Jack Davenport ’s truck was upside down in the creek, facing back the way it had come when it had left the highway, the passenger side submerged in three feet of water, the driver’s side bathed in floodlights. Two rescue squad ambulances idled beside the road. They got there and the person they’d come to rescue was dead, Conor was thinking, and even though there wasn’t a thing for them to do, they didn’t just turn around and head back to the station. There was too much adrenalin to burn off, and they did that by standing in clumps, chatting with volunteer firemen, extra county cops and everyone else who didn’t have any reason to be there. Eventually a command post would coalesce and some of them would be sent away. Conor scanned the area for cameras or notebooks. He glanced at his watch and tried to remember if he owed Christian a favor.
Conor looked over at Gardner, tilted his head toward the bank. The chief shook his head. “It’s an investigation scene, Jim.”
“What does it look like?”
“You’ve seen what I have.”
Which was a State Police team, three or four it looked like, taking pictures and measurements and giving orders to a couple of county cops. They wore boots and stepped carefully. It was mud time. Snowmelt was coming down from West Virginia and their feet made sucking sounds on the creek’s edge. “In every print of a hoof, a pond,” Conor said.
“Sorry. A poem about muddy weather. Was he drinking?”
Gardner shrugged. “We’re asking around. He’d had dinner at the club.”
Gardner watched quietly. He could have gone down the bank and taken over, but part of his authority rested in the way he trusted his men. Someone would come up and tell him when there was something to report. Conor wanted to climb down the bank right then. Lawyers weren’t as patient as cops, he guessed.
“When’s the last time somebody went over here?”
“Last fall. A couple of kids after a football game.”
“The Martin girl?”
“I hear she’s doing OK.”
“It was a big deal even when I was in high school. You weren’t a man till you could come down that hill and whip around here without hitting the brakes.”
“I’d just as soon everybody stayed a boy then.”
Conor couldn’t think of anything to say to that. Gardner spoke into his collar again, then they waited some more. After a while, one of the state men climbed up the bank and spoke quietly with the chief. A wrecker had joined the scene, its yellow revolving light blending with the blue and red from the police and rescue vehicles. Conor understood they needed to slow traffic, but wondered if they could have done without the rainbow. The different colored lights clashed and merged on the trees and vehicles along the road, but got lost in the metallic glare of the floods around the wrecked truck.
Conor paced as the evening grew chillier. One of the ambulances left, and he chatted with the crew from the other. They didn’t know who was in the truck yet. It was past ten-thirty when Gardner came over to tell him, “They’re almost done down there. Will you want a look?”
“Yeah, I should. I’m gonna call the C-A.”
Gardner made a face, glanced down the bank. “OK. Let them call me.”
Conor unfolded his cell phone, extended the antenna. He dialed Christian’s direct line and got voice-mail. He tried the main newsroom line.
“I need to talk to Mike Christian.”
“Can I say who’s calling?”
“If he misses this call, he’ll fire you.”
The voice on the other end hesitated, sighed. The phone beeped, gave the soulless buzz of hold. Conor watched as the ambulance crew began lowering equipment down the bank on ropes tied to a winch on the back of their truck.
“This is Mike Christian.”
“Do you owe me any favors?”
“Oh. Jeb said you were really rude. Did he tell you I’m on deadline?”
“You’re about to owe me a favor.”
“Not if I hang up.”
“Would I call at this hour if it was something you’d hang up over.”
“I’ve got ten minutes for art, 45 for copy. It better be good.”
Conor looked at the floodlit truck, wondered what was good. “Davenport’s dead. He wrecked his truck.”
“Call the PD, they’ll patch you to Gardner. He’s out here.”
“Mill Pond Road. You probably know the curve.”
“Past the fire station?”
“What’s it look like?” Conor thought the question sounded odd. He’d asked it of Gardner an hour ago, but it hadn’t meant the same thing.
“I think there’s still good pictures,” Conor said.
“What does this do to the campaign?”
Conor had been trying not to get to that.
“I can’t talk to you about that yet.”
“It’s going in the story.”
“Yeah. Jack was going to pay for most of the campaign.”
“Most of it?”
“I don’t really know the numbers. I was meeting with Jack and Charles Wednesday night to work on details.”
“Fine. You know you could have called earlier?”
“I gotta work with these people.”
“OK. Oh, by the way, what the hell happened with you and Wilson?”
“Be that way. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Thanks.”
Conor let the squad loan him some boots and lower him down the bank. In summer they could have walked it, but it was too slick and muddy now. The chill promised a frost and maybe a light freeze by morning. Conor had a fireman’s jacket over his suit to keep him warm. He could smell rubber and mud. He hoped to get down and back before Christian’s photographer got there.
The squad guys had the body in a bag by the time he got there. With a weird formality none of them could have explained, they’d left it unzipped far enough for him to see Davenport’s face. They’d closed the eyes. Conor tried to find the right cliché but it didn’t work. Davenport didn’t look asleep. He didn’t look natural. He looked dead. The floods blew the color out of everything but there wouldn’t have been any left in Davenport’s face anyway.
Monday morning he’d met Davenport at a photographer’s studio near downtown to look at campaign photos. Davenport had posed at two studios, then asked Conor to ride with him to pick out a good shot. Conor thought they all pretty much looked alike, except that in some of them Davenport showed the obvious discomfort of a man who didn’t like to be photographed and in some he didn’t. He wasn’t necessarily handsome, but he had a no-nonsense kind of face. Impatient until it cracked with laughter, angry until he smiled with the satisfaction of solving a problem. He’d been to a hair stylist on Saturday, just to be safe, but couldn’t tell any difference from his usual haircuts. He’d bought a new suit and asked the saleswoman to recommend a necktie. He was ready to buy it all. The suit, the look, the election. He had the money.
