Journeying to work that day, I knew there was to be plenty bad noise. Despite this feeling of ensuing doom, it was an oddly upbeat kind of day. The morning sun was subdued as it accompanied the first warm day of the year and seemed to fill the office with naturally warming UV light. News of our remarkable failure flurried around the office as eyes stalked my path from the lobby to my desk.
As my Outlook churned into gear, it presented several new emails to look at; I was only waiting for one. The ominous calendar entry from our eminent Sales Director was present as expected, decorated with the high-importance flag. I spent the morning glancing through my tickets, though I really had no intention of doing any of them.
Angie appeared around her usual 10am. Her pace was rushed and the lack of her signatory Starbucks cup distinguished Angie’s obvious apprehension. “Care to explain what happened yesterday?” Her condescending vocal tone was different this time. Before, harsh and snappy like a loathsome strict teacher, a faint quiver existed somewhere in the background.
“I don’t know!” I responded. For once I seemed to be in the power position. “I don't feel I was involved in this project!”
She pressed for further information, her voice taking on her signatory snarl and gripe.
HR Tank, accompanied by an anonymous administrative orderly, unexpectedly appeared to relieve me of this interrogation. She demanded the immediate presence of the entire ITS department in the nearest meeting room. Again, our walking pace to the meeting room seemed exaggeratedly slow, a homage to HR Tank’s slow purposeful walk. I stood in the corner of the room only finally noticing the distinct lack of BHIT.
HR Tank began to speak through her reddened face, fatigued from her trip. Her drained voice read her palpably pre-prepared and rubber-stamped statement from a sheet which seemed to also serve as a barrier of defence. “It has been decided,” she began “that due to incongruences that have arisen in the department of late that BHIT is no longer able to fulfil his duty as Head of IT; He will therefore not be returning to the business!” Her statement droned on with all the officialdom you would expect from such a legally exacting statement. Her statement ended with “I am authorized to answer any questions at this point.”
The ITS team shuffled out, dazed and wounded. For his spinelessness, BHIT had evidently had all our backs somewhere along the line. We took our seats, like a pack of wounded animals returning from some failed hunt. Angie remained with HR Tank discussing an imminent Starbucks trip as Roland stood guard in her absence. We all sat still and silent, in one way to mark the demise of BHIT and, in the other, we felt that the slightest motion would be recorded and later used against us as evidence. The fact that BHIT had evidently taken the fall for the whole thing just seemed unreal.
Angie’s consistent belittling and hateful nature just seemed to be the only outlook, we were shell shocked that she had apparently won!
The post-rollout meeting time came up. As Angie, Roland and I made our way to the top floor in the elevator, the air grew thick with scorn. The silence bellowed like a thousand years of social indifference, as if the slightest word could ignite the situation like a megaton bomb. It seemed like ages until the lift doors finally opened. Angie and Roland obnoxiously barged out of the lift, though I had yielded to them anyway.
This was my first time in front of an official board. The room layout had changed. The Sales and Marketing managers sat in a row along the centre line of the arranged desk, flanked by the conspicuous presence of HR Tank and another woman who it seemed was there to take notes. Cantering the congregation was a man whose obverse mannerism exuded the confidence and exterior meant he was someone of importance.
Angie, Roland and I took up position in front of this jury of VIPs. Our plastic chairs clanged and noisily bent into form to exemplify their cheapness, an extreme contrast to the leather-bound pews claimed by the panel. The central character, who it soon became apparent was the division manager, opened with a speech akin to that of some great dictator. His appraisal of the utter failure intensified as his voice raised in volume, yet remained controlled and collected. It was like he needed to say everything he needed to say like some pre-interrogation tactic.
The panel would interview us one at a time. I remained sat outside the office with Roland as Angie pleaded her case as ITS manager. Memories of sitting outside the school principal’s office at school seemed came flooding back. Though I had never really been a bad kid, I found myself winding up outside the head’s office a few times - a Catholic warden clad in black whose manifestation was intended solely to scare straight. Roland sat with a smirk, apparently unconcerned with these on-going. His motionless gaze made me think that this guy had far more experience explaining himself to school principals than me.
Roland was up next. Angie sat in the seat Roland vacated. Her arrogant indifference mirrored Roland’s posture with eerie exactness. I began to grow worried; Angie was always one step ahead of any game currently in progress. Thoughts of explaining my job loss to my other half, thoughts of having to job-hunt made me nervous.
