“Team Players in the New New Economy” by Kevin Holohan
Team Players in the New New Economy
by Kevin Holohan
(author of The Brothers’ Lot)
When the Beadle came to my cubicle I was not surprised. I had been almost three minutes late and I knew what the Beadle’s job was. Even if you did not know what his job was, the shiny black suit, the purple cloak, and the watch chain going into the top pocket of his jacket would tell you that he was the bringer of no good news.
There was a movement last fall to have a female Beadle appointed. The activists went on a slowdown and presented their demands to Mr. Cairnage. He had the porters set fire to their hair. That was the end of that.
“Ahem hem,” said the Beadle.
“Screw him. If he wants me, he can speak to me instead of ahem-hemming at me like some British Secret Service toady in a 50s thriller,” I thought.
“Ahem hem, Mr. Cairnage wishes to see you.”
“Wishes to see me! Like hell he ‘wishes to see me.’ He is summoning me. Just say he is summoning me, you creep!” This went unsaid beyond the inside of my head, and I limited myself to scowling at the Beadle’s tarnished silver buttons as I got up from my desk.
“OUR TEAM PLAYS HARD AND GETS WHAT IT WANTS,” said the motivational plaque on my cubicle wall.
“Piss off,” I told it.
“BE LIKE THAT. YOU’LL COME ROUND,” said the plaque smugly.
The Beadle walked ahead of me with his head hung low on his barrel chest. He was distressed by my wrongdoing and was making sure that all could see it. He took me the long way to the top floor. We walked all the way around my floor, through every aisle between the cubicles, and then paused briefly at each office door so that I might be better shamed and chastened by the disgust and disappointment of my superiors.
We passed through all the departments, giving the righteous ample opportunity to tut-tut their disapproval of my tardiness and apparent lack of repentance. Market Research was one of the worst. I even heard someone hiss: “Typical!” The Beadle perceptibly nodded his lowered head in agreement and lamentation at the unexemplary employee he had to escort to Mr. Cairnage’s office.
Such vehement company loyalty had become more evident since the first phase of downsizing. For that, Cairnage had us all assemble in the cafeteria. The Beadle had given everyone two 10lb bowling balls and everyone had to hold a bowling ball in each hand, cruciform, arms outstretched and parallel to the floor.
“Put some commitment into it,” shouted Cairnage as he paced around the cafeteria. “You know I could just spirit this whole operation off to Mexico in the morning. The only thing that keeps me here is the view from my office.”
The first fifty people to give up or drop a ball were fired. That was just the kind of sick pun that Cairnage relished: he was firing people for dropping the ball on the downsizing issue.
As we entered the Executive Wing, Read from Branding and Positioning passed us on her way back from Mr. Cairnage’s office. On her shoulder perched a filthy, evil-smelling raven.
“A raven, how nice,” I thought. At Nadrack, Treadmill and Colon, where I used to work, they took off a finger for every day you were late, so I suppose I had moved up in the world a bit. That wasn’t even why I left; when they removed the partitions between the crapper stalls and only provided one roll of toilet paper to ‘FOSTER TEAM SPIRIT, COOPERATION AND CAMRADERIE,’ I knew it was time to go.
Outside Mr. Cairnage’s door there was an ornate arse-polished pew. It looked like it had come from the kind of place where Inquisitors once harangued the heterodox. On it sat Openshaw, Grind, and Roberts. They barely looked up as the Beadle motioned me to take my place beside them. I sat beside Roberts, who was last in line. Openshaw was the next to go in and listened intently to catch what was going on behind Mr. Cairnage’s door. There was a vague thudding and then the great oak door opened. Usherwood from Integration emerged unsteadily under the weight of the large wooden cone that had been clamped to her head.
“She sent out the wrong algorithms to Compliance,” whispered Roberts. “What are you here for?”
“Late again,” I replied.
“Came in the front door.”
