COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
The meeting between my dad and Antwoine Leonard did not go smoothly. Well, actually, it was a total, unmitigated disaster. Put it this way: Antwoine encountered significant pushback. No synergy. Not a strategic fit.
I arrived at Dad's apartment right after I finished my first day at Trion. I parked the Audi down the block, because I knew Dad was always looking out of his window, when he wasn't watching his thirty-six-inch TV screen, and I didn't want to get grief from him about my new car. Even if I told him I'd gotten a big raise or something, he'd find a way to put some nasty spin on it.
I got there just in time to see Maureen wheeling a big black nylon suitcase up to a cab. She was tight-lipped, wearing her "dressy" outfit, a lime green pantsuit with a riot of tropical flowers and fruits all over it, and a perfectly white pair of sneakers. I managed to intercept her just as she was yelling at the driver to put her suitcase in the trunk and handed her a final check (including a generous bonus for pain and suffering), thanked her profusely for her loyal service, and even tried to give her a ceremonial peck on the cheek, but she turned her head away. Then she slammed the door, and the cab took off.
Poor woman. I never liked her, but I couldn't help but feel sorry for the torture my father had put her through.
Dad was watching Dan Rather, really mostly yelling at Rather, when I arrived. He despised all the network anchormen equally, and you didn't want to get him started on the "losers" on cable. The only cable shows he liked were the ones where opinionated right-wing hosts bait their guests, try to piss them off, froth at the mouth. That was his kind of sport these days.
He was wearing one of those sleeveless white undershirts that are sometimes called "wifebeaters." They always gave me the willies. I had bad associations with them—whenever he "disciplined" me as a kid, he seemed to be wearing one. I could still remember, clear as a snapshot, the time when, eight years old, I accidentally spilled Kool-Aid on his Barcalounger, and he took the strap to me, standing over me—stained ribbed undershirt, red sweating face—roaring, "See what you made me do?" Not the most pleasant memory.
"When's this new guy getting here?" he said. "He's already late, isn't he?"
"Not yet." Maureen refused to spend a minute showing him the ropes, so unfortunately there'd be no overlap.
"What're you all dressed up for? You look like an undertaker—you're making me nervous."
"I told you, I started a new job today."
He turned back to Rather, shaking his head in disgust. "You got fired, didn't you?"
"From Wyatt? No, I left."
"You tried to coast like you always do, and they fired you. I know how these things work. They can smell a loser a mile off." He took a couple of heavy breaths. "Your mother always spoiled you. Like hockey—you coulda gone pro if you applied yourself."
"I wasn't that good, Dad."
"Easy to say that, isn't it? Makes it easier if you just say that. That's where I really fucked you up—I put you through that high-priced college so you could spend all your time partying with your fancy friends." He was only partly right, of course: I did work-study to put myself through college. But let him remember what he wanted to remember. He turned to look at me, his eyes bloodshot, beady. "So where are all your fancy friends now, huh?"
"I'm okay, Dad," I said. He was on one of his jags, but fortunately the doorbell rang, and I almost ran to answer it.
Antwoine was right on time. He was dressed in pale blue hospital scrubs, which made him look like an orderly or a male nurse. I wondered where he picked them up, since he'd never worked in a hospital, as far as I knew.
"Who's that?" Dad shouted hoarsely.
"It's Antwoine," I said.
"Antwoine? What the hell kinda name is Antwoine? You hired some French faggot?" But Dad had already turned to see Antwoine standing at the front door, and his face had gone purple. He was squinting, his mouth open in horror. "Jesus—Christ!" he said, puffing hard.
"How's it going?" Antwoine said, giving me a bone-crushing handshake. "So this must be the famous Francis Cassidy," he said, approaching the Barcalounger. "I'm Antwoine Leonard. Pleasure to meet you, sir." He spoke in a deep, pleasant baritone.
Dad kept staring, puffing in and out. Finally he said, "Adam, I wanna talk to you, right now."
"No—you tell An-twoine or whatever the hell his name is to get outta here, let you and me talk."
Antwoine looked at me, puzzled, wondering what he should do.
"Why don't you bring your stuff to your room?" I said. "It's the second door on the right. You can start unpacking."
He carried two nylon duffel bags down the hall. Dad didn't even wait for him to get out of the room before he said, "Number one, I don't want a man taking care of me, you understand? Find me a woman. Number two, I don't want a black man here. They're unreliable. What were you thinking? You were gonna leave me alone with Leroy? I mean, look at your homeboy here, the tattoos, the braids. I don't want that in my house. Is this so damned much to ask?" He was puffing harder than ever. "How can you bring a black guy in here, after all the trouble I have with those goddamned kids from the projects breaking into my apartment?"
"Yeah, and they always turn right around when they figure out there's nothing here worth stealing." I kept my voice down, but I was pissed. "Number one, Dad, we don't really have a choice here, because the agencies won't even deal with us anymore, because you've made so many people quit, okay? Number two, I can't stay with you, because I've got a day job, remember? And number three, you haven't even given the guy a chance."