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Double Standards

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Sophia Bloom Sinclair was contemplating the vista out of her majestic office that ruled her high rise corporation. She was deep in thought when the sound of muddled footsteps that advanced on her insanely expensive Persian carpet caught her attention. She turned around to sit on her black leathered desk chair, as she scrutinized her vice president’s face. He was definitely perturbed, which gave her the presentiment that he was baring bad news.

“Well, out with it,” she commanded in her usual strict cold voice, “Who won the bid?”

Her vice president sat down on one of the guest’s chair in front of her mahogany desk in defeat. His clenched fists expressed his frustration, and she needn’t hear him say that Payne was the lower bidder to know that they lost yet another project to this bastard.

“The investor is signing with him a contract for the construction of the new chain of hotels and resorts; we lost a contract of more than 5 billion dollars just because this Payne bastard beat our price by a lousy one hundred thousand dollars.” The vice president spat in wrath.

Only the thinning of Sophia Bloom’s strict mouth betrayed her inner anger. “That’s the what! … sixth time in a year that he’s won a major contract away from us. Quite a coincidence, I think not.”

“Coincidence!” the vice president hissed scathingly, “it wasn’t a coincidence nor it was cheer luck and you know it well Sophia. Someone in my division must be spying for Liam Payne. Some bastard is spying on us for him so he can bid lower than our price every single time. Don’t you think it is also strange that we always end up bidding on the same projects! Only five men that work for me knew the number we were bidding on, one of them must be the spy. We only have to find out whom.”

Sophia massaged her temple with her fingers and leaned back in her chair, she honestly did not know what to think.

“We ran a check on them… remember; all what we’ve learned is that two of them are cheating on his wife and another is actually gay, we didn’t find anything that incriminated them in any way!”

“Then it was not enough…there must be something.” The vice president ran his fingers through his shiny primed hair. “Look, Sophia, I know that Liam is your stepson, but you’re going to have to do something about him. He’s out to destroy you, his own father’s company… this is no normal competition this is vindictive.”

Sophia’s eyes narrowed to snake slits and her lips turned thinner as she retorted: “I’ve never accepted that fact that he’s my ‘stepson’, nor does my husband consider him his son for that matter, Georges has only one son and it’s Carter.”

She calmed down after having made that clear: “Now, specifically what do you suggest I do about our little problem.”

“For all I care… put a spy in his company…an eye for an eye, I really don’t care what you do, just do something. But we better put a stop to the spying done in here.”

Sophia looked at her vice president in amazement, spy on that Liam bastard…what a solution! However, her thoughts were interrupted by the buzzing on her desk.

“Hold that thought.” She said as she quickly replied to her secretary.

“What is it Stephanie?”

“I’m sorry to interrupt Mrs. Sinclair, but there is a Mr. Zack Malik, oh, sorry, Zayn Malik here, he has an appointment to discuss employment.”

“He does,” Sophia sighed irritably. “I agreed to interview him for a position with us. Tell him I’ll see him in a few minutes.” She returned her attention to the vice president who was regarding her with puzzled raised eyebrows.

“Since when are you conducting personal interviews?” he asked in a mockingly surprised manner.

“It’s a courtesy interview,” Sophia explained with an impatient sigh. “His mother was a faraway cousin of mine, from my mother’s Irish side of the family. She was one of the relatives my dear mother wanted to contact for our family tree, she located her and invited her and her family to a nice little weekend visit so that she could delve into their ancestry, discover if they were actually related to decide if they are worthy to mention in her book. We discovered she got married to some Indian man, who was an English professor in some school, and she was a musician, but she gave up concertos to raise her son. Well a few years ago, her husband died in a car accident… she called me two weeks ago to ask if I could find her son a job. She said there was nothing suitable for him in Missouri where they’re living now.”

“Rather audacious of her to call you, wasn’t it?” he said irritably… they did not need another incompetent employee in the company.

Sophia’s expression filled with the most bored resignation.

“I’ll give the boy a few minutes of my time and then I’ll send him back to his village. We don’t have a position for anyone with a college degree in art and music, and even if we did I wouldn’t hire Zayn Malik. I’ve never met a more outrageous arrogant ill-mannered child in my life. He was about nine years old, scrawny and short for his age with a mop of unruly black hair and with hideous thick rimmed glasses and so help me God, that boy looked down his nose on us… spoke Urdu disrespecting us all the time, I was relieved when the weekend was over.”

***

Sophia Bloom Sinclair’s secretary glanced at the insanely attractive young man sitting across her desk. He was wearing black immaculate slacks, with black blazer and a cream white shirt that complemented his exotic olive skin. The guy had jet black hair styled in an elegant mini quiff, a jaw freshly shaved to die for really. However his eyes were the most interesting feature, a long curl of dark lashes framing the almond shape of two luminous globes of honey that reflect ships of olive green in the lighting of the lobby.

