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The International Writers Magazine:

Office Tyrant
• Martin Green
The staff of the State of California’s Birth and Death Statistics Section sat around the long table in their chief’s office.   Harvey Stone, the newest staff member, sat at the foot of the table.  At the head was Steven Blair, the Section Chief.   Blair was a man in his 40’s, tall, good-looking with thinning blonde hair and white teeth.  He was also, Harvey had concluded, an office tyrant and these weekly staff meetings were mostly held to demonstrate his power over his subordinates.

As he was doing now, when he asked Irving Fisher, a research analyst, about the report he was preparing for the department’s deputy director.   “I’m, uh, still working on it,” said Fisher,  50ish, overweight, already sweating.
“Didn’t I say I wanted that report  today,” asked Blair, his deep voice soft but menacing.
“Yes, I know, but . . .”     
“I don’t want any excuses,” interrupted Blair.  “I want that report and I don’t care if you have to stay until midnight to finish it.”
“Yes, sir,” said Hartman, wiping his forehead with a white handkerchief.   “I’ll get it done.”
“What about that report on teenage birth rates?’ he asked Rosemary Harris, another research analyst, 35, prim, spinsterish.
“It’s on your desk” said Rosemary. 
“Oh.   Well, the figures had better be right.   And how are you coming with that chart?” Blair asked  his statistical clerk, Myrna.Wells, young, plump, patches of acne on her face.
“I think I’ll have it done by tomorrow.” she said in a small voice.
“Don’t think, do it.”.
Harvey awaited his turn.    He was a recent college graduate and this was his first job with the State.   He was on the small side, pale, wore heavy glasses.    “How are you getting on?” Blair asked Harvey..
“Good.”   Evidently Paul hadn’t been there long enough for Blair to get on him about anything.   “Fisher has been taking care of the section budget, but he’s evidently been overworked since he can’t complete his assignments.   So I want you to take that over, immediately.”
Harvey had no idea what taking over the budget meant except that he knew it would be more work and that Blair enjoyed piling the work on his subordinates.   “All right,” he said.    The meeting was over.   Blair hadn’t said anything to his secretary, Leona Smith, an attractive redhead in her 30’s.   She was said to have a special relationship with him.
The next week Blair summoned Harvey to his office and told him  that he was going to a meeting in San Francisco on Friday.   “I’m taking Leona with me,” he said. . “There’s enough money in the travel allowance for that, right?”
Paul had just been putting the budget figures onto his computer and so had a pretty good idea of each item.   “Yes, there should be,” he said.    The section’s travel allowance was almost used up but it should cover a trip to San Francisco.   He’d noticed that Blair had already made a lot of trips that year, many with Leona along.   As far as he could see, no one else in the section had done any traveling.
“There’s something else.   The Department’s medical staff is having a conference in Hawaii next month.   I intend to go.   How do we stand on that?’
 A trip to Hawaii meant airfare and a hotel room plus a per diem for food and other expenses.   There was no way the travel allowance would cover that.   Paul told Blair  there wasn't enough left for Hawaii.   Blair’s face turned red.   “What do you mean?   Where did it go?”   Paul said he didn’t know and reminded Blair that he’d just taken over the budget.   
“It’s that dolt Fisher’s fault.   He’ll be sorry for that.   I want you to write a memo to the Department immediately asking for a supplemental appropriation.   Make it strong.   I intend to go to that conference.   And don’t forget, you’re still on probation.   Do you understand?”
 I understand, thought Harvey.   You like to make your subordinates squirm by threatening them.   “I’ll do my best,” he said, then turned and quickly left the office before Blair could say that his best had better be good enough.

