Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Monday, March 28, 2011

March 28, Chapters 7 & 8

Chapter 7
  It’s a week later, and I’m still trying to get in to see Bennett Boyle, my boss. His secretary, Katherine, is kind and rather apologetic about it, but cannot convince Boyle to see me. Not one to twiddle my proverbial thumbs while waiting for assignments that haven’t been forthcoming, I spent the first days getting to know my seemingly competent and likable staff, asking lots of questions, looking at the department’s meager budget and reviewing files from my predecessor. It didn’t take me long to determine that indeed, the woman from California might have been a lingerie model for all she seemed to know about running a university communications office. 
   On day two I called my first staff meeting in an empty conference room, as none of their offices could hold more than two people, except Elaine’s, but certainly not all six in chairs. Charles White, photographer, is of medium build, light brown thinning hair, in his early fifties, Tech T-shirt under an ancient sports coat, well-worn Levi’s, complete with the latest fashioned Nike running shoes. His weathered skin and stained fingers revealed him as a longtime smoker, but Elaine had told me a cancer scare last summer had him quitting cold turkey. His wife of twenty-four years is head of the Admissions Office at University Medical Center. They have no children. 
   Ricky Sanchez, graphic artist, is in his early thirties, slightly overweight, dark eyes showing intelligence and wariness at the same time. His design work is as good as Elaine had said, and I immediately liked his quiet manner and his penchant for loud Hawaiian print shirts. Single, Elaine confided earlier he still lived with his parents a few blocks from campus, but Elaine is working on “findin’ him a girl.” 
   Susan Davis, the younger of the two writers, mid-twenties, is taller than any of the staff, most of her vertical measurement in her legs. Her Mary Travers-style straight blonde hair adds to the illusion of height. I wonder if she can sing. She fairly floats into a room, confident smile on her face. She’s a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, and followed her husband, Peter, to Lubbock when he was accepted into the graduate biomedical sciences program. They have one son, whose name was not Paul, but Trey. I keep telling myself I must remember not to call her Mary ... or to ask what she would do if she had a hammer.
   Steven Jackson, the veteran writer, is, like me, roughly thirty years older than Susan and tall enough to reach his colleague’s shoulders when standing but equal in height when seated next to Mary ... er, Susan. His ebony bald head is normally covered by a stylish tweed cap. He wears starched, designer button-down-collared shirts, expensive slacks and Italian tasseled loafers. His black eyes sparkle. An Alabama graduate, he’d been recruited from The Dallas Morning News by Mr. Leonard, and liked the collegiate atmosphere and stability much more than the low pay and newsroom chaos of reporters. He is married to a nurse, also at University Medical Center, and they have three grown children, all in either Alabama or Dallas.
  After introductions, I asked my staff, “So what’s your ... I mean our ... internal communications vehicle? Newsletter, hard copy, electronic? I’m not finding anything in the files.”
  Steven shrugged, “We have nothing.”

“No internal communications? Nothing at all?” I asked with amazement.
  “Nope,” Susan said,  mimicking Steven’s shrug. “Not in the last two years.”
  “Does gossip count?” said Elaine brightly.
   I smiled, “Uh, no ... Wow. What about when Mr. Leonard was here? Surely he knew the value of communicating with staff?”

It was Elaine’s turn to shrug. “We had a weekly hard copy newsletter, Insight, but Boyle cut it out of the budget as soon as Mr. Leonard retired. And Ms. Danielle didn’t think it was important. I can have the old copies brought up from archives if you want to see them. They go all the way back to the 1940s.”
  “Um, no, thank you. But I’d like to talk with Mr. Leonard. He’s still in Lubbock, isn’t he?”

“Oh, yeah. I see him at the baseball games,” said Charlie. “Big fan, great guy.”
   “Good. Elaine, see if you can set up a lunch with him for the end of this week — oh, and at his favorite restaurant, whatever it may be.”

