Kimberly here, of http://www.kimberlyemerson.com. I can’t get enough of short stories lately, so when Erika asked me to participate in This One Time…at Writers Group’s new challenge, of course I said yes. I got the following five pieces of music for inspiration:
1.) Heavy Metal/Hard Rock- Breaking the Law by Judas Priest
2.) Pop/Hip-Hop- The Heart Wants What it Wants by Selena Gomez
3.) Country/Singer Songwriter- Oh Very Young by Cat Stevens
4.) Instrumental/Soundtrack- Pirates of the Caribbean (1)- The Curse of the Black Pearl
5.) Wild Card- The Happy Birthday Song (traditional)
I listened to all of them (sans videos, just as requested). First, I discovered that Happy Birthday sounds a little creepy heard out of context. Don’t know why. Beyond that, I toyed with a story based on the Selena Gomez song, but finally ended up drawn to the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. A pirate story! I decided the swashbuckler in my head was too literal, and thought to myself, who are the modern day pirates? Hmm…instead of the high seas, most of them sit behind a computer somewhere…
Phillip Rainier banged his cup down on the desk, splashing drops of black coffee on the keyboard.
His administrative assistant poked her head around the partially open door. “Mr. Rainier? Is there a problem?”
“Get me the head of IT. Now.”
Less than a minute later, Tomas Garcia walked into his office. Rainier didn’t look up. “Shut the door.” As soon as he heard the door close, he wheeled his chair back from the desk so Garcia could see his computer screen. “Read this.”
The IT guru stood over his shoulder, keeping a very respectful distance away, which was wise. Rainier would have loved an excuse to smash something. They both read the 48-point font.
THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING. A PUBLIC STATEMENT THAT YOU WON’T LAY OFF ANYONE ELSE THIS YEAR, OR YOUR NEW CHEMOTHERAPY FORMULA GOES ON WIKIPEDIA.
P.S. YOUR LATEST BONUS GOES UP TOO.
Rainier rounded on his employee. “Who the hell is sending these? Why haven’t you found them?”
Garcia twitched beneath his white collared shirt. “I don’t know, Mr. Rainier. I’ve had my whole team on it, and we’ve got nothing. They come in on your email, from your email. There’s no trail from other servers.”
“Do you think it’s Anonymous?”
Rainier’s employee shook his head. “Anonymous wouldn’t have made the threat this private. Their ultimatum would have made the rounds on Twitter by now. Are you sure no one else has access to your email account?”
“I’ve changed the password three times in the last week. The last one was fifteen characters including numbers, capitals, an asterisk and two dollar signs.”
Garcia raised his eyebrows. “You have that written down somewhere?”
Rainier tapped his shirt pocket. “I keep it with me all day. It goes in my desk drawer at night. My wife is sick of finding ink marks on my shirt pockets, but I can’t remember them all anymore.”
“And you’re sure your house is secure?”
“I run a multi-billion dollar company, Garcia! I have better security than the President!” It wasn’t an exaggeration. Rainier paid the security bill every month before he paid his health insurance. When he considered threats to his health, heart attacks were a distant second to long range rifles.
Garcia sighed. “Perhaps we’re overstating the threat here, Mr. Rainier. We have patents on our formulas. Even if the formula went public, no reputable company would be able to use it.”
“Not this one.” Rainier tapped his fingers on the oak desk. “I talked to Legal yesterday morning. It won’t be final till next week, at the earliest.” The conversation had ruined his breakfast. Screaming at the phone and pounding on the table had produced no result save spilling orange juice on his daughter Miranda, who’d had to run upstairs and change into something less citrusy.
“Perhaps we need security on the formula.”
Rainier rose to his feet and smacked both hands on the desk. “Where do you think I’ve been keeping it? In a fake rock on my porch?” He walked away to resist the urge to punch Garcia. “It’s under the tightest possible security right now. I have a backup of the formula at home, just in case there’s a huge computer disaster, but that’s the only place it exists outside the lab. The entire lab staff knows it’s worth more than their lives to leak it.”
Garcia looked about a half second from making a run for it. “Well, at least you don’t have to worry about the bonus thing. That’s stated in the company financial reports, isn’t it?”
The stare Phillip Rainier gave his employee caused the man to take two steps back. “Not everything is listed in the financials, Garcia. Not that anything illegal is going on, of course.” That I’ll admit to you, anyway. “There are just things the public doesn’t need to know.”
Garcia coughed. “Of course, sir.” He scooted closer to the door. “I don’t know what else we can do.”
“We were planning a round of layoffs next week. We can’t afford not to.”
“But if we release this new chemo drug, we should make money off it, right?”
“If the research holds up like we think it will, and it causes significantly less nausea than the usual stuff, yes. But I can’t guarantee that right now.”
Garcia’s wrung his hands so fast they looked like a blur in front of his stomach. “Um, Mr. Rainier? Maybe you should call their bluff. You said the formula is secure. Just don’t react to the email.”
It was Rainier’s turn to cough.
Garcia’s eyes bugged out. “They sent proof they have it?”
“An early version of the formula. Not perfect, but close enough.”
Silence reigned for the next two minutes. At last, Garcia swallowed audibly. “I think you might have to give them what they want, sir.”
“What? How do I explain that to the shareholders, Garcia? Sorry, decreased dividends for you folks. They’ll sell before they hit the door.”
“Maybe senior management could give up bonuses this year.”
“Garcia, you’re – “ Rainier almost said he was fired, and then stopped himself. For all he knew, Garcia could be the one sending the emails. He had access to everything. Fire Garcia, and the formula would probably be on Wikipedia by lunchtime. He cleared his throat. “You’re probably right. I’ll find a way. Get back to work.”
Garcia didn’t need to be told twice.
Feeling like an idiot, Rainier called the head of Public Relations. “I want a statement out to the media this morning, out to all major media outlets. No new layoffs for Rainier Industries this year. Yes, I know what that means! Just do it!”
A buzz on her phone told Miranda Rainier that CNN had a headline with her father’s company in it. “No New Layoffs for Rainier,” it announced.
She texted the link to her best friend’s phone and added the message, Relax. Your mom’s job is safe.
A text came back immediately. OMG! I have to call mom. All good till next year.
She’ll be fine next year too. Don’t worry.
If her father started keeping all his important stuff in a bank vault instead of his top drawer, she might have a problem, but Miranda didn’t think that would ever happen. Dad didn’t trust strangers.
Kimberly Emerson is currently working on one novel, seeking representation for another, and considering a twelve step group for her short story habit. Okay, that’s not true, she’s entering short story contests, but when you think about it, that’s kind of the same thing. Her cat Zoe wishes Kimberly great literary success, because humans make much better cat servants when they work at home. Make her cat happy and subscribe to her blog, http://www.kimberlyemerson.com.