Tom O’Donnell, in the New Yorker, March 31, 1994.
I was shooting heroin and reading â€œThe Fountainheadâ€ in the front seat of my privately owned police cruiser when a call came in. I put a quarter in the radio to activate it. It was the chief.
â€œBad news, detective. We got a situation.â€
â€œWhat? Is the mayor trying to ban trans fats again?â€
â€œWorse. Somebody just stole four hundred and forty-seven million dollarsâ€™ worth of bitcoins.â€
The heroin needle practically fell out of my arm. â€œWhat kind of monster would do something like that? Bitcoins are the ultimate currency: virtual, anonymous, stateless. They represent true economic freedom, not subject to arbitrary manipulation by any government. Do we have any leads?â€
â€œNot yet. But mark my words: weâ€™re going to figure out who did this and weâ€™re going to take them down â€¦ provided someone pays us a fair market rate to do so.â€
â€œEasy, chief,â€ I said. â€œAny rate the market offers is, by definition, fair.â€
He laughed. â€œThatâ€™s why youâ€™re the best I got, Lisowski. Now you get out there and find those bitcoins.â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry,â€ I said. â€œIâ€™m on it.â€
I put a quarter in the siren. Ten minutes later, I was on the scene. It was a normal office building, strangled on all sides by public sidewalks. I hopped over them and went inside.
â€œHome Depotâ„¢ Presents the Police!Â®â€ I said, flashing my badge and my gun and a small picture of Ron Paul. â€œNobody move unless you want to!â€ They didnâ€™t.
â€œNow, which one of you punks is going to pay me to investigate this crime?â€ No one spoke up.
â€œCome on,â€ I said. â€œDonâ€™t you all understand that the protection of private property is the foundation of all personal liberty?â€
It didnâ€™t seem like they did.
â€œSeriously, guys. Without a strong economic motivator, Iâ€™m just going to stand here and not solve this case. Cash is fine, but I prefer being paid in gold bullion or autographed Penn Jillette posters.â€
Nothing. These people were stonewalling me. It almost seemed like they didnâ€™t care that a fortune in computer money invented to buy drugs was missing.
I figured I could wait them out. I lit several cigarettes indoors. A pregnant lady coughed, and I told her that secondhand smoke is a myth. Just then, a man in glasses made a break for it.
â€œSubwayâ„¢ Eat Fresh and Freeze, Scumbag!Â®â€ I yelled.
Too late. He was already out the front door. I went after him.
â€œStop right there!â€ I yelled as I ran. He was faster than me because I always try to avoid stepping on public sidewalks. Our country needs a private-sidewalk voucher system, but, thanks to the incestuous interplay between our corrupt federal government and the public-sidewalk lobby, it will never happen.
I was losing him. â€œListen, Iâ€™ll pay you to stop!â€ I yelled. â€œWhat would you consider an appropriate price point for stopping? Iâ€™ll offer you a thirteenth of an ounce of gold and a gently worn â€˜Bob Barr â€˜08â€™ extra-large long-sleeved menâ€™s T-shirt!â€
He turned. In his hand was a revolver that the Constitution said he had every right to own. He fired at me and missed. I pulled my own gun, put a quarter in it, and fired back. The bullet lodged in a U.S.P.S. mailbox less than a foot from his head. I shot the mailbox again, on purpose.
â€œAll right, all right!â€ the man yelled, throwing down his weapon. â€œI give up, cop! I confess: I took the bitcoins.â€
â€œWhyâ€™d you do it?â€ I asked, as I slapped a pair of Oikosâ„¢ Greek Yogurt Presents HandcuffsÂ® on the guy.
â€œBecause I was afraid.â€
â€œAfraid of an economic future free from the pernicious meddling of central bankers,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m a central banker.â€
I wanted to coldcock the guy. Years ago, a central banker killed my partner. Instead, I shook my head.
â€œLet this be a message to all your central-banker friends out on the street,â€ I said. â€œNo matter how many bitcoins you steal, youâ€™ll never take away the dream of an open society based on the principles of personal and economic freedom.â€
He nodded, because he knew I was right. Then he swiped his credit card to pay me for arresting him.