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Maybe Next Time


Q. Lee

Just a little over two weeks ago, I had an interview for one of those middle management positions here at The Company. You know, it was one of those double brown nose jobs. While you are trying to kiss you upper management boss’s butt, you have about four lower level employees trying to attach themselves to yours (who says Big Business doesn’t have its modest rewards). I had taken the elevator up to the administration floor. I was prepared with my biggest smile and my best business attire. I laughed. I smiled. I quoted the founding partners’ motto, which was also conveniently sprawled across the wall in the main lobby. I was feeding the senior Vice President (who just so happened to be the son of The Company’s President and CEO) so much fluff that you would have been convinced that you were watching a fabric softener commercial. I walked out of his executive suite easy, breezy and confident that I had only to sit back and await the official offer letter to come via an interoffice envelope.

At least that was how it was up until this morning. I received a call from Fay Hathaway, the Senior Executive Secretary. She had to have been working here since the foundation to the building was laid, and she looked like it, too. As soon as I heard that decrepit voice, ravaged by years of chain smoking five packs a day, I already knew the end result. Any news accompanying that deep monotone could not have been positive.

“Hey, listen, this Fay,” she croaked from that nicotine stained throat. She completely bypassed all formalities and continued on with, “Look, hon’, you didn’t get it. Don’t feel bad, dozens interviewed, but we just decided to go with the most qualified person. Maybe next time, hon’”

Before I could utter one word of complaint or raise one question of concern, the phone went dead as I clutched it to my left ear, and my mouth was still trying to form the words on my lips. By this time, my ears and every other part of my countenance was blistering red with anger. Who the hell are we anyway? Don’t you just love how those people on the administration floor just toss bad news around like a sack of hot potatoes?

Finally, I placed the slim black phone back onto the receiver. While I took in the ambiance that is my little gray cell in the corner, I pondered whom this “most qualified person” could be. Then my mind went back to this rotten cube and I realized that a cell at least had four whole walls, this thing had three pieces of plywood stapled together. My mind focused in again on the identity of this mysterious usurper. Just then, I remembered what a lovely grape vine this office is equipped with, and began to feel confident that the details of this travesty would not be hard to turn over. I locked my purse in the desk drawer and hit the trail in search of some answers.
Upon my return to the cell, in disbelief of the travesty of it all, I threw myself into my desk chair. As cheaply as these things were made these days, because of course The Company would spare no expense for its dedicated employees, I thanked goodness that it did not buckle under the sudden pressure. As it turned out, the new Advisor to the Assistant Vice President (the cursory tag that was supposed to be my own) was the former college roommate of the Senior VP’s only daughter. From what I had heard, she was such a lovely girl, all of twenty-two years old, who was a major in Creative Irish Dance at some absolutely over priced Ivy League school on the east coast. I rolled my eyes and tried to reassure myself that all of those qualities had prepared her for her new career. Fresh out of college and already pulling in more money that most people who have been at this place for ten years. I let out a deep sigh as I pondered on what a fabulously cruel world we live in.

I tried to work off my agitation by moving papers around on my slab. While I was busy trying to look busy (you know the routine, right?), I heard a sound that could only be likened to a vampire bat honing in on fresh prey. It was too late for me to grab my phone, she had already locked in on me and was rapidly descending.

“Hon’,” she gasped as that Carolina drawl reverberated through cell. “Hon’, do you have a minute?” she began and then without pause continue on with, “Of course you do.”

As I turned to face her, I was quite astounded by Gale Winthrop’s appearance. The usually sophisticated and stylish 40-something year old (who looked almost too marvelous for her age) now looked haggard and sweaty. She was slumped slightly forward with one had holding on to the margin of the cubicle. The other hand she used to grasp at her side and, for a moment, from the sound of her wheezing, I thought that she would keel over where she stood. Her consistently flawless makeup, at the moment, resembled something similar to a disaster at the Crayola factory (the blues and the reds has obviously began some sort of riot). All the red curls in her permed head had come uncoiled, her white blouse was only partially tucked into her blue dress skirt, and her navy blue blazer had sweat stains in the armpits. I had to keep myself from grimacing or laughing or both.

