[Fiction] Confidence

What happens when Confidence, becomes a commodity for the greedy…

 

“Confidence. It takes you from where you are, to where you want to be. It is the magic ingredient, the power tool that allows you to take fate and craft it into the shape you desire rather than the shape it was designed to be.” I paused for a moment, taking a slow swig of water from a plastic bottle, then holding the bottle up to watch the beads of sweat roll down the ridged surface. The crowd was silent, all eyes on me, waiting for the big reveal. Sunlight streamed in through a dozen windows, showing palm trees and white beaches outside, but in here, it was perfect and cool.

“If you could take the sweat from the back of a Pro athlete at the top of his game and condense it in the passion that drove them to win that fourth championship, eau de confidence would be its name. We could sell it for tens of thousands of dollars a bottle. I’m sure I could find a plenty of top competitors to get the essence for a women’s version as well, and it might even smell better.” There were a few smirks among his audience, but I didn’t have them, not yet. I needed to reel them in closer.

“So what’s the point of all this? Why did I invite you all here to this ridiculously lavish resort? Ladies and Gentlemen, before I reveal our newest product, let me set the scene. If… we could bottle confidence, and you gave me an average Joe without a clue where he wanted to go – I could give him a quick shot of confidence and voila. You would have a CEO in the making. “

There were mutters and a few giggles but little else to suggest  they were at the comfort stage.

“Well… we did it. We have managed, through years of research and development, with the top scientific minds of our generation, to manufacture a pure, natural, healthy alternative to medications, shots of whiskey and years of therapeutic advice. I present to you, my esteemed colleagues and confidantes- ConEdge. This is the first, and only product, with the ability to boost confidence, focus thought and deliver what every expensive college in the nation can only help you strive for – Confidence and success.”

 

The screen behind me shifted and changed, revealing a sleek, clear spray bottle, shaped like a trophy. Across the screen flashed the Logo – Con Edge – while at the bottom, whizzed all the latest test data. I watched the glances back and forth as each billionaire business mogul checked the reaction of his or her competitors, while eyeing the screen with well-practiced skepticism.

“Now… I hear the doubt in your silence and the disbelief in your heart, but believe me, confidence can do anything, and the fact that your belief is so strained at this moment, only shows me one thing. You need a dose or two yourself.”

A round of applause rose up, followed by the sort of nervous laughter you get when you ask a rich guy for money. They were here from all over the world, from all backgrounds and industries, but they were all here to make money by investing in the most advanced and dynamic field in the business- Bio-Engineering.

The applause began to die down, and the crowd muttered for a moment, while I stood on the podium, smiling, patient, and content in the knowledge that I had them in the palm of my hand.

“And, obviously, the key advantage to investment in ConEdge is the security. If the market slides, we can guarantee the stability of our stock, simply by providing free samples of our product to every trader from Wall Street to  Tokyo.”

Applause and laughter rose up again, deeper and more relaxed than before, rushing over me like a warm wave.

“Now, the next few days will prove to be the most important in the history of our company. Over the course of the conference you will be wined and dined in the manner you have become accustomed to. You will find the entire mansion at your disposal, from the beaches and swimming pools to fully crewed yachts at the marina. But, as a special treat, you will each have a front seat view of our latest clinical trials. You will watch and interact with our volunteers as they embark on a journey, from the ordinary, to the extraordinary. You will watch as we elevate them to the upper strata of humanity, those of us chosen few with the natural confidence that most can only dream of. If you invest today, my friends, together we will make, not history, but The Future.”

This time the room erupted, the cool air thrumming with excitement, with the  possibilities of profit and the certainty of success.  I stepped down from the raised dais, walking into the applauding crowd to mingle and surround myself with praise. I raised my hand for quiet one last time, still playing the salesman. “Now, be sure to see my assistant, who will take your generous investments, and put them to good use. And remember, your profits, will be reflected by the confidence of your investment.”

A slight young man, dressed in a sharp suit, a little too much like my own, stepped out from behind the stage, ipad in hand. He began consulting with the rapidly dispersing investors.

I took a deep breath, and allowed myself to enjoy the moment, just for a second. The road here had been long, but it was almost over.