Zayn sensed the pressure of the scrutiny of the secretary, he felt a little uncomfortable when people stared. It’s not that he was one of those clueless people that did not know their own attractiveness, but it still made him feel uneasy none the less, even when he was subjected to this kind of thing constantly since he hit puberty. So he looked up from his phone screen and flashed a big fake smile. The secretary woke up from her daze and smiled apologetically: “Madame Bloom-Sinclair will see you in a few minutes.” She said politely, careful not to stare again.

Zayn looked back to his phone after he replied with a polite “thank you”. He was trying to control his nerves; he dreaded the confrontation with Mrs. Sinclair. Fourteen years wasn’t enough to make him forget the bitter memories of the two days he spent with his mother at her magnificent Grosse Pointe mansion, where her entire family, her obnoxious husband and even the servants treated them with insulting contempt, because what they were not on their prestigious level.

The phone on the secretary’s desk buzzed again.

He wondered how things ended up there. If he had known his dear mother would ask favors of this robot of a woman he wouldn’t have let her. Nevertheless, by the time he knew about everything it was too late; the call had been made and the interview already arranged. His mother had said they did not know anyone else who could possibly help them and that Zayn doesn’t have a good reason not to go. He did not want to remind her of how they were treated fourteen years ago, so here he is in Detroit, trying to seek a job in order to help his mother pay her accumulating bills and her health did not really permit her to get a job to save herself. He found that his college degree in arts and music was actually useless when it came to a job with quick money. All the hours of practice and the concertos he participated in all over the states were in futile.

At the thought of his responsibility, Zayn felt like he had the weight of the world on his shoulder. He needed a job and he needed the money, the sooner the better. He glanced up again, studying the posh reception area he was sitting in and tried to imagine him-self working in a big company like this, not that it mattered, if the pay was good enough he will take any job they offered because good jobs with high pay were near to non-existent back in Missouri.

The secretary hung up her phone and stood up: “Madame Sinclair will see you now Mr. Malik.”

Zayn followed the secretary to a richly ornate mahogany double door. As the secretary opened it, Zayn was muttering a hurried prayer that Mrs. Sinclair won’t remember him from that long ago visit, and then he stepped into the office. Years of performing the piano in front of a jury and an audience had taught him to keep his nervousness and emotions bottled, which empowered him to approach the robot lady with the composure of the young witty man he was.

“You probably don’t remember me Mrs. Sinclair,” he said with ease extending his hand across the desk, “but I’m Zayn Malik.”

Sophia Sinclair handclasp was firm, like her personality, but Zayn couldn’t ignore the fact that she kept her hand there more than it was necessary, batting her eyelashes in a disturbing way.

“As a matter of fact I do remember you very well, Zayn.” She said with dry humor, “you were an unforgettable child.” She observed him closely with her cold steely eyes, and Zayn felt really uncomfortable under her stare. “But look at you now; I’d be surprised if you did not make any music cover magazine yet.” She said with a flirty manner that made Zayn gulp. “Please take a seat.” She gestured to the chair in front of her desk.

“I’ve brought you my résumé,” Zayn said, removing an elegant envelope from his satchel.

He handed her the said paper, she took it, but her eyes were now in focus on his face.

“You know you resemble your mother quite a lot, but I guess your jaw line and colors are from your father.”

Zayn squirmed uncomfortable in his chair; he cleared his throat before answering hesitantly: “hmm yes I guess.”

Sophia nodded, and went to read his résumé. Zayn took his time observing the woman closely. She had nothing to do with his mother; she had light strawberry blonde hair, steely gray eyes, and a thin pair of strict lips. However he could not ignore the fact that she didn’t seem to have aged at all, unlike his mother who had a few aging line that complemented her warm face nicely, this woman looked more of a plastic robot than ever. She’d fool you from afar, but looking at her closely one would see she doesn’t look her real age, not at all. ‘The wonders of Botox and celebrities’ treatments’ He thought. Yet he couldn’t help but feel an uneasy chill about the way she was looking at him and her tone when she flirted with him, she was his mother’s age for God’ sake. Not to mention that he was gay; he figured his sexuality out since sixteen, thank you very much. All things considered, her gracious manner was respectful, and it seemed like all hard feelings were inexistent so maybe he should give her a chance right, maybe his child-mind gave him the impression that she was a conceited bitch when she was just being her business woman sophisticated self.

“Although your university grades are exceptional, I hope you realize that your degree is of no value in the business world.” She said regretfully, “But I see that you know quite a few useful languages which are an asset.”

“Learning new languages are kind of a hobby of mine… we other than music… Look I know that I majored in arts and music but I realized when it came to real life, well there is no actual future in it for me, I really need a job.” He stressed.

Sophia listened attentively, and then looked at the paper again: “You also took several business courses.”

When she paused expectantly, Zayn figured that she might be actually considering giving him a job, “Actually, I’m only a few courses short of qualifying for a business degree.” He said persuasively.

“And I see you worked while attending college after school during the summers as a secretary. Your mother did not mention that on the phone. Are you shorthand and typing skills are as good as it is claimed on your résumé?” she asked.

“Yes. But I don’t really want to be a secretary.” He said tentatively.

“Why not? It’s an important job; secretaries in large corporations like this one are from the first people actually aware of the next projects and action plans, you’ll be aware of the business in this position better than any other and you’ll gain more experience by observing how things work in here. Oh don’t look so glum,” she said trying to convince Zayn with this job, “the work won’t be boring. Why my own secretary knows more about our future plans than most of my executives do. Executives secretaries are privy to all sort of highly confidential information, they’re…” she stopped in her tracks at once, looking dreamy.

“A secretary,” she exclaimed as if she just had a light bulb illuminated on top of her head. “Of course they would never suspect a secretary; they wouldn’t even run a security check on one! Zayn, I’m about to make you a very unusual deal. Please don’t argue about it until you hear me out completely. Now what do you know about corporate or industrial spying.”

Zayn had this queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach: “Enough to know that it’s illegal and people have been sent to prison for it, and that I absolutely don’t want anything to do with it Mrs. Sinclair.”

“Of course you don’t,” Sophia said thoughtfully, “and please Zayn call me Sophia. After all we’re related somehow, and I’ve been calling you Zayn.” She said with a flirty smile that made Zayn want to puke a little. However he uneasily nodded.

“I’m not really asking you to spy on another corporation; I’m asking you to spy on mine.” When she saw Zayn’s puzzled expression she went on.

“Let me explain. In recent years, a company called Pay-co has become one of our biggest competitors. Every time we bid on a contract Pay-co seems to know how much we’re going to bid and they bid just a fraction of a percent less than our price and by that they win the bid away from us. And it just happened again today. There are only five men here who could have told Pay-co the amount of our bid, so one of them must be their spy. I don’t want to dismiss four loyal executives just to get rid of the spy. But if Pay-co continues to steal business from us this way, I’m going to have to begin to sack people.”

She continued on, “I employ more than twelve thousand people Zayn; twelve thousand families are relying on my corporation so they can have roofs over their heads. So there’s a chance you could help them keep their jobs. All, you have to do is apply to a secretarial position at Pay-co today. God knows they’ll need to increase their staff to handle all the work they stole from us. With your skills and experience they’ll be fools if they did not offer you a job with a high level executive.”

Against his better judgment, Zayn felt curious enough to ask: “But if I get the job, then what?”

“Then I’ll give you the names of the five men who might possibly be the spy, and all you have to do is to listen for the mentions of their names by anyone at Pay-co.”

She leaned forward in her chair, crossing her arms on her desk:

“It’s a long shot Zayn, I know, but I’m absolutely fed up with all this Pay-co bullshit that I’m ready to do anything in order to stop what they’re doing and save my company for the sake of my loyal employees. I was planning to offer you a secretarial position with a very attractive salary…” and when she mentioned the number, Zayn looked very interested, because with this salary, all their problems could be solved, Sophia noticed and smiled knowingly, saying that salaries in big cities are more considerable than salaries in small towns.

“Now if you applied at Pay-co this afternoon and they offered you the desired position, I want you to take it. The salary there is a bit lower from the one I just offered so you’ll get a monthly check from my company to make up the difference and if you succeed in learning the spy’s name or anything of value to me I’ll give you a bonus of 20 000 dollars. Six months from now, If you did not learn anything you can resign from their and come and work for us, and if you obtained a college degree I promise to offer you a better job, how is that?” her cold eyes traveled on his troubled face.

“Something’s bothering you?” she asked innocently.

“The whole thing is bothering me actually, I’m not very good at… the whole spying thing, I’m afraid I’m a shit liar and I….”

“Zayn I know I have absolutely no right to ask you to apply at Pay-co. It may surprise you but I’m aware of how unpleasant your visit were fourteen years ago. My son Carter was at a difficult age, my mother was obsessed in our family tree and my husband… well I’m sorry we weren’t more cordial.”

Under normal circumstances, Zayn would have turned her down. He did not like ruse and dishonesty, but now his life was in a state of complete mayhem and his financial responsibilities were overwhelming. “All right, I’ll do it.” He said and never sounded that unsure in his life.

“Good.” Sophia said pleasantly, she picked up one of her cell phones and dialed Pay-co.’s number and handed it to Zayn to make an appointment. Zayn secretly hoped that they’ll refuse him on the whim. However, according to the man he spoke to, Pay-co needed experienced secretary because of a big contract they just signed and since he’ll be working until later today he could see him in an hour.

When she put away her phone, Sophia stood up and thanked him, declaring the interview was over. She invited him to stay with them, but Zayn refused politely, but Sophia was adamant about him staying with them, declaring that she wanted to make up for their last visit. So she gave him no choice.

When the door closed behind Zayn, Sophia picked up the phone and dialed her son’s private office number.

“Carter,” she said with a gleeful voice, “I think we’re about to drive a spike into Liam Payne’s armor. Do you remember this boy Zayn Malik…?”