COURT: A Novel
by Patrick McCarthy
A neighborhood tavern, quiet, except for the crackling sounds of Christmas carols on the radio. A garland of twinkling red and green lights hangs over the large mottled mirror behind the bar. The owner, George, is slowly washing some glasses in the sink. It snowed last night, and today the sky is pearly white.
The door swings open, setting off a small bell. In walks a man, stamping his feet, knocking off the snow.
"Good morning, Paddy."
"What's good about it? Coffee, with a shot of Jameson's." The stub of an unlit cigarette clings to the man's lower lip and jiggles when he speaks. A patchy reddish gray beard covers some of his deeply lined face. "Where're those brothers when you need them? They know when to hide from us."
"Mike was in here earlier. He didn't make it home last night."
"Oh, there'll be hell to pay around his sweet little nest. Makes you glad you're a bachelor. Right?
"Glad? No, Paddy, not glad. But no complaints."
"So, where's your woman today? I hear you two are taking some time off.
"Might be more than a little time. Shes moving to Chicago."
Another one will come along, he said, lifting the cup. And thats the problem.
Theyre quiet for a few seconds. George begins to wipe the counter with a damp towel. The door suddenly swings open. A hunched figure with a thick scarf around the face, and brown hat pulled down over most of the head, walks in. "Gentlemen!
"Well, Freddy! Lets have a look at you. Ah, those heartless wretches. But you look prosperous. Almost."
"I can pay the water bill. The rent will have to wait." Freddy pulls a cigar out of his breast pocket, bites off the end, spits it out. "A light, innkeeper!" George fumbles in his pocket and produces a match. "Any one of you seen Markus?" Freddy asks, blowing a smoke ring into the air.
They both shake their heads.
"I have some news for him. Straight from city hall."
"Will he enjoy hearing this bit of news?"
"Well see." Freddy coughed and smiled.
He stands up and walks to the back, closes the door to the telephone booth, puts a coin in the slot, and dials.
"Freddy. Merry Christmas, brother."
"Same to you."
"I was about to call you. I hear you have some news for me."
"Let's hear it."
"Are you busy, Markus? Can we meet somewhere?"
"Busy? No. Okay, where? The Fat Dog?"
"I just left. How about the lobby of the LeClaire?"
"I can be there in twenty minutes. Is this about Dave?"
"In twenty minutes."
He hung up and walked out into the street. The snow swirled and skimmed along the sidewalks that were already shoveled.
The man at the front desk glanced at Freddy as he entered the hotel lobby, and seated himself in an armchair. A waiter appeared almost instantly. "Can I get you something, sir?" Freddy shook his head. The waiter retreated. Jim took out a cigar, lit it, and picked up a newspaper and put it on his lap. He was thinking hard, about the risks. About Jen. How was he going to tell her? She'd make a scene. She always did, even for the small shit. Women.
Then Marcus walked through the turning door. He looked around the lobby and caught his brother's eye.
The two men said hello, and stood there for a second, looking at each other.
Lets go to the lounge, Markus suggested.
They sat in a booth on the left side of the nearly empty room, toward the back.
Snow already. Jesus. I got stuck once today. Some kids pushed me forward. Nice to see you. You look good, by the way, Markus said, amiably. He unwrapped his scarf and signaled the bartender.
Beefeaters and tonic for me.
A beer. Whatevers on tap. Just bring it, said Jim.
So. Youre acting a little mysterious. Whats happening? I figure its Dave.
Why do you keep saying that? Its got nothing to do with Dave. Hes gone, by the way. On vacation.
Again? He must either hate it here, or love it somewhere else. Where this time?
Florida. With Bruckmann. Hes staying at their winter home in Boca Raton.
Those two. Theyre closer than I thought. I guess they grew up together.
Freddy sipped his beer, and smoked his cigar. He looked at the table, and his fingernails.
Okay. So, not Dave. Whats my news?
You were over at the old address a few days ago.
Our old home? No.
You stopped by and took some photographs.
Oh, right. I thought you meant I was at the house itself. I drove down the alley. So what? Whats this about? Are you following me?
No. But you were noticed. And they called about it.
Someone did . . . what? Who would give a shit? I was in the alley taking a few snapshots. Big deal. Hardly trespassing. Is this what you called me down here for? My photography?
You did it twice.
