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?” 


“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 Cuscatlán. 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


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. 


“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

Friday, August 19, 2016

Chapter 53 / Real News

“Sit in the back,” said Tony, nodding toward the booths farthest from the diner’s windows, and Andrew sat in the back, where he couldn’t watch the street, and the street couldn’t see him. 

The diner was quiet between breakfast and lunch, half-a-dozen men of retirement age sitting over coffee and newspapers. Two of them were together at a booth; the others sat solo at the counter. To a man they glanced at Andrew; three of them exchanged nods with him; all of them recorded mentally his presence, in the back of the diner. They kept their eyes on their papers, waiting to see what Tony would do. 

Three of them were reading the Observer, with its front-page photo of Annie’s car, its rear blackened by fire. Andrew spread out his own copy of the Observer, wise in its tabloid size—not enough news around here for a broadsheet—and stared at the photo. 

He thought about the night they’d been stopped in the dark, the dry cleaner bag hooked to Chloe’s crate, flapping in the breeze created by passing cars, and the cops on the scene, four of them with the chief, half of Schuyler’s police force and how none of them had made real eye contact. Eyes maybe, but not contact. Except for the chief.  

Annie had liked this car, he found her this car and gave it to her and she liked it, even if her favorite part of it was probably the sunroof, he must find her another sunroof, and he thought about her driving around by herself night and day for this stupid newspaper. And that made him think of Ed’s accident, picturing this accident that he’d only been told about, and then to remember how a car had frightened Kathleen on the parkway last fall, and about all the ways you can make a car crash look like an accident. 

They hadn’t done that here. Here they had said, this is not an accident

Tony slid into the booth across from him, his back to the restaurant, which meant Andrew had about thirty seconds of his attention. 

Andrew folded the newspaper and put it to one side, so that Tony could see that the table in front of him was empty. “I just need one cop,” he said. 

Tony shook his head. “Not gonna happen.” His dark, curly hair was damp with the exertion of running a restaurant, and it occurred to Andrew they should be talking about that. He made himself stay on topic. 

“They all support the chief?”

“Even if they don’t—“ Tony glanced the newspaper—“they do now.” 

“Who doesn’t.” 

Tony sighed. “You wired?”

Andrew shook his head. “Just talking.”

Tony said two names, one of them female. 

Andrew wrote nothing down. “Six-pack going to be charged?”

Tony nodded. “Then out on bail.” 


“’Investigation continuing.’” Tony made tiny quotation marks with his fingers. 

Behind Tony, 50 feet away, the diner door opened, to an older couple. Tony heard it and slid out of the booth. 

“Hey,” said Andrew, “a friend of mine wants to open a restaurant—"


“Five miles east of here. Barbecue. No competition. Can he talk to you?”

“If he wants me to tell him not to do it. The state will kill him with rules and taxes.” Tony headed for the front.

Something to consider, thought Andrew, but in the meantime, if the chief were sitting across from him, what would he say? He thought about this, staring at the point where Tony’s head had been, knowing that anything he said to the chief would be recorded, somewhere, and that you couldn’t make a deal with the devil. 

And he reminded himself, that really, he had done a lot in four months, he had a shitload of corroborated information, and if this took another month, or another four months, it could be worth it. 

In his jacket pocket, his phone rang. Annie. 

“The DA called Tina,” she said in a low voice. “Six-pack will be charged tomorrow morning. She’s sending Catherine for the paper, but I thought you might want to clear your calendar.” 

“Sure do. Arson? Second degree? Did he turn himself in?” 

“They picked him up this morning. He’s getting a lawyer. I don’t know the exact charges.” 

“Thanks, darlin’. How are you?”

“Well, I’ve gone from being Tina’s favorite, which meant that she yelled at me once a day, to being her least favorite, which means once an hour.” 

“You can leave any time, you know.” 

“Gotta go—”

She was gone, and before the phone had settled back into his pocket, it rang again—the reporter from the Times Union that he had worked with last fall, on the story about the state senator, Kathleen’s opponent, El Neanderthal. 

“What’s going on down there?” asked Alex.

