest materials he could find, he shorted workers their pay, he stiffed contractors. But Vincent was still around, heavier around the middle, hair turning gray, but his hands were still big, and he could knock someone out with one hit.
Ronnie loved the New York scene, too. He was in the papers. He was good-looking, flamboyant – he bought a new Cadillac every year with the license plate RJD, he wore only the most expensive suits, and he was seen around town with young, sexy women with narrow waists and deep chests.
After the end of the war, Ronnie renovated a run-down Manhattan hotel, turned it into a high-class joint. It was themed in gold and bronze, which would become Ronnie’s signature.
Ronnie was upset that the news of his hotel’s opening was overshadowed: Stalin had announced to the world that he considered the development of atomic weaponry to be a declaration of war against the Soviet Union; he promised to destroy any country developing the bomb with Soviet weapons. Since it was an open secret that the United States was developing atomic weaponry, it was clear to whom the threat was directed. Stalin meant: I will destroy the USA if they do not desist in developing the bomb. Ronnie was angry at being upstaged.
The opening was a muted affair. Fearing an imminent attack, many New Yorkers were fleeing the city – the bridges were packed, the streets gridlocked. Few people were at the gala opening. One of them was Ragnar Danneskjold, who approached Ronnie.
Ragnar: “What do you think of the news?”
Ronnie: “I think it stinks, let me tell you. It stinks to release the news at a time like this.”
“You have built a beautiful hotel. I am, myself, very fond of gold.”
“Gold is the best. It’s a beautiful color, and I love gold. Gold jewelry, especially on women, right?”
Ragnar laughed. “Yes, especially on women who deserve it.”
“You got that right.”
It wasn’t that Ronnie agreed with Ragnar, it was simply that when presented with flattery, Trump responded in kind. He sensed that Ragnar had a good attitude towards him, and reflected it back. Ronnie had no idea that Ragnar would think that all of Ronnie’s sexual conquests were of sluts and bimbos beneath Ronnie’s dignity.
Ragnar sipped champagne. He walked with Ronnie around the grand ballroom. Ronnie pursed his lips, listened.
Ragnar said, “You know, my friends and I think that there is nothing worse than taxation. . .”
Ronnie, of course, hated taxes. “Nothing worse. It’s like slavery! I work hard for money, and then some government thug comes along and takes most of it? I tell you, we’ve got it worse than the Negroes ever did.”
“Exactly!” Ragnar said. “Yes. There are few people in this day and age, after so many years of moral and intellectual degradation of the current administration, who are willing to say the truth with such clarity. Taxation is slavery.”
“Even worse than slavery.”
Ragnar laughed. His eyes glittered with excitement. “My friends and I, we are looking for intrepid men for a very serious project.”
Ronnie was quick to look for profit. Ragnar seemed like the kind of man who could deliver on profits. “I’m listening if there’s money in it.”
“There definitely is. More than we can imagine.”
“I don’t like being shined on,” Ronnie said. “I can imagine a lot of money.”
“What my friends and I want to achieve is a transformation of the political and economic landscape. One where businessmen such as you and I are free to pursue profits unfettered by any restrictive laws. Not just the elimination of taxation, but the elimination of all regulations. In such an environment, I’m sure that a man with your skills and ambition could make more money than they can currently dream possible.”
Ronnie nodded. He liked the sound of it, but. . .
Ronnie: “But that’s not going to happen. It can’t be done. All the liberal cocksmokers won’t let it.”
“My associates and I have found a way to avoid the, ahem, liberal cocksmokers. We have found a way to defeat all the moochers and grifters and panhandlers who rob us of the riches we have created.”
Ronnie was still skeptical. His father had taught him that no one was to be trusted, and when someone was offering something too good to be true, it wasn’t true. It was what every businessman in America wanted, though. Without building and fire codes, Ronnie could build faster and more cheaply. Without slumlord laws, he could charge whatever he pleased and collect with whatever methods he chooses.
For Ronnie – like Ragnar – that people would die in collapsing buildings and infernos meant nothing. Ragnar simply ignored the crimes of the builders who shorted building codes. Ronnie was colder: he simply did not care what happened to poor people. If they should die, first they would pay.
Ronnie: “I’m listening.”
Ragnar started, “First, you must know and believe, that it is we who are the engine of the world. . .”
Ronnie Drumpf didn’t think very hard about what Ragnar said beyond a few takeaway items. Ragnar spoke of a system of government – or, perhaps, lack of government – where unrestrained capitalism perfected human morality.
Ronnie didn’t think very much about morality. If quizzed on the subject, his answers would be literally gibberish, which was his usual tactic when confronted with a situation he didn’t understand, interspersed with attacks against his personal enemies. Perhaps because of Ronnie’s intense disinterest in morality, he understood Ragnar very well:
Ragnar Daneskjold, Francisco d’Anaconia, and John Galt had devised a plan to sabotage the US government and global economy to stage a coup: to create so much economic chaos that their conspiracy would be able to take over the demoralized and starving nation, and eventually the whole world. Ragnar gussied it up with how it was ethical to sabotage the worldwide economy by appealing to Aristotelian principles – Ronnie had read the “Nicomachean Ethics” in college, but couldn’t remember a word of it, but Ragnar was impressed when Ronnie brought it up – while ignoring the vast human suffering that their program of sabotage and terrorism would create. Ronnie, however, didn’t care about human suffering and felt no need to rationalize brutality.
What convinced Ronnie is that. . . the conspirators could win. Despite his intellectual limitations, Ronnie was highly intelligent. He saw that Stalin’s domination of the global economy couldn’t work – it was little more than plundering the nations of the world for the benefit of the USSR. Chaos was inevitable as once free nations bristled under the Soviet yoke. If the US had won the war, Galt’s plan would be the heights of absurdity. But in Stalin’s world, it was not so much a matter of creating a calamity but shaping the calamity as it happened. That might work, Ronnie thought to himself. That might work.
In typical fashion, though, Ronnie didn’t think it through. He was much the same with his building projects – what happened after they were built was of no concern to him. That was someone else’s problem.
It would take years before Ronnie Drumpf got to Galt’s Gulch. He thought it was a strange place because everyone got along. Ronnie didn’t get along with many people unless they were his subordinates and in those cases, he expected utter loyalty from them, though not necessarily towards them.
It had been decided that Midas Mulligan would handle all land arrangements. Ronnie didn’t think very much of Mulligan because the man manipulated stocks. Ronnie – for all his faults – believed that business was not about passing pieces of paper back and forth, but making things, buildings, factories, bridges. The stock market and the manipulations of the market were a dodge to Ronnie, a way for pencil-necked geeks to scam money out of real businessmen. The basis for this arrangement was that Midas Mulligan “owned” the land, though Ronnie wasn’t sure after destroying America that he owned anything at all. Still, the community accepted it, and Ronnie knew how to work a system.
Mulligan sold it at a fair, even low, rate. The banker didn’t know anything about land sales, though. The property was not divided into lots, so when a person bought a piece of land from Mulligan, they did it through metes and bounds, which depended on landmarks. So, a plat of land would be described as a line from “the old oak tree, down to the boulder that looks like a head, straight west to the stream at the whirlpool, and then up to the blue fir stump.” There was no land registry, and the land was not surveyed, so each person kept a copy of their contract. This worked because, at the start, people’s plats were sufficiently removed from each other that overlap was highly unlikely, even with large ones.
To a man like Ronnie Drumpf, this was hog heaven. Mulligan was a banker and seemed to have little idea that land was finite. Everyone in the Gulch talked about how the only resource was a person’s mind, but Ronnie felt differently – the only resource, in the end, was land. He contracted to junior members of the community – people who were considered ideologically pure, who accepted admittance into the Gulch primarily because they had useful skills but not large amounts of capital – and contracted them to buy land from Mulligan which then obligated them to resell the land to Ronnie at a tiny markup (but substantial to them, because they were poor). They signed non-disclosure agreements about the affair – they were not allowed to discuss to anyone that they bought the land, or why.
Mulligan thought nothing of the purchases. He was glad that young entrepreneurs were buying the land. What he didn’t notice is that – this was conscious on Ronnie’s part – Mulligan ended up selling different pieces of land to different people because there wasn’t anyone checking a land registry. Ronnie ended up hiring all the surveyors in the community – there were two of them – on his permanent payroll. While there was no land registry, Ronnie Drumpf ended up having the most complete survey of land in valley – not only his land but whatever other land information people would give him.
He avoided conflicts with other people who were sensitive to land issues. Dagny Taggart, Ellis Wyatt, Hank Rearden – people whose businesses depended on land ownership. They were also busy with their own surveys, conducted personally, and Ronnie gave them elbow room until he was ready.
Indeed, he focused on land that others didn’t want. Much of the valley was sandy scrublands of little actual value commercially or industrially. Ronnie knew it represented something else, though. It represented the boundaries of their world. He bought as much as he could, often buying pieces of land already owned by someone else, and able to do so because Mulligan didn’t really understand the metes and bounds system of land ownership that they had naively used in the Gulch.
After all, there was a reason the US had stopped using it. It was system prone to error and conflict. It was inaccurate, and the system could be gamed by unscrupulous land speculators. But without the foresight to first engage in a general survey of the land, and then create a registry of land sales using the rectangular survey system, and with Mulligan not realizing the significance of his land sales. . . none of them were ready for Ronnie Drumpf.
