The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Fiction : Close
Paul Lerner was in his office, packing the last of his personal
It was a Friday morning, his last day at work as a research specialist
for Californias Department of Health in Sacramento.
As of next Monday, hed be retired.
secretary to Dennis ONeil, his section head, came in and somewhat
breathlessly told him that Dennis was held up in San Francisco so Paul
would have to go to the Divisions weekly staff meeting in his
place. She thrust a folder into his hand, saying that it
contained the sections latest projects. Youd
better hurry, she said, the meeting starts at ten.
Paul looked at his watch; it was a few minutes after the hour.
No rush, he said. They wont start
without someone from our section. He was teasing Britney,
who was a stickler for punctuality. As she started to protest,
he said, Dont worry. Ill make Denniss
When Paul entered the meeting room, everyone else was already there.
Dr. Sylvia Hardcastle, the Division chief, was seated at the head of
the table. At 40, she was an attractive woman with reddish
hair, green eyes and, Paul had always thought, the best legs of any
State manager. The heads of the Divisions other two
sections, Roger Sedgewick, who was ten years older than Paul, and Bobby
Edwards, a youngster in his thirties who could nearly pass for a teenager,
were seated with paper cups of coffee in front of them. Also there was the Departments Deputy Director, Dave Mitchell,
a political appointee whom Paul regarded as representing the worst of
the States system, a know-nothing concerned only with looking
good in the eyes of the Governor and legislators. Mitchell had his coffee but instead of being in a paper cup it was in
a big monogrammed cup.
Sorry, said Paul, taking a seat at the lower end of the
table. Dennis got stuck in San Francisco and couldnt
Nice of you to come, said Mitchell, glancing at his
Paul was tempted to reply with a common obscenity. Instead, he said, It wasnt by choice. And I
didnt even stop to get coffee.
Mitchell opened his mouth to say something, but Dr. Hardcastle
smoothly cut in. Now that were all here, why
dont we get started. Roger, you first.
Paul barely listened while Roger Sedgewick droned on about his sections
activities. He knew that Rogers wife had died a few
years ago and that his four children were spread about the country.
Roger had been with the State for God knew how many years and the last
two Division chiefs had strongly hinted it was time for him to retire.
Paul suspected that Roger was holding on because his job was the only
thing he had left and he was afraid that, without an office to go to,
hed have nothing to fill his hours. It was a thought
that had flitted across Pauls own mind every now and then.
What would happen when he woke up and had no place to go that day?
Hed told himself that hed take care of that when the
When Roger at last came to an end, Dr. Hardcastle told Bobby Edwards
that he was next. Bobby immediately launched into a speech
which made it sound as if his section had dozens of studies going which
would solve most of the States problems. He was clearly
trying to impress. Paul wondered how long it would take
for Bobby to figure out that nothing his section did would appreciably
Pauls experience as a State employee had been a hard grind.
Hed come to the State in his late thirties, after the research
firm hed worked for since college had suddenly closed its doors.
At that time, written exams were still given and with his knowledge
of statistics hed advanced to a midlevel research position fairly
quickly. Then written tests were replaced by so-called oral
exams and those who advanced were the astute office politicians.
Hed finally become a section head only to find that the politicians
who provided the funds for research studies already knew the results
they wanted. Hed gotten into trouble several times
because he tried to give honest answers, once or twice with Dave Mitchell,
whod wanted him fired. Luckily for Paul, it wasnt
easy to fire State employees. Instead, hed been removed
from his section head position and appointed as a research specialist,
where he did studies but had no part in administration.
Through it all, Paul had tried to conduct himself professionally.
At times he hated going to his office, but after the experience with
his research firm and the months of unemployment that had followed,
he knew the importance of security, especially since hed acquired
a wife and three children. The State had a good health insurance
program and a decent, if not spectacular, pension. Taking
advantage of his State security and of his skill with numbers, hed
begun making investments. The truth, thought Paul, was that
the reason he was able to retire now was that the stock market had in
the last few years finally turned up. Hed planned
to reach a certain amount, and when he did he immediately filed his
retirement papers. The irony of it was that he almost liked
his present job, being able to fix the information system for the Divisions
health care clients with little interference from the bureaucrats.
