It was the panic reflex. He’d be waking up, and he’d know he’d had one too many beers, and he’d wonder what happened the night before. Some times he knew immediately, and others he had to think about it for a few seconds. This time the phone was ringing and he knew something was terribly wrong. Yes, Jack Davenport was dead and … but it wasn’t because they’d been drinking. Davenport was already dead. And the phone was still ringing.
“Good morning, Mr. Conor. I’m sorry to be calling so early.” Suzie was sugar-coating how late in the morning it was. He looked at the bedside clock. Eight forty-five. So that wasn’t what Suzie was soft-pedaling. Did she know about Davenport? Everybody did, that’s right, he’d been dead for weeks.
Conor shook his head. “No problem, Suzie. What’s up?”
“Dr. Zaner wanted to see you this morning. I put him down for nine-thirty.”
“Thanks for the heads-up.”
No time to make coffee. But Suzie would have some. And she’d know about Davenport. She’d know he was dead. But she wouldn’t know why. Conor stumbled into the shower and turned the water on, adjusting the knobs to where it looked like they usually went, oblivious to the actual temperature of the water on his back. There was something else he needed to remember. It wasn’t as bad as Jack being poisoned, but … that’s right, Charles was out of a job. He’d sold his lumberyard to Marlin Waters and now he’d been voted out of office. And there was something else. Betty and Bill would be sworn in on council on July 1, and they’d have to pick a mayor, but that wasn’t it either. It wasn’t something Chief Gardner had told him, but something he should have told him, something he should have thought of but hadn’t yet. It hung there just out of reach as the room steamed up, and the shower started to clear his head, and still it wouldn’t come.
He cleared a spot on the mirror to shave, and the answer wasn’t in there either. Nor on the front of the C-A. “Look Who POP-ped In.” What a stupid headline. A month ago, he’d have said it was really going to matter if he saw that headline, or the fact it represented. But that was then. Now he had to worry about … that was the other thing. Whoever killed Jack Davenport was still walking around. Maybe he or she was at a POP rally, or down at City Hall, or at the Builders Council. But whoever did it was still walking around. That’s what he’d forgotten. Whoever it was had already killed somebody and was still walking around. And over what? Jack probably had half the building business in Smithy and surrounding counties. Now somebody else would. He was a rising political star. Now Conor was. No wonder Gardner was suspicious. Conor wondered if there was any way to convince the chief he didn’t want his new-found prominence. Especially since he’d started … well, a few beers now and then never hurt anybody. Davenport had made a lot of people mad over the years. He’d been with a lot of women. He looked like a Realtor, after all, Conor remembered with a smile. And he’d filled in one end of Sharon Lake, which was really just a ditch stocked with rockfish, and he’d torn down a building where a great grandson of the city’s founder had once run an apothecary shop with apartments upstairs. He’d told Davenport at the time that he needed to hire a good PR flack to convince people he’d actually destroyed a drug dealer’s headquarters. He’d been with a lot of women, but none of them had been married that Conor knew of, but that wasn’t all that made a woman worth killing over, he knew that too.
So a lot of people were mad at Jack Davenport, and one of them had killed him, and because they didn’t know why Davenport had been killed, there was no way of knowing if somebody else needed killing for the same reason. If it was pipeline supporters, then he might be in trouble. If it was the Ashur building, then Marlin Waters might be in line; he’d pushed for the demolition permit because he had the building supplies contract for the modified strip mall that went up on the site. If it was Charles West’s political supporters, then maybe Sizemore would wake up with a sushi hangover tomorrow. And if it was over a woman, then God help them all. “There is no man so good, who, were he to submit all his thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.” A Frenchman had said that four hundred years ago. Michel Eyquem, seigneur de Montaigne. Conor used to tell it to his clients who wanted to plead guilty just because they were.
He parked his car in the alley, then walked around to the front of the Bank Building. He could have gone in the back, slipped in the side door, but he believed coming in the front kept him honest. If he didn’t get there until nine-thirty, then he didn’t. People would know, if they happened to be in his hallway, or waiting in Suzie’s area. That’s where he found Bill Zaner this morning, reading a magazine. Zaner was early, but just barely, unless he’d been there awhile. And as he stood, Conor realized he was wearing a suit. Conor ignored his self-consciousness and extended a hand in congratulations. Suzie handed Conor a cup of coffee as they headed into the office. An exchange of glances told him Zaner hadn’t wanted any. Conor sipped the coffee and tried to gather his thoughts as he walked around the desk. He reminded himself that the man taking the seat across from his desk was politically unsophisticated, uncomfortable in a suit, probably couldn’t tie a necktie properly, and was smart enough to have a degree in mathematics.
“You and Betty fought quite the campaign, Bill. You know, six months ago I’m not sure if I’d ever heard your name.”
“Well, I, uh … I work a lot, I mean … well, I don’t get off campus a lot.”
“Well, you certainly will now,” Conor said, trying to keep the small talk going until the coffee kicked in. A long silence warned him that maybe that wouldn’t work – that maybe Zaner had no talent for small talk. “I’m not sure how you managed to get into the campaign, Bill.” Another pause. “How did you?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’d been active in faculty senate politics, and when the group began looking for someone to run against the pipeline candidates, I was the logical choice.”
The sacrificial lamb, Conor thought. POP members knew they didn’t have a chance, and Zaner was thrown into the fight without a clue what it entailed or what he was doing. Four years of no spare time, Conor thought, because one man ate some bad fish and another lost his temper in public.
“Well, you know Gary Linden, the city manager – He did call you last night? Good – he’s prepared a pretty rigorous orientation course for you. I hope you’ll call me if questions come up during the process. You’re going to find it’s a lot to learn very quickly.”
“Do you know if he’s prepared a session on the pipeline?”
Get right to it, Conor thought. “Not so far as I know, but I’m sure it will be part of the primer on utilities. And you know you can call me anytime you have questions. I don’t know the level of detail that Gary does, but I can probably give you a better idea on the policy issues.”
“I, uh, that is … I think we still have a fight on our hands on this pipeline vs. the dam issue.”
“I understand that. But it’s probably going to be the most important thing we do this year, maybe in our term, so it’s worth a public debate. But I’m glad you and Betty are where you can get a little more of the inside facts to make your decisions. I think you’ll find there’s not as much room between us as you’d thought.”
“Well, Mr. Conor … Jim … you do have a reputation as a reasonable man.”
“Thank you for saying that.”
“What about the others?”
