Wednesday, September 16, 2009
When Claire Richardson convinced her superiors to hire Fisher, she knew that he would be a project, but she hoped with supervision and encouragement he could be an asset instead of an asshole. She was reminding herself of this as she copy-edited his story on her computer. “Something there is that doesn't love a cross country runner. He looks like Ichabod Crane and never gets to screw a cheerleader.”
“Jesus, Fish,” Claire groaned. Fisher sat on her desk pretending to be surprised.
“I was going for a Robert Frost kind of thing.”
Claire didn't even want to look at him. She knew when she hired him, they were going to sleep together. She had promised herself that it wasn't going to happen, that it went against all protocol, professional, ethical or otherwise, and if she did, she would abandoned all semblance of a chance to dictate from the high ground. But she slept with him anyway. She couldn't help herself. Old habits died hard. “Habit”. Yeah. Good name for it.
She already had one bad marriage behind her and had sworn to herself to wise up with her personal life. But whatever Fisher had, it brought the stupid out in her. The best she could do was to make a separate peace with herself; she would see him after hours as long as they kept it discrete, and as long as Fisher stayed in line while he worked. But now this new bit of disquieting news from Windward. Of all times to fall off the wagon, right when Willis had accepted an offer from the Chicago Tribune and her department was going to be short handed. She needed Fisher to step up right now.
“The Chicago Tribune! He's a kid.”
“He's a good writer, Fish,” Claire said.
“I can write his ass into the ground. The Chicago Tribune?”
What had Willis done to skip sixteen steps and go directly to a major? More proof that the wheel was fixed, that meritocracy was a myth.
“Write his ass into the ground,” he repeated.
“So do it. Fix this Robert Frost garbage to start.”
“Fine.” Motivated for the moment, Fisher headed for his desk.
“Hold on.” Now came the subject neither of them ever wanted to talk about. “I got a call from Security at Windward Race Track.” She could see the quills on Fisher's back rise.
“Something about a man being beat up out there after the races? They questioned you about it?”
“Yeah. But it was nothing.”
Claire hoped so. She was well-acquainted with Fisher's hair- trigger temper, but his anger always seemed to be aimed at authority, at some unearned hierarchy of people and rules that tied him to the whipping post; she never associated it with physical violence.
“Why were they...?”
“Checking up? To see if you worked here,” she said.
“What'd you say?”
“That you did. What do you think?”
“It's bullshit. I had a witness and everything.”
That was the other thing; he'd been there with a woman. “Jack Landy's wife?”
“Yeah. No big deal. She was at the track.”
“I didn't know you knew her,” Claire said trying to disguise the hurt.
“I don't. At Landy's restaurant one time. When I was working on the, you know, the story. She goes to the track. No big deal.”
If it was such a “no big deal” Claire thought, why did he say it twice?
Fisher would've given anything to fast forward past where he knew the next line of questioning was headed.
“I thought you weren't going to the track, Fish.”
“Now and then, Claire. You know. Getting my stories in, right?”
“You going to your...”
“Twice, every week,” he said before she could even finish saying “meetings”.
“You know the agreement.”
Yeah he knew. He knew, he knew, he knew. How could he not? Every time he walked across the first floor past the editor-in-chief's office he could feel derision raining down on him. He thought of the soccer player pressing his bare-ass against the back of the bus at him. To hell with them all. “I go twice every week. Check it out. Call my sponsor.”
“I believe you.” And she did. She was his sole supporter at the Dispatch and how did he repay her besides the occasional ride on the carnal carnival? She watched him shuffling his feet, something wild fighting to get out of its cage. “Fix the story,” she said.
Fuming, Fisher stormed back to his desk. What the hell was he doing here? Writing about third rate harriers while Willis was on his way to Chicago? God damn it, Fisher had written for the majors. So what he'd thrown it away betting on horses. That was their take on it. One man's vice was another's life. Dostoevsky was a degenerate gambler and he could write the ass off of any other writer in the world, write their asses into the ground. And to have to stand there and take the third degree from Claire? He was still seething when his phone rang. He picked it up on the third ring.
