June 7, 2016
Having the Revu debacle freshly in my memory, I worked extra hard. Every week, there was an article in the newspaper; a lot was bulldozed to protect my boss. Hard work from my side and lots of dark chocolate after lunch. I learned my classics quickly. However, I started noticing that I took my job much more seriously than my colleague did. She had a much more pragmatic, lighter view of my boss. But I could not loosen up that easily. With as a consequence that she would leave the office at five while I would stay on till eight. But arriving earlier and staying later than my boss, that was how it had to be at these levels. I was starting to appreciate tradition.
It was my sixth or seventh week working for the Minister. Still in my probation period, but with the ethos and flair of a fully-fledged cabinet chief. The boss seemed pleased and his “entourage” confirmed this quietly. It was about one or two in the afternoon and the lunch break was over. Perkily, I sat behind my desk because I knew that De Clercq was coming, as he so often did. He went out for lunch with my colleague, so this could take a while. She was allowed to, I was not, yet. I stood guard, like a captain on a lonely ship. Finally, he barged into the office. Apparently he had had a bad lunch, which was disastrous for his mood. He mumbled something about his ailing health and slammed his office door. The daily power nap. Disturbing him at that moment of the day would be a reason to get fired, and it would certainly be on this day.
Fortunately, I had stocked up on dark chocolate already: his favourite, Côte d’Or. This would, no doubt, improve his mood after his siesta. I started working on a letter to a certain François from Knokke who was looking for an internship at the European Commission. The phone rang. It was Guy Verhofstadt. Party Chairman and political orphan of De Clercq and, should you believe the newspapers at the time, soon to become the next Prime Minister of Belgium. My hands were shaking. Verhofstadt wanted to talk to Willy immediately. In a panic, I looked at the door. The rules were crystal clear: do not disturb the boss during his siesta. I thought about his bad mood; what a devilish dilemma. The upcoming Prime Minister urged me to do something. I then bit the bullet. “One moment, Mister Verhofstadt,” I said, “I will see if the Minister is available and will put you right through”. I put the phone on my desk, crept towards the mahogany door and knocked.
No response. I knocked a bit harder, and said: “Mister De Clercq, there is a phone call for you!” Still no answer. I heard the party leader swearing on the phone. Quickly, I decided to take bold steps. This had to be about the new government; so the interest of the State! I gently pushed the door open and looked inside the room. De Clercq sat slumped in his chair, head leaning to the left. This did not look good to me, doctor or no doctor. I panicked. Imagine that, landing your dream job after having been unemployed for months and then your boss dies and that while having a powernap. Ok, he died with his boots on, but still completely alone, while the next Prime Minister was waiting on the phone.
But own interests first. The thought of being unemployed again dominated like no other problem at this moment. Like the state of health of my boss for instance. I guess I am only human… But anyways, I walked towards him and this time shouted loudly: “sir, wake up, there is a phone call for you!” he sat there completely motionless. I had seen this in movies. This looked really bad and I was hyperventilating. As in a kind of hazy shock, I went back to my own desk to the telephone. Darn, back to job hunting again, Minister dead, in reverse order that is. I picked up the phone. Verhofstadt had been on hold for four minutes. He was not used to that, which he let me know when I coughed. I interrupted his rage immediately. “President Verhofstadt, Mister De Clercq just died, at least that is what I think. I have other priorities at this moment, but we will certainly call you back and will let you know. I hung up immediately. Verhofstadt must have had a huge shock. I was in a sort of trance. The only sensible thing that came to mind was to call “Ghent”.
I could get along quite well with his secretary in Ghent, Linda. She answered the phone. Panting slightly, I told Linda that I thought that Willy had died. Promptly she replied: “You should not be calling me, but the doctors in Parliament.” She was quite right and I quickly looked up the number. But before ambulances and the whole shebang would enter our offices, I wanted to check one last time whether I was right. Maybe I was wrong. I stood very close to him and roared for the last time: “Mister De Clercq!” Suddenly his body moved and he sat up straight. “Excuse me?” he asked, his eyes wide open.
I was too relieved to apologize and said: “Thank God, sir, you are not dead!” “Excuse me?” he said. “Dead?” I have had an ear infection for the last couple of days and have ear drops. I have put them in and must have fallen asleep. Besides I cannot hear a thing with these ear drops.” Almost chanting, I told him I thought something bad had happened, which I had shared with Guy Verhofstadt and with Linda.
“Excuse me?” shouted the now very lively De Clercq, “You told Guy that I died?” Quickly, I called the VLD (Flemish Liberals & Democrats) headquarters in the Melssenstraat and within five seconds I had Verhofstadt on the line. “I am sorry Mister President. Good news, Mister De Clercq is still alive, I will now put you through to him.” I wiped my forehead. My job was saved, fortunately! Or would he fire me for this one? I ordered coffee and took the chocolate. A man’s love goes through the stomach. Better safe than sorry. I was overjoyed.
The Fixer: Lobbyist in Europe
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The Fixer. is published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform | 236 pages | ISBN 978 15 3042 781 9.Wytze Russchen