How could that possibly happen… – A short story

I had hoped by the time I was promoted to assistant manager it might mean something other than long hours and an increase in pay.

It didn’t.

But unlike others who had taken the job, and eventually become jaded and left, I stayed. Something I realized that others seemed to either ignore or just didn’t understand, this was a company that rewarded loyalty.

It was why there were quite a few who had served 30 years or more. They might not reach the top job, but they certainly well looked after.

I had a long way to go, having been there only 8 years, and according to some, on a fast track. I was not sure how I would describe this so-called ‘fast track’ other than being in the right place at the right time and making a judicial selection.

When it was my turn to be promoted, I had a choice of a plum department, or one most of my contemporaries had passed over. At the time, the words of my previous manager sprang to mind, that being a manager for the most sought after department or the least sought after, came with exactly the same privileges.

And, he was right. I took the least sought after, much to their disdain and disapproval. One year on, that disapproval had turned almost to envy; that was when the Assistant Managers were granted a new privilege, tea, and lunch in the executive dining room.

“So, what’s it like?” John asked, when our group met on a Friday night, this the first after the privilege was granted.

He had been one of the three, including me, who had the opportunity to take the role. Both he and Alistair had both declined, prepared to wait for a more prestigious department. It hadn’t happened to them yet.

“The same as the staff dining room, only smaller. Except, I guess, the waitstaff and butler. They come and serve you when you have to go to them in the staff room. They’re the same staff, by the way, except for the butler.”

I could see the awe, or was it envy, in their eyes. “but it’s not that great. The Assistant Managers all sit at one end of the table, and we’re not part of the main group, so no sharing of information I’m afraid. And the meals are the same, just served on fancier crockery.”

“Then nothing to write home about?” Will was one of those who they also thought to be on a ‘fast track’. I was still trying to see how my ‘fast track’ was actually that fast.

“Put it this way, the extra pay doesn’t offset the long hours because you get overtime, I don’t, so on a good week, you’d all be earning more than me. Without responsibility, if anything goes wrong. I think that’s why Assistant Managers were created, to take the blame when anything goes wrong.”

That had been the hardest pill to swallow. Until I got the role, I hadn’t realized what it really involved. Nor had the others, and it was not something we could whinge about. My first-day introductory speech from Tomkins, my Manager, was all about taking responsibility, and how I was there to make his life easier. It was a speech he made a few times because he’d been Manager for the last 16 years, much the same as the others, and promotion if ever, would come when they died.

And Manager’s rarely died, because of their Assistant Managers.

“How old is Tomkins now?” Bert, a relative newcomer to our group, asked. He was still in the ‘in awe’ phase.

“About the same as Father Time,” I said. “But the reality is, no one knows, except perhaps for the personnel manager.” O looked over at Wally, the Personnel Department’s Assistant Manager. “Any chance of you telling us?”

“No. You know I can’t.”

“But you know?” I asked.

“Of course, but you know the rules. That’s confidential information. Not like what you are the custodian of, information everyone needs.”

Which, of course, was true. Communication and Secretarial Services had no secrets, except for twice a year when the company Bord of Directors met, and we were responsible for all the documents used at their meetings. Then, and only then, was I privy to all the secrets, including promotions. And be asked ‘What’s happening?’.

“Just be content to know that he’s as old as the hills, as most of them. It seems to me that one of the pre-requisites for managership is that you have been employed here for 30 years.”

Not all, though, I’d noticed, but there wasn’t one under the age of fifty.

And so it would go, the Friday night lament, those ‘in’ the executive, and those who were not quite there yet.
It seemed prophetic, in a sense, that we had been talking about Mangers and their ages. By a quirk of fate, some weeks before, that I learned of Tomkins’s currents state of health via a call on his office phone. At the time he was out, where, he had not told me, but by his the I believed it was something serious, so serious he didn’t want me, or anyone else, to know about it.

That phone call was from his wife, Eleanor, whom I’d met on a number of occasions when she came to take him home from work. I liked her, and couldn’t help but notice she was his exact opposite, Tomkins, silent and at times morose, and Eleanor, the life of the party. I could imagine her being a handful in her younger days, and it was a stark reminder of that old saying ‘opposites attract’.

She was concerned and asked me if he had returned from the specialist. I simply said he had but was elsewhere, and promised to get him to call her when he returned. Then I made a quick call around to see where he was and found that he was in Personnel. I left an innocuous message on his desk, and then let my imagination run wild.

At least for a day or so, the time it took for me to realize that it was probably nothing, the lethargy he’d been showing, gone.

I’d put it out of my mind until my cell phone rang, and it was from the Personnel Manager. On a Sunday, no less. In the few seconds before I answered it, I’d made the assumption that Tomkins’s secretive visits to the specialist meant he needed time off for a routine operation.

Greetings over, O’Reilly, the Personnel Manager, cut straight to the chase, “For your personal information, and not to be repeated, Tomkins will be out of action for about two months, and as that is longer than the standard period, you will become Acting Manager. We’ll talk more about this Tuesday morning.” Monday was a holiday.

All Assistant Managers knew the rules. Any absence of a manager for longer than a month, promotion to Acting Manager. Anything less, you sat in the office, but no change in title. There was one more rule, that in the event of the death of a manager, the assistant manager was immediately promoted to Manager. This had only happened once before. 70 years ago. If a manager retired, then the position of Manager was thrown open to anyone in the organization.

It was an intriguing moment in time.

Tuesday came, and as usual, I went into the office, with only one thought in mind, let the staff in the department know what was happening, of course, the moment I was given the approval to do so by Personnel.

Not a minute after I sat down, the phone rang. I picked it up, gave my name and greeting. It was met with a rather excitable voice of the Assistant Manager, Personnel, “I just got word from on high, you’ve been promoted to manager. How could that possibly happen…”

Then a moment later, as realization set in, “Unless…”

—-

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

How could that possibly happen… – A short story

I had hoped by the time I was promoted to assistant manager it might mean something other than long hours and an increase in pay.

It didn’t.

But unlike others who had taken the job, and eventually become jaded and left, I stayed. Something I realized that others seemed to either ignore or just didn’t understand, this was a company that rewarded loyalty.

It was why there were quite a few who had served 30 years or more. They might not reach the top job, but they certainly well looked after.

I had a long way to go, having been there only 8 years, and according to some, on a fast track. I was not sure how I would describe this so-called ‘fast track’ other than being in the right place at the right time and making a judicial selection.

When it was my turn to be promoted, I had a choice of a plum department, or one most of my contemporaries had passed over. At the time, the words of my previous manager sprang to mind, that being a manager for the most sought after department or the least sought after, came with exactly the same privileges.

And, he was right. I took the least sought after, much to their disdain and disapproval. One year on, that disapproval had turned almost to envy; that was when the Assistant Managers were granted a new privilege, tea, and lunch in the executive dining room.

“So, what’s it like?” John asked, when our group met on a Friday night, this the first after the privilege was granted.

He had been one of the three, including me, who had the opportunity to take the role. Both he and Alistair had both declined, prepared to wait for a more prestigious department. It hadn’t happened to them yet.

“The same as the staff dining room, only smaller. Except, I guess, the waitstaff and butler. They come and serve you when you have to go to them in the staff room. They’re the same staff, by the way, except for the butler.”

I could see the awe, or was it envy, in their eyes. “but it’s not that great. The Assistant Managers all sit at one end of the table, and we’re not part of the main group, so no sharing of information I’m afraid. And the meals are the same, just served on fancier crockery.”

“Then nothing to write home about?” Will was one of those who they also thought to be on a ‘fast track’. I was still trying to see how my ‘fast track’ was actually that fast.

“Put it this way, the extra pay doesn’t offset the long hours because you get overtime, I don’t, so on a good week, you’d all be earning more than me. Without responsibility, if anything goes wrong. I think that’s why Assistant Managers were created, to take the blame when anything goes wrong.”

That had been the hardest pill to swallow. Until I got the role, I hadn’t realized what it really involved. Nor had the others, and it was not something we could whinge about. My first-day introductory speech from Tomkins, my Manager, was all about taking responsibility, and how I was there to make his life easier. It was a speech he made a few times because he’d been Manager for the last 16 years, much the same as the others, and promotion if ever, would come when they died.

And Manager’s rarely died, because of their Assistant Managers.

“How old is Tomkins now?” Bert, a relative newcomer to our group, asked. He was still in the ‘in awe’ phase.

“About the same as Father Time,” I said. “But the reality is, no one knows, except perhaps for the personnel manager.” O looked over at Wally, the Personnel Department’s Assistant Manager. “Any chance of you telling us?”

“No. You know I can’t.”

“But you know?” I asked.

“Of course, but you know the rules. That’s confidential information. Not like what you are the custodian of, information everyone needs.”

Which, of course, was true. Communication and Secretarial Services had no secrets, except for twice a year when the company Bord of Directors met, and we were responsible for all the documents used at their meetings. Then, and only then, was I privy to all the secrets, including promotions. And be asked ‘What’s happening?’.

“Just be content to know that he’s as old as the hills, as most of them. It seems to me that one of the pre-requisites for managership is that you have been employed here for 30 years.”

Not all, though, I’d noticed, but there wasn’t one under the age of fifty.

And so it would go, the Friday night lament, those ‘in’ the executive, and those who were not quite there yet.
It seemed prophetic, in a sense, that we had been talking about Mangers and their ages. By a quirk of fate, some weeks before, that I learned of Tomkins’s currents state of health via a call on his office phone. At the time he was out, where, he had not told me, but by his the I believed it was something serious, so serious he didn’t want me, or anyone else, to know about it.

That phone call was from his wife, Eleanor, whom I’d met on a number of occasions when she came to take him home from work. I liked her, and couldn’t help but notice she was his exact opposite, Tomkins, silent and at times morose, and Eleanor, the life of the party. I could imagine her being a handful in her younger days, and it was a stark reminder of that old saying ‘opposites attract’.

She was concerned and asked me if he had returned from the specialist. I simply said he had but was elsewhere, and promised to get him to call her when he returned. Then I made a quick call around to see where he was and found that he was in Personnel. I left an innocuous message on his desk, and then let my imagination run wild.

At least for a day or so, the time it took for me to realize that it was probably nothing, the lethargy he’d been showing, gone.

I’d put it out of my mind until my cell phone rang, and it was from the Personnel Manager. On a Sunday, no less. In the few seconds before I answered it, I’d made the assumption that Tomkins’s secretive visits to the specialist meant he needed time off for a routine operation.

Greetings over, O’Reilly, the Personnel Manager, cut straight to the chase, “For your personal information, and not to be repeated, Tomkins will be out of action for about two months, and as that is longer than the standard period, you will become Acting Manager. We’ll talk more about this Tuesday morning.” Monday was a holiday.

All Assistant Managers knew the rules. Any absence of a manager for longer than a month, promotion to Acting Manager. Anything less, you sat in the office, but no change in title. There was one more rule, that in the event of the death of a manager, the assistant manager was immediately promoted to Manager. This had only happened once before. 70 years ago. If a manager retired, then the position of Manager was thrown open to anyone in the organization.

It was an intriguing moment in time.

Tuesday came, and as usual, I went into the office, with only one thought in mind, let the staff in the department know what was happening, of course, the moment I was given the approval to do so by Personnel.

Not a minute after I sat down, the phone rang. I picked it up, gave my name and greeting. It was met with a rather excitable voice of the Assistant Manager, Personnel, “I just got word from on high, you’ve been promoted to manager. How could that possibly happen…”

Then a moment later, as realization set in, “Unless…”

—-

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Going once, going twice… – a short story

It was the small town that we had visited once, some years ago, that had enticed me back.

