Terms of Employment

It started far too early on a Monday, of course.  Nothing worthwhile ever started on a Monday, but that doesn’t keep some people - eternal optimists that they are - from trying.

I was just settling in to my chair with a hot cup of fresh coffee, looking forward to a wonderfully unproductive day of catching up on some paperwork, when the phone on the desk buzzed.  I sighed and picked it up.

“Jack!” Hansen didn’t even let me say hello.  “I need you in my office.”

I sighed again.  “Right away, sir.”  I hung up the phone, looked longingly at my pile of nice, boring paperwork, then pushed back my old office chair.  I took the time to stretch as I stood up, then grabbed by coffee and sauntered towards Tom’s office, sipping carefully as I went.

It was Monday morning, for crying out loud.  He could wait a few seconds while I caffeinated myself.

Tom was flipping through his own pile of paperwork when I walked into his office.  He grunted to acknowledge me, then motioned for me to close the door and have a seat.  I kicked the door shut gently, then hooked my foot around an overstuffed chair that had seen much better days and dragged it into position so I could sit and stretch out my legs.

Tom’s a good boss.  He continued to shuffle paperwork for a few more seconds to let me get comfortable and grab a few more sips of coffee.  He finally found whatever it was he was looking for, and pushed the rest of the papers aside.

“Ever been to Pittsburgh?”

Tom’s not big on small talk, so I figured this was something job-related.

“Once, years ago,” I said.  “Passed through when I was still a kid.”  I took a careful sip of coffee.  “I understand it’s changed a lot since then.”

Tom snorted.  “You could say that.  They have parks now, for one thing.”

I blinked.  That was not the Pittsburgh I remembered.  “Really?”

Tom nodded.  “Really really.”  He handed me the paper he had dug up.  It was a color printout of an aerial view of - well, I was assuming it was Pittsburgh.  There was a whole lot more green than I was expecting to see.

Turns out, I was half right.

“Oakland,” said Tom.  “One of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods.  The blob of green in the center is Schenley Park.  Golf course, swimming pool, skating rinks.”  He raised his eyebrows at me.  “Phipps Botanical Gardens.”

I whistled.   Phipps was a Big Name in our business.  I hadn’t realized they were located in Pittsburgh.

I looked at Tom.  “They having problems?”

“No,” Tom said slowly.  “Or, rather, they may be.  One of their workers was out for a walk last week, and claims that he found troll spoor in the park.”

I laughed.  “No, seriously?  Look at that place!  How big is it, really?”

“Just under 500 acres”, said Tom, grudgingly.

I shook my head.  “No way someplace that small could grow a troll.”

“That’s just the park area.”  Tom sounded like he was trying to convince himself.  “With the surrounding forests…”

“It’s still urban, Tom.”

He sighed and looked at me.  “And it’s still someone from Phipps saying they found troll sign, Jack.  They asked if we would send someone to check it out.”  He shrugged.  “Just in case.”

“Wait a minute,” I said.  “If there is a troll, that should be Penny’s bailiwick, right?”


I smiled and looked at Tom expectantly, and he just returned my gaze.  There was something… oh.

“Penny’s on vacation, isn’t she?”  I couldn’t keep the resignation out of my voice.


“Fine!”  I closed my eyes.  There went the week.  “Whatever.  I’ll go.”

I opened my eyes to find tom looking at me bemusedly.  “You know I’d send you with her anyway as backup, right?  Why the objection to going it alone?”

I shrugged.  “Areas of responsibility, Tom.  You know that.  If it’s something that Penny should have been dealing with, and I have to fill out her paperwork, you know I’m going to screw it up.”  I looked into my coffee glumly.  “She’ll give me crap for weeks about it.”

Tom signed and shook his head.  “Look, whatever - just go, OK?  Get your kit together, I’ll authorize a vehicle, and however it goes, you’ll have it wrapped up by Wednesday at the latest.”

I stood and looked down at Tom.  “With only a weeks worth of paperwork to do at that point…” I waved my hand at him as he opened his mouth.  “Fine! No, I’m going.  See?  This is me opening the door.  This is me stepping outside.  This is me…”

“Getting assigned to counting tick populations in Maryland if you don’t shut up and get moving!”  growled Tom.

He was smiling as he said it, though.  Slightly.  So I gave him one in return and went to put together my troll-hunting kit.  Just another glorious day in the National Park Service.