by Lawrence Christopher
Mrs. Etta Johnson had been Mr. Charles Walkers' secretary for twenty-five years, when they called the position secretarial. Now women and men in the same support position are called administrative assistants. Etta Johnson was proud of being a secretary and she performed the role with dignity. She made sure Mr. Walker had his coffee every morning. She read three newspapers and highlighted the news that she thought would be of interest to the Charles Walker, the president of the company. Charles Walker would miss those little things. Etta Walker died as a result of a massive stroke.
Deirdre Davis now sits on the fifty-fourth floor, outside the executive office of President Charles Walker. Horace Chestnut hired Deirdre while Mr. Walker has been out of the office on an extended leave. Walker took the lost of Etta Johnson harder than he expected.
To tend to the company's business are the two vice-presidents, who each have their own administrative assistants. Horace Chestnut took Deirdre Davis around to meet the other executives and their assistants. Powers and Standwick were respectful in their greetings. Though both men noticed the replacement for Etta Johnson was far from a close resemblance to the elderly woman. In fact, the men are a little envious. Deirdre is young and pretty and her professional attire borders on provocative in the way s he wears it and the way it fits her athletic curvaceous body. The hem of her skirt falls above her knee and the buttons on her blouse open one button too many down.
Maxine and Theresa the other assistants, viewed Deirdre with different eyes. Maxine sees a young girl who replaced a long time and dear friend. Theresa sees the young girl who just stole her husband of sixteen years. It wasn't so much the infidelity that angered Theresa. It wasn't the fact that like the other woman, Deirdre was young a pretty. It was her husband's explanation as to why he chose the woman. "She's eager to learn, full of energy and ambitious," said Theresa's husband.
When Theresa and her husband met, they where just out of college. She got pregnant with twins and was forced to stay home. He went on to begin a success career. After the children became of age to where Theresa could go back to work, she did. She tempted as a receptionist, and performed well enough to be hired as an administrative assistant to Kevin Powers, one of the company's vice-president. Her husband became threatened by Theresa's success and managed to get her pregnant again. This time, Theresa was older and wiser and she also could afford a live-in daycare provider. The daycare provider had all the right qualifications. She's good with kids, full of energy and ambitious.
"Ladies, this is Miss Deirdre Davis," introduces Horace Chestnut.
"Oh, just call me Dede," Deirdre interjected.
"We find it better if we maintain a more formal and professional environment Miss Davis. Address everyone by using his or her surname. This is especially important when speaking to the president and vice-presidents of the company," Chestnut corrects Deirdre.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know."
Deirdre didn't like the reprimand she received in front of others. During her employee orientation she stewed while Horace went over the company's zero tolerance sexual harassment policy. She had heard it all before. In fact, Deirdre was all too well versed in the policies and practices surrounding sexual harassment.
"Tony, you obviously aren't listening to me. I have moved on and I suggest you do the same," Deirdre lashes out to her dejected boyfriend.
"But I thought everything was going good between us." Tony asks in bewilderment.
"Look at me. I am on the fifty-fourth floor of a major corporation. I am no longer slinging burgers and handing out fries. I have moved on. You are still in a remedial stage. I am . . . I am . . . See, I don't need this crap. I've got to move up and on to someone better in my life." Deirdre pushes the release call button on her multi-line phone. She takes a deep breath and slowly exhales. Retrieving a cosmetic compact from her purse, Deirdre touches up her face to remove any sign of being stressed.
To calm herself even more, she decides to get herself a bottle of cold water from the break room. In the break room, Deirdre encounters Carlos Tanner, an intern computer system administrator. From the first day Carlos laid eyes on Deirdre, he wanted to be with her. They worked closely together while Carlos saw to it that Deirdre's company email account was established and she had all the accesses that her predecessor had. Though Deirdre had temporary assignments for many companies, she had never encountered an as sophisticated computer system she now was expected to use. She doctored her resume with a competency of software programs that she may have heard of though not necessarily used. So everyday, she would call Carlos with a complaint about her computer not working correctly, only to receive a private tutoring from him on whatever it was she didn't understand. Deirdre's saving grace is that she's a quick study. Once she saw it once and learned what she needed from Carlos, she would easily and quickly dismiss him.
Unfortunately for Carlos he was in lust and his employment status had him fall below Deirdre's radar for a potential mate. Though once he would graduate college with a degree in information technology field, he would demand of starting salary of $70,000 a year. Graduation was too far away for Deirdre. That didn't keep Carlos from trying.
"What's shaking Deirdre?" Carlos greets her as she walks into the empty break room aside from the two of them.
"My ass when I walk. I need to start back at the gym." Responds Deirdre not considering the inappropriateness of the response, but rather a factual account of how she felt about herself. "What do you think?" Deirdre poses to Carlos, looking for validation and her ego stroked.
"I ain't mad at you girl. My mama raised me on shake and bake, so I like it."
"That is so crass.
"I'm telling you the truth. What does your man think?"
"I don't have a man. How do you computer guys say, I'm in need of an upgrade." Deirdre and Carlos laugh.
Paul Peterson ascended to the executive floor to deliver a business analysis to Charles Walker. Walker was away from his office and Peterson experienced his assistant Deirdre. Because Peterson works in a more relaxed department within the company, he doesn't necessarily operate under the expected professional protocol, as do those on the executive level.
"Excuse me. Is your boss in?" Peterson asks Deirdre.
"Mr. Charles Walker, the president, is out." Deirdre responds as she rolls her eyes from Walker's gold nameplate on the door to Peterson.
"Okay. Would you take a message that I came by with the infrastructure realignment proposal."
Infuriated because Peterson had reduced her role to being a message taker and because she was embarrassed that she didn't know how to spell infrastructure, Deirdre picked up her notepad and slammed it in front of him. Deirdre almost chewed a hole in her tongue trying to bite it in restraint. She wanted to vehemently let Paul Peterson know that in her mind, she had risen above being a receptionist. Somehow, she managed to bring forth a smile with clenching teeth.
"To make sure Mr. Walker gets the message correctly, would you be so kind as to write it yourself." Deirdre is able to get out.
"Sure dearie. In the mean time, could you make me a copy set of the proposal?"
The clenched teeth begin to grind. "No he didn't call me dearie . . . and does he seriously think I would make copies for him. Who in the hell does he think he is?" Deirdre says to herself. "I'll show him who he is or rather who he isn't." She answers herself. Deirdre reaches in her desk drawer to retrieve an organization chart, which was at the top of her to-do list to update. With a prominently extended acrylic tipped finger, she draws a line from the President Charles Walker down and aside to the name of Administrative Assistant, Deirdre Davis. With a satisfying smile, Deirdre looks up to Paul Peterson and says; "I don't think so."
Begrudgingly, Theresa approaches Deirdre to ask a favor of her. She explains that Maxine was busy working on a PowerPoint presentation for her direct report. Theresa has a personal emergency involving her at home baby. She has to leave, but she needs to make travel arrangements for her direct report, Mr. Crawford to attend the Masters Golf Tournament.
"Well I'm sort of busy myself Mrs. Pettaway. I have to make travel arrangements for Mr. Walker."
"Then, it shouldn't be too much for you to make one more." Pleads Theresa Pettaway.
"Okay." Deirdre surprisingly accepts, in an about face. Theresa is shocked that it was that easy and handed Deirdre vice-president, James Crawford's travel profile.
"Thank you Deirdre. I owe you one." Theresa offers and commits.
"That's okay. I know how it is being alone, a single mother, and trying to work too." The glib words were delivered with in an insincere tone. Theresa didn't have the time to exchange quips with Deirdre and reluctantly gave a smile.
Deirdre places the call to the Travel Company making arrangements for both Walker and Crawford to be on their desired flights to Savannah, Georgia. Maxine Simmons is away from her desk and Mr. Crawford comes to Deirdre looking for his AA.
