* Title : #021 : DEADLY SEEDS *
* Series : The Destroyer *
* Author(s) : Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir *
* Location : Gillian Archives *
When James Orayo Fielding looked at people, he saw bugs. Except bugs didn't cry or quiver or try to hide their terror when he fired them or told them he might fire them. Bugs went squish when he stepped on them. And then his manservant Oliver would clean up the little blotches with his thumbnail and James Orayo Fielding would ask:
"Don't you hate that, Oliver? Doesn't it make your stomach turn to put your fingers in a bug's belly?"
And Oliver would say:
"No, Mr. Fielding. My job is to do whatever you wish."
"What if I told you to eat it, Oliver?"
"Then I would do as you wish, Mr. Fielding."
"Eat it, Oliver."
And James Orayo Fielding would watch very closely and inspect Oliver's hands to make sure he hadn't pushed a remnant of the insect up into his sleeve, or in some other manner deceived his employer.
"People are bugs, Oliver."
"Yes, Mr. Fielding."
"I'll wear grays today."
"Yes, Mr. Fielding."
And James Orayo Fielding waited by the immense picture window that gave him the glorious view of the Rocky Mountains, stretching in white peaks right to Canada and left to Mexico. The Fieldings were one of the old Denver, Colorado, families, descended from English nobility on the father's side and French on the mother's, although it was rumored some Arapaho had made its way into the bloodstream, culminating in James Orayo Fielding, owner of the Fielding ranches, Fielding sugar beet plants, and Fielding Enterprises Inc., which included manufacturing plants in New Mexico and Texas which few Denverites knew anything about. James did not discuss them.
Oliver knelt as he held out the soft gray flannel pants for Mr. Fielding to step into. He fitted the Italian shoes over Mr. Fielding's feet, then the broadcloth white shirt, tied the black and orange stripes of Princeton around Mr. Fielding's neck, slipped the Phi Beta Kappa key into Mr. Fielding's gray vest, and buttoned the vest down to Mr. Fielding's belt. The gray jacket went on over the vest and Oliver brought the mirror for inspection. It was full length and silver-framed and rolled on wheels to the center of Mr. Fielding's dressing room.
Fielding looked at himself, a man in his early forties, without gray in his temples, full soft brown hair which Oliver now combed to that casual neatness, a patrician countenance with delicate straight nose, an honest man's mouth, and a gentle cool in his blue eyes. He formed a sincere involved expression with his face, and thought to himself that that expression would be just fine.
He used it that afternoon in El Paso when he told union negotiators that he was closing down Fielding Conduit and Cable Inc.
"The costs, gentlemen, just don't allow me to continue operations."
"But you can't do that," said the union negotiator. "There are 456 families that depend on Fielding Conduit and Cable for their existence."
"You don't think I'd close down a factory just to watch 456 families wriggle and squirm, do you?" asked Fielding, using the expression he had practiced earlier in the day in his Denver home, "If you wish, gentlemen, I will explain it to your membership in person."
"You'd stand up in front of our membership and tell them they're all out of jobs? In an economy like today?" asked the union negotiator, trembling. He lit a cigarette while one burned unfinished in the ashtray. Fielding watched it.
"Yes, yes, I would," said Fielding. "And I think you should bring the families too."
"Sir," said the corporation counsel for Fielding Conduit and Cable. "You don't have to do that. It's not your responsibility. It's the union's job."
"I want to," said Fielding.
"What if we took a pay cut?" asked the union negotiator. "An across-the-board pay cut?"
"Hmmm," said Fielding and had the company's profit-and-loss statement brought to him. "Hmmm. Maybe," said Fielding after examining the printed sheet.
"Yes? Yes?" said the union negotiator.
"Maybe. Just maybe," said Fielding.
"Yes!" said the union negotiator.
"We could use the factory itself to inform the families we're closing. You can get them together in two hours, can't you? I know almost the entire membership is down at the union hall."
"I guess we could do that," said the negotiator, crushed.
"Maybe in two hours, I can work out something. Okay?"
"What?" said the negotiator, suddenly revived.
"I'm not sure yet," said Fielding. "Tell them it looks as if we're going to shut down but I may work out something by this evening."
"I've got to know what, Mr. Fielding. I can't raise their hopes without something concrete."
"Well, then, don't raise their hopes," said Fielding and left with his corporation counsel for dinner in a small El Paso restaurant he favored. They dined on clams oreganato, lobster fra diavolo, and a warm runny custard called zabaglione. Fielding showed his corporation counsel pictures he had taken of the famine in India as part of his famine study for the Denver chapter of Cause, a worldwide relief agency.
His meal ruined, the corporation counsel asked Fielding what he gave one of the children he saw, a child with protruding ribs, hollow eyes and starvation thick belly.
"A fiftieth at f/4.5 on Plus-X film," said Fielding, dunking the crisp golden crust of fresh-baked Italian bread into the spicy red tomato sauce of his lobster fra diavolo. "Aren't you going to eat your scungilli?"
"No. No. Not now," said the lawyer.
"Well, considering the starvation in the world, you ought to be ashamed of yourself wasting food. Eat."
"Eat," ordered Fielding. And he watched to make sure his corporation counsel ate every last bit of his dinner for the sake of the starving children in India whose pictures he left displayed on the table.
"Look," he said. "I'm suffering too. I've had stomach pains for weeks. Going to see my doctor tonight back in Denver. But I'm eating."
"You're going home tonight?" said the lawyer. "Then you don't have a plan for the workers?"
"I do have a plan. In a way," said Fielding.
When they arrived at the factory, the low whitewashed building was lit and buzzing with families packed lathe to drill press. Children stuck fingers in lathes and mothers yanked them back. Union men talked among themselves in that low choppy talk of men who know that all has been said and anything more is a waste of time. Their lives were out of their hands.
When Fielding entered, the main factory building hushed as if someone had turned simultaneous dials in nearly a thousand throats. One child laughed and the laughter stopped with a loud motherly smack.
Fielding led four white-coated men wheeling carts with round tubs on them to a raised podium in front of the factory. Smiling, he took the microphone from the nervous union negotiator.
"I've got good news for you all tonight," he said and nearly five hundred families exploded in cheers and applause. Husbands hugged wives. Some wept. One woman kept yelling, "God bless you, Mr. Fielding," and she was heard when the cheering subsided and that energized more cheering. Fielding waited with a big warm smile on his face, his right hand tucked into his gray vest, safe from the grubby reachings of union officials. The corporation counsel waited by the door, looking at his feet.
Fielding raised both arms and was given quiet.
"As I said when I was interrupted, I have good news for you tonight. You see the gentlemen with white coats. You see the tubs on the carts. Ladies and gentlemen, children, union officials, there's free ice cream tonight. For everyone."
A woman up front looked to her husband and asked if she had heard correctly. In the back row families buzzed in confusion. At the door, the corporation counsel blew air out of his mouth and stared at the ceiling.