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Tangled Pipelines: Chapters 8-10

Tangled Pipelines: The Muni-Biofuel Acquisition

A DiversiChem Narrative

By Gerald Keep, PhD

Part 2 — 6/26/2020

Chapter 8. – Finance Office – Gloria Vincenzo

Archie easily found the office of the CFO, Gloria Vincenzo, which was half open. He pushed the door fully open and walked in. A largish lady sat at a huge desk with her back to a bright window, the sunlight illuminating a halo of thin white hair, while shadowing her face. He stepped forward. “Hi, I’m Archie –” but he was cut off as she raised a hand, palm outward, without looking up from the sheath of papers she was reading.

Looking around the room, Archie saw a thin man sitting off to the side, in a dark corner near the door, hat in hand. He looked very anxious, glancing at Archie, then back to Gloria. His hand wringing was not doing his hat any good.

Gloria looked up and glared at the man. “You! Here!”

The man approached the desk in haste, looking terrified.

Gloria slapped the papers down on the desk and pointed at them. “This is a pile of trash. You got the dates right but very little else. You didn’t even fill in the mileage, but of course I know where you’ve been. I expect you’ll want reimbursement for the full amount?”

The man shuffled his feet. “Um, yes m’am. If I could. Please.”

Gloria smiled wickedly, her teeth shining out from her shadowed face. “And you can’t even tell me what that total amount is. Well, I know what to do with this request.”

Gloria pitched the wad of paper toward a shelf on which resided a wire basket. The papers hit the side of the basket and fell, straight into the trashcan below. The man staggered back, and bit his hat, stifling whatever exclamation tried to burst forth.

Gloria chuckled and lifted her heavy frame from her chair. “Oh, you’ll get what’s coming to you, don’t you worry about that.” She retrieved the papers from the trashcan and placed them carefully in the wire basket. “You just leave it to me to clean up your mess, again, and run along and play.”

The man nodded vigorously as he backed to the door. “Thank you m’am. Thank you.” He then turned and bolted out the door.

Gloria’s gaze turned toward Archie. He cleared his throat and started in. “I’m Ar—” but again she cut him off with a raised palm.

“I know exactly who you are, and don’t imagine differently.”

Archie moved his hands as if he wished he had a hat to wring. “Yes m’am.”

“I have something for you.” She rummaged in her desk and pulled out a credit card. This she held out in front of her, forcing Archie to advance and take it.

Archie stared at the card for a moment. “Thank you. Mamay implied I’d have a free hand and solid backing, but…”

“Ha!” Gloria leaned back. “Don’t think I’m doing you a favor. The credit limit on that card is the same as your salary and you don’t get paid until I have every receipt, a copy of every purchase order, a log of your miles, and every penny accounted for. The faster you file your documents, the faster the card gets cleared. Do we understand each other?”

Archie met her eyes, and matched her smile, then nodded. “Yes, I think we do. Do I have any signature authority?”

Gloria chuckled. “You tell me. Make me believe you, and we’ll get along just fine.”

Archie tipped an imaginary hat to her. “All right then, I better get on with it.” He backed away.

As he turned toward the door, Gloria spoke up. “Have a nice day.”


Chapter 9. – COO Office – Ulrich Marshal

“So you took money for years as a ‘consultant’ and now you think you can just decide one day to be a ‘Director of Quality’.” The COO, Ulrich Marshal, glared at Archie across his desk. “I don’t know what’s worse, a guy that gets paid to run off his mouth with no consequences, or a guy that pulls workers off the line so they can do hand-holding teamwork exercises. And you, you want to be both. Have you ever even been in the hot seat of a manufacturing operation before?”

Archie gave a deep nod, dipping his shoulders. “Yes, I’ve run several different manufacturing operations, at one time or another.”

Ulrich leaned back in his chair. “Hunh. So where are they? What happened to these operations? Did you run them into the ground so you would be free to consult?”

Archie shook his head. “No, my first one was so good it was bought out – by Diversi-Chem in fact. Others were bought out and shut down by competitors. Usually some political maneuver at the top does them in; I’ve never had one fail.”

Ulrich picked up a small knife from the desk and started fiddling with it. “See here, you won’t be shutting things down at Muni-Bio to run seminars and workshops. Those folks have a job to do.”

Archie’s jaw dropped. “Are you trying to tell me that I can’t hold a seminar?”

Ulrich scowled. “I’m telling you that none of my people will be allowed to attend if you do.”

Archie cocked his head. “You can’t tell them not to talk to me.”

Ulrich stuck out his chin, and dug the point of the knife into the desk. “No, but if you interfere with the work, I will hear of it. I know your type, slick as grease and always talking simple workers into trying something different. No grand scale experiments, you hear me? You’re not going to use my manufacturing plants as your own private playground. Everything is going to be run by established procedures and no monkey business.” Ulrich supported the knife with one finger on top and wiggled its point on the desk. “You are free to look through manufacturing records and run statistics on variability. If you find something, feel free to recommend to Peter a change in specifications. He knows enough not to do something crazy without my say-so.”

Archie stared at Ulrich, who stared back. “Well, I shall do my job as I understand it. If you don’t like it, we can take it up with the lady who asked me to step in. If you have a problem with that, talk to her.”

Ulrich gripped the knife firmly and pointed it at Archie. “Get out of my office.”


Chapter 10. – On the Road – Rip & Wheels

The next morning, Archie emerged into the lobby carrying two book boxes.

Rip was just coming in the front doors, and glanced at the boxes. “You ready to go? What’s that?”

Archie swung the boxes forward with a rattle. “Tools, pens, paper, markers, labels, tape, jars, and envelopes. And my notebook of course. This is a quality hunting expedition, is it not?”

Rip snorted. “For you, maybe. But the plant is not totally out in the boonies, they do have paper and pencil, you know.”

Archie nodded. “But these are mine, and I don’t have to go looking for them once we’re on site. Or worse, begging for supplies when I’m supposed to be the expert QA guy.”

Rip nodded. “Oh then, let’s go. I’m sure there’s room in the van.”

There was a small van painted with garish Diversi-Chem logos in the parking lot. Rip grabbed the front passenger seat, though he spent most of the trip twisted around talking to Archie, who took the seat behind the empty driver’s, his boxes on the floor. There was one other passenger, a very young man in a white lab jacket, sleeping in the far back seat.

Archie jerked his head toward the back. “Who’s that?”

Rip shrugged. “Probably a replacement on-site lab tech. The Muni-Bio leadership all left with the acquisition, and they’ve been poaching the best of the workers since then. That guy has a suitcase, see? Relocating, as a temp maybe. He probably won’t know a thing about what’s going on there.”

At that moment, another man arrived and mounted the driver’s seat. This fellow was black, with a short, thick matt of wiry hair, which was now just in front of Archie. He twisted around and waved. “Hi! Are we ready to go?”

Archie shrugged. “I guess. I’m Archie Teller.”

The driver nodded. “Great. I’m Wheels. Let’s get rolling then.”

As they pulled onto the highway, Archie spoke up over the engine sound. “So Wheels, I bet you know the way pretty well….?”

“Oh sure, I been there a coupla times.”

“Do you drive a lot?”

“Nah. They just want me to check over the trucks there. We sorta short handed, you know.”

“Oh. So are you the logistics expert they are sending?”

Wheels glanced over at Rip, and they both chuckled. “Hah. I ain’t no expert anythin’. I’m a jack of all trades, master of none. You need something doing, I’m your man. I just happen to know trucks pretty good. I drive ‘em. I fix ‘em. I make sure they’re clean, and I even buy ‘em and then sell ‘em when they wear out. Sometimes they have me look over industrial equipment for sale — extruders, feeders, and loaders and such. And I mind the warehouses. Whatever you need, I’ll have a go at it.”

Archie nodded, although Wheels couldn’t see him. “I see. I will definitely keep that in mind. You never know when you’ll need an extra pump or something.”

The wiry hair bobbed. “I do try to make myself useful.”

After a short pause, Rip broke the silence. “So Archie, what’s your first move when you get there? What are your plans?”

Archie rubbed his chin. “Well, first thing of course is to introduce myself and get the lay of the land. The people are probably more important than the equipment. I mean you need equipment, of course, but it’s all about process and procedure, and how well the people follow them. What can you tell me about who’s running things there? Surely not Ulrich Marshal, at least on a day-to-day basis. He’s got too many other irons in the fire.”

Rip nodded. “Right. Peter Luchov is plant manager. He’s not a very creative person, just minding the store and trying not to take the blame for anything that goes wrong. Which right now means just about everything. I thought we were getting a solid biodiesel plant that I can use as the foundation for my project, but really it’s a mess. I’m hoping you can figure out what’s going on, get them straightened out.”

“So tell me about your project. Just what are you doing with the glycerin byproduct?
Rip grinned. “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. No, seriously. It’s all hush-hush – my secret Manhattan Project. You just focus on getting us a good, clean supply of glycerin.”

Archie frowned. “Well, seriously, I need to know what your specs are. The last group I was with wanted to get the assay up so they focused on pulling all the water out that they could. I come to find the customers diluted it back with water anyway. The stuff is like a sponge and you can’t keep it dry if it’s exposed to the air. But then there’s odor and color. That was a weird one. Turns out the antifreeze people didn’t so much care what shade of color it was, as long as it was consistent. They didn’t want a row of jugs on a retail shelf to show a difference one jug to the next, or people would think there was something wrong with them. Then again some of it needs FDA or food grade – don’t care how much contamination is present, as long as it is safe to consume. Other folks spray it on horse rings spotted with manure, to keep the dust down. You really need to give us a hint here.”

Rip stared thoughtfully at Archie. “Well, you just do the best you can and I’ll let you know if you need to make any changes.”

As they headed down the highway, the conversation wandered. Wheels talked about his family and the antics of his kids, but Rip kept bringing the conversation back to what a glorious thing it was, that Archie was going to straighten things out at Muni-Bio. Archie gradually came to realize that Rip didn’t think much at all of the current manager, Peter Luchov, and fully expected Archie to take over and be running the place before the week was out.

He looked out the window and laughed to himself, wondering what COO Ulrich Marshal would think of that.


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