The Crash: Chapter Three
I recently introduced hard-nosed businessman Jason Jackson-Jones in Chapter One of The Crash. After week one saw him waiting for a new PA and Engineering Manager, in Chapter Two he filled the first of those gaps. But is his new PA exactly what he's looking for, or a bit too good to be true?
Jason pushed open the door of the office adjoining his, and did a double-take. Sitting at Lucy’s desk, for all the world as if she’d been there forever, was the most extraordinarily stunning, tall, black-haired woman. When she stood to greet him, he realised that her height was in part due to very high black heels. She should have looked like a waitress, in a white blouse with a black skirt and jacket, but it was inconceivable that this elegant creature might actually stoop to serving food or drink. It seemed unlikely enough that she was here to type his letters and do his filing, though that was the only explanation he could find for her presence.
“Mr Jackson-Jones?” She put out her hand. “I’m Gabriella, or Gaby for short. I’m your personal assistant for this week.”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Gabrie... Gaby.” Considering her height, her hand felt surprisingly delicate in his. “I hope you’ll enjoy working here.” It wasn’t a sentiment Jason had ever expressed to any of his previous P.A.s – and there were many.
“Has Donna showed you around? And how to log into the computer? And answer the phone?”
“She’s showed me around and set me up on the computer. I found the manual for the phone in the drawer, so that should be fine too.”
As if in response, the phone rang, and Gaby snatched up the receiver as promptly as if it might explode on the third ring.
“Triple J Auto Parts, can I help you?” Gaby didn’t yet sound like a bored receptionist, but then they never did on the first day. The constant stream of sales calls, customer complaints and meeting rearrangements could hardly fail to grind down even the most dedicated assistant eventually, but Jason hoped he’d see at least a bit more of the enthusiasm first.
Gaby paused, her chiselled face tilted as she listened. Jason knew he should go into his office and get on with his work, but instead he stood watching as she nodded and smiled at the person on the other end.
“Thanks, Donna. I’ll let him know.” She ended the conversation swiftly but politely, and turned to Jason. “The agency have sent you over a CV for a potential Engineering Manager who’s available for interview now, and to start tomorrow if you like him.”
“Why’s he available so quickly?” Jason was instantly suspicious. Of course it was convenient, but he’d learned to be suspicious of things that were too convenient. ‘Available immediately’ usually meant, ‘recently fired’, and often for a good reason.
“Apparently he’s been abroad for family reasons, and has just moved back to the UK.”
Not such a problem, then. If it was true. Well, if the guy sounded good at interview he’d have Gaby check out the story before he appointed.
“OK. Get him booked in for eleven thirty, and then print me out five copies of the contract for the lunch meeting. Donna can show you where they’re kept.”
He noticed as he settled back at his own desk that Gaby did as he requested without needing to disturb the receptionist, having already worked out how to access his diary, check which meeting was taking place this afternoon, and then select and print the relevant contract in the customer’s file. She was quick. Which, sadly, meant she wouldn’t last long. The good ones were always in demand and soon moved on. Not, he was quick to remind himself, that he was looking for anyone permanent from the agency. Temporary agencies were just that – designed to provide an overpriced but convenient stopgap until a cheap school leaver or recent graduate could be appointed.
As he started flicking through the eighty-three emails that had arrived during his meeting with the Japanese, the computer flashed up a meeting request. Gaby had booked the interview for eleven thirty in the small conference room. A few minutes later, she came in, dropped five copies of the contract in his in-tray and left without speaking. Jason could get used to this level of convenience. But he’d better not.
Today everything seemed almost too good to be true. Things continued to run smoothly with Gaby insulating him from the outside world, and at eleven twenty-nine exactly Donna called through that his candidate for the Engineering Manager job was waiting in the small meeting room. He picked up the CV that the agency had faxed through, glanced at the name on top, and headed downstairs.
Jason walked through the door of the small meeting room on the dot of eleven thirty. Like Gaby, Brad stood to shake hands. Brownie points for that. He was sharply dressed in a grey suit, with shades peeking from his breast pocket, but Jason decided not to hold that against him. The November sun sometimes sat low over the hills, and sunglasses were almost more necessary than in summer, especially when the dew or overnight rain made the roads reflect like shimmering streams.
“So, talk me through your CV,” Jason requested, sitting back with his arms folded in a pose that demanded, ‘Impress me.’ In part, he did this to see which aspects of their work history a candidate would single out as important. It was also a useful reminder of the key aspects of a CV he’d only taken a moment to skim.
“As you can see, I graduated with a BA from Vassar, worked for Hamex Manufacturing for seven years and then went back to school to take my MBA at Harvard.”
Jason winced, as much at the smooth American drawl as at the straightforward delivery of this textbook career history. A Harvard MBA wanted a job at what Jason was honest enough to admit was a pretty parochial manufacturing company? Something didn’t stack up here, and he was going to get to the bottom of it.
“I met my wife Rachel at Harvard. She’s a Brit. Her family are from Sheffield and she didn’t want to leave the area, so we settled here. I worked at Forgemasters for a year, but then my Dad got sick back home and I went back to care for him during his last months. Now I’m back, looking for somewhere to put my experience to work.”
Weird turn of phrase, that. Made it sound as if he thought his experience was something separate from himself. As if it was going to walk around the factory, adjusting machines and chivvying along slack workers.
Something about the whole spiel put Jason’s back up, and he decided to make things difficult for the guy. After all, it was in the heat of the crucible that the steel was forged.
“Why aren’t you going back to Forgemasters?”
Brad gave a nonchalant shrug. “I didn’t know how long I was going to be away. They could hardly keep the job open indefinitely. They went ahead and hired, and by all accounts the new guy’s doing a good job. They’d gladly have me back, but it wouldn’t be at the same level, and I don’t want to be sitting around waiting for dead men’s shoes. I want to be up and doing.”
“But doing what? This is a tough job. A lot of time on the shop floor. It’s not a place for expensive suits.” Jason looked the other man up and down with what was intended to be, and was, a scathing glance.
“I can handle tough. I know my CV reads like I’ve always had a silver spoon in my mouth, but the truth is I had a tough time before I got my scholarships to college. Scraped my way out of what was really one step off the ghetto. I thought I’d have made it once I got a job where I didn’t have to sweat, but when I got a job sitting at a desk all day I found it bored me senseless. At college I learned to wear expensive suits and take my place in a board meeting, but I also learned that I need to spend at least some of my time at the sharp end, or I get antsy.”
“So what do you think you’d be doing here?” Jason had flummoxed a fair few interview candidates with this one, delivered deadpan and accompanied by a piercing blue stare. Most of them fumbled around, eventually delivering some variant of, ‘Aren’t you meant to tell me what the job involves?
Brad didn’t miss a beat. It was obvious he knew his stuff. He swiftly summarised the main duties, cleverly working in a brief summary of the main tasks he’d performed in his previous jobs and the skills he’d bring to the party.
When he wrapped up, Jason moved straight on, rather than following up with probing questions as he normally did. He was satisfied that, provided his references showed he’d done what he said he had, Brad was more than capable. His doubts were more on the score of willingness than ability, and to that end he fired off a few more questions about unsociable hours, last-minute travel arrangements and total dedication to the company.
When Brad answered them all with equal panache, Jason came to the conclusion that, against all the odds, the first candidate might actually be the man for the job.
When twelve o’clock came, he ushered Brad out to reception and asked him to leave details of his referees with Gaby when she came down. Then he asked Donna to buzz Gaby, and get her down to collect Brad’s details. “In fact,” he suggested, “why doesn’t one of you take Brad to lunch? Book a table at the Old Bell. Take the company credit card. I’d join you,” he added for Brad’s benefit, “but I’ve got a prior engagement. I’ll be in touch shortly.”
He shook hands with Brad, said his farewells, and then stepped into the print room to grab five brochures to accompany the five contracts. That was one thing he’d learned over his ten years at the helm of JJ Auto. Never stop selling until the ink is dry on the contract.
When he came out, Gaby was already downstairs, and his emergence from the print room was, probably coincidentally, greeted with a gale of laughter from reception. Gaby had only started that day, Brad wasn’t even employed yet, and already they and Donna seemed to be chatting like old friends. He couldn’t help feeling a little left out, even though he knew the way to keep a healthy level of respect from staff was to keep your distance.
“I’m off to lunch with Hexhams. Hold my calls,” he told Donna, and made for the car park. Brad’s loud, pealing laugh seemed to stalk him out of the building, and he wondered what Gaby had said to provoke it.