Anonymous Tip: Stephen and Donna Have It Out

Anonymous Tip: Stephen and Donna Have It Out May 20, 2016

A Review Series of Anonymous Tip, by Michael Farris

Pp. 297-299

Last week the local newspaper posted an article about Gwen’s civil rights case, but while Gwen and Peter had reason to be pleased with the article, Donna did not. She was especially worried about the questions the article raised about Blackburn’s death.

She knew she was innocent of any connection to Blackburn’s death, but she was terrified that somehow the detectives might stumble into the blackmail plot and implicate her in the perjury and document tampering.

And now we get the next installment in Donna’s relationship with Stephen. And it’s, uh, a bit of a departure. Donna calls Stephen and calls and calls, but it’s 7:30 p.m. in Spokane when he finally picks up—and 10:30 in his new city, Washington, D.C.

“Stephen, it’s Donna.”

“Oh, hi, Donna,” Stockton said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.

As you may remember, the last time we heard from Stephen, he went from begging Donna to come with him to Washington, D.C., and marry him to deciding that he didn’t want to marry her after all, because of the mess she was in with work, and potentially shady dealings there. It was all very sudden, and he didn’t tell her about his change of heart.

“Where have you been all day? I have been trying to get you for hours.”

Stockton motioned to the young woman co-worker who had been his companion for a day of sight-seeing that she should sit down in the living room. He mouthed the words “I’ll be a few minutes.”

Wait, what exactly is Farris trying to imply, here? It’s Sunday night for crying out loud. Both Stephen and his co-worker presumably have work in the morning. If they spent the day sight-seeing, why exactly did she come back to his apartment afterwards? And even if she did, just to see his place or something, it’s 10:30 p.m. on a work night. Is she on her way out, or are we to assume that they are going to have sex? Because frankly, that seems like a bad idea, given that this is a co-worker.

Where did all of Stephen’s supposed ethics go so quickly? Oh wait. If Farris is okay with a romance between a lawyer and his (penniless) client, he probably doesn’t have any idea that workplace romances are often inadvisable. It’s not clear, of course, what sort of co-worker she is. Another lawyer? Or a secretary, or other administrative staffer? Of course, Farris probably wouldn’t see that as relevant, or understand the distinction.

“Oh, I’ve just been out sight-seeing. This is really an interesting town. Lots to see.”

“Sounds great,” Corliss said. “In fact, it sounds so great that I’ve decided to join you there—take you up on all those offers you’ve made time and time again.”

The young woman got up off the couch in Stockton’s apartment. She walked across the living area and started looking at his bookshelf in earnest. Stockton thought that she was clearly better looking than Donna Corliss and didn’t come wrapped in a pile of ethical problems that he neither wanted nor needed right now.

Of course Stephen thinks about looks first, because of course he does.

Because, after all, this book is written by Farris.

Farris has actually been very kind in his treatment of Stephen. He has portrayed Stephen as ethical, loyal, and honest. Yes, he goes out drinking and was sleeping with Donna even though they weren’t married, but he did ask her to marry him, and he did study hard for the bar. From where I’m sitting, what’s happening here now is either out of step with Stephen’s character, or else Farris doesn’t think what he’s doing is out of step with being ethical, loyal, and honest, which is rather telling.

“Well, that’s a surprising development,” Stockton said. “What made you change your mind?”

“Oh, I guess I just miss you, Stephen.”

Stephen presses, asking if there’s anything new going on, anything new with the case she’d mentioned, and so forth. Donna says there’s nothing, that the only change is a newspaper article. Stephen asks her to have his dad’s secretary fax it to his office the next day, and Donna is becoming exasperated.

“Stephen, here we are talking about faxes and newspaper articles and everything under the sun. I’ve just agreed to marry you and you haven’t said anything about that. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t. I can’t talk right now. I’m with some of my co-workers.”

“Oh yeah? What’s her name?” Corliss asked angrily.

Can I just point out how much more quickly Donna usually catches onto things than Gwen does? Gwen would be all “Oh, okay, sorry to bother you, I’m sure you have important things to do, I’ll let you go.”

“Let me call you back soon, OK? It really would be better.”

“You pig! You use me for three years and then dump me in less than a week! You’re a pig!”

“You’re jumping to conclusions. Please let me call later. Bye.” He hung up the phone before she could speak again.

Oh, so much to talk abut! First, what is this bit about Stephen using Donna? Is she talking about sex? If so, what she said only makes sense if she’s coming from Farris’s perspective on sex, and that would be just weird, especially because she’s supposed to be a feminist.

Look, Donna has reason to be angry here. She told Stephen she didn’t want to get married and move with him to Washington, D.C., where he’s going to be working for two years before moving back to Washington state, but she never broke up with him. He’s her boyfriend. She also didn’t know he’d decided to stop asking her to come with him. There are lots of things she could throw at him here. Going with “you use me for three years” rather than something else is just weird.

Anyway, Farris tells us that Donna is furious, throws herself on the couch, spends several minutes screaming, and then cries “a brokenhearted cry” that lasts “for hours, or so it seemed.” Okay then. Downton Abbey could have been titled “How many more ways can we torture Edith.” I’m getting the same feeling here, with what Farris is doing to Donna.

The rest of this section is comparatively boring. Peter takes his reply brief to the courthouse on Monday morning, and apparently the whole office comes “alive with activity” at seeing the name on the file, given the newspaper article.

Photocopies of the Sunday article were waiting on every desk on the ninth floor—including Judge Stokes.

Wait. How? Why?

The clerk who accepted the brief for filing took the extra copy Peter supplied for the judge and said he would deliver it personally ASAP. And he did, after a short stop at the copy machine where he burned off three quick copies for the clerk’s office staff to read when things weren’t terribly busy that day.

Is that allowed?

Judge Stokes’ law clerk—“a young woman lawyer who had graduated from the University of Washington near the top of her class a year earlier”—calls Peter within the hour to tell him that oral arguments on the motion to dismiss will be the following Monday at 9 a.m. Farris says she tells Peter that each side will have thirty minutes “just like arguments in the Supreme Court.” I’m not sure what the significance of this is, but I think we’re supposed to be impressed.

There’s one more thing. At the very end of this section we learn that Peter starts getting phone calls, calls Farris says were “generated by the article.” There are six calls, to be precise.

All were from people who believed they had been the victims of CPS. None of the six remembered any involvement by Corliss, Coballo, or Blackburn. All six were eventually reunited with their children.

Peter takes notes and says he’ll call them if he finds anything “relative to their cases.” Let me tell you what I don’t understand, here. There are indeed actual oversteps by CPS, but for every case where a parent has an actual grievance there are at least three cases where abusive or neglectful parents falsely claim CPS overreach. Maybe more, I don’t know. The point is, Peter has no way to know whether the people calling him were actually victims of CPS, or whether they were abusive parents spinning the story their way—which is what abusive parents do. But you know what? I don’t think Farris has even thought of that, and Peter sure doesn’t seem to.

Ick. This was a weird section. I have no idea why Farris grouped Donna and Stephen’s conversation Sunday night together with this bit about Peter’s Monday morning, but so be it.

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