“Brad and Marlin?”
“You’ll get to know them.”
“I hope to, but I already don’t trust Waters.”
“You don’t have any reason to.”
“I’ve served with him for two years.”
Zaner looked puzzled for a moment. “That’s not what I asked,” he said.
“I won’t talk about him with somebody off council. Talk to me next month.”
Zaner looked at him a long time. Probably didn’t like still being shut out, Conor thought. Later he’d understand – understand and take it for granted.
“Are you and Sizemore going to make him mayor?”
“You ought to get used to calling them Brad and Marlin.”
“That doesn’t really answer my question.”
“I hadn’t thought about it. And I haven’t discussed the issue with Brad or Marlin.”
“Waters was talking last night as if it were a strong possibility.”
“A very proper use of the subjunctive.”
“That was a very proper use of the subjunctive mood.” Conor never had learned the difference between tense and mood, but the chances of Zaner knowing were … were probably something Zaner could easily calculate. “The subjunctive – if it were – is proper for unlikely statements. If the sun were to not rise tomorrow. The conditional – if it was – is for more concrete, possible items. If the sun was to shine this summer.” Conor paused for breath, wondered if it was speaking sentences like that that made him winded, or composing them. “I think Marlin becoming mayor at this point is subjunctive, except perhaps in his eyes, and will almost certainly be conditional.”
“Oh, uh, I see. You were an undergraduate major in English then?”
“Does it show? American Poets, Romantic, Transcendental and Realist. William and Mary, class of ’77. You?”
“Oh, my bachelor’s is in mathematics, uh, statistics. Missoula.”
“Must make it frustrating reading newspaper polls, huh?”
“Actually it does. They never truly explain that the margin of error doesn’t explain how people actually feel, but rather how the entire population would respond if asked the same questions as the sample group. It seems such a simple concept too.”
“Well, it’s clear to me. Do you and Betty have some plan of action on the pipeline, or are you still getting your feet back on the ground.”
Zaner considered for a moment. “We’ll, uh, we’ll be meeting with the membership later this week. To, uh, figure out what our next step is.”
“You might want to hold off on that next step until later in the orientation. You might find out information that would impact your decisions.”
“I really can’t think of anything that hasn’t come up already.”
“That’s the hell of it. Nobody thought of it.”
“We’ll talk when you have some more background.”
“That’s, uh, that’s not very …”
“Yeah, I know. Think about two things, Bill. One is who’ll be mayor. That’s easy. There are only five of us and anybody on council can eliminate at least two. The problem will be having somebody left. The second thing you need to think about is the pipeline. Ask yourself if and how long we can afford to delay. And finally, when you think about either one of those, remember that we’re a republic, not a democracy.”
“And the distinction you’re making is that one is participatory, the other representative.” They taught them more than math in Missoula, Conor thought.
“Yes. There will be decisions to be made where you can’t poll the POP membership. And in the next few weeks you may be asked to consider things you’ll be asked not to share. The day before you take office you’ll be expected to take an oath to do what’s best for the people of Smithy. I can’t remember the exact wording, but whatever commitments or promises you make over the next few weeks, ask yourself if they might wind up being in contradiction to that oath.”
Zaner looked at him for a long time.
“Can you tell me any more?”
Any more what, Conor wondered. Remember the man’s not stupid. And that you don’t know much more about him than that. And that he came here for something, apparently to let Conor know they were still opposed to the pipeline.
“If you’re asking that question, I may have already told you too much,” Conor said. On the other hand, it would be good to know if he could trust Zaner. Maybe give him a hint and see if it showed up in the C-A in a couple of days. “About all I can tell you is try to avoid digging yourself in too deep on the issue of dam vs. pipeline. And … and don’t make any public statements about Jack Davenport being drunk when he wrecked.”
“Well, I, uh, I really don’t want to, uh, that is, I really wasn’t going to.”
“That’s good. I don’t have anything else. Was that all you had on the agenda?”
“Well, uh, all that’s not really why I came in this morning.”
“No, some of the other members asked me to come in and invite you to our celebration on June 30, the night before we’re sworn in. We’re going to have an evening at Ashur Park. I believe they’re talking about a band, a pot-luck dinner.”
“Some of the other members?”
“Well, mostly Betty and I guess Cathy. It came up while we were talking last night.”
“Well, she did seem reluctant, but we, uh, I mean, uh, there did seem to be some bad blood there. We thought she might be involved with Davenport, I mean, they were both single and all, er, I mean, not exactly, but you know what I mean.” Well, no, Conor didn’t, but it was an interesting line of thought, and he wasn’t going to tell Zaner to stop now. “And I guess I wondered if she somehow thought you were responsible for his accident … I don’t know … because you talked him into the campaign or something.”
No you weren’t. You weren’t wondering that and, no, the chief had checked that out, and he said it hadn’t happened, that it had been a council member, but not really. So Conor had given Zaner a test to see if he could be trusted, now he was about to fail one himself, because he wasn’t going to discuss this one, not with Zaner and not with … with whom, was the question. Because Zaner hadn’t guessed something like that himself, somebody had helped him with it. A woman presumably. So Betty Wilson thought Chandler was mad at him about Davenport’s death because she had been involved with Davenport, and now she had shared it with Zaner, who would of course do the honorable thing and hopelessly fumble any explanation of Conor’s denial.
But, dear God, if Chandler did think he had something to do with Davenport’s death, then that meant she knew there was something to have had something to do with, and that meant that she … no, Zaner, or rather, presumably, Wilson, had been wrong about the rest of it so far, so he wasn’t going to follow that line of reasoning if Zaner’s suppositions were all that took him there.
“It’s been an emotional time, Bill. Who knows what people might be thinking? But, yes, I’ll pencil in the party on June 30. It sounds like just what we all need.”
“Well, good then.” Zaner was absolutely beaming as he stood up. Mission accomplished. Probably his first political task. Conor wondered if he’d put on the suit because it was his first important task after the election, or was he just trying to get used to it? And as for his other new colleague. What in the world could Betty ….
“… have been thinking, Betty? You didn’t tell this to anybody else, did you?”
“Well, not really.”
“Not really? Did you or didn’t you?” Cathy Chandler almost knew where this was heading, but tried to tell herself she was over-reacting. Years ago a doctor had explained that if you’re right about what other people are thinking and doing when you’re not around, that’s intuition. If you’re wrong, that’s paranoia.
“Well, I talked about it with Bill, honey.”
“Bill. Bill Zaner? Did you have to tell him what involved meant?”
They’d spent the morning going around to the voting precincts – the city’s three elementary schools – pulling up the campaign signs. Most of them were stacked on the back deck – it needed re-sealing anyway, Chandler was thinking – and a few were on sheets of newsprint in her dining room. She stepped around them and walked to the window. Then into the living room where she stood looking into the empty fireplace. Wilson wasn’t exactly following her. But Wilson didn’t have anything to do, and needed Chandler to go with her to the final precinct, so the councilwoman-elect was glancing into the room and waiting for her to come back to … to what was it, a conversation? A confession? Better to find out just what Wilson had been up to.
She went back into the dining room, poured another cup of coffee from the carafe on the sideboard. Wilson picked up where she’d left off. “He’s got two kids, Cathy, he knew what we were talking about.”
“Let’s start over, Betty. I was not in any way involved with Jack Davenport. I barely knew him. I’m not sure if I ever spoke to him for more than a few sentences at council meetings. Now what made you think otherwise?”
Chandler sipped her coffee and waited, because she thought she knew the answer. She thought perhaps Wilson had created the idea from whole cloth. No, that was uncharitable. She thought the woman had leaped to a conclusion based on an offhand comment, then later remembered it – how would you put something like that? – then later remembered she had reached the conclusion, but wasn’t sure how. The same doctor who had defined intuition for her had explained the process. He said it was almost impossible to trace without training. Yeah, right. Plumbers didn’t want her cleaning the garbage disposal with a fork either. Protecting their turf.
“Betty, when did this idea first come up with you?”
“Well, I don’t know. Why are you so worried about it? I mean, if it’s not true, it’s not. Come on, we have to get the rest of the signs.”
Wilson finished her coffee in a noisy gulp, stood up.
“Betty, sit down, please. I have to know this. Did you ever see us talking somewhere?”
“No, Cathy, I just don’t know. Maybe it was that dress you wore to the funeral.”
“It was black, Betty.”
“So are fishnet stockings, honey.”
“It was my first funeral since my husband’s. I just wanted to feel … oh, hell, Betty, try to remember. When is the first time you thought about this?”
“Oh, I don’t – yes, I do. It was the morning after he was killed. You sounded so upset when I first told you, then you calmed down and starting looking at the politics. I just thought your – I don’t know what to call it. Your concern, I guess … it sounded like more than that.”
Oh. So that was all it was. At least unless …
“So who all have you shared this with, Betty?”
“Cathy, I don’t gossip about you….”
“Betty, that’s not what I …”
“No, you let me finish, Cathy Chandler.” Spots of color were rising on the woman’s cheeks, just slightly down and to the outside from the ones she’d added herself. “I don’t know why you’re so worried about this or why you’re acting like I’ve done something to you. I’m your friend and I don’t like being treated this way.”
“Betty, I didn’t mean …”
“I thought you might have had somebody and I was worried that you’d lost him. I didn’t think that would be fair after all you’d been through.”
This was a bad one, Chandler thought, giving silent thanks it had never happened during the campaign. Now all she had to do was worry for four years about it happening at a council meeting. It began with sniffles. In a few minutes it would be great gulping sobs. Chandler came around the table and held out her arms. The other woman fell against her and began to weep. Oh, well. At least she wasn’t wearing the peasant blouse. But she still didn’t know who all Wilson had talked to.
…possibly have been thinking and who all had she talked to? Conor knew from cross-examinations that it was the sort of question you didn’t get an answer to by asking it. Other questions … well, he could always keep Zaner talking while they walked out of the office.
“So who was the central group of your campaign, Bill? The people meeting down at the club, or in the back room at Goose’s, always felt like you had an army out there. College students, environmentalists, people like Betty.”
“No, there wasn’t anything like that, but …” He paused, stroked his beard for a moment, perhaps wondered if he could talk about all this now that the race was over. “But we always felt like that about you, too. You had the money, the history…”
“I think legacy was the word you used.”
“Yes, but … well, that’s history now.” Conor wasn’t sure whether to laugh, settled for a broad smile. “The core for us was really just us three. There were a lot of people going door to door, but really, the decision-making, the strategy … a lot of that was mostly Cathy.”
“Yes, I think as an artist, she had some ideas about image that Betty and I wouldn’t have thought of.”
“I’ll say. Wait, I’ll walk out with you. I have to go down to city hall anyway. Are you on the way there?”
“No, I teach this morning.”
“OK.” He tapped his watch as they walked through the reception area.
“Two o’clock, here,” Suzie said in reply. And since she didn’t say a name, that meant the appointment was with somebody that she wasn’t sure he’d want Zaner to know he was meeting with. Charles or Brad, probably.
“So, how did those two get along?”
“Betty and Mrs. Chandler. Doesn’t seem like they had a lot in common.”
“Actually, they did. It was, uh, I’m not sure about things like this. They were both very emotional, prone to impulses and … trusting gut feelings more than I would. I like numbers.” He smiled as he said it, a mathematician’s small joke on himself. Conor thought he sounded oddly giddy, probably a combination of the win and the relief. Just so long as it kept him talking. “But I think Cathy was probably taking medication for it.”
“Really.” A couple of drivers honked their horns as they passed the two men walking along Commerce Street. Zaner had been on the front of the C-A that morning, carrying a sign as the triumphant POP members gathered on Courthouse Square. He looked surprised, perhaps a little tenuous behind the smile. But the photo was enough for people to recognize him. He’d get used to it, Conor thought. He walked a couple of feet away from Zaner so as not to accentuate their height difference – the councilman-elect was a half-a-head shorter – and it occurred to him that was exactly the kind of advantage Marlin Waters would use. Maybe Zaner could handle it though. He’d probably had to flunk football players before.
“Yes. She always seemed to know why Betty became agitated and was able to talk to her about it. I always had the feeling she’d been through it herself.”
“Probably a lot of people have. More than you’d guess.” They’d reached city hall. “Congratulation again, Bill. Let’s keep in touch over the next few weeks. I think you’ll find out there’s more than the pipeline going on.”
“I’m sure there will be.”
“And, Bill, one more thing. Feel free to share this with Betty as well. This job can be about horse-trading and deal-making if you let it. But at heart, we’re still all neighbors here. One thing I’ve found out so far is … well, don’t feel like you have to protect too much. Don’t get defensive about issues. And keep in mind that sometimes to accomplish things, you have to give something up before you have the promise of anything in return. It makes it easier for the other side to give in, if there is one.”
Zaner was nodding the whole time he was talking, but more telling Conor to go on than agreeing with him. He nodded a few more times when Conor finished. “I’ll share that with Betty. Thank you.”
Conor watched Zaner walking down Main Street toward campus, a jaunty little man in a new suit, with a new job, maybe thinking about how much difference he was going to make. Conor tried to think back to what it had felt like two years ago. City council was a throwaway job. The city was booming, in strip malls and apartment buildings, mostly student housing. There was nothing in particular for the council members to brag about, nor anything to run against. One after another, the members up for re-election listlessly decided not to run. Harley Reese had been on council only one term, and didn’t even bother to announce anything. He just stopped going to meetings, and his insurance business didn’t suffer a bit. Two others magnanimously decided to give someone else an opportunity to serve. They held a joint press conference to announce it. Mike Christian bumped it off page one for a late truck wreck. Sizemore and Waters decided to run. And Charles West showed up in Conor’s office.
“Look here, Jim, I’ve already got the petitions half finished. You need 150 signatures, I’ve already got ninety-five.”
“Charles, won’t this cost money?”
“For what? Nobody’s running against you.”
And after a tense week of discussions with Karen and Charles, he was on the ballot. Then two months of waiting, maybe praying a little, for a write-in candidate to show up, then one morning being on council. Barely six hundred people had gone to the polls. He could have elected himself. It was like the old joke about the five-year-old who had never spoken. His parents prayed and took him to specialists. They despaired. They tried sign language. One day he looked up from his dinner and said, “These potatoes are too salty.” His parents were overjoyed that he’d spoken, but wondered what had taken him so long. “Everything was OK up until now,” he answered.
Two years later, the pipeline and the courthouse made the potatoes salty.
Anyone looking at Brad Sizemore would have thought he’d lost the election.
“Well, Jim, what are we gonna do?”
“About what, Brad?”
Sizemore looked like he’d been swatted with a newspaper. “I’m sorry, Brad. I’ve been a little tense too. It looks like we have a problem, doesn’t it.”
“We’ve lost the pipeline, haven’t we?”
“Not necessarily. There’s always Marlin’s vote.”
“But didn’t he vote against it before?”
“Brad, we’ve never voted on the pipeline.”
“Well, yeah, we have. I mean … I remember us talking about it.”
“Yes, we talked about it.” Conor wanted to send Sizemore into the hall for a minute and call Mike Christian. This is what I’ve been talking about, he’d scream. You’ve got a council member – albeit a man who sells fertilizer for a living – believing he’s voted on a motion that’s never been made. “It was obvious that you and Charles were for it, that Simon thought we ought to build another dam. I wanted to wait for the engineering study and Marlin would wait until hell freezes over before making any decision.”
“But the POP people. They talked like we’d already voted on it.”
Conor sighed deeply. “Brad, do you want some coffee? This could be a long chat.”
“Uh, sure. Cream and sugar.”
Conor went after it himself. Filling the mugs gave him time to think about just what everybody thought had happened and what really had. He’d thought many times about sitting up at a council meeting or writing an op-ed for the C-A, something along the lines of, hey, people, here’s what happened. Instead, he’d stayed quiet, because he wasn’t running, and because he knew what had really happened, and because he thought everyone else had the same information he did. But then again, a lot of people didn’t pay attention until somebody was yelling, and that was POP’s strength. They never lied, but they left some of their listeners believing something that wasn’t true. Suzie looked at him and raised her eyebrows as he went back into the office with the coffee. He shrugged back at her.
“Brad, do you understand that we can’t really count on Marlin? That he’s going to keep sniffing to see which way the wind is blowing, and that he’s gonna vote that way?”
“Well, yeah, I understand that he’s kind of political.”
“Yeah, but just because somebody’s a political animal doesn’t mean he’s very good at it. Marlin thinks he’s good at it, but it’s all one-on-one. He doesn’t understand the large numbers involved. He thinks every voter is like the last guy he talked to. And he thinks he’s convinced everybody, when a lot of them are agreeing with him just to get rid of him.”
“Well maybe he doesn’t do it the way you do . . .”
“Except as a fellow handled an ax, they had no way of knowing a fool.”
“I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
“Quoting Shakespeare all the time like everybody’s supposed to know what you’re talking about.”
“Jim, you know what I’m talking about.”
“Actually, I don’t.”
“You’re trying to tell me something about Marlin. Not to trust him?”
“It’s more than that, Brad. If he comes to you and tells you there’s a deal, about the water line, about a demolition permit, about anything – tell him you’ll think about it, but don’t commit to anything. He’ll make you think something’s all set up when what he’s trying to do is get you to agree. Then it’s all set up.”
“I guess he is kind of a salesman.”
Conor wondered if he should repeat it some other way. Did Sizemore really get it? He’d never know for sure, until he saw the smug smile on Marlin Waters’ face across the council table. Better not to think about that.
“The thing is, we’re going to need Marlin’s vote on the pipeline. Let me get it.”
“Well, sure, I think you ought to.”
“What I mean is, don’t talk to him about it. Keep in mind that Marlin is not going to vote on the merits of the pipeline versus the dam. He’s going to vote purely on what he can get away with, and on what he thinks will do him the most good.”
“So the way he voted before …” Was not on the pipeline, but why go through that again.
“Was then. The next vote will be now.”
“But would he vote against the pipeline again. We both know that dam wouldn’t give us enough water.”
“Well, yes, it would.”
“Well it wouldn’t last as long, would it.”
“Our lifetimes.” Do I have to start from scratch, Conor wondered. “Brad, the dam on West Ridge holds back enough water to meet our daily needs for two or three more years at the current rate of growth. You understand that part?”
“After that, we start rationing, or we stop growth. No more houses, no new schools, no new retail. And once word gets around that we have a water problem, it’s at least ten years before new businesses start looking here again.”
“Yeah, we’ve been through all this.”
“All right, a second dam further north on West Ridge would double the capacity. The catch is that our permits for that one are ten years old.”
“I remember now. The state might make us start the permit process again.”
“Right. We can’t claim hardship, because we already have the permits for the pipeline. So the state asks us why we don’t just build the pipeline,” Conor added, telling himself he was practicing for Zaner, who might not agree, but would at least get the point the first time.
“Well, the POP people are saying it will cost more for the pipeline.”
“It will. But that’s not why they’re against it.”
“But won’t it cost more.”
