Packet DesignTurncoat

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I worked at Packet Design for a little over a year. They let me go in January of last year when the economy really started to turn. I remember Adler, who had only been my manager for only about a month, brought me to his office to tell me the news.

"Packet Design is changing the way it does business, " he told me.

"I have no problem with that, " I said.

"The thing is that we're not going to need as many writers on staff, " he said.

"But you are keeping some, I take it, " I said.

Adler paused for a moment before answering. "Some of the senior members of the team have offer skills to offer, " he told me.

"I'm a senior member of the team, " I said.

"You haven't even been here a year, " Adler told me.

"I've been here ten months nearly exactly, " I said. "For many companies that would qualify me as a senior employee. You know what turnaround is like these days. People come and go as they please."

"It won't be like that for much longer, " Adler said. "If you have a job, you're going to stay with it as long as you can."

"But I guess I won't be in that situation, " I said.

"We have a good package to offer you here, " Adler said. "To be honest, this is a good time to go. I'm betting this isn't the last time that we'll have to restructure. And later on it will be harder to offer much of anything to those who leave."

"I didn't even know that the company was in trouble, " I said. "I read some of the statements that come in. I thought we were doing all right."

"I can't say anything about that, " Adler told me. "I've probably told you too much already."

"You haven't told me anything, " I said. "You haven't even told me why you have to let me go, exactly."

"The company is moving in new directions, " he said. "Your services will simply not be required anymore."

"So you're getting an outside shop to do the writing, " I said.

"I can't say anything about that, " Adler told me.

"There have been rumors, " I said. "So I guess I shouldn't be surprised."

Adler perked up when I said that. "What do you mean that there have been rumors?" he asked me.

"I don't know, " I said. "You know how it is. People talk about this sort of thing. Nobody's been feeling secure with the way the stock market is going and all that."

"You have to be more specific, " Adler said. He reached into his desk and pulled out a notebook. "Do you remember any names?" he then asked me.

"We all just talk, " I told him. "You know how it is. You were out there before."

"It would be useful to give me at least one name, " he told me.

"I'm not going to tell on someone, " I said. "You can't expect me to do that."

Adler leaned back in is chair. "I can point in a few directions, " he said. "What I mean is that you'll be out there looking for work. I can make a few phone calls for you."

"So is this a deal we're working out now?" I said. "I rat on my co-workers and you grease the wheels for me?"

"Listen to the words you're using right now, " Adler said. "This isn't some detective novel. This is actually a serious issue. I'm not saying that whoever told you this or that is going to get in trouble. But clearly there's been a leak in terms of information. That is what concerns me most."

"Why should it concern you?" I said.

"It concerns the people I report to, " he said.

I took a moment to think about things before replying. I mean, I had nothing to hide, right? I worked with these people. We'd go out after work and have a few drinks sometimes, but I didn't even particularly enjoy doing that. "I'll give you one name, " I said.

"That's perfect, " Adler said. He picked up a pen off his desk.

"There was that guy Barber who was working with us for a while, " I said. "They brought him in from marketing. Do you know who I'm talking about?"

Adler scratched the name down on a page in his notebook. "He helped us with the stuff we were writing for the sales team, " he then said.

"He kept telling us that our writing was flat, " I said. "You know how it is with marketing people. They're obsessed with words. Words and pictures. He tried to get us to completely change the way we wrote everything. We kept trying to tell him that there were standards. Someone showed him the standards manual. But he told us that we had to throw out the old standards and come up with something fresh and new."

"I didn't realize that he was causing so much trouble, " Adler said. "Someone should have told me."

"It wasn't like that, " I told him. "Most of us liked Barber. He was just one of those people who thought he knew what was best for everyone. But we got along with him."

"He went outside his mandate, " Adler said. "Someone should have told me."

"We're getting off track here, " I said. "The point is that he kept trying to persuade us to see things his way. And somehow he had heard about the outsourcing idea. So he told us that we had to change our way of doing things or else we'd all be unemployed. He hinted that the company was looking into other options. That's about as much as I can tell you."

Adler was scribbling down everything I said by that point. "This is good, " he said. "I'm not saying that this Barber fellow is in any trouble. Though I don't like the fact that he was so pushy about everything when he was here. Someone should have told me about that, you know. But in the case of this particular issue, I'm sure he got his information from somewhere else. So that's we'll try to determine."

