A month had passed since MAFG's passing. Morale was at a low point and apart from Angie's bipolar temper, things seemed to slog along as they were, each day proving to be more and more difficult to get through. The IT Cupboard slowly relinquished its isolation as Angie seemed to track our movements with animal-like instinct, imposing ridiculous policy after policy. The battery indicator on MAFG's mouse had at some point faded to nothingness having spent its remaining energies fruitlessly lamenting its master’s disappearance.
MAFG sacrifice was guarded in its reasoning. Many theorized the lost machines from the meeting room had made it to his car; some theorized he’d wronged some director in a drunken moment of sincerity; there was even a rumour he had put Angie in her place in some magnificent fit of comeuppance, bathed in the flabbergasted stares of twenty faceless onlookers. The reality was far more boring and told to me over a weekend pint of fine ale.
MAFG’s wife had previously worked with the company in their research division. She had left under explosive circumstances for a competing pharmaceutical company. Management felt that MAFG’s continued employment was incongruous and had compelled him to take a PILON agreement to end his tenure. It seemed odd that MAFG’s wife had left the company over six months ago; we felt that this discrepancy stank of Angie’s involvement.
For a while though, a specific date had shone brightly in my Outlook calendar. It had acted as a target, representing a reprieve from the mundane trivialities support had to offer. I had prepared for it arrival with jubilation. It finally arrived and my audience with several heads of sales/marketing, BHIT and the software vendor was mine to shine in. The purpose was to set into motion the plans for their large-scale laptop rollout.
Armed with my carefully crafted number-work dutifully outlined on several handouts, I set off for the meeting, three floors up in the swankier part of the building. In my mind, I was Alexander the Great, sword raised in hand, off to conquer in what seemed to be an inevitable foregone conclusion. OK, I don’t know much about history, but all I knew was my sword was huge and I was about to go kick some ass!
My arrival at the meeting was met with the usual pleasantries and shaking of hands. The meeting room was perfectly air conditioned with several pieces of foliage standing elegantly in large ceramic plant pots. The large window welcomed the sun in vast quantities into the fragrant room. Underneath the heated rays of light was the ominous shape of Angie, sat at the far end of the room, away from all human contact. The sunlight seemed to darken and blur Angie's outline, like some satanic aura, but her bent, bitter frame was just too familiar and imposing to ignore.
The meeting began with the usual round of round-table identification. Angie’s snarled introduction was only suffixed by the words "I am in charge of Support!" Her declaration made an instant impression on everyone as they hastily moved on.
The software vendor rep was a techy through and through. He stood for his presentation, draped in what was obviously a brand new suit purchased for the occasion. It seemed to contrive him as he awkwardly passed around his company endorsed paraphernalia; pens, cards, product sheets… there were logos on everything as if he was clearly instructed to embark on this endeavour but try to hide his obvious geekiness.
My segment came. I eagerly handed out my carefully crafted mission statement, adorned with pie charts, Gantt charts and technical jargon made just basic enough to empower even the most IT-illiterate of sales managers. I explained my intentions with a well-rehearsed speech which lasted several minutes: 212 new laptops and 57 to remain in the field. Across three hardware types; several primary targets were to be used for pilot testing; each user would receive an extra 100MB on Home drives and be responsible for their own backups; each rep's laptop would be first imaged for any later data retrieval and each rep would be re-furnished by the end of the day.
Angie's eyes remained focused on me throughout the session. I felt odd as she hadn't interjected once. Our vendor's rep nodded in anticipation as rep after rep smiled in anticipation. They liked what they heard: new toys for everyone and all they had to do was give the all OK!
My moment of triumph at an end, Angie finally spoke up. "What sort of manpower do we need for this?" Her voice was rather different; she spoke as if I were part of her Menopause club, all harshness had dissipated into a normalized vocal tone.
I retorted, putting aside my stunned silence, that I expected to prepare the images myself and builds would be used to train up some more junior members of staff in the absence of MAFG. She nodded in approval as she made notes. Her lack of typical Angie-style anger perturbed me. Nevertheless, the meeting ended in what appeared to be a climactic sense of collaboration as the Balding Head of IT smiled proudly, sharing all manner of manager-speak with his congregation
As the vendor techie and I exchanged pleasantries, Angie left anonymous in their wake without saying another word. I knew this move by now! Her silent departure was signatory of her underhandedness; she was up to something. It distracted me momentarily as I asked the vendor guy to repeat what he had just said… what was this devious cow up to?
