The Executive

The rain hushed away the silence of the office as Kate Vanden rolled the new-hire fountain pen from side to side across her desk. Her blouse was damp with sweat, sticking down the center of her back beneath her suit jacket. She shifted slightly to release herself from the fabric, but within a few seconds, it had seemingly adhered again to her skin. Lynn had developed an indifference to days like these, edging close to boredom yet with a splinter of anticipation. The Executive would be there at any moment, and it seemed that it was never without some anxiety that they waited for his arrival.

    Kate was still considered a rookie to Mondo Media after only a month of employment and had never so much as seen the Executive. She was still unsure as to why he was even called that. In her mind, he was no more than a tenured peer.

“Seventeen years of killing it will get you there,” said Kate’s supervisor. “Don’t expect to last that long.”

Kate wondered why anyone would want to last that long at a company that created calls-to-action and polling emails. This wasn’t why she’d graduated as head of her class with a major in marketing and a minor in communications. At $28k a year, she calculated that she would pay off her student loans just before her sixty-third birthday, and that was factoring in inflation, interest, and any raises or promotions. Assuming the company didn’t go under, that would take her almost forty years. Thanks, but no thanks.

“Is there any way we could turn up the air? It’s so hot,” said Kate to anyone. Freddy from the cubicle next door poked his head over.

“Invest in a neck coolie.”

“What’s a neck coolie?”

“It’s basically an ice pack, except with a soft outside designed to go around your neck. I have one just for when the Exec arrives.”

    “Why when he arrives?”

    “He likes it extra hot. He says sweat makes the mind nimbler.”

    “Nimbler? Seriously?” Kate asked.

    “No one jokes about the Exec,” said Brandy from the cubicle across. “Better not let him see you slacking off, either, or you’ll be in for a speech. Last time, I was in the kitchen getting coffee and he start having a conniption.”

    “But why?”

 “You’ll find out,” said Freddy as he and Brandy laughed and shook their heads. They returned to their computer screens leaving Kate with a bewildered expression.

    Kate turned back to her desk. It was a small roofless box, a three-foot table, a laptop, and her pen. A single tray with a stack of papers rested beside it, the infinite list of recipients. She took the top packet and began comparing the list to that on her screen. If she found one missing on either end, she would update them both until completely identical. This was her busy work and found it more bearable with headphones in. Funk disco was the sound of the day, she decided, inserting the buds into her ears and pressing play on a randomly generated playlist.

    A few minutes later, she received an email assigning her to write up a call-to-action for the preservation of an endangered plant in the Midwest United States and a link to a website with all the necessary information she’d need. Kate’s blood began pumping a bit faster, as this was what she enjoyed the most about her job: creating compelling messages to people who want to make the world a better place.

    Kate moved her fingers to the keys.

    Subject: BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

    Content: Almost 20,000 years ago, giant glaciers left indents throughout the Midwest known as the “prairie potholes”. It is in these indents that the perfect conditions were made for the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid to thrive. However, according to the Endangered Species Coalition, there are estimated only 172 populations left on our entire planet because of development, overgrazing, wildfires, and global warming.

WE need YOUR NAME added to the petitions to bring this worthy cause before Congress and protect this important and beautiful flower from extinction.

CLICK HERE to protect the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid.

Because no one but YOU can save them.

    “Working through lunch won’t get you a better parking spot,” said a voice, bass and articulated, very close to Kate’s ear. Startled, she whirled around to see a tall man, stocky and neat, smiling smugly down at her. “That last line is a good touch, by the way. You should try adding the same urgency to the rest of it before they trash the email from boredom.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “Did you know that within the first thirteen and a half words of anything, the reader has already decided whether they will continue reading or hit delete?”

    “Thirteen and a half?”

    “Thirteen and a half,” he repeated.

“That doesn’t sound like a real statistic.”

“That’s because almost seventy-one percent of all statistics are made up.”

“So… you made that up.”

“About the statistics? Yes. I take word count very seriously, though. I wouldn’t joke about that.”

“What study did the thirteen and a half words come from exactly?”

“That’s not what’s important. What’s important is those first fourteen words, and that’s not including your subject line.”

“I thought you said it was thirteen and a half?”

“What does that say about the fourteenth, then? For example, word number fourteen in your email is the word ‘the’. What is the word ‘the’? And don’t say it’s an adjective.” His coal black eyes peered down at her expectantly.

“An adverb?”

“It’s a definite article,” he said. Kate stared back blankly. “You don’t know what that is do you?”

“I…it’s one of those little words like a preposition, right?”

“No,” he said, rolling his eyes. “It’s not like a preposition. A preposition is a word that governs a noun or pronoun and expresses relationship with another word. A definite article introduces a noun and implies some common knowledge, the key word being ‘common’. ‘The’ as your fourteenth word is a death sentence to the rest of your message, which means you might as well have not written which means that Shoreline Media might as well hire a chimp to sit in your seat because even a chimp who types an email full of mumbo jumbo wouldn’t squander his one precious fourteenth word with a pathetic ‘the’.”

“Don’t patronize me. I graduated top of my class from Howard University with a major in marketing and minor in communications. I might not be an expert with grammar, but I know a thing or two.”

“Oh, Howard University,” the Executive repeated, putting a hand on his hips.

“That’s right.”

“Top of your class, too?”

“Yes. I, a woman, was top of my class.”

“Well, you know where I graduated from? I graduated from Fuck Your Bachelor’s Degree University with a major in more experience in my left walnut than your entire femininity. And don’t get all pissy; that’s not a jab at your sex. That’s a gunshot to its head, because anyone who thinks that their sex makes them weaker and as such makes their marginal accomplishments greater has already lost. Lost what, you ask? Lost the fucking game. Cash in your chips. Thanks for playing.”

“That’s easy to say, coming from a man.”

“Yes, I’m a man, and as a man my accomplishments are significantly diminished meaning that I have to work ten times as hard to be considered successful. Do you know what a successful woman is by society’s standards? A successful woman is a human who bleeds monthly and runs a business with a quarterly profit of over two percent. Do you know what a successful man is by society’s standards? Steve Jobs. Muhammad Ali. Martin Luther King. Patton. Charlemagne. Julius Caesar. Any of the Kennedy’s. Those men had thrown at them everything that society didn’t have bolted to the floor. Any other man who accomplished anything is just a man, and every other man who cleaned toilets and assembled parts is just a number.

“Words are your tools. You should know how they work both individually and combined. More importantly, you should know how they don’t work. You say you know a thing or two? I won’t argue with that. You know where the break room is, where to find the ladies’ room, and how to make a decent closing one-liner. But everyone here can say the same thing. So, the question you should be asking is, what don’t I know?”

“Who the fuck do you think you are?” Kate jumped back as he reached into his jacket and produced a fountain pen similar to hers but much more elegant. After removing the cap, he presented it, placing it onto her desk, ‘The Executive’ etched across its nib.

    “I am the fucking Executive. I didn’t give myself that name, and I didn’t earn it because I was never working for a name. It was given to me freely by my peers. Peers past, present, and future. Peers that I had no problem cutting off like gangrenous limbs when they tried to hold me back with their deficiencies.”

    “Deficiencies?”

“Yes, as in, your call-to-action is deficient in urgency, inspiration, in herding the blind hearts of sheep to follow. You say there are only 172 populations? Make it 60. This plant is going extinct because of wildfires and hungry bovine? Throw in fracking and a divided federal government. Give them someone to blame.”

    “But that’s lying.”

    “Lying is what your paid to do. You have one objective in this place: get names. Names are people, people with interests, money, votes, health problems, debts. This information is like blood diamonds, retrieved at any cost and sold to the highest bidder.

    “These emails are supposed to speak to the good in people.”

    “No, they’re supposed to speak to the selfishness in people. Everyone wants to be a hero, but not at the cost of facing the villain. That’s where we come in. The middlemen. That’s why people sign their names on these petitions. They sign so that they can go to sleep in the comfort of their homes, bellies full, safe from harm, feeling like they actually influenced change in the life of a kid starving on a city sidewalk without ever having to look at them. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not.”

    “But these petitions help people. They help the world. They make people see—”

    “How much plastic has been pulled from the oceans because of a name? How many endangered species saved? How many famines reversed, diseases cured, trees planted? You say you majored in marketing, but it seems you missed the very first and most important lesson of all. We are in the business of lies. Every bit of it, and if you think the truth was ever important, you’re right. It was. But not anymore.” The executive turned towards the doorway of her cubicle. “They call me the Executive because I command people. If that’s what you want to do, then fix that fourteenth word. You’ll only be lying to yourself, otherwise. It’s all about manipulating the lies into alignment. If you can remember that, then there’s nothing you can’t make anyone do. Not even me.”

    Kate sat in silence for a long moment after he’d walked away, stunned and shaken. She wasn’t afraid, yet, she feared something. Not the executive. Not the act of lying. What she feared was this rising pleasure in the ability she now possessed. Had the executive meant to cut her down? At first, it appeared so. But now, she suddenly found herself lusting the power he’d revealed was in her hands all along.

    The sound of voices returning from lunch began to fill the office as she turned back to her laptop.

    Subject: WHILE YOU STILL CAN

    Content: Save the last remaining 51 Western Prairie Fringed Orchids in the world from annihilation…


OTHER SHORT STORIES
BY STEPHEN DANIEL RUIZ

Enter: OBLIVION

Studies In gray.

THE SALESMAN

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