Doing Good Business

Entry by: Tauren

1st June 2017
Ted stifled a weary grunt as he heaved himself into the high stool by the bar, his leather briefcase making a dull “twapp” as it landed on the lacquered countertop. Once seated he hunched forward, rested his elbows on the bar, supporting his head with his right hand, pinching the bridge of his nose with the thumb and middle finger of his left, the index finger making calming circle in the centre of his forehead. He exhaled slowly, letting his shoulders sag as he did.

Bob who was seated in the next barstool to his left called to the bartender, “Mark?”

Mark, who was leaning against the counter, and in the way of bartenders everywhere was busily polishing a glass, looked up, giving him an enquiring glance.

Bob tilted his head in Ted’s direction, “The usual if you please, he looks like he needs it.”

Mark pushed himself upright with a nudge of his hip, dropped the cloth, slipped the glass under one of the taps, and pulled on the handle, a golden stream foamed down the side of the tilted glass.

Ted remained in his slouched position until the pint was thumped down in front of him. He looked up; “Thanks,” he said. Mark only shrugged in reply and ambled back to the far end of the bar, plucking a fresh glass from one of the shelves as he went, before taking his station once more, and began to methodically polish the new glass.

It was a nice bar, low lit, mostly populated by the company’s sales crew. It was almost permanently half full; sales was a 24hr operation, they came here to unwind after a stressful eight hours, or lube up in anticipation of the eight before them. There was a permanent soft background murmur of hushed conversation drifting from the booths, and someone had put AC/DC`s “Back in black” on the juke, which was playing through the bars eight speakers; loud enough to be heard, but quiet enough not to be intrusive.

Bob waited until Ted set the now half pint back down before asking, “Rough day?”

Ted only snorted in reply.

Bob was sympathetic, he`d been in sales since he`d joined the company, which was more years now than he cared to remember. He was a born salesman, but Ted, Ted had been in admin before this, he was a draftee, a case of all hands on deck, poor guy wasn’t used to it, but that was what happened when business got too good, you got guys who just weren’t used to the rush, it overwhelmed them.

He waited until Ted had taken another slug of his drink before trying again, “You okay?”

This time Ted gave a high pitched nervous laugh, then said, “Sorry, sorry, it`s been a long day,” he ran one hand over his bald scalp, then ran the back of the same hand across his mouth as if sensing he had a beer moustache, he didn’t.

Bob gave his shoulder a sympathetic pat, “Relax kid,” he said, “You`re doing alright, the first couple of years are always the hardest.” He called Ted “kid” not because he was so much older, there were only a couple of years between them, no, he called him kid because he was, in sales anyway, a mere child.

Ted gave another worrying shrill laugh, “Couple of years?” he said, “couple of years; how long do you think I`ve been in sales Bob?”

Bob frowned, “I dunno,” he said, “Two, three years?”

Ted drained his glass, lifted it, waggled it in Mark`s direction, “Another please,” he said, then turned back to Bob. “I`ve been here six years, six bloody years,” there was real venom in his tone, “You tell me when this gets any easier, I`m run off my feet.”
Before Bob could say anything he continued, “I`m hitting my weekly targets every day, every---fucking---day.” “Thanks,” he said as Mark placed a fresh pint in front of him. “It`s not getting any easier, it`s getting worse. I just did twelve hours, twelve---fucking---hours; barely had time for a piss; so you tell me, when does it get easier, eh?” and he drank half the pint in a single swallow.

“Shit,” Bob said, “You kids don’t know how easy you`ve got it. I was here in 38 when it all kicked off, what we got now is yer proverbial storm in a whatsit, teapot, no, teacup, yeah teacup; we don’t call them the golden years for nothing. Hell, back then we were working eighteen hours, seven days a week. Made so much in overtime I got me a condo in the upper levels, nice and cool up there. Anyway, what`re you complaining about, you`re getting your bonuses aren’t you?”

Ted admitted he was.

“So there you are then, you`re sorted; flash a little of that cash around, the honeys`ll be all over you.”

