Natural Selection

tiger-1690864_1280The tiger had Dave by the throat and dragged him toward the jungle. I was about to pull the trigger when I thought, “Wait a minute, is Dave worth killing an endangered species?”

That’s when the decision tree blossomed in my head.

We were visiting stunning Nainital in northern India’s Uttarakhand State to oversee the downsizing of staff at our plant there. Dave had sketched a decision tree on a whiteboard in the executive conference room toward the end of the day, just before we decided to take a stroll around its lush campus on the edge of the renowned Jim Corbett National Park. And now here he was about to be eliminated from the payroll himself.

Anyway, the decision tree in my head, obviously inspired by Dave’s earlier in the day, began populating itself rather quickly, which was fortunate because the tiger was a mere few yards from the tree line and Dave was emitting dreadful gurgling sounds, his arms flailing about uselessly.

I feel it necessary to pause here to explain that the situation developed so quickly, I didn’t have time to panic. In fact, I remember feeling astonished by the steadiness of my hands as they held the rifle the plant manager had handed me before Dave and I headed out the door. He warned us of man-eaters wandering off the national park. One had done so the previous year; it killed three poor souls and had, thus far, eluded capture.  As I analyzed my options, the tiger stopped and placed a baseball-mitt-sized paw on Dave’s chest to get a better grip on his throat. Dave managed to scream during the split second the tiger released him. And throughout this horrific scene my breathing was unlabored and my thinking clear.

“I have the constitution necessary to succeed in management,” I said to myself as Dave’s limbs began to twitch and the tiger took another step toward the jungle.

Dave, on the other hand, had been in one management role or another from a young age despite lacking any leadership qualities at all — the result of the company’s rampant nepotism. Case in point: A few days before our trip, he walked out of his office, his cartoonish guffaw again interrupting the rest of us as we hunched over our keyboards in our cubicles. “Jenkins, front and center,” he bellowed. As I approached, Dave guffawed again. “Why so glum, Pal? I got news that’ll turn that frown upside down.” He pointed two pantomimed handguns at me. “Pack your Imodium® and mosquito repellant, Jenkins — we’re headed for India.” He explained with an exuberance that the VP of South Asia Operations, the great nephew of the company’s founder and Dave’s chief rival, had run substantially over budget as a consequence of significant quality issues and, in general, had pretty much bolloxed the works. “We gotta get our asses over there to see about realigning resources and cutting costs, Dude. Sharpen your machete because heads are gonna roll!” If we succeeded in controlling budget overruns at the Nainital plant, Dave would most certainly become the new VP of South Asia Operations. The great nephew, despite costing others their livelihood with his screw-ups, would likely survive and be placed in a position where he could do little additional damage — like marketing or human resources.

I lowered the rifle a half-inch. What would be the consequences of letting the tiger disappear into the foliage with Dave? He now dangled unmoving in the tiger’s mouth, but his pant leg caught in a bramble, causing the tiger difficulty in his progress.

During a pre-trip meeting to discuss strategy, I recommended we renegotiate vendor contracts to cut costs instead of resorting to layoffs. “That’ll take too much time, and there’s no guarantee our vendors would be willing to renegotiate,” said Dave. “Easier to cut the fat.”

If I replaced Dave, I could implement my idea and save 50-plus jobs.

And then there was what some had considered his sexual harassment. “He complimented my ass while we were at the urinals again,” an intern had confided to me just the week before. And he hadn’t been the first to make such complaints.

I lowered the rifle another half inch.

The pant leg tore, and the tiger continued toward the tree line. Dave gained consciousness for a moment, and his wide, terrified eyes made him look like a child. I couldn’t help murmuring, “Poor guy.”  This marked another episode in a tough year for Dave. First, his wife left him on New Year’s Eve, after which he haunted the office like a hollowed-out version of himself. Then, his father, a retired engineer who had invented some very profitable products for the company, died in the spring. A bunch of us took Dave out for drinks after the funeral to toast his father, and Dave sobbed into the shoulder of his uncomfortable-looking admin. I remember feeling touched and patting him on the shoulder.

I raised the rifle and placed my finger on the trigger. But I wasn’t yet ready to apply the pressure necessary to pull it.

Sometime after his father’s death, Dave gained weight and began to neglect personal hygiene. In fact, by Memorial Day body odor had become an issue, and he attempted to cover it up with copious amounts of cologne. My God the cologne – it lingered a full 30 minutes after he vacated a space. And then — presumably the result of a substantial inheritance and an attempt to counter depression —Dave purchased a Maserati. He began coercing interns into taking high-speed rides with him after working hours. Their complaints doubled in frequency.

The tiger reached the tree line, and its muscles rippled in the effort of dragging Dave’s fat ass over rocks and massive tree roots. Its bright orange fur blazed against the lush foliage, a fire that didn’t burn. I saw its face through the rifle’s sight, saw its raw ferocity. Witnessing this was like spitting into the Grand Canyon, experiencing personal insignificance in the face of Nature. But if I let the tiger go, they’d hunt it down anyway. They’d assume it was the same creature that had killed those three others last year, and they would keep hunting it until they finally killed it. So, if its fate was sealed, might as well be me as any other, right? But, what about its endangered status? What about honor to this paradigm of Nature’s power?

Well, the execs understood. I wasn’t a marksman to say the least, and the plant’s general manager wasn’t even licensed to own the rifle. He never actually told me that his intention was I only shoot the rifle skyward to scare tigers in case of an encounter. So, what was done was done, and they liked my idea about renegotiating vendor contracts. In short, I became the new VP of South Asia Operations, and no one got laid off.

Admittedly, Dave’s funeral was tough. The undertaker did an expert job of covering the damage, and you couldn’t even see the bullet hole in his head. Nonetheless, I noticed the sidelong glances from my new employees. “Let me assure you, I aimed for the tiger,” I told them. Expectedly, doubts remain. But if they wonder about their new boss’ ruthlessness, it makes my job managing them a little easier. Right?

LAURA KNAPP works as a marketing copywriter and was also a freelance reporter in metropolitan Chicago. She received her MA in English from Roosevelt University, also in Chicago, and has had fiction published in its literary publication, Oyez Review. She also writes a blog about Marcom writing,