Courtney Webb                                                                                                                                                

                                                       Monday morning, 7:30 am, Vivian Lee got out of her red Mazda convertible.   After parking in the underground parking lot, she decided to walk up to the front door of the building, stretch her legs and pick up a newspaper. 

Late summer, the San Francisco morning was still a little chilly. There was a bit of fog, but the day promised to be sunny. Maybe even hot. A raggedy homeless man was picking through the trash cans in front of the building. 

Vi, as she liked to call herself, pushed through the glass and chrome door of the building. Her black hair with its modern, geometrical cut swung back and forth at her shoulders. A Chinese-red double-knit dress snugged every curve. She dropped her black Gucci handbag on the marble tile floor at the front counter and grabbed a San Francisco Tribune. 

“Phil, I thought we were going to do something about that scavenging that keeps going on outside.”

“Sorry, Miss?” Phil sounded confused. He stood up from his padded chair and leaned toward the client.

Vi jerked her head toward the glass doors. “That bum is back.”

“Oh, right miss. I’ll see what I can do.”

Her black almond eyes narrowed. “See that you do. Brings the tone of the place down. We don’t need that with these real estate prices, do we?” She gave him a fake smile and stuffed the paper in her bag. She turned on her black Jimmy Choo stilettos and clipped, clipped across the floor. The straight black hair swished. Tall and skinny, Vi glowed with healthy skin and good health. Pushing the button to the 11th floor, she tapped her toe in an irritated fashion, waiting for the elevator. 

It whooshed quietly open. She stepped in without a single backward glance at the security guard. 

Phil sighed. God, I hope that woman doesn’t get me fired. I need this job. He adjusted his tie, straightened his jacket and checked his gloves were in place. He checked that the little red Phil badge was pinned correctly to the pocket of the brown worsted uniform. Time to go out and talk to that homeless man again.

“Bob, you back again?”

“Hey man, this strip has the best cans and bottles anywhere. I get some great recycle stuff here. Doing my bit for the ecology, you know.”

Phil stared at the bedraggled figure. The man was dirty and wearing old, worn out woolen clothes he probably got at Salvation Army. He wondered how old the guy was. He wouldn’t be surprised if they were the same age. There but for the grace of God, go I. Phil had heard that many times at recovery meetings. He could have  been this guy. He very nearly had been. 

“Yeah, I know. But your bag is full anyway. Here’s a fiver.” He pulled a bill out of his wallet. “That and what you got in the bag will get you a good breakfast.”

“Not in this neighborhood, it won’t,” Bob cocked a little bird blue eye at the guard.

“We’re not talking this neighborhood, Bob. Come on, take it. Otherwise, I’ll have to call the cops. We don’t want that.”

“Boss lady mad?” the bum asked with surprising acuity. 

Phil nodded his head. 

“Got you man. Those women can be bad.” He emphasized the last word as he leaned over and snatched the five-dollar bill out of Phil’s hand. He stuffed it in a pocket. Slowly tying up his bag of cans and bottles, he did a little salute and started his shuffle down the street. “Be seeing you guy, don’t let the turkeys get you down.” 

Phil watched as the man moved away and was eventually lost to view. He had won this round. But gosh, he couldn’t keep doing this, handing out money this way.  The wife was complaining as it was. Turning, Phil went back into the building, hoping against hope that was the worst drama of the day. 

On the eleventh floor, the elevator doors slid open to reveal the huge silver letters of Hi-Tech Industries, Inc

Vi turned left and quickly got to her office and threw down her purse. The bold letters of Vivian Lee, Human Resources Manager, were printed in black letters on the door. She turned around and walked to the cubicle of Robin, her administrative assistant. 

“Robin, darling, did you get my Starbuck’s like I asked, regular blend with soy milk?” She gave a chilly little smile to her twenties something assistant.

“Yes, Ms. Lee. Twelve ounces of Dramago Dragon like you asked, with soy milk.”

She handed over the paper cup. 

“And the cranberry scone?”

“Oh, right, I forgot. Right here.” Robin reached down and pulled the little package up and handed that over too. 

“Robin, you are such a jewel! You know I just can’t bear that morning crowd at Starbucks. Too much!” Vi grabbed the items and went back into her office closing the door behind her. 

You can’t stand it, Robin thought bitterly. How do you think I feel having to get up an hour early to get to work and go stand in that horrible line just ‘cause you can’t be bothered? She glanced at the clock.It was ten to eight. She had a whole ten minutes to herself before she officially started for the morning. 

Robin sighed and glanced at the MBA – Human Resources diploma hanging in a little plaque above her desk. Since she was in a cube, the only one who could see it was her. But, still, it was a reminder that maybe she wouldn’t always be someone’s gofer. 

Sighing again, she went to get some free coffee in the lounge. What with the cost of apartments in the City, she had to watch every penny. 

There was a small acrylic plaque on Vi’s desk too. It also showed a little MBA degree in Human Resources. However, hers said ‘With Highest Honors”, Chicago University. 

At thirty-six, Vi was the youngest Human Resource Manager Hi-Tech had ever had. With the MBA gripped tightly in her hand and utilizing every toe-hold her minority status granted her; she had clawed her way right up to the top. Once there, she liked the view just fine.  

Vi’s grandmother had migrated here during the Korean war.  Helen, Vi’s mother, a small child then, grew up and spent her entire life in San Francisco. Vi could speak some Korean, but not well.  She was also much taller than either her mother and certainly, her grandmother. 

Helen prided herself on her daughter’s successes and attributed it all to the vitamins regime she was on while pregnant. She couldn’t wait for Vi to do the same with her own child.  

After the coffee and scone were gone, Vi seriously got down to reviewing the figures in the Talent Management file. The report was due at month-end. 

Wiping the crumbs from her fingers with an old embroidered silk handkerchief, she reviewed the figures. She had personally made sure of the retirement of several long-term employees just before their twenty-year anniversaries. Two of the three were fighting early retirement now with their lawyers. She laughed. The only ones that ever won in these battles were the lawyers. Regardless of how selfless they presented themselves to be with their clients; they were in it for the money.  

Vi’s morning got interrupted by an unwelcome visitor. A big, white-haired machinist had actually had the nerve to come up to her office to speak to her personally. 

She led the man into her office and they sat down. He wanted to talk about his termination notice. 

“Ms. Lee, you can’t do this. The company can’t do this. I’ve been a loyal employee these last twenty years.” The big man held a cloth hat in his hands and kept twisting it. 

“I am sorry, Mr. Lovell. The figures are in. Your supervisor has been very diligent in keeping records. Your results have been consistently falling behind for the last year. Not a day, not a month but an entire year!” She held both hands out expansively. “What did you expect us to do, nothing? You have been talked to about this.” 

She crossed her slim legs and rocked a bit in her leather swivel chair. 

Continued Part II

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