The A to Z Challenge – N is for “No fool like an old fool”

Probably the sagest piece of advice I had ever been given, just before I headed out onto that highway called the rest of your life, was from an aunt who died not long after she delivered it. She was old and cranky, which I thought had been because my mother was such a pain in the neck to her, but it was more because she was simply old and tired.

Always look to the intentions of people who ask you to do things for them. People can be lying, cheating, deceitful creatures who dress up their motives in sugar-coating, so you don’t realize what their true motives are.

It hadn’t happened to me yet, and yes, we had been taught to take people at face value, but I suspect she had seen a bit more of life from all angles than both my parents. But at the time, when she delivered it, along with a lot more advice on what I should do with my life, I didn’t take much notice.

What grandchild did?

We are taught to take people at face value, that we should respect them until they prove otherwise. It worked most of the time because we all have that sixth sense that tells us if something is too good to be true, it generally is.

It can equally apply to goods as it does to people, though with people there are some who know how to confuse even the most trusting of souls. They just take a little longer before they reveal themselves.

Me, I had a few bad experiences that led to a degree of cynicism. Relationships that had failed, and jobs that didn’t end up quite as described. That’s why when I found my current role, and the fact I’d been asked for personally, made it all that more satisfying.

Of course, there was an element of flattery involved, but after so much disappointment, maybe I lowered the blinkers just slightly. But all things withstanding, it had turned out to be rewarding as well.

A few awards, some paid vacation days for meeting milestones, I thought I was going well.

Then, as the latest reward I’d been sent do a conference on the other side of the country, the equivalent to and all expenses paid junket, the sort only senior management went on.

It was an eye-opening experience, with team building exercises that supposedly only senior management went on. There were people from all over the country, from a variety of companies.

On the first day we were put into teams of four, two women and two men. The idea was that we were all equally responsible for each other, removing the gender stereotyping.

For me, it was what I understood out company was undertaking. For the other male member, he was not so gender neutral, though he spoke the words, his actions were quite different away from the women. It was wrong, but I ignored it because it was only for a few days.

On day two, at the end of the day’s exercises, I ran into him at the bar downstairs. He was more sociable than I, and was the sort who was the life of the party, only u think others had realised his shortcomings, possibly from the night before, and was nursing a drink at the bar on his own.

I was going to go somewhere else, but he saw me before I could escape, so I crossed the room and sat on the next bar stool. There was a familiar scent in the air, and it might have belonged to one of the two women. He had said earlier that he fancied the blonde, and it was clear what his motives were.

It was probably why he was alone.

“What have you got on for tonight?”

I’d barely got on the seat and caught my breath. A replacement drink arrived in front of him, a large cocktail that looked lethal.

I asked the bar tender for a club side with lots of ice.

“You’re not going to have much fun with that,” he said after the bar tender left.

“Not much of a drinker, I’m afraid.”

“Bit hard to let your hair down then?”

Like all drunks, he believed a good time could not be had unless soaked in alcohol. I’d had arguments with friends no more on exactly that subject.

“Perhaps not, but that’s not why I’m here.”

“Didn’t your boss tell you it was just a junket. There’s no working just playing. Do the stuff they throw at you for a few hours so you can get the attendance certificate that no one fails, then move on.

And I thought I was cynical.

“Where did you say you worked again?”

I told him.

“Do you know a chap called Jerry Blowfell?”

“My boss as it happens.”

“Is it now? I used to work for him at a different place, on the east coast.”

“What was he like then?’

“A mongrel. Used everyone to raise his profile in the company, taking promotions that others should have got by stealing the credit for their work.”

“Doesn’t sound like the same man.”

Short chap, likes turtleneck sweaters, black hair with a white streak.”

That was Blowfell. But it didn’t sound like him.

“He does have a white streak.”

“Got it when he was struck by lightning, or so he said. It was really caused by using the wrong sort of hair shampoo.”

It was clear from his manner that he didn’t like him.

“Tell you what, call him back at the office, mention my name and see what result you get.”

It sounded like it might be like a red rag to a bull situation. I said I’d think about it, had another drink, then left.

His words had made an impression. I had thought at first there was no way he was right, that it was just the words of a spiteful drunk.

Then I stewed over it for no real reason because there was no suggestion of impropriety.

But I would call him and see what he had to say about Jerry. It was going to no doubt confirm Jerry’s sour grapes after being fired, because very few people left of their own accord in the current economic climate.

So, when the time differences allowed, I called the office and asked to be put through. It ended with an unfamiliar girl’s voice.

“Do you know where he is,” I asked, after she told me he was not in the office.”

“Paris taking a well-deserved reward for his hard work on the Johnson contract. The board were delighted with the result.”

“Oh,” I muttered, then hung up.

He had done nothing towards the Johnson contract, other than to hand the file to me. Our last conversation, the day before I left for this conference was to confirm the details of the settlement.

And yet he was the one in Paris. My first thought, that should be me.

My second thought, Jerry was right.

But the question was, how did he manage it?

It wasn’t hard to work out. Taking people with low expectations, he had dazzled me with this conference, firstly to get me out of the office, then secondly to go away, perhaps over the exact same period, and in normal circumstances I might never discover what happened.

Such was his skill at compartmentalising, none of us in his tear ever knew what the others were doing spread out as we were around the country. The fact was, I only discovered what had happened from someone outside the country.

I took breakfast on my room, livid. But as angry as I might be, I didn’t want Jerry to know he was right.

Instead, I came up with endless scenarios of tackling him about it, but knew, if he’d been doing for this long, he would have the bases covered, and my complaints would fall on deaf ears.

If he was going to get caught out, I would have to come up with an elaborate scheme to trap him.

Fast forward three months

I got over my anger, went back to work, and pretended like nothing had happened. My boss had got back from Paris the day before I returned from the conference and was there to greet me when I returned.

It was a strange feeling to cast eyes upon someone in such a different light. I figured that if I tried to find out what else he had perpetrated on the back of other team members, he’d find out, and asking anyone who could tell me, could be potential conspirators. Doing what did did could not be done on his own, so there had to be others.

But, one by one, when the opportunity arose from a work perspective, I spoke to each of the other people in the team, and all had been sent to the same conference I had. Only one voiced an opinion, one I had not asked for, and that was to say they thought they’d seen him at the conference but must have been mistaken.

But it got me thinking, and I looked up the venue and the online presence of the program. It was well received and awarded by chambers of commerce and industry associations alike.

There was a history of how it came into being, theme changes that had been made in response to changing times and new industry regulations, and a profile of the man who brought it into being.

My boss’s brother. There was a picture of him, and there was no mistaking the family likeness. It wasn’t a stretch to believe that my boss may have leaned on his brother to grant places on his courses, paid for the company. It wasn’t wrong, but if he could steal credit where it wasn’t due, maybe he arranged kickbacks for places.

It was all that I could assumed because there was no proof of his deeds anywhere and that might have been part of a non-disclosure agreement made with anyone who discovered his secret.

It was nothing I could take to the board. I would have to find another way. That presented itself some weeks after I returned when he dropped a new file on my desk.

Our specially was to analyse companies or organisations that were teetering on the edge of disaster and set them up in such a way that larger companies could step in and take them over for a mutually beneficial deal.

The last, what we call settlements, was that which my boss had taken the credit for, involved a sole trader who had a great product but hadn’t been able to manage the financial aspects of the business, and with the downturn, which caused him to close the doors.

This case was something similar in that the owner had taken his idea and made it into a successful business, then tried to turn it into a franchise. The only problem was, with a pandemic induced downturn that heavily relied on people presenting themselves, the sudden loss of those people threw everything into disarray.

He needed a buyer, someone with a lot of financial backing to tide the business over until the market returned to normal.

When I did my investigation, I discovered that one of the casualties of the imminent collapse was none other than the boss’s brother, and the man who ran the conference I had recently gone to. He was one of about a dozen around the country who were, through no fault of their own, in trouble.

It was most likely a call from him that resulted in the file that I now had sitting in front of me.

It led to the creation of two solutions, one of which I would give the boss and he would run with as his own, and the other I would keep in the filing cabinet to pull out and save the day. It would no doubt cause considerable consternation for his brother for a short period, but it was going to solve the problem we analysts had.

And something else that I hadn’t realised was the MSN who was in charge of us was not sufficient versed in the processes that drove our solutions, just very savvy in his ability to pick people who were. It meant that he would not be able told discern the solution provided would not necessarily solve the problem with the best outcome. Only those who vetted it before it was implemented would.

And once I’d completed the two analyses, I set the plan in motion.

It was two weeks before a person I’d never seen before, but whose name was familiar gave me a call.

He introduced himself as one of those who acted on the information we supplied, to whom the boss would have sent the file I had supplied him.

“So, here’s the problem. After we looked at the file he supplied, it showed some critical errors, which is a first for his work, and when we asked him to explain how he’d reached his conclusions, he said some of it was obtained externally, and when pressed gave us your name and number. What can you tell me?”

I was not sure what I was expecting as an outcome to my subterfuge but perhaps this was the only chance I was going to get to plead my case.

“That none of it was his work, and that he has been taking the credit when it was not due.”

Then I explained what I’d done, and then emailed the correct version of the file, and after he had read the relevant sections I ended with the damming phrase, “if he had the necessary experience and accounting knowledge, he would have seen though it fairly quickly like you had.”

When he had he would look into the allegations I’d presented, I suddenly though I may have overstated my case, particularly when I didn’t hear anything back. The only saving grace was that I hadn’t been fired which if he had a strategy in place in case someone like me tried to burn him would have happened reasonably quickly.

Then one morning I got a phone call from one of the other analysts.

“Have you ready your email this morning?”

I hadn’t. Not feeling well, I hadn’t gone into the office and decided I would work from home if anything came up. We had recently been set up to work remotely because of the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns.

I went online and opened the mailbox. At the top of the inbox was an email advising that the company had accepted the resignation of our former boss who had cited personal reasons for leaving.

In other words, he had jumped before he had been pushed.

Below it was another email from HE advising they were recruiting his replacement from within and were looking for applications.

And there was one more, almost hidden by the white noise of spam, one that specifically thanked me for my contribution to the recent file, with an invitation to meet the people who implement our plans.

It was an invitation I gratefully accepted.

© Charles Heath 2021

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