Qualified Entry: Non-Fiction Category
By: Cole Quirk
His hot breath beats down on my neck, his stubby fingers twirl through my long hair as he asks me what I am working on. I freeze. He has never gotten this close to me. I want to scream, push him away, tell him he has stepped over the line, again. All I can muster is a look. I turn my head and stare at him in silence, just inches between us. My boss takes his fingers out of my ponytail and moves a step back. I can feel his eyes burning into the back of my head. He slowly retreats back to his office, but not before stopping at the edge of my desk and finishing his Greek strained yogurt, staring at me in silence as it drips from his mouth to his tie, unfazed.
The moment he disappears I sprint to the ladies room. Thank God I am the only woman on this floor so nobody sees me cry. I am shaking and violently ill. I am trapped. I cannot report him to the Human Resource Department because there is no Human Resource Department. My boss owns the firm. Can you call a two person law practice a firm? Every day it disgusts me to sit under the metal letters that spell out his name.
I do not have money to file a law suit. I hardly have enough money to pay my sky high New York City rent and school loans. My paychecks, my only pay checks, come from him and would surely stop if I took him to court. He has a bank account larger than I can imagine; I print all of his checks and the monthly rent for his prestigious Wall Street office alone is more than I make in a year.
This is why the other girls left. I met the new receptionist a week before I started, but by the time I began she was gone. The paralegal has just put in her two weeks’ notice. I wish they would have warned me; slipped me a note that read, “Get out now.” I moved from Pennsylvania to New York City for this job. I rented an apartment, among taking on several other financial responsibilities. I cannot survive without an income and he knows it. I was hired as a paralegal, but as everyone leaves I am now the receptionist and personal assistant. I have three jobs and am hardly paid for one.
The first red flag was last month, the second month I have worked here. He invites me to a Christmas party for the law firm on the floor upstairs. I think to myself that this would be a great networking opportunity and agreed. At this point, I have no idea that I am about to spend the evening with a psychopath. We meet at my desk at the end of the day. He tells me that the party does not start for another hour and that we should go out for dinner before going to the party. I have had meals with superiors before, so I agree and we get a table at the steak house down the street.
Conversation starts casually with topics such as recent cases we are researching and other law related topics. Then he starts with the personal inquiries. Out of nowhere he asks me what types of guys I like to date followed by telling me his age, hopping to meet my criteria. I quickly change the subject, but he brings it back. He presses me for an answer. I stupidly say that I like older men. Looking back this might have been the kiss of death. I of course mean older as in mid twenties, rather than what he interprets as mid forties. I should have told him I had a boyfriend; a large, muscular ex-convict of a boyfriend. I was stupid. I was afraid.
It starts to rain and we are caught without umbrellas. He has the valet pull around his brand new BMW and we get in. We drive to his ritzy apartment building and says that we can grab umbrellas at this apartment. I sit in the passenger seat and play with my phone. He tells me to come upstairs. I say no and that I can wait right here. He says the valet is taking the car and I have to get out. I reluctantly obey.
We get up to his apartment and I run straight to the bathroom. I am nervous, but also have to pee badly. I walk into the kitchen and survey his typical bachelor pad full of leather sofas, minimal wall art and a strange lack of family photos. I look on the kitchen counter and see it spotless, except for a small box. I walk up to the counter and look closely. The box contains a pair of metal handcuffs. My boss is not a cop and there is no reason for him to own a pair of body restrictive equipment. He is going to hurt me. I panic. I run to the door, grab the umbrellas and shout out that I am ready to go. He appears wearing an extra sweater and obliges. I live to see another day.
The valet brings the BMW back and we follow the GPS to the party. He texts as he drives, narrowly swerving into the other lanes as the rain continues pelting the windshield. Taxis honk their horns. I grip the seats and breathe deeply, hoping to survive this ride. After running a red light, I plead with him to stop using his phone. He tosses me the phone and tells me to type, “Wear the dress in your Facebook picture.” I decide it is best not to ask questions. I read the response out loud, “Hehehe that one is too slutty.” This is disgusting. How young is this girl he is scamming, nineteen? He tells me that this is a mutual friend and that he has to take her to a charity event this weekend. I highly doubt that. He asks what girls wear to charity events. I suggest that his lady friend wears a cocktail dress. He asks me if I have a cocktail dress and if I would attend the event with him. I lie and say I do not own a cocktail dress and that I am busy. The idiot believes me and we get back to texting Little Miss Slutty Dress.
The GPS beeps that we have arrived at the party. I look through the raindrops that fall down the car windows. We are parked in a back alley and there is not a soul on the street. To our right, there is a set of large red doors without signage. A man walks out of one door and we ask him if we are in the right located. He nods and runs away. We get out of the car with our umbrellas, rain still falling, and enter through the large red doors. I expect to find a badly lit room, full of old men in suits eating stale tree-shaped sugar cookies and listening to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Instead, we enter a pulsing night club.
The room is pitch-black except for a flashing red strobe light. Drunken lawyers in fitted suits grind on young associates to Rap and Top 40 music. I tell my boss that there is no way I am staying. He apologizes and says that he did not expect this. Sure. We walk back through the large red doors and he asks where I live so that he can drive me home. I assure him that dropping me off at the nearest subway stop is sufficient. He insists that in this weather he should take me straight home. There is no way I want this creep knowing where I live. I spot a subway and he drops me off. He tells me to keep the umbrella. Once I get into the station I give the umbrella to a homeless man; I do not want any memory of this night.
Back at the office, the flirtation attempts are sad and pitiful. He silently lingers by my desk on a daily basis. One day he randomly buys me flowers because of the great work I am doing. On one hand I am flattered that he respects my work but at the same time it makes me extremely uncomfortable. I stop wearing makeup and brushing my hair in hopes to make myself unattractive so that he will stop his advances. I wear baggy, mismatched and conservative clothing. I hate feeling unattractive but it is the only way I can think of to make the harassment stop. The only other attorney in the firm later whispers to me that the boss thinks I am a lesbian by the way I dress. I am appalled on so many different levels. I assume he told the co worker this because if I refuse to sleep with him I must be a lesbian. At first I am glad. Let him think I am a lesbian, that way he will not hit on me anymore. I am right. The attempt at flirtatious comments cease and I am relieved, but the relief soon turns to terror as he amps-up the deprecating statements to the extreme.
Yesterday he gave me the name of a doctor and a hospital he went to 15 years ago and told me to find his medical records. I called, emailed and faxed every hospital that this doctor worked at and professionals he worked with that might have the records in storage. It was a wild goose chase, but brought light upon the fact that lied to me about his age making himself 16 years younger than his license states. Since I did not have the records in hand by that afternoon, he called me incompetent and sent me home early because he pays me hourly and knows that the pay cut would hurt. He has the upper hand.
The abuse worsens. He tells me I am, “overconfident in my abilities.” He reminds me daily that he wants to fire me, but I am so good at legal research that he needs me. I wish I could talk to someone, but the other man in the office is a coward. His sniveling co worker has a wife and new baby to support and is abused just like me, the difference is that the co worker is a man and the abuse is just verbal. After eventually finding his medical records a few days later, he calls me in his office without warning and says this is my performance review. He calls in the other attorney as a witness, who sits there and says nothing. The boss tells me he did not like how long it took me to get his medical records. I wanted to tell him it is not my job to be his slave. I have a legal education and that is solely what I was hired for. He tells me he is slashing my salary until further notice. I break down and the tears flow freely. How could he do this to me? I have loans to repay, monthly rent, bills. Is this legal? He is stoic. He gets up, hands me a paper copy of my review describing down how much less I would be making and walks out with the other attorney, leaving me alone with my despair.
I need to get out. I need to find a new job, but the economy has tanked. I interview before work and after work. I meet with staffing agencies daily. I am physically and emotionally exhausted. Miraculously, I am offered a job as a receptionist at a real estate firm and I accept without hesitation. The next day I tell him I am leaving and that this is my two weeks’ notice. He says, why take two weeks, finish this week and get out. The next day a notepad appears on my desk filled with girly, handwritten notes about office procedure. He found a replacement, fast. I wish I could warn her, tell her to run far away. I did the only thing I could do. I picked up a pen and at the bottom of her notes I wrote boldly and underlined, “Good luck.” Any more he would have found it and ripped it out.
I am out. It has been months and I feel free. The biggest adjustment I have to make is that people thank me when I complete work. I have not been appreciated or heard the words “thank you” in four months. It is amazing. I thought I was rid of him for good, until I get a text message from him asking if I could do research for him this weekend at $20 an hour, significantly more than he used to pay me. All of those emotions flood back to me. I had deleted his number, but he had not deleted mine. He had my number because he would send me text messages demanding to know where documents were while I was on my lunch break. I quickly delete the text. The next day, he sends another one, this time offering $25 an hour. I had the upper hand. Once again I press delete and go on with my life, until one month later I receive a subpoena to appear in court.
I am to give a deposition in front of the lawyers of a prominent real estate mogul who, at the time I worked on Wall Street, owned our office building and we were suing for damages from a flood that happened before I had worked there. I arrive Tuesday morning and wait outside the room with the court reporter. I prayed he would not be there. As I flip through the latest issue of Lucky magazine, I hear familiar footsteps. I look up to find him suddenly hovering in front of me. I am ill instantly. He tells me that I look nice today. I quickly look back down. My eyes remain focused on the magazine, my mouth unsealed. He sits at a bench on the other side of the hall in silence as he plays with his phone; probably texting teenagers.
The attorneys arrive and we enter the deposition room. I am asked to describe the layout of the office and what documents I had seen or not seen. Then the big question was asked. Why did you leave the firm? I wanted so badly to answer, but the attorney assigned to represent me objected. I could tell my ex-boss was sweating. He knew the flood gates would open about abuse and his façade of a professional character would be ripped to shreds. It would be therapy on the record preserved for eternity; I had no problem confessing every last detail even if it meant reliving the horror. Due to the objection, the question is added to a list for the judge to decide if it should be answered at a later date. The attorney’s are finished and I am free to go.
It has been over a year since that day and I have not heard from either party. I can only pray for the girls that are in or soon will be in my spot at that office. Once in awhile when I answer the phone at my new job, there is only heavy breathing on the other end. I instantly think that it is him, he has found me. He can breathe all he wants, but every time I will hang up on him and move on with my life. I have the upper hand.