Monday, February 6, 2017

Chapter 58 / Snow Day & Chapter 59 / Filters

“Snow day!” 

Kathleen, on the phone, sounding as excited as her kids. “We’re all going to Jaime’s to snowshoe. We’ll pick you up on our way.”

“Cool! Do you have room for Chloe in her crate?”

“Of course.” 

“Take your phone,” said Andrew from New York, where he was inspecting the offerings at a police car auction.  

“I’ll take it, Andrew, but it won’t work. Don’t worry—Liam’s a Boy Scout. Katrina’s studying karate. The bears are hibernating.” 

“—Call me when you get back in, OK?”

“Snow day! Snow day!” the four kids chanted from the car. 

“Where’s Andrew!” Liam kneeled on his seat, watching Annie nestle Chloe’s crate among the gear in the back of the van.   

“He’s in New York, buying us a car.” Annie picked up the whining Chloe, dusted the snow off her head and pushed her into the crate. “Maybe we can rent him some snowshoes on Sunday, do this again.” 

Chloe shook herself, annoyed, then accepted half a dog biscuit.  

“Can’t he wear Ed’s?”

“Liam!” Kathleen called from up front. “If Annie tells you Andrew has to rent snowshoes, that is all the information you need.”

“Gave them away at the equipment swap last year.” Annie winked at Liam. “Now belt yourself back in, and let’s boogie!”

The snow had fallen hard overnight, keeping the school busses stationary, but now it was squalls and flurries. Kathleen eased the van back onto Annie’s road, which awaited a second pass from the plow, and drove slowly toward Jaime and George’s. 

“Roads are quiet," she said. "Everyone else has the sense to stay home.” Then, “Anyone want to lead us in a song?”

“Purple People Eater!” called Liam.

Conor groaned, but he was the one who knew all the words.  

George had broken trail for the first half mile, through their property toward the parkland they abutted. Now he was drying off by the wood stove, willing to keep order among Chloe and the two cats.

Outdoors Conor lead the way at first and then traded off with the three women. Two would head their line while one brought up the rear, “to make sure the bears don’t eat you,” Liam told Maeve, who was six, and the littlest. 

“The bears are hibernating!” snapped Maeve, striding carefully forward in her equipment-swap gear: mini snowshoes and the fuchsia snowsuit she loved.

Outward bound, the path was uphill through the woods, the scene of a dream, everything blurred and soft, fir tree branches weighted with fresh snow, the path narrow between them. Their goal was a cleared rise with winter views of two mountain ranges and George and Jaime’s home tucked into the valley below.  

What luck she had been off today, thought Annie. Yes, she should be writing, and she had been writing her novel, when Kathleen called, but she had so little time to spend with friends . . . and immediately, the devil-thought followed . . . you could leave the job . . . write every day, go outdoors every day, not just look at the sun through the window . . . 

She pushed the thought aside. Think about this, now. She breathed through her nose, filling her lungs with air untouched by anything except trees and snow. You could breathe. You could write and go outdoors and breathe.

Heading the line, Annie reached the clearing first, followed by Kathleen. 

“We’ve got ten seconds of silence,” said Kathleen.

Ten seconds later, they still heard nothing more than snow falling. 

“This is why we live here, isn’t it,” said Annie. 

“I was just thinking that,” said Kathleen, her smile visible within the hood of her cranberry jacket. “It’s why we put up with this Republican backwater. Speaking of which, how are you?”

“—You mean the car? I’m OK . . . I wish they hadn’t done it.” 

“They, not he.” 

“He’s not alone in it. But I’m not either. And we’re stubborn, Andrew and I.” 

“Something to think about.”

Annie nodded. “Not so stubborn that we wouldn’t, each of us, make a deal with the devil.” 

“Well!” said Kathleen. “This is a day without filters, isn’t it.” 

They laughed, and then from down the hill they heard Jaime: “Mush! Mush, you huskies!” and saw fuchsia and blue, red and black through the trees.  

“We did it!” crowed Liam. “We got to the top of the mountain!”

“We could go farther,” said Conor, “to the real top. He looked at his watch. "We have time.”

“The girls’ hair is frozen,” said Liam. 

“Well, let’s wipe them off,” said Kathleen. She took a small towel from her daypack. “Maeve, your nose is an ice cube.” 

“I did it, Mom!”

“You did! Congratulations!” Kathleen kissed Maeve’s forehead. “I’m leaving your hair icicles outside so they don’t melt on your neck.” 

She did the same to Katrina—kiss and wipe—and then handed the towel to Liam. 

“Did they spit in it?”

“No! Dry your face.” 

“We have time to go farther,” said Conor. 

“I suggest,” said Jaime, “that we all go back down to the house, and then anyone who wants to stay out longer can help me make trails to the compost, around the barn, down to the creek.” 

“Vote!” said Conor. “Who wants to go farther?” 

He got one loyalty vote from Liam. 

