Judgement Call

This is based on a true story. Based rather strongly, actually — the difference is in the ending, but the events are as accurate as I remember them. The names of everyone
involved have been changed.

To the staff of the Albany Student Press, 1985-1988


Tuesday

Lancer resigns for “personal reasons;” no replacement named

by Jack Webster, Senior Staff Writer

Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Patrick
Lancer resigned October 2 for what he described as
“personal reasons” in a letter to University President
Franklin Moore.

Lancer came to Newton State six years ago as associate
vice president for academic affairs, and was named to
his current post last September. He was in charge of
faculty-administration relations, the Registrar’s
office, and overseeing the curriculum of all academic
departments, among other duties.

“In some cases you have to put things ahead of your
professional life,” Lancer said. “This is one case.”
President Moore said he expected to name an interim
replacement within the next two weeks.

Moore characterized Lancer’s resignation as “an
unfortunate occurrence,” but agreed that certain
things take precedence over academic life.

“Of course we’ll miss Pat, but I understand his
position and I think he’s making the right choice,”
Moore said.

Neither Lancer or Moore would comment on the
specific reasons for the assistant vice president’s
resignation, except to say…

* * *

I tried to avoid Rich Turner as I saw him coming, but didn’t have a chance. He got to me on the steps of the Student Union, just before I walked inside.

“Hey, Webster. How’s life treating you?” he asked, positioning himself next to me on the stairs, leaning backwards against the rail, casual as can be in his perfectly-faded jeans and practiced smile.

“So far, so good,” I replied, not relaxing, but not continuing, either. I was making a mistake by pausing, since conversations with Rich always left me in a bad temper. I hated to spoil my good mood.

“Nice piece you did, by the way,” Rich said. He left the sentence hanging: an open invitation wrapped in a compliment. I bit.

“Which one? I write a lot of nice pieces.” I started back up the stairs; Rich didn’t budge.

“The Lancer article,” he said. Just that; nothing more. It stopped me in mid-stride, though, which is exactly what he wanted it to do. It was a page four piece of filler, that article — I wrote it because the Student Press is a good paper and we pride ourselves on getting all the news on campus into print, regardless of how much earth it shatters. So there was no reason for Richard Turner, president of the Young Republicans, to mention it… especially to go out of his way. So I stopped. “Thanks,” I said. “It wasn’t really my best.”

Rich nodded. “That’s true.” Another sentence as bait. He looked at me, not saying anything, holding my gaze steadily. I gave in, finally.

“All right. I’ll bite. Why is it not my best?” I held up my hand: STOP. “Let me guess. It isn’t the whole story, right? And you’re gonna fill in what I’m missing.”

“Buy you a beer?” he said in answer.

“If I’m gonna be seen with you, you’ll buy me two.”

* * *

The basement of the Student Union is half video game room, half pub. The Pub — where Rich and I sat — smelled like week-old beer and fried food, with tables that never seemed entirely clean. In the evenings and on weekends the place filled up, but on a Tuesday afternoon it was empty except for a few commuter students grabbing lunch there instead of in one of the dorm cafeterias. We took a seat in a back corner.

Sitting across from Rich, nursing a beer, I realized how quintessentially Republican he is. Straight, short blond hair, sharp features, tall and slim, looking like he just came back from the tennis court or the golf course. Today he was wearing a dark blue wool sweater over a polo shirt, sleeves rolled up just so. Next to him, in my wrinkled white button-down shirt, torn jeans, circa-John Lennon glasses, and dark brown needing-a-cut hair, we were opposite sides of different coins: my penny to Rich’s silver dollar.

“I’m late already,” I said, “So what’s to tell about Lancer?”

“You get right to the point, don’t you, Webster?”

“When I have better things to do, yeah.”

He took a gulp of his brew, then looked thoughtful for a moment. “All right. What’s to tell about Patrick Lancer is why he resigned.”

“Okay, why did he?” I asked. “Besides ‘personal reasons’?”

“Let’s just say he didn’t make the decision on his own,” Rich said.

“Rich, I really don’t have time to play games… ”

“You ever go to the theatre?” he asked. I could see, now, that I was stuck riding this out if I wanted the information he had, and for some reason — reporter’s instinct? — I thought I wanted it.

“You mean on campus or in town?”

“On campus. Have you ever been in the building?”

I shrugged, blew some hair out of my eyes. “Lots of times. I took Acting 101 freshman year.”

“You ever use the bathroom outside the small theatre?”

The theatre building is pretty big — the largest on campus next to the Union. It has two full-sized stages, Theatre One and Theatre Two, and a smaller one called simply “the small theatre,” used for lectures by VIPs, or when the Student Government showed a movie. The architect had shown keen insight by putting the bathrooms right outside the door. “Once or twice,” I said. “No spectacular experience.”

Rich laughed. “Glad to hear it. Why not take a walk over and see what’s different?”

“Why? What’s different?” I sighed and looked at my watch. They expected me in the newsroom ten minutes ago. “Look, Rich, I said I don’t have time for games. If you want to tell me something, tell me. I know it’s tough for politicians to play it straight, but give it a try, huh?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Trouble is, if I just tell you what I heard, you have no reason to believe me. But if you do what I suggest, check out that bathroom, you might be more inclined to listen.”

“I’ll make you a deal,” I said in my most conciliatory tone. “You stop burying the lead, tell me what it is you want me to check out, tell me how I can check it out, and I promise I will. Best I can do in the next two minutes, which is all I’ve got.”

He barely thought about it. “All right. Here it is. Patrick Lancer was caught seducing male students in the bathroom by the small theatre. Moore found out, asked him to resign. They put a sign on the door about ‘monitoring the bathroom for your safety,’ which is what I wanted you to see.”

I listened in silence, which continued another ten seconds after he had finished. Then, “Shit.”

“That’s the operative word, Webster.”

“What’s your source?” I asked. “How do you know all this?” It didn’t occur to me that he might be lying. Rich Turner and I didn’t get along most times, politically, anyway, but he wasn’t the type to pull my leg with something like this. He also knew I would check it out.

“I can’t tell you more than this: someone I know went in there at night and ran into Mr. Lancer. It wasn’t a, um, casual encounter.”

“But Lancer’s married!” I protested. “This doesn’t make sense.”

Turner shrugged. “Look, a lot of things don’t make sense. Since when does being married mean you follow the straight-and-narrow, anyway?”

I could only nod at him as my brain went a mile a minute; half was thinking of ways to verify the story and half was trying to make sense of it. I didn’t know Pat Lancer very well — we had met a couple of times when I did a story on something academic — but from what I knew, this seemed way out of character. Then again, I realized, it wouldn’t be news if it wasn’t out of character.

While I sat there, contemplating, Rich gulped the last of his beer, dropping the mug loudly on the table and breaking me out of thought. “Gotta run, Webster,” he said. “Let me know how it goes.”

I sat there for another half minute, not moving. Then I reached into my knapsack and took out my well-worn steno pad, turned to a blank page, and jotted down what Rich had told me. It may not make sense, but I was going to have to check it out. I left my beer barely touched as I headed for the Student Press.

* * *

“You’re late.”

“I know, but you’ll like why.” With that, I tossed my bag onto the nearest open chair in the newsroom and sat across a pile of papers from Andy Merran, the Press‘s news editor. We were alone in the room for the moment, since the paper had come out the day before and the reporters were still out doing their interviewing and investigating for the next issue. Andy put down the paper he was reading and leaned back in his chair, balanced on the two back legs, inches from the wall behind him.

