.


BACK AT THE OFFICE

by Alan A Sandercott

Short story collection (3)
146 pages. Perfect bound. 5" X 8".
First printing 1999

ISBN 0-9684708-9-0

[Out of Print]

 
  • The Final Say - A company is plagued by problems with deceitful employees as it attempts to computerize its operations.
  • Keep 'Em Working, Keep 'Em Happy - A new company manager causes resentment and disruption among the staff with his unwelcome management style.
  • Ms. Santa - An unhappy car salesman has a brief affair with Ms. Santa at a their Christmas party and later learns an enlightening truth.


  • NOTE: This previously published work is covered by copyright.
    No printing, copying or use by any means without written permission from the author.


     
    THE FINAL SAY    by Alan A Sandercott

           Craig Andrew's explosion through the boardroom door brought all conversation to a halt as the room's attention switched to him. Craig stood there, no jacket, shirtsleeves rolled up, framed in their stares and suddenly realizing that he should have knocked first - but it was too late. Brian Coleman, the company President, slowly rose from his big black leather chair.

           Coleman was a small thin man with gray hair, and a temper that more than made up for his small size. He had built his company from the ground up and had a strict set of rules, one of which was, "Never interrupt his morning management meetings."

           Silence continued in the room as everyone anticipated Coleman's response to Craig's disruptive intrusion. When it came, Coleman's tone was surprisingly quiet, and yet deliberate.
           "You better have a good reason for interrupting my meeting."
           "Yes sir," Craig replied nervously. "We have a serious problem."
           "It better be serious!"
           "Yes sir. Well, ... we can't get the computer system on line."
           "I'm sure you have a procedure to follow, do you not?" Coleman asked, sarcastically. "One that is part of your job description?"
           "Yes, but I-"
           "Well then," Coleman interrupted, "why don't you do your job and let me get back to running my meeting?"
           "I need to talk with Mr. Calder. I've tried the back-ups ... but the system won't respond. It's the same problem as before."

           Coleman sat down in his chair, or rather dropped down into his chair. He was visibly upset with this latest tid-bit of information. He sat tapping his pencil on the table for a long moment and then turned to Bob Calder, the Senior Systems Analyst.
           "Bob, I thought you told me you had corrected that problem?"
           "I did. The system was working fine," Bob said, his face turning several shades of red. "I'll get someone on it right away."
           "I want you to get on it, now!"
           "Yes sir, if you'll excuse me," Bob said, gathering up the papers and heading for the door. He was absolutely furious with Craig for putting him in Coleman's line of fire.

           Craig moved over to allow Bob to pass. "Sorry, but I didn't know what else to do," Craig said, closing the door behind them.
           "You could have passed a message to me you know. You didn't have to come barging in there like a bull elephant."
           Craig could read the anger in Bob's eyes, but it had far less affect than the furry of Coleman. "I'm sorry. What can I say?"
           "Did you try everything?" Bob asked.
           "Yes."
           "The new reset routine?"
           "Yes."
           "Are you sure? It's been working fine."
           "I ran your routine. Nothing. There's a real problem," Craig explained.
           "Why didn't you call Aaron, then? He wrote the software. He could have helped you out."
           "I did. I called him at home and he told me what to do, but it doesn't work. I'm telling you, there's still a problem with the software. I wish you had let me write the program. Then I could have -"
           "You and I discussed this already," Bob snapped, cutting Craig short. "I doubt that you could handle a job that large. It's over your head. That's why I brought in Aaron."

           Aaron Feldstein was a friend of Bob's, and a damn good computer programmer. Bob hired him occasionally to help with the company's new computer network. It was Aaron that had written the computer program about which Craig was now complaining. Both Bob and Aaron had run the program over and over to make sure it was working fine.
           "Call Aaron back, tell him I need him in here now," Bob instructed.
           "Okay, but I have a feeling he's tied up with something else."
           "I really don't care ... never mind, I'll do it myself."
           "Why won't you let me work on the program? I'm sure -"
           "No! I want Aaron in here, he wrote it - I want him working on it."
           "What do you want me to do then?"
           "Nothing. You've already done enough," Bob snapped.

           When Bob reached his office, Carol, his secretary, could tell right off there was a problem.
           "What happened?" she asked, with a concerned voice.
           "Ahh, that bloody Craig. He bust in on the meeting. Now Coleman's on my ass."
           "I'm sorry, I offered to give you the message, but he said he wanted to do it himself."
           "Well he did it all right. Listen, would you get Aaron Feldstein on the phone for me? I need to talk to him right away."
           "Sure," she said, reaching for the phone. "I'll call him right now"

           Inside his office, Bob threw the file folder down on his desk. He stood looking down at his computer terminal with its haunting screen message, "SYSTEM ERROR". He was completely baffled. There was obviously a bug in the software and he was going to have to find it, fast. He had been hired specifically to convert the office over to computers. Apart from resistance from some of the staff, there had been the usual start-up problems, but Bob had always managed to solve them. At first, Coleman seemed patient and understanding. But as the weeks of conversion turmoil drew on, so did Coleman's growing frustration over the delays. At times Coleman seemed to regret the changeover. There was no doubt in Bob's mind that his continued employment was dependent on his success with the conversion program. No computers - no Bob. That's when he brought in Aaron to help out. Aaron was an extremely sharp programmer and within days they had the computer system purring along beautifully. Things went fine for a couple of months. Even Coleman seemed pleased with everything.

           Then, just when everyone was getting into the swing of the new system, Murphy's Law kicked in and bugs started showing up in the system. As the hours of down time grew, so did Coleman's temper tantrums. Aaron came to the rescue and between him and Bob they re-wrote the whole program. Then everything was great. At least until Craig charged into Coleman's meeting. Now Bob was back under Coleman's thumb again.

           Bob sat down in his chair and pushed back from the desk. All hunched forward, his chin propped on his hands, elbows on his knees, he stared at the screen. Somehow he had to beat this thing, no matter what. He snapped out of it as Carol stuck her head in the door.
           "I've got Aaron on the phone for you," she advised.
           "Oh, thanks. Can you ... ahh ... get Craig to pull the printouts of the new computer software and bring them in here?"
           "Right away. Oh, and your wife called earlier. She wants you to call her back."

           Bob swung his chair around and reached for the phone. "Morning Aaron, how the hell are you?" Bob asked.
           "Better than you from the sounds of it," Aaron said. "What's going on?"
           "I was hoping you could tell me. I need you to come over and give me a hand."
           "I don't know, Bob, I'm way behind on my work here."
           "Come on Aaron, I need you here. I've gotta get back on line. Coleman's already on my ass!"
           There was a pause on the line for a few seconds ... "Okay, but you owe me," Aaron said.
           "What ever, just get over here and give me a hand."

           Bob felt a little better knowing Aaron was on his way. He relaxed back into his chair just as Craig walked in and put a file full of printouts on the desk.
           "Want me to go through these with you?" Craig offered.
           "Not now, I have to make a few calls," Bob said, reaching for the phone again.
           When Craig remained where he was, Bob stopped what he was doing and said, "Do you mind?" To which Craig immediately wheeled and left the office. Bob noticed the hurt look that came over the young man's face, but right then he could care less.

           After Bob sharply explained to his wife that he wouldn't have time to take the kids to the show that night, he hung up and headed for the coffee room. He wished that he hadn't called his wife. Her nagging about his never spending time with the kids did little to improve his day.

           By the time Bob reached the coffee room he had brushed off several complaints about the computer being down. He had no sooner poured himself a coffee than Karla Bryant, the Data Processing Supervisor, poked her head around the corner.
           "When are we going to get the computer system back? I've got people sitting around picking their noses."
           "Good," Bob snapped back. "At least they're busy."
           "That's not very funny, Bob. I need the computers. We're heading into year end you know."
           "I know."
           "This is the second time this month."
           "Look! I'll get it up as soon as I can!" Bob snapped back at her, spilling hot coffee over his hand as he slammed down his cup. He yanked his hand back, pain showing on his face.
           "Well you don't have to tear my head off," she said
           "Then get off my back! ... Look, I'm sorry. I'm doing the best I can."
           She turned and left the room. Her final comment, "It's not good enough," falling short of Bob's hearing.

           Bob was pouring over computer printouts when Aaron entered the computer room. A bright young man, Aaron devoted most of his waking hours to computer programming. He even dreamed programming at times and claimed he got some of his best ideas while sleeping. He shook his head when he saw Bob going over the printout, line by line.
           "I take it the computer's still down?" he asked.
           "Yeah," Bob said, sitting back. He removed his glasses and rubbed his weary eyes. "I've gone over everything. We must be missing something somewhere."
           "We? You got worms or something?" Aaron joked.
           "Funny. Now, are you going to help me or not?"
           "Okay, okay. So where are you?"
           "Well right now I just want to get the system on line. The whole damn office is raising hell. We can debug this thing later."
           "Okay, so let me try a few things," Bob said, grabbing a chair and pulling it over to the terminal.

           Bob sat back, deep in thought, as Aaron ran various tests, all the time talking away to himself. It didn't take long before a light bulb came on in Aaron's mind. "Okay. I think I can branch around the problem. That should get you back on line."
           "Well that's the main thing," Bob said.
           "It shouldn't take that much...."
           "Do you need anything from me right now?"
           "I don't know, some time, and maybe a coffee?" Aaron hinted.
           "Coffee? What do I look like, a waitress?"
           "Can I take it then, breakfast would be out of the question?"
           "I'll get the coffee," Bob agreed. "You just get this thing running."
           "Okay. Just remember, when I drop dead from starvation, it'll be your fault."

           By the time Bob came back with a coffee, the system was ready to try. Craig had tagged along as well.
           "Okay, it should fire up now," Aaron said, pushing back from the terminal and reaching for the coffee.
           "What did you find?"
           "I'm not sure, I'll have to track it on paper. Right now let's put it on line."
           "Are you sure?" Craig asked.
           "Don't worry, it'll work," Aaron said, rolling his chair back over to the computer. "Say the word."
           "Do it," Bob said.

           Aaron tapped a few keys. Computer screens throughout the office flashed and as Bob held his breath, the screen in front of them filled with various messages. Aaron moved back away from the terminal while Bob keyed in the passwords. They waited patiently, eyes glued to the screen.
           "Come on," Bob prompted the screen, as if pleading with it to perform a miracle.
           Suddenly the computer screen flashed its 'System Ready' message.
           "Ta Dah...." Aaron sang, as he raised his arms in a triumphant gesture.
           "It works," Bob said, relieved.
           "Of course it works. Do I get breakfast now?"
           "Let's put the system on line first, then I'll buy," Bob agreed.
           Aaron pushed back from the terminal, offering the chair to Craig.
           "Do your thing my good man."

           Craig was hesitant as he slipped into the chair, but with a directional nod from Bob, he entered the startup commands. A few more anxious seconds passed as the screen flashed and then displayed the company's logo.
           "Okay! We're in," Bob exclaimed. "Craig, would you let Karla know it's okay to use the computer system."
           "It seems to be running okay, but don't you think you should wait for a while?" Craig asked.
           "Hell no. Just tell her to go ahead. I don't want Coleman any more upset than he already is."
           "You're the boss," Craig said, and headed out the door.
           "So, what did you find?" Bob asked.
           "Tell you over breakfast."
           "You were serious about wanting breakfast?"
           "I never joke about food."

           On the way to the cafe Bob went after Aaron again about what he had found wrong in the software program.
           "Something weird," Aaron said. "I'd have to show you on the printouts."
           "What do you mean, weird?"
           "Weird, that's all."
           "Well what?" Bob continued to prompt.
           "It just seems like something's missing, that's all. I need to look at the original printouts. Now can I get some breakfast?" Aaron asked, wanting to change the subject.
           "Eat, eat, eat, that's all you ever do."
           "I'd be happy to come to work full-time, if you'd just get me the job," Aaron prompted.
           "I'm trying. I just have to get Coleman when he's in a good mood. And I can assure you, this is the wrong time."

           When they got back to the office Carol was waiting with a message that Coleman wanted to see Bob.
           "Dam!" he exclaimed. "I was afraid of that. What did he say?"
           "Nothing really. He asked where you were. I told him you were out for a few minutes. He said he wanted to see you soon as you got back."
           "There's a set of printouts on my desk you can use," he told Aaron. "I better go see what the old man wants."

           On the way to see Coleman, Bob spotted Karla coming out of her office. The look on her face as they met would melt ice.
           "Look, Karla," Bob started, "I came on a little strong earlier. I'm afraid the computer software bug got to me. I shouldn't have snapped at you like that. I apologize, okay?"
           "You know how fast I can get behind when your computer system goes down?"
           "I know, and I'm sorry."
           "Okay then," she smiled. "I'll let it go this time. But, do it again and I'll arrange for your paycheck to get lost in your precious system, okay?"
           "Got 'ya."
           Bob felt a little better now. Perhaps the job was getting him down.

           Brian Coleman felt only minor relief at Bob's news. He wanted reassurance the problem was cured this time. "Bob, the last time the system went down you told me it was a fluke. Was this morning another fluke?"
           "No. I think I know what happened. I'm sure -"
           "You think? I'm paying you to know."
           "Yes sir. I understand that. I'm running some tests right now to make sure it doesn't happen again."
           "Just make sure it doesn't, Bob," Coleman said, and turned to look out his window - the signal that 'this meeting is over'.

           Carol was in the office talking with Aaron when Bob got there.
           "What's up?" Bob asked.
           "You've got a problem," Aaron said, leaning back into the chair.
           "Such as?"
           "Somebody's screwing around with the software."
           "What?" Bob asked, walking around the desk to see the printouts. "Push that door closed will you Carol?"

           Aaron went on to explain how he had found where a section of the program had been deliberately erased.
           "Are you sure?" Bob asked in amazement.
           "Oh, I'm sure all right."
           "But who would do something like that?" Carol asked.
           "I think I know," Bob said. "It's that damned Craig, that's who. He's pissed off because I wouldn't let him write the program. He'd love nothing better than to see me fall flat on my ass."
           "I've always wanted to ask," Aaron said. "Why didn't you let him write it? I thought he was your programmer?"
           "He is, only this stuff is way over his head."
           "Maybe not," Aaron said. "If he's the one, then he has enough smarts to shut down your system."

           Then suddenly, right before their eyes, the computer screen on Bob's desk went dead. Aaron quickly hit the reset but nothing happened. The whole computer system was down again.
           "Shit!" Bob exclaimed. "Carol, would you round up Craig and get him in here." He turned to Aaron, "What do you think?" he asked suspiciously.
           "I don't know. May be the same thing as this morning. If it is, then I know where to look."
           "Go see if you can you get it running again."
           "Cross your fingers. It worked before, it should work now."

           Just then Craig knocked on Bob's door and was motioned in.
           "What did you just do?" Bob asked.
           "What do you mean?" Craig asked.
           "Did you shut down the system?"
           "No. I was in the computer room working. All of a sudden everything stopped."
           "What were you doing?" Bob asked again.
           "Nothing."
           "By Jesus, if I find out you're...."
           "Why don't I head over to the computer room and get the system back on line," Aaron suggested. "You obviously don't need me in here."

           Aaron no sooner closed the door then an argument started in the office.
           "What are they doing in there?" Carol asked, the voices from within echoing all over the floor.
           "They're discussing the problem," Aaron said. "Me? I'll be in the computer room.

           Within twenty minutes Aaron had the system on line again, having discovered the same problem in the software as he had previously in the morning. He wasted no time getting back to Bob's office with his findings.
           "Someone's definitely screwing around with the program, no doubt about it," Aaron informed him. "Branch commands have been deleted from the program, and whoever did it knows exactly what they are doing."
           "Craig," Bob said.
           "Good bet, but can you prove it?"
           They were suddenly interrupted by the sound of Carol's voice over the intercom. "Mr. Coleman wants to see you in his office. And, from the tone of his voice, he's not in a good mood," Carol added.
           "Ever notice how fast good news travels in this place?" Bob mused.

           Inside the door of Coleman's office Bob paused. He was about to enter the 'Bear's Den'. In the room along with Coleman were his two senior executives, Randall Collins and Syd Rodgers. This was bad news and Bob knew it. There was a joke around the office that any time Coleman ordered somebody into his office when both Collins and Rodgers were present, that someone usually ended up fired. They had been tagged, 'Black Reapers'. Well, the Black Reapers were in the Bear's Den, and so was Bob!
           "Come on in, Bob, take a seat," Coleman ordered.
           Bob advanced and gingerly seated himself. He could feel their eyes on him.
           "So Bob, would you like to tell us just what the hell is going on with the computers? I understand the system is down again?" Coleman asked.
           "It was," Bob started. "But it's back on line again. We had to shut it down for a while to make some adjustments."
           Seemingly satisfied with that, Coleman changed his approach.
           "We would like you to tell us what happened this morning, Bob?"
           "There were some erroneous entries made that blocked the system," Bob said, believing a little BS would always baffle brains. He did not want to accept the blame for the shut down.
           "That's ridiculous," a voice added from across the room. "The system was fine last night."
           "That's when it probably happened. Anyway, I know it's not the system that's at fault here."
           "Would you like to expand on that, Bob?" Coleman asked.
           "In what way, sir?"
           "Any way you like. I think you are trying to shift the buck here."
           "No sir. I know exactly what caused the problem."
           "That's not what young Craig Andrews just told us. He believes you have a serious software problem."
           "I don't know what he's told you."
           "He claims to have overheard you and Aaron ... who's this Aaron by the way?" Coleman asked.
           "He's a freelance software programmer that I contract on occasion to help with the new system. I spoke to you about hiring him, remember?"
           "Hmmm ... Well according to Mr. Andrews, you and this expert of yours haven't the slightest idea what caused this morning's problem."
           "Maybe I should explain what's going on," Bob suggested.
           "Perhaps you should."

