Teddy Tedjo can get any job he applies for. He doesn't need to be qualified. He doesn't need skills or references or pants on during the interview. There's no explanation for it. People just can't resist giving him a job. What few friends he has left resent him deeply, as they wait tables under the weight of their postgraduate degrees.
The spell or whatever only lasts until he gets paid, though. Teddy has an easy life, but is always on the move from deceived boss to naive interviewer.
Miss Darling, on the other hand, is the headhunter supreme. If she offers you a job, you take that job. And that spell only lasts until you get paid, too. But she can just choose not to pay you. Her rise to evil corporate overlord was crushingly swift.
When Teddy takes his latest con too far, the two are set on track to meet each other.
The teacher ashed his joint into one of the fifth-grader’s play dough sculptures, and took another sip of his beer. A small pot of glue hit the whiteboard behind him, and dribbled down the crudely-drawn target.
He looked up to see a barefoot girl with leaves in her hair, smirking at her bullseye. He shot her a thumbs-up.
“Nice shot, Katrina!”
A fight broke out in the back row. Li’l Jimmy’s tooth sailed across three desks and landed in Alice Leung’s pencil case. She burst out crying.
“Great self-expression Alice,” said the teacher, “Keep it up. And excellent uppercut, Suzie, you should try out for the martial arts club.”
A shadow fell across the room. The tears and screams choked off, as the students bolted back to their desks. Li’l Jimmy discreetly-not-at-all-discreetly shoved his tooth back in, and gave his trademark grin.
The Principal’s heels waded through the post-apocalyptic snowdrifts of crepe paper and crayons. Her mouth, lined with decades of scowls, was graced by an indulgent smile. A serenity. The teacher looked up absently and smiled.
“Mrs Carmichael, a pleasure!”
She leaned back on a desk, seemingly unaware of the still-sobbing Alice’s attempt to paint a rainbow on it. She had thought that mixing all the colours together would make a rainbow, rather than the singularly hideous shade of brown now seeping into Mrs. Carmichaels’s ample buttocks.
“Just checking how you’re settling in. I must say, you’ve worked wonders these two weeks.”
One of the ceiling fans snapped from its power cord and smashed into Jackson’s desk. The teacher looked around for somewhere to put down his beer, and then ambled over to check if the boy was okay.
“You alright Jackson?”
A quavering thumbs up answered from below the ruined desk, and the teacher relaxed. Probably wouldn’t do to actually have one of them, y’know, die.
“Have you been playing with Lassos again, Jackson?”
There was a silence from beneath the desk, and then
“Those are some pretty good problem solving skills, Jackson. Watch for shrapnel, though, Jackson.”
The ruined circuitry of the ceiling fan sparked and exploded. The lights all went off.
“I see you’ve incorporated a lesson on energy efficency!” fawned Mrs Carmichael, “How innovative!”
Mr Tedjo flashed his winning smile, “Oh, you know, improvisation on the fly.”
“Oh, don’t be modest.” Mrs Carmichael attempted a girlish titter. It did not sit well on her. “Are you looking forward to the long weekend?”
Mr. Tedjo stiffened. “There’s a long weekend?”
“Yes! Good Friday. And I must say you deserve it after tackling 5B this past fortnight.”
“Er… We get paid on Fridays, don’t we?”
“Yes, though it’ll be shunted back a day. Depending which bank you’re with you might get it this afternoon.”
“Ah, right. Well, children. We’re going to end today with a lesson on gravity.”
Mr Tedjo jumped out the window.
The barefoot Katrina leaned over and saw her teacher running full pelt, toward the highway. Mrs Carmichael began to applaud such an innovative experiential learning strategy. But then the second hand of the clock hit three.
In an office of the state education bureaucracy, a payroll computer registered the time stamp. It released a wave of funds to its employees, adjusted to account for the public holiday. The money bounced through several relays, hit a bank computer, and split off into its separate parts. Mr Tedjo’s first pay packet landed in his bank account.
The spell immediately broke.
Mrs Carmichael blinked. Mr Tedjo’s abandoned joint had started a small fire in one of the crepe paper piles. Several windows were broken, The ceiling fan was still sparking, and the young Jackson appeared to be bleeding. A continuous wailing noise was identified as Alice Leung, head down, pounding her fist into the brown goop of her desk. A brown goop which appeared to have seeped quite deeply into her own butt.
A flock of seagulls rose startled from the schoolhouse, at the primal rage of Mrs Carmichael’s scream. Teddy Tedjo doubled his pace. Insofar as transferable skills were concerned, his were chiefly centred around running.