“Yeah but what if management, y`know figure it out?” Ted said.

Bob frowned, “Figure what out?”

“Y`know, how easy it is to make sales, like the product is selling itself? They`re almost lining up to sign on the dotted line,” Ted persisted.

Bob stared at him a long moment, then burst into laughter, “You think they don’t already know?” he said, “You, you think they just came down with the last shower with you, Hah, hah , hah.”

Ted looked suitably offended.

When he`d pulled himself together Bob said, “Awww kid, these things is cyclical, we go through these all the time. This`ll blow over, and in a few years when you`re struggling to make a sale, you`ll be wishing for days like these.”

Then, because he was in a mischievous mood, and in the way of veterans everywhere who liked to make fools of apprentices, he added, “Besides I heard the old man is dusting off project ELliE.”

Ted gaped at him, wide eyed, “ELliE,” he gasped, “really?”

Bob grinned, “Cross my heart,” he said, tracing an index finger in an X across his breast bone. “Heard it from Andrea; you know she`s still tight with Dot right?”

Ted nodded to show he did, his eyes widening by the moment.

“Well,” continued Bob, lowering his voice, looking around as if making sure they couldn’t be overheard, all the while struggling to suppress a smile. “Andrea says she had lunch with Dot last Tuesday, and Dot let it slip that the Managing Director is thinking of junking the whole thing, starting from scratch.” He took a sip from his own drink, watching Ted`s reaction out of the corner of his eye; Ted`s normally ruddy complexion had paled significantly.

Everyone knew that Andrea and Dot had maintained their friendship after the heave, after Luci and a few of the board had attempted a hostile takeover. When the dust had settled and it was clear that the old man had prevailed, heads had rolled. Luci was spared termination because he`d been with the company almost from the beginning, but he`d been reprimanded, dumped in the new division. Put in charge of what was loosely called the basement, that wasn’t its official title, but nobody referred to it by its real name. Officially it wasn’t even part of the company; the line was because of legal issues, conflict of interest and all that. But everyone knew it was a P.R. thing. The old man couldn’t be seen to be associated with it, didn’t want the punters to know he was playing both sides of the fence. So officially “The Basement” was a rogue operation, set up in competition to the company, a dumping ground for the ne`er do wells and rejects, those who couldn’t cut it in the rarefied atmosphere with the big-boys.

Dot had been with the company from the start, she was the old man`s PA, his right hand gal, none of the other directors would dare cross her, not even Michael; which gave her a degree of latitude, allowed her to breach the no fraternising rule. There were even rumours that she and Andrea were an item, but Bob doubted that. The old man might ignore the occasional meal, but even Dot would get burnt if he thought she was getting Jiggy with one of the bottom feeders.

“Andrea really said that?” Ted asked, “She really said the old man is going all ELliE on us, shit, shit shit,” he began to chew on a nail.
“I just put down a deposit on a condo in the uppers, shit, shit.”

Bob started to feel sorry for him, “Relax,” he said, patting Ted`s shoulder once more, “he does this all the time, has a temper tantrum, threatens to wipe the slate clean, start over, but he never does; it`ll never happen.” But he could see his words were having no effect, Ted had the wide eyed stare of someone who`d just seen his future, and it was Armageddon.

Bob sighed and drained his own drink, “Well,” he said, “I`ve got to be getting on, my shift starts in…” he glanced at the clock behind the bar, “Fifteen minutes.”

Ted nodded morosely, still lost in visions of his world crashing to an end; then he glanced at Bob. “Where you working these days?” he asked.

“Syria,” Bob said, pulling his own briefcase off the countertop.
The demon slipped off the barstool, “easy pickings,” he said with a grin, “Offer one of those ISIS assholes a sniff of a few virgins and they`ll sign their souls away in a heartbeat.”

P.S. I took some poetic licence with the term ELliE. The key, in case you haven’t worked it out is in the capitalisation, E.L.E. or Extinction Level Event. Didn’t want to make it too easy :)
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