“Forget cost for a minute, Brad.” He drew a slow breath, sipped his coffee. It was tepid, and would be cold, he was sure, by the time he cracked the cement of Sizemore’s skull. “The problem is not cost, it’s time. If the state makes us start over on the permitting process, it’s five years before we have the paperwork done, then two before we have water coming in.”
“That’s seven years.”
“Right. And we have to start rationing in three, maybe two.” Conor waited. He could see Sizemore straining to make the final leap, but not quite making it. “But we can have the pipeline from the South Fork River on line in two and a half years.” Conor wanted to go after another cup of coffee, but was afraid he’d have to start from scratch when he returned. “Brad, all I’m asking from you is to tell me you won’t change your vote on the pipeline, or even agree to think about it, without talking to me first.”
“Well, yeah, I can do that, Jim.”
“Then we didn’t lose anything yesterday. Bear with me, OK.”
Sizemore held his cup and nodded his head for a moment, committing the task to memory. Finally, he stood. Conor held his breath through the amenities and the parting handshake. But Sizemore left without remembering to ask about the mayor’s office again.
It came down to long-term costs, really. Sizemore could never get that, and he shouldn’t try explaining. Long-term, the dam would cost them because of the number of years they might have to ration water or limit development. Long-term, the pipeline would cost them because of the extra amount they’d have to spend every year on filtering and treating the water from a river that had been used as a sewer and garbage disposal since before the Revolution. And down the road, he knew, the river would get cleaner. It’s the only attitude we can assume and survive as a race, Conor told himself. Wonder if that’s ever stopped us before, he thought.
“If what’s ever stopped us, sir?”
“Sorry, Suzie, I didn’t realize I was thinking out loud. What else do I have?”
“Your four o’clock appointment.”
“Your tone of voice tells me I’m in denial on something.”
“You’re supposed to meet with Mayor West.”
“And in return, he’ll explain to Brad why we never voted on the pipeline.”
Not light-headedness, really, and not disorientation. Almost a disconnection. From Smithy, from his practice – Suzie’s really – and from the people around him. It had somehow begun when he saw the poll. Then with Karen after Davenport’s funeral – it wasn’t that they were strangers, although parts of it felt like that, but more like … like nostalgia. As if they had waited too long, or he had taken too long to disconnect from Smithy, and now that he had, or thought he had, or hoped that he had, there might be nowhere to go when he was able to get away. When he talked to people, when he dealt with them, he felt like he was dealing with people he’d known a long time ago. And the disconnection came because … they weren’t. He’d reacted to Karen as if they’d been apart for a few days, as they had in the early years, when he might be at a trial in Roanoke, or Fredericksburg, or some damned where. Instead she’d come to his house from her house, and their son was at her house, and if he thought about this too much, he would wind up going back to his office and spending the afternoon napping on his couch.
One time he would look at Charles West and see the man he’d been twenty-five years ago when Conor spent summers loading trucks in the lumberyard. The next moment, he was the old man who’d lost the mayor’s seat. Except that he was still mayor for two months. And he’d sold the lumberyard. And whoever Conor spoke to when he was in the room with West, he felt like somebody else answered. What the hell, he thought. At least whoever answered was always grouchy. That he could deal with.
But he was still light-headed. Or something.
Conor did the math in his head as he walked into the mayor’s office. Two times seventy-two, plus forty-five, divided by three. The average age dropped by nine years when he walked in on Simon Pershing and Charles West. Pershing turned the full wattage of his patrician smile on Conor, and rose to his feet, one hand poised on the head of his cane, the other stretched out to shake Conor’s. “Well, I don’t know whom to congratulate today, James. Perhaps we older statesmen who can rest for a while now are the biggest winners.” Pershing had been grasping Conor’s hand the whole time. He dropped it now, and settled back into the armchair across from West’s desk. “Although I’m sure Charles doesn’t fully agree with me. And of course William and Elizabeth are to be applauded. But you seem to be in the hot seat right now.”
“Does it matter that I don’t want to be, sir?” Conor could feel the weight of West’s stare from across the desk. But Conor was staring into Pershing’s eyes, looking for an answer he knew wasn’t going to come.
Pershing looked at him for a moment, knit his eyebrows, pursed his lips. “I think you know better young man. ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men’ … What are you smiling at, James?”
Conor had slid into a straight-backed chair next to Pershing, and was leaning forward to hear him. “Well, Simon, I made the mistake of quoting Frost to a fellow council member earlier today. He thought that was Shakespeare.”
“I lectured him in history, you know. I think he made a wise choice in opting for the business school. But if it’s Frost you want, two roads diverged in your yellow wood yesterday, James.”
“I think I’m sorry I couldn’t travel the other, sir.”
“That could make all the difference, couldn’t it? But there are those who’ve traveled by that road before. Don’t lose touch with us.” He leaned over to pat Conor on the arm, then placed his cane and rose again. “There were protesters in the street at a council meeting. Our city manager’s received hate mail. And you may wind up having to repair this breach in our civility. Don’t try to do it by yourself.”
“Oh, I think I can still give him some help for a little while,” West said, almost startling Conor with his late entry into the conversation.
“And I,” Pershing said. “Don’t neglect me when you need advice or guidance. I know and respect a lot of people on both sides of this issue. My office was next door to David Chandler, you know. He used to confide in me a lot.”
What the hell? “I’m afraid I pretty much missed it when he died, Simon. It was during the last campaign.”
“Well, there are always ways to make things up. Good luck to you, my boy.”
As Pershing left, Conor took a good look at West and tried to shake off the distraction of Pershing’s comments. Make things up? He’d have to worry about that later. Charles West’s eyes and cheeks appeared to droop. Maybe they always had – or at least had for a while – and Conor had never noticed it behind the angry energy. The energy wasn’t there now, but at least there were signs of relief.
“Did you call Bill and Betty?”
“Simon was asking the same thing.” So he hadn’t.
“You ought to call them, Charles. Today.”
“I know it. What’s on your mind?” Just another day at the office, huh, Charles?
“I talked to him last night.”
“What did he say?”
“You’re getting downright grouchy, you know that, Jim?”
“Only with select people, Charles. Tell me about your talk with Marlin.”
West stared off into a corner of the room for a moment, then looked back at Conor. “He wants to run for Jack’s seat.”
Jack’s seat? Conor decided to ignore it.
“Yes, he’d told me that a couple of weeks ago. Was he asking you for help?”
“Uh-huh. But it was more like he was asking if there was anybody else?”
“Who did he ask about?”
“Well, he didn’t really. You know how he is. But I wish I could have told him there was somebody else.”
Conor ignored the man’s direct stare. “What do you think about him?”
“I wish there was somebody else.”
“Yeah. Where did everybody go?”
West looked back at him, almost with surprise. “That’s almost what I was thinking, Jimmy.”
“It’s more like, where did all these people come from. The new people. There just so much more in a hurry.”
“Everybody is, Charles. People are busier, or think they have to be. …”
“That’s not what I mean. This Zaner. He’s only been in town for a few years, and he’s already on council. Simon Pershing lived here 20 years before he even thought about it. And Zaner’s only 51 and he’s the oldest one of you. What happened to waiting your turn?”
“I don’t know. I guess that’s what Marlin did.”
“Uh-huh. I guess you just don’t have to wait so long now.”
“Or maybe we don’t have as long, Charles.”
“You mean like Jack?”
“Not exactly. Zaner might be at another college in five or ten years. And I …”
“Yeah, I’m glad you’re gonna be here. You ought to think about that seat Marlin’s looking at.”
Conor wondered what to say. At least it would keep them from talking about the election for a few more minutes. “Did, uh, Marlin ask you for money?”
West began to flare up, and Conor realized why he shouldn’t have asked that. “No, not yet. And after that stunt you pulled with Donnie Whirt, I didn’t have all that much left.”
“Let’s not have this talk again. You have a couple million in the bank.”
“That money’s not just in the bank. It’s invested.”
“Yeah. For your old age.”
“Damnit, boy …”
“Let it go, Charles. What did you tell him?”
“I told him to go talk to the Builders Council.”
Conor didn’t even try to keep a straight face. After a few seconds, West joined in the laughter. “Charles, you weren’t thinking ….?”
“Well, at least …” The old man caught his breath, wheezed once. “At least he won’t throw them out of his office.” They both laughed again.
Charles hadn’t laughed at the time. “We’ll just put it in your campaign account,” the leader of the group had almost whispered. “What you do with it is your business?” A couple of them laughed when he told them to get out, then sputtered into silence when the ones looking him in the eye didn’t join in. “I’m going to make two phone calls, one to the district attorney, the other to the Commercial-Appeal, and your best bet is probably to just tell both of them you were only kidding, because maybe then they’ll both just forget about it. Then on the other hand they might both make you all look like crooks and what do you think people will remember six months after the prosecutor can’t make a case?” There’d been five of them, plus Charles, and their exits varied from striding to shuffling. They set down their coffee cups, tried to make small talk, tried to act like they weren’t rushing. Conor watched them, his hand on the desktop resting near the phone. He didn’t even look at West.
“Now you remember I didn’t know exactly what they were going to say. I just knew they wanted to talk about support for the pipeline.”
“I eventually figured it out, Charles, but I was a little bit pissed at the time.” West smiled and nodded. “Charles, when you sent Marlin to talk to the Builders Council …”
“What they talk about is their business.”
Conor shook his head, decided there was a lot best left unsaid. Both men were silent. Conor knew they had to talk about it.
“So, how are you, Charles?”
“I’ll be fine, I guess. It had to happen eventually.”
“Yeah.” Conor knew they had to talk about it. But he wasn’t sure what they were supposed to say.
“You shouldn’t have made me stop campaigning, Jimmy.” But you weren’t campaigning anyway, Charles, you were waiting for Davenport to engage in the campaign. You thought the job was yours because you already had it, and it doesn’t work that way.
“That may be, Charles. I think it was just time for some new blood. I mean I think the voters did. You still got more than two thousand votes.”
“Uh-huh, and Betsy got more than three …”
“Her name’s Betty.”
“Whatever. I knew her mother, too, you know, and she was always a tramp, too.”
“Charles, you need to shut up about that. You need to say something decent to the C-A today, and you need to leave people remembering something besides that temper tantrum at the debate.”
West was staring at the desktop, apparently chastised. Conor decided to change the subject.
“Charles, what do you really think about Marlin running?”
“If he’s all we got, Jim … I don’t know. We used to have more good people ready for these things. There were people on school board, planning commission … it wasn’t like now when we have to practically beg people to even apply for those seats. Now the only time anybody applies for those jobs or runs for council is if they’re mad about something. They want to stop something, or they want to do something of their own – nobody signs up just to serve.”
“How’d you get into it, Charles?”
“My uncle was thinking about leaving office back when they were arguing about whether to build a new high school. I signed up to help get the school built.” Conor wondered if he’d caught the irony. “Then I stayed.”
And stayed and stayed and stayed. And Conor wondered if the old man would catch any of the other ironies. The people he’d put on planning commission or school board to keep them from running against him for council. The projects he’d supported because they were good for business and development and not much else. The fact that he didn’t know the Builders Council wanted to offer Conor a bribe, but still didn’t decide it was wrong until Conor got angry. And he knew he wasn’t going to tell West any of these things, and that when Mike Christian sent some twenty-something reporter around to do a retrospective on West’s career, Conor wouldn’t tell the reporter either. Conor would tell the C-A that West had been a good mayor, and West would tell himself. And twenty years from now when they were wondering how an old crank like Brad Sizemore got and stayed on council, there’d be nobody to tell them.
“I should get going, Charles. I’ll drop in later this week.”
“Yeah, I’ll see you then.”
“I’m sorry things didn’t work out differently yesterday.”
Charles made a dismissive hand gesture.
Conor couldn’t help noticing the difference as he left the building. This hallway six days from now would be filled with people wanting something: lawyers, developers, activists. People in neckties, mostly. Today there was only one person in the hallway, a woman a few feet in front of him in the downstairs hall. Afternoon sun in the front windows made her mostly an outline until she stopped at the water fountain.
“Hello, councilman,” she said as she straightened up, with her lips still moist from the fountain. Did she plan that?
“Cathy. Scouting the building for your foot-soldiers?”
“Not a bad guess,” she said, pausing, posing, getting ready for a chat. “Actually, I came down her to pay my taxes.”
“Due Friday, if memory serves.”
“Yes, it used to be taken out of the mortgage, but David’s insurance paid that off. Now I have to remember twice a year. Hey, can we walk outside?”
“Sure.” And there was a difference there as well. A few weeks ago the porch and the area in front of the building was filled with people waving signs and chanting. Now it was deserted, unnaturally silent on this late spring day, the only sound the occasional passing car, the smell of warm asphalt and car exhaust mixed with a light fragrance of lilac from a bush near the corner of the building.
“You know, I heard someone speaking well of David just a while ago. He gained a lot of respect in the short time he was here.”
“Yes. We’d only been here a year or so when he had the heart attack. It was his third.”
“The first one was fifteen years ago.”
They stood side-by-side, but not facing, watching the traffic on Main Street as if it were more than it was.
“I’ve never been sure whether to say something to you, Cathy.”
“I know the feeling.”
“So I hid behind formality.”
“So did I.”
He turned to look at her. She raised her face to look back, but stayed in profile to him.
“Cathy, I was afraid if we opened it even a crack …”
“Not a bad double entendre”
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
“Those are the best kind.”
Conor felt himself coloring, saw her awareness of it, knew that was only making it worse. But her smile was pleasure, and not mockery.
“I wasn’t sure how to act, where to start. Here we were on opposite sides of the biggest controversy this town has seen in my life …”
“We still are, don’t forget that. I’m still going to try to stop that pipeline.” She said it firmly, but not in a tone of argument.
“And I still think it’s the best course for the city.”
“When I think of some of the crap that’s gone on with this pipeline … I could kill all of you.”
“Dear God, Cathy, please don’t talk that way.”
“Whoa. Betty said you were tense lately…”
“…but yelling at a helpless widow woman just because she disagrees with you politically…”
“That wasn’t why I yelled. And you haven’t had a helpless day in your life.”
“I’ve had to take care of myself.”
“I know that. I’m sorry I yelled.”
Conor had sense enough to wonder what anyone driving by would think of the way they were looking at one another. But not enough sense to do anything about it.
“Jim … he was sick. I had two boys just out of diapers. I couldn’t just leave.”
“I remember, Cathy.” He didn’t even try to keep his voice from shaking. “I remember all of it.”
“All of it. For instance … you were wearing a white peasant blouse at Claymore’s last night.”
“Jim, don’t …” So, it was getting to her too. She was pulling sunglasses out of her purse, holding his gaze. He wondered what she saw.
“I bought you that blouse, didn’t I?”
“If we had this talk … I wasn’t going to … to do this.”
“We’ll talk sometime, Jim.”
She walked away, her head down. He watched her go, knowing she only had a couple of blocks to walk home. He’d driven by the house enough times, just because … just because it was on a street that he could find an excuse to drive down just about whenever he needed to. Jim Conor took a deep breath and wondered what he’d started. He’d dreaded this conversation for years and it had ended this way. Maybe that was why he’d dreaded it. But she was the one who decided to wear the goddamned blouse.
“Mayor, I’d like to ask a point of personal privilege.”
Betty Wilson leaned over the person sitting between them. “Cathy, what’s Simon doing?”
“Just watch, Betty. I guess he didn’t feel like waiting until later in the meeting.”
“… although it became obvious that we had a consensus on the council for building a pipeline from the South Fork River to Smithy, there were those in the community who disagreed.” Pershing waited while a soft ripple of laughter subsided. Charles West jumped in before Pershing could start again.
“Simon, uh, Councilman Pershing, I think we ought to put this under other business.”
“Normally, Mayor West, I would agree, but according to the people gathered here, and the people who went to the polls a week ago today to exercise their God-given franchise, there is no other business.” His voice rose to a crescendo on the final words, and Cathy Chandler leapt to her feet. Betty Wilson rose with her and others joined them as they began to applaud. Bill Zaner looked from one to the other, then reluctantly came to his feet. Their applause was punctuated by West’s gavel attempting to silence them. Chandler bobbed her head discreetly, looking around the people in front of her. Sizemore was looking to West, apparently waiting for guidance. Marlin Waters swiveled his head from side-to-side, wanting out of whatever was going on. He could make a speech, Chandler thought, but he couldn’t make a decision. Pershing and Jim Conor were staring at one another. She couldn’t see both their faces at once. But they appeared to be looking at one another as if they were the only two people in the room. Pershing’s great white eyebrows were raised slightly. Conor’s jaw was clenched, although she doubted anyone else in the room would notice. It was a courtroom face, he’d once explained. Don’t bring the molars together, he’d said, but rather the teeth further forward. Your jaw doesn’t set, and your face can still look relaxed. When your client suddenly goes south on you, he’d said, nobody can tell you’re about to lose your lunch.
Chandler understood what had happened. Nobody had talked to Conor. Nobody had talked to anyone else on council either, but Conor was the one who looked like he’d been hit. “We’ll decide this at the council table, on its merits,” Pershing had said. “There will be no deals, no decisions reached before we gather.” So nobody knew this was coming up. But it mattered more to Conor …
… looked across at Pershing and guessed what was coming. The applause had only been going on a few seconds, but it gave him time to count: Pershing would vote first, then Sizemore, then Waters. Two for the motion, one against. It would already be practically decided by the time it got to Conor. He smiled at the notion. Pershing smiled back at him…
…because he’d have to decide the whole thing. And he seemed to know what Pershing was going to say. But the question was whether he’d decided how he was going to vote. It was obvious, to her at least, who had to decide the issue.
“If this outburst doesn’t stop right now I’m going to clear the room,” West bellowed. She looked across at Wilson, then at Zaner. Somebody had to decide. They followed her lead as she sat. The commotion gradually calmed.
“Other concerns by council are on the end of the agenda. I think we ought to stick to that,” West was saying.
“And I think that this agenda shows two lengthy public hearings that even the interested parties will have trouble remaining awake for,” Pershing said, drawing another round of chuckles. “I think that as a courtesy to those gathered here and to those watching from their homes, as a courtesy to those who are primarily interested in this issue and what we may say about it tonight, a small breach of protocol and etiquette might be in order, Charles.”
“Simon, we put these agendas together for a reason …”
“Let’s hear him, Mayor.” The quiet voice came from the end of the table. West looked over at Conor in surprise. Conor looked back at him, his gaze even, barely interested.
“Go ahead, Councilman Pershing,” West finally said.
“Thank you, Mayor, Councilman Conor. As I was saying, a consensus was developing on this council, but not necessarily in the community. And I think the message we received a week ago is that the will of the community is contrary to the path we were preparing to take. As such, I move that we table, for sixty days, consideration or funding of any future water source for the city of Smithy.”
“I’ll second that,” Waters said, quickly, as if he’d get caught at it.
“Discussion?” West asked.
“I don’t think we ought to do this,” Sizemore began. “We’ve already studied the numbers, and done the homework, and I think we’d talked about getting ready for the fall bond sale. Wasn’t that it, Gary?” The city manager nodded slightly, looked over at Conor. “So don’t we need to do some preliminary work to get ready for that? Stuff that you need to get started on now?”
“There’s stuff I need to get done in advance, but ….”
“Well, then, we need to vote on this now, don’t we?”
“Councilman Sizemore, I don’t think we need to trample the people’s will in order to satisfy logistical necessities.”
“Well, that’s not what I’m saying Dr. Pershing.”
“Now, hold on,” West snapped, bringing the gavel down. “We can still hold a civilized discussion on this.”
“May I?” Conor had his mouth practically on the microphone. Everybody paused for a second, then West nodded and pointed at him with the gavel. Right on the microphone, so that if he’d said something like, “Please, people,” the resulting pops would have blown out the speakers. Chandler giggled. Wilson gave her a disapproving look, while Zaner looked slightly puzzled.
“If I remember the details, we need to vote by July 15 whether to apply for state community development bonds this year.” Linden nodded. “And if the paperwork is ready, we can vote as late as that day. So if we have staff prepare the SCDB application, we have … 67 days starting now to decide the issue.”
“So are you saying we should put this off?” Sizemore asked.
“I’m saying the timing isn’t an issue. We can decide it on its merits.”
“Well I think we should go ahead and vote on it,” Sizemore said. “We know we need it, and I don’t see what difference it makes if we approve it now or then.”
He’s the only one in the room, Chandler thought. West and Sizemore would want to vote now. …
… now Conor had the decision, such as it was. And the choice was whether to decide it on logistics, or on its merits. Because logistically, after Zaner and Wilson were sworn in on July 1, there would be two votes against the pipeline, two votes for it, and Marlin Waters. Waters, who had spent the first two years of his term trying to avoid offending anybody, trying to avoid making any decision, would be in a position to decide the biggest city project in a generation. And there was very little chance he’d make it for any of the right reasons. Decide the motion before them on its merits, and the pipeline would be decided otherwise. That was reality. The other reality was that Pershing was right. This is America, Conor thought, and we vote on things. And regardless of whether people had voted against the pipeline – he still didn’t think they had – they had voted for two people who could change the balance on council concerning that issue. He could vote for Pershing’s motion and give them the voice they’d voted for, for whatever reason. He could vote against the motion and … and what? Save them from their own foolishness? Their own municipal insanity?
…insanity to be sitting there smiling like that, she thought, but at least it means he’s made up his mind. He glanced around the room while West was talking, met and held her eye …
… eye of at least one person who’d be happy with his vote. He knew he had to reach very far down inside himself, to make sure she hadn’t influenced his decision. Because then, he decided, if she hadn’t, he would be ethically free to take advantage of any results of that decision.
“Councilman Conor, I’m sorry if you think this is funny.”
“My apologies, Mayor, my mind was elsewhere.”
“You might listen to the discussion.” My, wasn’t he bristly. Did that mean he already knew how Conor was going to vote?
“I was listening, Mayor. You were just saying that you were elected for four years, not three years and ten months, and that you think we should make this decision so we can move on to other issues. Councilman Pershing was saying we have to balance the weight of responsibility and conscience. I think I caught it all.”
Conor regretted it immediately. Not because it sounded as if he was trivializing their discussion, although he was, but because he might be letting on how disconnected he was, how much their debate seemed like a movie he was half watching, like something that didn’t really have a whole hell of a lot to do with him.
“Let’s make this a roll call.”
“Aye.” A ringing, cheerful noise. This was a man happy with what he was doing.
“Vice Mayor Sizemore.”
“No.” Sounding slightly betrayed, not even sure why they were voting on this.
“Aye.” Almost under his breath.
“Aye.” Slightly surprised to be asked, as if he’d decided days ago, as if everybody knew how this would turn out.
“The motion carries. We’ll take a ten-minute break.” Conor hoped the clerk had the grace to put West down as a No vote, even though he’d cut things off before the end. And he hoped nobody would point out to Charles that he’d called the half-time break after only fifteen minutes. …
… minutes into the meeting and they’d already won. Or at least … they were ahead. Conor still hadn’t voted against the thing, but then he hadn’t voted for it either. Nobody had, and she wondered now if she should point that out to the C-A. Because all the time they’d been acting like there’d been a vote, it was good for them. Now it was better for them to accentuate the fact that there had never been a vote, that this project had no more legitimacy than anything else that might come up before council, that they shouldn’t worry about staying the course because they hadn’t begun a course yet.
Conor stayed at the council table, staring at nothing, long after everybody else had risen and headed for the hall to shake hands, or whatever they did. Then he stood, and looked across the table at Simon Pershing, who also remained at the table, apparently waiting for Conor, who now walked slowly around the table to where Pershing sat. Chandler moved along a row of seats, closer to Pershing’s end of the table, closer, where she could hear what they said.
“Simon, I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding. I'd still vote for the pipeline, for the bond, and for the tax increase, right now, if that were the topic. “
“You may have made that moot.”
“That’s not why I did it,” Conor said, firmly, not angrily.
“I know that. And I admire it. You did something you truly didn’t want to do because you felt it was what you had to do. That takes courage. Thank you.”
“I’ll still going to do what I can to get the pipeline built. I may not have your conscience there to stop me next time.” He said it with that smile that most people couldn’t help smiling back at, unless there was something wrong with them.
“You’ll have yours, James. That should do it.”
“Why did you never take the mayor’s chair, Simon?”
Pershing was looking back at him with an expression that said he understood something in the question that Conor hadn’t said.
“It wasn’t something I wanted.”
“You wanted to serve …”
“But not to lead. I had that choice.”
Conor reached out to shake the old man’s hand. It looked like Conor was thanking him for something.
When he turned away, Betty Wilson was waiting to shake his hand with a quiet dignity she’d learned from watching Simon. Zaner was next, nodding the whole time. There were others. Conor received them kindly, but abstractedly, a reluctant prince.
She was waiting when he finally got away from the knot of people and headed toward the door. She walked with him, stopped him when they were in the hall, a few feet away from anybody else. “I don’t understand why you did that, Jim.”
His expression was hard to read. There was no uncertainty, but there was sadness, mixed with a touch of fear. “Because I know that if Simon Pershing had had the votes to kill the pipeline, he would still have waited until the new council was seated.”
“Well … thank you. I know it was hard.”
“You know you might have just killed the pipeline.”
“Yeah. At least.”
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK