The Pathological Truth Journal

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The Case Of The Missing Case of Flamingos

This is a rough draft of a semi-true (sort of, in a way) kind of story. All of the names have been changed as I doubt they really want to associate themselves with this sort of thing.

It took months to convince me they weren’t all reptilian aliens from the fourth dimension. The corporate office was settled in the most unsociable part of Pennsylvania. Caught between the attitude of New York, the bureaucracy of Maryland and the politeness Ohio seemed to fill Pennsylvanians with some sort of secret resentment. However, those offices were filled with smiling people who worked with incredible speed and efficiency to support the making of lawn and garden tools. While the people seemed to have their own language and culture everyone I met tried their best to be inclusive. All of this was peculiar enough as smiles and reassurances generally hide an ulterior motive in the business world. Yet, most people who worked there seemed to genuinely desire that all people be happy… And also buy the tools they made to facilitate ease in gardening. The happiness, incredible abilities and inclusivity were just circumstantial evidence to their alien nature. It was the flamingos that sealed my conspiracy theory. Although I was (unfortunately) assured they didn’t make any plastic pink flamingos at the plant, there were always boxes of them around. I couldn’t go a few feet without finding one of those plastic pink lawn ornaments. There was never any satisfactory explanation for those rosy birds. However, each box seemed to say to me “no advanced alien race who desired humanity’s return to agricultural roots would bother with these silly things”. It was classic reverse psychology. Clever. Yet during my months there I never saw any of them shape shift. So, maybe there was some more reasonable explanation for everything.

Aliens or not, I was contracted to work in the Human Resources department as a temporary employee. To be honest, it was great. The people were nice and there was always something interesting going on. They even gave me a tour to see giant robot arms in action. How many office temps get to see stuff like that? Human Resources in particular always had some mystery to solve. It was like being a detective, except without people shooting at you and with more regular hours. Sure, as the person in the office who knew the least I ended up with most of the spreadsheet work or filing but even that work was exciting in its own way. I spent my days either cataloging or sifting through raw information in order to find answers or make it so others could find out whatever needed to be found. They even let me use one of the empty offices, which if nothing else, made me feel important. Sure, it also doubled as a supply closet but it was an office… And one that was sort of on a corner too. The only real complaint I had was that the room was always cold. Of course, there are only two temperature settings in any corporate building: arctic tundra or equatorial summer.

“Jess, I need to pull off that report. We have some trouble.” Willow hurried into the office wearing her worried smile.

I don’t think I ever saw Willow without some sort of smile on her face. She was the Human Resources Manager for the entire corporation. Every complaint, policy It looked like an exhausting task some days but every day she came in with a smile and did her best. She made sure everyone felt as if they were heard, if not by her then by the appropriate person in charge. If a company could have a heart, Willow would be its aorta in other words, something indispensible.

“What’s up?” I asked, mainly out of curiosity. They rarely gave me any details as to why I was working on a certain project. This wasn’t out of any hostility they were just super busy. However, this time there was an answer. It was maybe the most interesting answer I had ever heard.

“It’s the strangest thing. For the past month, every Tuesday morning, a case of flamingos goes missing. It’s there one minute and gone the next and no one has been able to find out how it’s happening. Who would even take something like that?”

“Hipsters. Lovers of kitsch… Oh! People fighting with their HOA.” Sometimes I’m a little slow when it comes to rhetorical questions.

Willow waited patiently for me to finish. “Right.” She nodded, still wearing the same tense smile. “I sent you some files of the people who work Monday night and Tuesday morning for the past three weeks. I have meetings this afternoon. Can you see who worked each of those weeks? Once you have a list you can pull their files to see if there are any disciplinary actions.”

“Do you think it could be more than one person?”

“At this point we aren’t ruling anything out.”

“I’m on it.” I gave her a thumbs up.

As I checked my email Willow returned to her job of trying to answer every employee’s question at once. With a few clicks the spreadsheet popped open. I scanned the information deciding how to get what I needed out of the nearly raw data.

If life was like a TV show this is where the montage takes over. There would be cool mood lighting and background music while everything comes together in a few minutes. Real life data mining isn’t quite like that. It’s still awesome in its own completely tedious way but everything doesn’t come together in a few minutes. Find all the data. Copy the data. Paste the data on a new sheet. Click, hide the unnecessary information. Click, sort. Click, filter, Click, sort again. Repeat those steps to input all the weeks into the same workbook. Click, click, click and name the ranges. Input the lookup formulas. Check to make sure the formula is pulling the right data. If not go back and make sure everything is pulling the same named data from the right places or just sort it again. When it looks good… Copy, paste, drag. Finally, filter and sort all the information again. Done.

