Perfect Wisdom Berry Blast
by Joseph McKinley
Table of Contents, parts:|
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Conference Call“So, how much are they exporting?”
Baxter can’t believe the answer he hears.
“And they’ve been in business how many months?”
The detective on the other line, calling in from Hong Kong, is so phlegmatic — so jaded by life itself — as to sound only half reanimated after years in the tomb, drones on, dropping the occasional estimate, name, address, and obscure Chinese city. Baxter can’t keep up with all of the details. But it’s all in the report, which has already been emailed to the rest of the committee.
“Okay, thank you, detective.” The detective hangs up, leaving everyone else on the line.
Baxter leans close over the speakerphone. “Questions, gentleman?”
“So what is this stuff? Food? Medicine? Nutritional supplement? Narcotic?” asks Dwight, Richard’s elder brother.
“It’s new to me, man. Never seen anything like it,” interrupts Mike, who is the town’s most successful drug dealer and the circuit judge’s son.
“My clients, what about them?” worries the squeaky adman. The cosmetic surgeon echoes him.
“What’s so bad about it? It seems to be helping people,” asks the preacher, innocently. “What’s the harm in—”
The rest of the line breaks out howling: The preacher’s question is not well received.
“Gentlemen,” Baxter tries to calm the telephonic riot. No luck. Female voices belonging to the judge and the owner of the local department store start screeching along with the rest. Oh, of course. “Ladies and gentlemen.” Still, no luck. Baxter inhales, loosens his tie, and bellows, “Everyone, shut up!”
The line goes silent.
“What it is, is a problem,” says Baxter, evenly, “and it’s a problem for all of us. Now, what do we do about it?”
“Ban it!” yells one voice.
Murmurs of approval rise up through the line.
“Bob,” Baxter calls out to the pharmacist on the line, “do you want to take that, or should I?”
“It’s not a medicine. They’re selling it as food. Ban it, and they’ll probably just repackage it as a nutritional supplement with a different name. This little cat and mouse game could go on for years.”
“So what?” asks the personal trainer. “That’ll at least slow ’em down, and if people can’t get their daily dose—”
“Or we can thin the supply, step on it, and sell at a premium. Seems a copacetic arrangement for all,” says Mike with a drug dealer’s logic.
“What about jailing them?” asks the Sheriff. “We’re only at about half capacity here.”
“Treatment programs!” calls out the elder Baxter.
“More drug court funding!” yells the judge.
“Right on, Mom!” responds Mike.
“We’ll start a campaign,” chimes in the adman, “have the public baying for blood. The FDA, DEA, FBI, they’ll all come out against this stuff. And it’s all the Chicoms’ fault anyway, a giant plot to take our jobs! This’ll be better than the War on Drugs! Just say no to evil commie candy!”
“About that...” Baxter pauses.
“Yeah?” ask the voices.
“According to the report, which everyone should have already read” — cough — “it seems you need only one dose...” Baxter lets the words fall like lead balloons. “For life.”
“So what...” someone asks, but the question dies mid-sentence.
There’s no noise at all, save for the hissing of the line.
Great Winds Hand
“The East wind sighs, and so does the West, it seems. So many troubles, so many people in search of wisdom.” Uncle Fu lets out a thoughtful, contemplative sigh, and stares off into the distance, admiring his — also technically Xiaoxiao’s — plantation. The workers, all eight hundred of them, scurry about below.
Xiaoxiao has gotten used to most of this: the new house, the silk robes, the Mercedes parked in the driveway — authentic German driver included — but she can’t quite adapt to Uncle’s sudden literary bent.
Less than a year ago, he had carried Auntie Ma to Xiaoxiao in a sack, lest others see her miraculous transformation. Less than a year ago, he was a wild man in rags. Knowing how seriously Uncle Fu took any of this was impossible; his mind was perfectly opaque and, aside from Xiaoxiao, he was the only person completely unaffected by the candy.
The immunity must be genetic, thinks Xiaoxiao, but she doesn’t consider herself as crazy Uncle Fu is/was, which makes that theory doubtful. But would a crazy person know?
Xiaoxiao stifles back a sudden, almost inexplicable, urge to giggle and carries on with her translation, wondering what the obviously uncomfortable, obviously wealthy Americans sitting across from her think of all this as they awkwardly sip their tea.
