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‘You are dismissed from the Conservancy Corps, with immediate effect. Hand your uniform, ID and any other park property to your supervisor and leave within the next thirty minutes. You have become an embarrassment to the Autonomous City of New York. We cannot stop you as a member of the public entering the park, but you will be watched. That is all.’
I couldn’t believe it. I took a deep breath and grasped the back of the chair.
‘But why are you kicking me out? What have I done?
‘Assaulting a respectable member of the public as he and his friends were quietly enjoying a walk is completely unacceptable. Even more so when drunk.’
‘Drunk? How dare you!’ I was hot as hell with fury. ‘They were all high as kites and attacking a defenceless old Indigenous.’ I took some deep breaths. ‘I did what the training said. I remonstrated with them. I attempted to mediate. I placed myself between them and their victim. It’s all in my report.’ I threw an urgent look over at Chip, desperate for his support. He looked away.
‘Have you quite finished?’ The director looked at his watch.
‘No, I haven’t! The lead one took a swing at me. I ducked. He went for me again, so I hit him on the nose. You know I’m within my rights to defend myself.’ But this was the first time I’d ever had to do it all the years I’d volunteered here. Unlike others, both volunteer and regular, I’d chosen not to carry a nightstick when I was assigned patrol.
‘This interview is finished.’ He nodded to Chip who stepped forward, took me by the arm and ushered me out with a murmured, ‘C’mon, Karen.’
‘What the hell happened there? How can he do that? And I wasn’t drunk. Ask Steff and Tubs. It was eleven in the morning, for Chrissakes!’ I threw my folder on his desk. ‘If it wasn’t so stupid, I’d kill myself laughing.’
Chip shifted his weight from one foot to the other, no grin, his easy fidgeting gone. ‘You bloodied the nose of External Affairs Secretary Hartenwyck’s son. He’s fuming. And Mrs Hartenwyck’s not only on the board of trustees, she’s a major patron of the park.’
I sucked my breath in. Hartenwyck, the second most powerful person in the country. My heart pounded with fear. I closed my eyes and shook my head. He was from one of the old Dutch families, a privileged class who still called the shots even two hundred years after their last governor had sailed out of the harbour in 1813. Even though the British had stepped up from number two position and taken everything over for the next fifty years, the ‘Dutch mafia’ still ran everything today. And I had a British name. I didn’t have a chance.
‘Then they should make sure Junior doesn’t take drugs,’ I said. ‘Or beat up old Indigenous in a public place. The Indigenous Nations Council would wipe the floor with him.’
‘But you can’t produce him to testify.’
‘Steff and Tubs saw him.’
‘They’ve been told to shut their mouths if they want to keep their jobs.’ He looked at me, almost pleading. ‘They’ve both got families, Karen.’
I walked back and forth in front of his desk, waving my arms around, but I sensed it was no use. The decision had been made and Chip was stuck with executing it.
‘So, my four years’ volunteer service and two commendations aren’t worth jack-shit?’
He fixed his gaze on the scuffed door panel directly over my shoulder. ‘I’m so sorry.’
Heat prickled in my eyes, but I was not going to cry. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. I walked out, shut the heavy oak door with supreme control, changed back into my jeans and tee in the locker room and left the staff building, my head up. I threw the green park uniform and ID in a public trashcan. Childish, but satisfying.
Back at my apartment, I made a cup of tea and sat at the tiny table by the window for three hours. A whole slice of my life had been cut out in a few minutes by some rich-kid druggie. I’d loved the openness of the park, the stunning trees, kids playing naturally, the illusion of being in the country. Not the Nebraska of my teens, but New Hampshire with Dad before he died. Those weekends when we hiked and camped, surrounded by the fresh warm air, the two of us alone. Then the day came when he lay in the hospital bed, skinny thin with his face shrunken like an old man, struggling to whisper my name. As I left the hospital that evening, when he’d fallen into his last sleep, it had rained and the air was sullen. I felt my throat tighten. The pain of losing him was as raw today as it had been all those years ago. I bit my fingernails, gulped, dropped my head in my hands and burst into sobs.
It had to be a mistake. I swallowed my pride, gathered up my grit, like Dad used to say, and spent most of Sunday drafting a respectful mail to the director asking to be reconsidered.
I blinked when a reply hit my inbox within forty minutes.
From the desk of the Director
In reference to your recent communication, the Director finds the contents unacceptable and untrue. All allegations or claims against the Autonomous City of New York and all permissions and privileges are hereby rejected. Your record of attendance has been deleted.
The consequences of harassing municipal and public employees are severe and constitute a Class E Non-Violent Felony (CNY Penal Code S180).
You are advised that, on advice from the Department of Internal Security, your name has been placed on a national security watch list because of your antisocial behaviour and foreign parentage.
I stared at the screen. I felt like I’d been struck in the face. This couldn’t be happening. I wasn’t a terrorist or criminal. Sure, my mother had been born abroad, but she’d been dead for twenty-one years. My father was born in England but had been a naturalised American for nearly two-thirds of his life. He’d even been decorated for war service in North Africa. That kid being pissed at me couldn’t have gone this far, could it?
I started shaking.
God. What else could these people do to me?