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Fiction #360
(published December 13, 2007)
Fast Learner
by Margaret B. Davidson
Peashooter leaned back in his chair, hands folded over his considerable paunch. "What's yer name?"

"Francis Smith, sir."

"That's a girl's name."

"Francis with an 'I,' sir."

"I suppose you'll have to do. Any idea how a large corporation runs?"

"No, sir, but I'm a fast learner."

"Cut the crap with the sir business. Everybody calls me Pea."

"Okay, Pea."

"The first thing you need to do is find out how things run around here, and your first assignment should help with that. I want you to find out who the hell's in charge of Marketing these days. I expect the information by close of business today. Meanwhile, I'm bogged down until lunchtime and I'm not to be disturbed."

Francis closed the door to the sound of his boss unfurling his newspaper.


After searching for ten minutes, Francis found a corporate telephone directory lodged beneath one of his desk's back legs. He tugged it out and watched as the telephone slid across the tilted desk and crashed to the floor with a jarring jangle.

"Fuck! What's that racket?" A face appeared over the top of the cubicle divider. "You're old Pee's new slave? Spelled P-E-E, by the way. Usually gets a girl. Where'd they find you?"

"I'm working on my Doctorate and I need the mon—"

"Lot's of ABD's around here."


"All But Dissertation. Most of you guys atrophy after a few months here and start acting like normal folks. Name's Brad Hall, by the way."

"Francis Smith."

"You need help with anything, Frank, just yell."

"There is one thing — you don't happen to know who's in charge of Marketing, do you?"

"Marketing? Do we have a Marketing department? Jeez, suppose we must. No, dunno." His head disappeared below the divider.

Francis opened a file cabinet and removed a folder labeled 'Budget.' Using this he propped up his desk, and then retrieved the telephone from the floor. Next he riffled through the directory. "Marketing. . . Marketing. . . Ah, here it is."


"Marketing Department. This is Rachel."

"Hi Rachel. My name is Francis Smith. I'm Mr. Peashooter's new assistant and I'm calling to find out who's . . . "

"Pee's assistant? You don't sound like a girl."

"Francis with an 'I'."

"Well, sorree. . . "

"I'm trying to find out who's in charge of Marketing."

"As of right now, Frank, nobody is."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Reorg. As in reorganization."

She sighed, and Francis could visualize her rolling her eyes to the ceiling. Then, evidently taking pity on him, she said,

"You can try corporate headquarters. See if they know what's going on."

"Do you have the number?"

"Hmm. Don't know who's in charge over there right now. I have a buddy in systems though. He might know. Chucky — 3856. Tell him Rachel said last night was great."

"Thank —" But she'd hung up.


Three. . . , eight. . . , five. . . , six. The number rang ten times before the phone was picked up.

"Yeah, yeah?"

"May I speak with Chucky, please?"

"This is the Chuckster. Talk to me."

"This is Francis Smith, Mr. Peashooter's new assistant."

"Who in hell's Peashooter? Oh, you mean that ass-hole, Pee. He usually gets a girl."

"Rachel in Marketing suggested I call you—"

"Ah, Rachel, now there's one hot babe—"

"Said you might know who's in charge of Marketing."

"Marketing? She's the one in Marketing! How the fuck do I know who's in charge? Try calling headquarters."

"Can you give me the number?"


Francis heard pages being flipped over, and then Chucky came back on.

"You still there? I can give you the number of somebody who used to be in headquarters. Might be gone though. They're having a reorganiza—"

"Yeah, I know. A reorg."

"Dial 2939. Bunny. Tell her Chuckster said hello."

The number rang sixteen times. No answer. No answering machine. Okay, he thought, this task isn't as simple as it first appeared. Not about to be defeated, he dialed Personnel.

"Personnel. Miss Pritchard speaking."

"Miss Pritchard. This is Francis Smith. You may remember me—"

"Oh, yes. Francis. How is dear Mr. Peashooter? One of our best employees. Working on his Doctorate you know. Only needs to finish his dissertation, but he works so hard he can't find the time. Very loyal to the company."


"Are you two getting along? I would have sent him another girl, but after the teensy-weensy spot of trouble we had after the last one I thought we'd try something a little different this time."

"Yes, well, Miss Pritchard, do you happen to know who's in charge of the Marketing department?"

"Oh, dear. I'm afraid nobody's in charge just at the moment. You see there's a reorganization going on over there. I'll tell you what I'll do though — I'll have one of our girls here do some research and get back to you."

Francis sighed in relief. "Thank you."


Five minutes later, Francis heard his boss's telephone ring behind the closed office door. All of a sudden the door burst open showing Peashooter, red splotches of fury on his sagging jowls.

"I give you one simple task and you fail me!"


"I ask you to find out who's in charge of Marketing and next thing I know some ninny from Personnel's on the phone inquiring as to whether I know who's in charge of Marketing!"

"Sir, —"

"Find out who's in charge, Frank!"

"Yes, sir."

"Should 'a' sent me a girl," Peashooter muttered as he slammed the door.

Brad stuck his head over the divider. "Didn't take you long to piss off old Pee. Wanna have lunch."


"Cafeteria's closed."


"You got it."

Francis was about to grab his coat when his telephone rang. "Meet you in the parking lot," he yelled to Brad as he picked up the receiver.


Mouth full of Big Mac, Brad said, "That Pee's a major waste of time."

"Oh, I won't be working for him any longer."

"The bastard fired you?"

"No, think I might be his boss actually. I'm the new head of Marketing."

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