“By the way, Miss Annie-“
“Apologies. Miss Abby, have you signed the required contract with Durant & Dietrich yet?”
“Not yet, I barely agreed to work here last night, and I just got in about half an hour ago.”
“Last night? Mein Gott, you weren’t the young lady accompanying Miss Durant, by any chance?”
I was torn between feeling proud over being talked about and embarrassed about the outcome of the night.
“Yes, I was.”
“How senseless of Miss Durant to take her with you! But perhaps she didn’t think it through because of her brother. Priorities, priorities… Oh heaven knows… Those two have a strange way of working. But never mind, you are here and here is beyond safe.”
Before I could ask him any of the questions I was wanting to ask anyone, Edith came in again with another vase with lilies and she placed it on my desk. As lovely as they looked, I would have preferred flowers with a little more color on them. I considered bringing my own.
“Sweet Edith, I wonder, do you know anything of the contract that Miss Annie-“
“-Abby, is supposed to sign?”
“The contract hasn’t arrived yet, Mister S. Miss D placed the order last night so it should arrive today.”
“That is a problem, Sweet Edith. I cannot begin to work with her unless her employment has been evidenced and solidified in those damned papers. The latest revision of the decree has made it impossible to take steps forward without their consent therefor she will be unable to read these files unless she’s signed the damned thing.”
“Well… could call and see if they are on their way with the papers.”
“Danke, sweet Edith. Miss Abby – ah, I got it this time, didn’t I? – We are to take a pause. Unfortunately we cannot do a thing without your signature.”
“But I don’t think we even have something to work with besides the paperwork in these boxes. Am I supposed to be receiving office materials or even a computer along with the contract? I mean I’m supposed to be digitizing things…”
“Ah, well, one of these boxes does have some blank paper and folders that only my office provides. Nothing particularly official, it’s merely stationary with my seal on it. Which you will be working under anyhow, so…”
Mister Schreiber looked around the floor until he found a red box which he picked up and placed on my desk. From it he took out three letter-sized brown paper packages, and two envelope-sized brown paper packages. He also took out three glass containers with black ink and two fountain pens.
“And that is about all I have with me. I really wish Miss Durant didn’t have this upside-down schedule of hers, there are plenty of things to take care of that need her approval. I cannot work under these conditions!”
“Has she always been a night person?”
“Ja, most of her life. She started off as a morning person as per her position and the responsibilities our organization demanded. But once she began moving up her responsibilities began to change and she accommodated her schedule to facilitate them. And it’s so hard to work with her because of it, but we’ve managed so far.”
“What are her responsibilities now?”
“For starters getting you accommodated in your office, which I am clearly in negligence of.”
Miss Durant was standing in the door frame, dressed in her night robe with a manila envelope in one hand. She looked only half attentive. I was surprised we didn’t hear her walk down the stairs, which along with her appearance made me think of her as an elegant cat.
“Miss Durant, how lovely to see you again, after all these years!”
Mister Schreiber got up with some joy, kissing her cheeks and holding her hands. She was slightly taller than him, and paler in contrast to his colorful attire, which made the whole scene a little comical. Like two different styles of art meeting for the first time, if you can picture a Picasso and a Monet shaking hands.
“Mister Schreiber, ecstatic as always.”
“Don’t be such a drab! Although by the looks of those kelin bags under your eyes you shouldn’t have troubled yourself with coming down to greet us.”
“We have Miss Abby to accommodate, and it seems she is not officially my staff yet. I came down mostly to clear up two things. One: I have the contract with me, it arrived this morning but Edith was out so I answered the door myself and forgot to leave a note for her.”
“Second: You shall be provided with the proper office supplies once you sign your contract, everything is to be provided by our superiors as there are plenty of technicalities that must be overseen by them.”
Miss Durant opened the manila envelope she had with her and took out it’s contents: a ten page contract and a fountain pen. She handed me the pen and placed the contract on the table between the two of us so we could both see it. I couldn’t help but get the impression that I might be signing my life or freedom away, but it might’ve been my paranoia talking through me.
“Abby, here it is: a contract existing merely to ensure that all that you see, hear or read about during your employment stays within the confines of this building and the documents you’ll be handling. You understand the importance of any company’s confidentiality, correct?”
“Yes, I mean, I’ve worked in offices before where I was asked to politely keep the company’s, um, fine print to myself to keep a company’s integrity.”
“Same is stated here. You can be provided a copy of the document if you wish.”
Miss Durant handed me the fountain pen and began to slowly flip the pages of the document in front of me. The first page was just a big print of what looked like a very important seal, the second had the name of the organization in big, bold, elegant print:
A tiny sense of realization rushed over me as I read the name of the organization that seemed to order smaller companies around. While I did not fully grasp what the organization did, its name seemed to imply good will. The next few pages were mostly empty except for a paragraph or two, the majority of them names. By the eighth page the paragraphs where longer, listed and full of intention.
“So, Abby, here is listed in detail all manner of ways in which you aid in keeping the integrity and confidentiality of the Alliance. ”
“What exactly are the consequences if I fail?”
“Hopefully it will never come to that, but in the events that it should… you’d be discharged from our services, with no evidence of having worked here or letter of reference.”
“Is that legal?”
I read the first sentence, and then skimmed the rest. The legal lingo of contracts was always lost on me on the first read, but I was very familiar with the type of restrictions that companies asked of you. And in my skimming I was able to locate the overall point of what companies asked when handling the innards of their system: do not in any way share what you see, hear or handle here.
I signed. Here, here, and there. A warm wave of comfort washed over me, and the room felt warmer than it did when I arrived.
“Merveilleux! Thank you very much, Abby.”
Miss Durant took the contract, signed her end of the page and then packaged it back into the envelope.
“Now you are free to work and handle our documents. The supplies needed for the task should arrive… later in the afternoon, I believe. Mister Schreiber, she is now fully at your disposal. A bientôt.”
“Bis später, my dear! Go and rest yourself, and do not worry, she will exceed your expectations! I shall make sure of it!”