Those had been happier times, times when the stench of money hadn’t overtaken sensibility, and who we really were.

Not that I had changed all that much, except for the upper west side apartment, and posh car to go with it, but what had disappointed me was the change in Liz, the woman I thought once was the love of my life.

Without the trappings of wealth, she was the kindest, most thoughtful, and generous person I knew, but that had changed when I became the recipient of an inheritance that beggared belief.  We both made a promise from the outset that it would not change us, but unfortunately, it did.

And that was probably the main reason I was standing outside an old fixer-upper house on several acres overlooking the ocean.

I’d asked Liz to come, but she was having a weekend away in Las Vegas with her new friends, or as one of the ladies rather salaciously said, a what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas kind of weekend.

Charmaine had told me about the house, one that she had admired for a long time, but didn’t have the means to buy it.

Charmaine was a painter, a rather good one, and both Liz and I had met her on a weekend away upstate, and I’d bought one of her landscapes to hang in our new apartment.  Liz hated it, but I think that had more to do with the painter than the painting, and that was because Charmaine had flirted with me, and that, I had observed over time, was how she was with everyone.

She called it her sales technique.  After all, it had worked on me.

I listened to the auctioneer go through the rules of the action and then move on to a physical description of the property.  I’d been to several viewings and got a promising idea of what was needed if I were to buy it.  It had good foundations and suffered from a lack of TLC.  It was how the auctioneer summed up.

When he called for the first bid, I felt a hand slip into mine, and a glance sideways showed it to be Charmaine.  I had asked her along for support, but she had something else to do, but it appeared now, that she hadn’t.

“So,” she whispered next to my ear, “you were serious about this place?”

I had been dithering, not being able to make my mind up, but Liz, in the end, made the decision for me.  I’d overheard a snippet of conversation with one of her new friends, and to be honest, I’d been surprised.

“Perhaps it was time to find a hideaway.”

“Things that bad?”

I shrugged.  “Maybe I’m writing too much into it.  At any rate, I needed an excuse to get out of town, and being here was as good as any.”

The first bid came in at 450,000.   I knew the reserve was about 700,000, and I was prepared for 850,000.  But I was hoping to spend less than that because the renovations would be about 250,000.

“We could go and have a picnic.  It’ll certainly cost less than buying this place.”

“I’m here now.”

Holding hands was just one of Charmaine’s ‘things’, and I had never written anything into what might have been called a relationship of sorts.  We were not lovers, and the conversation had never been steered in that direction, but I did find myself gravitating towards her when Liz was off doing her thing with her friends.  To be honest, I just liked the idea of a picnic and watching Charmaine paint her landscapes.

I raised the bid to 500,000.  Another from the previous bidder, 550,000.  Another at 600,000.  It seems there were three bidders for the property.  The other sixteen people attending were observers, probably locals interested in how this would help their property value.

I went 625,000 when the auctioneer changed the increment after a lack of bidding.  It was countered, moving to 650,000.  Another at 657,000, and then the first bidder went to 700,000, the reserve.

“You do realize the other bidders are friends of the owner and are there to push the price up?” Charmaine whispered in my ear.

I’d heard of it happening, but I’d not suspected it until she mentioned it.

“Going once, going twice at 700,000.”  The auctioneer looked at me.  “I’ll accept 10,000 increments.”

I nodded.  710,000.  It quickly moved to 800,000, after I bid 790,000.

The auctioneer looked at me expectantly.  “810,000, sir?”

That was more than I wanted to spend though an elbow in the ribs was the clincher, and when I declined, there was an air of disappointment.

“Going once, going twice, all done at 800,000?”  A look around the crowd confirmed we were all done, and the gavel came down.

“Looks like we’re going on a picnic,” she said.  “I’d expect a call in an hour or so.”

Two things happened that weekend, both of which surprised me.  The first, Charmaine was right, I did get a call, and finished up with a hideaway in the country, overlooking the ocean.  The second, Liz didn’t come back from Las Vegas.  She had apparently found someone new, someone more exciting, or so she said.

I guess I was disappointed but not overly concerned.  She had changed and I had not and if the truth be told, we were drifting apart.  We parted amicably, sold the apartment, and moved on, each in a different direction.

I had a new residence, and renovations to take my mind off the break-up, and when I told Charmaine, she just said she didn’t believe we were that perfect match.  And in the light of my new status, I could now ask her to come and stay in the spare bedroom, a lot better, I said, than the one-person tent she had been using, an offer she readily accepted.

Until, a year later, it became something more than that.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Bloody hell… – a short story

The cell phone’s insistent and shrill ring dragged my mind away from the crossword, and after a fairly mild curse, I picked it up.

Sidney, my brother.  Odd he was calling me at this hour of the night.

“What,” I barked into the microphone.

“That’s no way to speak to your baby brother.”  His smooth tones rarely reached a screaming point, which was often the reason why mine did.

And who called the younger brother ‘baby’ brother these days?

“What do you want?”

A hesitation.  He was in trouble again, I could feel it.

“Can you come down to the bar?  I seem to have left my wallet at home.”  Sheepish, and just enough to stop me from yelling at him.  It was not the first time, nor would it be the last.

“I told you the last time was the last time.”

“Just this once, please?”

I shook my head.  That was probably my biggest fault, giving in to him.  After our mother had died, and our father had to work, it was left to me to bring him up.  He was going to be the death of me yet.  “Where?”

“The usual place.”

I was surprised because the last I’d heard they’d banned him from going in there.  It was only a twenty-minute walk from my apartment, but, late at night, and in winter, there was snow in the air.  And the odd snowflake falling, a prelude to much worse.

About a hundred yards from the bar I had a shiver go down my spine.  I’d not had that for a long time, not since school, and the trouble with Wiley, the school bully.  Wiley had graduated to the local thug, done a few stints in jail, and last I heard he had been sent down for a few years for an assault.

I stopped and took a moment.  Perhaps karma was trying to tell me something.

I shrugged.  Just in my imagination.  I reached the door, took a moment then went in.  He was standing by the bat looking a little apprehensive.  He was in more trouble than just not paying his bar bill.

Close up I could see the fear in his expression.  “Bloody hell, Sid, what have you done now?”

“A problem that he insists his older brother would be happy to pay for.”

I knew that voice and felt instant dread.

Wiley.

In the flesh, and not looking very happy at all.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

How could that possibly happen… – A short story

I had hoped by the time I was promoted to assistant manager it might mean something other than long hours and an increase in pay.

It didn’t.

But unlike others who had taken the job, and eventually become jaded and left, I stayed. Something I realized that others seemed to either ignore or just didn’t understand, this was a company that rewarded loyalty.

It was why there were quite a few who had served 30 years or more. They might not reach the top job, but they certainly well looked after.

I had a long way to go, having been there only 8 years, and according to some, on a fast track. I was not sure how I would describe this so-called ‘fast track’ other than being in the right place at the right time and making a judicial selection.

When it was my turn to be promoted, I had a choice of a plum department, or one most of my contemporaries had passed over. At the time, the words of my previous manager sprang to mind, that being a manager for the most sought after department or the least sought after, came with exactly the same privileges.

And, he was right. I took the least sought after, much to their disdain and disapproval. One year on, that disapproval had turned almost to envy; that was when the Assistant Managers were granted a new privilege, tea, and lunch in the executive dining room.

“So, what’s it like?” John asked, when our group met on a Friday night, this the first after the privilege was granted.

He had been one of the three, including me, who had the opportunity to take the role. Both he and Alistair had both declined, prepared to wait for a more prestigious department. It hadn’t happened to them yet.

“The same as the staff dining room, only smaller. Except, I guess, the waitstaff and butler. They come and serve you when you have to go to them in the staff room. They’re the same staff, by the way, except for the butler.”

I could see the awe, or was it envy, in their eyes. “but it’s not that great. The Assistant Managers all sit at one end of the table, and we’re not part of the main group, so no sharing of information I’m afraid. And the meals are the same, just served on fancier crockery.”

“Then nothing to write home about?” Will was one of those who they also thought to be on a ‘fast track’. I was still trying to see how my ‘fast track’ was actually that fast.

“Put it this way, the extra pay doesn’t offset the long hours because you get overtime, I don’t, so on a good week, you’d all be earning more than me. Without responsibility, if anything goes wrong. I think that’s why Assistant Managers were created, to take the blame when anything goes wrong.”

That had been the hardest pill to swallow. Until I got the role, I hadn’t realized what it really involved. Nor had the others, and it was not something we could whinge about. My first-day introductory speech from Tomkins, my Manager, was all about taking responsibility, and how I was there to make his life easier. It was a speech he made a few times because he’d been Manager for the last 16 years, much the same as the others, and promotion if ever, would come when they died.

And Manager’s rarely died, because of their Assistant Managers.

“How old is Tomkins now?” Bert, a relative newcomer to our group, asked. He was still in the ‘in awe’ phase.

“About the same as Father Time,” I said. “But the reality is, no one knows, except perhaps for the personnel manager.” O looked over at Wally, the Personnel Department’s Assistant Manager. “Any chance of you telling us?”

“No. You know I can’t.”

“But you know?” I asked.

“Of course, but you know the rules. That’s confidential information. Not like what you are the custodian of, information everyone needs.”

Which, of course, was true. Communication and Secretarial Services had no secrets, except for twice a year when the company Bord of Directors met, and we were responsible for all the documents used at their meetings. Then, and only then, was I privy to all the secrets, including promotions. And be asked ‘What’s happening?’.

“Just be content to know that he’s as old as the hills, as most of them. It seems to me that one of the pre-requisites for managership is that you have been employed here for 30 years.”

Not all, though, I’d noticed, but there wasn’t one under the age of fifty.

And so it would go, the Friday night lament, those ‘in’ the executive, and those who were not quite there yet.
It seemed prophetic, in a sense, that we had been talking about Mangers and their ages. By a quirk of fate, some weeks before, that I learned of Tomkins’s currents state of health via a call on his office phone. At the time he was out, where, he had not told me, but by his the I believed it was something serious, so serious he didn’t want me, or anyone else, to know about it.

That phone call was from his wife, Eleanor, whom I’d met on a number of occasions when she came to take him home from work. I liked her, and couldn’t help but notice she was his exact opposite, Tomkins, silent and at times morose, and Eleanor, the life of the party. I could imagine her being a handful in her younger days, and it was a stark reminder of that old saying ‘opposites attract’.

She was concerned and asked me if he had returned from the specialist. I simply said he had but was elsewhere, and promised to get him to call her when he returned. Then I made a quick call around to see where he was and found that he was in Personnel. I left an innocuous message on his desk, and then let my imagination run wild.

At least for a day or so, the time it took for me to realize that it was probably nothing, the lethargy he’d been showing, gone.

I’d put it out of my mind until my cell phone rang, and it was from the Personnel Manager. On a Sunday, no less. In the few seconds before I answered it, I’d made the assumption that Tomkins’s secretive visits to the specialist meant he needed time off for a routine operation.

Greetings over, O’Reilly, the Personnel Manager, cut straight to the chase, “For your personal information, and not to be repeated, Tomkins will be out of action for about two months, and as that is longer than the standard period, you will become Acting Manager. We’ll talk more about this Tuesday morning.” Monday was a holiday.

All Assistant Managers knew the rules. Any absence of a manager for longer than a month, promotion to Acting Manager. Anything less, you sat in the office, but no change in title. There was one more rule, that in the event of the death of a manager, the assistant manager was immediately promoted to Manager. This had only happened once before. 70 years ago. If a manager retired, then the position of Manager was thrown open to anyone in the organization.

