Knots

by Bill Kowaleski

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3

part 1


On a sultry September afternoon that still sat firmly in summer yet hinted at shorter, colder days to come, my orderly life crashed head-on into Glen’s chaos.

He closed the door to my office, his eyes flickering up and down the hallway through its window, then he turned, sat uninvited, lowered his head, pushed up his glasses, and whispered, “Javier took the kids out for ice cream last night.”

I nodded. “So they won.”

He twisted and pulled compulsively on a piece of rope tied in one of the intricate knots he loved to show off.

“Yeah, but when I got there, he was standing by the counter and had his arms wrapped around Alex and his kid, Isidro. He was really squeezing them.”

“Were they acting like he was hurting them?”

He raised his eyes from the rope, never moving his bowed head. “They were giggling. He was getting awfully rough with them.”

He leaned forward, whispering even more softly. “I’m concerned. What is Javier up to? Why is he so physical with my son?”

“Just a little horseplay after a soccer game, Glen. Nothing unusual about that.”

“Alex is twelve this year. That’s when...”

He trailed off, giving me a knowing look, as though I should surely be able to finish the sentence.

I sighed, leaned back in my chair. “Look, I know you and Javier have had your problems, but he’s really an OK guy, a good worker, somebody I trust, just like you. Let’s cut him some slack and assume he’s a normal, sane family man until proven otherwise.”

Glen shifted his three hundred pounds, evoking groans and squeaks from the overmatched office chair. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

But his face said, The guy is a child molester, I know it.

I stared at him for a minute, perplexed, unsure what to say. Nothing in my management training had prepared me for a man who’d been a star nose tackle in college, who could probably tear me in half with his bare hands, yet who walked the halls with his eyes firmly aimed at the floor and his mind full of suspicions, afraid to talk to all but a very few people he’d come to tentatively trust.

“Has something else come up between you and Javier, Glen?”

He stared at the rope, his jaw set. “No, nothing new.” A pause. “You probably saw the email from Bryson.”

“Oh, is that what’s bothering you? Well, if you’d contacted the vendor like I asked you to, that memo would have been written about you. But you put it off and put it off, and finally Javier got tired of waiting and took care of it himself.”

“I don’t like those people. They’re rude.”

“Look, Glen, this is a business. When we have a problem with a vendor, we have to address it. Javier worked out a great solution, you have to admit that.”

“He wants to make me look bad. He wants my job.”

“How could he do your job? You’ve got certifications he lacks, you’ve got five years experience on him, you’ve got—”

“Gina says I should ask you for a promotion.”

I sighed again. Gina pushed him relentlessly, despite her total ignorance of our operation. “How many times have I told you that I can’t promote anyone? You go on Job Searcher, you find a job that interests you, then you apply for it.”

He sat silently, twisting the rope, adding another loop to the knot. He thrust it in front of me. “See if you can untie that one. I’ll let you keep it until tonight.”

I studied it, but could see nothing but a hopeless tangle. “I think I’d just cut right through it.”

He shook his head. “Don’t do that. It’s harder for you. You didn’t tie it, but there’s always a way.”

Abruptly he stood, turned and grabbed the door handle. “It’s probably nothing,” he mumbled, “just a little horseplay.”

“Before you go, Glen, could I just say one more thing?”

He turned. His eyes met mine for just an instant.

“We’ve got a great counseling program here, ten covered visits, completely confidential. Give it some thought.”

His brow crinkled, his voice ratcheted louder, tinged now with anger and sarcasm. “Oh, right. Just what I need. Get brainwashed by some left-wing shrink! They’ll tell me I just need to love everybody, that I should put crystals on my chest before I go to sleep. They’ll give me drugs that turn me into a zombie.”

His gaze fell again. He looked embarrassed, like he regretted what he’d just said. He turned left, then jerked to the right, shoved the door open a little too hard, and shuffled down the hall, shoulders slumped.

I was too angry at that moment to fully understand what I’d just witnessed. His crude brushoff left me considering our byzantine termination process. But he was much too valuable, much too hard a worker. I’d have to hire two people to replace him.

Two days passed without incident but, on Thursday, as I walked back from the weekly managers’ update, Javier met me at my door.

