Chapter 1: Introductions
"Crikey, Cam. Have a look at that," Doogie exclaimed.
I followed his eyes to the far side of the lounge and immediately spotted the object of his interest. "That" was a she, and a rather shining example of the female form to be sure. Short ... barely five foot I guessed, but voluptuous in shape. Wearing a tight gray-blue suit jacket with a matching knee-length skirt, also tight around her fulsome hips. The collar of a white blouse peeked out of the jacket but was partially obscured by a cascade of lovely auburn curls. Yes indeed, quite an eyeful.
"Lovely," I said, turning back to my friend.
"Smashing, I'd say," he replied quickly. Douglas "Doogie" Cruickshank always was a one for hyperbole when it came to the ladies. "Just your size, don't you think?"
"Are you implying that I'm short," I grinned, giving him the needle.
"Well, you ain't tall, sport."
"True enough, but I'm trying not to notice."
"Well, she certainly fits your needs nicely."
"My needs right now are for a personal assistant. Mrs. Dalrymple will be gone in three weeks and I haven't seen any candidate that will be an adequate replacement for her."
"Get a young one and train her up, lad. Can't be that hard, can it?"
Doogie was ever the optimist. He had no idea of my needs in my new job. A simple secretary wasn't enough. I needed someone with exceptional organization skills, a thick hide, a flexible schedule and impeccable manners. I might be newest and youngest vice president in Vancouver, but I had some serious responsibilities that required someone to assist me to the point where I could concentrate on my primary functions and leave the rest to my P.A.
Doogie had come out of the British business world and although he was two years my senior, he was now a couple of departments and rank removed from me. We had become friends years ago not long after I started with Emerald Precision Instruments. I was sent to Manchester to "see how the other half lived," as my new boss put it. I quickly discovered that the "other half" worked at half-speed and double the manpower. Not a formula for success. Douglas Cruickshank was one of the few who knew what was wrong and didn't hesitate to say so.
Our two man conspiracy ultimately changed the complexion of the U.K. operations and promptly pushed both of us upward in the organization and off to Vancouver. Now, five years later at the ripe old age of thirty-three, I, Cameron MacDonald was given the VP title, an unheard of salary, the promise of a substantial bonus for achieving my objectives, a company car, a liberal expense account, and a personal assistant.
Regrettably, Mrs. Eunice Dalrymple took an instant dislike to "some young whipper-snapper" coming into her domain and promptly requested an early retirement. Probably just as well. I didn't think we had much in common. But it left me with a rather large hole in my organizational chart. My boss made it clear that I wouldn't survive a month without a personal assistant. I took his word for it.
"Doogie, I have to get back to the office. I've got another two interviews this afternoon. Pray for me, son. I really need to find a nugget among the dross."
"Good luck, Cam. I'll see you later with the girls."
"The girls" were several of the office women and a few of the guys who met up on Friday after work for a drink before heading off to our various homes. I wasn't sure it was kosher for me to be part of it any more after my promotion to the upper echelons, but I decided that I wanted to stay in touch with my former co-workers. I always found the pulse of the operation could be felt when they relaxed and let their hair down. I just hoped that wouldn't change now that I was one of the bosses.
I finished off my tonic water and lime and left a ten dollar bill on the table. It would only just cover my non-alcoholic drink and Doogie's beer along with a tip. Vancouver was getting to be a very expensive place to live. Doogie had wandered off to chat with some friends and possibly with the attractive woman he'd pointed out to me. He was a confident young man.
I walked back to the office, knowing I faced two interviews that afternoon and hoping that I'd find someone to fill the role of P.A. I was getting desperate and I didn't want to settle for someone I knew wouldn't pan out and then have to be the one to let them go. I really didn't care if the person were male or female, but for some reason I had it fixed in my mind that P.A.s were normally women. When I thought about it, I would probably be better off with a man. Much less complicated. Fewer potential problems, I thought.
I walked by the vacant desk outside my office and poured myself a glass of water from the cooler. I had a mountain of paper stacked in front of me with no idea how much of it was urgent and needed my immediate attention. I had spent two hours of my too-short morning interviewing candidates for the open position with no success. In the meantime, it took two hours out of my morning that I could have been using to tackle the unsorted work on my desk. Mrs. Dalrymple had already decided I should be the judge of what was important, since she didn't know my priorities and didn't want to bother getting to know them either. She was marking time until her last day.
Mrs. Dalrymple was a late-fifties to early-sixties woman of severe appearance. Very formal, very stiff, and very opinionated. She was married and I often wondered what her husband must be like. A Casper Milquetoast? That would seem to fit her personality, if you could call it that. I imagined her to be a domineering type in her home and I pitied the poor devil she went home to. She didn't pull that sort of nonsense around the office since I had arrived. My predecessor, however, was also of retirement age and I suspect she might have treated him much like I imagined she treated her husband. Which one was really the vice president?
