Continuing Tales

Binary

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 50 of 64

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Binary

Erik slammed the door the moment Meg was clear of it. By the time he turned around, Christine was stumping down the hallway to the bedroom. Erik groaned in frustration. The bedroom was an impossible mess - there was no way a person on crutches could get to it. Unfortunately, the drugged-up girl was dead set on going there. He eased around her and walked in, only to stand gaping at the well-ordered room.

"How...?"

Christine bumped into him from behind. "Move. I have to lie down..."

He helped her into bed, set her crutches where she could reach them, and brought pillows from the sofa to elevate her leg. He filled a water glass and set it on the bedside table next to the bottle of Tylenol 3. Once Christine was set up comfortably, he lay down beside her and focused on the ceiling.

Minute's later, Christine's breathing was slow and even, but she was not asleep yet. In a morphine haze, she floated softly; she was vaguely aware of all that had passed, but unable to summon the will to care. She remembered Meg running out the door and felt a flash of anger, but that soon subsided. Erik was next to her, close and warm. He was trembling. Did he need her? She put out a searching hand, curled her fingers loosely around his. All the happiness she'd ever dreamed of was in the returned tender pressure of his fingers on hers.

Erik had done considerable damage to his face during his rage. Instead of medicating the pain, he let it sink molten pincers into his cheeks and forehead. He felt tears streaming down his cheeks; he knew he was trembling. He would not sleep tonight. It was a fitting punishment for what he had put her through. What, he wondered, would be a fitting punishment for that red-headed woman? These vicious thoughts dissolved when he felt Christine's lazily questing hand close on his.

Though he had lived in quiet solitude for nine years, he had never felt peace. His mind had always been a constant whirl of anger, cynicism, resentment, and self-hatred. When he believed that Christine had betrayed him, all those feelings -instilled by a lifetime of rejection and loss- were whipped to a crimson frenzy. If even she could not love him, he had decided that no one ever would, and he would be better off dead. When she appeared on the ledge declaring that he might do as he wished to her, so long as he loved her, a new and entirely alien thought had been born. If he could not let go of all those destructive emotions, the next thing he destroyed could be his love. And that would be a tragedy; the worst he'd ever faced. How right Nadir had been! There was such clarity inside the misery.

"Christine, you were right. I hadn't mastered my anger - I'd only locked it away. But I will master it. If you'll stand with me, I can do it."

"I like my cello..." Christine murmured and emitted a tiny, ladylike snore.

Jay was sitting up waiting for her when Meg walked through the door in tears. She threw herself on the sofa beside him and cried loudly for several minutes. Jay put a muscular arm around her and patted her knee until she quieted. It was not unusual for Meg to decide she needed "a good cry." He'd long since learned that the best policy was to let her drain her tears before asking any questions.

Finally the tears tapered off.

"They both hate me now. I've lost my best friend!"

Jay kept patting her knee. "She'll get over it. It's not like you two haven't had your falling-outs before this."

"No. I don't think she will. Unless I can make it up somehow..."

"How are you gonna do that, Megalicious? I don't mean to be harsh, but you can't exactly un-publish that article..."

Meg sat upright and pressed a finger to the tip of Jay's nose. "You are right."

"Of course I am."

"I can't un-publish that article. But the newspaper can! Or if not that, they can print an answering article! Most of the stuff that journalist said was not true! Erik isn't a monster or a brute. So that... that's defamation of character, right?" Jay could imagine the wheels in Meg's brain creaking to life, spinning faster and faster as she formulated one of her infamous plans

"I guess it could be..."

"It is! And if I go down there and tell them so, they have to print something else - don't they?"

"I don't know. Meg, are you seriously considering..."

"I'll do it tomorrow." Meg jumped up from the sofa and grabbed a pen and some paper. "They can't just say whatever they want about a person. They can't be that one-sided. Erik has to be allowed to defend himself - or someone has to be allowed to defend him. He and Christine will be gone to Wisconsin. I was supposed to go, but I doubt I'm invited anymore."

Jay watched her begin to write feverishly. "You know, Megaton...even if you pull this off, they might still hate you."

"Always such a supportive boyfriend. That's what I love about you." Meg looked at what she had written, shook her head and started again. "But even if they still hate me, I'll have done everything I can. And if this doesn't work, I will personally hunt down Ms. Bertrand and beat the ever-living snot out of her."

This, Jay believed. He hoped for Ms. Bertrand's sake and Meg's sake that the newspaper would be willing to print an answering article. Meg was a scrapper - if she decided to beat this woman up, he had no doubt the woman would land in the hospital and Meg would land in jail.

"Ok. So Plan A is you write another article, and Plan B is that you beat this woman down."

"Yup."

He massaged her shoulders with his huge, rough hands. "Want some help on that article?"

True to her word, Meg popped out of bed at six the next morning, called in to work (Bess almost had a break-down - Christine had also called in with her broken leg), and headed off to the Seattle Times headquarters. She stood at the front desk, waiting for the harassed-looking receptionist to put the phone down.

"Yes ma'am. Yes. I will pass that on to the...Mm-hmm. Mmm-hm. Yes...No, you aren't the first person to...Ok. I will pass that on. Have a nice day." She hung up and looked at Meg. Before she could speak a greeting, however, the phone began to ring again.

"Good morning, ma'am. How may I help you?"

"Ummm..." Meg looked uneasily at the phone with its flashing red lights. "Don't you need to answer that?"

"No. I already know what they want. I'll just note it down with all the others." One perfectly manicured nail gestured to the stack of sticky notes rising ominously on her left.

"Wow. All those are about the same thing?" Nosy Meg was instantly curious.

"Yes. Apparently one of our entertainment writers has angered all of Seattle with an exposť she wrote. And I have to field all the calls. They don't seem to realize that I didn't write, edit, or ok the damned thing! I'm just the receptionist. And the mail hasn't come yet today - but I will have to open almost all of that as well." The poor little woman really did look as though she'd reached the end of her rope. The phone rang and flashed incessantly.

"The Strange Noise article?"

"That's the one."

"Well, not to add to your morning, but that's what I'm here about."

"Oh no."

"But I actually know them. Strange Noise. I'm the source Ms Bertrand spoke to." Meg recoiled at the predatory grin the pert little lady threw her way.

"Wonderful. Maybe you'd care to field a couple of these calls, then?"

"Uh...no, thanks. But, if you can tell me who to talk to, I have a rebuttal article..." Meg displayed her final draft. "It might help. If you help me out...it would give you something to tell all these people."

"I'll see if the editor will talk to you. I'll encourage him." Without further comment, the receptionist walked through a door a few feet away from her desk, carrying her pile of sticky notes with her. Five minutes later she emerged, nodding to Meg. "Go on."

Meg walked back, far more confident now than she had been upon entering the building. They were taking a beating for that article; hopefully, that would give her a leg up in promoting her response.

Mr. Bell stood when the Meg entered his office. They shook hands and he indicated she should have a seat.

"Now, young lady, Miss Gerhardt tells me that you know this Erik Valliere personally and that you wish to submit a response to Ms. Bertrand's article, which has been drawing some criticism. I also understand that you were Ms. Bertrand's original source." He sat back in his chair expectantly.

"Yes. But all I told her was what his name was and how many different instruments he can play. She made me think she was going to write a nice article about them. Instead, she made him sound like a monster - I'll have you know that Erik is anything but a monster. He treats Christine like she was made of gold - I'm actually envious of the two of them. So, most of what she wrote was rumors and outright lies. Isn't that called libel? And she printed his face without his consent, which I think was really uncalled for." Having delivered this diatribe without taking a breath, Meg sat back, mirroring Mr. Bell's expectant attitude.

"Libel is a serious word to throw around at a newspaper, young lady." His words carried a mild warning. Meg was not impressed.

"If the shoe fits... Did anyone even check up on the facts? I know no one called either of them, that's for sure."

"We did check his criminal record..." Mr Bell was looking decidedly uneasy.

"From ten years ago! People change. Your Ms. Bertrand might have just taken away the only happiness this man has ever found. And from what I heard at the receptionist's desk, their fans aren't very happy about what you published either."

"I'll admit that's true."

"You bet it is." Meg was at the height of her performance now. "You just bet. And because I am the only other person in this city who knows both of them personally, I suggest that you let me write a rebuttal -their real story - and you might want to add in an apology, too."

"If we let you do this, what would you write?" In this fiery woman, Mr. Bell saw an opportunity to correct a grievous mistake and a chance to increase readership. The people loved a good human interest story.

"I'd write about my friend Christine, and how she almost lost her future until Erik restored it to her. I'd write about how Erik had never known love, only because of his face, and he might never have if Christine hadn't been able to look past his mask and his face. And I'd write about how the music they make together is so incredibly beautiful because they love each other perfectly, and..."

"Enough. Enough. You've convinced me. Write your article and let me look it..." The man was almost slavering. It was the perfect story - Beauty and the Beast, true love and hardship - the public would eat it with a spoon.

Meg thrust the article into his hand. He perused it, made a few notations, and looked up. "It's a bit rough, but you show real potential. Have you ever considered a career in journalism? Make these corrections, and we'll run it."

"May I borrow a computer?"

"Over there. Be my guest."

It took Meg a matter of an hour to clean up her article and type it out. She couldn't believe it had been this easy to accomplish her mission. She'd been expecting a show-down at the editorial office. Never underestimate the power of public outrage, she thought happily.

"It will run tomorrow, Ms..."

"Giry. Megan Giry. And it has been a real pleasure talking with you, sir." She sauntered out of the office, stopping in the doorway only long enough to say, "You should fire that woman, sir. She's not even a good interviewer."

Binary

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 50 of 64

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