An employee of ours? The resource manager found that hard to credit. Impossible. I would have known about it. There must be some mistake.
The owner did not answer. He simply held out the galleys, which the resource manager read quickly while still standing. The odious article was entitled The Shocking Inhumanity Behind Our Daily Bread. Its subject was a forty-year-old woman found critically wounded after a bombing in the Jerusalem market the week before. Her only identifying mark had been a pay stub issued by the company. For two days she had fought for her life in the hospital without any of her employers or fellow workers taking the slightest interest in her. Even after her death, she had lain in the hospital morgue abandoned and unidentified, her fate unmourned and her burial unprovided for. (There followed a brief description of the company and its large, well-known bakery, founded at the beginning of the last century by the owners grandfather and recently augmented by the new line of paper products.) Two photographs accompanied the text. One, taken years ago, was an old studio portrait of the owner; the other was of the human resources manager. It was dark and blurry, evidently snapped recently, without his knowledge. The caption noted that he owed his position to his divorce.
The little weasel! the resource manager muttered. What a flimsy smear job . . .
But the old man wanted action, not complaints. It wasnt the tone of the article that bothered him yellow journalism was the fashion nowadays but its substance. Since the editor had been kind enough to allow them to respond immediately, which might defuse charges that would gain ground if uncontested for a week, they had better find out who the woman was and why no one knew anything about her. In fact why not? they should contact the weasel himself to see what he knew. It was anyones guess what he meant to pull next.
In a word, the human resources manager would have to drop everything and concentrate on this. Surely he understood that his responsibility was to deal not just with vacations, sick leaves, and retirements, but with death as well. If the article were to be published without a satisfactory response from them, its accusations of inhumanity and callous greed might arouse public protests that would affect their sales. After all, theirs wasnt just any bakery: the proud name of its founder was affixed to every loaf that left the premises. Why give their competitors an unfair edge?
An unfair edge? The human resources manager snorted. Who cares about such things? And especially in times like these...
I care. The owners replied irritably. And especially in times like these.
The resource manager bowed his head, folded the article, and stuck it matter-of-factly in his pocket, anxious to escape before the old man blamed him not only for keeping flawed records but for the bomb attack, too. Dont worry, he said with a reassuring smile. Ill make this woman my business first thing tomorrow morning.
The tall, heavyset, expensively dressed old man sat up, very pale, in his chair. His great pompadour of ancient hair swelled in the muted light like the plumes of a royal pheasant. His hand gripped his employees shoulder with the full force of his threatened reputation. Not tomorrow morning, he said slowly and with painstaking clarity. Tonight. This evening. Now. No time to waste. I want all this cleared up before dawn. In the morning well send the paper our response.
This evening? Now? The resource manager was startled. He was sorry, but it was too late for that. He was in a hurry. His wife his ex-wife, that is was out of town and he had promised to look after their daughter and drive her to her dance class; what with all the bus bombings, they didnt want her taking public transportation. Whats the hurry? he asked. The damn paper comes out on Fridays. Its only Tuesday. Theres plenty of time.
© 2004 Abraham B. Yehoshua
English translation © 2006 by Hillel Halkin
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
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