“Settled,” said Kathleen. “Let us stand silently, looking around us, for five seconds, and then Conor, please lead the way down.”

At the house, Kathleen and Annie helped the girls off with their snowshoes. 

“Are we having a meeting of the kitchen cabinet?” asked Conor, who, in this campaign, was secretary to the cabinet. 

“When you and Jaime get back in,” said Kathleen. 

“Five minutes,” said Jaime. “I really want the trail to the compost. C’mon, guys, can you run in your snowshoes?”

Indoors, George was on the phone. “Can you put a tarp over it? Just some good-faith indication that you’re trying to cover the back.” 

He gave the phone to Annie. “Andrew bought a pickup.” 

“A pickup?” Annie said into the phone.

“I always wanted to be married to a pretty girl driving a pickup truck. Now George says I’m not supposed to take it on the parkway.” 

“Not without a cap on the back. Can you get a tarp, like he says?

“I’ll see. It’s sleeting down here.” 

“Shit. How are the tires?”

“Fine. Thing’s a year old, five thousand miles.” 

“What color is it!” called Katrina from the mud room. 

“Tell her it’s white. You guys have fun?”

“Super. We want you to come out on Sunday.” 

“If I get there by Sunday.” 

“You will. Can you pick me up? You could get off the parkway early, at County 10. It crosses Pumpkin Hollow Road.” 

“Pea soup!” called Jaime. “With a ham bone!”

The Kitchen Cabinet convened at the dining room table—the three women and Conor. At the counter, George cut up fruit for a salad. The other children were allowed to sit on the perimeter as nonspeaking observers. This meant that Liam and Katrina read their books and Maeve fell sound asleep in Kathleen’s arms. Chloe sat in Annie’s lap, her chin on the table, her eyes a half-mast.

“Doug knows this,” said Kathleen, “so I’m updating you: with the seat open, there will probably be a primary.” 

“Sucks,” said Jaime. 

Katrina and Liam looked up from their books.

“You don’t have to write that down Conor,” said Jaime. 

“The useless and idle fragmentation of the left, Conor,” said Annie. “That’s what Jaime means. You can write that down.” 

“Wait—" Conor wrote the phrase, next to Primary.

“Democracy, Conor,” said Kathleen. “People step up. The voters decide who among them would be the best to run for the seat.” 

“After the candidates spend all their money,” said Jaime. “Anyway, then one of them runs against . . .” 

“They’re looking at another Neanderthal,” said Annie. She named a man they had all heard of. 

Jaime groaned.

“He could slide right in,” said Kathleen. 

“Without the expense of a primary,” said Annie.

“If he doesn’t beat his wife,” said Jaime.

Three sets of sapphire eyes followed the conversation, from face to face. 

“Anyway,” said Kathleen, “the chairs of the county Democratic committees in the district will interview potential candidates soon and will endorse one of us. 

“If they don’t endorse me . . . I don’t know. At this point the state committee is behind me, but if someone else comes up . . . I don’t know.” 

“Do the primary, Mom,” said Conor, with Liam nodding hugely behind him. 

“Thank you, dear.” 

“We’ve got the bus,” said Conor. “No one else has the bus.” Liam cheered silently.

“He’s right,” said Annie. “We can get you on the primary ballot, whether or not those old white guys endorse you.” 

“What do I write,” sighed Conor. 

“’Probable G-O-P candidate,’” said Annie, and gave him the name. “Do you need me to spell it?”

“No, I’ve seen it in the newspaper. Thank you,” he added, feeling Kathleen’s eyes on him as he wrote. 

“Consensus of the meeting,” said Jaime. “If there’s a primary, Mom runs in it.” 

“This would be faster, Mom, if I had a laptop,” said Conor, writing. 

Kathleen rolled her eyes. “If I win the primary, Mr. Secretary, the campaign may buy a laptop.” 

Conor reached back and slapped hands with Liam.

“What’s our action plan,” said Jaime.

“Doug rehearses me for the interview,” said Kathleen.

“The kids clean the bus,” said Conor, writing. 

“We all survey for support,” said Annie. “Like, if Kathleen runs in a primary, will Democrats in the district support her? Donate, yes, but go door to door, get out the vote?” 

“They supported her before,” said Conor. 

“And I lost,” said Kathleen. “They may see me as a loser.” 

“You’re not a loser!” Conor’s face was stricken. 

“Thank you, honey.” 

“He’s right, said Jaime, "you lost by a hair. The Dems are crazy to run anyone but you.”

“And they are crazy,” said Annie. 

Copyright (c) Debby Mayer

Chapter 59 / Filters

Doug arrived, having closed his woodworking shop early. Maeve woke up whiny but agreed to a bowl of soup with the other kids. Doug and George joined the kids, so the core Kitchen Cabinet gave up the table and stopped at the teapot on their way to the living room. 

“We should always meet here,” said Kathleen. “You’ve made this kitchen so beautiful. I love this window for herbs.”

“I like this little drawer at the sink that tips out, and you put the sponge and the gloves in it,” said Annie. 

“You can have that Annie,” said Jaime. “It’s not a big deal.” She paused. “Are you and Andrew moving? Are you getting married? What are you doing?”

“Could we back up?” said Kathleen as they settled at the wood stove. “Did you meet with Father Paul?”

“Yes. He gave us his Marriage Expectation Inventory. Six pages! He won’t marry you unless you meet with him, and he won’t advise you unless you fill out this form.” 

“He has a lot of rules,” said Jaime. 

“Sounds brilliant,” said Kathleen. “I bet you can’t discuss it with us.” 

“No. We’re not supposed to discuss it with each other. You fill it out by yourself and then we meet with Paul again and talk about it. It’s not rules, the form, it’s expectations. What you expect from marriage.” 

“Wished somebody had asked me that,” said Jaime. “Just tell us what the hardest question is.”
“. . . Only because I’ve been thinking about it. Actually, there’s a tie: ‘My number one goal in life is’ and ‘what is the best strength I bring to the marriage.’” 

“Wow,” said Jaime. 

“Should be required reading in high school,” said Kathleen.

“Does it ask about your car?” asked Jaime.

“Jaime,” said Kathleen, “she’s not supposed to discuss it.”  

“We talked about the car. Whether I feel safe. That’s all I’ll say.”

“Can I just say one thing more?” said Jaime. 

Kathleen and Annie waited. Wiry and intense from her dark hair to her slipper socks, Jaime was going to say it anyway, and really, she meant well. 

“I just read this, the other day: ‘A third of all spouses of patients with bipolar illness develop serious depression and anxiety themselves.’”

Annie blinked. “Then two-thirds of them don’t.” 

Jamie paused, then nodded. “OK. Marry the guy.”

“We should be happy about this,” said Kathleen. “Are you happy, Annie?”

“—I’m happy,” said Annie. “Except . . . and this is serious . . . except for dinner. Three-hundred and sixty-five nights a year.” 

“Why is dinner your responsibility?” said Jaime. 
“Because if it were Andrew’s, we’d starve. Or eat barbecue seven nights a week.”

“Right, said Kathleen. “He’s not a fussy eater. Neither is Doug. I put a little fresh salsa on everything, and he thinks I’ve worked magic.” 

“If you want, I’ll give you lessons,” said Jaime. “Both of you.”

“We want.”

“Salsa,” said Kathleen. “Learn to make fresh salsa.” 

*   *   *   

“Anyone who’s going out to see the truck, please put on a hat!” called Kathleen.

Annie had been outdoors, taking Chloe for a walk-about, when the big white pickup truck pulled in. 

Andrew tumbled out of the cab and embraced her. Once they were walking around the truck Kathleen let loose the boys, followed by George and Doug, all of them wearing their knit hats. Doug brushed off the tarp with a push broom. The boys climbed into the cab. 

“You got this for two grand?” said Doug.

“Standard shift. That’s a deal-breaker in New York.” 

“Good job with the tarp,” said George. 

“I still got stopped.” 

“Damn!”

“Young cop. I told him I had just bought it at a police auction. He was fascinated. We stood in the snow while he took notes. Then he let me off with a warning.” 

“Imagine how cute Chloe will look riding in the back,” said Annie. Chloe stood on her hind legs, grinning, her front paws on the wall. At the cab’s back window, Liam looked horrified. He hopped out. 

“Annie you’re not supposed to do that,” he said.

“I’m sorry, Liam, don’t worry.” Annie picked up Chloe again and held her. “This is a girl who rides only in the cab.” 

On the other side of the truck, George tapped the fake underbody with his knuckles. “You know it’s got this,” he said quietly to Andrew. 

Andrew nodded. “It’s that obvious?”

“To the pros.” 

“Guess I’ll have to keep it empty then.” 

George smiled back at Andrew. “Guess you will.” 

*   *   *   *

“Did you wash your face before dinner?” Liam stared at Andrew across the table. 

At the table’s end, Kathleen put her head in her hands. 

“I did,” said Andrew. Ah did. “Hands and face. Don’t you wash up before supper?”

“Hands. Not face.” 

“In hotter climates, it might be customary to wash your face before eating,” said Doug. He put a bowl of soup before Andrew and sat next to Kathleen.

Andrew nodded, buttering his bread. “In hotter climates. When you’ve been working outdoors. When you’ve been on the road for four hours.” He took a bite of bread, watching beyond the table, as Maeve held Annie in a tete-a-tete by the wood stove. 

“But we do not customarily ask people about their personal habits at the table,” said Doug. 

“Or anywhere else,” said Kathleen.

“Now, Mom, Dad. If you don’t ask, you won’t know, right Liam?”

* * *

Andrew was directed to sit by the wood stove with his coffee while the others prepared the various households to leave. Maeve found him there and climbed up on the couch to sit next to him. 

“How are you Andrew,” she said. 

