Quarterly Returns

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Mr. Rogers had sent a memo to Shelly last Friday informing her to report to his office first thing on Monday morning for a meeting. Shelly arrived early in order to have a few minutes to collect herself and get her nerves under control. She was determined to present an outwardly calm and professional demeanor when she met with Mr. Rogers, Department Manager for Ajax Insurance Company.

Shelly had a premonition of what Mr. Rogers was going to say. Since the arrival of Mrs. Ferguson, the newly assigned district division supervisor, the department had been undergoing an in-depth process of agent evaluations and case-load reviews.

Mrs. Ferguson had unexpectedly arrived without any departmental notice on the first day of the second quarter of a worrisome year. Every associate was feeling the pressure. As the senior agent of claims, Shelly was sure she was going to feel the heat of Mrs. Ferguson’s probing.

Shelly continued to make her way through the warren of cubicles her associates occupied; nearly everyone had arrived early this morning. Those whose friendships had blossomed and grown with her, nodded with tentative smiles and furtively gave her a thumbs-up. Shelly was an invaluable agent for the company and had received many awards and accolades during her nineteen years as a claims agent.

Shelly also had a reputation for being a team leader, always willing to help her associates with advice gained through her years of successfully settling claims. She could feel the love and support of her friends as they all stoically prepared for the day’s work.

Looking back at the arrival of Mrs. Ferguson the previous month, Shelly couldn’t help but notice Mr. Rogers’ change in demeanor. He had seemed to forget Shelly’s long standing company loyalty, qualifications, and track record when the red-haired, gray-eyed, Mrs. Ferguson arrived on the division’s floor.

Her five-foot six-inch statuesque body dressed enticingly in a short black skirt and rather snug Kelley green sweater had visibly poleaxed Mr. Rogers, as he took her around introducing her to his agents. When they arrived at Shelly’s cubicle, he didn’t seem to notice the fiery gleam in Mrs. Ferguson’s eyes as she acknowledged Shelly. Shelly immediately and instinctively knew her future with the Ajax Insurance Company was in jeopardy.

Introductions over, Mr. Rogers had shown Mrs. Ferguson to her newly subscribed corner office where she wasted no time in making her presence known. In the past month, she had turned the usually welled-oiled division inside out, determined to show the directors of the Ajax Insurance Company what a force of nature she was.

She wasted no time in cajoling Mr. Rogers, the staid middle-aged, married, department manager, into believing that her assessments and reviews of his agents were the answer to curtailing the negative quarterly reports. The company was worried about its ongoing loss of clients and flagging profits, and she assured him she could turn things around.

Mr. Rogers had been with the company for twenty-five years and knew how volatile the insurance business was in today’s market. The competition was fierce, and other companies were beginning to threaten the foundation of Ajax. He knew the changes in policy and raises in insurance premiums were major factors in this downturn.

However, he seemed to lose his focus with the arrival of the dynamic, fire-haired Mrs. Ferguson. He blindly seemed to relinquish the reins of department management under her wiles. Mrs. Ferguson wasted no time in convincing him she was the answer to his department’s floundering; she was the guru to right their ship. Mr. Rogers soon was relegated to first-mate without a battle of wills. She had honed her wiles and skills of persuasion with stealth and cunning. Everyone in the division was in fear of their jobs being cut as she set about sleuthing through the department in a wide swath of terror.

When Shelly’s intercom buzzed, signaling the dreaded call from Mr. Roger’s secretary and informing her that Mr. Roger’s was ready for their meeting, she took a deep breath. She stood and smoothed her navy blue skirt, making sure her crisp white blouse was neatly tucked in. Lightly smoothing a hand over her neatly coifed hair, she gathered her notepad and pen and made her way to Mr. Roger’s office.

The blinds on the window were drawn; that had only begun happening after the arrival of Mrs. Ferguson. Sally, Mr. Roger’s secretary, making a grim line of her lips, motioned for her to go on in; knocking first, Shelly waited for Mr. Roger’s “come in” before entering.