My one-thirty appointment was ten minutes early and I was almost grateful for it. At least I could get the interview going in the off chance that I might have a winner. Ten minutes later I knew it wasn't to be the case. The middle-aged man who had applied simply didn't have the skills or the personal strength to do what was needed. He took notes by hand, explaining he had little faith in computers. He was also timid, which didn't fit with me at all. I needed someone with some personal horsepower, not some wimp who would give me a basket full of "yes sir, no sir." I was borderline depressed when I concluded the interview and told him the usual. "We'll be in touch."
I had scheduled the second appointment for three that afternoon and since I had over an hour to go, I dug into the pile of paper and quickly got lost in sorting through it. As a result, when Mrs. Dalrymple knocked briefly on my open door to announce the next candidate, I was caught by surprise. I looked at my watch. It was precisely three o'clock.
"Ms. Mulcahy is here for her appointment," the older woman announced with a look of displeasure.
"Send her in, please."
I stood to receive my guest and immediately realized I had seen this woman before. Ms. Mulcahy turned out to be the lovely auburn-haired woman in the restaurant that Doogie had spotted. As she approached, I held out my hand to greet her and she took it firmly.
"Mr. MacDonald, nice to meet you," she said with a slight smile.
She didn't appear to be nervous and she was dressed to impress. Other than what nature had bestowed upon her, she was conservative in appearance and dress.
"You'll pardon me if I butcher your first name, so please save me the embarrassment and tell me how it is pronounced."
That brought about another slight smile. "It's Shi-vaun," she said.
I looked at her résumé and tried to make sense of the spelling. Siobhan didn't look anything like Shi-vaun.
"I'd have never have gotten it right without your help," I said with a grin.
"For a Scotsman, you surprise me that it's not familiar to you. The Irish are neighbours, you know."
"Ah, well, my Scots ancestors are a hundred-and-fifty or so years back in the family history. We've been in this country since 1844. But, at least I recognized that your name was Irish."
"Like you, my family has been here a long time as well. But that's not why I'm here today, is it?" she smiled.
"No. I'm looking for a personal assistant. I've just taken on this job and I need someone to be my right hand. It's a demanding job and I'm looking for someone special. Someone who can cope and organize and think quickly in stressful situations. It's far more than being a secretary ... and of course it pays far more than a secretary."
"I take it Dragon Lady is leaving then?" she said.
I snorted a laugh, clapped my hand over my mouth, then surrendered. I was laughing quietly at her characterization of Mrs. Dalrymple.
"Yes ... she is," I finally managed. "She's taking an early retirement."
"Not a moment too soon," she retorted, still not cracking a smile.
I was laughing again. She was saying out loud all the things that I had been thinking about the woman. She was certainly taking a risk, but I had a feeling that she saw it as a calculated risk. It wasn't meant as a joke, but as a critical comment.
When I got myself under control again, I passed a two page document to her.
"This describes the duties as I see them. It may not be complete because I've never done this job before. I'm going by what I've been told and what I've observed. Why don't you read it over and we can discuss any questions or concerns you may have afterwards."
She nodded, still showing little emotion other than the serious expression she entered the room with. I picked up a memo I had been reading before Ms. Mulcahy had arrived and continued to review it. I had barely finished it when she spoke.
"I have a couple of questions."
"Go ahead," I said.
"Are you married, Mr. MacDonald?"
"Ah ... no ... no I'm not."
"Are you in a serious relationship with anyone?"
"Ms. Mulcahy, why do you need to know?"
"According to your job description, we'll be travelling on occasion. The last thing you or I need is a jealous wife or girlfriend."
"Ah ... yes ... I see. Well, there is no one to be jealous, I can assure you."
"May I ask you a question in return?"
"Are you married or in a relationship?"
I saw the beginning of a smile before she returned to her serious look.
"You're not supposed to ask me that, but ... no. No one to interfere with the job."
She sat saying nothing, but examining me and concentrating on something. I was about to break the silence when she spoke.
"I have an offer for you."
"You do? What kind of offer?"
"Give me one hour to go through that stack of paper on your desk that you obviously haven't had the time to attack yet. I'll sort out the important stuff, the irrelevant stuff, and the items that we need to discuss or that I need some direction on. At the end of the hour you can evaluate my worth to you."
"Are you serious? You don't know anything about this business. How will you make those kinds of decisions?"
"Business is business, Mr. MacDonald. There's a common thread through it all. I'm good a sorting out the wheat from the chaff. It's a skill I have that you will find quite valuable."
I sat for a moment, thinking. What did I have to lose? This was the first candidate I had interviewed that even showed any spark at all.
"All right. Is an hour enough? I'll give you more if you want it."
She smiled again, this time a little more confidently.
"Let's see how I do in one hour. Then we can talk."
"Where do you want to work?"
"Right here. I'll pass you the important stuff and you can look it over. I won't interrupt you."
This was more than unusual. I was fascinated with her confidence and her aggressive nature. But it did bring up a question.
"Before you get started, assuming you do well, do you want this job?"
