The elevator car in the thirty-nine story American Family Health Policy building at 28 State St. in downtown Boston was falling so fast that, to Patty Herne, it felt like her life flashed before her eyes, as did it for the four other passengers in the car. The elevator light dimmed and the furious sound of the car scrapping against its break pads and the screams of the other passengers, terrified Patricia. Her heart raced and she soon blacked out from the fear.
It had been a rough day at work for Patty that day. Her assistant Tara Marksey had left for maternity leave just a week prior and Patty was just getting used to answering her own phone. She almost felt like her own assistant when she answered the phone, “Patricia Herne’s office.”
Tara was a good assistant. She worked for Patty up until she was unable to fit into her car to drive to work and trudge to the elevator on the ground floor and take it to the thirty-third floor where her desk sat outside Patty’s office. Her computer skills were excellent and she always kept her work place immaculate. She was especially good on the phone with customers, always wishing them a “good afternoon”, “good evening”, or even “good night,” when Patty forced her to work late into the night.
Patty always appreciated how Tara took on the role to bring her coffee every morning without Patty having to even ask. Late one afternoon in the break room, Patty was fixing herself a cup of coffee when Tara entered. “Coffee at three p.m., Patty?”
“Ah yes. I can drink coffee at all hours of the day,” Patty responded.
Tara conspicuously watched her dump two packets of Splenda and a small pack of Half and Half into her coffee. Stirring it, as she raised it to her lips to first blow on it and then to sip it, Patty lowered the mug and saw Tara staring at her with her twenty –four-year-old-clear complexion and high cheekbones, she really was a gorgeous girl.
“Sorry,” Tara said, quickly looking away and grabbing a bagel.
“Plus the caffeine helps me stay awake,” Patty told her. “I have such trouble getting any sleep at night.”
“Insomnia?” Tara questioned, interested.
“No. My husband.”
“You’re married, right Tara?” Patty inquired.
“Yes, three years. Mark and I are trying to get pregnant.”
“Well as long as that doesn’t keep you from being my assistant, I’m happy for you.”
Laughing, Tara tore her bagel in half. Patty placed the mug on the white counter and said, “I’d hate to lose a perfectly good assistant. Good hired help is hard to find.”
Still giggling, Tara responded, “Mark and I are looking for a house to rent out, or possibly buy.”
Patty smiled, picked up her coffee, and as she left the break room, she said under her breath, “Well at least one of us is happy.”
From that afternoon on, every morning, Tara arrived five minutes before nine and made Patty a coffee to give to her. The first few days it was a pleasant surprise, but as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Patty grew to expect it. Patty had arrived everyday the previous week to no hot coffee awaiting her at Tara’s desk. She was forced to walk to the break room passed her boss’s office.
Andrew Tillman was one of the head employees at American Family, and had been since his promotion to Head Claims Adjuster fourteen years prior. As head honcho, he had the power to do almost anything from the thirty-third floor up. He even promoted as he pleased, for a price of course. When he promoted Charles Jones to Underwriting Manager, it was Charles’s brand new Mercedes-Benz Kompressor that he set his sights on. For the chance to make a possible six figures, Charles reluctantly agreed to the deal, handing over the keys and the title to his Mercedes and Andrew handing over the promotion. When he spotted Jeffrey Wood’s assistant Kevin Rachlin drunk, making out with a man in the bathroom of the Cheao Bar on the corner of West High Street and McRenolds Avenue, he urged Jeffrey to demote Rachlin to a position where he wouldn’t have to deal with as many customers so he wouldn’t scare them off with his “sporadic bouts of homosexuality.” Jeffrey, not wanting to upset the almighty Andrew Tillman, demoted Kevin to a less high profile job as mail carrier.