Now he’d be buried in the suit.
Conor recommended a photo that showed Davenport looking sideways into the camera, with an expression on his face that could be laughter or anger in a second. Davenport held the photo by a corner, squinted at it, looked at Conor to see if he was kidding. “You’re sure?”
“That’s the one, Jack.”
“I look like a goddamned Realtor!”
It was a voice for construction sites and garages. The photographer rocked back on his heels, pulling away from Davenport, who ignored him as he looked to Conor, holding the photo between them. Conor wanted to laugh but then the photographer would have relaxed.
“That’s the one, Jack. I wouldn’t lie to you about something like that.”
“All right. You’ll set things up with the printer?”
“I’ll get somebody to handle it.”
Conor looked at the zipper just below knot of the necktie and wondered what damage was hidden in the bag. Enough to kill him obviously. Not that it mattered. It wasn’t Davenport any more. Just his face in a bag.
“The lurking frost in the earth beneath … will steal forth after the sun is set, And show on the water its crystal teeth.” One of those many Frost poems he hadn’t understood when he first read them. Now it came back to him with the kind of clarity you only get when someone is born or dies. Death would steal forth and bite when you weren’t looking. So many thoughts about Jack lately – buildings, money, votes – everything but this.
“Jim . . .”
Gardner was leaning over him. The squad members were starting to look restless. Conor reached out and pulled the zipper closed. He stood up and took a step back as the crew began hoisting the load onto a gurney of some sort.
“How long had you known him?” Gardner asked quietly.
“Summers in college. We both worked for Charles at the lumberyard.”
He somehow noticed another light in the mix. A strobe. A photographer fired a couple more frames, then looked for a way to climb down. Nobody was offering to help.
“Did somebody call from the paper?”
“Yeah. I talked to them.”
“You talk to the mayor yet?”
“No. You better do that.”
“They’re still meeting?”
“They just finished. Dennis is still there. He asked Mayor West to stick around.”
“I’ll need a ride back.”
Mayor wasn’t a full-time job, but Charles West got an office anyway. It had a desk, and a phone, and a window on Main Street. He stared out that window now, tracking with vacant eyes the occasional car going by.
“We can still win this campaign,” he said.
“We won’t talk about that until after the funeral.”
“When’s that gonna be?”
“That’s gonna be up to his kids, I guess.”
“I don’t know how it works.”
“Barbara might have some say.”
“She’s remarried, Charles.”
“Still. I guess if the others split their vote . . .”
“I don’t think they’ll vote on it.”
“I mean Zaner and the Wilson woman.”
“Not till after the funeral. Let’s bury him first.”
West had his arms crossed over his chest. A slight sigh, a flinch, and he was hugging himself instead. Conor looked away, watched a tendril of ivy hanging from a potted plant on a bookcase, swaying almost imperceptibly in a draft from somewhere. Another car went by. West tracked it with his eyes.
“Council Hopeful Dies On Mill Curve”
The byline on the story said Jeb David. Bullshit, Conor thought. Mike Christian either wrote this or rewrote it so hard all he kept was the kid’s spelling.
“Smithy’s City Council race was thrown into uncertainty Tuesday night with the death of developer Jack Davenport, who was prepared to use his personal fortune in a come-from-behind bid for a council seat.
“Davenport crashed at a curve on Mill Pond Road, the site of five fatalities over the past 15 years.”
Conor stopped reading as he noticed the photograph. The council meeting was detailed on one side of it, Jack’s death on the other. The middle of the page was taken up with a photo of him raising his hand to catch Betty Wilson’s picket. “Election Discussion?” read the overline.
“Insurgent City Council candidate Betty Wilson swings her picket sign at Councilman Jim O’Connor during a demonstration at City Hall before a council meeting Tuesday night. O’Connor and Wilson both refused to discuss the altercation in detail. O’Connor called the confrontation an ‘election discussion.’”
Conor looked at the picture again, at Betty Wilson’s expression. Her surprise as she lost control of her sign could easily look like anger. It was the makeup. It removed all subtleties from her look. Every time her face moved or changed expressions, large clusters of color shifted. His own face wasn’t visible. Just his hand, raised to catch the sign, looking like he was warding off a blow. No wonder the cop came closer. In retrospect, Conor was glad the officer had shown the prudence not to step in.
Conor laid the paper down on his desk. He wanted to go back to the couch. But then he’d wanted to go home instead of to the council meeting the night before. Then none of this would have happened. No, he just wouldn’t have known about it. The photograph of him and Wilson, a freakish coda to the night before, left him vaguely disoriented. Maybe if what was in the caption didn’t happen, then neither did the rest of it: walking Charles West home, deciding to come back to the office himself, falling asleep on the couch again.
He knew better. It had all happened. And it was seven in the morning and he’d finally gone to sleep at three. And that wasn’t enough rest to deal with the list of things he needed to do this morning. He picked up a pencil and made notes on a legal pad. Make coffee. Check. It was brewing now. Calls to make: Karen, Suzie, Betty, Christian, Gardner, Charles, Marlin Waters. Some of them he should have made last night, to let people know before the paper did. But he hadn’t. Maybe the picture of him and Wilson was his punishment for that.
He looked at the list and reached for the phone, then decided he’d have a cup of coffee first. He brought it back to the desk and sat for a moment with his eyes closed, letting the steam warm his nose. He took a sip and dialed Karen’s number.
“Karen. Listen, I’ve got some bad news.”
“Jack? It was on the news here.”
“Oh, god, I’m sorry. I didn’t know they’d have it that fast.”
“It’s OK. Are you all right?”
“I’m not sure. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
“Do you want me to come up?”
“Let’s find out when the funeral is first. I haven’t talked to anybody yet.”
