Sunday 27 January 2013
The crisis point had been reached earlier in the week. No one had ever expected that an actual catastrophe would occur, but it was common sense and good work practice that a contingency plan existed and was, every so often, set in motion by way of a whole-company mock evacuation. Now, sitting alone on the kerb, Nicholas Kent struggled to find breath, the fumes and smoke burning his lungs.
He waved off several firemen and paramedics who were trying to be helpful by offering him oxygen. What he really needed was to get the hell out of there, to get back to his own home and wash the stench and filth from his person. That, however, wasn’t going to happen until he had been interviewed by police and debriefed by the company. Having to spend time with the police did not concern Nicholas, but being forced to sit in a room and retell the story time after time to some suit and tie from the company caused him a moderate level of concern. The company wasn’t known for having a humanitarian way of dealing with employees facing high stress situations.
Watching from his inconspicuous kerb seat, Nicholas observed the company’s upper management team of men and women he’d previously only seen in glossy brochures wandering through the crowd of employees, periodically stopping to offer words of support. He wondered what those management types were really thinking about having to spend time amidst the plebeian masses. None of them looked particularly comfortable but it was clear that they all knew how to put on expressions of care and concern.
‘Assholes,’ Nicholas whispered. He glanced around to ensure that no one else heard the remark; it could have played out very badly for him had his malcontent been passed along to the management team.
‘EVERYBODY DOWN. NOW!’ The fireman’s scream was barely audible over the explosion that originated at the back of the building. Nicholas, diving for cover despite being some two hundred or so metres away, guessed that the new explosion had probably come from somewhere near the Research and Development Department. Flames enveloped what was left of the east wing of the building and the subsequent smaller explosions sent torched papers and debris into the air. He wondered if it would be at all possible for him to sneak off unnoticed at this point. The explosion had distracted everyone, upper management included, and Nicholas figured that it would be simple enough to blend in and disappear.
Nicholas tried to ignore the voice, hoping that if he didn’t respond he might somehow magically disappear and not have to speak with any member of the approaching management team.
‘Mr. Kent,’ called the thin-lipped blonde woman who was approaching him at an inhuman speed in high heels. Before he could stand and slip away, the management group was on him, surrounding him like they were a pack of ravenous predators.
‘Mr. Kent, I’m Verity Flynn, head of human resources,’ she thrust a hand in his direction obviously expecting him to take hold and shake. He did not, instead holding up his own hands to show that they were covered in ash and dirt. She lowered her own, deciding against coming into contact with any part of Nicholas Kent.
‘My colleagues and I require you to accompany us to an off-site location. It’s imperative that you’re debriefed as quickly as possible,’ she paused, allowing Nicholas the time to process her words, ‘for your own good, of course.’ To Nicholas, it seemed that her last few words were an add on, an after-thought articulated to make her seem more human and caring. He was not as convinced as the management team who smiled and nodded in unison at her comment. They were clearly pleased with their own attempts at projecting sincerity and empathy.
Nicholas resolved in that moment not to trust any of the ten people who now surrounded him. Management would look after management, and no one would look after any of the frontline workers, the people at the chalkface of the business. No, the little guys would have to look out for themselves. He did not want to go with them, under any circumstances.
He was relieved then, when a middle-aged, uniformed police officer approached him with a sense of urgency.
‘Nicholas Kent,’ the officer enquired, ‘you need to accompany me to the operations tent. Immediately, sir.’
Overwhelmed by relief, Nicholas sprang to his feet and followed a step behind the officer. When he felt there was enough distance between himself and the management team, Nicholas chanced a glance behind, where ten pairs of eyes watched him slip out of reach. He smiled as he returned his sight to the officer in front. For the moment, he had evaded the company debriefing.
. . . To be continued . . .