“Real news. You had it yesterday.” 

“The wire story. Now I’m working on it.”

“Coming down for court tomorrow?”

“With a photographer. But I want something real for tomorrow’s paper, and I have something to trade for it."


“You’ll help me?” 

“—Background, not for attribution. Other than that, what’s it worth to me?” 

“Our state senator is resigning. His press conference is the same time as your DA’s.”

Copyright © Debby Mayer  

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Chapter 52 / Woodshed

Catherine was covering the newspaper this Sunday. “Hey, Annie, Andrew,” she said in a loud, cheerful voice, taking Chloe’s leash and giving them big, round eyes.   

Ordinarily, the three couples would have met at the conference table in an alcove upstairs, but today the six of them crowded into the office that Wendy and Tina shared, the door closed against Catherine and two others working on the floor below. 

Annie took what was known downstairs as the Electric Chair, next to Tina’s desk. The three men perched on secretarial chairs. 

“We want to be sure that we all share the same information about what happened to Annie’s car Friday night,” said Wendy. “Why don’t you start.” She turned her gaze to Andrew, as if she were giving him a gift.

Andrew looked at Annie, next to him, and she replied. “Thank you, Wendy, that’s what we want too. Does the newspaper support us?”

“—We deplore the crime, of course,” said Tina, her brow creased, as if she might, genuinely, be concerned. “It’s front page for Monday’s paper. But why did they target you?” 

Wendy pursed her lips. They must have already gone off course. 

“Off the record and not for attribution” said Annie, resisting a grin. “If you report anything we say in this meeting, we will deny it.” 

“Think of it as an executive session,” said Wendy.

“They’re trying to scare us,” said Annie. 

“Who? Who’s trying to scare you?”

Annie looked at Andrew. “Schuyler’s little drug cabal,” he said. “I’ve been researching them for—months.” 

“They’re trying to scare all of us,” said Wendy. 

“Are you scared?” Andrew asked.

“They did a violent act against us, by way of Annie,” said Tina, again looking as if she cared. “We don’t want that to happen again, to any of us.” 

“You’re a newspaper, Tina,” said Andrew. “You founded and you run a successful newspaper. Sometimes, this kind of shit goes with the territory. The car was in a parking lot at three o’clock in the morning. Empty.”

“We founded a community newspaper,” said Wendy. “And a business. We founded and we run a successful, community, business.” 

This silence lasted two seconds. “Go on,” said Annie, trying to sound encouraging.

“If I could say a couple of things here,” said Lewis, Tina’s husband, in such a way that you knew he would. 

All four of them, the women in their bright winter cashmeres, the men just a shade quieter in tweed, looked amazingly healthy for January, thought Annie, after week golfing in Hilton Head. And each of them was used to being boss. So far, she and Andrew had not been flattened by the Witches. But she wished she could hold his hand.

Lewis was talking. “Annie, every article you write for the paper is a pleasure to read.”

“Thank you,” she said, taken by surprise. She had had two conversations with Lewis in her life, at staff holiday parties, both about music. 

 “Andrew, I admire your work,” Lewis continued. “I’ve read your book, and I think I’ve read every article you’ve ever written. I know there’ve been some questions, in the past, about your coverage of Cuscatlán. But I—and many others—consider you one of the best journalists working today.” 

“Thank you,” said Andrew, waiting for the “but.”  

“But,” said Lewis, “this—the Hudson County Observer—is a small—a very small—enterprise. We don’t have the financial, and other, backing of the Times or Rolling Stone, or even Pacifica. We have only us. The four of us have put everything—everything that we have—into this. To the world, we’re tiny, but to us, it’s enormous. Either way, it’s easy to bring down.”

“We told Annie when we first met her that we have nothing in our lives but this newspaper,” said Wendy.

“You didn’t say financially,” said Annie.

“Well, that’s part of it,” said Wendy.

“You could have opened a restaurant,” said Andrew. “Or a dry cleaner. You didn’t. You opened a newspaper.”

“A community newspaper.”

“I haven’t offered you this story,” said Andrew. “I can take it elsewhere, as I did last fall, with the political story.”

