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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 03/03/2008
Vol. 2, #204
Section 4 - A legal issue as well?
"But I was just looking at it with your eyes. What adreadful impression. But, we're not really as frightful asall that."
"Now that the first shock has passed," Sattvapalliadmitted, "and I can recognize the honestly conceivedpedagogic intention, I still wonder whether-"
"Be as critical as you like, Mr. Sattvapalli," Denisesaid. "We thrive on it." She was about to add something whenher attention was distracted by a little girl's persistenttugging at her skirt. The ring of children had broken up andthe other women were already helping gather up theyoungsters' things preparatory to leaving.
"What is it, Agnes?" said Denise, kneeling to face thechild.
"I got rubbids," the tot explained.
"Rubbids?" Denise echoed.
"I got rubbids," the child repeated, patientlyinsistent.
"Oh- of course." Denise rose, taking the little girl bythe hand as she explained to Sattvapalli: "She left herrubbers here yesterday morning when it rained. And she'sreminding me to get them for her." She led the child off tothe right side of the room where a couple of rows of coathooks were set into boards fastened to the wall low enoughto be reached by the smallest.
On a long low bench closeby, Alice Dumbrille wasadjusting the clothing of her four year old son while shecontinued her conversation with Libby Westcott who wastrying at the same time to deal with the efforts of her ownlittle boy to capture her full attention.
"-well- now that I hear your version of it, I'll admit itsounds like something worth looking into," Alice agreed."Hold still, Stevie." She fussed with the suspender strapson her son's long corduroy trousers. "But I'd want to getthe full details before getting involved in the work."
"It'll take running around, of course, reachingeverybody," Libby Westcott acknowledged. "But not as muchas- Stop doing that," she said sharply, unfastening the tinyhand that pulled at her sleeve. "Mommie's trying to talk."
And then to Alice again: "We'd better discuss it at thepanel tonight. I can't hold a conversation with anyone whenJody's around. He's going through one of those awfuldependent stages and just won't leave me alone."
"One thing,"Alice warned. "You can count on that newmanager putting obstacles in the way-no matter what. He'sjust-"
"Mommie- mommie- I made a tractor with the blocks," JodyWestcott burst out in a loud voice.
"He can't really be that bad," said Libby.
"Mommie- mommie- "
"A complete misfit in Baldwin Village. You'll see," saidAlice.
"Yes-well- we'll discuss the whole thing tonight."
Mr. Sattvapalli saw Edna Quarles approaching,accompanied by a little girl who bore a striking resemblanceto her mother. "Judith- this is Tara who's going to stay atour house for a while."
Sattvapalli said nothing, merely stood and waited forthe child to examine him. She did so, shyly at first, withlowered head, apparently observing him from the waist down.Presently, intrigued by his silence, the little girl raisedher eyes to his face and began to study him boldly. "Are youthe sandman?" she said at last.
"Oh no," Edna interrupted, embarrassed. "He's not thesandman, Judith. He's a friend of-"
But Sattvapalli stopped her with a wave of the hand. "Iam a very good friend of the sandman," he said.
"What's your name?" the child said.
"My name is Tara."
"You look like the sandman, only you don't have a bag.""Come along, Judith. You can talk to Tara on the wayhome." Edna took the child's hand and started toward thedoor. Sattvapalli walked alongside, stopping suddenly asthey neared the threshold.
"There's just one thing," he said to Edna. He turned tothe stuffed panda and proceeded to undo the rope that heldit suspended by the neck. "The implements of sublimationshould be disassembled when not in use," he explained.He took the battered toy tenderly in his arms and waslaying it gently down on the floor when Denise Loughlin,leading a couple of youngsters by the hand, passed him onthe way out. She stopped and watched him for a moment, asmile lingering at the corners of her mouth. "I see you're aman of principle," she remarked.
"No- no," said Sattvapalli, protesting as he rose. "Notso. I am simply deactivating a symbol."
"I'm afraid I don't understand that," said Denise.
"I am quite certain understanding comes to you easily,when needed."
"But not at the moment."
"Because it's not of your need."
"Is that good or bad, Mr. Sattvapalli?"
"Merely the possibility of one or the other."
"In that case, why not come to the panel meeting tonightand have a go at enlightening me?"
Sattvapalli gave a little nod. "Perhaps-yes." He turnedaway to rejoin his hostess who stood waiting for him at thevestibule door.
"You've taken a liking to Denise," Edna observed.Sattvapalli nodded again. "She is a very old soul."
