Bill Todd -- BOLLINGER: A Novel of the Prairie
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 Chapter 21

A Lawyer at Work

It was election day in Bollinger, and for that matter, everywhere else in the country. Chuck Winton, as a British national, couldn't vote. However, he didn't feel particularly badly about being left out of a process which seemed one long circus. It started with the delegates at the party conventions who wore funny hats and brandished placards and noisemakers. As far as he could see, the circus, never funny, became even uglier as it unfolded. It was in the midst of these reflections that, returning home, he found that his wife had a surprise for him.

"You won't have to win quite all the bread in the future. I've got a part-time job."

It turned out that Amanda had been interviewing the last two days for a job at Orrville College. It was in the Development Foundation, a euphemism for the fund-raising operation. She had, that day, been appointed assistant to the director. The pay was more than Chuck would have expected, and would be a welcome addition to their rather precarious fortunes. Not only that, better things were apparently over the horizon.

"It's really an entry position to the college administration. If I do well, which I'm sure I can, I could end up as anything from director of the Foundation to Dean of Women. In that case, I'd have to have a few words with Howie's little friend, Danny Richards, and others like her."

Chuck was pleased, not only for the money, but because Amanda would be given something useful to do. She might even stop sulking about the Incident. It was in the middle of this thought that another struck him.

"You aren't going to try to get Barbara to steer her father's money to Orrville College are you?"

"Oh, I certainly couldn't ask. That would be presuming on friendship. Of course, if she wanted to, it would hardly be my place to refuse."

It seemed to Chuck that Barbara might well want to do just that. Indeed a large gift from Mr. Bowen's company could get Amanda promoted. It was easy to imagine her moving into her office as Dean of Women in the newly constructed Bowen Hall. That might also mean a good many more patients for the practice, particularly the wealthier people whom Amanda would begin meeting. In that case, he could open a second office in Orrville and spend a couple of days a week there.

The only loser would be Sister Rose. Chuck, unlike his wife, liked her. On the other hand, even she wouldn't be hurt in any real or significant way.

On the next day, a fine Wednesday morning, the election still wasn't decided. What had looked like a clear Kennedy victory was becoming very close. Increasingly, it looked as if Illinois itself would decide the election. Mayor Daley, partly by voting the dead, had returned a large Kennedy majority in Chicago. But the downstate vote for Nixon was gradually drifting in, and might overcome it. As Chuck puttered around his office, the whole thing hung in the balance. It was in this atmosphere that the long-awaited blow fell.

Chuck had just seen a patient when Mrs. Badgett announced a call for him. He picked up the extension to hear a voice which he had almost forgotten, one to which he couldn't readily attach a name. The caller soon remedied that. It was Laura, the young woman who had been asking about him. She had had her nose improved back in New York when Chuck was a resident. She had also been willing to engage in adventures of other sorts. During her brief stay in the hospital, they had joked that her new nose made her so attractive that Chuck had been unable to resist her. He had, indeed, 'discovered' a potential problem which lengthened her stay by another day. As there were empty rooms, they had put one of them to good use.

Although greatly upset, Chuck managed to talk, more or less, as if nothing were wrong. Laura said she had heard what had happened, and was sorry he had had to leave so quickly. She spoke as if the incident had taken place only a month or two previously, and added,

"I guess you went to the cookie jar once too often."

Chuck replied lamely. Laura said she would like to see him again. Chuck said that he was now married. She replied,

"You were then, too, but that didn't stop you. That wasn't exactly what I had in mind, though maybe it could be arranged. The thing is, I'm in a bit of a jam and wondered if you could lend me some money."

Chuck explained that his new practice was only limping along, and that he really had very little. Laura didn't seem to be deterred. She said,

"We can go over the details when I get there. I've got a reservation at the Bollinger House the day after tomorrow. I'll call you at your office when I get there."

Chuck hardly knew how to reply. Before he could say much of anything, she added,

"By the way, a friend is coming with me. He's kind of a lawyer, but don't worry. He won't get in the way if you want to play around a little."

It was only with great difficulty that Chuck got through the next two appointments. When the patients finally left, he told Mrs. Badgett that he had a headache, and told her to cancel the only remaining appointment that day. He then headed straight for Howie's office.

Almost everyone at the courthouse was in a state of high euphoria over the election. No one cared much about the presidential contest. The important thing was that all the Republican incumbents had been returned, and that two Democratic incumbents had been ousted. Patronage would roll on, and there might be room on the payroll for more relatives of politically deserving persons. Chuck, very far from jubilation, realized that he was being taken for a Democrat.

When he got to Howie's office, Chuck almost bumped into Ken Seitz coming out. Seitz, beaming broadly, had just garnered more votes than any other local candidate, and was in a position to name the next city manager. Apparently not bothered by the fact that Nixon had now clearly lost, he greeted Chuck warmly.

"Glad to see you, doc. All you need to do now is become a citizen so you can vote for me, too."

Howie, coming out of his office, said something about Kennedy's victory. Seitz replied,

"The election was stolen in Chicago. It's a great mistake to underestimate old Dickie Daley. We local guys can bring down the national politicians mighty fast when we want to."

It seemed that Seitz had been congratulating Howie, not only on his courtroom victory, but on its timing. Howie reported,

"He seems to think I arranged it that way on purpose. For a man like Ken, there aren't any accidents. Now, he wants me to run for office as a Republican the next time around."

Howie wasn't seriously considering it, but was amused at the idea. Chuck cut him as short as he decently could, and told him about the call.

Howie took out a notepad and jotted down, as nearly as Chuck could remember, everything Laura had said. It was an immediate relief to Chuck to see how quickly Howie could change from his usual self to the thoroughly professional and meticulous lawyer who might be able to save him from destruction. After a moment's consideration, Howie said,

"It's strange. It's not yet blackmail, but she seems to be close to making an offer of prostitution."

"Who could the man be?"

"If she said he was sort of a lawyer, that means he isn't one. He's probably just some sleazeball who thinks he knows how to blackmail. Is she the sort of girl who'd pick up men in bars?"

"Very much so, I'm afraid."

"I wonder how she found out about your trouble. If I know the medical profession, that was kept quiet."

Chuck was aware that he was revealing an increasingly sordid past, but he was beyond caring.

"Well, some of us residents used to pass around the phone numbers of girls who were known to be particularly obliging. I'm pretty sure that I did that with Laura. She must have still been seeing one of the others when I ran into trouble. I imagine he told her."

"That must have been, what, a couple of years ago?"

"Almost three. Laura probably didn't think much about it, but happened to mention it to this man."

"Blackmailers often threaten to tell a man's wife. I wonder if they know that Amanda already knows. If not, we could just let them tell her."

"Yes. I'm not too hopeful, though. I talked openly with the other residents at the time, and whoever told Laura could easily have told her that Amanda was staying with me despite it all."

"Ok. Anyhow, we have to prepare for the worst. If nothing else, the act of causing her to be kept in the hospital longer than necessary would probably constitute medical malpractice under New York law. She could sue you for that, not here, but in New York. If it came to trial, the papers would pick it up, and it might, or might not, get to the local newspeople."

"It wouldn't take much to blow me out of the water. Even if I didn't lose my license, I'd be finished here if I lost my privileges at Bollinger Hospital. If Doc Bradley knew, he could attend to that quite easily."

"The reason they should take this approach is that it's legal. They threaten to sue, but are willing to settle out of court. It's really still blackmail because they demand more than they'd hope to get in court, but there's no law against demanding a lot in an out-of-court settlement."

"What would happen if they did go to court?"

"I don't know much about malpractice suits, much less ones in New York. The problem is generally that doctors won't testify against each other."

Howie paused and looked out the window as Chuck sat, silent and disconsolate. Howie then said,

"With any luck at all, these people won't be sophisticated enough to exploit the possibilities of legal blackmail. The minute they make an illegal move, we'll have the advantage. There's a peculiar thing about illegal blackmail, though. If the blackmailer is refused money, he has no real motive to spill the beans. If he does, he throws away his lever. He's also much more likely to be caught and prosecuted. In fact, once he's made his demand, the victim can threaten just that, and turn the tables to some extent. The chances are that the blackmailer will simply go away quietly. But I can see, Chuck, that you don't feel like taking that chance. I'll think of something better."

Chuck went to bed that night without telling Amanda about the phone call. He was sure that it would re-kindle the old anger and torpedo the upturn their fortunes seemed to be taking. In the morning, he told her anyway. Her reaction was much calmer than he had expected.

"Well, we always knew that this was a possibility. What did Howie say?"

Chuck told her. She replied,

"I'm pretty confident of Howie. I bet he can handle it. He's bound to be much smarter than they are. He can also legitimately use his official position to scare them. These people may be making a great mistake by actually coming here where Howie can get at them."

Chuck, feeling a little better, nodded. Amanda changed the subject.

"I don't officially start at the college until next week, but I'm going over today anyway. Since it's your day off, you could come too. I'm sure they'd like to meet you."

It was, indeed, comforting to get out of Bollinger. When they entered Orrville, the thought struck Chuck that, if he were discredited in Bollinger, he could move his practice to Orrville. It was several seconds before he realized that scandal would certainly travel the thirty miles between the two towns. How far, then, would he have to run? Back to England, perhaps. Even then, he'd probably have to do another residency. Alternatively, Amanda might get a good enough position at the college to be able to support him. The Dean of Women was probably given an attractive free apartment. He could imagine strolling down the street and sitting in a nice cafe while he read the paper.