Paul? He came out of his reverie to realize
that Dr. Hardcastle was looking at him. It must be his turn
to give a rundown of his sections activities. He tried
to do so as briefly as possible, at the same time mentioning that the
section was being asked to do too much with too little staff.
I see, said Dr. Hardcastle. I understand
youre leaving us.
Yes, replied Paul.
He didnt know that shed even been told of his retirement.
Well miss your expertise. Im glad you
managed to patch up our data system before you left. Do
you have any last words of wisdom before you go?
Paul was tempted. Here was his chance, to tell them what
he thought of the State system, that it was rotten and corrupt, that
employees who spent all their time promoting themselves got ahead while
those who did the actual work were ignored, that managers pandered to
political appointees like Dave Mitchell, that everyone from department
heads on down were so obsequious to the politicians and their underlings
it was sickening. But hed been a professional all
this time and hed go out as one. Besides, what was
the point. Venting would change nothing. At
the end of the day hed be out of all this and that was what counted.
No, except that I hope we can remember that were here to
do our best for the people in our program and not for anything else.
Thank you. Now, as you can see, our Deputy Director
is with us this morning. Dave?
Dave Mitchell cleared his throat. Yes.
As you know, the State is in a budget crisis. The
Director wants everyone to trim, cut and squeeze. He singled
out this Division especially for excessive spending.
Travel and equipment expenses are high.Dr, Hardcastle broke in,
Weve always kept within our budget.
Barely, said Mitchell.
The idea is to come in below budget, the lower the better.
Its also come to our attention that your people have been taking
excessive break and lunch times. That also amounts to a
waste of money.
Paul knew that Dr. Hardcastles Division was known for giving its
employees relatively free reign; the thing that mattered to her was
getting the job done I think the results
weve produced speak for themselves, said Dr. Hardcastle.
Paul could see from her high color that she was angry.
Ill speak to the Director himself about these matters next
Now Mitchell colored, the implication being that he was a flunky and
that Dr. Hardcastle would talk directly to the person that mattered.
The Director specifically told me . . ., he began.
Dr. Hardcastle stood up and said, This meeting is adjourned.
Mitchell said, Ill decide when were . . .
Paul also stood up, his arm as he did so knocking against Mitchells
coffee cup, which spilled its contents over Mitchells suit.
Damnit, exclaimed Mitchell. You did that
on purpose. You may think because youre retiring
that you can get away with anything, but Ill get you.
Your retirement check isnt automatic, you know.
Again Paul was tempted to reply with a common obscenity.
Instead, he said, Didnt you hear Dr. Hardcastle.
The meeting is adjourned. With that, he took his folder
and left the room.
Back in his office, Paul cleared off his desk, packing one or two more
personal items. Well, he reflected, it had been an interesting
last meeting. He went over to his window and looked out.
Starting tomorrow hed be out there. He wasnt
sure what hed do but made the decision that tonight hed
take his wife out to dinner.. There was a soft knock on
his door and Dr. Hardcastle came in. Oh, good,
she said. Im glad I caught you.
I wanted to say good-bye. She held out her hand and
Paul took it. Thanks for all your good work.
Ill call you next week. I want to buy you lunch.
All right. Hows Dave Mitchell?
Still fuming, but dont worry about it. And dont
worry about your retirement. Ill handle him.
Paul was sure she would. He watched as she left his office. Great legs. He felt a twinge of regret at leaving her, not
because of her legs, he assured himself, but because shed been
a good boss. Then he thought of Dave Mitchell and
all the others like him. It was time to leave. He
hefted the box with his things, looked around at his office and then
closed the door for the last time.
© Martin Green June 2005
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