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The Incumbent: Chapter 36

It's an intricate web of murder plots, government conspiracies and rampant tanning. Oh, and the future of the entire nation.
Written by Phil Dobbie, Contributor

ZDNet Australia is proud to bring you a serialised version of Phil Dobbie's novel The Incumbent. A new chapter will be published here as part of his blog each week on Tuesday. You can also buy the entire book by clicking here.

Felicity Bunkle from HR had been called to Jimi Jones' office. She was keen to meet the new head of the organisation, but somewhat curious that she could find no paperwork on him, apart from a rejected application for a junior post, on the back of which had been stapled Peabody's suicide note.

She'd found his address to the executive team awe-inspiring, and had held a dream that others would come into the company to make it the dynamic powerhouse she wanted to work for. Of course, she could have gone to other, more go-ahead companies, but they wouldn't have wanted her. She wasn't smart enough, and, even if she was, they'd probably have expected her to work hard. Instead, it was easier to get the cushy job at VastTel, and hope someone could change the company without asking her to do much. That way, she could be employed by a go-ahead company, without much work on her part. Perhaps now, with Jimi Jones in charge, the change was about to happen.

Bunkle spent at least four hours each day on Headlook, the social network that accounted for 25% of time spent by all human beings on the planet.

Like everyone in the company, Bunkle spent at least four hours each day on Headlook, the social networking site that accounted for 25 percent of all time spent by all human beings on the planet. In some countries, such as Afghanistan, the percentage was lower, but US forces were fighting to reopen internet cafes and restore what had recently been declared by the UN as a basic human right.

'Off to meet the new boss. Hear he's a spunk,' Bunkle had written on her Headlook profile, a post that would be read by no one, as usual. Then she gathered a notebook, and headed to the top floor. She was the only one in HR to answer the boss' call — the rest were yet to return from the conference in the Seychelles. She had missed the plane out there, and was now running the entire department, which, she quickly realised, did nothing.

Still, she was taking her new job of being the entire HR department very seriously. Deciding she needed to look professional, she had toned down the designs on some of her leggings, rarely wore midriff tops anymore and often wouldn't even plug herself in to an MP3 player during meetings. For her first one-on-one with the new CEO, she wore the player, but rested the headphones around her neck, so he knew he had her full attention.

'I'm going to retrench people,' Jones declared, resting back on his Grade 1 executive chair. He hadn't fully worked out all the features yet, but had read in the manual that if he was strapped in, it was possible to do a full somersault. Repeating this action regularly was good for developing the abs, apparently. Jones hadn't been game to try it — he was aware that the chair had been damaged a little in the rocket attack, which had made the manufacturer's guarantee void.

Bunkle was all for efficiency, but not if it inconvenienced people.

'Retrench people?' said Bunkle, in part wondering if this was a good idea, but mainly wondering what the word meant.

'Yes, half the workplace will have to go.'

'Where to?' she asked, still not getting it.

Jones hadn't expected the question. 'I don't know,' he said eventually. 'Wherever they want to go, I suppose, just not here.'

'Will we still pay them?' Bunkle asked, not at all liking what she was hearing. She was all for efficiency, but not if it inconvenienced people.

'No. That's the point,' said Jones. He hadn't even considered the implications on the people he was getting rid of.

'It means they will be free to take their career in a new direction,' he said, after only a slight hesitation, demonstrating how quickly he'd picked up the ability to speak corporate b*******. He had almost convinced himself that he was doing these people a favour. The new direction taken by most, with no training and little real-life experience, would be to a park bench, probably for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, there were lots of park benches to go round, as the government had been buying more of them recently as an easy solution to the issue of homelessness.

Bunkle was still struggling with the notion of redundancy when the door burst open. A bedraggled executive type lurched in. Shocked by the intruder, she moved back in her chair. The man looked threatening. His face was burnt, his hair had been shaved off and there was a bandage wrapped around one hand.

Jones didn't seem concerned. Instead, he introduced him.

'Felicity, this is Jeremy Parsons.'

His face was burnt, his hair had been shaved off and there was a bandage wrapped around one hand...

'Excuse how I look,' said Parsons, who, always taking pride in his appearance, had never had to use such words before.

'I was in a bomb attack a few days ago,' he explained.

Bunkle had read on Headlook about the attack. A friend who sometimes read the newspaper told her about it. She now realised that this was the room where the attack had taken place. She noticed that the window had been replaced, although there were still bits of glass in the carpet. Thank goodness she had decided to wear something on her feet for the meeting.

'Parsons will be helping you with this redundancy program,' Jones explained. 'I want you to get onto it right away.'

As far as he was concerned, that was the end of the conversation. The two of them could now leave him, push ahead with the plan and he would spend the rest of the day working through the company's financial reports.

'We'll get onto it as quickly as possible,' promised Bunkle, knowing full well that that was never very quick at all.

'But how will we determine who goes and who stays?' she asked.

Parsons was quick to chime in. He was keen to make an impression on Jones and maintain his gravy train of consultancy work from VastTel, although he feared this young man would be far more demanding than his predecessor.

'I suppose it would be politically incorrect to do it by nationality,' he said.

'I think so,' said Bunkle. She was mildly aware that when it came to racism, there were laws to be wary of.

'What about sexual orientation?' Parsons continued, noting that at least three quarters of the call centre were gay.

'It's up to you to work it out,' said Jones, keen to see them both out of his office.

Parsons knew you should always agree with the boss — then give the impression it was your idea and charge for it.

'I don't think any of the approaches we've discussed will be legally acceptable,' said Bunkle.

'Look,' said Jones, a little impatient. 'Why don't you just take all the people who aren't at work right now?' He figured that a good half of them would be skiving off in one form or another, so it seemed a quick and simple solution.

'Brilliant!' said Parsons, giving the idea no thought whatsoever, but knowing that you should always agree with the boss, then later give the impression that it was your idea and charge for the time accordingly.

Parson's mind was racing with the sheer number of hours involved in such a massive retrenchment program. First, he would establish a working group, set up a few sub-groups, attend a few relevant conferences on redundancy procedures, develop a project timeline for the formulation of a policy, implement another working group to list activities that could police the new policy, all with a view to having a more concrete plan ready for implementation, or at least a plan that could be used as an input to the ultimate plan, which could be delivered after further working groups had convened. As he verbalised the procedure to Jones and Bunkle, his mind was busy calculating how many hours of exorbitant consultancy fees he could charge for such a thing.

Jones wondered why they were making it so difficult. He could do it himself, right now. All it involved was a quick email saying, 'If you're not at work right now, don't bother coming back.' How hard could that be?

'However you guys want to handle it,' he said. 'But we need to get all that done by the end of next week. Think you can do it?'

'I was thinking more like a year,' said Bunkle.

'To present the initial plan,' Parsons intercepted, concerned that she was creating an unrealistic expectation.

Jones looked on in disbelief.

'If we pull out all the stops,' he added.

The Incumbent is Phil Dobbie's first novel and these excerpts have been used with his permission. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. To purchase the entire novel in digital format, click here. It is also available in printed format ... for more details click here.

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