“That is a super nice shirt you have on today. I don’t think I’ve seen that one before, but you’re showing style. I like what I see. I wish I had a drop of style. I guess we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Keep up the great work!”
He’s at it again. I used to think his compliments were an attempt at sucking up to the bosses, Bill’s version of planting his lips squarely on the ass of his superior, if you will. But the more I studied him, the more I realized he wasn’t reserving his compliments for the higher ups. He spread the compliments around amongst the people he worked with, those he managed, and those he reported to. It was nauseating.
I sit next to Bill and I hear every conversation he has during the day. He’s a loud talker and a question asker. He sees every opportunity as a time to learn something new, and he loves to scour the brains of those he runs into for knowledge. He calls it his “knowledge quest.” He moved into the cubicle next to mine three years ago. I’m at my wits end. How could anyone want to learn as much as he does? Where does he keep all the information? Why does he care, or, more probably, why does he pretend to care?
The people around here don’t see it like I do. I sometimes bring it up in conversations. I ask them what they think of Bill, his constant questioning and compliments. The people around here don’t even acknowledge that he’s doing it. Not one of them notices his compliments for anything more than what he’s thinking. They think he’s making conversation, and each swears that Bill at one time or another said something that wasn’t positive. But every comment Bill ever makes is positive. Nothing is ever bad—everything is either super great or the most amazing thing ever. It’s starting to drive me mad, and I’m talking mad in the crazy sense, not the angry sense. I’ve been angry with Bill ever since he first introduced himself to me. He complimented me on my choice of tie. It was my first day of work, and my tie looked awful. I didn’t know that at the time, however. I’m color blind, and it wasn’t until my picture was photographed for my ID badge that someone mentioned that the tie I bought was an almost neon blue. The person described the tie as good signage for the Las Vegas strip. That signage is now immortalized on my badge, which I’m forced to wear around my neck every day. Every time I see someone look down at my badge and attempt to suppress a giggle I think of Bill.
People always tell me that Bill means well, that there’s not a malicious bone in his body. The pretend that he is truly trying to learn and improve those around him. I’ve been watching him. Closely monitoring his conversations, his choice of compliments, who he talks to and when. I have been keeping a written record of everything he does. There’s a pattern in his actions that I will find. And when I find it, I’m going to use it to prove Bill’s underhandedness to even the most ardent Bill lover.
Bill is the most plain looking man I’ve ever seen. If you saw him on the street, you wouldn’t even notice him. He has bland brown hair parted on the side. It looks oiled and doesn’t move much, but he claims it’s natural. His eyes are sunken into his head and when he’s tired and his eyes droop, it almost looks like he doesn’t have any eyeballs. He sits and walks with a slight slump to his shoulders, but when he shakes someone’s hand—and he always shakes hands when greeting someone, even if he sees that someone every day!—or delivers a compliments, his shoulders shoot back ramrod straight and he smiles. His teeth are perfect. I’ve only seen such teeth in magazine advertisements. The whiteness is so extreme that when he smiles in good light the rest of his face seems to disappear, leaving his teeth floating in whatever space he was standing. He must pay his dentist a fortune for those teeth.
Bill is up for his annual review today. When preparing the reviews, the company asks the employee’s managers and subordinates to write a report. They also ask one of the employee’s peers to write a report on the employee’s activities. This year I was very lucky. Bill chose me to write a review for him. I don’t think he knows what he got himself into. The year’s bonus, raise, and promotion are based on the reports that the employee receives. I spent the last two weeks putting Bill’s review together. If I do say so myself, I have not done any work at this company, none of my projects, the work for my customers, the end of year company assessments, nothing I’ve done since I’ve been here has been as high quality as the report I wrote on Bill’s activities.
It wasn’t strictly critical. I know how HR thinks, and I knew if I blasted Bill from the start of the report, they might think I had it in for him. Now, I do, of course, but I wanted to keep that close to my chest. I started by putting the reader at ease, providing helpful anecdotes about Bill’s performance that wasn’t necessarily negative. The light I was shining on him, however, was not bright. It was more acknowledging his existence without destroying him. It contained helpful information on how Bill could improve his technical work. As a technical writer, Bill is not bad. He’s average, perhaps a drop beneath average, but he does he get his work done. I’ve read enough of his manuals to know that. If I knew Bill only through his work product, I don’t think there would be much of a problem.
