Saturday, March 20, 2010

Day 68 - Betrayal

          I fired off another eight résumés today complete with tailored cover letters. I think it’s cool how the job boards make the process easy once you’re properly set up. On the flip side, they make it easy for everyone so it’s harder and harder to stand out, especially in the midst of the huge crowd of folks now looking for work.
          Things weren’t nearly so easy for a job seeker when I began to feel that I’d reached the end of my rope at Quilnutz. Back then everything was still intensely manual and cumbersome, and I was working so hard and under such duress that I just didn’t have the energy to look for a better situation. I was pretty much on my own. Ivan had fired Henry over an alleged breach of fiscal rectitude that was both smaller and less obvious than Ivan’s own trespasses. With Henry gone, Ivan shipped Mike off to Florida, and I suddenly found myself fighting battles on multiple fronts without allies. It was a bleak time.
          Henry’s undoing was interesting in a way. He was sucker punched by the one person who should have had his back. That was his supposed mistress, let’s call her Penny. I don’t know if Henry and Penny were engaged in an affair or not. Most everyone thought they were, including Henry’s daughter and probably, eventually at least, his wife. Penny certainly acted as if they were because she took every opportunity to throw her weight around as if it were Henry’s own—so much so that everyone came to take her excesses at face value. I confronted Henry about it once. I told him it didn’t matter to me one way or the other, but it sure was creating problems among the troops and he ought to consider cooling his jets. “When would I ever find time to screw that broad?” is what he said to me. I never brought it up again.
          Penny had been a payroll clerk in the company that Henry bought out of bankruptcy. When they shut their doors, she found herself relegated back to housewife status in rural Arkansas—not a happy circumstance for a woman with Penny’s aspirations. When Henry sent me out to Arkansas to get the plant ready to open again she was one of the first in line to get her job back. I made her an offer that I thought was fair based on the prevailing rates for clerical help, and Henry promptly cut it in half. She was happy to get that. I thought she must be just that desperate to get out of the house. I didn’t know that she was an expert practitioner of the dark arts, and that just getting her foot in the door was the moral equivalent to her of securing a fingernail paring or a lock of hair.
          We weren’t even open before Penny was promoted out of the payroll clerk position to become Henry’s personal assistant. The rest of her days with us, and subsequently with Quilnutz, were spent solidifying and fortifying her position. With Henry’s company that meant hanging onto Henry’s coattails, whatever that took. All her considerable power was derived from Henry and wielded in his name. At first Henry’s wife was a champion of Penny’s ascendancy. They were great chums. They went everywhere and did everything together—when Penny wasn’t busy ministering to Henry’s needs that is. As Penny’s hold on Henry increased, his wife began to fade into the background. Some of the newer customers even thought that Penny was the wife.
          Henry’s wife, let’s call her Pam, took most of this in stride. She’d been with Henry a long time and weathered all his storms and put up with all his shenanigans. She was content it seemed to let Penny play on center stage because she knew that whatever else may happen Henry owed her for her past loyalty and even a witch like Penny wasn’t going to upset that dynamic. She did have a breaking point though, and I was there to witness when she reached it.
          A crowd of us were out to dinner one night—Henry holding court in his usual flamboyant style. His wife was there, Penny, me, my wife, several other couples, most of them customers. When desert was served Penny began loading bites of chocolate cake from her plate onto her fork and feeding them into Henry’s mouth. It was a shockingly personal and intimate display—completely inappropriate in that or any other context. Jaws dropped all around the table. Glances were exchanged.
Henry’s wife’s usually placid and softly smiling face turned to granite. Her eyes glowed like mica fire-screens. You could see the flames licking up the inside of her skull. She was never the same after. Two years later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s had a mastectomy and been through three courses of radiation and chemotherapy already with another to come. I’m sure that she is dying, although no one will say that. I think it was that chocolate cake that killed her.
After Quilnutz bought us out and Henry’s star began to fade, Penny suddenly needed to hitch her wagon someplace else. With Ivan showing no interest in women at all and Fische rooting around in Alicia’s garden, Penny had to get creative. The first thing she had to do was disassociate herself from Henry. At least she’d have a chance on her own. Still attached to his hip she would be consumed in the flameout. At some point it must have occurred to her that if she could be the author of Henry’s undoing she would not only disassociate from Henry but demonstrate her loyalty to Quilnutz and to Ivan in the bargain. Once she’d figured that out she dipped Henry directly into the grease and danced around the sizzle.
It was as thorough and awesome a betrayal as I have ever seen. It eclipses anything that’s ever been done to me and I’ve been the victim of some doozies. What was alleged was that Henry was getting some money directly from customers on deals he was booking for Quilnutz at shows—knocking down cash, always one of his favorite tricks. Trouble was he’d already been warned about it and he knew Ivan was watching him like a hawk. I would have thought that he’d be more careful, but then Henry was always happiest when he was cheating someone. The more Ivan pressed him the more likely Henry was to cave in to his instincts. Cheating Ivan under Ivan’s nose would have been an altogether irresistible proposition to Henry. The mere suggestion that he try it would have been entrapment to his greedy soul.
I don’t know what part Penny had to play in all this. I know that she bore witness against him, and that was enough to undo Henry and cement her position at Quilnutz. Whether she urged Henry to do it, whether she made the whole thing up and Henry was actually innocent, I couldn’t say. Either is possible, but in all probability neither would have been necessary. In the grand scheme of things what happened to Henry was just Karma. For the rest of us life went on. The difference for me was that I was out of players who shared my interests and my fortunes. I was alone in a dark and scary place.

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