“You stole my money.”
Leticia’s eyes widened, as large and saucer-like as Melba’s lips were compressed. Too shocked to speak, she just shook her head in denial.
“You stole my money!” Melba repeated. Melba rarely used her indoor voice anyway, but by the end of this statement, there was surely not a person in the office who hadn’t heard. Indeed, the background office noises had fallen utterly still. Leticia felt her face and neck burn as she flushed under her dark skin. Still, she couldn’t quite articulate a response.
“Admit it, you … you … immigrant!”
Leticia’s mouth, which had been soundlessly trying to form words to deny Melba’s outrageous accusation, snapped shut. She returned Melba’s glare. “I did no such thing,” she said with as much dignity as she could muster.She spoke with a pronounced Jamaican accent, but she always spoke clean, proper English.
“You were the only one who could. You were in the office alone with my purse and when I checked later the money was gone, so you did it! Process of elimination! You’re a filthy lying treacherous little thief! I knew it was a mistake to hire you, I knew it the first minute I laid eyes on you—” —”
“Melba.” The firm voice was perhaps the only one in the office with the impact to stop her in the middle of her rant. Melba’s head swung around. Mr. Foles stood a few feet away, gazing steadily at her.
She leapt on her chance. She thrust a long, bony finger in Leticia’s face, so close the Jamaican flinched back. “She’s a thief, she—”
“I heard you the first time. The whole office heard you, Melba. My office. Now. You too, Leticia.” Without waiting for a response, he turned on his heel and walked away. He spoke evenly, not a single syllable betraying any emotion, but only a fool couldn’t mistake his irritation at Melba’s public disruption.
That fool being Melba, apparently.
“Ha!” she said to Leticia. “Now you’ll get what you deserve.” And then she too marched off in a head-held-high victory parade of one. Leticia stood more slowly, her face hot with humiliation. As she rose, she saw heads all across the office poking above their cube walls, watching the drama unfold in front of them. Leticia’s eyes burned with unshed tears of indignation.
She followed Melba and Mr. Foles into his office. She kept her eyes focused straight ahead, blinking rapidly to hold back any tears, too proud – and innocent of the accusation – to look down, but still too embarrassed to meet anyone’s gaze.
Leticia walked past Mr. Foles’ assistance Frances, who watched her with a bemused expression. She stepped past Mr. Foles at the entrance to his office. He shut the door behind them and moved to his desk. Leticia sat delicately in the vacant chair.
Melba, already seated, launched immediately into her explanation. She spoke so fast it was hard to understand: “This is what happened Leticia came into my office this morning so I could give her the receipts to finish my expense report while she was gathering those I stepped out to use the ladies room leaving my purse in there when I got back—”
“In the ladies room?” Mr. Foles interrupted.
“Did you leave your purse in the ladies room?”
“No, in my office. I left my purse in my office with Leticia and when I got back I went immediately to our staff meeting while in the meeting I went through my purse you remember that I’m sure and that’s when I realized it was missing.” She finally paused to take a breath.
“What was missing?” Mr. Foles asked.
“The money. The money I got from the bank this morning.” She turned a dark look on Leticia. “A lot of money. I’m sure it seemed like an irresistible amount to someone like her.”
“No, it’s not true!” Leticia finally exclaimed.
“Leticia. You’ll get your turn. Let Melba finish, please.”
“All the cash was gone.” Melba turned to Leticia. “You need to get on your banana boat and go back to your island and pick coconuts. You don’t belong here.” She swiveled to face Mr. Foles again. “She’ll be fired, of course.” Mr. Foles’ eyes flicked over to the young assistant.
“It’s not true, Mr. Foles! I swear! After Melba left her office, I didn’t even realize she’d left her purse behind, I didn’t even see it. I love working here, I would never jeopardize—” “Well, of course she would deny it.”