Monday, September 14, 2015

Chapter 39 / The Devil

On a blustery Thursday in early October, Andrew rode his bicycle from his house in Schuyler to Annie's house, at dawn. In New York City Warren was dealing with his father's need for surgery and had cancelled his patients that day. In Hudson County, Andrew's research on Kathleen's opponent for state senate had panned out. He needed the car to pitch the story, beginning with the newspaper in the home city of el hombre de Neanderthal, as Annie and Jaime referred to him. There Andrew had found a curious managing editor and an ambitious young reporter. 

“If my tires get slashed, Andrew . . . you’re in the doghouse.”

"You love this." Andrew made a point of stopping at the one stop sign between Annie's house and the newspaper office, just to reassure her, even though there wasn't a car to be seen. 

"I do, because el Neanderthal is such a  . . . Neanderthal. But now I'm wishing we had told Kathleen."

"No point in it. If the papers are too timid to take it . . . no story." 

She hugged him tightly before getting out of the car. "Good luck."

"We've got it," he said, hugging her back. 

She looked at him. "Luck?"

"The story, girl. With any luck."

"You've had such a grin, plotting this man's downfall."

"He was rude to you. Just last year. Let's get to work."

They kissed again, and Annie went into the office. She wrote three news stories from the town board meeting she had covered the night before and edited more press releases than she could count. 

All the while in her mind's eye she followed Andrw up to the southern Adirondacks and back own to Albany in this, the second of his plans. Study of the drug scene in Schuyler was ongoing; the election, thirty days away, was immediate. So Annie prayed silently, frankly: if it be your will Lord, let this happen. Kathleen is the better candidate. 

At 4:30, right on schedule, she saw Andrew's head above the room divider, as he spoke to Ginny, the receptionist. Annie waved to them as Ginny escorted Andrew, with his laptop in its shoulder case, upstairs to the balcony above the newsroom, to the office of the Witches—Tina the editor and Wendy the publisher. 

At 5 o’clock, they were still in a closed-door session. Ginny, Catherine, two ad guys and the production chief sat with Annie, speculating, casting occasional glances heavenward toward the Witches. 

At 5:20 Andrew came out of the Witches’ office, walking the long flight of stairs from the balcony, his eyes down, with a sense of fatigue that made him look older than usual, fatigue that disappeared the instant he saw Annie, Catherine and one ad guy still waiting for him. Immediately, Andrew twinkled; wordless, they filed outdoors and sat at the picnic table in the front yard, out of sight of the Witches.  

“Gonna take us down, huh,” said Harry, the paper’s top ad salesman.

“Apparently,” said Andrew. 

“What! What!” said Catherine.

“Read the Post Intelligencer on Sunday.”

"You did it!" Annie kept her voice down—you could never tell where the Witches were—and leapt up to kiss Andrew. He pulled her onto his lap, his arms tight around her.

"We did it," he said.

"Did what!" said Catherine. "The PI is a hundred miles away."

“The Times Union may pick it up on Tuesday. After they do their own research. Only 50 miles away.”

“Road trip Sunday,” Harry said thoughtfully, almost to himself. 
“But not the Hudson Observer on Monday?” he asked Andrew.

“They said they’d think about it overnight.” 

“Not the Observer on Monday,” said Harry, nodding. “Hubbies’ll nix it, and Monday I’ll still have a job, with somebody to sell ads to. Sorry, guy—” he held out his hand.

Andrew shook it. “Maybe I’ll bum a ride with you Sunday.”  

“Sounds like a plan. Here are my numbers.” In one fluid move Harry swept a business card out of his pocket. 

“You on this weekend?” Andrew asked Catherine. 

She nodded, her eyes big.

“Then you’re the one to write it.” 

“You have to background me! Come over for dinner, both of you, in an hour. Cookies and water. Jim’ll want to hear this too.”

“But that’s it,” said Andrew, ”just the four of us.” 

“We’ll go to Barrington, get takeout barbecue,” said Annie. 

“Great idea,” said Catherine, “but I’ll do it. Feed the source.”

*     *    *    *    *

An hour later the four of them sat at another picnic table, smaller, indoors, off Catherine and Jim’s kitchen. They had inhaled the only takeout barbecue in the region, pulled pork and ribs, coleslaw and sweet potato, as they hashed out the marital problems of Kathleen’s opponent. 

