Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Forties Club Finalist #57

Stratagems: Polonium-210
by James R. Tomlinson


That bastard Gerard made corporate. Two decades campaigning. No lab experience. No exposure. If I had hair I’d pull it out. The shareholders are grooming him for a take over. Call it “preferential downsizing.” He’s seated next to Colonel Drakeford, CEO of Geo Chemicals, Inc.

“Pass the shrimp,” Drakeford says.

The shrimp-platter-express moves from executive to executive with one final hurdle: Gerard. He speaks, his voice amplified, “We need more cutbacks in Research & Development.”

That’s my department. “The best defense,” I advised Drakeford, “is a slow, time-releasing agent. Believe me, I know.” He agrees, yet his sustenance comes first. He reaches for the shrimp but Gerard pulls away.

“Now now,” Drakeford says into the microphone.

Is he placating Gerard or cueing me?

“Members of the Board, Shareholders, Employees …”

Both.

“…I’d like to present one last Geo Award.”

I carry a crystal egg down the aisle and place it on the table under the soft lights. The crimson cut alloy shimmers.

Everyone applauds.

The whole damn thing is staged. How ironic: an award for longevity. Gerard’s flabbergasted. He relinquishes the shrimp platter and cradles the egg. Drakeford starts chomping shrimp and dropping tails.

“I’m speechless,” Gerard says. He inspects the egg. “I think there’s a hairline fracture in this.” He leans into Drakeford whose face reddens. It’s at this moment that Drakeford realizes I’ve deviated from the plan.

I tell them both about the cost of extracting airborne radioactive Polonium-210. I remove my hat.


(James R. Tomlinson, author of “Adopted Behaviors” (Motor City Burning Press, 2010), has cautiously returned to blogging. Look for his flash-memoir at Sleet Magazine this Fall.)

26 comments:

Erratic Thoughts said...

I liked that end, Polonium-210, eh?
I also liked the general form of this piece...nice!

Peter Dudley said...

I think there's a lot more in this than I'm getting. I think it may be trying to do too much in too little space. I like the pacing moderated by the plate of shrimp (a Repo Man's life is always intense) and the arrogant dismissal of the executives. Definitely get that pigs at the trough feeling. But I don't really understand what's gone on at the end.

Dottie (Tink's Place) said...

Hi JR

So, as I'm reading...I'm wondering where the shrimp's been... possibly soaking in a bath of Polonium-210? Hmmmm....

Nicely done and leaves me wondering if I got the story right. Is it revenge served sweetly?

Dottie :)

McKoala said...

I found this a bit too tightly packed to follow easily; even with a couple of reads.

Aimee Laine said...

Never underestimate the guy in the back who stays under the radar. ;)

Michael Morse said...

That will teach them! Sometimes I like to read just for the joy of it, without thinking too much. I'm sure there is a lot more here than I'm getting, but I got enough to enjoy the story.

Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely a lot happening here. I may have to read it a couple of times to figure out everything.

Dan said...

I love it. Sure leaves me wanting more though! Well done.

Hadley said...

Polonium...a Curie discovery...

I'm wondering about the shrimp and his reference to a time-released agent...is there a connection between the two? Revenge over his own over-exposure, or dislike of corporate b.s....?

Oddyoddyo13 said...

Oh, the dynamic of the business world.

Katherine Tomlinson said...

And here I was, thinking it would be the shrimp...I found myself flashing on the guy in London poisoned with the tea. Definitely wanted to know more about your bald protagonist.

JaneyV said...

It seems to me that our bald-headed dude has double bluffed Drakeford and taken both adversaries out.

It does take a couple of readings JR but like a good wine it matures!

As always a pleasure to read Mr T.

Aerin said...

Don't mind us, JR, we're overly tough on past winners.

Yes, I had to ask someone what was happening in this but I thought it was just my scientific ignorance showing. I also was missing the whole criminal-jail angle.

J. Elis Morgan said...

Loved the cool irony in the end -- the award for longevity goes to. . . oh wait, uh, never mind. Excellent piece. Characters that came alive.

Precie said...

Brilliant ending! I wondered briefly why G would look for/notice a hairline fracture in the crystal...but that last line pulls readers back through the story to piece together why he doesn't have hair and why that's important for the two corporate guys to see right then. I'll admit it doesn't gut-punch me the way the kids raising money for their mom's, um, vase did...but it's got similar depth and complexity.

Laurel said...

I really liked it.

The details of the corporate awards dinner were vivid, real, and to me, anyway, funny. The "Longevity" award in the face of what's happening was a nice touch. And I like that the guy in charge, presumably the head corporate politics honcho, seems to be the first one to realize that something is amiss.

Nice!

JR's Thumbprints said...

Hey everyone, thank you for your comments and reactions; I enjoy the various interpretations.

Without giving away my intent, let's just say I really really like Precie, Laurel, Janey V, and Katherine's interpretations.

Peace. And thanks for the comments.

Catherine Vibert said...

Definitely left wondering who is offing who. In my mind, the hairline fracture is releasing the Polonium and now all three of them are going to die. Perhaps everyone in the room.
What I like about the story is the intelligence of it. It is subtle, but knowing how your criminally infused mind works, this here story is a murder plot, even if in slow release form. A radioactive slow mo 'going postal'.

Deb Smythe said...

Wow, a grim tale and so many subtle clues along the way. Like Catherine, I figure the polonium will do in everyone in the room.

Dottie Camptown said...

JR,
I really liked it and agree with Precie's interpretation. I didn't enter this time, but plan to read. Your entries are always some of my favorites. Hope you are well.
Dottie Camptown

Aniket said...

Shush Aerin. Even though we feel that way, we're not supposed to say it out loud!

As for the interpretations go. I'm with Laurel. :)

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the read. Reminded me of the poisoning in London. Much delivered in such few words. Well done. MW

Mona said...

Talk about cost cutting, longevity awards and slow release killer. I love the complex plot here and the irony too!

So much packed into so few words. You are the master of brevity!

Vincent Kale said...

I get a strong "Breaking Bad" vibe here and the payoff is just as good!

JR I feel like you may have been in the corporate world for too long. It might not be good for your health (or anyone's that happens to be around you). Just remember that we're all friends here!

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

I may have to read this one again to glean everything from it, but it's really well done. You've got such a strong voice that I had to keep reading. I'll enjoy this on subsequent readings!

JR's Thumbprints said...

Vincent, I'm not the suit-wearing type of guy. My world is the Michigan Department of Corrections. Hey man, we're all doing time.