It was the menacing time of autumn, the time just before Halloween when the leaves all tumbled from the trees with an audible clatter on the dry pavement and frost coated the windows in the mornings when you awoke in the dark and roused yourself unwillingly from between warm sheets. After school I drove out to Northwest Highway where my mother worked in a black metal box of a building. I slammed the door and walked over in the trenchcoat I had found at the resale shop near campus.

The bare branches of the trees seemed to be waggling at me like bony fingers, saying “Don’t…don’t…” But I paid no attention to them.

Once inside, Mom showed me off like a new baby, introducing me to one suburban matron after another. It reminded me of the skit I had just seen on the British comedy show I had discovered, Monty Python. I couldn’t wait to see it every Sunday night at 9:30. The mother introduces the grown son to her doting friend, talking to him in baby talk, asking if he likes his rattle, and he says, “Mother, I’m minister for overseas development.” “Oh, he’s a clever lad!” exclaims the mother.

“Oh, is this your son who writes the column in the paper?” said Mrs. Hareball. “We read that all the time.”

“Yes,” said mom, who never missed a chance to boast about my accomplishments to her friends, “and he’s writing an article right now on…”.

I cut her off, putting a finger to my lips.

She didn’t have an office so much as a corner of someone else’s reception area. There was her IBM Selectric II typewriter, with the little ball in the middle that spun rapidly, transferring letters to sheets of paper and carbon paper. On a side table were some brochures about the insurance company. I rifled through them eagerly.

“Does this company have an annual report?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know, I’ll see…”

Just then a man in a blue pinstripe suit came through the door. “Do you have that letter ready?” he asked my mother roughly. If that had happened now, I would have told him not to talk to her like that, but at the time, I was intimidated by things like job titles and people who were older than me, so I moved out of the way.

“No, Mr. Bardolet, I’ll have it in five minutes. This is my son…”

The hard wrinkles around his eyes and the deep furrows that creased his brow faded. “Oh, hello,” he shook my hand. I thought: this is the man we are investigating. He’s a normal human being with two hands.

I took a deep breath and spoke: “I’m interested in your company,” I said. “Do you have anything like an annual report I could look at?”

“Why, sure,” he said, ducking back into his office. Once he had been distracted, mom sat down at the typewriter and hurriedly loaded paper into it. There was a moment of collusion between us.

“Here’s this year’s, and the year before,” he said when he reappeared. By this time mom had started typing. He excused himself and went to the bathroom. I sat in a chair and scanned the reports.

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