Thursday, August 28, 2014

Alcyone, Chapter Thirty Five: Hatchet Man

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Thirty Five

Scootie spent New Year’s Day consuming a Sunday Chronicle while ignoring the fast-moving colors of college football on his TV. Despite the dark shade hanging over his head, his first day back at the office passed reasonably well. He was a bit mute around the lunch table, but Jackie filled in with a recount of their New Year’s cruise (leaving out the cabernet).
He was at his desk at four-thirty, thumbing over revisions to the marketing budget, when a face drifted over his partition like a helium balloon. Garth stood there in silence, unable to begin the conversation he evidently meant to initiate.
“Hi Garth! Did you have a good holiday?”
“Yes, I... I did.” He curled his fingers over the top of the wall, like a cat hanging on by his claws. “Scootie? Would you mind? In ten minutes? In my office? To... talk?”
Five questions at once, thought Scootie. “Sure,” he said.
Garth lifted his paws and proceeded down the hall. That man, thought Scootie, is a born leader.
This, too, was not unusual. Garth occasionally felt the need to look like an actual administrator by conducting an “employee conference.” It usually consisted of Garth asking how things were going, then listening for twenty minutes as the employee told him how things were going. Funny thing was, it wasn’t a bad idea. Verbalizing helped Scootie organize his thoughts, and reminded him how much he enjoyed talking about his job. How many people could say that?
When he knocked, the door opened with surprising promptness, and Garth stood there waving him in like a doorman. Scootie sat in front of his desk as Garth shuffled through a filing cabinet. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I must find something first.”
“That’s okay.” He studied the credenza, where Garth kept an ever-growing menagerie of wind-up toys. He picked up a speckled egg and wound it, then watched as it burst into pieces and expelled a grinning baby dinosaur.
“Garth! This is terrific!”
Garth turned and answered feebly. “Oh. Gift from my accountant.” He placed the file in front of him and lined up his fingertips, mentally rehearsing his speech.
“Scootie, I... wanted to tell you a few things about our upcoming budget. Truth is, it’s a mess. The last administration, so to speak – I guess that’s... what you would call it – they did not, er, keep a very tight tally, although I suppose that should have been my... Nonetheless, even with the Swan gala, we have ourselves into... well, a deficit. Of some size. To be exact, um, a hundred thousand dollars.”
Scootie was underwhelmed. He oculd name a dozen Bay Area arts groups with deficits of more than a million: the symphony in San Jose, a ballet in Marin County – hell, ACT in San Francisco was still rebuilding its theater from the ’89 quake. He could see the end of Garth’s spiel twenty miles away. No raises in February, perhaps a small cut, lower advertising budget, seismic retrofit coming up...
“And with the seismic retrofit on our, um, horizon, we’re looking to streamline a bit. Which is why...”
Garth hit a wall, a scratch on the CD. Scootie egged him on mentally. Come on, boy, out with it. The poor schmuck, you could see the sweat breaking out on is forehead.
“Which is why, with a lot of careful thought – and after, of course, considering every avenue in consultation with the board, which is why we’ve, well, we’ve...”
Jesus, Garth! I’d work here for half what you pay me. Go for it!
“We;ve decided to eliminate the staff position for publicity and take our marketing to an outside agency.”
Scootie’s thoughts jumped the track, letting loose with a series of unrelated images: the smell of dill weed over eggs, the crunch of skis as they slid over the lip of the hill, his mother’s smile, tilted to the left with her overbroad teeth.
Garth pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead. “We’re transferring the marketing and, um, box office operations to a firm in San Francisco, the same firm that advised us on the gala. This will cut down on personnel costs like health benefits, unemployment insurance and...”
“Aggie, too?”
Garth kept on spieling. “We thought the least we could do is give you a good severance package, and, um, I want you to know that we have always had the highest regard for your work, and would be happy to provide any recommendations should you...”
“Garth!” Scootie stood from his chair. “Enough already!”
Garth froze, hands at his sides.
“Sorry,” said Scootie. “I didn’t mean to alarm you, but I need to know a couple of things. First – this means Aggie, too?”
“Yes. Aggie, too.”
“And the decision came down from the...”
What? The board? Of course the board... But son of a bitch! Why did she have to take Aggie, too? But he knew that answer, too. Aggie was nearing retirement age, had a businessman husband to take care of her. Aggie would be all right, and the box office/publicity package made a nice cover for lower motivations. Ain’t it funny who you wind up next to in the unemployment line?
Scootie surfaced to find Garth still waiting, hands folded in his lap. Poor guy. The role of hatchet man was killing him.
Scootie lifted the baby dinosaur and returned him to the egg, neatly folding the plastic chunks into place. “I’m sorry, Garth. Maybe I’ll get the details later. When do I need to be out?”
Garth cleared his throat. “Um, end of the week?”
“Sure,” said Scootie, and attempted a smile. “See ya, boss.”
He ducked through the courtyard, avoiding any contact with co-workers (Cow-orkers, Jackie called them). He left his car in the parking lot and walked through town, a mile of unrecorded sidewalk to the beach, where he planted his feet in the sand and turned toward his apartment.
Coming up the back stairs, he unlatched both doors – his pigeons, Audrey’s pigeons – and waved them into the sky.

Photo by MJV

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