I whistled my admiration for such an audacious act. I mean, OK, it was raining hard, but even at that it was going a bit far to come in the front door. Roberts smiled a little in spite of the terror of the unknown punishment that awaited him. No one below an A-3 had ever come in through the front door before.
Openshaw stood up and walked into Mr. Cairnage’s office. The Beadle stepped forward and drew the door closed behind him.
“What did Openshaw do?” I asked Roberts.
He shrugged and whispered in Grind’s ear. Grind whispered back in response. Roberts nodded gravely and turned back to me. “Eating in his cubicle,” he whispered. “Probably get the enema for that.” He shook his head sadly and stared at his feet.
The Beadle paced patiently up and down in front of us. He hummed softly under his breath. This was for our own good. This would make us better employees and more worthwhile people and he was very happy to be part of the instrument of our improvement. We would never get on in the world if we did not learn the value of playing by the rules. He was doing us a great favour.
Suddenly Keen and Rütter emerged from one of the executive chambers beyond Mr. Cairnage’s door.
“We need to get these uplinks out to the sales force as soon as possible. Otherwise it’s a zero-sum game and we’re just pissing into the wind with our pants up a flagpole,” boomed Keen while consulting a sheet filled with graphs and figures.
“Blind Bowelcramp used a similar system of segment tagging last quarter and there was a lot of fallout. I don’t want to piss on your parade here, but don’t ask me to dance on the cracks in the floorboards with you on this one if it all goes pear-shaped.”
“That’s the strategy for this quarter, so we’re going to make it happen. Get your people moving. We move product tonight.”
“But . . .”
Rütter’s voice trailed away as the pair turned the corner and headed toward the atrium. I noticed Roberts smirk a little.
“Absurd, the crap they go on with, isn’t it?” I muttered to Roberts.
“Silence, you two! You’re in enough trouble already,” bellowed the Beadle. He tapped the motivational plaque on the wall behind him: “THINK YOUR JOB IS STULTIFYING? THINK IT IS BENEATH YOU? THERE ARE PLENTY OF PEOPLE MORE THAN WILLING TO DO YOUR JOB FOR LESS SO THINK AGAIN” it warned.
From behind Cairnage’s door came a muffled moaning followed by a sharp yelp and then some more moaning.
“Yep. The enema,” said Roberts to himself, almost pleased with his own clairvoyance. Grind said nothing and began to rub his hands together briskly.
“Stealing office supplies?” I asked Roberts, nodding in Grind’s direction.
Roberts shook his head. “Took a bathroom break without raising his hand to ask permission.”
Grind had left the company only six months before to start his own business. He thought he had a brainwave. He bought a bunch of second-hand musical instruments and started renting them out to panhandlers and beggars. It took him just two months to lose all his savings and another three of near-starvation before he could work himself up to ask Cairnage for his job back. Since then, Cairnage had been making an example of him, and Grind could do nothing but suck it all up.
Mr. Cairnage’s door opened and Openshaw emerged walking like someone who had just shat himself, which is precisely what he had done. Trying to keep the soiled seat of his trousers from view, he scuttled down the corridor toward the stairs and the sanctuary of the Junior F-5′s bathrooms.
Grind walked resignedly into Mr. Cairnage’s office. Before the Beadle could close the door behind him there was the sharp sickening thunk of the guillotine followed by the bigger thud of what was presumably Grind fainting from the pain.
“I hope it was his left one. He’s right-handed. If they take his right hand it’s the same as firing him. He’ll be useless.”
The Beadle rushed into Mr. Cairnage’s office while he blew his whistle to summon the porters. They arrived almost immediately and carried the moaning and bloodied Grind off to the infirmary.
“Left hand. Lucky,” whispered Roberts.
“You! In!” the Beadle shouted at Roberts.
Roberts got up and, with the supreme effort of the profoundly disturbed, lightened his step to a jaunty skip as he entered Mr. Cairnage’s office.
“Mr. Cairnage! So good to see you!” he enthused.
