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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Work Day


I'm still working on the coclusion to "Life's a Bitch. A werebitch," so I thought I'd post a story inspired by my last two jobs. I wrote this story awhile ago and re-read it before posting. It needs some serious editing, but I decided to post it anyway.
“Jim, we,  er… I really need the stats on the Sanders account. All I’m asking is that you email them to me…”
“Yeah, yeah. Every morning. Do you think I have time to add another task to my day? Come on, Tommy. I’ve got my own thing to take care of here.”
“I really don’t think it’s asking too much and my supervisor said…”
“I’ll definitely bring this up to J.B., if that’s what you mean.”
 “Then I can expect your email.”
Tom’s last statement was followed by silence and a cold stare from Jim; who crossed his arms and waited for Tom’s retreat from his office back to Tom’s cubicle.

     Tom did retreat to his cubicle, trying to keep his composure as he felt the heat rise into his face. But he didn’t really have time to become angry. He was buried in work. It hadn’t always been this way. When he had started the position almost a year to the day, he had had a perfectly manageable work load. And although he hadn’t realized it at the time that his job didn’t offer paid vacation or sick days (which was very odd for a position with his title and responsibility), he had decided to stay on. He had been offered to be fast tracked for a promotion, hadn’t he? Well, he didn’t even have the time to contemplate.
Tom didn’t like the idea of having to approach J.B. about the email situation between himself and Jim. Although J.B. had been very accommodating to him from the start (even offering Tom to join him for a friendly game of golf every now and again) J.B. always seemed agitated when approached with a “problem.” Tom liked to think of them as “challenges” that needed to be addressed to further improve the organization, although  J.B. would ultimately say something along the lines of “Is this a problem Tom?” or “What do you feel we should do about this problem?”
     He worked through the pile of documents in his “in” box until the mountain almost seemed manageable, responded to the myriad of voice mails both on his cell and desk phone until it was nearly noon, then decided to take a few precious moments to address his Jim issue with J.B..
     Tom stepped into the reception area of J.B.’s office and asked Gwen if he were in and if it were possible to speak with him.
“I really don’t think he’d care to be disturbed right now, Tom, is it?”
“It will only take a moment. I have an issue in regards to a long standing client and…”
“…It is nearly the lunch hour, Tom…”
“I really think it shouldn’t wait, and I really need to get back to my…”
J.B. stepped from his office and the two broke off their sword play. He looked harried, although in his tie, dress shirt and Armani slacks, appeared every bit the thirty-something - GQ model. He locked eyes with Tom and with a sigh, said,
“What’s wrong now, Tom? I mean, is there a problem?”
“Not really a problem, sir…”
“Now Tom, none of this “Sir” thing; I work for a living,” spoken in weak humor, then serious as a tumor “Let’s discuss this in my office.”
“I’d ask you to sit, but as you could see, I was heading out for a quick lunch.”
Sure; a quick lunch. From noon to two or three, Tom thought, while I scarf down a sandwich and soda at my desk.
“Now.  What’s this about?”
“Well, it’s about the Sander’s account. I had asked Jim to email me the stats, and…”
“And he’s too busy to get to that, right? I totally agree. Tell you what, I’ll give you the code and you can access them from your computer. He usually has them correlated but you can pick that up, right? Only take you fifteen minutes or so. Well, that’s settled. Hey, you and I should have lunch someday. I’ll try and remember to have Gwen set that up.”
With that, J.B. left his office, leaving Tom standing shell shocked. Tom hurried back to his desk, with no appetite for peanut butter and diet Coke.
     As Tom sipped water and scrolled through his many unanswered emails, Jim popped his head into Tom’s cubicle.
“Hey, thanks for taking care of that Sanders thing. What do you call a black guy on a bicycle? “THEIF,” funny, huh? Oh, got rezzies at Kennedy’s Grill, better be going…”

     The days turned to months as Tom struggled to keep his head above water. Why did it seem he was the only one stressing about deadlines around here? He was working nearly sixty hours a week, sometimes more when deadlines loomed, almost fifteen hours more a week than he’d contracted for. He’d bring it up to J.B., but J.B. had practically stopped talking to him, almost going out of his way to avoid Tom, unless it had to do with business. His first and only performance review had been lackluster at best, getting him a three percent raise, which was the base increase. He had been criticized for “not utilizing time efficiently.” Tom had tried to take the criticism seriously and nearly pushed himself to exhaustion before coming to the realization that he couldn’t possibly be more efficient. He’d been handed one account after the other and was near the breaking point. He did nothing but think about work. He even dreamed about it. Jim showed him his new BMW. Tom left for home three hours later after shutting down the computer systems, drawing the shades and setting the security system; in his 2002 Toyota.

     Two years of working, slaving in a cramped cubicle with a slow, outdated computer and printer; sitting in a faux leather armless second hand office chair that made him sweat through his J.C. Penney shirts (forget that he was promised “everything new” almost two years ago), Tom would leave in a heartbeat if he felt he could. He’d been looking. There was nothing out there.
     Six in the morning.  He’d come in early for the peace and quiet. He would be walking out the door around eight this evening. The first two hours and last two hours of the day allowed him to finally meet most of his deadlines. He’d had to pick up part of a Jennifer Hart’s workload after she’d apparently been let go last week. She had been the head of logistics; another totally unrelated position from his in an office building he didn’t even know Comptrol had.
     J.B. came in that day around eleven. He stood just outside of Tom’s cubicle, teetering back and forth on the heels of his Italian shoes.
“Hey, Tom. What do you know about accounting?”
“Not all that much, really…”
“Now, don’t be modest, my boy. Your resume says it was your minor.”
“Sure, but that was, what, ten years ago…”
“I need you to take on a few of the accounting department’s chores…”
“I thought we had an outside firm…”
“We do. That’s nothing for you to concern yourself with. I’ll email you the details later.”
Tom closed his eyes, and in the brief moment he had taken to formulate a response, J.B. was gone.