“But through your private life—which is yours—you have entangled us in the story,” said Lewis.

“Who called you?” asked Andrew. 

“No one,” said Wendy. “It’s not a matter of overt threats.” 

“They firebombed our reporter’s car!” Tina burst out. “She had nothing to do with this except she slept with you!”

“—You have a way of putting things Tina,” said Andrew. “Now Monday’s paper goes out with a firebombing on the front page. The papers fly off the shelves—every single distributor sells out, and you tell me your advertisers don’t want that?”

“No comment,” said Wendy.

“The chief would cut off your advertising?” said Andrew. “Who? The car dealerships? The hospital?” 

In the case with his laptop Andrew always carried a small black notebook. What a jerk he was, he should have taken it out as soon as he sat down. His hands itched for it now; he clenched his fists, took a breath, opened his hands again.  

“That is such a great story,” he said. 

“We are not the story!” snapped Wendy. 

“You are the story,” said Andrew. Now he was gritting his teeth. He took another breath. “Let me look into it.” 

“No! I have not given you permission to research that!” Wendy even shook a finger at Andrew, then lowered it. “And you’re going to do it anyway, aren’t you? That’s your problem, Andrew, you’re a rogue reporter, operating with your own agenda. That’s why the Times fired you, why Pacifica let you go—“

“I’m on leave from Pacifica,” said Andrew, “and you need an investigative reporter. Otherwise you just feed the public what’s fed to you. Sorry, Annie.” 

Annie waved a hand, fascinated. 

“Everything I have is corroborated, at least once,” said Andrew. “I need one more interview, and I’m going to get it.” 

“Do you know who set Annie’s car on fire?” asked Don, Wendy’s husband. He’s a lawyer, Annie had told Andrew, but really, he’s a banker.

“I have a name,” said Andrew. “Do you know?”

“Our information is that someone will be charged this week,” said Don. 

“Will he bring down everybody? Or take the hit.”

The room was silent. 

“I can find out,” said Andrew. “Or, the other thing I can do is train someone here to be an investigative reporter.” 

*    *    *    *

“Not much of a salesman, am I.” 

They had pulled into the parking lot of East Wynham’s diner, around the corner from the office, so that Andrew could have a cigarette and Chloe could take a walk around the car.

“Don’t fish for compliments,” Annie took his arm. “You didn’t go ballistic on them, and you’ve sold yourself to just about everyone else in Hudson County.” 

“But not those four.”

“They’re bastards. Even Lewis.”

“But he’s read my book,” said Andrew, unable to resist a tiny smile. “That makes two of you.” 

“Twelve of us. Word on the street is that he’s former Maoist. I know he worked with Doctors without Borders.” 

“Has anyone ever written about him?”

“Ask him. You’ve got the contact now.”

Copyright © Debby Mayer

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Chapter 51 / Perspective


Chloe’s feet were on his chest. She was wearing her Christmas cool-dog jacket, from New York City, black Gortex with a sheepskin lining. She seemed happy to see him. 

Annie stood next to the bed in the red wool coat he had given her for Christmas, which looked so good with her blond hair and still kept her warm, if she wore enough layers underneath it. She smelled of fresh air and the newsprint in her canvas bag and, possibly, coffee. 

Annie regarded him, concerned, and sat down on the bed, so they were all there together, and Andrew could feel his stomach unclench for the first time since he had woken up last night. 

“Did you have a hard night?” she asked. 

“I had a lousy night. But now you’re here, right? This is real?” He took off her multicolored mittens; her fingertips were cold from outdoors, so he gathered her hands in his. 

“Did I call you at six o’clock?” he asked.

“No . . .” 

“Hm. What day is it?”

“Sunday. You and Chloe are going to hang out while I go to church. I’ve got coffee here, and home-baked bread from Kathleen, and all the newspapers you could need to entertain yourself for two hours   . . . did you take your meds yesterday?”

“I did. Last night all my little containers were empty . . .” Andrew sat up. “Speaking of which . . .” 

