Cover art rendered by Doug Sturk a.k.a. Sturkwurk
The Company Sold
Everyone who knows me, calls me “Oddy.” No, it’s not an insult, it’s the short version of my name, Odysseus. Theoretically, Arnie Bluteau and Janice Wellington should call me “Mr. Popeil,” since I am Information Technology Supervisor for Fleischer Transport, and thus their boss. But nope, Arnie and Janice call me “Oddy” too. We’re relaxed that way.
At the moment, the three of us were listening as Mr. Fleischer gave his last speech to his employees.
Since there was no one room in Fleischer Transport that could contain all us employees, the ceremony was being held in the parking lot.
Which means that I was wearing my “driving” bifocal glasses instead of my “reading” bifocal glasses. An optometrist could tell them apart, but to anybody else, they’re glasses with big, black, dorky-looking frames. Don’t ever get pinkeye.
“…From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all,” Mr. Fleischer was saying. “It has been your hard work and your dedication, each one of you, that has made Fleischer Transport an organization that people want to do business with. Over and over, you have made me proud.”
I murmured just loud enough for Arnie and Janice to hear, “The guy isn’t even gone yet, and I miss him already. He made every one of us employees feel like a king.”
Arnie murmured back, “Fleischer paid us like a king, too. Think the new lady is going to keep our great salaries?”
Janice shrugged. “We’ll find out, soon enough.”
Soon Mr. Fleischer finished his speech, to whistles and long applause. Then he stepped aside as the new owner, Olivia Olson, stepped to the podium.
I muttered, “Well, at least she’ll be nice to look at.” Ms. Olson was a brunette with her hair in a bun, which was the same color and hairstyle that one of my long-ago babysitters had worn. Okay, fine, I have a unusual fetish, which Olivia Olson just happened to hit.
Arnie nodded. “Oh, yeah. Check out her skirt. Long skirts do it for me.”
Janice whispered, “Are you two crazy? Look at her! Flat-chested, she’s skinny, she has no curves at all. Worse, she’s in her thirties.”
Such a description was every way different from Janice’s own. Natural-blond Janice had worked as a Hooter’s waitress when she’d been twenty-two—but that was five years and thirty pounds ago.
Now I grinned at Janice. “I think you’re jealous.”
“Then say something nice about how she looks.”
“I like her pearl earrings.”
Janice said, “Guys, she’s looking at us. I think she wants us to shut up.”
Indeed, Ms. Olson was still standing at the podium, giving her speech. But her eyes were looking daggers at the three of us.
But I must tell you that, however much I enjoyed looking at Ms. Olson, her speech was painful to listen to. Olivia Olson has a screechy voice.
Eventually Ms. Olson stepped away from the podium, handed Mr. Fleischer a white envelope, and the two of them shook hands. The old owner was grinning (as he often did); the new owner wasn’t smiling at all.
The show was over, so we employees drifted inside.
Two minutes later, Arnie, Janice and I were back inside Information Technology’s open bay, and I’d just switched back to my “reading” bifocal glasses.
There was a knock at the door.
Standing there was Mr. Fleischer and Ms. Olson. He was saying to her, “…since I’m the only Level Six user in the company, I’m the only one who can upgrade you to a Level Six account.”
Ms. Olson didn’t even look at Arnie, Janice, or me. “I understand that part, Maximilian, but why do we have to do it here? Your computer in your office is much more convenient.”
She hadn’t addressed the question to me, but I answered it: “So that there’s less harm if somebody put a keyboard-logger on his machine. For you to get a Level Six account, Mr. Fleischer has to personally log in and assign it to you, and he has to do it from my computer, and two people from I.T. have to type in their user names and passwords as witnesses.”
Then Ms. Olson asked me an oddball question. “What level of account do you have, Mr. Popeil?”
“Level Five: All Departments,” I said, as I wondered why she’d asked me that. “I can’t read Mr. Fleischer’s email, or peek inside his BIGBOSS folder; but other than that, I can look at, or change, anything that he can.”
“I see,” she said. Her face revealed nothing.
Then Ms. Olson turned to Mr. Fleischer. “Shall we do what we came for?”
Two minutes later, I was typing in my user name and password. “Okay, who’s the other witness? Arnie, Janice, do I have a volunteer?”
