The Old Girl Network to the rescue
Without the Old Girl Network, Brianna would have been lost. The New Sisterhood had infiltrated every level of the University. As a result, no aspect of President Harlan’s life was not available on some node of the Old Girl Network. In response to Brianna’s distress call, the New Sisterhood sprang into action.
Soon, President Harlan was reading a confidential letter addressed to him by Janet Williams, a professor of journalism. Professor Williams explained that Dr. Smythe had been sand-bagged by Jeffrey Nelson, a troublesome and disruptive journalism student who suffered from megalomania. Nelson had been placed on academic probation for his latest outrage in the Daily, and the Journalism Faculty wanted President Harlan to know that Dr. Smythe was blameless for the scandalous remarks attributed to her.
The President’s secretary advised Brianna that she not call to make an appointment with Harlan. Instead, she should arrange an “accidental” meeting with the President, preferably in the morning when he was on his way to his office. The secretary said that Harlan could turn down anyone over the phone, but in person he had difficulty saying no, especially to women.
The morning after the President received the letter from Professor Williams, Brianna was waiting in ambush, dressed in what she called her “woman’s daytime business uniform,” a charcoal pin-striped wool suit with cuffed trousers, a white cotton dress shirt, and a red and blue striped silk tie. On her feet, she wore black leather high-heel boots that suggested a cowboy ancestry.
The President walked through the outside door, and Brianna was pleased to see that he wore a weaker version of her attire. The lapels of his suit were not as broad, the dark floral crepe tie projected little power, and the tassels of his cordovan loafers were the mark of a sissy.
“Good morning, President Harlan. I am Brianna Smythe. May I have a few words with you, sir?”
“Good morning.” Harlan started up the stairs, and Brianna followed him up the stairs, down a corridor, and through an office door marked President.
“Sir, may I speak with you?” Brianna asked. “I need only a few minutes.”
Harlan was annoyed that his secretary was not at her desk. He did not know that Brianna had arranged her timely absence.
“Well, all right. But only a minute.”
Hearing President Harlan speak those words increased Brianna’s confidence in an eventual victory.
Brianna followed the President into his office. Since Harlan hoped to make the meeting brief, he did not sit down, nor did he offer Brianna a seat. The President stood by the side of his desk. The fingertips of his right hand rested lightly on the morning newspapers that the secretary had already placed on his desk. His body bent slightly at the waist toward the desk. Brianna stood directly in front of the President with her feet planted firmly on the ground. The former literary scholar turned administrator and the former Indiana farm girl turned scientist stared at each other, eyeball to eyeball. Brianna told herself, I’ll be damned if I’ll blink or look away.
“Yes, what is it?” the President asked. His eyes looked away from Brianna and toward the closed windows.
“I wish to apologize for the story in the Daily.”
Harlan cut Brianna off. “Yes, I’ve come to understand that the article was the work of a disgruntled undergraduate. The student has been placed on academic probation, and . . .”
Brianna interrupted the President, “Sir, I understand the importance of the University’s image. I know that public funding, federal grants, and student enrollment depend upon the image the University projects.” Brianna tried her best to quote the exact words used by Harlan at the last meeting of the President and the department chairpersons.
“You do?” the President said. “Just recently, I said that to the department chairpersons.”
“You did?” Brianna knew the President had, for Harlan’s secretary had given her the audiotape of the meeting. “Did any chairperson understand that in the present economic environment, image is everything?” Once again Brianna had quoted Harlan’s words back to him.
“No, not really, but that certainly is true.”
“Sir, if I may be so bold: I have a plan to launch the University into the national limelight.”
President Harlan thought that perhaps he had misjudged Dr. Smythe. After all, her ideas were solid, much like his own.
The President waved his right arm in the direction of the empty leather chair in front of his desk and said, “Sit down. You must tell me all about this plan of yours. But first, I must take care of one or two things.”
Harlan opened the two south-facing windows, hesitated, and then decided the air-freshener could wait until Dr. Smythe left. He asked the secretary to bring in coffee for the two of them. Brianna’s coffee was accompanied by a wink from the secretary.
“Now, about your plan?”
“Did Professor Lewis tell you about Joey?” Brianna, of course, knew that he had.
“Yes, but only in a general sort of way.”
“I am afraid that the Psychology Department does not see the public relations possibilities in Joey,” Brianna said. “Just one word to the media would probably result in Joey’s face on the cover of Time or Newsweek.”
