"Andersen," Percy picks up his phone Tuesday morning, stretching his left leg out in front of him, rubbing his knee a moment before bending forward and yanking his pant leg up to adjust his prosthesis. Didn't get it quite right this morning, he thinks, replacing his pant leg over the false lower leg and foot.
"Mr. Andersen? My name is Arthur Pendragon. Do you have a moment?"
"Um, sure…" he says, puzzling for a moment. "Pendragon? Like Pendragon Law Offices?"
"Well, that Pendragon is my father, but yes."
"Ah. If you're calling why I think you're calling, I don't want to talk on this line. Can I call you on my lunch hour? I'll go to a pay phone and call you."
"I am, and of course," Arthur says, smiling. He's going to cooperate. He gives Percy the number and resolves to eat his own lunch in his office so he doesn't miss the call.
Arthur hangs up the phone, sighs, and lifts it again. "Vivian, when is Merlin in today?"
"He should be here in half an hour, Mr. Pendragon," she says.
"Send him right to me as soon as you see him, please."
In his office, Percy sits and stares another moment. She called Pendragon. Not Jameson. Interesting. Percy had been in this half of the country long enough to be surprised that a colored person would call a white lawyer. Gwen appeared to be a smart girl. I'm sure she had a good reason to choose this man.
He stands and walks to his filing cabinet, opening the top drawer. Far in the back is a file folder. He pulls it out and thumbs through the copies of the repair requests. Thank you, Captain Lee, he thinks, remembering his Captain's motto. CYA: Cover Your Ass.
"Boss?" a voice interrupts his thoughts. Percy looks up and sees Duncan's face peeking into his doorway.
"Duncan, what can I do for you?" he asks, casually closing the file drawer and setting the folder on his desk.
"New shipment just arrived. Need your signature," Duncan says.
"Right," Percy looks at the folder on his desk, picks it up again, and stashes it in his bottom desk drawer.
Duncan looks on curiously, wondering what is so secretive that he can't leave it sitting in the open but not so secretive that Percy allows him to see where he's hidden it.
Percy smirks slightly, and as he walks unevenly down the stairs from his office above the warehouse, he mutters to Duncan, "Copies of the repair requests."
"You got copies? How'd you get copies?"
"I made them before I submitted them."
"Damn, boss, you smart," Duncan says, looking up at the young man, his mouth agape.
"Not smart. Careful."
"Someone call you?"
"Yes. I'm going to the payphone on the corner at lunch to talk to him. I'd ask you and Ezra to come along, but that might look suspicious."
"I do have his phone number. I'll make sure a copy finds its way into your hands."
"I think Tom's daughter may be even smarter than we thought."
"She wa'n't the apple of his eye for nothin'," Duncan says.
"Shh," Percy says as they walk onto the main floor of the warehouse, among the rest of the workers.
A few hours later, Percy is out in the midday heat, crammed into a phone booth that is clearly built for someone who is not six-foot-five and 235 pounds of solid muscle. He drops a dime into the slot and dials the number.
"Pendragon Law Offices, this is Vivian, may I help you?"
"Hello, Arthur Pendragon, please," Percy says, leaning on the side of the glass booth.
He waits his moment, and soon Arthur's voice greets him. "Arthur Pendragon."
"Mr. Pendragon, this is Percy Andersen. We spoke briefly this morning."
"Please, call me Arthur. Thank you for calling me back."
"Thank you for understanding my not wanting to talk in my office this morning."
"Not a problem at all. So then you know what this is about?"
"Right. Guinevere tells me that you and two others have some information that might help make things safer for your workers?"
"Well, I have some information that might help expose the fact that the current working conditions in the warehouse are unsafe… deadly, I'd say."
"So would I," Arthur says. "Mr. Andersen, can I ask you a personal question?"
"Percy. And yes, you can."
"Are you related to Eugene Alined?"
Percy sighs, and when Arthur hears it, he has his answer. "Yes. He's my uncle. No one here knows, though, and I prefer it that way."
"Because you don't want them to know that your uncle gave you the job because you are his nephew?"
"Because my uncle is a slimeball and I'm ashamed to be related to him. And what you said, too."
"Why did you take the job, then?"
"I needed a job. I'm… I'm a disabled Army vet, Arthur. Lost part of my leg in 'Nam. Went home to Sioux Falls and no one would hire me. My mom talked to her older brother, even though she hates him, and he agreed to hire me. I need to work, so I took it."
"So you have no problem with helping Guinevere with her case against your uncle?"
"None," Percy says decisively, so much so that Arthur wonders what Alined did that makes Percy hate him so much.
Not the time for that question. "So… this information you have for me. Is it concrete?"
"If copies of repair requests for various pieces of equipment around the warehouse that have gone un-fulfilled is what you'd call concrete, then, yes."
Arthur almost drops the phone. "You have copies?"
"Dated and signed."
"Percy, I think you just became my star witness."
The two men arrange a meeting time, and Percy tells him about Duncan and Ezra. "I'll give them your number. They'll call you."
"Let me give you my home number. I don't suppose you have somethin' to write with?"
"No, but I'll remember it. I remember numbers. I'll write both numbers down for them."
"Tell them they can call me anytime. I promised Guinevere that I would not take y'all away from your jobs unless I absolutely had to."
"That's very considerate of you," Percy says, his brows furrowing. This guy is unbelievable. Why is he willing to bend over backwards for this case, I wonder?
"Don't want anyone to lose their jobs," Arthur says simply.
"No, I suppose not," Percy agrees.
"I'll see you tomorrow evening, then. Bring those copies."
"Yes, sir," Percy answers automatically, then wonders what prompted that response. "And I'll pass the message along to Duncan and Ezra that they can call you anytime."
"And try to impress on them that they should call me. I'm tryin' to help, here, and they shouldn't worry. I realize that they'll be expectin' that Guinevere called Abe Jameson."
"I was wondering about that, myself, to be honest."
"Well, whatever her reasons, she called me, and I am completely committed to this case. Please try to convey that to them."
"I will. I… I think they trust me, even though I'm just some white boy that was suddenly made their boss," he chuckles.
"Good. I'll let you get back to work," Arthur says, then gives Percy his home phone number.
"Thanks. See you tomorrow."
"Looking forward to it."
Percy walks back to the warehouse, his limp only slightly noticeable. He worked hard to develop a natural gait after he was fitted with the prosthetic, not wishing to attract any more attention than he normally does.
He goes up to his office and takes a slip of paper.
Arthur Pendragon. 555-3474 office. 555-2033 home. Call him any time, even at home. Share this with E.J.
Percy folds the paper in half, then half again, palming it in his large hand. He finds Duncan near the loading dock and catches his eye. Lifting his hand to scratch his neck, he makes sure to flash the slip of paper in his hand, and Duncan gives a very slight nod. Percy continues towards Duncan, who turns to the side, facing slightly away from his boss.
As Percy brushes past him, Duncan drops his hand down and behind, fingers outstretched, grasping the slip of paper Percy places in it.
Arthur is just getting ready to leave for the day when his phone rings. He grabs it immediately. "Arthur Pendragon."
"Mr. Pendragon? My name is Duncan Matthews. I got Ezra Johnson with me, here, too."
"Mr. Matthews, thank you for calling!"
"Thank you for taking Gwen's case, Mr. Pendragon," Duncan says. He sounds nervous, uneasy.
"Please, Arthur. I ain't old enough to be called 'Mr.' anything yet," he says, chuckling. "Was Percy Andersen able to tell you anything?"
"Not really, Mr. Arthur. He tole me that he had copies. He give me your number. Cain't really talk freely at work. Folks might be listenin'."
"I would like to meet with both of you if you're willin' to help out."
"I wouldn't be callin' you if I wasn't willin'."
