Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Fondue Plot

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The Fondue Plot

from the book: Life Will Get You in the End:
Short stories by David Satterlee

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Life Will Get You in the End:
Short Stories by David Satterlee

An obvious pun. Would an author deliberately set out to write an entire story around an obvious pun? It can be done, but karma will getcha every time. 

The Fondue Plot

Sometimes you just can’t win. It seemed like such a simple thing. I would differentiate my protagonists and antagonists by simply assigning them names in alphabetical order. What could be more innocuous than “Acme” for the industrial company? Besides, in the cartoons featuring Wile E Coyote and the Roadrunner, Wile E (you just gotta  love a good pun) is always unpacking a kit that he ordered from Acme Corporation. So, yeah, that’s cool. And, hey, let’s name the Acme guy “Will E[dmonds]. Now we’re really having fun.

Now, wouldn’t it also be fun to name the security guy, “Warren Pease?” [War and Peace, get it? Bwa ha ha ha ha!] But, wouldn’t you know it…? According to Wikipedia, the name Warren Pease is already taken by the drummer for a Seattle crossover thrash band. They call their musical style “splattercore.” Well, I had already decided on the design of my lethal device and this was just too good a coincidence. ‘sorry Warren.

But now, I’ve got another problem. It turns out that there really is a
fine upstanding machine parts company named Acme Industries near Chicago. It gets worse. Their president is named Warren. OMG. Well, you can’t fix everything. ‘sorry Warren.

Oh, and while we’re poking around, you might like to know that you can still buy copies of “Warren Pease,” a novel written in 2001 by Matthew Ives, a guitar player and history teacher – ostensibly for the sole purpose of being able to claim at parties that he was the author of “Warren Pease.” You just can’t make this stuff up. I wonder if he ever published “D. Greg Gadsby?”

Remember that alphabetical thing? My first choice for a made-up country name was “Banatu.” It seemed sufficiently familiar yet somehow slightly exotic. Great. Just a quick check of Wikipedia again and I’m done. It turns out that Banat is an historical region of Central Europe that embraces parts of Serbia, Romania, and Hungary. 

Now I’m in trouble again. I happen to know, from personal experience, that these guys can be sensitive about unintentional slights. During my misspent youth, I was doing computer work for a major oil company. It fell to me to assign several hundred unique “random” initial login passwords for engineers. 

Being a resourceful lad, I noticed that my keyboard was already pre-randomized. Thus resolved, I set about pecking in small semicircles to create new passwords and then dispatched notification emails to employees in the Engineering Department, letting them know how they could now access their new accounts. Satisfied with a job-well-done, I treated myself to a nice fried tenderloin sandwich at the greasy spoon down the road, imagining how grateful they must all be.

All went well until my supervisor showed up and sat down across from me with that very serious face that could only mean he was planning to say something very serious. It seems that one of my beloved engineers wanted to have me fired. He had immigrated from Serbia but wasn’t an ethnic Serb. I had inadvertently assigned him the password “serb” and he naturally felt obliged to take offense. 

I completed several sessions of pleading both ignorance and innocence followed by abject groveling before the issue went away. Actually, I suppose it didn’t go away entirely. It crawled back into whatever dark corner of someone’s soul from which it had come, also leaving an ever-tender place in mine. Now, you too own a little piece of it. You’re welcome.

Ah, hell. Warren from Acme probably has relatives from Banat and there’s nothing in the world I can do to make it better. Besides, online configuration notes for “SSL Certificates with JaxView Proxy Configuration” seems to have gotten away with using “Warren Pease” and “ACMe-Systems, Inc.” as examples without the universe imploding. So, let’s just get on with the story.

 For some time now, a number of powerful multinational corporations, including Acme Industries, had been looking for a way to acquire mining concessions from the Kingdom of Banatu. King Gunderbane was enthusiastic to close a deal and let the highest bidder start scraping off mountaintops, gouging pits, and dumping slag as soon as possible. 

His Queen, Grendelbert, was a more-cautious, environmentally-sensitive, and socially-responsible anchor in his chain of command. This was your classic exploitive-conservative vs. conservative-liberal standoff. Something had to give.

Acme was negotiating in (relatively) good faith, considering that they were responsible for quarterly results to the usual motley assortment of major stockholders and other financial backers. This was one of those things that could yield better-than-substantial returns, if you know what I mean. Or, it could totally collapse into a paroxysm of, you know, very unhappy not-quite-so-very-rich-anymore people. 

Banatu was not (yet) a rich country. It was primarily known for its rugged mountains, goat cheese, and pristine sparkling streams (at least those upstream of the goats). On the other hand, the mountains of Banatu WERE rich… in the rare earth minerals prized for the manufacture of modern electronics, gadgets, and gizmos. The hungry new world had come knocking and it was offering major bling.

The president of Acme, Will Edmonds (or just Bill-E) was heading negotiations with King Gunderbane personally. They had developed a close working relationship and had already exchanged tokens of their commitment to an “understanding.” Bill-E’s Chief of Security, Warren Pease, likewise, had been developing a regular exchange of confidences with the Prime Minister. 

Banatu didn’t have a full-scale military, but an elite militia had been recruited to form a “palace guard” and were taking their initial classes. They were already well into their training modules on marching straight and climbing ropes. It was understood that they would be provided with advanced tactical weapons and be able to hold off an attack by hundreds of peasants (or thousands of goats, I suppose). Now, where was I?

Oh, yes. Queen Grendelbert was going to be a problem. She wanted to impose stern regulations in general and she deeply distrusted the people from Acme in particular. And so it happened that she was left behind when her King and his Prime Minister attended a “working retreat” on a remote island owned by Acme. 

The entire team of principals and staff negotiators hammered out some of the last details. In a side meeting, Security Chief Warren met with the Prime Minister and hatched a plot, just between themselves, to assassinate Queen Grendelbert. It would work this way:

Grendelbert was known to be fond of fondue. In fact, she was particularly fond of preparing dark beer and cheese with cubes of toasted rye bread (with extra caraway seeds) for her canasta parties. And so, a special fondue pot was prepared as a surprise gift. It had electronic controls and hidden sensors. It was gold plated on the outside. It had half a kilo of plastic explosives on the inside. When turned to high, to pre-heat the cheese, it would, well, be a surprise, now, wouldn’t it?

At the end of their retreat, everybody boarded the Acme private jet. They were bound back to Banatu to present the agreement to Grendelbert and the King’s cabinet – to be followed by a lovely grand ball and fireworks. 

While cruising at 45,000 feet, King Gunderbane noticed that there was a shiny new fondue pot on board. He had a sudden craving to treat himself to Grendelbert’s special beer and cheese recipe, and promptly treated a retired couple, relaxing on their porch swing near Ponta Delgado in the Azores, to a lovely grand ball of fireworks in the sky.