Jane Addison was rushing around her bright, modern new West Village apartment, getting ready for her first day at a new job. She had gotten her undergraduate degree from UCLA, worked for two years at San Francisco Magazine, and then gone back for her MBA at UC Berkeley, in their entrepreneurial program. She was twenty-eight years old, born and raised in San Francisco. Her father was one of the most successful venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. Her older sister, Margaret, was thirty-five, climbing the ladder at a rival venture capital firm. Margaret was married, with two children. Her husband was the CEO of a successful tech start-up, which was about to go public. Jane’s life was very different from Margaret’s, and so were her goals. For the moment Jane wasn’t interested in marriage, and didn’t know if she ever would be. Having babies held no particular lure for her. Margaret and her husband had met in business school at Stanford, and they liked their stable, married life and their demanding careers. They seemed comfortable and efficient managing both. It looked like a hard juggling act to Jane, a lot of responsibility and too much work.
Jane’s dream was to own a small magazine one day or, even better, a small publishing house, but she was a long way from achieving her goals. She was just beginning her work life. She had flown to New York to interview for jobs at the major publishing houses in New York, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Little, Brown, but nothing that interested her and paid decently had turned up. The magazines she had sent her resume to hadn’t leapt at the chance to hire her. They told her she was overqualified for the openings they had, and figured she probably wouldn’t stay long enough to make hiring her worthwhile.
In the end, the only offer she’d had that excited her came from a friend of her father’s, an old classmate of his at Princeton. Bob Benson owned a literary and entertainment agency, Fletcher and Benson, in New York. They represented actors, producers, directors, and screenwriters on the dramatic side, and writers on the literary side. The position she’d been offered was as an assistant to the executive assistant of the number two agent on the literary side, a woman named Hailey West. Jane had met her when she was applying for jobs in New York, and she seemed like an intelligent, pleasant, busy woman, committed to the writers she represented. The agency had some very important clients, and it seemed to Jane like a good interim job until the right opportunity turned up, closer to her goals for the future. She still wanted to work at a major publishing house to learn the ropes, but an entry-level job in publishing didn’t appeal to her much, and at least a job in a literary and talent agency sounded like fun. Meeting important writers and movie stars would be exciting. The agency was very successful. She’d interviewed with her father’s old friend and the heads of both sides of the agency, Francine Rivers for literary and Allie Moore, head of talent. They were both interesting women, and Bob Benson said that if she did well, she could be a literary agent one day.
Jane’s mother came from San Francisco to help her find the apartment in a big, modern, efficient building in the West Village, with a view of the Hudson, in what seemed like a friendly neighborhood. The building had a gym, a pool, and a roof garden for the tenants’ use. There was good security and plenty of staff, and her parents liked the fact that she’d be safe there. Her mother had been an interior decorator until Margaret was born, and she still enjoyed decorating their homes and doing whatever she could for her girls.
She helped Jane get her apartment organized and furnished in record time. Jane was thoroughly enjoying it and grateful to her parents for the comforts they provided. She was well aware that she and her sister had enjoyed benefits all their lives that many of their friends hadn’t. They were discreet about it, but Jane realized how lucky she was that she could take whatever job she wanted without worrying about whether or not she could pay her rent. Thanks to her mother, she had a comfortable home all set up for her a month after she arrived.
An old boyfriend of hers from UCLA, Benjie Strong, was working for a start-up in New York. He’d been there since grad school. They had reconnected as soon as she got there. They had been dating for a month and had busy, separate lives. He had slept at her apartment the night before, and had his own place with a roommate in SoHo. It had made the transition to New York easier and a lot more agreeable for Jane.
He was making toast in her kitchen when she helped herself to a yogurt from the fridge. She made coffee for both of them with the espresso machine and handed him a cup. He’d been reading The Wall Street Journal on his phone and looked up with a smile when she set the coffee down next to him. Benjie Strong was a year older than she was. He was twenty-nine, and looked like he was going to a picnic in cutoff jeans, a T-shirt, and running shoes without socks. He had gotten his MBA at Wharton, and was a bright guy. There was no dress code where he worked. Jane had already seen that the dress code was casual at Fletcher and Benson, but not to that degree. The men wore collared shirts and jeans, loafers or running shoes. The women mainly wore skirts and tops of some kind, and looked put together even if they were wearing jeans, which some did. They wore makeup and their hair was neat. Benjie looked like someone who had the day off. He smiled broadly when he glanced at her.
“Going to a party?” he asked her, and she laughed.
“Compared to you, I look like I’m going to dinner at a fancy restaurant. Going to the beach?” she teased him back.
“I’m a lot more dressed up than most of the guys I work with. Some of them come to work in shorts and flip-flops, if the weather is decent. No one cares what we wear to work.” It was the nature of start-ups, they both knew, and most of the employees were younger than Jane and Benjie, fresh out of college, looking like they had just rolled out of bed. No one shaved, or not frequently, and they barely brushed their hair. Games were provided in common areas, vintage pinball machines or video games, a candy bar, and board games to play on their breaks. The whole atmosphere was keyed to the very young. Many of them worked from home several days a week. And in start-ups or companies like Amazon, they often brought their dogs to work. Amazon, Facebook, and others like them had set the trend years before, and made the work environment highly desirable to the “millennials,” mostly in their twenties, who worked there. The surroundings at Fletcher and Benson were more polished, since their clients were adults, and the employees were older than those at most start-ups.
The women she had seen there dressed well and she noticed that most of them wore heels to work. She was wearing a short black denim skirt, a striped Chanel T-shirt she had “borrowed” from her mother to bring to New York, and a pair of high-heeled black Manolo Blahnik pumps. Her long blond hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail, and she was going to wear a white Levi’s jacket and carry a black-and-white tote. She looked fashionable, but not too much so. She was slim and had a good figure and long legs. There was nothing suggestive about what she was wearing. The skirt wasn’t too short, and the heels weren’t too high. Her perfume was a light fresh scent one barely noticed. She looked clean and young and pretty, and she was eager to do a good day’s work and learn about her new job and coworkers at the agency.
She and Benjie left the apartment together. Benjie was taking the subway to work in Brooklyn, and Jane had called an Uber to take her to Midtown, where the agency was, on Fifty-Seventh Street between Madison and Park Avenue in the heart of the luxury shopping district. It would be hell getting there in bad winter weather, with all the traffic, but it was warm now and a nice area to walk around in during her lunch hour. There were plenty of places to eat or to order food nearby. And there was a kitchen and dining room for employees who brought their own lunch. Many of the employees ate at their desks while they continued to work. The working conditions were extremely pleasant at Fletcher and Benson, even if they didn’t provide all the games and snacks offered by start-ups. None of that mattered to Jane.