The Lloyd Saga

11. Short and Violent

Darling strolled over to the coffee table, selected a lemon, and, after a moment of consideration, plunged it into his mouth, sucking it fiercely. "What are your estimates of disemployment companywide, Ed?" he said to Sweet.

"I don't know ... twenty percent over eighteen months, going to about a third by year five?" said Sweet.

"Don't you think the wheels will fall off?" said Lloyd, who felt so queasy during these sort of discussions that he could barely put up a fight against them.

"Lloyd," said Walt. "Are you with this process or against it? Just asking."

"Oh, for it, absolutely," said Lloyd. If there was one thing Walt hated, it was guys who didn't get with the program but went ahead and took the money, the car, the plastic, then suffered personal angst over the status of their souls. Walt wanted those people dead, and often he had other people kill them for him.

"Good," said Walt. He was pouring coffee. "I'd like to reveal to you guys that the twenty percent level was my original game plan. So, naturally, I agree with myself, and I'm glad you do, too."

A rattling, mucus-filled laugh filled the room. "Screw you, too, Ed," said Darling, slamming Sweet in the back. A spasm of hysteria seized them. As they all settled down again, Walt pulled Lloyd aside. "Going well, I think," he said.

"Couldn't be better," said Lloyd.

"I want Bob out of here. Tomorrow would be nice, but March would be all right. Give Ron Lemur the job. He wants it. He's aggressive. And he doesn't have balls of fat, either. Do it."

"I don't think so, Walt," said Lloyd.

"Fucking pantywaist makes me fucking sick," said Walt.

"Getting on toward lunch and everybody's a little cranky," said Lloyd. "We'll eat after a while and you'll feel better about the whole thing."

"Maybe," said Walt. He stared at Lloyd, hard. "Yeah," he said finally, putting a gentle hand on Lloyd's shoulder and drawing him a bit too close. "I could eat a free-range horse!" he barked. Then he shoved Lloyd hard, with his shoulder, using all his weight, a semi-football move that Walt was fond of. Surprised and somewhat annoyed at himself for not seeing it coming, Lloyd pitched forward and landed basically on Fitz's lap.

"Walt is getting violent," he said to Fitz.

"Let's get this over with," said Fitz, his long legs extended well beyond the couch. As always, his face was a little too ruddy and a curiously malevolent twinkle glimmered from the corners of his eyes. He was nearly fifty, looked forty, drank like a high school linebacker.

"There's already been one casualty," said Lloyd.

"Ugly when it happens, ain't it?" Fitz was smiling.

Lloyd smiled back. Fitz was an okay guy. He hoped nothing was about to happen to him.

I'll match Bob's numbers," Fitz said laconically.

Darling, a doughnut hole between his teeth, had emitted a gagging, throaty sound. It was unclear whether this was due to the dryness of the food or his assessment of Fitz's estimated head-count reduction.

"Let's keep this meeting on a verbal level," said Walt. "Although I will say, Ted ..." The room had frozen in distressed silence. "I will say that this kind of parity thinking from the standard-bearer in HR is not what I was looking for."

"Level of functionality" was all that emerged from Fitz.

"You got so many people, even you couldn't count them, Ted," said Darling, not unkindly. This happened to be true. Nearly one-third of all Omnivore employees were in some way related to Fitz's administrative function.

"Yeah. Okay. I see the handwriting on the wall here," said Fitz. He sat upright, as if he had just remembered something. "Why can't we have any real food in here, instead of this swill?" he said.

"Swill?" said Walt. He looked hurt. "I selected this food myself from the room-service menu. And this is one of my favorite hotels." Lloyd knew it was more than that. It was the location where Walt had first met and romanced his wife, whose name was Lisa but whom everyone, for some inexplicable reason, called "Skeeter."

"Oh," said Fitz. "Excuse me, Walt." But it didn't sound like a heartfelt apology. For reasons that were murky to Lloyd, Fitz got away with a towering level of general rudeness that would not only have rendered others unviable but would have made them unlikable, which Fitz wasn't.

"We'll think about it in a couple of minutes," said Walt.

