by Patrick O’Connor
THE boardroom was silent apart from the slurpy sound of Barnaby devouring his breakfast.
“Do you want that sausage?” asked John.
“Yeah John I’m sure.”
“Do you want that egg?”
Penny interceded forcibly. “Boys behave!”
“Sorry boss,” said John meekly.
Penny moved her plate away and shuffled a pile of papers.
“Let’s get down to business shall we, this is a WORKING breakfast. Barnaby, did you put that ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door and disconnect the outside line?”
“Sure did Penny,” said Barnaby, wiping the remnants of a fried tomato off his lips.
“All mobiles turned off?” said Penny.
Both men nodded.
“Good, because we’ve got quite a busy agenda this morning and I don’t want to be disturbed. Now with Simon sunning himself in Tenerife, the H.R. update will have to come from Barnaby who’s going to take off his marketing hat for just a moment, aren’t you Barnaby.”
Barnaby, a podgy fellow in his early 40s, nodded dutifully.
He read from the note in front of him: “As part of our multi-pronged cost reduction and resource balancing programme – ah, these are Simon’s words – aimed at getting the company airborne and achieving forward mobility, a full briefing of employees is to be carried out by department heads on Friday afternoon.
“The workforce will be told that the company has to meet the 21st century on its own terms. The briefing will explain that this is an opportunity to move forward. However they will be informed that it is inevitable that the number of people employed in lower skilled activities will decline as functions get disintermediated by technology.”
Penny turned to John: “What’s the nuts and bolts on this from a finance P.O.V.”
John, a dapper 30 year old in an immaculately ironed white shirt, and neatly cropped black hair, straightened the knot in his tie, cleared his throat and replied: “200 redundancies equals 17.5 per cent savings.”
Penny smiled: “Excellent!”
At this moment the door to the boardroom opened and in walked a man in his 50s, about 6ft 2in tall, with lively blue eyes and greying slicked back hair.
The three executives looked stunned at his presence. He stood before them at the end of the oak boardroom table.
Penny, resplendent in her dark blue business suit and elegantly styled blonde hair, said: “Yes? Can I help you?”
The man replied: “No, I don’t think so.”
“So what are you doing here then?”
John interjected: “It’s Tom Coleman isn’t it, he’s one of the dispatch clerks.”
Barnaby blustered: “Look Tom or whatever your name is, if you don’t leave right now, I’m….I’m going to call security.”
Tom remained stationary but said: “Hey, steady on there, you’re starting to look a little flushed and with you carrying all that weight, and those oh so cute cheeks getting pinker by the minute, that’s probably not advisable.”
“How dare you, you…” said Barnaby, looking distinctly aggrieved.
Penny, who was typical of many powerful women in that she was not traditionally attractive, but had a dangerous, almost sexy edge to her, attempted to take the initiative. “Tom, let me introduce myself, shall I.”
“No need,” said Tom.
“Oh I think there is. I’m the chief executive of this company and I’m in the process of holding a very important meeting with my finance director John and marketing director Barnaby. If you have any issues you wish to air then I’m sure we can arrange a suitable time when these can be discussed in a reasonable and mature manner. Is that okay?”
“No,” said Tom.
Barnaby rose quickly and strode towards the door but found it locked.
“I’ll ring security on my mobile.” He took his phone out of his pocket – “Damn, it’s not working.”
Penny and John tried their phones but were also unsuccessful.
“Okay, so you’ve got our attention. What do you want?” asked Penny.
“I want to talk about redundancies,” replied Tom.
“What redundancies,” said Barnaby, a response which produced a gentle finger wagging from Tom.
Penny asked Barnaby if Tom was on the redundancy list.
Barnaby perused the H.R. document and replied:”Yeah, he’s on the list.”
There was an intake of breath from John: “Oh dear.”
“SO where do we go from here?” asked Penny.
“I think we need a brainstorming session, no, no, that word’s out of fashion now isn’t it, no we need to have a thought shower session,” said Tom.
“Yes, I like that, yes, let’s all have a thought shower about the current situation. I hope I’m cascading that message through to all of you,” said Tom, sarcasm dripping through every syllable.
Penny, John and Barnaby sat uncomfortably in their padded executive chairs and Tom moved slowly around the plush carpeted room as he outlined his grievances.
“In these times of economic difficulties, all three of you have shown no inclination to reduce your own creature comforts. Let’s list the goodies you’ve been enjoying shall we: company cars, pensions, share options, those holiday homes in Tenerife for the select few, grandiose offices, not to mention bits of furniture which somehow end up being misdirected to your own homes, clothing allowances (that’s your speciality isn’t it Penny), sports club membership (Barnaby a squash club membership means you actually play the sport, not just drink at the bar and ogle the short skirts) and I haven’t even started on all the freebies, discounts, trade-offs. And the most disgraceful thing is that you haven’t even been that efficient in covering it all up. It’s so blatant, so shameful especially as you are now planning to put all these people on the scrapheap. You don’t even have a reasonable excuse do you, now that you’ve been caught out.”
