INSTINCTS UNDER TEST. 6-13-11
Herbert Embers ran a multi-faceted business enterprise that grew steadily over the years and became ever more prosperous.
However, although he could afford to live the good life there was no way that he could do so because by the time that he’d developed a new undertaking far enough to allow its management to be passed on to a hand picked subordinate another idea would have already cropped up that needed cosseting and guiding into being self-supporting and profitable. He’d give each newly appointed manager a free hand but their quarterly reports had better show steadily rising profits over the years or he’d ‘re-visit’ and ‘revise’ his selection of who should be in charge.
He and his wife had produced three sons and one daughter, Claire, who was the youngest. He ever so surreptitiously saw to it that his sons were given the education that he figured would best aid his company and when they’d graduated he apprenticed them to his most successful managers where they were groomed to eventually become management material themselves.
Having been brought up ‘old-school’ he didn’t envision a similar career for his daughter – he thought, privately of course, that the broad heading ‘wife and mother’ best suited all women – and so he let her follow her whims – a finishing school in Switzerland and another in Quebec and then a year in Bali to ‘find out all about Buddhism’ and . . . well, so on. To give his wife peace of mind he found a sensible, slightly older woman who worked for his company in the HR department and he saw to it that she got to ‘befriend’ Claire and then he secretly paid her the same salary that she’d been earning to stay BFF with her and go everywhere that she went. He picked up all of the formidable expenses that they ran up without letting them know how much pain every dollar of it that went on fripperies caused him.
When he was well on his way to getting all four of his children settled his wife reminded him that it had been ten years since he’d last had a proper vacation in which he could indulge his innate laziness by being able to wake up at around nine and have breakfast in bed and then read the papers before taking hours over lunch, with his favorite wines, and then relax poolside, until the sun went down, with sip-worthy whiskey and thirty-dollar cigars that, surprisingly only to people who’ve never smoked one, are also best described as being sip-worthy.
In contrast to what his d’ruthers were he was so busy that he had to get to his office at around seven o’clock every morning except on Sundays and have a bagel and coffee for breakfast at his desk and he’d eat lunch there too and wouldn’t leave it until seven at night and, seeing that keeping a clear head was essential in his line of work, he had to eschew all alcoholic drinks until he got home and even then he had to limit himself to one cocktail before, and a half bottle of wine with, dinner and nothing after it.
However, his cigar smoking didn’t have to be controlled and so he close to chain smoked them and as the day went by he used his guillotine to chop more and more of the tapered end off until, at around two in the afternoon or earlier if things weren’t going smoothly, he’d cut away all of the taper – that is, as much as a full inch of rolled tobacco – in order to get maximum drawing power and thus a huge nicotine boost with each and every drag that sucked the elixir deep into his lungs.
A very real drawback, if you will, of abusing even very expensive cigars is that if you get over aggressive with consuming them just before you get to be about a halfway down they start to allow a foul tasting, tar-like substance to seep out and there ends the pleasure that they can give in the usual way.
Unfortunately, our Herbert didn’t know any other way to smoke them – he was driven to be in full control of even that – which meant that he had to discard many large stubs and because of his powerful position no one in his office nor his home would dare to touch them and so at the end of each day there’d be as many as a dozen foul smelling butts in various ashtrays around his office and, in the evening, more at home.
Luckily, the building’s night cleaning staff weren’t fearful of losing their jobs and so they blithely disposed of them all on their way to getting all of the offices shipshape and pristine again before they quit work in the early morning. However, on one of the cleaning crew there was a Cuban woman who recognized the value of the butts from the brand names on the numerous bands that were also lying around and she took to using the guillotine on Herbert’s desk to slice off the soggy end and the burnt end and she took the rest home where her husband, also from Cuba and also in the know, gleefully opened them up and mixed in some ordinary tobacco and re-wrapped them and had himself a fine time at week ends, and made a lot of ex-pat friends, because smoking them goes perfectly with rum and Caribbean music especially after eating rice and black beans with pork which is a dish that everybody from that island equates with high living.
The butts in Herbert’s home stayed exactly where he’d left them until he himself, in a sudden fit of good housekeeping but with zero sense of guilt, gathered them all up for disposal.
On his annual visits to his doctor he always wrote down, “Between twelve and fifteen,” – on the line of the form that asks after, “Do you smoke?” and after, “Do you smoke cigarettes or cigars?” “How many cigars a day do you smoke? – and his doctor, naturally, had always presumed that he meant finger sized cheroots but when he caught sight of two huge ones nestling in the inside pocket of Herbert’s jacket when he was getting undressed for an annual physical exam he asked about them and was horrified when he was told that when he wrote “Twelve to fifteen cigars” he meant “Twelve to fifteen cigars.”
