Earlier that day Veronica watched Ryan Crimsone, the Director of Human Resources for the Matisse Hotel, step one of his size fourteen shoes out of his office, while the other held his fleshy body behind the doorframe. Her boss’s preferred mode of communication was to yell from his desk, so it had to be important. His perpetually reddened and puffy face had a quizzical look on it.
“Veronica, can you pull the file on Harry Hipple?”
A staffing agency had sent her to work three days at the hotel. That was a month ago. Due to the labor dispute and the quality of her work, she kept being asked to return. Five days a week she descended into the basement of the hotel to the HR office wearing her outlet mall-purchased business suit to fax, file, collate, and run errands. While it wasn’t what she wanted to be doing for her career, she took pride in doing a good job, even if mostly everyone referred to her as “the temp”.
Veronica moved quickly to a metal cabinet, thumbed through the H’s, and extracted the Hipple file. Ryan lumbered over, snatched the folder, and squinted as he read through the pages. She counted the number of hairs (fourteen) sticking out of her boss’s veiny, bald skull.
“I knew that name rang a bad bell. Why do they want to nominate that guy for employee of the month? He’s had at least three complaints against him.”
Carmine, the HR Coordinator, plucked a piece of lint off his designer sweater vest and said, “When I took his ID picture he asked if I was a Jew.”
Bonnie, the Assistant Director who always wore stylish business-appropriate dresses with a blazer, stepped out of her office and said, “I interviewed him.”
As Ryan rifled through the papers in the file he asked, “How did it go?”
“When I asked the ‘Explain a situation where you had to make a critical decision when your supervisor was not present’, Harry Hipple went on a five-minute diatribe about how he tried to make a citizen’s arrest at the jewelry store he once worked at. An African-American gentleman came in to buy an engagement ring. Mr. Hipple swore he had seen him on America’s Most Wanted the night before. Turns out the gentleman was an investment banker.”
“How the hell did he get hired?” Ryan barked.
“Three guards had quit during orientation before we opened, and our Director of Security was desperate,” Carmine answered. “At that point we were all so crazy busy, and he kind of slipped through the cracks. Hipple had a lot of security experience. Larry Aberlour said he would keep him in line.”
“Hipple wins Employee of the Month when I win Miss Teen USA,” Bonnie said and then winked at Veronica.
Even if it was nowhere near the path she wanted to take in her career, she enjoyed working in the Matisse Hotel. Sure, there were too many mundane administrative tasks, but Veronica took satisfaction that her role in the office expanded each day. Her duties now included taking photo ID’s for the scores of replacement workers being hired every day, giving out and keeping track of locker assignments, and maintaining an updated list of all the replacement workers who were continually being “termed”, which stood for terminated. She had even been given her own office.
Which is where she went after getting the Hipple file for the Director of HR. The office was a laptop computer on a metal table inside the dank storage room that housed the Human Resources records and anything else that wouldn’t fit in the office. The HR team referred to it as “the Scary Room” because it was constantly in disarray. Chock full of detritus, nobody liked going inside. While the place needed better lighting and maybe a couple of air fresheners, Veronica was proud to have her own office.
She had been working steadily for a couple of hours, and wiped a bead of sweat off her forehead when Carmine entered and tossed two file folders on her desk.
“Two more terms,” he said. “One temp they caught naked as a jaybird taking a shower in one of the guest rooms. Claimed he was cleaning it and got too wet with his clothes on. Term number two is another theft case. Man, is your job really worth stealing a couple of beers? While our security team might not be the best and brightest, and they’re woefully underpaid despite our protests, they’re likely gonna catch you walking out with bottles of Heineken in your pants.”
Without waiting for a reply, Carmine exited the Scary Room, his musky cologne lingering as Veronica placed the files into her in-box. She returned to her spreadsheet and her fingers danced across the keyboard at seventy words per minute.
Even though she displayed a Zen attitude to the rest of her Human Resources team, she did keep a few secrets from her coworkers. She had a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Berkeley and her goal in life was to be an award-winning investigative reporter. While she had done plenty of articles for her college paper, since graduation Veronica had only managed to sell some freelance pieces to dog magazines (her French Bulldog Sabrina provided a lot of material). She planned to put herself on the map by writing an insider’s expose on the labor dispute, and had been covertly gathering material over the last few weeks.
