It Has Come to Our Attention ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(Published in The Rusty Nail.)
Cletus Willard and Delores DeFane sat in the closed room at the end of the long table. They both had cups of coffee in front of them and notepads. Cletus had his hands folded over his huge stomach and Delores jiggled a pen nervously in her left hand, occasionally raising it to her mouth and taking small, absentminded puffs as though it were a cigarette.
Ellery Martin gave a timid knock on the door and entered. The first thing he noticed was that inside the room the air was ten or fifteen degrees warmer than anyplace else in the building. No windows and no ventilation. As he closed the door, he looked around for a means of escape and saw none.
“Sit down,” Cletus said grimly.
Ellery went around to the other side of the table and sat in a chair facing the door. He sighed audibly and loosened his tie. He wondered if he was going to be sick.
Cletus and Delores were both looking at their pads as if to avoid looking at Ellery. Delores read from her pad, turned the page, cracked her knuckles like a longshoreman, cleared her throat.
“Do you know why we wanted to talk to you today?” she said in a voice that could best be described as a nasal whine. She wore red eye shadow that made her appear to have an eye disease.
“No,” Ellery said. “Should I?”
“You’ve been here now for a couple of years. You know how important rules are, I’m sure. If we didn’t have rules, we’d have chaos. We have a hundred and thirty-two people here. Can you imagine a hundred and thirty-two people, each doing exactly as he or she pleases, without any rules?”
“I never thought about it,” said Ellery.
“Rules are as important to a company as laws are to a society,” Cletus said importantly, in a voice that was surprisingly high pitched for a man of his girth. “It has come to our attention that you have broken, have violated, a number of our rules.”
“It has come to our attention,” Delores said, “that in the last thirty days you’ve had three inappropriate telephone conversations during business hours.”
“You listen in on my private calls?”
“That’s not what we’re saying,” Cletus said.
“Then how do you know they’re inappropriate?”
“You are allowed personal calls during business hours,” Delores said, “only in cases of genuine emergency. Refer to section six, paragraph eight, of your employee handbook.”
“You need to study your employee handbook and commit it to memory,” Cletus said. “We want to set an example of good citizenship to others.”
“Do you not even have a copy of the employee handbook?” Delores asked.
“I have one copy in my desk, one copy on my desk, and another copy on the shelf above my head. Do you think that’s enough?”
“All right,” Delores said. “Moving on to the next topic: On Monday of last week you went into a meeting with your superiors without pen and paper. This was noted and commented upon by several people present.”
“I wasn’t planning on taking any notes.”
“You never go into a meeting with your superiors without being prepared to write down what they say. It’s just a matter of professional courtesy. We want our managers to believe that we think every word they say is important.”
“It’s the way to get along,” Cletus offered, suppressing a burp. Too many donuts. The one with cinnamon gave him a case of heartburn.
“When somebody says something interesting,” Ellery said, “I’ll consider writing it down.”
Delores turned down the corners of her mouth in a sort of grimace and referred again to her notes. “Um, let’s see here,” she said. “I see that one of the girls in accounting has lodged a complaint against you.”
“That’s absurd! I don’t know any of the girls in accounting. I don’t want to know them.”
“She says that on several occasions she attempted to engage you in conversation and you ignored her. In her own words: ‘I tried to offer him a cookie and he turned his back on me’.”
“Oh. It’s the one with the harelip and the gray hair down to her ankles, isn’t it? Everybody avoids her.”
“You must be friendly and receptive toward your fellow co-workers,” Cletus said, wagging a finger to emphasize his point. “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
“That’s a new one on me,” Ellery said.
“Section ten, paragraph sixteen of the employee handbook,” Delores said.
“And that brings us to another point,” Cletus said. “Several people have mentioned that you didn’t participate in our recent company ball game.”
“That’s right. I didn’t.”
“May I ask why?”
“I had a headache.”
“That doesn’t sound like a very good reason to me.”
“I don’t like ball games.”
“They are important team-building activities,” Cletus said. “You can’t be a part of the team if you choose not to play. Nobody ever got ahead by sitting on the sidelines.”
“Sports activities are great morale builders,” Dolores said. “The next time you choose to remain at home because you have a ‘headache’, remember that you are conspicuous in your absence and it reflects very poorly upon you. It makes us think you don’t like us.”
“There isn’t anything you do that’s not seen and judged by your superiors,” Cletus said. “You want them to be on your side, don’t you? The next time they’re handing out raises or promotions, who do you think they’ll remember? They’ll remember the ones who embody the team spirit.”
“Read section two, paragraph twenty-one in your employee handbook,” Delores said. “Everything you need to know is right there.”
“Which brings us to a question of punctuality,” Cletus said. “It has come to our attention that you are not always at work on time in the morning. Our start time is seven forty-five in the a.m. That doesn’t mean that you arrive at work at that time. It means you are in your seat working at that time.”
“You know our policy about being on time,” Delores said. “It’s covered in section five, paragraphs one through eight of the employee handbook. If you need a copy of the employee handbook to read and study, stop by the personnel office and ask Fritta for one. It’s the holy gospel while you’re employed here.”
“I hope you don’t think we’re being unduly harsh by talking over these little matters with you,” Cletus said with what he thought was an avuncular grin. “This is not an official reprimand; it’s just a warning. We’re giving you a chance to correct your infractions and move forward with the determination to do all things according to company policy.”
“Now, are there any questions?” Delores asked.
“Is there any truth to the rumor that you’re really a man?” Ellery asked.
“Well, I think that will be all for now,” Cletus said, standing up. “I’m glad we had this little talk. I always think it’s good to get everything out in the open and discuss it like the sensible adults we are.”
When Ellery returned to his cubicle, he sat down heavily in his chair and looked out the window at the sky for almost an hour. It was a bright spring day with a lovely sky and nobody was paying any attention. He looked at the pile of work on his desk that urgently needed his attention and swept it all into the trash can. He didn’t feel like working and would probably never feel like working again.
He looked at the clock and, seeing it was almost lunchtime, put on his coat and went down the stairs. A couple of his co-workers looked questioningly at him but he ignored them.
At the bottom of the steps in the foyer was a fire alarm he had never noticed before. He looked all around to make sure he was not being observed and then he approached the alarm, put the first two fingers of his right hand over the little lever and pulled downward. He smiled with satisfaction as he heard the alarms ringing frantically throughout the building. Loud voices, followed by urgent footsteps.
He left the building and began walking down the street. Within two or three minutes he heard the wail of the fire engines as they raced through the crowded city streets toward the supposed fire. The next time it will be more than a false alarm, he thought.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp