WENDY GOT OFF THE ELEVATOR and headed to Vic's office. On her way, she passed Michele Feisler-the new young anchorwoman-working at her cubicle. The cubicle had photographs of Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Peter Jennings. Again Wendy thought, Oy.
Michele was busy typing. She gave a half-wave, no more. Wendy peered over the woman's shoulder. She was Tweeting on Twitter. In this case, someone had commented: "Your hair looked great on last night's broadcast!" Michele was re-Tweeting it to her followers with a "Using a new conditioner-will tell more soon. Stay tuned!"
Edward R. Murrow would be so proud.
"How's that guy who got both knees shot?" Wendy asked.
"Yeah, it's your kind of story," Michele said.
"Seems he's something of a perv." She turned away from her computer, but only for a moment. "Isn't that your specialty-pervs?"
Nice to have a specialty, Wendy thought. "What do you mean 'pervs'?"
"Well, you're our resident sex perv, aren't you?"
"Oops, can't talk now," Michele said, back typing away. "Busy."
Standing there, Wendy couldn't help but notice that Clark had been right: Michele did indeed have a gigantic head, especially in contrast to that wisp of a body. It looked like a helium balloon on the end of a string. It looked like her neck might collapse under the weight.
Wendy checked her watch. Three minutes until twelve sharp. She hurried down the corridor to Vic's office. His secretary, Mavis, was there.
This woman too barely looked up at her. "What can I do for you, Ms. Tynes?"
First time she'd called her that. Maybe someone had sent down a directive to be more formal since her firing. "I'd like to speak to Vic for a second."
"Mr. Garrett is not available." Her tone, usually so friendly, was pure ice.
"Will you tell him I'm headed up to the sixth floor? I should be back soon."
"I will let him know."
She made her way to the elevator. Maybe it was her imagination but there seemed to be a weird tension in the air.
Wendy had been in this building-the network offices-a zillion times, but she had never been on the sixth floor before. Now she sat in an office of startling white, a cubist wonder, with a little waterfall running in the corner. One wall was dominated by a painting of black-and-white swirls. The other walls were empty. The swirls were facing her and very distracting. Across the glass table, in front of the swirls, sat three suits. Two men, one woman-all lined up against her. One man was black. The woman was Asian. Nice balance, though the one in charge, the one who sat in the middle and did all the talking, was the white man.
"Thank you for coming in to see us," the man said. He had introduced himself-had, in fact, introduced all three-but she hadn't been paying attention to names.
"Sure thing," she said.
Wendy noticed that her chair was at least two inches lower than the others'. Classic-albeit amateur-intimidation move. Wendy crossed her arms and actually slid lower. Let them think they have the advantage.
"So," Wendy said, trying to cut through this, "what can I do for you folks?"
The white man looked at the Asian woman. She took out a sheet of paper and slid it across the glass tabletop. "Is this your signature?"
Wendy looked at it. It was her original employment contract. "Looks like it."
"Is that your signature or not?"
"And you've read this document, of course."
"I don't want you to guess-"
She stopped him with a wave of her hand. "I read it. So what's the problem?"
"I would like you to refer to section seventeen point four on page three."
"Okay." She started turning pages.
"It references our strict policy about romantic and/or sexual relationships in the workplace."
That made her pull up. "What about it?"
"You've read it?"
"And you understand it?"
"Well," the white man said, "it has come to our attention that you broke this rule, Ms. Tynes."
"Uh, no, I assure you that I did not."
The white man sat back, crossed his arms, and tried to look judgmental. "Do you know a man named Victor Garrett?"
"Vic? Sure, he's the news manager."
"Have you ever had sexual relations with him?"
"With Vic? Come on now."
"Is that a yes or no?"
"It's a big-time no. Why don't you bring him in here and ask him yourself?"
The three of them started conferring with one another. "We plan on doing that."
"I don't understand. Where did you hear that Vic and I..." She tried not to look disgusted.
"We've received reports."
They didn't answer right away-and suddenly the answer was obvious. Hadn't Phil Turnball warned her?
"We aren't at liberty to say," the white man said.
"Too bad. You are leveling a serious accusation. Either you have some evidence to show me or you don't."
The black man looked at the Asian woman. The Asian woman looked at the white man. The white man looked at the black man.
Wendy spread her hands. "Do you guys rehearse this?"
They bent toward one another and whispered like senators during a hearing. Wendy waited. When they finished, the Asian woman opened another file and slid it across the glass surface.
"Perhaps you should read this."