“Sure thing. Hope you like barbeque,” she said as she wrote herself a note.
  I continued, “We probably need to start our own newsletter, but let me do a little research first. Now, what about news releases? Do you have a good relationship with the local media? I noticed recent releases on the website from different departments across campus. I assume you all take care of those?”

Steven answered. “We do, with the help of several students. Our relationship used to be great with local media, but recently we’ve just been handling the normal, everyday news.”

I was puzzled. “How do you mean?”
  Susan said, “He means we just do the boring stuff. Bennett Boyle’s office handles the media, or I should say, Boyle tries to handle it.”
  “Really? How’s that working?” I asked skeptically.
  “Not well,” said Ricky. “We are a ‘día late y a peso short’ as mi mamá used to say. We know nothing about what goes on in this building until we read it in the local paper, so most of the time the media doesn’t bother with us for important stuff.”
  “Hmmpf,” was my rather non-committal reply, not ready yet to openly declare I thought that was clearly the wrong way to handle communications. I prodded them further. “How do you contact all the faculty and staff in an emergency?”

“We don’t,” Ricky said. “There’s software that can help us do that, but nobody in this ivory tower seems to think the unwashed public employees or students need to know what’s going on, especially in an emergency.”
  “With all the shootings on campuses across the country, and even with our West Texas tornados, we have no way of getting word out to everyone,” Steven offered.  “I told them I think it’s criminal, but they don’t listen.”
  “Okay, good to know. Let me think on it awhile. Might have to fix that first. Now what about social media? Whose in charge of twittering, tweeting, texting, blogging and all that?”
Susan answered. “Once again, we’ve asked, but our former boss didn’t think it was necessary. Tell you the truth, I don’t think she had any idea what we were talking about.”
“What about approaching Boyle about it?”
  “Good luck with that,” said Charlie. “We know he knows nothing about it. I’m certain Bennett will tell you to take a long walk off a short pier.”
  I tried to imagine Bennett Boyle saying those exact words. Looking at the crew, I said, “Well, sometimes you just have to ask forgiveness instead of permission. How about you all have social media proposals to me by the end of the week?” 

“I knew I was going to like you,” said Elaine, smiling broadly as the others nodded.
We finished the meeting with discussions of the outside marketing firm the university hired for statewide billboards, magazine ads and national story pitches. I think we can easily bring most of it in-house. I’ve seen the previous work of the staff and know they are competent enough to handle more. Besides, it would help with the department’s paltry budget.

Chapter 8  
    Just before noon on Friday, Sharon walked into my office. “Hi, I was downstairs for a meeting. Can you get away for lunch? Next class isn’t until three.” Sharon works and teaches in the Civil Engineering Building, on the east side of the north-south esplanade. It’s a short five-minute walk, and hopefully we’ll be able to meet easily, if not often, for lunch. 
    “Sure … give me a minute and we can go over to the Student Union.” I finished an e-mail, and then spoke to Elaine on the way out, “I'm heading out to lunch for a few minutes. Got a call into Jake Humphrey. If he calls here, send him to my cell phone, will you, please?”

   “Sure thing, boss.”
“Jake Humphrey? Who’s that?” Sharon asked asked as we started down the massive marble staircase. That's another thing I love about Tech. The architecture of the old buildings is amazing. Makes you feel part of something special. Anyway, we headed down the staircase. 
  Lubbock Avalanche Journal reporter. Nice guy. Tech graduate, lifelong Lubbockite—or  is it Lubbokean?”

“Lubbockite,” Sharon said with assurance, raising her eyebrow.
“Okay. Anyway, he does a pretty decent job with his stories,” Maggie explained. “I’m trying to get on his good side.”
“I didn’t know reporters had good sides.”
“Most of them do. They’re just people who have a job to do, like you and me.”

“Not like me. I don’t make it a habit of going for the jugular. It’s gotten where I don’t really believe anything I read in the papers or hear on the nightly news any more.”
“It’s true there’s a lot of ‘gotcha’ journalism out there, but I think the majority of reporters try to be honest and objective. At least that’s what I expect until they prove me wrong.”
“Have many proven you wrong?”

