A Trace of Revenge
by Night Writers
Sunny stood under the awning of The Senator Hotel with her arms clutched across her chest, shivering. Tomas, the doorman, was standing too close to the hotel entrance for her to make a break past him into the lobby and up to the bathroom on the mezzanine. It was so nice there. All gold fixtures and flocked wallpaper. Maybe she could use the hand dryer on her hair and warm up a bit, too. But mostly she just really wanted to pee.
She’d been to The Senator several times speaking at City Club luncheons. She’d wowed Portland’s well-to-do business crowd with her charm and well-scripted speeches. Their eyes had grown big with promises of good jobs and an infusion of cash to the city. If only this group of loyal citizens would push city hall to give up some small tax exemptions, she’d said. They were easy to convince in the dying economy.
She did a good job lobbying local government and selling the plan to the public: cutting edge loos made with Terra-Hydro’s patented green technology would make the city a beacon of environmental cleanup as well as providing more public restrooms in Portland. The bathrooms used advanced engineering to convert human waste into earth friendly liquid compost filled with positive ions to keep the Willamette clean. It was an excellent solution to the frequent overflows that polluted the river during Portland’s wet seasons.
A cab pulled up and Tomas opened the door. A tall man with dark hair and a tailored top coat stepped out. He looked past her, then turned to the doorman. He looked like Trace Stevens, her former boss and lover. Trace had made her feel like she’d won the lottery when he moved her from the P.R. department in Chicago and promoted her to be “the Face of Terra-Hydro” here in Portland. Their affair continued after her move to the company’s executive apartment with a view of the river.
Her dream collapsed the morning she overheard Trace on the tail end of a phone conversation. “Yeah, I got the Essen study. It looks bad, but don’t worry. We’ve got ‘The Face of Terra-Hydro’ out in front of this. We couldn’t ask for a more perfect patsy if the study results leak out.”
After the phone conversation Trace walked past Sunny and ruffled her hair on his way to the shower. Sunny sat mute with fury on corner of the bed, her fists curled tight. When she heard the water running, she rifled through his briefcase for anything she could use against him. Sunny spotted the word “Essen” on the cover sheet of a stack of papers, grabbed it and stuffed it in her case. Although she didn’t understand most of the technical language when she read through it later, she understood enough to know it could cause a lot of damage. Her anger at Trace still raw, she sent it off to the city attorney and waited for the fireworks. Two weeks later, she was out of a job, out of the company apartment and on the street. Trace was still the darling of both the business community and the environmental crowd. Sunny had thought sleeping with the boss was a good career move but in hindsight she realized she was the only one who got screwed.
A siren shrilling in the distance brought Sunny back to the present. She really needed to pee and saw her chance when Tomas turned away from her to watch the cop cars coming up the street. She stepped out from behind the potted evergreen and scooted up the steps and through the revolving door. Stepping into the lobby, she glanced over her shoulder. Tomas was still looking down the street. She assumed her big city walk and strode across the lobby to the bank of elevators around the corner from the registration desk. So far, so good.
Sunny pushed the button and waited. She heard the hush of the elevator arriving, the tiny “ding.” The doors opened. She looked up into the eyes of Lucky Schwartz, the blockish oaf who was The Senator Hotel’s security guard.
“Well, if it isn’t Miss Sunshine Daly.” He looked at her like Sylvester at Tweety, his bushy eyebrows nearly touching as he scowled. His fat belly strained the buttons of his dark green shirt. “You know you’re not allowed in here.”
“Oh please, I just have to pee. Please let me use the bathroom. Just this once.”
He leered. “We could work something out,” he said, grabbing his belt buckle and hitching up his sagging uniform pants.
She looked down at his shoes and thought, if I was a man I could pee on his feet. Instead, she just looked back up at him, spread her legs and peed on the floor. Before he realized what she’d done, she turned and raced through the emergency exit she knew was behind the drapes on the wall, sounding the alarm.
Sunny ran the five blocks toward the waterfront just because it felt good. It’s amazing how life improves when you have an empty bladder, she thought. When she got to the Skidmore Fountain she stopped and looked around. She couldn’t see anyone so she reached up under her skirt and hiked her wet panties down. She carried them over to the fountain and sloshed them around in the water to wash them as best as she could. Then she tucked them into the mesh pocket on the side of her backpack that was meant to hold a water bottle if she had one.
Sunny wandered north toward the pillars under the Burnside Bridge, and found a secluded place to sit and think. She was worried she was losing it living out here on the streets. It never would have entered her mind to pee in public, even when provoked by scum like Lucky. She reached deep into her backpack, her fingers lightly brushing the soft cashmere sweater tucked inside. Sunny never wore the cashmere without covering it with the scratchy brown men’s pullover she’d found, but the lush feel of the material reminded her of who she used to be. She started to dip into memories again; on days like today she couldn’t help it. The embarrassment of not having a decent place to relieve herself without begging was just too much.
