Fiction: Parables of Public Service


King Philip II found himself short of soldiers in his war against the Ottomans. Unable at home to recruit enough men schooled in the art of battle, upon the advice of the grand vizier the king sent forth for a band of seasoned mercenaries.

“But can they defeat the Turks?” the king asked of his advisor.

“Verily,” came the reply.

“As ruthlessly as my own men?” the king asked.

“Better, sire, and at lower cost.”

“But how can I trust them to act in the interest of my realm?”

“Why, we shall conduct thor­ough investigations of their back­grounds and moral character and the company they keep.”

His concerns mollified, the king ordered it so.

Within a week of taking up arms in defense of the kingdom the mer­cenaries turned their swords upon it and sacked the capital and raided it of its treasures.

“But how could this have hap­pened?” cried the king, offering his advisor the opportunity to share any last words before being beheaded.

“In retrospect,” replied the soon to be ex-grand vizier, “we probably shouldn’t have contracted out the background investigations to the Ottomans.”


A weathered fisherman returned home yet again without a catch de­spite having spent from dawn to dusk out at sea.

“Empty handed again?” accused his wife in a rage by then so routine it no longer attracted the interest of even their nosiest of neighbors.

“These are austere times,” said the fisherman.

“But have you not a boat?” his wife demanded.

“I have a boat, my love.”

“No bait then, is it?” she asked.

“I have plenty of bait, my love.”

“A sail? Did I myself not sew for you a sail cut from the finest canvas?”

“My love, I have your sail. The other men remark often upon its fineness.”

“Well, what then? What about your net?”

The fisherman sighed and looked at his wife with eyes of rue.

“Do you remember, my love, when we resolved to trim expenses so as to afford the tuition for our son’s humanities degree at a top tier private university?

“I do, I do, and it was essential that we did,” she said, “or surely he would be a barista at Starbucks.”

“In retrospect,” replied the soon to be ex-fisherman, “we probably shouldn’t have cut out the net.”

With that he dropped the tat­tered shirt he’d been using to fish with on the floor of their cottage and went off to become a Turkish mercenary.


A woman known for reasons unknown to all except her mother as Clarence was also known for her prowess in the resolution of dis­putes. Her Mount Everest, had such an apt metaphor for challenge yet been discovered, was an argument between Mayor Tony Ponytail and Sam the Village Elder, and Clarence had a long way left to climb.

“We must close the village school; we can hardly afford it,” said Mayor Tony Ponytail.

“Nay, what we hardly can afford is not to educate our children,” said Sam the Village Elder.

The only thing they could agree upon was to put the question before Clarence. She listened with deep at­tention to each side of the story and then retired to the seashore to delib­erate. There she came upon a rueful man fishing with a tattered shirt for a net.

“You’ll catch no fish to eat with such a net,” the counselor in her could not refrain from calling out.

“Fine by me,” said the fisherman, “I’m a vegetarian.”

And with that she had her an­swer. Upon her return, the whole village gathered round to partake in the dispensation of her wisdom. The whole village, that is, save for the ex-mayor and the ex-village el­der, who had long since left public office and gone on to lucrative lob­bying gigs representing the interests of the Ottoman Empire.


During the excavation of the site where the Department of Adminis­tration once stood some centuries before, a team of Turkish archaeolo­gists encountered what appeared to be a mummy arranged in a position of repose under one of the ancient desks.

Yet when they bent close to take a sample of its tattered shirt so as to estimate its age the artifact stirred. The archaeologists leapt back in ter­ror as it raised its head and spoke to them in a foreign tongue.

“Is it five o’clock yet?” the mum­my asked.

Lead archaeologist and ac­complished linguist Batu Mustafa checked his watch, stammering, “Er, no, it’s about a quarter to four.”

“Long day,” said the mummy.

And with that it was still once more, and the archaeologists were able to collect their sample and move on to the next room, which ex hypothesi of several fossilized burnt popcorn kernels discovered therein may well have been the communal kitchen.

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