Tag: #REN3

Before we get started today, some shameless self-promotion!  If you haven’t yet, please consider stopping by and checking out the NaNoWriMoVideo Songfest, hosted by yours truly throughout the month of November.  You don’t have to be doing NaNo this year to participate!  So swing by and see what you think!  πŸ˜€

*****

We can’t always what we want.  What I wanted for this blogfest was a great finale post under 600 words–but I didn’t get it!  πŸ˜€

What I did get–on this post and the others–was an enlightening experience trying my hand at a shorter story.  There are various definitions out there about what length story is considered flash fiction, and I’d say a 2,000 word story is right on the outer reaches of that category.  But 2k words is much shorter than just about any of my other projects.

So for me, this was a departure from my writing norm, an excuse to stretch myself and see what I was capable of.  During this blogfest, the challenge of cutting the fat, paring things down to a pure distillate, of still conveying the point without the luxury of endless blank pages taught me volumes.  Even though I vastly exceeded the wordcount for this installment (~1200 words), which likely puts me out of consideration–if I was ever a serious contender–for any prizes, this Blogfest has been a true blast and helped me continue to grow as a writer. 

And I’ll say it again: if you haven’t made it around to see what the other participating writers have cooking, you are truly missing out.  (I have some getting around to do myself!  :D)  Some great work has been done by great writers, and I’m happy and honored to be a part of this effort.
 
So I want to take a moment and give massive unadulterated thanks to the #REN3 Blogfest sponsors: Damyanti, JC, Lisa and Stuart for setting up this totally fun event and keeping it going throughout the month.   It was truly a blast!

*****

The Leopard’s Spots
by Jon Paul
(c) 2011

Wordcount: mumble mumble πŸ˜€
Prompt: Relationships are torn asunder.
Link to Part One (Magnus McGrool, 596 words)
Link to Part Two (Theodora Ravelstein, 597 words)
Link to Part Three (Calvin Rumpus, 600 words)

Part Four:

     CALVIN ARRIVED EARLY. On his desk he found a 5×7 photo of himself, distant and serious on the rock at the Heriot Pass trailhead, the words “Stay cool!” inscribed on the back in Theodora’s expressive hand. He was still grinning when Magnus arrived ten minutes later.