“Hello”, said the voice on the other end causing Fisher heart to jump. “It's Jo Landy.”
“I was thinking about that rain check.” She cut right to it, no preamble about the weather. “It's slow as hell in here and I'm climbing the walls. I was thinking about cutting out for the harness races.”
“Tonight's not good?”
That wasn't it. Fisher was buying time. The call had side-swiped him. He'd thought about calling her ever since the day at Windward. He spent every night thinking about how her body felt sliding down against him, how she brushed her thigh between his legs. Tonight was fine, great, terrific. “No, tonight. Sure.”
“Good. I'll be at the clubhouse restaurant. Table three.”
There were two harness race tracks in the county: Saddle Ridge and Long Neck. Saddle Ridge was the older of the pair and, in its day after World War Two, it drew twenty-five to thirty thousand people a night. In the sixties and early seventies it had been the sight of outdoor rock concerts until a riot and fire-bombing burned down half the grandstand. The track was sold and eventually rebuilt. But, by that time, most of the drivers and trainers had switched to Long Neck, a one-time speedway near Cook's Amusement Park. Fisher assumed Jo meant Long Neck. The purses were too small at Saddle Ridge, and Long Neck was closer to the bay if she needed to get back to the restaurant. He couldn't borrow Claire's car, she'd ask way too many questions. This left Willis, and meant having to eat shit straight-faced and congratulate him about Chicago. Well, he wasn't going to hitch out to Long Neck.
Fisher gunned Willis's Taurus down Western Highway. He could see the flashing lights from the amusement park cutting through the dark. Long Neck was across the highway and down an ersatz esplanade from the amusement park. Fisher showed his pass at the gate and parked in the section reserved for the Press.
He followed the Maitre d' down the tiered levels of the clubhouse restaurant.
It was a lovely fall night and most of the tables were full. Table three was in prime position looking straight down through the glass partition to the finish line. Fisher saw Jo speaking to a woman whose back was turned away. Jo was dressed, if not to kill, than at least to maim, in a scoop front number that invited all but the clergy to examine the better part of her breasts. When she saw Fisher approaching, Jo looked up from her conversation, causing the second woman to turn around. Fisher recognized Edgar's bartender, but Jo made the formal introductions.
“David Fisher, this is Sarah Dupre.”
Sarah sprung to her feet offering her hand. “Hello, David. How they running for you?” She was wearing a tight jersey with no bra. Fisher thought for a moment he'd walked into a Russ Meyer movie.
“Uh, I don't know. Actually, I just got here.”
“Actually, it's only an expression,” she said her eyes flashing with mischief. “I would've said 'how they trotting for you' if I was precision driven. How-are-they-trotting-for-you, David?” she said in a robotic monotone.
“Sarah was just leaving,” said Jo.
“Right. Don't want to be Miss Buzzkill. Have fun,” Sarah said, waving as she skipped up the stairs.
Months later, when Fisher was back-tracking his fall, he would revisit this meeting with Sarah.
But in the moment, he saw only Jo. “You look great,” Fisher said.
“I do? Thanks. This is my lucky dress.”
“I can see why,” Fisher said and Jo laughed.
Everything about her, her face, her hair, the way she smelled was making Fisher dizzy. When the waiter arrived Fisher ordered a double Jack and coke. Jo was drinking Irish Whiskey.
“So, you've got it pretty good.”
“How do you mean?”
“Your job. Getting paid to come here and Windward to cover the races.”
“Yeah, but I don't.”
Jo turned her head, slightly, seeing if he was joking. “Oh, but I thought...”
Fisher knew he could lie to her, make himself look like a big timer, but tonight he didn't feel like filling the air with bullshit. “It's out of my jurisdiction.”
Well if she didn't, if she was expecting to get free passes to the Breeder's Cup, she was climbing on the wrong pony.
