Upward Mobility and Senseless Tragedy

“Morning partner, how’s life?” Beaker Johansson asked.

His partner, Sissy Kristoffersen looked animated – a bounce in her step. Her real name was Sesselja Kristoffersdottir, but that sounded funny. Not to her of course, but to friends, to co-workers. Especially to higher-ups. So, like an Italian immigrant passing through Ellis Island, more interested in career opportunities than preserving old-world roots, she decided to change her name. Kristoffersen. It was still Icelandic.

“Oh. My. God.” she said. “This morning at breakfast, you won’t believe what little Sabina says.”

Beaker took a sip of his morning Starbucks. Raised his eyebrows indicating that Sissy should go on.

“She goes, ‘Knock-knock’. So I said, Who’s there’ And she says,” Sissy paused, removed her overcoat and placed it on a coat peg. “She goes, ‘That’s what she said!’”

Although childless, Beaker took pride in his ability to show concern over coworkers’ kids stories. It was part of his strategy to make himself a top-notch Junior Locator and invaluable to his new team. He chuckled, shook his head and said, “No! Oh man, they grow up quick, don’t they?”

Sissy sat down at her station. “It doesn’t even make sense. As a knock-knock joke. But where did she learn stuff like that?”

Beaker leaned forward, that showed personal interest, concern. Then, hand over heart, “Not her Uncle Beaker, I guarantee you that. Maybe school.” He grinned, “Maybe you?”

“Well, maybe. I don’t know, but I couldn’t help laughing. I mean, it was funny.” She sipped her own coffee. “I don’t want to encourage that kind of behavior, but it was adorable.”

“That’s what she said!” came from open side of the cubicle. Beaker and Sissy looked up. It was Tobias.

It had been a week since Tobias Lundgren had been promoted. Last week he was in Sissy’s spot, Senior Locator. Across the hall, in Acts of God. But he had known then, as everyone had known, he was on the fast-track to the top. Still, now, walking into Senseless Tragedy as a team leader, he was perfectly at ease. People talked about the first-time-Decider-jitters, but he had experienced none of it. Senseless Tragedy was shooting fish in a barrel compared to Acts of God. You miss your shot at a tornado and, well, you’re spending the rest of the week hoping for a couple of honeymooners to walk out on the rocks to get swept away by a rogue wave. Talk about patience and timing. But here, opportunities were like city buses, sometimes literally, coming along every few minutes.

Senseless Tragedy was also massive, probably ten times the size of AoG. Two or three football fields in size, a sea of 10×10 yard cubicles, each occupied by a three person team. The vast personnel looked, and most felt like, cogs in this departmental machine, but Tobias walked into the facility, rode the elevator and walked to his cubicle as if he held the keys to the executive washroom, all smiles, fist-bumps, and finger guns.

“Where does TeamTobiasL stand entering the last day of its first full week?” Tobias asked as he took his seat, slightly raised above those of his team, his bank of monitors and controls slightly more impressive than theirs.

“We’re in third, Sir.” Sissy, grinning widely, pointed towards one of her screens listing all one hundred Senseless Tragedy teams from first to worst.

“C’mon. I’ve told you. Tobias. Please.”

“Oh, yes. Sorry, Sir. Tobias. I’m just very excited. For a first week team to crack top fifty would be impressive. We’re top five.”

“It’s never been done,” Beaker backed up his teammate’s enthusiasm.

Tobias smiled, shrugged. “Like I said day one, my philosophy. We’re not after numbers. We’re after embracing the job. Doing it right, with a bit of flair and je ne sais quoi. Let’s embrace the spirit of our mission. If we do that, the numbers don’t matter.”

Sissy and Beaker nodded, slightly embarrassed by their crass embracing of the office rat-race.

“That being said,” Tobias continued after an appropriate pause, building to crescendo with every word, “I think we can finish the day Numero Uno. Fuck top five, let’s go for top one. Break some records. Whaddya say?”

This elicited an excited burst of high fives, yeahs, and booyahs. Maybe a fist bump. But no finger guns. Tobias believed that finger guns, while great for superficial exchanges, were counterproductive when it came to meaningful, charge-the-ramparts motivation. As the burst subsided, Beaker asked, “What’s the plan, Boss?” his voice still breaking a bit from unspent endorphin.

“I was thinking about this on the way in this morning,” Tobias sat back. “Our body count is fine. What’s going to put us over the top is looking for opportunities to jack up our Senseless Rating. So, what do we get good Senseless bonus points for?”

“Babies.” Sissy offered, “Octogenarians – triple if they survived the Holocaust. Cancer survivors. Um . . .”

“Buddhist monks,” Beaker took up the baton. “Nuns. Beloved high school teachers, or football coaches. Widows. Newlyweds.”

Tobias lifted his hands, nodded appreciatively, “Yes! Yes! We’re going to look for all of those today, well done. But every team in here knows that.” He gestured around the vast office. “Where’s our angle? What’s the most overlooked bonus factor?”

Beaker and Sissy looked at each other. Then at their shoes. Then at the ceiling.

Moving his hands like a conductor asking the first chair to hold vibrato, Tobias grinned at his team. “Starts with an L.”

“Latvians?” Sissy offered hopefully.

“Lunkheads! No!” Beaker shouted, “Losers? No, Lame . . .”

Tobias’ conductor gestures devolved into a mock fondling of a pair of large breasts. “Loca . . . “

Beaker and Sissy sat forward.

“Locaaaa . . .”

“Locaaaa . . .” said Beaker and Sissy.

Tobias smiled and nodded. “That’s right. Location.”

“Location!” his team shouted.

