"Are you threatening me?" Father Frank asked in disbelief.
"Marshall was raised Catholic," my employer said, exhaling a cloud of smoke, "so it's always been a dream of his to manhandle a man wearing a clerical collar. You're tall, but he could wrap you up and put a bow on you without breathing hard."
"So, this is how you settle disputes," the priest said, while I wondered where she got her exaggerated ideas of my physical prowess.
"Of course not," she replied. "Don't be fatuous. We will talk, all four of us, about this and whatever else is on your mind. That's how we settle disputes. And that does not require physical coercion."
"You're trying to provoke me."
"Oh, definitely not," she said, "at least in the sense of starting a fight. To arouse you to action, though, yes. You had some reason for asking me here, something more serious than my daughter defacing your church, and I want to find out what it is." She glanced at Ron. "Serious as this vandalism is, of course."
"Your daughter? You must have been a very young mother." He released Ron's arm, and she stalked over to stand between Jan and me.
"We recognize many types of family relationships which you probably wouldn't acknowledge. Ron is our daughter. With whom I will have a substantial conversation later today about intellectual rigor, methods of argumentation and debate, and the importance of respect."
This was sufficiently unexpected and arcane that it shocked Ron out of her sullen attitude. She unfolded her arms and demanded, "What?"
Jan leaned over and hugged Ron, which also surprised her, and she said, "Later. For now, I need you to understand that it was wrong to write on the church. Not because it's a church, not because it's sacred in some way, but because the people who worship here have not harmed you. There are walls all over U-town which are explicitly set aside for people to express their opinions. Now, I will admit that, if you had written these same words on one of those walls, I would still be disappointed in you for making such a shallow and facile statement–"
"But that's the conversation we're going to have later," I put in.
"Yes, you're right. For now, Ron, you need to work with Father Frank and his parishioners to clean off their church. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Ron said quietly.
My employer turned to the priest. "Is that acceptable? She can come whenever you want, though I would request that it be in the afternoon. Ron performs a vital governmental function every morning, and she doesn't like to rely on anybody to replace her."
"That would be fine. Perhaps tomorrow afternoon. I also think that an apology is in order," he said, smiling indulgently at Ron, who made a face.
"That is between you and Ron. I will not try to compel her to make a coerced and insincere apology. If you want to receive a coerced and insincere apology from her, for some reason, you're welcome to try to elicit one yourself, tomorrow afternoon when she's working with you. Meanwhile, I think we should let Ron go so that we can go back to your office and you can tell us why you really asked me to come here today." She lit another cigarette.
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