           Bob started in to explain their findings of someone deliberately sabotaging the software. He had no idea of how Coleman would react, but he soon found out.
           "Do you really expect us to believe that?" Coleman asked, flipping his pencil across the top of his desk, a look of disgust on his face.
           "Yes sir. We have found two instances where some of the programming was deleted. Both times it caused the system to fail. We had to branch around them to get back on line. I want to go through the whole program tonight and make sure the rest of it is untouched."

           Bob sat quietly as Coleman huddled with Collins and Rodgers. The only thing going through Bob's mind right then was the thought that Craig was out to get him, and it was beginning to look as if he was doing a good job of it, too.
           "Okay Bob," Coleman began, "I expect you to take the necessary action to correct the problem. I want you here in my office tomorrow morning with a report of your results."
           "Yes sir, but -"
           "No buts! You do your job or I'll find someone who will. Do you understand?"
           Bob nodded.
           "And no more cock and bull about sabotage, you hear?"
           "Yes sir," Bob replied, and said no more. He knew they weren't about to listen to anything else he had to say.

           Old Bob was fit to be tied when he got back to his office. He slammed the door shut behind him and slumped into his desk chair.
           "So what's the verdict?" Aaron asked, sensing Bob's frustration. "I take it things didn't go too well?"
           "That would be putting it mildly. Do you know what that bloody Craig did? He went to Coleman and told him that we had no idea what we were doing. Can you believe the nerve of that little son of a...?"
           "Well, he's partly right."
           "Yeah, but to go straight to Coleman...."
           "Sounds like he's scratching you off his Christmas card list."
           "Well, I've got a good mind to haul him in here right now and can his ass," Bob said. He was trembling he was so mad.
           "Do I get his job?" Aaron asked.
           "I'm serious!"
           "So am I."
           The look on Bob's face conveyed a message. Aaron took the hint and dropped his attempt at humour. It wasn't helping the situation.
           "Well, I can give you a hand to go through the program again," Aaron offered, "but it's going to take time."
           "I've got until tomorrow morning. Coleman wants a full report by then. I've got to be able to prove Craig's behind all this or I'll probably be history."
           "We can't possibly get through all this by morning," Aaron said, reaching over and unfolding the heap of computer printouts.
           "We bloody well better. I'm not going to let that snot-nosed Craig get me fired."

           Time flies when you're having fun, or something like that. But when morning rolled around they were still at it. And to make matters worse, the system was still crashing. They had struggled all night to find the section of the program causing the failure.
           "This kid's a lot sharper than you give him credit for," Aaron reiterated for the umpteenth time.
           "Let's keep going. I'll deal with him later."

           Later came and still no computer system on line. Surprisingly, Karla was not as bent out of shape as Bob expected. He figured sure as hell she would have headed straight for Coleman, but instead she offered her help.

           A few minutes later Carol stuck hear head in the door to let them know that Coleman had just gotten to his office.
           "Where's Craig? Seen him yet?" Bob asked.
           "He was at my desk a few minutes ago, asking where you were," Carol said.
           "I don't trust that kid for one second. Don't let him in here," he instructed Aaron. "I guess I should go talk to Coleman before he comes looking for me," Bob said.
           "What are you going to tell him?" Karla asked.
           "I haven't the slightest idea. I know I'm going to kill that Craig!"
           "Craig? Why -"
           "Got it!" Aaron interrupted. "Got it. Same as before, only this time he changed the code by one stinking number. That's all it took."
           "Okay," Bob said, "fire it up so Karla can get to work. Business as usual, right Karla?"
           "Right," she agreed, and headed out the door to get her people working.
           "Saved by the bell," Bob said with a grin.
           He spoke too soon.

           "Mr. Coleman's heading this way, Bob," Carol warned, and quickly headed back to her desk.
           "I understand there is still problems with the computers this morning?" Coleman asked, entering into the room.
           "No sir," Bob replied. "I was just explaining a few points for Karla, and then we put everything on line."
           "That's not my understanding," Coleman said sternly.
           "Well, I don't know what to say. As you can see," Bob said, pointing to the computer screen, "everything is fine."
           Coleman stood for a second staring at the screen and then abruptly turned and left.
           "That was close," Aaron said.
           "Close hell! Why am I not surprised that he knew everything was down. That bloody Craig must have met him at the elevator."
           "If I didn't know better I'd think he was out to get you, Aaron said with a grin.
           "Not likely, and don't worry about Craig. He's out of here. I'm letting him go this morning."

           Fortified by a cup of fresh coffee, Bob headed for Coleman's office and their morning meeting. Coleman was out but Bob decided to wait.
           "Mr. Coleman will be back shortly," the secretary said, with a nice smile.
           It was all right for her to smile, Bob thought, she didn't have to face Coleman, now on their way up the hallway, and with his two hatchetmen.
           "Go on in and take a seat Bob," Coleman said, stopping to talk with his secretary.
           Both Collins and Rodgers followed him into the office but maintained their silence. That really made Bob feel uncomfortable, but at least now he knew what was going on and how to solve the problem once and for all.

           Coleman said nothing as he entered the office. He stopped at the window, looking out for a long moment. "I'm afraid we have a serious problem here, Bob," he said, still looking out his window.
           "I really don't think so, sir," Bob countered.
           "And why is that, Bob?"
           "I know what's been going on and I'm going to remedy the problem this morning, once and for all."
           Coleman turned and walked over to his desk, his eyes fixed to Bob's, as if trying to stare him down.
           "What exactly did you find?" Coleman asked.
           "Well, as I told you yesterday, we found several places in the computer program where changes had been made. I now know exactly how it happened and I'm prepared to -"
           "Just a second," Coleman interrupted, "are you still maintaining that the problem with the computers is the result of sabotage?"
           "Yes sir, there's no doubt."
           "Before you go any further perhaps you should hear something," Coleman said. He then excused himself and left the room.
           Bob searched the faces of the other two men as to some clue, but they were stoned faced.

           When Coleman returned he had Craig Andrews in tow. Craig took up a stance at the end of the large desk and was careful not to look at Bob.
           "All right, Craig, would you outline the state of our computer system?" Coleman asked, taking a seat behind his desk.
           "Well sir, as you know, the system crashed again this morning. They are trying to get it back up but I think the damage has already been done. We may have a major data loss as a result."
           "That not true!" Bob interrupted.
           "Please, Bob. I'm talking with Mr. Andrews right now. Do you mind?" Turning his attention back to Craig, Coleman asked, "What exactly do you mean by a major data loss?"
           "Meaning sir, that when a system continues to crash the way this one has been, there is a high possibility that data will be either lost completely or at least contaminated."
           "That's crap!" Bob roared, jumping up from his seat. "If there's any data loss, then you've caused it, not the system."
           "I'm sorry Mr. Coleman. I don't know what Mr. Calder is referring to," Craig said, still maintaining eye contact with Coleman.
           "That's not correct, sir," Bob interrupted.
           "I've had some experience in this area, Bob," Randall Collins added. "I believe young Craig may be right in what he says about data loss."
           "I agree to a point," Bob said. "There's a remote possibility of contamination, but that's why we maintain backups."
           "Then you do admit we could be facing a serious problem?" Coleman asked.
           "As I said before. I know how all this started and I'm going to take care of it, once and for all."
           "You didn't answer my question, Bob. Yes or no?"
           Bob sat for a moment. He could feel himself being squeezed in a vise.
           "Even if we lost data, we have backups. But there's very little chance -"
           "I don't think you fully appreciate what's at stake here, Bob," Coleman said, rising once more and walking towards the window.
           "I think I do, sir," Bob responded, his voice a little shaky, partially from Coleman's directness, but mostly due to Craig's lies.
           "No, I don't believe you do. This may be a game of chance for you, but I do not intend to take chances with my business. This is our most critical time of year. Every minute that the computers are down means precious time is lost. Time is money."
           Bob was so mad he was speechless. He sat staring at Coleman's back. He could feel his grip tighten on the arms of his chair - he only wished it was Craig's scrawny neck in his hands.

           After what seemed like an eternity of silence Coleman turned and took his seat again. A very stern and determined look came over his face as he directed his questions to Craig.
           "Mr. Andrews. What exactly is required to get our computer system running properly?"
           "The main program will have to be re-written," Craig explained.
           "And how long will that take?"
           "Well I could do it within twenty-four hours."
           "Are you qualified?" Coleman asked.
           "Oh yes sir. If you recall from my resume', I am a fully qualified programmer. I would have no difficulty what so ever. I only wish Mr., Calder would have allowed me to write the program in the first place. We could have avoided all this mess," Craig said, turning his gaze in Bob's direction as he felt his confidence growing.

           Coleman huddled briefly with his executives again and then turned back to Craig. "We would like you to take over, Mr. Andrews. And, we expect the computer system to be operating properly within twenty-four hours. Do you have any questions?"
           "No sir, but ... Mr. Calder has made it clear I'm not to touch the system." Craig asked.
           "Mr. Calder will be leaving this firm. Any other questions?"
           "No sir. Thank you, sir," Craig replied with a smile.
           "I don't understand?" Bob said, directing his look straight at Coleman.
           Coleman glanced over at his two executives, noting their nods, and then back at Bob. "I'm sorry, Bob, but I feel we need someone new in the position, someone who appreciates the importance of keeping our computer system running smoothly," Coleman explained.
           "But you don't understand. Craig is lying through his teeth. He's the one who kyboshed the whole system. He deliberately rigged the system to fail. And I'm telling you; he's not qualified to maintain the computer program. He doesn't have the -"
           "That's just about enough!" Coleman interrupted him. "You will consider yourself terminated."
           "But that's not fair. I've done nothing to deserve this," Bob insisted.
           "I want you to collect your personal belongings and be out of the building by noon."
           Bob collapsed back into a chair realizing that he had just become the latest victim of the 'Black Reapers'.

           Aaron was still at the computer terminal when Craig entered the room.
           "How you making out?" Craig asked.
           Aaron turned to see Craig standing there, a big grin on his face. Given what Bob had said earlier, Aaron had a vision of Craig heading out the front door about then with a cardboard box tucked under his arm.
           "I wasn't expecting to see you," Aaron said, a note of surprise on his voice. "Does Bob know you're in here?"
           "I really don't think that's any of his business."
           "How do you figure that?"
           "Because I'm in charge of the section now, not him," Craig said emphatically.
           "Since when?" Aaron asked, pushing back from the terminal.
           "Since now."
           "Where's Bob?"
           "Right about now he's probably cleaning out his desk."
           "What the hell happened?"
           "They fired him. Now I'm the new section head."
           "What the hell did they fire him for?"
           "He wasn't doing his job, that's why," Craig explained.
           "That's ridiculous. All new systems have problems at first. I'll go talk to them."
           "I wouldn't bother if I were you. If they found out you wrote the software with Bob, they would probably order you out as well," Craig warned.
           "This is crazy. Bob was going to ... it doesn't make sense that they would just fire him? He knows what happened."
           "You just think you know. I heard all about your little theory."
           "Who told you?" Aaron asked.
           "Mr. Coleman, what did you expect? Did you really think anyone would believe your story?"
           Aaron just shook his head in disgust. He couldn't believe things could backfire so fast.

           After a few moments Aaron stood and headed for the door.
           "Where are you going?" Craig asked.
           "Home."
           "Why? You're not finished."
           "Yes I am," Aaron told him.
           "There's still work you can do here. I can keep you on contract, same arrangement as you had with Bob Calder."
           "No, I don't think so."
           "Look, I know what's bothering you. You and Bob only think I caused all this. You know what's wrong with the program and I'm offering you an opportunity to correct it. I want you to build safeguards into the program so no one can tamper with it. Do you want the work or not?"
           "I don't know," Aaron said, hesitantly, he certainly needed the work.
           "You do this job for me and I could arrange to recommend you for the programmer's job. It's full-time work, if you're interested, that is?" Craig offered.
           Aaron knew dammed well he couldn't trust Craig, but it would be full-time work. "Okay, what do you need?" he asked.
           "Re-write the software within twenty-four hours. After that, I want protection built into the program. No one gets in without the proper password, no one!"
           "Consider it done," Aaron said, a smile crossing his face.

           Later that afternoon Aaron was sitting at the computer humming to himself when Karla entered the room. Craig had left to doing something so they were alone.
           "I like to see people happy in their work," she said. "You must be doing something right, the computers are still going."
           "Oh yeah, you shouldn't have any problems now," Aaron assured her.
           "That good. It's our year-end in a couple weeks. That means tax time. We can't afford any more computer down time."
           "Never fear, when Aaron's here," he joked.
           "Wasn't that something about Bob?" Karla asked. "He left so fast I didn't get a chance to talk to him. I hope he'll be okay."
           "He'll be all right. I'm going to drop around and see him tonight."
           "Let him know how sorry we all are, okay?"
           "Will do."

           Time flew by and before Aaron realized it was after nine in the evening. Craig had just showed up with a bag full of takeout Chinese food so Aaron pushed back his chair and put his feet up on the table. He was beat and he yawned and rubbed his eyes.
           "Take a break. I brought you something to eat," Craig told him.
           "Thought you were never coming back."
           "I had a few things to take care of first."
           Dropping his feet down, Aaron cleared the mass of printouts off the table to make room for the food.
           "So," Craig asked with a mouthful, "how's it coming?"
           "Good. I'll be done by morning."
           "Okay," Craig said, with enthusiasm. "And after that you'll have it set up so that I'm the only one who can change the passwords, right?"
           "Right." Aaron reached and filled his plate, wielding his chopsticks like a native Asian. "No one will be breaking into this program. I guarantee it."

           Craig seemed pleased with that answer. He set his Chinese food down for a moment. "Listen, Aaron. I'd appreciate you're not saying anything about me getting you to redo the program. It wouldn't look too good for me, okay?" Craig asked.
           "No sweat. No skin off my nose. You're paying the bills."
           "That's right. With that kind of thinking you'll do okay here."
           "So you think you can get me on full-time?"
           "Sure. Why not? I don't see any problem. 'Ol Coleman loves me."
           Aaron said no more, just shoveled in the Chinese food, which he had stuck Craig to pay for.

           The next morning was Craig's first manager's meeting. He had arrived dressed out in his best suit, armed with the assurance that the computer system was in excellent shape. He sat smugly listening as Coleman explained the previous day's events and how Craig Andrews had successfully corrected the problem. Coleman went on to introduce Craig as the new section head and Craig's head swelled a little as he received a solid round of applause from the room. He was now one of the boys, where he had always wanted to be. He was even comfortable when Coleman asked to see him right after the meeting.

           A little later in Coleman's personal office the accolades continued to rain down. "I wanted to thank you personally for getting our computer system back on line again," Coleman told Craig.
           "Thank you sir. I'm happy I could help."
           "I overheard you saying you worked through last night?"
           "I didn't want to interfere with the data entry people, sir. Besides, it's quiet at night. No distractions."
           "That's the spirit Craig. Always remember, the operation comes first," Coleman said, motioning Craig to take a seat.
           "Yes sir, thank you."

           Coleman removed a file folder from a drawer and placed it on the desk. "We need to discuss filling your old position. Do you have anyone in mind?" Coleman asked.
           "Not really. I asked Personnel to send up a few applications. They're on my desk, but I haven't had time to look at them."
           "How about that Aaron fellow? Bob talked to me about him before. What do you think about him for the position?"
           Craig appeared to think about it for a second. "No, he works more on contract. I doubt that he would be interested in full-time work."
           "Oh, well okay," Coleman said.
           "I think we also have to keep in mind that it was Aaron who helped Mr. Calder design the program that caused all the trouble."
           "Good point. Anyway, review the applications you have and provide me with your recommendation. In the meantime," Coleman said, reaching to shake Craig's hand once more, "congratulations on your promotion. I'm sure you'll do well."
           "Thank you, sir. I won't let you down."

           By the weekend Aaron had still not heard from Craig about the job. He phoned and left a message with Carol for Craig to call him. Days passed and nothing. No word from Craig. When the following Thursday rolled around and he hadn't heard anything, he placed another call to Craig. When Carol told him that she had definitely given Craig the message, Aaron immediately became suspicious. "Let me speak with Mr. Coleman will you, Carol?"
           "Sure, let me see if he's in," Carol said.
           Aaron was determined to find out what was going on. After what Craig did to Bob, he wasn't about to trust the kid for one second.

           Aaron identified himself to Coleman on the phone. It was actually the first time he had ever spoken with the man. "I understand Craig Andrews spoke to you about hiring me to work for your company?" Aaron asked.
           "Ahh ... yes. As a matter of fact he has."
           "Great. Well, I've been unable to contact Craig and I was just wondering if you had made a decision about hiring me yet?"
           "Yes, only I thought Craig would have spoken with you by now. We did discuss the possibility of your employment, but Craig felt you wouldn't be interested in working full-time."
           "But he said he -"
           "I'm sorry Mr. Feldstein," Coleman cut in, "but I think it would be better if you discussed this with Craig."
           "Sure," Aaron responded, rather shaken. "Thanks for your time."
           Aaron hung up his phone and let fly with a string of curses. Craig had lied again. It was obvious to Aaron that Craig never had any intention of giving Aaron the job. That's why he hadn't heard from the guy. He dialed one more phone number.
           "Bob?" Aaron asked. "It's Aaron here. We need to talk."

           Early morning on the first day of April, Karla rushed around the office a panic to find Craig. She found him having coffee with some of the other staff.
           "Would you like to come out here and fix this thing?" she asked.
           "What thing?" Craig asked curiously.
           "The computer system. It won't come on line. We need the new password."
           "What new password?"
           "I don't know. It says to enter our new password," Karla said.
           "I don't know what the hell you're talking about. I never changed the password."
           "Well come out here and see for yourself."

