A Taste Of Things To Come

Michael schools a past colleague. Artwork by Jess

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You were a good teacher.

One of the best. When I started here, you were the only one to see my potential, the very same potential I was hired for. How quickly these things are forgotten when there are so many more alleys to get lost in.

I was a big fish in a very small pond until our benevolent employer deigned to intervene and transport me to this shiny new world of opportunity and challenge. I’d learned all I could at that last place, not that there was much to go on. When times were good, I think we had seven employees. By the time I left, only three remained, including that old man who started it. Such a tired old man. Anyway, as I said, I’d absorbed all their knowledge, memorised every single function, made myself indispensable…until it was my time to dispense. It was a good company, and they were good to me. He was good to me. It was a shame to watch him drown.

It started with those words… “Nice work.” Yes, it was rather nice. I hadn’t yet learned your lesson about modesty, about not believing one’s own hype. There were meetings. I was wined and dined. It was hoped that I could see the opportunities laid out ahead of me, it was hoped I really had grown bigger than my breeches as it appeared to the outside world. My, our headhunters were so precise, so persuasive. It’s true what they say: all they ever look at is your neck.

And then I was here. And so were you. You, so renowned around the offices. You, alternately lusted after by the women and resented by the men to whom nature was not as kind. You always seemed so oblivious, it was such a great ploy. Already, I was learning.

It didn’t take long to get accustomed to how things worked here. Yes it was bigger, but that only meant more room for inefficiency. You’d already worked it all out, I’d often wonder why you bothered passing it on. I mean, it’s not as if it wasn’t obvious. Maybe having fresh eyes helped.

Yes, I remember Hooley. How long had you kept him dangling? You could see how hard he’d worked, in his weathered skin, in his jaundiced eyes, his callused hands. He was hungry for that position. He’d starved himself, you know? Passed up so many other opportunities while he waited. For you.

You didn’t even sell it that well to him, but I reckon he wanted to be you. Any chance to get closer to you he’d have taken, but you knew that. You exploited that. He was so hungry… He resented me, of course. Nothing but love for you but he wouldn’t do a damn thing I asked of him. What made you and I so different in his eyes?

The day Hooley left, they had a party for him. Years of service. And there you were, cutting the cake. Uncharacteristically it was a sloppy cut, since you were still a bit hung over from the night before. The last thing I felt like was eating cake, we’d hit the local so hard it hurt. Do you think Hooley knew we’d been celebrating his corporate murder? Did he even realise you’d stabbed him in the back? What was it you had on him again? Oh, that’s right, the drinking. A bit pot, kettle of you.

I don’t know if I ever thanked you, by the way, even if you’re regretting it now. Hooley probably could have done the job as well as me, but he wouldn’t have had my flair, my gusto. He would have aped your style just like he did in every other aspect, especially the drinking. Besides, the boss prefers my way of doing things. After all, they never headhunted Hooley.

Has the burning subsided? It only hurts at first, you know. Of course you know. It actually hurt me more, this. But I’m used to pain. The pain of starting from the bottom, the pain of being trodden on in their haste to get to your desk. They don’t wear slippers.

Since it’s probably stopped hurting by now, it’s the perfect time to twist: the boss was in on this. See, it wasn’t just you I was learning from. It’s funny, I always wondered what people at that level actually did. Turns out it’s not so much what you do as what you have, and he has that killer instinct. That’s how he could see it in me. Tarred with the same brush. And hey, that’s what Hooley used to say about you and he. Funny how these things work out.

Oh, I’ll aspire to do as well as my predecessor; modesty in moderation and all that. But in all honesty they’ll have forgotten you in a few weeks. Even the women. What’s that? It’s getting dark? But it’s always been dark here, we operate in shadow. That’s why you never saw this coming. You were a good teacher, probably too good. But school’s out. Now, what flavour cake would you like?

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