(A workplace short story about a new hire in management, her effect on one of the employees, and the levers of office politics. About 5,600 words long.)
Denise was suspicious of Helen from the beginning. When Helen arrived for her first day at work, everyone was wowed her outgoing personality and just the right amount of experience and education. She’s what we’ve looking for, some gushed. Others made plans based on predictions of success because of her arrival. Chatter in the break room turned toward expansion.
“We can finally implement the next phase in our growth plan!” Denise overheard someone say while at her desk.
“I know!” someone else agreed. “And isn’t it about time?”
Denise tried to focus on entering new figures onto the spreadsheet but couldn’t help herself from eavesdropping.
“Imagine the new markets, we can spread from coast to coast!”
“We may even go international!” the first one said hopefully.
“I’ll bet that’s already in the works!” a third person chimed in.
“Helen is the best new hire ever!”
“Just the spark we needed!”
Denise was alarmed by their acquiescence and blind enthusiasm. I guess there is one born every minute, she thought, and wondered if she was the only one who saw Helen’s problem potential. She remembered how she first noticed it at the meeting where Helen was introduced to the company. She was very outgoing and gregarious, and the feeling among management was that they were lacking in new ideas and she was what was needed. Denise found Helen’s behavior forced, but then admitted to herself that she was always suspicious of people she thought were overly friendly. They either want something or they’re lonely, she recalled from her own experience.
After the meeting most of the employees gathered around Helen and welcomed her to the company. Denise and a few of the more reserved employees stayed toward the back. After Helen said hi to everyone who greeted her, she went toward the other employees and introduced herself to each one. She finally got to Denise.
“Hi, I’m Helen! Looking forward to working together,” she said in a chipper tone as she extended her hand.
“I’m Denise.” She carefully took Helen’s hand and looked into her stare. Her eyes were bright, open, and so outward looking that they didn’t betray any inner life. “I’m looking forward as well.”
Helen finally released her grip. “So I hear you’re the go-to in order processing.”
“Yes, I’m pretty good at my job.” Denise wondered if that was too boastful, and was reminded of her natural reluctance to call attention to herself.
“Don’t be so modest, everyone in management loves you.” Helen maintained her stare.
Denise felt self conscious about Helen’s quick praise, and became uncomfortable under her continuous attention. “Well, that’s awfully nice of them.”
“I mean it. You’re an integral part of this company.”
Denise smiled a little. “Glad I can help.”
Helen’s stare became more expectant.
“And glad to contribute and be a part of things,” Denise went on and hoped it would satisfy Helen.
“Well I plan on bringing in a lot more business so get ready to see more orders,” Helen predicted confidently.
“Looking forward to it,” Denise felt obliged to say.
“That’s the spirit!” Helen moved onto another employee, talked at her briefly, then moved onto another.
“Well she’s high energy,” Iris remarked to Denise after Helen talked to her.
“I noticed,” Denise said drolly.
“But I suppose we could use some enthusiasm around here.”
“I’m plenty enthused,” Denise insisted.
“Yeah, I can tell,” Iris said with a laugh.
“I come in, I do my job, and I don’t need a cheerleader.”
“She’s just starting here,” Iris reminded. “Aren’t you going to give her a chance?”
“Of course,” Denise assured. “Guess I’m just paranoid.”
“It’s just your nature,” Iris said. “Not everyone likes change.”
“Guess I got used to things being a certain way.”
“And you think the new hire is a bull in a China shop?”
“Well, not that bad.”
“We’ll wait and see,” Iris said. “She’s certainly a firecracker.”
“Yeah,” Denise agreed, “she’s certainly that.”
“Back to the grind,” Iris said, and they all went back to their cubicles and workplaces.
Denise was at her desk processing the latest batch of sales orders then another coworker poked her head over the cubicle wall.
“Ready for the revolution?” Stella asked rhetorically.
“You too?” Denise answered.
“Sorry, guess I got carried away there.”
“Charismatic leaders can do that.”
“Yes, she certainly has charisma.”
“So did Jim Jones.”
Denise considered Stella’s youth. “Guess that was some time ago.”
“Well charisma is what this place needs.”
“I’ll jump on the bandwagon when the time is right,” Denise insisted. “Until then, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.”