           Next to Karla's terminal, coat in hand, stood Coleman.
           "Good morning, Craig," Coleman remarked.
           "Good morning, sir."
           "See," Karla said, pointing to the screen.
           There to Craig's surprise was a message on the screen.

          
    - SYSTEM READY -
    - Please enter new password? _____ -



           Craig just stared at the screen in disbelief.
           "So come on," Karla prompted. "What's the new password?"
           "But I ... " Craig stammered.
           "Quit kidding around, Craig. I've got people sitting around waiting to get to work."
           "I know, but I ... " Craig was at a complete loss as to where the message came from.
           "What's the problem, Craig?" Coleman asked.
           Craig said nothing, just stood staring at the message on the screen, as Coleman's patience grew thin.
           "Enter the password, Craig, right now," Coleman ordered.
           "I'm sorry sir, I ... I'm going to have to go look up the new one. It won't take long." Craig knew dammed well he hadn't programmed a new password. He was simply trying to buy time.
           "You mean you don't know the new password?" Coleman asked.
           "Well not at the moment sir. I will have to go look it up," Craig explained, little beads of sweat showing on his temples.
           "Well do it. Karla's waiting."
           "I may have to change the program first," Craig suggested.
           "Why?"
           "It looks like those other guys may have left a bug in the program."
           "I thought you said you rewrote the software. You told me you even built in safeguards so no one else could change anything."
           "Ahh ... right. But I need time...." Craig's mind was spinning. There was no way to break into the program. Aaron had seen to that. It never dawned on him that someday, he might have the need to break into the system.

           Coleman put down his coat and removed a card from his jacket pocket, handing it to Karla. "Would you please enter this password?"
           She smiled and said nothing. Taking the card, she typed in the word. Within seconds the computer flashed to life and returned to normal. She handed back the card and then turned to Craig, sticking her tongue out at him.
           "I had a call the other day from Bob Calder," Coleman advised. "He told me he could prove that you deliberately sabotaged our computer system."
           "That's a lie!" Craig countered. "Why would I do something like that?"
           "I thought it was a little far fetched at the time. However, when I met with both Bob and Aaron Feldstein the next day, they convinced me otherwise. Aaron explained a problem he discovered in the software. It was a glitch designed to make the computer system fail."
           "Surely you don't think that I -"
           "You told me that it was you that corrected the software problem. You led me to believe that you completely re-wrote the program?"
           "But I did."
           "That's not true," Karla added. "Aaron was the one who did the programming."
           "I'm now aware of that," Coleman said. "It was Aaron that re-wrote it all right. He also told me that you had him write-protect the program so no one could break into it again, the way you had done. The irony is, you got caught in your own web. You see, Craig, Aaron didn't trust you. That's why he programmed the password change for the first of April. That way, if you double-crossed him like you did Bob, they would have the final say."
           There was nothing Craig could say or do.
           "I think perhaps we should continue this conversation in my office, now!" Coleman said, in a stern voice. He turned sharply and headed down the hall. Craig followed along behind, wondering how in hell he was going to explain this one.

           As Coleman handed his coat and hat to his secretary, he asked, "Would you please phone Mr. Calder. I would like both he and Mr. Feldstein to come in and see me as soon as possible."
           "Yes sir," she said.
           But it was Coleman's next request that sent a chill up Craig's spine.
           "Would you also ask Mr. Collins and Mr. Rodgers to join me in my office right away please?"
           Craig felt a lump in his throat as he entered the 'Bear Pit' to await the 'Black Reapers'.

    Return to Top

     
    KEEP 'EM WORKING, KEEP 'EM HAPPY    by Alan A Sandercott

    They were two young hard working business executives - at least that's how they saw themselves - however, to see them now stretched out in recliner chairs on a Mexican beach would give one a different view. Oh, they were executives all right, but not of some giant corporation. Both were managers at Stanford Equipment Ltd., in Vancouver. Stanford was a well-known supplier to the west coast logging industries. Harry Kaufmann and his wife Jane, along with best friend, Darryl Oakes and his latest flame, Trudy, were all in Puerto Vallarta on a weeks vacation. And while the girls were off wading in the light surf, discussion centered on the pros and cons of purchasing time-shares.

           On their first morning they had been trapped in the sticky web of the ever present, ever demanding time-share salesmen. Before they knew it, the four found themselves segregated to a secluded room where the benefits of owing a time-share rained down upon them. Two fellow victims - deliberately planted, Harry suspected - expounded on their delight on having previously purchased time-shares and how they had benefited by them. Not all in the room were caught up in the hype of the moment, certainly not our two young executives.

           The promised hour and a half time limit had dragged on, ever closer to the promised free lunch. Being a salesman himself, Harry was fascinated by the technique of one of the salesmen. He had an almost hypnotic effect that held several members of his captive audience at the edge of their seats. Darryl, on the other hand, had been more engaged in eye contact with the speaker's very attractive assistant. Her highly tanned, lightly clad body provided Darryl, and a few others, with a distraction from an otherwise unwelcome intrusion on their day in the sun. The sudden elbow in the ribcage from Trudy seated next to him had snapped Darryl back reality and his regret at having let Harry talk him into the 'Welcome Package'. All he and the girls had wanted was to get out on the beach.

           "No, I'm serious," Harry said, his toes digging into the hot sand. "It wouldn't cost that much if we went in it together."
           "Maybe for you," Darryl replied, "but I don't have that kind of money right now."
           "You can't be that bad off, you can afford to bring your girlfriend to Mexico."
           "Not really. I'm still not sure where the money's coming from. I'll probably be late with the ex-wife's alimony, again."
           "I wouldn't want to be there when she finds out where her money went."
           "Neither would I."

           That night Harry and Jane walked hand in hand down the path beside the courtyard swimming pool.
           "You don't happen to know where we could get information about a time share, do you?"
           The question had come from a balcony above them, one of the many that surrounded the courtyard.
           "Sure," Harry replied, and went on to provide the name of the salesman who had inspired him earlier that day. His sincere attempt at providing the requested information was cut short as the individuals on the balcony suddenly returned to their room, killing themselves laughing. It was at that point that Harry realized he had been duped. Undaunted, he and Jane wandered past the large outdoor swimming pool and out onto the beach area. For a long time after that little incident, Jane would ask - usually at the most inopportune moment, and at the expense of her embarrassed husband - 'Do you know where I could get information on time shares?'"

           The two couples made the best of their holiday, taking advantage of the many tours available and spending as much time browsing the local shops as their feet could stand. The hottest parts of the days were spent on the beaches, protected from the sun by the authentic thatched grass umbrellas while the boys haggled with the peddlers. Evenings they spent on the beach watching Puerto Vallarta's renowned and romantic sunsets. It was on such a night, as the sun was dropping below the distant horizon in a blaze of colour, that the sound of a siren shattered the night in far off Vancouver. An ambulance raced through the streets. The patient on board was a man by the name of Fred Stanford, their employer.

           It was ten o'clock in the evening and Oscar Whitworth was home, drink in hand, his book laying on the coffee table. Unable to concentrate on the book, he sat half asleep, half listening to the evening news on TV. The sudden ring of the phone so startled him that he almost dropped his drink, sending alcohol splashing over the arm of his chair.
           "Oscar? It's Doreen," the voice from the phone said. "Fred's in the hospital. I think maybe you better come down here."
           Oscar felt a sudden chill. "What's wrong? Is he okay?"
           "I don't know yet," Doreen told him. "He collapsed in the bathroom. The ambulance people think he may have had a heart attack."
           "Oh my God!" he exclaimed. "Is he going to be okay?"
           "I have no idea. He's still in the emergency room."

           Fredrick Stanford, or Fred, as everyone generally knew him, was not only Oscar's boss but also his best friend. Oscar had known Fred and his wife Doreen for more than twenty-five years; since before he started working for Fred in the logging equipment business. Now at age 62, Oscar weighed in at a hefty 230 pounds and was a far more likely candidate for a heart attack than Fred. To make matters worse, Oscar, whether he cared to admit it or not, was an alcoholic. Despite his overweight and drinking, Oscar was Standford's office manager, a man in which Fred Stanford put a lot of faith.

           When Oscar rushed into the emergency room entrance at the hospital that night, he found Doreen pacing the waiting room.
           "How is he?" Oscar asked immediately.
           "We still don't know," Doreen said.
           Oscar could see that Doreen had been crying and he rushed to hold and console Fred's scared wife.

           For the next hour all they could do was sit and wait for the doctor. When he did come out, Doreen rushed to meet him. The colour drained from her face as she listened to the doctor describe Fred's condition. "He's had a heart attack," the doctor said.
           "Is he going to...?" she asked.
           "We won't know for several hours. It'll depend on whether he's got the will power."
           "Don't you worry about the boss," Oscar said. "He's strong as an Ox. He'll pull through this. You wait and see."
           "I hope you're right," Doreen said, reaching over and squeezing Oscar's hand. He could see new tears streaming from her eyes.

           Then the doctor cocked his head to one side, a quizzical look on his face. "Your husband mumbled something about, 'keep them working, or something like that'? He repeated it several times. Do you know what it means?"
           "Keep 'em working, keep 'em happy. That's his motto at the office," Oscar explained.
           "Interesting. I thought he was just rambling on incoherently."
           "Even here, after all this, he still thinks about that damned office," Doreen said, tearfully.
           "Why don't you go home and get some rest?" the doctor suggested to her. "I'll call you if there's any change."
           "Do you want me to drive you home?" Oscar offered. "It may be easier for you -"
           "No," she said. "I want to wait here. I want to be here when he wakes up."
           "Okay. Then I'm sticking around, too," Oscar told her, and settled in with Doreen to wait.

           At midnight the doctor came out with a few encouraging words. He also arranged for Doreen to wait in Fred's room. "I'll head home," Oscar said. "I hate these damned hospitals. Phone me when he wakes up."

           Doreen pulled her chair up close to Fred's hospital bed. He seemed to be resting peacefully. She cried when she first saw him, tubes coming from his nose and arms, wires running from under the blankets to a myriad of instruments that beeped and flashed tiny lights. She felt so helpless at a time when she knew he needed her.

           A nurse popped in a while later to check on Fred, as she did about every fifteen to twenty minutes. "Can I get you anything, Mrs. Stanford?"
           "No thanks, I'm okay. Has the doctor said anything yet?"
           "No, but your husband is resting fine. All his signs are normal."
           Doreen leaned forward and placed her head on her arms. As tired as she was, she fought off the need to sleep.

           For the next several hours Doreen drifted in and out of sleep. At one point she awoke to feel the sensation of a hand on the back of her head. She raised her head to see Fred's smiling face. Her tears returned as she reached for his hand. She was unaware anyone else was in the room until the nurse spoke.
           "He's going to be just fine," the nurse told her. "The doctor just left, he didn't want to wake you."
           Doreen looked into Fred's eyes. She could tell right off, he was going to be okay. "You old fool," she said, squeezing his hand. "I told you to take it easy."
           Fred said nothing, but he did manage a big smile, and then dozed off again.
           "He's going to need a lot of rest," the nurse said.
           "And I'm going to make sure he gets it, too," Doreen said, with a smile.

           Thirty years earlier Fred had started his logging equipment business on a shoestring. After selling the logging company he had successfully run for several years they moved to Vancouver and invested everything into the new business. During those first years Fred was on the road weeks at a time building up his list of clients all over British Columbia and Alberta. Over the years his persistence and skills as a salesman had captured an enviable market share of the west coast, and when the growing business became too much for Fred and Doreen to handle alone they hired Oscar to manage the office. Oscar had been a logging contractor in the interior and one of Fred's regular customers.

           At seven in the morning the doctor dropped by to check Fred's progress. After listening intently to his patient's heart and reading the charts, he turned to Doreen. "Now you, Mrs. Stanford, your husband is doing just fine. It's you I'm beginning to worry about. I want you to go home and get some rest? I'm sure we can keep an eye on your husband."
           "I'm okay. I slept a bit during the night."
           "Not good enough. I don't want to have to admit you, too. The specialist's are going to run your husband through a whole battery of test. That'll take most of the morning so I want you to go home and get some sleep."

           Stanford Equipment was housed in a two story converted office building. Over the years Fred had added a warehouse and loading docks to the back of the building. The second floor, while used mainly for storage, gathered little more than dust over the years. Manager's offices, washrooms, and staff coffee room took up the back wall of the main office area. The rest of the floor was left wide open with several desks and dozens of file cabinets scattered throughout. A large counter, manned by a receptionist, provided the customer sales interface. Except for the two large glass public entrance doors opening onto a busy city street, and the staff entrance back in one corner, the remaining three walls were mostly windows.

           "Sorry I'm late," Oscar told his secretary, Rebecca, as he arrived at the office in the morning. "I'm afraid I didn't get much sleep last night. Some of you may have already heard, but Fred had a heart attack last night." He paused a moment to collect his thoughts. "He's in the hospital right now. His wife is there with him."
           "Is he going to be all right?"
           "They think so," he said, walking into his office.
           "Can he have visitors?" she asked, following behind.
           "I'm not sure. I'm going back in soon as I can. I just wanted to let everyone here know first."

           When Oscar came out of his office a little later he detected the hush around the workfloor. Several of the staff were gathered around Rebecca's desk. "I'll be in Fred's office," Oscar said, leaving the girls to discuss the owner's plight.

           Fred's personal office doubled as a meeting room. Its single window faced the dock area and parking lot to the rear of the building. A large homemade plywood table - dating back to the early leaner years - sat off to one side of the room. Normally there would be a morning meeting with all the managers present, but with Fred now in the hospital and Harry and Darryl both in Mexico, the room was quiet.

           About 10:30 am Oscar headed back to the hospital. He felt a little uneasy being in a hospital, even if it was only to visit. He noted there was only one other patient in the room. The two remaining beds were all neatly made up, waiting their turn. He couldn't see who was in the other bed as there was a curtain pulled around it. His boss was propped up in bed with a nurse trying to get him to drink something.
           "Hi," Oscar said, "so how you feeling?"
           Fred nodded and waved him over.
           "He's still a little weak, but the doctor said he's doing fine," the nurse said.
           "That's what happens when you eat too much turkey," Oscar said, with a grin.
           Fred twisted his head to dislodge the drinking straw the nurse kept sticking in his mouth.
           "I'd be a lot better if the nurses stopped torturing me," Fred said, his voice still a little subdued and scratchy.
           "You have to drink," she told him, "your throat is so dry."
           "I'm okay," Fred said. "It's just too hot in here. They must have the furnace going full blast."
           Oscar walked over and stood at the foot of the bed. "Would you like me to open a window?"
           "Please, get some fresh air in here. What happened last night?" Fred asked, while Oscar opened one of the windows.
           "Doreen said you were in the bathroom. She heard you fall and went in and found you lying on the floor. I guess she called '911' right away and we got you to the hospital."
           "All I remember is a sharp pain in my chest. Christ, it felt like a truck was parked on me. Let me put it this way, I was really scared."
           "Well you sure had us scared, that's for sure."
           "I think I remember an ambulance. I remember flashing red lights anyway. Somebody was calling out my name, but -"
           "Probably the ambulance attendant. They were trying to keep you conscious until they got you into the emergency room."
           "Next thing I know I'm in this bed. The doctor's here, and his wife's sleeping in the chair. That's when I found out about the heart attack."
           "So how long are they going to keep you in here?" Oscar asked.
           "Not long I hope. The bed's lumpy, the food's terrible, it's too hot in here, I can't -"
           "Sounds like another happy customer," a nurse said. "We can always tell when a patient is feeling better; by the complaints."
           "And, I was about to say, the nurses are great," Fred added.
           Right then another nurse entered the room. "I'm just checking on Rodger," she said, pointing to the patient behind the curtain.

           "How's things at the office?" Fred asked.
           "You don't have to worry," Oscar assured him, "the office is doing just fine. I just came from there. Everyone sends their wishes."
           "I want you to run things while I'm gone."
           "I will. Don't worry. Everything's under control. All you have to do is lay back and get better."

           Right after lunch Fred's secretary, Louise, knocked on Oscar's door. "We're taking up a collection for flowers," she explained, holding up an envelope. Oscar wasted no time handing her a ten-dollar bill.
           "Thanks," she said. "I'll pick up some flowers after work and take them to the hospital tonight." Then, feeling tears about to shed, she turned and closed the door behind her.

           That night when Oscar walked into Fred's room with another bundle of flowers, Fred was resting peacefully with Doreen at his side. "I thought these may help," he said, looking for a place to set them down.
           "Here, give them to me, "Doreen said. "I'll see if I can get another vase from the nurse's station. Louise was in earlier and brought those." She pointed to a beautiful floral arrangement on the bedside table.
           "Thanks, Oscar," Fred said. "That's real considerate of you."
           "So, howler you doing?"
           "Tired. I just want out of here."
           "The nurses are having difficulty keeping him in his bed," Doreen said.
           "I can't stay in bed all day. It's not natural. And to make matters worse, it's always too damn hot in here.
           Just then a nurse came in and headed straight for the open window.
           "Ah come on," Fred said, just as she was about to close the window. "I need some fresh air."
           The nurse hesitated for a moment, and then turned back, smiling. "Well okay, but just for a little while. We don't want you catching cold."

           At the same time, a couple thousand miles away in Mexico, Harry, Darryl, and the girls were dining at one of Mexico's more rustic villas. The promise of good food had drawn them to the out of the way location, but its dirt floors with chickens running loose around their feet did little to reassure them. Finding the odd 'floaty' in the drinks, not to mention a skin and bones dog begging for scraps at the tables, the girls soon wanted to hail a taxi back to civilization. But the boys persisted and soon they were rewarded with extraordinarily good food, regardless of esthetics.

           Like all good vacations, time flies when you're having fun, and before they knew it their plane was touching down in Vancouver on a cold March morning - on a snow covered runway! The shock was overpowering, especially to those still clad in Mexican shirts and cutoffs!

           As always, when Fred was away for whatever reasons, Oscar would oversee things and run the business like it was his. It was Oscar who broke the news of Fred's heart attack to Harry and Darryl when they showed up for work on the Monday morning.

           After Oscar's shocking announcement Darryl stopped at Harry's office door. Carol, Harry's secretary, was briefing her boss on the week's happenings.
           "See what happens when I go away for awhile?" Harry said. "The place goes to hell."
           "How about that, eh?" Darryl asked. "Who would ever have expected the old man to have a heart attack?"
           "Just goes to show. You never know."
           "We took up an office collection for flowers," Carol advised them. "I'm sure Louise is still out of pocket, so if you guys would like to contribute...?"
           "Absolutely," Harry said.
           "How about throwing in for me?" Darryl asked.
           "You broke again?" Harry asked, digging out yet another bill and handing them to Carol.
           "Still. That trip cleaned me out."
           "You wouldn't like to make me a small loan, would you?" Darryl asked Carol, as he hooked his arm over her shoulder.
           "Not likely," she said, twisting away from him and making a quick exit from the office.
           "Christ! You've only been in the office a few minutes and already you're hitting on my secretary."
           "She loves me," Darryl joked. "She just doesn't realize it."
           "I doubt that very much."
           Darryl just laughed. "Anyway. I better get out there and see what kind of a mess they made of my warehouse while we were gone."

           Fred was making remarkable progress in his recovery. One week to the day and he was chomping at the bit to get back to work. His doctor, on the other hand, was determined to keep Fred away from the office until he had fully regained his strength.
           "You've got to let me go home, doc," Fred said. "It's too damn hot in here. I'll have another heart attack if I have to stay here much longer."
           "Tell you what, if your condition continues to improve, I'll arrange for you to be home by the weekend." It did, and he was.

           March passed, then April, and in May Fred finally got the go ahead from his doctor to return to work - at least part-time anyway. For Fred that was great news. And for the office staff too, especially Louise who silently detested taking direction from Oscar. He had tried to hold regular morning meetings but on most occasions either Darryl or Harry found reasons to be busy elsewhere.
           "I've got nothing against Oscar," Darryl confided in Harry one time, "but the meetings aren't the same without Fred. I've got better things to do than sit around listening to Oscar complain about late accounts. That's his problem, not mine."

           During Fred's long absence Oscar had asked Louise to join the morning meetings and take notes for Fred. She didn't usually attend meetings, but she probably knew as much about business as anyone in the room. It was common practice for the managers to bounce ideas off Louise before going to Fred; she was that tuned into his thinking.
           "I understand Mr. Stanford is coming back to work?" she asked one morning, following the rapid spread of rumors through the office.
           "Yes," Oscar confirmed. "For once the rumor mill is correct."
           "Excellent," she replied, a touch of giddiness in her voice.
           "It's only part-time mind you. His doctor wants him to takes things easy. That means we don't overload him with work."
           "It'll be nice to have him back at work again," Louise said. "I miss his humor first thing in the mornings."
           "What are you saying?" Darryl asked. "You don't care for Oscar's style of humour?"
           "That's not what I'm saying," she quickly replied, embarrassment flushing her face. "I just ... I mean I -"
           "I'm kidding for Christ sake, can't anyone take a joke anymore?"

           No doubt about it, Fred was missed. He had a way of making his people feel at ease. Even though he had been convalescing at home he did manage to make the odd visit to the office, despite his wife's watchful eye. On a few occasions while he was out taking his mandatory walks he managed to slip onto a transit bus and head downtown to the office. Each time, after a short visit, Oscar would drive Fred home, dropping him off around the corner from his house.

           When Fred did return the following Monday morning the entire staff greeted him whole-heartedly. Almost immediately the office swung back into its business as usual mode - with one exception; it was next to impossible to keep Fred working part-time. Daily, Doreen would be on the phone urging Fred to come home and rest. Both Oscar and Louise, concerned that Fred would become run down, exerted pressure on him to spend afternoons at home.

           Fred's morning meetings with managers returned to normal as well. Even Darryl found the time to attend regularly once more. At least Fred made decisions on the spot, not sit around procrastinating like Oscar. Also Fred didn't nit-pick at every nickel that was spent, when it was necessary. At one meeting Darryl brought up the incident of an unhappy customer.
           "We received a phone call yesterday afternoon from Alf Harriman," Darryl advised. "He was madder than the hubs of hell. An order of Tri-line cable I shipped to him never showed up and he threatened to cut off my you-know-what's."
           "Did you replace the order?" Fred asked.
           "Right away. I stayed last night shipped it out by courier. But it's going to cost us an arm and a leg."
           "I don't care," Fred said. "You can recover the extra costs later from the original shipper. Meanwhile I don't want our customer caught in the middle. Like I always say -"
           "We know," Harry interjected, "Keep 'em working, keep 'em happy."
           Harry didn't have to memorize the slogan as Fred had it permanently displayed on his office wall.
           "That's right. The last thing we want is a customer having to shut down a logging show because of us. Nothing will kill our business faster."

           By mid summer Fred was back to working long days, despite the objections of his wife and doctor.
           "I feel fine," he would counter. "I'd far sooner work than sit around the house all day."
           "He's right about that part," Doreen confided to the doctor. "When he's at home all he does is worry about the office."

           Darryl tossed his binder down on the meeting table. He had come to the meeting well prepared, donut clenched between his teeth, handful of papers in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Harry was already in the room with one of his salesmen going over some new magazine advertising. Darryl carefully set down his coffee, slipped into his chair and pulled himself up to the table. In the process he managed bump the table hard enough to knock over his cup and spill hot coffee all over the place.
           "Watch it!" he yelled, and tried unsuccessfully to rescue his papers before they got soaked.
           Harry jumped back, lifting his magazines high out of the way. "You're getting off to a good start," he remarked.
           "Sorry about that."
           "Well be careful. You don't want to mark up this beautiful table top."
           "I'd like to do more than just mark it. I'd like to cut it up for firewood," Darryl said, sarcastically, trying to wipe up the split coffee with a handful of Kleenex tissues. "It's going to be one of those days, I can tell. What're you guys reading, anyway?"
           "Logging magazines. Fred wants us to increase our advertising. We're just trying to figure which magazines to use."
           "I'm surprised you're not advertising in your car racing magazines,"
           "I rather doubt Fred would agree to it."
           "How did you make out on the racetrack last weekend?"
           "Not too good. I need more track-time to perfect my driving. Once a week isn't enough."
           "You better watch it," Darryl laughed. "Your wife's going to end up a racetrack widow."
           "Only on Saturdays."

           During August Harry spent a lot of time on the road with his salesmen. He liked to make rounds of the customers. That way, he could maintain the personal touch he enjoyed when he was out there making all the sales calls.

           Later that month, while riding to work with Darryl, Harry managed to catch up on the office rumours.
           "There's talk around the office about Fred retiring. Have you heard about it?" Darryl asked.
           "Not a whisper, but then I haven't been around all that much."
           "Yeah, I don't know if there's anything to it."
           "Haven't you asked Fred about it?"
           "Nope. You can ask him if you want to but I'm not."
           "Maybe I will."

           Both were quiet for a while as Darryl weaved his way through the morning traffic. Then Darryl asked, "So, what's up with your car?"
           "Jane has it."
           "So what's wrong with that fancy corvette of hers? The one you talked her into buying."
           "She doesn't like driving it into the city. She's scared it'll get scratched."
           "You two and your cars," Darryl went on. "I don't know how you can afford them."
           "Jane works, remember"
           "Exactly. Maybe if I had two incomes I could drive a corvette, too."
           "Well, maybe if you didn't spend so much on women," Harry reminded him.
           "Can't help it. I'd go nuts by myself."
           "Get a dog. They're a lot cheaper," Harry said, grinning.
           "Ever try sleeping with a dog? The woof, woof type, I mean."
           "No. Can't say that I have."
           "Hey, wait'll you meet Sandra," Darryl said. "You'll see why I don't need a dog."
           "So who's Sandra?"
           "See, that's what happens when you're never around. I'm in love again."
           "You're always in love. Who's Sandra?"
           "She's really nice. Wait'll you meet her. You'll like her. We've been going out for about a week now. I met her at a party."
           "What happened to Trudy?"
           "Oh, we had a parting of the ways. All she wanted to do was set up housekeeping. I need that like rabies."

           Later that morning during Fred's meeting Harry came right out with the sixty-four dollar question, "I hear a rumor going around the office that you're going to retire?" "I've heard that rumor, too," Fred responded. "But rumours are just rumours." He quickly changed the subject and got on with business.

           But the rumor of Fred's retirement persisted and finally one September morning Fred put them to rest. On that morning Fred set his glasses down on the table and sat quietly for a long moment. His eyes remained fixed to his glasses, which he unconsciously fiddled with. "My doctor tells me that if I don't slow down I'm going to have another heart attack. Maybe he's right. Until now I've never given much thought to retirement. But I'm sixty-six and not getting any younger. That heart attack was a warning and 'ol doc tells me I probably wouldn't survive another one."
           Everyone sat quietly. Rumors around the office were one thing, but to actually hear it from Fred's own lips, that was another. Even Oscar, a close friend of Fred's, seemed surprised by the announcement. "I've never heard you talk like that before," he remarked.
           "A heart attack changes a lot of things."
           "What about the company?" Oscar asked.
           "Well, I will admit I have given it considerable thought lately."
           "I guess Oscar's going to take over, eh?" Harry asked, with his usual get straight to the point questions. Like everybody else in the room, Harry just assumed it would be Oscar.
           "Well ... I'm expecting Oscar to keep an eye on things for a while."
           Oscar sat bolt upright in his chair. There was little doubt in his mind that he would be taking over in Fred's place. Try as he may, he couldn't stop the grin that slowly spread across his face.
           "The wife and I have given it a lot of thought and we've come to a decision; starting next week I'm going to be a man of leisure."
           "I'm sure I speak for everyone here," Oscar said. "The office won't be the same without you."
           "You needn't make it sound so terrible. I'm not planning on dying, just retiring. I can assure you, I don't really want to retire. This company has been my whole life. I didn't want to ... I'm sorry," he said, suddenly showing signs of emotion.
           Shortly after that Fred unexpectedly left the office for the rest of the day. That was perhaps the toughest morning meeting Fred chaired in recent years.

           For the rest of that day - the rest of the workweek for that matter - the office was as sad as a funeral. Harry had Carol pass the word that there would be a meeting in his office that afternoon to plan a retirement party. Darryl, Oscar, Carol, Rebecca, and Louise attended. Thursday evening was chosen. Committees were struck and with an energy far surpassing the daily routine of the office, they broke off to organize.

           Thursday rolled around and as the last minutes of the afternoon clicked off the clock people started gathering around Louise's desk. Fred had conveniently taken the afternoon off providing the staff the whole afternoon to transform the office into a party atmosphere. They wanted to send Fred off in style.

           At 6:30 p.m. the loud pop of a champagne cork signaled the start of festivities - the likes of which no one would soon forget.

           "Thank God it's Friday." That sentiment was voiced over and over the next morning as one corpse after another dragged themselves into work. It bordered on the ridiculous. The previous night's going away party for Fred was a real doosey. Perhaps it had been a full moon or something, but it seemed everyone had chosen that opportunity to let down their hair. The coffee pot had never been so popular and groups gathered to discuss the party and clean up the remaining cake.

           Both Harry and Darryl were sitting in Harry's office nursing hangovers when Oscar walked in. He looked in better shape than the rest, but then he a lot more practice and could hold his booze better. He was the type that could drink all night, take a quick shower, change his shirt, and look sharp as a whistle.
           "I don't remember much from last night," Oscar said, "Did I have a good time? About the last thing I remember is ordering pizza, after that ... nothing."
           "You ordered enough pizza to feed a Boy Scout jamboree," Harry told him.
           "I don't remember anything."
           "Just as well. You were the life of the party," Darryl added.
           "Meaning what?"
           "Nothing." Darryl laughed.
           "You weren't feeling any pain, either," Harry reminded Darryl. "And who was that blonde you were with?"
           "That's Linda, the love of my life."
           "Another one? What happened to Sandra?"
           "Sandra who."
           "Don't tell me she dumped you already?"
           "Right after I told her I couldn't afford to take her to Florida and meet her parents. Can you believe it, she wanted me to meet her parents."
           "Too bad. I was looking forward to meeting her," Harry said.
           "I doubt you'll get to meet Linda, either."
           "Why not?"
           "She got all upset because I was spending so much time dancing with Louise," Darryl explained. "She left without me last night."
           "Your love life is all very intriguing," Oscar interrupted, "but let's get back to me. What's this about me being the life of the party? I get the feeling you're not telling me everything."
           "Trust me, you don't want to know," Darryl said, laughing. His head hurt when he laughed.
           "I hope I didn't do anything to embarrass Fred," Oscar said, concerned he may have done something to jeopardize his chance of taking over the company.
           "If you did, he didn't show it," Harry reassured him. "Main thing is, Fred and Doreen seemed to have a good time."
           "You were one of the last to leave, though" Darryl added, for Oscar's benefit.
           "You were still here when Jane and I left. What time did you get home?" Harry asked Darryl.
           "I didn't make it home."
           "So where did you get to?"
           "I'll tell you sometime," Darryl smiled.

           Louise was wearing dark glasses when she got to work. After hanging her coat she headed straight for the coffee.
           "What's wrong, Louise?" one of the girls asked. "The lights a little bright, are they?"
           "I don't think I'm going to make it through the day. If I die will you please tell my parents I loved them?"

           Back at her desk outside Fred's office, Louise sat down her coffee and dropped into her chair. The glasses stayed on. She turned to Rebecca, who was a close personal friend, and currently parked on the edge of the desk. "Did you see who I left with last night?" Louise asked, in a whisper.
           "No, why?"
           "You didn't see me with anyone?"
           "Not really, why?" Rebecca asked, becoming more curious.
           "I can't ... this is so embarrassing."
           "Come on, you can tell me. What happened?"
           Louise looked around to make sure no one was listening.
           "I woke up in a hotel room this morning. I have no idea how I got there."
           "Well that explains you're wearing the same dress as last night. You never wear the same -"
           "What am I going to do?" Louise interrupted.
           "Who were you with?"
           "That's the problem, I don't remember. I know there was someone else with me, but he must have left before I woke up."
           "Did you...?"
           "I'm sure we did."

           The girls both sat back and thought for a moment. There was a small grin on Rebecca's face.
           "So who do you think it was?"
           "I don't know."
           "How about Darryl Oakes? He's always leaning over your desk. And you did spend a lot of time dancing with him."
           "Oh please, not him!" Louise said, covering her face with her hands. Then letting her hands slide down her face a bit so she could see Karen, she gently shook her head. "Never, not even if I was drunk."
           "Then who?"
           Louise covered her face once more.

           Fred had said he would drop into the office after lunch to say good-bye. Louise was to arrange the meeting. However, the janitor - also an employee - got plastered and never showed up for work. It hadn't dawned on anyone to get Fred's office cleaned up for the meeting. There were drink glasses everywhere; the room stunk of stale beer accented by full ashtrays. A big slab of pizza, now cold and upside down, adorned the floor by the window. The room was a disaster. Louise could have cried when she saw it.

           Oscar was in his office snoring when Darryl and Harry went to get him. He was flaked out in his big chair, feet stretched out in front of him. Harry had to shake him several times to wake him.
           "We have to help Louise," Harry said.
           "What?" asked Oscar, shaking the cobwebs from his head. "What're you talking about?"
           "Fred's office. We have to help Louise clean it up before he gets here."

           By the time Fred showed up all evidence of the previous night was hidden from sight. They had opened the window but the smell of stale beer and food lingered. "Okay," Fred said, looking around at the office at his sorry crew, "I won't keep you, it's Friday and you probably all want to get out of here as much as I do ... and it looks like the janitor could use the extra time to clean this place. "

           Over the next few weeks the staff tried to adjust to Fred's absence. The most obvious change was with Oscar, who knew he would replace Fred, and suddenly developed greater self-confidence, especially in his decision-making.
           "I don't know what's gotten into Oscar lately," Harry confided in Darryl one day. "My bi-annual office supply order crossed his desk the other day and Louise told me that he signed it without a peep."
           "That's a switch. I had to use a courier twice last week. Maybe I should get you to submit the invoices. He always bitches and complains when I do something like that."
           "Don't worry, he's changed."
           "Sure he wasn't drunk?"
           "Nope. If anything, I've noticed he seems to be cutting back on his drinking. Maybe the new job will bring him around."
           "I doubt it. That fat slob is too miserable at heart."
           "Have you noticed Louise lately? Not as much grumbling. She actually seems to be putting up with him now."
           "Maybe she knows something we don't. You don't suppose Fred told him he's got the job, do you?"
           "It's possible I guess, but I can't see him keeping that sort of thing quiet."
           The office telegraph is a marvelous thing and within hours those thoughts became the newest rumor.

           A couple days later, as Darryl was coming out of the coffee room, Louise waved him over. "Oscar has been looking for you," she said.
           "What for?"
           "I don't know," she shrugged. "He's in his office."
           "Later. I've got a shipment coming in right now."

