Jean revealed a few of the company secrets to me. In spite of her many faults, Jean did understand confidentiality, and we never shared information regarding salaries or health information that we may have discovered. But the scandals that went on, hidden in plain sight, were fair game for conversation when the bosses were away.
Raoul, the vice president of the company, was simply a legal manager when I met him. And not too long before that, he was a paralegal working side-by-side with Claire, the woman I liked so much in my early days at Allure. Claire was beautiful, smart, and kind. She was young, and had good ideas, and was consequently a threat to Raoul, whose main talent involved the French practice of lèche-cul, so much more accurately described by the action of licking the hole than by the English version of kissing an ass. Raoul’s motivation to move to the United States was somewhat a mystery, and like many people who just randomly turn up pretending to be great as an expat, he may well have fled some scandal or general uselessness in France. Raoul was much like Pierre in some ways, but he had something that held power to the French, and was completely meaningless to the Americans: a noble name. Raoul de Laurent walked godlike among the cubicles at Allure, and became the trusted advisor to Aurélie.
For all of Louise Morel’s talents in bullshit detection, she was blindsided as well by the divine rights reserved for Raoul because of his name, and because of his Machiavellian talents in praising the powerful while squashing the commoners who worked with him. Though Raoul and Claire had worked together in the beginning, Raoul rose quickly through the ranks and became her supervisor when he was first promoted by Louise Morel to manager. Within the span of a year after the Allure changeover, Raoul had moved into the director, then the VP role that he currently holds. He went from living alone in an apartment in a nearby college haven to buying a house in a rather nice suburb with his mistress-come-fiancée Natasha. He was a bully to Claire, for the most part, and she never won the admiration she deserved from Aurélie. It had nothing to do with her work, Claire was simply unwilling to enter into the scandalous world of Allure’s highest ranking. I was sad when my friend quit and moved to France, but she is far better off now.
As for Raoul, I was puzzled when I learned that his partner Natasha was a former employee of Louise Morel. I worked a bit with Natasha on a project with Pierre, a disaster for all practical purposes as we attempted to woo her current employer as a client. The experience for all its failures did shed light on many of the strange whispers I heard when Natasha used to visit our offices. Natasha was a beautiful woman, and was apparently great at her job. She was also married when she worked at LMA, and had two beautiful children. When Raoul started, though, the flirtations also began, according to Jean, and within a short time, Raoul and Natasha were having a full-blown affair, without much hidden in the small office space of years past.
One of the features of the strange building that houses Allure is the bathrooms. Despite the larger space the company now has, the bathrooms are still out in a hall, and they are beyond disgusting. Toilets don’t flush, and walls are regularly caked with mold and dirt. For this reason, many employees go to the previous floor’s bathrooms, which are more hidden and private. So private, in fact, that they can be locked. And there is a shower. It was in this very shower, Jean told me, that much of the office intrigue took place. Raoul and Natasha likely consummated their relationship in that very space, and this perhaps explained Raoul’s long disappearances mid-afternoon nearly everyday even now. He may be leaving for a long lunch, or smoking (a habit he hides quite well for the most part). But no. A flustered encounter in the stairwell has made me think that Raoul was still going upstairs to those lockable bathrooms. Oh yes, he has been reliving the good old days when he and Natasha had their rendezvous in the shower. Only now, she was his partner at home, and he had only his hand to satisfy him on those Allure afternoons. Or was there someone else?
Raoul, to me, seemed like a little rat. He had dirty blond hair and sparse facial hair, a small, wiry build, groveling voice, and habit of stomping when he wanted respect, rather than simply leading with graciousness. I couldn’t see the appeal, but as time has passed, and though Jean does not reveal everything she knows about the staff, I have strong suspicions that Raoul’s quick climb up the ladder of success is because of his willingness to play the game of the company, that is, to swing with them. A few long lunch dates with Aurélie, and a few less-than-discreet conversations with Pierre near the espresso machine in the small kitchen have indeed revealed more than anyone must have intended. For if there is one thing I have learned in my time at Allure, it is that the monolingual members of our office will never know really what is happening around them, so much so, that the bilingual staff often forget who can understand them. The missing piece to the puzzle that Jean showed me was revealed one afternoon when I overheard plans between Pierre and Raoul, for the couples to meet, chez les Dumas…