What business it that to anyone but me? Yes, once in the afternoon, and once when the sun was going down. I wanted to see how it looked at the magic hour. Its about lighting. You dont understand. So what? Have I broken some obscure law?
It really would be better if you left it alone. People get kind of weird about their property. They might get the wrong idea.
Markus picked up his drink and took a long swig. He then shook his head slowly and looked across the room. They were silent.
What else, Freddy? You arent working?
Im always working.
I mean they closed the factory.
Nothing. If thats the great news you had to give me, I guess were done here, brother. I really should be going. Say hello to Jen for me.
Sure. They rose, paid, and walked to the front door.
Marcus was in a sour mood as he drove home. He lived a few blocks away from the high school where he was employed as a science teacher. Biology, chemistry, physics, solid geometry. Hed been there for the last ten years. It was the holidays and he was on vacation for two weeks.
Later on, at the end of the meal, he began a conversation with his wife and mother of their daughter. Linda was small, slight, wore glasses. Her short dark hair was parted in the middle. She was a librarian, and recently started at the Carnegie Municipal library downtown, after they closed the North Branch. Theyd cut back on her days at the main library.
I just had the most ridiculous talk with Freddy.
I knew something was bothering you.
I think he may be losing his mind. He told me I shouldnt be taking pictures of our old house. The one on Elmwood. He must have been following me in his car, but I didnt notice. You know, I just thought of something. Hes jealous of my photography. Thats it. Can you believe it!
Why would he be jealous of your photography? He liked the Christmas card you sent. Jen told me he did.
Oh, she was lying. Freddy hates my little talent for photography. Hes always hated it, even when we were kids. When dad bought me my first camera Freddy broke it. He always wanted to impress dad who was a pretty good photographer but Freddy was lousy at it. Hes jealous. Because he doesnt have any talent.
But he made those nice ads. Hes got a flair for that.
God! Dont talk about those stupid ads. It nearly cost me my job. The principal was furious. Freddy talked them into these ads that they never needed. Shot the whole school budget for a semester. Why does a high school need ads?
Markus went to the window as Linda cleared the table. He stood there with his hands in his pockets leaning his forehead against the cold glass.
Jealous. He wasnt that pleased at the way Linda received the news. She could have been jealous, too, of his talent, but she wasnt. She didnt have that much respect for it. He could tell. People didnt care. Especially most of his students. Not all of them. One or two were smart, and even surprised him. But the rest were hopeless. Without even the slightest sense of logic. No feeling for making any kind of valid deductions. What a generation. He dreaded the next semester starting up so soon.
The snow continued softly falling.
Freddy took out a scrap of paper and as he looked at the numbers and dialed the phone. It rang for a few extra times.
A woman answered.
Is Dave OKerry there. This is his brother.
Hold on. Ill get him. Dave! Its for you!
Dave, its Freddy?
Gimme a second. Im going into a different room. Okay. Anything happening?
No. I had a talk with Marcus.
Howd that go?
He was fucking baffled. I did my best. I dont think hell be a problem.
Okay. How about those other leads.
Still working on it. People are too busy celebrating.
Well, keep at it. And dont call again until you have something. Ill be back in a week.
All right. Bye.
Freddy hung up the receiver and sat for a few seconds. Slumping down. Stroking his jaw. He put his hand on the phone, and then removed it. Better not to call. She probably wasnt home. After patting his coat pockets he realized he was out of cigars. He knew it before touching his last pocket, but it was something automatic.
George was gazing out the window of the tavern. He wondered if this was such a good idea. Being the owner of Fat Dog. It used to be called Donahues, after the name of the previous owner. Frank Donahue was dead. He was well-liked. By certain types. George wasnt one of them.
People still called it Donahues even though it had a new name. More up to date. Hoping to attract a younger crowd. Some of them stopped by, but not that many. Or that often. George was hoping for a few good nights over the holidays. The bar had been a bar for almost a hundred years. So it wasnt likely to fail. Not during his tenure. But neither was it thriving. Getting by. Yes.
George bought the place with the money he got from the inheritance when his mother died. And Dave also helped a little. Kicked in a few thousand. It was at least better than working for someone else. Better than being a night watchman. Or working the floor at a department store. He did those things for several years. Ever since the band broke up.
He saw two women walk by. They were coming in. It was Brigitte, his sister. And someone else.