Fitz sat lower in his seat and grumbled under his breath like a four-year old. The only thing Lloyd caught was the phrase "a couple of rashers or something."

"No bacon, Ted," Lloyd whispered to Fitz. "I beg you. I don't think I could stand to smell it, let alone eat it."

"I recognize that one out of six employees of this corporation is related to my function, but we're talking about quality management here. We've gotta keep control over our operations or give up any illusions we may have about the effectiveness of our management."

"We must never give up the illusion of effective management," Walt said solemnly. Once again, there was a resonant chuckle and an audible snap in the level of tension.

"Well, I'm not gonna commit to anything until we resolve this food issue," said Fitz. He was chomping on a very large apricot Danish, a bit of which had flaked off and was, oddly, perching on his forehead.

"You have a piece of Danish on your forehead, Ted," said Lloyd.

"The hell I do," said Fitz. He left it there.

"Bob," said Lloyd. "Does or does not Ted have a piece of Danish the size of a marble on his stupid forehead."

"No," said Darling. Fitz probed both of them for a moment, then brushed the fleck off his face. "Thank you, Lloyd," he said.

"Spartan meetings are part of our culture, Ted," said Walt. "I'm sure as keeper of the people side of our business you don't want to change some of the more established facets of our culture, particularly one pertaining to individual restraint."

"First comes eating. Then comes culture," said Fitz. He folded his arms over his chest.

Walt scratched his nose. "I think if we do break with custom in this case and order up a mess of victuals."

"Victuals!" said Lloyd.

"We should settle on one choice of food. That's as far as I'm willing to go. I can't see coming to any agreement with a man who's munching on a sticky sparerib while I'm toying with a medallion of veal."

"Medallions of veal would be fine!" said Fitz.

"Medallions of veal all around?" There was a lusty huzzah. "Good," Walt said, pressing a button on the phone. "Room service? We're ready for that order now. Make sure the beverages are properly chilled, wouldja?" He hung up and addressed the astonished men. "You see, gentlemen, I anticipate your needs, as always. You may kiss my ring." Again, there was laughter, but laughter of a different color, maroon, perhaps, without mirth, full of phlegm and bile.

"We have food coming," said Darling with a deep sense of grandeur and awe, a potent sense that all would be light where before there was only darkness. "Now all we'd need would be a couple of beers."

"Let's get a little more done first, Bob," said Walt. "Hey, the way things are going, we could be out on the range by one thirty, just like I planned!"

There was a general murmur of approbation. The range Walt was referring to was an indoor maze not far from the hotel, in the outskirts of the city. There, grown men strapped on plastic suits and special guns, wove around the enclosure, trying to cover one another with paint from exploding nodules. They had done it as a group a couple of times and liked it all right. Walt believed it built cohesion, and Lloyd wasn't altogether sure he was wrong.

"We can't take the kind of cuts that Sweet's talking about," said Fitz. "I'll give you my org chart. You show me how to do it and I'll do it."

"You could retire everyone over fifty-six-that's one thing," said Darling.

"Those are my senior managers! The heart of my culture!" stormed Fitz.

With the look of a man who had just made a decision, Walt strolled behind Fitz and placed his hands on Fitz's shoulders, massaging them with fatherly warmth. Fitz froze to the couch like a gargoyle, terrified. "What's this about culture, Ted? Tell me about it."

"It sounds like bullshit," said Fitz, "but it's not. It's the idea that what we have here is a family where everyone cares and believes in everyone else. Maybe we don't all get along-hell, who does in a family? But we all respect the other guy's right to his job, his friends, his hobbies, his vices. Without a culture, you've got chaos-every man for himself. I don't know about you, but that's not the kind of place I want to live." Under his tarpaulin of emotional reserve, Fitz was flushed with passion. "And our culture is a lot better than most. We do a nice job for our customers and we're fun to work for. We're not above playing a little hardball on your face, but we'd rather shake your hand. The only people we're really tough on is ourselves, because we demand quality, service, and profits, and we're just not going to settle for anything less. We're good folks, that's all, just plain good folks, every single last one of us. And when we have to cast a few good sheep from the fold, damn it, we'd better make sure as shooting we've got a solid business reason for it. And there is no business reason to cut HR. Shit. We're as lean as a goat already. You cut out our guts big-time last summer. We provide service to the only people who really count-our people. We stay."

