For the Greater Good
Warren Paul Glover
“Just what sort of agent provocateur have we got here?”
The boss’s question hung in the air unanswered. I kept looking at my file, aware all eyes were on me. I was hoping Vernon would answer first. After all, Vernon was head of department, one of the boss’s right hand men, and he’d hired the ‘agent provocateur’ in question in the first place. I’d sat in on the interviews of course, but I’m just the personnel guy, the human resources clone who jumps when all the managers say ‘jump’. I just hope I jump high enough most of the time. This time I knew I hadn’t. This time, we all hadn’t jumped high enough. We were all culpable. But I knew they’d try to pin the blame on me.
Unable to take the suffocating silence any longer I looked up. The boss, Bill McClelland, General Secretary of one of the biggest unions in the country, sat peering over his large desk like some myopic Chinese Emperor from the Sixth Dynasty. I shrugged my shoulders at him. This was risking his wrath, of course, but I was beyond caring now. I turned to look at Vernon who was standing looking out of the window. He didn’t look happy and I couldn’t blame him. But it wasn’t really his fault, either, although he could have handled himself better.
The dull click of a lighter, the metallic snap as its lid closed and the smell of a cigarette brought my attention to Malcolm, the real villain of the piece if you ask me. If it
wasn’t for Malcolm’s domineering macho-management we wouldn’t be in this mess. He had a lot to answer for, Malcolm, but he was a tough bastard and he would fight tooth-
and-nail, every inch of the way, to deny he was responsible. I watched him take a drag on his ciggie and smooth the hairs of his alpha male moustache – alpha male in the union glory days of the 1970s, maybe.
It seemed a suitable symbol for the union’s diminishing stature and power, Malcolm’s moustache; both were now well past their sell-by dates. That’s the moment I decided I hated him, hated them all, and that I was in the wrong job. This was a dying industry and the dinosaurs at the top, running the union like a medieval fiefdom, were dying too. They were not called ‘union barons’ for nothing. Feudalism was alive and well, running a parallel existence alongside the casino capitalism that it tried hard to rein in. It was all a joke.
“He’s just a little bastard,” Malcolm announced, with all the insightful, intellectual analysis of a metal ingot. That was Malcolm all over: cold steel. Hard as nails, he was the boss’s chief enforcer.
“That little bastard,” the boss said, “has got our names all over the papers!”
He threw one of the newspapers over his desk at Malcolm. I tried to suppress a smirk. This was a really bad sign, for the boss to show anger with one of his most trusted lieutenants. Malcolm bent down to retrieve the scattered paper. I noticed Vernon studiously looking out the window. There must be something really interesting outside. That, or Vernon just didn’t want to be next.
“Read it!” the boss commanded when Malcolm had settled back down in his chair, the paper’s headline staring him in the face in big, bold embarrassing letters.
Malcolm coughed as he cleared his throat. The ciggies would kill him soon, I thought, and I doubted whether it would be such a sorry loss. Malcolm mumbled something inaudible.
“Read it louder,” the boss said.
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