Everybody got the email early Monday morning regarding the 11:00 A.M. all-hands meeting of the Division. It was a short notice for which the sender, Milton Pheasant, the Division chief, apologized but expressed hope that most people would make it.

What it was all about primarily was the presentation of Leon Justice in his new position in the Division. Around seventy people went, roughly two-thirds of the Interstate Logistics Division, spread out in the ground floor conference room thick from the middle to the back, sparse towards the front where most of the management people gathered.

Robert Grundell sat near the entrance door twelve back of fourteen rows. He'd rather be delivering pizza for a living, or making it himself, all sweaty in a pizza joint than hold a government job where he'd be sitting in a meeting like this one. He was going to dodge it as he'd done so many times with other admin meetings but it was too late. A lot of people had already seen him come in including the front office.

It was supposed to be a one-hour meeting but it went over because they waited fifteen minutes till they felt there were enough people. The meeting was one of those gatherings that many thought was not necessary and was a total waste of taxpayers' money, if you consider the average hourly rate of this type of white-collar professional government workers, senior to mid-level managers, senior analysts and mid-level bureaucrats. Salaries ranging from fifty to over a hundred thousand a year.

Robert was one of the last ones to show up. As he sat down, he did a quick take of the spread in the room.

There were several groups he could've color-coded and labeled in different ways. The group sitting in the first two rows, say Red--Management, big fat paycheck for not doing much, lots of government fat there. The next three rows--Orange, the minions of those up front, the ass-kissers, the Politicians, people whose main goal on the job is to be PC, right or wrong. Leon Justice sat among them.

The next two rows were nearly empty except for the front office admin assistants (secretaries and several temps). The rest of the spread was made up of several other groups, from Robert's vantage point. Say the Blue group--the Mid-level workers in journeyman positions, the employees who did the real work, the people who really mattered in government service or should, but unfortunately not all of them did.

For this reason, Robert broke this group into two subgroups--the Light Blue group which is made up of some minorities who got in government service mostly through an unwritten quota system or affirmative action, as well as several mainstream male and female workers. All of them did mediocre work or no work at all. Many had to be coaxed into doing their assignments by their project leader if they could get away from their various social activities in the office, that is, or be counted on being in their workstations once in a while to earn their paycheck.

The Deep Blue group--the real productive workers among whom Robert counted himself, those whose interest on the job is to face the challenge of their assignments, to get them done right and get them done on time. These are the kind of people who, should those managers and politicians sitting up front, in the exercise of one of their managerial and political blunders, happen to piss off thoroughly enough to make them quit, or for some idiotic reason suppress so that they cannot function in their positions, the office will simply cease to function the way it is meant to. And if somehow this sort of thing happened throughout the entire federal government service, the United States executive branch of the government will cease to function the way it is meant to and will collapse.

Finally, there's the Yellow group--the oldtimers with twenty to thirty some years of service, in their late fifties and early sixties just waiting for the right time to retire and couldn't care less what went on with work and with everybody in the office. They didnâ't sit in one bunch. They were scattered throughout, front to back, but mostly in the middle and near the back of the room.

Max Poysen, sitting behind and to the right of Robert was one of them. Next to Max directly behind Robert was Eddie Mahone, fifty-four years old with twenty-eight years service. Recently, Eddie had become known for being vocal with just about anything in the office. Many thought it was because the man didn't give a shit since he could go anytime while the OCDL was authorized by the Office of Personnel Management, the government's HR arm, to offer early-outs and some incentive to retire such as a twenty-five-thousand dollar farewell cash payoff. And the offer had been authorized successively for the last three years now.

"The fuck are we doin' here?" Eddie Mahone, leaning inconspicuously forward, whispered to Robert when Herod Hardin got up front to introduce the topics of the meeting and speak about one of them--some of the changes taking place in the Division, prior to turning it over a few minutes later to his boss, Milton Pheasant.

"You tell me," Robert, leaning back a bit, mumbled through the corner of his mouth to Eddie.

Max Poysen turned to one then the other, speaking only with his eyes, the lid halfway down in an expression of total disinterest, saying 'Get me outa here. I'm ready to throw up!'

And he nearly did when Milton Pheasant, after rambling for twenty minutes about--among other stuff that only he had a say and interest on--the Division's new fiscal-year budget and how sound it is with a surplus of so many hundreds of thousands of dollars for training money and equipment upgrades, started talking about Leon Justice, lauding the man's personal background and professional career in industry and government, prior to getting him up in front and turning it over to him.

"Thank you, Milton," Leon Justice, in his new position as the Division's sole Project Management Coordinator said. Robert Grundell along with several other Deep Blue group members and most of the Yellow group rolled their eyes, slouched in their seats and paid attention only out of civil politeness. "That sounded a lot better than the way I wrote it in my resume," Leon added.

