On November 6th, 2 pm , I’ll be launching my latest book, Glow Grass and Other Tales, together with two great writer friends, Rosemary Aubert and Donna Carrick at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street!
Rosemary, a two-time winner of the Arthur Ellis Award, is launching her collection of stories, The Midnight Boat to Palermo. This moving story is one of the best crime stories I have ever read.
Donna is bringing out her anthology, North on the Yellowhead. In addition to running a successful publishing company, Donna is a gifted writer of stories, novels and non-fiction. Her crime story in Thirteen, “Watermelon Weekend” was an Arthur Ellis finalist in 2015.
Leading up to our Trifecta Launch, I’ll be publishing an excerpt of each story in Glow Grass, starting today.
First off, the comic misadventure, Kill the Boss, inspired by 10 years in government bureaucracy. It won the Golden Horseshoe Award, a short story contest sponsored by the Crime Writers of Canada. (First published in Silver Moon Magazine, January, 2006; reprinted in Mouth Full of Bullets, September, 2007.)
KILL THE BOSS
“I hate my job,” I said. “Truly, madly, deeply. With passion and conviction.”
Bertie, my cell-mate in our office’s maze of cloth-covered boxes, sighed, smoothed back her spiky red hair, and granted me her usual look of benign indulgence. “Lorraine, consider the alternative. Unemployment. You’re just upset about turning fifty. You’ll get over it.”
Would I? No one hires people over fifty, especially civil servants. And men don’t date women over forty. Since my divorce even the possibility of charity sex looked bleak. My ears were ringing with the sound of the doors of opportunity slamming shut.
“Think about the French pastry shop we’ll be raiding for your birthday lunch,” Bertie said. “It’ll get us through the staff meeting Magda called this morning.”
More good news. “Was she really in at 7 am?”
For reasons known only to our fusty Assistant Deputy Minister, Dr. Vladimir Nickle, our Policy Coordination Unit served as the gateway to the great Snakes and Ladders game of senior management. All aspiring careerists passed through us on their way up to – or hurtling down from – the corporate stratosphere. Magda was our newly appointed director.
To save our sanity, over the years Bertie and I had devised a boss-cataloguing system: fiery prodigies who spring-boarded through in sojourns of mere weeks, we named The Comets. Those who fell from grace, we called The Meteors. And Magda’s predecessor, who’d hidden under his desk before vanishing on permanent stress leave, we’d baptized The Black Hole. But classifying the enigmatic Magda Molina had proved difficult, so temporarily we’d labelled her the Quasar.
“Have a chocolate, doctor’s orders,” Bertie said, prying open the box of truffles Ramona had brought in for my birthday. “I struck gold today.” Her grin grew foxy. “Magda is Vlad the Spellchecker’s prodigy.”
Disaster! I stuffed down three of those babies.
Dr. Nickle – Vlad the Spellchecker to us – had ruled our division for twenty-five years, his astonishing longevity cemented by his mastery of the art of obstructionism. Stifling innovation meant no programs, and no programs meant no problems for our political masters. They all loved him. The few contentious issues that did squeak through from the public sank in Vlad’s miry sea of government-speak. Starting at seven each morning, he edited every report, letter and memo that emanated from our division. In detail. He’d reject correspondence for a comma which – inevitably – mutated into a moving target. My personal record for the number of back and forth journeys of a draft letter between our office and his stood at sixteen.
“I’m so sorry to make this a short meeting.” Magda stretched back, looking at each of us in turn. “So do forgive me if I appear to be brutally frank, but truth is best. Dr. Nickle is deeply concerned about your unit.”
Those nicely digesting truffles congealed into a tarry mass.
“You all risk embarrassing the Minister with your undisciplined writing.”
Hot acrid chocolate burned the back of my throat. Embarrass the Minister? Collectively, we had a century of government experience! I braced myself for that dreaded word: reorganization.
“Clearly, you all have forgotten how to write.”
Oh, no, much worse! Under her elegant hand, I spotted an ominously familiar, mustard-hued booklet: the Ministry Guide to Style, penned by Vlad the Spellchecker himself.
“I have no choice but to sign off on all your correspondence personally. And I only look at hard copy.”
“But our office is fully electronic,” Roger, our Senior IT Manager, protested.
“I’m aware of that, but hard copy unlocks the mind’s creative potential,” Magda countered. “Each letter you write must be flawless: warm, caring and personal. Mine your creativity. Some of you will have to dig rather deeply, but do look upon it as a challenge.”
I coughed. Bertie kicked me under the table. Hard.
Again that warm smile. “I shall be coaching each of you. Personally.”
I threw up. Oh, not there in Magda’s boardroom though arguably, charging out of the meeting to plunge into the washroom counted as a heinous career-limiting move.
“Magda’s not a Quasar,” I fumed over a limp salad in the food court after work. “She’s a Supernova, a cosmic disaster. I can’t afford to lose my job. My divorce lawyer bankrupted me.”
“I should never have moved to the Beaches,” Bertie sighed. “Dream house, mean mortgage. If I quit, I lose everything.”
“She’ll drive us mad. Oh, heavens, we can’t just sit here and complain. We have to do something.”
Bertie rubbed her crimson spikes, thinking. “OK, here’s the deal. We wait until she leaves the office. We go down to the parking lot, leap in my car and then…we kill her.”
“Who’s joking?” Bertie looked foxier than ever. “Let’s make it our Special Project. We’ll call it long-term strategic planning.”