Mrs Carmichael, and those among the students of 5B who could still walk, appeared at the school gate. Alice Leung was the first to spot him, and raised a brown-stained finger in condemnation.
Teddy bundled into a waiting bus and sighed with relief as the doors hissed shut. He collapsed onto the front seat, another fortnight of gainful employment complete. He got out his phone and started to dick around.
The bus didn’t depart. The bus driver cleared his throat. Teddy’s relief turned back to panic, as he say the students, staff, and several parents of [name of primary school] bolting towards him. The bus driver turned, red faced.
“You thinking of paying, there, buddy.”
Teddy was not in the habit of carrying a wallet. It wasn’t something he generally needed.
“You can pay, or you can get off the bus.”
He’d been trying to avoid hitting up the bus company. It seemed useful in emergencies. Then again, this was definitely an emergency. He pointed to a sign.
“It says your’e looking for ticket inspectors. I’d like to apply for the position.”
The bus driver smiled, as indulgently as Mrs Carmichael had been smiling, just moments before.
“Yes, of course. Can you start immediately.”
“Yes! Yes! Just start the bus!”
The hammering of angry parent’s fists on the back windows fell away, Teddy made a half-hearted attempt to check tickets just for the sake of it, Then sat down again. He cracked another couple of beers and handed some to the other passengers. One of them had a banjo.
It ended up being one of the better parties most of the passengers had ever attended.
Some upstart journalist was attempting to interview the CEO of a major corporation, and it was not going well. She had direct orders to make it a fluff piece, some wank about women breaking through the glass ceiling and the Indonesian Rennaissance. But the Journalist had gone off script, and a very, very powerful woman was not amused.
The CEO had risen to her feet, she had leaned forward on the tips of her fingers. She had declared the interview over. Behind her, Jakarta glittered. Threw every ounce of its renaissance behind the woman’s rage.
But the Journalist stood her ground. Despite the pant-shitting menace of that woman’s face.
“I’m sorry, Ms Darling. Despite all the good you’ve done for this city and this nation. The fact remains that you, apparently, have never paid your employees a cent.”
The sun was setting over Jakarta, and it set suddenly. Or so it seemed, perhaps behind a solid bank of cloud. As the light faded, the CEO’s body language softened, but the menace hung in the air.
“All my staff are perfectly content. The Darling corporation records the highest job satisfaction of any Employer in Indonesia. I’m not sure where you are getting your Data, miss Anwar, but I question your assumption I am mistreating my employees.”
“So am I” Said Miss Anwar, “That’s what confuses me so much. I also spoke to a number of your employees on the way in. They seemed very happy. Suspiciously happy.”
“I’m not sure where you’re going with this, Miss Anwar.”
Frankly, Miss Anwar had expected to have been thrown out by security by this point. The fact that she hadn’t been was rather throwing her for a loop. But Miss Anwar’s whole career had been building to this point. She was going to have her scoop or die trying.
Miss Anwar lit a cigarette. She didn’t actually smoke, usually. But she knew it would annoy this woman. Break the tension in the room. Give her a false sense of Bravado. Miss Anwar watched too many foreign movies, and was more susceptible to advertising than she cared to admit.
“Miss Darling,” Said Miss Anwar. “If I may be so bold, your organisation operates less like a corporation. And more like a cult.”
Miss Darling extended a hand to switch on a lamp. The warm light illuminated her sun-ravaged skin. She had, supposedly, been beautiful in her youth. But Australian women aged so badly.
“Not cult, exactly.” Said Miss Darling, “It’s more like they’re bewitched.”
Miss Anwar blinked. This had suddenly all become too easy. Villains never gave away their plans unless they were about to kill you. It seemed prudent, perhaps, to run.
Miss Anwar’s recorder clattered to the floor. But she didn’t get the chance to finish standing up.
“Miss Anwar, I’d like to offer you a Job.”
The Former firebrand journalist turned back to her new boss, with an impeccable customer-service smile. She had many years of experience in the desired position, and would of course be overjoyed to accept the position in Public Relations for the Darling Corporation.
Miss Darling shook hands with her latest employee, and wished her the best of luck in her new career. She then smiled. That was the third journalist this week. Recruitment was up forty percent this quarter.
Teddy Tedjo had aced every job interview he’d ever had. Even the ones he wasn’t qualified or was clearly unfit for. He’d also never been fired until after his first paycheck. He’d been fired plenty of times after that paycheck; often in spectacular fashion. Often in ways that triggered internal investigations. Often in ways that led to other people losing their jobs. But that part of things usually happened after Teddy was over the hills and far away.