“I used to cover the horses,” he said. “But not here. Florida. Gulfstream, Hialeah...”
“Oh. Yeah. Drove up all the time from Key West.”
The waiter arrived with the drinks. The food was never very good at Long Neck but the drinks were strong. Fisher took a gulp and felt his legs back under him.
“Key West, huh?”
“Once. To see Hemingway's house.”
A cliché, he knew; the place was crawling with wannabe writers who had made the pilgrimage down to Papa's. All of them, just like Fisher, wandering the grounds, counting Papa's cats, staring out to sea, making never to be fulfilled promises to write something of worth. Hell, even a cynic was allowed to dream.
“So, what were you doing down there?”
“I was, you know, scrambling around,” she said. “Waitressing, bartending.”
“And Mr. Golf? Was he down there?”
“Yeah, he was there knocking around.”
“Dealing drugs?” asked Fisher.
Jo's face flushed. "Why did you say that"
“I don't know. Isn't that what everyone does there does?”
“No offense. Kind of...kind of vibe I got down there.”
It was true, the place was a pot emporium. Guys from the Miami paper were making runs twice a month.
“So why did you leave Florida?” Jo asked.
Why indeed. He was happy as a clam. On his way to being editor if he hadn't been railroaded.
“I got fired.”
“Why? You punch out someone in a parking lot?”
“Where did that come from? Cause of what that shit in a suit said at the track?”
“No.” She took her time. “Because I saw you do it.”
“Saw me what?”
“Beat that man up. Savulage. The beer can, kick to the ribs. I saw the whole thing”
Fisher flinched. He couldn't disguise his surprise. He tried to buy some time.
“I don't know what you're talking about.” But it was no use. He could tell by her eyes. Damn. Now what? “You say anything to anyone?”
“Did I say anything to that cop? It was none of my business.”
Fisher felt sweat trickling down the back of his shirt. He was considering to get up and go make a run for it. On the track below, the gate was pulling away from the field of trotters in the feature.
“And they're off,” called the track announcer.
“We've got number five, Perdido,” said Jo.
“We do?” She pushed the program towards him with a red circle around the horse's name. “Perdido,” thought Fisher trying to remember from high-school Spanish if it meant “lust”, or "lost".
“I made the bet before you got here. I put down some money for you. Don't worry. You can pay me back.” She reached her hand out for Fisher. Before he realized it he had put his in hers.
Her grip was warm and tight. She turned to watch the race while she slowly and firmly squeezed his hand. “C'mon baby,” she said. “C'mon.”
Fisher lit the third candle while wishing he had paid his electric bill after all. The place was sad and dark, not even any music to listen to, but Jo didn't seem to mind as she leaned against the blank wall watching him. “It's like a cathedral,” she said.
She was drinking the last of the champagne they bought on the way from the track. Mums, the best they could find in the piss smelling liquor mart on Broadway. But she tilted the juice glass back as far as it would go, savoring the last drop like it was Dom Perignon. Then she smiled. Fisher reached for her, running his fingers through her hair. It was thick and soft, so soft he couldn't stop.
“I wanted to do this since I first saw you.”
“A room full of all those losers and then you walked in.”
“And what did you think?”
Fisher smiled thinking of her breasts moving beneath her shirt when she sat. He ran his finger down her shoulder, back in junior-high behind the back stop.
“Trust me?” Fisher asked.
Jo's lips parted slightly which he took for a “yes” as he lowered his hand to her breast. It was firm and full, the size of his palm, and he squeezed. He squeezed it again, and again. She arched her head back and moaned, moving her hand between his legs. He moved his other hand under her dress and inside her thighs. She was pantiless and he slid two fingers inside her. She opened her legs so he could push deep and deeper.
He carried her backwards and they fell onto the bed. She was biting his lip as he pulled the top of her dress freeing her breasts.
When she was completely naked, Fisher stopped for a moment to look at her. “You are magnificent.”
“Fuck me,” she whispered. She wrapped her legs around so tightly that if he had been a grape she would have made wine.