LEVEL 1: SURPRISE
“Seriously, I don’t think it’s possible to beat this final boss. He’s burning through our extra lives again. I can’t face another week like last week. Let’s just use that cheat code I told you about and get this over with.”
My brow crinkles at the very suggestion. “No, we’re going to beat him properly. We haven’t come all this way to cheat our way to the ending. I want a real sense of pride and accomplishment, not some hollow victory. I just need to level up more. We could go back and farm some low level mobs, try and buff my stats. I only need 300 EXP to get to level 69 Rogue.”
There’s a hearty sigh at the other end of the microphone. “Seriously Marcus, I’m already maxed out. It’s going to take days for you to catch up. Are you sure we can’t just speed this along? I heard about this glitch that lets you craft infinite potions…”
“Absolutely not. What’s the point in playing a game if you’re just going to exploit the system?”
“To win mate. That’s it. Kick arse, save the world and move on to the next game.”
“Perhaps I don’t want to rush to another game. Maybe I want to savour this one.”
“You’re killing me here. I never should have convinced you to join the scouts. You do know that scouts honour stops applying when you hit puberty.”
“So any day for you then…”
“You’re lucky this isn’t a PVP zone. You’d be eating fireballs.”
“Based on your aim in that last boss fight I’d only be worried if I was standing next to the guy you were aiming at.”
Carlos stifles a yawn. “Ok, enough chit chat. One more try and then I have to go to bed. Tomorrow is a work day.”
“You keep telling me you don’t do anything in your new job!”
“True, but I still have to be there. They get annoyed if I get in after 10.”
“10 a.m! I knew I should have applied for that sales job. Jenkins gets his lackies to phone me if I’m not at my desk at 8:01.”
Carlos’ tone gets noticeably surlier. “Ugh, don’t remind me of that arrogant bastard. I don’t know why you keep putting up with him. I only lasted a year because you were there to stop me strangling him.”
We’re about to restart the boss fight when there is a thump on my door, making me jump. Before waiting for a response my Mum walks in. “I thought I heard voices. What are you still doing up?”
I pull off my headset. “Mum, I’m nearly 26 years old. I’m more than capable of deciding when I should go to bed.”
“Good point, you’re old enough to know better.”
“We are only going to be five more minutes, we just have to beat this boss and then we can save.” Could I sound any more pathetic. I’m like a five year old begging for a later bedtime.
Her expression softens. “Look, I know this isn’t easy for you. I appreciate you helping me out with the mortgage. But don’t you have that big meeting with Mr. Jenkins tomorrow morning? You don’t want to be stumbling in there half asleep.”
She has a point. “Ok, thanks Mum. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight Marcus.” With that she closes the door behind her.
I put the headset back on just in time to hear Carlos say, “Dude, you really need to move out. How do you not go mad?”
“Who says I haven’t?”
“So you really think Jenkins is going to offer you that promotion in your meeting tomorrow huh?”
“He bloody better. He has been promising for months. I don’t think I can keep going like this.”
Carlos scoffs. “Classic Jenkins. He will just find a new excuse. Don’t you remember when he did this to Andy? Kept stringing him along until he ran screaming from the building. I wonder what happened to him.”
“He’s working at the petrol station down on Smith street. Apparently Jenkins convinced HR to fire him with cause, so it completely ruined his references.”
“Why does HR always take his side? I swear he’s hooking up with Miss Jones.”
We both shudder at the thought.
“It’s ok, it is finally all going to come together and all my problems will be solved. Just you watch.”
“I’ll practice my surprised face.”
Mr. Jenkins smiles at me and says, “Marcus, thank you for coming this morning. I think we both know why I’ve asked you here.”
Finally! I can start turning my life around, pay down the rest of Mum’s mortgage and rent a place of my own. Maybe even go on a date. It feels like my life has been on hold for the last three years and it’s about to get jump started again.
I realize he kept talking while I was dreaming of a better life. As I tune back in he says, “…quarterly reporting is becoming increasingly scrutinized by the higher ups, so I am going to need as long as possible to review before I present it to them. I’ll therefore need it all wrapped up by this time tomorrow morning.”
