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Professor at Risk, Chapter 4

Please read first 3 Chapters or this one won’t make much sense.
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It was about two weeks after THE EVENT. Taverna’s place in the classroom was comfortable once again, not only to her but to her professor and the rest of the class. The internet buzz, never very specific, had died down. It was the end of the day and she was going to the home she shared with her mother, Sophia. She walked in the door to find a strange man talking to her mother. Sophia introduced him as Mr. Braithwaite, a lawyer.
Taverna raised her eyebrows at the ‘lawyer’ title but before she could say anything, Sophia beckoned her to come into the kitchen. Once they were private, Sophia blustered, “Look, Taverna dear. I know you wanted to let the whole matter drop but our neighbour, Lucy, said we should at least check out the legal end. No harm in that, I guess. And you know… I mean you see… Look this is hard for me to say, but being a single Mum with a child at university…” She had moist eyes, then she almost shouted defensively, “Well, it’s expensive! And we haven’t got much income.”
Taverna was puzzled? “So how is a lawyer going to increase our income?”
“Let’s let him tell you himself.” They returned to the living room.
“Mr. Braithwaite, you might start off by telling my daughter just how much this might mean to our family.”
While he was preparing exactly what to say, Taverna gave him a quick once over. A tall and slim, maybe even scrawny, young man with thinning brown hair, slicked down, on a head to big for his body. She was not particularly impressed.
Mr. Braithwaite dropped the plum first. “I am firmly convinced that I can win an award of half a million dollars for you.”
Taverna was stunned. “Half a million! That’s a fortune! Is there some charity out there that gives to spurned women, or something.”
Mr. Braithwaite continued with a patronizing smile. “Oh nothing as simple as that. We have to fight for it. But you have an excellent case. Plus the fact that a judge or a jury tend to side with a woman.”
“Now hold on just a minute. What fight? With whom? And what have judges and juries got to do with me?”
“I think you’ve got an excellent case to charge your aggressor with sexual harassment. And you know how sensitive universities are to sexual harassment.”
“I still don’t get it, Mr. Braithwaite. If anything I was the aggressor, as you put it. So in your little plot, is someone going to charge me?”
Mr. Braithwaite smiled as one would to a small child. “Good heavens no, Ms. Proscella. We are going to charge your professor, Charles Beckenheimer, with sexual assault on you!”
“Sexual assault on ME? Well, that’s a switch. As I recall I did all the assaulting.”
“Well, that won’t be the case when we are finished dressing it up.”
“Hmmmm.” In a typical action of her generation, Taverna pulled out her Blackberry to consult it. Then continued. “Dressing it up? And just how are you going to do that, Mr. Braithwaite?” She continued to hold the Blackberry in her hand.
“Well, we present you as the innocent victim. Professor Beckenheimer has been after you all term. He frequently calls you into his office after class. (There is no record of what went on in those encounters, but the jury is allowed to figure it out for themselves.) Then finally he asks you for a lift home at night in your car. He suggests that you park in a dark lane—with foreseeable results. Perhaps you were a trifle naïve to offer him a lift, but you are just an inexperienced young woman.”
“But that’s all a big lie!” exclaimed Taverna.
“We don’t call it a lie,” remarked Mr. Braithwaite, “we call it shedding new light on the facts.”
Taverna was silent for quite a few moments as she digested this ‘new light’ to THE EVENT. “I want to be sure that I have this all in proper order, Mr. Braithwaite. As I understand you I, represented by you, formally charge Charlie with sexual harassment of me and demand $500,000 as settlement. Is that right?”
“We charge both Mr. Beckenheimer AND the university, but for the rest, you’re essentially correct.”
“Then it may go before a judge or even a jury. Right?”
“More likely it would be settled out of court. In today’s climate, the University will be very anxious to keep this quiet and out of the media. They probably will make a tempting offer to settle out of court.”
“What does that mean?”
“To put it bluntly, they buy immunity from you. They pay and you promise to drop all proceedings against them and Charlie for ever more.”
“But if it does go to court?”
“I’d relish going to court. We have a fail-proof case. Of course that kind of settlement would have court costs. I feel sure they would be assessed to the accused.”
“But then would I be an important witness?”
“Inevitable, Ms. Proscella.”
“But that story you concocted is not going to stand up when the defense cross examines me! What on earth am I supposed to do. I’ll look like a fool, won’t I?”
Mr. Braithwaite thought he was handling this very well. His potential client was beginning to soften her attitude. “That’s part of the service we offer to our clients. We train you how to cope with aggressive cross examination.”
“By telling lies?”
“Oh, no. Not at all. Simply by shedding new light on the facts.”
“After all these ‘facts’ have been revealed, in the ‘new light’ of course, what’s that going to do to my reputation?”
Mr. Braithwaite paused to consider his words carefully, “You’re very perceptive, Ms… may I call you ‘Taverna?’” She did not answer so after a pause he continued. “It’s true that there are a certain risks there. The defense will try and paint you as the aggressor which would undoubtedly leave a stain on your character. But I truly believe we can minimize that. If it does arise, it will be forgotten in a month or two.”
Again Taverna took refuge in thoughtful silence. Eventually she asked, “And if we win, who pays the half million or whatever?”
“Well, Charlie… ah, Mr. Beckenheimer and the University. They will decide between them who pays what.”
“And what does this mean for the University?”
“Oh it will be bad publicity for awhile but they’ll weather the storm. They always do.”
“So what happens to Mr. Beckenheimer?” She leaned forward to be sure she caught the answer. Mr. Braithwaite thought he detected a certain slavering for revenge.
“That’s sort of a fringe benefit.” He chuckled unpleasantly. “Charlie will be ruined for life . He’ll never get another job as a teacher. Never!”
She shuddered. “Mr. Braithwaite, I want to thank you. I have matured at least a decade in the last fifteen minutes. Now to put your proposition in a nutshell. The settlement is probably $500,000, of which you take???”
“Well as this is a contingency case, if I don’t win, you don’t pay, if I do win my fee will be, shall we say, 40%?”
“But there are other costs as well.” Taverna let this thought sink into Mr. Braithwaite’s too big head for a while. “You come out winner. I come out as a tarnished winner. But the University pays in loss of reputation and quite possibly loss of donations for a year or two. But the big loser is the community.”
Mr. Braithwaite paused in mid breath. “The community! How so?”
“This will destroy the best teacher the University has, maybe one of the best in the whole province. Hundreds of future students will not have the significant advantage of this man’s teaching. They in turn, may not develop as well as they should. That’s a big cost, Mr. Braithwaite. A big cost to the community.”
Mr. Braithwaite was hit hard below the belt. He hemmed and hawed. “Oh, common. You’re exaggerating. There’ll be other good teachers come along.”
“And you’ll be delighted to sue them at some future date… Mr. Braithwaite, I don’t think so!”
“Now just a minute!”
“Just-a-minute you, Mr. Braithwaite. You’re a slimy scumbag dinning on the flesh of others who are far better than you. Good evening, Mr. Braithwaite. I’ll show you to the door.”
“Now just a minute. I’ve put a lot into this case and you’re trying to dismiss me without a fair trial.”
“Oh, I’m not trying, Mr. Braithwaite. I AM dismissing you, without much thanks, I might add. And you yourself said, ‘If I don’t’ win there will be no charge against me.’ Well, Mr. Braithwaite, you didn’t win.” She handed him his brief case. “On your way, quickly, before I am physically sick.”
“You’ll regret this, young lady!”
“Mr. Braithwaite, not nearly as much as you will.” She held up her Blackberry. “I’m sure this recording will make interesting evidence, if necessary. Now Mr. Braithwaite, I shall positively rejoice at your leaving. Please take your stink with you.”
He wilted. He positively crawled out of the room. The door clicked shut behind him. Taverna turned to her mother. “Look, I know you thought you had a get-rich-quick scheme, but don’t worry we’ll find a way. I’ll get an evening job that’ll help.”
Sofia took a deep breath. “Of course, you were right, Taverna. You saw through all his double-talk while I was just taken in. I’m proud of you. When a child surpasses her parent in wisdom, it’s a time to celebrate. Let’s have a glass of wine!”
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Ten years later:
Charlie has retired but the University has him on a retainer as a consultant. This means he, on occasion, gives a lecture. He is still very popular and these infrequent lectures always sell out. He and Samatha love to take time off to travel. And, oh yes, Charlie is writing his memoirs. At this point in their development we don’t know whether or not he will mention the Taverna incident. Knowing Charlie, probably not.
As for Taverna, now 30, she is married. No, not to Alex. That mutual interest lasted through University but did not survive the post-grad era. She seems to adore her husband. He’s a nice guy—but I hardly know him. They have two small children, a girl of 4 and a boy of 2—can’t remember their names. (I am growing older too!) The incident described in this story is long forgotten by all the participants—or at least stuffed into some remote mental archive. However, if Taverna ever decided to enter politics, which she might well do, I feel sure that one of her opponents would dig up the dirt—and Taverna would handle the challenge like the strong lady she is.

10 Responses to “Professor at Risk, Chapter 4”

  1. Plot developed and solved beautifully. Thanks for providing even greater insights into your character, Lyman. You are a peach.
    xo Joy

  2. Jack Long says:

    I really liked this one.
    Congratulatios Lyman, this was a surprise ending but very good.

  3. Fran Deacon says:

    Well concluded lyman…with grace and
    dignity for all. Typical of your nature!

  4. Zohreh Zand says:

    Great ending.
    Taverna showed us at the beginning her feelings and how easily they can influence ones behaviour (feelings are extremely powerful in influencing the mind/rational), but at the end she showed how mature, fair, pure and responsible she is.

  5. Rose says:

    What a peaceful, emotionally mature, soulful and honest group of characters you have created for this story. Win win. Which is how we should all get through life. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Rose

  6. Libby Buchanan says:

    Great Lyman. I would like it to be pulished so that everyone can find outwhat those ghastly sharks who do this no win no fee etc really do . Thank you. Love Libby

  7. charles kirby says:

    “Well,” as they say down here in the South,: “I never !” I am always amazed at the imagination that issues from the recesses of your mind ! As I said at an earlier time: It is too bad that Norman Campbell is not around, so that the two of you could have your ‘stories’ presented on CBC…at least the way CBC USED to present. All the world Loves a ‘well-told-tale’. Keep them coming.
    Charles
    (Charles Kirby)

  8. Peggy Moxon says:

    Lyman,

    I am enjoying your stories but I am also very impressed with your smart computer ability.

    Peggy

  9. Victoria Henderson says:

    Great surprise chapter, Lyman, taking the story in a whole new direction. I was a bit disappointed in the mum, though!

  10. Lorna Kelly says:

    A honorable ending Lyman.

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