“Girls don’t get the corner office, Suz,” chuckled the boss, Jeff Jeoffery’s or JJ. It was her first week in the office. It was also the moment that her goal was given both a name and an obstruction.
While all the other girls were worrying about boys, she had spent her breaks in the library studying. While all the other girls were out driving in fast cars with boys and going to parties, she had achieved a cum laude in her degree. While all the other girls were out getting married and pregnant, she was entering the male-dominated workforce with a keen eye for the top, and now the corner office.
It was not that she was not beautiful. She was quite pretty and even stylish in a petite, understated way. She would never make Playboy model, but she had decided to that she could make management.
“Darn JJ,” she would gossip at the water cooler with some of those on the same level as her, “What’s his deal? Why do they keep him as management here?” It always allowed her colleagues to moan, which temporarily bonded them together, but she knew why JJ was the boss: he was good in all the right ways and just bad enough as a human being to make him excellent at both business and extorting labour. The conscience of capitalism reports up the chain of command, not down.
An office is a strangely self-contained environment. Your big enemies are out there in the real world as other businesses compete with yours, but they feel distant and rather abstract. The real enemies are big and loud and in front of you, stealing your ideas, claiming credit for your successes and subtly edging you into obscurity while they rise higher and higher. Your real enemies are the people you work for and with, or, at least, that was how she began to view it.
Each step in the right direction she would make, another would claim it as their success. Each positive contribution she would make, JJ or someone else would insert themselves into. Each movement forward and upwards would see her slip backwards and remain nearly stationary. Nearly stationary, but not quite…
It had been a couple of years now and through sheer willpower, staff attrition and what she called “manoeuvering” she had managed to rise in command under JJ. It was definitely something, but it also sounded better than it really was. JJ’s word was still final and she had no real influence over him. The closer she got to him, the more he could claim her victories as his own (and the more he did). And, she still did not have the corner office.
Friday afternoons and staff parties were the hardest. On Friday afternoon, JJ would always pop off to play a round of golf with key clients, or at least that was what he claimed. On the way out he would make sure to pop by her office to check “everything was OK”, but in actual fact he would linger there emphasising non-vocally how he was still the boss and she was under him. Once, after she had suggested that perhaps she should come along to meet the clients, he had laughed at her like she was some useless little girl and asked her what her handicap was on golf? Besides, “…Suz, the clients are all men,” he had said as if that was explanation enough.
JJ had laughed a lot at that. She had laughed politely with him, and then JJ had left. Later that night, she had cried herself to sleep after finishing a bottle of wine. She did not really know why, but it hurt a lot.
She still had no boyfriend, but she was not concerned by that. Her father, before he had died, began telling her that she was obsessing too much over working and should go find a good man. Her mother had died when she was young and her father had raised her. Perhaps he was the reason she was so focused and she normally listened to him, but she didn’t this time. She also had no friends to fill the space of leisure, so she would work late during the work week and then spend her weekends finding reasons to fill time with work-related things.
Then there were the staff parties.
She never had friends in real life and the office was no different. Somehow social events like parties emphasised her awkward, loneliness even more. But, given her station, employees would politely interact with her and laugh a bit at her occasional joke. But she knew that the moment she left their direct company, the sneers and rumours and complaining would come out. “Suz is lesbian,” was one that she suspected was gaining momentum as her unmarried, uncoupled status was unusual, but who knew? She tried really hard to ignore it and told herself that it was the nature of the position that colleagues never liked their bosses. Still, late at night when she was tossing and turning in her bed, these things would haunt her and make her want to scream and cry at the same time.
And then JJ disappeared. It was after a staff party. He had drunk a lot, but so had many other people. His wife had called the police two days later when he was still not home. Apparently, he would disappear for a night after staff parties sometimes, but he had never done so for two nights. His car was found in the office basement parking. The key was in the ignition, though it was not on, his seat was rolled back and a good couple smears dried blood stained the upholstery and a bit of the seat. The rearview mirror was broken like there had been a brief struggle, but there were also no signs of forced entry.
The police began to swarm around the office. Normal day-to-day work pretty much ended and the days became police request, police interrogations and media flashes from the crowd gathered outside the office. Paparazzi were making the rounds outside while the police were doing so inside. Every single employee was being grilled by middle-aged, under-payed, angry policemen about what happened at the party that night.
There were no real suspects, but a number of employees thought that they had seen Suz and JJ having a drink and a smoke outside party late in the evening. As far as the police could tell, Suz was the last person to see JJ alive and she became the de facto suspect. The police began to interrogate her repeatedly while calling friends and family for character witnesses. They found the former useless and the latter a rather short list. So they began to focus the investigation on motives and the Board’s promotion of Suz into JJ’s old job could not have come at a worse time. Still, Suz was a woman, so the policemen only pursued her half-heartedly in between cups of office coffee and doughnuts from the canteen downstairs.
In the end, despite all the digging and all the talking and all the asking and all the noise, the police, the media and the general gossip never firmly concluded what happened to JJ. Eventually, despite JJ’s widow’s distress and a complete lack of closure, even the gossip in the office died down and day-to-day work continued almost like usual.
Except, Suz now sat in the corner office. She reported directly to the Board now and managed the whole floor and even a couple below that. It was all worth it, she found herself thinking after the final interrogation by the police in her corner office. This was almost everything she had ever hoped for, but there was a nagging feeling. She had met with the Board a couple of times now and she really liked the feel of the Main Boardroom.
She did not even notice the little specks of blue far below her corner office window as the police left the building for good. She was too busy fantasising about the Main Boardroom, rubbing her fingertips back and forth. Her nails would be fully grown back in about a week or so. It was a real pity she had had to clip them all off. A couple had snapped off or been chipped in the car and, if she had not trimmed them all down, it just would have been assymetrical. It was a real pity, she thought absentmindedly, stroke her leather chair and remembering how soft and luxurious the Boardroom chairs were.