“Thrill me,” he said. “Who?”

“Patrick Lancer.”

He nodded, thoughtfully. “What?”

“He resigned.”

“That’s not thrilling me, Jack. But I’m glad to see you read your own articles.”

I grinned. Andy could be a sarcastic son of a bitch sometimes — most of the time — and he did take some getting used to, but once you did you realized he was the best news editor around. “Ask me why he resigned, Andy.”

“Why did he resign, Jack?”

“He was caught having sex with students. In the men’s room in the theatre. Male students.” I wasn’t pulling punches with Andy, and I was enjoying his reaction.

“Geez-us.” Andy leaned forward, bringing his chair back onto all four legs. He began drumming his fingers on the desk, and his switch to editor mode was instantaneous. “Who says? You got a witness? Does Moore know? Was he asked to resign, or was he just afraid of this coming out?”

“Slow down, Andy!” I reached over to my bag and pulled out the steno pad. As if I needed it. “Rich Turner told me, about ten minutes ago.”

I could see the sudden disappointment in Andy’s eyes. “Rich Turner? Mr. Republican?”

“The same. Says he knows someone who was, uh, involved with Lancer.”

“And you believe the GQ cover boy would hang around with someone who has sex in bathrooms? Jack, I take back everything I ever said about you being a good reporter.” Like I said, he took some getting used to, but I knew Andy was as intrigued as I was.

“Personally, I think Mr. Webster here is not only a good reporter, but better than you ever were, Merran.” I turned around to see Peter Wonderman, all 280-someodd pounds of him, standing in the newsroom doorway.

“Bah,” said Andy.

Peter snorted with a smile before heading for his editor-in-chief’s office in the back corner. Before he got inside, Andy called out, “Jack here says Patrick Lancer had sex with boys in the theatre bathroom.”

Peter didn’t stop walking, but I could hear him laughing. “Oh, he does? Maybe it’s time for Jack to take a few days off,” he said. There was a pause before he came out, this time without his grey tweed overcoat. “You are serious, aren’t you?”

I nodded. “At least according to Rich Turner, he did.” I detailed my conversation with Rich.

“Hmm,” said Peter. “Hmm. Interesting.”

“Can you check this out?” Andy asked me while Peter stood in thought. “Today?”

I looked at my watch: almost a quarter to five. “I can see if he’s still in. Maybe he’ll say something. Or should I make an appointment?”

“Call Mr. Lancer,” Peter said, nodding half to me and half to himself. “He probably won’t want to see you — too busy cleaning out his office. He might change his mind, however, when he hears this little tidbit.” While I went for the campus directory, he continued. “Lancer will probably give you the ‘personal matter, I don’t want to talk about it’ speech. Let him, but make sure you tell him what you heard. If he still gives you the not-a-comment comment, thank him and end it.”

“Then we’ll check out this bit about the bathroom,” Andy said. “Call Campus Safety and find out why they did that. Then we’ll ask Moore for a comment.”

“Moore?” I asked, jotting down Lancer’s extension on the top of a steno page.

“He is Lancer’s boss,” Peter explained. “If it really is ‘personal reasons,’ he’ll know. He’ll also know if it’s more. You’re a good reporter, Jack. You should be able to tell which one it is.”

I picked up the phone and dialed.

Ring. Ring. “Academic Affairs.”

“Hi,” I said. “This is Jack Webster from the Student Press. I’d like to speak to Mr. Lancer, please.”

“Just a moment.” A click; I was on HOLD. Then fifteen seconds later, “I’m sorry, but Mr. Lancer is busy at the moment. Can I have him call you back?”

“Sure. Tell him it’s about the reason for his resignation. I’ve got some information I want him to confirm. Um, or deny.”

“Just a moment.” Another click and I waited. Peter and Andy were across the room, talking quietly. Samantha Gerbecki, the short, friendly-faced photography editor, had walked in and was saying her hellos to them, flashing me a quick smile. I offered one back, but it was only half-hearted; I was too busy thinking about what I had to do.

I had to ask the assistant vice president if he was having sex with boys in the bathroom. Damn. Did real reporters go through this? How do you ask something like that? You should have thought about it before dialing, Webster.

“Mr. Webster?”

“Yes? Mr. Lancer?”

“That’s right. How can I help you?” His voice was cool as could be, which immediately struck me as odd. Pat Lancer was one of the friendlier administrators, but he was suddenly quite the formal one. Maybe I shouldn’t have told the secretary why I was calling.

“Um, well, I wanted to ask you about your resignation… ”

“Didn’t I speak to you about a week ago?” he asked. More of the firm formality. He didn’t want to speak to me. I wrote “very formal” on my pad.

“Yes, sir. But I’ve got some new information I wanted to ask you about.”

“What kind of new information?”

“Well, um, I was contacted by a student who said… ”

“What student?” he asked suddenly. “What’s his name?”

“Wants to know his name” I wrote on my pad. “I can’t tell you that, Mr. Lancer. He says you were asked to resign because of… ” Now the tough part. How the hell do you say this? “… because of some, ah, improprieties. Can you comment on that?” The last part was compressed, and came out in a rush of air. There. I said it.

“Look, Mr. Webster. I don’t know who this student is, or even if there is a student making these… allegations, but I resigned for personal reasons, and anything beyond that is my own business. No one else’s. Do you understand?”

“I understand, Mr. Lancer, but please realize that it’s my job to check these things out. I have to…”

“You don’t have to anything. You’re a student reporter on a student paper.” He paused, took a breath. I think, then, that we both realized how heated his voice was. I had clearly touched a nerve. “I resigned for personal reasons, Jack Webster of the Student Press. That’s all I have to say.”

Click. Dial tone.

I put the phone down and exhaled, something I hadn’t done in a good minute. Then I wrote down what he said and looked up. Andy, Peter, and Samantha were all staring at me. Peter broke the silence.

“Do tell?” he said. They had obviously told Sam about the story.

Sam grinned. “I was thinking about rigging a camera in the bathroom. This one cries for photos.”

“I’m beginning to think so,” I said. “Lancer got very upset. Asked me who told me about it.” I glanced at my brief notes and realization hit. “He asked ‘Who he was.’ He. Sonofabitch… he knew what I was talking about. Then he told me to bug off, basically. I’m just a student reporter for a student paper, and he resigned for personal reasons. Click. End of conversation.”

Andy and Peter exchanged glances, and Sam spoke for both of them. “I think you got yourself a bingo, Jack.”

I nodded, leaning back and staring at my pad. “Yeah, I guess I do. He didn’t even ask me what the allegations were. He knew.” I looked up at them. “Now what?”

“Now we check that bathroom,” Sam said, pulling her camera from the desk drawer and swinging it onto her shoulder. “C’mon,” she said, waving me forward. I followed, somewhat reluctantly. I knew what we’d find there: the sign, just as Rich had told me. What we’d do when we saw it, that was my problem.

* * *

Rich was right. The sign was there, a hastily printed piece of paper, eight and a half by eleven sideways, taped securely to the men’s room door. THESE PREMISES ARE MONITORED FOR YOUR PROTECTION. No explanation; just a small white sign that marked the end of a man’s career. I stared at it, thinking about what it meant, while Sam shot a few pictures.

“Lancer might not know about it,” she explained as we headed back. “If he’s a smart boy, he’ll have it removed when he realizes we’re doing a story on him.”

“Are we?” I asked after a moment, looking down at the path in front of me, ignoring the few students passing us and not looking at Sam.

“Are we what? Doing the story? Of course we are. He’s a state employee, he’s an administrator of the college.”