Merry Christmas, George! Brigitte said happily, giving him a hug and a peck on the cheek. We brought you something. She handed him a package.
You shouldnt have done that. I didnt get anyone presents this year.
Oh, stop. Id like you to meet Carol.
George and Carol shook hands. She was about the same age as the man. Tall, with brown hair in bangs. Wearing jeans and a heavy coat.
Would you like something? Its on the house.
Dont be silly. Yes, Id like a seven and seven. Its the holidays! What about you, Carol? Im paying.
Ill have one, too. Is the ladies room back there, George?
On your right. Just keep going. Thats it.
Well, what do you think?
She seems nice. Good hair.
She said she once bartended for almost a year.
Oh, I get it. Shes looking for a job? I really cant afford to hire anyone.
I told her about you. And showed her your picture. She said youre handsome.
Brigitte, Brigitte. I suppose you heard about Sandra. She might be moving to Chicago. But how would you have heard? She only decided a few days ago.
News travels fast. Good or bad news. But we all liked Sandra. We really did. Carol gets a decent chunk of money from her ex-husband. He seems like a real lout, but at least he keeps up with monthly payments. They have a son, who lives mostly with her. You could pay her a little and shed make the rest on tips.
Let me think about it. Did she say she wanted to work here?
In as many words.
So, shes one of your cases?
Yes. Ill tell you about it later.
Carol returned and George served them their mixed drinks. Brigitte was the only sister in a family of six brothers. She was a social worker. Married to Eddy, who had an electrical supply business. It seemed like a good marriage. They never fought, at least not in front of anyone. Now and then she complained, but not bitterly. Just the usual stuff you hear all the time. They didnt have any children.
Brigitte still looked young for her age. The brothers agreed that their sister was an attractive woman. It made them a little proud. They treated her well without doing anything that cost them, either in time or money.
The women sat down on the barstools, after plugging the jukebox. A few mellow oldie songs.
So have your brothers come in lately?
Yeah, you just missed Paddy. Mike and Freddy were here earlier.
Has Freddy gotten a job yet? I know he was looking.
I dont think so. He smiled at Carol.
Ed had to lay someone off. It broke his heart. A man whos been with him for eight years. But thingsll pick up. Was the place crowded last night?
Not crowded, but full.
Good. Freddy says you need to advertise more. Was he in an okay mood? Jen is worried.
Yeah, he was. Cant really say why. He strode in here like he owned the joint. You know how he gets.
Oh, dont I! Then he must have gotten an offer.
Actually, I think it might have something to do with Dave.
Oh, no! Not that again. They arent involved in any kind of business deal, are they?
I really dont know. Maybe . . .
Oh, God. Havent they learned by now? Excuse us, Brigitte turned to Carol. Family matters. Youll meet them all soon. Theyre not buying houses again, are they?
Like I said, I really dont know. Just acting odd. Freddy, at least. Very breezy. Expansive. You know what I mean.
I feel sick. Sorry. Brigitte took a deep breath.
The two others leaned forward, offering help.
You all right? George asked.
Yes. Fine. Sorry. Bad memories. Anyway, go on. No, really. Im fine. Fine! And you said Mike was here? But I thought he hardly ever came in.
He doesnt. But right when I was opening up Mike was waiting on the sidewalk.
Before you opened? That is unusual. He must have had an early appointment.
Well. Yeah, probably. Matt rearranged the glasses on the counter.
So he didnt have an appointment. What did he want?
A cup of coffee. He only stayed for a few minutes. Looked a little disheveled.
Mike? Brigitte turned to Carol. Youre going to get a strange idea about our family. Nothing like we are. Youll see.
I have brothers, she said, taking a sip from her drink. I understand.
And Paddy. Of course. I hear hes a regular. Youll love Paddy. Wont she, George? Hes the oldest brother. He has a carpentry business on Maple street. It was a coach house and he made it into his workshop. Hes a bohemian, isnt he, George. Thats what mom always said. Hes fixing our dining room table. A leg needed to be replaced. I invited him for Christmas dinner but he said he was going somewhere else. Im not sure he did. Do you know if Paddy had dinner with anyone?
I think he probably stayed home. He likes it better that way. No pressure.
I suppose so.
