Edith had what I like to call a “rising presence.” Her involvement in any meeting or debate followed a predictable pattern:

Stage 1: Listen and observe. Edith would carefully absorb what she could about the information in play, the personalities behind it, and the opinions of her fellows.

Stage 2: Asking questions. Edith would ease her way into the discussion by asking questions. Innocent ones at first, then more probing.

Stage 3: Wading in. Having formed, or reinforced, an opinion, Edith would charge into the debate, scoring critical hits with well-placed rhetorical blows informed by all the information she’d gathered.

Few opponents could withstand the last phase, and those that did were usually driven into ossified and ultimately untenable positions. So when Edith slipped in five minutes after the meeting began and started scribbling notes, my heart sank. She might have been a nonentity then, and for the next several rounds of discussion, but her “rising presence” would make itself known soon enough.

“I call them ‘Foods from the Public Domain.'” Percy said. “We can trade on terms with excellent market penetration without having to pay royalties of any kind!”

With a flourish, he unveiled the placards at the head of the board room.

“Don Quixote’s Darn Quick Oaties: Nourishing microwavable whole oat cereal for the all-day energy to take on any windmill!”

“Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Croutons: A fresh Caribbean island paradise salad, good for every day of the week, not just Friday!”

“Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peas: Heart-healthy legumes with a generous helping of spice to ward off the bite of General Winter!”

“Listen,” Harrison said, not bothering to look up from his computer screen. “I had a rough start this morning. D’you know what that means?”

“N-no,” Reynard ventured. He felt his palms begin to sweat around the file folder he clutched ever harder.

“It means that I overslept two alarms and woke up ten minutes after I was supposed to be here,” said Harrison. “It means that I had to rush out the door without showering, without shaving, without Sugar Bombs, without shots of espresso. In other words, without any of the accoutrement that separate man from the beasts. I then arrived, late, to an all-morning meeting followed by a conference call that lasted an hour and a half longer than scheduled due to a particular CEO’s aggressively windy nature.”

“I-I’m sorry to hear that,” said Reynard.

“Not as sorry as you’ll be if you continue to bedevil me without having a damn good reason,” Harrison said, making eye contact for the first time. “That’s what you call a warning shot.”

“The Feldman account,” Reynard blurted.

Harrison’s irritable, smug aura dissipated. “Are you sure?” he hissed.

Reynard held out the overstuffed folder, which was marked with 8 different ways of saying ‘confidential.’

Perry tugged nervously at his collar as the ad ran on the screen. “Pifvip: for when you want to get the most out of your life.”

“Wonderful, just wonderful,” the Old Woman said after the cartoon cloud floated away on a bed of octagonal violet pills and the gentle new age music stopped. “First-rate ad copy as always, Bernard.”

Bernard flashed his expensive caps and bridgework, unnaturally white and–scuttlebutt had it–impregnated with trace amounts of uranium for that natural glow. “You’re too kind.”

“Perry! You look like you’ve swallowed a scorpion over there,” the Old Woman said. “Isn’t it about time you told us about the results of the test?”

“W-well, as we reported last month, there were no side effects detected in the initial double-blind study…”

“Excellent! Let’s call the lobbyists and get FDA approval before everything starts getting sanctimonious in an election year.”

“But,” Perry continued, “there were some…irregularities…later on.”

“What sort of irregularities?” the Old Woman asked icily.

“Well, it turns out that Pifvip has a tendency to build up in fatty tissues and…uh…interact with some other medications to form unwanted compounds,” Perry said, feeling his shirt begin to ride up as he became slick with sweat. “Hallucinogenic compounds, actually, when combined with acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, and a number of other common over-the-counters.”

The Old Woman raised an eyebrow. “How bad?”

“Many extended study participants reported being harassed by an entity they called the Cigar Goblin, which urged them to burn things,” Perry said. “Others reported that elemental creatures in their milkshakes were trying to suck them into a dimension of ‘lactose doom.’ One in particular was troubled by a persistent fear that the overhead lights were uncoiled ‘Elder Snails’ that would invade her brain while she slept and force her to attend night classes.”

“Calm down,” Shaun said. “Harvey gives the same damn speech every quarter.”

His words didn’t calm Aaron’s shakes. “You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“Look, I’ll do a play by play if it’ll make you feel better. First he’ll tell us we’re the greatest thing since Jesus invented sliced bread.”

Harvey climbed up on one of the meeting room tables, using it as an impromptu stage even as it wobbled dangerously. “First, let me say I’m honored–privileged, really–to have such a solid sales team behind me,” he said.

“Then we’ll hear how we stink like a Manhattan dump on a hot July morning,” Shaun muttered.

“But our solidarity is meaningless if we don’t deliver results,” Harvey continued, pumping his fist in the air as if he’d scored some kind of touchdown. “I look at our numbers from the last fiscal year, and there’s a little disappointment there.”

“There’ll be a touch of a challenge next,” Shaun whispered. He paused, thoughtfully adding: “Maybe a little us-versus-them.”

“Rutherford’s team has exceeded their last quarterly profits for five quarters running. Are we going to let those pansies on the 57th floor take our lunch money?” Weak cries of “No!” issued from the assembled sales staff.

“Then the inane comparison to selling retail products and war,” said Shaun, “full of reminders that the closest he ever came to military service was owning a G. I. Joe.”

“All great battlefield commanders lead their armies personally, so I will be in the trenches along with you the entire way!”