Although, it doesn’t seem like that should take a long time it took me the better part of the morning to come up with the list. Out of the almost 300 employees who had worked every Monday night or Tuesday morning in question there were 76 suspects who matched all the data points. I printed the list. While it wasn’t thousands of suspects there were still a few too many people. I would need a way to narrow it down.

If Willow was part of the heart of the company then Tabitha, the Human Resources Administrator was its memory. Not that she wasn’t super nice also. She never swore and she smiled almost as often as Willow. There was a reason all the employees liked her. In fact, she was one to start calling me Jess in the office. And for whatever reason the nickname made me feel inordinately cool. In addition to all of those qualities her memory was amazing. I mean that very literally, as in, I was amazed. If Tabitha ever said something sounded familiar then it was. She was the kind of person capable of holding millions of pieces of information in her head and more importantly quickly retrieving that information. Tabitha would be the perfect person to help find the more interesting people on my list.

I removed a few jackets and made my way out of the frigid office toward Tabitha’s desk. She sat in the middle of the Human Resources office where she could see and hear everything. That way, everyone who passed by had a chance to use her almost inhumanly brilliant skills.

“Hey, Tabitha. Do you have a second?”

She looked over to me and pointed at the phone she was holding. I grimaced and whispered an apology.

“We have a spot open on Tuesday at 2:10 PM. Does that work for you? Great. We’ll see you then.” Tabitha put down the phone and turned to me. “Hi, Jess. What did you need?”

“Willow has me working on the missing flamingos. I’ve the list narrowed down to these people. Do you think you could take a look and see if any names jump out at you. Then, I could start looking through those files first.”

“Sure. Let me see.”

I handed the paper over. Tabitha scanned the names. She took a pen and wrote a few notes in the margins.

“I would start with those people and work your way down the list after that.” She suggested with a smile. “Sorry I couldn’t narrow it down any more.”

“No. This is great. That sounds like a good plan. Thank you.” I turned to go back to Antarctica then stopped as a thought formed in the back of my head. “Who actually makes the flamingos? Where do they come from?”

Tabitha thought for a moment then laughed. “I don’t actually know. I would talk to Mike about that.”

Mike was the man in charge of plastics. To me, that meant he was in charge of everything plastic. All of the wheelbarrows, plastic fences, flamingos, any twist ties that were found on the ground… Whatever it was, if it was plastic Mike was the guy in charge of it. In spite of all of the challenges of having the responsibility of all of the production for every plastic thing and the employees under him, he maintained a good (if slightly self-depreciating) sense of humor about it all. I’d only ever seen him irritated once and that was talking about what he couldn’t get done. So, dealing with him was pretty easy. There was one problem. Asking Mike anything was a nigh impossible task. Since he was in charge of every plastic thing in existence it was hard to get a hold of him. Rather than taking on another mystery, I set to work looking through the files of the suspects listed.

Contained within the files of every employee was their life story. The papers could only give a certain amount of information on what an employee did. There were disciplinary actions, promotions, basic identification and all sorts of job related material but that was just the tip of the iceberg. These files also contained every motivation behind every employee action. Why did that man ask for a raise? He has a new wife and baby at home. Why has that woman’s productivity declined recently? She recently lost her mother. The ability to look into another person’s life so intimately was more than a little creepy. Of course, unlike marketing which sells that kind of information to the highest bidder, every person I had met in any Human Resources position guarded those files securely. They were guardians and gate keepers.

Even though I wasn’t a real Human Resources employee, as a temp it was my duty to uphold their values. So, I pulled the disciplinary actions of the people who matched my data points and promptly forgot everything else. I made copies of all of the files and pulled the data onto the spreadsheet. From that central location an incomplete pattern began to emerge. There is nothing more frustrating than that fuzzy picture. It’s the kind of feeling that if there was just one more piece of the puzzle everything would fall into place. However, solving this case wasn’t my task. I was asked to compile a list and that’s what I did. I quickly sent an email with the spreadsheet over to Willow.

To be continued whenever…

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