My Latest News, Short Stories, and Updates on Works in Progress

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      It all began about a year before the Great Upheaval, as people came to call it.

     One morning at six-forty-one, fearsome hornets burst from her phone; it was the seven o’clock conference call come early and ugly. Even as she absorbed invectives, Wyche thumbed through her messages, a chorus of high priority notes screaming: ‘lost margin threatens to deflect from the PRIME BLUE LINE!!!’ Bold caps, italics, and exclamation points. Not good.

     Tony was up, dressed in fresh clothes he kept at her place, and ready to go. No dawn quickie this morning. He called a ride for both of them, appearances about arriving at the office together be damned. How had he gotten word so early? Why hadn’t he warned her? She tried to ask between gulps of coffee, then they were off.

     At eight-oh-six, The Colonel bellowed the nine o’clock meeting to order and sleep-starved corpses snapped to attention. Heidi’s team had screwed up.

     “Dr. Eggar offers no reason for this cluster hump,” The Colonel hissed until their midtown Manhattan office reeked of venom. Heidi was The Colonel’s kapo. What could have happened? “One of you nut scratchers must have picked up on something!” Sphincters puckered. “But do I get fair warning? Oh, nooo!” Bladders strained. “I have to do every mother-loving thing myself!” Testicles retracted.

     As the fusillade thundered on, Wyche quietly thanked her stars that this boss brushed his teeth, unlike his predecessor, El Jefe, who favored garlic bagels and tequila for breakfast. She could smell it on him whenever he leaned in close or rubbed against her. He rubbed a lot of the women the wrong way. El Jefe got the ax, not for grabbing ass in the workplace, but for using company funds to pay for his hijinks, including a Bahamian retreat with the IT gal. HR sent the master swordsman packing after a little bird in Accounting ratted him out.

     The Colonel was different, more focused, literally a commanding presence in his starched shirt with epaulets – she could almost see the eagles. Wyche sensed him deeply, envied his gravitas. What must it be like to be the drill instructor, to get people to jump?

     The Colonel had been there for two months and the clock was ticking. He explained, “The good doctor’s texts are filled with garbled nonsense about grub-eating aborigines who live ‘in compassionate harmony’ on a few hundred acres of pristine rainforest. Don’t get me wrong, Eggar’s a top-notch fixer, none better, but she was supposed to relocate those grinning gibbons and get the clear stripping started again. There have been few progress reports. All she’s sent back is this!” The Colonel produced a white box.

     The Colonel opened the top and pulled out a plant, its helically braided trunks supporting a lush miniature canopy in an artisanal pot. He dumped it onto the $48K teak-with-silver-inlay conference table, sending crumbs of soil and bugs everywhere. Clearly, no one at Customs had inspected the contents of the package. The lovingly trimmed plant was a succulent that sported a very singular shade of green, green like the eyes of a lover from some lost affair, green like the helmets of the New York Jets early in the season before they surrendered all hope two months later. Attached was a cryptic note: ‘For the boss.’ The Colonel turned the plant one way then another, brushing the thick glossy leaves as if in admiration. Wyche half feared he was merely pretending to like the small lifeform and would suddenly rip it out by the roots and fling it at the wall.

     “Maybe it cures cancer,” Wyche meekly suggested and immediately felt small inside her finely tailored attire. The Colonel’s expression could not have grieved her more had his eyes shot blood like a horned lizard. Why was it so hard to make points with this one? Tony kicked her under the table to remind her the conference room was no place to have ideas.

      “Do you see that plaque?” The Colonel pointed to the wall, where the company seal hung emblazoned with a white narcissus and a motto. “Vis medicatrix naturae! The healing power of nature. It’s the bedrock of this corporation. Magical cure-alls. People love magic. It was true in Ponce-de-Leon’s day and it’s true now. More importantly, people will pay dearly for it. There’s only one problem: there is no magic. Oh, maybe this little plant would make a good salad, but cure cancer? Not likely. And studying it would cost a fortune in years and dollars.