“He’s a married man,” I pointed out.

“He did something wrong,” Sam said. She stopped, suddenly, and grabbed my arm, turning me to face her. “What’s going on?” she asked. “Play it straight with me. Are you not wanting to write this?” Before I could answer she added, “Don’t tell Samantha the editor — tell Samantha your friend.”

“No, I’m not sure if I want to write this,” I said. I didn’t elaborate, and Sam and I stood on the path between the theatre and the Student Union, staring at each other, both in thought, not moving. Maybe it hit her then, too: the implications of what we were finding out, not for the school, but for a person. When she didn’t say anything for several seconds, I started walking again. “C’mon,” I called back. “We’ll get our information first, then we’ll decide what to do with it.”

Andy and Peter were still in the newsroom when we returned, along with a few reporters who had stopped in when their 5:10 class let out. Being in a newsroom instead of a dorm at least gave you the feeling you were making good use of your time. I saw Jan Zwicker, a freshman reporter and occasional date, on one of the phones, and gave her a wave. She returned it, and I was debating going over to her when Andy called me.

“Sam told me about the sign,” he said. “Call Campus Safety and see what explanation they have for it. Tomorrow try to speak to Moore. Peter thinks we can run this in the next issue, so Friday noon is your deadline. Can do?”

“Can do,” I replied, looking for a phone. The newsroom is pretty large — a good fifty feet by thirty — and even though it has nine or ten desks floating around, there are only six phone lines and they were all occupied. If I was going to wait, I would at least bug Jan at the same time. She gave me the ‘just one second’ sign when I sat on the desk she was using. A moment later she hung up.

“Hiya, Webster,” she said, flashing the smile that had attracted me to her when she first started there. She wasn’t gorgeous, Jan, but she leaned heavily toward the cute side, with long curly brown hair, dark brown eyes, and that smile. She was also one of the friendliest people I knew, and a damn good reporter. I considered her — two years behind me at the Press — the closest thing to a protege I had.

“Hiya, Zwicker. Working on something hot and heavy?”

“Are you kidding? I’m saving myself for you,” she laughed.

“You and half the women at this college,” I said, which earned me a ball of paper in the face. “Sheesh, touchy, aren’t we?”

“Did you come over to abuse me or what?” she asked. “I’ve got work to do.”

“I just need that phone for a minute.”

She glanced at her watch. “Sixty seconds, Webster. Go.”

I dialed Campus Safety, extension 9999, and got the desk officer. He didn’t know a thing about the sign on the bathroom door, but then again, he shouldn’t. Call back during the day shift, he suggested. I thanked him and hung up.

“And here I thought you were the big shot reporter around here,” Jan said. “And you’re doing stories about bathroom security. What a let down.”

“Hush, freshman,” I replied, then thought about the situation. “Actually, don’t hush. Got a minute?”

“Ooh… this sounds important.”

“Could be.” I grabbed a chair from one of the other desks and sat opposite her, and gave her the quick version of the story about Rich, Lancer, and the bathroom. One of the other things I liked about Jan was her ability to get serious when she needed to be… or when someone else needed it. She listened to the story, nodding a few times and asking an occasional question. “What d’ya think?” I asked when I was done.

“About the story? I think it’s pretty big. Woodward and Bernstein would be proud.”

“Would they? They were professionals. I’m not. I’m just a college kid.”

“Does that make so much difference to you?’ Jan asked. “I think you’re letting Lancer’s comment get to you. If that’s the only thing bugging you, Webster, don’t think twice. But if it’s the consequences… that’s another story.”

“It’s both,” I said.

“Good. So you’re worried about other people’s feelings. Just don’t let them rule your life.”

“A point.” I looked at my watch, realized how late it was and how down this whole thing was getting me. “Hey, Jan, whatcha doing now?”

She paused a second, looking right at me, then grinned with understanding. “Waiting for you to ask me out to dinner.”

“Wait no longer. Let’s blow this joint.” She grabbed her bag, I grabbed mine, and I bade my farewells. The day was over, and Patrick Lancer and the theatre bathroom could wait till tomorrow.

Wednesday

I had a journalism class Wednesday morning, but decided to skip it. It wasn’t as if I wouldn’t be getting an ‘A,’ and I figured I would learn a lot more by following up on the Lancer story, if not about journalism, about… whatever. It also meant I could sleep late. I got to the

Student Press newsroom a little after ten, and said hello to Andy’s girlfriend, Kara, a photographer for the paper who was sitting amidst a pile of contact sheets and negatives at a corner desk she had cleared off. I could hear Peter Wonderman on the phone in his office, too; the guy always seemed to be there. But that was the editor-in-chief’s job, I figured as I picked a desk and got to work.

“Campus Safety, Officer Lapinski.”

“Hi,” I said. “Morning. This is Jack Webster from the Student Press. I wanted to talk to someone about a sign that went up on the men’s room in the Theatre.”

“Hmm,” Lapinski said. “Hold on just a second.”

Half a minute later, “This is Bruce Edelson, how can I help you?” Edelson was the director of Campus Safety, the horse’s mouth.

“Mr. Edelson, this is Jack Webster from the Student Press. I noticed a sign on the bathroom door in the Theatre. Can you tell me why it’s up?”

“Well, what does the sign say?”

“These premises are monitored for your protection,” I told him. As if you didn’t know. “It seemed a bit odd for a bathroom, that’s all.”

“Hang on a minute, lemme see if I can find a work order for that.” A work order meant that some other department had requested the sign be installed — Administration, for instance. He came back on the line a minute later. “Yeah, I got a work order from the President’s office. Copy went to Maintenance for the sign, actually, but it’s the same order.” I heard him shuffling papers. “Just a little added security in the area, that’s all. We sometimes do that if there are complaints of trouble.”

Ah-hah. “Was there trouble in the theatre bathroom?”

“Nothing on the blotter. Probably an anonymous complaint — we get ’em once in a while. Someone complains that they’re afraid of a parking lot, or that a building is empty at night, we put an officer there for a while, make sure everything’s OK.”

“So this bit about ‘monitored for your safety,’ there isn’t a camera or anything in the bathroom?” I didn’t really think there was. It would have to have been hidden pretty well, and a college security department wasn’t going to have that kind of equipment. But I had been thinking about what Sam had said yesterday on the way to the theatre: if Lancer was a smart boy, he’d have the sign removed. And If he was a smart boy, he’d make sure Campus Safety kept their mouths shut about why it went up in the first place. So I didn’t want anyone to know I was investigating Lancer; let them think I was worried about cameras in the bathrooms.

“No, there aren’t any cameras in the bathrooms,” Edelson said. “We can’t do that kind of thing. The room will be monitored by Campus Safety personnel.”

“When you say ‘can’t,’ do you mean you don’t have the equipment… ” I detoured the questions from specifics about the bathroom to generalities about what Campus Safety could and couldn’t do, then I thanked him and hung up. Peter had left his office and was talking with Kara across the room. When he saw I had finished on the phone, he came over.

“Anything new on our promiscuous administrator?” he asked.

I shook my head. “On him, no. But Campus Safety says the sign is on the bathroom door because someone may have complained to the President’s Office.”

“May have?”

“Uh-huh. Edelson says they sometimes get complaints about certain areas, so they’ll beef up security. The signs are to scare people off, he says. They’ll have an extra security guard roaming around for a few days.”

“Not unexpected.” Peter took a chair from another desk and pulled it under him. “Jack, what do you think about doing this story? Do you not want to cover it?”

