Ms Shen looked at the letter and found that it had stubbornly refused to change its meaning while she'd been looking away.
"Can we appeal it?" Marlon said
"Yes, easily," Ms Shen said. "I tried to raise the issue with the Minister already, but he didn't seem very willing to chat."
The plan had been simple. The Super Centre had a carpark slightly smaller than that of the neighbouring Mega Centre. This meant that when the Super Centre carpark was full, the Mega Centre got the overflow. By increasing the size of the Super Centre carpark, the situation would have reversed.
The Mega Centre hadn't been happy about this change, but also hadn't felt it necessary to oppose it. At least they hadn't at first. But then the DIY Barn had agitated for the Mega Centre management to fight the Super Centre management in council. And they had, and they'd won.
Ms Shen stared at the letter on council letterhead paper. Still its meaning didn't change. The increased traffic from the new carpark wasn't projected to increase profits much. 1.25% according to the analysts. But when the bottom line is so damn tight, every 1.25% counts.
"What do we know about them?" Marlon said. "Those DIY Barn people. What do we know? I've looked them up online and all I can find is bland corporate crap. Do you know more about these arseholes? Does head office?"
"Probably not much more than you do," Ms Shen said. "Their parent company was formed in Argentina in 1946. They make boots, barbed wire, helmets, that sort of thing. They started into the hardware business a few years ago and began setting up locally."
"It's pretty bland stuff all around," Marlon said. "Company sees an opportunity and goes for it."
He picked his teacup up off of Ms Shen's desk. Ms Shen noticed his eyes wandering around the cramped little office. They never seemed to settle on the desk. She wondered what, if anything, that meant.
"I'm not the only one doing something about the Barnlings, am I?" Ms Shen said. Marlon looked almost comically shocked. Ms Shen rolled her eyes. "I'm not stupid, Marlon. I'm a good manager, and like any good manager I know when not to see something. But just because I choose not to see, that doesn't mean I don't know."
Marlon's jaw clenched.
"It's to stop now," Ms Shen said. "Ok? If there's one thing I've learned from chasing this application through council it's that even though those DIY Barn managers look like postal workers and dentists, they can be real frigging Nazis."
Marlon said nothing. Ms Shen noted that he had not actually admitted to anything. Yes! Plausible deniability! Thank you Marlon!
"I'm responsible for the safety of the people here," Ms Shen continued. "And I don't want anyone else getting hurt. The risks just aren't worth it. Seriously, why die over a low-paying McJob."
"Do you think that's what this is about?" Marlon snapped. "I thought… I thought you'd started to understand. I should have known you corporate types never could. This isn't about the job. Not the way you see a job anyway – money goes in, labour comes out. It's about the smell of fresh cut timber. It's about plants, green and blooming. It's about young couples getting keys cut to their first place together. It's about kids taking home paint-your own models and Venus flytraps. Its about hobbyists taking forever to check wood for straightness while the tradies roll their eyes at them. But there's more than that. It's about mates. It's about the people you go to the pub with after work, or just bitch with in the staff room. It's about people, boss. Not economic units, people. Some of us are here for the long haul, some just until something better turns up, but it doesn't matter. As long as there's a place here, this is our place. And if those fuckers from the DIY Barn want it, then they're going to have to come through us."
Marlon reached down for his tea, carefully not looking at the desk. Ms Shen stared at him for a while, drumming her fingers on an unoccupied corner of the desk.
"You finished?" she said. "Good. That was the dumbest thing I ever heard. This place is nothing. Nothing permanent, anyway. It's a temporary feature, a whirlpool between the current of supply and the current of demand. One day it'll be gone with nothing to show for it. Maybe that day will be distant, but probably it will be soon. And nobody will miss it and nobody will care because it was never built to last."
"What will you do?" Marlon said.
"Probably go to another Pavilion," Ms Shen said. "Or back to corporate."
"And what about Mrs Lebeau?" Marlon said. "You going to miss her?"
Ms Shen felt her face flush. "I'll miss my colleagues here, of course…" she began.
"I know about you and her," Marlon said. "Everybody knows. You try to seem all sooooo professional, but the way you look at each other… Look, I'm not trying to give you grief. What you get up to is your own business. What I mean is, what do you like more about this job? The work or the social connections? The spreadsheets or the fact that you and your girlfriend can just do it on this desk?"
Oh, Ms Shen thought. So that's why he can't look at the desk!
She sighed deeply. "Maybe you do have something," she said. "Maybe. Look, if hypothetically you and some of the others were up to something… well, that would be wrong. Escalation won't help. Ok?"
"People talk big, but nothing will happen," Marlon said, not even bothering to hide the fact that he was lying.
"Good," Ms Shen said. "Oh, by the way, there's a concrete truck in the car park. Been there a few days. Could you move it?"
She went to hand him the keys. For a moment, she imagined herself putting them on the desk in front of Marlon. Was that harassment? Yeah, it probably was. She tossed them and he caught them.
"Whose truck?" Marlon said. "Park it where?"
"It belongs to Bruce," Ms Shen said. "And just find somewhere for it that isn't here."
"Bruce died years ago," Marlon said. "How did his truck…"
"Why don't you ask the truck?"
Marlon looked like he was going to say something, but brain went faster than his lips and he kept quiet. "I'll find somewhere," he said.
"Good. And no escalation."
Marlon smiled ear to ear. "That's right, boss," he said. "No escalation."