My brow crinkles in response and I swallow my excitement. “I’m sorry, what needs to be wrapped up by tomorrow?”
“The quarterly report. I want to be able to review it before the presentation. If you could have it to me first thing that would be a huge help.”
I stare at him, choosing my next words carefully. “Are you sure you have the right person? I’m not currently working on the quarterly report. This is the first time you’ve mentioned it.”
“Indeed. That’s why I’m giving you all day today and all of tonight to get it done. I sent you last quarters slide deck, you can use it as a starting point. It’s really just plugging the numbers into the template.”
I let out a sigh of relief. “Oh ok, well that I can do. Where do I get the numbers from?”
“I don’t know, Brad did the slides last quarter. He might have some of the data queries saved. Check with him.” He waits for me to rush off, but instead I stay seated. He says, “Is there something else?”
If I don’t say something now they might not be able to catch me when I run screaming out of the building. “Actually yes there is. Is there any update on the promotion we discussed six months ago?”
It might be my imagination, but the air in this tiny corner office just got a lot cooler. Jenkins tenses up, as if he’s getting ready to bolt. With his generous frame I am pretty sure I could out run him, even if he has a head start. He sucks some air through his yellow teeth and says, “I have tried really hard to convince HR that we need an intermediate business analyst on the team, but they have pushed back on my current OPEX projections with the new position. As it stands we are running over budget for the quarter and we need to reset our bottom line and prove out our spending at this new staffing level before we can justify the additional expense. They did commit to opening up a new position at the start of the next financial year, when our budget is reset.”
My voice gets a little louder, bouncing off the paper thin walls. “That’s six months from now!”
“Just to be clear, it would be a new job opening rather than a promotion. I am obliged to post it so that anyone on the team could apply.”
“That’s not what we discussed! You said the promotion was a reward for my excellent performance last year, and all the overtime I put in to keep us on top of everything.”
“Unfortunately our hiring policy has changed. It’s out of my hands. Tenure won’t be taken into account in the hiring process. We don’t want anyone accusing us of favouritism. If you’d like to discuss it with someone feel free to arrange a meeting with Miss. Jones.”
No thank you. People have a nasty habit of going into her office with a simple request and leaving unemployed.
I’m about to continue the argument when there’s a knock on the door and Cindy strolls in without waiting for a response. She’s wearing a lot more makeup than usual. If her skirt was any shorter it would be a belt. She places a large coffee cup on Jenkins desk and flashes him a smile. “Hey boss. I was just grabbing a latte and what do you know they made me a white mocha by mistake. I know you drink those so I figured you might like it.”
Jenkins pushes it away. “I’m afraid I can’t have that, I’m lactose intolerant.”
Everybody knows that. He never shuts up about it. It’s why we don’t do team lunches anymore. Well, that and the total lack of any kind of budget.
Cindy doesn’t miss a beat. “What a coincidence, me too! It’s made with coconut milk. Enjoy!”
She stares at me as if I just farted. “Oh hey Marcus. Sorry, I didn’t know you were in here. I’ll leave you both to it.”
She saunters out of the room and I watch as Jenkins sips his coffee and smiles. I guess the word is already out about the promotion. It’s going to be a long six months, especially if I have to compete with that level of arse kissing.
I can’t just roll over and take this again. “I still don’t understand the delay. I thought you said there was budget put aside this year for a more senior position?”
“Unfortunately that money had to be reallocated. My chair broke and I needed to buy a new one.”
Jenkins swivels in his chair, as if to show off his new purchase. It makes his awful comb over flop from one side of his head to the other until it settles in something resembling the right place. The chair is one of those sloping ergonomic chairs that silicon valley start ups have. The type that costs several thousand pounds. He is literally sitting on my dreams, his fat arse suffocating the life out of them.
My left eye starts to twitch and my teeth clamp together to stop any words coming out. I stand up abruptly and he says, “Great talk. Don’t forget about the quarterly report, and please don’t neglect your usual tasks.”