After an hour of waiting patiently, my time was finally up. I sat central to the panel trying to remember every interview technique that had ever been drilled into me by any chance I’d previously had to take such advice on board. I made sure to look at the person who was addressing me, back straight, shoulders back. Here we go!
The panel had their tactics down. It seemed no one person would ask more than one question at a time. The questions came slow, strategically calm and collected. The lady on the end of the panel appeared to note everything I said as the panel would wait for her silent OK to continue. At this moment, I was ready to hang Angie and her bastard youth out to dry! I just waited for my chance.
After the initial questions, largely surrounding who planned what, the director placed his pen in front of him. He placed his elbows on the table as he leaned his hardened chin on his first and second fingers, mirrored and extended to provide support.
As he leaned in, he said, “Tell us, in your own words, you account of what happened.”
I relayed my entire saga, from Angie’s commandeering of the project plan, Roland’s inauguration to being responsible for the images, our flawed and hapless manner of couriering laptops instead delivering at the conference – all of it. I finished, almost spitting out my words, exercising this demon called Angie. One of the sales managers enquired, “Why didn’t you check anything before you built them?”
I defended “There was no time to do that. They had been built and QA’d by Roland who apparently knew what he was doing. We had 200 machines to build and no means to verify anything!”
I couldn’t tell if I had impressed with my answer or not. The thick silence felt like a poorly performing job interview. “Why did you believe Roland fully equipped to manage this implementation?”
The weightiness of their questioning became stronger. “I didn’t!” responding inadvertently with a tone similar to Angie’s impertinent and self-aggrandizing sneer. “I followed the direction of my management. I was told to leave him alone, I did!”
The MD passed me a copy of my rollout plan. “Was this the rollout plan you followed?” I picked it up, glancing through the already familiar pages I had spent several days perfecting, re-enumerating before my final presentation.
I looked up and said, “No! Angie altered the specification several times. The final version was signed off, I believe, by everyone here!”
I felt like I had delivered a blow to everyone in the room who could even slightly have been rooting for me, as if I’d had twisted the knife in the very same way Angie had done to claw her way to the top!
After 30 minutes of grilling, I left the room. Angie and Roland had long vacated leaving the empty seats, their emptiness like some satirical congratulatory prize. HR Tank had concluded the meeting, thanking me for my time, ordering me back to my duties.
ITS was silent for the remainer of the day, juxtaposed against the now brilliant developing sun, obviously out of place in Britain’s Spring but seemed to invite action and good times contrasting against our office-prisoner mood. Angie and Roland were stealthy silent against the humanistic blur and shuffle of the ITS inhabitants as they adjusted their postures to comfort. The only reprieve came from Angie’s regular group ushering her to their second of their Starbucks trips, this time joined by Roland. The escape of my 4pm leaving time couldn’t have come quickly enough; I made for home, wondering if I would ever set foot in ITS again.
The crystal clear night sky gave birth to another sunny day. The grime and dirt that encrusted my car seemed to beg for a good washing and detailing session. It was relieving to have at least one thing on my list to occupy my time on the end of a dole queue. As I approached the car park gates of the pharmaceutical giant, I wondered if security would deny access to their fortress. I envisaged ramming the gate in some movie-like attempt to exact my revenge to dance on Angie’s decrepit corpse. 15 months of this woman was too much for anyone to deal with.
As I uneventfully descended the giant lobby stairs towards ITS, I expected to be bundled to the floor at any moment by all manner of burly security guards to the approving look of Angie. I was convinced this woman was far too street-smart to be outdone by anything! Almost disappointedly, ITS remained unmolested in its usual ground-floor spot. My Windows login worked, as I began to prepare for the day’s work.
I arrived back from lunch with several members of third line and our previously borrowed helpdesk guy, still licking his wounds from the onslaught of sales reps.
QBG met us on our way down. She smiled wryly, excitedly yet softly declaring, "Angie’s packing her desk! She’s history!”
I didn’t believe her. I had to see this with my own eyes!
I sat down, maintaining as detached an outlook as I could, pretending not to notice as Angie wrapped her scaly neck in the familiar black and grey shawl. Roland’s desk, surprisingly, also lay vacated. Angie disregarded the looks from ITS as she picked up her leather clutch bag and made for the exit.
“Is she gone? Was she fired?” A fervour of questions engulfed our modest team. As we excitedly theorized and conjectured, we eventually realized that there were only questions - no answers. This tumultuous turn of events did nothing to allay my own fears. I tied myself to my desk, waiting for someone – anyone – to order me into a closed doors meeting.
But, nobody came that day… nor the next…