The Badger

Short Fiction for Guests of the WordFeeder
Sunday, August 7, 2011

Joyce, the station’s third floor receptionist, was working at her desk. Having put off getting new glasses until her next annual increase, coming up in just 11 and half months, she found herself having to work unusually close to the copy she was editing for one of their segment producers. Poor near vision, together with her extraordinary powers of concentration that often found her ignoring incoming calls, were about to be overcome by the unusual shuffling sound of something walking toward her desk. It was as if someone wearing unusually large fuzzy slippers was coming her way, unable, for some reason, to lift his or her feet the way normal people do.

“Hi.” The voice was odd, in a cartoonish way, possibly electronically altered.

No response.

“Excuse me,” the voice tried again to get her attention. This time it did.

Joyce looked up, her head rising slowly until she came to its head. The first thing she noticed was that the person standing in front of her was brown. Not brown as in Black or Hispanic. Brown as in covered with fur. “Hi. …You’re a what?” she speculated to the person in the costume. “A giant beaver?”

“Actually, I’m a badger. ‘The Badger,’ to be precise, but the beaver costume was more comfo.. It’s not important. I understand that Dick Snykers… Yes, like the candy bar. They’re both more than a little nuts. ..has a 10 AM meeting with one of your iTeam producers.”

Joyce turned to look at her screen, “Yes,” and then back to The Badger.

“Great. If you don’t mind..” The Badger’s voice seemed comical coming from behind his two giant white foam teeth. There were no lips or anything, but something about the way it moved it’s head and arms when it talked made it seem real. “..would you please pass out these fliers?” She took them, but he didn’t wait for her to answer. “Thanks.” And The Badger turned quickly, which was particularly impressive given the size of its costume feet, then back again. “See you later, maybe?”

“You’re flirting with me?”

“Badger’s have needs too, you know,” he told her, blowing Joyce a kiss, the big three fingered right paw of his costume touching his teeth and swinging wide in a grand gesture. He/she, whatever – The Badger was strictly PG-rated, having no obvious breasts or genitals. – spun around and walked off toward the one of the two elevator doors which had just opened, its passengers on their way off, its beaver/badger tail Velcroed to the back of its furry suit.

Joyce, who had a less than fulfilling personal life, watched as The Badger shuffled away, waiting for it to turn, hoping to see its smile, its teeth, one more time – but was, unfortunately, interrupted by someone opening the door to the stairs so aggressively that it banged into the stairwell wall. “Com’on!” a man said loudly, looking impatiently at someone else Joyce couldn’t see yet. “If you hadn’t been so damn polite, we wouldn’t have missed the elevator. I don’t want to be late.” The other person was a woman for whom the man held open the door, but barely, not waiting for her to clear the doorway before abandoning her on his way to Joyce’s desk, the woman almost jogging to catch up with him.

“Hello. My name is Dick Snykers,” he said brashly, gesturing with his hands and eyebrows as if somehow Joyce should have known.

“Hi,” the woman behind him politely, making an effort to smile. “I’m Elai..”

“We have a 10 AM appointment,” the husband interrupted, apparently carrying nothing about what his wife had to say, “with a Mr. Radner. He’s one of the investigative re..”

This time it was Joyce who decided to interrupt, having already decided that she was no fan of Mr. Snykers. “I know who he is. If you’ll follow me..”

“Hold on.” Mr. Snykers had just noticed the stack of The Badger’s fliers lying on top of some other papers on Joyce’s desk. Grabbing one of them, what he saw – and what his wife and now Joyce were also studying – was a collage of pictures of him in suspiciously close conversations with various women who, it turned out, were coworkers. “What the..? Where did you get these?”

“Are you kidding? Some guy dressed like a badger, actually more like a beaver, left them off.” Joyce paused for a moment to lean to her right to look around her irritated visitor. “There, you just missed him.” Joyce pointed to The Badger, still visible just in side the evaluator doors he’d been holding open just long enough to wave goodbye to Dick.

