Draft — Death of a Money Man — Chapter 1 — 2

Death of a Money Man

Chapter 1

I’d def­i­nite­ly come too late. There didn’t seem to be a sin­gle fold­ing chair with­out a body in it. A sweat­ing, eager body. Maybe not eager, so much as anx­ious. Like me. I was not look­ing for­ward to a hot, non-enter­tain­ing evening in the high school gym. There’s noth­ing like con­tro­ver­sy, espe­cial­ly one that involves mon­ey and pol­i­tics, to bring out absolute­ly every­one.

Slow­ly, I walked down the aisle and final­ly spot­ted an emp­ty seat in the sec­ond row. I scoot­ed in past sev­er­al knees and plunked down beside my friend Ted­dy.

She looked up from her note pad. “Cyd?”

Yeah, I know. A debate is not my thing. Kaye’s idea. But blue­ber­ry cheese­cake in exchange for becom­ing more,” I did the air quotes, ‘com­mu­ni­ty involved?’ Worth every mouth­ful.”

Ted­dy nod­ded with a grin. She liked my sister’s culi­nary exper­i­ments as well as I did. But she was in reporter mode. “You do know the con­cept of this debate, right?”

Kaye made sure of that. Smith Har­bor needs more tax mon­ey,” I said as the speak­ers filed onto the stage at one end of the gym. “Do not quote me in the news­pa­per, please.”

As the man at the left of the stage tapped the micro­phone, she whis­pered, “Blue­ber­ry cheese­cake, you say? Yum, I’m com­ing too.”

Kaye would serve up ques­tions with her cheese­cake, so I made men­tal notes. The mod­er­a­tor was the only one I didn’t rec­og­nize. The main attrac­tion, our state sen­a­tor, was joined by three men and a woman, each rep­re­sent­ing a dif­fer­ent local busi­ness. They were all decked out for a day at the office. Or boat, like Gre­go­ry with his scram­bled egg captain’s cap. The mod­er­a­tor had the full out­fit, grey suit, tie, even grey dress shoes. They had to be swel­ter­ing. Near­ly Octo­ber, and we had a heat wave to rival mid-July.

The sen­a­tor set the sched­ule. The town need­ed more mon­ey. He want­ed to hear our opin­ions, but first, we had to hear the argu­ments for and against.

As the man in gray asked the ques­tions, I tried to con­cen­trate on what every­one was say­ing. Not just to answer my sis­ter, but because, sud­den­ly, it was so hard.

The words washed over, slipped past, tum­bled around me. My chest felt tight, my throat throbbed, my brain was in lock-down. What was going on?

Cau­tious­ly, I swiveled my eyes from side to side. Peo­ple, so many peo­ple. Flip-flops and shorts, bub­ble gum and fin­ger tap­pers, Ted­dy writ­ing on her pad.

Did no one else feel the oxy­gen leave the room, the sud­den heat sear­ing my eye­balls?

No. All me, all my… Deep breath. My feet firm­ly on the floor, butt on the chair. Calm down. I could… I would get over it.

I’d felt like this before. Once, no twice. Con­cen­trate.

First. Yes, the day Snap­per was hit by a car and died. Snap­per, the neigh­bor dog. I saw him in his yard, an hour or two before the car hit him. That’s when I…

Then again—years, no, only a year or two later—I watched a TV show. A sum­mer repeat. A rerun, but the star com­mit­ted sui­cide the day after I watched her show.

Breath deep and slow, watch my toes. This whole gym full of peo­ple. Fam­i­lies, chil­dren, grand­par­ents. Would it be so unusu­al if some­one here is about to die?

Except, this wave that sur­round­ed me came from the stage.

The applause after the gray man intro­duced the sen­a­tor, then the oth­ers, brought my atten­tion back. I could do this. I could lis­ten to them speak, hear what­ev­er they had to say. Slow­ly, their words returned, com­ing back in a hol­low drone.

Breathe deep. Shoul­ders relaxed. I turned my head. It didn’t explode. Yes, I heard the words com­ing from the stage, felt a change in the air, the clar­i­ty… I was over it.

Death of a Money Man — Chapter 2

As Ted­dy and I slow­ly fol­lowed the crowd out of the gym, I said, “Before they start­ed the debate, did you feel any­thing fun­ny?” She gave me a look that told me she had no clue, so I added, “I mean, right then, did it get sud­den­ly hot­ter in the room? Um, sud­den­ly breath­less?”

