SOME KIND OF RUGGED GENIUS - Welcome to My Woven Words

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The new guy walks right through Accounting eating a rat on a stick.
Roasted rat on a stick. Kid you not.
I see him first, can’t believe my eyes. He’s content and happy, eating that rat on a stick. Like a kid at the fair polishing off a corn dog, humming happily as he parades past me and Danzig with this rat on a stick, his teeth tearing away at the meat, like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Danzig stands up, his eyes giant, his mouth open. “Hey,” he mutters, and that’s all he can say.
The new guy keeps walking.
Danzig walks over, invades my space. “Who was that?”
“The new guy.”
“That thing had legs.” Danzig’s breath is atrocious. It’s like he just opened a jar of rotting meat and sour milk. “You see that thing?”
Gently, I push him away. “That thing was a rat.”
Danzig looks at me like I’m the one with a rat on a stick. You can nearly see his mind doing the math.
That was the new guy.
The new guy eating a rat on a stick.
We’ve all been hearing great things about the new guy.
Fitzroy can’t stop talking about the new guy.
The new guy, some kind of out-of-the-box thinker.
Fitzroy’s new genius.
Finally Danzig says, “You think they taste like chicken?”
The new guy doesn’t look like us. He has this whole I-don’t-give-a-shit scene going. Long dark beard that comes to a point near his sternum. Big head of black, wavy hair. Big, thick tribal tattoos on his long, muscular arms. Dark sunglasses, worn indoors. Heavy, charcoal- gray jeans, worn-in T-shirts and big black boots. Yeah, he’s a pretty jarring sight around here.
I wish I could dress like the new guy. Then I stop and ask myself, Well, could I? Sometimes these days, I wonder what people would do if I came to work rebel-style—my dick and balls flapping in loose jeans, my feet free in hemp flip-flops, my T-shirt untucked, my whiskers out for everyone to see.
God, that would be something.
Lately, Janice from Finance keeps bugging me for the master doc for the Procurement PMO. She’ll come over with her face in a knot, all worked up, snapping, “Waddlington needs the PMO master doc for the P5s by EOB. And if you can’t get the Q1 POD results sooner, then we’ll need to put the P6s into the FOD, and that includes the L2s and L6s.”
Danzig will holler from across the aisle, “And don’t forget the
SWAT reports for the L10s and L16s in FOD.” My throat is so dry, I feel like it’ll crack.
Sometimes when I’m passing Fitzroy’s office, I look in and see the new guy at the white board, sketching something out—God knows what—and Fitzroy is sitting there listening, completely attentive, nearly blown away, like they’re uncovering the secrets of the universe right then and there.
Yeah, the new guy doesn’t worry about L16s in the FOD. Or Janice from Finance. I’m sure of it.
The new guy is sitting in the break room, wiggling his tongue through the rat, getting at the meat. Penny from Legal walks in, gives him a double take, drops her Swedish meatballs, and trots out of the break room. We can hear her retching in the women’s room.

We watch him from afar, through the glass.
“It’s a stunt,” Danzig says.
“Maybe,” I say, “maybe not.”
“Oh c’mon, you think he just loves rat?” More people join us.
Gasps abound.
Several folks have to turn away.
“Well,” I say, “in Africa, a field rat is a real treat. Millions of people eat them.”
“But this guy isn’t African.”
“So you’re saying only Africans should eat rats?”
Danzig stiffens. “I’m saying, this is America. People don’t eat rats in America.”
Carol from the second floor says, “But Fitzroy loves him.”
“Out-of-the-box thinker,” I add. “That’s what they’re saying. ‘Outof-the-box thinker, out-of-the-box thinker.’ On and on and on.”
Barbara from Analytics joins us and squints into the break room. “That’s Fitzroy’s new guy.” She watches him. “Some kind of rugged genius.”
Danzig snaps, “Genius? Who said that?”
“Well . . . ” Barbara watches. “They say Fitzroy loves him.” Fitzroy is the boss—the boss’s boss’s boss.
“What’s he eating?”
“Rat?” Barbara straightens her blazer and clears her throat. “We’ll see about this.”
She charges in.
We all look at each other and decide to follow.
Barbara stands over the new guy, hands on her hips.
“So you’re the new guy.”
The new guy looks up, licks his teeth. Slowly, he grins. “Yeah.”
He says it nice and slow—lazy-California-surfer style. “That’s right.”
Barbara seems unfazed by the glistening rat skeleton that’s now on the napkin in front of them. “Where are you from?”
The new guy pulls his head back, grins. “All over.”
Barbara frowns. “No I mean, where were you working before this?”
The new guy grins wider. They’re nice teeth. “Long story.”
I like this guy. It’s like he’s saying, “Fuck you, lady,” smiling nice and easy the whole way.
Danzig feels brave now. He leans in, over my shoulder. “So what’s the deal with the rat?”
New guy turns and looks up at Danzig.
Long silence.
“Well . . .” The new guy waits extra long. “. . .  what do you think?”
Danzig studies him. His voice is high from the stress. “Fitzroy loves you.”
