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CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Lenny was on the phone when I arrived at the USAir terminal, which was good because I needed time to catch my breath. He was talking on the last in a long bank of pay phones, the only voice in an otherwise deserted departure lounge. When I moved into his line of sight, he turned away and I was left staring at his back. Hard to give that a positive interpretation, but then I wasn't too pleased with him, either.

Few people were in evidence this early afternoon, mostly stragglers moving on sore feet toward baggage claim.

I felt him approaching behind me before I heard him. I turned and looked, and for a fraction of a second he was just staring down at me. Then a broad smile spread across his face and his eyes crinkled at the corners. "I apologize for being early," he said, sounding like a colonel from the Confederate army. "I hope I have not disrupted things too much for you."

Molly was right. He could be charming when he wanted to. "I'm happy to accommodate your schedule," I said, trying not to sound like a Southern belle.

"It's understandable you weren't here to meet my trip. I should have called you. Just remember when the chairman comes through your city, you have to keep better track because he is always on time, no matter when he arrives." He gave me that smile again, only this time it was less charming than condescending. "I make it a point never to let him wander around one of my stations without me. You never know what he might turn up."

He started walking, and I had to move briskly to keep up with his long-legged stride. My two-inch heels made me five foot ten, and I still only came up to Lenny's chin. He was tall and quite narrow and wore only custom-tailored European suits. There was a story floating around about how he used to expedite his shirts to Paris on one of our overnight flights to have them dry-cleaned there. I didn't know if it was true, but judging by the way he wore his clothes, the way he carried himself, and especially the way he lightly touched his collar when he smiled, I could believe it.

"Anything blow up today?"

"Nothing today," I said, ignoring the sarcastic tone. I was determined not to let him get to me.

"Well, that is a positive sign. I'd like you to fill me in on the situation with Petey Dwyer. How is it he was attacked by another employee and you're holding him out of service?"

"That's not what happened." And since when did Little Pete become Petey to Lenny?

"It is what happened according to the statements of the two people involved." He looked across his shoulder and down at me. "I wish I had heard that from you."

"I'm sorry I didn't brief you. I should have." I really should have. That was a tactical error that gave him an excuse to be self-righteous. "No one has the full story yet on what happened that night, but the situation is more serious than it might look on the surface. Little Pete caused the fight, he was drunk when it happened, and he consistently works his shift under the influence. We're trying to find-"

"Do you have any proof of what you're saying?"

"Not yet, but we're working on building a case."

"But you're not going to be able to do it, are you? You and I both know that. Therefore, I find it puzzling that we are going through all this upset. Can you enlighten me?"

More passengers were beginning to fill the concourse as we walked. A woman dragging a rolling bag was coming straight at me, reading her ticket and not paying attention. I had to step around her to avoid a head-on collision. Lenny kept going.

I was prepared to enlighten him, to try anyway, but when I caught up he was still talking. "You were supposed to come up here and calm things down," he was saying. "So far the operation has deteriorated, you've completely alienated the union over some meaningless shoving incident, and now you've reneged on your deal with Vic to bring back Angelo. Oh, and the bag room blew up. Is it any wonder the place is in an uproar? I thought you could handle this operation, Alex, but I'm losing my confidence in you. Your performance has been staggeringly disappointing."

I was losing patience, in no small part because I couldn't even keep up to talk to him.

"With all due respect, Lenny, even if all of that were true, I can't see how it justifies setting off a bomb in the bag room. I think we have to deal with that situation separately. If you want, I can address your other concerns individually."

Now he was getting frustrated, and it gave me a warm glow inside. He glanced at me and I smiled sweetly.

"What's going on with Angelo?" he asked.

"In light of recent events, I've decided to freeze all negotiations with the union. Angelo's status is on hold."

"I see. Well, I'm here to help you get it off hold, and here's how we're going to do that. We're meeting with the union, you and I, and we're going to find a way to work things out. What I mean by that is at the end of the meeting, we will have a plan for returning Angie to service and for Petey coming back to work. I'm afraid we'll have to fire the McTavish kid since he instigated the fight. He will surely grieve the action, and when he does I'll be happy to hear his grievance. That should help you remain focused on what it is you have to do here."

"I am focused, Lenny. I'm focused like a laser beam on the problem we have with Pete Dwyer Jr."

"What problem?"

"Little Pete is drinking on shift. He's a danger to himself, his fellow employees, and the operation. The other night before the fight, he was so drunk he reversed the load on one of his trips. We're very fortunate his crew caught it before it left the gate. If I can prove what he's doing, I won't bring him back to work under any circumstances." I didn't look at Lenny, but his pace slowed and I could feel him tensing. He seemed to be growing taller. I wet my dry lips and went on, trying to stay calm but getting more and more wound up. "If you force me to bring him back or make that decision yourself, it's going to be on you because I'm going to go on record and document my concerns in writing."

He stopped so abruptly that I shot ahead and had to backtrack.

"I understand your concerns, I do," he said. "And I wouldn't want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, so I'm going to find a way to allay those concerns. But let me give you a word of advice." He was smiling, his tone was sickly sweet, and I was concentrating on breathing, having lost the natural rhythm of respiration. "Unless and until you can prove any of what you're saying, it would be unwise to generate even one word of documentation. Because if you did, I would have to consider you to be reckless, unnecessarily hostile to the union, and lacking in the judgment it takes to run this station, in which case I would be forced to terminate your employment with this company. Understood?" He turned to go, then stopped again. "And that's not even taking into account the insubordinate and deceitful manner in which you've engaged yourself in the matter of Ellen Shepard's death. Shall we discuss how you came into possession of that power of attorney and what you've been doing with it?"

We were standing in the middle of the vast ticketing lobby, where we were surrounded by a swirl of people and bags and skycaps and carts and animal carriers. But all I could hear was the edge under the drawl, and it was sharp enough to cut diamonds. I knew I'd crossed the line, and I knew I had been stupid to threaten him. I could have anticipated the consequences. But having him articulate them with such cool confidence made my knees weak.

When it came down to it, I figured Bill would intervene if Lenny tried to fire me. But I didn't want to put him in that position, and besides, it would be tricky with Lenny involved. Lenny wasn't stupid. No matter what happened, my career at Majestic would be forever compromised. I felt my self-confidence crumple. I felt my anger deflate. "I understand."

He moved in close enough that I could smell his tangy aftershave. Then he actually put his hand on my shoulder. It felt like a rat had perched on my suit jacket, and it was all I could do not to smack it off. "Let me give you some advice," he whispered. "Don't ever threaten me again. If you do, you'd better have what it takes to follow through, or it will be the last thing you do in this company. Now," he said with a jaunty smile, "let's go see your operation."


CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR | Hard Landing | CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX