Fiction Funny

Campbell McKenzie assessed his reflection in the plate glass wall at the entrance to the Department of Information Services and Security. Fresh from the gym and ready to lead, until four, when he must be ready to leave, for his hair appointment. He pulled out his phone and snapped a reflection selfie. The government crest and the acronym DISS were etched into the glass over his reflection, colourless but crisp like the watermark on a bank note. He turned his head and snapped another picture in profile. It was quickly cropped to landscape, filtered, captioned (King of DISS) and posted. McKenzie and his reflection exchanged one more approving glance and strode away into their kingdoms.  

He was checking for responses to his post as he sidled up to a turn-of-the-century desk where a twentieth-century colleague sat. It was time to get to work.

“So, I assume you’ve heard about Manion?” said McKenzie, his thumb still casually massaging his profile.  

“No,” said Wainwright looking up from his diary. “What about him?”

“They say it’s fatal this time.”  

“What, really?” said Wainwright, putting his pen down.

“It’s over for him.”

“But he’s Teflon, he’s got more moves than Deep Blue.”

“Not this time.”

“Poor bastard,” said Wainwright slumping in his chair and frowning into the open-plan air.  

“He’s past it anyway.”

“He’s the same age as me!”

“Poor bastard, he’s properly over-the-hill then,” said McKenzie, smiling at Wainwright’s paper diary.

“After a career like his… He was massive in Defence in the nineties before they farmed him out here to D.I.S.S. It’s not fair for him to go out the back door.”

“Nah, he deserves it. Morals of an alley cat. Leaks like Best Actress at the Oscars.”

“So, they’ve caught him leaking? What’s he leaked?”

“Can’t say, can I? It’s a bad one though. Manion’s got to go.”

“Nothing plenty of other people haven’t done in the past, is it though? Round here keeping a secret just means only telling one person at a time.”

“Well, I’m keeping this secret to you, Manion’s done for,” said McKenzie, returning his attention to his phone to check for responses to his post. There was only one; an emoji of a crown. He smiled at his reflection in the phone’s screen and tapped out three crying laughing emojis.  

“I suppose you’ll be measuring his office then?”

“Well, when opportunity knocks…” said McKenzie with a shrug.

“Opportunists answer,” said Wainwright flatly.

“Well, have a great day, Wainwright, or whatever passes for a great day for you anyway, making it to the end without anyone realising you still don’t understand how to use the internet I suppose. Later!”

Wainwright watched McKenzie strut off across the office before turning on his post-it covered computer and slipping his jacket onto the back of his chair. He scribbled himself a note and added it to the memory bunting that decorated all four edges of his outdated monitor. He noticed McKenzie had stopped by another desk and was bent over it muttering to Farrell from security. Farrell nodded slowly back at McKenzie over a coffee which he raised gradually to his mouth as McKenzie’s head bobbed in the currents of his own babbling chatter. Wainwright shuffled off to the kitchen to make his first coffee of the morning.

      In the small kitchenette Joan from Finance was busy doing something Wainwright didn’t understand to the complicated coffee machine. McKenzie had lobbied for the installation of the expensive machine as soon as he himself had been installed in the department. Joan seemed to know what she was doing with the machine. She loaded it with fresh beans from a cupboard Wainwright had never even opened, before tapping confidently at the control panel. Her mug was one of those fancy thermal ones that everyone seemed to be carrying around these days, the need for which escaped Wainwright completely.

“You could work at Starbucks,” said Wainwright with a smile.

“Thanks!” said Joan with a laugh, punching a button to set the machine rumbling and looking up at Wainwright, eyebrows arched high. “All that time qualifying as an accountant and becoming responsible for the budget of a central government department, and I could have been a minimum wage barista.”

“Oh, no. I mean, it’s all above my head, this thing,” he gestured at the rumbling machine. “It’s a compliment really.”

“Is it though?” said Joan, smiling to herself as the machine steamed and Wainwright’s stuttering pumped a blush into his cheeks.  

