Since we’re all pretty much homebodies these days, I thought I’d share some of my previously published fiction. I’ll be posting these stories regularly until we’re out of this situation or I’m out of stories to share.
The stories range in size from flash fiction of a few hundred words to novellas as large as 14,000 words.
today, I’m sharing a story called How to Thwart a Dictator. The story first appeared in the October, 2008 edition of the magazine Tales of the Talisman. How to Thwart a Dictator was my 21st published story and weighs in at just over 2000 words. without further ado, here is the story!
HOW TO THWART A DICTATOR
“I have something to tell you that I don’t dare tell my countrymen.” Those words were spoken by a very odd man, my friend, Didier Forneau. He works at our company’s facility in Grenoble, and whenever I travel to France, I try to meet up with him. This trip, he found me eating in the canteen.
“Are you pledging your loyalty to George Bush?” I asked, not knowing where Didier was really going with this. Nobody ever knew what to expect from Didier. The man believes he is a space alien and can produce enough evidence to get people believing him.
He didn’t think the Bush comment was funny, though. “If it were only that ignorant,” he said. “No, this has to do with Adolf Hitler.”
That, I didn’t expect. “Adolf Hitler?” What did Didier have in mind now? “Hitler has been dead for over sixty years.”
“Over eighty,” Didier said with a straight face, “and he wasn’t such a bad guy.”
Didier has come out with some strange statements in the past, but this one went over the top. No wonder he didn’t want to speak of this with his French friends. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be discussing it either. “Do you mind explaining that statement? Hitler died after the Battle of Berlin in April of 1945. Shot with his own revolver.” I was something of a history buff, and there is no lack of literature on Hitler.
“I am not talking about that Hitler, and the revolver wound was a red herring. It was citric acid poisoning that killed him. They just can’t prove it because the body was burned.” Didier played this without breaking the slightest smile. “That glass of orange juice you haven’t touched would have been enough to kill him.”
“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” I rolled my eyes at the thought. “Citric acid poisoning.”
“It’s true.” His tone was insistent. “But you need to hear the rest.” As he continued, his voice became low and mysterious. “You see, the Adolf Hitler that died in Berlin was not the original.”
I let out a long sigh. Here it comes. “Let me guess,” I said. I knew Didier well enough to know where this was going. “Adolf Hitler was an alien, right?”
Didier lifted a finger to indicate my bullseye.
“Come on, Didier. You’ve had some kooky ideas before, but this one takes the prize. Hitler an alien?” Then, I laughed. I couldn’t help it.
“Not just any alien, Rick.” He folded his hands together and leaned into the table. “Hitler was an Artisan.”
“Not an artisan,” Didier said, “an Artisan, from the planet Artisa.” He leaned in close to me, uncomfortably close to my plate then wagged his finger as he said, “The Artisans use the Earth like the Brits used Australia. They dump their nutcase prisoners here.”
“That would explain you,” I said, “at least the nutcase part.”
“I’m not making this up,” he said.
“Hitler was a nutcase Artisan outcast, was he?” I ate the last bite of my lunch, pushed away my plate, then nursed a sip from my glass of orange juice.
Didier leaned back in his chair. “Saddam Hussein is probably an Artisan, too. Joseph Stalin. Pol Pot. Ghengas Khan. No human could do those things.”
“What about George Bush?” Okay, I’m not normally a Bush-basher, but I was in France.
Didier shook his head. “Not Bush, as much as the New York Times would have you believe that. Bush is human.”
“I see. And just how did the Artisan Hitler take the place of the human Hitler?”
“Simple,” Didier said. He killed his human counterpart after he got out of prison. If you’ve ever read Mein Kampf, you know the original Hitler was a nutcase, too.”
That got me to smile. “And you aren’t?”
“No, no!” he said, waving his hands in front of him, almost knocking over my glass. “It’s because the real Hitler was so crazy that the Artisan Hitler was able to assume his identity so easily.” He was still waving his arms around.
“Watch it, you’re going to spill my orange juice.” I always save my juice for last, so the glass was still nearly full.
“Sorry,” Didier said. “How careless of me, particularly when we’ll be needing it.”
“Needing it how?” Didier was pulling out all the stops now. This was his insanity at its worst. His other stories were loony, but this one–. “To poison the Artisan Hitler again? He’s been dead since 1945.”
“Yes, yes, Hitler is dead,” he said. “We have another Artisan to deal with.”
Now it was Didier’s turn to roll his eyes. “I said I’m an alien, I never said I was an Artisan.”
“Oh, okay.” I took another sip of my juice.
“Save the rest of that.”
I set the glass down. Time to be facetious. “So who is this new Artisan threat? Anybody I know?”
Didier still didn’t let up. “Oh, I think you know his name. He’s giving a speech this afternoon.”
My eyes went wide with surprise. “Jacques Libreaux!”
Didier smiled as he moved his eyebrows up and down.
“You want me to kill our CEO by forcing him to drink my orange juice?” I rested my elbows on the table, then rested my face in my hands.
Didier said, “Of course not. Just spill it on him. That will be sufficient to make him sick–long enough for me to alert the other non-Artisan extraterrestrials in eastern France. We’ll take it from there.”
