Chapter 17

Another morning spend sitting in Harlan’s office with a pounding headache. She didn’t want to make it a habit.

“It’s pretty transparent,” Andy was saying. He’d been trying to explain the situation with Jackson, that it was simply a computer virus gone wild, and Harlan seemed to be tracking, despite his constant distractedness. “Now, throwing the magazine in there, he’s just trying to get back at her for the Sinclair thing.”

“Trying to get at me, you mean,” Harlan said, practically tap-dancing around the perimeter of the huge Persian rug that separated his desk from the suite of sofas where he made minions sit. “That damn lardass son of a bitch. Who’s this guy he’s talking about anyway?”

It was James’s turn to play pop culture translator. “You know—back at Brashton, all that new wave music, out at the beach. The MTV stuff. He was pretty famous for a while. They were called Seawall.”

A bit of incredulity made it through Malone’s haze of fear. These men couldn’t be more than 15 years older than she was, but they acted as if they were from the Eisenhower era. If she was stuck psychologically at age 21, they appeared to have gone right from puberty to age 50.

“Oh, yeah,” Harlan said. “Why didn’t you say so! He was pretty good. Made some money. ‘I’m taking the Crescent back to you..these tracks will never get me through…’” he sang, in a surprisingly pleasant tenor.

Malone sucked her cheeks and didn’t dare chance looking at Andy.

“Remember that one? Used to hear it everywhere,” Harlan said. “So you sure there’s nothing to this kiddie porn thing?”

Malone let out a little gaspy scream, a sound of feminine horror quite unlike her. She wasn’t sure where it had come from, but it was the right move.

“I didn’t mean you,” Harlan said. “Of course not, dear. I meant that little guitar player.”

“It was entirely a hacking job and a virus,” Andy said. “It wasn’t even porn to begin with. It was just some photos a local band, you know, wearing crazy costumes. It wasn’t anything you wouldn’t see on TV or in a magazine.”

“Not in this magazine,” Harlan said.

“But we need to update you—in the course of looking into Sinclair’s business, some other things have come out,” Andy said. “Sinclair apparently, um, is known for making advances. To his staff.”

“Male staff,” James said, filling in the blanks.

Andy spoke up quickly: “Malone actually has some photos.”

“Holy shit!” Harlan said, covering his eyes. “That’s enough for today. Don’t you people ever sleep? Just run around getting naked and taking pictures all the livelong day?”

“No, no,” Malone said. “It’s not like that. It’s in a public place—at a party. He’s just leaning in very close, um, patting his, um, butt, that kind of thing.”

Harlan scooted behind his desk, as if to shelter his own posterior at the thought. “God damn, I knew I hated that sonofabitch for a reason.”

He sat down in his desk chair, leaned back, and laced his arms behind his head. “Well, we’re gonna stop him telling lies about my magazine right here,” he said. “There’s no call to put all that out there, no call at all.”

“What about the—the gay?” James asked.

Malone almost giggled. “The gay.” It added to the whole principal’s office flavor of the scene. This will go on your Permanent Record. She wished it were that silly. Apparently, her boss was not only racist and sexist, but also a homophobe. What Nils would call a hat trick.

“Oh, no, no,” Harlan said. “We don’t do that kind of thing. You all just forget all about that now.”

He stared up at the ceiling for a while. “OK, you, um, Andy, you go get me that lardass blogger’s number. Rest of y’all stay here and stay quiet.”

This was not a challenge for Malone, though she could see it was for James, who was obviously dying to hide in his office again.

Andy got back with the number on a scrap of paper, and they sat still and quiet while Harlan dialed.

He sighed into the receiver. “Pick up the phone, fool, this is Harlan Gaines at Capital Life. That’s more like it.”

There was some silence.

“I’m just calling to tell you how much I like having a blog! Hell, I never had a blog til just this Friday, and it already got more hits than you!”

“Well, we’re dealing in the facts, you see, public real estate records and such, things you wouldn’t understand, never having been a journalist. Facts are facts, unlike when you mention my magazine and make your speculations!”

“We got the real estate records to back us up! We’ve got a look at his company, which is a shell! It’s as empty as the infamous 10th hole at Magnolia, and everybody knows it. And don’t you count on watching Tiger play at Magnolia this year, you son of a bitch!”

“Big guns,” Andy murmured.

“You know that little guitar player ain’t guilty of anything more than getting a bad computer virus. I don’t give a shit what you say about him, but you mention my damn magazine and I’m coming down on you, what the hell you think I’m gonna do? You wanna get sued, or you wanna get put out of business? It’s your choice.”

“That was my photographer you’re talking trash on! And you know damn well she’s nothing more than a nice little housewife you’re gonna find on any society page any damn paper or magazine or what-all, blog, anywhere around the country. …

“Of course they’re a bunch of damn hippies, but since when is that a crime? If you ever actually had to run a business instead of sitting there jerking off in your basement, maybe you’d understand that! They’re all a bunch of left wingers! You can’t find nobody’s not a left-winger working in this business! …

“Yeah, well they’re not the ones making money, I am. Who’s putting up your website? Who made your software? Bunch of hippies! Who’s making the money on your website? You are! See how it works?”

He started laughing. “Now, you see? I’m glad we got an understanding.”

“No, cause I’m gonna tell you what’s next. That nice little housewife’s got film of your guy Sinclair making advances to an intern at a party out here.” There was a longer silence than there had been before.

“Everybody knows what’s going on with the man. But nobody’s saying, because it’s just gonna hurt us all and do no good to anybody on this earth. Least of all his wife and children. “

“No, I did not think any of us want anything like that to happen. So you just run a little fix that states the facts, that that guitar player was cleared and leave my damn magazine out of it, completely, and we’ll stick to the facts out here, of which we have plenty, and we’ll leave the photos and what anyone does with anyone else in private out of it, and you know this is all gonna blow over before long. …

“You know nothing more happened here than a bunch of dumbasses paying too much for their houses and getting mad about it. Everybody knows they just paid too much for their houses cause they don’t know business. Because if there’s one man dumber than a doctor when it comes to business, it’s a rock musician.”

Harlan laughed for a while longer. “Now you get it. Sure you do. Tell you what, though, you ever use my magazine’s name again except when I win an award, I’m gonna own your blog. And I’m gonna turn it into a hippie, feminazi blog for MSNBC, so you watch your ass! Ha, ha, all right, son. None meant, none taken. Sure, you come on down to Magnolia. Long as you behave yourself, ha ha! Bye now.”

He hung up. “Jesus jumpin’ Christ.”

He waved his arms at them. “OK, all y’all get out of here. Go buy some doughnuts and do a taste test. Do some damn work before I fire you.”

Malone stood up. She had to say something. “I really appreciate your doing this—“

He cut her off. “You think I give a damn about you? This isn’t about you. I’m not gonna let anyone talk trash about my magazine. You behave yourself or you’re out of here.”

He shuffled on his desk for a paper, then looked up again. “And I don’t want any of that faggy stuff getting out there. Man’s wife and children got rights. Nobody deserves that kind of humiliation.”

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