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Ordered Time

Ordered Time

Ordered time

They tried to order Time dawn to dusk,

Futile spreadsheets of manageable units,

Denying its nature to slow, to speed 

To pause, to fly with thoughts, dreams, 

Friends met, enemies loathed,

With pain and agony and anxiety, 

With pleasure, gaiety,

With visions, prophecies, with 

Feckless Fraud found out.

Ordered like railway ties

Clacking underneath our passing carriage

Carrying us toward the illusion, 

Of rails merging beyond the horizon, 

Combining before and after, 

In front and behind our journey.

And We passalong the tracks, the self-same tracks 

That transported circus animals to towns of laughing children, 

And carried the Jews to the ovens

And passed in front of Einstein, 

Standing on the platform, 

Visualizing eternity.

And locked in our box cars through the slats we see

Tree limbs encased in ice, white

The beauty of the morning, breaking, falling, 

The ache beyond our finger’s reach,

That we will never touch or hold,

Not for us to possess, to savor, to hoard.

Order beckons us away from the wide moment,

The joy of girls laughing,

The approval of a wife’s smile, 

The grief of a widow,

Order leaves behind the town, back before crowds,

Bare feet skipping between the sticker burs,

Curbs free of cars up in the work day

Young boys delighted to run an errand,

The touch of smooth porcelain, 

Birds chasing rabbits in the meadow 

And the singing, singing, singing as we lament.

Sad, time will be there tomorrow, somewhere, 

And was there, somewhere just yesterday

As we ride away, and disappear chasing the illusion 

Of separate tracks merging beyond the hill.

And worst of all, unordered, Time quietly resolves,

Barely felt, it ends the longing, desire, ambition, hope, 

the possibilities, When it ends, it ends

The dagger in the back of the Prince,

The speech of a President sending the nation to war,

A bullet in the chest of a Mother’s son,

The Preacher on Christ’s divinity, on God’s wrath, on God’s grace

The assassin’s bullet shattering the brain of his better, of our better,

The desperate search for a lost child,

Wandered off or taken?

Murdered by a Father or a Father’s mistress?

Getting lost in a picture of Micky Mantle

His halting, haunting, lumbering gait rounding the bases,

Country strong, country smile, innocent and lethal 

Having a drink with his own nightmares,

Ends 

A Father’s teaching,

A brother’s perfidy, 

A sister’s betrayal,

A mother’s slap,

A daughter’s laugh, tickled, unrestrained,

A granddaughter’s tear, as life impinges on her innocence.

Our tear as she looks away from the horizon 

Where the tracks maybe just might merge and stands shyly watching

The boy serving hamburgers and sodas at the counter.

NY Times Case

NY Times Case

In this week’s segment of Cline on the Constitution I’m once again get distracted by the latest shiny object.  The interruption of my series on voting rights continues so I can discuss Justice Clarence Thomas surprising call for the Supreme Court to reconsider the famous New York Times v. Sullivan case, a case which gutted slander and libel laws. Because President Trump has made similar comments there has been much wailing, rending of garments, and gnashing of teeth over the danger to Freedom of the Press in News Rooms across the land. I’ve written about the subject before. It’s worth revisiting. 

There are some threshold distinctions. 

The Basics:  Slander is the speaking of “base and defamatory words tending to prejudice another in his reputation, office, trade, business, or means of livelihood.” You know, like all the stuff we read on the internet! 

First, slander and libel laws are not about suppressing freedom of speech.  Freedom of Speech has never insulated the right to speak falsely of another.  Slander laws protect against false statements. It is axiomatic that the Truth is an absolute defense to any suit for slander and libel. 

Second, slander and libel are two sides of the same coin.  Libel is merely the written form of slander. 

Third, liability (money damages) attaches to not only the original person who utters the slander, but any person or organization that repeats (re-publicizes) the slander. Therefore, if I falsely accuse you of a crime, not only I am liable for the harm I caused you, but the person who repeats the slander is also liable for damages caused by his republication.

Now for the case.  

The NYTimes case deals with public officials (and public figures, movie stars, athlete’s etc.)

Decided in 1964 (another 60’s case!) it held that false statements published by civil rights groups about an Alabama public official were protected first amendment expressions. It overturned a monetary award made to the public official libeled by the falsehood published by the New York Times. The brand-new rule fashioned by the Supreme Court in the case required public officials to show false statements made about them in the media were not only untrue but were made with malice, that is intentionally or with reckless disregard of their falsity.  (Good movie about this rule:  Absence of Malice with Paul Newman.)

This is a judicially created rule.  It did not exist before 1964.  Somehow the republic survived near 200 years without it.

And it has not been without controversy.  Even among the Justices of the Supreme Court.  Justice Byron White,in a 1974 opinion, criticized the reasoning in the New York Times case and wrote, “First Amendment values are not at all served by circulating false statements of fact about public officials.On the contrary, erroneous information frustrates these values.  They are even more disserved when the statements falsely impugn the honesty of those men and women and hence lessen the confidence in government.”

Justice White also said, “It is difficult to argue that the United States did not have a free and vigorous press beforethe rule in New York Times v Sullivan was announced.” 

There is one further distinction that needs to be made.  

It centers on the use of the phrase “freedom of speech” synonymously with the phrase “freedom of press.”  The first amendment as it relates to speech has two separate clauses (three if you include Assembly, but we will put that aside for now).  

Is Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press actually the same thing?  Or are they two different concepts? 

The contrast in the writings of Justice Potter Stewart and Chief Justice Warren Burger elucidate the distinction.  The difference between Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech is that one is institutional, and one is personal.

Justice Stewart noted the Press is the only organized private business given explicit protection by the constitution.  He emphasized the business of the Press, as envisioned by the framers, is more about the dissemination of news than the expressionof ideas.  

Chief Justice Burger, on the other hand stated:

“The Speech Clause standing alone may be viewed as a protection of the liberty to express ideas and belief, while the Press Clausefocuses specifically on the liberty to disseminateexpression broadly and comprehends every sort ofpublicationwhich affords a vehicleof information and opinion.”

