The Button (Part 1 of 2)
It was the first day of Peter’s new job.
He arrived at the office at 8:30am, determined to make a good impression. It was his first job since leaving university, and he was excited to make his mark in the world of work. His new haircut felt neat and professional, his best suit was crisp and looking sharp, and his shoes were shined up nice. He looked up at the imposing building that was to be his new employer and smiled.
He was going to do well here.
Peter entered the building and strode confidently towards the Reception desk. One of the Receptionists looked up from what she was doing and gave him a warm, encouraging smile.
‘Yes? How may I help you?’
‘Good morning, I’m Peter Hopkins. It’s my first day today.’ The Receptionist consulted a sheet of paper and looked back up.
‘Oh, yes, Mister Hopkins. Please take a seat. Someone will be down for you shortly.’ Peter walked away from the Reception desk towards some low chairs towards the corner of the lobby. There was an elegant potted plant and a stylish coffee table with some glossy magazines arranged on its glassy surface. Peter sat down and looked around admiringly.
So far, so good.
After a few minutes, a man in a pinstriped suit entered the lobby area and made his way over to the seating area.
‘Yes.’ Peter stood up to greet the man.
‘Bob Stevenson.’ Bob extended his hand and Peter shook it firmly.
‘Great to meet you, Bob,’ said Peter, making sure to look him in the eye.
‘You too. If you’d care to follow me.’
‘Of course.’ Peter followed Bob out of the lobby area and towards a set of lifts set to the back and to the side of the Reception desk. Bob pressed the call button and clasped his hands behind his back.
‘We’re on the fourth. Did you get here okay, this morning?’
‘Oh, yes. Fine, thank you.’
‘Good. Did you drive in?’
The lift arrived and the doors slid smoothly open. They both stepped inside and Bob pressed the button for the fourth floor.
‘We’re a pretty friendly bunch around here, Peter,’ said Bob, smiling.
‘Glad to hear it,’ said Peter, returning the smile.
‘Who did you interview with, by the way?’
‘Her name was Sharon.’
‘Sharon? Impressive. Her selection criteria can be pretty stringent. So, kudos for getting the job.’
‘Thank you.’ Peter felt pride swell in his chest.
He was going to like it here.
The lift arrived at the fourth floor with a pleasant bong and the doors slid open. A well-appointed and modern open plan office stretched out before them. Seated at the desks were various people, all professional-looking, all hard at work. Bob stepped out of the lift and beckoned Peter to follow.
‘Come on, I’ll give you the tour.’ Bob led Peter to what was to be his desk, allowing him to set his bag down. Bob then took him around the office and introduced him to the various members of the team. Everyone was friendly and polite and Peter felt welcomed and accepted. Bob took care of the perfunctory things like showing him where the toilets were and where the kitchen was, and after a while they were done and back at Peter’s desk.
‘Well, I think that’s about it,’ said Bob. ‘I know you’ll no doubt have a tonne of stuff to do for HR, so I’d better let you get to it.’
‘Okay, thank you, Bob.’ Peter picked up the induction pack on his desk as Bob turned to leave.
‘Oh, there is one more thing,’ said Bob, turning back around.
‘Can you see that door over there, in the far corner?’ Bob was pointing towards a nondescript door that looked like all others he had seen in the building so far. There was a sign on it, but they were too far away for Peter to read it.
‘Don’t go in there.’ Bob’s tone suddenly became stern, and it jarred Peter a little after so much initial geniality.
‘Oh?’ Peter looked at Bob, questioningly.
‘Ever,’ said Bob, for emphasis.
‘Why? What’s in there?’
‘Just don’t go in there.’ Bob patted Peter on the shoulder, perhaps a little harder than was necessary. The message was not lost on Peter, as he watched Bob walk away. The matter was closed. Peter looked over at the door and curiosity blossomed inside him in a heartbeat.
* * *
The rest of Peter’s first day passed without incident, but he couldn’t help but think of the door in the far corner on the fourth floor. What was in there that he wasn’t supposed to see? And why wasn’t he even allowed to know why it was off limits? The rational side of him chalked it up to him being the new guy, and he attempted to file it away in his mind as something that he may learn one day, after he had settled into his new job.
The problem was, though, that Peter could see the door from his desk, and every time his gaze fell upon it he was reminded of the strange encounter with Bob that first morning. He didn’t want to make waves, so he didn’t approach Bob about it again, but eventually curiosity got the better of him. One afternoon, a few weeks in, Peter was at the printer, collecting some documents, and another member of the department whom he now new as Kate was waiting for her things to print.
‘Hi. Kate, isn’t it?’ Peter shuffled his documents in an attempt to give the conversation a casual feel.
‘Yes, hi,’ said Kate. ‘You’re Peter, right?’
‘How do you like it so far? You started a few weeks ago, didn’t you?’
Peter moved out of the way so that Kate could retrieve her print-outs before continuing.
‘Yeah, I’m enjoying it. It’s almost a month now.’
‘Time flies, eh?’
‘Sure does. How long have you been here?’
‘Five years come Christmas.’
Peter blew out his cheeks.
‘I know. Career girl, that’s me.’ They shared a quick chuckle before Peter broached the topic that was on his mind.
‘I was actually wondering if you could help me with something.’
Peter indicated the door in the corner.
‘That door…’ he began.
‘We don’t go in there,’ said Kate, flatly. As with Bob on Peter’s first day, Kate’s tone went from friendly and genial to firm and resolute. Peter looked at Kate, questioningly, hoping that more information would be offered, but it wasn’t.
‘Yes, but…’ he tried to continue.
‘We just don’t go in there. I have a lot of work to do.’ Kate pulled her print-outs close to her chest and walked away, briskly, leaving Peter standing by the printer wondering what exactly was going on. He saw Kate stop to talk to someone at another desk, and their exchange looked tense and furtive. Glances were cast towards Peter and they looked concerned and mistrustful. An unpleasant feeling began to squirm in Peter’s stomach; he didn’t want to become someone other people avoided around the office. He took his print-outs back to his own desk and tried to put the incident out of his mind. However, he was now convinced that he was being kept in the dark about something, and he didn’t like it.
Peter tried to get on with his work, but a few moments after he had returned to his desk his phone rang.
It was Bob Stevenson.
‘Peter, it’s Bob.’
‘Hi Bob. How can I help?’
‘Can you come into my office, please?’
‘Of course. Is something the matter?’ Bob’s tone had been curt and had made Peter wonder what was up.
‘Just come down, please.’ Bob hung up the phone. Peter sat and blinked stupidly for a second, processing the swift exchange that had just taken place. He hung up the phone and stood from his desk. Even though everyone seemed to be busy with their work, Peter now felt exposed, like all eyes were on him. He felt hot and prickly and his shirt suddenly felt uncomfortable on his skin. He looked over at Kate’s desk as he made his way across the office. She looked up and quickly averted her gaze when their eyes met. Peter felt a pang of resentment towards her that he instantly regretted. He didn’t know why Bob had called him into his office, but after his encounter with Kate he had some suspicions. If he was right it meant that Kate had gone straight back to her desk and…
Told on him?
No, that’s stupid. Peter tried to dislodge the thought. You’re not in school anymore, he told himself. People don’t go around telling tales in the workplace…
But had she?
Peter arrived at the door to Bob’s office. It was open, so he didn’t need to knock.
‘Come in, Peter,’ said Bob, from behind his desk. ‘And close the door behind you, please.’ Peter did as he was asked and took a seat opposite Bob. His shirt had grown no less uncomfortable, and now his throat was feeling dry. Bob finished signing the paperwork that was in front of him and he then fixed Peter with a penetrating look.
‘How long have you been with us now, Peter?’
‘A month,’ replied Peter, automatically.
‘And are you enjoying it here?’
‘Very much so,’ said Peter, cursing himself a little for what he felt like was now a lie. He was enjoying his job, the actual work part of it, but this business with the forbidden door was starting to creep into his mind and making him question himself.
‘Good. I’m glad to hear it,’ said Bob. ‘Because your work to date is top notch.’
Bob interlocked his fingers and leaned back a little in his chair.
‘I think you have a future here, Peter. But I have to ask: are you a team player?’ Peter hated questions like this. They always meant so much more than what they were asking. He knew why Bob was asking this, and he knew there was only one way this conversation could go that was positive. He was going to have to play along.
‘I’d like to think that I am,’ he said, as sincerely as he could manage. He really did want to be a team player, but he felt he should be allowed a level playing field to do so. Bob looked at Peter in silence for a moment, bringing his interlocked hands up to his mouth for a moment as he thought.
‘It’s just that Kate phoned me a few moments ago.’
‘Oh?’ She had gone to Bob. Peter tried to control his emotions, but a flash of anger burst inside him. In that moment he decided that he didn’t like Kate and would avoid her when possible. She clearly couldn’t be trusted.
‘I thought I made myself clear on your first day, Peter. The door at the far end of the floor is strictly out of bounds.’
Peter didn’t reply.
‘Do you understand?’
Peter decided to go for it and try and get some answers.
‘Not really, no.’ This answer seemed to throw Bob a little. He looked at Peter for a moment before he recovered.
‘It’s not a matter for discussion, Peter. No one goes in there. Not you. Not me. Not anyone. You can do your job perfectly well without ever going through that door, as can we all. So, I’m asking you nicely – and I take no pleasure in stating that this is the final time I will ask – that you do what you need to do to put this out of your mind and focus on your job instead. Do you think you can do that for me?’
Peter breathed slowly.
‘Yes, Bob. Of course.’ Bob’s demeanour brightened noticeably upon hearing this. He nodded and smiled in satisfaction.