"But I'm still fired either way, " I said.

"I know some people, like I said, " Adler told me. "Relax for a while. Think of this as an unexpected vacation. I'll be in touch. I might use my cell to call you. You know, I wouldn't use the office phones for this sort of thing."

"Of course not, " I said.

I went home that evening with a box full of belongings from my workstation. This was stuff that I didn't even need. But somebody had to take it. I didn't like the idea of the cleaning staff coming in and tossing it all out. I wanted to get rid of it myself, at least.

I was renting an apartment in San Mateo at the time. It was small and I never cleaned it, and I wouldn't dare invite anyone up to see it. I kept to myself most of the time, except for those after-work excursions. But I kept myself busy. I kept on writing, that is, even after I got home. Except I was working on my own stuff when I was at home.

That day when Packet Design let me go I sat down at my computer and pulled up a story that I hadn't touched in a while. It was set in a town in Arizona in the nineteenth century. I'd stopped writing it because I wanted to do more research about the period, but I could never find the time. So I mostly just improvised based on how I thought people might conceive of what things were like back then.

I picked up where I left off a few months earlier, which was the last time that I had added to the story. "Barton went to see Smith at his hotel, " I wrote. "He had no other choice."

I won't give you the background to this story. I just wanted to show you what I wrote that day:

"Smith's hotel was on the edge of town on the road from Flagstaff. His clientele was therefore a rowdy bunch, but they were folks that had information about what was going on in the wider world. That's why Barton wanted to talk to the man who owned the place.

"Smith was at the bar when Barton arrived, polishing the metal fixtures. Barton sat at a stool away from where Smith was working, but fixed his eyes on him. Smith, of course, pretended not to notice him, at least at first. But he slowly edged closer to where Barton was sitting, wiping everything clean along the way.

"Finally, Smith spoke. 'I don't serve militia folk here, ' he said to Barton.

"'I'm not thirsty, so that's fine with me, ' Barton said.

"'You're taking my words to literally, ' Smith said. 'I don't even want you on the premises.'

"'That's perfect, then, ' Barton said. 'I don't want to be here. I just need to ask you a few questions, and then I'll go.'

Smith put down his cloth and leaned down on the bar, propping his head up with his hand. "'I shouldn't even be talking to you, ' Smith said. 'I should ask you to leave. I could force you to leave, if it came to that.'

"'I don't think you'd want to cause a scene here, ' Barton said. 'You know, I could make things quite difficult for you if you did.'

"'Let's just get on with things, ' Smith said. 'Enough of this dancing around the issue.'

"'There's a guest staying here that came from St. Louis, ' Barton said.

"'Everyone's from St. Louis, ' Smith said. 'That's what they'll tell you, anyway.'

"'Well, I know for sure that he spent quite a bit of time there, ' Barton said. 'I have a good description of him. There are a lot of people that know who he is.'

"'I can't tell one customer from the other anymore, ' Smith said. 'You say you have a description. I bet it matches everyone in the place.'

"'His name is Morris, ' Barton said. 'He still uses that name, as far as I know.'

"'I can't say I recall anyone with that name, ' Smith said. 'Of course, it's a common name. We've had a Morris here once or twice. But not recently.'

"'Now I know for a fact that you're not being entirely honest with me, ' Barton said. 'I talked to the fellow that runs the dry good store. He told me that someone by the name of Morris dropped by the other day.'

"'Listen to yourself, ' Smith said. 'He has a name. The owner of the dry goods store, I mean. But you militia people think you've all better than the rest of us. You're above the fray. So why bother to learn our names?'

"'I know your name, ' Barton said. 'And I know that you have a past. A past that you wouldn't want anyone to know about.'

"'It's all about information with you people, ' Smith said. 'You claim to have something on me, so you think I'll do whatever you want.'

"'I know you'll want to cooperate, ' Barton said. 'I don't want to see you get into any trouble. That's the last thing I want.'

"'I'm sure it is, ' Smith said.

"'I have a few questions, ' Barton said. 'You answer them, and then you'll never see me again.'

"'I'll see you again, ' Smith said. 'Don't make promises you can't keep.'"

I never did finish that story. It still sits on my computer, waiting for an ending. Or maybe it doesn't need an ending. Maybe it's fine the way it is.

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