"Jeffery, I need a driver and you're elected."
My reaction was to look around the office to see if there was another Jeffery. In the three months I'd worked for Stall, Mark, and Company, this was only the second time Ms Hobart had spoken to me. The first time was when she welcomed me to the company. At that meeting, I got the distinct impression that my employment was conditional.
"We don't usually hire people with limited language skills," she had said.
It must have been my willingness to work rotating shifts and agree to after hours training that caused the company to take a chance with me. It certainly wasn't my mechanical aptitude or my technical skills. After looking for work for over a year, I was happy to accept the job.
Why was she talking to me now? When did she learn my first name?
"You do drive, don't you, Jeffery?"
"We're going to a Christmas party at Mr. Stall's home," she said, on the way to the garage.
She ignored my protest that I had not been invited to the party. She pointed out her SUV to me and handed me the keys. I'd barely wheeled the big car onto the street when I noted that snow flakes were melting the second they hit the windshield.
Other than Ms Hobart giving me directions, we didn't talk. She was a memo oriented manager.
During my short tenure in the company, I'd heard that she was single, seldom dated, and possessed limited language skills. Through her memos, I'd learned that she got right to the point with minimal words, and through observation, I saw that she had a trim figure and other attractive assets.
Her memos appeared on our call screen, reminding us of our work and training schedules, advising us of procedural changes, and announcing new products that we'd be writing sales orders or providing technical information for. The wording was always direct, and provided little insight into the person who signed her memos 'Jane'.
I'd also learned that there was no Mark, and Mr. Stall was revered by his employees as a genius. While many companies had moved their telephone support offshore in an effort to reduce costs, Mr. Stall had offered worldwide sales and customer support from within the USA.
What made Mr. Stall's idea unique, was our ability to route calls to a person with the language and technical skills to solve customers' problems without endless delays. Even during the busy hours of the day, when incoming calls reach their peak, callers are connected to a friendly voice, speaking their native language, and are able to place an order or receive clear and concise instructions as to how to solve their problem. All the rating companies give us high marks, and this helps to attract new business from around the world.
I'd never met Mr. Stall, but from what my fellow employees said, he was a down to earth, firm believer in the methods that have been proven to work.
Some say the company's success is due to Mr. Stall's philosophy to hire multilingual people. Every time I walk into the break room, I hear employees speaking English, which is one of Mr. Stall's requirements when we are not on the phones. They boast to others about the languages they're fluent in, such as Swahili, Chinese, or Portuguese. Based on the styles of dress, and the food they eat, Stall, Mark, and Company is truly an international company.
Others say it is our mandatory training, held either before or after our shift. We don't need to know the product inside out, but before we're allowed to take calls from customers, we must know how to find the answer to every conceivable question.
Some say our success is due to the routing system that steers the caller to a person who speaks their language without a call screener asking them nonsensical questions.
Everyone agrees that Ms Hobart's memos play an important part in the company's success. Her scheduling ability is uncanny. We operate twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week, and take calls from around the world. Ms Hobart never fails to have the phones staffed with the correct language and technical skills to keep the waiting time short.
I turned the windshield wipers to full speed when we entered the highway, and kept the defroster blasting hot air until we turned off fifteen minutes later. Mr. Stall's home was in a quiet suburb. A valet took charge of the car, and we went inside.
Ms Hobart introduced me to Mr. and Mrs. Stall, jokingly saying that she'd commandeered me to serve as her designated driver. Mr. Stall shook my hand, and his wife welcomed me to their home. I doubt if they knew I was employed by the company. I lost Ms Hobart in a sea of turbans and brightly colored robes, and spent the next fifteen minutes looking for someone I knew.
Company policy prevailed in Mr. Stall's home. Everyone was speaking some form of English. I heard British English, down under English, and American English. My attention was drawn to a guy that often worked the same shift as me. He was telling the same stories I'd heard him tell in the break room to anyone who would listen.
"I take this call at two o'clock in the morning and know immediately that the guy is putting me on. He says he's calling from India, and he wants to return a set of our titanium knives. I play along with him, give him the sales pitch, and tell him these knives are made from the best titanium available."
The storyteller paused to empty his glass, and pick up full one.
"You've heard this before, haven't you?"
I turned to see a pretty face, thin eyebrows, full lips, and dark hair. I nodded to indicate that she was correct, and watched her lips part in a grin. "My husband thinks he's funny."
The storyteller continued. "He's doing a fair job of imitating an Indian, but his southern accent betrays him. I asked him why he wants to return the knives, and he tells me they melted. I tell him that titanium doesn't melt, and he differs with me. 'Talk to the little lady. She's my eyewitness, ' he says."
I'd heard his story before, but his wife's ass was touching mine, and I didn't want to move until she did.
"Betty Jo came on the line, and she confirmed what her husband had said about the knives. 'Bubba got mixed up and put them in the toaster, ' she said. I knew then, that this was a bogus call, but Betty Jo has a sexy southern voice, and she wanted to talk. She told me that Bubba does crazy things sometimes. I asked her where she was calling from, and she said they're in Baton Rouge. I told her that I couldn't talk any longer or I would get fired. She's called me three times since then..."
"Let's get something to eat," the storyteller's wife said, and I was happy to follow her to the next room where a long table was overflowing with delicacies from around the world.
We filled our plates and she suggested that we sit at a small table. While we were eating, I found out that her husband's name is Howard, her name is Connie, short for Constance, and that they've been married four years.
It may have been that we were among people we didn't know, but she seemed to want to talk, about Howard and his penchant to make up stories that he thought were funny, and about her aspirations for the future. She asked me questions, too. We continued to sit at the table until others wanted a place to sit down.
"It's been nice talking to you, Jeff," she said. I couldn't help thinking that Howard was a lucky man as I watched her walk away.
I roamed the two rooms, nodding to people that I recognized, smiling to strangers, and kept moving, stopping briefly when I heard Howard's booming voice. I didn't linger, but it was apparent to me that he was emptying his glass as soon as a full one was placed in front of him.
As the crowd began to thin out, I looked for Ms Hobart. She was engaged in a conversation with a Scotsman, but broke away when we heard someone exclaim that the snow was accumulating at the front door. We said goodnight to the Stalls, got our coats, and stepped outside to find a blizzard in progress.
It seemed to take forever for the valet to bring the car around. Ms Hobart said that if she'd known it was going to snow, she would have worn boots, not heels. Just before the SUV arrived, I saw Howard and Connie get into a small hatchback.
Driving was tricky, but at least Ms Hobart was talking, even if it was only to complain about her feet being cold. We were following the small hatchback, and when it skidded off the road, Ms Hobart directed me to stop. I pulled up behind the hatchback, thinking that I could push it back on the road. Howard was out of the car, waving his arms, and cursing in the same booming voice I'd heard when he was telling his stories.
Ms Hobart took charge. She got out of the car, checked to see that the bumpers lined up, and told Howard to get back in his car. She waved for me to proceed, but stopped me when she saw that Howard was not turning the wheel to get back on the road.
She knocked on his window, and ordered him out of his car.
"He's drunk, you'll have to drive his car," she said, motioning for me to vacate the SUV's driver's seat so she could get behind the wheel.
Howard protested my taking over his duty, but he stepped aside when Ms Hobart lowered her window and told him to 'Get in the fucking car.'
Connie was beside herself, ruing the day she'd met Howard. "He's such a blowhard. Why did I fall for his line? He thinks he's funny, but he's a clown," she said, while watching her husband get in the SUV.
"Turn around and strap yourself in. This is serious business," I said.
She looked my way before following my order. I explained that waiting for a break in the traffic so I could pull onto the road was making me nervous.
.... There is more of this story ...