“It’s funny, you get to some floors and its just women—”
“You know the kind leftover from the Eighties—”
“I used to wonder what happened to all those coke-head powerbabes. Do they still wear shoulder pads?”
“They wear all kinds of weird shit. The kinder gentler power suits y’know? Then on some floors, it’s all white male executives with Black female associates— they’re not called secretaries anymore—”
“No Black male executives, what do they have Asian women?”
“Oh yeah, you have a peculiar breed of Black male, on casual Fridays he wears the black polo neck, black slacks and his name is usually Gunther— his purpose is to flirt with aging career girls—”
“I don’t get that particular aesthetic, think about it you have some black kid from the Bronx—”
“Idaho, more like it—”
“—and he’s watching Fassbinder movies—”
“—he thinks he’s Udo Kier—”
“—Dieter, from SNL—”
His name was Jeremy, the fact that I worked in a Corporation tickled him,
“All the cleaning ladies are Latina—” I was running out of curiosa
“Oh yeah, this is the best part— the in-house messenger service-”
“All Down’s Syndrome—”
“—this is the best information I’ve had all year, I love Down’s—”
He went on to explain that Down’s Syndrome was in fact caused by one minor glitch of DNA coding that subverted whole genealogies. These people would be eternally and internally cut off from whole ancestries— but get this— everyone with Down’s possessed a certain family resemblance. They were a tribe unto themselves. This was the train of logic. A guy who loved Down’s. The moment had resonance.
“—and where do you fit into the scheme of things?—”
“—I’m what you call a Company Girl,” I replied.
I found myself a Company Girl after a month of temping at one of the larger Corporations. One day I received a phone call from the Agency— they had noted my aptitude and my drive, perhaps I was interested in a more challenging line of work and a significant raise in salary? It was never my intention to remain a temp I had no interest in any offers. They persisted, somehow they deduced that certain factors in my background and education would make this proposition appealing to me. They were right, it held infinite fascination for me to become a Company Girl— it was the next best thing to espionage. A Company Girl is a hired assassin of sorts. We produce accidents— events and situations that eliminate Senior Executives at Corporations. Of course the assignment shifts from week to week and floor to floor. It was Eric who pointed out to me that the term “Company Girl” derived from the statistics: ninety-five percent of the temps were female. And men almost never received such a phone call or proposition from the agency. Initially I enjoyed the subversive quality involved in this line of work, but after a couple of months, I wasn’t sure why I persisted. The perverse glee of my early assignments was now displaced by detachment.
I was assigned as a “temporary associate” to a Senior VP, Eric Sagerman. Two weeks passed and there was no additional instruction, no green light— nothing. It seemed to be a “regular assignment”— one that I looked forward to ending. I was dealing with that basic category of Corporate American known as the Ivy-league brat. I had to play “The Black Female Associate”. The dislike was mutual. Then there was the incident: I had booked him a plane ticket as he had instructed but had failed to procure his favored window seat. He had requested a New York— London— Bombay round-trip in twenty-two hours. This I found unnecessary—the purpose was to attend some Honorary Executive Banquet in India. The London stopover was to have lunch with his sister-in-law. I was summoned, he had the obnoxious habit of yelling my name from behind his desk. He stood, not bothering to face me, occupied with the New York skyline:
“This won’t do. You are not proving to be very competent—”
“I beg to differ, I am very good at what I do—”
The purpose had been to intimidate me, my forwardness took him aback, he swung round—
“And what might that be, surely not anything administrative, one hopes—”
I find attempts at sarcasm vulgar.
“As a matter of fact, no, I’m what is known as a Company Girl.”
The effect was unexpected, his face grew ashen— he began to gasp for air. I watched as his own fear seemed to strangle him. He edged past and I caught the whiff of cold sweat, a trapped animal smell. Fear; such a strange thing for a grown man— a Corporate Executive fleeing down the hall from a mere temp. A Black Female Associate no less. Curiosity made me trace his line of flight to the elevator banks. He stood there pounding the buttons, yelling, whimpering. It was seven in the evening, most of the floor was empty. He looked up to see me approaching— he was almost unrecognizable, a craven cornered rodent, drenched in his own sweat, muttering the name of saints in agony…
The elevator doors finally opened to his clamor, and then shut after him— but not before I heard the resounding echo of his scream. There was no car in the elevator shaft. Eric Sagerman fell fifty-two flights to his death. He was killed on impact.
I was called into the Agency for questioning. Five hours. I maintained that I had not lifted a finger. Yes, yes there was a great deal of animosity between me and the client, but no, no— I had not received a call from the Competition. No one had approached me. I underwent another six hours of psychiatric evaluation. And then more questioning. In the end, they surmised I was under much stress. I was offered a paid vacation, not two, but several weeks.
“It’s all very odd—” I said to Eric (not the one who died but Eric Silver, who was a temp also,)
“—this whole situation doesn’t seem to add up—”.
Up until this point I had thought we were all working for the Competition— It was Eric who alerted me to the fact that we were an in-house operation,
“Corporate down-sizing at the end of the Millennium—” he ventured grandly. Company Girls were a way to keep over ambitious executives in check. It was cheaper than firing them.
Jeremy seemed troubled by the incident, especially when I told him that Eric Sagerman actually was on the list of “hits”—
“You should get out of this, this isn’t what you really want to do anyway, get out while you can”
“I don’t know”
“What don’t you know?”
I didn’t know if I wanted out. So many Company Girls claimed they wanted to retire or change profession, but they never did. And it wasn’t about money. Perhaps a certain strain of bloodlust? I sensed the unease of Senior Executives whenever I paced across the floor. I could sniff something akin to terror beneath the expensive tailoring. My motives were unexplainable, but the desire potent and addictive.
“I don’t know,” I repeated.
When I got back from my vacation, I had dinner with Elma. She looked startling; bronzed skin, bleached white hair, white vinyl jacket
“The white is phenomenal”
“Thank you sweetie”
She slipped out of the jacket, she wore black underneath,
“Black is even better”
She laughed. Elma, like me, was a Company Girl, she worked for a film studio uptown and had even more glamourous assignments. And a lot more money. Over dinner she dropped the bomb—
“They offered me a job.’
“What do you mean they offered you a job? You mean a real job job or a “Company” gig?”
“You’re not going to take it, now?”
“Of course I am”
“Why, what good reason do you have?” I couldn’t believe my ears “What are you doing? Whose side are you on!”
“I don’t want to be a Company Girl forever.”
“Oh, you’d just prefer to be killed by one”
Silence. Perhaps that was the wrong statement where a congratulations would have been in order,
“Things aren’t always going to be this way you know—”
“I think you’re wrong, I think it’s escalating even now as we speak—”
“I’m tired of it, I want out”
“So get out— don’t cross over to the other side, what makes you think it’s safe for you?”
But Elma had made up her mind. The evening ended with a bitter feel. I got up and left in the middle of desert. The creme brûlée, usually unparalleled, was ash to my taste.
Over the next few weeks at work, I noted that even though I was not approached for any specific assignments, several Senior Executives, met with fatal accidents and died. I felt somehow I was involved in the orchestration of these events.
“Do you think I’m developing a guilt complex?” I asked Eric. Eric replied that in fact that the chance of a Company Girl suffering from guilt was highly improbable, Company Girls were usually picked for their sense of detachment and subversive morals—
“I think you’ve ascended to the next stage— better known as The Proximity Effect— you’ve become a Proximity Girl, it’s a highly sought after position— you just upped your market value—”
“What does that mean?”
“No one really knows the mechanics of it, but at some point some Company Employees have the hunter/homing instinct so finely honed down to a subliminal reflex— that they only need proximity to achieve their ends, sort of like a heat seeking missile…”
“But supposing there is no intent, supposing I don’t really want to?”
“Like I said, no one really knows how it works”
“I think I want out.”
“Do you really?”
The next day I received a call, it was the Competition. They were impressed with my particular talents. I told them it didn’t matter that they doubled my usual fee, I was uninterested in their offer—
“It won’t entail any unusual duress for you, we only require you to be at the right place at the right time…”
“As I told you before, I am not interested—”
“It’s been a pleasure doing business with you. On your way out— after this assignment is completed— one of our people will be waiting in the lobby for you, we are paying in cash of course—”
“Perhaps you are not listening, I said I—”
A click on the other end. I was unnerved. How is it that I have no control over this Proximity Effect?
There was a bloodbath on the floor that afternoon. Somehow a helicopter managed to crash into the conference room where the CEO’s were meeting. There was a domino effect, shards of glass sought specific targets, decapitating them. Those counted among the dead were not random corporate citizens— they were strategic marks— such that with their demise, the Corporation was temporarily disabled. Sixty-five dead and no wounded, the precision was alarming. All of us survivors emerged zombie-like from the elevators into the lobby. Someone thrust a large brown envelope neatly stuffed with dollar bills into my arms. I didn’t look to see who it was, I continued walking.
Jeremy was waiting on my doorstep. It was night and the full moon was large and bright. He edged away as he realized I reeked of dried blood, my clothes and my gait stiff with it. I will never forgive him for leaving me, how could he, how could anyone have deserted me in that moment? My Proximity will haunt him like an unsightly scar. I am a Company Girl, for me there will be neither rest nor remorse. My detachment will forever cradle and stifle this cipher unknown to myself. I climb up the stairs somehow, strip away the dead clothes and shower for hours. I sit up in my bed, the room darkened with my thoughts and other things. The moon comes to my window full and soft, filling the view. I begin to howl uncontrollably.
©2004 onomé ekeh