*****

     The next hour passed in a blur. Readying the Conference Room. Copying and organizing various forms. Magnus grimacing and cussing. Briefing security personnel who would be posted nearby, in case of trouble.  Calvin tried to stay focused, but a strange anxiousness made him feel out of place in his own skin.
     “You’re running the show,” Magnus had told him. “Time to step up and show what you’re made of.”
    Calvin took the news in stride, nodding in what he imagined to be a professional way. Magnus even hinted that a good performance over the next several days might earn him a shot at becoming HR Director permanently. Calvin watched his boss carefully. Did Magnus really think he had it in him? If so, then the vote of confidence felt like a real affirmation, and a wave of pride surged through him.
     At 9:00 a.m. Gladdis ushered in the first employee: an older man wearing a wrinkled avocado-colored suit. The three of them–Calvin, Magnus and some flunky from Legal–sat behind a long mahogany table.
     Calvin cleared his throat and gestured for the man to take his seat. In a quiet voice, he began to explain that the man’s services were no longer required at Barchadelli Marketing, Inc. The surprise in the old man’s eyes turned first to dismay, then decayed gradually to a bitter, tight-lipped bemusement. Calvin continued on, ignoring the ticks gnawing the insides of his stomach. This is just business, he reminded himself. Magnus looked on as well, his face a mask of blank acquiescence.
     One by one, two more employees were brought in. A woman whose left eye twitched when she was nervous. A long-limbed man with acne. Calvin went through the motions, explained their rights, conveyed the company’s regret.
     Throughout it all Magnus looked on, as cold and emotionless as a machine. How does he do it? Calvin wondered. He never betrays his emotions. Calvin had to admit it: despite Magnus’ bad reputation, he had earned Calvin’s respect in the time they’d worked together for just this kind of detached professionalism.
     Feeling a flutter of edginess as the man with acne was shown from the room, Calvin girded himself and tried to follow Magnus’ example. Being professional is a skill, Calvin reminded himself. One I can master.
     The next employee entered the room. Calvin was scribbling on a legal pad when Magnus nudged him gently and knocked him from his reverie.
     In the interview chair, Theodora sat eyeing him in profound disbelief. His mouth fell open. When he looked toward Magnus, he expected to find a cruel smile there, expected Magnus to admit to the joke. Instead Magnus’ hawk eyes articulated absolute tranquility.
     He tried to compose himself. “This is business,” Calvin mumbled, but when he began to speak out loud, he was sure his voice would falter. Theodora sat cross-legged in her chair, her face a manifestation of open defiance.
     He couldn’t look her in the eye, so he continued to scribble on his legal pad instead, going through the motions. The economy had suffered, he explained, and Barchadelli’s revenue had fallen as a result. Management’s decision to reduce the workforce was unfortunate, but it had to be done, for the survival of the company.
     “Calvin?” Theodora intoned. In the emptiness of the room her voice rang like a bell and cut through his thin words, stopping him in his tracks.
     Magnus looked over, surprised at her familiar manner. Sensing his boss’s concern, Calvin chose his words carefully. “Mrs. Ravelstein, let me urge you–“
     “No,” she said, the corners of her mouth curling into a vicious grimace. “I’m not going to play along. I’m not going to go quietly.”
     “I can see you’re very upset, Mrs. Ravelstein. I’m very sorry–“
     Theodora clamored to her feet, pointing at him. She spit words at him like daggers. “This is just what we talked about. Can’t you see? It’s flat out wrong, and you should know it!”
     Strangely, amid the chaos, Calvin caught himself noticing the graceful curve of Theodora’s jawline, the elegant slant of her nose, the way the corner of her mouth always seemed on the verge of an animated smile, even when she was angry. She was beautiful, Calvin realized. Why hadn’t he noticed this before?
     He shook his head, tried to dispel these thoughts, yet her kindnesses kept coming back to him: her compliments on his photography, their conversation over the weekend, the photo she’d put on his desk that morning. She’d warned him he was being set up. She’d said he was too nice for his own good. She’d said a lot of things, but why?
     Theodora railed at him, shook her fist, called them every name in the book. One of the security people appeared at the door. Magnus was smiling now, enjoying the show. Calvin caught his grin out of the corner of his eye and wondered again if this was all some sort of joke, wondered if Theodora had been right about Magnus’ intentions all along.
     It came clear to him in that moment that he had a choice. In his mind’s eye, Calvin saw himself standing up from the table, straightening his suit, walking toward the conference room door. He’d tell the security guy to take his hands off Theodora, offer her a winning smile. When Magnus asked him what the hell he was doing, Calvin would say it to his face, without equivocation: “I quit.”
     News of his revolt would spread through the Barchadelli offices like wildfire. Walking through the hallways toward the exit with Theodora at his shoulder, he’d call out “Who’s with me?” over and over again. Mobs of employees would materialize from cubicles, given permission to quit, freed suddenly of the yoke of responsibility, happy to be a part of something profound and brave and real at last. He’d lead the mob out the front doors of Barchadelli, leaving Magnus and the other Directors behind to pick up the pieces.
     “Calvin?” Her voice broke the spell.
     Two Renaissance PD officers had appeared from somewhere and they were hand-cuffing Theodora. He had said some things, he realized, but he didn’t know what. The storm of Theodora’s anger had broken, and she stared at the carpet, looking as if she might cry. One of the security people was holding a handkerchief to his cheek, a smudged rose of blood soaking the white fabric where she had scratched him. The guy from legal was nowhere to be found.
     His eyes locked on hers. Her confusion about him had given way to an unwavering clarity. When she spoke again, all generosity had fled from her voice. “Things didn’t have to happen like this. You know that, right?”
     He looked away, scrutinizing a picture on the far wall. As it turned out, it was a photo taken long ago of the Roundeli Mountains. It was funny what people said about them: you could never really tell if they were real or an illusion.
     “It’s business,” Calvin said at last, his eyes on the photo. “Nothing more.”
     After they took Theodora away, Magnus patted him on the back and spoke at him–some chatter about the interviews that afternoon and the fine job he’d done and how he’d known Calvin had it in him all along–but the words sounded garbled, muffled, like whalesong. Then Magnus was asking him something else. What was it? Lunch? Executive Boardroom? CEO?
     Calvin told him to go on; he’d follow in a minute.
     When finally he was alone in the room, the silence hung in his ears like the persistent ring of artillery fire. He looked at the photo on the wall again, ran his eyes along the snow-crowned summits, the rocky saddles between outcroppings, the overhanging cornices frozen still like thousands of white horses.
     From his pocket, he withdrew the photo Theodora had given him that morning. I should have realized all along, he mumbled to himself as he tore the photo into neat 1-inch squares and let them flutter to the floor. The peace he had felt that morning, the strange sense of happiness and contentment he had found in those spare moments before the day started now seemed like a distant dream, a vacant event, a carelessly scrawled fragment of another person’s life.