Whatever it was must have been a very critical issue to cause this southern peach to allow her façade to be rinsed away. I started to ask what had her so distressed, and then I realized that there was no need to. I was quite positive our very informative clerical pool would have all of the nasty little details. Until then, I was quite satisfied with seeing one of the head honchos falling apart right here in my modest haven. I could barely keep a straight face. We woman have our bad days, but this was the absolute extreme of every bad hair and make-up day combined in the last one hundred years.

“Hon’ listen,” at this point I wondered how important is was for others here at The Company to address others by one’s given name, “this is real impo’tant. I need you to be a sweetie and run down to the file room. Can you do that?”

Of course I can. I am not a complete idiot. That is what I wanted to answer back, but of course I replied, with my most fervent smile, “Why of course, Gale! Anything for you!”

“Good, I need the Anthony Pollard file. As in this second.”
With that, she turned on her heels and stumbled on to her next destination. Here at The Company, administrators like Gale did not bother with menial tasks like file retrieval. That honor was bestowed upon one of us guppies here on the support staff floor. We were the ones expected to run like chickens missing heads or over stimulated squirrels between floors and cubicles to carry out these sorts of missions.

I decided to take the elevator to the file repository. When the elevator stopped on the conference floor, the doors opened and I was suddenly surrounded by federal agents. I knew they were because they acted like The Feds. They were all very official and no-nonsense looking in their navy blue three-piece suits and wearing dark eyeglasses despite the fact that they were indoors. I was so startled by the situation that I almost did not notice that there was also a small group of top suits here at The Company who had huddled themselves into a corner of the elevator. They had placed themselves into a tight ball and were drenched in sweat from collars to underarm and everywhere south of the border. They looked like pigs awaiting the slaughter. The men of the group had foreheads that were creased into deep furrows of concern, and their eyes bulged from the socket and darted to and fro. The women had mascara lines ran deep from the corners of their eyes. It was more terrible than looking at poor Gale, yet much more pleasurable to watch.

They all stepped off on the lobby floor, and the Federal Agents marched rank and file ahead of the group. The talking heads were still huddled together and, as they moved and passed hushed whispers back and forth, kept a nice distance between themselves and the agents. As they stepped off, Sherry, a new-hire Administrative Assistant, stepped on in their place. I looked over and smiled sweetly at her, she returned a polite glance. As the doors slowly closed, I started off with a simple statement, “So, did you see to those guys who were just on the elevator?”

By the time I had reached the File Repository, I had the whole scoop. While taking a ride back up to the support staff floor with Sherry, I had learned that the some really important people here at our lovely workplace were in for the long haul. It seemed as though the Senior Vice President (you know, the guy who gave that position that I wanted to his daughter’s little buddy) had just recently come under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The word embezzlement was making a frequent appearance in all of the speculation floating around the office. It also seemed as though some of the other big names here at The Company were taking a little too much out of the cookie jar as well. The Bureau had pages of bank transaction that had funny numbers spread all over them.

Of course, most of that missing money, probably enough to skim about five to ten years off of someone’s prison sentence, could be easily explained away with one name, Anthony Pollard. He was a high priced broker from Manhattan. He also was a big time money launderer for all sorts of criminal types. He was nearly world famous for his slick and shady dealings.

The Company had canceled the account just last quarter pending a federal investigation into The Pollard Agency’s business practices. Before the cuffs were on the guy, all of his assets were frozen solid, and lots of pages from both his electronic file and his paper file in our archive disappeared with a blink of the cursor. The Company was smart enough to know that some of those breadcrumbs might lead back to this house. They severed all ties as fast as a mouse can point, click, and delete. However, it seemed they were also smart enough to have kept just enough data sitting around to make any association they had with Pollard look legit.