“Why, that’s appalling. You’ll be telling me that you inhale the smoke from them next!”
“Of course I inhale. What else? Surely there can’t be any harm in tobacco that’s in cigars that cost over thirty dollars each. Can there Doctor?”
We’ll skip over the dire warnings and the imprecations and the direct orders, and the horrifying pictures and the data that is unarguable with, that the worthy doctor trotted out but by the time that the examination was over Herbert was feeling both contrite and betrayed and had sworn to limit himself to three a day and to work hard to stop altogether.
He decided to limit himself to one after breakfast and another after lunch and the last one after dinner.
Back at work, Herbert – already difficult to work with – became impossible to work with when he’d taken up his newly introduced regime and from then on the people who came into immediate everyday contact with him soon learned to see to it that at critical junctions in their proceedings there was always one of his discarded stubs – relighting one of the three didn’t break his rules – at hand along with a box of long matches.
From then on the nasty little objects, as efficacious and as reliable as Valium, became as valuable as gold to his immediate staff and so the only ones that were left for the cleaning crew to deal with formed slim pickings indeed and the Cuban guy’s wife had to deal with the dire consequences that followed the end of her husbands cozy get-togethers as soon as his ‘friends’ realized that the cheroots that he was supplying them with were just that – cheroots, which are, the cheap ones at least, made of very inferior tobacco indeed and not even doctored ‘jumbo’ ones can approach delivering the amount of pleasure that really good tobacco can.
Herbert’s doctor, naturally, always argued that it was scientifically impossible but even so some people were adamant that it was the drastic change in his nicotine input that triggered a horrific but slow-growing growth in his brain.
The people in his office didn’t notice any changes in his manner nor in his procedures until it became obvious that his long hours poring over the balance sheets and reports of companies that were ripe for takeover weren’t producing any results and, more to the point, that he seemed to have run out of new ideas and had even lost interest in over- seeing the affiliated companies that he owned.
Sure, it made for a much easier life for them, day by day, but they were well aware that their hopes for advancement and raises and bonuses depended on the success and the expansion of the firm overall so, after a while, they began to get worried.
At home, his family had noted the change in him much earlier. For instance he discovered TV and he’d had a huge flat-screen one installed in his study where, before, he’d only gone to when he wanted to be left alone to savor his whisky and his cigars.
He found that he especially like Nature shows and he made an arrangement with one of his staff who knew his way around TiVo and the like and because of that he’d have as much as five hours of shows, taped for him during the day, available to him at the touch of a few buttons.
He was fascinated with watching wild animals in their natural environment and that led to his taking a lot more interest in the domestic cat and the two dogs that he and his wife had ‘inherited’ from their children. The cat received most of his attention because he’d seen that its cousins in the wild are mostly solitary creatures that are both independent and expert at hunting alone and – and this is what affected him most strongly – when they were bringing down prey hate didn’t show on their faces as they were doing so and so, from that, he reasoned that they had to know much more about pitiless nature with its unbending ‘eat or be eaten’ overall commandments than, say, a pack of hyenas or wolves who don’t stop snarling and snapping viciously even when a half of the deer, or whatever, is already safely in their bellies and there’s still plenty of it to go around.
He started to be extra nice to the cat and he was delighted when it, happy with the new arrangement whereby it was being fed choice tidbits from the table by its new admirer and was being lavishly praised and cosseted too, began to join him in the study and sit on his lap to doze. However, whenever a lion or a leopard, or whatever, started its chase in earnest it stopped dozing and became wide-eyed alert and fascinated and it would react appropriately when claws and teeth were being called into action on the screen and – this became much more fascinating to Herbert than anything that was shown on the TV – when the kill had been carried out the cat on his lap immediately lost interest but it would wait until the leopard, or whatever, was chewing contentedly on entrails and then – seeing that its own belly was full and knowing that the other half of a saucer full of thick cream, stored well out of the reach of the stupid dogs, was waiting for it – it would relax and close its eyes and be asleep in seconds.
After witnessing the same reaction a few times the increasing pressure in his brain that the growth was causing made Herbert come to the perverted conclusion that his cat was the perfect arbitrator in that it was totally impartial and – if a form of communication could be set up – that deep-seated impartiality might be put to profitable use in his office which interested him particularly because he’d been made aware more and more urgently of late that at least a half dozen important personnel selections had to be made in his various businesses. Soon.
With that aim in mind he began to introduce various tests to his cat with the aim of finding a way to get a purely instinctive decision out of it, one way or the other.
From the start he told himself to settle for a sign that showed a simple ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ because his reasoning wasn’t yet affected enough to hope for a considered opinion to be handed down in the course of time following an, ‘If it pleases the court, your Honor.’
