"What was all that about last night?" the P.O. raged. "Burning an effigy of the Rose Festival Queen!"
"How do you know it was the Rose Festival Queen?" Lyssa asked reasonably. She sat at her desk and watched with feigned concern as the P.O. paced angrily back and forth in front of her. He had sought her out in the office of Cutting Edges and had the good fortune to find her there. "As far as I know, those involved were protesting the degradation of women to objects--and beauty pageants have a tendency to do that," Lyssa explained patiently.
"I know what she looked like! She had roses in her arms!" The P.O. in his wrath bore a slight resemblance to the mouse that roared. He hadn't brought a show of force with him this time, and he was distinctly outnumbered. Diana, Mercy and Harry looked on humorously. (Harry had obviously been brought around.) Marty and Roxana unfortunately would miss out on the entertainment--they were off arranging teasers, kickers, covers, sinks and bleeds for the next issue of the magazine, which, miracle of miracles, was scheduled to appear on time. This was in the days before desktop publishing, when personal computers had a couple of megabytes of memory at most, and hard disks were out of the price range of a shoestring operation like a regional magazine. They were no longer living in the stone age, but they still took their copy to the printer.
Lyssa shrugged. "So what? Don't beauty pageants always give their beauties roses?"
"Are you planning to disrupt the crowning of the Rose Festival Queen by any chance?" the P.O. asked.
"We wouldn't dare," Lyssa replied evenly.
"I hope not. The Rose Festival needs its queen."
"Who needs the Rose Festival?"
The P.O. was outraged. "How can you say that? The Rose Festival is a symbol of this city!"
"And it's getting more commercial every year. Are you trying to tell me that this city is selling out?" From behind her desk and the P.O.'s back, Diana gave Lyssa a big grin and a thumbs up signal.
"Don't try to sidetrack me. You promised to drop the strike after a month and now here it is, supposedly almost over, and it's escalating!"
Actually, as far as numbers were concerned, activism seemed to be on the decline, but Lyssa wasn't going to tell him that. "We promised no such thing."
The P.O. blustered and stormed. "You did too!" Mercy shook her head in amused disbelief. It was like an argument between Bruce and Bennie.
"We promised to end the strike after a month of a rape-free city."
"And it has been."
"No it hasn't. Not according to the rape crisis center it hasn't."
"Well, according to official records it has."
"Not good enough."
The P.O. fretted and fumed. "I'm not here to discuss the fine points with you, I'm here to discuss what happened yesterday. The fact remains that what those women did was illegal, and a hazard to public safety as well."
"And public servants are devoted to public safety."
"May I ask where you were when all this was going on?"
"Here," Lyssa said serenely. "We had a lot of work to catch up on."
From the dirty look on his face, the P.O. obviously still had something up his sleeve. "Well, some of the women who were there are being held in the city jail, pending charges for arson."
The P.O. grinned. "Arson."
"But they didn't try to set fire to anything except a stupid doll, and they made that themselves!"
"They could have, though. The city, however, is prepared to drop the charges if the women will drop the strike." Diana barely refrained from booing.
"The city? How? And that's blackmail."
The P.O. grinned some more. "Hm. You might have a point there."
"There are witnesses here."
"They don't matter, they're part of the problem." He gave Harry a poisonous glare, as if he were some kind of traitor. "You've gone too far now. And it looks like you're about to bring disgrace on an honored tradition of this city."
"Oh, shush," Lyssa said.
"I will not shush," the P.O. insisted. "We want you women to end your activities before the crowning of the Rose Festival Queen."
"You're going to regret this," Lyssa said.
"You are in no position to threaten me, woman!" The P.O. had been so sure his move would cow her that when it didn't, he had a cow himself.
Lyssa got up from her desk deliberately to face him. "I may be a woman, but I'm not without wisdom, even if I never did finish my philosophy degree. My native wit is not completely negligible and my education is not entirely despicable, and I won't be bullied. We've got you where we want you and we'll give you hell if you're not careful." Diana jumped at the strange sound of a four-letter word coming from Lyssa's lips.
"You don't have me anywhere," the P.O. protested. "It's time this strike ended, and that's that. The economy is drifting into complete and utter chaos. And the men, the men!"
"At least they're starting to realize the consequences of overlooking women."
"At the moment it would be quite impossible." Irony dripped from the P.O.'s voice like honey from a swizzle stick.
"So then haven't you achieved your goal?"
"There was another rape this week."
"Then why wasn't it reported?"
"Does it have to be reported to be rape?"
The P.O. blustered and fumed. "We had an agreement. I demand that you put an end to the strike!"
"You don't demand anything. We would be quite capable of ruining the Rose Festival, you know." It was the P.O. himself who had given Lyssa that idea, but she wasn't going to admit it.
"You wouldn't dare."
"And you wouldn't dare charge those women with arson."
"Well, we are no longer going to be as patient as we have been until now, I can assure you of that."
Lyssa leaned against her desk and folded her arms thoughtfully. "Perhaps under certain conditions, I might be able to get the women to end the strike after all."
"And what might those conditions be?"
Lyssa sat down and fished a blank piece of paper and a pen out of the chaos on her desk. "No swimsuits," she said, writing.
"No swimsuits, not in the pageant and not on the floats." She drummed her fingers on the table and looked up at P.O. standing in front of her, his face as grey as his hair and his suit. He had long since stopped pacing. "Rape education in schools and especially on college campuses."
"Rape education? What is that supposed to consist of?"
"Don't worry about that--we'll figure that one out. A mandatory rape-awareness seminar for women and men would be a good start, though."
"I can't promise anything, you know. All your suggestions would have to go through the city council."
"You could appoint a task force, though, couldn't you? To work out the details."
"A task force," the P.O. repeated, sinking into a chair across from Lyssa. "And I'm sure you can tell me who I should appoint to this task force."
Lyssa chuckled but continued writing. "How about greater access to legal counselling for rape victims? This has to come out of crisis centers and into the mainstream. People have to realize that rape victims will get help from their community and their attackers will be punished. And the woman won't be brushed off if the rapist was an acquaintance." Lyssa looked up from the paper and straight into the P.O.'s eyes. He nodded, obviously resigned.
"It would be good if we could draft some kind of legislation to make the definition of rape clearer," Lyssa mused.
"Leave legislation up to the legislators," the P.O. said.
"And let the grey-suited men manhandle affairs of state with the usual staggering incompetence? No thank you. We'll come up with something." Lyssa tapped her pen on the table. "Maybe we should forbid Norman Mailer access to our fair city?" she reflected, a light of mischief in her eyes.
"We can't do that!" the P.O. stormed, jumping out of his chair again. Harry almost laughed.
"You're right, we can't," Lyssa said regretfully. "Even if he is guilty of romanticizing rape. And it would probably only make him want to come here in the first place."
"I'm glad you can still occasionally see reason," the P.O. said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. He had noticed too late that Lyssa was joking and he felt a little like a fool. "I can't have all of this done by myself, you know."
"But you can get the ball rolling." Lyssa smiled at him sweetly. "Of course, I still have to talk to the rest of the women to see if they would accept those conditions. Perhaps I've forgotten something important."
"I can't imagine what."
"Don't be so depressed," Lyssa said in a motherly tone. "All we want to do is save men from themselves."
"And what if we don't want to be saved?"
"That's just the point." Lyssa stood up again, indicating the interview was at an end, and extended her hand to him. "Now I can't guarantee that the conditions will be accepted, but I'll do my best."
The P.O. didn't appear to be particularly relieved, but he took his leave, hopeful that the strike might end soon.
After he left the office, Diana, Mercy and Harry broke into enthusiastic applause. Lyssa gave them a wide smile and nodded her head in acknowledgement. "I did that quite well, didn't I?"
"Marty would have been proud of you," Diana said.
"Not to mention Roxana," Mercy added.
"I wish you'd let up on the male-bashing, though," Harry complained mildly.