“Guess I’m just a sucker for a rousing speech,” Stella admitted. “Want to join us after work at Lloyd’s?”
“Sure, I’ll come by for a drink,” Denise said. “Will we be talking shop or enjoying ourselves?”
“You’re funny,” Stella laughed then disappeared from above the cubicle wall.
Everyone sat on stools or stood around a raised table at the crowded bar.
“So then she said, ‘don’t worry, the room is already paid for,’” Lonnie said, then broke out into laughter. Everyone joined in.
“Again with the off color jokes,” Stella said.
“What can I say, I’m in a good mood,” Lonnie said.
“Where do you find all those jokes?” Iris asked.
“Yeah, you must have one for every occasion,” Stella observed.
“I watch a lot of old classic comedians on YouTube,” Lonnie replied. “Those guys were a riot.”
“As good a use for the internet I’ve ever heard,” Iris remarked.
“I spend too much time on the internet as it is,” Denise admitted, “at least that what my mom is always saying.”
“You’re just a modern person, that’s all,” Iris said.
“So what do you all think is next for the company with the new hire?” Stella mused.
“Things are going to heat up now,” Lonnie said optimistically.
“Should make things interesting if nothing else,” Iris said.
“Interesting is good,” Norm opined from the outer circle.
“Well that depends,” Iris said. “It may be interesting now, but we don’t know what lies ahead.”
“I’m thinking positive,” Lonnie declared.
“You always do,” Norm attempted to contribute from the outer circle.
“I think we’ll come out on top,” Stella said optimistically.
“All aboard, Denise?” Iris asked.
“Like I have a choice?” Denise laughed.
“That’s a ringing endorsement,” Lonnie joked.
Denise was at her desk contently doing her job. Suddenly Helen popped her head over the cubicle wall.
“Got a minute?”
Denise was a bit startled. “Okay.”
“Great!” Helen’s head went back down and she glided into Denise’s cubicle. She grabbed a chair, sat right next to Denise, and laid a spreadsheet out on her desk. “So I’ve been going over the way you do order processing, and I noticed that you’re still using an older QuickBooks program.”
“Yes,” Denise answered innocently. “I didn’t know it was outdated.”
“Well now we’re using NetSuite.”
“Oh, I wasn’t aware of that.”
“Just letting you know,” Helen attempted to say breezily. “How about I download it for you?”
she offered as she crowded closer to the desktop.
“Okay,” Denise said as she rolled her chair away from Helen.
“Great!” Helen placed herself in front of Denise’s keyboard and started typing. “Let me just get into our network, and…” She clicked an icon and a downloading bar appeared in the center of the monitor. Denise watched as the bar slowly changed color from left to right. Tension built up while the percentage number below the bar went from 0 to 100. “You’re all set!” Helen announced cheerfully after it finished. “And just to let you know, it doesn’t hurt to keep up to date on the latest software, something you can do in your down time,” she suggested as she got up.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Denise replied as she rolled her chair back into place.
“See that you do,” Helen said with a forced smile then walked away.
Denise was a bit taken aback. Awfully bossy for a new hire, she thought, even if she is management.
Iris peeked into Denise’s cubicle. “See that you do,” she mocked.
“You heard that?” Denise said. “Nobody told me anything about new accounting software.”
“Me neither, probably Helen’s idea.”
“And what’s this about down time? I’ve always got work to do.”
“Maybe she means on your break.”
“No way. I need my breaks.”
“Maybe that’s how she got ahead.”
“Well good for her, but we can’t all burn the candle at both ends,” Denise asserted. “What you need are people who do their work without being overly ambitious. Otherwise you get too many people rocking the boat.”
“Maybe the owners felt the boat needed rocking.”
“Oh no, you too?”
“Hey, I haven’t drank the Kool-Aid,” Iris assured. “But she is new and trying to make an impression. I’m sure she’ll mellow out.”
“I hope so.”
Denise got home to her apartment while talking on her cell phone.
“So when I brought my stuff to the cashier and she rang me up, it came out to seventy five
dollars!” Denise’s mother complained over the phone. “Just for one pair of jeans and a sweater.”
“That sounds like too much,” Denise said as she put down her purse.
“It was because she charged me sixty instead of thirty for the jeans. I explained to her that they were half off, and she argued with me! The nerve!”
“Wow, that’s bold.”