“Yes! That’s our edge. Our goal today is a Senselessly Tragic Outcome with a view. We’re going to stake out Highway 1 between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. We’re looking for a traffic accident, preferably head-on. But we’re not going to overlook the possibility of a drowning. If we get an STO, it’s going to be the most motherfucking picturesque one of the day, overlooking a sweeping vista of Pacific Ocean surf. Cha-ching! Bonus points.”

Sissy and Beaker sat bolt-upright, suddenly sober, all business tapping out commands on their keyboards.

“I want five potential targets north and south bound, five potential vectors north and south bound at all times,” Tobias, using his measured, authoritative tone. “Let’s see if we can’t match something up.” Then, as an afterthought, “Plan B, keep a running scan of who’s in the water over the same stretch. Running list of top five drowning prospects. Let’s get to it.”

*****

“I got a hubby and wife heading northbound. Just celebrated a 25th Anniversary at the Boardwalk.” Sissy said.

“Not perfect, but not bad. Keep em on the list.” Tobias acknowledged.

“Slotting them into number five.”

“I’ve got a just graduated valedictorian surfing off Bonny Doon,” Beaker offered.

“Roger, Beaker. Put ’em below the blind stand-up paddle-boarder.”

“Roger, Tobias.”

Suddenly Sissy sat up, eyes like saucers. “OH!” she shouted. Then, somewhat subdued, “Sorry, Sir. Tobias, Sir. I mean . . . I have a southbound car. mini-van actually. Currently passing through Half Moon Bay. You wanna see this!”

Tobias tapped his keyboard and leaned toward Sissy, “Whaddya got?”

“Grimke family, Mom, Dad, um, Brad and, um, Angela. And gifted 7th grade daughter, Jenny. On their way back to Santa Cruz from SFO where they picked up mom’s great aunt – Great Aunt Dolores. Sister Dolores. She’s a Carmelite! An eighty-seven year old nun and a gifted child, Tobias. A nun and a child!”

“Sissy, you’re a freaking genius. That’s it, that’s the target,” said Tobias. “Beaker, who are our northbound vectors?”A sense of focused urgency gripped the team.

“Number One, drinking teens, already in Pacifica, past our target.”

“Drop ’em. Next.”

“Number Two, distracted minister. No, wait. He just turned off onto Highway 84.”

“Next.”

“Number Three, Joseph “Punky” Michaels, forty-three year-old, life-long surfer-dude. Mildly high, or baked, as Punky might say. Just north of Ano Nuevo.”

“A-ha. Mr. Michaels sounds promising. Calculate point of interception with target.”

“Pescadero State Beach.” Beaker waggled a palm-down hand. “More or less.”

“Alright, lock ’em in. Vector and target. Establish visuals. Notify recovery they got a big one coming. Look alive everyone, we’re on active status.”

“Yes, Sir!” Both Beaker and Sissy responded.

“My name’s Tobias, goddammit.”

“Yes, Sir!”

*****

Each team member sat for a full minute, it seemed, hands to heads like three monkeys who wish not to see, speak, nor hear of what had just taken place. Finally, Tobias exhaled a sigh of resignation. “Beaker, tell Recovery to stand down.”

Moving like an automaton, Beaker punched a few buttons. The image of the recovery dispatcher appeared on one of his screens. “This is Beaker Johansson from TeamTobiasL. We just contacted you about an imminent recovery in Sector 9, USA. Stand down. It’s a no go.”

The dispatcher’s face, although only a skull, partially shadowed by a black cowl, still managed to emote a clear sense of annoyance – mostly through dramatic jaw-clenching. “Understood. Standing down.”

Sissy tried to smile, “Making Punky drop his joint in his lap was brilliant. Such a skilled move.”

“Thanks, Sissy. I thought I had it. We had it,” Tobias spoke, still sighing.

“It was so close. Such a near miss. A foot maybe. No, Tobias, it was inches. You missed STO of the week by inches.”

“So, so close,” Beaker said. “I thought we might get Sister Dolores just from a heart attack.”

“You know what a ‘near miss’ appears as in the stats, right?” Tobias made air-quotes. His team nodded and looked down. “It’s called a motherfucking ‘Affirmation of Life’ and we’re going to get docked seventy-eight points for it. It’s going to knock us out of the top five. Maybe top ten.” He looked at Sissy, then Beaker, each in turn. “I’ve let you guys down. I’m sorry.”

Both underlings shook their heads. Sissy spoke, “Go big or go home, right? Tobias, you’re the best, most ambitious Decider I’ve every worked for. We know, me and Beaker, that we’re going to swing and miss sometimes, maybe fall over from the momentum. But, Sir, Tobias, when we get a hit, we’re going to knock it out of the park. You don’t become a Senseless Tragedy dream team by playing it safe. We’re with you all the way.”

“Thanks guys,” Tobias shook his head. Rueful smile. Then sitting up, “You know what I always say?”

“Embrace the spirit of our mission and the numbers don’t matter?” Beaker offered.

“Well, yes, but also,”

“Don’t call you Sir?” said Sissy.

“Yes, yes,” Tobias held up his hand. “Maybe I haven’t shared this one with you yet. I also always say that we don’t learn half as much from our successes as we do from our failures.”

Beaker and Sissy sat back, gobsmacked by the wisdom. They looked at their new boss with unbridled admiration. Beaker’s mouth was agape. Sissy dabbed a tear.

“Now, I also say that we never give up. We’ve got half a day left. Let’s see if we can’t rescue that top ten. Sissy, start from the top. Five potential targets, five potential vectors, north and southbound. Can you handle that on your own?

“Absolutely,” she began tapping on her keyboard.

“Beaker, is that blind paddle-boarder still in the water?”

“That’s affirmative,” Beaker said.

“Well then, let’s go get him,” Tobias Lundgren beamed. “Maybe the valedictorian too.”

© 2018 Whiskey Leavins

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