On my old blog I would, from time to time, post short stories I was fretting over. Really, until I let them go to some unsuspecting journal, they’re all Works in Progress. And, after their editors reject them, they still are!
This story came to me during the freezing latter days of the Occupy movement, specifically the Occupy Albany camp sitting across Washington Avenue from the New York State Capitol.
It’s 1,300 words, but hang in and I hope it makes you smile by the end. It did my fiction group colleagues.
The story’s working title is…
Kenny walked down the dark corridor of headquarters toward the Old Man’s office. Even though he had worked there what seemed his whole life, he’d never been in the Old Man’s sanctum sanctorum.
Outside, he could hear the south wind, the wind always from the south as far as Kenny knew. What he couldn’t hear was the sound of the workers working, the sound of hammers and whistles and laughs that always drowned out the howling wind.
You can do this, Kenny, he said as he pulled open the large frosted glass door and tottered into the expansive anteroom. The platinum-haired receptionist looked up, startled, as if she’d never seen anyone but the Old Man come through that door. She peered over here silver-framed glasses at Kenny.
“Can I help you, sir?” she asked.
“Uhh, yes, please. I’d like to see Mr. C.”
“And you are…?”
“Kleinmann, Kenny Kleinmann. I represent the workers.”
“Yeah. Can’t you hear the chanting and clapping outside?”
“No, I only hear the wind.”
“And that in itself should tell you something’s up. There’s something in the wind,” Kenny said, regaining some of the courage he’d felt trickle away the further he walked down the long corridor.
“Suppose you tell the Old Man that the workers have stopped working and demand to air their grievances with him…right now,” Kenny said. He stretched up to his full height and felt his chest puff up a bit now.
“Let me see if he’s in,” said the woman behind the desk.
Seriously? Kenny thought. Where the hell else could he be?
Isolated as it was, the main office still used outdated equipment such as the intercom the receptionist toggled to contact the Old Man in his office behind the carved oak door.
“Yes?” Kenny heard coming from the tinny speaker on the desk in front of him. Even through a small speaker, the Old Man’s voice had a deep and stentorian timbre that gave Kenny as much of the shivers as his walk across the frozen space from the factory to headquarters.
“Sir, there’s a Mr. Kenny… uhh…”
“Kleinmann,” Kenny reminded her.
“…a Mr. Kenny Kleinmann out here to see you.
“I’m a bit tied up right now. Could you tell Mr. Kleinstein to please make an appointment for next week?”
But as she turned toward where Kenny had been standing, he was no longer there. She heard the great door open behind her with a clank and a creak.
“It’s Kleinmann,” Kenny said as he entered the Old Man’s dark wood-paneled office. And there behind his great wooden desk sat the Old Man himself, two computer monitors beaming light upon his white beard and the impressively carved decorative accents that festooned the walls and furnishings. Kenny recognized the carvings as Bavarian Black Forest style. He came from a long line of wood carvers on his mother’s side. He had no clue about the computers. Kenny took a couple of small steps toward the Old Man.
“I’m so sorry, sir,” the secretary said as she rushed in behind Kenny. “Shall I contact security?”
“That won’t be necessary, dear,” the Old Man said, never taking his eyes off Kenny. I’m sure this young man just wants to inform me of all the bad behavior that’s been going on the past few weeks outside and in the factory.”
“It’s not bad behavior, sir,” Kenny said, a chill running down his spine. How’d he know? Kenny thought. Does the Old Man have spies inside the Union?
“Oh, I just know these things, Kenny,” the Old Man said with a cheery expression in answer to Kenny’s unspoken question.
“What was it you came here to tell me, Kenny?” the Old Man asked.
“It’s really quite simple,” Kenny said. “We are tired of being the 99% around this factory town and we’re instituting our own version of the Occupy movement until you give us our due.”
“Oh my,” the Old Man said in mock horror. Then he thumbed his red vest and laughed his loud and seemingly affected laugh.
Kenny became angry with this condescending response to his serious attempt at social change and workers’ rights. It was this kind of looking down his nose at the workers that had prompted Kenny to organize all the little people against Corporate. He reached up and slammed his calloused hand on the Old Man’s desk.
“Listen! We’ve had enough of your keeping us down while you roll fat and happy off our sweat and blood. That’s the way it’s got to be from now on, Old Man. We want a bigger piece of the cookie, no more crumbs…real wages.”
The Old Man stopped his laughing, tented his fingers together prayer-like against his lips and closed his eyes. The only sound in the room was the loud ticking of Kenny’s heart and the elaborately carved grandfather clock in the corner of the office near the display of awards and photos of the Old Man and various celebrities. Then it struck quarter-after with a resounding gong.
The Old Man’s hands dropped to his desk and he slowly, quietly began to speak.
“Sorry, Kenny,” he said, his eyes still closed and giving up nary a twinkle hope, “there’s no money in this seasonal gig of ours anymore. We’re in the overnight delivery business more than production, these days, anyway. I pay you what I can and what you’re due”
“But what about the little folks like me and Louis Petites, Pablo Conciso, and Enzo Piccolemani? We’ve been with you since the beginning.”
“I know, Kenny. And believe me no one appreciates your hard work and all that stuff more than I. But times have changed and you guys have just not kept up with the Real World. I mean, look, it’s been a year since all this Occupy hooie has come and gone.”
“Well, we only heard about it here when Arthur Littlefield’s cousin from the States visited this summer.”
“Yeah, well it didn’t amount to more than a pile of beat-downs, a few rapes, a goodly number of ODs and arrests down there, too. I don’t want that here, understand? Though the first and last of that list could be arranged.”
Kenny couldn’t believe his ears. If the rest of the world could only see this side of the Old Man…
“So here’s the deal,” the Old Man said, laying a finger to the side of his nose, “I’ve kept you guys around because of all your years of devoted service, but since that has as much value as Blitzen poo, you either go back to work or I’ll replace you with Inuit temps or maybe some Finnish Saamis. Those guys know reindeer like nobody’s business and will be happy with Comet and Cupid milk and veggie burgers.”
“But what about Christmas?” Kenny said.
“What about it?”
“All our work, everything we’ve done for like centuries around here.”
“You mean those kitschy wooden pull toys and stuffed baby dolls you’ve been making for the past 200 years?” He laughed his jelly-belly laugh again. “So glad I never had satellite TV put into your quarters. Look, they just aren’t in demand anymore out there in the Londons, or Johannesburgs, or even in podunk, shit-heel four-way stops like Dilly, Texas.”
Kenny snapped at that, and tried crawling over the desk to get hands on the Old Man.
“Security,” the Old Man said and nodded to the hulks standing in the doorway. Kenny was hauled out of the Old Man’s office, tossed like a doll into the snow and the Occupy North Pole movement ended during one break time in September of 2012.
And, with the failure of Kenny and his colleagues in the newly formed newly organized NPLPUWC (North Pole Little People United Workers Cooperative) to break the anti-union hold the Old Man had on his business, 800 little men in tights flooded the carnival, Renaissance fair, shopping mall and midget wrestling workforce worldwide.
Meanwhile, his bottom line bulging a little more, just like his December waistline, the Robber Baron of the Borealis was able to stash a cool extra $1.5 mill of his image royalties and what he laughingly loved to call “Elf Overhead” into his Cayman retreat, ho-ho-hoing all the way to the bank.
©Joseph Hesch 2012