           It was shortly before lunch when Darryl made it to Oscar's office. "Louise said you wanted to see me?"
           "Ahh, ... yes," Oscar said, rummaging through the pile of papers on his desk. "I have an invoice here I wanted to run by you."
           "From who?"
           "It's here somewhere ... oh, here it is," Oscar said, finally locating it. "It's a bill for $380 from C.J.'s Trucking. Who the hell are they?"
           "They're okay."
           "Yeah, but who are they?"
           "I needed someone to pick up some parts from a plane and run them into a camp hell and gone back in the bush."
           "This thing's just typed out on plain paper, not even letter head. I tried phoning them to get a proper invoice but there is no listing. All this shows is a post office box number."
           "Nah, he's all right. Works out of his house. Anyway, he hauled the parts into the camp for me. Remember our slogan, 'Keep 'em working, keep 'em happy'? Besides, he was the only one I could find."
           Oscar couldn't argue with company policy.

           It was almost two weeks since the now stale rumor of Oscar's appointment that Fred set up a meeting with Oscar. Anticipating Fred's announcement, Oscar had, short of moving into Fred's office, assumed management of Stanford Equipment. All that remained was for Fred to make it official as Oscar took a seat in his soon to be office.
           "You and I have known each other for a long time," Fred started out, "and I couldn't have asked for a better employee or friend."
           "I feel the same way. You and Doreen have always been good to me; treated me like family."
           "I know, that's what makes this all the more difficult...." Then Fred paused, searching for the right words.
           Right then Oscar got a queasy feeling, like the wind leaving his sails. He sat back in his chair, expecting Fred to cancel plans for retirement.
           "I wanted to tell you first, Oscar."
           'Here it comes,' Oscar's thinking.
           "I've hired a new manager to run the company for me."
           He might just as well have hit Oscar over the head with an axehandle; it had the same effect.
           "His name is Clarence Manson," Fred continued. "I've met with him twice to discuss his background and how he plans to run the company. He has a lot of good ideas that I'm sure will help the company run smoother."
           Oscar said nothing. Still in shock, he resigned himself to sit listening, not paying much attention to what Fred was saying, and for the first time in his working life, thoughts of quitting the company crossed his mind.
           "I think you and Clarence will get along good, Oscar. Right now Clarence is a branch manager with a hardware chain. If he has any shortcomings it'll be that he has no knowledge of logging. But, as he convinced me, as long as a one's a good manager, learning the business will comes naturally. That's where I need your help, Oscar. I want you to teach Clarence the logging business. Can you do that for me?"
           "I guess ... I don't know, I -"
           "I know you're disappointed. But I never made any promises, did I?"
           "No. But I just expected ... you said you wanted me to take over for you."
           "Yes, but that was only to give me time to hire a new manager, and believe me, I seriously considered you. I just felt that my replacement should have a solid up to date business back ground. And that's what Clarence Manson has. He finished university with his MBA as well as specialized training in two different business institutions. Believe me, this guy knows what he's doing. I wouldn't have hired him if I didn't think he was qualified to run my company."

           For Oscar, the rest of that meeting plus the subsequent meeting to notify the other managers went without interest. And Fred's request, that Oscar continue to oversee things until Clarence Manson starting date in two weeks, only drove the knife deeper into Oscar's back. It was a wound that would never heal.

           For the next two weeks everyone in the office anticipated the new man's arrival. Oscar grew progressively irritable. Harry and Darryl, impressed with Clarence Manson's credentials, were actually looking forward to meeting him. In the meantime they gave Oscar a wide birth, finding him too cynical and argumentative to deal with. It was a little more difficult for Darryl, though, as he couldn't head out into the field on sales trips like Harry. Seemed like everything Darryl did was subject to extra scrutiny by Oscar, especially the bills Darryl ran up.
           "There's another one here from C.J.'s. Trucking. This ones for $650."
           "It's okay," Darryl confirmed. "I had him make a couple more trips for me."
           "If you're going to use them again I'm going to run the usual reference and credits checks on the company."
           "No! Don't bother," Darryl said. "He's just a guy with a four-wheel drive who's prepared to make the odd run for me. I wouldn't waste your time checking him out."

           Morning meetings in Fred's office ceased because Oscar showed little or no interest in chairing them. Besides, most mornings, if he managed to come in at all, he would wander in showing all the signs of having drank himself to sleep.

           Expectedly, there was a lot of apprehension on the floor when that long awaited Monday arrived. Each time the front doors opened everyone stopped what they were doing and shifted their attention to the door. Each seemed to have their mental picture of what Clarence Manson would look like. Still, when Clarence R. Manson paused in the open doorway, he took everyone by surprise. They all immediately knew and a hush drew over the work floor.

           He looked very much the businessman. Sporting a smart navy pin-stripped three-piece suit, he easily stood six feet tall. His slim figure gave the impression of discipline and good health. One could shave in the shine of his patent black shoes that matched his black leather briefcase. At age 32, Clarence had been married, divorced, and married again. There was an air of confidence about him that was immediately evident.

           Clarence Manson could sense all the eyes on him but he didn't let it bother him. After quickly sizing up the floor he headed for the reception desk. "Good morning," he said in a clear voice. "My name is Manson. I believe Mr. Stanford is expecting me."
           Heather put on her very best smile and led the new man across the floor towards Fred's old office.
           "This is Mr. Manson. He's here to see Mr. Stanford," she explained to Louise.
           "Good morning, sir," Louise said, getting up from her desk. "I'm expecting Mr. Stanford any moment and Mr. Whitworth hasn't come in to work yet."
           "Who's Whitworth?" he asked.
           "Oscar Whitworth," Louise explained. "He has been looking after the company while Fred ... I mean Mr. Stanford, is away."
           "And you are?"
           "Oh, I'm sorry. My name is Louise. I'm Mr. Stanford's secretary. If you would like to wait in his office? May I get you a coffee?" She felt at odds with her new boss and wasn't sure what to say.
           "No. But thank you. I'll just wait."
           Almost on cue Fred walked through the back door.
           "Oh, Good," Louise said, feeling suddenly relieved. "Here he is now."

           No sooner had Fred and Clarence Manson entered Fred's office than everyone on the floor started talking about the new manager. The men shrugged their shoulders with indifference - so what? Big deal. He didn't look so special to them. The woman's point of view, however, was much different. They were impressed with his young age, his professionalism and smart dress. The words 'cute' and 'good-looking' entered the discussions.

           A little later, Louise stuck her head into Oscar's office, smiled and reached over and knocked. By then he had arrived at work, late, but for a change he showed none of his previous signs of drinking.
           "Mr. Stanford wants to see all managers in his office right away."
           "I'm on my way," Oscar said.
           "He wants to introduce our new boss."
           "I can hardly wait," Oscar said, sarcastically.
           "I'll round up the others," she said, disappearing from the doorway.

           After the formalities of introduction and idle chit-chat to break the ice, Clarence Manson made statement that came as a relief to everyone. "I don't plan on making a bunch of changes - at least not right away. It'll take some time for me to familiarize myself with your business. I plan to meet separately with each of you starting tomorrow morning. That way we can get to know one another better. In the meantime I would like to take a tour of the building and meet some of the staff."

           The line managers, with the exception of Oscar, were quick to offer their guidance through their respective sections. When that was over both Fred and his new replacement retired behind closed doors.

           "I don't know about you," Darryl said, wandering into Harry's office, "but I kind of like the guy."
           "Yeah, he seems all right," Harry agreed. "But he doesn't know much about sales."
           "Who cares? Remember what Fred said earlier, he's expecting us to teach the guy the ropes. Which, when you think about it, isn't a bad idea - at least he won't be telling me how to do my job the way Oscar's been doing."

           And so Clarence Manson's tenure with Stanford Equipment began. Over the next few weeks he spent a great deal of time on the floor with his managers, asking questions, offering what advise he could, and seemed generally interested in learning the business. Everyone in the office, except Oscar, appreciated his friendly but business like approach.

           During the one on one meetings Clarence Manson had set up with the line managers, Oscar voiced his opinion on the need for computers. Over the past few years he'd raised the subject with Fred many times, only to be shot down. Fred wanted nothing to do with computers.
           "What we need most," Oscar told him, "is a complete computer system. Everything is being duplicated around here. A real waste of time."
           "What have you got for computers right now?"
           "There isn't any."
           "That's unfortunate," Clarence said, a little surprised.
           "I'm afraid Fred didn't believe in computers. What we need is a complete system tying the whole operation together."
           "I agree completely," Clarence said, taking Oscar by surprise. "I would be interested in your recommendations."

           Both Harry and Darryl had mixed feelings about computers. Harry felt they would be great to track his customers, but Darryl, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with them. He would far rather have a new service truck, and made his new employer aware of his wishes.

           "I think we should have morning meetings," Clarence said, at coffee one afternoon. "I know Mr. Stanford held then regularly." And, within days of his arrival, Clarence resumed the morning meetings. He was quick to benefit from the formalized information exchange with his managers.

           Interestingly, Clarence's first planned change was a welcome treat. It came during the first of his regular morning meetings.
           "One of the first changes I'm planning is to build a proper boardroom," he advised. "I don't appreciate meeting in a broom closet."
           "With new furniture?" Harry asked immediately.
           "That goes without saying," Clarence confirmed.
           "Excellent," Harry said. "I've wrecked more suit jackets and slacks on this table than I care to mention." His negative reference to Fred's old office furniture was quickly used to Clarence's advantage.
           "All the more reason to get rid of this stuff," Clarence said, stepping back from it's splintered edge. "As of now this table is history."

           Late that same afternoon Darryl walked into Harry's office. "You won't believe what just showed up on the docks," he said.
           "What?"
           "One brand spanking new meeting room table and chairs."
           "You're kidding?" Harry replied.
           "Oh, I'm serious all right. You've gotta have a look at this thing."

           That was their first confirmation of how fast their new boss would respond to situations.
           "I'm impressed," Harry said. "I never expected Clarence to act so fast. It's about time we had someone around here who wasn't afraid to spend a few dollars."
           "I'll believe it if and when I see a new service truck," Darryl said. "I've been after Fred for a new one for the past two years."
           "Now's your chance while he's in a spending mood."

           When Oscar heard the news of Clarence's new acquisitions he immediately condemned the purchase. "Wait 'till Fred hears about it," he said. "Don't be surprised if the table goes back."
           "I don't see why," Harry replied, "We sure as hell need it."
           "Doesn't matter," Oscar said.
           "What do you mean, it doesn't matter? We needed a new meeting room table and Clarence replaced it. I think that's great."
           "Well that's not the point. Manson can't just go out and spend money any time he feels like it. Fred has a policy on that sort of thing. All expenditures require a requisition, from me, remember?"
           "Yes, but now Clarence's in charge. He calls the shots."
           "Not as far as I'm concerned," Oscar argued.

           But whether Oscar liked it or not, Clarence Manson confirmed his plans a week later at a morning meeting with his next big announcement.
           "I know some of you have expressed a desire to have computers," Clarence said. "Well, you're going to get them. I've arranged for computers for each of your offices. In fact I'm going to move the entire operation into the computer age."
           "Kicking and screaming," Harry joked.
           "What if we don't want a computer?" Darryl asked.
           "I'm surprised, Darryl," Manson said. "You're section especially would benefit from computerization. Inventory control is so much easier on computer."
           "Not if you don't have the slightest idea what you're doing."
           "When's that ever stopped you?" Harry quipped.
           "Smart ass!" Darryl shot back. "But no, I'm serious. I've got a good system in place. It works fine. Why disrupt everything?"
           "Because it's time this company entered the twentieth century."
           "I don't understand," Oscar said, in a surprised voice. "Fred never mentioned -"
           "I'm sure if Mr. Stanford wanted you to know he would have told you," Clarence said, stopping Oscar in his tracks. Oscar's face turned several shades of red, he was so mad. His fingers trembled as he stuck a cigarette in his mouth and fumbled for his lighter.
           "That's something else, Mr. Whitworth," Clarence went on. "I don't want you smoking in here. This is a brand new table and I don't want it all marked up with cigarette burns like the old one."
           There was a quick exchange of glances between Harry and Darryl. Both were inwardly pleased to see Clarence challenge Oscar and his constant criticism of new management techniques. Regardless, Darryl quickly changed the subject.
           "I could use that new service truck a lot more than some stupid computer," he said. "Our service truck is a piece of junk. Half the time it's in the garage."
           "Do up a cost justification and I'll have a look at it," Clarence offered, "but computerization stays."
           "How about the new boardroom?" Harry asked. "Are you still going ahead with that project?"
           "In the works," Clarence confirmed.
           "Where's all this money coming from?" Oscar asked. "Fred has never said anything about this to me."
           "Probably because it's none of your concern -"
           At that point Oscar jumped up from the table and stormed out of the meeting.

           Both Harry and Darryl were stunned at Oscar's reaction.
           "Where and how money gets spent around here is my decision, not Mr. Whitworth's. You people better get used to the fact that there's a new captain at the helm of this ship."
           Darryl almost choked on Clarence's words.
           "Which brings up another point," Clarence said, specifically to Darryl.
           "I don't appreciate your bringing coffee and snacks into our meetings. This is not a cafeteria."
           "But we've always had coffee at our morning meetings," Darryl mumbled. "Fred kept our meetings informal so that -"
           "It's not open to discussion!" Clarence snapped.

           Later, at the door to Harry's office, Darryl stood, coffee in hand. "Am I allowed in here with coffee?" he asked.
           "Gosh, I don't know about that," Harry joked. "What with all this expensive furniture, I wouldn't want it to get marked."
           "Yeah right," Darryl said, pulling a chair close to the desk. "Can you imagine what he'll be like in the new boardroom?"
           "It sure doesn't take much to get him going, does it?"
           "There was no need for him to jump down my throat. Oscar's the one that got him started, not me."
           "Oscar's really asking for it. He rides Clarence every chance he gets."
           "Ahh, that fat bastard is just pissed off because he didn't get the job."
           "I know, but that's not Clarence's fault," Harry replied, defending his new boss.
           "Maybe not. But if he's got a problem with Oscar then he should deal with Oscar, not take it out on us."

           What they didn't know was at that very moment Oscar was in Clarence's office.
           "... In future," Clarence was telling Oscar, "I expect you conduct yourself in a more business like manner. Walking out of my meeting like that is unacceptable."
           "I'm sorry you feel that way, but when Fred was here I was always advised on all expenditures so I could arrange the requisitions," Oscar explained.
           "Well Fred Stanford is not here, I am! I'm the new President of Stanford Equipment and you better get used to it."
           "President?" Oscar queried, not having heard that title around the office before.
           "You heard me right - President. That gives me the right to tell you what to do. And I'm telling you right now, I won't stand for your childish behavior."
           "Meaning what?"
           "I mean this is a warning. Treat it accordingly."
           Oscar paused for a second, his face flushing. "I'm going to discuss this with Fred," Oscar threatened, his temper on the verge of exploding.
           "That may be a little difficult," Clarence explained, with a slight grin. "Mr. Stanford and his wife left last night. They're taking a cruise ... around the world. Should be gone three, maybe four months."
           "But he never...." Oscar was left with his mouth open, flabbergasted, and speechless.

           Right on schedule the contractors appeared. Soon the second floor of the building was alive with the sounds of construction. A continual procession of workers trudged back and forth on the stairs, demolition debris down, and new materials up. The construction's wake churned confusion and dirt, more often mud - lots of mud. It all added fuel to Oscar's continual criticism of Manson's projects.

           A few mornings later as the meeting was brought to order, Oscar was conspicuous by his absence. Both men noticed that Clarence was immediately annoyed, he but said nothing and carried on with a new announcement. "I promised you earlier that I would keep you up to speed on the office computers. Well, you should be aware that I have just contracted a man to head up the conversion. His name is Regis Stirling. He's 56, has an excellent background in computers. As a matter of fact he just finished converting a similar sized company to computers."
           "When is all this going to happen?" Harry asked.
           "Regis will be starting here next week."
           "How long is it going to take?"
           At that moment Oscar entered the room, not the slightest bit concerned that he was late.
           "Morning," he said, walking over and setting his notebook down.
           "Well, it's nice of you to join us," Clarence said, sarcastically.
           Oscar said nothing, just took his seat.
           "I'm sorry, Harry," Clarence said, "what was your question again?"
           "I was just curious how long it will be before we make the switch to computers."
           "I'm sure Regis will give us some idea next week."
           "Who's Regis?" Oscar asked.
           "Well, if you had seen fit to be here on time, Mr. Whitworth, I wouldn't have to repeat myself. Anyway, Regis Stirling is going to head up our conversion to computers. He'll be starting here next week."
           Oscar didn't respond.
           "I'm sure you'll get to know Regis much better because he'll be sharing your office while he's here."
           "What?"
           "You heard me. It'll only be for a while, just until I move. Then he can have this office."
           "Maybe I missed something," Harry asked, "but where are you going?"
           "Upstairs. Right next to the new boardroom."
           "A new office, too?" Oscar asked. "Isn't this one big enough for you?"
           "No, it's not, actually."
           "Maybe I'd like to have a bigger office, too."
           "Fine. You can have this one if you like it so much, just as soon as Regis is finished with it."
           Harry could see trouble brewing and tried to head it off. "When Regis is finished with it?" Harry repeated Clarence's words. "Does that mean he's not being hired permanently?"
           "I've only signed him to a three month contract, just long enough to cover the conversion program.

           Regis started the following week. A rather quiet man which was fine with everyone because when he started talking, it was computer this and computer that. Like Oscar, Regis was totally grey haired, only he sported a long handlebar type mustache as well. Unlike Oscar however, Regis' weight was more in the reasonable range. He had a very pleasant nature and was quick to enter into conversation.

