So after that rather undramatic ‘off with the fairies’ moment, it’s time to come back to earth. Holiday or not, there’s always something that can go wrong.
Even when you’ve been told to take some vacation days, and reluctantly stayed home. The notion that vacation meant going away somewhere doesn’t enter Bill’s mind.
Perhaps he’s like a lot of workaholics, using their job as an excuse to forget about life outside work.
Maybe he was hoping something would go wrong. Maybe he had considered manufacturing a problem so that he would have to go back.
Maybe not, but that was the sort of employee he was, not one that could willingly take a day away, just in case.
I’d almost managed to doze off again when the phone rang.
I jumped to its equally shrill sound cutting through the silence. It had to be a wrong number because no one at work would call me, and I didn’t have many friends, so I let it ring out. As far as I could remember, it was only the third time it had rung since I’d moved in, four years ago.
Blissful silence. I looked at the bedside clock. 7 am. Who called anyone at that hour?
It rang again.
Ignore it, I thought. If it was anyone, it would be someone from the office. I’d told them all not to call me, not unless the building was burning down and they were all trapped in it.
And even then, I’d have to think about it.
Burying my head under the pillow didn’t shut out the insistent ringing, compelling me to answer. Almost reluctantly I rolled back, pulled the telephone out from under the bed, and lifted the receiver to my ear.
It was Carl Benton, my immediate superior; an insipid, loathsome, irritating little man, the last person I would want to speak to. He’d insisted I take this leave, that the office could survive without me, adding in his most condescending manner that I needed the break.
I slammed the receiver down in anger. It was a forlorn gesture. Seconds later, it rang again.
“I seem to remember you were the one to tell me to go on holiday, that I needed a holiday. I’m off the roster. It can’t be that important. Call someone else.” I wasn’t going to give him the opportunity to speak. Not this morning. I was not in the mood to listen to that squeaky, falsetto voice of his, one that always turned into a whine when he didn’t get his way.
And hung up again.
Not that it would do any good. I knew that even if I was in Tibet, he would still call. Then I realized it was too early for him to be in the office, and if he was, he would have been dragged out of bed and put in a position where if he didn’t produce results, they might realize just how incompetent he was.
At last, my holiday had some meaning and smiled to myself. I’d make the bastard sweat.
He left it a few minutes before he rang again. And I let it ring out. I could see the expression on his face, bewilderment, changing slowly into suffused anger. How dare I ignore him!
Another five minutes, then the phone began its shrill insistence again. Before it rang again, I’d moved it from the floor to the bed. I counted the rings, to ten, and then picked up the receiver.
“Bill? Don’t hang up.” Almost pleading.
“Why? You said I should go, away from work, away from the phones, away to recharge my batteries, I believe you said.”
“That was Friday. This is Monday. You’re needed. Richardson has been found shot dead by his desk. All hell has broken loose!” Benton rarely used adjectives, so I assumed when he said all hell had broken loose, it meant something had happened he couldn’t fix. His flowery language and telegram style had momentarily distracted my attention from Richardson’s fate.
Harold Richardson was an accountant, rather stuffy, but good at his job. I’d spoken to him probably twice in as many years, and he didn’t strike me as the sort who would kill himself. So why did I think that? Benton had only said he was shot.
Benton’s voice went up an octave, a sure sign he was going into meltdown. “It’s a circus down here. Jennifer is missing, Giles is not in yet, the network is down, and that bunch of nincompoops you call support staff are running around the office like headless chooks.”
It all came out in a nonstop sentence, followed by a gasp for air. It gave me time to sift the facts. Jennifer, my sometime assistant, and responsible for data entry and accounts maintenance, was not there, which in itself was unusual, because she kept longer hours than me, Peter Giles, my youthful assistant, just out of university and still being beaten into shape was not in, and that was usual, so it could only mean one thing.
The network was down.
© Charles Heath 2016-2020