“She didn’t believe me, so I pointed to the sign that said 50% off right above the jeans rack.”
“Did she give you your discount?”
“She sure did, and she’s lucky I didn’t ask to see a manager and get her in trouble.”
“She should have known better than to cross you.”
“Damn right. I’m a good person, I don’t deserve that kind of lip.”
“At least you handled it.”
“So how’s work?”
“And that new hire in management you said was getting under your skin?”
“I’m just going to see how it goes.”
“Well don’t let her get you down. You know what your worth, and you’re better than that.”
Denise felt her confidence return. “Thank you, Mom.”
“I’m sure it’ll all blow over.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“In the two weeks since I’ve joined this company there’s been an increase in sales, an expansion of outreach, and a noticeable increase in morale,” Helen orated to the assembled employees in the central common area. The rest of management was seated behind Helen and looking up at her. “Now I’m not trying to take credit for all these improvements, but that they’ve all happened since my arrival may be more than just a coincidence,” she added smugly and everyone laughed a bit. “But seriously, you’re the ones that make the difference. With my help, you have improved this company in every aspect, and I expect everything to keep going in that direction. And if we all follow the plan I’ve just outlined I foresee success on the horizon.” She looked back at management. “Anything you’d like to add, Paul? Elizabeth?”
Paul stood up. “No, that says it all. Well, everybody back to work, and let’s keep the momentum going!” he addressed positively.
Everyone got up and headed back to their work areas. A few others stuck around and asked management some questions.
“That wasn’t so bad,” Iris said to Denise. “I thought she was going to drone on, but not this time.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Denise admitted.
“At least there’s a road map now.”
“That does clear things up.”
Helen approached Denise. “So how’s the new program coming along?”
“Just fine,” Denise answered.
“Good to hear,” Helen bubbled. “See how NetSuite is an improvement over QuickBooks?”
“Sure do, like night and day,” Denise said half seriously, and she wondered if Helen picked up on her inflection.
“Great! So I had another idea, a new form that’ll contain all the important information for each order.”
“Should streamline everything,” Helen attested.
“Sounds like it,” Iris added helpfully.
“That’s the idea,” Helen declared. “Now I don’t have an official name for it, but for now we’ll call it form 6A.”
“Form 6A,” Denise repeated.
“I know, not very original, but I’ll come up with something better once I get more situated. What I’m trying to do is simplify everything.”
“Works for me,” Iris chimed in.
“Yeah, me too,” Denise said obligingly.
“Yes, won’t it be grand once we straighten out the mess I inherited and get everything firing on all cylinders,” Helen predicted excitably.
“I didn’t know things were such a mess,” Denise admitted.
“Oh, absolutely,” Helen reiterated. “Too much overlap, too many people with nothing to do, but I’ve come up with various exercises to keep everyone busy, a little healthy competition if you will.”
“Were sales down?” Iris asked.
“Sales were okay, but they can always be better,” Helen insisted. “The main purpose of what we have in mind is to create a sense or urgency. You know, keeping people on their toes so when the big order comes in, we’ll be ready.”
“Sounds good to me,” Iris said then went to her cubicle.
“Are we expecting a big order?” Denise asked.
“We’re working on some things,” Helen informed vaguely. “And as soon as those deals close, we’re going to blow up.”
“Well I’ve always been ready,” Denise assured.
“Of course, but I think we need to avoid complacency.”
“I wouldn’t call myself complacent,” Denise defended.
“Nobody does.” Helen leaned in closer. “Now from what management tells me, you’re a good, reliable worker, but you also tend to keep to yourself and don’t fraternize too much with your coworkers,” she leaned in closer still, “and they also wonder how engaged you really are here.”
“Isn’t doing my job well good enough?”
“Normally, yes, but in this modern, more competitive world, we have to learn from our international neighbors and how they do business, and a lot of them do things together, at and away from the workplace.”
“Most countries aren’t melting pots.”
“Ha! Too true!” Helen guffawed but didn’t appear genuinely amused. “But seriously, we will be having more work events in the future, and it would be good if you attended at least some of them.
Now let me get you up to speed on form 6A.”
They went to Denise’s cubicle and Helen explained how to fill out the new form in minute detail. Denise thought it was overdone and probably unnecessary, but she nodded yes and repeated Helen’s instructions. Gradually she became more familiar with the new paperwork.