“I guess I will,” Janice said with a shrug.
As Janice was typing at my keyboard, Ms. Olson asked her, “How long have you worked here, Ms. Wellington?”
“Me? Almost five years.”
“Do you know your job?” Ms. Olson asked Janice.
I thought, Don’t ask me, lady. Janice have never worked hard enough for me to find out if she knows her job or not.
Meanwhile, Janice was shrugging again. “I know it well enough, I suppose.”
When Janice backed away from my keyboard, Ms. Olson asked the room, “So are we done now? I want to get started.”
Mr. Fleischer put a hand on her skinny shoulder. “Hold your horses, Olivia. We’re almost done.”
Now Mr. Fleischer looked at me. “Oddy, you need to change the combination for the BigBoss keypad.” Mr. Fleischer was referring to the keypad to get into his big office.
I nodded, then Mr. Fleischer turned back Ms. Olson. “Is there anything else I can help you with, before I leave?”
Olivia put on what looked to me like a very fake smile. “Thank you, Maximilian, but I’m good. Enjoy your retirement.”
Mr. Fleischer grinned, shook the hands of Arnie, Janice, and me, wished Ms. Olson good luck, then he was gone.
No sooner had he left, but Ms. Olson turned to glare at Arnie. “You! You work here in I.T.?”
Arnie’s face said, I can’t figure out what is going on. Aloud he said, “Yes, ma’am. I’m Arnold Bluteau.”
“When was the last time you shaved, Mr. Bluteau?”
Arnie’s face started turning red. He’s very sensitive about his heavy beard. (So I’ll never mention to him that I know that, because of that heavy beard and his big size, Arnie had been called “Caveman” in college.) Anyway, Arnie replied to Ms. Olson, “Six-thirty.”
“Six-thirty this morning, 6:30 last night, or June 30th of last year?”
There was complete silence in the room for two seconds. I was thinking, What the hell, lady? Then Arnie said, “Six-thirty this morning, ma’am.”
“Starting tomorrow, I want you to have some kind of shaving device in your desk. I expect you to shave during every lunch break. Is that clear?”
By now, Arnie’s face and neck all were bright red. “Yes, ma’am, very clear.”
Ms. Olson spun around to look me in the eye. “Tell me again about the computer systems in the building.”
So I did. I told her about the computers and the software for the S&D (scheduling and dispatch) and warehousing systems, and the state-of-the-art security system (“Complete with motion detectors and motion-analysis software!”) for the outer doors and the grounds.
Janice interrupted then. “But before you think everything is up-to-date and modern, ma’am, let Oddy tell you about inside security.”
I smirked. “Ms. Olson, the places that have keypads—your office, this place, Personnel, Payroll, the Warehouse Manager’s office—all that runs off a DOS computer. A Russian DOS computer, running Russian-written DOS software.”
Ms. Olson’s eyes were wide. “How did that happen?”
“It happened in 1990, a year after the Soviet Union broke up. Russia need hard currency, so Mr. Fleischer got the whole shebang for practically nothing.”
I led Ms. Olson over to a computer and monitor that looked like something out of a museum. I said, “Take a good look—the Chekhov Model Two. Now for your keypad. Write down a number between six and eight digits. Sorry, can’t be less than six, nor more than eight.”
She grabbed a sheet of source code out of the trashcan, thought a moment, then she wrote down—
One minute later, I handed the piece of paper back to her. “Here you go. All done.”
“Does this number get me into only my own office, or is it good for the other places you mentioned? Payroll, et cetera?”
I said, “All of them. You have the run of the building now.”
Ms. Olson nodded. “I assume you have a shredder here?”
Janice led Ms. Olson to the shredder. By then, Ms. Olson had the paper folded double, so that Janice couldn’t see the keypad code.
Ms. Olson fed the paper into the shredder, then she left, without another word.
The very last thing that I saw of Ms. Olson was her sexy brunette bun.
Little did she know that, despite her paranoia about her keypad code, it was already compromised. You see, if I switched the 76 in the sequence with a 19, I’d get 11-24-1935, which was Grandpa Harry’s birthday. And I certainly could remember the 76 easily, since 1976 was the year I was born.