“Well, it was meant to be. Never mind,” said Wainwright as he scraped at a jar of crusty instant with a stained spoon. Eager to change the subject he asked, “Have you heard about Manion?”

“Heard about who?” said Joan over the machine’s loud, extravagant grinding.

“Leaks like Best Actress at the Oscars, apparently. They’ve had enough. It’s curtains this time.”

“Really?” said Joan, watching twin jets of coffee trickle into her mug.

“An alley cat, apparently. Or so McKenzie told me this morning.”

“Getting the boot for that?”

“Well, I suppose it is pretty serious stuff,” said Wainwright aiming a stream of boiling water onto the even mix of sugar and freeze-dried grit in his World’s Greatest Golfer mug.    

“I suppose, it could be, if you do it too often. If it was becoming a problem.”

“Exactly. I mean, we all leak a little bit every now and again, par for the course, we’re only human, but there is a limit.”

Wainwright took his coffee back to his pile of notes and his reliable old landline, while Joan headed off to her first meeting of the day.

On her way to her meeting (GDPR training with Mike Farrell) Joan met Francesca Allen from Strategy in the corridor outside Manion’s office. Francesca had started power dressing in the early nineties and had never suffered a dip in confidence significant enough to make her stop.

“Have you heard about Marion?” asked Joan.

“The new girl on McKenzie’s team, what about her?”

“She’s getting the sack for crying too much.”

“You can’t get sacked just for crying. I mean, personally I think you should, I have no time for these emotionally incontinent millennials, but I’m pretty sure that’s not something we could get away with. Shouldn’t they find out what she’s upset about? It might actually be something serious.”

“Something to do with a cat ruining her curtains apparently, but it doesn’t matter, they’ve had enough, she’s out of here.”

“Well McKenzie’s her line manager, shouldn’t he tear himself away from the mirror for long enough to find out if the poor girl has got something else going on?”

“Wainwright told me it was McKenzie who told him, so it sounds like the decision is made.”

“That’s not right. Does Manion know about this?”

“McKenzie must have cleared it with him.”

    “I suppose so.”

    Joan hurried off, now slightly late for her first meeting of the day. Francesca checked her watch; she was five minutes early for her first meeting of the day. She turned smartly on her heal and knocked on the door to Manion’s office. 

Manion replaced the receiver of his landline and looked up with a smile as Francesca entered the room.

“Francesca, please take a seat. How are you?” he asked as he scribbled a note and pressed it to his desk using a golf trophy as an improvised paper-weight.

“I’m fine thank you, Julian. I am a little early, I hope you don’t mind. How are you?”

“Very well thank you, Francesca. Today is already presenting some interesting opportunities.”         “Glad to hear it. Sad news about Marion Collingwood though.”

“Sad new?”

“That she’s leaving.”

“Is she?”

“Well, isn’t she getting sacked? Aren’t we sacking her? I mean, I’m sure it’s the right decision, of course… but it seems a bit harsh, maybe.”

“What have you heard? Nobody has brought anything to me.”

“Apparently McKenzie has had enough of her crying.”

“Did he ask her what she’s crying about?”

“Apparently it was something about her cat ruining her new curtains, but he doesn’t care. He’s getting rid of her.”

“Oh, is he indeed? Well, that may require some discussion. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”

“I’m surprised he hadn’t said anything to you.”

“It seems young Mr McKenzie is full of surprises. Anyhoo, to more pressing matters.”

At the conclusion of her meeting with Manion, Francesca had been asked to locate Mr McKenzie and direct him to Manion’s office. She found him in the kitchen, checking his teeth in the coffee machine’s chrome. He had been pleased to hear that Manion wanted to speak to him in his office, sensing opportunity and a taste of vicarious status. Now, as he sat facing Manion across his desk he couldn’t help thinking of the strange look that Francesca had given him. The Cheshire-cat smile seemed to hang in the air above the desk, a cryptic clue as to why he was there.

Manion scratched at a pad with a steel-nibbed pen. Bars of sunlight slid between the blinds behind him to heat the silence.  

“This is a great office, Julian,” said McKenzie feeling, as usual, that any period of quiet was an invitation for him to perform. His words exorcised the disembodied smile and any self-doubt disappeared with it.   

Manion kept writing his note, checked his watch, made a record of the time and clamped the paper under his golf trophy.

“So, Mr McKenzie, I’m afraid I have to speak to you about your treatment of young Marion Collingwood.”

“Marion? I haven’t even spoken to her this week.”

“That would explain why you don’t know about her curtains.”

“What about her curtains?”

“It’s about trust, you see, Mr McKenzie. I have to be able to trust you to treat people with the respect they deserve, whether that be a new member of the team like Miss Collingwood, or myself, the head of the department.”

McKenzie could once again sense Francesca’s feline smile.

“I can assure you, Julian, I have nothing but respect for you.”

“And yet you decided to sack someone without even bringing it to my attention?”


“And for what are, at best, dubious reasons.”

“No. I haven’t said anything to Marion!”

“Not what I’m hearing, I’m afraid.”

“This is ridiculous. Someone is spreading rumours about me, it’s unacceptable.” 

“I’m afraid it’s a fact of life, McKenzie, that your average government department leaks like a hedgehog’s shower cap. It’ll never change. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Keeps us honest! People are less inclined to go about saying unpleasant things about a chap if there’s a very good chance it’ll get back to him. Apparently, I myself am rumoured to leak like Best Actress at the Oscars. No, there’s no place for that here I’m afraid.”

“What? Who told you… But, par for the course, isn’t it? You said yourself, it’ll never change.”

“But some things do change, dear boy. ‘Leaks like Best Actress at the Oscars’ no place for such sexist language in the modern workplace. I’m afraid evidence of such attitudes is particularly damning in light of your treatment of poor Miss Collingwood.”

“I haven’t said anything to Miss Collingwood! Look, Julian…”

“Mr Manion.”

“Mr Manion, let me get us some coffees from the machine. We can talk about this.”

“Not for me thank you. I can’t stand that machine. So much steam and unnecessary noise. No, I’m an instant man myself. A bit old-fashioned but it gets the job done.”

“A cup of instant then?”

“No, I think we’re finished here, McKenzie.”

“But I haven’t done anything. I’m not trying to get rid of anyone. Nobody is getting fired.”

“I’m afraid I wouldn’t be so sure of that, McKenzie. Attempting to unfairly dismiss an employee, for crying of all things. A bit ironic given your overuse of the crying laughing emoji, don’t you think? Oh, and McKenzie, ‘The King of DISS’ really?”

“I didn’t think you’d… It was a joke. No, I mean, you’re the king of DISS.”

“Get out, McKenzie.”

June 02, 2023 09:23

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Susan Catucci
18:51 Jun 07, 2023

"Leaks like best actress at the Oscars." Sexist, indeed. Funny? Absolutely. What a totally delightful comedy of errors within a tangled web of miscommunication, misunderstanding and just desserts. Sounds suspiciously like the workplace, if only one could be located half as clever as this story. Great fun, Chris, and your writing makes it great, period.


Chris Miller
20:19 Jun 07, 2023

Thank you very much, Susan. Really pleased you enjoyed it. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.


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21:19 Jun 05, 2023

Joan’s misunderstandings of everything Wainwright says is hilarious. McKenzie is really effectively characterized as a total waste of space without anyone saying that. Funny!


Chris Miller
21:38 Jun 05, 2023

Thanks Anne! Glad you enjoyed it.


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Mary Bendickson
13:39 Jun 02, 2023

Instant like. Lots of fragrant images☕📳👑


Chris Miller
15:06 Jun 02, 2023

Thanks Mary. Crown emoji 👑 - the perfect response! 🤣🤣🤣


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