His last vision of Jonathan as he moved to the other side of the hors d’oeuvres table made him want to laugh out loud: Jonathan was standing there gawping like a freshwater bass caught in the shallows.
Frederick pondered the fact, and not incorrectly, that there were many people at the office who didn’t “get” him. He was a bit quirky and tended to spend more of his time at his workstation than gossiping in the breakroom or at the workstations of his co-workers, which put him on the outside of all the latest happenings. Yet here they all were, honoring him as he prepared to leave. He sighed, not quite sure of his own feelings. He didn’t really love his job, but he enjoyed his daily tasks; he was efficient, capable, and competent. His performance evaluations had been stellar for the last 12 years and yet here he was, holding the dirty end of the stick which had come in the form of a summons to his supervisor’s office the week before. He had been pouring over a new account and was poised to call the client when the intercom on his phone buzzed; it was Marion, the boss’s executive assistant. “Freddie, can you come down to Mr. Duguey’s office please?”
He unconsciously had wrinkled his nose at her choice to call him ‘Freddie.’ “Yes, Marion; does he need me right now?”
“Yes, Freddie; right now.” Frederick could hear the distain in the way she hung up the intercom but remembered to put on the most pleasant face he could muster before he got to his boss’s office suite.
“Go on in, Freddie; he’s expecting you,” Marion seemed sad behind her usual sneer as she pointed him toward the double mahogany doors that led to Blaze Duguey’s inner sanctum. Frederick kept half of his pleasant smile as he pushed through the doors and padded down the thickly carpeted short hall to Blaze’s actual office space. In private he and his boss were on a first-name basis, having gone to high school together. Frederick had gone on to get his MBA, while Blaze had wandered the back roads of the world; his wandering had given him the idea to start a small company that specialized in financial account management which in 15 years he had turned into a small global fiefdom. Blaze had received more real-world than formal education over that period but with the financial support of his family and specifically the business connections of his father was able to build an empire. He had received and maintained an A+ rating in the financial sector and businesses were screaming to get their portfolios into his hands for safe-keeping. His agents were all known to him personally or had been referred by friends of friends; it was just a family affair. As Frederick turned the corner, Blaze got up from his desk, motioning for him to sit on the couch.
“Frederick; how’ve you been, man?” Blaze asked as he sat in the deep armchair.
“Oh, you know how it is, Blaze,” Frederick tried to look more comfortable than he felt; the opulence of the office was difficult for him. “I was just working up a new client when Marion called. What’s up?”
It was Blaze’s turn to look uncomfortable. “How far back do we go, Frederick?”
The question told him that he was about to lose his job. No one asks a question like that out of the air, just to reminisce, in the middle of the busy season, in the middle of the day. Frederick sighed, “It’s been 35 years total that we’ve known each other but I’ve been here for 12.”
Blaze leaned in, tenting his fingers. “Frederick, I hate to have to do this but I have to let you go.”
Frederick remained silent; he had access to the public company figures and at least by those standards, things were well in the green. Over the course of 12 years he had received three promotions and now worked directly for his former classmate who was the CEO. And now he was being let go. “Would you mind telling me why?”
Blaze sat back, opening his arms wide in a gesture that suggested supplication, as if the decision was completely out of his control. “Listen, I know that the company is on a high road right now and the stockholders and board of directors want to keep it that way.” Frederick wished for laser eyebeams at that moment; his stare must have been a reasonable facsimile because Blaze got up and walked around the immense office as if to get out of the way of that gaze as he continued. “While I can’t of course go into who, I just need you to know that you aren’t alone in this thing. The board hired an ax-man to come up in here and do this. I couldn’t let that happen to you or a couple of others so I’m telling you before he or she gets here.” He shakily raked his hair and returned to his seat with a thick folder, which he put on the couch next to Frederick. “I talked with them and got you what I think is a good package. You know I will personally write you any kind of letter of reference you need. I even put a general one in there already.” And with that, he fell silent, his eyes pleading forgiveness.
Frederick picked up the folder but didn’t open it. He tried to soften his expression and said quietly, “Why me, Blaze?”
His former boss sighed, “That’s just the luck of the draw, my friend. We aren’t as young as we used to be. You said for yourself it’s been 35 years since we first met. That means we are both considered mid-career. I have a clause that says unless I’m proved incompetent I can’t get put out, but that’s because I founded the damned place. You know for yourself that we’ve got some of our friends’ kids working here now. They are more in tune with what’s going on out there. Did you realize that not one member of the R&D team is over the age of 30? The board knows that and so do the stockholders. They want the youth to keep raking in the profits and slowly they are going to kill off whoever they think is old and weak in the flock, regardless of the profits you all clear.”
“Yo, Freddie–you gonna get some dip or you just gonna stand there staring at it?” Frederick turned to find Lois standing there with a fist on her left hip. “Sorry, Lois; I was daydreaming a little.”
She flashed him a giant, braces-filled smile, her dark brown eyes dancing in her almond-shaped face. “Well, duh! I could see that, hon.” She waved her arm, the motion meant to encompass everyone and everything. “All this goin’ on for you and you standin’ here looking sad? You all right?” He nodded unconvincingly. “Man,” she said conspiratorially with her voice lowered, “you are so lucky to be gettin’ out of here before the you-know-what hits the you-know-what.” She winked, grabbed a big spoonful of dip and some carrot sticks, and was gone into the crowd before he could say a word.