No lie, fifty years from now, I could write down the eight digits that Ms. Olson had just shredded.
But why would I want to remember Ms. Olson’s keypad code? After all, that door was unlocked during normal business hours.
Thirty seconds later, I was back at my desk, in my glass-walled office. Arnie came to my open doorway, gestured to the floor by my desk, and asked, “Um, would you mind…?”
“Go right ahead,” I said.
By my desk were two sixteen-pound dumbbells. I use the dumbbells, plus sometimes I do push-ups in my office, and this is how I deal with stress. As a result, my legs are skinny, my abs are ordinary, and my pecs are ordinary, but my shoulders and arms are badass!
As Arnie was doing curls with the dumbbells, he asked, “Is my five o’clock shadow really that bad?”
I shook my head. “She was out of line, embarrassing you like that. That shit wasn’t called for.”
A minute later, he put the dumbbells down, then walked to the doorway. At the doorway, he turned around and looked me in the eyes.
Arnie said, “You’re my boss. I wish you’d said something.”
Just before lunch, the laser printer started to hum. When I saw that it was Janice, not Arnie, walking toward the printer, I got alert. Janice doesn’t work more than she has to. So she had to be up to something.
Janice scooped up the pages, then walked straight toward my open office door. Once she crossed my doorway, she put her finger on the first page, as though she were pointing to particular text.
Brace for heavy seas, I thought.
When she was only two feet away from my chair, she leaned forward, giving me a peek at pudgy cleavage. Murmuring quietly, as though Arnie might overhear, Janice said, “I left my lunch at home. Can I borrow five bucks from you? It’s for Lean Cuisine and a yogurt.”
“Here we go again. Why can’t you carry plastic in your purse?”
“If I carry a credit card around, sometimes I act stupid. Please? I’m hungry.”
“You’re into me for fifty-three dollars already, Janice. Do you ever plan to pay me back?”
“I swear, I’ll pay it all back next Monday. Well, maybe not Monday.”
I didn’t believe her, but I loaned her the five bucks anyway. Yeah, I know, sometimes I’m not assertive.
Ha-ha-ha-ha, I have to laugh when I think back on that visit. Janice mooching me was a problem, but it was a normal problem; she’d done it before. This was just about the last moment that my life would be “normal.”
An hour after lunch, there was another knock at I.T.’s door.
“Ha-ha-ha-ha, we sure are popular today,” I said.
Arnie went to open the door. Walking in were Hamilton Garvey, our Personnel Director, and the most sourpussed old woman I had ever seen. She was wearing a black pantsuit, and had close-cropped gray hair. A flesh-colored hearing aid filled her left ear.
I stepped out of my office and walked up to the pair. “Hey, Hamilton, what’s going on?”
Hamilton’s face showed lots of emotions, none of them happy. “I have been … replaced. This is Cecilia Jones, the new Director of Personnel—”
“It won’t be called ‘Personnel’ anymore,” the woman said. “Now it will be called ‘Human Resources Management.’ ”
Arnie was standing close by now. To Hamilton he said, “Hold on, Olivia Olson fired you?”
The already frowning old woman frowned more deeply. “Call her Ms. Olson, young man. Olivia is disrespectful, and suggests a pattern of sexist behavior on your part.”
Hamilton said, “Well, I sure as hell can call her Olivia. Because number one, I went on two dates with her in college. And two, I’m the guy who PM’d her through Facebook, when I heard she was looking for an investment opportunity. Yessir, I’m the guy who told her, quote, ‘Fleischer Transport is going great. Check us out.’ ”
I said, “And then she fired you? That sucks, Hamilton.”
He shrugged. “New directions, needs new blood, blah-blah-blah. I should’ve seen it coming, she was the same in college. Anyway, my stuff is all in the car, I’m here just to tell you that Personnel—”
“Human Resources Management,” Cecilia the Hag corrected.
“—needs a new keypad combination. Good luck, everyone.”
Then without a word to Cecilia the Hag, or a handshake, Hamilton Garvey walked out of I.T.
I looked at the sourpuss and, keeping my own expression bland, I said, “Now if you’ll just step over here—”
She gestured toward Janice, who was nearby (and wide-eyed), but who hadn’t spoken a word. Sourpuss said, “I would prefer that the young woman handle this task, if at all possible.”