“Samantha asked me the same thing. I don’t know what I think yet, Peter. It’s news, right? So I’ll cover it. You decide if we print it or not.”

Peter shook his head. “No. I’ll decide what’s news, yes, and what we’ll cover, and I set the editorial tone of the paper. But Merran’s the news editor, and you’re my senior staff writer. If you think we shouldn’t print this story — and there are reasons to think that, obviously — we won’t.”

“That simple?” I said, then, “That’s not fair.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to be the one to decide whether or not we ruin this guy’s life, that’s why. That’s why I’m a reporter and not an editor.”

“You know as well as I do that next year you’re in line to be news editor. I’ll be gone, Andy will probably be E-i-C if he takes grad courses, and you’re the obvious choice. But that’s beside the point. You’re a reporter, Jack. There’s a responsibility that comes with that, and you can’t just pawn it off on someone else, even the editor.” He stood up, seeing I had no reply for the moment. “On Friday, we’ll decide what to do. We. You, me, Andy, whoever. For now, keep doing what you’re doing.”

I nodded, not saying anything. Destruction by committee, I thought. Or is it destruction? The Student Press didn’t make the news, we reported it. That’s our job. If we didn’t write about Lancer, no one would be the wiser, but we would have shirked our job. Journalism by consequence, I thought. If it hurts someone, don’t print it. But that wasn’t an idea that sat well, either. I picked up the phone. For the moment, I was a reporter, not a writer and not an editor. I called the President’s Office and made an appointment to see Franklin Moore.

* * *

The Office of the President was on the fifth floor of the Administration building, in a wing they called the “grey area.” The rest of the building had been built in the 1930s, and had tile floors and light blue walls, painted freshly every two or three years. When Franklin Moore came to State four years ago, however, he had redone the upper-level administration wing with light gray walls and brand new dark gray carpeting. It stood out from the rest of the building like a skyscraper on farmland.

His office continued the color scheme, but the walls were broken up with framed photographs showing a variety of scenes around campus: the grassy fields, statues, students walking to class — exactly what you’d expect to find in the president’s office. My appointment was for eleven thirty; I was shown in just after that.

Franklin Moore was in his late fifties, with gray hair cut, I would call it, interview length. He stood about five-ten, thin and athletic, having been a pretty good basketball player in college. He was known to be a quiet person, making his point and getting his way with a persistent firmness. He wouldn’t push, he wouldn’t yield. He held his ground. I had met him once before, briefly, when I had first started at the Press. It was a quick interview about funding for a new swimming pool, and I doubt he remembered me.

“Good morning, Mr. Webster,” he said, standing up from behind the solid oak desk and shaking my hand firmly. “I only have a few minutes, so I hope that will be enough.”

“That’ll be fine, sir,” I said. “I just have a few questions about Patrick Lancer.”

Moore nodded. “Didn’t you get the announcement?” he asked.

“Yes, sir, I did. I just have a few questions about Mr. Lancer… ”

“Yes? An excellent man, Pat. One of the best.”

I wrote that down mostly because I knew Moore wanted me to. I had enough ‘how great he is’ quotes from the resignation announcement. Then I took a breath before asking my next question. I had decided on the way over to go for the throat and not waste time on this one. The more I beat around the bush, I knew, the more uncomfortable I’d be. “Well, can you tell me about these allegations that Mr. Lancer was engaging in, shall we say, inappropriate behavior involving students, and that you asked him to resign?”

There was, then, the longest and coldest pause I had ever felt during an interview. Moore’s expression did not change, but you could see that he was forcing it now. He did not expect this. Finally, he said, “I haven’t heard those allegations.”

I raised an eyebrow, melodramatically. “Oh? A student claims to have filed a complaint with this office regarding Mr. Lancer’s actions. That was just before he resigned.”

“Which student was that?” Moore asked, same as Lancer.

“I don’t have his name off-hand,” I said. “But I couldn’t reveal it anyway. I’d like your comment on the allegation.” Cards on the table. How would Moore handle it?

The answer: badly. “Mr. Webster. Jack. First of all, if there were such allegations, I wouldn’t be free to discuss them with you. Secondly… ” He paused, took a breath, continued. “Secondly, I think it would be in everyone’s best interests if you just let this particular story go. Let it slide.” Another pause. “Please don’t ask questions about it. Trust me, it will be better that way in the long run, for everyone.”

I could have pushed him more at that point, asking if that was a confirmation of what I had heard, or I could have let it slide completely, thanking him and walking out. But Moore had done the one thing I could not let go: he had tried — in the nicest fashion, I admit — to stop me from reporting a story. His “please don’t ask questions about it” was not a plea, but a quiet demand; I could see that in his eyes and hear it in his voice. He did not want this going further, and he was stopping short of ordering me to forget the article. He knew what the consequences of that would be, but he was letting me know in no uncertain terms that Franklin Moore did not want something in print. And that was the surest way of making me dig further. But not here.

“Is that all you’re willing to say on it, sir?” I asked.

“Yes. Leave it be,” he replied. We sat there facing each other for another second or two before I nodded, stood and shook his hand again, and walked out.

* * *

Peter had gone by the time I got back to the newsroom, but Samantha and a couple of reporters had taken his place. It was almost noon and I had a 12:20 class, which meant there was enough time for one important call. I got Rich Turner’s number from the directory and dialed, figuring to leave a message on his answering maching. Instead, I got him in the flesh. Small favors.

“Rich? It’s Jack Webster.”

“Well, hello Jack.” Even on the phone, he was eternally Mr. Cool. “How’s your little investigation going?”

“Better than I expected. I need your help, Rich.”

He laughed. “Oh you do?” More laughter. “I thought I already did that.”

“Save the posturing for the fashion show, Turner,” I said. “I don’t know why you wanted this story to get out, but at this point I don’t care if it’s homophobia or a personal grudge. I need to talk to the guy who gave you the information in the first place.”

At least he stopped laughing. “I’ll have to think about that one,” he said. “Can I meet you later?”

“I’ve got a class till one thirty, and then I’m free for about an hour. After that, we’ll have to wait till four thirty. What’s good for you?”

“Four thirty’s fine. Meet in the Pub?”

“Fine. Look, Rich, can you bring this guy along? I’ve got a noon Friday deadline I’d like to meet. After that, the story waits till next week, if we print it at all.”

“It’s not up to me, Webster. I have to find this guy, and for all I know he won’t want anything to do with me or you. If he’s there, he’s there.”

I’d have to settle for it. At this point, I had lots of soft evidence of what had happened, and it was enough to print the story, but if we were going to, I wanted to be prepared with evidence that was a bit more firm. Background allegations were fine, and both Lancer and Moore’s comments would be damming for them, but there was nothing like a direct quote, or even a ‘student who did not wish to be named.’ “Okay, Rich. See you at four thirty.”

After I hung up, I walked over to Sam, where she sat with her photographer’s loupe and three contact sheets of photos for the next issue. “Hey, Jack, what’s happening?” she said when she saw me sitting opposite her.

I told her about my interview — if you could call it that — with Moore. “It’s all clicking into place,” I said. “No one’s denying anything. In fact, Moore practically ordered me not to run the piece.”

“Of course he did. Moore’s got to protect his ass. If Lancer gets publicized for this, it comes down on him and the school. One hell of a cow chip’ll be hitting that fan.”

“Great,” I said, slumping backward. “If I print this, it’s not just Lancer’s life I’ll ruin, it’s the school, too. Shit.”