"I’m good, Maeve,” said Andrew, smiling at the mother’s inflection in the child’s voice. “Sure glad to be here. How are you?” 

“I’m good,” Maeve said with a nod. Then, done with the niceties, she shared her news: “Annie said I could pass out flowers at your wedding.”

Andrew stared at Maeve, marveling that Annie would send word through an angel, a small being with white-gold hair aloft around her face in the heat of the wood stove, this particular little being who had already struck him as otherworldly, coming from another world as she did, she and her sister Katrina, with their white-blond hair, alabaster skin and sapphire blue eyes. 

The angel was waiting for a response. 

“Maeve, honey,” he said, “that’s the best news I’ve had in—ten years.” 

“Since Liam was born,” she said. 

“Since Liam was born, since Conor was born, since your momma was born.” 

Maeve giggled. “Silly.”

“May sound silly, but it’s true.  Now, did you and Annie talk about what kind of flowers you’ll give out?”

“It depends on the season,” Maeve said carefully. “But no roses.”

“No, we don’t like roses. Too thorny.”

*     *     *    * 

“It was a day without filters,” Annie explained in the dark. “Maeve said, 'if you and Andrew get married, can I be the flower girl.'” They lay on their sides in Annie’s bed, their legs tangled. Her lips brushed his ear as she spoke. 

“I felt I should be honest, so I said if we got married, it would be a small wedding, without flower girls. But she and Katrina could pass out flowers at the party afterward. Actually, I like the idea.” 

“The flowers, the party, the small wedding?”

“All of it.” 

“Me?”

“Yes, you.” She held him tighter. “Except . . .  I worry about how to take care of you. The wedding is easy. Then we have forty years of growing old together.”

“We take care of each other,” he said. “That’s why we’re doing this. That, and forty years of having a good time growing old together.”

“You’re not dreaming?” 

“No,” he said, “no. I’m awake.”

Copyright (c) Debby Mayer 


Monday, December 5, 2016

56 / Family Owned 57/ Mole

“You went to Village Auto?” Annie stopped what she was doing and stared at Andrew.

“Morbid curiosity,” he said. “Would the guy turn over a set of keys to me, or cut off my hands?”

They were sitting at Annie’s kitchen table, cleaning two pounds of green beans. Still Tuesday, and the one night they had this week to cook anything, so they were fixing chicken and green beans for six. Andrew broke the ends off by hand, one at a time, which they agreed was the right way to do it, and Annie cut the ends with a knife, four at a time. She glanced at his hands. 

“We’ve got a car then?”

We. Andrew smiled at the beans as he shook his head.

“Can’t do it. They knew me when I got out of the car. OK, everybody on the street—on both sides of the river—knows I’m the guy whose girlfriend’s car got torched, and now I’m driving a rental, but . . .”

“No olive branch from the chief.”

“Right. And as I said to the manager, you still haven’t told me what kind of car you want.” 

“What if I list the cars I don’t want?” 

“It would take too long.” 

The timer rang. 

“Damn,” said Annie. “I was supposed to put the beans in ten minutes ago, before the chicken finished.”

“So we’ll have two courses. The chicken course. The bean course.” 

Over chicken, they discussed whether or not Kathleen would run for office again. Andrew thought she would and Annie hoped she would, so they couldn’t make a bet on it.

During green beans, Annie told Andrew the latest from work. 

“There was a fight last week outside of a bar in Cowpoke,” she said, using the spell-check name for the town. “So Monday’s paper reported that there was a fight, outside of the Dutch Inn. Two people were arrested. 

“Tina went ballistic. She said we shouldn’t have reported that it was at the Inn.”

Andrew frowned, thinking. “Did we ever go there?”

“As far as the parking lot. You saw a guy selling drugs out of his car, so we left.”

“Right. I didn’t want to wind up back in jail because of that turd. Is the Inn an advertiser?” 

“Nope.” 

“And now it won’t be. The owners are friends? The SLA is breathing down their necks?”

“—It did feel like she was speaking for someone else. Wendy, yes, but—you’re right, they got a call.” 

“Not to defend them, but it’s tough being a small-town newspaper. A family-owned enterprise, reporting on other family-owned enterprises.” 

“Everything around here is family owned. Chief Miller’s crack houses are family owned, right?”

Annie paused. “That’s why no one reports on them!”

They both laughed. 

“Except you,” she said. 

“And even me, maybe not right away,” he said. 

“Are you afraid of the chief?”

“You’re afraid to leave Chloe alone,” he said. 

“—I am,” she said. 

“Let’s see what happens to Six-pack.”

“That could take months. Years.” 

“We have time, right?” He took her hand on the table. “Yes?”

“—Yes . . .” 

“You still think I’ll get bored here? That I’ll want to move someplace where my car is blown up, instead of my girlfriend’s car? I’ve had that, you know. In Cuscatl├ín. I’m ready to settle down in a completely lawless community.” 

“I’m not moving to Schuyler.” 

