Authors: Michaela Thompson
Praise forPaper Phoenix:
“Wickedly delicious… What makes (Thompson's) book so particularly wonderful is the way it accomplishes the detective novel’s covert mission of urban analysis and social criticism.”
—San Francisco Examiner
“(She) knows how to create that sense of place which is so important to any novel, but particularly to crime fiction; her characters are believable men and women in a real world…”
A Mystery of San Francisco in the ’70’s
By Michaela Thompson
booksBnimble PublishingNew Orleans, La.
Copyright 1986 by Mickey Friedman
Cover by Andy Brown
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First booksBnimble Publishing electronic publication: June 2013
eBook editions by eBooks by Barb forbooknook.bizContents
If You Enjoyed This Book…
Other Books by Michaela Thompson
A Respectful Request About the AuthorOne
Until Richard left me, I had never thought much about murder. After he left me, I thought about it a great deal. Being abandoned by your husband when you’ve just turned forty-four is enough to make any woman consider violence, and being abandoned for a law student almost exactly twenty years your junior is a situation begging for mayhem.
But violence in the abstract, such as a satisfying fantasy of beating Richard bloody, is a long way from the real thing. Larry Hawkins’s death and its aftermath taught me that, and a good deal more besides, at a time when I imagined I had very little left to learn.
The popular wisdom of the moment said that I was OK and you were OK. I could go only halfway with that. IwasOK, or I had done my best to be. I had been faithful, supportive, loyal, an ornament to Richard’s career. I had gotten myself on committees of various cultural and philanthropic organizations and willed myself to care about their projects. I had sat through political dinners, my eyes watering with cigar smoke and suppressed yawns, when I would’ve preferred being at home with a good book. I had been pretty close to OK.
Nothing could convince me, on the other hand, that you were OK, if “you” meant Richard. Because to kick a perfectly OK wife in her stylish-but-not-flashy posterior is not OK and never will be, no matter what writers sympathetic to the problems of the male menopause say.
I thought about murder. When Richard closed the door behind him, my career as Mrs. Richard Longstreet, San Francisco Big Shot, was officially over. I was left with a renovated and rapidly appreciating pre-Earthquake cottage on Lake Street with a dining table at which the mayor would never again have dinner. The curtain had descended, and I was left in the dark backstage with the sudden suspicion that my big scenes had already been played.
A difficult situation was made more difficult by the fact that 1975, the year of Richard’s defection, was also the year that San Francisco— or, perhaps more accurately, the San Francisco press— discovered older women. In previous times, we females had marked the passing years in relative tranquility. Now, we were in ferment. At the age of forty-four, fifty-four, sixty-four, we were retreading ourselves for the job market, taking assertiveness training, petitioning our congressmen. We were banding together and starting cute new restaurants. We were learning carpentry and setting up communes on rolling acreage north of the city, where we birthed calves, walked around in mud-splattered hip boots, and lived in raw redwood cabins with no indoor plumbing. We were on the move.
I wasn’t going anywhere. Sitting in my glass-enclosed sun porch overlooking Mountain Lake Park, I would drop the paper beside my chair and watch the winter rain batter the weaving branches of the almond tree. When I got tired of doing that I would take a pill and lie down.
Since I wasn’t ready for calf-birthing, I had, as I saw it at the time, three possibilities: dye my hair, take a cruise, or commit suicide.
I decided against dying my hair. Even with a little gray here and there the chestnut was holding its own. After briefer consideration I also dismissed cosmetic nips and tucks on the eyelids and jawline. “You have good bones, Maggie,” my mother used to say, comforting me for being too thin. By this time I was glad. The less flesh, the fewer possibilities for sagging. My chin was a bit sharper than when I was twenty, and my eyes (the color of apple-green jade, Richard had rhapsodized in happier days) had seen a lot more, but I’d continue without chemical or surgical intervention. If Richard had chosen to see me, his domestic reflection, as on the verge of decay, that was his problem.
No cruise, either. I wasn’t ready to fend off the attentions of vacationing liquor salesmen whose wives were confined to the cabin with a touch ofmal de merand playing shuffleboard with other fun-loving divorcees didn’t appeal to me either. What I dreaded most was the thought that I’d probably fling myself at some greasy-haired ship’s vocalist wearing a diamond pinky ring and, worst of all, be rejected by him.
Suicide was my last option. I finally nixed it because I was too damn mad at Richard to give him the satisfaction. He would have played the scene well. His gray hair and elongated face gave him an attenuated, spiritual look that his black suit set off wonderfully. He would have stood, to all appearances guilt-ridden and grief-stricken, at my bier, and every woman at the service would have thought he looked worth committing suicide over. And underneath it all, he would have felt nothing.
If Larry Hawkins hadn’t died, I might never have taken off my salmon-colored peignoir again. Looking back, it seems that I wore it all day, every day, for months. That can’t be true, because I am fairly meticulous, and must have laundered it occasionally. I don’t remember. In fact, I remember very little of that time. I moved through the days like a salmon-colored blur, soft around the edges and the center completely dissolved, like a piece of chocolate candy that’s been left in the sun. Or like my marriage. My marriage had dissolved, too. That’s why they call it “dissolution of marriage,” I reasoned in my befuddled way. My brain didn’t work so well in those days, because I was taking a great many pills.
There was a pill in the morning, to calm my system down from the shock of getting out of bed. Then one at noon, to prepare me for my afternoon nap. At bedtime there had to be another to assure me of a good night’s sleep. Those were the regulars. If I started feeling jumpy in between, or burned the toast, or got a phone call from my lawyer, it was reason enough to take another. I was turning into a dissolving, salmon-colored junkie.
This situation continued from before Christmas to early March. How long it might have gone on I don’t know. I suppose I could still be stumbling around the house, subsisting on canned soup and staring moodily at whatever happened to be on television, if I hadn’t been awakened one afternoon by the sound of the newspaper slapping against the front steps.
It was four o’clock, and I had been sleeping since one. From what I had seen out the windows, it had been a glorious early-spring day— the sky a profound California blue, the park meadow the daisy-spangled bright green that comes after periodic hard drenching. Through the branches of the almond tree, now furred with delicate white blossoms, I had seen some neighborhood athletes braving the muddy parcourse. Then I had gone to sleep. When the thump of the paper penetrated my stupor I opened my eyes and watched the patterns the lowering sun was making on the bedspread of the king-sized bed in which I lay, still habituated, on my accustomed half.
TheHerald. For once the delivery boy hit the steps, instead of the Japanese magnolia tree next to them, or the slick-leaved boxwood bushes at the bottom. What time was it? I was distinctly put out. The newsboy’s accuracy had robbed me of another half hour to forty-five minutes of sleep, which would have meant my waking just in time to start thinking about which Campbell’s production to have for dinner. Now, it was too early.
When each minute of consciousness is a burden, an extra forty-five of them constitutes an almost insurmountable tragedy. What in hell would I do until dinnertime? I concentrated, watching the motes of dust spinning slowly in the ray of sunlight that had slipped past the curtains. I would read the paper. It was poetic justice. The paper woke me, so instead of taking my usual cursory glance at the headlines, I would read every story in the paper, and then I could eat, watch television, and take another pill. Full of purpose, I climbed out of bed.
I almost gave up. More Watergate fallout. Another stabbing at San Quentin. A group of “displaced homemakers” was petitioning Congress for reform of the marriage laws. Fifteen minutes had passed. Basic Development Corporation, low bidder on the project, had submitted final plans for the proposed Golden State Center to Richard Longstreet, San Francisco redevelopment director. That was too much. It was hard enough putting Richard out of my mind without reading about him and his idiotic Redevelopment Agency in the papers. Grimly, I leafed through to the obituary page, possibly hoping to see his name.
The name I saw wasn’t Richard Longstreet, but Larry Hawkins.
It was a short, uninformative article headedLOCAL EDITOR DIES IN FALL. I read it three times without stopping:
Larry Hawkins, 35, editor-publisher of thePeople’s Times,a weekly newspaper devoted to local politics, was found dead this morning in an alley outside theTimesoffices at 1140 Cleveland Street, a police spokesman said. Hawkins, an apparent suicide, had fallen from his office window on the building’s seventh floor. A note was found, the spokesman said.
Hawkins, self-styled “gadfly” of the City’s political establishment, was a well-known local figure. ThePeople’s Timesbegan publication three years ago. Hawkins is survived by his wife, Susanna, and two sons.
I put the paper down. So Larry Hawkins had committed suicide. I must have seen him a hundred times, maybe more— a slender man about five feet four, with a Byronic profile and a tumbling, unkempt headful of black curls, a rather attractive air of grubbiness about him. Although he was known to feel that anyone connected with City Hall was a natural adversary, there were people who considered it chic to flaunt their liberal tendencies and hound’s-tooth cleanliness by inviting him to their parties. Perhaps they wanted to show they weren’t afraid to let a righteous radical journalist loose in their china closets, no matter how out of place he might look and be.
Why he attended these gatherings I don’t know, unless he was in search of stories. I doubt that was the only reason. I think he got some sort of thrill from swaggering into an impeccably dressed group wearing his dirty beige corduroy jacket, his patched jeans, and his cracked boots. His moral superiority was evident always. He showed it in his contempt for all of us, the establishment he despised and excoriated week after week in theTimes. After a perfunctory handshake for his hostess, he would usually station himself as close to the food and drink as possible, watching everyone with quick, dark eyes. And the next week, likely as not, one of his fellow guests would turn up in the pages of theTimesas having given the City rest room contract to a toilet paper firm owned by his brother-in-law.
I wasn’t thinking about Larry now, but Richard. When I closed my eyes, I could see his long fingers curving around the telephone receiver, see his straight, navy blue, impeccably tailored back. I could hear his voice saying, impatiently, “Sure, I agree Larry Hawkins is a pain in the ass…” I had stood in the doorway of the study, wearing the same salmon-colored peignoir I was wearing now. It was the end of October, and Richard was going to leave me.
Richard was nothing if not civilized, so he had waited until after I had my first cup of coffee, and told me over the raisin toast as we sat at the kitchen table having breakfast. Picking up crumbs and rolling them between his fingers, he broke out phrases like “better for both of us,” and “well taken care of,” and “haven’t really communicated in years.” There wasn’t a word about his law student lady friend. I truly don’t remember the occasion very well, even now.
Once he said, “Can’t you understand, Maggie?” and reached out to touch my arm. I pulled back as if he had scalded me and knocked a jar of quince preserves off the table. Typical of Richard, to let other people make his messes for him while he watched, bemused at their clumsiness. As well as I remember, I hadn’t said a word up until then, except a polite “You are?” when he said he was going. After the preserves jar broke, it seemed extremely important that it be cleaned up thoroughly and immediately. While I got up for paper towels, the phone rang.
There’s an extension in the kitchen, but Richard said, vehemently, “God damn it to hell!” and went to answer it in the study— glad, no doubt, to escape the sight of me bending pathetically over the preserves. When the floor was clean, I looked around for him. I must have been in shock, because I had forgotten about the phone call, and when I didn’t see him it occurred to me that perhaps, having informed me of his intentions, he had simply left, not feeling the need for further elucidation. Dazed, I wandered into the living room and heard his voice coming from the study. I stood in the study door and saw Richard standing next to the desk, his back to me. His voice was irritated, emphatic. He said, “Sure, I agree Larry Hawkins is a pain in the ass. But you can absolutely take my word for it, we won’t have to worry about him much longer.” I turned around and walked back to the kitchen.
Now, I picked up the paper and read Larry’s obituary one more time. We won’t have to worry about him much longer. No. We certainly won’t.Two
I didn’t let myself think about it any longer, as if I had looked straight at the sun and didn’t want to look again. I followed the rest of my daily routine carefully. Because I was still a little ahead of time, the evening pill had made me sleepy enough that I could reasonably switch off the television before the eleven-o’clock news, thus avoiding possible reminders of Larry’s fate.
I moved through the next day like the zombie I was. It wasn’t until slightly more than twenty-four hours after I had first read it that I walked back out on the sun porch and saw the previous day’s paper, turned to Larry’s obituary, lying beside my chair. I was overwhelmed by a rage so intense that I had to sit down before my knees gave way.
Larry and I had been in the same boat, hadn’t we? Both of us had given Richard Longstreet a pain in the ass, and look at us now. Giving Richard a pain in the ass was obviously hazardous to your health, if not dangerous to your life.
In that bright burst of hatred I never doubted that Richard had somehow maneuvered Larry Hawkins into committing suicide, if he hadn’t literally pushed him out the window. How else could he have been so certain on the telephone? “You can absolutely take my word for it,” he had said. I remembered it more clearly than anything else that had happened that morning.
All at once, I couldn’t sit still. Invigorated by anger, I got up and paced the room, clenching and unclenching my fists. It was so unfair. It was utterly, completely unfair. Things always went Richard’s way. Does a newspaper editor bother you? A few months later he’s dead. Does your wife cramp your style? Kick her aside. Don’t under any circumstances let anything slow you down.
It would be such a satisfaction, just this once, to see him fail to get away with it. It would be the purest joy I could ever know to see him get caught. I stopped walking. It was impossible. There was nothing whatsoever I could do. Nothing. I sat down.
I thought about Larry. I had had only a single real conversation with him, and that took place because we were both somewhat drunk. It was at a fund-raising dinner for a Board of Supervisors candidate, held in a private room at one of the fancy Nob Hill hotels. Because of the terrible pressure of public service, the guest of honor hadn’t shown up yet, and it was getting on for nine-thirty. The hors d’oeuvres trays were ravaged, and since dinner couldn’t be served there was little to do but drink, or put one’s head in an ashtray and go to sleep, or both. Richard was, as usual, deep in a huddle with the few selected bigwigs who could do him the most good, and I had exhausted my small talk. A white wine or even, God help us, some sort of mineral water would have been the trendy tipple, but I decided to continue bucking the trend and went to order another Scotch. Larry Hawkins was leaning against the bar, his corduroy elbow just missing a puddle, and as I picked up my drink I noticed him watching me. He lifted his glass in a mocking little toast and then leaned over and said, “Bunch of turkeys.”
“What?” I said.
He waved his glass, indicating the room, its inhabitants, and part of the ceiling. “Bunch of turkeys, man. Real bunch of turkeys.”
I wasn’t sure if he was insulting the crowd or announcing the menu. “Who is?”
His eyes narrowed. “Who is what?”
“A bunch of turkeys.”
He looked at me glumly and turned away to his drink. “Aw, Christ, it’s hopeless.”
I wasn’t to be put off. “Don’t say it’s hopeless. Just tell me.”
“Can’t you even see?” he said with exasperation. “Whole goddamn room is full of goddamn City Hall turkeys.”
I sipped my drink. He pointed his index finger at me. The nail was chewed to the quick. “You look like an intelligent lady. What the hell are you doing here?”
“I’m married to one of the turkeys.”
He looked sincerely sad. “Jeez,” he said in a tone of regret. “Which one?”
“Oh,no.”His voice was a plaintive moan. “Not Redevelopment. God, I don’t believe it.”
At the time, I didn’t appreciate his sympathy. “Yeah. Redevelopment.”
He leaned toward me, full of sincerity. “Lady, if you want to take my advice you’ll stay away from that Redevelopment bunch. I mean, I’m not kidding with you on that one. They’re bad news.” He nodded firmly.
“Thanks for telling me,” I said. “It only comes about twenty years too late.” I took my drink and wavered away from the bar.
Larry had said Redevelopment people were bad news, and he had been right. Now Larry had smashed himself on an alley pavement. That brash little man a suicide? Week after week, he had gone after City Hall corruption, building-code violations, consumer fraud, police department drinking, always with a strident assurance that left no room for self-doubt. Wasn’t self-doubt a requirement for suicide?
You didn’t know Larry, and you don’t know the first thing about it, I chided myself. Wearily, I went to the kitchen to make a cheese sandwich. The bread was slightly stale. As I spread it with mayonnaise, I argued internally. I had heard Richard promise someone that soon Larry wouldn’t bother them again. Richard didn’t know that I had heard him, and I was the only one who had heard him, besides the person at the other end of the line. That was point one.
Slicing the cheese, I went on to point two. If Larry was bothering Richard, it was probably because Richard was doing something Larry planned to expose. I wanted to know what. Had the urbane, unflappable Richard Longstreet made a misstep? Imagining his doing something wrong was easy. I had known for a long time that he was ruthless where his career was concerned. As a poor boy with the manners and tastes of the rich, he had of necessity hardened himself, left some of the virtues behind as excess baggage. Imagining his getting caught doing a wrong act was much more difficult. Richard was clever, and he liked to look good.
I had forgotten to make tea. The kettle would boil in a minute. The truth is, you want revenge, I told myself. There. There it was. I was angry, hurt, bitter, and now I had something that had never before been given to me— a weapon. Furthermore, if Richardhaddone something, something that led to Larry’s death, wouldn’t it be only the right thing to do, the moral thing to do, to find out what it was? To bring about justice? Justice for Larry and justice for me, all in one stroke?
My head was beginning to ache. Bring about justice. Maybe I thought I was Saint George, riding to kill the dragon and rescue the maiden in distress. Whereas actually I was the maiden— make that matron— in distress. In other words, helpless. I ate my sandwich and drank my tea and continued to sit staring at the squeezed-out tea bag in my saucer.
Larry might have been working on a story about Richard and the Redevelopment Agency at the time of his death. If he had been, it would mean— it wouldn’t mean anything. But itmightmean Richard had done something to Larry. It might. It might mean Richard was as mean a son of a bitch as I thought he was. I’d feel a lot of satisfaction in having my opinion confirmed.
Satisfaction was something I hadn’t had much of lately, and the thought of feeling it again made my head reel faster than any pill ever could. All I really needed to know was what stories Larry had been working on before he went out the window. Suppose I could find out?
I couldn’t find out. No way. I wasn’t Saint George. I was just an ex-political wife, or a political ex-wife. Confined, more or less, to my really rather lovely home.
Well, hell. I could go to thePeople’s Timesandask.
I could ask. What harm would it do? They could always tell me to get lost if they didn’t want to say. If having somebody tell me to get lost would kill me, I’d have died after Richard said it.
I must be nuts. Time for a pill.
I could ask. It wouldn’t hurt anything. If I failed, so what? Failure was the story of my life. If I found out Larry had been investigating Richard— well, then I’d know.
Time for a pill.
I cleared away the dishes and sat down for an evening of television.Three
ThePeople’s Timeswas located in a grimy, dark-red-brick converted warehouse in the shadow of the freeway. Cleveland Street, in the industrial district south of Market Street, was hardly a street at all, but a litter-strewn passage where cars parked with two wheels on the crumbling sidewalks. Although the geographical distance wasn’t great, the atmosphere was completely different from the never-never land north of Market, where legions of visitors regularly left their hearts and discretionary dollars at the garish attractions of Fisherman’s Wharf or Chinatown. Surely nobody wearing white shoes— footgear religiously shunned by true San Franciscans, thus the dead giveaway of a tourist— had ever walked down Cleveland Street.
Was I going to walk down Cleveland Street? My salmon-colored peignoir was hanging on a hook on the bathroom door. I was wearing a blue pantsuit, and my hair was brushed. I had managed to get the car started, drive all the way down here, and park in a vacant lot next to a dented yellow Volkswagen with aBOYCOTT GALLOsticker on the rear bumper. Now I was staring across at the building I had planned to enter, all the while clinging to the steering wheel as if it were a life ring somebody had thrown me just before I went down for the third time. On the next street over, trucks roared by on their way to the freeway, adding their fumes to the haze that hung over the morning.
Making the effort to get this far was something already. I could go back home now and feel that I had accomplished the seemingly insurmountable task of getting out of the house. That I should also get out of the car was too much to expect for one day.
To my surprise, I did get out of the car. Standing among broken glass, twisted cigarette packages, and weeds, I continued to stare at the building. The windows were blank and dusty, the dreariness of the facade relieved occasionally by a lopsided fern or an Indian-print bedspread hanging in a window. From somewhere not far away a jackhammer duplicated the pulses I felt in my head.
I was going in. If I weren’t going in, I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble to get dressed, make up a cover story, and unearth the two-year-old notebook— half full of calculus problems from my daughter Candace’s high school days— that I was nervously clutching. I crossed the street.
At close range, the building was even seedier. The outer door listed on its hinges, opening into a foyer that smelled faintly of urine. On a yellowing piece of paper taped to the wall beside the elevator was a heavily amended list of tenants. Coalition for Justice and Equality, Gay Citizens League, Abolish Shock Therapy Now,People’s Times.Seventh floor. I wasn’t sure I liked the looks of the elevator, but when I entered and pressed the button the door creaked closed and it rumbled obediently, if slowly, upward.
When the door creaked open again, I stepped out into a musty-smelling hallway illuminated by milky light from a pebbled-glass window at the end. A few yards down on my left, a door stood open and a phone was ringing. Next to the door, someone had writtenPeople’s Timeson the wall in red magic marker. I could still go back. The elevator hadn’t even left yet. But at that moment it began to reverberate, and I stepped into the reception office of thePeople’s Times.
My first impression was of paper. All sorts of paper. Tied, piled-up bundles of copies of theTimesalong one wall. On the battered wooden desk in front of me stacks, or drifts, of magazines and opened mail, some of which had found a less crowded resting place on the floor. A threadbare green couch was littered with the daily newspapers, and pigeonholes on the wall behind the desk were overflowing with envelopes and flyers. The room was empty, and the phone was still ringing.
As I stood uncertainly, a girl with a large halo of frizzy red hair burst into the room, screamed“Screwthat phone!” grabbed the receiver, surveyed me, and said, crisply,“Times.”
She held up a finger to indicate she’d be through in a minute. Her exuberant hair, big blue eyes, and freckles cried out for an oversized polka-dot bow tie and a bright yellow derby, but instead she wore the top to a set of long underwear, bib overalls, and hiking boots. “Yeah, we plan to keep publishing. Andrew Baffrey’s taking over as editor,” she said, sitting down at the desk and resting one leg on the piles of mail, knocking a few more pieces to the ground.
As she listened, she picked up a letter, squinted at it, tossed it aside. Then she rolled her eyes exaggeratedly. “No, I think Andrew will do a great job, and I expect he’ll still want to use the story you sent us, but we’re in a little bit of a mess right now. Could you maybe call back next week? Thanks a lot.”
Putting down the phone, she looked at me and said, “Writers are incredible. What can I do for you?”
Sweat from my palms had made my notebook feel slippery. “I’m Maggie Wilson,” I said. It was my maiden name. I’d decided to leave “Longstreet” out of it.
The girl offered a hand that was even more freckled than her face. “Betsy O’Shea.”
Larry Hawkins’s death didn’t seem to have fazed Betsy O’Shea, but apparently she was a type it would take a lot to faze. Of all the attitudes I had imagined I might find at thePeople’s Times,this brisk friendliness was probably the last I had expected. Encouraged, I launched into my cover story. “I’m a journalism student at State. I’m in the reentry program there, you know, training older women for the job market…”
Betsy looked interested. “My landlady went through that about a year ago. She said it was great.” She shrugged. “We don’t have any jobs now, though. See, you may not have heard, but our editor—”
“I know, I know,” I interrupted. “I’m not here about a job. It’s for a class assignment. I want to do a story on Larry Hawkins.”
The blue eyes glazed. “You and a dozen other people.”
Oh God. I was losing her good will already. I stumbled on, “I guess it isn’t a very original idea, but I thought I might be able to give it a new slant.”
“How many times have I heard that one? No offense.” She rubbed her temples. “Reentry program, huh? Did your old man run out on you? If you don’t mind my asking.”
My face burned. What a fool I was, coming here to expose myself to this strange girl’s casual curiosity instead of staying up on Lake Street where I belonged. “I guess that’s right.”
I caught a shade of pity on her face. “That’s what happened to my landlady.” She waved a hand at the couch. “Sit down for a minute, why don’t you?”
As I crossed to the couch, the phone rang again and she yelled, “Kit, catch the phones for a while, OK?” I moved some newspapers and sat down.
“What kind of story did you have in mind?” she asked.
My plan was to start slowly and back into the big question. “I’d like to do an account of his last day, interspersed with history about theTimes, stories he covered, things like that. Sort of a montage.” Actually, I thought, the idea wasn’t half bad.
“His last day, huh?” Betsy leaned back and looked at the ceiling. “That would be two days ago. It was a fairly typical day around here.”
“It was?” I opened my notebook.
“Yeah. Which means it was frantic from beginning to end. Let’s see. Larry came in around noon and was his normal self, ranting at everybody. That afternoon was the thing with September Apple.”
“September Apple is a person. She was really into ecology at one point, so she took that name. Her real name is something like Mary.”
“She came in that afternoon?”
“She was always coming in. Larry gave her an assignment. Like everybody else in this town, she wants to be a writer. He finally told her to do something about poetry. Andrew Baffrey had been pushing him to use artsy stuff occasionally. So she worked and worked, and she was around here a lot. This place is the biggest outpatient clinic in San Francisco.” Betsy glanced around as if she wouldn’t be surprised to see outpatients emerging from the walls.
“Did the story get published?”
“Are you kidding? That’s what all the shrieking was about. She came in that afternoon, the day after she’d turned it in, and God, what a fight she and Larry had. I mean, the door of his office was closed, but I could hear their voices all the way out here. Finally, she came flying out of there just about hysterical and took off and I haven’t seen her since. You have to understand that wasn’t particularly unusual, though. Larry had that effect on writers.”
I was scratching away in the notebook, getting it all down. I didn’t want to blow my cover by not looking interested. “They were fighting about the story?”
“Probably. See”— Betsy leaned forward— “don’t put this in your article, but constructive criticism wasn’t in Larry’s vocabulary. You either wrote it his way or screw you. He was always sure he was one hundred percent right.”
“Did anything happen after that?”
“Not much. Larry spent a long time in his office with Andrew Baffrey, the managing editor, that afternoon. They must have been in there three hours, and then Andrew left, andman.”Betsy was silent for a moment, thoughtful. “I tell you, Larry came out to get a cup of coffee, and he was shaking like a leaf. It was strange, you know?” The sadness I had missed earlier washed over her face. Her fingers twisted a frizzy tendril of hair.
“He wasn’t usually the nervous type?” Pretty soon, the intrepid reentry reporter was going to slip in the jackpot question.
Betsy chuckled mournfully. “How could he run a paper like theTimesand be nervous, with people threatening to sue him all the time? I feel bad about it now. I saw he was upset. Maybe if I’d said something, it would’ve made a difference, and he wouldn’t…” She sighed. “So. He went back into his office, closed the door, and nobody saw him until his body was found by the garbage men. Is that all you need?”
The moment had come. “Just one more thing. I was wondering—” I began, just as a flabby blond man appeared in the doorway.
I heard Betsy mutter “Oh, no” as he walked unsteadily toward her. His hair, a razor cut grown too long, looked greasy. His belly hung over the pants of his ghastly brushed denim leisure suit. He rested his knuckles on the desk and leaned toward her.
“Well.” He managed to convey hostility in the single syllable.
“Hi, Ken,” said Betsy calmly.
“So Hawkins has gone to his reward.” The man had a resonant, theatrical voice. I almost thought I had heard it before. His face, with its straight, fleshy nose and prominent chin, looked familiar too. Was he an actor? I flashed through the productions I’d seen by the local repertory company, but couldn’t fit him into any role.
“Who’s in charge now?” His belligerence was deepening.
Betsy shook her head. “Sorry. He’s gone out for a while.”
The man leaned heavily across the desk and gripped Betsy’s shoulder. Her expression didn’t change. “You sure he’s not around?”
“Absolutely.” Betsy slid away from his grasp.
The man staggered, righted himself, and gazed blearily around. He wandered toward me and sank down on the other end of the couch. I could smell the liquor now. His eyes slid over me without interest, and I was again positive I knew him. “Baffrey, huh?” he said.
“Right. But he isn’t in.”
“Is he as big a son of a bitch as Hawkins? Or is he a human being?”
He leaned forward in a parody of earnestness. “Look, hon. Now that Larry’s gone, don’t you think this rag could print a retraction? I mean, enough’s enough.”
Betsy shook her head. “You won’t get anywhere with that, Ken. The story was true and we could prove it. Like Larry told you, the subject is closed.”
“The subject is closed,” he mimicked. “Shit. Larry Hawkins thinks it’s all right to take away a man’s job for the sake of a story? What kind of screwed-up values are those?”
Now I knew who he was. Kenneth MacDonald, Channel Eight’s local news attempt to duplicate Eric Sevareid. He had been the picture of rock-solid propriety, narrating three-alarm fires, murders in the Tenderloin, drug busts in Berkeley, the new gorilla at the zoo, and the mayor’s birthday party all with the same sonorous pomposity. He’d had an editorial segment— “The View from Here,” or something like that— in which he’d strung together platitudes on subjects of local interest.
I stared at him. He’d been ruggedly handsome, with features worthy of Mount Rushmore. Now, his face was puffy, bloated, his eyes insignificant in the surrounding flesh. I remembered that I hadn’t seen him on Channel Eight lately.
“I’ll tell you again,” Ken was saying. “I told Larry, and I’ll tell you, and I’ll tell this Andrew character that I didn’t know who owned that place. It was just a two-bedroom cabin at Tahoe, not a palace, for Chrissakes.”
“I think Larry’s point was that people in your position have to be careful,” Betsy said.
“You do? Well, I think Larry’s point was to sell a few more copies of his miserable paper, and he didn’t care whose ass he had to trample to do it.” Ken got laboriously to his feet. “It’s no wonder the little rat bastard killed himself. He probably realized what a creep he really was.” He shoved his chest forward, fists clenched at his sides.
Betsy didn’t respond. Under her steady gaze, his stance gradually lost its antagonism. When he next spoke, it was with more bravado than conviction. “I’ll be back. I’m going to talk to Baffrey about that retraction. You haven’t seen the last of me.”
“Sure,” Betsy said. “Just give us a couple of days to get on our feet, OK?”
“Right,” he said, apparently mollified. For the first time, it came to his attention that I was in the room. He looked at me with an inquiring stare.
“That’s Maggie Wilson,” Betsy said.
The change in him was instantaneous. Meeting a member of the public, he was the superstar television commentator once more. He flashed me a grin that had once been photogenic and held out his hand. “Kenneth MacDonald, Channel Eight. Pleased to meet you,” he said heartily. Before I could reply he dropped my hand and meandered from the room.
Once he made it out the door Betsy turned to me. “Sorry about that.”
“I see what you mean about the outpatient clinic.”
“You don’t know the half. Poor Ken. He was way too much of a lightweight to hold his own with Larry.” She folded an airplane from one of the papers on her desk and sailed it toward the window, where it crashed against the glass. “What a drag, right? Was there anything else you needed for your story?”
At last. I pretended to think for a moment. “The only other thing is, I thought it might add depth if I could say which stories Larry was working on at the time of his death. Give the feeling that his work must continue, and so on.”
Betsy shook her head. “It’s not a bad idea, but you’re talking to the wrong person. Larry played close to the chest. Totally. It could be that nobody knew, because that’s the way he was. If anybody had an idea, it would be Andrew Baffrey, and he’s gone out.”
I wilted. I had dragged myself down here, skipped my morning pill, sat through a tirade by a drunken former television commentator, only to run full tilt against failure. “Would he be willing to talk with me?” I could hear the tightness in my voice.
“I doubt it,” said Betsy slowly. “He’s taking over the paper, and he’s also very upset about Larry’s death. He’s going to have a lot on his mind.”
I told myself I had known it wasn’t going to work out, that it had been stupid ever to think it would. Ever to think anything would. I closed my notebook and stood up, leaden with disappointment. “Thanks anyway.”
Betsy looked at me. “You’vegotto have that one detail?”
“I just— just thought it would add the right finishing touch. I’d planned it that way, and I sort of described it to my professor…” My voice was heading into the upper registers. I prayed it wouldn’t actually crack as I gabbled through this pack of lies.
I could see the decision on Betsy’s face before she said, “Oh rats. I’ve had enough emotional trauma in the past few days to last a lifetime. Come in tomorrow morning and I’ll try to shoehorn you in to see Andrew for a few minutes.”
The rush of relief I felt almost overwhelmed me. I gushed my thanks and she accepted them nonchalantly, cautioning me only to leave my phone number so she could reach me if she had to reschedule.
I was standing in the doorway thanking her once again when a woman pushed me aside to get into the room. Her long brown hair was windblown, her face a deep pink. She wore jeans, boots, and a heavy zip-fronted sweater with a pattern of gray llamas on it. She stood in the middle of the room and said, tremulously but carefully, enunciating each word, “Betsy, I cannot stand it any longer. People havegotto get off my back. I cannot stand it—” She broke off and bowed her head. I heard her emit a little squeak.
Betsy was beside her in a second, putting an arm around her and leading her to the couch. Before they reached it, the woman was sobbing convulsively.
Whether or not Betsy had had enough emotional trauma, she was obviously going to have more. She sat next to the woman, saying, “What happened, Susanna? Did somebody do something to you?” but the woman only wailed louder, her face clenched like a child’s, stray hair clinging to the wetness of her cheeks and lips. Betsy said, “Maggie, there’s a water cooler back in the newsroom. Bring a cup, would you?”
Susanna? Susanna Hawkins, Larry’s widow. Heading in the direction Betsy indicated, I began the search for the water cooler.Four
“Newsroom” seemed an extravagant term to apply to the collection of ramshackle desks, jerry-built tables, and dented filing cabinets I found down a short hall. The typewriters looked ancient enough to have been used for on-the-scene reports from the ‘06 quake. The atmosphere was subdued. A few of the desks were occupied by people reading or staring into space. Two men and a woman, all dressed in post-hippie style— much the same as hippie style, but without fringe or beads— were clustered around a filing cabinet, speaking in low tones. They glanced at me, their young, worried faces registering the fact that I looked expensively out of place, then turned back to their conversation. Here the pall left by Larry’s death was tangible.
I spotted the water cooler in a corner, and filled a paper cup. “I don’t know,” a ponytailed young man in the filing-cabinet group was saying. “The way Andrew’s freaking out there’s no telling what’s going to happen.”
“He’ll pull himself together. Give him half a chance,” the woman said, sounding unconvinced.
“I don’t know,” the man said again, and they fell silent.
When I returned to the outer office, Susanna’s sobs had reached the gasping, hiccuping stage. Betsy was still sitting beside her, patting her back, and when she saw me she said “Thanks,” and took the cup.
Susanna’s face was more composed now, and I saw for the first time how lovely she was. Even brimming with tears, her eyes were a stunning violet blue, and her flushed skin seemed almost translucent. She didn’t look older than twenty-three or twenty-four, at least ten years younger than Larry had been. She watched me over the rim of the cup, and when she had drunk she said, “Who are you?”
“This is Maggie Wilson,” Betsy said. “She’s a journalism student. She’s going to write a story about Larry.”
The eyes I had been admiring animated instantly with dislike. “Oh, fabulous,” Susanna said. “Fantastic. I’ve made my entrance in full view of a reporter. I can’t believe it.”
“I’m not really a reporter—” I began, but she cut me off.
“Isaidpeople have to get off my back,” she snapped fretfully. “Can’t I even walk in here without a thousand hassles?”
Betsy made a protesting gesture. “Susanna, Maggie isn’t—”
“Look.” Susanna got up and began to pace. “I went to the coroner’s office, all right? And I got a million stupid questions, and sign this and sign that before they’ll give me Larry’s things. And then— then downstairs I get accosted by thisidiot,this pimply-faced kid who said heworshippedLarry and wants to write some kind of memorial.”
I was obviously in the wrong place. Susanna Hawkins was in no mood to put up with prying journalists, and that’s what she thought I was. I edged toward the door.
“He wanted to know all this stuff,” Susanna rushed on. “Why did I think Mr. Hawkins did it? Didn’t I think he was a martyr, some kind ofsaint?”She giggled breathlessly. “And do you know what he wanted then?” She was looking at me, talking to me. “He wanted to see the note Larry left. Can you believe it? He said he’d consider it a privilege. You know what I should have done?” Her voice was rising. She went to the couch and fumbled in her handbag, pulling out a small piece of white paper. “I should have said, ‘Sure, kid. Take it.Readit. It’syours!’”
She flung the paper in my direction and turned around, sobbing once again, Betsy at her side. The paper made a couple of lazy loops and settled on the floor. I should leave it there, I told myself. I glanced at it. The writing was facing up. I heard inquiring voices. Susanna’s hysterics had aroused the newsroom. I picked up the paper. The note was short, written with a black felt-tipped pen. There was no salutation, and the writing was angular and positive: “Sorry to do this to you and the kids, but believe me, there’s no other way. Forgive me, baby.” The signature, a flourishing “Larry,” took up half the sheet.
As I placed the note on the couch next to Susanna’s handbag, the newsroom’s inhabitants crowded in, asking what was going on. I walked out the door, down the hall, and leaned gratefully on the elevator button.
Outside, I sat in the car trying to catch my breath. My visit to theTimeshad proved considerably more exciting than a two-Campari-and-soda lunch and a charity fashion show. I must be exhausted, ready to go home and catch a nap.
Reluctantly, I started the car. Sure. Mission accomplished for one day. Got to rest up for my encounter with Andrew Baffrey tomorrow. As I drove slowly out of the vacant lot, I realized that I was hungry. Although it was still a bit early, it could be reasonably construed as lunchtime, and of course it made no sense at all to go home until after I’d had some lunch.
I wasn’t in the mood, though, to go to any of my former haunts, where I might be pitied and patronized, either by headwaiters or acquaintances who would gossip about Richard or urge me to take up Japanese flower arranging or primal scream therapy.
I drove aimlessly around the neighborhood until I spotted a diner advertisingCHINESE AMERICAN CUISINEandBREAKFAST ALL DAY. Sitting at the counter, I ordered pancakes, sausages, and coffee and eavesdropped on three khaki-clad men sitting a few stools down who were drinking coffee and arguing about what should be done to improve Candlestick Park. By the time they agreed that the goddamn thing should be bulldozed, I had devoured my food and was feeling surprisingly content.
I hadn’t found out what I wanted to know at theTimes,true. Still, I couldn’t help thinking the visit had been, in some sense, a success. Despite Susanna Hawkins’s frenzy, despite the unpleasantness of Ken MacDonald— or perhaps even because of those things— it had been a fascinating window into something new.
On the other hand, I told myself, I can’t get distracted by side issues. If I don’t find out what Richard’s connection with Larry was, the whole thing will be meaningless. Don’t lose sight of the main question.
As I paid the bill, it occurred to me that Richard had hardly entered my consciousness at all while I’d been at theTimes. He had receded to a mathematical abstraction, a term I wanted to try in an equation. But now here he was, fully fleshed in my mind, where he had been awaiting his chance to grasp me again. As I walked down the gusty sidewalk, grit blowing in my eyes, I realized that I should have known he’d still be lurking there, that he wouldn’t go away and leave me in peace.
Behind the wheel, I found myself still unwilling to go home. Now that I was out, it was almost as difficult to return as it had been to emerge. I drove, looking at the drab buildings, the trucks unloading, the newspapers blowing across the street, until it occurred to me that I was only a few blocks from the Civic Center, and the main branch of the public library. I could read some back issues of theTimes. Richard had changed his subscription to his love nest on Russian Hill, and I hadn’t been particularly interested in city politics lately, my ignorance of Ken MacDonald’s problems proof of my inattention. Relieved to have a destination once again, I drove to the Civic Center and parked in the underground garage.
In fifteen minutes, I was sinking into the somnolent atmosphere of the library’s newspaper reading room, the past six months’ issues of theTimesin a stack in front of me. The only sounds were the crackling of newsprint, the occasional clicking of a microfilm machine, and the soft, purring snore of the grizzled old man sitting at the end of my table, theChristian Science Monitoropen in front of him and his hands folded on his chest.
I looked at the stack of papers.Twenty-five cents a copy. An untidy, dog-eared heap of newsprint representing Larry Hawkins’s life’s work. Larry hadn’t had much talent for design. The paper was the size of an advertising throwaway. The headline of the top issue trumpeted,MAYOR FUDGES ON DRUG REHAB PROGRAM. I picked it up and began to read.
After an hour, I was almost numb from the barrage of accusatory prose. Larry’s sources had been numerous, his fund of anger apparently inexhaustible. His own byline appeared most frequently, but there were also stories by Andrew Baffrey, managing editor, in almost every issue. Baffrey, it seemed to me, was a more balanced reporter, his prose considerably less rabble-rousing than Larry’s and occasionally even humorous, humor being a sin Larry never committed.
Turning a page, I found myself staring into the stalwart gaze of a promotional photograph of Ken MacDonald. His jawline was as square as I remembered it, his mouth as confident. The picture was captioned, “Channel Eight soothsayer Kenneth MacDonald. What was he doing at Tahoe at a developer’s expense?”
The story was brief, the facts tightly nailed down. Ken had spent two weeks in a Lake Tahoe cabin which Larry’s checking had revealed to be owned by Jane Malone, executive vice president of Basic Development Corporation. Several weeks after his return, Ken had delivered an impassioned editorial in favor of the Golden State Center, one of Basic’s key projects, a high-rise development near the waterfront that had been anathema to San Francisco’s environmentalists. When questioned, he had claimed the cabin had been offered to him by a friend, and he hadn’t known who the actual owner was.
“The citizens of San Francisco aren’t being given the news on Channel Eight, they’re hearing the gospel according to the high-rise,” Larry had written. “Now we know why. It’s the old story of one hand washing the other. We think, however, these revelations of his compromised objectivity should wash so-called ‘reporter’ Kenneth MacDonald right off the screen.” Two weeks later, in a column headed “Follow-Up,” Larry wrote, “Kudos to Channel Eight management for their prompt dumping of developers’ darling Kenneth MacDonald, who spent a vacation in a cabin owned by Basic Development and then came out foursquare behind Basic’s pet project, the Golden State Center (Times, Nov. 29).”
There went Ken down the tubes. I looked through the rest of the papers, but found nothing further to interest me. While the Redevelopment Agency, and Richard as its director, had come in for a fair share of knocks and snide remarks, there had been no major expose. If there had been a strong connection between Richard and Larry, no intimation of it had crept into print. Yawning, I folded the last issue and handed the stack to the librarian. At last, I was ready to go home.Five
When I arrived the next morning, theTimesoffice showed signs of casting off the stagnation of the day before. Several scruffy-looking people, presumably staff members, were milling around in Betsy’s office reading mail or the morning paper, talking and drinking coffee. Betsy sat behind her desk looking the same as before, except today she was wearing a purple leotard with her overalls. When she saw me, she smiled.
“I thought you might not come back at all after yesterday,” she said. “Susanna was really overwrought.”
“She has reason to be upset.”
“Yeah, but she was pretty hard on you. Only, it wasn’tyou,if you know what I mean.” She got up. “I’ll see if Andrew’s free.”
She was back shortly. “He only has a minute, but you can go in now. Straight through the newsroom, and it’s the door right in front of you.”
The newsroom was also more populated than yesterday, with people tapping at typewriters, dialing phones, and generally looking productive. Evidently, Andrew Baffrey had managed to rally his troops. The door that must be his was closed. A piece of paper was taped to it on which was written, in blue pencil,Editur at work.I knocked, and a hoarse voice beckoned me in.
The office was the size of a broom closet. The young man standing at the window looked as if he hadn’t slept in weeks. The part of his face that wasn’t obscured by a brown beard was a pale, sickly yellow. His large brown eyes were red-rimmed and blurred with grief or exhaustion, and his hair stood away from his head as if he had spent a lot of time running his hands through it. He had the raw-boned body of a high-school basketball player who hasn’t quite filled out yet. I judged him to be about twenty-five years old.
“Andrew Baffrey,” he said. I told him I was Maggie Wilson, and we shook hands. He had the knobbiest wrists I had ever seen, or perhaps that impression came from the fact that his sweater sleeves were too short. His palm was clammy, and I could feel a tremor in his fingers. He gestured to a folding chair for me and sat down behind his desk. “Betsy says you want to do a story on Larry. What for?” he asked.
Accustomed to Betsy’s friendly cooperation, I found the question brusque. Slightly off balance, I launched into my journalism-student story, hoping I sounded confident. The truth was, I had once thought about entering the program for real, so I knew a bit about it. Andrew made no comment, and I felt myself losing conviction under his noncommittal gaze. I finished, lamely, “I want to write about what Larry Hawkins did on his final day, and intersperse that with flashbacks about the history of theTimes.”
“I see.” He drummed his fingers on the desk, watching them rise and fall. Finally, he looked back at me and said, “What do you want from me?”
I was getting thoroughly unnerved. “I thought it would add to my article if I knew what stories he was working on at the time of his death. I mean, help me understand his motives and so forth.” I had never before realized how important the nods, smiles, and sympathetic sounds of normal conversation were. The silence was unbearable, so I chattered on. “The stories might provide clues to why he did it, I thought. From what I understand, suicide was very much out of character for him.”
A jolt of pain crossed Andrew’s face, gone almost before I had seen it, leaving his eyes a little redder than before. “You could say that,” he muttered. He stood up, slipping his fingers in the back pockets of his faded jeans, and wandered back to the window. “What was your name again?”
“Maggie Wilson. ‘
He rested one foot on the windowsill and leaned his elbow on his knee. He was wearing a battered-looking pair of running shoes, their faded electric blue the brightest color in the room. “Maggie, I want to know why you’re here,” he said casually.
This was it. My face was getting hot. “I told you.”
He shook his head. “I don’t believe you.” He didn’t seem angry, or even particularly interested. “For one thing, I know the guy who runs that program at State. When he sends students over, he always calls me to see if it’s OK. Should I give him a jingle to ask about you?”
Looking down at Candace’s notebook in my lap, I shook my head. I must look like a whipped puppy. I wished to God I’d never heard of Andrew Baffrey.
He crossed the room and perched on the corner of his desk in front of me. “Then I want to know what you’re doing,” he said. “Did you come here for some weird kick, or are you snooping around for somebody?”
Mustering my dignity, I stood up. My nose began to prickle, a bad sign meaning I might cry. “I’ll leave,” I said, making a tentative movement toward the door.
Without getting up, Andrew caught me by the forearm. “I want to know what you’re doing here,” he repeated, his voice level.
I was an idiot, a fool, and now I looked like a fool in front of this loathsome, self-righteous apprentice muckraker. I pulled my arm away, searching frantically and vainly for another plausible lie.
“Surely you must realize how many people would like to know what Larry Hawkins was keeping under his hat,” Andrew said. “Did you think you could walk in and ask and I’d tell you, just like that? How long do you think theTimeswould last if we went around discussing our stories before they appeared in the paper? I want to know what your interest is, Maggie. That’s all.”
His eyes seemed dark and huge. Through the dizziness of my embarrassment I grasped that I had taken a risk and I had gotten caught, fair and square. Without realizing I was about to do it, I said, “My name is Maggie Longstreet.”
I couldn’t tell if it meant anything to him. He nodded and said, “Fine. Let’s go have a cup of coffee while we talk about the rest.”
Once we were out on the street, Andrew’s color looked better, and as we walked he began to swing his arms. Watching him, it occurred to me that his usual temperament could be quite different from the anxiety-ridden side of him I had seen so far. Unaccountably, I felt my own spirits rise, and I took a deep breath of factory effluvia.
“This place I’m taking you to has terrible Danish, and the coffee is even worse,” he said.
I was grateful for his effort to put me at ease. “What a recommendation.”
“It’s my favorite place to hang out, because it has flamingos painted on the walls.”
Not only flamingos, but red and pink hibiscus, assorted palm trees, and an aquamarine lagoon, all somewhat chipped and faded, adorned one wall of the Tropicana Cafeteria. The mural’s vegetation was supplemented by a lush assortment of plastic foliage. Andrew seated me next to a particularly bushy (and dusty) specimen and went to the counter, returning in a few minutes with coffees and Danish. Putting mine in front of me, he said, “Sink your teeth into this, if at all possible.” Sitting across the table, he leaned back to look at the flamingos for a moment. When he turned to me, the lines of tension had returned to his face.
“It might help if I tell you I know who you are,” he said. “I’ve been poking around picking up gossip in the city departments for several years now. Of course I know who Richard Longstreet is, and I know you’ve just gotten a divorce, or dissolution, or whatever. Do you want to take it from there?”
Andrew had been right about the Danish. It was hard to chew, and even harder to swallow. I choked down a bite with the aid of some coffee. “I wanted to find out if Larry had been working on any stories relating to Richard.”
He didn’t seem surprised. “Why? Would that give you some leverage in the settlement, or something?”
“No, nothing like that.” I sat silent for a moment. My idea that Richard had somehow been involved in Larry’s death now seemed irrational, the unhinged fantasy of a vindictive, disappointed woman. “I thought…” I cleared my throat and started over. “I thought it would help me understand things a little better. The kind of person Richard was, I mean.”
“Hm.” Andrew’s face was shaded by his bony fingers, but he was watching me closely. “There’s one thing that puzzles me.”
“How did you get the idea that Larry might have been investigating Richard? When Larry was onto something, he told absolutely nobody, not even me. He might let me in on it to the extent that he needed legwork, or he might drop a hint or two, but nobody got the full picture until it was ready to go in the paper.”
“So you don’t know whether Larry had anything on Richard or not?” From the strain I could feel around my eyes, I knew I was watching Andrew as intently as he was watching me.
“I didn’t say that. I asked why you thought he did.”
“I suppose maybe Richard mentioned it at some point.” I could feel him willing me to go on, feel his knowledge that I wasn’t being frank. I clamped my jaw, determined not to tell everything I knew unless he gave something too. We stared at each other. I felt as if he and I were in a magnetic field— a field enclosing us, our table, two cooling cups of coffee, two inedible Danish pastries.
Andrew broke the tension first. It evaporated at the first sign of his grin. “I’ll settle for a draw on that round,” he said. “Why don’t we have some fresh coffee?”
As he set the new, steaming cups beside the cold ones he said, “I’ve got a proposition for you, Maggie.”
All at once I felt reckless. “Name it.”
He took a large bite of his Danish and chewed thoughtfully, leaving a few crumbs clinging to his beard. Then, ticking his points off on his fingers, he said, “I know something you want to know. You know something I want to know. Now this is the deal.” He edged his chair closer and leaned conspiratorially across the table. “Why don’t we tell each other what we want to know?”
I nearly laughed out loud. “They certainly teach you clever ways to elicit information in journalism school.”
“I never went to journalism school. I was a political science major.” He smiled. “What do you say?”
It was obviously the only way I’d find out anything more. “All right. But only if you go first.”
“Do you know,” he said ruminatively, “those are the exact words my first little girlfriend used when I asked her to play doctor. But if I had ever learned anything from experience, would I be where I am today?”
His face sobered. “Here goes. Larry was working on a story about the Redevelopment Agency, especially Richard Longstreet. Now, you’re going to ask, what was the story about? I don’t know. Like I said, Larry was paranoid about leaks, but at the same time if he was on something very large, he couldn’t resist making tantalizing remarks about it. For the past several months, he’s been telling me, ‘We’re going to get those Redevelopment bastards,’ or ‘I’m going to blow Richard Longstreet right off the map.’ So the answer to your question is, yeah. Larry had a story, and it was big.”
So I’d gotten my answer, after all the trouble. There was a connection between Larry and Richard. I felt as if I had walked through a doorway and Andrew’s words had slammed the door behind me. Now I was in a place I’d never been before, and there was no way to go back.Six
“You got pale. Are you OK?” Andrew said.
My face felt immobile, as if encased in plaster. I had trouble moving my lips to ask, “Is there any way of finding out more about the story?”
Looking at me closely, Andrew hesitated before he answered. “I’m not sure. I haven’t been through Larry’s office yet, his private papers. It could be there, or it could be that he was carrying the whole thing around in his head. Sometimes he worked that way.” He sat back in his chair. “Your turn.”
A bargain was a bargain. Besides, as I tried to think how to begin, my suspicions once again seemed to melt into absurdity. I knotted my hands together in my lap. “You’re going to think I’m crazy.”
“After three years at theTimes, I consider craziness a purely relative concept.”
“When I saw Larry’s obituary in the paper, I remembered something I overheard Richard say about Larry on the telephone a couple of months ago.”
“Yes. I don’t know who he was talking to, but he told the person that he knew Larry Hawkins was a pain in the ass, but they wouldn’t have to worry about him much longer. When I remembered, I got curious and I wanted to find out—” I broke off. Find out what?
“Holy shit,” said Andrew. He looked stunned. “You mean, like— you think Richard might have had something to do with Larry’s death?”
I shrank from hearing it put so baldly. “Probably not,” I said hastily. “Really it was just that I was curious. I said it was crazy.”
“Not especially crazy.” Andrew’s face, so yellow and unhealthy-looking when I had met him earlier, now surged with color. I was surprised, thrown off balance by the intensity of his reaction. Surely he could see how tenuous the whole thing was, I assured myself. He wouldn’t begin a campaign for Richard’s arrest on the basis of a few words.
“Listen, this is strictly confidential,” I said, wishing I’d said it earlier.
He nodded vigorously. “Sure, sure. It’s just that this makes—” He dug a spiral-bound notebook from his breast pocket and shoved it across the table to me. “I owe you. In the next couple of days I’ll know if Larry left behind anything on that story. Give me your number, and I’ll call and tell you what I find out.”
Writing down my name and number I said, “I appreciate this. But you don’t actuallyoweme anything.”
He flipped the notebook shut and replaced it in his pocket. “Yes, I do. A hell of a lot more than you realize. You’ll hear from me.”
We walked the few blocks back to theTimesin silence. I was trying to assimilate what Andrew had told me. Now I knew for sure that Richard had been in danger from Larry. An exposé, a scandal, his photograph in the papers— how he would despise it. I wondered what he had done, what Larry had been preparing to divulge. I would give a great deal to know. It might help me to assess, or reassess, the past twenty years. At my side Andrew was equally thoughtful, his head bent, his hands shoved in the pockets of his red nylon windbreaker.
When we reached Cleveland Street he shook my hand, promising once again to call me soon. I watched him lope into the building, then turned toward my car.
Driving back home I thought about Andrew, wondering if my daughter Candace, now a sophomore at Stanford, would like him. I doubted it. Candace had inherited too much of Richard’s concern with appearances to be impressed by a threadbare crusading journalist. A budding stockbroker would be more in her line, or a young lawyer in a three-piece suit just starting out at one of the better Montgomery Street firms. Like father, like daughter.
Which was too bad, because it would be fun having somebody like Andrew Baffrey around. If he started seeing Candace, the two of them might come for dinner sometimes. He’d regale Candace and me with the latest political gossip, or tell stories about the crazy things that had happened at the paper. The three of us would sit around and laugh…
I dragged my mind from this completely improbable scenario. Candace would never look at him twice, and he was probably taken anyway. A man as attractive as he was would have been snapped up long ago.
The phone was ringing when I got home. I heard it as I was closing the garage door. For reasons that were never adequately explained to me— something about the foundations? Reinforcement against the next big quake?— the renovation of our house left us with an attached garage but no inside access to it. That circumstance frequently made me wish the place had been leveled in 1906. Wishing it yet again, I sprinted up the front steps and caught the phone, miraculously, on the tenth ring. The female voice at the other end was unfamiliar.
“Yes?” Someone at theTimes,since she thought my name was Wilson, but it didn’t sound like Betsy.
“This is Susanna Hawkins.”
I hoped my gasp of surprise was lost in my general breathlessness, and hoped even more that Susanna hadn’t called to finish the job of berating me she had started yesterday. “Yes, hello,” I said warily.
Her voice was soft and a little nervous, a tone totally unlike that of our former encounter. “I got your number from Betsy O’Shea. I want to apologize for the way I acted yesterday. It was unforgivable, but I hope you understand—”
I rushed to reassure her. “Of course I do. Please don’t worry about it.”
“I’m really ashamed of myself, and I’d like to make it up to you,” she went on. “I thought maybe I could help with your article, so I got together one of Larry’s bios and some reprints of articles about theTimes. I’m more or less”— she breathed deeply— “going through things anyway, and—” I heard a crash, a child wailing in the background, a dog barking. “Oh, God. Can you hang on a minute?” she said, and left the phone.
Listening to her chastise child and dog, I mused that this was a pretty kettle of fish. I was thoroughly ashamed that Susanna Hawkins, newly widowed, had taken the trouble to help me with an article that didn’t exist. In fact, the effort at conciliation seemed a bit excessive on her part. Since I didn’t want to risk causing another scene like the one at theTimesoffice, it would be best to go along with her, take whatever she had for me, and slink away.
This decision coincided with her return to the telephone. “Sorry,” she said. “I guess I was saying you could stop by if you wanted to and pick up that information.”
I thanked her emphatically. She gave me an address in Bernal Heights and directions on how to get there. As I was replacing the receiver I heard another shriek in the background and mentally gave thanks that Candace was no younger than nineteen.
Unwilling to keep Susanna waiting and also wanting to get the whole thing over with, I started out immediately. Bernal Heights was exactly in the direction I’d just come from. As I drove south on Van Ness Avenue once again, past the opera house and the lavish automobile dealerships, it occurred to me that I’d spent more time south of Market in the past two days than I had in the previous two years. The traffic wasn’t bad, and in twenty minutes or so I was parking on Barton Street, across the street from the number Susanna had given me.
Judging by the neighborhood, theTimeshadn’t made Larry wealthy. Barton Street, neither fashionable nor rich-hippie funky, was lined with modest, pastel-colored houses fronting on cracked sidewalks, straggling up the side of a steep hill. Now, at noon, the street was empty, except for two large dogs trotting purposefully toward the hilltop, but I could imagine that after school hours it would be alive with children.
The Hawkins house was yellow with a brown roof and white trim. In a few places, paint from the trim had dribbled in rivulets onto a picture window. I curbed my wheels, crossed the street to the door, and rang the bell. Inside, a dog began to bark.
Susanna opened the door, looking tired. She was wearing jeans and a blue work shirt with the tail out and the sleeves rolled up, and around her neck was a choker of tiny red and blue beads. Her long brown hair was loose on her shoulders. “Hi, come in. Excuse the confusion,” she said, and led me to a tiny living room which was vastly overpopulated by two small dark-haired boys and a large, furry white sheepdog who appeared overjoyed at my presence and wanted to prove it by lunging at me.
“Leave her alone, Curly,” Susanna said without noticeable effect. Then, addressing the older of the two children, “Abner, take Curly out back, would you please?” As Abner, whom I guessed to be around four, corralled the dog, I noticed that the smaller boy, about two, had taken the opportunity to begin writing on the wall with a red crayon. From the look of the wall, it wasn’t the first time he had tried it. It took Susanna several minutes of persuasion mixed with threats before he was dispatched to play with his brother in the backyard. “Zeke is an individualist, but Abner can handle him for a minute,” Susanna said. “Now let’s see. Where was the folder I had for you?”
A coffee table in front of the couch was spread with papers, and a cardboard box filled with what appeared to be manuscripts was in the middle of the toy-strewn floor. On an end table I noticed a manila folder. Sitting on top of it was an open jar of peanut butter and a sticky knife. “Is that it?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah.” Susanna picked up knife and jar and handed the folder to me. “Hope you don’t mind a little peanut butter.”
“Not at all.” I opened the folder and glanced at its contents. A reprint fromNewsweekwith a photo of Larry posed against the San Francisco skyline, a Xerox from theLos Angeles Times.“This will be a big help.”
“I hope so.” She sat on the arm of a chair. “The only thing is, I hope you don’t want to interview me or anything.”
I shook my head. “That won’t be necessary.”
“Good,” she said. “See, I know what can happen. People say one thing, but it comes out sounding another way.”
“You won’t have to worry about that.” I felt sorry for her. She looked so fragile, blue veins visible beneath her skin, ash-colored half-circles under her eyes. “What will you do now?”
She picked at a string on the chair. “I don’t know. There isn’t much money. Everything Larry got, he funneled into theTimes.”
I was taken aback by the frank bitterness in her tone. “TheTimeswill continue to publish?”
She shrugged. “I guess it will. I’ve more or less turned it over to Andrew Baffrey. That paper was Larry’s plaything, not mine.”
In the downward curve of Susanna’s mouth, I read the bafflement and frustration of someone who has felt unfairly excluded. I could well imagine that Larry Hawkins hadn’t been an easy person to live with. Thanking her again, I turned to go, and as I walked to my car I could hear the children shouting, the dog barking in the backyard.
Back home, over a sandwich, I looked at the papers Susanna had gathered for me. There was nothing I didn’t already know. As I closed the folder, feeling guilty once again that she had gone to the trouble, the phone rang.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gotten two phone calls in one day. I answered the kitchen extension. Again, the voice on the other end was unfamiliar, but this time it was male. “Mrs. Longstreet?”
“Mrs. Longstreet, I have some advice for you. Are you listening?”
The low, expressionless tone made my stomach tighten. “Who is this?”
“Here’s the advice,” the voice went on. “Stay away from thePeople’s Times.If you don’t, there could be trouble.”
The word “trouble” vibrated in my ear as I heard the receiver go down on the other end of the line. Although I knew the connection was broken I sputtered, “Just who the hell are you?” Nobody answered, so there was nothing left to do but hang up.Seven
After three minutes of blind panic, I started to get angry. Only one person could be responsible for a sinister call telling me to stay away from thePeople’s Times,and that person was Richard. Obviously, he was having me followed.
The thought infuriated me as I had rarely been infuriated. Richard had walked out, declared his independence of me and his indifference to my actions, but he wasn’t decent enough to leave me my privacy. I went to the living room and looked out the front window. The street was calm, looking almost bleached in the early-afternoon sun. A young woman passed, pushing a stroller. No cars with strangers slouched behind the wheel. No moving curtains in windows across the street.
I went to the glassed-in back room. It was quiet, the only sound an occasionalthwock!from the tennis courts in the park. Through the luxuriant blossoms of the almond tree I could see the wind-ruffled, greenish waters of Mountain Lake. There were thick clumps of bushes everywhere, tall fir trees, an open-fronted concrete-block structure where old men sat playing checkers. Lots of places to hide. Anybody could hide out there and watch.
The creepy fear that made my hands perspire also fed my rage. I grabbed my purse and slammed out of the house.
My anger was like a balloon, carrying me downtown. I sailed unimpeded through the traffic, constantly checking my rearview mirror to see if there was a suspicious vehicle behind me. It seemed only an instant after I left the house that I was pulling into the outrageously expensive parking lot down the street from Richard’s office.
The Redevelopment Agency was located near the Civic Center, in a featureless gray building that could easily have been converted to a cell block. Every atrocity of modern design had been visited on the lobby— glaring fluorescent lights that transformed flesh to dead fish, Muzak, a supergraphic of jagged orange-and-red lightning on the wall. Under the supergraphic, looking even more doddery than when I had last seen him, stood Pop Lewis, the security-guard-cum-doorman.
His hand touched the brim of his uniform cap, and he broke into a welcoming smile that revealed more gums than teeth to fill them. He greeted me with, “Mrs. Longstreet! Why haven’t I seen you around lately?”
Wonderful. Pop’s refusal to turn up his hearing aid must have prevented his getting in on the office gossip about the divorce. Not waiting for an explanation, he pushed the button to call the elevator for me, then nattered on. “You know, Mrs. Longstreet, my wife never stops talking about those fruitcakes you give us at Christmas. She keeps bothering me about can’t I get her your recipe. You know—” The elevator slid open, and I entered gratefully in the full knowledge that Pop wasn’t half as impressed with my fruitcakes as he was with the hefty holiday check Richard had always written to go with them.
The seventeenth floor looked exactly as it always had. The carpet was the same bastard combination of yellow and green, the walls still lined with drawings showing the neighborhoods Richard and his henchmen had knocked down or planned to. I walked around the corner to the door markedREDEVELOPMENT AGENCYin gold and, under that, in smaller letters,OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR.
The receptionist was new and easily cowed, so it was only a few minutes before I was in Richard’s suite of offices facing Tabby, his secretary. Tabby was notable for her rhinestone-decorated harlequin glasses, bouffant hairdo, and years-long crush on Richard. She had never liked me. I heard relish in her voice when she said, sweetly, “Mr. Longstreet is in conference at the moment.”
Tabby had always intimidated me. Now I realized that it no longer mattered whether she liked me or not. “Well, Tabby,” I said, my sweet tone matching hers, “you go tell Mr. Longstreet to get the hell out of conference, because I want to talk to him. It’s an emergency.”
Her rhinestone-encircled eyes went blank for a moment. Then, with a look at once dignified and murderous, she got up, walked to the closed conference-room door, knocked lightly, and went in.
Soon, she and Richard emerged. The shock of seeing him again nearly undercut my anger, and I felt my mouth go dry. I could tell by the set of his jaw that he was irritated. He glanced at me and said, “Hello, Maggie. Let’s go in here for a moment, shall we?”
He was wearing a gray suit and a maroon and gray patterned tie. His hair was a little longer than he used to wear it, and his tan was deeper— probably from hours on the tennis court with his athletic young lady love. Even when tight with displeasure, as it was now, his long, lean face was handsome enough to decorate a carved medieval altarpiece. I had always been willing to forgive him a great deal because of his looks.
As he ushered me into his private office he said, “This had better be important.”
“It is.” Richard’s office was the same, too. The massive desk, the rubber tree in the redwood tub, the Picasso imitation that hid the wall safe, and the sweep of windows with an incomparable view of the city hadn’t changed. The only difference I noted was that my photograph was missing from the bookshelves, although Candace’s was still in place.
“Well?” He neither sat nor offered me a chair.
“I came to tell you, Richard, that you’d better call off your bloodhounds.”
His eyes widened. “What?”
My anger was returning now, giving me energy. “The detective, or whoever it is you’ve got following me. I want it stopped.”
“Maggie, what are you talking about?” Richard’s tone was excessively patient, the voice he used with waiters when he sent a dish back to the kitchen at a restaurant.
“I’m talking about the fact that someone is following me. I can’t imagine what you have to gain by this kind of harassment. Please call it off.”
He spread his arms in an exasperated gesture of having nothing to hide. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never even considered having you followed.”
Of course he would never admit it. I felt my face reddening. “Look. There’s no point in denying it. I know I’m being watched.”
“You do?Howdo you know?” I saw patronizing pity in his eyes. His tone implied that he was dealing with a lunatic.
“Because…” I began furiously, then stopped. If I answered his question, I’d have to tell him about my visit to theTimes. Presumably, if he’d had somebody make the phone call he already knew of it, but I myself wasn’t ready to bring it out into the open yet. “Let’s just say I have good reason to think so,” I finished weakly.
Now the patronizing air was stronger. “I’m quite sure you do,” he said. “But if someone is following you I’m not responsible. You said it yourself. What would I have to gain?”
“I don’t know.” I made my tone as frigid as I could, but I had lost ground and I knew it.
Richard glanced at his watch. “You know, Maggie, if San Francisco is getting on your nerves, why don’t you consider getting away for a while? You could go back to Mazatlan. You liked Mazatlan, didn’t you? Or Greece. We never got to Greece. I could have Tabby make all the arrangements for you.”
At this false solicitude, I felt a stirring of something more solid than anger. After a moment I identified it as pure, astringent, honest dislike. “I have no intention of leaving town, Richard,” I said. “If my presence is getting on your nerves,yougo to Mazatlan. And in the meantime, if you’re lying and youhavehad someone watching me, I suggest you call him off before I contact the police.”
I left him no time to reply and sailed out past the assiduously typing Tabby and down the hall to the elevator.
The afternoon traffic was beginning to fill the streets, and the drive home seemed many times longer than the trip downtown had been. Sitting behind a bus, watching the traffic light ahead change to red once again, I felt my head begin to throb. Maybe it was impossible to get a foothold on the slick surface of Richard’s urbanity. He said he wasn’t having me watched. Even after being married to him for twenty years, I couldn’t tell if he was lying. A stronger throb went through my head, and I put it on his lengthening account. Seeing him again had been a mistake.
When I got home I again looked around for unfamiliar cars or suspicious characters, but the only person in view was the Japanese gardener digging in a neighbor’s yard. I climbed wearily to the front door. Who would care if I visited theTimes? Only Richard. If Richard knew what I was up to, he would care, so Richard must be responsible for the phone call. I should get in touch with the cops. Put the cops on him, let them take care of it. I pictured myself explaining to the police that my husband, a distinguished political figure who played tennis with their bosses, was behind a threatening phone call to me. I pictured the police calling Richard to discuss it with him, and Richard explaining that I was a little bonkers but he’d try to see that they weren’t disturbed again.
My head was worse. I kicked off my shoes and lay down on the couch, but I couldn’t rest. “There could be trouble,” the voice had said. I wouldn’t call the police, but there was something I would do. I got up to call Andrew Baffrey.Eight
Andrew sounded surprised, but not displeased, to hear from me. “What can I do for you?”
“It’s about what we discussed this morning. Something’s happened, and I wanted to ask you—”
“Wait a second,” he broke in. “I don’t want to dazzle you with cloak-and-dagger tactics, but I’d rather not discuss this on the phone. I was just leaving. Would you like to meet me in a dark alley, or preferably your neighborhood bar, for a face-to-face conversation?”
“There aren’t any bars in my neighborhood.”
“Too bad for you. I live next door to one. Where do you live, anyway?”
“Presidio Heights. Lake Street. Next to the park.”
He laughed. “Anybody tries to put a bar in that neighborhood, the Planning Commission goes into special session to quash the idea. But never mind, here’s another suggestion. I have to stop by Susanna Hawkins’s, and then I was going to have an early dinner. Why don’t you meet me and we’ll grab a bite together?”
It would beat a frozen spinach souffle. “Fine. Where?”
“Have you ever been to the Food as Spiritual Healing Ashram Restaurant?”
“I thought not. You’ll love it. It’s run by Sufis, or Hare Krishnas, or some sect like that. The best thing about them is they give you lots of food cheap. It’s vegetarian. You don’t mind vegetarian, do you?”
I didn’t mind vegetarian. The restaurant, a tiny hole in the wall near the intersection of Market and Castro streets, had a couple of fresh daisies on every table. Eating my way through a huge plateful of eggplant curry and brown rice that had been served by a shaven-headed Food as Spiritual Healing devotee, I was almost inclined to agree with the printed cardboard placard on the table:A FULL STOMACH; A HAPPY HEART; A SOARING SPIRIT. Certainly the ashram’s guru, whose blown-up photograph adorned all four walls, seemed to have eaten himself into a blissful state of benignity and tubbiness. “So what happened?” asked Andrew.
I poured more chamomile tea. “After our conversation this morning, did you talk to Richard? Did you mention what I said to anybody at all?”
He looked properly shocked and offended. “Of course not. I gave you my word, didn’t I? Off the record is off the record. Why?”
I told him about the phone call and my subsequent visit to Richard, finishing, “He claims he isn’t having me watched, but if you didn’t tell him I came to theTimesI can’t think of any other explanation.”
Andrew sat back in his chair, frowning. “I don’t like this.”
“Neither do I. Threatening phone calls are too much for me.”
He swirled the tea in his teacup, staring at it as if he were going to read the stray chamomile blossoms in the bottom. “There’s another possible explanation.”
He set the cup down. “Maybe you aren’t the one being watched. Maybe somebody’s watching theTimes.”
I considered the idea. “Then the person watching theTimeswould have to know me.”
“Know you by sight, anyway. Maybe he’s an avid reader of the society pages.”
I winced, thinking of myself squinting into the flashbulbs at a ribbon-cutting, the first night of a play, a charity ball. “Even if he did know me, why would he warn me to stay away? It doesn’t make sense.”
“No. It doesn’t.” He picked up the cardboard placard and tapped it on the table in a nervous tattoo.
The Indian music playing in the background sounded strange and off-key. The photographs of the beaming guru had begun to look a little sinister. “I wish…” I began, then stopped.
“Wish we knew what Larry’s story on Richard was about. That’s the only possible connection in all this.”
Andrew sat slumped in his chair, still toying with the placard. A full stomach. A happy heart. A soaring spirit. I hoped I wasn’t getting indigestion. At last he reached into the pocket of his jeans, brought out a metal key ring with one key attached, and put it on the table. “Let’s go find out,” he said.
It was a small, uninteresting-looking key. “What do you mean?”
“This,” Andrew said, tapping the key with his finger, “is Larry’s key to the cabinet in his office. I just stopped by and picked it up from Susanna. You remember I told you I hadn’t gone through Larry’s private papers? That’s where they are.”
“You think he kept the information on Richard there?”
“It’s there if it’s anywhere. I hadn’t checked it out because— well, mainly because I didn’t have myself together enough to do it. Susanna had the only key. She’s been at theTimesonce since Larry died, but I didn’t get it from her then because I wasn’t there. She got hysterical and Betsy had to drive her home.”
“I remember it well.” I told him about Susanna’s scene and her subsequent apology.
“Poor Susanna. She hasn’t had an easy time.” He picked up the key, tossed it once, caught it. “What do you say? Do we go take a look?”
I heard the voice on the telephone:Stay away from thePeople’s Times.If you don’t, there could be trouble.“Sure. Lead on.”
He got up. “I’ll drive, and drop you back here afterward.”
Folded into his Volkswagen, I shivered. The fog was rolling in, and it would be a damp, chilly night. I felt sad, cut off from everything that had been familiar and comfortable about my life. Other people were at home having a drink, eating dinner, watching the evening news. I was rattling through dark streets in a Volkswagen with an inadequate heating system, caught in a dim and threatening world of suicide, anonymous phone calls, locked cabinets. The glaring light from a gas station briefly illuminated Andrew’s face, and it seemed to me the face of the only friend I’d ever had. My nose was prickling. To keep myself from falling apart, I said, “How do you know Larry kept his private papers in the cabinet, if it was always locked? Maybe he kept drugs in there. Or— or pornography, or something.”
“The pornography’s in a filing cabinet in the newsroom, and Larry had a strict rule about no drugs on the premises,” Andrew said. “Larry wasn’t much of a doper, and he didn’t want any dope hassles. In that cabinet he kept one of those dark red accordion-pleated folders. I’ve seen him lock it in there plenty of times. My impression was that it contained names, phone numbers, rough drafts, working notes, Xeroxes of documents, and stuff like that. He never left anything lying around.”
I didn’t reply. A dark red folder stuffed with incriminating documents about Richard.There could be trouble.
TheTimesoffices were oppressively quiet. Andrew switched on lights as we entered, and I trailed after him to Larry’s office. Inside, there was a desk with books and papers stacked on either side of a manual typewriter, shelves along one wall. Behind the desk, two large windows. I walked over to them and looked down. No screens. Below, the alley where Larry had died was lost in blackness.
“Let’s see, now.” Andrew’s voice was subdued. The cabinet was built into the bookshelves, and was closed with a padlock. Andrew’s hands shook as he tried to fit the key into it. “Damnit,” he muttered, wiping his hands on his jeans. He tried again, and this time I heard the tiny click as the key turned. He removed the lock and opened the door. “What have we here?” he said, peering inside. He didn’t speak for a moment, then stepped back, an indecipherable look on his face. He waved his hand toward the cabinet.
I leaned forward. The cabinet’s interior was shadowy, but there was no doubt that it was empty.Nine
“That’s it. It isn’t here.” Andrew, sitting in Larry’s desk chair, closed the bottom drawer of the desk.
“I guess not.” I replaced a stack ofEditor and Publisher Yearbooks.Nothing was on the shelves behind them but a few dust bunnies and a yellowing couple of pages about minority hiring in the Department of Public Works.
In the half hour since we discovered the folder was gone, we had searched the office wordlessly. The door of the cabinet still stood ajar, like a mouth open in accusation. I sat down in the bottom-sprung armchair meant for Larry’s visitors. “You’re sure nobody has been in here since Larry died?”
“The office hasn’t been locked. Anybody could’ve come in. But nobody would’ve been able to open the cabinet, that much is for sure.”
I cast about for explanations. “Maybe he took the folder home with him. Maybe Susanna has it.”
“She would’ve given it to me. The last thing she cares about is city politics. Besides, it was here the afternoon before he died. He and I had a— a long talk…” Andrew’s voice quavered. He swallowed and went on. “When I came in, it was on his desk. He picked it up and locked it away. I saw him do it.”
“Then somebody was here. Somebody took the folder.”
“Looks like it.” He got up abruptly and walked toward me, seeming activated by nervous energy. “Say Larry took the folder out again, after I left. He’s here late, and he’s sitting here with it, and this person comes in, and they have a fight…” He leaned and took me by the shoulders, his thumbs pressing in almost painfully. “Do you see?”
Taken aback by his imploring tone, I nodded, and he released me. I did see. The folder was gone. It was probable that someone had stolen it the night Larry died. If, as Andrew obviously believed, the folder contained information on Richard, who was more likely to have stolen it than Richard himself?
I felt a tickle of panic. If Richard had stolen the folder, maybe he had pushed Larry out the window, too. Accusing Richard of murder in the abstract was all very well, but this— this could be more truth than I’d bargained for.
“Maggie, we’ve got to find out.” Andrew’s face was fervent, his voice full of conviction. I tried to remember what it was like to be so young, to see everything in the shadowless illumination of certainty. Yet he was right. If Richard had stolen the folder, or done worse things than that, I wanted to know.
Andrew squatted down beside my chair, talking excitedly. “Thisprovesthat there was something funny about Larry’s death. If we can get a line on whoever took that folder we’ll confront the person, and— God, what a great story!”
“Stop the presses,” I said. “Nothing has been proved. We have a suspicion to follow up, that’s all.”
“You’re right, you’re right.” He patted my arm, placating the elderly wet blanket. “But how about this,” he went on meditatively. “Somebody was here the night Larry died, because the folder’s gone and we know Larry didn’t jump out the window with it under his arm. Would you agree that if we find the folder we’ll be a lot closer to knowing what happened to Larry?”
“And would you agree that Richard is a logical place to start looking?” Andrew’s voice was light and steady.
Here was my last chance to change my mind. I didn’t. “I agree. Let’s tie the folder and Richard together, if we can.”
A subtle change came over him, as if somewhere in his body a chronic pain had stopped, allowing him to relax. We looked at each other for a long moment before he said, “Good.”
He stood up and started for the door, and I found myself suddenly fretful. “I feel old,” I said. “Too old for missing folders, for tracking things down—”
“That’s crap,” said Andrew cheerfully. “Besides, the word ismature.You can never get too mature for anything.”
Mature. I wondered if I could even lay claim to that. I got up and followed him to the door. “Something on the order of a ripe Camembert?”
He turned out the light. “Fine wine. The finest fine wine.”
When Andrew let me out at my car, near the Food as Spiritual Healing Ashram Restaurant, he said, “You’ll get home all right, won’t you? Would you like me to follow you and make sure?”
I was demoralized and unnerved, and would have loved for him to follow me. On the other hand, I felt like being alone to think, and Lake Street was probably far out of his way. “No, thanks. I’ll be OK.” I hoped I was telling the truth.
Driving beneath streetlights surrounded by muzzy, fog-produced haloes, I pondered the question of why I’d married Richard. It wasn’t a new subject, having been my constant preoccupation in recent months. The best explanation I had ever come up with was: It seemed like a good idea at the time. He was an extremely attractive man, and his prospects were excellent. If he had been, even then, ruthless and single-minded in the pursuit of his own ends, why— in some circles that was considered a virtue. I had never wondered what shape my own life would take, once we were married. I had known it would simply take the shape of his.
To hell with Richard. What I wanted more than anything was a brandy and a hot bath. The thought of these consolations aroused a tentative pleasurable anticipation that was uppermost in my mind when I slammed the garage door and, immediately afterward, felt myself being pulled roughly into the shrubbery beside the garage.
My assailant had a strong grip, and the hand he clamped over my mouth smelled strongly of nicotine. He pulled my head back in a way that made my neck feel very vulnerable and walked me a few feet down the bush-sheltered walkway between my garage and the house next door. I tried vainly to turn my head far enough to look at his face, but succeeded only in smelling his nicotine-loaded breath as he said, “I told you to stay away from theTimes, didn’t I, Mrs. Longstreet?”
He had. The uninflected voice was the same as the one on the phone.
He went on, his moist cigarette breath hot on my neck, “Did you think I was kidding?”
I didn’t know why he kept asking questions. I couldn’t possibly answer or even nod.
“If you don’t pay attention this time, you’re really going to be in trouble.”
I believed him. The way I saw it, I was in quite a bit of trouble already.Ten
I was going to kick backward, try to catch his shins. I berated myself for not wearing my tallest, most dangerous heels instead of the sensible stacked ones I had on. I had already swung my foot forward in preparation when the two of us were illuminated by headlights from a car turning into my driveway. The man’s hands loosened and I pulled free and turned, glimpsing a narrow face shadowed by a hat. Before he darted toward the back of the garage, the park, the million hiding places there, I got the impression of a sharp nose, and thin lips drawn back in a grimace of surprise.
I scrambled in the opposite direction, toward the front of the house, where the headlights of Andrew’s Volkswagen were extinguished just as I rounded the corner babbling incoherently about needing help.
He jumped out of the car. “What’s going on?”
“It was a man…” I stammered, pointing in the direction he had run.
Andrew took off down the path, and I stood, painfully undecided whether I was more terrified to go with him or stay here by myself. I could hear him thrashing around in the bushes. After a few minutes I also heard a car start somewhere down the street. I was willing to bet it was the narrow-faced man getting away scot-free.
Andrew returned, breathless. “No sign of him. What happened?”
I was vibrating all over. “Not till I’ve had some brandy.”
After the first drink I was down to a slow tremor, and able to tell him the story. Sipping my second, I wandered through the house checking doors and windows and assuring myself that nobody else was skulking ready to spring. “You’ve got a security system, I assume?” asked Andrew, tagging along.
“The best money can buy.” I stopped in front of a door. “Wait. I forgot to check in here.” I opened it and peered in.
“The broom closet?”
I studied the vacuum cleaner, the broom, the dustpan, the cans of furniture polish and floor wax. “I’m not taking any chances.”
At last I was satisfied that the house was empty. We returned to the living room. “What led you to show up in the nick of time, anyway?” I asked.
“I felt uneasy, letting you off like that. I found a phone booth and looked up your address, thought I’d stop by and check.”
“Thanks. I’m glad you did.”
He rolled his glass between his hands. “Have you thought about calling the police?”
“Sure.” I’d thought about it a lot. I explained my fear that if I went to the police, Richard would make me look like a paranoid, if harmless, nuisance. I concluded, “So if I tell them, what’s accomplished? They probably won’t do anything, and we’ve tipped our hand that we’re on to him. For the moment, I’m going to go it alone.”
“No. I’m glad about that, too.”
He breathed deeply, sighed almost, and I thought how his pale skin looked golden, his hair and beard rich brown in the mellow light of the lamp. When he spoke, his voice was soft. “I have to tell you something. I haven’t played completely straight with you, Maggie.”
The first flutter of disappointment was followed, immediately, by a knifing, heartbreaking sense of betrayal. Ithought you were my friend,something inside me wanted to scream, while another voice rushed in to say,Calm down, calm down. You hardly know him.I managed to ask, “What do you mean?”
He picked at a worn place on the knee of his jeans, and I noticed again the knobbiness of his wrists. “When you told me you thought maybe Richard Longstreet was mixed up in Larry’s death, you were throwing a lifeline to a drowning man. The waters were deep.” He hesitated, then went on. “Up to that point I had no doubt, no doubt at all, that Larry’s suicide was entirely my fault.”
It was the last thing I expected to hear, but in a way I was prepared. Andrew’s desperation had been evident when I first met him. Some of his reactions had been odd since. Here was the explanation. “But why?”
He said, tightly, “Because that afternoon, the afternoon before he died, I pushed him to the wall. He was finished and he knew it.”
“What are you talking about?”
He finished his drink and placed the glass carefully on the table in front of him, lining it up with the ashtray. “I’m talking about the fact that Larry Hawkins was a blackmailer. The people’s protector was no better than any of the crooks he exposed. The crusader was carrying the banner with one hand, while the other was in somebody else’s pocket.”
“Are you sure?” No doubt I sounded as flat-footed as I felt.
“Of course I’m sure.” His voice was charged with bitterness. “I would hardly sit here and tell you something like this if I weren’t sure.”
I could only blink and mouth questions, having apparently lost the power of rational cognition. “Who was he blackmailing? How do you know?”
He settled back, and I sensed that he was ready to tell the story. “You familiar with the name Joseph Corelli?”
“I don’t think so.”
“That’s not surprising. Corelli doesn’t aspire to be a public figure. But I’ll bet you know Luigi’s Pasta Palazzos, those Italian fast-food places?”
“Sure.” It was impossible not to know Luigi’s Pasta Palazzos. Their red and white striped awnings graced many San Francisco street corners, always signaling an aroma of garlic and tomato sauce wafting across the sidewalk.
“Corelli is Luigi’s. He started the original one, on Columbus Avenue, several years ago, and expanded from there. He made a lot of money. He’s the guy Larry was blackmailing.”
“What did Larry have on him?”
“I’m still working on that, but I’m positive Larry was taking money from Corelli regularly. It’s all down in the books, if you know what you’re looking for. It’s ironic”— Andrew smiled ruefully— “Larry’s the one who taught me how to sift through numbers, how to analyze a balance sheet, how to read documents. My proficiency is what did him in.”
Things were moving too fast for me. “How did you find out?”
“I have a friend who works part-time slinging lasagna at the original Luigi’s on Columbus. That’s where Corelli has his office. Anyway, my friend tipped me off that there were some violations of the health code going on down there. It sounded like a great story, so I started hanging around the various Luigi’s branches, striking up conversations with the cooks, seeing if I could see any rat feces, or insect remains, stuff like that—”
“I’ve eaten my last Luigi’s pizza.”
“I don’t eat there myself, any more,” he agreed. “Anyway, with the help of my friend, I thought I had a dynamite story. I got together an outline and went to Larry, and you know what?”
“Larry told me, categorically, to forget the whole thing.”
“Did he give a reason?”
“Larry didn’t think he owed anybody explanations. He said drop the story, and he expected that to be that. I couldn’t accept it, though. I thought maybe he just needed more proof. In my spare time, I kept hanging out down at the Columbus Avenue Luigi’s. I figured if I could uncover a really flagrant violation, Larry would have to give in. And guess what happened.”
“Larry came in?”
“Right. I happened to see him, and he didn’t see me. He was hustling off down the hall to Corelli’s office. I watched him go in, and kept an eye on the door until he came out. When he left, I followed him. Right to the bank. What could be more no-class? I would’ve given Larry credit for a little finesse.”
I heard crushing disappointment in Andrew’s ironic tone. “Then you started checking the books?”
“Yeah. Once I knew what I was looking for it was easy. He’d been bleeding Corelli for a couple of years. Not for huge amounts, you understand. A few thousand here and there. Maybe ten or twelve thousand in all.”
“So you confronted Larry.”
“Oh, jeez.” Andrew rubbed his eyes. “The thing that sounds stupid and corny is that I looked up to Larry. I really admired the guy and what he was trying to do. That— the way I felt— made it worse. You have to understand I was madder than hell. I had my facts and figures, and I laid it out in front of him. He tried everything. Laughing it off, blustering, insults, telling me I was fired. Through it all, I pushed him to the wall. I didn’t know I had it in me to be so ruthless.”
He seemed to shrink, even now, from the memory of what he’d done. “It must have been awful,” I said.
He nodded slowly. “The worst was when he finally broke. He cried. He said he had to have the money to keep theTimesgoing. TheTimeswas his life and he had to keep publishing, and hitting up Corelli was the only way to do it, because theTimesalways lost money. It was literally the most painful thing I’ve ever been through.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say. Andrew’s eyes were red now, staring past me. “I didn’t give in,” he said hoarsely. “I thought he should have to live by the rules he set up. I told him I was going to call a guy I knew on one of the dailies and give him the story. Larry’s enemies would’ve had a field day. I wasn’t sure I’d really do it, but I wanted him to believe me, to spend some time stewing, and then I’d decide. The next morning, he was dead.”
Neither of us spoke. Of course this explained why Andrew had been so avidly interested in the fact that somebody else— Richard— might have been involved in Larry’s death. Andrew got up and stretched, as if trying to ease the tension in his body. Echoing my thought, he said, “When you came in with your story about Richard I was ripe for it. Anything to get the guilt off my own shoulders.”
I was so tired, so overwhelmingly tired that I wasn’t sure I could even reply. Debilitating fatigue had seeped into me bone-deep as I listened to Andrew’s story. “Let’s don’t talk about it right now. We’ll talk tomorrow,” I said.
“Right.” Andrew sounded as exhausted as I was. I walked to the door with him. Before I let him out he said, “Listen, Maggie…”
“You understand why I confronted Larry the way I did? It seems excusable to you?”
“Under the circumstances,notconfronting him would have been inexcusable.”
He bent and kissed my cheek. I felt for an instant his warm lips, the tickle of his beard. “Thanks,” he said. I opened the door, and he stepped out. “Make sure you lock it behind me.”
The reminder was unnecessary. As I slid the chain into its little socket, I heard his feet pounding down the steps. The Volkswagen’s motor started up, then got fainter as he drove away. After that, everything was quiet.Eleven
Tired as I was, I had suspected I wouldn’t sleep, and I didn’t. Being grabbed and threatened by a narrow-faced nicotine addict had engendered bodily quivers that wouldn’t subside no matter how many deep-breathing exercises I did. I left lights on in every room, and spent approximately half the night checking the windows and doors and the other half wondering if I should check them again.
During the time I was lying wide-eyed in bed I had plenty to think about. Larry Hawkins was a blackmailer. As he raged at others for doing favors in return for influence or money, he was playing the game himself. Obviously, Larry had seen his mission as higher than the rules governing petty, fallible mortals. Reading theTimes,I had recognized his vision of himself as scourge to the powerful, champion of the powerless. In the face of that vision, if it took a little graft to get the job done— well, the job was the important thing.
Then there was Richard. There were dozens, hundreds, of possible explanations for the disappearance of Larry’s folder, but I didn’t have to worry about those. I had to consider only the single possibility, no matter how small, that Richard had taken it. I asked myself, in the glare of the kitchen at threeA.M.as I checked the back door for the fourth time, how I would ever find out if he had.
Wandering through the house, I thought about my attacker, saw again and again his sharp-nosed, thin-lipped face. I wanted to scream, “How dare you!” like an uppity lady in an outmoded comedy. How dare he touch me, how dare he threaten me? What a strange and unexpected turn my life had taken. None of this could have happened if I’d still been married to Richard. “Don’t attend the Museum Guild again or you’ll be in trouble, Mrs. Longstreet”? Hardly likely.
At fiveA.M.I decided this was ridiculous. I doubted my anonymous enemy would show up now, and at this rate lack of sleep would kill me before he got the chance. Leaving all the lights on, I took a pill and barricaded myself in the bedroom, pulling my antique rosewood desk in front of the door. I put my head under the pillow, and in fifteen or twenty minutes I was asleep.
Later I awoke, startled, thinking I had heard something. The quality of the light in the room told me it was late morning. Surely there hadn’t been a sound. I tried to relax, and for a moment almost succeeded. Then I heard the footsteps. Someone was walking through the house, coming closer and closer. The steps came to my door and stopped. I sat up in bed, rigid with horror, convinced that in a moment he would shoot through the door, or batter it with his shoulder the way they did on television. Expecting cataclysm, I heard the politest of taps and a voice calling, “Mother?”
Candace. She must have driven up from Stanford. For a confused instant, I thought the man had to be there too, perhaps holding my daughter hostage. But when the imperious “Mother, are you in there?” came, I knew she wasn’t in danger. She had simply unlocked the back door with her key and come in.
“Just a second,” I called. It was a considerable effort for my fright-weakened muscles to move the desk, but I finally managed it and opened the door to greet Candace, who was wearing the frown she assumed when I had done something to embarrass her.
“Why are all the lights on?” she asked, walking into the bedroom. Taking in the displaced desk, she said, “You had that in front of your door? Good grief, Mother, what’s going on? Are you hallucinating or something?”
Candace was named for Richard’s mother, and she had inherited that estimable woman’s penchant for speaking her mind and damn the consequences. In appearance, fortunately, she was like Richard rather than the old lady. Perhaps this physical resemblance had contributed to the closeness that had always existed between them. “Hello, Candace,” I said, kissing her cheek. “You’re looking wonderful.”
She was. Her shoulder-length blonde hair was beautifully groomed, her makeup understated and impeccable, and no particle of lint clung to her plum-colored blazer and gray slacks. But she wasn’t in the mood for idle maternal admiration. “Daddy called me yesterday,” she said briskly. “I tried to get you last night, but you didn’t answer.”
“I got in rather late.”
“Mother, he said you came crashing into his office yesterday while he was in a meeting, insulted Tabby, insisted on talking to him, and then accused him of having you followed. I couldn’t believe it.”
“You might as well. It’s a fairly accurate representation of what happened.”
If tones could wither, I would’ve been a shriveled leaf on the bedroom carpet. “Candace, I just got up. Before we go on with this, I insist on having a cup of coffee. Or, listen. We’ll go to La Belle Bretagne and have crepes for brunch. How about that?”
It was a play for time. The wordsbrunchandcrepeswere an assured sop to Candace’s notions of sophistication. The frown smoothed out a little. If I were capable of such a suggestion I must have a shred of sanity left. “OK,” she agreed. Relieved, I went to pick out something to wear.
The atmosphere at La Belle Bretagne was as chichi as usual— bright green walls, tiny glass-topped white wicker tables, bentwood chairs, and lots of stylish ladies drinking Bloody Marys. Candace and I followed themaître d’to a white latticed booth that resembled an Easter basket. Although feeling less than stylish myself, I decided I still rated a Bloody Mary, and ordered one, while Candace settled for a glass of white wine. “So, how are classes going?” I asked, with my best imitation of brightness.
Candace wasn’t to be deterred. “I cut today because Daddy asked me to talk with you. I think he’s worried.”
Leave it to Richard to call out his most potent ally at the first sign of trouble. “Worried?”
“This business about somebody following you. It’s so paranoid. Daddy doesn’t know what to think, because he certainly hasn’t had you followed. And this morning. My goodness, Mother, you werebarricadedin your room. Do you really believe someone is after you?”
Candace’s expression revealed that she herself didn’t believe it for a minute. I was tempted to tell her about the phone call and my lurking attacker, just to see if I could wipe the pitying look off her pretty face. If I told her, though, I’d also have to tell her that I suspected Richard of some unsavory activities, and I wasn’t ready to do that. I tried for a measured tone in my response. “I’ve had good reason to think someone is keeping an eye on me. If your father says he isn’t responsible, perhaps he’s telling the truth. In any case, I have no plans for a repeat performance of yesterday. You might reassure him on that score.”
She leaned toward me. “Daddy suggested you get away for a while. Don’t you think that’s a thoughtful idea? You could go somewhere and rest, see the sights. It would give you a new perspective.”
“Since he told you everything else, he must have told you I rejected that plan yesterday. If I need a new perspective, I’ll have to find it right here. And no, I don’t think it’s particularly thoughtful that he wants me out of his hair.”
Our spinach-and-mushroom crepes arrived, and while the waitress put them down Candace was primly silent. As soon as we were alone again she said, with evangelical sincerity, “I wish you’d try not to be so negative, Mother. Daddy didn’t intend to hurt you. He just needed his own space, don’t you see? Couldn’t you at least make an effort to understand?”
His own space, my eye. “Believe me, Candace, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”
Later, standing under the drifting pale mauve flowers of the Japanese magnolia while I watched her green MG turn the corner, I wondered if all parents were as baffled by their children as I was by Candace. She had been a child during San Francisco’s hectic ferment of the sixties, and at the time I had been profoundly grateful that she was too young to participate in the Summer of Love, live in a crash pad in the Haight, join the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, or riot at San Francisco State. Yet it seemed to me odd that such cataclysms had washed past her, leaving not a single discernible trace. Unless her present characterwasthe trace they had left.
Candace could be fun. On good days we could shop together, laugh, go to a movie, make a quiche, even talk a little. On the whole, though, I had always represented bedtime-and-take-your-medicine to Candace, while Richard was walks in the park and a new puppy. Now, he was Sensitive Daddy, needing his own space— with a woman in it very little older than Candace herself— and I was Poor Paranoid Mother.
The MG was gone now, and its going had left a pain that made me press my hand against my chest.Twelve
Before depression could invade me completely, Andrew called. “We’ve got a mess down here you wouldn’t believe,” he said with obvious relish. “Somebody broke in last night. When Betsy got here this morning, filing cabinets and desk drawers were open, papers scattered around, garbage cans emptied out. But get this— nothing missing as far as we can tell.”
“You think they were after the folder?”
“Could have been. At least you and I left the cabinet open last night, so they didn’t have to take an axe to it.”
“Did you call the police?”
“Two reasons.” I could picture him ticking them off on his fingers. “First, the police are not fond of thePeople’s Times.You remember our series about cops drinking on the job? And the Gilhooly investigation that Larry took apart move by move, showing how inept they had been? This would be an opportunity for them to poke around here and look for a chance to get even, and who needs that? Also, if we can get this together ourselves it’ll be a fantastic story, and calling the cops is tantamount to giving it away to the dailies.”
“I see.” I did see, but it felt strange. I had always been a law-abiding citizen and now, at my age, I seemed to have developed a mistrust of the police as fervent as that of any member of the counterculture. Still, what to do about his break-in was Andrew’s decision, not mine.
“I have something else to tell you,” he went on. “I did some mild snooping around Richard’s office this morning. Nothing too impressive, just posed as an Olivetti repairman looking for a nonexistent city agency. I ended up taking the receptionist out for coffee.”
I suppressed a twinge of resentment that Andrew hadn’t consulted with me before taking action. “Fast worker.”
“All in the line of duty. Let’s see…” I heard a muffled fumbling on the other end of the line. “I have a list here of the people Richard sees and speaks with on the phone most frequently. There’s a Tompkins, a guy named Standish—”
“Jack Standish is his lawyer. I think Tompkins is a tax man.”
“Good. What about a lady named Diane something?”
Could I sound casual? “That’s the girl he’s living with.”
After a short silence, Andrew said, “Oh.” He cleared his throat and went on, “Next on the list is Jane Malone. I know who she is. Executive vice president, Basic Development. And then we have—”
“Jane Malone?” The name was familiar. “Wasn’t she the woman who offered her cabin to the Channel Eight guy, Kenneth MacDonald, and Larry wrote a story about it?”
“Hey, that’s right. Ken hasn’t worked since. Spends all his time boozing out on Union Street, when he’s not down here demanding a retraction.”
“Do you think he’d know anything? Since he and Richard are both involved with this Jane Malone?”
“I think a better question is whether Ken haseverknown anything, including the time of day. You’re right, though. Maybe I’d better talk to him. OK, now—”
“Why don’t I talk to him?” My jaw was tensing up. I had started this investigation, after all. I wasn’t in the mood to let Andrew steamroll me with his flashy journalism technique and twenty-five-year-old enthusiasm.
“Dynamite.” Competition, apparently, was not uppermost in Andrew’s mind. “He hangs out at the Golden Raintree, on Union Street. In fact, after you see him why don’t you come by here, and we’ll compare notes. But first, see if these other names mean anything to you.”
None of them did, and in half an hour I was engrossed in the search for a parking place near Union Street— a quest that could easily last hours, or even years. Crawling for the fifth or sixth time down boutique-lined blocks where handmade leather clothing, overpriced kitchenware, and heavily refurbished antiques were displayed with the maximum possible chic, I began to wonder if Andrew hadn’t tricked me into insisting I must have this assignment. I finally found a semi-legal space on a side street only seven blocks away and joined the honeymooners from Chicago and Kiwanians from Des Moines on the sidewalk.
In common with Union Street itself, the Golden Raintree aspired to class but was a little too flashy to achieve it. It was the perfect backdrop, in fact, for Ken MacDonald. A stylized, many-branched tree was painted in gold on the front window. The interior decoration consisted of mirrors, stained glass, dark wood, and enough ferns to outfit twenty forest glades.
Although the place was crowded, I spotted Ken immediately. He was sitting at a table near the window, staring at the drink in front of him. His profile seemed to have disintegrated even more in the short time since I last saw him, and his head was tilted toward his chest, creating a double chin. I walked over and said, “You’re Ken MacDonald, aren’t you?”
He didn’t get up, in fact barely looked up, but unsteadily held out his hand. “Channel Eight.”
“My name is Maggie. We met at thePeople’s Timesthe other day.”
“That crummy rag.” He continued to contemplate his drink.
I could see that no engraved invitations would be issued. I pulled out a chair and sat down. “I understand Larry Hawkins wrote a story about you.”
For reply, Ken got out a cigarette and lit it, exhaling smoke in a long sigh. “It was my image,” he said.
“My image. You know. Clean, rock-solid, upright, intellectual. All that.” He drank. “That’s how Larry did me in.”
Ken apparently lived to recount his problems with Larry. Fine. When he got to the appropriate point in the story, I’d drop in a question about Richard. I didn’t intend to listen without a drink, though. Signaling a waiter, I ordered a Bloody Mary. By the time it arrived, Ken was getting querulous. “Other guys can get away with all kinds of things,” he complained. “Not me. I had to get stuck with an upright image.”
“The story about you wasn’t a lie, then?”
Ken was warming to the subject. “I’ll tell you something, lady. There are lies and there are lies. Yeah, I spent two weeks at Tahoe in that cabin. I don’t deny it.”
He held up his hand. “Let me finish. That place was offered to me by a guy named Nick Fulton. Hell, I guess he may have mentioned it in passing, but I wasn’t really aware that he worked for Basic Development. He used to hang out in here, matter of fact.” Ken glanced around as if he dared Nick Fulton to come in and belly-up to the bar. “So I went up there. I mean, the place wasn’t any palace, you can take my word for it. The thing that’s so insulting”— he pointed his finger at me— “is that everybody believes I’d sell out for something so damnsmall.”
“Well, you did come out in favor of the Golden State Center right after you got back. You have to admit it looks bad.”
“You don’t have to believe me, but I swear to God this is true.” He looked as pious as a man is able to look when he can hardly sit upright. “That was sheer coincidence. I really do think they ought to build that goddamn development. Christ”— he grasped my arm, his face pink with earnestness— “It means jobs, it means a new look for the waterfront, it’ll give the city a tremendous boost all the way around.”
“And you never discussed it with Nick Fulton?”
He let go of my arm, looking hurt. “I’m not saying we never discussed it. Could be we did. But Nick never emphasized that he worked for Jane Malone. At least, if he did I don’t remember it.”
“Do you remember if Nick ever mentioned Richard Longstreet?”
Having delivered his defense, Ken had apparently lost interest in the conversation. He lapsed back into his brooding pose and when he answered it was without interest. “The Redevelopment honcho? Sure. Nick told me it was his private understanding that Longstreet was extremely high on the project. It must have been true, too. The proposals went through his office and the Board of Supervisors like greased lightning.” He finished his drink and signaled the bartender. “And that,” he said with finality, “is one in the eye for the Sierra Clubbers.”
“I guess it is.”
“If that little fucker Larry Hawkins hadn’t started snooping around, everything would’ve been fine.”
“He’s dead now.”
“It’s a damn good thing for San Francisco that he is. I’m only sorry somebody didn’t string him up by the balls.”
Ken was drifting away from me, back into the boozy private realm of his hatred. I reached for my wallet, but he stopped me, saying, “It’s on me.”
I got up. “Thanks.”
His eyes were bloodshot in his doughy face. “You remember what I told you, now.”
“About stringing Larry up by the balls?”
“No, no, no.” He shook his head a number of times. “About the image. The upright, intellectual image I had. That’s what did me in. Remember?”
“I won’t forget.”
Outside, Union Street was hazy in the waning sun. I looked back at Ken through the window. He was staring at his drink, his lips pursed, shaking his head. I turned and hurried toward my car.Thirteen
By the time I reached theTimesoffice the sun was gone and a chilly spring twilight was descending. The evening fog had started to roll in, and the blackened brick edifices that lined Cleveland Street looked sinister and cold. My head bent against the buffeting wind, I hurried into theTimesbuilding, intent on talking with Andrew. In my rush, I nearly tripped over two bare feet.
The feet belonged to a figure huddled like a sack in the doorway. This was too much for my already overburdened nerves, and I let out a shriek of fright that reverberated like a cymbal crash in the little foyer.
“Jesus, lady, chill out a little,” a soft voice said. The figure stirred and coalesced in the dim light. It was a girl, chubby and barefooted, wearing a dirt-streaked T-shirt and Indian-style white cotton pants with a drawstring at the waist. She sat on the floor, her tousled dark hair blending with the wall’s dingy gray, her eyes dark blotches in her grimy face. She was about Candace’s age. “Aren’t you cold?” was the first thing I thought of to say.
“No, not cold. Not a bit cold.” Her voice had an indistinct, singsong quality. I thought she was probably on some sort of drug.
Thank God it wasn’t Candace. “You shouldn’t sit here. It’s cold, and it’s getting dark.”
The girl rested her head on her knees. Her voice was a mumble I had to kneel to hear. “Cold and dark. You should ask Larry about cold and dark. That’s what it’s like where he is.” She rocked back and forth and then began to cry, her shoulders shaking.
Her plump, short-fingered hands were over her face. Tattooed on the back of the left one was a small red apple with two green leaves. “Do you work for theTimes ?”I asked.
She continued to cry. Kneeling there in the semidarkness, I wondered what I could do to comfort her. If this girl were Candace, I would want someone to try to help. While I dithered, her sobs subsided and she looked at me. “You’ll get your fancy clothes dirty, here on the floor,” she said.
I was aware of my beige suit, the silk scarf at my neck, my warm shoes. “Can’t I take you home? Do you have friends upstairs at theTimes ?”
“The only person I ever cared about is dead,” she said dully.
The young are so dramatic. “You’re talking about Larry Hawkins?”
“Larry.” The soft reverence in her tone would have been more fitting in church.
Her bare feet were making me shiver. It was time to be authoritarian. “You can’t stay here. I’m going to drive you home. Where do you live?”
It worked. She got to her feet and stood swaying in the doorway. “Not far.”
The girl drifted along listlessly beside me, her eyes half closed. She had a soft, teddy-bear look, and I hoped that someone, somewhere, was wondering where she was. When she got into the car she surprised me by saying, “What’s your name?”
“Maggie Longstreet. What’s yours?”
“September. September Apple. Look. Here’s my trademark.” She held up her hand for my inspection.
I looked at the apple tattoo. “Very pretty.” September Apple? Surely Betsy had mentioned September Apple, saying September and Larry had a terrible fight the day Larry died. I started the car. “Are you a writer?”
She was looking out the window. “I wrote something once. It was for Larry. Just for Larry. But he hated it. He hated it and he died. Just like that.”
“You mean you wrote a story for theTimes?”
“Yeah.” She sighed. “It was about the poetry scene in San Francisco. There’s a ton of poets here, you know?”
“I’m not sure I realized—”
“A ton. Some of them write one way, and some write another way. Some of them hate each other, and some love each other. They have readings, and put out magazines, and publish little booklets of their stuff, and nobody else in the whole world knows it’s even going on. It’s— a scene. A poetry scene.”
“Sounds like an interesting article.”
“Larry couldn’t have cared less about poetry himself, but Andrew Baffrey convinced him it was a good idea.” September was becoming more animated and coherent. “Man, I worked on that sucker formonths.I trekked all the way to Marin for a reading once. I really busted my ass. Turn right at the next corner.”
I turned. “So how did it come out?”
She hesitated. “That’s the thing.” She gave her body a little restless toss. “While I worked on the story, I got an idea.”
“What was that?”
“I thought, if this article is going to beaboutpoetry, maybe it should be writteninpoetry.” She looked at me sideways, obviously expecting a comment.
“Original concept.” The reason for her altercation with Larry was becoming clearer all the time.
“Go left up here, and it’s the second house. Yeah, I thought it was original too, so I wrote it that way. And he hated it.” She began to sniffle.
I searched for some inane reassurance. “You can’t take these things to heart.” Quelling my private doubts, I went on, “Other editors might feel differently.”
We were in the Haight, near the Golden Gate Park Panhandle. I pulled up in front of the house, a rambling, tumbledown Victorian which had evidently been divided into flats. September made no move to get out of the car. Tears were rolling down her cheeks now. Her innocent-looking face again reminded me of a child’s. “It wasn’t the story so much,” she gasped. “It was that Larry said he didn’t want to fuck me anymore.”
An innocent child. All I could manage in response to this revelation was to search my purse for a Kleenex, hand it to her, and say, “He didn’t?”
She blew her nose copiously. “I knew it wouldn’t last. I had heard it never did with him. But I still couldn’t stop myself from— from—”
“This type of— um— affair was a regular thing with Larry?” I interjected before she could break down again.
“Oh sure,” she said, wiping her nose. “Having a lot of women was a big macho thing for him. He was such a creep, such an awful creep. How could I have gotten mixed up with such a creep?”
That, I reflected, was a question women had been asking themselves down the centuries. Women including me. “What about Larry’s wife?” I asked.
September looked confused, as if I’d suddenly changed the subject to the latest Watergate revelation or the new season at the opera. “What about her?”
“Did she know what he was doing?”
“Could be. Most everybody did.” Her indifference was obvious.
“What about Andrew Baffrey? Did he know?”
“Andrew? Probably. Although who knows? When Larry and I were together, Larry used to laugh at Andrew and call him Brother Andrew the Puritan, because Andrew was such a straight arrow. I guess now Andrew’s having the last laugh, huh?”
I was upset and irritated at the thought of Andrew being ridiculed. “I don’t think he’s laughing,” I said stiffly.
“I didn’t mean laughing, exactly,” September said. “But look where Larry is and look where Andrew is. Do you see what I mean?”
Look where Larry is and look where Andrew is. She opened the door, thanking me for the ride. I watched her climb the steps and go into the house. Her bare feet looked bluish white.
Back at theTimes, I found a comfortable buzz of late-afternoon activity. Betsy’s desk was messier than before because a coffee can filled with wilting red and pink carnations was sitting on top of the regular clutter. “Aren’t they great?” she said. “There’s a guy who comes by selling old flowers. We bought them all.”
Most desks in the newsroom were adorned with carnations, and the flowers added their delicate scent to the normal one of dust and humanity. Since the place looked no more disorderly than usual, I surmised that the after-effects of the break-in were minimal.
Two pink carnations drooped over Andrew’s desk. When I walked in he was staring abstractedly at them, his fingers poised on his typewriter keys. He glanced up and said, “One second,” then burst into a rattle of typing. After a minute or two he stopped, stared at the carnations again, and said, “Oh, hell. It’ll do.” Pulling the sheet from his typewriter he dropped it into a wire basket and said, “Sometimes you have to go with what you’ve got.”
“TheTimesis taking the breaking-and-entering in stride.”
“Betsy and I had the place pretty straight by the time anybody else got here, and we didn’t make an issue of it. The last thing theTimesneeds right now is a wave of hysteria. What’s with you?”
“I just had an interesting conversation downstairs.” I told him about meeting September Apple, but didn’t mention Brother Andrew the Puritan.
When I finished, he nodded. “I knew Larry screwed around a lot. I always figured it was his business, as long as it didn’t hurt theTimes.”
“For somebody so intolerant of weakness in other people, Larry had plenty of vices of his own.”
“For Larry, it was different. It was different because Larry was Larry, and everybody else was everybody else.” He put his feet on the desk. “Learn anything from Ken MacDonald?”
“He said Nick Fulton, who works for Jane Malone at Basic Development, told him Richard was high on the Golden State Center. He also pointed out how fast the plans got approval from Redevelopment and the Board of Supervisors.”
Andrew scratched his beard. “Maggie, I’ll bet there’s something there. I feel it in my gut. The Golden State Center is the biggest project Basic’s ever gotten into. If they had Richard in there leaning on people for them—”
“Using his influence to get the Golden State Center through? In return for what?”
Andrew shrugged. “I don’t know. I wish that damn folder hadn’t disappeared.”
Since the night before, a thought had nibbled at the edge of my consciousness. While I had talked with Candace, and Ken, and September, it was there. I had been reluctant to look at it, but now I decided to bring it out. “We could try getting the folder back.”
“Great,” said Andrew in mock congratulation. “I wish you’d thought of that sooner.”
“Scoff away, but I know Richard. If he took that folder I think I know what he’d do with it.”
He was suddenly attentive. “What?”
“He’d put it in the wall safe at his office. He was always proud of having a safe. Considered it a status symbol.”
“Some status symbol. But safecracking isn’t one of my specialties. Do you have any talent in that line?”
“I’ve got better I’ve got the combination.”
Andrew’s look was extremely gratifying. As I watched his jaw drop, I remembered when Richard had given the combination to me. Five years ago, right after he became Redevelopment Director and moved into his new office, he had taken on, for a few weeks, a ponderous gravity which he must have considered commensurate with his new title. One day, with quiet pomp, he had presented me with a sheet of paper I was to keep “just in case.” On it he had written all his credit card numbers, our bank account and safe-deposit-box numbers, a list of insurance policies, and other similar information. At the bottom of the page was the safe combination. Most of it was out of date now, but surely safe combinations didn’t get changed every day of the week. And the paper, I knew, was in the top drawer of my desk underneath stacks of canceled checks, where it had lain undisturbed since Richard gave it to me.
“You’re absolutely incredible,” Andrew said.
Basking in his admiration, I grew expansive. “This is my plan,” I said, not knowing until that moment that I actually had one. “Richard usually leaves his office at four-thirty and meets some business associate or other at the Yacht Club for a drink. Tabby, Richard’s secretary, leaves at five. Pop Lewis, the doorman, is on duty till six. He doesn’t know about the divorce, and I can probably convince him to let me borrow a key to Richard’s office. What do you think?”
Andrew still looked stunned, but I could see excitement spreading over his face. “What do I think? I think it’s a goddamn stroke of genius.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s five now. Great. I’ll follow you home while you get the combination, and then I’ll drive you to the agency. I’m the wheel man, you might say.”
I looked at him blankly. “You mean now?”
“Sure. Why not?” He stood up. “We’d better get moving.”
It was one thing to speculate boastfully about searching Richard’s office and quite another to find myself being hustled out the door to do it. My knees were unsteady, I noted almost academically as we waited for the elevator. “What if I find the folder?” I asked. “What then?”
“Take it. What’s he going to do, call the cops?” Take it. Fabulous. Driving home, with Andrew’s Volkswagen trailing me, I considered trying to lose him and go somewhere for a quiet dinner. When some women get divorced they go back to school, I thought. Some do volunteer work at the hospital, or join communes and learn to birth calves. Some have affairs with inappropriate men. My new interest is burglary. Maggie Longstreet, former wife and mother, past president of the Museum Guild, now starting a career as a second-story woman.
Rain had started to spit against the windshield. The wind was high. It was perfect weather for embarking on a life of crime.Fourteen
By the time I reached home, I realized it was crazy. I wasn’t about to go out and burgle Richard’s office. Certainly not. So why was I going to the bedroom and getting the safe combination from the rosewood desk? Why was I searching in the top of the closet for my large flowered straw shopping bag from Mexico, a monstrosity Candace had given me when she was ten? And, most pertinent of all, why was I coolly slipping on a pair of black kid gloves?
I checked myself in the mirror. A society matron out on a shopping spree, looking a bit grim around the eyes and mouth, as if she had discovered the perfect outfit and the store didn’t have her size. The only jarring note was the shopping bag. Not only was it ugly, it was also empty.
Searching around, I found a couple of I. Magnin bags, stuffed them with wadded-up newspaper, and dropped them into the Mexican carryall. Much more realistic. After retying the scarf around my neck to make it look more criminally jaunty, I locked the house and joined Andrew, who had been waiting in the car.
“Gloves. Wow,” he said.
“Don’t ‘gloves wow’ me. I’m scared enough as it is.”
We rolled out of the driveway. “I have one piece of advice for you if you’re picked up for this,” he said.
“Very funny, G. Gordon. Or was that Ehrlichman?” I really wasn’t up to jokes. Freezing cold one minute and sweaty the next, I sat semi-catatonic with fear as Andrew maneuvered us through the rush-hour traffic. It was still raining fitfully. I wondered what would happen if Richard were still there, working late for a change; if somebody came in while I was opening the safe; if the folder wasn’t in the safe, and I’d come this far for nothing. Andrew pulled the car into a loading zone half a block from Richard’s office. I stared at him in stark terror.
“Hey, Maggie, ‘ he said, touching my cheek. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”
The palm of his hand felt so comforting that I wanted to collapse against it. Afraid I might do just that if I waited any longer, I opened the door and, dragging the shopping bag, plunged into the drizzle.
Pop Lewis was sitting in a folding chair next to the sign-in desk looking half asleep, but when he saw me he went into his usual thanks-for-the-fruitcake routine.
My own manner was as cloyingly sweet as I could make it, considering I had to shout to overcome his deafness. “Pop, I’m afraid I’ve done something awfully stupid,” I shrieked. “Richard and I were supposed to meet some people for drinks. I waited half an hour, and Imusthave gone to the wrong place, and I don’t know where they are. If I could go up and glance at Richard’s calendar—”
I put on a look of desperate pleading. Pop smiled and nodded. “You go right ahead, Mrs. Longstreet.”
We stood for a moment— Pop smiling, me desperate. “But I don’t have a key to Richard’s office,” I yelled. “May I borrow yours?”
Pop’s ginger eyebrows came together. “I can’t do that, Mrs. Longstreet. The building managers are very clear that those keys are never to leave my person.”
Silly, hidebound man. I wanted to shake him. Before I could ponder my next move he said, “I could take you up and let you in, though.”
What an old dear he was. Overcoming an impulse to smother him in embraces, I said,“Couldyou? That would be wonderful!”
When Pop opened the door, the office was dark. No late workers, thank God. He snapped on the light and showed every intention of following me in, but I blocked his progress by standing in front of him, putting my hand on his shoulder, and exerting a gentle pressure toward the door while I said, “Thanks, Pop. The door will lock again when I close it, won’t it? I don’t want to keep you from your post and get the building managers upset.”
This sent him nodding and waving toward the elevator. With a feeling of suffocation, I walked quickly down the hall to Richard’s office and opened the door.
It was empty. I switched on the desk lamp, put down my shopping bag, and got the combination out of my purse. The only sound was the faint rattling of the paper as it shook in my hand. The Picasso imitation swung out easily from the wall to reveal the safe.
Rushing furiously, I twirled the dial, went through the combination, and pressed the handle. It didn’t move. I closed my eyes and felt sweat breaking out all over my body. After forcing myself to breathe deeply, I tried again. I spun the dial and went through the combination, whispering the numbers under my breath. I pressed the handle. The safe opened.
Inside were stacks of documents. For the first time it occurred to me that Richard might have taken Larry’s papers out of the damn folder. I didn’t have time to go through all this stuff to look for them. I picked up a pile of what looked like reports, but couldn’t focus on the printing on the cover.
Then I saw it. Back in the back, almost hidden, was an accordion-pleated folder. At the sight, I was instantly calm. I no longer cared if anyone came in. I took the folder, replaced the stack of reports, closed the door, turned the dial. In a second, the painting was back in place. I put the folder in the shopping bag and arranged the I. Magnin bags on top.
Then, because it didn’t matter any more, I stood leafing through Richard’s leather-bound desk calendar. Whom had he been seeing since we broke up, I wondered idly. The appointments were written in his precise hand, keeping well within the little white squares: “Decorator with Diane,” “J. Malone re Golden St. Cntr,” three February days with a line drawn through them and “Dallas” written on the line. And what was this? A terse “Corelli” in January. Joseph Corelli? I flipped through the pages. Yes, here it was again, this time “J. Corelli.” In fact, according to his calendar, Richard had seen Corelli three or four times in the past two months. Wondering what business Richard would have with Larry’s blackmail victim, I turned off the desk light and left the office. I turned off the light in the outer office too, and shut the door behind me. I was in the hall, and the hall was empty. I had gotten away with it.Fifteen
“Careful. There’s a bulb burned out. The stairs are dark,” Andrew said.
Not only were the stairs dark; they smelled strongly, but not unappetizingly, of salami, thanks to the Italian delicatessen on the ground floor. Clutching my shopping bag like a housewife bringing home the evening’s pot roast, I followed Andrew up and waited while he dug in his pocket for his key.
Andrew lived in North Beach not far from the intersection of Columbus and Broadway, where Carol Doda’s neon nipples blinked through the now-driving rain and barkers with their coat collars turned up lounged in the doorways of dives advertisingNUDE COLLEGE COEDSandORIENTAL SEX ACTS. The decision to open the folder at his apartment had been made on the basis of his place being closer than mine. He was obviously in a fever of curiosity. “Be it ever so humble,” he said, opening the door.
Humble was a fairly good word for it. The place didn’t look dirty, or especially threadbare, so much as simply drab. The lumpy-looking brown couch, the scarred coffee table holding a small portable television set, the paper-littered card table with a typewriter on it, all bespoke someone who didn’t spend much time thinking about his surroundings. There were two colorful objects in the room: a pale blue stained-glass butterfly hanging in a window, and a huge ginger-colored cat not so much perched on as spilling over the sill below it. When we walked in, the cat gave us a bottomless green stare.
“Maggie, meet A. J.,” Andrew said.
“His full name is A. J. Liebling, but you can call him A. J. We’re pretty chummy and informal here, aren’t we, old buddy?”
A. J. made no reply. “Nice cat,” I said.
“Most of the time. He did throw up in my typewriter once. That was hard to forgive.”
Andrew took the Mexican carryall, and I watched him toss the I. Magnin bags on the floor and pull out the folder. I still had the disconnected feeling that had come over me when I’d found the folder in Richard’s safe. I realized that I wasn’t nearly as eager as Andrew to see what was inside. I walked to the window and touched the butterfly. “How pretty.”
He glanced up. “My former girl friend gave it to me just before she took off to seek big bucks in Iran. She’s an engineer.”
I scratched A. J.’s head and felt him start to purr. Andrew was fumbling with the folder’s knotted strings as eagerly as if they had been ribbons on a long-expected present. “Come on,” he said, patting the couch. “Now we’ll see.”
I crossed and sat while he pulled papers from the folder and put them down between us. The papers weren’t in any obvious order. Some were covered with the positive handwriting I remembered from Larry’s suicide note. There were lists of names and phone numbers and what looked like hieroglyphics, photocopied documents, and a four- or five-page typescript that Larry had amended heavily with a black felt-tipped pen. One thing was certain. They were about Richard. The name “Richard Longstreet” jumped at me from almost every page. Some of the photocopies were of letters on his letterhead. Picking one up, I read it. It was addressed to Richard’s tax man. Richard was planning to become a partner in an industrial park currently being built in Dallas, and wanted the accountant to tell him what the tax ramifications would be. Innocuous enough, surely.
I put the letter down and picked up a page of handwritten notes headed “Partners in Framton Associates.” Underneath was a list of names, some with notations beside them like “cattle” and “dept. store— same name.” Circled on the list was “Redfern, Inc.” Next to this entry Larry had written, “J. Malone.” Jane Malone, of course. The Basic Development executive. But what was Framton Associates? I found the answer in another letter, from a Bill Framton to Richard, welcoming Richard into partnership in their new project in Dallas.
Now it was getting clear. Richard had invested in a Dallas industrial park, becoming partners with Jane Malone, while here in San Francisco as Redevelopment Director he was supposed to regulate and oversee Malone’s Golden State Center project. Conflict of interest. How could Richard have been so stupid?
Andrew, meanwhile, had been reading the typescript. “Wow,” he said reverentially. “Larry did a real job on this. A hell of a job.”
“How did he get this information?”
“Some of it’s a matter of public record. The rest— the letters and stuff— I don’t know. Maybe somebody who works for Richard doesn’t like him, and was willing to help Larry out.”
Richard had a new receptionist, I remembered. The former one might have succumbed to Larry’s blandishments or charms.
“Well, it was idiotic of Richard,” I said. “He should’ve been more careful about his investments.”
Andrew’s face took on a wary look. “Maggie, you don’t think Richard invested in that Dallas venture by mistake, do you?”
“Well— I guess not. Of course it’s conflict of interest. Clearly.”
Andrew put the papers down. “Let me ask you this. What does Richard make a year? Sixty thousand? Seventy?”
“Something like that.”
“According to Larry”— Andrew tapped the papers with his finger— “Richard bought into the Dallas thing to the tune of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Did Richard have that kind of money?”
I was astounded. “Of course not!” His Porsche, the trips to Europe, clothes, Candace’s schools, the house— living well had been an addiction for Richard, his way of making up for having had to work his way through college pumping gas. He could no more have amassed two hundred fifty thousand dollars than he could’ve allowed himself to wear a poorly cut overcoat.
“He might have borrowed the money,” I said weakly.
Andrew nodded. “He might’ve. If you asked him about it I expect he’d say he did. And your next question should be what he used for collateral. And after that, how’s he managing to pay the interest. And you know what you’d find out, if you got him to tell the truth? That he put up nothing, that he’s paying nothing, that he’s in this project for two hundred fifty g’s and he didn’t spend a damn dime.”
It was storming outside. A gust of wind rattled the windowpanes. A. J. jumped heavily down from his perch and padded out of the room. “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“This is the scenario. The Dallas people let Richard in on their deal to the tune of two hundred fifty thousand. The plan is to build the park fast, get the tenants in, and in three years sell it. Richard gets out with his original ‘investment,’ which he never made, plus profits.”
Andrew was speaking in a well-modulated tone, but somehow I felt as if he were shouting. “I’m saying that was no loan,” he continued. “Richard was bribed.”
How ugly. What a very ugly syllable the wordbribewas. It conjured up paper bags filled with money, sleazy back-alley meetings. But of course it didn’t have to be that. It could be industrial parks in Dallas, and large unsecured loans, and people who minded their manners and belonged to the Yacht Club. “Bribed to do what?”
“There are lots of ways Richard could help Basic Development. He could give them a five-minute head start on the Golden State Center bidding, so they could come in low. He could talk up Golden State with his cronies on the Redevelopment Commission and the Board of Supervisors so Basic would get their permits fast. He could square them with Public Works so they didn’t have any trouble with utility hookups. Richard could do plenty. He’s a guy with a lot of juice.”
I had lived with Richard, slept with him, thought him handsome, elegant, knowledgeable. Instead, he was just “a guy with a lot of juice” who was willing to sell out. I stared at the disorderly pile of papers. I felt sick.
There was another point— a point Andrew and I hadn’t yet discussed. I had found the folder in Richard’s safe. He had almost certainly taken it from Larry’s office the night Larry died. The idea that Richard might have pushed Larry out the window was no longer particularly farfetched.
“What are you thinking?”
Andrew’s hand was on my shoulder. At first, I couldn’t speak. Then I blurted out, “I was wondering if Richard killed Larry.”
“All we can say is that it looks more likely now.” Andrew’s matter-of-fact tone made me feel calmer. It wouldn’t do, after all, to fly into hysterics because I had discovered that my former husband wasn’t only an insensitive philanderer but a criminal, and possibly a murderer as well.
“You’re getting green around the gills. Want some wine? I’ll get you a nice glass of wine.” The anxious offer made little impression on me, aside from a fleeting notion that Andrew was sweet to bother. “Even better,” his voice floated from the kitchen, “we didn’t have dinner. How about”— the sound of a refrigerator door opening— “let’s see. Some scrambled eggs? A salami sandwich?” He reappeared with a water glass half full of red wine. “What do you say?”
I was almost able to smile at his strenuous efforts to resuscitate my spirits. “I love salami.”
He looked pleased. “I buy it downstairs. It’s the best. Sit right there, and it’ll be ready in a second.”
Andrew made a very good salami on rye. Washing it down with more rotgut red from the jug on the table between us, I thought how all the elements of my life had moved, changed, taken on a different configuration, like a pile of leaves swirled about by wind. Some leaves fall back, but in a different place. Some blow away forever. At this moment, it was impossible to know what I would keep and what I would lose.
Andrew finished his sandwich and leaned back. While we ate he had barely spoken, perhaps sensing that I preferred not to talk. Now he said, “I’ve got a question.”
“What is it?”
“Do you want to go on with our investigation?”
I had been asking the question of myself. We had reached a watershed. Whatever happened from here on in would be serious. Nothing, I knew, would stop Andrew from going ahead now, but this was my opportunity to bow out, to stay in the background, to be— if possible— safe.
“Yes. I want to go on.” Clearly, I couldn’t be content with discoveries half-made. I was on my way to finding out what a great deal of my life had been about.
Andrew looked relieved. “I’m glad to hear you say that. A while ago, you got a little— weird. I was afraid you’d changed your mind about Richard. Gotten sympathetic to him, or something.”
I shook my head. “I was married to Richard for twenty-two years. I haven’t gotten over letting his actions make a difference to me. But sympathetic isn’t what I felt.”
“Good. Because if you don’t mind my saying so, Maggie, you’re obviously way too good for that guy. I mean, you’re terrific even leaving him out of it. Not a very graceful compliment, but at least I’m sincere.”
I was grinning absurdly. “You have a way with words. Have you considered writing as a profession?” The energy that had deserted me came flooding back. “What’s next?”
“Next, I think we should go to the little place down the street where I always go and make photocopies of all this stuff. I’ve got envelopes and stamps. We’ll mail a couple to ourselves, and a couple of others to friends I have who sometimes keep things for me. That way, we won’t lose it again. After that, I suggest we join a political protest.”
“What kind of protest?”
“Citizens Against the Golden State Center is having a meeting tonight at eight. I’m supposed to cover it. If we hurry, I think we can make it.”Sixteen
Andrew was wrong by half an hour. The cigarette smoke was already thick and voices raised by the time we got downtown to the church basement where the meeting was being held. In spite of the terrible weather, the room was packed, with most of the audience sitting on folding chairs and the rest leaning against the walls. Damp from the rain and breathless from hurrying to get there, Andrew and I stood at the back, next to a table displaying pamphlets advertising everything from methadone programs to the church’s Older Singles group.