But when Andrew saw Patricia Herne for the first time, he set his sights even higher. The lonely desk job she was keeping on the thirty eighth floor surely wasn’t enough for a woman that looked like Patty. Even in her mid thirties, Patty was a ten. Andrew began to come up to the thirty eighth floor on a daily basis to personally talk, get her insights on the company, and flirt with Patty. After a few weeks, he made her a very generous offer. He invited her to dinner one Wednesday evening to discuss a possible promotion in his department on the thirty third floor. At dinner, Patty had a little too much Peach Chardonnay and to Andrew’s surprise flirted back tremendously. It was there that she reluctantly agreed to go back to Andrew’s apartment where they could discuss the position in full.
The next day, Patty was cleaning out her desk to move it to her new office on the thirty-third floor, as she flipped open her cell phone and read that she had fourteen missed calls along with three new voicemails. As Patty took the elevator from the thirty-ninth to the thirty-third floor, each voicemail from her husband Derrick, asking where she was and why she hadn’t made it home yet, made her stomach wrench with more and more guilt.
Putting her things in her new desk, Patty bent down to slide some plain, white sheets of paper into the bottom drawer. She felt something slide against her posterior. She quickly straightened and felt Andrew’s hands slide around her waist.
“Like your new office, don’t you?” He said.
“Yes Mr. Tillman. Thank you so much for this chance,” Patty responded, his hands still around her.
“I knew you would. And please don’t call me Mr. Tillman. Call me Andrew. You’ve certainly earned it.” He slid his hands off of her and began to walk toward the door, laughing loudly. Just before leaving her office door way, he put his finger to his mouth and shook his head, giving her one quick wink before strolling out into the hallway.
From this day on, Andrew very conspicuously continued his sexual harassment of Patty. Nearly two and a half years later, Patty knew her job well and knew she wouldn’t be fired from the position of assistant Risk Analyst. She was directly under Andrew. But still his sexual advances came and all Patty could do was grit her teeth, bare it, and try to avoid seeing Andrew as much as possible. She’d leave for a nearby restaurant during lunch, make sure Andrew was in his office when she needed to use the restroom, and at times she’d even poke her head out her doorway to see if he was anywhere in the vicinity. But since Tara’s absence she had to walk passed his office everyday to the break room to get her coffee for the little bit of caffeine it contained. For ever since that fateful night that she cheated on Derrick for a job where her boss sexually assaulted her on a daily basis, they were never the same. They separated about two months prior, but Derrick felt they could work it out and moved back in. Since then, almost every night they fought and she would cry herself to sleep. Patty needed her caffeine.
Almost a week and a half since Tara’s leave, that day, Patty built up the last bit of courage she had and crossed in front of Andrew’s office door. Today, he came to her, not with his arms outstretched, but with a large stack of papers and manila folders.
“Please come in, Patricia,” he said closing his office door behind him. Handing her the large stack, he said, “Here, here are today’s analyses, get started on them right away.” Patty took the stack and as he turned around to go back to his desk. She gritted her teeth and waited for his advancement. “That’s all today, Patricia. You may go.”
Patty turned, breathed a sigh of relief, and put her hand to the door knob when Andrew said, “Wait. There is one more thing.” As Patty turned around she was struck hard on her cheek, the papers and folders flew from her hands. Her knees and her hands hit the floor, as her cheek seared with heat. Blurry eyed, she looked up from the fallen papers on the floor.
“I was outside the break room today and I heard two women conversing. I don’t know who they were, but they were talking about us. Yes, you and I, Patricia. They said something about sexual harassment. Have you been telling people, Patricia?” Patty shook her head. “Do you think I sexually harass you?” Patty continued shaking her head. “Good. Now pick those up. Oh and watch your mascara. Don’t get it on the analyses.”
Patty turned and left his office, her head to the ground. Back in her own office, she checked her compact and cleared her face, reapplying mascara and her smeared lipstick. The rest of the day, Patty answered her own phone, did her own work, and conversed with no one. At five o’clock she had her coat on and she grabbed her briefcase as she walked to the elevators. She pressed the down button and a few seconds later the elevator doors opened and she stepped into the vacant car. On her trip down the thirty three floors, she was stopped at floor twenty eight where a man in his early forties, dressed in a suit, and a briefcase at hand, stepped on. Patty wasn’t quite sure but when he entered, the car seemed to fill with the potent smell of alcohol.
