This story is by C. Richard Burge and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Mr. Rise sat at an old wooden desk in his dull gray office, illuminated by a single fluorescent fixture, wearing a dull gray suit, waiting for his next appointment. There was a knock on his door at 9:58 a.m.
“Come in,” he said as he straightened his glasses and tie. The door opened.
“Good morning, Mr. Fast. Please have a seat.”
Mr. Fast entered the room, closed the door behind him and sat down at the chair in front of the desk. On the desk was a name plate that read MR. RISE in all caps, a phone, a pencil holder full of generic black pens, one legal pad of yellow paper to his right, one manila folder in front of him and a manila envelope to his left, with the writing “CONDUCT UNBECOMING A COMPANY REPRESENTATIVE: TERMINATION REVIEW – INSTRUCTIONS WITHIN.”
“Do you know why you are here this morning Mr. Fast?”
“No, I do not,” Mr. Fast said, still looking at the envelope.
“This is a preliminary interview to discuss any possible discrepancies in past assignments that you have completed and the consequences that may be associated with those discrepancies. Before we begin, I am required to inform you that this interview is not voluntary. If you do not answer my questions truthfully and completely, there will be stiff penalties imposed upon you for non-compliance. Do you understand.”
“What discrepancies? What are you talking about?”
“One thing at a time, Mr. Fast. Do you understand that you are obligated to answer my questions truthfully?”
“Yes, I understand. Now, tell me what I am being accused of?”
“Mr. Fast, there are certain protocols in these matters and I am afraid that management is rather strict about the procedures. We will get to the particulars in a moment, but first I have a few preliminary details that I need to clarify.”
Mr. Rise opened the manila folder and, using his index finger as a guide, began looking over the first document. Mr. Fast slid the chair back slightly from the desk, shifted his position and crossed his legs.
Mr. Rise peered over his glasses at him with a raised eyebrow, then went back to scanning the document.
“You have been with the company for five years, correct?”
“And over the past two years, you have had a total of eight assignments?”
“You understand that the work we do here is, shall we say, delicate , requiring a high degree of discretion. When you receive an assignment, you must, dispatch the principal of that assignment in a way that does not call attention to you or the way the principal was dispatched. We serve a greater good by eliminating undesirables that would otherwise disrupt the balance of power. This is a very sacred honor. Your presence here today is most likely due to certain members of management feeling that you have been a little lax in carrying out those assignments. It is our job to look for ways to improve that. Don’t you agree?”
“Yes. But what was wrong with….”
“MR. FAST, PLEASE. Your incessant whining is disrupting this interview and I will no longer stand for it. This is how this will work. I will ASK the questions, YOU will ANSWER them. Understood?”
Mr. Fast thought of several additional comments, then thought better of it. He finally muttered a simple, “Yes”.
“Then I will continue. First, I would like to discuss the Anderson assignment that you completed on March 4th of last year.”
Mr. Rise removed a pen from the holder, removed the cap and placed it on the end of the pen.
“This assignment took a total of sixty days to complete, Correct?”
“Yes, but that is standard proc….”
“MR. FAST ARE WE GOING TO HAVE A PROBLEM COMPLETING THIS INTERVIEW!” Mr. Rise slammed the pen onto the paper. “I do not have all day to spend on these interruptions!”
“I was just clarifying wha…”
“If I need clarification of responses from a simpleton, I will ask. Just answer the questions. Do you understand?”
“You don’t have to be rude about this.”
“I have a job to do. The more difficult you make it, the more impatient I become. If this interview continues in this manner, it could adversely effect my evaluation. Am I making myself clear?”
“Yes sir.” Mr. Fast leaned forward in his chair, wringing his hands together just out of view of Mr. Rise. “I understand.”
“Good! May I continue?”
Mr. Rise straightened his glasses, picked up the pen from the pad of paper and threw it in the trash can under the desk. He then repeated the ritual of readying another pen for notes and cleared his throat.
“Now, at the conclusion of the assignment in question, was Housekeeping dispatched for waste removal?” Mr. Rise asked, as he jotted notes on the pad.
“A cl…” Mr. Rise shot a scowl across the desk before the sentence was complete and Mr. Fast thought better of any comments not in line with the questioning and simply said, “No.”
“Housekeeping is generally accepted as the final step in completing assignments, Mr. Fast. This deviation will have to be documented in my report.”
“Housekeeping is not always required when assignments are handled properly, with the required attention to detail, as mine are.”
Mr. Rise flew up from his chair, almost spilling the contest of the folder onto the floor, and grabbed the nameplate off of the desk.
“Do you see this…Can you read this…Does this say Mr. Fast? Does this have your name on it? NO! NO! NO! This says Mr. RISE. MR. R…I…S…E… RISE. My name is on this name plate, this is my office, I will decide what is necessary, what gets documented, what is standard, and what is a deviation! For the last time, is that understood, MR. FAST!?”
Mr. Fast could feel the blood rushing into his face, his pulse in his neck, and his palms beginning to sweat as he slowly drew in a very deep breath and exhaled. Causing a scene here would just prolong this and he was ready to leave as it was. He just had to get through this and he could clear it up with someone else later. He knew he was one of the best operatives in this division and no one had a more distinguished record.
“Yes…SIR.” He drew in another, long breath and held it for a moment before releasing it.
Mr. Rise replaced the nameplate on the desk, straightened the folder, the envelope and the notepad, and picked up the pen, tossing it into the trash. He slowly lowered himself into his seat and again retrieved a fresh pen from the holder, uncapping it and setting it on the pad of paper. Mr. Rise placed his hands on the folder and interlaced his fingers.
“There was a recommendation made to me by upper management when I was asked to complete this interview, but I set aside that resolution and took the higher road. I had decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. Give you a fair shake. Give you an opportunity to explain your actions and reconcile these discrepancies in a way that would not reflect poorly on you or your performance record. However, during the course of this interview, I feel that your attitude has been counterproductive to the mission at hand and I am afraid that I have no choice but to carry out the wishes of upper management and dispatch this issue under their guidance. I do apologize.”
“I did nothing…”
Mr. Rise threw up his hand. “Mr. Fast, that will be quite enough. You are simply impossible to deal with. BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. Constantly interrupting, lack of respect. I cannot work under these conditions. Please Mr. Fast, stand up.”
Mr. Fast slowly rose from his chair and stood there, his hands starting to tremble from the adrenaline and his elevated pulse. It was all he could do to not lash out at Mr. Rise and put this interview to an end in his own way.
Mr. Rise picked up the envelope. “In this envelope are instructions for you from the powers that be. They are to be carried out immediately, no questions asked. Upon completion you are to report to your immediate Supervisor for further processing. There is nothing more that I can do for you. Good day, sir.”
Mr. Fast took the envelope and turned to the door. He unclasped the envelope, removed the single card inside and looked it over for a moment. Satisfied, he returned it to the envelope and turned back towards the desk.
“What now? Are you deaf? I cannot help you any further.”
“Mr. Rise, you underestimate yourself. You are, indeed, the only one who can.”
Mr. Rise stood up. “Do I need to call security?”