January 29, 2008

Short Story: 3rd Place

Short Story • 3rd Place Corporate Giants Keeping it Corporate By Chad Blevins Ronald Bell was a pale, short, pudgy sort of fellow with a hint of premature male pattern baldness, and although one would not suspect it, he does quite well among the ladies. He’s the kind of guy who listens to Boys to Men and buys flowers for the ladies in the office for no real specific reason. Ronald does PR for Co Fax Inc. The management staff uses Ron. They call him “the promotion guy,” because Ron makes them look good to the execs upstairs. “As you can see, the nameplates will indicate the field of expertise of each person, above their actual name. We, here at Co Fax Inc., believe that we are Accountants, Managers and Sales Clerks before we are Bills, Bobs or Susans. We put our business and our clients before ourselves.” He trotted down the mundane, newly constructed grey hallway of the Leonard Berns Tower, with a herd of investors scampering quickly behind him. The nameplates they rushed passed were a mirror gold with black letters engraved in each of them. One read: ACCOUNTANT C.P.A. Bill Berkley, the next, DEPARTMENT MANAGER Bob Winston, and the last on the hall read, SALES MANAGER Susan Salander. A construction crew was installing light fixtures at the end of the hall, as well as putting the final touches on the forest green speckled maroon carpet, which blanketed the entire Co Fax wing of the building. “Please mind the ladders folks.” Ronald turned and motioned the investors around the ladders and down the hall, making sure the company wouldn’t have a potential lawsuit on their hands. “Forgive our mess. We were scheduled to move into this wing for next week, but we were just itching to start business, right away.” Ronald said this last line with a sarcastic smirk that mimicked the sort of cheesy sincerity that his bosses promoted. He was told, “Ronald, candy coat it, give ’em a twinkle and a smile. To be honest son, you’re like a hooker and this company is your pimp and those investors are our clients, and we want their money, ’cause boy that’s the life blood of this company, so you best schmooze ’em, grease ’em up, ’cause if you screw this up, kid, you’re out on the street for real. And be sure to point out our business mindset. They like to hear that sort of thing. Go get ’em tiger.” These kinds of conversations always ended with a pat on the back (or the back end for male employees only to avoid sexual harassment charges from female coworkers) as if the boss was some sort of sleazy corporate coach, telling these corporate youngsters how to play the corporate game. Ronald stopped the group at the end of the hall, just inside a large room filled with beige desks and subservient employees. The walls were lined with fax machines and copiers, and posters that promoted good work ethics and company policies. “This is our bullpen. This is where all the ...” “John buddy, we have a problem here. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Ronald was interrupted by a loud voice coming from the middle of the bullpen. Everyone in the room stopped to watch the spectacle, even the investors, which Ronald foresaw as creating a potential problem. One of the investors raised his hand. “Yes, sir,” Ronald said. “Um, Ron, what’s going on here? Is this common?” The grey-headed investor asked, with a hint of concern. “Um,” Ronald took out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead, and looked at John in the center of the bullpen. “Well folks,” Ronald said slowly. “Why don’t we move on?” “Actually Ron,” the grey-headed investor said with a raised hand. “I’d kinda like to stay and watch.” The other investors shook their heads in agreement. “Airight,” Ronald stepped back behind the investors to stand against the wall, in hopes that some CEO wouldn’t walk by and see him there. John was leaning against the desk in the middle of the office with the entire Co Fax Sales department surrounding him, waiting for a schoolyard fight to break out. Bob stood in front of John with his arms crossed and his legs spread, as if he was trying to tower over John with a sense of power and control. “Look around John.” Bob made a motion with his hand, as if he was performing a magic show. “No one’s got your back this time.” It was common for Bob, a miniscule power-hungry manager, to ostracize members of his sales team in front of the entire department. This, of course, did not win him popularity among the lower ranks. It was more of Bob’s way of letting everyone know what he had in his pants without sexual harassment suits (from both sexes) being slapped in his face. His coworkers, dressed in corporate uniforms masked with corporate faces, glared at him. Their collective gaze wasn’t at all scornful. Mostly it was apathetic with a hint of sympathy, because even though everyone agreed with Bob, the department manager, no one cared. And while none of them were guilty of creating and printing and posting an anti-sexual harassment poster of Bob Winston making gestures to slap a woman’s backside as she was filing papers, they all commended John for doing it. The woman’s face had been blurred to protect the innocent, but the poster gave her confidence to speak out against Bob. His job was in jeopardy, so he had to flex his management muscle one last time and take John down with him. John grabbed his notebooks and fanny pack and left the office. The grey-headed investor turned to Ronald and patted him on the back. “Good show my boy. I love to see a corporate power house step on the little guy.” The other investors laughed, and so did Ronald. Ronald’s laugh was partly a laugh of relief, and partly ’cause he knew that it wasn’t the corporate power house doing the stopping. It was the little guy.