Gary Cross had always liked the feeling that alcohol gave him when he came home from his long hours at the office. The twenty eighth floor was a mass load of insurance agents and one financial consultant. Gary happened to work in the office of that one financial consultant. He had become a financial consultant fresh out of college, receiving his bachelors in Business Finances from Florida State. His hometown, however, was Boston and he liked that. So Gary returned to Boston with a job offer from Bank One.
After two and half years at the low stress position at Bank One, Gary weaned from his college days of drinking heavily. It was at Bank One that he ran into Michelle Garson, his future ex wife. Michelle had a high profile job as an attorney for Mac and Mac, one of Boston’s most prestigious firms. Having graduated from Harvard Law, Michelle was used to being at the top. When her rich tycoon uncle died, he left a large sum of money to his favorite niece and being brainy, sophisticated, and now loaded with cash, Michelle got into Law School at Harvard.
Michelle was doing a bit of banking on the first floor when she dropped her briefcase and Gary was quick to retrieve it. Giving it back to her, Gary embarked on a love that would ultimately end in their divorce. He asked her for a date and they dated for nearly eleven months when Gary asked Michelle to be his wife. She giddily accepted and they were married four months later. But as Michelle’s job became stressful, Gary began to see that her absence in his life was hurting their marriage. After a few months into their marriage, Michelle had been working late almost every night with a handsome colleague, Seth Tillman. Seth was use to getting everything he always asked for, he being so handsome, debonair, and well off, just like his father Andrew. He was soon to make partner in the firm and even Michelle knew that. Michelle and Seth’s relationship had always stayed professional, that is until Michelle married Gary. Seth loved challenges and was readily going to accept the one of swooning Michelle Garson into an affair. Therefore when Alex Mac, one of the heads of firm, asked who wanted to work the Wyler case with Michelle, Seth speedily volunteered.
Michelle knew that Seth liked her and even though she did find him very attractive, there was nothing that could make her cheat on Gary. She felt there love was too strong. Seth may try but he wasn’t going to get anywhere if Michelle had anything to do with it. But nothing could calm Gary’s worries. No matter how much Michelle reassured him of how solid they were, Gary couldn’t help but let his insecurities override it.
Michelle became stressed and fatigued very easily at home so her and Gary’s sex life began to lose action. Gary felt there to be no other explanation than her infidelity. It couldn’t be the fact that she was stressed and overworked at the firm, both on the Wyler case and trying to fight off Seth’s rather constant flirts and sexual innuendos. Not only that, but when Michelle came home she was accused of cheating.
Nearly three months into the Wyler case, Gary became so upset with his marriage that he picked up on old habits. He worked from eight until four p.m. at Bank One, knew Michelle wouldn’t be home for hours, opened up a twelve pack of beer and chugged one after another until he passed out. He would usually awaken around seven a.m., a half an hour after Michelle had already left for the firm.
The first night, arriving home around eleven p.m., Michelle was shocked to see Gary passed out in one of their leather reclining chairs, empty beer cans at his feet. She tried to wake him, but he just mumbled something and turned on his side. After an entire week of coming home to her husband passed out in the leather recliner, she became used to it.
After a month of sleeping alone in her king size bed while her husband was passed out downstairs, Michelle knew they needed help. That Sunday, Gary and Michelle tried to talk their marriage out. Michelle stayed calm as Gary ranted and raved, telling her he wasn’t good enough for her. The next day, he asked for a divorce. Michelle was horrified and didn’t even go into work the following day so she could stay home to talk to Gary before things were too late. He was too set in his ways to be swayed into reconsidering and filed for divorce the next Friday. Their divorce was final a month and a half later.
Gary was very interested to see that Seth made partner in the firm two months after their divorce. Seven months after that, he read that he and Michelle got engaged. This newspaper became covered in spilt beer and cigarette ashes.
Later on that same year, Gary became bored with his life and felt to be nothing more than mediocre. He was average. Gary didn’t like the word average. The head accountant at Bank One, Jared Tessler, was actually leaving after seventeen years. His wife Hillary recently had a stroke and he felt that it was his time to retire. Gary’s CO, Anthony Fink was in charge of deciding who would take Jared’s job. Gary hurriedly applied for the job, but when Anthony announced that Maria Valerie would be taking over as head accountant, Gary drank heavily that night. He got so drunk that when he hopped in his Trailblazer, he couldn’t even find where to put the keys. After a five minute struggle of trying to find the ignition, Gary pulled out of his suburban home and drove to the Van dam Marta near by. He parked his car incorrectly in the closest parking lot, walked to the edge of the dam, hopped over the railing and recklessly cried out his final good byes to the world.
It was nearly eight thirty p.m. and dusk had slightly fallen on Boston. Mae Shavet was in the middle of her nightly run when she spotted Gary proclaiming his goodbyes to the world.
“What are you doing?” Mae demanded.
“And to you, Michelle, I hope you’re merrily happy with your new husband, Seth!” Gary yelled out even louder.
“Hey you! What the hell are you doing?” Mae said as she ran up toward the dam.
“Who? Me?” Gary asked, looking at her as she ran.
Finally reaching Gary, Mae said, “C’mon give me your hand.”
“Give me your God damn hand. You are being ridiculous.”
“How am I ridiculous?” Gary demanded to know, his speech a bit slurred.
“Well for one, you’re thinking of killing yourself-“
“No I’m not! I’m just telling Michelle that I hope she’s happy.”
“And two, you’re about to throw yourself down a grassy hill. That won’t kill you. You’ll just end up breaking a few rib, an arm, and maybe a leg. You’ll just end up in worse condition than you are now.” Mae told him. “Now give me your hand.” Gary gave her his hand and she helped him climb back over the railing. “Wow. You’re an easy drunk to convince.”
“I’m not drunk!”
“Where’s your car?”
“I- eh … over there some place,” Gary said pointing down the hill.
“It’s not this silver Trail Blazer over here?”
“It’s not silver. It’s Gray- oh yeah, that’s the one.”
Mae proceeded to help him to his car, where she decided, he was too inebriated to drive home. She helped him into the passenger seat and tried her best to navigate her way back to his house with his intoxicated directions. She helped him to his door, got it unlocked and was ready to run back to the dam. Gary yelled to her a quick thank you, stumbling in the door, he fell into the recliner and drifted to sleep.
By a random chance of fate, Gary ran into Mae at a park a few days later. He wasn’t sure if it was her or not but when he spotted her looking at him, he waved and she waved back. The two talked for a little bit and he asked her for a date. Mae was unsure at first but consented to the handsome stranger’s good looks. Mae enjoyed the first date so much that she had to go on a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth, until a whole two years went by. They married and Gary was finally happy with Mae. She became pregnant and Gary made the suggestion that she quit her job at Beethoven, a musical instrument store on Thruston St and become a stay at home mom. She did and they gave birth to a bouncing baby boy.
Six years later, Gary was offered the financial consultant position at American Family. He left Bank One and set up his office on the twenty-eighth floor. The job was both frustrating and tiresome, working with nothing but insurance agents all day, he felt like a stag alone in a blazing fire. He picked up his habit yet again, and this time it stuck. He even brought little flasks of vodka to work with him everyday.
At home, things took a turn for the worst. Jeremy was eight years old and had said a smart mouth comment to Mae while at the dinner table because she wouldn’t let him go out with his friends after he finished eating. Gary, stressed after a long day at the office, wasn’t in the mood and smacked Jeremy across the mouth. Jeremy was shocked as was Mae. Jeremy got up and ran to his bedroom, crying. Mae didn’t say a word as she stood to clear the plates. She had no idea what to say to her husband’s actions so she just ignored it.
This broke a dam of fiery rage upon the meek family. Gary drank more heavily and began to hit Jeremy more and more each day. When Mae tried to intervene one evening, Gary hit Mae, bloodying her nose.
Now, six months since his initial abuse toward his family began, Patty could smell the stench of alcohol upon him. He stood beside her as the elevator doors closed. The car lowered another four stories, stopping at twenty-four.
Emily Nelson and Travis Hoite stepped into the car. To Patty, it seemed that they were something of an item, Emily laughing and nonchalantly flirting with Travis. Gary was oblivious to his surroundings as he was nearly drunk and could barely keep his head from bobbing.
Emily and Travis were the first couple ever to stay together for more than a few months in the Marketing sector of American Family. It being a high maintenance, high stress career, various other co workers courageously tried to go against the odds and try something a little more than professional only to end it horribly and on bad terms.
Marketing had always come easily to Travis Hoite. He graduated from UM with a bachelors in Marketing and Auto Claims. When he received his job as Claims Adjuster fresh out of college, he was determined to make a career out of American Family. After good work ethic and punctual behavior, not just to the office but with his work, Travis was promoted to Marketing Rep just three months in.
One Sunday evening, before the Superbowl, Travis ran to the grocery to pick up a few snacks for his Superbowl party that night. Grabbing a bag of Tostitos, he noticed a woman about his age, trying to jump and reach a bag of low fat Baked Doritos on the top shelf. Finally jumping high enough and retrieving the bag, a good row and a half of chips fell when she slightly hit the shelf coming down. Travis moved quickly to make sure she was alright.
“Are you okay?” Travis asked her, walking over.
“Yes, thanks. Just a klutz,” Emily responded pushing back some hair that had fallen onto her face. On the loud speaker came a woman’s voice, “Clean up in Aisle four. Clean up in Aisle four.”
“Oh shit.” Emily said.
“C’mon lets get out of here.”
Laughing, Travis asked, “What?” She grabbed Travis’s arm and the two scurried out of Aisle four.
“Ah … I’m Emily.”
“Travis,” he said smiling. Noticing the Falcons jersey she was wearing, he commented, “You know the Falcons are really going to suck tonight.
“What? You’re a Rams fan?”
“Of course. I mean, who isn’t?” Travis said, laughing a bit.
“Me and my girlfriends.”
“A bunch of my girls and I are getting together for a Superbowl party. I’m hosting!”
“That’s so funny. A couple of my co workers are coming over for a little get together during the game. Gonna have some chips, and a little salsa.”
“Ahhh … spice it up,” Emily said smiling.
“Yeah, plus a little Bud Light,” Travis said, grabbing a twenty-four pack.
“And a little Green Apple Smirnoff for us ladies.”
“You know, we join our parties into one, we’d have one-“
“Huge fight as the Falcons took on the Rams,” Emily stated, cutting him off. “But I’d love to have a little party, just you and I.”
Emily nodded her head, flirtatiously.
“Well I think that could be arranged.” Emily went through her purse and pulled out a card. “Here’s my business card, we’re printing professional ones in school. My numbers on the back. Give me a call soon.” And he did. Travis called Emily more than just once and they became quite an item.
A year and a half later, with no movement in the company ladder, Travis anticipated a promotion soon. The position as Marketing and Sales Manager was soon available and Travis applied for the position. Emily had just received her masters in Business Administration and Management and applied for the position as well, not knowing that Travis had applied for the same position.
As it turned out, Emily was handed the job and Travis was forced to keep his job as Marketing Rep. Travis and Emily’s relationship took a strain, for Emily was Travis’s new boss. After nineteen months of being with Travis and only Travis, Emily was ready for a commitment, but Travis continued to drag his feet. Emily became tired and sick of anticipation for Travis to make up his mind about her. She loved him and this she knew. Travis knew he loved her but still wasn’t sure how comfortable he was with his girlfriend, let alone his wife being his boss.