If I were a betting person, I would bet that the talking heads were going to try to pull the wool over the government’s eyes and clog their ears with cotton. Of course, naturally, this meant that they would have to sacrifice some of themselves. This was a price that they were more than willing to pay should it come down to it. The file would prove who had direct access to that account, and this person or persons would most likely become the sacrificial lamb. I am sure that they have figured out by now, much to their dismay, more than likely without an account manager to name, all of the bobble heads here at The Company would be going down in a fiery blaze but without all of the glory.

I stepped off of the elevator and walked about five more feet toward the door of the file room. I punched in my access code and pulled the handle, and a burst of air escaped from behind the airtight door. The storage area for all of the inactive paper files was exactly as one might imagine a prison would be. It was cold, dark, clammy, and was scary as hell under the right circumstances.

I felt along the wall closest to the doorway, and then flipped up all of the light switches. The ancient overhead florescent lighting stretched light patchwork along the low hanging vault-like ceiling. The lights stirred to life, and then hummed solemnly. The file cabinets occupied the entire basement floor, which was about one-third the size of a New York City block. At the rear, there was an entrance to a stairwell leading to the sub-basement, where all of the heating and networking equipment for the building was located. I don’t really see a need to express how distraught both the maintenance and tech guys could get when something could not be fixed from a work station on one of the main floors, and they had to creep down there to the pit of the earth. The cabinets were about seven feet in height, so there were small ladders on each row to aid us shorter folks. Each row stretched from the entrance door all the way back to the rear of the basement. The entire space of the room was occupied by cold, lifeless objects. I let out a slight snicker when I realized how similar life down here was to day-to-day life upstairs.

The filing system was so easy that even the administrators could grasp the concept if they actual cared to take the time to learn. There were 26 main rows, one for each letter of the English alphabet. For each row, there were sub cabinets for each year of The Company’s history, starting in 1925. So each row had at least 80 occupied sub cabinets per row.

The files were classified under the first letter of the last name of the client or the first letter of the client’s Doing Business As name. Then the file is placed within the sub cabinet for the year when the account was established. For example, a client with a DBA of Swift Cleaners, who came to the company in 1978, was filed in cabinet S78.

Simple, right? With so many former clients, we support staffers needed an easy way to maneuver around down here, so as to get in and out as quick as possible. I stepped down the three steps connected from the doorway and then moved toward the aisles. The clicking of my heels bounced sharply off of the ceiling and walls. Something crossed my mind as I searched for the storage space of P92. There were two crucial things to remember concerning this filing system. Number one, you must be consistent with any filing that is done down here, especially when replacing files back to their designated place. We administrative aides were always meticulous in abiding by this rule. It was clearly stated in the Orientation Hand book as Rule Number One. (No, seriously, it was.) Number two, twenty-six multiplied by 80 equaled over two thousand possible hiding places for a file, hence the importance of Rule Number One. If an A or P account established in 1992 wound up in the 1958 sub cabinet or filed in with the U or F rows, it would take weeks to go through every single file to find it, especially if it was intermixed with the documents of another file folder. Hopefully, it would at least take as long as it does for a federal court to bring up indictment charges and issue arrest warrants for an elite group of financial accountants and one Senior Vice President in particular.

I arrived at the P row and then breezed down to sub cabinet 95. The metal cabinet door slid open with ease. Yup. Just as I thought, it was right where it should be. I removed the file and then briskly walked back toward the repository door. Luckily for that bunch, I knew this room like the back of my hand, which would make me sound all the more sincere about the whereabouts of this file when I went back up to the administration floor. I made a quick stop before I exited and shook my head as I blatantly violated Rule Number One.

Maybe the next time that I come down here, which will probably be many more times in the coming weeks, I will try a little harder to find that darn file. Then again, may be not. I closed the vault door, reset the lock, and walked back to the elevator empty handed.

© 2005 by Q. Lee


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