8 - Mirabella Jablonski
"Hold my calls," Jake said gravely as he entered his office. He shut the door behind him in direct violation of his core value of the Open Door, momentarily stunning the receptionist. He had more important things on his mind.
The money for the boat would have to be untraceable. It had to be his, and only his. No possibility of Marilyn or anyone else getting a mere whiff of a thought of a notion of an inkling that he had made the purchase. Marilyn would want to know what he was doing spending that kind of money, as if they had a reason not to buy anything they wanted. The Decrepitude would suggest a habitual weekend jaunt, probably to get away from the Hens, which would be put him in danger of accidentally drowning and jeopardize Jake's spotless criminal record. They weren't worthy of the boat. Nobody was, except maybe Michael and his grandson. No matter what happened, no one would know of its existence, there could be no paper trail. It would have to be cash, and it would have to be untraceable. The boat needed to be for himself, in an is-that-asking-too-much sort of way. He would keep it down in the Keys, near Michael, but not so close as to be smothering.
Not that he planned on leaving Marilyn. He lacked the desperation for divorce, and for better or worse, it would be hard to get on without her to look after certain things. Nor was he about to leave Can-Am. Too much invested. He could certainly get a good price on a buy-out of his stock, but where would he go? Anything except Can-Am would be a step down; and let's face it, he did pretty much whatever he wanted now, with only the Decrepitude to put up with.
No, he thought, let's really face it. You're too old. There are simply not enough years left in your life to start a new career, or a new marriage. More years behind than in front, no way to disavow that. The only thing there was left to do was get that boat, go fishing, and try to patch things up with Michael.
A soulless chord from the tinny computer speaker announced the arrival of email. It was from Arnold the Weasel, the rodent-faced fellow who ran the Employee of the Year handicap. The opening odds for this year's competition ran as follows:
6-1 Jim (Audrey's beau)
4-1 Steve Stanton
1-2 Elgin Loudercraft
18-1 Yours Truly
35-1 Henna Jensen
116-1 John T. Bayer
Jim (Audrey's beau) he knew from a few brief status meetings. He grinned at the use of Audrey to identify him, knowing that most of the poor fellow's pull came from her influence.
Steve Stanton was a perennial also-ran. He was a trooper. A sullen but sincere fellow who walked on a prosthetic leg, he could be counted on to arrange any sort of charitable event that anyone suggested. He did nothing that spectacularly, but his competent performance gained weight from a certain sentimentality.
Henna Jensen was--he was fairly sure--on his staff. He glanced at his cheat sheet. Oh yes, red curly hair, a real winner. The girl knew how to do a status in about twenty seconds.
Yours Truly (Arnold the Weasel, himself) was generally liked and universally appreciated, except by the upper echelons who suspected his subversive activities, but either could not prove them or didn't want to due to the potential self-incrimination. In earlier handicaps, the Weasel was cautious about taking Jake's bet, fearing the he was laying a trap, but in subsequent years he was grateful for participation and the clandestine sanction it provided.
The favorite and the long shot he did not recognize.
For Jake, the point of the handicap was not to win a piddling little sum, but it was to take a dig at the Decrepitude, who felt so disrespected by it. On the other hand, about three hundred dollars on the longest shot, and he would have enough for the boat. He could certainly manipulate the Decrepitude into selecting John T. Bayer, whoever he was, as the Employee of the Year, but he suspected he would end up being the only one to bet on him, that might be a little suspicious; insider trading of a sort. Round about nine hundred on the next longest, not an unknown quantity for the handicap, but again too much for him to place without arousing suspicion if he won.
Jake broke out of his fog when the Decrepitude, who was not circumscribed by "hold my calls", summoned him on a matter of "special importance."
When Jake arrived, the Decrepitude's bloodless complexion made Jake think illness.
"There's this situation…I guess you'd…. this situation in Accounting." The Decrepitude was literally sputtering. Jake thought heart attack.
"I don't see how we…this sort of thing must be…I think the best thing…" Now he was quivering.
Jake thought stroke. Should he call an ambulance or would it be better to sneak out and just let him be discovered on the office floor when it was too late?
The Decrepitude's fibrillation eased and settled into a sigh as he slumped into his chair. Jake thought "damn."
In the absence of the Decrepitude buying the farm on the spot, Jake figured he may as well try to get him to the point. "Can you tell me exactly what's going on?"
"In Accounting…down there...there's a situation…how can anyone keep that sorted out?"
"OK, I'll look into it."
He left, realizing he would have to seek background information elsewhere.
"Gracie, do you know anything about trouble in Accounting?" he asked the receptionist who, despite being thoroughly loony, did have a good grasp of company goings-on.
"There was something about a gopher."
"Or was it a squirrel?"
"A squirrel? Are you sure?"
"Yes. A squirrel. The woman is going to sue, they say."
"Sue the squirrel?"
"Oh no, sue Can-Am."
"Because of a squirrel?"
"For fostering an atmosphere of discomfort, I heard."
"How long has the squirrel been there?"
"Oh a few years now, I think."
"Has anyone called the exterminator?"
"Why? Are there mice?" Gracie prepared to hop up on the chair.
"No. For the…"
"Not cockroaches, I hope?"
"No, no. For the squirrel."
"There's a squirrel in here?" Gracie said, looking down from the chair.
"No, not here. In Accounting."
"How did a squirrel get in Accounting?"
"That's what I was asking you. You said a woman in Accounting was going to sue us over a squirrel."
"Oh not a real squirrel. A person they call a squirrel. No, not a squirrel, a weasel."