A roaring sound in the distance intruded on her thoughts. At first she assumed it was the traffic on I-5 across the river, but now she realized it was coming from the park. She walked across the plaza to Naito Parkway and looked south. Hundreds of people milled about, chanting. She walked toward them and gradually she began to make out what they were yelling…
“NO PLACE TO PEE IN THE ROSE CI-TY! NO PLACE TO PEE IN THE ROSE CI-TY!”
Damn right there’s no place to pee, she thought. And now she’d burned one more resource behind her forever. Even if she managed to crawl her way back up to where she’d started, she’d still never be able to set foot in The Senator. When she arrived at the outskirts of the protesters, she began to hear another chorus of chanting from the far side of the crowd, almost like a call and response.
“NO PLACE TO PEE IN THE ROSE CI-TY!”
“WE ALL KNOW! THOR MUST GO!”
Thor? “What’s going on?” Sunny asked a scruffy-looking girl standing nearby.
“It’s the new toilets the city put in. Terra Hydra Organic Recovery. THOR, get it? The assholes over there,” she jerked her head toward the protestors across from them, “want to have the new toilets pulled out because they supposedly dump crap directly into the river. It’s bad enough that they close them every night at nine o’clock. Where are women like us supposed to pee at night?”
THOR! Had someone finally done something with that report?
Sunny wanted to learn more. She began to wind her way along the edge of the crowd toward where the two groups faced off. The anti-THOR group dominated the gathering; the homeless group hung on the fringes, keeping up their chants. The small squad of police in riot gear stood in front of the fire station across Naito Parkway, batons at their sides. Sunny wondered if they thought it might get ugly. She was halfway through the crowd when she saw a woman about her age on a platform, leading the call to action. Sunny edged closer to hear what she had to say.
Never once as a child, or even as an idealistic teenager, had Reagan Lightner pictured herself protesting in front of a public toilet. She certainly never imagined herself leading that protest. Yet when she discovered that the city’s new restrooms did not organically recycle waste, as advertised, but actually dumped raw sewage directly into the Willamette, she felt she had to take action.
The problem came to her attention when a study, anonymously sent, arrived on her boss’ desk. Chief Deputy City Attorney, Mary Bronstein, stepped into Reagan’s office, document in hand, and closed the door.
“We’ve got a problem,” Bronstein said. “Somebody thinks the new loos are no good.”
Bronstein handed Reagan the packet. It was the executive summary of a study done in Essen, Germany, on the failure of a supposed “green” waste removal project that was installed there. Instead of neutralized waste being released, the researchers found that raw sewage was being dumped into the Ruhr River. The restroom designs included in the study looked suspiciously like the THOR facilities that had just opened in downtown Portland.
“What do we do?” Reagan asked.
“Well, there’s no proof that what happened in Essen is happening in Portland. Write up a brief for the commissioners’ desks and let them deal with it.”
“That’s it?” Reagan felt like there should be more.
“That’s it for now,” Bronstein nodded. “Let’s see what the elected guys want to do.”
Apparently the elected guys wanted to do nothing. Two weeks went by. Meanwhile, a lot of money was paid out to Terra-Hydro. Reagan’s boss said nothing more.
Reagan decided to dig a little deeper. An internet search brought up an article in a German newspaper linking the name Vorschlaghammer to the sewage scandal. The story said Vorschlaghammer was the parent company of one Terra-Hydro, LLC, headquartered in the United States. Armed with this new information, Reagan went back to Bronstein to try again.
“Leave it alone,” Bronstein said.
Reagan protested, “but it’s clear that something’s wrong here.”
“Really?” her boss responded. “It’s clear that we got a letter from someone – who we can’t identify – about a study – that hasn’t been verified. Terra-Hydro has provided other reports from other cities that show that the system works fine.”
It didn’t sit well with Reagan. She didn’t consider herself an environmentalist, but she didn’t want to see waste going into the river, either. What troubled her even more was the dishonesty of it. She didn’t like lying, and that was what this company was doing.
Reagan went to her father and showed him what she’d found.
“You want to ‘out’ the company paying the bills? I understand what you’re trying to do, Sweetie. But are you sure you want to take this on?”
Despite her father’s admonition, Reagan went public and contacted the environmental reporter at the Oregonian. He said he would look into it, but it wasn’t much to go on. She had expected interviews and notoriety, commendations at work, public outrage. None of this happened.
