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 -