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On Course

Kathy knocked back a double-strength tomato juice in a single gulp and thumped the glass on the bar for a refill. Beads of sweat glistened on her forehead, and she was shivering.

"Iíve had a narrow escape," she said.

Petra nodded sympathetically. "Who was he?" she asked.

Kathy shook her head so the sweat drops ran. "Itís a course," she said. "My boss dobbed me ó again!"

"Taking it, or doing it?" Emma asked.

"Doing. I donít get to take courses. Not with St Hitler in charge."

"Why not?"

"He doesnít like me. I know my job. Iím a threat."

"But did you have to make it so obvious that you thought he was a fool?" Sue asked.

"I didnít. I just canít stand that stupid crucifix on his office wall. He sits there, preaching care and concern, with this gruesome lump of torture and violence glaring down at you over his shoulder. And he thinks heís credible. I donít, and maybe it shows."

"So heís diverted his overflowing milk of human kindness to more receptive arenas, I gather," Emma said.

Kathy nodded. "Iíve been sent to my own private reeducation camp," she said. "Iíve had to go to courses on every word processor and spreadsheet on the market, and one or two that arenít. Iíve learned to write my resume fifteen different ways, and Iím word-perfect on the selection test for my own job. I know all about equal opportunity, theories of gender bias, and the repair and maintenance of glass ceilings. Iím an expert on risk management, human resources management and document management. And Iím bored stiff."

"It sounds better than putting you in an empty office with nothing to do," Emma said.

Kathy shook her head. "Thatís a known tactic." She smiled. "I could get him for that."

"So how does he justify this one?"

"Iím doing a comparative survey of available courses, so I can advise other members of the department on their training needs. Except that when they ask to go, thereís no money in the training budget, because itís already been used on me." She paused. "He thinks thatís a good thing, too, because it means his staff is there to do proper work, and isnít wasting its time on training."

"What are you going to do about him?" Sue asked.

"Sit him out. He wonít last long. The buzzwords he spouts, and the sleazes he crawls to, heíll be promoted in no time."

A cloud crossed her face. "Pity I stuffed this one up, though. I was going to enjoy it."

"What happened?" Petra asked.

"I booked him in on this course. Contentless. Totally improving. All weekend, starting tonight. They truck them out to some way out place on top of a waterfall, and immerse them totally in mindless experience. Itís right up his alley."

"What did it claim to be?" Emma asked. "Organisational Ecology? Client Infiltration? Total Authority Management?"

"Professional Revitalisation."

"And what is that supposed to mean?"

Kathy grinned. "You remember, in the days of the Empire ..."

"I donít," Emma said sternly. "We seceded, remember."

"... In the Empire, administrators didnít know anything useful. They did Latin and Greek at Oxbridge, and spoke posh. Well, these guys have got the same idea. They thought, what skill, nowdays, is so totally irrelevant to anything youíd ever really want to do that itís a joke, but anyone whoís done it waffles on and on, so youíd do anything to get them to go away."

She looked at the other three in turn.

"Computers," said Petra.

"Economics," Sue said.

"Youíre getting warm," Kathy said. She looked at Emma.


"Speak for yourself," Petra said.

Kathy smiled. "Much, much more useless. Selling used cars." She paused. "But itís not the selling itself. Itís the holistic nature of the experience thatís so educationally valuable. The self expression. The creativity. The inner confidence that the selling of an overpriced rust bucket to a blind pensioner with Parkinsonís disease can give to an otherwise unremarkable specimen of humanity."

Sue looked at her, a hard light in her eyes. "Whoís running this course?" she asked.

"That guy you used to go out with. Des something."

"You mean, heís got a job?"

"Itís a franchise. McTraining. Kentucky Fried Courses. Some U.S. education export business, anyway. But theyíre registered as a religion for the tax breaks. Which is how I snared the boss."

"So what went wrong?"

Kathy winced. "Wrong communion, I guess. Not affiliated with the Union of Respectable Religions. He must have checked it out. Because he was on the phone talking about it when I got back to the office this afternoon. I thought he was talking to one of our heavies, because he was crawling like mad, boosting the course like it was a new set of tablets, but then he went into ĎBut...butí, ĎBut...butí mode, and then he said, very disappointed ĎOf course, I must accept your ruling, Your Eminenceí so it must have been some bishop or cardinal or something. And then he said, ĎIím sure my Training Officer will appreciate the experienceí, so I grabbed my bag and I ran."

"So you think heís dobbed you?" Emma said.

"If he canít find me, he canít tell me," Kathy said. "And tomorrow will be too late."

Sue was watching in the mirror behind the bar as a bus pulled up outside the door. A solid male, arms hanging from his side like a gorilla, was getting off. She jammed Petra in the ribs.

"Duck," she said. "Itís Robbie."

Petra shrugged. "I can handle him," she said. "Heís so ex- now, heís past his violence use-by date."

She watched him as he came across the room, but he wasnít looking at her.

He was heading for Kathy, head thrust forward, scowling. He grabbed her arm. "Youíre holding up the bus."

"What bus?"

"For Desís course. He said youíd be here." He tried to drag her towards the door, but she dug her heels in. "Youíve got a date with a waterfall."

"Since when?"

"You trying to renege?"

"Iím not going."

Robbie started to twist her arm behind her back. "Then Iím gunna have to persuade you."

Emma stood up, followed by Petra and Sue. They formed a ring around Robbie, blocking his way, dazzling him with glittering smiles.

"Did Des tell you to do this?" Petra asked.

"Naa. Just said thereíd be some sales resistance. And not to take ĎNoí for an answer."

"And you reckon this is the right way to overcome sales resistance?"

"Well sheís not my woman, is she? So I canít thump her."

Petra looked at Emma, who looked at Sue.

"This guy needs some training," Emma said. "Social Rehabilitation."

"Based on something so totally useless that everybody regards it as a joke," Sue said.

"Like etiquette," Petra suggested.

They looked at Kathy.

"Reckon you could do it?" Emma asked.

Kathy nodded. "With pleasure. But I want Des in the class, too."


Copyright © D.W. Walker, 1994

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