“Yeah, it’s the school, too,” Sam said, “but so what? It’s the truth. We didn’t make it up, we didn’t dredge something from Lancer’s deep, dark past; it happened here and now. We’re a good paper because we report the news — we don’t make it and we don’t run away from something because we don’t like the consequences.”

“We’ll be making the news if this story comes out,” I said.

“Sure. When it comes out. Not before. Now we’re reporters, and we’re doing our job, Jack. Reporting the news. Reporting what happened.”

As I headed to class, lost in thought, I realized what bothered me was the simple fact that she was right.

* * *

Four thirty and I was sitting towards the back of the Pub, sipping a warm Coke through a straw. I didn’t even see Rich coming, I was so lost in my own world. He was alone.

“No luck?” I asked.

“Yes, luck. He says he’ll come, but not today. Tomorrow.” Rich slid in the seat opposite me and put his bag next to him. “He says noon is good. How’s that for you?”

“Make it half past.” I said. “I’ve got class.”

Rich thought for a moment, then nodded. “I can make it, and I think he can, too. But there’s one condition.”

“I can’t use his name,” I said.

“Bingo, Webster. He says he doesn’t need the hassle this is gonna cause.”

As he said that, I began to get a better idea why Rich was doing this. At first, I had figured my homophobia theory was right — Rich just felt like screwing with the life of someone he didn’t like. But now I began to see more. “You really think this is gonna cause a hassle?” I asked. “I mean, yeah, it’ll be the talk of the campus for a few days, maybe even a week. But then it’ll fade out and no one cares.”

Rich laughed at that, a grin covering him ear to ear. Then he shook his head. “You think that’s it? A few days of excitement and it blows over? Bull. This’ll be the biggest news story to hit this little city in years. There’ll be more noise coming from your ten column-inches than from every church bell in Newton. You underestimate the power of the press, Webster.”

“So that’s what it’s all about, Rich?” I asked. “That’s what you want? The excitement of seeing Pat Lancer blown to bits in newsprint? Of watching Moore’s press conferences as he tries to deny it all, to save his college’s image? You want to tell your friends that you were a part of the spectacle, that you helped make it happen? You want to tell your kids, ‘when I was in school, I helped flay a man in public’? Is that what it’s all about?”

And Rich Turner looked at me, leaned forward still grinning from his private joke, and said, “What the hell do you care? You’re caught up in it too, and deep down you just love the idea of writing the story that every Student Press reporter for years will talk about.” He waved his arms in the air majestically. “Remember Jack Webster? He’s the guy who wrote that story five years ago, ten years ago, twenty years ago — the story that put the Newton State Student Press on the map. Everyone wants to be immortal, Webster, and you’ve just got your chance. And you and I both know you’re going to take it.”

I didn’t say a word for five, ten, twenty seconds. Then, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Rich.” I picked up my bag and walked out.

Thursday

I didn’t want to wake up Thursday morning. Sleep wasn’t the easiest thing coming the night before, and I wasn’t looking forward to the things I had to do. I sat through my 9:45, barely hearing the professor. Afterwards I walked to my next class, thinking about what would happen tomorrow. And I worried.

What was the right thing to do? I believed in the press — I believed we had a job to do. We were supposed to be the reporters of truth, and our job was to tell the people what had happened in their world. We were supposed to be objective, not judging the events, simply holding them up to the people and saying, “This has taken place.” But was it our job to report the truth even when reporting it destroyed someone? At ten after eleven on a cold Thursday morning, I still wasn’t sure. I got through my 11:15 and headed for the Pub. Rich was there when I arrived, sitting next to someone I didn’t recognize. He was a little shorter than either Rich or me, with fairly long blond hair and light skin, wearing a State sweatshirt. He looked a little nervous, but seeemed friendly with Rich, and when I came over he shook my hand.

“Steve Bouchard,” he said, smiling formally.

“Jack Webster. Nice to meet you. That’s short for Steven, right? With a ‘V’ or a ‘PH’?”

“‘PH.’ But I thought Rich explained that I didn’t want you using my name.” He looked a little more nervous.

“I don’t want to use it,” I said. “I just want to know it.” That relaxed him and we got to talking, at first avoiding the obvious subject, but then time got the better of me. “Steve, I need to know what happened in the bathroom in the theatre.”

A long pause followed, and Steve looked from me, to Rich, and back to me. “How detailed do you want it?” he asked, quietly.

“Give me the basics. I’ll ask if I want details.” I had my pad and pen out, and I turned to a blank page.

“All right.” He took a deep breath, exhaled, then began. “I guess it was about two weeks ago. I’ve got a theatre tech class that lets out around six thirty on Wednesdays, so I was in the building. We were working in the small theatre, and I stopped in the bathroom before I went home.

“Where do you live?” I asked, looking up from my pad. “On campus?”

“Uh-huh. Cuttler Hall.”

“What year are you?”

“Does it matter? Sophomore. I’m an English major, if you care.”

“Keep going,” I said.

“So I went in the bathroom, and I was, uh, finishing up, standing there, when this guy comes out of one of the stalls. He’s got a suit on, and I recognized Pat Lancer.”

“You’re sure it was him?” I asked. “No doubt?”

“Uh-uh. It was him. I’ve seen his picture enough.”

“So what happened?”

“So I went to wash up, and I see him looking at me in the mirror. He’s got this weird smile, so I asked him if something was wrong. He said no, but he thought he recognized me from one of the GALA — the Gay and Lesbian Association — rallies. I told him he probably did. So we talked a minute about GALA, and what I thought about State, you know, just bullshitting. Then he tells me how attractive I am.

I looked up. “Just like that? ‘You’re very attractive’?”

“Not exactly. He had said something before, like ‘an attractive young man like yourself probably has no problem making friends,’ but then he kept saying it, kept bringing it up.”

“Did you try to leave?” I noticed he was getting uncomfortable, his face beginning to flush. “If this is embarrassing you… ” But I didn’t want to give him an easy out.

“No, not that much. It’s just that I usually don’t talk about these things. It was just that… that he was an administrator. It seemed kind of strange. And no, I didn’t try to leave.” He forced a smile. “He’s very good-looking, and I guess I was enjoying the attention. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Not at all,” I said, glancing at Rich, who had been silent the whole time. “Keep going.”

“Well, he started getting closer — we were facing each other — and then he asked me if I thought he was attractive. So I said yes, I did. And then he kissed me.”

My head jerked up. “He did what?

“He kissed me. People kiss, y’know.”

“I know.” Students kiss and administrators kiss, but usually they don’t kiss each other. And, as modern as I liked to think of myself, there was something inherently wrong abut two men kissing in the bathroom. I hoped my face didn’t show it, but if it did, Steve didn’t seem to react. “Keep going.”

“So we kissed for a little while, and then he started unzipping his pants, and he led me into one of the stalls… ”

“Je-sus.”

“And, um… ” he looked at me, confused. “How much detail do you want? I mean, do you need to know what happened?”

“Um… no, I guess not.” Then I thought better of it. “But tell me one thing straight out: did you have sexual relations with Patrick Lancer?”

“What the hell do you think?” Rich said, suddenly. I had almost forgotten about him.

“I want to hear it from Stephen,” I said. “Did you have sexual relations with Patrick Lancer in the men’s room of the theatre?”

“Yes,” he said. And with that, I had the same feeling I had when I saw the sign on the bathroom: the feeling of reading a man’s epitaph. I looked at Rich.

“Now I want to know how you got involved with this,” I said. “You were the one who called in a complaint to the President’s Office, right?”

He shook his head. “Nope. But I told Steve to. I don’t think that stuff should go on in public restrooms. Call me old-fashioned.”

“So, you and Steve are good friends, or what?”

“I know his girlfriend,” Steve said. “She works with me at the Counseling Center.” The Counseling Center was a walk-in crisis center for people who needed someone to talk to. They prided themselves on preventing suicides and in helping harassment or rape victims. Students volunteered there and got training from professionals. Evidently, Rich’s girlfriend was a volunteer. I asked him.

“Uh-huh. She told me about this guy she worked with who had sex with Pat Lancer in the men’s room. That’s how I know about it,” he said.

“I thought those things were supposed to be confidential,” I said.

Rich shook his head. “Not between two employees they aren’t. Besides, Steve didn’t mind telling me himself, when I asked.”

“Why is that, Steve?” I asked. “Why did you report this? Why did you want to see this get to me?”

Steve half-shrugged. “Because afterwards I felt used, cheap. We were in a bathroom, for chrissake! And he’s an administrator — he’s not supposed to do that.” He looked me in the eye. “I may be gay, Jack, and my idea of what’s enjoyable might not be the same as yours, but I still know when something isn’t right. What if I wasn’t interested? No one should have to worry about going into public bathrooms on campus.”

I nodded. “So you told Rich, and he suggested that you tell someone else, like Moore. So one of you wrote the president a letter, explaining what happened… ”

“We weren’t the first,” Steve said. “I had heard rumors in GALA.”

“So you wrote this letter, and that was the last straw for Moore. He confronts Lancer, asks him to resign. He does. But then Rich wants to take it a little further, right? The resignation isn’t good enough — you want it in print. So you bring me on it. Steve plays along — why, I don’t know. Maybe he really believes what Lancer did was wrong, or maybe he just thinks you’re cute. I don’t care. But I do know that here I sit, with information that a senior administrator of this school committed what is technically a crime and definitely a mistake, and I have to decide if I’m going to write about it.” I realized that my voice had been carrying then. “What the hell am I supposed to do?”

“The right thing, of course,” said Rich.

“Sure. I just have to figure out what that is.”

* * *

I was glad to see Jan in the newsroom when I got there. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to talk about, but I wanted someone there. A friend. The newsroom wouldn’t be empty on a Thursday; reporters would be in and out all day doing final bits of research, making last-minute phone calls, and writing drafts of articles. The Student Press was a serious newspaper, and the students who wrote for it took it that way. Some — myself included — often spent more time on 500-word news articles than on ten-page papers. It was a question of priorities.

Jan was one of those people, too: bordering on the obsessive about her writing and reporting. That’s why I latched onto her when she first came to the Press office. As senior staff writer, I was kind of like an assistant news editor. I helped the young reporters learn the ropes, guided them along, and nudged certain people into editorial positions. Jan was one, and she was also one of the most conscientious people I knew. If I wanted to discuss consequences, she was the one to talk to. She was sitting at a desk, making corrections or notes on a yellow legal pad, her hair in a now-frizzled pony tail, the end of a No. 2 pencil in her mouth.

“Hungry?” I asked, sitting next to her.

“Hmm?” She looked up, surprised that anyone else in the world existed. Then she noticed the pencil she had been munching on. “Oh, no. Just thoughtful.”

“Anything I can help on?” I asked.

“Maybe. Save me a call. Are Campus Safety officers called ‘Sergeant Smith,’ or ‘Officer Smith’?”

“Except for Edelson and the two assistant directors, they’re all ‘Officer Somebody.’ They aren’t into rank over there.”

“Great. Thanks,” she said, erasing and rewriting on the pad. “Wanna look this over when I’m done?”

“Sure. But I need to talk first.”

“Oh? Okay, shoot.” She slid the pad and pencil to the side and looked at me.

“What do you think about this Lancer article? The one I was working on the other day?” I told her about President Moore’s comments, and about Rich and Stephen Bouchard.

Jan thought about it for a moment, nodding her head absently. “What kind of opinion do you want? You want me to play editor? Heck, I’m just a li’l ol’ freshman.”

“A li’l ol’ freshman who will probably be senior staff writer next year. But that’s beside the point. I want your opinion on whether we should print it. On whether I should write it.”

“Well, what happens if you write it?” she asked. “I mean, assuming your witness is telling the truth and everything continues to support everything else. The story’s solid, right? You write it; we print it. What happens next?”

I thought about that. Again. “Word spreads,” I said. “First around campus, then into town, pretty quickly. Local press finds out, wants to interview somebody. Me at first, probably, but that’s just to get other sources. They want Lancer, maybe Moore. They write up the story of a University official who seduces boys in bathrooms. Moore’s judgement is questioned, since he appointed Lancer. Lancer’s life is ruined. He’s a public freak. If his wife doesn’t know about this side of him, who knows what she’ll do.”

“We can have a pretty good idea of that,” Jan said.

I nodded. “Yeah, I guess we can. So Lancer’s life is ruined. Moore is embarrassed. People think of Newton State as ‘that school where that administrator had sex with boys in the bathroom,’ at least for a while. But eventually it blows over and becomes a clipping in a file somewhere.”

“Except for Patrick Lancer,” said Jan.

“Except for Pat Lancer,” I agreed. “For him, professional life is over. Well,” I corrected myself, “not over. Just screwed up for a while. Therapy, seclusion maybe. He eventually puts it all back together.”

“You hope.”

“I hope.”

“Does that answer your question?” Jan said. “About what I think?”

“You think no.”

“I think you’ll be ruining someone’s life. If you can live with that — and I’d be surprised if you could — write it.”

“It isn’t that simple, Jan. If I don’t write it, I’m being a good guy, sure, but a lousy reporter, just because I don’t want to hurt somebody.”

“A lousy reporter? Oh, please! You think it’s a good reporter who runs someone’s life up a flagpole because he did something maybe some people don’t like? That’s not good journalism; that’s witch-hunting, Jack. Good journalism is not revealing a confidential source. Good journalism is telling both sides of a story when you agree with one. Remember that article I did about Operation Rescue on campus? Those lame-brains were spouting bullshit like it was gospel, but I covered it. That’s good reporting. This is sacrifice.”

Part of me knew she was right. But part of me knew she wasn’t. Journalism was more than printing both sides of a story; it meant printing something because it was news, whether or not we liked the consequences. I told her so.

“All right. Point conceded. But can you honestly say that you’re doing the right thing by writing this?”

“No, I can’t,” I said. “But I can’t honestly say I’m doing the right thing by not printing it.” I sighed, leaned back, and stared at the ceiling. “It’s six of one, Jan, and a half dozen of the other. And either way, someone loses. Me, I think.” I stood up before she could answer. “Forget it for now. I’ve got phone calls to make. But can you be here tomorrow morning?”

“Tomorrow?” she said. “Sure, I think so. Why?”

“Peter said he wants to discuss this story before we run it. To decide if we will. I want you there.”

“For you, Webster, anything,” Jan said with a smile.

“Careful. I may take you up on that someday.” Smiling, at least outwardly, I walked to another desk where I picked up the phone. Joking with Jan had taken my mind off the task at hand, but now I knew what I had to do and the smile faded. I had my witness, even if I couldn’t use his name, and I had what I considered a de facto confirmation from President Moore. Lancer didn’t talk to me last time, but I was going to give him another chance, this time with more to back me up. If we printed the article after all, I had to include at least a “refused to comment” or “could not be reached.” I dialed.

“Academic Affairs.”