     “No, boys and girls. We will not chase after miracles; we will make our own. Cures for baldness, big bellies, and limp dicks, all thanks to our premium line of aqua vita. We don’t need to go looking for it. We’ve got the company’s Florida facility at Lake Macaco, pumping all the water we want, courtesy of the municipal treatment system. Of course, we can’t just sell it as is. The FDA won’t let us promise actual miracles. So, we need a massive facility in the Amazon. Landing strip, storage, support. We ship the water there, wait seventy-two hours, slap a new label on the bottles, declare it Amazonian, and use medical dispensation statutes masterfully written by lobbyists for passage by our friends on Capitol Hill. Then, we ship it to our customers.

     “At least that’s how it would work if Heidi’s team had secured the land for the support center. It should have been a two-week trip with a suitcase full of cash in hand. Simple. But, no. She dropped us tits deep in monkey swill. So, now it’s on you people. Drop whatever you’re doing; this is priority alpha! Work your contacts. Grease some wheels. Re-invent the wheel. Just get it done! Get those godforsaken aborigines, trees, and lizards out of there and build me my damned fulfilment center. Get it done or I swear I’ll send you all to the turd mines!” That last was code for the telemarketing department, and he meant it.

     The clock was indeed ticking. The company had other teams watching two back-up sites; they were eager to steal The Colonel’s project. That was unthinkable. His team members hit their computers and phones, doing everything in their power to keep the office on track.

     Over drinks at the James Hotel that evening, handsome, confident Tony explained his partial solution. He’d made certain the designated purchase funds ran through his accounts, meaning he had to sign off on any land deals. He’d be the first to know when any other team tried to move and he could stop them dead.

      “You want to get a room here? It’d be quicker than going back to your place.” In their early days together, Wyche used to get whiplash from Tony’s way of jumping from cut-throat business deals directly to sex, but she’d grown used to it. He was often on the phone while he was on her. His technique was… different, primal. She almost liked it, except for his emotional walls. For instance, they always went back to her place; in three months, she’d never seen his apartment and wondered whether he had someone else. It didn’t really matter. Tony might not be the marrying type, but he had his uses. She’d made vital contacts through him. She agreed to the tryst, but suggested they have another drink first then steered the conversation back to shop talk.

     “Even if you stop the other teams,” Wyche said, “do you think The Colonel can pull the trigger on this thing? The local governments are on the side of indigenous peoples’ rights. Without that paperwork, there’s no sale.”

     “It’s a train wreck,” Tony said with a grin. “The Colonel is totally rattled. He didn’t come out of his office all day. I saw Tyisha go in and come out stone-faced, like he dumped her or something.”

     “Or something.” Wyche muttered. Tyisha and The Colonel were an item, his choice of office mate. In the lady’s room, she’d needled the details out of Tyisha: The Colonel hadn’t dumped her. He’d proposed marriage.

     Through the next several days, The Colonel kept himself to himself. Wyche peeked in the door to find him preening Heidi’s green gift. He was talking to it.  

     Thursday, the morning call never came. Wyche dressed and ate breakfast before going in. The nine o’clock meeting began promptly at nine. “There’s no need to have everyone up with the roosters. We’ll conduct our business at this meeting.” The Colonel was positively chipper. He was smiling. As he solicited updates, he volunteered a flurry of ‘good work’ and ‘excellent idea’ compliments.

      Wyche leaned in to check his eyes. Clear blue and laser sharp. He wasn’t snorting his breakfast like the one three bosses ago did. She noticed something else. He occasionally stole a furtive glance at his right hand. There, between his big Army ring and the knuckle, was a fleck of green no bigger than an aphid or a freckle or a speck of guacamole. It was none of those. The thing had four splay-toed feet and two infinitely black eyes.

     That morning, the memos began popping up on people’s devices and screens. One called for civility in the workplace. ‘No Cussing Fridays.’ Seriously? This guy was cracking down on potty mouthery? He also proposed team building through socializing outside of work. Specifically, he wanted co-workers to adopt one of the city’s micro-parks and clean it up.