The Beadle hastily pulled the door shut on this distressing display. Roberts was really going for it. I had never heard anyone address Mr. Cairnage before. No one.
The Beadle shifted his weight from foot to foot. He was obviously much more at ease when dealing with an anonymous mass of deviant employees; having to lord it over one lone miscreant seemed to make him uncomfortable. A huddled mass of wrongdoers was much easier to deal with than a single one who threatened to become a person.
Somehow emboldened by Roberts’s madness, I fixed the Beadle with a steely stare. “Don’t you have any more beadling you should be off doing?”
He gaped at me as if I had just suggested we ravish Mr. Cairnage’s decrepit Yorkshire terrier and then set fire to ourselves. He stormed off down the corridor with an air of urgently needing to be somewhere much more important, his Beadle’s cloak billowing out behind him as he went.
Soon it would be my turn. What had Reed from Packaging done? Why didn’t I ask Roberts when I had the chance? Was the raven today’s badge of shame for latecomers or was there something else in store for me?
Mr. Carinage seemed to be taking a long time with Roberts. I glanced around the oak corridor. Concealed lights illuminated a few reproductions of less controversial paintings and some promotional posters deemed to be at least low art. “MANY COMPANIES MAKE PROMISES THEY CAN’T KEEP. WE JUST MAKE THOSE WE CAN!”
That was good one. Rumor has it that that mission statement had taken four months to come up with. What was that supposed to say? We know our limitations? Well, that’s an inspiring thought. That should have us running to work each morning.
There was still no sound from Mr. Cairnage’s office. Roberts had been in there longer than anyone else. Slowly Mr. Cairnage’s door opened a few inches. After a long pause, a voice which seemed to come from some dank, evil corner of the afterlife croaked out: “Beadle, I’ve dispatched this one. Send the porters to the street to clean up. Are there any more malefactors to be punished?”
Dispatched? Roberts went in and didn’t come out. There was only one terrifying conclusion to be drawn. Mentally donning my shiny black suit and purple cloak, I did my best to boom back, “No, Mr. Cairnage. That is it for today.”
“Hmm. A pity. I was just getting warmed up.” The door closed again.
“Getting warmed up? He just threw Roberts out the window!” I thought as I tiptoed at high speed down the Executive Passage toward the Atrium. Once out of direct sight of Mr. Cairnage’s door, I paused. Glancing around anxiously, I saw exactly what I needed: On one of the side tables near the front door was a medium-sized hourglass.
Bracing myself for the pain, I hooked it into my earring and gingerly released it. By carefully inclining my head, I managed to get most of my weight onto my shoulder. As I came out of the Atrium, I ran into Groat, the Call Center supervisor. He looked curiously at the hourglass and then smiled wanly. “Late again, eh? I must say, the old man is getting more literal in his punishments. Must be losing his touch. Oh well, our team plays hard and it gets what it wants.”
“Suppose so,” I replied and hurried on out of the Atrium, trying to keep the movement of the hourglass down to a minimum. I went out of my way to go through Market Research to let them see my shaming before I went back to the relative safety of my cubicle.
“WELL?” cooed the motivational plaque smugly.
“Drop dead,” I hissed as I picked up the sheaf of transaction reports from Enhancement.
“You seen Roberts?” chipped Openshaw as he passed by. He had clean pants on and looked only a little shaken by the purging.
“I think Cairnage threw him out the window.”
“Ha! Ha! Good one. Nice hourglass. Do you get to keep it?”
KEVIN HOLOHAN was born in Dublin. He is a graduate of University College Dublin and a veteran of a high school education at the hands of the Christian Brothers in Dublin. His short stories have been published in Cyphers, the Sunday Tribune (Dublin), and most recently, in Whispers and Shouts. His poetry has been published in Studies, Casablanca, Envoi, and Poetry Ireland. He has reviewed fiction for the Irish Echo in New York. For two years he was reader for the literary department of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. The Brothers’ Lot is his first novel. He currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.
Posted: May 31, 2013
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