Boreal

Shooting the Messenger

22 - Memories of Wendy

Wendy always wore bright colours. My favourite was an orangey red outfit that was a perfect match for her reddish, brownish blonde hair which was parted in the middle and framed her face like the character of Sabrina in the TV series Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.

She wore her colours well, and when she walked into my little beige cell and sat down or just leaned on the door frame with her arms crossed, with more than the hint of a sympathetic smile, she brightened up my day.

Wendy worked in Post Accounts. This section, you may remember, was made up of mostly female clerks who performed the tedious and largely thankless task of reviewing supporting documentation for expenditures made at Canadian missions abroad.

There were those who wanted to eliminate her section altogether. They argued that diplomats could be trusted and that locally engaged bookkeepers, under their supervision, could be relied upon to ensure that all the paperwork was in order, rules were not broken, and all moneys properly accounted for.

I was asked, when it was clear that Full Telegraphic Input of Financial Data was going to be a success, for my written opinion as to whether the Department could build on that success and do away with most of Post Accounts.

At the time, the currency fraud had yet to be discovered, therefore, I had no reason to even suspect that the diplomats  could not to be trusted. However, I still recommended against doing away with the section. I remember writing: “this would be like doing away with the police.” A risky proposition at the best of times.

I was trusting, not naive. I knew that for some, their conscience was not their moral or ethical guide but, to quote H. L. Mencken, “the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking." Remove the watchers and see what happens!

After the Department declared me persona non grata and confined me to my small beige claustrophobic cell with nothing to read, an impossible task and only authorized personnel allowed to visit me, the morally ambivalent management of Foreign Affairs might have succeeded in causing me to have a temporary mental disconnect if it had not been for Wendy.

Richard had been overhead on a plane returning from Paris bragging to his seatmate that my suffering a mental collapse was their ultimate goal.

I asked Wendy why she was not afraid of being seen talking to me.

"Nobody is going to tell me who I can or can't talk to," she said.

No coward was she.

It was the last day before Christmas break, a time for diplomats, managers and staff to exchange pleasantries, have a drink, raffle off fifteen year old single malt scotch and expensive wine bottles.

I could hear them further down the hall.

It might have been the last working day before Christmas but for me it was just another beige day in my beige cell when Wendy walked in. It seemed that I had won Post Accounts' annual Christmas raffle. I didn’t remember buying a ticket.

The girls in Post Accounts were much more practical when it came to office raffles, not having a diplomat’s expense account or their inflated salaries.

Wendy asked me if I wanted to come and collect my prize. "No, not now," I said, "after everyone is gone, if that's okay?"

She understood.

When everyone had left to celebrate Christmas with family, I went with her to a large room with desks neatly lined up in rows — that was Post Accounts.

Wendy opened a door that led out to one of the many outdoor patios that jut out from the Lester B. Pearson Building at 125 Sussex. She reached down and picked up the largest prime roast of beef I had ever seen and handed it to me. It was frozen, which is why they had kept it on the outdoor patio so that it would not thaw until I could come and get it.

“Merry Christmas," she said.