"Yes. I can't think of a better way to work my way up in a corporation. I'll be side-by-side with a very bright young man with a good future. I'll know what you know. I'll go where you go. Sooner or later, I'll get my chance."
"How do you know I'm upward bound?"
"You're young ... very young for the job you have. That means you're an achiever. You don't strike me as one of those hard-assed men who steps all over people to get where they want to go. So that means you're smart. If I'm going to succeed, I need a mentor. You could be it."
I leaned back in my chair. This was no ordinary woman. For the first time I began to believe that I might have found my new P.A. I would be fascinated to see how she did with my in-basket. I nodded and grinned at her, pushing the pile of paper toward her.
"Go to it. Tell me if you need help. Would you like some water or tea or coffee?"
I rose and poured two tall glasses of water and returned to my desk. There were already two pieces of paper back on my blotter. I placed a glass in front of her and picked up one of the pieces. It was important all right. It was a problem in the Montreal plant that needed attention right away.
"Would it bother you if I made a phone call?"
She looked up briefly and shook her head, returning to examining the document in front of her.
I called the Montreal office and left a message for the Operations Manager to call me at home after nine o'clock his time. I put the note in my briefcase and picked up the next document. There were now five or six items on my desk and Siobhan had barely looked up. This was quite a demonstration and I was getting more and more convinced that she would be the woman to get this job.
She worked through the complete pile in a little over an hour. When she finished, she leaned back in her chair and took a sip of water. Everything she had passed to me was indeed important and I would want to deal with promptly.
"Tell me about the other two piles, Siobhan."
"These are inconsequential memos that probably don't affect you. Certainly not urgent. The other pile is people wanting you to do their jobs for them," she said with straight face.
"Show me," I said.
She passed four memos from the first pile. I looked at them briefly. She was right, they weren't important. Mostly they were copies of memos from other people in my department. I didn't see anything in them that was urgent or sent up any warning signals.
"How about the other pile?"
Again, she passed me the top five pages. In fact, they were requests for me to do what other management or staff people should and could be doing.
"This pile is important in a different way," I said to her.
"Yes. You'll need to let these people know that you pay them to do these jobs. If you do them, you don't need them," she said in a direct tone.
"Exactly. This may be a hangover from my predecessor, but I'll soon know."
I leaned back in my chair once more and examined Ms. Siobhan Mulcahy. There was no doubt she was an attractive woman. Neatly dressed and turned out as well. She was smart. Very smart. And, she had a direct, no-nonsense manner about her that I admired. In short, she was perfect for the job.
"When can you start?" I asked.
"Would Monday be too soon?"
"Not at all. Why don't we go down to the H.R. department and get you signed up. I take it the stated salary and benefits are acceptable?"
"Yes, for now," she grinned. It was the first genuine smile I'd seen from her. I took it that she was pleased she had won the job.
"Welcome to Emerald, Siobhan. I think you're going to do very well here."
She turned and this time gave me a much bigger and happier smile.
"I think so too."
I left Siobhan with Patricia Carlson in H.R. to get the paperwork done and formalize her hiring. I had already decided that Mrs. Dalrymple could begin her retirement as soon as she had shown her replacement where everything was located and how things worked. I doubted it would take a week.
"Mrs. Dalrymple, I have hired Ms. Mulcahy to be my personal assistant. She is a very astute and gifted young lady. As a result, if you wish, you may begin your retirement as soon as you feel she has been brought up to speed on your responsibilities. Naturally, I'll leave it to you to decide when would be appropriate."
I saw her face turn red and I was sure I was in for an explosion, but her inbred sense of decorum wouldn't let her lose her temper and she slowly calmed down.
"Very well, Mr. MacDonald. I expect two or three days next week should suffice. If you don't mind, I'd like to say goodbye to some of the staff before I go."
"Of course not. Would you please see Patricia in H.R. so that she can look after the retirement documents. Otherwise, the keys to the office, desks and file cabinets can be left with me. Thank you very much for your long and loyal service, Mrs. Dalrymple."
I got a "harrumph" in reply. She was viewing my remarks as a dismissal ... and she was right. Out with the old and in with the new. Life goes on.
I was back at my desk, going through the items that Siobhan had marked as important and as usual, I lost track of time. When a firm knock on my door frame announced her return, I looked at my watch and saw it was a quarter past five.
"Don't forget Montreal will be calling your home at six," she said with a smile.
"You're all signed up and officially an employee of Emerald then?"
"Yes ... and thank you. I really wanted this job. I won't let you down."
"No ... I'm sure you won't. Goodnight, Siobhan, and have a good weekend."
"Goodnight Mr. MacDonald. See you Monday morning."
I took the stack of "important" papers and put them in my briefcase. I was about to add the other two stacks just to make sure there wasn't anything in there that should be attended to -- when I stopped. It was my first test. I couldn't afford the time to check all her work. I had to trust her. So far, I didn't see any reason not to. I closed my briefcase with a smile and locked my desk. It was time to go home.