This time, however, his sister was waving the newspaper in his face.
“A SCHOOL, Teddy? A fucking SCHOOL? That’s low, even for you.”
Teddy waved the papers away. The face of Alice Leung, still pointing that finger at him out of newspaper ink.
“Can I crash on your couch or not?”
Teddy collapsed onto the couch anyway, bags sloughing onto the floor.
“Teddy, get the fuck out of my house.”
“Ah, you wouldn’t turn your poor brother away?”
“Poor brother, POOR brother? You’ve got more money than I do.”
“Eh, money can’t buy you happiness.”
“I work my arse off in a fucking cafe just to pay rent. And you just swan about screwing over central banks and primary schools. Do you know, can you even CONCEPTUALISE, how hard it is to find a job these days, for people who aren’t Teddy Tedjo? I have two degrees and I wash dishes!”
Coddie ran out of steam, at the immovable mass of her smiling brother. She sat down and poured a glass of wine, fuming. The newspaper lay scattered on the floor, a mosaic of economic collapse. A jigsaw of layoffs and simmering resentment, of central bankers pulling out their hair. Coddie poured herself a larger glass of wine.
Teddy glanced up from his video game. “Can I have some wine too?”
“Get your own damn wine, Teddy.” Said his sister. But didn’t stop him when he got up and poured his own.
Miss Anwar turned to the cameras and smiled. She’d ditched the hijab and had her hair done. She wore a designer dress and a pair of elaborate earrings. She looked like an equal-opportunity Audrey Hepburn.
“The Darling Corporation is pleased to announce a technological breakthrough in nano fibre technology. Among a number of unique medical and communications applications, it paves the way for a long-forgotten dream,”
Miss Anwar paused. Behind her, An image of the earth rotated in space, lovingly rendered, the sun glinting off oceans, cities fading into night. Of the gathered reporters, few noticed the worshipper’s gleam in Miss Anwar’s eye. The earrings rather drew the eye away from her face, where her veil used to draw it in. The better for them, though, those reporters, to not follow Miss Anwar in her foolish dreams of investigative journalism.
There were gasps from the crowd.
As the simulation rotated, a thing appeared on the horizon. A building, but beyond all scale. A skyscraper without end. Impossibly narrow, almost a cord.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are building the space elevator.”
The wine was drunk in the companionable silence of his sister’s fading rage. He even made her laugh, once, as they lit the candles. But when her girlfriend got home the flood tide returned.
“Y’see, Sacha here,” Said his sister. “Spends all day making art. Has to struggle to eke out a living on the side. You waste your days getting drunk at work and playing video games. She deserves what you’ve got way more than you do.”
Sacha put up her hands. Coddie softened again, somewhat, to see and smell the paint on them, and the clay. She took a moment to remind herself that there were people much worse off in life than her. And then hated herself for the saccharine platitude, and the injustice of it all.
“I don’t want to get involved in a family argument.” Said Sacha, “Free work would be pretty nice, though. Anyway, don’t care, have a letter.”
She sat down at the table and looked at it.
“What’s the hesitation?” Asked Teddy.
“It’s from the arts council. I put a grant application in a while back.”
“I still don’t get the hesitation.”
Coddie sighed, “That’s because you’ve never had to need anything, teddy. Sacha’s whole life could be change for the better by the contents of that letter. But more than likely it’ll be yet another knock back. While it stays in the envelope, though, there’s hope. I guess you just can’t understand that."
In a rare moment, for Teddy, he realised he did not understand. He watched Sacha breathe. He watcher her rip a technicolour finger through the crease, like the tearing of a bandaid. Saw her glance, comprehend, then take the time to read properly. He saw his sister squeeze her hand, he saw Sacha lean her head into her body, and then stand to make a cup of tea.
“Wai- What did it say?”
“Shut up, Teddy.” Said his sister.
The emotion Teddy felt was strange. He’d never needed to want to help before, and now he wanted to need to help. Also, maybe he did feel a little bit guilty about getting Mrs Carmichael fired and making Alice Leung worried about her grades.
It was time For Teddy Tedjo to do some Good for the world.
Teddy woke earlier than he was accustomed to, and got the bus he still technically worked for into the centre of the city. The hand strap came off in his hand.
“Tch. Fucking country falling to shit.”
Teddy turned to see an old man shaking his head.
“Place aint what it used to be. I’m just lucky I aint growing up when you are son, my generation robbed you, and I’m sorry.”