"I'd like to know what makes you so special," said Darling. "Don't you think we feel the same way about our Marketing people? No one's shedding a tear for them; no one's comparing them to sheep. Their lives are just as important. They've busted their humps just as much as HR desk jocks. I demand cuts across the board! If there are no cuts at HR, I won't take any in Marketing! "

"Yes you will," said Walt.

"Of course I will," said Darling. "I just don't think it's fair."

"Of course it isn't," said Walt, "but I hope I can count on you to be a team player, Bob."

"Of course you can," said Darling. "I'm sorry. I'm upset."

"Of course you are," said Walt. "We all are. But there will be no cuts in HR over and above the twenty percent I would have suggested even in the best of times. Can you live with that, Bob?"

"Do I have any choice?" Darling slumped down into the depths of the couch, comically morose, hands drooping between his knees, eyes gazing deeply into an infinite pond of green despair.

"You see the solidity of Fitz's argument, don't you, Bob?" Walt pressed, apparently concerned.

"I do," said Darling. Rising and going to the window, he made a number of suspicious choking noises and blew his nose with quiet ceremony.

"Gee, Walt," said Fitz. "Er ... did I just hear you say that you want me to find twenty percent of my head count?"

"What about it?" said Walt.

"No problem, Walt," said Fitz. "I just wanted to know if I heard you correctly. "

"We now proceed to you, Ed," said Walt, his face clear as a baby's butt again. He turned to Sweet, who was lying on the couch, staring up at the ceiling.

"Pardon me," said Sweet, "but I thought we went over this. Cost centers must cut. We all know that. Sales, on the other hand, is the pump that drives our lifeblood -revenues- through the system. So I think I'm very much in tune with the drill when I suggest that my contribution to this effort of spiritual regeneration will be to resist my impulse to deliver easy solutions and cut people. Instead, I'm going to suggest an addition of about ... oh ... eighty new sales associates nationwide, at a cost of approximately sixteen million to overall operating expenses during the calendar year. For that increase, I will promise a revenue gain of fifteen points and an impact on operating profit by year end of eight points, or one hundred and twenty million dollars."

There was a silence. Very large, very deep. "Yeah, well," said Walt, "okay. Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out if you fail to make that number, though, Ed. You know I'm serious."

"No sweat, boss," said Sweet. Lloyd could see he meant it, and he knew why. One: The decision to add a bulk of sales weasels was certainly not made right there and then. Walt and Ed had wired this particular part of the proceedings beforehand. This portion of the pageant was being played just for show. This did not surprise Lloyd. When he had been a consultant, Ed had spent untold hours strategizing with Walt. Much of today's events were, in fact, his scenario of reengineering put into action. Sweet never went into a meeting not knowing how it was going to turn out. Two: Along those lines, he figured Sweet had already found a good part of the promised $120 million lying around in another slush fund that all operating VPs kept squirreled away for the dark days when revenues did not live up to expectations. In other words, Ed had already made his number. The rest was show.

"Well, that's it!" said Lloyd. "Can we eat yet?"

"As a matter of fact, Lloyd, that brings us to you."

Lloyd, who had a feeling that was the case, got up and went to the mirror over the indeterminate piece of furniture by the wall. "Do you think I'm losing it up here in front?" he said, leaning over and peering at his hairline, which he felt moved forward and back, up and down, each and every day, depending on how he was feeling.

"I'd like you guys to know that I've made a decision about our wacky friend over here," said Walt.

"Put me on the beach, Walt," said Lloyd.

"No, Lloyd, I'm not going to fire you," Walt said, and for a moment Lloyd feared he was going to ruffle his hair. "I'm going to make your life a lot more miserable than that." Lloyd sat on a chair and waited for it to happen. He should have known it was going to happen, but for some reason, he hadn't. 

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