      No one knew quite what to make of it. Gossip consisted of things not said. Folks around the office passed each other, one would open their mouth, the other would widen their eyes, and the conversation would end before it began.

      Wyche finally went in to talk with him. The Colonel beamed a friendly welcome. After dancing around the issue for a moment, she said, “This new approach you’re taking with us, is it something you learned in the Army, Colonel?”

     He tittered like a schoolboy. “I was a colonel – in Junior ROTC. I was in the Army for four years, made it to first lieutenant. People respond to titles, so I make use of it. Funny, I’ve never felt less like a soldier than I do now. No tension, no pressure. I think Heidi’s gift is a great stress-reliever.”

     Wyche looked again at the plant on The Colonel’s desk. “You haven’t been smoking it, have you?” It was a risk; this man had no trace of humor. At least, he never used to.

     The Colonel laughed gently and then became introspective as if he were narrating his own dream. “It’s all about balance. The universe knows when we forget our place and start to strut about like tiny gods. It felt me drifting apart, becoming all full of myself, and it took action… like a cat jumping in the lap of the grumpiest man in the room.” He picked up a mister and gave the ficus a few quick sprays. “It’s not mystical. Well, maybe a little. I tend to this life,” he said, gesturing at the plant with the mister, “and it gives back what I need.” He reached around to a shelf and brought over two paper cups, each containing a baby ficus spawn with a jellied clutch of eggs clinging to it. “Life is connections.” He handed the cups to Wyche who smiled perfunctorily and took them back to her desk.

     She went away befuddled. The Colonel was… nice? Had he always been this way, down deep? Did the frog have anything to do with this change of heart? She inspected the tiny plants and found, to no great surprise, they were teeming with tenants. The healing power of nature indeed. Heidi. The Colonel. Funny, Wyche figured she must have been exposed to these little fellows as much as anyone, but she didn’t feel any different.

     Employees began acting like people, smiling for no reason, trading jokes. There was a betrothal in Billings. It couldn’t go on. Things at the office got too pleasant for HR to ignore.

     The next thing people knew, The Colonel was waving good-bye. He seemed not to have any hard feelings about his firing, and while that might have had to do with his golden parachute, Wyche suspected it was something else. His last remark was something about going to join Heidi in the Amazon.

     On Monday, the newest boss, Medric Bourne, breezed in on a vapor of styling gel. He spent the day introducing/branding himself as a financial wizard and picking out a twenty-three-year-old woman from Accounts Receivable to be his executive assistant. Bourne welcomed the contractors who showed up, moved The Colonel’s old desk, his plant still on it, to one side of the office, and began smashing through the opposite wall. Bourne insisted on a bigger office. That, of course, destroyed Tony’s office.

     “He didn’t say a word,” Tony said to Wyche over the noisy demolition invading his former domain. “Come on, we’re done with these losers. We’re quitting.”

     He stomped off while she stood with her mouth open like a stuffed carp. “Right, we’re leaving,” Wyche said to the coffee machine. She thought a thought, pushed it away, then thought it again and let it make itself at home inside her. Grinning, she went to her desk to collect a couple of things.

     Wyche got word a few months later: the new guy was gone. Bourne and the Amazon project crashed when he used corporate funds on a massive rainforest conservation campaign that included a profit-sharing plan for the aborigines.

     Meantime, Wyche and Tony co-founded Lightship, LLC, a successful import-export operation headquartered atop an attractive spire along Central Park West, in the concrete heart of New York City. The pressures of the job occasionally threatened to harden her heart; in those moments, she turned to her newfound love of horticulture. Though her relationship with Tony cooled after she gently rebuffed his marriage proposal, he supported her keen business decisions and their fortunes rose. Within months, they were doing phenomenal business. Wyche designed the company’s logo, a happy amphibian living in a tiny tree. Each time Lightship approached a new company she sent the boss a company card and a potted gift in a very singular shade of green.


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