It was an intriguing moment in time.

Tuesday came, and as usual, I went into the office, with only one thought in mind, let the staff in the department know what was happening, of course, the moment I was given the approval to do so by Personnel.

Not a minute after I sat down, the phone rang. I picked it up, gave my name and greeting. It was met with a rather excitable voice of the Assistant Manager, Personnel, “I just got word from on high, you’ve been promoted to manager. How could that possibly happen…”

Then a moment later, as realization set in, “Unless…”

—-

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

How could that possibly happen… – A short story

I had hoped by the time I was promoted to assistant manager it might mean something other than long hours and an increase in pay.

It didn’t.

But unlike others who had taken the job, and eventually become jaded and left, I stayed. Something I realized that others seemed to either ignore or just didn’t understand, this was a company that rewarded loyalty.

It was why there were quite a few who had served 30 years or more. They might not reach the top job, but they certainly well looked after.

I had a long way to go, having been there only 8 years, and according to some, on a fast track. I was not sure how I would describe this so-called ‘fast track’ other than being in the right place at the right time and making a judicial selection.

When it was my turn to be promoted, I had a choice of a plum department, or one most of my contemporaries had passed over. At the time, the words of my previous manager sprang to mind, that being a manager for the most sought after department or the least sought after, came with exactly the same privileges.

And, he was right. I took the least sought after, much to their disdain and disapproval. One year on, that disapproval had turned almost to envy; that was when the Assistant Managers were granted a new privilege, tea, and lunch in the executive dining room.

“So, what’s it like?” John asked, when our group met on a Friday night, this the first after the privilege was granted.

He had been one of the three, including me, who had the opportunity to take the role. Both he and Alistair had both declined, prepared to wait for a more prestigious department. It hadn’t happened to them yet.

“The same as the staff dining room, only smaller. Except, I guess, the waitstaff and butler. They come and serve you when you have to go to them in the staff room. They’re the same staff, by the way, except for the butler.”

I could see the awe, or was it envy, in their eyes. “but it’s not that great. The Assistant Managers all sit at one end of the table, and we’re not part of the main group, so no sharing of information I’m afraid. And the meals are the same, just served on fancier crockery.”

“Then nothing to write home about?” Will was one of those who they also thought to be on a ‘fast track’. I was still trying to see how my ‘fast track’ was actually that fast.

“Put it this way, the extra pay doesn’t offset the long hours because you get overtime, I don’t, so on a good week, you’d all be earning more than me. Without responsibility, if anything goes wrong. I think that’s why Assistant Managers were created, to take the blame when anything goes wrong.”

That had been the hardest pill to swallow. Until I got the role, I hadn’t realized what it really involved. Nor had the others, and it was not something we could whinge about. My first-day introductory speech from Tomkins, my Manager, was all about taking responsibility, and how I was there to make his life easier. It was a speech he made a few times because he’d been Manager for the last 16 years, much the same as the others, and promotion if ever, would come when they died.

And Manager’s rarely died, because of their Assistant Managers.

“How old is Tomkins now?” Bert, a relative newcomer to our group, asked. He was still in the ‘in awe’ phase.

“About the same as Father Time,” I said. “But the reality is, no one knows, except perhaps for the personnel manager.” O looked over at Wally, the Personnel Department’s Assistant Manager. “Any chance of you telling us?”

“No. You know I can’t.”

“But you know?” I asked.

“Of course, but you know the rules. That’s confidential information. Not like what you are the custodian of, information everyone needs.”

Which, of course, was true. Communication and Secretarial Services had no secrets, except for twice a year when the company Bord of Directors met, and we were responsible for all the documents used at their meetings. Then, and only then, was I privy to all the secrets, including promotions. And be asked ‘What’s happening?’.

“Just be content to know that he’s as old as the hills, as most of them. It seems to me that one of the pre-requisites for managership is that you have been employed here for 30 years.”

Not all, though, I’d noticed, but there wasn’t one under the age of fifty.

And so it would go, the Friday night lament, those ‘in’ the executive, and those who were not quite there yet.
It seemed prophetic, in a sense, that we had been talking about Mangers and their ages. By a quirk of fate, some weeks before, that I learned of Tomkins’s currents state of health via a call on his office phone. At the time he was out, where, he had not told me, but by his the I believed it was something serious, so serious he didn’t want me, or anyone else, to know about it.

That phone call was from his wife, Eleanor, whom I’d met on a number of occasions when she came to take him home from work. I liked her, and couldn’t help but notice she was his exact opposite, Tomkins, silent and at times morose, and Eleanor, the life of the party. I could imagine her being a handful in her younger days, and it was a stark reminder of that old saying ‘opposites attract’.

She was concerned and asked me if he had returned from the specialist. I simply said he had but was elsewhere, and promised to get him to call her when he returned. Then I made a quick call around to see where he was and found that he was in Personnel. I left an innocuous message on his desk, and then let my imagination run wild.

At least for a day or so, the time it took for me to realize that it was probably nothing, the lethargy he’d been showing, gone.

I’d put it out of my mind until my cell phone rang, and it was from the Personnel Manager. On a Sunday, no less. In the few seconds before I answered it, I’d made the assumption that Tomkins’s secretive visits to the specialist meant he needed time off for a routine operation.

Greetings over, O’Reilly, the Personnel Manager, cut straight to the chase, “For your personal information, and not to be repeated, Tomkins will be out of action for about two months, and as that is longer than the standard period, you will become Acting Manager. We’ll talk more about this Tuesday morning.” Monday was a holiday.

All Assistant Managers knew the rules. Any absence of a manager for longer than a month, promotion to Acting Manager. Anything less, you sat in the office, but no change in title. There was one more rule, that in the event of the death of a manager, the assistant manager was immediately promoted to Manager. This had only happened once before. 70 years ago. If a manager retired, then the position of Manager was thrown open to anyone in the organization.