Barnaby and John looked sheepishly at Penny but she stared defiantly back at her accuser.
“But…” said John.
“And then of course there’s the question of Penny’s bonus.”
“Sorry?” said Penny.
“Your bonus, the one you’re going to get for pushing through these redundancies. The one you’re going to get for keeping all the shareholders happy.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
“Yeah, what bonus?” said Barnaby.
“I didn’t know about a bonus,” added John.
“Tut, tut, boss lady, I’ve had access you know, I know about your bonus.”
Penny stood up angrily. “Access? Access to what? That’s private and confidential material.”
Tom pulled up a chair and sat down, still facing the three of them.
“Please sit down Penny. Let’s move on shall we. John, what do you know about me?”
“Hmm, your name’s Tom, hmm….. Tom….”
“Yes, that’s right, Tom Coleman. What else?”
“Hmm, well, you work in dispatch.”
Tom placed his elbows on his knees and moved closer to John.
“We’ve already established that but what you do know about me as an individual, a human being, a person.”
John looked puzzled.
“As I thought, not a lot. Would you like me to tell you a bit about myself.”
Before John could answer, an exasperated Barnaby said: “Just say yeah so we can get this over with.”
Tom got up from the chair and again walked around the room as the others watched him.
“I’m 56 years old, I joined the company when I was 24, so I haven’t climbed very far up the greasy pole but that’s never bothered me too much. I’m divorced, I have a daughter who is 19 and a 24 year old son. I like football, snooker, walking in the Yorkshire Dales, my star sign is Virgo, my hobbies include model railways, brewing elderberry wine and reading autobiographies, mainly political ones. I have a pet parrot called Toby, oh . . . . and I’m a witch.”
“Did he say witch?” said John.
“I do believe he did,” answered Penny.
There was stunned silence in the room. Tom came to a halt and then added: “And I’m afraid there’s no other way of putting this but you’ve really pissed us off.”
“Us?” stuttered John.
“So, what, you’re saying there’s more than one witch in the company,” asked Penny.
“Well, the good news is that out of a workforce of 750, you only have 90 witches. The bad news, and this really is bad news, you’ve made 89 of them redundant.”
“We missed one!” laughed Barnaby nervously.
“Yes, Kevin in I.T., must have been a computer error.”
“These witches, they know they’re being made redundant?” asked Penny.
“This is absolutely stark raving madness, I don’t believe in witches, I never have done and I’m not going to start now. This is just one big joke,” said Barnaby.
John straightened his tie again. “Barnaby’s right isn’t he Penny. We don’t have witches do we, he can’t be serious.”
Before Penny could answer, Tom said: “Oh yes, they know. So in answer to your rather astute question Penny, yes they’re upset but I’d probably use a much stronger word than that.”
“So they’re out for revenge?”
“By unanimous vote, the covens…”
“Covens? said John.
“Yes, there are seven covens in the company, by unanimous vote they decided that appropriate action be taken against all of you as soon as possible.”
Barnaby and John uttered protests but were quickly shouted down by Penny.
“Quiet! Let me think. What you mean by appropriate action?”
“Appropriate to your greed dear lady. We’ve looked at folklore and fiction and believe we have found the perfect response.”
Tom stood on a chair and, raising his hands above his head, shouted: “By the power invested in me by the special potion, by the power invested in my by the earth and the moon, I call upon the forces of nature to appear and do our biddings.”
Suddenly the room was engulfed with the noise of wind and rain beating against the windows even though it was sunny and the middle of summer outdoors.
This was followed by the distant sound of chanting which appeared to be getting nearer and louder every second.
“Take these three individuals and do with them as we have instructed,” said Tom.
“Galamanstus! Galamanstus! Galamanstus!”
The room was filled with flashing light and John complained that his ears were buzzing, Barnaby felt as if his nose was twitching and Penny said: “My eyesight’s getting fuzzy.”
All three had some vague awareness of the door opening and they felt as if they were enveloped in a foggy mist.
“Oh what’s that, that looks interesting. Why it’s….” said John.
“Come back John. John…what’s happening,” said Barnaby.
Penny gasped: “John are you okay? I can’t see you. John, where are you?”
There was a scuttling sound, followed by what sounded like a mousetrap snapping shut and a squeaking yelp.
“John are you there? Barnaby? Barnaby?” pleaded Penny.
A deep rumble emerged from Barnaby: “YUM-MY! IN MY TUM-MY!”
Another snapping sound and more squealing.
Penny was aware of a strange sensation running through her body. “John, Barnaby, where are you? Tom, please stop this, we’ll do anything you want, we’ll give you your jobs back, all of you, I promise. Oh I say, can anybody smell cheese?”
© Patrick O’Connor 2011