The Development Foundation had a small suite in a corner of the Administration Building. Although it was the middle of the morning, it was locked and dark. Amanda, surprised, said,

"Mr. Myers must have had to go out. I'm surprised that the secretary isn't here, though."

Amanda used her brand new key to open the heavy glass- panelled door, and turned on the lights. There was a half cup of stale coffee on the secretary's desk, and a drafting table in the corner for laying out the promotional material. The door to the director's inner office had been left open, and revealed a scene of considerable confusion.

The desk Amanda was to have in the outer office backed up to a large window, and she settled in the swivel chair experimentally. When she did so, she sank almost out of sight behind the desk. Chuck was able to adjust the chair, and said,

"You must be replacing a much larger person."

Amanda had hardly sat down again when a large elderly man shuffled and bumped his way through the door. Chuck rose, expecting Amanda to introduce him to her boss. Instead, she greeted the newcomer cheerfully, but rather formally, and asked if she could help him. The other made grumbling noises, looked around balefully, and partially stifled a belch. While he appeared to be quite vigorous, Chuck noticed some signs of extreme age and put him down for over eighty. The stranger then muttered, intelligibly enough,

"Where's Myers? Out chasing the girls up and down the quadrangle I bet."

Amanda quickly replied,

"Mr. Myers is quite an attractive man. The girls are as likely to be chasing him."

Chuck was sure that his wife's flippancy had something to do with her knowledge of Danny, but the newcomer, even without that special knowledge, nodded his head vehemently and replied

"Damn right. All these little whores, no telling what they'll do."

He then broke into a broad grin and said,

"I dare say even a man of my years isn't entirely safe out there. By the way, the name's Claxton, Clarence Claxton. Are you the secretary?"

"No, I'm Amanda Winton, Mr. Myers' new assistant. This is my husband, Dr. Charles Winton."

Chuck was about to shake hands, but the other waved him away. The gesture was somehow not insulting, or even rude. The older man seemed to indicate that he was too old and weary to bother with idle ceremony any more. Besides, again no offense to Chuck, he preferred to interact with Amanda. The latter said,

"Are you the Mr. Claxton who gave the college the new gymnasium and so many other things?"

"Yeah, that's me, damn fool that I am."

"This is actually my first day on the job, but I've been going over the records, and I think you must be the main benefactor in the college's whole history. I'm sure we can use Mr. Myers' office if you'd like to come in."

"No, it'll be a pigpen in there. I'll just sit right here."

Claxton then settled his large bottom on the absurdly small posture chair at the secretary's desk, apparently without discomfort. It hardly surprised Chuck that Amanda was able to rattle off from memory all of the dozen or so large gifts that Claxton had made to the college. Claxton grumbled and grunted, but was visibly pleased. He said,

"Well, I've caught Myers napping again, but at least he had the sense to hire you. Did you bring your husband to protect you against Myers? He looks like he could do it."

Amanda let the last remark pass and asked,

"Was Mr. Myers expecting you today?"

"Hell no. I never let people know when I'm coming. That's the way to catch em with their pants down."

There was a momentary silence which Chuck filled. As an enthusiast of railways and their history, he was just now able to place Mr. Claxton's name.

"Are you the Mr. Claxton who was president of the Norfolk and Western when they introduced the J and A class locomotives?"

Amanda looked at Chuck strangely, but the question struck the happiest of all possible chords with Mr. Claxton. A long technical conversation followed on the virtues of various types of steam locomotives. Finally, the visitor remarked,

"I could see that things were going to hell with the railroads, and I got myself and my money out right away. Good thing I did, too."

He then pointed to Amanda, and said,

"The reason I came down here, young lady, is to do something about the football team. I went to the game Saturday. They won, but they were given the game. They're awful. We need to hire some new players. I still have some railway connections in West Virginia. I could probably find a bunch of tough brakemen and miners."

Chuck had to contain his laughter while Amanda went to work with consummate smoothness and tact. There were rules, she explained, which prevented the direct hiring of football players, and which required that they pass certain tests. Mr. Claxton was of the opinion that such things could be faked. Amanda pointed out that most of his other gifts had been designed to raise the educational level at the college. She then concluded,

"I'm sure we do better in those areas than we do at football. Would you like to go to a class and see for yourself?"

This suggestion struck Chuck as dangerous and radical. Claxton might easily get the impression that the Orrville faculty was too liberal, or even radical, and stop giving to them. Perhaps she thought he would refuse. Instead, he grumbled acceptance, and then added,

"I've never been in a college class in my life. The only reason I give money is that my daughter came here and liked it."

It turned out that the risk was a carefully calculated one. Amanda had in mind a small class in American history taught by a man she already knew. Not only that, she had attended a class session herself. She seemed to have been getting around a good deal that week. As she called up the instructor and made arrangements, Chuck guessed that Claxton was to be brought in as an honored guest and made much of.

Bill Todd -- BOLLINGER: A Novel of the Prairie
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