Chief Justice Burger did not believe the two phrases, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press were a redundancy.  Rather the Press clause merited special attention in the Bill of Rights because it had historically been the object of official restraints.  The framers especially abhorred the licensing of the Press by the government that was done in the English system.

Which leads us to the final basic questions:  Who is the Press?  And why in the world should they be protected in negligently disseminating false information that hurts someone?

So, who are the Press? The trite image of a news room as a hive of activity manned by sweaty virtuous reporters is no longer true—if it ever was. Modernly, the Press is not just newspapers and T.V., not just periodicals and circulars.  It includes the blogger, the commentator on YouTube, the purveyor of podcasts, Facebook, Instagram, and, of courage, Twitter.  In fact, many reporters from media outlets use each of these platforms to report the news.  It’s easy, it’s fast.  And it is also often wrong.  Plus it is extremely easy to introduce a totally false story into the news stream and have it be picked up and reported, and re-reported, and re-reported ad infinitum, by the mainstream media including the self-same NYTIMES. 

Likewise, it cannot by gainsaid that the Press today are often run by large national, even multi-national corporations.  Editorial polices and stories in most local newsrooms, including our own, are selected and driven by corporate headquarters in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.  

Which brings us to crux of the matter.  Should these huge corporate entities be held to a standard of due care in putting out false information about people?  Is it ok for them to be negligent?  To damage people with false stories?  Not to have to be careful?  To check something out before publishing it and then having it published and republished forever?  Because the internet is forever.   

Because that is one other difference in modern times.  The republication of false stories on Social Media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and the rest.  Should they not held responsible for vicious lies about real people spread on their platforms?  Because the NYTIMES case eliminated any restraints on their republication of false slander too.  And remember we are talking about information that is demonstrably false.  The truth is an absolute defense to Slander.  

And, you know, it’s not like they can’t afford it.

Reminds one of the auto industry.  Once upon a time that industry felt they could make their Billions on products we had to have and if the product was inferior and dangerous and hurt people because the corporate giants couldn’t be bothered to make cars safe, well, too bad. Fortunately, there were no NYTimes case to Shield them from being held responsible. The laws of liability for their negligence required they change their behavior and be more careful. And they did.

So should News organizations and Social Media platforms be held to a duty of due care before they publish false information?

When one trades in information, just like any other trade, there is a duty to be responsible in making an effort to insure the damaging information is not false. 

The NYTimes case is a judicially created rule.  Times have changed since the 1960s. Justice Thomas’s call for it to be re-considered is prudent and timely.

For more writings by Phil Cline, visit philcline.com

Voting, Part Two

Voting, Part Two

In Abbott v. Perez, The Supreme Court slapped a federal district court with a much-needed douse of cold water in an attempt to wake them up, force them to embrace reality for once and have them return to their lane in the governance scheme set out in the Constitution.  Abbott is the second case on voting decided by the Supreme Court last term I wanted to bring to your attention.  It is one of a series of cases which seem destined to set up a blockbuster decision on Gerrymandering most scholars anticipate will be decided this term. 

This case involved a redistricting plan. Under the Constitution re-drawing district lines for congressional offices is a power left to the States and not delegated to the Federal Government.  However, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment passed after the Civil War, forbids “Racial Gerrymandering.”   And under the express power to legislate enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment the Congress passed the Voting Rights Act.

After the 2010 census, the Texas State Legislature set out to redraw district lines.  

A plan was passed in 2011 but was tied up in court and never used.  In 2013, after the Shelby decision (discussed in a previous post) invalidating part of the Voting Rights Act, the state legislature attempted to resolve the issue by approving a redistricting plan modeled on one the district court itself had approved.  But, of course, that plan was also attacked. As the Supreme court said, “The Legislature had reason to know that any new plans it devised were likely to be attacked by one group of plaintiffs or another.”  Sadly, that is a modern truism about any attempts to govern by a legislative body. Somebody is going to sue, and some federal district court somewhere is going to figure they know better how to govern than those elected to do the governing. 

In yet another example of overreaching arrogance by a lower federal district court where no action of a government ever seems to be satisfactory, this new plan was struck down because the federal court decided the State had not satisfied the court of their good intentions.  

In an opinion crafted by Justice Alito, the Supreme Court did two things which to one unschooled in the law may seem minor, but which any lawyer will recognize as important.

First, it reversed the lower court’s assignment of the burden of proof.  Instead of placing it on the government, it placed it back where it belongs with the plaintiff, the person or entity bringing the law suit. The lower federal court without any authority to do so had decided the government had to show that they had somehow “purged” and “cured” the taint of the 2011 plan, a plan that had been “alleged” to be discriminatory and a plan that wasn’t even used.  The lower court went further and in a brazen display of judicial interference in the legislative sphere, it required the legislature to conduct its deliberations in a way the court approved.  Reminds one of a court requiring a showing that the taint of a statement by a candidate in an election must somehow be cured before the court can even read, much less consider the actual legislation before it.  It’s like federal courts see themselves as high priests requiring a trip to the confessional by the other supposedly co-equal branches of government for an expiation of sinful thoughts.  

Second, the Supreme Court confirmed the principle that should always apply to official actions by those democratically elected to govern.  That is that their acts are presumed to have been done in good faith. The federal court erred in ignoring the evidence that in fact the Texas state government had acted in good faith.

In applying the law to the case, the Court reiterated the general rules regarding redistricting challenges.  It must be shown by the person or entity attempting to block the redistricting, 1) is  a geographically compact minority population, that is a majority in the district.  2) There is political cohesion among members of the group and 3) bloc voting by the majority is taking place to defeat the minorities preferred candidate.  And after all that, then the plaintiff must prove under the totality of circumstances the district lines dilute the votes of the minority group.

