Chapter 3 – If He Was In Charge… (Excerpt from Chicago Time)

This is chapter three of my novel CHICAGO TIME. It will be available for purchase from Amazon.com and Smashwords on Monday April 2. You can read more about the novel here. You can read chapter one here, and chapter two here.

3 – If He Was In Charge…

Robert exited the train at the next stop, Quincy. He hurried down the steps, taking two at a time, to the sidewalk. He walked East, around the Fourth National Bank Tower to Lasalle Street, where he jaywalked across and headed into the Gloria Jeans Coffee in the first floor of the Lasalle Bank building. The fact the line was long only added to his agitation. He took his spot at the very end and was pleasantly surprised to find that the line moved at a good pace. When it was his turn at the register, he ordered a double cappuccino with a double-shot of espresso. “Quad in a double!” shouted the young clerk.

While Robert waited he thought that he wouldn’t have to be in such a hurry if someone else was running the department instead of Perry. Like Robert. If he was running the department it would be run much more efficiently, openly, and happily. All of the petty, annoying, unproductive things, like writing up testing summaries in addition to the bug reports, would never be part of any Quality Assurance Department he would run. In fact, if he was in charge, the department would be a much better department and there would be less rancor with the programmers in the Software Development Department. Of course, that would never happen because the bank would never let a big mouth like him be given important responsibilities. But just what had upper management been thinking when they had put Perry in charge of the QA Department? The man had previously been a consultant with Arthur Andersen in some vague capacity as an Efficiency Engineer but had never written a single test case in his life.

Robert took his cappuccino, added some RAW sugar, stirred it in quickly, and tasted it. He liked it almost as much as the cappuccinos from La Ville Venteuse. He took another sip then pushed open the glass door to the sidewalk. He jaywalked back across Lasalle and through the revolving doors of the Fourth National Bank Tower.

Robert’s gray cubicle was located on a center aisle on the eighth floor. He set his bag on the floor next to his chair, and peeled off the white plastic cover to the cup. He was about to take a tentative drink when Karen Washington, who occupied the cubicle next to him said, “Robert! You’re here! We’ve got a department meeting starting right now.”

Karen was the other Lead QA Engineer in the department. Two years older than Robert, her cubicle was devoid of pictures. She was black and a lesbian who was out only to Robert and a handful of other people within and outside their department. Robert’s cubicle was also devoid of personal photos. There was a black sign that read, in white letters, “White Sox Fan Parking Only” hanging on one wall. On another was a calendar of Lake Michigan light houses his parents had given him as a Christmas gift. Robert was not enamored with lighthouses. He merely thought it was useful to have a calendar in his cubicle.

“Did Perry email us the agenda?” Robert asked

“No.”

“We don’t know what it’s about?”

“No.”

“Crap.” Robert thought the reorganization, rumored about since the merger between BMC and Fourth National Bank had been finalized less than two months before, was finally taking place. The rumors had been constant about which departments were going to be consolidated, which branches would be closed, and how many people were going to be laid off. The rumors had stopped nearly two weeks before, making some people feel relieved and others more paranoid. Robert had been through this sort of thing before. The rumors often reached their highest and most absurd the day before the reorganization. But it was Monday, and reorgs never happened on Mondays. They were always on Fridays. So whatever Perry wanted, odds were it wasn’t related to any reorg. Which was good in a way but annoying in another. Robert had never had a clear idea of what it was Perry spent his time doing. Perry would mention all kinds of projects with acronyms like PALS, COMS, and WAL, that were always “about to be ready” but never implemented in the department.

“Come on!” Karen nearly shouted.

Robert, with a yellow legal pad and blue pen in one hand and the cappuccino in the other, followed Karen up the elevator to the 10th floor, out the door to the right, passing a few rows of light gray cubicles and the sounds of typing, copying, and faxing, to the Wright Conference Room. Inside the large conference room, everyone else from the department was already seated: Nikolai, Anna, Katrina, Timur, Rakesh, Dipti, Sanjay, Wen, Gary, Jeff, and Bob. Seated at one end of the long table was Perry Billows, the QA Department Manager.

Perry always told himself that attitude was something you decided to have. He was middle-aged with the gray starting to overtake the light brown in his hair. He was still married to wife number two after nine years and was quite content to being the step-dad to his wife’s two sons, but still smarting after all those years for not getting joint custody of his daughter Michelle from his first marriage.

Perry had been in a foul mood all weekend. His daughter had gotten engaged three months ago to a stockbroker she had been dating for a year. Perry had been overjoyed at the news. Then Friday evening she had informed him that her step-father was going to give her away at the ceremony.

“It’s not like you were ever really there for me,” she had said.

“I couldn’t be! I was too busy working in order to pay alimony to your mother, child support for you, and then support Mary, the boys, and myself. I’m still paying for your college loans!”

Perry decided he was most certainly not going to spend his Monday morning thinking about his ungrateful daughter. He had a meeting to run, decisions to make, emails to answer, and more meetings to attend. If he was going to ensure that he had a job after the reorganization resulting from Fourth National’s merger with BMC, he had to be on his toes, keep his eyes and ears open, play his cards right, and go with the flow.

“We were waiting for you, Robert,” said Perry as the door shut behind Robert.

Karen took the open seat near the middle of the table on the door side of the room. The only available seat remaining was the one to Perry’s right.

Robert sat in the chair next to Perry. “Sorry. I needed to get a cappuccino.”

“We do provide free coffee in the kitchen.”

“That stuff will give you dysentery.”

“No need to be crude, Robert.”

“Sorry.”

“Speaking of complaints, that’s why I called this meeting. As many of you know, there have been a lot of complaints about our performance as a department. With the merger, there is talk about downsizing and/or outsourcing some of the services our department provides to make room for BMC’s QA Department. Now, you all know that I would love to keep each and every one of you. But I can’t guarantee that, unfortunately. We have to take a long hard look at ourselves, evaluate our performance, and see where we can make improvements. For example, let’s take Robert, here.” Robert raised his eyebrows. “He was late, and as a result he made us start this meeting late. Do you have something to say to your co-workers, Robert?”

Despite a few drinks of his cappuccino, Robert’s caffeine headache remained strong. He knew he was one of the best workers in the department. The previous Department Manager, Lisa Timoshenko, had hired him. A year later she left to become a consultant. Perry was hired shortly after that. Robert thought it was Perry who antagonized the software developers by withholding QA resources for petty reasons, which had in-turn caused the very real possibility of the department being cut and most of its services outsourced to a consulting company. So Robert was damned if he was going to be used as a scapegoat. He took a sip of his cappuccino, licked the foam off the top of his lip and said, “I sure do, Perry.” He turned, looked around at his co-workers, and said, “Aren’t you all tired of working for this jackass?”

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