On moonlit nights, when the office was closed and nobody was left in the building except the security guard, and the Boardroom blinds were left down, but open, the pale white lines of moon-light would wash the polished wooden surface of the long table in a ghostly sheen. In the mornings, when Sir George held his meetings, neat squares of white paper, each with an accompanying dark pencil by its side, might seem to have gathered up that white light and converted it into something useful, but of course, they had not.
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Waystrel Gubbins pulled uncomfortably at his shirt collar in a hopeless attempt to loosen his tie. He was the only man in the room not wearing a dark suit. He was the only person in the room not wearing a dark suit.
Sam cleared her throat.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present the man who is going to guarantee all our pensions, Mr. Waystrel Gubbins.
Martin, also from marketing, grimaced, and began to think that perhaps an upward move within the company might be possible after all.
Sandra not quite imperceptibly wrinkled her nostrils.
Ben Weiner looked interested. Sir George looked bored. Orfen, as usual, remained impassive.
Get on with it Sam, Sir George said.
With deft precision Sam hoisted a slim briefcase to the table top, flipped open the catches and lifted the lid. Seven pale and wrinkled ovoids lay inside. Each was connected, on alternate sides to a vine like stem, by a wizened dark green stalk. She lifted them out and laid them on the white oblong of the notepad in front of her. She closed the briefcase and returned it to the floor.
Sickly pink and with a slight gloss on their fissured skins, each was the size, but not quite the shape of a table tennis ball. They looked like glands that had suffered some rare, wasting disease. With a show-woman’s flourish Sam lifted the stem by its tail, and held it up, like the corpse of an other-worldly life form. Then, one by one, she broke off each small, wrinkled ovoid. There was a look on her face, not quite smug, but certainly amused. She had the confidence of someone who knows that they are on the cusp of undoubted success.
Waystrel Gubbins fidgeted with his tie again and glanced from face to face around the table. Sam, ignoring him, rose to her feet, and leaning over, began to hand out the oval, desiccated fruits, one to each of them. She then produced a small folding knife, snapped it open, and cut a thin slice from the ovoid that she still held in her hand. She passed the knife to Sandra with a twisted smile on her face.
They are, in fact, tomatoes, she said. Please, ladies and gentlemen, take a piece, eat, and tell me what you think.
Her own slice she set gently upon the blotter before her as she sat down. The seventh tomato she placed, whole, on Waystrel Gubbin’s blotter. She sat back, almost lazily, and looked at the others who, one by one, as the knife travelled around the board room table, were cutting and eating their own segments.
That’s amazing, Sandra said. It tastes of banana.
Oranges, you mean, Martin said.
Ben Weiner narrowed his eyes and leaned forward, his own uneaten slice between his fingers. It’s hallucinogenic. Am I right?
Oh no, sir, I ain’t done nothing like that to it, Waystrel Gubbins said.
Did you say Orange? Orfen asked. I’m getting strawberry, a strong flavour of strawberry.
Sir George said nothing, but chewed reflectively. Whatever flavours they were finding, his ovoid most definitely tasted of eighteen year old malt whisky, The Macallan, if he was not mistaken.
Ben Weiner popped his own piece into his mouth, and an expression of surprise passed across his face. Remarkable, he said.
Sandra reached across for the knife, and began to cut a second slice.
No, Sam said, lurching forward. I mean, I’d rather we talked a little first before we take a second morsel. Getting them used to the initial effect would do for the time being, she thought. What would come later, well, she still hadn’t got her own head around that.
She turned to face Waystrel Gubbins. Would you like to talk a little about the fruit, Mr.Gubbins?
Well, yes, thank you miss. He tried a little bob of a bow in his chair, thought about getting up to do a proper one, thought better of it, played with his tie again, and finally blurted out. There ain’t nothing special about the tomatoes themselves, no more than any of the other fruit and vegetables we grow. It’s what we do to them after makes all the difference.
My God, Martin said, pushing the tomato away from him. This has been spiked with narcotics, hasn’t it? We can’t go down that road, can we Sir George? At last, that jumped up little prick, Sam, has gone too far, he thought.