In the Abbott case, the tests were not met.  And it was plaintiff’s burden to make the showing. In other words, to prove what they alleged.

In elections across the land, attempts to draw district lines face multiple challenges no matter what efforts the local government expends to do the redistricting in a fair way. Statistical models are used and provocative language about voter suppression and racism are inevitably pressed at every opportunity.  That is all find and dandy.  So be it.  

But in Abbott the Court reaffirmed a basic principle.  It is one we should be applying in our general public actions and statements. If you allege it, then, by God, prove it!  

Don’t accuse a person of something and then adopt the presumption that it must be true.  Don’t require a person prove they didn’t do the wrong or, worse, think the wrong thoughts at the wrong time.  No.  It’s your allegation.  Prove it. It’s the legal equivalent of saying, “Put up or shut up.” 

Voting

Voting

This Week’s segment of Cline on the Constitution

Voting

The process of casting a vote is changing.  Who, when, and how is an accident of location. It can be vastly different from state to state. 

The image of an adult citizen showing up at the polls on election day, being handed a ballot, retiring to the voting booth to cast his or her ballot is no longer accurate.  

There is no real date to appear at the polls.  Absentee ballots are counted weeks before and weeks after the election date.  Nor is it required that one casts one’s own ballot. Anyone, and I mean anyone, may “harvest” a vote.  They can pick up an absentee ballot from a voter and cast it for them.  And, at least in California there is no interest or inclination to investigate voter fraud by the Attorney General or the Secretary of State at least as long as their party is in power.

In California and across the nation, the right to vote is being extended to felons, non-citizens, the mentally infirm, even prisoners. Which if one considers a local election for Sheriff, may indeed put the inmates in charge of the asylum. And election officials are severely restricted from asking for a valid identification.  One must have identification to cash a check, but not to vote.

And with the changes are legal challenges to voting.  Last term the Supreme Court issued a number of opinions concerning voting and some important cases on the issue are on the court’s docket this term, including a challenge that might finally end the time-honored practice of gerrymandering.

This post and the two to follow will report on the court’s decisions last term and make some modest predictions about where I think these issues will go.

First, the Basics:

The original Constitution drafted by our framers had no reference to the right to “vote.” Qualifications and other issues related to voting were left up to the individual States. Some States excluded non-landowners from voting, others restricted voting based on religious beliefs, gender, or race. By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, these arbitrary barriers to voting were being dismantled.

The Fifteenth Amendment prohibited denying the right to vote based on race; the Nineteenth Amendment did the same for gender; the Twenty-Fourth eliminated poll taxes, and the Twenty-Sixth insure the right to vote for persons over the age of eighteen. 

The Supreme Court for many decades under the “political question” doctrine deferred the resolution of issues related to voting to the other branches of government.  That began to change in the 1960s.  The best known of these early cases was Gray v. Sanders in which Justice Douglas’s opinion overturned a county based primary system because it diluted the voting power of urban areas.  He wrote: “the conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence to Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing – one person, one vote.” 

Within a short time, the Court issued over a half-dozen opinions striking down state drawn district lines.  And in 1965, Congress passed The Voting Rights Act which protected voting rights, and put certain states and jurisdictions under a Federal pre-clearance requirement for any changes to local voting procedures.  Part of this act was eventually (in 2013) held unconstitutional because Congress repeatedly failed to update which jurisdictions were subject to federal control even though demographic changes made the continuing federal oversight irrational. (for more on these issues see previous posts.)

Now for the cases decided last term:

The first of the cases was decided last term was Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky.

It’s not unusual for the Supreme court to be behind the times when it comes to discussions of technology and changes in society. Given the rapid changes, in some ways, the Mansky case is quaint and antiquated.  

It’s discussion centers on polling places and attempts by a State government to regulate conduct and speech at the polls.  The traditional justification is to protect the voters from undue influence by banning the rough and tumble of politics from the sacred precinct where votes are cast. In the Court’s language, “an island of calm in which voters can peacefully contemplate their choices.”

Mansky was a 7-2 decision. The opinion was penned by Chief Justice John Roberts. The state sought to regulate the wearing of “political” apparel at the polling place.   

The law was enacted in Minnesota in the 19thcentury in response to so-called “chaotic” conditions where “crowds would gather to heckle and harass voters who appeared to be supporting the other side.” Where polling places became “highly charged ethnic, religious, and ideological battlegrounds in which individuals were stereotyped as friend or foe, even on the basis of clothing.”  

Hmmm.  Sounds familiar.  

It’s not difficult to conjure up modern examples of what would be prohibited.  Make America Great Again hats for sure, rainbow flags, one would think. Tee shirts depicting aborted babies, pink pussy hats? But where is the line? And, always the question, who gets to say where the line is? Do we really want federal judges to do it and thereby become even more political than they already are?

Thankfully, the court in this instanced said No. 

The Court struck down the law in Mansky as not being specific enough in its definition of what was banned by words like “political.”  By banning political apparel, it impinged on Freedom of Speech.  Consistent with First Amendment jurisprudence it ruled the State may regulate campaign activities, (or conduct) at polling places, but found the inclusiveness of the language violated freedom of speech. 

So far, so good.

But in a couple of ways the case is another “judicial head in the sand” decision.  

First, it gives too short shrift to the reasons the legislation was enacted.  Things haven’t really changed.  People still abuse other people, and improperly invade every public space in the most vulgar and vile manner. Hells Bells, even a group of Christian high school kids can’t gather in the Nation’s Capital to support the Right to Life movement, without being harassed by a group of Black adults spewing hatred and a nutty snaggle tooth man pounding his drum in a teenager’s face.

Second, in point of fact, developments in voting I outlined in my introductory paragraphs are harbingers of the future.  And the inevitability of online voting.  As we move closer to what many said was impossible: “Direct Democracy” in which the voting public can decide in an instant whether to approve or disapprove a proposition, an initiative, even a candidate, indeed any law.  