She drawled it out slowly,“Noooooooo.” She kept watch­ing me.

Okay, so I felt weird. A pre­mo­ni­tion of death, actu­al­ly.”

Were ghosts involved?”

Some­times long-time friends know too much. “For­get it. There’s Kaye. Come get your invi­ta­tion to sam­ple her blue­ber­ry cheese­cake.”

I pushed away my pre­mo­ni­tion. Kaye and I accept­ed a ride from Ted­dy, since we’d both walked to the gym. As I watched the hous­es flash past the car win­dows, as we entered her house, as she and Ted­dy chat­ted and we served up the dessert. I pic­tured those on the stage: the gray man, the sen­a­tor, the fish­ery own­er, the real­tor. Not Gre­go­ry. I worked for him. I was one of the cap­tains he hired. That was all. We’d both long for­got­ten our high school past.

Cyd, are you lis­ten­ing?”

Oops. “Of course, Kaye. I’m lis­ten­ing.”

Then what did I say?”

Same ole, same ole.” Kaye glared and Ted­dy smoth­ered a gig­gle, but did she help out? Nope.

Kaye repeat­ed the ques­tion. “So, what were the telling points? Did either side con­vince you?”

This cheese­cake is out­stand­ing, Kaye. You just keep top­ping your­self. Do I detect at least two dif­fer­ent fla­vors? Blue­ber­ries and some­thing else?”

Ted­dy nod­ded and almost went for overkill. “Your cheese­cake… Yes, back to the debate. Pret­ty one sided if you ask me.”

Def­i­nite­ly.” Okay, time to get seri­ous. “Debates should have at least two opin­ions, and almost all I heard was how good for the com­mu­ni­ty it would be to increase tax­es on busi­ness­es rather than homes.”

Ted­dy, who should know bet­ter said, “Except for Gre­go­ry, of course.”

Def­i­nite­ly time for a change of sub­ject. I asked, “So who was the gray man?”

Kaye said, “That’s the only ques­tion you have after an hour and a half lis­ten­ing to com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers dis­cussing the pros and cons of—”

I mean the mod­er­a­tor. He intro­duced every­body, but nobody intro­duced him.”

That’s Meg’s hus­band. Now, what did you real­ly think of the debate?”

The high school gym is no place to hold any­thing when it’s that hot and crowd­ed. And the guy sit­ting behind me smelled like a whiskey bar­rel with B.O.”

Besides that.”

Ted­dy waved her fork. “Kaye, I thought you were doing that peti­tion thing against the sen­a­tor.”

Ah, good for Ted­dy. Maybe she wasn’t in cahoots with Kaye. Would my sis­ter drop inter­est in me to get her opin­ion in Teddy’s col­umn?

No, Kaye stayed true to her basic concern—minding lit­tle sis. Mak­ing sure I was more polit­i­cal­ly aware. Not to men­tion, sur­viv­ing a funk that was com­plete­ly over. I almost asked, What if some­body up on the stage died tonight? That would get her mind off me and com­mu­ni­ty affairs. But then she’d be back to think­ing I need­ed a men­tal sup­port group.

Her answer to Ted­dy was direct­ed at me. “Sen­a­tor Jakob­sen was obvi­ous­ly in favor of high busi­ness tax­es. Cyd, don’t you think it strange that a com­mer­cial fish­ery own­er is on that side?”

Should I tell my big news? Nah, wait for it. “Who knows what was on his mind?”

Gre­go­ry could have gone either way,” Ted­dy said. “Sure, he has a busi­ness, but char­ter boat­ing could ben­e­fit from all those peo­ple who’d buy new homes on Chesa­peake Bay.”

Nope, not inter­est­ed in Gre­go­ry. Def­i­nite­ly. Okay, I did want to hear what he had to say. But as the own­er of Nor­ris Char­ters. Any­one with boats that need­ed cap­tains inter­est­ed me. My captain’s license was new. Well, renewed, any­way. And Gre­go­ry had signed me on as one of his cap­tains.
I ate blue­ber­ry cheese­cake and drank tea while Kaye told Ted­dy all about her prob­lems with the sen­a­tor. On the take, mon­ey grab­ber, pay­offs. I’d heard it all before.