Alice Dumbrille held the door of the Chrysler open forher son and helped him onto the passenger seat, strappinghim into his carrier. She looked toward the Great Horn, butno sign remained of the recent excitement. She got behindthe wheel, adjusted the seat belt, turned on the ignitionand pushed the control into drive.
"Mommie," Stevie said as she eased the car out of theparking lot.
"What is it?"
"Did you go to the store?"
"Yes- I went to the store."
"Did you buy me some candy?"
Alice Dumbrille was silent for a moment. "Mommie- didyou buy me some candy?" Stevie was insistent.
"No," said Alice firmly. "Not today."
"You said you would buy me some candy."
"I changed my mind." She brought the car to a stop atthe traffic light and released her left hand from the wheel.Carefully, she fumbled through the interior of her shoulder strapbag dangling at her left side, out of Stevie's view.
Then, deftly, her hand came up with something she continuedto hold concealed at her side. As the light changed and thecar shot forward, Alice Dumbrille lifted her left hand andwith a quick angry flick of the wrist, dropped what she washolding out of the car window.
In the front seat of the 1977 Ford that followed theChrysler, a blue-eyed teen-age girl with hair falling almostto her waist, peered through the windshield.
"Ernie- what was that?"
The driver shrugged. "Looks to me like someone'sthrowing away lollipops," said Ernie Strode.
"I'll be back before dinnertime," Alice Dumbrilleinformed Mrs. Rennick. "Stevie didn't have much lunch, sohe'll probably be ready to eat early- about four-thirty- incase I'm not back by then."
"If you're going to the meeting tonight, you should stayhome this afternoon," said Mrs. Rennick pettishly. "What foryou have to do all this running around? You don't look sogood. You're feeling all right?"
Mrs. Rennick was nearly sixty, German, and with atendency to nag that made her an ideal housekeeper for ahousehold from which a divorce had severed the male partnerover a year ago.
"I'll feel a lot better when I take care of this," saidAlice, picking Stevie up and bestowing on him a hug, a kissand a pat on the head. "Be good," she said to the boy, andset him down again. "Bye." She hurried down the porch stepsand climbed into the Chrysler standing in the driveway.
"Bring me a surprise," Stevie called from the porch.
His mother waved as she started the engine. A momentlater, she was racing the big car down the state road towardBaldwin Village.
Marge Frisch had indicated that her husband wouldprobably not be at his office, but Alice had a feeling thatthis bit of information only reflected Marge's lack ofsympathy for the whole business of protesting that boy'sarrest at the Great Horn. And probably, like all the others,Marge had an instinctive mistrust of Alice's divorcedstatus. Not that it was ever expressed directly by any ofthem. On the contrary, all appearances indicated her fullacceptance by the union of wives. But it was alwaysaccompanied at deeper levels by a quiet subliminaldiscomfort. In the case of Marge Frisch, who was severalyears her husband's senior, Alice had a strong feeling thediscomfort was much nearer the surface.
She drove past the shopping center and noticed that theparking area around the Great Horn was now packed with cars.Continuing on past the traffic circle, she drove on downthrough Main Street. Of course, she could have telephoned tofind out whether Jeff was actually out of his office, butrather than risk the possibility of being put off, shepreferred to confront the lawyer personally.
Jeff's office consisted of a store-front in thenineteenth century gable-roofed reconverted building thatstood across the street from the local fire company. Fromthe façade of the antiquated structure, hung a white woodand ironwork sign which bore in stylized Gothic letteringthe legend: Jeffrey Frisch, attorney-at-law. Alice parkedthe Chrysler and entered the lawyer's office. She passedthrough a reception area spartanly furnished with a smalllounge, two vinyl covered chairs and a magazine rack. Shewas just reaching for the door of the inner office when itopened and Jeffrey Frisch appeared across the threshold. Hewas of medium height, broadly built, with brown straighthair, parted at the side, a large round face with just thesuggestion of a double chin and small lips that seemed to beunder the constant compression of an invisible drawstring.His eyes, magnified by a pair of broad shell-framed glasses,appeared abnormally large and poignant.
"Mrs. Dumbrille," he said, sounding both surprised andpleased. "Come on into the inner sanctum." He gestured heracross the threshold, then followed her inside. "I don'thave a receptionist yet, but that's coming. You've neverbeen here before, have you?"
"No," she said, looking around the large room. Abookcase lined with legal tomes occupied one entire wall.The other walls had been freshly papered in an embossedmatchstick pattern that softly reflected the light from asingle large window in back of the bleached mahogany deskthat commanded the center of the office. A New YorkUniversity law degree hung in its frame on the wall adjacentto the desk, along with a plaque from the Rotarians for someservice she couldn't read. A straw-colored broadloom piledeadened the sound of her heels.
"I just had it redone," he explained, offering her achair.
"It's very pleasant," she observed. "You must beplanning to shift a lot of your White Plains business toBaldwin Village."
"I'm giving up the White Plains office," he admitted."Baldwin Village is growing and I expect to grow with it."He stood over her and mopped his forehead with ahandkerchief. She noticed that he was sweating prodigiouslyunder his dark brown summer-weight suit.
"Well," he said, moving to the window to switch on theair conditioning, "to what do I owe the pleasure?""I'm not sure," she began. "You see- I'm here on kind ofa mission."
He sat down behind the desk, picked up a letter openerand turned it around in his fingers, watching her andwaiting.
"You might say," she pursued, "that it's a communitymatter. Something I feel strongly about. I was hoping you'dshare my feelings."
Jeffrey Frisch leaned back in his swivel chair andlifted his eyes to the ceiling. "You can be sure thatanything that concerns this community concerns me," heintoned.
"Why-Jeff- don't tell me you're beginning to havepolitical ambitions," Alice remarked shrewdly.
The lawyer abruptly lowered his eyes. "What's theproblem, Alice?"
"It'll take some explaining," she began.
"Take your time. Just go ahead and tell me in your ownway." A paternal note had crept into his voice.
"Jeff- did you ever do any shoplifting?"
The lawyer's eyebrows shot up. He leaned toward her,resting his hands on the desk. "Shoplifting? Me? That's avery odd question."
"Is it? Surely you must have succumbed to an occasionalsmall temptation. Like the rest of us."
The lawyer eyed her watchfully. "Alice- I'm afraid Istill don't grasp the point of your question."
"I'll get to the point of the question just as soon asyou answer it," she responded impatiently.
The eyes behind the thick glasses seemed to grow evenlarger. The tension of his lips slackened. He looked hurt.
"Alice- you don't seem to understand my position. You'reasking me to incriminate myself on a matter I knowabsolutely nothing about. From the point of view ofprofessional standards, I-" He broke off, removed hisglasses and once again began to mop his forehead with thesoggy handkerchief.
"What have professional standards to do with it?" shesaid, rising and looking down at him, noticing the scragglyhairs around the widening bald spot at his crown. "I simplyasked a human question- as one presumably adult individualto another. Nobody's listening. There are no hiddenmicrophones around. And it's really a very simple question."
"Please, Alice. Don't misunderstand me. You know I haveonly the- uh- warmest of feelings towards you. So let's tryto stay objective about this- without getting ruffled.Agreed?"
"All right, Jeff," she replied with a faint smile. "Butanswer the question."
He restored his glasses. "Sit down. It makes meuncomfortable when you stand over me like that.She resumed her seat.
"That's better," he said. "Now suppose I asked you thesame question. Suppose I asked you if you were in the habitof doing a little shoplifting now and then?"
"Are you asking me?"
"Yes- I'm asking you."
"You heard me- yes. I'm not above a bit of shopliftingonce in a while." She paused. "Now- what about you?"
He clasped his palms, then quickly unclasped them. "Youunderstand that this is strictly off the record? I mean it'sone thing for a housewife like yourself to admit toshoplifting. It's another matter for someone like myself swornto uphold the law and-"
Her smile was encouraging and conspiratorial. "Icertainly understand that you couldn't use such an admissionto run for a seat on the town council."
Suddenly, he grinned back at her. "Alice- you have avery disconcerting way of reading my mind."
"Let's get back to the question, Jeff."
He shrugged resignedly. "Well- as you clearly seem torealize, I'm no more a saint than anyone else. In fact-" Hefumbled with his necktie, lifting it free of his coat tohold the end of it toward her on the flat of his palm like afreshly caught fish. "This tie, for example. You might sayit followed me home. Just last week, too. Kind of a subtlepattern , isn't it?" He beamed at her like a prepubescentboy.
She stared at him. "You mean- you swiped it?"
"Mind your language," he chided. "As I said, it followedme home. I was in Bloomingdale's last week and I picked itout. I honestly meant to pay for it, but the store wascrowded, and I was late for my train, so-"
"So- welcome to the club," she said. She eyed thenecktie. "Not a cheap tie, either. Nothing petty for you, Isee."
"You know me- a natural big leaguer."
"Well- now that we've bared our souls to each other- mayI go on?"
Jeffrey loosened the tie at the collar as he thrust theend of it back beneath his jacket. He was beginning to feelvery relaxed. "You didn't get caught pinching something, didyou?"
"That wouldn't exactly be a community matter, would it?"
The lawyer shook his head. "I don't know. You're a veryimportant person in this community as far as I'm concerned."
She smiled. "Maybe I'm the one who should run for towncouncil."
"You've got my vote- that's for sure."
"Thank you- but today I'm not here for votes."
"All right," he said, brusquely flirtatious. "Now it'syour turn to bare your soul to me."
Briefly, she described her recent encounter with the newmanager of the supermarket in such a way as to underscorethe viciousness of the man's character. Then she went on togive her colorful version of the capture of the youthfulshoplifter outside the store.
Jeffrey listened intently. When she had finished, heregarded her for several seconds. "What would you like me todo about this matter, Alice?" he said finally.
"Why- I was hoping you would have some suggestions tooffer about that."
Jeff pressed his palms together and looked thoughtful."Of course, I appreciate the fact that you're a person ofrefined feeling."
"What has that to do with it?"
"But actually- the boy was guilty of shoplifting."
"So were you," she reminded him.
The lawyer shifted uneasily in his chair. "Granted- butin my case-"
"You weren't caught," she interposed.
"The case isn't the same at all," he protested. "I wasready to pay for that tie, only-"
"Only you didn't."
"Alice- I don't think you're being quite fair."
"I'm only trying to be fair to that boy."
"I appreciate your- uh- motherly feelings in the matter.But what can I do?" He went on to explain that despite thepossible moral issue, there was certainly no legal issue towhich he could apply his professional talents in theinterests of the unfortunate boy. "However," he concluded,his forehead glistening with sweat in spite of the airconditioning, "I'm prepared to look into the matter in astrictly private capacity. I'm sure," he added with a self-satisfiedsmile, "that if I were to go speak to the manageron the lad's behalf, he'd be willing to drop the chargesand-"
"No!" The negative burst from her lips with a sharppopping sound.
"No?" he repeated, puzzled.
"That's what I said- no. Absolutely not."
"But what else would you expect me to do? I'm afraid Idon't understand what you're after."
"I don't think that's any way to treat a communityissue," she said firmly.
"And I don't think you understand what I've just beentelling you," he said. "You want me to make a Supreme Courtcase out of it? How- when there are no legal issues. Show mea legal issue and I can do something. But-"
"I'll give you a legal issue," she said.
"Ah- that's what I've been waiting for. What's the legalissue?"
She leaned across the desk. "Entrapment and- coercion,"she announced.
"What? You mean- the boy was forced to steal?"
"Beyond a shadow of a doubt."
He sat gazing at her through his glasses with a look ofsteamy bewilderment.
"Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"I'm telling you now."
"Who's responsible for this coercion?"
"The store?" He got to his feet. "You're pulling myleg."
"Not in the least."
"Oh brother- then you've lost me." He slumped into hisseat again and drummed his fingers on the desk, watchingher. "All right," he said finally. "I'm listening. Thisbetter be good."
<< 02/11/2008 | 03/03/2008 | 06/09/2008 >>
Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.
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|03/03/2008||Vol. 2, #204 Section 4 - A legal issue as well? |
|02/11/2008||Vol. 2, #203 Section 3 - Introducing Mr. Sattvapalli |
|02/04/2008||Vol. 2, #202 Section 2 |
|01/28/2008||Vol. 2, #201 Section 1 |
|01/14/2008||Vol. 2, #200 I've been away a long time. Not just from this column, but far earlier than that... |
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|12/25/2006||Vol. 2, #195 Problems Crossing the Border |
|11/27/2006||Vol. 2, #194 Sometime in the mid-1940s, Dan Miller, proprietor of the local general store in the rural village of Springs, Long Island, New York, acquired a painting from his new neighbor, the painter, Jackson Pollock. I knew them both in those days. But it took me many years to figure out how it might have happened. |
|10/23/2006||Vol. 2, #193 In writing these stories, my imagination often ran ahead of me. I tried to consider the meaning of these outsized heroes, |
|10/09/2006||Vol. 2, #192 Superman didn't become the rescuer, the savior and upholder of the law because he was made that way on some other planet... |
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