But as the elevator doors closed behind them they grew quiet because of the seriousness that was the atmosphere of the elevator car. Emily smiled at Patty and Patty smiled back weakly. On the twenty-second floor, the doors opened again but no one was standing there. Gary impatiently pushed the door close button when all of a sudden, Sophie Radders, jumped between the doors, her briefcase on wheels trailing behind her.
“Oh my. I’m sorry about that. I didn’t hear the doors open.” Sophie a plump woman was what some people called an extrovert. She giggled as the doors closed behind her. “How is everyone this evening?”
There was silence until Travis spoke, “Doing fine. And you?”
“Oh just peachy. Just a peach. Oh! Have you all smelled the new peach body spray from Bath and Body Works?” Sophie said reaching into her purse, “It’s just to die for.” Pulling it out, she sprayed it into the air two times, stood on her tip toes and sniffed. “Mmmm … just like a ripe summer’s peach, eh?”
“Yes,” Emily replied, a bit annoyed.
Sophie Radders held the job of Head Risk Analyst at American Family. Her job had its days of high stress where she had to take charge and lead her coworkers. Sophie wasn’t afraid. She was one of those people whose motto was “Carpe Diem.” She lived everyday to its fullest potential and never had any regrets about her actions, mainly because she would never have hurt a fly.
Sophie was, however, a bit naïve and she unknowingly let people walk all over her. She was oblivious, for she was lost in the happy serenade she was singing in her head.
That was when the screeching from outside the car started. The floor numbers began to speed up, rapidly dropping. They were panicked no one said anything as the Elevator lights began to flicker. The jolting of the car made Emily fall but Travis was quick to catch her.
Then, as abruptly as it had begun, the speeding elevator came to a violent stop when a safety brake kicked in, but not until the elevator had plummeted twelve stories. It sent both Patty and Gary sprawling to the floor. Then there was silence. No one said anything as they waited for the elevator to drop once again. Breathing hard, Gary stood and reached out his arm to help Patty up. She grabbed it and he pulled her to her feet. With much lower back pain, she stood.
“Are you alright, dear?” Sophie asked her, putting her arm around Patty.
“Uh- yeah. I just really hurt my back when I fell.” Patty groaned.
“I think the security brake kicked in,” Travis said, looking to the still flickering light overhead. Emily quickly flicked the alarm switch and a loud bell began to ring.
“Now what do we do?” Patty said, grabbing the railing along the walls of the elevator car.
“Wait. I guess. We just wait,” Travis said, grabbing Emily’s hand.
And wait they did. They waited in the elevator car for almost forty-five minutes. There was a little to talk about as they were just five strangers trapped in a ten by five foot elevator car.
Travis said the first few words, “Almost all the time there’s an elevator accident in a building you’ve got a situation where the elevator company skimps by not having routine maintenance or replacing parts.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Patty said.
“I remember reading an article where a state inspector said that in his years as an inspector, he has found one-hundred of the ultimate braking devices on elevators that do not work,” Emily said, pulling Travis a bit closer.
“That is your last resort,” said Gary. “If they fail, there is no stopping the damn car.”
“Jesus,” replied Travis.
“I know,” Emily said back.
“I suppose we were the lucky ones,” Sophie said, sitting on her briefcase on wheels.
When safety officials finally arrived, they lowered the car and helped the five frightened passengers out of it.
Patty went to the hospital and learned she pulled and even tore a few ligaments in her back. She didn’t return to work for two weeks and the day she finally came back, it was to clean out her desk and to tell Andrew right where he could stick it.
Gary took Mae’s pleads to heart and started going to AA meetings. He was going to do right by his wife even still. They started family counseling and Gary hasn’t hit his wife or his son since the accident.
Two weeks following the accident, Travis asked for Emily’s hand in marriage and they plan to marry sometime in the next year.
Sophie quit her job at American Family to become a public speaker. She gets paid to travel from high school to high school, from university to university, to pledge the importance of her motto, “Carpe Diem,” to make each and everyday count.