Final­ly, I stood and took my plate to the sink. Now was the time for my news. While I ran dish­wa­ter, I deliv­ered. “Did you know I’m now work­ing for two of the men on the stage?” They shrieked. I turned and grinned. “Mr. Vikel­lis, the fish­ery own­er. He has a yacht, and I’m his new cap­tain.”

Tell all!”

Not much to tell. It’s a 90-foot­er, named Nighthawk. Berthed at Bay­side Mari­na. He needs some­one to take it south for win­ter lay-up.”

Nine­ty feet long? Can you han­dle it?”

Thanks for the vote of con­fi­dence, Kaye. You do remem­ber I’ve done this before, don’t you?”

You’ll ace it,” Ted­dy said.

We dis­cussed the ins and outs. Sil­ly me. I didn’t men­tion that I’d prob­a­bly be more of the crew while Mr. Vikel­lis act­ed as cap­tain. Would he let me han­dle Nighthawk on my own? Umm, hard to say. Although a few years ago I’d pilot­ed my share of com­mer­cial tugs, and even a tour boat.

I stood. “Thanks for the love­ly dessert, Kaye. I’d bet­ter be going, now.”

You’re not get­ting away that eas­i­ly,” Kaye said. “I’m glad to hear about your job, but we have more to dis­cuss. I’ve got a few ideas about Sen­a­tor Jakob­sen. He’s push­ing for a law, so what does he do?”

Kaye, I promised to go to the meet­ing and I did.”

You promised to go to the meet­ing to become more polit­i­cal­ly aware.”

Play­ing school when we’re six and eight is one thing. Play­ing school at twen­ty-nine…” Face it, I wouldn’t win. Why not get it over with? “Okay, obvi­ous­ly the sen­a­tor got my new boss, the real­tor, and the restau­rant own­er to agree with him. Or each oth­er. And that left Gre­go­ry as the token oppo­si­tion.”

That’s my impres­sion, too. But why should the state sen­ate be con­cerned with lit­tle, old Smith Har­bor on the Chesa­peake Bay? We’re basi­cal­ly a bed­room com­mu­ni­ty. Have you read the bill?”

Kaye, nobody in this world reads stuff like that. Except you, that is.”

Nobody but Kaye and Leisel Ross,” Ted­dy added.

Who’s Leisel Ross?”

A true inves­tiga­tive reporter. She’s from Queens­boro News, but tem­porar­i­ly assigned here on anoth­er sto­ry while she pre­tends to be, shall we say, a kept woman.”

A what?”

Don’t change the sub­ject,” Kaye said. “They’re doing it with tax­es. Low rates on homes to encour­age all those con­do builders, high rates on busi­ness­es to dis­cour­age new indus­try. They want us to be only a bed­room com­mu­ni­ty instead of a thriv­ing fish­ing vil­lage.”

Real­ly, I do under­stand these things. I mean, how many ral­lies and focus groups do I have to attend? Right now, I want to go to the boat.”

You are okay? I mean, it’s only been a few months…”

I’m fine. I’m over every­thing, los­ing my boat, the house, the car… Ta da.” I twirled around. “Look at me. The mer­ry wid­ow.”

Cyd, you’re not okay, and that proves it. This is only a new form of denial. You have seri­ous issues, and jokes won’t solve your prob­lems.”

Look, Al left me a year and a half ago. He died last spring. That’s long enough. I’m over him. Now you bet­ter get over it as well.”

Kaye, I agree with Cyd. She’s doing fine,” Ted­dy said.

She’s try­ing to sur­vive two tragedies, first when her hus­band left, then when she learned he was dead and had to pay off all his debts. And don’t for­get a cou­ple of months ago with Snap­drag­on. Those are entire­ly dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions.”

Ted­dy shook her head. She and I had grown up being the young­sters, with Kaye being the boss. But I was tired of it, and I hat­ed being spo­ken about as if I were a piece of fur­ni­ture. I said, “I’m not going back to any med­i­ta­tion group to talk about how mis­er­able I am. I’m cop­ing just fine. I just got a new job as the cap­tain of Mr. Vikellis’s yacht, I’m one of the cap­tains for Gregory’s char­ter com­pa­ny, I work on oth­er boats, I have a place to live, and I’m sav­ing up for a car. Okay?”