"Miss Davis, have you seen Mrs. Pettaway?" Mr. Crawford asks.
"No I haven't." Deirdre answers.
"Is there something I can help you with?"
"She was suppose to make travel arrangements for me, and I don't see any note or itinerary. Mrs. Simmons isn't at her desk and I need to know what I need to do."
"I tell you what Mr. Crawford, I will check on it for you."
"Do you have my information?"
"Yes. I asked the other assistants to give me their reports information, for just such an occasion that I would need to back them up."
"That was very good of you."
"Thank you. If you could just wait a second while I call."
"Sure. Thank you."
Deirdre picks up her phone handset and dials. She reaches into a drawer and pulls out the folder that Theresa had given her. When the phone is answered, Deirdre speaks.
"Hello, this is Miss Davis. To whom am I speaking with? Bridgett, I'm calling to confirm travel arrangements for a Mr. James Crawford. No, I don't mind, go ahead." Deirdre smiles to Crawford, then asks, "Do you usually ask for a window seat?"
"Yes." Crawford answers.
"Yes. Oh really. Well I know this is last minute and all, but I'm filling in for someone who had to leave for a family emergency. She's going through a divorce and has a little one at home. It's tough being a single parent. I'm glad I'm here to back her up when she has these crises. So let me give you Mr. Crawford's information." Deirdre waves Crawford off, mouthing that she will bring him his itinerary. Crawford smiles and is impress with the team spirit, exhibited by Deirdre.
"What the heck were you talking about?"
"I was just practicing for my boss. They wanted to see how I would handle an emergency."
"Girl, you sounded good and real professional. I bet you they like you there don't they?"
"Yes mama. They love me."
Charles Walker is a man of few words. He has become that way with the assistance of his long time working relationship with Etta Johnson. Through Etta's proficiency, Charles Walker has become a strong and quiet leader. A testimony to Walker is "nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." He only wants what he asks for . . . nothing more, and nothing less.
Running late for a board meeting, Walker couldn't wait for a printout to take with him. When he arrives at the boardroom, he finds that he isn't the only one running late. Key officers had yet to make it. Walker then places a call to Deirdre.
"Miss Davis, could you please check my personal printer for a two page document."
"Yes, Mr. Walker. Please hold. Thank you." Davis eagerly responds, then places the call on hold while she goes into his office. "Mr. Walker, there is nothing on the printer."
"Okay then. Thanks for checking."
"Are you sure? I can attempt to reprint it for you. Oh, your computer screen is locked."
"That won't be necessary. Thank you." Walker concludes the call.
Deirdre places a call to Carlos to come to the executive floor for an emergency. For Deirdre, every call to Carlos is an emergency and she wants immediate response. It didn't matter whether it was to have a toner cartridge changed in a printer or to retrieve a package from the mailroom, Deirdre expected priority treatment. Carlos promptly arrives at Deirdre's desk.
"Oh my god, thank you for coming so quickly. I was suppose to print this document from Mr. Walker's computer for his meeting and somehow it locked me out. Can you help me please?" Deirdre asks frantically.
"Sure. His screensaver has a password lock on it." Carlos explains as he uses an override code that only system administrators have. Deirdre watches intently as her precious worker bee performs for her. She rubs his arms tenderly as a reward. The computer screen clears and the word document is there.
"Oh thank you sweetheart. You are the greatest. I mean the absolute best." Deirdre strokes Carlos' ego, causing his heads to swell. But Deirdre has no intent or time to be bothered with Carlos now. She has to get the document in Mr. Walker's hands. Hot off the printer, Deirdre snatches the document and a file folder to properly deliver to her boss. Her only stop on the way is to check her appearances. She quietly enters the closed-door meeting and draws the attention of all the attendees.
"Excuse me. Mr. Walker I have that important document you asked for. " Deirdre proceeds to move to the head of the meeting to hand off the folder. All eyes are on the attractive and seemingly proficient assistant. "Is there anything else I can get you Mr. Walker sir?"
"No thank you." Deirdre's fawning quietly embarrasses Walker. After the board meeting, Walker calls Deirdre into his office.
"Miss Davis, there are two matters we are going to get an understanding on. First, no means no. I did not need for you to interrupt a board meeting to bring this document." States Walker, before being interrupted himself.
"Actually, you didn't say no or not to bring it. You said, 'it wasn't necessary.'" Deirdre says in her defense.
"Exactly. It was not necessary."
"I thought it was necessary since it was important enough for you to call about it."
"Miss Davis, it is what I think, that matters. Second, you are to never interrupt another board meeting unless you are invited. Is that understood?"
"Yes. But I thought..."
"Is that understood, yes or no?"
"Yes sir, Mr. Walker."
Horace Chestnut left a message on Deirdre Davis' voice mail that he wanted to meet with her. Deirdre fears the worst. Though she can't imagine why the Human Resource's manager would want to meet with her. Before going to the meet with Chestnut, Deirdre visits with Maxine and Theresa to see if they knew anything. The two vice-president assistants gave her nothing to calm her fears.
Deirdre had reason to worry. Chestnut had received complaints from employees about Deirdre's attitude. The negative comments from the peer employees conflicted with those of the executives she selectively chose to help. Chestnut also received an anonymous phone call informing him of a sexual harassment lawsuit Deirdre Davis has pending with a former employer.
"Miss Davis, I'm hearing disturbing news about your treatment of your fellow employees." Chestnut opens the dialogue with.
"I can't imagine who you could be referring to. Mr. Walker and Mr. Crawford love my work." Responds Deirdre.
"I'm referring to your peers, Ms. Davis. I'm sure the concept of team isn't new to you. We all must pitch in to be successful. We all support one another."
"May I ask if Mr. Walker had any complaints about my work?"
"No. But Mr. Walker isn't the only person you work with."
"But he is the only person, I directly work for."
"Miss Davis, might I remind you, you are still on probation. I would like to see an improvement in your attitude and performance before I consider extending you a permanent position with us."
With a thought and a blink, Deirdre manages to create flowing tears. It is a talent that she possesses to cry or rather, tear at will. The stream of tears caught Chestnut off guard. Immediately he reaches inside his suit coat pocket to retrieve a monogrammed handkerchief and hands it to Davis to dry her face. Taking a few minutes to give the impression of composing herself, Deirdre then speaks.
"It has always been hard for me. Women don't like me. They're jealous of me, because I'm pretty, single and ambitious. Men feel threatened by me for the same reasons. Most men feel uncomfortable being around me. I try not to be intimidating and be submissive. As Deirdre speaks, she softens her voice and her demeanor. " What I can offer a man is that he will not go to bed homeless, hungry or horny. Whatever men ask me to do, I'm willing. However they want it, I'll give it to them. No matter what it is you want."
Horace noticed the switch in pronouns from they to you. The HR manager could easily see how a man might be caught in an inappropriate situation with Deirdre. She is attractive, but a more dangerous trait is that she is ambitious.
"Miss Davis, I'm aware of your pending law suit against a manager for the company where you worked before coming here. I'm not sure if you were paying attention during orientation, but this company has a zero tolerance policy about this and we recognize harassment as coming in many forms, all ways, and from anyone. Do you understand Miss Davis?"
The tears stop and the eyes are cutting. Deirdre realizes that she has been exposed. She clears her throat and hardens her disposition.
"Whatever do you mean?" Deirdre Davis asks.
"I mean you had better watch yourself around here Miss Davis."
Horace Chestnut did not know any better. He had no idea with whom he was dealing. Perhaps he wasn't listening when Deirdre said, "men are threatened by me." She did not say, "she was threatened by men." Chestnut had no idea the length Deirdre would go to exhibit her demanding effort to succeed. He would soon find out and it began with the delivery of a dozen red roses, which sent Deirdre crying into the office of Charles Walker.
The principals were all present around the boardroom table. Deirdre Davis had her legal representation. The company's lawyer represented Horace Chestnut. A mediator from the EEOC sat between both parties.
"Miss Davis, would you please tell this gathering what happened?" The mediator asked.
"Well, Mr. Chestnut called me to his office. He sounded upset, which in turned upset me. I didn't know what to expect. Before going, I even went to the other Administrative Assistants and asked them what I should do. They told me to watch myself, because they heard stories about Mr. Chestnut."
"Objection", states Chestnut's legal counsel.
"This is not a court of law. Miss Davis is allowed to give her account of the events that lead up to the act of sexual harassment." The agency mediator declared. Horace couldn't believe the charges brought against him. Then again, he could when he looked across the table at his accuser. "You may proceed Miss Davis."
"Is he going to yell at me again?" Deirdre asks demurely.
"No he will not. Continue."
"I went to Mr. Chestnut's office and he had me take a seat. I was nervous. He immediately started yelling at me that he wasn't happy with my performance. It caught me off guard because; I don't work for Mr. Chestnut. Then he said other people had been telling him things about me. Bad things. He wouldn't tell me what, so I couldn't defend myself. Then he told me that he knew about what happened at the place were I worked before." With a couple of blinks, the tears begin to dribble.
"Are you okay Miss Davis?"
"No. I thought that was behind me. I know that what happened before is still pending, but I thought by coming here that I could get a new start. When Mr. Chestnut put that in my face, I became terrified. I thought I was about to lose my job.
"That's when Mr. Chestnut . . . said he could help make the complaints about me go away. He said that he was the man when it came to saying who goes and who stays. He said that all I needed to do was to respect his position."
"Did he explain what he meant by that?"
"Yes. He said that he knows that he is not an executive like Mr. Walker. Mr. Chestnut said he is what you call middle management and he didn't mind being in the middle. He said he was comfortable with being the middleman. That's when he called me over behind his desk and . . ." Deirdre turned on the tear ducts. " . . . He showed me those pictures on his computer."
A folder is distributed to those at the table. Inside, are printouts of pic file photo's found on Horace Chestnut's computer. The images are nude photos of two women and a man engaged in sexual acts. Chestnut is horrified at the implication and erupts in objections. He is restrained and asked to compose himself. Deirdre grabs the arm of her lawyer like a child cowering to a protective parent. After his lawyer calms Horace, Deirdre is asked to continue.
"He, he said I could make him comfortable with being in the middle if I wanted to. I was shocked. I didn't know how to respond. I just stood there. Then he turned around and exposed himself to me. He asked me to...to...to make him comfortable.
"I only did it because I didn't want to lose my job. I thought that if I did it once, then he would leave me alone. After I did what he wanted he gave me his handkerchief to spit in. I felt degraded." A wadded monogrammed handkerchief with the initials "HC" was in the center of the table in a plastic bag. No one bothered to examine if first hand.
"Miss Davis, what made you bring what happened to your employer, Mr. Walker?"
"I received some flowers delivered to my desk. When I opened them, there was a card inside. The card had printed on it, 'way to get a head.' That's when I knew it wasn't over and I felt that I had to tell someone."
The hearing attendees decided on taking a break before Horace Chestnut was given the opportunity to present his side. A break was well needed to give Horace a chance to recompose himself. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine himself being accused of sexual harassment. It is his position within the company to uphold and enforce the disciplinary actions against such violations. Horace knew all to well, that if he is found guilty, retribution would be swift. He would lose his job and his human resource career would probably be over.
As they reconvened, the company's lawyer told him not to worry. All they asked was for Horace to tell his side of the story just as he knew it and to leave the rest up to them. Though aggravated and emotionally shaken, Horace told the story as he knew it. Horace denied any knowledge of the pictures, acts of indecency and sending of any flowers. The company lawyers brought witnesses to fill in the blanks for Horace.
The first witness called was the company president, Mr. Charles Walker. Mr. Walker testified to the character of Horace Chestnut. Walker spoke of Chestnut's dedication and unrighteousness. Then there was one other item Mr. Walker was asked to testify on.
"Yes, there was an incident where the security of my computer had been breached. Miss Davis somehow managed to obtain a printout of a document, which was open on my computer. Miss Davis confirmed that my screen saver lockout was initiated. Yet she managed to get in."
Mr. Walker was excused from the proceedings. Deirdre Davis began squirming in her seat. Above her upper lip began to sweat. The strength of Deirdre's story relied on her word against Horace's and no collaborating witnesses or witnesses to the contrary. In her mind, there was only one person who could hurt her case and Deirdre confidently thought she had him wrapped around her finger, amongst other parts of her anatomy. That was until the company lawyer called their next witness.
The young intern, Carlos Tanner nervously took a seat in the boardroom for the very first time. Not once does Carlos look at Deirdre. Instead, he looks to Horace Chestnut. The man who gave an undergraduate systems engineer his first chance in the work place. Carlos was invited to the hearing in hopes to repay Horace the favor, by giving testimony on his behalf. The sweat brought on by nervousness on Deirdre's upper lip beaded and deservedly so. Carlos began.
"Dede, I mean Deirdre, (clearing his throat) Miss Davis called me to her desk a week ago for me to gain access to Mr. Walker's computer. His screen saver was activated and it was password protected. D . . . Miss Davis told me that she needed to retrieve a document for Mr. Walker who was in an important meeting." Carlos spoke assuredly.
"So you gave Miss Davis your password to gain access to this document," asks the mediator.
"No. I used my pass code while she sat behind the desk. She probably remembered it."
"Once again, this is not a court of law. You can not object. Though Mr. Tanner, I would ask that you refrain from any comments that are speculative. All we are interested in here are the facts. I was informed that you had knowledge that would negate the charges brought on by Miss Davis."
"Yes sir. Well, when I was asked to check Mr. Chestnut's computer for the pictures, I learned that my pass code was used previously to gain access. And it wasn't me."
"Remember Mr. Tanner, state only what you know."
"I know it wasn't me who was working on Mr. Chestnut's computer. The access was gained the same time the pics were planted on Mr. Chestnut's hard drive."
"I take exception to the use of the term planted."
"Exception noted. Go on Mr. Tanner. What light can you shine on the flowers Miss Davis received?"
"Well, I was the one who delivered them."
"I'm told you also know something about how they were ordered." Carlos looks to Horace Chestnut feeling all the bit the Judas. Here, he thought his testimony would prove that Deirdre gained access to Chestnut's computer by memorizing his pass code, but the tables are turning. Carlos will either confirm Chestnut was capable of doing the things Deirdre alleged or he will point blame to himself for allowing his pass code be compromised. There was another, an even worst case scenario, that Carlos was a willing accomplice, while Deirdre sits idly by and watching it all unfold. "Well Mr. Tanner, do you know how the flowers were ordered?"
"Yes. They were order online, over the Internet. There was a cookie file from 800-Flowers.com generated on Mr. Chestnut's computer the day before the delivery." Carlos swallowed hard as he looked to Horace Chestnut.
"Is that it Mr. Tanner? Is there anything else you would like to share with this body?"
Carlos Tanner finally realized how much of a patsy he had been taken for by Deirdre. Why, because he was in lust with her. Up to a point, she had merely eluded to the promise of offering him a taste of what it would be like to feel the pleasures of her folds. The realization as to why Deirdre all of the sudden gave him that long awaited taste, sickened his stomach and mind. It was time to tell the entire truth, even if it would cost him his job. Carlos had one more revelation for the committee.
"Yes. I have something else to tell you. Deirdre came to me the afternoon she said Mr. Chestnut came on to her. She was upset and crying. I did what I could to console her. Once she calmed down, she told me how much she appreciated my being a good friend. She said she wanted to show her gratitude." There came a long pause. For the first time since he entered the room, did Carlos look to Deirdre.
"Yes, Mr. Tanner."
"That's my sperm inside the handkerchief."