“Not many,” I said. “But boy, I remember one reporter from the Fort Worth Star Telegram who was unbelievable. He’d ask leading questions he could twist to get the predetermined answers he wanted for the lies he printed, and then complain when we complained. We called it the ‘Startlegram’ when he worked there. His lies finally caught up with him and the ethical editors booted him out the door. But, personally, I think he did a lot of damage while there.”
   Startlegram? That’s clever.” Sharon smiled. 

    We reached the outside and headed through the courtyard past the double T bench, across to the Student Union Building, or SUB. Sharon said, “Haven’t seen you much this week. Late nights at the office?”
   “Yep. Just trying to get a handle on things. Guess we have been like ships passing in the night.”
   “Things getting any better? You’ve been at work, what, a full week now? Is Bennett letting you handle the media yet?”
  “Nope. The staff’s right. We seem to be the last to know about anything, so I’m doing clean up with the reporters. But Bennett Boyle pretty much ignores anything I send over. You would think the Chief of Staff has too many other things to do besides my job, but I'm trying to get things done right.”
  “Still no appointment, Maggie?” asked Sharon as they entered the cafeteria. 
  “No, but I have sent him summaries.”
  “Summaries? How?”
  “By e-mail, of course. Why?”
  Sharon smiled and said, “Because the man ignores e-mails. Well-known fact.” 

  “Really? No wonder I haven’t heard from him. Hmmm. That might work to my advantage.”

After selecting our salads and sitting down at a corner table in the main dining area, I asked, “Do you know our photographer, Charles White, very well?”

“Charlie? Sure. Everybody knows Charlie. Great guy. Awesome photographer. Been here forever and is all over campus getting photos. What about him? Don’t you like him?”

“Oh, no. I like him fine. And he is a great photographer. It’s just that he seems ... well yesterday, we needed a photo shoot done at the Biology Building. I assigned it to him, as usual, and he turned red and said he couldn’t. Steven cut in quickly and said he’d take care of it, not to worry. I sensed everyone in the staff meeting seemed a little uneasy, so I let it go. As they left, I heard Charlie thank Steven, and he said ‘no problem.’ That he was ‘always there for him.’ I just wondered what that was all about?”
   “His sister.”
   “His sister? Whose sister?”
“Charlie’s sister.”
“Charlie has a sister?”

“Charlie did have a sister. She was about 10 years younger and was attending Tech when she died.”

“Oh, what a shame. How?” I asked.
   “Took a dive off the top of the Biology Building.”
   “Suicide? Good grief! No wonder he didn’t want to go there. Poor guy.”

“From what I understand, he hasn’t been in the building since it happened. Remember the murder of the cleaning lady a year or so before we came to Tech?”
   “Of course. My parents were questioning my choice of schools. Luckily, the guy was caught pretty quickly, wasn’t he?”
  “Yep. But it was in the same building. And then about two years ago, there was a brutal rape on campus.”

“Don’t tell me. Biology Building?”
   “Yep. Not the happiest or luckiest place on campus. I’d give it a wide berth, if I were you.”

“Now, what about President Stone?” Sharon asked.

  “Well, Elaine and Charlie both say rumor has it Stone is leaving at the end of the semester, but I’ve no idea. Have you heard anything in engineering?”

“Just the same. People think he’s leaving. Probably will announce it at the next Board of Regents meeting. If he does, there won’t be too many tears shed in my department.”
  “Yeah, I haven’t found many faculty who are loyal to him, and nobody seems to like Boyle either.  I’ve made headway in making friends with media in town, but it doesn’t do me much good if I don’t get the news first so I can get it to them. I had lunch Wednesday with Jake at the Avalanche Journal—”
“A-J,” Sharon corrected. “Everyone in Lubbock calls it the A-J.”
“Okay, the A-J, then, and I think we hit it off. The problem is he often knows about things before I do. And he still feels like he has to go to Boyle before he comes to me just to keep from getting shut out. I don’t blame him, but it makes me wonder why I’m really here other than for the mundane stuff. I tell you, my previous communications jobs were a lot more exciting than this.” 
  “Sorry about that, Maggie. Didn’t you say you were gonna talk with old man Leonard, the previous communications guy? Did you get a chance?”
   Maggie smiled remembering, “I did. He’s quite a character. I took him to lunch yesterday at his favorite place — Tom and Bingo’s Hickory Pit Bar-B-Q.”
   “Tom and Bingo’s? We used to go as students, didn’t we? I’d forgotten about it. Where is it again?”
   “Thirty-fourth and Boston. No, Elgin. Thirty-fourth and Elgin. Remember? It’s a little hole-in-the-wall with benches along the walls as the only place to sit. Can’t be more than twelve-feet wide, but service is quick and the food is really good. I love their sign — ‘We start serving every day at 11 ’TIL WE RUN OUT.’ That pretty much sums up West Texas’ style, don’t you think?”

Sharon nodded with a mouthful of lettuce.

“Anyway,” I continued, “I met him there and we had a good chat about the department. He’s the one who came up with the current tagline for Tech, From Here It’s Possible.”

   “I like that, what’d you call it? Tagline?”

“Yeah ... some call it a branding slogan or marketing one-liner. One of the better ones across the country, in my opinion,” I said. “And Leonard confirmed the staff does quality work but for the last couple of years their hands have been tied. He was extremely unhappy with his replacement and said he went to Stone about it, but obviously it did no good.”
   “Obviously,” Sharon said with chagrin.
   “But he gave me insight into some things. It was a good meeting ... and worth the time, and definitely worth it for the barbecue! I’ll bring some home one night soon and give Doug the night off.”

“Tom and Bingo’s Bar-B-Q. He’ll love it. You know, Maggie, maybe if and when President Stone leaves, it will get better for you guys. Heard anything about who the new president might be?”
  I shrugged. “I would be the last to know, remember? They’re really keeping a lid on this one, but I’ve heard Bennett Boyle’s in the running, or at least he’ll probably apply.”

   “They wouldn’t dare, would they? Nobody likes Boyle, the prick.” Sharon made a face to further display her displeasure at the idea.
   “It’d be a total disaster for my department, that’s for sure. Stranger things have been decided by regents, though.”
“Amen to that.”
   When we finished lunch, we headed back outside. “You ready to go house hunting again this weekend?” I asked, looking sideways at Sharon.
  “No. We like having you at our house, even though we don’t see enough of you. But yes, I’ll help you look. Let’s hit it really early Saturday morning, OK? Doug’s got a faculty concert Saturday evening you can’t miss. He’s playing his sax in the jazz band. You’ll love it. Really turns me on when he has that sax in his hands.”
  “The way you two carry on, I don’t think you need any help from a musical instrument,” I teased. “How long have you two been together now?”

  “Twelve glorious, wonderful, sexy, romantic years.”
  “You’re a lucky woman. He’s a real keeper. I don’t remember you ever being as happy as you’ve been with him. An engineer and a musician. Who would’ve thought that’d work?”
  “I keep telling you — engineering is a CREATIVE science!”

Next blog April 4. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 21, Chapter 6

I smoothed my pulled-back chignon-styled hair, straightened my pin-striped black suit as I entered the Administration Building, and headed for Bennett Boyle’s first-floor office next to the president’s suite. I was about 30 minutes early, thinking I would get a jump on my first day at work. Boyle’s outer office was open and empty, but the door to his inner sanctum was closed. 

Through the semi-frosted glass insert I could tell he was at his desk. Hesitant to disturb him, I went instead to the massive ornate marble stairs in the middle of the building and walked up to the third floor in the opposite wing only to find my new office locked. I don’t know what I was expecting. Leaning against the wall in the hallway, I took several deep breaths to recover from the steep climb and to calm my nerves. 

  “Don’t be silly, Margaret Riley Grant,” I sternly told myself. “You’re quite capable of handling this job. Just use your instinct, intellect and skills.” I looked up, “But I could use a little help, God.” 

“Oh, did you say something?” came a female voice from behind me. Startled, I turned to see Elaine, my assistant, hurrying toward me. Elaine, Elaine ... what’s her last name?

  “Oh, no,” I said recovering. “Well, actually, just a little pep talk to myself. First day nerves and all that, I guess.” 

Elaine smiled.

  “How are you, Elaine?”

“I’m good, Mrs. Grant, now that you’re here. The stairs get easier, trust me. Here, let me get the door. I’ve got keys for you inside and all the things you’ll need to get settled in.”

   Elaine unlocked and opened the door, turned on the lights and headed for the small inner office. I followed the slim cocoa-skinned woman into the second room. Easton, I thought, remembering Elaine’s last name, wondering how old she was. I guessed about mid-forties, although her tight, smartly fashionable short skirt showed off well-toned bare legs that didn’t look a day over thirty. Two-inch heels accentuated her slim figure. Noticing that Elaine wasn’t at all out of breath from the stairs, I silently chided myself about getting back into shape.

  “There’s barely room in here for your desk, but I think we got it situated all right for you, Mrs. Grant,” Elaine said as she cranked open the only window.

  “Maggie. Please call me Maggie.” Looking around at the cramped room, I hadn’t remembered it being this small. “It’s fine. Thank you. I don’t really need more than a desk, computer and phone, and the window is a nice bonus.” 

     I moved over to the view of the familiar flagpole circle, noticing I could hear the water cascading in the fountains. Soothing 

Wonderful spring flowers are planted all over campus. Red tulips have begun to bloom this week among the variety of pansies. Lots of them in the esplanades. Some type of trees—I never can remember what they are so I call them popcorn trees—are in full bloom, too. Several of them can be seen out my window. 

Elaine squeezed around the other side of the desk and disappeared into the outer office, which was about twice the size of mine. 

       Over her shoulder she called back to me, “It’s just a shame to put you, and us, way up here. Mr. Leonard had an office area about six times this size, and we were all housed in adjoining offices around him in the first floor, east wing. But Boyle confiscated it all when Ms. Danielle left just after Christmas, even though it was our office space forever.”

   “Mr. Boyle took the Communications offices?”

   “Yep, and he doesn’t even use half of them,” she said.  Then I heard her mutter under her breath, “The bastard.” 

“You worked for Mr. Leonard?” I asked as Elaine returned to my tiny office.

“Oh, yes, we all did,” she said as she brought in keys and some paperwork. “He was —is— the nicest man and definitely knew what he was doing. I started with him about 16 years ago, along with Charlie. Susan and Steven worked for him a while, and just before he retired, Ricky was hired.  You’ll like the guys. Ricky’s an incredible graphic designer and knows everything about computers. He’s the reason we have these fairly up-to-date models and all the software we could ever want. So you should be okay with at least a modern computer, even if the office and furniture are from the middle of the last century.” 

  She continued talking as she efficiently moved around the room checking for dust, straightening the few files and books that fit snugly in the office. “Charlie is a great photographer — been here forever and knows all there is to know about Tech. Worked for National Geographic right out of college before he came back and settled down. Whole family went to Tech.  Susan and Steven keep up the website news and news releases and anything that needs to be written. Both have been here ’bout five, six years, somethin’ like that. Their offices, if you can call them that  — more like closets similar to yours — are just across the hall. When I need to tell ’em something, I just pop from room to room to room. 

  “They should all be here soon. We like to get in early in case Mr. Boyle stops in first thing, which he does, or did, often.  Even though he’s our boss now, he hasn’t come by as much this semester — either because Ms. Danielle isn’t here to gawk at or maybe because of having to use the stairs instead of the elevator. That darn elevator only works one or two days a month. Anyway, about Boyle. Here’s hoping the elevator stays that way so he stays away.”

  I smiled and shook my head slightly in amazement at my new assistant’s unapologetic opinions.

  Elaine smiled back, “Let’s get you settled, OK?” 

  Elaine and I fell into an easy, almost one-sided dialogue, with Elaine trying to relate everything to her new boss at once, and me, imitating a sponge, attempting to soak it up as quickly as it was spilled.  Even when the other staff came in, were introduced and quickly left for their own offices, Elaine kept up her rapid-fire soliloquy on the department’s procedures, accomplishments, quirks and shortcomings. 

  Finally, when she began to describe the postal process at the university in detail, I stopped her with, “Let’s save some of this for later, shall we? How about ...” but stopped myself when Elaine’s eyes widened like a cartoon character as she looked over my shoulder to the outer office.

I turned to see an enormous green plant spanning the doorway to the hall. “Oh, my,” I said softly as Elaine stepped around me and headed for the door squealing, “That’s huge! Where’d it come from? Is it for me? Where did you get it?” 

  An out-of-breath voice from somewhere behind the immense foliage replied, “Um, a delivery for Mrs. Margaret Grant?”

  “Yes, yes, come in,” Elaine said excitedly. “Put it down right here,” indicating the middle of the floor in front of her desk. “I’ll sign for it,” she said, stepping around the greenery to the delivery man, who deftly slid the heavy plant off a dolly. She sent the winded man on his way back down the stairs and handed the card to me, my mouth hanging open. 

“It’s for you. It’s gigantic! What a gorgeous philodendron bipinnatifidum! It’s as tall as me! Who's it from?”

  I read the card silently and smiled, shaking my head. 
         Mom- A new plant for a new adventure. 
Know you’ll kick ass! 
Love, Michael & Ben, et al.
  “From my sons. I’d forgotten. We have a tradition of sending a small plant to each other’s office when we start new jobs ... this is my first in about 15 years. I’m ... it’s huge!” I said laughing. “What did you say it was?”

  “Oh, it’s a philodendron bip-in-nat-if-id-um. They grow really well under florescent lights. Don’t they have the prettiest leaves? If I take good care of it, which I will, it might reach the ceiling!”

  It took both of us to drag the plant into one corner of the outer office. There was no way it would fit in my small space. Elaine promised to water and feed it faithfully, proudly relating her green-thumb prowess with all things growing. 
I immediately liked my new assistant and worked with her to set up regular weekly staff meetings, filling out the necessary first-day-at-work paperwork for Human Resources. I then dutifully headed downstairs to a scheduled mid-morning meeting of the university’s administrative staff, still smiling about the plant. I would have to remember to call Michael and Ben tonight to thank them.
  Bennett Boyle, hair sprayed firmly in place, stood at the door of the president’s conference room and looked startled when I greeted him. He frowned even deeper than I remembered. Was his scowl permanently set? He massaged the side of his head and said, “What are you doing here?”

  “Reporting for my first administrative staff meeting,” I said brightly. “I noticed it online. Did I get the time wrong?”

“Yes, I mean, no. It’s the right time, but you don’t need to be here. I’m your direct supervisor and I attend this meeting. I’ll relay to you anything that you might need to know.”

  I looked at him for a moment before answering. “All right, Mr. Boyle. I’m just accustomed to being on the administrative team.”

  “Well, you’re not,” he replied tartly.

  “May I meet with the president then, later this afternoon?”

  “You may not. There’s no need. You don’t report to him — you report to me. You can talk with me if you need anything. Call my secretary for an appointment.”

  “An appointment?”

  “Yes, an appointment,” Boyle said coldly, dismissing me by turning his back and entering the conference room.

  “Okay, then. An appointment it is,” I said looking up to the ceiling and turning to head back upstairs. “Not going to make this easy, are you God?”