Tenure Trap

By Clifford Eberhardt

Chapter 3

            Nelson sat at his favorite table in the French Grill, a popular eatery in Upper Manhattan. The French Grill was an up scale restaurant and only regulars like Nelson were able to violate its strict coat and tie dress code.  He looked at his watch; it was eight-thirty and the streetlights outside the restaurant were just coming on.  He was supposed to meet Justine for dinner at eight, and for the past half-hour he had waited. He had had four gin and tonic and two cigarettes as he waited.  The waiter came to the table and asked him if wanted another drink.
            “No, I’ve had enough for right now.  Maybe after we eat.  Don’t forget to show Miss White to my table when she comes.”
           “Certainly, Mr. Barcardi,” the waiter said.  Nelson lit another cigarette and finished off his drink.  Then he sat back to wait for Justine.  He thought back to the day he first met her and how from that day until the day the jury found him guilty of liable, what a familiar presence she was in his life.  He had taught her how to report, write and edit.  A grin came over his face at the thought of taking a brash 21-year old college graduate and making a first class reporter out of her as she blossomed into quite a woman.  His thoughts were interrupted by a disturbance of chairs moving, people mumbling and he could feel a ripple of life in the French Grill.  He suspected it was Justine.  She had a way livening up a room when she entered, turning the men’s heads and creating envy in women. 
            He turned and saw Justine talking to the waiter.  The waiter nodded in the direction of his table.  She then threw her head back in her traditional style and walked to the table.  Nelson crushed his cigarette out and watched as she came to the table and stood, waiting for him to get up.  She wore a short, black dress that revealed too much at the top and too much at the bottom.  He just sat and looked up at her.
            “Are you going to ask me to sit down, Nelson?”
            “Justine, you know how to sit.  If you think I’m going to stand and then bow before you can sit, you’ll be standing all through dinner.”
            “Are you angry because I’m a little late?”
            “I’m angry, but it’s not because you’re late. . . Justine, you’re always late.  That’s nothing to get angry over.”
            “What are you angry about?” she asked sitting directly across from him.  “What have you got to be angry about Nelson, you got everything.”
            “I’m not in the mood for any of your jokes, Justine.”
            “Excuse me!  I just wanted to say something to cheer you up,” she said as she placed her purse in one of the empty chairs.  “Don’t be so down on me!  What have I done?”
Justine White was Nelson’s assistant on a number of high profile investigations. With several ideas going to the top.  Others say it was well known secret they were having an affair.
            “Nothing, Justine . . . you haven’t done anything.  That’s the problem.”
            Justine was silent for a moment, and then dropped her head as if she was sadden by what Nelson just said.  She was an attractive young woman in her late twenties and wore her red hair shoulder length.  She had light brown freckles that dotted her smooth face.  When she smiled, her perfect white teeth between full moist lips lit up her face.  She lifted her head, looked hard at Nelson with tears in her eyes and spoke in a broken voice.
            “Nelson Barcardi, when everybody wrote you off, I stood by you!  When mother and the other members of the board wanted to fire you because they thought you had too much control over the paper, I was the one who stood up for you!  I was the one who stood by your side everyday of the trial, so don’t get an attitude with me!”
            “But where were you after the trial?  Where were you when I really needed you the most!  Where were you, Justine!”  Nelson said loud enough to draw attention.  “I’ll tell you where you were!  You were out there trying to justify your association with me.  I know you Justine!”
            “I don’t need this!  I can just get up and get the hell out of here and never see you again!”
            “Do it!  I don’t give a damn!  You’ve done much worse!”
            Justine jumped up and hurried to the door.
            “Damn her anyhow, let her go.  I don’t need her, her mother or the paper,” Nelson thought and then looked up to see Justine back at the table.  “What do you want?”
            “I came back for my purse.  But what I really want is to have a nice dinner with you.  A dinner without a fight,” she said in a tone that begged for Nelson’s affections.  “Can I enjoy your company without you beating up on me?”
            “I’m sorry Justine.  Come on and sit down.  I just had to explode at somebody.  I’m sorry it was you.  Of all the asses at The National Informer, you are the last one who deserves my frustrations.”
            “I understand how you feel.  I really do Nelson.  I was hurt more than you think.  The last six months have taken a lot out of me.  I really missed you and you never tried to contact me.  I went by your apartment and you had moved out.  I didn’t know what to do.”
            “Forget it. Let’s just forget it,” he said as Justine sat back down. “You want a drink before dinner?”
            “Yeah.  What are you drinking?”
            “Gin and tonic.”
            “How many have you had?”
            “A few.”
            “You’ve had more than a few.  I can tell.  You probably don’t need another drink . . . have you eaten yet?”
            “No.  I’ve been waiting on you.”
            “Oh, I so sorry you had to wait.  I had a meeting with the bankers and it ran much longer than I thought.  I really wanted to see you Nelson and I wouldn’t have missed this moment for the world.”
            Nelson smiled as the waiter came back to their table.
            “What can I get for you Mr. Barcardi?”
            “Bring me another gin and tonic.  What will you have Justine?”
            “I’ll take a martini straight up, no olive.  Just one more for him.  And we will be ready to order dinner next.”