It’s hard to talk through gritted teeth. “But I’m still working on the big presentation for the PDZ product launch for Saturn Corp you gave me yesterday. The deadline for that is end of day today. Did that change?”
He stares at me blankly. “No, I still need that presentation ready by end of day.”
“But I have hours of work to do on it. How am I supposed to complete both of those tasks?”
“Work smarter, not harder! Honestly, an Intermediate Business Analyst would find a way…”
Oh god, it’s started already. This is going to be my life for the next six months. I don’t think I can cope with this. I dart out of the room before I leap over the desk and beat him to death with his fancy chair.
I sulk my way back to my desk and slump into my chair that is definitely not ergonomic. Antique perhaps. There are so many different stains on it that it looks like a pattern. It squeaks more than a busy afternoon for the Pied Piper.
Deep breath. I’m concentrating on the wrong things. Focus on the problem at hand. How am I going to get an entire days worth of work done alongside ten hours of spreadsheets and graphs for the quarterly reports, without working all night?
I’m sure one of my colleagues will be happy to help. I’ve been a kind and patient mentor to all of them. The least they could do is get me out of this pickle.
I start with Brad. He’s been here almost as long as I have and has only survived some of Jenkins more ridiculous deadlines with my help. He’s also the guy most familiar with the quarterly reporting. I sidle up to him as he’s dumping a tea bag out of a still steaming cup. “Hey Brad, how’s it going?”
He eyes me suspiciously and takes an extra long sip of his tea. Eventually he responds. “Good thanks Marcus. Hey, could you help me out with something?”
“Could you grab my timesheet from the printer. Thanks mate.”
Bastard. He knows I need his help and he’s going to milk it for all it is worth. I sigh and say, “Sure, I’ll be right back.”
This should an easy task, but our printer spends more time jamming than a cheap cover band, and no-one ever tries to fix it. I stroll over and of course the red error light is flashing. I follow the on screen instructions, opening door after door, pulling out trays with small green handles, searching for an elusive piece of paper that no-one has ever found. After carefully putting it all back together I close the final door and the light turns green just long enough for one sheet of paper to come through before the jam warning flashes back up. In my frustration I give it a good slap. The printer is from a time before plastic was invented, so it has the density of a small battleship. My hand immediately starts to hurt and I let out a choice selection of swear words.
I grumble my way back to Brad and slam the piece of paper down on his desk. “There you go.”
“Thanks mate, appreciate it.” He goes back to his screen, clearly hoping I’ve forgotten what I came to ask him for. Not today.
“I need your help with the quarterly reports…”
I’m barely able to get the words out when he holds up his free hand. “Sorry buddy, I’m totally swamped.”
“But you know them better than anyone. I’m just trying to get a sense as to how to populate the slides. Jenkins said it would be pretty straightforwards.”
Brad laughs so hard a dribble of tea comes out his nose. He wipes his face with the back of his sleeve and says, “Good one. Those same slides have been used for at least a dozen quarterly reports. There is so much legacy data in there that no-one knows how any of the queries work anymore. It took me a week to cobble together as much as I could, and it took another week to make it stable enough that it didn’t crash on the second slide. When does he need them by?”
“Good luck with that!”
Bollocks. That does not sound promising. Before I can say anything else Brad turns his back to me and opens up a spreadsheet. It’s the same spreadsheet I’ve seen on his screen all week, something to flip to on the rare occasion that Jenkins bumbles out of his office. The lazy git is freezing me out.
I’ll have to remember this the next time he gets stuck.
Jim is next on my hit list. I lean over the cubicle wall. It’s slightly sticky and I peel myself off. Jim is sitting there with his feet up on the desk, playing on a portable games console. He’s not trying to hide it, he hasn’t even bothered putting headphones on. His tongue sticks out in concentration as his massive sausage fingers hammer at the buttons. I try to make polite conversation. “Hey Jim. What are you playing?”
He doesn’t look up from the screen. “Doom.” A heavy metal riff blares out of the speaker, followed by the sound of a chainsaw.