“There are some beautiful houses there—up the hill, at the east end. Big, with mountain views.” 

“And a police chief who hates us.” 

“He’ll be indicted or ‘retire’ . . . ”Andrew glanced at the ceiling. “Within two years.” 

“How do you know all this stuff, about the Neanderthal, and the chief?”

“—From living through a lot of shit. From not spending time in positive pursuits, the way you do, but in wading through shit, ankle deep. Or knee deep.” 

“Churches are cauldrons of gossip.” 

“I’m sure they are . . . anything political?”

“—Not so much. Fr. Paul gets discouraged. I think he’d move on, except that every church is like that.” 

“Should we get married tomorrow, before he leaves?”

“He’d give notice. We’ll just keep our appointment with him, next week, and we won’t ask him if he’s going to resign.” 

“I’ll stay right on topic.”

Copyright © Debby Mayer

Mole

It was an older population, Andrew observed again; even Robin, the real estate agent, had gray hair. Silver gray, and a good cut—she must go to Albany—and inside, smart. She’d been selling real estate around here for almost twenty years, she said, and, I can help with that, was her mantra. 

The place was short on charm, especially with a dead bird in the corner of the kitchen. But it did have possibilities, facing south, with two big windows on either side of the door, and on each side of the building. The counter and its twelve stools worked. The mildew smell did not. 

“Will the owner clean up?” asked Andrew. 

Robin shook her head. “As is. But I know a good crew—reasonable rates—that will make this place sparkle You’ll put a sign in the window—what’s the name of your place?”

“Theresa’s, said Theresa. “Till we think of something snappy.”

“‘Theresa’s BBQ, Open Soon,’ and people will start to talk about it.”

“Need a new stove, “Glaron sighed to Andrew in the kitchen.

“Need a big dumpster,” Andrew sighed back.  

“You guys getting cold feet?” called Theresa. 

“My feet are freezing,” said Andrew. “Let’s get barbecue.” 

In Theresa and Glaron’s apartment, the table was set for four and a barbecue sampling was ready for warm-up.

“This is lovely, Theresa,” said Robin, walking around, and she seemed to mean it. “Bobbie Smith owns this building, right?”

“She does. You know all the landlords?”

“It’s a small world,” said Robin, “and Bobbie takes care of her buildings.” 

They couldn’t stop themselves, even Andrew; they watched Robin taste the pulled pork. 

“Delicious, Theresa,” she said. She tasted again, her brow furrowed. “Mole? A sprinkle of chocolate?”

Theresa mimed zipping her lip. 

“The seasoning is subtle,” said Robin. Very, very good. But will you have one that’s less seasoned?”

Theresa frowned.

“As is,” said Andrew, and Theresa beamed. 

“Think about it,” said Robin, and Andrew was thinking about it, how this woman could save him hours of research in the basement of the courthouse. She probably knew, not only who owned, but who had sold—

“In the meantime—“ Robin got out red-framed eyeglasses and her legal pad. “You started a business plan?”

Focus. Andrew took the two typewritten pages from his coat pocket, and Robin skimmed them. 

“Excellent start,” she said. “Let’s see . . . do you want a liquor license?” 

Theresa and Andrew spoke simultaneously: “No” and “Yes.”

“Can two convicted felons who served their time get a liquor license?” asked Andrew. 

Robin paused. “You might get a waiver.” She wrote, then regarded them: “That’s you two gentlemen?”

“Yes ma’am,” said Andrew. Glaron nodded. 

“No trouble since?”

“No ma’am,” said Glaron. Andrew shrugged. 

“—Maybe Theresa can get the liquor license.” 

“Theresa don’t want the liquor license,” said Theresa, “this is for food, not drinking.” 

“I understand, Theresa,” said Robin, and Andrew marveled at how lucky they were, to find this calm adult who looked you in the eye every time she spoke to you. “Really, I do. But you know, don’t make money on food. You make money on liquor.” 

“That’s terrible,” said Theresa. 

“It’s why the place you’re looking at went out of business,” said Robin. “Barbecue at that location is perfect,” she added quickly. “And your barbecue is delicious. And unique.  

“But—beer goes with barbecue, right?”

“Right,” said Andrew. 

“Maybe you can get a waiver just for wine and beer,” said Robin, writing. “You don’t have to serve wine.” 

“Good,” said Theresa. 

And, said Robin, they would need a site plan review from the town’s Planning Board and a sign review from the Zoning Board. “I can help with that,” she said. But before any of this, they had to make an offer and the offer had to be accepted. “All of it in writing.”

*   *   *   *   * 

“Fifty thousand cash, pending an inspection and appraisal.” 

Ruth had left, and the three of them sat around the table, finishing the pitcher of water.

“Up to you,” said Glaron. 

“Fifty?” said Theresa. “Not sixty?”

“It’ll take at least another fifty to bring it back.” 

Theresa blinked. “We get the guys to clean it up—I feed them barbecue. We buy a new stove.” 

