The following is my first attempt at fiction in over ten years. My fiction muscles are a little flabby, but I think of this as my first workout.
I dedicate this post to: J.J. Punch, C-Drizzle, Shaq Diesel, The Pregnant Lady, Chandler, Jorge, and Dorothy A.
“Hey, Mark, would you mind going through these files individually and finding each of the clients’ home numbers? I want to call them today and see if they want to re-open their accounts. Thanks buddy!” Doug Chebane all but threw a large pile of manila on Mark’s desk and smiled as the folders smeared across its surface.
“Sure, Doc, no problem,” Mark said with a fake smile and eyes that did not meet Doug’s. None of Mark’s cubicle mates knew where the nickname “Doc” had come from, or why he insisted on using it for Doug, the bank’s vice president and the source of their collective daily misery. It may have been Mark’s way of retaliating from Doug calling him “buddy” all the time.
“Why do you always kiss that guy’s ass, Mark?” asked Mark’s cubicle mate Nancy.
“Yeah,” said Jason, the third cubicle mate, “it just invites more stupid meaningless work for you to do for him. It’s all just a big power trip anyway.” Jason kissed Doug’s ass just as much as Mark did, but he would deny any such accusations. He was given to fits of panic under pressure, and he considered any encounters with his superiors a high pressure situation. Doug enjoyed how easy it was to make Jason sweat, often stepping in front of him at the water cooler and making eye contact with him while he filled his water bottle.
“I was a lawyer in Mexico and now look at me. I’m doing data entry for a failing bank and working for a greedy, power hungry kid.” Mark spat out the last word like it was a rancid pecan. “I have been at this bank longer than he has been alive, and he treats me like a second class citizen.”
“It’s total bullshit,” said Nancy, “and our protests go nowhere because our superiors just jump to his defense. The structure of this company as we know it is dissolving.” Nancy had learned this lesson the hard way earlier that year. Nancy now thought about that incident.
During the summer, she had witnessed Doug promising clients free checking accounts and fee waivers and overdraft fee credits if they signed up through him. He was basically promising to do things that go against every longstanding bank policy in the book; promises that would get anyone but Doug Chebane fired on the spot. Doug got a bonus for every new account he signed up, no matter how much money they invested or how long they kept their business with the bank. Nancy, the bank’s one woman customer service department, began to get frequent calls from angry clients who were charged fees from which they were told they were exempt. Interestingly, not many of these clients could remember Doug’s name, but they insisted that whoever set up their account told them they would not incur any fees. So Nancy, first suspecting the sales team but finding them all clean, began listening to the vice president’s phone calls to his clients. Sure enough, almost every client Doug talked to signed on to the bank based on his false promises.
She took this information to her immediate supervisor, Linda, ready to see the offense corrected before they lost any more customers. Linda had listened to Nancy’s case silently, and when she finished, Linda picked up her phone.
“Doug, could you come in here, please?” Linda said with a blank face and monotone voice. It was Nancy’s turn to sit silently, secretly thrilled about Doug finally getting put in his place.
He showed up in the supervisor’s doorway with a big smile on his face. Enjoy it while you can, you lying son of a-
“Doug, have you been telling new clients that they would get free checking if they signed up with you, or that they would get all of their overdraft fees credited back to them?” Nancy raised her eyes to meet Doug’s. She saw the look of rage he shot her before he replaced it with one of indignation.
“What? No! I would never- where would you get an idea like that?!” Oh please, Nancy thought, give it up. You’re losing money for the rest of us and taking it home for yourself. There is no way that you are getting away with this.
“Well, Nancy says she heard you on several phone calls promising clients free services that don’t exist.” The supervisor’s monotone always made Nancy uneasy, and she suddenly had a bad feeling in her gut about where this conversation was going.
Doug let out a sound that was half laugh, half indignant cough. “Wha-! She could never say things like that because they simply aren’t true!”
Here it comes, thought Nancy.
“Well, I thought so,” said the supervisor, “I just figured I’d ask you since she seemed so upset about it.”
What? That doesn’t make any sense! thought Nancy. There is no way they would ignore a complaint of an employee leaching money from the bank into his own pocket, even if he was the bank president’s favorite, his golden boy. This is not happening! But is was happening, and it was about to get worse.
“Hey Nancy,” said Doug, meeting her incredulous stare, “if you ever have a concern like that just come talk to me. You don’t have to bother Linda with this stuff, just come find me and we can work through it together. I’m not that scary, am I?” He held Nancy’s dumbfounded stare as Linda, the supervisor’s hand went up to her mouth to stifle a giggle.
Nancy recalled his triumphant serpentine smile and shuddered now as she spoke to Mark over his new pile of busy work. “The boss loves him because he brings the clients in the door, even if he is doing it unethically. I guess that’s what this bank is about now. It didn’t used to be.”
Jason rolled his eyes, “I wish somebody would stop him. He’s like a spoiled child with no one to answer to. We should all just walk out! That would show them!”
“It wouldn’t show them anything,” Mark said as he slid the manila mountain from his desk to the floor. “Besides, none of us have anywhere to go.” The three of them sat silently reflecting on the truth of Mark’s statement. The family owned and operated bank had been very generous to their employees over the years and had offered first rate medical insurance even while their business was struggling. It was hard to find another job in the field that offered comparable benefits. The medical benefits were Mark’s reason for staying.
Jason looked at the pile of folders at Mark’s feet and said, “Does he even know you’re having surgery tomorrow?”
Mark said, “Probably not.”
Jason said, “If he does, he’s a bastard for giving you a bunch of busy work the afternoon before.”
“Don’t worry about those files, Mark. He probably won’t even remember he gave them to you. If he says anything, Jason and I will do them. You just take care of yourself.” Nancy knew Mark was having heart surgery the following day, less than a year after his major heart attack, and she was worried about him. He had mentioned that this surgery would put him at risk for several complications after recovery, and he needed to avoid unnecessary stress while healing. She thought it was pretty likely that his work stress contributed to his heart condition in the first place.
“Thank you. I hate that guy,” Mark replied. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what made me say that. I’d rather him not know I was having surgery anyway. The last thing I need is seeing him in my hospital room while I recover.”
“Aw, why not? He could sing to you softly while he holds your hand,” Jason started to sing an off key lullaby with his eyes closed, and Nancy and Mark laughed. They all survived on each other’s sarcasm and jokes. If they couldn’t laugh, they would not survive. At that moment, as if they were being punished for laughing, or because of Karma, as Nancy would think of it, Doug burst back into their cubicle.
“Hey guys? I can hear you laughing from my office, which means a client could have heard you being unprofessional. That makes you look bad, guys, not me, so keep it down.” He left as quickly as he arrived.
“Like we give a shit, Doug,” Nancy said, not caring whether or not he heard her.
Mark’s face clouded over. “He’s an insecure impulsive kid with too much power. I’m an educated old man, and he gets to boss me around like an underling. What kind of life is this? I think I’m going to go home early, guys.” Nancy and Jason stared at the floor and wished for justice for their coworker and themselves.
“We’ll be thinking about you tomorrow, Mark. We’ll call you as soon as you’ve recovered,” Nancy said as Mark gathered his coat and suitcase.
“Thank you,” Mark said with a weak smile.
“Lullabyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…and good niiiiiiiiiiiiiight…” sang Jason as Mark left, the three of them laughing again. Jason and Nancy began finishing up their work for the day.
As they were walking toward the door to leave, Doug helped himself to their personal space. “I noticed Mark leaving earlier. Did he get approval for that?”
“He’s having heart surgery tomorrow, Doug. I don’t think he cares about getting approval.”
“Oh, no way! How come no one told me? I’m gonna go cancel my afternoon appointments for tomorrow so I can go visit him. See you guys later.” Doug walked into his office and picked up the phone.