Oh no, indeed it’s not, sir. No drugs. No genetic funny business. neither ‘Tis all natural, and organic. To be quite frank I’m surprised no-one else has come up with it. We’ve known about it in our family for three generations now, but have kept it quiet, and to ourselves, but Mrs. Gubbins, well, and myself, with it being like, and thinking perhaps there might be, and what with us. You’ll kick yourselves when I tell you.
Tell us what, Mr.Gubbins?
Well, how we get them to go that way, your Lordship.
Orfen coughed discreetly and lifted his tomato, like Hamlet with the skull. I should sound a note of caution here, Sir George, before we set off down the road of novelty fruits. The market is difficult at the moment, but not so difficult that we have to take entirely desperate measures.
Time for a second slice, I think, Sam said. Please, Sandra, start us off.
Sandra cut another slice, and put it into her mouth. Almost immediately she turned a cherry pink, chewed tentatively and looked at the remaining slice in astonishment. Oh my gosh!
Sir George waved a hand. Get her a drink Orfen, she’s overheating.
Is this entirely safe, Sam? Martin demanded. You’ve had it tested for toxins I presume?
Ben Weiner was looking amused. I think you may have got what I got the first time, he said.
Are you all right, my dear? Sir George looked concerned. Beneath that tough exterior, everyone knew he was a big softy.
Sandra looked flushed, breathless even. Her eyes had suddenly taken on quite a sparkling sheen. She ran a hand through her hair, and breathed out heavily. Oh, yes, Sir George. I’m, marvellous. She lifted the last piece in her hand and seemed about to eat it, but then changed her mind. I think I’ll finish it later, she said. Waystrel Gubbins, who had not touched his tomato, without turning his head discreetly slid the small fruit from his blank paper, pushed it across the polished wood of the table and onto hers. She deftly covered it with a palm, and slipped it into her pocket.
The others looked at each other. Sam smirked. It’ll sell by the million, she said quietly. It’ll sell by the tens of millions.
Orfen tentatively bit into his second slice. Lines appeared down his cheeks. He closed his eyes. A muscle twitched. A pulse hammered at his temple. He opened his eyes again, and stared straight down the table, keeping his face expressionless, with difficulty. I see, he said eventually.
Waystrel Gubbins felt himself relax, as he always did when somebody new tried it. There never had been a failure yet. There wasn’t anybody, so far as he knew, who was not susceptible. Not that they had shared it with that many people, not in his grandfather’s generation, not in his father’s, not in his, up until now, not even relatives. Oh, they had put some out among the crisps and peanuts at the odd family get together, banking on people thinking it was the drink. But, what with having no kids, and them not getting any younger, Mrs.Gubbins and him, they had decided that the time had come to get more than just the usual value out of grandfather Gubbins’ discovery.
It do pick up on whatever you’re fancying at the moment, Waystel Gubbins explained.
Bloody Hell! Martin said.
Mr. Gubbins is suggesting, Sam said into the silence, that we give him an awful lot of money, for the rest of his life, and he’ll tell us how it’s done.
Sir George covered his right hand, fearful that he might reach for his chequebook there and then.
Waystrel Gubbins was the only man in the room wearing a suit. He was the only person in the room wearing a suit. He had gone out and had it specially made, tailor made. It fitted him like the air. The tailor had said that it would.
Sir George waved a large cigar at him and smiled soporifically. Martin and Sam were arm in arm at the bar. Orfen was laughing at something Bein Weiner had said. Sandra was sitting by herself, gazing wistfully out of the window at the star splintered night sky. The moon blazed down its reflected light. An open packet of Moonshine Tomatoes lay beside her. Two were already missing.
The launch of the Moonshine range had gone well, unbelievably well. Well, perhaps not unbelievably, considering. Only problem is, Waystrel Gubbins had said, you can only do it on a clear night and with a full moon. Who would have thought it, Sir George said, Moon Dried Tomatoes, The Taste of Your Dreams.
Waystrel Gubbins held a finger to his lips. Sh! Once it gets out, and they realise that any fool can do it. Then where will we be?
Sorry, Waystrel, silly of me. Mum’s the word, Sir George said.
But he was already thinking that so long as he could do it too, it really didn’t matter any more.
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