A Meeting In The Ladies Room
by Anita Doreen Diggs
Blackmail is a despicable act, and I only stooped that low because my alternative was to spend twenty-five years in prison for a murder that I didn't committ. My name is Jacqueline Blue, and I'm really a decent woman. I obey the laws of New York State even when they don't make sense. I support my mother, who, because she didn't finish high school and has no skills, can't find a job. I contribute to the NAACP even though they hold more banquets than protests during these last years of the twentieth century. I also respect the privacy of my fellow human beings. So, if someone had told me a year ago that I would dig into the background of a New York Comet reporter and uncover secrets to force her cooperation in my affairs, I would have laughed uncontrollably.
My biggest problems at the beginning of this year were my unrequited love for a traveling salesman named Victor Bell and editing an offensive biography written by Craig Murray, an untalented scribe who was married to my boss. It was a lonely existence, but I figured that once Craig's book was completed and Victor had come to his senses, my life would become paradise. God had other plans.
It was the middle of January and so cold outside that my ears, fingers, and toes grew numb during the ten minutes it took to walk from the office building where I worked in Times Square to B. Smith's Restaurant for the weekly Black Pack get-together.
We called ourselves the Black Pack because the eight of us were the only African American professionals working in the rarefied world of Manhattan book publishing. Each of us worked for a different company. We had nothing in common except a shared cultural heritage and a need to vent about the frustration, alienation, and invalidation that we experienced from some members of the Dominant Culture. At the end of each dangerously soul-sapping, energy-draining week, it was nice to take off our Corporate Negro masks and relax.
I can still see myself, pulling off a heavy red wool cape and matching gloves as I followed the hostess to a round table where five members of the group were already seated. My hair was freshly braided, curled and hanging loose around my shoulders. I was wearing a square-necked, long sleeved red dress, belted at the waist, which had cost way too much money but looked so good on my buxom, five-foot, five inch frame that it was guaranteed to show off my coffee-colored skin and make Victor sweat.
Victor wasn't there and my heart sank, even as the others greeted me cheerfully. Paul Dodson caught my eye and knew my instant misery. Paul was the only one in the group that knew about my crush on our colleague.
Alyssa was missing also. Our workloads made it impossible for all eight of us to show up every single Friday night. I sat down, hoping that Victor would stop by later.
Rachel was there, dressed to the nines and batting her eyelashes at each male who passed by the table. Everyone in the group knew that the only reason Rachel Edwards never missed a gathering was that she was desperate to find a rich husband and B. Smith's attracted it's share of professional Black men. Rachel was one of the few black publicists in the business, but she didn't care about us, Black book buyers or anyone except herself. She longed for a luxurious house, set on a few acres of land in Westchester County, where she would hobnob with the wives of other rich men and spend the rest of her time serving on committees. She was a pathetic gold digger who had recently dyed her hair blond to match.
Sitting across the table from Rachel, I tried not to notice her flashing smiles in the direction of several brothers in business suits who were having drinks at the bar to the left of our table. A pretty and petite woman just past ehr thirtieth birthday, Rachel was wearing a black knit dress that clung to her curves. I know this because she got up several times during the evening to go to the bathroom so that the men could watch her glide.
"Why Jackie, don't you look sensational in that red dress," she said with a smile.
"It is definitely working," Joe Long agreed.
"I'll bet it's a Nicole Miller," said Elaine "I went to Harvard" Garner.
Elaine was one of the most irritating people I had ever met. She had a habit of bringing up her Ivy League education at every possible opportunity. It was my boss, Annabelle Murray, who had nicknamed her Elaine "I went to Harvard" Garner, and I shared that information with Paul who laughed himself silly. People in the industry made a game of getting off the phone before she could mention Harvard and avoided as much social interaction with her as possible. The Black Pack couldn't do that because she was......well....Black.