Monday mornings can be a drag. Time to put away the weekend’s freedom and get back into the excitement or boredom of whatever work brings.
Lying there, he was not able to sense whether he’d been dreaming or not. Light flooded the bedroom, filtered only by the horizontal slats of the Venetian blinds. There it was again. The mobile rattled on the polished wooden floor where he’d put it the night before, no tone but definitely ringing. He picked it up. It stopped. Thirty seconds later, the buzz tone of a message.
“See you at north Rockhampton depot, 8:15, Mike”
An unexpected message, Mike was based in Melbourne, so being here was slightly strange. Perhaps he’d come over the weekend and stayed at his mate Andrew’s place, up on the highest ridge in Rockhampton where the well heeled resided.
“Well, postpones the drive out to the site 80 kilometres south anyway” I thought, loads of time for breakfast.
Soon enough it was time to go.
The yard at north Rocky was a dusty grain handling terminal, part rail, part road. The bitumen extended only far enough onto the site to serve the few offices under the silos to the left. On the other side a miss-mash of demountable offices. In these cabins Cheetham the salt company held some space. A town base when one was needed.
“G’day Mike, surprise to see you here so bright and early. Did you come up over the weekend?”
“Yes, stayed last night at Andrew’s, flew in yesterday afternoon,” he replied.
The white sheet clad demountables were sparsely furnished, and we were seated on either side of a laminated lunch table, no frills.
“Yes, I needed to talk with you before the work day,” he intoned.
It kinda sounded serious but I let the feeling pass.
Andrew was seated to his left, with a somewhat furtive look, avoiding any direct eye contact.
“I’ve come up to look into some matters at the plant today before I head back to Melbourne this afternoon. There’s been some accusations made about you, which will mean you won’t be going down to Bajool today.”
I was stunned!l
No work today?
“I need to go to the works and speak to people there,” he repeated.
“What about,” I interjected, “what’s this all about.”
Mike prevaricated. I’d seen him in action before and as urbane as he was there was a decidedly slimy streak about him.
I’d realised this when I came to Rockhampton for the job initial interview, and had asked how long the role had been vacant. There was no direct reply really, vague hand waves that the dilapidated plant was being managed by a guy named Henry, and that there’d be a three week handover. It was consoling then as the plant was way in the sticks and renowned for its interesting IR climate. After I had accepted the role and within a week of being there Mike had paid a visit. On the 80 km drive back to the airport I’d said to him,
“If I’d known it was this bad, I’d never have taken this. By the way where’s Henry now. He was here two days and I haven’t seen him since. He said he wasn’t returning cos he’s got his money.”
“Is that right?” I queried.
Mike replied,”Well I think you’re better off without him here, you’ll pick it up ok,” a sly grin creasing his lips. Henry apparently was the manager I was supposed to take over from and had been in the salt game for more than 30 years. Perhaps naively I thought I might learn a trick or two from him. I never heard from Henry again, although the accounts office continued to pickup the remnants of his abuse of the Amex card for months later.
Mike said, “You should go home now, I’ll call you this afternoon”
I shook my head to clear it. “Go home,” echoed once or twice, then faded in my ears.
Had I heard him right,”go home?”
“We don’t want you in the plant today while we investigate these issues, so it’s best you go home. I’ll call you when we ‘re done, should be this afternoon.”
Looking back I figure there was more to the eighty minute conversation than my feint recollection, but that was its essence.
I left. A cruel blow to one’s dignity. Not knowing why you’d been sent off, the questions swirled yet my persistent questioning revealed nothing from Mike or to a lesser extent Andrew.
Leaving the office and crossing the gravelled yard beyond which my car was parked I could sense the slowness of my pace. My feet barely lifted one foot ahead of the other. There was really no where to go but back to my rented house. I knew no one there, had made no friends in the two years I’d been in Rockhampton, I might as well have been on Mars.
A day became a week. A week of depressing solitude. I determined only I could find a way out.
A road trip south, skirting the inland wild rivers ultimately found me at my longest friend’s home in Central New South Wales. We took stock of my situation, and he thoughtfully advised that moving on was the best option. I decided to do that.
The report commissioned by the company related how I had rolled around on the tarmac in front of the offices at Bajool on the weekend before the Board was to visit. How I had taken little green and blue pills in my office during office hours, and that I was not well liked by the employees. A farrago of untruths, somehow cobbled together from interviews with sometime colleagues. As a change manager I accepted that I was not well liked by some employees, especially those the company required to be retrenched after thirty years service. Soon enough it was three months later. I had not worked in that time though paid.
Graeme, the manufacturing manager I had recruited from New Zealand, placed my few personal possessions in a soggy cardboard box, delivered them to my rented seventies chamfer board house one afternoon, and I was gone.
In the months following, Andrew, Mike, Graeme, Roger the operations manger in South Australia, the operations manager in Victoria, Bill the CEO were all gone. All victims of the winds of change which swept through Cheetham after the ex Australian Wheat Board executive takeover of key roles in a once great company.