Arnold the Weasel. At least Jake had a starting point.
The fugitive glances and quickly disguised solitaire screens were more numerous than usual as Jake walked through Accounting; employees at their desks, knowing they should work but unable to, overwhelmed by the drama developing around them. As he passed a certain door, several loiterers scattered. A mild sobbing sound came from within. This had to be the spot. The name on the door was Mirabella Jablonski.
Jake was an old master at getting answers without asking questions and betraying his ignorance. He stepped into the office with a face full of fatherly sympathy. Mirabella (presumably it was Mirabella), was seated behind a desk emitting small, pitiful, choking sobs, like a child imitating a cough to get out of school. She had been speaking with a sympathetic companion who, upon seeing Jake enter, told her, "I'll just look in on you later," and left, averting her eyes from Jake. Now Jake went to work.
He sat in the chair across from her and started with the inscrutably polite, "Is there anything I can get you?"
"No, I'm fine," she said, wiping her eyes and pulling herself together.
"Can you tell me the whole story? Or, we could talk later, if you're still too upset."
She blew her nose with a disproportionately loud honk. "No, I think I can talk about it."
From the story she related the only untarnished truth Jake could immediately discern was that the woman was going to be a sharp pain in the ass for some time into the future. Jake was not surprised when she used the term Sexual Harassment, which she obviously meant to sound capitalized. He had predicted that from her actions and the actions of her friend who had left just as he entered. What he wasn't prepared for were the specifics. No groping or sex for promotion charges here. It seems her supervisor, the redoubtable Arnold the Weasel, had on three separate occasions demonstrated manifestly misogynistic behavior in matters involving her. Her choice of the word misogynistic was both curious and frightening to Jake. There was no hint of the natural impropriety of a healthy sexuality in that. It was not to be followed by tales of risqué advances and coy rebuffs. Misogynist carried with it the noxious odor of politics, and the inevitable stench of lawyers. It seemed unlikely she would have used the word other than as a weapon. Jake suppressed his instinctive--and as it turned out in this case, correct--cynicism about such things. Mirabella was moving in and out of tears and with each subsequent weeping Jake grew more suspicious and savage in his judgment of her.
The first incident occurred a couple of months prior. Arnold was acknowledging the return of an employee who had recently come off twelve weeks pregnancy leave. Arnold's misogynistic comment was, "Now that she's back her husband ought to be able to go on leave." Mirabella looked at Jake as if to say, "Can you imagine that?"
Jake said nothing, steadily maintaining his concerned look.
"That was clearly indicative of insensitivity towards a woman's needs and the sacred privilege of childbirth," she summarized.
His evaluation of this woman was starting to pay off. Her professional, educated, career woman covering was threadbare. Her words were rehearsed and spoken with a pique designed to enhance their argumentative purpose. Jake suspected she did not fully understand what she was saying, but he kept his peace.
The next incident involved her missing glasses. She had misplaced them and was looking around the office area for them when Arnold appeared and with them in hand said, "I thought they might be yours, they looked feminine."
"You don't think for a minute that if he'd found a man's pair of glasses he would have made a crack about them being masculine. Many people heard it. I have witnesses."
Jake counted himself lucky that she couldn't tell that he was not looking her in the eye, but at the somewhat gaudy flower designs embossed in the corners of her glasses.
The big thing--the last straw--was the tampon incident. This was an offense to not just her, but every woman in the office. It seems the tampon dispenser in the ladies' room (she used the phrase "ladies' room") had run dry and someone had neglected to order refills. "Can you imagine how fast the condom dispensers in the men's room would be refilled?"
There were no condom dispensers in the men's room, but Jake let it go.
Mirabella summed up. "When I brought this to his attention, well, he just…" another weeping fit began, this one punctuated with a dose of sniveling, during which she gestured to a small brown paper bag on a side table. Inside it, Jake saw no less than a dozen tampons. He suppressed a churlish grin.
"He gave you these?" Jake asked.
She managed a nod and rose to get some more tissues.
As she rose, Jake saw through to the trailer park trash in Mirabella Jablonski. He saw that her trim upper body was supported by a significantly more substantial base. The kind of base that would have been more appropriately garbed in garish spandex and bent over a troublesome propane attachment. Jake allowed himself to wince at the vision, knowing it would be taken for a distasteful reaction to the tampons.
Mirabella reached her dénouement. "That was it. How can I be expected to function in an atmosphere like this? I don't know how any woman could. That man has fostered a threatening atmosphere."
Again, the words were recited; memorized from a magazine, or more likely, a TV talk show.
"Mirabella, why don't you take the rest of the day off to gather yourself."
"Yes, of course."
"If you think I'm going to forget about this for one day off, you're wrong."
"Of course not. But I have to do some investigating before I can decide what to do, and you can't possibly benefit from staying here the rest of the day."
"I suppose you don't want me to talk to anyone about it."
That would be from a formula she read or heard: the evil male authority will try to cover it up quietly. Jake decided to break her certainty in the script. "You can talk to anyone you want. Should I ask your friend to come back in? Or can I get you a ride home?"
That worked. She couldn't deal with the deviation from expectations. Her defiance faded and she made no threats about talking to a lawyer, which Jake had expected next. His single unanticipated reaction had shaken her out of her posture.
"No, I'll make it home." She even gave a courteous little smile before catching herself.
"In fact, why don't you stay on paid leave for as long as it takes us to resolve this? I'll be in touch with you very soon and let you know how my investigation is progressing."
She left somewhat disoriented, not realizing as Jake did, that she was already defeated.