The Prologue from Finishing School, my humorous novel about the absurdities of public education today. ( tlzempel.com )
November, Office of the Area Superintendent of Schools
“Ms. Taylor, what can you tell us about the reason you stayed behind in Mr. Morris’ office that day?”
I stare at the area superintendent, focusing on his thick black glasses and slicked down hair, wondering how to answer that without incriminating myself.
“I...I don’t know what you mean,” I say slowly, looking sideways at Brian, who touches my arm gently.
“Please ask my client only specific questions,” he says, giving me a reassuring smile. I nod gratefully and say nothing.
“Very well,” Mr. Birnbaum, the area superintendent says. “Did you specifically stay behind to look through Mr. Morris’ notebook?”
“No,” I answer, and wait. Brian had told me earlier to offer nothing more than was asked of me, and I am determined to do just that.
“Why were you in Mr. Morris’ office?” Birnbaum asks, and I sigh. He knows why I was there.
“I reported to Mr. Morris’ office for a meeting that Mr. Morris had called,” I tell him. I can see Brian nodding approvingly beside me.
“Ms. Taylor has told you this several times already,” Brian says. “She was invited into Mr. Morris’ office for a meeting. She was never specifically asked to leave. You have no grounds upon which to discipline her.”
“Ethical violations are a serious offense in our world,” Birnbaum says, “so I think the situation Ms. Taylor has created for herself absolutely gives us cause for censure, at the least, and grounds for dismissal at the greatest.”
“If you have a specific question to ask my client, please do so,” Brian says.
The director of human resources, Ms. Bainbridge, chimes in with, “Your client, Mr. Lawson, did not comport herself during that meeting with the standards of ethical behavior that this district expects of its employees.”
“How do you know that?” Brian asks her. “Were you there?”
I smile at that. Ms. Bainbridge does not.
“She remained behind, uninvited, in Mr. Morris’ office!” Bainbridge sputters. “What does that tell you about her ethics?”
“It tells me nothing specific,” Brian says smoothly, “other than she may have been unsure what Mr. Morris’ expectation was.”
“Unsure?!” Bainbridge sputters again, and one of the district’s attorneys puts out a hand to touch her arm, perhaps reassuringly, perhaps reprovingly. I can’t tell. But the effect is to cause Ms. Bainbridge to clamp her lips together and sigh loudly, shuffling the papers in front of her vigorously. Her glasses slide down her nose and she quickly moves her hand up to put them back in place.
Another of the district’s attorneys speaks to Brian. “Your client will need to explain her actions if she is to have a future in this district. I believe that has been made clear to her. The ethical violations she may have committed will continue to make her re-instatement impossible unless this district gets some answers.”
“Tread carefully,” Brian says, smiling the smile I have come to know means nothing even close to mirth. “Ms. Taylor has not violated any ethical standards, either knowingly or otherwise, and if you’d like to avoid a defamation of character suit, you’ll adjust your comments accordingly.”
“Ms. Taylor specifically and knowingly remained in an office that wasn’t hers for a significant period of time after the meeting was adjourned,” Birnbaum interjects. “That definitely speaks of poor ethical behavior.”
“Was the meeting adjourned?” Brian asks. “How do you know Ms. Taylor wasn’t waiting for Mr. Morris to return?”
“We know that Mr. Morris left the room!” Ms. Bainbridge snaps, apparently unable to heed her attorney’s warning. “How do you construe Ms. Taylor’s behavior as anything other than unethical?”
“Ms. Bainbridge, please,” her attorney says quietly, placing his hand on her arm briefly.
Bainbridge again sighs and I see her shoulders droop, possibly in frustration. I know that feeling.
“Do you have a specific question to ask my client?” Brian asks her and then looks around the room at the others. “If not, then I’d say we’re done here.”
They all wait for Birnbaum to respond to that. He appears to study his legal pad carefully before addressing me again. “Ms. Taylor, what did you do during the time that you stayed behind in Mr. Morris’ office on that day?”
I turn and look at Brian’s face, and he shakes his head slightly. Then he leans close to my ear and whispers, “This meeting is over. We’ll regroup after lunch and decide our strategy then.”
I nod and turn back toward Birnbaum. “I’m afraid I can’t answer that at this time, on the advice of counsel,” I tell him.
“Mr. Lawson,” Birnbaum says to Brian, “please advise your client that if she doesn’t answer our questions, she’s not going to be re-instated any time soon, if ever.”
“I fail to see how threatening Ms. Taylor is going to resolve this situation,” Brian says easily to Birnbaum, gathering his papers and putting them inside his briefcase. I pick up my purse and wait for Brian to move before I do. “Ms. Taylor has nothing more to say at this time. I’ll be in touch.”
As he rises, I follow suit, moving with him to the door. Score one, Wendy and lawyer. Zero to you, Mr. Big Bad School District, my snarky self cheers.
But then, I wonder again how someone goes from a regular, normal life, to this….
More information on this book at FinishingSchool.info