Tootsie power-walked past the program department, so distracted thinking about what could be up with Robert, she didn’t respond to the hellos from two just-out-of-college girls who were interning at the station.
Right now, they were of no concern to her. Right now she was only thinking of Robert. The first time he’d gone into the closet was the day he’d taken over as head of the station right after his dad’s death and she’d had to talk him off the proverbial ledge. She took a fortifying breath, rapped a staccato knock on the door, turned the knob, and entered.
Hunched over, head in hands, Robert had planted himself on the step-stool Tootsie’s promotional staff used to grab swag from the highest shelves in the closet. He shot to his feet when Tootsie stepped in. He must have jostled one of the shelves on the way up, because some of the mini-flashlights—for reading concert programs in the dark—fell to the floor. Robert didn’t look down or say oops. Instead, eyes wide, his pasty-white complexion grew more pasty-white and he said, “How did you know I was here?”
“The general manager’s assistant told me.”
He looked confused.
“Fern. Your father’s assistant before he died and now yours? You told her I should come find you. In here.” She tilted her head toward the door. “Can we go someplace less stuffy where we can both sit while we discuss whatever problem drove you into this closet?”
Robert was already shaking his head, his too-long black hair flopping onto his forehead. He shoved it back with a shaking hand. “I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
Not for the first time in the eight months since she got stuck with Robert, did Tootsie wonder where he came from. Stan and his wife, Marge traveled a lot. Maybe they’d found him on a carousel at Newark Airport, going ‘round and ‘round, a piece of unclaimed luggage.
Father and son couldn’t have been more different. Stan had loved radio. Robert loved discussions about the works of Immanuel Kant and the sad state of South Sudanese independence. He obsessed over chess, and had been to European tournaments dozens of times. Radio? Not so much. “What couldn’t you do, Robert?”
He screwed his face up into something that looked like shame, which sent a cold chill up Tootsie’s spine.
“You’ll find out.” He looked at his watch. “In about a half hour.”
Tootsie folded her arms across her chest. “I’m not waiting a half hour. Tell me now, please.”
He began to rub his hand across him mouth as if he were trying to wipe out a Lady Macbeth stain. “I couldn’t take it anymore, Tootsie. That scene in my office on Friday. You saw.”
Yes, the scene with the almost airborne chair. She’d been witness to lots of scenes in that office of late, most without chairs, thank God. “That was acting out.”
“It’s not that simple. There’s something evil about it, the constant wrangling, everyone taking sides and defending their positions and for what reason? I don’t see any humor in it, like you do, in how they carry on.”
She started to object to his assessment of how station personalities chose to make themselves ridiculous, but stopped when Robert threw his hands into the air. “That fight on Friday told me I did the right thing.”
Had the real estate in the promotions closet allowed, Tootsie would have paced, because only that way could she release her building frustration. “Like I keep telling you, to handle your senior staff, you need to give each something they want. It allows them to walk away, egos intact. You didn’t, so you got a hot mess.”
“It doesn’t matter anymore. Not after this.” He slid a sheaf of papers off the shelf where the remainder of the flashlights lay. The papers crackled when he held them out to her. “They wanted what we have and I decided to give it to them.”
“Who’s they, Robert?” Tootsie snatched them up without looking. “And what did you decide to give them for all that money?”
He shook his head back and forth, back and forth. “Now I don’t need to worry about my sales manager’s agenda, and don’t try to tell me he doesn’t have one. I don’t have to worry about my program director’s high drama and his temper, either. Now I can do exactly what I want with the rest of my life, because the money I’m going to be paid is so good, I’ll never have to worry about anything unexpected happening to me ever again.”
“What do you mean?” Heat blossomed under her collar.
He sighed as if he was shedding the last part of an unbearable burden. “The station, Tootsie. I’m selling the radio station to Jim and Chuck Petrocelli.”
Tootsie thought she might have gasped. But how could she have heard it for the sound of her head exploding? She opened her mouth once, twice, before she found her voice. “You sold WCLS? To the Petrocellis? You sold our radio station to the Slasher Twins?”