“This is Jack Webster from the Student Press. I’d like to speak to Mr. Lancer.”

“I’m sorry, he isn’t in his office at the moment. Can I take a message?”

I thought for a moment. Now was not the time to play games with anyone. “Yes, an important one. Tell him I spoke to a student who works in the Theatre, and I need to talk to him as soon as possible. Tell him the story may run Monday.”

She mumbled as she wrote my message down, but at least I knew he would get it. I thanked her and hung up, already pondering my course of action.

“Hey, Jack,” said Andy, walking in the room. “What’s happening?”

“Hi, Andy.” I filled him in quickly. “How long should I wait?”

Andy looked at his watch; deadline was in less than twenty-four hours. “It’s almost one thirty,” he said. “Call him back at three, and again at five if he still isn’t available. Three chances is more than enough. Meanwhile, call Moore and ask for a comment from him.”

“Right. Hey, Andy?”

“Yah?”

“What do you think about this? Should I bother calling Moore? Are we going to print this thing?”

“Yeah, call Moore. There are lots of reasons not to print, I know, but we’ll talk about that tomorrow morning. We’ll keep our options open.”

“What about you, Andy?” I asked. “What’s your gut reaction? Should we print it or not?”

“My gut reaction? My gut reaction is to leave the guy alone. But that’s because deep down, I’m a person before I’m a news editor. Maybe that’s not a good thing, but a lot of people — most people — would say no, don’t print it. But we’re reporters, aren’t we? We’re not most people.”

“So you’re saying we should go with it, forget your gut reaction.”

Andy shook his head. “We’ll decide tomorrow. It’s not our individual consciences that count — it’s the Student Press as a whole. And tomorrow morning we’ll decide what the Press thinks.”

Like a lot of other things these past few days, I had to accept that. I called the president’s office.

“Mr. Moore says you know how he feels on the matter. He doesn’t think it needs clarification.”

I rolled my eyes. Things were different now, and he didn’t seem to grasp that. “Did you tell him I spoke to a student involved?” I asked.

“Yes, I did. One moment, please.” Again, I was on HOLD. A few moment later, the secretary picked up. “Mr. Moore says, and I’m to quote this to you, ‘Leave it be.’ That’s all the comment he has.”

“Thank you. And thank him for me, too.” I hung up, wondering if I should offer my apologies.

At three o’clock, I called Patrick Lancer’s office again. He was there, but “busy at the moment”. I left another message, included my phone number, and sat down to wait another two hours. I began to write.

At ten to five, I called again. Mr. Lancer had gone for the day. He left no message for me.

Friday

I didn’t plan on going to class Friday. I went straight to the newsroom at ten o’clock; Peter and Samantha were already there, chatting. Three other reporters were at various desks, writing news before a class and — more importantly — before deadline. I gave them a smile or wave as I went over to Peter and Sam.

“Good morning, Jack,” Peter said. “Sleep well?”

“I’ve had better nights,” I admitted. “How’re you two?”

“Fine,” said Sam. “Mind if I sit in on this little discussion? Peter just told me about it.”

“Not at all,” I said. “The more the merrier. Where’s Andy?”

“He and Jan went to get coffee,” Sam told me. I was relieved to hear that Jan remembered to stop in, but I could already feel my stomach tighten at the prospect of a meeting that would decide the fate of Patrick Lancer. Something about five students — not one more than twenty-one years old — voting on the future of a senior administrator of a college didn’t sit well with me. Rarely does one have a chance to play God.

Andy and Jan came back five minutes later. We went into Peter’s office and shut the door.

There was just enough room for the five of us amongst the piles of books, papers, and newspaper Peter had there. The few shelves attached to the walls were piled high to the point where I wouldn’t feel comfortable sitting under them. His desk, which was facing out from the back end of the eighteen by eighteen room, was also piled with paraphernalia in endless variety. Peter had brought four chairs from the newsroom, and we spread them in a vague semicircle around his desk. I sat to the far right, against the wall, leaning back on two legs. Jan sat next to me, flashing a smile before she sat down.

“All right,” Andy said, while we made small talk, “We won’t beat around the bush. Jack, fill us in on what’s happened.”

“You all know the basics, right?” Four nods. “Okay. Yesterday I spoke to a student who claims he had sexual relations with Patrick Lancer in the men’s room in the Theatre. I have no reason not to believe him. I tried calling Lancer’s office three times, left two messages. He didn’t call back. I called President Moore’s office, and Moore told me to let the story slide. He wouldn’t comment on what I heard.”

“So that’s practically admitting what happened,” Sam said. “Isn’t it?”

“Close enough,” Andy replied with a nod. “We’re not a courtroom. We know an admission when we hear it. And so will everyone who reads it. I don’t think there’s any question that what we think happen did happen. I don’t think there’s any question that the people will believe it.”

“So we are a courtroom,” said Jan. “We’ve already convicted him…”

“That’s not correct. He convicted himself,” Peter put in. “We discovered it, but he created his own problem.”

“Fine,” said Jan. “So he’s convicted. Now we get to pass sentence. Do we ruin his life by printing it, or do we show a little mercy for a man who made a mistake?”

“It’s not our job to show him ‘a little mercy’,” Sam said. “We’re reporters. We’re journalists. It’s our job to report what happened. This happened, and I’m real sorry for Mr. Lancer that it did, but I’m not here to feel sorry for him. I’m here to write a news story.”

“She has a point,” said Peter. “We haven’t gone to Mr. Lancer’s past and dredged up an affair from a decade ago. This happened here and now. It’s news.”

Andy was shaking his head. “Yeah, it’s news, but so are a lot of things. We don’t report every student who’s arrested, do we? We pick and choose. If we printed some of the stuff we get, maybe it would embarrass a student or three, but it wouldn’t ruin anyone’s life. But this time, it’s not pulling a fire alarm at four a.m. This is something that would stay with him forever.”

“Hey, that’s not our fault,” said Samantha. “Fire alarms are a dime a dozen, and they’re not news anymore. But having sex with students in the bathroom? Something’s wrong with that — that’s ‘man bites dog’ as far as I’m concerned.”

“So what he had sex in the bathroom?” Jan was looking upset. I knew she liked Samantha, and I don’t think she wanted to be on the other side of this kind of heated discussion. Besides that, she was still a freshman and the obvious low man on the totem pole in the group. I admired her for coming. “So what? If he was having relations at home, it’s none of our business, even if it’s with a student. And it’s not even as if he’s a professor — he can’t affect anyone’s grades. So if he gets off having sex in the men’s room, I don’t think we’ve got the right to run it up a flagpole.” She kept going before anyone could interrupt. “And what if it was a female student? Would it be as big a deal? I don’t think so. We wouldn’t say a thing if a female administrator was sleeping with a male student in her home, so why is this different?”

“This is different because it wasn’t a female administrator, it was Pat Lancer,” said Sam. “And he wasn’t at home, he was in the goddamn men’s bathroom. And he’s married, and damn it, he’s a state employee. We pay his salary, and the idiot goes and has sex with students in public? Gay or straight, I don’t care, but think about it: the guy had sex in a public bathroom with students. That’s news, and we report news.”

“We’re a student newspaper,” Andy put in. “Remember that. We’re not The Washington Post, and this isn’t Watergate. We’re children playing a game; we’re playing reporter. Only now, suddenly, the games is serious. We’re not writing about funding for libraries or mice in the dorms. We’re playing with a man’s life. Do we have the right?”