One of the tests under, uh, test was the cat’s first reaction on being introduced to the subject under review. Herbert experimented with members of his household staff and he got an unmistakably positive response, which helped to cement his idea in place as being brilliant, when he tried it out on one of his gardeners. The unfortunate fellow had kicked the cat away from one of his prize tulip beds a few days earlier and, as you’d expect, the cat, knowing that it was well protected from retaliation seeing that its owner was holding it, wanted to tear him apart when it was carried to within striking distance.
On the other hand, when it was brought close to the cook’s daughter, who loved it and was always kind to it, the cat put up zero resistance and happily accepted being petted and even cradled by her.
That was enough proof for Herbert – the gardener was fired and the cook’s daughter was offered a job in Housekeeping that would lead to rapid advancement – and because he had a long line of promotions to make – that is, in the normal way of business seeing that there are always people retiring and relocating and just plain quitting or being fired for various reasons – he began to invite aspirants to those job openings to dinner at his house, one at a time, and each one was put to the test and the cat’s reaction sealed his or her fate – yes or no, with no appeal.
One of the men scheduled for promotion to a high office in the company was, unbeknownst to Herbert, a long time lover of his daughter and when she, Claire, found out that he, Paul Meredith, had been invited to have dinner with them that same night – to take the trial by housecat – she knew that if he ‘failed’ the ridiculous test Paul would be forced to leave the company and she might well lose him if he had to go to another city to get another job and so she called him at work and they came up with the idea of avoiding his having to take the test by telling her father that she loved Paul – it was certainly true that she loved the physical part – and wanted to get engaged to him – that was not necessarily true and, as she made very it plain to him, was by no means to be written in stone – that way, they reasoned, the test would surely be cancelled and the invitation to dinner would become a ‘getting to meet the family’ event.
Herbert was delighted with the news and he told her so but then he added, “And what good timing! We’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone in that we’ll find out if he’s worthy of being your husband and at the same time we’ll ascertain if he’s good enough to get the promotion!”
When Claire told Paul that they dressed casually for dinner he opted for a pair of grey slacks and a long sleeved blue and white striped shirt but, unfortunately, he forgot that the last time that he’d worn the slacks had been at a graduation party for his youngest sister at their parents’ house. There were, as usual, several dogs running around and one of them was a terrier that Paul had never seen before, and didn’t know who owned it, had taken an unnatural, and certainly unprofitable, interest in Paul and had humped away at his leg several times during the evening. The last time that it had done so the dog made the mistake of doing it out on the balcony when no one was around and Paul could, and did, retaliate by knocking the annoying animal away with his fist and then he place-kicked it – making contact, appropriately, between its hind legs – and the howling animal did a Tom and Jerry by coming to an abrupt stop about five feet up against the wall of the house and paused there before falling down and, very unhappy indeed with the turn of events, scurried off as best as it could manage into the night.
Because the pants were new Paul hadn’t had them cleaned, they looked to be pristine as they should have been too after just one wearing, and so he had no way of knowing that the amorous, hopelessly misguided dog had left some of its essential essence embedded in the fabric.
Paul and Herbert’s whole family gathered in the drawing room for cocktails and because Herbert knew him well from work for lo, these many years, they got on well but, even so, when dinner was announced he told Paul that they should get THE test out of the way before sitting down and so he called for the cat to be brought in.
Paul liked cats well enough and had always gotten on well with them and so he matter-of-factly reached out a hand to pet the creature but just then it got a whiff of pungent dog essence and it hissed like a cougar and it bared all its teeth and unsheathed its claws which made the, uh, maid who was holding it throw it away from herself and when it had landed on the carpet it scuttled away and crawled under a sofa.
Herbert was astounded and very disappointed but that was with Paul rather than with the cat and he couldn’t be deterred from firing him from the company and, close to forcefully, ousting him from his home and his daughter’s side for ever.
Claire stayed in her room for days, crying piteously whenever anyone came within hearing distance, but her strategy didn’t work and her father refused to re-consider.
A few days later the cat in question, Mew-mew, took an opportunity to run off – probably motivated to do so because Claire no longer allowed it to sleep in her bed – and it showed the world how intelligent it was – and, concomitantly, the value of its judgment and the worth of its instincts – by mating with an alley cat that was infected with rabies and also had the mange and fleas aplenty.
Mew-mew had been inoculated against everything, except fleas maybe, but that had been three years earlier and consequently the anti-body was no longer effective against rabies.
Well now, in a matter of days one of Herbert’s employees saw the cat in his garden and he recognized it and so he offered it some milk and then seized it and returned it to the, except for Claire, grieving household.
Mew-mew had to learn to accept being ousted by Claire and it did so by transferring its loyalty to Herbert and it took to sleeping in his bed.