Without looking up from the file he was reading, he indicated Shelly to take a seat in the chair situated in the front of his desk. Always before when he had summoned Shelly to his office for a meeting, he had stood upon her entrance. They had always sat in the informal area of his office, so Shelly knew that this new seating arrangement did not bode well for her. He continued to peruse the file in front of him; Shelly had never seen him with such a pensive expression on his face. Her apprehension grew as she struggled to remain calm.

Mr. Rogers finally looked up from the file and cleared his throat; his hands nervously twisted the pen in his hand. He cleared his throat again and began speaking, stutteringly at first then gaining some momentum; he told her that Mrs. Ferguson had listed several areas of deficiency in her evaluation of Shelly’s files on closed claims. Knowing this meeting was a farce, Shelly, unwaveringly and steadily looking into Mr. Roger’s eyes, asked him to please enumerate the deficiencies, as she prepared to take notes. Flushing, Mr. Rogers, guiltily lowered his gaze to the file and began reciting the reasons for the negative evaluation. As he finished giving Shelly the numbered deficiencies and critical issues cited in her methods of working claims, he told her she would have ninety days to rectify those deficiencies. At the end of ninety days, Mrs. Ferguson would again, evaluate Shelly’s performance and report her findings to him. Again, clearing his throat and flushing, he dismissed Shelly to return to her duties.

Shelly made her way to her station, trying to make sense of what had just happened. She had taken a flash drive of her cases home with her on Friday, knowing she would need to review every one of the claims she had closed. Case by case she had reviewed each claim to determine where she might have erred.

She could find no fault with her work, as she had always prided herself on being an astute claims agent keeping her payouts in line with the claims submitted: always, always, doing due diligence on each fact and report listed in the claims.

Knowing Mrs. Ferguson had targeted her, for some unknown reason, she was determined to use her investigative skills in finding the elusive reason for this antagonistic attack. Confident of her abilities and company reputation as a stellar claims agent, Shelly knew it would not benefit her to stew over what had transpired in the contrived meeting or the review of the fabricated, bogus evaluation given to Mr. Rogers, by the conniving Mrs. Ferguson.

Shelly mentally reached deep within for an equilibrium that would enable her to focus on taking care of business. Opening her e-mail file, she began to correspond with her field agents as she prepared answers to their queries, being careful of every comment she wrote.

Determined to protect her reputation and integrity, she copied all her e-mail files to another flash drive and put it in her briefcase for safe-keeping. She encrypted those files she wanted to keep on her computer with firewalls and passwords. It would take someone very knowledgeable to find or decode these files or to corrupt them. She also wrote code to embed a “fail-safe.” She had not minored in Computer Science for fun. She was serious about her career; she would ensure the wily fox would not out smart her in this vendetta of sweeping the division of the best claims agents the company had.

Finishing with that task, Shelly continued to work steadily throughout the day. Timing her lunch period and breaks so that they would not give Mrs. Ferguson, the ever-diligent watchdog, ammunition, Shelly kept to herself for the rest of the day.

Over the weekend she and Angie, her best friend and fellow claims agent, had made plans to get together that evening. She called Angie when she left the building to schedule the get-together. Angie would contact the other friends and associates who were being targeted; they would have a strategy session at Angie’s. It wouldn’t surprise any of them if Shelly were being watched on her personal time.

Shelly was going to bring her friends the queries and head-hunting letters she had been receiving from competitive companies who was interested in hiring her. She could see the way the winds were blowing at the Ajax Insurance Company, and she was determined that if the ship were going to sink, she and her friends would not become drowned rats.

Phyllis Hallett, 69, lives in North Miami, Oklahoma. She is the mother of two sons and one daughter: Scott, Sheri, and Rory. She is currently working for the Experience Works Program as an employee counselor helping seniors 55+ learn new work skills. In addition to that, she is also working towards her associate degree at NEO A&M College after entering during the fall semester of 2012. With a 4.0 GPA, she has been named to the President’s Honor Roll at NEO A&M. Outside of NEO A&M, she is active in the United Methodist Women Conference and she is President elect of the Green Country District in the Oklahoma Conference. While she’s not participating in any of the above activities, she enjoys writing, reading, gardening, traveling, horseback riding, singing, and playing the guitar.

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