Friday, February 13, 2009

A Tragic Statistic, pt. 1, 627 words

“Joseph Stalin is frequently quoted as saying, ‘A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.’” Brelin chuckled at that, a smooth noise, warm and low like the quintessential indulgent grandfather. He shook his head. “I’ve never really thought it sounded like something Stalin would say. Too incisive, too pithy.”

Imagine a camera focused on Stanley Brelin’s face. A jowly, round-faced man, not quite forty years old and with sandy-brown hair ever so slowly receding. Jovial, certainly, and charismatic in his way. Like he was always telling a clever joke, and only you were in on it. You wanted to watch his face carefully while he talked, look for that little quirk at the corner of his mouth, or the wink quicker than hummingbird’s wings, any sign that he included you in the jest.

But the camera pulls back while he’s silent, attention drifting a bit once you’re out of his spell. Pull back to take in his full presence, the fact that he’s shorter than you had just imagined him to be, with a heavy gut that not even his expensive three-piece suit can properly hide, with a deeply-ingrained habit of picking at his cuffs. It makes him look nervous, completely at odds with the self-assured smile and smooth soothing timbre to his voice. He needs to keep talking, or at least hide his hands behind a podium, to avoid sending mixed signals and ruin the impression of confidence he’s trying to pull off.

And the camera pulls back further, to reveal the room he’s speaking in. Like a control room out of a movie version of NASA, or maybe a missile silo, with the big banks of antiquated control panels and monochrome displays along the walls. Or like the bridge of the Enterprise, out of the original Star Trek show. A single table sits in the center of the room, old and heavy and wooden. And then there’s me, halfway down the table from Brelin’s unimposing bulk, sitting down in a chair, my hands draped on the arms and my back right up against the seat.

Pardon, my hands tied to the chair’s arms, and my ankles tied to its legs, rendering me immobile. And there’s a gun on the table, some little .22-caliber pistol, hardly very powerful but still effective at killing at close range. Urban legend says that mafia goons like to use them because the round will penetrate the skull once, but doesn’t have enough force to exit, so it just rattles around inside a person’s head and scrambles up their brain. The one on the table is mine, as a matter of fact, and I had been hoping to do just that to Brelin before the security guards had caught me.

“I just don’t think Stalin had it in him,” Brelin went on, almost to himself. He turned to face one of the monochrome displays on the wall, shook his head, and then turned back to me. “Oh, that’s not to say he couldn’t speak well if he wanted to. But there’s just so little out there of him tossing off something that sharp and short. You know what I think?”

I remained silent, glaring at him. Occasionally, I flicked my gaze to the pistol, then to my bonds. Not that looking at them repeatedly helped me get any closer to escaping.

He shrugged. “It sounds like something Hitler would’ve said, actually. Except they’d already trounced Hitler, and then, oh no, here comes the Cold War! And Stalin hasn’t really said anything all that quotable to make him seem so horrible. Everything really bad he’d done so far was, well, just a statistic. Hard to rile anyone up over, considering it was all done to his own people.”

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