Some­times, con­fronta­tion was good. Kaye shrugged. “Believe me, I like to see you fac­ing real­i­ty.”
I nod­ded in accep­tance of what, for my sis­ter, was a huge apol­o­gy. I dried my dish, then picked up my fan­ny pack beside the door. “All those peo­ple in the gym want­ed to hear those guys, obvi­ous­ly. It was cer­tain­ly too hot to be a fun out­ing.”

I’m leav­ing too,” Ted­dy said, adding, “Cyd, I’ll drop you off at the mari­na.”

We did the group hug at the door and made our escapes. Ted­dy head­ed for her car and I said, “You don’t have to take me.”

She opened the pas­sen­ger door. “Shut up already and get in.”

Yes, ma’am.” I shook my head. “Kaye does go on, doesn’t she? I know all I want to know about com­mu­ni­ty pol­i­tics.”

And I’ve already got an inside track on that whole sub­ject. That’s what Leisel is doing, going under­cov­er as Mr. Byrum’s lit­tle sweet­ie. She’s see­ing him tonight and should get the real low-down on all the tax stuff Kaye men­tioned.”

Oh,” I said, look­ing for signs that Ted­dy was about to con­tin­ue Kaye’s lec­ture.

Do you have a half hour to spare? Maybe an hour, but no more, I promise.”

For what?”

My ‘Ted­dy Tonight’ arti­cle is sup­posed to cov­er cit­i­zen com­ments. I got a cou­ple, but nobody stayed around. Too hot. You can be two or three of my cit­i­zens. How about it?”

Now I’m a mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ty? Sure, why not?”

Great. We’ll stop at the paper.” Ted­dy turned into the newspaper’s park­ing lot. “Leisel’s car is here. You’ll get to meet her.”

Um, maybe I’ll just walk home.

No way. You promised to help me.” She unlocked the door and pushed in, yelling, “Hi Leisel. Still here?”

The young woman, as blond as Ted­dy was dark, said, “So far,” before she turned to me. “Are you a grow­ing-up friend or a news­pa­per-friend?”

That would be a grow­ing-up friend,” Ted­dy said and intro­duced me. We said all the polite things before Ted­dy added, “Didn’t you have plans? I thought you were see­ing Ken­ny boy after the meet­ing.”

Leisel shrugged. “So did I. Any­thing hap­pen to hold him up?”

Not that I noticed. Did you Cyd?”

I shook my head. I had no clue who they were talk­ing about. Their words swirled around me while I opened up Teddy’s pret­zel can and dumped some into a bowl. But I watched, and lis­tened. This was the one pre­tend­ing to be a kept woman? She def­i­nite­ly had the looks for it. Dressed for it too.

Leisel jerked a chair out from the desk and plopped down. “Damn,” she said. “Guess his wife expect­ed him. Did you see her?”

In that crowd?”

Leisel asked, “So, how did it go? Any earth-shat­ter­ing news for your col­umn?”

Hard­ly.”

Ted­dy flashed an apolo­getic smile at me, then turned to the oth­er reporter. “I could def­i­nite­ly put out a zinger–-if Zan­der weren’t so con­cerned about the adver­tis­ing dol­lar.”

I know Ken was there, but who else chat­ted up the con­cerned cit­i­zen­ry?”

Sen­a­tor Jakob­sen, Mr. Vikellis–-the fish­ery guy, Gre­go­ry Norris—representing boaters, Mrs. Aukamp, the real estate woman, and Chef Pierre with his ooh, la, la.”

Real­ly? Wasn’t the meet­ing all about who the state should tax out of exis­tence? ‘Take your choice, local busi­ness or new hous­ing down the tubes,’ is how Ken put it.”

He did? That’s good. Maybe I could use it.”

No, no, I nev­er said a word.” Leisel shook her head. “Jakob­sen and Byrum are in enough trou­ble already. Lob­by­ists nev­er need to adver­tise. How would you piss off the oth­ers?”

Mr. Vikel­lis sound­ed good, but at least once the EPA cit­ed his oper­a­tion for non-com­pli­ance. Bring that up, and it’s, ‘Bye, bye, Har­ri­er Fish­ery account.’”

I had to speak up. “Aren’t you for­get­ting some­thing?” I asked.

Ted­dy grabbed a pret­zel, ignor­ing me com­plete­ly. “We could loose Jardin á Fleurs. Wouldn’t I just love to do an exposé of that?”

Because Chef Pierre is not real­ly a French chef but a local man named Peter Mason with a pho­ny French accent and a sil­ly lit­tle goa­tee? Every­body knows that.”

He isn’t French?” Leisel asked. “Hmm, I did won­der about that accent.”

Ted­dy shrugged. “And Zan­der would absolute­ly, nev­er, ever let any­one saw a bad word about an adver­tis­er.”

So, what will you write?”Leisel asked.

The after­noon tea tem­plate, of course.” Ted­dy sat back, clasped her hands, and assumed her best look down your nose expres­sion. “Smith Har­bor res­i­dents, eager to par­tic­i­pate in local deci­sions, braved the late Octo­ber heat wave and lis­tened atten­tive­ly in the over-heat­ed high school gym­na­si­um wear­ing shorts and absolute­ly no shoes while the men on stage, wear­ing busi­ness suits in shades of blue and gray, argued about how to tax our future.”

Leisel said, “I thought you men­tioned one of them was a woman.”

Yeah. Mrs. Aukamp wore a nice cool sum­mery dress.”

And she’s the absolute­ly worst,” I added. “Besides real­tors, she rep­re­sents the plan­ning com­mis­sion that wants to get rid of Gregory’s part of the mari­na and build water-front homes.”

Hey, that might be a good idea. Smith Har­bor could real­ly go places.”

I shrugged and decid­ed to shut up. Was Ted­dy try­ing to impress the big city reporter? First clue, she didn’t say one teas­ing word about me and Gre­go­ry. For which I was thank­ful, of course. But she didn’t want me to counter the Vikel­lis sto­ry either. That short lived furor was solved when he got a new clean­ing ser­vice.

Ted­dy said, “How about you, Leisel? How’d it go today?”

The usu­al. My dai­ly vol­un­teer ses­sion at Impeach Sen­a­tor Jakob­sen Head­quar­ters, lunch and sweet talk with Byrum, write up my notes. And here I am, wish­ing the dog would call so I can get more on tape before I shed the under­cov­er per­sona for real life.”

No sec­ond thoughts?”

Not about entrap­ment. Byrum may seem to be your basic nice guy, but if he weren’t in the chase, he wouldn’t be look­ing.”

You’re keep­ing him at arm’s length okay? No prob­lems?”

He’s get­ting antsy, but noth­ing I can’t han­dle. Like I always say, any­thing for a sto­ry. Oops, there’s my cell phone. The play must go on.”

I tried not to lis­ten, but I couldn’t help it. Leisel sang out, “Hel­lo,” then after lis­ten­ing, said such things as, “I see,” and, “Of course, I’ll be there.” She closed her phone and said, “Always some­thing new. Change of plans, but he’ll meet me, ya-da, ya-da. Like they say, any­thing for a sto­ry.”
After she left, Ted­dy said, “Leisel believes that, ‘any­thing for a sto­ry,’ crap.”

That meet­ing she went to, impeach a sen­a­tor thing, sounds like the orga­ni­za­tion Kaye is into.”

Prob­a­bly the same.” Ted­dy turned to her com­put­er, then said, “Oops, she for­got her thumb dri­ve again.” She pulled it out. “I’ll give it to her lat­er. Now it’s time for your man on the street. Ques­tion one: What did you think of our illus­tri­ous debaters? For pub­li­ca­tion, remem­ber.”

Obvi­ous that almost all of them were on the same page, I’d say.” For good mea­sure I added, “You know, a debate is sup­posed to have two sides, pro and con. But this one was pro what they want­ed and con what any­one else might want.”

Gre­go­ry did have a few…”

Hey, you asked for the man-on-the-street opin­ion.”

That sounds like the Cyd I knew before…you know. Any­way, back in the Lime Street Detec­tive Agency days.”

You can say it. Before Al.”

You’re get­ting your spunk back, girl.”

I mum­bled, “Tell Kaye.”

She’ll come around. You know she wants to be big sis­ter with all the answers. Speak­ing of answers, how about anoth­er quote.”