“Very… impressive, Dr. De Ben Esse.” The clipped words of Hiri Motu came out of the crowd, followed by a short, stocky Asian man, with a slow smile spreading to ruin his usual stern, appraising expression.

“Please Hiri, call me Ben. I think you earned that right for putting up with me for all these years.” I clasped his hand with a firm shake, returning his smile, as we gave a short informal bow to one another. I felt the approving hands of several other investors pat my back as they dispersed to enjoy refreshments. They muttered here and there, and I nodded politely, though I did not have the same close personal relationship with any of them. I watched them all fade away, heading out onto the balcony to enjoy the weather; Mrs. Edith Mannier- heir to a Biotech fortune, Rashid bin Ahmed al Ayhoun- youngest brother in one of the wealthiest Oil families remaining in the middle east,  Al Carlton- owner of the largest privately owned retailed conglomerates in the world, and a dozen or so more.

I turned back to Hiri, who was studying me, his pale eyes gleaming. “You seem… smug, even for you Benni.” He said.

“Well, between you and me,” I leaned in closer, my hand on his back, “I think this could be the big one.”

He laughed and shook his head. “That is exactly what you say… the last time… with…  ahhh… Enzeputron, and before that, with Valtrunate. When will it be enough for you my boy?”

I led him outside, passing through the billowing curtains into a breezy sunlit day. We stepped onto a shaded balcony pulled right out of renaissance France, with an extravagance fit for Louie himself. “Well, as you said, I think our track record speaks for itself. Every new advance has brought us one step closer.”

“Ah yes. One step closer… to the next big, break through, I think.” Hiri nodded as I passed him a cigar from a passing tray.

We moved out into the sun, burning bright in a clear blue sky, then down a flowing staircase to an elegant garden surrounding a marble pool. I handed Hiri a glass of champagne, pausing for a moment to watch the displays of decadence and greed surrounding us.

“Hiri, this is the breakthrough. It doesn’t get any bigger than this.”

“You have, no need to…. continue sales pitch Benni. You have my money. Let me enjoy… your hospitality.” The old man quirked an eyebrow at me, and pursed his lips. “Unless there is something… further I need to know, about our product.”

I squeezed his shoulder and nodded. “You’re right, I’m sorry. Those speeches get me all wound up, and sometimes it takes me a while to switch the smarm off.”

“You should take my lead – enjoy the hospitality. Come have a drink and forget business, for a while, at least.”

“Maybe later. I have some loose ends to tie up. If you need anything though, anything at all, you find someone and tell them to get me, okay?”

“Of course. Now, excuse me. I see a bikinied barmaid looking for an old business man to, ingratiate herself with. Please, just keep this from my daughter when you see her next.” He winked at me and loosened his tie.

“I think Kim would kill me first, so i don’t think I’d be doing myself any favors.” I patted him on the back and headed back upstairs, leaving my guests to enjoy the comforts of an island paradise. It was time I returned to business, suffering the restless curse of the ambitious entrepreneur.

I stopped for a moment, watching Hiri as he leaned back against the bar. His dark suit was beginning to cling to him in the heat, but he was smiling and relaxed, basking in the sunlight by the shimmering cool water of the crystal clear pool. His white brow was furrowed and eyes strained from the glare. Behind him a bikini clad bartender was making him “Something fruity, with one heck of a kick.”

A stern faced woman, with as few lines and white hairs as her money would allow, stepped up next to Hiri. Edith Mannier was a tough old bird. She was known in business circles as a man-eating praying mantis. Still, even she had her weakness, and… if my instincts did not deceive me, Hiri was it.

I watched for a moment longer, enough to see her caress his arm and loosen his tie, all but sinking her claws into him like a cougar about to feast. I turned away. I had no stomach for spoiled men and women so accustomed to wealth they had forgotten what real life was. The world outside of 5 star resorts and private yachts did not exist for them.  That was what made them so easy. Still, no time to waste enjoying the farce, not so close to the end. I checked my watch. Only ten more minutes.

Inside, the cool air hit my face and filled my lungs. I moved quickly, ignoring the waiters and bikini-clad girls clinging to tyrants and moguls of business empires across the globe. My assistant fell in at my side, his posture slouched and head down, staring at his Ipad.

“Sir… err, Mr. Ben Esse, everything is ready.”

