Slow Squeeze(2)

By: Dianne Emley

Lorraine and Charlotte were snug inside their apartment, sharing a crocheted comforter and watching daytime television. Lorraine had called in sick to work that morning even though it was Monday, the allure of playing hooky stronger than the threat of her boss’s giving her a hard time come Tuesday morning. Charlotte had talked her into it. Charlotte wasn’t employed. There was a recession, after all, and jobs were scarce. Lorraine understood.

She sat on one end of the couch with her feet in Charlotte’s lap. Charlotte massaged them through Lorraine’s thick socks. Spooky, a gray tabby cat, lay curled in Lorraine’s lap. A small Christmas tree stood on a table in a corner of the small apartment, its multicolored lights twinkling. There were a few wrapped gifts underneath. Just a few, but they’d been selected with particular care.

Cheerful, energetic music filled the room as the Susie Santé talk show started. Applause, applause, applause. Susie Santé was middle-aged with sensibly cut, short, blond hair, an open face, and an energetic demeanor. She stood in the audience holding a microphone.

“Today we’re going to meet four women who work in an industry that’s still a bastion of the old-boys’ club—the high-flying world of stocks, bonds, and financial instruments. They’ve made it in a man’s world and haven’t let that world make them over. And, boy, the stories they have to tell you, right after this.”

The show broke for a string of commercials advertising laundry detergent, a personal injury attorney with testimonials from clients for whom he had won big money, a dental assistants’ school, and a weight-loss center where people danced behind the huge garments they used to wear.

Susie Santé brought out her first guest who talked about how she got started in the industry and the dues she paid before attaining her current position. She was now—finally—handsomely compensated for her talent, perseverance, and savvy. In response to leading questions by Santé, she titillated the predominately female audience with stories about Neanderthal male bosses, cretinous male coworkers, and over-sexed male clients. The next two guests shared even worse horror stories.

A man in the audience dared to venture a comment. “It seems to me the guys you work with prefer women coworkers who aren’t trying to be men.” He was resoundingly booed and hissed by the audience’s distaff members.

“They plant those bozos in the audience, don’t you think?” Charlotte asked.

Lorraine shrugged.

Charlotte reached for a round tin, lined with crumpled wax paper, sitting on the coffee table. “‘Course, takes all kinds. Your mother makes the best fudge.”

“She makes good fudge,” Lorraine agreed.

After another string of commercials advertising sink and tile cleaner, a computer school, and a firm that assists in filing workers’ compensation claims, the show resumed. Susie Santé stood in the audience, her face somber.

“Now, I’m going to introduce a woman who is only too familiar with the price paid for making money a god and greed a catechism.” She strolled toward the stage. “This woman uncovered a money-laundering scheme in her office. A scheme with tragic consequences that cost the life of several of her coworkers and nearly cost her own.” The audience was hushed. “Ladies and gentlemen, meet Iris Thorne.”

Iris Thorne walked across the stage, wearing an elegantly tailored suit, looking poised and chic. She smiled and waved at the audience before taking her chair next to the other three women. The audience warmed to her and heartily applauded her fortitude.

“She’s cute!” Charlotte exclaimed.

“She’s all right,” Lorraine sniffed. The dozing cat purred on her lap.

Charlotte turned and looked at Lorraine, then at the television, then back at Lorraine. “Rainey, she looks like you. She sure does. There’s definitely a resemblance.”

“Think so?”

“I sure do.”

Lorraine watched the polished and composed figure on television with more interest.

Susie Santé led Iris through a litany of the atrocities that had occurred the previous year at McKinney Alitzer, the investment management firm where Iris was still employed. The camera panned the audience, whose members listened with horror. There was a lighter note when Iris revealed that one of the detectives on the case, John Somers, was an old college boyfriend and that they had resumed their relationship after the case was solved. Then the conversation grew somber again when Santé asked Iris about the murders. Iris stepped lightly around the grisly details.