“Yes, yes. That’s true.” The President thought, Maybe Dr. Smythe has come up with a solution to the pig problem. If the University sailed through the national spotlight for only a week, he, the Captain, would be sought after by major institutions of higher learning.
“A colleague” — Brianna did not want to mention Mary Martinez by name in case the scheme the two of them devised together blew up — “assures me that Joey is an ideal candidate for accelerated learning. Once Joey learns English, I propose that I, then, take him to the very best scholars at the University, and they teach him the basic principles of their disciplines. In that way, Joey will become perfectly educated. We break the story to the media about how the University educated the man-child. All of your outstanding professors become celebrities, funds will roll into the University, end of happy story.”
“I like it,” the President said. “It sounds wonderful.” The President pictured himself in academic regalia, awarding a degree to the man-child, while photographers from national news magazines clicked away. He asked, “But what do you get out of it?”
“Besides helping out an institution I dearly love — ” Brianna could not call those words back and hoped her obvious insincerity had not cast any doubts in Harlan’s pint-sized brain — “I would like a permanent appointment as a University Fellow.”
“You seem a little young for such an appointment.”
“But, sir, when we have an eight-page spread in Time, my age will seem an asset.” How could she say such a stupid thing? Brianna hoped that Harlan’s thinking processes were not encumbered by rational thought.
“That’s true,” the President said. “You get the piece in a national publication, and I will appoint you a University Fellow. You have my word.”
“Great. One last thing.”
“Would you officially dissolve the Joey Group, and give me complete jurisdiction over the man-child?”
“I will call Professor Lewis and inform him that such action should be taken.”
“I think it would work better if you would write a letter to him, instead.”
Harlan raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to express surprise at Brianna’s odd request. His impulse to question her was quashed by his belief that Dr. Smythe had found the solution to the pig problem.
Chairman Lewis looked forward to the showdown with Brianna. When in a position of authority, he relished confrontation. His father had deserted his mother before he was born, and he had grown up fatherless in a tough section of Chicago, where the strong were respected and the weak were not. The previous Christmas, his wife had given him a copy of Quiet Thunder: Eastern Wisdom Applied to American Business, but when the Chairman read “One excels in employing others by placing oneself below others,” he laughed off the quotation from the Tao Te Ching as nonsense. Years ago, he had adopted the Clint Eastwood management style — “Do what I say, or I’ll blow you away.”
Lewis glanced around the table and saw that all the members of the Joey Group were present, except Mary Martinez. But her absence was expected; she was probably out having her hair done.
“Let’s begin. This should be a very short meeting. Let me get right to the point.” The Chairman took the first step in executing what he thought the President wanted, the firing of Brianna. “Dr. Smythe, how come you did not turn Joey over to Dr. Walker four days ago, as you agreed?”
Brianna sat calmly at the conference table, with her folded hands resting on top of the black leather briefcase in front of her. She smiled at the Chairman, and said, “Dr. Lewis, before I can do that, I have to know how Dr. Walker plans to use Joey.”
“That is beside the point,” snapped Lewis.
“No, no, Dave,” Dr. Walker said, “I would be more than pleased to describe my research strategy for Joey.”
Lewis snorted, “Only if you keep it short.”
Doug Walker beamed triumph at Brianna, and said, “As you know, Roger Peters discovered that Joey is a gork. He doubts if your boy is capable of learning human speech. So, that leaves us looking like idiots, unless one of us comes up with a dramatic experiment. First, I intend to use Joey to establish a baseline for sexual arousal.”
“Not on your life,” Brianna said. “I won’t allow him to be used in those filthy experiments of yours.”
“What do you mean? All I do is show pictures to a subject, and then measure the physical changes in his or her body. That’s good, clean science.”
“Disgusting.” The arrogant smile on Walker’s face revolted Brianna. “I suppose you’re going to show him dirty pictures of women. You’re exploiting women and now children.”
“The pictures are not dirty, and they are not just of women. Federal law requires that I give equal time to men and women.”
“That’s not science. That’s pornography.” Brianna looked Lewis straight in the face and shouted, “I refuse to hand Joey over to that pervert!”
The Chairman imagined himself as Clint Eastwood in For a Fistful of Dollars. With a monotone, gravelly voice, he said, “Go ahead; make my day. You’ll be in jail within twenty-four hours.”
Brianna dreamed the night before about delivering her line, which she had stolen from Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver: “Hey, you talking to me?”
From her briefcase, she pulled the letter Harlan had written to Lewis. “Read this and weep.” She threw the letter across the table.
Halfway through the letter, Lewis was in a rage. “I don’t know how you tricked Harlan. But the war is not over yet.” Lewis stormed out of the colloquium room.
Doug Walker and Roger Peters were dumbfounded. Brianna smiled at the two of them and said, “See you later, boys.”
She hadn’t felt like this since the fifth grade when her stupid brother taunted her about girls not being able to do everything boys could — girls couldn’t pee against a wall. Brianna challenged her brother and his stupid friends to a contest. The boys were so embarrassed they could not perform in front of her. Brianna, on the other hand, turned around so her back was to the barn wall, pulled down her blue jeans and cotton panties, and let go. Boys are so stupid.
“Mary, I never knew you were so smart.” Brianna did not fully understand the mathematical symbols that covered the blackboard in her office. She had just heard Mary Martinez deliver on the spur of the moment a half-hour talk on neural networks, chaos theory, and learning strategies. When Mary was an undergraduate, she spent every summer as an intern at the Santa Fe Institute, a high-powered think tank devoted to interdisciplinary research into complexity.
Mary studied the equations she had written on the blackboard. Satisfied that her calculations were correct, she dropped the chalk she was holding into the chalk rail of the blackboard and turned around to look at Brianna, who was seated at her desk. “Who did you think I was?” Mary asked. “Some dumb senorita, who knows only how to make tortillas and frijoles?”
Brianna felt embarrassed. “No, of course, not. I mean — no one in the department knows any high-powered mathematics, much less how to apply it to economics, psychology, and biology. I don’t get it. How come you keep all this hidden?”
Mary hesitated. She wasn’t sure why she felt awkward about self-promotion or why she had no desire to be famous and celebrated. She didn’t know why the causes of things are hidden from view and why each person is such a profound mystery, even to himself or herself. “I don’t know. To me, the universe is filled with wonders, and everything interests me, but the human person is the greatest wonder of all. That’s why I studied psychology.” She decided not to tell Brianna that her interest in developing an accelerated program for teaching English as a second language was not solely academic. She grew up in the Espanola Valley, and she still felt angry about how the inability to speak English hindered many people economically and often caused them unnecessary embarrassment.
Mary was the first scientist to see Joey not in terms of theories and research agendas. She focused on the obvious. Joey possessed an enormous ability to imitate. Since children learn primarily by imitation, Mary speculated that the man-child may possess considerable intellectual capabilities that would become manifest as his brain and nervous system developed.
When she began to work with Joey, the man-child had just crossed the barrier that separates the non-verbal from the verbal. She was surprised and pleased to learn that the techniques she developed to teach English worked so extraordinarily well with Joey. Within three months, Joey spoke English at the level of an intelligent sixteen-year-old, although the huge gaps in Joey’s experience made his use of language strange at times.
Mary wrote “save” on the upper corner of the blackboard and drew a square box around the word. She sat down in the guest chair in front of Brianna’s desk and said, “That gives you a rough idea of the theoretical basis of the learning strategy I used with Joey. You may want to copy down all the equations in square boxes, to study later.”
“Sure,” Brianna said and laughed.
Mary knew that mathematics was not her friend’s strong suit. “It’s not that hard. Don’t let all the weird symbols frighten you.”
“Okay, I’ll give it a try, I really will. All I know is that whatever learning strategy you used with Joey certainly worked. I want to thank you, Mary.”
“Hey, I enjoyed working with him.”
Brianna stood up to reach across the desk. She squeezed Mary’s hand and said, “Mary, truly, without you, I would have been lost. And, I just don’t mean that without you, Joey would still be saying ‘zaroom.’ You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. Thanks.”
Mary stood up, and the two women embraced, awkwardly across the desk. Each patted the other’s back as best she could. Mary began to totter, and to keep from falling, both women let go of each other. They laughed and sat down.
Mary dabbed at the corners of her eyes with her index fingers. “Joey is ready for college. So, I officially hand my charge over to you. You’re now his mentor.”
“Not exactly. President Harlan insists that I move more quickly than I originally planned.”
“Why’s that? What’s the big hurry?”
“The Pig Problem.” Brianna rolled her eyes. “Apparently, it gotten worse — ‘unbearable,’ to quote the President. He wants Joey to graduate this May.”
“You gotta be kidding!”
“He envisages a special graduation ceremony for Joey alone. The University — which I guess means Harlan — will announce to the world that Joey is a genius, who mastered one of the country’s finest undergraduate curriculums in one semester, so that now he is a truly happy person, ready for a productive life in society.”
“Congratulations, Bri, on making it to the Big Time so quickly.” Her previously teary eyes now twinkled with mischief. “Just think. In October, you were on the front page of the Daily with Kojo, shot down by that obnoxious journalism student and those creeps in the Psych Department. Now, in February, you’re riding a meteor, destined to be a University Fellow and on the cover of Time with Joey. Only in America . . .”
“Cut it out!” Brianna interrupted and pretended to clap both her hands over her ears.
“I wish this were a movie. Then, I would hear the music come up — “America the Beautiful,” or better yet, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” — and the two of us would march around your office.”
“Cut it out, you clown.”
“Sincerely, Bri. Congratulations. Didn’t I tell you things always work out for the best.”
“I can’t believe that we are going to let two hare-brained women beat us at our own game,” Doug Walker said.
“Not on your life.”
During the three months that had elapsed since Brianna got the President of the University to disband the Joey group, Walker, Peters, and Lewis had been stymied by the Harlan-Smythe coalition. The trio could not come up with even a bad idea for getting Joey away from Brianna or, minimally, for ruining her chances of success.
Doug had not remembered the smell of animal feces in Roger Peter’s lab as so offensive. “Rog, how come your lab smells so bad?”
“Kojo hasn’t been the same since she came back from Brianna.”
“What? Kojo is a female?”
“Yes. I think Brianna turned her into a radical feminist. Kojo has reverted to the infantile behavior of smearing feces — I think in protest to her captivity. I’m sure Brianna put the idea in her head.”
Doug chided himself, Why do I hang out with such a loony? He really believes that a damn chimpanzee is a diminished human being.
“How’s our 007 doing?” Doug asked.
Roger Peters had assigned his graduate assistant the task of tailing Brianna. “Our secret agent has come up with one or two interesting facts. Joey is being hidden at an apartment on Pearl Street. Granny left three days ago.”
“You must be overjoyed by that.”
“That old woman is dangerous,” Roger said. “One-quarter of an inch lower with that damn knitting needle, and she would have collapsed my lung.”
“Did anyone take Granny’s place?” Doug asked.
“A grandmother-type, about ten years younger than Granny, though.”
Walker and Peters did not know that Granny missed her cabin. The old woman wanted to take Joey and return to their life in Utah. Granny refused Brianna’s entreaties and could not be bribed by offers of material goods. What persuaded Granny to allow Joey to continue his “schooling” was that her hopes had been raised that her grandson would become college-educated by how quickly he learned English. But without Mary Martinez’s mother agreeing to take care of Joey, Granny never would have gone back to New Harmony. Mrs. Martinez had eight children of her own and five grandchildren. She welcomed the opportunity to live close to Mary for a few months. Once Mrs. Martinez arrived at the University, Granny was free to leave. Mrs. Martinez, of course, was to be paid for her part in advancing scientific knowledge. President Harlan, through creative accounting, arranged for Mrs. Martinez to be paid from monies taken from an NIH grant to the Biochemistry Department and from an NSF contract supporting particle physics.
“I got it,” Roger said. “Why don’t we kidnap the little bastard?”
“You gotta be kidding. This is not some movie or TV drama.”
“What do you mean?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of the Lindbergh case?”
“What does that have to do with us?”
“Kidnapping is a capital crime.”
Both men fell silent. Each in his own way tried to think deeply about the problem at hand, but it was tough going, as though the mental machinery in their brains had been lubricated with molasses.
Peters thought he discovered a logical error in the argument that Walker had given against kidnapping Joey. Roger cautiously voiced his insight, “Brianna is not Joey’s mother. How could stealing Joey from her be kidnapping, then?”
“I’m not even going to answer that.”
Doug poured all his energy into thinking and came up with a plan. “Say, you may have stumbled on to something. Joey doesn’t have a mother, but he does have a father. If we can find Joey’s father and get him to sign Joey over to us, that’s not kidnapping.”
Roger was skeptical. “How in the hell can we find Joey’s father?”
“Leave me out. I’m not going to fight a duel with that old woman ever again. I value my life too much.”
“Forget about Granny. We are about to enjoin Brianna in battle once again, and this time destiny is on our side.”