“Good.” I nodded and continued my rapid pace, as… Collins followed behind, waiting on praise or affirmation of his worth. I gave him neither.

We ascended another set of stairs to my office, pausing only to punch in the access code. The door hissed as it opened, revealing my spacious private domain. The door swung shut behind us, locking the instant metal touched metal. I took a deep breath of filtered air, poured myself a scotch and wandered over to the window behind my desk. I glanced with brief disdain at the opulent decor; the marble floor and mahogany books cases were bad enough, but the wall length fish tank and plush white sofas made me sick. I swished the scotch around in my mouth to wash away the taste, but it only added to the disgust.

The face of a man stared back at me from a picture frame on the desk, his eyes were kind, his smile subtle, but filled with the warmth of a man who knows how to care. I imagined his disappointment, if he could see me know. I had no doubt he would despise what I’d become.

I set the picture face down on the polished wood. He didn’t need to see this.

“I’m, sorry.” I muttered under my breath, washing it down with a gulp of scotch.

Soon, it would be over, I reminded myself. Soon I would be able to leave all this behind, the Armani suit and $400 shoes massaging my every step. It wasn’t me, not really. It… I had no choice. Science had allowed me to achieve this level of comfort, but this was not the goal. This was never the goal.

I put down the empty glass and stared out the window.

They were the goal. Ingratiating myself with those mortal god’s of our sick world.  Every new drug was a stepping stone, a necessity. Now I had them, now I was playing on their level. I was not a scientist for them to ignore and use as they had my Father, but a business man they would respect.

Did I go too far? Was this too much? I shook my head, trying to clear the doubt. It was wearing off.

“Collins, another shot, please.”

He didn’t speak but I heard his shoes clacking across the floor behind me. He reached for my arm and I let it go limp in his grip. I felt the pressure of cold metal against my wrist and waited for the split second of agony. My knees buckled, my blood was on fire, then… the pain exploded, leaving me numb, and everything was fine. I dropped to my knees, shivering, my stomach rolling.

I waited, until the nerves settled, the sickness ebbed and all doubt fled from me.

“Sir, you know you could get the same effect in a less, painful way.” Collins muttered as he put away the little metal device.

“I know.” I regained my feet, while Collins lurked just inches away with his hand out should I need assistance.

“The champagne, or the sushi… something, anything less, painful.”

“I know,” I acknowledged him, then turned to look into his pale, weak eyes looking up at me, “but you are missing the point. This way, it still reminds me that there are consequences to science, that the ways do not always justify the means.” The irony stuck in my throat, but no doubt showed on my face.

He nodded slowly, taking in the words as if they had been uttered by Einstein.

“We are ready now, proceed.” I said.

“The… procedure, you understand, that if we don’t get the ratio precise, there could be complications, dangerous complications.”

I turned from him back to the view, watching them drink and swim, as if nothing in the world could touch them. “Do we have the money? Did the investors pay?”

“Yes… yes, all of them, except…”

I glanced at my watch, 30 seconds.

“Start the procedure. We must affect the change inside to coincide with those outside.”

He hesitated.

“Now.”

He returned to his Ipad, pulling up a diagram of the house. A few touches here and there sent messages to the air conditioning system.

I waited. I could still feel the burn of scotch on my throat.

I watched.

A fat pale man, his shirt unbuttoned to his navel, expensive suit pants rolled up on his chubby legs, teetered on the edge of the pool. He held a handful of crab wontons in his pudgy fingers. He swayed. No one paid any attention, until he toppled, his back leg giving way. He hit the water with a splash. A few people turned to look, their faces contorted in laughter. He flailed around in the pool, sending ripples across the flat surface. One of the waiters moved to help, reaching down to pull him to the edge.

I waited with my breath held.

Collins shifted nervously at my side.

The fat man reached for the waiter, a slight young man without a hope of hefting his bulk. I saw the face of the business man twist, from shock to irritation. He twitched, snarling and cursing. He grabbed the waiter and pulled him in, reaching out with both hands, plunging the unfortunate young man into the water. A few more drunken figures stirred, moving to the pool. The fat man wobbled, but stood, still gripping the waiter. He waddled to the side of the pool, pushing the younger man’s face beneath the surface. There were shouts I could not hear and silent screams from bikini clad prostitutes. Then there was blood. The fat man slammed the struggling waiter down onto the edge of the pool, smacking his face into the tile, over and over until the clear water was marred by the thick crimson liquid, swirling around his rotund form.