Those dark shades, that grin growing.
“They say you’re some out-of-the-box thinker.”
He smiles and nods, like he’s saying, Okay, man, it’s cool. I hear you. Barbara bursts out, “What are you going to do here?” Slowly, the new guy turns to her.
“Are you familiar with the California Stink Beetle?” Barbara squints.
“Well, the Stink Beetle can thrive in some of the world’s harshest environments—like a desert—even though it’s this big juicy insect. So the question one might have is, What gives? How can this black beetle thrive in a place like that?” Barbara’s still squinting.
“So here’s the deal.” The new guy straightens. “The deal is, the Stink Beetle innovates. At dawn, it ‘drinks’ from the moist air simply by positioning its rear into the breeze and opening its anus.” His smile is gone. The new guy is dead serious. “Now that’s innovation.”
He looks up at Barbara, an eyebrow emerging from behind the shades. “So the thing is, maybe it’s time to open your own anus to
the moisture that breezes over you each and every day.” Barbara loses the squint. She’s frozen, speechless.
Danzig says, “So it stinks or something?”
The new guy turns to him. “You fuck with the Stink Beetle, it’ll stand on its head and expel some seriously nasty gas.” Danzig mouths the words.
The new guy folds his arms. “Yeah, I dig the Stink Beetle.”
                                                                *    *    *
We circle the wagons at Armadillo Willie’s.
Danzig is working on a chicken wing, his face shiny with grease. “I can’t believe that guy.”
Barbara pulls the meat off a baby-back rib, slurps it in. Her cheeks bulge as she chews. After a big swallow, she says, “Someone should file a report with Business Conduct.” She thinks about it and squints.
“Eating a rat, saying that to me.”
I stick to listening. I mean, what good will protesting or whining do? The new guy is gold. Fitzroy loves the new guy. Nothing is gonna happen to the new guy.
Barbara gazes into space a moment, thinking. “You think the new guy was repeating something Fitzroy said about me?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, do you think Fitzroy wants me to ‘open my anus’? You know, innovate?”
Danzig leans over the table, makes a weird smile, and I fixate on the chicken strands wedged between his teeth. “Either way, we need to do something out of the box.”
Barbara snaps, “But what?”
“Doesn’t matter what. Just needs to be out of the box.”
Barbara nods, her eyes almost crossing. “That’s the thing now.
Out of the box. We need to get out of the box.” “So what do we do?” Long silence.
Finally I say, “How about eliminating some of these reports no one reads?” Silence.
Barbara says, “What if we shaved our heads bald?”
Danzig frowns. “Smells like a stunt.” “Well, let’s keep the ideas coming.” No one says another word.
Next day, Fitzroy scares the shit out of me.
He walks right into my cube.
This is unusual. There are about four levels of management between us, and I always figured he didn’t even know I existed. So now I’m thinking, He’s gonna can me. Fitzroy does that a lot—can people, lay them off, by the thousands. But the thing is, he always has HR do it.
He leans over me so I have no chance to stand up.
“Hey, Roger.”
It is only now, at this close range, that I see how bloodshot his eyes are, and how deeply sunken they sit in their darkened sockets. His skin is marked by broken capillaries, his gray hair is thinning, and his neck is so gaunt that he reminds me of a turkey. And he’s only forty-three.
“Morning, sir.”
He puts a cold hand my shoulder. “What are you doing today?”
I stumble. “Oh, I’m putting a few PLDs into the FOD for the
He blinks, cuts me off. “Don’t worry about that today, okay?”
“Yeah, I want you to join us this afternoon.”
Fitzroy tells me I’ll be joining him and the new guy for an afternoon offsite. Something the new guy set up.
“It’ll be fascinating,” he says, a grin developing. “Just us three?”
He nods. “Don’t worry about that. It’ll be fun.”
“What’s the topic?”
Fitzroy lifts an eyebrow. “Preemption.”
I want to ask, Why me? But I can tell he wants to leave already, and I don’t want to annoy the boss’s boss’s boss.
I nod, as if to say, Cool.
A toothy smile spreads across his face. Damn, those are long teeth. Dark, too. Probably all that coffee he drinks. Hell, his admin has a steamer outside his office so she can make all those espresso shots he throws back throughout the day. If I drank that much caffeine, I’d be vibrating.
“What are you, by the way?”
“What are you, six-four? Six-three?”
“Oh.” I feel my brow crinkling. Weird question. “I’m around sixthree, I guess.”
Fitzroy nods, looks away like he’s embarrassed. “Yeah, I was just figuring you must have played ball in school.” He forces a smile. “I mean, you look like it.”
“Yeah, I played a little.”
“Tight end?”
He brightens. “Even better.”
I look down. It’s always weird talking about my football years.
“I bet you were a bouncer on the side, eh? Easy money.”
I chuckle. “Nah.”
“Oh well, linebacker is good.” Fitzroy turns away. “Come to my office at ten, okay?” “You bet, sir.”
It’s easy to find the new guy’s car in the parking lot. It’s a beige, mud-caked Oldsmobile—probably a ’72 or ’73—surrounded by a sea of candy-colored SUVs, BMWs, and Hondas. I scribble the plate number and call my wife’s cousin at the DMV. The name he gives me doesn’t match. Alias—I knew it. So I call my buddy in HR, the buddy with access to the name of every employee who’s ever worked at this dump, even the ones who were laid off eight years ago on the other side of the country.
We’re so deep into the Santa Cruz Mountains that if we had to yell for help, no one would hear us.
We have fern branches tied to our backs, green grease smeared over our arms and faces. The new guy has removed his shades; he’s got enormous green eyes. Intelligent eyes.
“Put it that way,” he whispers, and points Fitzroy and his crossbow away from us. “And be careful.”
This is our offsite, hiding behind a cluster of redwoods, waiting for deer.
I ask, “So what did you do at Robards International?’
The new guy shoots me a glare, whispers, “Paradigm rationalization.” What the hell kind of job is that?
Regardless, he’s a liar.
“You work with a guy named Livingston over there?”
It’s a trap, and the new guy isn’t biting. He waves the question away, shushes me.
We sit in silence for twenty minutes. Fitzroy is still focused on the forest before him, still gripping the crossbow, still waiting, his upper lip curling back in some kind of demonstration of predator lust. “Nothing,” he announces through gritted teeth, his eyebrows arching. “I see nothing out there.”
Finally, the new guy tells me to walk up the hill, travel east a bit and then loop back down in hopes of flushing out deer, sending them toward Fitzroy’s position here.
“You sure?” I ask.
“Just be open to the process.”
Fitzroy is still staring into the forest, his crossbow still pointed outward. “Stay here, Roger.”
The new guy looks flustered, throws his hands up.
Fitzroy turns toward us, the crossbow turning with him. “Because if you—” Thud.
“. . . Oh, shit.”
I blink twice, look at the new guy. The end of an arrow is sticking out of his chest. His eyes widen as he sways from side to side. He tries to spin, and I see the arrow tip sticking out of his back. Both sides of his T-shirt are darkening, and he’s coughing up blood.
Fitzroy can’t suppress a grin. “Oh, shit.” A giggle escapes as he peers into the new guy’s eyes, takes a step closer. “Sorry, man.”
New guy drops to his knees. Fondles the arrow with both hands, smears the blood with his fingers.
Fitzroy drops the crossbow, turns to me, forces a serious face. It’s so obvious he’s enjoying this. Fitzroy, the predator, preying on the prey. “Thank God you were here to see this. No one would believe me, otherwise.”
The new guy topples over.
“They’d think I murdered him.”
I back away.
The new guy gasps for air.
“When in fact, all we have here is a very unfortunate hunting accident involving an established executive and a disgruntled, laid-off
employee posing as a change consultant.” I nod.
“And a witness,” he says, cheerful. “A most important witness.” I find myself saying, “It was an accident, sir. I know.” The new guy is in spasms.
Fitzroy turns from me, walks to the new guy’s big backpack that is propped against a redwood. “Why don’t you go find some help,
Roger? I’ll see if I can resuscitate him.” I mumble something.
He peeks into the backpack, pulls out two pairs of handcuffs, then a buck knife, then some rope, and then a Taser gun. “I knew it. He was gunning for us, Roger.” He looks up to me. “Go, Roger. He doesn’t have much time.”
I back away. “Okay.”
“And Roger?”
The new guy gurgles and chokes.
“Yes, sir.”
“Roger, my guess is you’d love to retire early, really early.” He pauses, bites his lip. “If you had sufficient funds.”
“Oh, well . . . I just—”
He stops me. “Roger, consider it done. All this blows over, we’ll send you on your way, set you up. Put you on retainer as a consultant, help you create that life you always wanted.” I don’t know what to say.
“Okay, you need to get help, Roger.”
I turn and head up the hill, toward the car, where I can flag down a motorist. But after a hundred feet or so, I look back. Fitzroy is kneeling beside the new guy as he smears the blood over his hands, around his mouth. He’s not helping the new guy, but he’s saying something to him. I can’t hear a thing, but I can imagine the words. Something like, You think you’re smarter than Stephen Franklin Fitzroy? You think I wouldn’t do my own background check? You think I didn’t see this coming the first week you arrived, that I wouldn’t kill you before you could kill me? Don’t you realize I was just playing with you, just toying with a loser?
It’s hard to imagine him saying anything else.
I continue up the hill, panting.
The new guy wanted to kill us.
I reach the top, head down the other side, and breeze through the forest, wondering how long I’ll need to wait before I can tell Janice from Finance that I’m finished being her bitch, that she and her FOD reports can fuck off, that our relationship is EOL’d ASAP.
Finally, I reach the road.
Approaching Fitzroy’s black Beemer, I imagine the new guy standing there, leaning against the front fender, legs crossed at the ankles, the shades back on. He’s saying, Hey man, you’re better than this. Way better than this.
And I say to the moist air that’s washing over my newly opened anus, That’s what you think, dude.

by Greg Bardsley

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