Speaking of Dick, he had no idea what to do, so he just stood there, both his hands squeezing the flier he was holding. Taking a deep breath, he gave is wife a look, like somehow it was all her fault, and then lunged to snatch up the rest of the fliers before others could see them. It was a fast, almost violent move that left Joyce not knowing exactly how to react, and Elaine Snykers looking down at the commercial carpet on which she was standing.

Joyce did her best. “Well, uh.. Let’s go to the conference room, and I’ll let you get settled why I walk down the hall and tell Ira you’re here.” Pushing back from the edge of her desk, she slipped on her flip flops and headed to her left, Mr. Snykers moving up uncomfortably close behind her.

“Excuse me?” It was Elaine Snykers, still in front of the Joyce’s desk. “Which way would the ladies room be?”

“For heaven’s sake, Elaine.” Dick seemed to have only one tone of voice.

“Just across from the lobby, to the right of the elevators.”

This time his wife was less timid. “We’re early,” she said in a forcibly calm, measured pace, arms at her side, the palms of her hands flat and facing downward as if to make it clear she was staying put. “You go ahead.”

Dick stared at her for a couple of long seconds, saying nothing.

“Com’on, Mr. Snykers.” Joyce began walking away. “There’s water and juice drinks on the sideboard,” she told him, gesturing through the glass door. “Please help yourself. Ira will be right with you.”

Having dropped Mr. Synkers off, thankfully, Joyce was off down the hallway to where the iTeam members (“i” for “investigations”) had their offices. And there he was, coming around the corner in her direction. Not too tall. No too good looking. Just the right about of nice for a girl to fall for him, without getting in the way of first rate investigative reporting. “Hey,” she smiled in his direction.

“Hey. Is my 10 o’clock here?”

“In the conference room,” Joyce told him, spinning to walk next to Ira down the hallway. He was fit and a fast walker, but she could keep up. “..You know this guy’s a nut ball, don’t you?”

“Actually, I’m not so sure. A jerk maybe, but I’ve talked to two credible witnesses that have seen this beaver he called about.”

“Badger,” she corrected them just outside the conference room.

“What?”

“Looks like a beaver, but calls itself ‘The Badger.’”

“Annnnd, you know that how?”

“Hey. I know stuff. Make me an AP and I’ll tell you.” She smiled, and opened the door for him, lingering to watch Ira extend his hand to Mr. Snykers before leaving to go back to her desk.

“Good morning. I’m Ira Radner.”

“Mr. Radner,” Dick Synkers shook his hand. “You look taller on TV.”

“And, you must be Mrs. Snykers?”

“Elaine. Please call me Elaine.”

“Good. Interviews like this tend to be more productive if we’re on a first name basis. ..Please. Sit down.” Reaching for one of the pads they kept stacked on the conference table, Ira Radner took out a pen from his side pants pocket and removed the cap. “Okay. Start at the beginning and give me the highlights of what’s been happening to you. We’ll get into more detail later if it seems worth investigating.”

“Of course it’s worth it,” Dick responded aggressively, so quickly that Elaine put her hand on his arm, which he yanked away from her. “..Look. I’m sorry. All this harassment these past few months is making me crazy. He even..”

“Who?”

“The Badger. He was here, in your lobby, just a few minutes ago.”

“What for?”

“To leave off these.” Dick handed Ira one the now slightly crumpled fliers he’d taken from Joyce’s desk.

“Who are these women?”

“They’re, uh, people.. girls that work around the office.”

“Who do you suppose took these?”

“I don’t know. Everyone with cell phone has a camera. ..I don’t know.”

“And other than this flier?”

Dick sighed. His bravado and anger giving way, at least for the moment, to desperation. “People I work with have been getting email, some with pictures of me with women.”

“All real, or is someone making these things up?”

It was a question Dick chose to avoid. “Ther’ve been fliers more or less like these put on the windshields of cars where I work and in our neighborhood. Some of the email sent to my coworkers and supervisors, people I work for, have sound files attached.”

“Saying what?”

“They’re recordings of me making what I thought were off the record comments, you know, like ‘Bob? That asshole?’ or worse, where the ‘Bob’ I was talking about turns out to be my division boss. In fact it was Bob, after he damn near fired me, who suggested I call you when I told him the Police wouldn’t help.”

Ira made notes, but didn’t comment, preferring to let Dick spill his guts.

“A week ago, Elaine and I were at home, having dinner when a neighbor, this guy who lives a few blocks away, called to say someone in a beaver suit was going to door to door handing out lists of household chores they should remind me to do. …I came to work the other day to find a month’s worth of our garbage, the very same bags we…”

“I.” It was the first thing Elaine had said.

“Whatever. A month’s smelly garbage bags piled up on my desk with a picture of that damn Badger taped to one of them. …I got back from a.. from a late lunch a couple of weeks ago and found a crowd in our lunch room cutting up a layer cake ‘some guy in beaver suit left off’ with one of those edible pictures of me sleeping at my desk. It was damn near half gone by the time saw, but I could still make out the icing signature of ‘The Badger.’”

“Any kids?”

“What you mean?”

“I mean, Dick, do you and Elaine have any kids, kids that would be exposed to all this?”

“No,” Elaine answered, her face devoid of any expression.

“When you and I were talking the other day,” Dick wasn’t finished yet, “when you agreed to talk to me, The Badger was down the street.. at a bar..”

“Bar? Since when do ‘bars’ have nude dancers? Can you not, just once, be honest about what you do on your lunch hours?” Elaine was pissed. “..on your way home for the dinners you insist I make, but aren’t there half the time to eat!

“Hey!” Dick snapped back. “..Okay, it’s a strip joint. What the hell difference does it make?! It’s that f-in’ Badger we’re here to talk about, stuffing dollars and copies of our marriage certificate in g-strings. Oh, my God!” Dick was starting to shout now, “Why are you doing this to me? One more, one more incident at work, and I’m done. Do you understand, fired?! ..And I don’t have one damn friend left,” Dick started punctuating his words, repeatedly pointing his hand at Elaine, whose face moved back and to the side as if to get out of the his way. “Not one of my friends, even the shitty ones I don’t usually hang out with, will so much as call me back! And you’ve done that. You did this to me.”

“Wham!!” Ira slammed his open hand on the table. “Stop it! Both of you, stop it or get the hell out of here. What do you think this is, family counseling? Some reality TV show where you get paid for being mean or acting out? The police won’t help you because, thank goodness, they’ve got better things to do. No one’s getting hurt, and, so far as the Police can tell, nothing The Badger is doing is illegal. At best… At best, our attorney tells me you could sue this guy for defamation of character, but that’s only if what he’s saying isn’t true. Now calm down.”

Ira waited a few seconds, feeling it was high time to took control over the interview. “Elaine,” he shifted in his chair to look directly at her, “this has got to be your doing.”

“No.”

“What?!!” Dick was losing it again.

“Mr. Snykers, please. Be quiet.” And then turning to look at Elaine again, “How can it not be you?”

“Look, I want out of our marriage. I’ve been begging Dick for months. I’ve even hired an attorney, but I didn’t do this. ..Sure, I’ve complained to my sister, to some of my friends at the Y where I go sometimes to workout, but that’s it. Honestly. ..It’s not like I went on-line with YouTube or to MyMansaDick.com and complained. I didn’t do this. ..My god, Dick,” Elaine turned to your husband, “with all the people you’ve offended or screwed, and I mean that literally, maybe it’s one them!”

“What about your attorney?”

“Not a chance. It’s best law firm in the city..”

“That you can afford,” Dick added.

“What’s he mean by that?” Ira was curious.

“I have family money, an inheritance my grandparents worked their whole lives to leave me. ..It’s how we can afford to live on what Dick makes.”

“Have you considered getting a job?”

“I have one. It’s part-time with a marketing firm, an advertising agency, while I’m taking courses, working to get my degree..”

“…in business? Gimme a break. What a waste of time. Who.. Who in the world is going to hire you? To do what, exactly? What a joke! You couldn’t so much as get a job cleaning people’s houses, judging from the job you do on ours, and you think some company is going to give you a corner office? In this economy? Did you know,” it was a rhetorical question, “she’s talking about starting her own business? Unbelievable. ..Look,” Dick snapped his head and leaned forward in Ira’s direction, “are you going to help me or not?!”

“Mr. Snykers..”

“I thought we were all cozy on a first name basis?”

“Okay, Dick. Maybe this Badger character, this avenger of down-trodden wives, is worth a segment or two, but before I agree to go any further, there’s a tape I think you should see.” Picking up a remote control from the cabinet behind him, Ira turned on the widescreen TV at the end of the room. “Two days ago, the day after you called me, I was working late, down the hall in my office, when someone in what looked to me to be a beaver costume stops by to chat. He says he’ll talk to me, provided I leave him alone and don’t call the authorities. I think, ‘What the hell,’ and we walk down to one of the studios and chat, for about 20 minutes. ..I think the both of you need to see this.”

And he played it, the two of them, Ira and The Badger, sitting in cloth backed directors chairs across from each other, just talking. What followed was an odd, sometimes brutally honest discussion of Dick and Elaine’s life, about how she’d asked, then eventually begged – ironically, Dick would say, “badgered” – her husband to do household chores, to work harder, to maybe get promotion, to have children, to come home after work and, most of all, to love her they way he had when they first met just a few years ago and, if not that, to let her go.

When it was done, Ira looked at Dick. “The Badger, whoever he is, claims he hasn’t anything do with Elaine. Considers him, or herself to be a Lone Ranger of sorts, a champion of wives, and sometimes husbands whose voice, The Badger told me off camera, isn’t strong enough. He/she, whoever, told me it’s a prototype, a special example of a new, on-line service he’s going to be testing in several markets to encourage people to complain about stuff, to vent constructively and then, in special cases, when it’s really important, to do whatever it takes, within the law, to make things right.” Ira shook his head quickly, to get himself back on track. “That’s not the point. Interesting maybe, but not the point.”

Both Dick and Elaine sat quietly. “Dick, do you really want me to run with this story? Do you really want me to play that tape, on our station and other network affiliates who pick it up, on the Internet? Is that what you want? It’s a story alright, but not one I really want to run at your expense and Elaine’s.”

Dick looked at Ira, but not at Elaine, stood up, and left the room, and then the building. Ira and Elaine sat there for a couple of minutes, until Joyce knocked and pushed open the door. “Uh, sorry to interrupt, but there’s another meeting scheduled for 11. Should I see if I can move it to another room?”

“No,” Elaine stood up, smiling politely, but clearly upset. “That won’t be necessary. ..Ira. Mr. Radner, thank you for your time,” she said, walking around the table to shake his hand and head out. “If you don’t mind, would you please sit on the story until, ..until I talk to Dick?”

“Of course,” he responded compassionately, rising to his feet. “Of course. And you don’t have to get back to me. If I don’t hear from you, we’ll just file it. That’ll be that.”

“Thank you.” And she left.

Late that evening, after two more nearly simultaneous appearances by The Badger, both of them humiliating and job-threatening events for Dick Snykers, two large furry forms drove up in separate cars to a moonlit, lakeside cottage they had rented in the country. Inside, lights out, the two of them standing fur to fur, their huge white foam teeth almost touching, the first words came from the smaller of the two beaver costumes.

“He’s agreed to the divorce. Uncontested.” She laid her right paw on the furry chest in front of her. “I get out with every dollar that’s mine.”

“And the divorce agreement?” Ira wanted to make sure it was a done deal.

“Signed, sealed and delivered – with the proviso that harassment by The Badger come to an immediate and permanent stop.”

“I think that can be arranged. ..And maybe a party for everyone who helped us out?”

“Yeah,” the smaller of the two badgers nodded her head. “I’d say a party is exactly what we need.”

And there, still in the dark, The Badgers took off their costumes and made love. It wasn’t the first time, or even just the tenth time since Elaine’s sister had introduced them at local gallery, but it was a good time, maybe the best time yet.

-wf

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