2 - Jake
The Decrepitude had to die. Not painfully or violently, but neatly. A few days at the office in "mourning", a few kind words at his service and then back to normal. Unfortunately, that was unlikely to happen in the next three seconds so Jake accepted that he would have to hear the Heslington story again. He envied the younger people around the table. Still in the single digits, or at least double. The count for Jake was so high that it could really only be estimated. The best method of approximation involved calculating the number of times in a month the Decrepitude recited it and multiplying by the number of months he had been at the firm. His previous estimate was well into the eighties, but that must have been four or five years prior. He was unquestionably into the triple digits now, even allowing for a standard deviation or two.
The Decrepitude looked directly at Jake and said, "I may have mentioned this Harthington situation to one or two of you before."
He really thinks he's doing us all a favor by sharing his great wisdom with us, thought Jake as he returned a slight grin as if they were sharing a secret. What an ass. And it not Harthington, it's Heslington you feeble clod. And it was more than a while ago, it was twenty-one years ago! Oh, why don't you just die!
"This case illustrates the lesson that applies to everything we do. It is the golden thread that runs..."
The fact was, Jake felt more than a little responsible. The fatuousness didn't really begin until Can-Am Consultants became a success. And it became a success, or at least a cult success, mostly because of Jake.
Thirty-seven years earlier Jake had accepted his first assignment from the Decrepitude. Jake could not say whether it was faulty memory that caused him to remember the Decrepitude looking exactly as he did today. Balding, gray-haired, bulbous-nosed, prefectorial--never quite meeting the eyes of those to whom he was speaking. He spoke with the reassuring resonance of a Victorian statesman, and said absolutely nothing. The nose itself was irregular and off kilter. When viewed from varying angles and under different levels of illumination it provided the viewer with a Rorschach image that, at this moment, bore a resemblance to a large, slow-moving beetle that Jake had squashed under his heel earlier that morning.
The solid mahogany meeting table, with brass inlays, was designed specially to inspire weighty confidence in clients who came for "help". The impression of confidence was everything. None of these clients--or pinheads, as Jake silently thought of them--who availed themselves of Can-Am's services had the slightest idea what they were trying to achieve or why they were trying to achieve it. If any of them had taken the time to think things through they would have realized that all they got for their money were vague suggestions couched in highly imperative rhetoric and supported by whatever prefabricated conclusions could be justified from any actual data they may have had handy.
But the image of assurance was overwhelming. And Jake's presence as a twice (soon to be thrice) published management guru intimidated any skeptics into silence. When they happened to stumble into success, their minds were so malleable that they would credit Can-Am for pointing them in the right direction even when their advice did no such thing. One particular schmuck-of-a-CEO took Can-Am's advice as gospel and found it to be a disaster. He then proceeded to steer his company in exactly the opposite direction and made a great pile of money. Afterwards he actually was grateful to Can-Am for "prompting him into action so he could make the mistakes he needed to make." That was one of Jake's cases. Having dodged a bullet thanks to the client's mush-brained analysis of events, it was the last one where any of his recommendations could be construed as an explicit course of action.
Jake knew it was all crap.
He had not always thought that. For a time he saw the philosophy of management as his mission and pursued it with fundamentalist fervor; the sort of evangelical energy required to get a book published. He could not say at what point he decided it was all crap and, if left alone, the pinheads were just as likely to stumble into the right answer as Jake was likely to find it. There probably wasn't one point, no doubt it was gradual. Somewhere along the way the real answer to every one of the pinhead's problems, the Truth as he had come to call it, came to him: Just be certain of what you want, and make sure you are doing what will get you what you want. This Truth he would never speak. He would take it to his grave and he would stop any report, memo, or casual recommendation that expressed it. He knew what he wanted.
No! It wasn't crap. Jake reflexively scolded himself for falling into such dark nihilism. To call it all crap was in itself to give in to crap. He had success and status and damned if he was going to believe it stemmed not from skill and expertise but from crap comprehension.
What a braying ass. What a perfect chowder-head. As if we've actually done something worth adjourning. Jake hung his head.
"Jake would you hang back a moment?"
"No" was the answer on his lips. Actually, "No you flatulent mound of garbage." Instead he raised his eyebrows and gave a slight nod of acquiescence.
After the room cleared, the Decrepitude focused his eyes slightly to the left of Jake and asked, "Anything particular we should bring to dinner tonight?"
Jake's sphincter tightened. A vision of his wife in Hell came to him. In this vision Jake, or rather a Jake doppelganger since he had no intention of ending up down there, enters, looking rather tipsy, with a young woman of substantial cleavage on each arm. "I invited these two, er, secretaries to stay for dinner. I knew you wouldn't mind entertaining." Before she could object, a cackling, half-sized demon would prod her into the kitchen with a needle sharp pitchfork.
"No, no, nothing at all," he replied. "Looking forward to it."