Sunlight on the Plaza Below
by Tony Noland
He waited, his PowerPoint finished and the screen dark behind him. Thomas had to let them draw their own conclusions. If he led them too blatantly, if they realized that they were being manipulated, then his enemy would survive and his own destruction would serve no purpose. In this lull of shuffling papers, he waited for the Regional Director to start insulting him. When she did, he knew the Assistant Administrator would see it as a violation of his turf and blunt her attack. They would grapple over who had the right to tear off the head of the upstart little troublemaker. Each would want to demonstrate ferocity and expertise for the other executives.
After no more than four minutes, Thomas knew, either the Director or the Administrator would exert his authority and silence both subordinates. If the Director spoke, it would be about focusing on the more important task at hand. He preferred to be viewed as a statesman. He thought it made people respect him. On the other hand, the Administrator would tell everyone to save the pissing contests for after the dog and pony show. He enjoyed talking like an uncultured redneck. He thought it made people underestimate him.
It didn't matter to Thomas which of them called off the eager lieutenants. Thomas had prepared several different strategies, depending on which of them spoke first, and how the other reacted. He estimated that from the moment the attack was called off, he'd have perhaps twenty minutes until one of them gave the signal that it was OK to renew it. He'd have twenty minutes before he was completely ruined. Twenty precious minutes to make sure that Mr. Winterwell's entire program was discredited. Winterwell had to be not merely wounded, but infected with an incurable case of reputation rot. Thomas would see to it that he was a dead man walking.
The shuffling paper stilled as the Regional Director set her pen down and removed her reading glasses. Thomas fixed his face in a slightly anxious-looking attentiveness as she began her comments, dismissive and condescending. He let his face fall with a tinge of dismay, then lifted his chin slightly and set his mouth in a firm line, to convey resolve. When the Regional Director paused in her diatribe to draw her fourth breath, the Assistant Administrator interrupted. Thomas did not need to look at either the Director or the Administrator to know that they were watching the byplay. They were also watching him. He must not show weakness, but he must not show impenetrable bravado, either.
Winterwell. The jealous, bitter old bastard had arranged things as skillfully as only a soulless sociopath could. Thomas had been made to suffer deeply by his maneuverings. He thought of his prospects with the company, which had been so bright and shining and limitless. His future now lay in broken pieces before him. Where once he'd been on a fast track, now he was shackled in the litigatory hell of EEO, CR, and HR. His mentors didn't return his calls, his colleagues avoided him, his friends and clients always had other plans for lunch. As he stood and listened to the bickering of the subordinate tier of executives, Thomas' heart and soul were consumed with rage. At Winterwell. At the Division Head. At the entire company. At all of mankind.
None of this showed on Thomas' face. He had learned some very important lessons while managing the vicious, wretched people in Winterwell's department. How to wait for the right moment, how to swallow the bile and hide the fury, how to show nothing of your true feelings and intentions - he had turned these skills over and over in his mind, spinning them through the dark hours of the night like a blank on a lathe. For weeks, his mind had been preparing a weapon for his use. How ironic that after all the shouting and desk pounding, after all the e.mails and memos, after all the words, he would use silence to finally win the day.
These powerful people could be manipulated, but it had to be done gently. He knew he could use them as the means to enact his revenge, but revenge was not something to be done in the heat of the moment. Not if you wanted it to be complete.
The Director clicked his pen, twice. The Regional Director cut off in mid-sentence and turned to face his superior. The Assistant Administrator looked, and saw the Administrator also facing the Director, allowing him to speak unchallenged. The two elder gods, then, had worked out this sequence before coming into the room. Behind his blank face, Thomas registered that the Director was saying nothing about focusing on the task at hand. He was instead talking about the founding of the company, and the mission it had pursued from its earliest days. By this, Thomas knew that he was a dead man.
Thomas shifted his plan in an instant. If all was preordained, then he would not have twenty minutes. He would not have even five. He was already finished. He had failed in his desired form of revenge before he'd even begun, and Winterwell had won again. He, Thomas, would be forced to leave in disgrace, and Winterwell would be free to continue to spread whatever lies he liked while sitting in the corner office on the 43rd floor, the office that faced onto the plaza.
The office that Thomas had long considered as his own rightful destiny.
Thomas had always believed in contingency planning. Along with decisive action, it was one of his core executive strengths. He had so very much wanted to see Winterwell suffer a protracted humiliation and ruin. It was his only true regret, that his revenge would be too quick for him to enjoy.
As the Director made his first reference to the larger implications of the present case, Thomas reached into his pocket and pushed the button on the detonator.
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