Hiri moved to intercede, a curvy glass full of green slushy liquid dropped from his hand, smashing on the floor.

Then the entire scene erupted, into chaos.

Half-dressed business tycoons smashed glasses into the faces of passing waiters. There was a blur of dark suits, ties and white shirts as waiters were pulled down, the panicked look of gazelle in their eyes while predators tore into them with ill equipped teeth and manicured nails.

Collins gasped at my side. “Sssirr.. mm, Mr.. what.. I.”

He slumped down to his knees shaking, as below us people burst out through the doors into the foyer, screaming and wild eyed, the serving staff panicked and afraid, their clients, crazed and violent.

I reached into the pocket of my jacket. The inside felt smooth and soft. I mused for just a moment, how the cost of this suit would have paid for a college semester back in the day. I pulled out a little silver pistol and pressed it to Collins’ head. He looked up, his eyes meeting mine for the first time in my recollection. “What happened?”

“I killed them. I brought them here. All those bastards who lived like they were god’s, I fooled them all,” I smiled, “I gave them more of what they already had. You were right about the ratio’s, they are delicate. I discovered that with the rats. A high dose turns confidence into arrogance, and arrogance into desire, lust… eventually, in high enough doses, rage. It feels like you are the king of the world, and everyone else is just filth, dirt to be crushed and destroyed.”

“Wwwhy?”

“Well, I had to make them… you wouldn’t understand.”

I pulled the trigger.

****

The entire process seemed to take longer than I had estimated. I waited in my sealed office for over an hour, while outside the slaughter continued.  When the last of them collapsed in a pool of their own blood, I prepared my mask, checked the air flow, readied my pistol and opened the door.

I moved down stairs, taking in slow breaths through my mask. As the foyer appeared around the curve of the stairs, I could see bodies, most lay still. There were few inside, but the blood trails led in all directions. I would have to check the house room by room… later.

I stopped. A set of dark eyes watched me from the doorway. He was bleeding, his eyes hard and vicious, but something inside him was straining for control. I walked toward him, curiosity getting the better of my practical nature.

Hiri tried to rise, but whatever life was left in him, did not grant the strength to move.

“What… happened.” He said, the words barely escaping his lips.

I stood over him, my face set in a sneer.

“You killed yourself Hiri, you all did.”

He gulped down blood and tried to speak again, but I cut him off with my foot.

“You were greedy. You deserved this. There are consequences Hiri, to taking what you want, from the world and from its people. Today was a reminder. Tomorrow, I remind the rest of the world.”

“How could you do this?  What makes you think you can get away…” I kicked him down as he clung to me, the betrayal in his face should  have been tragic, but I just found him pitiful and weak. I stared down into his face, watching as the life drained from his pale eyes.

“Of course I can get away with it Hiri. I’m confident I can get away with anything. Your daughter, for example, will need my assistance getting over your mysterious disappearance.” I smiled at him, despite myself. I couldn’t help but feel  the pleasure of his death. “ If you see my Father, tell him you’re sorry, for what you did.”

“Acckkchh…” he tried to speak again but blood clotted in his throat. “Yyouu, he will blame, you.”

“I start my redemption today. He can make up his own mind when I see him.”

I turned away before the realization could sink into the lines of his face. I didn’t care about him, not really, but there was no sense in prolonging the misery, my own misery that is, at having endure the lingering death of so many people. It was tedious, though necessary. I reminded myself I had to be careful. I knew only too well that confidence could breed arrogance, and arrogance could become negligence. The final step now was crucial, as the only man left alive with the knowledge of our miracle, the world was at my feet. The stock market, politics, science and technology- all the fields of human endeavor could be manipulated. I could save them from themselves.

I watched a plain man in a waiter’s white tux crawl with his last breath to die outside in the sunshine. A futile quest, I thought, for a man who never achieved anything. I waited a moment for him to die, pondering the final question – where should I begin my conquest… my release, remember… why I did this. This is freedom… this is the only way.

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