I removed my hands from my face. “What if I just drink the rest?”
He grabbed a salt package from my plate and emptied it into my orange juice. “The salt won’t affect the citric acid.”
“Why me?” I was certain that Didier had a good reason for this, too. The question wasn’t completely rhetorical.
“If I do it,” Didier said, “he will know I am on to him. If you do it, he will simply think of you as a clumsy and stupid American.”
That’s the stereotypical French response, though the French people had never struck me as substantially different from anybody else in the world. “Okay, say I go along with your plan. I’ve never seen Jacque Libreaux, how do I find him?”
Didier relaxed with a smirk. “He always comes through that door after the staff meeting,” he said while pointing over my shoulder at the canteen entrance. “Then, he walks past the window where you will put your dirty tray.” He stopped pointing and used both hands to mimic carrying a tray. “When he comes in, you carry your tray toward the window and trip as he walks past. Make sure the orange juice lands on him, then apologize profusely.”
I didn’t want to do this. I really would be a clumsy and stupid American, and a glance at my watch told me I was dangerously close to being late for a meeting. “You’re trying to get me fired, Didier! I don’t really think I should–“
“Rick,” he said, “millions of lives could be at stake here.”
I tried to protest again, but couldn’t get any words out of my mouth before Didier stood and said, “He’s coming. Wait for my signal. I’ll be in that doorway over there.” He pointed to my left, then hurried over to the door, plowing chairs out of his way as he went. Not even a minute later, Didier started furiously waving his arms.
I gathered everything onto my tray, including the now salty orange juice. I had no intention of doing what Didier asked, but I did have a meeting to attend.
As I turned around after picking up my tray, I saw a tall man in a white shirt with a red tie and brown slacks. He came through the door and started walking toward the tray return window, just as Didier said he would.
A glance at my watch steeled my decision to leave now. My own meeting started in ten minutes and I still didn’t know where the conference room was located. As I approached the window by stepping around the last few tables, I made eye contact with Jacques Libreaux. He smiled, then said, “Bonjour.”
He seemed like a very pleasant man, cementing my decision not to spill my tray on him. I nodded in response, then said, “Bonjour,” but as I came around the last table, I swear a chair moved and I caught my foot. My tray flew forward and hit Libreaux at the belt.
The tray and dishes fell to the floor with a crash, followed by the clatter of silverware and the shatter of my juice glass. Jacques Libreaux wore the lightly-salted orange juice on his trousers as if he had wet his pants.
Libreaux shouted at me in rapid-fire French. Whenever he stopped to inhale, I could hear Didier laughing from his doorway. “I’m terribly sorry,” I said, feeling truly awful for having done what I decided not to do. “Let me get some paper towels for you.”
Libreaux’s face was bright red, and his eyes bulged at least a half-inch out of his head. He said, “Stupid, clumsy American!”
Didier got the adjectives backwards, but not a bad call. “Let me help you,” I insisted as I handed him a napkin from the nearest table.
“Get away,” Libreaux said while dabbing at his wet pants with the napkin. “Go now. Finish your work and go home.”
With timid caution, I picked up my mess and piled it on the tray, put the tray into the window, then went out the door through which Libreaux had entered. Didier was waiting to ambush me.
“Well done!” He was acting ecstatic, bordering on plain loopy.
“I just ruined that man’s whole day, his impression of Americans, and probably his pants.”
“You just saved millions of people. You’re a hero, Rick.” Didier started rocking back and forth from his heels to his toes. “And don’t worry about Libreaux’s opinion of Americans. He already hated you guys.”
“A small comfort,” I said. “I’d better get to my meeting.”
“See you at Libreaux’s speech!” Didier waved, then disappeared into the canteen as I started toward my conference room.
I found my conference room and we had our meeting. We finished early so we could attend the CEO’s speech. I sat at the back of the room to ensure that Libreaux would have a difficult time finding me.
Libreaux came onto the stage wearing a different suit. The speech began innocent enough, covering our spectacular results from the last quarter, then he said he had an important announcement. Our company just acquired our biggest rival by way of hostile take-over. He called it the crowning achievement of his career, but that wasn’t all. More plans were in the works; aggressive plans to increase our market share. He was about to go into the details when he grabbed his chest and fell to the floor.
The room produced a collective gasp, then fell into panic. Managers ran to and fro, looking for the portable defibrillator, or at least a first aid kit. The rank and file sat at the edge of their seats, moving their heads left and right to get a clear view of the stage. It couldn’t be the orange juice. Perhaps he suffered a heart attack. A few weeks later, I learned that failing health had forced Jacques Libreaux to retire.
I thought that was the end of it, but one evening, I heard a knock at my door. I wasn’t expecting anyone, so I grabbed an aluminum bat from the garage before answering. I looked through the peep-hole, and couldn’t believe what was standing on my doorstep. I opened the door to a green, three-foot, round creature.
I looked at this — what was it? This alien looked back at me with one big eye. What do you say to three-foot tennis ball? “Um, hello?”
The green ball wiggled, then opened his big mouth to say, “I need your help.”
I set the bat down. Maybe this guy needed a racket strung, or something. “What kind of help?” “I understand you overthrow Artisan dictators.”