Page 38 of Overload


A new, unseen voice was booming through the PA system. Simultaneously a red light glowed on the chairman's lectern, indicating that a microphone in the overflow room was being used.

Humphrey spoke loudly into his own mike. "What is your point of order?"

"I object, Mr. Chairman, to the manner in which .

Humphrey interrupted. "State your name, please."

"My name is Homer F. Ingersoll. I am a lawyer and I hold three hundred shares for myself, two hundred for a client."

"What is your point of order, Mr. Ingersoll?"

"I started to tell you, Mr. Chairman. I object to the way in which inadequate, inefficient arrangements were made to hold this meeting, with the result that I and many others have been relegated, like second class citizens, to another hall where we cannot properly participate . . ."

"But you are participating, Mr. Ingersoll. I regret that the unexpectedly large attendance today . ."

"I am raising a point of order, Mr. Chairman, and I hadn't finished."

As the booming voice cut in again, Humphrey said resignedly, "Finish your point of order, but quickly, please."

"You may not know it, Mr. Chairman, but even this second ball is now jampacked and there are many stockholders outside who cannot get into either one. I am speaking on their behalf because they are being deprived of their legal rights."

"No," Humphrey acknowledged, "I did not know it. I am genuinely sorry and I concede our preparations were inadequate."

A woman in the ballroom stood up and cried, "You should all resign! You can't even organize an annual meeting."

Other voices echoed, "Yes, resign! Resign!"

Eric Humphrey's lips tightened; for a moment, uncharacteristically, he appeared nervous. Then, with an obvious effort, he controlled himself and tried again. "Today's attendance, as many of you know, is unprecedented."

A strident voice: "So was cutting off our dividends!"

"I can only tell you-I had intended to say this later but I'll state it now-that omission of our dividend was an action which I and my fellow directors took with great reluctance . . ."

The voice again: "Did you try cutting your own fat salary?"

". . . and with full awareness," Humphrey persisted, "of the unhappiness, indeed hardship, which . . ."

Several things then happened simultaneously.

A large, soft tomato, unerringly aimed, struck the chairman in the face. It burst, leaving a mess of pulp and juice which dripped down his face, suit and shirtfront.

As if on signal, a barrage of more tomatoes and several eggs followed, splattering the stage and the chairman's podium. Many in the ballroom audience jumped to their feet; a few were laughing but others, looking around them for the throwers, appeared shocked and disapproving. At the same time a new disturbance could be heard, with raised voices growing in volume, immediately outside.

Nim, also on his feet near the center of the ballroom where he had gone when the management group occupied the platform, was searching for the source of the fusillade, ready to intervene if he could find it. Almost at once he saw Davey Birdsong. As he had been doing earlier, the p & lfp leader was speaking into a walkie-talkie; Nim guessed that he was giving orders. Nim tried to push his way toward Birdsong but found it impossible. By now the scene in the ballroom was one of total confusion.

Abruptly Nim found himself face to face with Nancy Molineaux. For an instant she betrayed uncertainty.

His anger flared. "I suppose you're loving all of this so you can write about us as viciously as usual."

"I just try to be factual, Goldman." Her self-assurance returning, Ms. Molineaux smiled. "I do investigative reporting where I think it's needed."

"Yeah, investigative, meaning one-sided, slanted!" Impulsively he pointed across the room to Davey Birdsong and his walkie-talkie. "Why not investigate him?"

"Give me one good reason why I should."

I believe he's creating a disturbance here."

"Do you know he is?"

Nim admitted, "No."

“Then let me tell you something. Whether he helped or not, this disturbance happened because a lot of people believe that Golden State Power & Light isn't being run the way it should be. Or don't you ever face reality?"

With a contemptuous glance at Nim, Nancy Molineaux moved away.

Then the noise outside increased still further and, adding to the ballroom shambles, a phalanx of newcomers pushed their way in. Behind them were still more people, among them bearers of anti GSP & L signs and placards.

What had happened-as became clear later-was that a few individuals among those shareholders denied access to both halls had urged others to join them in using force to enter the ballroom. Together they had shoved aside temporary barriers and overwhelmed the security guards and other GSP & L staff. At virtually the same moment the crowd of demonstrators in the hotel forecourt had rushed the police lines and this time broken them. The demonstrators poured into the hotel, heading for the ballroom, where they reinforced the invading shareholders.

As Nim suspected but could not prove, Davey Birdsong orchestrated all movements, beginning with the tomato throwing, by issuing com-1mands through the walkie-talkie. As well as arranging the forecourt demonstration, the p & lfp had infiltrated the shareholders' meeting by the simple-and legitimate-device of having a dozen of its members, including Birdsong, purchase single shares of GSP&L stock several months earlier.

In the ensuing turmoil only a few heard J. Eric Humphrey announce over the PA system, "This meeting stands recessed. It will resume in approximately half an hour."

6

In the living room of her apartment Karen bestowed on Nim the same radiant smile he remembered so well from their previous encounter. Then she said sympathetically, "I know this week has been difficult for you. I read about your company's annual meeting and saw some of it on television."

Instinctively Nim grimaced. The TV coverage had concentrated on riotous aspects, ignoring the complex issues aired during five hours of business-questions, discussion, voting on resolutions-which had followed the enforced recess. (To be fair, Nim acknowledged, the television cameras had only external film shots to work with; using hindsight, be realized it would have been better to have allowed them in.) During the half-hour recess, order was restored and the marathon business session ensued. At the end nothing had changed except that all participants were weary, but much that needed to be said had been brought into the open. To Nim's surprise next day the most comprehensive and balanced view of the proceedings had appeared in the California Examiner under Nancy Molineaux's by-line.

"If you don't mind," be told Karen, "our annual circus is something I'd like to blot out for a while."

"Consider it blotted, Nimrod. What annual meeting? I never even heard of one."

He laughed, then said, "I enjoyed your poetry. Have you published any?"

She shook her head and he was reminded again, as she sat in the wheelchair opposite him, that it was the only part of her body she could move.

He had come here today partly because he felt the need to get away, even if briefly, from the turmoil of GSP & L. He had also wanted, very much, to see Karen Sloan, a desire now reinforced by her charm and re-1markable beauty. The last was just as he remembered-the shining shoulder-length blonde hair, perfectly proportioned face, full lips and flawless, opalescent skin.

A touch whimsically, Nim speculated on whether he was falling in love. If so, it would involve a reversal, he thought. On plenty of occasions he had experienced sex without love. But with Karen it would be love without sex.

"I write poetry for pleasure," Karen said. "What I was working on when you came was a speech."

He had already noticed the electric typewriter behind her. It contained a partially typed sheet. Other papers were spread out on a table alongside.

"A speech to whom? And about what?"

"It will be to a convention of lawyers. A State Bar group is working on a report about laws which apply to disabled persons-those in most states and other countries. There are some laws which work; others don't. I've made a study of them."

"You're telling lawyers about the law?"

"Why not? Lawyers get cocooned in theory. They need someone practical to tell them what really happens under laws and regulations. That's why they've asked me; besides, I've done it before. Mostly I'll talk about para- and quadriplegics and also clear up some misconceptions."

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