Death of a Money Man
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 “Do not quote me in the newspaper, please.”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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
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?”
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.