Tuesday Writing Prompt

“They want how many?”

“Two million units, boss…by next Friday.”

“I’ve been in this business for 40 years. We’ve never done two million units in 10 days. It can’t be done.”

The old man smoothed back what little hair he had on the top of his head and loosened his tie. He looked around his office for an open pack of cigarettes and then remembered that he ran out this morning. Terrible timing. He flipped the switch on the intercom and barked an order to his assistant.

“Susie, be a doll and go grab me a couple of packs of smokes from across the street. While you’re there, order some sandwiches and sodas for Tom and me. It’s going to be a long night.”

The old man’s number two, Tom Connors, was only a few years out of business school and yet he had proven himself to be more reliable than other men who had been with the company for decades. The old man was a good judge of talent and he had put the kid on the fast track. With his help they had grown the company from a regional power to a national player. Eventually they got their foot in the door of the Pentagon. A few productive meetings and now they were being asked to prove themselves. The request was ridiculous, meant to test what they could do, but damn would it be impressive to actually make the number.

“Alright Tom, now that I have had my temper tantrum, tell me how we can pull this off.”

“Well boss, we’re going to have to get creative…”

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5 thoughts on “Tuesday Writing Prompt

  1. Two days later, the Vietnam Veterans of America were going door-to-door asking everyone in the town for any spare brass they might have — old keys, candlesticks, lamp stands. Their vans came back loaded with household junk of various quality, and temporary workers separated the steel and aluminum and the wiring, and weighed the resulting metal for purity out on the factory’s front lawn.

    More veterans were playing cover tunes on an impromptu stage. All the workers seemed to like the live music, and it helped because melting down the brass and grinding the propellant powder was hot, tedious work. A guy dressed up like Uncle Sam and the local pageant queen in a Rosie the Riveter costume walked around cheering everyone up, and a lot of the families sat out and had picnics on the lawn waiting for their husbands and wives to finish their shift.

    Tom had re-arranged the schedules into four shifts of six hours each, and had practically melted his phone trying to find materials. The old man, in the meantime, split his efforts between QA and wheeling around Herman Flaherty, the last surviving World War II veteran in the town, across the factory floor to cheer on the workers. It helped that the former Sergeant Flaherty still had a VFW hat and a bronze star with the “V” device. He didn’t have a strong voice anymore, but when he said, “We’ve got to do this for the soldiers, like we did back when we fought Japan,” it carried weight.

    The old man had never seen morale as high as this: the whole town had rallied behind the company, which had wrapped itself in the flag. The day before The Customer wanted the shipment, now only one week away, had been re-named “D-Day 2014” and production was getting near 300,000 every day. Flags and bunting were hung everywhere. Tomorrow, the single-A team from the next county over was going to come by and put in a couple hours’ work sorting and grinding. And someone from a TV station in the capitol had called to arrange for a live broadcast the day after tomorrow.

    In a sense, the rally was the most exciting thing the old man had ever experienced. The entire community coming together to help out was like the sort of thing he’d read about happening back when Sergeant Flaherty really had been fighting. He tried to keep a happy face on, but inwardly worried about all the quiet promises they’d made to make it happen — the mayor was going to get a sizeable campaign contribution, the Vietnam Vets were doing to get a full makeover for their meeting-hall, and so on. Was this what the war had been like, too? All sorts of compromises and promises made out of the daylights, all sorts of stress and uncertainties? He supposed it was; he’d only been a little kid and he didn’t really remember that part of it.

    But there was one thing undeniable. Tom had somehow managed to get an entire town, a whole region of the state, rallied with patriotic fervor, to come together and make it all happen. A tangible community spirit was forming, and Tom had been the architect. For that brief, shining moment, everything looked like it was going to come together and the old man allowed himself to believe that they’d pull it off.

    …And that was what pretty much everyone was thinking, to one degree or another, when it happened, out there on the factory’s front lawn with the amateur cover band halfway through “Smoke On The Water” with “Rosie the Riveter” lip-synching along into a crescent wrench.

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    • Joe had always been the competitive type. More than competitive, even. He had been the kid who loved playing dodgeball in gym class so he could “accidentally” hit smaller kids in the face with balls thrown with all his pubescent strength, the guy who played every high school football game with the goal of knocking another player out of the game, or in practice, one of his own teammates.

      The great disappointment of his life had been the day the army rejected him because of a heart murmer. The townwide joke had been that it was the first evidence he even had a heart, and many victims of his cruelty had snickered safely behind his back, and his ears had burned at the whispers of “4F.”

      Now he was using his strength to sort great quantities of brass, carrying heavier loads than anyone else, stripped to the waist and enjoying the admiring glances.

      And then he saw Bill–Billy the Kid, Little Willie–the shortest and scrawniest kid in his graduating class, barely able to carry the weight of his sack lunch, and his small nimble hands were sorting brass with incredible speed. “Look at Bill go!” a female voice hollered excitedly. And with a shock that he felt through his whole body, he realized that Little Willie was outsourcing him. He froze, then slowly rose to his feet, staring. And then Bill looked up and grinned at Joe.

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      • Afterwards, a surprising number of people said that Bill threw the first punch, but the majority opinion was against Joe. It was clear that the first good hit was thrown by Joe, a left-handed rabbit punch directly to Bill’s nose. Crimson squirted out under the force of the impact.

        Bill staggered back after the blow. The same female voice that had admired Bill before let out a piercing scream. Joe followed up with two more from his right hand, and Bill staggered back several feet, his center of gravity almost pitching over.

        “You little shit,” Joe growled.

        “That all you got?” Bill replied, regaining his balance and ignoring the tooth that had just fallen out of his mouth. “My turn.” He charged the bigger man.

        The state troopers pushing through the crowd to break it up had thought up to this point that it was a lot like all those times someone had had a few too many at Hayden’s on Main and got shown the door. But the moment’s pause changed the character of the fight. Joe had got himself a moment to pause while Bill got his balance back.

        He suddenly understood he was standing next to a large bin of heavy brass weapons. By the time Bill arrived to launch his counter-attack, Joe had armed himself with a brass candlestick. It connected with a sickening crunch.

        Then it was over, as suddenly and horrifically as it had begun.

        But where before there had been festive rock and roll, the clank of metal and grinding, and happy chatter of temporary workers and volunteers — now there was silence, but for the constant whine of traffic on the expressway, and poor dead Bill’s sister screaming.

        Tom got to the center of things just as Joe was being handcuffed and picked up off the ground, where the troopers had wrestled him down. “What the hell did you just do?” he asked his brother-in-law.

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  2. “Two million? That’s insane. Even if we could find the medical staff and the facilities, where in hell would we find two million men who’d volunteer for …”

    “Boss? ‘Units’. With a ‘t’.”

    “Oh. That’s very different. Never mind!”

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  3. “Well boss, we’re going to have to get creative…”

    “Last time you said those words to me, Tom, I woke up under a work bench in women’s undergarments covered in talcum powder,” Tubbs scowled. “Not a fond memory.”

    “Boss, this is different,” Tom said by way of distraction. “For one, I’m fresh outa horse tranquilizers. And two, you’re happily unmarried now.”

    “You might be right So what you got?”

    “I’m pretty light on psychedelics but have a solid on some Turbo Diesel.”

    “Hmm. File it. You never know”, Tubbs said nostalgically, his jowls quivering gently with each shake of his memory infused head. “Yes,” he said, coming back to reality. “Yes, of course. What I meant was what have you got regarding this so called “creative” solution to our little problem of the 2 million Obama bobble heads we’re supposed to deliver next Thursday to Governor Perry’s office.”

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