“Yes, Andy, we do.” Peter leaned forward in his chair. “We may be a student newspaper, but we are a newspaper. We’re respected, we’re read, and we’re taken seriously. We are expected to do our job, and I think that not writing about Patrick Lancer is shirking our responsibility.” Suddenly, Peter was looking at me. “Jack, you’ve been silent the whole time. What’s your opinion?”

“Yeah,” said Sam, smiling. “We’d like to know.”

I smiled back, briefly. “Like I said to Jan yesterday, it’s six of one, half dozen of the other. We’ve got to choose between our integrity as journalists and our integrity as people. If we print this, I think every one of us would have regrets. Watching the mess that would follow and we’d all have the guilts. But if we don’t print it, I don’t know about you, but I’d feel guilty then, too. Not because I thought Lancer got away with something, but because I would know that I didn’t do a good job as a reporter. It’s the job and the person. The job says print it; the person says don’t.”

“And there ain’t no easy answer,” said Sam.

“No there ain’t.” I looked at them, four friends on opposite sides… sort of. We all wanted to do what was right. Jan and Andy put their feelings above their job. That was the right thing to do. But Peter and Sam put the job first, and wanted to do something distasteful because they felt they had to. That was right, too. No easy answer. “Sam,” I asked, “think about this a moment before you answer. If it was your choice and we didn’t print the story, if we let Lancer slide, what would you say to yourself ten years from now?”

Samantha thought about it, then her face registered a conclusion. “I’d say that there was one time in my life I let my feelings do my job for me. That I slipped once, did the unprofessional thing because it was right. That’s about it: the wrong thing for the right reason.”

“Jan, if we did print this, on your recommendation, what about you? What would you think ten years from now?”

“Easy. I’d think I let my humanity falter. That I sacrificed someone else for the satisfaction of a job well done. The sacrificial lamb, that’s Lancer. Dinner is served. Do we eat?”

“Melodrama suits you,” said Peter with a smile. “But it really is that simple. What do we put first, the job or the person? Are we people who happen to be journalists, or are we journalists who happen to be people? Which comes first?”

“We’re people first,” said Andy. “As much as we pat our own backs, we’re students. Lancer was right when he told Jack that. Maybe I’d feel differently if I was a reporter for The New York Times, or even the Newton Journal, but I’m not. I work for the Student Press, and I’m a person before I’m a journalist. I don’t think I’m qualified to make this kind of decision about someone’s future. I vote no, we don’t print it. But I’ll stand behind any decision we make.”

“I’m with Andy,” Jan said, “As if you didn’t know. We can’t let ourselves destroy someone to satisfy our idea of what’s the right thing to do. He made a mistake; we all do. Let’s let it be.”

“Sam?” said Peter.

“I know how you feel,” she said, looking at Jan, then Andy, “but we didn’t force him into this mistake. He made it, and he could have avoided it. He fucked up, plain and simple, and since he’s an administrator, we’ve got to write about it. It happened, and that’s all the justification we need to run the story. No entrapment, no seduction: he dug his own hole. I say we go with the story.”

We all looked at Peter now, who sat behind his desk, back straight, eyes looking toward the ceiling as if for divine guidance. I’ll never know if he got any. “Not an easy decision,” he said. “And one that’s right and wrong no matter what we do. But I think the greater wrong is not to print. We have a job to do. Let’s do it. A lot of things are distasteful, and a lot of stories are going to be ones we’d rather not cover: next-of-kin interviews, agonies of defeat. Our distaste shouldn’t be the standard for the content of our newspaper. I think we should run Jack’s piece.”

Two votes yes, two votes no. And me.

I had known — yesterday? the day before? moments ago? — that it would come down to this. I think they knew it too, and this discussion had been a formality, a personification of my conscience as I struggled with the choices. A man’s career stood to be broken by my decision. Two men’s; mine seemed somehow at its own turning point. I didn’t know which choice I could live with more.

But I did. I knew when I saw the sign hanging on the bathroom door. I knew when I spoke to Pat Lancer and Franklin Moore. I knew, sitting with Rich Turner in the Pub. I knew before coming here today to hear my thoughts vocalized and my feelings spread out on the examination table.

“Peter’s right,” I said. “We have a job to do. We have a job as people — people with feelings and regrets. People who make mistakes, sometimes big and sometimes small. But we also have a job as journalists to report the news that affects others, whether they’re doctors and lawyers, or freshmen and sophomores. So this time, not the last, I’m sure, we can’t do one job without failing at the other. We print it and we’re good journalists, but we’re bad people. We don’t print it, we’re nice guys, but bad journalists. Make your choice. Spin the wheel. Roll the dice. Everyone’s a loser. Nobody wins. So it’s left for me to decide.”

“We’ll stick by whatever you do,” Jan said.

“You won’t have to,” I told her. “Neither will Sam. But Peter and Andy, they’re stuck with the choice as much as I am, because they are the Student Press. And that’s what this comes down to: not personal decisions, but the duty of the newspaper. This newspaper. The job of the Press is to report the news. The decision is not a personal one — it’s a decision of the paper, by the paper. It’s not about whether I should write this, or you, or you, or you. It’s about whether the Student Press should print this story. It’s about the job of the newspaper, not the people who make it up. And that decision is clear.”

We sat there then, the five of us, journalists and people, in silence. There was nothing more to say. And as we walked out of Peter Wonderman’s office, I felt first one, then two, three, and four hands pat me on the back. For better or for worse, these four would be behind me, as people, as journalist, and as friends.

Monday

Lancer accused of sexual relations with students
Allegations trigger resignation

by Jack Webster, Senior Staff Writer

Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Patrick Lancer,
who resigned October 2, was accused of seducing male students
for sexual relations, the Student Press has learned. University
President Franklin Moore apparently asked Lancer to resign
when he became aware of the allegations, according to a student
who said he filed a complaint.

The student, who asked not to be identified, said that Lancer
approached him in the basement men’s room in the Theatre
and initiated sexual relations. The student reported the
incident to the President’s Office September 20.

“He asked me if I thought he was attractive, so I said yes,
I did. And then he kissed me,” the student, a sophomore
and member of the Gay and Lesbian Association (GALA)
reported. He said this was not the first such incident reported
by members of the group to President Moore.

Moore refused to discuss the incident. “I haven’t heard
those allegations,” he said, adding, “Leave it be.” A work
order filed from Moore’s office, however, requests the
posting of a sign on the bathroom when the incident
allegedly took place. The sign reads, “These Premises
are Monitored for Your Protection.” According to Bruce
Edelson, director of the department of campus safety, such
signs — and the extra security they imply — are routine in
the event of a complaint. Moore would not comment on
the sign or the fact that the work order originated from
his office. Lancer also refused to comment on the allegations.

“I resigned for personal reasons,” he said. “Anything beyond
that is my own business.”

Solicitation of students by staff or faculty members for
purposes of sexual contact is prohibited by university policy.
In addition, state law prohibits sexual contact in a public
facility even by consenting adults, regardless of gender.

Lancer is married and lives in Newton with his wife.

* * *

Peter Wonderman and I sat alone in the newsroom, a small stack of the issue on the desk between us. I read the front page for the hundredth time before I spoke aloud what had been on my mind.

“Did we do the right thing?” I asked, knowing there was no answer.

“We’ll know soon,” Peter said, quietly. “I think we did. Do you?”

“I’m as sure now as I ever was,” I replied.

I sat there, in the quiet newsroom of the Newton State Student Press, staring at clippings on the walls, at desks covered with the scraps of people’s lives, and at a stack of papers that would change one man’s forever.

The phone began to ring.

– 30 –