A Solute

"You know, I have no idea what it is you do," I said.

Linda shifted in her seat and took a sip of her beer.

"That's right," she said.

"Yeah, it just occurred to me that I have known you for almost three years and you never talk about work," I said to her. Jan was setting up the pieces, Beth was in the kitchen and I was talking to Linda. It was our monthly board game night at Beth's house.

"I solve problems," said Linda after a while. She had been introduced as Beth's friend from college though she never talked about her personal life much at all.

"Is that some cute way of saying you have a menial job as an accountant or something?"

Linda laughed, "No, my job is a little more exciting than that. I get hired by to assess a given situation and give advice on the best course of action, then execute on that advice."

"So are you a consultant?"

"I suppose. I like to call myself a 'solute'."

"I am not sure I follow."

"Did you ever take chemistry?"

"Way back in high school, not that I remember any of it."

"You have a solvent, usually a liquid, and you mix in a solute and get a solution. That is what I do, add me to the mix and I produce solutions."

"Like what?"

"All kinds of things: corporate restructuring, contract negotiation, laboratory studies, political upheaval, K&R, those sorts of things. I can run a winning political campaign or turn a last-place Little League team into the division champs."

"That is pretty impressive! Have you done all of those things?"

"Only in the last year. I have six post-graduate degrees, three of which are doctorates. I am a black belt in four different martial arts and can speak thirteen languages," rattled off Linda as she took another sip of her beer.

"Jesus. That is impressive. Why don't you work for the government? I would imagine you would be a perfect CIA agent," I said.

"They don't pay enough and I am not into the whole social justice thing. Though I am supposed to say 'I am not at liberty to speak about that.'"

"This is amazing. Is there anyone else like you?"

"There are fourteen of us, eight women and six men."

"How do you know each other?"

"You run into another every now and again in the line of work. About ten years ago someone suggested we all meet. Now every couple of years we get together at a hotel in Savannah to catch up and get drunk and sleep with one another. There were only nine of us at the first meeting but every once and a while someone makes themselves known."

"Wait, why Savannah?"

"Someone suggested we meet in the geographic center of where we all were working before the first time, which was Savannah. Now we just go back out of tradition, and because we get a good rate on the hotel. Rob helped restructure Hilton's labor agreement."

"Oh my God, I just realized you were in Chicago for two weeks..." I said as I put the dots together.

"I was."

"...and then Sears pulled out of bankruptcy. That was you."

"Yeah, that job took much less time than I thought. They were gonna get there on their own, I just gave them a good push."

"She also was the one who convinced the regulators to let them file Chapter 11 instead of Chapter 7 in the first place," said Beth as she walked in from with an elaborate chip 'n dip platter. "Are you done interrogating her?" she asks me.

"I suppose. This is a lot to take in at once," I said.

"Okay I will be white. Linda you will be red," said Jan as she handed out the player pieces.

"I want to be green!" I said grabbing the plastic bag with the green wooden tokens.

As we started the game my mind went back to what Linda had told me. I had always known she was smart and she did tend to win a lot, but this was completely beyond what I had thought of her.

After thirty minutes, the game was close with Jan in the lead, followed by me and Beth tied and Linda behind us.

"Hey Linda," I said, "how come you are not doing better tonight? You know, solving problems."

Linda considered my question for a minute while handing Jan some of her cards.

"Well for one thing, Settlers of Catan has a significant amount of chance built in with the dice mechanic. Even though I put settlements down on Six and Nine they have not been coming up much tonight..."

"Lord knows that is true!" cried Beth, "I just want my sheep!"

"Also I am about to win," said Linda as she picked up a card. "Moreover, in the three years we have been doing this we have played Settlers 46 times. Of those, I have won 17 times (including tonight) for a total of 37% compared to your 11 wins at 24%."

Linda turned over the card she just picked up along with three others from her hand to reveal four victory points, enough to win the game.

"In games where chance is not a significant factor, I have won 49 out of 85 games. The other 36 are split evenly between you, Jan and Beth, 12 apiece. And in all but one game I made sure the person I wanted to win did so."

"All but one?" I asked.

"Yeah, there was the game of Puerto Rico where you got too drunk and blocked everyone from the outgoing shipments."

Embarrassed, I felt the blood rush to my cheeks as Jan and Beth started to giggle.

"Like it or not Stacy, but you seem to be the one problem I just cannot solve. I am gonna get another beer and then we should play again."