Chapter One: In which the tyrannical Jason Jackson-Jones finds himself losing both a Personal Assistant and an Engineering Manager, and is reliant upon the dubious skills of his pretty receptionist to replace them.
And now for Chapter Two...
Gaby was reading the paper when the call came. She hardly hesitated before agreeing. This company, Triple J Auto Parts, sounded like a challenge, and Gaby was never one to shrink from a challenge. In a few minutes, she'd put on her trusty black suit, popped the essentials in her leather shoulder satchel, squeezed her feet into the high-heeled pumps she reserved for 'first impressions' moments, and headed out of the door.
It didn't take her long to get across Sheffield to the office, nor was the office difficult to find. So it was a little before ten when she stepped through the door into the dimly lit foyer, watched by the hidden security camera and the blonde receptionist.
“Hello,” the pretty blonde greeted her. “Can I help you?” She didn't sound as bored as most receptionists. Her hair was smooth, her make-up carefully applied, and her suit smart. She smiled as she spoke, but still Gaby sensed her carefully hidden discomfort.
“I'm here to see Mr Jackson-Jones,” she said, smiling back.
“Could you sign in, please?” the blonde woman requested, pushing a visitors’ book across the desk towards her.
Gaby signed in with her full name and the time, drew a line through the space for car registration, and pushed the book back across the desk.
“Here you are,” she smiled at the receptionist, whose name, she now saw, from a shiny brass badge on her lapel, was Donna. “Do I need to wear a badge?”
'Yes. I'll just make you one up.'
Donna struggled to tear out the perforated slip from the book, and Gaby commented, “Those perforations are tricky little things, aren't they?”
Donna laughed: the laugh of one put-upon employee to another. Suddenly, from treating Gaby suspiciously, as a possible rival, she seemed to have reassessed her and placed her in the ranks of possible friends.
“Thank you,” Gaby smiled. “Everything looks very smart here. Is it a nice place to work?”
Donna considered this as she folded the slip of paper to fit inside a clear plastic badge sleeve. “In some ways. It's a good office and I suppose JJ's a fair man, but... well... he's a bit of a robot and he seems to expect everyone else to be the same. The milk of human kindness doesn't exactly flow round here.”
“It must make a lot of difference to have somebody so warm and welcoming on reception, though. After all, you're the first person that visitors see when they arrive, so when you greet them in such a friendly way, they must feel that it's a nice place to be.”
“I suppose so,” Donna said, sounding uncertain. “I don't know. Nobody else seems to notice.”
“Maybe not,” Gaby said soothingly, “but I bet they'd notice if you weren't doing it!”
Donna laughed out loud. When she laughed, her blonde hair swung and her green eyes sparkled. Gaby thought that watching her unfold under the warmth of an unexpected compliment was like watching a flower soak up rainwater after a drought.
It was a sight Gaby had seen and never forgotten. She'd been spending time in Australia during a deep drought when the ground cracked and the grass, such as it was, withered. Watering plants and washing cars was banned, unless it used rinse-water from the two-minute shower that was all that was recommended. So keeping a garden going meant lugging buckets of old shower and washing-up water outside and painstakingly pouring them over the wilting plants. The only things that thrived were the cacti and succulents, their fat leaves holding enough of the last winter's rains to carry them through the drought. And then, when the clouds finally burst in torrents that made taking a step outside feel like walking into a waterfall, they burst into flower in a rainbow array of huge, bounteous blooms.
A lump came to Gaby's throat as she thought of all the beauty she'd seen in the world. It was sad that so many people went through life thinking only of their next paycheque or chance to go out drinking, starting the evening with a good time which would gradually be forgotten in a haze of alcohol and then replaced with a raging headache and hangover. Sometimes people were puzzling, but Gaby still loved almost everyone she met. Everyone deserved a bit of beauty in their lives, and she noted with approval the vase of bright autumnal blooms on the reception desk - cheap at this time of year, but cheerful enough - and the motivational poster on the wall, which pictured an eagle hovering over a rocky outcrop, its talons outstretched and the wind lifting its feathers just a little. It was a superb piece of photography, and the inspirational quote beneath it, although tacky, did fit the picture perfectly: 'Be an eagle: let life's breezes lift you higher.'
“Pretty flowers,” Gaby commented, and was rewarded with another smile. Donna seemed like a nice girl, and it would be pleasant to have a friend and ally in the company. Sometimes things got challenging, and then it was not only nice, but almost a necessity, to have a friendly face and some moral support.
Encouraged by Donna's openness, she followed up her earlier question with, “Anything else I should know about working here?”
This time the smile was more guarded, almost cynical.
“What can I say? It's a job.”
Gaby thought it was a pity that so many people thought a job was a necessity at all costs, and that this fact, if fact it was, necessitated putting up with such unpleasant ones. Surely there was somewhere else they could go? She herself never seemed to be short of work. But maybe it was different in other lines of work, especially with what everyone was saying about the economy.
Maybe, but in her heart Gaby didn't believe that. She was sure things could be different. Wasn't that what the poster was trying to say? You could be a tree and let the cold winds break you, or you could be an eagle and find a way for them to help you fly. Gaby thrived on challenges. But she supposed everyone couldn't be the same.
Donna was already starting to look uncomfortable, as if she thought she'd said too much, so Gaby rapidly backtracked and reverted to a more formal mode.
“Is Mr Jackson-Jones available?”
“He's in a meeting at the moment. Shall I show you where you'll be working?”
“Yes, please, if you don't mind.”
Donna led the way out of reception and up two flights of ringing metal stairs. Gaby made a mental note to leave the high heels at home the next day.
“This is your office, and through there is Jason's office. You can call him Jason to his face, he doesn't mind, but to outsiders it's Mr Jackson-Jones. Don't ask me why. Anybody would think it was some time last century.”
“Or the century before,” Gaby laughed with her.
Donna turned on the computer and showed Gaby how to log on. Not having been instructed on what Gaby was to do once she arrived, Donna suggested that she spend a bit of time familiarising herself with the computer system and filing cabinets, and she'd bring up some company literature for her to read.
“Oh,” Donna finished, “and do you want a cuppa?”
“Why don't you let me do that?” Gaby suggested. “I can start to learn my way around.”
So Gaby's first job for Triple J Auto Parts turned out to be finding her way through the finance office to the small upstairs kitchen, and making a green tea for herself and an ordinary tea, white with sugar, for Donna, which she then carried back down two flights of stairs to reception. Probably not the easiest way of doing it, but she accomplished the task successfully, despite her heels, and was still back at her desk before Jason emerged from his meeting.
In his absence, she sneaked a quick look through the glass panelled door of his office. It was crisply decorated, with plain cream walls, a sturdy black desk and office chair, and a huge brown leather sofa. Curiously, since it was otherwise impersonal and functional, there was a small TV set up in one corner. Gaby peered in and realised that it was set to display stock prices. She hadn't thought anyone did that any more, when you could just set them up to appear on your computer at the press of a button. Maybe Jason was more old-fashioned than the decor suggested.
Apart from the television, there was little to indicate the room was owned at all, just a framed copy of the company's latest ad campaign on one wall, facing an identically framed certificate on the other wall. The only letters Gaby could make out on it were 'APMA'. A college? A company? She went to the computer and pulled up a web browser. Or rather, she clicked on the icon for the web browser, only to be greeted with a pop-up window which demanded that she agree to the company's IT and Internet Policy before it would let her go any further. She skimmed over the policy, typed in her name and clicked OK, and then the computer kindly permitted her to access a search engine.
A few seconds were sufficient to establish that APMA stood for not only Atlanta Professional Management Association (unlikely) and Arlington and Porlock Museum of Archaeology (even less likely) but also Auto Part Manufacturers' Association. That'd be it, then.
In just a few minutes, she'd learned that her temporary employer was a proud, practical man, with an interest in finance and a prominent place in his professional association.
Any more than that would probably have to wait until he decided to put in an appearance.