Helen finally left after thoroughly explaining and reexplaining how to fill out the new form, and Denise felt her her sense of disruption and unease return. She felt violated that her routine was altered, and tried to readjust.
“What does she mean I’m not engaged?” Denise said hotly.
“I wouldn’t let it get you down,” Iris calmed. “She’s that way with everybody.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to take it.”
“She’s management. What can you do?”
“I can at least keep my dignity.”
“No one is trying to take away your dignity,” Iris reassured.
“No, they just accuse me of being disengaged because I’m not some Chatty Cathy.”
“That’s probably Helen’s influence.”
“So she’s controlling their minds, like some alien life form in a sci fi movie?”
“Damn, Denise, you make it sound like she’s from outer space.”
“She’s an outsider.”
“Yeah, but what can we do about it?”
Denise tried to think of an answer.
“Nothing,” Iris continued.
“Maybe it won’t be so bad. They’re even talking about paintball.”
“Today’s political climate isn’t conducive to anything involving weapons,” Denise pointed out.
“Even if they’re paintballs?”
“They still hurt, and leave bruises.”
“So you can hide behind me,” Iris offered humorously.
A loud whoosh and gust of wind from the approaching train filled the underground BART station.
“Anyways, that’ll be down the road,” Iris said and went toward the edge of the platform. “We got enough to do as it is.” The train decelerated to a stop and the doors slid open. Iris boarded the train car with other commuters. “See you tomorrow.”
“Bye,” Denise replied.
The doors slid close. The train slowly accelerated then picked up speed and exited into a tunnel out of the station. Denise went to the other side of the platform and waited for her train.
Denise was heading back to her cubicle after lunch then overheard a conversation.
“I don’t know if I can do it.”
“But this restructuring is already happening, so we all have to adjust.”
“It’s just that I was used to things being a certain way, and I didn’t think I was going to miss it.”
“You miss the old days? Back when the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing?”
Denise moved along then heard other employees talking.
“Don’t get me wrong, I like the streamlining of everything, I just hope I’m not passed over for any promotions due to me.”
“What gave you that notion?”
“New faces have been showing up, and not at the entry level.”
Denise moved along further and overheard another conversation.
“Maybe some of the fat needs to be trimmed.”
“Let’s face it, not everyone pulls their weight around here.”
Don’t remember hearing that kind of talk before, Denise thought with alarm. She came to her cubicle, sat at her desk, and prepared to continue working. Her phone rang and shook her from her routine. She picked up the receiver. “This is Denise,” she spoke into it warily.
“Hi, Denise, this is Paul. We were wondering if you could come into the conference room for a quick meeting?”
Denise suspected it was not a usual meeting. “I’ll be right over.” She hung up the receiver, got up, and went to the conference room. The door was open and she looked inside. “Hello?”
“Denise, come on in,” Paul invited. He was sitting behind the middle of a long table. Helen was seated at his right, Elizabeth was seated to his left, and other management was sitting on either side of them.
Denise entered cautiously.
“Go ahead, have a seat,” Paul coaxed.
Denise pulled out a chair, sat across from management, and waited for them to speak.
“So first off,” Paul began, “we appreciate all your work in order processing.”
Denise recalled how good news was usually followed by bad news, especially from management.
“But it has come to our attention that you haven’t been filling out the new form correctly.”
Denise began to feel hot. Brought to your attention by Helen no doubt, she thought angrily, who’s in charge here? “Oh no, what have I done?”
“It looks like a minor mistake,” Elizabeth said, “but it can throw off accounting, which then affects purchasing, and the next thing you know we either have too much or too little inventory and everything is thrown out of whack.”
“Well I’m genuinely sorry,” Denise replied with as much sincerity as she could muster.
“We sure you are,” Paul responded, “and we did catch the error in time. It’s just that…what if it wasn’t caught?”
“Honestly, I truly am sorry for that oversight.”
“Sorry doesn’t fix the problem,” Helen interjected.
Looks like the newbie is in charge now, Denise realized sarcastically. “But what can I do to fix the problem?” she asked sincerely.
“Look, we’re past that,” Helen went on. “We can no longer afford to make the mistakes that plagued this company in the past. I was brought in to clean up the mess and make sure that whoever remains will be towing the line and not dragging the company backward with inattentiveness and excuses,” she demanded.
