In 2020 I started writing fiction again. It lasted about a year. A little while ago I created the writing page of this site, hoping it would inspire me to at least finish the last piece I was working on, which is still a work in progress. It has not. But the other day I was reminded of this scene from the first piece I wrote when I returned to fiction, a modern take on The Monkey’s Paw. It’s called Abuse of Power.
When he was 24 Andy got his first professional job. It had been less than a year since his mother died. It had been six years since his last job. He had subsisted off of scholarship money until his discovery and had made plenty of money gambling since then. But he was bored and had a computer science degree.
As he got out of his car he said, “I want this job.”
“I don’t see any extra-curricular activities on your resume. What else did you do while you were going to school?”
“I am really good at gambling. I made a lot of money. I also traveled.” Andy had an out-of-body experience as the words came out of his mouth. Why was he saying that?
His interviewer laughed nervously. “I like to watch the World Series of Poker on ESPN2.”
“Cool.” This interview was not going well. Andy wondered if that even mattered. Why couldn’t they just ask him to write a bubble sort on the whiteboard? There was a whiteboard. It was covered in nearly illegible words, some circled, lines connecting the circles in imprecise arcs, cutting through other illegible words. Evidence that important deep thinking had occurred in this room.
Andy got the job. In college, he had written an entire web search engine in just one of his classes. Now he was copy-pasting marketing copy into HTML and cranking out JSON APIs for front-end developers in another country.
“I need to do something more interesting,” Andy mumbled under his breath one day. The next day his manager stopped by his desk and informed him that there was an emergency situation at a client site in Omaha. Andy was to learn about that particular system overnight and fly to Nebraska in the morning.
“I need to remember all this shit,” Andy said with disgust as he settled down with the company wiki that night and checked out the repository for that product. And he did. He’d later wonder to himself why he’d never tried that in college. The answer was he had never thought to. He’d never needed to.
“I need Omaha to not be boring,” Andy quietly said as he boarded the flight.
“I need these customers to be cool,” he said in the Uber from the airport.
“Yeah?” his Uber driver asked. “What are you doing in Omaha?”
“Working,” Andy said. “I need to get better at small talk,” he told his driver and the universe simultaneously. That lead to pleasant conversation. He couldn’t remember ever having a congenial conversation with a stranger.
Andy discovered and remedied the problem by lunch. He still couldn’t believe they paid $2000 plus his expenses for him to work half a day, all because they refused to make the machine accessible from the outside.
“While you’re here,” his customer point-of-contact, Bill, said and pulled him into a meeting. There was a heated discussion, and Andy listened. Finally, after an hour, Bill said, “Andy, what do you think?” Andy suggested his company’s new cloud offering might solve the problems they were having.
“No, no. Sam would never go for that,” a woman across the conference table said. Andy had heard that name a couple of times throughout the meeting. He wondered who this mythical Sam person was. He imagined him sitting in a dimly lit room at the end of a long, dark hallway. Company minions were sent down that hall to extract signatures or opinions. They would shake and wince the entire way.
“Let’s call her,” Bill said and reached for the conference phone in the middle of the table. The air thickened. Eyes widened. He hit a button on the phone and the electric dial-tone screamed like a cheap alarm. Then he hit the buttons, slowly and methodically. 3. 2. 7. 0. #. The phone rang.
Andy listened to the call between Bill and Sam. It did not go well. Andy really wanted to leave. He wondered if there was a parallel universe where he could and did leave. Where he just stood up and walked out the door.
It was painful to listen to. Bill mercifully did not direct any of Sam’s ire towards Andy.
Bill hung up. His face was bright red but he smiled. “She…she didn’t hang up on me.”
“I know!” someone else said. Andy couldn’t remember his name.
“That went really well,” Bill said. He turned to Andy and said, “I think we have you back in the next couple of weeks to discuss your cloud offering in more detail, and we’ll see if we can get Sam in the room.” Andy was so confused. And definitely did not want to be in the same room as Sam as she eviscerated all his arguments for his company’s products. He didn’t believe in them that much. And he didn’t understand why it was worth having him fly to Omaha again if that was the inevitable outcome. He sat for a number of beats in stunned silence, trying to find the right words.
“That went really well?”
Bill laughed nervously. “Yes! And as for our next meeting with Sam, we can’t have your salesperson here, just you. She’ll never budge if there is a salesperson in the room.”
“I need this meeting with Sam to go well.”
Andy was dutifully sent back to Omaha two weeks later. The meeting was set for pretty much the moment he arrived at their offices. He was nervous.
“Well, Sam, you have the final word. What do you think?” Bill asked.
“I don’t know why I bother, you’re just going to do this anyway. Approved.” Sam’s first words to the room full of middle management were blunt and to the point. Andy had given his presentation, there was a short period of discussion and then Bill had laid it up for Sam. Her response evoked a huge smile from Bill. He had won the impossible, and he had no idea it was because of Andy, and Andy had no idea if it was because he had asked or because Sam was simply tired of fighting the good fight. Her stable system that had served the company well for twenty years was going to be replaced piece by piece with new tech hastily developed within the last five years, advocated by MBAs who wouldn’t know a compiler from a wrinkle-free oxford and made technical decisions based on other MBAs’ Medium posts. Andy was just a political tool, and he felt acutely so as he watched Sam get up and walk out of the conference room.