The Ghost
they both found it more than a little embarrassing to fire him, and potentially very expensive. His not working out in New York would be a reflection on them as well, and they were both anxious to avoid any possibility of lawsuits or scandal. He was highly respected in their field, and firing him, and all that entailed, would cause comment and controversy, which might eventually hurt them. They wondered if leaving him in Florida for a while would cool him off, and give them a chance to rethink their options. They needed time to discuss it with their lawyers.
    Fire you? They guffawed at the thought. Charles! Of course not! But just looking at them, Charlie knew better. He knew that sending him to Florida was just a ploy to get him out of their hair. And he also knew that not only was he unhappy in New York, but he was making them very nervous. Professionally at least, in his years abroad, he had come to represent everything they hated. He was far too avant-garde now for the New York office, and in their haste to fill the job, they had somehow managed to overlook that.
    Why not just send me back to London? he asked hopefully. But the truth was, they couldn't. They had just signed a deal with Dick Barnes, guaranteeing him Charlie's old job for at least five years. He had come at them with an incredibly shrewd lawyer. But the contract had been drawn up in the utmost secrecy, and Charlie knew nothing about it. I'd be a lot happier if I were there, and so would you, I suspect. He smiled at the two men who were his bosses. They weren't bad men, they just had no sense of artistic excitement, and lately they seemed to be lacking courage. They were tired, and so was everything they were doing. And they were running a police state in order to keep everything the way they wanted.
    We need you here, Charles, they explained, looking more than ever like Siamese twins to him. We're going to have to make the best of a difficult situation. But they didn't sound any happier than he did, and they were desperately groping for a solution.
    Why? Why do anything we don't want to do? Charlie said suddenly, feeling a strange rush of freedom. He had already lost everything he cared about when Carole left. He had no wife, no ties, no family, no home anywhere, and all his belongings were in storage. All he had now was his job, and he hated it more than he had ever hated anything he'd ever done. Why stay? He suddenly couldn't think of a single reason to be there, other than his contract. But maybe a good attorney could dissolve it. A thought had just come to him while they were speaking, and he was overwhelmed by a sudden sense of liberation. He didn't have to be there. In fact, if he took a sabbatical, they might be relieved not to have to pay him. Maybe I should just leave, he said practically, looking completely unemotional about it. But the senior partners were far more concerned about losing him than he was about leaving. Besides, they had no one else to run the office, and neither of them wanted to do it.
    Maybe a leave of absence, they said cautiously, watching to see his reaction. But he looked happier than he had in the entire seven weeks he'd been there. It was precisely what he'd been thinking. He had realized everything he needed to know now. They didn't own him. He could leave anytime he wanted. And he suddenly didn't care what happened. Eventually, he could always go back to London, even if he left them.
    I think a leave of absence is a great idea, he said, smiling at them, feeling almost diz2y with excitement. It was like skydiving, like floating free in the air, completely unfettered and unchained. I don't mind if you want to fire me, he said almost nonchalantly, and both men shuddered in answer. Given the contract they had signed, if they fired him, they would have to pay him anyway for two years, or he could turn around and sue them.
    Why don't you just take a few months off ' with pay, of course. They were willing to pay almost anything

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