The words were a request. The tone of voice was an order.
Sometimes I’m not assertive. I didn’t object to Janice doing the Chekhov Computer stuff with Sourpuss Cecilia.
The task should have taken only one minute. If Janice were being fumble-fingered, it would have taken two minutes. It took five minutes, with them talking the whole time.
By then I was back in my glass office, so I couldn’t hear what was said. But what I saw reminded me of an New York City police detective questioning an unwilling witness.
The time was one minute till five o’clock. I was logging off my computer, Arnie was logging off his computer, and Janice? She was already standing by the front door.
There was a knock at the door. I thought, This is getting ridiculous.
I walked out of my office, calling out, “Nobody leaves till we find out what this is about.”
I opened the door, and one of the warehouse guys walked in. I couldn’t guess what he was doing here.
Neither could Arnie. “Steve, what are you doing here?” Arnie had worked two Christmas Breaks in the warehouse when he’d been a college undergraduate, so he knew many of the warehouse guys.
Steve looked at Janice, who was only two feet away. His voice dripping with sarcasm, Steve said, “Miss Wellington, Ah wish to thank you right kindly for what you’ve done.”
Then Steve turned to Arnie. “Ah just been fired. ‘Sexual harassment.’ Because supposedly Ah groped her ass.”
“Shit!” Arnie said. “Thanks a lot, Janice.”
“Guys, I didn’t say Steve had groped my ass,” Janice said. “I specifically said he ‘patted’ my ass. And I told Ms. Jones that this was at the Christmas party, over two years ago, and we were both drunk at the time.”
Steve said, “Whichever word you used when you tattled, Ah’m out of a job.”
By then the clock said 5:01. I said, “Let’s go home, people.”
By then I wanted above all, just to get away from all the melodrama.
Something New On The Internet
I hate the smell of cigarettes, so I don’t smoke cigarettes. I think cigars are ridiculous, every possible way. But I’ve liked the taste and the smell of pipe smoke, ever since I started smoking a pipe during college poker games.
So once I’d arrived home, changed clothes, and had poured me some soda from the fridge, I lighted my pipe. Ahh.
God, what a day. I needed to smoke my pipe as I fixed myself dinner (translation: as I nuked some ostrich pot pies from Discontinued Den).
After I ate and rinsed off my dishes, I got on my laptop and played with the internet. Eventually I visited the pirated-files discussion website, FreeAndUncontrolled.ky. It was F&U that had first recommended the game show “¡Viva Argentina!”, which is now my favorite TV show. And I watch episodes of it for free!
(Yes, the things that “¡Viva Argentina!” has contestants doing are silly. But mainly I enjoy watching the show because the spokesmodel, Maria Anna, is so hot. Plus, Maria Anna doesn’t speak much, but what she does say is, once I pause the video and translate the closed-captioning, absolutely hilarious.)
Anyway, eventually I went to the F&U forum called “Hot Topics,” which I knew would certainly be interesting. The most recent posting was a debate about the man shown banging a woman in a hotel room in a pirated video; was he really North Korea’s Rot Kim Chee?
Then, reading down the thread list, I saw this thread: “DIY HYPNO-TALKER—real deal or fake?”
Hold on, what? I thought. I clicked the link for that thread—
SverigeCowboy255: This soon ago went up. Does anyone know anything about a “do-it-yourself hypno-talker” or VietVetElecEngnr51?
NigelFrBrighton: Never heard of either of them. Sounds dodgy.
[two Chinese characters]: Baidu and Google know nothing.
MusashiLives: Has anyone downloaded the ZIP file? It is nice if it works.
ILuvPonies: It would also be nice if Nigerian banks would send me millions of dollars, but I’m not going to give out my bank-account details.
LionRoar925667: Why do you say bad to Nigeria?
The thread had many more posts, but all the comments looked like variations on How stupid does this guy think we are? So far as I could tell, nobody had bothered to even download the ZIP file, much less try to build the thing.
Which was too bad. Reading somebody’s report on this “hypno-talker” would have added some entertainment to my stressful day.
EDIT: Added 2014.03.10—
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EDIT: Added 2014.06.27—
EDIT: Added 2014.09.06—
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