When he came out of the bathroom, Annie had set the table in the middle room with coffee cups, bread, peanut butter, oranges and hard-boiled eggs. He stared at it, from the white of the cups to the blast of the orange with all the shades of eggshell and bread in between, at once normal and miraculous. 

He sipped his coffee. He should tell her. “I dreamed you died.” 

“Yikes . . . wish fulfillment?” 

“It’s not a joke.” 

“I’m not joking. I wonder sometimes if it’s boring for you to be with someone . . . so ferociously normal.” 

“You’re not normal. Remember, we talked about this. I told you, you were the craziest girlfriend I ever had, and you agreed.” Andrew smiled, despite himself, at the way this was going. 

“Anyway,” he said, “no. Classic anxiety. I was terrified.” 

“—How did I die?”

“—I don’t know.” He described the dream, leaving out her strange puffiness. 


“You’ll keep Chloe in your sight?” Annie asked when she left for church. 

“Of course.” 

“When you take a shower, she’ll sit in the bathroom with you.” 

“We’ll take care of each other.” 

Annie walked the four blocks to church, and with careful timing, Andrew and Chloe drove to the diner half an hour early, so he could jockey for a parking place, then tip Tony, the owner, to hold a window table for him when it came available. 

“Keeping an eye on the car, huh,” said Tony.  

“Know anything?”

“—Come by tomorrow.”

“I need a cop.” 

Tony nodded once, then turned back to the cash register and the next customer: “Everything taste good this mornin’?”

*   *   *   *

“How was church?”

They were seated at their window table, the car parked in front of the diner.

“Good.” Annie shrugged. “It gives me perspective. Of the eighty people there, forty of them had no idea my car had been set on fire. Until the other forty told them. Even when people are gunning for you, there is a bigger picture.” 

“Theresa and Glaron stay away from the news. I had to tell them. But I thought you meant heaven.”

“—I used to believe that we would be reunited with people we loved. And dogs. But now I think, what if we don’t want to see them? Like Ed.” 

“What if we dread seeing them. Like Polly.” 

“—We’ll ask Paul. He’ll have an answer . . . Tony’s trying goat cheese?” Annie stared at the menu insert. 

“He thinks the neighborhood’s changing.” 

“It’s really good,” said Claudia, putting the coffee pot on the trivet, nodding with a smile as she pocketed Andrew’s $5. “Have you had it before? I tried it this morning, who knew those little goats could do that.”

“Two specials?” said Annie. Andrew nodded, and Claudia left them, pleased. 

“Did you say anything to Paul about talking to us?” asked Andrew.

“No. He knew about the car, so we got through that. I’ll call him this week.” 

“You still want to do it—talk to him, about us.” 

“Yes. I think it would be a good idea.” 

“A good idea.” 

“Perspective. I mean, should we get new IDs, move to another state?”

She was changing the subject, but he couldn’t blame her, so he followed it. “Let me talk to Tony first. That’s tomorrow.” 

“That leaves us talking to the Witches today. I was hoping we’d head for San Diego after breakfast.”

Claudia brought their chèvre omelets. “I just want to say,” she said quickly, her voice low, placing their plates carefully, “I’m real sorry about your car. Awful. I hope they get the guy.” 

“What guy,” said Andrew.

“Look, your water glasses are empty, let me get you a pitcher!”

She returned with a clear plastic pitcher of water. “Ask Tony. Everybody knows.”

“You should know,” Andrew said as Annie drove them east, and he spoke to her high cheekbone, her slightly upturned nose “ . . . I may say things to Wendy and Tina that sound like I don’t care. About you. I do care. The only way they—the cops—can put me off this story is by threatening you. 

“You should know, I’m reconsidering it. But I don’t want to tell Wendy and Tina that.” 

“You’d give up? After five months of work?”

“The work remains. It’s not going anywhere. And remember—when I go to New York on Thursdays I copy everything onto Rosendo’s computer. In case mine gets stolen. Or I have to throw it in the river.” 

They pulled into the Observer’s parking lot. 

“Shit,” said Annie, “the husbands are here too. Those are their cars, the Beemers. Are you sure you don’t want to head west?”

Copyright © Debby Mayer