“That was longer than a minute,” Fern patted the seat of the chair she’d saved for Tootsie.
The conference room was filling up. Tootsie looked around as most of WCLS’s employees filed in.
“I stopped by my office to drop off some papers.” The ones she didn’t need, and the ones she didn’t want to look at.
Fern took out a small, pink, battery-powered fan she kept in her skirt pocket and turned it on. Its whirring, plastic blades set wisps of her red hair dancing around her cheeks. “Will you please tell me why they call it the Change? It’s more like after a lifetime of service to men and children, God decides to set you on fire from the inside out.”
“And ignores you when you ask why.” Tootsie’s mouth shaped the words of an ‘I’m burning up script’ she and Fern had developed over the last month in comradeship and sympathy, when her hot flashes had started in earnest.
Murmurs behind her had her turning. Here came Robert, walking alone to the front where a long, narrow table stood with three chairs behind it and three glasses of water on it. He slunk into the middle seat.
“What’s this crap about, Toots?” whispered Lenny Tolliver, easing into a seat behind her, his headset slung around his neck. “I’ve got commercials to edit. Asshole Michael needs them on the air yesterday.”
Tootsie half-turned toward him. “You’ll find out.”
Lenny snorted. “Pull the other one. You know and don’t want to say.”
Too true. But it would do no good to say anything that would fast track Lenny. Lenny liked nothing better than to heckle. Today was not a heckling day.
She leaned toward him. “Here’s a suggestion. Whatever is about to happen, keep your opinions to yourself.”
He curled his lip. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
As people settled in, there was an undercurrent of whispers that ebbed and flowed with the scraping of chair legs against the tile floor.
Fern turned off her fan, reached into her purse, and pulled out a tissue. Blotting her forehead, where her copious red curls had plastered themselves to her skin despite the fan’s best efforts, she said, “Do you want to make a bet that our dear program director isn’t going to show?”
Tootsie glanced at her watch. “When did Marc Antonio ever come in before noon? If he showed now, he’d be two hours early.”
“You have a point. About Marc Antonio… is Michael going to press charges against him for the chair incident on Friday?”
“I doubt he will, but if I know Michael, he’ll whine that he’s being forced to toil away in a hostile work environment.”
Speaking of…here was the bane of Marc Antonio’s existence. Michael Le Boff, the perfect model of a modern general sales manager, taking a seat at the end of Tootsie’s row. His three henchpersons—sales staff—slunk in at the same time and took seats behind Michael. Each one was more smarmy, silver-tongued, and shallow than the other. As for Michael, if the man blinked, Tootsie had never seen it. Though she knew nothing about his private life, she’d had the occasional thought that the bed he slept in was shaped like a coffin.
There was a flurry of activity at the back of the room. Tootsie stiffened. The men those glasses of water had been set out for had arrived. She came around in her seat to see if she was right, and yes, she was.
There they were, the Slasher Twins, Jim and Chuck Petrocelli. In fifteen years, Jim hadn’t changed. He was still an ugly little troll. As was his brother Chuck, who she’d never met.
Don’t bother thinking this is a good time to hit me up for a better job. I don’t hire women managers.
Should she worry that he would remember what he’d said to her? She wiggled in her chair, nerves jangling.
Looking neither right nor left, they marched to the front of the room as if they owned it. Which they did. Or would. At any moment. They were both short and fat. It amazed Tootsie that two men who resembled bowling balls with five appendages—head, arms, legs—could wield as much power as they did in the industry, and could cause as much havoc. Each flanked Robert and sat.
Robert came to his feet. “Thanks for coming, everyone.”
“You’re welcome.” Lenny, of course.
Robert gave Lenny an anxious glance, and cleared his throat. “As you know, these last months have been tough for WCLS.”
“That’s because your father had the nerve to die and leave you in charge.” Again Lenny. This time slightly louder.
There was a snicker somewhere in the back of the room.
Robert plowed on. “The whole radio industry has been under siege. What I found out, after my father passed, is there aren’t as many people listening to WCLS as there used to be. Our listeners, our seventy and eighty-somethings, now have Spotify accounts. That’s bad for WCLS’s bottom line.”
Lenny tapped Tootsie on the shoulder as Robert went on with his so sad story-telling. “What’s he talking about? Plenty of people listen to the station.”
“Zip it for once!” Tootsie hissed through clenched teeth. If Lenny would just stifle it, maybe he could keep his job while the Petrocellis fired everyone else. Every station needed someone to produce commercials.
Robert scoured the room, looking, no doubt, for a friendly face. There were none. “Expenses were high. You all know that.”
“Robert. A question.” Vito Marconi came to his feet from a chair he’d been sitting in against the wall at the back of the room, “Did you discuss this with the Committee?”
Robert looked away.
Tootsie frowned. As Robert droned on about music testing, she leaned toward Fern and whispered, “Aren’t you on the Committee?”
Fern shook her head. “I used to be. Before Stan died. The last discussion I remember we had was about how someone brought his cat into the studio and Lauren broke out in hives so bad she had to go to the hospital.” She turned and glared at Lenny.
Lenny glared back. “How did I know she was allergic to cats?”
Tootsie ignored Lenny and leaned toward Fern. “Is there something about the Committee I don’t remember that I should? Why would Vito bring it up, now?”
Before Fern could answer, the bowling ball to Robert’s right lumbered to his feet. He put his meaty hand on Robert’s shoulder and forced him to sit. “Okay, enough. I’m Jim Petrocelli. My brother and I are taking over this radio station.”