Tuesday morning finds me seated in at a round table with Julius, Frank and myself, in Julius’ office. I am the first one there and while I wait, my mind crosses to Chris.
I wonder what he’s doing right now, I think to myself. Had he been here I would have felt a little safe and protected… but I have no choice. I am the one in charge now and the only person who can protect me is me.
Both Julius and Frank walk into the office at the same time, laughing like old friends. I give them a sharp glance; if this is how they are interacting I don’t sense that Julius will see sense and do what’s right for me and for all the other women who work here.
“Right, shall we commence the proceedings?” Julius asks as he pulls a chair and sits down. “Ordinarily, I would have two or more heads of department here to help me figure this out… but the evidence seems overwhelming and it looks like a clean-cut case, so I am hoping we can solve it duly without too much fuss,” he says.
“Right,” Frank the factory manager interjects. “Good morning Liz.”
I give him a terse nod. I am in no mood for niceties; I can already tell from the body language between the two of them that I have walked into adverse territory. I suppose I should get ready to pack my bags and leave… even before I have officially started my new job.
“So, Frank, you came to us with a raft of accusations against Liz here,” Julius starts the proceedings. Frank nods.
My blood runs cold; see how all of this has started, with Julius clearly taking sides. “Would you like to give us specifics?”
“Yes, you see, Liz here has been trying to have an affair with me for years,” Frank starts. “Years! And now that she has the power, she is trying to fire me because of my refusal to give in.”
“What?!” I interrupt him. “I mean, you and I have never even spo-,”
“Calm down Liz,” Julius placates. “Let the man finish.”
“I knew it,” I turn to Julius. “You’re on his side and I will never win this argument.” Then I sit back in a sulk before I remember who I am and snap out of it.
“Can you just be patient please?” he says pointedly, before turning back to Frank. “Do you have any specific instances where this happened?” Julius asks.
“Well, eh… I don’t remember them all…” Frank hedges.
“It will be very difficult to secure a decision if you don’t have specifics, Frank,” Julius says. “There must be at least one instance in which you remember Liz doing something inappropriate.”
“Of course,” Frank says. A bead of sweat escapes his brow. He reaches his index finger into the space between his shirt collar and his neck – I suppose to loosen it.
“We’re waiting for you to say something concrete,” Julius prods.
“Well, eh, I just need, eh, I need a little more time to remember specific cases. But they are there! They happened!”
“Hmm,” Julius says. Then he flips open the cover of his tablet and taps on it. “Conversely, I have received a flood of emails from a number of women who work here who have accused you of sexually harassing them. Here, take a look.” He proffers the tablet.
Frank’s hand is shaking as he takes it and pretends to read, although I can tell from the way his eyeballs are moving fast back and forth that he is thinking more about how to escape the tricky situation he has found himself in. “What say you?”
“It’s Liz!” he yells. “Liz is the one who set me up and forced all of these women to come up with these accusations.”
“If you look at the text you’ll see there are screenshots of text messages you sent them. There are dates and places – and if need be, we can cross check with CCTV evidence in some of those places. Are you sure you want to persist with this line of defence?” I sit up, shocked at the turn of events. What is happening here?! I am so confused!
“And if you like, we can call in a few of ladies who have the courage to face you and tell you what you did. Would you like us to formalise these proceedings in such a manner?” Oh my goodness! Julius seems to have flipped the script.
“I mean, I…”
“Once again, I ask: Are you sure about your accusations against Liz, or should I expect your resignation in the next few hours?”
Both Julius and I turn to Frank, waiting to see what he will say next.