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I should have seen this coming.
My Business Statics professor spent half a lecture my sophomore year of college warning the class on our future. His belief? Be damn careful of the first job you accept out of college. As if he’d been holding a flashlight in front of his eyes sitting around a campfire, he explained how one job could change your life forever. In his opinion, take something less than the best and you’d eventually find yourself pumping gas at the corner stop. It would be one bad move after another until we found ourselves living in a gutter searching trash cans for cigarette butts.
I found his lectures to be dry, and the advice… generic.
Shame on me because boy was he right.
Four years later, after completing an undergrad and a master degree program, his choice words echoed through my thoughts as I submitted my application for an entry-level marketing position with Zero Tech Solutions, one of the largest privately held companies in the Midwest.
Run by a self-declared industry tyrant — emphasis on the tyrant part — Vincent Valiant amassed a fortune in the ten years he’s been running the family company.
What started out as a real estate investment firm grew to include shares in most Michigan-based production lines in the state. The business is so large it now runs generic commercials for itself as Vincent works on building a brand around his name rather than any single product. Hence the surge of marketing positions over the last two years. If I get my foot in the door with Zero Tech, I could get my foot in the door anywhere.
“Remember, Mackenzie, it’s just a job,” I chant, closing the driver door to my late-model equinox — a graduation gift to myself.
The Valiant office building towers over the rest of the medium-sized skyscrapers in Lansing. Set in the middle of the downtown district, it’s said you can see for over twenty miles on a good day from the top floor. Not that many ever get the pleasure since that portion of the building serves as Vincent’s personal residence.
My gaze travels up the brick building as I stand in front of the large glass doors. Bricks stacked upon bricks broken only by the tall rows of windows draw my attention until I reach the very top. I blink, trying to get a glimpse of the section still shaded in the early morning fog. Lansing isn’t the largest city in the state of Michigan, but since Vincent Valiant set up shop, it’s become the most prosperous.
The way the building towers over everything in sight reminds me of the landscape from the great Gatsby. A master looking down upon those he rules.
And Vincent Valiant rules a whole heap of people.
“It’s just a job, Mackenzie.” With a deep breath, I steady myself, ready to get this show on the road. With false determination — I’m definitely faking it until I make it — I pull on the front door of the Valiant skyscraper.
It doesn’t budge.
I pull harder.
“Oh for fuck’s sake.” I would be the dumb ass who showed up and then can’t get into the building where I’ve scheduled an interview to start within the hour. Just what I don’t need today.
Bile rises in my stomach and I’m pretty sure I require a bush to throw up in when a professionally dressed woman in tall heels and a black suit pries open the door to my left with ease.
My face reddens, but I hurry through the space as she waits.
“They always keep the fire doors locked as an exit.” The lady with bright red hair says as she pulls out an ID badge and scans it, allowing her to walk through the security checkpoint without stopping.
Of course they do. A man hailed for his ingenious design and ability to streamline workflow would definitely have an in and out door system. I only hope no cameras caught my mistake.
From here on out Mackenzie Marshal will not be waylaid by doors.
A gust of breeze ruffles the leaves outside the floor-to-ceiling windows as a late summer wind blows them across the concrete stairs. I tear my gaze away and work to gather my nerves while I approach the front desk. A beefy security guard in a gray uniform stares out at the lobby menacingly.
“It’s just a job.” I step in line behind a man and wait my turn to sign in for the interview. Even with my little mishap at the door, which cost me time, I’m arriving exactly eighteen minutes early for my time slot. The front row street parking two blocks away helped cut off precious seconds.
And my mantra is right. It’s just a job. I never planned to stay in Michigan after graduation. The dream is still and has always been to finish up my degree with in-state tuition rates and then hit the open road. Regardless of my professor’s advice about taking our first offer seriously, I plan to accept any position south of the Mason Dixon line. Any job in a warm climate is the right one for me.
I mean, it’s Vincent Valiant and Zero Tech Solutions.
People have killed for a job here. Okay, maybe no one has killed someone, but it could happen.
