The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Fiction
The Horrible Boss
I’ve always liked stories that had a truly bad villain, someone whom you could hate and rejoice in his (or her) comeuppance, because in stories the villain always gets it in the end.
Okay, for this story let’s make the villain a horrible boss (we’ve all known them). Villains come in all shapes and sizes; to make this one stand out let’s make him a guy who’s over 300 pounds and give him a villainous-sounding name, like Bluecher, Bill Bluecher. Since I was a government worker myself, I’ll make him the horrible boss of a Section in the State of California’s Department of Health. There were certainly enough horrible bosses when I worked there and I’m sure nothing has changed.
A villain needs a patsy so let’s make this one a hard-working, quiet self-effacing guy, one of the analysts in the Section, a numbers man who just wants to do his job every day and get home to his family, say a wife and two daughters. His family is the most important thing in his life; the job is a means of supporting it. So we have a villain, Bluecher, and a patsy, let’s call him Dave Simmons, and let the action begin.
“Hold that elevator, Simmons." It was Simmons’ new and horrible boss, Bill (promptly nicknamed “Bull”) Bluecher, who now came hurtling in, all 300 pounds of him, while Simmons quickly stepped aside and the three other passengers scrambled to get out of the way. “Meeting,” gasped Bluecher. “At the Capitol. Important.” He then gave Simmons a suspicious look. “Where are you going?”
“To Data Processing.” Simmons was holding a computer printout under one arm.
“Well, don’t stay over there all day. I’ve heard you’re taking a long time on your breaks. Don’t think you can get away with that any more.”
Simmons didn’t reply. He had marked down Bluecher as a bully, the biggest kid in the schoolyard who’d taken the other kids’ lunch money and now he had a whole Section to push around. The section was in the State of California’s huge Health Department and provided statistics to State agencies, legislators and outside health providers. Simmons, at age 50, was the oldest member of the section.
The elevator reached the ground floor. “Remember, I have my eye on you,” Bluecher barked at Simmons as they got out. Simmons looked at the other passengers and shrugged. They gave him pitying looks.
The next Monday Bluecher called the dozen Section members into his office for what he said was a staff meeting. He showed them a blackboard which would be placed on the wall for everyone to sign in and out on whenever they left the floor for breaks, which would be for 15 minutes only, and for any other reason. “It’s almost impossible to take a break in 15 minutes,” someone said. “The elevators are slow and then you have to wait on line in the cafeteria.”
“That’s too bad,” said Bluecher. “Fifteen minutes. Also, I want everyone to be here on time in the morning, eight sharp. And no personal phone calls. And all data requests go through me. I want to see everything. It’s time someone tightened things up here. Okay, now get back to work, and I mean work, no goofing off. That means especially you, Simmons. And if you have to go to Data Processing or anywhere else I want you to see me first.” With that, the meeting was over.
Simmons had two daughters, one a high school senior and one a sophomore. He was very mindful that both would be going to college soon. He had to keep his State job, no matter what. He had given up on any hope of promotion. Under the new administration, women and minorities were given priority. The exception was appointees like Bluecher, whose family was a big political donor. Simmons was reasonably content working for the previous section chief, Dr. Christine Fogarty. Dr. Fogarty was a pediatrician and had a sincere interest in promoting health care for the State’s children. She more or less let the Section members work on their own and, as a result, the Section had the highest production rate in the agency.
So, the stage has been set. Let’s ramp up the action a bit:
Simmons next clash with his horrible boss came when he innocently gave Bluecher a completed report on teen-age birth statistics. The title page of any report had the Section chief’s name on it in large type and the author’s name, in this case Simmons, below in smaller type. As the report had been done while Dr. Fogarty was still there Simmons had put her name on the title page. When Bluecher saw this he was furious. He came out of his office, report clutched in one hand, came into Simmons’ small cubicle and demanded to know if Simmons was trying to make a fool of him. Simmons was bewildered at first but when he understood that Bluecher wanted his own name on the title page he said mildly that Bluecher hadn’t even been there when the report was being done. This further infuriated Bluecher, who then summoned everyone into his office for another “staff meeting.” “My name goes on everything that goes out of here, understand?” He went on for another 20 minutes, concluding with. “Simmons, you’re on thin ice, very thin ice.”
Simmons rarely talked about his work at home. When he left the office he put everything in the back of his mind. His real life was his family. But his wife Maria had noticed that he was preoccupied in recent weeks. She asked him what was the matter and it all spilled out of him. The man in a bully, a sadist; he’s ruining our work.
“Can’t you do anything about it?”
“He has everyone cowed. He’s a political appointee and has connections in the Governor’s office.”
“Well, you’d had bad bosses before.”
“Not as bad as this one.”
“You’ll figure something out.”
Well, I’d planned to have a few more conflicts between Bluecher and Simmons, each one worse than the last and making Simmons ever more desperate. But as writers know, sometimes stories go off on their own and you have no option but to follow.
