The morning meeting came as much welcome as anyone had expected. It was 8 AM on the dot when the Union Rep pulled into Lone-Wolfe’s lot. The Chief of Police followed immediately. Little was said between them as they stepped for the door, brief-cases in hand. Gail had made coffee and forced Carl off the couches so she might sit with Darian and Marla across from the pair. The rest of the employees gawked one room or the other, hidden in shadows or at desks and chairs only half-listening so no-one would notice.
They laid out files and folders across the coffee table between them, set up audio recorders “for the record.” Gail figured that meant, “to sell to the nightly news.” She allowed it for the sake of moving forward, and began by introducing Marla and Darian.
“Marla and I were retrieved the vehicle after the accident. Darian is Lone-Wolfe’s crew-chief, and is inspecting it on grounds of his experience with it.”
The Police chief spoke first, and at Marla, as if singling her out for the weakest link, “And you submit the vehicle arrived in roughly the same condition it left the tow-lot?”
Marla eyed him, but spoke expertly, “The vehicle arrived here in identical condition. We have cell-phone photos to prove it.” She fished out fuzzy print-outs from a file-folder and set them up, “As well as high-resolution images of the rig’s arrival and unloading.”
She thumbed out a few pieces of photo-paper, and the Chief’s mouth squirmed. He’d expected her to be the weak link, not a well-spoken professional. Gail sensed almost immediately how in over his head he was; he’d made it through life bullying the weakest making his way forward from it. He’d expected to get through the morning the same way, but now couldn’t. Regardless of Marla’s standing in the three, she was still expertly skilled, however often Gail found fault with certain personality traits.
Gail hid smug satisfaction at watching the Chief squirm. He’d already revealed his agenda, and the whole damned building knew it. He wasn’t there to meet out justice. He was there to appease constituents and critics, crack-down on the little guy. Gail wasn’t little by any means, even less so a guy, and infinitely less of one to be fucked with so crassly. It was going to be one of those days, and everyone knew it now.
The Union Rep explained, “Local 413 is prepared to argue in your defense provided you meet certain criteria.”
“In our defense? Is someone taking this to court?” Darian asked suddenly.
“We’ve received word the NHSB is preparing a lawsuit to be brought to the state’s Supreme Court. As I said, we’re prepared to represent you, provided you allow a forensic investigator to assist in your examination of the vehicle.”
Gail fumed, but did her best to keep her cool, “What good’s a Union that can’t protect us?”
“That is what we’re attempting–”
“No. It isn’t,” Gail spat sternly. “You’re covering your own asses and throwing us to the wolves. All of this is politics and optics. If you had the clout you pretend to, it’d never go so far.”
“Need I remind you this conversation is being recorded?” The Chief said, mirroring her previous smugness.
“I’m allowed to be angry,” Gail said, clamping her jaw shut. “I’m allowed to admit that I feel we’re being hung out to dry. That the Union has only its own interests in mind concerning this case.”
“Gail, please,” Darian interrupted with a low hand. He eyed their visitors and Gail, “I see no reason not to allow a forensic investigator to observe, so long as that is all they do. I have a job to do with regard to the vehicle, and I intend to do it. I’ll comply as much as is reasonable. I can always use an extra set of eyes. That said, I can’t allow anyone to compromise my inspection. What I’m doing here will set the tone for everyone’s defense– be it Union, Lone-Wolfe, or otherwise.”
The Chief seemed to relax at Darian’s obvious command of the situation, “Very well. Then I’ll ensure you’re deferred to as authority during the inspection.”
“And so long as there is no evidence of non-compliance in this matter,” the Union Rep said. “Local 413 will be behind you every step of the way, but I warn you Ms. Wolfe, your company’s on thin ice, with the Union as well as the Press. You’re under the microscope for the time being.”
“Which means what?” Marla asked outright.
“We’ll be sending in representatives to observe and document the company’s work and responses to the investigation.” He managed a round-cheeked smile that made Gail want to knock his teeth in. “Consider it our own form of investigation regarding personnel and operations. Should everything check out, your certification within the Union will remain in good standing.”
“And if not?” Gail asked with a slight snarl.
He winced and rose from the couch, “Let us hope it does not come to that.”
The group rose with him, Gail’s arms firmly crossed as the two saw themselves out. She watched the garage door shut, then about-faced and marched into her office. Darian and Marla trailed after her, passing gawkers that did their best to suddenly appear casual. Gail sank in her chair while Darian and Marla stood before her.
“Shut the door,” she instructed them. Marla slipped away for a moment, returned with her arms crossed. “Darian, watch this… investigator carefully. Don’t fuck up your job over it, but make sure they’re not allowed access to anything sensitive. Especially on the rig.”
Darian nodded, “I’ll handle it.”
“Have you found anything yet?” He shook his head. “What’s the hold up?”
“What’s left of the rig’s pristine, or as much as it can be after the accident. So far though, it’s looking more like driver error.”
“Have we heard from the Cook County Coroner yet?”
Marla replied this time, “Someone took a call from the office yesterday, but they said it’d be a couple days before they released their reports. Apparently they’re backed up on paper-work, but Bud’s wife took possession of the body yesterday. She called in to alert us of it, and that she’d call back once they’d made the funeral arrangements.”