Maybe, some might even begin to question the need for legislatures and legislators. Afterall, we all can with a push of a button, (or rather the click of a mouse) make the decisions instantaneously.  And of course, oldsters like me, might ask but what of representative democracy?  And the new generation might answer: But, do we have that now?  A dysfunctional Congress, corrupt and mindless state legislatures, all in the hands of a few legislative and committee leaders?  Who secure their sinecure by raising and disbursing campaign donations? 

Uh, . . . maybe someone should listen while the Supreme Court is busy answering questions no one may be asking anymore.

For earlier posts or more writing by Phil Cline visit philcline.com

Poetry in the Public Square

Poetry in the Public Square

Is poetry a public or private thing?

One’s love of country could be deliciously stirred by the magic of poetry:

“This happy breed of men, this little world, 

This precious stone set in the silver sea, 

………….

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England . . .”

Historically western poetry concerned itself with very public matters.  In verse we found Kingdoms and Kings, Gods and Fate, Destiny and Mysteries, and Mankind and his cities.  Poetry strutted on the vast stage of great events from Ulysses to Oedipus the King, to Dante’s Divine Comedy to Shakespeare and the souls of his flawed Princes struggling in the midst of cruel happenstance. 

But that all began to change last century.  One wag said, “the poet has no more part in society than a monk in domestic life.”

That sentiment has become debilitating in the age of Political Correctness.  Perhaps it is one reason why so much of modern American poetry is a desert of the inane, the mundane and the profane. Most modern poetry says nothing important that you cannot find canned on the cable T.V. channel of your choice. But does it have to be this way?

Could it have an impact on the public politics it once had?

Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982), an American poet who studied law at Harvard and dipped his toe in the political world, said, “The very last qualification for appointment to public office by and with the advice and consent of the Senate – and I am speaking with some personal knowledge – is, in the eyes of the senators, the practice of the art of verse.”

By contrast, Shakespeare’s most memorable characters included a Moor, a Jew, a conniving and murderous woman, a crippled man, 

“I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion, 

Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,

Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time

Into this breathing world, scarce half made up, 

And that so lamely and unfashionable

That dogs bark at me as I halt by them.“ 

And, even more shockingly, he made fun of cross dressing, bestiality and shrewish women. One can just here the gasps!

Could a modern-day Shakespeare be expected to explore in verse his musings on the State of the State? Would his plays be boycotted, his poetry banned from the public-school system.  (oops, I guess that has already been done at some colleges.)

When a man cannot become a judge because he is Catholic and member of a charitable organization as innocuous as the Knights of Columbus, when a comic is pilloried because in the past he did what comics do, make fun of groups of people, how can a poet, be expected to take a risk and hope to be published?

Poetry (and to a large extent Art) has been relegated to the private realm.  And to regions safe, secure and is not allowed to deal with the messy unpredictable life of the public arena. One cannot explore the many sides of mankind, not in the public square, not ever, not in real flawed life ever, not without being crucified, if not now, at some future day, by someone, somewhere who will find offense?

As William Butler Yeats, (1865-1939), an Irish poet intensely involved in the politics of Ireland  said,

“The daily spite of this unmannerly town,

Where who has served the most is the most defamed,

The reputation of his lifetime lost

Between the night and morning.”

How many men and women has that happened to of late?

It is a supreme irony that we all now live more in the public sphere than ever before. As MacLeish said, “We no longer worry much about our private souls.  We worry about the soul of America or about the soul of mankind-the condition of mankind-the human condition.” Yet no longer can anything dangerous ever be publicly ventured about the condition of humankind, the basis of poetry and art.

Lastly, for the person who steps forward, lives his or her art in public, it takes extraordinary courage. And maybe we, living our private lives, should better appreciate all those brave souls who take to the public stage and make the poetry of their lives public for all to see.

Again, Yeats

“The drunkards, pilferers of public funds,

All the dishonest crowd I had driven away,

When my luck changed and they dared meet my face,

Crawled from obscurity, and set upon me

Those I had served and some that I had fed;

Yet never have I, now nor any time,

Complained of the people.”

Phil Cline

For more writings by Phil Cline, visit philcline.com

Chapters 7,8, & 9 of A King’s Trust

Chapters 7,8, & 9 of A King’s Trust

Chapter Seven

 

The other partner, Lenora Crabtree, was already at the meeting when Lenny walked into the conference room.  She was secretly pleased with the irritated look on his face when he saw his usual chair was occupied.

 

At meetings of his Executive Committee, Lenny always sat to the right side of the Chief Operating Officer, Willard Kent.  Kent, in turn, was expected to sit at the head of the long conference table. Kent usually chaired the meetings. It was set up that way. Since Lenny didn’t deign to attend every confab he left management of the meeting’s agenda to others.  But when he did show up, he always sat in a critical position to the right and next to the CAO, so he could make his announcements, propound his vision, and share his witticisms, which, Crabtree from overheard comments he alone appreciated.   Lenny’s chair was the furthest from the door and faced in that direction.  It insured no one could sneak in late without being seen.  The chair was also left unoccupied when he was not in attendance out of respect.  Respect for his power in the company not for the man, though Lenny would never think of it that way.

 

But today the chair was occupied.  That was part of the plan.  Lenora had arranged the breach in protocol at Nadine King’s suggestion. It was to be the first of a planned series of moves to bring the great Lenny King’s expectations down a few pegs.

 

The two had met three days earlier at a small out of the way eatery a few miles south of the city limits.

 

After she had found the place and been seated in a booth toward the back, Lenora in looking around the simple, cheap little diner, surmised Nadine had selected the place because there would little chance could their meeting would be noted by anyone of any significance.

 

When Nadine walked in she was accompanied by a big, rather rugged looking and handsome man in a very nice suit who was vaguely familiar.  After he was introduced she recognized him as the attorney who had bested Lenny’s legal team and won a huge settlement for the little slut who had wormed her way into Lenny’s bed and then made him pay dearly for each and every, favor the tired old satyr had enjoyed.