"Good. I can meet any time. I promised Guinevere that I wouldn't take you gentlemen away from your jobs unless I absolutely had to. Weekend, evening, whatever works for you."
"We's free now, if you's free."
Arthur looks at his watch. "I am. You know Gwaine's?"
"O' course we do."
"Can you meet me there in fifteen minutes? I reckon we can talk pretty freely there."
"You… you don't want us to come to yo' office?"
"I'm hungry," Arthur says by way of explanation.
"Gwaine does do a mean barbecue," Duncan says.
"Well, if you boys care to join me for supper, I'll buy."
"Oh, now, I couldn't let you…"
"Business expense," Arthur interrupts. "Don't make me eat alone, now."
"Fifteen minutes, then," Duncan says.
Thirteen minutes later, Arthur heads inside Gwaine's to find that Duncan and Ezra are already there. At least he presumes the two black men seated at a table glancing anxiously at the door are Duncan and Ezra.
"Gwaine," Arthur nods at the barman, owner, and cook.
"Arthur," Gwaine nods back. Duncan looks up, hearing Gwaine address the well-dressed blonde man who just strode into the tavern. Gwaine nods at Duncan. This is your man.
Duncan stands then, catching Arthur's eye. "Mr. Arthur?" Duncan appears to be slightly older than Uther, but Arthur guesses him to be about Uther's age. He is thin with balding gray hair.
"Just Arthur, no mister," Arthur smiles, extending his hand. Duncan tentatively takes it, and Arthur shakes his hand. "Nice to meet you in person, Mr. Matthews."
"If you's just Arthur, I's just Duncan," he says, relaxing slightly. "This here's Ezra," he introduces the other man.
Ezra takes Arthur's outstretched hand and stands as well. He looks like a skittish bird, nervous, haunted by something. He is older than Arthur, but younger than Duncan, perhaps 40.
"Relax, Ezra, everything will be fine," Arthur says in what he has now come to think of as his "Superman voice" thanks to Guinevere, and places his left hand over Ezra's hand, encapsulating the man's thin dry hand between both of his in a reassuring manner.
"Thank you, Mr… I mean Arthur," Ezra says.
"Please," Arthur motions for the two men to sit. He pulls his own chair out when some soft piano music starts to play. He looks up. "Excuse me just one moment, gents."
Duncan and Ezra watch as Arthur strides up to the piano, takes a very worn-looking dollar bill from his wallet, and places it in the glass on the top of the piano. Merlin mutters something they cannot hear, and then Arthur laughs loudly, throwing his head back. He squeezes Merlin's shoulder in a friendly way and saunters back to the table.
"Sorry, Merlin and I have been passing that dollar back and forth for about ten months now," Arthur says, chuckling as he sits.
"You know Merlin?" Ezra asks.
"He's my best friend," Arthur nods. "Thanks, man," he says to Gwaine, who has just brought them three bottles of Dr. Pepper. "I tried tipping him when he first started playin' here, you know, to encourage others to drop a coin or two in. He told me that a whole dollar was showin' off and tried givin' it back. I refused. Found it in my briefcase the next day when I got home from work. Now we keep passin' that bill back and forth. I've had it for three weeks now, bidin' my time."
"You white boys is strange," Duncan shakes his head.
"I know," Arthur answers, chuckling again, much to their surprise. "But that's what keeps life interestin', right? Everyone's a little strange."
"You boys want some grub?" Gwaine calls over.
"Darn right," Arthur calls back. "Set us up, my good man. Three of your finest… whatever you got goin' back there," he waves. Then he turns to Duncan and Ezra. "So. Guinevere gave me your names, so I presume there was a reason she chose you two special."
Duncan and Ezra look at each other. "What did the boss tell you?"
"Percy? Only that he has paperwork that proves that your equipment was faulty and that he was willing to take the stand and help us out." Arthur leaves out the nephew-of-the-big-boss detail, remembering that Percy didn't want that out. It may prove a key point later, though.
