Imagine you have only six months to live. What would you do with the time?
B) Eat in the best restaurants
C) Poison the managing director of the company you worked at for thirty years?
The choice is yours…
The text for the story can be found in the transcript section on my website: https://www.podpage.com/behind-the-bottom-line/
Music by JuliusH, Pixabay.
“Hello Rudi, this is Angela. I need you to come to my apartment now, it’s important. The door’s unlocked, just come through to the conservatory. I’m gardening.”
Rudolph Helm, head of corporate security at Planck Pharmaceuticals in Basel, listened to the voice mail again and wondered if he should go. Dr Angela Wharton had recently retired as head of research from the company, or better said, she’d been retired. She and the new CEO had not seen eye-to-eye and he’d pushed her out, so she wasn’t even a company employee anymore. The CEO would not be pleased to hear about him visiting her.
On the other hand, Angela was a dangerous person to cross. When she’d left the company six months before, Rudi had expected a scandal of some kind. Then he’d heard she’d needed chemotherapy, which explained her silence. It might be wise to find out what she wanted. Anyway, he liked her. She was a very clever woman.
As promised, the door was open. He walked through the apartment to the back where some of the more expensive apartments in that part of Basel had a conservatory. He’d seen one or two such places, and mostly they were filled with rubber plants and a few wicker armchairs. But as Rudi approached the glass doors, he could see this was something different. The windows were a mass of green leaves with flashes of colour from exotic flowers and as he entered the room it was like stepping into a warm, perfumed jungle.
“Angela?” he called. “Where are you?”
“Follow the path,” she called back. “I’m in the middle of my Garden of Eden.”
The narrow path led him around a corner, and he found Angela in a small clearing where the branches had been cut back to let in light from the glass ceiling. She had a gardening fork in her hand and was digging at the roots of a large bush with long, white, trumpet-shaped flowers hanging from its branches. It was their perfume that filled the air.
“Here we are,” she said. “Sit down and unbutton yourself. You must be boiling!”
There were two armchairs and a small table and as he sat down and took off his jacket and tie, he felt a little breeze on his cheek from an open window above them. It was a pleasant spot.
“I know those flowers,” he said. “You bring them into the office sometimes.”
“I ‘brought’ them,” she corrected. “Not anymore. But yes, ‘Angel’s Trumpets’ they’re called. Lovely smell.”
“’Angel’, not ‘Angela’s’ then? Where are they from?”
“South America, but I only discovered them when I joined Planck. I’ve been growing them ever since.” She sat down opposite him.
“It’s good to see you, Angela. How are you? I heard…”
“About the chemo?” She shook her head. “No use. They estimate three to six months. But I’ve come to terms with that, it’s not why I called you. We need to talk, Rudi. But first … something to drink? This juice I make is good.”
She opened a fridge near her chair and pulled out two bottles with a green smoothie inside and handed one to him. He poured himself a glass and drank; it was delicious.
“I’m listening,” he said.
“It was this photograph that did it.”
She put a copy of the latest company annual report on the table, opened to show a double-page picture of the managing board of Planck, the new CEO in their middle, walking towards the viewer. A line of pale, middle-aged men in white shirts and dark suits, chests puffed out and swinging their arms vigorously.
“Well, the photographer is trying too hard to make them look dynamic,” said Rudi. He took another sip of his drink. “But that’s not the problem, I guess.” He looked again and then it hit him. “Ah,” he said. “No women…”
“Or any kind of diversity,” she said. “Believe me, this picture pushed me over the edge.”
For thirty years, she told him, she’d worked to promote gender equality within Planck. The previous CEO had been sympathetic and started giving women senior positions.
“Women need positions with responsibility at an early stage. I built a pipeline of talented and diverse people – not only women – to fill senior jobs. And then he died…”
That had been a shock. A car accident on a Sunday morning on the way to church and her mentor was gone. So was Angela’s pipeline.
“All my stars left when they saw what the new CEO was like. He has no talent himself and doesn’t like talent around him. It’s the bland leading the bland. And it’s not just Planck. Only 29% of companies in Europe have women in senior management. Somebody has to do something …”
Rudi relaxed a little, he knew what to do now. He would nod sympathetically, say it was awful and let Angela blow off steam. He reached for his drink again, but to his surprise, knocked it over.
“Shorry,” he said. “Sho clumshy…” he stopped, his tongue felt thick in his mouth.
“Relax,” Angela said. “Let’s change the subject for a minute. I have a botany lesson for you…”
The Angel’s Trumpet plant that surrounded them had interesting properties, she told him. Planck had profited from some of them, in particular a drug called Scopolamine made from the seeds. In small doses it was used to treat heart disease.
“In middle-sized doses however, it’s not so nice. Then the consumer can’t move or even cry for help. That is what you just had in your smoothie.”
Rudi tried to pull himself up, but it was true. He was helpless.
“Wh … why?” he gasped. He could hardly talk.
“Because, in a large dose, Scopolamine kills people. You see, I have nothing to lose now, so I’ve decided to do something radical about gender equality. But you’ll have to tell the world my reasons, because I’ll be dead.”
“What have you done?”
She leant forward, smiling. “This morning I sent your CEO a lovely box of Angel Trumpet flavoured chocolates…” he heard her say, and then he passed out.
The journalist who slapped him awake reacted quickly when Rudi told him what was happening. It was too late to save Angela, but in minutes the police were on their way to the Planck headquarters, with journalists and camera crews close behind. Rudi watched on television from a hospital bed. Amazingly, the police seized the chocolates before anybody ate them.
Of course, the story dominated the news around the world. Rudi was interviewed repeatedly, Angela’s motives were examined and discussed and the topic of gender equality was on everyone’s lips. None of this was good publicity for Planck Pharmaceuticals. The company share price dropped and the CEO’s career was over.
When he was released from hospital, Rudi took the journalist to a restaurant.
“Something I don’t understand,” he asked as they started a second bottle of wine. “What were you doing at Angela’s apartment?”
“I got a call from her. Said she had a big story for me.”
“Strange,” said Rudi. “Why would she do that? I mean, that’s probably the only reason the man she hated is still alive.”
The journalist finished his glass and helped himself to another. “Well, let me tell you something stranger: the police analysed those chocolates, but they didn’t find any of that Angel’s Trumpet poison in the chocolates. So, what was she trying to achieve?”
Rudi ate silently for a while, thinking it over. And then gradually he understood. She’d used them all to achieve exactly what she wanted. Angela had trumpeted her message around the world.
“Let’s drink,” he said, raising his glass. “To very clever women.”