 

After seeing that they were all seated, the waiter came out from behind the cash register and took their order.  After he left, the conversation stayed general for a few minutes and then the Attorney asked Lenora how much she knew about the Trust that Nadine’s father had set up.

 

Lenora looked at Nadine. At a nod of Nadine’s head, Lenora went ahead and repeated what she had learned at the meeting.  The lawyer smiled indulgently then asked her if she would like to hear more.  She looked at Nadine again and Nadine said, “You need to hear this.”

 

“Well, first let’s talk effective date,” the lawyer said.  “I understand Mr. King had stated there was to be transition period, something like six months, during which he would transfer power to others, including you. Supposedly.”

 

She raised her chin slightly at the use of the qualification “supposedly”.  She didn’t like the lawyer’s tone.

 

“Yes,” she said.  “He will remain in charge, but the provisions are to be put in place to take care of all of us and he will work to make sure a sustainable management team was in place.”

 

“Well, that may be all well and good, but the Trust actually was effective the date it was signed.”

 

“How do you know this?”

 

The lawyer didn’t say anything in response.

 

Lenora continued, “He said he would share the actual provisions only after the six-month period had passed.  I don’t see how you would know any different.”

 

Nadine spoke up.

 

“Yeah, that’s what he said all right, but I managed to get a copy of the Trust documents and I know for a fact that he is going to test everyone and pull the whole thing back and revise it if he isn’t satisfied with how things are going.”

 

“Yes,” said the Lawyer. “Until it is filed with the Court and recorded in the county offices, the Trust can be pulled back and the effective date changed as many times as King wants.”

 

The lawyer paused for a moment before continuing.

 

“But once it’s filed, then the time limits start for making all the SEC filings, giving notice to shareholders, amending articles of incorporation with the Department of Corporations.  All that has to be done in a very short time frame.  Ninety days.  Once the Trust is filed, the time is running.  It’s like a big freight train that has left the station and built up a big head of steam.  It can’t be pulled back.”

 

Lenora sat silent. She looked at Nadine.  Nadine said, “I know what you’re thinking. We know my Father’s moods. There is no way of knowing what will set him off and, if nothing has been filed, he could throw the whole thing out and just remain in charge of the company or he could throw anyone of us out of the company and the Trust on a whim.  He’s done it before.”

 

Lenora raised her eyebrows. She agreed with what Lenora was saying, but she was too savvy to express herself out loud when she didn’t really understand the lay of the land, what was being proposed and could the person making the proposal deliver?

 

Nadine continued. “You know that’s true.  And you know that if he goes off halfcocked now how it affects you.  He might keep old Willets around as a fishing buddy, but you are nothing to him but a reliable V.P. of finance who he made a partner rather than pay you what you’re worth.”

 

Lenora’s reply was politic. “My compensation package is adequate. I selected an option from a menu I was offered.  My partnership shares are more, much more valuable, in the long run.”

 

The lawyer now intervened again.  “Well, that’s where you may be missing some understanding here.  See we,” and seeing Nadine’s expression he held up his hand to silence her and said, “just hold on.” He turned back to Lenora.  “I’ve studied the documents.  The company has corporate bylaws and the partnership agreements expressly incorporate those bylaws. Actually, pretty standard stuff. They are okay as far as they go, but you are relying on a lot of good faith here.   You need to understand that for all that, this is a closely held corporation, and, he, King, at least up until this Trust was executed controlled two thirds of the stock.  With that voting bloc, he can replace the board of directors at any time he wants.  And in your employment contract, like all the rest King uses for his upper level staff, well, someone, I imagine that Easley character, inserted a special provision in the bylaws that gives the board the option of canceling your contract for the good of the company. And at an entirely other place in the contract, in return for shares instead of compensation, you have actually waived any legal challenges to such a decision by the Board.  You get the shares; three months’ severance pay and that’s it.”

 

Lenora felt cold, a chill at how insecure she had suddenly felt.  She had read the contract over before she signed.  She had been careful.  But she had not thought it necessary to have it reviewed by independent counsel.  That had obviously been a mistake.  She had fought all her life, a lot of times against men of inferior ability, to get the security and authority she thought she deserved and until that moment thought she had achieved.  She thought she had made it.  She was rich. She was a partner.  She was in charge.  It was a shock to be told it was all ephemeral, especially if subject to one of Lenny’s moods which had lately become arrogant in the extreme.

 

And she also felt the awakening of something she had long suppressed.  The feeling was not exactly hatred of Lenny, but resentment at his always treating her as something less than a full partner, never giving her the respect and deference he appeared to give Willets, his stupid old fishing buddy.

 

She pushed her chair back from the table a little way, crossed her legs, adjusted her skirt and told the lawyer to tell her more.  As he began again she reached over picked up her glass and took a sip of the martini that Nadine had ordered for all of them.  The order was made without asking her or the lawyer what they wanted.  She never drank at lunch, but this martini was welcome, and it tasted good.

 

After that meeting, they all left the restaurant together and she had walked a short way down the sidewalk with the two. When they got to a Porsche parked on the street, the big man leaned over and buzzed Nadine on the cheek.  Lenora noticed how Nadine’s fingertips lingered on his chest when he did so.  And then the lawyer hopped in the Porsche and was gone.

 

Nadine turned to her and said, “Let me walk you to your car.”

 

When they got to her car, Nadine told her, “Lenora.  I know this is a lot to digest, but changes are coming and everyone’s putting off dealing with them.  Everyone believes they are at least six months away.  Well, the changes are here.  They are here and that can be to our advantage if we act.”

 

Lenora never responded. She just leaned against her sedan and listened.

 

Nadine said, “Here’s what my lawyer never told you, but which he immediately understood when he studied the paperwork.”

 

“How did you get all these documents?” Lenora asked.  “He keeps those instruments close to his vest.  I’m a partner and even I couldn’t access them.”