“But she never brought charges,” said Catherine, referring to opponent’s wife. “At the Observer, we don’t run domestic abuse unless someone is transported to the hospital.” 

“OK, that’s her problem,” said Andrew. “The public problem is the lack of public record. Six times in three years—over the course of two of his two-year terms—the police were called to his home. And each time the police file looks like this . . . Closed.” 

“People have rocky marriages,” said Jim, who was divorced. 

“They do, but that doesn’t always bring the police.” 

“She reaches out,” said Annie. “Then she withdraws. Half-a-dozen times. At least.” 

“You write the feature on patterns of domestic abuse,” said Andrew. “For Monday’s paper, the question is what does this mean for public policy. That’s what I was pitching to the witches, not if ‘it bleeds it leads,’ though there’s probably that, too.” 

“Policies on . . .” Catherine was adding to her notes on a legal pad “. . . domestic abuse . . . child support . . . Family Court . . . police issues . . . what else?”

*           *         *              *             *

“What did you do?” Kathleen asked Andrew on Sunday. “The managing editor of the Times Union called me, to schedule an interview with the editorial board.”

Annie had seen Andrew grin, but never like this. “Gimme your hand, girl!” he said to Kathleen. He picked up her limp hand and slapped it. “They’re taking you seriously!” 

“What did you do?” Kathleen repeated, almost pleading.

“I did research. Here’s the start of the results.” Andrew put a copy of the Post Intelligencer on the table. “We’re lucky—slow news day, banner headline.” 

Kathleen took up the paper, looking more horrified than happy. 

“Can I read it too, Mom?” said Conor, 12, her oldest. 

“Sure. Here, let’s sit.” Another picnic table, this one on the deck, overlooking the swimming pool below. Kathleen shook out the broadsheet to its full size. She and Conor read.

“Andrew, will you play softball with us,” asked Liam, 10.

“Yes. But let me talk to your mother first.” 

Liam sighed and sat against Andrew’s leg.    

“Liam, there are plenty of chairs,” said Kathleen, turning to the story’s jump inside.  

“It’s all right,” said Andrew, “I’m just warm-blooded furniture.” 
Conor giggled, his eyes glued to the newspaper. Liam looked perplexed. 

“Are human beings warm-blooded or cold-blooded?” Andrew asked him. 

“Oh, right,” said Liam. “Warm-blooded.”

“And I’m just some ole piece of furniture, right?”

“Right! And you’re my coach. And I can’t get rusty in the off season.”

“Hang on. What do you think?” Andrew asked Kathleen.

“—I feel slimy.” Both boys stared at her. 

“No reason. You didn’t do anything. He did everything. And now this race is yours, now you direct the conversation. 

“But you still have to work for it.” Andrew moved Liam to his other leg so he could lean over and tap a photo in the newspaper. 
“See this guy?” Conor stared at the headshot of a real-estate developer in Albany who had commented for the story. Kathleen didn’t take her eyes off Andrew. “Pitch him for TV money. His comment has no substance, but he’s thinking. 

“And it’s very sweet of you to go door to door, to want every person in the district to interview you, but it’s a big district. You need TV.”

“Are you the devil?” Kathleen asked him. 

Conor raised his eyes to Andrew, while Liam stared at his mother. 

“No need for the devil,” said Andrew. “It was there. There for the taking. 

“Call this guy tomorrow. Tell him you’ll be in Albany this week, talking to the TU editorial board, and you want to meet with him afterward.”

“I have to be home when the kids get in from school.” 

“Then schedule it while they’re in school.” 

“I can do it, Mom, I can take care of everybody,” said Conor.

“And I can be here by 3:30, if Conor needs help,” said Andrew. “C’mon Liam, we have time for catch.” 

Liam didn’t move, frozen on Andrew’s knee, watching his mother, terrified of the devil. 

“C’mon, Liam,” said Conor, standing up, “we’ll both throw to you. You can’t get rusty.” 

“Are you OK Mom?” asked Liam. 

“Yes,” said Kathleen, looking into his sapphire eyes and lying. Of her four children, the two biological boys, the two adopted girls, she swore she had no favorites. But she did adore this one. 

“Turn on the outside lights,” she said “so I can watch you.”

Copyright © Debby Mayer