Friday, December 25, 2009
Fisher had to wait for more than an hour outside the office, but he didn't care. He just wanted the job. In all his life he had never wanted a job this badly. He couldn't account for all the years he had wasted skating by, years of not given a shit. That was history. Today he needed to work. He needed to prove his worth to his wife and to their baby growing inside of her. The revolution starts now. Phillip's freckled face poked out from behind the door.
“Sorry to keep you out there so long, Fish,” said Phillips.
“No problem, Red.”
The office, like Phillips, was small and neat. The computer monitor's screen saver showed a photo of a red haired young man in uniform and Fisher remembered hearing that Phillip's son was in the service.
“How's your boy, Red?”
“Good, Fish, thanks for asking. How are things at the restaurant? Keep meaning to come on over.”
“The restaurant is fine. But I have no business working there. You know it, I know it, the customers certainly know it. Am I really the one you want to talk to if you think your fish is overcooked?”
“I guess not,” Phillips said with a laugh.
“I'm a sportswriter. That's what I've always been, and I think I'm pretty good at it.”
“You are, Fish. There's never been any question about that.”
“I want to get back to work, Red.”
Phillips rolled a pen in circles on his desk and pursed his lips as if he was about to whistle "Dixie".
“The trouble is, Fish, there's not much to offer you. I mean there's work, but not what you're qualified for.”
“I'll take whatever you got.”
Phillips continued to roll the pen.
“Well, at best it'd be high school ball, mainly. Time to time some Junior College.”
“That's fine,” said Fisher. “Whatever you got.”
“And the pay... not what your used to.”
“It's fine. It's the work. I want to work.”
Phillips rolled the pen off the desk. “Here's the thing, Fish,” said Phillips bending down to retreive the ballpoint. “We've known one another, what?”
“So we know that I know all about... the past. What's done is done and I shouldn't have to give you any lectures about 'just do the damn job.'”
“So the ponies...”
“It's not gonna be a problem. That's... no more.”
Phillips rolled the pen again, a pointer on a wheel of fortune. Finally he snatched the pen and said “All right, Fish. You've got yourself a job”
“Yeah. You telling me I'm making a mistake?”
“No,” Fisher laughed. “I'm... that's great.. Thanks Red, thanks.” Fisher reached across the desk and shook Phillips hand.”
“You still drink, right?”
“All right.” Phillips pulled a bottle of Johnny Black from his desk drawer and filled two football stenciled shot glasses. “Hey, didn't I hear you got married?”
“Yeah, well. What can I tell you?” Fisher said nothing about the pregnancy. He and Jo were keeping it quiet until after the amniocentesis.
“That's great, Fish.”
Beyond checking how much time was left before the next race, Fisher never thought about the future. He never considered the singularity of his life, he never considered the consequences either for himself or anyone left in its wake. He was like a cat, he lived in the immediate, he dealt with the needs right in front of his face. He leapt from the stove when it got hot, only worrying about where to land when in mid-air. If he had lost some of his nine lives along the way, he wasn't counting. But it was different with Jo. She was the first person he wanted to share with, the first he'd come running home to with his catch still in his mouth. He wanted her to be proud of him, he wanted to see her smile.
For the first time, he was thinking ahead. He was thinking about what is was going to be like to be a family, to come home from work and tell Jo what had happened, what he saw, what he wrote. He was thinking how now he wasn't alone in life, how he had someone to lean on through the bad times, someone to laugh with about the odd, and someone to celebrate with when fortune shone; “The normal life.”
A step up in class, thought the detective, looking at the two tiered restaurant. Mrs. Landy had made out all right. Paduano wiped his brow with a handkerchief. He was sweating like a pig. Once before he'd been in Florida in summer, and he'd soaked through a week's worth of shirts in two days. He packed double this time.
His police chief told him “It's a closed-case, Paduano. They're small potatoes. Stop wasting the department's time and money.” Maybe the chief was right about the size, but a rotten potato was still rotten. Two witnesses has reported seeing a grey-green Chevy turn on to Shore Drive at one-thirty the morning of Landy's “accident.” Mrs. Landy's phone call, recorded on the answering machine, corresponded to that time. A mere coincidence everyone agreed. Everyone except Paduano. The cop son of a cop, Paduano didn't believe in coincidence.
On the recorded call, Mrs. Landy was heard asking Jack Landy when he was coming to the party. But all of the Edgar's staff Paduano spoke to said everyone knew that Landy was never coming to the party. More than likely the call was a signal to whomever Mrs. Landy was working with. Never for a moment did Paduano believe Jo wasn't neck deep in her husband's demise. Look at this new place, this double-decked "Sloop John B". Clearly she had benefited from the turn of events. And now she was married to a former Rosehill sports reporter named David Fisher who, like like Mrs. Landy, appeared to have an air-tight alibi. Spent the night in the sack with his editor. His car didn't match the description of the Chevy. But now a car matching the description had turned up. It had taken a month to trace down the previous car ownership, and if the owner was in Florida, Paduano was going to find her, regardless of what “a wild goose chase” his chief thought of the whole business. He wiped his face one more time and walked up the stairs to the restaurant.
When he saw the stocky man sitting at the bar with Jo eating a of plate hush-puppies, Fisher immediately thought “cop”. But before he could discretely back out the door, the man turned and looked Fisher in the eye.
“Fish, this is Detective Paduano, from Rosehill,” said Jo. This is my husband, David Fisher.”
Fisher put the flowers and champagne on the bar and shook hands.
“Hello, Detective. Long way from home.”
“Yeah,” said Paduano. “Forget how warm it is here. My blood's too thick.”
Yeah, that and stuffing you face with free fried food, thought Fisher. Deep down where fear never completely disappears he knew eventually someone was going to show up; why the fuck did it have to be today? Christ. Time to play dumb.
“Here on vacation?”
“No, I'm following up on Jack Landy's, uh, accident.”
“Oh, I thought that had all been...”
“No.” Paduano finished the last hush-puppy and washed it down with a gulp of Bart's root beer. “Excuse me,” he said. “Weakness of mine, fried food. I've got the cholesterol of a sperm whale.” He wiped his face with a napkin. “I was bringing Mrs. Landy...
“Mrs. Fisher,” Fisher corrected.
“I'm sorry, Mrs. Fisher... I was bringing Mrs. Fisher up to date on some new information concerning the car.”
“What car?” asked Fisher.
“The grey-green Chevy Malibu that was seen driving out of the restaurant lot the night of the accident,” said Paduano.
“We were never able to chase anything down,” Paduano continued. “But last month a car matching the description was reported in a minor traffic accident. We were able to trace back the ownership of the car to the night of Mr. Landy's accident.”
“Huh,” said Fisher.
“The car was registered to a Robin Grant, of Sugarloaf Shores, Florida.”
"Robin Grant?" Fisher looked at Jo. "Do you know a Robin Grant?"
"No," she said.
"I'm sorry. You probably want to talk to Jo about it."
“That's all right,” Paduano said. “I'm about finished for now.”
A small cabin cruiser slowly motored along the inlet as Fisher walked with Paduano back to his white rent-a-car in the marina parking lot. Jo had left them to take a call with someone from the buildings department.
“You the David Fisher used to write for the Dispatch?”
“I thought so. You covered my kid on the basketball team at Rosehill. Jimmy Paduano. He was a sophomore then. That old fart Coach Reed mostly made him ride the pine.”
“Yeah, he came off the bench and scored eleven in the second half against Lakewood.”
“I remember,” Fisher lied.
“You spelled his name wrong.”
“That's O.K., they always get it wrong.” Paduano smiled at Fisher; just a couple of Rosehillians talking sports a thousand miles from Nassau county. “I spoke to your editor at the Dispatch, Claire Richardson.”
“You did? Why?”
“Oh, I saw that your name came up as a co-owner of this restaurant.”
“Uh huh. Yeah.” So what, thought Fisher, but he didn't say it.
“Ms. Richardson said you'd been fired.”
“Too bad. I liked the way you wrote.”
“Well, I'm working down here. The Palmetto Star. Maybe I can get you a subscription.”
“Mrs. Richardson said you knew Jack Landy?”
“Knew? I don't know about that. I met him once or twice doing an article about his golf.”
“And... his wife?”
“I met her when I was doing the article. What are you getting at?”
“Ah, don't worry. Ms. Richardson told me you were staying at her house on Westview, Thanksgiving night.”
“That's right. Listen, I thought that thing with Landy had all been closed.”
“Umm.” Paduano kicked at the tire of his car. “The department, the County for that matter, made a judgment based on the evidence at hand. But...” He looked at Fisher. “...there's always been some un-answered questions.”
“Well, anytime a man gets knocked down in a freezer there are some questions.”
“What do you mean 'gets knocked down' ?”
“You said 'anytime a man gets knocked down in a freezer.'”
“Did I? Huh.” Paduano was like a fisherman waiting for his fish to catch itself. “I meant 'knocks himself down'. Sounds funny, doesn't it? Anyway you say it. 'Man knocks himself down'.
“What do you mean?”
“Well... He owns the place, he walks in the freezer every day without knocking himself unconscious. Suddenly one day he forgets?”
“So what are you saying? You saying it wasn't an accident?”
“I don't know. Just being a cop.” They stood in suddenly tense silence broken only by the sound of boat motor revving from the marina.
“Did I tell you my kid is starting now?”
“Yeah, he's the second leading scorer. Twelve-point-two points-per-game. The Dispatch has got a girl covering the games now, can you believe it?
“Least she spells 'Paduano' right.”
Fisher climbed the office walls waiting for Jo to finish her call with the building inspector. Out of nowhere this God damn car and this gum-on-your-shoe cop.
“Yes, I sent the original to you Friday,” Jo said to the inspector.
“Get off the phone, Jo,” Fisher was shouting at her in his head. “We need to talk. Get off the fucking phone!”
“No. I'm sure it was the original. Could you check on that? Great. Thanks. Right. Good-bye.” Jo hung up.
“Robin Grant? Who the fuck is Robin Grant? Nobody, right.”
“I should have told you,” said Jo.
“Told me? Told me what?”
“That's Sarah,” said Jo.
“Robin Grant. That's Sarah, Sarah Dupre or whatever she was calling herself.”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute. You're telling me Sarah was driving outside of Edgar's that night?”
“Her car was.”
“What? You're saying she saw me come out?”
“I don't know, Fish. They told me there was a car, somebody saw a car on Shore Drive. They never said it was her car, they never said that until today.”
“I don't understand. What the hell would she be doing there?”
“She's... She's the one I used to trash the, you know... after I lost all that money. She's the one who helped me fake the break-in at Edgar's.”
“Her! You used her?”
“Who would you have used? Someone from the Rotary?”
“And what. You paid her?”
“Of course I paid her.”
“What do you mean of course? How do I know?”
“Jo, I'm just trying to understand. You said you paid her. How many times did you have to pay her?
“A couple of times.”
“What? Two? Three?”
“I paid her after. And then I paid one other time.”
“When she needed some money.”
“What did you expect me to do?”
“Every time she needs money...”
“Fish, She kept her mouth shut.”
“Are you sure?”
“You heard the detective. He doesn't even know who she is.”
“He knows she owned a God damn grey-green Malibu that was outside of Edgar's on Thanksgiving night. What the hell was she doing there?”
“I don't know. Maybe she was stoned, or drunk... Maybe she wasn't even in the car.”
“Then who the hell was? Come on. It had to be her. You know what she wants, don't you? She wants more money, more money to keep her mouth shut. That's why she's here.”
“Who's here? Sarah?”
“You've seen Sarah in Manatee?”
“Where did you see her?”
“I ran into her at the track.”
“The track? When? You didn't tell me about it. When did you see her, Fish?”
“It was when you were... when you were giving me all that shit about the bounced checks and...”
“Did you fuck her?”
“What! Where did that come from?”
“When you came home with the flowers? You fucked her.”
“Not at all.”
“Jesus, Fish! What, you won a race, then you, you... Jesus Christ, do you sleep with everyone you win a race with?”
“I'm not fucking anybody. She told me she was living down here. Going to... I don't know. Clown college. Some shit. I had no idea about you paying her off. None.”
“You should've told me, Fish.”
“I had no idea you were paying her off. She was just some twat at the track. I swear to fucking God”
“You see her again?”
“No! No. Just that one day. Ran into her, hello, and that was it.”
“Paduano must think she's here.”
“Why? Did he say something?”
“No. But he didn't come all the way from Rosehill just to ask about a car.”
“He doesn't think it was an accident.”
“He said that?”
“He said 'he's always had questions'.”
“If he finds Sarah... Do you know where she's staying?”
“Me? Why would I know where she's staying?”
The phone rang, Jo let the answering machine pick up.
“You tell her about the Sloop?”
“No. I didn't tell her a thing.”
“Oh God, Fish. What are we going to do?"
"Nothing. We calm down. Car gets in an accident, everyone goes a little ape shit."
"Fish, you don't know this detective."
"I know him."
"No, you have no idea. He's going to stick his nose in every hole from here to Rosehill."
“The case is closed and he's got nothing. He comes all the way down here, he doesn't have the car, doesn't have Sarah. He doesn't have a thing.”
The phone rang again, Jo hearing it was the building department, picked it up. “Hello, this is Jo Landy.”
“Fisher,” thought Fisher. “Jo Fisher”. Couldn't anyone get it right?