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Molly was putting the call on hold just as I walked through the door.

"How was your first debrief?"


"You've got a call on line one,'' she said, "and it must be important because he never waits on hold and he never calls this early."

I checked my watch. It was ten o'clock in the morning. "Who is it?"

"Your boss."

"Uh-oh." The quick flash of nerves was like a caffeine rush. "Where's he calling from?"

"He's in his office in D.C."

She said something else, but I didn't hear what because I was already at my desk, bent over the notes I'd made from debrief, cramming for whatever question Lenny might think to ask about last night's operation. Someone I admired and deeply respected once told me that the best opportunities to make a good impression come from disaster-from how well you handle it. Last night certainly qualified as a disaster, and I was about to test that theory on my new boss.

After a quick moment to gather my thoughts, I made myself sit down, then picked up the receiver. "Good morning, Lenny. How are you?" Jeez, I sounded like such a stiff.

"Very well, Alex. And how you doin' this morning?" His deliberate Louisiana drawl sounded as if it were floating up from the bottom of a trash can, and I knew he had me on the speaker phone. I hated speaker phones. You could be talking to a crowd the size of Yankee Stadium and never know it.

"I'm well, Lenny, thank you."

"Can we talk about a few things this morning?"

"Of course." I heard the whisper of pages turning and imagined him leafing through his tour reports, zeroing in on Boston's, and reading with widening eyes about the debacle from last night. But I was ready, poised to jump on whatever he chose to ask.


I waited, muscles tensed.

"when did you get in?"

"Last night."

"Good trip out?"

"Uh, yes. The trip was fine."

"Glad to hear it."

The pages continued to turn. I inched a little farther out on the edge of my seat, straining to hear, waiting for the real questions to start. And waiting. And and I couldn't wait. "Lenny, we had a few problems in the operation last night. I don't know if you saw the tour report, but-"

"Was it anything you couldn't handle?"

"No, we handled it. It was-"

"Good. Listen, I need to ask you to do something for me."

Not exactly the grilling I'd anticipated. The paper rustled again and this time the sound was more distinct, a slow, lazy arc that I recognized. Lenny wasn't leafing through tour reports. He was reading a newspaper. I eased back in my chair and relaxed. No pop quiz today. Disappointing, in a way. "What can I do to help?"

After a short pause I heard a click, and I knew he'd taken me off the speaker phone. "You've got a ramper up there, an Angelo DiBiasi. Have you heard this story?" Without the squawk box his voice had an instantly intimate quality. The rest of the world was shut out. Only I could hear what he was saying.

"No, I haven't heard the story."

A group of ticket agents, talking and laughing, burst into the reception area and greeted Molly. I rolled my chair backward across the floor until I could reach the door and launch it shut.

Lenny was still talking. "He's one of the night crawlers, works midnights. I knew him when I was there. You knew I used to work in Boston, right? Before I came to D.C.?"

"I did." He'd mentioned it no less than six times during my interview.

"Anyway, old Angie's gotten himself into a little trouble."

"What did he do?"

"Damned if I can tell. He may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time regarding a cargo shipment"-which meant he was stealing-"but I feel bad about terminating a guy with over forty years in, I don't care what he did."

Forty years? I was used to stations out West, where twenty years was a lot of seniority. "What's his status?"

"Fallacaro fired him, he filed for arbitration, and now he's waiting for his hearing. But Angie's not a bad guy. You have far worse up there, and the thing is, his wife is sick. He's sixty-three years old. It could take up to a year to get his case heard, and I'd prefer not to put the two of them through it."

The group outside was getting louder, and I had to pay close attention. I could hear what he was saying, but what I needed to know was what he wasn't saying, and I had the sense that there was a lot. "If Angelo's on to arbitration, that means Ellen denied his grievance."

"Yes. Yes, she did and I can understand why. Ellen needed to establish herself as the authority there. But you don't have that situation. You've got much more field experience than she did, and now that you're sitting in the general manager's chair, it's perfectly legitimate for you to overturn the firing. As you know, I can't get involved until after arbitration."

When I didn't respond, I felt Lenny trying to read my silence. He wanted me to simply agree to do what he'd asked, but it was hard when I didn't know the players. Overturning a firing was a big deal. It would send a strong message about me to all of the people who worked in the station. I wanted to make sure it was a message I wanted to send.

"You still there, Alex?"

"Sorry, Lenny. I'm still here."

"Have you had a chance to hook up with Victor Venora?"

"He's on my list, but I haven't gotten to him yet."

"Here's an idea for you," he offered, his tone brightening considerably. He was taking a new tack. "You set a meeting with Victor, a president-of-the-local-GM-get-acquainted sit-down, and the first thing you do before he even opens his big mouth is tell him you're bringing Angie back. Start right in with a gesture of goodwill to the union. You'll knock his socks off."

I swiveled in my chair so that I could see out the window, looking for breathing room. Lenny was closing me in. I tried to decide if I was being crafty and shrewd or obstinate and stubborn. Sometimes they felt the same to me. What I knew was that he wanted me to commit to a deal without even knowing what this guy Angelo did and he wanted me to do it without making him ask explicitly, in which case it would forever be my idea. It didn't sound that risky and I had no reason to distrust Lenny, but I'd also been burned by bosses in the past for agreeing to far less.

I had to go with crafty and shrewd.

"Lenny, stealing is automatic grounds for termination, and-"

"I never said he was stealing."

No, he hadn't. But he'd just given me the way out. "You're absolutely right. You didn't say that, and it's clear that I need to gather some facts so that I'm more prepared to discuss this with you. I hope you don't mind if I take a day or so to do a little research. I'd like to talk to Dan, since he's the one who fired him."

We either had a pregnant pause or he was still reading the newspaper and checking out the sale at Barney's. I waited through his long exhale, and I could feel the test of wills making the phone line stiffen. I started to worry. This was my new boss, after all.

"I apologize, Alex."

"Excuse me?"

"I really do. Now that I think about it, I see that I'm putting you in a tough spot. I know you have to get your feet on the ground, and I know what a tough bunch you've got up there. I'm just trying to give you some ideas because I want you to do well, that's all. Take your time, gather some facts, and see if you don't agree with me on this Angelo situation. But whatever you decide, it's your call."

I was feeling less crafty by the second. How hard would it be to do what I was asked for once in my life? "I'll look into it right away," I said, and I meant it.

He hung up, leaving me squarely on the side of obstinate and stubborn.

The crowd of agents was gone when I opened the door. I signaled to Molly, who was just finishing a phone call, then went back to my desk and waited. When she came in, she was reattaching an enormous clip earring to her phone ear.

"What's up?" she asked.

"What did Angelo DiBiasi do?"

"He stole a thirty-six-inch color TV set. Tried to, anyway."

My heart began to sink. "There's no chance of a mix-up or misunderstanding? No question about what happened?" No possible grounds for overturning his termination?

"The only question is how Angie could be so stupid. Danny caught him loading it into his car. He fired him on the spot because it was theft and theft-"

"-is automatic grounds for dismissal. I know. What's wrong with his wife?"

"Breast cancer. She had it once, and now she's got it again." Molly turned glum. "Poor Theresa," she sighed. "Seems like she's been sick forever."

My heart went right ahead and sank.