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Saturday, 23 March 2013

Short Story: 'One Dollar Toyota'


Passwords were the last thing on Andrew’s mind as he took his completed appraisal form over to the Personnel Office to give to Denise Smith. He knocked on her door and walked in to her office. She was talking animatedly on the phone and did not appear to have heard Andrew’s knock or entrance behind her. He stood there and waited.
            
‘Just a minute, I’m not logged on,’ she said into the phone and with her free hand typed ‘dsmith’ with one finger onto her computer keyboard against where it said Username on the screen. Against Password she slowly typed ‘1$toyota’. It wasn’t difficult to follow. Andrew coughed politely. Still speaking, Denise Smith turned, saw the papers in Andrew’s hand, smiled, and motioned to him to put them in her in-tray.

Back at his desk Andrew’s heart was thumping. The company was proud of its strict IT procedures - but he now had the means to access the Personnel  computer system, “Profile”, using Denise Smith’s login - and Denise Smith was away on a course for the last two days of the week! Did he dare do it? he asked himself.

Andrew’s wife welcomed him home that night with a radiant smile.
            ‘I went to the doctor’s this morning darling, and guess what?’ she said.  Andrew’s smile matched hers and before he could say anything Melanie carried on. ‘Dr. Jenkins says our baby will be due in the third week of October,’ and gave her husband a big hug. When they parted, Melanie, seeing Andrew’s apprehensive look, said
            ‘Don’t worry about the money darling - we’ll manage. Particularly if that new job you applied for comes through.’ Andrew broadened his own smile in approval despite the fact he was increasingly pessimistic about the “new job” because he’d heard nothing since applying three weeks ago. He fell asleep that night with ‘1$toyota’ etched on his mind.

At work the next day, Thursday, Andrew was on edge. He was on edge because he’d decided to get into Profile and find out what his salary band limits were. These limits were never revealed to employees, and neither were colleagues’ salaries. Because of the wide differential between the upper and lower band limit employees could find themselves working alongside a colleague, who unbeknown to them, could be earning up to £8,000 a year more or less than themselves. The company called this system “flexible”. The employees had another word. Andrew knew that if he could find out what his salary band limits were, he would have some leverage in the forthcoming pay review

Beads of sweat formed on Andrew’s brow as he wrestled with his conscience. The open plan office had almost cleared for lunch and nobody could oversee his machine. He opened the application Profile and was about to type in “dsmith” when he saw Denise Smith walk in the door at the far end of building and head quickly toward her office. One of the beads of sweat ran down his forehead as he quit everything on his computer and switched off his machine.  He knew that the system would not allow two simultaneous logins under the same name - that’s why he’d waited until Thursday when Denise Smith was away, or supposed to be away, on a course.
            ‘Hi Andrew,’ said Denise and waved briefly as she turned into her office. Andrew tried to smile in reply but he suddenly felt sick and realised that he probably looked it. He went for lunch.

At home that evening Melanie was immersing herself in her forthcoming role of motherhood.
            ‘Look darling I’ve made a list of what we’ll need for the baby’s bedroom and I found this in the supermarket.’ She held up “Your Baby’s Name”, a paperback, and pointed to the “on offer” sticker still on it. She was all bustle and it seemed quite incongruous when she sat down after dinner for her ‘rest’.
‘Will we really need all this?’ said Andrew as studied Melanie’s list.
‘Of course darling - but don’t worry we can get it a little at a time, after all we still have six and a half months,’ she beamed. Andrew had not been “darlinged” so much since they went on honeymoon, and there were other aspects of their honeymoon which had made a comeback this week to which he certainly had no objection. But none of this did anything to alleviate the fact that he was increasingly worried about how they were going to cope financially.  

Lying in bed that night Andrew tried to think objectively. He’d found out why Denise Smith had returned during her lunch-hour and had confirmed that she definitely would not be “popping in” tomorrow. His attitude hardened and he decided to be quite brazen about the whole business. After all, he told himself, how often did he or any of his colleagues pay any attention to each others computer screens.