~fin~

Thanks for stopping by!  πŸ˜€

When it comes to irons in the proverbial fire, I have a few.  Of course, we are now eleven days from the kick off of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo as the Pros from Dover call it.

I, like half the fiction writers in the World, have spent countless recent hours preparing, making sure I’m ready to get my game face on, trying to remember where I packed my game face, wondering if it still fits, rifling through numerous boxes in the crawlspace upstairs that is our attic looking for the game face, executing repairs on said game face–made necessary after the time during last year’s NaNo when I chucked the game face across the room in a fit of reprehensible, unadulterated frustration.

I haven’t found it yet, but I will.  πŸ˜€

And I’m working on a post with all the details for how I’m playing NaNo this year–but if you’re impatient, you can click on my sidebar and check out my profile.  If you’re looking for a NaNo writing buddy, let me know.  The more the merrier is my motto.  Also, Sommer Leigh has put together a linky tool so we can champion our fellow writers doing Nano.  Check it out–and sign up if you’re in.  BTW, are you in?

(Plus, don’t forget, Monster Fest 2011 runs through the end of the month.  There’s still plenty to see and do over there, so don’t miss it!).

Last, but certainly not least: go check out this totally groovy interview my friend Lola Sharp did with Hilary Wagner, featuring her new book THE WHITE ASSASSIN.  The title sounds downright fascinating.  Plus, Lola’s running a contest with free stuff!  Go check it out at once!  πŸ˜€

***** 

But now to the real business of the day: Part three of the #REN3 Blogfest.  This has been a ton of fun to write, and to also get around and read everyone else’s stories.  Don’t forget to check back for the finale next week!

The Leopard’s Spots
by Jon Paul
(c) 2011

Character: Calvin Rumpus
Wordcount: 600
Prompt: Betrayal is in the air.
Link to Part One (Magnus McGrool, 596 words)
Link to Part Two (Theodora Ravelstein, 597 words)

Part Three:

MAGNUS STOOD AT THE WINDOW watching employees dash to their cars in the rain. “Calvin, you moved into Carl’s office yet?”

Calvin appeared. “Not yet.”

“By Monday, Ok?”

“Ok.” Calvin turned to leave.

“One more thing.” Magnus pawed a stack of employee dossiers on the desk. “These are the first folks we let go. Monday morning.”

Calvin reached for the files.

“Nope. Leave them. Decision’s been made. Gladdis will set everything up.”

“And I just need to show up?”

Magnus smiled. “Yeah.”

*****

They hiked up the path, making the final turn into the clearing. Calvin led, Theodora followed.

“Wow!” Theodora lifted her sunglasses. “You weren’t kidding. This is some view.”  All of Renaissance was visible: Old Town; the Schiavona Desert; the River Espadon. But scads of strip malls had materialized over the last few years, disfiguring the landscape.

Near the trailhead, they unearthed an archaic sign with rusted letters: “Renaissance–Pop. 333”. Calvin pitched it aside and sat down.

Theodora took out her camera. “How’d you find this place?”

Calvin didn’t speak, his eyes on the horizon.

“Calvin?”

A narrow smile illuminated his face, then vanished. “My grandfather used to bring me here.”

“I’m surprised more people don’t know about it.”

Theodora explored the clearing, snapping pictures until Calvin’s silence became uncomfortable. She scrutinized him for a long moment. “Listen,” she said finally, stuffing her camera back in her pack. “I think I invited myself along today. And you clearly have plenty on your mind, so–“

Calvin frowned.

“–I think I’ll be going.” Theodora zipped her pack and started down the trail.

“Theodora?”

Theodora kept walking.

Calvin jumped to his feet. “Just…wait. Ok?”

She turned, eyed him skeptically. “So?”

He chose his words carefully. “I…I’ve been distracted…the office has been crazy lately…”

“And?”

They stood face to face, staring at each other for what seemed like forever. Calvin blinked twice. Theodora gazed at him through her sunglasses, waiting. Finally, Calvin ran one hand through his auburn hair and chuckled. The situation suddenly felt silly, absurd.

He squinted at her. “Please? Accept my sincerest apologies?”

“Whatever.” She strolled past him with a wry grin, placing her backpack next to his. “So what’s the story, Calvin? I hear you’ve been promoted.”

” If we’re gonna talk about work,” Calvin said. “You have to keep it under your hat.”

“Ok.”

“I’m just filling in until we hire someone new.”

She laughed.

He cocked his head, baffled. “What?”

“Word around the watercooler is you’re being set up.”

It was Calvin’s turn to laugh. “Yeah, well people’ve been watching too much Law and Order: Renaissance. Don’t believe everything you hear.”

“I guess it’s none of my business, anyway…”

“But?”

Theodora sighed, then smiled. “Office politics makes for good rumors, sure. But that McGrool guy, there’s just something not right about him.”

“When it comes to bosses, Magnus doesn’t get high marks. I get that. But it’s part of the game. I can’t just quit every time I don’t like my boss.”

“So you feel invested. Is that it?”

“Sure. I worked hard to get where I’m at. I put in my time. I can’t just walk away now.”

She studied his face, a flicker of uncertainty coloring her eyes. “You’re too nice, Calvin. For your own good, I mean.”

Calvin stood up, shouldering his pack. “Come on,” he said, a strange new distance surfacing in the space between his words. “I have to get back.”

She walked after him. The guttural crunch of gravel beneath their boots rang in her ears. She gazed out to the horizon, troubled. Had she said too much?

~fin~

Thanks for stopping by!  πŸ˜€

Hey gang!

Sorry, I’m a little slow out of the starting gates for this second in a four part series of posts for the Rule of Three Blogfest (#REN3 Blogfest for the Twitterati among you).  πŸ˜€  Turns out, though our trip to Paris was mostest spectacular and will breed a few future posts, we–meaning me and the family–contracted some strange illness on the plane ride home that has had us all down for the count.  Upper respiratory tract stuff mostly, but the kind of knotty-headed scourge that makes it hard to see straight.

And typing fiction stories, well that’s right out!  πŸ˜€

But alas, the fog of illness is finally clearing and I can get this part of the story finalized.  Good thing I wrote a good chunk of it before my departure.  I’m not usually so well organized, but in this case, this fluke of luck worked in my favor!

So, thus, and without further ado, here is Part Two.  Make sure to get around and read all the other entries, as they are really quite charming, and I have been nothing but impressed at everyone’s ingenuity and daring-do.  Goes to show, a lot can be done with a blank page and a 600 word limit!

A brief note of thanks to the organizers who’ve done a bang up job, and to the authors and supporters who have donated prizes.  It takes a village, as they say, and, well, this one is called Renaissance.  πŸ˜€

*****
The Leopard’s Spots
by Jon Paul
(c) 2011

Character: Theodora Ravelstein
Wordcount: 597
Prompt: A relationship becomes complicated.
Link to Part One (Magnus McGrool, 596 words)

Part Two:

THEODORA RAVELSTEIN tucked a strand of crimson hair behind her right ear and frowned. “They just don’t get me, Lorna. You know?”

Lorna napkined her mouth, grinning. “I don’t get you either, Theo.”

“Stop kidding around. This is serious.”  Theodora slumped back from her half-eaten salad. Sure, Junior Photo Editors weren’t due a lot of respect, but her supervisor repeatedly rejected her hip, artistic photo-editing suggestions–and that bothered her. Most Barchadelli marketing campaigns looked as vanilla as Renaissance Geographic Magazine.

“That your boy?” Lorna nodded toward the end of the Employee Lunchroom. Calvin Rumpus, tray in hand, took a place in line. Within seconds, several associates shook his hand, struck up conversations, patted him on the back. Others said hello in passing. Calvin, entitled to eat in the Executive Lunchroom, often lunched down here instead, making him popular among rank and file employees. Plus he was just a nice guy.

A mischievous smile bloomed on Theodora’s lips. “When I bumped into him this weekend, he told me about an old trail above Heriot’s Pass where the views are amazing.”

“You ‘bumped’ into him? Girl, you’ll do anything for a good picture!”

“Well…let’s just say I know where he spends his Saturday mornings.”

“Shutterbugs of the world, unite?”

“Something like that…”  A year ago, at a Renaissance Museum exhibit featuring local photographers, shots of the ice-capped Roundeli Mountains had blown Theodora away. She soon identified the photographer: Calvin Rumpus, a Barchadelli employee and fellow shutterbug with an eye for landscapes.

Lorna folded her napkin. “Listen, gotta get upstairs, hon’. Catch you later?”

“Sure.”

After Lorna had gone, Theodora emptied her tray. Calvin sat eating at a far table, uncharacterist-ically alone. Theodora approached, gave him a little wave.

“Calvin! Fancy meeting you here!?”

At first, he hardly noticed her. Then he smiled sadly, a drawn, faraway look on his face. “Theodora. Hi. How are you?”

“Hi. I, uh, I won’t keep you. I just wanted to stop by and say I really enjoyed chatting this weekend.”

Uncertainty clouded Calvin’s brow. “This weekend?”

Theodora glanced around. A few bystanders were beginning to stare. “Uh, up at Heriot’s Pass? You know?”

Calvin cocked his head to the side, eyes tracing a pattern on the ceiling, trying to remember. Finally, nodding, he said: “Ah, yeah. OK.”

“Yeah. Anyway, if you’re going again this weekend, I was hoping you might show me that trail you talked about.”

Before Calvin could answer, an uneasy stillness swept the lunchroom.  Magnus McGrool materialized, hawk’s eyes searching the crowd. Calvin stood robotically, picked up his tray.

“Got to go.” Calvin’s words were clipped and business-like.

“Calvin?”

He turned back, seeming to focus on her for the first time.

She tried to keep the sheepish tone out of her voice, but failed miserably. “Saturday. Ten o’clock. Ok?”

“Sure thing,” he said, his mouth hardening into a tight smile.

Theodora watched him go with a trace of confusion. That was weird.

The eyes of half the lunchroom were now on her. She scurried toward the exit, feeling suddenly stupid and confused. She could hear Lorna already: He’s one of the elite, the chosen. Ain’t no way he’ll give you the time of day, not really.

And there was something Lorna didn’t know.  Theodora’s interest in Calvin had mushroomed, over the last several months, into something far beyond simple picture-taking.  This new inkling felt grounded, genuine. But when she caught sight of her own scruffy reflection in a window, a tide of uncertainty rolled in, until she was suddenly, inexplicably, not sure of anything at all.