 

Nadine just smiled. “I have my ways.  But listen, this is the important part for you.  The Trust has many interesting little provisions that fat-ass Easley must have snuck in, but the big thing is the control of the shares. That’s where the power is.  First, when the Trust is filed, there is a big pay out to my Father stretched over a five-year period.  Don’t worry about that right now.  That can be whittled down later. But the shares, see, the controlling shares, I know you and a couple of others have some from their compensation packages, but the ones my father owns, are divided, thirty per cent to me, and thirty per cent to Willets.  And the remaining forty per cent are divided between my brothers, each getting twenty per cent.”

 

Lenora was quiet.  She felt hurt and discomforted knowing she had been cut out completely while the other partner; the one without any real management chops was given major powers of control.  She didn’t want to outwardly appear hurt.  A woman didn’t dare show emotion or weakness in a business setting. She also noticed Nadine was studying her to gage her reaction, probably looking for the signs of feminine distress. Well, there would be no tears at this latest betrayal by a man in her life.

 

“Look,” Nadine said, “I know that’s not right.  Things are not going to turn out the way he thought though. And that means you are going to have to make a decision.  I’m going to run this company.  Me. Just me before it’s over.  But I need a strong financial person.  You’re it.  But I mean it when I say I need a strong one; one who can fight and pick the right side to fight for.  The one who is going to win.”

 

“This is all very dangerous for me,” Lenora said. “I never realized just how dangerous the changes, the changes coming, were until today.”

 

“Well, that’s the thing. There is risk in everything, but if I promise you something, whatever I promise you, will be in writing, iron clad, guaranteed.  You can hire your own lawyer to look it over and I’ll pay for the lawyer.  Anyone you choose.  You join with me; you will have a real slice of the company profits, more compensation and benefits than you ever dreamed.  And some real authority.  Or, your other choice, you can choose to stand by the old man and get thrown out with the trash.  By me. When I take over, I’ll do it.  But at least I’m telling you what I would do. Or you can wait and get thrown out by him.  And not a word beforehand.  You heard what the lawyer said and you better than most know how foolish and volatile the old fool has become.”

 

“In writing?”

 

“In writing.  Guaranteed.”

 

“Give me twenty-four hours.”

 

“No more.”

 

Lenora had not gone to the office.  She called her secretary and told her to cancel her appointments because she had an important matter come up which she had to deal with.  Not a lie by any means.

 

She had gone home, changed out of her work clothes and spent the day by the pool at her condo.  She drank iced coffee and thought.  The lounges around the pool were empty.  It was the middle of a work-day and she could lie about in her bikini without the usual rude horny stares of men.

 

She thought through all the implications of the offer Nadine had made.  The decision was surprisingly easy to come to.  She picked up her cell phone and called Nadine.  In an hour she was dressed and in her car.  She met Nadine back at the same place, this time in the bar on the other side of the restaurant and this time it was Lenora who ordered the round of martinis.  That seemed to please Nadine very much.

 

“Okay”.  She said, “I’m in. Now what.”

 

“This is what.  We are going to put a plan to work.  Seesaw the old bastard.  He’s going to find himself taken down a peg at a time.  That big lawyer I introduced you too.  He filed a copy of the Trust yesterday.  There is a demand by me and one of my brothers to have an immediate shareholders meeting.  We can do that with our combined shares.  My guy will serve the legal papers on the old fool’s attorney tomorrow.  In the meantime, I want you to prepare the staff at the office to make a few changes to how things are done.  Get them ready for a transition.  Time to get his attention.”

 

Lenora had nodded her head, impressed by Nadine’s thought process.  “You are going to ease him out, aren’t you?” she said.  “Make him leave of his own accord.  To preserve the stock value.  You can’t just suddenly throw him out on the street.  Not yet.  We have to show stability in the transition.  For the Public.  Keep everyone’s confidence up.  But how are you going to handle the Board?  It will be the first place he runs.”

 

“Let him.  We will have control over the shares and, remember the bylaws, we can replace the board if we want.  But I’m counting on that not being necessary.  They get a handsome stipend for serving.  My father saw to that.  And they are all businessmen first.  They don’t want a public proxy fight that will drive down the value of the company and scare off our trading partners.  They’ll avoid that.  A couple of them are being approached by, shall we say, third parties right now. Those parties will make is clear that there are definite rewards in store for those who stick with us.”

 

Nadine had raised her glass then and they had clinked the edges and smiled at each other over the rims of their martini glasses.

 

That was three days ago, and Lenora was still feeling good about all this.

 

Lenora watched from the other end of the conference table as Lenny walked over behind Jones, the HR director, the one whom Lenora had specifically picked for this role.  He expected Jones to vacate the seat.  Jones ignored him.  Lenora noted how a red flush started at Lenny’s shirt collar and rose upward.  She also noted how Willets still stood at the door and stared, looking confused.

 

This was going to be fun.

 

Chapter 8

 

As Dylan emerged from the classroom he was accompanied by a few of his favored students. They were enthusiastically continuing their discussion of Wallace Stevens. That day’s lecture had been about the businessman (and the lawyer) who wrote poems. Maybe that’s why the poet was a particular favorite of Dylan’s.

 

This was the best part of his day.  All the other unpleasantness in his life inevitably receded before the smiles, inquisitiveness and energy of his young students. Academia was a completely other world from the one he shared with his father and siblings.

 

But not today.  Today, he was surprised to see his sister, Nadine, and his brother, Regan, seated on a bench in the Quad watching him. Neither had ever appeared on campus before.  His good humor was dampened by a feeling of undefined trepidation.

 

He excused himself from the group of students.  One, Marcy, lingered a moment longer than the others.  He caught her eye and slightly shook his head once.  It was, he hoped, imperceptible to the other students.  She picked up on his signal.  She knew it meant this wasn’t the right time to be alone together, even in the middle of a campus.  She left in the direction of her classmates.  Her look promised they would meet later in private.  Off campus.  Like before.