She finished processing her last termination file and powered down the laptop. After being stuck all day in the basement, she eagerly awaited getting outside for a walk. That’s when Bonnie called.
“We need to clear out more women’s lockers for our new hire temps,” she said. “Think you can stay an extra hour and help me tag and bag?”
Dim fluorescent lighting, concrete floors and walls, and the odor of dirty clothes mixed with perfume, it was not a place to spend five minutes. But Bonnie was her favorite person at the Matisse Hotel, and Veronica didn’t hesitate in agreeing to the task. She locked the door to the Scary Room and met her manager at Ladies Locker Room C.
Bonnie was in the process of holding a pair of shoes by the laces and dropping them into a plastic bag. She turned her head away in disgust as a female security officer stood there expressionless with a clipboard. Veronica was already familiar with the process. Because the workers were not allowed to enter the hotel after they went on strike, and their replacements needed lockers, the hotel had a space issue.
The personal belongings of the union employees on strike needed to be extracted from their lockers and placed into plastic bags. All bags were numbered so they could be returned into the appropriate lockers once the labor dispute ended. Illegal items, such as pornography and weapons, were destroyed. Uniforms were sent for cleaning and equipment put back to its proper place. Security was always there as a witness.
“Kind of makes you feel like a, I don’t want to say Nazi ‘cause that’s too hyperbolic, but doesn’t feel right,” Bonnie said once Veronica began to help. “I know we’re not confiscating any of their stuff, unless it’s illegal, and they’ll get it back, but it feels weird.”
“It does,” Veronica agreed. “But the workers here now need lockers.”
“You’re always so positive, Veronica. And you’re really good with people. You’d make a good front desk agent, or even concierge if you know the city well. Are you from San Francisco?”
“Santa Rosa, but I went to Berkeley.”
“You may have bigger ambitions, but a full-time job at our hotel would look good on your resume.”
“Agreed and I appreciate that,” Veronica said.
She worked along with her manager, and taciturn security guard to clear out fourteen lockers over the next hour. The bagged items were dumped into a bin and Veronica wheeled it into the Scary Room. She would need to use the events of the night for her article on the strike, capturing the sights and smells to bring the story alive.
She clocked out and while leaving the hotel was screamed at by several of the striking workers, and mistakenly identified as a “scab” by them. She held no ill-will toward the group, and instead kept her head down with a blank expression and moved quickly through the placard-wielding mob.
The frosty, fog swept air cooled her face as she headed down O’Farrell Street and then up Grant. After the gloominess of the locker room and the overtime she had earned, she planned to treat herself to a book. Usually she’d go to Green Apple Books in her neighborhood, but she decided on City Lights in North Beach as a change to her routine.
She wanted a spark to help her write her article on the strike, and went in search of tomes on unions and the labor movement. But after browsing several that made her eyes heavy, she ascended the creaky wooden steps to the top floor and selected a Gary Snyder off the shelf. The City Lights Poetry Room was one of her favorite nooks in the city.
Her next stop was only a few feet away to Vesuvio’s, a bar that Jack Kerouac used to frequent. At a wooden table on the second floor she sipped wine and read several poems. Later in the evening, she made her way to Sacramento Street and boarded a #1 Bus to the Richmond District. Less than half an hour later she walked toward the recently restored, white, bow fronted Edwardian on 20th Avenue where her basement apartment was located.
Veronica noticed a very tall and beautiful woman leaving from the front door of the house, someone who did not seem to fit in with her roommate’s stoner crowd. She was on the opposite side of the street, and while she wasn’t sure why, walked past her apartment entrance. Veronica then circled back toward the house and watched the tall lady walk up 20th and take a right on Lake. She followed her.
Before reaching Lake, Veronica ducked behind shrubbery and saw the stranger enter a gray Mercedes, and mentally noted the license plate. Her heart raced, and she calmed herself down by acknowledging it was just a silly thing she was doing, an act brought along by reading too many mystery books. The car drove about twenty yards and then turned around.
Under the streetlight on the corner of Lake and 20th, no more than fifteen feet where Veronica stood, the Mercedes stopped, and the window rolled down. Veronica tried to move but was paralyzed with fear. She could not see inside the car, but could easily discern the finger that pointed out the window and wagged back and forth at her. The glass then went back up, and the Mercedes peeled off and zoomed down the street.