Fiction/short scene: Not A Wise Choice

Sometimes we don’t realize how wrong we are without some help. A short scene where a manager and employee are talking. They work at a manufacturing company with a strong engineering department. I was playing around with conveying emotion. Not part of a larger piece.

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She looked at him, her voice firm. “That would not be a wise choice.” 

“Why not?” he asked.

“By choosing to communicate your version of the story about Malence, without getting evidence first, what do you think he will do?”

He sat back in his chair, looking somehow both defiant and unsure. “He would have to believe me,” he said. 

“Why would he?” The pause between her words almost made it three separate sentences. 

“I’ve been working for him for 3 years and he knows me. And its the truth!” The defiance was gaining the upper hand. 

“Malence has worked for him for over 10 years. The boss knows him very well.” She paused and leaned forward. “Did you know that Malence has helped the company out of tough spots twice before doing the exact same thing you are accusing him of?” 

“What?” The defiance was replaced by surprise. 

“Yes, The first occasion was 7 years ago. We were losing market share to Warten. They had developed a new bearing set that was better than ours. Malence drafted another engineer and, together, they had come up with a brand new product that was beyond Warten. It was certainly beyond what we had. We got it into production and regained the market share.”

Before he had a chance to respond, she continued. “The second time was 5 years ago. A new motor type had come out and surprised us. None of our products worked with this new design and we were getting left behind. Malence drafted two other engineers this time and came up with a design that used parts of three different products we had at the time. A design, by the way, that added 23% to our revenue the first year.”

“Yeah, but he’s not doing that this time!” 

Back on an even keel, her voice was calmer. “How do you know he isn’t?”

“He’s not, I just know. The man is predictable. He comes and goes on the same schedule. Eats lunch with the same people. And at the same time too. Now he is secretive, he’s not coming to lunch. He’s got to be doing something wrong! I saw him taking lab equipment home with him. That’s against the rules.”

“Did you ask him about it?”

“No! He doesn’t like me.”

Now, it was her turn to be puzzled. “What makes you say that?”

He fidgeted in his seat a bit. “I don’t know. I just know he doesn’t.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Malence gets along with everyone.”

“Not me.”

She decided to take a different approach and just sat in silence, looking at him. Waiting him out to get him to say more.

Eventually the need to fill the silence cracked him first. “At the beginning, he was nice. He taught me a lot when I started. He always answered my questions. But he explained things more than I needed.” The defiance was starting to come back. “It was like he was trying to teach me more than I needed to get the job done. I just needed to know the answer and he would give me a 15 minute lecture.”

She kept looking at him with a neutral look on her face. It was becoming clear to her now what was happening. She needed him to talk a bit more for her to be sure.

“I’m mean, I appreciate that he was trying to teach me, but every single time? How am I supposed to learn that stuff and get my job done?”

“Do you know what happened to those engineers that he took into his skunk works?”

The question took him off guard. “No, I don’t.”

“Do the names Randing, Wistock, and Jones mean anything to you?”

His eyes widened as he recognized the names. “Of course, they’re the best. They’ve got a bunch of patents. No wonder Malence worked with them.”

“It isn’t that simple. In each case, the engineers he picked were good, but they didn’t rate the high marks they have today. They hadn’t been standouts like they are now.” She took a drink of her coffee. It wasn’t hot any more but that didn’t bother her. 

“So?”

She sighed. He wasn’t seeing it. “The month they spent with Malence was very intense and it helped them truly understand what they could do as engineers. I’ve talked with each of them about their experience and they all agree: working with Malence helped them take their engineering skills to the next level. He didn’t help them understand our products better, he didn’t teach them how to do mechanical design better, or how to use the software CADsystem better. He taught them how to approach problems. He taught them how to break the problem down. He taught them how to see where their own mind was limiting their options.”

His eyes narrowed. “Your telling me that working with Malence made them as good as they are?”

“Yes, that is exactly what I am telling you. So now you have a decision to make. You can go into the boss’s office and make a fool of yourself, or…”

“Or what?”

“Or you can start listening to Malence. You might just learn something.”

“How do I do that? I said he doesn’t like me.”

“Tell me specifically what he does that leads you to believe that he ‘doesn’t like’ you.”

“Well..” he started. After a pause, like he was struggling for words, he continued. “When I go ask him something, he hardly says anything. Just gives me the answer and doesn’t say anything more. He acts like he is too busy for me.”

“Maybe he is,” she said kindly. He looked up at her, confused. “Weren’t you just telling me that he gave you long lectures that you didn’t want? How does that fit with not talking to you.”

“How should I know? I can’t read his mind,” he said.

“Let me make a suggestion that might explain both things. Maybe he wanted to teach you, like he has taught most of the other engineers at this company. Maybe he was giving you ‘lectures’, as you called them, to give you the background of a deeper understanding of the problem. Maybe he could tell that you weren’t interested and stopped teaching you.” 

His indignant face slowly collapsed along with his shoulders and the rest of him as the realization hit.

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