“You should go,” Darian insisted. “A lot of us have already decided to. Ferrero was a good guy, a friend to all of us. It wouldn’t be right not to. The dispatch crew’s spoken to one another about it, they’re planning to go in shifts.”
Gail heaved a sigh, leaned back in her seat with fingers tensed against her forehead. She hated funerals. They were an extension of people’s inability to accept things and move on. To her, “Closure” was just another word for attachment. She respected Zen philosophies most, ones where nothing was sacred and all things would pass. Anything else just seemed self-indulgent and delusional.
While she agreed with Darian’s assessment, not attending was still better than attending without a proper show of sympathy– or any for that matter. Sympathy was one of those emotions she had trouble with. It required a certain level of sentimentality, and she seemed to be losing what little she’d had by the day.
She straightened in her seat, “Fine. I’ll go. Marla, keep me informed of anything we hear.”
“And until then?” She asked simply.
“Help Darian and keep an eye on that squint when they come in. If I need you for something more, I’ll let you know.” She waved them off. “I need time to think.”
They nodded at one another and headed for the door, stepping out as someone else began to step in. The fleeing movements of their departure damn-near confirmed what the stink of money said before she looked up. She found herself eyeing M-T Inc’s leading, suited prick.
“Get out of my office and off my lot!” She shouted, nearly tipping her chair back as she stood.
“Ms. Wolfe, if you’ll allow me–”
“I won’t.” She reached for a phone on her desk. “Get out now, or I’m calling the police and having you charged with trespassing.”
He cleared his throat, “That won’t be necessary. Mechanized Transports merely wishes to extend our sympathies to you and your employees over the recent loss of your driver.” She lifted the phone to dial, but he stopped her, “And I’m certain, as this is my purpose here, it would only engender more negative opinion were you to have me accosted over it.”
Gail froze, poised with phone in-hand and finger ready to dial. She clenched her eyes shut for a moment, tensed her jaw, and flared her nostrils with a furious breath. She set the phone back on its receiver. “You have exactly twenty seconds before I hurl you off my lot with both hands.”
“I shan’t need more,” he said with a cocky half-smile. He set a briefcase on the desk, popped it open to produce a packet of papers. “In addition to our condolences, I am also authorized to present you with a copy of the offer-contract we’ve written up. Our price is more than fair, and I assure you we’ll hold to that offer as outlined.”
He set the packet on the desk, shut the briefcase. Gail couldn’t help it, she laughed– one, robust laugh that melded desperation with exasperation. “More than fair? You want to buy us off, gut the company, and eliminate the competition to further your corporate agenda.”
“I assure you–”
“Listen Mr. Wembley–” Genuine surprised that she remembered his name etched over his face. “My boots alone have twenty years on you. If you want to spout rhetoric, go home and practice in the mirror until you believe the bullshit you’re selling. I started this company. I built it with sweat and blood, and I’ve kept it running with good sense since then. Now you come in here, high and mighty, and expect me to roll over like you would. If you think I’d ever sell to you, you’re a lot more of a lost cause than I thought.”
His face turned to a scowl, clearly bothered by her slight, “You cannot hold out forever.”
“Watch me,” she challenged with narrow eyes.
He sneered toward the packet of papers, “That offer is contingent upon the public value of your company, Ms. Wolfe. The lower it goes, the lower we go.”
Her previous suspicions flared up in the back of her mind. Her voice turned low, venomous, “Don’t think I don’t know what’s going on here. You show up, and suddenly one of my drivers is dead. I don’t know how your company is involved, but I aim to find out. When I do, you won’t have paper enough to wipe your asses with.” His eye twitched, but he remained silent. “You’ve had more than your twenty-seconds. Get. Out.”
A corner of his mouth twitched and he turned away, body considerably more stiff than before. The door to the office shut with a deliberate attempt not to slam it. Gail fell back into her seat, waiting a moment to recollect herself and contain her fury. In a perfect world, she’d have kicked the little shit through a window, smashed his head into a desk, then left him in a bloody heap outside Lone-Wolfe’s front-gate. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a perfect world, and any physical violence she might want to exact on the assholes trying to set her up would have to be transmuted into more-clever legal maneuvering.
One good thing seemed to have come out of everything though, however negative in the longer run: M-T’s involvement. She hadn’t been sure before. She’d wanted to believe it as a matter of personal pride, and because coincidences happened even less often than she knew they did. Wembley’s reaction though, confirmed M-T’s involvement.
She’d been on the fringe of the corporate world long enough to know that Corporations did two things; shouted denials when involved in lies, and went dead silent when caught with their pants down. It wasn’t just the companies as a whole though, it the individuals themselves, an extension of the so-called “corporate-culture.” Wembley was nothing if not an embodiment of that culture. No doubt he’d be running to their lawyers crying like a child to mommy when he got back to M-T’s offices.
As much as it was a win to discern involvement, it was a loss as a whole. She was now waging corporate war against the seemingly infinite resources of a modern mega-corp. On top of that, they had public opinion and a guard dog safety-bureau on their side controlling both her own Union and the local Police. However things wound up ending, it wouldn’t be pretty.