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Poisoning The Butler

Pemberton Investments has a full-time medical staff in the east wing of the office. They prep employees who are traveling into the jungles of underdeveloped nations. The medical staff is often treating two common ailments: panic attacks and gout. The latter known as King’s Disease is brought on by excess consumption of red meat, scotch, and cake. Today though the staff wasn’t treating either of these ailments, instead it was poison.

Grigsby rushed into the medical room. Ryūki was lying on a table, his skin the color of fishbelly. The lead doctor, Vanessa Myles, stood, snapped off a latex glove and shook Grigsby’s hand.

“The blood work came in and it appears there are trace amounts of cyanide and iridium in Ryūki’s system. We’re treating this by restoring fluids and giving him 100% oxygen and hydroxocobalamin—” Grigsby gave a confused look, “It’s Vitamin B12a.”

“He’ll pull through this?” Grigsby asked.
Dr. Myles nodded, “We’re monitoring him closely, a nurse will be in the room at all times.”
“How’d it enter his system?”
“We’re still trying to determine the cause, but I’d say it was most likely ingestion.”

There was a knock on the door. Ira poked his in, “Grigs the NYPD are here.” Grigsby told them he’d be out in a moment.

“Ingestion…” Grigsby thought for a moment and slammed his fist on the table. He thought back to the night after filming Very Ferry. Joji offered desserts from Tokyo, they were daifuku and mochi. Grigsby and Ira declined as they were about to head to the country club for steak night. “Ryūki couldn’t resist the sweets from his home. Dammit!” Grigsby stormed out of the room.

Outside NYPD officers were talking to Jacques, the head of security for Pemberton Investments. He was from Nigeria and the size of a Volkswagen, he played for Ole Miss as a linebacker then joined the Marines. Jacques ran security operations for employees around the globe. Grigsby walked over and shook the officer’s hands.

“The commissioner sent a team of officers to guard the premises and the Penthouse on Park Avenue,” Jacques said.

They briefed Grigsby on the specifics of the added security. When the officers left he asked to speak with Jacques alone.

“Do the police know about Ryūki?”
“No sir, per your instructions I omitted that fact.”
“Good, we don’t want any written record of this. The Yakuza are everywhere.”
“Understood, how can I help?”
Grigsby looked up at Jacques, “This is something I have to handle on my own.”


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Pemberton Investments on Lex

The aftermath was wild. The Filipino gymnastics team became an overnight sensation. The next day they were interviewed on every morning talk show. Grigsby was by their side translating and spreading the word of his new game show. Technically, Ryūki was translating to Grigsby’s earpiece but no one noticed.

After the morning show circuit, Grigsby returned to the Pemberton Investments offices in the Chrysler Building. He loved the silver art deco tower but hated its location.

“Midtown, especially Lexington Avenue is a gutter of filth surrounded by dry cleaners and shit delis, there’s no charm,” Grigsby explained to the gymnasts in the limo. They nodded politely.

Back in the office, Grigsby led the team to a separate conference room where they met with Becky Pemberton, Grigsby’s daughter. She started a new yoga company and wanted to sponsor them. Grigsby felt confident in his daughter and let her take the reigns. Grigsby headed for his office.

Caitlyn, Grigsby’s secretary, was walking briskly on her treadmill desk outside his double door office. Grigsby didn’t understand fitness, especially fitness at the office. It was too Orwellian for him. It made him feel as if she were a hamster in a pantsuit.

“Any messages from Fox or NBC?” Grigsby asked.
Caitlyn sucked water from a long rubber straw, “Nope.” She said with a smile.
“Ira in there?” Grigsby asked.
Caitlyn nodded.

Grigsby opened the double doors in a clean motion. A monolith of granite and white marble stood against the floor to ceiling windows. It was his grand desk that stretched to the corner of the office. The views looked north toward Central Park and panned to the East River. Grigsby stared at the great red Pepsi Cola Sign on Long Island City and felt thirsty. Ira sat by the Aegean Bordeaux Marble fireplace, the hearth warmed the entire office. Brahms played softly through the intercoms in-wall speakers.