After the women left George went outside and looked at the brick building. His brick building. It was built in 1874. There was a stone right under the roof in the center of the face with the date on it. When he bought the place they had to go to the records department at city hall and do some research. It was always a tavern.
This part of the city is called The Village. Its right on the river, and began when the nearby park was originally a civil war encampment.
George tried to imagine the scenes from those days. One old-timer told him about the whorehouses that used to be here. There were one or two of them that were still open until around the time of World War 2. Maybe his dad knew of them. But if he did he wouldnt have mentioned them to his sons.
His dad probably wouldnt have been that happy to see one of his sons the owner of a tavern. After all, grandpa OKerry drank too much. And so did his uncles, who he never knew. He never heard anything about his aunts. Anything malicious, that is. Except that they werent that attentive as mothers. They spent their afternoons playing cards with grandma OKerry who lived in a large house. It was still there, up on a hill in the west end.
What was it mom used to say? The OKerrys went from rags to riches to rags again. And she threw back her head and laughed. He could still hear her noisy laughter, and imagine how she looked. Mom acted as if shed invented that little quip. But she hadnt. It must have come from a movie. Or a book.
But mom was clever, just the same. He even missed their talks. Not really missed in any painful way. He wondered if he was going to miss Sandra. Maybe for a little while. But he wouldnt lose any sleep over her.
Then he turned and looked at the river. It was frozen at this time of the year. A few cars passed along River Drive. Traffic was slow today. As if the entire city was hibernating.
The phone rang. He stared at it. Then reluctantly picked up the receiver.
Mike. This is your sister.
Oh, hello, Brigitte. Im just walking out the door. Is it anything important? I can call you later.
No. Nothing really. I just wondered how youre doing. And wanted to wish you Merry Christmas.
Same to you, Brigitte. And sorry that I havent been by lately. But I can call you later. In a bit of a rush.
Okay. I was at Georges and he said he saw you earlier.
Yes. Anyway. Talk to you later.
God almighty! Such blabbermouths. Our family. Cant they keep anything to themselves. Jesus Christ! He sighed heavily and stared at the ceiling. Then he left the office, closed the door, locking it, and walked down the hall to the mens room.
He looked in the mirror as he splashed water on his face and ran a comb through his hair. It was no use trying to smooth his shirt. But the tie was passable. He pulled it tighter. I look like Ive slept in these clothes, he whispered to himself. It was because he did. He sniffed the arm of his suit coat. It smelled like the girls cheap perfume. There was no way of getting rid of it.
A crazy, stupid night. So out of character. God almighty. Now, to face the music. Susan. Impossible to hide anything from her. She had a sixth, no, a seventh, or eighth, sense. X-ray vision. Clairvoyant. He felt like heaving.
He drove home slowly and parked at the curb. The driveway was still un-shoveled.
Dad! Mom was worried. Is everything all right? Marylou asked. She was sixteen.
Fine, sweetheart. He removed his coat placing it over his arm.
Susan was in the living room. He could smell food cooking in the kitchen. The television was on.
He went over and kissed her on the side of the face.
So nothing happened? He never showed up?
No. It all passed uneventfully. God, Im tired. And I could use a shower. He went to the stairs.
Dinner was grim. Tense. He answered Susans questions monosyllabically.
Did you bring your sidearm with you?
Yes. Why did she like to call it a sidearm? She had the oddest vocabulary. He never corrected her no matter what she said.
And later. Hell have to go back to prison. Those threats are enough to cancel his parole.
He rose from the table without having any dessert. It wasnt his favorite, anyway. Neapolitan ice cream.
In the bedroom he answered more questions. He didnt want to talk about it, but he tried not to make it obvious. He spoke about the boy friend at length, about his criminal past, the time in prison, the abuse.
He didnt spend much time on the girl. He kept referring to her as the hysterical woman. She was actually just out of her teens. Around twenty-two. About what a mess she was. Frightening! But nothing more. Clamming up.
He could still smell her perfume even after scrubbing his naked body over and over. He wished he could sleep somewhere else tonight. At home, but downstairs on the couch. It was embarrassing --- that pungent smell. So adhesive. Itll go away soon enough. He hoped, but, strangely, not too soon. Tomorrow Ill be able to smell it in peace, he thought, as he drifted off to sleep.
He woke early, dressed quickly, and skipped breakfast. He struggled to behave like he always behaved, but it was difficult.
Why? And why was it necessary to not vary his pattern? He was angry with himself. And even angrier when he realized he was angry. It was absurd. He had nothing to hide. Nothing to apologize for. He did nothing wrong. Not a single thing!
But he hurried out of the house a few minutes before he normally did. And drove away a bit faster than usual. Just the smallest amount of variation. Virtually undetectable. So he imagined.
Instead of going directly downtown he ambled along the river. He considered stopping at the Fat Dog, but immediately dismissed it.
What was the point of explaining anything to any of his brothers. They all had such big mouths, combined with a sarcastic streak. Especially Paddy and Dave. Freddy? Well, him, too.
Why was he feeling so…guilty? Guilty, but absolutely innocent. He had nothing to bring up against himself.
Yet, he had this other side. A shadowy, neglected side. It was part of him. It couldnt be denied. Or destroyed. It tagged along. At the remote edges. It was better to admit its existence.
He had spent the night at this girls apartment. Just spent the night. Nothing more than that. At Sherries apartment.
What a name: Sherrie. It sounded so low-class. Nearly the lowest class. There might have been a Sherrie in high school but he didnt remember her.
And how she talked. It went on for hours. Prattling away. Until three in the morning. And --- this was the puzzling part --- it didnt bore him. He didnt listen, but he vaguely followed her monologue. He liked watching her expressions when she described her life.
But no touching. None. Except for a friendly pat on the shoulder when he left.
He was a faithful man. A real husband. Okay, if he was honest with himself, he might have liked touching her. Even more than that. But he didnt. That was the difference. He was better than that.
To want to do something questionable was all right, but to not do it that was the important thing.
You couldnt blame yourself for wanting. Only for doing. If people understood that, and lived up to it, the jails would be empty. And hed be out of a job.
Mike was a cop. A parole officer. It was busy work. He covered the city and some of the county. He had a partner, but Don was on vacation, along with Gayle, who handled the female cases. There werent as many of those.
He sat down in his office and opened the file on Sherries boy friend, Victor Ramirez. A lost list of offenses, starting before he was twelve. Burglary, auto theft, forged checks. And two assaults. Both on women.
Victor was scheduled for a visit in less than two weeks. Mike thought about calling him in, but it could wait. The boy friends phone calls to Sherrie were very obnoxious. There were about six of them, one after the other. But he never showed up at the apartment.
Sherrie. She stuck up for herself. Fought back. Mike was sort of impressed. They had originally come to the office together. The young man seemed quiet and non-confrontational. But he must have a temper. Mexican. Hot blood.
She made up a bed for him on the couch. Brought out a blanket that was new and clean. And a pillow for his head. She almost tucked him in. Then tiptoed into her bedroom. Turning off the lights. Mike had a hard time falling asleep in spite of the hour. It was a restless night. With his eyes wide open. The phone calls from Victor had stopped.
Freddy rang the doorbell. It opened in a few moments.
Dave nodded to his brother, and walked away. Freddy followed him inside. They went into the den and closed the door.
Wheres Betsy, Freddy asked.
Visiting her mom in Minneapolis.
About a week. Okay, so lets go over it. If you want anything its in the fridge?
Im good. You have a tan. How was the weather in Florida?
Hot. So, she agreed to everything?
You didnt go off script?
Dave, I did just what we agreed on, and nothing more.
No free-wheeling additions. Its not that kind of thing. Just tell me, if you did.
Dave. I already told you. Youre going to have to trust me, brother. Im not a child. I handled it perfectly. Youll be pleased. And you can forget about the deadline. There isnt any.
Thats good. At least itll be our deadline. Not hers. And youre sure about the letters. Its really important.
Completely. But even if there were itd still be okay.
After were finished, itll be over. Were now at the easy part.
The easy part. Dave paused and looked out the window. I dont like the sound of that. Its never as easy as it looks. For most things.
I can guarantee you, Dave. The hard part is done, and double-done. I know what Im talking about.
Were going to have to include a few of them.
Paddy. I know. The worst of them. As far as his fucking talk goes. Hes never learned when to shut up.
But no one else.
Mike? What for? I dont see it. Really unnecessary, Dave.
No. It cant be avoided. Youre going to have to talk with him, but without letting him know what its about. Its going to take some thought.
If you say so. Freddy shrugged. Im sure I can handle it.
Yeah, youre doing great, brother. But lets keep it quiet, okay? You sometimes have this tendency to draw too much attention to yourself.
What the fuck do you mean by that?
The other day. At the Fat Dog. Marching in there acting a little too pleased. Not good.
I dont know who said that, but theyre full of shit. I was just being myself. A little merrier, maybe.
Thats what bothers me. Like those cigars. And that shirt.
What the fuck is wrong with you? My shirt? Its pure silk.
Oh, fuck you, Dave. Take a look in the mirror. You look like a priest on holiday.
Just tone it down. For a month or two. Thats all I ask.
After Freddy left Dave sank into his leather armchair. He wondered about Freddy. If it was such a smart idea to have told him about the situation. He might have been able to handle it by himself. But it was not his bag of tricks. And Freddy was the most . . . he couldnt find the right word. Unscrupulous? Flexible? He left it at that. Lets say, the one who would have been least shocked. And he was. In fact he took it well. Better than Dave would have thought possible. He was expecting Freddys jaw to drop to the floor. Not at all. Just a kind of mirthless laugh.
Dave was the most successful family member. If you were to judge by money alone. He lived in the best house on the best street of anyone in his clan. Broad-shouldered, with a fit body, and gray-blue eyes. A tough guy. The most conventionally intimidating of the brothers. His business had brought him into contact with the rough-and-tumble world of the heavy construction industry.
He did all right there. For a while. At the tail end of the OKerry company era. Dave was basically on his own, without the backing of a really strong support system. The cousins and uncles were not his type. He hated working with them. And they had no love for him. He eventually had to look elsewhere.
He now worked for the city. Heading the public works department.
But he still had dreams of starting his own company again. Even if those dreams faded a little more each year.
He wanted to restore the familys position. He was fond of status. The city didnt look down on the OKerrys, nor did it put them on a pedestal. They were being ignored. It pained him to see his brothers and sister struggling. They should have been sitting pretty by now. It all happened quickly and was very disillusioning.
Everything seemed to be going swimmingly but then their father suddenly had a massive heart attack and died. It all went south after that. Almost like a heavy vase falling on a marble floor and shattering.
The company, first established by their grandfather OKerry, had flourished for three generations, covering nearly a century. But somehow it had reached the end of its reign.
After Aloysius Al OKerry, their father, died, no one was prepared to take the helm. A cousin was put in charge and it was soon apparent that he was in over his head. After five years they went bankrupt, sold everything, and that was that. Finito. Kaput.
Dave was thrown by this. He hadnt seen it coming. But he somehow landed upright. The transition from the part owner of a family business to a city employee was easy enough, and he felt better almost at once. Not as much weight on his shoulders.
Dave was glad he had a friend in Kent Bruckner. Not exactly a friend, but someone who seem to think along the same lines. None of his brothers wanted anything to do with the construction racket. Dave was the only one with a taste for it. Kent came from the same type of family, though. It made it easier to get along with him.
Their families also went way back. Both grandfathers were immigrants, and both did well in America. The Bruckner family was from Germany, and the OKerrys were, of course, from Ireland. But the cultures got along in the New World. Better than others. Better than most. They supplied what the other lacked. In many cases.
The Bruckners owned a successful construction company. Bruckner Engineering. For many decades it was the main competitor of OKerry Building Company. They fought it out over the area contracts. They were seen as bitter rivals. Two titans battling it out in statewide field of play.
But it wasnt quite as it seemed. After locking horns for about ten years they got together and became more co-operative. They began to share information. This practice was never that acceptable to the government, who mainly dished out the work, overseeing the bids. They knew it went on, but kept an eye on the two companies. Saw to it that it didnt get out of hand. Made sure that the projects were priced fairly. That the taxpayers werent getting screwed on their four-lane highways, bridges, and levees.
Eventually the OKerrys threw in the towel. The Bruckners now had their way free and clear. Kent went in for politics and, after a few years as alderman, ran for mayor. He won and around that time he and Dave became closer. Even a kind loose business relationship began. Kents brother ran the highway construction company while it left him free to consider other options.
Dave suggested condominiums. Converting old downtown buildings, tearing down others, and building new ones in their place. Commercial property prices were at an all-time low. The downtown was hurting. The time was ripe for revitalization. They went to work. A few condos were completed and the units sold fairly rapidly, at decent prices. They made some money. Not a ton, but enough to keep the idea going.
