Harold Covert's Unpleasant Invention.
I stepped up to the lectern, and thanked the chairman for his introduction, looked across the audience, and cleared my throat.
"Gentlemen, I'm going to tell you a little story".
A murmur of approval spread across the auditorium, most of the shareholders were prepared to indulge my whim to relate this well known tale.
They had heard it before, seen it even, on the large and small screens, the highest grossing film of all time.
I'd even heard that critics were calling "Titanic", microscopic in comparison.
People were settling themselves in, the gentle sussuration of loosened body armour reached my ears, sounding like sea on a shingle beach.
My eyes followed the head-up video prompt automatically,after all, I knew the words by heart.
I let my mind wander back to that warm summer morning, a paint ball rally on Putney Common.
We were getting our equipment ready, the team leaders had already arrived, most of the "troops" were parking , or still en route.
A young man wandered over,steaming cup in one hand, a flask in the other.
"Looks like fair weather" he opined.
"Yes just the job for a good paint battle", I replied.
It wasn't unusual for a team leader to be "buttonholed" by one of the new boys, I suppose they felt a little intimidated, and talking to someone calmed their nerves.
We chatted inconsequentially for a few minutes, I started making, must be getting on noises.
"Look here" he blurted, "I've got something rather special I'd like to show you later, If thats O K?
I allowed myself an ironic smile at his brashness, "But we haven't been formally introduced have we?" I asked.
"Oh! sorry, Covert, Harry Covert, I'm with the reds, your name's John I see" this with a gesture of his cup at my name tag.
He seemed happy enough to rejoin his group after extracting a vague promise from me about, "later".
The game went much as expected, blue team won the honours. I'd almost forgotten my encounter with Harry, when I heard.
"John, hello again, er, can I show you that thing we talked of earlier?" This in a hesitant,confiding tone.
We walked over to his car, he rooted in the boot and emerged with an extraordinary device, made mostly of plastic, looking for all the world like a trumpet with the horn cut off and a lazer sight bolted to the top.
"Ah, here it is" he said, holding it in a very business like way.
"Where does the paint ball magazine fit?" I queried.
"It doesn't," he replied, "this is a very high powered pea-shooter,not a paint ball gun.
He must have seen the look of bemusament on my face, he rushed on,"You see it's got incredible range and accuracy, it's like the way a bassoon can fill a concert hall with sound, it's all in the design, a sort of breath amplifier, if you like."
At that moment a bird caught my eye, skimming obliquely across the sky towards us, quite high.
Harry had his contraption to his lips in a blink, I heard nothing more than a sharp 'gasp'.
The bird parabola'd to the ground in an untidy arc of wings and feathers.
"Got'im" from Harry, as he lowered the weapon with a triumphal gleam in his eye.
I closed my gaping mouth with an audible 'snap'.
" Are you allowed to do that?" I demanded, looking at the corpse of the unfortunate creature.
I hardly remember his non-commital reply, my mind was in a whirl, if this was a pea-shooter it was like nothing I'd ever seen before. This was going to blow the paint ball industry out of the water,
( Pause for polite laughter)
"Yes, I can see how my company might be interested" I said cautiously.
After all, dried peas aren't the most exciting product in the world, and this might well boost sales if it caught on.
"Why don't you give me your phone number?" I asked.
"Oh, don't worry Mr. Simes, I know where your office is, I'll be in touch shortly".
It was Harry's turn to smile now, he knew he had me, hook, line and sinker.
Later, as I turned right over Putney Bridge and into the Kings Road, heading into town and the office, I realised, that this boy had certainly done his homework, that's how he had known my name of course.
I didn't include it on my badge at these recreational do's, after all, a man in my position, even though we sometimes used paint ball meetings to promote team spirit, it might be regarded as as something of a strange hobby for a CEO and one can't be too carefull.
The rest, as they say, is history, although it did all get rather out of hand at one stage, we managed to settle most of the litigation out of court.
With my guidance,the company got in on the ground floor, even when the supermarkets stopped selling dried legumes to under twenty-ones, besause of the muggings, you understand.
Although the incidence of street crime involving 'blow-guns' (as they came to be known colloqually) actually diminished, after all, who would mug a pensioner, when they might be 'packing plastic' too, and could bring down an assailant at a hundred paces.
Somethings are best kept to oneself of course, like my own brainwave, which had occurred to me shortly after Harry had told me that the 'street kids' were using steel ballbearings instead of peas.
Thats when citizens started wearing body armour, after all we well know the damage a steel ball can do at that velocity.
So, we changed the name of the company, and went into producing reinforced fabrics.
The whole thing went ballistic, (no pun intended), it's even changing the language,
'Keep your amour tight' has replaced that dreadful Americanism about 'nice days', not many tears shed about that though, (pause for more laughter).
My train of thought brought my own little business to mind, set up through various proxies, of course, researching and making the new ammunition.
I don't feel at all guilty about keeping it secret, especially now the new , twist-point-deep penetration stuff is coming on stream,and it wouldn't look very good if the CEO of B.E.B.A. were found to be involved in making slugs too, it smacks a little of playing both sides against the middle.
I brought myself back to the present, reading the concluding lines, and to a standing ovation , vacated the podium.
The chairman rose,"It just remains to thank Mr John Symes, our C.E.O. for his rousing speech, I'm sure I speak for us all present when I say that Birds Eye Body Armour, wouldn't be the great company it is today without his guiding hand at the helm, (More applause and some polite laghter)
The shareholders gradually started to file out, tightening body armour as they went, back to their reinforced cars and well protected homes, happy in the sure and certain knowlege that they would become rich, (or richer) and that all was well with the world.
A short story by Alan Dewey.