Blake had been directed to meet with the CEO of the Department of Community Services at 9 a.m. sharp. He arrived early and saw Tarnie, her PA, clearing away the detritus of the previous afternoon’s after-work-drinks session. These sessions were notoriously attended by those still ambitious or naïve enough to not realise that every word and every facial expression would be mentally noted by the senior managers present. What went officially unrecorded could not be challenged or erased at your next selection panel.
Elizabeth Campbell, immaculately dressed in a faux-casual designer dress, emerged swiftly from the lift and strode into her office, dumped her bag and summoned Blake.
Before he could sit, she said ‘Good morning, Blake, what’s this nonsense about Kevin Staley, I’ve got the Ombudsman breathing down on my neck and I want it sorted immediately.’
Blake, dressed in jeans, an open-neck shirt and a business jacket, took a seat. As District Manager for the unfortunately named region of Paradise and Hills, he knew why he had been summoned and he was not expecting the meeting to end well.
‘As you know, Elizabeth, a woman client complained that when she opened the door to Kevin for a scheduled monitoring visit, he allegedly looked at her breasts, and allegedly said ‘You look cold today.’
‘And what did the accompanying female worker say about what she saw?’ snapped Elizabeth.
‘He was alone. Half the office was down with the flu and I deemed it necessary to visit the client and at least sight the child that the neighbours had described as undernourished and neglected.’
‘Couldn’t it have waited?’
‘Not under current directives on urgent priorities and not with the media hanging us from the yardarm almost daily’, said Blake, carefully omitting the ‘your’ prior to ‘current directives’
‘The media is not your concern, Blake, leave them to me. So what’s Kevin saying?’
‘He denies that he looked at her breasts and denies that he made any comment about them or the cold weather.’
‘Do you believe him?’
‘Probably. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed but I don’t think he’s quite that dumb. But who knows? Classic ‘she said, he said’ situation.’
‘The bottom line is I want him to apologise to her so that I can inform the Ombudsman that the worker has been disciplined and will receive additional training in client relations protocols.’
‘I did suggest that he take that course but he refuses point blank. Says he has nothing to apologise for?’
‘Idiot. Then you’ll just have to direct him to apologise, unreservedly, in writing and then assign another worker.’
‘The case has already been re-assigned. Just to be clear, are you directing me to direct him to apologise for something he says he didn’t do?’
‘With respect, Elizabeth, I need to advise you that in my view that is an unlawful directive. Therefore, under the Act, I believe I am justified in not carrying it out. And I will not be carrying it out.’
‘You will do as I say or I’ll replace you and send you to manage the desert communities. Don’t be stupid about this and ruin a promising career.’
‘Would that be the promising career you already sabotaged when you made me carry the can for the disaster of the Berrigan case for ‘the good of the team’? Or is this a new ‘promising career’ that you have in mind?’
‘Get out! You’ll receive a formal directive by courier tomorrow.’
‘And will it contain a date by which I need to be packed and ready to move?’
Without waiting for the answer, Blake stood up and left. As he passed the Tarnie’s desk, she said sympathetically, ‘She’s really blown a gasket this time. When will you learn to agree with whatever she says and carry on as normal?’
‘I like to live dangerously. Besides, given her ambitions, there’ll be someone else in that chair by the end of the year.’
‘But why go through all this for a fuckwit like Kevin Staley. He should have been sacked years ago.’
‘We all know that but it will never happen in such a caring and compassionate organisation that the union has by the short and curlies.’
‘What about the kid?’ Seeing Blakes’s puzzled face, she said. ‘The one that Kevin went to check on?’
‘Oh, yeah, sorry. 20 kilos overweight and no more neglected than most kids on that estate.’
The lift opened and out stepped a man dressed as if he was going sailing, minus only the cap. He clearly owned a well-used sunlamp. His toupee could have been identified from a thousand yards. Before he could speak, Elizabeth floated from her office, hugged him and said ‘Barry, good of you to come. I’ll just grab my coat and we’ll be off to see the Minister’.
When they’d gone, Blake said to Tarnie, ‘OK, what is the morning radio marauder doing here?’
Tarnie sighed and said ‘I am not at liberty to say … but she’s just put him under contract as a ‘media consultant’.
‘So, for an obscene amount of money, talk-back radio becomes less of a problem?’
‘I don’t know why people say you’re stupid. But you’re going to love this bit. He’s going to be giving all the District Managers media training.’
Blake was rarely stunned by anything these days but this was a new level of lunacy in the asylum. He said, ‘Tarnie, is it too early to start drinking?’
Tarnie looked him squarely in the eye and challenged him with ‘Well, that depends on whether you’re still on the payroll.’
Blake didn’t answer, so she followed with ‘Go home and mow the lawn or something. I’ve got work to do.’
Blake turned, walked to the lift, pushed the button and thought out loud ‘I’m sure there was a point to all this once.’