“My uncle and I are surprised by the success of the candy in America. To be honest, we don’t know exactly how it was introduced to the American market,” Oh, Wailmoore! but the thought is just a flash, and she doesn’t have any proof. “We intend to begin exports very quickly.”
The fattest American, which is really saying something, nods along, making his best efforts to be polite. “Of course, making predictions is difficult, especially about the future.” He smiles.
Is the American joking or just being redundant? Anyway—
“We congratulate you on your success.” He raises his glass. “And we’d like to form a partnership with you, a very profitable partnership!”
“Really!?” Uncle Fu spins around, the Lao Zi gaze gone, and he looks at the men intently. A hint of money, and Uncle drops the scholarly façade.
“We’d like to become the sole North American distributor of your, uh, wonderful product.”
“Well...” Uncle Fu strokes his beard, trying to hide the greed. “I suppose we could consider that, but there are so many uncertainties.”
“We’d need at least ten tons of product, uh, candy, a year, and we’d pay in advance, of course.”
“How much?” Uncle Fu picks up his cup of tea, mindfully inhaling the delicately scented steam rising from it.
“Ten tons. Possibly even more, depending on the market.”
“I mean money!” Xiaoxiao tries to translate calmly, but the sharpness of the tone of Uncle’s words would be hard for anyone to miss, Chinese speaker or not.
“Twenty million is our initial offer, but we’re willing to negotiate.”
“I’m sorry, what? What does ‘you-in’ mean?” The American blinks, looks a bit insulted, “Of course we’re in. We’re in all the way. We’re very serious.”
Xiaoxiao fights back another giggle. “No, excuse us. Twenty million what? What currency?”
The Americans all glance at each other. Oh! “Dollars. American dollars, of course. Yearly.”
Uncle manages to choke down his tea, but only with effort. He starts to babble. Xiaoxiao hisses, “Be quiet, Uncle,” in Chinese. “I’ll handle this.” And Uncle falls silent, managing to regain a bit of his regal composure.
“We will need to evaluate this offer carefully.” Xiaoxiao offers a polite smile as she says it. “There are many things to consider, and there are logistical and technical concerns we must take into account.” The Americans seem unsurprised by this statement. “Please give us some time to assess this offer.”
“Take all the time you need!”
“We’ll be waiting for your call, Master Fu!”
Xiaoxiao nods along, smiling, and translates all the pleasantries as “They’re excited, really excited!” to Uncle Fu.
He nods and bows a little, looking all benevolence and wisdom. Xiaoxiao shows them out and closes the red-lacquered door behind them.
She turns back to Uncle Fu, who is rubbing his hands together with unrestrained giddiness.
“The Russians, the Japanese, the Southern Command, the Americans — North, East, South, and West — all directions, and they’re all in my hand. Lucky for me! Lucky for us, Xiaoxiao!”
“But this isn’t a mahjong game, Uncle.” Xiaoxiao pushes the half-finished cup of tea away from her, caution in her voice.
“It’s better! Twenty million dollars is quite a mahjong win!”
“That’s not what I mean.” She tries to not sound too dour, but she’s managed to annoy Uncle Fu nonetheless.
“Oh? What do you mean?” Now it sounds as though he is humoring her.
“We’re still little fish, Uncle, and we’ve just been dropped in the ocean.”
Xiaoxiao backpedals, realizing she’s offended her father’s brother.
“Whatever you say, Uncle. Whatever you say.”
* * *
In the car, the pharmacist leans in close to Baxter, not certain of how much English the German driver understands.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Richard?”
Baxter cannot contain his fury. “Son of a bitch is going to screw us!” he growls. They’re flying over the road at a nauseating speed; green tea and clementines are bouncing around in the Americans’ otherwise empty stomachs.
“Driver, would you be kind enough to slow down?” asks the Dwight D. The driver slows down not at all, possibly even speeding up. Dwight turns to his brother. “I don’t think he can understand us.”
“So what do we do, Dick?” asks Dwight D. “We’ve got to get this stuff off the market; dump it in the ocean, spike it with lead, lace it with PCP, something, anything, to keep people from buying it!”
Richard M. Baxter thinks for a minute, all the dirty-lawyer tricks dancing around his head. “If we can’t buy that little bastard out, we’ll...” — Baxter pauses, realizing the seriousness of what he’s about to say, and he lowers his voice to just above a hiss — “we’ll have to burn him down!”
Copyright © 2017 by Joseph McKinley