Here it is, Father’s Day again, so here’s a tale which is, at least, marginally about a father and son. I hope my own kids don’t think I treated them like this. My pride in them has no bounds.
Aaron ran through the house in search of his father. “Dad!” he cried, “Dad, guess what? I worked a deal!”
Solomon Mays turned away from the Kennedy/Nixon debate on the Philco. “Really? What kind of deal?”
Aaron puffed up his eight-year-old chest. “I got Billy Johnson and Jake Warner to stop fighting—them and their gangs, too!” His wheezing always got worse when he was excited, but just then he was too proud to care.
Solomon nodded. “And how did you manage this miracle?”
“I said I’d give ’em each a dollar.”
Solomon frowned. “You can’t buy peace, Aaron, and remember, the deal-maker never pays. Is that understood?”
“There’s nothing to add, Son. Trust me—I know. That’s why so many people come to me to work out the toughest deals.”
“One other thing, Aaron. A good deal-maker never gives details to anyone who isn’t part of the bargain.”
“Yes, sir,” Aaron said, his shoulders slumping. He wanted desperately to explain how he collected a dollar from the parents of each of the smaller boys in both gangs as a reward for stopping the fighting, but now he never could.
“Did I tell you about my latest deal?” Solomon asked. “I brokered the merger of two unions: Federated Sock Knitters and United Hosiery Workers. I worked a deal everyone else just walked away from. I guess they got cold feet!” Solomon laughed, but Aaron thought it made sense.
Murph studied the memo for the hundredth time, and still couldn’t believe it. Someone had complained about him and used the magic words: sexual harassment—something you made jokes about. Nobody took it seriously, until now.
Probably that prissy blonde in Overdue Accounts, he thought. She’s just the type. He dropped the memo in his top drawer and locked it. It was nearly four, still sixty minutes away from freedom.
If only the damn phones would stop ringing.
They didn’t. He hated phone calls more than any other aspect of his job, but as a Supervisor the tougher calls were routed to him. He would rather have chewed glass.
“Line two, Mr. Scanlon,” Sara Broadnax said. “The guy’s pretty upset.”
Murph watched as she bent to water a potted plant on a low shelf in her cubicle. She oughta change her name to Sara ‘Broadass.’ He picked up the phone. “Scanlon here.”
“I’ve just wasted two hours trying to make sense of your lousy installation manual. Listen, I–”
“Hold on a second.” Murph turned to his PC. “How do you spell your name?”
The caller gave his name and address, but Murphy couldn’t find him in the system. “Did you fill out the warranty card?”
“We don’t have a record of it.”
“Because I haven’t mailed it yet!”
Murph relaxed. “We can’t help you until we have the warranty card.”
“But I just bought the damn thing today.”
“So? Send in the card, wait a couple weeks, and give us another call.”
“G’bye.” He hung up. What a jerk.
Bev Pierce, a summer intern, walked past his desk. Murphy sucked his teeth, oblivious to everything save the sway of her hips. Oh, my! I wonder what she’d–
“Scanlon!” The Department Manager’s voice made him cringe. He’s probably sore about that stupid complaint. I’ll bet it was that secretary with the big–
The Manager stood scowling in the doorway to his lair, some twenty feet from Murphy’s desk. “Where are the productivity charts? I shoulda had ’em hours ago!”
“No problem.” Murphy poked around in his desk pretending to look for the hand-lettered charts, knowing they weren’t complete. He’d been too busy sweet-talking a file clerk into going out for a drink. She’d turned him down. It’s probably just as well, they’d card her for sure.
“On my way.” He snatched the charts from a corner of his desk, grabbed his coffee mug—its contents long since cold—and paused a few beats until a mail clerk went by. Scanlon blundered into him, spilling coffee on the charts.
“Oh, geez! I’m sorry,” the victim said.
“Nice going, you idiot! They’re ruined.” Scanlon stepped to the Manager’s door and curled his thumb at the clerk. “I’ll have to re-do them, thanks to him.”
The clerk drifted away in silent mortification.
“Well, hurry,” said the manager. “This merger business is going to keep us busy as hell. And forget about taking your vacation; nobody gets any time off before Christmas.”
Oh, Marge’ll love that. Maybe she can take the kids and go somewhere. I could use a little peace and quiet.
Bev Pierce caught his eye a second time as she returned from her errand. Murphy smiled. Oh, yeah.
Long ago, when Mavis Jones was young, a kindly preacher treated her and a handful of other migrant workers to lunch and a movie. Mavis, a deaf mute, couldn’t follow the story, but it didn’t matter, for in the film she glimpsed a lifestyle unlike anything she ever imagined possible—a woman who worked in an office.
From then on, Mavis often thought of such a life. She imagined herself wearing fine, clean clothes and sitting in a comfortable chair. She dreamed of knowing the mysteries of the printed word and using a telephone.
Of course, that was the movies; no one really lived like that. Still, the memory sustained her as she worked in the fields. Even if she could have told people of her crazy ideas, she wouldn’t have. It wouldn’t be right. Folks respected her as a healer, one whose knowledge came from a long line of people skilled in the ways of nature. If she started talking about clean clothes and telephones, people might lose faith, one of the strongest medicines she had.
Though she never again saw the preacher who took her to the movie, Mavis always felt she owed it to the churches to attend. A ride to Sunday Services was the only thing she expected in return for any healing she attempted, and any church would do.
Mavis didn’t expect much from life and thereby avoided a great deal of personal misery. She knew there were always good times to balance out the bad. So when the sickness came upon her, she accepted it as calmly as she accepted everything else.
“Of course I want you to work for me, Aaron,” Solomon said. “But I won’t start you at the top; it wouldn’t be fair to the others. In fact, you should really start somewhere else, learn the basics, and then come back here.”
“But now that I’ve got my degree, I thought everything was set. All my life I’ve wanted to work with you. It’s the most important thing in the world to me.”
Solomon shook his head. “No, Son, the most important thing in the world is always The Deal. Never forget that.”
Rather than work somewhere else, Aaron went back to school. His asthma kept him out of Viet Nam but didn’t stop him from earning his MBA. He went to work for D. Webster and Associates, where he became the youngest partner in Webster history. He couldn’t wait to share the news.
“Hello, Dad?” Aaron pressed the phone to his ear. “You won’t believe it–they’ve made me a partner!”
“Congratulations. But, aren’t you a little young for that?”
“I guess my work on the Kressworth merger made the difference. Imagine, twenty-six stores in a single chain!”
“Yes,” Solomon said, “I did read something about that, but I’ve been pretty busy myself lately. I just wrapped up a deal with the three largest department stores in the country—forty locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.”
“Gee, Dad, that’s great.”
“Keep at it, Aaron; one day you’ll be ready for the really big deals.”
“You don’t understand,” Murphy said to the lawyer. “I didn’t do anything I wasn’t encouraged to do.” Concentration proved difficult as the attorney happened to be a tall redhead with a spectacular figure, obvious despite her conservative business suit.
“Mr. Scanlon, the–”
“Call me ‘Murph,’ please.”
“According to the formal complaint, you not only made lewd remarks and unwelcome advances, you actually touched these women. With six plaintiffs, I can’t believe we’re even considering letting this go to trial.”
“Y’know, your eyes are unbelievably green. Has anyone ever told you–”
“They’re contacts, Mr. Scanlon, and you can discuss any other observations you’d care to make with my fiancé’.”
“I’m just trying to be friendly.”
“Like with the women in this complaint?”
“That’s not fair! I can tell the difference between ‘No, period’ and ‘No, not yet.'”
“Not according to this.” She waved the complaint before tossing it on the table in disgust. “My first loyalty is to our employer; they’ve retained me to defend you and them. To do it, we’ll need a character reference or two. Is there anyone who’ll vouch for you—a minister perhaps, someone in a service club, your mother?”
Murphy shook his head. “The woman who runs the doughnut shop likes me, I think. ‘Course, I don’t know her all that well….”
The attorney drummed her fingers on the conference table. “Anyone else?”
“Save your energy, Mr. Scanlon. Use it to say good-bye to your assets, assuming we’re lucky enough to work out a settlement.” She gathered his file and slipped it into her briefcase as she stood up.