Grigsby smiled, pleased with the upward direction of his new venture. He looked at the brass bar cart, checked his watch and shook his head. He opted for a doughnut from the black and white Sees Candy Cart. Grigsby walked over to Ira and noticed he was asleep with his mouth agape. Grigsby smirked and began tossing chunks of doughnut at his attorney, his mouth being the bullseye.

As he sank one in perfectly Ira stirred awake coughing. “Dammit Grigs!” Grigsby chuckled.

Then the intercom buzzed and interrupted Brahm’s Hungarian Dances with Caitlyn’s voice. “Mr. Pemberton, it’s urgent, something happened to Ryūki.”


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Laddering Up

Cries and feline wails bellowed from the sandpit. The entire gymnastics team was doing their best to fight off the Bobcats. The cameras inside the pit captured the carnage in low light. Ira and Grigsby watched nervously from the TV monitors.

“We should send in the safety teams,” Ira advised.
“No, let’s see what the chat rooms say,” Grigsby leaned over the production assistant, “Sitrep.”
The production assistant spoke low, shocked by the requests he was seeing, Grigsby nudged him urging him to speak up. “Sir, they’re saying we should leave them in the pit. We’re almost at $100,000 in payments too.”
“Incredible.” Grigsby said. “And I saw the demographics earlier today. Most of the viewers are middle aged housewives. Who knew they held such a vicious bloodlust?”
“Grigs, we can’t leave them. We—” Ira couldn’t tell what he was seeing on screen.

The gymnasts were throwing the cats off of their brethren. Then they began to pile on each other against the sandpit walls. Soon four men stood on each other’s shoulders, the other teammates climbed up the human ladder. Soon they reached the lip of the sandpit. The crowd screamed a collective “ahhh!” as they saw the last man climb up the ladder and out of the pit.

The man who made it out, lay on his stomach and clasped onto the forearms of the top of the human ladder. He shouted something in Filipino and the bottom man on the ladder began to climb up his men. Soon he made it out of the pit and held onto the ankles of the topside man. The process repeated itself. Bobcats jumped onto the men as they made their escape. Two bobcats climbed all the way out and fled into the audience.

Moments later the entire team of gymnasts stood on the other side of the obstacle, covered in bloody scratch marks and deep lacerations. But they were victorious and the crowd went wild. Grigsby’s bookie texted him a series of cash emojis. It was the wildest spectacle in game show history.


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Off The Chain

The show started and all of the contestants breezed through Ira’s cerebral obstacle, it was a step above bar trivia, he felt dejected. Grigsby watched as they moved toward the physical obstacles. Joji riled up the audience and encourage the people in the live chat rooms to demand more from them. Grigsby and Ira looked at each other.

“What’s Joji doing? We didn’t tell him to say that.” Ira asked.
Grigsby stayed silent and watched the screen. Strange demands came flooding in with high payments attached.
“$10,000 for pushing other contestants into the pit? I don’t know Grigs,”
“Deny that request, it’s too early,” Grigsby ordered.

The team of gymnasts lined up to the Bobcat Sandbox obstacle. A series of checkered floor tiles lay above the sandpit. Some of them were on hinges and would plunge a person into the pit containing fierce bobcats. One gymnast tested the first tile by hanging onto his teammates in a human chain. He leaned his weight against the tile and watched it collapse, they held on to him. The crowd cheered, thirsty for carnage. The team huddled and devised a plan.

Joji came over and yelled at them in Japanese, he didn’t like any planning from the contestants. “You go! You go now!”

The team of nervous gymnast recreated the human chain and began hopping from tile to tile. As some collapsed the others yanked the falling men skyward. It was as if the members of Cirque du Soleil were playing a dire game of the floor is lava.

Grigsby marveled at the ballet of the team. He muttered something about chaotic beauty but gasped when he saw half of the team fall on separate tiles at once. The human chain broke. Screams cried from below along with the roar of cats. The ones above ground remained alone on their tiles. Joji yelled at them to move and ordered the audience to throw pastries at them as encouragement.

