Our Second Core Belief is Loyalty-Based Leadership
It was an hour into Friday's night shift when our bosses descended to the warehouse, asking if we wanted to be pirates again.
We don't know what you mean, we said.
They smiled, as though they knew something we did not. Which perhaps they did.
We thought this would be exciting, said our bosses. They meant more exciting than standing at a conveyor belt, filling Bags-for-Life with grocery orders for delivery.
We're not pirates, we told them. We do not know what you mean regarding pirates.
Our bosses smiled. Think about it over the weekend, they said.
I want to be a pirate again, said Maurice, when our bosses had climbed the stairs back to their offices. I'm so bored packing these stupid bags all night.
Maurice was always the troublemaker of our gang, back when we kidnapped senior oil executives and held them prisoner in ships off the coast of our homeland. Though it was only Maurice who ever referred to the four of us as a gang. Neither Trey nor Benny or I ever desired to be in a kidnapping gang with Maurice. Maurice always wanted to haul the Westerners out on deck and fire his machine gun above their heads. The rest of us just wanted our share of the ransom and to go home.
When we arrived for dawn shift on Monday our bosses stood at the big folding doors to the warehouse.
So what do you think? they said. Now you've had the weekend to think about it.
We had worked in the warehouse all day Sunday, but they appeared not to know that.
We're quite happy packing bags for delivery, said Trey. Thank you all the same.
Our bosses were annoyed. We went to some effort to get you these jobs, they said. Our company was a founder organisation of Supermarkets for Refugees. Did you know that?
Why do you even need pirates? said Benny. It was a good question, that someone ought to have asked much earlier.
We need some people who know how to handle themselves, said our bosses.
What about Tracey, or Bernard? said Trey. He was furious. I had seen a Dutch businessman soil his trousers once when confronted by Trey's fury, a man unaware Trey was the gentlest man I knew. Ask them to be pirates, said Trey. They've worked here longer than us.
Tracey has arthritis, said our bosses. Bernard has fitness issues. By comparing us to Tracey and Bernard our bosses were, in a way, complimenting us.
Also, they said, none of them know how to use a gun.
We don't want anything to do with guns, said Trey.
We have a warehouse, explained our bosses. Not this one – a different one. We have some valuable assets that need protecting.
We don't want anything to do with guns, said Benny. This was the phrase our lawyer, Tanya, had advised us to repeat over and over during the immigration process. Besides, none of us did like guns, except Maurice.
Our bosses huddled together for a conference. The evening sun, though weak, shone a pleasing orange light on the grey metal walls of the warehouse. We wondered whether to wait or go back to work. I knew there would be vegetables and wine boxes and everything else filling my conveyor belt.
We have no legal obligation to continue your employment, said our bosses. Your contracts are purely concessionary and beholden to the health of the food markets.
We had no answer to that. But we had no desire to go back to Somalia.
Okay, I said. We do know how to use guns. But we don't have any.
Don't worry about that, said our bosses. Leave the guns to us.
Two days later one of our bosses arrived at midnight in a brand new silver car with three rows of seats.
And who will pack the rest of these orders? called Tracey as we left our conveyor belt stations.
We'll work something out, said our boss. These guys have to go.
Our boss drove for an hour through the countryside. It was a pity this was nighttime, since I had never seen the famous fields and hedges of this country. We only travelled between our room in town and the warehouse. I wanted to see a sheep. The new car smelt of something like but not actually rubber, which made me feel sick. Eventually we arrived at another warehouse, much like the one in which we worked.
You'll find guns in the holdall on the rear seat, said our boss.
Maurice took a semi-automatic rifle from the holdall and stood it upright on his lap.
Are we paid extra for this? said Trey.
This is all part of your contract, said our boss.
I don't want to shoot anyone, said Benny.
We don't want you to shoot anyone, said our boss. I want to make that quite clear.
Maurice pushed the end of a cartridge clip into the rifle's chamber.
This is only for scare tactics, said our boss. We didn't want it to come to this, but here we are. Out you get, please.
We stood inside the tall wire fence, Maurice carrying the bag of guns on his shoulder.
What should we do? we asked.
Don't let anyone in, said our boss. There are very valuable assets in this warehouse, and our rivals will do anything to get their hands on them right now. I'll be back to collect you in the morning.
Our boss raised the window of the new car and drove away. When he was almost at the gate he stopped and reversed back to where we stood.
Don't tell anyone about this, he said. Especially about the guns.
No one raided the warehouse that night. Nor on the following three nights. The work was boring, but it was summertime and our supermarket uniforms thick enough to keep us warm. We played cards and amused ourselves with stories of the most colourful of our ransom victims.
On the fifth night Maurice shot a rabbit.
They said not to use the guns, said Benny.
Then why give us bullets? said Maurice. Anyway, I thought someone was coming to steal from the warehouse.
The rabbit was a mess, since Maurice had used a whole cartridge of ammunition. Luckily it was four in the morning and we were in the middle of nowhere. Trey looked furious, but said nothing. We discovered it best to say nothing to Maurice back when we were pirates.
The following evening a different boss collected us in the silver car from the warehouse, but drove us a different route through the darkened country. We passed huge chimneys that pumped out what looked like clouds, and crossed a bridge where we had to queue to pay.
No one can see the guns, right? said our boss as we approached a tiny booth with a woman inside. Maurice put his rifle back in the holdall.
After the bridge we passed the biggest car park we had ever seen.
When is our night off? said Trey. We've worked five nights in a row. That's not what it specified on our rota from Human Resources.
Everyone's working overtime, said our boss. We all have to pull together at this dangerous time. She turned to face us from the driver's seat. I haven't seen my kids in a week, she said.
Eventually we arrived at a marina, where our boss parked and ushered us onto a motorboat and into the cabin.
We need to patrol just off the coast, said our boss. To ensure our company cargo reaches port safely this time. She unfolded a nautical map on the cabin table, and held down the corners with takeaway cups from Costa Coffee. This is the cargo ship's route to port, she said, indicating a line drawn in biro. And here's where our rivals intercepted and stole our product last night. She pointed at a big red X. We have to shepherd the ship into port and prevent any of rival supermarkets boarding.
We have to prevent them, you mean, said Trey.
I'm coming with you, said our boss. Right now everyone has to throw their weight behind this.
Our boss manoeuvred the motorboat into the busy shipping channel, our searchlight illuminating a huge cargo ship heading into port. It was clear our boss had little experience piloting a boat, since she kept turning into the waves and causing water to slap over the side. Every so often the wind whipped hair from her tight hairstyle across her eyes, and she was forced to steer with one hand.
The shipping channel was full of small motorboats like ours, zipping backwards and forwards around the cargo ship. One capsized as it cut across the wake of the ship.
Shall we help? asked Benny.
Leave them, said our boss. No one asked them to be here.
Another boat with a powerful searchlight and siren headed in our direction. It was the harbour police.
Should we hide the guns? we asked.
Let me deal with them, said our boss. She was angry, almost as angry as when the warehouse ran out of rocket lettuce because Bernard forgot to rotate stock, and sixty crates of salad items turned mouldy. Our boss gave Benny the wheel and waved a thick stack of paper at the harbour police as they drew alongside, her shouting drowned out by the low rumble of the cargo ship and the buzzing of the motor boats.
We heard a whooshing noise, followed by a clang. Our boss swung her searchlight back across the side of the cargo ship. One of the motorboats had fired a grappling hook, now attached to the ship's railing. A woman in a business suit climbed the hanging rope hand over hand, her feet pushed against the side of the ship and a machine gun hanging below her.
Our boss gave a cry of anguish, and shouted something at the harbour police, who zoomed off in the direction of the raiders.
Shall I shoot her? Maurice raised the rifle barrel to his eye. I could take her down before she reaches the deck if I'm quick.
I'm not shooting anyone, said Trey. I don't care if it's in our contract.
I'm not losing my job, Benny told him. My course starts back at college next week.
No shooting! said our boss. We have a industry-wide agreement. Take us in closer, she said to Benny.
We could tip over if we go closer, said Benny.
Our boss cried out again, pulled off her suit jacket and dived over the side.
Maurice dived in after her, holding his rifle above his head to prevent it getting wet.
What are you doing? we shouted after him.
She's our boss, said Maurice. We have to protect her. She doesn't have a gun.
We watched Maurice attempt to stay afloat whilst keeping his gun out of the water. All of us knew from experience the effect of salt water on the firing mechanism. Maurice was not a good swimmer. None of us were. Maurice washed away into the dark.
Our boss was stronger in the water, but even she was swamped by the huge wake of the cargo ship. The white of her office shirt bobbed high then low against the backdrop of the ship's side.
A loud metallic ping sounded over and over from the direction of the ship.
Maurice, we agreed.
We're not supposed to shoot, said Benny.
A searchlight beam indicated the harbour police headed back in our direction.
We need to go, said Trey. I was about to say something about Maurice and our boss but I decided against. The metallic ping sounded again and again, and the harbour police changed course in the direction of the commotion. We took the opportunity to head back to port.
We waited in the car park by the silver car for more than an hour. It was colder than when guarding the warehouse despite our padded supermarket uniforms, presumably due to the sea breeze.
We can sleep in the car, said Benny. We'd have to break in but we could sleep inside.
We did not want to break the windows in case this jeopardised our jobs. In the end we walked to the nearest train station and waited until morning for the first train home.
Keep your receipts, said Trey. The supermarket should repay us the money. It's not our fault we had to take the train.
The following evening another boss arrived at the packing warehouse, driving a smaller, older car. It had rounded shades attached to the back windows with suckers.
You're not going anywhere tonight, he laughed, as we made to climb in. I'm happy to inform you the emergency is over. You can return to your old jobs as before.
Packing for deliveries? we said.
Absolutely. Our boss looked at his ipad. And as of now overtime is cancelled – you're back on the timetabled shift pattern for this week. Which means you all have a couple of nights off when this shift is over. That'll be good, eh?
What about Miss Stevens? we asked. Is she okay? We did not mention Maurice.
Ms Stevens drowned, I'm afraid, said our boss. But she was instrumental in protecting the new supply line which brought this emergency to an end. You won't find any shortage when making up your orders tonight.
Trey did not request money for the train tickets.
We returned to our positions at the end of the conveyor belts.
Outside the warehouse other supermarket employees stripped tarpaulins from the sides of four huge lorries, all piled high with palettes wrapped in plastic. A forklift truck steered around the edge of the warehouse, and brought a palette to each of our stations, in preparation for the night's orders.