Of course he is. Tearing up demons is exactly how I imagine he likes to spend his mornings. “I don’t suppose you know anything about quarterly business reviews?”
He glances up just long enough to give me a scowl. His resultant grunt sounds like it is intended to convey that no, he doesn’t. Not exactly a massive shock. Jim is Jenkins cousin, and purely coincidentally he is also our only Senior Business Analyst. The fact that he doesn’t know a pivot table from a pool table is neither here nor there. I’d have more luck asking for help from an earthworm. Jim is many things, but competent is not one of them.
He leans back with a glide. I notice he’s sitting in one of those fancy new chairs too. It should annoy me, but I’ve got more important things to worry about right now.
Unfortunately that only leaves one person, and it is such a long shot a professional sniper would pack up his stuff and go home.
I approach slowly, using the gauntlet of coffee machines and broken printers as cover. I don’t want to give her a chance to run off before I can ambush her. I can hear typing, which is a promising sign.
There is no chance she would ever help me. I am her biggest competition for the promotion. She wants me to fall flat on my face. Still, I’m all out of options, so it’s worth a try. What’s the worst that could happen?
I slide into the entrance to her cubicle, blocking her escape. I do my best to smile casually at Cindy. Her desk is immaculate as always, with lines of pens and highlighters in order of colour. Every item has its place, and heaven help anyone that moves anything.
“How’s it going?”
She smiles back sweetly. “Absolutely marvellous thanks Marcus. How about yourself?”
Of all the responses I was expecting, that wasn’t one of them. I stammer out, “Good thanks. So I need your help with something…”
“Of course. Whatever you need.”
Now I am definitely wary. This isn’t her style at all. Usually she can’t wait to tell me how busy she is with very important work.
“Jenkins asked if I could work on the quarterly report, but I am swamped with other stuff. I don’t suppose you could take a quick look at them to help me out?”
“Actually, I have some capacity this afternoon. Send me what you have and I will take a first crack at them. When do you need them by?”
“If you could just send me whatever you have by the end of day I can finish them up tonight.”
She looks at me puzzled. “Isn’t tonight your birthday drinks with Carlos?”
“How do you know that?”
“He invited half the office. Unfortunately I can’t make it. Don’t worry about working on the slides, I will make sure they are done and you have them first thing tomorrow. Consider it a birthday present.”
There’s a long pause while I wait for her to start laughing, but it never happens. I say, “Thanks Cindy, I really appreciate it. I owe you one.”
“Nonsense, you would do the same for me Marcus. It’s my pleasure.”
Did I miss a memo? It is like the Cindy I know and love to hate has been replaced with her sweet and innocent twin. I certainly can’t complain about the timing.
I skip back to my desk feeling a lot less panicked. If I really knuckle down and concentrate I should be able to get the Saturn Corp slides finished by the end of the day.
My desk phone rings. I pick it up and Carlos says, “Are congratulations in order?”
“You know damn well they aren’t. Jenkins did exactly what you said.”
His tone softens. “I’m sorry mate. I told you, the man’s a weasel. It’s time for you to start looking for something else.”
“I know that. I’ll start tomorrow. I just have a few last things to wrap up here today.”
“At least we have drinks tonight to drown your sorrow.”
“We almost didn’t. Jenkins gave me a ridiculous amount of work to do, but luckily Cindy offered to help.”
“Are you out of your mind? Don’t trust her!” I keep forgetting he has a history with Cindy. They had something of a personality clash, in so far as Carlos has one, and Cindy doesn’t.
“Must you always be so paranoid? She wants to do a nice thing for me so we can go for drinks. Maybe this is her attempt to turn over a new leaf.”
“Mark my words, it’s a stinging nettle.”
“So who else is coming tonight?”
There’s a pause before Carlos replies. “Just the two of us buddy, I didn’t want a big group cramping our style. I’m going to be your wingman. Fire up the afterburner and hold on to your hat, it’s going to be wild!”
So much for half the office. “Where exactly are you taking me?”
“It’s a surprise!”
Oh great. I hate surprises. Especially Carlos surprises.
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