“I’ll let the Hodges know I may have to take off. They said on the news they didn’t know if Jack had been drinking.”
Nobody ever knows, Conor thought. “I think they have to ask,” Conor said. “I’m not sure what’s going on yet. Does Jamie know?”
“I haven’t woken him up yet. He didn’t really know Jack that well, did he?”
“I guess not. Charles, yes, but Jack didn’t come around that much.”
“No. Do you want to tell Jamie?”
“It’s better in person.”
“OK. Call me later, Jim.”
“Tell the secretary who you are.”
“OK. I love you.”
“You too. Bye.”
She hadn’t asked about the politics. He wondered if she just hadn’t thought of it yet. He hadn’t thought it through, but there was something West had said. If Wilson and Zaner split their vote. Did that make sense? He wasn’t sure. He needed to not think about that until after the funeral. Bury Jack first. Make the calls.
“Oh, dear God, Jimmy, nobody wanted anything like this.”
“I know that, Betty.”
“The paper said you were out at the curve. Did he … oh, I don’t know how to ask this.”
“It was probably instant,” he said, with no idea if he was telling the truth. He didn’t know anything about the injuries the bag hid, didn’t really know what had killed Jack.
“Betty, I need to ask you about something else.”
“Not the picture, Jim. I don’t know what they were thinking, and I didn’t refuse to talk to anybody. The way they just make things up is terrible. Can’t you do anything?”
“It might have been a real thin boy. Tie but no jacket, looked about fourteen years old.”
“Him? Is he old enough to work for the newspaper?”
“What did he ask you?”
“Let me remember. Something about you. Whether I was going to apologize to you.”
“Did he say for what?”
“I didn’t ask.”
“Well, what did you say?”
“Oh, Jimmy, you know me, I was just playing with him, he looked so young.”
“I told him I’d rather have to apologize to your wife. But I don’t think he understood what I meant.”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t. Especially with a campaign going on.” His sports coat, some kind of yellowish silk thing, was hanging on a chair. He looked at it, imagined a multi-colored smudge down the front, closed his eyes.
“Well at least you’re laughing. Well, I’m just gonna call Mike Christian and tell him . . .”
“Don’t call him. Don’t do anything.”
“Nothing until we bury Jack,” Conor said.
“Nothing. What do you mean? Can’t I even . . .”
“Betty. Suspend anything related to the campaign until the day after Jack’s funeral.”
“But, Jimmy, what about . . .”
“Suspend anything related to the campaign until the day after Jack’s funeral.”
“But will you . . .”
“Anything related to the campaign, Betty. I mean it. Charles will do the same thing.”
“You’re sure? Have you talked to him?”
“I’ll take care of it. Will you call Zaner?”
“There’s no need to get mean about it. What if we don’t?”
“Betty, you can hit me with a stick, but some things I’ll take personal.”
She should apologize to my wife, and me, for that laugh, he thought.
“Well, since you put it that way. Till the day after the funeral.”
“You know I’m gonna have a harder time talking Cathy into it that I am Bill. You’re gonna owe me one.”
“Cathy Chandler. She doesn’t seem to like you for some reason.” Again the laugh.
“Some people take their politics more seriously, Betty. Or more personally. Thanks again.”
He looked at the jacket again. It was chirping. He dug the cell phone out of the inside pocket, glanced at the battery marker.
“Hello, this is Jim Conor.”
“Jim. Gary Linden . I tried you at home.”
“Yeah. I’m at my office. I slept here.”
“Bob said you took Mayor West home.”
“I did. I hope he sleeps all day.”
“He’s known Jack a long time. And he was counting on him in the campaign.”
“Listen, Jim,” the city manager began, then paused for a few seconds. “I sometimes have little things that come up where I’d call Charles to get a sense of council. I don’t know if he’ll be up to that for the next couple of days.”
“Well, Gary, Brad Sizemore is the vice mayor.”
“Is it OK to use this number?”
“Yeah, I’ll keep it with me. Gary, can you have somebody check on the funeral arrangements and let everybody know.”
“Sure. Is there anything else?”
“Who else have you talked to this morning?”
“Just you and Bob.”
“Do all the council members know?”
“I called them after Bob called me last night.”
“I’ll be downtown later. Will you be there?”
“I’ll call you if I have to leave.”
That was odd, Conor thought. He hadn’t talked to the city manager half a dozen times in the past year. But then everybody had his own way of dealing with unexpected death. And a lot of people felt like they had to do something. That would be me, he thought. He looked at the list on his legal pad. What would happen if I didn’t make these calls? What would not happen? Isn’t somebody out there doing something right now? An autopsy, and informing family and everything that needed to be done? Conor had called a preacher last night, from a Presbyterian church where Davenport gave more money than time. The police still had the body.
He’d make the calls anyway.
Cathy Chandler grunted something into the phone. She hoped it sounded like hello.
“Cathy, it’s Betty. Are you awake?”
“Aw’most. What’ime isit?”
“Cathy, wake up and listen, this is important.”
She untangled sheets and phone cord, sat up in bed, squinted at the clock. What could possibly have happened at seven-thirty in the morning that was worth calling her over? “Cathy, I found out where Jim Conor went last night. And why Davenport wasn’t at the meeting. Are you awake yet?”
“Yeah. Betty, can’t this wait?”
“Jack Davenport’s dead.”
“What? Who killed him?”
“What makes you think somebody killed him?”
“Well, didn’t they? Somebody’s been mad at him since I came to town. He didn’t die in his sleep, did he?”
“No, Cathy, it was a car wreck.”
“Oh, God. And Jim Conor was with him. How bad was he hurt?”
“No, Jimmy went with the police chief to the wreck. That’s why he left the meeting.”
Jimmy? “Start over, Betty.”
“Jack Davenport was killed in a car wreck last night. Jim Conor left the meeting to go look at the wreck.”
“OK. We ought to put out a statement. Sympathy or something.”
“No, I’ve already talked to Bill. We’re just going to say we’re suspending the campaign until after the funeral.”
“Whose idea was that?”
“Well. . . Jim Conor asked me.”
“What? Jim Conor’s running the campaign now?”
“No. It’s just for a couple of days, Cathy.”
Cathy Chandler fumbled on the bedside table for a cigarette, then remembered she’d quit. Maybe she could start again until after the election.
“Oh, OK. I guess it doesn’t matter now, does it? I guess Conor will have to get used to that, huh?”
“Used to what?”
“Deciding stuff like that.”
“I’m not following you, Cathy.”
“Well, I mean, who else is there?”
“Lord, I don’t know. That’s probably the kind of thing we’re not supposed to think about until after the funeral.”
“Is he already telling us what we can think?”
“You really don’t like him, do you, honey?”
“Let me wake up, Betty. I’ll call you later.”
Hard Knox, he’d once heard Davenport call it. Knox Presbyterian Church rose like a rock-pile over downtown, having just a bit more definition, Conor noted. He suspected the same dour Scots had designed, or at least envisioned, most of the buildings downtown. City Hall, the Knox rock-pile, a four-story bank that somehow managed to dominate the square and still look short. Davenport had wanted to build an eight-story glass and steel office building a block away, overshadowing the bank, the square, the rock-piles. He was characteristically livid with the zoning administrator who told him he couldn’t do it. Conor always wondered if the building would have come up again two years into Davenport’s council term. They’d never know now.
“So that’s Cathy Chandler?” Karen said as they mounted the front steps.
“Yeah, that’s her. She’s information officer or campaign manager or something for the POP candidates.” Jim Conor tried not to watch his wife’s face as they made their way into the church. It was easier that way to keep a solemn and compassionate expression on his own.
“I wonder if they all helped her into that dress.”
“Well, at least she does a better job on makeup than Betty. Which one’s Bill Zaner?”
Conor scanned the rows of people already gathering in the pews. “I don’t see him. Maybe his formal safari shirt is at the cleaners.”
“Meow to you. I feel like everybody’s staring at me. But this is supposed to be about Jack, isn’t it?”
“Trust me, he’d be staring, too.”
“Not with that woman in the church, he wouldn’t.”
Conor wasn’t going to look. He and Karen found it slow going to the front of the church. They had to ask her how Richmond was - fine, thank you. Whether Jamie would be there - he’s with my mom. Then they had to express their sympathy to Conor. It was funny, he hadn’t expected that many people to realize he was friends with Jack. They didn’t hang out in public together, or go to the same church. Until the campaign, he hadn’t seen that much of Davenport for a few years. They’d both been busy. Maybe everybody was coming to him because he was the one doing the eulogy. Charles West wasn’t really up to it. Besides, Mike Christian had told him if the mayor spoke more than briefly it became a campaign event. Conor pointed out that he hadn’t complained too loudly about the photograph, and left the newsroom with both of them pretending they had some kind of agreement.
“You’re a star,” Karen whispered as they took a seat in the front row.
“Only because I’m with an out-of-town celebrity,” he whispered back.
“Or because you’re a local one. How many of these people did you go to high school with?”
“A lot of them. Not Jack, though. He lived in the county.”
“A lot of friends, though.”
“A lot of acquaintances.”
“How come I never met them?”
They were chatting in broken cadences, punctuated with handshakes and small talk.
“Because you were busy with Jamie, then school, we didn’t go to church much, I was working all the time, and you never really liked it here.”
“OK, now I remember.”
“You probably know more people in Richmond.”
She held his hand during the preacher’s remarks and the hymns. He missed most of it, thinking about what he would say. West spoke briefly, remembering Davenport and introducing Conor.
“I had two boys working at my lumberyard a couple of summers twenty-some years ago. I would have been proud to call either one of them my son, and I was looking forward to working with the two of them again.” Easy, old man, this is supposed to be non-political. “Well, that’s not going to happen now. But I’m still proud of the way both of them turned out, and I’m proud to bring one of them up here to give the other one a good send-off.
“We don’t always know what’s going to happen, hard as we might try. There’s no poll to tell us when our Maker’s going to want us back, and no newspaper to tell us why he did. But I do believe there’s a reason for everything. And I hope it’s not too presumptuous of me to believe that it just wasn’t Jack’s time to move into the leadership role we all thought he’d been getting ready for. And that maybe this was the Lord’s way of telling us it was somebody else’s time.
“I’m not quite ready to move on, but if I do, it’s good to know that Smithy will always produce people who’ll step forward when they’re needed.
“Jim Conor will deliver the eulogy.”
Karen squeezed his hand. What was that all about? Conor wondered as he approached the podium. The Lord wanted POP to win, but West still wasn’t giving up? Conor hoped the reporters wouldn’t make too much of it.
Conor pulled out his notes and scanned the crowd. West had returned to the front pew with the other council members and their wives. Brad Sizemore looked dumbfounded, Simon Pershing prepared to nod off with the same quiet dignity with which he dozed at council meetings. Marlin Waters held his head just so, like a man who thought everybody in the room was looking at him, or ought to be. Bill Zaner had come in and was with Betty Wilson and Cathy Chandler. She met his gaze and he noted that the dress did fit well.
“Two hundred and sixty five years ago, Thomas Ashur set up a blacksmith shop beside a spring at the intersection of a wagon path and an Indian trail. In time he added a store and an inn. He was the first of many who would come to this spot to build and to help the community grow.
