“Get off me!” I yelled as I punched my boss in the mouth and then kicked him in the balls.
I had just managed to fight free from his clumsy attack. He had ripped open my blouse, torn at my dress and unfastened his trousers. If it hadn’t been for my training course in unarmed combat, I honestly think he’d have gone ahead and raped me.
“Right Julie, that’s it, you’re fired!” he yelled, staggering backwards, face screwed up in pain. “I want you out of the staff hostel by tomorrow morning.”
“You tried to rape me. I’ll go to the police and press charges and get you sacked.”
“It’s your word against mine – no witnesses, no cameras.” He smirked as he pointed to the ceiling of the basement corridor where we were standing. “I simply tell the management that your work wasn’t satisfactory, so I fired you. You made up this pack of lies out of spite.”
I could see he was right. “Okay, you win, I’ll leave. But I’ve worked here damned hard for a fortnight so I want my money – that’s the law.”
“You’re not getting a penny.” John smirked. “Your work isn’t up to standard and you’re terminated without any pay.”
“But that money is due to me! It’s gone through the books.”
“There are plenty of ways of fiddling the books. I should know.” He grinned again. “Ignorant little girls on minimum wages don’t get to tell the hotel manager what to do. And if you try to stir up any trouble, I’ll finish you, understand?”
“Is that a threat?”
“No it’s a promise. To have that pretty little face spoilt with acid if you make trouble, clear enough for you? I know some pretty dangerous people in this town.”
As he walked away, I reflected that this fortnight, working as a cleaner for Fortescue Hotels, had been the worst time of my life.
It had been hard, horrible work. The first few days weren’t so bad, for most of my workmates were nice and friendly, but I’ll never forget the fifth day, a Friday.
Towards the end of my long shift my friend Olive had gone home early, so I was on my own when I opened the door to a room that I learnt was best described as a ‘Number Two’ by those in the trade. It had been occupied by two girls who had attended a hen party in town. One of the twin beds was soaked in pee, wine had been spilt all over the carpet, the toilet was blocked with towels and something unmentionable could not be flushed away. Someone had vomited all over the basin and floor and the shower had been left on, so that water was at a depth of an inch on the floor, lapping out into the rest of the suite.
The stress of learning the job and all the problems I’d encountered, plus encountering this horror, suddenly all became too much for me to bear. I just stood there and burst into tears.
“I’m so sorry you had to see a mess like this,” said a man’s voice from behind me.
I looked around, surprised to see the man who had joined me. He wasn’t really particularly good looking, with his larger-than-usual nose and extra wide mouth, but the kindness in his eyes made him look more handsome than any Adonis.
“I’m Mark, the Under Manager,” he went on. “I’ve been wanting to come and see you for days now, but they’re short-staffed in the restaurant, so I’ve been tied up there. I should have welcomed you to the team long before now.”
“I’m okay,” I pulled myself together, forcing a smile.
“You’re not, you’re very upset, and it’s no wonder being faced with a nightmare like this. You go and relax, leave all this to me.”
“But I don’t finish for an hour—”
“Julie, from what I’ve been told by the others you’ve more than pulled your weight, so I reckon you deserve a bit of a break. You go off and forget about it – leave this mess to me.”
“But I don’t understand, you’re not even on the cleaning team, are you? I thought you said you were the Under Manager?”
“Which means my job is to sort out problems, not to sit behind a desk all day and order people around.”
I told Olive what had happened next day.
“Yeah, typical of Mark, he’s lovely. If only he were in charge, and not that bastard John. Don’t get me wrong, Mark’s no pushover, he won’t let you get away with anything, but he’s always on our side. For instance, yesterday, Alice, whose in charge of the restaurant, had a daughter suddenly taken ill in school and she had to rush off home, so he stepped in and covered for her straight after his shift ended. Derek, who’s on the night desk at reception, has a drink problem and sometimes doesn’t turn up, but instead of sacking him, Mark’s been taking him to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, helping him to get off the booze. That’s the sort of guy he is. ”
“Do the management know what goes on here?” I asked her.
“Do they heck! We get one of them snobby bosses pop down here for half an hour every couple of months, and John looks busy and chats them up and they think he’s the bees knees, and after they’ve gone, he goes back to sitting on his arse, while Mark does all the work. John and Mark hate each other – they actually had a fight once, but John couldn’t get rid of him – he relies on him too much, what’s more Mark knows all the scams John gets up to.”
Olive leaned closer. “If you ever find money or valuables in the rooms, never hand them in to John, always give them to Mark – I found some money once and made the mistake of giving it to John. The guest who lost it made a real fuss about it when John denied I’d handed it over. I could’ve been in real trouble.”
She laughed. “Mark once traced a lost Teddy Bear to a guest who’d gone to Canada, and didn’t even realise his child had lost it! And the roll of money we once found, no one claimed it, so he took it to the police.”
During the next few days I encountered Mark quite a bit, always rushing around somewhere, always giving us a friendly smile. Everyone seemed satisfied with my work, and all the bending and lifting and stretching didn’t seem quite so difficult the more I did it. I felt as is I was finally settling in at last.
Until John tried to rape me and spoilt everything.
That evening I sat there in the tiny staff apartment, seriously wondering what to do with my life, now that my job had been terminated.
There was a knock on the door.
“We heard what happened,” said Mark. “Can we come in?”
Mark and Olive came into the tiny staff apartment and sat down.
“Mark’s been telling John he can’t sack you,” Olive explained. “They’ve had an almighty row.”
“But it was no use, I’m very sorry,” Mark apologised. “Why has he turned against you? As far as I know everyone is happy with your work.”
I thought of telling them about John’s attack, but would he believe me? It would just cause more trouble, and Mark had to go on working here. It just wasn’t worth the hassle of making accusations to my friends.
“Maybe the job just isn’t for me,” I told them.
“Well, we just wanted you to know that everyone’s on your side.” He handed over an envelope filled with notes. “Apparently John refuses to pay what we owe you, there’s nothing I can do about it, so we had a whip round. At least that’ll tide you over for a bit. I know what it’s like to be down on your luck.”
Olive left first, leaving Mark looking awkward as he hovered in the doorway.
“Look, I’d really like to see you again,” he said. “Do you mind if I ring you sometime? Maybe we could go for a meal sometime?”
“Well, I’m not sure—”
“No problem, you’re upset, and you’ve probably got a boyfriend,” he assured me quickly. “I won’t pester you for an answer. I just wanted you to know that I really like you.”
I was really overcome at their generosity and kindness. So much so, that when I’d packed up everything and moved out next day, I decided to go back to thank them properly.
But first I had to handle another important matter.
“What are you doing here?” John snarled as I entered his office without knocking.
“Your contract of employment has been terminated, as of now,” I told him. “And you are about to be arrested for attempted rape and threatening behaviour. Separately you are being investigated for suspected fraud and embezzlement, which, as you know, are also charges which incur instant dismissal. Forensic accountants are here now, and they are going to sift through every last balance sheet you’ve signed off on for the last five years.”
“Is this a joke?” he snapped.
But he stood up as the uniformed police officer came into the room, accompanied by another couple of men. Without a word the officer put the laptop on John’s desk and replayed the video of John’s attack on me, complete with all the soundtrack.
“Have you ever heard of a TV programme called Undercover Boss?” I asked John, whose mouth was wide open as he moved away from his desk and one of the accountants sat down in his place. “It’s where a senior person within a company works undercover to find out what goes on and films and records everything that happens, using a tiny, hidden camera.”
John just stared at me.
“Shall we make a start, Miss Fortescue?” asked one of the accountants deferentially, his fingers hovering over John’s computer keyboard. “Or should we wait for your grandfather to arrive?”
“Go ahead, Paul,” I told him.
Mark appeared at the door. “Hello Julie! Is there a problem here? I saw a policeman come in.”
“No problem, Mark,” I told him, standing back as John was escorted from the room by the policeman. “And, about that other matter we were discussing? Yes please, I would love to go out for a meal with you. How about tonight?”
(image by Tumisu, from Pixabay)