Things were looking up. The horizon looked less gray and flat. Dave was beginning to regain his old enthusiasm for life.
But thats when the letters arrived.
A real spider in the stew. At just the wrong time. A nasty, black spider.
Life was cruel. A real shit sandwich. Dave was forced to act.
Freddy drove away from his brothers house. The street was slick and he almost slid into a parked car. He was thinking of too many things at once. Dave was being a bit of a prick. But you couldnt really blame him.
Freddy was not the worrying type. Not like Dave. Or a few others. Even when the factory shut down it didnt trouble him. He was glad. That place was a fucking dump. Hed be happy to see it go up in flames.
One less smokestack to puncture the skyline. So primitive. The rust belt just got rustier. The end of a golden period all right. No robber barons left in this town. Should have put them all up against a wall and mowed them down. Machine gun style. Not that he was a radical, or a commie. Not like Paddy. Or at least the way Paddy often talked.
He stopped for smokes. A few more cigars. In spite of what Dave thinks. Fuck him. The guy has the morals of a gnat. But at least he knew where to turn. Freddy had a right to congratulate himself. Fuckin A!
He drove to his new business. Really, just an empty office on the third floor. Rent was a joke. Hardly made a dent in his workers comp. Not planning to live on that, however. Itll run out in a few months. Hell have something going by then. Plus the money from Dave helps. He put it in a safety deposit box. Told the bank not to send anything to him in the mail. Hed stop by and pick up his monthly statements. Hed decided on opening a new checking account at the bank down the street.
He sat down on a wooden chair in the corner of the small room. Hed have to buy a desk soon, or take the one from the basement of his home. And a telephone. They said theyd have the service up by next week. Until then there was always payphones. The ones he liked best were in warm, private nooks. The one at the Fat Dog was good, except for the nosy people always nearby.
The office was a perfect excuse for not going back home. It was all-night access, too. He could put in a couch. Just enough room. Couch, desk, chair. And open for business. Also a shingle outside the frosted glass door.
Jens already a little upset. Not only due to the layoff, either. Women can always smell the presence of another female. How is that possible? Did he smell the presence of another man sniffing around Jen. Not once. Never.
She could get away with murder if she felt like it. Come to think of it not a bad idea. Not homicide. Rather a new man for Jen. Itd make it easier for her when he packed and said adios.
Thankfully she had that gig with the dentist. People always needed their teeth fixed. Shell probably stay there for at least another twenty years. Freddy wondered if his wife had anything going with Dr. Barton. He sometimes looked like an old rake. Nah. Hed be able to pick up on the cues. Jen was still okay looking. Still could probably attract some guy.
He lit his cigar.
The more he thought about it maybe Jen was screwing Dr. Barton. She once mentioned how dark and small the developing room for the x-rays was. She said he had to go in there with her to teach her how its done. At the time Freddy didnt make anything of it. But why did she laugh when she told the story? And there was a little coloring on her face, too. He thought of it as due to the drinks they were having at the time. But maybe not. Dr. Barton…could be. After all. Now that hed started up with Lorna it was clearer.
How people could get away with so much. With no one the wiser. It was too easy. Especially when you worked together. Saw each other daily. This is what led to trouble. That daily contact. Its a wonder there werent orgies taking place in the lunch area. Or anywhere. Bathrooms. Parking lots. Under desks. On top of them. The floor. Hallways. Elevators.
This is how it had started with Lorna.
Now they were both out of a job. Hed figured the plant wouldnt last that long. Not with factories leaving the States for Mexico, and other third-world countries. Making air-conditioners was fairly technical. Even if the numbers kept going down year after year. Freddy was counting on having stable work for at least another decade.
It startled him to show up that Monday morning and see everything locked up tight. He didnt get a chance to empty his desk. He waited until Lorna appeared. She was really distressed. Crying, yelling. The other workers just stood around in small groups. Muttering, bitching.
Finally they left. He and Lorna went to the Fat Dog, where they sat for an hour. He was hoping to get laid. But she was still too rattled. Kept up the whining even after downing a few drinks. So useless. But women are like that. Well, there was always tomorrow. Lorna needed him now more than ever.
He blew smoke rings. One after another.