Andrew typed ‘dsmith’ for username, entered ‘1$toyota’ for the password, pressed return and was “in” as computer parlance has it. He was presented with an array of some eight options, none of which at first glance appeared to bear any resemblance to employee records. He glanced around and  told himself to keep calm. The second option he tried asked him to enter “Employee’s Name” in a certain format. Andrew duly entered “Staley, Andrew” and was presented with a screen of information, all about himself. 

He found almost immediately that his salary band was £22,000 to £34,500 and almost choked with indignation - his current salary was £22,400!  He told himself to calm down. He could take his time. ‘Andrew is a very competent account manager who has charge of some of the company’s most valued customers’ stated the file. Is he indeed? mused Andrew, then asked himself, ‘then why don’t they pay him more?’ He quickly glanced through the rest of his file and then, feeling more confident, went into the records of two of his colleagues and his boss. This left him feeling more aggrieved  - he must be one of the lowest paid in the department. Melanie’s oft repeated comment of ‘They take advantage of you’, rang in his ears. He logged out of the system.

On Monday morning Andrew saw a few of his colleagues in a very different light.
            “Morning Andrew.”
            “Morning Brian.” The usual pleasantries were exchanged but last week Andrew regarded Brian as a bit of a wimp. This week however Andrew saw a man earning £4,500 more than him. In the opposite vein, go-getting Angela was on a comparative pittance. He knew. He idly watched John Wilson, the IT manager, go into Denise Smith’s office. Andrew was still daydreaming when he came out.
            ‘Andrew, could you step into my office for a moment?’ Denise Smith called across and broke into his thoughts. Andrew got up in answer to the summons and walked across the open plan area and into her office. She motioned to a chair and he sat down.
            ‘Andrew I’d like to talk to you about something which, quite frankly, the company are at a bit of a loss to understand.’ Andrew was jolted out of his complacency in a flash and felt the colour drain from his face. Had his illicit logon been discovered? He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. ‘Would you say that you were happy in your work?’ Denise continued.  Andrew felt very uncomfortable and shifted his position in his chair.
            ‘Yes, I think so,’ he replied, trying to sound calm.
            ‘Then why then would you want to do something which might jeopardise your position?’ said Denise. Her voice had a hard edge to it.
            ‘I…er… don’t know what you mean,’ said Andrew trying to keep himself together.
            ‘I mean’, continued Denise in the same hard tone, ‘the fact that I received a phone call earlier this morning from a Mr. Case. Does the name ring a bell?’ Not only was Andrew now very nervous - he was losing track of the plot.
            ‘I’m sorry I ..er…don’t even know a …’
            ‘Mr Case is the personnel manager of Twintrack Industries,’ Denise interrupted. She was now standing directly in front of him leaning on her desk. A shaft of light pierced Andrew’s darkness. Twintrack Industries was the company he had applied to for a job, three weeks ago. ‘He asked me to give you a reference,’  Denise added, as though this was the ultimate affront. 

Andrew was now doing rapid mental gymnastics - a few moments ago he was trying to face the possibility of being sacked, now it would seem he had the choice of two jobs. He stopped avoiding Denise Smith’s eyes.
            ‘Did you give me the reference?’ said Andrew looking her straight in the eye, now completely calm.
            ‘I…er…merely stated how long you had worked for us - that’s company policy.’ It was now Denise’s turn to “er”.
            ‘Thank you,’ said Andrew. ‘Twintrack Industries have offered me a position at a salary of £32,000 and I would be a fool to turn down an offer like that.’ Twintrack Industries had not even contacted Andrew, let alone made him an offer but he knew that he now had the upper hand. Denise walked back behind her desk and consulted her computer. Andrew knew that she was looking up his salary band. He felt very smug. She looked up and said, “If we could match £32,000 would you stay?”
            “I’d think about £34,000,” said Andrew. He didn’t want to be greedy!


ENDS

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