“Bill, sorry to jump you like this. Could we talk right now?”

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Javier and Glen standing together. In front of my eyes was proof of the rich variation of the human species. Javier was everything Glen was not: slender, graceful, perfect posture, socially adept, well-dressed, the exemplar of the good first impression.

“Accounting subnet is blocked. Nothing’s getting in or out. I checked the routers, but I didn’t see anything, so I asked Glen to look at his intrusion prevention systems. There is one that could be blocking that subnet; it’s happened before. But he told me he wouldn’t do it. Waste of his time. Bill, we gotta make sure that IPS isn’t the culprit here.”

“I agree. I’ll call him right now and give him an order.”

I reached for the phone but he grabbed my arm. “There’s more.”

“OK.”

“I got mad at him. I told him to do his job, that someone else could have messed up the IPS tables, that checking them was normal troubleshooting procedure. Instead of replying to that he said, ‘And keep your hands off of my son. He’s not gonna be your bitch.’ Just what does he mean by that?”

“Not gonna be your...” I didn’t want to say it, didn’t want to believe Glen had said it.

“Yeah, he said bitch. What does he think, that I’m some pedophile? What dark corner of his sick mind did that crawl out of?”

“I don’t know, Javier, but I’m going to talk to him right now. I’ll get back to you. Please give me a minute alone.”

He closed the door and I dared to breathe. My heart raced, my palms were wet. What could I do? I’m no psychologist, just a technical guy who manages some really bright people who sometimes are, well, really different.

It’s easy now to say what I should have done. I should have called HR immediately, asked them to handle it. But that’s not what I did. I fiddled absently with the rope a minute, wondering why Glen had never returned to show me how to untangle the knot. Then I called him.

I stepped into the hall as soon as I heard him approaching, making sure we talked where others might hear. “Glen, you’ve got to check the IPS tables to see if there’s something blocking accounting. It’s just normal procedure. Sometimes we have to do something even when we’re sure of the outcome.”

His eyes fixed on the carpeting. “OK, but it’s a stupid waste of time.”

“And, Glen, if you’ve got personal accusations to make, do them outside the workplace, OK?”

His head snapped up. “He told you?”

“His telling me was appropriate because you did it at work, when you were having a work discussion with him. Do anything like that again and I’m going to involve HR.”

The fury that rose in him was frightening. He met my eyes more directly than I’d ever seen. “You’re on his side too. I thought I could trust you, but I can see I was wrong!”

He spun on his heel and waddled down the hallway. I stood watching him recede, seething, determined to do something, unsure what that something was. My phone warbled. Accounting demanded an immediate conference call. The urgent again usurped the important.

Late that afternoon, Eileen, my faithful unofficial assistant, stepped into my doorway and said that Accounting was back online, and that they were very appreciative of Glen’s dedicated effort in solving the problem. She then pulled the door closed and asked, “So what’s up with Glen and Javier? They seem to be at war.”

“Yeah, it’s getting really weird, Eileen. Not sure what I should do.”

“Call HR. Don’t get caught taking sides. There’s no good outcome there.”

“You’re right, of course. Sometimes I wonder why you aren’t sitting in this chair right now. You’ve got twice the wisdom I do.”

The faintest smile passed her lips. “You know very well I turned the job down. I don’t want that responsibility, and with only two years to go before I retire, why give myself a heart attack?”

“A very excellent line of reasoning, Eileen. Tell me, how is it that you never have any problems with anyone?”

“It’s quite simple. This company’s culture is way too slanted toward mixing the personal with business. We’re always doing social functions, always having company picnics, AIDS walks, cancer runs, you name it. People get to know each other too well, their lives get too entangled. I stay out of all that, keep my life separate from work.”

“Makes sense. Javier and Glen both have kids in a company-sponsored sports league. I’ve been doing that cancer run for years. But then, I do have a very personal reason for that.”

“Yeah, how are you coping? Anyone new in your life?”

“No, not really. It’s been a year since Kim died now, but it still feels like last week. I’m not ready.”

“No need to rush. You’re young, time is your friend.”

She pushed away from my desk, stood, and stepped into the hall, then turned and pointed her finger at me. “Call HR, now!”

* * *


Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2015 by Bill Kowaleski

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