I was not left in suspense for long. That afternoon, ITS were summoned to a meeting room where Angie wanted to discuss the rollout. I knew Angie was cooking something and I knew it was a clear move to usurp my finely laid plans. My only consolation was that I had the backing of BHIT and several higher-ups, what could she possibly do?
Our entrance into Angie’s meeting was made strange by the unexpected presence of a spotty urchin who had previously been chained to Helpdesk. His sharp eyes and pointed, thin facial features seemed disturbingly familiar, his unbranded shirt and pale jeans seemed to be a desperate attempt to look normal. Angie began the meeting by introducing the urchin, returning to her familiar intense vocal tone. “This is Roland. He is joining 2nd line today” she hissed as her eyes danced around the room as if to highlight her claim.
The meeting continued with Angie’s voice droning my exact words, complete with inaccuracies one could only attribute to someone whose obvious depth had long-since been surpassed. I think at some point, the only thing keeping us awake was Angie’s voice, shrill and bent in character. She had finally finished when I decided to speak. I knew my interjection would further madden the beast, mainly as it would actually be of technical relevance and accuracy which Angie could never possibly dream of. But I had to stake my role in this project.
“We’ll have the majority of the machines built prior to the event, so most will only need booting up and profiles loading. There will also be a ghost server, file server and we’ll have a connection back to the office. All out-of-field laptops will be backed up later back at the office, any laptops that are staying out will have to be backed up and loaded at the event in one hit. We’ll also keep ten spare new laptops just in case anything happens.”
The ITS crew hung on every word, as if I were mandating a life or death situation. Angie fired corrections in as much as she could, though mired in technical incompetence. “You will have to back up EVERYTHING you get!” her accusatory vocal sneer hinted that we may do anything different.
We had a mission, we had our tasks, I had a rollout to deliver.
It was getting towards the end of the day. Roland had picked his spot next to me, taking MAFG’s spot. He was not talkative, he barely acknowledged anybody’s presence. A few banter-like quips intended to embroil him into our team didn’t get so much as a raised eyebrow. His body language was eerie in its familiarity.
Brandishing my purchase order, signed by BHIT and bearing Sales & Marketing’s stamp approving the project with every endorsement that one could ever hope to see on such a document, I headed to the elevators to scale the heights to the Procurement department. I was joined in the elevator by QBG who seemed eager to have a word. It seemed QBG had some sort of big secret she would have burst if she hadn’t let out.
“Roland! You know who he is, don’t you?” QBG spoke softly, as if the lift were rigged with some manner of bugging equipment. “That’s Angie’s son!”
Her words were difficult to believe… but Roland’s mannerisms, posture, familiar sharpness… it all rang out clear as a bell. The thought of this woman propagating seemed unnatural! It conjured images of some monstrous carnal act between a musty stick-insect and some hapless male donor entangled in her web, held prisoner for his seed.
But, it all seemed too obvious now. Like a slow head-on car accident, everything started to make sense. There had to be someone who had shown Angie how to access TouchPaper; she was clearly still struggling with it a month on! Someone had to show Angie how to use the printers! Someone had to have fed back to Angie anything and everything we’d complained about her! Someone had to have kept Angie informed of our whereabouts – how else could she track us with such animal-like accuracy?
There he was - in the background the whole time, as enigmatic and as slimey as the bitch that spawned him. That same spotty 1st liner who Angie demanded I cleared down the IT Cupboard with so long ago, the insignificant shadow which seemed to appear every so often, as if every photographic memory which flashed into view had his image super-imposed somewhere on it… standing by a printer, walking through the ITS area, sitting nearby in the canteen… her spy, invisible to the naked eye!
As incredible as it seemed, there it was… our rat… Exposed far too late to be in any way wary, he was now closer than we could have ever imagined. We had allowed him to creep up on us like a ninja - Angie’s inside man!