“So, am I…” Denise’s voice trailed off as she assumed the worst.
“No, you’re not fired,” Paul jumped in assuredly. “We just wanted to make sure that you understand the new situation.”
“Am I being written up?” Denise asked warily.
“More of a warning,” Helen said ominously.
“I am on my way to mastering the new system!” Lonnie bragged from his spot at the bar table.
“I haven’t,” Stella confessed.
“Guess you better update your resume!” Norm joked from his place in the outer circle.
“I’m doing my best with it,” Iris began, “but a lot of it feels redundant.”
“I think that’s what I’m having trouble with,” Stella admitted. “The new way just seems like a different version of the old way.”
“The powers that be don’t want to hear that,” Lonnie warned kiddingly.
“I was thinking the same thing as Stella,” Norm tried to add, “but I’m not a boat rocker.”
“Ours is not to ask the reason why,” Denise said with exaggerated seriousness.
“So I hear you were called to the carpet,” Lonnie said to Denise.
“Yeah, what was that about?” Iris asked.
“Oh, that,” Denise said disinterestedly.
“Well, what of it?” Iris further inquired.
“I just made a little mistake on the new form and they blew it all out of proportion,” Denise said.
“You mean that form 6A?” Stella asked.
“Yes,” Denise answered.
“Helen got on me because of that too!” Stella revealed, and appeared to seek common cause.
“It’s not that hard,” Lonnie countered. “Just follow the instructions.”
“Not all of us are good at following orders,” Iris kidded as she put her arm around Denise.
“I can follow orders just fine,” Denise defended. “What I’m not good at is suffering fools gladly.”
“Are you saying we work for fools?” Lonnie attempted to draw out.
“What I’m saying is that I don’t need to be harped on every time I make a mistake,” Denise emphasized. “Treat me like an adult.”
“Well the treating goes both ways,” Iris reminded.
“When did I ever give anyone a hard time?” Denise pleaded.
“Well…” Iris began.
“Okay, maybe you, but not anyone else,” Denise asserted.
“It’s about playing ball,” Lonnie advised.
“Who makes the rules?” Denise posed.
There was a pause.
“People bigger than us,” Stella finally said.
“Too bad things can’t be as simple as they used to be,” Iris lamented.
“Time doesn’t move backward,” Lonnie countered.
“Could you sign this form?” Helen requested.
“Why am I being written up?” Denise asked.
“No need for dramatics. Just an acknowledgment that you filled out form 6A incorrectly.”
“It was an honest mistake,” Denise protested.
“They always are, but we need to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
“Just give me a chance to correct it.”
“We already did, and we can’t keep doing your job for you,” Helen admonished. “This is a reminder that you understand that.”
“And the rest of management is okay with this?”
“I’ll tell them later at the afternoon meeting, been too busy lately.”
Helen got up and left with the signed form. Denise watched her as she walked into her office, open a desk file, drop in all her paperwork, and close the file as she picked up some other paperwork off her desk and left her office.
The gravity of what just happened weighed down on Denise. I’m not liking this, she said to herself, not one bit. She pondered what to do next, and entertained all possibilities, until she came upon an idea. Why the hell not, she thought to herself, the status quo ain’t working.
“I heard Denise was written up,” Denise heard Stella say in the break room.
“I heard the same thing, Iris said. “Wonder what she did wrong?”
“Don’t believe everything you hear,” Denise said as she entered the break room.
“So just a rumor?” Stella asked.
“She just talked to me about that new, damn form and making sure it was filled out perfectly.”
“Yeah, she’s strict about that,” Stella said.
“Kind of a dictator,” Iris added.
“Hope she’s not listening,” Denise warned humorously.
“I’ll speak softly,” Iris whispered.
“I think we could all use a drink after work,” Stella suggested.
“Count me in,” Iris said. After work some of the employees went to Lloyd’s and ordered drinks all around. They talked more about the changing workplace and wondered how many were going to survive. Denise left after one drink.
“C’mon, one more,” Iris tempted.
“I’m good,” Denise said.
“Thought you’d want to knock back a few after today,” Lonnie said.
“Yeah, you were practically written up,” Stella added.
“I was not written up,” Denise reminded, “and I’d like to turn in early tonight anyway.”