           At the very next meeting, Regis attended and outlined how he saw the conversion to computers. Of greatest concern to everyone was what kind of disruption it would bring, to which Regis replied, "I'll make it as painless as possible. I will have to spend time with each of you, though, showing you how to use the new computers. But that shouldn't pose too much of a problem for those of you with previous knowledge of computers. Out of curiosity, how many of you are familiar with computers?"
           Regis knew his work was cut out for him when only Clarence raised his hand.
           "Perhaps I could suggest you might want to look into a night-school course in basic computers. It would be very beneficial to you."
           "Not me," Harry said, "Carol gets my computer. She knows how to use one. I'm more concerned with all the confusion this is going to create. I doubt this is going to happen over night."
           "I know it'll be tough for a while, but just hang in there."
           "What about all the noise?" Oscar asked, directing his question to Clarence.
           "What noise?" Regis asked.
           "All the noise and pounding coming from upstairs. Dust is pouring down from the ceilings. It's making a hell of a mess."
           "That has nothing to do with Regis," Clarence said. "Get the janitor in here. Keep things cleaned up. The work floor is your responsibility."
           Oscar held his tongue and reached for a cigarette. He was about to flick the bic-lighter in his hand when Clarence barked, "No smoking!"
           Again, Oscar said nothing. Instead he crumpled up the cigarette to show his disgust.

           "Great way to build a management team eh?" Darryl said, later in Harry's office.
           "I don't now why Oscar keeps sticking his neck out."
           "'Cause he's dumb, that's why."
           "Well it's going to get worse. Did I tell you? Carol saw him drinking at his desk the other day. That's looking for trouble."
           "Boy, I want to be there when Clarence catches him. That'll be the end of that drunken slob."

           "Mr. Manson wants to see you when you have a moment," Louise said, sticking her head in the door. "He wants to go over last weeks sales figures."
           "Shit!" Harry exclaimed, well aware that the numbers were below average. "I've been expecting this. What kind of a mood is he in?"
           "Probably not too good about now. He's got Oscar in the office with him. Tempers are flaring."
           "Great," Harry said, slumping back in his chair.
           "Hey, Louise," Darryl said, getting up and walking towards her. "How about going out for a drink with me after work?"
           "Thanks," she said, with a smile, "but no thanks."
           "Ahh, come on. I have a Christmas present for you and I promise, you won't need sun glasses this time."
           She stared at him for a second and then her face turned red. She did a fast exit.
           "What's that about?" Harry asked.
           "Old business," Darryl grinned. "You better see what's on the boss's mind."

           Clarence was always springing new surprises, usually during the morning meetings. One such change followed on the heels of jumping down Darryl's throat for having coffee in the meetings.
           "I don't want to see any more coffee on the desks. We pay people to work," he told them, "not sit around drinking coffee. They get two coffee breaks, that's enough."

           Another of his attention grabbers came as no real surprise as it had been the rumour for several days. "As of right now, we're a non-smoking company."
           "That's not going to go over very well," Oscar said. "Several of my people smoke and to disallow smoking in the work space -"
           "Smoking is a major cause of absenteeism," Clarence said.
           "But they need someplace to smoke."
           "Outside."
           "I don't want them running outside every time they need a cigarette."
           "It'll give them a reason to quit smoking."
           "It's not that simple, you know. I've been trying to quit for years, and I'm still smoking."
           "That's because you have no willpower. I quit," Clarence said, matter-of-factly. "All you have to do is put your mind to it."

           The next few days were hell around the office. There was a continual exodus through the back door for, 'a smoke'. Clarence said nothing until he saw Oscar smoking in his office. Then the shit hit the fan.
           "I thought I made it perfectly clear? NO SMOKING!" he bellowed.
           "You did. Why do you think everyone's huddled around outside the back door?"
           "Well it's obvious you didn't comprehend my instruction."
           "Surely you didn't mean -"
           "That's exactly what I meant. No smoking includes you."
           Oscar stared defiantly at Clarence. To get his point across, he dropped his cigarette to the floor and ground it out with his foot. For whatever reason, Clarence didn't react. He simply wheeled and left the office.

           "Would you consider a few designated smoking areas?" Harry suggested, "Like in restaurants. I'm thinking of the employee washrooms?" Clarence thought for a moment.
           "I'll consider washrooms, ... but not the offices, I expect you managers to set the example."
           "Ahh, that's bullshit!" Oscar snapped back. "It's my office. I should be able to smoke in there if I want to."
           "I said no, and that's it."
           "And a Merry Christmas to you, too," Oscar said, sarcastically.

           The old family spirit was gone, a stark contrast to previous Christmas seasons out on the work floor. The cheerful humming of Christmas carols was soon replaced with 'Bah Humbug' as the smoking ban's hardship spread throughout the company. Managers were grouchy and snapping at everyone. And, to make matters worse, the office was in a growing state of disruption as Regis' conversion program kicked in. Not surprisingly, it was Oscar who voiced the strongest concern.
           "I'm spending way too much time," he complained at meetings. "I don't see why we have to make photocopies of everything. Our photocopy costs are going out the window."
           "I'm sure Regis wouldn't ask if he didn't need to," Clarence replied.
           "That's right," Regis confirmed. "By using photocopies I'm able to enter all your historical data into the system and not bother you all the time. Once the new system is up and running you'll be able to enter direct. Then you will see the time savings you're looking for."
           "We'll see," Oscar said.
           "You know," Regis said, after Oscar had left. "He's becoming a real pain in the ass."
           "Let me worry about Mr. Whitworth. You just do your job." But Clarence knew that talking to Oscar was like talking to his desk. Only difference, the desk didn't argue.

           Others, too, found Oscar difficult to deal with. Everyone avoided him like a plague. No longer did Oscar cross check the shipping invoices, which was just fine with Darryl. He simply left them with Oscar for payment with no comment.

           Late one afternoon, Darryl looked up in time to see a woman at Heather's desk. She couldn't have been more than twenty-five and very attractive. She kept sweeping her long hair back from her face, each time glancing around the office. When her eyes caught Darryl watching her, she gave him a special smile that drew him like a magnet.
           "Who's that?" Darryl asked Oscar who was also watching the woman.
           "You don't want to know."
           "Oh yes I do," he said, and headed for Heather's desk. It took only seconds for Darryl to cover the short distance. "May I help you?" he asked.
           "I don't know," she said. "I was looking for Mr. Manson, but I understand he's busy right now."
           "Is there something I could do for you?"
           "I don't know, is there?"
           "I was just leaving. Perhaps we could have a drink and talk about it?"
           She sized Darryl up for a second. Then, obviously pleased with what she saw, she agreed.
           "Great," Darryl said, "Wait till I get my coat."

           "I wouldn't if I were you," Oscar said as Darryl returned with his coat.
           Darryl ignored Oscar's warning and took the woman by the arm, guiding her out the front entrance. "I know just the place."
           Louise had been standing by Carol's desk and watched the whole episode. "He's like a bloody dog in heat," she said.
           "You're right about that," Carol agreed.
           Clarence Manson had witnessed the incident as well, through his office window. He stood stone faced for several seconds, watching, as Darryl helped his newest potential conquest into his car and drive away.

           The following morning Oscar was in high spirits when he arrived at the morning meeting, like a kid with a new toy.
           "What's with you?" Harry asked him. "You win a lottery or something?"
           "Almost as good," Oscar replied, looking around the room. "Where's lover-boy?"
           "Who, Darryl? He'll be here in a minute. He had to make a phone call."
           "Did you see that woman he was slobbering over yesterday afternoon?"
           "No, but Carol mentioned it to me. Why?"
           "You're never going to believe this -"
           Oscar stopped short, switching his attention to Darryl who was just entering the boardroom.
           "Good morning Darryl," Oscar said, with a big smile.
           "Morning," Darryl replied, a little reserved, surprised by Oscar's sudden niceness. Normally, in the mornings, Oscar was like a bear coming out of its spring hibernation.
           "Did you sleep well last night?" Oscar asked.
           "Yeah, I guess."
           "I saw you leave with that woman yesterday."
           "Oh," Darryl said, a small grin starting to cross his face.
           "Did you two ... you know ... did you get lucky?"
           "Why? What's it to you?"
           "Did you manage to get her into your bed?" Oscar persisted.
           "Maybe, Why the sudden interest?"
           "I'll bet she didn't give you her name to add to your little black book, did she?"
           "Now you've got me interested," Harry said. "Who is-"
           "I'll tell you later," Oscar said, still sporting a big smile.

           Clarence's promised boardroom was completed over the holidays, just in time for the New Year. Promptly dubbed, "Manson's Palace", by the staff, it was state of the art. He filled the room with electronic gadgets. It had its own computer system with overhead screen projectors, complete with sound system. The new boardroom table, which had overpowered the downstairs office, was now the centerpiece of the room, complete with the high back swivel recliner chairs. The walls were adorned with old photographs of logging operations of the past, all enlarged and framed.
           "This place must have cost a fortune," Harry remarked at the inaugural meeting. "Makes you wonder how he talked Fred into spending so much money."
           "I doubt that Fred even knows about this," Oscar said, loud enough for everyone to hear.
           The thing everybody noticed but failed to comment on was that Fred's plaque was missing; the company's motto, "Keep 'em Working, Keep 'em Happy".

           There was also a new face at the meeting.
           "This young man is Raymond Lee," Clarence announced. "Raymond will be working directly for me. He'll also be responsible for maintaining the new computers when Regis finishes."
           "Will I be sharing my office again?" Oscar asked.
           "That's a thought ... but not necessary. Raymond will work with Regis for the time being. He'll be the one crunching all the numbers for the new reporting system. I hope that meets with your approval, Oscar?"
           Already on Clarence's shit list, Oscar decided to keep his mouth shut, but he wasn't happy.

           Clarence took great pride in showing off his new toys over the next few mornings. Everyone would be strangely quiet as they watched the years of office statistics, that Regis had entered into the system, flash before their eyes. New automated graphs where specially designed to highlight the increases, and of course, the declines.
           "I'm not going to go into great detail right now," Clarence told them, "but from what I'm seeing, these numbers are bad news."
           The next few days would shed light on Clarence's reference to bad news.

           Morning meetings quickly became stress generators, as Clarence demanded on the spot answers to what he perceived as shortfalls in office performance. The thing that irritated everyone the most was the little red dot that Clarence could project onto the screen with the little gismo he held in his hand.
           "Can you explain that, Harry?" he would ask. "And look at your expenditures for office supplies, Oscar." But for some unknown reason it was Darryl who seemed to be Clarence's favorite target. "Why are your shipping costs continuing to rise when sales are falling?" he asked, directing the little red dot along the ever-increasing line on the graph.
           Darryl sat for a moment just trying to make heads or tails of the multicoloured, multi-lined graphs on the overhead monitor.
           "I'll need time to look into it," Darryl said, shaking his head.
           "Not good enough! A good manager should always know what's happening in his department."
           "But I can't relate to your graph. I don't recognize the numbers."
           "It's the same data you supply to Oscar every month."
           "Then ask Oscar. He has the numbers. I can't control what he does with them. Besides, costs continue to rise," Darryl said. "Especially when I have to keep 'em happy."
           "You have to what?"
           "You know, 'Keep 'em Working, Keep 'em Happy'."
           "Come again?"
           "Our company motto, remember?"
           "Oh, that. You don't have to get impertinent Mr. Oakes. I know what you're referring to. But I'm more concerned with your shortcomings. I'll expect a full written explanation on my desk by lunch time."
           "Good luck," Darryl mumbled under his breath.
           "Excuse me?"
           "Nothing. I said I'd try."
           "I expect you to do more than try," Clarence said, and then asked Raymond to display the next graph.

           After the meeting broke up, Oscar went out on the back docks. At least there he could have a smoke, and he wasn't the only one with the same idea. Several others were out there smoking - and shivering.
           "What's up?" Darryl asked, having spotted Oscar and walking over.
           "What was that crack about me and your numbers?" Oscar asked.
           "Well I don't know what you do with the stuff I give you."
           "Nothing like you're suggesting. That's why I've wanted a computer, so I could watch for things like that."
           "Well now you've got one."
           "Only now I have that smart ass upstairs turning everything around on me. Suddenly it's all my fault."
           "I didn't want computers in the first place, remember? I was quite happy the way things were."
           "Well I don't appreciate you putting me on the spot in front of Manson, either."
           "Okay, I'm sorry," Darryl said, realizing it wasn't Oscar he was mad at.
           "Ahh, it's not your fault. I'm just so sick of Manson. I only wish I had the money to retire, then I'd tell that son-of-a bitch where to stick his job."
           "I don't blame you. I've got a good notion to go up to his office and have it out with him. I still don't have the new service truck."
           "I wouldn't get too carried away if I were you," Oscar warned.
           "Why not?"
           "Remember that woman you met in the office a few weeks back? The one I was kidding you about?"
           "Yeah."
           "She never did tell you who she was, did she?"
           "No, not really. Why?"
           "She's..." Oscar paused, not sure whether to tell Darryl or not. He didn't feel he owed Darryl any favours. But he longed to see the look on the guy's face when he found out.
           "Come on, who is she?" Darryl asked.
           "That's Manson's wife."
           Wow! Talk about getting smacked in the head. Darryl was stunned at the news. "You're not just shitting me?"
           "I'm serious. I met her over at Fred's place one night. That was her all right."

           That same afternoon Raymond showed up on the docks looking for Darryl. "Can we talk?" he asked.
           "In my office," Darryl said, to get away from the noise.
           "Mr. Manson asked me to go over this data with you," Raymond explained, once in the office.
           "What data?"
           "The material you saw this morning," Raymond said, spreading some computer printouts on the desk. "This is everything that's in the system. What I have to do is verify the numbers."
           "But Oscar has all that stuff."
           "Oscar only has the financial records. What I need is your inventory records. I need to see copies of all the orders you've received and the corresponding shipping records."
           "What the hell for?"
           "It's for Mr. Manson's historical charts."
           "Well, I don't have time to do all that right now. We've got two trucks here to unload."
           "I can gather the information," Raymond said. "Just show me where it is."
           "And how do you plan on doing that?"
           "Where's all your records for the last three years?"
           "Here in my office," Darryl said, pointing to the old gray file cabinet in the corner of his office.
           "Okay, if I can borrow your office for awhile?"
           Darryl didn't care for the sounds of that.
           "I have a better idea," he said, shaking his head, "you tell me what you need and I'll get it for you, soon as I have some time."
           "I don't have the time. It would be faster for me to go through your back files and dig out myself," Raymond said.
           "No bloody way!" Darryl snapped, "No one digs through my files."
           "But I need the historical data now."
           "I don't give a shit what you need, you're not going through these files."
           "But Mr. Manson wants it right away."
           "Tough."

           Clarence Manson was less than impressed when Raymond related his encounter with Darryl. "He simply refuses to cooperate," Raymond told him.
           "Why?"
           "I don't know. I showed him what I needed but he just said, tough."
           "Who the hell does he think he is?" Clarence asked, jumping up and going out to Louise's desk.
           "Go get Oakes for me," he told her. "I want to see him in my office right now."

           "What's Manson looking for Darryl for?" Oscar asked, entering Harry's office.
           "I don't know," Harry said. "Louise was just here looking for him."
           "Did she say what it was about?"
           "Apparently Darryl threw Raymond out of his office. Clarence's madder than hell. I don't blame Darryl. Raymond's been driving me nuts with all his questions. Every time I turn around he's underfoot."
           "There may be more to it than that."
           "What do you mean?"
           "Remember that woman Darryl picked up in the office?"
           "The one Carol was talking about?"
           "That's the one. You'll never guess who she is."
           "Who?" Harry asked, now curious.
           "Manson's wife."
           "You've gotta be kidding?"
           "I'm not kidding," Oscar confirmed.
           "Does Darryl know that?"
           "He does now. I told him this morning. I had to. He was about to go up to Manson's office and raise hell about this morning's meeting."
           Harry sat back in his chair, his head tilted back to touch the headrest. "And you think that's why Clarence wants to see him?"
           "I'd put money on it."
           "But how would he know?" Harry pondered. "Surely she wouldn't have said anything."
           "You never know. But I wouldn't want to be in his shoes about now."

           When Darryl came back downstairs he was visibly shook. Harry was waiting and steered him into his office right away.
           "What happened up there?"
           "Ah, he's all pissed off because I wouldn't let Foo Manchu go through my files," Darryl explained.
           "And that's it? Nothing about his wife?" Harry asked.
           "You know about her?" Darryl asked, surprised.
           "Sure. So, did he say anything?"
           "No. Not a word."
           "Do you think he knows?"
           "I don't know. I don't think so."
           "Jesus, if he finds out, you're history," Harry said.
           "I may be anyway. He's threatening to fire me if I don't give Raymond access to my files."
           "So, no big deal. Let him have the damn files."
           "No way!" Darryl snapped. "Nobody gets my files."
           "What's the big deal?"
           "Nothing. It's the principal of the thing. They're my files."
           "You're crazy, you know that?"

           The next morning Clarence lowered a real bomb when he put a new slide on the overhead monitor.
           "Don't get all excited," he said, noticing the sudden shocked appearance of his managers. "The numbers you are looking at are approximated. I'm only using them to demonstrate how I will be monitoring your new targets."
           "Targets?" Harry asked. "What targets?"
           "Starting immediately each section will have a set of targets -"
           Oscar was quick to rain on Clarence's parade. "We've never used any targets around here. Just keep ahead of the competition - that's what Fred always told us. He was happy with that."
           "Well, I'm not. As of now each manager will have a target and a set of action plans to achieve those targets."
           "And who sets these so called targets?" Oscar asked.
           "The computer will. Based on historical data the computer will forecast our current and future needs. I've asked Raymond to design a collection form. Each of you will complete the forms and get them back in to my office by the weekend."
           "I was going to be out in the field for the next few days," Harry said. "One of my salesman wants help closing a new account."
           "Then I'll get Raymond to do your section - that is unless you have a problem with Raymond going through your files, too?"
           "No," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "No problem."
           "Good," Clarence said. "You can expect to see your new targets the first of the week."
           "I can hardly wait," Oscar muttered.

           "I can guarantee Fred would never agreed to this," Oscar said later, as they all gathered in Harry's office.
           "Manson doesn't care," Harry said, "Fred's on a world cruise and won't be back 'til spring."
           "That's how long he's got to make it all work," Darryl said.
           "Pretty gutsy move if you ask me," Harry said.
           "You might be right," Oscar added with a smile. "A lot of things could happen before then."
           "I don't follow you," Harry said.
           "You will," Oscar said, a big grin on his face. How would you guys like to nail Manson's ass to the boardroom wall?"

           That evening the three disgruntled managers met at Oscar's favorite watering hole. Secluded in a corner booth, complete with a round of drinks, Oscar spent the next hour outlining a plan. Every so often they would break into howls of laughter. When they finally broke up the meeting, all were committed to a single course of action; get Manson!

           Much to Manson's surprise, his managers went to work completing the collection forms Raymond provided; and with no complaining. Darryl did his own and Oscar even went so far as to complete both his and Harry's. By the weekend, and not a minute sooner as they knew Raymond would be getting overtime by working all weekend, all forms were on Manson's desk.

           As promised, the following Monday morning Manson handed out the controversial targets, together with blank forms for action plans. "I'll expect the targets signed and back on my desk by lunch time. I also expect your action plan forms back by end of the day tomorrow. Any questions?" As agreed no one said anything but simply accepted the large envelope of papers.

           It wasn't until the next day that Harry spotted something in the papers that led to Manson's next can of worms.
           "It says here that our raises will be based on these targets. Is that right?" Harry asked, at the next meeting.
           "That's correct," Manson replied. He paused for a moment, sensing what he was about to tell them wouldn't sit well. "This practice is standard in other companies. Any salary adjustments will be based on your individual performance."
           "But we have always received an annual raise, as long as I've been with this company," Oscar explained.
           "Well, not any more."
           "What about this year. Fred already promised that -" Oscar started to say.
           "That's yet to be determined," Manson said.
           Harry sensed Darryl's growing anger, but he was powerless to stop Darryl's outburst.
           "Is that why there was no raise on this month's pay cheque?" Darryl interrupted.
           "As I said, any increases are yet to be determined. I will say -"
           "Bullshit!" Darryl yelled, jumping to his feet with a force that knocked his chair over backwards.
           "Excuse me?"
           "I said, Bullshit. I was depending on that money."
           "If you would like to control yourself," Manson said, trying to get Darryl to take his seat, "I'll finish what I was saying."
           "You are finished, or at least you will be," Darryl yelled back at him.
           "Meaning what?"
           "You heard me -"
           "Wait!" Oscar interrupted, holding his hand up to Darryl to stop him before he said anything more. "I'm sure Darryl is simply expressing his disappointment in not receiving his raise. We're all disappointed."
           "That's putting it mildly," Darryl continued.
           "Take it easy, Darryl," Harry said, motioning with both hands to get Darryl to sit down.
           "I won't take it easy. Not as long as that asshole keeps acting like some kind of God. I needed that raise."
           "I'm warning you," Manson told Darryl, his voice slow and deliberate. "Take your seat."
           "You know, you're a real prick," Darryl said, "It's no wonder your wife screws around on you."
           "You son-of-a-bitch!" Manson screamed, jumping to his feet and rounding the table towards Darryl.

           It all happened so fast that even Harry, sitting between Darryl and Manson, had no time to react. Rage was driving Manson as he strained to reach Darryl, to get his hands around his neck, to squeeze...
           "Darryl, no!" Harry yelled.
           Too late. Darryl's left hand deflected Manson's advance, while his right hand, doubled into a fist of hate, drove full force into Manson's face. First there was the sickening thud of knuckles smashing into flesh and then ... then the blood. Out of instinct Harry pushed back in his chair as his would be attacker crumpled to the floor like a sack of grain. Only Oscar retained his seat and his composure as Manson writhed on the blood stained carpet, his hand covering his face, incoherent groans uttering from his throat. Darryl stood over his victim like an animal of prey, his breathing rapid, the knuckles of both fists white with tension. If not for Harry's quick action to push Darryl back the onslaught would have continued.

           All eyes were on Manson as he attempted to stand. But no offer of help was forthcoming.
           "You're fired!" Manson spat at Darryl. "You hear me? Fired!"
           "As if I care. I don't need your God-damned job anyway."
           "Clean out your desk and get the hell out of this building," Manson roared, using the back of Harry's chair for support.
           "What should we do?" Harry asked, turning to look at Oscar.
           "Nothing," Oscar answered. "There's nothing we can do."
           "You better get out of here," Harry told Darryl, urging him towards the open door.
           No one said a word as Manson headed for his private washroom, blood still gushing from between fingers of the hand pressed to his face.
           "Maybe we better rethink our plans?" Harry suggested.
           "No way!" Oscar responded. "We keep on track."
           Louise entered the room just as Harry took his seat.
           "What happened?" she asked, a look of disbelief on her face.
           "Your boss just got his sorry ass kicked," Oscar mused.

           By lunchtime Darryl had cleared out his personal effects and was long gone. Manson couldn't have been more pleased with himself. Despite the red welt of the side of his face and a nasty cut to his upper lip, he was like a dog that had just had quills removed after an encounter with a porcupine.

           Regis Stirling's contract expired. The new computers were in place and all seemed to be running okay. All sections now had access to a computer, only in sales; it was Carol, and not Harry, that was operating it.

           Manson picked one of Darryl's employees, a man by the name of Joe Piff, to move into Darryl's position. Neither Oscar nor Harry approved of Joe and, after considerable pressure, he was placed on a probation period of six months. Perhaps it was because Joe had only been with the company for less than a year - not long enough to pick up Darryl's bad habits - that Manson chose him. Anyway, Joe became the newest member of the management team and the following Monday morning he attended his first meeting in Manson's Palace.

           After Regis left, Raymond was kept busy entering the new data supplied by Oscar, who undertook the collection from all sections. It was third quarter report time. Manson was more than pleased with what he saw each morning as, one by one, Raymond's chart's would flash across the overhead monitors.
           "As you can see from these charts," Clarence said one morning, while focusing that annoying little red dot across the screen, "there has been a noticeable upswing in the company's performance during the last quarter, and especially in the past month. Sales, in particular, are well above expectations. Your section is doing very well, Harry."
           "Thanks," Harry said. "I'll pass your comments on to my sales force."
           Oscar sat back watching the show, a look of satisfaction on his face.

           "I love this man," Oscar told Harry in his office later that morning. "He's so wrapped up with himself and his dog and pony show, he has no idea what's going on."
           "I'm beginning to enjoy this," Harry said. "Did you hear what he said to me on the way out of the boardroom this morning?"
           "No, what?"
           "He suggested I should arrange a sales contest."
           "So?"
           "He says he'll buy a fancy new TV for the one that generates the most new sales. Can you believe that? He wants even more sales."
           "So take him up on it," Oscar said.
           "But what happens when he finds out -"
           "Don't worry about it. By that time it'll be to late, for him."

           With each succeeding week the company's performance on the charts grew and grew. The whole office was beginning to function the way it used to before Clarence Manson entered the picture. Even Oscar was easier to work with - except for the afternoon he called Joe into his office.
           "What the hell's this?" Oscar roared at him, throwing an invoice across the desk.
           "I don't understand," the visibly shaken Joe responded.
           "Twenty-three hundred dollars? What's this for?"
           Joe studied the invoice for a few seconds.
           "C.J.'s Trucking? I've never heard of them," he said.
           "Well you better find out about them because I'm not paying this without a lot more detail. I know Darryl used the company on occasion, but never for this much. Find out what the guy did that was worth twenty-three hundred bucks," Oscar ordered.

           It was too late for Darryl, but out of the clear blue one morning Manson made a surprise announcement. "Given the state of our business plan achievements," he told his managers, "I've decided to go ahead with salary adjustments for last year."
           "That's great," Harry said, totally surprised. "Does that mean you're releasing the cheques we were expecting at Christmas?"
           "Not exactly," Manson replied. And then after pausing several seconds he added. "I think I can do better than what Mr. Stanford promised you. Based on your performance of course."
           Oscar smiled, feeling the old knife wounds in his back begin to twitch with delight.

           "I was right," Oscar told Harry a few days later, after Manson had met with each manager to discuss their performance.
           "About what?" Harry asked.
           "I'll bet you picked up a nice fat raise, right?"
           "I'm not complaining," Harry replied with a grin.
           "Well I hope you enjoy it because you're the only one."
           "What do you mean?"
           "The rest of the staff, including me, got just what Fred offered. Nothing more, nothing less."
           "You're kidding?"
           "No, I told you we couldn't trust him. That's why we keep going with our plans."
           "Did you ask him about Darryl's raise? That's last year's salary. Darryl should be entitled to that."
           "Not my problem."
           "Darryl is really going to be pissed off when he hears about it," Harry said.
           "Then don't tell him. We don't want him screwing things up. Don't forget, he was in on our plan. If he starts shooting off his mouth again, we could all be on the street."

           When spring returned, so did Fred. Both he and Doreen were brown as natives. On his second day back Fred dropped into the office for a short visit. Everyone on the floor was happy to see him and kidded him about his tan.

           "We're right on plan with my new forecasts," Manson bragged, as he led Fred to the stairway. "Third quarter was up twenty-six percent over last year, and this quarter is even better."
           "That's excellent," Fred said, rather amazed. "What's been happening?"
           "Like I promised," Manson said, "your company would benefit by my skills in business management. I've established a complete set of business plans and targets. I've got everyone pulling together as a team now. Wait until you see our boardroom. It's the nerve center of Stanford Equipment."

           When Louise heard Fred's voice coming up the stairs she rushed to meet him, giving her old boss a great big hug. "It's so good to see you again," she told him. "All those post cards you sent us made everybody envious."
           "I only wish I had done that years ago," Fred said, looking around at the alterations Manson had made. He particularly noticed the brass sign on Manson's new office door, 'PRESIDENT'. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and he was about to comment when Louise spoke.
           "Look at his tan," she said.
           But it would take more than a tan to mask the shock that spread across Fred's face as he entered 'Manson's Palace'. Oscar recognized the look right away, and his suspicions were confirmed; Fred knew nothing of the renovations.

           Both Oscar, Harry, and Joe quietly took their seats at the table. The same table that Fred was now running his hand across, probably wondering what had happened to his old one. Oscar's face beamed with joy as he watched Manson's face slowly turning red sensing Fred's growing displeasure. When red turned to purple, Oscar couldn't hold back any longer and leaned towards Harry.
           "Look at him," Oscar whispered, "he's going to burst a blood vessel."
           "We should be so lucky," Harry whispered back.

           Fortunately for Manson, Fred had an appointment to go to. "... We're going up to spend a week with our son," Fred said. "But right after I get back ... I'd like to discuss a few things with you."
           "Of course," Manson said, slightly relieved. "That'll give Raymond a chance to put a full presentation together for you."
           "Who's Raymond?" Fred asked.
           "He's our computer man," Manson explained.
           Fred said nothing, only nodding, before asking to talk with Oscar in his office.

           That night Oscar and Harry held a second meeting at the local bar.
           "We could have a problem." Harry remarked, worry in his voice. "According to the computer, business is up 26%."
           "He's so wrapped up in himself he actually believes the numbers." Oscar said, "Just goes to show how big an ego he has."
           "I'm still not sure how this is going to work."
           "Don't worry. Manson is about to meet his match."

           They spent the next hour going over the plan, fine-tuning where necessary. Harry said nothing, but he couldn't help noticing that Oscar was so into what they were doing that he wasn't drinking. Harry was on his third drink while Oscar's first was barley touched - quite a change for Oscar.
           "When Manson puts on his little show for Fred, he'll get the surprise of his life."
           "It better work, or you and I will be joining Darryl on the unemployment line."

           On the Friday morning Oscar found a strange memo on his desk from Manson. "Do not pay C.J.'s Trucking", the note clearly stated. Picking up the paper, Oscar headed upstairs.
           "What's this all about?" Oscar asked Clarence.
           "Just like it says, I don't want you paying any invoices under that name."
           "We received an invoice just recently, but I gave it back to Joe to get more information."
           "I've got the invoice," Manson said. "He brought the information to me this morning."
           "Why?" Oscar asked, surprised that Joe had by-passed him and gone straight to Manson.
           "Because Joe ran a check on the company and it doesn't exist."
           "I know that. It's just some guy with a pickup truck that Darryl used occasionally to deliver orders into logging camps."
           "Since when do we deliver?"
           "That's always been Fred's practice. Anytime an order goes astray, we do what ever is necessary to get a replacement order through, so they don't lose any time."
           "How often have we used this non-existent company?"
           "Not that often. Why?"
           "Joe phoned the post office shown in the address. They've never heard of the company. Not only that, but there's a permanent change of address to a box number here in Vancouver. And guess who that box number is registered to?"
           "Who?"
           "Darryl Oakes, that's who."
           "Darryl? ... But I don't understand."
           "What's to understand?" Manson said. "Darryl Oakes has obviously been stealing from this company. Right under your nose."
           "But I never -"
           "If you had of been doing your job this wouldn't have happened."
           "How was I supposed to know?"
           "I keep telling you? A good manager always knows what's happening in his department."
           "But shipping isn't my department," Oscar insisted.
           "No, but paying bills is."
           "What are you going to do?"
           "Turn the whole mess over to the police, naturally. He belongs in jail."
           Oscar was hard pressed to think of a reason to argue the point, after all, Darryl had obviously lied to him.

           Harry was dumb-founded when Oscar told him about Darryl. "I don't believe it," Harry said. "I knew the guy was hard pressed for money, but it never dawned on me that he would go so far as to steal. How much did he take?"
           "I don't know yet. I've got to go back though the records."
           Harry sat back in his chair shaking his head, "That crazy son-of-a-bitch."
           "You don't suppose..." Oscar asked, deep in thought, "there may be other accounts that he ...?"
           "You're asking the wrong person, but I hope the hell not."

           In no time at all, the office rumour mill got wind of the Darryl Oakes' caper. Neither Oscar nor Harry had said a word but they had a pretty good idea who did. Joe was quickly labeled, not only for running to Manson, but also not to be trusted.

           The following week Manson ran a dress rehearsal of the presentation he planned for Fred later that afternoon. This was the big day for two of the managers seated round the table. For obvious reasons Joe had no idea of what was going on. Manson was in fine spirits, even sporting a fine new brown suit.
           "Do you suppose the new suit is in keeping with all the brown-nosing he's planning?" Harry whispered to Oscar. The parallelism touched Oscar's funny bone as he broke out in laughter.
           "Would you like to share that with the rest of us?" Manson asked Oscar.
           "No, ... I don't think so," Oscar replied.
           "I insist."
           "Okay. I was just wondering what Fred will say when he doesn't see his motto hanging on the wall."
           Then Harry, unable to keep a straight face, broke into laughter as well.
           "I'm afraid I fail to see the humour," Manson said, and instructed Raymond to start the slide show.

           The two men sat, quietly now, as one by one the familiar routine of graphs flashed past on the overhead TV monitor. These were the graphs that Manson planned to impress Fred with. Louise had made it known that Manson was bragging about the fat bonus he expected to receive from Fred - for a job well done. It was a short meeting. There was none of the usual twenty questions that Manson normally rained down on the managers. This morning he was obviously pleased with himself, leaving as soon as the slides were finished to meet Fred for lunch.

           It was mid afternoon when Fred tilted back in a comfortable boardroom chair, his eyes glued to the overhead monitor. Oscar and Harry exchanged questioning glances. There on the screen, in glowing colour, was the company name, and below that, Fred's motto which wasn't there in the morning.
           "Raymond's been busy," Harry commented in a low voice.
           "Nice touch, adding Fred's motto, eh? He must really want that bonus," Harry whispered.
           "Too bad it's all for nothing."
           But that was not the only surprise that afternoon.

           For several minutes everyone listened as Manson rattled away, setting the mood for his graphic presentation. "I know you were a little concerned with some of the expenditures I've made since becoming the new president," Manson said.
           There was that word again, 'president', and it didn't escape Fred as his eyes swung from the screen to stare questioningly at Manson. Oscar knew exactly what Fred was thinking as he too had difficulty with Manson's self imposed title.
           "I strongly believe you have to spend money to make money," Manson went on. "However, I'm sure you'll agree, once you see how I've increased business, that the monies were well spent."

           Several more minutes of Manson blowing his own horn passed before the first of the graphs started moving across the screen. "I'll start with an overall comparison of today's business with that of last year," he said.
           Right from the start it was obvious to everyone at the table that the pompous ass was not looking at the slides himself. With each slide he called for, he expounded on the significance of the increase. By the time the third slide hit the screen, Manson knew something was wrong.
           The room was buzzing with whispers and it was Fred who finally spoke out. "Are you sure you have the right pictures up there?" Fred asked. "I certainly don't see any increases."
           "I'm not sure what's..." Manson started to say, confused by what he was suddenly saw on the screen. He cast a questioning look at Raymond who sat at his computer terminal, a dumb-founded look on his face as well.
           "Maybe it's one of those new fangled virus bugs?" Oscar suggested, a grin on his face.
           "No. I'm sure it's simply a little glitch in the system. Let's move ahead to the sales comparisons," Clarence suggested.

           Raymond's fingers raced across his keyboard and within seconds a new graph appeared on the screen. "Okay...." Manson said, fumbling to get his little red dot generator working. When he couldn't, he tapped it on the desk. When it still wouldn't work he slammed it down in frustration. That was Harry's personal contribution. He, more than anyone, hated the little red dot. So, just prior to the meeting he removed the batteries.
           "Okay," Manson continued, without the aid of his little toy, "as you can clearly see our sales performance is up twenty-six percent...." He stopped again, his mind trying to make sense of what he saw, or didn't see, on the screen. "Something isn't right...."
           "I'm confused," Oscar remarked. "I thought we were doing much better than that. This year seems to be worse than the last."
           "I don't understand," Clarence muttered once more, searching for an explanation for the declining graphs."
           "I'm like Oscar, I'm confused," Fred asked, turning to look at Manson.
           "Just a moment..." Manson said, walking over to Raymond. "Where are the charts we used this morning?"
           "This IS the charts we used," Raymond replied, totally baffled.
           "Well you must be doing something wrong."
           "No. They're generated automatically from the data in the system."
           "If this is your idea of a joke, it's not very funny."
           "I didn't do a thing. The source data has been changed."
           "How?"
           "I don't know'"
           "You must. You're the only one here that knows how the system works."
           "This is what you spent my money on?" Fred asked.

           It took great personal restraint for Oscar and Harry not to burst out laughing, but they didn't. They were getting far more enjoyment watching their boss sweat it out.
           "I'm sorry, Mr. Stanford," an embarrassed Manson said, turning to Fred. "Everything was fine this morning. Ask anyone."
           "Well, lets hope you're right and someone's playing a prank on you."
           "Don't worry, Fred," Oscar added. "Mr. Manson has told us many times that a good manager always knows what's happening in his department."
           The look that Manson gave Oscar may well have frozen water.
           Oscar suddenly felt his smartest move would be a hasty exit. "If you gentlemen will excuse me?" he said. "I have some work to attend to."
           "Ahh, me too," Harry added, getting up from his chair.
           Within seconds both Joe and Raymond joined the retreat from Manson's Palace, leaving a red faced 'president' to face a questioning Fred Stanford.

           "I need a drink," Oscar said, reaching the bottom of the stairs. "How about you?"
           Harry didn't need his arm twisted.
           "You know," Harry said, once outside. "I almost felt sorry for Manson this afternoon. Almost."
           "So did I," Oscar said. "For about two seconds. My biggest problem was keeping a straight face. I'll never forget the look on his face when he glanced up at that sales graph. It makes it all worth while."
           "Can you imagine what he's saying to Fred right now?" Harry asked, laughing.

           Little more was said until they reached the bar. Then Harry posed the big question, "What happens if they figure it out?"
           "I don't see how they can," Oscar replied. "I still have all those photocopies that Regis used when he entered all the proper historical data. Plus all hard copy records throughout the office contain the original data."
           "Yeah, but what about Raymond's forms?"
           "Dumped. Soon as he would finish entering the numbers he would scrap the forms. I watched him do it."
           "So there's no record of what he used?" Harry asked.
           "None. All the bullshit data I fed him is gone. As of now, everything in the computer is correct and jives with the office records. There's no way Manson can prove anything."
           "So, for all intent and purpose, it looks like Manson inflated all the data to make himself look good. Let's hope Fred sees it that way."
           "He will," Oscar said, confidently. "Believe me, he will."
           "So all we have to do is keep quiet and play dumb. That shouldn't be too hard. We don't know anything about computers, right?"
           "Speaking of computers, who was the guy in your office at lunch time?"
           "You didn't see anybody in my office," Oscar corrected him.
           "Yes I did. During lunchtime. I saw a man in your office working at your computer terminal."
           "No you didn't."
           "Oh, okay," Harry said, finally getting the message. "... But that was your friend, right?"
           Oscar just smiled. "Isn't this new technology great?"

           The next morning, prior to meeting time, Harry was in Oscar's office having coffee when Louise knocked on the door. "Mr. Manson said to tell you that this morning's meeting is canceled," she said.
           Although disappointed, the news came as no surprise. "That's too bad," Oscar said. "I was looking forward to listening to Manson talk his way out of this one."
           "You and me both," Harry added.
           "What happened after we left, yesterday?" Oscar asked Louise.
           "I don't know. Both of them were still in the boardroom when I left," she said.
           "Manson didn't say anything this morning?"
           "Not really. I know that he plans to fire Raymond, though. I overheard him tell Fred that when they went into the office a few minutes ago."
           "Does Raymond know yet?" Harry asked.
           "I doubt that he does," Oscar said. "He was just in here a while ago. He didn't say a word."
           "Too bad Darryl wasn't still here," Harry said. "Seeing Raymond fired would have made his day."
           "Speaking of Darryl, have you talked to him yet?" Oscar asked.
           "No. I don't know what to say to him."
           "I better get back upstairs," Louise said.
           "Let us know if anything happens," Oscar asked.

           Within the hour Raymond stormed out the front door, his briefcase full of books in hand.
           "The rumour must be true then?" Carol asked Harry. "Raymond just left in a big snit."
           "What rumour?"
           "About Raymond being fired," Carol said.

           Harry headed straight for Oscar's office, closing the door behind him. "Raymond just left. Looks like Manson actually fired him."
           "You really didn't expect Manson to go down without a whimper, did you?"
           "No, but this isn't right. He never...."
           "What's your problem?" Oscar asked.
           "As much as I dislike the little shit. He shouldn't end up being fired over this. He didn't do anything."
           "Hey, what can I say? Every war has its casualties, right?"
           "I know, but he shouldn't lose his job," Harry insisted. "We have to stop this, right now."
           "And how do you suppose we should do that?"
           "We could go upstairs right now and tell Fred what happened."
           "Oh sure, then Manson fires us as well. Is that what you want?"
           "No."
           "Okay then," Oscar said, "let's just wait and see what develops."

           They didn't have long to wait before Rebecca was knocking on Oscar's door. "Mr. Stanford is here," Rebecca said. "He wants to speak with you."
           "Of course," Oscar said, getting up and moving towards the door.
           "Good," Fred said, entering and noticing Harry. "You're here too. Where's Darryl?"
           "Haven't you heard? He -" Harry started to say before Oscar cut him off.
           "Darryl isn't here. I'll explain it all to you later," Oscar said, offering Fred a seat.

           "I don't know exactly what's been going on around here lately, but I think I know why. Clarence was just telling me about some of the changes he's been making around here. There's no doubt that Clarence's management style leaves a lot to be desired. I had coffee with Louise last night."
           "Enough said," Harry added.
           "I know I'm old fashioned by today's standards. I've never attended any of these new fancy business schools. That's why I put Clarence in charge. I figured he would be good for the business. I even agreed with his recommendation to computerize the operation, all though after what I saw yesterday I'm not so sure."
           "I can explain all that," Oscar said.
           "I'm happy to hear that," Fred said, "because Clarence sure as hell can't. However, we had a nice long talk this morning. After which he confided that he would feel more effective working for a larger, more progressive company."
           "I wonder if he would like us to give him a letter of reference?" Oscar joked.
           "I somehow doubt it. Anyway, Clarence has tendered his resignation effective immediately. I've offered to provide him with a reference for all the work he put in setting up his new systems; most of which, by the way, I intend to retain."

           There were mixed feelings in the room. Both men were happy to hear Manson was leaving, but Fred retaining Manson's systems was another thing. Each sort of looked at one another as Fred got up to leave.
           "Tomorrow morning I'll be back at my desk," Fred announced.
           "So you're coming out of retirement?" Oscar asked.
           "Well, I've been around the world. Nowhere else to go, so I might as well come back to work. And ... have someone take that damned sign off my office door."

    Return to Top

     
    Ms SANTA    by Alan A Sandercott

           It had all the earmarks of being his worst Christmas ever. There was only one thing Les hated more than being at the office Christmas party, and that was being ordered to attend. Les was furious when he read Stephen Henderson's 'Memo to Managers'.

           Stephen was the new owner of Westside Motors, where Les was Manager of Car Sales. Right from day one, Stephen was on his back - benefit this, feature that, Les was sick of it. He had a wall full of 'Achievement plaques', plus a distinctive hand carved pen set, heralding him as 'Salesman of the Year', five years running. He didn't need Stephen preaching classroom salesmanship.

           As soon as Les arrived at the party, he headed for the bar. It was a host bar, which made the booze taste much better. That meant management was picking up the tab.
           "Good evening sir. What can I get you?" the bartender asked.
           "Scotch. The best stuff you've got," Les replied with a smile. He turned to survey the festivities. The showroom was devoid of all but one car, and was adorned with Christmas decorations. People were milling around talking and laughing. Obviously, Stephen had invited more than just staff. The place was packed. Music filled the room, to the enjoyment of several dancing couples. A large tree in the corner was ablaze with lights. Parked next to it, a brand new white convertible, complete with a huge red ribbon tied in a bow. There were presents of all shapes and sizes under the tree.
           'We'll probably get some stupid gift instead of our bonus cheques,' Les thought to himself.
           "Ice sir?" the bartender asked.
           "Nope. Just neat. And keep 'em coming."
           "Here you are, sir." The bartender sat Les's drink down on the coaster.
           "Cheers," Les said, tipping the glass back, savoring the warming sensation of the scotch. "What's your name?"
           "George, sir."
           "Well George, I think it's going to be a long night. Why don't you call me Les? This 'sir' stuff bothers me."
           "Yes sir, ... 'er, I mean, Les."
           "That's better. Now, why don't you pour yourself one?"
           "I don't know," George said, cautiously looking around the room. "Why not eh? Like you say, it's going to be a long night." George poured himself a short one and held the glass up to Les. "Merry Christmas. I hope Santa will be good to you this year."
           "I'll tell ya, George, I stopped believing in Santa Claus long ago. It's all humbug, as the saying goes."
           "I'm sorry to hear that."
           "Don't be sorry George," Les said, tossing the last of his scotch back. "Just keep it flowing, okay?"
           "You bet."

           The music played, dancers danced, and party types partied. Les, he kept his bar stool warm, and as the evening progressed, he mellowed. He was into his fourth scotch when something, or better yet, someone, caught his attention. The most beautiful woman in the room. She was wearing a ravishing red strapless gown that matched perfectly with her little red Santa hat. Les sat mesmerized as she glided smoothly across the dance floor. His eyes followed her every move until she disappeared into the crowd on the floor.
           "You better give me another one of these," Les said, sliding his glass across the bar. "Things are starting to look up."

           The woman later reappeared all alone by the Christmas tree. Quickly downing his drink, Les headed towards her. "May I have this dance?" he asked, drawing up close behind her.
           She turned, and he found himself staring into the deepest blue eyes. She was just as tall as he was. Long blond hair cascaded down over her bare shoulders, flowing across her chest. She sized him up for a moment, making him feel as if he was undergoing some sort of examination. "I know you," she remarked.
           "You do?" he asked, rather surprised.
           "Yes. You're Les, right?"
           "Les, actually. But I'm afraid I -"
           "Your picture," she said. "I saw your picture on the wall over there. Salesman of the year?"
           Les smiled. She had him going for a moment.
           "Thank you. I would love to dance," she said, reaching out and taking his arm.

           Les could not believe how gracefully she moved across the dance floor. He loved the delicate feminine scent of her perfume. Her skin was smooth as silk. Perfectly tanned. He wondered if she had tan lines; he was betting not.
           "You're one up on me," Les said. "You know my name, but -"
           "Santa," she said with a smile. "Just call me Santa." She snuggled her head onto Les's shoulder.
           "Santa it is," he said, and drew her body a little closer.

           When that dance ended, Les expected her to drift away. Attractive as she was, she was sure to have a full dance card. But she didn't leave. She accepted Les's hand, following his lead towards the bar.
           "I'm going to have a drink," Les said. "May I get you one? George here will make anything you like. And I'm buying."
           "Oh, you don't have to pay. This is a -"
           "I know," he said, cutting her off. "I'm only kidding."
           She blushed a little. "White wine please, George."
           When Les caught George's eye, he whispered, "Maybe there is a Santa Claus, George."

           She was standing near the windows when Les caught up to her again. For a moment the lights from outside silhouetted her. Her body slender and graceful, the curve of her long legs drew his gaze like a magnet. She caught him staring and turned towards him. "Pardon me?" she asked with a smile.
           It was Les's turn to blush. He fought to regain his composure, handing her the glass of wine. They casually chatted about nothing in particular. Outside, the evening traffic droned by in a never-ending motorcade.
           "Would you care to dance again?" he asked, as a slow romantic waltz began playing.
           Her responding smile could have melted ice. Les was feeling like a freckled-faced teenager on his first big date. His arm moved slowly about her waist and he whirled her onto the dance floor.
           "Are you here alone, Santa?" He could only hope.
           She gave him a mischievous smile and whispered into his ear. "Not now."
           "An attractive woman like you should never be alone."
           "You are so sweet," she said. "But I don't feel alone around you."
           Les felt his legs taking on the consistency of putty. "Would you like to go for a walk?" he asked. "Maybe get some fresh air or something? It's awfully smoky in here."
           "I would like that. Where is your office?"
           "On the second floor," he lied. His office was only a few steps away, and served as a temporary cloakroom. However, Stephen's private office was on the second floor.
           "I would like to see your office, Les. Will you take me?" she asked, with that special smile.
           "I'd love to take you," he said, offering a smile of his own. He quickly scanned the room to see where Stephen was. He was over by the convertible, probably trying to sell it with some of his classroom sales techniques.

           The sight inside Stephen's office surprised Les when he switched on the lights. It was the first time he had seen it since Stephen had renovated. A far cry from his own office. He no sooner closed the door, than she melted into his arms. He could immediately feel the heat from her body, the swelling of her breast against him. Her lips parted with a soft moan as his mouth touched hers, gently at first and then with a fiery passion. He could feel her arm sliding inside his jacket and around his waist, pulling at him. Her lips glided down along his neck and then back up to his ear, her teeth nibbling at his ear lobe. There was a weakness in his knees that he had not felt in a long, long time.
           "Mmm," she purred.
           He slid his hand down her back, drawing her even closer. Her hip pressing tightly against him, evoking a response that undoubtedly pleased her.
           "It's too bright in here," she noted.
           "No problem." He switched the lights off, leaving only the lights on the balcony to filter through the drapes.
           "That's much better."
           "How about that fresh air?" Les suggested, pointing towards the balcony doors.
           "You have your own balcony up here?"
           "Naturally."

           Out on the balcony, Les could feel himself swimming in her perfume. They huddled together looking out over the city lights. It was cold, and when he felt her shivering. He immediately started taking off his sports jacket.
           "No you don't have to," she said.
           "You must be getting cold. It's winter out here, remember?"
           "I would rather go back inside."
           It was cold outside, but Les received a different signal.

           Back inside, he offered a little music.
           "Something romantic," she suggested.
           "Let's see what I can find." He fumbled with the unfamiliar stereo system.
           "Here let me," she said, digging through the pile of CDs. "You could fix me a drink though."

           Within minutes soft music filled the room. She noticed the strange look on Les's face. "My drink?" she asked.
           "Right. But I just have to remember where I hid the bottle," he said. Try as he may, he had no idea where Stephen stored his booze.
           "This isn't really your office, is it?" she asked.
           It was obvious he hadn't fooled her. He took her by the arm and started dancing to the music.
           "Actually ... no," he said.
           "Who's is it?"
           "The owner's," he replied, rather sheepishly.
           "Won't he be mad?"
           "He would, ... if he knew," Les said with a big grin.
           "Well then. Let's keep it our little secret, shall we?"

           Attempts at dancing ceased when she started loosening his tie. Next thing Les knew, she was unbuttoning his shirt and running her hands over his chest.
           "You have a great body, Les," she told him seductively. "Nice wide shoulders."
           "I used to play football in school," he told her, feeling a sudden surge in his ego. "Plus I work out ... sometimes."
           Before he knew what had hit him she was kissing his chest. Her tongue was like an electric shock, probing at his pounding heart. Slowly she worked her way up to his mouth, teasing his lips, and driving him crazy.
           "Santa wants you, Les."
           That did it. It was all Les could do to stop himself from ripping the clothes from her writhing body. The more he thought about making love to Ms. Santa in Stephen's office, the more he grinned.
           "Why are you grinning like that?"
           "Private joke," Les said.

           Slowly, but deliberately, they undressed each other between kisses and caresses. The cool night air from the partially open balcony door bathed their near nude bodies.
           "Santa has a gift for you," she said.
           Les made no attempt to resist as she drew him down onto the plush sofa.

           "You know George," Les said, later at the bar, "I'm beginning to believe in Christmas again."
           "No more humbug? What happened? You see three ghosts?"
           "Better than that," Les said. And it was. He only wished he had the courage to tell high and mighty, Stephen, what he had done in Stephen's fancy new office. Like as not, Stephen would probably fire him. 'But,' he thought with a grin, 'it would almost be worth it.'
           "Can I get you anything, Les?" George asked.
           "How about another scotch? Better make it a double. One for yourself, too."
           George wasn't sure what had happened to Les, but he put two and two together; the result he kept to himself.
           "Merry Christmas, Les," George said, handing Les his scotch.
           Two glasses clinked together.

           A short time later the music went silent. Lights were turned up, and the sound of Stephen's voice drew everyone's attention. He was standing on a stool beside the convertible. First he spent a few minutes thanking all the staff for their hard work and dedication. Then he rattled on about how pleased he was to see such a good turn out.
           "And now," he continued. "We have Christmas gifts under the tree for all the staff. But first, I would like to present a special gift to someone very special to me. Ever since I bought this business, my wife has been after me to buy her a car. Well, I can't think of a better gift than this, can you?" Stephen asked, motioning back to the car.
           The room erupted in applause.
           "Come on over here, Roxanne," he called.
           Everyone's eyes focused on the woman moving forward from the crowd. At that point, Les almost fell off his stool - it was his own Ms. Santa! Now he was sure; there really was a Santa Claus.

    Return to Top


    NOTE: This previously published work is covered by copyright.
    No printing, copying or use by any means without written permission from the author.

    Please report display problems to:  

    Return to Homepage