Wendy opened the file. It was a printout from a blog. Wendy felt her blood boil as she read:
I work at NTC. I can't say my real name because I'll get fired. But Wendy Tynes is horrible. She is a no-talent prima donna who rose to the top the old-fashioned way: She slept her way there. Currently she is screwing our boss Vic Garrett. Because of that, she gets to do whatever she wants. She was, in fact, fired last week for incompetence, but got hired back because Vic is afraid of a harassment suit. Wendy has had tons of plastic surgery, including nose, eyes, and boobs...
On and on it went. Again Wendy remembered Phil's warning. She remembered what these viral psychos had done to Farley Parks, to Steve Miciano-and now to her. The implications were beginning to sink in: her career, her livelihood, her ability to take care of her son. Rumors always hardened to facts. Accusations are convictions in the public mind. You are guilty until proven innocent.
Hadn't Dan Mercer told her something like that?
Eventually the white man cleared his throat and said, "Well?"
With as much as bravado as she could muster, Wendy stuck out her chest. "They're real. You can squeeze one if you want."
"This isn't funny."
"And I'm not laughing. But I am offering you proof these are lies. Go ahead. Quick squeeze."
The white man made a harrumph noise and gestured toward the file. "Maybe you should look at the comments. They're on the second page."
Wendy tried to keep up the confident facade, but she felt as though her world was starting to teeter. She turned the paper over and scanned down to the first comment.
Comment: I worked with her at her last job and I totally agree. Same thing happened there. Our married boss got canned and divorced. She's trash.
Comment: She slept with at least two college professors, one when she was pregnant. Broke up his marriage.
Now Wendy felt her face burn. She had been married to John when she was at that job. He had, in fact, been killed during her last weeks working there. That lie, in particular, enraged her more than any others. It was so obscene, so unfair.
"Well?" the white man asked.
"These," she said, through gritted teeth, "are total lies."
"It's all over the Web. Some of these blogs have been sent to our sponsors. They were threatening to pull their ads."
"It's all lies."
"And furthermore we would like you to sign a release."
"What kind of release?"
"Mr. Garrett is your superior. While I don't think you have a case, you could sue for sexual harassment."
"Are you kidding?" Wendy said.
He pointed toward the file. "One of those blogs mentioned that you once sued a superior for sexual harassment. Who's to say you won't do it again?"
Wendy actually saw red. She tightened her hands into fists and fought hard to keep her tone even. "Mr... I'm sorry, I forgot your name..."
"Mr. Montague." Deep breath. "I want you to listen to me very closely. Try to pay attention here because I want to make sure you understand." Wendy lifted the file in the air. "These are all lies. Do you get that? Fabrications. The part about me suing an old employer? That's a lie. The accusation that I slept with a superior or a professor? More lies. The accusation that I slept with anyone other than my husband while I was pregnant? Or that I got plastic surgery, for that matter? They are all lies. Not exaggerations. Not distortions. Bald-faced lies. Do you understand?"
Montague cleared his throat. "We understand that's your position."
"Anyone can go online and say anything about anyone," Wendy continued. "Don't you get that? Someone is cyber-lying about me. Look at the date on the blog, for crying out loud. It was posted yesterday and already has all these comments. It's all fake. Someone is intentionally trying to ruin me."
"Be that as it may," Montague began, a phrase that meant absolutely nothing but irritated Wendy like few others, "we feel it would be best if you take a temporary leave of absence while we investigate this charge."
"I don't think so," Wendy said.
"Because if you make me do that, I will make a stink that you'll never get off your shiny suits. I will sue the network. I will sue the studio. I will sue each one of you personally. I will send our beloved sponsors blogs that claim that you two"-she pointed to the white man and the black man-"enjoy having monkey sex on the office furniture while she"-now she pointed to the Asian woman-"likes to watch and spank herself. Is it true? Well, it will be in a blog. Several blogs, in fact. Then I'll go to other computers and add comments, stuff like Montague likes it rough or with toys or small farm animals. Get PETA on your ass. Then I'll send those blogs to your families. Do you get my drift?"
No one spoke.
She rose. "I'm going back to work."
"No, Ms. Tynes, I'm afraid you're not."
The door opened. Two uniformed security guards entered.
"We will have security escort you out. Please do not get in contact with anyone at this company until we have had a chance to look into the matter. Any attempt to communicate with anyone involved in this case will be viewed as possible tampering. Also, your threats directed at myself and my colleagues will be noted in the record. Thank you for your time."