     It was seven o’ clock; Tom pulled the chords that closed the blinds on the darkening windows. He couldn’t believe what had happened this morning. Was J.B. fucking serious? Accounting? What was going on here? Jim, who seemed to do nothing all day but covertly sexually harass the few remaining female employees and “entertain” the rest with his tasteless racial jokes was being paid enough to own a fifty thousand dollar luxury car? And what about that title? Internal Marketing Manager? Tom didn’t even know what Jim did; and J.B.’s three hour lunches and eight hour workday while constantly reminding Tom about what a heavy workload he had? What about J.B. practically ignoring Tom unless it couldn’t be avoided, such as their few and far between staff meetings, where he always received the “thumbs up” and “Tom, you’re doing a great job”? He had to get out of here, if even just for the evening.
     Tom stepped into Jim’s office to shut down his computer. He looked in disgust at Jim’s pornographic screen saver. He moved the mouse, clearing the screen to the desktop when he realized that Jim had not signed out and he had access to Jim’s files. With a slight pang of guilt, soon fleeting, Tom sat in the plush leather chair before the mammoth flat screen monitor.  Now he would find out just what Jim did all day. Tom opened Jim’s Outlook email account. It was practically empty. There was one from his wife, which contained a tirade of where Jim had been the night before, and to Tom’s shock and amazement, an email from Jim’s probation officer. No others. He opened his document files; there weren’t any.  He dug around a little more and found a hidden file that contained the passwords to every other employee’s computer including Tom’s and J.B.’s. He’d seen enough. He shut down the computer. Tom decided to snoop through Jim’s desk and files as well. He pulled open the drawers one at a time. They were all empty, save for the one that contained an unopened ream of printer paper and an expensive bottle of Scotch plus tumbler.
     Tom left Jim’s office and headed for J.B.’s with J.B.’s password scribbled hastily on a sticky note. Tom figured the mystery would end there, since he was sure he would find the office locked. It wasn’t. He headed for the mahogany horizontal files that were custom built into the wall, just below the matching bookcases. They were full of hanging, tagged file folders, stuffed full. He pulled out the first, rifling through the contents. There were only blank sheets of paper. He let the folder fall to the floor; pristine white sheets sprayed across the sculpted carpet. He grabbed another, then another; all blank; the carpet now nearly obscured by a sea of white. At this point, he couldn’t have cared less about the evidence he left behind. What was going on here? There was something vaguely sinister about it. Tom rushed over to the computer and tried the password. It had been changed. He opened the desk drawers, finding nothing, not even the human weakness of alcohol. Tom frantically gazed about the room, looking for some kind of explanation.  He eyes fell on a double door floor to ceiling cabinet. It was built from the same mahogany as the bookcase and file, but appeared newer. There was a very odd and seemingly ancient padlock that looped through the door handles. The longer he looked at it, the more he was drawn to it. He was taken over by a rash desire to see what was inside. Tom stood and approached the cabinet, hearing the blood rushing through his ears in the silent room. He reached out and grasped the misshapen brass lock. It was warm and throbbed in his hand. His stomach heaved and he let go. He looked at his palm, ashen except for the pink-red imprint left by the lock. He was afraidH, yet his fear could not overcome his desire to see what was inside. He brazenly struck the lock with a cast bronze African idol that had decorated J.B.’s desk. He struck the lock again and again until it finally broke free, falling with a thud on the carpet. Taking a handle in each hand, he opened the cabinet. He stared in disbelief, his mind trying and failing pitifully to take in the sight that lay before him. Two black candles impossibly glowed alight, their flames licked and smoked; a mummified cat stretched lying on a shelf above. Dried chicken talons were mounted in a semi-circle above it. Below the cat, a burlap effigy stood, long hat pins with red ball tips stabbed into its oversized head; an oversized head with a picture of Tom’s grinning face mounted to it, a picture taken at the last Christmas party; a picture taken the same night that Jim accidentally had broken a glass in Tom’s hand, cutting his thumb. The same thumb that J.B. had wrapped in his handkerchief until someone retrieved the first-aid kit.  Tom’s memories came flooding back to him. J.B. telling him of his fascination with Africa; his multiple vacations to Haiti. He had just returned from Baton Rouge Louisiana when Tom was hired. He remembered J.B. telling Jimmy that Tom was the solution to all of their problems.
     He began to shake, panic rising like flood waters. What was he going to do now? Tom warily approached the cabinet, a wave of nausea coming over him. He let his head clear for a moment as he decided his next move. He grabbed the two candles, one in each hand. He felt them writhe like snakes, but once pulled free from the cabinet, they returned to sticks of wax. He attempted to blow them out, but like gruesome trick birthday candles, they sprung back to life. Turning to the closest potted plant, Tom shoved the candles wicks first into the potting soil. A sizzling snake-like hiss came from the wet earth; a faint odor of rotting meat assaulted his nose. A shiver ran up his spine. Tom’s hands trembled as he pulled the talons loose from the back wall of the cabinet; he tossed them onto the floor. Stomping them into the carpet, he was quite sure he had seen a few trying to avoid his heel. He pulled the cat corpse out using the bronze statue, expecting the thing to spring alive, but it merely broke in two, scattering dry fur and brittle flesh when it hit the floor. He stood panting in front of his effigy. He instinctively knew he couldn’t destroy it. Tom reached out tentatively and removed the first pin. He felt a lightness in his mind; a good kind of light. Tom gingerly removed all the pins, one after another. A rush of relief came over him. His mind cleared like the sky after a summer cloud burst. He was free from this place.

     Tom found a box to place the effigy in. He left for home. He didn’t set the alarm. He didn’t lock the doors. He just left for home. He found a safe hiding place for the horrid doll. As safe a place as he could find. He knew in his heart that his life depended on it. After a few months, he’d found a new job. He drove by the empty office building that was once Comptrol every day.

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