“All that and more,” said Andrew. “We set you up good.” 

“Squirrels probably ate the wiring,” said Glaron. “Place about to burn down.” 

“I’m going to New York tomorrow,” said Andrew. “I’ll see my lawyer, try to get him up here over the weekend.” 

“Barbecue,” said Theresa. 

“A sampling, like you did here for Robin. That was perfect. Think lunchtime Sunday.” Andrew’s gold tooth flashed. “If we can get Stuart on board, we can do this. You ready?”

“I’m ready!” said Theresa.

“Glaron,” said Andrew, “you ready? For our last great adventure?”

Glaron’s gold teeth flashed yes

*   *   *   *

“You’re out of your mind,” said Stuart, more an observation than an accusation.

“You knew that,” said Andrew. 

Sunday, and they stood in winter light. Stuart had accepted a cigarette from Andrew and they leaned against the rear of Robin’s shiny clean SUV, smoking, while she made calls from her car phone, confirming two more places for them to see. 

Really, it was going well, thought Andrew. It wasn’t snowing. Stuart had obeyed instructions and dressed warmly from toe (boots) to head (fedora). Annie had charmed Stuart with her good looks and sanity before she went to work. Robin had the sense to line up two additional restaurants for comparison, while Stuart was here.

“Have I ever done this before?” said Andrew. “Invested in a business that you didn’t find? Asked you to rewrite my will—at least lately?”

“No,” said Stuart, “these are new.” 

“And the barbecue was great, right?”

“Exquisite,” said Stuart. “Mole. Where are you going to get enough mole around here to run a business?”

“That’s Theresa’s problem.”

Stuart shook his head. “Your problem, if you’re the money.” He looked around him. “Five thousand in landscaping alone.”

“Things are cheaper here, Stuart.”

“Which leads me to ask. What are you doing here?”

“You met Annie.” 

“She’s lovely. Bring her to New York. Buy an apartment. There’s an investment.” 

“Ten times as much, and what would I have? An apartment in New York. Big deal. Annie has friends here. We have friends here.” 

“Her car was bombed!” 

“Set on fire. I’m working on a book. I need to be here.” 

“How do you know they wouldn’t torch this place?”

“—I thought of that." Andrew rubbed out his cigarette with his boot. "By the time we open, the chief will be gone. Or on our side.” 

“Gentlemen, I’m ready when you are!” Ruth called from the car window. 

“We’ll be right there,” Stuart said over his shoulder. He stepped on his cigarette, speaking to Andrew, in a voice barely audible: “Your being back in jail won’t help your friends.”

“I know that,” said Andrew, just as firm, just as quiet. “I’ll be careful.” 


Copyright © Debby Mayer

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Chapter 55 / Guilty

On TV, Six-pack got a minute and the Neanderthal got two, because of the punditry afterward. There was no comment from Kathleen, but they did run a still from her campaign and say that she had lost the election by less than two hundred votes. Andrew typed notes on his laptop as he ate two cheese sandwiches with two glasses of water. 

As soon as the news ended, his phone rang: the editor of the Post-Intelligencer. They went over the details of the arraignment, and then Andrew said, “You got anybody in Kinsella’s office?”  

“His wife’s his law partner, and they’ve had the same secretary for seventeen years.” 

“—Who’s friends with the secretary? From church, the library? Their mother, their sister? I want to know who’s paying Kinsella.” 

“I’ll check my church directory.”

“You’ll find a whole new circle. If you don’t, I will.”

“Give me a couple of days.”

“And the Neanderthal. Who are the Republicans going to run?”

“We’re working on it.” 

Kathleen’s number was busy; good. Andrew put his plate in the sink, then decided to wash it. People were talking to him; why let the house fall apart. As he dried his hands, the phone rang again; Theresa. 

“Hey darlin,’” he said. 

“Don’t darlin’ me, darlin,’” she said. “I talked to the real estate agent. They want seventy-five thousand dollars for that fallin’ down shed and two acres.” 

“Offer sixty, cash.” 

The line went silent. 

“—Theresa?”

“I’m here. Where you gonna get sixty thousand dollars cash.” 

“From my bank account.” 

More silence. Then, “You know, darlin,’ I meant to say, you do anything that puts my man back in jail . . . I’ll go in right after him, for what I do to you.” 

"The money’s clean, Theresa. OK, I have to clear it with my lawyer. He’ll want to meet you and Glaron. I’ll get him to come up here. You’ll make him barbecue.” 

“I’m off work tomorrow. I can start cookin’ tonight.”

“I can’t promise him tomorrow. Let’s meet with the real estate agent tomorrow, at the diner. Inside. Will you make the appointment? Don’t mention the offer. I’ll find somebody to come with us who knows about buildings.” 

Now he had an excuse to call Annie. “How’s it going?”

“Tell you tonight. Did you watch the Neanderthal?”

“Weepin’ crocodile tears, both of us. Now that his wife’s left him, he wants to spend more time with his family.”