One Tuesday morning she saw the tall, thin CEO of Terra-Hydro, Trace Stevens, step through the security check at the doors of City Hall. He was fit, just a little salt in his dark hair, and walked as if doors would open in front of him, or get blown down if they didn’t. He met Commissioner Beers in the lobby and they took the marble steps upstairs side-by-side.
She was hopeful that this meeting would lead to some progress, certain that Commissioner Beers was getting assurances that the THOR system was helping not polluting. It never crossed her mind that she might lose her job. Yet, two hours later, security escorted her out of the building.
She expected a new job would materialize, but after two months she realized that wasn’t going to happen. While Portland was liberal, legal firms were not. Word had gotten around about her lack of discretion.
“You just have to make a job for yourself,” her dad said. “You know, I’ve always said you’ve got to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” She might have predicted his response.
He was, after all, the man who had named her Reagan.
She had never actually heard her father say anything about his own bootstraps, but this time she’d take his advice. Reagan would create her own job exposing Terra-Hydro’s deception. She’d come this far; she would see it through to the end.
She started by making some calls to environmental groups. And they made more calls. It was surprisingly easy to organize a protest of the toilets. She sent press releases to all the local media to generate interest in the event.
Now she found herself at Waterfront Park, the unlikely symbol of this protest. She put the bullhorn to her mouth and pulled the volume trigger. “We all know! THOR must go!
Captain Craven had warned Sergeant Carson that today’s Waterfront Park protest was not going to be the typical Portland “walk in the park” event. Craven had insisted on putting extra men on the street in full riot gear.
“Sir, isn’t this just the one about the toilets?” Carson asked.
“Yes, but word on the street is the tree-huggers are getting restless. I don’t want this getting out of hand.”
Carson shook his head and went down to the lockers to get geared up. That was at 8 a.m. this morning. Since then, he’d had been walking up and down Naito Parkway, keeping an eye on the riot police he had stationed across the street.
Waterfront Park was filling with people in the most interesting outfits. Carson spotted a contingent of men wearing their underwear on the outside of their pants. He wondered what statement that was supposed to make. There were the usual groups of bicyclists waving flags, a makeshift band of drummers, a group of young street dwellers carrying signs. And, finally, some nutjobs dressed up as Vikings wearing red circles with slashes through them.
Carson glanced up at the platform where the main speaker, a well-dressed woman, with dark curly hair was about to begin.
“I’m Reagan Lightner,” she said. “I used to work in the City Attorney’s office and I was fired because I told the truth. We are here today for one simple reason,” she began. “Terra-Hydro told us THOR would provide public restrooms that would not pollute the river! But Terra-Hydro and their spokesperson lied.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Carson caught sight of a woman in a green jacket with short, blonde hair pushing her way through the crowd toward the podium. She was trying to get to the speaker, he thought.
“I never lied!” the blonde yelled. “They lied to me.”
Reagan hesitated for a moment. The crowd quieted. Reagan tightened her grip on the bullhorn and continued, directing her words toward the blonde.
“Sunny Daily everyone! The voice of Terra-Hydro!”
All attention turned toward the woman who had shouted up at the speaker. Carson knew what happened when a mob begins to center their fury on one person. Quickly, he moved toward the podium as the crowd surged around her.
“FLUSH HER, FLUSH HER,” the crowd began to shout. Carson watched the blonde scramble onto the platform just before the crowd reached her. They shouted even louder as she knocked Reagan toward the back of the stage with her momentum. Carson clicked his radio, ordering the riot squad to move in. He leapt onto the stage bypassing the stairs completely.
He hustled them to the closest squad car, and climbed in the driver’s seat. The three of them sat in silence for a moment absorbing the chaos outside their windows. He put the car in gear, turned on lights and sirens, and sped from the scene.
“Where are you taking us?” Reagan asked, her voice shaking.
“To a safe place, ladies, the station. You can call someone to pick you up from there.”
He heard Reagan let out a sigh.
“I really didn’t know,” Sunny said quietly.
“You were their spokesperson. It was your business to know.” Carson saw the look on Reagan’s face in the rearview mirror as she took in Sunny’s greasy hair and worn out clothes.
“What?” Sunny said defiantly.
“Nothing.” Reagan shook her head.
“Go ahead, say it.”
“Say what you’re thinking: I look like hell. I know I look like hell. It’s not news to me.”
“Jesus, Sunny what happened to you?”
“Trace Stevens happened to me. That bastard fired me — but not before he set me up to take the fall.“
“Trace Stevens? What does he have to do with the fact that you are, well…” Reagan stuttered.
Sunny shrugged. “Homeless? Living on the street?
“I worked my ass off for two months. Then I found out he was screwing me over, so I screwed him back. At least I thought I did. It backfired though. When the shit hit the fan, it stuck to me instead. As he said, I was the ‘perfect patsy.’”