If I didn’t at least try for the position, I’d regret it. Working in this building could be a life changer. I’ll put in five to seven years in the snow and then use my experience and transfer to a warmer climate. Zero Tech has offices everywhere. With enough time and hard work, I’ll have my pick of locations. I’ve made it twenty-six years without freezing off a nipple in this frozen tundra. I can make it a few more.
“Name?” the security guard asks as I step up to his imposing desk.
I attempt an answer, but nothing comes out besides a squeak. He doesn’t appear amused as he drums his fingers against the shiny hardwood.
“Mackenzie Marshal,” I slide across my driver’s license without dropping it.
He tap taps the computer, his fingers heavy with each keystroke. “They’ll be right down to get you. The interviewers have been waiting.”
My heart stalls and panic grips my chest. That can’t be. You never leave someone waiting for an interview, and I arrived eighteen minutes early.
EIGHTEEN MINUTES EARLY.
“The appointment time was 9:30, correct?” I ask, clutching the edge of the desk and hoping Mr. not-so-friendly will answer.
“They’re running ahead. They have disqualified most of the applicants within the first few minutes.”
The first few minutes? What the hell interview philosophy are they using? I nod my head with a thanks and take my ID when he gives it and a visitor name badge at the same time.
The lobby is icy, and the chill sets in across my bare arms. Michigan’s had a warm spell the last two weeks and shops kept their central air turned on, but today everything flipped.
Like an ominous forecast of how my life is about to pan out, the grey clouds cover the remaining fragments of open sky. A heavy blanket of fog settled over the city last night and hasn’t lifted. They’re calling for rain this afternoon, but when you live in Michigan anything is better than snow. I wouldn’t put it past Mother Nature to give us a snowstorm in August.
My phone vibrates, shaking my purse, and I hold down on the power button to turn it off without pulling it completely from the bag. If people are having this hard of a time with interviews, I won’t let this ruin my chances. The words “good luck” and my ex-boyfriend’s name flash across the screen right before the device finishing powering off.
When I find out who told him I have an interview today, I’ll be short one friend. Or family member, if it’s who I suspect. Someone is selling secrets to the enemy and it must stop. We broke up for a reason. Many reasons.
The grumpy guard points behind me and I turn, joining five other individuals in the open lobby. We half nod to each other, unsure if they’re my competition or here for other reasons and unwilling to ask. The elevator dings and our group shifts in unison to see if it’s who we expect. A few lower their heads when they dismiss the person as not for them.
A younger gentleman, around the same age as me, stands in the elevator entrance not letting the door close with his leg while he holds a clipboard at chest level. His pen taps on the edge as he scans the crowd and calls, “Mackenzie Marshal.”
I jerk with excitement, like an overenthusiastic idiot who doesn’t realize she’s on her way to the firing squad.
“Nice to meet you, Mackenzie. My name is Greg Sullivan. I’m taking you upstairs this morning to talk with Mr. Valiant.”
I nod and join him on the elevator as my mind spins. What did he say? I’ll be meeting with Mr. Valiant? He’s doing the interviews for a lowly marketing assistant? That is… unexpected.
And unprepared for, honestly.
We hit the fourth floor and keep rising before I gather the courage to ask. “I thought my interview today was with Carol, the Marketing Director?”
It’s terrifying enough meeting with the Director of Marketing. I can’t handle the company owner. Plus, I’m interviewing for a low-level position. Why would he involve himself? I’ll grab everyone coffee, make a few million copies. My expectations are realistic, but that doesn’t mean I can’t go in preparing to climb the corporate ladder.
Greg flinches and taps his pen harder against the clipboard. If he taps any harder, the authorities could classify it as abuse. “There have been a few quick changes, but we’re working together to help transitions run as smoothly as possible.”
“Okay.” That sounded like a reasonable explanation. I guess. I don’t understand most of it, but I nod and smile, anyway.
Now I only need to freak out over the fact I’ll be meeting The Vincent Valiant in however many floors we take to reach our destination.
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