Snakes and Pills

225 - zipper fold

A tire dug into a pothole, and Lyle briefly bounced off the seat in the back of his Rolls-Royce. The little private drive to his factory was a familiar one, but he wondered how long it had been since he had last come this way. Had everything really fallen into such disrepair?

The chauffeur slowed the car to a halt. Lyle knew that he had arrived, but he struggled to bring himself to look out the window. From the gate until this point, things had been relatively ordinary. He knew the sight waiting to greet him was wholly unknown.

His door was opened for him, and reluctantly, Lyle stepped out. The air still smelled heavily of soot and ash. Gone, all of it gone. A black wasteland was all that remained of the factory that he had built from the ground up decades ago.

Still smoldering, Lyle gazed out upon the steaming pile of rubble as his chauffeur closed the car door behind him. Years had passed since he had visited this building which bore his name, yet there had been times in his life where this was the nexus of his universe.

He had not expected to feel any emotion. When they had notified him of the fire, he felt concern and worry, of course. The same concern that he might feel when he found one of his stocks to be sorely underperforming, but amplified a hundredfold. His financial security was now threatened. Everything was insured, but he wasn’t sure if this was something his company could bounce back from.

An investigation was already underway. The initial hypothesis was that an employee had been careless with the phosphorous storage, and during the night something had caused it to ignite. The fire then spread rapidly, aided by the abundance of highly-flammable materials in the vicinity.

Lyle would have preferred if it had been an act of arson, because he could have more easily assigned blame. While it would likely not be too difficult to pin down which employee had been the last to deal with the phosphorus storage tanks, was he really the one at fault?

More likely, he was simply the employee for whom luck finally ran out. How about the countless others who maintained the same lax attitude toward safety but got away with it? Or the managers who condoned such an attitude, or at the very least turned a blind eye toward it?

For that, once again, Lyle felt a twinge of guilt. He had once known every employee of his company. Their personalities, their families, their hobbies. As the years passed, he knew only the managers, and finally, just a few select executives who were specifically tasked with acting as an interface between him and the business.

He had grown so removed. And what was the harm? Profit had continued to increase, new products were favorably reviewed. Year after year, Lyle found himself having less to worry about, so he gradually let the reins go loose.

All that had gotten him was a pile of blackened carbon. He maintained his stiff upper lip, as he could never be certain who might be around to catch a glimpse of him. But his snow-white mustache quivered slightly as he began to accept the consequences of letting go.

Lyle felt something else he had not expected. Resolve. An hour ago, he seriously questioned the future of his company, whether it might be easier to collect the insurance and live out the rest of his days in prosperity. Entrepreneurial endeavors were something best left to the young.

He took a step forward, letting his wingtips dig into the ash. He would rebuild. He would take back control, and never let himself become so removed again. He would fix the pothole. Today.

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