“How?” Carson asked, fascinated by this turn of events.
“I sent an Environmental Impact Study to the City Attorney’s office about Terra-Hydro. I thought it was pretty damning.”
“I was a city attourney. I saw that study! I tried to get the commissioners to pull the plug on the project.”
“What did the study say?” Carson chimed in again.
“It showed that THOR toilets are dumping raw sewage into the river. The positive ions are a sham,” Reagan explained. “And I got fired right after I saw Trace Stevens meet with Commissioner Beers.
“Raw sewage? Well, shit,” Carson said.
“Exactly,” they replied in unison.
“I know people who fish in that river,” Carson mumbled to himself.
“Now, there’s an idea,” Reagan said.
Trace Stevens surveyed the banquet room at The Senator. He’d been there so many times before, he knew every inch of the room, the white linen tablecloths, the polished silver and crystal goblets. Everything felt familiar and elegant, exactly the surroundings he was used to. He was about to be honored for solving one of the city’s stickiest pollution problems.
The room was packed with Portland bigwigs, most of whom he’d taken out to dinner at one point or another, greasing the wheels where needed to push his project through. Every so often, one of them would catch his eye and raise a glass in congratulations. Trace grinned. He was loving this.
He called the server over with a short wave of his hand.
“Get me some champagne, will you? Best in the house.” He pressed a twenty into the server’s hand and dismissed him.
He made a circuit of the room, shaking hands. He was attempting to extricate himself from yet another mind-numbing conversation about public sanitation when he felt a hand on the shoulder. It was Dean Lightner, chairman of the City Club.
“Trace, I just wanted to invite you to a little get together I’m having on my boat after this. Now that you’ve cleaned up the Willamette for us, we’re going to take a little cruise.”
“Sure, I’d be delighted. Count me in.”
“We’d better get to our seats,” the chairman said, “we’re about to get started.”
Both men made their way to the head table and took their seats just as servers emerged from the kitchen, trays in hand and began to distribute the entrees.
“Looks like we both got the salmon,” Lightner said. “Excellent choice! It’s local, you know. We do love our locally sourced food in Portland. Better for the environment and all that.”
Trace nodded, bored with the conversation already.
“But who am I talking to?” the chairman continued. “Of course you already know all of this. Mister Environment over here,” he said, jerking his thumb at Trace.
“Heh, yeah,” Trace with a weak chuckle.
“Well, its time to get this party started,” Lightner said to Trace, standing. He picked up his knife and tapped his water glass. “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us. Tonight we honor a pillar of our community, the CEO of Terra-Hydro Corporation, Trace Stevens.”
The crowd erupted in applause as Trace began to rise to enjoy his moment. Lightner gripped his shoulder and pressed him back into the chair. The chairman wasn’t finished.
“As you all know, Trace and Terra-Hydro are responsible for cleaning up our Willamette River and making it safe again,” Lightner said. More grateful applause. Trace kept a tight-lipped smile on his face.
The chairman continued, his hand still on Trace’s shoulder. “So as a treat for everyone who ordered the salmon tonight, I decided to forgo our usual supplier and go local! That’s right, the salmon you are about to enjoy was caught in our very own Willamette River!”
Lightner lifted his glass to cheers from the room, then turned to his honoree. Any hint of a smile had disappeared from Trace’s face.
“Well, Buddy?” the chairman leaned over. He whispered in Trace’s ear, “got anything to say for yourself?”
Trace was mute, still processing what the chairman had just said. He wondered what Lightner knew. Lightner straightened up to address his audience.
“So I would like to invite our esteemed honoree to have the glory of the very first bite of salmon to come out of the new Willamette! What do you say, Trace? Can you taste the positive ions?” The chairman laughed. “Let’s see it.”
All eyes were on Trace, waiting for him to take that first bite. He wasn’t quite sure how to get out of this. The one thing he knew was that he wasn’t going anywhere near that fish. He scanned the room. Salmon everywhere. Every single one of his rich buddies was about to take a mouthful of contaminated fish. He was sure it would make them sick. They would know. They would know he had lied.
He was about to push back from the table when the server appeared at his right elbow with a long-stemmed glass.
“Your champagne, sir?” he offered.
Trace looked around for an exit. In the corner of the room, he caught sight of two women. He was surprised to recognize Sunny Daly, someone he never expected to see again. As if on cue, both women raised their glasses in a silent toast.
Chairman Lightner bent down and whispered, “the lovely brunette is my daughter, the former deputy city attorney.” He turned to the server standing just behind. “Waiter, please take this man’s plate. He’s finished.”
© 2011 Kelley Duron, Barbara Fankhauser, Carrie Padian, Amy Seaholt, Anne Stabile