MONDAY, 6:35 pm
I nearly slammed my door when I saw Mr. Mario Ventura, our new HRD officer, and Mr. Rolando Bautista, our Sales and Marketing manager, at my doorstep. I had a long bout against them and their fellow managers in the conference room the whole day today. Their tired, forty-something faces were the last things I wanted to see after work. And the uniform they were wearing — black slacks and light blue long-sleeved barong — brought me back to that damned room.
I looked at each of them hard, not bothering to conceal the extreme annoyance I felt about their presence.
“Won’t stay long.” Mr. Bautista, who was carrying a black leather briefcase in his right hand, announced as he stepped into the living room, not waiting to be invited in. My face must have made it explicitly clear that an invitation was not in order.
I moved into the living room without bothering to check if they were following. Reaching the center, I turned around, my face still tight. I didn’t ask them to sit down.
Mr. Ventura set the briefcase onto the center table. He opened the briefcase slowly, his eyes focused upon my face. I gave him a nasty look then lowered my gaze to the newly opened bag with its content now exposed. My eyes, swollen from crying and lack of sleep, literally bulged at what I saw. Money! An awful lot of money!
Both men noticed my reaction and were evidently pleased by it. “Five hundred thousand pesos in cold cash,” Mr. Ventura stressed. “For you.”
I dragged my gaze from the briefcase back to his unsightly face. “For me to keep quiet?”
“And for you to withdraw your charges against Mr. Uy.” He said, referring to the sexual harassment charges I filed at the police station against Mr. Uy Huang Lu, our Chinese general manager at Asia Pacific Lifts, Inc. this morning.
“And why would I do that?”
“Five hundred thousand pesos, that’s why.”
“You’re a fool not to take the money, Jhannie. You’re sending off your three brothers to school, aren’t you? And your father’s very sick with bronchopneumonia, isn’t he?” he asked, his eyes twinkling with malice. I glared at him, damning him for knowing just the right button to push.
“Forget about yourself, Jhannie.” Mr. Bautista interjected. “Just think about your family. How would you feel if something happens to your father, knowing that you could have prevented it? And if your brothers dropped out of school, wouldn’t you feel guilty knowing that you could have done something about it? Be practical. Anyway,” his voice dropped, “nothing happened.”
“Nothing?” I instantly flared. “I was nearly raped. And you calmly tell me that nothing happened?”
“I mean physically. What are kisses, embraces? I’m sure you did more than just those with your past boyfriends. I’m sure you’ve…”
“You’re insulting me, Mr. Bautista.” I cut him off. “The issue is not whether the act was consummated or not. We’re talking about a violation committed against my person!” I gritted my teeth.
I noticed Mr. Ventura not-too-discreetly signal Mr. Bautista to leave things to him. The latter kept quiet. Mr. Ventura turned his attention back to me. “Jhannie, calm down…”
“Calm down? You’ve got the nerve to order me to calm down after what happened to me?”
“No, Mr. Ventura. You listen. Clearly, we see things differently. And it’s apparent to me whose side you’re on. Tell me, if you could bribe me, what are you going to get in return? Promotion? Reward money?”
“Nothing. I’m just protecting the interest of the company.”
“Interest of the company? At the expense of the employees? Sir, you’re the HR manager! You’re supposed to protect the employees, not just the management!”
“And I’m doing just that. Jhannie, can’t you see? You have no case! No witnesses. No physical marks. No proofs. How could you prove that he molested you? It’s going to be your word against his. And who would take the word of an executive secretary over that of a respected country general manager? No one.” He breathed hard, then his voice softened. “Take the money, Jhannie. You’ll lose one way or another. Remember, you don’t come quite clean, what with the issue with Eric.”
I raised my eyebrows at the mention of my American friend’s name. “What’s Eric got to do with this?”
“Oh come on. You may be able to fool your officemates into believing that your relationship with Eric Collum is innocent. But the management knows better. And remember, an affair with a married man wouldn’t help you through this case.”
“Affair with a…” My head spun when I realized what he was insinuating. “You’re accusing me of sleeping with him, is that it?”
“Aren’t you?” he countered.
I glared at him. “That’s absurd! He’s my good friend! We’re not doing anything wrong.”
“I find that hard to believe. You’ve been spotted together many times. What will your officemates think? The management?”
“Ridiculous! Having lunch together does not warrant an affair.”
“Yes. But if we’d take it as a character reference,” he paused, a nasty smile playing on his lips, “we can easily plant a seed of doubt about your character.” His face moved closer to mine. “And where will that leave you?”
My hands balled. God, how I wanted to knock him off!
Again, he smiled. “Take the money, Jhannie. Save your face.”
“Sure, we will.” He answered as he calmly closed his briefcase. “But think about it, Jhannie. You have until tomorrow morning to decide.” He picked up the briefcase with his right hand then, beckoning Mr. Bautista to follow him, walked to the door, his confidence unshaken by my outburst. They were already at the door when Mr. Ventura looked back, his face arrogant. “Choose well.”
I glared at him, but he and Mr. Bautista just walked coolly to the company car parked not far from my apartment.