December 28th, 2009
The moment I stepped through the doors, the cool air washed over me like a cleansing bath. The birds in the trees were singing. I was free of the dread of having to undo my transgression. Now that it was over, my nervousness seemed totally displaced.
I walked around to the side of Bardolet’s office, looking in the bushes. But I saw nothing. “Farkus?” I called. I even walked around the inner edge of the bushes, next to the wall. I saw nothing. “Thanks,” I said, in case anyone was listening.
A heavy, dark presence appeared around the corner of the building, but it was not the three-foot-tall figure I had hoped to see. Instead, a six-foot-tall security guard asked if he could help me. No, I told him, I dropped something on the ground and was looking for it; I would be OK. He turned, then looked back and gave me a skeptical scowl. I got on my bike and raced toward home.
On the way, I stopped at the newspaper. I had to tell someone what had happened, so I told Burns. “I’m not worried about a lawsuit,” he said. “We checked it out really well. I think he was just trying to yank your chain.”
I had to think for a moment. This was the first time I had ever heard this phrase. “Now, I don’t want to do a story about this,” I said. “I can’t get my mother in trouble any more.”
He put his hand on his chin and seemed to finger an invisible beard. Perhaps he had had one in the ‘60s or early ‘70s. I tried to imagine him, with his clean-cut face, his short hair, and his chipmunk teeth, as a young hippie. It seemed impossible.
“Let’s wait and see what happens,” he said finally.
December 27th, 2009
“I’m going to get Mom’s job back.”
My sister frowned. “You’re going to mess things up even worse.”
“How can they be worse?”
She clicked her tongue. “At least she has a job, even if it’s a crummy one.”
Before I could dispute this a phone rang. She somehow recognized this ring as hers and hers alone in the sea of office noises, and went away. I sat in the waiting room, glancing at the magazines, without any plan of what to say.
Before I could come up with a plan, a man in a brown suit came up to the door, knocked, and went in. Then the receptionist came out. “You may go in.”
The office was paneled in flimsy fake wood the color of dark chocolate. In the corner was a case with glass doors behind which were lined up a small army of liquor bottles—Metaxa, Cuervo, Jack Daniels. On the desk was an ashtray with the figure of a naked woman in a running pose. Three or four cigarette butts were crushed into it. The air was thick with smoke. The carpet made a soft sucking sound as my gym shoes trod gingerly over it. Clearly, I had entered the Realm of Men.
Two men stood before me. Mr. Bardolet was behind his desk, the other man next to it. “This is our legal counsel, Ken McCutcheon,” he said. “Have a seat.”
My legs were shivering. I felt if I sat down I would never get up. “No, thanks,” I said. This modest bit of defiance made my legs feel stronger.
“Your newspaper has published slanderous articles, and we are considering libel proceedings against you,” said McCutcheon. Later, I realized he had mixed two terms and probably was lying outright just to intimidate me. But at the time, I was intimidated. I gulped and said nothing. “Anything you say here will be added to the lawsuit and come out in court.”
“What is it you want?” said Bardolet.
I stood before him, stammering. “Um…my, my mother. Had nothing to do with this.”
Then a shape moved by the window. Two bright eyes stared at me out of a coal black face. A light palm waved. I blinked, and just as quickly, the shape was gone. But the thought of Farkus loosened my throat.
“Is that all?” Bardolet asked. This inflamed me.
“You have no right to take my mother’s job away after all she has done to this—I mean for this—place,” I said. “I put that story in the paper. She didn’t. If anything, you should penalize me. Sue me. Sue the paper. You won’t because you know the story is true. Isn’t it?”
“It’s a lie!” he yelled. I couldn’t help jumping up a bit at the force of his words.
“Take it easy,” the lawyer muttered. Then to me: “Your mother signed a confidentiality oath when she joined this company. All employees are duty bound to keep all proceedings within the walls—“
“What are you, a bunch of Nazis?” I yelled. All the anger I had felt before at my mother, at the world, was now directed at these two men, as sharply focused as a laser beam. “That’ll sound good in print. You make her sign a piece of paper just so she can get a job and then you can do what you want with her. That’s got to be against the law. You want me to write about that? Give her her job back and I won’t.”
“There is no law barring employee confidentiality agreements,” said the lawyer.
But Bardolet stood and stared, apparently thinking. It seemed like a good time to turn on my heel and make a dramatic exit. My legs were shaking, so my turn wasn’t as sharp and warrior-like as I would have wished. But I have always been good at making such exits.