The complexities of Australia’s current economic crisis were beyond Teddy’s ken. Despite the fact that he had, technically, been an economics reporter for a major newspaper. Oddly enough, he was able to bullshit enough at it it was one of the few jobs he’d lasted in after the first pay. There were so many arguments and counterarguments and mudslinging and recrimination about it that nobody really knew what was going on. The random shit Teddy had made up sounded as plausible as any other argument people were making. He actually got praised at one point for “a rare moment of non-partisanship in reporting.”
“Ech, I’ll do okay. Don’t beat yourself up old man.”
“Better than I deserve.” Said the old man, “I used to be the Treasurer.”
He tipped his hat and got off at the next stop, the handle of the door snapping off as he departed, and thrown away in unsurprised disgust. Teddy didn’t recognise the man, he’d never had much need to pay attention to history.
The bus passed through empty office buildings and overcrowded tenements. The bus passed monuments being torn down to build mansions. The bus passed half-built mansions that were their own kind of monuments, scrawled over with hateful graftiti about the hateful and corrupt men who’d tried to build them. The bus passed people who, officially, were not starving. Somebody somewhere had an interesting job coming up for euphemisms for what it was they were actually doing.
The bus passed over a river. Teddy avoided looking at the river. And then Teddy got off the bus. The blackened shell of the Arts Council of Victoria stood before him. There were crows in the ruin, rifling through some very expensive and critically acclaimed ash. Teddy went around the back to the series of demountable units that held what was left of the state arts bureaucracy, and its lightly toasted cultural treasures.
It took three locked doors for Teddy to even figure out which of the demountables was the reception. The place was in a shambles. But then, so was everywhere.
In the reception block, a beautiful woman was asleep at her desk. Teddy didn’t have the heart to wake her. He sat down and flicked through a magazine. Glossy maps of smiling Indonesian bureaucrats, and maps of possible sites for the space elevator. To its credit, the native advertising plugging Darling corporation products was too subtle for Teddy to notice, and he rather felt like a cool, refreshing coke.
The pretty lady snorted and woke up.
“Oh shit, sorry, unprofessional. You been there long?”
“Not really,” Said Teddy, “You look like you need caffeine. Can I get you a coke or something?”
“Urk, I’d prefer a coffee. But can’t afford it these days. I’ve half a mind to take you up on that offer. Probably can’t though. Might be seen as an inducement. Which would be horribly corrupt.”
Her crumby eyes held his gaze for a moment, and then they both burst out laughing.
“Aaah, I haven’t laughed like that since the main building burnt down. Thanks for sharing the moment for me. Fuck it. Yes, buy me a coke. If the fucking trade minister’s getting private islands on the side, I can get a cold drink. And anyway, I’m just the receptionist. And I’m an unaffiliated ‘volunteer’.”
“I can hear the finger quotes.”
“Unpaid intern doesn’t quite cut the mustard. I’m basically a self-selected slave. But at least I get a hot meal out of it, and a semblance of respectability.”
Teddy ducked out to find a vending machine that worked. He briefly considered going back over the river to get her a proper coffee, since he could afford it. But the foot bridge was making some dangerous creaking noises. Wasn’t quite worth the gamble. And it might have come off as disturbingly extravagant.
When he returned she hadn’t fallen asleep again, but was staring blankly at her computer screen in a way that suggested she may as well have been. Seeing only the squiggles floating in her eye. She took the drink with appropriate gratitude.
“So are you new here? I know they hired a bunch of people before the place burnt down. You one of the lucky few whose job still existed when you showed up for your shift?”
“Er, no, I actually came to apply for a job.”
“Ha!” she barked, but passed him an application form anyway.
As a volunteer who didn’t - technically - work for the Council, she appeared immune to the glassy eyed fugue that normally overtook his interviewers. That itself was refreshing in its way.
“Wow, you have an … interesting … employment history. Antarctic Research Vessel? Shinto priest? Jackaroo? Either you’re making this up or you’re just what this place needs.”
“Bit of both, maybe.” Teddy smiled.
“Ha, good luck then. Though truth be told you’re pushing your luck. This place has even less money than the rest of the country. There aint fucking no jobs available, despite the need for them. Hence slavelings like me.”
Teddy just smiled, and said he’d chance it.
Three days later, when the wounded filing system of the arts council delivered his application to someone who actually worked there, Teddy ascended to his newest role as head of the Grants committee, and smiled at the good he would do to the world.
His first act - to approve an ostentatious grant to his sister’s girlfriend - was totally like, not at all corrupt, y’know. Completely Legit. For reals.