“Not a bad idea,” Iris agreed.
Denise said goodbye to everyone and left. On her way home she stopped at a neighborhood market. She picked up some ingredients for a fancy meal. I deserve it, she said to herself, kind of a last meal, she joked, it’ll put me in a better mood if nothing else.
Denise forwarded her completed paperwork, then her desk phone rang. She picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
“Denise,” Paul’s voice said over the phone, “can you come to the main office?”
“Okay,” I’ll be right there.” Well this is it, Denise thought to herself as she hung up the receiver. She got up and left her cubicle. Her coworkers looked up at her apprehensively as she walked by.
“Where you headed?” Stella asked.
“The head office.”
“What for?” Lonnie asked.
“Guess I’ll find out.”
“Godspeed,” Iris said supportively as Denise walked by, and she nodded thank you.
Denise became more apprehensive as she approached the suite of executive offices. Helen’s office was on the corner. The blinds were closed on all the windows of the executive suite. She took a breath and composed herself as she entered into the suite of offices. She approached the desk of the executive secretary.
The secretary looked up. “They’re waiting for you in the conference room,” she told Denise.
Denise looked left and saw the entrance to the conference room, the door was opened. She went to the room and found herself seeing little details she never noticed before. She came to the door. “You wanted to see me?”
“Denise,” Paul called out from his seat at the table. “Come on in.”
Denise entered the office. She noticed Helen was sitting at the center of the conference table, with Paul and Elizabeth on either side of her, then the rest of management. She sat in a chair across from everyone at the table. She looked at them expectantly.
“So,” Paul began, “what do you think of all the new procedures?”
Denise considered how to answer. “I hope I’m keeping up with them.”
Paul considered. “I think what we really want to know is how you feel about them…in the overall sense.”
“You mean if I feel that they’re necessary?”
“Do you think they’re unnecessary?” Helen asked abruptly.
Denise was caught off guard. “Well, I wouldn’t say unnecessary. I suppose what I’m saying is that to me things seemed fine, so I may not have noticed any problems that needed fixing.”
“And that’s why we brought in Helen,” Paul interjected. “To fix up where we’re weak. Do you understand?” he added warningly.
“Am I a weak link?”
“No, of course not,” Paul reassured. “It’s just as we move ahead we just have to consider everybody, the job they’re doing, and whether what they do is a position that we’re going to need in the future.”
“I have been busy lately,” Denise said, “so it seems like my position is needed.”
“I think what Paul is getting at is at we have to consider if there are more efficient ways of doing things,” Helen said, “and right now we’re considering if order processing should be moved into accounting.”
“So…I would move into accounting?” Denise asked.
“That all depends,” Helen began. “As we move ahead management has to make sure that we’re all on the same page, and that no one is being a drag on the company.”
“I know I’ve made some little mistakes but I really don’t think I’m a hindrance to the company,” Denise said defensively.
“Little mistakes can have big consequences,” Helen implored, “we’ve already gone through that, Denise.”
“Oh yes, I remember our little chat,” Denise said breezily. “And believe me, I took it to heart.”
“Now you know it was more than just a chat,” Helen said with increasing frustration.
“Really?” Denise replied innocently. “Didn’t seem like that big of a deal.”
“Dammit, your job is on the line here! Don’t you remember what we talked about?”
“Yes, I remember. I made a little mistake, and we fixed it.”
“A mistake that could have cost us thousands of dollars! And aren’t you forgetting something?”
“Oh, I don’t think so.”
“Are you serious?”
“I’m very sorry for making you upset, but I really don’t know what I’m forgetting.”
“Well let me refresh your memory!” Helen stood up and marched to her office.
Everyone else sat around in silence as they waited for Helen to return. Denise heard Helen rummaging around her desk flies, and was becoming apprehensive. She looked across the table at the rest of management as they sat silently and tried to manage a smile to break the tension.
“It’s gone!” Helen shouted from her office. She stormed back into the conference room and glared at Denise. “You took it!”
“What?” Denise said in shock.
“Your write up! Where is it?” Helen demanded.
“What write up?” Denise answered with surprise.
“You goddamn know what I’m talking about!”
“Honest, I don’t.”
“You stole it!”
“But what did I steal?” Denise pleaded. “Really, I don’t know.”
“Now, Helen,” Paul tried to calm her down, “I’m sure there’s an explanation.”
“Yes, Helen,” Elizabeth agreed.
“This thief took it!” Helen yelled as she pointed at Denise. “That’s what happened!”
“Now, Helen, you need to relax,” Elizabeth warned.
“I’ll bet you did steal it! People like you love to steal!”
“Helen, please!” Paul beseeched.
“I’ve been working all hours to save this company and I’m being undermined by uncooperative, thieving, lying employees!”
“Helen, you know that isn’t fair!” Elizabeth replied.
“I left a good job to clean up this mess!” Helen raged.
Management all got up quickly and came from around the table. “Helen, please calm down, get a hold of yourself,” they were all saying.
“I will not be humiliated!” Helen vociferated.
Denise felt terrible. “I’m sorry that you’re so upset.”
Management gathered around Helen and attempted to restrain her, then she pulled away and moved toward Denise. “Where did you hide it? You bitch!”
Denise held up her hands defensively. “Honest, I didn’t take it!”
Management gathered around Helen, surrounded her, and gently moved her away from Denise. “Now take it easy, Helen,” Paul said calmly.
“This isn’t fair!” Helen protested. “You had one of your cronies steal it, didn’t you!” she further accused.
“Really, I haven’t done a thing!” Denise pleaded.
“I don’t believe you!” Helen avowed. “You are guilty!” she yelled out, then suddenly looked burned out as management guided her back to her office while offering words of solace.
Denise sat in silence as she tried to absorb the shock of Helen’s tirade. After a while Paul and Elizabeth returned to the conference room. They looked apologetic.
“Denise,” Paul began, “can you forgive us?”
Denise began to relax. “I don’t what to say,” she replied. “I’m as shocked as you are.”
“I got to say, she did make a good first impression,” Paul said. “Her resume was certainly impressive.”
“But I suppose there’s a reason why she left her last job,” Elizabeth reasoned.
“Yeah, you really don’t know what a person is like until you see them under pressure,” Paul reflected.
“Maybe she was just having a bad day,” Denise opined.
“Still doesn’t make it right to take it out on you,” Elizabeth asserted.
“And we never should have doubted you,” Paul admitted. “I think we missed the signs.”
“Lesson learned,” Elizabeth concluded.
“Really sorry it turned out like this,” Denise empathized.
“You know what, why don’t you take the rest of the day off,” Paul said generously.
“Oh, that’s kind, but I really should finish my work.”
“It’s okay, we’ll cover for you,” Paul offered.
“And you deserve it after the way you’ve been treated,” Elizabeth added.
“I guess I could use some recovery time,” Denise said.
“Of course, a little me time never hurt anyone,” Paul said. “And tomorrow is another day.”
Denise looked up at them graciously. “I really appreciate it.”
“Least we can do,” Elizabeth said.
“And what about…” Denise nodded toward Helen’s office.
Paul and Elizabeth looked at each other concernedly.
“Well, we may not be a fit for each other,” Paul said regretfully.
“And that’s when things got hectic,” Denise said into her cell phone as she walked through the front door into her apartment. “Started yelling, screaming, accusing me of stealing things form her office.”
“Why the nerve!” her mother replied indignantly.
“I know!” Denise agreed. “And after all I’ve done for the company.”
“Well hopefully none of them believed that lunatic.”
“Not after they saw her true colors,” Denise informed. “Sounds like she’s out the door.”
“Well I’m glad it all worked out,” mother said with relief.
“Me too,” Denise said as she walked into the kitchen. She opened one of the drawers.
“Like I always say, as long you know what your worth, no one can bring you down.”
Denise reached into the drawer and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. “Right as usual, Mom.”
“Well it’s true.”
“Yeah, I suppose I have to learn things the hard way.” Denise shook open the paper, and glared at the paragraph where she was chastised for not filling out form 6A correctly.
“It’s just that I remember how upset you were last week over this person,” mother reminded.
“Yeah, I let her get to me,” Denise admitted. She balanced the phone on her shoulder and with her free hand pulled a Bic lighter out the drawer.
“But it all worked out, didn’t it.”
Denise flicked the lighter. “Yeah, it sure did.” She held the paper over the sink, applied the flame, and watched it burn.
©2019 Robert Kirkendall