Murphy stood up as well, but slowly. Then he straightened and smiled. “You doing anything for dinner?”
“What’s the matter, Mavis? You haven’t picked much. You ain’t even close to quota,” the foreman said. “Besides, you don’t look so good.”
Mavis smiled and nodded, like she always did, though the pain in her belly almost caused her to double over. But if they knew she was sick, they might not let her work, and she couldn’t allow that—it wouldn’t do for folks to see a healer getting sick. As soon as the foreman looked away, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the last of the green-gray leaves which had sustained her in the fields. She chewed them slowly, waiting for the numbness to begin.
“We gotta finish here today,” the foreman said. “There’s a bunch of rich Yankees comin’ to inspect the place and we gotta look modern. That means y’all have to stay outta sight.” He looked at Mavis. “You understand? You better get movin’ now, as slow as you are.”
“Hello, Dad?” Aaron addressed the speakerphone built into his desk, just one of the perks he received as the CEO of D. Webster and Associates. “It’s great to hear your voice. Do you like the retirement home? Need anything?”
“No, I’m fine,” Solomon said. “They take good care of me here. Any chance you might get away for a visit?”
“I doubt it. In fact, I only have a few minutes right now. You wouldn’t believe what I’m working on, Dad, it’s the biggest, and toughest, deal of my career. In fact–”
“A tough one, huh? I remember my last one. The Middle East Peace Treaty was the hardest deal I ever worked on.”
Aaron smiled. “I’ll call you when I can.”
Murph needed time to think on his way back to the office and took the long route, along the beaches on the coast.
The company agreed to keep him on the payroll though his days as a Supervisor were over, and what he owed from the settlement meant he could forget about early retirement, unless he won the lottery. But then, he’d just been served with divorce papers, so even that might not be enough.
What I could use is a little something to take my mind off my troubles.
As if in answer to a prayer, he saw a woman in the distance struggling to change a flat tire by the side of the road. He didn’t need to make out much detail, the contrast between her tan and her white bikini was enough.
He never saw the 18-wheeler he turned in front of. Few attended the closed-casket service.
Mavis was embarrassed by the fuss everyone made over her. They brought more food than she could ever eat, tried to comfort her, and kept her company, though most of the time she just slept. She couldn’t tell them where to find the green-gray leaves she needed for her pain.
The foreman’s daughter brought a puppy to cheer her. It snuggled in the crook of her bony arm, as if it and the Bible at her side were bookends. Mavis relaxed, forever.
Though they buried her in a pauper’s grave, the service was conducted by three different ministers and the cemetery was crowded with mourners.
“Aaron? Are you all right? You’ve been out of touch so long I was getting worried.”
Aaron smiled into the phone. “I’m fine, Dad, really, but very tired.” And I won’t be wheezing anymore.
“A tough merger, huh? But you pulled it off?”
“Just barely,” Aaron said, knowing it was a deal no one would ever top. “I wish I could tell you about it, but–”
“No, Son, I understand.”
“I knew you would. Anyway, you’ll know all about it eventually, everybody will. Let’s just say the negotiations were out of this world—way out.”
“I’m very proud of you.”
“By the way,” Solomon said, “did I ever tell you about my worst disaster?”
Murphy awoke propped in a wooden chair with a cane seat that pinched him every time he moved. Still, it beat not moving because it was the most uncomfortable thing he’d ever sat in. He tried to stand, but an unseen force pressed him down. Nor was the chair the only thing he couldn’t get away from. The surface of his desk was obscured by a legion of red phones—all ringing. It was eight A.M. on a Monday, as he instinctively knew it would be for all time.
Memories came back slowly; his orientation to this place had been quick and confusing. It was conducted by a man in a white robe and a woman who appeared to be wearing nothing but red paint. The man looked uneasy and apologized, explaining the disarray as a by-product of what he called the “ultimate merger.” The woman didn’t say much. She spent most of her time laughing, though there was no humor in it.
Murphy looked across the corridor at a woman lounging in a leather-upholstered swivel chair. She smiled happily as she spoke into a white telephone, dashed off a note, and appeared the very picture of blissful efficiency.
He stared at the nameplate on her desk. Mavis? What in hell kind of a name is that?