That drew a thin applause from several people mostly in the first three rows. Everyone else in the back kept their heads low, their eyes angled up at the speaker in an expression of helplessness and boredom.

He went on to talk about the changes in the organizational chart which was handed out to everybody as they came in. In it, he focused on his position and how it relates to the workers in the Division--Branch chiefs, project leaders and staff members. He will be gathering data to track the work activities in the Division for a monthly presentation to the Division Chief and the Deputy Director for the Office of Civil Defense Logistics. To do this, the weekly activity reports would have to be at his desk by COB Thursday.

Contacts with OCDL customers outside Treasury, particularly with military and intelligence agencies, will have to be cleared through his office. There will be a semi-monthly meeting between his office, the Branch chiefs and staff members selected from each Branch particularly those working on considered high-profile, high-priority projects.

When he was done, Milton Pheasant got back up and opened the meeting for questions and answers. This lasted another fifteen minutes with some people asking about the training schedules this year, the IT people about any planned hardware and software upgrades and others about hiring and promotion.

By this time, Robert Grundell was bursting with impatience to get the hell out of there. And when, a couple of minutes later, the meeting was adjourned and he swiftly got up and was the first to stride out the door, Eddie Mahone with Max Poysen alongside was right behind him.

"We're in a real jam here now, you guys know that?" Eddie was saying.

"Yes," replied Max Poysen. "More than I thought we would be. That goddam prick Leon telling us all that shit report to him, no outside contact unless he okays it, meet twice a month. That's the same as telling us he's going to keep an eye on us from now on. What for?"

"Yes," agreed Eddie. "What the fuck for? You know what we can do? Why can't we protest this?"

Robert Grundell slowed down in his hurry to get away from the crowd and turned his head halfway at Eddie. "Protest what?" he asked.

"Protest that dumbshit's appointment or promotion, whatever or however the hell he got to that position," Eddie Mahone replied, all steamed up.

"How do you do that?" asked Max Poysen.

"Somebody could write it up then pass it around through the entire Division for signatures," Eddie suggested after thinking about it a moment.

"That might not be a bad idea," said Max. "Shit, I'm gonna write it up. I'll start today, right now, as soon as I get back in my office. Strike while the iron is hot."

"I'll spread the word," Eddie added. "Get some solid support to back it up early. We'll send a copy to the Inspector General, one to EEO, and of course one to the Office of Special Counsel. That one could go to the White House and the committee of Congress that oversees our agency. Fuckit, we'll take it all the way to the top."

Robert Grundell nodded his agreement without saying a word and resumed his hurry to get away even from the two and get back to his office. He felt totally rattled even more than they were as they sounded but he simply didn't want to discuss it with anybody. He had been pissed enough long before that meeting, much much longer before so that it just made no sense to talk about it anymore. Especially now that he had decided to do something about it on his own, that's the more reason he didn't want to talk to anybody about it.

That would be a good thing, though, what Eddie Mahone thought about for the Division to do. And he's sure they could get a majority, a big majority of the Division to sign that protest letter. Put in why they don't want Leon Justice in that position and, better yet, why they don't want that position to exist at all, prove that it's not necessary and on the contrary would only be counter-productive, a waste of taxpayers' money, so abolish it.

Everybody knew how Leon Justice got to be known as the 'pompous ass' throughout the Division and even among many of its customers in OCDL. For years since the guy came on board, he got passed around to every Branch in the Division. Nobody wanted to work with him. The word was that the guy was one arrogant, demeaning son of a bitch to work with. And he played tricks on you. When he didn't know the answer or what to do about something, he'd ask you the question in a real bossy, superior way like he was quizzing you, making it look like he knew the answer and he was just testing you if you're any good by giving him the answer.

Son of a bitch is one contemptible scumbug. But being in the front office clique with Herod Hardin who was in with the upper management echelon that went all the way up to the deputy director in the power tree of the agency, none of that got in the way of his getting ahead in his service career. Personal reputations, personal differences with co-workers, personality clashes, none of that was rated in the performance appraisal and goes in one's personnel records. Only what one's friends in high places chose to put in them.

In his office, Robert Grundell gave himself time to recover from the boredom and the disgust and the ire he brought back with him from the meeting. After he'd been sitting for fifteen minutes, feeling, listening to the signs of his body functions, his breathing, heartbeat, a ringing in his ear, the arthritic pain in his neck and right elbow, closing and opening his eyes intermittently, he turned to the computer and clicked the left button of the mouse. The monitor screen that had blacked out while he was away came back to life, displaying his email inbox window.