 

He watched them walk away, especially Marcy.  She may take a lot of feminism classes in her Women’s studies department, but it didn’t keep her from wearing the latest form fitting “yoga pants.”  They made it seem she was naked from the waist down. And the way she moved left little doubt she enjoyed the attention, even if surreptitious, of the men on campus, both students and faculty, and that included Dylan.

 

He turned and walked toward Nadine and Regan.  Nadine was staring after Marcy too.  Her radar had picked up on something between her brother and the girl with the pants. Nadine frowned.  She didn’t like what her instincts were telling her.

 

“Hi guys.  What are doing here?   What brings you to this institution of higher learning?  Auditing a class or two?”

 

They all laughed out loud at that.

 

“No, Brother,” Nadine said, “We thought you might like to have a little lunch, you know, just the three of us.  We have a lot to talk about.”

 

And, thought Dylan, you don’t want father to know.  He had to admit, Nadine was being smart.   Meeting him here.  There was no way his Father would ever set foot on the campus.  He hated everything about the college.  And Dylan teaching there.

 

To test his thesis Dylan said, “Sure, that would be fun, but you wouldn’t prefer to go downtown to the club?”

 

“No, no,” Nadine smiled, cementing his assessment, “we thought we could catch a bite at the Student U. You can get us in there, can’t you? Would be fun to see all the youngsters around here, you know, at play in their natural habitat.”

 

“Yeah,” Regan said, with a vulgar little chuckle, “there’s some real animals here, by the looks of their hair and clothes, and some fillies with fine lines too.”  He said it with a smile in an obvious, if forced, attempt at good humor.  Since it was without his usual sneer, Dylan let it go, though he wondered if his joke included Marcy in referencing the other females on the Quad.

 

“Okay.  Pretty basic stuff at the Student Union.  Hamburgers about the best thing they offer.”  He looked at Nadine.  “No martinis, I’m afraid.”

 

“I will survive.” Nadine laughed.

 

She jauntily hooked her arm through his and started guiding him in the direction of the Student Union. He had no idea how she knew the way. Regan lolled behind them.  Dylan had no doubt he was continuing his examination of the passing coeds.  His brother best watch out and not be too obvious, thought Dylan, some of these young women would have no compunction about lashing into him if his stares are perceived as a disrespectful leer.

 

At the U, they got in line with a few students and a couple of professors.  Dylan introduced the other faculty members to his brother and sister.  Nadine and, even Regan, were friendly and graceful.  It wasn’t the way they usually acted around his friends.

 

The three of them ordered their burgers, walked over to the fountain and filled up their cups with soda. It was crowded, but they found a table in the corner.  There was a steady, happy din in the cafeteria, which ironically, created a sort of semi-privacy.

 

Both Nadine and Regan were peppering him with questions about the classes he was teaching, asking about the students and professors, subjects about which they had never, to his memory, indicated the slightest interest.

 

Dylan was happy.  He couldn’t remember the last time the three siblings had set down and talked about stuff he liked. There always seemed to be an undercurrent of rage or hurt or anger.  Some of that he knew was generated by their reaction to whatever their father’s latest project happened to be.  Nevertheless, Dylan wasn’t going to analyze this day to death.  He was just going to try to enjoy it for what it was. Though in the back of his mind, he just couldn’t suppress the thoughts that kept intruding, he knew it wasn’t as simple as it seemed.

 

Their burgers came. The coed delivering the plates to the table, actually smiled at Regan.  He was in a really good mood after that.  The three of them laughed and joked half way through the meal. Nadine, around a mouthful of French Fries, said, “Dylan, I don’t know why we haven’t done this more.  This is fun.”  She smeared a huge amount catsup on three more fries and crammed them in her mouth.  He laughed at her.

 

“Yes, it is.  I’ve missed you guys.  Everybody always seems so busy.”

 

Regan added, “Well, we need to change that.  Never too late to change.”

 

Nadine chimed in, “No, it’s not.  And we all know changes are coming.  With Father. And the company.  And you know, I think it will be good for all of us. Give us a chance to change too. We are family.  We need to be together more.  On lots of things.”

 

“I would like nothing better,” Dylan said.

 

‘Well, remember that,” Nadine said.  “No matter what you hear others say about us.  Just remember today.  Us together.  We are going to have a lot more of todays.  About us. We need to think about each other more and we will.”

 

He didn’t know what to say. He laughed again when Nadine reached over and swiped a handful of fries off his plate.  Then from the other direction Regan did the same thing and Dylan turned to laugh as his brother hurried to stuff a handful in his mouth. In all the merriment he missed Nadine’s intense stare at Marcy who had just entered the other door to the Student union and was waiting in line to place her order.

 

Chapter 9

 

Willets could tell Lenny was shook up as they left the conference room and made their way back to his office.  He hadn’t seen him like this for years, maybe decades.  This was a look from long ago, from before they had built their business empire and Lenny had worked himself into absolute control.  In the years since, he learned to exercise power and found he was good at it and he got even better as he gained confidence until at some point he left all self-doubt behind, and his confidence came to resemble arrogance.

 

It was obvious to Willets that Lenny was angry, but there was something else. Right now, in his look, in his posture, there was an absence of that old confidence.  It was like a mask had been pulled off.  It was like he had that feeling you sometimes get when you suddenly wonder if all you had been doing was just fooling everyone, and now you had been found out.

 

Willets watched as Lenny crossed the office and poured himself a drink. He didn’t just sip this one. He didn’t exactly throw it back, but he took a healthy quaff, set the glass down, stared at it, then lifted it to his lips again and finished it off.

 

Lenny tuned around and looked toward the office door like he expected someone to be there.  Willets realized he had the same expectation. Where was Denise?  She always appeared, iPad in hand, when Lenny returned to the office.  She wasn’t there now.

 

Lenny walked to the door. Willets heard him say, “Who are you?” Willets went to the doorway to see whom Lenny was talking to.  There was a diminutive and very young woman seated at Denise’s desk.  She replied to the Lenny’s question.