~fin~

Thanks for stopping by!

β€œYet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall
My buried life, and Paris in the Spring,
I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world
To be wonderful and youthful, after all.”
                                                   ~~T. S. Eliot, “Portrait of a Lady”

Hiya folks.  How’s things?  I’m a little excited right about now.  Packing.  Big trip planned this weekend.  To Paris!  Yep, we’re pretty stoked.  This little break in the action has been planned for awhile–a chance to knock the dust of Sicily off our boots for a few days, do a little exploring, sightseeing, maybe even visit a cafe or two.

We visited Paris once before and it was a real nice time.  We stayed in a hotel adjacent to the Arc de’ Triomphe, which was beautiful in it’s own right, and also close to many of the best known sights.  There’s a kind of energy there that’s hard to describe.  Even during the winter, an effervescence hung in the air, and walking around the city was like touring a dreamscape.

We were lucky enough to stumble on a great restaurant or two, where the waiters were haughty and high-minded, but with a twinkle in their eye that told you it was all part of the show.  The view from the Eiffel Tower was amazing, and even with the cold wind blowing, it was almost like you could feel the heat of the city in the updrafts.

The Louvre is one of the Seven Wonders of The Modern World, IMHO.  You could wander there for days, go missing, lose oneself, and never cross back on your own path.  The art was amazing, and I still remember us sitting in a little cafe at the stop of a long marble staircase–Furnacegirl and I were not married yet–and thinking to myself: This is the stuff of legend.

I wasn’t really writing seriously back then, but I still felt inspired to jot notes in journal.  I even got to see in person a statue by Michelangelo–called The Bound Slave–that I had sketched from a picture years before.  It was one of those surreal experiences, and to walk up and put my fingers on the cool marble was a kind of revelation.  Here’s my primitive sketch.  Thanks for asking.  πŸ˜€

It really is true what they say: a unique magic inhabits the streets of Paris.  There’s a reason why writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Stein made it their second home.  Something hauntingly alive dwells in this place, and until you’ve been, it sounds too much like a fairy tale to be believed.  Who knows? Maybe on this visit, some of that writing magic will rub off on me.

Anyway, this time out, it’ll be a little more low key, more of a vacation and less of a tourist routine, relax, enjoy the sights–but that’s how we like it.  And I’ll bring back a few photos too, just for funzies.

A few quick admin notes before I sign off:

1) If you haven’t stopped by and checked out all the groovy posts for the Rule of Three Blogfest, get your butt over there!  Some really awesome writers turning out a ton of top-notch work.

2) If you stopped by to check out my story, see below, or click here.

3) I won’t probably have much of an online presence this weekend, back on Monday.  So you know the rules: You can have one cookies and milk before you go to bed, but lights out at ten o’clock, no excuses.  πŸ˜€

Hope you have an amazing weekend, and stay groovy while you’re at it!

VINCENT: …You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

JULES: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?

VINCENT: No, they got the metric system there, they wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.

JULES: What’d they call it?

VINCENT: Royale with Cheese.

JULES: Royale with Cheese. What’d they call a Big Mac?

VINCENT: Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it Le Big Mac.

JULES: What do they call a Whopper?

VINCENT: I dunno, I didn’t go into a Burger King.

πŸ˜€

Hiya, all!  Today’s the day we’ve all been waiting for: The first post for the Rule of Three Blogfest!

Careful observers will also note that today is the day we are supposed to blog for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

For me, these blogfests actually dovetail quite nicely.  You see, one of the things I am the most insecure about is sharing my work.  I always have a feeling that a piece is not done, it needs to be polished further, or I simply feel nervous about whether it’s “good enough”.

So, as a way to get over this insecurity, I have been working on a set of writing rules for myself (more on that later), one of which is: “Be more willing to share your work, even when you’re not sure it’s perfect.” 

That’s where the #REN3 Blogfest comes in.  I’ve worked hard on this first post.  I feel it’s ready to go, but in my heart of hearts I know I wouldn’t have shared it without an event such as this blogfest pushing me toward the finish line.

Thanks to Alex for setting up the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which happens the first Wednesday of every month (check my sidebar if you want to sign up).  And thanks also to Damyanti, JC, Lisa and Stuart for setting up the Rule of Three Blogfest.   This’ll no doubt be tons of fun!

So here’s my first entry.  And be sure to go check out the other entries.  There’s plenty of fiction to go around today, so enjoy!

The Leopard’s Spots
by Jon Paul
(c) 2011

Character: Magnus McGrool
Wordcount: 596
Prompt: There is fear of impending misfortune

Part One:

CALVIN RUMPUS stood at the conference room door, ushering the Directors to their seats, trying to shake a feeling of nervousness. All morning, his boss, Magnus McGrool, Operations Director for Barchadelli Marketing, Inc., had been on a rampage.

Magnus kept his cards close to his chest, so even Calvin didn’t know why the staff meeting had been called, but an anxious buzz infected the office. Falling stock prices. Rumors of layoffs. Trouble on the horizon. With the recent economic downturn in Renaissance, companies were tightening their belts. Perhaps it was time for Barchadelli to do the same. Or maybe something else was going on.

Chit-chat came to a standstill when Magnus strode into the room and took his seat at the head of the table. Calvin followed him in, steno pad in hand, careful not to meet anyone’s gaze. He was not a favorite with senior management because Magnus’ iron-fisted management style irritated most Directors. That resentment no doubt colored the way they viewed Calvin.

Magnus surveyed the other Directors with hawk’s eyes. “For those of you who returned my calls this morning, I thank you. We are entering a critical period. It is essential we stick together.”

This conciliatory language relaxed the group. Attendees stopped squirming in their seats. A few even dared to glance in Magnus’ direction.

Magnus went on. “But we are only as strong as our weakest link. I was on the phone with the CEO this morning. Earnings are down. Our stock price is falling steadily. Now Gauche Mining wants to cancel their contract.”

A buzz rippled through the room. As Barchadelli’s biggest client, Gauche’s departure might spark a mass exodus if other customers acted on the same fears.

“We’re too fat,” Magnus continued. “Too many people, not enough productivity.” At this comment, Carl Sturmfels stiffened, put his coffee cup on the table. The Human Resources Director was widely considered the most considerate of the senior managers. Calvin liked him, but that sentiment was not shared by Magnus, who thought the man was an idiot.

“Somebody’s to blame. But who?”

The question hung in the air like an accusation.

“Whose fault is it?”

Calvin bit his lip, waiting. What was Magnus playing at?

At the other end of the table, Carl searched the far wall. The other Directors inched their chairs imperceptibly away, like a herd scattering, offering up the weakest among them just before the lion pounces.

“What do you have to say for yourself, Carl?”

Carl looked up. Unblinking placid blue eyes calmly met Magnus’ withering gaze, but he remained silent.

Magnus chuckled. “Tight-lipped to the end, eh Carl? You should have more common sense, man. Even Calvin here has more common sense than that.”

At the mention of his name, Calvin snapped to attention in his chair.

“Well, no point in beating about the bush,” Magnus said, proffering a half-smile as if sharing a friendly anecdote. “Effective immediately, consider yourself on unpaid leave, Carl, until we sort things out.”

Calvin sat glued to his seat, thunderstruck. The misgivings he had stifled until that moment bloomed into full-fledged alarm. Magnus was using the crisis as a pretense to get rid of Carl.

“In the meantime,” Magnus said, “Calvin Rumpus will be the interim Human Resources Director. That is, until we find a suitable replacement.”

Calvin froze. All eyes were on him. Animosity swept the group’s faces. Even Carl gave him a quizzical look, like Calvin was somehow to blame. An abrupt, unbidden stillness permeated the air, and Calvin, suddenly unable to breathe, wondered how on earth he was going to get out of this one.

 ~fin~

Thanks for stopping by!  πŸ˜€