After going over several messages before it, he read the one from the Office of Socio-Economic Reserve and Security, Interior Department, sent by Chris Phillips. Nice fellow, he thought. Nice doing business with you. He clicked the attached file named BigThunder and saved it in the C drive. It was an encrypted data file so he inputed it to DXD, the inhouse government-designed digital complex decoder authorized for use only by selected agencies, Treasury and Interior among them. He saved a decoded copy of the file in the C drive and another he dumped to a CD-RW disc he brought from home.

He imagined the data transfer from the C drive to the disc while he was doing it. The entire file containing all the critical-sensitive classified information OCDL needed to determine the type of security to provide in the December inauguration events of those big water and power projects out in the Midwest. Amazing, these information technology machines, hardware and software. It took no time at all to dump the whole thing, a little more than two megabytes of data, to the disc.

Same as he did earlier in the morning with the other file he received last week from OSERS, the one containing the documentations of the projects, even a bigger one--four megabytes, which he dumped to another disc. He had planned to make these two discs his first drop to Ahmed but changed his mind just now.

He was thinking, the anger and the feeling of helplessness against those people seated in the front rows at the meeting still lingering mightily inside—even if Eddie Mahone and the whole Division succeeded in throwing Leon Justice out and abolishing that make-work position they created for him, it could take a whole year or longer to get to that, if they ever did. Meantime the asshole would be taking a big fat paycheck every payday worth easily over a hundred thousand a year.

He sat with his eyes closed for a few seconds. When he opened them, they moved to his briefcase leaning against the computer tower under the desk. In it was the manila envelope containing the twenty-thousand dollars he hadn’t found time to deposit. He planned to today at a branch of his bank near the office.

No, he now thought about the drop to Ahmed and his people, not these discs. Not yet. These will be for later. Another drop, for a bigger price. A much bigger price. He must learn the value of his commodity and of his position to them. He won't be cheap.

He turned back to the computer and browsed a file directory of the Deployment Division. Many of the folders were classified Top Secret but with his TS clearance, he was able to access every one of them like any ordinary folder. He expanded the ones he thought would be of any interest to him to see what files they contained and browsed as many files as he could, speed-reading them till his eyes tired.

An hour later, he had over a half a dozen floppies loaded with files he judged would be good-commodity drops. One of them which he intended to use for the first drop contained the security deployment data which originally covered the arrival of the Israeli Defense Minister from the airport through the entire route of the entrourage which was to end at the river entrance of the Pentagon. This had been revised since his request for a new deployment based on the TSL alert. The Defense Minister now would be picked up by a helicopter from the airport and received at the chopper pad on the Washington Boulevard side of the Pentagon. In the diskette also was a file containing the site and security data of several nuclear plants in Virginia and North Carolina.

See how Ahmed's people like these ones, for samples, he thought. And there's plenty more. But they got to pay for it, at least as much as they're paying that son of a bitch Leon in the office. Heck, no. A lot more.

He looked at the briefcase again under the desk. Checked the time. Shoot, it's close to one o'clock. How time flies when you're either pissed or excited. He logged off the computer, put the floppy in the briefcase and went out with it to his car down in the garage to head to the bank.

It was a short drive, less than ten minutes, down Columbia Pike to the corner of Glebe Road in Arlington passing by several fast food joints which made him think of lunch. Maybe he'll pick up a mushroom steak at The Broiler on the same side of the street near the bank after making the deposit. Good. He liked that steak sandwich. He'd been going there, The Broiler, whenever he got tired of KFC or MacDonald, ever since he discovered it a couple years ago.

Something else kept coming back to him as he neared the bank. Who goes to a bank with this much cash nowadays other than those armored trucks with armed guards carrying sacks of green bills? Another thing--the IRS, come tax time. How in hell is he going to declare where he got this money? At the parking lot of the bank, he sat for a while and thought hard about this.

Hold on there a minute! You can't do this, he thought in a flash all of a sudden, deciding right then and there not to make the deposit. Shit! Why didn't he think about this before? Every time money changes hands, Uncle Sam gets a percentage of it, how much depends on your tax bracket, unless it's tax-exempt money such as charity or capital gain under some amount from a home-sale, stuff like that.

This led him to do something else instead of going in the bank. He needed to call Ahmed right now, talk to him about payment arrangements. Several ideas raced through his mind. Maybe he would need to talk to his people directly about this.

Get him on the phone quick. Maybe he can come out now, meet him for lunch at a park nearby. At Fort Ward Park. Yes. Ahmed worked in the Ballston area of Arlington, not far from where he's sitting now. They could both be there in less than fifteen minutes and he could make the drop too. That's right. Get that done at the same time. And lunch--forget that mushroom steak for now. Takes time ordering to carry it out. Just drive up MacDonald's a couple blocks down. But call the guy first.

Copyright © 2004 by J.P. Espiritu

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