The law in the community was handled by “Judge Narragansett.” Ronnie liked Narragansett, he had settled a land deal in Chicago, favoring Ronnie over the foreign workers who whined about how they weren’t being paid enough.
(In Ronnie’s estimation, they should have been thanking them for paying them at all, nevermind the eighty-hour work weeks in demolition work without the agreed upon overtime, and failure of Ronnie to provide hardhats on the site, or his failure to pay them the agreed upon wage. Narragansett found in Ronnie’s favor because the workers failed to provide a work contract, and they were there illegally, anyway. Most of them were Polish Jews who had fled the USSR and Stalin’s purges. They dropped the case out of fear that Narragansett would send them back to Poland to face Soviet firing squads. This endeared the judge to Ronnie.)
While Ronnie wasn’t highly knowledgeable about the law, his lawyer had also made the cut to get into Galt Gulch: Ray Coin. Back in New York City, Coin was a mob lawyer with an aggressive reputation. Ronnie like Coin because Ronnie liked using the law to punish people, and Coin agreed – Ronnie enjoyed pressing punitive lawsuits against people who angered him. That Ronnie enjoyed what so many others dreaded was one of the key reasons he was so successful: he took pleasure in bitter lawsuits.
They spoke in Ronnie’s home, which had been outfitted in colors of white and gold. Ronnie loved the color gold more than anyone at the Gulch, which was filled with people who loved everything about gold.
Coin: “Judge, my client, Ronald Drumpf, was wondering about the rationale for the present land divisions.”
Narragansett sipped his brandy. “I’m not sure what you mean, Mr. Coin.”
“Well, I was reading your edits to the Constitution” – in the Gulch, that’s how law worked: the person seen as being “in charge” just did things, like scratch out parts of the Constitution and edit the document according to his individual whim without consultation of the hundreds of millions of people the document served – “and it seems to me that if we, as a society, are engaged in re-writing our basic laws, that it puts everything on the table.”
Narragansett thought a moment, nodded his head. “Many of the laws of the United States are undoubtedly valid.”
“Which ones, your honor? You’ve got to admit that we’re ignoring a lot of American laws. Galt, d’Anaconia, Danneskjold, under American law, they’re admittedly guilty of destruction of private property, tax evasion, fraud, even murder. Galt’s allies – including yourself – helped to break him out of a government facility, and people died. By the laws of the United States, you’re all accomplices to a jailbreak where soldiers were killed. There are grounds to say that’s treason, and if reports coming from the outside are an indication, that’s what is being said.
“We’re wondering, then, in the new government we have, how do we adjudicate disputes. Can a contract made with that government be enforceable now? We need a new set of laws.”
Narragansett sat and considered it, looking into his glass. Ronnie had his lips pursed, watching Coin and the judge with slitted eyes. He knew that this was a significant moment. The community accepted Narragansett was the ne plus ultra in legal affairs. While there hadn’t been any court cases brought so far, the community as established believed his rulings to be legitimate. To get Narragansett on their side would give credibility to Ronnie’s desires.
“I’ve been thinking similar thoughts, to be honest,” Narragansett said. “For instance, we are technically in the state of Colorado, which would normally be responsible for the administration for criminal and civil justice. But there are no Colorado officers of the court in the Gulch – and only a few of us interested in the details of the law. And, of course, as you mentioned, we are all guilty under the old legal codes of the US. This is also true of Colorado, of course.”
Ronnie had been waiting for this moment. He knew nothing about law, but a great deal about building communities from the ground up. He said, “We need to get a charter, your honor. I’ve made some private communities, and I’m familiar with how you get from land ownership to creating a community charter. That’s why I’m here, right now, with you and Roy. Because I think that if we don’t have a charter of our own, that there will be chaos. Right now, we all agree about everything, but the honeymoon can’t last forever.”
Narragansett nodded. “It cannot.”
Coin: “Better to strike, now, before the legal weakness of the present system is exposed. We need to establish a rule of order following our philosophy. If we wait, someone else will act, and it will be out of our control.”
So, when Judge Narragansett said that they should create a charter for the Gulch, based on the principles of the community, best described by John Galt, there was quick consent that such a thing should be done. But the basis upon which disagreements would be settled was not so easy as they imagined.
If done by capital – by fair market evaluations of a person’s property plus liquid assets – then a tiny number of people would form a de facto ruling class. Most troubling in the minds of many was that John Galt would not be part of this ruling class.
On the other hand, they honestly felt that the ability to make money was proof positive of a person’s general ability.