“Grigs that wasn’t a request from the chat room, Joji has gone rogue,” Ira warned.

Moments later another gymnast fell through a trapped door tile into the pit, the remain two ran for the end of the obstacle and both perished.


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Enlightened

The night was moonless during the second filming of Very Ferry. This made the precipitous tower gone on forever in the yellow and pink spotlights. Two contestants had panic attacks upon seeing the obstacle. The Bobcat Sandbox became a trending topic amongst the fans who were tuning in for the pre-show. It was a 15-foot deep sand pit with sheer walls and 25 bobcats lingered about. Grigsby hadn’t fed them in days to make them more agitated.

“No, no they’re just like big house cats, no need to worry,” Ira said into the phone, he was on the phone with their insurance company who was watching the pre-show from their offices. “Light scratches are the most they can do.” Ira looked at Grigsby for approval, but he was busy shining a laser pointer into the pit and laughing.

Ira was able to get the insurance lady off the phone feeling content but not happy. He prayed that the people in chat room were feeling less bloodthirsty but knew it was a hollow hope. Ira watched the contestants warming up, some were doing pushups, others playing trivial pursuit, another trying to learn Swahili. Preparing for Very Ferry is the equivalent of training for space shuttle launch while taking the MCATs.

The Filipino Men’s Gymnastics team were on the far side of the ferry alone. Grigsby watched them from one of the TV screens. Despite being on the windward side and getting sprayed by seawater, they were meditating. Grigsby watched them for a long time and gasped when he realized what was happening. The outside temperature was around 55°F, with heavy gusts. The gymnast should be freezing as they sat there stoically soaking wet. Instead, steam lifted from their bodies. Grigsby knew what this was.

Decades ago, Grigsby took a gap year between boarding school and university. He went on a vision quest starting in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and bringing him through Kathmandu, Nepal. Here he met a dying Buddhist. Grigsby spent weeks in the Buddhist’s cabin in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was here he learned how to reach a heightened state through deep meditation. He learned how to direct energy throughout his body. Grigsby uses it today to offset hangovers or feelings of dismay after heavily feeding on pork shoulder.

The gymnasts were doing this to attain ultimate strength. Grigsby called his bookie who lives full-time in a bowling alley outside Riverdale. Grigsby spoke to him about a large bet he’d like to place.


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Bobcat Sandbox

“If we’re in line to surpass the Kardashians we can pay off the investors in no time,” Ira said, excited to hear the news.

Grigsby nodded, “People watch those mooks play scrabble and tweeze their eyebrows. Our show is far more entertaining.”

“But we’ll have to raise the stakes Grigs, it’s the only way to stay on top.”

“The live chat room recommendations will do that for us, we’ll scale that up and allow more carnage,” Grigsby said as he sorted through a variety of new silk handkerchiefs for tonight’s show.

Ira clear his throat, “I mean to raise the stakes in the less dangerous areas, perhaps more difficult cerebral obstacles?”

“Sure, we can do that,” Grigsby said, half listening.

Later that afternoon they reviewed the lineup of contestants and obstacles. The new contestants were an all male gymnastics team from the Philippines. They looked like clones; they all had 2% bodyfat, lean cut muscles and sinew veins. None of them were above 5’4. Grigsby liked them. He knew just the obstacle he’d unveil tonight for them. He broached the idea to Ira.

“Where are we going to get 25 bobcats? The Bronx Zoo doesn’t have a rental policy.” Ira said.

“Don’t worry about that, I know a guy. What’s going to be tricky is the sand. We’re going to need a fuckton of sand. Get Joji to fetch some from the shoreline, have the interns help.”

An hour later Joji reluctantly took a tender boat ashore with a pack of their unpaid interns. Joji couldn’t tell what made him more upset, the fact his manicured hands will be ruined from collecting piles of sand. Or the interns ceaseless barage of questions about what are his the life hacks to success. “Strangling my competitors.” Joji thought to himself. Then he smiled and knew it was time to unleash his masterplan.


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Off The Charts

“Number one?” Grigsby asked.
The nervous production assistant forced a smile, “Yes, we’re the highest rated show right now on television across the board.”

Grigsby grinned at Ira. “See?”

Ira nodded agreeably at his friend, “You’re right Grigs. But that was utter chaos. We cannot sustain this, contestants are going to quit before starting. The odds are stacked against them.”
“Wrong. There are no odds, it’s pure chance, that’s why the viewers love it.” Grigsby said.
“Yes, but how can we hedge against something terrible Grigs?”
“I have a plan,” Grigsby told the production assistant to leave the room, “Any calamities should be directed onto Joji. He’ll be our fall guy. That should weaken his resolve.”

Ryūki knocked twice and entered the door to the room. He looked haggard, sunken eyes and pale skin. He pulled up a stool and sat. Ira and Grigsby exchanged surprised glances.

“What the hell happened? You look like Charlie Sheen.” Grigsby asked.
“Joji happened. I’ve been watching him for 65 hours straight. I can’t find a single thing to use against him or proof that he’s in contact with the Yakuza.”

The room stayed silent for a while. The ships internal workings bellowed like a low playing organ. Someone was knocking on the door lightly. Grigsby motioned to Ira to open it, he saw the production assistants face peak in.

“Sir it’s the executives at Fox, they want to speak with you.”
“Are we being sued?” Grigsby asked.
“Um, one moment.” The production assistant whispered into the phone, nodded and looked at Grigsby, “No we’re not.”
“Good, I’ll take the call.” Grigsby took the phone and walked onto the bow of the ferry. Ira and Ryuki watched as he seemed to be laughing into the phone. Then he began jumping up and down like a child on Christmas morning.

Ira looked at Ryūki who just gave a weak shrug and nodded off into a quiet nap. Moments later Grigsby came in with a grin ear to ear.

“They love the show and want to give us more time slots. Soon we’ll dethrone those inept Kardashians.”


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The Banana Wall

The 80s synth music blared from towering speakers aboard the ferry. Joji ran on to the stage as the cameras went live, marking the first episode of Very Ferry game show. He did a front flip and grabbed the microphone, his hair didn’t move an inch it was caked in so much gel it looked like a baby seal after an oil spill.

“Welcome to Very Ferry the world’s most difficult game show where the body, mind, and spirit are pushed to their absolute limits. Tonight we’re unlocking true human potential as the contestants will face unimaginable feats.” Joji continued his speech while Grigsby and Ira watched from the control room. The production assistant avoided Grigsby’s gaze as he leaned over to see the viewership count. Fifteen million people had tuned in. He grinned.

“Are the live chats open and running?” Grigsby asked.
“Yes sir, waiting for your command to start accepting them.” the production assistant said.
“Granted.”

The Very Ferry live streaming chat room immediately was flooded with preliminary requests. Grigsby and Ira looked at the screen. Ira gasped and immediately started estimated insurance costs.

“Amazing. They’re total savages.” Grigsby chuckled.

The show started with the contestants climbing a giant rock wall. The holds were painted purple or red, what contestants didn’t know was that some of the holds are fruit, from bananas to apples. Joji sounded the buzzer and the group scrambled the wall at once. One clown fell twenty feet and the crowd cheered.

The live chats started and were demanding that the other clown fall. Payments started flooding in to make it happen. Once it eclipsed $5,000 Joji was instructed to fire a t-shirt cannon at the clown who was nearly at the summit of the wall. On the fourth shot, a rolled up t-shirt hit the clown’s red hair and sent him falling. Profits tripled as he fell.

“Holy shit Grigs!” Ira shouted, “This is getting out of hand too quickly.”
“Nonsense. We’re satisfying the American people’s bloodlust.”

The show continued, the contestants who survived had to decipher a series of Caesar box ciphers, an old code training exercise the NSA uses. One woman named Tessa was dominating, she was first over the wall and cracked the code in a minute making her the winner of tonight. The fans loved her.

