Albert is attending a disciplinary meeting regarding a controversial employee, Helen. It concerns a serious matter of misconduct and they are assessing whether there is any medical mitigation for Helen that needs to be taken into consideration by the panel. The panel members are all shuffling through their papers to find the relevant medical section.
‘So when exactly is Helen due to have her operation?’ one of the panel members asks.
Albert looks to the chair. Then there is a silence that extends a little too long.
‘Oh,’ Albert says, ‘I’m sorry. Do you want me to answer the question now? Because usually you spend some time formulating the questions at the beginning and then ask the questions later on in the hearing. That’s the usual order of things in a process of this sort.’
The chair looks at Albert. The chair and Albert have never really got along, not since Albert successfully lobbied for the removal of a coffee machine on the second floor corridor, undermining the chair’s authority in a different capacity. It’s a subtle, residual malice between them: undecipherable to the naked eye. ‘That’s very true, Albert,’ she says, faking a smile. ‘I’m not sure. I guess we could do it either way. Yes, on the one had we usually ask the questions at the end. But then again, usually the subject of the disciplinary attends the hearing. So I suppose we have some discretion here. What do people think?’ the chair asks, turning to the other panel members.
‘Let Albert answer it now?’ one of the newer panel members suggests tentatively.
‘Yes, I think now would be best,’ another member concurs. ‘It makes more sense in the circumstances, given the subject’s absence.’
The chair nods her agreement and makes a note of the rationale for the collective decision to alter the usual structure of the hearing. ‘So?’ she asks Albert finally. ‘When is Helen’s operation due?’
Albert clears his throat. ‘No idea,’ he says.