Once I finished the first section, I began adding to the report Bill’s undoing. I provided the information as an innocent babe, someone who doesn’t even realize that the information is in any way bad. None of it was made up, of course. I wouldn’t risk writing false information in a report that would be traced back to me. What I did, however, is highlight some of the less well-known aspects of our business, and how Bill regularly participates in them. How he bilks the clients, how he takes advantage of their generosity in the form accepting gifts and dinner. Sure, we all do that. It’s a dirty secret in our department. Even management participates here and there. We all keep our mouths shut about it. But outside our department, this doesn’t happen. None of us want to lose these benefits, but for me, Bill is worse than not having these benefits. For him, I’d sacrifice all the perks that nobody speaks about.
I threw small tidbits out in the report’s narrative. I didn’t make it sound like I was telling on him, I just used the illicit actions as examples in complimenting his work or explaining how he fell short of a goal. All of it was proper material for the report and without the unethical actions, almost thrown in as asides or used as examples, this would be a good report. Bill would have received a bump if it was based solely on all the good things I said in the report.
Bill has been in his boss’s office for the past hour. I haven’t been able to do work this entire week. I’ve been waiting for this moment. I know people around the office will figure this out once they fire Bill. They will look at the report—in a company this small, none of HR’s documents are truly secret—and they will put two and two together and come knocking at my door with their fancy four. Bill is well liked. I don’t know if it’s his compliments or his smile, but he has won over everyone in the office. I feel like I’m back in high school and I’ve been pushed into the wrong clique: the Bill haters. There’s me and there’s Sandra, the receptionist assistant. She sees through Bill’s façade. Sure, she doesn’t like anyone in the office including me, but that’s not the point. She knows a fake when she sees one, and Bill’s fake.
I’ve never witnessed a firing, but I assumed it’d be quick. I expected to be home celebrating by now, burning Bill in effigy, if you will. I have the company’s yearly photograph at home, with a sharpened pair of scissors next to it. Once Bill is fired, I’ll remove his head from the photograph and all will be well with the world. I won’t have to listen to his sugary compliments or his inane questioning. It’s a given that I haven’t been able to do work for the past week. Ever since I gave in the report I’ve been waiting for this moment. I’ve already made up my excuse to leave early today: a vet appointment for my imaginary dog. I’ve been building him up for the past year so I’d have another ready excuse for days like this. I even have a picture of him on my desk, and I keep his bi-yearly vet appointments on my calendar. I dropped a hint this morning that my dog wasn’t sounding good, and I was trying to get an emergency appointment. I have a feeling that appointment will go through today.
The door to Bill’s boss’s office opens and Bill walks out. He’s wearing his dark suit today with a striped tie. He shakes hands with his boss and walks to his desk. It’s coming, and I’m going to be here for it.
“How’d it go, Billy?” I ask.
“Fine, fine. Thanks for helping out with the report. You gave some excellent critiques and places for improvement. I’m going to be working on those areas for the rest of the year. It’s a great challenge because it’s an area I thought I had already licked. I guess you never know your progress looking in the mirror.”
What was he talking about? He should be crying now. He should be packing up his stuff into boxes and preparing to leave the office. He should be bloody. “So, everything went well in there?”
“We’re not supposed to talk about it, but I know I can trust you on this. It was my best review ever. I don’t know what they’re drinking in the boardroom upstairs, but they are very impressed with my work and the reports. I can’t thank you enough for your report. I saw you working on it last week, and I appreciate all the hard work you put into it. It really means a lot to me that you spent so much effort trying to help me improve.”
Bill sat down and started typing on his computer. I stood there between our cubicles. I couldn’t believe it. He was staying, and they liked his review.
The door to my boss’s door opened and he stepped out.
“Would you mind stepping in here for a moment?”
I did and he closed the door.
“That was excellent work you did on Bill’s report. The board was very pleased with the effort you put forth. It’s clear from the report that Bill and you are good friends. I mean, really, who but a friend would care that much about his advancement? We’ve decided to put you two together to head up a special project. This is going to be a big responsibility, but we think the two of you working together will really hit this one out of the ballpark.”
“Of course, sir.” Work together with Bill. This was crazy!
“There’s a promotion in it for you, of course. I know this is a bit early for your review, but we wanted to tell you that you’re going to get an office, right here in this hallway. You’ll have to share that with Bill, but I don’t think that will be much of an issue.”
Not a clue where any of this came from or where any of it is going. It’s late and I need sleep. Doolies is in bed next to me. Word count: 2073. Caffeine: espresso.