Grigsby patted Ira’s shoulder, “We have a world-class hit on our hands.”
“I don’t know Grigs, the carnage, it’s almost too much.”
“There’s no such thing,” Grigsby waved over the production assistant, “What are the ratings saying?”

The production assistant handed a printed report and Ira couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “That’s impossible.”


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Black and White

Off the coast of Fairfield, Connecticut lay a spectacle tonight. A massive ferry, ablaze in spotlights, sat anchored and surrounded by spectating ships. News helicopters circled the area and people ashore watched the big screens on barges light up the night. The country’s latest Japanese inspired game show, Very Ferry, is premiering.

Grigsby reveled in the spectacle. He wore his favorite double-breasted suit from Saville Row. Bunny, his wife, gave him a new silk handkerchief that was adorned in tiny ferries and dolphins. He smirked at it and looked down at a nervous production assistant who always seemed to be on the verge of a complete panic attack.

“What are the projected viewership numbers?” Grigsby asked.
“Over 10 million, and climbing, sir.”
“Grand, if we can surpass 20 million, I’ll buy you a house. 50 million I’ll buy you a house that is in a no-shooting section of the State.”
The production assistant hesitated. “Thank, thank, you sir, I’ll do my best.”
“No, you won’t. Doing ‘your best,'” Grigsby made air quotes, “Means you’re appealing to your standards. I want you shooting for my standards which I can assure you are more colossal. Doing your best is a crock of shit. Do your job.” Grigsby lit a cigar.

The production assistant looked as if he was about to faint, vomit, or both. Grigsby noticed this and leaned over to the production assistant and reached into his suit pocket. “Here,” Grigsby said, handing the production assistant something wrapped in cellophane paper. She unfolded it to reveal a giant black and white cookie from Grigsby’s favorite deli. “This is the secret to success,” Grigsby said and walked away.

Joji sat in a director’s chair getting his eighth layer of makeup applied. He wore a teal suit that had pandas smoking cigarettes on it. He looked to be meditating as Grigsby approached. Grigsby noticed the inkling of a tattoo on Joji’s wrist, a Yakuza design.

“Grigsby m’boy! How you be? Fun night yes!?” Joji said.
“Yes Joji, are you sure you understand the first obstacle? If it goes wrong we’re toast. That human bird cage looks less stable than a Cosmopolitan journalist.”
Joji waved his hand like he was swatting a fly, “It’ll be fine Grigsby, you worry too much. Very Ferry will be…very merry!”
Grigsby slapped his palm to his face to hide his anger. He turned and walked away shouting “Showtime in 15 minutes.”


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Premiere Night

Ryūki agreed to keep tabs on Joji but insisted that the show must go on. So it did. The following week was the premiere night. The networks greenlit the show and Grigsby was getting everything prepared for the U.S. debut of the Very Ferry Game Show. Joji had spent several hours trying on new neon colored suits. Grigsby watched him from the bridge while smoking a cigar.

“How can a swashbuckling wimp like Joji be a gangster?” Grigsby asked Ira. He was reviewing insurance estimates for covering the show’s dangerous obstacles. “Ira?”

“What? Grigs, I don’t know, don’t piss him off tonight. He cannot know that we’re on to him.”

Grigsby pouted and ate some chocolate cake that Bunny made his team. The double fudge layers made him smile. It was no Baked Alaska, his favorite, but it still tasted glorious.

“How the insurance looking? We covered?” Grigsby asked.
“Almost…I think, I think we’re going to be okay. If someone dies were screwed. But maimed or burned, we’re covered.”
“Good. You, sir, get a nice piece of cake!” Grigsby slid a plate across the table which knocked all the papers down.
“Dammit Grigsby!”
“Sorry. I got excited. Forget that stuff, we’ll deal with it later. Take your cake and come with me. We need to get ready for the premiere.”

Grigsby didn’t know what hell waited for him tonight.


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