Slowly, slowly, the rabies began to take effect and one morning Herbert saw some fleas swarming near its eyes so he swept it off his bed in disgust and the crazed cat didn’t scuttle away voicing its dislike of humans, as it had been prone to do when Herbert’s grand children were visiting, but it made itself as big as possible by humping its back and making its hair stand on end and then it attacked with teeth and claws for all world as if it had turned into a mountain lion that hadn’t eaten in three days and had a family of young to provide for.
Herbert used the bedclothes to ward it off and then to trap it and then, having seen enough naked aggression along with hissing and slathering to guess what was afoot, he scrambled over to the fireplace where he seized a poker and when the cat found its way out from under the clothes he was in the right place to be able to crush its skull.
They buried it in the rose garden, with no honors, and that was the last cat that Herbert allowed into his house as a pet no matter about as a consultant for his HR department.
His daughter was, of course, delighted with the turn of events and she petitioned her father to reconsider his harsh treatment of Paul and, not being an overly proud man, he apologized, “I was obviously very wrong about cats. They clearly don’t know up from down no matter about who their friends are,” and then he agreed to have him come to dinner again but, “Not for a few weeks, lil’ darlin, because we all need time to try to forget the stupidity of what happened last time.”
Herbert started to look for TV programs that might help him to fill in the void due to all cats having fallen from favor and so he told the member of his staff who did his TiVo’ing to record all animal shows that were shown in the daytime and he made time to view them but, sadly, he had to reject most of them out of hand because they disqualified themselves by working in packs, which obviously didn’t interest him, or by being only a moving appetite like whale sharks that will attack any and everything that it comes across as does, on land, wolverines.
When he was running out of options he, although he’d always hated snakes, forced himself to include them in and so he watched them in a series called ‘Fangs.’
He could find zero interest – much less any rapport – with programs that featured Boa Constrictors or nasty Black Mambas or the other ultra deadly ones and so he wasn’t very excited when he saw that they were going to show a whole hour of ‘Rattlesnakes of New Mexico’ and because of that it was with a lackadaisical attitude that he set up the CD but his interest perked up when the commentator said, right at the beginning, that Rattlesnakes don’t look for trouble and that they’d much prefer to rattle out a warning and then slither away and find a nice rock to hide under rather than attack anything that was too big to be dinner even though, remembering the deadly weapon that they are equipped with, the odds are very much in their favor and because of that a silent approach and a sudden strike was by far the most logical and indeed the best method to adopt to ensure their survival.
On hearing that, a germ of an idea popped into Herbert’s mind and so he watched the whole hour carefully and by the time that it was finished the germ had sprouted and so the next day, at work, he asked an assistant to arrange for the purchase of a copy of every CD on Rattlesnakes that PBR, or any other company, had in stock.
By the time that he’d studied just a few of the disks he knew that his idea was correct – rattlesnakes are clearly intelligent, rational creatures that can judge situations as they arise and can then decide on what action was both appropriate and merited. What’s more, the built-in warning system that they have is used, freely and charitably, to give notice to all and sundry that they should stay clear by knowing that it was only the first part of what could become a deadly encounter. It was only when they had no other recourse than to defend themselves that they stopped rattling and stopped backing off and then reared up into the striking position.
In sum, he figured, they are fully capable of reasoning out and assessing the character of any animal that is too big to qualify as a meal but that happens to come into its immediate vicinity.
Herbert was delighted because that was exactly what he was looking for seeing that the number of decisions that had to be made regarding promotions in his company was growing bigger daily.
The next day, at work, he Googled to find a store that sold glass cages for snakes that contain materials that make them feel safe and at home and have an automatic heat and humidity controlled environment and that have a lid that has a little, slip-bolted, hatch for putting food in.
Then he looked up another store that sold snake food, like big mice and small rats – while doing so he uttered a silent prayer that his snake would eventually grow big enough to be able to swallow stupid cats whole – and when he’d gotten confirmation of his order he found yet another store that sold rattlesnakes and he asked them to pick out a large, good looking one that he’d buy on condition that the three stores would co-operate to see to it that all of his purchases would be delivered to his home on the same day.
The three stores in question were all owned by the same conglomerate and they’d worked together many times before and so they had no problem with coordinating and coming up with a delivery date and so the one that sold the cages called Herbert back that same day and when he’d assured them that, “An adult would be on the premises ready to sign for everything,” the Salesman told him that everything would be delivered, and set up, at ten o’clock in the morning of the first Wednesday of the following month which was on – he gave him the exact date – and he wished him good luck and many years of contentment with his new, uh, pet.
When Herbert got home that evening he told his daughter to invite Paul to come over for dinner again, “On any evening after the first Wednesday of next month.”