The board of directors called him Old Blood and Guts and sent him in to cut costs at flailing subsidiaries like ours. We called him Mr. Cleeton, Sir, and when we heard he was coming down to Houston, we began stockpiling cans of soup in the kitchenette and testing the flashlight batteries — until Celine said, “So we’re losing money hand over fist. It’s not like anyone knows why. Let’s just keep our mouths shut and let the books do the talking.” What sounded like a good plan got better when Comptroller Chip Fielder volunteered to play Cleeton for a month to steel our nerves.
Chip was given a big budget and total artistic freedom, but no one could have predicted how fully he’d throw himself into the role. He put on fifteen pounds, grew a moustache, and leased a Benz that he parked in the president’s spot. He smoked Cuban cigars. After moving into the new conference suite, he ordered all recent productivity reports, calling in the middle managers one by one. His script for these Shake Downs began: “Why is it that your department is (a. the armpit; b. the malignant melanoma; c. the laughing stock) of the company? — if you catch my drift.” It was taken straight from Fortune’s July feature, which followed Cleeton’s wrap up of the Keimer consolidation.
Martha left her session in tears, and Ringle and Rotter broke into fisticuffs after Chip said they themselves were redundancies. Just when it seemed that he was going too far, Chip showed why a reviewer for the Texas A&M Student Record once gushed: “Drama minor Chip Fielder out-Grants Carry Grant in the new production Arsenic and Old Lace, giving a Vaudevillian twist to the play’s black comedy.” The day before Cleeton was to arrive, Chip plowed his Benz into the trash dumpster and weaved through the halls wearing only polka-dot boxers, a sleeveless undershirt, and gleaming wingtips with knee-high black socks — still smoking his stogie. Toilet paper dragged from one shoe and a “Kick-Me” sign clung to his undershirt. It killed us. We all cracked up. Even before he tap danced smack into the water-cooler singing “New York, New York,” we were raving. We couldn’t wait for that silly bastard Cleeton get here.
Formerly a CPA, Chuck Sweetman currently teaches writing at Washington University in St. Louis. His poems have appeared in such places as Poet Lore, GSU Review, Gingko Tree Review, Poems & Plays and Delmar. His fiction credits include the chapbook Lake House and Other Stories and the Jeanne Lobmeyer Cardenas Prize from The Sheridan Edwards Review. He has also reviewed poetry and fiction for Black Warrior Review and Texas Books in Review.