An email from Earl came in over the listserve, saying that Deborah the Provost would be sitting in on our regular Thursday faculty meeting to discuss the future of the department and to help build up our morale.
And—that was just what I was waiting for.
The bomb. The big one.
I found Constance Olmanson in her office, a pert pasty pale roundish woman with graying hair. I said, “I’ve got something important to show you.”
I passed her my notes—a memo, I guess—summarizing what I had learned about Deborah, and her husband, and the other administrators. And Courtney.
“Gosh!” Constance said. “Is this real?”
“Totally,” I said. I had another document—a list of the sources for the summary. I gave that to her, too.
“My god—we can finally get rid of them all!” Constance said. She looked up at me. “Can I share this with Aaron and Olivier?”
“Sure,” I said. “But use your discretion, okay? If Deborah finds out about this, she won’t come to the meeting—and we need her to be there. And I’d like to see you take the lead and just hit her in the face with the facts.”
Constance looked at the memo and thought about that. She said, “Yeah, I guess I can….”
“If I bring this up, everybody’ll just blow me off as a troublemaker,” I said. “But people respect you, and if you take the lead, you’ll have power and surprise. And I’ll follow you all the way—and so will everyone else.”
“Yeah—I see it.” Constance looked at the documents again and nodded grimly. She said, “We can finally get rid of them all.”
The diminished faculty were already seated when Deborah and Earl and Sally entered the room together. Deborah had brought along an assistant, a young woman almost as big as she was. Earl sat up on a stool behind the computer platform. Deborah sat heavily at a table at the front of the room. Sally paused by her usual chair in the corner, and then she came over to me.
“C’mon, Holt,” she said. “What are you up to?”
I sat back. “Me? What?”
Sally leaned over me and whispered. “I ran into your new girlfriend Constance down in the copy room and she was talking about your great research skills and how you were going to rescue the department….”
Blabbermouth Constance. I asked, “What?”
“Yeah,” Sally said. “And I felt kind of fucking left out….”
Deborah’s assistant placed a red folder in front of Deborah and stood back. Deborah opened the folder and looked at whatever was inside. I looked up at Sally, her green eyes, a haft of black hair trailing across her forehead. I sort of half-shrugged.
Sally said, “You can’t get anything past me.”
“I guess not,” I said.
“Remember that.” Sally looked at me for a moment. Then she bent over and whispered, “Good luck,” and went back to her chair and sat down.
“Welcome,” Deborah said. “Let us pray….”
I raised my hand. I said, “I move that we skip the praying part this time.”
Across the room, Constance yelled, “Second the motion! No prayer!”
Deborah tried to keep going. “Heavenly Father….”
Courtney looked over at me. “She has a right to pray if she wants to!”
“Then she can go out in the fucking hall and pray,” I said. “She can join us when she’s ready.”
Earl said, “Now, Tom….”
Deborah shut her eyes and concentrated. “Heavenly Father—”
“She shouldn’t be here at all!” Constance yelled. She stood up and pointed at Deborah—and Deborah opened her eyes, shocked. “I move that we expel her from the meeting!”
“I second the motion!” I said. “Deborah needs to go!”
Aaron and Olivier got up and began distributing handouts—when one came by me, I saw that it was a smart-looking infographic of the memo I’d given Constance. Nice work. Rhetoric profs get things done.
“We did some research,” Constance said. “And we found that Deborah doesn’t have any kind of graduate degree!”
“She shouldn’t be in this room!” Aaron said. “She shouldn’t even be at this university!”
“Hey!” Courtney said. “My name’s on this list!”
“Deborah’s not the only phony around here,” Olivier said. I thought he was going to spit on her.
I stood up and pointed at Deborah. “So, basically—you don’t have a right to be at our meeting, much less pray at our fucking meeting.”
Deborah clinched her fists and closed her eyes again—praying silently, I guess.
“And!” I said. I kept jabbing my finger at her even though she couldn’t see my jabs. “I’ve gone ahead and sent this information to the President of the University, to the Kansas Board of Regents, to the Governor, and to the KBI.” I caught my breath. Whew. Breathless. My heart was beating hard, too. “And—to the Chronicle of Higher Education, to Inside Higher Education, and to the Kansas City Star, and to the Weirton Wind.”
“But,” Courtney said. She was staring at the handout. Surely she understood what it meant. “Why is my name on here?”
“Because you couldn’t finish your stupid thesis,” Olivier said.
“You couldn’t even write fifty pages of shitty poetry,” Aaron said.
Courtney broke. She began—crying. Not even phony tears.
“Shame on you!” Constance said. “Shame on all of you!”
“Shame!” Jackie Sewell yelled.
“Shame!” Dawn Gaske yelled.
“Shame! Shame! Shame!” The rhetoric teachers were all standing and yelling at Deborah and Courtney. “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
“Fucking shame!” I yelled.
Behind me, Bart stood up and yelled, “Shame!”
Deborah had been sitting with her eyes closed and her face angled up toward—heaven. Now she opened her eyes and looked at us and she was—scared. Frightened. She braced herself against the table and lurched to her feet. Almost fell backwards. The assistant—frightened, too, I think—stepped up and collected the red folder, and they slowly made their way past shocked laughing Sally and out the door.
The rhetoric people kept shouting, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Courtney sat alone, and shriveled and crying. Sniveling. Aaron and Olivier stood looming over her yelling “Shame! Shame!” and after a moment Courtney got up and blundered toward the door, knocking over a couple of chairs, almost falling on Sally.
The rhetoric people cheered and clapped when she left the room. I joined them—so did Bart. Victory. Annuit coeptis! Old Earl slipped off the stood and stood behind the lectern and looked at us all, gray and astonished.