Making matters worse, his assistant of six years would not be returning from maternity leave. She and her husband had decided she should be a stay-at-home mom. While Alden was happy for their addition, he felt a little lost without her. He had precious little time to even change his mind about lunch decisions, much less any personal projects he might have cooking.
After the meeting wrapped, only ten minutes over schedule, Alden hurried to his car. In the Bluehardt parking lot, he walked past a young woman staring at the meager contents of a cardboard box before her. She sat on the curb, her head cast down. Alden could hear a faint sob. He had seen this before. Someone had been 'down-sized.' Mara would understand why he was running late.
"Are you alright," he said gently as he drew near.
"Huh? Uh-huh," was her reply. She looked up, wiping a tear from her eye. "Mr. Bryce?"
"Yeah," Alden replied cautiously. He looked at the woman's face. There was something familiar about her, but he could not place it.
"I'm Karen Townsend. We meet a couple of weeks ago at the con." She paused for him to remember her, adding after a moment, "I was the one dressed as Defender."
"Oh, yes. My little Defenderette. What are you doing out here?" He asked, squatting down to be at eye level.
"Oh... just staring at what's left of my dignity." She sniffed, tears postponed. "Cost cutting measures. I did more work than the other three girls, but I'm the one walking because I was last hired."
"That's the problem with a big company," Alden said as he pulled a handkerchief from the inside pocket of his sports coat. "They have to establish stupid rules. Are you all right? Do you need a ride home?"
"I'll be fine, Mr. Bryce. My roommate Jill is coming to pick me up. But I could use a job, if you happen to have one in your back pocket."
"Do you have a resume?"
"Yeah. Printed a couple off right before being escorted out the door." She dug into her box and produced a single sheet. Alden looked it over, noting the skimpy experience section: only two jobs. Both were secretarial positions. Both were companies that he knew. "Here, I've still got my letters of recommendation. Do you think they will help too?"
Alden studied the letters. She did not have much of a work history, but she had impressed some people during that time. If her resume was even partially true, she was skilled. "You're hired."
"Yeah, I wish it was that easy," she responded glumly.
"It is. You're hired. When can you start?" Alden pulled his business card out and handed it to her. Her face washed from depression to disbelief. "I'll take that as a 'today.' So, we'll assume today is a paid personal day. Go do something fun. Be at the office tomorrow at 9:00 AM. We'll discuss your duties and pay."
"Mr. Bryce... I don't know..."
"Don't thank me yet. You've not seen the amount of work we have to do. And my name is Alden. Tomorrow morning. Remember, we're a business casual office. So... leave the Defender costume at home."