It was an intriguing moment in time.

Tuesday came, and as usual, I went into the office, with only one thought in mind, let the staff in the department know what was happening, of course, the moment I was given the approval to do so by Personnel.

Not a minute after I sat down, the phone rang. I picked it up, gave my name and greeting. It was met with a rather excitable voice of the Assistant Manager, Personnel, “I just got word from on high, you’ve been promoted to manager. How could that possibly happen…”

Then a moment later, as realization set in, “Unless…”

—-

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Going once, going twice… – a short story

It was the small town that we had visited once, some years ago, that had enticed me back.

Those had been happier times, times when the stench of money hadn’t overtaken sensibility, and who we really were.

Not that I had changed all that much, except for the upper west side apartment, and posh car to go with it, but what had disappointed me was the change in Liz, the woman I thought once as the love of my life.

Without the trappings of wealth, she was the kindest, most thoughtful and generous person I knew, but that had changed when I became the recipient of an inheritance that beggared belief.  We both made a promise from the outset that it would not change us, but unfortunately, it did.

And that was probably the main reason why I was standing outside an old fixer-upper house on several acres overlooking the ocean.

I’d asked Liz to come, but she was having a weekend away in Las Vegas with her new friends, or as one of the ladies rather salaciously said, a what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas kind of weekend.

Charmaine had told me about the house, one that she had admired for a long time, but didn’t have the means to buy it.

Charmaine was a painter, a rather good one, and both Liz and I had met her on a weekend away upstate, and I’d bought one of her landscapes to hang in our new apartment.  Liz hated it, but I think that had more to do with the painter than the painting, and that was because Charmaine had flirted with me, and that, I had observed over time, was how she was with everyone.

She called it her sales technique.  After all, it had worked on me.

I listened to the auctioneer go through the rules of the action and then move on to a physical description of the property.  I’d been to several viewings and got a good idea of what was needed if I was to buy it.  It had good foundations and had suffered from a lack of TLC.  It was how the auctioneer summed up.

When he called for the first bid, I felt a hand slip into mine, and a glance sideways showed it to be Charmaine.  I had asked her along for support but she had something else to do, but it appeared now, she hadn’t.

“So,” she whispered next to my ear, “you were serious about this place?”

I had been dithering, not being able to make my mind up, but Liz, in the end, made the decision for me.  I’d overheard a snippet of conversation with one of her new friends, and, to be honest, I’d been surprised.

“Perhaps it was time to find a hideaway.”

“Things that bad?”

I shrugged.  “Maybe I’m writing too much into it.  At any rate, I needed an excuse to get out of town, and being here was as good as any.”

The first bid came in at 450,000.   I knew the reserved was about 700,000, and I was prepared to 850,000.  But I was hoping to spend less than that because the renovations would be about 250,000.

“We could go and have a picnic.  It’ll certainly cost less than buying this place.”

“I’m here now.”

Holding hands was just one of Charmaine’s ‘things’, and I had never written anything into what might have been called a relationship of sorts.  We were not lovers, and the conversation had never been steered in that direction, but I did find myself gravitated towards her when Liz was off doing her thing with her friends.  To be honest, I just liked the idea of a picnic and watching Charmaine paint her landscapes.

I raised the bid to 500,000.  Another from the previous bidder, 550,000.  Another at 600,000.  It seems there were three bidders for the property.  The other sixteen people attending were observers, probably locals interested in how this would help their property value.

I went 625,000 when the auctioneer changed the increment after a lack of bidding.  It was countered, moving to 650,000.  Another at 657,000, and then the first bidder went to 700,000, the reserve.

“You do realize the other bidders are friends of the owner and are there to push the price up?” Charmaine whispered in my ear.

I’d heard of it happening, but I’d not suspected it until she mentioned it.

“Going once, going twice at 700,000.”  The auctioneer looked at me.  “I’ll accept 10,000 increments.”

I nodded.  710,000.  It quickly moved to 800,000, after I bid 790,000.

The auctioneer looked at me expectantly.  “810,000, sir?”

That was more than I wanted to spend though an elbow in the ribs was the clincher, and when I declined, there was an air of disappointment.

“Going once, going twice, all done at 800,000?”  A look around the crowd confirmed we were all done, and the gavel came down.

“Looks like we’re going on a picnic,” she said.  “I’d expect a call in an hour or so.”

Two things happened that weekend, both of which surprised me.  The first, Charmaine was right, I did get a call, and finished up with a hideaway in the country, overlooking the ocean.  The second, Liz didn’t come back from Las Vegas.  She had apparently found someone new, someone more exciting, or so she said.

I guess I was disappointed but not overly concerned.  She had changed and I had not and if the truth be told, we were drifting apart.  We parted amicably, sold the apartment, and moved on, each in a different direction.

I had a new residence, and renovations to take my mind off the break-up, and when I told Charmaine, she was just said she didn’t believe we were that perfect match.  And in the light of my new status, I could now ask her to come and stay in the spare bedroom, a lot better, I said, than the one person tent she had been using, an offer she readily accepted.

Until, a year later, it became something more than that.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Going once, going twice… – a short story

It was the small town that we had visited once, some years ago, that had enticed me back.

Those had been happier times, times when the stench of money hadn’t overtaken sensibility, and who we really were.

Not that I had changed all that much, except for the upper west side apartment, and posh car to go with it, but what had disappointed me was the change in Liz, the woman I thought once as the love of my life.

Without the trappings of wealth, she was the kindest, most thoughtful and generous person I knew, but that had changed when I became the recipient of an inheritance that beggared belief.  We both made a promise from the outset that it would not change us, but unfortunately, it did.

And that was probably the main reason why I was standing outside an old fixer-upper house on several acres overlooking the ocean.

I’d asked Liz to come, but she was having a weekend away in Las Vegas with her new friends, or as one of the ladies rather salaciously said, a what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas kind of weekend.

Charmaine had told me about the house, one that she had admired for a long time, but didn’t have the means to buy it.

Charmaine was a painter, a rather good one, and both Liz and I had met her on a weekend away upstate, and I’d bought one of her landscapes to hang in our new apartment.  Liz hated it, but I think that had more to do with the painter than the painting, and that was because Charmaine had flirted with me, and that, I had observed over time, was how she was with everyone.

She called it her sales technique.  After all, it had worked on me.

I listened to the auctioneer go through the rules of the action and then move on to a physical description of the property.  I’d been to several viewings and got a good idea of what was needed if I was to buy it.  It had good foundations and had suffered from a lack of TLC.  It was how the auctioneer summed up.

When he called for the first bid, I felt a hand slip into mine, and a glance sideways showed it to be Charmaine.  I had asked her along for support but she had something else to do, but it appeared now, she hadn’t.

“So,” she whispered next to my ear, “you were serious about this place?”

I had been dithering, not being able to make my mind up, but Liz, in the end, made the decision for me.  I’d overheard a snippet of conversation with one of her new friends, and, to be honest, I’d been surprised.

“Perhaps it was time to find a hideaway.”

“Things that bad?”

I shrugged.  “Maybe I’m writing too much into it.  At any rate, I needed an excuse to get out of town, and being here was as good as any.”

The first bid came in at 450,000.   I knew the reserved was about 700,000, and I was prepared to 850,000.  But I was hoping to spend less than that because the renovations would be about 250,000.

“We could go and have a picnic.  It’ll certainly cost less than buying this place.”

“I’m here now.”

Holding hands was just one of Charmaine’s ‘things’, and I had never written anything into what might have been called a relationship of sorts.  We were not lovers, and the conversation had never been steered in that direction, but I did find myself gravitated towards her when Liz was off doing her thing with her friends.  To be honest, I just liked the idea of a picnic and watching Charmaine paint her landscapes.

I raised the bid to 500,000.  Another from the previous bidder, 550,000.  Another at 600,000.  It seems there were three bidders for the property.  The other sixteen people attending were observers, probably locals interested in how this would help their property value.

I went 625,000 when the auctioneer changed the increment after a lack of bidding.  It was countered, moving to 650,000.  Another at 657,000, and then the first bidder went to 700,000, the reserve.

“You do realize the other bidders are friends of the owner and are there to push the price up?” Charmaine whispered in my ear.

I’d heard of it happening, but I’d not suspected it until she mentioned it.

“Going once, going twice at 700,000.”  The auctioneer looked at me.  “I’ll accept 10,000 increments.”

I nodded.  710,000.  It quickly moved to 800,000, after I bid 790,000.

The auctioneer looked at me expectantly.  “810,000, sir?”

That was more than I wanted to spend though an elbow in the ribs was the clincher, and when I declined, there was an air of disappointment.

“Going once, going twice, all done at 800,000?”  A look around the crowd confirmed we were all done, and the gavel came down.

“Looks like we’re going on a picnic,” she said.  “I’d expect a call in an hour or so.”

Two things happened that weekend, both of which surprised me.  The first, Charmaine was right, I did get a call, and finished up with a hideaway in the country, overlooking the ocean.  The second, Liz didn’t come back from Las Vegas.  She had apparently found someone new, someone more exciting, or so she said.

I guess I was disappointed but not overly concerned.  She had changed and I had not and if the truth be told, we were drifting apart.  We parted amicably, sold the apartment, and moved on, each in a different direction.

I had a new residence, and renovations to take my mind off the break-up, and when I told Charmaine, she was just said she didn’t believe we were that perfect match.  And in the light of my new status, I could now ask her to come and stay in the spare bedroom, a lot better, I said, than the one person tent she had been using, an offer she readily accepted.

Until, a year later, it became something more than that.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

Bloody hell… – a short story

The cell phones insistent and shrill ring dragged my mind away from the crossword, and after a fairly mild curse, I picked it up.

Sidney, my brother.  Odd he was calling me at this hour of the night.

“What,” I barked into the speaker.

“That’s no way to speak to your baby brother.”  His smooth tones rarely reached a screaming point, which was often the reason why mine did.

And who called the younger brother ‘baby’ brother these days?

“What do you want?”

A hesitation.  He was in trouble again, I could feel it.

“Can you come down to the bar.  I seem to have left my wallet at home.”  Sheepish, and just enough to stop me from yelling at him.  It was not the first time, nor would it be the last.

“I told you the last time was the last time.”

“Just this once, please?”

I shook my head.  That was probably my biggest fault, giving in to him.  After our mother had died, and our father had to work, it was left to me to bring him up.  He was going to be the death of me yet.  “Where?”

“The usual place.”

I was surprised because the last I’d heard they’d banned him from going in there.  It was only a twenty-minute walk from my apartment, but, late at night, and winter, there was snow in the air.  And the odd snowflake falling, a prelude to much worse.

About a hundred yards from the bar I had a shiver go down my spine.  I’d not had that for a long time, not since school, and the trouble with Wiley, the school bully.  Wiley had graduated to the local thug, done a few stints in jail, and last I heard he had been sent down for a few years for an assault.

I stopped and took a moment.  Perhaps karma was trying to tell me something.

I shrugged.  Just in my imagination.  I reached the door, took a moment then went in.  He was standing by the bat looking a little apprehensive.  He was in more trouble than just not paying his bar bill.

Close up I could see the fear in his expression.  “Bloody hell, Sid, what have you done now?”

“A problem that he insists his older brother would be happy to pay for.”

I knew that voice and felt instant dread.

Wiley.