Harvey was having lunch in the building cafeteria with Rosemary Harris.   Blair and Leona were away on the trip to San Francisco.   “The office is a lot more relaxed,” Harvey said. .
 “Yes.   The one good thing about Blair is that he’s out of town a lot,” said Rosemary
 “He’s used up almost all the travel money in the section’s budget  and now he wants to go the doctors’ meeting in Hawaii.”
“I suppose he’s told you to request a supplemental appropriation.”
“Yes.   He also implied that if we didn’t get it I may not pass my probation.”
“He’s really a bastard.    Did he say he was going to take Leona with him to Hawaii?”
“He didn’t mention that.   Why?”
“Leona’s an ambitious girl and I think she’s figured out that Blair’s not going to leave his wife and kids for her.   I’ve heard her on the phone and she’s trying to get a job somewhere else in the department.   She’s not going to be a secretary forever.”
“No, she’ll wind up being a Deputy Director.    I see that Fisher is working through lunch again."
“Blair gave him another impossible assignment and told him it had to be finished when he got back Monday.”
“Why doesn’t he tell Blair to go to hell?    He’s not on probation like me so Blair can’t fire him.”
“No, but he can demote him.   Fisher’s wife has health problems so he needs every dollar he makes.”
“Hmmm.   Blair has Fisher on the brink of a nervous breakdown and Myrna is scared to death of him.   Can’t we do anything about it?”
“Not much.   Marcus Cruz, the Division Director, doesn’t like him, but he doesn’t care enough to do anything.   I’ve been trying to get a transfer, but I know Blair’s been giving me bad references.”
“Well. I’m going to try to figure out something.”          
When Blair returned the next Monday he was in a foul temper.   He usually played the benevolent supervisor when in the outer office where other people might observe him, reserving his tirades for his own office, with the door tightly closed.   But now he attacked Myrna immediately, giving her back a report to be completely retyped.   Then he ordered Fisher into his office.
Rosemary caught Harvey’s eye and he went over to her desk.   “I think he and Lady Leona had it out in San Francisco,” she whispered.   “It looks as if she’s dumped him.”
In a few minutes, Fisher came out of Blair’s office, ashen-faced..   Both Rosemary and Harvey went over to him.   “What?” asked Rosemary.
  “He’s done it,” said Hartman.   “He’s going to demote me.”
  “You’re going to fight it, aren’t you?” said Harvey.
  “I can’t,” said Hartman.   “He has everything written down, all the assignments I haven’t done on time.”
  “But you couldn’t possibly have finished all the things he gave you to do.”
  “It doesn’t matter.   He’s too smooth.   Who’d ever listen to me?”
Before Harvey could reply, Blair opened his office door and barked, “Stone, in here, now.”
My turn, thought Harvey..   Blair didn’t ask him to sit down.   “What’s happened with my Hawaii trip?” he asked immediately..
“Well, the supplemental appropriation didn’t get approved.”
“What?”   Blair rose from his chair as though propelled by a spring.    “Those stupid front office assholes.   What kind of faggot memo did you send them?    I’ll write something and I want you to walk it over.   Do you understand that?”
“Yes,” said Harveyl
“I hope you also understand that if I don’t go to Hawaii you don’t pass your probation.”
That weekend Harvey thought over the situation.  It was clear that something had to be done.   He knew there was no point in attacking the problem head-on by going through the department bureaucracy..   As Fisher had said, who’d listen to him?    The trick was to use Blair’s own tendencies against him, kind of like ju-jitsu. The next Monday Harvey again was summoned to Blair’s office.  

Blair was red-faced with anger.  “I just got this reply to my memo,” he said.   “They turned me down again.   What do we do now?”
Harvey was ready with his answer.   “It’s okay, we don’t need the additional money.   There’s enough in the office supplies fund to cover Hawaii.”  
“Are you sure?” asked Blair.
“I’ve checked it out.   I also checked on reservations for airplane tickets and a hotel room.”  
 Blair slowly sat down again.   “All right,” he said grudgingly.  

Blair returned from Hawaii, like Nixon, tanned and well-rested.   Even learning that Lenore was moving on to another position in the Department didn’t seem to bother him.   At about ten in the morning, he came out of his office and told them he was going to the see the Division Chief, Marcus Cruz..   He left as if expecting the Chief to congratulate him on his new tan.    At 10:30, the call that Harvey had been expecting came.   He was to report to the Division Chief’s office at once.   He straightened his tie, put on his jacket and picked up the folder he had ready.   “Wish me luck,” he said to Rosemary.
Marcus Cruz’s secretary looked at Paul as if he was a peasant but  told him he could go in, he was expected..   Cruz was seated behind his desk, with Blair seated off to one side.   Blair’s self-satisfied look was gone.   Instead, he looked mad enough to chew nails, like an attack dog straining at the leash.    Harvey knew who would be the object of Blair’s attack.
“Now,” said Cruz, “Mr. Blair, as you know, has just returned from a meeting in Hawaii, a meeting he went off to while I was gone and to which I was surprised he was invited.   But that’s by the way.   Mr. Blair says you had informed him there was enough money in your section’s budget to cover his travel expenses.”
“Well, not exactly,” said Harvey.   “I told him our travel money was all used up but we did have some unexpended funds meant for office supplies.”
“And you said it was okay to use that money for my trip,” burst out Blair.   “He’s in charge of the budget and I took his word for it.”
Harvey could look very innocent when he wanted to.   Now he took out the budget pages from his folder, pushed his glasses back on his nose and peered at the figures.   “Yes, there it is, the office supplies item, 16b.   We did have unexpended monies there but I’d never presume to tell Mr. Blair he could use that for travel expenses.”
“What!   You little son-of-a-bitch, you told me you’d already made my plane and hotel reservations.”
“No, I’m afraid you have it wrong.   I had those on hold in case the supplemental appropriation was approved, but it never was.”
“Damnit!”   Blair turned to Cruz.   “Do you believe this little faggot?”
“There may have been a misunderstanding,” said Cruz smoothly, “but the responsibility of using that money, or I should say mis-using it, has to be yours.   Then there’s your former secretary’s threat to sue the Department for sexual harassment.    No, I’m afraid something will have to be done.”   Cruz folded his hands and studied them as if expecting them to tell him what course of action to take.   He looked up and said, “Oh, Stone, you can go now.   Thank you.”
When Harvey returned to the Birth and Death Statistics Section, they were all waiting for his news.   He told them it looked good. 

Since nobody in State service, except those on probation, could be fired, Blair was removed from his position and assigned to a staff job, where he no longer had any subordinates to bully..    Rosemary replaced him as chief of the Birth and Death Statistics Section.   Fisher was promoted to her position.   Myrna was promoted to Statistical Clerk II.    Harvey in due course passed his probation.   Leona did not, as he’d predicted, become a Deputy Director but did get to be secretary (and possibly mistress) to one.    After a few years, Harvey left the State to open his own research firm, vowing never to become an office tyrant.

Martin Green Jan 2008

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