"I've worked in that warehouse for ten year," Duncan says. "Longer'n most. Only one there long as me was Tom."
"So you can vouch for Tom's character, then?"
"Sorry. You are willing and able to say that Tom was a good man, that he wasn't doin' anything that he shouldn't have been doin' that would have put him in danger?"
"Yeah, I can vouch that," Duncan nods. "You seem to know Gwen pretty well," he says, looking sideways at Arthur a moment.
"I met her by accident back in August and have met with her officially on this case once. But I would say I have a pretty good idea about what kind of person she is, yes," Arthur says carefully.
"I, um, bumped into her and knocked her down. Accidentally. 'Cause I wasn't watchin' where I was goin'."
"Fair enough," Duncan says. "What I'm gettin' at is Gwen is just like her Daddy. Never steppin' a toe out o' line. Not like that fool brother o' hers at all. At work, Tom was a… what do you white people say? He was a model employee."
Arthur takes a small notebook out of his inside breast pocket and starts making notes. "What's your job at the warehouse, Duncan?"
"I run the loading dock. Most o' those repair requests were submitted by me. Well, Boss submitted them, but I tell him what needs fixin'."
"Very good," Arthur nods, making notes. Gwaine arrives with three plates containing pulled pork sandwiches and coleslaw. "Thanks, Gwaine," he says, nodding.
"Ezra, how about you?"
"I don't do nothin' special," he says. "But I was the one drivin' that cursed fork truck. The one that kilt Tom."
"Oh, Lord, I am sorry," Arthur sets his pen down. Suddenly Ezra's strange demeanor comes into focus. "I'm sure Tom knows…"
"I know," Ezra says. "Gwen don't hold me to blame. No one holds me to blame 'cept me."
"Seems to me that Mr. Alined is to blame," Arthur says decisively. "You are as much a victim as Tom and Guinevere and Elyan, Ezra."
"At least I has my life," Ezra says, the guilt plain in his voice.
"Well, yes, but what kind o' life are you livin' right now? You're beatin' yourself up every minute. I can see it on you, plain as the shirt on your back."
"Yessuh," he says, nodding in agreement, his eyes downcast.
"Ezra, I don't want to make this any harder for you. If you can tell me what you can, it'll help Guinevere. It'll help all o' y'all."
"Well, yes. Gwen isn't looking for money here. She wants things to be made safe for you, her father's friends and coworkers. She wants Mr. Alined to know that his negligence… um, lack of action will not go unnoticed. She wants something good to come out of her father's death."
"She tole you this?" Ezra says, looking up again.
"Does sound like Gwen," Duncan says, smiling a little.
"The truck had bad brakes," Ezra suddenly starts talking, poking his coleslaw with his fork. "The steering was goin'. The tires was bald. It was startin' to make strange noises. The hydraulics needed tendin' to. We got a couple trucks, but we needs 'em both workin' else we get yelled at for not keepin' up. I lost the toss that day…"
"Lost the toss?"
"We was flippin' coins to see who had to drive the bad truck," he explains. Arthur makes a note of this. "I lost that day. Mort called tails. I always call tails. So I's drivin' this fool truck, strugglin'. I turn the wheel left, it go straight. I hit the brakes, it don't stop. 'Fore I knew it, I was headin' down the wrong aisle with the forks stuck half up. Tom was trapped. I…"
"You don't have to go on, Ezra. I saw the hospital report; I know what happened," Arthur says softly. He recalls some of the details and suddenly the pulled pork dripping with dark red barbecue sauce doesn't look so appetizing. He takes a bite of slaw instead.
8:00. I hope that's not too late. Arthur runs his hand through his hair and drops onto the brown leather sofa in his apartment. He kicks his shoes off and leans back. Then he leans forward again and yanks his socks off, tossing them over his shoulder. Wiggling his toes in the carpet, he stares at the ceiling.
Just pick up the phone. It's for the case. It has nothing to do with that dream you had last night.
He reaches for the phone, picking up the entire thing and setting it in his lap.
I just wish I could remember more of the details of that dream, he thinks, dialing the number now. But it's probably better that I don't remember them.
"Arthur, hello," she says, recognizing his voice.
"I'm not calling too late, am I?"
"Arthur, it's just past eight. I'm allowed to stay up till eleven if I eat all my dinner."
"Sorry, you're right," he laughs. "How are you?"
"All right, no small talk, then. I talked to Percy Andersen today and I met with Duncan and Ezra this evening."
"I was surprised, too. I'm meeting with Percy tomorrow after work. In the meantime, I've got statements from both Duncan and Ezra. Poor Ezra," he says, shifting gears slightly.
"He still beatin' himself up?"
"Yeah. I hope talkin' about it will help, though. I think they were impressed… honored that you're fighting for them."
"It would be selfish to just look out for myself when there's so much more wrong there."
"I explained that, and Duncan said that it sounded like something you'd do," Arthur says.
Gwen laughs a little. "He's a good man, Duncan. Daddy always liked him."
"Has a good head on his shoulders, yeah. Smart."
"Is Percy with us?"
"Surprisingly, yes. He has some very good evidence for us. He made copies of all those requests before he submitted them."
"You're pullin' my leg!"
"No, he's got 'em. Bringin' 'em with tomorrow."
"He's an interesting fellow," Arthur says. He pauses then, debating. "Um, Guinevere? We were right. He is related to Alined."
"But he says he's still willing to help you. Called Alined a 'slimeball.'"
"How're they related?"
"Uncle. He said he didn't want it spread around."
"Our secret," Gwen promises.
"Until we need to let the cat out of the bag."
"He's goin' to need to tell," she agrees.
"Exactly. 'Cause if we don't divulge that information, you'd better believe that Aggy Boudreaux will be all over it like there was a dollar trapped inside."
"Aggy Boudreaux? He's Alined's lawyer?"
"According to my pop, yes."
"He's kind of a…"
"Bastard. If you'll excuse the language."
"You haven't been 'round my brother enough. I've heard it all," she laughs.
"How did Elyan take the news?"
"About how I 'spected. He was mad that I didn't talk to him about it, but he's fine now. Supportin' me."
"Good. I'm glad."
"Um," he pauses, not sure where to go now. "Merlin managed to get your father's work records for me today. Alined's assistant is an uncooperative son of a bi—"
Gwen laughs as Arthur censors himself again. "Yeah, Daddy mentioned him once or twice. Called him a 'toady.'"
"Sounds about right." He pauses a moment. "Guinevere, can I ask you a question?"
"Are you and Elyan… all right? I mean, financially? I know you said your father had some savings, but…"
"We're doing okay. The house is near paid for."
"He and mama managed to buy a house. It ain't much, and I live the apartment upstairs. Elyan lives downstairs. With Daddy, when he was still with us."
"I paid rent, too, nice and proper."
"Have you had someone look at your father's accounts? I'm only asking because we have a really good numbers guy in the office, and if you want I can set up an appointment for you. I'm sure he'll be able to get things sorted just right for you and Elyan."
"That's… very thoughtful. Thank you, Arthur. Let me run it by Elyan and I'll let you know," she says, and he can hear the smirk in her voice.
"Not gonna make that mistake another time, hey?" he chuckles.
They're both silent a moment, neither knowing what to say or how to end the conversation.
They laugh nervously. "I'll be in touch again after I talk to Percy tomorrow," he says.
Arthur drops his head back against the couch. I shouldn't be thinking like this. She's a client. She's colored. She's pretty. She's smart. She's funny. She genuinely cares about people. She's not like anyone I've ever met before.
She's a client.
Don't be stupid, Arthur. It's just a… an infatuation. Curiosity. That's it. Doing… anything with this girl could be very dangerous. For her.
Across town, as Gwen settles down into bed for the night several hours later, the last thing she hears in her mind before she drifts off to sleep is Arthur's voice.