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May 16, 2018Posted by on
“Bottom drawer,” my boss said, loosening his tie and undoing his top button. “I have a little something for days like this. I reached in while he gazed out the window, helpless to watch the sun set as another day ticked away. I held up the syringe and the length of medical tubing. “Oh, ha. I meant the bottom right drawer. Bottom left is for the really bad days.”
He was still unraveling minutes later, despite having gorged through several Nestlé Chunkys. His mussed, graying hair sat atop his loaf of sagging cheeks. I didn’t know why he’d called me in here, especially now. Today had been my fourth day, and it was only this afternoon that I’d found the good bathroom. Second Annex Men’s had been a desolate dream, certainly worth the trek, but successfully uncovering a clandestine bathroom hardly qualified me to now run point on the Anderson Account. I supposed this is what opportunity knocking sounded like. “This might be a bad time,” I noticed his whole lower face was now dotted with melted milk chocolate and raisin buckshot. “But I probably-definitely need to leave by three-thirty tomorrow.”
It didn’t matter, he claimed. “There isn’t going to be a three-thirty. There won’t be a fucking tomorrow if they walk.” He couldn’t believe that, after twenty years of finagling, it had all come down to Anderson, and I couldn’t believe he hadn’t pressed me for details about leaving at three-thirty. Anderson Capital hadn’t been a huge part of our business. They were still a young start-up, hungry and keen. I had heard somewhere they had no dress code and held employee air-hockey tournaments each month. Apparently they were some real chill dudes to work with for laundering a nuclear weapon into a foreign country.
Anderson shared our position, though was located on a vastly different condemned-oil-rig-nation-state within International Waters. World peace had been on the not-too-distant horizon and their client had been getting cold feet about acquiring a WMD, particularly after a recent famine has decimated his proletariat. I didn’t get it—it wasn’t like this dictator for life had a voting base. I’d spend all yesterday on the phone yelling at this one Anderson rep. “You don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle,” I’d kept telling him.
The phone slammed onto the desk. My boss’s stubby fingers danced across the buttons. Busy signal. Base and handset went whipping across the room at the bulletproof glass before landing in a heap. The sun began dipping into the ocean. He was looking at me for answers. My mouth was open like I was about to speak, but I was still just the new guy who had taken four days to find the swanky bathroom, the one with the bidets and the spearmint suppositories.
I’d told my family I didn’t know why this company they had never heard of wanted to hire me. I knew why, though: the Polaroids, the scarecrow effigy, the buttons from his kid’s windbreaker in the unmarked envelope. It was just how things needed to happen.
His big eyes were wet and tired. He’d surrendered himself to failure, content to tuck his tail between his legs and return back to his hermetically sealed suburban life in a fruitless, conflict-free world. Maybe it was his belabored breaths, maybe it was his stifled sniffles, maybe it was even his multiple declarative statements, but I could tell his heart was breaking. This platform in the South Atlantic full of illicit arms and heroin was his natural habitat. He was more than my boss: he was the last pure capitalist maverick standing against the rising tide.
“Get me Anderson Capital,” I said, barking at the quivering forty-something in front of me halfway resigned to world peace. Obediently, he fetched a phone from the bullpen outside and dialed.
“This is Wendell.” The voice from Anderson Capital chimed.
“Listen, Wendell.” The rep instantly cut me off. “My name? Fuck. You. That’s my name.” I shot my boss a smirk. “Put me on with one of the important names there. You got a Tom? A Margaret? Maybe a Rick?” I looked out the window. “Actually, a Rick would be perfect.”
He transferred me to Rick. Now we were getting somewhere.
“Rick, baby, talk to me.” I kicked my feet up on the desk. “You know it, man. Next time I’m in the South China Sea neighborhood we’ll do that coffee.” The other junior associate who’d also started on my first day peeked in. “Rick, can you hold on?” I gestured at my boss. “Get the fucking boy wonder out.” I starred at the wide-eyed associate, “Boy Wonder, were you not listening when I said I was on with goddamn Rick?
“Rick, sorry, man.” I laughed. “No, don’t you apologize, ya goofball.” Rick brought me up to speed. Their client—one of those petty, irritable countries—was having misgivings over acquiring said warhead. Rick kept it together; only once did his voice crack in exasperation. Anderson Capital’s window was closing, too, even if they were giving up a lot less than our daily payments in bearer bonds, our all-you-can-drug buffet, or our veritable United Nations of live-in prostitutes.
This was bigger than just my boss, our company, and Rick. I gripped the receiver, bleach-white knuckles. I took a deep breath as a shiver ran through me. It was about everyone like us—even the Wendells and Boy Wonders—all of us existing both apart and together on the fringes of enforceable law. Given, we don’t have any highly marketable skills or moral compasses, but don’t we deserve a cushy paycheck and an exclusive international harem, too? Explicitly profiting off death and fear is an actual tangible market, so why shouldn’t we exploit it while still collecting unemployment from the State of Massachusetts? Don’t we deserve to follow through on the sexual bucket list people here have dubbed “The Silk Road”?
“Rick, get your head out of the oven.” The line was silent. My boss housed an entire Chunky four-block while sweat seeped through his suit jacket. “Every one of our competitors is watching.” Muffled voices sounded over the line. “All those saps, Rick,” I deliberated on my words, “those punks who teased us in the first part of the movie, they sharpened us into the exact people we need to be.” I paused. “All of them are here, now, cheering us on at the big meet and hoping we come out on top. For all our sakes.”
Rick coughed. I managed to make out him saying that the client had just called back. My boss fist pumped, his smile was now dotted with Chunky resembled a literal shit-eating grin. Rick added some iota about the client feeling pressure to spend the money on famine relief. “Pressure from whom? Tell him we’re flexible.” I stood up, gazing out at the sun sinking below the horizon. “We need this deal and, today, I feel like Monty fucking Hall.”
My boss held up a scribbled out note: “Full-On Milošević?” I shook my head. Not yet.
Rick meandered through a list of objections, just umm-ing and ahh-ing his way through it and sounding downright pathetic. Anderson Capital, despite their relatively young age, had funded safety nets for each employee-shareholder. Rick passively flaunted some detached rationalism and the coupling “sound choices” was overplayed. Eating the cost of a nuke would decimate their golden parachutes, Rick claimed. He added something about not being sad that it was over but being happy that it ever even happened. Fucking loser talk.
“Look, we need to take a loss today. You need to take a loss today.” We could both agree that the best place for that WMD was in their client’s untrusting, blood-soaked hands. “Can we turn him any more against his dissenters? Tell me how we get there, Rick. Help me help you.” Aggressively waffling, Rick only continued rehashing. “Your boy isn’t buying it for his museum. Once you pop you can’t stop, ja feel?
The primal rush of launching a war, or an arms race at the very least, was lost on Rick. He admitted the buyer had since hung up, content to spend the money and yield to famine relief pressure.
“Rick…Rick, we’re still buddies.” He relaxed as we volleyed compliments back and forth. “Of course we can stay in touch. But we’re just never getting that coffee,” I squeezed the phone in both hands, positioning it right below my mouth, “because fucking coffee is for fucking closers!” The base was spiked onto the ground and I stomped it beyond recognition. “Boy Wonder,” I called out, “you left your goddamn phone in here!”
Boss said to calm down. The Chunky case from the drawer had since migrated onto his desk.
“Anderson Capital,” I lamented and he concurred. “Fuck those guys.” I paused, “Rick, Tom, Margaret. Fuck air hockey. And,” I bit my bottom lip, my pointer finger stabbing at the air. “Especially fuck that dude Wendell. I never trusted that snake.”
The lone news station we could pick up, entirely in French, was covering the monumental peace accord. One-hundred-and-ninety-five countries, neutralized terror cells, street gang and cartel leaders were amassing this evening, for network primetime, at the UN. Afterwards, Paul McCartney was supposed to play a set or hug someone.
“What’s our inventory look like?” He said it didn’t really matter. We had a stable full of horses and the first Model T rolled into town. We’d been unlicensed dentists and some jackass went and introduced our villagers to the toothbrush. We’d written dozens of metaphors and the copy was already too garbled.
“Stop. I see that look in your eye.” My boss tried to reason with me, no doubt noticing my coy, devilish expression. It was the same one I’d seen reflected back in his kid’s glasses that rainy day with the ice cream truck. “You’re going to hurt yourself. Enjoy what’s left of this waking dream.” He offered me a Chunky and I waved him off. “Get back to that Silk Road, eh? What are you up to again, Turkmenistan?”
“Uzbekistan,” I shrugged, modest, “but stop.” The whole desk was littered with twenty years of success, notably ‘2004 Trader of the Year’ and ‘2010 Traitor of the Year.’ “What’s our longest range ballistic in stock right now?”
Instinctively his hand went right to his shaking head while he let out a hard scoff with a touch of sigh. “We’re talking about an attack on U.S. soil when, literally, everyone in the world has a vested interest in preventing it.” He popped off his jacket. “Any projectile won’t make it halfway across the Atlantic before it’s intercepted.” The pride he’d felt for me moments ago, even in defeat, had completely thawed.
“Exactly,” I said. His hand blindly rummaged through the bottom drawer. “Could we still ship the other warhead to their tyrant, for nothing?” He nodded, noticeably perplexed. “We ship it to him at no cost, maybe even make it appear to have come from Anderson.” I told him we wouldn’t put any bribes or anything else in place. The weapon will get seized, almost certainly. “You have a weapon downed in the Atlantic: an attempted attack on the United Nations. Plus a seized weapon of mass destruction would have the world jumping to conclusions.” Alive again, his eyes widened as he sat up straight. “It’s a global witch-hunt and all those real sleazy countries, you know which ones I mean, are instantly on trial.” Pandemic defensiveness was a given. No one would be able to stock their arsenal quick enough. “Come on. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” A soft smile crept onto his face. “Wayne Gretzky told me that one time when I saw him playing pinball.” I smirked back. “New York City? Come on, we’re not murderers.” Leaping off his chair, he hugged me and started high stepping around the office.
He’d called in the whole office and set the whole thing in motion. The tiny room filled with applause. I fawned when they said they’d honor me with an extra ration of cabbage at mess tonight. An hour later we watched on TV as the missile was shot down 400 miles east of the Virgin Islands. Delegates unanimously agreed to suspend the accord until an investigation could take place. I looked out at the dark sea and whispered, “You’re welcome, Rick.”
The Chunky case was almost empty. He ran his fingers over his brow. “When I saw my eight-year-old’s buttons in that envelope…” The words were barely squeaking out. I had to look away. “I knew you were the right man for the job, kid.” I tried to meet his gaze, my bottom lip quivering beyond control, but I couldn’t.
He broke away, grabbing at the drawer. The syringe came into view. “Wait,” I said, gathering my jacket and tie, “I thought that was just for bad days.”
“Ha, I’d say we were pretty bad today.” He chuckled, “News will probably dub it ‘heinous’, ‘sickening’, ‘garden-variety evil’, you name it.”
He loaded up his spoon, melted in a few bits of Chunky, and transferred it into the needle. I brushed the hair out of my eyes and stood up. “Out at three-thirty still cool?” He nodded, a twinkle in his eye and an end of rubber tubing in his mouth.