“Smithy grew to become the center of a farming area filling the fertile ground between two mountain ranges. And later it grew as young men and women came here to study at a great and growing state university. Always there were those who weren’t sure that growth was a good thing, but always there were those who knew that to grow, you had to build. Jack Davenport was one of those.”
He watched Wilson stiffen and sit up in her pew. Well, by God, he had them now.
“Jack began with a couple of bulldozers and a vacant lot on what was then the edge of town. I remember it well. It was one of my first closings as an attorney. And when I screwed up the title search, Jack came down to the law offices of Johnson and Whirt, went into Donnie Whirt’s office and said, ‘Oh dear, I wish my good friend Jim hadn’t made these small errors.’
Laughter began to roll through the church as those who knew Davenport’s famous temper filled in the blanks. He noticed a few leaning to their neighbors to give their own best guesses.
“Or words to that effect,” he went on. He glanced at Karen. She wasn’t laughing. Her look was almost one of sadness. He’d have to worry about that later.
Conor described Davenport’s pride in his children, fudging over the fact that there were two sets, and three wives in all. He told of the man’s dedication to quality as a builder - without mentioning the story that he’d once punched a customer who wanted him to use cheaper lumber. Not that the story was right, but still. Conor paused in his remarks for a moment, looked at the front pew. That might have been Marlin Waters he’d supposedly punched. “Jack Davenport did not suffer fools gladly.” Another, more subtle ripple of laughter moved through the church. “But neither would he abandon a friend or forget a promise. He remained judgmental in non-judgmental times, certain in an unclear era. He believed not in what could be, but in what was, and never noticed that he made the two the same.” Let them mull that one for a while. “If you leave here and drive east on Commerce Street, you’ll pass Smithy’s first student housing development. When the university wanted to expand and didn’t have state money for dorms, Jack was the one who figured out that everyone won if the student housing stayed on the tax rolls. You’ll pass Westland Boulevard, a road that completed the city’s east-west bypass. Jack was the one who figured out he’d make more money than he’d lose by opening up that section to growth. You’ll pass Twin Ridge Mall, where Jack tore up the blueprints and built the way he thought it should be done, with lawyers nipping at his heels, and saved his partners a quarter-million dollars in the process.”
Conor looked around the congregation for a few seconds. Bill Zaner looked baffled, Betty Wilson looked angry - in their hearts, they were probably still running against him - and Cathy Chandler was misty-eyed. That was surprising. Simon Pershing had both hands poised on the knob of his cane, a portrait of quiet dignity except for the closed eyes.
“Jack Davenport may have been driving too fast when he died.” He ignored the murmurs. “And he may have been living too fast before he got behind the wheel.” Bob Gardner was sitting on the blood tests for some reason. He’d ask him later. “But by moving faster, Jack Davenport got where he was going a lot sooner than somebody else might have. And having arrived at a particular destination, he was ready to choose a new one. We’ll all wonder whether he would have got there. We will wonder where he would have gone if not for this tragic accident. But we’ll look in wonder at what he was able to accomplish for Smithy during the time he was with us.
“Jack Davenport was a builder, a man who bridged the gap between dreamer and do-er. Some in this church loved him, and others hated him, but nobody who dealt with him was uncertain about him. Smithy - and I - have lost a friend, and the city won’t see his like again. Vaya con dios, Jack. There won’t be another one like you.”
Conor folded his notes and slid them into the inside pocket of his jacket. It would be easy from here, he thought. There were only three steps down from the pulpit, then a quick trip across the front of the church to his pew. All he had to concentrate on was keeping his eyes facing forward, not walking too quickly. He hadn’t counted on Charles West stepping forward to shake his hand. The old man put his left hand on Conor’s shoulder, almost leaned into him for a moment. He heard the clack of a camera shutter from somewhere back in the church.
Someone took West’s elbow, helped his back to the front row. A few others had stood up. Marlin Waters stuck his hand out. They already have their picture, Conor almost said. Brad Sizemore looked like a lost puppy. Conor wondered if he should shake his hand or pat him on the head. He found himself moving more quickly, forcing his way back to his seat. At first it was just the councilmen, but now there were a few people who’d come up from the rows further back. Betty Wilson was among them. “That took guts,” she whispered, then stepped forward to hug him. Oh, well, it was a black jacket and he needed to get it cleaned anyway.
Just before he fell back into his seat he caught Mike Christian’s eye. Christian was sitting a few rows back, holding a notebook but not writing anything. He gave a slight nod that to Conor said, “Well done.” Karen’s face was harder to read. In fourteen years of marriage he hadn’t seen that precise expression before. Still the sadness, but mixed now with a touch of fear.
It felt strange leaving the casket behind as they trailed out of the church. The funeral home would move it out here, then Jim and the other pall-bearers would handle it at the cemetery. It felt like they were leaving Jack Davenport, Conor thought. But then we are, he thought, as more mourners gathered to shake his hand at the exit. He had almost as much of a crowd as the preacher, he noted. It was like the people who’d worked with Davenport needed a surrogate now that he was gone, and Conor somehow fit the bill.
West caught up with him again. The old man didn’t want to let go of him. “You made him sound like a great man, Jim.”
“Yeah, well it’s a small pond, Charles.”
“But it’s our pond, Jim. Don’t you forget that.”
“I won’t, Charles.”
“Karen, you’re looking well. City life must agree with you.”
“You’re looking good, too, Charles,” she said, deflecting the subject. “Jim said you’d sold the lumberyard.”
“Yes, it was getting to be a little much for an old man, and there’s all those new chains to compete with. Plus I was putting in a lot of time at city hall . . .” Karen led him away for a moment as his voice trailed off. Conor couldn’t help noticing the sag, and Karen’s wanting to get him out of the crowd surrounding them. He gradually worked his way through the group. He caught Karen’s eye where she stood near the steps to the choir-loft, almost sheltering Charles from the crowd. She left him with Simon Pershing and his wife and joined Conor at the door. Another group formed toward one side of the sanctuary, where Davenport’s children were greeting mourners.
“He’s taking it hard,” she said.
“You mean Jack dying?”
“You tell me.” Conor felt like he was missing something, but didn’t have time to think about it. Karen had made it out one side of the church’s main door but Marlin Waters was blocking the sunlight on his side. “Jim, I just wanted to tell you . . .”
“Yeah, Marlin. I think you told me up front. Thanks for coming.”
“Yeah, uh, look, Jim, I just wanted to remind you that we ran together and . . .”
“I remember that we ran at the same time, Marlin. I need to get to the car.”
“I just wanted to tell you, I’ve been thinking about this poll, and …”
Conor wasn’t sure where the big man was going, but he’d had enough of Waters bullying him with his bulk. Conor took a step closer, invading Waters’ space, smiling at him from a foot away. “Marlin, I’m sure you have a lot to talk about, but I’m here to bury Jack today, and that’s all I feel like talking about. Maybe you can catch up with me next week.”
He leaned just enough to let Waters know he was taking another step. Waters stepped aside and let him by, swallowing whatever he’d wanted to talk about. Conor thought about a chat with his son, telling Jamie to always remember that a bully is always a coward at heart. He hoped he didn’t have to prove it any more today. But if one more person got even a little bit in his face - Conor blinked as he came into the sunlight. When his eyes adjusted, Cathy Chandler was standing two feet in front of him.
“Councilman. I’m sorry about your friend.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Chandler. I know you mean that.”
“Actually, I use Ms. Chandler since my husband died,” she said, with a smile Conor could only classify as unnecessary. “You know, despite the politics, I don’t really feel like we’re on opposite sides.”
“I appreciate that. We’re still a small town in some ways.”
“Well, that wasn’t really what I meant. But I suppose I’ll see you again during the campaign.”
“Probably. The first debate – forum, I guess they call it – is Wednesday night at the middle school.”
“I’ll probably see you then.” She reached a hand out toward his arm, didn’t quite touch. “I’m really sorry.”
“Thank you.” Conor could see Karen standing by the cars, her opaque sunglasses not missing a thing.
“Charles says we’re riding with him,” she said as he came up to her.
“Am I driving?”
“No, we’re in one of the funeral home cars. Charles seems to think it’s important.”
“Did you promise?”
“It’s a funeral, Jim. Besides, you can relax on the way.”
“Yeah. I forgot my sunglasses. I wouldn’t want to drive anyway.” She pulled the sunglasses out of her bag. He grinned. He knew she’d remind him of this moment later. Or maybe not, he thought as he watched her smile fade.
“That sadness isn’t for Jack, is it?”
“Let’s talk later. There’s Charles.”
It took Conor a second to recognize the young man walking with West. He had Davenport’s build, part of his face, but only a little of his bearing. If Davenport walked toward him like that, he recalled, he’d have to remind himself not to step out of the way. He hadn’t seen the boy – young man now – for several years, probably since he graduated high school.
“Good to see you,” Conor said, his hand out. “Are you still going by JJ.?”
“More by John now, at work and all, sir.” His grip was firm, but quick. He was just being friendly, not testing anything. Different generation, Conor guessed.
“I’m sorry about your dad. I met him when I was your age, you know.”
“Yes, sir. He’d told me a lot about you. Said it was a shame West Woods wasn’t doing summer hires any more.”
Conor couldn’t help wondering if the young man was just being polite. “Are we riding with you?”
“Yes, sir, if you don’t mind.”
“We’re honored.” Conor looked at West, making sure he was following Conor’s lead in letting John Jr. be in charge. But that hadn’t been a problem all week. West didn’t seem to be in charge of anything now. Just so long as Karen was really in charge, he thought. He hoped he wasn’t smirking.
Maybe the dress was a bad idea. It was black, and it felt good, but – but even Betty Wilson looked at her a little funny, and Conor’s wife was shooting daggers at her. Mayor West wouldn’t even speak to her, but then he didn’t anyway. He tended to take the pipeline battle a lot more personally than some of the others. Maybe because it was his idea, or because he had more of his political capital tied up in it. Maybe he just … no, nobody really thought it was a good idea. That was POP’s mantra, anyway. For a little better than three more weeks.
Oh, God, Marlin Waters. He looked like he wanted to do more than speak to her. Oh, Jesus, he was actually going to try to hug her. Option A was to bring her hands up to shoulder height and begin pushing away after a brief air hug. In extreme cases, shoving on the chest as soon as the hugger’s hands reached her shoulders. But big as Waters was, she might break a wrist. Instead she turned quickly to the side, sticking out her hand to shake hands, tilting her head back just far enough to give the impression of sighting down her nose, holding her mouth so that her lip didn’t curl but looked like it wanted to. That withered ‘em, she thought as he slowed.
“Councilman Waters .” Turning had the added benefit that she could walk forward and out of range as soon as she extricated her hand. God, she hoped he wasn’t too offended; they might need his vote. Not enough to hug him though.
Brad Sizemore was a different story. She saw him among those squeezing through the doors. She wanted to hug him or – pet him maybe. Not sexually, but there was something so pitiful about him, with those big brown eyes and his big white wife. Not that a good tan would help her much. Sizemore’d probably been waiting all week for somebody to tell him what to do. And the guy in charge now didn’t realize he was yet. Maybe POP needed to talk to him before he realized he was.
“Councilman Sizemore. I’m sorry for your troubles.” She sounded almost Irish. But Sizemore didn’t look like the type who’d notice that an olive-skinned, black-haired woman was using a Celtic phrase. Ethnic to him probably meant nachos.
“Thank you, Ms. …?”
“Chandler, Cathy Chandler. I, uh, have the Chandler Gallery downtown.”
“Oh, sure. My wife, Louise.” Of course, she would be. A nod ought to do it there. “I’m glad you could make it.”
He barely glanced at the dress. Maybe his wife would tell him what it looked like later.
Cathy Chandler tried to remember just exactly why she’d come. Oh, yes, because they were all neighbors and they were sorry Davenport was dead, even though they were politically opposed. They were sorry that Davenport was dead, and sorry they’d have to kick Charles West in his political ass in a few weeks. Everybody was sorry. But just so long as they didn’t wind up with that damned pipeline.
“Who are you with now, John?” Conor knew Jack’s son had graduated from Richmond a couple of years before but had no real idea what he was doing.
“I’m an associate at Lambert Financials.” A loan officer. At least that explained Davenport’s investment in the company a year ago, and his desire to have the paperwork as complicated as possible so nobody could find him in it.
“You’ll be handling some of the paperwork for the family now?”
“Financial arrangements. Your dad was what we used to call a man of affairs.”
Conor thought he felt Karen stiffen beside him, but wasn’t going to look. John Jr. sat across from them on the limo’s jump seat, with West on the other side of Karen. They both turned to West as he spoke for the first time since the motorcade left for the cemetery.
“He means your dad had his fingers in a lot of pies.” That was probably even worse. “That’s what Jim and I wanted to talk to you about now.”
We did? Jim wondered. So much for burying Jack first.
“I hope I can follow the conversation,” John said.
“Your dad had a lot of investments,” West began. “Some of them Donnie Whirt can handle. He’s the executor. Other ones need a personal decision. You’re the man to make it now.”
“I’ll help any way I can, sir.” Which was a nice way of saying he didn’t really know what West was talking about. Conor wished he didn’t.
“Jack and I were running for City Council together. He was planning to put some big money into the campaign.”
“Yes, sir. But he only had a little bit in the campaign account. That’s what Mr. Whirt told me. I’m not clear what he was waiting for.”
“Every candidate has to file reports during the campaign. The last one before the election was due Thursday.”
“I don’t understand.” Karen was politely tilting her head toward whoever was talking. Conor had to look past her when he looked at West. Her face had a studied lack of expression that suggested to Conor she’d like to slap West. Conor knew the old man would prefer that to pity, which is what Conor was feeling. He wondered where the tradition, reviled but impenitent, of discussing business at a funeral began. Probably some caveman throwing a deceased neighbor into a pit and then nosing into his cave looking for meat. He’d have preferred the species outgrowing it, or at least not making him participate, but the fat was in the fire now.
“What Mayor West is talking about is that a lot of people were going to accuse Jack of trying to buy the election.” Which he was, but still. “To counter some of that, he was waiting until after the deadline – the final pre-election filing – before making a contribution to his campaign account. One reason it matters is that most campaigns are cash-only, but some printers and the newspaper made some exceptions for Jack. He had some handshake deals that have to be worked out. Everything else can wait, but the campaign is right now.”
“How much are we talking about?”
“Probably not a lot by the standards of your dad’s estate. The timing is more important than the amount.”
“Do I need to write a check or what?”
“Nothing that drastic. It’s more of a commitment than a debt. We can keep it informal for the time being. Just tell Donnie it’s OK and have him call me. We’ll take care of the paperwork and make sure it’s clear and legal.”
The young man’s gaze held Conor’s for a long moment. “Yes, sir. I’ll take care of it.” Conor noted that it was him, not West, whom Davenport’s oldest son had trusted.
“Was that necessary?” Karen whispered, almost hissed, as they were getting out of the car.
“Not how I would have done it. But I’m glad Charles brought me into it. This way just the debts will get paid. There won’t be any new money.”
“You mean for Charles’ campaign?”
“Why does that matter?”
“Fiduciary duty. I need to be careful where Jack’s money goes.”
“You mean not let Charles get very much of it?”
“Because he’s going to lose.”
“Wrong attitude for politics. More because Betty and Bill are going to win.” He tried to remember how long he’d thought that was going to happen, and whether he’d said it out loud before.
“You’re getting better at it, you know?” Karen said.
“You mean at politics?”
Conor didn’t hear it as a compliment. He doubted she meant it that way.
Karen was absolutely slouching, as if she’d be horizontal if the chair would let her. The position was out of character. A glass of Scotch tilted perilously in her hand. She stared into space. Conor closed his eyes for a moment and tried to imagine her the way she’d been for the past three years. She’d be sitting straight, holding a glass of wine she wouldn’t finish, her attention focused on everything around her. The posture, the carelessness with the drink, the strength of it, the eyes aimed at nothing - all pointed to either relaxation or exhaustion. She’d earned both. So had he.
He was more tired than he expected. The day was long even before they got to the cemetery, before he helped carry Jack’s casket to the grave. And it was hot, too. Not sweltering, but hot the way an April day can surprise you, cool when you’re standing still, but not when you’re carrying a casket while wearing a wool-blend suit. “The sun was warm, but the day was chill.” Somehow they’d got roped into dinner with Donnie Whirt and his wife, some others from his firm. Conor had no idea what they’d talked about, only that he’d resented the time. Four or five days a month with his wife and one of them had to be spent wearing dark clothes and talking to gray people.
They were finally alone now, in the living room that he seldom went in lately because there was never anybody in it. He looked not at her, but across her, toward the sliding door to the patio, but he was aware of her, of her being in this room again. A word kept creeping in. Pulchritude. He remembered it from - what, a grade school vocabulary test? He’d thought it meant fat. It looked and sounded like it ought to mean that. Then he’d found out it meant beautiful. Or actually, pulchritudinous did. Somehow the words had come together, and every time he heard the word he’d think of a woman who was - what could he get away with here? Pudgy? Not and live. Plump? Zaftig, maybe.
His eyes had settled on her, and she looked over and caught him. Without self-consciousness, she arched her back and pushed herself up in the chair, brought one leg up under her, looked back at him like she knew she was being looked at, she liked it, she deserved it. His eyes drifted to her legs and she chuckled, somewhere down in her throat. She took another long sip of her Scotch and leaned over to set the glass in the floor. She caught him looking down her blouse and laughed out loud.
He shrugged and smiled at her. It was funny how he enjoyed looking at her but there was no sexual feeling in it. That would come later. For now, it was more a feeling of pleasure and familiarity. She enjoyed it too. But that wasn’t what she wanted to talk about.
“Is there any way Charles can still win?”
He’d been thinking about that since the discussion with JJ in the car. Say there were 4,000 people planning to vote, 2,000 on each side. Each person could vote for two council candidates, so that left 2,000 Davenport voters with nobody to vote for. The ones who wanted the pipeline, say half of them, were voting for Charles West anyway. It the others decided to vote for somebody, to not waste their vote, they might go half and half for Wilson and Zaner.
“Jim, stop. I can’t follow all that. Can he win?”
He hadn’t realized he was thinking out loud. “Maybe.”
“You don’t sound like you believe it.”
“When an election’s contested, people vote for negative reasons. The negatives here are anger over the courthouse, which is somehow tied in with the pipeline, and worry about Betty and Bill being a little nutty. The thing is, they don’t seem that way to some people, to a lot of the people. The other thing is, this is probably the first election here that’s not being decided by who knows whom.”
“I think I see what you mean.”
“Yeah. This time, even without a big turnout, a lot of people will be voting based on what they’ve seen in the C-A, pamphlets, impressions . . . and that’s without a big turnout. Most of the people voting have never seen Bill Zaner close-up . . .”
“Or Betty’s make-up?” She opened her eyes unnaturally wide and pursed her lips in mockery. Conor laughed with her.
“But you know, it actually looks good on TV. Photos too. If you slow down to look, then the effect is garish, but just a passing impression … She looks like a Realtor.”
“Huh? I don’t get it.”
“That was one of the last things Jack said to me. His campaign photo looked like a Realtor.”
“Now that’s funny. I can imagine how he said it.”
“Yeah. The same way he’d say lawyer. He hated them all. Lawyers, buyers and sellers, developers, stockbrokers . . .” Conor smiled, remembering a pillar of fire in a secluded cabin.
“’Cause they didn’t build anything?” Karen said.
“He didn’t hate you.”
“No. I’m glad. I liked him.”
“You were a lot alike.”
“Sort of like you and Mike. Nobody would say you were that much alike but you have those conversations where nobody can figure out what you’re talking about because you can leave so much out.”
“Well, maybe, but me and Jack . . .” Conor tried to picture himself organizing a multi-million dollar project, or driving a bulldozer.
“You both have the same impatience with nonsense . . .”
“You mean bullshit.”
“I guess. You reacted to the same things, but Jack always got mad and you’d laugh instead.”
“Same thing, mother.”
“The end of a Joyce Cary novel. The guy was dying and he was laughing. The nun told him he should be praying instead and he said, ‘Same thing, mother.’”
“OK. That’s the kind of thing you and Mike could talk about and everybody in the room would glaze over.”
“Except Jack, who’d get mad about it,” Conor said.
“You’re catching on. Except he and Christian were never in the same room, were they?”
“They didn’t get along.”
“You’re probably the only one in Smithy who’d get along with both of them.”
“You could say that about a lot of groups. I like Betty, I like Charles. And I think somehow the city will survive either one of them. But what you said before. About me laughing. That doesn’t work as much anymore. I’m getting mad more than I used to.”
“You’re not enjoying it as much?” Her arched eyebrows were question marks saying that was not all she was asking.
“Or I’m getting bored with it. I don’t know.”
“But can you quit?”
Funny, how he knew that’s what the conversation was leading to and he still didn’t have an answer ready. Could he quit and the pipeline would still get built? Did he really have to get it done? Conor sipped his club soda, a slight interruption to give him time to think.
“I have to see what I can get done after the election.”
“You mean you can’t decide now or you’re not ready to? Aren’t you worried you’ll wind up letting events decide for you?”
“I can’t just walk out if we’re in the middle of something.”
“Weren’t you and I?”
She was looking at her drink, not at him. “When will you tell Mike?”
“When I decide.”
“But won’t he want to report something before the election? Doesn’t that compromise him?”
“He and I have survived worse. Three days ago he ran a picture of Betty hitting me with a stick.”
“What? And muss her makeup? She didn’t, did she?”
“No. She dropped her picket sign and I caught it and a photographer shot from just the right angle at the right second. Add in an inexperienced reporter, a tight deadline, a heated atmosphere . . . it just happened.”
She shook her head. She was looking at the drink again.
“Jimmy, we miss you.”
She brought her gaze up to his. There was a challenge in it he wasn’t ready for. He looked away, only for a heartbeat, but by the time he looked back her eyes had changed. He’d known her long enough and well enough to recognize the disappointment and the decision, but he couldn’t know about what until she told him. He knew she wasn’t going to yet.
“Honey, I didn’t plan this.”
“We had a plan.”
She got up and put her drink on the coffee table. She sat down beside him on the couch, slid her arms around him, flowed up against him. He smelled her hair, felt her breasts pushed against him, took a ragged breath that was almost a sob. She pulled away and looked at him, her face inches away. “Jimmy?”
“I’ll try to work something out, Karen.”
He hated the plea he heard in his voice. He knew she believed that he’d try, but that was the best she could do.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK