Stepford & Co.

“Hold the elevator,” Joel cried, even as the doors were closing. He needn’t have bothered.

“Have you noticed,” I asked as I pushed the elevator call button, “that no one in this building will hold the elevator for you?”

Joel said that he did not. Ann did. She looked at Joel and I amusedly. “Why don’t you tell Joel what else you’ve noticed?” she asked me.

Stepford & Co.

Ann was kind of putting me on the spot here. My other observation was that the other company in our building employed no minorities. All of its employees were young, tall and white. I didn’t mind sharing this information with Ann because she was Asian, but I didn’t want to make Joel uncomfortable.

My obvious reluctance only amused Ann all the more. “Vince is too shy to tell you,” She said with a smirk, “that if you ever want a job with Bollmon, you’re guaranteed.”

She chuckled when Joel asked what she meant. During our remaining wait for the elevator, she filled him in. Joel was shocked, but he waited until we were alone on the elevator to let us in on a secret.

During his first month at work, he’d discovered Bollmon’s unsecured wi-fi point. Not only was he able to check his personal e-mail (a company no-no), he had a full run of Bollmon’s internal network as well.

Ann was elated at the news. She had an idea: we’d go to Joel’s office and use his illicit network connection to find out if Bollmon’s hiring policy was really the way I’d reported. Joel and I were curious and bored enough to give it a try. So what if we were violating the terms of our employment and breaking the law?

— — —

It was just as Joel had described: an un-encrypted, unsecured connection. We were on in seconds, and paging through employee files, all with photos. All the employees were Caucasian, except one. There was a senior director. A Black man. According to his file, he had worked there for seven years.

“Well, there you have it,” Ann beamed. “Over a hundred fifty employees, but they do have one guy. I guess you’re gonna call him a token, huh?”

I didn’t say anything. Our own company had its own set of problems. It was much more integrated than Bollmon, but advancement for minorities was rare in some departments, like ours. Offices were assigned with unapologetic prejudice. In fact, one of our cruder co-workers openly joked about the division between cubicle and office, calling it the “white line”. I hated that fucking place.

I memorized the face on the screen. Eyon Franklin had a relatively dark complection. He was probably in his late forties, and somewhat stocky. I decided that if I ever ran into him, I’d get his opinion on Bollmon.

— — —

Weeks passed, and I nearly forgot about Sr. Director Franklin. I had problems of my own; my job satisfaction had plummeted. My only enjoyment came in the building’s well-equipped fitness center.

Early one morning, someone did hold the elevator open for me. It was Franklin. As we were alone, I could not resist questioning him about Bollmon. I did not have much time, so I went quick and tactless.

“So what’s up with your company,” I turned to him suddenly. “How come you’re the only black person there?”

If he was surprised by my question, he didn’t let it show. “I’m the only person of colour,” he corrected me. After a pause, and as if sensing my next question, he added, “I wrote my own ticket. Sometimes brothers have to do that.”

“You have something on them,” I surmised.

“I just taught them that they should better disguise their hiring practices,” he said simply. We had just passed my third-floor stop. I looked at the elevator panel. Franklin was on his way to eleven. I’d run out of time.

“Walk with me,” he said as the doors opened on the Bollmon suite. It was decorated from floor to ceiling in shiny green marble. The receptionist looked at us without a smile or greeting. I said hello as we passed, but she didn’t respond.

Franklin’s corner office was similarly lavish, all mahogany furniture with brass fittings, and a view of the busy street below. I took the seat I was offered as he closed the door.

“I’ll take the liberty of giving some advice,” he began. “Get it how you can.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, pointing back to the lobby. “They won’t give you a damn thing. You’ve got to take.”

“So let me guess,” I said, trying not to let on about our hack, “You saw their personnel files and used it against them.”

“It sounds so crude that way,” he smiled. “They had a deal with their recruiting contractor. No blacks. No Asians unless they were overwhelmingly the best candidate. They did this for seven years. I had a buddy at their recruiters. He kind of mentioned it in passing. It’s a much more common practice than you might think.”

I’m sure it was. “So you threatened to expose them, and they decided to hook you up,” I finished for him. “But what about all the other people they’re screwing? Doesn’t look like they’ve changed that practice.”

“I’ve done all I can,” he exposed his palms. “I see it this way: they salary they’re paying me has made up for all the other brothers and sisters they’ve passed over. They leave me alone. I get no work to make up for the brothers like you.” He grinned, folding his arms. “I hear about how they treat you all down there in that call center. Overseen and oppressed like a bunch of slaves.” He chuckled, his eyes sparkled. “Half of Bollmon doesn’t even know who the hell I am, and I like it that way.”

“Job security through obscurity,” I smiled, feeling myself getting a little angry and righteous. “So why tell me this,” I said. “What makes you think I won’t expose this happy little playhouse? Don’t you think I owe it to the world to do that?”

“You won’t,” he said simply. “You can get all high and mighty, but you know you’d do the same thing. You know you’d take any opportunity to stick it to the bigots if you could.”

I left Franklin, in his luxury, walked out to the elevators without a glance at the receptionist. He was only half right; I didn’t want the same deal. I wanted the same level of respect and courtesy, but I didn’t mind working for it. I wouldn’t tell Bollmon’s secret either. My justification was that no person of colour wanted to work for such a den of bigots anyway. I’d leave him to his paradise and forget everything I’d learned.

— — —

One Friday evening, I went to my favourite decompression chamber—the fitness center—where I found a shocking scene. Franklin was prone on the floor, clutching his chest and gasping for breath. A panic-stricken young woman was standing over him.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said in a voice that seemed too calm for the circumstances. “He was on the treadmill, but then he fell over.”

“His heart,” I said to her. “It’s a heart attack.” I knelt next to Franklin. He stared at something beyond the ceiling, and didn’t seem to know we were there. “Do you know CPR?” I asked the woman.

“No. I-,” she stuttered, “I didn’t know if he was.. I thought he was..”

I decided that there was no time to listen to her babble. I told her to call an ambulance. I would go find a defribulator and we’d see what we could do until help arrived.

Not wasting time with the elevator, I dashed up seven flights of stairs to our main floor and began my search. I couldn’t find it initially, and since it was after hours on a Friday, there was no one around to ask. I searched the kitchenette and found a posted notice directing me to the fourth floor.

Finally, I found the defribulator and grabbed a first-aid kit just in case. I had no idea how much time had passed. It was over ten minutes, but was it twenty? Fifteen? I’d read somewhere about critical first-aid times during a heart attack. I wondered if I would return to find that woman babbling over Franklin’s dead body.

— — —

I jumped out of the stairwell and heard the crackle of two-way radios. The paramedics had arrived. It hadn’t taken them long, since we were in the suburbs.

An EMT saw me with the defribulator and questioned me about Franklin. Did he have a history of heart attacks? How often did he exercise? I had no answers, since he was only an acquaintance. The EMT went back to join his team as they worked to stabilize their patient.

I was exhausted, but decided to hang around in case they had any questions I could answer. The woman walked over, and we both watched the EMTs.

“I hope he’ll be okay,” she said. She seemed much calmer now.

“Yeah,” I said. “I didn’t know what I’d find when I got back here.”

We were both quiet for a while. Watching a life being saved in the otherwise still fitness center.

“I wasn’t sure what to do,” she said. “He just fell over, and it was just the two of us.” She seemed nervous as I turned to look at her. “I wasn’t sure what would happen if..” She looked at Franklin, then back to me. “I don’t know him. I’ve seen him here before—and you, but I didn’t know if he was faking. He might..”

The shock and outrage on my face must have caused her to trail off. “How long was he laying there before I walked in?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” she said.

I didn’t even bother to tell her that she and Franklin worked for the same company. Franklin’s own job security through obscurity had contributed to this situation. She didn’t know him, and was afraid he might attack her, so she did nothing to help. His greed and her negrophobia had put him in this position.

I picked up my gym bag and walked to the elevator without another word. I don’t recall ever seeing Franklin again. I found a new job shortly after that incident. I work much harder now, and I get the recognition we all need, and I don’t compromise my integrity.