It was Galt, himself, who said, “Perhaps it would be best if we simply bought our laws. It would be consistent with our principles. People without money could still influence the process through their mind – rich people are rich because we are able to make rational decisions.”
Everyone, including Ronnie Drumpf, agreed.
Around this time, Ray Coin introduced one of his clients to Ronnie: Mikey Lefkowitz. Mikey got into the Gulch because he owned casino properties in Cuba. Ronnie knew him because they were both New Yorkers, and Ronnie loved yellow journalism. Mikey Lefkowitz was a gangster, perhaps the most successful in the world.
The men met in Mikey’s greenhouse, which was five stories tall, and heated even in the frigid Colorado autumns. The center of the greenhouse was a patio, and Mikey and Ray Coin drank whiskey. Ronnie drank nothing at all. He feared the effect of alcohol and drugs. There were several heavies around, looking outward.
“We’ve never met,” Mikey said. “But we have interests in common.”
“I’ve always appreciated what people in your organization have done for me,” Ronnie said, nodding his head. Through Coin, Ronnie had been able to ensure cut rates on building supplies and avoid union pressures through the war years.
“I am curious as to what you’re doing, Mr. Drumpf. Through an associate – not Mr. Coin, someone inside of Mulligan’s household – I came to learn about an upswing in land sales from people who, frankly, do not have the assets to buy land in this market. A little more research – do not blame your confederates, my people are very persuasive, and if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything – I learned that you were behind it all. It is only then that I contacted Ray to set up this meeting. What with you and he being some of the people behind the whole community charter business.”
Ronnie controlled his temper. He understood the implications of Mikey’s words: that he had threatened people to get to Ronnie’s secrets, but any disloyalty burned at him. He was not angry at Mikey for checking, but at the leak, itself. But he did control himself. He understood the kind of man that Mikey was, and he understood that there wasn’t any FBI or even an NYPD to check Mikey’s violence. Ronnie still employed Vincent, after all, and Mikey Lefkowitz employed terrifying murderers. The kinds of men who chopped people up or shoved them into roaring furnaces.
Ronnie said, “I don’t think that most of these people are prepared for making rules.”
Coin: “You look at these people, Mikey, and they’re fucking marks. Most of them, the top people here, like Rearden, Taggart, Ellis Wyatt, a lot of the top people here, they were too fucking stupid to see the writing on the wall.”
Ronnie nodded. “That’s completely true. None of them knew anyone inside the government, they didn’t even pay attention to the regulations that governed their business. Now, I hate regulation as much as any red-blooded American man, but all our businesses depended on understanding those regulations and the people who made them. They had no interest that.”
“And they’re acting like a bunch of fucking pussies, now,” Ray said. “There’s no competition, here! It’s like they’re creating some kind of geek code to decide ‘who is in charge.’ So why the fuck did d’Anaconia wait until Taggart arrived before making a fucking track between his minds and the refinery? It’s the geek code. They’re idiots who are playing at being in charge. They say that they want competition, but they actually hate and fear it.”
“I’ve been buying up land because it’s been cheap and Mulligan doesn’t understand its significance. I’ve managed to get about a third of the land in the valley – but mostly in plats that crisscross everything. You want to build a road? You’re going to have to go through my land. And the mineral rights? Same thing. You want to build a mine, you’re going to find that I own the land right next to you. And it’s all so pathetic. It’s so sad. There wasn’t a general survey, and no one is keeping track of who owns what. Mulligan has sold the same bits of land to several different people. Sometimes substantially. And I’ve already had my surveyors go out and move some of the metes – the landmarks that create boundaries.
“So, I’ve got leverage. Soon, I’ll be telling Dagny Taggart that. . . I mean, wow, what a piece of ass, too. I see a woman like that, and I’m not thinking business.”
Mikey and Ray Coin laughed.
Mikey: “No shit! The legs on that woman. And I bet she can smoke a mean cock.”
Ronnie: “So beautiful. She’s wasting her time in business. I just want to bend her over and lift that skirt and give it to her. You know how it is.” The other men agreed. Ronnie went on: “She’s about to look at the land to build the railroad from the mines to the refinery. But she’s encircled. I’ve encircled her. To build her railroad, she’s going to have to do what I want her to do.”
Mikey: “Tell her to throw in a cock smoking!” The three men laughed. “Yeah, she’ll do what we want her to do. I think a continuation of the kind of relationship we had in New York is in order. Some of them might be. . . reluctant to agree. I think that they can be persuaded. I’m sure you’ll find that I’m a very persuasive man.”
Ronnie: “Absolutely, Mr. Lefkowitz. Absolutely.”
Mikey: “We’re going to run this fucking joint, boys. These marks won’t know what hit them.”
To be continued in The Atlas Falls Cycle!