In the flesh, and not looking very happy at all.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

How could that possibly happen… – A short story

I had hoped by the time I was promoted to assistant manager it might mean something other than long hours and an increase in pay.

It didn’t.

But unlike others who had taken the job, and eventually become jaded and left, I stayed. Something I realized that others seemed to either ignore or just didn’t understand, this was a company that rewarded loyalty.

It was why there were quite a few who had served 30 years or more. They might not reach the top job, but they certainly well looked after.

I had a long way to go, having been there only 8 years, and according to some, on a fast track. I was not sure how I would describe this so-called ‘fast track’ other than being in the right place at the right time and making a judicial selection.

When it was my turn to be promoted, I had a choice of a plum department, or one most of my contemporaries had passed over. At the time, the words of my previous manager sprang to mind, that being a manager for the most sought after department or the least sought after, came with exactly the same privileges.

And, he was right. I took the least sought after, much to their disdain and disapproval. One year on, that disapproval had turned almost to envy; that was when the Assistant Managers were granted a new privilege, tea, and lunch in the executive dining room.

“So, what’s it like?” John asked, when our group met on a Friday night, this the first after the privilege was granted.

He had been one of the three, including me, who had the opportunity to take the role. Both he and Alistair had both declined, prepared to wait for a more prestigious department. It hadn’t happened to them yet.

“The same as the staff dining room, only smaller. Except, I guess, the waitstaff and butler. They come and serve you when you have to go to them in the staff room. They’re the same staff, by the way, except for the butler.”

I could see the awe, or was it envy, in their eyes. “but it’s not that great. The Assistant Managers all sit at one end of the table, and we’re not part of the main group, so no sharing of information I’m afraid. And the meals are the same, just served on fancier crockery.”

“Then nothing to write home about?” Will was one of those who they also thought to be on a ‘fast track’. I was still trying to see how my ‘fast track’ was actually that fast.

“Put it this way, the extra pay doesn’t offset the long hours because you get overtime, I don’t, so on a good week, you’d all be earning more than me. Without responsibility, if anything goes wrong. I think that’s why Assistant Managers were created, to take the blame when anything goes wrong.”

That had been the hardest pill to swallow. Until I got the role, I hadn’t realized what it really involved. Nor had the others, and it was not something we could whinge about. My first-day introductory speech from Tomkins, my Manager, was all about taking responsibility, and how I was there to make his life easier. It was a speech he made a few times because he’d been Manager for the last 16 years, much the same as the others, and promotion if ever, would come when they died.

And Manager’s rarely died, because of their Assistant Managers.

“How old is Tomkins now?” Bert, a relative newcomer to our group, asked. He was still in the ‘in awe’ phase.

“About the same as Father Time,” I said. “But the reality is, no one knows, except perhaps for the personnel manager.” O looked over at Wally, the Personnel Department’s Assistant Manager. “Any chance of you telling us?”

“No. You know I can’t.”

“But you know?” I asked.

“Of course, but you know the rules. That’s confidential information. Not like what you are the custodian of, information everyone needs.”

Which, of course, was true. Communication and Secretarial Services had no secrets, except for twice a year when the company Bord of Directors met, and we were responsible for all the documents used at their meetings. Then, and only then, was I privy to all the secrets, including promotions. And be asked ‘What’s happening?’.

“Just be content to know that he’s as old as the hills, as most of them. It seems to me that one of the pre-requisites for managership is that you have been employed here for 30 years.”

Not all, though, I’d noticed, but there wasn’t one under the age of fifty.

And so it would go, the Friday night lament, those ‘in’ the executive, and those who were not quite there yet.
It seemed prophetic, in a sense, that we had been talking about Mangers and their ages. By a quirk of fate, some weeks before, that I learned of Tomkins’s currents state of health via a call on his office phone. At the time he was out, where, he had not told me, but by his the I believed it was something serious, so serious he didn’t want me, or anyone else, to know about it.

That phone call was from his wife, Eleanor, whom I’d met on a number of occasions when she came to take him home from work. I liked her, and couldn’t help but notice she was his exact opposite, Tomkins, silent and at times morose, and Eleanor, the life of the party. I could imagine her being a handful in her younger days, and it was a stark reminder of that old saying ‘opposites attract’.

She was concerned and asked me if he had returned from the specialist. I simply said he had but was elsewhere, and promised to get him to call her when he returned. Then I made a quick call around to see where he was and found that he was in Personnel. I left an innocuous message on his desk, and then let my imagination run wild.

At least for a day or so, the time it took for me to realize that it was probably nothing, the lethargy he’d been showing, gone.

I’d put it out of my mind until my cell phone rang, and it was from the Personnel Manager. On a Sunday, no less. In the few seconds before I answered it, I’d made the assumption that Tomkins’s secretive visits to the specialist meant he needed time off for a routine operation.

Greetings over, O’Reilly, the Personnel Manager, cut straight to the chase, “For your personal information, and not to be repeated, Tomkins will be out of action for about two months, and as that is longer than the standard period, you will become Acting Manager. We’ll talk more about this Tuesday morning.” Monday was a holiday.

All Assistant Managers knew the rules. Any absence of a manager for longer than a month, promotion to Acting Manager. Anything less, you sat in the office, but no change in title. There was one more rule, that in the event of the death of a manager, the assistant manager was immediately promoted to Manager. This had only happened once before. 70 years ago. If a manager retired, then the position of Manager was thrown open to anyone in the organization.

It was an intriguing moment in time.

Tuesday came, and as usual, I went into the office, with only one thought in mind, let the staff in the department know what was happening, of course, the moment I was given the approval to do so by Personnel.

Not a minute after I sat down, the phone rang. I picked it up, gave my name and greeting. It was met with a rather excitable voice of the Assistant Manager, Personnel, “I just got word from on high, you’ve been promoted to manager. How could that possibly happen…”

Then a moment later, as realization set in, “Unless…”

—-

© Charles Heath 2020-2021