Page 37 of The Moneychangers



It was a week and a half since they had last been together, conflicting schedules having kept them apart.

"We'll make up for those lost days," Margot said.

Alex was sired. Then, "You know, I've been waiting all evening for you to fry me on a griddle about Forum East. Instead, you haven't said a word."

Margot tilted her head farther back, looking at him upside down. She asked innocently, "Why should I fry you, darling? The bank's money cutback wasn't your idea." Her small brow furrowed. "Or was it?" "You know darn well it wasn't."

"Of course I knew. Just as I was equally sure that you'd opposed it."


"Yes, I opposed it." He added ruefully, "For all the good it did." "You tried your best. That's all anyone can ask."

Alex regarded her suspiciously. "None of this is like you." "Not like me in what way?"

"You're a fighter. It's one of the things I love about you. You don't give up. You won't accept defeat calmly."

"Perhaps some defeats are total. In that case nothing can be done."

Alex sat up straight. "You're up to something, Bracken! I know it. Now tell me what it is."

Margot considered, then said slowly, "I'm not admitting anything. But even if what you just said is true, it could be there are certain things it's better you don't know. Something I'd never want to do, Alex, is embarrass you."

He smiled affectionately. "You have told me something after all. All right, if you don't want any probing, I won't do it. But I'll ask one assurance: that whatever you have in mind is legal."

Momentarily, Margot's temper flared. "I'm the lawyer around here. I'll decide what's legal and what isn't." "Even clever lady lawyers make mistakes."

"Not this time." She seemed about to argue further, then relented. Her voice softened. "You know I always operate inside the law. Also you know why.'

"Yes, I do," Alex said. Relaxed once more, he went back to stroking her hair. She had confided in him once, after they knew each other well, about her reasoning, reached years before, the result of tragedy and loss.

At law school, where Margot was an honors student, she had joined, like others at the time, in activism and protest. It was the period of increasing American involvement in Vietnam and bitter divisions in the nation. It was the beginning, too, of restlessness and change within the legal profession, a rebellion of youth against the law's elders and establishment, a time for a new breed of belligerent lawyer of whom Ralph Nader was the publicized, lauded symbol.

Earlier at college, and later at law school, Margot had shared her avant-garde views, her activism, and herself with a male fellow student the only name Alex ever heard was Gregory and Gregory and Margot cohabited, as was customary too.

For several months there had been student-administration confrontations and one of the worst began over the official appearance on campus of U. S. Army, and Navy recruiters. A student body majority, including Gregory and Margot, wanted the recruiters ordered off. The school authorities took an opposite, strong view.

In protest, militant students occupied the Administration Building, barricading themselves in and others out. Gregory and Margot, caught up in the general fervor, were among them.

Negotiations began but failed, not least because the students presented "non-negotiable demands." After two days the administration summoned state police, later unwisely supplemented by the National Guard. An assault was launched upon the now beleaguered building. During the fighting, shots were fired and heads were cracked. By a miracle, the shots hit no one. But, by tragic misfortune, one of the cracked heads Gregory's suffered a brain hemorrhage, resulting in death a few hours later.

Eventually, because of public indignation, an inexperienced, young, and frightened policeman who had struck the mortal blow, was arraigned in court. Charges against him were dismissed. Margot, though in deep grief and shocks was enough of an objective law student to understand the dismissal. Her law training helped her also, amid later calmness, to evaluate and codify her own convictions. It was a belated process which the pressures of excitement and emote lion had prevented far too long.

None of Margot's political and social views were diminished, either then or since. But she had the honest perception to recognize that the student body faction had withheld from others those same freedoms of which they claimed to be defenders. They had also, in their zeal, transgressed the law, a system to which their scholarship was dedicated, and presumably their lives.

It was only one step further in reasoning, which Margot took, to acknowledge that no less would have been achieved, and probably far more, by staying within legal limits.

As she confided to Alex during the only time they ever talked about that portion of the past, it had become her guiding principle, in all her activism, ever since.

Still curled comfortingly close to him, she asked, "How are things at the bank?" "Some days I feel like Sisyphus. Remember him?"

"Wasn't he the Greek who pushed a rock uphill? Every time he got near the top it rolled back down again."

"That's the one, He should have been a bank executive trying to make changes. You know something about us bankers, Bracken?" "Tell me."

"We succeed despite our lack of foresight and imagination." "May I quote you?"

"If you do, I'll swear I never said it." He mused. "But between us privately, banking always reacts to social change, never anticipates it. All the problems which affect us now environment, ecology, energy, minorities have been with us a long time. What's happened in those areas to affect us could have been foreseen. We bankers could be leaders. Instead we're following, moving forward only when we have to, when we're pushed." "Why stay a banker then?"

"Because it's important. What we do is worthwhile and whether we move forward voluntarily or not, we're professionals who are needed. The money system has become so huge, so complicated and sophisticated that only banks can handle it." "So your greatest need is a shove now and then. Right?"

He looked at her intently, his curiosity reviving. "You're planning something in that convoluted pixie mind of yours." “I admit nothing." "Whatever it is, I hope it doesn't involve pay toilets. "Oh God, no!"

At the year-old memory, both laughed aloud. It had been one of Margot's combat victories and created wide attention.

Her battle had been with the city's airport commission which, at the time, was paying its several hundred janitors and cleaners substantially lower wages than were normal in the area The workers' union was corrupt, had a “Sweetheart contract" with the commission, and had done nothing to help. In desperation a group of airport employees sought help from Margot who was beginning to build a reputation in such matters.

A frontal approach by Margot to the commission produced merely a rebuff. She therefore decided that public attention must be gained and one way to obtain it was by ridiculing the airport and its rulers. In preparation, and working with several other sympathizers who had aided her before, she made an intelligence study of the big, busy airport during a heavy traffic night.

A factor noted by the study was that when evening flights, on which dinner and drinks had been served, disgorged their passengers, the bulk of the arrivals headed promptly for airport toilets, thus creating maximum demand for those facilities over a period of several hours.

The following Friday night, when incoming and departing air traffic was heaviest of all, several hundred volunteers, principally off-duty janitors and cleaners, arrived at the airport under Margot's direction. From then until they left much later, all were quiet, orderly, and law-abiding.

Their purpose was to occupy, continuously throughout the evening, every public toilet in the airport. And they did. Margot and assistants had prepared a detailed plan and the volunteers went to assigned locations where they paid a dime and settled down, solaced by reading material, portable radios, and even food which many brought. Some of the women had their needlepoint or knitting. It was the ultimate in legal sit-ins.

In the men's toilets, more volunteers formed long lines in front of urinals, each dilatory line moving with stunning slowness. If a male not in the plot joined any lineup it took him an hour to reach the front. Few, if any, waited that long.

A floating contingent explained quietly to anyone who would listen what was happening, and why.

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