 

“I’m Kelly.

 

“Where the hell is Denise?”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. King. She was told to report to the clerical pool supervisor. I’m taking her place until someone else is assigned.”

 

Willets could tell Lenny wanted to explode at the little secretary.  He held back.  He must realize the futility of doing so.  Denise being ordered elsewhere was outrage, an insult like he had just undergone in the conference room.  But the insult originated with someone else and this little know nothing wouldn’t have the slightest idea what was behind it nor its significance.

 

Willets stepped over to the secretary’s desk while Lenny struggled to compose himself.

 

“Miss, uh, Kelly is it? Yes, Kelly.  Denise is Mr. King’s personal secretary.  Do you know who told her to leave her station and report to the pool supervisor?”

 

“Oh no.  I don’t know that Mr. Willets.  I was just told to report here to take her place.  I think someone called her.”

 

“Kelly, who exactly told you to report here?”

 

“My supervisor. He said it was on orders of one of the Partners.”

 

“And was she the one that called Denise?”

 

“I don’t know, Mr. Willets.  I think so.”

 

Willets decided not to waste any more time trying to figure out what led this ignorant young woman to her conclusions.  He heard Lenny pick up his phone.  He pushed one of the buttons at the bottom of the phone.

 

“Yes, that’s who I said. Crabtree. What do you mean, she’s unavailable? This is Lenny King, God Dammit!  You tell her to get her ass up her this minute! Do you hear me?  Or you are fired!  Do you understand?”  Lenny slammed the phone down before any response could be given.

 

They looked at each other and shook their heads in wonder.

 

Lenny said, “What was that all about in the conference room?  I want you to fire that bastard, Jones, he knows better than to sit in my chair for God’s sake. I practically had to throw him out of it.  I want him fired, you understand?”

 

“Sure, sure but, Lenny, something else is going on here.  This is too much.  It’s not just one rogue and rude HR guy.  There’s no coincidence here.  Let’s see what is going on first.”

 

As if on signal, the door opened. There had been no knock, no announcement.  In strolled Lenora Crabtree.  She smiled good-naturedly at Willets, crossed over to the bar, reached in the fridge under the ledge and brought herself out a diet coke.  She popped the top.  Listened to it fizz.  Took a loud sip and then walked over to the couch and took a seat.  She held the coke in one hand, her cell phone in the other and as she examined the face of the phone, she said, “What’s this all about Lenny?  You yelled at my secretary. That’s not good form.  We can get sued for that kind of behavior. You of all people should know all about that.”

 

Willets watched as Lenny started to speak but had to swallow angry words down a closed throat.

 

Willets walked over and sat down with Lenora.  He thought his best role would be to try to calm the waters.

 

“Lenora, what’s going on? Did you order Mr. King’s secretary to return to the secretarial pool?”

 

“Well, she was being wasted in her current post.  She is paid a very pretty salary and does little actual productive work so, yes, she was reassigned.”

 

“You reassigned my secretary?”  Lenny was angry.  Almost spitting out the words.

 

Willets tried to intervene once more.  “Lenora, you can’t do that.  You know that.  What could you have been thinking?  You don’t have authority over Mr. King’s personal staff.”

 

“Well, I actually do.”

 

Lenny lost what little patience he had.  “The hell you do!  I’m still the boss around here.”

 

“Well, actually not.”

 

Lenny lost his voice again. He was choking on his words.  Nothing was coming out.

 

Willets said, “Lenora, please tell me what is going on.  This doesn’t make any sense.”

 

“Maybe, I’m the not the one you should ask.  These are all direct orders by the new interim chief, Nadine King.”

 

Lenny asked incredulously, “Nadine? What? How?”

 

“You should know, Lenny.  You did it all with your fancy legal Trust.”

 

“The Trust? The Trust isn’t in effect yet.  I haven’t really decided when it will be and even then, Nadine isn’t given control of the company.”

 

‘Well, it seems your daughter has accelerated things a bit.  Her lawyers filed the Trust in court.  They say you signed it and it has an effective date that’s already passed so it’s in effect. Lenny, your daughter moves fast.  Like I’ve heard you did.  At least when you were young.  I never saw such fast moves.  She went out and lined up just enough share votes needed to get the board to appoint her interim head of the organization until things get re-organized. One thing you did do in that Trust is give up enough shares for ceding voting control. Maybe you didn’t want it to happen so soon, but, well, it’s in effect now.  So, see, you aren’t actually in charge anymore.”

 

“Well, you Bitch!”  This time it was Willets who had lost his temper.

 

Lenora raised up her hand. “Just wait a minute.  The Trust terms are his.”  And she pointed at Lenny.  “I’m just doing what the boss, the new boss, is saying to do.”

 

There was a pause. “That’s all.”

 

Then Lenora decided to apply the coup de grace.  “And by the way, this office is being, uh, well, it won’t be your office anymore after next week.  Nadine said to give you an office in case you wanted to visit the headquarters, from your retirement stuff whatever that is, but something this massive needs to be put to better business use.  Your new secretary, Kelly, will let you know where your office is to be.”

 

And with that she got up and power walked out of the room with her happy “business as usual” smile.

 

Lenny sat down heavily in his chair.  Willets grabbed the phone.  “Yes, uh, Kelly can you put a call into Mr. King’s daughter. No, I don’t have the extension. It must be on the computer there in front of you.  Yes, her name is Nadine.  King.  Her last name is King, for God’s sake!  No, I’m sorry, I didn’t’ mean to yell.  Yes, thank you, please buzz us when you get through to her.”

 

They remained silent for five full minutes.  Lenny’s breathing was audible.  Then the phone buzzed.  Lenny picked it up.  He said, “Yes, put her through.”  He pushed the button for the loudspeaker.  Nadine’s voice came on.

 

“Hi Dad.”  There was a slight giggle.  “What’s new with you, Pops?”