            “Is that all, Miss White?”
            “Yes, for right now . . . thank you.” 
            Nelson and Justine sat looking at each other, not saying a word.  Their trances were only broken when the waiter came back to the table with their drinks.
            “Here’s the martini for you Miss White and the gin and soda for you, Mr. Barcardi . . . just let me know when you and Miss White are ready to order,” the waiter placed two menus on the table.
            “Thank you.  Come back in ten minutes, we’ll be ready,” Nelson said.
            “Nelson, I been trying for six months to get in touch with you.  It seemed like you just left the planet,” Justine said.  “You really had me worried about you . . . why didn’t you get in touch with me before now?”
            “I tried.  After the trial I tried to contact you at you home and at the Informer.  But somebody was always there to cut me off.  When International Pacific Insurance executed the judgment, they took everything that was in my name.  All the money in my bank accounts, my car, my house in Long Island . . . what else?  Yeah, those creeps even tried to take the ranch I bought for my mother and father, before he died.  But they couldn’t get that because it was in my father’s name and when he died it went to my mother,” Nelson was almost snarling.  “Yeah, they thought they were going to get my horse ranch but they couldn’t touch it.”
            “Where have you been living? 
            “I’ve been living in Benson Hurst.”
            “Benson Hurst!  What are you doing living down there?”
            “It’s the only thing I could afford.  And I couldn’t afford that.  Dan Everett has been paying the rent and keeping me in money while I did a novel.  He paid to keep me up for the past six months and I gave him first right of refusal on the book.”
            “Oh, so that’s what you've been doing.  You’ve been writing a book.  What’s it about?  Tell me the story Nelson?”
            “You wouldn’t be interested in this story.  It's about reporters who’ll do anything for a story.  You know how you used to be before you grew up?”
            “It’s not about use, is it?  Nelson, you didn’t write and expose us did you?”
            “No!  It’s not about betrayal, it’s about murder,” Nelson said but then checked himself.  “I didn’t mean that.  You didn’t deserve that.”
            “Forget it Nelson.  I’m used to taking things I don’t deserve from you.”
            “I’m not trying to give you a hard time.  Justine, you know how I felt about the paper.  I think your mother gave me the shaft, not because I lost the suite but she wanted you away from me.”
            They were still talking and sipping their drinks when the waiter came back and asked if they were ready to order.
            “Have you decided what you want, Justine?” Nelson asked.
            “Yes, I will have the Blackened Sole and spinach with cheese sauce and the wilted salad.”
            “What kind of dressing do you want for your salad, Miss White?”
            “Oil and vinegar.”
            “Will that be all?”
            “Yes,” Justine said and gave the menu back to the waiter.
            “What will you have, Mr. Barcardi?”
            “Hum . . . give me the Prime Rib.  Make sure it’s the crisp part on the outside.  I don’t won’t the inside cut.”
            “Right Mr. Barcardi, I know how you like it.  What else with that?”
            “Give me the broccoli in butter sauce . . . and a baked potato with sour cream.”
            “Anything to drink?”
            “Tea.  Two teas.”
            “Is that all saay?”
            “Yeah, that’s all,” Nelson said and gave his menu back to the waiter.
            “Thank you, sir . . . I’ll be back soon with your order.”
            Nelson looked at Justine and smiled, “How are things at the paper?”
            “Things couldn’t be better to hear my mother tell it, but I think the paper lost its heart and soul when you left . . . most people feel that way.  But as long as we are making money and the advertiser are happy, mother and the board think the paper is a success.” Mom hated my affair with you.
            “How is the circulation?”
            “It’s up . . . we still have the readers that you brought to the paper, and the readers who said they would never read the Informer until you left.  Nelson, you left us in good shape, but mother will never admit it.”
            “Have you heard anything about the appeal?”
            “The last time I talked with lawyers, they needed to get in touch with you to sign some papers.  Have you been in touch with them?”
            “No, I haven’t heard from anybody since I left.  Did they get the papers off?”
            “Yeah, but I had to sign your name.”
            “Good . . . I sure can’t afford to let those bastards off the hook with a $5 million judgment against me.  I can’t let that stand.”
            “Everybody thinks that you brought it own yourself, Nelson, going after Pacific International was a big mistake.  They are just too powerful,” Justine said sipping her martini.  “The word was out; they planned to spend as much as it took to bring you and the Informer down.  Nelson, you should have backed off . . . you made them too angry when you accused them of consumer fraud and never provided your sources.”
            “I was right to protect my sources, if they wanted to remain anonymous.  The judge was wrong to rule that the chairman of Pacific International was a private person, and those are the grounds for appeal.  I hope the attorneys make that point in their brief.”
            “The last time I talked with them, they felt good about a reversal, but it will take time.  In the meantime, you need to get away and let things cool off more.  A year or so after the appeal, you can start right back where you left off at the paper.  But let me know where you are this time.”
            Before Nelson could respond, the waiter brought their order.  He carried a big silver tray over his right shoulder and placed the tray on a small setup table he carried in his right hand.
            “Here are the salads,” he said placing two large bowls filled with garden salad in front of them.  “Oil and vinegar for the lady and French dressing for Mr. Barcardi.  Will there be anything else, sir?”
            “No, this is fine.”
            “I will be back with your food in a few.”
            Nelson poured the dressing over his salad, took his napkin and put it in his lap.  They both were eating when he said, “I’m never coming back to the paper.”
            “You’re what?”
            “I said, I’m never coming back to the paper.  I got other plans I’m working on now.  And the paper is not a part of them,” he said as he started to eat.  “I need a new life.  I need to meet new people.  I just have a need to go somewhere else.  This town has had it with me and I have had it with this town.”
            “What do you plan to do?”
            “I’m applying for a position on the faculty at Lulane University.  I sent my application off yesterday and hope to go for an interview in a couple of weeks for an interview.”
            “What about us?”
            Nelson was silent.
            “Don’t pull that death and dumb routine on me Nelson Barcardi.  What about us?”
            “We could never have a life together as long as your mother is in the picture.  You know how your mother feels about me, and you know how I feel about her.  Oil and water will never mix, and neither you nor I deserve a situation like that.  You need to stay with your mother and the paper and I need to live.”
            After they finished their salads, the waiter removed the salad bowls and set their entrees down.
            “The Blackened Sole and spinach with cheese sauce for Miss White,” the waiter said as he placed the plate of food in front of Justine.  “And Prime Rib for Mr. Barcardi . . . the outside cut.  Here’s your baked potato and broccoli with butter sauce.”
            Then waiter stood at attention, and asked, “Will there be anything else, sir?”
            “Not for me.  What about you, Justine?”
            “I’m fine.”
            “That’s it, thank you.”
            “If you need anything, just give me a call,” the waiter turned and left the table.
            “What are you immediate plans?”
            “Well, next week I’m going to Kentucky to see my mother, and take care of some business at the ranch.  My brother has let the place go to the dogs since my father died.  I need to go and get that straighten out, then hopefully it's off to Boston.”
            “So you really have your mind made up? I know you going to keep in touch.  I know I mean that much to you.”
            “You know I will.”
            They sat silently through their meal.  The waiter came back to the table and asked if they wanted desert.”
            “I’ve had enough.  Do you want anything else, Justine?”
            “No, I’m fine.”
            “Could you bring the bill?”  Nelson asked the waiter.  “We are ready to go.”
            “Certainly, Mr. Barcardi.”
            “That was nice.  It reminded me of old times.  Nelson, I’m going to miss you — I really am.”
            “I’m going to miss you too.”
            The waiter came back with the bill and gives it to Nelson.  Nelson looked at the bill and gave it to Justine.  Without a glance at the bill she reached for her purse; opened it and gave a credit card to the waiter.
            “Add ten dollars for yourself,” Justine told the waiter.
            “Thank you, Miss White.”
            “Oh, that reminds me.  This is for you Nelson,” she said taking a blue moneybag from her purse.  “This is half of what you salary was.  Pacific International tried to take it but I told them that you had received your salary in advance.  It took me all day to get the money up.  I had to do it behind mother’s back.  But it’s your money anyway . . . you earned it and more.”
            “Thank you Justine.  You don’t know how much I need this. You’ll never know what this means to me,” Nelson said as she handed him the moneybag.
            “Be careful with that, that’s a lot of money.”
            “Don’t worry, nobody will get their hands on this.”
            The waiter came back for Justine's signature.
            “Thanks, and have a good night,” the waiter said and left.
            Nelson looked at his watch.  It was ten-thirty. 
            “Are you about ready to go?”  He asked. “I'll walk you to your car.”
            “That would be nice.  Do you need a lift home?”
            “No, I’ll get a cab.” he said.
            “You sure?” she asked as they both got up and headed for the doors.
            “I’m parked right down the street.”
            When they reached her red Lexus, Nelson walked her to the driver’s side of the car.  She unlocked the door, got inside, started the car and rolled down the window.
            “You sure you don’t need a ride?”
            “No, I can make it from here.  But wait, I do need one thing.”
            “What’s that?”
            “I need you to get your mother to write me a letter of reference to Lulane. "Nelson”, you will get a position?" It's open everything's open Nelson answered'
            “She’ll never do it, but don’t worry . . . I’ll write it and sign her name like I do everything else.  Whom do you want me to send it to?”
            Nelson pulled a pencil from his coat pocket and wrote the address on the back of a book of matches.
            “Here, send it to this address.”
            Justine took the book of matches and asked, “Nelson are you sure you want to do this? By the way I got a position as teaching assistant at All Saints Catholic School. That's Not far from Lulane.” Really? Nelson thought, how odd that is.
            “I’m sure.”
            “What about one last fling for old times,” Justine asked holding his hand.
            “That wouldn’t be right . . . then I’ll never leave.  I want this to be clean.  You know what I mean?”
            “Yeah, I know what you mean,” she said and then carefully let his hand go. “I’ll get this letter off first thing.”
            “Thanks for everything, Justine.  You’re a true friend,” he said.  She rolled up the window and pulled off.  Nelson watched as she drove out of sight.

           What's next? Wouldn't like to know!


Home Page