“Aaaaahhhh” , I heard a man’s voice echoing through the hallways near my office. It was the type of scream that signaled some type of relief.
I heard a man talking. The noise was coming from one of the offices in the hall. It was not on my row but it was loud.
It was late. I was working on my weekly status reports. I had missed 2 days due to a bad flu bug. I left the office that evening and came back. I had never worked in the office that late before.
I peeped out my office and walked around the corner to see if I could figure out where the sound was coming from. I saw the figure of a man walking out of Jeanie Rodriguez’s office fixing his pants. As I took a closer look it was the VP of Sales, Victor Caligrini. He was headed in my direction. If he was leaving he would pass my office.
What was I going to do?
I could tip-toed back to my office and turn off the light, but I was not sure if he was leaving or going to the restroom. I could be sitting in the dark all night.
I got back in my office and continued to work. I could hear the footsteps getting closer.
“Hey there, did not know anyone was here. You really are burning the midnight oil tonight”
He had a guilty look on his face. I think he was surprised.
“Yes, I am working on my status reports”, I replied.
“Great. You are doing an excellent job. See you tomorrow” he left looking awkwardly behind his back.
“Thanks, Mr. Caligrini. Have a good night”
“Mister is my father, call me Victor”
I was not sure what to do. Jeannie would also have to pass my office to leave the building.
I still had work to do and if I left I would miss my deadline.
The silence in the office which was helping me concentrate on my work was now a distraction. I was listening for sounds of Jeannie.
Was she getting ready to leave?
A few minutes later I heard footsteps.
Jeannie walked right by the office. She did not stop. She kept a straight face and was focused. Once she was two offices down I shouted out “good bye”. I did not want to seem rude plus I wanted her to know that I was there.
“Good night”, she replied as she went down the hall.
I continued to work for another two hours.
Jeannie was hired 3 months ago and was quickly moved from a call operator to a manager. She was a beautiful 22 year old Venezuelan girl. When she first started she wore heavy make-up, high-heels and mini-skirts. She was always dressed provocatively like she was going to a nightclub. She was very nice. I liked her a lot. She was very friendly and would go out her way to do nice things for everyone in the office. She would bring donuts and other treats and leave in the lunch room. She would listen to anyone who had problems. She was well liked in the office. She also spoke English with a heavy Spanish accent. At times her English sounded like she was still speaking Spanish.
Victor was a 47 year old Italian American who was married with 4 children. I met his wife and 3 of his kids at the company picnic. He was not very nice. He was known to scream at his direct reports, who were mainly beautiful women. My boss who was a director reported to him and told me stories about him. I had seen people with tears in their eyes leaving his office. The turnover for his staff was high. No one wanted to work for him. He made the final decision on team managers.
It was now clear how Jeannie got promoted. She slept her way into the position.
I would not be able to look at her the same way.
The next day I saw Jeannie. She apologized for being so abrupt when she was leaving and explained she had to leave to help a friend. She was extremely nice and even offered me tickets to a Miami Dolphins game for that coming weekend.
She was killing me with niceness that day trying to “buy” my silence. Trying to give the impression that she was the good girl I knew before the incident.
A week after the incident in the office I received my annual review. I was shocked. It was one of the best reviews in my working career. It was the perfect review. I received a 20 percent raise
Greg, my boss, told me that Victor liked me and had some input in the review. He seems surprised that Victor would get involved in my review.
Now, I understood why the review was that good.
Victor was trying to “win” my silence.
The next few weeks were interesting. It seemed Victor and Jeannie try to make sure they were no where near each other. Jeannie made it a habit to say goodbye to me each evening. She left for home before me every day since the incident. I had first choices of any goodies she brought to the office. She would stop in my office to let me know she brought food.
If Jeannie was not being her usually nice self I think most people would think she was trying to date me. She and I knew what was going on.
One morning she came into my office and closed the door.
“How often do you work late” she asked in her heavily accented English.
“Not very often” I replied.
“That night you saw me, did you hear or see anything”
I was shocked she would ask. I did not want to get involved.
“No, I did not hear or see anything”
“Are you sure”
“I think you are saying that because you saw something”
“I really didn’t” , I tried to convince her.
She walked out off my office with a disappointing look on her face. For some strange reason I think she wanted me to say I witnessed something.
I did not want to get involved especially since it involved Victor. As they say. See no evil, hear no evil. Whatever people do in their personal life was their business. I was already numb to men cheating on their wives as it seemed everyone did it. Office romance was also a part of life. People having sex in the office building, that was unusual.
I had no intention of telling anyone about the incident.
The next day Jeannie was back in my office.
“Please don’t lie to me. Did you hear anything?” she asked
“No, I didn’t”, I replied.
“You don’t understand. Victor is forcing me to have sex with him.”
I wanted to walk out the office and leave. I did not want to hear about what was going on. I could not leave. I did not know what to say.
I was about to tell her I need to go to the bathroom then she started to cry. I could not leave. She started to tell me the story.
She did not have any papers and Victor found out. She did not want to go back to Venezuela as she spent most of her life here. Her parents brought her here and she never knew she had no papers until she tried to go to college. Her parents got her papers to work. Victor used the threat of reporting her to the authorities to force her to have sex with him. We recently had a workshop in the office about sexual harassment. This was a clear case of it.
She talked about how ashamed she was and how dirty she felt. She wanted to know what to do but never had a witness. She mentioned she wanted to tell the human resources department but did not because of her status.
She asked me what she should do. I honestly had no answers.
“I didn’t know that is what was happening. I don’t know what to tell you.”
“So you did see something. Can you be my witness?” she asked.
I was caught off guard. Crying is a man’s weakness. Her tears caused me to admit that I knew something was going on even though I did not want to get involved.
“I will help anyway I can” I replied. It was a dumb thing to say. I was caught in the moment. I had not intention of helping though.
She left my office with a smile on her face. She seemed relieved that she told someone about her predicament.
It was a lot to digest. I felt bad for her but I was also concerned about my status. How did Victor find out Jeannie was an illegal alien? I also felt some guilt as I thought Jeannie was sleeping her way to the top. She was not.
I was bothered but did nothing. Jeannie never came back to my office to talk and things went back to normal. So I thought.
Jeannie left the company a month later after our conversation. She resigned abruptly.
A few days later I heard there was a lawsuit filed against the company by Jeannie for sexual harassment. There were rumors that she was going to use the case to get her green card by showing she was taken advantage of.
Victor stuck his head in my office.
“Hello”, I replied. I was not sure what I was to call him.
He came in my office and closed the door.
“Do you remember a few months ago when we worked late night”, he asked.
“Yes” I nodded in agreement.
“Did you hear anything strange that night”, he asked.
“No” I replied.
“I thought so”, he replied in a way that implied I would better not remember. The Italian mob flashed in my mind.
I was scared. I did not know if he checked into my background and knew that I was also illegal.
“I did not hear anything that night” I repeated.
“Good. Jeannie has filed a lawsuit saying I harassed her. She claims she has witnesses”
He left my office.
The next day Greg came to my office.
“Can you come see me in 5 minutes?” he asked.
I thought it was the typical meeting we have from time to time about work.
When I got to Greg’s office then HR director was there. I thought they knew that I knew about the Jeannie situation.
Greg started to tell me about the company going though some difficult times which I thought was the lawsuit. He then mentioned what a great worker I was. I was waiting for them to talk to me about the Victor and Jeannie situation. Then The HR director spoke and dropped a bomb.
I was being laid off.