“She’s left him? You know that?” 

“Not as a fact. I just know it. Do the witches know who the Republicans will run?”

“Catherine’s working on it.” 

“Good. In the meantime, will you give me the number for the guy who helped you with the house last fall—John? I want him to meet us at the diner tomorrow, tell us what a piece of shit it is.” 

“He’s your man.” Annie gave him the number. 

Andrew left a message for John, then walked around the apartment, thinking about their little diner team. His fingers itched to call Stuart, his lawyer, but he’d do better to wait until after they saw the place. 

Kathleen’s line was still busy, so he made himself sit quietly at the table for a few minutes, staring at the grain of the wood. He had closed his memory to courthouses, but now he let them slide in, and how similar they were, even when different, imbued in their very air with screw-ups and failures and even, sometimes, evil. 


Why would Six-pack agree to do something that he would immediately be fingered for? In prison it was about money, except for the guys like himself, total fuck-ups. Maybe this was both.

And the fuck-ups didn’t carry their guilt around for decades, like a gossamer cape brushing their shoulders in the slightest breeze. For them, it was always something, or somebody, else, it was this, it was that, that caused them to fuck up. 

He knew otherwise. He closed his eyes and thought, forgive me, to Polly, again, for the one-thousandth time. Some days he added on his parents, and her parents, but not today. They would never forgive him and Polly might; she had loved him once, even if she loved haunting him now. 

You’re allowed to move forward was Warren’s mantra, and Annie’s priest would say that what remains for you is to forgive yourself. And he would sing “Guilty,” to them. No more whisky, no more cocaine, but I’ll be guilty for the rest of my life. 

He found himself on his feet again, walking around the apartment, here now, Annie at work, and they had friends and he had things to do—  

This time Kathleen answered. 

“Still got those lawn signs in your garage?” he said.

“You’re the third reporter to ask me that in the last forty minutes.” 

“—And you said, quote—"

“We’re having a family meeting tonight, and I’ll issue a statement tomorrow afternoon.” 

“—That’s tight. You talk to your funder?”

“He called me, from Palm Springs, where he’s playing golf. He said to make up my mind and then call him tomorrow morning.” 

That gave him the rest of the afternoon to buy a car. 

Copyright © Debby Mayer


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Chapter 54 / Gangsta's Paradise

“Can’t talk here.” Andrew stood, shrugging into his jacket. “Call you back in five.”

“Don’t call anyone else.” 

“I’m telling Annie. The Observer won’t have it till Thursday. And Josh, from the P-I—does he know?”

“That’s his job.”

So Andrew made two calls, fuck the T-U, you had to feed your sources; Annie’s line was busy, so he spoke to Catherine. 

“No shit!” she said with relish. 

“Tell Annie, OK? Tell her to tell Kathleen.”

At the Post-Intelligencer, Josh knew, but thanked him. “We’re all over that story like a cheap suit, but we don’t have anyone to send to the arraignment. You’re going, right?”

“Sure am.”
   
They paused. 

“You know I bought the car that was torched,” said Andrew. “Then I gave it to Annie.” 

“We figured that . . . my editor may call you anyway. Not for attribution.”

“You got it. Call me a lowly placed source.” 

*************
Tuesday dawned another gray, frigid day. From Annie’s house Andrew drove her and Chloe to the newspaper, then headed back into Schuyler, humming along with “Gangsta’s Paradise” on the radio. Once, this kind of weather would have settled over him like Josh’s cheap suit. Now it was just backdrop.  

At the courthouse, Sheriff’s Deputies—countywide cops—ran the check-in, not the Schuyler police. With sour expressions, two beefy white guys—really, were they separated at birth?—waved in the TV camera crew and then looked at him. 

For one second, they appraised each other. Andrew mentally noted their names, and the deputies’ eyes recorded his height and weight within inches and pounds, and with looks that said that they wouldn’t have wanted their girlfriends’ car torched either. 

Their only curiosity was for the laptop. Andrew slid it out of its case and turned it on.

“I’ll take notes on the arraignment.”

“But no pictures.” 

“No sir, it doesn’t take pictures. I leave that to the pros.”

Officer Ryan made a face. Andrew resisted lecturing on the importance of public access to courtroom procedures.  

Officer Brock touched the edge of the laptop with a fingertip. “I’ll be damned, he said. “Where we goin’ with this.” 

“How much longer you got on the force?” asked Andrew.

After a one-second glance at the ceiling, Brock said, “Ten years, two weeks, twelve days.” 

“You’ll learn this—“ Andrew tapped the laptop—“before you leave.”

“Aw, no!” Brock winced and they all laughed.

At the stand next to the check-in, Andrew bought his four newspapers, and in the courtroom he sat along the side, where he could see the bench at his left and the door on his right. 