Okay, it was too hot, and prac­ti­cal­ly impos­si­ble to hear with that hor­ri­ble mike. All screechy.”

That’s a good one. Now, how about some con­cerned cit­i­zen on one side or the oth­er.”

Should I shake her up and men­tion the air dis­ap­pear­ing from the room, or that some­one would die? No way. “Let’s see. Well, you know, indus­try is all well and good, but Smith Har­bor is a fish­ing vil­lage. I’d hate to miss the, let’s see, what do I hate to miss?”

The friend­ly atmos­phere?”

And that would be?” I smirked. “How about the neigh­bor­ly feel­ing I grew up with?”

That’s good. Now some­thing fish­ery ori­ent­ed.”

I can not believe Mr. Vikel­lis wants to tax busi­ness so much. I mean, he does have that fish­ery. But, don’t say that. He’s my new boss. Of course, I don’t expect him to approve putting a bunch of fish­eries lin­ing the shore. Too much com­pe­ti­tion, besides, who would want to lay around on the beach with the smell?”

That’s an opin­ion I already have. Try anoth­er.”

Why don’t you think of one?”

I thought of the whole arti­cle. I need anoth­er voice.”

Voice, smoice. Okay, I’m lit­tle kidlet, age six. I wan­na go fish­ing. I don’t wan­na have a whole bunch of them fan­cy hous­es tak­ing up the whole shore.”

A lit­tle advanced for six. You are now eleven.”

I sat back and nib­bled pret­zels while Ted­dy fin­ished her arti­cle and sent it wing­ing on its way. Why hadn’t I said some­thing nice about Nor­ris Char­ters?

Answer. Ted­dy would only start teas­ing me about my lack of love life despite being a recent wid­ow, and Gregory’s obvi­ous avail­abil­i­ty where I was con­cerned. I didn’t need that.

Why hadn’t I men­tioned my vision of death? I could answer that too. Ted­dy hadn’t piled on like the oth­ers did, but… Nope, did not want to go back to those days… Cyd, the crazy kid.

Ted­dy stood, gath­ered her tablet and purse, and said, “Okay, I’ll drop you off. Or would you like to come with me to lis­ten to a garage band?”

No.”

She left me at Bay­side Mari­na. I head­ed for Inkling, the 36-foot Cape Dory sail­boat I’d lived on for the past month. The para­noid own­er need­ed a boat sitter—me, but he and his boat were head­ing out for the week­end tomor­row. Kaye said I could use her sofa for a cou­ple of days. But not tonight.
I real­ly want­ed to just dive into my cozy bunk, but the Inkling’s own­ers would be there in the morn­ing. I turned on all the lights for a lit­tle house­keep­ing. A dirty bird had done it’s duty, so I start­ed hos­ing down the deck.

The mari­na was busier than I expect­ed this late on a Thurs­day. First I saw an old geezer, Cap­tain Bil­ly wan­der by. Then a boat full of row­dy guys pulled in, hopped off and left with­out wash­ing down the boat.

After twen­ty min­utes, while I was coil­ing the hose, I heard a voice.

Miss, could you help me?”

I turned sud­den­ly. There he was, the mys­tery man—the mod­er­a­tor who was Meg somebody’s hus­band, still wear­ing the grey suit and wing-tip shoes. The grey man. Mr. Name­less. “Sure, what do you want?”

I’m head­ed for a meet­ing on a boat, but he didn’t tell me where it was. Could you help me find one named Nighthawk?” He fin­gered his neck­tie as he beamed at me. “Wouldn’t hap­pen to be yours, would it?”

No. Nighthawk is a lot big­ger than any of these. It’s at the end of F Dock.”

Won­der­ful. You do know it. I still have a prob­lem though. I don’t know where F Dock is.”

The man was as out of place on the dock as I’d be in what­ev­er polit­i­cal halls he must usu­al­ly fre­quent. “I’ll show you.” I hopped off Inklings’ deck and led the way. Who has a meet­ing on a yacht after ten at night? He didn’t elab­o­rate, which didn’t sur­prise me. I left him stand­ing on the dock by Nighthawk.

Just too much going on for a Thurs­day night. Lat­er, I even heard one of the big yachts leav­ing. Prob­a­bly an ear­ly start on the week­end out­ing. They were def­i­nite­ly nois­i­er than small­er boats.