The next week something occurred that put Simmons’ work predicament out of his mind. His older daughter called in the afternoon and told him that Maria was in the bathroom, crying. She didn’t know what to do.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He raced out of the office, calling out to the Section’s secretary that he had to go home. It was an emergency. The secretary said that he’d have to notify Bluecher and sign out. Simmons paid no attention to this. He drove home as fast as he could. When he got into the house Maria was still crying; she was obviously in pain. She couldn’t talk coherently. Simmons called 911. In five minutes an ambulance and a fire engine arrive at the house. The EMTs put Maria on a stretcher and whisked her into the ambulance. Simmons asked them what was wrong. “Dunno,” said one. “Has she been sick?”
“She was a little under the weather, thought she might be coming down with the flu.”
“This looks a lot worse than the flu. You can ride with us if you want.”
After what seemed like an interminable ride but was actually 20 minutes, the ambulance reached the hospital and Maria was rushed into emergency. She was placed on a table, where she began shaking. A doctor appeared and Simmons helped him hold Maria down while a nurse injected something into her arm. In a few minutes she subsided and lay still. “What’s wrong?” asked Simmons.
“Dunno. We’ll take her up to ICU.” As most readers who’ve had the experience know it’s not easy to get any information from medical people.
“Will she be all right?”
“We’ll do all we can.” That wasn’t too reassuring.
This was the beginning of a week-long roller coaster ride. The doctors finally concluded that Maria had meningitis and on the next day in ICU she didn’t recognize Simmons and a doctor said she might never get her full faculties back. Simmons thought this doctor was an idiot. This was the low point. After that, she was better, than a little worse, then a little better. The meningitis was of the bacterial, not the viral, kind and so could be treated with antibiotics. Simmons was entirely focused on his wife’s condition but he was still a conscientious employee. On the first morning that Maria was feeling better he called his office and talked to Bluecher’s secretary, who, like everyone in the Section by that time, despised her horrible boss. The secretary sympathized with Simmons but said that Bluecher wanted him to return to the office to finish the report he was working on. Simmons said he was staying with his wife. The secretary said Bluecher was furious that he’d left without notice and that he didn’t see that it was necessary that Simmons stay with his daughter 24 hours a day. Simmons said he’d stay with Maria until she left the hospital and hung up. After this conversation, he returned to his bedside vigil and mulled over the office situation. Ordinarily, he thought, he might be able to put up with Bluecher but now the man was attacking his family. This couldn’t be allowed. (As the reader can see, the die has now been cast. Guess that’s why Maria had to get sick and go to the hospital).
The antibiotics worked and after a week Maria was back to her normal self and able to come home. Simmons stayed with her another three days to make sure she was recovered, then he returned to work. Everyone in the Section immediately came over and he had to tell them all about what had happened, the scare and then the happy ending. Then he was summoned to Bluecher’s office. The “Bull” sat behind his large desk and Simmons could almost see the smoke coming out of his nostrils. “You’ve committed a number of infractions,” he said. “Leaving the office without permission. Staying out after being told to return to complete an important project. Then not coming back to work after your daughter was discharged from the hospital. I’d like to fire you but, as you know, I can’t. But I can recommend that you be demoted and that’s what I’ve done.”
“My daughter was very sick,” said Simmons.
“I’m sorry about that,” replied Bluecher, in a tone that indicated he wasn’t, “but you took advantage of her illness to go AWOL. I’m going to make you pay for it.”
When he came out everyone in the Section again came over. Simmons told them what Bluecher planned to do to punish him. “He can’t do that,” someone said.
“I’m not sure,” said someone else. “He has a lot of clout.”
“There’ll have to be a hearing. Let’s all try to testify, the Bull’s been trying to get Simmons since he took over.” They talked some more and then agreed they had to do something. At the time, nobody knew what.
As the reader can tell, the story is coming to its end. As in every good story, the villain must be dealt with and virtue must triumph. So here goes:
One morning the next week, Bluecher, as was his custom, again came rushing out of his office, saying, “Important meeting. Governor’s office.“ This time Simmons wasn’t in the elevator. In fact, the elevator was being repaired. Simmons was standing by the elevator; a few other Section members were also in the hallway. As Bluecher came by, Simmons yelled, “Wait!” and tried to stop him. Bluecher cursed, pushed him aside and barreled into the empty elevator shaft. There was a scream, then a loud thud that seemed to shake the building.
In the investigation that followed the question was, where was the warning sign that the elevator was being repaired. Everyone in the Section agreed that the sign was there, but that Bluecher, in his mad rush, hadn’t seen it. The truth was that they had been standing in front of the sign to block him from seeing it. Everyone also agreed that Simmons was a hero, trying to stop Bluecher, although his horrible boss was trying to get him demoted. Of course, any such action was quickly dropped. Dr. Fogarty decided she wasn’t ready to retire after all and returned as Section head. All was well and that’s the end of the story.
The story ended well because I, as the writer, wanted it to. In real life, things turn out differently. Simmons would have been demoted, but he would eventually be able to transfer to another Section and get re-promoted. Bluecher would have gone on being a horrible boss and, this being how the government works, would be promoted to a Deputy Director. A year later, because of being grossly overweight, he’d have a fatal heart attack. So things would have worked out anyway, but not as satisfactorily as in the story and to be honest it felt really good to send the villain down that elevator shaft.
© Martin Green July 2014
How to deal with a bad boss link
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