He skimmed the papers, past the start of the O. J. Simpson trial and Clinton’s rescue of Mexico, until he found, buried within the Times, News and Post, the AP story of the reporter’s car torched in a parking lot in an upstate city suspected as a drug base. The News and the Post each had a photo of Annie’s car. 

Catherine sat front and center, she and the court reporter the only females in the room. Alex arrived from the TU—they exchanged glances but no nod. Enough cameras here to fill a shop—five by his count, including one solo guy who might be the AP stringer, all of them here for a three-minute arraignment of a two-bit criminal. 

Andrew was typing when he saw his apple-processing colleagues—Glaron, now his restaurant partner, and Billy, who loved to dance. They shook hands in silence and then sat, one on either side of him.

“Thought only old white guys hung out in courtrooms in the morning,” said Andrew, just above a whisper. 

Glaron’s gold teeth flashed. 

“They right behind us,” said Billy.

And they were, a line of indistinguishable middle-aged guys, retired or out of work, who followed cops and courts. Behind them Claude arrived, with his walrus mustache and a taxicab cash box under his arm, followed by Steve, watch cap in hand. Claude nodded and sat in back, for easy escape. Steve joined his work crew; handshakes again, and Steve sat next to Glaron. 

Here they were, their women at work while they hung out in a high-ceilinged, windowless courtroom in the middle of nowhere, intent on news that would always be buried behind O.J. 

“Judge is late,” Billy sighed at 9:05.

“Waiting for the chief,” said Steve.

Andrew looked at him. 

“In the hall,” said Steve, “talking to the deputies.”

At that moment Chief Miller made his entrance, sweeping off his chief hat, surpassing even Steve for tidiness. Slender, clean-shaven, his curly hair cropped, he was a physical and sartorial role model, a black wool coat over his uniform. His eyes swept the room, and Andrew wished Glaron and Billy had sat elsewhere. The chief still would have known, but now they were right in his “dark coffee” face, under his narrow, straight nose. 

A white guy offered his seat; the chief shook his head with thanks. He leaned against the wall, where he could see everything, then stood straight as they all rose for the judge. 

After one minute of business the court clerk brought in the defendant, an ordinary guy with a moon face and sandy hair thinning on top, a guy who looked like the indeterminate guys in the audience except that he had scared up a Navy blue blazer and a cranberry tie for the occasion, along with a lawyer who introduced himself for the record and named a firm in Albany. 

The defendant understood the charges against him, which started with Arson One, because he was accused of being paid for the job—he must be singing until he was hoarse.

He pled not guilty. The only debate then was about bail, between the DA and the defense attorney, men of the same generation, in dueling three-piece suits. The Albany lawyer was well prepped, noting that Six-pack was a Schuyler native, had ties to the community, blah blah, but he didn’t mention support of a family, or a job.  

The judge compromised by setting bail, high—$100,000 cash or $200,000 bond. Andrew kept his face frozen as he typed, and on either side of him, Billy and Glaron were still. In contrast, a flash of motion and indeterminate sound came from the center, astonishment tinged with anger. 

“Silence!” The judge—white sideburns creeping from under a glistening brunette coif—slammed down his hammer.

They needed to contain themselves for only another minute. Then Andrew nodded to his friends and strode to the lawyer so that he was first in line among the reporters. 

“Andrew Logan, independent journalist,” he said, extending the business card with his telephone number. “Can I have your card?”

“Where were your last three articles published?”

“—Rolling Stone and The Nation.”

The lawyer read Andrew’s name through his rimless glasses. 

“Your girlfriend’s car,” he said, pocketing the card. 

“Your business card is public information,” said Andrew. 

The lawyer gave him two cards. “Ms. Williams will handle the case for me in the office,” he said. 

“Thank you, Mr. Kinsella. Who’s paying you?”

Kinsella stared at him. “That’s between my client and me.” 

Andrew shook his head. “Public information.” Worth a try. 

“My client hired my firm.” 

“That’s not what I asked you.” 

“That’s my answer. Good day.”

He left the courtroom, followed by the TV crew and a gaggle of reporters. If he commented outside the courthouse, it would be on TV at noon, so Andrew stopped at the check-in. 

“Big deal lawyer,” he said to the deputies. 

Ryan nodded. “Irish guy. Fought in ‘Nam.” 

“Six-pack paying him?”

“In cigarettes, maybe,” said Brock. 

“Sometimes he works pro bono,” said Ryan. 

“Here comes the chief,” said Andrew. “Maybe he’ll know.”

The deputies snorted softly. Andrew headed down an empty hallway, where Chief Miller had just left the men’s washroom. 

The chief nodded to him “How’s it goin’,” he said genially. 

Andrew stopped and stared, holding the chief with his eyes. “Girl needs a car.”

The chief nodded. “Try Village Auto, across the river. Tell them I sent you.”

Andrew refused to let himself be dumbfounded. “So they’ll wire the car?”

“Naw,” said Chief Miller, with the glimmer of a smile, as if Andrew were joking. “They have a good selection. Try them.”

Copyright © Debby Mayer